PUNCH LINE is about a high school kid who causes the end of all life if he sees too many panties.
It’s an absurd premise that should make for a ridiculous visual novel, yet PUNCH LINE somehow manages to take this idea and make it extremely dull. Filled with uninteresting characters, forced wackiness, constant repetition, and weak puzzles, it’s an excruciating story to work through despite the pedigree of its writer and the silliness of its concept.
Yūta Iridatsu, our protagonist, doesn’t handle upskirt shots very well, fainting when he sees them. He also seems to gain superpowers from this as well, creating a situation where you think being a creep could be helpful. Then again, if he sees panties too much, he’ll cause an asteroid to hit the Earth, wiping out existence. It’s up to you to figure out why this is, and also why, after a bus hijacking and run-in with a local superhero, he’s been cast out of his body as a ghost.
This all sounds like the making of an absurd visual novel, but with the genre’s natural focus on characters and story, PUNCH LINE starts to show weakness quite early on. It’s all quite silly at first, with Yūta and the women in his apartment complex offering some funny interactions. With idols-turned-superheroes, mediums who don’t believe in ghosts, a wacky inventor, a talking ghost cat, and an irate gamer gal with a pet bear, it seems like a recipe for goofy situations.
Putting these various characters in bizarre situations never really plays out in interesting ways, though. The storylines are often tiresome, following the characters as they try to hide pets or cheer each other up. They have some funny moments, but for the most part, watching them interact with one another is boring. It’s a chore to get through their stories, which is a death sentence for a visual novel.
Things are not helped by the game’s constant use of repetition. PUNCH LINE is designed from the anime of the same name, and the game loves to throw in a few cutscenes from the anime. While these looked nice at first, the game repeatedly throws in the ending and opening of the show (which you cannot skip), as well as some other clips. Hope you like the scene where the superhero, Strange Juice, dons her outfit, as you’ll be seeing it over and over and over again.
Surely the story by Kotaro Uchikoshi (Zero Escape Trilogy) could save these characters, but even that takes forever to get going. The first few hours, after an interesting opening that sets up our narrative, seem content to muck about in the day-to-day lives of the characters, playing them off of one another in ways that seem silly and endearing at first, but soon grow stale as the story just spins its tires. It takes forever to see progress as the story focuses on its flat characters, and only those with extreme patience will get to the story’s more compelling elements.
Puzzles provide a bit of welcome diversion from the PUNCH LINE’s story, but not much. Yūta, as a ghost, is trying to get back to his body, but as a spirit, there’s not a whole lot he can do besides creep around or cause small changes in the environment. You can get a bit stronger by scaring people through knocking something over with your minor powers, growing your spirit energy. You just have to choose which item to fiddle with to do it.
Yūta is able to interact with a set number of items to create a scare before you fail miserably and the world gets wiped out. There are typically only a handful of items in a room to try, but this item limit keeps you from figuring out which it is through brute force. You’re forced to think about which item might have the most effect.
That said, failing resets the loop back to where you were (ghosts can shift through time, after all), so…you can brute force these puzzles. In fact, you likely will be, as often, the items in the environment seem pretty random. Will banana peels scare someone? An object on a shelf? These scare puzzles just feel like guesswork.
The more complex puzzles, where players need to set up chains of events to bring a specific end, are even worse. Here, you need to guess which of the random items in a series of rooms will make the characters do what you want them to. The answers are silly, being entertaining in ways once you know what they are, but there is little logic you can apply to figure out which item will cause what reaction. They’re not puzzles so much as they’re moments when you mess with stuff and hope the story continues afterwards. Some items cause silly reactions, but having to repeatedly fiddle with their use (and getting them in the right order) feels like busywork.
So, where do panties come into this? When exploring to use items, the women are often puttering around. At some of the camera angles, you’ll see up their skirts, and if you look too long, you destroy the world. The camera also naturally homes in when there are panties on screen, so you have to change angles fast, which takes a single button press. It feels like an utter afterthought of a mechanic, which is kind of a blessing if you’re not into being a creep, and a nuisance if you ARE here to leer. Which renders it pointless to have at all.
PUNCH LINE fails to engage the player in any way, its play and story lifeless. Navigating its narrative is a chore for far too long, its characters aren’t interesting to listen to, and its puzzles are less about logic and more about patience and experimenting. Fans of the anime may get something out of this, or those with extreme patience for a story, but few others will.