Project Lux review — The first VR anime movie.

Project Lux is the first ever VR movie. Unlike Henry and Invasion! that only last for a few minutes, Project Lux is a completed anime movie that is about 80 minutes long. It was created by Spicy Tails, a small creators’ group at Japan. And the story was written by Isuna Hasekura, the author of the light novel Spicy and Wolf and the visual novel WORLD END ECONOMiCA series. Project Lux runs on Both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and has full controller support, but it uses gaze that the controller is used merely for accessing the game menu.

The story set in a futuristic world where most humans had mostly abandoned their body and turned their brain into Cyberbrain. However, there was a girl Lux who lives in a place far away from the city and do not want to be cyberized. Lux was a talented artist who creates entertainment applications, and the protagonist (or you) was a public servant who visits Lux asking her to develop applications that can evoke human emotions. In this world, everything can be simulated by the computer, and humans communicate through data transmissions, including sending signals that present emotions. Art and music do not exist anymore since all emotional arousals are merely electric signals and sending a signal was way more efficient than creating a masterpiece. As the story goes, you two are going to have numerous conversation about how to define “I”. When a person’s memory and emotion can be extracted and replaced, are you still you? When your conscious becomes part out the collective conscious, do you still exist? And how could you differentiate yourself from the others? The protagonist of Project Lux was a cyborg, his real body was “resting” somewhere else and he was using a robotic body to do his work. Lux, in the opposite, was a real human being who do not want to become part of collective consciousness. Lux was afraid to lose herself and everything she knows, feels, and experienced. When she cyberized her brain, there would be no boundary between human minds anymore, and what she has would no belong to just her anymore. At the end of the story, you would have to make a decision, a decision that will determine yours and Lux’s end.

Honest speaking, Project Lux is not actually a “game”. It is more like a movie that asks you to think about philosophical questions. And although it was advertised that it came with multiple endings, there were only one bad ending and one true ending. Project Lux could be classified as a visual novel, a branch of one of the most popular game genres in Japan. When playing a Visual Novel game, what you need to do is to simply watch and listen. Although some people might find it boring, but for me, it is the ultimate medium for storytelling, so it was not surprising that Isuna Hasekura built Project Lux as the VR version of Visual Novel. From one perspective, it did what it intended to do, and had done it pretty well. Project Lux was more immersive than any other anime or film that I have ever watched. Just by sitting in the virtual world let you became part of the story. Yes, you were not the one who talked to Lux, but you were there, you were the one who moved the story forward, and you were the one who made the final decision. What I have experienced was a brand new way of storytelling, and I enjoyed the feeling of being inside the story.

When talking about the body of the game, the story, there was not so much to say or discuss. There were already lots of series discussing the topic. In the 1995 anime movie Ghost in the Shell, the protagonist Motoko Kusanagi could not stop thinking about self-identity. As a cyborg who’s only organic part was her brain that enclosed in the robotic body. When she met The Puppet Master, a robot who held self-consciousness, she began to wonder if what she remembered, felt, and experienced were just an electric signal. And the world she lives was just her dream. In Evangelion, the story surrounded Human Instrumentality Project, a project that meant to remove the A.T. field, a wall that encloses every mind that exists. Without it, there is no way to distinguish one’s mind from the others, and this would create a state of being for humanity where no individual existed. The world will enter an extreme homogenization, the flaws in every living being would be complemented by the strengths in others, thus filling the gaps and erasing the insecurities in people’s hearts. All these works have discussed the topic Project Lux addressed, and they had done a way better job regarding the depth and broadness of the topic discussion. However, this did not mean that Project Lux was bad, at all. The problem with other works was that it was very difficult to understand. I had a hard time understand what Ghost in the Shell was talking about, there were so many metaphors and quotes, and sometimes you have to guess what the scene and background image means. Project Lux did not use any jargon, metaphor, or quote, it was just the conversation between Lux and you. Although you two were discussing something serious, Lux’s cute and vivid behavior have turned the whole conversation to something you could enjoy. (Well, I am not a big fan of its ending though……)

Well, Although the game itself was interesting, I could not recommend it to others, at least for now. This was not just because you might be not used Japanese anime or characters, but more about the system and game design. Firstly, the game was……boring. The story itself was good, but gameplay was not as fun. There was no background music or ambient noise, just you and Lux talking. You could not interact with any objects in the scene and you should not move your body away from where you were. (why I say you shouldn’t was because when you moved, you would see your own body remained at the original spot) So basically what you could do was just listening. Secondly, the caption was difficult to read. The voiceover was in Japanese, so if you did not understand Japanese, you would have to look at the caption, which was at the lower part of your field of view. The readability in VR at the peripheral area is already bad due to image distortion, and since both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift use Fresnel lens, it became even worse. For English caption it was fine, but for Chinese, because of the nature of character complexity, I found some characters not recognizable. And to read the caption, you would have to constantly rotate your eyeballs down, and this could easily cause tireness to your eyes after watched the first two episodes. Lastly, there was only one scene in the game. The only scene in the game, the wooden house was well modeled, but the rest of the scenes that you could see in the game were all just skybox. As for a VR game, I expected to see more interesting scenes instead of just the same scene over and over again.

So to conclude, Project Lux was a really good try. It was the first ever completed VR experience with the anime movie. And although I could not say that it was content rich, it did demonstrate how immersive the storytelling could be by using VR. Lux was well modeled and animated that it felt real and vivid, and even though you could not interact with anything else in the virtual world, it was still one of the most interesting experience have ever had. And most importantly, Project Lux was one of the best examples how VR can be used for storytelling.