Critical Point (PC) review
"Old-skool otaku may wet themselves at the mention of the name Kenichi Matsuzaki. At least, Peach Princess hopes that's the case, as they proudly tout his writing contribution to classic mecha series like Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. And this game, Critical Point, a futuristic sci-fi thriller with nary a giant robot to be found. After all, this is an adult title, so you'll probably want a partner made of real flesh and blood. Probably. For those interested in th..."
Old-skool otaku may wet themselves at the mention of the name Kenichi Matsuzaki. At least, Peach Princess hopes that's the case, as they proudly tout his writing contribution to classic mecha series like Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. And this game, Critical Point, a futuristic sci-fi thriller with nary a giant robot to be found. After all, this is an adult title, so you'll probably want a partner made of real flesh and blood. Probably. For those interested in the unusual, Critical Point offers the chance to woo its humanoid leading lady. But this game covers more than developing relationships, its about foiling the sinister sabotage of a remote military base and the philosophical consideration of the nature of artificial life. To Mr. Matsuzaki's credit, the game succeeds precisely because he's able to include all those elements in an engaging story, one that isn't bludgeoned by the game's sexual content.
Initially, though, existential interests and romance mean little to our protagonist. Captain Leiji Osumi keeps his mind only on the task at hand, and for this mission he's been sent by the Free Space Alliance to covertly investigate mysterious sabotage at Moonbase D-02, a little used post in the space frontier. These are times of war, desperate days that will decide the future of the Earth, so the dirty tricks could be the work of anyone: an enemy spy, a turncoat, or simply the act of an internal terrorist. Once on site, Osumi can't trust a soul except for 2nd Lieutenant Elise Triad, another plant on the same operation. She's the typical glasses girl, meek, eager to please, and possessing a boundless intelligence. Of course, that recall is due to the large amount of disk space available in her system. Unbeknownst to all but Leiji, Elise is an android, and that makes it tough for him to work with her. An incident from his past has birthed a terrible grudge against beings manufactured from mechanical parts. Something about a rusty machete and one of his limbs. His prejudice would seem to make him ill-suited for the current mission. On the contrary, his dick makes him the perfect choice.
Because of D-02's remote location, virtually the entire crew consists of women, in order to eliminate the problems that fraternization in such isolation might cause. But that pent-up frustration alone cannot explain the irrational sexual frenzy unfolding on the base; everyone, from the top of the hierarchy down to the nameless grunts, is gripped by uncontrollable urges. Captain Carla Benedict, the cool and competent commander, barely lets him start investigating before inviting Leiji to her ample tanned bosom. Domineering second in command Lai Wong, harsher because of the suspicious failures occurring in her department, wants to use the new guy as her personal whipping boy, figuratively and literally. Even little Corporal Reiko Shinozaki, a genius with computer but inept at everything else, awkwardly offers herself to Leiji.
There are seven major female characters in total, enough to cover every pleasing archetype. Their portrayal is aided by full Japanese voice acting, as Critical Point was one of the first localized games with that feature. Civilian reporter Monica Brown is the best example. A bipolar blond bombshell, she's loud and cheeky one moment and quietly timid the next. Maretta Dias is schoolgirl cute, but her haughty, authoritative tone shows that she's definitely a stringent disciple of Capt. Wong, and a little to attached to her superior officer. And Julietta Thorndike may be in command of her fellow enlisted marines, but her gentle voice and flashes of unsurety indicate she may not be just a tough soldier. Further defining all of these ladies is the art style used to depict them, one that's slightly different from Sweet Basil's other North American titles. Snow Drop and Little My Maid feature dainty girls with weepy eyes and slender limbs. In Critical Point, the women are more mature and have harder facial features, an effect helped in no small part by the rigidity of their buttoned-up military uniforms.
For the most part, the sexual content follows a similar formality, unless you factor in a little leather and chains. Doggystyle is about as wild as it gets, and the viewpoint is chosen to give you an unobstructed view of the female body. That is, unless you chose to buy the Collector's Edition, which maintained the original mosaics over the genitalia, and actually retailed for less than the uncensored version. The volume of pornography in the game isn't overwhelming; some women have only one or two sex scenes -- that's about four to six explicit pictures -- but frequent placement in the middle of especially tense situations makes it so much more exciting. At one point, Leiji is following a lead towards an interesting base secret, thinking it might have something to do with his assignment. Instead, he discovers a couple of marines lezing out in a dark, unused corner. In another instance, one of the girls begs Leiji for a quickie right in the middle of the game's climax, a wholly inappropriate proposition that puts the everyone in jeopardy. (Of course, I accepted.) Even within the first few minutes of the adventure, a technician loses her shirt and her mind, brandishing a pistol and sucking it as if it were the most glorious glock in existence, but the only thing that gets blown is the back of her head. Clean off.
That's not the most gruesome sight in Critical Point, either. Shortly after Leiji arrives on the scene, computer breakdowns and carnal insanity take a backseat to homicide. Crew members start tuning up dead, and it's not their blood spattered over the dank, grey walls of the space station that's disturbing, it's how the bodies have been defiled. Metal poles impale the most sensitive regions, tubes stuffed into every orifice; these deaths were painful and sadistic. With people acting suspicious and no definitive clues, total paranoia is only rational course of action.
It's the most brilliant aspect of the game. Critical Point is similar to other H titles in that its action and plot are driven solely by periodic text-based choices, but it's more reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book than any I've encountered yet. Rather than the main branches of the decision tree serving as similar threads leading to a singular conclusion, each weaves its own modified version of the story. Leiji's love from a previous scenario may wind up slaughtered in another, or worse, may be the one to stab a blade in his gut and watch the life bleed out of him. That creates a huge incentive to play through all 25 endings, even if most of those result in sudden death.
While the variety is appreciated, the execution is somewhat lacking. The tale is based entirely on an investigation, and every event breeds more questions instead of answers, yet you're never presented the opportunity to use deductive reasoning in order to crack the case. The clues Leiji collects tend to both implicate and eliminate the entire field of suspects, so their analysis is somewhat futile except to keep you completely in the dark. Instead, the action comes to him; in the end the culprit is revealed without allowing the player to actively unmask the villain's identity. That leaves us to process some rather mundane details. Undoubtedly the worst are the blind, but still possibly fatal, choices of which of two hallways to search. In other cases, simple instincts dictate the reasonable response. There's no way anyone would accept an invitation from Lai Wong without hesitation, given her blatant thirst for power. However, the game will punish even this type of cleverness; the anointed 'True' ending requires the triggering of a rather obvious trap. This uncertainty in the effect of every action fabulously generates suspense -- every point looms as increasingly critical. But the natural extension of the mystery, giving the player a chance to logically reason out a solution, is quashed in an exciting and frustrating method of trial-and-error.
There remains one area preserved for intellectual contemplation, a place where Matsuzaki most likely expressed his influence, as existential consideration of the human soul is rarely discussed in the midst of such naughty fare. Elise and Leiji hit it off surprisingly well. He's impressed by her ability to question the nature of her own existence; she's just glad to be able to talk truthfully with someone who knows her secret. The more they get along, though, the more his deep-seated hatred boils for a release. Eventually, he attempts to objectify her through sexual humiliation, forcing her to strip down and even urinate under his careful view, until his conscience reaches a breaking point. At that juncture, you must spend at least a brief moment considering Elise's rightful place in the world, whether she's just a tool, a superior expression of life, or an equal for whom he can care a great deal. The view taken does not affect only Leiji; Elise's perception of herself also changes with your judgement. Although the unfortunate results make the writer's intended lesson clear, your opinion may become more clearly refined as well.
Even with such a heady topic, there's no doubt that Critical Point is a thriller first and thoughtful second. The thrilling storyline is a welcome change in a genre populated almost exclusively with random coupling or romance-by-numbers, and the extent that your choices can affect how characters are cast in drastically different endings keeps every playthrough fresh and exciting. There's little doubt that Matsuzaki played a role in bringing about these unique qualities that make Critical Point a more complete H game, one that's localization has been very important to the small American market. Looks like Peach Princess was right to plaster his name on the front cover.
Featured community review by woodhouse (August 09, 2005)
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