Too often in this genre I feel like I am just playing yet another romcom – and don’t get me wrong, I still love them – but when a VN comes around with a focus on band life and growing up, it’s just so different from what we usually get that I have to try it.
So right off the bat, MUSICUS! sets itself apart from the crowd with its main character. On the surface, he seems like your everyday high schooler, but you’ll quickly find out it’s not that simple. Not only is he a dropout due to special circumstances (which I won’t spoil here), but he still wants to keep his life on track and is now attending part-time night school as an older student. This school takes place on the same campus, but later at night and with a bunch of other individuals who have special circumstances of their own.
Whether that be having dropped out to take care of a child and coming back years later to finally graduate or simply being a societal outcast – it is quite the setting and gives us a nice range of unique characters right from the start. And this quickly becomes apparent, as our MC becomes more involved with the other students – one of which who is a rock and roll fanatic that eventually sets the MC on a path towards music.
This is where the story really becomes interesting. Gone are the usuals of school life friendship, studying, and whatnot. Instead, we got a deeper look at how one simple interaction with music can drastically change someone’s life – whether that be for better or for worse – dependent on the route you go on. The routes in this game are not your traditional romance routes like other VNs. Yes, each does have a romance aspect to it, but they also considerably change the direction of the story.
One quite literally drops the character out of school to pursue rock and roll full-time, whereas another has him stay and try to balance the two. The former option splits even further, shuffling around the character roster and introducing you to major characters that otherwise wouldn’t appear in the other routes. It’s really cool to see a VN like this tackle a “true” multiple route storyline, not just your “same setting, but with a different girl” route that the genre usually does.
There are four of these routes total and you’ll be locked onto one of them when making important decisions – of which there are a handful in the game’s 15 or so total choices. The routes are all pretty long too, with the main one (or at least, what I assume the main one to be) taking me a good 30 or so hours to clear. You should expect anywhere from 30-60 hours to clear everything, dependent on reading speed of course.
I was also surprised with the actual quality of each route. Both in how entertaining the story is and how well-written they are. Each takes a serious look at our main character as he grows into adulthood. Problems are introduced and resolved, relationships are formed and cut, and the whole thing takes place over years – not just a single school semester. Time skips are common, but they’re used effectively and don’t disrupt the pacing. In fact, the pacing is one of my favorite things about the game. It is pretty steady throughout, only dipping occasionally during fluff scenes. And yes, the game does have some filler slice of life stuff, but it at least doesn’t go overboard with it.
What you get instead is a long-term coming of age story, with all the drama, romance, and developments that come with it. There are a bunch of twists and turns, some of which are softer, but some of which really hit you because they are unexpected, yet don’t come off as ridiculous and just there to move the story forward. It is not rapid-fire like some other VNs tend to do – especially later on.
And of course, this all lends itself to some solid character development and progression. The characters as you see them at the start of the story really change by the end of it – sometimes dramatically. Yet, because you’re with them for so long – it just feels normal. You learn about them all through this journey and really get to know their backstories, motivations, and why they act the way they do. It’s just so refreshing to see a cast of characters really become adults over the course of a story – losing a lot of that stuff from their school days that oftentimes can become too much in other VNs.
That’s not to say that the story is perfect though. It is certainly good, but it also has a bit of a problem with being overly reflective. Philosophy is a central theme to the writing here and – although it doesn’t really go past the surface level – I did like how the main character would have these long monologues reflecting on life and the future. I did not like, however, how the main character would conduct the same type of monologue over and over.
Something major would happen and he would go back and cycle through his journey to that point, only to then do it again at the next major event and so on. It’s like – yes, I get that these events often drive such thoughts – but as a reader, it does make it a bit repetitive reading the same thing over and over, especially when the monologues themselves are paragraphs upon paragraphs. It kinda reminded me the flashback scenes we get in shounen anime – the type where you’ll be in the middle of some big fight only to be interrupted with the protagonist reflecting on his training or whatnot. It doesn’t kill the experience by any means, but it was enough of a problem that I did grow bored at times.
As for the game’s art and music – it’s actually a bit of a mixed bag. Like, I wouldn’t say that the art is “good”, but it’s also not bad. The background are mostly plain and the character designs are just okay. There are some cool CGs, but there is not much in the way of animation or really movement of any kind. Of course, text covers the entire screen, so you won’t really be seeing the art that much anyways. That and the game itself is locked at 720p, so you’re upscaling it anyways.
The music is a bit odd too. You would think a game with a music focus would have some nice background music, but again I found it to be just okay. It has a nice rock theme to it, but there is not enough of it to really lose that feeling of repetition. I would hear the same handful of tracks over and over and I can’t say it’s something I would listen to outside of the game. The insert songs – however – are a different case. These are the songs that the bands in-game actually play and you get to hear a lot of them in their full glory. That stuff is good and I would be open to listening to them outside of the game.
The game is even weaker when it comes to settings, which really only cover the basics. You got your text speed, auto-mode settings, and whatnot, but no voice cut-off option, no window opacity slider, and no font options of any kind. Granted, I didn’t have any issues with the default font and size and all that, but the devs definitely could have done better there.
And on the topic of 18+ content – yes, the game does have some. It is nowhere near the level that most others in the genre do though, usually just one scene per route. I won’t say they add much – or anything, really – but they are there for those that want them. The Steam version has a free patch and the MangaGamer version has them included by default.
MUSICUS! is one of the more unique visual novels I have played. Not just because most of it takes place outside of the school setting, but because it offers both an entertaining and thought-provoking journey of a young man’s path to adulthood – all with a music twist. Great character writing, solid pacing, well-executed plot developments – it’s just a good read all the way through. It may have some minor writing issues and the technical aspects may not be the greatest, but it is an easy recommendation for fans of the medium – whether they’re new to it or not.
Quote: MUSICUS! is one of the more unique visual novels I have played. The setting combined with the great character writing and excellent pacing make this an easy recommendation for VN fans.
You can buy MUSICUS! on Steam here. It retails for $45 USD, has a free 18+ patch for the Steam version, and is also available directly through publisher MangaGamer.
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.