A visual novel worthy to contend with established mystery classics has arrived, and if you’ve been wondering if Buried Stars is worth your time you should stop NOW and let me explain why… keep in mind that this review will contain minor spoilers that only include plot points from the introduction. No twists, surprises, or similar “AHA!” moments will be revealed.
You and your fellow cast members have been competing in a competitive gameshow, and after its brief introduction the set collapses with you and the others trapped in the debris. Pacing in this game is not an issue, as you are introduced quickly to the enormous amounts of interactivity you are soon to be afforded. As each of you emerge from the collapse, you are tasked to work together and begin to make attempts at outside contact.
Each character you interact with has a rapport level that will trigger events when raised high enough. This is primarily earned through communication events, where you use the clues and keywords you’ve discovered to discuss a wide range of topics. Most of these include choices that will lead to an increase or decline in your rapport. Although it may seem like a simple system, if you’re too careful with your words you will be seen as phony and untrustworthy. You are required to think HARD, and the save system isn’t immediately available during these scenes so your choices carry much weight.
The setting is displayed in 3d, with 2d character sprite overlays. When you are asked to explore an area you are given the depth of 3d space to search for clues. You also have access to a smart watch which has features such as a recording device, a text messenger, a social media app, a camera, character profiles, and even a customizable ringtone and wallpaper. The integration of these features into the game make it a necessary tool as you begin to uncover the reason for your entrapment and a possible chance at rescue or escape.
The story starts out seeming somewhat cliche, but it evolves into anything but. My only frustration is that the choices matter SO much that it can easy to say or do the wrong thing. Save often!
The 2d and 3d art are both great, as is the music. The dialogue can be toggled between Korean and Japanese with English subtitles. Voice acting in both languages are performed well, however the English text does have a few grammatical errors. Don’t confuse this with some of the horrid machine translations available on steam, these are very minor errors that may make you raise an eyebrow from time to time but do not ruin the experience.
I did run into the occasional stutter while waiting for characters to speak or during scene transitions and this was slightly annoying. My only major concern I experienced was the lip syncing. In either language, the characters’ mouths aren’t actually synced to their speech. If their sentence includes a short pause or a long sigh, their mouth will still be mechanically opening and closing until they are done talking. Do keep these small concerns in mind, however they only slightly detract from the overall experience.
Buried Stars is as interactive as a visual novel can get before it loses that title. You are constantly digging through clues while uncovering new ones. The huge amount of tools at your disposal are nearly overwhelming, and they will be triggering plot shifts and backstory throughout your playtime. If you’re familiar with series such as Zero Escape or Kara no Shojo you will be pleasantly surprised with this entry into the genre. Newcomers to the medium should be reminded to save when possible, and don’t let the enormous amount of freedom you are afforded keep you from enjoying one of the best VNs of the year.