Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!
Project LUX is a virtual reality (VR) visual novel (VN) made by the fine folks who made one of my favorite visual novels, World End Economica. Rather than experiencing a world or enjoying an action game, this one is unique for a VR game, in that it tells a story in a new way, that other mediums really cannot. I mean sure, they might have made the game so you could experience it while looking through a window (a.k.a. monitor), but it's really a much more involving experience to virtually live through it. It also helps that the story being told is engaging and interesting.
In the distant future, the vast majority of humanity has had their minds directly connected into cyberspace, with their bodies in a kind of stasis, rarely needing to be accessed. These new brains are called cyberbrains. Memories are often shared among many, and humanity and artificial intelligence blend together and accomplishes more and more at staggering rates.
However, there are a few 'normal' humans left. One is a girl artist named Lux. The story starts with an explanation that she was murdered. In the court investigating her death is the last person in her presence, whose memories are being replayed and experienced again by the player. This person is actually a human with a cyberbrain, who is borrowing an android body for his visits with Lux. He works for the government, and seeks to encourage her to explore different kinds of artwork, which she then posts online via some of the last computers available for those without a cyberbrain.
At first, she feels threatened by your presence, and points a gun at you. But once you explain why you are there, she relaxes and allows you into her home. Once there, you get to experience conversations with her from his perspective. While she definitely looks like an anime girl, what amazed me is how naturally she walked around, talked, and carried on a conversation with you while you observe. Most of the story is told without your input, but there are a few small choices that you can make throughout the story.
In many ways, Project LUX, as the name suggests, is kind of like a tech demo. It's short, and 90% of the game takes place in the same room. Nevertheless, I really feel like this method of exposition could be a massive step forward for the visual novel genre. Most visual novels are a strictly 2D affair; you see well-drawn still images, and a text box. Sometimes, the mouths move, or the sprites move some, but even that is the exception. Here, not only are you dropped into a 3D area, but Lux's character is quite remarkable.
As I mentioned previously, you can see her walk around, listen to her talk, and occasionally make choices throughout the story. What is amazing is how naturally they managed to make her movements and actions. Her lifelike actions are a result of motion capturing the voice actress who plays her, Aimi Tanaka. Depending on the moment, she will sit down, stand up, bow, walk around, swing her arms, tap her feet, sit on the floor, lean on things, and so on. The way she does these things is in a slightly exaggerated style typical of an anime girl, but it's still quite remarkable. There is a moment where you see her and your avatar hold hands and hug, which is also pretty amazing. There is no sexual content, outside of a few statements about small breasts, and "Are you...coming onto me?".
Other appropriateness issues include the subject matter (investigating a murder) and, occasionally, visible underwear. I don't recall any curse words other than 'p*ss' (but I admit it is quite difficult to take proper notes in VR). Other themes of the story is what it means to be human, and the value of individuality.
Graphically, Lux looks nice, though a bit simple. The same can be said for her surroundings. They do the job, but lack a bit of detail. Overall, I would say most of the graphical quality was spent on Lux herself, which is appropriate. Given the nature of the style of art, the screen-door effect of the Vive headset was extremely obvious, and made me long for a newer, higher resolution model. The sounds were clear and did their job, with excellent Japanese voice acting.
Project LUX surprised me, and in a good way. It is short, yes, but it is also a glimpse into the future of storytelling. Being able to watch and listen to a virtual character, while appearing to be in the same room as you, is unreal. It is emotionally impacting getting to know this fictional character, and is unlike other experiences I've had in virtual reality. The story is excellently written and interesting, which helps as well. The talking happens pretty fast, and is in Japanese, so I hope you can read quickly, though there is a backlog available. It is short for the price, so is an easy recommendation during a sale. If you do, I think you'll agree it gives you a tantalizing glimpse into the future of storytelling in virtual reality.