Robotics;Notes is finally here. It may have taken eight years, but now we can finally play through the third game in the Science Adventure series in English. For those unaware, that’s the same series that spawned classics Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate, the first and second in the series respectively. That’s quite the legacy to live up to, so how does this one compare?
Excellent blend of sci-fi with slice of life. The Science Adventure series is known for how its able to take seemingly mundane slice of life storytelling and combine it with serious sci-fi elements and I believe Robotics;Notes is the best example of that combo. It is much, much more lighthearted than the two prior games, but that just allows this aspect of the writing to shine that much more.
You start off the game playing as high school student Kaito, one of only two members of his school’s robot club on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. The early story follows his adventures with friend and club leader Akiho Senomiya, who has ambitious goals for the club – including the construction of a giant bipedal robot to enter in the country’s big Robo-One expo. This part of the story is structured like your typical high school slice of life with a touch of drama and adventure.
However, throughout this first arc, you get bits and pieces of a larger story – something less slice of life and more sci-fi conspiracy. This steadily ramps up over the game until you hit the last third or so, when the story kicks into full swing and becomes a lot more serious. Throughout this process though, the story always strikes a nice balance between all of its genres, allowing time for proper characterization in the slice of life scenes while simultaneously laying the foundation for a larger story. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it was enough that I was able to power through the game in a week without ever feeling bored of it.
Well-developed storyline. In Robotics;Notes, everything serves a purpose. Every character, location, and event have some sort of meaning, no matter how small it may seem at the time. A random text message or some astronomical event may seem insignificant at first – especially given the rural setting of the game – but as the story progresses, you’ll find that almost everything is linked. This is very much a visual novel that doesn’t fluff up its story with unnecessary characters, pointless plot threads, or wasted characterization.
Rather, it’s this complex web of seemingly unrelated characters and events that just becomes anything but that by the end of it all – it honestly reminded me a lot of Steins;Gate in this regard. You’ve got this mega conspiracy theory with so many links, but it all just fits and having each little thread unraveled as you progress makes for a really interesting VN experience. It can get a bit ridiculous at times and it does make use of the occasional cheesy trope or two, but it’s far better than what we usually get in this medium and I’m all for it.
Nice graphics and soundtrack. I will admit, I was a bit skeptical of the 3D character models going into this game. The Science Adventure series generally has some good 2D art, so dropping that entirely for a 3D look didn’t really sound like a good idea to me. Given that, I was surprised with not only how good the 3D models look here, but how well they are mixed in with the 2D aspects. This isn’t some cheap anime with a bunch of CG slapped onto it, but an actual production worthy of praise.
The 3D models allow characters to be more expressive and animated – giving you a better grasp of what type of person they are. The inclusion of anime cutscenes makes some of the more action-heavy scenes easier to visualize and the CGs are well-done on top of that. Really, it’s only the backgrounds that are hit or miss, the rest of the game’s visuals are solid.
Then you’ve got the soundtrack courtesy of Takeshi Abo, the same guy behind the excellent soundtracks for Ever17 and Steins;Gate. As with those soundtracks, this one has its fair share of slower, slice of life tunes, higher-energy tracks for action scenes, and a nice overall sci-fi tone to wrap it all together. It’s a very fitting soundtrack and one I can definitely see myself listening to in the future.
Poorly implemented choice system. For all the game does right story-wise, it unfortunately overcomplicates things with its bizarre choice mechanic. Normally, in a visual novel, you’re presented with choices throughout the common route to determine which character route you end up on. Well, in Robotics;Notes, this is still a thing, but it takes the form of an in-universe Twitter app that you can access freely. To actually get on the route you want, you have to reply to different tweets with specific responses on specific days and during specific times.
There is no indication as to which replies to go with or even what tweets to respond to. In fact, there’s not even any indication that you have to engage with this mechanic at all until you reach the end of the common route and get a bad ending – at which point you unlock an indicator that lets you know when new tweets are posted.
What makes it worse though is that this mechanic is not even necessary. This is a fully linear game, the “routes” are basically chapters that take place along that linear story. This means that, if you reply to the tweets wrong, you might actually skip a chapter and play the game out of order. This effectively forces the use of a walkthrough, as you could damage the story experience otherwise. The game would have been much better off with a traditional choice system or even no choice system at all given that it’s linear.
Some writing hiccups. I mentioned previously that the writing isn’t perfect – there are actually a couple issues holding the game back. First up would be the early game. While most of the game is pretty well-paced, it does take a while for the game to really get the pacing on lock and this is evident in the first third of the story – which is very slow to get going. My other complaint lies in the ending itself. I won’t give specifics to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that it kinda fizzled out too quickly. I would have liked to see some more of the plot threads wrapped up, some of them are just kinda left unexplained.
Numerous technical issues. For a visual novel, Robotics;Notes has a surprising amount of technical issues – even for some very basic features. The most glaring of these would be the complete lack of mouse support. I honestly cannot remember the last time I played a VN that lacked mouse support, but here we are in 2020 with a major release that does just that. Using the keyboard for everything is a bit of a pain, so I actually ended up using an Xbox controller – which works fine given the game’s native support for it.
Then there’s the skip feature, a staple in any visual novel. Unfortunately, it’s completely broken here. To be specific, the “skip on read” function of the skip mode. This normally lets you skip read text until unread text appears, but in Robotics;Notes, it’s more of a 50/50 on what lines it will skip or not. It will randomly skip some, but not others, making it completely useless if you’re not using it to just skip all text.
And my last complaint isn’t necessarily a technical issue with the game, but rather an annoyance with the graphics. The models that are there are great, but there are some minor characters that don’t have models that are often spoken to by characters that do have models. This makes some scenes a bit awkward as you’ll just have characters facing towards and talking to, well, nothing. This is likely a budget issue, but it would have been nice to see some models for such characters.
While not as good as its predecessor Steins;Gate, Robotics;Notes Elite is still a solid visual novel. It’s got a solid, well-developed storyline, an excellent blend of slice of life and sci-fi elements, and some nice graphics and music to round it all out. It isn’t without its issues (both writing and technical), but it’s worth a look for both fans of the Science Adventure series and newcomers alike (as the references to the two prior games are kept to a minimum).
A fan patch also just came out that fixes the translation up a bit and some of the technical issues, although it came out after I had already made it through the game, but do give that a look if you’re interested – that’s a pro tip.
Quote: Robotics;Notes Elite is a solid VN with a well-developed story, an excellent blend of slice of life and sci-fi, and some nice graphics and music on top of that. Give it a look, that’s a pro tip.
You can buy Robotics;Notes Elite on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.