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Still Joking Review

Still Joking Review

One of my favourite things is when I find a story-heavy title that hooks me with an interesting premise that hasn't ever been explored before or has an intriguing twist. In the case of Still Joking, what made it stand out was that it delves into the reflection in our mirrors, as the game makes us wonder what happens to these sentient beings when we inevitably kick the bucket.

In this case, we follow one called Iris, who happens to have a famous prototype (i.e. the person she reflects), and this actress gets murdered in front of the mirror. The beginning cutscene instantly caught my attention as we get to see the man who walks into the dressing room and kills her, and somehow, that's not the most curious part of it all. The way he and her interact makes it evident they know and care for each other up until the moment he stabs her in the heart with a knife adorned by mysterious runes... what a hook!

What comes next is just as interesting as we get introduced to the reflection when we get to hear Iris' thoughts for the first time as she sets the scene by letting us know she's not the actress and explaining a bit about the lore. However, just as she's in the midst of her inner monologue, the murderer's mirror reflection comes rushing into the room and asks if she's okay. Again, a great way to introduce an engaging twist of the narrative.

 Still Joking Image 1 Cropped

Most unfortunately, however, that is about the last time I genuinely enjoyed and connected to the game, as right off the bat, the dialogue fell flat. The Steam store page mentions that Iris is a sarcastic reflection, and regretfully, that is basically all there is to her; I worried this might be a problem since the beginning because it's a challenging style of character to pull off. There's a thin line between writing Tony Stark, who is nuanced and layered, and a character who is so emotionally stunted that they don't feel realistic... and this is especially true when you put this archetype in an emotionally charged situation, such as the one Iris finds herself in.

I don't mind it when characters are cold, annoying, or even disruptive; heck, I mention Tony Stark because I live to experience narratives with emotional growth. The problem with these sorts of protagonists is that they take a while to find themselves, and I just don't see how that could work in a visual novel setting. In the beginning scene, Iris is very cool-headed when talking about her situation, then becomes agitated and snarky when Roy (the murderer’s reflection) comes in offering help, and then she slowly descends into a state of grief for Serena. It makes sense that she might not immediately realise the painful circumstance, sure, but I never got the sense that she and her emotions ever naturally flowed. 

It feels like the characters and situations were constantly reminding me that she was grieving Serena, such as by either letting me know she wasn't eating or her getting cracks on her skin (which happens basically to every reflection), but Iris was fine. In her mind, she's sexualising her murderer's reflection and co-workers, making sassy remarks about her team to her inner voice (which is personified as "Iris 2"), or making jokes about every and all situations; it just doesn't really sell that she is all that sad. It is only when she is faced with a situation where she's supposed to be upset that she kind of reverses back to missing Serena. 

Still Joking Image 2 Cropped

Unfortunately, my problem doesn't end with Iris; every character in Still Joking is either a stereotype, a cliché, or fits into a neat box. Even just taking the most prominent characters from the beginning, you've got Roy, who is the easily guilt-tripped heroic love interest who wants to sacrifice his everything to make it up to Iris for what his prototype did; Tien, who is the caretaking, empathetic woman who lets others push her around and is oftentimes very sad; and Johnny, who is the overly sexual and flirty bad boy of the team, who turns out just to be a wounded pup who needs help and empathy. I don't want to mention much of some of the others due to spoilers, but they all fit into a box or trope — you can tell who they are and what they'll do from a mile away. And the extra side characters are even worse, as they fall into just the typical bitter jerk or the overly friendly NPC.

Because of this, when the characters interact, it’s very hard to stay immersed. Gamers who also like picking up books might recognise when writers make certain inside jokes a bit too forced; in this case, people nagged Iris in the same two ways constantly: she’d make a tongue-in-cheek remark, and the cast would either say, “Iris!” or somehow find a way to reply with “still joking”, such as, “I see you’re still joking”. Although at first, it wasn’t too bothersome, as the hours went by, this made her lack of character depth and development even more evident.

I won't lie — these simple archetypes might've not been the end of Still Joking for me had I felt there was any sort of sense to the plot or gameplay elements, but yet again, I had a lot of niggles there, too. Starting with the narrative itself, I had trouble following the many different sub-plots that were introduced, many of which went nowhere. This makes sense to an extent, of course, because in this visual novel, you can befriend and romance different characters, and — obviously — depending on your choices, you'll go different paths. My problem is mostly that everything feels a bit rushed: you see Serena get killed, then you're introduced to Iris, then you're sent to the Community, then you learn about the void, then you're introduced to a bunch of characters in an expedition, then a bunch of drama unravels, and then... the game just doesn't take its time. 

A great example of this is the Community. This mysterious entity is first introduced to us through Roy, who immediately urges Iris to go get their help because they're in charge of assisting reflections who have lost their prototype, but then there are also eerie mentions of them "taking you by force" if you don't. It gets worse when she listens, goes, and enters a room filled to the brim with other "newbies", who are all, for some reason, furious and suspicious about the Community, painting it in a way that you'd think is a mega-corporation... except 10 hours in, and that still had barely any relevancy at all. Aside from raising a ton of questions, it also doesn't make much sense — if they're all newcomers, how do they have such an extreme knowledge of the Community? Where do the rumours come from? And how in the world does Iris have enough knowledge to ask "provocative" questions but still be confused about most other things?

Still Joking Image 3 Cropped

This problem happens throughout the entire playthrough. Perhaps it wouldn't be as confusing if they had taken the time to let us get used to everything from Iris to the rules of this particular narrative, but I just kept getting thrown into the next thing and the next thing and the next thing... I was left with more questions, and not in an intriguing way — I was just trying to keep up with the plot! It's hard to care when there are so many needless complexities. Is the Community evil? How does the void work? What are the cracks? Why don't they affect every reflection? Who is the second Iris? Why was Serena murdered?

This endless confusion isn’t helped by the lack of polishing in the sound design, as there’s no soundtrack to give you more context or help set the mood. In fact, there is barely any sound in-game! Throughout my time with Still Joking, I only heard a handful of songs, soundtracks, or ambient noises, and it mostly happened during very intense moments. Otherwise, there's nothing but silence and sound effects here and there, nothing else, so the overwhelming majority of the time, you're just quietly reading.

The more I got into the game, the more I began noticing the lack of polishing, and this extends beyond just the superficial elements. Despite the world and story seeming so vast at first, with a whopping 400,000-word count, an interesting twist, and a large cast, most of it is superficial. The dialogue comprises mostly of the cast quipping back and forth, with barely any organic interactions between them, and any complexity or nuance from the premise of the mirror world is lost due to the lack of consistency in rules. Whatever the game does explain is usually done in an odd order, where they’ll drop nuggets of wisdom here and there sprinkled throughout hours, and most of it is hard to understand thanks to the awkward dialogue. To make matters worse, what I did manage to get was sometimes contradicted or obviously not very well-thought-out, such as in the case of what happens when the reflections aren’t being used. The rules were only brought up or applied when it was convenient, otherwise, it’s just a lot of vagueness. This especially made it feel like a rushed project, not a well-put-together visual novel and story, as I had a difficult time keeping up with all the half-explained complexities, that I’d more often than not end up forgetting.

Perhaps if the game had begun with a much slower intro that let us explore what the world feels like for Iris and then kill Serena, it would’ve been easier to keep up with it, but the way it was handled, it felt like there were contradictions even within the massive amounts of information thrown my way haphazardly. Iris spends most of her time mirroring Serena but still knows a lot about herself and her personality traits, yet doesn’t know a lot about the mirror world (such as the Community). I was trying to keep up with what I knew, what Iris knew, and what the world was, and throughout that, I was also introduced to a murder mystery, tons of characters, and complex rules that were sometimes never recalled. And one thing kept ringing at the back of my mind the whole time — there’s no way Iris and Serena’s personalities would’ve even been compatible; I doubt they’d be friends, let alone enough to grieve each other. 


Unfortunately, I highly doubt the game ever had a chance, as at the very end of my journey, I solved the biggest mystery of all: it felt unpolished and rushed because it was. My fears were confirmed at the end of the route I was playing, as I was hit with a screen that simply stated that the part was under construction and to please hit backspace in order to return to the previous scene. It turns out that there are some things that haven’t been finished, which explains why the game feels so directionless and lacks polishing. Truth be told, it’s quite disappointing; the characters and plot could’ve really made this a great journey, but the shortcomings all arise from the severe absence of proper planning in almost every aspect. 

Still Joking had a great premise, but it spread itself thin. There were too many questions, too many sub-plots, and even too many empty gameplay mechanics (such as the very superficial interactive elements); in the end, I didn’t really care about any of it. The game needed a lot more polishing to not feel like a title that was rushed, from the plot and gameplay mechanics to even the sound design, which was just a staggering amount of silence.

3.50/10 3½

Still Joking (Reviewed on Windows)

The game is unenjoyable, but it works.

Still Joking had a lot of potential in its plot, but the 400,000 words did little to introduce us to it and bring it to life, settling instead for short, inorganic quips, rushed ideas, and clichés.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Violet Plata

Violet Plata

Staff Writer

Liable to jump at her own shadow.

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