Wow, am I actually talking about a video game? What? I thought I had gone full anime? Well, the truth is things kind of have turned that way as time has progressed, but I still reserve the right to talk about whatever I think would still appeal to that audience. That’s why visual novels and jazz are ok in my book. Do you know what’s also ok in my book? That’s right, the game we’re talking about today.
Bad End Theater is exceptional. I’m not the type to beat around the bush or be all passive on these things. Bad End Theater is a treat. It is a very short (less than two hours) incredibly unique story that (if you’re like me) will somehow force tears out of you in that small amount of time. It’s really, really good.
This is an example of a story that isn’t all that unique in what it does, but it’s the way everything comes together to form the whole that makes it an incredibly unique experience, or at least, much more than the sum of its parts would be otherwise.
The story is a simple one. It focuses on four characters that you will come to love very quickly. In this world, the role a character is given determines everything, from the way they think to the way they act and live. It’s very important, which makes sense given the context of the story. Well, the overarching story. Not necessarily the characters’ story. Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
You have The Maiden, a girl from a village who’s destined to be captured by The Overlord, no, not me. I’m a guy. You have The Overlord, a female demon who just wants to live peacefully with humans and clear her demonkind’s name. The Underling, who serves and sometimes murders The Overlord, and The Hero. He just screws everything up. Well, I mean, he also saves The Maiden sometimes, but he’s mostly a screw-up.
These four characters are the only four in the story, but only four in the actual story. What I mean is that this story about these four is actually inside of the actual game’s story because, if you remember, the title is “Bad End Theater.” It’s about someone who writes stories with bad endings for these characters, and you are watching and taking part in them, well, kind of. That’s where the unique stuff comes in.
The actual gameplay is just a visual novel. It’s a choose your own adventure with pretty pictures. It’s a visual novel. It’s even made with Renpy. That’s what most of them are. I could definitely gush over the really cute pixel art, fantastic art direction in general with the colors changing to fit the different perspectives, and the amazing retro music, but I just cleverly did already! All and all, it is just a visual novel on the surface, just a pretty one.
What’s unique is that you get to affect the outcome of things! Wait, that’s not unique. What IS is how you do it. The story simply involves some combination of simple events. The Maiden gets captured, The Hero rushes to find her, The Underling fights The Overlord, and she has to suppress an uprising and deal with all the other characters’ crap.
How you alter the story is seeing this story playing as each of the protagonists, and making decisions at crucial points from their perspectives. These choices unlock traits for the characters that dictate the decisions they make when you aren’t controlling them. That means that while it has simple visual novel gameplay, you actually have to think about how to achieve the many endings, and the game gives you a nice flow chart to help out, but it still doesn’t outright answer the puzzle for you. It’s fun.
It’s a very interesting way to alter a tried and true formula without actually changing much. So technically speaking, Bad End Theater is really cool, but that’s not why a lot of people, me included, love this game. I love it because it’s charming as hell and full of heart. That’s pretty much it. Yup.
I always feel like that’s such a cop-out thing to say, but even if it’s hard to nail down what exactly having heart means, it’s still something most people understand and rings very true here. If I had to try and say what that means, I would say it’s something that feels personal. Something that doesn’t feel as if it’s made for money, but something made just to be made. Something pure is, I think, the best way I can put it. Does that mean that was the intention with Bad End Theater or half the things with heart? Probably not.
Regardless, it’s a feel that not everything has, yet these smaller indie games made by just a few people tend to have it a lot more. Add that in with the fact that the story itself feels very personal to its writer, both the story within a story and the story, and they’ve really managed to craft something special here. It’s called Bad End Theater, which means everything always ends badly for the characters. No true end will save them. There’s nothing the characters can do, just the writer.
Seriously, the game is cute as heck, but some screwed-up stuff happens. Characters burn to death a lot, get eaten alive, burn in other ways, stabbed. There’s a ton of death, albeit charming death, but death nonetheless. It’s about bad endings, and people typically die in those, you know? Part of what makes them bad in the first place.
This also poses the very interesting questions of when stories should have happy endings and whether more people appreciate happy ones. It’s an interesting take on the topic and leads itself into a longer dedicated discussion about it one day. But just because you’ll see the character die a few dozen times apiece, that doesn’t mean you’ll leave the game sad. It has a wonderful conclusion that wraps everything up nicely, albeit a little out of nowhere, but I’ll take it.
Bad End Theater is a lot of things. It’s a unique take on a very oversaturated genre. It has great music, great art, an interesting story, and all around is just a really charming, short, and to-the-point story. It really does just about everything right. Honestly, it’s what I would describe as the perfect indie game, or at least what I believe they’re best at achieving. I would really recommend this to anyone. It’s fantastic. Please give it a go.
Thank you very much for reading
I love charming stuff, man.