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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

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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.

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The numerous call-backs to Loren: The Amazon Princess will make Cursed Lands more enjoyable to those familiar with the original game, and especially the extra stories from the Castle of N’Mar DLC

Story-wise, Cursed Lands is a prequel to Loren, taking place around a decade before the events of first game and unlike Seasons of the Wolf, it’s strongly connected to the original story, happening in the same areas and featuring some of the same central characters (notably the human archmage Apolimesho and the Amazon queen Karen, who we can for the first time observe in her prime). It’s also full of smaller cameos and references, which will make it significantly more enjoyable for people already familiar with the series – it’s not by any means unplayable when going in without context, but the full meaning of some scenes and conversations will be lost on new players. The main intrigue features our highly customisable player character (you can choose their race, gender and profession, which all come with their pieces of backstory and unique dialogue) by chance stumbling upon a group of imperial soldiers escaping from swarms of undead in the lands around the cursed Castle of N’Mar. After helping them to leave the area with their lives and fighting off a vampire that pursued them, our PC is hired by the Empire’s Council to gather a team of adventurers and infiltrate the undead’s fortress – at first to gather intelligence, but as the vampire threat escalates, to vanquish them once and for all.

              At first look, the layout of the story is not particularly unusual, but features some interesting elements – the protagonist acts very explicitly as a mercenary and, to a large extent, relies on cooperation from people on the fringes of Aravorn civilisation: shamanistic nomads, universally-despised naga, pirates and assassins being only some of his associates along the way. While gaining renown during the game due to their successes and receiving a more formal position on behalf of the Council, they’re still mostly an expendable hireling, that have to thread carefully every step of the way to not get sacrificed for the Empire’s interests, or even being silenced for knowing too much about the threat of N’Mar. This theme even extends to the professions you can choose when creating your character (which even includes a very “respectable” craft of a debt collector), and the ability to become a vampire – not necessarily as a way of abandoning your mission or turning against your allies, but a source of additional power and a path to follow after the antagonists of the story are vanquished.

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Mutually-exclusive recruitment opportunities in the first chapter add a good deal of replayability to the game, while the “visual novel mode” makes experiencing alternative story paths convenient even if you get tired of Cursed Land’s RPG gameplay

The companions, as I’ve suggested above, to a large degree escape the typical VN tropes, with the two naga exiles, Sylrissa and Enok, being probably the most unusual elements. Still, even beyond the rare chance to romance snake-people, the personalities and backstories of most of the characters managed to surprise me at least to some extent and I enjoyed the small-talk happening between them and the protagonist. This is, by the way, one of the most contentious elements of the game, as many players were bored to death by long, casual conversations that usually are only very vaguely connected to the main intrigue, but are meant to both explore the backstories of the companions and create opportunities to gain affection points with them, if you lead the conversations properly. The topics vary from the meaning of leadership to the bread-baking much-ridiculed in many reviews (that part will be appreciated by all that tried baking their own bread and failed miserably, which was my experience multiple times), but I don’t think I’ve found an instance in which I’d really dislike those interactions. Most of the conversations were really well-written and led me to understanding the characters better – the amount of this casual dialogue might be overwhelming to some, but I think it fitted the story and played an important enough purpose to be justified.

              The companions are also an important source of the game’s replayability, as they can be recruited in different orders (those you skip on in the first chapter will only be available after completing special missions in the second one) and these choices often influence their stories quite significantly (this especially applies to the female dwarf Dalsyra, who might feel like a throwaway character if you recruit her late, but has a very interesting secret you can uncover by teaming up with her earlier). There's also, in line with Winter Wolves' tradition, six different romance arcs – two gender-specific, one exclusive to elves and three with bisexual love interests available for any PC. All of them are pretty minimalistic, with three scenes and a short epilogue after finishing the game for each (mostly nicely-written and featuring some very pleasant-looking extra CGs), but considering the overall number of romance options, it’s still quite a lot of content to explore. Checking out all these alternative paths is made significantly easier by the “visual novel mode”, which let’s you very conveniently skip through most of the gameplay sections of Cursed Lands and focus exclusively on the story content, nearly turning the game into a pure VN – as there’s nearly no story bits or meaningful interactions showing up during the fights, there’s very little you can actually miss by choosing this option.

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The romance arcs are the most minimalistic out of all three Aravorn RPGs, but include some rarely-seen variety (such as naga love interests) and fun scenarios

Cursed Lands’ turn-based RPG gameplay is a very direct continuation of what was done in the previous two games, and while it’s way more polished than in Loren (there, classes and gear were extremely unbalanced and the sense of progression very weak), it forgone some of the more compelling elements introduced in Season of the Wolf. The latter featured very limited health and mana regeneration between fights (you could only fully heal by eating expensive meals or progressing a day in the overworld, with every major goal placed on a timer), forcing you to use your time and resources very carefully and making every encounter meaningful. Cursed Lands features time progression, with three chapters (moon cycles) of 30 days and a difficult quest at the end of each one of them. However, considering there are no limits on health/mana regeneration and only very few quests force a time skip, for the most part, this system is meaningless – and especially so in the first cycle, as you have only a handful companions and there are relatively few story events popping up during the whole period. This is actually a major issue, as after the very decent introduction, the game shows itself from possibly the worst side in those first hours, which I think is one of the reasons many people dropped it with a somewhat negative impression of the whole experience. The other downgrade is the possibility to only use four characters at in combat, compared to six in the previous games and the elimination of row-related mechanics – in both Loren and Season of the Wolf you could pace the more squishy characters in the second row and shield them from certain attacks, but here this is absent, giving very little meaning to party formation and greatly eliminating a lot of interesting tactical options (like row and lane-oriented AOE spells and attacks).

              Coming back to the time mechanics, the only thing they genuinely influence is the arena battles, where you can fight with a chosen amount of monsters for experience and reputation (the latter influence the prices in shops of the area where you through, with three cities having their own arenas, different in the types of monsters they spawn), three times per day. This is the game’s only form of grind and quite possibly my sole biggest issue with it – the arena battles are extremely boring and unrewarding, giving you little gold and no items, but are still pretty much necessary to keep your team strong enough on the harder difficulty levels. They also disable probably the most interesting and fun addition to Cursed Land’s combat, that is protagonist’s social skills – powerful abilities connected to your starting profession, which have different success chance depending on enemy traits and morale (this decreases with damage and can even make some enemies flee, earning you an automatic victory), and can do unique things such as stealing utility items from the enemies or even charming them to fight for your side. Without them, arena fights devolve into a soul-crushing source of tedium and I honestly couldn’t stomach them anyone after the first full moon, even when using the most convenient enemy setups and player team compositions. While generally, the RPG parts of the game are competent, it’s hard to me to recommend playing it on any difficulty other than easy, or maybe normal, as that’s the only way you can effectively avoid the arena and genuinely enjoy the game, as the quests and story-related encounters are way more interesting and nowhere near as time-consuming.

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The party formation, character skillsets and time-limit mechanics feel like a step backwards from the Season of the Wolf, but are still superior to clunky and unbalanced RPG gameplay of Loren

When it goes to production quality, Cursed Lands uses the same artstyle as other games in the series and is possibly the best iteration of it so far, despite some of the assets being clearly repurposed from Loren. While some people complain about the unattractive designs of non-romanceable characters, there’s a lot of personality to them and I don’t remember any that would really feel “off”, while I had this kind of issues with both sprites and CGs in the previous two games. And speaking of CGs, the stylistic inconsistencies that plagued the previous titles, with illustrations not really matching the sprites and even looking awkward, weren’t really an issue this time around. The biggest issue I’ve had with the visual side of the experience was that the protagonist only had a character portrait and never showed in CGs, but that’s a clear consequence of the newly-added customisation. As always, the overworld map and the UI feel somewhat archaic, but in a way that is at least partially a deliberate, stylistic choice on the part of the developer. I also never struggled with the UI the same way I did in Loren, but I’m not sure whether that’s due to genuine improvements or just the fact I got used to it while playing the first two games. The music was climatic, enhancing the light horror tone of the story, but wasn’t particularly memorable, while the game also skipped on a certain long-established sound component of the series, that is including character voices in battles (there was never any voiceover in the beyond that). It’s not a major issue from my point of view, but something to consider if you’re a fan of Winter Wolves RPGs and expect this element to be included.

              In the end, I find Cursed Lands to be a highly satisfying and interesting game, but this is said mostly from the perspective of a VN fan, who treats the RPG parts as a flavour placed on top of the story content. If I treated it as a “proper RPG”, I would have to count the near-obligatory arena grind the lack of interesting options to boost your characters besides the main questline as a major drag. I’ve found the story here compelling and disagree strongly with much of the criticism that was aimed against it, so if you’re looking for an interesting narrative and characters, I can recommend it wholeheartedly. If you’re searching for high-quality gameplay… It’s a much harder sell, although not a hopeless ones either. Despite the few glaring issues, it’s an all-around competent and rather memorable experience, one that makes me really hopeful towards the upcoming “proper” sequel to Loren – whatever specific issues I might’ve had with each of these RPGs, returning to the world of Aravorn is never something I could easily skip on.

 

Final Score: 3,5/5

 

Pros:

+ A varied and interesting cast of characters

+ Solid writing

+ Good sound and visual quality

Cons:

- Mostly underwhelming RPG mechanics

- Extremely boring arena grind

- Slow first chapter

 

VNDB Page

Buy Cursed Lands on Steam

Plk_Lesiak

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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

Plk_Lesiak

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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

Plk_Lesiak

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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

Plk_Lesiak

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The New Year is just a few days away, so why not take a look today at another appropriately-themed VN? Ebi-hime is probably best known for both yuri romances and horror VNs, but in reality created a huge variety of slice-of-life and mystery titles, both borrowing from different formulas and simultaneously breaking their rules, ultimately escaping any kind of easy classification. Games like Empty Horizons or Asphyxia are clearly identified with common labels such as “otome” or “yuri”, but they pretty much never cater to the reader’s expectations taken from reading other visual novels within those genres.

            There are also certain elements extremely common for ebi’s work, regardless of topics or conventions she’s trying to tackle. Deeply flawed, painfully realistic characters, extensive internal monologues of the protagonists and a nostalgic aura are almost constant elements of her writing, making most of her stories fairly easily recognizable and differentiating them from the typical Western-produced VNs. Ebi’s latest release, A Winter’s Daydream, while at first glance might look like a silly comedy, can be accurately described in only one way. It’s an ebi-hime VN through and through: slow-paced, introspective and handling serious, existential topics despite any humorous elements and the wacky premise. And, as you can easily expect from this particular author, it does all those things in a thoroughly satisfying way. 

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Since I’ve established my Steam Curator profile last winter I’ve been sent a number of games, some of which received full reviews on the site (ex. Sable’s Grimoire or Crystalline), while others, for various reasons, did not get covered at all. In most cases, the games I didn’t write posts about were small or low-budget titles, hardly giving enough material for an in-depth review – still, as I don’t like the idea of ignoring people that were generous enough to offer me their work for free, I’ve decided to dedicate this and next week’s posts to giving a short overview of things that were given to me through Curator Connect in 2018, but didn’t get to appear on the blog. Just as in the mini-reviews series, every entry will be concluded with a simple rating on a scale from “Highly Recommended” to “Not Recommended”. So, let’s get this party started!

 

Silenced: The House

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If someone asked me to define “wasted potential”, showing them this game would be an easy way to thoroughly explore the concept. Silenced starts with a slightly edgy, but appealing and unusual concept. You play as a villain (although to a large extent manipulated rather than plain evil) – a girl adept in the occult, who lures a group of some particularly obnoxious teenager to a secluded mansion, as a sacrifice to a malevolent spirit. There, things quickly goe out of control and our protagonist has to struggle both to satisfy the demon she’s forced to serve and keep her life while fighting off against vengeful ghosts that come after her “companions” and uncover the sins from their pasts.

            The general set up and the simplistic, but well-stylized art are fairly promising, but that impression quickly falls apart as you experience the game’s clunky and often cringe-worthy writing style – to some extent a victim of the less-than-perfect translation from Russian, but having problems that go far beyond what poor localization could explain. The unnatural English, overly-contrived metaphors and edgy internal monologues of the protagonist quickly makes the whole thing unpleasant to read and while the storyline has its moments (the backstories and hidden motivations of the characters are kind of fun to explore, especially after the intrigue picks up), it’s just ultimately not enjoyable to go through. The game is also technically clunky, adding to the cheap feel of the whole experience – even the large number of CGs and effective use of gore can’t save it from being a poor VN.

            Unless you’re able to read the original, Russian version, this one is simply not worth buying – but I also hope that the devs behind it will try creating something similar in the future and improve on the formula, because as disappointing as this game was, it was also not very far from becoming something genuinely interesting. Time will tell.

Final rating: Not Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Since being published by Alienworks in mid-2016, Highway Blossoms earned its place as one of the highest-rated yuri VNs on VNDB and could easily be considered as one of the most successful Western visual novels to date. The game from the very beginning stood out through its unusual setting, plot structure and high production qualities, seemingly appealing even to the more demanding or JP-focused yuri fans. It wasn’t a great surprise then that Highway Blossoms’ authors, despite their second title, The Human Reignition Project, being stuck in a development hell, decided to further capitalize on their previous success and create an updated version of HB, with features such as partially reworked art and full voice acting (the initial release had none). The Remastered edition was released on May 18th 2018, two years after the game’s premiere, with quite a lot of fanfare and became available as a free update for both existing and potential owners of the game. So, how that does the enhanced version of everyone’s favourite yuri EVN presents itself, and does it live up top the hype? Spoiler: it does. Kind of...

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Welcome to the second part of my Yuri Game Jam 2018 summary! Just like the last week's article (if you haven't read part 1, check it out now!), this post will offer you a short overview of visual novels that entered the event this year, this time with the focus being solely on fully-released titles. While in the previous post there were very few surprises (with mostly the two titles I actually expected to deliver quality experiences standing out from the crowd), this time there were a few unexpected latecomers to the event and games that genuinely surpassed my expectations – Scrambled: Syd City being probably the most notable one, and quite possibly the best VN in YGJ this year. It will also make a small trip outside of the VN sphere, but what that is exactly about, you'll see at the end of the article... Enjoy!

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A Game About Ants

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This story about two colonies of anthropomorphized ants and two simply workers that brought those together despite the distrust and differences between them is one of the most charming and compelling stories in this year’s YGJ. Thanks to its relatively longer script (it takes around 2 hours to fully read through), A Game About Ants manages to not only convey an amusing “love beyond prejudice” main plot, but also set it in a pretty elaborate "political" context of a clash between the aforementioned ant nests (heavily inspired by actual species of ants, with their specific appearances, habits and social hierarchies). The end result is a really intriguing and visually pleasant experience, also featuring probably the most sensual scene of antennae “kiss” you’ll ever see in a visual novel... And, quite likely, anywhere else. Do you really want to miss out on that?

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Yuri Game Jam, having few limitations on what can enter the event outside of including some form of yuri or LGBT themes, was always a good arena for various devs to show off demos or prototypes and gain visibility or feedback for their projects. At the same time, it consistently attracted many complete projects, often surprisingly solid when it goes to their quality and the amount of content they offered. This year this was no different, with over 20 full games entering the event, including 11 original VNs, ranging from extremely short and basic, to a few-hours-long and artistically impressive ones. In the last month, after the end-of-October YGJ deadline has been reached, I was going through all these titles and today I'm offering you a full overview of what a VN fan might find in this year's event's roster. Or, well, at least the first half of it...

          In my coverage, I will, for the most part, ignore all the in-development titles – the production cycles of indie games are always a bit unpredictable and I’m highly distrustful whether some of the demos we can find in YGJ will turn into actual, finished products in foreseeable future. Instead, I’ll be focusing on the fully-released visual novels in the event and providing a short overview of each of them, along with a simple rating on a scale of “not recommended/recommended/highly recommended”. I will also, obviously, skip on the games from other genres that took part in the Jam (although if you value story-driven yurige, I encourage you to still give them a chance). So, I hope you’ll join me on the journey through this interesting collection of queer, freeware VNs and uncover all the surprises this year’s edition of YGJ holds for us. As always, all the games mentioned below are completely free to play, so if you click the Itch.io links in their titles, you can try them out right away with no charge. Let's get to it!

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Valentine Disaster

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We’ll start things off with what could be described as another quintessential YGJ VN – a piece of cute, visually pleasant and utterly heartwarming GxG romance with some minor, cool spins to it. In this case, the story of tomboyish Selene trying to bake a perfect Valentines Day's gift for her girlfriend after they had a falling out, is spiced up by brief point-and-click gameplay elements, requiring you to buy and select the right ingredients for the dessert of your choosing. If you follow the subtle clues the game provide you with along the way, you can easily find the best combination or home-made delicacies and bought presents to quickly salvage the threatened holiday. But if you mess up, there will be consequences… A very brief (up to an hour for 100% completion), but fun and lovely-looking experience.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Chuunige is one of the visual novel genres that are barely present in OELVN scene, at least to any “serious” capacity – among the more popular and high-quality releases there’s very few that would even loosely fit the “fighting VN” formula, or especially effectively replicate the unique feel of this particular current in Japanese fiction. Recently, however, a fledgeling studio under the name of Epic Works decided to remedy this sorry state of affairs by creating a content-rich, Fate-inspired EVN called Episicava. The first volume, of what was apparently planned to become a longer series, was released on Steam in April 2018, in a slightly disastrous state – full of graphical bugs and various technical issues, the game made a rather poor first impression. However, since those problems were mostly fixed with patches in the months after launch, it’s a good moment to look at Episicava and ask the most important question – did it manage, in its improved state, to capture some of the magic of Fate/Stay Night or Dies Irae in a downscaled, low-budget form of an EVN?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Two weeks ago we’ve started our journey through the world of Yuri Game Jam visual novels and today we’re gonna conclude its “historic” part, with another 6 games from the 2015-2017 period. As before, the order in which the games are presented is semi-random, but I’ve tried to mix commonly known and widely appreciated titles – ones you might be familiar with even if you never followed the event itself with some lesser known entries, which are still worth a closer look. While even the list is obviously not exhaustive (and of course don’t cover the huge library of non-VN YGJ releases), it covers most of the entries I’ve personally found interesting. While I might still cover more of them in the future, it will most likely be in a different format and above all, I hope to focus on giving an overview of the latest event every year. But, that's in the future for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this one last look at the GxG visual novel glory of YGJs past!

 

Once on a Windswept Night

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Once on a Windswept Night by ebi-hime is definitely among the most ambitious Yuri Game Jam VNs, with an intricate meta-narrative and multiple layers of mystery for the player to uncover (starting with an element as basic as the identity of the protagonist). Featuring two touching, tragic love stories, up to three hours of content and very solid writing, it delivers much more than you would normally expect from a free game. The visual side of things suffered slightly from the relatively short development cycle, but it doesn’t change the fact that its a very creative and in many ways unique experience and, for a game jam entry, an impressive artistic achievement, in many ways on par with ebi's commercial projects.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this game by the developer. All opinion presented here are solely my own.

PixelFade is a studio that from the very beginning showed an unusually ambitious approach to EVN development. Their first project, Ace Academy, offered some features rarely seen in Western VN of similar scale (~10h of content), such as good-quality, full voice acting and lots of impressive-looking, stylistically consistent artwork. It was also pretty atypical in its storytelling, featuring a mostly college-age cast, choosing a very tame approach to romance and avoiding the fanservice endemic to this kind of lighthearted, SoL-focused VNs. Initially funded on Kickstarter as Kendo Crush, it went through a curious evolution from a generic-looking, sports-themed game into a futuristic story about mecha battles but regardless of all the tribulations, the end effect was a highly refreshing, all-ages experience with a satisfying mix of light drama, non-violent action and mystery. In my opinion, it’s still one of the best EVNs ever released, with few real issues beyond the somewhat abrupt, anticlimactic ending and the overly simplistic "gameplay" elements.

            Considering the relative success of Ace Academy, it was obvious that there would be high expectations connected to PixelFade’s second project, Crystalline – a lighthearted fantasy tale with a single romanceable heroine, which promised a longer story and even higher production qualities than their debut. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in early 2017, with gathered over 60k CAD (an amount pretty much unseen when it goes to original EVN projects), the game fairly quickly entered Steam on early access and was fully released in late August 2018 – the much anticipated final product offering truly impressive sound and visual design... And, in my opinion, a truly disappointing lack of compelling story content. But why is that exactly?

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