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About this blog

This is a blog primarily focusing on but not limited to VNs.  It is primarily designed to express my opinion on otaku media (jrpgs, anime, manga, LNs, VNs, etc), individual VNs, and otaku community issues.   Most of the posts are related to my VN of the Month and Random VN columns, originally started in threads in the forums. 

As of March of 2017, I'm also looking for people to help with VN of the Month.

Entries in this blog

Clephas

First, apologies to those who actually want to read about some of August's releases.  I went on vacation (vacation being a word open to interpretation when it comes to sleeping in unfamiliar beds and helping with my brother's kids), and when I got back, I found I had absolutely no urge whatsoever to pick up a VN.  I guess that taking a true break from VNs for the first time in almost a decade (no VNs for five days straight) was enough to free me from the spell of my obsession.

That said, Jinkou Bato was pretty amusing, so I had every intention of getting back to it, eventually.

This game is based fifty years in the future, fifteen years after a disaster caused by technology (deliberately) gone wrong wiped out the global internet and reduced people to using wires and letters to communicate.  This disaster was caused by artificial lifeforms based on the pigeon that originally served as self-replicating flying antennas.  The maker of these 'artificial pigeons' made them begin to 'eat' radio and electromagnetic waves, literally stopping all signals not passed through a wire.  This resulted in innumerable deaths, and it was such a huge economic and technological blow that the characters of the story are quite aware of how they live in a much-reduced world.

Sora, the protagonist, is an orphan who hates the artificial pigeons more than anyone, as he lost his parents the day of the disaster.  Living with this adopted family, he succeeds in building a set of radios that can communicate with one another without being stopped by the pigeons, and from there the story begins.

Mmm... I'm going to be straight about my feelings on this game.  First, I like the character dynamics.  There is a lot to laugh about early on, and the intensity of Sora and friends when they make a certain discovery is pleasing to me, as I'm a bit tired of characters living without a sense of purpose in my VNs, lol.  That Sora and the others are college students at a vocational university rather than high schoolers is nice as well... and an adult heroine who is bisexual is also nice, hahaha.

That said, both Mizuki's and Akina's paths are weaker than the Tsubaki and Kaguya paths due to the fact that only Tsubaki's and Kaguya's paths actually confront the central issues head on.  Mizuki's and Akina's paths both stink of escapism, and while that is fine on its own... it left me feeling a sense of distaste for the characters involved (yes, I want my characters to be better or stronger people than me). 

Tsubaki and Kaguya's paths are the true path.  No, I'm not saying that they are separately the true path... rather, together they form a single path, in a really weird (if familiar from other otaku media) way.  The path is... extremely emotional, and I honestly felt that Sora, from beginning to end, fulfilled his potential as a character... something that is pretty unusual for VN protagonists in general. 

Lets be clear, this isn't a kamige or even VN of the Year material.  This is a nakige with a great main path and two so-so side paths.  I say 'great', but the game's pace is really fast after the initial, lighter stages of the story.  That said, there is no sense of choppiness to the pacing, and it feels like the events actually occur in the time you see them happen in the game (less than two months), as there are no excess SOL scenes whatsoever.

If you want a relatively quick nakige with some amusement early on, this is a good choice.  I honestly can't recommend it for someone who wants a grand and sweeping opera, though.

Clephas

Well, essentially the above poll came down to a tie vote between Random Chuunige and Meguri, Hitohira. 

I'll give you a quick run down on the two choices that is a bit more detailed than the post above.

Meguri, Hitohira

Essentially, the protagonist of this story is a loner with the ability to see non-humans and other mystical beings.  He has lived much of his adult life in despair, blaming himself for the death of his little sister, who was the only person who understood him and accepted his ability... and whom he believes died as a result.  The protagonist is an artist, and when he goes to a small town with a run-down Shinto Shrine (no human dwellers), he encounters a loli goddess, who subsequently grants his wish... to meet his little sister again. 

I played the prologue of this game a while back to see whether it was something I'd want to sit down and play at length later, and my first impression is that the game is set up to be a mix of 'hohoemashii' warm-heartedness, catharsis, and a generally somber atmosphere.

Random Chuunige

The current candidates for this are Kaziklu Bey, Bullet Butlers, ExE, Master Re:Master, Muramasa, Jingai Makyou, Ayakashibito, and Tokyo Necro.  Due to a number of requests, I've also added: Soranica Ele, Paradise Lost, Abyss Homicide Club, and an Ayakashibito>Bullet Butlers>Chrono Belt marathon.

The most requested was Paradise Lost, and I had four separate people request that I do the marathon of the three related Propeller games.  Since they all fit the bill, I decided to shrug and just add them in as options... in fact, I think I'll cut out the individual options for Ayakashibito and Bullet Butlers, just to make it fair when it comes to the random choice.

Clephas

Ok, I know some of you are going to wonder why I bothered with this game.  As the remake of Iinchou wa Shounin-sezu, this game exists as a reboot of a game that wasn't interesting in the first place.  So, why did I decide to play this, despite having stopped VN of the Month?  Pure perversity and contrariness, probably.

The big problem with this game, saying it outright from the first, is that it uses a style that has more or less vanished due to its massive unpopularity with the target audience.  Generally speaking, a comedy game that isn't really funny and a charage that spends a ridiculously low amount of time getting to know the heroines is going to be considered a failure, don't you think?  Moreover, it kept the 'brief scene swaps' technique of yesteryear, where choices leading to heroine paths only switch out the scenes related to the heroine and the ending.

There are six heroines in this game, and some of them actually get close to being interesting.  Unfortunately, the heroines never step past their initial impressions as characters, and they all have the same clingy side once they get close to the protagonist.  While I like clingy heroines, there are ones where that particular personality trait didn't make that much sense, and the actual process of turning from 'acquaintance' to 'lover' is so abrupt that it feels unnatural.  This is especially true since character development in the common route is almost nonexistent and there is relatively little in the paths themselves. 

In other words, this game is pure amateur hour, from a writer who rarely does anything but nukige.

Clephas

Hopefully, this poll will work out better than Minikui Mojika did (sadly, my opinion on it has only gotten worse in hindsight), but I thought I'd give you all a chance to pick out which Random VN I will play after my current one.

First, the VN I'm currently playing... Honoguraki Toki no Hate yori.  I just started this one, and I probably won't finish it until I've played whatever I choose to from August's releases (there aren't enough releases for a poll this time around, lol).  My interest in this one was resparked by Dergonu asking about it and recalling that it has a link setting-wise to Sakura no Mori Dreamers.  Where Sakura no Mori only touches on the Cthulhu stuff in a very indirect way (it is never actually said outright and the only serious  hint is in the sequel/FD), Honoguraki gives you hints almost from the beginning that something is a bit screwed up (I could feel my SAN points being shaved away after the first creepy scene, lol).

Now... this is a list of VNs that I will either replay at some point or that have been floating around in my backlog for some time.

Meguri, Hitohira- One of Shumon Yuu's 'classic' games, it is so old that it still uses the NVL system 100%, rather than the ADV system.  Anything Shumon Yuu writes has the flavor of greatness... the only question is whether it is a greatness you can appreciate fully or not.

Racial Merge- Random AXL game I pulled out of my hat because I remember liking how it dealt with certain social issues.  It is one of AXL's sword fantasy series of games.

Houkago no Futekikakusha- Hard utsuge that I can't really talk about without spoiling.  This game has some serious issues that stop it short of being a kamige (primarily setting-related), but emotionally it is like getting smashed repeatedly in the gut with a bat wrapped with barbed wire.   If I were to post on this, I would be doing so primarily for those who have already played it or been spoiled for it (since I've already blogged on it once before), so I don't expect this to win.

Full Uso plus the original Uso series- This is a bit iffier... a marathon run of the Uso games followed by the after stories and extra stories provided in the fan/append disc. The Uso series follows a protagonist who can detect lies at a school with a hidden magical side through four different potential romances (all of them twisted or strange on some level). 

Draculius- This is actually a request that came up from someone after I mentioned it as my favorite harem story (despite the fact that I have outright reviewed this on two occasions).  If you want to know where all the ideas in Libra came from, and where they were actually executed properly (without the protagonist being a worthless dip and the heroines being mostly boring), this is where. 

Random Chuunige- Yes, this is actually what it sounds like.  If this option is picked, I will toss a sticky dart at a paper with squares of names of several chuunige I have not played within the last eighteen months (basic requirement in order to do a VN replay in most cases is eighteen months to two years) or have not played before, and I then play the one that it sticks to.  Either that or I will roll dice, lol.  Currently, the list includes Ayakashibito (Japanese version), Bullet Butlers, ExE, Master Re:Master, Muramasa, Jingai Makyou, Tokyo Necro, or Dies Irae Interview with Kaziklu Bey.

 

Clephas

I have to say I apologize to those who voted for Minikui Mojika no Ko... my original instinct not to play this game at all was correct.  This game feels too much like a dark rape nukige to allow me to play it anymore, so I had to drop it.  Not to mention that I hate all the characters and think they should all be tossed into the nearest garbage dump. 

Clephas

Bloody Rondo is 3rdEye's first and arguably their worst game.  By chuunige standards it is very much 'yesteryear' even by the standards of the year it came out, being a 'half-gakuen' type where the protagonist splits his life between school during the day and other stuff at night.    What it comes down to in the end is that this game was, from the very beginning, apologetically derivative and something of a failure primarily due to an attempt to draw on the relative success of Draculius several years before.

First, I'll explain why I say the game attempts to draw on Draculius.  Draculius is probably the best vampire fantasy chuunige/slice-of-life hybrid in existence.  I say this because it doesn't in any way nerf vampiric nature or power, and it also has a rather unique atmosphere that draws on the fantasy familial aspects of the non-undead type of vampire (a vampire that is a lifeform, as opposed to being a dead being forcibly kept alive by magic or evil forces, lol).  The combination of intimacy and hedonistic behavior that you see in that game, as well as the veiled potential for violence and moral ambiguity are subtly presented to the reader interspersed between humorous slice of life and often brutal action scenes.

Bloody Rondo (and Libra) attempt something similar... but fail dramatically in that sense.  Luna, the canon heroine of the game, is a clumsy true vampire (as in trips over her own feet clumsy) with a nonexistent work ethic but a deep capacity for love combined with an incredibly dependent personality.  This in itself wouldn't be a negative and it indeed bears some similarities to Draculius's approach to the cast of characters, but the biggest issue is the utter failure to shift from the humorous elements to the more serious ones properly.  Luna generally only maintains something like dignity for a few minutes at a time before stumbling, and her attempts to maintain it are... spectacularly bad, often lightening the atmosphere at the worst time for the story. 

The path that actually succeeds in reminding the reader of what is best about Draculius is Lynette's path, where the somewhat twisted relationship between her, Luna, and Shinkurou is the focus of things.  Lynette is modeled on Zeno from Draculius in a blatantly obvious fashion (werewolf turned into a hybrid vampire with incredible physical abilities and absolute devotion), and she also serves as an excellent catalyst to turn the three into something resembling a family in her own path.   The unfortunate aspect of this is that it waves the flaws in the 'canon' path in front of the reader so blatantly that you have to wonder why a short path that completely ignores the background story and Shinkurou's own issues works out so much better. 

I will not say this is a bad game... but it stumbles because it never quite manages anything like individuality, despite a good cast of characters and a decent setting.  Anyone who plays this after Sorcery Jokers will instantly get how the writer used his failures with Bloody Rondo to grow and build up the setting he eventually used.  In that sense, this game provides an excellent study in 'before and after' for someone interested in the history of VN writers. 

Shinkurou is actually a great protagonist, but he is damned by a weakness of motivation and a general lack of emotional filling in of the blanks by the writer.  He is skilled, he is intelligent, and he is pragmatic... but the writer fails to capitalize on his personality the way he did with Senri's personality in Sorcery Jokers.  Going back to play this, it is blatantly obvious that Egami Shinkurou is the prototype for Senri... a rough bare-bones character archetype to Senri's full-fleshed individuality. 

Needless to say, this is one of those rare times where I went back and actually felt the game failed in comparison to my distant, years-ago impressions.  Most of the chuunige I go back and play years later have new discoveries waiting for me... but this game is an exception, unfortunately.  Lynette's path is still great, but the weakness of Luna and her failure as a canon/true heroine is painful to read.

Clephas

Right now, in order to 'clean my palate' before playing Mojika, I'm replaying Bloody Rondo, 3rdEye's first (and arguably worst) VN.  A thought came to my mind that has been bothering me since I finished Oratorio Phantasm. 

Are Shinkurou and Luna still alive at the time this VN occurs within the setting?  The reason I ask is because

Spoiler

the true antagonist of the story is supposedly Shinkurou and Luna's great-grandaughter.  Now, taking this fact into account, one has to ask... would Shinkurou and Luna allow something like that to happen to one of their descendants?  She was stripped of her sanity and turned into a monster that could destroy two worlds by pure accident... but one has to ask why their son is the one intervening.  I can't see Shinkurou ignoring that kind of thing, though I guess a century and a half of life might change him somewhat.  Let's keep in mind that Shinkurou, by both being bitten, then drinking Luna's blood, stabilized as a vampire, so age and deterioration aren't the issues they would be with another artificial vampire.  As such, it was made clear that he would live as long as he wasn't killed and Luna lived, so I honestly can't see him being dead at this point. 

My hypothesis in this case is the simple fact that Luna, while she attaches firmly to Shinkurou, has a tendency toward melancholy and apathy that is marked throughout Bloody Rondo's length and seems to be endemic to all vampires who live beyond their first century.  Hypothetically, I could see this happening to Shinkurou to an extent that he might be willing to stand back and let his descendants handle things themselves.

Now that we are finished establishing my hypothesis about why things in Oratorio Phantasm played out as they did, I thought I'd consider Shinigami no Testament. 

Shinigami no Testament, Bloody Rondo, and Oratorio Phantasm share the same world (Sorcery Jokers didn't show a recognizable connection to the other games, so I'm viewing it as a completely independent setting).  The events in Bloody Rondo apparently occur at least a few years before Shinigami no Testament, and at least a century and a half have passed since the events in Bloody Rondo when Oratorio Phantasm has occurred. 

Shinigami no Testament has the weakest connection of the three, simply because if the inherently self-contained nature of its main storyline.  To tell you why, [spoilers for those who haven't played it]

Spoiler

When the protagonist of Shinigami no Testament destroys the Black Manuscript, he resets all the events that occurred because of its existence.

The difference between Shinigami no Testament and Oratorio Phantasm is that Oratorio Phantasm actually has a direct link, whereas Shinigami no Testament just has a few pieces of info that tie it to Bloody Rondo.

Moving on... it is always interesting to see whether and how a writer or company will link its games together.  Kinagusa Shougo's Akagoei and Reminiscence series are directly linked together in an obvious way: 

Spoiler

Kizuna and Kaito from Akagoei 3 being present, Tae's descendant by Kaito being in control of the biggest tech company in Hope Town, and Yuki the robot being present in Hope Town. 

However, it has never clearly been stated whether there is a canon for the two series (whether Kinagusa actually intended for the result that created Reminscence's setting to be absolute).  Personally, I would prefer that it wasn't, because:

Spoiler

There are indications in Kaito's point of view that point to his presence being at least partly due to Reika's violent demise, indicating that they used part of her bad ending to bring about the current result. 

Other games that possess a link are Ayakashibito and Bullet Butlers, through the Chrono Belt FD.  In the Chrono Belt FD, Kuki-sensei is sent to the Bullet Butlers world along with a particularly nasty villain from Ayakashibito, and Alfred Arrowsmith is sent to the Ayakashibito world, where he, for the first time, confronts his own demons due to the essential peacefulness of the world he finds himself in (keep in mind that this is post-Ayakashibito's events).  This link is a more peculiar one, in that I normally wouldn't have liked it... but Higashide Yuuichirou somehow made it work (seriously, I sometimes think Chrono Belt has more impact than the original games...). 

Now, I just gave you a bunch of examples of games where the 'setting link' actually works out pretty well... but as anyone who has stumbled onto a 'bad sequel' knows, the 'setting link' is a sword that cuts both ways. 

A more negative link would be the direct sequel to Hachimyoujin by Light... Bansenjin.  Now, one of the problems with even thinking of making a sequel to Hachimyoujin is that the main characters had been stretched about as much as they could possibly be in the original.  They had pretty much used up what made them interesting (which wasn't much in some cases), and Masada had pretty much played up their flaws and virtues as far as they could be... in other words, Bansenjin essentially revived a cast that had nothing new to add.  There literally weren't any new angles within the existing cast that could be played on, and that resulted in a game that felt stale, perhaps precisely because Hachimyoujin was so self-contained.  The new characters weren't that good in the first place, and Masada was really heavy-handed about how he screwed with the setting.   As such, Bansenjin most definitely suffered from the 'sequel disease'.

It makes me wonder... why do some writers, regardless of their skill, seem to always want to make a bad sequel to an excellent game?  Oh, Dies Irae far surpassed Paradise Lost, its predecessor in the trilogy of Shinza main-series games.  However, that was more of a result of Masada peaking with Dies Irae than anything else. 

Shimantogawa Seiryuu, 3rdEye's main writer, has obviously (seriously) grown since he wrote Bloody Rondo.  Shinigami no Testament was immensely greater than Bloody Rondo, Oratorio Phantasm benefited from his realization that he wrote one-path stories better than multi-path ones, and Sorcery Jokers pretty much showed the peak of what he was capable of.  Masada definitely grew after writing Paradise Lost and through the versions of Dies Irae (the first few of which sucked compared to the two final versions, Fabula and Amantes).  However, he also peaked at that point, and the expectations created by the final versions of Dies Irae were impossible to fulfill...   Higashide got out while the getting was good, recognizing that Tokyo Babel's financial failure meant bad things in the future (so quite naturally, he signed on with Type Moon).  Shumon Yuu only ever seems to write when he has a masterpiece in mind...

This post was all over the place... but then, it was never intended to be coherent, since I was writing things as I thought of them.  It is hard to make a VN sequel or reuse a VN setting... the adjustments necessary to keep expectations from ruining things for the reader are delicate, and few writers or companies can manage to do it well.  3rdEye did it by mostly keeping the setting links light, Masada failed with Bansenjin because he misjudged the quality of his own characters and setting, and Higashide managed to pull a masterpiece out of what should have been a massive failure... 

Clephas

Haru to Yuki

This is the latest game released by Akabeisoft3, the bastard company made by Akabeisoft2 to take in all the subsidiaries of its parent company other than itself, Applique, and Akatsuki Works.  The game was written by Nakajima Taiga, who first made his name as the writer of Dekinai Watashi ga, Kurikaesu and gained yet more fame with the utsuge Inochi no Spare. 

This game is a nakige, though it is one that leaves a lot more bitter in with the sweet than is normal.  It is based in a Japanese inn called Yuki, where ghosts can interact with the physical world in order to complete the desire that keeps them in the world.  In order to hide the fact that they are ghosts from the normal customers, the employees wear cosplay to make the unusual or out of season clothing the ghosts are often wearing not stand out.

The protagonist, Haruto is the bantou, the male in charge of greeting customers arriving and taking reservations.  He has been there for ten years and is seen as a reliable employee by the younger staff.  He is very much a workaholic, performing his duties with absolute devotion and no real hesitation... it is just that those duties involve arranging the things that 'non-reservation customers' (the ghosts) need to fulfill their last desires.  These desires are often simple things like wanting to say something or leave a message for a loved one, but can also be somewhat crazy things like wanting to get into a swordfight to the death.  Haruto takes on all these requests without hesitation or any real emotional disturbance.  Nonetheless, he does care.

The partings in this game are probably the most vivid aspect... naturally, you come to know the ghosts' stories, and when the time for parting comes, it is always sad, even if you know they are going away happy and satisfied.  I cried repeatedly during these scenes.

There are four heroines in this game:  Neko, the ghost of a girl who wanted to live freely but was unable to when alive; San, a cheery girl who gets along with everyone and enjoys her work; Kohane, a nervous otaku girl whose dream is to become a professional cook; and Sakine, a somewhat gloomy woman in her mid to late twenties who decided to work at the inn on impulse. 

Neko

Neko was the first heroine I pursued, mostly because I have a thing for girls who say ~nyaa.  Neko is a seemingly whimsical girl who loves to hang around the protagonist and constantly makes false attempts to play hooky from her work... but never really does so.  Her path starts out as a soft romance between two souls with a lot in common...

... but the fact is that Neko is a ghost, and there was no way it was going to have a purely happy ending.  Neko's path is full of small happiness and frequent sorrow, and the desire that binds her to the world is heartbreaking in and of itself.  I honestly found myself crying for the entirety of the last hour of the path, to the point where I developed a sinus headache.

Kohane

Kohane is the assistant to Makoto, the fake homosexual cook (the story behind how that happened is hilarious in retrospect but it is part of a sad scene).  She is shy and is very negative about herself, but there is enough iron in her core that she has managed to stay for one year under Makoto's extremely harsh tutelage.  Kohane is a living heroine (as opposed to Neko, who was a ghost), and her path differs accordingly.

Kohane's personal issues were actually fairly interesting... enough so that I was honestly able to empathize with the last scene and cry my eyes out (again).  The last scenes in this path are all highly emotional, but there is a lot less bitter in with the sweet than Neko's ending, which feels more bitter.  One issue that is common to both this one and Neko's path is that the protagonist's own issues aren't addressed, sadly for him, though it doesn't seem to bother him much (which is understandable once you know about him).  It isn't a negative issue, since it makes sense within the context of the story.

Sakina

Sakina is the only full adult heroine in this VN (by the story, I'm guessing 27 or 28).  Having quit her job previous to coming to stay at the inn, she decides to work there soon after the game begins.  She is quiet, shy, and a bit gloomy at times.  However, she is also kind and thoughtful.  Unlike the other heroines, you will only rarely see her smile, but those few smiles are the ones that get you.

Sakina's path is... tied up with the protagonist's past.  The way this route turns out is different from the previous two (though I can't tell you why without spoiling), but it was interesting in and of itself.  I didn't end up crying my way through the whole later part of the game, but the ending was uplifting and bright. 

San

San is the game's central heroine.  Her personality is bright and sunny, generous and giving by nature with a strong spirit.   San is a student as well as one of the inn's hostesses (a job shared by Neko and Sakina), and her favored cosplay are a dog-girl, a maid, and a new wafuu (Japanese style) idol. 

Her path, like many central heroine paths, is the only one where all the major character issues are resolved (though only speculatively based on the epilogue in a few cases), and it is also the only one where the protagonist's own major issue is resolved.  Like Neko's path, this one is very bittersweet, and like many cases in this VN, the partings here had me in tears for long periods of time, leading to sinus headaches (this game took me longer than it would have otherwise because I kept having to stop playing after I cried myself into a headache).  I will say that I consider the ending to be a happy one, but, thinking of how San had to feel in the time between the ending and the epilogue breaks my heart even now...

Overall

Overall, this is an excellent nakige by a writer who seems to be able to write across all the genres and involving characters of all types and ages.  For those who want a lot of catharsis, this is a great choice, but be prepared for a bit more 'bitter' in with the 'sweet' than is normal with a nakige (though it is still a nakige, rather than an utsuge).  Despite my remarks on how bittersweet this game is as a whole, it should be noted that the atmosphere at Yuki, the ryokan (Japanese-style inn) that serves the setting, is very warm, welcoming, and downright familial to the point that I found myself wanting to jump into the game and stay a night there.   I liked all the characters, including the side-ones, like Sentarou (the night security guard and exorcist that bears a passing resemblance to Archer from FSN), Toki (the century and a half hold ghost owner of the inn), and Makoto (the macho fake homosexual head cook).   This isn't a kamige, though I'm tempted to call it one based on my general level of satisfaction, but it comes pretty damned close.

Clephas

Umm... it really isn't worth it to make a post for this, but I went ahead and played Phantom Trigger vol 5 in Japanese.

My impression of this one was that it was very  much like the 'flashback episodes' that pop up in so many urban fantasy anime of the nineties and two thousands...  It is all about Haruto and Murasaki's past (how they got acquainted, Saki's sister, etc), and, while that is in itself interesting, I felt cheated at the end.

I'm going to be blunt.  They should be putting a lot more content into these releases, considering how long the gap between each one is and the cost.  I would much rather pay forty or fifty dollars for a half-length VN than dish out fifteen dollars every six months for what amounts to a tenth of an average VN's length of content.  While I do like what is put out, I am always left feeling like there should have been more to it.  I pay less for books on Kindle and get a lot more out of them.  *sighs*

Anyway, like all the entries in this serial VN, this 'episode' is interesting... but I'm starting to get 'repetition fatigue' due to the way the series is constructed.  Each episode is, of course, self-contained but contiguous with the previous one and the one after.  However, the way each one starts is exactly the same (structurally), and you hear almost identical speeches out of Haruto (internal or external) throughout their lengths, the only difference being the subject.

If this were bundled as three episodes per installment, I probably wouldn't be feeling so irritated.  However, the amount of content given by a single entry in this series is very, very low.  Yeah, now I know all the main characters' backgrounds intimately except Haruto himself... but I also feel cheated because I'm finishing each installment in under an hour and a half... and fifteen bucks is a bit much to pay for an hour and a half of entertainment, in my mind. 

... in the end, I couldn't stop complaining.  The real problem here is that I love what is there, but there just isn't enough of it to satisfy me with any individual installment. 

Clephas

First, I should mention that this post is mostly going to focus on how this VN improves on the original content from Shin Koihime Musou.  The reason is fairly simple... if you like the series, you'll eventually play this, and if you played the original Shin Koihime Musou, then that is probably what you want to know.  I know I would.

Next, I will go ahead and come out with it... I loved what they did with this path.  The degree of added detail in this VN is actually higher than in Souten no Haou (Gi/Wei), and at least part of this is that it adds in a huge portion of time in the prologue, added story in the later areas of the game, and significantly revamped scenes involving the much larger cast of characters available to the somewhat sparsely-populated (comparative to Shoku/Shu and Gi/Wei)  of the original. 

The prelude (the period of the game starting with Kazuto's arrival through the Yellow Turbans and Dong Zhuo eras) is so completely redone as to be unrecognizable.   Son Bundai (Sun Jian) being both alive and present in this part of the game alters how it begins dramatically.  Ienren (her manna) is like Sheren/Hakufu magnified with a foul mouth and a fighting power roughly equivalent to Ryoufu/Lu Bu.  She is harsh with her enemies, domineering but thoughtful with her subordinates, and rules her people with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Under her tutelage, Kazuto actually ends up pushed into the bloody/dirty parts of war, and as a result, he ends up a bit fiercer/harsher than he is in the other paths at times.  

This path does indeed follow the basic bones of history (if you know what happens with Sun Jian and Sun Ce in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you know what I'm talking about), which matches the original events of the path in the original Shin Koihime Musou.  However, because of the experiences in the prelude with Ienren, the emotional moments were all the more poignant, and I felt myself able to empathize more with the characters as a whole than I did in the original path, where things seemed to move far too fast through that part of the game.

The generalized 'fattening up' of the story is present at all levels, and the story is much more complex in the particulars as a result.  While this has the effect of making playing all the way through this path somewhat exhausting, I felt it was worth it in the end. 

The extra heroines are something of a mixed bag.  I really liked Taishiji and Raika, but I despised Pao and was disinterested in Teifu (yet another drunkard older woman in a game that already has way too many).

I do want to say that I really seriously don't understand why they kept the system where you can't read all the heroine events each chapter.  Sengoku Koihime allows you to read all of them, and it didn't seem to hurt the story... and it was immensely annoying to end up seeing some of the scenes that were slightly out of line with the current progression of the story.  Only the 'ruler' heroines' scenes perfectly matched what was going on in the story as a whole, and that disrupted my enjoyment of them immensely. 

Last of all, as rumored, there is indeed an 'alternate' ending to Go's path, unlike Gi's.  This ending branches off at the most dramatic/sad turning point of the original path and gives you a 'what if' for if

Spoiler

Shelen/Hakufu didn't die from the poisoned arrow.

This alters the events that proceed from there and the ending as a whole greatly.  I honestly cried happy tears at this ending, and for those who are displeased with that particular turning point of the original path, it is a treat. 

Spoiler

Seeing Meirin and Shelen holding their children with Kazuto made tears well up endlessly in my eyes...

Anyway, that is my commentary on this game, for those who are interested.

Clephas

I've decided to start a new column called Reader's Choice of the Month.  The concept is simple.  I will post a poll of end of the month releases I don't intend to play, and the readers of my blog will have a chance to pick which one I will play and review.  This column will take the place of VN of the Month in the sense that I will still be playing something for the sake of the readers, but this time I won't be going out of my way to play every obscure charage/moege I find. 

This is about picking out the VN in the poll you most want to know about before playing yourself, so keep that in mind while voting. 

July Release choices:

Erewhon

Shukusei no Girlfriend

Minikui Mojika no Ko

Games I will play:

Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei

Haru to Yuki

Clephas

The definition of a 'capable' heroine, in my case, is a heroine who manages to surf the waves of life and move circumstances to create a situation convenient to herself, either through manipulation or force of will.  A heroine of this type might pursue a dream, pursue revenge, or pursue power, but what defines them is that they both 'seek' and 'take' what they want.  Most heroines in male-oriented and otomege VNs do not fall into this area.  Most are reliant on the males in their life to some extent, and without them they wouldn't get anywhere.  This is a list of heroines who don't fit that particular stereotype, for one reason or another (incidentally, this isn't me being a male feminist... I just like this kind of heroine).  These heroines aren't dependent by nature, though they might feel a strong attachment to or obsession for someone.  These are heroines capable (both in general and psychologically) of navigating the sea of life with none or little help.  If you feel someone belongs on this list, feel free to add them in the comments section.  I might argue with you, but if it is within the ballpark, I won't delete the name, lol.  (an exception... most heroines that are born all-powerful don't count, since they meet few if any challenges in their lives.  As an example, Sofia from World Election doesn't count since she was born essentially unkillable, with a genius-level intelligence, and more power than anyone else in the world)  A heroine of this type should be at least a little ruthless, even if it is only the sense that they are capable of pulling out stops in the way of their goals or manipulating others if necessary. 

Kamio Ami (Semiramis no Tenbin)

Hinaori Kagome (Comyu)

Himehoshi Arika (Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu)

Chitose Oboro Amatsu (Silverio Vendetta)

Amatsu Kanata (Devils Devel Concept)

Otonashi Saku (Hello, Lady)

Himegami Alice (Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary)

Fujina Kanori (Minamijuujisei Renka)

Tsukigase Sayane (Shuumatsu Shoujo Gensou Alicematic)

Hijikata Sei and Sakamoto Ryouma (Kikan Bakumatsu Ibun Last Cavalier)

Leona Kaname Burns (Electro-Arms)

Shiguresato Himeno (Hyper→Highspeed→Genius)

Naname Nanami (Ojousama wa Gokigen Naname)

Kizuna (Reminiscence)

Sakurakouji Luna (Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou)

Nagisaka Hakua (Namima no Kuni no Faust)

   
   
Clephas

It is no secret that I am a huge Higashide Yuuichirou fan and that Evolimit is my favorite Higashide Yuuichirou game.  Before I go any further into this, I should note that Evolimit has the dubious honor of being the VN I've played the most often... a total of six times, as of two hours ago.  I should also explain what Higashide's unique qualities are as a writer.

Higashide Yuuichirou wrote six VNs for Propeller before retiring from VNs completely to work for Type-Moon as a writer.  He also worked on the Vita version of FSN, with the Caster and Rider routes, the Muramasa FD, Princess Waltz (as an assistant), and Fate/Extella Link.  His qualities as a writer include a peculiar genius for the characterization of 'heroic' characters, the ability to create villains/antagonists worthy of those same heroic characters, and an even rarer ability to both write and integrate SOL with those aspects.  For better or worse, most SOL writers fail utterly when it comes to dramatic characterization and most chuunige writers suck at SOL compared to specialists.  However, Higashide manages to do both at a very high level and, when he is 'in the zone', does it better than any other writer I've encountered. 

Some will argue with me about this, naming Shumon Yuu, Masada, or even Hino Wataru.  However, it needs to be said that Shumon Yuu writes in a manner that is so unique that it is completely genre-free.  Masada writes excellent dramatic characters, but his SOL is average at best.  Hino Wataru tends to shift the balance of his games back and forth, and there is usually a huge gap between the quality of the paths of heroines he loves and those he merely likes.

I have never felt like Higashide has failed to give a heroine a fair shake.  In fact, Higashide almost never makes heroines the true focus of a game/path from beginning to end.  Circumstances, events, the protagonist, the antagonist, and the pattern as a whole often far transcend the heroine of a given path.  His heroines are often good, but I've yet to encounter a path in a Higashide game where I felt cheated. 

Higashide is a devout follower of the concept of the 'heroine that is always by the protagonist's side, no matter who he chooses'.  This type of heroine pops up in a lot of chuunige.  Kagome in Comyu is probably the most blatant example of this, but Higashide takes it to extreme lengths.  In Ayakashibito it was Suzu, in Bullet Butlers it was Selma, and in Evolimit it is Shizuku.  The key point of each of these heroines is that the bond with the protagonist transcends romantic relationships (though it leads to them in their own paths).  Suzu is both parent and older sister to Soushichi, Selma is Rick's master and truest friend, and Shizuku and Shiranui are ridiculously close friends, so close that they easily settle into a familial role toward one another.  Why is this important?  Because these characters and their relationships form the largest and firmest pillar that serves as a backbone for each of these protagonists' view of the world and how they relate to it. 

Evolimit

Evolimit is a kamige.  Yes, that is my opinion, but I'll stand by it until the end of days if necessary.  For this entry, I'm going to focus on characters, their interrelationships, and their influences on one another.  From here on in, I will intermittently add in spoilers, which I will put in boxes.  These spoilers will often reveal aspects of the story you absolutely do not want to know until you've played the game, so I recommend just reading the parts that aren't spoiler-boxed and going back after you've had the opportunity to play the game.

The Characters

Shiranui (nobody calls him Yoshikazu, interestingly), is an interesting character.  Like the other two Higashide kamige protagonists (Ayakashibito's Soushichi and Bullet Butlers' Rick), he is, when it comes down to it, a classic hero.  He is the type who will, without hesitation, throw away his life for others if it comes down to it, take a bullet for a friend, or mercilessly destroy someone or something that seeks to harm them.  Since this is revealed in the prologue (and my rules about spoilers don't apply to prologues), I'll go ahead and describe his basic set of circumstances. 

First, Shiranui was one of the Calamity Monkeys, the first colonial/terraforming expedition sent to Mars by the more-or-less unified governments of Earth.  Born with a bad heart, he spent much of his youth in horrible pain and fear, wondering if that day would be the day his heart went out.  However, he received a heart transplant, and soon after he encountered Kokoro, the spiritual remnants of the young Chinese girl who was his heart's original owner.  The reason I reveal this particularly dramatic element in advance is because it is necessary to describe his peculiar personality.

On the surface, Shiranui is a slightly pervy young man with an ever-present smile who goes out of his way to be something of a clown.  In stressful situations, he is surprisingly perceptive, brave, and compassionate.  However, there is one peculiarity that is all-important to grasping his character.

He is incapable of sorrow.

The reason goes back to the spiritual remnant of his heart's original owner, Kokoro.  In order to allow her to remain within him, he, of his own free will, gave up his ability to feel sorrow (as well as odd bits and pieces of other emotions) in order to allow what amounts to a second person to inhabit part of his brain.  She is also the reason he chose to head for Mars.  When he discovered that her dream was to go to Mars as part of a colonial expedition he, without hesitation, chose to take the baton and run with it, ferociously devoting himself to the duty of taking her there as part of himself. 
 

Spoiler

 

During the trials to become one of the colonists/terraformers, he met Ichijou Shizuku, a fellow aspiring colonist (and an all around genius) and befriended her.  That friendship deepened to a ridiculous degree as the number of aspirants fell, reducing from around ten thousand to forty-five hundred, to around five hundred at the end.  Brutally hard physical training and tests, psychological examinations, sociological studies, and constant testing of their knowledge are the things mentioned off-hand... meaning it was probably even worse to experience, lol.

After arriving on Mars, he formed close relationships with six other fellow colonists.  These included the powerfully charismatic and brilliant Shannon Wordsworth; the rough-mannered former soldier and geologist Dmitri Kalanikov; his biologist daughter Tsunami Kalanikov; a genius robotics engineer, programmer, and African-American  Tyron Bistwark; a Swedish doctor and psychologist named Maya; and Hoan Wenchui (incidentally, I'm uncertain of the actual best romanization for his name, but meh), a Chinese man of the same age.  It was these relationships that formed the center of his early experiences on Mars.

His relationship with Kokoro, who is his heart donor, is the closest one from the beginning, including Shizuku.  This is obvious, since she is quite literally part of him, his motivation for trying to reach mars, his oldest friend, his first love, and perhaps the single best female character in the game.  His love for her is so much a part of his life that, in most cases, he cannot even consider giving up on her even to save the life of his lover of the time.  There are endings where he does choose to move on from her... but this is always initiated and encouraged from Kokoro's side and it inevitably scars him deeply in the process.  It is a mark of how powerful she is as a character that two of the three heroine paths have endings defined at least partly on whether he decided to lose her in order to gain the power to save his lover.  Kokoro herself is easily the wisest character in the game, with a unique outlook born from being an eternal observer.

Shannon Wordsworth was Shiranui's mentor.  He was a brilliant but inscrutable man with a dark past, a definite charisma, and a near-infinite curiosity.  He is also, despite indications otherwise in the various paths, completely and utterly sane.  He is a  man who, once he discovers what he wants, will do anything and everything to obtain those desires, up to and including sacrificing friends and companions and causing them immense suffering.  It isn't that he doesn't care.  He feels guilt, he feels sorrow, he feels regret... but he doesn't even consider stopping.  His desire to pursue his dreams is prioritized over all things, and it is an aspect of his personality that is reflected at least somewhat in Shiranui himself. 

Tyron Bistwork is a brilliant man who desires nothing more than a future where intelligent robots are friends with children.  However, like all three of the adult Disasters other than Shannon, his love for humanity was twisted by Shannon's manipulations so that he believed forcing humanity to face him and the others as a tribulation and a test was the best thing for humanity as a whole.  Tyron is a playful child in a lot of ways, often modifying his machines or playing tricks on people on a whim.  This remains when he becomes Earthquake in his development of Hecatoncheir, a giant Barbaroi robot with a giant plasma cannon, multiple Patches, and the ability to learn.

Dmitri Kalanikov is, at his core, the most heroic character in the game.  Oh, he is also a villain.  That is inevitable, considering the role forced on him.  As Volcano, he was the most obsessed with putting humanity to the test... but that was due to his incredible love for humanity, twisted as it was by Shannon's manipulation of his psyche, as well as his daughter Tsunami.  Before his transformation, he was very much the doting father, the cheery leader, a man of courage who stood out amongst other men of courage.  It needs to be said that, if I had to name a character outside the central cast (Shiranui, Shannon, the heroines, and Kokoro) who should be considered the game's MVP, it would be him.  His death in Shizuku's path left such an impression on me that I find myself comparing all other sacrifice scenes to it, no matter the anime I'm watching or the game I'm playing.

Maya leaves the weakest impression of the Disasters.  Part of this is because she is quiet and retiring by nature, part is because she lacks the ferocity, the fire of some of the others.  In a cast of characters burning with passion, she is a woman of gentleness, kindness, and compassion.  However, this very kind nature is twisted against her by Shannon when he transforms her into Avalanche, making her believe not only that the trials are the best thing for humanity, but that her actions are a mercy.  She is the most self-aware of the Disasters (excluding Shannon and whereas Tyron is the least), and Higashide uses this poignantly to demonstrate just how thoroughly the psyches of the three are manipulated.

Kou is insane.  He is, in fact, the only character in this game that can really be considered to be insane.  The reason I say this is because, for the most part, he can't tell the difference between his hatred for humanity and his hatred for Shiranui.  Kou, before he discovered that Shiranui has Chenfui's heart, was a mildly misanthropic young man who nonetheless managed to be cheerful and friendly within the small circle of friends he had made.  However, the fact that Shiranui was his closest friend made his hatred all the stronger when he discovered the truth about it.  For this reason, almost every scene involving him and Shiranui is intense and emotional... and heartbreaking.  It also makes the 'Departure of the Calamity Monkeys' in Shizuku's second and third endings all the more poignant, since it is the only path where brother and sister reunite and are able to talk directly, even if it is only for a brief time before they go to their eternal rest.

Pochi-sensei is a character that is typical of Higashide... he loves to include talking animals in his games, and Pochi-sensei is, in my opinion, the best of those.  He is intelligent, wise, and warm-hearted.  He is a teacher to the core, educating, protecting, and watching over the students as the school principal for Forsyth.  He is also incredibly cool in battle and a wonderful supporting character.

 

The Heroines
 

Spoiler

 

Kazuna is an interesting heroine.  As a 'Star Priestess' (the name for the rare leaders with near-godly powers of telekinesis), she is required to remove all forms of bias from her interactions with others.  She was trained (brainwashed really) almost from birth for this purpose.  While she is often playful and loves to make jokes, she is bound by psychological chains to her duty.  Moreover, she has a mass of complexes born from her inherent distance from the rest of humanity.  Her route is made incredibly hilarious by the cycle of Shiranui making an inappropriate comment>Kazuna flushing while blowing him away>Shiranui apologizing in a way that makes it worse.

Rydia is adorable.  Seriously, if you don't instantly think this when you see her leaping toward Shiranui or Shizuku, you probably aren't an otaku.  She is also very charismatic in other senses, a warleader with a talent for situational awareness and tactics.  Her great complex, about her mostly mechanical body, is one I can't really empathize with (I dream of discarding this fleshy body for a nice android shell), but the emotions behind it make perfect sense in a setting where machines automatically equal the enemy.  The contrast between her and Hekatoncheir in her path is interesting, not the least how it ends in the threesome ending with Aqua, where Hekatoncheir finally gains something close to humanity... as he dies.

Aqua is a side-heroine available in Rydia's path as part of a threesome ending with her.  She is an Earth Seed, a type of human born with a psychic connection to the spirit of humanity's homeworld.  As such, her emotions are extremely limited, and she is bound to obey a creed of putting humanity first in all things.  However, her emotions toward Rydia are pretty obvious from the outside (protectiveness, love, etc), and she is incredibly cute when she ceases to be an Earth Seed and has to confront the full set of human emotions. 

Shizuku is... Shiranui's greatest friend (whereas Kou was his best male friend), his comrade in arms, and the person outside of Kokoro who understood him the best.  As such, in her path, the relationship shift is a bit painful for both of them, since they subconsciously avoided forming such a relationship for years.  She loves anything Japanese, loves fighting, and has a thing for jidaigeki.  She is also Shiranui's designated tsukkomi role, meaning she spends an inordinate amount of time hitting him with a paper fan.  She is an all-around genius, capable of mastering just about any skill given time, and because of this, Shiranui has a minor complex toward her.  At the same time, she has a similar complex toward his ability to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances.  Typical of the 'true' heroine of any Higashide game, she is so close to Shiranui and understands him so well that they rarely require words.


 

 

Clephas

A few words before I get into this...

As my previous post spells out, I will no longer be doing the VN of the Month column, and this VN was the one that was the straw that broke the camel's back.  That said, it isn't like I didn't enjoy what I played of it once I got past the sticking points (date scenes).  If anything, this game is a definite increase over the quality seen in Ensemble's works since Gokigen Naname blew me away. 

That said, when it comes down to it, this game is SOL all the way.  The protagonist is the son of the owner of a small but stylish restaurant cafe and what amounts to the assistant cook.  He has a firm grasp on what he wants out of life (to become a fully accredited cook), and he is also very responsible and good-hearted in general. 

The common route is basically one typical harem-building element after another, ranging from meeting a girl who constantly gives off 'I'm sickly but trying to hide it poorly' vibes (the protagonist doesn't notice, of course) to a seemingly strong-willed and free-spirited oneesama who shows off her fragile side at odd times.  By the time it was over, even though it wasn't really long, I was so happy that I wanted to thank the  magic bunnies for releasing me from that cliched hell. 

It needs to be said that there are too many heroines in this game, and Ensemble's current art team has such a limited range of facial designs that I honestly found it hard to tell the 'normal heroine' trio (Iori, Sanae, and Misato) apart from visuals at times.   This was one of the reasons that my first impression of the game was blandness, despite the characters having dynamically different personalities, for the most part.

Before I go any further, I'll say that the paths I played were the omake Nazuna path and Youko's path.  This was because those were the only heroines I became interested in during the common route, which is probably the best reason possible.

Youko's path is surprisingly long (it looks like the short common route is compensated for by longer and more complex heroine routes), and it is pretty emotional.  While there were some definite moments where I winced at the predictability of certain events, I did manage to enjoy it to the end... which brings up the ending, which is actually excellent, because it is a 'four years down the road' ending that sees Youko having grown past her hangups and living happily with the protagonist... a definite benefit of an epilogue that goes forward significantly in time.

Nazuna's path is an omake path, but it shouldn't have been.  Nazuna is probably the cutest character in the game (other than possibly baby Minamo or a certain character who pops up in Youko's epilogue), and she is a rare yamato nadeshiko type to boot.  However, she is cursed with an omake path that is short, feels forced, and ends without an epilogue.  The decision not to make Nazuna a central heroine was a horrible one, and it isn't one I'm going to forgive anytime soon, lol.

Clephas

I've been considering this for some time, but it has suddenly become a reality.

To be blunt, I've come to my limit when it comes to playing pure SOL games.  Oh, I can still enjoy many of them, but if you asked me whether I can look at them without my resentment of 'normal' SOL content blinding me, the answer is no.  If I have to read through one more template date scene or see another osananajimi climb through the window from next door, I'm going to start tearing out the last remaining hairs atop my head.

*coughs* Ahem, now that I've got that out, it needs to be said that I've been doing this since September of 2012... a ridiculous amount of time to be playing roughly 80% of all non-nukige VNs that come out (I'm figuring those I dropped or just couldn't play because they were just that bad into the twenty percent). 

Just to be clear, I will still continue to play VNs and comment on/review them in this blog.  However, I will no longer play as many outside my tastes, nor will I go out of my way to seek gems from companies I hate reading from. 

I realized while I was playing Koisaku (Ensemble's latest game), that a few years ago, I would have read this game without any real problems, and I wouldn't even have blinked at the crap that now drives me up the wall.  Oh sure, Ensemble's base quality has fallen massively, but when I took a step back, this is actually one of the better amongst their more recent games, with plenty of indications of real stories for the heroines in the background.  However, I found I just couldn't tolerate it.

It hit me in the date scene that occurs in the common route... I have no tolerance for date scenes at all anymore.  Scenes like that exist for every heroine in every SOL VN, and they all turn out in almost an identical fashion.  Reading it, even though it was basically a 'friend date', was like dragging my brain through mud.  I just couldn't do it.

I promised myself that I wouldn't BS myself on this particular matter years ago... and I knew the limit was coming.  I just didn't realize that it would be this soon.

So, I have to announce that this is the end of my VN of the Month column.  Now, all that remains is my Random VNs and whatever VNs I choose to play each month.

I will continue to play what I'm interested in, and that will probably include slice-of-life at times.  However, I will no longer play SOL out of a sense of duty to my readers. 

My original reasons for starting VN of the Month

When I first started Clephas' VN of the Month, it was because vndb gives nothing to you for info on their games beyond poor tls of the game summary from Getchu, character profiles, and sometimes tags (that might or might not be accurate).  I felt that that didn't do most games justice, and I hated the way I had to go into a game blind on so many occasions.  As such, I started putting up commentaries on just what kind of VN I was playing, with few or no spoilers.  This was a need that, at the time, was not being fulfilled (and as far as I know, still isn't, since most reviewers include major spoilers because they are inconsiderate). 

Over time, my routine each month started with figuring out which games weren't nukige and which I would play first...  and picking out which one was the best after I played them (the latter of course being entirely a matter of my opinion, informed as it might be). 

However, it is time to set down my burden.  I tried handing off my work to others, and that worked for a while (thanks to @Dergonu@fun2novel@BookwormOtaku@Kiriririri for their help over the last year - yes, even you, Kiriririri).  In the end, though, I'm just one man... and one middle-aged man with increasingly bad health isn't going to be able to keep this up any longer.  Heck, I'm amazed i kept going this long.

I do hope someone else takes up the torch of at least informing people of what to expect in newer games (and not just the ones from popular companies), but that isn't my job anymore. 

Thanks for reading,

Clephas

 

Clephas

This is the latest VN by AXL, and it is also the latest in its 'swords fantasy' (there is very little magic in these games) series (I say series, but they are just a line of similarly-designed games).  The previous games in this series include Princess Frontier, Hyakka Ryouran Elixir, Racial Merge, and Ou no Mimi ni wa Todokanai.  This is also AXL's fifteenth game, making it one of the most prolific companies (ignoring subsidiaries) still active. 

Like all the games in this series, it is based in a world whose tech level is medieval with bits and pieces of higher levels of technological development here and there.  This one falls in an area similar to Ou no Mimi, rather than Princess Frontier or Hyakka Ryouran, meaning it has a somewhat more violent turn almost from the beginning.  The protagonist is an antique dealer (thus the game's name) named Rowan who, due to the loss of his parents during an adventure at the highest levels of the tower, has had to deal with an aversion to the tower that is at the center of the town that serves as the center of the game's story.  This changes when a young girl bearing a greatsword named Linaria comes into the picture, and he finds himself guiding a young group of adventurers through the lower levels of the tower.

Rowan is not only an antique dealer but an exceptionally talented dagger-user and toolmaker.  He is also the only individual in the town that can repair the various machines that come down from the tower.  If I were to pick his class, I'd consider him to be a cross between an engineer and a rogue, with excellent crowd-control techniques and stuns.  Like a lot of mature protagonists, there is a disconnect between his emotions and rational behavior, and as a result, he will often take the logical path, even when it conflicts with what his heart wants, thus leading to him being a bit dense about emotions in general. 

The tower is much like a lot of roguelike rpg towers (though this game isn't an rpg) where people climb the tower to gather treasure, fighting monsters and robot-like Guardians as they do so.  The power gems taken from the Guardians can be used in various devices made from parts taken from the tower, and this is the source of most of the setting's higher technology.  The tower itself is self-repairing and self-defending, deploying seemingly endless numbers of Guardians and monsters.  No one knows how high it goes.

The three heroines are the young princess Karin, the protagonist's adoptive sister Mira, and the newbie adventurer girl Linaria.  Karin is a sort-of tsundere who very obviously is in love with Rowan from the beginning.  Her father is the second King of the country (that consists of the tower, the town, and the land around it), but she only realized she was a princess at a relatively late age due to the closeness of the royal family to the people.  Mira is a responsible girl who takes care of most of the chores and the account books at Rowan's shop... and has an unnatural attachment to the spiky ball and chain she uses as a weapon (the first time you see her flushing after squashing an enemy says everything).  Linaria is the daughter of a deceased adventurer who came to find out why her father abandoned his family in order to seek fame and wealth in the tower.  Though she resents adventurers as a profession, she is too kind-hearted to actually take it out on anyone.

Common Route

The common route mostly accounts the trials and tribulations of Rowan and company as they rise through the lower levels of the tower to be acknowledged as full-fledged adventurers (novices are called 'virgins' until they reach town on the Twentieth Floor).  If you like AXL games' style of character interaction, you'll like the slice-of-life elements, and the battles are actually tactically interesting (something that is unusual for AXL).  There are a few emotional moments dealing with Rowan's past, but the common route mostly serves to familiarize you with the characters. 

Normal Ending

This is an ending you get if you fail to pick one of the three main heroines.  It is basically a joke ending where the results of his actions in the common route come home to roost, lol.

Karin

Karin's path starts out with a lot of light ichaicha and a somewhat annoying get-together sequence.  However, at roughly the halfway point, it suddenly turns dark and violent... and outright bloody.  The violence in this path startled me a bit, as it is out of character for AXL (AXL generally restricts violence to one or two scenes in a given path, and never on this kind of scale).  However, the story was interesting, and I left the path feeling satisfied.  The actual progression from lighter atmosphere to darker one is common on AXL's games, and anyone who has played one will probably recognize the pattern...  That didn't bother me, though, since it was interesting in and of itself.

Linaria

I recommend that anyone that plays this game play this path last.  The reason is is that this is the only path that deals with the tower itself and climbing to the top as its subject matter.  It is also the only path where certain major issues involving the protagonist are completely and finally resolved in a direct manner.  This is perhaps not surprising, seeing as Linaria was being presented as the 'main heroine' almost from the beginning.  However, it is a situation where anyone who plays this path will be a bit displeased with the other two if they played it first.  The path itself is a lot less bloody than Karin's (to be blunt, Karin's path is the only one that gets bloody and serious to that degree), but it is still a good path, with a more emotional focus than Karin's.

Mira

Mira is my favorite of the three heroines, so I left her for last this time.  She is the protagonist's adoptive little sister, and she falls under the archetype of the 'imouto who scolds her beloved oniichan but adores him'.  Mira is a serious girl who cares deeply about the antique shop they are running, and as a result, most of her path deals with the economic issues of the city and the tower.  It was when I finished this path that I came to the conclusion that Mira's path is the 'merchant' path, Karin's is the 'nation' path, and Linaria's is the 'adventurer' path. 

Mira's path is full of secrets and conspiracies, and it has some really good moments for Verbena (who is incidentally my favorite character in this game).  It is also frequently humorous in ways the other two paths didn't manage, which was a plus for me.

Some thoughts

A few thoughts/complaints about this game.  I honestly liked this game a great deal... but it seriously needed a grand route to put the themes of the other paths into a single one.  The issues in each path weren't going to go away just because they weren't dealt with in those individual paths, and it bugs the hell out of me that there was no single path that brought them all to a resolution.

I also think Verbena should have had a path other than the normal ending.  Sure, she is a slut, a heavy drinker, and takes pleasure in unleashing her spiky weapons (ranging from morning stars to kusarikama)... but her personality is just awesome.  Seeing that kind of character go all deredere is one of my favorite AXL events (AXL does really good 'haraguro' heroines).

Conclusion

If you liked any of the other 'swords fantasy' AXL games, you'll like this one.  It has all the elements that make those games great, such as the protagonist being equally or more important than the heroines, decent action without being focused on the action, and a mix of light humor and serious story that keeps slice of life from getting out of hand.  I'll be the first to admit that AXL doesn't change its art style or character archetypes, but that never seems to effect whether their games are good or not.

 

Clephas

VN of the Month, May 2018

First, VN of the Month, May 2018 is Shunkyoku no Tyrhia.  While the game had some serious flaws, like all Liar Soft games, it was enjoyable enough that I felt it worth becoming a candidate for VN of the Month. 

Maoten

Maoten is the game I was looking forward to the most for June's releases... and I was not in any way disappointed.  The game is classic Candy Soft in some ways (the over the top characters, looser sexual mores than the norm in non-nukige, etc), but it also stands out as its own story. 

This game focuses on a small town where a large number of demons settled after giving up rather quickly on conquering the world.  The protagonist, who is at first unaware of this, is forced to an awareness of their existence by the rather extreme occurrence of Carlen's emergence into the world.  Carlene, who is essentially a hedonistic free spirit with a child's attention span, becomes a catalyst for an interesting central story. 

The protagonist of the story, Rentarou is a fishing addict with a kind heart and an inordinate fondness for women with large breasts (I know... *smiles wryly and shrugs*).  He can be be proactive when it is necessary, but, as is typical of many essentially introspective protagonists, he has a tendency to fail to ask for help when he needs it. 

There are three heroines in this game (though there are several noteworthy side-characters with h-scenes as well).  The heroines are Rita (the protagonist's psychotic osananajimi), Yuuri (the protagonist's adoptive elder sister who happens to be a battle angel), and Carlene (the demon lord who devoured Shiva when he came down to obliterate the demon world). 

In Maoten's world, demons who disrupt the human world seriously are subject to obliteration (usually along with any geographical features and lifeforms in the area) by the Angels, who are 'guardians of order' (supposedly).  As such, the demons who arrived twenty years before survived by making agreements with Earth's government to allow for their settlement there.

Common Route

The common route varies between comedic and serious moments, with those same moments (typical of Candy Soft and its subsidiaries) often being mixed heavily.  Generally speaking, most of it is comedic, with the more serious moments concentrated mostly in the beginning and at the end.  A lot of this is simply because of the need to form a solid picture of Carlene's character, since she is the only one of the three heroines not to be living in immediate proximity to the protagonist. 

I enjoyed the (rather long) common route and it had good pacing.  However, it did leave a lot of things to your imagination int he worst way, so I felt myself wanting more even as I went into the heroine paths.

Carlene

Naturally, Carlene's path is the one I chose first.  The relationship formation in this path is... kind of weird.  Oh, there is definitely love there, but the resulting relationship can't really be called romantic.  Rather it ends up as a rather weird version of a Queen and consort relationship, mostly due to Carlene's beliefs and her own view of her feelings toward Rentarou.  There were a lot of rofl moments in this path, not the least during the h-scenes (you know that you are enjoying it when the h-scenes make you laugh).  The actual story was good...  and though I disliked how they dealt with the protagonist's own major issue, I just shrugged and lived with it in the end.  The ending is one that made me smile, and it was perhaps too convenient... but I've yet to encounter a good ending from this company or its subsidiary (Minato soft) that wasn't that way to one extent or another.

Yuuri

Yuuri is an adorable person.  While she seems both strict and friendly in public, in private with the protagonist, she is very much the 'wannabe oneechan', and she values her relationship with Rentarou greatly.  The relationship building in this path is ridiculously straightforward, but in exchange this path deals with the events of ten years before (which involve the protagonist). 

Like Karin's path, this one starts mostly amusing but becomes more story-focused as the protagonist digs deeper into past events surrounding the decaying hospice and himself.  It was enjoyable, and the ending is worthy of a few happy tears in itself.

Rita

Rita's first path is something of a bad/normal ending.  The story itself is excellently-written (as should be expected, given my experience with the previous paths), and this story deals the most intimately with the protagonist's most dramatic past issue.  That said, this path has a much darker turn than the other two, at least for a time, and there is one scene that is borderline guro, so anyone coming into this one should be prepared.  The humor in this path is much like the humor in the rest of the VN (typical Minato-soft/Candy Soft style character typical humor). 

To give you a better idea of Rita's personality, she is like Kagome from Comyu (if she wasn't killing people to survive) or Momoyo from Majikoi (if she wasn't a martial artist).  She is actively mischievous, strongly attached to her small circle of closest friends, and extremely hedonistic and self-absorbed much of the time.

Rita 2 (Another Path)

This path is referred to as Rita's second ending, but it is actually a non-romantic ending that serves as a general conclusion (it also wraps up the biggest loose end from the first Rita ending) to the story as a whole.  This path is equally dramatic to Rita's path, but it is also a lot more emotionally stressful for much of its length.  That said, I can honestly say there are no more secrets to this game's setting once this path is done, so it left me with a definite sense of satisfaction with the game as a whole.

Omake

The omake scenes in this game are basically a series of post-Another Path story and h-scenes focused on side characters (including one yaoi scene with Ramu).  They are mostly humorous and/or ecchi... and it was nice to get some h-scenes with the game's rather large set of interesting female side-characters. 

Conclusion

A first-class game that I've already put on my list of VN of the Year candidates.  If you like the Majikoi style, this is an excellent game for you, but if you don't like it, there is a good chance you'll hate it.  This game is apparently based in the same world as the Majikoi series, based on a cameo of certain characters, but I honestly question that, since I can't see Momoyo failing to sense Carlene and come to 'visit', lol.

Clephas

Before I go visit my remaining grandparents this weekend (my grandmother on my father's side and grandfather on my mother's side are both in extremely frail condition right now, so we are taking time to show my sister's kid to them), I thought I would give my thoughts on modern VN trends.

Charage aren't going anywhere

Though I frequently bash the industry for over-saturating the market with moege/charage/SOL, the fact is that the demand for this type of VN is never going to go away as long as the Japanese eroge VN market exists.  Why?  Because it is the single easiest way to present the formation of relationships of young people into a sexual one.  While the genre isn't that attractive for people in their late teens or early to mid-twenties (incidentally the reason this market is declining), the majority of any older generation is always going to prefer this.  The lesser numbers of young people in Japan compared to my generation and the lower relative amounts of income are the main reasons for the current contraction of the genre.

Good Writers don't go into VNs anymore

This is a truth that few of the plotge addicts like me want to admit.  Most of the best writers in the VN industry are getting into middle age or later now (or have already left it), and the new and upcoming writers are mostly up and coming LN writers who have a far looser grasp on how to write/narrate and (more importantly) complete a story.  This doesn't mean they won't evolve their styles to match the new medium eventually, but whenever I've read a VN written by one of these newbies, the plot holes and poor handling of the endings of their games stand out painfully.

Chuunige are in decline

I absolutely hate to say this.  However, it needs to be said.  Trends in the last nine years in chuunige have tended to result in far too much side-story exploitation and sequelitis.  There is also a distinct lack of innovation, and when innovation does come, it tends to come with a huge drop in quality in the final product (Sora no Baroque).   Fans of the genre are getting older, and some companies (such as Light) have been putting their games in non-ero form on consoles to try to grasp the hearts of younger VN lovers (this has actually succeeded to an extent), but the fact is that it takes a much longer time for a chuunige company to  make back its investment after a release.  This is exacerbated by economic issues in Japan, and the fact that these companies mostly suck at advertising (like many niche genre companies, they only put it up in places where those already 'in the know' will find them).

VN Trends are always years behind the rest of Otaku-dom

VN communities in Japan are insular.  Even moreso than they are in the US.  When rom-com anime vanished for the most part at the end of the last decade, it was replaced with cheap action-fantasy (shallow, weaker stories for the most part, with more emphasis put on 'cool' elements) and moeblob.  The glut of such anime is reaching its peak right now... and that influence is starting to overflow (interpreted through the lens of the hyper-conservative VN community, of course) into our side of things.  That said, this is a trend that is unlikely to take hold, because it requires a modicum of writing skill that doesn't involve dialogue, and most VN writers just don't have that.  Instead, VN companies that have been around for a while have been 'testing the waters' by making games that step out of their usual niches, hoping to diversify to deal with the changing trends.  Light went with going down a much darker path than usual with its most recent game, and Navel actually put up a half-assed plotge last month.  These, along with many other incidences in the last two years, make me wonder just what the market will look like five years from now. 

Clephas

Tsukiakari Lunch is an oddball game that, despite the fact that I was in a particularly miserable state when I originally played it, I couldn't help fall in love with.  I was playing it in thirty minute snatches in between some of the hardest work I've ever done, and it took me almost two weeks (that's a long time for me) to finish it.  Because of the way I played it, I've always felt that I didn't really do it justice, so I have wanted to go back and play this for years.  I recommend it to people, but I couldn't really say I had a clear memory of all that went on it.

This game's structure is setup so that you first see the prologue (without going to the menu screen) and once you are done with the prologue, you go to the menu screen and start the main game.  When the main game starts, you are immediately asked to pick one of the four heroines.  The individual paths then proceed from there (and are of a pretty good length, though not as long as a chuunige path) to one of two endings (a bad ending or a normal/good ending). 

This story is based in Hoshikage Gakuen, a mysterious school where it is always night and during the two hours of 'Lunchtime', a creepy period where color seems leeched from the world, shadows attack and individuals called 'Witches' seek to devour anyone else they find.  The protagonist of this story, Shiki Haruhiko, is a wannabe teacher who wakes up with Fuyu, one of the heroines, sticking a gun (what looks to be a Mauser C96).  The situation that proceeds from there eventually leads to him meeting the four heroines... and finding out that one of the ways to leave the school and return to their various worlds is for someone to grant their wishes... with the catch that none of them remember those wishes (so remembering the wish is part of the journey).  The nature of these wishes is such that they could not, under any circumstances, be granted in the worlds from which they came.

The Heroines

Fuyu- Fuyu is the first heroine the protagonist meets.  She is an emotionless girl with an extensive knowledge of fighting, survival, and killing who always acts in a rational way and displays (and for the most part, feels) no emotion.  Like all the girls in this game except for Aki, she lacks common reference points with the others, because her world is one that has been at war for so long that they are down to children and young women... and nobody else.  It is so bad that she seems to honestly have no idea of the causes of the war or why anyone is fighting, save for survival.

Aki- The second heroine (and the one unlocked after all the others).  Aki is a quiet, kind-hearted girl who tends to keep her emotions bound up inside.  She is the most 'normal' of the girls on the surface, and she can generally be depended on to give good advice at the right times.  She is probably from a world similar to that of Haruhiko, because she understands his perspective well and naturally enough (they share reference points).  However, this is not certain, because she has no memories, including her name (Aki being the name Haruhiko gives her).

Natsuno- The third girl to arrive, a bundle of curiosity and smiles from a world where technology has advanced to the point where people are overseen by their computers, kept locked into a virtual space from birth to death, without any interaction with one another.  She is a genius, capable of creating machines to do just about anything in minimal amounts of time, and she is curious about everything, especially other people.  Because she has never had any real contact with others, her innocence is sometimes jarring on matters of interpersonal communication.

Avrill- A young princess from a world where humans wield swords and magic desperately to fend off hordes of monsters that plague their lives every day.  She is definitely a leader type, with a tendency to forge ahead and take control of situations.  However, she is rarely without a smile on her face, and she can be depended on to tease Haruhiko constantly.  Above all the others, her personality is the most mature, most likely because she has, unlike Natsuno, experienced the dark sides of the world, and, unlike Fuyu, understands the emotions and feelings of others. 

The Witches

Nishino- The individual responsible for summoning Haruhiko, an ever-smiling witch who loves nothing more than toying with others and watching their reactions.  Like all witches, she loses her ability to think rationally and is driven by the desire to devour non-Witches during Lunchtime, but most of the time, she is actually fairly helpful.  She is an alchemist and doll-user.

Kitayama- The resident witch of the infirmary, a handsome male witch with a tendency to sit around just putting his life into his research.  He is a sorcerer type (magical attacks and the like).  He is very wise... but like all the other witches, he too loses his rationality at Lunchtime and is driven by the desire to devour others.

Azuma- A cold-eyed witch who wanders the  halls of Hoshikage at random, searching for quiet places to be alone.  While she is apparently close to Nishono, her reactions even to her tend to be very kuudere-ish.  She really does resent interruptions and having people chat her up, and she likes even less other people asking her for help. 

Minami- A kind-hearted witch who ends up serving as Haruhiko's assistant homeroom teacher.  Her gentle manner and inability to handle sexual jokes hide a surprisingly sharp mind.  She warns the most strongly of the witches about running if they meet her during Lunchtime, and she can be made to blush easily by Haruhiko's stare or oddly suave words (since he never talks that way to anyone else). 

The Paths

Fuyu

Fuyu's path begins with the protagonist, Haruhiko, gradually gaining understanding of her as an individual, pulling out the emotions she cut away to allow herself to survive.  Fuyu's transformation from what amounts to a living doll to a warm-hearted and deeply loving (almost motherly) woman is one of my favorite parts of this game, even aside from the reasonably good battle scenes.  This path is highly emotional, in part because her wish is so basic that in any sane world it would have been possible to grant without being dragged into Hoshikage Gakuen.  I spent the last thirty minutes solid crying.

Natsuno

This is becoming almost a theme for this VN, but I spent most of the last part of this VN in or on the verge of tears.  Seeing Natsuno evolve from a true innocent into someone who understands at least something of how actions have consequences was interesting... and the relationship between her and the protagonist is gentle and beautiful.   Sadly, I can't go into details, because that would spoil the path... but it ends on a somewhat bittersweet note (the bad ending is sort of sexy). 

Avril

Avril's path, while having a some dramatic moments at the beginning, is mostly a gentle one.  Like the previous two paths, this path was about the heroine's personal growth and her achieving a personal salvation that wasn't possible on her own world, a world plagued by endless hordes of monsters.  Like Natsuno's path, the road to the ending is full of love, joy, and salvation... even for the witches.  The ending, true to form, is bittersweet.  I also recommend that people play this path third, regardless of the order you played Natsuno and Fuyu's paths, because the after scene is too revealing about what lies behind the scenes of the stage they are acting upon.

Aki

Of course, Aki's path is the final path, revealing everything that lies behind the curtain (as opposed to merely hinting or giving you bits and pieces, like the others).  You find out what precisely the 'witches' are and the how and why of Hoshikage Gakuen's existence and purpose.  However, like all the others, it begins with opening the heroine's heart to the protagonist... but in the process, you also learn about the hidden aspects of Shiki Haruhiko's own presence in the school.  This path has a happy ending, and it also shows ending parts for the other three heroines that tell you what happened to them 'afterward', leaving you satisfied as to their fates.

Conclusion

As I always thought, I definitely underestimated this VN due to my situation at the time I originally read it in 2013 (I already updated my rating of it on vndb).  Though I knew most of the important details (remembered them), I still laughed, cried, and enjoyed the process of figuring out the school with them.  One thing that I didn't mention above is the degree to which the paths reveal individual witches' fundamental humanity, which periodically switches to the monstrous shell they wear during 'Lunchtime'.  I should note that the Bad Endings for Natsuno and Aki are worth watching, simply because the endings are in the best tradition of such endings.

Overall, I can honestly state this game is a kamige.  It has everything, good music, good visuals, an excellent plot, near-perfect pacing, and great characters.  The stylistic choices in the writing at certain points were a true work of art, and I can honestly recommend this game to anyone who wants a good cry. 

Clephas

First, I should note that this is a series that is right up the alley of people like Dergonu... it were a VN.  This series, Under Jurisdiction by Susan R Matthews, mostly follows Andrej Koscuisko, a Drakonij Prince and would-be (though not by his own will) Inquisitor. 

Setting

The Under Jurisdiction series is based in a sci-fi future where humanity, at some point, diversified so greatly that sub-specification has occurred (though most aren't quite separate species entirely.  In this future, humanity (such as it is) is ruled by the judiciary, in the form of the Bench.  All humans are subject to the law as proclaimed by the judicial forces, and punishments are mostly corporal... horribly so in some cases. 

In this setting, torture is not only allowed, it is actually carried out by licensed medical professionals trained to inflict the maximum amount of pain to gain confessions of crimes (regardless of how heavy the evidence is), and, where it is justified, to torture them to death in the most horrible of fashions.  This legal use of torture as a deterrent to criminals has led to a gradual decay in the morale of the planets ruled by the Judges on the Bench, and rebellions have begun to occur on a regular basis by the time the protagonist, Andrej, takes his first steps into the world of the Fleet.

Andrej Koscuisko

Andrej is an extremely complex man... a man raised in a noble family of oligarchs who believe intensely and with absolute conviction in the duties of noblesse oblige and the duties to those under a lord's protection.  He is also a young medical professional, a genius surgeon and chemist with a the kind of skill in actual surgical procedures that is seen so rarely as to be unheard of.  He understands the human body (all races) to a degree that is often terrifying, and this is part of what becomes his plague... for when he begins his training, he discovers that, to his horror, the process of Inquisition brings out an intense, sick hunger to inflict pain upon and dominate the subjects that come under his hands.  Coupled with his natural understanding of the body and human psychology, he comes out of his training as the most horrifyingly skilled Inquisitor in Bench history, an artist of pain eternally on the verge of madness due to the conflicting imperatives within him.  He is only held back from the edge of the cliff by the efforts of his Bond Involuntaries, former criminals implanted with behavioral governors that force them to absolute obedience, so they can serve as his aides, and they are thus under his protection.  Their care for him, for his sanity, for his health, and for his honor, is all that keeps the sadistic madness at bay as it fights with his honor and inherent compassion...

The Story

The story follows Andrej from his training as an Inquisitor and first encounter with a Bond Involuntary, to his first duty as a Fleet Inquisitor and beyond... His fight with madness as he tries to glean mercy and justice from the horrors he is forced to perform on others, his fight to keep his honor, to protect his Bond Involuntaries from others who would use them poorly, and his fight with his own, culturally-ingrained sense of filial duty are intense to read.  For all the foreignness of his culture, Andrej's journeys through life leave behind an impact far out of proportion for the actual deeds he performs. 

Unfortunately, if you have a weak stomach, I can't recommend this story at all.  The galaxy Under Jurisdiction is one of the most horrifying dystopian sci-fi systems I've ever seen... all the worse when you realize that it all began out of a desire for justice and fair play in a universe where human racism has, if anything, gotten worse thousands of years after leaving Earth.

Clephas

This is a question I've asked myself on any number of occasions (and despite my own thoughts below, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this as well).  For some reason, most vampire literature with a vampire protagonist has that protagonist hating him/herself and his/her condition (switching to 'his' after this sentence, for the sake of brevity). 

Let's be honest with ourselves... if we could gain immortality, immense strength, and the ability to control people's minds in exchange for having to suck human blood and stay out of the sun, the greater majority of us would probably leap at the chance.  Humans are selfish creatures, and the advantages seem to far-outweigh the disadvantages on the face of it.

One common answer to this is morality.  To be honest, I think this is the second worst answer of them all.  Yes, in the case of a vampire setting where the vampire has to kill the subject or infects anyone he bites, it makes sense for there to be a moral issue.  However, if that is not the case, this one doesn't pan out.  Sure, drinking blood sounds evil in and of itself... but if you aren't human, it isn't cannibalism, now is it?  Hedonism?  Is there anyone in a first-world nation that isn't at least a little hedonistic?

Another one is a sense of isolation.  Now this one makes a bit more sense as a negative for vampirism... but not for sucking blood.  Sure, it might be hard to make friends with your food, but it wouldn't be the first time.  No, the issue here is lies.  By nature, vampires need to hide themselves, since they are well... scary.  I mean, if something essentially eats a part of you to survive and looks similar to you, how can that not be scary in a visceral sense?  So yes, the isolation is a good reason to be afraid of your own vampirism if you are a vampire.

A sense of normalcy.  This is the one you see the most in VNs, and I honestly think that it is an abomination.  It is the worst answer.  Almost every vampire protagonist in a VN wants to regain their 'normal life', and this often results in them taking their anger out on the people who saved them and/or love them.  Sure, you pay a price for your vampirism... if you can't go out in the sun (a rarity in VNs), then it is hard to go to school.  If you have to suck human blood, then you can't really be called normal.  However, that sense that normalcy trumps everything (no I don't mean the president) is ridiculous.  I honestly find this kind of attitude annoying as hell in a protagonist, and it is only the ones who don't linger on it constantly that I'm willing to forgive.

Violent instincts... now this one is laughable.  'Vampires have violent instincts!!!'  Umm... hello?  What race goes around killing people for stupid reasons like religious affiliation, what side of a line on a map they live, and who has a better cow in their barn?  *snorts contemptuously*

In the end, vampirism in fiction is a trade-off... and self-hating vampires who stay that way without a good reason always strike me as fake (Toshirou from Vermilion has good reason, but most don't).

Clephas

This is my fourth time replaying the Light VN, Vermilion Bind of Blood, and to my startlement, I realized that my only commentary on this is is in my ancient VN of the Month Thread on the forums.  So... of course I cannot leave my beloved public ignorant of this game (though I've made a habit of recommending it to everyone, like Evolimit).

Vermilion was the first chuunige made by Light's second team, and it was my first experience of the team's work.  It is also probably that team's single most balanced VN, and it is the only one I call a kamige, albeit with a few reservations. 

The protagonist of this story is one Kashima Toshirou (who is referred to in the Western fashion as Toshirou Kashima throughout the whole game).  He is a former samurai from the era just before the opening up of Japan by Perry's black ships who became a vampire.  Now he is a gloomy man who serves as a watcher for the vampiric community of the fictional American city of Foggy Bottom.  Toshirou is something of an anomaly amongst vampires in general... and most seem to hate him instinctively (there is good reason for this, though few ever know it).  He considers all vampires merely to be an extension of humans, denying the vampire legend that most believe in, and he has nothing but contempt for those who allow themselves to drown in their power and the arrogance born from it.

This game has four heroines.  They are:

Anne Portman- The first heroine.  You are forced to play her route first (probably because nobody would want to go after her if given a choice).  Unlike the other heroines, who are more or less easy with their lives as vampires, Anne is a timid, kind-hearted girl who is fundamentally unsuited to being a vampire.  Her role in this game is quite similar to that of Kasumi in Dies Irae (more as a contrast in the form of a 'normal person' than as a real heroine).  While her character is less than inspiring (that she is a heroine is the only flaw I see in this game), her path is actually quite good, though less so than the others in this game.  I did and do find the ending worthy of mention, because it is... pleasant in a sad sort of way.  It is also surprisingly uplifting, coming back without being tainted by my dislike for the presence of a Victim A heroine in a chuunige VN.

Sherryl McGregor- The victor of the heroine polls twice in a row, Sherryl is Toshirou's long-standing partner in both work and the home.  Their relationship is a 'don't ask, don't tell' one where they don't talk about their pasts.  It is an easygoing relationship, but it is fairly obvious that Sherryl fell for him decades ago.  If I were to compare Sherryl to a translated VN heroine, it would be the adult Cal Devens from Phantom of Inferno, albeit with a century and a half of experience under her belt.  Sherryl was born in Victorian England, and her experiences in the slums there shaped her base personality.  She bluffs, she fights, and she has a temper... but underneath it all, she is as soft as a fuzzy teddy bear when it comes to Toshirou.  She is also a talented singer, a skill she shows off at Casanova, the bar near the office.  Her path is the most revealing of Toshirou's past (in fact, that is its structural purpose, though that doesn't interfere with its quality), and it is a fun ride...  Her ending is actually pretty hilarious as well as touching, because it is probably the only path in the game where Toshirou manages to move on to some extent (Toshirou is very very stuck in his ways).  Sherryl also grows a great deal as a character in this path (as a matter of course) and it is a pleasure to watch.

Nina Orlok- The Principal (political leader of a Diaspora, which is the name given to vampiric communities) of the Western US Diaspora, a young woman forced into a position far beyond her personal power by her powerful blood father's will after his death.  She sees her duty as the only way to repay her father's trust in her, and she constantly struggles with the gap between what she wants to be and who she actually is.  That said, she is actually a quite capable political leader (a given, since she isn't dead or imprisoned, despite being a youngling in a position that would normally only be allowed to an ancient vampire), with a core of strength hidden under the girl struggling desperately to fulfill her father's hopes.  I sincerely enjoy her path, each time, because her growth as a character is inspiring, especially once she gets past her father complex.  Toshirou in her path is probably the most samurai-like (in the classic sense), and the battle that closes out this path is the third-best in the VN (behind two of the fights in the Grand Route).

Ariya Takajou- The Jaeger (vampire hunter) White Pile's successor, who has come to Foggy Bottom specifically to hunt Toshirou Kashima.  Driven by her desire to prove herself and a latent fear born from her experiences as a child (her family killed before her eyes by vampires), she endured training that would make a Marine recruit run away screaming to obtain the ability to almost match the physical abilities of a vampire (it is something close to inner qigong).   She despises all vampires and sees them as inhuman monsters, but her meeting with Toshirou fills her with a personal hatred, as his obvious (to her) difference from other vampires drives her to obsess over him.  Ariya's personality (on the surface) is very... twisted.  She is probably the single most sharp-tongued heroine I've ever encountered (she makes Kagome from Comyu seem pleasant), quite naturally using insults in a tactical fashion to get vampires to lose their heads and simply because she doesn't like people.  In her own path, she also develops a rather... twisted sort of love for Toshirou (and it is love, mixed with hate, gratitude, and intense sado-masochistic lust).  I always rofl at the way she changes in this path, and the ending... is actually really really cool. 

Grand Route- The Grand Route of this game focuses on fighting the antagonist who was the root cause of the conflicts in the VN, as well as dealing with the origins of vampires in general.  In this path, Toshirou finds himself facing his past and looking into the future in a way he doesn't in the other paths.  This path also has two of the best fights in the game, including the final face-off between the antagonist and Toshirou himself.  This path also gives a really significant insight into the mind of a side-character whom I loved... Klaus, the previous White Pile.  The ending of this path is bittersweet and faintly sad (as is common in a lot of chuunige true endings), but it also gives you a sense of completeness, closing out the VN nicely.

Side-characters worthy of mention

Isaac- Isaac is the bartender at Casanova and plays a key role in all the paths.  He is Toshirou's one true friend, and his personality is a cross between a hedge philosopher and a boy who never gave up his dream (and never will).  His (oddly troubling) life advice frames a lot of the game's key internal conflicts, and his influence can be felt throughout every part of the game, to some degree.

Klaus- The previous White Pile, an elderly Jaeger who fights with a gigantic stake (think a log from a log cabin with its edges carved into a spike-like tip and you get the picture).  He is a warrior to the core, a man who hates vampires absolutely and has made a living sacrifice of his life to cleanse as many of them from the world as possible.  In contrast, his unstinting love for humanity, including its flaws, is awe-inspiring in its strength, and he has an absolute faith in humanity's potential to rise above its own filth.  He saved and raised Ariya to be his successor, and she is perhaps the only chink in his armor other than his personal hate (he normally sees vampires not as individuals but as harmful insects to be crushed) for Toshirou.  He loves her deeply, in a fatherly fashion, and it is his love that is perhaps Ariya's greatest salvation, though it is also her second greatest weakness.

 

Clephas

I'm going to be blunt... if it weren't for the urging of one of my online friends, I wouldn't have played this game.  For one thing, it is a direct prequel to Gakthun, which I didn't have much fun with (I don't really like Japanese versions of Liar Soft games, for some reason... though I loved the English version of Sekien).  It is based in a steampunk world version of one of the most-visited eras of Japanese history in otaku media, the Bakumatsu era. 

In that era, Japan was opened by British air-fortresses, rather than by Perry's gunships, but the results were pretty much the same up until the beginning of the game (albeit with the usual liberties taken).  Since there was no walkthrough out for this game, as of yet, I ended up on a path whose history pretty much echoed rl history save for who died and when (oh and the individuals' motivations, of course).  Whether this was a good thing or not, I dunno... but the ending was decent, if bittersweet (not to mention that the last scene indicates that it is the one that heads into Gakthun). 

The protagonist, Hachirou, is the child of a Shogunate vassal family famous for their real combat oriented sword style.  He himself is a bit obsessed with modern steam technology, and his habit of constantly referring to his pocket watch shows off his straight-as-a-yardstick personality. 

Like a lot of steampunk-series games, this one jumps around between many different perspectives for about three-quarters of the game (relatively little time is spent with Hachirou, considering he is the protagonist), but this game escapes the rather... Steven Brust-style story narration (reference to the Phoenix Guard and its two sequels, which are written in a style that is excessively dramatic and roundabout) that poisoned me against Gakthun and some of the other games by this company.  In that sense, this was the easiest Liar-soft VN for me to read.

This game has heavy Cthulhu Mythos influence throughout its latter parts, ranging from a rather blatant one in the final battle scene of the ending I got to numerous smaller indications throughout.

Is this game good?  Yes, it is well-written and interesting to read.  Is it a kamige?  I can't really judge, since I have no idea how to get the other endings without a lot of trial and error (and I'm too lazy to do that with a liar soft game).  I'm giving it a decent rating because I liked a lot of it... but the way the game treated the Shinsengumi was a bit depressing at times (it really, really sucks to be Shinsengumi in this game). 

Clephas

This is the latest kinetic novel based in the setting created by the 'Uso' series by Campus.  The name of this VN says a lot about how it begins - the name means 'How we began our calculating love-comedy'.  The protagonist, a young man who managed to pay off his parents' massive debt through hard work after their deaths, comes to Mahoshi Gakuen in order to find a rich girl to marry.  This is in part because he is actively suspicious of romantic inclinations due to the fact that his hopelessly inept parents were from rich families and eloped because of opposition from both sides (and he saw his misery as a child being caused by his parents' decision to take love over wealth). 

Despite this, he is essentially a good person... and intelligent, despite frequently making facepalm-worthy decisions and taking facepalm-worthy actions in pursuit of his gold-digging goal.  He approaches Teidou Shirayuki (a younger relative of Setsuka from the Uso series) and is rebuffed harshly... but his experiences in life have left him more than a little psychologically tough, so he decides to continue pursuing her.  It is then that he is approached her maid, Sakura Nono, who offers her help in his plans...

Just to get this out in the open for people who aren't fans of nontraditional or unconventional relationships (or those who are), this VN is a 3P romance story, and it is typical of this series for bucking the common trends in VN romance in a few little ways (that I won't spoil for you).  After I got over wanting to bury my head in my hands over the protagonist's actions in the prologue, I quickly took a shine to the three main characters and their odd little relationship (and it just gets more odd as time goes by).  The protagonist's overconfident attitude and endless optimism about his own capabilities (sometimes justified, sometimes not) is frequently a source for humor, and seeing Shirayuki's cold attitude melt away is a true pleasure to watch.  While Nono frequently takes on a sidekick like role, she still manages to be a solid heroine in her own right, with her possessing almost as much affection for Shirayuki as she does for the protagonist (this is true of Shirayuki as well). 

Despite its premise, this game actually manages to be much more believable in some ways than other VNs with a romantic focus, and that is a huge positive, at least in my view.  I love the relationship building in this game (both before and after the required and omnipresent 'confession scene'), and I came away from this game feeling some of the built-up negative feelings from playing so many charage with almost identical romances shaved away.

Clephas

I'll say this first off... this game actually needed locked paths or a true ending.  Like most Windmill games, the character interactions are pretty heavily reliant on easygoing manzai humor and running character personality and behavior jokes (in fact, most VN humor is based on that).   This game has a cast of four writers (one amateur, one h-scene specialist, and two established names), including Imashina Rio (Gin'iro Haruka and Hoshi Ori Yume Mirai) and Kagami Yuu (ef, Eden*, and Mirai Nostalgia).  Unfortunately, the styles of the two main writers are extremely different, and it is rather blatant when things shift... sometimes in the middle of scenes (this can be jarring and disturbs the flow at times).

Understand, I started out liking this game... I like non-city settings (for some reason, city locales always end up being multi-date ichaicha fests even for heroines who wouldn't be interested in that kind of thing), and the interactions with the heroines and side-characters were amusing.  I even still liked how things were going early in my first heroine path (Serina), but after I headed into a second path, it became apparent they were abusing the 'osananajimi is scared of friend group falling apart' trope.  Oh, the way they abused it is different in each path, but the abuse is so rampant that I had to wince.

Worse, the characters have these pretty much useless powers that only work on each other.  All the paths have the powers as part of the central conflict, but, considering how little the characters seemed to care about their powers in the common route (one way or the other) it felt unnatural how they became central in the actual heroine routes.

Understand, I'm a fantasy freak, so characters having powers is (of course) fine with me... what bothered me was the artificial-feeling limitations and the way the characters so blithely accepted a revelation midway through the path that would have turned most games a bit gloomy.  Again, what's worse is that this was seemingly only utilized conveniently to explain why the other girls (all of whom are latently in love with the protagonist) stop pursuing him once you get on a particular heroine path.  I will say the way they did it was mildly funny (the pseudo-yuri in Himari's path was lol-worthy for instance), but it felt very, very forced to me.

Another issue is that Rinka is rather blatantly the main heroine (the scene I mentioned above makes that very clear).  As a result, all the other paths proceed without resolving the issue of just why that certain event and the issues it brought to the surface came into being.  Of course, as a result, Rinka's path is a very obvious 'true path' and blows away all the others in terms of quality (and length), drawing on elements from the other paths that hinted around the edges about what is revealed in Rinka's path. 

Anyone who plays this game should either only play Rinka's path or play the other paths first (like I did).  While the paths other than Rinka's have some serious issues (the biggest one being choppy pacing and poor use of the setting elements and plot devices), Rinka's path and the common route are definitely worth playing.  Sadly, I can't recommend this one for VN of the Month, but if you want a mildly funny plot-centric charage (yes, they coexist at times), this is a decent choice. 

 

 

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