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Visual Novel / Buried Stars

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From left to right: Lee Gyu-hyuk, Min Juyoung, Han Do-yoon, Seo Hyesung, Oh Inha, Chang Seil
Buried Stars is a Korean Visual Novel released on July 30, 2020 by Line Games Corporation and Studio Largo for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, though the Vita version is not being released outside South Korea. An international PC port was released on Steam on November 30, 2021.

Seoul, October 4 2018, 11:00 p.m. The hit pop music audition survival show Buried Stars, now in its fourth season, is about to commence its current finals with its five survivors.

Everything is all set for the five to be windowed to three, with everything contingent on the votes of fans. This will be a night to remember!

Unfortunately, the building has its own idea of "night to remember."

While the vast majority of the building's denizens are safely evacuated, the five contestants, along with two staff members, are trapped in the wreckage, with only their smart phones—both through calling and through Phater (a Fictional Counterpart to Twitter)—to connect them what's happening on the other side. The situation rapidly decays when the contestants and floor director first come upon the dead body of Shin Seungyeon, then get accused by "S_Seungyeon" on Phater of leaving her to die. Their punishment? At certain intervals, whoever gets placed last will be killed...

This visual novel provides examples of:

  • 100% Completion: There's a Collection section, which lists which achievements, images, profiles, keywords, etc. that you've unlocked and how many are left to go.
  • Abandoned Hospital: In Route C, you learn through Phater that the building used to be a laboratory. Everyone is appropriately unsettled by this revelation.
  • Abusive Parents: The ending will always reveal that Seungyeon was abused and neglected since she was little. Inha was also physically abused by her father, presumably to vent his frustration that she hadn't been born male.
  • All There in the Manual: A "user concert" had the producer do a Q&A that provides background info on various characters, as well as confirmation on what probably happens after/happened during the events of the game.
  • Anti-Frustration Feature: Once you've tried suggesting a keyword once (and saved), the game will display on subsequent playthroughs if it results in a new topic and how it affects your rapport points with the character.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the victims in Route A, to varying degrees.
    • The first victim, Seungyeon, was known to be quite the Jerkass. Not only was she completely unrepentant about driving someone to suicide, the cherry on top was her demanding Gyu-hyuk save her over Do-yoon, even though she's evidently in no immediate danger while Do-yoon could be dying for all they know, and suggesting that she'd make Gyu-hyuk's life hell if he disobeyed her.
    • The second victim, Hyesung, who was trying to blackmail the others into dropping out and paid the price when one of them decided to permanently silence him.
    • Downplayed with the third victim, Seil, who worked for Seungyeon and therefore was partially responsible for Gyu-hyuk's mother's suicide as well. Unlike the others, though, he wasn't doing anything malicious in the present, and Gyu-hyuk acknowledges his murder of Seil as something of an in-universe Moral Event Horizon, as it's the only one that was deliberate and not a retaliation in the heat of the moment.
  • Beneath the Mask: One of the themes of the novel is how much of a mask is built up not just by the contestants to work in society, but by the show for the sake of attracting viewers. Hyesung and Inha also have problems with Becoming the Mask, although for very different reasons.
  • Blatant Lies: Often, the ending has WBS promise to take better care of the contestants' mental health and that prying into their personal lives without consent won't happen again. The next line immediately notes that this is an empty promise, given what the industry and fans are like.
  • Book Ends: At the start of the game, Do-yoon saves Gyu-hyuk from collapsing debris, as he does again in the True End.
  • But Thou Must!: On occasion, regardless of what you pick, the other characters will override you (though what you decided initially determines who approves and who disapproves).
  • Cassandra Truth: Aside from the cast and the staff, and even with having legit medical records, part of the audience consider Juyoung's panic attacks as faking to gather some sympathy votes. This picks up later when she is found to have worked as a barista and enjoys coffee, which is considered to make panic attacks worse.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The smartwatch, as nearly all of its seemingly innocuous functions are involved in the truth.
  • Commonality Connection:
    • Do-yoon and Juyoung are the only two finalists who were known musicians before joining Buried Stars; more pointedly, both are infamous for having "abandoned" their group in some way, which they relate over.
    • Though Do-yoon's relatively nonjudgmental manner helps, part of why he's the only contestant Hyesung likes is because Hyesung feels that, as a fellow underdog, Do-yoon is the only one who can understand him.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title is both the name of the Reality Show—referring to hidden talent—and, as Inha lampshades, a description of the current situation: celebrities trapped in the collapsed building.
  • Dramatic Irony: You can only do Routes B and C after unlocking the True End, meaning that you'll be doing those routes with full awareness of who the culprit is and what exactly will happen if, say, you suddenly visit certain areas at certain times.
  • Driven to Suicide: Comes up often.
    • Near the end of the Irregular route, Seil appears to be this, but was actually killed by Gyu-hyuk.
    • In the Show Ended result, both Gyu-hyuk and Do-yoon end up this way. It's implied that this may have also been the case for Inha, after going silent, though it's more ambiguous and would be a Bungled Suicide, in that case.
    • Before the story begins, Seungyeon’s harassment did this to Gyu-hyuk’s mother.
    • In the Close Call path, Gyu-hyuk hangs himself like in Show Ended, likely because he knows he's doomed once Hyesung regains consciousness either way.
    • If you make it past 5:25 AM, then if you out Gyu-hyuk as a killer but don't hit the right options to get the True End, he commits Suicide by Cop in front of Do-yoon and co. He does something similar if Do-yoon unexpectedly returns right after he killed Seil, essentially catching him in the act.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Almost literally, many character deaths in Bad Ends are from suddenly collapsing debris.
  • Dub Name Change: While the English translation keeps the characters' Korean names, the Japanese version gives them Japanese names. Do-yoon becomes Ryou, Gyu-hyuk becomes Keisuke, etc.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Everyone in the cast could use a therapist, thanks both to the toxicity of the industry and, for some, a Dark and Troubled Past even before joining. In various endings, the show even promises to give greater care to the contestants' mental health, considering how many problems in the game could've been avoided were the characters more well-adjusted.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The True Ending as a whole, but especially if you get the characters' special epilogues, which usually see them move past their issues. This is doubly so with Inha—arguably the trickiest character to max rapport with—as hers is the only one that explicitly brings up hope that Do-yoon will return to music one day; otherwise, it's left ambiguous.
  • Everybody Lives: Ignoring Seungyeon, this is subverted. Route B seems like it's heading in this direction, as Hyesung and Seil survive... only for Gyu-hyuk to kill himself. One way or another, someone's dying in each route.
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • Hyesung's Auto-Write message changes—just barely—around the time when he's killed. You are not likely to notice this, and the characters certainly don't.
    • Though the game is kind enough to give you another option that has Do-yoon realize Seil didn't kill himself, the most decisive evidence—that can be missed—is that Seil's wounds go all the way around his neck, whereas if he had hung himself with the belt, they should only be on his front.
  • Fine, You Can Just Wait Here Alone: When Seil is reluctant to have the entire group search for alternative places, Hyesung tells him he's free to stay at the stage alone. Seil swiftly chooses to come along.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The routes unlocked after achieving the True End provide extra options during subsequent playthroughs that are essentially "what if you did this differently" scenarios, ranging from the extreme "investigate the laboratory rumours and change the entire plot of the game" to "what if Hyesung survived", etc.
  • From Bad to Worse: Show Ended. It is already bad due to everyone finding Hyesung murdered in the bathroom, then Do-yoon losing control to his emotions and Phater (preventing the player from doing something to change anything), then the reveal that Seil is Inha's stalker that breaks into an argument that ends up with Inha accidentally killing Seil. Cue mass panic...
  • Gadget Watches: Downplayed and averted, while the contestants' smartwatches are the only thing that helps them connect to get help and public, the watch itself, when it comes to everyday life their response towards the watch is lukewarm since some of the functions doesn't work and the watch itself is actually not complete in the first place.
  • Genre Shift: Route C turns the game from a survival mystery adventure to full-out Mind Screw horror.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • The True Ending is notoriously tricky to obtain, mainly because you can provide a correct answer that isn't correct enough, but it's not immediately obvious that you just have to provide a different answer.
    • Since the game tells you on subsequent playthroughs if keywords will help or hurt your rapport points, most players default to only suggesting keywords that boost points. As a result, Hyesung and Inha's rapport conversations are much harder to unlock, as they counter-intuitively require suggesting keywords that don't do anything or actually lose points. What they do is unlock profiles, except the game doesn't tell you beforehand if a topic does that.
    • Getting onto Route B is rather difficult, as it requires maxing out rapport with Hyesung—not easy in itself, as noted above—and then making specific decisions, not all of which are obvious ahead of time even with the game's hint of telling you to focus on the victims.
  • Hidden Depths: Everyone, as one of the points made in the game is that there's always more to a person than what you see, and they can't just be pigeonholed into an archetype. As Do-yoon himself puts it, no one can simply be described in a few sentences.
  • Interface Spoiler:
    • Played with in regards to rapport points with Seil. On one hand, even once you're locked into the Irregular route, where your rapport with him will never matter because he dies, you'll still consistently get/lose points. On the other hand, the lack of any rapport events past his first one might tip you off that something's up.
    • Averted when choosing where to look for a possible way out. There's only one right option out of three obvious choices, but picking any of the other two will get you rapport points with whoever suggested them... even though they lead to an almost immediate Bad End.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • If you fail to learn the murderer's identity and if he doesn't kill himself from the guilt, then they end up as this.
    • In Route B, Seil gets away with his past illegal activities, as the authorities refuse to do anything about him. Interestingly, if you maxed out his rapport, he's unhappy about this because he wants to properly face the consequences of his actions. Ultimately, he decides to turn to Phater—which he despised precisely because of its mob mentality—and leave himself at the public's mercy, with the ending keeping it ambiguous if this will give him the closure he needs.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: An underlying theme—sometimes, you have to air your dirty laundry to start moving forward. It's most blatant with Do-yoon, whose Sanity Meter surges upwards in the True End, after he finally confesses to what he did, and it's the only ending where he finds closure.
  • Lonely Funeral: Gyu-hyuk was the only person at his father Byung-hee's funeral because his father's family wanted nothing to do with "jokers" like them.
  • Lost in Translation:
    • At one point, Inha asks Do-yoon if he knows what "buried" means. In English, this is an odd question to ask a perfectly fluent adult, but in Korean, the "buried" in Buried Stars (which Inha is referring to) is written phonetically in the English pronunciation, not as the Korean word, making it plausible that Do-yoon might not know (which he does, regardless).
    • A mild case, but Hyesung's association with comets may seem random if you don't know that that's what his name means.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Heroic example. In the hidden ending, it's revealed that Plughole was working on orders of his sister, who's a Do-yoon Fangirl.
  • The Many Deaths of You: There are a couple of ways for you to bad end via Do-yoon dying, usually through the dangers of a collapsing building.
  • Manipulative Editing: A reality of TV shows that is often addressed in-universe, as the show fabricates characters, relationships, drama, and narratives for the contestants. For instance, it's obvious to the other contestants that Juyoung's panic attacks are real but the show makes them look staged, Inha is presented as a snob (including a fight that was presented as her fault through editing, when Hyesung actually instigated it) and and as having Ship Tease with Do-yoon when in truth they have no romantic chemistry, etc.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Route C, which acts as a Lampshade Hanging for the genre where there's usually some sort of deep conspiracy behind what's going on (which, on the other hand, is deliberately subverted in the main route), leaves it ambiguous as to whether the supernatural horrors in said route were real or some sort of hallucination.
  • Mirror Character:
    • For all that Hyesung and Seil hate each other, they're a lot more alike than Seil would care to admit. They both cling to their career even if it means resorting to unsavoury means, feeling as though they have no other choice. It's made clear in one of Seil's epilogue events, where he joins the next season of Buried Stars by relying on controversy; the hypocrisy, considering that Seil hated Hyesung for this, is not lost on Do-yoon. There is one area where they're Not So Similar, though: in Seil's other epilogue event, he'll instead choose to atone, unlike Hyesung who never quite has a change of heart.
    • In the True End, where Gyu-hyuk tries to kill himself with the reassurance that Do-yoon can clean up the loose ends, because Do-yoon is trustworthy unlike him, Do-yoon snaps and finally reveals that no, he's not—he's been keeping secrets of his own.
  • Multiple Endings: Given due to being a visual novel, aside from the various Bad Ends that come from sudden death, these include:
    • Show Ended: Everyone except for Inha has been either murdered, killed in an accident or Driven to Suicide. And even Inha has driven to Despair Event Horizon for accidentally killing Seil during an argument.
    • Isolated Bond: Two variations of this ending. The first is if you managed to keep Juyoung at minimum rapport, in which case she suddenly runs off and dies before anyone can get around to revealing the truth. The second is if you wrongly accuse Inha in the climax, where she dies and the truth remains hidden.
    • Rash Verdict, the Normal End: Do-yoon, Inha, Juyong and Gyu-hyuk survived the day, at the cost of everybody else in the building dead. The investigators concluded, matching the cast's hypothesis, that Seil is the one who murdered Hyesung and decided to commit suicide after the cast found out his illegal activities. But Do-yoon, who gave up the truth at that time, feels there are something missing from the picture.
    • Buried Truth: If you're on the path to the True End but either fail to figure out the killer's full motives or don't reveal Do-yoon's personal truth, then the culprit commits suicide.
    • Try Again 2020, the Joke End: has Do-yoon declaring himself the attacker to "lift" the mood. Due to the bizarre decision and Do-yoon having an alibi, the game embraces this by going completely and utterly off the rails, including Lampshade Hanging of the genre, Breaking the Fourth Wall, a Hostile Show Takeover by Seil (Holmes), Do-yoon becoming the Big Bad, and all of the dead inexplicably coming back to life or apparently having never been dead.
    • Betrayer And Troll, the True End: Do-yoon unveils the killer and successfully have the killer repent for the sins committed. Also, Do-yoon and Plug Hole met for the first time.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: The survivors have this dynamic, as they are the Top 5 of B Stars Season 4...and staff member Seil.
  • Never Split the Party: The group is often wary about letting anyone remain alone, and for good reason. If someone locks themselves into a room or runs off on their own, there's a good chance they're dying.
  • New Game Plus: Once you do one playthrough (which forces you to end on Show Ended, the most notable Downer Ending of the game), you're given a) a new game opening and b) somewhat different events and options that allow you to progress further.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Hyesung is known for treating anyone "beneath" him—lower ranked contestants, the show staff—poorly. On the flip side, Seil is clearly touched in his first rapport event with Do-yoon, who doesn't look down on Seil for being a staff member and respects Seil for his expertise and knowledge in music.
  • Permanently Missable Content: If you didn't unlock certain profiles during the segment they were available in, then some later rapport events will never occur (therefore blocking you from maxing out that relationship), no matter how many points you get.
  • Police Are Useless: Every character may tell you to leave the investigation to the police, but the police will never discover the truth if you don't discover it yourself.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • A lot of problems on most routes could be avoided if Seil wasn't so secretive (and, to be fair to him, if Inha's first response wasn't violence). Whenever he's outed to have dug up personal info on the contestants and to be stalking Inha, he's tight-lipped because he believes that an explanation would just make things even worse, but it's telling that the only route he survives is the one where Do-yoon convinces him to come clean. The others don't necessarily buy everything he says, but having an actual explanation—rather than his previous attempts at avoiding the truth and obvious lies—calms them down until they can be rescued.
    • To a much lesser and nonfatal degree, Juyoung laments not having told her bandmates why she left when she did, since her silence fostered resentment and as the years go by, it becomes harder to contact them. Now would be an especially bad time, as it'd just look like a publicity stunt for her Bstars audition.
  • Reality Show: Buried Stars itself, effectively a Korean Pop Idol/American Idol. Interestingly, in the three seasons before Seungyeon showed up, it didn't have scripted stories—and wasn't as blindingly popular.
  • Red Herring:
    • Given that in Show Ended, Inha is mentioned to have survived, it's easy to suspect her, especially since she's presented as a potential suspect as you near the True End. Seil was even convinced she was the murderer! Picking her, however, is the wrong option, because she's completely innocent.
    • Similarly, thanks to the above ending, you'll know that Seil is Inha's stalker and therefore clearly has a dark side... but his motivations are not what they seem, and despite what everyone thinks for a while, he also didn't kill anyone (though, granted, the game doesn't pretend for very long that he did).
    • It turns out that S_Seungyeon is this, as they're just an embittered troll on the internet. The real murderer took advantage of the situation to pin Hyesung's murder on them.
  • Relationship Values: Do-yoon can either increase or decrease his rapport with the ones trapped with him by saving or making certain decisions.
  • Sanity Meter: Certain events and decision make cause Do-yoon to either calm himself or lose himself in an unsettling environment.
  • Sanity Slippage: To an extent, everyone suffers from this, as the stress of being trapped in the building pushes them to do what they might not have otherwise.
    • In a Q&A, the producer notes that this is what provoked Seungyeon's threats towards Gyu-hyuk, and that she was normally more level-headed than that. Similarly, had Gyu-hyuk discovered the truth under more relaxed circumstances, he wouldn't have committed murder.
    • After being outed on Phater as stalking Inha and then after the contents of his bag are revealed, Seil will descend further into distrust and paranoia. Which route you're on depends on if this ends up being fatal for him. Likewise, Inha will start losing it after the above reveals, with potentially drastic results.
    • Juyoung is typically one of the calmest characters, despite her panic attacks... but if you manage to keep her at the lowest level of trust, she'll freak out just before the finale and get herself killed that way.
    • Tank Do-yoon's Sanity Meter and he'll end up in a Heroic BSoD for the rest of the night. Or, in Show Ended, start picking fights on Phater, which ultimately has him commit suicide.
  • Sexual Extortion: An indirect version involves Juyoung. Stric Entertainment, despite backing Beloved, had been doing badly as a result of Kim Dong-chul's awful trend forecasting. A benefactor came forward, promising to give Stric the cash it needed. If, that is, he got to sleep with Juyoung. Dong-chul agreed and impelled Juyoung to agree, but at the last minute, she recovered her resolve and left the assignation. And Stric in the process.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The opening screen directly quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
    • In one route, Plughole quotes Casablanca's iconic ending line and is appalled when Do-yoon doesn't get it.
    • In the (incredibly bizarre) Try Again 2020 ending, Seil—sorry, Seil Holmes—inexplicably sports a red bowtie in a reference to Case Closed.
  • Social Media Is Bad: Zigzagged, Phater is required for Do-yoon to collect clues, but it is more often a ticking time bomb for the contestants as it gives Hyesung the idea to save himself from elimination, and giving the unknowing commenters a lot of ammo to create a lot of chaos that utterly had a hand in dooming everybody in the building in the Show Ended result.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Hyesung and Seil are two of the most cynical and abrasive members of the cast, to the extent that talking to them almost always lowers Do-yoon's Sanity Meter. They both have their reasons, however.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: A large part of the mystery is figuring out the identity of S_Seungyeon, and whether or not they're one of the contestants (or Seil) or an outside culprit.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Towards the end, you can randomly declare that you're the attacker in order to "lift" the mood. This is already a bizarre decision in context, and the game embraces this by going completely and utterly off the rails, including Lampshade Hanging of the genre, Breaking the Fourth Wall, a Hostile Show Takeover by Seil (Holmes), Do-yoon becoming the Big Bad, and all of the dead inexplicably coming back to life or apparently having never been dead... which actually makes this the happiest ending in the game.
  • You Lose at Zero Trust:
    • Failing to max out certain relationships will block you from the True Ending. In particular, if Juyoung hates you—which pretty much requires you to actively piss her off, given that she's easy to befriend—then you're locked into the Isolated Bond ending.
    • When privately confronting Hyesung or Seil, consistently choosing options that anger them will result in an immediate Bad End.