When I made my bold claim about nothing challenging PDS as my number one, perhaps I should have been specific to CONSOLE titles, because this gem may be just as good. By far the deepest and most moving visual novel to get a proper US release, Ever 17 shows why so many folks in Japan and elsewhere do include reading and clicking as part of their gaming experience.
Sometime in the future -- any more specific and I'd start with a spoiler -- a group of teens and twenty-somethings find themselves trapped beneath the ocean when disaster strikes the underwater park called LeMu. Help from above is out of the question and the sea will soon reclaim everything. Can you escape with the new love of your life before then?
You play as one of two male MCs (Takeshi or simply Kid). Each has one of two heroines they connect with over the course of the story, and get either a 'bad' or 'good' ending with (opinions on good and bad can be in the eye of the beholder). Once you have gotten at least one ending for each girl (i.e 4x), the following playthrough will open the 'Coco' or true ending. Each playthrough should last a good 8-10 hours, as each thread has large amounts of exclusive content. As one would expect from the writer who would later pen 999, there is of course levels of mystery, secrets and conspiracy to unwind. By the time you finish the true end however, little should remain out of place.
A thumbnail of those that are lost --
Takeshi path: Takeshi is the senior high everyboy type on a field trip.
Tsugumi: The girl in dark, with jet black hair. The ice queen/tsundere/yandere type. Aloof and sure of herself, but can even she get out alone?
Sora: LeMu tour guide trapped with the party. The older sister. Her ties to LeMu will keep the party alive perhaps just a bit longer.
Kid path: The younger boy, with a bit of amnesia.
Sara: High school student separated from her classmates. Cute schoolgirl type who knows computers and likes nin nins.
You: Yes You -- don't ask her to spell her full name; it's a damn handful (and a spoiler to boot). Knows Sara (went to the same school), but also works at LeMu. On the genki side, but so is Sara.
Coco: Loli -- loud, playful and annoying. Needs a hug; or smackdown, depending on the mood and moment.
Any more and I give secrets away. That's what makes Ever 17 so utterly amazing. From the start there is nothing there without reason, nor anything mentioned that does not end up somewhere. From the time I did my first run, I kept a notepad and anything that seemed noteworthy or out of place got written down. That notepad got really full; but allowed me to grasp most of the secrets by the time I started the true. While on a level it is a 'harem' story, none of the girls are retreads and each truly has their own personality and place in the world. The only 'adult' action takes place both off screen and unwritten; but is one of the core events of the tale. Ever 17 received a T rating on it's now sadly long out of print run which is perfect for it. The game requires one to read and follow intently, and while the suggestive themes are limited, the deepness of the story requires a more adult recognition.
My favorite path is Tsugumi. Meaty in terms of plot, it also has the single best ending in the game. Sara's path is the most complete for Kid, and best done in conjunction with Tsugumi. Sora's path is perhaps the least engrossing, You's fills in more secrets. This is the order I did them in, and what I think would work best for those who want some hint of the bigger picture early on. Coco's ends everything with that perfect cute bow; and she's too darn young for you anyway.
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