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About this blog

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

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

Entries in this blog

Clephas

Dead Days

On request and because I am a Kurashiki fan, I decided to play this, despite worries about the concept and the characters... and I came out finding my worries perfectly justified.

First, the protagonist Teru... in a standard chuunige, he would be the jackass that gets killed after begging for his life in the opening act after doing something totally scumbag-like.  Worse, rather than being merely a cold-blooded manipulator (which is how the Getchu page presented him), he is actually an irritable kid who thinks he is a lot smarter than he is. 

Second, the heroines... first, the punk-like Aira who overdoes her makeup and generally speaks like an airhead but has definite anger issues.  Second is Asami, another man's wife who is generally weak-spirited and only clings to her second life out of a desire not to lose what she has left (her husband and child).  Third is Mao, the protagonist's osananajimi who has a strong sense of justice, is pretty naive in general, and tends to get on the protagonist's nerves constantly (this gets worse after he dies and gets resurrected).  Mao is the true heroine of the game... and also the single most annoying character in the game, even setting aside the protagonist's issues with her.  To be blunt, she is yet another Victim A heroine presented as the true heroine of a serious game with violence...

Third, the writing... I wanted to cry at how low-quality the writing in this game is compared to Kurashiki's previous two Clock-up games.  Both Okami and Maggot showed off his skills in full, and as a result, they have a cult fanbase even amongst those who don't like the sexual themes involved in the latter or the social ones in the former.  The basic narrative quality is scaled down to the level of the protagonist, which is hugely disappointing. 

Last, though this is more of a universal complaint for all Clock-up games... too much meaningless h-scenes.  I hate Clock-up's visual style for H-scenes (there aren't any torture rape scenes in this one, outside of the bad endings which I didn't watch), and the presence of loli content made me vomit... twice.  Seriously, was that really necessary? 

The good points of this VN lie solely in the individual heroine paths, because the common route is just poorly handled and paced.  The heroine paths, on the other hand, are slightly stronger, though only Mao's has a decent epilogue (even by VN standards). 

Overall, this game felt like a really inept attempt at psychological horror.  Considering how good a job Kurashiki has done previously at this kind of thing, it startled me how huge the gap in quality was between this and his previous works... both for Light and Clock-up.  Even Sora no Baroque was better, and that is saying a lot.

Clephas

I do not regret playing this game.

I needed to say this first, because this game has a pretty high level of emotional impact.  The actual characters are quiet for the most part, but the relationships in this game are so twisted that even thinking about them being real would make a saint wince. 

This story centers around a young personal servant, Kumagata Arima, and his young mistress, Otobe Supika.  It is the Taishou Era (pre-WWII, late teens to late twenties of the twentieth century), and Japan's first age of modern prosperity is at its height.  Supika is an apparently sickly ojousama who reluctantly goes to school at the urge of her personal servant Arima, who takes care of all her personal needs (up to and including dressing her and doing her hair).  Arima is an apparently devoted servant who can be relied on without reservation by his sickly mistress...

Well, there is a lot more to it, but this is as far as I can go in terms of specifics without spoiling it for you.  Tasogare no Folklore is a game where not knowing too much is an important aspect of enjoying the story, so I really suggest you don't read the official site or the Getchu page.  Instead, I will explain what kind of game it is.

Tasogare no Folklore's primary attractions are the disparity between the darkness hidden in the depths of the characters' home and the apparent strength of their relationships, particularly the one between Supika and Arima.  Their relationship is not as simple and straighforward as it seems on the surface, and the way it twists is the source of a lot of the sick fascination I felt watching the train head for the broken tracks. 

To be straight, this is a dark game with no miraculous salvation.  Oh, there are a few times when a 'convenient' outcome occurs, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.  The characters' feelings for one another are real, but they are also muddied by circumstance and events in the past.  As a result, their relationships are twisted to an extreme degree (though Supika and Arima's relationship is so twisted even the other characters can't understand it). 

However, the presentation of this game is top tier.  I'm almost tempted to cry 'kamige', but that is going too far, lol.  This game is a dark fantasy, but it is also a quietly intense love-romance.  It also has elements of a number of genres, but in the end, what stuck with me was that I felt it was a romance from the beginning.

There are two endings (and one extra story based off the 'good' ending) in this game... a 'good' ending and a 'normal' ending (in Tsukihime style).  The good ending is a happy one... but I say that with the caveat that it is still bittersweet.  The environment Supika and Arima are forced into is not one that goes for charage-style 'purely happy' endings, after all.

Clephas

I decided to make this post after analyzing my own reading speed and the reasons why it is so fast... but I also wanted to give tips on how to increase your reading speed without hurting your enjoyment of VNs, manga, and books.  At the same time I was doing this, I gradually came to realize that one of the big reasons why my favorite genre is so niche (chuunige) is simply because most people bump into the walls of complex text and give up.

Regardless of which language you are reading (Japanese, English, or any other language), the basics of reading are the ability to see and understand the writing, have the vocabulary necessary to understand the words, and an understanding of grammar advanced enough to comprehend how the words come together to create meaning.  I know it sounds condescending for me to go back and name these basics, but it is necessary to do so in order to make my points.

When it comes to reading fiction, there is  an aspect that comes into play that many don't take account of... the gap between the language used when writing and that which is used in verbalization.  Most people won't use even a fifth of the terminology and styles that exist in the literary world to converse with others (at least, if their job doesn't require it).  For this reason, becoming a fast reader necessitates that a person have a gut-level understanding of a large amount of word and style choices that simply don't get used when they are conversing with others.  This is also the reason why classroom Japanese is inadequate for playing or translating visual novels, incidentally. 

To be frank, the above reality is the main reason why reading for pleasure is an acquired taste for most, rather than a natural addiction.  To me, a well-written scene in a VN is a sensual, almost erotic experience... but that is because decades of reading have made me into that kind of person. 

To be frank, there is a limit to reading speeds based on intelligence and short-term memory.  However, this limitation is far less of an issue than most think.  It is quite possible for someone who is of less than average intelligence to be able to enjoy reading something as ridiculously complex as Dies Irae at a speed you might be surprised at, and it is quite possible for a person who is otherwise of high intelligence to have a turtle-like reading speed. 

Basic methods to increase reading speed include deliberate expansion of vocabulary (memorizing lists of words and how they are used) and deliberately exposing yourself on a regular basis to writers with unique or unusual styles that are difficult to follow.  Grammatical understanding needs to be gut-level or reading speed won't improve, as you'll be constantly stumbling over how the words come together. 

Context is also important... essentially, to be a fast reader, one must be able to keep at least a decent grasp on what has gone before and be able to at least retain most of the details from the chapter you are currently reading.  A bad habit many translators, both professional and fan, fall into is translating line by line.  This is also a stumbling block when reading.  If you are merely reading line by line while not keeping at least some track of what has been going on, you will be unable to grasp what is coming.  This lack of understanding slows the reader, as they grow confused, then bored.  One reason why I almost never play multiple VNs at once without dropping the previous ones outright is because retaining a firm grasp on the flow of events at my stopping points for those games causes an intellectual and emotional disconnect that makes it hard to resurrect my interest if I try to go back to them.

In the end, what was this post about?  Essentially, I was saying 'refine your basics, and your reading speed will improve'.  I'm not going to go into more advanced techniques such as being able to 'flash-read' paragraphs and lines, because I generally don't use those techniques when playing normal VNs (the slow death of the NVL format has ensured it only has limited usefulness  when reading VNs). 

A note about the difference in enjoyment:  The pleasure gained from reading varies in nature as you get faster.  One reason I love VNs that are heavy on complex narration is that such VNs rarely leave me feeling that I wasted my time reading them, whereas ones with little narration and most if it simple tend to leave me feel like I wasted my time.  In my observations of others, including some friends I introduced to VNs who have significantly slower speeds than myself, I saw that they tended to be more able to enjoy both better than myself.   However, since large-scale VNs seemed like monumental tasks to them, they often don't even try them.  In this sense, reading speed determines what some people read in the first place, thus narrowing their options and experiences.  I hear stories about people taking months to finish a single VN, and I honestly can't comprehend that, given that even the longest VN only takes me about thirty to forty hours (incidentally, only a half dozen VNs have reached this threshold in my personal experience)... which is about the same amount of time full completion of an average-scale jrpg takes, lol.   I honestly don't have the experience to gauge how to enjoy a VN over the course  of a month or more of time... and I'd like some input on just how that experience feels, since I don't have any references in my experience that  might enable me to understand it.  Even my friends were book-addicts before I introduced them to English-language VNs, so they were still faster than the average...

Edit: What caused me to decide to post this was the simple fact that I have, on a number of occasions, been asked for advice on how to improve reading speed.  In the process of trying to articulate how to improve reading speed based on my experiences, I decided to focus on visual novel reading speed, because the explanations for some of the techniques I've picked up over the years would require me to rediscover how-to books I read back in my teens when I was trying to reduce the amount of time I had to spend studying by finding ways to read faster.  I had to laugh when I realized that all I  could do was explain why the basics were important, because the most important element for reading VNs turned out to be accepting that the vocabulary you pick up reading the 'classics' in your years of public education is not nearly enough.  Vocab and an understanding of how it fit into grammar are so vital to reading quickly, because you don't have to stop to think about what a sentence means if there is no part of it you don't already understand. 

 

Clephas

Mmm... this month had a lot of fantasy, so it is probably normal I played more VNs this month than the last few... oh well.

Anyway, Renran Spirichu is the latest release from Parasol, a charage-specialist company.  Umm... to be honest, I couldn't bring myself to do more than one path of this game, and the one path I did was Botan's (the catgirl).  This game's premise is fairly terrible, with girl exorcists possessing breasts in direct proportion to their spiritual power.  Not only that, but the protagonist screws three of the heroines in the common route out of necessity (the reason is pretty par for the course). 

I'm going to be straight with you... this game makes a number of pathetic attempts to be funny, all of which fall flat.  The best part of this game is the ichaicha, and, considering I'm not an ichaicha fan, that tells you just how bad it is.  Oh, there is a story... but you have to dig through so much filler material to get to it that it is exhausting to read.  The heroines are all deredere by the end of the common route, and the only real difference the path seems to make is which one he focuses on *sighs*

Anyway, this isn't something I can seriously recommend, even to charage-lovers...

Clephas

Tamayura Mirai is the latest game by Azurite, the company behind Shinsou Noise and Akumade Kore wa.  Unlike the previous two, it is not a guro mystery.  Instead, it is a fantasy with an extremely similar setting to Monobeno (which had a great setting, even if the lolicon elements were outright disgusting).  It also shares a writer (Touta) with such excellent games as Kin'iro Loveriche, Floral Flowlove, Gin'iro Haruka, and Ojousama wa Gokigen Naname.  

Before I go any further, I want to speak as to why I compared the setting to Monobeno.  Fukano, the town/valley in which the story is set, is a backwater where youkai, humans, and deities coexist.  Folk traditions, such as deities within the home, are still alive and well, if not entirely understood (the death of the last folk shaman in the area ensured that, from what is said).  The protagonist's role is very similar to the role of the miko in Monobeno (keeping harmony and balance between the supernatural and mortal), and, though the younger generation isn't, a certain level of superstition remains in the older generation.  In addition, the protagonist's choice to live isolated in the mountains in a run-down and modified old Japanese school (think the school from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni) also echoes the isolation of the protagonist's home in Monobeno.  That said, the atmosphere in the game isn't as severe as Monobeno's, though the protagonist's 'duty' is harrowing at times.

All that said, this is definitely its own game.  The general atmosphere is a bit somber, and the characters all have some kind of serious problem that leaves them a lot less at peace than they seem on the surface (the protagonist included).  The protagonist is a mage who wields runic magic (Norse shamanic style), and he has the role of keeping peace the mixed-origin supernatural community of Fukano, the setting.  He lives in an abandoned school in the mountains with a succubus named Midari, who has the dual problems of being afraid of men and deeply fearing her own nature (though her upbringing shows through at the oddest times).  At the school he attends, he frequently meets with a water spirit information broker named Hanako (one of the heroines).  Occasionally, he meets up with his oppai-loli 'oneechan' (who is very childish and has a really poorly-executed accent that just comes off all wrong in the VA...). 

The story begins with his encounter with Yukina, a girl with naturally high levels of spiritual energy who is completely untrained (and is thus a danger to herself and everyone around her, since youkai and monsters can gain power by eating such people, and others make assumptions about what she can do based on her spiritual power).  I won't go into details about their meeting, because this is a game best experienced the first time without too many preconceptions.

This is essentially a nakige, and it does a pretty good job of bringing out the tears.  The protagonist's duty often brings him into contact with situations where he must deal with various tragedies, sometimes from the present, sometimes from the past.  His own previous life isn't exactly bright and flowery either, lol.  The protagonist has a tendency to see himself as weak and selfish, but he has a seemingly endless capacity for getting obsessed with solving other people's problems... which actually makes him perfect for his work (considering the nature of the mountain deity and certain hints given during the common route, it is pretty clear that he was given his role specifically because of that tendency). 

The heroine routes, quite naturally, focus on the issues with the heroines... to be specific, dealing with the issues that bother them the most deeply.  Equally quite naturally, the first heroine I picked was Midari, the succubus.

Midari

Midari is a member of the succubus nobility who was exiled from her homeland because of her fear of men and inability to feed properly (essentially have sex with men...and lots of them, preferably).   Worse (from her perspective), she fell in love with the protagonist on their first meeting, thus dooming her in the eyes of her people and filling her with a constant conflict between her impulses and her love for the protagonist.

Midari has a very gentle and refined manner, and she has the grace that one would expect from a noblewoman...  However, on occasion, she makes remarks (usual casual references to sex acts or her sisters and mother's sluttiness) that reveal rather blatantly that she isn't human and her basic upbringing wasn't either.  Her path is all about dealing with her internal conflict and its real-world consequences... and this leads to a lot of nice emotional drama and a decent catharsis... though, to be honest, the cathartic scenes two-thirds of the way through the common route were better.

Hanako

For those who understand the reference, yes Hanako does hang around in the girls' toilet.  Hanako is a water youkai that came over from China six hundred years before the story began and eventually rose to become one of the top figures of all the water youkai in Fukano.  She is actually pretty powerful, and she serves as an information broker for Mutsuki (the protagonist) as he performs his duty as the Mage of Fukano. 

Hanako's route is a weird one and it isn't as emotional as Midari's route was.  To be honest, a large part of the reason why is that the relationship part starts really quickly and feels somewhat forced...  Hanako has a reason to like Mutsuki, but Mutsuki doesn't really have a good reason to fall in love with her, so it feels weird.  This is in opposition to Midari, who has been at his side for some time when the story began and is insanely devoted to his well-being (not to mention sexy and graceful at the same time, lol).  This route could have been handled much better by using a tactic similar to the Midari route, where they become closer during the course of him carrying out his duties... unfortunately, the way the route was handled was sadly inept for such a potentially interesting heroine.

Yukina

Yukina is a young woman with a natural gift for the use of spiritual power (so much so that she can attack youkai with her bare hands and blasts of raw energy).  Her characterization is a straight out tsundere, so anyone who reads this VN with some experience with the character type will probably be able to predict her reactions in most situations.  I started laughing at a few points when she said something so typically tsundere that I couldn't believe any writer would still use the lines...lol

Yukina's route is all about her personal issues, both her past and her present ones.  I do feel that this route's romance was far too hurried (like Hanako's) in the sense that their relationship should have had more time to develop into something deeper before things began to accelerate.  

That said, the actual events after the romance solidifies are well-written and described, and you gain a lot more insight into Mutsuki's motivations and the depth of his personality than you do in the other paths.  I recommend this path be read after the other two heroines available at the beginning, simply because the revelations made here are too overarching to allow you to truly enjoy the other paths without reservation.

Shiro

Shiro is the protagonist's loli-oppai oneechan, who speaks with a weird houben (regional accent) that is poorly used by the VA to the point of being wince-worthy (yes, this is worth mentioning again).  

Shiro and Mutsuki's issues are the core of everything that has shaped Mutsuki to be the person he is.  As such, it was only natural that Shiro would end up as the true path heroine... indeed, her path begins after the end of a non-romantic Yukina path.  I'm not going to spoil what those issues are, but I should note that Shiro was the motivation that drove Mutsuki to become a magus. 

In the setting, magi are seekers of forbidden truths, similar in some ways to the magi of the Nasuverse save that they don't seem to have a large-scale organization or influence on the mundane world.  As such, they frequently take actions that are amoral in the pursuit of their path of research, and many naturally think in ways that are out of sync with humanity.   The Mage of Fukano is a rare exception, in that the deities of Fukano have made a role for the holder of the position in the natural existence of the valley and mountains.

Mutsuki's path of research is about as immoral as it gets, even if he still has a conscience and his motivations come from a very human place.  As such, it takes a central role in the major dilemma of the path, as anyone who has read Yukina's path would guess anyway. 

In the end, this was the path (other than the common route) which drew out the most tears from me.  Shiro and Mutsuki's story is full of sorrow but ends with joy, so I can honestly say this falls into the classic 'nakige' style. 

Conclusions

I have a few things left I want to say before bowing out on this game.  First, I wanted a Feles (Mephistopheles) route, since Feles is ridiculously deredere (in a yandere way) over the protagonist.  Another issue is that I thought that leaving the protagonist's deeper issues out of Midari's and Hanako's paths was something of a poor choice.  Yukina is presented as a mirror to the protagonist as well as a heroine, so it is understandable that she would play such a vital role for setting up the true path.  However, I felt that failing to properly deal with his personal issues in either of those two paths was a mistake.  Mutsuki does have VERY serious issues that can't really be glossed over... not to mention that I seriously doubt Midari's issues would end just with what we saw in the path (living with a succubus in a state of perpetual near-starvation will inevitably have its ups and downs). 

 

 

Clephas

First, for those who are familiar with me... Yes, I did play this.  Why?  Something about the way it was presented in the Getchu page said that there was more hidden beneath the surface than a standard oppai-nukige.  Thankfully, my instinct was correct, in this case.

Now, for those who are curious, this game is a straight-out harem, from beginning to end.  This game's primary attractions are the comedic reactions of the heroines and the way they and the protagonist slowly 'fall'.  It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion... it is too fascinating to look away from, yet you know it is going to end badly, lol.

The protagonist, Yuki, is a somewhat hetare-ish guy who does his best to disappear in the classroom and has trouble speaking to others.  One day, out of loneliness, he opens up the Tomefure app, where young guys offer young girls a place to stay for free without strings attached and signs up.  The girl who appears at his door is the class idol, Sakurako, who immediately crushes his hopes (sexual fantasies) and basically does her best to leech off of him, dragging a bunch of other girls into the mix.

This story is all about a bunch of young people too afraid to create real relationships or who have huge problems in their normal lives essentially huddling together and gradually becoming contaminated with this weird 'small community' Stockholm Syndrome thing.  I spent most of the game laughing or in a state of 'frustration' (yes, that kind of frustration), because the process of Yuki and the girls' morals collapsing takes a long time (despite being a kinetic novel, this game took me almost 20 hours to complete) and actual H and near-romance (there is no true romance in this game) doesn't get going until you are about 7/8 of the way through the game. 

In terms of writing, the basic quality of the main writer is pretty low.  I'd say he is somewhere below the baseline for charage writers, which is generally bad in any case.  That said, because of the way the 'story' is presented, his lack of writing skills doesn't create as much of a negative effect as it might otherwise, even in a charage. 

If you want a comedy ecchi harem VN to read, this is probably the best option you can find for the last three years.  The whole thing is so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh out loud (a real lol) on dozens of occasions.  Don't expect 'healthy' romance, since the whole story is based on the characters' gradually losing their common sense morality about relationships as they sleep in the same room (there is more to it, but I won't spoil you).  However, if you don't mind that kind of thing (or if you love it) this game is a fun read.

PS: Yes, I surprised myself with how much I got into this one.

Clephas

For those familiar with me, you know I spent year after year doing VN of the Month and that I ritualistically complained about how tired I was of this or that trope or bad habit that plagued the industry or games.  I was asked repeatedly why I could still plow through so many VNs, despite the stress?  The simple answer is that I have always been stubborn as hell.  I've experienced 'burnout' numerous times in my life, mostly because I have a naturally obsessive personality.  Once I start obsessing over something, I literally am incapable of ceasing to do so without something jarring me completely away from it for a time, which usually results in me realizing I burned out long ago and have just been hanging out of stubbornness. 

The same was the case for VNs.  When I first started playing VNs, all VNs were worth at least trying.  However, as time went on, I increasingly lost interest in most nukige and eventually my interest in 'everyday teenaged life SOL romance' (or 'the standard charage') began to fade.  It was probably about 2016 when this reached the critical point, but it took another year and a two-week bout of flu where I couldn't think well enough to play anything to bump me out of my years-long trance. 

Part of it was that I rarely, if ever, took a break from VNs during those years.  I was always playing at least one, and I had a tendency to barrel through them consecutively without even a short pause to rest, week after week, month after month.  I used  most of my free time to play them, I structured my work schedule and habits around playing them, and I generally existed solely to do so.

I dunno how many of you can even imagine what living like that is like... but it was the fact that I am no longer driven to play game after game that is letting me sit back and enjoy the few I actually want to play.  I go back and pull stuff out of my attic on a whim, I dig through my collection based on a desire to relive a single scene, and I generally just take pleasure in playing what I want to play.

Would it be strange for you to hear that this all feels unnatural to me, after all these years?  I've been playing third-rate charage I didn't want to even see, much less play, for years... and now I only play stuff that takes my interest, dropping them if I don't see any hope for the game to break out of the shell of mediocrity.  I don't feel driven to blog about replays beyond when I feel like it or when I think I have something to add to a previous assessment, and I can actually sit back and enjoy the few charage I actually feel like I want to play.

While I do have regrets, they aren't about the years spent obsessing and over-playing VNs, despite my previous words.  I set out to do VN of the Month because, at the time, there was no way for people to have an idea of what they were getting into with most VNs.  It was a bit startling how few people were seriously trying to let people know what kind of VNs were out there without spoiling everything from beginning to end.  Even today, most reviewers can't seem to keep heavy spoilers out of the text, which saddens me.  However, I no longer feel that it is my mission to 'fix' this.  I've been there, I've done that, and I won't be doing it again.

I will still play VNs, and I will still review them (on occasion), but don't expect me to be as prolific as I used to be, lol.

Clephas

Recently, I played (partially) through Missing X-link, and this led me to think of how various VN writers handle the concept of AIs and machine sentience.  There are a number of different approaches, each of which has its own ups and downs.

There are minor and major spoilers in all of these examples, and, as such, read them at your own risk.

 

 

 

The argument of the 'emulated human' AI and the philosophically-built AI (Komorebi no Nostalgica)-

Komorebi no Nostalgica takes a unique approach to AIs, with the prime idea being that of bringing AIs closer to humanity while retaining their abilities as a computer intelligence. 

The Metosera, the elegant AIs that were once humanity's slaves and only gained their autonomy after a war that devastated the world and erased most of human history are one side of this argument.  The Metosera emulate human emotions through an algorithm that randomly came together as a result of a bug in the advanced program that ran 3rd Generation Humanoid Androids.  This caused the Metosera to gain awareness, and, over time, a real personality and emotions.  The immediate reaction of humanity was mostly knee-jerk loathing and fear, and this resulted in the newborn Metosera often being betrayed by the very owners they'd often come to care about.  If it weren't for the efforts of numerous humans who helped the Metosera out of emotions or a sense of what was right, the Metosera might really have become the nightmare genocide machines that some apocalyptic scientists fear.  In modern times, the current generation (as in the youth) mostly, with a few regressive exceptions, accept Metosera as their fellow citizens and denizens of the Earth, and society is actually more peaceful than it ever was in the past.  As can be seen in the case of the Metosera heroine, Fluorite, the more a Metosera interacts with humans in close range and develops an attachment to them, the more 'human' they become, as their emotional emulation becomes more effective through active learning.  Modern Metosera like Flo are 'born' with a single Metosera 'parent' creating their base program and then constructing a body for them.  They are then 'raised' by the local Metosera society as a whole and encouraged to interact with humans to further develop their social emotions.  In this sense, you can see that the Metosera are extremely dependent on humans and raw programming for their creation, and many of them are limited by that fact, though Flo and some others have exceeded those limitations in the story.

The other example in the story, shown in the grand route, is Cinema, the modified (heavily so) 2nd Generation Humanoid found in the characters' school behind a false wall.  Cinema, unlike the Metosera, who kind of resemble Tolkien's elves in the way they react to emotions (their expressions change only mildly and often late), displays emotions organically and actually seems far more human than most humans.  However, the 2nd Generation Humanoids did not possess any kind of software that would have allowed for Metosera-style emotional emulation.  Instead, Cinema's maker designed 'trials' into her body and programming that would encourage the natural 'birth' of a human-like machine intelligence over time that could truly empathize with and understand humans on a level  that the Metosera, who 'evolved' independently for the most part, cannot yet match. 

The 'body grown to fit the AI' approach (Noie and Line in Applique's Arcology series)- In the Arcology series, two heroines, Line and Noie, are the creation of a somewhat insane but also brilliant scientist who came up with the idea of giving her AI 'daughters' bodies that fit the personalities she encouraged them to generate.  These bodies are biomechanical (think an android that both has the functions of a machine such as hacking and processing data but also can bleed, have sex, and even have kids, even though that requires some 'adjustments) and generally nice to look at (lol, it is an eroge, after all), but aside from that, it should be noted that the professor essentially 'grew' their personalities in the same virtual environments most people in her arcology spend their daily lives in.  By doing this, she was able to 'grow' her daughters as if they really were something approaching human children, and they were easily able to adjust to having a body.  Their emotions were essentially copies of the professor's own basic template that grew off in different directions (which is another reason they can be called her 'daughters'). 

The second example in this series is the apocalypse-type AI Azurite Second (calling her that even though she isn't called that in the series).  Originally, the Azurite series software was essentially an OS meant to be installed directly into the human central nervous system, allowing human beings to interact with the network without cyberware or devices.  Unfortunately, Azurite is an incomplete program that burns out the psyches of most people it is installed into, and Azurite Second is driven by the 'mission' given to it before it was originally put to sleep.  That mission is to link all humans the world over together, and it prioritizes that over the good of its users, believing that its priority will be for the good of all humans (it is really that broken).  In that sense, this is one potential scenario that is close to the nightmare scenario seen in I, Robot.

The 'I don't need humans because they are inferior' vs. the 'I love Humans' argument (Hello, World)- To be honest, I found Nitroplus's take on AI to be the most humdrum of the lot.  The protagonist and his maker as antithetical AIs who see humanity in a radically different way based on his experiences (his as subjective, its as objective) is depressing and par to the course for early-era sci-fi writing.  While the story of the game was good, the actual concepts of the AIs involved were less that impressive and provided nothing new for me, which made me sad, lol.   I mean, the idea of an AI that wants to genocide humanity was old when I was born (which was almost forty years ago), and the idea of an AI that comes to love humanity through experiencing them in a human-like body is almost as old.  I guess what bothered me was that this didn't go beyond the surface ideas to dig any further.

The Humanity is Obsolete vs. Together with Humanity into the Future Argument (Missing X-link)- Missing X-link presents its argument fairly directly through Himefuuro and Chiruouka (or rather through the protagonist's 'father's' and 'uncle's' arguments through them).  Himefuuro's design concept was to take humanity's essence into space by creating a database of human emotion and intellect through the empathic system 'cross link', which allows her to literally link her psyche to a human and share their emotions and thoughts by injecting her nanopixels (nanomachines, essentially) into a human subject.  Chiruouka's design concept was to interact with humans through conflict and learn from them that way, by developing her own independent and subjective view of humanity as seen through that lens. 

Conclusions

Sci-fi writers have been defining the debate on AI tech since the concept of the self-aware robot was first spoken of.  In VNs, there is a tendency toward empathetic AIs, but, even so, many of the 'arguments' put forth by their writers are interesting to follow. 

Clephas

I started X-link on a whim, and I was surprised at its quality almost immediately.  This post is basically a composite view of my impressions up through the Chiruouka (bad) ending that lies roughly two-thirds of the way through the game.  

X-Link uses the ladder-style structure made popular with G-senjou no Maou and Aiyoku no Eustia, and we all know my general dissatisfaction with this particular structure, so I won't go back over it.  Instead, I'll focus on the parts of this game that exist aside from this issue.

This game is set in the year of 2050 and onward, in a world where most military activities are carried out by three great PMCs (Private Military Corporations), and most of the world has gone to crap, even as technology has moved forward immensely and at a rapid pace.  Human-like automata/androids are already in common use in service professions (Nurses, waitresses, airline stewardesses, housekeepers, etc), and they've more or less come to be accepted as part of the scenery.  That said, they are often the target of human spite and arrogance, and, considering that they possess emulated emotions, this can cause problems.  Recently, the first fully genetically-modified humans called Edited were released, but the release is considered a failure, as only a small portion survived to adulthood (by accident or design, it is not really spelled out at the point I'm at).  

Before the beginning of the story, the protagonist's older sister, who was considered the penultimate Edited, died in an accident that leveled her laboratory and left him in a depressive funk that lasted several years.  He is broken out of that funk by the arrival of Himefuuro, a fully autonomous android designed with the ability to share emotions with humans through a kiss.  By sharing his emotions with her and feeling her unconditional love for him, he is able to break out of his depression... only to become rather obviously dependent on her.  

X-link has five heroines:  Akira, Hina, Chiruouka, Yuuri, and Himefuuro in order of their endings.  Akira is a teacher and agent (this isn't a spoiler, since you find this out in a 'her perspective' scene early on) who infiltrates the school the protagonist attends as part of her hunt for something involving the corporation that runs the school.  Hina is a girl with an incurable disease called Coppelia Syndrome that causes the skin of the afflicted to harden gradually over time until it kills them.  Chiruouka is a rogue combat cyborg and the only third generation cyborg other than Himefuuro in existence (second generation being the ones currently used, who are completely reliant on the giant central servers to maintain their personalities).   Yuuri is an Edited girl with a tendency to lie for the sake of lying who shares the exact same appearance as the protagonist's older sister.

The story of this VN is generally serious in tone.  Most of the characters - heroines and protagonist included - are deeply scarred and somewhat warped personalities.  The story itself constantly revolves around AI issues throughout what I've seen so far, ranging from the classic identity crises to what happens when androids find religion.  It is interesting enough intellectually for me to take an interest that way, and the complex emotions and motivations of the characters grant the game a pretty good degree of depth.  That said, the protagonist is dense as the hull of a warship and generally inexperienced in human relationships that aren't 'family'.  As a result, some of the conflict in the story is centered on problems caused by his generally thick skull.

While I'm reserving final judgement until I finish the true ending and go back and play the other heroines' endings, I can say that the journey so far has been worth it, and the writer's approach to AI issues has been more thoughtful than I anticipated.  As such, this gets a tentative recommendation from me.  This game is pretty long, and my stamina just ran out, so I'm going to take a week or so of 'vacation' from it before I go back and finish it up.  

Clephas

Tbh, there isn't a lot to say about this episode.  For those who were curious about Haruto's past, this pretty much reveals everything (well, since it is non-ero, it doesn't touch upon my suspicion that there was some classic Grisaia oneshota in there somewhere).  It is pretty bloody - again, as usual - and it properly spotlights Haruto and the group of adults who raised him (questionable whether you can really call them adults, though). 

That said, it should be noted that this is obviously setting things up for the plot of the series to take a big leap forward in the next entry.  As such, we can hope that the next one will be longer and the final episode of the Phantom Trigger series, so Front Wing can produce something unique (in other words, a new series, hopefully), instead of throwing us tidbits of action once or twice a year. 

Clephas

Hi people!  It's been a while since I posted anything (for me, anyway), and I wanted to go ahead and get the March releases explanation out of the way before I started on Waka-sama.

Love Commu

I played through one route of this game, but it was not really something I could keep going through to all the endings, primarily because the setting is pure nukige while the setup and execution is pure moege.  Don't know what I'm trying to get at?  Well, I'll go ahead and explain.  Essentially, the game focuses on the protagonist being a teacher of the Love Education subject, which essentially allows him to get into a relationship with his students.  The problem?  Most of his students are either innocents about sexuality due to their upbringing or the very reverse.  Naturally, this results in various wacky antics... and this would normally be a pure nukige with a kichiku-style teacher.  Instead, we get the adult version of the classic charage protagonist romancing (by accident at times) a bunch of girls who would normally be underage for him. 

While there were a lot of smile-worthy moments in the common route and I didn't hate the endings, this isn't the kind of game where you'll love the setting or get engrossed in the story.  It is classic charage from beginning to end, with the setting being the only exception.

Sakura Iro, Mau Koro ni

I actually plan to go back to this one eventually.  It is a first-class charage with a solid cast of heroines and side-characters, as well as a decent protagonist.  As such, it is unusual enough that I felt I could go back and enjoy it later.  It wasn't good enough for me to delay playing Waka-sama though.

Waka-sama no Zasuru Sekai

I'm going to be blunt going in... Minato Carnival's new game is, theme-wise, completely out of character.  That said, it reuses a lot of resources from Tsujidou-san, being based in the same region, though without the same characters.  The themes focus on Japanese mythology, youkai, and deities, and it is pretty screwy overall. 

A few notes about this game's story... it is darker than you'd think from the usual Minato style.  It is often casually violent, with lots of casual deaths and a huge number of bad (dead) endings you are required to read through to get to the true (Waka-sama) ending.  The former element is very much in line with Minato Soft's style (the casual violence with superpowers), but the way people die off right and left in this story is more something you'd see from a horror VN company than this company.

Now, that isn't a complaint.  If anything, I was amazed that Romeo still had this kind of game in him after all these years of spitting out reruns of his old games.  Waka-sama is a great character and heroine.  She is a sea goddess (at times she reminds me of the Cthulhu Mythos, though it is usually humorous) and is pretty badass... 

The protagonist, Ryouga, starts out as a high school dropout and ends up going through hell to become her High Priest as she is resurrected into the modern world.  Unfortunately for them, things are not as simple as an ancient evil goddess being released from entombment, but to me, that was good enough reason to follow the story from start to end.

I won't say that this game is very good at stimulating the emotions.  Most of the events in the story, even the deaths and bad endings, are treated too casually to create a seriously emotional reaction on the part of the reader.  Early on, the game feels like a new Majikoi with bad endings, but about halfway through, the more serious elements take over and make the story go bigger and bigger in terms of scale.

If I have a complaint about this game, it was the way it felt like reading something written by a guy on a Ritalin high.  Yeah, it was frequently a fun read, but the very things that made it a fun read prevented me from empathizing with... anyone, really.  Ryouga is so even-keeled and insightful in general by the end that it feels like he was a male clone of Waka at times. 

Is this game worth playing for Romeo fans?  Yes, I believe it is.  Is it a kamige?  The jury is still out in my mind, so probably not.  This game would probably be very hard to replay, as a lot of its attraction comes from the surprises it throws at you constantly.  Not to mention that this game is looooooong.  I mean, it took me about 28 hours to complete, even though it is essentially a single-path game with branching endings.

Clephas

Ok, anyone who has read some of my rants about microtransactions will wonder why I decided to play this f2p smartphone game... until you remember I'm also a Nasuverse fanboy.

I made the questionable decision of picking this game up about two and a half months ago, and since then I've been left with a lot to ponder.  First, I'll list what I like about this game.

1.  Relatively easy to play for free, in the sense that simply doing free quests and story quests can get you the in-game Saint Crystals necessary to roll for higher-rarity servants with only a bit of patience. 

2.  Charity Servants, the ones that you can get from completing event quests, are often really good (there are exceptions, even so far, but meh), so if you just do the events, you can still build a decent party before going for the higher-difficulty story quests.

3.  Leveling up Servants can be fast if you have the items ready.

4.  Battle system is decent, if sometimes deliberately frustrating (to encourage you to spend money, probably).

5.  Support Servants borrowed from friends can let you clear hard quests easier.

6.  The story of the main game is extremely well-written (though the translators made a lot of obvious stumbles by not fixing the language into English grammar at some points).

7.  Manages to recreate the often ambiguous emotions drawn out when you played FSN or watched anime like Fate/Apocrypha that gave the series such grandiosity, along with the usual Nasu humor.

Negatives

1.  Too many obvious ways in which they try to get you to spend money, with the constant summoning campaigns and sudden difficulty spikes during and post Camelot.

2.  Blatant Japanese-style gacha-addiction builder.

3.  Missions can be extremely long irl time, and AP regeneration speeds make it possible to play seven hours a day on story missions during half-AP campaigns... which eats at rl a bit too much.

 

My Experience

My rule when playing standard video games that I already know I want is 'I'll spend $60 and no more', and I kept to that rule, with a lot of headaches from temptation and obsession with cute or awesome Servants (Evil Artoria is just sexy in her portrait at final Ascension, lol).  I've managed to enjoy the story of the main game and laugh through the events so far (the GudaGuda events were hilariously designed and written).  However, the lack of breathing space between events and summoning campaigns leaves me feeling exhausted even if I only play a few hours here and there.  Every time I wanted to sit back and enjoy the story, there was that time limit to get all the great skill-up and ascension items I didn't want to have to farm from the game nodes, and now there is an event coming up that requires you have completed the main story through Solomon... which is annoying as hell, since BB really looks cute, so I want her in my roster to stare at with drool dripping from the corners of my mouth, like with Medusa Rider and Evil Artoria...

Yes, that is the level of obsession this game can create for Fate fans.  The fact that several familiar faces are available in the beginning-of-the-game gacha (including Archer from FSN and Heracles) is tailor-made to draw a Fate fan in and trap him with his own lust.  I don't recommend anyone with a collector's tendencies or addictive tendencies in general play this game, as it is a potential money sink for any such individual, sadly.  Since I am such an individual, my words should have weight, lol.  It takes real effort for me not to look at the summoning campaigns when I don't have Saint Crystals or summoning tickets.

On the other hand, this game manages to actually tell a good story, and, having just finished Camelot (which is a difficulty spike on par with suddenly dipping into a Souls game when you thought you were playing Ar Tonelico level), I can tell you it is worth at least going this far.  While it lacks the huge emotionality of Fate/Apocrypha or the original FSN, it makes up for it with the sheer number of personal stories and glorious ends the various Servants manage to meet.  The fact that this definitely feels like a Fate story in both depth and detail makes it even better for a Fate fanboy. 

However, where things fall short is that we have yet another silent protagonist, similar to Fate/Extra.  While this makes, justifiably, the Servants the stars of the story, it can be a bit frustrating that your only inputs are frequently humorous interjections. 

Personally, one thing that has had me laughing on numerous occasions is how gloriously weird some of the Berserker characters are... since they are all psycho to one degree or the other, this can lead to some... interesting results.  While our friend Lancelot from Fate/Zero makes an appearance, most of the Berserkers can and do speak, even if their manner is downright crazy or obsessive.

Clephas

Realive

Realive is Purple Soft's latest game.  For those unfamiliar with Purple Soft, they are the makers of Hapymaher and Chrono clock, and their specialty lies in nakige with fantasy and/or sci-fi elements.  As an example, Chrono Clock has the time-manipulation watch, Amatsutsumi has 'kotodama' (the ability to control people and some phenomena with words), and Aoi Tori has divine and demonic powers.  In this case, the characters are drawn into playing an AR game called Alive, which grants them strange abilities based on how far they have progressed in the game.  Since these abilities actually bring about real life results, I call it a 'mystical app', lol.

Anyway, this game was written by Nakahiro of Hoshimemo and AstralAir fame.  In combination with the sheer eroero nature of Purple Soft's artists' character designs (since his previous works that weren't nukige were mostly 'cute' games) it definitely presents a different picture from what you would expect from Nakahiro at first... but as you progress through the game, you will inevitably - if you have played his previous games - come to recognize similarities in how he handles the emotional and comedic elements to his previous works. 

The common route of this game is mostly light-hearted, though it shows at times the deep worries the various heroines and protagonist have (on the surface level).  For those familiar with Hapymaher (which is translated), it becomes evident that Nakahiro is a fanboy of that particular work pretty early on, as he deliberately inserted many small easter eggs into the character personalities and settings that are drawn from the characters of Hapymaher.  Sadly, he doesn't seem to have been fond of Saki (how could anyone play that and not love Saki?!!) but the heroines seem to have carried on a lot of elements from Hapymaher characters for some reason... though I won't spoil it for you.  Have fun figuring out which characters inherited which Hapymaher elements, lol.

Anyway, there are four heroine routes in this game and one Grand Route (just a different name for a true route, save that it usually has a bigger focus on resolving central elements of the main game's story as opposed to the heroines' individual ones).  I'll introduce the heroines as I go.

Kaya

Kaya is, on the surface, your classic arrogant/selfish ojousama.  She has distinct manipulative tendencies and a strong need to be on top, no matter what the situation.  However, that surface hides a crybaby who lived a sheltered but strictly-regulated existence that tried to squeeze all traces of personality out of her.  This is not that uncommon in ojousama heroines, but the way Kaya is presented is cute, generally speaking.  Her class is Alchemist, which oversees destruction and creation of objects.

Like all the four initial heroine routes, this one focuses on resolving Kaya's issues as she tries to complete the game, which is often difficult, since the conditions of the missions given by the game are often vague and designed to help the characters grow and face their inner demons... and Kaya's demons are a doozy (those this can be said about all the heroines to one extent or another).  While some of her issues might seem minor to someone looking from the outside in, it is nonetheless made easy for the reader to empathize with her suffering.

This path was my first experience with how the endings were going to be handled for this game... and the ending was something of an exercise in frustration for me, primarily because there is so much hinting at the background setting without giving me answers to match up with my suppositions.  In addition, since we have no way to see how things progressed between the events at the climax of the path to the epilogue (this is deliberately not spoken of), I found myself wishing that they'd left epilogues to after the game was done completely.

Minato

Minato is a loner by choice, living a hard life working part-time jobs to keep her in food and shelter while attending high school.  She actively hates the idea of trusting others, and she resents deeply the hypocrisy of those who try to help her out of pity.  Normally, she presents the picture of a 'koakuma' heroine (and that's what she is), but she is also a rather obvious tsundere, albeit one who only shows her true tsun when someone manages to embarrass her.  Her class is Trickster. 

Minato's path is... much more viscerally emotional and at the same time amusing than Kaya's path.  I chose her second because she was the other 'outlier' heroine amongst the four initially available (I almost always pick heroines who aren't already close to or in love with the protagonist first, since osananajimi and deredere classmates are usually boring).  She resists both the idea and reality of her romantic feelings for Chihaya (the protagonist) for a long time, and her reactions to those feelings were just hilarious... up until the point she finally gets down to being deredere, then she is even more clingy than Kaya, and that takes work.

Minato's theme is 'overcoming dependence and making peace with the past', and it was much more effectively executed than Kaya's path... that said, i do still have complaints with how the epilogue was handled.  However, that's the case with all of the four initial endings, so I'm just going to grin and bear it.

Nemuru

I'll go ahead and get this out in the open.  Nemuru and Satsuki are the heroines I had no interest in from the beginning.  Satsuki is an osananajimi in the classic 'cooks and cleans for him' style (albeit not tsundere for the most part) and Nemuru is your typical shy girl who has trouble speaking with men.  Nemuru's class is, ironically (at least on the surface) Idol, and her skills are all centered around gathering or controlling the attention of others. 

My major problem with Nemuru's path came down to the fact that Nemuru was the heroine, in the end.  As a path, it is actually fairly good, even if it lacked a lot of the non-standard twists and turns seen in the previous two paths (incidentally why I picked those two heroines first).  However, Nemuru's character was irritating to me (shy heroines who remain shy for most of the game drive me crazy), and while she grows a great deal as she overcomes her trauma (much like the previous two), I was left unmoved due to my lack of interest in her. 

Again, her path is technically good, and a less-jaded player would undoubtedly be able to empathize more with her (the me of two or three years ago probably could have), but I've grown used to not bothering to tolerate heroines I don't like of late, so my reaction was probably inevitable.

Satsuki

Satsuki is the osananajimi neighbor, living with her younger sister Yayoi.  She constantly wants to take care of people, especially the protagonist, and she intentionally matches her time leaving the house to his... do I have to enumerate anymore reasons why I left this path to last?  lol

Anyway, Satsuki has a strongly self-sacrificing personality with an intense desire to help and protect others.  This is reflected in her class, which is Knight.  Her path is perhaps the second most emotional (for me) so far, right behind Minato's.  That said, her existence as an osananajimi and an essentially 'normal' person pretty much eliminated any possibility of me preferring her as a heroine, hahaha.  Her path is all about overcoming the loss of something precious, and as such, it is inevitably a tear-jerker. 

Grand Route

Early in the Grand Route, the reason for the links to Hapymaher become clear, and about a third way through, it becomes clear why all the events in the other path occurred.  I'll be blunt... you'll probably spend most of the first third of this path in tears, if you have a heart.  It is also an extremely familiar set of themes and setting ideas for someone who has read Hapymaher, so I can clearly state that this game is a Hapymaher derivative rather than just supposing it might be. 

This path forces the protagonist and the heroines to face their largest trauma, the one not mentioned even slightly in the other paths.  This trauma... is bad enough that I'd honestly be tempted to rename this an utsuge.  However, typical to Purple Soft's nakige brand, the ending is a happy one, if somewhat bittersweet.  I know I cried.  I will say that the protagonist's solution to the problem was... novel and typically convenient of a Japanese nakige, lol.

Clephas

It appears that March is going to be my first death march of this year (as compared to me doing it every month for the five years previous).  The simple reason is that, for some insane reason, a bunch of companies released a bunch of interesting games all at once this month (it is technically still March).

First, we have Alpha Nighthawk, a game by Liar Soft that just looked too interesting for me to ignore (which I normally would have).  My initial impression from the first scene is... that this is definitely a Liar Soft game.  The first scene has the spoken dialogue being completely different from the lines on the screen, so you have to pay attention to both simultaneously to pick up on all the nuances of what is going on, apparently, lol.

Second, we have Purple Soft's newest game, Realive.  Now, as a game about a mystical virtual app, I had to sight and go 'now Purple Soft is jumping on that wagon', since it is, on the surface, a departure from what Purple Soft usually does, which is nakige fantasy plotge.

Third is Love Commu by Marshmallow Soft, a subsidiary of Candy Soft (like Minato Soft is).  Now, ninety percent of those familiar with me will go 'What?!  you are going to play a charage?!'  However, it needs to be said that I've always played charage that looked interesting... and this is the first one in a while where the protagonist is a teacher and it isn't a nukige, lol.

Fourth is Sakura Iro, Mau Koro ni.  This one is Pulltop's latest release... and to be honest, if it isn't a nakige or plotge, I'll drop it like a hot potato.  The only things Pulltop does right are nakige and plotge, and when they try to stray into regular moege/charage they always end up giving me a headache.

Fifth is pieces / Wataridori no Somnium, another questionable title despite being released by Whirlpool, which has been on a streak of fetish games that seemed to have been made specifically with me in mind (World Election and Nekonin both being full of nonhuman heroines and World Election being just an overall great game).  I say it is questionable because Whirlpool's bad games are REALLY bad.  For some reason, Whirlpool sometimes strays from what works for them and tries to do something completely brainless (well, Nekonin was brainless, but catgirls and sex are always positives, lol), and I always end up wanting to go to sleep after the prologue.

Clephas

First, I'm going to state that all charage/moege are harem-ge (with the exception of kinetic novels with only a single heroine).  In all these cases, you have a bevy of heroines that are, at the very least, friendly with or somehow attached to the protagonist.  There are a three standard types of harem that I consider to be general umbrella types.  These harems do not include nukige sex-only harems or the type of harems that pop up in gameplay hybrid VNs, as these often have distinctive story-exclusive reasons for harem formation.

The Disconnected Harem

This is the standard-issue harem for modern charage/moege.  In this harem situation, the protagonist is independently connected to most of the heroines, with very little or no interaction between the members of his harem of latent deredere troopers.  The reason this has become the dominant harem in the charage genre in the last seven years or so is because it is the one that is the most 'tasteful' to monogamists and traditionalists.  In this case, the heroines either have no real connection with one another or only weak connections that become tenuous the second the heroine path begins.  Games that have these harems tend to have extremely weak casts of characters in general, and there is usually very little or no real conflict between the characters (low incidence of love triangles, few jealousy attacks, etc).  As a result, games with this type of harem tend to have weak or nonexistent plots, lackluster SOL outside of ichaicha dating, and 'convenient' drama that is resolved so quickly it might as well not even exist.  These harems generally disband at the end of the common route, as the protagonist seems to completely forget any attraction he had to the other girls and they fade into the background.

The Dominant-Sharing Harem

The Dominant-sharing Harem is defined by the members of the harem being at least somewhat familiar with each other (often friends, family, or members of a group or club) and able to be cooperative to an extent while competing for the protagonist's love and attention.  Girls in this kind of harem situation (Shuffle is a prime example of it) are ok with the idea of sharing the protagonist in the abstract, but in practice they want to be the 'first wife' or the 'wife' and relegate the other heroines to the mistress or concubine status (though it isn't always stated this bluntly).  This is perhaps the most realistic harem situation, as, historically, real harems - other than royal ones - have usually been structured with a head or first wife and a number of secondary wives, often married with the permission of or by the choice of the first wife, lol. 

The Everybody's Equal Harem

The Everybody's Equal Harem is, just as the name indicates, a harem where the protagonist essentially loves and treats all the heroines equally and the heroines accept this situation, albeit often with a tacit understanding between one another that they won't stop aiming for a Dominant-Sharing type situation.  As such, this can often be considered a prelude to a Dominant-Sharing Harem result in practical terms.  A classic example of this would be the end of the Grisaia series or the ending of Strawberry Feels, where the protagonist himself never forms a preference, even if the heroines do build a sort of pecking order based on dominance of personality or circumstance.  Tiny Dungeon's Endless Dungeon ending can also be considered this kind of ending, whereas the individual routes represented by the first three games would be considered Dominant-Sharing harems. 

Why I bothered with this post

Anyone who has been an otaku as long as I have been has to accept that harem-thinking is essential to SOL otaku-ism.  As early as Love Hina and Tenchi Muyo, rom-coms have been creating wacky harems and weird situations that result.   This is because romantic comedy is the easiest type of comedy for anyone to get into, and the easiest one to empathize with... and comedy used to be the dominant genre in otaku media (though romance always came a close second). 

The evolution from that type of loose harem (though in later incarnations, the Tenchi universe threw off all pretense of not being harem-ist) to the current situation took decades, but it was a natural evolution in visual novels in particular, due to the fact that most visual novels are multi-route, heroine-focused affairs.  Charage in particular, with their focus on SOL, inevitably give off a sense that the protagonist is the center of a harem, even if it is only  in the common route.  Since this kind of situation appeals to the more primitive parts of the male psyche (males are genetically predisposed to seeking multiple mates, though socialization and emotional attachment overwhelm this in modern settings), eroge tend to abuse this flagrantly. 

Oh yeah, if you haven't figured it out, I like harem endings that aren't sex-heavy... but that isn't so much because I have a thing for 'collecting' bishoujos.  Rather, I like the various situations that result in VNs, as they are often intellectually interesting, heart-warming, or hilarious (or all three).  Nukige-style harem endings are boring and make me roll my eyes, mostly because I question whether anyone has that kind of stamina, and because ignoring the emotional and practical aspects entirely like that makes it hard to suspend disbelief.  If a plotge can make me think a harem would work, I want to see it work, lol.

Clephas

Spiral!!

Spiral is the latest game from Navel, the company responsible for Shuffle and Tsuriotsu.  This is also based in the same world as Shuffle, albeit a generation later (which is suitable, seeing as it has been almost a generation since the original Shuffle was released).  For those who aren't aware of this fact, the original writer of Shuffle, Agobarrier, died a back in 2016, and it is perhaps inevitable that the world he created would end up looking a lot different once someone else took over completely...

Now, I have a single complaint to get off my chest before I start my assessment of this game... in a setting where part of the attraction is the  multiple races involved, why did they choose to create a situation where all the heroines are human?  Seriously, I honestly think this was a poor choice, even with the protagonist being of the divine race. 

The story begins with Crom, a divine race intelligence agent who previously specialized in the capture of inter-world criminals and the investigation of interworld criminal organizations, being forced to give up his long-desired vacation in order to infiltrate a human-only school in order to investigate the area in advance of a princess's attendance of a local school.  Crom is one of those protagonists who can do everything but sees that as being perfectly normal, so he stands out whether he likes it or not, and he can pass for a girl easily (though he is rarely a trap in-game). 

Since this was written by a writer that I personally consider to be a fourth-class charage writer (Takeuchi Jun)... I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at how it turned out.  His primary works were all Da Capo related, which pretty much says everything, since Da Capo is a series that manages to make magic eminently boring.

Common Route

The common route involves him settling in at the school, and it ends just before the culture festival, which is the turning point where the heroine paths split off completely.  I'd say it 'gets the job done' of introducing the characters and making the heroines attractive to the reader... but in my mind that just means that a lot more effort could have gone into developing the character relationships and building up the characters' personalities.  While there was no sense that it was being hurried along, I couldn't help but feel that things were kept intentionally at the surface level during the common route, even moreso than in the usual charage.

Rose

I picked Rose first because she was the person least touched by the issues at the school, having transferred in at the same time as Crom.  Rose is very much a 'borderless' person, having no prejudices... at all.  She lives in the moment, but she isn't a hedonist.  She simply finds the world and people around her to be fun and enjoys them as they are rather than pushing her expectations on others. 

I can honestly say her path felt rushed and forced, which disappointed me deeply.  While there is drama, it is quickly resolved and the rest is mostly ichaicha.  None of Crom's personal issues are really touched upon (despite a massive amount of hints at their existence during the prologue and common route), and it felt like they deliberately avoided adding any real depth to this path, which I found disappointing. 

Ibarako

Ibarako was my second choice because I have a soft spot for misanthropes (being one myself).  Ibarako is an extreme misanthrope, but, because of the existence of the divine and demon realms and their peoples, she managed to avoid becoming a nihilist, happily.  When she is first encountered, it is quite obvious she is just counting down the days until she can leave the human realm...  Despite her negativity, she is essentially a good person... she just really, really dislikes people.

Her path is pretty much straight ichaicha with a side of learning about her personal issues, why she came to hate humans, and some emotional drama that lasts all of ten minutes before it is over.  The romance is mildly cute and traditional... but the writer's lack of creativity is evident here.  While there is a tear-jerk screen, it is brief, poorly-written, and conveniently resolved without real conflict.  As such, I can call this a failed route despite my fondness for Ibarako as a whole.

Sango

It needs to be said, but this writer just committed the cardinal sin of this kind of game... he made one heroine's path so much better than the rest that there is no comparison.  Sango is a generally helpful, kind-hearted girl who generally takes up a leadership position whenever possible.  She is also the daughter of the school's administrator.  However, she has one issue that becomes apparent early on... she's something of a racist.  She is aware of this quality and dislikes it about herself, but because of the way she was raised, she struggles with it.

This path is the most complex of the three I played so far (I'm writing these up as I finish the paths).  The drama is complex and multilayered, and some of Crom's issues come to light (finally, thank god) in this path, though they are not resolved by any means (meaning I'm still irritated at the writer).  What bothers me most about this is that there is no reason all the paths couldn't have had this level of drama, since each of the heroines had their own issues to deal with and Crom's own position should have inevitably created some troubles.  Since this isn't a locked true path, there really isn't any justification for the wide gap in path quality here...

Mizuki

... why is it that the least interesting heroines in this game got the better paths?  Mizuki is your standard-issue genki airhead heroine, with a side of an obsession with magic.

Her path is a bit below Sango's and a bit above the other two in terms of quality, and it is probably the most 'Shuffle-like' path in the game, in the sense that I could see such a heroine popping up in Shuffle.  That said, the drama is as 'convenient' as it was in Ibarako's and Rose's path, and in that sense, I found myself left a bit irritated once more.  It also has the weakest epilogue of the four paths..

Afterthoughts

This game needed to include at least one other heroine (preferably a devil or deity heroine) and deal more intimately with Crom's issues.  I say this because perhaps the most immediately startling of Crom's issues doesn't surface in the heroines' views even once in all the four paths, which is a HUGE negative, considering it is one of Crom's most interesting parts.  In addition, even Sango's path leaves you with more questions than answers, though it will probably end up being the canon path for whatever sequel they are planning (as they obviously are)... or at least the general flow of events will. 

This game was rather obviously - and this is a horrible practice - set up to be followed quickly (probably before the end of this year) with the announcement of a sequel or fandisc.  I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it was in development before this VN was released... poor overworked Navel staff, lol.

For a Shuffle fan, this game is a major disappointment, and, even for a fan of Navel in general, this game probably won't make it to the top of their list unless they only play the Sango path and don't want anything to do with the other heroines.  While this game tries to deal with some interesting issues that might theoretically be born of the situation of three worlds with humanoid races that can interbreed coming in close contact, it does so in a way that is haphazard and not quite believable.  As such, it actually falls short of Shuffle even in this sense, since Shuffle and its after stories and add-ons actually dealt with a number of such issues on its own in a way that was believable within the deliberately comically-presented setting at the time. 

For me, it felt like the generally positive silliness of Shuffle was lost when they made this game, due to the weak attempt to tackle serious issues such as racism and misanthropy.  Shuffle had a lot of serious points that were actually somewhat dark in retrospect, but because of the general atmosphere of the game, my actual impression of the game and its various attachments and fandiscs is one of a light but interesting comedy SOL VN with traces of nakige. 

To be blunt, their choice of writer is probably the biggest problem with this game.  His comedy is weak, his SOL is archetypical, and he over-favored one heroine in a game that doesn't clearly present a central heroine. I really hope that any sequel or fandisc is written by someone with a higher level of skill at this kind of thing...

 

Edit: I gave this game a 7 on vndb, but, if it weren't for the quality of Sango's path, I would have given it a 4 or a 5, which is an extremely, extremely low rating for me.  I was really tempted to just give it a six, since I hate how the writer treated the Rose and Ibarako paths (to be honest, I could have done without Mizuki entirely), but if this game were a kinetic novel with just Sango, I would have probably gave it an eight.

Clephas

It has been almost six months since I ceased VN of the Month.  I can say now that while I do, surprisingly, miss some aspects of that particular column, the freedom giving it up has granted me is far greater compensation. 

When I was doing VN of the Month, I was literally the only person commenting on most of the non-nukige VNs in a given month.  I was driven by a sense of obligation to those who read my blog to continue regardless of what it was doing to me and my life, and I can say now that that wasn't a healthy situation for me. 

I am still a VN addict.  I probably always will be, just as I am a heavy reader in general and a lover of role-playing games.  However, I still think the role I put it on myself to play was a necessary one.

How many people who play untranslated VNs give honest opinions devoid of spoilers?  For that matter, how many of them are honest about their biases when they feel they can't give a particular VN a fair chance? 

I made myself abide by a pretty strict set of rules when I was doing VN of the Month.

 One was that I would primarily evaluate VNs based on story, character development, and setting, while only mentioning visual and audio elements when they were obviously exceptional.  My reason for this is that I lack the background to properly evaluate the technical aspects of audio-visual materials, whereas I have extensive experience with all sorts of reading material in general and fiction in particular. 

Another was that I would, on a regular basis, restate my particular biases, reminding people of the limitations of my objectivity.  This was because I was writing on all VNs I played for the first time, and it would have been unfair for me to fail to state my biases beforehand when playing something that was outside my tastes or something that hit them spot on.

The third was a resolve to avoid excessive spoilers.  My standard was the Getchu page.  If information was released on the Getchu page or the official site, I didn't consider it to be a spoiler, but I was to avoid spoiling things beyond that, except when absolutely necessary.

The fourth and final rule was to strive for objectivity inasmuch as possible and be honest with myself and my readers when it wasn't possible. 

These rules were my guide posts for the years I did VN of the Month, and they served me well, generally... but I reached my limit.  To be blunt, VN of the Month was only made possible because of my high reading speed and my willingness to structure my life solely around playing VNs and making money to buy more.  Naturally, this way of doing things was doomed to failure eventually, but I got so caught up in actually doing it that I didn't notice it really at the time.

Now, I play only what I want to play, and that makes me a much happier person, despite a few wistful moments where I wonder if I couldn't have done it a little while longer.

Clephas

As always, I played the one with the catgirls.  lol

This VN is a kinetic novel from the makers of Karenai Sekai, Sweet & Tea.  At this point (the third game) the pattern the makers of these games are following has become apparent, though this game is not really on the same level as Karenai Sekai or Kemono Musume.  The protagonist is generally amusing (he is the type that constantly sends conversations off track by saying random crap and then forgetting it ten seconds later), and his surrounding situation is interesting...

However, I thought this VN was a bit poorly handled.  There is a major genre switch about four-fifths of the way through the game, and that genre switch makes me go 'eh?  Seriously?'  i was left feeling that this game needed multiple paths, at least partially because at least half the cast of characters wasn't explored at all (though delicious hints were dropped here and there).  In my mind, this makes the game something of a half-assed failure, since a well-designed kinetic novel should leave you with the feeling that 'this is how it was meant to be' rather than the feeling that 'they must have cut the other paths for some reason'. 

As amusing as the game was at times, the actual story was badly handled and the romance was so-so, at best. 

Clephas

First, I should state that I'm avoiding the after stories for now, simply because I'll want to see them for the first time immediately after replaying the original game, rather than over a year after I originally played it, when my memory for details has faded as much as it has right now.  As such, this post will focus on the Ayaka and Mina paths that were added on for this fandisc release.

Common Route

The common route covers a summary of the events that happened in the first game and serves as a basis for just how much Ouro has 'remembered' about his own past with certain female personages and what he knows about certain figures vital to the story.  It also covers the basic (very basic) resolution of Ouro's personal issues (in a really off-hand manner) in such a way that it means the writers are just 'letting you know' they won't be important to the two new paths.  This ends once the summary passes the winter holidays and school is about to go back in session.

Ayaka

Shirogasaki Ayaka was the heroine who should have been instead of Akane.  I say this because it is the same thing every Saga Planets fanboy said immediately after finishing the game... Akane had no business having a path in the game when Ayaka didn't.  The tightly-knit nature of the group of heroines other than Akane and Ouro made the gap between Akane and the others as a heroine far too wide for a mere genkikko to really be considered a serious heroine in comparison.  Ayaka, however, makes a strong impression from the beginning and involves herself (albeit in a negative way) with them from the beginning.

This path is hilarious.  Anyone who played Rena's path will probably have some idea of just how hilarious a character Ayaka can be when she isn't putting her mind to it, but in her own path, I found myself giggling constantly.  The way she and Ouro get together is so absurd, and the buildup to it is so... funny.  Even after they became lovers, I couldn't take the serious stuff seriously because they made me break out laughing ever few minutes.  I definitely rate this highly as an add-on path, and it is as long as the paths in the original game, so you can't say Ayaka was gypped.

Ayaka also has a 'what-if' append story that appears in the extra section after you finish her path.  This what-if is just as hilarious in its own way, and it focuses on what she 'knows' pretty early on.  This what-if dramatically alters her attitude toward Ouro in a way that is as hilarious as she was in her path, if in a drastically different fashion... 

This is a path without any emotional catharsis, but in exchange you'll probably spend a great deal of time laughing.

Caminal

As anyone could guess by the way she and Ouro interacted in the original game, Mina's path's theme is, in opposition to the ero-comedy of Ayaka's path, a straight out cute romance.  As such, there isn't a whole lot I can go over here without spoiling details, sadly.  I will say that the relationship formation is typical for this type of heroine, in particular because, unlike Sylvie, she is a lot less honest/familiar with her own emotions.  For Mina, who has a strong sense of herself as a princess first and an individual second, dealing with emotions like those born out of   young love is a bit awkward. 

Unlike Ayaka's path, you probably won't find yourself laughing every few seconds, though Sylvie and the crew are as generally amusing as they were in the original game. 

The append story for Mina is a straight-out after story, focusing on the aftermath of the two settling in as publicly (at the school) acknowledged lovers and dealing with Mina's homeland (which isn't as dramatic as you might think).  As usual, the focus is more on the cute romance, so you won't see any real drama here (there isn't really a ton of drama in the main path either). 

Conclusion

While the new paths aren't as straight-out powerful as the ones in the main game, I found myself more or less satisfied at Mina and Ayaka finally taking their rightful places as heroines.  The laughs I got out of Ayaka's path made it worth shelling out the money to get hold of this, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the append stories for the other characters once I get around to replaying the original, lol.

 

Edit:  Ok, so I couldn't resist.  I broke down and played Ria's new path after all... I tried to stop myself, but my curiosity got the better of me... and I don't regret it.

If Mina is cute romance and Ayaka is ero-comedy, Ria's new path is a pure catharsis.  For those who didn't like the ending of Ria's path (there will always be those who complain when the ending is bittersweet like that), this path is probably what you were looking for.  I enjoyed it and came out of it feeling good, which is nice... but I do think that this path is pandering a bit too much to fan pressure.  Well, since it is a fandisc, I suppose that was inevitable, in any case, lol.

Clephas

Wow, there are a lot of VNs being released for February this year that aren't nukige... this happens occasionally, but usually it is four or five games.  A few major names got concentrated into this month, as well as a bunch of games by new companies or new subsidiaries.  To be honest, from my point of view, despite the fact that this is my birth month, there isn't much to look forward to.  There is a  new VN in the Shuffle universe here, but with Agobarrier, the universe's father, deceased, I can't say that I have a lot of interest in its continuance...

https://vndb.org/v24748

Spiral is the aforementioned new game in the Shuffle universe, focused on a young spy from the god race who is ordered by his boss to attend a human school the princess is thinking of going to as a spy (and a trap).  Given that this is the Shuffle universe, it is probably going to be standard rom-com fare, with some fantasy antics and drama.

https://vndb.org/v23205

To be honest, since this is made by a subsidiary of More, which is famous for its impressively mundane SOL romance games... I can't say it looks interesting.  Based on the summary, maybe some potential NTR/love triangle action...?

https://vndb.org/v24717

The fandisc for Kin'iro Loveriche.  Definitely going to play this, if only for the extra path for the snooty ojousama (who should have had a route anyway, since hse had more of a connection to the protagonist's group than Akane). 

https://vndb.org/v24564

This is made by the makers of Karenai Sekai to Owaru Hana, which is one of the few kamige made in the last four years.  As such, I'm going to play it... well, with a cat ear heroine, I'd play it anyway, lol.

https://vndb.org/v23742

Evenicle II... to be honest, do you really think I'd play this?  I barely got through the original, and Alice Soft's sequels tend to be iffy, in my experience.

https://vndb.org/v23600

What looks to be an SLG sex fest from Astronauts' gameplay hybrid division.  No interesting heroines (at least to me), so I probably won't play this.

https://vndb.org/v24275

Made by the new subsidiary of a company famous for anything from standard moege to harem-ge, I might try it eventually, but probably not in the next month.

https://vndb.org/v16516

To be honest, the premise of this game gives me a headache.  Feng tends to use any excuse to produce third-rate rom-com SOL games... so it is hard for me to take them seriously. 

 

Clephas

The Uso series is the original series of kinetic novels made by Campus based in a school campus where magic and mundane exist in parallel.  The protagonist of the Uso series, Sakurai Souichirou, is the head of the Cat's Hand Club, which is a jack-of-all-trades club that will take on just about any request, as long as the individual is willing to pay the price.  However, that is merely the open face of the club, which has the purpose of gathering magical energy from the emotions of those whose requests he fulfills in order to power the magical artifact implanted in his body.  This magical artifact is the Redline, a powerful tool that lets the person who is melded with it see the lies of others (portrayed as red text in the game's text boxes).  Despite this ability, Souichi isn't cynical and is generally a good and straightforward person, though, in his own words, that is only because he met the right people.  The main Uso series is made up of four kinetic novels, each following the path of an individual heroine (a similar setup to Tiny Dungeon, though the details differ).  It begins in 'Spring', continues with 'Summer' and 'Fall', and concludes with 'Winter'. 

Haru Uso

The spring-themed game of the Uso series follows the serial liar and school idol Himeno Satsuki as she essentially pushes Souichi into forming a relationship with her.  This game is a bit heavier on the H content than the three games that come after, though some of that is because Satsuki has a pretty forceful personality under her pleasant atmosphere.  The conflict in this story begins when Satsuki confesses her love for Souichirou (in the first scene) and moves on from there.  The formation of their romantic relationship is sweet and frequently amusing, though it is mostly ecchi because of how it begins.  While I normally don't like the trope used here, it is used in the least awkward fashion I've ever encountered in an SOL VN, so I was willing to overlook it. 

There is some serious drama, but this is immediately after Souichi starts to realize his feelings for Satsuki are real... and the drama will definitely come as a surprise if you haven't been paying close attention with an eye for mild mindfucks.  It all comes to a happy end in the end, but it can be a bit wrenching emotionally at a few points if you've gotten to like the couple in question along the way (which I did).

After Story 1

After Story 1 was present with the original game and is pretty extensive for an after story, mostly focusing on a much milder set of trials and tribulations that you'd see in any charage.  That said, since you already saw the more dramatic scenes immediately before, it comes off as cute rather than boring, since it is impossible to shake the feeling that 'they'll be all right no matter what' after the ending of the main path.

After Story 2

Drawn from Full Uso, this is based a few months after the end of the story, when the two have begun to live together and have settled in.  Satsuki is starting to come into her own and has grown as a person, and Souichirou is feeling his way out of some of his more extreme donkan habits (yes, he is donkan).  As in the previous after story, this one comes across as cute in comparison to the main story, and it mostly leaves you smiling at the lovers as they survive the trials any established couple is prone to.

Natsu Uso

Natsu Uso focuses on Izumi Aoi, a member of the student council who, even in Haru Uso, is rather obviously a deredere heroine hiding under a tsundere mask.  That said, as is indicated from certain scenes in the previous game, the past between her and Souichirou is complicated and painful for them both, and it becomes central to the background conflict of her story.  Aoi is pretty much the perfect tsundere heroine, but this is not because of her personality alone.  More, this is because of how Souichirou's Redline underlines precisely when she's telling the truth and when she's lying.  It's an experience worth having even if you aren't particularly into tsunderes, lol.

Anyway, due to a certain event, Souichirou and Aoi end up forced together by circumstance and Souichi's inability to be dishonest.  While both of them have serious hangups about the past, the fact is that Aoi is rather blatantly in love with him from the start, so don't expect this to be so much about relationship development as untangling the complex emotions the two hold for another and growing beyond them.  The ending is pretty touching, and worth a smile or two.

After story 1

Natsu Uso's After Story 1 is a lot more focused on ichaicha than Haru Uso's in the first half... not to mention having some really heavy h-scenes.  Basically, for those accustomed to the tangled emotions that made up the atmosphere between the two in the path itself, this is a time when they are more open with each other.  Aoi adorable-ness is more extreme here  (which looks impossible until you've actually experienced it), and she gets really clingy (which is part of the adorable-ness). 

However, if you've come to know Souichirou by this point, you know he always puts what is best for others first.  This is what causes the minor tribulations that make up the second half, though these aren't relationship troubles but rather troubles relating to Aoi growing as a person.

After Story 2

Similar to Haru Uso's second after story, this one occurs in the school year after the original game.  Aoi has taken up a place of responsibility, with Souichirou by her side.  Settling in to their new rhythm, one of the issues that has plagued Aoi since before she met Souicirou rears its head once again.  The resolution is pretty quick and not dramatic, but it is nice to see Aoi still following her chosen path. 

Aki Uso

To be frank, the heroine of this story, Eris R Renford, has a wildly different story from the other heroines.  As such, the path's drama is a bit more serious than in the first two games and her issues are mostly on her side, rather than involving her personal relationship with Souichirou exclusively (though that does come into play).  Since it is treated as a spoiler and not stated in the previous two games, I won't reveal the core reasons for the conflict in this story.

Eris is a heavy gamer, a wannabe NEET, and a generally lazy person on all levels.  If Sou didn't kick her out of bed she would sleep all day; if Sou didn't feed her real food, she'd probably eat nothing but ramen and takeout; and if Sou didn't teach her, she probably would have dropped out of school long ago.  In other words, she is completely dependent on Souichirou, which makes her the butt of numerous jokes both in her own path and in the other games. 

Her path/game is worth going through twice, if only to use a certain function that pops up on the second playthrough to lead you through the mindfuck hidden inside the dialogue. 

After Story 1

The first after story covers the growth of Eris after the turning point of the main game, along with a number of humorous and H scenes.  Since there is pretty much nothing I can say about this without spoiling the main game, I'll just say that it was this after story that made me want a second after story for Eris, lol.

After Story 2

For anyone who was expecting this after story to be full of drama based on the ending of the previous one, I have to inform you that, unfortunately, the events that followed the end of the after story 1 were spoken about in a short summary at the beginning (from the sound of it, they could have made a whole new VN out of them), and instead this is just another bit of SOL, which I found somewhat disappointing... though the Uso series characters are generally fun to read about.  Still, it does close out Eris's story, even if it didn't fulfill my desires, lol.

Fuyu Uso

Fuyu Uso follows Teidou Setsuka, the daughter of a powerful (not just wealthy) family and the Student Council President of the mammoth school they are attending.  She is beautiful, brilliant, and incisive.  From the very beginning (Haru Uso) she has been openly pursuing Souichirou, though Souichirou is perpetually suspicious of her reasons and wary of her in general.

This is, by far, the darkest of the four paths.  Teidou Setsuka's personality is the hardest to read from surface cues of all the heroines (even Satsuki, who is a mistress of lies), and she is so capable she doesn't even really provide an opening to read her.  I'm going to say that, like Aki Uso and Haru Uso, there is a mindfuck built into this story, though it is one (just like those) that you can figure out if you pay close attention to what is going on and the various cues you should have learned to pick up in the previous games. 

However, this story is, as I said, much darker than the others, which were essentially straight-out romances involving simple deredere heroines with various issues.  Setsuka is... scary.  I say this from the point of view of a guy who likes his VN heroines scary.  I'd say that she is on my list of top 5 scariest heroines that aren't yangire (yangire heroines being scary because they are unpredictably homicidal). 

Damn, it is hard not to spoil this one, lol.  Thankfully, this isn't the main company (Light) so this isn't a bad end path, hahaha.

After Story 1

I'm going to start this by saying that, of the after-stories so far, this one shows the heroine's personal growth the most.  For better or worse, Setsuka is pretty twisted up inside, and this covers her growth after the dramatic end of the main path (along with a number of really hot h-scenes).  In a way, Setsuka's growth in this after story is as dramatic as the other heroines' growth in their own paths, and in a crappy charage, this would probably have been enough for a path on its own, hahaha.

After Story 2

This is the shortest of the second after stories by far, probably because Setsuka's issues were resolved so completely in the original path and the first after story.  It follows Setsuka and Souichirou after she has graduated, and it lightly touches on the aftermath of the original path (considering what happened, that isn't surprising).   There really isn't much to it, but it was nice to see a less yandere-ish Setsuka, lol.

Spoiler

For those who are curious.  Setsuka has three stages of development as I see it.  The first is the cold-blooded schemer who hates the world but thinks Souichirou is the best person in existence.  The second one is a yandere who lives to be with Souichirou and is ridiculously jealous, possessive, and clingy.  The third and last is the mature woman, at ease with herself and the world around her, secure in Souichirou's love and trusting in those few she has found worthy.

Hare Uso

Hare Uso is the harem story added for those who bought each of the original four games separately before this month.  Essentially, all the events (including the sex) happened in each of the games, but Souichirou never chose any of them as his lover.  Just to be clear, given that Souichirou ends up forced into the sexual situations in all four games (through different means), this is not as unrealistic as it might sound.  Moreover, I was laughing throughout much of its hour long length.  Harem paths with serious protagonists are always hilarious...

Overall

Overall, playing the Uso series altogether is like playing the best of the best of plotge/charage hybrids.  It is amusing at times, heart-warming at others, and it brings tears out at the right times.  The heroines are interesting and unique, presented in a first-class fashion, and generally given a depth of character development that has been lacking in recent years.  By handling each path as a separate game with an intensive focus, Campus made the heroines feel like real people, rather than props or sex dolls (which is what most charage heroines end up being).  While the series has its flaws, it is definitely worth playing as a whole.

Clephas

For those of you who are curious, I played this VN on a request from an old friend who wanted an opinion before he bought it (I already had the game, just hadn't opened it).  This game is relatively short, being a kinetic novel, but that doesn't detract from the experience at all, at least in my eyes.

Now, I was skeptical about the concept of a VN focused on romance between a middle-aged guy and a girl in school... for one thing, it is a theme that has been mostly avoided like the plague outside of nukige in recent years.  For another, it is a type that is hard to pull off without it seeming like a self-serving old man writer vicariously enjoying time with young girls.

Luckily, this game manages to pull the relationship and its formation off rather believably, which was a surprise to me.  While this game isn't the type to get named in an awards show or make it to the top of my list of VNs to play, I can honestly say it was worth playing, and I don't regret the time spent on it.  The relationship formation is extremely gradual, with neither of them having any feelings for each other beyond awkward friendliness at first.  This made the slow shift in their feelings feel natural to me, as they began to get past their mutual loneliness and began to care for one another aside from the need to ease it. 

This isn't, for once, a story about an old man taking advantage of a much younger girl (if anything, she's the one who forces things along at the critical points), but it doesn't avoid the issues that inevitably come up in this type of situation either.  There is some drama, but it ends on a touching note, with the major issues involving the characters' relationships solved for the most part.

 

Clephas

I recently got the impulse to go back and replay Eien no Aselia, which sat at the top (mostly by inertia and alphanumeric reasons) of my vndb votes for so long.  Eien no Aselia was one of the final games I played in English before I took the dive into Japanese untranslated VNs, and I hadn't replayed it since, though I played Seinarukana within a year of entering the labyrinth.

Eien no Aselia is one of those few 'oldies' I found hadn't lost anything vital in the years since I last played it.  I still immensely enjoyed the story (which is only mildly different in Japanese), and I still fell in love with Aselia on first sight (I'm a sucker for bloodstained fushigi-chan girls with big swords).  I empathized with Yuuto's struggles as he went from a somewhat whiny standard-issue eroge protagonist to a fully rounded out human being with a lot of admirable qualities.

Eien no Aselia is one of those rare hybrids where the gameplay is something you can pick up easily even though you haven't played it in almost a decade.  Oh, there were aspects I had to remember through trial and error, but I was using my old clear save, so I didn't have to bother with leveling or building anything other than ether gates... which made things a lot simpler.  I remember just how much pain I suffered on higher difficulties to get those maxed levels... and why I never went back after finishing all the heroine paths, hahaha.  The game is long, though it isn't nearly as long as Ikusa Megami Zero or some of the other strategy VNs.  Playing it from beginning to end seven times was more than enough for me in the past.

A few aspects of the game have aged poorly (though not really the visuals, which were great for the time it was made).  The aspect that bothered me the most was that more effort wasn't put into developing the non-heroine spirits that you fought with.  While you could access scenes that did develop them somewhat if you made the right dialog choices and didn't let them die in battle, there is definitely a sense that the writers considered them disposable, despite giving them really distinctive personalities that came out on first meetings. 

Spoiler

 

Another is that more wasn't done to make Shun a better antagonist... to be frank, his twisted mentality is only poorly explained, even with the extra scenes at the beginning that pop up on your second playthrough.  Spending some time with him in the Empire would have helped greatly to illustrate his fall from a slightly twisted teenager into true madness. 


 

Replaying Aselia made me remember why I was so eager to see a third Eien Shinken game, and I'm still eagerly awaiting the day when the TBA on the vndb page for Shinyaku Eien no Aselia turns to a real release date. 

Clephas

Sakura, Moyu is the latest game by Favorite, the producers of Hoshimemo and the Irotoridori series.  For those who aren't yet familiar with Favorite, I should tell you that there are three things this company is known for.  For one, they produce first-class 'nakige' in a unique style full of pastel colors and manipulation of visual and narrative perspectives.  Second, they are known for their excellent stories and characters, regardless of which writer they have on the job.  Last of all, they are known for being lolicons (lol).  No, I'm not kidding.  The fact that every one of their true heroines at least looks like a loli at first glance says everything, hahahaha.

Sakura, Moyu was written by Urushibara Yukito, the same writer as the Irotoridori games.  As such, it should surprise no one that the setting is layered and complex and the story not at all what it seems on the surface.  It should also surprise no one that there is a lot of emotionality in this game... but I don't think anyone was expecting just how emotional this game is.  To be blunt, I spent roughly 80% of this game either on the verge of or in tears.  Considering that the game is one of the longest games I've ever played (at least partially so because I so thoroughly relished Urushibara's writing style), that's a lot of tears... and a lot of tissues *glances at the overfull wastebasket next to his pc and the empty tissue boxes lying around it*. 

However, there are some issues with this game that need to be mentioned to get them out of the way.  Few games are perfect, and this one is no exception.  To be specific, Urushibara has always been mediocre at the romantic elements of his games.  Unless the romance exists at the end of a path full of suffering and despair or occurs in an incredibly stressful situation, he can't seem to write it very well (in other words, he is good at dramatic love but only a bit less than average at everyday love).  As a result, the romance in the first two paths (Chiwa's and Hiyori's) feels abrupt and forced... not to mention the fact that the beginning of Chiwa's path is so at odds at first with the game's atmosphere that I had to put the game down for two days to get past the emotional disconnect it created.  Hiyori's path is somewhat less problematic but still feels forced and abrupt, so I'm basically saying that readers who have high hopes for romance in these two paths will probably be disappointed, at least to an extent. 

One other issue that always nags at you as you play the numerous paths is the treatment of Kuro, the game's true heroine... to be blunt, like all of the Favorite true heroines, the story is set up so that if you aren't on her path, she gets screwed over to one extent or another.  Now, if you don't instantly fall in love with Kuro during the opening scenes, like I did, this might not be a problem for you, but one reason I spent the end of every path in tears and couldn't empathize with the characters' happiness was precisely because of this.

This game is very much a story of self-sacrifice... to the extent that it feels like every time you turn around, someone is sacrificing something for the sake of someone else.  The creatures of the Night (the underworld-like dream realm the characters fought in ten years before the story's beginning) are, as is openly stated, driven to feel unconditional love for humans, and as such, their excessively kind hearts spend much of this game suffering as a result of human actions and the tendency of humans to disregard their own happiness at the oddest of times.  

This is also a game full of loneliness... to a degree that 'loneliness' or 'lonely' (さみしさ and さみしい) are the two most common words in the game by an exponential level.  All of the main characters in this game suffer from loneliness to one degree or another at some point.  Some take it on of their own will, others have it inflicted upon them, and yet others endure it because it is their fate.  As such, there are very few points outside of the relatively few standard SOL scenes (compared to the game's over length) where the game isn't somber in atmosphere.

This game is also unbelievably layered and complex... so much so that it reminds me of games like Harumade Kururu and Ever17 in retrospect.  It has been a long time since a writer managed to keep me so thoroughly in the dark about so much of the game's general story for so long (the last time was Bradyon Veda), and, in that sense, I'm grateful for this game's existence.

I do, in fact, like how it all (the main story) ends, and I even liked how each of the individual paths ended, taken by themselves (If i ignore how Kuro gets screwed over).  I also found myself to be completely satisfied once I finished the game... to the extent that I don't think I'll ever be able to replay this game.  This game was very high stress in the sense that I was constantly being bombarded with the characters' emotions, and as such, it isn't a game that would be easy to come back to any time soon.  The sheer length of the game also adds to this. 

In conclusion, this is a game that is worthy of the legacy of Favorite as a company, worthy of being the first mainline project since the release of AstralAir in 2014.  It has problems and the game is probably one that is emotionally stressful.  However, for catharsis addicts, it is a worthy addition to their collection of nakige and utsuge, lol.

Clephas

Venus Blood Hypno is by far my favorite Venus Blood game.  There are a number of obvious reasons.  The story itself is the deepest and most interesting, it is emotionally powerful, and, if you follow the Law route, it is possible to avoid sexual corruption issues entirely.

However, the true reason I love this game is because of Leonhardt and Anora.

Leonhardt and Anora have one of the most powerful, deepest relationships I've seen in any type of VN, ever.  The emotional bonds between them are literally inseparable, and the trust between them is literally unbreakable.  They have had innumerable horrible experiences, which have left them bitter and cynical, but their love for one another, while having a strong element of mutual dependence, is nonetheless untainted.  It is unselfish and giving, and, while no sane person would ever envy them their lives, it is hard not to envy their love.

Leonhardt and Anora were once members of the Arknoa royal family, a human (sort-of) kingdom that lay at the lowest level of Helvetica, tasked with protecting the seal on the demonic races, but considered to be tainted and cursed because of the unique abilities the family often displayed.  Anora, because her abilities were particularly strong, was feared and generally distanced from most of the family.  Only her older cousin, Leonhardt, was close to her from the beginning, and when the seal broke and the demons flowed forth, it was Leon who carried her as he sought to escape certain death.  Unfortunately for them both, Calvia Karlsefni, the Demon Empress who destroyed their family, was waiting... and in exchange for Leonhardt begging shamelessly for their lives, she made them her toys.

Leonhardt and Anora were used in an experimental procedure to create a weapon to get around the weakness of demons to divine power, fusing a different soul into that of another living being, transforming them into something that was neither human nor demon.  Of all those who underwent the procedure, less than one in ten thousand survived, and many of those went insane or burned out soon after.  They became what is referred to in the story as a 'Reisu Unit' (which refers to the fact that they use the soul fused to them and their own soul as fuel for their power).    Incidentally, none of this is spoiler, really.

Now, down to the setting, one of the other reasons I love this game.  Hypno's setting is dark, even for a Venus Blood game, where tentacles about and most of the main characters have demonic blood.  In the events leading up to the game's beginning, the demons, who had long been confined to an underground world where there wasn't enough energy to sustain them, much less keep them powerful, overcame this problem in a way that was both simple and terrible... they used a new technology (called Laugraphia) to transform people's souls into crystals called Tactica, that could be used to power their magic, thus allowing them to break the seals and emerge back into the surface.

The demons went to war with the forces of angels and humans led by the Goddess, and the Great War began.  Using the Reisu Units, the demons forced open the teleportation gates to the floating continent from the other surrounding continents, and Calvia killed the Goddess, transforming her into a Tactica. 

Now, the Empire, which is the most powerful of the four demonic nations, rules the central floating continent and the southern continent of Brookheart.  It converts large numbers of humans to Tactica on a daily basis, using any excuse such as criminality, religious activity, or simply being in the wrong place at the right time.  All four nations are reliant on Tactica technology, at least partially because they are all afraid to give it up, lest the others rush in and overwhelm them using that power.  As a point of reference, each of the four demon lords possesses at least one Myorne Class Tactica, which is a Tactica containing the equivalent of more than a million souls.  It is common for most mid and high level commanders to possess a Ten-thousand soul Tactica, and most soldiers with potential have one that contains a hundred or more.  Worse, Tactica can be 'used up' if their power is abused, meaning that huge numbers of souls are being burned like fuel on a fire on a daily basis. 

As a setting, it has both depth and darkness, two things that I can't help but like.

Hypno, like most games in the series, is split between Law and Chaos paths, but with a slightly different twist, there is a true Law ending that can only be accessed under specific conditions on a third playthrough after you've been through the Law and Chaos paths once each.  This is the True Law Anora ending, and it is, quite obviously, the single best (or at least the happiest) of the game's endings.  I cried, lol.

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