VN of the Month January 1999 is Ikusa Megami. It should actually be Refrain Love 2 for the sheer quality, but the chances someone gives a look to an old ps1 galge are very slim.
If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday. ~Pearl Buck
VN of the Month January 1999 is Ikusa Megami. It should actually be Refrain Love 2 for the sheer quality, but the chances someone gives a look to an old ps1 galge are very slim.
Year 1998 has become a year of hope for me. After very devastating transition year 1997 there are so many joys and wonderful games at last. Running a bit ahead, there is a 50% increase both in total number of games and in number of listed games resulting in the record number of masterpieces this year.
Let's prolong the chart.
VN per year
The split is exactly the same featuring 50/50 eroge and galge market and 50% galge market with some additional titles blocked for other than eroge reasons. But look at the numbers, there is a 50% increase in every number compared to 1997. Finally industry got out of slump and gains momentum.
Let's see what year 1998 brought:
The complete shift to Win95-98 platform resulted in dramatic increase in resolution and colors with most works having 256 colors and some reaching 16 bit colors.
With dating SIM dominance substantial shift to pure love stories the number of heroines decreases significantly to just 4-5 and in some cases to just two as in With You ~Mitsumete Itai~ or even one as in DiaboLiQuE without decreasing the volume.
There is a significant number of works where hero is already in relations with the main heroine, but has an option to cheat on her. The starter of that tendency is White Album.
There is a surprising influx of mahjong games, but most of them are blocked as eroge due to having strip element on losing.
Contrary to 1997 there were a lot of major games in 1998. So here is my 1997 masterpieces list.
Fourteen. A decent number. What especially pleases the eye is that there are many RPGs and console games. PS1 and Saturn production values were still much bigger than their PC counterparts and that attracted talented story-writers. There are a lot of worthy games in this list, but my heart was stolen by luv wave as soon as I saw it. It's the most serious work in my favorite setting that rose the most of topics for thought. It's a very subjective feeling, of course.
Foreword: This is Kanno-san's scenario and I could not miss on it. There are a lot of good English reviews on the game so I'll try to just add some additional thoughts I have on top of those reviews.
Title: Exodus Guilty
Synopsis:The year 2000. Kasumi Shindo is at first glance a run-of-the-mill high school student in modern-day Japan. However, beneath his normal appearance, Kasumi is in fact a top-notch treasure hunter. This time, Kasumi is aiming to seek out the lost 11th Commandment of Moses. Kasumi discovers that his childhood friend, Reina Tachibana is in southern Europe participating in an archeological dig. Pretending to be a tourist, he visits the excavation area and manages to get put on the excavation staff. But he is not the only treasure hunter looking for the Eleventh Commandment of Moses and before he knows it, he's embroiled in a dangerous adventure.
Structure: There are three stories - one 1200 B.C. fantasy story, one 2000 A.D. treasure hunting adventure and 13,800 A.D. future anti-utopia fantasy. Story-lines exist pretty much separately only to be loosely connected by girl Will and flashbacks from the other time to help on puzzles. All the lines coincide in the last chapters of last "Future" Volume 3. So basically I consider first two stories to be preparatory and I'll focus only on 3rd Future story. I feel that the chosen composition is wrong - it's 1st chapter of Past, then 1st chapter of Present, then 1st chapter of Future, then full Present, then full Past, then full Future. In my video walkthrough I went for showing full Past, then full Present, then full Future. This really feels more logical to me since all the roots and the Will story are in the Past. And when seeing all those first chapters one by one and then Present my head was already blowing up from the characters and the kind of mess it created.
Length: 21 hour
Game type: Epic multi-story ADV with minimal interaction (speaking of DVD version only, ofc)
Difficulty: DVD version is supereasy, but I got stuck once at a puzzle that was not properly described. I left a link at VNDB discussions page of the game to prevent other people from wasting time.
Character Design rating: 10/10
Protagonist rating: 8/10
Story rating: 9/10
Game quality: 8/10
Overall rating: 9/10
Rating comments: Why such a high score again? Well, VNs are akin to literature, what matters is whether I like it or not. And if I like it, there's no point thinking which one is better. I really loved the story here - arigato, Kanno-san! And that might easily be 10 if I played Japanese pc version. There are a lot of protagonists in this game and I have grudges to some of them. I think I'll develop on it in characters section. I also blame the structure as video is not as engaging as game and pouring all three story lines all at once was very confusing and only belief in Kanno-san actually made me unwind this mess. But when things get clear, it's a very engaging story - thus the high scores.
Protagonist: There are too many of them.
Characters: There are three sets of characters. The setup of characters on the screen changes a lot with the story. Let's look at characters in bulk, according to their epoch.
Past: Main characters cast are a swordsman Ales and his foster mother Masa. Masa bears some strange tattoo and she sends Ales to find Will - another girl with such tattoo since their fates were linked and Mother Spirit was calling to do that for some reason only Gods could understand. But in order to pay a visit to the God one needs to gather sacred books of elements and oracles of those elements. That's pretty much what we do during the whole Past chapter. Of course we find Will as well under strange circumstances. So Ales is a pretty straightforward swordsman who fulfills the will of his mother and who protects those who are dear to him and... pretty much everyone else, even his enemies, lol. This is a traditional fantasy story, so there's no need for quirky characters, but without some gameplay it's quite boring to watch. Well, some of the four oracles are pretty cool/funny so they ease the tensions and their interactions basically save the narration. This part is seinen enough, but it gets to be pretty dull due to very serious characters and lack of fights.
Present: From left to right we have Kasumi, Ai's sister Reina and fiance Ai. Reina is much older and already divorced - she is always flirting making Ai mad. Kasumi and Ai actually only met 10 years ago and they they fight all the time over everything. Kasumi is basically interested in money and treasures and he does not really encourage Reina moves. Ai is also quite stingy and only Reina moves bring her tolerance to the brink and she starts acting aggressively to any "oppai" girl near Kasumi. That creates some comical situations, but at the same time is an eternal source of drama. And the further it goes, the more drama it is. So at times it was really nauseating. And at some point I got somewhat disappointed in Kasumi as well. It was at one scene where Kasumi was getting down to the den on a rope. Ai threatens to jump down from that insane height if Kasumi does not take her with him. Here's the exact extract:
- If not, I'll kill myself.
- Then die.
- I will die.
- Die right now, here. In less than 10 seconds.
- Meanie. I'm going to cry.
- Cry if you can. Cry.
It's presented in a comical manner, but it was not funny for me. Too much relations hustle, predictable characters' behavior and lack of intelligent talks did not let me enjoy this volume. So it's a great shounen story, but I can only appreciate seinen stuff.
Future: The cast from left to right is scientist Titi, secret royal family descendant Sui, self-supporting town boy Tatsuta and Sui's bodyguard Laily. Oh, and don't foget this animal... something (squirrel?) Railulu. Sui basically plays the role of straightforward and cheerful bakagirl while Laily is reserved and she does everything right. Titi is a chatterbox, she usually supports Sui in everything and provides scientific advice when needed. Tatsuta is a usual town boy who lives alone and who this time allows girls to have food and shelter for a mere trifle - wedding Laily! He's pushy and manages to win her heart little by little and this sideline is really nice.
Story: I seem to have tackled a lot on story already, so let's finally focus on the main part as I see it - Future 13,800 AD. For 40 years earthquakes and acid rains devastated the Earth burying the scientific civilization and the remaining humanity declared science outlaw in order not to repeat previous mistakes. The royal house monopolized the right for science as people needed to survive somehow in this barren wasteland. Royal house suffers from a spree of coup d'etats and this last king is a very cruel man who's seeking for descendants of former family and especially for a girl matching Sui's description. Sui and Laily's foster mother asked them to find some Uu person and give him the Key of Will. And they have no idea where to search for those. That takes first half of Future story and the second half is meeting the guys from Past and Present and together facing their fate.
CG: I seem to be not demanding towards CG quantity but this game has a whole ocean of CG - even many small actions have one. Game really tried to look like an anime so it has some animated sequences and a lot of screen changes. Outside of my habit, I'm not going to post gore CG this time since there aren't many of them and they can be spoilers.
HCG: None since it's initially a PS1 and dreamcast game and only much later it got PC version version. It's a very funny version to see since usual CG have low resolution and PC HCG are of very high resolution.
Sound: The good part is that it's full voice even with all the protagonists voiced. The bad part is that some lengthy conversations with side characters aren't really voiced or voiced up to 3-4 phrases. It does not hurt at all, but just for the justice sake let's say that it's only about 85% voiced.
Humor: Future part is culmination and it has quite much humor in it. One example is that Layla always apologies to Sui and says "It must be in my character". For the first times it looks ok, but later she tells the same thing to the very little notices like you look moody today or is it you stomach growling.
There was one fabulous joke when Titi, Sui and Laila with Railulu needed to see guards out and they consequently tried to use sex appeal on them. First Titi failed with her charms, then Sui was ignored and sent off and then came this.
Game also uses repeats wisely. In this very scene the fourth try was Layla's and her appearance actually melted men's hearts and maybe something else as well. In another scene later on the three girls were trying to get food and shelter from Tatsuta and he asks a girl to become his wife. Titi and Sui blush and say they're not ready and here's the except:
- But let me tell you something, I have no interest in cow breasts or eyeglasses monkeys.
- ....Raylulu? What, are you...?
That was pretty awesome.
Themes: It's mostly and adventure work with pretty straightforward characters, but there are couple themes that I was able to discern:
1) God's will VS human logic. This is the major theme of the game. All the time we're asked to do weird things. Seemingly horrible events occur due to some god's will without much explanation. The future part is the one where this conflict becomes the culmination of the game and heros are confused what to do - blindly follow God's will or send the Gods to hell and try to preserve humanity as it is. You can guess from the game's title which side wins.
2) Sacrifice. There are quite a lot of sacrifices in the game. Sacrifices are the least logical thing to do and yet so many characters choose it over persecuting their own goals. As one of the character explains: "Death is not the end. It's the beginning". Well, it falls in perfectly with the first theme. After all, it's the game about God's will and it's a difficult topic to develop since irrational actions won't get much appeal. Still the game does its best in that and sacrifices are seen as fulfilling some selfish-less desires for the greater good of others and at least look organic with the setting.
Overall comments: By now it should be evident that Guilty Exodus was much to my liking even though I tend to dislike religion and shounen stories. My first reaction was akin to that depicted in beliar review. Too much information poured at once, seemingly meaningless dull talks, false drama, religious preaching, random events, lack of gameplay. It's a different work that we usually get to see in visual novels. We got the worst release of the game translated - DVD video one. If it was a different release - it'd be a perfect game and I would not need to rant at all. If it was a different release, we'd need to pay great attention to game progress because it would be a gameplay issue. DVD release is basically a video with just a few meaningless choices so it's easy to get distracted, listen to it only as background and inevitably compare it with compact and fast-paced anime works. Guilty Exodus is very demanding to the player right from the start. It's easy to get confused with all that information. But if you take it seriously, you'll be able to enjoy one of the best stories written by Kanno Hiroyuki, on par even with YU-NO.
Foreword: C's Ware produced so many good works that I inevitably had to observe each work very thoroughly. luv wave with its 3D half-naked girl on the cover looked more like a 3D adult movie than a cyberpunk game. Who knew then that it would be one of my favorite games.
Title: luv wave
Developer: C's Ware
Synopsis: September 2039. XINN, the computer virus that shutdown the world's computers, threatens us again. You, detective Kaoru, must solve who and why, with your new cyborg partner, Alice. However, haven't you met her before?
Structure: There's unstructured single road command selection story with a small after-story selectable from game menu afterwards.
Length: 27 hours
Game type: Command selection adventure
Difficulty: Easy. You can't fail in here, but you can get stuck. Bruteforcing helps from any situation though.
Character Design rating: 10/10
Protagonist rating: 10/10
Story rating: 10/10
Game quality: 9/10
Overall rating: 10/10
Rating comments: 10 for the third game in a row - that does not look convincing anymore. And game is actually a bit raw. It uses unique engine that makes it very difficult to run it in windowed even with additional tools. Selection commands are just flying together with the output text. Sound levels for characters vary greatly (well, I think I found adjustment level in options for different sound frequencies that caused that). And most importantly, The afterstory crashes next to the end of it giving out a number of scenes missing error which is very bad for the last scene that should be perfect and form a final judgement. So much for the game quality. Everything else is perfect. Every character is well developed. The story is one of the best examples of cyberpunk sophisticated narrative with lots of twists and mind-blowing elements (in a good way).
Protagonist: Mikogami Kaoru is one hell of a protagonist. He's in special forces unit specializing on assassinations. He's tall, blonde, often smoking and inevitably in a long coat. He's got a sister working in public security division, a lover who specializes in hacking and cracking and now also an android partner. He does not like assassination missions actually. He's always rational, calm, reserved, but he can be very proactive if he needs information from someone.
Characters: Game is a one story without branching, so some characters are inevitably given more attention than others. I was actually very glad luv wave does not fall under any generalizations. Unlike very stupid hentai OVA based on the game there is no H-event with protagonist's sister (there seems to be one, but it's optional) and there is also shop-owner Kyoko who is left alone without one. This really helps to feel the story. If you think that you can watch OVA to grasp the story you'd be so wrong. OVA covers only beginning events more or less truthfully. The rest is a totally different story. Not even a greatly cut and simplified one, but a totally different story with the gist of it, the main opponent and the ending being totally different.
Alice: New android partner and the leading female staff member. She starts as a killing machine, typical robot, but gets to change a little by little and ends up changing the people and the world around her. She's a bottomless depth of a character.
Mikogami Mamoru: Kaoru's sister. Light-minded police swat member. She's wasting way too much money, fond of tv and gaming. Very cool and bright heroine. She mentions that she was assaulted to be raped at work in the past, but it failed and things got better from then. But this gang rape scene was vividly depicted in OVA. Actually there seems to be a H-event with either Mamoru or Kanako and I had Kanako one which is great since I don't appreciate incest.
Takigawa Kanako: Mechanic of Alice. She's got quite a story behind her past. She was actually gang raped long ago and feels incompetent because of that. She wanted to become space engineer and construct space ships, but chose to change society instead and served as a special agent for half a year. Then she moved to a more calm field of work - android maintenance.
Takashi Yuri: She's the actual girlfriend of Kaoru. Her work is hacking and cracking - she calls it binary agent. She always wears long dresses. Due to her work she gets to know many shady individuals and trades information with them. Her story is very touching as she was thrown out of the house and was brought up by the bums at a waste place. Those bums compiled a computer from the parts in the waste dump and since then she's been very interested in computers. I suppose they also paid electricity and internet bills, but the story does not really elaborate on that.
Yamashita Kiyoka: She's one of the shady individuals that trades information with Yuri. She formed her newspaper about net activities and is hunting for a scoop. She's an invaluable source of information if she trusts you.
Diane Wiseman: A red-haired president of largest japanese computer company Digital Demand Inc. Strong-willed and ambitious. She's absolutely sure that her company can create a vaccine against phenomenon XINN that noone in the world understands. What makes her so sure? Does she know something that noone else knows? We'll figure it out.
Mayumi Masato: Kaoru's Girlfriend from the past. It's really dangerous to write anything else about her since that might easily become a spoiler.
Kyoko: She's the owner of the hardware shop where Alice works on a part-time job. Noone knows where she takes the money since her business in constantly in the red. She's a mysterious character who gives very unusual advice and who develops many of the important themes of the game.
Story: Right off the bat you and Alice are sent on a mission by CIA command to assassinate some american guy Macy Specter who seeks refuge at japanese land. Somehow he gets to know about our true aim and he starts shooting and explodes his suitcase. When Alice connects to the computer afterwards she gets hacked and nearly burns her brain by the same american guy that they just killed. There's no time to rest since there's a new bombing incident announced and the culprit there has a totally different body but also claims to be that american guy Macy Specter. The command center manages to find Macy Specter hideout, but there is only some disturbing information found as well and new drug, the same drug that was also found at previous incident spots. Gradually we need to figure this mess out. What's this new drug and what's its connection to the crimes? How can a consciousness of a person exist separately of the body and in several bodies? What is this XINN phenomenon and what did it try to achieve by 1 second blackout of all the computers? Who's the mastermind behind all that what does he want? There are too many questions and answers are slow to get. And when you get them... it turns into a different story about world dominance and living GOD on Earth.
CG: I was quite happy with the number of CG. Gore scenes weren't multiple, but looked really cool. Let's start my usual gore-show.
HCG: To my taste the number of H-events was a bit too much. There were two scenes for four heroines resulting in just 8 scenes which is quite ok. Alice is a subject of only one very mild scene which can't be even called a H-event. But at the end of the game we're digging the past of the characters and it brings about 8-9 more scenes for former girlfriend Mayumi which is an overkill imho. Scenes are more erotic than usual and it's achieved by voiceplay and scenes creativity - there's hardly a single normal bed scene in the game.
Sound: Voicing is partial, but it's on for about 85% of the game, so can as well be considered as full voicing. Protagonist is not voiced, apart of his past self. As usual, I don't have complaints of bgm. My only complaint for sound is that by default there are different levels for different sound waves and that made lively characters very loud in my video playthrough and calm voices and males hardly heard at all. I'm very sorry that I could not figure it out earlier...
Themes: This game is Ghost in the Shell + Johny Mnemonic + Alice in wonderland in one shell and it raises a lot of themes. It's GITS because there's an android girl and there's net consciousness wondering stand-alone. It's Johny Mnemonic since new drug has 9 varieties and each contains up to 8 gb of data it it. It's Alice since this was not original name of android Alice. It's given to reflect a fantasy girl story in a magic land.
1) Can androids love? This is the first quite evident question that's posed. And the game kind of avoids an answer to this question, because Alice is not really an android. Machine-Human-God dichotomy is discussed a lot in the game.
2) Can consciousness exist separately from the body? This in an ambiguous one. Macy Specter case shows that it actually can't since even during hacking there was a distinct body with his consciousness inside. But Alice case shows otherwise.
3) Can one become a God? There is a lot of discussion on the topic. At least three characters aim to become Gods. Is immortality enough to become a God or does one need to conquer the Earth? Characters have different approaches towards it.
4) Can one "remember" the future? Again, there's a lot of discussion on the topic with different views. Is remembering just perceiving or active influence on future events? Alice is the only character that can remember the future and she excels in all the meanings.
Overall comments: luv wave suffers from pacing in the first half of the game as after couple action events there's lot of walking and rounds and gathering information. Mamoru is getting us information about "9 heavens" drug and Macy Specter from public security database, Yuri deciphers stolen data during hacking session and later on she participates in creating anti-XINN vaccine and secretly sends us information about it. Kiyoka introduces us to the world of drugs and also gets us to know Digital Demand Inc. president. Diane is the president that's in the epicenter of events. Little by little every lead and thread comes together and we get the full picture. I actually prefer this approach to forced action line, so pacing was ok for me. After we get to conclusive final of the story it does not really stop there. It presents the past of both Alice and Kaoru in a mindscrew fashion. That's a very different story from the main plot and not less thrilling one. It looks like a huge mural with small threads being knit together all the time. There's no answer to all the questions and in this case it's not particularly bad - that creates the mystic aura about the game. We get to know the past and the present, but as for the future - we need to remember it ourselves. It's a solid cyberpunk story akin to Ghost in the Shell and that alone should be enough. It's also full of memorable characters that don't fall under some categories - they are unique parts of one big story. I enjoyed it immensely since it gives an ample food for thought.
Foreword: I don't believe Alice Soft - they can only make eroge and bakage. But this game was highly praised overseas. Who knows, maybe it's the game that can overcome my aversion.
Developer: Alice Soft
Synopsis: In this world, here are two kinds of intelligent beings. One are humans and the other are Diaboliques. Diaboliques possess power, violence, intelligence, and eternal life. Their life form was categorized into four levels, the lowest division lacking intelligence, reproduction ability and beauty and the fourth being very intelligent and able to change form.
For thousands of years, human race has been suppressed by the danger of diabolique. However, a legend has passed on through generation that there's diabolique that kills its own species. This diabolique was Azulite - one of the only five Lord Diabolique (the ones of highest category). Being known as the "species killer," Azulite has come up to kill diaboliques. At here, he met a girl named Letticia. Her innocence and tragic background has attracted Azulite, and soon Azulite fell in love with her. However, the two lovers were separated after Letticia was killed. They promised to see each other when she was reincarnated. Carrying with the promise, Azulite once again set off on a journey looking for Letticia.
Structure: There are roughly five big parts corresponding to five different time periods.
Length: 16 hours
Game type: Command selection adventure
Difficulty: Easy. Story is one way road and bad ends are possible only if make a bad decision in battle. Even then the game kindly suggests to load from the beginning of the battle rather than finding your earlier savegame.
Character Design rating: 8/10
Protagonist rating: 10/10
Story rating: 10/10
Game quality: 9/10
Overall rating: 10/10
Rating comments: Two games in a row with a 10/10... either my standards are that low or the games are that good. I actually stand for the latter. My only complain to game quality is that it's not voiced and music only lasts for couple minutes and fades before the next scene is reached. And I did not particularly like the way the five Lord Diaboliques were presented. We get short scenes with them between the main Azurite story parts and only by the mids of fifth final part we're told their names and their governing elements. So through the game they are just random guys and when we get acquainted to them, there's already a climax part pending. I'd like to get more of Lord Diabolique characters.
Protagonist: Azurite is absolutely fabulous as a protagonist. He lost most of his memory, but he knows that he's the strongest of Lord Diaboliques. He remembers he's searching for something and wanders around killing his kin and getting food and shelter for that. He travels in a human form and he looks like a very tall elf with his long hair, slender body and big sword. But in this cruel world drowned in blood he's the only gentelman. He's very polite, kind, good-mannered and modest. He never drawn his sword against any human no matter how bad he's bullied or hunted (well, not in human state at least he-he). And he's a one-woman man. From the moment he met Leticia in humiliating conditions he felt a deep sympathy towards her. He's never laid an eye on any other woman and when one woman throughout the story tried to force herself on him, his manhood could not react at all. He's very loyal and that makes the story unique. Well, he's quite sensitive too and he can afford to cry when he's with Leticia. He's a great cook and at mornings he always greets Leticia in an apron and with a ladle inviting her to have breakfast.
Characters: Each of the five story parts has its own set of characters. I adore party adventures and story part 2 and 3 were about adventuring in two different parties and that was absolutely cool. I really liked those different party members with fancy characters, but they don't play significant role. Only Leticia follows throughout all the parts (actually, even she's absent in one part) and enemies. There is also Aria girl that has an important role in 4th and 5th story parts, so let's look at those two girls.
Leticia: Well... she's different. Part 1 shows us canonical abused scary girl. Part 2 is an absolutely different, bold and picky personality and a different appearance. Part 3 is again totally different from those two, but I would not like to spoil here. In Part 4 she's absent and in Part 5 she's basically canonical Leticia again, but she remembers all the previous reincarnations as well. Well, she's quite a typical heroine like in many single heroine stories. Sensitive scared crybaby who knows next to nothing about the world and that gives Azurite an opportunity to act protective and teach her basic facts about the world. But as for me, Part 2 and Part 3 Leticia reincarnations are much cooler, totally different personalities and great stories.
Aria: She's a usual native Indian girl, curious and brave. She recovers Azurite body when he falls into a trap and takes care of him while he recovers. But Azurite falls into the same trap for the second time (well, he's not wisest man) and she dies stepping up and getting all the blows that were ment for Azurite. That's an inevitable spoiler because there's not point discussing Aria as human. Azurite makes a misfortune (intelligent creation) of her she stays protecting those ruins and waiting for Azurite. Well, that's the biggest charm about this girl. She's becomes a killing machine, but she regains her memories - she looses humanity, but she has intelligence and senses. She's condemned to wait for Azurite for hundreds years in that dark den and eventually he comes... not alone, but with Leticia. There's a very touching scene of jealousy risen inside Aria towards Leticia and that and her damned fate make her a very memorable character.
Story: Story is superb throughout first four story parts. There's a lot of diabolique fights, lots of death, lots of adventuring. Part 2 and 3 features adventuring inside two different parties and that's just the best moments of the game. Part two is also a perfect slice of life on top of that. So we get to know Leticia in part 1 and eventually lose her. In part 2 after 60 years we discover her soul in a different girl and eventually lose her. At this point I already thought I knew what would happen in leftover parts. But part 3 is totally shocking - there's no Azurite in it, there's no Leticia in it - main three characters are a pub girl, a huge warrior woman and pub girl's brother who wishes to go adventuring and joins that huge warrior woman. For two hours the story lingers and you start to put up with the fact that's it's a totally different story when - BAM - Azurite appears in a totally unexpected way - BAM - Leticia appears and the chapter shortly ends. Ok... now I adjusted my expectations and the leftover stories were bound to be the same Azurite is searching for Leticia, but in other humans forms, easy as that. And fourth chapter gives another shock - there's Azurite in his usual for throughout the whole chapter, but Leticia does not make appearance in this chapter at all - not her soul, pretty much nothing! Just wow. So fifth chapter should finally be about meeting of two heroes, right? NOT. For one and a half hour you watch a slice of life about 7-year old reincarnated Leticia and her 7-year old friends. And I'd like to assure you that watching a slice of life about 7-year old first graders is not fun in any way - that was the most torturing part of the game. But fifth part is the longest one (about 5 hours long), so there is enough time for heroes union and new confrontation setting and final resolution. I'll tackle the fifth chapter in Themes more.
CG: There's a lot of CG, actually. I'm totally satisfied by is quantity and quality. Here are some gore CG for the taste of it. There's a lot of CG, actually. I'm totally satisfied by is quantity and quality. Here are some gore CG for the taste of it.
HCG: Believe it or not, but there are only two and a half hentai scenes in the game. Two scenes for 16 hour long gameplay. I'm sorry, is this really Alice Soft? Well, it is. In order to make up with just two H-scenes there are a lot of half-naked/naked shots. A lot of enemies are drawn the way to amplify eroticism. There are a lot of flashbacks and occasional nudity scenes, so don't worry, it's very much Alice Soft, just adapted to fit the pure love eternal reincarnation story. And the only Azurite and Leticia H event is one of the most memorable in my gaming experience. There's no music and no voice during that. Only the rising and fainting gusts of wind are heard. The scene is maid as manga scrolling strips overlapping each other with up to 4 small screens deployed at one time. Very beautiful and touching.
Sound: Sound is my biggest complain. I'm used to unvoiced games, that's ok. But each bgm fades after some two minutes and during the rest of the scene there's dead silence so I really often had to check whether I forgot to turn on sound or something. Actually, there are also nice sound effects during actions, but everyday life scenes lack them a lot.
Themes: So first four chapters were pretty much brainless merry adventures with some sad resolutions. I loved those the most. But then came final fifth chapter and game suddenly turned into a nakige. The great diabolique/human war broke out and our heroes are hunted from both sides as well as by four Lord Diabolique. Leticia shakes in hysteria crying that's she's tired of running and hiding asking to leave her alone. Azurite is totally depressed as well because he can't give anything besides his feelings to the woman he loves. Those are very depressing scenes that last throughout the whole fifth chapter. But at the same time a lot of serious questions are raised.
1) Time brings change. Leticia was hiding in the forests with Azurite for 11 years and now she's 18 and she's tired, she wants a normal life. Feelings alone aren't a solid basis of relations.
2) What's better - to reincarnate, lose memory and start anew or to keep on living? Surprisingly, I feel like the game says that reincarnating even with memory loss is much better. First four chapters are a vivid example of it. It used to be a great romance story, but once heroes got together and Leticia turned 18 things have changed. She'll soon get old and die of boredom in the forest. Bearing the burden of past lives memory is already difficult. So when fire kings visits her alone in the forest and suggests to wipe her memory she's pretty much ready for both memory wipe and even death and reincarnation since reality has turned into such a heavy burden.
3) What's good and what's evil? Diabolique Lords are almighty cruel creatures that enslave humans, but with the story flow we start to see their characters, their griefs, their losses and they aren't seen as evil anymore. Humans used to be on losing side, but with the invention of firearms the balance shifted and humans started to kill even 24 Diaboliques getting very close to hunting Diabolique Lords. While diaboliques mostly used humans for sex pleasures, humans started to torture diaboliques just for the sake of revenge and those tortures were inhumane. At fifth chapter we're given the ultimate choice - shall we support the Diabolique Lords or shall we keep on hiding and fighting diaboliques. Supporting Diabolique Lords leads us to the first game ending with Azurite regained memories and power of Lord Diabolique of darkness and Leticia happily living with him. This is not a true ending, but I don't see it as a bad ending either. Humans with their lowly desires are hardly better than diabliques. While they were weak, they used to humiliate their own kin. And the story of Leticia in Part 1 is a vivid example of that. Now they got the power and they start to torture and humiliate even diabolique gods. Under diabolique lords dominance the Earth survived for thousands of years and they never really cared much about the humans, never tried to wipe them. And there's big question whether the human dominance going to be better. Azurite understands that and he chooses the third way. No spoilers.
Humor: I don't really need humor to enjoy the story, but it can be a very nice addition to the story. In this game those seldom humor moments present were of Alice Soft bakage heritage. Here's one example of its "humor". Chapter 2 Leticia takes Azurite's clothes and gets to wash it while Azurite sits covered with a blanket. He wants to get breakfast and set coffee, but Leticia notices that it's dangerous and he could get a scorch. Azurite suggests that he wears an apron to prevent that. -But you don't have anything to wear, all your clothes is being washed! -I can wear an apron as I am! -NO! PLEASE! NO WAY!
Overall comments: Atlach-Nacha was the first game of Alice Soft to shake my beliefs in Alice Soft as a sucky company. But it's Diabolique that made me surrender and shake off all the grunts. Diabolique is really an astonishing adventure and pure love story. It's ever surprising, mysterious nature keeps the thrill on all the time and I finished this 16 hour story in just two sittings. It has plenty of touching moments and an ultimately satisfactory ending. It's a waste to bury such story just because the game is old, has command selection gameplay and meciocre sound support. You can always glimpse on the game through my video playthrough as well.
I'm at a loss here. There's a December without masterpieces and even without distinctive favorites. So let's try to narrow down the candidates. Ginga Ojou-sama Densetsu Yuna 3: Lightning Angel is not very well known console game with gameplay elements, so I'm not confident in its quality. Yuki Furu Kisetsu e ~Omoi, Anata ni~ is plain boring. Atlach-Nacha turned out to be a weird nukige, not really a work with a story. Universal Nuts is nice, but inability to save and bad endings left lots of players infuriated. Zero has too complex gameplay for a visual novel. Aitai Toki ni Kimi wa Inai is more like a book for adults than a game. Jain Juushinden Jevald is too buggy for a finished product. Teito Kitan ~Doushi Tantei no Jiken Memo~ is just too obscure and difficult to find. The rest of games are too ero-centered to be considered candidates. So my choice for VN of the month is actually Universal Nuts - it's a work with good production qualities and ps1 version can be hooked. I quite liked the characters and the mystery.