If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday. ~Pearl Buck
Foreword: I have a very strange history with Bittersweet Fools. I started playing it about two years ago, and finished it only a year later. But the most important question is why this first minori game neglected that much? I believe I know the answer to this question.
Title: Bittersweet Fools
Synopsis: The protagonist is Alan, a former mafia assassin. He was required to go into hiding after a job and is now living in Florence, Italy. His days of peace and quiet comes to an end when he meets with the granddaughter of a mafia leader...
Structure: 22 chapters
Length: Some 30 hours
Game type: Mafia in the hiding slice-of-life
Difficulty: Easy. There is just one choice that leads to a dead end, and the rest only determine additional scenes and CG.
Character Design rating: 6/10
Protagonist rating: 6/10
Story rating: 7/10
Game quality: 6/10
Overall rating: 6/10
After all, I can't write a proper structured review of this game, mostly because I finished it about a year ago and also because I had huge pauses between the chapters. Here's my full story about it.
First I read couple chapters in Japanese back then and was totally confused by this game. It was a horrible experience. Ugly sprites, bad game system, no voicing, lack of action on the screen. I just could not get characters seriously. Then I installed the English patch for the first chapter, and thanks to first chapter in English I actually got some charm of the game and could at least start focusing on ugly drawn characters. I could not force myself to play after several chapters, so it was put on hold at my notebook. Then one day I had power outrage, and there was little else to do but to play the only game I had at notebook at that time - Bittersweet Fools. It was also the game that got me drowsy in no time. Then at the next power cut I went on with the story and so on. Just imagine the number and longevity of power shutdowns at my place if I was able to invest about 30 hours into this game! It's unbelievable, but I was still able to finish the game - but I wouldn't be under normal circumstances, because it's a hellishly long story about nothing. Mafia gang just sits at a conspiration flat, and every time they go out for a walk they find some trouble. That's the plot for 21 horribly long chapters! And in the last chapter they try to run away and face rival gang finally. Sprites drawing is appalling, and CG only happen once per several hours.
I read some impression somewhere that it's high literature here, so common folks won't be able to enjoy it. And it may indeed be so! Text here is indeed very well written, slice-of-life scenes are pleasant to read. But I'm absolutely sure that it's impossible to enjoy them in PC versions, because without voicing situations here feel artificial. But then I learned that PS2 and DC versions have voicing, and changed my view on the game entirely. With voicing I can finally enjoy slice-of-life scenes that provide for 95% of the game time. So I tried to play this game again with voicing and translation... but miserably failed at that. PS2 version can not be hooked, since there are text threads, but no memory threads for changing text found, and it's totally not worth it to find each phrase manually. With DC version I was able to get text only with Demul emulator. I perfectly see changing text memory threads here, but there's another problem - Demul just shuts down my pc in 5-10 minutes time. I tried different versions, plugins, overclocking, but pc still shuts down when memory threads are parsed by Cheating Engine + Hook any text. Without memory hooking it seems to work normally (but I did not check for longer times). And that fiasco made me include not my video playthrough link, but some Japanese one.
I believe that voice version is the ONLY way this game can be enjoyed, thus there are so few reviews. PC version is plain bad, and Repackage version from 2005 is humiliating since it's not a reverse port from PS2 or DC, but the same 2001 PC zero voice version just with music repacked.
So it's actually a very sincere good game that's never going to be appreciated in the West, because of minori attempts to have nothing to do with the West ever by keeping console releases only for consoles and suing anyone trying to patch their games. Game title really suits minori following policy.
Foreword: It's a non-voiced nakige, so I'm ill-suited to evaluate such game. But it proved to be a masterpiece even in my pretentious eyes. Game does not have a true route, so according to my review codex I only play two routes for such games - one for the heroine that seems to be the main heroine and one for the heroine that I like the most from the rest of the heroines. That's Suzuka and Haruhi routes for me. Three omake side stories are of purely comical nature and are not touched in order not to affect main story impression.
Title: Cosmos no Sora ni
Synopsis: Time of school festival. While most students are eager to show their spirits, main character who lost his memory in the childhood pays all his attention to five girls with scars on their hearts.
Structure: 30 days from 2nd October to 1st November
Length: 5 hours per route, five routes overall + 3 short omake stories
Game type: Comedy school nakige
Difficulty: There are over 50 choices per route. Most are fake ones, of course, but I'd better follow a walkthrough.
Character Design rating: 8/10
Protagonist rating: 7/10
Story rating: 6/10
Game quality: 7/10
Overall rating: 7/10
Rating comments: After finishing Suzuka route game did not feel like a masterpiece to me. But Haruhi route was a total blast easily skyrocketing the score to 8/10 range or even higher. About that further on.
Protagonist: Niizawa Yasuomi is a great protagonist due to his prankster nature. He keeps on flipping skirts and setting pranks. His memory problems only occur for the last 1/10th of the game suddenly turning a comedy game into a nakige.
Characters: Heroines here belong to distinctive archetypes: childhood friend Suzuka, tsundere Haruhi, quiet weak Wakana, teacher Hiyori, shrine maiden onee-san Uiko. I played only Suzuka and Haruhi routes. Suzuka reminds me main heroine of To Heart Akari the most. Serious and caring, she wakes Yasuomi each morning, cooks for him, all that stuff. Her route had several nice humorous scenes, but overall Suzuka is too kind and forgiving to react at pranks. Her drama part is also forced, fast and without any surprises.
But then I played Haruhi route... and that was totally from a different league. As tsundere, she explodes at even the mildest jokes and starts chasing Yasuomi. She's just superfun to play pranks on. Somehow, I'm not tired of tsundere characters yet, and she's less generic tsundere as she does not uses "betsuni" and the like words. She's also really pretty and has both swimming suit and maid themes to develop. Her serious nakige part had an emotional impact on me, especially because her route has two endings with songs in a row very different from each other. That's all I can hint without spoiling much.
Story: Just going to school for till some 25th October, then dealing with memory problems. Various events before/during/after school make the bulk of the game. There's just a small touch of madness with mad scientist and his robots.
CG: There aren't many CG, but the quality is adequate. Just one H scene per heroine and one common bath scene.
Title and Themes: Title only is being hinted in the opening song, but is not reflected during the game.
Overall comments: It's a great nakige game with very nice characters, but it's indeed difficult to write about the game. There are couple dozen of Japanese positive reviews, but they are also inarticulate when in comes to explaining why game is good. What I only mean to say is that it's a huge feat to make a masterpiece charage/nakige without voicing, through character traits and jokes alone. Long live Marron and its following two games without voicing...
The only masterpiece of the month is Cosmos no Sora ni and YES, I'm going to review a nakige!
Foreword: I spotted No Reality many-many years ago, but I lacked technical skills to play it properly - I had just one monitor back then, and game crashed at even sophisticated attempts to launch it in window mode or minimize in order to hook properly. Now with the help of agth and two monitors it's been a piece of cake. The most mysterious cyberpunk'ish game finally opened its doors for me.
Title: No Reality
Synopsis: With the violent crime outburst government established "fixer" profession that compensates for security activities. Fixers receive individual cases for investigations, but they aren't given special rights which causes constant conflicts with the police over legality of means used.
Main character Neil Foxx is a fixer who used to be a detective. He has an innate special ability "ecstasy borders" to see with the eyes of the criminal upon touching a corpse. Several prostitutes are killed in a chain, and Neil is given a request to investigate it. It's yet to know that the case is going to develop in a series of terrible murders.
Length: 4 hours
Game type: Point-and-click detective cyberpunk-ish story.
Difficulty: Several times I was at a loss what and where to click, so walkthrough is recommended
Character Design rating: 9/10
Protagonist rating: 10/10
Story rating: 10/10
Game quality: 9/10
Overall rating: 9/10
Rating comments: I have just one complaint - absence of voicing. Apart of that it's a perfect game with great atmosphere, characters and dialogues.
Protagonist: Neil Foxx is a hardcore detective. It's a rare mystery game where protagonist really investigates himself at every step and moves the story with just his force. He's got a face, so there's no need to try and take on his boots. He's absolutely separate from the reader.
Characters: I rated characters as 9/10 because game is too short and linear to have the time for heroines. But heroines are all mature and free-spirited. Noone chases after anyone - characters act individually, and only sometimes intersect. Only half of heroines have H scenes at all, because it's a story-focused game. I'd like to specially emphasis existence of hard-boiled men as characters - detective partner Joe Bertran and police chief Bert Randolf. What's most surprising for me is the appearance of protagonist's assistant Ryouko Shinjou at the front of the game cover. She basically just searches her cat for the whole game! Well, she and her cat are the only things mentioned in epilogue, but that does not make her important at all! She's got great looks and costume, that's basically it. Still, a great cast.
Story: It's hard to say anything about the story beyond the synopsis. We basically just inspect the corpse, talk with everyone gathering clues and progressively getting access to new areas. All these activities are not separate, but just one seamless narration process, accessed via point-and-click. At times unexpected events happen giving more leads, but that's all I can really tell about the story.
CG: Graphics is fabulous. CG are very different giving special angles and focusing on some items sometimes. Great variety.
Sound: General BGM is rhythmic, but special moments and ending BGM is much more pleasant, so there's no bad aftertaste.
1) It looks like company title was chosen just for this one single game they were going to produce. Game actually has allusions to both Unknown and No reality themes, and I really appreciate it when strange title is explained during the game.
2) Unfortunately game can not be honestly called a cyberpunk. It has its atmosphere, but not attributes. It's a night city with emphasis on night life, and there are computers and lots of screens around, but apart of that no high-tech advances.
3) Game really looks and feels like EVE series. Neil detective office-warehouse is almost exact mirrored version of Koijiro's den. Here and there point-and-click is used. Both are low cyberpunk detective stories (EVE has genetics in the core of the story, so it's more advanced this way). Even graphics looks very much alike. No Reality is a must have for any EVE fan. In my opinion No reality and Unknown are also used to show that visual novel industry has stagnated after EVE series failing to produce same level stories. And this is an attempt to push the industry in the right direction again as it's possible to make high quality story games even without huge budget or voicing.
Overall comments: No reality is a great example that even small company can create a high quality story. It won't sell as good as a game with a famous artist or 12 routes for all the heroines, but it will become the core of the medium, a work that the company can be proud of.
Foreword: I only got sort of interested in Femme Fatale as prequel of Edelweiss and as a part of chaotic production of Inspire company. Detective mystery game should be a safe bet for an interesting story, right?
Title: Femme Fatale
Synopsis: Taisho era. Main character is a detective in Tokyo. He returns to hometown to dispose of his father's legacy. Local policeman tells him about a case of girl death from illness at a boarding school, but under suspicious conditions. Detective decides to investigate the incident as he needs to stay at the town for some time anyway.
Structure: 9 days
Length: 6 hours
Game type: Taisho era detective mystery
Difficulty: Easy as each wrong decision immediately delivers a bad end.
Character Design rating: 1/10
Protagonist rating: 1/10
Story rating: 1/10
Game quality: 1/10
Overall rating: 1/10
Rating comments: Should I even continue? I'm gravely offended by this game.
Protagonist: Yagami Shinobu is faceless, voiceless and hardly with any individuality at all.
Characters: Game does not have heroine routes - just one story with lots of bad ends. Girls are well written and have voice, but when spontaneous H events start to trigger one by one any charm that's left just evaporates.
Story: There's hardly anything happens during those 9 days. Each day is divided into some 10 phases, so it's roughly 90 phases where you need to check the new information about places, then the new information about persons and then advance the events further triggering some dialogues and coming out of nowhere spontaneous H events. I admit that it might be me who was not attentive enough to see the correlation of arriving information, but absolutely nothing happened till the last 9th day when you come to the dormitory for the 10th time or so and you're greeted by a character who says "Hey, I expected you to come earlier, but still well done" and that character just tells you who is the killer etc... Credits.
CG: There is on average ONE non-HCG per every girl, and it's CG when we first meet that girl. That's just nothing, an insult.
Overall comments: The story is absolutely banal and greatly ero-tilt so that every girl showing up on the screen could have her performance. All the important information is compressed into one last day. I skipped all the BAD endings (which are all just H events), but there were still some 6 (!) spontaneous H events incorporated into the story-line. So I really hope Edelweiss would have much to do with weapons, because the kind of story Femme Fatale has is a scam and should be only distributed for free like it used to be done for several months.
There aren't masterpieces this month, but I evaluate Sapphism no Gensou higher than any other game this month. Wanted to review it myself, but there are too many English reviews already from the yuri army. I'll be playing Femme Fatale since it's the prequel of Edelweiss that I have certain hopes about.
Foreword: April 2001 had zero visual novels to interest me. After long torments of what to choose, I stopped at Handle With Care. It's a serious musical band story, so I expected Kira☆Kira, just more serious. Should Kira☆Kira tremble at the sight of its rival that came 6 years before?
Title: Handle With Care..
Synopsis: Our hero was the vocalist of the legendary rock band "Bloody Roses." Presently, his activities with the band are on hold. At one of the live houses he played at, he met an extremely talented vocalist named Sahara Shion. He takes it upon himself to help her in her career... As a player, it is your goal to eventually bring this beautiful talent on stage at the live house "Moon Rouge."
Structure: 10 days
Length: Took me 30 hours without skipping read text.
Game type: Serious rock band love story.
Difficulty: More confusing, than difficult. Too much text repeated, so figuring routes myself would be a pain.
Character Design rating: 6/10
Protagonist rating: 6/10
Story rating: 5/10
Game quality: 7/10
Overall rating: 6/10
Rating comments: It's the highest score I can give to a non-masterpiece. Game is very well done. But it is not enough to be interesting. Story is not the strongest part here.
Protagonist: Our protagonist is Rei, former member of "Bloody Roses" band. He's pretty cool looking guitar player, always wearing round stylish glasses and long coats. But his most notorious feature is that he kind whispers rather than talking. If BGM is put to MIDI, then Rei almost can't be heard at all. It looks most funny when he talks with some heroine with a bright loud voice, and she actually understands everything that he says unlike us, listeners! If BGM is set on lowest DirectSound, Rei finally is able to be heard. What I like in Rei the most is that he's really mature, about 30 years old, and that he's absolutely indifferent to girls. There is one H even in (almost) each route that he participates in the end, but every time he's kinda dragged into it despite his intentions.
Characters: Let's count heroines with the routes: vocalist Shion, drums Ruo, pop-singer Sayura, musical producer Arisa, diner host Emi. But the fact is... the whole game Rei only communicates with Shion on daily basis and occasionally with others. Shion dominates here to such extent that other heroines sometimes only get as many as only 3 CG. All the other heroines aren't much noticeable, really. I was glad to see that the youngest heroine with route Emi did not get a H scene.
Story: Hmm... is there even a story here? Rei finds Shion at a car dump, and during common route they get two more members of the band and get acquainted with three more girls that would serve as heroines. The give couple gigs, then participate in a competition, and get assaulted by some delinquents. Each heroine adds just a tiny grain of drama to it. That's the whole non-existing story...
CG: Too few. And CG aren't articualte. Either people just stand or play musical instruments, that's the bulk of CG compositions.
Sound: BGM is ok, but that's bad for a musical game. Game has five songs, but they all suck. The opening theme is weak, and it's by far the best musical piece in the game. There is a pop-singer song, but it also manages to suck. What's wrong with this game, really?
Thoughts: The biggest appeal point in the game is that it's... convenient. If I heard that recommendation, I'd thought it's some porn. In fact, game has just very light system, auto reading, and everyone including males is voiced. In 2000-2001 system was still a huge issue, and most games got negative feedback just because of poor or heavy system. This game got mostly positive feedback... but what does it really have besides the system? Shion is quite nice as a heroine... and that's it. But negative points accumulate: non-articulate story, poor sub-heroines routes, lots and lots or repeated reading to do just to read 20 minutes worth of unique text, then repeat.
Overall comments: I have many questions to Kira☆Kira, but at the very least it was possible to provide unique touching routes for all the heroines. Handle With Care could not do even that much. It's not a bad game if you read just common route, Shion flagging and Shion True route once. But the problem is that Shion True route only opens up after seeing all the other routes, and that's balls - rereading the same common route just to see that 1% unique text for each heroine. Game is convenient, but the problems is that it's not needed to be convenient to become a great game. Most of my favorite visual novels are anti-convenient, they are just so awesome that all the negative sides can be neglected. In Handle With Care all I can focus on is the negative sides.
Sayonara o Oshiete has a good number of English reviews (1 2 3), plus reddit comments (4), but what strikes me is that all of them are positive despite some noticed flaws. But as a plotge fetishist and pragmatist to the bones, I demand demolition of fake idols. This bastion shall fall today.
1) Sayonara o Oshiete has a synopsis, but does not have a story. Deal with it. Nothing happens, like absolutely. Protagonist just visits three students out of five after school before going home. He sees some delusions involving the students. Getting into heroine route only tells us about each heroine specific theme. Just as theme starts to uncover there's the same abrupt end for each heroine. Credits.
2) Heroines totally lack charm. Sugamo Mutsuki is presented as a pure angel and supposedly main heroine. But pretty much the first H scene almost made me throw up. There's no realism or depth in the heroines, just specific theme and some cleverly written dialogues paired up with actually eminent voicing.
3) Protagonist is no good. He can be renamed and is an abstract mass of destruction delusions. He's impossible to sympathize with.
4) H scenes. Roughly only half of them are shocking, but the rest are quite conventional. And that's a huge problem for me. It looks like game bears some idea half of the time, but also wants to appeal to as many players as possible and becomes a plain nukige. From idea point of view For Elise ~Elise no Tame ni~ was perfect. H events in delusions were 100% appalling. Sayonara o Oshiete is basically about same horrible delusions, but with very sexy heroines sprites and often appealing H events. There's not enough real trash in H events.
5) Loli abuse. Can't deny - all loli scenes are drawn in a very traumatic way here. But I just detest any loli H events, especially such hardcore ones.
I've seen transformation of nukige genres since the 80s. There has been shift to museum type vns, then to training SIMs, then to devil games, and currently I cautiously try to grasp when the shift to corruption visual novels happened. And Sayonara o Oshiete is the first candidate so far to be grandfather of all corruption games. With the half-measures Craftwork actually managed to depict sexy destruction, and that's no way a compliment considered that I detest corruption games the most.
Horrible as it may sound, I'm relieved to see game translation project stalled, because completion would cause an outrageous reaction and backlash at Japanese developers due to very troubling content involving loli characters.
The only definite strong sides of Sayonara o Oshiete are first-class voicing and great song theme. Visual and textual decisions are questionable. But for me the number of negative elements outweighs it all. The only lingering taste after the game is nausea, and I hope to forget it as a nightmare asap.
The masterpieces of the month are Silent Hill: Play Novel , Gensou Suikogaiden Vol. 2: Crystal Valley no Kettou. Silent Hill: Play Novel is the winner, mostly because Suikogaiden Vol. 1 was already the winner once. But I will play Sayonara o Oshiete ~Comment te Dire Adieu~ , because I need to work out my own position here.
Foreword: I rated Lipstick Adv.EX as 9/10 and I just can't believe that absolutely the same people - Fairytale and scenario writer Notori Shinji - could really make a terrible game after that. I hope to present an unbiased opinion from a person who knows the series well.
Title: Lipstick ADV.4
Synopsis: A small detective office in a non-descript back street shopping center, there is Goro Asami, a private detective, competent in his job, with business going well, but not well enough to live in wealth. There is Otomi Kiyosato, a student of Siratori High and the founder of the "Beauty Private Detective Club, one of the stranger clubs in that school, being an absolute pain in the ass by claiming to be Goro's assistant and inviting herself to his office enough to absolutely drive him up the wall.
During this period of relative bliss, an unexpected incident shatters the peace of Siratori High. Mari Kitagawa, the chief manager for the Creative Literature Club, is found dead with massive doses of tranquilizers and sleeping pills in her body. From the location of the body and the means of her death, the police initially declared this to be a suicide, but by the following day, they abruptly change their stance by issuing a cryptic statement that "Her death was not from suicide." Rumors spread throughout the high school like wildfire, and Otomi and her fellow detective club members began investigating the case. Goro also begins investigating this strange case, after being hired by the victim's father. With Otomi's cooperation, each step of the case gradually comes to light. Yet, before the case could be determined to be murder or suicide, Tomoko Andou is found raped and murdered at the thicket of the high school's rear compound. What is going on? Are the deaths related? Who wrote that mysterious notice, "Who's next?" on the board?
Structure: 6 ACTs
Length: 7 hours
Game type: School detective story
Difficulty: Easy since it's a one road story with only bad endings on wrong choices
Character Design rating: 7/10
Protagonist rating: 6/10
Story rating: 6/10
Game quality: 5/10
Overall rating: 6/10
Rating comments: I don't consider this game a masterpiece, thus can't rate it higher than 6. My biggest complaints are about sudden H events and the story that I failed to see logical development in. About that in relative sections.
Protagonist: Goro has not changed much, but he is not voiced and actually is paid terrifically little time in the story. He can't get any results and is not good even for an advice. What he only manages to do is seduce nurse from the hospital that controls medicaments used with first victim death. So he's portrayed just as gigolo and at the same time all his special connection with Otomi goes to hell.
Characters: Game is a single road story, there there aren't character routes. Otomi is one of two protagonists. The other two female detective club members Rieko and Aki are still there with their personalities totally the same as in Lipstick Adv.EX. There are also some 6-10 girls that exist for entourage/fanservice/as victims.
Story: Scenario is actually as sophisticated as in Lipstick Adv.EX. But in that game both protagonists were able to find the clue that led them both at the same time to the criminal. In Lipstick ADV.4 there is much more chaos and depression and much less logic. If I remember Lipstick Adv.EX mostly by detective club smalltalk and fabulous epic fails of Rie, Lipstick ADV.4 is remembered by crying faces and atmosphere of total hopelessness. The killings continue to happen, the billboard notices concerning criminal next actions continue to be drawn each day, the voyeur cameras are found, but no steps are made to identify the culprit. It is a SPOILER ahead, but without it can't describe the flaw of the game.
The whole detective intrigue is solved by just throwing in three criminals at once - even if you could guess one or two, you would not be able to tell there are three of them, right? And the way these criminals are identified are just laughable. One of the criminals is identified and caught by the 3rd party, so neither Otomi nor Goro have zero progress in this incident. The second criminal just admits his guilt in a long talk himself - is not it stupid? The third criminal is just a wild guess that we have to make among a huge list of names in the end. And since there aren't any clues in the game, it could be absolutely anyone. All three cases are absolutely pathetic and have nothing to do with detective mystery solving.
CG: There are quite many CG, but they all feel bleak. Most of them are just one girl / several girls standing still. Even CG with some activity are poorly done and I can't feel affection for them. Also I'm absolutely surprised by the fact that 8/9 H scenes are shown during the main course of the game and just one as a part of a bad ending. All the other bad endings just present a gore picture of some death. I'd really want to see H scenes only as part of BAD endings.
Sound: All girls are voiced and BGM... not remaining in the memory.
1) Story was the first element that disappointed me, but the second element is Otomi. The whole series was holding on the fact that a sexy girl can be a full-fledged partner in detective office and not an object of sexual manipulation. And Lipstick Adv.EX was surprisingly true to the series. Otomi equivalent Koume there manages to remain a symbol of purity, and her kidnapping in the end is seen as an attempt to defile that purity of the series. Koume remains virgin loyal to Megumi (equivalent of Gorou). But what happens in Lipstick ADV.4 is freaking weird. Otomi interrupts two girls having fun and as a result gets involved into a mild lesbo 3P. After that she thinks it over at home and understands that she was practically raped there. But on the next day she is invited by the same two girls to the karaoke and under their pressure just can not say "no" - and she freaking gets raped for the second time... that's just so humiliating and stupid, really. Humiliating because it goes in contradiction with the whole series experience and stupid because only an idiot would step on the same rake two times!
2) Comparison of Lipstick Adv.EX and Lipstick ADV.4. I've no idea why Lipstick Adv.EX has basically the very same characters, but with different names, probably because of some rights issues or some characters getting an irreversible development. But with both games having the same scenario writer it's natural that games are very much alike. More that that - I see an absolute mirroring in many cases. Both games start with the girl death and have highest depression peak after second girl death. Both games have spontaneous scenes of girls being insulted by an unknown person. And I even see the mirroring in the fact that the core motive of both first murders in both games is justice seeking revenge, but the next murders are only seemingly of the same kind, but actually absolutely different. So games are very much alike, but in absolutely every element Lipstick Adv.EX prevails.
Overall comments: Lipstick ADV.4 is not a bad game at all, but it is basically a degraded version of Lipstick Adv.EX and thus is shown in a bad light. At the same time Lipstick ADV.4 breaks several traditions of the series:
1) It has nothing to do with the bombings
2) It defiles the figure of main heroine
3) It humiliates talents of main hero making story develop by itself
With that I suggest to extradite Lipstick ADV.4 from being a part of the series. Amen.