Part 5: What Happened?
BGM: Menu (This is the main menu music)
Whoops! It's a lot quicker to (potentially) get your first ending in the sequel. Now you may be wondering- hey, so, what just happened? Why'd it go off the rails so goddamn quick? Well, the answer to that requires me to actually explain the external mechanics of the game, now that we have an ending under our belt.
Before I go over what actually influences what ending you get, I'm first gonna go over the game's save file system, as it's somewhat unique as well:
Specifically, once you've gotten an ending- no matter which one you get- that save file is locked in permanently- you can go back and revisit any scenes you've already seen on that particular path, but you can't change any of your decisions at all. You have to either start a fresh file or delete the one you just finished to be able to start again and make different decisions.
And speaking of the flowchart, here's what the one we just did looks like:
Yeah. We didn't get very far. We can zoom out and get a better view of what the initial flowchart looks like...
...but it really doesn't tell us anything. You can also see there are more locks this time around, but they function a little differently this time. You'll see what I mean later. You can also click on specific nodes and look at the choices you made for that particular node, such as the following- here's the node for when we first wake up in the classroom with Invidia and Superbia:
We chose to talk to Superbia first, which locked out the choice to talk to Invidia. Like I said before, even if we were to hit 'GO' and revisit the scene, it'd automatically make that choice again for us. This node's locked in the moment you make the choice.
But you must be wondering, what exactly in our choices led us down a path where we all died immediately? Or, if you're particularly eagle-eyed, you may have already noticed the TRUST button on the UI and wondered 'huh, what's that?' TRUST is what led us to ruin here, because if we look at what our TRUST menu was showing at the end there, you'd see the following:
You see, the decisions in this game aren't as simple as 'picking X over Y', but rather, how your choices link to the other participants of the game- the obvious ones, like 'talking to this person leads to them thinking more positively of us', and the less obvious ones, like 'taking this course of action over another makes that person like us more, since they agree with us'. Who we hack (when we get the chance to) also contributes to TRUST! What pushes us onto different branches/paths is not a binary choice but rather, having met (or avoided) certain TRUST thresholds.
And that's where the problem is- because you, as a new player, are not going to be told at any point what these thresholds actually are. Sure, understanding 'I talk to Invidia and Invidia's TRUST meter fills as well' is obvious, but knowing 'I have to have Luxuria's TRUST below/above X% to get moved onto Y branch' is...completely unstated until you've experimented enough.
The ending we just got is, essentially, because we weren't leaning in any direction at all- we were so spread thin that we really didn't leave any kind of impression on anyone (nor did we find enough evidence that we could capitalize on). In turn, nobody really gave a shit when Superbia decided to paint a target on us, causing the argument to essentially devolve into ad hominems when Ancora found herself without any real good means for defending herself- which, well, ran out the clock because nobody else could get a word in edge-wise. Sure, Invidia defended us, but that's moreso because he had no reason to doubt us, and therefore defended us moreso out of principle- same for Tristitia, who basically only defended us because there was no actual logic or clear reasoning for Superbia's accusations.
The specific thresholds for getting onto different branches are startlingly precise (especially when you have seven other people who could or could not be relevant), and thus it is very... very easy to get stuck in a loop where everyone keeps eating a shotgun blast because you didn't get the right TRUST threshold to shift what path you're headed down, and that in turn also means that this game would be annoyingly hard to do choice votes for, since a single choice can push someone's TRUST over a threshold and oops we're seeing the same ending a second time. Sure, I could probably find a way to balance it, but honestly it's probably faster if I
That said, there are a lot of tools the flowchart DOES have that make it manageable. So with that, I'm moving us to the next save file in the list, and going back to the flowchart...
As you can see, even though we're on a new save file, the game's retained all of the scenes I've already been through, as well as the ending I just unlocked. You can reference endings and branch pathways you've already seen. Additionally, as you can see, some of the nodes have a red exclamation point over it. This means that there's a choice in that node that has not been made yet.
If we go back to the same node as earlier, we can see the choice is open here- but we can only choose Superbia because that's the only option we've seen so far. If we so desired, we could enter the segment and choose to keep speaking with Invidia. If we did that, we would accomplish several things: For starters, we would gain TRUST for Invidia for the rest of that save file/route. No takebacks. Make a new save file or delete this one if you want to reset it to zero. Furthermore, the exclamation mark would go away, because the choice would be locked in at that point for that save file/route.
However, there is one final difference, and this is an important one. The next time we came to this node on a new save file, both options would be open, and that means we no longer even have to go into the segment itself to make the choice. The creator coded the flowchart so that you can actually toggle choices FROM THE FLOWCHART, and therefore completely bypass any of the fuss or holding down skip or any of that jazz. You just have to have already seen the scene at some point while playing the VN normally. This also means that unlike Zero Escape, we won't be jumping around to different points on the flowchart- you always have to start from the beginning and lock in each choice along the path.
Because each ending requires you to meet certain TRUST thresholds (which means every single choice matters from start to finish) this is a godsend after you've gotten a few endings. It also shows you how the TRUST scores will change as you toggle choices, and you can set multiple choices up to balance the TRUST before you lock anything in- it only locks in when you've entered ANY segment on the flowchart. The flowchart will also automatically start blacking out any branches that would become inaccessible based on the TRUST values, so you can start to figure out what does/doesn't allow you to down certain paths once you've seen enough of the segments to do everything from the flowchart, but that's...still a lot of fiddly shit to put up with.
Understandably, a lot of people bounced off the flowchart when this game first launched, mostly because the tutorial didn't really explain shit, but also because people were expecting it to be the same as Head AS Code/Zero Escape's flowcharts. I think it's a really cool idea from a conceptual standpoint, and it definitely has enough baked in QoL stuff to make up for how obtuse it is, but it's soooo goddamn finicky that the creator had to clean its UI up and make the tutorial fleshed out because of how consistent the complaints were.
After we've seen everything these first few decisions hold, I'll be skipping them and instead start out each new route stating which decisions we've made offscreen (there won't be many Extra segments this time, since most of the conversations are woven into the main choices/branches and we'll hit most of them just from the different TRUST balances we have to do. )
Next time, we're gonna start over and see if we can get a better outcome for that first voting session!