My search for decent titles eventually made me aware of the company ClockUp. While their games aren't exactly in the top sellers (like Leaf, Key, or Nitro+), their previews for the 2010 lineup seemed impressive. It was with this in mind that I decided to give their latest release a try. What I ended up getting into was a story that is a true example of what a game can be capable of when in the hands of a writer that is willing to go all out in terms of plot, while having a couple of surprises for us as we explore each route. The game I speak of is ClockUp's Rune Lord.
Game: Rune Lord
Rune Lord (RL for short) was released by ClockUp's Team Dyo on January 29, 2010. The game features a scenario written by ORU with character designs by Imanaka Koutarou and Mutsugen.
The player takes the role of Hagane Seigi, a high school student and otaku that is a member of his school's "Creative Society" (KaSouKen, which seems to be a reference to GenShiKen in that the members are basically game, manga and anime fans). Seigi goes about his everyday routine while maintaining a positive attitude, and his determination and burning spirit have gotten him through tough times when needed. He's not exactly the smartest guy in the world, but has proven to be very reliable.
As his club prepares for the coming school festival, Seigi's life takes a strange turn when he sees a giant robot headed towards his school while on his way home. Giving chase, he finds the robot in the midst of battle with another robot under the control of fellow club member Giselle Olympiada. The events that follow lead to Seigi becoming the pilot of the mecha Grizeldis and his eventual journeys through time and space. His life intertwines with that of three girls from very different origins, taking him through the fantasy world of Balshutel, the 32nd Century and beyond.
|Giselle Olympiada CV: Gogyou Nazuna|
The princess of the Varashion Empire and something of a BL fangirl, Giselle is introduced to us as a member of the "Creative Society" that Seigi is part of. From the get-go, she proves to be a very talented girl, if a little quiet when it comes to anything that is not a direct challenge from Gelda.
Though she doesn't show it, Giselle holds Seigi in very high regard, and after a robot attacks the town of Setouchi, she chooses our protagonist as a possible candidate to take the rank of Varashion's Seikishi (lit. Holy Knight or Paladin). While her subjects doubt Seigi's ability, her trust in him pays off after he passes all the trials and becomes the hero everyone expects him to be.
As her route is explored, Giselle's role in the world of Balshutel is revealed, as she is her country's Senninhime (Princess of a Thousand). Like those that came before her, she was chosen out of one thousand children from her generation by the durandal-class mecha known as Baltromeus as the country's defender and leader of the military. Thus, Giselle is not really the king's daughter, but a special child who had a great responsibility thrust upon her.
Gelda Zeseblant CV: Kamizuki Aoi
A member of the "Creative Society" with a sharp tongue and an attitude to match. Gelda is introduced as a girl that likes putting Seigi on the spot, and enjoys picking on him when given the chance. Her competitive nature constantly puts her at odds with Giselle, to the point that Gelda regularly issues challenges to Giselle (first out of pride, but later over Seigi).
As proven later in the story, Gelda is also from Balshutel. Her role is that of the High Priestess of the Seireizoku (lit. Spirit Tribe), possessing the ability to see through and manipulate time and space. She enjoyed watching Seigi's everyday life, finding his existence both interesting and amusing. This led to her eventually running away from her temple in order to be closer to him. Despite her occassional arguments with the protagonist, she actually likes him very much, and in part wants him to pay attention to her.
Gelda's powers come into play after she witnesses Seigi's rise to Seikishi and his accidental destruction of Balshutel. Determined to help him, she decides to use her power to try to alter the timeline that leads to the end of the world. What makes her particularly tragic is that she knows Seigi is fueled by his desire to save Giselle from certain death and sincerely wants him to be happy, even if she feels there is no place for her in his heart.
Annette Gabriel CV: Fujimori Yukina
Like Giselle and Gelda, Annette is a member of the "Creative Society" that Seigi belongs to. While she is not great at drawing, she excels at and is specially fond of mecha-themed designs and models. Her liking mecha is something she has in common with Seigi, which has led to them getting along very well. She often hints to having a crush on him, but no one seems to really notice it.
Due of her size and demeanor, Annette is picked on by the other members of the cast and is often compared to a six year old child. Because of this, Annette has a tendency to lose her temper easily when a comment about her sounds like it may have a double meaning.
In reality, Annette is an android from the 32nd Century. She was originally created as the ultimate machine lifeform, making her capable of interacting with her city's Main Frame and pilot the mecha known as Ildana. Despite being created by very advanced technology, Annette is still prone to lock-ups (a la blue screen of death) when experiencing extreme emotions (most of them connected to how she feels about Seigi). As an adroid with unlimited developmental potential, it is no surprise that she is heavily affected when the Main Frame becomes corrupted. This leaves the responsibility of saving her in Seigi's hands.
Hagane Mana CV: Tamiyasu Tomoe
While not a romantic interest for the protagonist, Mana is a character worthy of note. Mana is introduced to us as Seigi's little sister. Unlike her brother, she attends a private academy, and thus doesn't see our protagonist very much. While Seigi goes out of his way to do things for her, she often comments at how he overdoes things and shouldn't be wasting his time.
Mana's presence in the story is minimal, as she is simply a foil for her brother at the very beginning. As the various routes are explored, Mana's true nature eventually comes to light.
Highlight for spoiler: Mana's route reveals that she and Seigi are actually two halves of what is known as the Shikou Engine (loosely translated by me to "Genesis Engine"), and when whole symbolize the very essence of hope (as in the ray of light that came out of Pandora's box). As explained, the engine's two components took the form of a boy and a girl who decided to create a world. Because both carried half of the engine's energies, the boy gave up his half to the girl (whom we discover to be Mana), making himself the "mortal" focal point of the world they created, while the girl would be something like a supervisor or overseer.
It is because of this power that Mana took on the alias of Adelheid, Grizeldis' Auxiliary Computer and Seigi's virtual companion.
Story, Structure & Engine
The story begins with a rather prophetic dream: our protagonist (voiced by Hiyama Nobuyuki) piloting a mecha in space, with everyone counting on him to rescue a nameless princess from the clutches of an evil tyrant. Just as he manages to find the princess, Seigi wakes up and begins his day with the morning routine of cooking a badly-made lunch box for Mana (only for her to refuse it out of embarrasment and because she prefers to buy food at school), then dashing off to school. During the first run (which by default is Giselle's route), we are introduced to the majority of the recurring supporting cast, including the other members of the KaSouKen, along with regulars in the town of Setouchi, where Seigi and the cast lives.
On his way back home he sees a mecha heading towards his school, which he chooses to follow. Much to his surprise, he finds the mecha engaged in battle with Baltromeus, a durandal-class mecha under the control of Giselle Olypiada. After the fight, she offers to explain the robot she controlled by bringing him over to her world, known as Balshutel.
Seigi soon finds out that the reason Giselle brought him to her world was because she had chosen him as a possible candidate for the rank of her country's Seikishi. As a mecha otaku who has only dreamed of such an opportunity, Seigi gladly accepts and proves to be made for the job, as his burning spirit manages to get him through everything the trials throw at him.
The events that follow lead to Seigi accidentally destroying the world of Balshutel, leaving him heavy with guilt, mostly because by this point he had fallen in love with Giselle and had sworn to protect and serve her. This is where Gelda comes in, as she offers to help Seigi remake the timeline in order to prevent the destruction of Balshutel and reveals her true identity as the High Priestess of the Seireizoku.
After saving Balshutel, Annette's story takes place, as she takes him more than 2000 years in the future to help her defend the world. Mana's route ties up some of the loose ends, but is more focused on the nature behind Seigi and Mana.
As evident in this synopsis, the flow of the story is linear for the most part. The four "main" routes flow into one another, starting with Giselle, then Gelda, then Annette and finally Mana. There are very few choices to speak of, though Gelda's route actually featured decisions that had the potential to get Seigi killed. Because there are no ero-scenes in the main routes, the flow of the plot is never interrupted.
Something to note is that the cast from Zwei Worter (a previous ClockUp game) show up and become part of the story during Mana's route.
Engine-wise, standard features were present. The only downside is that the original release of the game was somewhat buggy (text box not resetting, wrong character models and backgrounds used at times). The good news is that most of these bugs were fixed with the 1.1 patch that ClockUp released for the game on release week.
Character designs were provided by the combined efforts of Imanaka Koutarou and Mutsugen. To this end, I was very pleased with the huge variety of characters in the game, though I must say that Seigi and the heroines are surpassed by how well the support characters were designed.
The mech designs were alright, but because they were modeled using polygons, it's a little difficult to tell what they're doing during certain battle scenes. The angle in which they were drawn at times did not help this in any way. Personally, I wish the mechs had been designed to look a little less abstract.
Audio & Video
RL is partially-voiced, with most of the major characters being covered by a rather hefty voice cast. Most of the voice actors used were in a previous ClockUp game titled Zwei Worter, and reprise their roles from Zwei Worter late in the story. That aside, we have Hiyama Nobuyuki, who voices Seigi during the prologue for the first route and later resumes his role for the last couple of scenes before each ending.
The game's music was provided by Uehara Ichinoryuu. I was fairly impressed with the musical score, even if I felt the soundtrack was a little short. Still, cues and use of music were very good.
As far as video, the OP for RL can be seen here.
From a certain persective, the whole game is structured as an omake of itself. Clearing Giselle's route unlocks Gelda's route, which itself unlocks Annette's route, which itself unlocks Mana's route.
After clearing Mana's route, the game opens up a "Date Route" that allows the player to push Seigi towards Giselle, Gelda or Annette (this is where the game's ero scenes take place), and the first of three extra routes that wrap up the story (Missing Link 1, Missing Link 2 and Finale). The Missing Link stories explain how the Zwei Worter cast got involved with the events that lead to their appearance in RL.
Highlight for spoiler: Finale, on the other hand, ties up all the loose ends, but (to my dissapointment) reveals that Seigi doesn't end up with any of the three heroines.
In a few words, I really liked this game. It has enough Sci-fi to satisfy most fans (cyberpunk elements, time travel, and some space opera). The voice cast was truly great, the characters were likable and the story was very well-conceived. I do have mixed feelings over ORU deciding to use the cast from a completely separate game to fill the "gaps" in RL, but I probably feel that way because I did not play Zwei Worter. Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.
"I have control..."