Before we started playing Punch Line we weren’t really sure what to expect. All we’d heard about the game was that if the main protagonist looks at a lady's undies twice then the world would end. Yup, the set-up sounds completely bonkers and we were fully expecting the game to be mostly fan service, with a bunch of cheap jokes thrown in and not a lot else. What we actually got was so much better than we could have ever possibly wished for.
Punch Line is a visual novel with the story written by Kotaro Uchikoshi. While that name might not sound familiar to you, you may be aware of some of his previous work. He’s the director behind the Zero Escape series, a series famed for its twisting storyline and mind-bending puzzles. Punch Line falls more on the side of visual novel than puzzle game but it also has a very quirky story which is ridiculously entertaining.
The game's protagonist is an ordinary looking guy called Yuta, who has a somewhat unusual ‘talent’. Looking at a lady’s panties will cause him to gain superhero-like strength. This power comes in pretty handy in the opening scenes of the game when he’s on-board a bus which has been hijacked by terrorists. While initially it seems like Yuta might walk out of the situation a hero, things unfortunately go a bit awry.
Yuta ends up waking up back in his apartment building but he’s missing something quite important: his body. His spirit has been forced out and someone else has hijacked it and is walking around as him. A sassy ghost cat is on hand to give you a bit of advice and tells you that you need to locate an ancient holy text called the Nandara Gandara. Oh, and there’s also the tiny detail that if you sneak a peek at a ladies undies twice in a row then an asteroid will hit the earth and wipe out everyone. Just a small thing to be aware of.
To begin with, the game doesn’t offer up much information about why looking at undergarments will have such horrendously negative consequences; you’ll be just as in the dark as Yuta is which makes it feel really exciting when you discover things at the same time as he does. The story gets more and more thrilling as you progress, with plenty of crazy twists and turns. Every time the game answers one question you had you’re likely to end up with a dozen more.
Punch Line also has a brilliant cast of characters which help to create some genuinely heart-warming moments. The apartment block you live in houses four girls. As you’re a ghost you can’t really have any conversations with them but instead get to be a witness to their lives. You’ll watch the girls become closer friends and support each other in times of need. Whether it’s getting excited about going on a date or dealing with some pretty horrendous bullying, there are plenty of emotional ups and downs which will really have you rooting for them all.
There are also plenty of genuinely funny and surreal moments like when the landlady dons a pigeon mask to cheer up one of the other girls with a ridiculous song and dance. Or when another girl is trying to hide her pet bear from the other residents, which ends up with her sitting on the floor making weird noises and trying to eat a whole raw salmon to try to explain away all the strange noises that have been coming from her room, as well as the fridge full of fish. The whole thing is ridiculous but sure to make you laugh.
The gameplay is as simple as you’d expect from a visual novel and none of the puzzles are particularly taxing. For the first half of the game, all the episodes follow the same structure. You’ll take a look around your apartment block and see what the girls are up to, you’ll then need to raise your spirit level before setting up a ‘trick chain’ to set off a series of events.
Yuta’s astral body is pretty weak and so you can only interact with the physical world in very limited ways. You can get stronger by gaining soul fragments from the girls in the apartment block. To get these fragments you’ll need to scare them by doing things like switching on the TV or knocking things over. Everything that you can interact with is clearly labelled but not all objects will have the desired impact. You’ll only be able to make a certain number of moves before you run out of strength. Interact with too many red herrings and it’ll be game over.
You can keep switching the camera angle to see different parts of the room but you have to be wary of not accidently getting an angle which gives you a peek of panties. Doing so will lead to a gauge at the right side of the screen to start rising. Not looking away will cause it to rise all the way to the top and you’ll then be responsible for humanity going extinct. While this sounds drastic, in reality the ghostly cat will just give you a bit of a telling off and then send you back in time to make different choices. This never feels frustrating as you can quickly skip through any previously seen text to get back to where you were.
The only real complaint that we have with Punch Line is that it’s not particularly pretty to look at. The animated cutscenes are gorgeous to watch but the in-game character models and environments are a little bit simplistic and look a little dated. It’s a shame that more effort wasn’t put into making it look a little bit more visually appealing.
Punch Line has a completely bonkers but utterly engrossing storyline. Its quirky cast of characters are incredibly captivating and it’s easy to fall in love with all of them. The puzzles are a bit too easy but that just makes it quicker to get back to the thrilling story.