Eri is just your typical teenage girl. She attends classes, has two chatty friends, and can’t help but have an eye for handsome boys. However, she also has a bit of a secret. Her hobby is collecting ball-jointed dolls (BJD) – incredibly beautiful and expensive figures – which she hides from everyone else. After her grandfather’s death she couldn’t help but begin collecting more to absorb the loneliness. One day Eri awakens to find all five of her dolls have apparently come to life as handsome young men. As incredible (and some might say ridiculous) as this all sounds, it is just the start of otome visual novel Nameless ~The one thing you must recall~ and serves as a great hook to the hours of storytelling to explore.
Most visual novels localized in the west tend to focus on concepts of gameplay such as puzzles or point and click aspects. Nameless is not one of these games. With that said, there is a strong aspect of play involved in which you determine which choices the protagonist makes. Over the course of a playthrough you’ll encounter around a dozen choices which lead you down one of multiple paths. With five BJD’s in the household there are also five main paths to pursue, each with at least three endings. Much of the fun comes from watching the story unfold but some also occurs via trying to get each guy’s good ending. It’s not as hard as it sounds either as once you get a feel for the game the “right” choices seem pretty apparent.
With that said, some of the bad endings are definitely worth checking out too. Unlike main endings these sad, disturbing, and sometimes frightening bad ends do not offer tons of additional storytelling. Most appear shortly after making one wrong choice (or a few poor ones in succession). This is actually beneficial in that you can discern which choices not to choose without having to refer to a guide as is sometimes the case with the genre. Create different saves right before each choice and you should do fine.
Games that offer so many different endings often feel imposing, seemingly forcing the player to focus for far too long after the story has become stale. Thankfully, Nameless is anything but the case. Unlike most visual novels, you aren’t forced to skip through a ton of the same bulky introductions just to get to a few new bits. While a first runthrough might take five to ten hours (depending on reading speed), working through each additional character’s storyline still takes three to five more.
Players are also instructed as to the order of which each guy’s path becomes available. While this might seem annoying at first, it provides an incredibly interesting overarching story arch and frames events in a logical manner. While players might be initially mad they can’t choose their favorite BJD off the bat, it serves this tale best.
Each of these impeccably handsome men also has a lot to offer as far as characterization is concerned. Sure, characters all start out as a stereotype (ex: seductive pervert, paternal figure, shy and cute) going down each one’s path reveals a great deal more about them. Some of the revelations are sweet while others are sad – or even downright frightening. Without spoiling anything in particular it is really surprising how dark this otome game can actually become. It’s not apparent through the first runthrough but the more people play the more its true colors are revealed. As such, it’s definitely recommended to play Nameless through to completion. Just note that discerning how to unlock the very last, secret ending might require a little help.
Visual novels don’t always require impeccable artwork to tell a great story but there’s certainly no harm in it. Without a doubt, this otome title has fabulous art from beginning to end. Every character’s sprite looks beautiful as one would expect but so too are the CGs. Even if you don’t like a certain character it is hard to deny their charm. As for the CGs, each scene has even nicer artwork and it feels very rewarding whenever one crops up. Great visuals help make this experience all the more enjoyable.
Where Nameless flounders is with its English translation. No, it is not some sort of horrible machine translation from Korean but there are definitely odd parts here and there. Sentence structure is incorrect at times and at others points the wrong word is used. With that said, these incidents are surprisingly sparse over the course of a 20 to 40 hour playthrough. It’s weird though considering there are many jokes and moments written perfectly for English speakers to enjoy. Again, the issue is not nearly as bad as some other visual novels and thankfully does not destroy immersion. What does cause immense frustration are quizzes which crop up once per character arc. In order to unlock everything you need to get an A+ which is harder than it should be. It would have been better to remove these tedious questionnaires entirely.
Most otome visual novels available to western gamers deserve a look due purely to their niche status, but Nameless deserves attention for more than that. Beyond its gorgeous surface is a fantastic, twisting narrative. Playing through all the good and bad endings is enjoyable even when some awkward grammar popped up. If not for those issues, along with a surprisingly high $33 price tag, it would be even easier to recommend. Still, the cost isn’t that bad when you consider Nameless ~The one thing you must recall~ is in the top tier of English-released otome games out there today.