Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume (little star's dream)
Genre: Visual Novel
Rating: CERO A (Everyone)
Release Date: February 28, 2009 (Limited Edition) May 12, 2011 (Charity Edition)
Prior to it's PSP release, Planetarian had been released on several different platforms including PC, PS2, as well as several cell phone versions. A limited edition was ported to the PSP from February 28 to March 1, 2009. Then on Friday March 11, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. In response, a re-release of the PSP version was released as a "Charity Edition" on May 12, 2011. 16,663 units were pre-ordered, and through the combined efforts of Prototype and Visual Art's, 22,415,069 yen (roughly $ 270,061.07) was raised.
As this game was created by Key, you can expect it to follow the formula of the arrival of a male protagonist, him meeting a cute girl, and then having something tragic occur between them. Think Kanon or Clannad. However this isn't exactly a bad thing if you enjoy great storytelling.
The story itself is set in a post-apocalyptic Japan where, due to a nuclear war, it is constantly raining a deadly shower. The protagonist, voiced by Ono Daisuke (Sebastian's voice actor in Black Butler), is scavenging in an old building when he happens to stumble upon a planetarium and its robotic caretaker Hoshino Yumemi, voiced by Suzuki Keiko. It just so happens that 2,500,000th customer will be given a special showing by Yumemi, which the protagonist is allowed to see despite only being the 2,497,290th customer.
The opening to Planetarian is a charming rearrangement of a Charles Crozat Converse hymn. This track, coupled with the sound of the falling rain, sets a fragile yet upbeat mood with just a hint of melancholy. You'll find yourself wrapped in a lighthearted song, and then without noticing the mood and music will take a far more serious tone. I cannot stress enough how the music helps in telling the story. Togoshi Magome handles most of the composing, with the track for the battle scene composed by Orito Shinji. Another thing to note is that upon beating the game, you unlock access to the game's in-game soundtrack consisting of nine tracks.
As this is a visual novel, there is no real animation except that of the falling rain and the occasional panning of the camera. Yumemi's expression changes instantaneously with no midway between normal and smiling eyes. Again this seemingly detrimental aspect is not a deal breaker, quite the contrary. By pressing START you can clear away the text, leaving only the image. Then by pressing SQUARE you can take a picture of that image, saving it to your memory stick thus letting you use that image as a wallpaper for your PSP. The images are beautiful and and full of emotion. Also upon beating the game you unlock sixty CG images that can be accessed from the main menu. You can't take a picture of them here, but all images are in the story at some point in the game.
Planetarian is a visual novel, and as such gameplay is limited to viewing Yumemi's expressions and the text of conversations. There is no experience to be gained, no levels to grind, and no way to die. Visual Art's touts the game as a "KineticNovel"; this meaning that unlike other visual novels, Planetarian has no options during dialogue and only one possible ending. Visual novels usually give you the choice of saying the right thing or the comical thing, but in this game you have no choices of what you can or cannot say. These choices usually allotted by visual novels also present the aspect of what you choose to say effecting the outcome of the game, but since no such option exists in Planetarian, there are no alternative endings. In this sense Planetarian plays more like a movie. You press CIRCLE to advance the text, the L button to go back to view what was previously said, and SQUARE brings up a black screen and shows the text only. It takes around four hours to get to the ending, but you can save at any time by pressing TRIANGLE and selecting the first option. The second option loads your save data, the third option allows you to adjust game settings such as background music, and the fourth option allows you to exit the game and return to the main menu. The main menu itself isn't terribly hard to figure out. Just keep in mind that for Japanese games the CIRCLE and X buttons are reversed meaning CIRCLE accepts options while X cancels.
Once you see the ending of the game, you unlock everything. All CG images and tracks are 100% cleared, and you unlock a new feature to the main menu allowing you to choose the chapter you wish to start on. Planetarian has the same lasting appeal as a movie would have. Alternatively, this game is a great tool for sharpening one's skills in Japanese speech and writing simultaneously. This will NOT teach you Japanese, but if you know or at least understand some, it is a very helpful study guide.
Obviously this game will not appeal to everyone. Even fans of the visual novel genre may find this game somewhat lacking. But Planetarian was never about gameplay. Planetarian's strength lies in the parallel juxtaposition of the story and soundtrack. What it may lack in gameplay it makes up for with brilliant storytelling. If you are planning to check this game out, I recommend at least basic knowledge of hiragana and katakana. You can "get" the story while not fully understanding it, however this takes away from some of the better scenes where the protagonist and Yumemi discuss "Roboto no Tengoku" and "Roboto no Kami-sama".