By Kelsy Polnik 28th Aug 2019 | 4,754 views
Promising to tell a love story through the act of hunting down women’s panties is a bold statement to make. Pantsu Hunter: Back to the 90s makes this claim up front and center. If any genre of game can fulfill that lofty promise it is likely a visual novel, as they can take as much time as they deem necessary to appropriately develop characters, motivations, and narrative. However, Pantsu Hunter seems to have forgotten the “novel” component of its genre and solely focused on the visual aspect. The product of this approach is an incredibly shallow, perverse, and often nonsensical narrative.
To start off on a positive note, Pantsu Hunter definitely does nail that 90s anime vibe visually. If you’re a fan of past generations of anime this game has a gorgeous art style that retains the essence of character design from shows like Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop. However, with the game being as short as it is there are very few locations and characters to actually appreciate. But what is there is stunning, with the exception of the many Ending screens. They are merely text on a white background. Sadly the remainder of the game is less engaging than the limited but delightful art.
Each woman in the game is presented as an obstacle to overcome by way of a checklist. The ultimate goal is to obtain their “True Ending”, as well as a certain number of their panties. These checklists contain multiple objectives such as all of that character’s panties, every non-True Ending, and lastly the True Ending which will grant you access to your next conquest’s chapter.
The protagonist of the game is the self proclaimed, and self-absorbed, “jack-of-all-trades” Kenji. The True Endings can be achieved simply in a matter of minutes so it feels like the core of the game is exploring the rest of the dialogue options and finding as many of the optional Endings as you choose to. Far too many of these are achieved by finding ways to lure these women out of the room temporarily so that you can rummage through their belongings, break into locked drawers/cabinets, or read their private diaries looking for panties or clues to find panties. This consistently feels invasive and creepy. After all 3 initial chapters are passed the game culminates in you inviting all 4 women you’ve encountered to a hot springs getaway that they all quixotically agree to. During this chapter there are many moments where the women call you out for your previous debauchery and it is constantly brushed off as harmless, comedic, or even adorable. The reactions are genuinely inconceivable at times.
Aside from the occasional and slight mistranslation, the dialogue throughout the entirety of Pantsu Hunter bounces back and forth from late night B-Movie tier writing to the absurd and sporadically both. For instance when you repair Haruka’s VCR (it is the 90s, remember!) in one scenario you are treated with “You did such a wonderful job for me, so how about you let me reward you?” followed by her paying you with a pair of pink panties…. Other times you're caught red handed holding the panties of a complete stranger and can always talk your way back into their good graces through some truly outrageous dialogue. Many moments all through the game are meant to be presented as humorous. For myself, they tended to fall into one of two categories rather than humor: confusion or disgust. Sitting, for instance, will kill your character in about 50% of Pantsu Hunter’s chairs. I think this was meant to be a running gag, but it's just a ludicrous concept. Certain Endings are intended as silly moments that instead highlight Kenji’s depravity, such as when he strips nude in a stranger's apartment and attempts to take a bath. When caught he can use the shower to climb out of the window to escape and is praised for his quick thinking. Just a small amount of reflection on this situation should affirm Kenji’s immorality more than it should make you chuckle.
The puzzle logic of Pantsu Hunter doesn’t shine any brighter than the writing, unfortunately. The location of some panties makes sense, such as a drawer, laundry machine, or maybe even left in a bed. Quite often though you’ll find them tucked into a lamp, inside a book, sewn into a teddy bear, or in one case in a special safe with a color coded combination lock to match the “treasure” inside. A lot of the puzzles defy anything resembling logic, but are still easily solved due to the lack of available options on screen and copious amounts of time available. Even the very premise of the game is paid precisely no mind. Pantsu Hunter claims that Kenji can use panties to “identify a girl’s personality”, which is not once explored during the game. Instead he just keeps them as trophies for you to peruse at your leisure in an out of game gallery after collecting them.
At this point in the vast arena of available visual novels Pantsu Hunter: Back in the 90s does stand out, but surely not how it intended to. It has taken no lessons from its contemporaries, instead choosing to glimmer briefly with its retro anime art style, which is superficially propped up by an asinine story full of senseless characters. There is nothing wrong with erotic content in video games, but please back it up with some substance and believable characters and situations. Even a suspension of disbelief wasn’t enough to relate, care, or get invested in any aspect of being a Pantsu Hunter in the 90s.