I’ve never been much of a platform gamer, so I haven’t been keeping up with Balan Wonderworld‘s release. But from what I’ve gathered, the story in the game is minimal, and it’s this novel version that better illuminates the wonders of this world (pun intended).
If that’s the case, then, spoiler alert, that was a big mistake.
Balan Wonderworld: Maestro of Mystery, Theatre of Wonders opens with several color pages, all introducing the various characters. They are simply made to be adored, including a winter scene, firefighting, a giant chess game, and more. The colors, the art style, the themes are all fabulous, and my eyes just took in the beauty.
Then I turned the page and realized the rest of the book is designed to make my eyes bleed.
Chances are in your English class, your teacher emphasized that every new sentence starts with a capital letter, and every new paragraph starts with the first word indented. For most online media, the indent is ignored, but each paragraph has some space in between them.
Exceptions may be made for some dialogue exchanges, but hey, you’re reading this right now; you’ve surely read a lot of things in life. But usually they try to prevent looking like this:
Just…why? It’s true there are breaks since each of the four chapters are divided into sections roughly three pages long, and there are the occasional old-school-style monochrome sketches. But having no indents is just so visually unappealing and not reader-friendly. At times, with the justified alignment, you can’t tell at a glance if the next line’s quotation marks represent someone continuing their thoughts or a new character speaking.
Anyway, this being based on a Square Enix game, here’s the simplest way to describe the story: The World Ends With You splashed with Kingdom Hearts. Those games, like most adventure stories, follow a similar pattern: the hero(es) go to a new area, get involved in some sort of incident, and then move on. So there is a bit of repetitiveness. This novel, however, is more than just the usual adventure story monotony. Most of the novel’s four chapters is the same event duplicated eleven more times, just with Streetbeat encountering a different character.
Streetbeat, the main character, lives in a strange area called a stage. He has control over its design, which he learned from a man named Lance. But Streetbeat doesn’t need friends, and he’s content just dancing away and ignoring the shadowy Negati who are only interested in the shining droplets that are found all over.
So he’s surprised when one day a girl named Clocktower Kid randomly shows up, and she informs Streetbeat there are other stages and masters like them. Not only that, but she, like Streetbeat, has had visions involving a young lady named Fighter and a mysterious man known as Balan. For the rest of the chapter, it’s just visiting some sort of themed area with a, “My name is [insert title], and yes, I have visions of Fighter, Balan, and [insert thing/object]. I’m worried, so I will/will not join you as we go to meet [next character].” Oh, and Streetbeat occasionally notices there’s something odd about the amusement park, nature area, or whatever stage he’s at while Lance advises everyone to not dig deeper.
Of course, they do anyway, and there’s a reason why Streetbeat only sees Balan and Fighter in his visions. That means the loner is forced to interact with everyone as he undergoes Neku-like character development. (Seriously, The World Ends With You parallels are blatantly obvious, including using clothing as power.) While I like that game, Balan Wonderworld: Maestro of Mystery, Theatre of Wonders simply has too many characters and too short of chapters to come anywhere close to level of that game’s story.
Seriously, twelve times. TWELVE. I can understand why the novel didn’t want to skip over stages like some of the Kingdom Hearts novels do, but surely there was something that could have been done to avoid making so much of the story identical. The characters and the stages (and the enemies that inhibit them) were likable enough, but most of the time I was reading with utter boredom. Three pages centered on Character A, switch stages, same story with Character B for another three pages, repeat.
Oh, and I hope you aren’t annoyed by rhymes, because two characters speak solely in verse. It’s the Lance vs. Balan conflict that is the most interesting, but despite that and a few other highlights (the aforementioned full-color character pages), I can’t recommend this. It’s one thing when repetitiveness is spread out over 30+ hours and you are distracted fighting bosses and collecting items. But in a novel, that lack of variety (and indents) is impossible to ignore.