Originally released in 1996, YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World revolutionized the visual novel genre. Innovative branching storylines, a unique time travel plot, and a fantastic art style impressed fans of the genre. In the 20+ years since its release, the game’s influence has been seen in countless other titles that have followed, such as Steins;Gate. With the release of a remade version of this classic title, new and old fans can once again enjoy this grand story with updated visuals, gameplay mechanics, and music.
Takuya is a typical university student who lives with his stepmother, his father having recently gone missing while away on business and presumed dead. However, one day Takuya receives a package with a letter from his dad stating that he is in fact not dead, but in an alternate reality. The package also contains a strange tablet inlaid with jewels called a Reflector, which his father explains is a means for Takuya to traverse dimensions and find him. The next few days of Takuya’s life take many twists and turns as he zips through timelines and interacts with the people around him in multitudes of ways. His way of life is turned on its head in a way that can only be described as fate.
The plot of YU-NO is a major draw for any visual novel enthusiast, especially those that like time travel elements. The game is not afraid to delve deep into the theoretical physics behind time travel, which gives the plot a scientific depth that you may not find in many other games of the genre. This also means that concepts will no doubt go over most players’ heads, though this in no way detracts from enjoying the experience. None of the plot has been altered in this remake version, but the story overall has aged well. The idea of traveling between dimensions and time is still something we can only dream about, so watching Takuya do so will still scratch that sci-fi itch in our modern times.
Players will meet various characters throughout the game while following Takuya’s story. One of the first is Ayumi, Takuya’s grieving stepmother who’s trying to make do after her husband of just six months disappears. Takuya’s classmates also feature prominently in the game. His friend Yuki and the prickly but secretly sweet Mio make frequent appearances throughout the game, as does the mysterious exchange student, Kanna. Takuya confides in the school’s physician Eriko frequently during the game, a woman with a particularly provocative fashion sense.
An issue in many visual novels is the tendency to be extreme in the portrayal of the protagonist. Either they have no personality or voice lines in an attempt to allow players to self-insert into the role of the main character, or the protagonist is given a strong personality that not everyone will enjoy. YU-NO features the latter, as Takuya can be described as little more than a crass chauvinist for a majority of the game. Luckily, he is developed more later in the game, but players will have to endure dozens of hours of gross comments and actions before even a hint of growth is shown. The result is the main character who is hard to root for, which is not a great thing in any story.
Almost all of these characters experience some kind of character growth by the game’s conclusion, not the least of which being Takuya. Some are able to change how they see themselves for the better, while others reconcile the traumas of their past and look ahead to the future with more optimism. This is good to see, even if it makes the more generic characters seem boring in comparison. It’s likely that players will have characters they like and those they despise, but that makes the game all the more rich.
As the developers chose to make this version of YU-NO an almost complete shot-for-shot remake of the original, the common adult elements of the 1990’s visual novel are ubiquitous here. That’s not to say you can’t still find plenty of this kind of content in current visual novel releases, but the inclusion of so much of it in such a story-dense title is far less common now than it once was. The game’s CG art is laden with upskirt angles and/or cleavage and the protagonist makes constant sexual comments toward nearly every female character, something that will likely grate on the nerves of many players. There are innumerable times when the story is particularly serious in tone or the overarching plot points are really coming into focus, and then Takuya makes an inappropriate comment and the whole atmosphere is lost. Toning down the constant innuendo and “humor” would have really made the story shine more.
Players familiar with the original 1996 release of YU-NO should be aware that the racy scenes seen in each story route have been removed. Propositions are often replaced with references to “making out” instead, but the inclusion of the post-scene CGs and dialogue make it apparent what deeds were done. In addition, various CGs featuring partial nudity in the original have been edited, and certain bits in a couple of the CGs that are uncensored in the Steam version have been obscured for the Switch edition. These omissions and edits do not change the plot whatsoever.
There are two particular adult scenes in the original version that many players would no doubt find morally reprehensible. In this remade version, only implications are left intact in the more overt of the two scenes since some of the dialogue is unchanged, but even the new scenario is extremely awkward. The second scene remains unchanged, likely because it takes a bit of thought and information from the last parts of the game to piece together why that act is questionable. Some players may not be so offended by these story events, and others may not be bothered since these events were either sloppily altered or aren’t morally wrong at first glance. All the same, players should be warned that they may leave this game with a sick feeling in their stomach.
Though much of what made the original so good remains intact, the translation of the new YU-NO has some issues. Often conversations will appear odd or the protagonist will say odd things that don’t fit the conversation. Without knowledge of the original Japanese, it’s unclear if this is a result of not enough creative liberties being taken in changing some of the original script that doesn’t translate right into English, or actual mistakes in translation were made. This causes difficulties in being able to engage correctly with what is happening in the story.
Like any visual novel, the gameplay of YU-NO consists of reading through text boxes and advancing dialogue to proceed with the story. Common functions to skip seen dialogue or to automatically advance it without player input are included. Minor features such as window opacity modification and saving during story conversations are not included here, but are not a major concern. There is only one slot for saving your progress, but players are able to find jewels in the game that allow individual saves to be made throughout the game’s routes. What results is a typical visual novel system of multiple save slots but done in a unique way.
Much of the game is spent navigating between different areas. This is done through a pointer moved with the controller, allowing the player to select points of interest on the area screen that starts dialogue with characters, gives information on the object/area, or moves the player to a different area. For reference, a similar system is featured in the Phoenix Wright series of games while looking for clues. This system is also used while talking to characters, making it possible to examine your immediate vicinity and the character themself. This can lead to inappropriate comments depending on where you click on the character.
A menu is displayed on the top and bottom of the screen by default that notifies you of the relevant areas and items necessary to advance the plot. This is known as “Hint Feature”, something that was not included in the original version. It’s a welcomed addition that saves the player a lot of time they may otherwise have spent running around town trying to find where they needed to be in order to continue the story. Those wishing for a more free experience as far as exploration can turn off this feature in the options menu.
All dialogue in YU-NO is voiced, which is quite a feat for a game of such a long length. Conversations with major characters also feature their character model appearing on-screen. Their facial expressions change along with the conversations, and they blink as normal. Unfortunately, the range of expressions is not very complex, so the various emotions they have are not always properly conveyed on their face.
A common feature in any visual novel is the idea of branching storylines, and YU-NO is no different. In fact, the original really paved the way for the concept and remains one of the best examples of it. Much of the ways in which the narrative splits depends on the items you use and the areas you choose to visit at various points in the story. Depending on these things, the plot will diverge into different routes, each route focusing on narratives featuring one of the game’s characters more prominently. All routes eventually end in one of several endings, some of which are more positive for the characters and Takuya than others.
Players can keep track of their progress along each route via the ADMS map. Each plot crossroads is visually displayed, and each route is color-coded to denote when a route has been joined or left. This is a useful way to keep track of progress, and makes subsequent playthroughs to explore different routes and story forks much easier.
Oftentimes routes in visual novels have a laser focus on the character associated with that route, with all scenes being unique to each route. While there are several unique scenes in each route, in YU-NO there are also several story sequences that multiple routes have in common. Even if you’ve seen these scenes in other routes, you will not be able to use the skip function to quickly scroll through them. This is an annoying detail that pops up more often than it needs to, but manual skipping until the scene ends is still possible.
As previously mentioned, jewels can be found on the various routes and are displayed on the ADMS map as sparkles. These are important to obtain because they allow players to make a save for each jewel they have. Loading one of these “jewel saves” rather than from your normal save allows you to go back to a previous point while retaining any items obtained to point of loading. This is necessary in order to obtain certain endings or routes that require specific items that are received in other character routes.
You must play through multiple routes to get the full experience, which is a great feature, though any visual novel fan who is worth their salt should do this anyway. Especially in the case of YU-NO, which only reveals much of its story after you obtain all 10 jewels. Luckily, the process of finding the particular items necessary to explore each route becomes easier as you obtain more jewels.
YU-NO features an anime art style, similar to what you’d see in a television series or manga. The style is a modern update to the type of visuals seen in the original 1996 release. Some purists may find the new character model style pales in comparison to what they remember, but for most, this style will be appealing. The broader jawlines of the female characters have given way to the more common slight facial features seen in modern anime series. In addition, the background art has fantastic detail. Buildings look nice and interior shots convey feelings of both comfort and complexity.
There are many musical tracks to be heard in the YU-NO. Astonishingly, there is both a revamped and original version of each song in the game. There is an area in the options menu to switch between both versions. The originals have a more simple sound, while the remade songs are a bit more complex. Both styles have their merits, and it comes down to a matter of preference in what players will want to use.
For those that finish 100% of the game’s routes, a music menu can be unlocked on the main menu that allows you to listen to every track from the game, original and remade, even a few tracks that were not used. This is a great way to listen to the game’s many great tracks, though this option really should have been easier to obtain. By the time it’s unlocked, there isn’t much game left for the player to explore.
Included with every first run copy of YU-NO is a separate 8-bit game called Yu-No’s Great Adventure. This is a short side-scrolling game that incorporates several elements from the main game, such as the branching map system and jewels that let you rewind time and move between routes to collect extra power-ups and items. It’s a very cool free bonus, considering how much effort can be seen in it’s gameplay and look. Players are encouraged to play this after finishing YU-NO its entirety before trying out this spin-off. The characters and subject matter will make no sense otherwise.
An interesting detail is that this game was promised way back in a bonus scene at the end of the original YU-NO. In it, the characters referenced a game that would be releasing sometime soon that chronicled an adventure such as this. Over twenty years later, that promise has been fulfilled and players can embark on this spin-off quest!
Replaying through the routes is a necessity to fully enjoy YU-NO. All the jewels must be collected to even begin to understand the game’s overarching storylines, which are only vaguely referenced or teased in the game’s routes prior. Using jewel saves to play again through the routes is essential, as you’d otherwise have to start from the beginning every time.
If you are a fan of the visual novels of today, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not playing YU-NO. The price may seem steep considering the age of the original, but the playtime of this game exceeds many AAA titles, so you will easily get your money’s worth. When you consider how long ago it released, and all the great titles that have come after it, it becomes apparent how important it was for the genre. This remade version takes all of the characters, plot, and innovative features of the original and packages them for a new generation of fans. The real shame is that the same inappropriate dialogue that peppers the entire experience was left so intact. Many players will not be able to get past it to enjoy the great story. For those that can see past all the underwear shots and crude comments, this will be a game that transcends time and space.
Final Rating: 8/10