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About this blog

Twitter (for news and announcements)

Steam Curator Page

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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

The Yuri Game Jam is a yearly event celebrating my favourite romantic setup in visual novels in all configurations imaginable. Each edition attracts both newcomer and experienced developers, flocking to share their work of various sizes and various states of completion, and while it's not a purely VN-oriented event, in practice it was always dominated by those. From the early days of my interest in VNs as a medium, it held a very special place in my heart, spawning both celebrated classics, such as The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns, and dozens of overlooked, but lovely games I’ve mentioned in my past coverage and retrospectives.

                At the same time, like most Itch.io events, Yuri Game Jam is fairly crowded and full of demos and prototypes that can be interesting only to the most dedicated yuri fanatics – for this reason, I once more took upon myself to search out complete VNs submitted to the event and assess them for all of you, making it easy to find out which games are truly worth your attention. As always, I’ll be skipping the in-development titles in my coverage, mostly because the unfinished projects can very easily stay that way forever in the world of indie VNs. And if a game I’m writing about catches your attention, you can go straight to its Itch.io page by clicking its title – all Yuri Game Jam entries are free to download.

                Yuri Game Jam 2019 was the smallest YGJ edition to date, with even fewer entries than the first event in 2015 and less than two-thirds of last year’s submissions, a drop from 60 games to just 39. It’s also pretty objectively the weakest one yet, with very few titles standing out and the overall production quality of the games being particularly low. Same applies to the length of the visual novel entries, as none of them was much longer than an hour. This is a sad thing to see, but also made my work a bit easier his year, with 9 complete projects to go through, all of them pretty short and straightforward. The highlights of the event were several sci-fi dramas, with Remeniscience Overwrite interestingly touching on topics of memory and communicational barriers, and Package Chat surprising me with its fresh ideas and uncompromising narration. My pick for the best game of the event, however, have to unquestionably go to Crescendo’s Café Bouvardie, which combined lovely art direction with a unique setting and greatly-written characters, turning out to be the most feature-complete and satisfying experience this time around. I still encourage you to read through the whole list though, as depending on your preferences, there might be more games worth your attention – so, let’s get started!

 

Spring Leaves No Flowers

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Npckc is an author of cute, small VNs about being different, and the prejudice and discrimination that comes with standing out from the “normal” society. Spring Leaves No Flowers is the third game of a trilogy focused on Haru, a young transgender woman living in Japan and her two friends, Manani and Erika. The first two entries in the series, One Night, Hot Springs and The Last day of Spring, mostly explored the exclusion and misunderstanding transgender people experience in everyday situations, by the example of a visit to hot springs. The third one switches things a bit, focusing on Manami and her struggle to understand her own feelings, after she discovered that she might also be different in the way she experiences relationships and her attraction to other people...

                Those that are familiar with this author’s work, will know exactly what to expect – Spring Leaves No Flowers is minimalistic, to the point and offers a believable glimpse at experiences connected to its subject matter, which this time is being asexual and/or aromantic. It avoids pandering or being overly moralistic, but simply shows typical situations members of sexual minorities find themselves in and different ways of coping with them – both negative and positive ones. If you’re looking to learn a bit about these issues, or they’re already part of your experience and you’re seeking a relatable story in a different cultural context, you should be satisfied with what you find here.

Final Rating: Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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

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A Game About Ants

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

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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

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

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Valentine Disaster

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

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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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

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In the EVN world dominated by clichéd romance stories, titles by InvertMouse, a long-time indie developer from Australia, stand out in a few significant ways. Staying away from most common genre tropes and easily-marketable story elements, the games he creates often focus on topics such as friendship and struggles of everyday life, rather than grand tales of romance and adventure. The three short VNs in the Without Within series are particularly unusual and interesting in this regard, tackling themes of ambition, motivation and talent in life of an artist, in the rare setting of modern-day Australia and South-East Asia – all of this in a highly comedic style, but not without serious messages underlining the, most of the time, silly storyline.

                Another thing that makes these games interesting is their complicated development history. The first Without Within was a very short, freeware title, published in December 2014 as one of InvertMouse’s earliest works. The second, commercial entry followed nearly a year later, showing up on Steam in December 2015 and offering a much more substantial story, but in a very similar production quality and tone. The final game, however, didn’t release until mid-2018 – by this time its creator had a lot of more experience and technical prowess, which makes it a visibly different experience from its prequels. Still, with how short and thematically-consistent the three games are, I’ve decided to tackle them as a single package – the third part ends in a rather open-ended way, but with InvertMouse moving away from VN development, it’s pretty clear that the whole trilogy should be treated as a complete story and there’s little chance for any kind of continuation. So, what is Without Within series about exactly and what makes it worth your attention?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

For the last few months, I’ve published reviews and top lists, presenting worthwhile or interesting OELVNs that usually have little presence on Fuwa and don’t get discussed as much as they deserve. From the very beginning, however, my goal was to focus not only on the games themselves, but also the people behind them – the independent creators and small studios that make the core of the Western VN market. Today, I present you with the first “Developer Spotlight” post, where I’ll be talking to Jackie M., the founder of Reine Works, authors of multiple yuri and otome VNs and the studio behind the recently-published otome title Seven Districts of Sin: The Tail The Makes the Fox, about the game’s somewhat-turbulent release and the realities of today’s OELVN market. Be sure to check out my review of the game first, where I also touch on its unusual appearance on Steam.

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Plk Lesiak: Hello and thank you for agreeing to this interview! Let’s start with your latest VN. It’s pretty rare for me to be the first person to rate a game on VNDB, especially four months after its release. What happened to The Tail Makes the Fox that it went so much below the radar of the VN community?

Jackie M.: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there are nearly as many users on VNDB who rate otome games, as compared to anything that could be construed as aimed at men. I took a quick look at some other developers' titles out of curiosity, and it seems that female-aimed titles in general tend to have very few votes. Funnily enough, I can confirm that we do get sales referrals from VNDB. We've had a few of them.

PL: For a few months, your VN was only available on Itch.io, a platform usually associated with free games. Regardless of other plans, what was your experience of trying to sell your title there?

JM: Itch.io isn't really a storefront where a developer can make a profit unless the game in question is very low budget, nor should they particularly expect to, what with the smaller userbase. From when pre-orders opened before release till today, itch.io sales have only amounted to roughly 1/4 of the game's development cost.

That said, we do like it, because it isn't subject to a lot of the restrictions that similar shops are, and transferring earned funds out is also much quicker than anywhere else that I'm aware of. We just wouldn't recommend that anyone only ever sell their games there.

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Blossoms Bloom Brightest

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

Plk_Lesiak

In March I've brought you two interviews with notable yuri and otome OELVN developers, talking with Nami and Reine Works' founder, Jackie M. Today, however, we're venturing into the world of very, very traditional romance (with equally high levels of cuteness), as my guest is ds-sans, the author of a lovely freeware VN Sounds of Her Love (be sure to check my review of that game) and the upcoming commercial title Chemically Bonded. I encourage you to join us as we discuss the place of all-ages romance in the VN scene, the role of voice acting in OELVNs and more.

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Plk_Lesiak: Welcome and thank you for accepting my invitation! While many people in the VN community might recognize your nick, they probably don’t know much beyond that. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

ds-sans: I wouldn't really say that I'm that interesting. I'm currently an undergraduate student at university in the UK studying geography, with an interest in anime and related media in my spare time. (Although, that's died down in recent years.) If I were to describe my current background, it'd be fairly cliché, just like the stories of my VNs. I started developing VNs in 2015, while I was 16, but really showed an interest in January 2014. I didn't make it that far though and only really came back to it to prove that I could do something if I tried.

PL: Sooo... Where did the "ds-sans" label come from?

ds: In all honesty, I don't think the name really means anything. From what I remember, I think I honestly scrambled a few letters together from a car's registration plate, but this was a good 4 years ago. To clarify though, it has nothing to do with Japanese honorifics at least. I'd only started getting into anime a few months prior and still had no clue as to their usage.

The story itself isn't that special, but the name stuck and at this point, I feel that it's too late to change it.

PL: You create rather tame, cute romances in a market that seem to reward ecchi and h-content over anything else. Why this formula?

ds: Pure romance novels have always been very diverse in the EVN industry, in my opinion. From what I've personally seen, many of the tamer romance titles are either a lot more Western in style or are low-scale non-commercial in nature and target a different audience. As far as I'm aware, there are relatively few commercial B x G titles with no 18+ content which take significant influence from Japanese VNs.

Reading Clannad was really influential in my decision to focus on cute romance stories as I wanted to emphasize emotional connections between people over physical. If I were to add scenes like that into the stories, they'd need to supplement that motive as opposed to attracting more sales or getting people off. Katawa Shoujo is a good example of a VN which does h-scenes in this way. It's the formula which my inspiration is driven from, but it's not as if I'm not open to expanding into different genres for different audiences in the future.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Hello Ladies & Gentlemen!

The western visual novel market, unlike the high-budget JP scene, thrives mostly through amateur passion projects and products of small, indie development teams. While this causes most of the Western VNs to be of relatively poor quality, it also promotes creativity and good stylization over huge word-counts and high production values, which are simply unattainable with highly limited budgets and manpower. This philosophy is further supported by various events oriented towards indie developers, such as NaNoRenO and Yuri Game jam – and while most games produced there might be extremely simple and rather forgettable, there are important exceptions to this rule. And, what’s probably worth mentioning, the rare, memorable games coming from these contests are still just as free as all the other ones.

Today, I’m presenting you a list of top 5 Yuri Game Jam VNs – although short and often minimalistic, these games will provide you with enjoyable and creative f/f romance stories, without asking for anything more than a few hours of your time (you can download each game for free through the links in the titles).
 

The Sad story of Emmeline Burns

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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 and a great aesthetic, all way above the level you would normally see in a contest 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 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.
 

Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet

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While extremely sweet when it goes to artstyle and even the main theme (candy), Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet by Nami is a wonderful short story about prejudice and friendship, that delivers much more than its cutesy exterior might suggest. With well-written dialogues, charming atmosphere and cast of quirky characters it’s a great casual experience – in many ways a polar opposite of The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns, but equally worth reading. Also, with romance being implied rather than in any way explicit, it can appeal to anyone looking for a funny, warm story, rather than just fans of the genre. 
 

Once on a windswept night

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Once on a Windswept Night is most likely the most ambitious Yuri Game Jam VN, with an intricate meta-narrative and multiple mysteries for the player to uncover. With two touching romance stories, multiple 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 it’s 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-Hime's commercial projects.

 

First Kiss at Spooky Soiree

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While not as interesting and brilliantly-written as Syrup…, this tiny VN has a lot of the same charming artstyle and heart-warming mood as the previous Yuri Game Jam game by Nami. Even if it’s too short to offer a comprehensive story of any kind, it works great as an amusing distraction between “serious” readings, with some great lines and creatively-designed characters. Closer to what you would typically expect from a game jam entry, it’s still a pleasant, worthwhile experience.
 

To Libertad

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This story of a runaway slave and a warrior who saves her life and leads her to a safe haven of Libertad is a pretty standard, but well-written fantasy tale with mild f/f romance added on top of it. The author’s focus on the main characters’ journey and fight for survival, and the bond that forms between them during that struggle effected in something rather universal, that should prove appealing not only for fans of yuri VNs or love stories, but anyone looking for a solid, short adventure tale.

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Once again, I hope you’ve found this list interesting and if you want to see more recommendations for short VNs, that are too small to offer material for full reviews, but are still worth looking into, please let me know by liking this post or sharing your thoughts in the comment section below (as YouTube'y as this might sound, I'll be really thankful for feedback).

Have a great week everyone!

Plk_Lesiak

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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

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While Loren: The Amazon Princess, which I reviewed two weeks ago, if fairly well-known among western VN fans and did a lot to establish WinterWolves studio as a respected OELVN developer, the second RPG placed in the fantasy world of Aravorn, Seasons of the Wolf, flew very much below the radar of most gamers and VN fans. Published on Steam in January 2015, this game pushed the series in a slightly different direction, with a smaller cast, more casual story and far fewer romance options, to a very mixed reaction from the players.

            However, Seasons of the Wolf was also the title that made significant improvements to the core gameplay mechanics of the series and refined the whole experience in a way that created a standard for future WinterWolves RPGs to follow and build upon. How then this “less of a dating sim” (citing the developer himself) looks like three years after its initial release and is it worth attention from VN fans, especially those that are more interested in the story, rather than RPG gameplay?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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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

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Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is one of the best-known and probably most appreciated western visual novels. Developed by Love in Space and published for free by Sekai Project in July 2014, it was downloaded on Steam by around 600 thousand players and spawned a successful franchise, with its commercial sequel, Liberation Day and dating sim spin-off, Sunrider Academy, both reaching impressive sale numbers and mostly positive feedback from the community.

            What’s interesting, Mask of Arcadius is also a hybrid title, possibly more ambitious and refined with its strategy game elements than “pure” visual novel segments. Most likely, it is exactly that part of the game that gave it a much broader appeal than that of typical VNs and made its spectacular success on Steam possible. Does it, however, still have a similar entertainment value for dedicated VN readers, on a much more saturated, diverse market, as it had in 2014?

Read the full review at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

 

Plk_Lesiak

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After the impressive success of the freeware VN/strategy hybrid Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius the game’s developer, Love in Space, soon started working on a sequel, doubling down on their policy of directly imitating the Japanese visual novel formula and apparently devoting much of their newly-found resources and experience to exactly that end. When the highly-anticipated Sunrider: Liberation Day finally released, on March 2016, it came armed with Japanese voice-acting, Japanese theme song and extra amounts of fanservice, ready to conquer the Western-otaku audience with its bombastic facsimile of Japanese eroge. Thus, one of the most amusing chimaeras in the history of the OELVN scene was born, once more to a decent commercial success and mostly positive reception.

            Setting the slightly-absurd “Japanization” aside, Liberation Day is, above all, a sequel of a well-known and, for the most part, respected game, that did much to promote visual novel formula in the West. Mask of Arcadius, as I think most people would agree, remains to this day one of the best VN “space operas”, especially among those officially released outside of Japan and fills a niche mostly unexplored by EVNs. As a sci-fi fan, a good continuation of the Sunrider story was something I really wanted to see and Liberation Day promised to offer just that, in an even grander and more compelling style. Did it deliver on those promises though and does it stand the test of time as well as its predecessor?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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The Sunrider series is one of the most successful OELVN franchises – one which not only spawned two highly-appreciated VN/strategy game hybrid titles, but even made a rare attempt at expanding to the Japanese market (at least successful enough that the games’ developer, Love in Space, apparently works on making their upcoming title, JP-idol themed Shining Song Starnova, into another export product, with Japanese voice acting and other elements rarely seen in western-produced VNs). Both the freeware Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius and it’s commercial sequel, Liberation Day, got much recognition for their space-opera storytelling, solid game mechanics and good production values.

            One thing the mainline Sunrider games definitely lacked, however, was satisfying romance – while the cast followed typical harem tropes, with male protagonist and vast, female-only crew more or less visibly in love with him, the character development for most of the girls was extremely basic and, at least in the first game, player was left with no ability to pursue any of them. To remedy this sorry state of affairs, Sunrider Academy was created – an alternative universe dating sim spin-off, placing the protagonist and the main four heroines of Mask of Arcadius in a typical high-school setting (although without abandoning the sci-fi elements or the Sunrider universe itself). So does this game, published by Sekai Project on April 2015, really remedy mainline Sunrider games’ omissions?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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Mobile phones and tablets, especially Android devices, are strangely underutilized as a platform for VN publishing, with few high-profile titles being ported to them (especially when it goes to English versions) and underwhelming selection of dedicated mobile releases. Also, existing Android versions of famous visual novels, such as Narcissu, suffer from technical issues that you wouldn’t expect from what is ultimately a very simple application, based on text and still images. Occasional Ace Attorney spin-off or an original iOS title such as Fragment’s Note doesn’t change much in this general picture.

            This apparent disinterest of JP VN producers in the mobile market (not counting the literal dozens of mass-produced, free-to-play otome romances) makes the western-produced VNs dominate Google Play store, and while most of them might be tiny, amateurish-looking games, there are also a few notable titles that could deserve some attention even from an experienced reader. One of the most popular and interesting among those is Stellaren, a simplistic, but surprisingly enjoyable sci-fi VN, at first released in episodic form throughout 2015. This review will be based on a complete, paid version of the game, that became available in March 2017. 

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Hello and welcome to my seasonal Steam Curator Connect Wrap-up, where I’ll be looking at games sent to me for review through my Steam Curator profile during the last few months – particularly the shorter/simpler among them, for which I couldn’t make dedicated posts. This time, the quality of the VNs I’ve received was a positive surprise, with each title offering something interesting and most of them exceeding my expectations in some ways. The highlights of today’s list are definitely the virtual reality-themed thriller Omnimus and the uniquely-stylized, mildly-erotic queer VN Knife Sisters. However, all of the games I’ll be writing about are arguably worth your attention, so please stay with me while I explore their main perks and issues. As usual, links in each title will lead you straight to the Steam store page, so you can quickly check the games out at their source. Enjoy!

 

Summer Meetings

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The growth of Mikołaj Spychał’s lineup of perfectly-generic romance VNs quite likely isn’t stopping any time soon, and his fourth game, Summer Meetings, is another incremental improvement to the previously-established formula. Much of the fun in his VNs come not from the very standard love stories, or especially from the minimalistic visuals (nearly no CGs and simple sprites), but from the ability to mess up the romance in an impressive number of ways. Dating a few girls at once without them knowing, cheating, randomly kissing the wrong girl at the concert you went to as a group… For people that just want to see the world burn, this might be the best opportunity since School Days (although without that significant bonus of hentai and/or gore).

                At the same time, the core story is solid enough for what it tries to be and the writing feels like a step up from all the author’s previous titles: it has a nice flow to it and the English script feels pretty much devoid of translation issues I’ve noticed in his earlier games. The five heroines are decently fleshed-out and even can surprise you in some ways – like the step-sister's willingness to keep the romance non-committal and even tolerating other girl being the protagonist’s primary focus. The main thing stopping me from fully recommending it is the price: for a VN this simple visually and with 5-6 hours of content, 10 dollars feels like an overkill. If you find it for half of that price, however, it’s a surprisingly fun way of burning one or two evenings.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

Check out my interview with Georgina Bensley, the founder of Hanako Games, published recently on Fuwanovel

Welcome back to another one of my seasonal (yup, I get enough things sent my way for that to be a thing now) summary of games given to me for review through the EVN Chronicles Steam Curator page. Once more, I’ll be focusing on the shorter titles, that would most likely be hard to write a full-length review about or had to give up their spots for games I really wanted to cover in detail. This, of course, doesn’t mean there are no really interesting VNs among them. In today's list, the title standing out the most is undoubtedly Jack-In-A-Castle, a whimsical tale about a world populated by living toys and a marionette investigating the disappearance of its king. This extended version of a free NaNoRenO 2019 VN proved to be an unusual and twisted experience that caught me completely by surprise. While the other three games I’ll cover this time didn’t offer similar levels of quality, all of them proved interesting in their own ways – even if they didn’t subvert my expectation quite like they wanted to...

 

Jack-In-A-Castle

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Every once in awhile, I stumble upon small VNs so unusual and creative that they’re hard to categorize. Jack-In-A-Castle is, by its own admission, a rather cute, cartoonish boy’s love story happening in a fantastic world populated by animated toys. However, there are a few caveats to it: the BL label feels somewhat irrelevant considering the androgynous designs of the main characters (particularly the protagonist, Marion) and the relatively tame relationships they develop. Between all those cute living toys and minimalistic love stories they’re involved in, gender barely seems to hold any meaning. At the same time, the cartoonish art can be misleading in its own way – the game features some mature themes and the characters, Marion in particular, can be quite devious and even violent (although such things are mostly presented off-screen).

                The three hero routes all develop in pretty unpredictable directions, leading Marion to resolve the mystery of the missing king and the tenuous regency of his right-hand-man, Jack, in vastly different ways (or not at all). This makes for a surprisingly engaging and fun experience – varied, cleverly written and executed with a lot of attention to detail. The game’s environments change to reflect the plot progression (mainly through the constant spread of mysterious vines infecting the titular castle). What seems like throwaway choices can lead to some drastic consequences, completely subverting your expectations. Everything is presented in a distinctly stylish manner, with the simplicity of character and background designs being outweighed by their expressiveness and the quirky atmosphere they create. The overall impression I’ve got from Jack-In-A-Castle was extremely positive and I highly recommend checking it out – unless you’re hoping for traditional VN romance, it definitely won’t disappoint you.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

 

Elf Enchanter: Arousing Anima

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Belgerum is a developer of small hentai games that combine VN-style storytelling and simple, RPG-like battle mechanics. After his surprise hit from 2018 NaNoRen0 contest, Demon King Domination, he capitalised on it with an extended, commercial version that reached decent popularity on Steam. Later he also created a follow-up game, Magebuster, once more featuring a supernatural, villainous protagonist and an antagonistic heroine he has to dominate. His third title, Elf Enchanter, was meant to partially break away from this formula, being a “pure” visual novel and not focusing so much on dark themes. 

                Featuring a support mage that accidentally casts a taming spell on his dark elf companion, making her incapable of opposing his commands, it sounded quite intriguing in theory: I usually find games where you’re given complete power over other people, and can use it for either good or bad, very compelling. Elf Enchanter, however, does very little with this setup: featuring only a few choices and three possible endings, it’s too short and basic to really engage you in its narrative, while the 5 h-scenes (two unavoidable one and one extra per each ending) are average in quality and only one of them stands out with some unusual elements. It’s quite adequate as a $1 nukige (that’s how much it costs on Steam), but ultimately very forgettable – and that’s a shame, as with just a bit more content and complexity, it could’ve been a really cool experience worthy of a much more serious price tag. Maybe another time…

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

 

Kingdom of Lies

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The fact that Visual Novels are somewhat easy to put-together, even without any programming prowess or high-quality assets involved, makes it quite common for extremely low-effort ones, or straight-up troll games in VN form, to reach Steam. Kingdom of Lies looks like one of the latter, a cynical attempt at trolling and getting attention with edgy content, but is actually something a bit different – a confusing, broken and ultimately unplayable mess, that still quite a lot of work and thought went into. It features a really strange story about a maniacal-murderer protagonist, guided by a demon (represented by gradually-decaying rat corpse) into a killing spree in a modern-fantasy setting. It then combines it with some literally-impossible Hotline Miami-style gameplay sections and minigames that will make your head hurt (although the combination of shogi, go and chess on a three-dimensional board and with a possibility to modify rules was pretty hilarious). All of that coupled with MS Paint-grade visuals, tons of anti-SJW memes and high levels of randomness. It’s quite possible that I haven’t seen this much effort going into something so overwhelmingly bad since Sonic Boom and if the game was just a battle bit less broken, I could’ve even suggested checking it out for its hypnotizing trainwreck-like qualities. It also involves a few genuinely cool ideas: for example, the rat corpse/demon you communicate with before every mission is quite disturbing, with the constant decay and disease it seems to spread all around it being well-portrayed despite the simplistic graphics. In reality, though, the experience of playing Kingdom of Lies is just too confusing and frustrating to be worth it.

Final Rating: Not Recommended

 

Caladria Chronicles

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Caladria Chronicles is a debut VN by a small studio called Starlight Visual, one which was meant to launch a whole saga set in the titular modern-fantasy world of Caladria. It’s also, by most measures, a rather spectacular trainwreck: overly ambitious, unfocused and grossly unpolished in its execution. The full voice acting is a mixed bag at best, with some characters being hard to listen to and whole lines misplaced or missing. The narrative lacks clear protagonists, and introduces way too many character and subplots within its 3-hours reading time. The humour is very much hit-and-miss, with two rather unbearable chuuni characters at the center of most of the gags. The anime clichés are everywhere and their presence, along with many explicit references to Japan, are utterly confusing unless you took your time and read the game’s encyclopaedia, explaining many crucial lore details that are never properly communicated in the story. An encyclopaedia which, BTW, is also full of errors and clunky writing.

                Why do I leave this game with a positive recommendation then? Not because I necessarily advice reading it, but because of a huge potential I see in its setting and some of its characters. Caladria is a copycat world – a planet whose people used the help of mystical being known as angels to gain knowledge of Earth’s history, technology and culture. They then proceeded to copy and expand on all of it, boosting their own development in incredible ways. In the process, Caladria lost most of its own identity, with whole nations mimicking Earth’s civilizations and identifying with these artificially-imported, second-hand cultures. With a few forms of magic and a tumulous political situation added to the mix, the setting itself offers great promise, even if the first game only briefly touches on its most interesting aspects. While for now, Caladria Chronicles can be only worth experiencing as an unfortunate curiosity, if its authors manage to learn from their mistakes, they have a good basis to create something really memorable and compelling. Skip on this VN, but keep Starlight Visual on your radar – personally, I’m extremely curious where the Caladria project goes next.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

 

And this would be it for this season’s Steam Curator summary! I hoped to include at least one more game in it, but the real-life responsibilities forced me to move it to the fall update – that one will hopefully be more substantial, including some more notable games and ones that were waiting particularly long to get covered. Still, I hope you all enjoyed this small update and as always, my huge thanks go to the developers that decided to share their work with me. I hope this feedback, even if not always positive, will be of use to them and maybe even inspire (even) better VNs in the future. Until the next time!

Plk_Lesiak

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Disclaimer: I’m supporting Razz, author of this game, on Patreon and consider myself a fan of much of her work – this might obviously influence the scoring and tone of my review, although I stand by the opinions presented here wholeheartedly.

Yuri/shoujo-ai, as much as some of us might enjoy the theme, is still a fairly small niche among Japanese VNs – one that undoubtedly spawned some great titles and has a loyal fanbase, but is nowhere near being a dominant formula in the genre. It’s enough to look at VNDB statistics on romance elements and protagonist’s gender to see how relatively few quality JP titles yuri fans have available to them (especially if they have to rely on the titles translated to English or/and are looking for more than just erotic content).

            On the other hand, among western VN producers and audiences, F/F romance seems to gather a much broader appeal, with many highly-regarded titles focusing exclusively on yuri themes and some of the most appreciated developers, such as ebi-hime, devoting much of their work to them. Starlight Vega, developed by Razzart Visuals and published on Steam in March 2016, is definitely not among those most popular or critically-acclaimed western yuri VNs. Still, I think it’s in many ways a notable game worthy of a closer look – most importantly because it shows that visual novels created outside of Japan, even when they stay faithful to the general format of the genre, can have their own identity and style.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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

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There were few EVNs in the last few years that I’ve seen seriously hyped up by other VN fans and brought to my attention through multiple recommendations and positive reviews – particularly beyond titles by a handful of relatively well-known and respected creators such as ebi-hime. The game I’ll be writing about today, Soundless -A Modern Salem in Remote Area-, is one of such exceptions, enthusiastic opinions about which intrigued me to a major degree, even though it ended up being two years before I finally picked it up. And this is not where the curious and unusual things about it end: this freeware visual novel was released in late 2017 by a small circle under the name of Milk+ and is heavily influenced by the denpa subgenre of horror – one reliant on distortion of reality and chains of bizarre events, true meaning of which is usually hidden under multiple layers of mystery. It mimics extremely well the visual style and climate of the early 2000s’ Japanese games, offering a now rarely-seen call-back to parts of visual novel history highly nostalgic to many fans. And thankfully, there’s a lot more to it than just the interesting stylisation and riding on memories of the past…

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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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

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Love in Space, authors of the highly-appreciated Sunrider series, are a very peculiar kind of EVN developer. In their games, they unapologetically cater to weeaboo sensitivities, copying the Japanese storytelling tropes and stylistics pretty much in every aspect of their games. Sunrider: Liberation Day, the second Sunrider titles was the clearest example of this, with its Japanese speech mannerisms (which look at least a bit questionable in English prose), Japanese voice acting and pompous, Japanese opening song – each of them included despite the story being placed in a fictional sci-fi world with no clear connection to Japan, and being directed pretty much exclusively to Western otaku audience. Thankfully, the studio also was able to supplement its second-hand Japanese identity with some interesting ideas, consistently high production quality and, for the most part, compelling stories.

                After the second Sunrider game was completed (and after the backlash from its controversial conclusion was partially mended with an alternate-timeline DLC), Love in Space decided to double down in their turbo-Japanese formula, announcing Shining Song Starnova – a game about a Japanese idol producer trying to turn a team of misfits into major stars of the entertainment business. Funded both through a large Kickstarter campaign and substantial Patreon support, it became the studio’s most ambitious project by far, promising, among other things, seven heroine routes, partial VA by a cast of experienced eroge seiyuu and a high-quality soundtrack appropriate for the game’s music-related main theme. After long development and delays caused by Steam policy changes, SSS was finally released in July 2018, to quite a lot of fanfare, and sparked genuine interest from the VN community. But, was it able to deliver on its ambitious goals?

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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I’ll be completely honest: I didn’t have a good opinion of NTT Solmare even before approaching the game this review is about. After exploring their sole non-otome visual novel, Moe! Ninja Girls, I was absolutely stunned with the predatory monetisation and poor quality of that title. I was still curious about their otome projects though and decided to check out one featuring the theme I personally enjoy a lot: vampires. Thus, I ended up playing Blood in Roses+, one of the over 20(!) games in the Shall We Date? series and what I found there was an extension of my Moe! Ninja Girl experience, along with some interesting surprises (which doesn’t mean any of them were particularly pleasant).

                First, however, a bit of context is required. NTT Solmare is a Japanese company producing e-books and mobile games primarily for the Western market. Shall We Date? Otome games are their flagship product and can be split into two categories: paid apps, which are mostly Android/iOS, English-localized ports of Idea Factory otome VNs and free apps which are produced by NTT Solmare themselves. Since 2011, they’ve released literally dozens of cheaply-made, but aggressively monetized games, particularly in the free-to-play segment. This is also the category where Blood in Roses+ fits in, being a fully free-to-play mobile VN, in which you can theoretically experience an impressive and constantly-expanding pool of content without paying anything. There’s a catch though… Or a dozen, which are all worth discussing in detail due to the unbelievable abuse of the VN format they represent.

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

Plk_Lesiak

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

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

Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com

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