By: Brian Gunn
Norn9: Var Commons in a sci-fi story featuring a cast of people with superhuman abilities traveling on a mysterious ship. It is also filled with hunky young lads to romance. Does it stand out as a compelling sci-fi story or is it mainly going to attract an audience looking for love?
There’s not much to say about the controls in most visual novels, and it’s the same case here. It’s a visual novel, you’re mostly just tapping X to move the scene forward, with the occasional menu-based choice to make. There are some nice quality of life options like quick saving and loading, as well as a backlog in case you went through a scene too fast.
Norn9 feels a bit generic on the visual design front. A lot of the character designs are sort of stock anime characters, complete with school uniforms. The story takes place in a mysterious floating airship that provides for some unique vistas, but I found myself struggling to really picture it as a whole. Some character designs are just silly too, like Ron, who is always baring his chest and wearing sunglasses indoors.
Aside from inner monologues, Norn9 is fully voiced in Japanese. It works well to sell some of the more dramatic and comedic moments over other visual novels that only voice important bits. Music is pleasant if a bit forgettable.
The story starts a bit odd for an otome, with the perspective character not being a beautiful young woman but instead a studious 12-year-old boy named Sorata. He quickly finds himself in a spot of bad luck, somehow having traveled back in time and ending up on the titular Norn ship.
The Norn appears to be some sort of futuristic craft, and here we meet the other part of the title, the 9. Or rather, we should be meeting the 9, but something is up. There’s only supposed to be nine people on the ship, which has provided nine rooms, and yet, including Sorata, they’re a few people over capacity. It is soon revealed that at least one of these extra people is a traitor and working to bring the ship down.
There are a few main beats of the story including figuring out who the traitor is. The majority of the cast are espers, people with superhuman abilities — like being able to control plant life. Finding out the traitor, the nature of these abilities, and what exactly Norn is are the game’s draws outside of romance.
Shortly into the story you’ll switch characters to one of three young women, and then shortly into playing as them you’ll be prompted which romance route you want to take. And so there isn’t a very meaty base game here as it branches off fairly quickly, with the endings sharing some similarities.
Some story beats are resolved in most branches, but in order to get a good picture of the game you’ll need to play through multiple times. Some important people on the ship barely appear depending on who you pick to pursue, which made it hard to remember just who they were when they’d randomly reappear during certain moments.
Playing the various routes will earn you points and unlocks, which can be used for things like concept art and comedic skits. The game is a bit annoyingly locked down at the start, forcing you to play through a route for each lead character before being able to pick further stories.
All in all, the characters aren’t bad, but they do feel a bit familiar, falling into fairly clichéd roles. For example, the stoic leader type that’s closed off to people naturally has the ability to erect literal barriers to keep things safe. That’s the sort of basic, almost eye rolling thematic depth you can expect while playing.
I’d find it hard to really recommend Norn9: Var Commons to anyone that’s not a core part of the target audience; unlike, for instance, Code Realize, which had a lengthy base to the story that drew me in. Norn9 does have a few decent twists toward the end, but it didn’t do too much to stand out.