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This blog is devoted to popularization (and discussion about) western-produced VNs. My main goal is to present notable non-Japanese visual novels that didn’t receive attention in the Fuwa community and, whenever possible, giving voice to people behind them. Doing this, I hope I’ll be able to give these projects and their creators the appreciation they deserve and oppose some negative stereotypes about non-JP VNs that circulate within our community.

I’m also going to talk about failed VN projects and review newly-released titles of various quality, using this opportunity to discuss the most common flaws and problems characteristic for the western VN development scene and realities of the OELVN market. 

Entries in this blog

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome to the second and final part of EVN Chronicles’ NaNoRenO 2019 coverage (if you missed the first part, you can find it here), where I’m going through my highly subjective picks from this year’s submissions to the biggest annual visual novel game jam. While I don’t think any of the games listed this time could seriously threaten the position of Mnemonic Devices as my personal “winner” of the event, there are at least two worth giving closer attention to – Monochrome Blues, which is another excellent story tackling the topics of grief and depression (even though it adds a much more questionable sci-fi subplot to the mix) and Cooked With Love, which stood out with excellent sense of humour and compelling mix of comedy and smart SoL content. Of course, every VN featured here gets my genuine recommendation and I think they’re all worth the humble amounts of time they require to fully read through – especially considering that, once more, they’re all absolutely free and clicking the titles on the list will lead you straight to DRM-free downloads on itch.io. So, let’s find out what else NaNoRenO participants have prepared for us!

 

RE:BURN

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OS-simulation games, where you interact with a story through an imitation of a computer interface, have a pretty rich history in NaNoRenO, with Christine Love’s Digital: A Love Story being probably the best-known example. While RE:BURN is not the most innovative or intricate iteration of this formula, it tells an intriguing, short story using UI of an e-mail client and an online communicator, and the mechanics of deleting or replying to messages instead of typical dialogue choices. The protagonist, a female student who took up a job as an editor in her college’s scientific journal, is tasked with clearing out old emails from the paper's official account. As the messages slowly synchronise, she starts uncovering more and more strange correspondence and even starts receiving popup messages from someone claiming to be her predecessor at the editorial job, giving her borderline-incomprehensible warnings – and whether she listens to them might have some serious and unpredictable consequences.

                RE:BURN’s intrigue is not particularly deep or memorable, but where the game truly shines is in its inclusion of various writing styles, unique to every character in the story and creating a sense of danger and urgency despite the rather static manner in which you interact with it. I would love to see more interactivity or some Easter eggs hidden within its Windows-like interface, but even as it is now, it’s definitely worth your attention for its brief, 30-40 minute runtime.

Rating: Recommended

Monochrome Blues

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While at first Monochrome Blues looks like a simple story about artist’s block and finding inspiration, it features many twists and surprising elements that leads it into a direction that is pretty much impossible to fully anticipate. Although I have some issues with how the plot developed later on, the overall experience of playing through it and reaching the true ending was excellent, espetially due to its more down-to-Earth and emotional story elements. Maja, the burned-out storybook author starting a new job in a preschool after months of deep depression is interesting and likeable, while the descriptions of her grief, lack of inspiration and struggle with simply keeping up with everyday life are believable and compelling. The five four children she takes care of are similarly charismatic, with their drawing sessions and conversations with Maja being among the clear highlights of the game. With a pleasant artstyle and overall solid writing, it’s a small treat that everyone should seriously enjoy… At least if you can forgive some over-the-top twists, that will seriously challenge your suspension of disbelief.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Cooked with Love

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Cooked with Love is a somewhat ironic VN about a messy college student (you can choose their gender and name) trying to prepare an ad-hoc dinner for their crush, after their wallet, along with the money for their date, mysteriously vanishes. The first part of the game consists mostly of a mini-game, where the protagonist tries to combine the underwhelming selection of ingredients they were able to find in their house (which they share with two other students), without a real clue what they’re doing, as they have no experience in cooking whatsoever. Then, they have to decide whether to go on with the date, or rather cancel it altogether and share the miserable results of their work with their roommate, Brooks. This creates two brief routes, with multiple possible outcomes depending on your “cooking” and dialogue options you choose.

                While relatively short and simple, the game charms with its humour and witty dialogue – the overall silliness of the story is coupled with characters that are exaggerated, but ultimately likeable and relatable in some ways, to a rather compelling effect. I've had quite a lot of fun exploring different, desperate "dishes" you can prepare with ingredients such as old instant noodles and an egg salad stolen from your roommate, and the dialogue they provoke after being presented to protagonist's date. The "right" dish & dialogue combination that will lead you to optimal results are sometimes quite hard to find, but it only takes a bit of patience to crack the "puzzle" by trial and error. The visuals are stylish, making for a really nice overall package – definitely one of the best games in the event and one you shouldn't miss out on.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Robot Daycare

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Robot Daycare is a short (about 1,5h of reading) story primarily about friendship and dealing with loss, but adds a very interesting twist in form of an AI observing the three main characters’ crumbling relationship and learning either the best or the worst of human nature, depending on player’s choices. The AI – a robot created as a college project by the said group of friends shortly after their roommate committed suicide, might witness them either coming to terms with the tragedy they went through and reconcile after a period of denial and shifting blame, or tear each other apart with accusations and hateful outbursts. The former scenario will lead you to a heartwarming and SoL-focus good route, while the latter will quickly devolve into a full-on horror story.

                This seamless fusion of genres is Robot Daycare’s most unusual feature and one of the main things that make it worthwhile, but the general quality of the writing and the game’s visual aesthetic are not bad either (although the art is simple and somewhat cartoonish, and the default resolution of the game is quite low, making it run in a rather tiny window). While I didn’t enjoy some of the overly-optimistic developments in the good route, the drama the game portrayed and its both positive and negative consequences were quite compelling to read through. The same can be said about an AI trying to comprehend human emotion and going haywire is a few different ways because of that – this might not be the best implementation of that idea that I’ve seen, but still one definitely worth experiencing.

Rating: Recommended

A Hero and a Garden

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Npckc is an author that uses simple art and stories to tackle the issues of otherness, prejudice and discrimination. A Hero and a Garden is one of the larger and more interesting attempts on their part, subverting the traditional trope of a knight rescuing a  kidnapped princess from an evil witch. Our protagonist, who tried to be a hero like the ones from the medieval epics, ends up in humiliating captivity, cursed by the witch to help restore the monster village he destroyed during his misguided rescue attempt. While he tends to magic plants growing incredibly potent “berries” (this introduces a simple, clicker gameplay mechanic), he interacts with inhabitants of the village, the princess and eventually the witch herself, learning that nothing is as simple as he thought (while we learn the surprising nuances and tragic elements of his own backstory).

                While the message of tolerance is just as present here as in other npckc’s games, A Hero and a Garden makes an especially interesting commentary on how social expectations and roles we are assigned to by others shapes our lives and perspectives. Its simplicity makes it the kind of game I would love to see presented to children and talked about in classes, but even for an adult reader it’s a nice, casual experience, with enough thought-provoking and creative elements to be worth investing an hour or so into.

Rating: Recommended

 

And this concludes my NaNoRenO posts for this year. Last time, due to RL issues, I didn’t get to cover the event at all and it was a really fun experience to go through all those wildly different, creative games that often stay heavily underappreciated just because of how crowded and relatively niche the jam is. I hope my highlights convinced at least some of you to give these VNs a chance. I’d also like to give shout out to two games that narrowly didn’t make it to the list: Mikomi Kisomi’s Alice in Stardom, which offers a fun, but slightly shallow story about chasing your dreams against all odds and HitOrMissy’s Fetch Quest, which won me over with its humour and fun approach to “fantasy” storytelling, but disappointed with its lack of sound and music.

                So, thank you all for going with me on the journey through this year’s NaNoRenO VNs! I hope I’ll be able to repeat this after the next edition of the jam and be sure to look out for my Yuri Game Jam summary later this year – that event is something I’ll never skip on, as long as my blog is active. Have a great weekend everyone!

Plk_Lesiak

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While it’s easiest to find high-quality free EVNs during popular game development events such as NaNoRen0 and Yuri Game Jam, from time to time there are small gems that pop up more or less out of nowhere, created either by hobbyists or as side projects by veteran developers without any particular occasion. One of the most interesting (even if infrequently active) collectives that created this kind of games in the past few years is Apple Cider, a team co-founded by DejiNyucu, a Chilean artist known for her distinct and high-fidelity character art. Over the last 10 years, she was involved in numerous visual novel projects developed under various labels, including my all-time favourite erotic VN, Cute Demon Crashers. This personal fondness of her work made me that more excited when I randomly discovered Apple Cider’s latest release, free yuri VN called DoraKone.

                Released on Steam in December 2018 despite its summer theme, DoraKone is an extremely cute, comedic GxG romance VN. It features four girls that meet and befriend each other over a dragon-themed, Pokemon GO-style augmented reality game Dragon Connection (DraCo for short), all of this in an unusual setting of an unnamed Chilean town. The energetic protagonist, Dulce, is a newbie that starts her adventure with DraCo after buying a new smartphone and quickly encounters three more experienced players: shy and kind Rayen, rash and competitive Brin, and spoiled rich girl Honorée. Depending on your choices and meeting events you pick, Dulce will get closer to one of the heroines, becoming a close friend with her, or even something more, while also either winning or losing the DraCo tournament held in her town. This creates over twelve possible endings, nearly all of them wholly pleasant and lighthearted.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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For more than a decade now the NaNoRenO visual novel jam is the biggest cyclical event organized by the EVN community, every year prompting dozens of hobbyist and aspiring commercial developers to present their work created from scratch within a strict, one-month timetable. Despite being mostly a non-commercial affair, dominated by both complete freeware titles or various demos and prototypes, it delivered many memorable games in the past, many of which are well remembered till this day (Christine Love’s Digital: A Love Story and NomnomNami’s Her Tears Were My Light are among the best known and most-appreciated ones, but are only two among dozens of memorable entries worth checking out).

                While with the gradual professionalization (and commercialisation) of the Western visual novel scene, it’s less common to find real gems among the jam’s entries, it’s still a unique opportunity to find interesting, free VNs within various genres and themes. At the same time, NaNoRenO is not a contest that would explicitly choose winners and allows VNs of all sizes and states of completion, so it’s not easy to navigate for an average reader – this year’s edition included the record number of 91 submissions and finding the truly interesting ones can be a challenge. For this reason, I’ve decided to prepare a short series of posts about my personal highlights of the 2019 event – games that I found most impressive and worth recommending. The lists will be obviously influenced by my personal taste and I’ll readily admit that I didn’t read all the entries, focusing on complete projects (i. e. no demos and prototypes) and avoiding some that I was convinced I won’t enjoy, or that were in genres I’m less interested in. I am, however, very much convinced about the merits of the games I’ve decided to feature and I hope you’ll join me on this short journey. Clicking the titles of every entry you’ll be transported straight to its itch.io page, where you’ll be able to download it for free. So, let’s get started!

 

Mnemonic Devices

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My personal favourite of this year’s NaNoRenO is a tale of a person (you can choose the pronoun, although their looks are always rather feminine) who wakes up with amnesia after a car crash, greeted by a man claiming to be their husband. Soon after, they learn that the idyllic marriage with a wealthy lawyer is a sham, and they’re actually a sophisticated android send on a mission to assassinate him. Re-learning their identity and mission, the protagonist stands before a choice: to accept their role as a government-controlled killing machine, or try to rebel, while also possibly exploring their very-much-human emotions towards their husband, or maybe even their handler from the agency, with whom they previously shared a not-fully-professional relationship. 

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Warning: Heavy spoilers for How To Date a Magical Girl and Doki Doki Literature Club! ahead!

Despite the amazing success of Doki Doki Literature Club! (including a commercial one, if you consider the 1300+ Steam reviews on the $10 Fan Pack DLC), there have been surprisingly few attempts to replicate its formula within the EVN scene, especially among the titles that could be considered of professional quality. While the plethora of mods kept the DDLC fanbase occupied, arguably no major Western VN even attempted to create a similar experience, or utilize some of the characteristic gimmicks used by Dan Salvato to a comparable effect. This, of course, can be seen as a positive development, as uninspired copycat games rarely make for compelling experiences, but elements such as drastic genre shifts, clever fourth wall breaking and weaving an interesting meta-narrative into the experience are far from being overdone in VNs, especially within the English-original niche.

                Or at least, this was the case before the release of How To Date a Magical Girl by Cafe Shiba, a game that openly featured a very similar base structure to DDLC – a cute dating sim exterior hiding a brutal horror story, in which nothing is at it seems at first glance. Showing up on Steam in January 2019, it promised 5 romanceable heroines, nearly 40 CGs and over 10 hours of content – rather impressive statistics, especially for a game that originated from a humble, $4000 Kickstarter campaign, and ones that make it hard to dismiss it as a cynical cash-in trying to exploit DDLC's fanbase. In my opinion, however, it managed to fail quite spectacularly, only in small part due to its mimicry of Dan Salvato's game and much more because everything it added to the table was deeply underwhelming. But where exactly did it go wrong?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Beach Bounce was the second title introduced by AJ Tilley, the creator of Dharker Studio, just a few months after his debut with the infamous Sword of Asumi. It stood out from his other work in a slightly paradoxical way while Tilley’s other projects dealt with different breeds of fantasy or experimented with unusual plot elements (ex. Highschool Romance’s gender-bending), Beach Bounce was meant to be a much more standard nukige, placing our average male protagonist in a summer resort with a substantial number of scantily-clad, horny women and no competition in sight (to the point one might think the rest of the male kind was wiped out by some global cataclysm, but the story at least doesn’t mention any such event taking place). The game initially followed an episodic formula, with the first part released in August 2015 and the second one two months later. However, with the termination of AJTilley.com label, under which it was originally published, it disappeared for a while and then re-emerged in a new form, as a full, “Remastered” release by Dharker Studio – this final version of the game went live in late February 2019.

                That’s the simplified version at least, as the confusing network of Dharker’s sister companies created and terminated by AJ Tilley over the years, including Brightly Studios, BurstRay Games and StudioX, among others, is hardly worth deciphering at this point. Still, whatever label is attached to a Beach Bounce game, it’s always Dharker Studio hiding underneath and that’s pretty much the only part of the puzzle that is genuinely worth knowing. Going back to our main topic, while the “Remastered” label might’ve been quite a stretch for a game that never before saw a full release, it doesn’t mean things didn’t change – the overall plot, the characters and their relationships were rewritten in rather significant ways and the complete story now included seven different love interests, with multiple h-scenes for most of them. This meant quite a lot of anime smut in a time when porn VNs weren’t available in such as abundance as they are today, especially on Steam. Thanks to all this, while not necessarily a critically-acclaimed title, Beach Bounce proved successful enough to warrant two sequels, Beauty Bounce and Bunny Bounce, released literally two weeks apart from each other, in February and March 2017. Setting aside the question of what went wrong with those development cycles, I’ll focus today on taking the closer look at the Beach Bounce trilogy and find out whether they deserve the dubious honour of being some of the lowest-rated VNs on VNDB.

Beach Bounce

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Beach Bounce starts with our unassuming protag-kun, Tomoyo, being summoned to a hospital by his ill grandmother, the owner of the titular summer resort. Not being able to perform her managerial duties, she asks Tomoyo to help her staff with handling the everyday affairs on the property – a dream come through for a guy who just dropped out from a law school and was thrown out for it by his apodictic father. To no one’s surprise, all the employees on the resort happened to be beautiful, young women and while at first some of them were rather apprehensive towards the protagonist, seeing him as a loser who only got involved with the company because of his family ties, they’re all soon enough ready to jump into his pants at his every word. And as we’re dealing with 4 primary heroines and three secondary, “wild card” love interests, after the short introduction sex scenes are hiding literally around every corner, and as most of them are tied to choices, there’s quite a lot of unique paths through the game’s minimalistic story.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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I’ve spent a lot, if not the majority of my time writing the blog covering yuri games and while I enjoy the theme in pretty much all of its variants (outside of plain porn, at least), I quite rarely stumble upon an EVN that surprises me with its approach to lesbian romance or does something very unusual when setting up such a story. Thus, I was more than just a little intrigued when I’ve learned about Dharker Studio’s Highschool Romance: Magi Trials, a sequel to a “trap protagonist” romance VN, this time featuring magic and gender-bending of a much more thorough and permanent nature than simple cross-dressing, along with exclusively-female love interests. This yuri-and-not-yuri setup, coupled with cute, cartoonish art and non-pornographic approach to gender-bending, pretty much unique to the Highschool Romance series held a lot of promise – something I was very eager to verify.

                As I’ve mentioned in one of my recent posts on Dharker Studio, while the team has a very shaky record, especially when it goes to its early titles, the original Highschool Romance, released in late 2015, was a bit of a positive outlier, featuring charming art and a simple, but fun romance storytelling. Despite basing the plot on the idea of a male protagonist crossdressing to attend an all-girls school, it played with this theme in a cute and surprisingly non-offensive manner – the main character is not a pervert (or especially a sexual predator), but just a person forced to hide his true identity due to unusual circumstances, and the heroine arcs are, for the most part, very wholesome, with mild fanservice and teacher-student romance being the most “risqué” elements in them. Despite being a bit too short and basic, Highschool Romance made for a pleasant experience that I ultimately appreciated, and the sequel, transporting the same formula and artstyle into a fantasy setting, sounded seriously appealing. However, going through the Magi Trials, released on Steam in November 2016, reminded me that there’s more required than some interesting ideas and nice-looking art assets to make a genuinely good VN…

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Before Dharker Studio became the semi-competent producer of smut we know and (occasionally) love today, its founder, AJ Tilley, made a name for himself through his personal VN publishing brand, AJTilley.com. Throughout 2015 there has been an impressive number of decently-sized games released under that label, the whole endeavour fuelled by a never-ending stream of crowdfunding campaigns, making Tilley one of the most notable creators on the fledgeling EVN scene. At the same time, his activities were spawning increasing controversies, mostly over the appalling quality of some of the games in question and overuse of Kickstarter. In April 2016, after just a year and a half of presence within the EVN scene, the infamy around the label became intense enough that Tilley himself decided to terminate it, removing all of its online presence and transferring all the rights to his company’s “development arm”, Dharker Studio. The "restructured" company then both continued working on the franchises introduced by AJTilley.com and created new ones, including highly successful ecchi VNs such as Negligee or Army Gals, while its creator’s name was conveniently hidden from the public’s eye.

                Despite the horror stories circulating around these “dark beginnings” of Dharker Studio, the games from that period always interested me quite a lot, both because of my usual, morbid curiosity and the significant role they played in the history of EVNs. While it’s easy to argue that titles like Sword of Asumi or Divine Slice of Life did a lot to reinforce the general impression of EVNs being cheap, awkward imitations of their Japanese predecessors, I wanted to find out whether they’re really as bad as people make them out to be. In today’s episode, I’ll cover four of those pre-Dharker projects – outside of the two mentioned above, I’ll be including Highschool Romance and Highschool Possession, which, amusingly enough, have exactly nothing to do with each other, utilizing drastically different artstyles and telling stories that could hardly be further away from each other, at least apart from the obligatory high school setting. The one game I’ll skip, for the time being, is Beach Bounce, initial episodes of which were published during this time, but which was later heavily reworked and fully released as a “proper” Dharker Studio title, Beach Bounce Remastered. After that, it even spawned its own little franchise – this series, with three VNs in total, deserves a separate look and will be the next topic for Shovelware Adventures.

                So, going back to our main issue, are the AJTilley.com VNs really that bad? The answer is: no. Because in reality, if you treat them seriously to any extent, they’re even worse than I've expected – at least outside of one, notable exception.

 

Sword of Asumi

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Imagine a game featuring a female assassin in an alternative-history Japan, where shogunate won the late XIX-century civil war and what in our world was the Meiji restoration followed a different path. The samurai class never lost its dominance, preserving its ethos and prestige till the modern day, while the militaristic government relies on secret police and agents such as our lead, Asumi, to keep people in check. At the same time, a new terrorist group rises, aiming to violently oppose the established order. Sounds pretty cool, right? Only in theory, as the reality of Sword of Asumi is one of the most amazing trainwrecks I’ve seen during my involvement with EVNs, rivalling Winged Cloud’s Legends of Talia with how absurdly stupid and tone-deaf it is.

                The first thing you might notice after launching the game is that Asumi is possibly the dumbest assassin in the world, spewing edgy one-liners and engaging in small talk with her victims instead of focusing on getting the job done. A moment later, when a member of the Edo's (this universe’s Japan) secret police, a Justicar, shows in the house of Asumi’s latest hit and start discussing extremely delicate details of her next assignment in the middle of the murder scene, you know you’re up for a ride. And be sure, the stream of utter stupidity and inexplicable writing fu**ups never truly ends (like Asumi causally approaching other characters in her assassin’s clothes, while being undercover – I can understand that kind of mistake in writing, but when you can literally see it happening on the screen???). The somewhat-decent romance options, both male and female, help things a tiny bit, but can’t change the overall dreadful quality of the experience.

The absurd fanservice (it seems assassins have a strong taste for overly-elaborate, sexy lingerie, especially when preparing for a mission) and the fact how seriously the game treats itself are pretty much the final nails to its coffin. While the likes of Sakura games are after dumb and trashy, they’re self-aware and try to have fun with the formula. In Sword of Asumi, the only fun you can have is the kind fully unintended by its authors: the high from how astonishingly bad and absurd it is. And unless that’s what you’re looking for, there’s really no reason to read it. Sorry Kaori, even you couldn’t save this one...

Final Rating: Smelly Poosmelly1_by_szafalesiaka-dcbhwas.png

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Welcome to EVN Chronicles’ 2019 Lesbian Visibility Day Special! Last year, to celebrate this lovely occasion, I wrote a short, impromptu rant about yuri, its inherent ambiguity when it goes to the representation of lesbian romance and the major role it plays in the EVN scene. Having little to add to what I said in that post, this year I’ve decided to use this opportunity to give the spotlight to a game that contributes to the LGBT+ themes in Visual Novels in a particularly interesting and compelling manner. During this day, which is meant to show a real and diverse portrait of the lesbian community, it’s only fair to focus on a game that breaks away from the fetishising conventions of Japanese yuri media and offers meaningful commentary on the challenges people belonging to sexual minorities face. And the fact it also includes some very unique and memorable portrayals of f/f romance is the kind of bonus probably none of us would ever mind…

                Of course, one could say this is cheating on my part, as I review yuri games all the time (and probably read more of those than any other kind of VNs) and there’s nothing “special” about me taking look at another one. However, Pillow Fight Games’ Heaven Will Be Mine, which I will talk about today, is a very unique title, completely unlike the cookie-cutter f/f romances that dominate the visual novel scene on both Japanese and EVN side of things (and, by extension, my blog’s output). It’s also, when it goes to visual style and writing, a direct continuation of another excellent, similarly-themed game, titled We Know the Devil. While mostly focusing on HWBM, I’ll use this opportunity to talk about both these games, their peculiar, but the extremely creative and memorable approach to the visual novel format, and the messages they convey. So, I hope you’ll be willing to join me while we take our time and explore those two unusual pieces of yuri content.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Note: To learn more about this series of games, check out my reviews of Loren: The Amazon Princess and Tales of Aravorn: Season of the Wolf

Winter Wolves’ series of RPGs set in the fantasy world of Aravorn, starting with the highly-appreciated Loren: The Amazon Princess, have a long and rich history, with three “mainline” games released over six years and many visual novel and dating sim spin-offs, and a direct sequel to The Amazon Princess, Reigns of War currently in development. Combining expansive, turn-based RPG adventure with compelling VN-style storytelling and multiple romance options (including sex-same ones), they were a particularly ambitious and notable additions to the EVN market – especially in 2012, where the first title appeared and the Western visual novels were still at their infancy, they had few serious competitors within the niche and gathered enough attention to establish Winter Wolves as a major brand within the niche.

              Still, while many VN fans have been charmed by the epic story of Loren, a lot of them also expressed their disappointment towards the different tone and smaller cast of its immediate successor, Season of the Wolf. While I personally found that game much more competent when it goes to RPG mechanics and having a different, but very interesting appeal story-wise – rather than a grand adventure, it was a very personal story of two elves twins living on the fringes of the world of Aravorn and overcoming hardships with a small band of companions – it undeniably underperformed both when it goes to sales and reception by the players. The third game in the series, Cursed Lands, was released in may 2018 and quite visibly aimed to return the series closer to its roots, at least when it goes to scale and climate of the story. With a main intrigue that can decide the fate of whole kingdoms, a set of locales already well-known from Loren and the player leading a team of up to 9 companion (5 of them romanceable), it looked like a project that could recapture the magic of the first game and convince the previously-disappointed fans to give the Aravorn RPGs another try. And considering the developer’s claims about its sales and my impressions, they might’ve actually pulled it off.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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Sable’s Grimoire was, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and enjoyable OELVN releases of 2018 – the expansive, story-driven VN with a very unusual approach to the theme of monster girls impressed me both with the sheer amount of content and the stories it told. Featuring various mature themes but essentially devoid of sexual fanservice (if you didn’t read my original review, check it out here – it also includes a lengthy interview with the game’s developer, Zetsubou), it was a rare kind of uncompromising project, which didn’t really cater to the reader’s expectations or insert elements that would help it become commercially successful, but rather followed its creator’s particular vision, to a very compelling and fresh-feeling effect. Even with the basic premise – a human student entering a magic academy dominated by demi-humans – sounding relatively standard, the VN itself was, in many ways, unlike anything I’ve read within the EVN scene.

            Another significant detail about the Sable’s Grimoire, signifying its relatively non-commercial nature, was the promise of free updates from the developer, which would expand significantly on what was already an impressively-sized VN (over 20 hours of content) with additional story routes. First of these was meant to be the story of Tix, a short-tempered, but cheerful pixie, who because of an administrative mistake becomes the protagonist’s roommate – a route originally planned for the main game, but cut out because of the already-prolonged development cycle. In January 2019, 8 months after the game’s initial release, the promised update was finally made available, adding around 4 hours of new content and full heroine arc for Tix. So, how does it compare to the rest of the game and how much does it add to the already awesome value-proposition of Sable’s Grimoire?

 

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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Indie games have for many years now capitalized on players' nostalgia and included various throwbacks to the early eras of gaming, both aesthetically and gameplay-wise. However, while you can’t take a look at Steam without finding a dozen high-quality, retro platformers with pixelart graphics and "metroidvania" design elements, this trend have very rarely found a meaningful application in the world of VNs. While there are heavily-stylized titles such as the Otusun Club’s The Bell Chimes for Gold series, mimicking the aesthetic of the early Japanese eroge, these are pretty much rare exceptions, especially when it goes to games available in the West. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no room for nostalgic throwbacks in the Western VN community. Many of the older dating sims and VNs, like To Heart 2 or Season of Sakura are actually available in English (both thanks to early localization companies such as JAST USA and, more importantly, fan translators) and highly appreciated by the players. And we're not even mentioning the general sentiment for older Japanese media among the more experiences Western otakus.

            Thankfully (?), this potential wasn’t completely overlooked by EVN developers – in the case we're talking about today, it led the tiny team under the name of Ascension Dream to coming up with Pantsu Hunter – Back to the 90s, a semi-humoristic romance VN/adventure game with beautifully-stylized, retro visuals and a period-appropriate storyline. Drawing a decent amount of attention and going through a successful Kickstarter campaign (me being one of its backers), the game finally arrived on Steam in January 2019, receiving a heavily mixed reception. So, what went wrong with a project this straightforward-looking and how it managed to disappoint despite its impressive artwork?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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EVN releases often come apparently out of nowhere, with games either flying under the radar during their entire development process or simply being forgotten due to delays and inconsistent promotional efforts on the part of their authors. This lack of proper buildup can easily spell a commercial disaster for such titles, especially considering today’s overcrowded indie market and the Steam storefront so full of shovelware that browsing recent releases stopped having any functional meaning. Thankfully, at least some of these games can still break out of total obscurity thanks to their particular merits, or even having the help of someone with a particularly big megaphone (which, in the realities of the VN market, means one of the very few established publishers interested in Japanese-styled games).

             One of the recent titles that apparently got away with its extremely-prolonged development and a long period of obscurity is Serment – Contract with a Devil. This lighthearted, yuri themed dungeon crawler by Nkt Studio was released on Steam by Sekai Project in early February 2019, nearly three years since the reveal of the first demo and after significant changes to the game, including a drastic visual makeover. Thanks to its beautiful promotional art, appealing premise and the developers quickly responding to players’ feedback, it managed to gather a decent amount of attention and positive response. But what exactly this “dungeon crawler/visual novel hybrid” has to offer?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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Studio Élan, a company founded by Josh Kaplan, one of the authors of the highly-appreciated yuri VN Highway Blossoms (check out my review of it here), gathered an unusually large and enthusiastic following since its formation in early 2018. Engaging high-profile artists for their projects, utilizing Kaplan’s renown within the VN community and brilliantly spreading its message through social media, the relatively small team managed to become of the most high-profile actors on the EVN scene before releasing even a single title (not counting demos and prologues, which, of course, also had a large role of building the studio’s profile). With follower counts and Patreon support that could make many veterans of the scene jealous, the company spent the last year working on two interesting and well-marketed projects, both of them gorgeously-looking yuri VNs, while seemingly only getting more and more attention.

                Considering the hype building up at insane rates, it was that much more crucial for Studio Élan’s debut title, Heart of the Woods, to deliver a compelling and memorable experience. While few people could doubt its stunning aesthetic – the demo and plenty of promotional material made that part perfectly clear – it was still a question whether it could create characters and story able to at least rival those of Highway Blossoms, to which the new game would be inevitably compared. Thankfully, I can quite confidently say that the full release, which showed up on Steam mid-February 2019, was pretty much everything fans could hope for – and maybe even more than that.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome again to my short series on the My Little Pony fan visual novels! In the last part (if you missed it, check it out here!), we’ve looked at six games of vastly variable quality, climate and state of completion, and this trend will definitely continue today. Also, this post will include a (un)healthy portion of fandom cringe, although mostly connected to embarrassing fan fiction tropes, common in the creative output of many online communities, rather than the sheer fact the stories are about ponies. On the other hand, today's list features one of the very few, if not the only MLP VN project that could be seriously interesting to people that are not avid fans of the show – the still-in-development Starswirl Academy, with its impressive (humanized) reimagining of the Friendship is Magic setting and characters. So, let's get this party started! *the Party Cannon rolls in*

 

Starswirl Academy (demo)

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Most people agree that, apart from the randomness of internet memes, some of the main sources of Friendship is Magic’s success are its memorable leading characters – the six ponies that fuel the show with their memorable visual designs and vivid personalities. The people from Rosin Entertainment made a pretty obvious conclusion that this general characterisation, if transferred into a humanized, semi-realistic setting, would make a great basis for a moege, and started turning that idea into a reality. Thus, Starswirl Academy was born – an MLP fan game that, while still borrowing a lot from its source material, for an unassuming reader could easily pass as a normal, lighthearted romance VN. And, most importantly, quite a lovely and enjoyable one at that.

            Unlike many other “human versions” of MLP, including the official Equestria Girls, Rosin’s project is a total reimagining of Friendship is Magic's fictional world, including details like normal, human names for all of the characters and a modern-day, boarding school setting that makes logical sense. Game’s reinterpretations of the Mane 6 are cute and well-designed (with Twilight as an Asian over-achiever and protagonist’s childhood friend is my personal favourite), both catching the appeal points of their original versions and adjusting them to the context of a "normal" romance story. The dialogue is genuinely fun and while the game seems to focus exclusively on SoL content, it does so in a way that made me seriously excited for the full release. Even the protagonist (named Tom Stone – those familiar with the show should easily catch the reference), while rather average, it not a faceless hunk of meat, with especially his teasing of Tai (the already mentioned, humanized version of Twilight) being extremely fun to read.

            Of course, this wouldn’t be an MLP VN without its own development problems, although the team behind this game made a wise decision to not give any kind of timeline or dump frequent updates, but rather working on it at their own pace, with an explicitly stated “when it’s done” approach. For this reason, it’s rather hard to predict anything, although a 2019 release does not seem completely out of question – and if it happens, it quite likely be the one My Little Pony visual novel that I’ll be able to recommend even to those that normally would want nothing to do with the whole franchise. If they don't also hate moege, that is…

Final rating: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the game by the developer. All opinions presented are solely my own.

One of the interesting differences between yuri in Japanese and Western VNs is that while in Japan it’s mostly limited to a very specific niches, with either nukige or fluffy high-school romance dominating the genre (meaningful exceptions can literally be counted on two hands), among EVNs the theme is prevalent enough to frequently find its place in all kinds of stories. Eldritch Academy, a low-budget project by a single developer using the label Jackkel Dragon and the topic of today’s review, is among dozens of examples of this trend, mixing tame yuri romance with horror and chuunige elements while it uses many tropes typical for Japanese media, they're all set in a configuration you would be unlikely to actually find in any of them.

                Released in early January 2019, the game promised a fairly impressive amount of content (over 10 hours of reading) and a tense thriller story, starring a group of high school students put against a supernatural threat none of them even suspect to exist. Directly referencing magical girl stories and various other types of otaku media, while also being set in a Japanese all-ages school, it’s definitely one of those distinctly “weeb” projects, but one that avoids pointless fanservice or forced sexual content and dedicates itself to telling a compelling story, with mystery and romance subplots being of more or less equal significance. Does it manage, however, with it’s obviously limited resources, to make this concept actually enjoyable to read?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

While probably few people following my VN-related writing know that, for quite a long time I had a peculiar relationship with the brony fandom. Being brought into the community by my RL friend, a popular fan-artist working under the pseudonym Pony-Berserker, I’ve written a few dozens of My Little Pony comic scripts and, more importantly, based my master’s thesis on researching the fandom – more specifically, exploring the bizarre world of MLP fan erotica. While my current involvement with Bronies is minor at best, I’ve decided to commemorate both my previous and current hobbies by reviewing the humble catalogue of My Little Pony visual novels – in this post, and the one two weeks from now, I will go through pretty much all VN-style fan games made by bronies that are currently available in English, which is just around a dozen titles, including large demos and trials. So, if you have the courage, please join me in this bizarre adventure through the world of shipping, bad fanfiction and, maybe, some genuinely interesting, imaginative VN project within the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe!

 

Welcome to Ponyville (demo)

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The MLP visual novel scene seems to be a hell of demos, dropped projects and never-ending development limbos. Some of the most notable games in this niche suffered from perpetual delays or straight-up died halfway through the production cycle, and Welcome to Ponyville might be the best-known among the latter. After releasing a substantial demo in mid-2012, the team behind quickly started becoming more and more silent, and after two years with no meaningful updates, the chances of the project being finished were clearly gone. The already available first episode, however, is still quite an interesting piece of content that is arguably worth experiencing on its own. Telling the story of a pony arriving to Ponyville to settle within the town (you can choose the protagonist’s gender and the breed of pony they represent), it showcases some of the most notable achievements of the brony fandom: art that very closely resembles that of the show, both in style and quality, and full voice acting that faithfully mimics the original voice cast of Friendship is Magic.

            The 1,5h-long demo is mostly composed of casual, amusing SoL scenes in which the protagonist organizes his stay in Ponyville and takes odd jobs, while meeting the Mane 6 (brony term for the 6 main characters of the show: Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Fluttershy), along with various other inhabitants of the town. At the same time, the game introduces Silent Hill-like, disturbing dream sequences, suggesting there’s something sinister hiding underneath the fluffy surface… While we’ll never know in which direction this project would go exactly and I would normally not recommend wasting time on approaching unfinished games, Welcome to Ponyville shows the creativity of the MLP fandom at its finest and give a taste of what we could’ve got if more of its energy went into projects of this kind.

Final Rating: Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Warning: Major spoilers for the original Doki Doki Literature Club ahead!

The viral success of Doki Doki Literature Club in late 2017 sent shockwaves throughout the visual novel world, sparking some highly polarized reactions. While many hardcore VN fans dismissed the game as shallow and expressed irritation towards the over-the-top praise it received, Team Salvato’s project had a lot going for it and quickly gathered an enormous fanbase. Excellent use of visual and sound gimmicks and brilliant subversion of the basic visual novel/dating sim gameplay conventions made it an extremely effective, creepy horror game. While in no way an in-depth critique of the genre and having very little replayability because of its reliance on gimmicky plot twists, I still see it as a masterfully-crafted and enjoyable experience, having relatively few contenders on the EVN scene when it goes to memorability and attention to detail. While it might be hard to see past the overwhelming meme culture and misconceptions around it, on its own, DDLC defends itself perfectly well and I consider it a solid 4/5 title – not a masterpiece, but something I would be willing to recommend to pretty much anyone with interest in VNs as a genre.

            A part of DDLC that many people casually ignore is the moege-like first act, which is, in my opinion, a great piece of lighthearted, SoL-focused storytelling. While it was on purpose fluffy and generic, Salvato’s writing, designs of the heroines, the ingenious “poem writing” route selection mechanic and the romance progression were actually very enjoyable and engaging – after all, the first twist would never be even close as effective if the game wasn’t able to immerse you in its faux dating sim climate. I’ve myself many times expressed the thought that I’d be very interested in playing a “normal”, lighthearted version of DDLC, especially because how gratifying it would be to see happy endings for the heroines, with whom I've developed a bit of emotional connection, after how harsh the main game treated them. And it was after sharing this thought that someone pointed me towards DDLC Purist Mod, an ambitious fan project based on exactly that premise – transforming Salvato’s game into a proper romance story and giving a chance for happiness for all the girls of the Literature Club, including its tragic villainess, Monika.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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While Japanese VNs are the prime source of inspiration for most EVN developers, some Western games, such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, also have a significant influence on the Western VN scene. This inspiration is pretty obvious when we look at the stylistic choices and main themes of Perseverance: Part 1, a debut title by the Polish studio Tap It Games, released on Steam in late July 2018. As you can imagine, this episodic release involves surviving an outbreak of a mysterious disease which turns people into cannibalistic monsters, with personal drama and conflict between the major characters a least as important as the apocalyptic events happening in the background. And while the short first act, which I’ll be writing about today, leaves us at the precipice of disaster,  focusing mostly on presenting the backstory of the protagonist and establishing the setting, it does so in a promising manner which will most likely left you wanting for more – even though, just as the adventure games by the now-defunct Telltale, it has its distinct share of problems.

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The first episode ends rather abruptly and leaves us with very little knowledge about the outbreak and the conspiracy behind it – it feels like the first, tiny bit of a rather grand story

Perseverance follows the story of Jack – a painfully average and unfulfilled guy, living in a secluded, small town somewhere in the US interior (a place pretty much only kept alive by being in close proximity of a large military base), struggling with lack of purpose and trying to cope with his failing marriage. After leaving college to take care of his severely-ill father, he ends up without education and stable job, while his attractive wife, who also shortened her medical studies to join him in his hometown, works as a nurse at the local hospital. Together, they raise a young teenage daughter and the game opens with a rather vicious argument between Jack and his wife, centred around his ambition to teach their child how to hunt. After saying a few words too many, he leaves for his late father’s forest cabin to think things through, while, in his absence, the intrigue that might lead to humanity’s downfall unfolds in the usually-sleepy town.

            One lesson that Tap It Games definitely took from The Walking Dead is that compelling characters can, or maybe even should be deeply flawed and a survival story benefits from showing their shortcoming and exploring how they can overcome those in the moment of truth. Jack and his family are at times borderline unlikeable, but above all else feel like ordinary people, struggling with the challenges of everyday life and in no way prepared for the disaster coming for them. Most of Part 1 is dedicated to establishing them as characters and making the player invested in their story. From my perspective it worked pretty well, as both the main cast and the supporting characters (very few at this point) were interesting enough for me to want to learn more about them and, at least to some extent, care about what might happen to them. My only complaint in that respect is that devs overdid it with foreshadowing and minor “spoilers” in Jack’s narration – I would very much prefer to be left in the dark about some future developments within the story, like fate of certain crucial characters or the scale of the outbreak, but you can easily deduce much of it from the opening monologue and Part 1’s ending.

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Many of the game’s choices feel “off”, making little sense unless you enjoy playing your VNs as an over-the-top asshole

One other problem I had with the game at this point is connected to the choices – most of them only seemed to serve a purpose of choosing whether Jack is a somewhat decent human being, or a complete asshole, with options in the latter category often feeling forced and insulting to common sense. Should you apologize to your wife after hurting her feelings in a horrible way, or is it a better idea to persist with emotional abuse? Is it better to calm her down while she’s hurt and most likely in shock, or to shout at her with anger? What makes these choices really bad is that they’re not about choosing between selfishness and altruism, or between the others and your personal safety, like it would be the case in The Walking Dead – it’s just about being a horrible human being for the sake of it and unless that’s your personal kink in regards to choice-based games, there’s no added value in that. The choices, also, don’t seem to have any real impact on the story at this point. While they might, in rare cases, lead you to an abrupt game over scene, they generally don’t affect anything beyond the immediate dialogue lines and it’s unclear at this point to what extent they might influence the storyline further down the line. If I was to guess, I’d say not that much, considering how near-impossible it is to create a genuine branching story in an episodic game, especially with the, most likely, very limited resources the devs of Perseverance have available. I personally don’t mind an illusion of choice, if it helps your immersion in the story, but it’s still something to keep in mind and downscale your expectations appropriately.

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A riddle – what do you use to cut a rope? Thankfully, it’s not one that you can fail – the choices, apart from one or two dead ends, don’t seem to matter at this point

The visuals are definitely one of the strongest aspects of the game, with a distinct artstyle that feels inspired by Western comic books more than anime (and by that virtue once again resembling Telltale adventure games more than the typical, Japanese-style VNs). While it’s not super-heavy on details, the sprites are distinct in their designs and expressive, while the backgrounds and CGs are simply nice to look at and feel very consistent with the overall aesthetic. The sound and music are minimalistic and support the general, eerie vibe of the story without standing out much. What stands out, unfortunately, is the technical aspect of the game. Perseverance was made in unity rather than a dedicated VN engine and lacks some typical quality-of-life features, like the skip option, possibility to roll back the text, easily switch auto-mode on and off, or even convenient access to the backlog. For someone like me, used to EVNs made in Ren’Py, these omissions were quite painful at times and made replaying the game to check out alternative choices a chore.

            In the end though, what mattered the most – the story and production quality of the game – did deliver and from this point of view, I’d consider reading Perseverance: Part 1 a positive experience. It’s a really solid first act, which might develop into something truly exceptional if Tap It Games directs it well. I just hope that the future episodes will be at least a little bit longer – reading a story in hour-long bits every few months is never a great formula and if the Part 2 doesn’t offer a more substantial piece of storytelling, it might damn the whole project into obscurity. That is, if the future episodes ever happen – the radio silence from the studio is worrying and I would not recommend buying this as long as we don’t know whether it will receive at least some continuation. Without that, Part 1 is only an extensive demo – a good one, but not really something worth investing your time in, if we’re never getting a full story. Time will tell.

 

Final Score: 3/5

 

Pros:

+ Solid, well-stylized visuals

+ Interesting, realistically flawed characters

Cons:

- Unconvincing and inconsequential choices

- Clunky interface

- Very short

 

VNDB Page

Buy Perseverance, Part 1 on Steam

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome back to EVN Chronicles, your prime source of romantic fluff reviews and recommendations! Today, I present you a post that will either capitalize on the post-Valentine's Day atmosphere by providing you even more positive feels, or help mend your lonely heart with quality love stories! Romance, as we all know, is one of the driving elements of visual novels in general, and maybe especially within the niche that is particularly close to my heart – and that is, of course, yuri. Recently, I've spent quite a lot of time going through and writing about Yuri Game Jam VNs and with that coverage finished, for the time being, it's an excellent day to look beyond this particular event to satisfy our freeware yuri needs.

          The Western visual novel scene is, if you take a closer look, surprisingly full of f/f romantic stories and freeware titles containing such themes show up pretty regularly, both thanks to other game jams, such as NaNoRen0 and various “random” releases, mostly by hobbyist developers. Today, I’ll go through some of the most notable, free EVNs with yuri elements – both those purely focused on girls’ love and those that include it as a significant part of the experience, but not its primary theme. As usual with this kind of lists, I’ll focus on short, casual VNs most fitting the mini-review format – some games that would fit the theme, like Christine Love’s Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, it Just ain’t Your Story, deserve a more detailed review and they will receive just that… SoonTM.

 

Butterfly Soup

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Brianna Lei's story about a group of lesbian teenagers has gathered a significant amount of mainstream attention thank to its unique subject matter (focusing on minority queer women and their experience), but it’s definitely more than just a piece of social commentary. It offers a well-written, charming story that tackles its main themes with a lot of subtlety and attention to detail. It also doesn't overstate the sexuality of its characters, saying more about the universal challenges of growing up than just minority issues. And while it definitely attempts to create a more realistic representation of homosexual relationships, straying away from the typical, idealized yuri romance, it's a fun and light-hearted read that should be appropriate for anyone not allergic to close-to-reality LGBT stories.

Final Score: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogpost.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Yaoi VNs, and yaoi media in general, are something I know quite a bit about “in theory” – even beyond the discussions in the VN community, you can’t get far into fan studies academic literature without seeing substantial mentions of both Western slash fan-fiction and Japanese yaoi doujin in every other article. Still, in practice, BL VNs were something I was always hesitant to pick up, not really because of being “scared” of male gay romance, but simply because of it having lower appeal to me than both traditional het romance, and, especially, yuri. When I can choose between similarly high-quality games from various genres (and my backlog is full of those), yaoi simply doesn’t have many appeal-points to climb at the top of my to-read list.

            Thankfully, where my straight male sensibilities didn’t lead me, Steam Curator Connect came into action, in the form of Y Press Games sending me their debut visual novel My Magical Demon Lover. Released in May 2018, this little BL game promises a pretty interesting formula – a highly-comedic erotic VN, borderline nukige when it goes to the amount of sexual content, but kept in a strictly softcore formula (with no genitals visible in any of the scenes). Being a much bigger fan of softcore porn than I am of normal hentai, this already made me much less reluctant to explore this game, but still left me definitely outside of its target audience. Thankfully, porn wasn’t the only thing it had on offer...

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogpost.com

Plk_Lesiak

While two weeks ago we’ve mostly covered the beginnings of Winged Cloud’s presence on the EVN market (well, ignoring the "otome period", but Pyrite Heart might be worth a separate look, along with The Guardian’s Spell crowdfunding debacle), this time we’re taking look at a transitional period – one in which Inma still didn’t make explicit art, acting as the sole “all-ages” artist for the company, while Wanaca was already focusing exclusively on hentai titles, including the 100+ CG behemoth that is Sakura Dungeon. It’s also a time that brought something we could describe as a pretty obvious drop in quality – the new non-porn titles definitely looked like low-effort cash-ins, with mostly linear storytelling, no voice-acting and underwhelming CG counts. Sakura Beach 2, put together in only a few months and obviously reusing a lot of visual assets from the first game, was especially emblematic, foreshadowing the switch to mass-production of cheaper, shorter titles, that fully dominated the studios output a year later, after the release of Sakura Nova, the last arguably ambitious Sakura game. But, ignoring for a moment our knowledge of what the future held for the franchise, how these late Sakura ecchi VNs hold out today?

 

Sakura Beach 1 & Sakura Beach 2

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It might be just my personal taste, but I can somewhat accept a harem scenario if the protagonist earns it in some way – by being a really good person that helps the heroines in a substantial manner, or even being a shitty one but defying expectations and doing something exceptional when it truly mattered. Starting with a harem, however, feels like the laziest setup imaginable and I pretty much abhorred every instance when it showed up its ugly head in the Sakura series (of course, in short nukige such as Sakura Christmas Party the only thing that mattered was giving a justification for inserting a variety of porn scenes, so complaining about dumb plot is a bit of superficial – thankfully, I’m also making a series all about pointless nit-picking :3). Inma’s debut as a Winged Cloud’s character artist, Sakura Beach and its sequel, Sakura Beach 2 already had a pretty rough start with me because of this "storytelling technique", while the apparently short development cycle for both games also did little to encourage any kind of optimism from me when I decided to approach them.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

A while ago I’ve made a Shovelware Adventures episode about NewWestGames, a one-person studio from Canada creating primarily erotic yuri titles. For the first time since I’ve started doing my semi-serious (and borderline mockery) short reviews, I was actually approached by the developer and had an opportunity to discuss my criticism of their games, in a respectful and constructive manner, that was probably way more forgiving than the tone of my original post would warrant. After a brief exchange, I proposed to take this discussion public, giving Katie, the person behind the NewWestGames label, a chance to respond to my commentary on her work and talk a bit about the general ideas behind her VNs. I also decided it was a good moment to take a look at the NWG titles I haven’t reviewed before, completing my coverage of the studio’s catalogue and giving Katie the ability to comment on it in full. So, without further ado, I hope you’ll all enjoy my reviews and the conversation that comes after them!

 

Frequent Flyer: A Long Distance Love Story

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Frequent Flyer, released on Steam in March 2018, went unnoticed by most EVN readers and received mixed reviews, mostly due to its simplistic visuals and a relatively brief, linear storyline. It is, however, arguably one of the most interesting NewWestGames titles, telling a story about a toxic relationship between two girls with some apparently autobiographical elements. The protagonist, Emi, is an average-looking girl, living in a large American city and working as a freelance journalist. Rejected by her family due to her sexual orientation, depressed because of her failed ambitions of becoming a writer and recovering from another failed relationship, she decides to go for a trip to Scotland, hoping that a change of scenery and an opportunity to meet a close online friend can invigorate her. There, while watching an evening stand-up comedy show at a local bar, she meets Isobel, a gorgeous and charismatic young Scotswoman. The two quickly forms a connection, leading to an affair that first restores Emi’s happiness and then crushes it in the most disturbing ways.

            Those that experienced a toxic relationship with a mentally-unstable person themselves or know stories of such couples, will find many elements in Frequent Flyer familiar – all the lies, manipulation and emotional blackmail involved, along with Emi’s reactions to more and more obvious betrayal from the person she loves, are portrayed in a believable and properly heart-wrenching manner. The minimalistic & inconsistent presentation might take away from the overall impact of the story, and many of the events are pretty easy to predict, at times making the whole experience feel a bit like a PSA, rather than a “proper” piece of fiction. Still, it is a game with an important story to tell and an underlying message that is worth hearing out, and despite all the gripes I had with its execution, I couldn’t help but appreciate it.

Final Score: Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome back to the Shovelware Adventures, the series that most likely no one was missing, but it came back regardless! It's been a while since I last delved into the Sakura series, so with only a few of those games still not reviewed, and staying true to my grossly counter-chronological coverage of the Winged Cloud’s trashy catalogue, let’s finish it where everything started. When Sakura Spirit appeared on Steam in mid-2014, on what was still a fairly barren EVN landscape, it quickly became something akin to a viral sensation – achieving not only sale numbers that most likely no one ever expected, but also popping up frequently on YouTube and becoming popular enough on Twitch to quickly get officially banned. It also established a peculiar variant of ecchi formula, which took the fanservice usual for eroge and trashy anime, and dedicated every CG and the whole plot to showing it off, without ever going into actual porn to stay within Steam’s, at the time, strict adult content policy. Before Winged Cloud made a transition into actual hentai games, this model spawned an impromptu franchise that turned "sakura" into a dirty word for most Western VN fans, with a total of six "all ages" fanservice VNs released within it. Today, I’ll take a look at first three of those not-quite-porn Sakura games – in a distastefully biased manner, considering my relative taste for fanservice and cliched romance, and dislike for hentai.

Sakura Spirit

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Sakura Spirit has been ridiculed countless times, but apart from the immense amount of typos and terribly implemented popcultural references, it’s actually not the worst thing Winged Cloud has even created (even not counting the obviously-trash-tier free games like Sakura Clicker). It offers both a semi-coherent, low-fantasy isekai story (although, of course, a poorly executed one with a highly anticlimactic ending), and a somewhat appealing cast of heroines (two fox spirits, who helps the protagonist after his accidental travel to a parallel world, and two human girls acting as village guards) which could all work as a decent basis for an enjoyable ecchi VN. However, it strangely doesn’t utilize the biggest strength of visual novels as a medium, offering pretty much no meaningful choices, very little romance and an inconclusive harem ending straight out of a shitty fanservice anime.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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A short while ago I’ve reviewed PixelFade’s Crystalline, expressing my disappointment at what was a visually brilliant, but rather hollow experience, in many ways inferior to that studio's first project, Ace Academy. While AA, a mecha-themed game set in near future’s Japan, mixed convincing drama, a cast of archetypical, but compelling heroines and great SoL sections, providing a fairly balanced and enjoyable game, Crystalline focused much more on comedy and despite the fantasy adventure framework, failed to produce an engaging plot or characters interesting enough to make the whole experience satisfying. The genuine chemistry between Ace Academy’s characters and its compelling atmosphere let me even forgive its anticlimactic ending – PixelFade struggled heavily with that game's development, being forced to cut a large portion of the plot and rush the conclusion, infuriating many fans. The cuts and omissions were definitely visible, for me however, what was already there was simply too good to disregard and I still consider AA as one of the best EVNs I’ve ever read.

            As you can imagine, it was hard for me not to get excited when, shortly after Crystalline’s release, the studio announced Kaori After Story – a spin-off to Ace Academy, continuing the romance arc of Kaori, arguably the primary heroine of the first game. Using the Live 2D engine and animations from Crystalline, it promised to be another eye-candy, this time directed to the fans of PixelFade's debut title. What worried me, however, was that it was also described by the devs as primarily a comedy, most likely ignoring the bitter-sweet climate of the original and its somewhat ambivalent ending. Thankfully, as much as some might be disappointed with this game’s obvious disinterest in continuing Ace Academy’s main intrigue, connected to protagonist’s father’s scientific research and tragic death, there are many things here they should find highly satisfying – and even I, as reserved as I was when approaching KAS, couldn’t help but to enjoy it quite a lot.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome to the second and last part of my 2018 Curator Connect Clean-up (if you missed the first half, check it out here)! The horror themes were strong in the VNs sent to me this year and while it will be less explicit in this part, they’re not completely gone either, mostly represented by Perseverance – an episodic, postapocalyptic game which strives to prove that story-driven experience featuring zombies is still not passée in 2018 (and, possibly, that the Telltale storytelling formula is not as dead as the studio that created it). Other than that, we’ll get to experience an ominous sci-fi mystery Event-D and two low-budget, simple romance VNs, all of them holding some surprises… Not always positive ones, though.

 

The Wilting Amaranth

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I have pretty complicated feelings about Reine Works’ visual novels – on one hand, they show genuine effort, have decent visuals and are not cynically exploitative even when implementing sexual content. On the other, they always struggle when it goes writing and characterisation, to the point they always short of being genuinely good and compelling. The Wilting Amaranth showcases these problems especially well – while the set-up protagonist’s personality and her backstory are all simple (a lesbian-in-denial princess, pressured by her parents into an arranged marriage, is accidentally summoned by a witch to her remote tower), they’re interesting enough to carry a simple, romantic plot.

            Where it pretty much falls apart is the heroines and how their characters are developed: the witch is shy and stuttering to the point she’s barely able to hold a conversation at any point of the plot and her quirks grow tiring very fast. The other possible love interest, a prisoner of the witch who tried to assassinate her for a bounty, is a first-class sociopath who can do all kinds of despicable things if it makes her some money, but switching her attitude in certain scenarios for no clear reason. Even with how short the game is (around 3-4 hours of reading) there’s no real justification for how these characters are developed and sadly, it takes away quite a lot of fun from the experience, with contains not-awful production values and some fairly cool ideas. While reading it is not a complete waste of time, it’s also not something I would ever strongly recommend, even for yuri fans.

Final rating: (Cautiously) Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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