An Obtusely Meta Self-Help Visual Novel

Since the meteoric rise of Doki Doki Literature Club in 2017, more eyes have been fixated on visual novels that do less to stimulate the brain: but more to confuse, tantalize, and disorient. With each possibly suspect title that comes free-to-play on the Steam platform, I get a funny feeling in my head, “Am I about to stumble upon the next Doki Doki?” “Am I about to get bamboozled by someone working off the coattails of universal success to ship out a half-hearted product?” “Am I gonna go to jail for playing this?” So with a quick download, and a click of the Play button, I start my adventure into the Moe Era.

Now, stop me if you’ve heard this, but you begin your journey stepping into the shoes of a custom named high school protagonist. As the attendant of an experimental class with just five students and one teacher teaching all subjects, you play out your days learning classic literature, reminiscing famous piano pieces, and trying to claim your first kiss across three different continents in a fever-dream like whirlwind where a life-altering slot machine in a nauseating forever room pretense the follies of the day that lay before you. Did I lose you? Yeah, it threw me for a loop as well.

While most of your preconceived notions of Visual Novels are here: a trio of overly cute female classmates, played out archetypes that pander to the common denominator, not-so-candid booty shots, Moe Era pulls you off the course in the first few minutes of its story to plug that fact that most people “will never amount to anything,” and lays the question front and center: are you most people?

It’s an interesting call to almost play backwards to the Visual Novel formula, showing each character beforehand, explaining concepts unknown to you before you even step foot in the main arch, but it works in piquing interest where most would just sludge through to what they are seeking to get from the game. And like was said above, all-in-all, you know what you’re getting yourself into when you dip your foot in the Visual Novel pool.

But as the game continues, and to try not to be too spoiler-intensive, there is a weird change of pace, where the characters in the game are not talking to the faceless character named after you, but to you yourself. But not in the skin-crawling, mysteriously daunting sense you would figure; the affirmations of each character strive to build positivity and to change negative habits. To become a better person, to where you can do activities and experience new challenges and rewards in life, and not just in the video game world itself.

And that may come across as obtusely meta, given the goals the game sets for you kneecap Moe Era‘s original, face-value intentions, but it’s an interesting ride nonetheless. When I downloaded Moe Era, I can’t say I expected the weirdest 4 hour self-help seminar I’ve been a part of, but here we are: and I’m not mad at all.

Now will I come back in a year? We will wait and see, ladies.

Reviewed on PC/Steam.

Playable on Steam & itch.io