Feb 14, 5:35 PM
Baldr Sky Dive Review
Anime Relations: Umineko no Naku Koro ni
Might contain small spoilers.
“I wake up to find myself drifting in a sea of white, my body covered in the soft touch of bed sheets. Bathed in sunshine, they’re so bright that they force my eyes back shut. I can tell this is the start of another peaceful day… Another day of fine weather.”
And thus begins Baldr Sky Dive (in short BSD) in a heated battlefield. BSD is set in the future, where the use of nanomachines has become an everyday occurrence, augmented humans who are constantly connected to the internet and a global government ruling over the “united” world. What separates BSD from other VNs is not only a strong cast and a compelling world, but also how the gameplay is integrated into the story and setting to almost flawless levels.
BSD starts in a battle between the protagonist (a mercenary), his subordinate Rain and an unknown faction he tried to fight, although he lost his memory and can't remember anything about his original objectives. Not only that, but he starts in the cyberspace without a "limiter", where death in the cyberspace also means death in the real world. The plot then slowly unravels the objectives behind his attack, whom he is fighting and the mysterious events behind "Gray Christmas" in his past, which appears to be a central point to the overall conflict in the current times. As a consequence, the story starts out with an interesting premise, exploration-worthy world, and a central mystery to keep the reader thrilled.
Throughout the story he clashes and sides with several factions, such as anti-AI people, pro-AI people, big companies and AI fanatics. In this case, the focus lies on biological AI though, not on purely machine AI. This also plays a big role in the central themes of BSD, as it represents the strong vs weak AI argument in AI debates. The cyberspace vs reality difference is also central to the plot. Furthermore, BSD presents several main points usually used in the (philosophical) debates surrounding that topic, like qualia, the Chinese room argument etc. There are of course more themes explored in BSD, although going into more detail would be treading too much on spoiler territory. Regardless of that, BSD manages to present its themes in a satisfying manner. It underlines the conflicts with hard science (some more or less correct), which also adds a nice flavor for those who also have to do with AI on a daily basis, and also presents answers to some of them.
Another big point of BSD is also its mystery to the points mentioned in the first paragraph. Every twist is foreshadowed properly with clues in the story, and thus they don't come out of nowhere and support the believable flow of the story. One flaw is that they're a bit too predictable at times. It would have been a better idea to make some of the clues more subtle to make them feel a bit less dragged out. Nevertheless, it manages to juggle questions and answers well, answering not too few and not too many in one route.
Speaking of routes, they mostly add to the quality of the setting. Each route tries to explore different factions, which gives depth to each of them and gives them a face instead of just a label. With the exception of Nanoha's route, which didn't contribute as much to the plot, the other ones tackle different mysteries and answer some of them and give one perspective to the conflict. The pacing is pretty high in each route and well done, although a bit too slow in Nanoha's and the final route. Nevertheless, every route contributed something and not a single one felt like a complete waste of time like I usually experience in other VNs. In that regard, BSD did a good job. One criticism is also the placement of some H-scenes, although that is luckily only a small point.
BSD has a pretty strong cast, which says a lot in the mediocrity of casts you get in VNs at times. Not only are most of the side characters interesting to follow and understand, but even more interesting than the main heroines depending on the characters (which is a good or bad thing depending on the perspective). Especially Nanoha, Aki and Makoto are a bit weak in terms of presence in the overall cast, as they do not possess that many characteristics that make them stand out. Nanoha is the embodiment of the crybaby childhood friend, Aki the usual lazy "onee-san" trope and Makoto isn't that much fleshed out. On the other hand, Rain, Chinatsu, Sora and Kuu have interesting conflicts, have a lot of connections to the plot and contribute much to the overall atmosphere and flow of the story. They feel more like humans instead of mere plot devices to keep the story going.
Furthermore, most of the side cast - including the antagonists - are explored pretty in-depth, feel believable and not like like cookie-cutter villains. Especially the central antagonist is thankfully well-written and belongs to those well-explored characters and not doing evil for the sake of evilz.
Two big criticisms I have to make though is that the central (true) heroine wasn't explored as much and didn't get as many moments. As a result, the ending felt a bit lackluster, as it diminished the impact of the scenes, and not make one as emotional as one would expect from the true route. Instead another person basically stole the route for me.
The other big criticism point is one antagonist, who basically got no further exploration, does evil for the sake of it, doesn't do a good job at it, and overall feels more like cannon fodder rather than someone you'd also cheer for (or understand). In a VN where almost all antagonists have believable and understandable motives, he ends up standing out with his antics and not really contributing anything of value to the story, except for the small point, which is really not that much worth mentioning. There isn't even a redemption or something like that for him. As a result, he is the only character I despise in this story.
You cannot talk about BSD without dedicating at least some section to its gameplay as well because the battles are a central part of the game too. BSD scores a lot in that regard by integrating it well into the overall flow of the story and not making them feel too much out of place.
BSD uses a very fast-paced battle system, where timing-based combo attacks are of essence, or you go full ranged and kite the enemy into oblivion. It has a big range of weapons to choose from, which makes experimenting around fun and a very rewarding experience. Each combo feels different, and usually only the beginning is the same. Especially the middle part is often where the player has to think about a lot as to how to maximize damage or even "style" of the combo, as some combos look pretty amazing. As a result, the gameplay contributes a lot to the enjoyment of the VN and it isn't the same without it. Another interesting point is that you can unlock several side options by buying them with the force you earn through battles as well, e.g. chibi mascots of characters, their voices, route charts and so on. This adds a bit more immersion to the game, as they are mecha plug-ins.
The only issue I have with the gameplay is that there were too many mob fights in some scenes, which only seemed to drag it out a bit. Other than that, most fights were well-placed into the story.
Overall the gameplay contributed a lot to how the game feels and how it would feel like for characters (the thrill). BSD did a good job of using its gameplay elements for appropriate times and presenting them in a believable manner. Even if you finished the story, there is a lot to be played and explored afterwards, as there are survival modes and all weapons to unlock, more combos to discover and min-maxing the damage.
First off I really like how the menu is done. It's fitting for the purpose and setting, not too confusing and feels mecha like. That applies to both the main menu of BSD1 and the menu in battles/interface. The main menu of BSD2 is pretty dull and definitely a step backwards compared to that. It lacked the feeling the BSD1 main menu conveyed.
Another plus is definitely its several ways to speed through already segments (with one exception). The player can skip like in other VNs, skip to next battle/choice, which is really helpful when replaying routes. The problem is that branching works so that you cannot skip most of the stuff one has already read when you have already branched. So if you branched in chapter 1 and see most of the usual text, unfortunate, you have to go through most of it again, which was annoying when you had to do that for several chapters.
The character art is a bit on the weaker side, with it going from awesome to even lackluster. Admittedly, the VN is pretty old by now, but some of the designs still feel awkward with their proportions. What helped though is a lot of good background and normal CGs, especially in emotional and thrilling scenes.
Most of its music is also in the "good" area, with songs like "Paradigm Shift" and "Fate Breaker", which made fights a lot more intense and immersive. One special mention goes to the usage of the openings, which play as endings in very important and emotional boss fights and contributed a lot to the scenes they were in. Restoration is a good song! Besides from that, the OST was mostly okay, most of the songs were forgettable, but they usually did the scenes justice and didn't end up as nuisance.
Although Baldr Sky Dive uses tropes commonly used in the AI focused stories, it uses them in clever ways and through proper execution it ends up as a great final product overall. Through the factions clashing and the protagonist interfering, you come to know a lot about the world, come to feel for the characters and come to understand the people. In the end, it feels like a believable world, held together by characters which feel mostly "human". The central conflict feels meaningful, and by the end of the story, one is usually invested into it, as it relates a lot to future problem humans will likely encounter.
Thanks to a great cast, an interesting and thrilling story, good music and amazingly executed gameplay BSD ends up as an awesome VN with only minor flaws. It was a ride from the beginning until the end with its high pacing, and more often than not I was hyped for the next developments and twists the story would offer, never letting me a moment to breathe besides some of the boring moments in Nanoha. Its pacing was mostly superb, only matched by a few VNs with such a high level.
Overall BSD is one of the best VNs out there without doubt. It sets a standard for mecha VNs which is hard to match. Although there is MLA, it takes a different approach and doesn't leave off on such a strong note and has significantly harder drops (especially in Extra). But not only VNs in general, but it also set a new standard for VNs with gameplay with its high pacing, compared to the many turn-based VNs out there. It is a VN which everyone should have read if they even remotely care about the medium.
Final score: 9.0/10 [+0.5/-1.0]