Review – Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue
Given my recent review trend, most might be surprised to learn of my past in visual novels. Then again, I suppose that wouldn’t actually be the case, considering how I’ve proven myself a degenerate. Danganronpa Reload was one of the earliest titles I wrote about, and to this day, I’m a massive fan – I’ve been lusting after another experience like it ever since. I haven’t found it yet; however, I did discover fresh takes on the killing game formula. Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma are two I fondly remember, mainly thanks to the cast. That’s something this subgenre excels at. I can always count on a robust collection of demeanours, which has me enthused for the newest Aksys-published game.
Inescapable: No Rule, No Rescue didn’t come to my attention until scrolling through the Upcoming Releases tab on the eShop. The art style immediately piqued my interest. Once I sat down to take a gander at the trailer, as well as read an interview, my hype level grew – having a Portuguese voice actor had me giddy, too. Based on what I’ve seen, it reminds me of Danganronpa. The marketing states every decision has weight, but is that an empty promise?
Disclaimer: This piece is written from the Pacifist perspective where no one’s killed. If time permits, I hope to provide a look into the Genocidal route.
A PAIR OF BAD EGGS!
Welcome to this dark and twisted reality TV show, where eleven individuals have been gassed and dropped on a tropical island. That’s the premise of Inescapable, and once they awaken from being knocked out, the activities begin. The captors FaceTime their captives, and my first impression of both was intrigue. It’s difficult not to notice the stark contrast between them – one’s unhinged, perpetually swearing at the participants, while the other is calm and calculated. They’re the ying to each other’s yang, adding a fascinating dynamic to proceedings. The way vulgarity crashed head first with professionalism was poised to be a fun ride, but as my session progressed, that thought unraveled. Not entirely, mind you, but there’s a slight hiccup.
Allow me to preface this section by saying it doesn’t deter from the all-encompassing romp. I still enjoyed it, but the writing’s full potential never flourished.
The villain’s character growth is quite subtle. Sure, in my several-hour session, I spotted cracks here and there, but it happens at a snail’s pace. It was sluggish, explaining why it felt like I was being teased with a good time, but there was no intention of following through. It takes forever for any sort of pay-off, and my fear is players won’t have the patience to let things cook. Please make no mistake; the curiosity surrounding them is decent, and the notion behind this title is unique, but with limited breadcrumbs to entice questioning, I can see folks getting bored.
AS THE EVENTS UNFOLD!
One of the most crucial aspects of a VN, especially Death Game-themed ones, is there’s a logical answer for character motives. With Inescapable, kidnapping eleven people is done as a means of entertainment for the viewers watching on the Dark Web. Sure, there’s not much substance there, but I can sink my teeth into something tangible. That makes me a happy boy, but where I begin to flounder is much later in my session when an unlikely party offers aid.
Up to that point, there’s no hint of that being a possibility. It just happens without a sufficient explanation, leaving me bewildered. While I love how chaotic the idea of plopping down random snippets is, if it doesn’t meet a finish that wraps it nicely with a bow, it’s met with little satisfaction. Also, that ending was anticlimactic.
Hell, for a period, there’s an absence of understanding motivations. I couldn’t shake the feeling that plot threads were being thrown at a wall, and whatever stuck made it into Inescapable. There’s a lack of cohesion that won’t necessarily damage the narrative, but it does water down my excitement.
Alright, this statement may be weird, but ambition is the deterrent. You see, it’s true; decisions do have a role in dictating how events play out. For example, depending on who I fraternize with within the first few weeks, later mechanics reflect that. It’s pretty nifty, doing a crap ton of heavy lifting to promote replayability. That normally would merit praise, but not when, after my session, I had no drive for a second go.
It’s clear that an immense amount of passion was poured into this script – a lot of effort has been put towards fleshing out bones, but there’s a caveat. On paper, eleven isn’t a huge number, and by optics alone, I assumed giving everyone a sufficient background was doable. I think it mostly succeeds, too, but the nonlinear nature of the story means whole beats are dropped on a dime.
Unless I focus on who I yearn to learn about, I lose out on subplots. The moment I speak to someone else, those prior findings vanish. I’m given a taste of extra tidbits about their lives before the freedom of choice snatches it away. On the bright side, the brief glance of information I got was juicy, meaning that with a second play-through, I could dive deeper into how it unfolds and likely be enthralled, but as I said, there’s no desire.
If you were to ask me why I refuse, it isn’t because the writing sucks. The culprit is the structure. Let me be specific; after many hours, the meat and potatoes finally kick-off, and anything resembling a killing game begins. It got very interesting, having me at the edge of my seat.
Until then, unless you adore character building, a healthy dosage of fluff, and banter, it meanders. Drama is minimal, and tension is nonexistent, while adrenaline remains docile. The balance between development and plot progression is wonky. I reckon most will find it’ll drag since, hell, even I, a literary nut, felt the tedium on occasion. Never to the degree of stopping Inescapable, though, as a pull kept me glued to my screen.
HEY, I’M HARRISON!
Without a doubt, Dreamloop fares better regarding foreshadowing for the eleven protagonists. There are flower petals scattered atop the metaphorical floor, leading to, in a few cases, a beautiful bed. It’s not hyperbole when I say I swore audibly with various reveals, not because my mind was blown, but due to how it’s handled so cleanly. I missed the signs suggesting such, which is cool, but that also puzzles me due to being left wondering why it’s not implemented into the villains.
I wasn’t nearly as engaged with them as the others. It bothers me that thanks to this poor structure, I couldn’t satiate my hunger to discover. Because I was a social butterfly in this go, there were loads of stop-starts. I felt yanked around, and whenever I dared to commit, I wasn’t rewarded. By now, based on the length of my rambling thus far, you can see I’m a sucker for VNs because of how it hones in on literary prowess. Well, I’m also rather smitten by the who, and goddamn, it’s so close to a grand slam.
I take control of Harrison, a nerdy young adult who is super awkward with women. There’s also Eva, a walking, talking meme, and Annika, a girl who exclusively talks in the third person, which I found adorable. She endeared herself to me in a finger snap, although I can see her mannerisms being annoying if you dislike anime ridiculousness. Most cliches are present, so unless you’re okay with that, seek refuge elsewhere. Inescapable shamelessly bathes in lunacy, and I’m here for it.
HUMOR AND TRAITS!
Another aspect I must applaud is the personalities. Dreamloop has done a fantastic job solidifying a varied cast. Like Annika, the majority have a distinct speech quirk that’s easily discernible – from antagonizing to macho. It got to the stage where, even without a name, I knew who spoke. That familiarity indicates how immersed I got, but it wasn’t immediate. It took some time, and at first, I only gravitated to a few while others needed to marinate. Even as I’m writing, there remains one or two I’m not fond of. I also want to highlight that someone’s non-binary. Not only that, but the game’s well aware of how some will perceive that, beating the trolls to the punch by having Harrison sarcastically refer to them as a Token Character.
As you can see, the sense of humor is amazing, but it specializes in horrible dad puns. They were so delicious that I tried them out on my niece. Not only was she not impressed, but she trotted off as she told me I suck at telling jokes. If that’s not a stamp of approval, then I don’t know what is. The caliber of jest isn’t high, but to be that awful, it takes genius – the wording is icing on the cake. After a handful of hours, it felt like I was smacking gums with a bunch of friends. I wasn’t attached, but there was a sense of comfort. The teasing felt authentic, and nothing felt forced – their verbal jabs organically flowed. Natural discussions aren’t easy to replicate, and I’ve reviewed tons of games with robotic text, but Inescapable ironically escapes that.
OH, YOU NAUGHTY BOY!
I’m sure after seeing the visuals, there are worries that perversion will slither in, and that’s warranted. Inescapable is the embodiment of being horny on main, and it doesn’t let up. I won’t pretend it’s infrequent or that a large percentage isn’t gratuitous or exists purely for the fan service. It does, on both accounts, but for what it’s worth, these are young adults on an island, in seclusion, hormones raging, with alcohol. When mixed with promiscuous behavior, it’s a recipe for sex and sex-related drinking games.
Boobs are also a popular conversation piece, and a fair amount of what’s said will be juvenile. Fortunately, it’s played off comedically, with undertones of puppy love. It’s salacious but strangely wholesome. Well, that’s before, and I’m repeating myself, but the final act takes a turn for the bad.
ENTER THE DARKNESS!
In every lit room, there’s a corner that’s covered in shadow, and that perfectly describes Inescapable. The topics it doesn’t shy away from are vast. It makes sense as these people have been through their respective hells; of course, some worse than others. Sexual Abuse and Criminal Activity are but two that I’ve seen, but it’s possible others are lurking, lying in wait.
If you find a storyline like that, avoid triggering a plot cutscene. I can’t verify, but it seems like doing so resets what everyone says, meaning even if I’m on top of conversing with someone, I can still lose out on further details. Because what I found never progressed, I don’t know how sensitive the subject matter gets, so here’s a warning. From the little I did see, however, nothing was done tastelessly. I wasn’t uncomfortable, and my intrigue did pique.
HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER!
Gameplay elements are sparse, with reading being the driving mechanic, if you will, of VNs. A few do find their way to being a thing, though, but in Inescapable, they’re an afterthought. During my session, I found a pair of interactivity, with one being doable. The one that isn’t is a fishing mini-game. It utilizes a Theatrhythm-like string of prompts to determine if a catch is successful.
The problem is it tries being fancy, seemingly adding sliders. Well, I’ll be frank: I’m not confident that’s what they are, which tells me a change would be beneficial. Right now, I mindlessly tap a button, hoping for a good result. I eventually decided to skip out due to the monotony. It feels a waste of my time, when I could be mingling.
WAIT, DO YOU HEAR THAT?
There’s a word I overuse in every piece of coverage I’ve written, and that’s “charm.” I honestly didn’t want to utter it anywhere that wasn’t about the voice acting section. Don’t get me wrong; the dialogue has it, but it’s when you hear the characters verbalizing that the magic happens.
Now, I’ll say it: Inescapable is a wet dream for those with a fetish of accents – English, Swedish, Italian, and most importantly, Portuguese. As someone who shares the latter nationality, hearing Francisca say, well, anything, felt nostalgic. It’s tough to articulate, but I couldn’t stop smiling. In general, I was enamored, welcoming the charisma it brought to the table. Sadly, my opinion is subjective, and I can see how a few may be divisive.
For instance, Eva will ruffle feathers because she, without sugarcoating, talks like a valley girl with Gen Z stereotypes cranked to, ironically, eleven. Acronyms like LOL or WTF are said by the letter, and while that fits her personality, it’s excessive. It feels like she says either word, especially OMG, every second sentence. Everyone somewhat balanced her shenanigans, but she’ll get on some nerves.
As for me, she’s what ultimately sold me on Inescapable because I had a morbid curiosity about her. Eva is a firecracker, and while it took a bit for me to warm up, once I did, I loved her unique whimsy. Enough about her, though, because she isn’t the only cast member, and quality awaits. Everyone’s voice is sublimely chosen, matching them frighteningly well. There have been examples in the past where designs are ragged, but as soon as their mouth opens, it’s squeaky. That isn’t an issue here, and the macho man talks precisely as I expect – raspy. What impressed me most is how the actors seem to have ancestry or are from the country their character represents. Cadences are authentic, and it does its part in sucking me into the universe.
Maybe I’m biased, but I adore Francisca – her voice actor did a stellar job. I do, however, wish that delivery was better than it is across the board. At times, some performances sounded flat in sections that needed oomph. Well, unless it’s Eva. I have a soft spot for Sasha, too, the Non-Binary one, but they’re strangely quiet, volume-wise.
No one can dispute the joy of hearing vulgarity spoken in another tongue. Whenever learning a new dialect, it’s the de facto thing that people research. In Inescapable, swearing is a commonality, and it’s pretty smart. If you think about it, having offensive stuff hidden behind a barrier decreases the age rating. It tickled me, probably more than it should, when I heard the F word in Portuguese. That said, I didn’t like how Dreamloop went ad-lib crazy, and during sincere scenes, hearing an expletive kills the feelings it’s trying to invoke. Backpedaling how regularly it happens would have helped. I don’t want a touching exchange with Francisca only for her to say “s***” at the most inappropriate moment.
AND THE GASSED VERDICT IS…
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is the definition of a hidden gem marred by choices made. Where the art’s gorgeous, and the still CGs are beautiful, the pacing is bothersome. I wouldn’t recommend it to a casual player of VNs. It becomes evident that, unless you love exposition that gives everyone dimension, mileage will vary but likely veer towards boredom. It’s a shame because it’s delightful, and the majority of characters are memorable, but it takes too long for the nitty-gritty to begin.
I didn’t particularly like the final act either, or how it’s positioned. I understand what it was trying to achieve, but the execution just isn’t there. If you ask me, Dreamloop seems to have been targeting a niche, and it’s a mission accomplished. Be forewarned that some good and bad cringe lies ahead. Despite the flaws, I don’t regret my session. As a lover of the genre, I’m chuffed as nuts, but the price could be lower.
The CGs are gorgeous. Backgrounds when talking to the others on the island are of equal quality. I quite enjoy the hand drawn nature of them and as sad that there wasn’t more. The character portraits are amazing, too. I’m always a sucker when several different templates to display emotions are made.
It’s hard to properly score this section since gameplay in the traditional sense doesn’t really exist. However, in Visual Novels, reading is just as much as a mechanic as fishing, which sucks, by the way. The story was fun, though, but I felt it fell off in the final act. The structure being the way it is does alienate the audience. Unless you’re a diehard that thrives on fluff, then the game will disappoint.
I like the music. It did well to illustrate the emotions of scenes, though the ad-libs of swearing killed the mood. In regards to the voices, I love it. The accents were endearing. I couldn’t help but smile, especially for Francisca. Hearing her talk with that familiar tone is nostalgic as hell. Her voice actor did a splendid job – they killed it, as did most everyone.
It kept me engaged. I kept coming back for the characters and to see how plot beats would unravel. A lot of the reason why is because everyone is charming. I would argue that if I they weren’t, it would undermine the fun factor.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue was provided by the publisher.