Alpacas are cute animals; I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them in person before. An uncle has a ranch with sheep, llamas, and a couple of alpacas – they’re pretty adorable. So, you can imagine my complete surprise when learning a romantic visual novel would take a crack at using these lovable beasts as the starting to something…well, to something in Sekai Project’s latest offering, PacaPlus. Unfortunately, the lackluster presentation and forgettable characters left much to be desired.
Kazuma Saeki is a young man in high school with his loving girlfriend, Yukari Izumi. During their summer vacation, the two really have a chance to spend time together. The new school year is about to start and the two lovebirds must prepare for the annual school festival. The time spent working and running errands gives Kazuma plenty of time to take Yukari to the Alpaca Kingdom, a destination with alpacas as the main attraction and the backdrop for the couple’s date of Yukari’s birthday.
However, this being a visual novel, thing don’t always go as planned. On their way back to town, something truly strange happens: Yukari turns into an alpaca, but seems completely unaware of her own transformation! Confused and finding out no one else seems to notice the change, Kazuma must figure out what happened to Yukari and adjust to the fact she’s now an alpaca.
Now, I usually enjoy visual novels since each one is always a little different. There have been a few, like PacaPlus, that could easily be turned into a light-hearted anime series or others, like Angels with Scaly Wings, that take an alien concept and turn it into a remarkable story. Sadly, PacaPlus failed to impress me on both fronts and didn’t stand out on its own merits.
PacaPlus felt more like a passive experience than anything since there’s little in the way of interacting with the characters or even real decisions to make. Even during those rare moments a response to an explanation is requested, choices seem to have little effect in how the rest of the characters react to Kazuma’s bizarre situation. I wish there was more player interaction for the story, but alas there is not.
Another downside to PacaPlus is that, as the story progressed, I found myself less and less invested in the characters. Kazuma and Yukari weren’t particularly bad people, but they quickly started to feel bland. Most the dialogue comes from Kazuma, but even his explanations and observations begin to grow stale after the first fifteen minutes. He feels a need to explain every small facet of detail or background information on a situation or character. He spends way too much time talking about Yukari’s ability to play the violin and at another point talking about his afterschool job at a café.
While I understand setting the stage for this info is necessary, the writing didn’t flow naturally in the slightest. There were times I lost interest in Kazuma’s line of dialogue and wished he’d just say what he needed to say in the space of a few sentences instead of several paragraphs. Even if there were key pieces of information necessary, why not reveal them through conversation instead? Give me a chance to ‘talk’ to the characters through a dialogue tree instead of presenting everything to me on a silver platter! This might be a visual novel, but it’s still technically a game.
I will concede the visual novel is beautiful in terms of vibrant colors and having an assortment of backgrounds. PacaPlus has the look and feel of an anime I’d happily watch on a rainy afternoon. The various characters are quite distinctive and easy to tell apart, though Yukari’s alpaca design felt strange at times. Still, after a while, it has its own charm even if it is a little out of the ordinary.
The voice acting, despite being in Japanese, was pleasant enough, even if I couldn’t understand what was being said. The fact PacaPlus even featured voice acting was a pleasant surprise compared to the lukewarm introduction I’d been given into the story.
Sadly, not even cute alpacas and fun artwork helped PacaPlus to keep me engaged with its limited content, ultimately leaving me with a feeling of apathy. There’s entirely too much text and story to wade through and not enough opportunities to actually make decisions, only made worse considering the protagonists were pretty dull and lacked substance. The writing ‘told’ me what was taking place in each given situation instead of ‘showing’ me whether through a visual cue or conversation taking place between characters. The concept, while unusual, was more than enough to merit a solid story; this wasn’t it.