Anonymous;Code Review – A Code Worth Cracking

Science Adventure Series – an unassuming title for what is, in truth, a series of twisty, complex- story-rich visual novels. Beginning with Chaos;Head in 2008, the series now spans multiple visual novels, anime, manga, and more. The series tackles topics ranging from time travel to the morality of robotics to life after death, handling each with impressive depth and thorough research. Anonymous;Code, the latest entry in the series, deals with AI, layered worlds, wish fulfillment, and, ultimately, the answer to the question: if you could “save” and “reload” real life like a video game, what would you do with this power?

Pollon Takaoka is just scraping by, taking on what hacking jobs he can find to earn a living. One day, while hanging out with friends, Pollon brazenly lies that he has a girlfriend named Momo and that their relationship is getting serious. Later that same day, a mysterious woman grabs him by the hand – and informs him that she is his girlfriend, Momo. Now, thanks to Momo, Pollon has access to a strange app that grants him the power to save and reload real life as though it were a video game. However, the power is not without a price. Soon, mysterious entity begins setting him a series of near-impossible “Quests” that he must complete – or else!

Momo is such a freaking cutie!

The past two years have been a major renaissance for the long-running visual novel series. Four entries – Chaos;Head, Chaos;Child, Robotics;Notes, and Robotics;Notes DaSH – received long-awaited physical Western releases for the Nintendo Switch. It was the perfect time for the series to get a new entry after several years of remakes and spinoffs, and Anonymous;Code fit the bill perfectly. It has everything fans were expecting: an intense, layered story, quirky yet lovable characters, unique gameplay mechanics, and surprising emotional depth. Steins;Gate is generally recognized as the strongest title in the series, and while Anonymous;Code does not quite reach those heights, it is a worthy successor that maintains so much of what made Steins;Gate so Steins;Great.

To clarify, though – although Anonymous;Code is the latest entry in a fairy long series, you can absolutely play it without having experienced a single prior entry. The Science Adventure games are all set in the same universe and deal with similar concepts (robotics, time travel, augmented reality, etc.) but each main series title features a completely stand-alone story with a unique cast. There are a few little nods and references here and there, but you do not need to know anything about the previous games to fully enjoy Anonymous;Code. Whether you’ve played every prior Science Adventure title or are starting out for the first time, you will find much to love about this rather mind-bending visual novel.

Oops, made a mistake – time to load a save!

I’d recommend Anonymous;Code to someone who was looking to get into visual novels and the Science Adventure series and wanted somewhere to start. It’s shorter than a lot of the previous mainline entries – unlike the sprawling Steins;Gate, you can complete it in roughly 15-20 hours. It’s also much more linear than the previous games; there are still multiple paths and bad endings, but it lacks a system like Steins;Gate’s email responses that can alter dialogue depending on which characters you favor. The Save/Load system that makes up the core of gameplay can also be a bit finicky – there is at least one point where not loading a save at exactly the right time leads you directly to your doom.

At a time when AI and its role in society are a major topic of discussion and debate, Anonymous;Code feels particularly timely. Pollon, Momo and the other characters live in a world where augmented reality (AR) apps allow them to alter pretty much every aspect of their daily life. With the ability to adjust the “settings” of the world around you, life feels more and more like a video game controlled by technology. Is this a good thing? Should our technology have this much control over our lives? Is it dangerous to let it shape our existence to this extent? These are the questions that Pollon (and the player) must wrangle with throughout Anonymous;Code, and they feel consistently relevant to the real world we live in.

Cross was definitely my favorite character of the game

One of the strengths of the Science Adventure series has always been its characters, and Anonymous;Code delivers. Pollon is an interesting protagonist, who is essentially given the ability to “play God” by saving and reloading the world around him. He doesn’t take this power lightly, and this leads to a lot of introspection and stirring emotional moments as he completes more and more “Quests” and his journey progresses. Max Mittelman’s excellent voice work as Pollon is a major contributor to what makes the character so lovable – he keeps him infinitely grounded and relatable even as the character is being put through such an out-there scenario. The side characters are fun, although none of them quite have Pollon’s depth. My favorite was probably Cross Yumikawa, Pollon’s older brother-like best friend. I love “found family” stories, and Cross’s unending support for and worry over Pollon had a lot of those elements.

The art style of Anonymous;Code is also pretty visually stunning. Unlike previous Science Adventure titles, which used very traditional visual novel art, Anonymous;Code draws inspiration from comic books with bold, bright colors and movement-focused, action-heavy images. Even though the game consists of mostly still images with limited animation, you still get a feel that things are happening at a rapid pace. Some key scenes even made use of comic book panels to depict them, which was especially cool!

Check out that comic book action!

There is one less than ideal feature that Anonymous;Code shares with previous titles in its series: it’s wordy, and features many long, intense conversation and info dumps about complex technical and science fiction concepts. While explaining this kind of stuff is necessary for players to understand the game’s world and plot, the tendency to handle this in the form of “let’s dump a ton of complex information all at once” is not the best. There were a few times that I simply had to put my Switch down and walk away from the game because I was suffering information overload. It’s an unfortunate drawback that many visual novels have, being such a text-based genre, and unfortunately Anonymous;Code is no exception.

Overall, though, Anonymous;Code is a really solid visual novel and one of the Science Adventure series’ strongest entries. Fans of the series will love this new adventure, while those looking to get into it will find a great starting point. The plot is deep and emotional, the characters are generally strong, and the game covers topics that are increasingly relevant in today’s world. The “Save/Load” system, although occasionally finicky and frustrating, is unique and generally well-implemented. This is definitely a standout in the visual novel genre, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun new adventure to embark on. After all, who doesn’t want the opportunity to – even if only temporary – live their life as though it was a video game? So load up a save, adjust your AR settings, grab your no-longer-so-imaginary girlfriend, and hop in for one crazy fun ride!

Kate played Anonymous;Code on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.

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