In this cool new visual novel, the latest season of Bstars has met a dramatic standstill and it's up to you to decide the contestants' fate.
In Buried Stars, you play as wannabe music icon Do-yoon Han who's trapped inside the remains of a collapsed studio. At the start of the story, you witness the main stage fall apart in what amounts to only the beginning of a mystery-laden tale full of fear and despair. Surrounded by 4 other contestants and a staff member, you're told to brace yourselves for a long night as you wait for the rescue team to make their way in. That is, if you can survive with your body and mind intact.
Buried Stars is part visual novel and part detective game. You'll spend a lot of time reading, especially considering the fact that there's no English voice acting. The gameplay loop has you talking to all of the people who are in the area, presenting clues, sometimes making decisions on how to react to something they say, piecing together clues to answer questions, and investigating the odd crime scene.
There's a ton of dialogue and back-story to dig into if you please but it's optional to a degree. Every time you broach a subject, there's a chance you'll raise or lower your rapport with someone and on occasion, an answer might also affect your sanity level. I quite enjoyed this mechanic as it forced me to think about what I was asking someone and to respond to their questions in a way that would build rapport with them. However, there were many times when it was difficult to guess what was the best answer and the fact that you have to choose questions that you know will lower their rapport to uncover some clues means that you only have so much control.
Maintaining your sanity is difficult to do, especially because you'll witness many crimes and uncover sordid behaviour that would try anyone's sanity in such a difficult situation. The best way to raise sanity is to build rapport with the other survivors. If you manage to build it enough, you'll trigger special events where you learn more about their past and receive a nice boost of sanity, too. If you don't manage to maintain your sanity, the game can end early. There are multiple endings but generally speaking, the more you can keep your sanity up, the more chance you have to solve the crimes that occur before the rescue team arrives.
I played through Buried Stars 3 times which is a testament to how engrossing its story is as I just had to know who was behind the crimes that were committed. Also, it does an excellent job at replayability, allowing you to skip through big sections at high speed but pause at critical decisions to unlock different branching paths. Additionally, if you've already played through a section, you can see how asking someone a question will affect rapport, allowing you to build it easier on each playthrough. However, actually unlocking some of the endings is notoriously difficult, requiring you to make certain decisions at specific parts that are far from obvious. It would have been nice if you were given extra hints after your first couple of playthroughs so you could enjoy the whole story easier.
As I mentioned, aside from chatting with characters, you'll investigate crime scenes. This process isn't very involving as it merely has you click on different parts of a scene to gather clues. It would have been cool to see more gameplay elements incorporated into the investigation and have more substantial clues come out of it rather than relying so heavily on testimony. That being said, clues are also gathered from scrolling through the Phater social media messaging app which is on your smart watch. Within the app, fans and haters alike love to post messages as the survivors try to maintain some sense of normality in their disastrous situation. The gameplay that Phater offers simply involves pressing a button on a highlighted section of text to obtain a clue so there's no real challenge there.
Piecing together the correct clues at the appropriate time has a solid level of difficulty to it as doing so mostly required me to think critically to eventually come to a logical conclusion. When presented with a lot of possible clues to piece together, there are hints in their descriptions that can help you out which was a nice touch that regularly pointed me in the right direction.
The atmosphere within Buried Stars is grim and scary, making it seem as if just one wrong step in the collapsing studio could cause serious damage or even death. However, there isn't a ton of variety and almost every scene is very dark with a strong focus on the characters rather than the scenery. The cast is an interesting group with only 1 or 2 having personalities that make you not care so much about what happens to them. Even then, as you dig into their backgrounds, you'll learn more about why they are the way they are. There's an air of deception around each individual, especially considering some characters seem to come across as purely innocent more often than not. This left me guessing until the end which is difficult to achieve, especially considering how many mystery games I play.
Buried Stars will challenge you to solve mysteries while trapped in a collapsing studio with a few survivors as you struggle to build rapport and maintain your own sanity. Overall, it's a gripping story that will have you replaying until you reach its ultimate conclusion.
- + Logical problem-solving that features a solid level of challenge
- + Replayability is well implemented
- + Keeps you guessing until the end
- - Investigation gameplay feels inadequate
- - Unlocking the whole story is too difficult
- - Settings lack variety