I am Jack’s Saddened Realization

When the genre of the Visual Novel comes up, the most common denominator that rears itself are weirdly intimate and overly sexualized dating sims disguised as cute stories of the lonely boy breaking out of his shell.  Browse “Visual Novel” on Steam and you’ll be greeted to over 1,800 titles, and most will introduce with a familiar tone. But if you dig a little deeper, there are some more mature visual novels that don’t pander to a specifically horned up community: some that invoke emotions of fear, mystery, and intrigue.  When you put yourself in the range of titles like Psycho Pass, Steins;Gate, and Spirit Hunter it lights the fire of wonder and intrigue in the genre most dare not try.  So when I looked into Andy Church’s new free-to-play title, Kill or Love, I only wish it came close to its influences currently on the market.

Kill or Love follows the life of Jack Friday, a certified loner with a knack for purposely keeping anyone at a distance.  With an amnesic past that keeps his feelings in check, he believes that keeping people away from him is the best scenario: he despises others, so others need to leave him be.  After being singled out by a female coworker, Grace, at their job, Grace takes a liking to Jack, and coaxes him out to have a drink. Where Jack remains steadfast in his solitary lifestyle, he starts to engage in conversation with Grace, where even as the talks are bare boned, he develops a liking to her.  Jack starts to recognize and understand the enjoyment of another one’s company. But as life for Jack starts to improve, a mysterious woman from his past re-enters his life. And for Anna, her sole intent is to remind Jack of his past and become the man she knows him to be. For Jack, his gut and his forgotten past seek to make sure she is buried alongside the secrets he kept himself from remembering.

As most psychological horror titles go, most of the story will remain woefully obtuse until the finished pieces of the puzzle are finally given, so the “A-Ha!” moments have that necessary punch at the end.  These moments are built not only through the suspense and tension of the ever expanding story, but with the constructed relationships of each character. The highs and lows of a successful story ebb and flow with characters that can be sympathized or empathized with, but I can’t help but be emotionally detached with Jack.  He’s all over the place: with the constant berating of others around him, to pulling a 180 and becoming head over heels with Grace who should have absolutely no reason to pursue him given the way he treats her and everyone else around him. Progress about 30 minutes into the story and I counted on two hands the amount of times I just shook my head at how ridiculous Jack was towards Grace, and how Grace blew past every red flag posted on the road to their relationship.

Keep going further and Jack’s feelings and emotions start spinning like a top, with his origination of constant disengagement with Anna, to almost in a blink of an eye after a particularly pedestrian argument with Grace turns sour, falls into a dream-like trance with Anna, swooning over her every word.  This ping-pong match in Jack’s head, forcefully pushing away any forbidden hint of love only to see his actions become as faded as a derelict sign after years of the Sun’s abuse, could be seen as two sides of a coin. Is this a sloppy writing scheme bent only to progress the story with the faint whiff of wanting a hero out of everyone, or is it a masterclass showing of the schizophrenic tendencies of a man whose only defense against the world is the wall his past self built for his unsung future?  I could argue for both sides of the coin, but I can’t give Andy that much credit.

Because if this was the beautifully overcast tale I could argue it would be, the lead up to, as well as the four possible endings, all but ruined that possibility.  While tensions run high and Jack is given a chronological series of choices that will shape not only his future, but the fate of the two girls, hence the aforementioned title, each direction chosen felt just as ludicrous as the next.  The only ending that felt remotely believable to everything that was laid out in the 3 hour story could be perceived as the morally bad ending. The other three feel like either cop-outs to Jack’s moral compass that has had magnets pressed against it since the beginning of the game, or unintentionally hilarious outcomes that in no way shape or form would ever…ever happen.

I had willed myself to believe the previous explanation, that Jack was a broken man, a man who had tried since he was a kid to remove a piece of his puzzle that would only do harm to himself and those around him.  That Grace and Anna would instead be pieces of his puzzle that were never meant to fit, but could be jammed in hard enough that the bent and broken tiles eventually filled the empty spots in his life. But when you see the entire puzzle of Kill or Love together, it looks just as jumbled, nonsensical, and disappointing as Jack turns out to be.

So be the sheep, not the wolf, and steer clear of this bewildering journey.

Reviewed on PC/Steam.

Playable on Steam and itch.io.