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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

Mirai Nostalgia is the game that turned Purple Soft around.  After Ashita no Kimi to Au Tame ni, the company produced a number of middling and poor quality games, and it looked like Purple Software was going to fade into the background, like a lot of other companies that prospered during the 'Golden Age'.  Then, all of the sudden, they released this game...  and they regained the hearts of their followers, leading to a series of high quality releases, including Hapymaher, Amatsutsumi, and Aoi Tori.

Mirai Nostalgia follows an extensive cast of characters... a group of friends centering primarily around the protagonist Youichi and Uta (called Hime by the rest of the group).  Like most high quality VNs with a lot of SOL, the interactions with the friend characters and non-heroines are lively and vitally important to fleshing out the setting and characters as a group and as individuals. 

The Protagonist

Kudou Youichi- Youichi is a lazy young man who is utterly incompetent at all forms of housework.  He lives alone (at first) with the ancient bakeneko Kuro (who has apparently been alive for over a thousand years) and is a weak esper, possessing telekinesis and an unstable teleportation ability.  In obedience to his family traditions, he keeps his powers hidden from all but those few others around him that also possess powers.  Youichi is, by nature, a very calm, accepting individual who instinctively puts others first, often disregarding his own well-being if faced with the needs of others.  He is also generally on the lowest rung of the family ladder (even the cat is above him), and he spends a lot of his time accommodating the females in his life (Shizuku and his little sisters especially). 

The Heroines

Kasuga Iori- Iori is a traditional black-haired beauty and a miko... with an airgun and immensely powerful telekinetic abilities (think being able to erase someone from existence with pure kinetic force).  She is also constantly threatening Youichi's life, for reasons she declines to mention to him, and her temper is almost always sharp-edged.  She is definitely S by nature.  Despite this apparently violent nature, she also has a deep capacity for love and compassion, and she is quite capable of forgiving a lot from those she cares about (though Youichi apparently pushes her over the edge).

Hatori Uta- Youichi's osananajimi, the daughter of the CEO of a large electronics company, and the spiritual center of the group of friends that lies at the center of the story.  She definitely marches by her own drummer, living life as she wants to live it and ignoring inconvenient realities completely.  All of the group of friends can't help but love her, and she doesn't have a mean bone in her body.  She is a heavy gamer and loves nothing more than beating the shit out of Youichi in competitive gaming.

Kudou Nono- The older of Youichi's twin stepsisters, a genkikko who does the vault in track and field.  She loves to exercise, loves to eat, and loves her oniichan (not necessarily in that order, depending on her priorities at any given moment).  She always has a smile on her face and can make friends with just about anyone.

Kudou Hina- The younger of Youichi's twin stepsisters, a sharp-tongued beauty with glasses who rules the Kudou family with an iron fist.  A natural dictator, she openly states that her goal is to become the next student council president and enslave the student body to her will.  She adores her niisan, but she doesn't let that stop her from insulting him constantly and prodding him into doing what she wants him to do.  Where Nono is the type that wears her heart on her sleeve, Hina is the type that has quiet depths beneath the surface.

Anna- Anna is an esper who has traveled from the future to the past, in order to change the timeline she came from.  She states that the future Youichi denied her confession of love, and she also presents herself as the most powerful esper in existence.  She is generally a prankster, playful and easygoing, taking endless pleasure in teasing Youichi.  However, she is quite obviously hiding a lot of things from him...  She is also the true heroine.

The Other Characters

Hatori Ei- Uta's elder brother, a rootless wanderer who travels the world for years at a time.  His generally irresponsible nature makes him the butt of jokes for most of the group of friends, and he and Shizuku are rivals for the position of 'elder caretakers' in the group.

Hoshikawa Shizuku- The all-powerful student council president, Youichi's cousin, an immensely powerful clairvoyant, and the 'elder sister' of the group.  Most of the group's members have resigned themselves to being her slaves, and when the whim takes her, she drags them all into her schemes and plots.  She cares deeply about the other members of the group, but her position as an elder sister often puts her in the position of having to think of what is best for everyone.

Sanada Kanata- The waitress at a local cafe, one of Youichi's osananajimis, and an infamous dojikko.  She shines the most as the butt of jokes or when being dragged around by Shizuku or caught up in her schemes.  Everybody teases her, but they all love her, too. 

Kase Touya- An unfortunate young man who finds himself in the same position as Kanata most of the time (the butt of jokes and getting dragged into trouble by Shizuku).  While he is good-looking, because of his overly eager manner, most girls don't take him seriously, and he has yet to manage to get a girlfriend.  He and Youichi often commiserate about their treatment by the girls in the group.

Kuro- A thousand year old bakeneko (youkai cat) who has advised the Kudou family for generations and is one of the 'people' who raised Youichi.  Once an immensely powerful youkai, time has taken its toll, and now he only retains the ability to speak mentally to those who possess esper abilities.  Immensely dignified, wise, and gentle by nature, Youichi's trust in him as an advisor is absolute.  While Kuro will advise if asked or if he thinks it is truly needed, he doesn't believe in 'holding the student's hand' (figuratively speaking) and is perfectly willing to sit back and let Youichi make his own mistakes. 

Kasuga Haru- Iori's mother, an easygoing nurse and sometime coach to the track and field team, she is an immensely strong person (mentally and spiritually).  Her capacity for love is as deep and strong as her daughter's, and one can see the results in Iori's private interactions with her.  She does share Iori's S side though.

The story

Mirai Nostalgia's story begins with the protagonist's first contact with Anna, the supposed 'girl from the future' and the return of his twin imoutos, Nono and Hina after several years apart.  Soon after, he encounters Iori, and his peaceful life is suddenly overturned as a result.  This is a nakige, much like the other games Purple Soft has made soon, but its style is more 'traditional' (closer to the format Key pioneered, albeit with a stronger central story).  My suggested play order for this game is Hina>Nono>Uta>Iori>Anna.  The reasons are pretty obvious if you play the game, but I'll go ahead and outline them here.  I basically put them in order from 'least relevant to the central story' to 'most relevant'.  Hina's path is by far the weakest of the five, which is probably inevitable in retrospect (Hina's character is hard to grasp as a heroine).  Nono is a bit stronger as a heroine, but the events leading up to the climax of the story felt forced in comparison to the events that led to her and Youichi becoming lovers.  Uta's path is a bit more fantastical in some ways, mostly because of an unexpected turn of events caused by Uta's dependent personality.  Iori's path... is emotionally powerful, not the least because it reveals the biggest reason why Anna returned to the past.  Anna's path... is a cryfest.  I cried through roughly a third of Anna's path both times I played this game, simply because it was just that good.

The audio

This game's music is slightly above the standard quality for commercial VNs, so it is noteworthy in that sense.  However, this was also the VN where Purple Soft began to seriously typecast the company's favored voice actors (Kazane in particular), and so you can pretty much tell the personality of a Purple Soft character by the sound of their voice, in a generalized sense, lol.

Visually

The first time Purple Soft used Koku for their visuals was in this game, and for those who have played Hapymaher or Chrono Clock, the style will be familiar by now.

Overall

This game is a nice nakige with a strong mix of humorous slice of life and powerful emotional moments.  If you want a good nakige to sit down and read through that is less moe-dependent than a Key VN, this is an excellent choice.

Clephas

This VN is an odd duck on my long list of recommended VNs.  While its existence as a time loop story is a trope, the way the game's story handles it is pretty interesting. 

I went ahead and revealed this as a loop story because you find it out so early on that hiding it as a spoiler is meaningless.  The game's story begins with the protagonist meeting (and helping out) Nodoka, one of the four heroines, and her confessing her love to him on the next day when she transfers into the class.  While he is at first somewhat bothered by this, he eventually falls for her, loves her... and then suddenly wakes up on the second day of the month, the day after he first met her.

Now, you will go through a lot of route loops before the game is over (you have to see all four heroine loops, plus a bunch of side loops, to get access to the endings), and a lot of these have seriously crazy outcomes.  The protagonist, being a young idiot, goes off and tests everything he can find (often to hilarious results), and his 'morality' tends to be rather fragile when it comes to having fun (in one loop he ends up gambling so hard he gets sold to an organ broker, lol).  To be honest, the journey through the non-heroine loops is probably the most attractive part of this VN.  The music is slightly below the average quality of the industry, as is the art (though that is comparison to the present day), but the game as a whole has a lot of laughs and good moments.

The protagonist, Minato, is essentially your average (slightly baka but not totally stupid) harem protagonist who is kind to everyone and as dense as the lead plating protecting a fission reactor's core.  Minato has solid reasons for being dense about the three heroines other than Nodoka (Nodoka being very open), based in his past relationships with the others (Inori being his abusive childhood friend, Korone being his little sister, and Yuuki being so friendly to everyone it is difficult for a harem protagonist to see it in her, lol).  That said, that is perhaps the most annoying part of his character, though it gets relieved over time.

Explaining the heroines to this game is counterproductive.  I'm not being mean, but if I were to start explaining the heroines, I would probably ruin the experience for you.  I really advise you not to read the character profiles (both because they are deliberately inaccurate and because forming your own impressions of the heroines is important to getting into this VN. 

There are five endings to this game.  One for each of the heroines and the true (harem, no H) ending.  The heroine endings are mostly kind of bittersweet, because there are solid reasons why things aren't going to end perfectly, but the true/harem ending is pretty hilarious.  Other than the true ending, I liked Korone's ending the best, both because I liked the outcome and because it was the happiest one other than the true one. 

Edit: Incidentally, Inori is probably the only case I've ever heard of where they handled the tsundere osananajimi realistically (rather than just using the sides as a contrast). 

Clephas

For those who are interested, here is the first real comedy VN of the year... 

The protagonist, Takuma, having returned to his hometown to live alone in his family's old house, finds that it has collapsed in on itself, and, desperate for a place to stay, ends up staying at the homes of his four childhood friends (osananajimi).  This leads to various hilarious antics and situations, with most of the heroines being 'ponkotsu' types (meaning that they are the kind of girls no sane man would want as a girlfriend if he knew their real personality). 

First is Kyou, the 'older sister' of the group... to be blunt, she is the single laziest human being I've ever seen in a VN.  She and her mother are the type that seek marriage solely so that their husband can feed them, clean up after them, and support them financially.  If she tries to cook, explosions ensue; she won't even consider doing laundry; and her room looks like mine did in middle school (I never really did see the point of putting things away back then, lol).  Incidentally, don't expect any of this to change (the heroines are fundamentally ponkotsu types from beginning to end).

Second is Hiyori, the blonde idiot daughter of the owner of a cafe that specializes in Japanese sweets and teas.  She is air-headed, clingy, and she has a tendency to do stupid things just because she feels like it.  Worse, her mother, a widow, takes aim on Takuma almost from the moment of his arrival.

The third is Ayaka... Ayaka, when compared to her family, is a quite normal girl.  However, with an OCD mother who thinks men are filthy pathogens, a little sister who is yandere over Ayaka herself, a little brother who is addicted to masturbation, and an overprotective father... that really isn't saying much.  In reality, she has a strong interest in sexual matters, wants Takuma to be her oniichan, and is very much a schemer/manipulator by nature.

The fourth girl is Rito, the childhood friend that Takuma used to think was a guy.  This leads to an immediate argument, of course, but she quickly turns into a clingy, emotionally dependent girl who alternates between aggressively seeking Takuma's affections and snarling viciously at anyone who gets in the way.

With that particular cast of characters and a protagonist who tends to want to turn everything into a joke himself, you have a recipe for a first-class comedy game.

Of course, most of it is boke-tsukkomi (manzai) type humor, save for the fact that all the characters are running jokes in and of themselves.  There are no real serious points in this VN, and the only time the story actually feels romantic is during Rito's path... and that actually made it the least enjoyable of the four main paths. 

There are also three endings other than those of the four main heroines... a 3P ending with the yandere imouto, an extra ending with Nanako (the girl who steals Takuma's food all the time), and a 'normal ending' that probably would have ended up as a yaoi ending in some other games, lol.

Overall, I left this VN feeling laughed out.  I probably won't replay it, because I don't imagine it would be funny twice, but I honestly enjoyed it for what it was... an excuse to break out into real-life laughter to the point where my throat and head started to hurt worse than they already are (I have the flu right now, yaaay!). 

Clephas

This is Unobara Nozomu's second attempt at the mystery genre (for those who are interested, he also wrote Yurirei, Teito Hiten Daisakusen, and Fairytale Requiem) after the dramatic failure of Shinsou Noise last year. 

To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this game, despite its interesting concept.  This game, like many detective mystery type VNs, possesses a deduction system... but thankfully, it also lets you skip that portion at the click of a button (thus avoiding the story disruption that is the norm for games with deduction gameplay). 

The story takes place in Shiraori City, a small city that has a massive murder rate, with most of them being carried out by serial killers, who seem to bloom like poisonous flowers by the handful in the city (incidentally, the manslaughter and incidental killing rates are much lower compared to the population than in the rest of the country, apparently).  In this city, due to the sheer workload of all those murder cases, is a system whereby young people with unusual talents are taken on and trained as student investigators.

The protagonist, Tohno Keisuke is one of these, a young man with the ability to see the factor that made a victim's fate certain when he touches their corpse (or their ashes, hair, etc.).  This ability has, with the help of his fellow investigators, allowed him to find several serial killers.  His school's 'team' of student investigators works under the label of 'mushikui' (a club supposedly devoted to finding better ways to eat bugs).

The members of the club are Tendou Yui, a girl with an extremely strong sense of empathy that allows her to read the emotions and thought patterns of others from the most minor clues; Himuro Chitose, an almost autistic girl with an excellent memory and capacity for rational thought that has her training to be a profiler; Saotome Haya, an aggressive girl with immense physical abilities who hates criminals and loves nothing more than beating the shit out of them; and Kiryuu Azusa, the club's overseer, a teacher who is also a trained detective. 

The game consists of three heroine paths and one true path.  There are eight endings other than the true one (five of which are bad or dead endings). 

The heroine paths in this game are about of equal quality, each adding pieces to the greater puzzle of the strange city the characters live in and bringing each heroine to life in turn.  The protagonist, Keisuke, is something of a fractured spirit, constantly stabbed with pain left from his past (I'm not going to spoil you about it, even though it is revealed relatively early in the common route why this is), and how the heroines bring him out of this differs radically from path to path. 

... trying to avoid spoilers in a mystery game is a serious pain in the butt.  I can't really say anything in particular about the heroine paths without spoiling things, so I'll restrict myself to saying that each heroine path covers an individual case (a series of serial killings), and the mysteries themselves are relatively interesting on their own.  Chitose's perp is probably the most obvious, whereas Haya's perp is the most obscure (clues are more subtle).  There is a lot of psychopathy and disturbed minds in this game, and that includes the heroines and the protagonist (they all have issues, though  not as bad as the killers they chase, lol). 

The true path follows the mystery of the 'why' and 'what' of what happened six years ago (the events that resulted in Keisuke gaining the Butterfly Seeker ability and becoming obsessed with saving as many lives as possible).  It reveals, piece by piece (drawing on the 'pieces' revealed in each heroine's path in part) the full truth of both the events six years previous and the events still occurring in Shiraori City.   The ending of the true path is a bittersweet one, and - unlike most such paths - it isn't a heroine ending.  While there are some things to be optimistic about for the characters, the fact remains that theirs is a life surrounded by tragedy (oh and watching Yui during a certain scene was scarier than any of the serial killers in this VN, lol). 

I left this VN feeling relatively good about it... which is rare for me, when it comes to mystery VNs.  A lot of it was that I liked the characters, the music, and how they handled the actual cases.  Another part of it was that Keisuke was a surprisingly good protagonist.  Overall, this was a good VN, though I'm not likely to pick it for VN of the Month this time around (this month is waaay too packed). 

For those who are interested, Dergonu is handling Akumade, Kore wa ~ no Monogatari and fun2novel is handling Etatoto.  The simple reason is that there are just too many March releases for one man to handle, and they were interested in those two games.

Edit: In retrospect, I do have one big complaint about this VN... there is no Azusa path.  Azusa would make an excellent heroine, and it seemed a bit forced to make all the heroines around the protagonist's own age, considering how mature he is, in general. 

Clephas

Yay, Clephas is contributing to a controversial topic in his blog!  *listens for the hisses and boos of his loving public*

More seriously, I'm not out to bash fantranslators, localization companies, or anyone else involved with the process.  I've been on both sides (consumer and producer) and I can honestly say that I can see all four sides of the argument (the producer side, the negative consumer side, the neutral consumer side, and the positive consumer side).

The Positive Consumer

Based on my personal experience (beginning with jrpgs in the nineties), most people begin in this stage.  Honestly, I didn't know enough to figure out when things were badly translated, and as long as the lines weren't too out there (spoony bard, lol), it never really got to me.  There are plenty of people out here who remain in this stage forever, never taking interest one way or the other in the translation aspects of things... and that is perfectly natural.  Most Americans (if not people from other countries) are essentially linguistic bigots, and as a result, they won't care if things are wrong as long as they can't tell just by playing a game, reading a book, or enjoying an anime or film.

The Negative Consumer

Most people with at least some knowledge of Japanese end up in this stage at some point.  The reasons are manifold, but the biggest one is the 'literalist disease'.  Almost everyone who gets involved with translation or knows enough Japanese to nitpick is under a peculiar delusion... that 'Literal Japanese to English translation isn't an oxymoron'.  Unfortunately for their delusions, my personal experience and the experience of many others does not bear this particular one out. 

Literalist translation is a delusion born of a misapprehension of the Rosetta Stone concept... basically because we can generally match up most words with their equivalents in our own languages given a decent reference point, that perfect translations are both possible and should be provided without hesitation by mechanical translators (often literally).  However, this ignores two major issues... the cultural basis for the formation of modern language's concepts and the difference in how the language is structured (grammar in other words). 

This isn't the only reason for ending up in this stage... some people are in it because it makes them feel superior or they like trolling 'lesser beings' (I'm sure you know what I'm talking about).  Others simply disagree with the way the translation is handled or the usage of censorship.  There are innumerable reasons for ending up in this stage, and that is the reason why it is the single largest one in the 'experienced' community.

The Neutral Consumer

This is the smallest grouping... mostly because it pretty much demands that you have resolved to stop caring one way or the other about localization quality.  The most common reason to end up here is because you can play VNs, watch anime, and read manga/LNs without a localization, so the concept becomes irrelevant (or at least of less interest) to you.  Another is that you get tired of being trolled (or trolling yourself) and decide to shut off your emotions about it.  Last of all are the people who just want to 'spread the word' and don't really care about quality issues (people who are just happy VNs are getting localized).  Since a lot of this group don't even buy localizations except to 'support the cause', this group has a lot less invested in the arguments, overall.

The Producer

... need I mention that being on this side sucks?  No matter how good a job you do, you get bashed by someone, and inevitably someone is going to decide to nitpick every one of your word choices.  Literalists will hate you for not doing exactly what they want, generalists will hate you for picking obscure/dead words from actual literary English (as opposed to spoken English) because the concepts involved are dead in modern English, and everyone else will hate you for censorship or because you are too slow. 

While you get combative people or apologetic people from this side every once in a while, most just stop paying attention to the noise, for the sake of their mental health. 

 

Clephas

This VN is the second game in Whirlpool's short, low-price mimikko fetish game series... and I have to say my impression of it hasn't changed from the first one.  This is a direct continuation of events from the end of the first game, and basically it increases the number of mimikko-ninja in Haruki's harem... and nothing else.

Oh, it is moderately funny, the h-scenes titillate my mimikko fetish, and you get hints of a deeper setting once again... but its short length means that the game never really goes anywhere beyond what I mentioned above.

Clephas

I'm going to be blunt (as usual), Riddle Jokers is probably a sign that Yuzu Soft is starting to stagnate as a company. 

I'm not trying to be mean or bashing Yuzu Soft for the sake of it... but, after finishing two paths of this game, I felt hugely exhausted, despite the fact that the paths are actually shorter than some of their other works.  The reason is fairly simple... the cast of characters this time around just isn't that interesting.

Part of that is that the protagonist himself is a bit too 'normal' for someone in his line of work.  Another part of it is that the heroines all fall into standard Yuzu Soft archetypes (whether setting or the character personality), and as a result, I was able to figure out the specifics of the paths I played so far almost from the beginning.  The most 'interesting' of the heroines, Ayase, I intended to leave to last, so I haven't played her (because she is the obvious main heroine candidate). 

The common route is, at best, 'all right'.  Of course, there are moments that made me smile, and the SOL is standard Yuzu Soft quality/style.  However, I felt that they hit on all the wrong notes when they were handling the Astral abilities.  One issue is that the balance between the oddly realistic/gritty moments and the rest of the game is horrible (those moments tease at a much more interesting set of possibilities), but another is that I honestly just got bored with what was going on too early.  Yuzu Soft makes long SOL games, and as a result, every time I play one of their games, I end feeling at least a little fatigued.  Worse, the humor is too mild to keep the brain stimulated most of the time, and the h-scenes are just... excessively long.  Ichaicha in the heroine routes is excessive (I've been complaining about this since Dracu-riot, so that's nothing new), and... each of the first two paths I played (Hazuki and Mayu) had just enough of it to put me over the edge of my ability to endure. 

Since this game was channeling Dracu-riot so obviously (isolated/enclosed environment, persecuted inhabitants, background efforts to destroy their refuge, etc), it was hard to escape the feeling that this was a pathetic attempt to relive what was best about that game.  Unfortunately, because they traced the ideas so closely in some ways, the points where the game comes up short are just too obvious.

One of those areas is action.  Say what you like about Dracu-riot, but its few action scenes were generally excellent (for what they were, action scenes in a charage) and the buildup was skillfully orchestrated.  The same can't really be said about this game.  While there are a few action scenes, the effort to narrate them and build up to them is rather... underwhelming.  

Another is the secret agent angle... to be frank, the protagonist just isn't that capable.  Oh, he is a decently-skilled fighter and his ability is cool in a way, but he falls apart whenever he hits an emotional block and he has a critical failure for an agent... he hates lying.

Last of all is the Astral-user issue... I have to say that this wasn't handled nearly as well as the vampires in Dracu-riot.  There are very few times in the VN's common route where prejudice or persecution even comes up, much less becomes an issue (aside from the conclusion of the route), and there is no attempt to bring the situation 'to life' in the reader's mind, which is a critical failure, in my opinion.

Honestly, when it comes down to it, the reasons I couldn't bring myself to like this game are all involved with me inevitably comparing it to Dracu-riot.  On its own, it isn't a bad VN, but I have had the unfortunate experience of having both played Dracu-riot twice all the way through and have helped as a translation-checker on the translation... so my impression of this game was further ruined by my excessive involvement with the game it was imitating in structure.

I couldn't bring out an unbiased opinion here, so I'm not going to say you shouldn't play it... but if you do, play it before Dracu-riot, not after.

Edit: Also, one thing that was missing was non-romantic friendly intimacy between the characters... despite the fact that they mostly live in the same dorm, there is relatively little interaction between the characters as a group, meaning I didn't really feel that they 'came to life' like the characters of Dracu-riot or even Senren Banka.

Clephas

The greater proportion of VNs out there take place in a three or four month period... and are usually linked to a seasonal theme.  This is especially true of moege/charage variants, but it can also be said for more story-focused games, like Tasogare no Sinsemilla.  I just thought I'd bring out my thoughts on the use of seasonal themes here, since it comes to mind fairly often.

The two most common seasons used in VNs as a thematic background to the setting are summer and winter.  Now, why might this be?  At least one of the reasons is that these two seasons are the most extreme of the four, but the larger part of this is that most VNs are at least partly about school life or have high school student characters.  Why is this important?  Because of summer and winter vacation.

While schools provide convenient places for a protagonist to meet and interact with a heroine, school can also get in the way of the deepening of the relationship between them.  As a result, many VN writers find it convenient to use the summer or winter break to serve as a relationship-deepening period where the other characters are conveniently sidelined by the lack of daily contact.  In addition, summer has the advantage of creating chances for swimsuit CGs and swimsuit sex (incidentally, this is the reason why summer is the most common of the four seasons in VNs) and winter allows for more elaborate fashion choices for the heroines (incidentally, this is probably why companies with really good artists tend to like this season so much). 

Personally, I despise summer.  I do like swimming, but since I hate swimming with others (give me an isolated location to swim in and I'm happy), summer doesn't really hold much of an attraction for me.  Moreover, the effort needed to keep myself from getting heatstroke in Austin means that I don't have any of the delusions of joyful summer that charage/moege seem to want to promote.   I love winter... but I so rarely experience it, since Austin's winter lasts only a few weeks before becoming what amounts to spring (though the rest of the world is still winter). 

Now, for the 'lesser' seasons... Spring is more common than autumn, for reasons that should be obvious.  However, I'll go ahead and state them.  Spring is a season that tends to be universally be seen as a yearly period of new beginnings.  In Japan, it is the time when new students enter school and old ones graduate, and it also marks the period of the year where the most brilliant flowers bloom.  As a result, it is more romanticized than poor old autumn...

Autumn... I have only seen three VNs that used autumn as a theme.  I think part of that is because of the symbolism, but another is that the only real visual attraction of the season is the leaves... and it takes a real sensitivity and grace on the part of the writer to use that kind of symbolism well.  Personally, I love this season.  When I lived farther to the north, it was the ideal season to sit outside and read, and it was the perfect season to spend exploring the nearby wooded areas.  In VNs, the season is generally a solemn one, and it tends to serve as a background for somewhat darker stories.

The bottom line is that I hate summer.  Yes, I just wrote all that to get back to the fact that I hate summer.  I look forward eagerly to a new ice age, and I'll just look blankly at anyone that suggests that losing most of North America to the ice would be a bad thing.

In other words... my air conditioner won't be repaired until  Monday, so I'm currently cursing the guy who invented warm seasons.

Clephas

I didn't go into this VN expecting much.  Judging by the cover (considering I am a bibliophile, you would think I would know better, lol) and the Getchu page, I thought it was going to be a half-nukige along the same lines as the Ren'ai Jijou series (since Otaku was written by the same guy).  However, I was surprised at what I got... the first addition to my 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' list since Natsuiro Recipe in mid-2015.

As a reference point, I almost never add VNs to the Chicken Soup for the Soul list.  The requirements for it are just too strict (low stress, soothing, mildly cathartic, and overall something that leaves you feeling better about the world afterward).  So, I generally expect years to go by between each addition to that list.  I specifically select these VNs for their restful properties, so the ones on the list are the kind of VN you should consider going to when you feel the need to just take a total rest from the stress of your life.

Now, this VN is a kinetic novel, which means there is only one ending and one story.  In fact, there are no choices in this game.  This isn't a bad thing, from the perspective of a game I'm adding to the list above.  To be blunt, choices are a type of stress-factor at times, so it is nice to just be able to read the VN without thinking about choices or looking at a walkthrough.  

The story focuses on a young scientist named Kyouji (he's in his mid-twenties), who, at the beginning of the story, has just finished his second and third prototype androids.  The important thing about these androids is that they have emotions and the ability to learn and think for themselves (in other words, human emulation and autonomous AI decision making).  This story is about how the three androids and Kyouji grow together, and it is mostly a gentle story about the family they form together.

The oldest android, Nect, is an 'older-sister' type who serves as Kyouji's accountant, assistant, go-between, and secretary.  She is good at keeping him from breaking the household finances and keeping him on track to finish whatever work he has taken on at any given time, but she is also very caring and protective about Kyouji and her 'little sisters'.

Lux is the second android, designed to be a reliable partner and possess a desire to help others.  This quickly turns her into what Kyouji refers to as a ダメ人間製造機 (a woman who reduces men to helplessness through her eager 'help').  She loves nothing more than to do things for others, including her sisters and Kyouji, and she feels the most fulfilled when she is doing her level best to spoil someone rotten.

Sphere is the third android, designed specifically to be like a younger family member.  She hates being lonely and wants the affection of her family members, and she also has the most effective learning ability, eagerly absorbing information about human relations from movies, anime, manga, and books. 

Overall, most of the VN is gentle, heartwarming slice of life, with frequent bits mild comedy (mostly running jokes like Roppu's desire to be modified by Kyouji) and occasional h-scenes (yes, they are occasional).  I honestly haven't felt this relaxed coming out of a VN in a while, and I liked the ending fairly well.  I give this VN high ratings for essentially erasing my stress from the work of the last few days, lol. 

Clephas

Yurikago is one of my favorite VNs.  That isn't because it so 'awesome' or a kamige.  Story-wise, it is actually a bit below the average for Akatsuki Works.  No, the reason I like this game so much is the characters and their interactions.

Kiritooshi Hiro, the protagonist (his surname means 'to cut all the way through' lol) is a young high school student who lives every day trapped in a web of his own apathy.  Tormented by his 'Knight Frame' (a magitech-type device that replaces his entire skeletal system) and a sense of his own guilt for having murdered his father in order to gain it (this is not a spoiler, it mentions this within the first fifty lines, lol), he feels isolated from the world around him, and he can only really consider those who are - like him - outside the norm to be people (this is a psychological disease created by the implantation of the Knight Frame into a psychologically immature subject).  He regularly attends a the Kurohagi Dojo, where he fights with Kangasa Ume, who has inherited an 'unbreakable body' (literally unbreakable... if she falls from the stratosphere, she is unharmed, but she is not invulnerable to disease or techniques that overwrite her original state).  He generally spends a great deal of time trying to defend himself (unsuccessfully) from the females of the story, who seem to vary from seeing him as a favorite chew toy to being eternally exasperated by him.  He has a bad habit of saying what he is thinking at any given moment in his rare interpersonal reactions, then wanting to bash his head into the nearest wall in embarrassment after reflecting on what he said.  When his few truly 'sensitive' spots are touched, he can instantly become a psychopathic, remorseless killer, but those points are relatively few and far between.

Kangasa Ume is the last survivor of the Kangasa Family, who all possessed an unbreakable body.   Her body imposes on her a unique and distasteful way of viewing the world, where her reactions to everything around her are determined on whether they are fragile or difficult to break.  She also despises that part of herself intensely, even to th point of being nearly suicidal at times.  With those few she allows herself to become close to, beating on them becomes a form of interpersonal communication (she regularly breaks Hiro's bones when embarrassed or irritated).   She is a student of the Kurohagi style, which focuses on the forceful creation of 'tenketsu' (breaking points) or the use of existing ones to destroy the bodies of their opponents.  She is fairly advanced in this, and as a kindergartner she once launched herself into the stratosphere when she tried to kill the planet that way.

Tae is the main heroine of the story and an angel.  Angels in this story are summoned into the body of a corpse from a higher realm and are bound to the one who loved the original owner of that body.  By instinct, they love their summoner/controller, and will do anything for his sake, up to and including self-harm or mass murder.  Since her kind were originally created as a slave race, she has an M streak a mile wide when it comes to Hiro, and she wants nothing more than for him to treat her like garbage and beat the shit out of her... and is unsatisfied that he doesn't do so. 

Aria is the last of the three heroines, a young angel who possesses wings made up of iron stakes and whose special ability allows her to overwrite the reality of anything she touches to have already been punctured by one of her stakes.  She is very honest and straightforward, a total innocent when it comes to everyday reactions and concepts, and (in her route) she is constantly asking questions, because she is also too intellectually lazy to think things out on her own.  She is also a drug addict, due to an existing command from her master that she use a certain drug to eliminate her emotions when they go beyond a certain peak level.

Kurohagi Zenjirou is Ume's adoptive father/grandfather and the master of the Kurohagi Dojo.  At one point, he was involved in the religious wars that resulted in the creation of the mystic technology behind the Kishi Kokkaku and angels like Tae, but he is now very much retired.  Despite his easygoing attitude, he regularly breaks his best students' bones and will even maim them if he thinks that is what is needed to train them.  He loves Ume deeply, but he believes in standing back and letting the younger generation find its own way.  He isn't really human anymore (psychologically or physically), and after two hundred years of life, even he admits he doesn't really understand people viscerally anymore. 

Tsugumu is an ancient angel (the  most powerful one) who performed the surgery to transfer Hiro's father's Knight Frame to him after Hiro killed him.  She loves anything interesting, and she sees her abandonment by her master as a very long-term sexual play.  She, like all the other women around Hiro, regularly beats the shit out of him for minor infractions (either through teasing or literal blows), but she seems to always be looking on the people around her from the outside.  She is very lazy and generally careless (she forgot to 'zip Hiro up' when she implanted the Knight Frame, which was a small part of the cause of his mental disorders, lol). 

Redear is the heroine of Tomoe's side-scenario, a psychopathic loli angel who skins people alive and removes their limbs and organs for fun.  She makes little sense when she talks, frequently referring to various fairy tales and old children's books, such as Allice in Wonderland.  It is impossible to tell what will make her happy at any given moment, but it is generally guaranteed to include killing someone or doing something similar.

Tomoe is a young man who acts entirely on impulse, living as he desires at any given moment.  When he sees bullying, he beats the shit out of the bullies, then he beats the shit out of the bullied one.  When someone mistakes him for a woman, he breaks their ribs and jaw, then leaves them for dead.... and when he meets Hiro, he always tries to cause a confrontation with him. 

Now, needless to say, the characters of this game are... unusual.  I loved their antics, and the game is pretty violent (think pulverized flesh, followed by repeated regeneration, followed by more pulverization).  The Grand Route is an excellent follow-up to the other routes, and I always leave this game feeling satisfied.

Edit:

For those who are interested in playing the game, there is a suggested (by me) playing order.  Generally speaking, you want to do Tae's route right before the Grand Route (because Tae's route is way too revealing).  This is immovable.  If you just want to see the true ending, do Tae's route and the Grand Route only, though you'll miss out on some awesome moments.  My suggested order is: Aria>Ume or Ritia/Tomoe>Tae>Grand Route.  Really, it would probably be best to do Ritia/Tomoe right before Tae's route, but if you want a bit of freedom of choice, that is a good place to put it.  I suggest Aria's route because it is the only route where most of the other characters are almost irrelevant and Aria is actually something other than a speechless killing machine.  It is also fairly revealing about how extreme the nature of the angels is, lol.

My favorite heroine in this game is Ume.  For all that she is the true heroine, Tae (or at least, the Tae in Tae's route) is mostly a do-M pervert who will do anything to get Hiro to smash her face in or treat her like dirt.  While she is pretty adorable in her route, Ume's internal conflict is a lot more interesting. 

The main reason that I say play Tae's route, even if you play none of the other heroine routes, is because Tae's route reveals several key elements about Hiro that are absolutely necessary for you to know in order to enjoy the Grand Route (really, it would be better if you knew stuff about Aria too, but meh).

The characters in this game, whether villain or protagonist side (note: everyone in this game is crazy on one level or another... hell, the most sane person there is Tae, and that is just... sad) are generally great... but moege lovers will probably run away from most of them screaming (Redear/Ritia is every lolicon's nightmare).  Ume is an extreme self-hating sadist, Tae is about as M as anyone can get (so much so that she can get off just on being ignored), and Aria is a drug addict... lol

Story-wise, the game is actually pretty good, but you should know that the writer chose to make Hiro an unreliable narrator and goes out of his way never to just come out and say things directly.  I love the setting in this game, and it was obviously designed to contain more than one story.  Unfortunately, Akatsuki Works Black produced three great games in a very short time and then got absorbed by Akabeisoft3, so we'll probably never see any more games in this particular universe... or in the Izuna Zanshinken universe (which, considering that the secret ending is open-ended, is sad).

Clephas

Understand, chuunige mostly appeal to a very core fanbase.  The style, the fact that they don't translate well, and the fact that most of the action/story is so 'out there' makes the games unapproachable.  The sheer amount of text means that localization costs are through the roof, which makes things worse, of course. 

I'm being realistic, ignoring my inner fanboy who screams everybody should love chuunige because charage suck in comparison.  However, that is the flat-out truth. 

So, I decided to make a list of chuunige I believe would sell in the west/appeal more to the western brain... and not just the core fanbase.  I have these ordered by the most likely to the least.

1.  Bullet Butlers- I say Bullet Butlers is the most accessible precisely because it uses a lot of elements that Western audiences can easily grasp without having to be 'deep' into otaku media.  Zombies, elves, dragons, and orcs.  Firearms as the most common weapon type, superviolence, and a film noir atmosphere to a great deal of the game.  If I were to name one chuunige that has the potential to be a hit (by VN standards), if properly advertised, it is this one.

2.  Draculius- If I were to name a sort-of chuunige that is accessible to people that don't particularly like chuunige, this would be it.  If you liked the best parts of Libra and hated the rest, you'll probably like this game.  It has aged somewhat, but the characters are unique, the story is excellent, and the humor is recognizable on both sides of the ocean. 

3.  Hello, Lady- Yes, I went there.  If you can enjoy Narita Shinri, you will like this game, regardless of your genre preference.  Narita Shinri is a protagonist who will earn as many haters as he does lovers, and there won't be that much room in between.  However, his story is very much one that is visceral and easily comprehensible for any human who has lost someone they loved.

4.  Shinigami no Testament- 3rdEye's chuunige are accessible.  I could put any chuunige by that company in this spot other than Bloody Rondo and say that it has the same potential for success.  Even Bloody Rondo does have some appeal outside its genre (in fact, it probably has more, lol).  3rdEye is a company that I can use to brainwash newbies without overwhelming them, which is why I was happy when Sorcery Jokers got localized, lol.

5.  Gekkou no Carnevale- I can guarantee someone is going to ask why I didn't mention any other Nitroplus game besides this one.  However, the themes in this game are very Western, for the most part... and werewolves and murder are always guaranteed to catch the interest of a certain (surprisingly large) crowd over here.  Put in living dolls and mafia connections as well, and you have a recipe for success. 

I actually thought of naming some others, but when I seriously thought about it, the hurdles for a Westerner and non-chuunige addict for playing those were just too high.   Anything Bakumatsu is going to be translated poorly, so Last Cavalier is out.  Evolimit has potential, but I thought BB is more likely to catch hold of westerners who aren't already part of the scene.  Anything like Dies Irae is almost guaranteed to flop if it isn't 100% crowd-funded (as in, all costs paid for by the crowd-funding), so Bradyon Veda and the Silverio series are out.  Vermilion has similar problems.  Muramasa suffers from swordsmanship infodumping that will probably cause the average reader's brain to go numb early on.  Tokyo Necro has zombies, but the chances of people actually getting past the prologue are relatively low, despite the coolness of the story and setting.  Izuna Zanshinken has enormous potential in the US, because of the style and the themes it tackles, but its episodic 'feeling' is a huge negative for some of us... 

Clephas

Before I go back to my work, which is going to take the rest of the day to finish, I thought I'd leave yall with a commentary on one of my favorite jrpgs, Growlanser 3.

Growlanser 3, released in the US as part of a collection with Growlanser 2, was the final localization done by Working Designs, the company that pioneered independent localization of jrpgs in the US (up until then, most had been localized by Japanese companies or the console first-party company).  It is the prequel to 1 and 2 (a battle about midway through 3 results in the world you see in 1 and 2 and remains as a legend to the people there), and often competes with IV for being considered the best game in the series.

In Growlanser 3, the sun is dying, famine is rampant, rain falls eternally at some places and hardly at all in others.  Plague has destroyed entire nations, and those that remain are fighting ferociously for the few places where the land is still fertile.  Assassination, genocide, and cold realpolitik have hardened the hearts of leaders, and the people that remain are growing increasingly desperate, further fueling the flames of war.

Into this comes Slayn, a young man with no memories and a talent for Darkness magic, accompanied by a Dark Fairy (fairies in the Growlanser universe are usually sentient concentrations of elemental spirits in a tiny female form), enters the scene about this time.  As she tries to discover the truth about himself, he gets caught up in the war and ends up seeking the causes behind the slow death of his world.

Growlanser's signature battle system is a combination of RTS and ATB systems, where your characters each have a speed that determines how fast their turn comes up.  Motion across the battlefield is in real time (based on that character's stats), and in order to engage an enemy, you have to bring them within range.

Magic in this game starts out as simple elemental spells, which increase in power as you chant them longer (based on the character's ability, you will be limited in how high the level you can reach with that character at any given time) and are one of only a few ways in which you can ignore range issues.  The reason this is important is that, in order to get the true ending (where certain characters survive where they would normally die), you must get a 'mission complete' on every single story battle.  Since doing so often requires preventing the massacre of running civilians or preventing the escape of a particular enemy, range becomes a serious issue from the beginning, so strategically utilizing magic and having some idea of how long it will take your characters to reach an enemy and move after they attack is important. 

Choices in this game have a huge potential variance, depending on how you've shaped Slayn's personality (through early on choices and a certain event which lets you shape his base personality and capabilities).  If he is cold and rational, you will find yourself unable to make enraged conversational choices, and if he is hot-blooded, you will find it impossible to make Slayn take the high road in some situations. 

Story-wise, this game manages to touch human emotion in a way I think newcomers to jrpgs will be surprised at.  Growlanser 3's world is dying, and most of the world is already dead.  As a result, you find yourself walking through the aftermath of plagues, witnessing massacres, and overall confronting both the best and worst of human nature when put into an extreme situation.  For a jrpg, this kind of display of human weakness is fairly unusual, since most tend to strike an optimistic note in that sense, but this is actually typical on some levels for the series.  In Growlanser 2, it is quite possible to side with the villains (given that you've fulfilled the proper conditions), and Growlanser IV's world isn't exactly kind to its people, even aside from the bigger issues. 

The visuals in this game were done by Urushihara Satoshi, who also handled such anime as Bubblegum Crisis, Queen's Blade, and Plastic Little.  As such, they are aesthetically pleasing, even now that the basic style has changed radically (this guy has a great aesthetic sense... though he is a bit overly ero-ero, from what I remember of Legend of Lemnear). 

Overall, if you want to start looking back into the past of jrpgs, this is a good game to start with (though at this point, you'll probably be forced to use an emulator).

Clephas

Unjou no Fairy Tale is the second game by Cosmic Cute in the series/setting that began with Sora no Tsukurikata.  It is based around eighteen to twenty years after the original game in the city of Kaguya, a lawless city with many different races floating in the sky far above.  It is ruled by the invincible Mayor (with thirty-seven terms under her belt) Azumaza, frequently troubled the antics of the great (and in the eyes of ground dwellers, insane) alchemist Nemo, and plagued with more criminal organizations than anyone can count.

In that place, there is a neutral ground, the cafe Amelia, run by the protagonist Tsukasa, with the wannabe Great Witch Natsu as a waitress, frequented by the diva Dahlia, and visited regularly by the elven swordmistress and antique/art seller Makoto.  One day, a girl in a beautiful dress comes running down the street chased by thugs and is rescued by Makoto and Natsu... only to find out that she is not only a princess but that she is Tsukasa's younger sister.

Thus begins the story of the city of Kaguya and the Pay Back thieving gang.

Now, before I go any further, it needs to be said that, like Sora no Tsukurikata, this game uses the 'ladder-style' story structure, meaning that heroine paths other than the true one split off at the end of arcs featuring primarily the heroine in question.  This story structure does not do the heroines other than the true one justice.  In most cases (such as G-senjou or Eustia), it becomes an excuse for neglecting the heroines or making internally inconsistent heroine routes.  For that reason, I consider the very existence of this story structure in any VN to be a reason to automatically subtract 1.5 points off the maximum rating I give it on vndb.  In other words... the story just has to be awesome for me to consider overturning my dislike of this structure.

The common route of this game does an excellent job of introducing the characters and giving you a good idea of the internal dynamics of the city of Kaguya.  Kaguya... is the kind of city no sane person would want to live in.  The protagonist routinely sleeps through gunshots and explosions (they are so used to it that it doesn't even disturb their slumber), and the Mayor (who is over 2500 years old) seems to take great pleasure in both keeping the chaos from settling and keeping it from overflowing beyond all forms of control.  I spent most of the common route smiling or laughing, similar to Soratsuku, which is a definite good thing.

Now, I'll introduce the heroines...

The first heroine is Dahlia... and she is already my favorite.  She is a singer at a high-class nightclub, a fox-girl with the ability to control others with her singing.  In the thieving group she serves as the driver and occasionally uses her voice to control pursuers or guards.  She is the second oldest of the heroines, in her mid-twenties, and she has an inordinate fondness for heavy drink and teasing those she likes. 

The second heroine is Makoto, known as the greatest swordswoman in Kaguya, as well as being Tsukasa's first friend in the city.  She is the oldest of the heroines, being an elf (there are hints that she is at least fifty years old early on), and she works most of the time as a dealer in antiques and art.  She has a reserved personality, and she is often misunderstood, due to her tendency to talk to her sword (yes, she talks to her sword).  However, she is also cute... in that she does things like making lists of things she wants to do with her friends and rehearsing potential conversational scenarios well in advance of even the most normal, everyday events. 

The third heroine is the protagonist's younger sister, Yuki.  Yuki is...  a strong-willed, pure-hearted princess who came to Kaguya to find her long-lost oniisama... only to find that he had become a thief and manager of a cafe in one of the most crime-ridden cities in existence.  While she is generally forgiving by nature, once you manage to anger her... she is easily the scariest of the four heroines.

Natsu is a wannabe witch

Spoiler

and the daughter of Hal and the protagonist of Soratsuku. 

I honestly hate the fact that she is the main heroine, because that is two games in a row that go to unreasonably naive, kind-hearted witches who frequently mess up on a grand scale.  This is a mistake frequently made with ladder-style structure games, but it is usually the case that the weakest heroine in the group ends up as the main/true heroine for games using this structure.  She, like Hal/Haru in the previous game, is a sugar-addict with a rather unpredictable magical ability.  There isn't a drop of malice in her personality, but...

Dahlia path

Dahlia, as I said above, is my favorite heroine in this game, so I was more than a little angry to see that yet another great mimikko heroine was being condemned to 'lowest-ranked heroine Hell'.  However, as I played the path, I stopped caring about that BS.  Dahlia and Tsukasa's romance creates one of those rare situations where I actually have to take a step back and wipe the tears away... solely because of the romance.  Since I'm not a fan of romance for its own sake, that pretty much says it all about that.  This path has some excellent feels and is about as long as the mimikko from Soratsuku's path.  I spent a great deal of the last part of the path just laughing hysterically at the antics of the characters as they strove for Dahlia and Tsukasa's sakes, and I wept at the climax.  Definitely worth reading, though this definitely has my mimikko-love bias interfering with my judgment.  The ending after story is very heart-warming, and it takes you to a point three years after the end, which was nice.

Makoto path

One thing that absolutely needs to be said about Makoto's and Dahlia's paths, but is a major SPOILER:

Spoiler

Makoto and Dahlia's kids with Tsukasa are so... adorable.  Seriously.  This game needs a harem path with lots of kids, lol.

I'm going to be blunt... this path is simply weaker than Dahlia's.  Part of this is because Makoto's personality is so reserved and the romance is so charage-ish.  Another part is that there really isn't that much in the way of deep feels or good action/comedy in this path, outside of the usual with Yuki losing her temper.  While I like the ending, I have to say that I felt a bit cheated, because they didn't go into detail on the past that lies between Tsukasa and Makoto, despite them being one another's oldest friends.

Yuki Path

The Yuki path feels a lot like a true path.   The simple reason is that, despite its seemingly innocent (and hilarious) beginnings, in the end it pretty much reveals everything there is to know about Kaguya and Azumaza's past, as well as the reasons why Tsukasa ended up in Kaguya.  Honestly, as I finish this path, I think that it is possible that it was the true path, rather than Natsu's, and that is my hope as I go into Natsu's path (I'm writing down my opinions on the paths as I finish them).  The ending is really touching, and I had to cry at some of the revelations that get put in here...  Incidentally, by the time her path comes around, Yuki has been thoroughly poisoned by Kaguya's anarchist atmosphere, and this has some rather hilarious results in the fourth arc that leads to the final path split.

Natsu path

Aaah... I don't mean to be cruel... but they got seriously lazy in Natsu's path.  I mean, it feels very much like an echo/rehash of something I've seen a dozen times before (you'll see what I mean if you play it, but I won't spoil it).  Understand, Hal is my least favorite heroine from Soratsuku and Natsu is my least favorite heroine from this game (The order goes Dahlia>Yuki>Makoto>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Natsu).  Like her mother, she is a clumsy doofus with a ridiculous amount of poorly-utilized magical talent.  Every single element of her path past the end of the last common route arc (Arc 5) is ridiculously predictable and holds no surprises, down to the last detail.  I haven't been this irritated at a 'true' path in years.  If I were to just judge this game on the three previous paths, I would give it an 8.5 on vndb, but, due to this path, I have to give it an 8.  Sadly, this is one of those cases where the main heroine and the final path are a hindrance, rather than closing out the story on a good note.

Edit: This is just a minor addendum of some thoughts I had in retrospect or forgot to include in the main text. 

I honestly like characters like Yuki, who, while functionally innocent of the details of normal life, nonetheless possess an iron will.  I also love it how everyone is afraid of her despite the fact that she is the weakest character combat-wise.  In addition, the way hardened criminals are obviously terrified of her makes it even better.

Dahlia is very similar - in background, personality, and (to some degree) relationship to the protagonist - to Yurika Vistvolg from Soratsuku.  As such, even if I hadn't guessed that she was not the main by the walkthrough, I would have figured it out anyway.  This writer has a definite preference for characters with an element of 'innocence' as  main heroines (note that a total of two of the heroines in both the games he has written are not innocents on some level), despite the dystopian settings he creates. 

If we were to eliminate my personal tastes completely from the equation, Makoto is probably the weakest heroine, in terms of character development.  For some reason, almost all the elements of her character that could have been used to make her route more dramatic (her sentient sword, her longer lifespan, etc) never once became an issue in the game.  This is a huge red mark in my personal book regarding this writer, as I absolutely loathe failures to utilize fundamental aspects of a character's design.

It has to be said that this game relied a lot more heavily on the immortal characters for humor than Soratsuku.  Asumaza, Nemo, and Simone are so far 'out there' as characters that their actions can be considered an unavoidable natural disaster, so they make wonderful pillars for the game's situational comedy (similar to the vampire lord in Soratsuku and her love of junk food and torturing people who use guns).  However, it also needs to be said that Simone, at the very least, should have been a heroine.  That type tends to have a great dere if handled properly.  It is pure negligence on the writer's part that she isn't a heroine (though she has an h-scene in the append disc). 

Clephas

Umm... I'm going to be honest with you.  I'm not terribly fond of Astronauts' irregular ventures off into the lands of dark fantasy gameplay hybrids, and as a result, I chose not to play this one when it came out.  My experiences with the original Demonion, which, while the story was decent, was incredibly tedious when it came to the gameplay, made me not want to have anything to do with this game.

I won't say that this game surprised me... the story is straightforward Astronauts-style (lots of sex, immorality, and violence) combined with the classic dungeon-crawler setup.  I'll be straight with you... I think the resurrection of dungeon-crawlers is what killed the classic jrpg, so I automatically subtract points from any game that looks like or acts like a dungeon-crawler.  I even felt the same way about Persona 3 and Persona 4, which tells you just how much I dislike the genre.

Why?  Because I've never seen the point in a story centering around diving into the same dungeon over and over.  Adventuring doesn't seem like fun to me (I got over that phase in middle school), and the stories tend to be ridiculously easy to predict, even for Japanese games. 

Regalias focuses on the city of Ishgalia, which was built over a labyrinth made from the ruins of a floating magic city that fell to the ground a few centuries back.  The former mercenary, Orias, enters the city with the hope of finding the secrets to his past deep within the labyrinth.

Now, let's set aside the craziness of monsters infinitely welling up from the depths of a ruined magical city.  If I were to complain about that particular tired trope, we'd be here all day.  I'll even set aside my need to question how the city wouldn't have been completely explored after decades of people going into its depths.

What I won't do is gloss over the way I began to feel by the end... which was tired of finding my way through a bland set of dungeons.  I honestly recommend that this game be played in stages, as the dungeon is exhausting and the story sections are not quite frequent enough to break the experience off into manageable bits.  Essentially, you form a party of five characters (from an eventual roster of nine), and the battles are classic-style turn-based, which most enemies and your characters having one action per turn (the exception being certain 'special' enemies and bosses).  On normal, the beginning of the game was the single hardest part of the entire thing.  For some reason, the special enemies early on can frequently one-shot you even if you are overleveled for the part of the dungeon you are in, which is ridiculous.  Since the only resurrection option early on is to return to town, this is frustrating and irritating, since it isn't always possible to avoid the enemy.

On the other hand, in the late game, you'll most likely be faced with a distinct lack of challenges... or at least, I was.  I had to go back to town every once in a while when I ran out of mp, but I rarely died or even had a character killed after the fourth chapter (there are ten, including the final one).  Part of that is that Orias and Shizuku are overpowered when using the double-sword passive skill (believe me, this is great for both normal enemies and bosses).  The other part of it was that I had the range of skills I needed to wipe out enemy parties in a single turn.

One thing I seriously hated about this game was the way it essentially forces to stick with your original party... because the other four girls are significantly less capable than the first four to join the party.  Dora is almost as capable as Edna as a mage, but Nemu is half-assed (they obviously couldn't decide whether to make her a true attack mage or a healer... and it shows).  The less said about Meriel and Zenobia, the better (think, 'magician who couldn't kill a fly' and 'swordswoman with a ridiculous number of support magic that verges on being useless late-game). 

The characters in this game are actually pretty good... though you spend an inordinate amount of time with them naked (five or more non-rape h-scenes for all the female characters except Fortuna and Zenobia).  They all have realistic motivations for their actions and background to explain their personalities... which isn't surprising from the company that produced Erect! which is notable for being my favorite borderline nukige in existence. 

Story-wise... it is fairly predictable.  Honestly, the presentation isn't bad... in fact, it is good.  However, I found the lateness of certain revelations to be irritating (since they weren't really revelations by the time they came out and said them outright), and I found the antagonists less than inspiring...

The end of the main story was actually pretty decent, and a good happy ending overall.  There are also plenty of post-game events for the 'finish everything' freaks, including hints at what the characters might do afterward.  However, I was disappointed there wasn't a final epilogue...

 

Clephas

(Note: Right now I'm playing Dungeon of Regalias, on a long-standing request for me to make an assessment.  This doesn't have anything to do with my statements below.)

One of my pet peeves is companies that depend on their reputation to sell their games, regardless of quality.  Pulltop, Navel, and Circus are the most frequent offenders on this side...  Pulltop, in particular, has developed a habit of releasing second-rate games under existing IPs (the second and third Lovekami and their sex-focused FDs) that add nothing to the series.  Navel has a habit of excessive sequels (Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou and Shuffle) and trips off into side-story wonderland.  Circus has a habit of endless sequels (D.C.).

I call this 'resting on your laurels' because these companies are basically milking successful IPs to death in order to stay afloat, rather than generating really new content.  Oh, I will be the first to admit that Shuffle really, really did need the rewrites it got later on, and the afterstories and voice patch for the original Tsuki ni Yorisou were hugely beneficial.  However, Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou 2, despite the hopes of those of us who were interested to see how they would handle a second generation, turned out to be greatly substandard to the original, flopping massively in the heroine paths despite a promising beginning in the common route (which is probably why they've been releasing so many mini-fandiscs to 'rebuild trust'). 

As for Pulltop... The original Lovekami was actually a first-class VN that showed off the best of what a fantasy charage can be.  However, its successors were... immature and pathetic in comparison (obviously written as moe-bait rather than serious efforts to continue the series).  Koi no Resort was a rather blatant effort to make a spiritual successor to the kamige Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no that failed massively (primarily due to the lack of comparable sensitivity in the writing, depth of the characters, and independent strength of the heroine paths... in other words, everything).  Even Oozora and Miagete Goran visibly suffer from an excess of ambition and a lack of the ability and patience to achieve it (believe me, every time I go into a new main-company Pulltop game of late, I leave wanting to cry from disappointment).  This is pretty sad, considering that Pulltop started out as one of my favorite companies after blowing me away with Uruwashi no and Lovekami in rapid succession...

I don't think I should even have to describe what Circus does with Da Capo, lol (I could, but it would just start a salt fight).

However, it isn't just charage companies that are the culprits.  Even my beloved chuunige companies can fall victim to this kind of intellectual laziness.  Propeller, the second it lost its primary writers, forced out two massively flawed works in rapid succession (one of which - Pygmalion - , to my despair, actually got localized *spits in disgust*) that weren't even worth playing (though Pygmalion probably would have been good if they'd used a different writer and actually put forth the effort to make it into a real story).  Light, the producer of so many awesome chuunige, put out a work of penultimate laziness just a few months ago (Sora no Baroque).  Nitroplus, in a rather pathetic effort to sharpen its skills at psychedelic stories, went off the beaten track with Sumaga and Axanael.  Even Akatsuki Works, which has always been consistent, if nothing else, has of late been lowering its standards somewhat.

Understand, I am perfectly willing to accept that companies will not produce a kamige with every single project.  The idea that any company could manage that, given the limited budgets most VN companies have to work with, is fundamentally ridiculous.  I am quite willing to enjoy trips off into the wilds on occasion (such as Pulltop's surprisingly high-quality Natsuiro Recipe or Moonstone's Sakura no Mori Dreamers).  I am also willing to accept that sequels rarely match the originals.  However, I do think, if they can't match the original, they should at least build something of close to equal quality in a slightly different direction, instead.  To be specific, there was absolutely no reason to make every aspect of Tsuki ni Yorisou 2 to echo the original's beginning framework so closely (to be specific, the way he suddenly became less capable than before when the heroine paths started made me want to various unpleasant things to the writer). 

I am also willing to admit that a new set of writers means inevitable hiccups... I could have accepted that Propeller's works would need to be a bit different after Yuuichirou left the company.  I would have even been willing to shrug off Pygmalion as a fluke.  However, the way the company, rather than pulling in a single capable freelance veteran writer (of which there are plenty in the industry), dragged in a massive number of writers (all of which were mostly nukige writers) to make Jaeger.

Light... has no excuse.  Light's fanbase, whether they started with Dies Irae or have been following the company for much longer, is accustomed to high quality long games with extensive setting and character development and highly complex stories where every last element of the setting is squeezed for everything it is worth.  Sora no Baroque was a slap in the face, a game that departed greatly from the company's style, even aside from the raw quality issues.

Nitroplus did have an excuse... they were a company that was always seen as 'weird'.  Experimentation has always been their norm (which is probably why it takes them so long to recover after each release), so Sumaga, while being a massively boring abomination from the perspective of people who liked their earlier works, was understandable and forgivable.  However, Axanael... wasn't.  To be blunt, it takes a peculiar type of brain to actually enjoy those two games, even if you aren't a Nitroplus fan.

Akatsuki Works' gradual descent really has been so gradual as to have been barely noticed.  While their characters and situations have mostly maintained the quality we, the readers/players, are accustomed to, it has to be said that the gradual decreases in length and detail in the stories have been apparent for some time.  I honestly enjoyed Suisei Ginka and thought it was one of the most conceptually exceptional of the company's games in years.  However, it was also relatively short (less than fifteen hours for me is short for a chuunige) and generally over reliant on the 'Akatsuki Works Style' of VN  design to keep the reader's interest.  The 'style' is proven to work at keeping the reader's interest, but it is also so recognizable that anyone who has been reading this company's works since Ruitomo will recognize it instantly.

In other words, I just needed to spout salt about the companies I feel have gotten intellectually lazy due to past success, lol.

Clephas

Dir Lifyna

Dir Lifyna is the name of the world in which Eushully's Ikusa Megami games, Kamidori Alchemy Meister, and most of the rest of their games are based. 

I love Dir Lifyna.  I don't think I'm alone in this, since it was the unexpected popularity of the setting in the original Ikusa Megami that resulted in the ridiculous number of follow up games that culminated in Ikusa Megami Zero (which most fanboys consider the best game Eushully has ever made). 

The setting is deep, based in a world built in the aftermath of a pure fantasy world (with no humans) being linked then melded accidentally with a future Earth that was apparently far beyond even our current technological level (think matter-of-course genetic modification and cybernetics, as well as artificial lifeforms of more than human complexity).  At the end of the war that resulted from the initial contact, humanity's deities (artificial and otherwise) lost to the 'Living Gods', and humanity's history and most of its technology was systematically erased from the world.  Most of humanity's original gods either died or went into hiding, and the remaining humans mostly worship the Living Gods.  Other races that were 'hidden' before the initial contact (Nagas, for example) retained a faith and service to some of them, but that has just resulted in them being ever more marginalized in the world as it has become. 

Humanity, ironically, has become the most numerous intelligent race, providing most of the faith (which provides power to deities) to sustain the Living Gods, causing even those Living Gods' own creations to often be as marginalized as the servants of the Old Gods.   Demihumans often find themselves forced to coexist with humans or pushed out of the better lands, leading to conflicts in which the churches of various deities often take sides, even if the deities themselves don't (most deities that aren't a devoted patron of a certain race tend to prioritize the power gained from worship over all things, it seems like). 

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the various games set in this world is that they rarely provide a purely human-centric viewpoint on things.  Serika, the protagonist of the IM series, can't be considered to be human in any wise (either in perspective or body), Meishoku no Reiki's protagonist is practically a demon lord, Madou Koukaku's protagonist is the ruler of a mixed-race country, Kami no Rhapsody is all about people competing for the right to rule over a multi-race federation, and the Genrin series focuses on a half-demon protagonist who tries to conquer a mostly-human region for the sake of survival (at least at first). 

'Chosen Heroes' (usually half-immortal paladins called 'shinkakusha' granted a portion of a deity's essence) are often monsters wearing human skin, priests are mostly political animals or dogmatists, and the conflict between Darkness and Light rarely falls into a 'good vs evil' formula, regardless of perspective. 

That's when the games are trying to be serious from beginning to end, such as with Genrin, IM, or Madou Koukaku.  However, some of the more 'frivolous' games (such as Sankai Ou no Yubiwa, Kamidori, or Kamiyui) are often lighter affairs, though the essential nature of the setting usually bleeds through at odd moments, usually near the end. 

Unfortunately, Eushully has a bad habit of switching writers frequently, and this results in huge dips and rises in quality between releases, story-wise.  As a result, while the company manages to produce kamige like IMZ on occasion, it more often hits a more moderate note like with Verita or Kami no Rhapsody... or strays into outright kusoge territory like with Sankai Ou or Himegari. 

Gameplay wise, the company's works in this universe are a mixed bag... Ikusa Megami's battle system is essentially a variant on the ATB system, combined with a 'use it and it grows' approach to skill trees.  On the other hand, Genrin was essentially a crappier version of Fire Emblem, Madou Koukaku was conquest strategy, and Kami no Rhapsody was a fairly horrible take on standard Japanese-style srpgs (seriously, obsessing over gimmicks like touch screen adaptation with an ero VN gameplay hybrid is just idiotic).  It seems at times like Eushully wants to try every popular Japanese single player game genre at one point or another... 

Anyway, if you are still reading, thanks for paying attention to this random ramble. 

 

Clephas

This one was a straight-out contest between Lost Echoes and Otoboku 3.

On the one hand, Lost Echoes has an excellent story and some seriously good heroines. 

On the other hand, Otoboku has first-class writing, first-class slice-of-life, and excellent epilogues.

In fact, it was that last element that decided the contest... the two were neck and neck, but the difference in epilogue quality, which is much more important than most people credit it for being, was huge.  Lost Echoes, for better or worse, ends very soon after the final climax for each path, and (in the VN's chronology) a month or less after the climax.  Otoboku 3, however, had detailed epilogues that dealt with the thereafter of the heroines and protagonist, which is a huge plus for remaining in my memory.

So, in the end, Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru: Trinkle Stars was VN of the Month, February 2018.

It should be mentioned that my utter inability to play sports VNs made Tsubasa no Shita a non-starter for me from the beginning (I like combat and blood sports, but other sports suck as game themes except for seishun BS).

Clephas

Lost Echoes is the first VN by the new company Petitlinge and is written by one of the writers of Hatsugamai (https://vndb.org/v18790)  .  In this VN the protagonist, Yuuki Riku, is asked by the low-ranking kami, Ryuusen Umi (her name as a kami has been forgotten by both her and the descendants of her worshipers), to go to the past to save the soul of his childhood friend by preventing her previous life (Tachibana Ginchiyo, a rare female warrior leader in the Sengoku era who was the daughter of Tachibana Dousetsu, a famous retainer of the Ootomo Clan before its fall), from killing her friend Chihaya in battle. 

This game incorporates the choice system into the actual story, with Riku making decisions on what actions he will take or what he will say to affect the course of events in the past era.  The first three paths that are available from the start are Akio, Hinao, and Kohaku.  Yuika (the osananajimi who is Ginchiyo's reincarnation) opens up when you complete those three paths (it makes sense, because the variation from the other paths is massive, though the basic length and strength of the path is unchanged), and Umi's path opens up after Yuika's as the true path (the one where everyone finds happiness... it also ends pretty hilariously). 

Kohaku

I pursued Kohaku first on a whim and didn't regret it, though this path made my head hurt a bit (chicken and egg issues).  Kohaku is rather blatantly in love with Riku from the very start (she makes him wake her up every morning and deliberately ensures he sees her half-naked), and she is the head of the Archaeology Club, the daughter of a large toilet-making corporation, and a generally cheerful person.  She lives in the same building as their club meeting room, which she has rented in her own name using her own money.

Kohaku's path, once you get past the common route, (the end of the common route is almost identical for the first three heroines), starts out the most normally of the three paths initially available to you... but that normalcy doesn't last that long.  Since I had thought they would settle for a standard charage cop-out with the first three heroine paths, I didn't expect the high-quality drama that occurred.  It was a pleasant surprise, though.

Hinao

... I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Hinao becomes either the most hated or most beloved of this game's heroines in the minds of anyone who reads this VN.  She is a miko at the rather large temple that enshrines Umi as a 'hidden deity' (forgotten by the time the story begins), and she serves as the means by which Umi is able to materialize in the mortal realm, despite her relative weakness.  She has a natural talent as a miko... but she is about as airheaded and thoughtless as it is possible to be (not to mention she pees herself every time she meets a powerful deity and acts like Umi's dog half the time).

Her path starts out oddly.  Let's just say that you will be immediately confused by the Hinao you meet after the common route ends and leave it at that.  As a whole, this route is interesting to read, and I liked the way they brought the story to an end.

Akio

Akio is Riku's little sister, who runs the cafe part of their home-business (he runs the photography part).  She is very capable and pragmatic, forgiving of her big brother's faults, and she is perhaps the 'wisest' heroine in the game, except when it comes to her own path, lol. 

Her path is about what you'd expect for a path involving two siblings with no parents who have been working hard to survive... when you further add on the romantic feelings she inherited from Kaya-hime (her previous life) to Akio's own pre-existing ones.  There are lots of complications, and this is the only path with a bad ending.

Yuika

The stubborn, delusion-prone kendo girl osananajimi who is the center of the game's main conflict.  Due to the actions of her ancestor and previous life, Ginchiyo, she carries a stain on her soul that will eventually turn her into a tatarigami, a type of deity that causes disaster regardless of its own will or desires (in Yuika's case, they said she would wipe out Kyushu and all that lives there if left to her own devices).  She is kind-hearted by nature, always putting others before herself. 

Her path differs from the previous three massively... and it ends on a melancholic note. 

Umi

Umi's path is accessed from the title screen after the previous four paths are complete.  Umi herself is a loving, motherly (despite being a loli), and friendly kami who deeply desires to protect those souls that are closest to her.  Due to the fact that she is a hidden kami (at some shrines, it was common to enshrine a secondary, guardian deity besides the primary deity), she had few followers and was eventually forgotten over time.  She has lost most of her power and memories, but she has been given permission to narrowly alter the past through Riku to save Yuika's soul. 

Umi's path is highly emotional, building off one of the melancholic notes from the end of Yuika's path (though it is a completely separate path).  The striving of the characters to give back to a deity who gives her all to her 'precious children' is the high point of this path and makes it the most emotional by far.

Overall

This is an excellent game by a new company, and I hope to see more like this one.  It frequently made me smile and laugh, and I cried with the characters on a number of occasions.  I don't regret playing this one in any way, which is unusual with  new companies.

Clephas

Now, this is one of those games where the Getchu description and the one on the site don't represent the reality. 

First, this game is a straight-out comedy.  The protagonist is a 'classic baka', a character who is easily distracted, daydreams about convenient scenarios with cute females, and generally makes trouble without meaning to.  Because of his perspective, the game is pretty high pace (and not really in a good way).

The heroines include:

Chuuni Hime- A real princess from another world who is the master of the renovated love hotel that is the central stage for the story.  She is apparently a genius and a great leader... but you would never be able to tell that from the pictures of her daily life.  She is a heavy gamer (doesn't leave her room for days at a time), and she has little interest in fulfilling her stated purpose for coming to Earth.  She has a real name, but nobody uses it.

Lagunaseca- Chuuni Hime's dark elven maid.  She is a workaholic.  Seriously, that is literally the entirety of her personality.  Her only reason for living is to give of herself to others, so she is literally incapable of considering a life outside of service.  She works several part-time jobs to feed the princess, and she only sleeps three hours a day.

Stella- Stella is a rather naive young knight from the same world as Chuuni Hime and in her direct service.  She was raised on stories of female knights being raped by tentacles and orcs, along with falls into pleasure and mind break, and as a result, she is extremely... weak.  She is terrible with a sword... so much so that she is liable to trip over it when she tries to draw it out.  Since she came to Earth, she has become a light novel author, and when her editor gets onto her, she locks herself in a defunct fridge. 

Suzuka- The only earthling amongst the heroines (ironically so) and the protagonist's childhood friend.  She has a terrible case of chuunibyou (think wearing a black cape in summer and transforming her room into an alchemist's workshop), and... that is about the entirety of her personality.  Unless you get on her route, she is almost a non-entity throughout the game. 

I'm going to be blunt... this game actually starts out fairly well, but as a whole, it is very... not worth the money I put down for it. 

The first reason is the writing.  For some reason, this writer fails utterly to do anything other than the comedy right.  Even momentarily serious or romantic scenes flop (at least partly because Masaki doesn't have the brains to carry those scenes off right) badly, and because of that, it becomes hard to even enjoy the humorous scenes. 

The second reason is the artwork.  I'm going to be blunt... this game's CG's and sprites are very... low budget.  It isn't noticeable for a non-art-bigot such as myself at first, but it became bloody obvious when it came to the h-scenes and the few scenes granted a CG.  If this game had been made in 2008, I probably wouldn't have noticed anything wrong, but for a game that is being sold at right about the average price for a VN on today's commercial market, that is a huge downer.

The third, and probably the most fatal reason, is the music and voice acting.  The soundtrack for this game is... terrible.  However, that could be forgiven if it weren't for the unusual fact that this game's makers managed to botch the voice-acting.  Most of the voices in this game are horrible, with the notable exceptions of Chuuni Hime and Suzuka.  I'm going to be blunt... considering how long ago they announced this game, it is ridiculous that this low level of quality in an area where the industry standard is about as level as it is possible for what is essentially an 'art' can even exist.  All of the VAs are established names, so it is silly to make excuses about the quality of the actors.  No, this had to be a massive direction and/or production failure. 

My conclusion is that, while the concept wasn't bad, the execution for this game was downright horrible. 

Clephas

I honestly normally wouldn't bother explaining why I choose not to play a given VN in a given month, but with Hooksoft games, given their rather high popularity, there is a real need for me to say something.

First, I don't like Hooksoft games.  They are written well, are visually pretty, and generally have moe-stimulating heroines.  However, they are also perfect examples of every reason I can find not to bother with the genre at times.  The characters are cute, there is plenty of ichaicha and slice of life... and the protagonists, no matter their role, are always just 'normal guys'. 

This game, in particular, managed to make me lose interest inside the prologue, where most VNs manage to catch my interest.  The simple reason is that the protagonist's accomplishments have already occurred in the past, and all that is left is for him to literally pick one of the girls from his harem of the school's best beauties. 

To me, this felt right off the bat like a cheap excuse to avoid relationship formation issues.  Within the first thirty minutes, all of the girls have confessed their love to him, on one level or another, and he is put into the position of picking one of them. 

I'm going to say this straight out... I loathe this pattern.  If they'd gone through the student council election campaign in the prologue and hit this in the first or second chapter, I probably woold have been willing to forgive a lot more, but the decision to start in the middle of things was a seriously poor one in this case.

As such, I absolutely had to drop this one, as it kept putting me to sleep.

Clephas

First, I should mention that my original review of the first Hataraku Otona didn’t really do it justice. Oh, I mentioned what I liked about it, but I was busy as hell that month, so it was what amounts to a short commentary. As such, I’m going to go into more detail this time around.

Hataraku Otona 2 is the second game in the series (if you exclude the spin-off Hataraku Otaku no Ren’ai Jijou). The characters from the original game return as side characters, several years older, and it isn’t made clear who Oga Itsuki ended up with (though there are hints that it might be a harem situation, lol). Similar to Itsuki, the new protagonist is a socially inept salaryman at the same company (one of Itsuki’s subordinates, actually), who receives advice from Itsuki almost identical to that Itsuki himself received from his immediate superior in the original game. As a result, he sets out to try to turn his life around, seeking more connections with others and actively seeking to find a girlfriend.

Like the original game, the protagonist holds several one-night stands in the common route that both help give him confidence and help him grow as a character (since he honestly liked each of the women as people, even if they weren’t in love). However, the same as the original, it is inevitable that some will bash this game because the protagonist isn’t a lily-pure ‘one woman, one lover’ man (seriously...pfft).

The common route is perhaps a bit shorter than the average charage common route (though not by much), and mostly serves as a very basic introduction to the heroines (extremely basic). Most of the character development for the heroines is done in their paths.

Asahi

Asahi was an odd choice for my first heroine in this game. Normally, I’m not interested in ‘genkikko’, and I almost headed for Suzune instead. However, in retrospect, I don’t regret choosing her for the first heroine.

Asahi is a part-timer at her father’s izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant/bar) and several other places who always has a smile on her face. She is well-liked by the customers and is generally about as good at customer service as it is possible to be.

What I was startled by in this path is the sheer sensitivity with which her true character is slowly brought forth during her relationship with the protagonist. I honestly cried with Asahi when her emotions finally came out into the open, and I watched through the protagonist’s eyes as he waited for her to rely on him. The end result was also immensely satisfying, and I was surprised not to regret a single moment of reading the ichaicha in this path.

Suzune

Suzune is the newbie bartender at ‘Tama’ (the bar that is the central location for many of the events in both games). Her manner is refined and her movements graceful, but, unfortunately for her, she is one of those people who can get drunk on the fumes.

Suzune’s path is significantly weaker than Asahi’s, and it is in some ways a rehashing of Miyu’s path from the first game… watered down. Like Miyu, Suzune has parental issues, and those issues, rather than her interactions with the protagonist, are the center of the path’s events. Unfortunately, the problem is solved quickly and with no real build up (this is the weak point, compared to Asahi’s path), and I honestly felt that this path was handled much less sensitively than Asahi’s, to my disappointment.

Sora

Sora is a hikikomori working at her grandfather’s old book store (old book store as in antique books). She has trouble talking or meeting other peoples’ eyes, and she is very psychologically weak.

Predictably, her path is all about breaking out of the vicious cycle of hikikomori-ism… and she does grow quite a bit during the path. However, the pacing in this path is… not very good. Up until right before the end, it feels fine, but the game all of the sudden cuts to the ending right after what should have been her ‘turning point’. As such, it felt like the story lacked a real climax and was just an excuse for six h-scenes, lol.

Rikako

Rikako is a cheery, strong-willed nurse the protagonist meets when visiting Itsuki (the protagonist from the first game) in the hospital. Easygoing and generous on the surface, she is actually very much a straight arrow, and being a nurse is not just a job to her but a calling.

She is the oldest of the heroines (the second oldest, to my surprise, being Sora), being almost thirty. Her route is, given her job, predictably focused around the difficulty of matching a nurse’s irregular schedule with that of a lover. While there is little in the way of extreme drama, it hits all the points you would expect when it comes to a romance between a salaryman and a nurse.

Manami

Manami is one of the protagonist’s coworkers, sitting at the desk next to his. She is a shy and serious young woman with a slight hesitation to her speech patterns that seems to be a product of a generalized low sense of self-esteem.

Her path is my second favorite in this VN. Like Asahi’s path, it is written very well, and the emotions of both characters are portrayed with the utmost effectiveness. Manami grows a lot as a character in this story, and by the end she is almost a completely different person, in some ways. She quickly became the type of heroine you just have to cheer on.

Bad Ending

Yes, there is a bad ending in this game, and I went through the trouble of getting it as my third path…

This path is essentially one long series of one-night stands, adultery, and the like… a path where the protagonist never finds love. It ends… in a rather startling manner, to say the least.

Conclusions

There are a few negative issues with this VN. The first is that the writer gave a lot more emphasis to Manami’s, Asahi’s, and Rikako’s paths than the remaining two (believe me, it is noticeable). The second is that certain parts of the dating portions are completely patternized (to be specific, there is a beach scene/beach h-scene at about the same relatively point in every path). This is a huge negative, as it pulls you out of your vicarious experience with the heroine you are pursuing at the time. The last point is that the protagonist is definitely a cipher, unlike Itsuki from the first game. Sadly, while his basic personality remains the same from path to path (sincere, persistently caring, mildly shy, high sex drive), I can honestly say he doesn’t really grow as a person in any of the paths… and you never really get to understand him as a whole, round character like you did Itsuki from the first game.

On the other hand, this game does exactly what it advertises it will do… provide you with slice of life romance in an adult setting. That is a rare benefit, and -despite the negatives – this game does it relatively well. I honestly enjoyed playing this game, but I also saw numerous points at which it could have been improved by avoiding the patternizing I mentioned above.


 

Clephas

The Otoboku series is often put forward as a prime example of a sub-genre that first gained popularity about eight years ago... the 'trap protagonist in a girl's school' type.  However, there are a number of aspects that make this series a bit unique... or at least make them feel unique.

One is their protagonists... despite their differences in personality and upbringing, all three protagonists end up taking a similar role in the common route, even aside from the 'Elder' issue.  To be straight about it, the Taishou-era 'oneesama' concept, where girls in an isolated environment form half-romantic relationships with older girls, is the biggest influence on these games.  The odd irony of a trap playing the same role as one of those 'oneesama' characters often had me smiling in humor and exasperation, but for some strange reason, Takaya Aya seems to make it work every time. 

Another aspect of these games that is unique is the rather blunt way each of the games portrays the 'old wealthy families' of Japan's attitude toward their females, as well as the attitude of the 'new rich' toward them as well.  Despite skepticism on the part of some when I've mentioned this in the past, it has to be noted that the wealthy in Japan still frequently use arranged marriages to form connections and incorporate capable individuals into the top of family-run businesses.  The former kazoku families, in particular, obsessively arrange the marriages of their children due to traditions going back over a thousand years (including a tradition of ignoring commoner's 'common sense').  While the most recent game is a bit lighter on that issue, you'll still hit it in several of the paths and even in the common route (though the common route is more like a gentle manipulation to try to stick two people together). 

Last of all, in every one of these games, at some point, gossip gets out of hand and causes at least some of the characters to suffer.  This is actually a common thing in games based in girl's schools, but the way Takaya handles it is generally more interesting and emphasizes the isolated nature of the gender-restricted environment.

All of this comes together to create a game that has a deliberate atmosphere of 'isolation from societal norms', one of Takaya's favorite themes in his games (every single one of this games does this, regardless of who he is working for at the time).  For this reason, the series has a rather unique 'taste' to it that isn't quite matched by any of the other similar games I've played.

Clephas

I apologize if this post seems a bit disjointed, but this game was long enough that I felt a need to write as I finished the paths.

First, Otoboku 3, as the nickname implies, is the third game in the series begun with the original Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru. Unlike the previous two games, which were based in the same school, this is based in a sister school a few years after the original game (probably a few years after Futari no Elder, which apparently happened about a year after the events of the original). The biggest proof of this is that Shion, from the original game, is a teacher of several years experience at the school the protagonist attends (meaning that at least four, most likely five years passed, plus the several years of experience… so probably about eight years after the original).

The protagonist, Hisoka, is a young orphan who was raised by a friend of his parents to serve the game’s main heroine, Orihime. Hisoka is… one of those characters who can literally do just about everything to a certain extent. He can fight, he gets the highest grades, he can play piano (and pipe organs), he can cook (and do any other form of housework perfectly), and he can even draw.

He does have one huge personality flaw though… he is one of those protagonists who completely disregards his own needs, always putting others before himself. This is what gets him trapped into becoming Orihime’s bodyguard… while attending the girl’s academy with her.

He tries to live quietly, but that doesn’t last long (since Orihime instantly takes a liking to him). Before long, he is one of the three Elder Stars of the school (rofl, first it was one Elder, then 2, and now it is three of them… a bit obvious, isn’t it?). Being kind-hearted and perceptive, he ends up capturing the heart of just about every girl in the school, none of which know he is a guy.

Now, I should say that the common route of this game is… loooooooooong. In fact, it is even longer than that of Futari no Elder, which was pretty long itself… longer than Grisaia no Kajitsu’s common route, for that matter. As such, this isn’t a game for those looking for a quick common route followed by romance and sex galore. The sexual content in this game is actually quite low, lol.

I’m going to be straight with you… if you played Futari no Elder and enjoyed it, you’ll probably enjoy this one. The atmosphere is pretty close to identical, the protagonist’s role is identical to the previous two games, and probably the biggest difference is that this game is based somewhat later on in the same timeline. The reason this is important is because the game doesn’t ignore the real world… and as a result, the setting doesn’t allow for the kind of completely-closed environment the previous two games essentially were (in other words, far fewer of the characters are ‘ojousama’).

There is also one other thing that differs from the previous two games… this one has a much, much bigger emphasis on ‘slice-of-life as the story’. To be blunt, ninety percent of this game is Hisoka dealing with the various characters’ personal issues on one level or another while going about her daily business. While the same can be said, to an extent, about the first two games, the first two games also had a much more extensive focus on the heroines (longer individual heroine paths).

There are two main heroines in this game (well, obvious ones, anyway), Orihime and Mirei. Orihime is a pushy princess type, who has just been given a year of freedom after following orders her whole life. Mirei is your classic ‘new rich ojousama who is embarassed by/dislikes her father/parents’. She is sharp-edged, has an inferiority complex, but she nonetheless finds it impossible not to like the protagonist (there was one of these in both the previous games, lol).

Orihime’s ‘whim of steel’ is her defining trait throughout the game (partially encouraged by Hisoka). This continues into her path and is accompanied by her tendency toward ‘classical romanticism’ when it comes to falling in love (knight in shining armor BS).

Mirei’s growth during the game is perhaps the most obvious of the heroines, because she starts out as a living mass of inferiority complexes, defiance toward her position in life, and jealousy. The fact that, underneath all those negative aspects, she is actually fundamentally a good person (if somewhat dry and cynical by nature), is something that gradually comes to the surface during the course of the story. Mirei’s path is stand-alone, and it can be said that it has the strongest independent character development of all the paths in the game. There are several reasons I can think of for this, but the main one is that Mirei, due to her position at the school and as an individual, spends less time around Hisoka than the other heroines (most of the other ones aggressively seek Hisoka out or live in the same dorm).

Hana takes the same role as Kana-chan and Fumi from the previous two games, being the protagonist’s ‘imouto’ at the school. She is very devoted and innocent, but her clumsiness makes her an object of constant humor and moe for the people around her. Hana’s path splits off from somewhere just short of the midpoint of Mirei’s path. As a heroine, she is easily the weakest of the group (this can be said of her predecessors, Fumi and Kana as well), as she spends most of the game essentially being an appendage of the protagonist, her role almost exclusively involving making him look good (to be a bit overly blunt, lol). As such, she was the last heroine I chose to follow (I wrote the character intros before I actually played the paths).  This path, unlike most of the others, has little in the way of 'outer influences' to create drama.  This is because Hana is essentially a 'normal' girl.  To be honest, I don't like the way that Takaya excessively modeled certain of this path's aspects after that of Kana's from the original Otoboku (though there is no attempt to grasp for tears in this one).  It didn't really fit Hana's personality or character as a whole, though having Hana gain more confidence and take a more active role in her own life was a definite positive element.  Really, the best would have been to avoid having Hana as a heroine at all, but having the 'imouto' as a heroine has become an Otoboku tradition...

Ayame and Sumire are twins who share a route in this game. Sumire is serious and straightforward, even slightly uptight. She prefers to act on logic and have a rational basis for any action she takes. Ayame is more intuitive, an artist by nature. Sumire is the school president and Ayame is the student council secretary. Their path is a rare twin love path (one of my favorite types), but it is pretty clear from the beginning that Takaya didn’t take this path that seriously, since it is easily the weakest one in the game.

Ibara Kyouko is the protagonist’s collaborator and backup bodyguard, a young woman with a sharp tongue and a fondness for teasing Hana in particular and everyone else in general. She obviously has some kind of darkness in her past, but she is very weak to Hisoka in general, though she is good at hiding it (or at least better than everyone else, anyway). Her path splits off from Orihime’s path (literally, the two paths split off at the end, just before things spill over into romance), and the ending is fairly amusing, given the personalities of the three involved (sharp-tongued and logical Kyouko, the whimsical dreamer genius Orihime, and the natural mediator Hisoka).

Matsuri is the game’s resident yurufuwa heroine. She is a violinist in the middle of a slump, who was sent to the school (which doesn’t have a musical support program) to recover after she became unable to use her arm properly for reasons unknown. Like Ayame, she is an artist, but she is very soft-natured and slow to speak. She is also probably the ‘happiest’ heroine on the surface of things, as very little seems to get her down, at first glance (another quality she shares with Ayame from the twins). Her path is surprisingly long (of the individual paths, it is probably the third longest), and I honestly enjoyed having her as a heroine.

For the information of those who are interested, depending on which of the final choices you picked, you get a different set of scenes for summer vacation, and depending on what heroine you ‘picked’ (based on your choices as a whole), who the protagonist spends his free time with at the culture festival changes. This is pretty much the only major change made to the common route based on your choices before the heroine routes, which might bother some of you.

For the most part, the endings in this game meet my approval, showing the characters years later, as opposed to merely just after the climax of the story. This applies even to the twins, who have the weakest path in the game. This is probably because the common route ends only a few months before graduation for Hisoka and the other third year students…

The writing in this came, as is par for the course with any game written by Takaya Aya, is first-class. Despite this game mostly being slice-of-life, I can’t really all it a charage or a moege, since not one scene in this game is meaningless, for all its immense length.

Visually, this game is Caramel Box to the core. If you like Caramel Box’s visual style, you’ll like the artwork. Otherwise, you won’t.

Musically, this game reuses some tracks from the previous Otoboku games, but I honestly only noticed this because I compared it on a whim. The important thing is that the music is used quite well.

It should be noted that about 1/3 of Hisoka’s lines are voiced, which is about standard for all of the recent works from Caramel Box and is effective for helping create Hisoka’s character and give life to him.

Overall, this is a first-class game. In some ways, it falls short of Futari no Elder… but Futari no Elder was something of a miracle kamige, so that was inevitable. I do wish that they’d spent more time on the individual heroine paths, but the degree to which the characters were developed in the course of the common route really made long heroine paths unnecessary. Oh, incidentally… I wish Miimi was a heroine, since she was my favorite character. I also loved her narration during the play scene.


 

Clephas

First, I should say that I disapprove of releasing visual novels in pieces.  I'm perfectly willing to wait three or four years for a good story, but I hate nothing more than being interrupted in the middle and having to wait another year for the next one. 

The habit of releasing VNs in chapters was a vice mostly restricted to doujin VNs in the past.  The more obvious reasons are people like me who hate having their stories interrupted, the previous dominance of physical media, and other issues.  However, as digital releases have become more common, companies have begun to try to find ways to suck more blood out of their readers without investing as much money.  The result has been a rash of fragmentary game releases, like Corona Blossom, Grisaia Phantom Trigger, and the Uso series by Campus.

Now, while I used them as an example, those are mostly positive examples.  All three constructed their 'pieces' so they could stand on their own.  Phantom Trigger takes an episodic approach, making each entry feel like an anime episode in a series or a novel in a series that does a good job of concluding the events of each entry, so that you don't become desperate waiting for the next.  The Uso series by Campus made each entry so that it stood on its own without needing previous knowledge of the other entries, despite their interlinked setting and characters.  These are probably the two best ways to approach micro-releasing VN stories... but in both cases, I would actually much prefer to read all the chapters at once, lol.

I say I hate micro-releases, but that is because I see VNs as game hybrids.  For me, I only want to invest money in a game once.  I hate subscriptions, I hate microtransactions, and I absolutely despise random additional (paying) content.  I can justify buying a season pass along with the game itself, but that is because it is a one-time transaction that gets me everything without having to concern myself with continuous pushing of bits and pieces of essentially worthless digital merchandise.

In other words, I hate that this has become more common because I instinctively fear the day when some 'brilliant genius' manages to incorporate true microtransactions into a pure VN.

 

Clephas

Well, as of thirty-nine minutes ago, it is officially my birthday (as of the time I checked at the beginning of making this post).  I have a lot of things to reflect on this year. 

I am now thirty-six, settling into the beginnings of middle-age, knowing my lifestyle will probably kill me before I hit fifty. 

I'm a sugar addict, I love fatty foods, I make my own alcoholic drinks (this year, a mixed fruit wine that actually turned out well and was much easier than the rum and hard root beer I did last year). 

I sit on my ass eighty percent of the time, I am hugely fat...

... and I'm surprisingly happy.  I won't say I don't have my down moments.  Looking back, I regret not going for more athletic pursuits while my knees and back could still stand them.  I regret not trying for a more regular and less... frustrating line of work.  However, I can honestly say that, for all its frustrations, I actually seem to like being a fat, balding otaku who has pretensions at being  some kind of VN guru (lol).

I do wish that I could fit into a plane seat, lol.  If I ever go to Japan, it is going to have to be a sea trip, since buying two plane tickets for one person is both embarrassing and more than a little expensive.

I hate my work, but I'm good at it and, in good times, it pays well, so I keep doing it.

So what would I change? 

Honestly, it is hard to say.  I won't pretend I'm all love and joy when it comes to life.  I have too much toxic waste going through my brain for that (I just happened to have gained just enough maturity not to feed the trolls constantly *smiles dryly*).  I'm fundamentally a passive person once I set foot outside my hobbies, preferring not to do anything I don't absolutely have to do.  I'm also negative and misanthropic... but is that stuff I actually want to change?

*shrugs*

I've never been any other way, so it is impossible to say.  However, every year I hit this day and wonder what could have been, which probably says everything that needs to be said about my experiences with life, for all my proclamations of relative happiness.

 

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