ANONYMOUS;CODE is the latest visual novel in an anthology series known as the Science Adventure series. Like its fellows, it focuses on weird science, quirky characters, and a surprisingly grounded cyberpunk setting. This entry specifically addresses government conspiracies, hacking, and the highs and lows of online culture.
Although this is a new entry in a long-running series, you can play it without any background on the Science Adventure series. Which is great, because I heartily recommend this title as an entry point to the franchise and visual novels as a whole. That said, it’s a very wordy experience full of lengthy infodumps on various subjects. If that’s not your thing, this game won’t be, either.
White hat hacker Pollon works with his partner Cross on various heroic hacking jobs. He’s not the best hacker, but his desire to help others is real. After his friends tease him about being bad at talking to girls, Pollon bluffs that he already has a girlfriend. Her name is Momo Aizaki and they’re totally going to elope together. Needless to say, his mouth is writing checks he can’t cash. But when he goes to elope with his totally real girlfriend, a mysterious girl really shows up and runs off with him.
The good news is that the real Momo really likes Pollon. The bad news is that she’s being chased by the government. After failing to save her, Pollon finds a mysterious app on his AR vision that lets him save and reload the world. Going back to their first meeting, he manages to rescue Momo. But to keep her safe, he has no choice but to plunge head-first into a dangerous world of cybercrimes, conspiracies, and deadly hackers.
At the same time, a detective looks into a top-secret Earth Simulator called GAIA… and the bratty child genius who completed GAIA takes an interest in Momo because she doesn’t exist in the simulation. They all embark on a collision course with the legendary hacker Cicada 3301.
Future Setting, Modern Problems
ANONYMOUS;CODE is set the 2030’s, but the themes and technology it depicts feel very contemporary. Everyone has AR devices called BMI that allow them to see and interact with augmented reality. People constantly broadcast their days–and link their credit information–to social media sites. Pollon relies heavily on fellow hackers on 4chan to solve Cicada 3301’s puzzles. Everywhere you look, people are doing their very best and their very worst.
Nowhere is human nature more completely encapsulated than in the rush to solve Cicada 3301’s quests. This mysterious hacker has been creating mind-bending puzzles for decades. Nobody has ever been able to solve them before, but Momo is determined to meet the person behind the quests. And Pollon will do anything to help her and save the people Cicada 3301 puts in danger. Their good intentions make them stand out a crowd of arrogant, obsessive, and downright malicious hackers. Everyone wants the glory of solving the quests, but nobody knows the full consequences of being chosen by Cicada 3301.
The music and soundscape are genuinely great. The voice-acting is stunning as well. Even the minor-est of minor characters sounds engaging and believable. The English cast brought their A-game to this project and I love it. However, I have mixed feelings about the game’s visuals.
The character designs are charming in that lightly anime-inspired cyberpunk way. And the backgrounds are stunning. When the game uses CGs and comic book-esque cutscenes, it’s downright gorgeous. Unfortunately, most of the time it uses semi-3D character portraits, and the faces are incredibly creepy. Every time the models’ mouths moved, a chill ran down my spine. Momo is the only character who always looks appealing. This is a bit of a problem for a visual novel.
ANONYMOUS;CODE Has a Lot to Say About Online Culture
ANONYMOUS;CODE is an unpredictable mystery thriller that had me on the edge of my seat the whole way. If you enjoy odd trivia, high-tension mysteries, and action/romance hybrids, you’ll enjoy this. However, you might have trouble with this game if you don’t appreciate lengthy tangents to discuss real-life quantum mechanics and blockchains.
More than that, though, this title is an exploration of life, love, and heroism in the digital age. Pollon has very little to gain and everything to lose by helping Momo. Despite this, he resolves over and over again to find a way to save her and everyone else victimized by her pursuers. And placing the player in charge of Pollon’s saving and loading means you are also called upon to help strangers. Pollon wants to do the right thing regardless of the consequences, and by helping him, you prove that you do as well.
This game does a fantastic job of taking advantage of its cyberpunk setting. Pollon constantly runs google searches, receives texts and calls, and has to ignore annoying ad scrolls. And the player can see all of it. Even the AI that haunt the world are fully represented when Pollon interacts with them. I’ve rarely seen such an immersive UI in a cyberpunk game. It’s a pity that the interactivity is so limited. I’d love to be able to fool around with Pollon’s BMI screen.
Linear and Over Way Too Soon
ANONYMOUS;CODE is what we in the west would call a visual novel. However, this doesn’t mean it has branching routes or relationship values. Instead, it tells a single linear mystery story that the player must gradually unravel through trial and error. As the story proceeds, the player is able to save and load the game. However, Pollon can use these functions himself to effectively travel back in time. This leads us to the main mechanic: the Hacking Trigger.
The story changes when you prompt Pollon to load the game at the right time. He’ll make his own saves automatically. But even if he explicitly states that he needs to load and restart, he won’t do it himself. Also, it’s easy to accidentally skip past the Hacking Trigger prompt and get a bad ending. Or miss a fun bonus scene.
Unfortunately, the writing does have some serious flaws. By which I mean, it’s not great at dealing with LGBTQ+ themes. Sadly, I’ve come to expect this kind of thing from Japanese media. Plus, the game is short for its price. Too short, if I’m honest–this is the kind of game best bought on sale. The main story is only about 20-25 hours long.
All in all, ANONYMOUS;CODE is a fun science fiction adventure, a compelling mystery, and even a surprisingly sweet romance. It’s just also very short, very linear, and the mouths scare me.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Compelling mystery
- Fun characters
- Fascinating world
- Incredibly immersive UI
- Great sound design
- Short for its price
- Art is hit or miss
- Bad LGBTQ+ writing