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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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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

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
 

Her Tears Were My Light

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Nami's allegoric love story about Space and Time, threatened by the never-ending spiral into nothingness, is a simple, short game, that nonetheless managed to gather an impressive amount of praise from the readers (apparent, among other things, through its unusually high VNDB rating: 7.48 average, 6.92 Bayesian). With beautiful (although distinctly cute) visuals and high-quality writing, this NaNoRen0 2016 entry is a really touching and surprisingly unpretentious read, appropriate not just for yuri fans, but rather everyone not afraid to shed a few tears.

Final Score: Highly Recommended
 

Seduce Me the Otome

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The notorious otomege by Michaela Laws might focus mostly on the male love interests, but also offers three enjoyable yuri routes – two short, “side” ones, featuring protagonist’s high school friends Naomi and Suzu, and one revolving around Diana – a succubus and one of the central characters of the whole Seduce Me series. While cheesy writing and voice-acting, along with inconsistent art sometimes makes it hard to take this game seriously, it truly works the best when you don’t – the amateurish feel gives it some peculiar charm with can make it highly enjoyable if you’re looking for a few laughs, along with the genuinely cute, romantic moments it provides. And Diana's route, at least, is definitely among the most interesting elements of the whole experience.

Final Score: Recommended
 

Mira’s Magical Mishap

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Mira’s Magical Mishap by SilverHyena is another one of those extremely cute and relaxing yuri visual novels which work best when you don’t want to worry about receiving a really bad ending or the drama going out of control. Following Mira, a magic school dropout trying to prove herself as an owner of a potions store, and creates a faulty mixture that takes away the magic of her old rival, Odette. Having to work together to fix the problem, they realize that their old conflicts were misunderstandings more than anything more. Depending on your path, they might forgive each other and become friends, or even more than that – and as standard as this scenario is, pleasant art and good writing make it just fun enough to read to be ultimately worth your time.

Final Score: Recommended

 

Romance Detective 1 & 2

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Quintessential work by NomnomNami, the Romance Detective duology does a great job of showcasing both her characteristic artstyle and the casual, mostly-comedic storytelling typical for her VNs. While the second game was never truly finished, missing some art assets, the whole series is complete story-wise and offers a lot of fun for those looking for a light, cheerful read – although the sequel has its share of more sober, touching moments and should be compelling also for those looking for some actual romance and drama.

Final Score: Highly Recommended
 

Taarradhin

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Taarradhin is a fairly well-known NaNoRenO 2014 entry, that only partially relies on yuri themes, but manages to stand out thanks to an appealing aesthetic, Orient-inspired stylization and a simple, but well-executed plot. It follows the story of Netqia, a young and naive daughter of a powerful noble in a country struck by a catastrophic drought, who's unexpectedly presented with a gift of two beautiful slaves. While, just like other games on this list, Taarradhin is fairly short, it manages to create an interesting setting with many elements unusual for visual novels, a pretty well-fleshed-out cast of characters and an interesting intrigue, that lets you connect to the main cast through multiple playthroughs and rewards you with a compelling "true" conclusion at the end of the road.

Final Score: Recommended
 

Sugar’s Delight

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Before Winged Cloud became the company we all know and love (?), they’ve created a cute, SonoHana-style nukige titled Sugar’s Delight, under the Neko☆Soft label. And surprisingly enough, it’s quite a competent one, if you exclude the headache-inducing, stock background music. The already mentioned Kiss for the Petals inspirations are rather clear even in the character designs and the emotional dynamic between the heroines, and while the writing is definitely not on par with the Japanese productions, it’s serviceable most of the time. The erotic scenes are also surprisingly well-done, making this game quite adequate for what it tries to be – and that, considering what came later from its creators, is already a positive surprise.

Final Score: Recommended

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I’ve said it so many times that it is probably getting boring by now, but the unique place that yuri and f/f romantic themes play in the EVN scene is one of the reasons I appreciate it so much. For the fans of girls’ love, Western VN devs, both hobbyists and professional ones, provide a constant stream of meaningful content (admittedly, with lesbian porn being just as prevalent and seemingly way more popular than it is on the Japanese eroge market). While I expect free games to become less prevalent in the future, as the most talented devs transition to commercial titles and the market for those grows steadily, yuri fans will always have something to look forward to in the EVN niche – and hopefully, I’ll be able to fill many more lists like this with enjoyable f/f stories. 

          And for now, I hope you've enjoyed this little post and I wish you all a lot of love in your lives, both in 2D and 3D formats! ;)

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

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

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

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
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free review copy of this game by the developer. All opinions expressed here are solely my own.
Be sure to check my interview with Jackie M., founder of Reine Works, the studio behind The Tail Makes the Fox
What better way to link my otome-themed weeks and the upcoming yuri event, than with a game that has an equal share of male and female romance options, especially if its one made by a studio most known for their Yuri Game Jam contributions? The Seven Districts of Sin: The Tail Makes the Fox – episode 1, developed by Reine Works and published in October 2017, came to my attention in an unusual way – a review copy of it was, to my genuine surprise, sent to my freshly-created Steam Curator page. Adding to my confusion, while the game’s release date suggested it was out for a few months already, it had no VNDB ratings or Steam reviews whatsoever.
            While contacting the game’s developer clarified a few things (like the large gap between the initial Itch.io release and the game actually hitting Steam in early February 2018), a few weeks later its generally overlooked status seemed to change only a little. So, is this comedy otome not worth people’s attention? Or rather a testimony to the growing problems of the Western VN market? Even though the first episode of The Tail Makes the Fox is far from being perfect, I will strongly argue for that second interpretation.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

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

Mystery/romance might not be a rare formula for VNs in general but seems especially popular among Western developers – this probably shouldn't be surprising, as it's very compatible with shorter, linear stories that indie devs usually aim for. Just like One Thousand Lies, which I've reviewed last month, Sepia Tears is a free visual novel available on Steam and mobile devices, which offers a fairly deep, complicated intrigue, relying on its mystery elements to keep the player emotionally and intellectually involved. It's also one of the better known free VNs produced in the West, at least partially thanks to its release date – in early 2013, when it first came out, quality visual novels made outside of Japan were still few and far between, while the official market for localized JP titles was pretty much only starting to develop. The game found its way to a content-starved Western VN community and was pretty highly appreciated. Does it stand the test of time though?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

Outside of new releases, I usually try to avoid reviewing bad OELVNs in-detail, unless they’re especially interesting or notable despite their failures – after all, in any semi-amateur game development scene, the poorly-made, misguided or horribly iterative titles will be far more numerous than those actually worthy of your attention. Writing that much about the former, especially when my goal is to promote OELVNs as a niche worth exploring, is arguably a waste of time and possibly even counter-productive. However, just like Carpe Diem: Reboot, today’s game is a great opportunity to look at some problems and tropes very characteristic of the Western VN scene, in a game that actually had the production values and traces of genuine effort that should at least make it an average, reasonably enjoyable product. And the sin that made it ultimately fail was not silly writing that plagued Carpe Diem, but something arguably even worse – boredom.
            Sweet Volley High, developed by New West Games and released on Steam in October 2016, was marketed as a “yuri/otome Visual Novel”, featuring a female protagonist and both female and male romance options. While some might already feel unease about such use of the terms "yuri" and "otome", both of which usually denotes a bit more than just romantic configurations available, it hints at a much deeper problems – game’s utter lack of personality and very poor use of the themes it tries to tackle. While trying to appeal to a broad audience, in reality, it wasn’t able to replicate the appeal of neither yuri nor otome games, just as it didn’t manage to create a satisfying alternative to those formulas. But, why exactly is that the case?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
Plk_Lesiak

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

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

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.
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
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?
Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
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
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