Review: Norn9: Var Commons is Better on the Switch

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There are certain developers very well known for revisiting their games on as many platforms as possible. Idea Factory International is one of them! Primarily, it’s guilty of this when it comes to the Otomate visual novels. (Just look at Hakuoki.) Norn9: Var Commons is the latest otome game to return, and this is one of the more welcome Switch rereleases. This offers a fresh translation for an older visual novel ahead of the first-time debut of the Norn9: Last Era fan-disc. While it doesn’t fix any of the original issues with the story and its execution, it does mean an optimal experience before heading into the next part of the story.

The important thing to know about Norn9: Var Commons if you’re new to the game with the Switch entry is that this is one of the “experimental” Idea Factory otome games. This doesn’t mean odd gameplay mechanics, though. Rather, it means a split narrative that means multiple protagonists, certain love interests for specific characters, and an initial introduction with a young, time-traveling boy named Sorata Suzuhara that doesn’t really get explained until you finish every story and can finally reach the epilogue. So the story starts in the Heisei era (so modern times around the original PSP version’s 2013 debut), Sorata gets sent back in time to the Taisho era and meets an enigmatic young woman with pyrokinesis powers who can’t remember her own name. She’s waiting to be picked up by “people” and taken to “The World.”

Review: Norn9 Var Commons is Better on the Switch

It’s once they’ve boarded a futuristic ship that things begin to come together more. 12 young adults with supernatural abilities are all gathering together for this journey to allegedly help bring peace to the world. However, there’s apparently a traitor on board. Players then split up and follow one of the three heroines, who are the pyrokinetic Koharu, barrier-creating Mikoto, and memory-erasing Nanami. Once that’s done, they then follow that protagonist’s specific route and get a chance to possibly fall in love with one of the three men in their group. Depending on the heroine chosen and love interest pursued, you could see more backstory on what’s going on, perhaps discover details about the traitor, get insight into the political and societal climate or see a love story.

The result is often uneven! Many of the routes are really interesting. I love the Nanami and Akito route for the character development, as well as the Nanami and Ron one for what it does for insight into the situation all the espers encounter. Mikoto’s storylines with Natsuhiko and Sakuya are both satisfying in their own ways, both for how they propel the overarching narrative forward and elaborate on existing relationships. It can sometimes feel like each heroine has one love interest whose story is designed to help you figure out more about what’s going on. (For Koharu, it’s Kakeru.) But then there are some routes that can feel a bit unequal or unsatisfying, due to the demands of everything going on. For example, I’m still unhappy about the course of Koharu and Masamune’s storyline.

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The plus side is that the localization this time around is generally better. The original Vita version of Norn9: Var Commons was interesting even though it wasn’t exactly perfect. This retelling of the story is more succinct and understandable. Also, since this is a visual novel, it doesn’t really ever feel dated. There are no modern references, due to it being a period piece with science fiction elements. As an otome visual novel game, it isn’t like there were incredible strides in execution between Norn9 Var Commons’ 2013 PSP debut and 2023 Switch return, which also helps a lot!

The downside is if you aren’t feeling Norn9 Var Commons, then it’s very easy to get lost and leave the game without really knowing what’s going on. There is a lot of information players deal with throughout the story. You don’t get a full understanding of everything going on unless you unlock the epilogue. Locking away a true ending or a special love interest isn’t uncommon in an otome game. However the sheer numbers here and diversity means getting that resolution is a little rough. Especially since, spoilers aside, there are still some plot holes even if you do complete it all.

Review: Norn9 Var Commons is Better on the Switch

There are other elements that I feel still hold Norn9: Var Commons a bit, even though it’s largely an enjoyable otome game. The text in some UI areas and tutorial messages can vary in terms of legibility due to font choices. There’s also a strange formatting effect. Whenever dialogue comes up, there is an indent after the first sentence. More importantly, this is one of those games where you “pick” a route, then are flat out stuck on that path for the rest of that storyline. You aren’t given a lot of exposure to the love interests prior to that, so you might not know enough to make an educated choice about which route to pick. What’s worse is that even though there are three love interests for each heroine, one of them is locked out until you complete some of the other branches.

Norn9: Var Commons is one of those otome games that shows Idea Factory isn’t afraid to try things, and the Switch release is the best version of it. However, while it is enjoyable, it also happens to be a game that can be a bit scattered due to how much it attempts to do. Some of the routes can be really enjoyable and the whole of the story is fun if you don’t get too bogged down in the details. However, know going in that if you want all the answers, you’ll eventually need to basically fall in love with everyone.

Norn9: Var Commons is available on the Nintendo Switch.

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