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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

To be clear, I dropped this game today after about nine hours of playtime, mostly because I wasn't getting any joy out of it.  That's not to say the story wasn't interesting, but...

Anyway, Soushin no Ars Magna is the most recent release from Ninetail, the rpg-focused sister brand of Dual Tail, the makers of the Venus Blood series... and it shows.  

This game reuses a modified version of the gameplay from Venus Blood Brave, which was a more dungeon-exploration oriented game than previous entries, which tended to split between conquest strategy and dungeon defense or invasion.  To be blunt, this was probably a poor choice for a game where alchemy plays such an integral part.

The dungeon exploration in the game is focused on you moving your party down specified paths one point at a time, hitting traps, enemies, treasure, or materials based on the point.  This isn't necessarily an awful idea... except that for purposes of gathering materials for alchemy, it makes things unnecessarily tedious.  While alchemy-based rpgs and dungeon crawlers are generally at least a little tedious at times, the relatively low returns for dungeon exploration, whether in terms of money and resources or in terms of experience and materials, makes it necessary to abuse the free dungeons... and since you can't just get what you want then leave immediately and the materials aren't always the same, this can be frustrating.  This also means that there is no real sense of exploration, which is one of the attractions of a dungeon explorer game in the first place.

Story-wise, the game definitely has possibilities... but the sheer amount of grinding it takes just to strengthen your party through level gaining, finding crests, and alchemy makes it feel like you do a lot for relatively little reward.  Considering that I'm comparing this to Venus Blood games at their worst, that should tell you a lot.  

My impression of this game is a half-hearted attempt to reuse a more polished version of a previous system to make a few extra bucks.  While the story has possibilities, the game balance is iffy at best, and the lack of better customization items speaks of laziness on the part of the makers.  

Clephas

Kami-sama no You na Kimi e

Kami-sama no You na Kimi e is the latest game by Cube, and it is based in a near-future setting where AIs run just about every aspect of society.  In this society, people have gotten past that raw terror of AI horror stories and have pretty much accepted the the ease and luxury of having AI run most of the important things that make civilization possible.  

At the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Kaito, is hacking into Central AI, the AI based on the Moon that runs most of the world's infrastructure.  Triumphantly, he succeeds, essentially gaining control over the AI that rules the world... and the one thing he asks for before getting out of the system is for it to find his ideal girlfriend, which the system then says doesn't exist.  Kaito, quite naturally, is a bit down after this, but he goes to sleep more or less normally... only to answer the door in the morning to find his ideal girl standing outside.

Quite naturally, this ideal girl is Tsukuyomi, the game's flagship heroine and the embodiment of Central AI in girl form.  As requested, she is already completely deredere over him, and a great deal of the common route has him running from her excessively sexual approaches.  In the days after this, like dominoes falling in a row, he meets a number of attractive heroines, and he shows off the usual donkan protagonist routine almost constantly when it matters.

Now, just from this, you'd think this was your standard charage... but in actuality, it is a lot closer to a plotge in structure.  The heroines have real issues, the protagonist doesn't flake out or become less interesting as you proceed, and the paths actually have solid stories that involve most of the game's cast of characters.  For someone who wants an SOL plotge with some decent drama in a futuristic setting, this game is pure crack.

Tsukuyomi

I probably should have left her for last, but I played Tsukuyomi's path first.  Tsukuyomi is the game's obvious main heroine, the girl who is most prominent on the package and in the advertising, and in general is the one most central in the common route.  In most cases, I don't like 'no common sense' heroines, but Tsukuyomi manages to pull it off without it feeling excessively contrived, which is actually a feat, considering she is a robot heroine.  It is helped along by the fact that Kaito generally accepts that Tsukuyomi is what she is, has no illusions about her nature, and is perfectly fine with her being a different existence from himself.  

Her story is your usual deredere heroine romance at first, but it quickly goes dramatic about midway through, for reasons that should be fairly obvious.  While the templated turn of events in this path is not revolutionary, it is well-executed and interesting.  There is even a truly surprising and emotional moment near the end that had me crying.  That, in itself, makes this path a success.  My only real complaint is that this path lacked an epilogue to tie off the story.

Rein

Rein is the cold-hearted student council president, an honor student with a black heart and an overabundance of pride.  Her path branches off from Tsukuyomi's path and is a great deal weaker, at least in my opinion.  To be honest, this path was kind of 'meh' for me, since it never revealed anything important about the details of what was going on with Rein beyond the basics that were revealed in Tsukuyomi's path, which is a huge weakness in a plotge or a charage.  While the protagonist remains a cool and interesting character, the failures of this path are really glaring.

Worse, the same as Tsukuyomi's path, there is no real epilogue, meaning you don't get to find out what happened after.

Rana

Rana... Rana is the heroine on the cover dressed like Sherlock Holmes, a cosplay uniform she wears nearly constantly.  As it indicates, she is a private detective and extremely intelligent... but also fairly perverted (she has a thing for Kaito's butt).  Her path... let's just say it is surprising and diverges widely from the events in Tsukuyomi's path (I didn't really like how Tsukuyomi almost became a non-entity in her path, but meh...).  This path... is a bit depressing, to be honest.  Oh, if you choose the Rana-only good ending, it is actually pretty good and heart-warming at the end, but the process you go through to reach that point is pretty hard if you came to like Rana.

Sophia/Sophia & Rana

At first glance, Sophia seems like your standard 'yurufuwa oneesan', but she is actually a fairly intelligent adult (yes, she is the adult heroine in this game).  She is Rana's older sister and one of those involved in developing the S-CHIP, an AI chip designed to be implanted into the human brain as an aid to those who have brain diseases.  Sophia's 'path' diverges from Rana's during the darkest period of Rana's path, and... to be honest, while it is easy to understand why it happens, this path is fairly unusual/stand out for a modern VN for reasons I'm not going to spell out here.  

Anyway, toward the end of Sophia's path, you have to decide whether you want the protagonist to be with just Sophia or with both Sophia and Rana... of course, after a seriously awkward set of events.  Generally, I recommend the Sophia and Rana choice... the guilt-trip you get from choosing just Sophia is pretty awful.

Kirika

Kirika is the protagonist's fellow loner, a girl who accuses him of stalking her because they keep meeting whenever they are trying to find places to be alone.  Her secret comes out relatively early in the common route, but I'll keep it quiet since it is funnier if you don't know in advance.  Her path actually begins very much like a charage path.  It is only toward the end where it becomes as deadly serious as the other paths above.  Indeed, in some ways it is the grimmest and most shocking of the paths, even compared to the depressing aspects of Rana's path.  It is also the path where the other heroines showed the least amount of relevance, a fact that I have mixed feelings about, considering how powerful the characters are.

Similar to most of the paths above, this path's greatest weakness is the fact that while it does have a conclusion, it doesn't have an epilogue or after-story to tie off the last few loose ends.  For that reason, I'm pretty sure they are planning a fandisc, as I can't see them leaving things as is.

Airi

Airi has the dubious honor of having the single weakest path in the game.  She is a net idol that the protagonist meets in the course of interacting with Kirika, and her main focus in life is on her work, despite being the youngest heroine.  Unfortunately, she is also the least unusual personality in the group, meaning that her character is by far the weakest... and her path follows suit.  Where the other paths had somewhat grandiose episodes that showed off the darkest aspects of an over-connected society, Airi's path's drama feels like an extension of internet trolling, so I had trouble getting into it.  

Conclusion

A good game with a solid setting and characters, this is probably a good choice for those who want a decent near-future sci-fi plotge who have already played Komorebi no Nostalgica and Missing X-Link.  Tsukuyomi is an above-average AI heroine, though she falls short of the genius of Cinema and Fluorite from Komorebi or the raw emotions experienced with the AIs in Missing X-Link.  It's greatest flaw is how it handles the endings, a common flaw in modern VNs that seems to be born of the bad habits of the fandisc-loving charage companies.  It's greatest strength lies in the way it manages to keep the protagonist, the heroines, and the story interesting while balancing it with enough SOL to make them feel real in the first place.  

 

Clephas

I'm not going to lie... Erect is an appropriate name for this game in a number of ways.  However, this game is, despite the name, not a pure nukige.  Rather, it is more of a romantic (actually romantic, not just playing at it) charage with high sexual content (about 6 H-scenes in the common route and something like eight to ten in each path).  Now, this is the game that got me paying attention to Astronauts as a company, and it is from Astronauts: Spica, a subsidiary that has so far only produced this game and Aozora Stripe.  

The first thing that stands out about this game is that all the heroines are succubi (in the classic sense).  In the setting, succubi live alongside humans and have chosen to adapt to modern society by finding ways to survive without rape (lol).  An interesting fact of the setting is that when succubi/incubi have children together, their powers actually weaken instead of getting stronger, whereas when they have children with humans the resulting child is more powerful and always a succubus or incubus.  

The protagonist, Kento, is a serious, sincere, and kind-hearted young man who works at his father's flower shop and is learning flower arrangement from his father.  He provides flower arrangements to the local hospital for free as volunteer work, and he is generally the type of guy any community would love to have.  He and Luna, the game's main heroine have a sort of weird platonic relationship going on at the beginning, where she waves to him from her balcony and he waves back on his way to school.  It is cute in a really archaic way, and it is one of the reasons why I actually thought of this game more as a romance than a nukige.

Now, when he happens to encounter Luna in a berserk state in her true form, she drains him (just by touching him) in a way that would turn most people into a mummy.  However, he wakes up shortly after that, just fine and dandy.  This leads to him 'helping' her handle her overwhelming powers as a royal succubus (yes, that way) and attending the local international boarding school, which is a front for succubi and incubi to learn how to live amongst humans.  

Generally speaking, the game is split between culture shock shimoneta jokes, heroines being cute and falling for Kento in classic harem-ge style, and h-scenes born out of the heroines being unable to control their nympho genes in the common route.  The heroine routes, however, are surprisingly thoughtfully written.  The heroines have realistic worries based on their personalities, the parts of them hidden behind the casual eros and natural shimoneta talk come out, and there were actually scenes where I cried throughout the VN because of the intensity of emotion on the characters' parts.

This game has always been a quiet favorite of mine, simply because it took the best of romance, charage, and even nukige and somehow made a package that couldn't quite fit into any of those categories.  The music is actually fairly high quality (above the industry average), and the art style is surprisingly attractive, even now that it looks somewhat dated in retrospect.  For those who want more than casual eros, there are some really strange H-scenes in this game (the girls are succubi, after all), and it never goes down and gets dirty in the emotional sense, at least partly because of the way the girls regard sex in general.  

If you want a game with high sexual content, decent slice of life, shimoneta comedy, and good romance (if not godly) this game is an excellent choice... especially if you like nympho heroines.

Edit: I forgot to properly introduce the heroines.

Lunastia Astyr

The game's main heroine, the current titular head of the Astyr family and a throwback to the early ages of succubi, both in power and her need for life energy.  She has been quietly in love with Kento from afar for quite some time when the story begins.  She has also been surviving by draining flowers bought from his shop of energy to keep herself from going into seizures and randomly seeking life energy from those around her.  A kind-hearted, sensitive, and innocent (other than sex... she is a succubus, after all) girl who single-heartedly loves Kento.  In terms of pure power she is the strongest succubus in existence.  However, her hunger is such that draining a normal human of the entirety of their lifeforce would only give her a few weeks of satiation.  

Ririela Churack

Luna's maid and a member of the Churack family, which has produced retainers for the most powerful succubus clans for some time.  She is unusual amongst succubi for her bashful reactions to sex talk and her unwillingness to show skin if she can avoid it.  She is absolutely devoted to Luna, as Luna is both her best friend and her mistress.  She has a long-standing acquaintance with Kento from buying his flowers to bring to Luna.  For those who want a nearly-normal heroine, she is the best choice.

Euphoria Trinity

The daughter of the director of Trinity Hospital, a local hospital that caters to succubi as well as to the general public.  She works as a nurse while going to school, and she is considered a very reliable senpai.  She has always had a fondness for Kento, having known him from frequent conversations when he brings flower arrangements for the hospital lobby.  While she is powerful, she has a complex born of a physical aspect of her heritage that causes her issues in contact with the opposite sex, even her father (no, it isn't nymphomania, though all the heroines are nympho, technically).  She is definitely a 'ecchi oneesan' type.  

Tiana Gill Lilistia

The daughter of the school's owners, a stiff-necked tsundere ojousama who is a mass of inferiority complexes just waiting to explode.  However, at heart she is deeply passionate, deeply loving, and extremely hard worker.  As a classic tsundere, she tends to say the opposite of what she means more often than she would like, especially with Kento, as his relationship with Luna, whom she considers to be her rival, brings out her competitive side.  

Eris Erotis

The game's sub-heroine/extra heroine.  Called a 'walking violation of vulgarity laws', she heads up the one-member 'pleasure research club' and can generally be found to be linking every word and action to sex and pleasure in one way or another.  

Clephas

「かつて、核爆弾という殲滅兵器があったらしい。旧暦二十世紀に誕生した破壊の炎は、長らく人類を焼き尽くせる破壊の象徴だったんだとよ。 2500年代にもなればどの国でも当たり前の基本装備になり、それぞれが世界を焼き尽くせる量を保有しつつ、それぞれの領土へ常に矛先を向けていたそうだ。おまえ達が撃って来たらこっちも撃ち込んで滅ぼしてやる、という感じでな――いわゆる核抑止論というやつだ」

Dainsleif "In the distant past, there used to be a weapon of annihilation known as the nuclear bomb.  This destructive flame, born in the twentieth century of the old calendar, was for a long time the symbol of humanity's ability to destroy itself.  By 2500, it was basic equipment for every nation, every country had enough to wipe out the world, and they always had them pointed outward toward their rivals.  It was like, 'If you guys shoot, we'll destroy you'... in other words, it was the idea of a nuclear deterrent."

 破壊行動を一切止めぬまま、突然ダインスレイフは奇妙なことを語り始めた。大破壊で文明が滅びる前、旧西暦世界の歴史について口ずさむ。

Without stopping his destructive actions, Dainsleif suddenly began talking about something strange.  He spoke of what was before the Catastrophe obliterated civilization, of the old era's history.

「要はどこも人類全滅必至の力をもっていれば、怖くなって大きな戦争を起こさないという考えらしいが――何だそれは、舐めてんのか?」 

Dainsleif "The point of the theory was that if everyone had the ability to obliterate humanity, everyone would be too scared to start a war, but... what the hell is that?!  Were they making fun of each other?!"

ぞくり、と。聞く者の背筋を震わせるような悪寒が走る。今まで欠片も見せなかった怒りを顔に滲ませてダインスレイフは続けた。 紡がれる言葉はその一言ごとに殺意の圧力を発する言葉の刃。抑えようもなく溢れる暴竜の怒気に星辰体が感応し、大気を震わせていく。

A chill sufficient to make one shiver ran up the spines of those who could hear him.  Dainsleif suddenly showed his rage as he continued.  With every word, the pressure of his bloodlust came down on those around him like a blade of words.  The Astral around him responded and the atmosphere shook in response to the dragon's rage.

「どうして本気でやらなかった? なぜ全力を出さなかった? 本音を殺して、不本意を甘受して、求めた未来へ必死にならずわざわざ我慢し続けた? 大統領に総統、帝王……支配者なら普通考えるはずだろう? 世界征服ってやつをよォ。 自分以外のあらゆる国を這いつくばらせて、自分の国のためだけに生きる格下の奴隷国家として従えたいはずじゃねえのか? 世界の盟主になりたかろう? そのチャンスをどうしてわざわざ封じたんだ」

Dainsleif "Why didn't they go all in?!  Why didn't they use everything they had?  Why the hell did they bother hiding their true desires, endured their own reluctance, and went out of the way to keep their self-control instead of desperately seeking their desired future.  Presidents, Fuhrers, Emperors.... if you are a leader, wouldn't you think of this at least once?  ... World domination.  Wouldn't they want to make every country other than your own crawl on their bellies, living as slave nations for the good of your nation?  Wouldn't they want to become the ruler of the world?  Why did they go out of their way to eliminate that chance?"

「そいつらはなぜ、邪魔な国に核ミサイルを撃ちこもうと必死に努力しなかったんだ? おかしいだろうが、常識的に考えてッ」

Dainsleif "Why didn't they work their hardest to shoot nuclear missiles into the countries in their way?!  It doesn't make any sense, if you think about it logically!"

「くッ……」

Mistel "Kuh...!"

「うおおおお……ッ」

Ash "Uoooh...!"

 静かな、しかし他を圧倒するダインスレイフの情動に比例して激しさを増す暴星の嵐。邪竜の毒が世界を侵し、変質させていく。  暴れ狂う巨竜と化した戦場で、魔星は世の不条理を憎む正義のように持論を吐き散らしていた。 何故だ、ふざけるなと――光に焦がれる殉教者は凡愚たちへの憤りをもはや隠しもしない。抑えることなどできはしない。

The tyrant star's storm of Astral become more ferocious in direct proportion to the quiet - but overwhelming to all others - emotions Dainsleif was displaying.  The evil dragon's poison violated the world and changed it beyond repair.  On the battlefield which had itself become a giant dragon, the Masei proclaimed his own worldview like a form of justice that hates the world's unfairness.  'Why?  Don't give me that bullshit -' The martyr who longed for the Light couldn't hide his anger at the world's foolish masses.  He couldn't hold it back.

「止めようとする副官の家族構成をなぜ調べて脅さない? 発射命令を出す兵士をなぜ権威や金で懐柔しない? 秘密裏に協力者を募ろうとなぜ欠片もしようとしないのか? できるはずだ、やれるはずだ。必要な情報を調べるのにかかる年数はいったい幾らだ? 資金を、人材を集めるのにはどの程度の時間がかかる? 二十年、十年? いいや恐らく必死になれば五年程度でやれるだろう。 本気で自国以外を核の炎で焼き払う。それを真剣に考えて考えて努力して……鋼の決意で実行すればやってやれないはずはないのに」

Dainsleif "Why didn't they research the family structure of the subordinate trying to stop them and threaten them?  Why didn't they corrupt the soldiers who were to give the launch orders with power and money?  Why didn't they even try to secretly gather supporters?  They should have been able to do it, they were able to do it.  How long would it have taken them to gather the necessary information?  How much time to gather the money and personnel?  Twenty years?  Ten years?  No, most likely, if they put their all into doing it, they could have done it in five years.  To burn away all others outside their nation.  If they thought of it seriously and worked at it...  if they had the iron will to do it, there is no way they couldn't have."

「もったいねえ。英雄ならやるし邪竜もやるぞ? なぜなら常に本気だからだ。 一片の曇りもなく、一度決めたのなら怯まないし諦めねえ。ああ、ああ、ああ、ああ……なんだその様は、まるで生きちゃいねえぞオイ! 人の可能性を、人生の価値を、どこまで馬鹿にしてやがる……ッ!」

Dainsleif "What a waste.  The hero would have done it, and I would do it too!  For we are always deadly serious.  Once we decide to do something, we, without a hint of doubt, will never falter or give up.  Aah, aah, aah, aah... what is wrong with you?!  It's like you aren't even alive!  Just how far will you go to make fun of the value of life, of people's possibilities...!?"

 

Gotta love Dainsleif... one of the craziest game characters I've ever seen, right up there with Kefka from FF VI...

 

 

Clephas

In preparation for the release of the Silverio series' conclusion, Silverio Ragnarok, next month, I decided to replay Silverio Trinity, one of my favorite chuunige.  First, I should note that I consider the Silverio series to be one of the three most well-designed VN settings in existence.  One is Eushully's Dir Lifyna, the other being the Nasuverse (Type-Moon's Fate and Tsukihime universe).  In terms of details, unique aspects, and generally fascinating fun, they all have their high points.  Dir Lifyna's high points mostly revolve around the intricate dance of dark gods, light gods, old human world gods, demons, demi-humans, and the faith-based magic that make up its background.  The Fate/Tsukihime universe's strengths lie in its approach to the occult, the inhuman, the mystic, and the unnatural.  

Silverio's strengths lie in a combination of turn and turnabout philosophy mixed with a world that has survived the tribulations and trials of our own, plus another fifteen hundred years (and one cataclysm that ended our civilization).  As in the excerpt of Silverio Vendetta I previous translated, 

 

The first game had an intensive philosophical focus on the two extremes of victory and retribution.  Zephyr himself is defined as an eternal loser, whereas Valzeride, the antagonist, is defined as the ultimate victor.  

In many ways, Trinity is an answer to the question Vendetta poses, since Vendetta, despite its ending, didn't really pass judgment on the argument between the two extremes.  Trinity's protagonist, regardless of which path you are on, is a straightforward young man who is facing a fate that is in many ways far worse than Zephyr's in Vendetta was.  However, he is also potentially the second-wisest character in the game (behind Galahad, who is an example of the best kind of priest) in the game, depending on the path.  His experiences and his limitations have the potential to give him a perspective unique among all the characters in both games, which makes him an ideal protagonist for the second of three games.

Like most Light games, this game has over the top action... but it needs to be said that some of it is seriously crazy even for Light.  Gilbert is probably among the top three scariest characters I've seen in any otaku media... not so much for his abilities (though he is extremely capable) but for how his mind works.  He is unbelievably intelligent, simulating literally hundreds of potential outcomes for each action he takes, manipulating everyone involved in the story with a skill that makes my head hurt.  What is worse is that he is also ruthless without being in the least bit cold-blooded.  What do I mean?  Gilbert is the kind of guy who will kill someone, hate himself for it, and use his anger at himself for what he did to them as fuel to keep him going on his path.  

This game, like Vendetta, uses a very similar approach to telling its story to Dies Irae by Masada.  It is heavy on exposition, relying far less on the dialogue (in fact, dialogue is often as not used as an accent in key scenes) than is normal in most VNs, often waxing poetic about the characters' thought processes, their nature, and various other elements key to the scene.  

The story of Trinity is based three years after Vendetta in the city of Prague.  Prague is one of the few cities that remains mostly unchanged from our own era... save for the fact that the Japanese National Diet now sits in its center, making it a religious spot for the Japan-worshipers of the world-spanning religion based in Canterbury (which is also the name of the nation that rules the British Isles).  It is also a strategic key point for both Adler and Antaruya, two countries that have been at each other's throats for decades at the point this story begins.  As such, it has become a quiet battleground, with people fighting and dying in surprisingly large numbers but no one really acknowledging the conflicts in the open, so as to avoid showing weakness to the other two nations. 

In general, it is a pretty explosive setup.

Now, I love this game... on my third playthrough, I found myself translating random scenes and sending them to friends, who complained that if I was going to tempt them with excerpts, I should translate the entire thing (which of course, I didn't deign to respond to, lol).  It has its flaws (the fact that there is no Alice path... I'm a sucker for mature heroines who have survived horrible pasts more or less intact save for a wide streak of amorality), but it shows off the best of Light's non-Masada team's skills.  In fact, it was this game that led me to pronounce that they had surpassed Masada, simply because they have proven to be far more consistent than he is (he reminds me of George Lucas... dreaming grand, often poetic, but with eccentricities that get in the way and with a tendency to pander at weird moments).  

If you want a game with great exposition, an interesting concept, a deep setting, and great characters, this one is an excellent choice... if you've already played Vendetta.  Unfortunately, most of this game doesn't make sense without playing Vendetta.

Clephas

Yes I played this, for obvious reasons.  This is one of those rare nukige that makes an attempt at escaping being a nukige.  It attempts to have a story, has an interesting setting, and even has interesting heroines with dark pasts...

Unfortunately, there are places where it stumbles (and no, I'm not talking about the high H content).  The most obvious place it stumbles, for someone just starting it, is the horrible way the music is handled.  It cuts out in some scenes, has little connection with what is going on in others, and is outright (and completely so) generic at others.  Considering the money that had to have gone into the Live 2D system and the character visuals, this strikes me as being a singularly stupid way to handle things.  Yes, you don't expect a nukige to have GREAT music, but I do think a baseline of good music such as is seen in even the weakest charage, should be well-within the capabilities of even a newbie company.  I was horrified to see them reusing the 'everyday life' music heard in Norn/Miel games, which is pretty much the worst everyday life BGM in existence.

The character designs in this game, while not godly, are definitely done extremely well.  In particular, the kitsune Tamayo, the inugami Yanoe, and the yukionna Hisame have excellent character designs, even if the latter two are just a bit off from my personal tastes.  You can tell that a large portion of the budget for this game was put into the character designs, and it definitely pays off.  

Live 2D is, like most motion animation, a waste of money.  It doesn't really add anything to the experience (except for people who just want to see boobs bounce), and it requires an engine that is so bug-ridden that the weirdest crap can render it inoperable (I hate Unity engine).  

Now, for the story... and there is a story, albeit not a great one.  Essentially, the protagonist, due to some kind of mess in his past lives (and he has a large number of them, lol) is cursed with bad luck, to the point where if something bad is going to happen in the area he is in, it will always hit him.  One night, he encounters a beautiful kitsune during a kimodameshi at his school (for those unfamiliar with it - in other words, people who don't normally play SOL games - a kimodameshi is basically a staged test of courage), who promptly and gleefully reverse-rapes him (though he gets into it halfway through).  The next day, the class idol, Tenko Tamayo, is all over him, and eventually he ends up learning about youkai and their relationship with humanity.

To be honest, what bothers me most about this game, after finishing it, is the fact that every single one of these paths at least meets charage-level and possibly nakige-level requirements for writing and scenario.  Unfortunately, the music and oddly-timed jumps into H-scenes tends to break things up whenever they start to get really serious.  Moreover, some of the paths (Yanoe's in particular) sometimes get weird jumps from decision-making to the results, taking out a lot of the fun of watching the characters struggle.  

Nonetheless, since I enjoyed the youkai H, the setting, and Tamayo's path, I added extra points that kept it out of the gutter in my vndb list, lol.

Clephas

Umm... wow?

This game is seriously out there.  

Yes, I needed to start with that.  Love Destination's every aspect is more than a little crazy.  It starts with a salaryman in his late thirties dying in a car accident and being told by the lazy-ass woman at the gates that she accidentally killed him on a whim.  She offers him a chance to start over from the branching point of his life (after several other attempts to cover her own incompetence), and he ends up going back in time... only to choose to go to the girls' school he previously refused to go to.  

Now, up until this, you might think this was a charage... but that couldn't be any further from the truth.  This game is a seriously screwed up plotge with a scenario designed by someone with a rather twisted mind.  There are four paths in this game, one monogamist and the other three threesomes.  There are also a ton of bad endings at two normal endings (some of them branching off from the paths).  

Now, up until now I've focused on how crazy this game is, but I need to say that this game has some negative aspects I need to state early on.  First, though the scenario itself is actually at kamige tier, the writing is... second-rate?  I felt like I was reading something by someone who loved chuunige but also liked to insert symbols in the place of words.  A lot of this game already has furigana even without a parser because of this, which bemused me somewhat.  Personally, I found the methods this writer used to be pure eye and brain cancer, so if you are a fan of god-tier writing, you aren't going to be happy with this game.  I seriously empathize with anyone who might attempt to translate this, lol.  

Second is the protagonist and his osananajimi.  The protagonist, in his previous life, was the type of guy who, rather than seeking out positives, always sought to eliminate negatives.  As a result, he ended up on the lowest rungs of a decaying Japanese society that was on the verge of losing its sovereignty before his death.  While he does try to change in his new life (literal), it is only in the actual heroine paths and at the end of the common route that he actually starts to strip away the layers of cowardice that make up his personality.  He does this in a grand fashion in several of the paths, so I can forgive the way he is at the beginning... but I really hate his interactions with his osananajimi Mayuri early on.  Mayuri keeps insisting he act in a way convenient to her without ever actually getting around to telling him what she wants from him.  That this is true both in his former life and in his new life is one point that annoyed me to no end.

Rina and Shina

The Otona sisters are descendants of foreigners from northern Europe (so no, the older sister did not dye her hair).  Early on, the relationship between Shina and the protagonist is almost antagonistic, whereas Rina is so quiet she is not in the picture.  Shina pretends at being a delinquent, but she fails utterly (even moreso because the protagonist sees through her easily), but she does, unfortunately, have a relationship with real delinquents.  

Honestly, I can't dig deep into the heroines' personalities without ruining the experience for you all, so I'll stick to a vague description of what the path is like.  I didn't bother with bad or normal endings on this path.  In this path, the protagonist gets caught up in the twisted problems hidden beneath the surface of the seemingly normal sisters and is forced to grow far beyond his previous limits in order to deal with what he finds there.  The actual events that occur in this path are... dark and depressing until things turn out all right.  This path is probably too muddy for anyone interested in a simple romance, but I thought the ending made everything worth it, since I loved both heroines (despite their... issues).  

Mayuri and Sakurako

Mayuri is the protagonist's overbearing osananajimi (who has the worst kind of tsundere thing going) and Sakurako is her best friend, a rich girl who obviously has certain 'tendencies'.  Most of this path focuses on this particular love triangle's difficulties (Protagonist>Mayuri<Sakurako), and there are a lot of facepalm moments involved... mostly because all three have similar personalities hidden under different facades.  Now, this path's impression, for me... was that it was good but exhausting.  

I liked the solution they came to in the end, and I had to rofl at some of the weirder moments.  However, the antagonist of the path is a seriously exhausting person... and this is the first time in the VN that I encountered her (vicariously).  The first scene in which she appears left me needing to watch something fluffy, so I went and watched a few episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura to cleanse some of that atmosphere's effects on my mind.  

This path is quite a bit less dramatic and dark than the previous path... and thus it lacks the sheer gravity born of comparison when you watch the ending.  Still, it is a pretty good path, with an interesting concept.

Ai

Ai's path is the only monogamous path in the game, and Ai herself is a somewhat 'mysterious' heroine.  Her role in the story is minimal... until you do her path.  For various reasons, I recommend that anyone who plays this game do this path last, as it spoils all the other paths' secrets.  

Since Ai's path draws on elements from all the other paths, many of the events and revelations were familiar to me.  For obvious reasons, I left the Mizuki/Karin path to last, but in terms of experiencing the story as it is meant to be experienced, it is better to do this path last.  

Ai appears randomly throughout the common route, often questioning the protagonist's ridiculous good luck (which does seem ridiculous toward the end of the common route, though the heroine routes reveal that his luck isn't as good as it seems), and she has a familiar role to many true heroines... the heroine it shouldn't be possible to get together with.

Now, I'm not questioning whether this trope works.  I've played any number of VNs where this trope was used effectively to create truly exceptional stories.  Indeed, this path is one of the single best uses of the trope I've ever seen.  However, the ending feels waaay too convenient in comparison to the other paths.  Yes, it was exhilarating to see the antagonist of the game getting what she deserved, but the way they went all mystic with the ending gave me a headache.

Mizuki and Karin

Yes, I played this path.  No, I didn't play this path for the H (as one guy joked with me as I conversed with him on discord).  Instead, the events in Ai's path made me curious enough to get over my inhibitions.  Well, to be straight, this is a weird yandere SM path.  Well, that is the relationship anyway... both heroines are a bit crazy/obsessive/possessive/etc.  

This path was surprisingly good, despite the fact that I had to actually read the h-scenes to get to parts of the story (normally, I skip h-scenes, but the first few are vital to progression of the story, as are some later).  I also found myself laughing through much of the latter parts of the path, despite the darkness of what was going on, because both Mizuki and Karen are so... out there.  Their common sense and personalities are pretty abnormal by most standards, though they grew on me as the path reached its end.

The ending... well, like most of the paths in this game, the ending was good.  I still like the twins' ending the best, though.

Conclusion

Well, this game was an unexpected treat.  It doesn't really fall into any established genre beyond 'plotge', and the writer/writers (no names are listed) are not the most skilled out there (tons of typos, use of symbols in place of words, etc), but the story itself was pretty interesting.  The only 'downside' to the whole thing is that you only ever really see the heroines truly happy near the end and in the epilogue.  

 

 

 

Clephas

For those who read my reviews, you will have probably heard me refer to catharsis as a positive element in VNs.  I push catharsis like it is the best new designer drug on the market I'm dealing and you are my customers.  So... the question that occurred to me recently was, what is the meaning and value of catharsis?

First, while the strict dictionary definition of catharsis in literature refers to a emotional, moral, and spiritual release or cleansing, I can honestly say that the word as I use it is a bit narrower in definition.  The way I have used it in the past is to refer to the emotional release that comes with empathizing with a character's troubles and tribulations to the point where your own internal stresses and emotions are blown out the door with those of the characters.  Mostly, this has referred to nakige and utsuge style situations where the protagonist and/or heroines are suffering and are either released from that suffering or it comes to its natural end.  

However, in the larger sense, catharsis can also occur with positive scenes (not just release from stressful scenes).  As an example, the Ruri and Ruka ending of Akeiro Kaikitan.  Spoilers for Akeiro Kaikitan below

Spoiler

Where Yashiro lies on his deathbed in extreme old age, Ruri and Ruka, the twin goddesses conversing with him.  The lifetime of happiness they had together, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren he left behind to ensure they would never again be alone, and his joy at knowing that he was able to fulfill his promise to them to the very end... is so poignant that, while I weep for Yashiro's death and Ruri and Ruka's loss, I am driven to awe by the sheer depth of the love he shows for the twins in this case, looking beyond the selfish and possessive love that is romance to save them from their fate of eternal isolation, even after his death.

All humans have crud that builds up in their psyche over days, weeks, months and years.  Stress from loneliness, stress from being around people, stress from loss, stress from fear of failure... stress builds up no matter what kind of life you live.  Catharsis in fiction is one method of blowing the built up crud out of your system by flooding yourself with an extreme buildup that is released at the moment they reach their peak, taking your stresses with them.  

For this reason, catharsis will always be an important element in fiction.  It is the reason why nakige and utsuge never really fade in popularity when other VN genres are in flux, and it is also the reason why sappy emotional stories will always be a staple of all forms of media.  There are many stresses in life that cannot be removed from your life experience.  However, a good catharsis moment can provide relief and bring you back on even keel in a way that is far better for you than indulging in alcohol or other traditional methods.  

Edit: I probably shouldn't post this, but it was only because of catharsis in fiction that I was able to live this long.  Just being around people is extremely stressful to me, as is dealing with people as part of work.  In my worst moments, I've even thought about how wonderful it would be if I just had an aneurysm and toppled over right then and there.  Fiction has been saving my life repeatedly on a weekly basis for almost twenty-seven years... and as such, I think there is no way to underestimate the value of catharsis in fiction to those of us who have social issues.  

Clephas

First, Smee is one of the few companies I've never bothered with in the past.  There were a number of reasons, but it all came down to one issue in the end... I don't like VNs where you name the protagonist.  Naming the protagonist inevitably means the protagonist is a shallow cipher/non-person whose personality and characterization can be changed to fit which heroine he is with.  As such, I tend to avoid games where it is possible to do so.

HaremKingdom was an exception for two reasons... one, I like harem games... and the second reason is that I love isekai (no matter how bad it is).  In this case, the protagonist is summoned to a kingdom in another world, where he is informed that he is the last member of the royal family and has to form a harem or he'll die.  Now, this 'sex under the necessity' (once a vndb tag, don't know if it still is) setting would normally have put me off... but instead of jumping on it, the protagonist is scared to death of the idea (he has trouble talking to women).  This kept my interest past the point where I usually would have dropped the game... and I'm glad it did.

The major draws of this game are the unrelenting humor (it is a constant rain of jokes of various sorts, though usually dirty), mild romance, and the H, which is frequently hot.  The heroines are varied (the cool and collected Premier of the kingdom, Marue; the shy and defensive slave girl, Kiki; the manipulative merchant noble's daughter, Charlotte; the innocent but mischievous princess Sophia; and the osananajimi who knows everything about the protagonist, Hikari) and interesting enough to wet the appetite of your average harem-loving otaku, and they actually manage to grow to a degree after getting close to the protagonist.

The game's main peculiarity is how it handles routes... instead of having pure heroine routes, you instead choose what type of harem you want to create (each has a heroine who suggested it and serves as the primary for the path) and things proceed from there.  

This is where the typical 'personality alteration' of a nameable protagonist comes in... but it is oddly not harmful in this case, since pretense at storytelling is fairly limited here.  Yes, there is a bit of story to tell, but it isn't that important.  What stands out more is the sheer hilarity of what I experienced in the two paths I went through.  For the first time in a while, I couldn't restrain my need to laugh hysterically until tears and snot were running down my face... and that alone is a good enough reason to play this game... or at least, that is how I feel.

Clephas

First, it should be noted that this game was planned and written by Watanabe Ryouichi, who also wrote the Harumade series (Harumade Kururu, Natsukumo Yururu, etc).  As such, it is - quite predictably - a mindfuck game.  Don't expect SOL romance in the traditional sense, because that isn't the kind of game this is.

This game has two protagonists... the first is the normal-seeming Koumi Masataka, who begins the story by encountering Sarasa, the game's main heroine, as she eats canned saba miso (mackerel in miso) at a convenience store.  The other protagonist is Tsubaki, a young woman who spends her nights obsessing over videos of deaths of all types and thinking about herself in the same situation (it is more complex than that, but if I explain too much, you won't get to experience the creepy weirdness properly).  

While this game has four heroines, there is only one actual path.  All choices that go off that path lead to cut-off endings ten lines later (which makes sense in the context of full knowledge of the mindfuck), so there really is no point in picking them.  For H-freaks, there are multiple h-scenes for each heroine... just don't expect happy romance endings, since there is only a single ending.

There isn't a whole lot I can say about this game besides what I said above without ruining it for you, but I'll tell you what I liked that doesn't touch upon the mindfuck or main story.  I really liked the way the Preppers Club members got along, as they are one of those 'group of friends' that can't seem to stay on topic for more than a few seconds at a time (usually due to Yaotome Hanae making a sex joke or one of the others bringing up a subject that derails the conversation).  As such, I found many of the scenes involving the club highly amusing.

Tsubaki and Amika's relationship is pretty weird, by any standard.  I won't go into details, but don't expect lots of soft normal emotions there.  

As a conclusion, I can recommend this to fans of the Harumade series and the mindfuck niche in general.  It is often hard to follow what is happening due to the way the story is told, but, even with that, it was an enjoyable ride.

Clephas

Whatever else you can say about Skyfish's Soleil series, they never do the same thing (precisely) twice in a row.

The Soleil series is based in a multiverse that comes into existence after the end of Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods from Norse mythology.  Previous entries in the series have ranged from your typical old-style chuunige (Shirogane no Soleil) to crazed ventures into chaotic medlies of Norse, Chinese, and Cthulhu Mythos (Gouen no Soleil).  

Blade x Bullet is perhaps the  most straight-out 'after-story' of Norse mythology in the series yet.

Based in a world that is pretty much identical to our own (in fact, the US president in the setting is pretty familiar, lol), a decade or so before the beginning of the story, monsters called Gears, the undead remnants of the ancient deities, giants, and monsters killed in Ragnarok, have pretty much exterminated humanity.  Artificial Valkyries, made from weapons that have tasted the blood of many, the flesh of a mortal woman, and the soul of a Valkyrie, are the only weapon said to be capable of taking them on... but most nations failed to make them until it was too late (the US being the only exception, as their president was a crazy who took one look at the tech and put massive amounts of money into it, eventually making his daughter into one).  The protagonist, Yagi Mutsuki, is one of the rare humans who can and have fought the Gears on his own and taken them down, and at the beginning of the story, he dies and drops into Hel (Norse underworld) where the goddess of the same name informs him that he is the vessel of her father Loki's soul, and he wants him to join in a competition to determine which Valkyrie will become the god of the new world... and ensure that humanity's hope is cut off forever.  He then uses his dead lover's hair and an iron maiden (yes, the torture device) to make his Valkyrie, Reginleif (a Valkyrie who almost always seems to draw the short straw no matter what entry in the series she appears in).

Yagi Mutsuki is... pretty much what you would expect from the mortal incarnation of the Norse god Loki.  His essential nature is definitely chaotic, leaning toward evil.  He is something of a sadist, a schemer, and a trickster.  If there is a direct path and a twisty curvy path to the same goal, he will almost always take the twisty-curvy path.  He is also a blood-hungry warrior, almost a berserker.  Yet, it is surprisingly fun to watch him navigate the darkness of the competition.  He is capable of a limited sort of compassion... but he himself is never quite sure what he is feeling during those times when he shows it.

I'm going to be blunt... this is the most graphic game in the series, and while this series isn't known for being as extreme as stuff like Venus Blood, it definitely has its guro moments.  For those with a weak stomach or an aversion to blood, I recommend you find something else to play.  In addition, this is a game where the 'good guys' are actually worse than the natural villains, so I don't recommend this to people who like black and white stories or have problems when heroines happen to be serial killers or psychopaths.

However, it is also one of the most satisfying entries in the series, not the least because it doesn't waste time on separate routes in a game that has such a central plot.  The central story is there, it is interesting (if not godly), and it is a fun read, even with the more distasteful elements such as torture and SM.  Mutsuki's relationship with Reginleiv is so hilarious I often found myself giggling during serious scenes.  

In addition, there were some elements I found fascinating... such as Loki's punishment for his role in Ragnarok (I won't spoil it for you, but it is an interesting one), and how they integrated the various elements of the mythos into the flow of the story.   

While I don't consider this to be the best game in the series (I have a strong fondness for Gouen no Soleil), it is the easiest to pick up, because it isn't long enough to cause brain fry, but it is interesting enough that you won't feel like you wasted your time.

Clephas

First, I should state for those who are unfamiliar with my history that I have played a seriously ridiculous number of SOL romance/charage over the past decade.  While the sheer number I played exhausted me and I frequently desired something else to play, I don't think I ever came to truly hate the genre, regardless of how much it bored me.  What I liked most were ones that contained science fiction, fantasy, or science fantasy elements.  

Now, for those who are unclear about the differences between the genres (in other words, people who aren't nerds/experienced readers of the genres), I'll go ahead and explain them.

Fantasy is a genre where some element, if not most of the elements, of the setting/settings ignore physical limits without any explanation of how they might fit into existing physics (magic, esp, monster summons, etc).  As the genre name indicates, it involves the fantastical, quite literally.  This is further separated into urban (also known as 'junk' fantasy) and high fantasy, the Dresden Files (book series by Jim Butcher) falling into the former and Lord of the Rings falling into the latter category.  

Science fiction is a genre that creates a futuristic or near-future setting with a believable tech advance that fundamentally alters how the world functions.  'Believable' means that it at least claims to be based off of a more advanced version of existing physics.  An obvious example of science fiction for those unfamiliar with the genre would be the Star Trek series, which, while fantastical and often defying belief, nonetheless speculates about a world that simply grew out of modern science and tech.

Science Fantasy is a less-defined genre that stands between fantasy and science fiction.  While many concepts might be based on outgrowths of 'maybe' or existing science, in science fantasy there will also be elements of the impossible or fantastical, such as esp, magic, or some other element that can't be explained by science even within the universe it exists in.  Classic examples that might or might not be familiar to you in Western media would be Star Wars or the Deathstalker Saga (a book series by Simon Green).  

This is a relatively short list of high-quality games in each genre that have an SOL focus for those who like a bit of escapism without digging into a deep story or insanely complex setting.

Science Fiction

Ai Yori Aoi Umi no Hate

Prism Recollection

Koko Kara Natsu no Innocence

Akabanzu

Fantasy

Ayakashi Contract

Ore no Tsure wa Hitodenashi

Princess Frontier

Hyakka Ryouran Elixir

Curio Dealer

Suzunone Seven

Sakigake Generation

Haruru Minamo ni

Senren Banka (translated)

Sanoba Witch (translated)

Tenshin Ranman (supposedly still to be translated)

Cafe Stell to Shinigami no Chou

Bokura no Sekai ni Shukufuku o

Uso series by Campus (Fuyu Uso, Aki Uso, Haru Uso, Natsu Uso)

Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni

Gokudou no Hanayome

Konna ko ga Itara Boku wa Mou...!!

Lunaris Filia

Magus Tale

Suzukaze no Melt

Natsu no Majo no Parade

Primary Magical Trouble Scramble

Valkyrie Runabout

Shuffle (series)

Tayutama (original)

Toki o Tsumugu Yakusoku

Wakaba-iro no Quartet

Science Fantasy

Kamikaze Explorer

Kokorone Pendulum

World Election

Kizuna Kirameku Koi Iroha

Unionism Quartet

Otomimi Infinity

Sakura Iro Quartet

Sekai o Sukuu dake no Kantan na Oshigoto

 

 

As you can see, it is really heavy on fantasy, mostly because fantasy is easier on the limited skills of a charage writer.  Similarly for science-fantasy.  

Clephas

Haruru Minamo ni is one of my favorite games by one of my favorite charage companies, Clochette.  Clochette is known for a combination of decent stories, moe-ero (sexy and moe) heroines, and fantasy/sci-fi settings.  Haruru Minamo ni is based in the same world as Amatsu Misora Ni, which is - ironically - my least favorite Clochette game.  In this world, the idea and existence of Japanese-style deities is a self-evident reality.  This is partly due to the fact that 'arahitogami' (kami who take a human shape and live as humans) come into existence regularly enough that they are obviously recognizable and accepted as what they are.

This game has five heroines: The protagonist's little sister and goddess of the mountain, Miori; the new sea goddess of Tamatsue, Kanau; a young thunder goddess named Mei; Tatsuki's (the protagonist) and Miori's osananajimi Ena; and the fisherman's daughter Asumi. 

Miori comes across as the most level-headed of the five heroines, having been a goddess from birth, rather than ascending to the position.  She was 'raised' to a great degree by her older brother, and she is all-too-aware of how the task of raising her has shaped his personality and way of looking at the world.  She has all of her worshippers' names, faces, situation, and lifestyles (and that of their relatives to the fourth degree) memorized, and she is the trusted and beloved goddess of the mountain.  She is also a heavy gamer (console) due to the fact that the siblings' ancestor (the first goddess of the mountain) having promised to remain upon the mountain, thus binding her to the old town around her shrine, thus making her a homebody.  She is the epitome of the Japanese idea of a tochigami, being able to express her will anywhere within her territory and protecting it against misfortune.  Obviously, she is a brocon.

Kanau is a young girl who became a goddess at a relatively late age, and as a result, she doesn't have great control of her powers.  She is also extremely unlucky and tends to draw misfortune to herself to an extreme degree.  However, she also has a hidden core of steel in her spirit that lets her get up after every failure with relatively little help or interference.  Her kind and hard-working nature show a great deal of potential, though it is, as of the beginning of the VN, unrealized.

Mei is the incarnation of a bolt of lightning given the form of a girl after attaining divinity.  Unlike Kanau, who is learning to be a goddess because she was born human, Mei needs to do so because she has had little connection with humans.  She is very straight-laced and honest, telling people what she thinks upfront. Her emotions are obvious, but she will often hold herself back for the sake of what she thinks is right.  She desperately wants to be of use to humankind, but she has no idea of how to go about it.  

Ena is the daughter of a Japanese sweets shop owner and the Yamagami siblings' osananajimi.  She is an easygoing, kind-hearted girl who cares about others first and foremost, without a malicious bone in her body.  Having grown up around Miori and Tatsuki, she knows them almost better than they know themselves, and thus she has made a point of restraining her long-held feelings for Tatsuki and keeping them below the surface.  For better or worse, she is the type of girl who suffers as a result of her tendency to put others first.

Asumi is a seemingly standoffish daughter of a fisherman.  Having been raised near the sea, she became an excellent swimmer at a young age.  However, she quit the swimming club and now avoids swimming anywhere but the mountain river, avoiding the seas like the plague.  She also doesn't believe in deities, feeling deeply betrayed by them for reasons that come obvious later.  Despite this, she is actually very straightforward and easy to get along with... once you understand she doesn't like wasting time on small talk.  

Mei

Mei has the cutest dere of all the heroines, I'm just going to say right up front.  Think 'cat who absolutely adores her master' and you'll get an idea.  Mei's path is pretty heavy on ichaicha... but since her dere is cute in a good way and there is little romance drama to annoy me past the actual stage of them getting together, I didn't mind either time I played it.  

Her path's drama is mostly centered around her growing as a kami by being loved by Tatsuki (yes, seriously), so most of it isn't that serious.  However, there are a few 'trouble moments', especially toward the end of the path.  Nonetheless, all is well that ends well, and the path is tied off nicely.

Spoiler

Mei as a mom made me cry with happiness...

Miori

Miori, despite her efforts to keep her brother at arm's length, is a rather self-evident brocon.  This is fairly typical of Clochette imouto heroines (incidentally, Clochette little sister routes are some of the best out there, though they lack the twisted stuff you see in some other companies' lineups).  However, this is made more complex by the background of the two.  The first part of the path, the formation of the relationship, is more of a clash of positions: brother/sister, priest/goddess along with a bunch of other baggage that was inevitable.  However, it does make it a lot more interesting than your typical 'incest is bad' drama you see in most imouto routes.

Miori and Tatsuki, once they get together are somewhat... intense.  This was also the case with Mei, but if Mei and Tatsuki were an extreme version of the typical bakkouple (idiot lovers), Miori and Tatsuki are so insanely intimate (think finishing each other's sentences half the time) that it takes it in a somewhat different direction.  There is some significant drama near the end of the path that is very, very revealing about the setting in general... but because of that, I would recommend that first-timers play most of the other routes before this one (Kanau's and Miori's can be done at the end) for the best experience.  

Asumi

Honestly, as a character, I like Asumi the most of the five heroines.  However, I have to say her dere is more 'hidden' than the other girls, as her feelings don't really reach the surface in the same way as the others.  As a result, in her path, you don't get to enjoy the kind of melty deredere crazy couple ichaicha you do in Miori or Mei's path.  On the other hand, her path is a gift to those who like intimacy over brain-melted ichaicha.  

Asumi's romance starts the most 'naturally' of the three paths I've played this time so far.  This is probably because she isn't a goddess (meaning Tatsuki's hangups aren't as strong an issue in that stage of the relationship), and Asumi's seduction of Tatsuki happening to be a lot more subtle than the others because of the way she handles emotions.

Honestly, I don't like the way this path ended, in comparison to the way the previous two did.  While it is highly emotional, it also trips one of my major most-hated tropes

Spoiler

The 'lose the powers you gained' trope.

Kanau

Kanau is a pretty straightforward girl in every way... but the beginning of the romantic part of this path is seriously weird.  I mean, it is a Clochette game, so sexually charged scenes are normal but...

The attraction of Kanau's path is the way she starts to change things in Tamatsue as a result of her personality.  While Kanau isn't my favorite heroine, she definitely has a strong path worthy of a main heroine.  

This path can be considered to be the 'main' or central path of the game, as it has the most story-focused approach, whereas most of the other paths had a tighter focus on the lovey-dovey aspects, with the story growing like weeds between ichaicha moments.  That said, it isn't like this path makes the other heroines feel underserved.  Rather, it feels more like a natural extension of what was going on from the beginning.  

Conclusion

I'm not a fan of Ena's path or Ena as a heroine (Ena as a side or helper character is ideal, but I don't like her type as heroines).  As such, I'm not interested in replaying her path.  This game in general is Clochette at its best, in particular the way there are so many diverse elements interacting with the central characters, as opposed to the charage standard, which generally has only the heroines, the protagonist, and maybe a few friends with relatively few other connections.  There are mild cathartic moments, humor, and ecchi enough for anyone who likes a more varied 'flavor' in their charage, and the heroine paths actually have a story to tell, not just a 'romance'.  I recommend this for people who want some mild fantasy and story in a primarily SOL setup (and for people who like heroines who happen to be attached to oppai).  

Clephas

Amairo Chocolata

This is the second mimikko game from January's releases, a pure moege made by Cabbage Soft, the makers of two other games, both of which I disliked (perfect examples of charage/moege slogs in the sugary and brainless mud).  I can't honestly say that Amairo Chocolata is that different from the company's other games... but I'm willing to forgive a lot for mimikko heroines.

This game is pretty short, so short I finished it in just under eight hours (it's been a while since I bothered with a game as empty of content that it was this short).  Like most 'pure moege', this game is essentially endlessly cute with no real content beyond cuteness, adorableness, and H-scenes.  That I was able to get through it is a mark of how much my fetishes drive me, but it also brought about a severe response from my old battle scars from years of playing such games.  

The two heroines in this game are Chieri (the loli catgirl) and Mikuri (the miko doggirl).  Chieri is a straight-out tsundere, whereas Mikuri is a straightforward tennen genkikko heroine.  I can honestly say that there isn't a ton of depth to either of them or the protagonist, and I was more than a little dissatisfied that they focused entirely upon the cafe as the setting.  With some work, it would have been possible to make this game a lot more intimate-feeling and turn both heroines and the two side-characters into something more unique.  Unfortunately, such efforts were severely lacking, meaning that I played this game solely for ears and tails.

Clephas

First, this was written partially by Morima Marimo, one of Light and Campus's writers who specializes in naki-scenes and SOL.  Marimo has always sort of stood in the shadows of the other Light writers, but in terms of multi-genre versatility, he (she?) is worlds above the other writers employed by Light.

This game is one of the few 'ladder-style' story structure games that haven't driven me into a rage.  The simple reason is that the main story is more interesting than the little side trips into heroine-land.  This is surprisingly rare in this type of game, where many games using the ladder-style tend to accidentally make a side-story or character more interesting than the main or do it inconsistently.  The other reason, obviously, is that it is also a fetish-game.  This game has twelve mimikko (kemomimi, animal-ear) heroines, more than enough for any of us who love this type of thing.  I can forgive a lot of things for a set of cat ears.

The story focuses on the protagonist, Akinari, who can speak to animals, a skill that has led to him being somewhat isolated from most of his peers, with rare exceptions.  At the same time, it is also the story of the anthropomorphized 'etogami' (the twelve animals of the zodiac) who are suddenly thrust into his life as family.  

Akinari is an altruist.  He gives out love to those around him (and no, not that kind, though accidents happen, lol) without reserve, and he has the strength of personality to empathize with just about anyone, given a reason.  

This story is something of a nakige, told in fourteen chapters (common routes>12 zodiac heroine arcs>true arc).  Except for the common route, which took me about six to seven hours to complete, each individual chapter, if you don't choose to read the zodiac girls' romance paths, took between one and a half to two hours, depending on the heroine.  Most of the heroines have a cathartic moment (exception is Takami), and the last arc is heavy on the catharsis, as you discover just why the 12 etogami suddenly ended up gathered in Tenbu (the name of the town).

If you like cry-worthy back-stories and stories about affection beyond reincarnation, this is a great VN to read.  However, those who want more extensive heroine paths will inevitably be disappointed, because the main story is the focus of the game.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and not just because they somehow managed to create such a wide variety of heroines without any real overlaps in personality.

Clephas

Yes, I'm going to go there.  I've actually been asked this more by my Japanese friend/supplier than anyone else, but I've always refrained from answering except to name one or two that I liked.  However, I made the mistake of watching a few imouto anime on a binge a few weeks ago, and I began seriously considering which little sister paths were the best in the VNs I've played up until now.  Note that I say these are the best 'paths', not necessarily the best imouto heroines.  To be blunt, imouto heroines are a dime a dozen, and I've seen every variation on the concept a dozen times over, so I'm focusing on which paths were best, starting from ten, counting down to one.  

First, little sisters in these will not include cousin paths unless they were raised under the same roof as siblings.  Adopted sisters will be included, as will blood-related sisters who were parted from the protagonist for long periods of time.

10.  Kuguyama Konoka (Prism Recollection by Clochette)

Spoiler

Like many of the best imoutos out there, Konoka partially stands out because of her attachment to her brother... which is often shown in odd ways (such as making perverted conversations with him and generally ignoring common sense if she doesn't like it).  Konoka suffers from severe problems with both short-term and long-term memory, to the point where she is heavily reliant on diaries, pictures, and sketches to keep herself from losing everything she loves.  Honestly, when I had to pick a Clochette imouto (and for an imouto list, there has to be one, since Clochette imoutos are usually so good), I picked her without any real hesitation.

9.  Shimazu Akira (Komorebi no Nostalgica)

Spoiler

Akira is the hacker sister of the more 'normal' (though still capable in general) protagonist of the game.  She is a genius, with a tendency toward relying on her brother and going crying to him when she messes up.  Like all the paths of this game, her path ends up wrapped up in dealing with the issues of their times and dealing with the troubles surrounding Cinema's discovery.  

8.  Minori Hikari (Unmei Yohou o Oshirase Shimasu)

Spoiler

You may be wondering why I have never really pushed this VN despite the fact that this path is on my list... but there are good reasons.  Hikari was manipulated into extreme dependence on her big brother from a very young age... and oniichan forgot that he did it.  Generally speaking, the protagonist in this game is an awful person with horrible tendencies.  However, this path was deliciously twisted and full of mutual dependence, so I had to put it here.

7.  Kurosaki Sayo (Aoi Tori)

Spoiler

The relationship between Sayo and the protagonist of Aoi Tori is twincest at its best and worst.  There is love, dependence, and all the twisted up relationship hangups you see in this kind of situation, coupled with the dark fate that hangs over their heads.  Honestly, this path was both nicely twisted and full of the kind of passionate love you want to see in this kind of case, so I can definitely recommend it to incest lovers.  It is, however, coupled with a bittersweet ending.

6.  Hasuno Saki (Hapymaher)

Spoiler

Setting aside the fact that Saki is a 'fake' imouto, she nonetheless lived the life of Tohru's little sister for well over a decade for his sake, setting aside her romantic feelings and desires for the sake of helping him retain his sanity.  This is not a small thing, as Saki's feelings toward him are blatantly obvious in her reactions when she discovers he has begun dreaming about Maia.  I moved this one above Aoi Tori because Saki's relationship with Tohru is as deep as Sayo's with her brother, without the blood relationship to accelerate things.

5.  Kaede (Shuffle Essence)

Spoiler

Say what you want about the translated version, but Kaede is one of the single most recognizable yandere imoutos in VN and anime history.  Kaede's jealous reactions became a template for many later anime and games, and to this day, when you want a heroine's jealousy to come out of dependence, Kaede is the model.  If I didn't have her on this list, someone would be pissed.

4.  Tokitani Shinobu (Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru)

Spoiler

To be honest, this relationship is one of the most heart-wrenching on this list, not the least because both the protagonist and Shinobu had no choice as children but to run away from their respective parents, out of fear for their lives and health.  The way the protagonist 'adopted' Shinobu and devoted himself absolutely to her safety and protecting her from the harsh choices of their time as homeless runaways is one of the single most touching backstories I've seen in a VN.  That this lifestyle didn't last long before they were taken in by old man Tatara doesn't erase the fact that they are ferociously devoted to one another, almost to the point of madness.  Shinobu is quite obviously in love with the protag from the beginning, and I honestly never considered anyone else in the game for this role, despite the fact that the 'true' heroine is the other imouto character.  

3.  Saisu Riku (Floral Flowlove)

Spoiler

Riku, by design, is almost a non-person, an adviser in all paths but her own.  However, in her path, the true path, her true nature becomes obvious... and it is a good one.  I refuse to spoil things for you, and while the game itself is not unpredictable, the presentation is top class.  On the surface she seems like your typical immature and selfish imouto character... but she is entirely something else once you get a chance to know her. 

2.  Asagiri Futaba and Ichiha (Realive)

Spoiler

Realive might not be Purple Software's best work (I still think Hapymaher is, though the Aoi Tori fanboys will argue with me over it), but the true path of Realive is rather obviously one of the best imouto paths ever.  The twisting, intertwined relationship between the brother and his two sisters is so weirdly messed up that by the end of this VN you'll have trouble keeping straight just what happened.  It is also an emotional rollercoaster that reminds me of many of the best nakige moments I've had over the past decade.

1.  Shimazu Aki (Reminiscence)

Spoiler

Despite putting this in a spoiler box, I'm not going to spoil her path for you.  Aki and her brother have an intensely antagonistic relationship that is full of actively lethal hatred and contempt.  Aki seems to be living solely to see her brother suffer, and she only reluctantly participates in activities that might somehow help him.  Of course, once you know the full story of what happened in their past and her brother's thoughts, you'll not only understand why but end up crying like a baby.  The only downside of playing this path is that after  you play it, you'll feel like playing the other paths is a betrayal and a form of blasphemy, lol.

 

Clephas

Ototsuki is one of the few, in fact the only, Ensemble trap protagonist game I hadn't at least tried.  There were a number of reasons for this, but the biggest one was that it came out after my burnout on SOL reached its peak.  By that time, I had no energy for any kind of SOL VNs, even ones in genres I normally liked.  In retrospect, I'm glad I waited until I recovered before playing this, because this is the game that proves that Ensemble still has potential as a company, despite the last five years of mediocrity.

Ototsuki focuses on a servant-ojousama pair, to be specific, Yuuki Touya (the protagonist and servant) and Shijou Ran (the ojousama).  Ran is a genius in science and maths, as well as an extremely capable athlete.  She is also extremely eccentric, walking her own path to a degree that would probably drive most of us crazy.  Yuuki, who grew up beside her, is used to dealing with her eccentricities and acts as the ideal servant for her type, occasionally restraining her and at others merely assisting.  However, one of Ran's bad habits becomes a central point of the game's story, when she goes to an all-girls school and forces Yuuki to cross-dress and come with her, and while they are there, Ran and Yuuki regularly switch places (they have mastered dressing up as one another) as needed to make Ran look good, lol.

The choice to create such an intimate situation for the main heroine and protagonist was, in my mind, the reason why this game stands out from the rest of Ensemble's games made in the last half-decade.  Ran and Yuuki's synchronicity and odd couple dynamic make for an ideal situation for this type of game.  There are downfalls to this approach (such as it being difficult to consider heroines other than Ran), but the benefits are rather obvious.

Still, this game is rather straight-out as a charage, albeit with a few minor twists to make it feel like it actually has an overarching plot (technically, there is something going on behind the scenes, but its relevance varies by path).  

Ran

I knew that Ran was the main heroine of the game, but I couldn't stop myself from playing her path first.  The intimacy of Ran and Yuuki's relationship and how it deepens into romance is the major draw of this path, though it probably doesn't happen the way you would think it would.  Ran's tendency toward being straightforward to the point of bluntness and unapologetic about it (she isn't the type to be bothered by others' reactions to her) is one of her major draws as a heroine.  The climax of this path has some nice drama, and I honestly liked how it concluded.  However, typical of Ensemble and its endless fandisc-preparation, there was not a significant after-story/epilogue.

To elaborate on Ran's personality, since she is a relatively rare type of character, she technically falls into the 'arrogant genius' archetype.  However, her character doesn't come across as being abrasive, most likely because there isn't even a scrap of contempt or prejudice on her part.  Rather, she simply doesn't have a humble bone in her body... which, combined with the fact that she really is as capable as she says she is (for the most part), makes it hard to be offended by her personality.

Shizune

Shizune is one of the ojousama heroines in this game, the daughter of the head of the school board of directors, and a member of the student council.  Despite all these titles, she is fundamentally a humble, kind-hearted girl who always puts others first.  Unfortunately, her family name and tendency to be strict with herself make her somewhat less than approachable for common students.  She is paired with the game's 'other' servant, Iroha, who serves her with obvious affection and devotion.  Shizune is pretty much the picture of the 'total innocent' when it comes to life outside of the wealthy old families of Japan, to the point where she honestly had never experienced such common things as shopping for herself or using a bus.  

Shizune's path probably isn't what anybody would expect from this description, lol.  I won't spoil it for you, but I appreciated the departure from tradition in this path, though in another way it uses a common trope (drawing a 'special status' character out of their usual life).  The romance is fairly cute and relatively innocent for this type of game, and I appreciated the 'revelation drama' as being just right.  It isn't at the top of my list for trap protagonist game paths, but it is pretty good.  I did have to laugh at how she found out, though.

Iroha side-story

After completing Ran's and Shizune's paths, Iroha's side-story popped up, and I read it, curious about the details.  This path is an H-scene free path that focuses mostly on what was going on behind the scenes of Ran's and Shizune's path, and it also has a pretty big revelation with some mild catharsis along the way.  Honestly, it was nice to have the gaps filled in, though the game as a whole probably would have been better if these revelations could have been somehow integrated into the main paths instead of being told in a side-story.

Conclusion for now

I blasted through two paths of this game, but I'm pretty sure I'll come back to the other paths eventually, if only to experience the commoner heroines' stories.  My current conclusions based off of what I have played are that this is one of Ensemble's more memorable games, taking third place overall behind Koi no Canvas and Gokigen Naname so far.  While the story in this game is not spectacular, it provides enough variation from the usual norms of the niche trap protag genre without alienating the fanbase.  I liked the heroines, and I felt their paths were well-designed.  I am a bit annoyed, as I usually am, that it was made with fandiscs in mind, but the quality of the heroines I bothered with is such that I didn't mind as much as I usually would have.

 

Clephas

I will say it, yes, games with trap protagonists are one of my secret pleasures.  While there are numerous types of this particular niche in VNs, and there are a disproportionate number of this type of game compared to ten years ago, there are some rules shared by all the greats that I thought I'd put out there.

1.  A good trap protagonist is a voiced protagonist.  Most trap protagonists are voiced.  There are a number of reasons for this, but, regardless of the reason, almost all the 'good' trap protagonist are voiced.  There are exceptions (early on) or ones where the voice was added on later (Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou), but they are just that, exceptions.

2.  The protagonist has some kind of spectacularly high level skill or attractive point.  This really is universal.  In some cases it is housework (protagonist in Otome no Sahou) and in others it is physical prowess, force of personality, or artistic talent.  However, regardless of what it is, no good trap protagonist is devoid of such skills.

3.  There is at least one 'ojousama' heroine.  While this is not universal, given the nature of this type of game and the fact that most of the schools they 'sneak into' are girls' schools, this is inevitable.  Girls schools, even in Japan, are private institutions, meaning there is inevitably (or so says the kami of eroge) going to be at least one sheltered girl that comes from wealth.

4.  There will be at least some drama when the protagonist is 'revealed' to the heroines.  Easy transitions make for bad games.  All the heroines merely accepting it as if it doesn't matter at all means that there was no weight at all to the protagonist's earlier whini- *coughs* ahem, worrying about being revealed.  While this drama might be comedic, tense, or sexual in nature, it should not go without note.

5.  At some point, most such protagonists will begin to react naturally as their female persona without realizing it (leading to many fans simply forgetting their original names, such as in the case with Mizuki in Koi no Canvas).

There are two major types of this type of protagonist.  One is the 'forceful personality' type, and the other is the 'submissive personality' type.  An example of the former would be Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu, and an example of the latter would be Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas.  In the former case, the protagonist has a clear objective in infiltrating the girls' school, and he uses his personal abilities ruthlessly and aggressively for that purpose.  In the latter case, the protagonist loses himself (herself as I sometimes think of Mizuki) in his role so completely that he often catches himself reacting entirely as a female.

I like both types, and I find this particular niche tends to produce a disproportionate amount of good games compared to the rest of the VN world... but then, I'm biased.

Edit: As a side note, for those who are interested in recs involving this kind of thing, there are no truly transgender protagonists in any of these games, as far as I know.  There are a few who get addicted to dressing in drag or who live as a woman of their own free will even after the story is over depending on the route (Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou), but as far as I know none of these have been confirmed as actually being transgender.  That's not to say that none of the writers/makers have intended any of these protagonists to be such (it is a distinct possibility), but so far, in the games I've played/read, none of them have actually confirmed themselves as being such, even in their own thoughts (though again, some have edged around it or verged upon it).  

Edit2: Examples of this type of game that have either a submissive or a dominant protagonist that also are top tier.

Submissive (outside of H, since most H scenes in male-oriented VNs are inevitably bed-yakuza affairs)

Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou

Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas

Otome Domain

Dominant

Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide 

Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu

Otoboku (despite appearances, all three games)

Koi Suru Otome to Shugo no Tate (though this one can be borderline at times)

Hmm... there were fewer great ones than I thought... the barrage of endless Ensemble games makes me forget sometimes, lol.

Clephas

In plotge of all types, whether they are chuunige, kinetic novels, horror suspense, or mysteries, infodumps are ubiquitous throughout the VN world.  Infodumping in and of itself isn't a horrible thing to do to the reader (as some people claim), but it is a tool that is often abused by writers who want to expound on their beloved world and its characters.  

First, the definition of an infodump is a scene with little or no dialogue where background information is provided without directly proceeding with the story.  Infodumps can vary in size from as small as forty lines of narration to up to a thousand, depending on the writer and the subject matter involved.  There are even multiple types, which I will describe here.

The Lump of Infodump

The Lump of Infodump (as I put it) is the most common type of infodump in VNs.  In the 'Lump, a great amount of information, sometimes with brief bits and pieces of dialogue or character stream of thought, is provided in a single scene, interrupting the story.  The 'Lump is the type of infodump most likely to drive people crazy, due to its tendency to create walls of uninterrupted text.  When abused, it tends to interrupt and/or destroy the flow of the story, and I've encountered a number of games where a more measured approach to presenting the setting or explanations of the particulars of an event or the 'why' of an action would have been less monotonous.  In fact, that is the big flaw of this type of infodump.  It is almost impossible to avoid monotony with this kind of infodump, because all it is doing is literally dropping information on you.  That said, infodumps often have a reason for existing that becomes clear in coming scenes, so it is not necessarily always a bad thing.

The Scattered Infodump

'Scattered Infodumps' are a technique where the writer provides the information in smaller, more digestible asides throughout the story, as it becomes relevant.  This technique tends to be received with less irritation and often goes almost unnoticed by the reader, because it doesn't go on long enough to disrupt the flow of the story.  Unlike the 'Lump, it is less likely to be abused, though many writers who use it get into the habit of always using it, which can be problematic for those with an allergy to non-dialogue text, lol.  

The Flashback Infodump

The Flashback Infodump is just that, an infodump provided in the form of a flashback instead of an aside.  These often fill in the gaps in the motivations of characters or their upbringing, and their purpose is, 90% of the time, to reveal something that would have made things less interesting if it were revealed earlier.  Flashbacks are often abused, though.  They are common throughout VNs, with roughly 90% of plotge having at least one and 30% of all charage (in my experience) having one.  They are a convenient method of revealing a character's past, so many games also use them for character development, particularly in heroine paths.

The Prologue Infodump

This is probably the least annoying of the 'obvious' infodumping and is a sub-category of the 'Lump.  Some games, rather than dumping setting and character information on you mid-story, will instead infodump immediately after you start.  This has the advantage of getting around the disruption of the game's flow that is inevitable with mid-game 'Lumps and providing background information without the writer having to remember to include it strategically throughout the story.  This technique is, however, rarely used.  Games that use it are rare mostly because if the first thing you see when starting a VN is a wall of text, most people will drop the game right then and there.  Because of this, most games that use this are directed to a very specific fanbase or niche of the VN community that already has an established interest in the game in question.  

A few thoughts

The reason I decided to make this post was because of a conversation I had with @fun2novel  regarding infodumping in Bradyon Veda.  In Bradyon Veda, infodumping is integral to the game's battle scenes (incidentally the discussion began with me giving examples of good battle scenes to him).  Because the science-fantasy techniques being used by the characters manipulate matter and physical laws, there are infodumps built into the battle scenes, explaining what they are doing.  Because of this, I noted that Bradyon Veda's battle scenes were an example of positive infodumping, because it was done in such a way that it enhanced rather than disrupted the telling of the story.

Conclusion

What am I trying to get at?  Nothing, really.  I just thought that people give infodumps a bad rap, when they have probably been infodumped without even noticing it.  

Clephas

I had someone ask me why I consider some VN battle scenes to be good and others to be low quality just the other day, and I thought I would address this here.  

First, I should state that while visuals definitely have an effect on the quality of a battle scene, the quality of visuals is less than 15% of the reasons why I pick one VN's battle scenes over another's.  The considerations when it comes to visuals are raw quality (artist skill, detail, etc), number of combat-related CGs and sprites, and the quality of the visual effects.

More important (roughly 25% of the whole) is music and sound effects.  It is quite possible to turn a VN whose visuals are mediocre and writing are good into a masterpiece based solely on how the BGMs and sound effects are used.  I've seen it happen (Devils Devel Concept being a prime example), and I can honestly say that this aspect almost always trumps visuals when it comes to determining the quality of a given battle scene.

Another 25% comes from context and presentation.  I split this evenly because these two factors tend to be inter-dependent in battle scenes.  Without the context, you can't tell whether you should care, and presentation (the art of bringing writing, sound, and visuals together to create a collaborative effect on the reader) quality can dramatically alter how you see the battle.

The last 35% is all writing.  My prejudice would have put it at 50%, but realistically, in a VN, writing is at the very least 35% of what determines the quality of a battle scene.  The very simple reason is that making a battle scene interesting requires an eye for detail, for stringing descriptions of character actions, emotions, and words into a cohesive whole.  There are plenty of writers outside of the VN industry who only do this well and literally are incapable of 'peaceful writing'.  That is because what is demanded of writing during a battle scene is fundamentally different from what is demanded outside of battle scenes.  To be blunt, most VN writers have no idea of how to write a battle scene, which is why the good ones stand out so much.  'Tom blasted magic sword at Dave, Dave took it on his shield with a grunt' is about as far as it goes with most VN battle scenes... and that is fairly horrid, since there is no sense of what is actually going on in that exchange. 

It isn't uncommon for VN makers with unskilled writers to simply substitute visual and sound effects for descriptions of the battle simply because the writer can only handle dialogue and minimal or copy-paste action lines.  However, this results in amazingly boring scenes, since there is usually almost no variation in visual or sound effects from scene to scene, action to action.  This means that they are essentially using a square block for a round peg.  I don't know how many third-rate battle scenes I've fallen asleep to over the years...  

Anyway, ideally, a good battle scene should have all the elements come together in one cohesive whole.  However, in practice, that almost never happens.  About the only companies that have ever managed to do that consistently are Nitroplus, Light, and Propeller... and we all know what happened to Propeller and (more recently) Light. 

Clephas

Say what you want about Studio Ryokucha, but their weird plotge/charage hybrids are some of my quirkier favorites.  To be specific, Minamijuujisei Renka is my favorite game by this company, at least partially because of how deftly they sidestepped the worst of the 'high school' tropes while keeping the advantages of familiarity.  

Minamijuujisei Renka is based on a fictional island still ruled by a post-colonial Caucasian aristocracy that long-since lost its connection with its long-dead original nation (I'm guessing Prussia is the model for the fictional dead nation, based on certain aspects of the setting).  It has achieved a high level of technological and societal development despite being handicapped by a small land area, a relatively small population (just around a million), and the gap between the aboriginal population and the white aristocracy.  The game's true/main heroine, Kanori, is the half-white, half-Japanese princess and currently the sole heir to the nation, a fact that has the more conservative elements grumbling about mongrels and other predictable purist BS.

The protagonist of this story, Tobe Ryousuke, meets Kanori by chance on his first day in the nation, when he gets lost and encounters her while she is fleeing from men in black.  This leads to a predictably amusing set of small chase scenes, and it also solidifies Kanori and Ryousuke's relationship (her in love with him, him thinking of her as a friend) before he ever realizes who she is.  

Ryousuke came to the nation involved along with his twin sisters, little genius girls who, when he collapsed from exhaustion trying to take care of them, took a job in the Dukedom in order to allow him to go to school and be a normal kid, essentially.  Rina and Rena, the twin sisters, are both children (literally), and their cuteness of both manner and feature serves as a constant throughout the game, as they often appear at important moments to move the story forward.  There are hints that if 'nii-chan' didn't have the good taste to get hitched before they were grown, there would have been some incest there, but, unfortunately for the lolicons out there *laughs at them* and fortunately for our peace of mind, they aren't heroines.

Anyway, this game is designed with a chapter system, where incidents occur and get resolved, bringing the protagonist closer with the heroines throughout the common route.  This system often falls flat in games that use it, because it can get repetitive, but the creativity with which the writers set up the story makes that a non-issue in this game.  Like a lot of games from the middle of the decade that just ended, most of the heroines are deredere almost from the beginning (the exception being Elize, though it can be argued she is just another tsundere along with Miyako).  

Unlike many charage hybrids, this game doesn't kill the story in the heroine paths or only have the story in the heroine paths... rather, the story flows in different directions based on which heroine you pick, and it feels natural at the time, which is what is important.  There are exciting moments in each path, without it flowing over into excessive seriousness (most of the story is interwoven with amusing or cute elements).  

Though the story is good in this game, perhaps the place where this game shines the most is in character development.  By the time the common route ends (it is fairly long), you have a solid idea of what all the heroines are like under the skin, and you have almost definitely gotten attached to one or more of them.  Tbh, each time I play this game, I always waver between routes before making my choice, simply because I like all the heroines to one degree or another.  

This game's weakness, from an objective standpoint, is the very length that allows for such extensive character development.  Many simply won't have the stamina to finish even one path in a single run, due to the length of the common route.  To give you an idea of its length, it is roughly the same as the common route of Clannad.

I occasionally go back to this game for one reason... it is so reliably enjoyable that just finishing a single route can temporarily restore my faith in the possibilities of charage.  

Clephas

People who drop themselves into the abyss of otaku media tend to have their sense for things dull over time.  Action scenes don't excite like they used to, rom-coms aren't as funny, ecchi isn't as hot, and only the densest stories succeed in scratching the itch.  This is what I (and some others) call becoming a 'jaded veteran otaku'.  Jaded veteran otakus often become 'genre specialists' (meaning they only play one type of game, watch one type of anime, and/or refuse to play specific types), and only the most hypocritical have less than ten favorites in their medium. 

However, how exactly do you tell that a VN (in this case) is one of your favorites?  There are a number of signs.

1.  Does watching the opening get you excited no matter how many times you've seen it?

2.  Does a great phrase that shattered your personal gate of tears do so again on a second playthrough?

3.  Can it still make you giggle?

4.  Can it still delight you with new discoveries or even only confirming the ones you made the last time you played?

5.  Does defending it to everyone around you fill you with passion and do you have an intense desire to chain every other VN fan in site to a chair in front of a computer to play/read it?

6.  Do you find yourself wistfully wondering if you'll ever find anything else like it again?

7.  Do you feel like a junkie coming down off a great high after you finish it?

These are just some of the signs of a VN happening to be your favorite... and one of the strange side-effects of being a long-time addict of otaku media is that your favorites become ever more distinct to you as time passes.  I have literally forgotten the contents of more VNs than most people have played, but the ones I love remain in my memory with surprising detail, even after years without playing them.  Not all of my favorites are kamige (in fact, surprisingly few of them are), but to me they are irreplaceable friends similar to the books I can never bring myself to get rid of. 

Clephas

I realized that I've always focused excessively on Sora, the protagonist, when I was describing this game, so I thought (on a whim) that I would go ahead and introduce the heroines to you all. 

 

 

SPOILER WARNING

 

 

1.  Amatsu Kanata https://vndb.org/c8804

Amatsu Kanata is the first heroine in the recommended play order and perhaps the heroine who comes closest to Sora in personality.  Selfish, cold-hearted, ruthless, and in possession of an iron will that would make a normal chuunige antagonist shudder, on the surface she plays the popular student council president.  Her past is probably the nastiest and most victimized of the heroines, but the personality that past created is by several degrees the most naturally dangerous while being coldly rational in most ways.

Depending on which path you pursue for her, you get an ending where she takes the lead or Sora takes the lead.  Ironically, she is far more forgiving and easygoing in the one where she takes the lead, and in the one where Sora takes the lead, her bloody-minded nature is far more in evidence, especially toward the end.  Kirito (Sora's friend) describes her as being someone who, rather than taking a situation as it is and fitting herself in, molds the situation to her liking.  He also remarks that taking such a course is the resort of a genius or a madman, while avoiding pointing out which she is.

2.  Minami Mutsuki https://vndb.org/c4110

Minami Mutsuki is Sora's sex-friend, a whimsical senpai who has a tendency to play with words, deliberately poorly concealing what she wants in any given situation.  Like Kanata, she is highly intelligent, but her personality is a great deal more mild and open.  Part of this comes from the fact that she still has living family (a rather silly older brother and his wife), but a great deal of it comes from her essential nature.  Sora remarks internally and to her several times in the story that she is a lot closer to being human than he is.

Unlike Kanata and Sora, Mutsuki is capable of feeling guilt, though only toward people she considers to be worthy on an instinctive level (a trait common to all the heroines is that they are unbelievably cold to people they don't consider equals under the surface).  She is a hedonist, indulging in sex (with Sora), cigarettes, and frequent sleeping just because she feels like it.  Outside of pleasure-related activities, she is mostly apathetic, but she has a sense of honor unique amongst the heroines. 

3.  Mukou Misora https://vndb.org/c4114

The only 'full adult' in the group.  She is a teacher at the school and the older sister of Azumi, Sora's violently whimsical osananajimi.  She is very good at hiding her desires and impulses, even going so far as to present a false face to Sora throughout much of her route.  Unlike the other heroines, she has a strong desire to see Sora find some kind of normal, conventional happiness, though she herself is a bit too twisted inside to really understand such things. 

Because she 'sees' too deeply, she misunderstands Sora's nature the most out of the heroines, save for perhaps Mei.  Like all the heroines, she is coldly ruthless in going after what she wants, and she is also an inveterate liar.  At the same time, despite her greater age, she is the most vulnerable (in every way) of the heroines, though her attitude toward people she doesn't like goes beyond cold into being outright murderous. 

4.  Nanagi Akane and Akari 

https://vndb.org/c8806

https://vndb.org/c8805

Twin sisters who share all of their emotions and most of their sensations.  Though Sora isn't aware of it, both of them have been in love with him since early childhood.  Akane is the more rational of the two at the surface-level, whereas Akari is more primal and instinct-driven.  As such, Akane has a tendency to fall behind Akari when it comes to acting on her emotions.  In the setting of this game, twins who are also 'Enja', have to keep a careful balance between their wants, desires, and their fulfillment.  If one wants to take one as a lover, one has to take the other as well, lest they gradually go insane.

Akane is very much a 'pretender', putting up a facade of geniality in normal life.  However, she is also brutally sadistic and cold toward those she dislikes, while being somewhat cowardly and malleable in the hands of someone she loves.  Like all the heroines, she possesses a strong urge toward violence and an inherently primal nature that goes beyond that of normal humanity.  Other than Amatsu, she is probably the best at hiding it though. 

Akari is kept confined to their home, due to the fact that her 'henshitsu' has already proceeded to a point where subtle signs of inhumanity have begun to show (eye color, a desire for the taste of blood, etc).  She is not particularly dissatisfied with this arrangement, but she does wish she could see Sora.  Unlike Akane, who is intensely jealous of her for something that happened in the past, Akari is deeply concerned for her sister.  Also unlike Akane, Akari doesn't bother to hide her darkness, since she never goes out amongst 'normal humanity'.

5.  Aono Mei https://vndb.org/c4113

To be honest, the best description of Mei would be 'innocent evil priestess'.  Mei is like a more violent version of Hecate from Shakugan no Shana, as well as being even more innocent in some ways.  Her only real interests are in her duty and in Sora... an interest that is profoundly unnatural given their natural positions within the natural order.  While she is profoundly innocent in some ways, she reacts automatically to threats with excessive violence, often to the point of splattering those who threaten her without understanding they couldn't possibly know how stupid it is to provoke her. 

 

Clephas

(The first few lines of this can't be hooked, and I've never had the scripts extracted, so forgive me for not presenting the Japanese for them)

Half of this world is made up of 'evil'. 

'Evil' is desire.

That which humans spill out as easily as breathing. (Clephas: combination of two lines, due to this VN being NVL style, it is often necessary to translate multiple lines together)

That is an unseen crystallization of people's emotions.

That is desire.

That is 'evil'.

Apparently, half of the world is made up of that 'evil'...

静まりかえった蒼い夜の下、足音がどこまでも反響してゆく。

Amidst the silent blue night, my footsteps echo into infinity.

獲物が、ゆっくりと振り返った。

My prey turned around slowly.

薄闇に塗りつぶされた路地。

An alley painted by dim light.

灰色の煙を吐き出して、俺は、闇の中に立つ異形を見た。

Breathing out gray smoke, I looked at the abomination standing in the darkness. 

もう、夏と呼んでも問題ない夜のハズなのに、背筋が凍えるような空気だった。

Though it was supposedly a summer night, there was a chill in the air that threatened to send shivers along my spine.

まだ古くない「血」の臭い。

The scent of 'blood' that wasn't quite dry.

微かに腐敗の始まっている、何か生モノの臭い。

The scent of something once alive that had just begun to rot.

どうやらここは「戦場」らしい。

It seems this is a 'battlefield'.

戦場だった場所。

A place that was a battlefield.

そして、これから戦場になる場所。

And a place soon to become a battlefield.

この街に、こんな場所があったなんて、今日の今日まで知らなかった。

I didn't know this place existed in this town until today.

見知らぬ路地。

An unknown alley.

見慣れぬ景色。

Unknown scenery.

ここは、一体「ドコ」なのか?

'Where' is this?

分かりきってる答えを検索して、嗤いそうになった。

I almost laughed at the question, already knowing the answer.

いつも、考える。

I always wonder.

これは「現実」なのか。

Is this 'reality'?

それとも、ただの「悪夢」なのか。

Or is this a 'nightmare'?

答えは同じだ。

The answer is the same.

どうでもイイ。

Who cares?

どうせ、やる事は変わらないのだから――

It's not like it changes what I'm about to do...

「――まったく、救いようがない」

Demon: --- Truly beyond salvation.

「つくづく救えない! この虫螻共!」

Demon: You all are truly beyond salvation!  Insects!

勢い良く、堰を切ったダムの放流のごとき声量。

A vigorous voice, with a volume that resembled the discharge from a broken dam.

重々しく響き渡る、耳障りな声で、ついに男が罵り始めた。

In an unpleasant voice that resonated heavily in my ears, the man began to insult me.

どうやら、焦れたらしい。

It seems he's lost his patience.

「目敏く! 浅ましく! 愚かしく! 学習能力のカケラもない!」

Demon:  Sly!  Despicable!  Foolish!  Devoid of any ability to learn!

「つい先日、あれだけ蹂躙してやったばかりだというのに、何故分からんのだ!?」

Demon:  Just a few days ago, I deigned to trample you under my feet, so why do you fail to understand!?

「何故、王の慈悲が理解出来んッ!?」

Demon:  Why can't you understand the king's mercy!?

「……イミ分かんねーし」

Sora: ... Tha hell?

「何の話をしてんだ? お前」

Sora:  What are you even talking about?

煙草を口に咥えたまま、目の前の男を見上げた。

I looked up at the man before me, my cigarette still clenched between my lips.

二メートルを超える長身。

A tall figure surpassing two meters...

それどころか、軽く三メートルに届く上背だった。

No... he even threatened to surpass three meters.

まさに長身痩躯。

Truly a lean and tall figure.

異様に長い手足と、闇の中で光る金色の瞳。

Abnormally long arms and legs, and eyes that shone gold in the darkness.

「ヒト」じゃないのは、明らかだった。

It was obvious he wasn't 'human'.

人類ヒト科に、こんな形状の「個体」は存在しない。

There is no 'individual' like this in the family Hominidae. 

いかなる病魔に冒されようと、どんなに稀有な遺伝子を持とうとも、「こう」はならない。

No matter what disease they might have, no matter what unusual DNA they might possess, no human would become like 'this'.

こんな「ブザマ」な人類を、俺は知らない。

I've never seen such an 'ungainly' human.

ソレは、ニンゲンなんて「安っぽい生き物」なんかじゃなかった。

That wasn't a 'cheap lifeform' like a mere human.

人類よりも強く、速く、しぶとく、そして悍しい生物だった。

A lifeform stronger than humans, faster, more durable, and disgusting beyond measure.

「……それにさ――だから何?」

Sora: ... and so... what does it matter?

「何だと?」

Demon: What?

「救いようがないから、現実なんだろ?」

Sora:  It's because it's beyond salvation you know it's reality, right?

「救われないから、夢を見られるんだろ?」

Sora:  You can't do anything about it, so you can dream, can't you?

「理想的で完璧な世界。そんなモンは、ただの地獄だろうが?」

Sora:  An ideal perfect world... that can't be anything other than pure hell.

「希望の入る“余地”さえない現実に、価値なんかあるワケねーだろが」

Sora:  A reality where hope has 'no way' to exist can't possibly have any value!

“人類”よりも強く、速く、しぶとく、悍しい。

Stronger, faster, more durable, and more disgusting than 'humanity'.

「それとも、もしかしてさ、そういう幼稚な世界が、お前等の理想なワケ?」

Sora: Or does that kind of childish fantasy of a world happen to be your ideal world?

「お前等、“悪魔”の、理想郷か? それが」

Sora:  Is that you 'demons'' utopia?

――それが、“悪魔”。

That was a 'demon'.

俺と、俺達と、彼等の敵。

Mine, our, and their enemy.

「世界」の敵。

The enemy of the 'world'.

「……そうか。昨日の虫共とは別口というコトか」

Demon:  ... I see.  You were sent by someone different from the insects from yesterday.

「だが――――愚かだ」

Demon: However... such foolishness.

俺の素朴な意見に、見知らぬ悪魔は薄く笑みを浮かべると、そう切り返した。

The unknown demon's response to my honest opinion was given with a thin smile.

こいつらは、殺しても、殺しても、わいてくる。

No matter how many of them I kill, they keep coming.

人間が、殺されても、殺されても、生まれてくるのと同じように。

Just like humans, no matter how many are killed, continue to be born.

「この我に、説法か? たかが百年も肉体を維持できないような下等生物が! 誰に向かって摂理を説いている!」

Demon: You preach to me, of all people?  A lower lifeform that can't even maintain its body for a hundred years?  Who do you think you are preaching divine truth to?!

「テメエだよ」

Sora: To you, of course.

「たかが千年も生きられない、上等生物野郎」

Sora: Oh higher lifeform,  who can't even live more than a thousand years.

「自称――アホの“全裸王”サマ」

Sora: Oh self-proclaimed... idiotic 'Naked King'.

「つーか、話フったのはテメエだろうが?」

Sora: Geez, you were the one who asked, weren't you?

「こ・こ・に、何を詰めて生きてんだ? お前」

Sora: Just what do you have stuffed up here?

こんこんと、指で頭をノックしてみせると、悪魔の眼球に、赤い血流が一気に流れこむのが見えた。

When I tapped my head with my finger, I could see red blood instantly flow into his eyeballs.

その金色の双眸が、明滅するように赤く変わる。

Those golden eyes instantly transform into gleaming red.

実に面白い。

Truly interesting.

どんな構造になってるのだろう?

Just how do they do that?

まるで、魚みたいに「目の色」が変わった。

Almost like a fish, 'the color of his eyes' changed.

本当に、弄り甲斐のある生き物共だ。

They truly are lifeforms worth teasing.

「お前が誰で、何様だとか……いつ、何をしたとかさ――――」

Sora: Who you are, what you are... what you have done...

「誰を何人殺したとか、そんなの、関係ないんだよ」

Sora: ... or how many people you've killed... none of that matters.

そう。そんなのはどうでもいい。

That's right.  None of that matters.

「――たださ、最近眠れないんだ」

Sora: ... It's just that I can't sleep lately.

そう。たった、それだけのコトだ。

Yes, just for that little of a reason.

「お前等みたいにクっセエ生物が、街をウロウロしてるとさ、何でか不眠症になるみたいでさ……」

Sora: When you stinky lifeforms are loitering in this town's streets, it seems I develop insomnia...

そう。それが“契約”――――

Yes, for that is my 'contract'.

「……おかげで、毎夜毎晩、街をテキトーにさまよって、こんな“場所”に迷いこむんだ……」

Sora: ... because of that, every evening, every night, I wander this town at random and get lost in places like this...

そう。迷いこむ。

Yes, I get lost.

こんな――――

In this...

“真夜中の世界”に――

In this 'midnight world'...

「んでさ――たまに“お前等”みたいのに出会すんだ……」

Sora: And... every once in a while I encounter something like 'you all'....

そう。こんなモノに。

Yes, something like them.

こんな黝いモノに。

This blue-black thing. 

こんな“悪魔”に。

These 'demons'.

出会すのだ――――

I encounter them...

「……俺には、“契約”がある。だからさ――」

Sora: ... I'm bound by my 'contract.  And so...

「お前等みたいのは、見付けたら殺すコトに決めてる」

Sora: When I find something like you, I always kill it.

「理解したか? ムシケラ」

Sora: Do you get it? Insect.

そう。それが“契約”――――

Yes, for that is my 'contract'...

俺が、俺である為の、“契約”――――

The 'contract' that exists for me to be myself.

今の俺の、生きてる理由の、ほとんど――――

The thing that makes up most of my reason to live...

「願わくば――お前で打ち止めになってくれると、明日からすっきりきっかり眠れるんだけど……」

Sora: I hope that it will come to a complete end with you, so I can sleep peacefully from now on...

「他にも仲間とかいるんなら、紹介してくれ。ムシケラ」

Sora: If you know of any others like you, introduce them to me, worm.

俺の質問に、その見知らぬ“悪魔”は、顔を強張らせた。

In response to my question, the unknown 'demon's' expression froze.

ぞんざいで。

尊大で。

傲慢で。

無礼なその挑発に。

怒りと憎悪に狂いそうな貌で、嗤った。

In response to that careless, haughty, arrogant, and impolite provocation, it smiled in a fashion that reflected anger and hatred so intense it approached madness. (Clephas: one of those times when combining the lines is the only option, lol.  NVL style is great in Japanese, allowing for some truly great artistic writing flair, but it doesn't work for english that well)

悪魔らしい、醜いスマイル。

It was an ugly, demon-like smile.

そんな貌を見せられると、こっちも嗤いたくなる。

When they show me that shape of a smile, it makes me want to smile too.

昂奮と、昂揚と、殺意であふれそうになる。

It makes me feel like I'm going to overflow with arousal, excitement, and bloodlust.

「………………そうか。そういう事か」

Demon: ... I see, so that's what is going on.

「キサマが――――」

Demon: You are...

「キサマが、この地を穢す元凶かァッ!!」

Demon: You are the cause of the taint corrupting this land!!

絶叫と共に、悪魔が地面を蹴った。

With a scream of rage, the demon catapulted itself toward me.

一気に目の前まで跳んだヤツの、鞭のようにしなる兇悪な脚が、鼻先の空気を文字通り、斬り裂いた。

He launched himself right in front of me in an instant, his massive leg unleashing a brutal, whip-like kick that literally sliced through the air right in front of my nose.

人間の筋力なんかとは、まるで違う。

It was completely different from the strength possible for a human.

速度も。

Speed and...

動きも。

... agility and...

何もかもが違う。

Everything was completely different.

話にならないくらいに。

The point where it was beyond comparison.

軽く見積もっても、「獣」以上。

Even a light appraisal told me it was more than even a wild beast could have produced.

ざっと見積もって、「化け物」というべき動作だった。

Even a rough estimate of his movements told me they were those of a 'monster'.

「……だから、イミ分かんねーし」

Sora:  ... Like I said, I have no idea what you are talking about.

“通常人類”の動体視力を完全に超越したその蹴りに、俺は難なく、バックステップを合わせた。

I easily matched his kick, whose movements completely surpassed those that could be detected by the eyes of 'normal humanity' with a back-step.

同時に、煙草を吐き捨てた。

At the same time, I spat out my cigarette.

火の点いたままの吸い殻が、ゆっくりと回転しながら地面に落ちる。

The still-lit cigarette butt rotated slowly as it fell towards the ground.

その間に、空いてる手足で放った迎撃が、人体でいう「急所」の数十箇所を、寸分違わず撃ち抜いた。

While it was falling, I used my open arms and legs to retaliate, ripping through several dozen of what would have been 'vital points' on a human, with perfect accuracy.

「ガハアッッッッッ!!??」

Demon: Gahaa....!!???

破裂し。

衝突し。

弾ける感触。

The sensation of rupturing, impacting, and popping.

まるで金属じみた硬さの筋肉が、断裂するみたいな感触だった。

It was like the sensation of muscles as hard as steel snapping apart.

軋む骨の、砕け散る感触だった。

It was the sensation of bones grating as they were shattered.

潰れる内臓の、厭な感触だった。

It was the disgusting sensation of organs being crushed.

目と鼻と喉も、ついでに破壊してみたが、与えられたのは、せいぜい「怒り」だけだった。

For the hell of it, I went ahead and destroying his eyes, nose, and throat... but the only thing that gave me was his 'anger'.

「グガアアアアアアアアアアアッッッッ!!!」

Demon: Gugaaah!!!

さすがに頑丈。

As tough as expected.

さすがは“悪魔”。

As to be expected from a 'demon'.

まがりなりにも、“俺達”の永遠の敵であるバケモノだった。

It was in truth, the monsters that were 'our' eternal enemy.

その強靭さには、毎度毎度の事ながら、感心する。

I can't help but be impressed with their tenacity, every time.

この上ない、愉悦を覚える。

I can't help but feel unmatched joy.

こうでなくちゃいけない――――

It should always be like this...

「闘争」とは、互いに傷を負ってこその闘争なのだから。

'Conflict' can only be called conflict if both sides are hurt.

「殺し合い」は、互いに殺して、殺されるべきだ。

A death match should be where both sides are killed and are killing one another.

そうでなくては、面白くもない。

If it isn't that way, it is boring.

「さすがは“悪魔”……腐っても、悪魔は悪魔か」

Sora: As to be expected of a 'demon'... even a lesser demon is still a demon.

「どんなに雑魚でも、そんなニンゲンの形してても、中身はまるで、別物だし」

Sora: No matter how weak, no matter how similar in form you are to a human, inside you are completely different.

「“逸脱者”なんかとも、“人形”なんかとも、違う」

Sora: Completely different in every way from 'Stray Sheep' or 'Dolls'.

「全然違う。まるで違う。優秀、優秀!」

Sora:  Completely different, truly different.  Exceptional, exceptional!

「さすがは世界を蝕む害虫……そうでなくちゃさ」

Sora: As expected of the parasites that eat away at the world... it has to be like this.

「殺りがいがないよな……なあ? クソ悪魔」

Sora: Otherwise there's no point, right?  Shitty demon?

俺は、昂揚していた。

I was excited.

昂奮していた。

I was aroused.

いきり立っていた。

I was enraged.

“裸眼”の視界は、どこまでもクリアで新鮮だ。

The vision of my 'naked eyes' was infinitely fresh and clear.

「制約」も、「誓約」もなく。

There were no 'constraints' or 'vows' to get in the way.

律する必要も、我慢する必要もなく。

And there was no reason for me to hold back or exercise self-control. 

ただただ、ケダモノのように振る舞うのは、実に俺らしくてイイ。

Just acting like an animal is so like us... and so good.

どうしようもなく、嗤いがこぼれて止まらない。

My smile can't help but grow wide.

目の前の獲物を前に、舌なめずりしたくなる。

I want to lick my lips at the prey before me.

「――さて、とっとと“暴虐”を始めようぜッ」

Sora: Now, let's begin the atrocities!

だがしかし、その結末は、とてもあっけない代物だった。

However, the end came quickly and easily.

ニンゲンなんかとは、まるで比較にもならない、正真正銘のバケモノ。

It was a true and blue monster, incomparable with pathetic humanity.

強靭で、強健で、強固で。

そして兇悪無比なその生物を。

紛い物じゃない、“悪魔”の一人を。

気付いた時には、バラバラにしてしまっていた。

Though it was tough, robust, and strong; though it was powerful and unmatched as a lifeform; though it was a true 'demon', not a fake; when I came back to myself I had ripped it apart.

いつものように、殺戮した。

I had slaughtered it like always.

いつものように、“契約”通り。

As always, in obedience to my 'contract'.

いつものように、“侵して”。

I 'violated' it as usual.

いつものように、壊して。

I destroyed it as usual.

いつものように、殺した。

And, as usual, I killed it.

それはホントに、拍子抜けするくらいあっけない、ただの幕切れだった……

That was a truly anticlimactic, normal ending...

 

 

Honestly, when I first played this game, I was unfamiliar with roughly half of the kanji choices, so I  missed a lot... but the style and the way this writer perfectly utilized the unique aspects of the NVL system made the game hypnotic for me. 

Clephas

Primal Hearts is a game I have an odd relationship with.  At the time I first played it, I don't think I gave it a completely fair assessment.  The reason why?  I was hitting the first of my many 'charage doldrums' periods.  However, in retrospect, it grew on me... sort of like mold.

First, I should note that the game is actually fairly old-fashioned, despite its modern visuals.  The wacky concept, larger-than-life characters, and the sometimes ridiculous 'coincidences' that pop in all hearken to a previous era.  At various times, this game channels such famous games as Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no, Majikoi, Shuffle, and any number of 'golden age' games.  Of course, it doesn't go as far as any of those does, but the makers' fanboyism is fairly evident throughout the game on a second playthrough (something I didn't notice on the first playthrough).

First, the resemblance of Majikoi lies in the larger than life characters and sometimes crazy abilities some of them have (the protagonist included).  The protagonist's casual manipulation of the other characters for his own amusement (and for their own sakes, more often than not) is very much reminiscent of Yamato, without ever actually approaching his level. 

Perhaps the strongest resemblance to Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no lies in Haruhi's path... to be blunt, Haruhi is a redesigned version of Miyabi, with Kanna a reformed version of Lida who also happens to be a heroine.  The resemblances and relationships are so obviously drawn from fanboyism of that particular kamige that I just had to shake my head during this replay. 

Shuffle is channeled, along with a lot of other early charage, through the setting.  While the specifics are drastically different, the wacky, overblown occurrences, the general madness surrounding the 'elections', and any number of other factors in the setting make me nostalgic for the middle of last decade (soon to be the decade before last). 

I perhaps didn't notice all this the last time because I was focused on heroines... and I was playing charage rather mechanically already, two years into VN of the Month.  A peculiar element that you generally don't see in most charage in general is character designs like that of Mizanori.  Most charage tend to make all their regular characters (the ones at the center of the cast) attractive to one degree or another.  However, Mizanori stands out as a character who was made comically unattractive, which struck me as hilarious at the time, since I used to make some of the same excuses he did to eat more as a teenager, lol. 

The common route of this game is excellent.  The relationships between the characters are formed and deepened appropriately, and it actually makes sense that the heroines would fall for the protagonist by the end.  It helps that the protagonist is really a 'great guy' in every way, though he can lack common sense at times.  The decision to avoid mediocrity in the protagonist and those around him is one that is rarely made in charage, which just made it that much better as a result.

Sadly, after the common route, this game stumbles somewhat.  The heroine routes lack some of the depth the common route does, perhaps because the shift to romance automatically debuffed the intelligence of the writers.    Oh, the heroines are unbearably cute when they go dere (Sera's dere makes me giggle hysterically even now, and Haruhi's is as strong in its own way), but the 'drama' included in the heroine paths pales a great deal in comparison to the drama that pops up in the common route.  In that sense, it felt almost like they were running out of ideas at the end...

Overall, this is an excellent charage that manages to escape mediocrity by channeling some of the best parts of a number of famous VNs into its characters and setting.  I won't say it is a kamige (because it isn't), but if you are just looking for a good charage to add to your collection, this is a good choice.

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