When I write my reviews, I’m writing to get a few things done. I write to get the word out on not only the game itself, but the underplayed OELVN scene, as well. The more articles on original english language visual novels the better. You’re all rising forces, honestly. Too quick are people to judge you all on being cheap, stupid, badly written, or anything else, solely based on the “OEL” tag. Those assumptions are wrong in many cases — it’s not cheap, stupid, or badly written because it’s an OEL, it’s cheap, stupid, or badly written because it was. The tag has no relevance. A visual novel is a visual novel no matter where it’s birthed from. I try to focus my attention on the more overlooked OEL games or games that aren’t drawing enough interest from the community. So, why am I reviewing a game that has two different reviews already?
It’s because Black Pencil, an ATP Projects game written/directed by mikey, haunted me for months after playing it. I’m serious here. The story, so simple, so incredibly ingenious, kept creeping its way back into my mind. I fell in love with it. You play as Kiyoshi, an office janitor who gets a premonition of Yuki Sakamoto, a worker in the building, dying in a horrible traffic accident. The game revolves around you two, nobody else in your world, and whether or not you can prevent her tragedy. Death, drama, and love, three things that I personally am enamored with, right inside one magnificent game.
It has to be known that it’s not for everyone, especially those used to games made with the Ren’Py engine. Made before the days of Ren’Py popularity, this game was coded from scratch by Luis “Jet” Mondragon, and thusly, lacks the features many of us might be accustomed to at this point. You can’t skip scenes you’ve already seen, you can’t roll back to text you might have missed, and you can’t save the game. Some players, especially those spoiled by Ren’Py and most games that have a save feature, may find themselves frustrated. Even so, you can safely spare yourself the headaches by experiencing this game once. Try it. One time was enough to hook me in.
Black Pencil even has a fan-made manga version
(link is a download), drawn by Lost Angel and proofread by ShiraiJunichi, based on my favorite ending to the game. Warning, even though it’s not the same exact Black Pencil story, it does have spoilers for the game. If I were you, I would play the game before reading. The Black Pencil manga was as wonderful as Black Pencil itself. Same basic plot, different character designs and setting (they’re neighbors, not people who meet in the same office building). It’s not a direct adaptation, but that doesn’t make it bad by any means.
The thing that makes this game shine so much for me is how real it feels. As happy as I was to spend touching moments with Yuki, I couldn’t be truly happy knowing what could potentially be around the corner. Her death. January 15th, 2006. Her name on a bloody job application, her dead body in the middle of the road. It’s all I can see. Can I change fate? I’m not a miracle worker, but if I try, maybe there’s a way to protect her, to save her. I couldn’t help but feel for Kiyoshi’s desperation.
The art, drawn by Magic_Diagram, doesn’t have much color beyond shades of black, white, and gray. This only amps up the story’s dark mood. It’s minimal and it works. It’s Black Pencil. If it were presented any other way, well, it wouldn’t work as well as it does. There’s no sound. I didn’t mind that so much. It is what it is and what it is is nothing short of amazing. Part of me even says that this visual novel out of all others is one of my favorites of all time. This one is proof that this OEL scene isn’t as bad as one would assume. Give it a chance.
Black Pencil was made back in 2004 and definitely stands the test of time. It holds its own in this age of colorful graphics, insanely intricate animations, and crazy text boxes. I like it. I think you will, too. Download it from the ATP Projects page here, from the RAA here, and discuss it here at LSF.
Please excuse the horrible screen shot taking this time. I’m not at my usual place, so things aren’t working out like they’re supposed to.
(EDIT – 1/1/2012: I’ve fixed the links and finally reuploaded new screenshots.)