Jump to content
  • entries
    450
  • comments
    1261
  • views
    209520

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

For those wondering why I haven't posted recently (two weeks without a blog post is about the longest I've ever gone since the Fuwa blogs opened, save for the Fuwapocalypse periods), I've simply been too busy with work and playing Mask of Truth to bother.  This review was written up by Dergonu before then, and I only just got around to editing it. 

Bishoujo Mangekyou -Tsumi to Batsu no Shoujo- was my first Mangekyou game, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect of it. The limit of my knowledge of the series was that it has nice art and animated scenes. In short, I went in blind.

As I started reading, my first impression was that the game didn't feel like a nukige at all. The introduction felt like one you'd see in a story driven game. The writing, music and backgrounds set up a pretty heavy atmosphere, and the first real H-scene doesn't happen until quite some time into the story. Although H is definitely a central part of the game, I'd honestly say this reads a lot more like a "story driven game" than a nukige.  In addition, the game touches on a lot of things that doesn't exactly get your mojo going, like death, incest, rape and mental illness. Needless to say, the game was a lot darker than I had imagined. 

The story is centered around the twins Yuuma and Yuuri. The main character, Yuuma, harbors some pretty complicated feelings towards his sister. He has spent the last year in a hospital, for reasons yet unknown to the reader, and during his stay, his feelings for his sister only grew stronger.  Clephas: Spoilers contained in the box below.  Since I generally don't post anything that can't be guessed or read from the Getchu or official page of a VN here in terms of actual details, I'm taking the liberty of sticking this section into a spoiler box.  These are minor spoilers, so don't feel like you absolutely have to avoid reading them.  I'm just doing this for the peace of mind of the more obsessive members.  

Spoiler

Yuuma is detested by his own father, and the twins lost their mother several years ago in a fire. In short, Yuuma has it pretty tough.  After Yuuma is released from the hospital and he comes home to live with his father and sister, Yuuri suggests that Yuuma start going to school again. One thing leads to another, and Yuuma ends up enrolling at Yuuri's all-girl's school, cross-dressing as Yuuri's "little twin-sister."

The writing in this game was surprisingly good. It even felt poetic at times, and the true ending really had me thinking for a good while. As you might be able to guess by the title, (tsumi to batsu = crime and punishment,) the story delves a lot into morality. It's the type of story that gets you thinking about right and wrong, and how every person has a dark side hidden within them.  I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers, but, in conclusion, there is a lot more to this game than what meets the eye.  So, I almost feel bad calling it a nukige.   I'd say this is definitely worth a read. (It made me very interested in the prequels. I'll go ahead and read those sometime soon. Hopefully they are as good as this game was.)

Clephas Note: The Bishoujo Mangekyou series is only technically a nukige series, since it has too much h-content to deny it, but each game has a solidly-written and interesting story. 

Clephas

Izuna Zanshinken is a VN put out by Akatsuki Works Black back in 2011.  It is a super-violent chuunige with a vigilante assassin called Musumi Kotarou at its center.  The game is split into two main parts... the common route and the heroine routes, which are accessed at a click of the mouse (convenient).  Save for the end of each heroine route, choices are mostly a matter of seeing different scenes or the same scenes from another perspective.  Each route is split into chapters, each with a defining incident that (save for a few exceptions) ends with the protagonist executing the criminal in question.  Most of these chapters are extremely emotional (the normal chapters have the client screaming their rage, hate, and sorrow at their loss, save for a few where something horrible happens that just requires that Izuna take action), and there are a lot of deep sociological questions buried in the game relating to the death penalty and the functionality of the law... but that isn't why I'm posting here.  I've already reviewed this game once in the past, so now I'm just going to introduce the main characters to whet the interest of those on the fence.

Musumi Kotarou

Musumi Kotarou is the latest in a long line of vigilante assassins (his father was famous amongst them for having killed over a thousand people during his work).  However, his daily manner is literally mild (lol) and easygoing.  It is only when required by a threat or his work that he switches over to the cold, merciless, and vindictive Hitokiri Izuna.  As Izuna, he dresses in a sort of modified ninja costume, armed with kunai, a pile-bunker style claw gauntlet designed to cause pain before death, and a demonic katana (youtou) Kooumaru.  I'll be straight with you... the difference between his daily self and him as Izuna is pretty startling the first time you run into it (in the prologue), but it seems to be genetic in his line (his father was apparently similar).  His voice, body language, and manner of speech all change between the two.  However, they are merely aspects of the same person, as is evidenced by Kotarou's frequent regrets for the necessity of his work, once the bloody rage passes.

Kuzuryuu Suzuka

The head of the Kuzuryuu Family, the yakuza group that controls the criminal underworld of Yuunagi and Kotarou's mistress.  Having taken her position at a young age (fifteen), her manner tends to be stoic, easier to show anger than concern for others.  However, she is compassionate and loving to those she is closest to.  Unfortunately, her position as the young head of a yakuza family pretty much ensures she'll be unable to have an equal relationship with anyone, and while she accepts this, it doesn't mean that she is happy about it.  She is a really Japanese-style heroine, with a preference for simple old-style Japanese cooking, wearing kimonos, and wearing her black hair long. 

Himekawa Shinobu

Suzuka's attendant and a student of Kotarou's father before his death.  At a very young age, her parents were killed in front of her eyes by thieves who raided their house, and over time her heart was corroded by what is probably PTSD.  Eventually, she asked Kotarou's father to train her, and, after refusing numerous times, he finally gave in.  When working alongside Kotarou she wears a mechanized suit that lets her approach the physical superiority of the Izuna bloodline (the Izuna bloodline heals faster, is stronger, has higher dexterity and agility, and is in general physically superior to the average person, even without training).  The suit contains a blade, a function that lets her launch herself high into the air, and a wire for strangling or capturing enemies.  Shinobu is typical of a lot of emotionally-scarred young fighters in otaku media in that she tends to be a bit over hasty, jumps to conclusions, and is easily blinded by emotion.  Nonetheless, she has the potential to make an excellent Izuna, simply because she grasps the central tenets of the Izuna way quite naturally.  

Agano Hikaru

Hikaru is the androgynous daughter of Detective Agano, a police officer who tends to run across Izuna incidents rather more often than he'd like.  She has a strong sense of justice, but she believes that no crime is so terrible that it needs to be paid for with death.  As a result, she is negative toward Izuna's existence outside her own path.  She is very inquisitive and intelligent, but she is also very tomboyish, indulging in hobbies like playing with a yoyo and wearing boyish clothes.  Once she takes an interest in something or someone, she can't help but want to learn more about them, which can sometimes be a good thing but is more likely to get her in trouble, by the rules and probabilities of a violent VN, lol.

There are other characters in this game, but that covers the main heroines and the protagonist... and it is hard to touch on most of the others without spoiling the game fatally.

Clephas

This game is a crossover FD for Anekouji Naoko to Gin'iro no Shinigami and Tsujidou-san no Jun'ai Road.  To be clear, the former game (Anekouji) was a kusoge... inasmuch as it is possible for a game made by Minato-soft to be a kusoge.  In fact, its section in this VN is several degrees more interesting than the original, which is just pathetic, in retrospect...

However, this fandisc is actually quite a fun read... setting aside that the Tsujidou side of things is based on a shared ending where Hiroshi ends up with no one but the events near the end of Ai's path still occur (Maki vs Ai), it was actually pretty interesting.  The new character, Yui, was not as well-fleshed as the other heroines from the previous game, but that is inevitable, considering the sheer length of the original and its fandisc.  For a fandisc heroine, her path is actually quite nice. 

The Anekouji side of things... is actually pretty exciting, keeping the few really good elements from Anekouji and building upon them to make a nice dramatic set of paths (including a rather funny harem path in true Minato-soft style).  I won't say it was godly, because it wasn't... but it was funny and interesting... and the climax of the Kirsti/Naoko route was pretty cool overall.  Still... I could have wished for a bit of a deeper delve and more than just one extra main heroine.  Loli-nee is funny as a character, but she alone doesn't really satisfy.

The joint (crossover) part is pretty hilarious, bringing in characters from every Minato-soft related game, including Hitodenashi (which has been mostly forgotten by time despite me promoting it on occasion).  It also makes fun of the sheer number of characters the company puts in its games, which was reasonably hilarious at the time.  Maki and Momoka getting along, in particular, was funny.

For fans of Minato-soft, this game is a treat.  For those who aren't, it probably won't be of any interest.

Clephas

I'm going to be blunt... this is yet another SofthouseChara game where the entire point of the game lies in the gameplay, which is just complex enough to be annoying.  The heroines and the protagonist are non-people, and the actual endings are boring. 

Basically, you are a new noble given a completely random amount of time to build up your lands before the King dies, which takes you to the ending.  The game system is split into building, hiring individuals of talent, fighting off threats, dealing with the factions in the capital, and dealing with the day-to-day concerns of building up your fief.

Sadly, all the stuff that should have been interesting was made boring by the fact that the game is incredibly short if you aren't fortunate enough to hire the fortuneteller regularly.  About the most interesting aspect of the game was dragging the various neutrals into the faction I liked.  You do this by essentially bribing them repeatedly until they take you seriously... which is kind of boring and time consuming.

The heroine relationships all begin from pragmatic concerns, and this means you can't really expect any romance.  Building up your lands is immensely boring after a while, and actual battles are carried out independent of your commands.

What does this mean?  It means that the game as a whole falls short of all the potential sweet spots a game like this should have sought.  The protagonist is a singularly unambitious doofus, when it would have been far more interesting if he was a man of ambition.  Battles are taken out of your control save for preparations, which makes it hard to care about them one way or the other (many of Softhouse Chara's other games make the same mistake). 

All in all, I think of this game as yet another failure amongst many such by this company...

Clephas

Yes, despite myself, I played this.  Renai Kyoushitsu is the first VN from an entirely new company (the writer and artist are both new to VNs as well), and it seems to be, in concept, a simple charage of the type where a male protagonist goes to a newly-coed former girls' school and finds himself the only guy (a fairly normal situation in VNs, though less so in the last few years).  The VN has a really weird atmosphere (not psycho-weird, but rather just plain weird) at first, primarily because the writer goes out of her way to present all the girls as knowing something the protagonist doesn't. 

Art-wise, this game uses a style I like to think of as 'old style moe', where the personalities of the heroines are mostly shown through their eyes and extreme expressions (it was common early in the moege genre's development for a VN heroine to only have three or four expressions, each that could be used for several emotions when accompanied by a VA and several separate eye color swatches to express a wider degree of emotion than facial expressions could alone).  This style is very primitive compared to the modern style, but it is still quite functional... if not something that will blow you away.  Considering the budget a new company generally manages to raise and the lack of any truly famous names in the production end of the staff (writer, artist, director) it was perhaps inevitable that they would have used a tactic like this to reduce costs.  Though, that same theory falls apart a little, since all of the girls are given unique sprites, though several of them only have two expressions (deliberately simple character portrayals being standard in moege). 

Supposedly, there is opposition to a male presence in the school, but you wouldn't think so from how the game actually progresses.  The girls are mostly ojousama, but again you almost never feel it from the atmosphere save when they actually talk about the school itself.  The writer seems to want you to feel that the protagonist's striking presence alone is enough to change their minds, but I honestly thought this was pushing things a bit, in retrospect.

The protagonist is a thoughtful adult young man with a sharp eye for people's personalities but as dense as the lead covering on a nuclear reactor's core when it comes to romance.  He spouts complements like a broken faucet does water, and very little bothers him on the surface (though he has his weaknesses underneath).  In combination with his semi-albino appearance, this seems to draw the girls like flies to shit (yes, I used that comparison, lol).

One issue that I noticed several times is that the written words of the dialog don't always match the VA, which is a critical mistake, no matter how you look at it.  I understand that this is a new company, but that is the kind of amateur mistake you generally want to avoid when you are making a first impression.

However, the fatal mistake this VN makes is the horrible weakness of the heroine paths... I'm not saying that the points (story elements) are bad... I'm saying the execution and pacing are horrible.  Any heroine path you can finish in an hour is crap.  I can say this flat out.  It doesn't matter how good a common route the game has, if you only spend one hour of unique text on a heroine, that means you didn't even feel like putting in the effort.  Heck, this game even managed to make incest boring!

 

Clephas

Blade x Bullet is the latest in the Soleil series (search my blog, I played all but the most recent previous entry in a marathon a few months ago).  This series is based off of a series of parallel worlds that proceeded from the end of Ragnarok, the last battle of the Norse gods.  Some of those worlds are similar to our own, others are of a greater technology, and others are worlds of magic.  The world in this VN is in the midst of its own apocalypse, mechanical monsters from the sky invulnerable to weapons of high technology massacring humanity.  The only hope for humanity are the Valkyries, powerful spirit weapons created using the corpse of a human woman (or a living human woman), a weapon that has tasted the blood of thousands or a divine artifact, and a powerful spirit.

By the time the story begins, the failure of the Valkyries is apparent, and the survivors amongst them have been gathered at a castle to compete to gain the power of Odin, in order to birth a new world... after fighting one another to gain the runes that lie at their cores.  The protagonist, Yagi Mutsuki, a human warrior from Japan known as the 'ally-killer hero' for the fact that all who accompanied him into battle died but he killed more monsters than anyone else, dies and is resurrected by the Norse Goddess of the Dead, Hel, and given the mission to destroy humanity's hope for the future, accompanied by the Valkyrie Reiganlief.  

Mutsuki is... more than a little crazy, probably because he is the holder of the soul of Loki (this isn't a spoiler, since they say it from the beginning), with a love of trouble.  He makes his decisions on whether an event is to his tastes or not, rather than by any kind of moral compass.  As a warrior, he is unsurpassed amongst humanity, but he is more self-derisive than you would imagine from that.  He is also heavily under the influence of his Loki side after being partially resurrected from the dead, so his personal darkness is behind a lot of his actions (he basically rapes most of the Valkyries at one point or another, though that seems to be his twisted way of showing affection... not that even he thinks that justifies it). 

This story is heavy on the brutal outcomes, with a general sense of impending doom that is typical of the series.  However, it is so excellently written you almost wouldn't think it was written by the same person as Shin Shirogane.  I honestly loved Mutsuki's plotting to outwit fate, and the ending is pretty exhilarating... and fitting for one brought about by a guy who tempers Loki's chaotic nature with more human emotions.  The game is a bit short, as it is a kinetic novel with a set ending.  However, that didn't take away from my enjoyment, as I felt they developed the characters more skillfully in this one than in the last few games. 

Overall, if you don't mind the excessively dark themes and some tentacle rape, this is a fun game to play... though I have to say that Mutsuki is the most atypical protagonist in the series so far, being as far from heroism as it is possible to be.

Edit: I should make a correction... he doesn't actually rape Fenrir, Reigenleif, Yorm, Brunhilde, or Grimgelde... but he is so S that it feels like it.  I actually think the only time it was actually rape was with Ottlinde... lol

Clephas

I am a weaboo and it is good, lol.

More seriously, I started out becoming a Japan fanatic through swords, rather than through anime or games, like many others.  As an adolescent, I shared the same obsession for sharp things that any number of young men in the past have had, and that eventually led me to the katana, then to the samurai, then to Japan (in that order). 

I met anime and jrpgs about the same time, which only made the hunger more intense. 

Like all newbie weaboos, I practically worshiped everything Japanese... I wouldn't accept criticism of anything Japanese, and I instantly thought of anything Japanese as awesome.  That lasted well into my twenties, when I began to seriously study Japanese history as part of my larger hobby of studying world history and anthropology.

To be blunt, it is about this time that my views began to change, if subtly.  The weaboo psychology, such as it is, is peculiar in some areas.  Some weaboos continue to simply idealize everything about Japan, past and present, regardless of what information they pick up.  Others become disillusioned as the faults in Japanese society (again, both past and present) become apparent.  The third, and final group, tempers their adoration to a mere fondness and preference for things Japanese as they accept a more objective (relatively-speaking) viewpoint on their subject of obsession.

The first ideal that had to be broken for me was the samurai...  to be blunt, reading the history of Japan puts the samurai caste into perspective in a way movies and video games just can't.  The samurai ideal a lot of weaboos practically worship was born during the centuries of peace during the Edo period and is a relatively recent invention.

Once the samurai ideal was broken for me, it became a lot easier to see Japan for what it was.  I still love Japan, I still love Japanese culture, and I still have a definitive preference for Japanese ideas.  However, I can now admit that Japan's society is just as badly flawed in its way as my own, thus reducing my weabooism to a matter of personal taste, rather than a fanatical obsession, lol.

So what kind of weaboo are you? (not assuming you are one, whoever is reading this, lol)

Clephas

Fuyu Uso

Fuyu Uso is the fourth and final game in Campus’s ‘Lies’ series, based in a mammoth school with a hidden population of magical beings.

As a bit of a recap, the protagonist of this story, Sakurai Souichirou gained the power as a young child to sense the lies of others through a magical tool within his body called ‘Red Line’. In the game, this shows as lines of dialog literally being highlighted in red when a person is lying (at the precise part of the dialog they are lying). As a result of or despite this, Souichirou has become a young man who never lies, though he is capable of forgiving the lies of others (having made peace with his ability). As a former normal human being, Sou (as he is called by Eris) is incapable of producing the magical energy necessary to feed the magical tool inside his body, and as a result he has to supplement it through magical contracts, where he performs a service for someone in exchange for a price that results in the formation of magical energy to infuse the contract. This price is entirely random and it is apparently designed to balance out the difficulty of the request. Sou, being honest, tells people about this price, and as a result he has a lot of bad rumors going around about him, lol.

Anyway, Fuyu Uso focuses on Setsuka, the final of the four heroines and the one who is by far the most mysterious. She is always smiling but Sou finds her presence uncomfortable for reasons he can’t even explain to himself.

To be blunt, this is probably the ‘heaviest’ of the four paths by several degrees. Eris’s Aki Uso had some heavy moments, but in comparison it seems far less intense. This game/path also reveals the ‘why’ of Setsuka’s fascination with the protagonist and her true personality… which – for someone who hardly ever lies – is pretty scary.

More than any of the paths, this explores the duality of people’s views on the nature of lies, which is fitting for the conclusion of a series with ‘uso’ in the titles. I honestly found the presentation of this game to be awesome, and I couldn’t help but empathize with Setsuka’s life (I seriously cried at several points).

Overall, this VN is a great conclusion to a series that surprised me with its quality, and I can honestly recommend the series as a whole to people who like fantasy VNs that don’t involve swords and bloodshed.

 

 

Hatsujou Sprinkle

Hatsujou Sprinkle is the latest release from Whirlpool. It is based in a world where descendants of demons (mazoku) are everywhere, just waiting to be awakened. The protagonist, Souta, meets a mysterious turtle who causes him to awaken as a mazoku… thus gaining the power/affliction that makes both him and all the women around him become aroused.

Normally, this would be a concept perfect for a nukige, and when they first started out, it is likely Whirlpool would have done just that (their early games show that). However, instead they made it into a charage with something approaching an actual plot. That isn’t to say that the story is anything worthy of note in and of itself. Unlike this companies best games, the story elements are rather weak and mostly used as an excuse for comedy and ichaicha.

This VN’s heroines are pretty standard-issue, though they have their quirks. Koharu is your standard yurufuwa ero-oneechan (meaning that she is slow-talking, loves to spoil the protagonist, and is generally erotic, lol), Hadzuki is a straight-out tsundere (with the quirk that she randomly switches from relying on the protagonist to insulting him from moment to moment), Mio is your straightforward ‘innocent just waiting to be corrupted’, and Shizuku is a nice ‘nearly-yandere’ jealous heroine.

The magic in this story is based off of the Seven Deadlies, with Hadzuki being Pride and the protagonist Lust, for instance. Most people have a single ability (though certain abilities come standard, such as durability and quick regeneration when transformed), which rather limits the setting (standard practice for a fantasy VN like this one).

Now… is this a good game? As a charage, it is decent. The heroine paths are a bit heavy on the ichaicha (well, duh) and the protagonist isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the block (again, no surprise there), but overall, it was an enjoyable experience. At the very least, it made me smile frequently, even if the story itself isn’t memorable. It stands above works like Kujiragami or Magistalic (by the same company, but if I compared it to Suzukaze, Lunaris, or World Election (again, by the same company) it falls short by a long shot.

For those who like Whirlpool’s less story-focused charage, this is one of the best choices. However, it isn’t a game I’d go out of my way to play a second time, lol.

 

 

Hikari no Umi no Apeiria

This is the first game by Silky’s plus Dolce, a sister company of Silky’s Plus Wasabi, which created Nanairo Reincarnation and Akeiro Kaikitan. That’s not to say it has the exact same staff or themes… the writer is different, for one thing. However, the game’s quality turned out to be consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Silky’s Plus game.

This game is a futuristic sci-fi kinetic novel (there are choices, but they lead to the same ending in the end) about a young man named Reiichi’s quest to protect his beloved AI Apeiria. That said, this game starts out and continues for the first four hours or so as a largely humorous story.

Reiichi is probably the single most straightforwardly-perverted protagonist I’ve ever seen in a VN. He is also so open about it that, instead of it being disgusting, it is just hilarious. What’s more, that aspect never quite disappears, no matter how far into the game you get (it really is just the way he is, lol).

There are four heroines in this game. Their names are Miu, Mashiro, Kuon, and Apeiria (incidentally, this is the order in which you see their stories as part of the main game).

Miu is a straight-laced tsundere who met her stepbrother (Reiichi) in the worst possible way… by having him splatter semen in her face. To be honest, this scene was the one that set the tone for the first part of the game, and I ended up laughing so hard simply because it was so ridiculous.

Mashiro is a ‘modern girl’ and also a heavy gamer with a tendency to fall into a dialect of modern Japanese known as ‘wakamono kotoba’… a dialect that alters drastically as new words are born and old ones die, meaning that each generation of airheaded teens has a completely different sublanguage, lol. Hers are relatively easy to interpret if you are used to navigating Japanese dialects in the first place, but for those not accustomed to that, there is an explanation early on in the story. Her handle name is ‘Do-M Hentai’.

Kuon is a yurufuwa osananajimi oneechan with a tendency to regress into chuunibyou at random intervals. She is a heavy manga addict, but she is terrible when it comes to understanding science and machines. She and Reiichi have known each other since early childhood and are quite close.

Apeiria is a ‘strong AI’ (an AI with emotions and self-consciousness) accidentally developed by Reiichi early on in the story. She is very curious and loves nothing more than for Reiichi to give her orders. Her innocence resembles that of any number of other loli true heroines in VNs I’ve played in the last half-decade, but her manner of speech is really, really odd. One thing you have to keep in mind is that she is really immature psychologically, and her origins as a machine shape the way she speaks (she tends to cut up her statements into equivalent segments, use template speech patterns, and oddly fails to create proper grammar at points).

This game’s story, despite the sexual humor, is very much geared toward the crowd that loved Ever17, I/O, and the Seasons series. It twists your brain up in knots trying to wrap your thoughts around the explanations of what the protagonist and his friends thing is going on, and every time you think you’ve grasped it, you end up with a new development that leaves you in the dust.

There is a lot of H content in this game, though, for those who prefer the low-H approach most games of the type have tended towards in the past. A lot of this is because of the protagonist’s personality as written, so I have no choice but to shrug and look helpless if you want to complain about that aspect.

There are a lot of excellent emotional moments throughout the game, but I was honestly getting fatigued toward the end, due to the amount of information they kept dumping on me. For people who enjoy this kind of thing, it is a drug, but I honestly hate having people infodump on me to this extent. The changing theories throughout the story are interesting intellectually, but I honestly didn’t go into this game with the expectation of the kind of experience I got. As a result, I ended up becoming more tired than I anticipated.

There are numerous battles of wits throughout the game, which will probably make some of you excited. Some of them are really complex and multilayered (the protagonist is extremely intelligent, as is his enemy), and even I found them interesting at times. I will say I did get tired of wheels within wheels after a while, though, lol.

Overall, this is a game that the people who love complex stories will either love or hate… they’ll either love it for the complexity or hate the way the humor interacts with the story as a whole. I suggest just sitting back and enjoying the ride. I will say that I didn’t figure out the central truth until the second to the last chapter, which is extremely unusual for me in this kind of situation, so you can look forward to the mystery aspects.

 

 

 

Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei – Souten no Haou

 

This VN is a rewrite and update of the original Wei path for Shin Koihime Musou, with added characters and a greatly altered text. In addition, the battle system was revamped completely (it doesn’t even really resemble the old one).

First, I should say that Shin Koihime, unlike the original Koihime Musou, is an incredibly well-written work with solid writing and scenario design. It has its flaws – for one thing, I didn’t see the point in making Keifa a heroine, though her scenes are rofl-worthy at times – but the game as a whole is one of the best ‘guy goes to another world and makes his own way’ games out there.

Of the three paths in that game, Cao Cao’s Wei was probably the most interesting in the details. It goes into the minutiae of building a nation to a degree that the other two paths don’t, and Karin (Cao Cao) has a far more practical approach to building her country up than the other two. In particular, she doesn’t hesitate to use Kazuto’s knowledge where it might be useful (though not the technology or historical knoweldge), and Kazuto is far more active in the nation-building in this one than he was in the other two paths.

In this game, that aspect hasn’t changed… if anything, that aspect has been enhanced immensely by an almost complete rewrite of the first seven chapters or so (there are sixteen in total). Kazuto gets involved in almost every aspect of building up Wei as time goes on, and the new heroines serve to connect him to his various roles in an interesting manner.

The rewritten story itself is also far more interesting and complex than the original Shin Koihime story, the added characters adding flavor, though there are points here and there where a new heroine simply takes on a role one of the original heroines had previously. In particular, the parts of the story involving the Imperial Court are much more detailed, due to the addition of characters such as the Empress, her consort, and the great general He Jin. (The Empress and her younger sister are apparently destined to be future Shu path heroines, as are several other new characters that appear in the Imperial Court early on).

However, the differences in the main story start to go down in number late in the game, and by the time the Battle of Red Cliff is over, things have pretty much gone back to the way they were in the original game.

The scenes for the new heroines, read between chapters, are of equal or better quality than the ones in the original game. However, the old heroine scenes are pretty much the same (except for updated visuals) if you ignore the fact that sometimes new heroines take on roles that old heroines had in the previous game at times.

Perhaps the only real negative impact of this polishing of an old title was the ‘revamped’ battle system. I’ll be straight with you… I hate games with excessive random elements. The battle system in this is a combination of strategy and skill card battles that is immensely irritating to me. The randomness of the skill cards often leads to turns where you have no choice but to do nothing, and the battles themselves just don’t have much of a strategic element outside of ‘look at the timeline’. There is a skip function, which I went ahead and used after the first half of the game, because I was tired of the battle system.

The ending is perhaps the part altered the most besides the opening. In the original, the ending stops right after the final battle, but in this new ending, it extends far beyond that and gives you an idea that there might be something to look forward to, later on.

Overall, this game was a definite improvement over the original Wei path. It has its flaws, but those flaws are more in the gameplay portions than the story, so I honestly feel I can praise it without any real hesitation. For those who have yet to play Shin Kohime, you might consider playing this instead of the original, and you might also consider waiting for the other paths. For those who played the original already, I suggest you wait until the other paths are out… it is more than a little frustrating not to be able to play the other paths now, hahaha.

 

 

Ouchi ni Kaeru made ga Mashimaro Desu

 

This is the latest VN from Marmalade, the company that brought us the Primal x Hearts series. To be straight with you about this… those who liked the Primal x Hearts series will like this game, most likely. The protagonist is of the same general ‘type’ as the protagonist from those two games, it is based in the same general area of the city, and the atmosphere/comedy style/etc are identical.

There are differences though… the biggest one is that there is almost no emphasis on the school. Slice-of-life portions of this VN are mostly based outside the school, with the majority taking place in the cake shop that is the center of the story.

This game falls into a sub-genre of moege known as the ‘sweets shop romance’. This type of VN is generally excessively moe-romance focused, is virtually brainless, and frequently tries to bury you in sweets-making trivia and mindless cuteness. Thankfully, this game escapes most of those archetypical turns, primarily because it actually has something approaching depth.

The game begins with the protagonist, who is homeless (living in the park in a cardboard box), being picked up and brought back to the cake shop by Kanon, the main heroine of the game. Naturally, some antics follow (primarily because of how dirty he is), but he eventually ends up living above the shop as a tenant+worker at the cake shop. Despite the expectations of the non-Kanon girls, he turns out to be immensely useful, popping out ideas and taking actions to restore the faltering cake shop (which has been in the red since Kanon’s parents died the previous year).

The common route is primarily taken up with the protagonist helping Kanon and the other heroines to rebuild the business, building bonds with the other people of the shopping arcade at the same time. Since the protagonist is fairly ingenious, he is able to, with the help of the girls, restructure the business completely, causing it to make a profit… whereupon things immediately turn to the romance aspect, lol.

I can’t help but feel that the common route was the best part of this game. The romantic parts of this VN are cute at first… but they are interminably long as well, in the style that was common a few years ago, where massive lumps of ichaicha enveloped every granule of story. Not to mention the long, excessively hot h-scenes (Marmalade’s h-scenes in general are excessive, but this one was particularly bad when compared to the Primal x Hearts games).

The endings are actually decent, though I really wish they were a bit ‘longer term’. Nonetheless, I was something close to satisfied with them.

Overall, the game was reasonably fun to play, but the way the romance was handled was nothing to write home about. The common route was excellent, so it is possible to power through the heroine routes based on love for the heroines built up in the common route. Nonetheless, I felt it sad that the game sort of stuttered there.

 

 

Grisaia Phantom Trigger Volume 3

 

Mmm… there really isn’t any difference between this one and the previous two chapters, to be honest. Sure, there are new characters… but it is like watching an episode of an anime where each one stands alone to a certain extent. I know the characters, I know the setting, and I knew I was going to like it.

So… quite naturally, I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed it. This was a fun read, but I find it interesting that each of these episodes has a number of CGs equivalent to that of your average charage, despite being only a few hours long. That says a lot about how much money they are pouring into this game, but it does lead me to question just why they didn’t wait until they had a lot more done before they started releasing episodes.

If you liked the previous episodes, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t, you won’t. It is fairly straightforward. I did like the Black Lagoon references in this episode, though...lol

 

 

 

Sakura no Mori Dreamers 2

Sakura no Mori Dreamers 2 is a sequel based off of the protagonist not having chosen any of the girls’ as a heroine in the previous game. It is split into two parts… a mysterious world where Madoka hasn’t died and the protagonist was never consumed by revenge, and the world where he pursued his revenge against Madoka’s killer (the world of the original game). These events happen in parallel.

My first statement on what happens in this VN is that… they added more weird to it. It was already weird, but the new ‘red dream’ makes the dreams in the original game pale in comparison.

That said, this feels almost identical subjectively to the original, and as an extension of the original’s story it works just fine. However, don’t expect this VN to stand on its own, since it requires you to have experienced the fullness of the hunt for the serial killer Joker from the beginning. Quality-wise it is about at the same level, with the only difference being the alternate timeline and the presence of a harem ending, hahaha.

 

 

VN of the Month July 2017- Hikari no Umi no Apeiria

 

 

June 2017 Final

 

Haruoto Alice Gram

 

Haruoto Alice Gram is the latest release by Nanawind, the makers of Alia’s Carnival and Yuyukana. This one is based in the same setting and shares a few characters with Alia’s Carnival. To be specific, both games have the Arcane Cards which pull out a person’s possibilities and manifest them as a semi-magical ability called ‘future science’.

Unlike Alia’s Carnival, where the characters compete using their abilities, the protagonist and his friends only use their abilities in secret and the general population of the school is unaware of them. The protagonist, Soutarou has a card that increases his ability to concentrate by an immense degree, in exchange for pushing him to the point of exhaustion.

I’m going to be blunt… this game is immensely long for a charage. The common route is much longer than the heroine routes (for me about eleven hours, which probably means an average of twenty to twenty five hours for most people) and there are five relatively short (say two to three hours each) heroine routes. The length of this game led me to feel a bit impatient by the end… and I honestly felt that, for a game that had science-fantasy as a genre, it was less than impressive in that respect.

Soutarou has one of those qualities I inherently dislike in a protagonist with powers… an unwillingness to use them unless really needed and no curiosity about their limits. In my opinion, this game would have been a great deal more interesting if he ran himself ragged by overusing the ability, rather than only using it five times in total in the common route.

That’s not to say this game is terrible… it has its high points. The heroines are very well-developed during the common route, which gets most of that messy stuff out of the way before you pick one of them, and they were attractive enough individually that I actually changed my mind several times about which one I wanted to read first.

Sadly, I can’t really say the routes do the heroines justice. Oh, the routes deal with their issues… but they can’t really be said to be satisfying. They tend to reach a climax just a bit too fast after the slower pacing of the common route, and there is no aftermath, the after-stories just being h-scenes with no context.

Did I enjoy this game? At times… but the sheer length of this game is daunting, considering most of it is slice-of-life and hints of personal history that only get revealed in some of the paths. I honestly felt extremely tired of the game by the time I finished, and I doubt I’ll ever look at it again, now that I’m done. lol

 

No VN of the Month for June 2017

 

Edit: Yes yes, I'm adding yet more text onto a post that was already monstrous in size... but I felt a need to actually insert my own voice in after simply copy-pasting all the posts I wrote up while Fuwa was down...  June was an incredibly sub-par month, whereas July had a lot of releases... but only two that really would have ever had a chance at VN of the Month on their own... Kakumei and Apeiria.  However, by all rights, it wouldn't have made sense to make Kakumei VN of the month, since it is essentially just a remake of the original Shin Koihime Wei path.  While it was rewritten, it simply reused too much text to be considered a standalone VN of the Month candidate. 

In particular, I was disappointed that they kept the story flow for the last third of the game the same, since that was the part I thought needed changing the most if they were going to do a remake that would fit in with the Eiyuutan games, which was what I assumed they were aiming for.  New characters, like Shan and the various Cao siblings, had a very strong impact on the first two-thirds of the game, to the point where a lot of it was only recognizable at key points. 

Oh well.  I'm still looking forward to the Wu and Shu paths...lol

Clephas

Submitted by Dergonu, edited by Clephas

Pure Song Garden has a similar structure to Pulltop's previous games, Kono Oozora and Miagete Goran: a club at a school doing something together to achieve a common goal (Clephas: Seishun, lol). But this game does put a lot less focus on the club part compared to the previous games, and it actually spends very little time in the school part. During the entire common route + the routes that I played, they only stepped into the club room, and they never actually attended any classes or anything. I liked this, as even I am starting to get a little bit tired of the general school setting at this point.

The game takes place in the future, in the year 2027, where VR has become a huge part of everyone's daily lives. Everything has been made simpler through the use of VR, and people have grown quite reliant on it. One of the most recent trends is VR idols, and a big event called "Pure Song Garden" is approaching where the VR idol Ai will perform "live." A special doll has been prepared for Ai, which will allow her to actually move around, as if she was alive. This was supposed to bring humans and VR even closer. However, things do not exactly go as planned, as a girl from the year 2077, Hoshino Iroha, appears out of nowhere and inhabits Ai's doll body. The time traveling technology used by Iroha cases some major errors with the VR in 2027, thus sending the whole city into chaos.

You get tons of futuristic made up words thrown at your face within the first five minutes in the game, which I have to admit, got a little irritating. I get that we are in the future and all, but shoving all these new terms down my throat so quickly got a little bothersome. The VN has a hint system, which lets you go back and read some info on the fictional terms though. So if you do happen to ignore one of the explanations, you can easily read about it later.

The music in Pure Song Garden is fantastic, just like in Kono Oozora and Miagete Goran. The art is very nice, and this is the first game I have played from Pulltop where they used the E-mote system. There is lip syncing and constant character animations. At first, the lip syncing was not to my liking. It looked odd and unnatural.  However, after about an hour or so in game, I started getting used to it. Now, I'm honestly a big fan of it. It gave much more life to the characters, and helped underline the fact that this game was supposedly taking place in the future. The music felt reminiscent of Kono Oozora's music, which made me feel a little nostalgic, and the art was pretty detailed and well done. Overall, great music and art.

The story in PSG was pretty good. It has less drama than the previous games I mentioned, though there was still a decent chunk of it. It did make me cry a few times, and some of the moments definitely had some impact. Overall, although it doesn't compare to something like Kono Oozora, it felt like more than just a standard moege blob. That being said, I wish they would have pursued a few plot points a little more than they did. For instance, the main character has some trauma linked to music that made him a little opposed to the idea of composing songs. In the beginning, he was afraid of even just touching a piano. However, this conflict just kind of worked itself out randomly, which felt a little boring to me. Sure, they had a few reasons in there that made some sense, but I still wish they would have pursued this particular point a little more. Then again, Kanata's own inner conflict wasn't all that important, as the story was more centered around Iroha.

(I did skip a few routes that weren't linked to the true ending, so perhaps they pursued Kanata's trauma a little closer there, who knows. I did not skip those routes because the game bored me or anything, but I was honestly mostly interested in the true ending for the story.  Also, Iroha was my favorite girl from the start. I'll go back to the game and play the other routes eventually.)

The main character was good. He was not a full on hetare , and he actually did something other than sit around and be a heroine magnet (Clephas: lol).  I also liked the way they used him in CGs. You get the feeling that he is actually there, and that he isn't just some faceless shadow lurking in the background.

The romance in the true ending was good, though a little simple. It was rather straightforward, though I think that was the intention in the true route. Kanata and Iroha were meant to be together, and their relationship was important to the flow of the story in general.

Overall I liked the game a lot. It feels like Pulltop is really adamant on sticking with the old formula that they used in Kono Oozora, as PSG was quite similar in many aspects. The story is entirely different, and the setting is pretty far away from Kono Oozora's.  However, the similarities are still pretty obvious. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on the reader. I personally loved the similarities, as I am a huge fan of Pulltop's older games. Still, I can see how some people would want something entirely unique in a new game.
Clephas

I first played this VN in 2011, having read Accany's review of it (it was on his rather long list of recommended VNs), and at first, I had trouble getting into it.  To be blunt, my distaste for mysteries is pretty much the biggest reason why I had trouble with this... but the protagonist is, in some ways, your typical 'stick his nose in everything and anything' detective, meaning that he frequently takes actions that make me want to face-palm.  In addition, his unwillingness to put the puzzle pieces together (some parts of the setting come together indirectly really early on, and it always bothered me didn't figure it out then and there) bothered me as well.  Nonetheless, I set that feeling aside and decided to replay this, since it is technically a classic VN, lol.

Kurenai no Tsuki is one of those rare VNs (rare even then) where all the characters are full adults with their own occupations and lives.  It is also a combination murder mystery, fantasy, and horror story.  The game's setting is an isolated village in the mountains, where the protagonist, Kouya accidentally stumbled onto the bathing scene of the two main heroines, Sunao and Hiori.  Being old-fashioned Japanese women, they of course demand that he follow the rules and pick one of them (or both of them) to  marry.  If this VN were to have been made this year, then it would have turned into a series of moe antics, with good-hearted villagers blessing the potential marriage and the mystery being cleared up as something relatively innocent.  However, Kurenai no Tsuki was made in 2009, when it was still normal to have this kind of beginning take a different track.

This story has a ridiculous number of choices, most of them you are required to pick eventually and the only thing you can pick is the order, which makes them useless choices in my mind.  Objectively, this is perhaps the most negative point of the VN, lol.

There are two arcs to this VN, based on a choice made mid-way through the second chapter, which requires you to pick between Hiori and Sunao.  Depending on which you choose, you get to look at a different side of the events and mystery of the story.  There are four heroines, two of which are in each arc.  The first one follows the villagers' side and contains Sunao's and Akari's paths.  The second one follows a second faction and leads you to Hiori's and Kokoa's paths. 

While I enjoyed this VN and liked its characters, the fact is that it doesn't really meet my tastes, even now.  I love Sunao and Hiori, and so I always felt that this VN could have done without the mystery elements, since the protagonist is so paranoid he is willing to doubt those pure-hearted girls at the drop of a hat.  That's probably my problem, since I was already thinking of those two as my waifu inside the first ten minutes of the VN each time I played it, hahaha...

Anyway, this VN's atmosphere is frequently gloomy and the villagers are insanely xenophobic (violently so at times), and the deaths that keep occurring only make things worse.   Nonetheless, as a story it is very well-made and has a really interesting setting.  Kokoa's scientific approach to the mystery of the village is also helpful, since it provides some perspective when you find yourself falling into baseless superstitious paranoia, haha.

I recommend this to fantasy mystery lovers, though don't expect that the mysteries will all be solved in a single path.

Edit: Oh, and the true path is the harem path, lol.

Clephas

Some veterans of reading untranslated VNs refer to the period between 2004 and 2010 as 'The Golden Age of Visual Novels'.  However, you shouldn't really take that statement at face value, as the meaning is a bit more complex than you'd think.

There are some significant differences between VNs today and VNs during that period that both made it the peak of the medium's sales in Japan and produced the greatest ratio of quality VNs to crap VNs. 

One of the primary differences was that, other than moege, there were no strict genre boundaries and genre conventions had yet to slide into place in the minds of fans and writers both.  Companies were mostly experimenters during that time, sometimes basing their projects on previous works (Tsukihime and the Key games got a lot of knock-offs during this time, of varying levels of quality) and sometimes forging out on their own.  

Since there were few genre boundaries, companies were more likely to give the creative staff free reign as to what kind of story they could write, and  - ironically - this actually helped define the various genres in the years to come, as people explored the boundaries of how they could stretch a concept or theme in a story.  Some of these attempts were abortive (ie- thematic moege where all the heroines are of the same type, such as tsundere or yandere, generally didn't catch on) but others were immensely successful (ie- the definition of the chuunige genre and its gradual escape from gakuen battle mania).  However, the point is that the writers, directors, and producers of the time were allowed to fiddle with the formula a lot  more than they are now.  Most major companies nowadays have a 'signature style', that was formed during that period, even if their greatest successes weren't during that period. 

This period also killed the 'pure moege' as a genre, ending the majority genre of the previous half-decade (moege having dominated during that period due to the Da Capo series and Key's games).  The rise of the charage, a demi-moege genre that was much wider in scope and more adaptable, occurred during this period, mostly unrecognized until after the fact.  At the same time, nakige, which had previously been enslaved to the moege genre through Key and others like them, came to define itself as a new, standalone genre that wasn't necessarily dependent on moe stylization.  Even Key itself moved beyond pure moe, though it didn't entirely abandon some elements of it (as the existence of Kud testifies).

However, this age was already ending in 2009, as clearly-delineated genre norms began to form, and charage became the driver for the industry, taking us back, in spirit, to the age before that.  By 2011, the ratio of truly creative works to derivative works was overwhelmingly in favor of the latter, in comparison to the previous decade. 

That isn't to say that the years since haven't produced some great works.  That is patently untrue in my experience... but the fact remains that fewer and fewer writers are able or willing to look outside the 'genre boxes' for answers as to what to write.  I sometimes refer to our current age as the Age of Stagnation, where there is an overwhelming industry pressure to stick to genre norms and those that break the mold are so exceptional they stand out more than they should.

It is possible to create a charage kamige... but it is much easier to make a kamige out of a game that breaks genre boundaries, lol.

Clephas

Onigokko is a high-quality fantasy charage that was amongst the second fifty I played after I began plowing through untranslated VNs.  Unlike many I read during that time, I find I haven't really forgotten anything significant, so it turned out to be a bit harder to get into than I expected, even after half a decade.   That said, it has a lot to recommend to it, even today.

The story focuses on the protagonist, Keisuke, who is also the Phantom Thief, Ura.  He and his family have been stealing magical treasures and using them to do good for over a century, and he is the third generation to take on the mantle.  He is unable to lie for the most part, but he is surprisingly good at misdirection.  His straightforward and honest personality make him an easy companion for the heroines when they don't know he is a Phantom Thief, and the Phantom Thief persona is also fairly likable, if you don't happen to be a victim, lol.

Anyway, this story focuses on Keisuke's pursuit of the false Ura and his daily life on an island ruled by the descendants of Momotarou, Kintarou, and Otohime of Japanese legend.  His own family is on bad terms with theirs, as they prefer to seal away the magical treasures made by the oni in the distant past, whereas his family utilizes them for the good of others.  It makes for some interesting conversations, lol.

Keep in mind, when reading Otome's path, that this is based in the same universe as Osananajimi wa Daitouryou (for some odd reason, translated into 'My girlfriend is president)) and Naka no Hito Nado Inai, which means things aren't so much pure fantasy as they are science-fantasy. 

Kureha

There is only one phrase I need to say to give you an idea of how I feel about this path... Kuu-nyan Moe!  lol 

Seriously, nobody does tsundere loli characters like Aoba Ringo (the VA), and I found myself wanting to give her candy and pat her on the head at every turn.   Amongst Onigokko's heroines, she is the one I remembered the most clearly, and I spent most of her path waiting for the moments when she went dere or said 'Kuunyan yuuna!'

Did I mention that I love cats...? 

Anyway... her path is pretty long, with a lot of ichaicha (in the time when Onigokko was made, it was still fashionable to layer it on so thick it collapsed the cake beneath), and it actually has two climaxes, which kind of makes it a weird experience, since most VN heroine paths tend to have a single major climax.  I love her character, so I enjoyed it for the  most part... but the loli thing just doesn't attract me... 

Fandisc

Kureha's fandisc after-story actually occurs before the last part of her epilogue, covering a period roughly one year after the end of the main part of her path.  For ichaicha it is fine, but as after-story goes... I was hoping for something a bit farther down the line (like little Kureha children running around, driving her into tsundere fits).

Kana

Kana is a descendant of Kintarou (other name: Suzuka) who fought the oni on the island with a giant axe.  Her family deals with outside threats and searching for treasures outside of the island itself, as well as providing training for the security personnel (ninjas) for the other Three Families.  She loves archaeology in general and studying the ruins on the island in particular.  She is rather obviously infatuated with Keisuke from very early on, but her shyness makes her path a bit frustrating at first... particularly because Suzuka's existence kind of confuses things at key points.

I honestly liked her path as a story and I shed a tear for her ending.  However, I found the epilogue a bit unsatisfying in comparison to Kuu-nyan's. 

Fandisc

Kana's fandisc path should be read only if you have finished Otome's path in the original, since it basically spoils everything in Akari's and Otome's paths.  However, it also is really, really good as an extension of her story, bringing a conclusion to the promise made at the end of the original game and a wonderfully happy ending to the story.

Akari

Akari is Momotarou's descendant and the daughter of the current head of the family.  Her family controls the political end of the Three Families' business (providing a place to hold the treasures, as well as overseeing security) and dealing with internal difficulties.  Akari's issues are entirely wrapped up with her family's internal politics and the cost of their dedication to protecting and concealing the treasures.  She and Kuunyan could definitely fight it out for which heroine oozes sweet stuff the most around Keisuke in their paths.  Like most paths in charage of all types during that period, the romance part is pretty long and has a really long buildup (the same can be said for the previous two paths as well). 

Fandisc

Similar to Kana's path, the fandisc after-story for Akari provides a lot of nice extra details and a frequently amusing conclusion to her story.  It also fills in the details of what went on between the ending and the epilogue of the original game quite nicely for those who are interested.

Otome

Otome is technically the 'true heroine' of the story.  She is a busty, sweet, deredere senpai character with a love of hugging people.  She is a member of the Saionji clan, which is supposedly descended from Otohime.  Anyway, her path is mostly romantic... until it starts delving into 'where the treasures came from' and comes up against the common setting with My Girlfriend is the President and Naka no Hito.  It is actually a fairly emotional story, but while it falls into the realm of 'true paths', it doesn't really have more impact than the others, so you won't feel like you were gypped by the other paths.

Fandisc

Sadly, the fandisc doesn't really add anything to the story, really.  It is mostly ecchi, ichaicha, and day to day issues, and as a result it doesn't really feel like it adds anything to what came before. 

Aoi

お兄ちゃんの童貞は妹のものだって、法律で決まってるのに~~~!!  For those of you who can understand Japanese, this line says everything you need to know about Aoi. 

Anyway, her path exists only in the fandisc and was a gift to fans who voted her the highest-rated character in the game.  That said, I don't have much of a taste for Aoi... she is nice as a side-character, but I couldn't see her as a heroine even in her own path.  The whole thing falls out in a typical 'forbidden fruit imouto' path for the most part, without any really dark undertones (this was written by the same people who did Daitouryou, after all).  I really can't say that I'd bother playing this path again....

Clephas

I'm going to be blunt... I won't be playing any more of June's releases for a while.  My reasons?  I have several.

1)  My phys copy of Haruoto isn't set to arrive until mid-September, so I can't play it right now.

2)  Aiao keeps pressing my pet peeves, but I'm feeling more irritable than I really should, indicating that I simply won't be able to rate it fairly.  

Problems with Aiao

I've mentioned this in the past, but I intensely dislike pop culture and the entertainment business.  In my mind, Japanese idols are one of the single most irritating things that have come from the Japanese entertainment business, and I can't stand it when characters praise idols as a profession.  If Ai wasn't such a ditz, I probably would have been able to go with the flow on Aiao, but every time she appears on screen, I want to skip it, lol. 

This is NOT a comment on the game's quality.  If anything, this is about at AXL's standard level (to state it simply: AXL doesn't make bad games).  However, I just happen to be unable to stand one of the characters, hahaha...  I probably will be more forgiving... eventually.  However, I honestly have been unable to motivate myself to spend more than five minutes on Aiao on any given day in the last two weeks (I literally start it, read a scene, then shut it down because I can't stand it anymore). 

 

Clephas

This is a VN frequently recommended to those who have just gotten used to playing untranslated VNs, a story-focused mystery VN focused on the village of Minagami, a small farming town in the mountains somewhere on the main island of Japan.  I remember playing this back when it came out and enjoying it immensely... but since it was like the twentieth untranslated VN I'd played, I was still not quite to the point where I was able to grasp every single detail of the story.  In addition, I was still devouring primarily chuunige at the time, so 'in-between' games like this one and Kurenai no Tsuki tended not to be very satisfying for me, lol.  As such, while I remembered a lot of the big points of the story, I found a lot of details on my return to it that I didn't recall.

The protagonist, Kousuke, returns there after ten years away, visiting his cousin and aunt on a long summer vacation from college.  At first, he primarily focuses on re-connecting with old friends and getting along with his shy younger cousin, Shouko.  However, after he encounters a monster made of a rotting bear in the mountains, he begins to pursue the mysteries of the village he was born in.

This game has seven heroines in total, with four of them main heroines and three sub-heroines.  The main heroines are Ginko (the mysterious silver-haired beauty), Shouko (the protagonist's shy younger cousin), Iroha (the successor to the local Shinto Shrine and the protagonist's osananajimi), and the protagonist's younger sister Sakuya.  The three sub-heroines are Sachiko (Shouko's former best friend and a 'traditional' violent tsundere), Akane (a hired miko at the shrine who is slightly older than the protagonist), and Misato (a girl from the neighborhood who is a bit older than Kousuke and serves as the homeroom teacher for Shouko's and Sachiko's classes).

There are two paths for the heroine routes.  One is the Left Route, containing Shouko's, Sakuya's, and Sachiko's routes.  The Right route contains Ginko's, Iroha's, Akane's, and Misato's routes.  The Right route is based off of you choosing to follow, then trust Ginko early on and changes the protagonist's relationship with her (and thus how he treats the mystery).  The recommended path order is Ginko>Iroha>Akane>Misato>Shouko>Sachiko>Sakuya>True.  If you just want to get the true ending, you should take this route: Ginko>Iroha ending 2>Shouko ending 2>Sakuya ending 2>True. 

Ginko

Ginko really is mysterious, with her spending most of the VN only revealing stuff about herself in scraps.  Part of this is because in paths other than her own, there is no need for her to reveal herself, and part of it is pretty much habit and reflex, lol.  She is lonely, kind-hearted, and somewhat impulsive.  However, if needed she is quite capable of being ruthless. 

Her path focuses on her secrets primarily, while also touching on what happened ten years before in general without going into details.  To be clear, the rest of the VN is just too frustrating if you think of it without the information from this path (you'd probably hate Ginko in some of the other paths if you didn't see hers first).  This doesn't reveal the whole of the secrets of what is going on, pretty much because Ginko herself only has bits and pieces of knowledge and a few theories.  However, I found this to be a touching path in and of itself.

Shouko

Shouko is a shy little girl (seriously, if this VN were ever localized, they'd probably have to completely erase her path or up her age by five years) who is deeply troubled by nightmares and gets chased by the monster in the prologue.  Curious, impulsive, and as childish as she appears to be, she is also stubborn and focused when she needs to be.  Both in her path and in the rest of the VN, she is someone to be protected by almost everyone, precisely because she acts on impulse at all the wrong times.  Nonetheless, her path provides a valuable puzzle piece to the mystery that envelopes Minagami Village.

I'll be blunt, in that while the romance was sort of cute at first, I have no taste for loli... so this path was only of interest to me for the ending, which I remembered from way back at the beginning.  I honestly don't like her as a heroine, but this game shares one of the primary qualities of the best VNs of the past... the heroine paths are greater than their heroines.

Sachiko

Sachiko's path focuses on more mundane family issues that sprout out from Shouko's path, ignoring the fantasy aspect of the story.  As a result, it is fairly humorous and cute overall, without becoming dull or feeling like it was a waste of time.  It does add something to the reader's viewpoint, because it is the only path in the VN that actually makes the protagonist's mother into a person rather than an archetypical 'deceased mother' figure.

Iroha

Iroha is an active, ever-smiling miko who is also the protagonist's childhood friend.  She is generally warm-hearted and forgiving of others' faults, willing to get along with just about anyone and devoted to the shrine at which she serves, if not the deity it enshrines.  Her path focuses on the yamawaro (the monsters) and their nature, going into more detail than Ginko's path as to what they are and their behavior.  Unlike Ginko's and Shouko's paths, this one doesn't have as much of a bittersweet edge, though some parts at the end of Ending 2 are worth crying over.

Sakuya

Sakuya is the protagonist's little sister (by around three years).  She is cool-mannered, calm, and pretty much the only character other than Ginko that can keep up with Kousuke's teasing.  She and the protagonist have an easy relationship that seems unnaturally close to those who know them.  Her path is a preliminary to the true path (her second ending leads directly into the events of the true path, with the epilogue scene being the starting scene of the true path).  However, it is primarily focused on the formation of their romantic relationship, which has the usual barriers you see in cases where the people around an incest couple have at least some common sense. 

The Fragments

The Fragments are a set of four scenes that are accessible on the flowchart after the four main heroines' second endings that tell the story of the Tennyo from the point where she arrives in the village to the point where the curse of the yamawaro comes into being.  While the beginning is sweet, the ending parts are pretty horrible (guro), and it puts a lot of what happens in Shouko's and Ginko's paths into perspective, helping you put together the pieces of the puzzle from the main heroine paths into a more complete picture.

The True Path (Sinsemilla)

This path finally confronts the core of the curse inflicted on Minagami Village, and there is some serious action in here.  The actual length of this path is about half that of the heroine paths, but since it is basically an extension of Sakuya's path, that makes sense. 

 

Honestly, even after all these years, I can't name more than three non-chuunige VNs that did as good a job at presenting a story as this game has done overall... though that doesn't necessarily mean this is one of the best ten VNs I've played.  For one thing, It doesn't, despite the fantasy aspects, match my personal tastes.  I don't really enjoy mysteries and this definitely is a mystery (a multi-path mystery that is only solved in the true path).  In addition, presentation isn't the only factor I look at when judging the overall quality of a game.  This is definitely a kamige... but that doesn't mean it is one I'm going to want to replay again anytime soon. 

I can definitely recommend this to anyone who liked Kurenai no Tsuki, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, and any number of other VNs that combine this type of setting with a multi-part mystery/thriller setup.  However, this isn't something I'd recommend for someone who just wants to sit back and enjoy the slice-of-life.  For better or worse, the story is very tightly-focused, despite its immense length.  For those who want extra slice-of-life, they should read the fragments that pop up occasionally on the flow chart as you read (alternate perspectives, optional scenes, etc).

I do have one huge complaint, though... (Don't read this unless you want to be spoiled about the ending)

 

 

I WARNED YOU!!!

Spoiler

I absolutely hate stories where the protagonist gives up his powers at the end... realistically, people just aren't that noble, no matter their experiences.  While I could see him doing it later, the way he does it on the spot is pretty unreal.  I mean... at least let it heal your wounds completely, dickhead!!!

 

Clephas

First, this VN was written during Pulltop's brief 'golden age', by the writer of the Kamikaze Explorer, Dracu-riot, Noble Works, and Amairo Islenauts, as well as the writer of the original LoveKami.  As such, it can be said that they had something of a dream team put together for this game...  since two of the four writers were skilled moege-with-story writers.  I pulled this game out of my 'treasure box' so I would have something to revive me from my fugue state, and it actually turned out quite well in the end (I still have about a half-dozen highly-ranked VNs I have refrained from reading and am keeping for emergencies). 

This game centers around a young man living as the 'honorary citizen' of a 'kingdom' in the middle of a small Japanese town and the little queen who rules it.  Hayato is your typical charage/moege protagonist, in that he is kind, dense, and of average everything except for his extreme skills at mundane tasks like cooking cleaning, repairing the roof, and tending the household garden.  He devotedly serves Ruha, the young queen and descendant of a line of Germanic (in the larger sense) exiled when they refused to surrender their titles to the empire that conquered them a little over a century before.  Ruha is beloved by the local community (for the obvious reasons like cuteness and her sincere manner, as well as less obvious ones like tradition and her deceased mother's reputation for philanthropy), but her 'kingdom' is extremely poor due to her mother having blown the fortune on a combination of daily expenses and her mother's local philanthropy. 

Kunitomo Miori, one of the other heroines, is from a local wealthy family that has always resented Ruha's family, seeing them as flies in the ointment.  She has extremely low communication skills and is fatally shy, while seeming cool and composed on the surface.  Nozomi is the granddaughter of the head of a major corporation.  She is gentle-mannered and graceful, but she has an inordinate fondness for arthropods in general and spiders in particular.  Misao is the childhood friend of Miori, the protagonist, and Ruha, the daughter of the local baker, a slightly airheaded but kind-hearted girl.  I was particularly fond of Nozomi and Miori for their... rather unique characterizations.  It showed me how even just a few years passage was enough to stagnate the medium, since I haven't run across any identical heroines in years.

Now, down to business... is this game good?  The short answer is, yes.  Is it a kamige?  No.  It has enough small flaws and lacks the impact necessary for me to call it a kamige.  Nonetheless it was an enjoyable VN, with a depth that most modern charage companies deliberately avoid putting into their stories, lol.  In addition, the game has wonderful epilogues and after-stories, which was a nice change from the shitty ones you see in most VNs of the type.  Obviously, Ruha's path is the cherry on this particular sundae (following the rule of five years ago that 'all true paths must be for loli heroines', lol).  It deals with the setting elements most central to the game in a way the other paths don't, and it was rather obvious Ruha was the main heroine from the beginning, though the others weren't neglected in their own paths ( I could have done without Misao being a heroine though, since I don't like air-headed osananajimi heroines). 

The biggest negative points of this VN were the protagonist's density about love and romance, and how slow he is on the uptake at certain important times. 

Clephas

Now, those who are accustomed to my praise of Akatsuki Works will probably think I have nothing but praise for Hino Wataru, and they aren't  completely wrong.  However, he has some major issues that tend to make his VNs hard for a certain type of reader to take seriously. 

For better or worse, Hino Wataru is a dyed-in-the-wool chuunige writer.  Even when he isn't writing a chuunige he is writing a chuunige.  I don't think I've ever encountered a writer so completely bound by the genre's conventions as he is.  Is that a bad thing?  In some ways yes, in other ways no.

His defining work, amongst older VN veterans, is Ruitomo.  Ruitomo is hard to define as a chuunige, because there is little to no battling, and it is actually easier to define it as a thriller, as most of the game follows the protagonist and his fellow cursed individuals trying to find a way to survive in a world that isn't kind to those who are cursed the way they are.   However, the game is littered with common chuunige cliches, such as grandiose word choices in the narration and detailed dissections of situations that reveal aspects that otherwise wouldn't have surfaced.  This is common to all of his non-chuunige VNs, and to be blunt, Hino-san tends to stick to what worked for him int he past, lol. 

There are two elements of his style that stand out obviously to me, having read most of them.  A rejection of conventional morality is the first.  Most of his main characters are amoral, acting primarily based on an ideology that they constructed internally that is frequently a bit twisty and created by events that scarred them deeply.   He also tends to give his protagonists a catchphrase that gets used at all parts of the VN (such as Tomo's 'cursed world' and 'we are cursed' or Akihito's 'soredemo, to').  I have never encountered a VN written by him where the protagonist doesn't have some kind of internal or external catchphrase that no normal Japanese person would ever think of or use on a daily basis. 

Are these negative aspects?  It is hard to say.  They do add a certain... flavor to his works.  However, it does get old sometimes.

His characters, unlike Higashide's, tend to be crass and befouled by their life experiences, which ironically makes them as easy to understand as Higashide's 'great souls', if in an entirely different way, lol.  Tomo is a compulsive liar and manipulator, Akihito womanizes indiscriminately and obsesses over his past (as long as they are good-looking), Narita Shinri is arrogant and obsessed with revenge (though it is justified), and Akeno Shuuri is about as lazy and greedy as they come, when he can get away with it. 

As a writer, his style is closer to Masada's than most, because he tends toward flowery, complex language and a love of the poetic.  However, for some reason, what people forgive in Masada is apparently not as attractive in his works, so I've known people who loved Masada who dropped Hino's works in the prologue. 

Overall, as a writer he is a mixed bag... he shows moments of greatness and I personally enjoy his works.  However, if you asked me if he is one of the 'greats', I'd have to tilt my head to the side in thought, as the only kamige he has made is Ruitomo. 

Clephas

Higashide might be familiar to Western anime fans as the writer for the Fate/Apocrypha LNs and the new anime series, or he might be familiar as the writer of Ayakashibito and Tokyo Babel.  However, of late he has definitely begun to worm his way into the collective consciousness of the Western otakus.

So what kind of writer is he?  He wrote one of my single favorite VNs, Evolimit, and his works definitely have a certain... style.  Perhaps the most obvious reason why he leaves and impression is that he is really, really good at creating characters on both sides of the line of his battle stories that are both larger than life yet still empathetic.  While I could also mention the delightful sense of humor he puts into his works, and that is indeed a defining aspect of his writing, what really defines his games is the sheer overwhelming power of the characters and the emotions born from their interactions.

Of the top ten most memorable scenes I've read in a VN, three of them have been from one of his VNs.  Higashide loves his tragic heroes, his great villains, and all the colors of humanity in between.  The Disasters from Evolimit and their final moments in Shizuku's path still break my heart... even in memory.   Selma's bravery in overcoming her own internal demons in the face of prejudice and malice from those around her in Bullet Butlers still strikes me to the heart today.  Kuki-sensei's bravery and strength of will to overcome his own past in the crossover fandisc Chrono Belt fills me with the same bittersweet emotions it did the first time.

His characters are so... alive.  That is something few VN writers can manage.  Moe, as a tool of storytelling, is really good at leaving an initial impression.  However, HIgashide is someone who can utilize moe without making it the center of the story, using it as a spice rather than drowning the main dish in moe ketchup. 

He really is one of those rare writers who can make a story that is better than the sum of its parts.  He is also really, really, good at presenting that story in a way that leaves and impression that doesn't fade even after years have passed.

As a writer, he doesn't really go for the obscure or for the philosophical.  Many of his works, by the end, start to feel like a Greek tragicomedy or a heroic saga.  They leave you with a feeling of the grandiose, and they are far more straightforward than you usually experience with a chuuni writer, most of whom will often go for being obscure, just out of habit.  The fact that he can create that sense of grandiosity while giving his characters the humanity they need to strike at the hearts of the readers makes him one of my favorite writers of all time.

It just sucks that he doesn't intend to write any more VNs.

 

Clephas

I'm going to give you my basic opinion of Shumon Yuu straight up and without embellishment... he is a genius.

I generally am reluctant to call any writer a genius.  I have read thousands of stories - if I include both books and VNs - and I can only name a bare dozen or so authors/writers I can honestly and unequivocally name as geniuses.  Of course, this is a subjective viewpoint... but it is backed up by significant experience, lol.

Shumon Yuu is that rarest of the rare in VN writers/directors... a true artist.  Most decent VN writers have a flair for some aspect of their work, whether it is characterization of a certain type or amusing narrative... but Shumon Yuu goes past that, turning entire VNs into works of art as deep and expressive as any classical piece. 

I'm not talking about him pleasing me on every aspect... several of his VNs lie outside my tastes to one degree or another... but it really doesn't matter when I'm reading one of his works.  It doesn't matter that I don't like a certain character or a certain plot element.  When the VN is complete for the first time, I always feel like something about what I just read ripped deep into me and tore out pieces of my being I hadn't yet known existed, bringing them into the light for me to see.

I have read three VNs he wrote and two he helped plan/design.  The three he wrote are undeniably kamige, with a wide appeal and a unique approach to storytelling (which differs radically with each one) and the two he helped with are first-class VNs.  Chrono-belt, which is the crossover fandisc for Ayakashibito and Bullet Butlers, is such a work of genius at capturing the best of the spirit of those two games that I still get the urge to play it independently at times.  Kikan Bakumatsu Ibun Last Cavalier I named VN of the Year 2015... though that isn't really saying much, considering how bad a year that was (it did have a fascinating take on the Bakumatsu era though).  Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide was my second game by this writer, and I have played it three times now... each time rediscovering what  made me fall in love the first time.  Kitto, Sumiwataru Asairo yori mo is a work of nakige/utsuge genius that still births new fans even today. 

So why are Shumon Yuu's works primarily known only to people that are a part of the 'in' crowd of veteran untranslated VN readers in the West?  It is probably because his works don't fit precisely into any of the existing/accepted genres, even if they sometimes use elements from them.   You pretty much have to be an omnivorous VN reader to run across him, because it is difficult to impossible to fit any of his VNs into an archetypical aesthetic.  Another reason is that he isn't very productive.  In the past seventeen years, he has been involved with the production of precisely eight VNs...  and he only wrote six of them.  He is also an LN writer, apparently, but he can't really be said to prolific there, either.  So... he tends to fall behind writers who produce something every year and jump at every chance to advertise their own greatness, lol. 

He doesn't get recommended as often or as fiercely as Masada or Higashide, nor does he have the immediate impact of Akatsuki Works' writers.  In fact, even I tend to forget about him (though not his VNs) for years at a time... until I read something he was involved with and begin dancing with glee once again.  His works I never forget, but I frequently forget to follow him, hahaha....

Also, he is a pretty subtle writer, so most people won't pick up on everything he is trying to express in his games on the first playthrough... one of those rare VN writers who gets better as you chew him, lol.

Clephas

This is an update of the play status of June's releases.

Ai yori Aoi Umi no Hate- On hiatus/stalled for the moment due to gaming exhaustion.  Plan to resume by the tenth.

Haruoto Alice * Gram - Planned for play after Aiao. 

Pure Song Garden! - Currently being played by Dergonu.

Tantei Seven- Dropped and labeled a kusoge by fun2novel, our resident mystery VN lover.  No plans to include it in the contest.

Clephas

I have numerous reasons for putting Ai Yori Aoi Umi no Hate on hiatus... including that I'm tired of slice-of-life and the oddities of the setting are driving me a little crazy.  However, the fact is that I'm just tired.  Every once in a while, I fall into a sourceless funk, where I don't want to do anything - fun or not - and I'm in the middle of one of those now.  I can tell you for certain that I'm not really interested in this VN right now, despite the fact that, until about eighteen hours ago, I was enjoying it despite the massive holes in the setting. 

This might be a case of me making excuses to myself, but I can guarantee I won't give this VN a real chance if I force myself to read it now... and the same goes for Haruoto.  I just don't have the energy or the wherewithal to be nice and treat all VNs equally right now.

Clephas

I'm currently playing Ai yori Aoi Umi no Hate, AXL's latest game by their 'unusual slice-of-life' team, and the setting is seriously bothering me.  It isn't that the concept is boring... there is nothing wrong with the concept of people living on a massive self-repairing ship hundreds of years after the demise of land-bound culture due to global warming.  No, the problem is the concept of the game and how it interacts with the setting. 

Ok, I can live with the idea that advanced culture was lost - deliberately or otherwise, and I can also live with the characters centering about 80% of their attention on day-to-day affairs.  That is normal in a self-sufficient community.  However, the idea that recreational culture not existing at all - music being lost entirely, for instance - is ridiculous.  Wherever you get a community of humans, you have some kind of recreational culture, whether it is simple sports, drinking contests, tests of strength and stamina, or card games.  To put it simply, people might be willing to let go of high tech, but they'll never give up being able to hum a tune while working.

It is such a huge hole in the concept that I just had to shake my head in exasperation. 

This isn't the first time I've run into this kind of thing...  for some reason, some writers, when they create a fantasy or sci-fi setting that justifies their story, gloss over elements like this that drive me nuts.   Moreover, they ignore human nature and history.  Even in a confined environment like the one in this setting, people still need recreation and will create it, regardless of the intervention of authority.  The first couple of generations might have successfully abandoned culture as they knew it, but the later generations would have inevitably birthed a new recreational culture of some sort.  So, the concept is just too ridiculous, at least in my eyes.

Edit: In other words, 'If you are going to create a new setting with a purely human society, you have to justify every difference in a way that makes sense given human history and nature!'

Clephas

... are you as surprised as I am that I'm already posting on this?  It isn't because I rushed through it or concentrated on it for three days straight.  No, in this case, it is because the game is actually only about seven hours long in total... and that is probably an overestimate.  While I don't tend to judge VNs by length, I do want to be able to get to know the characters before I see them falling in love. 

This game's biggest plus point is that it is story straight from beginning to end, with no side-trips or long drawn-out slice-of-life segments... but in a way, that very same element is also the biggest bit of self-sabotage the writer of this game committed.   To be straight with you all, given the excitement in the prologue, I thought I had some surprise chuunige fun with non-human heroines and a conspiracy in the background...  and this game does have all the elements that might have created a low-level chuunige of decent quality.  A ruthless kitsune heroine who hunts unnatural beings in order to rise to the next plane of existence as a deity, a half-youkai girl who struggles with her own identity and place in society, and a token human heroine who has 'Victim A' written on her forehead.  There are inhuman beings with their own agendas, people the protagonist is involved with in daily life who have another face, and disaster seems to be looming over the school he attends...

So why, I ask, did Alcot give this over to their low-price subsidiary?  Yes, there were some moments that were somewhat touching... but I wasn't invested in the characters because of a lack of any real character development beyond the introductory level.  The protagonist was living with a kitsune, but they'd only touched upon the surface-most level of her personality when the heroine paths came along.  The youkai-hunting half-breed girl was doing the classic 'oh, he knows what I am but treats me equally' bit, but it happened so quickly I could almost feel the sonic boom slamming my hopes in the face.  Victim A turns out to have a secret issue with a non-human being, but it is resolved easily and with only a very small amount (relatively speaking) of drama.

Do you see what I mean?  Instead of a good chuunige, we have the flesh-stripped, gnawed-on skeleton of a chuunige.  It is better than Sougeki no Jaeger (which had some of the same problems) or Pygmalion, but again, that isn't saying much.  Hatsugamai, the most recent game by this company, proved that even on a low budget, it was possible to create a first-class game.  However, this one shows the pitfalls of not putting enough of a budget into a chuunige.

The grand route, while it extends the kitsune heroine's route beyond its somewhat bittersweet ending, is not what I'd call a work of genius, either... Overall, this game turned out to be a disappointment, if only because it had seriously immense potential to turn into something great, given a bit  more effort.

Clephas

Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas is the rarest of the rare... a charage that is also a kamige.  In fact, I've only encountered three charage that I consider to be kamige out of the hundreds I've played.  How did that happen?  Well, a large part of it is the writer.  For all that his first VN was a half-nukige with an absurd setting, his style is poetic, his settings deep, and his timing and pacing of events perfect. 

Another part of it is the structure.  This VN has a very, very short common route... as in the prologue only.  After that, it immediately moves on to one of the five heroine paths based on the choices you made in the prologue.  The paths themselves are about one and a half times as long as the average heroine path in the average charage, with an extremely tight focus on the heroine and the protagonist's romance with her.  They are designed to make you fall in love with that particular heroine, to allow you to empathize with the course their love takes, and to let out the tears when the story demands it.  I cried numerous times the first and second times I played this VN, as the writer's rather poetic descriptions (inside Shin's head) of the heroines only make it easier to care about them and their relationships with Shin.

The third element of this game that makes it great is the protagonist.  I honestly consider this protagonist - Miyami Mizuki (true name: Mizuki Shin) - to be the best trap protagonist in all of VNs.  First of all, he has been dressing up as a girl for so long that he does it quite naturally.  Second, he is fully voiced... every bit of his dialogue is voiced... and voiced in a manner that perfectly matches his character's personality as written.  Second, he is really, really good at whatever he puts his hand to.  He is a gourmet-level cook, a self-taught art-appraiser, a master of domestic chores (even the advanced ones that the head maid isn't familiar with, lol), and... a brilliant artist, though he has a trauma that prevents him from letting it out.  He is actually more girly than most of the girls in the VN, though he doesn't seem to be aware of it, hahaha...

Chiharu

Chiharu is Rena's bodyguard and a member of a family of bodyguards that has protected the Ootori family for centuries (Rena's family).  While she can sometimes take extreme actions, she is at heart a compassionate soul, with an intense desire to protect which led her to become a bodyguard despite certain physical disadvantages she possesses.  When alone with those few she is truly close to, she is rather straightforward in her affections, but she always puts others before her first, leading to trouble at times.  Her path is one of those few charage paths where I honestly felt that the romance was worth experiencing even on its own.  It helps that this writer is really, really good at portraying his characters' inner conflicts and emotions through narrating their thoughts. 

One thing I absolutely love about this VN is Shin's (Mizuki's) poetic turn of phrase with internal narration.  I believe these lines are the best description of how Shin sees Chiharu.


瑞希「……目が、きれいなんです」

Mizuki "... Her eyes... are beautiful."

怜奈「えっ……?」

Rena "Eh...?"

瑞希「お嬢様の隣にいるとき。千晴の目がきれいなんです」

Mizuki "When she is at your side, Chiharu's eyes are beautiful."

あんなにきれいなオレンジ、初めて見たんだ。――千晴の涙。

I've never before seen such a beautiful orange.... Chiharu's tears.

理屈じゃない。

It has nothing do with reason or logic.

仮にお嬢様が大洋だとすれば、千晴はその水底に落ちている、一個の石だと思う。

If milady (Note: trying out a possible translation for ojousama as a title, lol) were to be seen as the ocean, I think Chiharu would be a stone lying at the bottom of it.

でも僕はその石が好きなんだ。

However, I love that stone.

深い深い海の底で、人知れず輝きを放っている。誰に褒められたいわけでもなく、認められたいわけでもなく。

Deep deep beneath that ocean's surface, she shines brilliantly, unknown to men.  She doesn't shine so that she will be praised or acknowledged by others. [note: took some liberties here]

きっと宝石として大衆に愛でられる価値を秘めながら、ショーウィンドウへ並ぶことを拒み続ける。

Though she is probably worth being adored by the public as a gem, she continually rejects being lined up in the store window.

千晴は最後まで、海の底で『無価値』の原石であることを選ぶ。

Chiharu will choose to lie at the bottom of the sea as a 'worthless' raw stone to the very end.

海に寄り添うために。

In order to nestle up to the ocean.

海が広く深いと僕らに分かるのは、あの小さな石が落ちているからだ。

The reason we can tell the ocean is deep and wide is because that small stone is sinking into it.

あの不器用な小石が光っているから海は寂しくないし、もし誰かが溺れて迷いこんでも、その明かりを頼りに浮上できる。

With that clumsy stone shining within it, the ocean will never be lonely, and if someone were to become lost and drowning there, they could rise to the surface, relying on the stone's light.

 

Anastasia

In this game, there are technically three 'sides' to the story as a whole... there are the Ootori-focused paths (Rena and Chiharu), the Karasuma paths (Yuki and Shizuku), and the stand-alone Anastasia path.  Anastasia is... a seemingly soft and kind-hearted woman on the surface.  However, it becomes obvious in her path that she is actually a mischievous, somewhat devilish young woman.  She is the curator of the museum seen in the prologue and the overall curator for the art fair that is held in the city toward the end of each path.  She does have a rather... unexpected secret however...

Anyway, her path greatly differs from the other four paths in focus and rhythm, so I recommend that it be played last, since it partially spoils Rena's path.  While it has a rocky start in comparison to the others, it is nonetheless an excellently-written, high-quality path that is definitely worth reading.  On the popularity rankings, she got the lowest score (probably because her path's tone is so different from the others), and as a result, she doesn't have an after-story in the FD, but don't let that stop you from playing it, lol. 

Rena

Rena is the game's main heroine.  She is Shizuku's rival, Chiharu's master, and the daughter of the man who owns most of the town they live in (a fictional part of Tokyo repurposed into an Art Town).  She is very big-hearted, forgiving, and compassionate.  By choice, she wears her emotions on her sleeve, choosing to show her anger, her sorrow, and her joy on her face, restricting the display of her emotions in no way or manner when she is with those she trusts.  She tends to act on instinct, and she has a highly-developed sense of aesthetics, born out of being raised by and as an art-dealer and due to her own passion for art.  While not an artist herself, she nonetheless has an absolute devotion to the art world, and her evaluations of people tend to be colored by how they act toward art.  As such, she doesn't get along with the auctioneer Shizuku and despises Wolfgang (an annoying side-character and occasional antagonist). 

Her path is perhaps the most complete when it comes to dealing with Shin's issues.  Shin, by nature, shapes himself and his desires to fit his environment, and his primary motivation is always to act for the sake of those he cares about (the heroines, in each path).  This is the one and only path where Shin comes to the fore as himself and the only path that reveals in full certain aspects of his past and current motivations.  At the same time, this path tends to be the most poetic of the paths, as he and Rena's attraction for one another is very... intense. 

Note: The h-scenes in this path are very emotional and vital to the experience... don't skip them.  Normally I advise the reverse, but I make an exception for this game.

Yuki

Yuki is the protagonist's kouhai and a genius of modern art contracted with the Karasuma Corporation.  Shy and more than a little eccentric, Yuki by far has the 'cutest' characterization (right down to the dog-head pajamas she uses for work clothes).  Despite her sweet and innocent appearance, she has long experience with the bitter edge of society's tongue, and she has an intense dislike of the mass media.  She is the only heroine who has almost no relationship with the protagonist outside of her own path (she briefly appears in the common route and as a side-character in the other routes), but, in exchange, in her route, the relationship she develops with Shin is intense and close.

One element of this game I've failed to speak about until now is the reason why I love the paths in this game... for better or worse, most charage paths involve the protagonist one-sidedly 'saving' the heroine from some trouble or helping her out with some issues.  However, perhaps the greatest attraction of this game's paths is that the relationships are so... mutual.  The protagonist doesn't just one-sidedly save the heroines, but rather he is saved by them in turn, rescued from the intense loneliness he feels even in the presence of others, as well as his bad habit of self-sacrifice.  The reciprocity in this game's paths makes for a far more 'equal' relationship than you usually see in a VN romance of any sort.

Yuki's route is no exception... while the protagonist undoubtedly resolves the issues that plague her life, she also returns the favor by salving his spirit, saving him from himself in a way that can't help but bring tears to my eyes, even on a third playthrough.

Shizuku

Karasuma Shizuku is Rena's rival at school and in business.  Shizuku's family company is a second-line dealer, primarily auctioning off art pieces whose value has already been set by the art community, whereas Rena's Ootori family specializes in discovering and raising up new artists whose works have not yet been given a value by the art community.  In addition, the Karasuma corporation specializes in modern art, whereas the Ootori family specializes primarily in classical-style art like paintings, stone sculptures, and other such works.  Shizuku is extremely sharp-tongued and aggressive... with everyone except Shin.  She and Shin go way back... ten years back, to be specific, and when she sees him as a cross-dressing maid, she goes a bit berserk, jumping to all sorts of conclusions that make for some pretty hilarious events in the other paths.  In her own path... well, let's just say her path is a lot more comedic than the others at first. 

By nature, Shizuku's first second and fourth priorities are Shin, even when it isn't her path.  She loves him, is aware of it, and she has little to no hesitation about using her immense fortune and personal influence for his sake.  She is also the only heroine that is willing to accept his decision without questioning when it comes to a certain issue... and probably the most passionately focused on him alone, as opposed to splitting their attention between art and him.   For better or worse, Rena is driven by a hunger for art, Chiharu by a desperate need to protect people and to find someone to accept her, and Yuki has numerous issues that are equal in importance to her when compared to the protagonist.  In that sense, it can be argued Shizuku is the most loving of the heroines, because she always acts for his sake, above all other things.

It does, however, take a bit of effort to see beyond her cold mask in the other paths, lol.

 

Conclusion

Along with Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no  this VN is one of my top two charage-type VNs (in Uruwashi no's case, a nakige).  After having played this game a third time, my belief that this is a kamige has, if anything, become stronger.   This game is actually far shorter than it seems when you read it, but due to the sheer 'density' of the events in the game, it feels like a far larger story.  Any one of these paths would be worthy of being a true path in another VN, and it is a VN that is very easy to invest emotionally in.  For those interested in the fandisc, it should be noted that it had a different writing and production staff, and as a result, it is little more than an excuse for extra h-scenes. 

Clephas

Like many of the charage I choose to replay for this particular part of my blog, Golden Marriage is one of those VNs I thought I didn't quite give a fair chance to the first time I played them, looking back.  In retrospect, I realize I'd really come to expect great things out of Ensemble due to the examples of Koi no Canvas and Gokigen Naname.  The former is a kamige, beyond all doubt, and the latter was a deliciously dramatic look into the muddy world of money and old families.  While things turned out well in the end in Gokigen Naname, the story itself is full of dark elements and stomach-twisting moments (in particular the main heroine's path).  Because of this, I have always felt subconsciously that I didn't give this game a fair shake at the time.  I also felt a need to see if Ensemble's generalized drop in quality was my imagination or not...

Golden Marriage is seen by many fans of Gokigen Naname to be a watered-down attempt to 'recapture the magic' of that game in a slightly less... extreme situation.  There is good reason for seeing it that way, as you can see the influences rather obviously if you played the aforesaid game in the past.  Both games are based in situations where the protagonist is surrounded by wealth, both games have people with dark motives lurking in the background (or in the foreground), and both games are very conscious of the way people go insane for money.  However, there the similarities end.  Golden Marriage is a much, much lighter game in every sense than Gokigen Naname.  It lacks the poisonous acrimony and cutthroat nature of some of the relationships in that VN, and the protagonist is actually the obvious central character of the game (whereas the main heroine was the center in Gokigen Naname).  Another issue is that the protagonist, Nagisa, while having had some bitter experiences, has turned out to be an essentially good person with none of the excessive attachment to money that defined many of the characters in Gokigen Naname.  If Gokigen Naname was a picture of what happens to people when money twists their lives beyond recovery, Golden Marriage is a picture of characters who manage to avoid being poisoned by moneyed influences despite living close to them.

I chose to do Touko's route first, because she is a type of character I didn't really have a taste for at the time I first played this but developed one for later... the intelligent but slightly cowardly otaku.  She attaches obsessively to those things and people she cares about, and she has a deep sense of compassion and curiosity, as well as a strong sense of obligation.  She and Nagisa are childhood friends, but her path manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of the osananajimi path (namely the shift from friends to lovers), instead focusing on romance and the drama of the financial world and its pressures (without taking it down the darker paths).    She is also probably the most privately affectionate of the heroines, and her lazy-dere is adorable.  Jewel Days' after story doesn't really add anything to the story.  What it does is provide you with an idea of what Touko intends to do with her life with Nagisa in the future, as well as dealing with the wedding ceremony itself.  As an after-story, I had to tilt my head to the side and wistfully wish they'd done something more with it.

If you were to ask  me which heroine in this game makes the biggest initial impact, I would definitely reply that it is Rei, the game's resident 'artist'.  To be specific she is, of all things, a viola soloist.  Upon meeting the protagonist, she immediately proposes marriage and tells him in a rather forthright manner that she needs money to pursue her art, so she picked him as a potential mate.  However, only a short time later, after hearing about his parents, she bursts out in tears on the spot and proclaims that if he marries her she'll make sure he gains the greatest happiness of all.   To be blunt, if I were to pick which of these heroines was the most vital and 'alive', it would undoubtedly be her, by several leagues.  She is a shameless dreamer, a pursuer of her art for the sake of pursuing art, a highly emotional individual, and at the same time practical when it matters.  Her path lacks the sheer drama you see in Touko's path, but it was definitely one worth playing, despite that.  Her FD after-story shows off her personality (familiar at this point) and her more developed relationship with Nagisa quite nicely... but it is also based before the events in the epilogue of the main game, giving me reason to be dissatisfied (I would have preferred this kind of story to be in the original game and the after-story to be about something after the epilogue). 

Marika is Nagisa's cousin, a young princess of a Germanic nation (fictional) who has been in love with him since early childhood.  Whimsical, highly intelligent, but more than a little careless of the trouble she causes others through her whims, she drives Kumi (the protagonist's bodyguard) up the wall.  Her 'path' in the main game basically involves a brief promise to consider marrying her in the future, before it cuts off.  On the other hand, Jewel Days gives her a full-length path, based a few years after the events in the main game (all the events in Touko's and Ruri's paths have occurred in this one, save for the romantic ones).  Her path is, like Ruri's and Touko's from the original, somewhat tinted with dark elements, mostly because she is a princess and a princess's life and choices are never entirely her own, even in the modern world.  The antagonist the pops up is the same string-puller as in all the paths from the original (I'm not going to spoil it), but this time his role is a bit less extreme than it was in those two paths.  Marika herself is a wonderful imouto character, lol.

For those who are interested in Kasumi, I should mention that I deliberately ignored her path, because it was the path that made me score the game somewhat lower when I originally played the game.  Kasumi is the protagonist's co-worker at his part-time job and a kouhai at school.  She is a hard-working girl who is raising her younger siblings because her parents vanished after their company collapsed.  She is rather obviously infatuated with Nagisa from the beginning but far too shy to do anything about it.  I can honestly say that she would make a rather nice average-level heroine in the average charage... but she wasn't an interesting addition to this game. 

Yukariko is the Miss Perfect of this VN... elegant, intelligent, compassionate, wise, and graceful... and her path is the second worst in the VN.  To be straight about it, the main issue in her path at the beginning is so... stupid.  I can understand where it came from, but it really felt like the writer couldn't think up a really good conflict so made one up out of thin air.  This was the second element that led to me giving this game a poor rating... To be blunt, I hate the type of path where they basically say 'The problem with going out with the perfect woman is...'.  That kind of BS just makes me roll my eyes, and the way Nagisa suddenly becomes an idiot in that path at all the worst times made  me fall asleep. 

Ruri is the active, straightforward girl in the mix.  She is the daughter of an old-style (nineteenth-century, lol) Yakuza boss, but she is in rebellion against her father's wishes that she succeed him.  Naturally, her path is a bit more dramatic than the other paths, and there is some minor action involved.  However, when it comes down to it, the Ruri portrayed in this game is just 'your average girl' who happens to be able to stare down punks and beat the crap out of them if they get above their station, lol.  I have to say that, amongst all the Jewel Days paths, this one added the least to the experience.  It is basically dating issues and sex, so I can straight-out say that you've seen everything of interest once you've finished the path in the main game. 

Now, that ends my exhaustive overlook of Golden Marriage's heroine paths... and I have to say I'm glad it's over.  Most games don't have this much disparity between the paths in terms of quality, so I usually don't end up with as much in the way of mixed feelings as I have now.  As a charage, it is excellent... but that's just comparing it to the huge piles of steaming brown stuff I have to wade through to get to VNs like this one.  It still doesn't even get close to Koi no Canvas or Gokigen Naname for raw quality, but if you want a decent charage about a rich protagonist, this is a good choice.

Clephas

I've raved on tropes before.  Many times.  However, as I have also said many times before, tropes and stereotypes do have an important place in fiction of all sorts.  The important part is to balance the use of tropes to create something interesting and unique, rather than just using them to copy a previous work or works.

1.  The 'standardized' voiceless protagonist- For better or worse, there was a long period of time when VN protagonists outside of chuunige were forbidden by industry custom (unspoken, unmentioned) to have a personality beyond the standard 'nice guy, dense, harem-building' protagonist with no voice-acting.  I'm going to be straight with yall... this kind of protagonist is a long-standing attempt to create a convenient means for self-insertion into a situation, because his personality is nonexistent, he has no voice of his own, and in some cases you can even name him.  Obliterating the individuality of the protagonist became a common tool in VNs around the turn of the century, even as story-focused VNs became more and more distinct from their nukige and moege brethren.  This protagonist is an outdated, absolutely worthless relic of a time where people had forgotten the cardinal rule of interesting fiction... a boring point of view makes for a boring game.

2.  The osananajimi heroine- Unlike the standardized protagonist, this particular trope is not evil in and of itself... it is simply misused on a massive scale in VNs.  When used properly, the osananajimi heroine frequently becomes the most attractive of the heroines, her depth of character far outweighing that of even a well-designed protagonist (Kagome from Comyu,  Selma from Bullet Butlers, Suzu from Ayakashibito, etc).  However, when misused, an osananajimi heroine is simply an excuse for laziness in character development.  I don't know how many times I've run into osananajimi heroines who had an easy relationship with the protagonist but absolutely no depth of character, no past episodes of interest, and no really deep connections to make you want to make them the protagonist's lover.  I'm sorry, but a decade of hidden puppy love is not sufficient for me to take an interest in a heroine (incidentally the most common osananajimi heroine setting).  Moreover, such heroines almost always have that stupid 'transfer from friends to lovers' issue pop up... and it is basically a similar issue to that of the sister to lover one, on a smaller scale (and without the delicious fragrance of immorality to make it interesting).

3.  The 'week-later' ending- This is a type of ending/epilogue that pops up that ends a very short period of time after the climax of a path or story.  Charage in particular tend to use this type of ending, because they want to be able to put out a FD to milk the fanbase later if the game turns out to be popular.  These endings fail to provide the closure the reader desires, and it leaves you at loose ends in the wake of the story.  If you love the characters of a story, don't you want to see what their lives are like down the road?  I hate to say it, but by the end of the average charage, the reader is generally bored of school life and wants to move on.  This type of ending is always a huge let-down, especially for readers like me.

4.  Slice-of-life as an end rather than a means- Slice-of-life is something that has become inescapable in non-nukige VNs, for the most part.  That, in and of itself, is not that much of a problem.  If you want to get to know a character, there is nothing like seeing a bit of their life outside a stressful situation to give you an idea of who they are.  However, there is nothing more boring than a game that doesn't have any conflict, which is slice-of-life from beginning to end, with no rough spots or speed bumps to make things a bit 'spicier'.  My problem with this is that slice-of-life for the sake of slice-of-life has become a trope in and of itself, which means there are enough VNs out there of that type to make it easy to consider it to be such.

5.  The TSUNDERE- Yes, I went there.  Despite the efforts of an entire decade of otakus, the tsundere still hasn't died.  The tsundere is a character who acts negatively on the surface toward someone but cares for them underneath, to put it simply.  Around the turn of the century, tsundere heroines became a huge boom in anime, manga, and VNs, starting with the violent tsundere and moving on to the Taiga-chan 'barking dog' style, then finally into more and more varied types that plagued otaku media like a virus.   My problem with tsunderes is that more than ninety-percent of them literally don't have a reason - personality-wise or otherwise - to be tsundere.  These characters unnaturally react to the protagonist or other characters, and they don't have a reason to do so.  To be blunt, this type of behavior pattern got old long ago... and yet otaku media creators inevitably include a tsundere in almost everything produced.

6.  Teenaged characters- Primarily due to the moege genre and its influences, better than ninety-percent of VNs made today consist entirely of young people as main characters.  I have to say this... I'm seriously tired of every protagonist and heroine being a kid.  At the very least, I'd like to see a larger percentage of youthful adult protagonists, for a change.

7.  School-life setting - Sorry, I'm tired of having to experience kids wasting their youth.  In particular, my biggest bone to pick with a lot of protagonists is that happy-go-lucky tendency to forget about planning for the future.  School-life consists a very small portion of the average human's lifetime.  It might be a time many are nostalgic for, but I honestly can't take an interest in it anymore. 

There are others, but these are the ones that come to mind immediately, lol.

 

×