World End Economica has something going for it, since I was able to complete the three tome-length epic, and I’ll rarely finish one visual novel (let alone three) if there isn’t something captivating about them. These are rambling, wordy, indulgent things, too, which under normal circumstances would be a further strike against them. So I did find something about them to be compelling… though it wouldn’t be accurate to say that I liked them.
The biggest problem with World End Economica is that the protagonist is one of the most unlikable dweebs I’ve ever seen lead a video game. From early on in the first visual novel, when he fantasises about taking revenge porn photos of his (at that moment) antagonist, Hagana, right through to the end of the final volume, where he remains, at heart, a capitalist, Yoshiharu, or “Hal”, the ambitious runaway youth with a rare ability to make the right moves on the stock market. He is also a thoroughly unimpressive, deeply unpleasant individual. He goes through a lot, experiences betrayal and ends up as a hero, and I do understand that his character arc is meant to be “ungrateful sod to mature, empathetic man,” but because it takes so long for these games to go anywhere, I was left with far too much time to ruminate over just how much I disliked this guy. His redemption in the end wasn’t anywhere near enough to make him a likable protagonist overall.
This annoying personality exists in a world that is all-in with capitalism, and the writer has done a very poor job of questioning that on any level. World End Economica is set in a sci-fi future where Earth has been greatly diminished, and so a small society of a few hundred thousand have set up on the moon. With few natural resources up there, society has instead focused itself on wealth creation,and they’ve built themselves quite the utopia in doing so. The society is exclusionary to immigrants from the earth, its a society with some rigid regulations (though not when it comes to making wealth), and it’s so fine-tuned that anything not directly focused on efficiency and productivity is considered a waste of time and space, if not outright taboo. Even books are considered a luxury because those things take up room, and aren’t directly correlated with a productive, wealth-creating use of time.
World End Economica loves describing the various economic principles and processes that underpin modern existence, and it’s clear that the author knows his stuff, but he struggles to contextualise the moral conversation around capitalism. Across the three visual novels, you do see how capitalism can crush those that aren’t competitive or aggressive enough. The economic forces are presented as something akin to a particularly dark religion; everyone living on the moon is in fervent worship of capitalism, even as it shows no mercy to those that don’t play the game right. It’s such a vicious place that you can’t help but think that the developer wanted to make a criticism of it. But then the game has Yoshiharu participate in these games himself. The trilogy has antagonists and Yoshiharu is buffeted (in a big way) by capitalism, before tackling a corrupt company and, in the process, he learns to find some humanity within this inhumane foundation for society. However, none of this is the “we should improve society somewhat/yet you participate in society, curious!” meme in action. Yoshiharu and his allies aren’t really looking to improve society. Rather, they just battle against its most malignant players, while ultimately upholding that foundation.
To put all the above simply: I have a big issue with how much tolerance for the excesses of capitalism can be found in World End Economica. The ideological argument within the game is less “we should improve society” as it is “well, this stuff sucks sometimes, but ultimately, what we have here is an opportunity for all.” You could have a field day running a Marxist analysis of the position that this game puts forward.
On the positive side of the ledger, the author is incredibly detail-orientated and all three visual novels are filled with little asides, notes about the world and society, and evocative language that really helps to make the moon an alien, but believable setting. Little details, like being able to use the low-gravity of the moon to parkour around the place, help to distinguish the setting from a conventional Earth-based adventure, and there are some lengthy, seemingly inconsequential conversations between characters which don’t directly drive the plot forward but certainly help to build the connections between them. I didn’t much care for most of the characters, but they were written in such a way as they play on tropes without necessarily being out-and-out cliché, and I certainly believed in the relationships that they were forming with one another.
The character art, meanwhile, is very static (no Live-2D in this one), but the portraits are of a high quality, and the CG key scenes come frequently enough, and drawn beautifully to emphasise key moments. There’s nothing that makes these characters really stand out and be distinctive – they’re more memorable because of their personalities and you’re not likely to go out of your way to find World End Economica merchandise because you love the characters or aesthetic above other visual novels or anime-themed titles, but the consistency and clean nature of them makes them very pleasant on the eyes over the long periods of reading that you’ll be doing.
World End Economica is written with great technique, and across the course of the trilogy it forms a true epic in structure and tone. It’s really unfortunate that for a game with a lot to say it doesn’t end up saying much, and I was left desperate for a character I could truly like as I played, but the strong, creative vision make this a visual novel that fans of good storytelling should add to their “to-do” lists.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb