~The One Thing You Must Recall~
Please be aware that this game deals with themes and contains some scenes that some players may find upsetting.
In Cheritz's enormous indie otome visual novel adventure Nameless, Eri has been alone ever since her grandfather died, and it's made her throw herself even more into obsessively collecting expensive ball joint dolls and accessories from them. She knows a young woman her age is probably too old to play with dolls, so she's too embarrassed to tell even her close friends at school, even though she finds herself talking to the dolls as if they're real more and more often. So imagine her surprise when she wakes up early one morning to find them all cooking, bickering, and even using her beauty products in the kitchen one morning as full grown humans. All of them still consider her their owner (at least, for now), and since they don't really have anywhere else to go, they come up with an elaborate scheme to stay with her, even winding up going to the same school. Nameless is a massive, fun, funny and touching visual novel with many hours of content thanks to its multiple (and secret!) endings and extremely high production values. But be warned... despite how cute and sweet it often is, there's more going to Nameless than meets the eye, and there are some potentially troubling behaviours passed off as cute or romantic.
Make no mistake, Nameless is a long, long game, and it might take you an hour of reading before you even hit the animated title sequence. It isn't until the end of the first chapter that you'll be able to start making choices that impact the story... just click to choose whichever one you like, and remember you can save and load at any time. Each character has their own story and ending attached to them, anywhere from four to five hours of play, and there are even a pair of secret endings you can only get if you've gotten all the others first. One thing you might miss is Eri's diary, which can be right by right-clicking the screen and then hitting the diary icon at the bottom... it isn't essential for playing the game, but it's a nice touch being able to read her thoughts on things that happen. Similarly, when Eri gets a smartphone, you can check it the same way and see the random texts the boys and her friends send her.
The "harem" situation is fairly common in anime and manga, though it's usually a male protagonist surrounded by a bevvy of willing women, and Nameless could have gotten creepy in a hurry. While a few of the boys do tend to fawn over Eri quite a bit, most of it is explained and even fleshed out in character development. Yeonho, for instance, can't stop calling Eri "master" and following her around like a baby duckling, but part of that is due to severe abandonment issues since she bought him as a doll second-hand. Eri herself thinks of the boys as family first more than anything else, something they seem to echo... she loves the warmth they bring to her home, the way they banish the loneliness from her life, and she's terrified that one day she might wake up to find them turned back into dolls. Eri has abandonment issues too, though she doesn't realize it. When she talks about how happy she is just to be able to tell a restaurant she'll take extra to go for her family, something she hasn't been able to do since her grandfather died, it's more than a little heartbreaking. Nameless treats all of its main cast with delicacy and respect, expanding on and subverting classic anime tropes, and is head and shoulders above many other otome games for it.
While there are unfortunately a fair amount of typos and grammatical errors, Nameless still manages to hook you with its story and characters. It tends to lend towards light-hearted humour, such as Lance menacing Yuri with a fork when Yuri gets too flirty with Eri, or Eri thinking desperately someone please shut my mouth as she babbles awkwardly to the school principal. While many otome/dating simulation visual novels tend to develop "ghost town" syndrome where you see little to no characters beyond the main cast, Nameless feels like you're in a much more developed world, from Eri's friends Soi and Shinbi to the numerous students who pepper the classes and other places with chatter. Even the various backgrounds will have "extras" drawn into them... a small detail that adds a lot of life to the world. The art is, on the whole, absolutely gorgeous, and a stellar soundtrack as well as voice acting for all the guys and multiple different songs makes this one of the most polished visual novels I've seen in a long time. Each character's route not only contains mostly completely unique content, but successive replays also unlock new scenes or change the dialogue in others you may have already seen drastically. You'll learn more about Soi and Shinbi, how they came to be friends with Eri, unlock the diaries of the boys, and much more. Tei and Red's routes, unlockable only after the others, are even totally distinct, having completely specialized scenes instead of the opening prologue you'll get familiar with. Be warned that many of the bad endings are seriously dark, some to such a degree as to feel at odds with the rest of the content, so tread carefully if you have any serious triggers.
For the most part, the romances are sweet and tender and offer a lot of growth both on the part of Eri and whoever she's romancing. Yeonho might undergo the biggest development, but each of the boys show themselves to be much more than they're tropes, and you'll come to understand why they are, well, the way they are. There's a scene towards the end of Red's route that actually made me tear up a little because it illustrated the way he cared for Eri unconditionally in a very simple, honest fashion. At the same time, however, I can't help but feel that there's a lot of troubling behaviour and serious breaches of trust that just get dismissed as romantic or ignored by Eri. A lot of the issues the characters have here are serious, one in particular more than others, and the implication that they can be fixed simply by someone loving them hard enough might be a bit hard to swallow for some. Eri feels like she needs to get some serious, on-your-knees apologies from at least two of the characters, and that just doesn't happen. In fact, she's actually blamed for some of the worst behaviour because of something she did when she was a little girl. It might seem like I'm picking a little much at it, but on the other hand, this is a game that's inviting you to see its characters and story as deep and nuanced.
By contrast, Eri's relationship with Soi and Shinbi is excellently done... these are clearly girls who care for one another, who tease each other relentlessly but have each other's backs no matter what, and the more scenes I saw with them all together, the more I grew to love it. Not a lot of otome games bother with friendships outside of the romantic relationship, and in Soi and Shinbi you really believe Eri has two dear friends who love each other more than anything, despite all their quirks. In Soi's own words, "Friendship triumphs love!", and it's refreshing in the extreme to see a game with that sort of message in it these days. (Sadly, no secret route where you can romance Eri's fabulously cool and wise friend Shinbi.) Largely, most of the romances come with some very positive messages at their cores... opening up to people even if you might get hurt, figuring out who you are versus what everyone wants or expects you to be, knowing that sometimes the family you find can be worth more than the one you were born with, and so on. The boys are deeply, deeply flawed, sure, but the point here is that flaws don't make you broken or any less deserving of love. All of these things make Nameless stand out and feel like more than your typical otome title where you're just increasing an affection meter.
Nameless is one of the biggest, most well-made visual novels you'll ever get to play, and the amount of content available is sort of staggering. The way your replays will change in little ways so that even scenes you'll see before offer different perspectives or dialogue means Nameless has even more replay value than most. More than just each boy's romantic tale, the overarching plot is woven subtly through each route, being pieced together bit by bit, and that's when the happy-go-lucky slice-of-life romance feel starts to change a little. Stick around after the credits whenever you finish a route, and you'll start to feel a little uneasy. You'll get to learn why Eri's dolls are suddenly human, sure, but more than that, you'll get a satisfying pair of endings that wraps everything up together and provides a lot of closure, though there's still a lot left unanswered. Though it doesn't always deal with some of its subject matter as deeply as you might prefer, Nameless still focuses on concepts like self-worth, identity, the concept of being "normal" and growing up, and more, almost to a greater degree than it focuses on the romantic aspects. For all its flaws, Nameless is a game that feels like it has some serious muscle and formidable talent behind it, and a clear and obviously enormous effort has been made not just to set the bar high but to clear any existing ones in a single bound. Nameless is sweet when it needs to be, unexpectedly deep at others, and lavishly presented all around, making for a high-quality otome game whose demo should be on your short list if you're at all interested in the genre.