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d2b vs. DearDrops – Cross the Future review

Is this powerhouse crossover a beautiful duet, or nails on a chalkboard?

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Is this powerhouse crossover a beautiful duet, or nails on a chalkboard?

Overdrive is a company that specializes in music based narratives. Sure, they’ve released other non-music games but that defeats the point I’m trying to make.

KiraKira was the first such game, released in 2007. It centered on a group of students at a Christian school who started a punk rock band, the Second Literature Club (Daini Bungeibu Bando, hence d2b). Its central protagonists, Kirari and Shikanosuke, fall in love and together with the rest of d2b tour Japan.

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In 2010 they released DearDrops, another music focused game. This time around, Suganuma Shoichi, a prolific violinist training in Germany, encountered an incident that forced him to quit playing. He returned to Japan where he got a job as a handyman at a rock house, and formed a new band, learning to play guitar before switching back to violin and falling in love with Riho.

Without a doubt these are Overdrive’s two most popular visual novels. Given their success, and their similar settings, a crossover seemed obvious.

Enter d2b vs. DearDrops Cross the Future.

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Set ten years after KiraKira and three years after DearDrops, the two bands find themselves in different directions. The Second Literature club has disbanded, with Kirari becoming an international superstar on her own, and the rest of the group splitting up. DearDrops is still together, minus Shoichi, who is traveling Europe playing alongside none other than Kirari.

Riho is watching a Kirari/Shoichi concert, and being a singer herself, becomes jealous of Kiara playing music with her boyfriend while she’s stuck in Japan. This sets the stage for the heart of the game’s story, culminating in a pseudo-competition between the two bands.

It can get a bit melodramatic. At times it can feel like there are lives on the line, when in reality they’re trying to reconcile their emotions towards one another. Internal monologs are the course of the day, with such Shakespearean prose as: “I wish I could cut myself open. If only it wouldn’t kill me. I won’t though, because dying would only piss me off more.” The game stays with this constant tone, so much so that it in the context of that tone, the melodramatic writing works.

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What works less well is that some of the scenes tend to drag on too long, something I had a problem with in DearDrops as well. At one point, a character had a full blown conversation with a cat, asking it its name, where it came from, and how it’s doing. Then another character came out and talked about the cat some more.

These long scenes do little to open the door for new players, as the game expects you to play both DearDrops and KiraKira before this. I didn’t play the later  so I don’t feel strong a connection to those characters. Towards the end there’s a big confrontation between Kirari and Shikanosuke and I had little idea what was going on. However I respect a sequel that doesn’t want to water itself down to “appeal to a wider audience”. I’m the guest here, I can’t come barging in and make demands when it’s my own fault for not playing the previous game.

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It’s easy finding screenshots of this game, because almost all of the background art, character art, and loose animations are lifted straight from KiraKira and especially DearDrops. When I say the members of DearDrops are the same, I really mean the same, even down to wearing the same clothes, three years later.

Even the music is ripped straight from the previous two games. Everything, except one song at the end, is taken straight from DearDrops, there isn’t even anything from KiraKira. The one exception is the final song, the end credit sequence that shows off the song the two bands have been working on together. To finally have these two come together to end these franchises is an amazing feeling.

I recommend giving the original soundtracks a listen even if you’re not into Japanese music. They don’t have a “Hatsune Miku” over the top pop noise, but sound more like regular music that’s in Japanese.

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However that doesn’t excuse the fact that the rest of the music is all instrumental. There are several parts in the story in which one of the character’s mention Riho’s or Kirari’s singing but we don’t hear anything. It creates a feeling of isolation as you’re told what’s going on during this vital part of the story rather than seeing it for yourself. That’s a basic rule of storytelling, completely shattered.

The explanation for such perceived laziness is that the game is a “fandisk”, meaning it’s something the company put out after the release of the original game. Fandisk’s usually feature the same music, backgrounds, and art of the original game and are usually meant as a fun extra for fans. Sometimes a fandisk is a fully original game, like d2b vs. DearDrops, but very, very rarely are they considered true sequels. In that regard, some might inclined to feel lucky we got as much as we did.

But it seems odd then that a mashup of Overdrive’s two most popular franchises would be relegated to “fandisk” status. Bringing these two together was an obvious move, however this recycling gives the impression that Overdrive didn’t want to do it in the first place.

At the very least, Overdrive did overhaul the characters from KiraKira, as seeing them maintain their youth after ten years would break any remaining immersion. It shows how much Overdrive’s art has improved over the years, as the new character models fit right in, while still maintaining some of their original features.

Every character looks crisp and beautiful, and carries the stereotypical “anime” styling’s without looking over the top. You can be forgiven for thinking Riho’s hair is naturally blue. The backgrounds are jaw-dropping, looking like water color paintings in their stunning minimalist, yet fully detailed design. Look at me going on about art.

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The game does at least feature voice acting, with the original Japanese cast reprising their roles. It’s a shame then that several of the actors must have sat about 50 feet away from their microphone. Multiple characters, including Riho, can barely be heard over the background music. Perhaps someone should tell the cast that when the voice over director says “if you can speak any quieter, that’d be great”, they’re actually being sarcastic. It’s odd considering I don’t remember ever having this problem in DearDrops.

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For a visual novel without any RPG mechanics, the only real player interaction is through player choices. Here, there aren’t many choices the player can make, and the few that are scattered throughout don’t seem to affect the plot much, if at all. Maybe your choices decide what lines the characters will say immediately after, but there are no long lasting changes.

I have a lot of criticism about d2b vs. DearDrops, but something about the game just pulls me in. The story, despite its overdramatic dialog and long-windedness, really grabbed me. Overdrive’s writers could have taken an early vacation and rely on nostalgia alone to carry the plot. Instead, they wrote a substantial story that actually has a purpose.

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It’s through the characters that make this game shine. Each character, big or small, goes through their own arc. They’ve all changed over the years, whether they realize it or not, and seeing them struggle with a lack of success, or too much success, is both heartbreaking and warming.

As the credits rolled, and a tear marched down my cheek, I realized the game had to do something right. There are so many cut-corners here I can see why it’s called a fandisk.

They say you’re most critical towards the things you love, and I guess that’s true. You acknowledge the faults, yet despite all the flaws, you still find a place for whatever it is in your heart. d2b vs. DearDrops has an amazing story (if too long and melodramatic), fantastic art (if too reused), great voice acting (if too quiet), and a memorable soundtrack (if taken from previous games). Throughout the last hour of the story and all the way through the epilogue I was sporting a wide grin on my face, happy to see such a great ending to such a great story.

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Oh dear, it seems the melodramatic writing is rubbing off on me.

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Josh was a once freelance writer who has gone on to write fiction, including mods for Fallout New Vegas. He never lost his love for writing about video games, and now finds himself doing it every day.