Written By: JP
Developers: Spicy Tails/Sekai Project
Genre: Slice of Life, Drama
Release Date: August 13, 2011 (JAP), July 4, 2013 (ENG)
"I could go on, but I feel like the point has been made. I didn’t enjoy playing World End Economica. There are better stories about the stock market, there are better stories about slowly falling in love with a shy teenage girl, and there are way better stories about life and society beyond Earth." - Siliconera
"World End Economica has so much going for it: an interesting premise, a protagonist with an actual design and personality (even if it is a little rotten) and the opportunity to capitalize on a business rarely (if ever) explored in video games: stock trading. Unfortunately, it squanders the opportunity to capitalize on these great bullet points and winds up a generic, muddled mess of pacing issues, bland dialogue, and characters too difficult to connect with." - Destructoid
There are a number of factors that lead to that bold declaration, but let's start off with the pleasantries. World End Economica is a visual novel series that was launched in 2011 in Japan by Isuna Hasekura: the creator of the beloved Spice and Wolf franchise. While the trilogy is complete on the other side of the world, the game is just getting started here thanks to the Sekai Project: who we discovered after their announcement of Sakura Spirit AKA Boobs the Visual Novel. ANYWAY, what follows in the game proper is either a boring slog of stock market information and panty shots if you're the rest of the media OR if you're me, you get a journey of self-discovery, ambition and hard life lessons that only come when we feel the most invincible.
As usual my fellow critics, there's no need to worry, I'll make my case. Oh and mild spoilers for those concerned about that sort of thing.
What I love about World End Economica is the depth of the cast; YEAH I SAID IT. At various times Hal, the main character, is misogynistic, bigoted and sadistic, yet all of this is in his head. Outside of his head Hal is immature, inarticulate and irrational. He is, simply put, a child and the story takes great steps to challenge his mental image of the world and the dream that made him run away in the first place. Hal's dream is also refreshing and it ties his decisions together through the game while making him his own worst enemy. Often times the 'right' choice is muddled by Hal's ultimate desire to be wealthy. And while we learn the root of his greed, it doesn't change the fact that he is often blinded by it and becomes rash.
This not only gives us a true, flawed protagonist, but also allows the game to have great narrative moments that elevate the story beyond just a simple kid playing the stock market. And that particular designation REALLY sticks in my craw. This is Isuna Hasekura we're talking about: the guy who started the franchise mixing a naked fox girl and economics. Relegating this game to 'a story about the stock market' is insulting: not just to the game but also to the intelligence of the reader. World End Economica touches on the role of altruism in a Capitalist culture, the role of humanity in an age of advancing technology and how the pursuit of money, even at its most basic form of filling everyday needs, affects how we live our lives. But no; this is just a game about the stock market. Bullshit.
In fact, let's stick around this point for a moment because the different contexts of the game are what make it work so well and the battle between Hal and technology that can calculate and trade stock just as well as he can is a vital episode. Hal develops a complex and begins having nightmares about becoming part of a computer program. Floundering in his trading, he visits a very successful investor who has taken the teenager under his wing. After deducing the problem, the investor takes Hal to visit the recently built office complex for a growing corporation and then diagnosis why they're about to fail. Its such a simple thing, but as the veteran magnate explains his reasoning and how it fits into his plans Hal rediscovers his identity and can move forward.
This moment was probably skipped over a few dozen times as 'pointless fluff', but this scene ties together the overarching theme of the game: the way money affects people. Regardless of your feelings on the Green, it's something that we all pursue in one way or another, for one reason or another. Exploring 'why' is not only fascinating, but also it makes for great drama as Hal is someone that has no stated reason to become rich other than the journey to become rich. For him it's the thrill of the hunt, but for everyone else it's new clothes for the kids, a purpose in life and many others it's a way to obtain power for power's sake. He has to try and figure out why this dream is so vital to him and it is, for lack of better words, fun to explore his journey. It isn't idealistic; but it is good.
Another vital character is Lisa. She is an anachronism: a Christian who loves books living on the Moon. But because of Hal's corrupted worldview, she acts as the story's moral compass. Her presence is what forces our protagonist to evolve and while she isn't constant throughout the game, most of the first act would have been painful without her there to verbally spare with Hal and urge him into friendship with Hagana. And in a medium where villains, much less good villains, are rare, World End Economica features one of the best villainous characters I've read in a while. It isn't obvious at first why the villain is doing what they're doing, but after the final twist that leaves Hal literally speechless, it was fun to look back at just how well they played the game and walked away with a sickening (yet well-executed) victory.
However, just because most are wrong about the game doesn't mean all is well. The biggest issue with the story is pretty much that it is two stories: one that is redemptive in nature and the other, as hinted above, that is tragic. The redemptive tale focuses on a virtual stock market contest that inevitably brings Hal and Hagana closer together and forces them both to mature beyond the confines they built for themselves. The tragic tale focuses on several debts that Hal was asked to assist in paying off through his skills in the real stock market. On their own, both plot points are good and fit into the characters the story is based off of, but the game interconnects them in a way that causes it to stumble once or twice.
This is mostly because of the order both plots where told in. The Redemption Tale is just that and by the time it ends, I was fully invested in Hal's development and felt for him and the others when the contest wrapped up. However, the Tragic Tale is how we close out the game and that not only requires us to be eager to see Hal's downfall, but for him to completely ignore what happened in previous acts. This is a baffling turn because while neither story was going to have a sunshine and kitty cat ending, taking one and following through on it would have undoubtedly made World End Economica a stronger game. By going forward with both stories, the ending isn't muddled but it also isn't completely satisfying since several plot points are left dangling in the wind. Knowing that this is a trilogy, I'm guessing this was done to save some questions for next time but something tells me certain things are settled; especially concerning Hagana.
And since we're on the subject.
Hagana is this game's biggest mystery and it is the longest thread left in the wind. Her history is hinted at, but never verified. She is a runaway like Hal, but also a mathematical genius who sees no way to use her talent in the real world. And while I love the way that her character changes (more on that in the P&G), the fact is that by game's end we still don't know a lot about her. While I don't think she's an atypical tsundere character, a lot of those tropes are used in her portrayal. This makes her a bit more simple on the surface, however, from the writing in several scenes with Hal, we know there is a LOT more going on that we just don't get to see in order to keep their relationship a simple teenage love story.
On the other hand, though, Hal and Hagana's relationship is handled with a great deal of maturity. I have played and enough otome games to know how ham-fisted and superficial relationships can be in this genre. The relationship between Hal and Hagana isn't based on mutual attraction; although that does come down the line. Rather it's based on needs and growth. Hagana needs Hal to grow out of her shell and Hal needs Hagana to grow outside of his ego. The down side of that is that as the needs are met, the relationship begins to weaken unless you make the needs more complex. The game doesn't and, unfortunately, the character that is hurt most by it is Hagana.
Overall though, it is a good story. What keeps it from being a great story is that it simply tries to do too much. A narrow focus would have helped it tremendously because it would've forced Mr. Hasekura to pick one story instead of try to blend two together. It's definitely a much more somber and darker take on economics than something fantastical like Spice and Wolf, and just like that franchise it's ultimately makes its mark by telling a human story through economics. But let me be clear, THAT is what this is: a human story told through the lens of stock trading NOT a stock trading story that involves humans. Believe it or not, there is a difference.
Presentation & Gameplay
In a medium that takes every moment it possibly can to go overboard with how their character's look or cannot afford anything more than a few different expressions in their sprites, to see this sort of subtly given to a character is fantastic. The other cast members have similar subtly given to them as their expressions darken or lighten depending on the point in the story, but rarely outright change. It's simply more noticeable in Hagana and it's more noticeable in Hagana because she's the love interest. Outside of that, the CG work is all done. Most of it is focused on Lisa, Hal and Hagana but the other characters get their moment as well.
Unfortunately not every 'vital' scene has CG and that matters more on Hal and Hagana's relationship. As I said, it is far from the keystone of this story, but there are some moments that where passed over in favor of other CGs. Things like their first kiss and what not that varies on importance depending on who's playing. It didn't make a difference here, but since their attraction plays a role in the story, showing them more intimate instead of, saying, screaming and crying at one another would have probably satisfied a few unsatisfied customers. But then again, I can perfectly describe how I want bloody murder and arson to look, but not a simple kiss scene. Maybe Mr. Hasekura is the same?
The soundtrack, for me, is hit or miss. There are a lot of tracks I enjoyed (especially the Big Bull Cafe theme) and the opening song just has a great feel to it that may be more in line with more action-oriented entertainment than the methodical tale World End Economica sets up. However some, especially the ending song, just fall flat. I don't speak Japanese so I'm not sure, but it feels like the ending is out of place.
Gameplay is a bit more of a mixed bag. The Steam edition is much better than the original PC/Mac/Linux download, however the translation is still choppy in scenes. There were still scenes I saw with either repeated dialogue, misspellings or other unfortunate mistakes. Also for some reason sometimes the Bonus CG and Music galleries work and sometimes they don't. That may just be my copy, but these finer technical issues are something the Sekai Project will have to keep an eye on in their future translations.
So, if you put down the money invest a few hours, then feel free to walk away and come back for another bite. You'll enjoy it a lot better this way, plus you can save at the points you want to replay rather than go through the entire game again. And since it is a kinetic novel with no choices, this strategy gives you the most bang for your buck!
Alright, pay attention because since we're at the end, I'll address this one good time. World End Economica devotes several scenes to explains Hal's strategies and the basics of stock trading. While you do not have the option of interacting with the trades, more than enough information is shared with the audience to give Hal's actions and the scenes of stock trading dramatic weight. But as I said before, this IS NOT a story about stock trading. While I am all for a future visual novel that has strategic stock trading in it, this is a story about the role money plays in life told through the lens of stock trading. Got it? Good.
So, what can I leave my fellow critics with? Because, quite frankly, on this one I'm alone. I've read the reviews and I've played the game twice. There are legitimate critiques of World End Economica and I've listed them in this review. Most of what you've heard, however, isn't. Complaining that Hal is a jerk and that they don't focus enough of stock trading ignores the actual story of the actual game, which leads me to question the root of the negative reviews. I do have an idea of why so many people seem to hate it and while I do not have evidence outside of my own suspicions to prove it, I bet I'm right. Here it is;
The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Poorer.
The tragic half of the story has this theme running through it and it is a constant point of contention between Lisa, Hagana and Hal. The two girls don't have the lust for money that Hal does and their approach to life as a whole reflects that. Hal, however, shamelessly chases the Green and fully feels the repercussions of that life. The story, however, doesn't punish the system which rewards the elite for doing whatever it takes to stay the elite or tries to question the nature of Capitalism itself. The Ending is placed squarely on Hal's shoulders and whether or not you believe he deserves it depends on what you took away from his development during the virtual competition.
But, if I was someone who had a serious problem with watching working class people be used as pawns by a bunch of elitist assholes, I might have an issue with the game that doesn't punish said elitist assholes.
Again, though, that's my opinion just like all of the other reviews I've mentioned here. I am not asking you to trust me; I'm just asking you not to trust them as well. Take all of our opinions and do your own homework. Keep in mind any potential subconscious factors that could lead to undue critique or praise. It's your money so it deserves that kind of investment before you spend on anything; much less a video game.
As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed World End Economica. It stumbles where it stumbles, but that doesn't make it a bad game. Rather, it takes it from being a great game and lowers it to just being good. From what I understand, Sekai Project is in the process of translating the next two episodes of the trilogy, so I wish them much success in bringing the rest of the series to the West. If you have the time and a more somber take on slice of life intrigues you, pick up a copy of this well-written game.
+ Well Done Story that Weaves Together Several Complex Themes about Money and Life
+ Presentation is Excellent
+ The Cast Is Memorable and Enjoyable
- Mixing Two Stories with Two Very Different Resolutions into One Doesn't Work Out
- Don't Attempt To Finish in One Sitting