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About this blog

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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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Check out my interview with the developer of this game, ds-sans!

Is there any merit to creating a tame, single-heroine romance VN in a market that seems to be flooded with cute love stories, often in much more "advanced" forms? Do a romance VN need to invent something fresh and original to be successful? Is it even possible to be innovative much in the world of cute romance tales, with the kind of saturation the genre offers? Sounds of Her Love, a small freeware title published over a year ago by DEVGRU-P and created by ds-sans, an indie developer then pretty much unknown to the VN community, made me think about all these issues in a fairly substantial manner. And the answer it suggested to me, both due to my personal enjoyment and the warm reception it received from other readers, was: when making a romance story in the visual novel format, you don't have to create anything particularly new, as long as you do the basics really, really well.

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

One’s Lonesome, Two’s Company

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Team ANPIM, veterans of YGJ, managed to deliver one of the more traditional and touching love stories in this year’s event – a kinetic novel about a high school girl who finds herself in borderline life-threatening trouble and is saved by an unassuming kouhai from her school, only to fall in love with her despite their different backgrounds and personalities. It’s a simple, cheesy piece of yuri romance (around 2 hours long, with only a handful of CGs and photographic backgrounds), but drawn and written well enough to give all the cute and fuzzy feelings you’d hope to get from this kind of game. The lead couple is simply adorable and the conclusion was good enough to nearly get a few tears out of me, and while I’m a sucker for this kind of fluff, I believe it’s as good of a recommendation as I could even make – give it a try!

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Magic Mirror Hall

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Magic Mirror Hall is another tiny, but beautifully stylized and interesting VN, telling the story of Alex, a magic shop owner ending up at the center of their dear friend’s relationship problem – one that manifests themselves through supernatural events (or two be specific, dangerous and uncontrollable outbursts of wild magic), but is rooted in the lack of communication and understanding between the girls. Depending on protagonist’s choices and advice they give, they might help resolve the issue, or risk it turning into a genuine tragedy – and for Alex personally, struggling to keep their business afloat and find meaning in the job they inherited from their grandmother, there might be even more at stake.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Like Sisters

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Another Yuri Game Jam VN that feels much more like a teaser or an exercise in using game creation software than a standalone title of any sort, Like Sisters provides an interesting setup (a young writer coming to the US to visit an old friend of hers after hearing that she struggles with depression) and a promising pair of lead characters, and… Does literally nothing with them. While this could have been a start of a fun story and the writing is arguably quite decent, the 15-minute experience is just as empty as its CG gallery – but I’d definitely not mind seeing a “proper” release from this author in the future. 

Final Rating: Not recommended

Scrambled: Syd City

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Team Rumblebee, responsible for stylistically-unique and enjoyable YGJ VN Loan Wolf, this time decided to give its own spin to the theme of superheroes. Just like their first game, it features a struggling protagonist (C-List superhero with invisibility powers, who chose an unfortunate nickname “Scrambled”) and two romanceable heroines (an ex-hero turned small-time villain, and a veteran hero on a path of revenge against the former). Unusual character designs, solid writing and high attention to detail (with fun gimmicks heavily-stylized nametags for all the “super” personas), all make for a very satisfying experience. Also having probably most content from all this year’s entries (2-3 hours of reading), Scrambled could be easily justified as a commercial product, and as a free game, it's pretty much a must-read for anyone who enjoys yuri and EVNs with actual personality, that don’t just stop at copying Japanese aesthetic and storytelling tropes.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

 

Honourable Mentions

While visual novels were the main focus of my coverage, it wouldn’t feel right to ignore some of the titles in other categories, similarly focused on telling interesting stories and created by experienced authors, who should be familiar to many EVN fans out there. Because of this, I've decided to give the spotlight to a pair of RPG Maker games that weren't tagged as visual novels, but should still be interesting to anyone interested in yuri VNs, or quality GxG content in general.

Dreaming Treat

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Dreaming Treat by NomnomNami is the fifth in her series of RPG-maker games about a lonely wolf trying to find a place for herself in a world that holds little more than contempt for her kind. It once more does a very good job of combining the themes of discrimination, love beyond prejudice with Nami’s lovely artstyle and writing, making for a satisfying experience (and evolving into what most likely is the only truly heart-warming polyamorous story I’ve seen to date). Also, don’t get fooled by the JRPG formula – this game is focused purely on storytelling, with map movement and interactions serving no other purpose than presenting the plot and immersing you in its world. And it’s a kind of story that most VN fans should find enjoyable.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

lilac & her light

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Npckc is an author known for creating small, rather cute games in VN and RPG-maker formats, that tackle minority issues in relatable, subtle ways. Lilac, while very similar to those earlier project, might actually be the weakest of them all, simply missing on opportunities to tell a slightly deeper story – the premise, with a girl that literally lost her colour and is turning everything she touches grey is excellent and her first confrontation with a witch, who makes a surprise visit to her house and ends her isolation is very promising. After this, however, not very much happens and while the resolution is not unsatisfying, it never tells us anything about the source of the protagonist’s depression or the future that might await her. While I always liked the minimalistic style of npckc’s stories, here there’s simply too little of everything and while the experience of playing lilac & her light is still a positive one, it’s nowhere near as memorable as this author's earlier work. For the more dedicated YGJ fans.

Final Rating: Recommended

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And this concludes by YGJ coverage for this year! To be honest, at the beginning this edition of the event looked pretty bleak when it goes to VNs – most of the really interesting entries arrived late, often literally making major updates past deadline. The end effect, however, was a highly amusing set of free games, including some really memorable titles, that didn't stand out negatively in comparison to previous iterations of the Jam. While it might be a while before we see something as brilliant as The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns or Once on a Windswept Night again, some of the games on this list came pretty close – and from my perspective, that's already pretty damn awesome.

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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Visual novels with the possibility to choose the protagonist’s gender are fairly rare, and genre's focus on storytelling and romance makes such a gimmick especially hard to pull off properly. Creating games like Loren: The Amazon Princess, with an option to choose between two full-fledged leads, one male and one female, each with their own personality and a set of romance options, takes a lot of work and only fits certain kinds of stories. On the other hand, VNs in which gender choice only changes minor details in the dialogue and the overall storyline struggle to make the narrative convincing – especially in the female version, which more often than not comes as an afterthought, created by slightly modifying the default, male scenario.

            Razzart Visual, the author behind highly-regarded yuri VNs Love Ribbon and Starlight Vega, is also the person responsible for two much less critically-acclaimed ecchi games, both of which featured female love interests and the ability to choose protagonist’s gender, making them in a way both classical romance VNs and yuriges. On May 4th 2018, Razzart's third game in this formula, Wolf Tails, was released on Steam, featuring romance scenario with a rarely-seen kemonomimi variant, that is wolfgirls, and a new artstyle. How does it compare to Razz’s previous projects and does it succeed in working both as a traditional eroge, and as a yuri game?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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

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
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

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?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak
Close to a year ago, I’ve published a top-list of my 5 favourites Juri Game Jam visual novels – a post that, in hindsight, was rather poorly thought-out and based on my, at the time, not-that-great knowledge on the event in question and the games that came out of it. While my appreciation for the game listed there didn’t change (just as my love for indie yuri games in general), I realized that both the “Top X” formula and the small selection of VNs presented there could not give justice to the quite impressive roster of titles produced for the YGJ over the years. While the Yuri Game Jam 2018 has recently ended and I’m (slowly) preparing my own summary of this year's edition of the event, it’s also a good moment to look back at the most popular and interesting titles that came out of previous ones – from highly-appreciated classics such as ebi-hime’s entries, all the way to various significantly less fortunate projects, which nonetheless played their parts in the history of yuri EVNs. Let's get started! 
 
The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns

The Victorian drama by ebi-hime is the best know and probably most-appreciated Yuri Game Jam entry – and not without good reasons. While short and, as a kinetic novel, following a purely linear formula, this tragic story offers excellent writing, emotionally impactful storytelling (with a "story within a story" structure) and a great aesthetic, all way above the levels you would normally see in an event like this. It also doesn't rely on shock value or leave the reader with a depressing conclusion – with all the titular sadness still in place, it's a relatively hopeful, touching story of love cut short by fate and a great reading experience – one which might have yuri romance as its main theme, but offers much more than just that.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Note: I was provided with a free review copy of this game by the developer. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.
The multi-route mystery VN is not a format easy to pull off properly and for that reason not many EVN developers even attempt to tackle it. It requires creating a number of paths and characters, all interesting on their own and complementary to each other, while also keeping the overall quality high enough to motivate the reader to go through all of it in order to piece together the overarching story. This is both a challenge from the writing perspective and requires a fairly substantial amount of content to communicate the mystery effectively – usually, more than an average Western visual novel can provide with the humble resources at its creators' disposal. 
            Still, all this makes exploring the few examples of such games done right by Western devs that more interesting. SoulSet, developed by NoBreadStudio and released on Steam in late 2016 is a particularly “orthodox” implementation of the formula, with every route and ending (including bad ones) adding to your understanding of the story and culminating in an unlockable “true route”, which resolves the crucial mysteries and tie all the previous paths together. It’s also, as I will try to argue, a damn fine game that positively stands out in the EVN market, in a few ways.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak
While not nearly as famous as Winged Cloud’s Sakura games, Silver Cow Studio’s Time Tenshi is one of the longest-running EVN series, following a single storyline and consistent cast of characters since late 2015. So far, its developers published three, fairly substantial entries in the franchise: Time Tenshi, Time Tenshi 2 (released in mid-2016 and later expanded significantly in the Special Edition version) and Time Tenshi Paradox – an episodic game, with two parts already available and most likely more coming in the near future. All of them, unusually at this day and age, follow a relatively tame, ecchi formula with no actual hentai scenes – a choice Silver Cow seems to be quite dedicated to, despite the general trend of inserting 18+ patches into everything that can even remotely justify the full-on adult content. But, enough of history lessons – how’s the story of busty time travellers and sexy side effects of temporal dislocation holding up in the current, competitive market of anime boob slideshows? Surprisingly well, I’d say! Or at least, to a certain point...
 
Time Tenshi

Time Tenshi starts with a bang and soon after, follows it up with a few extra ones. The first scene features our male lead, Kenji (the usual faceless, high-schooler protagonist-kun), witnessing his house burning down along with his parents. After being hospitalized for a few months because of the shock, he’s picked up by his only close relative – maternal grandfather, an elusive scientist who was barely present in his family’s life. He invites Kenji to live in his laboratory complex, where he hides… A time machine, obviously! And while this might be quite predictable, there’s another important twist, which will be a leading theme in the Time Tenshi games from this moment forward: time travel has a fairly peculiar side effect when used by women, making their hormones go out of control, their boobs and butts grow enormously (until they return to their time) and turning them… Eager, for a brief time after they come back from the past (that’s the one direction in which the time machine works). And the professor’s assistants happen to be three gorgeous women in overly-revealing uniforms! Who would’ve thought!
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogpost.com
Plk_Lesiak
For the last month, we were going through the impressive catalogue of free VNs by ebi-hime, one of the most celebrated creators within the Western VN scene. As a conclusion to this series, it’s my great pleasure to bring you a short interview with none other than ebi herself. During our conversation, I’ve focused on the dominating themes in ebi’s works and topics directly connected to the freeware titles I was reviewing lately – if you want a more general overview of her inspirations and questions connected to her other work, consider reading the interviews done in the past by The Yuri Nation and Sekai Project. Also, if you’re not familiar with ebi’s free VNs, check out my previous posts about them (Part 1; Part 2) – they should give you the context necessary to understand what we’re talking about in the more context-specific questions. So, here it comes – hope you’ll all enjoy it!
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Plk_Lesiak: Thank you for accepting my invitation! I don't think there are many Western VN fans who wouldn't be familiar with your work, but can you share something about the person behind the ebi-hime label?
ebi-hime: I’m ebi and I like cute things, maids, and magical girl anime... And that’s about it! Honestly, I’m not very interesting.
PL: As you talked about your inspirations and interests in other interviews, I would like to focus on the dominant themes in your games. You're one of the few EVN authors that frequently set their stories in the West. Do you have a favourite setting to write about?
ebi: I think England is probably my favourite setting to write about, because it’s the country I live in and I’m reasonably familiar with it (though I don’t know everything about England, of course). It’s easier to place my characters in a setting I know relatively well, as I don’t have to do as much research, and the end result feels more ‘authentic’.
I also like setting stories in Japan because I got into VNs through reading a lot of Japanese VNs which were (what a surprise!) set in Japan. I also watch a lot of anime, and I went through a period where I exclusively read Japanese crime fiction, so I’m fond of Japanese settings! If I don’t feel like setting my stories in England or Japan, I’ll usually pick a European country I’m somewhat familiar with, like France or Italy.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Incest is not a rare theme in visual novels – many titles, even very serious ones, have romance routes involving protagonist’s sibling in various different configurations, while nukige are full of taboo sex in every conceivable form, including that between family members. Still, this topic is very rarely done in a deep, compelling way, usually leading to a cliché conclusion like “we’re not blood-related after all, we can be together” or simply ignoring the deep social stigma connected to it and delivering an unconvincing happy ending. Even pieces of Japanese media that tried to get away from these tropes, like Oreimo, authors of which wanted to lead brother/sister romance to its logical conclusion, were cut short by the producers wary of negative reactions such story development could gather.
            Love Ribbon, a yuri visual novel developed by Razzart Visual and published on Steam in January 2017 is a rare exception to the trend I’ve described above – it not only offers a rather unusual sister/sister romance scenario, but also gives its full focus to the theme of an incestuous love affair and explores it in interesting and rather realistic ways. It’s also an example of OELVN that offers very explicit erotic content, but implements it as an optional feature that fits rather well with the story content, but isn’t in any way essential for experiencing it and doesn't affect the "SFW" version of the game in negative ways.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak
While this situation is changing significantly nowadays, as the Western visual novel market is professionalizing both when it goes to development and publishing, in the past EVN scene was primarily a world of extremely short, freeware titles, created by countless enthusiasts as minor passion projects or game jam entries. While these games, often very simple and minimalistic, rarely deliver sufficient material for full reviews, many of them are still worthwhile and artistically pleasing titles that I would like to cover more consistently. For this reason, I’ve conceived this new format – mini-reviews, that will provide the basic outlook of the VNs in question and rate them on a simple, three-point scale:
- Highly Recommended: for short VNs that provide an exceptional, memorable experience despite their limitations
- Recommended: for titles that are enjoyable, but significantly flawed or advisable mostly for people enjoying their specific subgenre/dominant themes they use
- Not Recommended: for titles that in my opinion simply fell flat or were misguided to the point they’re most likely not worth your time – a rating I expect very rarely to use, considering the games and authors I’m going to cover
In the next few months, I hope to deliver a few posts in this formula, while I’ll also be redacting the old Yuri Game Jam/Free Yuri EVN lists according to it. As a starting point, however, I’ll take a look at a developer with maybe the most impressive catalogue of short, free VNs, some of which I’ve already covered in the YGJ series. While The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns and Once on a Windswept Night might be ebi-hime’s best-known freeware titles, since late 2014 she released 8 other free games of varied scale and quality (I am skipping the earliest ones, not listed on her Itch.io page – those were mostly humorous experiments with the VN formula rather than legitimate stories).
Recently, ebi announced abandoning freeware projects for good, as they were draining too much of her time and resources – and while it might be a sad thing to hear, it’s both understandable from the viewpoint of any commercial developer and a good opportunity to look back at her extremely generous contributions to the EVN scene. Today, I’ll cover the first four games from the eight mentioned before, in the chronological order, starting with Dejection: An Ode, released on November 2014 and ending with Round the Mulberry Bush from the mid-2016. In two weeks I will complete this list, starting with Where the Sun Always Shines and ending with the 2018 April Fool’s VN Learning in Love!. I hope you’ll be willing to accompany me on this little journey and enjoy reading my reviews!
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Dejection: An Ode

Taking its title from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, this VN is a direct predecessor to Asphyxia, taking the same themes of gender-bent romantic era English poets, depression, substance abuse and unrequited love. Samantha, female version of Coleridge is placed here as the protagonist, with an unhealthy obsession about her best friend and fellow poet Lillian (William Wordsworth) and constantly struggling with what we can assume is a bipolar disorder – episodes of extreme agitation and inspiration, followed by extreme depression and inability to work. Her struggle is shown through simple visuals, with just sprites and a few backgrounds, but the dynamic and stylized prose makes it a very enjoyable and convincing read. The abrupt, inconclusive ending felt slightly disappointing, but the story makes it clear that any proper resolution of the plot would be even sadder and harder to accept. While it’s definitely a simple and minimalistic game, visibly from the very early period of ebi’s activity as a developer, it’s still very much a worthwhile read, especially for the fans of her characteristic style of writing and storytelling.
Final rating: Highly Recommended
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Wait… A nukige review? On this anti-porn blog? Well, I should probably start with saying a few things about my view on porn in VNs, to avoid potential misunderstanding – this will be a bit of an essay, so be sure you don’t mind a (small) wall of text not completely related to the game itself. My actual stance on pornography in games is very… Ambivalent. I deal with porn extensively in my university studies, wrote a whole thesis on fan-made erotica and I’m on principle anti-censorship. I’m also very disillusioned with porn and personally don’t really enjoy hentai animation – and while I try being open-minded, I have yet to encounter a piece of Japanese 18+ media that would seriously undermine this stance.
            What do I mean exactly by “disillusioned”? Porn, including that in the cartoon form, is oriented purely towards the sexual pleasure of viewer – the uncomfortable, voyeuristic sexual positions, extreme close-ups, unrealistic variety and length of the scenes have little to do both with how actual people have sex and with any kind of meaningful storytelling. The theme of sex and even explicit sex scenes, when used well, can add to realism and depth of a story, but porn as a formula is essentially hollow, apart from its purely “pragmatic” functions. Expecting it to be anything more, in my opinion, is delusional, both because it goes against its most basic principles and because people that actually want more from it are in minority and porn creators most often don’t see them as a viable target group. Hentai adds to this already problematic mixture a significant amount of cultural and genre tropes I personally can’t stand – including fetishizing virginity, the abundance of loli characters etc.
            Why do I even bother approaching a porn VN then? Well, Cute Demon Crashers, a free game created for the 2015 NaNoRen0 contest, is not a typical eroge – more than that, it’s more or less an anti-nukige, promising a focus on consent and intimacy that’s lacking in many Japanese erotic games (and, obviously, many Western ones as well). It also reverses the typical setup, with a female protagonist and predominantly male romance options. But, does it really succeed in delivering something significantly different?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Zetsubou, a developer and writer involved in many popular EVN titles is someone whose work many fans of the genre might be very familiar with, but not necessarily even knowing about it. While have made a few relatively successful projects of his own, such as Sickness or Tomboys Need Love Too!, many of his commissioned works, such as Razzart’s Love Ribbon gained even more recognition. For this reason, among others, there was relatively little fanfare around the release of his latest project, Sable’s Grimoire, in May this year. However, there are many reasons to consider this project as a particularly notable one – the 350k-words-long, modern-fantasy tale about a young mage entering an academy filled with demi-humans is rather far-detached from the usual EVN formula, both by its scale and its dominant themes. 
             Of course, scale by itself does not have to be a positive, just as unusual story elements don't automatically make a VN interesting to read. Does Zetsubou's largest project to date have other merits beyond its impressive word-count and interesting premise, and does its overall quality justify the 25+ hours time investment that is required to fully read through it? In my opinion, answer to all these questions is: yes.
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Plk_Lesiak

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free review copy of this game by the developer. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.
OELVN scene is, for many years now, heavily reliant on crowdfunding, with many small and high-profile projects made possible through Kickstarter and, more and more often, regular contributions of fans on Patreon. While these methods of financing VN development created opportunities that wouldn’t be available to the developers in the past and brought us many memorable titles, they go with their share if risk and problems – weak safeguards guaranteeing the final product delivering on its promises or even being completed at all, being the most crucial one. Crowdfunded projects disappointing their audience, getting stuck in development hell or simply never coming to fruition are at least just as much a reality as they are in the “normal” game development scene. However, in these cases, the consequences are falling mostly on the average backer, who took the double role of the consumer and the investor, hoping for nothing more than a compelling piece of entertainment in return.
           For this reasons, I very much enjoy seeing crowdfunded projects overcoming extreme difficulties and delivering even when everyone pretty much forgot about them or stopped hoping for a positive resolution. Lately, we’ve seen the release and warm reception of AIdol – a game that spent more than half a decade in development, went through both a failed Kickstarter campaign and changes in staff, eventually being claimed by Ebi-Hime, originally only the writer for the project, and released under her name. Today, I’ll look at another long-forgotten project, Pistachi Studio’s Ruler by Default, successfully crowdfunded in 2014 and released on Steam on May 4th this year, exactly 3 years after the initial goal.
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Plk_Lesiak

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free review copy of this game by the developer. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.
The themes of World War 2 and Nazi Germany aren’t completely foreign to VNs and manga/anime – some beloved and high-profile titles, such as Dies Irae or Hellsing take a very direct inspiration from Nazi imagery and legends about NSDAP elites’ dealings with the occult. More down-to-Earth war stories are however much rarer in this context – prominent franchises such as Valkyrie Chronicles or Saga of Tanya the Evil not only utilize much less controversial political and military framework of WW1, but also add significant fantasy elements to the mix. Even if their stories touch upon the topics such as the fate of the common soldier and atrocities committed by the warring states, the actual historical parallels in them are pretty thin.
          To apparently remedy this sorry state of affairs, in April 2018 a small OELVN titled Panzer Hearts was released on Steam. Developed by a tiny Finnish studio HELYEES, this game promises a dark story of war, political oppression and romance in an alternate-universe WW2. To this it also adds the theme of tank-building, that should probably excite every military geek such as myself. However, as fantastic as this sounds, can such an unassuming indie game actually deliver on all these fronts?
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Plk_Lesiak

Warning: This is review is based on the Steam version of the game, without the 18+ content unlocked. The free uncensored patch unlocks two dozens of CG, including straight-up hentai scenes and adds more nudity to the "clothing damage" system. The "clean" version, however, is still very heavy on sexual themes and can be considered "complete" when it goes to the story.
Among the dedicated fans of visual novels the infamous Sakura games by Winged Cloud are one of the most despised and ridiculed elements of the Western VN market. But, as much as we might not like it, it is also a very popular and in many ways seriously influential series, one that played an important role in popularization of visual novels in the West (and, most likely, did a lot to cement the very poor perception of the genre in the PC gaming community). After the surprising success of Sakura Spirit in mid-2014, with its viral spread all over the Internet and nearly 500k copies sold on Steam, Sakura franchise spawned a huge number of titles – mostly very lazy, relatively short VNs filled with tons of fanservice, uninspired writing and poorly-executed popcultural references. At the same time, the company behind it became unquestionably successful, with decent sale numbers throughout the years and a thriving base of Patreon supporters. 
            The ecchi formula established by Winged Cloud, throwing nudity and mild sexual themes at the player at every possibility while never going into actual pornography, proved once again that in the VN world “sex sells”, even without actual sex or any other merits that the game could offer outside of pleasant visuals. A bit later, the company expanded into the world of actual eroge, adding hentai scenes to their brand of trashy, shallow VNs with paper-thin plots and stylisation. There were, however, two times when Sakura series tried to offer a little bit more than that. The first one was Sakura Fantasy, a yuri VN in which obvious effort at crafting a better story and giving slightly more meaning to the sexual content was appreciated by the players – however, what was meant to be an episodic game, forever stopped at the first chapter. Maybe the production costs associated with actually giving a f*** proved too high? At this point, no one truly knows. The second attempt at innovation on Winged Cloud’s part produced probably the most interesting (and definitely highest-rated) game in the series – the yuri-themed VN/dungeon crawler hybrid called Sakura Dungeon, that I will be taking a closer look on today.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Note: This game was already reviewed on Fuwa by Valmore, I encourage you to check out his review as well
Those that follow this blog for a while might have noticed that I like to complain about the lack of identity that many Western-made VNs suffer from. As a medium utilized pretty much exclusively by the fans of original Japanese visual novels, EVNs far too often borrow extensively from those when it goes to setting and story elements, to the point of replicating various tiring anime clichés and kitsch tropes. They also frequently copy elements that really have no interest being in a game created by someone living in the USA or Europe, more often than not having only very superficial knowledge of Japanese culture and reality of life in Japan. 
            A Little Lily Princess, developed by Hanako Games and published on Steam in May 2016 (under the "Hanabira" label, signifying an outside scriptwriter), is a game that I like bringing up as an example of a Western VN that was able to differentiate itself from the crowd and create unique experience exactly because of the ability to not be completely defined its “weeb” roots, creating a setting and a story far detached from typical anime tropes. Paradoxically, the classic English novel A Little Princess, that this game adapted into the VN/dating sim format, is not a title unknown to anime fans, thanks to the highly-rated series from the 1980’s, Little Princess Sara (it even inspired a few less known projects, such as the slightly outlandish Strain: Strategic Armored Infantry). Hanako’s version tries to differentiate itself from those other adaptations mostly by giving a yuri spin to the story – still, as I will try to show in this review, calling it a yuri romance is rather misleading and says little about the true appeal of this game.
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Plk_Lesiak

Ebi-hime is one of the very few OELVN developers who managed to establish themselves as reliable and respected creators even among the JP-centric visual novel fans. Having released over 20 titles since 2013, both freeware and commercial, she is probably best-known for her yuri titles, such as Asphyxia and The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns, and memorable horror stories, such as Sweetest Monster and The Way We All Go. Most of her work stands out through uncommon, Western settings, a deep connection to English culture and literature, and artwork that diverge in various ways from generic, anime-style illustrations you can find in most EVNs. Blackberry Honey, ebi-hime’s latest commercial VN, is both a very typical title for her – with its yuri themes, Victorian England setting and interesting stylization – and an unusual one, as it the first project of hers to include explicit sexual content, through an optional 18+ patch. So, how did this venture into the world of eroge turned out for the OELVN scene’s star creator?

The game has its share of interesting and surprising moments, but the overall pacing is painfully slow and predictable, even for a romance
Blackberry Honey follows the story of Lorina Waugh, a young, poor maid that starts working in a rural residence of Bly, after being sent off in disgrace from her previous job, in unclear circumstances. Being mistreated by some of the older maids in the estate and Lady Constance, the young daughter of the owners, she struggles desperately to hold on to her position, so she can financially support her mother and sisters. After being hurt while performing a pointless chore for Constance, she stumbles upon the Bly’s unusual, foreign-looking parlour maid, Taohua, sparking a relationship that will completely change her life.
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Plk_Lesiak
While Time Tenshi, which I covered two weeks ago, is definitely the flagship franchise for Silver Cow Studios, the company never settled for only producing new iterations of their breast-expansion/time-travel formula, releasing two other ecchi VNs since their debut in 2015. Those games, while they didn’t abandon the giant boobs and over-the-top storytelling that could be considered Silver Cow’s staple, offered their own twists to the fanservice-filled and trashy, but hentai-free format. The first one, Burokku Girls, appeared just three months after the first Time Tenshi game and… The lack of reasonable development time definitely showed, in a few ways. The second, Battleship Bishojo came out in early 2017, after Time Tenshi 2’s Special Edition and proved that the devs had their formula figured out much better by this point in time. Still, what exactly are these games about, besides exclusively-kyonyuu heroines and are they as good serviceable as Time Tenshi proved to be?
 
Burokku Girls

Burokku Girls (the first part of the title apparently represents the Japanese pronunciation of the word „block”) is quite possibly the most bizarre VN I’ve seen since Legends of Talia: Arcadia. Although it’s not as devoid of humour as the Winged Cloud’s unfortunate “dark fantasy adventure”, it still manages to mix incredibly trashy fanservice and character designs with a rather grimdark story about a last bastion of light in the world besieged by darkness – a conflict so hopeless that the people of the last town standing are pretty much just waiting for their final battle and inevitable demise. Our generic protagonist enters this world-ending scenario through a full-immersion VN machine, constructed by his father. The virtual reality set goes haywire in an inexplicable way and transports him to a reality built with the titular Blocks – voxel-like elements, which were used in past immemorial to create an artificial paradise for people to live in, but was since invaded by the “Underworlders”, exiles trapped in the dark chasms beneath the “Overworld” and sealed away with the Blocks.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak
Dharker Studio is one of the better-known development teams on the EVN scene, active since early 2015, but also one that quickly became rather infamous due to their low-quality, fanservice-filled titles. Games such as Sword of Asumi or Divine Slice of Life gathered a lot of attention, as they were released on then still quite barren EVN market and quickly found their way to Steam, but were also quite harshly rejected by reviewers and poorly received by many VN fans. Later down the line, the company focused on purely erotic titles, with much-telling titles such as Army Gals or Battle Girls – admittedly with slightly more artistic(?) success. While most of those games followed a very standard formula, with faceless self-insert protagonists and number of females to “date”, there are also two notable yuri eroge by Dharker: Negligee, released in late 2016 and Galaxy Girls, published a year after that. Today, as the appreciator of yuri that I am, I’ll take a closer look at those two girls’ love-themed games, both of them quite curious examples of commercial success despite many, many problems they suffered from. As a "bonus", I'll include the Negligee's prequel, Love Stories, in the article – the game that earned the unexpected honour of being the first uncensored, fully explicit eroge accepted by Valve for Steam release. While this game's content is mostly straight hentai, it has one notable yuri subplot and features all the girls from Negligee, being worth a closer look from everyone that enjoyed the first title in the series. So, let's get this thing started!
 
Negligee

While writing the two dozens of shovelware reviews over the last 6 months I've noticed that ecchi EVNs seem to work better with casual, more or less realistic settings – there are few things more painful than mediocre-at-best writer trying to create a fantasy or sci-fi setting with the use of kitsch, exaggerated characters and all the most overdone cliches, just to give an excuse for persistent close-ups on anime boobs and a few hentai scenes. The game we're talking about now, thankfully, chose a rather simple and straightforward premise and made a pretty decent use of it. As the player, you control the actions of an assistant manager in a lingerie shop (titular Negligee), that is suddenly forced to take over for her boss (who runs away in mysterious circumstances) and find some new employees. Soon, three candidates show up and as they all seem reasonably fit for the job, we have to take our female protagonist (who is, by the way, a quite gorgeously-designed, busty redhead) through a week-long trial with the girls and decide which one of them she should hire. And, as I probably don’t have to explain, the store’s sexy merchandise will find many, many uses throughout the whole experience. And also quite often it will be falling on the floor...
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak
Today, we’ll be continuing our agon… I mean, out adventure through the world of free VNs by ebi-hime. While the earliest games we’ve covered, like Dejection and Is This the Life? were very visibly ebi’s early works, simple on the technical side of things and featuring minimalistic artwork, today we’re jumping straight into very recent projects, all released not earlier than 2017. Mostly staying true to the general climate of heavy, existential topics and endings that are never the typical happy, wish-fulfilment scenarios, these games are once more not far detached from ebi’s commercial projects and while smaller, could easily have a modest price tag attached to them, with few people being able to claim they didn’t get their money’s worth (especially in the cases of Lynne and Six Days of Snow). But what are they exactly about?
 
Where the Sun Always Shines

Where the Sun Always Shines is another bittersweet story, although in a wholly different climate than Lucky Me, Lucky You. Featuring a 32-years old writer, suffering from a deep depression after losing his wife, and a teenage girl from his neighbourhood with whom he forms an unlikely friendship with, the game explores themes of grief, inspiration and moving on after losing one’s feeling of purpose, but is also maybe the only title on this list that provides a truly positive, hopeful conclusion. Before it gets to that point however, it presents to the reader rather convincing descriptions of writer’s block, anxiety and self-pity of the leading character, along with interesting interaction with Sunny, the aforementioned teenager, who first visits him out of pity, but then forms a bond of sorts over their mutual interest in musical – all that accompanied by very decent artwork. In a way though, it’s maybe the least impactful of the ebi’s stories, being overall solid and enjoyable to read, but lacking any interesting twists or highly emotional moments from the previous games. Definitely a worthwhile VN, but not necessarily a must-read.
Final Rating: Recommended
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Plk_Lesiak

The western otome scene offers a decent amount of hidden gems – small, often obscure titles, that nonetheless offer impressive artistic qualities and/or interesting, unique ideas. It also never stops being surprising to me how many of those games are published for free, sometimes even without any Patreon support or other direct forms of monetization on the part of their creators. 
            Magical Otoge Ciel and Magical Otoge Anholly, developed by Batensan and published for free on Itch.io in 2015 and 2016, are among many high-quality, free otome VNs produced by the booming indie scene in recent years. Still, their author was able to establish a fairly interesting, distinct style both when it goes to art and the storytelling, very consistent between instalments and likely to be continued this year with the upcoming Magical Otoge Iris (with major hints at other, future projects). As both games are fairly short and simple, I've decided to review them together – the very similar writing, art assets and even shared elements such as UI structure and parts of the soundtrack make it justifiable to treat them basically as episodes of a single game. But what are they really about?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
 
Plk_Lesiak
Two weeks ago I've brought you an interview with Reine Works' Jackie M., where we talked about realities of OELVN publishing and the specificity of women-oriented western VNs. Today, I have an immense pleasure of bringing the spotlight onto one of my favourite western VN creators. Nami is an indie game developer and author of highly appreciated yuri titles, such as Her Tears Were My Light and Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet. If you observe VN contests such as Yuri Game Jam or NaNoRenO, or you read my post about the best YGJ VNs, you should probably be at least somewhat familiar with her work – and if you’re not, I hope reading this short interview will convince you to change that ASAP. 😉 Enjoy!
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Plk_Lesiak: Hello and thank you for agreeing to this interview! Many people interested in the OELVN scene might know your Itch.io handle NomnomNami or at least recognize the style you use in your projects, but probably not much more. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Nami: When I’m not making my own games I’m usually screaming about Disgaea, but most of my time lately goes into working for Lab Zero on their big crowdfunded RPG, Indivisible. Right now my life is work, work, work, so I’m afraid I don't have much interesting stuff to say about it.
PL: Usually, developers that try their strength in the visual novel format have a strong connection to otaku culture and borrow various ideas and elements of style from Japanese media. How is it in your case?
N: I've been a huge fan of Japanese anime/manga/games since I was like 10, and I’ve loved a lot of games that use a visual novel style format so it seemed really natural to me. I think my subconscious goal is to write things that feel like a Disgaea cutscene - I just really love Disgaea!
PL: Disgaea is, above all, a strategy game series. Are there any visual novels that you think influenced your work? Do you read any Japanese or Western VNs nowadays?
N: While these aren't pure VNs, I really enjoyed the original Ace Attorney trilogy, Hotel Dusk, and 999. Nowadays I don't play games that often, but I browse Itch.io a lot and try to check out what other people make for NaNoRenO and Yuri Jam!
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
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