What happens when an average, run-of-the-mill guy suddenly starts hanging out with the son-of-a-wealthy-business-man honour student? Well, in What Happened the Night Before, basketball happens, and not just a little either. So much, in fact, that the two form a BFF-level bond through their shared passion for the game. Only, this story isn’t about basketball. It’s about Mikage and Noah, about the passing of time, about friendship, and maybe even… something more. Something greater. Oh, and it is actually about basketball too. Which is also pretty great.
Had What Happened the Night Before been an anime instead of a visual novel, basketball would most likely have been the focus. It isn’t though and as such, we’re instead treated to the sweet tale of a couple of clueless, adorkable friends at two vastly different time periods. We’re introduced to Mikage and Noah and treated to a slice of backstory for the dynamic duo near the end of their final year in high school, on the night before an important match. The fact that the two are quite close and have been for a while now is immediately apparent from their banter and behaviour, which is an absolute delight.
Alas, time waits for no one, especially not in a tale such as this, and almost too soon, the story skips ahead by a full decade. A decade during which our two protagonists haven’t spoken much, resulting in their friendship, their close-as-can-be bond, deteriorating quite significantly. Simply put, so much has happened, and who knows, perhaps there really is no way of getting back to the way things were. That won’t stop Mikage from trying though, which is good as otherwise the ‘boys love’ (gay male romance) tag for this review wouldn’t make much sense. You better believe it does though, and… I’m not going to spoil the how or why or when part(s) in this review, for obvious reasons.
I will say this, however: for a visual novel that only took a little over an hour to read, it contains a surprising amount of detail – both before and after the time skip – which really helps flesh out the personality of both Mikage and Noah. There might have even been a moment or two during which I got slightly misty-eyed, something that certainly speaks to the overall quality of the writing. But no visual novel is complete without, well, visuals, and I think we can all agree that Saitoki (character art) and Elduator (background art, UI) both did a great job: backgrounds are varied and detailed, much like not only the character designs but facial expressions/poses, too. A treat for the eyes, as it were.
Now, this might come as a bit of a surprise, I suppose: What Happened the Night Before was not only made during the month-long game jam, NaNoReNo 2023 but it was also submitted well before the deadline. Would my review have read differently if its development time had been a year instead of under a month? No. A game is a game, and this one… oh, it is just so good! Sure, I do have an affection for queer tales of the romantic variety, especially ones with characters as clueless as Mikage and Noah, which is bound to influence my opinion on some level. Even so, an interest in such content is not at all necessary to find an enjoyable read across the metaphorical pages of this visual novel.
What Happened the Night Before is available on itch.io.