A visual novel about a bunch of individuals getting involved in a government’s conspiracy in a world where magic co-exists with technology.
Release: 2015 (3rdEye)
Writers: Shimantogawa Seiryuu (Gensou no Idea) & Fushichou (Gensou no Idea)
Part I – 5/5
Part II – 4/5
Part III – 2/5
Japanese difficulty: Hard
Ratings: VNDB (8.56); EGS (8.00)
Sorcery Jokers somehow managed to be both most pleasantly surprising and disappointing visual novel I have read this year.
It starts with a bang as you investigate strange magic related incidents happening in town from the perspective of five different characters — a justice starved magician prodigy, a crooked (ex-soldier?) outlaw, a borderline autistic girl who has visions of the future and lives in a fantasy land of her own mind, a (kind of) bounty hunter who plagues outlaw magicians on nights, and a friendly neighborhood nun. The pacing is incredibly fast with something new happening every few minutes and two new puzzles arising with each you solve.
If there’s anything negative to say about the first part of the game is that it’s so convoluted (but in a good way) that it’s easy to get completely lost if you don’t pay very close attention to every detail. It reminded me a lot of the first chapter of Aiyoku no Eustia, except with five times more things happening at the same time. In any case, it does a fantastic job at introducing you to the fascinating world of Sorcery Jokers and hooking you to its plot, especially once the identity of the villains is unveiled. By the time I was finished that part, I thought Sorcery Jokes would easily be my #2 pick of the year.
After all sorts of shit goes down at the finale of Part I, the game jumps one year into the future and shifts to two-person storytelling, with the heroines of part I joining with their respective protagonists to now roughly form two groups.
While investigating conspiracies is still a big part of this section, it’s more about constant double-crossings going on both between the main characters and the villains (in this part it’s almost impossible to tell who are the bad and the good guys, as all of the protagonists are hiding something, while some of the heroines are chronic liars and you never know if they want to get into your bed or use your severed head as decor). The plot is tense, the twists are hard to predict, and to make matters even better, Sorcery Jokers has some of the best fighting scenes in any visual novel I have read.
All fights are about utilizing terrain, setting traps for your opponents, and distracting them with bluffs and crazy talk. One of the protagonists, Senri, is the kind of guy who would wave a white flag to momentarily confuse his opponents before using it to gouge their eyes out. Anyway, the last time I saw battles as meticulous and realistic as this was when I read Muramasa and they’re actually better paced (read: don’t take hours to conclude) in Sorcery Jokers. Besides that, the game is also careful not to fall into the usual pitfall of action-oriented works where — power levels notwithstanding — the plot forces the good guys into positions where they simply cannot lose or the story would not be able continue. In Sorcery Jokers, most of the time it’s not even clear who you are supposed to be rooting for as you follow multiple people who tend to clash among each other which makes for some really tense and unpredictable fights.
At the same time, however, part II of Sorcery Jokers is also where I started noticing problems. The biggest one being the writers’ superficial comprehension of human psychology — they seem to treat their characters as if they were robots who would instantly change their minds and motivations if exposed to a particular set of conditions. They completely disregard the fact that real people need time for things to sink in and make life-changing decisions (I can’t believe I’m saying this in the context of VN, but I wouldn’t have minded if the pacing took less steroids, and took a break to let its characters mope and question themselves for a while).
Anyway, couple that with the fact that most of the characters constantly lie and that it’s already hard to keep up with everything happening in the plot, and you end up unable to trust character development and find yourself desensitized to scenes that are trying to make an emotional impact (I legit mistook a dramatic catharsis of one of the heroines as playacting to make the protagonist let his guard down -_-). Some heroines like Fionna end up appearing as having three different personalities rather than going through proper character development.
Anyway, it might not have had the best grasp of the intricacies of human condition, but I still thought of Sorcery Jokers as #2 of 2015 for its engrossing plot, amazing fights, interesting world, and if not exactly realistic and deep then very likable characters. But then Part III… happened.
As the main cast settles their differences, they kind of end up joining with each other to finally confront the mastermind of the whole conspiracy business and oh my god does that part suck. I kinda got reminded of Far Cry 3, where the interesting villain gets killed half-way through and then you have to finish the game fighting some boring-ass Quentin Tarantino impersonator. Well, Sorcery Jokers is kinda like that, just worse.
The “last boss” comes out of nowhere and is less charismatic than your average throwaway villain. And to make matters worse, you are forced into the situation where story could not continue if any of the good guys lose, so the final conflict has next to no tension (although they would’ve had to try pretty hard to actually lose to that lousy asshole). The fights in part III also start putting way too much emphasis on bullshit magical power than strategy which make them feel like a drag compared to the great things presented in Part II. I really have no idea what the hell happened, but my guess is that the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with the final of their game and just gave up, deciding to copy-paste an ending of a generic JRPG on their otherwise pretty well-thought out game.
So, to sum it up, I have very mixed feelings about Sorcery Jokers. On one hand, I loved the beginning and thoroughly enjoyed the middle — was already considering where should I put it in my “all time favorites” list —; on the other, the last part and the ending not only were boring and stupid but ruined some of the other things I liked about the game in retrospect. They say you can make a lousy work appear great if you manage an amazing ending, but the opposite also seems to be true. Hahh.
In any case, I would probably still recommend Sorcery Jokers to people who enjoy complex plots, smart action, and smug characters, but you might as well stop after Part II because the ending will only leave a bad taste in your mouth. It really pains me to give something I expected to become one of my all-time favorites just “decent” rating, but that’s life, I guess. 😦
But I wouldn’t put it past 3rd Eye to release a masterpiece next time, so I will definitely keep an eye (-_-) on them from now on.
|High-production values (especially noticeable during the flashy fighting scenes)||Not good at character development, especially when it comes down to more complex emotions|
|Beautiful, attractive character designs, especially the sprites||Dramatic, emotional scenes don’t work that well|
|Good music||The plot falls apart and becomes dull in the last part|
|Likable, interesting, incredibly smug characters||Battles become drawn-out and dull in the last part|
|A very cool protagonist that uses everything to end up on top (Senri)||The mastermind is one of the lousiest final villains in the history of fiction|
|Some pretty nice humor, though the structure of the story doesn’t allow for much comedy||Underwhelming ending|
|Complex plot is engrossing up until you learn who the main villain is (damn that asshat)||Shies away from touching any deeper themes|
|Smart and tense battles||Ero scenes and romance feel like they were added as an afterthought|
|The font is so small it could make a lesser man blind (seriously, what the hell)|