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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

VN of the Year 2017

As always, I took a ridiculous amount of time considering candidates for VN of the year, this year. 

The final lineup of candidates were:

Aoi Tori

Kin'iro Loveriche

Bakumatsu Jinchuu Houkoku Resshiden Miburo (I determined that it, to an extent, stands on its own enough to be considered)

Suisei Ginka

Haruru Minamo ni

Eliminated:

Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary (lost to Aoi Tori)

Kanojo wa Imouto de Tenshi de (lost to Haruru Minamo ni)

Oni ga Kuru (lost to Kin'iro Loveriche)

Ojou-sama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu (lost to Suisei Ginka)

Explanation:

While those five candidates made it to final consideration, I have to say for the fanboys that I never really seriously considered Kin'iro Loveriche for the final selection once those five candidates popped up.  I reviewed my experiences of each VN individually, then compared them in my mind.  While Kin'iro Loveriche is an excellent game, it just didn't match several of the other VNs on the list.  If I split this into candidates by genre, though, I would consider this the nakige of the year.

Miburo falls off for a different set of reasons... in fact, it probably wouldn't have made it to the finals at all if I wasn't a weaboo and a Japanese history freak.  It is good, it is detailed, and the bloodshed is awesome... but if you asked me if its raw quality is at the very top of the list, I would have said 'In another year, maybe.' 

Suisei Ginka was a great game.  I'll say that before I go through why it failed to make it through the final selection... actually, it just fails to get there because it just isn't good enough.  Oh, the story is interesting and enjoyable, but truth be told, Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary was better in its limited battle scenes, and I honestly found the antagonists to be too weak for a chuunige.  Great bad ending though.

Haruru Minamo ni is definitely my pick for charage of the year, if Loveriche is nakige of the year, lol.  I'll state it outright... no other charage this year got anywhere close to Haruru Minamo ni.  That isn't a surprise, because Clochette's formula (if not the boob obsession) is probably the best established one for the genre.  However, it just didn't make it there.

VN of the Year 2017

Now, you've probably already figured it out from my explanation above, but Clephas VN of the Year 2017 is Aoi Tori.  I probably could have picked any of these in a year with no other equivalent candidates and been satisfied with them as VN of the Year, but, after four 'layers' of consideration (I've been filtering candidates since March last year) this one was the one left over, having barely eked its way past the other VNs above.  Any of the VNs that made it past the filter back in December really had VN of the Year levels of quality, which is unusual.  2017 was a good year for quality VNs, even if I didn't choose the one you wanted me to, lol.

 

Clephas

Gensou no Idea is the third VN from 3rdEye, a company specializing in chuunige.  When I originally played this game, I was a bit more perverse, personality-wise, and as a result, I treated this VN badly, as one of my pet-peeves is dual-perspective VNs.  I generally prefer for there to be only one protagonist, and my reaction to this game was colored badly by that.

First, I'll introduce the protagonists. 

The first protagonist is Minase Yuuma, an optimistic young man who is nonetheless grounded firmly in reality.  There isn't a scrap of malice in this kid, but he is not an innocent or unaware of the nature of the world he lives in... he simply has a very firm philosophy on life, as the result of being raised by a rather... strong personality.  Yuuma is a 'cleaner', specializing in the removal of corpses and the cleaning of homes that have been contaminated by them.  He takes pride in his work, and he is one of the few optimist protagonists I actually like.

The second protagonist is Akashi, an Idea (the term that refers to beings from Utopia that roughly conform to human legends) who possesses control over fire.  His emotions are weak in most areas, partly because he isn't human, partly because he is missing a big chunk of memories.  However, he possesses a driving urge to recover his memories and destroy the 'Phantom' who brought ruin to his life.  He has a strong interest in humans and believes firmly that he is good at mimicking them, but he is... not very good at it, lol. 

Now for the heroines... strictly speaking, there are no separate heroine paths in this game.  This game is, like Sorcery Jokers, essentially a kinetic novel where you choose which protagonist perspective you see first sometimes.  There are epilogues for each heroine, but they are pretty short and to the point.

The first Yuuma heroine is Naru.  Naru is a fortune-teller with a bad case of chuunibyou and an inherent optimism that matches Yuuma's own.  She is very prideful and has a tendency to lose her cool rather easily.

The second Yuuma heroine is Rinon.  Rinon is an idol and an Idea that Yuuma follows obsessively.  She is arrogant, possessive, and violent.  However, once she falls for him she is... passionate and loyal.  I really, really liked her epilogue, and I almost fell out of my chair laughing at its end.

The third Yuuma heroine is Kokoro.  Kokoro is your classic 'emotionless heroine', showing little reaction to most stimuli. 

The first Akashi heroine is Noel.  Noel is a possessive, jealous Idea woman whose first priority is Akashi's love, second is Akashi's safety, third is Akashi's happiness, and fourth is Akashi's penis.... do I need to go on?  One of her ongoing hobbies is drugging Akashi and having him tortured to find out the identities of women he is cheating on her with (she defines 'cheating' as talking to or being talked to by another woman... or looking at them, touching them, or breathing the same air as them). 

The second Akashi heroine is Mitsuki.  Mitsuki... has issues.  She is very much an introvert, and she has a tendency to keep her distance from others.  She does get pretty cute when Akashi manages to make it past her guard, though.

The setting

This game is based around a century or two after Bloody Rondo (don't know if this is fully canon or not), seven years after a disaster that nearly destroyed humanity.  In this new world, where a large portion of the planet's surface has been submerged and the human population has been greatly reduced, Archive Square, the corporation that has taken charge of the recovery, has become the central power in the world.  This is the case across most of the world, but the city this story is based in is one where more than half of the population works for AS.

There are two worlds in this game... one is 'Dystopia' (the name Idea give Earth) and the other 'Utopia' (the word the Idea use for their own world).  Idea, beings of immense power from Utopia, have been going back and forth between the worlds for centuries, taking the form of humans on Earth and generally indulging their curiosity and whims as they desire.

The story

This story focuses on two perspectives... Yuuma as he deals with the changes in his situation, and Akashi as he seeks the past.  This story has a lot of really good battle scenes, emotional moments, and some seriously interesting hedge philosophy (mostly out of Kyouko and Yuuma, though Akashi contributes sometimes). 

On my second playthrough, having gone in with a more open mind than my first, I found the story a great deal more interesting.  I won't say it is perfectly paced or that the characters are the best I've ever run into in a chuunige (they aren't), but I honestly enjoyed the ride, from beginning to end.  This isn't a VN that is likely to make it into my top fifty, but if you are looking for a good chuunige and have already read the more famous names, this is an excellent choice. 

Clephas

Yuusha vs Eiyuu

First, as a fantasy anime/VN fan, one thing you'll inevitably run into are these two words... 'yuusha' (勇者) and 'eiyuu' (英雄).  The problem with these two words is that they inevitably end up translated as the same thing... 'hero'.  However, the nuance of each word is dramatically different, at least for those of us who actually care about nuance.

Now, 'yuusha' is a word you hear mostly in certain types of fantasy VN or anime... these include 'sent to another world' and 'classic swords and sorcery fantasy', but can include things similar to Power Rangers and games like Venus Blood.  The usage of yuusha generally refers to a 'chosen' individual who is stuck with the duty/obligation to confront a force that is beyond the capacity of normal people.  Demon Lords, kaijin, insane gods... you name it, it probably has a swirly target sign that only a yuusha-type hero can see on it.  There are 'evil' yuusha (mostly in dark VNs), but for the  most part, they are pictured as being on the side of 'good' pictured as a near-absolute concept.

'Eiyuu' is a bit different.  The concept of 'yuusha' can't really be applied to a real person, because the real world is almost never unambiguous enough to allow for the term to be usable, but the concept of an 'eiyuu' can be applied to real people.  War heroes, great military leaders, rulers that lead their people to victory against an impossible foe, men who turn the tide of a war, etc. fall under this term's aegis.  As an example, Valzeride from Silverio Vendetta falls under the aegis of this word, as does the insane loli in Youjo Senki.  It is much easier for an eiyuu to be evil, because all an eiyuu needs to be is glorious to a group of people.  They don't need to be moral or upright...  or even seem so. 

Really, this is just a commentary on how confusing Japanese words that translate the same can be...  and it might give you all a hint as to why some of us say that 'Japanese translation is an oxymoron.'

Clephas

Well, this ended up being a contest between two charage... Shogun-sama wa Otoshigoro and Yorite Konoha  wa Kurenai ni. 

While I did not play Futamawari, so some will object to me naming a VN of the Month now, I will again repeat that I don't have any interest in that kind of lolicon story.

To be honest, it really isn't that much of a contest... Shogun-sama's flaws pretty much ensure it falls behind Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni as VN of the Month January 2018.  The flaws are relatively minor, but seeing as Yorite was about at the same level of quality and didn't make any real mistakes, this choice was a no-brainer.

Clephas

Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni is the newest release from Lump of Sugar, the company responsible for Tayutama.  Lump of Sugar is a huge hit and miss company.  Though it was more consistent ten years ago, of its last seven releases, only two have been at VN of the Month level (eligible if nothing better is there), which is a huge downward move from the era of the original Tayutama.  Lump of Sugar's art-style is 'classic moe', updated with current tech but mostly left alone at the most basic level. 

This game has a similar setting to that of Tayutama in some ways, but they do not - despite rumors to the contrary - share a setting.  The story in this game is based in modern times, but about a thousand years ago, a mimikko (later to be called the Mahoroi) with strange powers began coexisting with the people of a certain village.  The utopia created by that mimikko's efforts attracted other mimikko with powers interested in coexistence, and over time, the humans and mimikko interbred.  By the time the protagonist is born, there are no pureblood mimikko left, and those that remain no longer possess any strange powers, though those of quarter or half-blood often have greater strength and agility than any human. 

The protagonist, Seiji, comes to the town where it all started (at this point, there are mixed-breeds everywhere across the world), returning after ten years to live with his little sister and one of the last half-breeds, Konoha.  Immediately upon arrival, he meets the confident (without basis) Japanese-style maid Kazuha and a dog-like Mahoroi who insists she is his pet, named Momiji. 

Now, Seiji has a tendency to spoil those he likes/loves and be incapable of rejecting others, so - while realizing that having a Mahoroi calling herself his pet sounds wrong on so many levels - he accepts Momiji, while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep her at arms-length.  His little sister, Suzuna, whom he already spoils to a ridiculous degree (he changes her clothes, feeds her by hand, and wakes  her up every morning), becomes jealous and begins trying to attract his attention.  Kazuha, who is actually incapable of doing any kind of chores (despite being a maid), ends up having Konoha and Seiji go behind her back to fix things all the time... and Konoha, despite being two hundred years old, can't decide if she is a mother or a cute little girl.

All in all, my main impression of this game is 'cute and funny, in a good way'.  While the ichaicha in all the paths is a bit... long, it is mostly amusing (especially Momiji's and Konoha's paths), and the actual stories for the paths are excellent.  Though some of the relationship starts are seriously awkward due to Seiji's denseness and/or the heroines' own issues (and whoo boy, do these girls have issues), it is overall an amusing process to watch.

A few comments on some of the individual paths... I didn't like how the immortality issue isn't even touched on in Momiji's path (considering how dependent Momiji is, it should have come up), but I did like how they handled the difference in lifespans in Konoha's path.  All of the heroines are ridiculously erotic (this is par for the course with Lump of Sugar, since they like to reward you perverts for enduring the ichaicha), and the general atmosphere of the game is 'warm'.

I do think that this setting could have used some elaboration, but that might be asking too much, lol.

Edit:

I can't really justify playing this: https://vndb.org/v22026

The reason is fairly simple... I just can't do that kind of 'true lolicon' stuff.  It looks like a serious VN that takes the subject matter seriously.  However, it is also not something I want to read. 

Clephas

I've been asked what my standards are for VNs in general and how I apply them to my commentaries on VNs I've played in this blog. I've explained my standards before, as needed, but there is something that came out in that conversation that I think needs to be addressed.

First, my favorite genre of VNs is and probably always will be chuunige.  This is because I like violence, I like internal monologues, I like hedge philosophy, and I love all that crap that makes former chuunibyou patients roll around on the floor in embarrassment. 

Second, my least-favorite genre will always be 'mystery/detective' stories.  I don't enjoy them, because predictability can't be made into a virtue for this kind of story in most cases, and predictability is pretty much standard equipment for Japanese VNs. 

Third, I don't hate charage/moege.  This is perhaps the most important thing that needs to be made clear here.  I do bash charage as a genre rather frequently, saying that it is a 'typical' charage something or other.  However, when it comes down to it, what frustrates me about charage is that oftentimes a writer will go through a lot of trouble to construct an interesting setting for the game and/or its characters and... utterly fail to take advantage of what he built.  A classic example of this is Koiken Otome, which has both supernatural powers and a past fight with monsters/aliens... so why do they not take advantage of the setting to make the heroine paths more interesting and memorable?  This is a typical failure for many charage, but there are also some charage who manage to both build and use settings to their full extent.  Saying that something is a trope, an archetype, or typical of the genre isn't necessarily a criticism.  There are literally hundreds of charage out there, and the genre is the single most established one in VNs.  As such, that it is ruled by tropes, archetypes, and typical setups is unavoidable, considering that the Japanese from of love is mimicry. 

Now, that same person asked me how I evaluate charage, given my preference for storytelling above all other things... and my answer is 'It's a charage.  I want it to tell me the heroine and the protagonist's story.  I don't ask anything else of it, and you shouldn't expect anything more.'

At the same time, he asked me, 'Why are you so harsh with chuunige, if you love them so much?'  When I started the VN of the Month thing, I made a decision to nitpick when it came to my favorite genres.  This is something a lot of chuunige reviewers end up doing.  Part of it is that chuunige are so complex that fanboys can easily pick out flaws in even the best games.  Part of it is that we are all a bit twisted inside and a little S, so we want to punish our favorite genres/games. 

My basic standards are storytelling, sound/music direction (rarely does a VN fall below a basically high level of quality in the actual music, so I base it on music usage), and visual media usage.  Understand, the latter two standards don't cover raw quality of the 'materials'.  I'm not a music freak or an art bigot, so as long as the art and music are used effectively, I am quite willing to overlook things no fanatic in either field would be willing to.  This is born out of the fact that I grew up playing console jrpgs, and music direction and the usage of limited visual resources in combination with the storytelling (dialog) was often what made the difference between a kamige and a kusoge.  I've found that the same applies to VNs, in my personal experience.

That said, I'm a long-time otaku, so I can be picky... but I generally am much less so than most otakus. 

Clephas

First, I'll give you links to my observations of the first three chapters of this game.

Contains Chapter 3

Chapters 1 and 2

 

 

Now for Chapter 4... as I said in my post on Chapter 3, the bottom line for this is that if you liked the first three chapters, you'll like this one.  It is humorous, it is bloody, and it contains an odd mix of the grim and abnormal slice-of-life.  I laughed out loud - literally - several times while playing this game, and I honestly liked the insights on Chris's character that this gave.  This chapter also serves as an excellent 'settling in' chapter for Gumi and Maki, as Chapter 3 was focused too much outside of the normal daily setting to get a picture of how she was dealing with her change in situation. 

The introduction of yet another (female) character has me feeling a bit exasperated, but since Taiga fits pretty well with the crew, I didn't feel any irritation.  The combat scenes in this are pretty much just one-sided 'pow-pow, the enemy dies' one-sided massacres, except for one of them. 

I'm going to be blunt... in six months, they probably could have done two chapters like this, so I can't help but wonder why they insist on separating this game into such tiny chapters.  While I won't say that the first two chapters (released together) were 'satisfying' in that sense, I nonetheless felt like I'd spent good money, rather than throwing it away.  Unfortunately, at the price they are offering these chapters, I would much rather pay seven times as much for a full game two years from now than be forced to wait for each chapter. 

Clephas

Sora no Baroque

For various reasons, this is one of the rare occasions when I didn't aggressively look forward to a Light game.

The first reason is that the setting/story descriptions in the Getchu and homepages were vague and of no real use.  The second was that a crossover was announced between this and Nemurenu (the recent Clock-up title with Kurashiki as the writer) recently. 

The artist for this game (at least the character design, anyway) is Ueda Metawo, the artist from Gore Screaming Show, Mindead Blood, and Yami no Koe.  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is a guro/no guro setting in this game. 

This is atypical for Light.  In general, Light avoids actual guro content, preferring to stick to visual blood effects and shadow slayings (the shadow-figure beheading from Vendetta, as an example).  This is actually typical in chuunige in general, with the rare exceptions including mostly Nitroplus games and a few Akatsuki Works games.  As such, my first thought was, 'This doesn't feel like a Light game, and I only just started.'

That feeling seemed to be betrayed, initially, by how the story begins, with a classic Masada-style protagonist monologue full of pathos and dark emotions.  Unfortunately, it was soon apparent that the brief spark of hope I felt was going to be betrayed, as the horribly-paced prologue/first arc began.

First, within ten minutes, I was watching a loli gang-rape scene.  Second, things flash into vicious combat mode with no real intro to the characters, however limited. 

All of this is atypical of Light.  The pacing of the early game is easily the worst I've encountered from this company, and that particular negative is endemic to the game as a whole.  I can't really say I got to like any of the characters before the path split, which is unusual in a Light game, to say the least. 

Pacing might not seem like a huge issue to people accustomed to the often uneven pacing common in charage, but chuunige are, in many ways, games whose quality is based at least in part on their pacing (story, characters, and setting being the top three).  Even Masada, who is terrible at slice-of-life, still manages to use it to give you a sense of what the characters are fighting for.  However, with this game, Kurashiki failed even at that most basic of tasks... Nao remains two-dimensional outside of Sachi's path, and you never really get a full impression on any of the heroines. 

Kamori's path is short, brutal, and fades out with a whimper.  I honestly liked the combat scenes, but it felt like this path sort of fizzles at the very end.  Oh, there was a truly great guro scene with weird results that would normally have served as the first-class centerpiece for a first-class path... if the whole thing hadn't fizzled at the end.

Yachiru's path is much stronger than Kamori's path... but it is also a bit more unpleasant.  To be honest, I wasn't surprised that the path written solely by Kurashiki would be significantly better than the one written by by Marimo.  However, this path is still atypical of Light in some ways... that I can't get into without spoiling it.  However, like Kamori's path, it fizzles at the very end.  This is part of the story, and it is understandable in a 'true heroine' chuunige, but it felt like this path began and ended with using Yachiru as a punching bag (and as annoying as she is at times, she didn't really deserve that).  I will say that, despite this being stronger than Kamori's path, it is still a marginal path, at best, as chuunige paths go.  The battles are awesome, but...

Sachi

I'm going to be straight with you... the favoritism for Sachi is blatant, even at the beginning of her path, and it is this path that is probably the reason for the guro warnings.  I made this a separate section because, compared to everything else in the game, this path is unnaturally higher in quality.  Kurashiki obviously was only interested in telling this story from the beginning, and it shows.  For those who have played other Light games, the action scenes are pure crack, and the descriptions of the characters' feelings vivid. 

This path has two endings... a classic 'bad end with story' (it is actually kind of a nice read, though it is bad for humanity, lol) and a final end that feels... a lot like a bad end for Nao.  Seriously, this game's final ending feels a lot closer to Nitroplus's style than Light's, which will probably bother some fanboys. 

Conclusion

However, it makes me wonder... just why the hell did he insist on making the other two paths so mundane?  Oh, if I were to compare them to a charage path (which would be unfair to both), they can't really be called 'mundane'.  However, the sheer carelessness with which the common and other two heroine routes were treated, the poor pacing, the lack of a solid base to judge the characters... it feels inept, compared to this company's other works.  As a result, I'm giving this one my lowest rating for a Light game on vndb, and also saying that I wish Sachi's path could be transplanted into another game, where it could really shine, lol.

Clephas

To be blunt, there is no way I'm going to be able to use more than an hour or two each day for the next week for VNs.  My work pace is currently at the highest it's been since the summer of 2013.  I, quite frankly, had to cut sleep out of my schedule to get through Shogun-sama, and that is costing me in focus and energy now.  As such, I am unsure of when I will get to the next VN.  

Of late, my days have consisted of work>eat>take nap>more work>eat>take nap>yet more work>eat>sleep.  I stopped pushing myself like this a few years ago because my doctor said that the caffeine doses and sugar I was using to keep myself aware were killing my liver, and the lack of sleep was starting to make my body poison itself bit by bit.   However, one of my  fellow contractors managed to get himself arrested last month (I don't know the details), and his work fell onto me (along with a nice bonus, but it isn't really worth it).  In addition to having already been behind on my own work, I've been having to do his.

It looks like I'll be able to clean up his mess in the next week or two, but don't expect a whole lot out of me until then, except for maybe a whimsical half-asleep rants on various subjects (you know what I'm talking about).

Clephas

This is the newest game by Alcot, based three hundred years before Onigokko (yes, it is a prequel, sort of) during the time of the infamous Tokugawa Yoshimune (who is the central character of the jidaigeki Abarenbou Shogun), the first Shogun to take the title based on the 'gosanke' system set up by Ieyasu to prevent the end of the shogunate due to the end of his direct descendants.  The protagonist of the story is a young man who has been dragged into the body of a person of the same name in the past from the modern era named Nobuyuki.

Like all of the 'main team' Alcot games, this game has a combination of serious drama with layers of slapstick comedy, with overblown villains and a reasonably capable protagonist (in his own way).  As such, anyone who has played Onigokko, Osananajimi wa Daitouryou, or Naka no Hito will be familiar with the atmosphere of the game. 

There are four heroines in this game.  First, there is Nobuyuki's adopted little sister Tamaki, who gets switched into the body of a girl named Tama, dragged along with her brother to the Edo period.  She is a rather straightforward brocon imouto, driven by lust and jealousy, as well as a certain belief that it is the duty of all elder brothers to marry their little sister.  Second is Tokuda Yoshimune (obviously, an alias), a skilled swordswoman with a strong sense of justice who befriends Nobuyuki and invites him to help her solve the mystery of the recent kidnappings in Edo.  She is something of a battle maniac, as well as an idealist... to be honest, despite her being the main heroine, I left her for last.  Third is Tokuda Muneharu, a careless spender and famous lover of sweets who wanders Edo looking for good things to eat.  She is crafty and calculating at first glance, but under the surface she is (of course) a lonely little girl at heart, lol.  Last of all is the classic Alcot-design loli for this particular game (most main team Alcot games contain at least one adorable loli heroine or side-character who is a little tsundere).  She is an excellent cook and loves food in general, and she is generally loyal and stoic by nature, when things don't involve food, lol.

Muneharu

I went for Muneharu first.  I don't really have a strong reason... none of the heroines in this VN are really my type, so I just rolled the dice.

Her path was a bit high on the ichaicha for my tastes, despite having a good story.  I suppose it is because I've been spoiled by other 'go back to the past with modern knowledge' VNs, but I honestly got tired of the way they handled customs and attitudes of the time for the most part (don't expect realism on any level), and the 'convenient' way Muneharu's path draws the 'love with obstacles' card was excessively obvious.   I suppose it is because I've played so many 'ojousama-ge', but my standards for that kind of thing are high.  That said, there were some high points... while the action scenes aren't anywhere near chuunige-level, they are still about as decent as you get it with charage.  The actual drama falls into the usual Alcot absurdity (if it didn't, they'd probably get bashed by the fans) before the ending, and I had to snort with laughter, despite the seriousness of the situation in the characters' eyes.

The ending was... actually excellent.  It covers the actual immediate results of the path's drama, as well as the historical consequences of Tamaki and Nobuyuki remaining in the past, a bit of detail that is out of character for this company (since short-term endings are one of this company's plagues, like many charage-variant companies).

Rin

Rin... is adorable.  Of course, she is a loli, so adorable is default.  However, Alcot's lolis are almost always tsundere, almost always turn into kittens when they fall in love, and make me want to pat them on the head and give them candy before sending them back to their parents.   To be honest, if this game were devoid of erotic content, I would probably lap this path up, but it does have erotic content, and I've gotten to the point where loli-H makes me mildly nauseous if they aren't centuries old or a youkai. 

Now that I've gotten this out of my system... Rin, like Kureha from Onigokko, is a kunoichi type thief, though her motivations differ.  Her path, for most of its length, is involved with retrieving treasures (the same treasures from Onigokko) with the protagonist at her side.  I can honestly say that I found most of the path amusing (though not laugh-out-loud funny).  One way this game treats Rin different from Kureha in Onigokko is that there are a lot fewer lolicon jokes (yes, Onigokko went there... like crazy).   The drama at the end of this path has to do with the Tsuchigumo clan, and is thus a bit less absurd than Muneharu's path was. 

Her ending... is not that interesting, when it comes down to it.  It is a standard 'we are still in love' ending, when it comes down to it.

Yoshimune

Yoshimune is your classic 'hakoiri musume+master swordswoman' heroine (yes, that is an archetype... only the otaku media could make that into an archetype).  She is a lover of justice, but if someone talks about ecchi things, she immediately goes beet red.  Her relationship with Nobuyuki is, from the beginning, one of comrades in arms.

Her path, like Rin's, is generally amusing.  The ichaicha is a bit excessive at times, but it doesn't go so far as to put me to sleep.  Her path has several long fights and it centers on the internal affairs of the Bakufu as a government, and the way she and Nobuyuki end up together is absolutely... rofl.  Surprisingly, this path did not exceed the previous two in quality or focus, which probably means that, while she is the 'main' heroine, this game doesn't possess a true heroine.

 

The Setting

As I mentioned above, they did a horrible job with the setting of this VN.  Understand, I don't expect true-to-history events, and the existence of Western underwear over a century before it became widely available even to the nobility of Europe doesn't really bother me all that much.  No, the real problem is the haphazard way they handle the customs of the day, sometimes being off-hand and then forgetting about them, then taking others seriously on all levels.  It is a lot of little things that built up as I played.  Of course, that is the downside of using a well-documented era for this kind of thing.

My Dissatisfaction

Perhaps my biggest dissatisfaction with the game is the way the game doesn't have the protagonist use his future knowledge to create all sorts of interesting results, which is, when it comes down to it, the best part about games where characters go back into the past in times of trouble.  Of course, there are exceptions, where they stick to the historical line, but those are relatively rare and tend to have a more realistic bent than this game.  While I didn't expect something on the level of Sengoku Koihime, I was hoping the protagonist would make the best of his knowledge, lol.

Overall

This is a decent comedy charage, with drama that doesn't go too far into darker areas, meaning it remains a charage.  Like all of the Alcot games based in this particular universe, serious moments are frequently broken up by goofiness, but if you like that kind of thing, this VN is a decent choice, if you've already played Naka no Hito and Onigokko... and you still want more.  I didn't bother with Tamaki's path, simply because I honestly didn't have an interest in her as a heroine.  I might add a commentary on her path here at some later date, but for now I'm ending my assessment of this VN.

Clephas

First, I should mention that I'm a huge fan of David Weber.  Even his crappiest book is still interesting to read (the crappiest book being Out of the Dark, an Independence Day-style story where the world is saved by Dracula, lol).  However, the Honor Harrington series is my favorite series written by him.

Beginning with On Basilisk Station, this military sci-fi series begins focused on the character known as - obviously - Honor Harrington, a young warship captain getting command of a new light cruiser. 

Honor is the post gender-disparity female of the feminist movement's dreams, a woman born and raised in a society where gender limitations were nonexistent and nothing is thought of women going into the military.  Weber, for all his faults as writer, has never shown the prejudices a lot of male sci-fi writers tend to have in this area, and Honor is by far his most popular and powerful character.  She begins the series as a commander, the lowest rank in the Royal Manticoran Navy allowed independent command of a starship, and, as she takes trip after trip though the fires of war's hell, she gradually climbs the ranks of her star nation's military, suffering pain and loss, as well as joy and glory in equal amounts. 

Honor doesn't go through life unscarred... she is a rare individual who can't use regen therapies and can't accept her own cloned tissues, so her tendency to get her ships shot to hell around her has definite permanent consequences to her body and life.  This isn't some two-dimensional warrior who slays enemies in one-sided competitions and comes out the other side covered and glory and only possessing superficial scars.  Honor is the type of person who, because of her integrity and essential strength as a human being, continually manages to put herself in the worst kind of situations.  She doesn't always win, more of her people die than don't, and she suffers from all the guilt you could possibly imagine a morally upright young woman could suffer in such a situation. 

In fact, that is David Weber's brilliance with this series...  Honor definitely climbs the social ladder during the series (even by the third book, she is already pretty high up there), but her essential humanity and her growth as a person gives true life to a series which could easily (and often threatens to) turn into a dry recitation of destruction and death on a literally interstellar scale.  Weber freely admits he intended to kill her off in the seventh or eighth book, but the fans kept her alive through petitions against that decision, lol. 

All in all, that has turned out well.  What was originally a simple and direct conflict between a constitutional monarchy and a socialist expansionist empire gone mad has expanded to a fully galactic scale story, opening up several side storylines (the Crown of Slaves being the most beloved of those).  While Honor still remains a central individual in the series, things have long-since grown too complex and grand in scale for any individual to control its flow. 

I can say straight out that I love this series and don't regret investing the hundred dollars or so it took to get all the books currently released.  There have been a few poor entries (the most recent one is widely disliked for being a rehashing from a different perspective of events in the previous book), the series as a whole is one that any military sci-fi fan should at least try to read.  The societies involved, the events, and the characters make it worth it, even if it is obvious Weber has no intention of concluding it any time soon, even after over fifteen books.

Clephas

After almost three months of playing it about a half hour a day (usually right before I sleep), I finally finished this one... I didn't have the time to devote to this all at once, so I've been inching forward to victory since it came out back in October.

First, this is the latest Venus Blood game in the 'monster birth' side of the series (except for Hypno, all Venus Blood games fall into the 'Goddess Corruption' or 'monster birth' types in a general sense).  Unlike Gaia and Abyss, which required you to use some of your rather limited turns (there was an absolute turn limit) and were essentially dungeon defense (and occasionally invasion) sims, this one doesn't use turns for the monster birth aspect of the game, has unlimited turns, and is an on-rails dungeon crawler. 

I'm not going to go into a huge amount of detail on the game's system. It would take five or fix posts to get all the details out, so I'm just going to touch lightly on things.

First, monster birth in this game, like the others, has the heroines acting as 'mothers' for the monsters they birth.  However, monsters don't fight directly in this game.  Rather, they have two separate roles... providing passive skills and stat boosts to the heroines, and providing special skill cards that are drawn randomly each turn.  As in all Venus Blood games, the former is the place where the game places most of the importance.  Passive skills, such as the ones that determine the likelihood of critical hits, give boosts to stats, and others, normally make Venus Blood games the most customizable ones out there...

Unfortunately, this game went kind of casual.  There is no real complexity to the birth system, your access to the higher levels of monster is nonexistent on the first playthrough, and the game encourages grinding, rather than encouraging you to blow through things as fast as possible to get bonuses. 

Like all Venus Blood games, this game has tentacles... lots of tentacles.  However, the story's approach to them is frequently hilarious (outside the actual h-scenes).  The protagonist's attitude, the way the heroines change as the story goes on, and the disparity between the high aspirations of the heroines and the way they begin to act later in the game all make for some seriously hilarious moments.  Uzume, in particular, is about as hilarious as a heroine can get, especially if you get her ending (which I did, along with all the Law route endings and regular heroine endings... and the true/harem ending). 

This game's story is reasonably interesting... but like all the Venus Blood games I've played, it suffers from the lack of a truly great antagonist.  For better or worse, Lagar is a distant figure throughout most of the game and only comes to life on the Law route apparently.  Isabella is slightly more interesting, but the way she steps out is kind of anticlimactic.  Also, the writers left too many hints in the story about the true antagonist for me to actually be surprised when I ran into her.  Her motivations are petty and narcissistic, without the psychosis and flair that made Kefka in FFVI interesting.  As a result, the last part of the game mostly just felt like a rehashing of the battle against Lagar.

The endings... are mostly hilarious.  Oh, there are cool and touching aspects... but true to Venus Blood tradition, the fall of the heroines into the aftermath of their corruption at the protagonist's hands (and their seeming happiness there) is the true attraction, lol.  You know you have been playing too many games like this when a final scene of nine heroines delighted to have sex with tentacles feels humorous to you....

Clephas

For the hell of it, I decided to make up a 'suggested playlist' for people who like/are interested in chuunige who have just begun to play untranslated VNs.

There are two variations on this guide.  One is a 'test the waters, gradually take a dip, then dive into the depths' guide.  The other is a 'Spartan Guide', which starts out with medium difficulty VNs and moves into harder and harder ones at the top tiers.  Each VN list will have four tiers, based on a combination of my estimation of difficulty in reading.

For those unfamiliar with the term 'chuunige', some examples of chuunige that are translated are Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime, Sorcery Jokers, and Tokyo Babel.  I believe you can get the drift from those four examples, lol.

Soft Landing

Tier 1 suggestions (difficulty ranges from a 4-7 on a scale of 10)- Tiny Dungeon series, Draculius, Hyper→Highspeed→Genius (main path only), Ryuukishi Bloody Saga, ExE

Tier 2 suggestions (difficulty ranges from a 5-7.5 on a scale of 10)- Bloody Rondo, Shinigami no Testament, Gensou no Idea, Sinclient, Innocent Bullet. Yurikago yori Tenshi Made

Tier 3 Suggestions (note: VNs on this list range in difficulty from 6-8 on a scale of 10)- Evolimit, Bullet Butlers, Hello, Lady, Izuna Zanshinken, Devils Devel concept

Tier 4 Suggestions (note: VNs on this list range from 6-10 on a scale of 10)-  Jingai Makyou, Soukou Akki Muramasa, Silverio Vendetta, Zero Infinity, Vermilion Bind of Blood, Tokyo Necro, Bradyon Veda

Spartan

Tier 1 Suggestions- Evolimit, Yurikago Yori Tenshi Made, Izuna Zanshinken(starts at the high end of 'soft landing' tier 2 up through the middle of tier 3)

Tier 2 Suggestions- Hello, Lady, Bullet Butlers, Devils Devel Concept

Tier 3 Suggestions- Vermilion Bind of Blood, Jingai Makyou

Tier 4 Suggestions- Silverio Vendetta, Zero Infinity, Tokyo Necro, Muramasa, Bradyon Veda

Some Last thoughts

Understand, I know people who are just fine with conversational Japanese and even a number of native speakers who can't handle Bradyon Veda or Muramasa.  I honestly suggest you leave those two to last, no matter what. Bullet Butlers is slightly harder than Evolimit due to fantasy terminology.  Vermilion is the easiest of the Tier 4 from 'soft landing'.  I honestly suggest that anyone just beginning with this list do ExE or Draculius first, because if you can't understand what is going on in either of those even giving yourself time to do so, then you won't be able to play anything else on the list.

Suggestions

Toss aside stupid pride when playing chuunige and use a text hooker and kanji parsing engine (Mecab or jparser in TA will do fine).  Chuunige often use kanji in ways almost unique to the individual writer or that are so archaic that even a native speaker won't grasp them immediately.  This is a bad habit of chuunige writers in general.  Some writers even revive kanji that have been out of common use since the middle of the twentieth century. 

Don't feel like you are a traitor for looking up verbs or nouns you haven't encountered before.  Almost all chuunige writers use 'literary Japanese', which is almost never seen in anime or manga.  Literary Japanese, just like literary English, still uses terms that went out of use in the verbal part of the language decades or even centuries ago.  Still, the verbs and nouns themselves are most likely in the dict on your parser, so it should be easy to look up their meanings. 

   
Clephas

My name is Clephas, and I am a pervert.

lol, just kidding... or not.  Considering how long I've been playing eroge, I'm definitely a pervert.  However, that isn't really what this post is about.

When I look at the VNs for a month, the first thing I look for are chuunige, then fantasy/sci-fi, and then non-human heroines (though the last two are interchangeable depending on my mood).  The distant fourth is an interesting protagonist, the fifth is an interesting heroine (if I don't find any of the heroines interesting in setting or character description after eliminating the factors above, I generally have trouble picking the game up). 

Why do I love nonhumans...?  It is pretty much the only 'romantic' part left in my body. 

To be frank, I don't believe in or trust romance.  I firmly believe that romance is a lie we tell ourselves so we can ignore the fact that we are being driven by our body's desire for children and the resulting psychological hunger for a close partner.  That might seem like a cynical way to think of things, and I don't think about things like that while I'm playing.  However, when it is over or before I start?  Always.

I like the strange, the weird, the warped, the unusual... what is the point of telling a story if it is about the girl next door?  If I want to know about the girl next door, I'll walk over and say hello.  I love power trips, I like heroines with different instincts and outlooks, and I like heroines who simply don't share mine or the protagonist's culture. 

I love heroines who have lived hundreds of years.  I like heroines that used to be animals.  I am deeply fond of vampire heroines.  I could go on forever about this.

The fact is, we are shaped by our experiences, and a heroine that has had some seriously unusual experiences is generally far more interesting than a heroine who grew up next door and comes to visit every morning. 

This is actually the main reason why I find it difficult to comprehend racism on a gut level... though I can comprehend it on the anthropological and sociological studies level. 

This is also why I hate 'nerfed' nonhuman heroines.  Need to have a vampire heroine attend school?  Make her a unique 'daywalker' or have vampires not worry about the sun in the first place.  Need to have a succubus be safe around men?  Make it so she only needs regular food and the seduction thing is just an ability (these are both actual examples, incidentally).  You have an immortal heroine?  Make sure she gives up that immortality in her route so that the protagonist doesn't have to worry about being outlived by his wife (ugh, I mean, ugh.  Sometimes that works, but most of the time it is a let down).

Thanks for reading this random ramble, lol.

Clephas

Now, I know what you are wondering... 'Why did Clephas pick a charage for a random VN this time around?"  The answer is not as straightforward as usual....

This game is about as close to being the 'perfect' charage as I've ever encountered.  That's not to say it is exceptional in every way.  There are better written and better presented charage out there.  However, I've yet to encounter a charage that utilizes every single element included to the greatest degree possible like this one does.  First, the protagonist is not just the average guy, but neither is he super-exceptional.  He is just interesting enough to make a good viewpoint (his fear of women, his skill at martial arts, and the taste for cross-dressing he tries to deny) for a game like this without his personality dominating everything.  His issues are vital to all the paths, though in different ways due to the way they intertwine with the heroines' issues.

Second, the heroines are all fairly interesting... or at least funny, if they aren't intellectually interesting (Honoka's tendency to see everyone around her as food when she hasn't eaten in the last hour is one example).  The actual paths are split into three arcs... the Rielle Arc, the Honoka/Rin Arc, and the Renka/Senri Arc.  Each arc approaches the protagonist's own issues differently, ranging from a gradual healing (Rielle) to confronting the source (Honoka/Rin), to a wildly different approach (won't spoil it: Renka/Senri). 

This game is brilliantly executed and not dependent on H-content to support it as a whole (which is probably why the game got ported five times), which is a huge plus, since most charage tend to be reliant on dating and h-content to fill out the heroine paths. 

This game doesn't waste time.  While there is plenty of slice-of-life, much of it amusing, all of it moves the story - and not so incidentally, Yuuki's personal growth - forward.  There is not a single wasted element in this story, and that is a feat in and of itself... I once referred to this game as 'bare bones', but that was probably not the right expression.  This game is filled out nicely... it just doesn't waste time on stuff that has nothing to do with story advancement or character development.

Overall, if you want to know what the charage ideal looks like, this is a good choice.  While it isn't a kamige, it is a game that hits all the spots charage are meant to hit without seeming puerile or shallow to a reader like me, who is more than a little jaded.

Edit: It should be noted that the phenomenon of 'heroines devouring the protagonist', where the heroines' strength of character pretty much buries the protagonist, does not occur in this VN, which is a feat in and of itself.  For obvious reasons, most charage heroines are far more interesting than their protagonist, but that often results in a game that feels unbalanced and is vaguely unsatisfying, because many writers actually put down the protagonist to make the heroines shine more... thus leaving a vague feeling of dissatisfaction behind in the end.

Edit2: Adding heroine, character descriptions below.

Protagonist

Kusunoki Yuuki- Yuuki is a reasonably intelligent (slightly above average) young man who is well known for his good heart and ability to put others before himself.  When he tries to confess to his girlfriend, a young woman named Ran, she tells him she only went out with him as part of a penalty game and dumps him.  As a result, he becomes unable to trust females and instinctively rejects interpersonal contact, even with his own little sister Tatsuki and his childhood friend Honoka.  He quite naturally acts for the sake of others, despite this mental illness, and as a result he is a natural harem-builder.  However, he is also as dense as the containment for a fission reactor core, meaning that he never notices. This comes at least in part from his inability to trust the feelings of women.  He is a skilled martial-artist and very good at fighting one-on-one, but he has no talent for handling multiple opponents at once.

Heroines

Rielle Anderson- The CEO of the Anderson Corporation, an orphan girl who built her fortune from almost nothing in a matter of years.  She is behind the new city policy that encourages romance, as well as engineering the 'love-war events' that are being tested at Yuuki's school.  She is very blunt and expressive, as well as being highly aggressive when it comes to getting what she wants.  She has a ruthless side, but it is not something she indulges to excess (she is a CEO after all).  However, she, like Yuuki, tends to put others before herself when it comes to those she cares about, and she frequently indulges in philanthropy. 

Suzushiro Rin- One of Yuuki's classmates and a close friend of Honoka.  She is extremely distrustful of men due to her past experiences, and her reactions to men tend to range from dry and disinterested to outright malice.  The exception is Yuuki, with whom she finds herself forming a sort of rapport almost from the beginning, due to his affliction.  At her core, she is a kind-hearted and considerate young woman, but her experiences have rendered her with one of the most terrible of all afflictions... tsundere-ism.

Hiiragi Honoka- Yuuki's childhood friend and the person hurt the most by his inability to be close with women.  She is a sweet, somewhat airheaded young woman with an insanely protective side directed toward Yuuki.   She has been in love with him from childhood, but he never notices... and she is too much of a hetare to confess her love to him.  When she gets hungry (which is often) she goes into a state where those around her start looking tasty, and she begins fantasizing about how she would cook them... with utter seriousness.  She feels deeply and acts really directly in response to those feelings, especially when it comes to Yuuki.

Hazakura Renka- The vice-president of the student council.  Normally, she is a serious, somewhat uptight young woman with genius level intelligence, but when she sees Yuuki she becomes a prowling panther, panting after him as if he were a delicious-looking deer.  She is close with Senri and the only person who can jerk her up short... and vise-versa.  She is one of the very few people around Yuuki who don't set off his condition, and she is always very considerate about it, even going so far as to subtly lead him away from areas where females gather.

Asagiri Senri- Called 'the Prince' for her behavior that looks like it came straight out of a shoujo manga, Senri takes a certain pleasure in being surrounded by females and naturally hits on any female that crosses her path.  She takes a shine to Yuuki early on, after Renka becomes obsessed with him.  Almost no one knows she is a woman, because she arranged things that way.  She is a genius scientist who really doesn't need to attend school, but she does so for her own reasons, not the least of which her fondness for role-playing as the school's prince. 

Side Characters

Azami Taiga- Yuuki and Honoka's childhood friend.  He is a muscular guy who frequently gets treated like a delinquent, despite being about as far from one as it is possible to be.  He is extremely protective of Yuuki, similar to Honoka, but he is also better than her about respecting his desire to change and encouraging him to break out of the shell he is trapped in.  Unfortunately for him, almost everyone in the group that surrounds Yuuki and the class in general picks on him, and he ends up taking up the worst jobs in any given situation.

Chigaya Rei- A teacher at Yuuki's school who is infamous for his heavy smoking habit and fondness for not coming to his own classes.  His bad habit of getting off track during class makes him well-liked by the students, but most people wonder just how he manages to avoid getting fired.

Kusunoki Tatsuki- Yuuki's little sister, she is madly in love with her older brother.  When he begins rejecting all women, she discovers that she is a masochist and takes pleasure in the way he slaps her hand away and avoids her.  She is Tsukumo's owner, and everyone but her knows that her job in life is to keep that particular monster in its cage.

Kokonoei Tsukumo- A bisexual cosplayer and Tatsuki's closest friend.  She moves entirely on instinct and is utterly uncontrollable, frequently stealing looks at Tatsuki's panties and stealing the panties themselves.  She is incapable of forethought and has an unnatural instinct for knowing when and how to cause the most trouble.  If it weren't for Tatsuki's ability to control her to some extent, she probably would have been expelled long ago.

Rindou Anju- The school's banchou and the single most physically capable student at the school.  She also is the child of the dojo that Yuuki attended and treats him as her underling... she is also one of two women Yuuki can actually deal with at close range from the beginning.  Despite her attempts to act the lone wolf, Yuuki and the others inevitably manage to ruin her plans and make her seem likable, much to her consternation.

Kuga Erika- One of Rielle's two maid assistants.  She is a black-hearted young woman whose hobbies involve SM and writing down information in her 'blackmail diary' to use against others.  While she technically has more common sense than Yuzuha, few would willingly want to deal with her over her sister.

Kuga Yuzuha- A rude, violent young woman and one of Rielle's two maid assistants, primarily acting as a bodyguard and troubleshooter.  She is easygoing and friendly to those with the right attitude and combative when provoked.  When drunk, she reverts to a small child and tends to end up as a target for Erika's sadistic side.  She keeps slacking off on the job and getting her pay cut, but she never learns her lesson.

Tsubaki Koharu- Yuuki's homeroom teacher, a small woman in her late twenties who is obsessed over the fact that she still doesn't have a boyfriend.  Her tendency to spiral into depression after mentioning this fact in class has become a regular source of amusement for her students, and Taiga generally gets the job of breaking her out of it. 

Clephas

Now, I love nothing more than an interesting setting, and I'm tired of normal charage in general... so one of the biggest points that can be used to draw me into a charage is a crazy setting. 

Crazy charage settings are settings that have no possibility whatsoever of happening in real life or are so far outside of common sense that they are inconceivable as a real possibility to most people.  This includes fantasy settings and sci-fi settings, but more often it includes a simple concept taken to an extreme.  There are several types that have become common in the last ten years (common as in they've popped up at least five times in the last ten years in different companies' VNs).

The Love City/School Setting

This is the second most common crazy setting that pops up in charage.  To be blunt, it is a setting where love and romance are encouraged as a part of the law or by school rules.  In  this setting, love, sex, marriage, and/or children are desirable outcomes and the 'system' in those settings goes to weirdly extreme levels of effort and expense to create the desired result.  This can be seen as a part of other crazy settings (such as Kamikaze Explorer, where having children as a student was encouraged) or on their own (as in Love Revenge, where romance was essentially forced on the students by the school's new owner), but this particular crazy setting has popped up at least fifteen times that I can think of off the top of my head in the last ten years.

The Virtual World Setting

This is the most common sci-fi setting, often mixing with fantasy ones, where a virtual world (partial or complete) is put into place either in common use or as a part of the main characters' lives.  This has a relatively low rate of occurrence for a crazy setting on this list, but it has popped up six times that I can think of in a charage in the last ten years that I can think of.  Some where 'enhanced reality' types like Harvest Overray and others were 'jack-in' types like Hoshi no Ne Sanctuary.  However, the key to making this list is that the virtual world element is key to the progression of the story, at least through the common route.

The 'Get/got sent to another world' Setting

This is the second most common fantasy charage setting.  It can range from 'After I defeated the Dark Lord' types (Valkyrie Runabout is an example of this type) and 'school life somehow in a half-medieval setting' type to ones where the protagonist just shrugs and starts living with the heroines whom he just met (Unlucky Re:Birth).  I've come across this six times from VNs made in the last ten years, and mostly they are fun.

The 'Magical/mystical school' setting

The most common fantasy setting.  This can range from Alia's Carnival types where the school is the only place where the magic/mystical element is practiced to charage based in mystical worlds (Such as Racial Merge).  I can think of about seventeen VNs that chose this type of crazy settings.

The Cross-dressing Boy attends a Girl's School

This one is... well, insane on so many levels.  However, it is also the most common 'mundane' (non sci-fi, non fantasy) crazy setting.  I can't count how many times this has popped up since Otoboku and Shugotate started the main trends of this crazy setting (for silly/weird reasons vs for serious reasons), but it is also one of my favorites, since you can usually enjoy the protagonist's antics as he tries to fit in... or fits in almost too naturally, as the case might be.

My thoughts

Crazy settings can often be amusing and add flavor to an otherwise trite concept (fall in love stories, which dominate charage), but some people are put off by them.  Also, utilizing a crazy setting in a relatively believable fashion is a rare skill amongst charage writers, and many such games fizzle in the end.  Nonetheless, I'll probably keep diving into crazy settings, if only to keep myself from going insane with boredom at all the dating and romance that dominate charage.

Clephas

The sad fact about replaying VNs... is that VNs don't have replay value.

That's not to say it isn't possible to replay a VN and enjoy it.  With many of the more complex VNs, it is impossible to take in the entire thing on your first playthrough, so it is usually worth a second one.  Others are so well-written or have such great characters that they are worth reading again and again.  Yet others are just so much fun or are so funny (games made by Rosebleu, Lamunation, etc) that they are worth playing again and again.  Last of all, there are those that are so unique that no other experience quite equals them.

However, even amongst the best VNs, there are ones I've found that pale immensely after the second playthrough.  In particular, games that are heavy on mysteries and rely on their hidden aspects for at least some of their attraction become much weaker on later playthroughs.

As an example, one of my favorite VNs of all time is Hapymaher (VN of the Year 2013).  This game has an emotional, psychedelic story, a unique style, and the single best VN soundtrack out there.  However, whenever I attempt a third playthrough, my knowledge of certain aspects that come to light in the end and the fandisc ruins it for me.  Oh, Keiko is still unreasonably sexy for a chippai character, Yayoi is still funny, and Saki's sadism+jealousy thing with the protagonist is still just as hilarious... but I always stumble at two-thirds of the way through the common route (otherwise known as the 'Week towards Christmas' chapter by some fanboys).  This part is immensely funny and interesting the first time you play it through... but without being able to share in the mystery and surprise of the characters, it is unbearably dull, sadly.  Every single time I go back into this game, I stop here.

Another example would be charage, in general.  Understand, as you know, I am not terribly fond of charage in and of themselves.  I won't go so far as to say I hate them, because I don't.  However, if it is the choice between a nakige, an utsuge, a chuunige, and a charage... I'll always pick the charage last.  In a good charage, the slice of life and character interactions and development are the best parts of the game... but when it comes to replaying a VN, this tripod of specialties is a poor substitute for an interesting story.  I have managed to enjoy replaying a few charage... but most I drop after one path (usually the one of the heroine I liked the most), simply because I feel fatigue from having to slog through the same slice of life scenes a second time.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

However, there are some games that survive multiple replays well.  Nakige, utsuge, and games that go for the emotions in general are the most obvious genres (that are mainstream).  I can still go back to moldy-oldies like Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no for a good cry, and I can still devour games like Houkago no Futekikakusha without any trouble at all. 

Another type that survives well are well-designed comedic games... for example, Lamunation, with its endless humor (ranging from sex jokes to penguins enjoying Mexican beer), endures multiple playthroughs quite nicely, without paling much as long as you space them out.  Comedy is comedy, and as long as you don't overdo it, it is possible to enjoy a good comedy VN multiple times without much fear of boredom.

Games that have a strong protagonist.  Perhaps the biggest reason many Japanese VNs are almost unreplayable is because of the 'average protagonist'.  A strong, well-developed protagonist with his own unique flaws and personality can carry a game on his back through numerous playthroughs.  Good examples of this are Asagiri Kaito from the Akagoei series, Shirasagi Hime from the Tiny Dungeon series, and Narita Shinri from Hello, Lady.

Games that have an overwhelmingly unique cast of characters or setting.  A unique setting or a cast of characters can be the difference between a boring failed attempt at a second playthrough and four or five enjoyable playthroughs.  Some examples of these are Evolimit; Devils Devel Concept; and the Silverio series.  (note: Chuunige are the most likely to fit this type, but the Majikoi games and the Shin Koihime series also fit into this).

Conclusion

In the end though, taste matters.  If you didn't enjoy the VN the first time, you won't enjoy it a second time (with rare exceptions).  If you don't like chuunige, you most likely won't enjoy DDC or Silverio no matter how many times you attempt to play them, and if you don't like horrible things to happen to your characters, you will never enjoy Houkago no Futekikakusha.  I've known people who enjoyed all these games on a first playthrough, were able to enjoy a charage on a second playthrough, but couldn't enjoy these on a second one.  So, while this is my analysis, it is not absolute, lol.

Clephas

I felt like giving a you all a preview of the first quarter of 2018, after reading this blog post:

I generally choose to refrain from posts like this that cover the future of an entire year, but I feel that I have a good grasp on what is coming out over the next three months that is worth paying attention to, based on my own experiences.

Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 4

This is something to look forward to for anyone who has liked this series so far... more assassin action based in the same universe as Kajitsu and the others.

Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni

Let's get something straight... I don't have an absolute faith in Lump of Sugar as a company.  If anything, their work over the last five years has proven to me that this is one of the least predictable moege companies out there.  For every great VN they make, they make at least two games (usually three) that are pure crap or mediocre.  The reason I keep going back to this company is for experiences like Hello,Goodbye, Tayutama (the original, not the sequel), and Sekai to Sekai no Mannaka de.  This game looks like it is based in the far future of the same universe as Tayutama, where coexistence between humans and the spiritual beings have stabilized somewhat (based on the content from the Getchu page).  As such, I'm willing to give this the benefit of th doubt, despite the somewhat sour experience I got from Tayutama 2.

Sora no Baroque

So far, Light has yet to produce a bad game.  I have no reason to think this game, another work from Light's more prolific second team, will be an exception.  For chuunige fans, this is the game to pay attention to for the first part of the year.

Chuuni Hime no Teikoku

With a scenario team that was involved with both the original Love Kami (the later games had a different set of writers) and Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no, this is definitely a VN that will be worth looking at, despite being the first work of a new company.  Of course, it could end up being delayed for the seventh time... it wouldn't surprise me at this point.

Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei Son Go no Ketsumyaku (note: The title used on vndb is incorrectly romanized)

Originally planned for a release this upcoming summer, this game has been moved forward to February.  Like the release of Gi's rewritten route this past summer, we can look forward to a nicely reworked version of the original Go route from Shin Koihime Musou, which was already an excellently-written work.

Hataraku Otona no Ren'ai Jijou 2

This is worth noting because this series (of which this is the third game, despite the numbering) is one of the few non-nukige VNs out there that is set outside a school, and the previous games were enjoyable experiences. 

Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteiru Mitsu no Kiraboshi (note: again, what is with the shitty romanizations on new entries on vndb of late?)

This is the third game in the Otoboku series, a third game made over seven years after the second, which was a kamige.  Caramel Box has been a lot less prolific in the last few years than it was, so I was gleeful to find a new release by them coming up so soon.

Unjou no Fairy Tail

A new VN based in the same universe as Hoshi no Tsukurikata, meaning that we can look forward to yet more antics in a dystopian steampunk setting.

Kieta Sekai to Tsuki to Shoujo

This is the game for fans of Japanese horror mysteries to pay attention to this quarter.  A dark-looking game about a young man who has returned to his hometown, only to find the people around him disappear one by one.

Butterfly Seeker

A new game by Silky's Plus.  I am unsure if I want to hold out hopes for this game, as the writer is mostly an unknown, though he has worked for Liar-soft in the past.

 

Clephas

This is the list, as it currently stands, of VNs being considered and those previously considered but disqualified for VN of the Year 2017.  While this year hasn't been good for producing kamige, it has succeeded in producing a number of memorable ones.

Being Considered

Ojou-sama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu

Oni ga Kuru. ~Ane ga Hinshi de Pinchi Desu~

Haruru Minamo ni

Suisei Ginka

Additions from 12/30/2017

Bakumatsu Jinchuu Houkoku Resshiden Miburo

Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary

Aoi Tori

Kanojo wa Imouto de Tenshi de

Eliminated/disqualified candidates/Runners-up

Silverio Trinity (Disqualified for being a direct sequel incapable of standing on its own)

Shin Koihime Musou -Kakumei- (ditto to above... with the addendum that it is also a remake)

Hataraku Otona no Ren'ai Jijou (realistically, this VN just hits my sweet spot and really isn't VN of the Year material)

Fuyu Uso (similar to Trinity and Koihime)

Hikari no Umi no Apeiria (funny, interesting, but ultimately falls short)

Additions from 12/30/2017

Kin'iro Loveriche (fun, good feels, but not quite there)

Kizuna Kirameku Koi Iroha (great first job by a new company, but it isn't a finalist)

Junjou Karen Freaks (funny fantasy with mimikko, but not quite there)

Bokura no Sekai no Shukufuku o (great nakige, great story, but not a finalist)

Clephas

November 2017

I delayed this one so I could get fun2novel's input on Yurameku Kokoro ni Michita Sekai de, Kimi no Yume to Yokubou wa Kanau ka (As he put it, this game is boring as hell and spends way too much time implying things without actually doing anything).  While November had some surprisingly great leases (Kizuna Kirameku being primary amongst those), Aoi Tori was the only conceivable winner for the VN of the Month, November 2017.

December 2017

You might think me a bit premature, naming a winner before I played Koi ni, Kanmi or Natural Vacation... but I'll be straight with you when I state that the latter, from the samples I played, is nowhere near the quality of the main two candidates for the month (Miburo and Loveriche).  The latter... I'm just not interested in (yet another sweets shop charage... why are there so many of those, especially on VNs simultaneously released in English and Japanese?).  It was a straight-out competition between Miburo and Loveriche this time around.  I briefly considered disqualifying Miburo, on the grounds that it is a sequel, but it can stand on its own nicely without being propped up by its predecessors, so I went ahead and considered it.  Loveriche, for all that it isn't the best Saga Planets game (that's a competition between Flowlove and Hatsuyuki), is still one of the better games released this year.

In the end, I concluded that Bakumatsu Jinchuu Houkoku Resshiden Miburo was the stronger release, if only by a hair.  Akane as a heroine and the lack of Ayaka as a heroine were the two negative elements that pushed Loveriche below Miburo after the foreshadowing issue and Miburo's historical infodumping cancelled one another out.  So is decided the December 2017 VN of the Month.

Clephas

Kin'iro Loveriche

This is the latest release by Saga Planets, the makers of Hatsuyuki Sakura and Natsuyume Nagisa.  This, like many of the games by this company, is an emotional game that sort of edges around being a straight-out charage, though it can't really be called a story-focused or a true nakige.  This kind of genre ambiguity is common to this company's better works, so in that sense, it probably wasn't a bad choice, overall.

First, I should say I skipped Akane's path.  I played the first three heroine paths and enjoyed them, but Akane's path was so... cliched that I had to skip it after the midpoint.  I was also impatient to get to Ria's path, lol.

Anyway, this game begins with Ichimatsu Ouro, the protagonist, encountering the princess of a fictional north-European superpower, and her dragging him to a school for elites as a result.  I'll be straight with you about this... disregard the getchu page info entirely.  Even the best of the info there is misleading, probably deliberately. 

Anyway, Ouro, who was looking to get away from his life anyway, takes advantage of entering the new school, getting along with Sylvia, Elle (Sylvia's bodyguard), Rena (a friendly fashionista who is also Sylvia's friend), and Ria (a smoker and delinquent girl he meets on the rooftop) while managing to gradually make his own niche at a school mostly full of rich people. 

Now, it needs to be said... there should have been an Ayaka path in this game.  Ayaka is a snarky little ass at the beginning, but she would have made a great heroine.  Moreover, it was rather obvious that the writer wanted her to be one (there are lots of elements that could turn her deredere at a moment's notice), so I'm expecting an FD with an Ayaka route, later, lol. 

Getting back to the rest of the game (I'm writing this at nine in the morning, after not sleeping to finish it), Sylvia's path is easily the strongest of the three heroines that are available from the beginning.  Part of this is because of her generally affectionate nature, part of it is because of her position in life (Princess with insanely loyal followers), and part of it is because she is just that great of a character in general.  Her path actually has two different endings, depending on whether you've seen Ria's ending or not.  The second ending is basically an additional epilogue based several years after the end of the story, and it is obvious to see why you needed to see it only after seeing Ria's ending.

Elle... is the classic straight-laced heroine that goes insanely deredere once she falls in love.  I honestly enjoyed her path immensely, even as I felt they were stretching credulity a bit with some of the twists and turns (based on Elle's personality, I honestly couldn't see her making some of the choices she did, even with Sylvia's encouragement).  Nonetheless, if you want to see a seemingly hard-edged woman go all soft and mushy, this is a great path.

Rena... is the classic 'close friends suddenly become lovers' path.  The beginning of their romantic relationship is hilarious and the lead up into the ending is excellent, with a perfect epilogue, given the path they chose in life.  I will say that this is the only path where the protagonist stands up to his recent past in its entirety, so in that sense, it is perhaps the most complete of the paths up to this point. 

Ria's path... is the game's main path.  Ria herself is not much of a delinquent... for all that she is foul-mouthed and a smoker, she is at the same time kind-hearted and very much at ease with the protagonist after a few initial bumps.  However, for her path... this is the path that threatens to define this game as a nakige... with good reason.  If you paid attention to the extensive foreshadowing in the other heroine paths, you will probably be able to figure out what the core crisis of this path is, but this is also the path where Ouro shows himself at his best, right to the very end. 

Now, I need to go into Ouro, which I normally would have done first.  Ouro is mostly your average guy... save for the fact that he is insanely thoughtful and good in a crisis.  However, what is stronger about him is that he generally knows when he is at his limit and finds someone to lean on at the right times, without going all dependent and whiny.  That said, I really, really, really wish they hadn't made him of average-level intelligence and lazy when it comes to studying.  That particular trope is one I wish they'd chop up then wash down the drain in pieces, forever.

Overall, this is an enjoyable game... the foreshadowing for Ria's path is a bit excessive, Akane's path was unnecessary, and this game needed an Ayaka path...  However, this was still a fun game to play.  I left this game behind with a feeling of satisfaction, and, if I still keep going back to wanting an Ayaka path (yes, I do), I'm sure Saga Planets will eventually oblige, lol.

Edit: I should also mention that the reason Akane's path is not enjoyable is primarily because it doesn't 'fit'.  It doesn't fulfill a need the others don't, and Akane herself pales compared to the other heroines.  Worse, she is the only girl with a sprite who doesn't fit into that close 'circle' they have going, so there is almost no development of her character outside her own path. 

In addition to Ayaka, this game could have also used a Mina path, if only because Mina (Sylvia's little sister) is so obviously on the edge of falling for the protagonist anyway in several of the paths... in the sense that a woman who loves 'reforming' men falls in love with one of her projects, lol. 

Clephas

This is the third game in the series that began with Chuusingura (please don't judge that particular work by the utterly shitty translation).  I do highly recommend that you play both Chuusingura and Bushi no Kodou before you play this game, because it is necessary to fully understand some of the events that occur (particularly in the true Hijikata ending).

First, a bit of background about the Bakumatsu period.  Essentially, after Admiral Perry forced open Japan with the threat of his cannons, the Bakufu (also known as the Tokugawa Shogunate), was forced to sign the usual set of unequal treaties Western nations forced on Eastern ones with less advanced tech during that period of history.  Japan's peculiar double-headed political structure at the time, with the Emperor 'lending' his authority to the Shogun of the time in order to rule Japan and the then-emperor's stated wish for the exclusion of foreigners lent anti-Tokugawa factions and ambitious feudal lords the justification they needed (mostly to convince their followers) to start moving against the Bakufu.

This was made worse when one of these factions succeeded in assassinating Chancellor Ii, who directed the political purges and authoritarian political moves of the Bakufu immediately following Perry's actions.  This gave others the idea to do similar things to anyone they saw as supporting the Bakufu, and Kyouto became the center of a bloody series of assassinations of officials and merchants who sided with the existing authority or benefited from foreign contacts. 

The Aizu Clan, which was given the authority and rather nasty job of bringing peace to Kyouto, recruited ronin (masterless samurai) in order to form a police force that would capture or execute the other ronin making trouble in the city.  This resulted in the formation of the Roushigumi, which later became the Shinsengumi seen in Hakuoki, Peacemaker Kurogane, and the Rurounin Kenshin OVAs (Saitou Hajime in the main series was also a member). 

Historically, the Shinsengumi, despite having suffered a number of internal disputes and factional splits in the years leading up to the fall of the Bakufu, were amongst the few who fought to the end against the new government, and Hijikata Toshizou's final death and his death poem are one of the most incredibly romanticized objects amongst samurai-loving weaboos of the classic stripe.  Some left-leaning history buffs in Japan blame the romanticization of the Shinsengumi and the characters from Chuusingura for the intense rise in nationalism and insane glorification of samurai culture that occurred leading up to WWII. 

Now down to business... it should be stated that this game is about fifteen times more violent than Chuusingura was.  The protagonist and other members of the Shinsengumi killed people on a daily basis with swords in broad daylight, and they don't really hold back when it comes to portraying that. 

This game is also just as long as Chusingura (maybe slightly longer) was, despite being essentially one long path for most of its length (with about a third of it devoted to individual paths).  This is because the story covers about six years worth of chaotic events, both political and personal.  Going into this game with a full knowledge of the fates of the Shinsengumi members, I couldn't help but wish some of their fates would be changed (hint: of the original membership, only Saitou Hajime and Shinpachi live to see old age), and there are a lot of characters I honestly wept for... no matter what game I see him/her in, Sakamoto Ryouma is always an admirable character and seeing the pointless deaths of a number of clear-eyed individuals with an eye toward the future is just as bad.  However, this game follows history to the end in the Hijikata path and for most of the game otherwise... and while the Shinsengumi might be cultural icons now, their lives were colored with blood and tragedy.

There are four main paths, three side-paths (paths for heroines that die or are otherwise separated from the main cast for some reason), and one true path (Hijikata Ending 2).  The main paths include Okita Souji, Kondou Isami, Hajime Saitou, and Hijikata Toshizou.  Okita's path... well, if you've seen any of the many anime (except Gintama) where he pops up, you'll know what I mean when I say it ends on a sad and somewhat empty note.  Kondou Isami's path is marginally better (if you know about Kondou's historic fate, it is nice to see it changed).  Saitou's path is significantly better and more detailed, as are the three side-paths (which is somewhat ironic).  Hijikata's paths are, of course, the most complete-feeling and satisfying, though the first one left me in tears for a solid ten minutes.

This game does have some major flaws... there was an obvious history buff's obsession with detail when it came to portraying a lot of the historical events involved, and that aspect could start to feel interminable in the space between the story's main turning point and the heroine paths.  However, I found myself willing to forgive that flaw in the end.

Overall, this was an excellent story, and it takes relatively few liberties with history (beyond feminization of historical figures), which is unusual in Shinsengumi portrayals.  The most unusual aspect of the game (the protagonist's ability) was mostly a dormant issue for the greater part of the game, so it often left me with a nice illusion that I was seeing through the eyes of a real Shinsengumi member. 

I was surprised at one revelation in the true ending, though...

 

HUGE SPOILERS

Spoiler

The protagonist turning out to be a young Kodama Gentaro was a bit of an eyebrow raiser, since he was perhaps the least controversial Imperial Japanese general in world history... (since most of them were responsible for or overlooked atrocities)

 

Clephas

First, a short intro... this is the second Clock Up game where Kurashiki Tatsuya (one of Light's second team of writers) has been involved, and those who played the previous one, Maggot Baits, will recognize the atmosphere and 'flavor' of the story instantly.  This is a game devoid of salvation in any real sense.  The protagonist and the other characters are universally the scum of the Earth (Mirei being the only exception, though she is a bit screwy too), and their lifestyles and pasts range from the distasteful to the outright disgusting.

While there are relatively few of the violent h-scenes that defined Maggot Baits, they do exist, so I do feel a need to warn you that a lot of the content in this game is graphic and not for those with a weak stomach. 

The protagonist (who never reveals his true name in the entire story) is a professional killer who needs to kill people in order to sleep (it is more interesting if you read it yourself, so I won't go into detail).  One day, he gets the order to investigate/find the killer of a paparazzi killed at the love hotel at which he works most of the time.  What he finds is... Azami, a serial killer, whom he gets into combat with immediately.  The end result of the battle is them having sex... and her getting obsessed with/attached to him.  He returns the obsession in part due to the fact that, after having sex with her, he can sleep.

I'll be blunt, there is no point in this game where the characters can really be said to 'shine'.  There are three endings, two of which are different based on how the protagonist pursues his relationship with Azami.  The final path, the true path, brings their relationship to the final stage (visibly inevitable, if you get to know Azami), and you are presented by a predictably depressing ending.

This game has excellent writing, which goes without saying really, since it is done by Kurashiki Tatsuya.  However, the unending dark atmosphere that infuses the story is energy-draining in the extreme.  This is made worse by this general sense that the game is just trying to say 'humans are worthless' throughout its entire length.  While the battle scenes are excellent, there were too many points in the story where cruel turns of event occurred simply to push things forward or to titillate the reader.  This was true of Maggot Baits as well, but this game lacks the 'sort of good ending' you saw in that one, which gave you a sense of satisfaction, even if it was only in comparison to the rest of the game.

Clephas

Conquest strategy games, as opposed to RTS, are games where conquest operates on a strategic (large-scale) rather than tactical level and is unconcerned with the activities of individual soldiers (soldiers are numbers, not capable of individual action).  They involve the capture of strategic points in order to hold territory and the keeping of order and management of general resources (wealth and troops, as opposed to specific resources like wood, stone, and food).

There are certain rules to this type of game when measuring difficulty level... there are obvious ones such as the amount of money you start with (ideally, on normal mode you should start with enough to secure the region immediately surrounding your starting point without resorting to extreme methods like heavy taxes and plundering).  However, there are less obvious ones that are as much matters of real strategy as game rules.

The biggest obstacle to efficient conquest, other than resources like troop numbers and wealth to pay for actions, is the number of points you have to defend and the limits on how much force you can bring on a single point. 

The worst possible position to be in, in a continental conquest type, is to be situated inland, with non-allies on all sides and all paths open to invasion or for you to invade through.  In this situation, it is difficult to limit the points at which you have contact with the enemy, and this makes it immensely difficult to hold or expand territory, since you can't concentrate your 'iron fist' to smash one or two points (the ideal situation for normal difficulty at the beginning).  The best possible position is to be in a 'corner' area with only two points to defends and another two points that can be used to expand your territory while limiting the vulnerability created by such territorial expansion. 

Generally speaking, the Sangoku/Sengoku Hime story paths tend to start with you having to unify your own province, with the first few parts after that concentrated on securing one or two other provinces at a time.  This is further effectively handled by the fact that, in order to attack from a province, you must hold all the castles/domains within that province, and the same goes for your enemies.  Thus, it is possible to preempt an enemy assault by snatching one or two castles in the neighboring provinces with your main forces or judge a province harmless or dangerous by whether multiple factions are active inside.  However, this strategy falls apart if the enemy takes  castle in the territory you are invading from in the same turn, and things can quickly become messy as a result (one situation I found myself in in Sengoku Hime 5 had me facing off against an enemy that could attack any one of five castles from the castle she'd taken, thus forcing me to concentrate a much larger force than I would have preferred to hold her off).

Public order issues are common to many VNs with gameplay and games of this type.  If you capture a province, it is often necessary to rebuild infrastructure and regain the trust of the people during the political phase, and the necessity of recruiting troops to replace those lost is often counter to his necessity (in the Sangoku games, this can increase the possibility of famines and bandit attacks, for instance).  Worse, it can sometimes take five or more turns to regain order after a conscription, making you vulnerable to all sorts of messy 'disaster' events (referring to the Sangoku/Sengoku Hime series).

The amount of territory you have in this kind of game directly effects how much of an army you can raise and maintain, as well as how often you can take political and military actions of various sorts.  This means that falling behind the enemy in an 'open' scenario can often lead to you being in the worst possible type of position (for example, in Sengoku Hime 3, I once found myself facing a Miyoshi Clan that had taken over the entirety of Eastern and Northern Japan in the time it had taken me to secure Kyuushu and Shikoku, and I ended up facing forces of story generals in overwhelming numbers as a result... and I lost).  Grabbing a larger territory early on can often allow you to expand faster later on, even if you haven't yet built up that territory sufficiently (maxed public order and public works, as an example). 

Conquest strategy VNs and games are amongst the most satisfying type of strategy games... and time-consuming ones. 

Clephas

I should note that I've been following this series since I played the third game two years ago, and I'm going to rehash some of my feelings about it as a whole.

The first three games of the Sangoku Hime series had a number of good and bad points, even if I don't compare them to the Sengoku Hime series, which has been refined a great deal more due to it already being on its seventh installment.

Pros

1- Male sprites are... badass cool, in general.  Insanely detailed, actually impressive, though they contrast greatly with the more moe-type female sprites. 

2-Ginga, the protagonist of the first three games, is a pure warrior general, with his abilities almost as extremely designed as Lu Bu's (Ryofu Housen), with high tactical and military skills (insanely high) and relatively low intelligence and politics skills.  This actually makes him amongst the five most powerful frontline generals in the game.  In addition, Ginga's psychology and life, as it was described in III, is just... cool.

3- First-class prologues and endings.  For the first three games, moe-bait was avoided assiduously outside of the romantic side-episodes.  The prologues of these games were great intros and the endings were powerful, emotional, and sometimes even inspiring.

4- in 3, at least, you could alter the fates of certain doomed individuals (in particular, the Sun family), though this often cost you others. 

5- Numerous  unit types, all with their own unique abilities and uses.

6- Absolutely perfect portrayal of Cao Cao's feminized character, both in personality and in art (She makes Karen from the Koihime Musou series seem pathetic). 

Cons

1- Way too much sex, way too many 'romantic' side episodes with random female generals.  This was also the case with the early Sengoku Hime games, but the amount of text and time spent on h-scenes actually outweighs the main story of each path.

2-  Almost nothing in the way of the story after you 'settle in' (conquer the first two or three provinces, reach the story's first turning point after the prologue). 

3- Romantic elements mostly feel forced.

4- Illogical handling of public order system and conscription (this is common to 4 and 5 as well).

5- Game difficulty skyrockets about one third into the game, and resource management is made insanely difficult by random bandit attacks stripping your treasury.

Hard to Judge (for both)

1- 'Architect' skill system, which allows for you to improve your characters by using points gained from battles, training, and political actions, allows you to customize story generals to some extent.  In 1-3, this meant you could turn any character into an all-powerful demon lord, but this has been greatly nerfed in 4 and 5.

2- Elemental affinities are just an unnecessary complication...  and generally too much trouble to bother with, since you have only a limited number of actions per turn to move troops around.

 

For 4 and 5

Pros

1- H-content and romantic side-episodes have been greatly reduced in number, thus reducing fatigue.

2- More 'directed' story campaigns, which don't leave you trying to fight enemies on all sides without being able to secure a buffer of resources and generals.

3- Toutaku (Dong Zhuo), after being feminized, goes from a nihilistic dickhead to a Reinhard Heydrich-Class possessive yandere (If you betray her by stopping being hers, she tortures you horribly so that your last thoughts are of her, so making you belong to her even in deaht). 

4- Akito, unlike Ginga, is a more flexible character, though less exhilarating as a protagonist.  As a generalist, he is actually an excellent general, though his starting troop class is the somewhat mediocre light cavalry.

5- Improved story to gameplay balance (massively improved, in some of the paths.

6- Lu Bu now has a measurable brain, so she is actually useful outside of battle... though she isn't as cool.

Cons

1- Cao Cao's makeover.  To be blunt, the new Cao Cao, is so... stereotypical. 

2- Nerfed Architect system.  To be blunt, the architect system is one of the few advantages you have over everyone else, in a game where strategic options are limited in the first place.  The degree to which it has been nerfed in these two games is ridiculous, considering the turn limit.

3- Weakened story generals.  While this isn't true of all of them, most story generals are weaker than their counterparts in 1-3.  This is especially marked with Cao Cao, the Sun Family, and Guan Yu.  Since they are the only generals you don't have to bribe to like you, this can be irritating.

4- Male sprites are now moe-bait.

5- Endings and prologues, while still decent, no longer have the impact of 1-3. 

6- The mouth movement gimmick in these games sucks donkey ass.

7- Sun family personalities are now moe. (blech)

8- Troop class advantages, other than that of the sorcerer (which curses enemies so that all damage they receive is doubled) are nerfed.

9- Stories now start later in the history (meaning that you miss a lot of the best parts).

10- 5-specific bug where Akito's Architect grid resets after the final turning point in each story path, thus eliminating a ton of hard work.  Moreover, where other characters inherit their Architect grids across multiple playthroughs, he doesn't... which is weird, since he is the protagonist.

 

On 5 specifically

I've already expounded on the gameplay above, now I'll go over the story.  I've played two of the six paths in this game (the sixth being Ryofu Housen's path, which branches off from Toutaku's).  The two I played were Toutaku and Cao Cao... 

Toutaku's path is a masochist's wet-dream, since the protagonist is essentially in a controlling relationship with a possessive yandere who generally loves and is possessive of everyone who serves her or lives under her rule.  Considering Toutaku not only raised but educated the protagonist (in multiple ways, including sexual and more mundane meanings), her being dominant wasn't a surprise.  However, the sheer one-sidedness of her possessiveness was awe-inspiring at times, especially toward the end.  There are also times in this path where the faint of heart will probably drop it outright.  Akito's role in Toutaku's court is as an assassin, spy, general, tactician, seducer... and torturer.  In comparison to the kind-hearted, easygoing guy he is in the other paths and in 4, it was a bit shocking, even for me.  I mean, he casually mentions that he seduced a man's wife, had her poison the husband, then killed her afterward... and feels no guilt for it whatsoever, because Toutaku told him to.  lol

Cao Cao's path is much  more mundane, in comparison.  It starts right before Cao Cao initiates the campaigns against Yuan Shao (Enshou), thus leaving all the events around the Yellow Turbans and Dong Zhuo in the dust (along with the fun involved).  I'll be straight, while the character interactions in this path are frequently amusing and I honestly liked things most of the time, the inclusion of moe-aspects into Cao Cao's personality is a non-starter.  Cao Cao's crueler side never comes to the surface in this path, and Akito's hero worship turns to love in the most cliched way possible.  In other words... this path was entirely unlike Cao Cao, and thus, I deem it a failure, despite its good points.

I also played Choukaku's path up until the turning point... and I dropped it like a hot potato.  To be blunt, I found the mewling idealism that suddenly surfaces in that path about halfway to be repulsive (in another game, I probably wouldn't have minded as much... but Zhang Jiao/Choukaku basically closed her eyes to rapine and plunder on a massive scale for years before Akito turns things around, so I thought it was all a bit too convenient).

Overall, I give high points to Toutaku's path and intend to go back and play the Ryofu path that branches off from it at a later time... but Cao Cao's path has made me tired.  Choukaku's path made a shot at the 'redemption from darkness' thing, but it fell flat to me so badly that I couldn't bring myself to go any farther.   It didn't help that they killed off two of your most valuable generals in a path where you only have five story generals (as opposed to the 8-13 seen in the other paths) right before opening you up to invasion from five provinces at once.

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