Game Review: Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For-

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This review was originally posted to Steam.

June 15th, 2016

Lucy game splash image, showing the game title and two half-visible shots of a smiling purple-haired anime girl with visible robot parts, one with eyes open and one with them closed, in front of an astract background evoking computer chips

The steady advance of technological progress has brought us many unforeseen challenges. With robotics and AI slowly but surely encroaching on what we used to think of as uniquely human, we are confronted with the question of what makes us so special and on what basis we deem ourselves superior to the intelligent beings we create. Take this cerebral topic and intermingle it with some comedy, drama and romance, and what you get is one of the most promising indie VN releases of the year.

Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For- is a short visual novel developed and published by Modern Visual Arts Laboratory. Set in a mostly contemporary world where robots and AI are ubiquitous and have almost reached the point where they are difficult to distinguish from humans, it tells the story of how a prototype android upsets the fickle balance in a conservative family critical of such technology. A chance encounter has the teenaged main character take “Lucy” from the junkyard, pitting her exuberance against his cynicism and ensuring ample amounts of comedy hijinks as well as drama and tragedy. While his struggles to integrate Lucy into his daily life play out on one timeline, the story intersperses snippets from the android research laboratory about the man (referred to as “Doctor”) who pours all of his energy into assembling Lucy and protecting her from government interference, leaving the reader to hypothesize early on about how Lucy ended up at the junkyard.

In terms of visual novel mechanics, Lucy packs few surprises. The above average amount of choices packed into its three to five hour main story leads to many of them feeling a bit railroad-y, even though there are multiple endings to be conquered. The visual presentation is crisp and polished, the backgrounds and CGs are of a high quality. While there is nothing wrong with any one character sprite by itself, at times their visual styles are noticeably different, which can make scenes look incoherent (some more than others). The soundtrack is fitting but not particularly memorable. Korean and Japanese voiceovers are provided and I opted for the former since it was a welcome change of pace after having read mostly Japanese VNs in the recent past. The lack of multiplatform support (the VN is available for Windows only) is regrettable. Something that is definitely worth pointing out is the absurd amount of post-game content and alternate endings that bumped my own reading time from just three hours all the way up to five – I am a quick reader though, and looking at the reviews, playtimes of anywhere between 7 to 10 hours seem within the norm. The post-game content also provided the story with some much-needed rounding out, so you will most definitely want to keep reading after the credits roll for the first time.

Thematically the VN attempts to cover quite a lot of ground. At face value there is the “cute robot girl” story, which would have been easy to turn into clichéd “fated love” schlock, but thankfully the story stays very light on the romance elements and delivers its tender budding affection so subtly that you could almost miss it. Lucy's character itself is unfortunately less immune to clichés, seeing as she is rooted firmly in the “clumsy, ditzy, caring but naive” tradition of robot girls, and her characterization is at least consistent and believable even if it's not innovative. Most of the situational humor falls in line with what you would expect from this part of anime culture, with Lucy being oblivious of her surroundings and the main character (whom, by the way, you get a chance to name yourself) having to clean up behind her.

More interestingly, the story also makes a more than solid effort at tackling the philosophical questions that arise when robots become almost indistinguishable from humans. For example, a part of the story's tension is derived from the question of what grants one's identity if memories as well as body parts can be replicated and replaced as needed (the Ship of Theseus is even mentioned by name). As a narrative theme, the idea of artificially created humans has a long literary tradition. VN aficionados will of course tend to notice the many parallels to planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~, both overt and more abstract, but in the broader cultural world the concept dates back at least to the story of Pygmalion and Galatea of Ancient Greece and the golem from Jewish folklore, and has had one of its major spotlight moments in the form of Shelley's Frankenstein, which Lucy's story also reflects in many ways (including a formidably executed “we were the real monsters all along” moment). Now, like then, the question is posed what it is that supposedly makes us humans more deserving of a self-determined life than the ones we create as our servants. The VN is not shy about exploring these difficult questions even at the expense of subverting its own characters from time to time (such as when the protagonist shows a knowledge of Schopenhauer that is most definitely uncharacteristic for a teenager who claims to have no interest in formal education).

Another topic that Lucy tackles is the question of labor automation. Androids capable of sophisticated reasoning are pushing humans out of the workforce because electricity is much cheaper than minimum wage. In the world of the VN, this seems to be just as much of an open question still as it is in ours. Admittedly this topic is not explored all that deeply, but it manifests itself very clearly in the character of the protagonist's father, who I suspect is hostile to the point of belligerence towards androids because he identifies so deeply with his work and considers his role as a productive employee the central aspect of his own sense of purpose. Scrolling through the reviews of this title, it seems to me that not very many readers understood this connection, painting him as a mere cartoon villain instead, which is disappointing.

For all its interesting thematic points, there are also aspects of Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For- that I had to grapple with, the biggest one being the general unlikability of the main character. A lot of this can be explained away by his age and familial situation, but with as many external sources of tension as the story possesses, I wish they had relied less on the protagonist's egotism and carelessness as a source of drama, since it tends to strain the immersion. In terms of minor nitpicks, I didn't care for how the screen showing Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics was used as a scene transition, since clicking through it every time quickly became tedious.

Overall, Lucy is a very well-written story that profits especially from the aforementioned post-game content. Even though this review is, as always, as free of spoilers as I can manage, I absolutely cannot avoid highlighting the brilliance of the final reveal during the true ending that astonishingly weaves everything together and tempts the reader to start the story over again right away. It's just one moment out of many, but I appreciate the careful construction of the story leading up to it immensely.

Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For- stands on the shoulders of giants and it knows it. Its themes have been explored in other works before and the VN has references aplenty. However, it is still a worthwhile story on its own that is sharp and polished and has everything a good visual novel would need. If you absolutely cannot stand ditzy anime girls, this may be too much to stomach, but if you're up for a cutesy tale about existentialism and sociotechnical progress, you can't go wrong here.


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