Norn9: Var Commons is not a new visual novel by any means. It was originally a PSP title, and then localised into English for the first time for the PlayStation Vita version. Now it has landed on Switch to give players that missed it previously to catch up. They should jump at the opportunity, because this otome is of a good vintage: it’s only getting better with age.
Related reading: This is only a short review because we have previously covered the game on PlayStation Vita, and both releases are functionally the same. For in-depth thoughts, check out that review too!
Norn9 is notable for being reasonably dense and complex. As an otome, it casts you as a woman (in this case you can choose from one of three options), and there are a lot more men (three per woman) that you can get involved in. One thing that’s important to note is that in this game, almost all the characters are espers – individuals with unique “magic” abilities – and have been tasted by a kind of “global order” to conduct missions for peace and prosperity. Initially, all of this is mysterious to the point of being baffling, but the main takeaway at the start is that all of these characters are damaged in some way or another, and much of the story follows their efforts to grapple with their personal demons.
Sitting over the top of this is the science fiction and mystery elements. All of these characters live in a giant spherical “sky ship” of sorts, and are the only inhabitants of this strange object. Meanwhile, they’re also all in mortal danger, which is a point made clear almost immediately when their ship is attacked (and, apparently, with the help of a saboteur from within). The otherworldliness of it all, as well as the general complexity of characters and the setting, means that Norn9 is sometimes slowed down by too lengthy narrative expositions, but I would also prefer writers err on this side of the equation than leave too much unsaid and undercooked. As it is, Norn9 has a particularly memorable set of characters and vivid setting and lore, and that’s entirely because the writers gave themselves the time they needed for it to do all this complexity justice.
Something that helps the narrative considerably is the localisation. In my review of the PlayStation Vita version from several years ago I did mention that the localisation missed the mark at times. This is much better with the Switch release, as the publisher, Aksys, has wisely gone back and had some fresh eyes look at it. It reads really nicely now, and, purged of the localisation issues of previous versions, the characters do come across as a lot more cohesive and personable. This alone is reason enough to pick up the game. Even if you had played it previously, the difference it makes to the overall experience is significant.
One thing that hasn’t aged quite as well, however, is the art. The character models themselves are still lovely and well designed, with each helping to support the character’s personality nicely. However, both background art and the CG stills now look a little flat. Given that we are talking about a PSP game that is now playable on the home TV, this was always going to be the case short of a full remake. The size of screen alone means that whatever the resolution, the details were going to look different to the eyes. The aesthetics are still fine. It’s still a very pleasant game to look at. It’s just not quite the same high-impact art you may have remembered from the original play-through.
The real reason for this release is that the “sequel” fandisc, Norn9 Last Era is currently being prepped for release later this year, and Aksys realises that the best way to get people to buy that is to have played the original. It’s mildly cynical, but at the same time, for something this niche. understandable. There are certain visual novels that I think I would have rather seen on Switch first (Hakuouki springs to mind), but nonetheless, this is a really exceptional page-turner sci-fi tale that boasts some great characters. Don’t let it miss you a second time.