For much of the time that Science Adventure fans have known of its existence, Anonymous;Code has been more of a waiting game than, well, an actual game. First announced all the way back in 2016, this sci-fi-heavy visual novel was smacked with delay after delay until it finally saw a Japanese-exclusive release on Switch in 2022. Now, Western players have their chance to experience the game, and we’re happy to report that it was (mostly) worth the wait.
Developed by Mages — the company behind popular titles like Steins;Gate and the Famicom Detective Club remakes — Anonymous;Code is the sixth mainline entry in the developer’s loosely connected Science Adventure series. The game brings the action to the far-flung year of 2037, a hyper-futuristic era dominated by augmented reality, world simulators, and AI girlfriends. You are introduced to protagonist Pollon Takaoka, a teenage hacker with a heart of gold and a desire to help those in need. After a chance encounter with a mysterious girl named Momo Aizaki, Pollon finds himself caught in an earth-shattering conspiracy revolving around the mystery of Cicada 3301 and the prophesied end of the world.
There’s a reason why Mages’ Science Adventure games are considered some of the best VNs in the business. Like its predecessors, Anonymous;Code predicates its narrative upon a mash-up of real-world historical mysteries with some of the most thought-out, well-developed explorations of hard sci-fi mechanics out there. It’s absolutely mind-bending stuff, building upon complex ideas from previous entries while tossing in a few revolutionary bombshells of its own. The amount of long-winded scientific explanations that get tossed around may prove overwhelming to newcomers, but those more familiar with the franchise’s overarching universe will find its answers to certain longstanding conceptual questions rewarding.
Anonymous;Code explores these sci-fi ideas in the service of crafting a sprawling, emotionally resonant narrative that weaves between zippy action sequences and heavy bouts of existentialism. The ensemble cast of characters, while a tad underdeveloped and far from the most memorable SciADV group, are a likable bunch, and their characterization is bolstered by the addition of a stellar English dub option for all spoken dialogue. Pollon particularly stands out as an immediately endearing protagonist, due in part to an all-timer of a performance from his English voice actor, Max Mittelman, who players may recognize as the voice of Ryuji in Persona 5. Yes, he does belt out a “For real?!” or two.
In terms of presentation, Anonymous;Code mostly shines. The game adopts a cel-shaded art style for its character models and backgrounds, and it absolutely pops on Switch, especially in handheld mode. What’s more, the title occasionally switches to beautiful 2D stills and comic book-style panels for pivotal story moments. The latter sequences are a treat just about every time they show up and help keep the game’s visuals dynamic. The only glaring issue graphics-wise seems to be a case of well-intentioned over-ambition. Character models are semi-animated, and while we’d normally appreciate that extra flourish, the animation itself often looks gaudy and unnatural.
All of this is well and good, but there’s still a major question in need of answering: What exactly do you do in Anonymous;Code? The Science Adventure games have always strayed on the side of limiting player interactivity to a singular or small group of mechanics, and Anonymous;Code is no different. In fact, this latest entry may just be the most non-interactive VN in the series yet, as it largely eschews the branching narrative paths and plethora of alternate endings that other entries are known for. That might prove disappointing to some, but Anonymous;Code partially makes up for it by introducing what is arguably the franchise’s most creative and narratively integral mechanic thus far.
Early on in the game, Pollon stumbles upon Anonymous;Code’s save screen — the very same one that the player has been using to jump in and out of the game — and learns that he can create his own saves and load them of his own volition, all while retaining his memories. This ability effectively grants Pollon the power of time travel, allowing him to jump back to a previous save if things go south and try a different tactic. Save and Load is what facilitates the main source of player interactivity, as they can pull up the screen at crucial moments and persuade Pollon to load a previous save in order to avoid one of the game’s many gruesome fail states.
Save and Load is a delightfully meta mechanic that allows the story of Anonymous;Code to progress in some unexpected directions. However, it’s not a perfect implementation — the junctions at which Pollon can Save and Load are tightly scripted, and it can be frustrating to try and lock down the exact line of text you need to be on to convince Pollon to load. This mechanic is also iterated upon in some cool ways later on in the game, but those changes aren’t clearly telegraphed, and can occasionally leave you at a loss in terms of how to move the story forward.
Revealing the narrative significance of Pollon’s Save and Load ability would be a spoiler-y step too far, but we can confidently say that the payoff is immensely satisfying. Through this mechanic and other creative concepts, Anonymous;Code takes the idea of the meta video game to its logical conclusion. The result is a compelling thesis statement for visual novels as a genre — a story that could only be most effectively told in an interactive game format.
Just as the Science Adventure games posit that human perception affects reality, not every player will experience Anonymous;Code the same way. For those new to the franchise, this latest entry is an imaginative if conceptually dense sci-fi romp. For those who have played the other entries, it’s something more — a gratifying culmination of thematic and narrative strands roughly 15 years in the making. Either way, Anonymous;Code has something special to say about the universe, the soul, and video games as a medium.