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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

Hatsugamai (or Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru) is one of my favorite nakige from the last four years.  Feeling in the need of some emotional catharsis, I finally went back to it a while back, and I was blown away a second time by just how powerful the emotions this game brings out are.

First, it should be noted that Alcot Honeycomb, the subsidiary of Alcot that produced this game is known for two things... that it is a low to mid-price and budget company and for the fact that they have never produced a flop.  Every one of their games has come out in the black within six months of release, and they inevitably end up placing at least in the top twenty of any given year.  Another quality of their games is that there are no 'wasted scenes' in their games.  Every scene drives story and path progression, without exception.  This game is no exception.

I am going to focus on introducing the characters of this game, since you can check out my previous blog post on the game if you want an idea of what the game as a whole is like. 

Tokitani Kazuharu- The protagonist of the story, he is a hard-working young man who is absolutely devoted to his own financial independence and protecting his 'family' (currently consisting of Shinobu and Manami).  At the age of eight, he ran away from home to get away from verbal and physical abuse from his mother and eventually adopted another runaway, his 'imouto' Shinobu.  If it weren't for Old Man Tatara, their current guardian, he probably would have ended up living on the street for the rest of what was likely to be a very short life.  As it is, he works hard every day at multiple part time jobs to feed, clothe, and shelter himself and Shinobu (ignoring Tatara's offers to pay for everything) and lives at a rickety school dorm with Tatara's granddaughter Manami.  Kazuharu is a young man of intense feeling and kindness.  While he considers himself to be a practical, at times unfeeling person, it is fairly obvious to those around him that he is the very reverse of that.  Kazuharu is constitutionally incapable of setting aside responsibilities or abandoning someone who calls out to him for help.  His immense capacity for love and selfless behavior make him a powerful character, and his emotional scars often bring tears to my eyes.

Tokitani Shinobu- As a small child, she ran away from an abusive situation to live under a bridge, where she was found and informally adopted by Kazuharu.   She quickly and intensely fell in love with Kazuharu after his ferocious efforts to protect her and keep her fed in the time before Tatara discovered and took them in, and that love has, if anything, only grown deeper and more intense with time (she is almost yandere at times).  Unlike Kazuharu, who struggles with school while working, she is the student council president and the highest scorer on school tests, while still working multiple part-time jobs.  Like Kazuharu, she has a very clear-headed and down-to-earth view of the future... if you ignore the fact that her view of the future involves her creating a corporation solely so she can take the burden of financial support off her brother's shoulders.  Despite how this sounds, she isn't completely monomaniacal.  Having been practically raised by Kazuharu and seeing him as an example, she is a deeply kind and compassionate young woman, with a deep capacity for love that matches his own.

Tatara Manami- One of the three major side characters in the game, along with her grandfather, she is a child (about ten) who speaks in Kansai-ben and has a tendency to abuse pseudo-anglicanisms.  Her cheery personality and cute attempts to sort-of mother the people at the dorm hide a deep loneliness born from the fact that her parents abandoned her, leaving her busy grandfather to raise her pretty much as an absentee parent.  She has a strong bond with the Tokitani siblings, one that is at times adversarial (jokingly) with Kazuharu and conspiratorial with Shinobu. 

Tatara Taizen- Shinobu and Kazuharu's guardian and Manami's grandfather... as well as the owner and head of the board of directors for Shinobu and Kazuharu's high school.  He is a man who has spent his entire life in education and sent innumerable students out to succeed in the world.  However, his own family is a horrible mess, with his daughter and son-in-law having abandoned his granddaughter Manami and his own responsibilities making it impossible for him to raise her in his own home.  He adopted Shinobu and Kazuharu when he discovered them as runaways (he has apparently done this in the past) and supported them out of compassion.  He is a true educator at heart, devoting himself to the well-being and future of his students.  He and Kazuharu frequently fight (in a friendly manner) and his mannerisms are frequently humorous or deliberately display him as a dirty old man.  However, his love for Manami and the two siblings is deep. 

Minamino Shouhei- Kazuharu's best friend and the son of a yakuza family.  Despite his origins, his goal in life is to work in childcare, and his personality is kind and cheerful to the core.  Along with Yuka and the Tokitani siblings, he is part of a group of 'hard-working friends' who have been together more or less since before middle school.  He deeply resents the path his father wants for him in life, and he is definitely in rebellion against the family business.  While he is unaware of the Tokitani siblings' past, he is still the only person who can confront Kazuharu on completely equal terms in the game (for reasons that become obvious if you play the game).

Miyamoto Yuuka- The other childhood friend besides Shouhei (and one of the heroines) she is a pin-up model who dreams of becoming an actress, working long hours after school toward that goal and ignoring her parents' skepticism.  Yuuka is a bright and cheerful character with perhaps the most 'normal' viewpoint of the characters in the game, serving as a touchstone for the warped (understandably so) viewpoints of the other characters.  That said, she is also in the entertainment business, so she isn't unfamiliar with the 'dark side'.  However, it hasn't tainted her, as of yet.  She has a strong will and is a dreamer at heart (whereas the others are mostly down to earth), contrasting her to the other characters on just about every point.

Tanaka Neneko- A ferociously strong-willed senpai at both Kazuharu's work and at school, she is also the worst kind of boss, ordering him to do everything in five minutes.  Raised in an unstable household where both her parents were frequently ill, her role model was her elder sister, who worked intensely hard to bring the family back together after the kids were briefly put into the system due to their parents' inability to work.  Neneko works intensely hard, often getting exasperated reactions from Kazuharu (who works for money, only working hard when it is necessary or when it is part of the job).  She is constantly smiling and is the older sister of the group, frequently ending up as the advisor when it isn't her path.

Kawatsu Tsubasa- The game's main heroine, whose appearance is the catalyst for the events that create the game's story.  Like Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has experienced both abandonment and abuse from her family (mostly psychological abuse), but unlike those two, she isn't really capable of anger, so she has no outlet to release her stress.  Despite her fragile appearance, she is not weak-willed... she is simply the type that endures, bending with the wind rather than standing firm within it.  Like both Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has an intense, deep well of love.  However, she is also far more willing to believe in others than either of them is, unwilling to give up on others until she is driven beyond her ability to endure. 

Clephas

After ten years playing VNs, you would think I would have completely lost faith in them by now, especially considering just how many I've played (744 not counting most of the nukige, replays and incomplete/dropped ones).  Most VNs that aren't nukige are SOL-fests that exist solely to promote nostalgic fantasies about life in high school and getting into bishoujos' pants... not that that is an entirely horrible goal, but it isn't something I want to see five hundred times over.

The romance is usually puerile and has no relation to reality, the characters have all their hard edges filed away by the needs of the archetype, and drama is used solely to add 'spice' (like one sprinkle of pumpkin spice, not cracked red pepper) to an otherwise endlessly sweet and bland recipe. 

So how is it that someone who has experienced that much essentially boring and pointless repetition of the same scenarios able to continue to enjoy VNs, even if he can't stand meaningless SOL anymore?

At one time, it was a sense of duty, a belief that I was doing the community good by digging gems out of the piles of crap that are the SOL genre.  I also had a sense of pride that I made an effort of objectivity that I have literally seen no one else attempt.  I played games no one else bothered with because they didn't have the time or patience, and I did it because I thought someone looking at the games would want to know what they were getting into.

I paid a price in a growing sense of bitterness, of boredom, and of a sense that I was forgetting the reason why I began to read fiction in the first place.  I paid a price in people continually being trolls and trying to draw me into fights over my opinions on these games.  I had people start reddits and send me pms being sympathetic about the very conversations they'd started (yes that happens). 

I also had people who respected what I was doing, and I knew there were people in the community who benefited from the fact that I was doing it.  I watched VNs I had pushed get localizations and fantls (usually to my surprise), and I saw others that I had labeled as mediocre get hyped to a ridiculous degree.   I tried to get other people to help with what I was doing, only to find that, without a reading speed similar to mine, it was too much of a burden on their lives and ate up the time to read the VNs they wanted to read. 

The bad generally outweighed the good immensely while I was doing VN of the Month, and even after, I found that the after-effects of my years of playing games I wasn't interested in personally had left me with scars I was unable to feel while my sense of duty was keeping me going. 

However, I can say that I still haven't given up on VNs.

Why? 

The reason is ridiculously simple and at the same time profound (at least to me).  I love the medium.  For someone who likes an experience that combines the reading, visual input, and music without the need for a lot of input from the one experiencing it, VNs provide a unique storytelling experience.  Books are great for the imagination and can send our souls exploring across landscapes that exist only in our own minds, but VNs provide a more filled-out framework for those who don't necessarily have the imagination to fill in all the gaps on their own, without rotting the imagination to the degree manga and anime do.  I've been able to get people who had trouble reading books into VNs, then led them straight back to books and opened the world of imagination to them.  I've seen people who had begun to feel the otaku community offered nothing more to them come alive again after playing a chuunige or a charage.  I've picked up a random moe-looking VN and found a deep and compelling story that remains within me dozens of times.

In the end, it is moments, experiences like that that keep me coming back, believing in the possibilities of VNs even now.  It is the desire to find more such experiences that keeps me looking at new releases each month, and it is the belief that those experiences will never entirely vanish that keeps me from condemning the industry as a whole for the way it sabotages itself at times. 

Clephas

Paradise Lost was the first game in Masada's/Light's 'Shinza series (Paradise Lost>Dies Irae>Kajiri Kamui Kagura).  For the sake of those who read Dies Irae but still don't understand how this universe/setting works, I'll explain it in a spoiler box at the end of the post. 

Paradise Lost is based in the ruins of a city once called Sodom, now the Quarantine City, a city full of poisonous miasma that causes death and mutation in its inhabitants, a city sealed from the outside world by an impenetrable barrier, a city where Darwinism is the only law.  All the denizens of that city are beasts, monsters who combine human cruelty with the lack of restraint of an animal.  In that city, a man, sometimes named Lyle, at others Nacht, and at yet others Death Scythe, walks the streets of the darkest, most toxic area of the city, stained with the blood of those unfortunate enough to encounter him.

That's my intro to one of Paradise Lost's two protagonists, Lyle.  In a city where everyone is out for themselves, with no pretense of anything else, Lyle is a living legend, a monster who kills simply because he can, because he feels like it.  Always at war with his even more violent alternative ego, Nacht, he searches for a past lost so long ago that it was forgotten by time itself.  Frozen in place for years, time begins to move forward when he encounters the angel Ririel deep in the depths of the Dead Zone.

The other protagonist, Knowe Christ, is a bit more comprehensible from the average human perspective.  He is a young man who is on the lowest rung of the Quarantine City's societal ladder.  Born with defects that make a life of violence impossible for him, he supports his adopted little sister Sophie by selling drugs and being a 'body chopper', selling his own body parts for enough money to feed them both.  He loves Sophie dearly, and she is the only thing keeping him sane in the abyss that is that city.

Paradise Lost is, like all Masada games, over the top and pretty much a perfect example of epic chuunige style (as opposed to the standard types, which are less melodramatic and grand in scale).  In some ways, this game avoids everything that Masada normally does poorly (namely slice-of-life) entirely.  It is pure story from beginning to end.  There is no conflict between daily life and the darker struggle, because the struggle is merely an extension of that daily life.  Both protagonists are dark by nature, though Knowe can be pretty frustrating for his surprising naivete (understandable, since he is a weakling by the standards of the city). 

This game has a lot of great fights and slaughter, and the actual story is pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, the visuals are dated (though still pretty cool) and the protagonists aren't voiced, both of which are negatives for a chuunige (you would have thought Light would have fixed that when they re-released the game).  There is only one truly good person in this entire VN (Ririel), and most of the characters in the game would be considered to be monsters by our moral standards.  Both inside and outside of the city the world is a huge dystopia, with merely the vector differing.

This game uses a lot of Christian apocrypha (as should be obvious, considering that Ririel is an angel) in the setting, but it is done in a way that should be pretty offensive to most Christians, lol (seriously, I don't think that Masada could have so thoroughly designed a blasphemous work even if he'd done so intentionally).

While there are six endings to the game, it should be noted that there are only two possible overall outcomes, with the only differences between them being whether the endings are focused on Knowe's side (and one of his two heroines) or Lyle's side.  Basically, the essential difference between the endings is determined by whether the antagonist succeeds or fails in his main goal (ironically, the antagonist succeeding creates the 'good' endings). 

Overall, this game is a great chuunige... but anyone who doesn't like chuunige won't like it, because there is literally nothing but chuunige content in this game.

Spoiler

Essentially, at some point in the past (though it is questionable as to whether time actually is relevant in this case) humans created 'The Throne', also known as 'Shinza'.  The Throne is literally a place where the god who decides the basic rule of the world sits, his ideal/manifest consciousness subtly or not so subtly altering how the world works.  Eventually, someone discovered a way to challenge the god upon the throne and rewrote reality with their own rules, creating the cycle that defines the Shinza games.  The first world was split completely between perfectly good and perfectly evil individuals.  The second world was ruled by the epitome of Darwinism and is the world in which Paradise Lost is based.  The third world, created by the events in Paradise Lost, was a world free of original sin (thus called the 'White Realm').  Despite this essentially being a world where people's inner darkness had no reason or way to overcome them, eventually an individual, driven by a desire to see new things and discover the unknown, challenged the third world's ruler.  That individual was Mercurius, the master of 'eternal repetition'.  This cycle lasted for what is thought to have been millions of years in Mercurius's subjective time (incidentally one reason why he is so screwy and anyone who has too much contact with him goes a little crazy).  Briefly, Marie created a fifth world (in her path) that allowed for Mercurius's continued existence, but this contradiction (the previous deity still being alive) allowed for the rise of Hajun, who almost took over before Mercurius forcibly took control and restarted things to allow Marie to retake her choice (a fact that Mercurius himself is too screwed up to remember), eventually (probably after several more cycles) resulting in the events of Rea's path in Dies Irae, finally creating the true fifth world.  That was the original canon, with Kajiri Kamui being a 'what-if' scenario for if Hajun defeated Mercurius first and succeeded in destroying Marie. 

 

Clephas

This game is on a short list of VNs from 2015 that I am pretty sure I underrated.  As a result, I decided to take a second look at it and see if my impressions changed.  To an extent, they did.  I was much nicer to it this time around, if only because I had better perspective after having taken a few steps back from VNs in general. 

This game is focused on the Gardening Club of a Protestant boarding school in Japan.  The protagonist, Haruto (real name Hartviche or something like that) is a vampire born in the twelfth century and staked rather thoroughly by the Inquisition in the sixteenth century.  He was then revived by the game's main heroine, Kureha, who gave his mummified corpse some of her blood as a child.  His body then reverted to a child state of equal age to hers and he ended up being raised a second time as her little brother. 

It should be noted for those who hate nerfed fantasy that this game is somewhat borderline in that respect.  In this game's version of our world, vampires are actually people who, through intense mental and magical training, exceeded human limits and became able to live solely off of life energy or blood.  Their purpose in doing so (at least the ones who became vampires by this method) was to save humanity by eventually becoming one with the world.  If this sounds vague to you, don't worry, you aren't alone... it is probably the most out-there outlook on vampires I've seen since Twilight, lol.

Anyway, Haruto, who is a member of the club, one day finds that he has entered a state called the Flower Choosing, in which he is required biologically to find his mate and drink their blood, with the near-100% chance they will turn into a vampire themselves.  Haruto, being a goody-goody type, is of course greatly conflicted by this idea (since his experience tells him that very few humans can withstand the burdens of eternity), and, like the hetare all charage protagonists who aren't hot-blooded or super-lucky (as in, the situation resolves itself without him having to move), he waffles a lot during the common route and heroine routes. 

You won't see any action scenes in this game... though there are plenty of scenes that are emotional, the game's length turns out to be its greatest weakness at times.  The common route and the heroine routes are about as long as you'd expect from a Yuzu-soft game, rather than your standard charage, and a ridiculous amount of time is spent with Haruto and the heroines wringing their hands about stuff that is exasperating, looking at it from the outside.

Nonetheless, the emotional moments are generally worth the wait, and I can honestly say there is one area in which this game managed to redeem itself in my eyes... the endings.  Every one of the endings in this game is a 'years later' ending, meaning you aren't stuck reading what they did the day after the climax (a common occurrence in charage, mostly because companies want to leave stuff for a possible FD or just because it is 'tradition' now).  However, one thing that seriously irritated me about this game (besides the somewhat excessive length created at least in part by switching out scenes depending on which heroine is set to dominate at the end of the common route) is the way the vampire setting only ever really lives up to its full potential in Kureha's route.  Oh, there are a few moments in each route where you can go 'that would be kind of cool', but Haruto's general reluctance to use his abilities or actually change the girls ruins most of it. 

I have better perspective now, so I can see it didn't deserve the poor rating I gave it way back when... but if you asked me if it was satisfying, I'd say it falls short.

Clephas

This is a list of VNs I think are worthy of playing, regardless of my vndb vote (no VN of the Year, since I don't do VN of the Month anymore).  While I haven't been playing much since September, the fact remains that I still played a large number of VNs this year.  Feel free to object, but I have no obligation to listen anymore *whistles cheerfully as he juggles the flaming skulls of those who have opposed him in the past).

Fuukan no Grasesta

Mirai Radio no Jinkou-bato

Haru to Yuki (if I could say I'd played most of the games this year, this would be my VN of the Year choice)

Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei Son Go no Ketsumyaku

Maoten

Curio Dealer

Kimi to Hajimeru Dasantekina Love Come

Kimi to Mezameru Ikutsuka no Houhou

Butterfly Seeker

A.I. Love

Unjou no Fairy Tale

Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteiru: Trinkle Stars

Hataraku Otona no Ren'ai Jijou 2

Shogun-sama wa Otoshigoro

Hello, Lady Superior Entelecheia

I might add the new Venus Blood, depending on whether I come out on the other end feeling it was good, lol.

Clephas

If yall haven't guessed (or just read my previous posts) my primary reason for giving up VN of the Month was being buried in SOL... well, that and the fact that playing that many new VNs a month took up too much of my time and left me none for any pursuits beyond work. 

My immediate realization afterwards was that I quite simply couldn't play SOL games at all for the first few months.   After years of constant overdosing on saccharine fake romance and meaningless conversations that exist only to make you go moe over the heroines, I had simply had enough.  Even now, I literally cannot play a pure SOL game without my body physically rejecting it by putting me to sleep or giving me a headache. 

After a while, I got to where SOL didn't bother me, as long as I knew there was something beyond it (actual plot of some sort, maybe a little violence or a protagonist I could like).  Unfortunately, that means I can't bring myself to play anything where I see no hint of something beyond the SOL (seishun doesn't count, since that is default).  My most recent experiments (Clochette games) told me that I could still enjoy SOL as long as it was peppered with something interesting.  However, I quickly realized when I tried to play some of the newer games that came out this month... I wanted to vomit after starting several of them.  I literally couldn't stand the obviously standard-issue protagonist, the weak carbon copy heroines, and the dead copies of games that came out years ago. 

For instance, Sora ni Kizanda Parallelogram was such a blatant attempt to use the nostalgia of both Aokana and Walkure Romanze fans (FD for the former and complete pack for the later came out recently) that it made me want to be sick.  The protagonist's situation and personality were carbon copies of the one from Walkure Romanze, and the situation and setting were partially stolen from Aokana.  Hell, one of the heroines is of the same type as the main heroine from Aokana.  That sent me over the edge, and I sold my copy to a local eroge addict so I wouldn't have to look at the filthy thing again. 

Worse, a bad copy of Ninki Seiyuu no Tsukurikata came out this month, and I wanted to smash something (I hate games that focus on entertainment industries).  Ugh. 

*coughs* ahem, now that I got that out of my system, I have to wonder... am I going to have just as violent a reaction next month and the next after?  There are things I used to like about SOL games that I just can't enjoy anymore, and that saddens me deeply...  and my tolerance for blatant and pathetic attempts at milking other companies' games' popularity has gone down to zero, apparently. 

Clephas

Prism Recollection is a more recent release by Clochette, with a less fantastical setting than Kamikaze Explorer's or Suzunone Seven's.  Prism Recollection's setting is in a future Japanese town that is being redeveloped by corporations using it to test cutting-edge technologies and techniques for comprehensive economic redevelopment (as opposed to the piecemeal redevelopment that is normal in most cities).   From the fact that most stores require people to use digital money to the AR holograms that can be made to appear like screens or holographic overlays throughout the new city, it shows off a possible near future that we already see in bits and pieces in our modern lives. 

The protagonist, Masanobu, moves back to this town after seven years away to reunite with his little sister Konoka and his parents... or so he thought.  However, his parents hardly ever come home, and he finds that his sister has become an impulsive oni-san obsessed pervert and heavy otaku in the years he has been in the way.  In addition, he allows himself to be convinced to join the Three Stars Club, a school club run by an impulsive and typically (for Clochette) massive-breasted girl named Sayaka for the stated purpose of giving guided tours of the developed and undeveloped portions of the town.  In reality, the club ends up doing whatever is helpful to the people around them, and thus is as much a jack-of-all-trades club as anything else. 

Masanobu is a devoted older brother, a surprisingly wise and capable young man who cooks at a pro level, has a strong understanding of computer hardware, and is accustomed to working hard.  He is far more mature for his age than the others around him, except Veronica and with the exception that he doesn't bother to censor his appreciation for the *coughs* physical allure of the girls around him.  He is a terrible liar, so he generally doesn't bother.

Konoka, Masanobu's sister (also the main heroine, though there isn't excessive favor to any individual heroine in this game) is more than a bit of an oddball.  She openly tries to seduce Masanobu into compromising situations, toys with everyone around her to varying degrees, and she can generally be trusted to say something sexually inappropriate every five lines or so.  She also records just about everything around her, using sketchpads, notepads, video recording, audio recording, and cameras.  She has good reason for this, as she has a neurological disease that prevents her from recalling episode memories more than three days in the past, though it doesn't interfere with her ability to gather knowledge.  It has, however, stunted her emotional expression in some areas, and she doesn't self-censor what emotions have developed at all, which is one reason for her often inappropriate behavior (though she also loves the reactions of those around her). 

Sayaka, the club president, is a cheery, outgoing young woman who has almost no impulse control.  She takes pictures constantly, loves nothing more than to help people, and she can be trusted to be attracted to trouble like iron filings to a magnet.  She also has a tendency to overdo things, to act without thinking, and she rarely bothers to restrain her impulses.  She rarely gets depressed, and when it happens, it generally only lasts half-a-second before her optimism breaks through.  She loves Tonan, her hometown, and she wants nothing more than to see everyone else come to love it to, which is the main reason she formed the club.

Hinano is Sayaka's kouhai and one of the two initial members of the club.  She is a master hacker and generally brilliant young woman with tsundere tendencies that generally do a poor job of hiding the fact that it is easy get on her good side.  She has trouble saying no to those close to her, and both Konoka and Masanobu are extremely good at getting around her personal barriers.  In the club, she generally is in charge of gathering information and organizing it into reports.  She is personally indebted and in the hire of the director of the school board, Kujou Hatsune, and as a result, she is forced to also dress up as a maid and work as a waitress at the cafe Hatsune runs on the side (which also serves as Hatsune's research lab and the club room). 

Aina is a half-Japanese exchange student from a fictional European country with a military background and a powerful politician and general for a father.  She is easygoing, open, and she can generally be trusted to create explosive synergy with Sayaka if left to her own devices without someone to stop them (usually Masanobu).  She is openly friendly and open about her initial attraction to Masanobu from the beginning.  She loves Japan and is, without a doubt, a true weaboo.  Moreover, she is in the weaboo stage where even knowledge of her own absurdity does not in any way weaken her adoration of Japan, lol. 

Like all Clochette games, this one combines a lot of SOL with just as much story and character development.  In this case, much of the story involves the effects the redevelopment, the corporations running it, and the people 'left in the dust' by the process.  Central issues include the advanced quantum computer used to run the town's services (the way it is used, its invasiveness, the implications of such systems, etc), the disregard of corporate interests for outliers' circumstances, and the dark side of the town's economic rise.  While the atmosphere is generally kept cheerful, there are a lot of serious moments and moments of danger in each of the paths. 

Overall, I was glad to come back to this game... if only because Konoka is hilarious, lol.

Clephas

Kamikaze Explorer was the third game from Clochette I played, and even today it remains in my memory as one of the most well-balanced charage/plotge hybrids I've ever played.  I say 'balanced' because most games don't achieve hybridization at all.  Most charage are essentially character development, light romance, and SOL with little else.  Plotge, on the other hand, often tend to go for 'efficiency' on character development, romance, and SOL (exceptions exist), and true hybridization of the genres has become exceedingly rare in recent years (specifically since the beginning of 2015, we saw a general decline in charage with actual stories and a fall in the overall number of plotge). 

Clochette is a company more famous for being full of oppai girls than for its stories... but that is mostly because anyone's first impression on seeing the cast of one of their games is that the heroines are all... large, to say the least.  That said, except for a few failures like Amatsu Misora ni, this company has produced nothing but charage/plotge hybrids since it came into existence, with the company having a steady, if not huge, following in Japan and over here. 

Kamikaze Explorer is based in a future where much of the world has been sunk under the oceans and technological development has stagnated.  However, about twenty years before the story began, large numbers of children began to be born with or display supernatural abilities that came to be labeled as Metis.  These abilities generally were based somehow off of the hidden desires of the user, and, in the more well-off countries, it was decided to research them in a humane manner rather than the inhumane one you would usually expect.

The protagonist, Hayase Keiji transfers into a school that is centered on researching and training such individuals (such individuals being labeled as Metis-passers).  At the school, he is immediately recruited by the pretending-to-be-arrogant-but-actually-shy ojousama Mishio into Argonaut, a club that seeks to  help people in general while also acting to solve Metis-related incidents at the same time.  Keiji is something of a genius, driven by his sense of curiosity to the point of obsession, and his current obsession is Metis. 

From a purely SOL-romance point of view, this game is pretty sappy.  There are a lot of really obvious emotional points, and the ichaicha is heavy-handed... However, in this case, that doesn't come across as a negative... mostly because the ichaicha is usually interspersed with relatively serious moments and plot-related issues. 

The plot itself isn't huge in scale, but it is dramatic and shows off perhaps too much of a dark side for the average charage at points.  However, for the most part, it is not heavy-handed or excessive.  Well, I will say one of the antagonists is a bit creepy/scary, but that just made the game interesting, at least for me. 

It needs to be said again, but this game is a hybrid of charage and plotge so those who purely want one or the other should think before playing.  Like all the games by this company, the H-scenes are mostly mild... but they are also extremly erotic and relatively plentiful for a game of its length.

Edit: Incidentally Miiko (Mishio) is my waifu.  Grab one of the other girls if you want a waifu *snarls viciously*

Clephas

Over the last few weeks, I've gone back through all of the chuunige Hino Wataru was responsible for, and I came up with a number of common points that exist in each of his games, that define his overall style.  At the same time, I thought I'd also mention why I usually recommend Comyu to people despite the translation being such a disaster.

Hino Wataru patterns

Hino Wataru has a number of unique patterns that define his style of writing chuunige (some of it spills over into his SOL games, which I plan to replay soon as well).  Here, I will describe these patterns and why they are unique in modern non-nukige VNs.

First, every Hino Wataru game has at least one major character (antagonist, protagonist, main character, or heroine) who is sexually open or strongly driven by their sexual impulses to the point of being out of control.  In Ruitomo, it was the infamous predatory lesbian Atori.  In Hello, Lady, Narita Shinri is himself the one with the overdriven libido.  In Comyu, both Haru and Akihito can be considered to be of this type, albeit for opposite sexes.  Shizuku (a major antagonist in Suisei Ginka) is pretty much a bisexual succubus.  Akeno Shuri himself in Hi ga Nai is the sexually amoral one.   (incidentally, the first complaint most people have about Akihito from Comyu is that he is a cheating man-whore... but I always figured they were just being prudes)

Second, every Hino Wataru chuunige has some kind of internal catchphrase (sometimes multiple ones) that plays a vital part in the thought processes of the protagonist.  In Ruitomo, it is 'we are cursed'.  In Comyu, it is 'koko wa yasashii oukoku' and 'soredemo, to'.  In Hello, Lady it is 'Nasu beki koto o nasudarou.'.  Generally speaking, these phrases are often loaded with multiple meanings or meanings that are unconventional.  Unfortunately, these phrases and a lot of Hino Wataru's other wordgames just don't translate at all, which is one of the reasons why Comyu's translation comes across as flat or awkward. 

Third, a lot (not all) of his chuunige involve a group of characters forced together because of circumstance that never quite get over that first awkwardness.  The heroines of Hello, Lady never really settle down around Shinri.   Ruitomo's group of friends are constantly on the verge of being at one another's throats over one thing or another.  Comyu's main cast has so many conflicting personalities it is a miracle they don't kill one another (literally). 

Hino Wataru loves to philosophize.  All of his chuunige protagonists philosophize or have a moral policy that is slightly or completely out of sync with conventional morality.  Narita is capable of valuing life deeply while taking the lives of others ruthlessly for the sake of his goals.  Akihito is ruthless at times, excessively soft on women, and actively prioritizes those close to him over what is right.  It goes on.

Comyu

During my recent replay of Comyu, I was reminded again of why I stopped playing VNs in English.  I played the patched version of Comyu shortly after it came out, out of curiosity... and it was enough to put me off playing translates games entirely for years after.  A lot of this has to do with elements of Hino Wataru's style that just don't translate well, so it can't be said to the translator's fault entirely... 

As such, it always screws with me when people nitpick the translation then use it to bash the game itself.  Calling Akihito a man-whore is fine, but using that as a reason not to like the game always struck me as stupid, since he has a lot more stuff to him that makes him interesting. 

Anyway, down to the nuts and bolts... 

Comyu, as anyone who has played it knows, suffers because of the way the paths are locked at the beginning.  To be blunt, nobody who plays the game likes Benio as a heroine.  She is naive, her personality is incompatible with what is going on, and, though she serves as a perfect opposite to Isawa, that doesn't get around the fact that her naivete is frequently annoying.  As a side-character, she is excellent, but, like Ruitomo, forcing you to play the least interesting heroine first doesn't make for a good start.

Hisoka's path benefits from being highly emotional... Hisoka's situation is a tear-jerker, and the way you are introduced to it is ideal for ripping your heart out and serving it back to you on a plate.  It has one bad, one normal, and one 'sort of good' ending...  However, it is also much bloodier and darker than Benio's path, providing a strong contrast.

Mayuki's path is significantly more light-hearted and SOL-focused than the previous two paths, but it too has a number of strongly emotional moments.  It has one bad and one good ending and only one major fight.

Now we come to Kagome's path (Ayaya's not being worth mentioning).  Kagome is, very obviously from the beginning, the true heroine of the game.  She and Akihito are inseparable in all the paths, and the one thing she never does is abandon him.  This path reveals the 'area behind the stage' in its entirely, and as a result, it is exponentially more bloody than all the other paths combined.  Kagome's own truths are about as dark as they come, and all the characters are pushed to their very limits, many of them dying in the process. 

Kagome is one of the major reasons I come back to this game on occasion.  She is also the heroine who sparked my recognition of the phenomenon of the 'absolutely connected' heroine (the type of heroine who is so close to the protagonist that she is still by his side in all the paths, unless she dies).  Not to mention she is the only heroine I've ever encountered who honestly loves the protagonist to the point of being truly deredere and yet has a semi-permanent sneer/contemptuous smile on her face (I consider her to the ultimate spiky tsundere).  Well, she is also truly contemptuous of him... it just doesn't get in the way of her loving him.

Clephas

This is essentially a bundle release of all Hello, Lady related games/scenarios.  As such, normally I wouldn't really see much of a need to go back over it... but there was enough material added here to make it worth a further assessment.

Hello, Lady

The original game, Hello, Lady, is unchanged from its original version.  That's to say, it is the last truly great Akatsuki Works game. 

For those who have never read my long-past review of the game, it occurs during the same time period as Hi no nai Tokoro ni Kemuri wa Tatenai and in the same generalized setting as Ruitomo.  It is also based in the same city as Hi no nai Tokoro, though the events occur completely in parallel without having any effect on one another. 

The game focuses on Tenkawa Noble School, an educational institute for those possessing the special power known as 'Halo', a power that takes many forms but at the core allows the possessor to alter reality within strictly defined limits.  The school is run partially as a research institute and partially as a training school for MHIs (the possessors of the aforementioned ability).  At the head of the student body are five highest-ranking MHIs (the only five who have reached Etoile class) who are also called the Crown. 

Into this comes Narita Shinri, a supremely arrogant, supremely capable, and supremely perverted man with a habit of speaking in a manner more suited for the stage of live theater than real life.  He enrolls as a student, but from the very beginning, he says he doesn't agree with the ideals espoused by the school's management and founders... and he also has an extremely bad habit of feeling up every girl he meets.

Hello, Lady's main game is, in the end, a story of vengeance and romance intertwined.  It is frequently deeply emotional, and Narita is surprisingly human under his arrogant outer layers (OK, he never stops the arrogance, but it grows on you pretty quickly and is the source of a lot of laughter).  The issues with MHIs, both social and practical, are deep and effect the story strongly. 

Overall, that this is a game that I could still enjoy on a third playthrough says everything.

New Division

New Division focuses on two girls who were immensely intriguing in the original game, but were essentially shuffled to the side.  My guess is that AW figured they could make more money by keeping these two stories separate than by including them in the main game, even as extras.

Hishia, Narita Shinri's utterly loyal maid, is one of the two heroines bestowed with a route in this game.  The basic scenario of her story is a mixture of recollections of her past with him, her interactions with the heroines during their brief meetings, and it follows the outline of Saku's path (albeit without romance between those two).  Hishia, even before you get to know her past, is an interesting character (and not just because she is a maid with machine guns under his skirts).  Her constant making fun of Shinri (which he hardly notices for the most part) and the way she talks about him behind his back with the heroines is pretty amusing.  I found her battle with one of the major antagonists to the best part, chuunige-wise, in her path... while the ending of the battle was inevitable, Hishia was still badass.

Mitori is one of those rare individuals born an MHI, meaning that she used her powers as a matter of course through her young life and was... significantly 'different' from the rest of humanity until her meeting with Saku.  Her path, unfortunately (and predictably for anyone who played the main game) is full of tragedy and despair... but it is also very informative about the setting itself, filling in some of the holes left empty or poorly filled in by the main game.  I cried several times in this path, as I did for Hishia (Hishia's past is tragic, by most standards). 

Superior Entelecheia

This is the extra scenario from the Vita version of the game.  Superior has a strong focus on the motivations of the antagonists (all of them), and as a result, it is pretty over the top.  The battles and conflicts in this path are more complex and less of a one-sided 'Narita getting what he wants' kind of thing.  This path has a lot of emotional ups and downs, and it digs much, much farther into the reasons why things ended up the way they did before the original story started.  The ending itself left me in tears, then had me laughing.

I do have some complaints about this, though... one is that the VA quality is lower, the VAs differ for several characters (Hishia's VA was so different as to be almost unrecognizable), and there are a few lines here and there that probably could have been fixed with a simple retake.  Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from enjoying the experience as a whole.

Alls well that Ends Well

This is the only part of this unique to this release... to be straight, it is a comedy scenario with h-scenes for all the heroines but Sorako.  It made me laugh briefly, especially toward the end.

Clephas

Now that I've completed the main game, it is time to post about the story... which is the most important part of any VN, hybrid or not.

The story begins with Judar Schwarka, a Rovari (race of nomad/barbarians who are the source of prejudice due to their physical attributes) mercenary and his employer, Eutre Hyte, heading out to ambush the supply train of a Telphion Federation army besieging the Belgrad Empire forces in a fortress.  Judar, flat and uninterested in anything except the job, is forced to listen to his loquacious employer as he expounds on the battle below, and it is in that scene that you get your first impressions of two of the game's key characters. 

Naturally, given that Judar is a general badass, the prologue is mostly about him being a badass and getting the job done, but the idiot general who was protecting the fortress surrenders about the time they get the job done.  This results in Judar and Eutre being sold to the Vanguard City of Grasesta as war slaves for the purpose of serving as cannon fodder against the constant incursions from the underground dungeon. 

This should give you an idea of the atmosphere of the early game.  Judar, being razor-edge focused on survival and the keeping of his contractual obligations, takes being sold as a slave in stride.  Judar's personality is unique amongst the protagonists I've seen in Eushully's VNs.  Having clawed his way up from the worst slums of an Empire aligned with the Dark Forces, Judar is extremely straightforward and blunt.  He is a mercenary because it is all he knows, and, while he loves battle, he is nonetheless a survivor at heart, so he will avoid battles that don't benefit him or his employer.  He is an honorable individual to a fault, and he always keeps his word in all matters, large or small.   If I were to give him a D&D style alignment, it would be Lawful Neutral, albeit with the stipulation that his guide is his given word rather than the law as laid down by others.  Judar could probably be considered a fighter/barbarian hybrid.

The early game is mostly about him fighting various forces in the underground and facing the oppression in the city itself, but he meets some interesting characters along the way, many of them party members.  I'll go ahead and give you a quick spoiler-free rundown of the recruitable characters and their personality/roles in battle.

Eutre Hyte is a schemer by nature and a military man at heart.  He gathers information and uses people who aren't his allies ruthlessly, and he is not above spying or assassination as tools to fulfill his goals.  He does feel a strong sense of obligation to those in his care (Judar being one of those he considers to be such, though Judar just ignores him most of the time), but he is definitely from the Belgrad Empire, meaning his nature is more aligned with Darkness than Light.  If I were to give him an alignment, it would probably be True Neutral with one foot into Evil.  His role in the party is mostly as a battle-focused rogue, but he spends very little of the game in your party, so that is mostly irrelevant.

Yuunagi is a gambling-addicted hedonist from a race that is a cross between oni and kitsune.  She is a freeman fighter (having willingly entered the city rather than coming as a slave).  She is very light-hearted and focused on pleasures of the moment, and she doesn't even really care that her personality is self-destructive.  Her alignment, quite naturally, would be Chaotic Neutral.  Her class would probably be barbarian with a bit of rogue, albeit with more of a focus on evasion.  I say this because all of her attacks are single-enemy, physically based, and she has the lockpick skill. 

Ekthel is probably the second weirdest non-dark elf I've ever encountered in any game (the first weirdest being the child-killing schizo elf from Darkengard).  I say this, but i'm not going to tell you why.  On the surface, she seems kind and helpful... but appearances can be deceiving.  I'd consider her to be Neutral Evil.  Her class would probably be ranger, with no deity alignment.

Aguna is the battle-addicted mage-warrior who would probably scare the shit out of any man irl.  She loves battle, money, and sex (in that order), and she absolutely loves life in Grasesta, despite having been enslaved (mostly because she couldn't stop picking fights and got dropped down there).  She would probably be considered a hybrid class of fighter and mage, as she can wield swords, staffs, and whips, and she has both a high attack and magic attack stat.  Unfortunately, she is also one of the two slowest characters in the game, with only Rosalind being slower.  Her alignment would probably be Chaotic Neutral.

Rosalind is from a sub-race of dwarves known as the Nebel, who are less hairy and... round.  She is cheery and light-hearted on the surface, but she has a bad habit of making weapons that explode... on purpose.  Her alignment would probably be Neutral Good, and her class a combination between the engineer and fighter classes.  In battle, she wields a warhammer and has some nice area attacks, but she is so slow that most characters get multiple turns before she gets hers. 

Mikuri is probably the only 'pure mage' character in the game.  Her personality is that of a studious sorcerer type... with the twist that she is cursed so that bad things happen to and around her whenever she goes to sleep (ranging from the silly to the seriously dangerous).  I'd probably call her True Neutral.  She is a pure wizard type, but until you finish her character quest, she has serious disadvantages due to her 'sleep deprived' 'skill'. 

Yureeshya is an angel who has been asleep since before the worlds were fused together.  As such, she is extremely naive and uneducated about the current world, and she still acts as if she were in the service of the creator god of the original human world (most angels in this setting have either 'fallen' and turned dark or are in the service of one of the many deities on the side of Light).  If you manage to complete her events (which should be started as soon as you get her) she becomes one of your better healer characters, though she is only mediocre as a sacred magic user.  Unfortunately, you only have a very small window in which to complete her character events, and they require you to use her healing/support spells in battle and have them fail to activate them (this failure is a roughly 25% probability).  If you don't like her, you are given an opportunity to sell her to the brothel halfway through her events, but this means she isn't around to provide HP to your overall HP bar, lol.  Needless to say, she is Lawful Good.

Dulphia is a Telphion noble and third in command of the Indigo Knighthood.  She is very much a believer in knightly virtues, but her personality has some... problems.  Primarily, she is a natural sadist and has a tendency toward tough love in her interactions with subordinates.  She also joined the Knights pretty much since she didn't want to get married to some random aristocratic scumbag and because going into battle lets her get the sadistic tendencies out of her system.    Her alignment would probably be Lawful Neutral, like Judar, but it should be noted that her fighting style is that of a fight-focused paladin (light element sword enchantments, power against monsters and undead).  She is only permanently recruited near to the endgame, and this makes it impossible to get full use out of her... but to be honest, this game has too many light-element mages and fighters already, so I only used her against regular monsters.

Lilika is the main heroine of the story, a Grasestian noble who, due to exposure to dark miasma in the past, is forced to live most of her days with her soul attached to a flying mechanical doll whose technology is based off of the Madou Koukaku magitech concept.  She is a sweet-natured but determined girl who has a lot of the positive elements of aristocratic upbringing without the negatives.  She is also a skilled researcher of divine magic, magitech, and ancient languages.  She wields holy magic based off of the Blue Moon Goddess Luscion,  which is the most effective light magic in the game by far.  She can also cast healing and support spells, making her the closest thing you'll have to a true cleric.  She is Lawful Good by nature.

After playing this game, my basic impression is that, while the story segments that exist are excellent, it is too sparsely spaced out through each chapter, due to the inevitable grinding of a dungeon crawler.  While I say 'inevitable grinding', it should be noted that it isn't grinding for levels... it is grinding for items to make money off of to upgrade skill levels, buy back weapons, or just in general for any of a number of purposes.  I found that the only item I used regularly after the first few chapters was the container item Gladiator's Bird, which can be used to store Gladiator's Wings, which restore skill uses.  One-use items are not something I found myself using on a regular basis.  Instead, I tended to rely on healing magic and just not getting seriously damaged by enemies.  Levels generally come to match the enemies around you or pass them slightly just by winning every symbol encounter and regular encounter on your way through each level of the Black Caverns. 

Like a lot of Eushully's more recent titles, this game makes a number of major mistakes, the most annoying of which is the simple fact that gameplay has too strong of a grinding element without an accompanying 'reward' element.  Rewards from grinding are generally meager, outside of first trips through a given dungeon.  I only started seeing good drops in the final dungeon, where I was getting the ultimate female stat-boosting accessories on a rate of one for every other random encounter.  The story itself is not layered on heavily, and it is hard to find some of the heroines' events without a guide, which is a huge problem, since that meant I never did get rid of Yureeshya's negative skill (she has a very small window to see her events that lead to this occurring, and it requires you to do something counterintuitive).  Ekthel, for instance, needs you to occasionally sleep while she is not a member of the party to progress her events (because she shows other sides of herself away from you). 

I'm also pretty sure I completely missed the extra events for the high-level courtesan, Atelyla, and she was a pretty intriguing character I never really got a full grasp of.  I'm also pretty sure I missed out on non-H events related to Lucilla, the brothel owner in the lower city. 

One thing that seriously annoyed me about this game is that it is completely linear... there is no room for altering the ending or picking someone other than Lilika.  I would have appreciated a full-on Fleurety ending, just for the fun of it. 

In conclusion, this was a reasonably fun game, and it is probably the best one from this particular writer.  However, it has a number of glaring flaws that keep it from reaching its full potential. 

 

Clephas

Fuukan no Grasesta is the latest release from Eushully, the company responsible for Kamidori Alchemy Meister and Ikusa Megami Zero.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it is based in a unique fantasy world based off of the idea that a futuristic version of our world got fused with a world of demihumans and gods who granted magic in return for faith. 

Fuukan no Grasesta's basic system is that of a dungeon-crawler... with a few twists.  First, the party shares an HP bar, which signals the party's destruction if it hits zero.  Each character currently recruited or hired has a basic HP stat that adds to the bar, with the protagonist, Judar Schwarka, having the largest (his hp is about five times the next highest character's addition).  This is necessary, as the game has numerous points where Judar is the only fighter.  Judar himself is a straight-out warrior/barbarian type, with the ability to wield swords, greatswords, and warhammers.  His natural element is darkness, and his attacks, which range from a row to an all-enemies on a single platform attack, are generally powerful, albeit useless against some enemies (there are a LOT of dark elemental enemies out there, but it is great for wiping out regular enemies). 

Active skills in this game have a certain amount of uses each, rather than the game utilizing an MP system (which would make more sense, considering that magical energy is required for all powers and special abilities in the setting).  This makes traversing the dungeons a serious pain in the rear, especially since items are expensive, levels gained have little effect on stats (seriously... think maybe one stat going up by one, or three stats going up by one at the most, with Judar's HP going up every level).  This isn't as much trouble as you'd think, most of the time, simply because the enemy don't have huge gaps in strength based on level either, but it also makes grinding excessively unattractive, because there are minimal returns. 

When you leave the dungeon, all items found inside, save for those used to power up 'container' items (special items that can take in usables and stock them for future use without taking up space in the inventory) or weapons, or weapons that have to be assessed to find out what they are.  You are given a pittance of money based on the value of what you found (seriously, it is shit money), and, if you are willing to spend what little you gained, you can get at least the most important ones (weapons and armor, usually) back... though it makes me wince every time, since money is generally scarce, no matter how far I get into this game.

Upgradable weapons and armor are usually the most valuable, and it is usually good to have weapons of multiple elements on each character so they can switch as needs must, since elemental attacks make things a lot easier at times. 

Early in the game, my advice is hurry up and get your party wiped out once, use money to restart, then go back and use the Hetares Dungeon from the append to quickly level your characters up (after you hit about level 15 it slows down, and that is about the point you should stop using it to level up) and get coins that can be turned into money.  Early in the game, this is pretty much the only way to keep afloat, as demands on your money are constant, and grinding in the main dungeon is generally inefficient. 

Now, about allies... allies in this game are mostly recruited by hiring people you've gotten access to through the story/talking to them in the streets.  The expense for them differs...  and they only stay with you for a set number of days.  My advice is that you keep all available hires recruited at all times to keep your hp bar up, then only deploy the ones most effective for a given dungeon in the actual battles.  Having people vulnerable to the common element of a dungeon (vulnerabilities CAN be changed based on armor, but armor is much less plentiful and full of variety than weapons) in your formation is a good way to get slaughtered, and there is little point in pounding away with an element that doesn't do crap to the enemies in a particular part of the dungeon. 

As you hire them over and over again and see their scenes, eventually (between chapters 4-6 for most) you'll be able to permanently recruit most of the characters, but this often requires some extremely hard battles or really persistent use of the said characters.  So far, I'd say Mikuri and Aguna had the hardest recruitment issues (though Aguna was worth it, since her fire magic is powerful and her hire cost is the highest by 2X).  Excel and the dwarf girl who looks nothing like a dwarf take the longest but are relatively easy to take in (though Excel's quirks are... a bit strange).  The two healers of the party are Ririka and Excel, and without them you are pretty much screwed in boss battles. 

Throughout the dungeon are enemies called Disasters, demons of immense power who are usually dramatically more powerful than even the bosses of the areas they are in.  Since most of these have seriously badass area attacks, you'll have to pick which characters to fight them carefully and expect to lose at least once on many of them (especially since they are usually about twenty levels higher than the enemies around them and have proportionately higher stats than everything around them).  On the other hand, the rewards for beating them (in items, experience, and money) are generally worth it.  Until chapter 5's latest dungeon, I'd say it is barely possible for an adequately leveled party to take them down, given some luck and a good strategy.  On the other hand, at that point, the most recent one I ran into was having three turns for every one of mine and was using an all-area attack on at least one of those... and healing himself from the drain effect of his passive skill.  Annoying, to say the least.

It probably says everything about this game that I never really felt like I was anywhere near the head of the curve until I hit the fifth chapter, despite my experience with jrpgs and dungeon crawlers.  While the system isn't as quirky as that of some of Eushully's other games, it is still nontraditional enough to through me off at times. 

I'll keep comments on the story to myself until the final review, but these are my impressions of the gameplay so far.

Edit: Sorry, forgot to comment on skills...  In this game, skills do not automatically level up with your experience.  Rather, you have to spend money in the menu to level up the skills related to your character's use of weapons, puzzle-solving skills, and others.  I suggest you max Judar's Lone Wolf skill as early as possible, as it makes him an ungodly powerhouse when forced to fight alone... when the skill doesn't bug out (which it does surprisingly frequently). 

Clephas

Eushully's fantasy world

I love Eushully's unique fantasy world, Dir Lifyna.  Most of Eushully's games, save for a few oddball ones by the subsidiary Anastasia and Fortune Arterial, are based in this world, which began with the original Ikusa Megami (if this gets translated, somebody please smash the skull of anyone who translates the title, because they'll probably pick the worst permutation of it).  The first thing that anyone going into this setting should know, if only for giggles, is that this was never intended to be an expansive setting containing ten or more games.  Ikusa Megami was intended as a one-off game and was competing with Venus Blood, of all things. 

However, to the people who played the game, the setting was incredibly attractive, and they sold well enough to justify a sequel, which was even more well-received (if only because the dungeon-crawler elements were toned down to normal jrpg levels). 

The basic setting of the world is that, far in the past, a technologically-advanced human world created a gate/tunnel linking a world full of magic and demihumans, for reasons that pretty much boil down to boredom and stagnation as a species due to excessive technological development.  Unfortunately, this accidentally caused the two worlds to begin to merge, causing a conflict between their denizens and their gods.

An important common element to note between the two worlds is that gods existed in both worlds, but the gods of the human world had mostly ceased intervening in mortal affairs openly long before, causing the near death of faith.  Since faith/belief is the source of all deities' power, the humans found themselves at a surprising disadvantage in the war, because their belief in their deities was almost nonexistent.  Worse, magic was quite capable of countering most of the advantages of human tech based on pure physics.

A faction of humanity chose to pursue the amalgamation of magic and tech, creating wonders and horrors (including artificial demons and gods), but over time (the war apparently lasted for generations), more and more humans switched sides, devoting themselves to gods on the other side, even as humanity's old gods were destroyed, sealed, or enslaved one by one.  By the end of the war, humanity was just another race, perhaps more numerous than the others, in the service of the 'Living Gods', and the 'Old Gods' were relegated to dusty legend and actively considered evil by most, if they weren't in the service of a Living God.  Human technology was, for the most part, wiped from the face of the new, merged world, and the only remnants can be found in ruins filled with monsters and/or automatic guardians.

The dominant deity of the new world is Marsterria, a minor war god who enslaved and killed more Old Gods than any other.  Most of his worshipers are humans, their prolific breeding and generations of faith having given him immense power.  His followers are often at odds with the protagonist of the Ikusa Megami series and nonhuman races, because of their excessive zealotry and broad determination of what species are considered 'dark races'. 

Conflict between dark gods and their servants and the gods of light and theirs is a normal part of the world of Dir Lifyna, with neutral regions and nations often becoming the battlegrounds for said followers as a result.  This is a world with a massive number of intelligent species, and that, in the end, is what makes it so much fun to look forward to each game, even if the flop ratio is over 50%, lol. 

Damn, it was hard to do that without spoiling anything.

Edit: It should be noted that demons, angels, nagas, and a few other races were actually coexisting with humanity but hidden due to their more direct service to deities in the original human world.  The nagas still maintain faith with old gods for the most part, and as a result, they are marginalized to an immense degree.  Most angels 'fell' or serve one of the Living Gods now (or both), and demons are a plague, with more summoned on occasion since demon summoning was one of the few magics that remained to humanity when the worlds met. 

Clephas

Akatsuki no Goei is something of an oddball if you ignore the existence of Grisaia, but they share some major traits.  Both have a relatively 'peaceful' (if dramatic) first game that involves romantic paths that are mostly irrelevant to the third game.  Both have a psychologically-scarred, killer protagonist with a criminal past.  Both have a quirky sense of humor that is mostly generated by the protagonist's abnormal actions... I could go on, but I'll move on to my point.

The most blatantly obvious similarity is that both series have three games, the first, the fandisc, then the third as a conclusion.  In both cases, the conclusion is more serious, but that is where the similarities end.  Whereas Grisaia's third game went down the kinetic novel path, giving you only one ending to see, Akagoei's third game, Tsumibukaki Shuumatsuron actually has three main routes with over fifteen endings, each with a different heroine. 

Now, I'm going to hit the titular reason why I wrote this post.  Akagoei can be seen one of two ways, based on knowledge gained from playing Reminiscence.  You can either see the fandisc as irrelevant save for the long experience of Kaito's past seen in Anzu's route, giving you the background knowledge to give flavor to the third game.... or you can see the FD's endings as an alternative to the ones in Tsumibukaki Shuumatsuron, a conclusion that a lot of the fans of the SOL and comedy elements of the series picked. 

This is actually very typical of Kinugasa Shougo.  Kinugasa, from all accounts, hates canon endings.  He doesn't like to produce firm conclusions, and he always wants to leave the reader guessing on one level or another.  I'm about 90% sure Kinugasa created Tigre and made Reminiscence solely to make people confused, because it draws elements from all three games into the background, while not telling you what actually happened at all.  A few of those elements include: Akemi's path events in 3, Tae after-story from the FD, Reika path events from 1 and 3, and any number of other things.  It is also pretty clear, probably intentionally so, that a lot of the characters from Akagoei left descendants to appear in Reminiscence, though you can only guess who is who by appearance and their roles in the underground society. 

In other words, feel free to draw your own conclusions when it comes to this series... that's about half the fun.

Clephas

November 2018 Releases

While I won't be playing everything anymore, I thought I'd list here the non-nukige up for release and my impressions based on the Getchu and official pages.

Definitely will play

Fuukan no Grasesta: https://vndb.org/v23199

This is the latest Eushully game... and it also shares a writer with the last few entries, which were a somewhat mediocre set of games.  As such, my hopes aren't high... but I can't resist playing it.  I mean, the protagonist is a sociopathic mercenary in a city full of slaves and gladiators... how could you go wrong with that?  lol  Typical of the Eushully games released since IMZ, this game looks beautiful at a glance, and if it were released as a non-ero title on console, it would probably sell fairly well.  Of course, equally typical of Eushully is the possibility of the game as a whole being a miss.

Haruka Drive:https://vndb.org/v23284

Now, I know some of you will ask why I'm including an all-ages title here... but the writer caught my interest.  The writer of Hapymaher, Morisaki Ryouto, who has been on board with a ridiculous number of great titles over the last twenty years, is someone I always pay attention to.  In addition, the game itself visually resembles a Key title from ten years ago, which was interesting in and of itself.  Last of all, I'm a sucker for isekaimono of all types, including alternate realities.

The Rest

Kokoro ga Tsunagu Renbyou: https://vndb.org/v24073

It looks like a typical 'non-human girl attaches herself to the protagonist for reasons unknown' charage by what I read.  The protagonist is a total non-entity based on the description (actually says he is average, which made me blech), and while I might have been willing to at least try this before, it couldn't catch my interest this time around.

Amazing Grace: https://vndb.org/v23448

Looks like a typical time loop 'save everyone' story.  Based on what I read, it seems like a nakige, but it was sparse on clues.  The protagonist being an amnesiac in the situation I see makes me wince, but I'll probably play this eventually, even if I don't this month.  The size of the cast of characters says they probably put a lot into making the game, but it was written by LoS's 'kusoge team', so I'm wary of it, since those writers' record of failures is so long it makes the eyes spin.

Love Coordination: https://vndb.org/v23480

Just reading up on this one made me want to wince.  For some reason, the makers of this game decided to combine summer themes and a 'run the cafe!!!' type charage/moege.  Considering that either tends to be heavy on the sappy romance, I'm sure a certain type of person will squeal for joy at the idea.  However, after checking up on this one, I knew I would never play it.

Otome ga Musubu Tsukiyo no Kirameki:  https://vndb.org/v23338

Yet another overly long title for yet another Ensemble trap protagonist game.  Judging by the available content, it looks like Ensemble is trying to deceive the reader into thinking this will be another Koi no Canvas (incidentally, one of only two truly great games by this company).   The presence of Kouji on this project is something of a positive, considering that Sunao ni Narenai was not unbearable, but the presence of two mediocre to pure crap writers along with him makes me want to ignore this one, despite my fondness for trap protagonists.  To be straight about it, I'm tired of Ensemble luring me with surface-level capable protagonists who immediately become average once the actual heroine paths start.  For some reason, they kill the protagonists' individuality (or at least their interesting points) the second they hit the heroine routes, lol.

 

Clephas

As you can imagine, I got a lot of requests for a similar list over the years, but the thing is, I don't play VNs in English that didn't start out in English.  As such, my recommendations are based entirely on my experience of the Japanese versions of these VNs, rather than the localization.  As such, don't hold me responsible for your personal experiences, lol.  I'm going to split these by genre so I don't have to answer questions along those lines.  For the purposes of fairness, I won't include anything with a machine translation (which means no Chuushingura).

Chuunige

I/O (yes, I did indeed play this, and it was good despite being dated horribly)

FSN (you saw that coming, right?)

Tsukihime (again, you saw that coming, right?)

Comyu (fantasy)

Ayakashibito (fantasy)

Tokyo Babel (fantasy)

Dies Irae (fantasy)

Demonbane (fantasy)

Sorcery Jokers (fantasy)

Hello, Lady (upcoming fantasy)

Hatsuru Koto naki Mirai Yori (upcoming eventually, fantasy)

Baldr Sky (whenever it comes out (*crosses fingers for your sake* sci-fi)

Phantom of Inferno (despite all the problems with the localized version it is a great read)

Muv-Luv Alternative (this one is borderline, because it makes you read two mediocre games prior just to understand it)

Charage/Moege

Noble Works

Majikoi (classified this way as long as you don't include the true/last route)

Da Capo (the original only, and only because it is wrong not to have the archetypical moege experience at least one time in your VN lifespan)

Shuffle (truth be told, I'm basing this assessment off of the expanded version, not the version originally released over here)

Sanoba Witch (Yuzu-soft and thus predictably overdone with the ichaicha since this is one of their less plotge-style ones)

Dracu-riot (Wait until an official release comes out.  The patch currently floating around is a nonentity in comparison)

Senren Banka (Sadly not out yet, but something to look forward to)

Chrono Clock (I listed it in this one rather than plotge because the 'plot' was a bit too thin)

Akatsuki no Goei (the original falls, barely, into this category, despite some seriously disturbing shit involving Kaito's origin story that was dropped here and there and the dystopian nature of the setting.  Fan patch will probably be released next year)

Tsujidou-san no Jun'ai Road (yes, I put this here)

Note: For those who wonder why my list is sparse on a lot of names beloved by those who play localized games obsessively... you do realize that a lot of the charage that get released over here are from the bottom of the pile, right?

Nakige

Hapymaher (probably my biggest recommendation for this genre)

Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no (for the distant future, something to look forward to)

AstralAir no Shiroki Towa (whenever it releases)

Hoshizora no Memoria (yes, I recommend it, lol)

Irotoridori no Sekai (Eventually.  And again, more Favorite... despite the fact that its staff idolize mysterious lolis)

Koi ga Saku Koro Sakura doki (I was insanely surprised that this got localized at the time, considering the normal sluggishness of localization at the time)

Plotge

Koisuru Otome to Shugo no Tate (partial with two routes done.  Definitely worth reading, if only to get an idea of what AXL is like)

Cross Channel (weirdly, I've always had a fondness for this game and its clinically insane protagonist)

Yume Miru Kusuri (yes, I played it.  Yes, I liked it)

Boku ga Tenshi ni Natta Wake (no idea when this will come out... but definitely a recommendation, for all the screwy shit that happens in it)

Nanairo Reincarnation (upcoming soon hopefully for you, since that would mean two kamige releases in two years, lol)

Hello,Goodbye (this was a possible for chuunige, but I put it here.  This will supposedly release before the end of the year, but I'm guessing March)

Gameplay Hybrid

Eien no Aselia

Seinarukana

Ar Tonelico

Ar Tonelico 2 (this and the one above can only be considered to be borderline VNs in an odd way, because they are mostly jrpgs with a few VN elements)

Note: I don't include anything Eushully, because none of the good ones have a translation that isn't a machine one.

Clephas

JRPG: Growlanser IV

The Growlanser series is one of those weird, hardly known jrpg series that died out after the ps2 era (mostly because its gameplay was too traditional, but also because the transition to 2.5D sprites failed so miserably in V and VI, along with the derivative, predictable story).  However, before its death, it produced four first-class games, three of them linked in a single chronology.  IV, also known as Wayfarer of Time, is the exception in the series as a whole, being the only entirely standalone game.

Growlanser IV's Western release was on the PSP (also playable on the Vita and PSTV) with a modified main route and an 'evil' route that you could access on NG+.  The first four Growlanser games can be said to be very attractive to those who like player agency.  This is because, depending on how you fight, how you play, and what conversation choices you make (three of the four protagonists are silent ones whose) you could not only alter your own perceptions of the main character, but you could also alter the ending and even the game flow as a whole dramatically. 

Growlanser IV isn't an exception to this, but in a way it is easier.  One reason is that you aren't required to get the highest rating on  all story missions to get access to the 'true' ending.  Rather, it uses a 'fate alteration' system which allows you to take on sidequests, take various actions in combat, and make choices in conversations that alter how the game ends, who lives, and who dies.  The 'Modified Route', which is pretty much the 'good' route, pretty much requires you to alter every possible character's fate in order to create the result of ten major characters still being alive past the turning point of the story and the end.   With some of these characters, it is as simple as saving them in a certain story battle, with others it requires making the right choices in conversations with them in order to change how they act, thus preventing their deaths.

In this way, I came out of Growlanser IV feeling that, for the first time in a long time, that player agency actually mattered.  Hell, I never thought scolding a girl about throwing things then showing her kindness would give me an opportunity to save her soul later.

The main story itself is heavy on war politics, much like all the other games in the series.  In this case, it is a war story spread across about four years (my estimate) that ends up involving the whole of the known world.  The protagonist, raised in a mercenary outfit, ends up getting involved with saving the world and the nations in it... but you rarely see him being treated like a 'chosen one' outside of a few of his own companions.  Rather, most reactions are based in that person's standpoint and affiliation, which made both the enemies and allies feel real to me in a way few jrpgs ever manage. 

This game manages to avoid the traditional pitfalls of the average jrpg.  What do I mean?  I mean that tendency toward hot-blooded idealism and dew-eyed innocence about human nature that ruin 90% of JRPGs storywise.  I mean, a king isn't interested in saving the world... he is interested in enriching his country.  Good people in the wrong position will do bad things, and bad people who can benefit from it will do good things.  The characters feel like people, and I don't feel like I'm talking to carbon copies of characters from a thousand other jrpgs like I do with most mainline jrpgs.

The battle system in this game is a combination of turn-based and real-time strategy.  Generally speaking, you start out at a certain point of the map, and your characters move in real time when you aren't making choices about their next action.  It is possible to alter their course, and you can block enemies' routes with your warriors' bodies.  Knacks (non-magic activation skills) can be used to strike hard, slow enemies' turns,or slow their chanting of magic.  Magic takes a while to chant, but in exchange you can take normal actions immediately afterward, and spells can be canceled at any time just by pressing the triangle button and going to the character in question.

Perhaps the game's biggest overt weak point gameplay-wise is the way you learn skills (passives), Knacks (instant-use attack/support/debuff/buffs), and magic.  They are learned by attaching spellstones to the characters' ring weapons (three to a weapon, with the level of the stone you can attach limited by the ring's slots) and killing enemies in battle.  The reason why this is a problem is simple... only the character who deals the fatal blow to an enemy gains ability points for their... abilities.  A warrior who can take out five enemies at once with the use of the circle strike knack is going to find it easier to learn abilities than a mage or archer that can only strike one enemy at a time (synchronize spells later on to cast area spells utilizing multiple characters... but it still can't beat the quickness of AOE knacks). 

The greatest help to the player is the fact that you can buff before going into battle using spells, thus eliminating the need to tie up magic users in buffing for the first part of a battle.  Considering that most story battles have time limits, this is an issue.  This game rewards clever use of the systems like the arena and buff spells and will seriously sodomize you if you go through the game without thinking or preparing.

Overall, Growlanser IV was the series' peak, and it saddens me greatly that the series was killed in the PS2 era.  This game is about sixty hours long for the first playthrough (successive playthroughs are easier), and it is one of the better rpg stories I've ever played, being somewhat reminiscent of Suikoden, which is funny, considering they rose to cult popularity around the same time.

 

Clephas

For the sake of those who haven't played the game and don't want to be spoiled, I will endeavor to keep the worst spoilers in a spoiler box, but since I can't speak of what I want to speak of without spoiling things, I'm going to say right here that if you read any further, I will spoil things for you to some degree.

 

 

 

 

First, it needs to be said that I usually present Izuna Zanshinken in a way geared to take the interest of someone without extensive experience of VNs.  To be specific, I usually just call the game a 'vigilante assassin story', and it is that... However, there is more to it.

Izuna Zanshinken follows five main characters on a story heavy with moral and sociological implications and the clash of philosophies.  These characters in many ways define how the story is presented and the meaning of what is going on, and, fittingly for a game that isn't romantically focused (though it has decent romance in the usual chuunige sense) the story deals with issues that are hard-hitting for any society.

The Characters

While other characters are involved peripherally, the five characters most closely involved in the story are the protagonist Kotarou (Hitokiri Izuna); the head of the Nine-headed Dragons, Suzuka; her personal servant and best friend Shinobu; Kotarou's classmate and the daughter of a detective, Hikaru; and the Nine-Headed Dragons' 'Wakagashira',  Hayatsuki.

Kotarou- Kotarou is Hitokiri Izuna, the protagonist of the story, the latest generation of many to serve Suzuka's family as a weapon against the excessive evils that pop up from time to time in human society.  Kotarou's clan, the Izuna, were descended from a mass murdering criminal swordsman who was captured and brought to heel by a magistrate in the early Edo era (think early to mid 1600s).  For whatever reason, the perpetrator was allowed to live, and the end result was a clan of incredibly skilled and physically capable assassins who are 'kept' (in the same sense one keeps hunting dogs) by individuals or groups who have a strong sense of ethics/honor in the underworld of Japan.  The Izuna are used to to remove the worst cancers from society by force, when the law and society's rules fail it.  Kotarou comes from that clan to Suzuka's side as a replacement for his deceased father, and he quickly shows off his clan's incredible skill and utter mercilessness.  That said, when he isn't 'working', he is very much the kind-hearted, soft-mannered type, with a tendency toward waffling when matters don't involve his duty.  Kotarou has a mature and ethical approach to his own duties, understanding that he is a sinner under the law and by most human moral systems, he nonetheless accepts his duty to cut down those he law can't reach, to take on he grudges of the bereaved and kill those who brought it about. 

Suzuka- Forced to take control of an extremely old-fashioned (three hundred years of tradition will do that) yakuza clan at a very young age, she was emotionally dependent to a degree on Kotarou's father, and her manner toward him is often harsh (as it is toward Hikaru, for obvious reasons).  However, at heart, she is a warm-spirited, honorable person who cares deeply for others.  She has very old-fashioned views on just about everything, and she only really trusts Hayatsuki and Shinobu.  Her old fashioned ideas of yakuza chivalry are out of step with modern yakuza, but the presence of Izuna in her employ allows her to keep a degree of peace and freedom in the local underworld that is unseen elsewhere in Japan.  She is something of an embodiment of honor and ethics, when used as a literary device, and her views are often extreme.

Shinobu- Suzuka's personal servant, best friend, and confidante.  She is also the survivor of an incident where her parents were murdered by burglars and she herself was (briefly) sold into slavery later on  before Tesshin, Kotarou's father rescued her.  She was driven by a desire for revenge to seek Tesshin's teachings and become an Izuna, but because she lacks the bloodline, she is forced to resort to mechanical aids like an advanced powered suit, a wire gun, and a stealth cloak to make up the difference (Kotarou being something of a cross between a pure swordsman, a martial artist, and a ninja with centuries of deliberate and careful breeding).  Shinobu, perhaps better than anyone in the story, is a representation of the fury, the grudges born in the spirit of the bereaved and the victimized.  As such, she is the most overtly emotional of the heroines. 

Hikaru- Hikaru is the daughter of a homicide detective, a clear-headed, intelligent young shota *coughs* ahem, young woman who has a bad habit of seeing through matters.  She also has a very strong sense of conventional morality and is the single heroine who sees the elimination of the death penalty as a qualified positive (she thinks it was done too fast, but she doesn't believe that anyone deserves capital punishment).  Her sunny disposition, kind nature, and general normality make her a distinct contrast to the other heroines at first.  However, her role as a literary device in relation to the game's themes is as the 'outsider', an irony that doesn't escape me, since she is the one most in sync with society's mores and norms.  She gives perspective in a game where it is very tempting to fall entirely into the viewpoint of Kotarou and the others exclusively.  Without her, I honestly think that this game wouldn't have been nearly as good as it is.

Hayatsuki- Hayatsuki is the 'Wakagashira' of the Nine-headed Dragons, the yakuza organization Suzuka inherited.  He was formerly a programmer and systems engineer, but became a yakuza for reasons I won't spoil here.  He often takes he role of a go-between dealing both with clients seeking revenge through Izuna, mediating disputes between the other three yakuza-related characters, and generally smoothing the way for everyone.  While he is easygoing on the surface, he is also someone who has seen the best and worst humanity has to offer and has nonetheless retained a degree of his humanity despite that. 

The Main Themes

The main themes in his game are the clash between the rights of the accused and the convicted vs those of the victims, the ethics of vigilante-ism, a thought experiment on what would happen if you suddenly outlawed capital punishment without giving society a chance to adjust to the idea, and many other ideas, most of them relating to crime and punishment.

For now, I'll focus on the ones I think have the most impact on the story:

The Victim and the Bereaved- Modern law assumes innocence.  This is generally a good thing, as it, in theory, makes false convictions less frequent and puts more hurdles in the way of a prosecutor trying to prove a case, theoretically making it more difficult to railroad someone into a conviction.  However, this VN primarily focuses on the failures of the system.  A minor who commits a sadistic rape-murder and is getting away with it because of his youth, a serial killer enjoying the fame brought on by his actions in prison with glee, a woman who framed her husband for arson-murder so that she could divorce him and marry her rich boyfriend... the list goes on and on. 

Vigilante-ism- This theme is touched on most intimately in Hikaru's path, where Hikaru's morality and Kotarou's way of life inevitably clash.  Kotarou kills the worst type of criminals, often in a horrifying manner, and while he has a strong sense of ethics and honor, that doesn't whitewash the fact that he is killing people outside of the law. 

Capital Punishment- Izuna's setting is a Japan where the Prime Minister suddenly and unilaterally made capital punishment illegal.  As a result, many criminals are taking advantage of legal and societal loopholes and getting away with a horrifying array of crimes, often becoming more vicious in the spirit of 'well, if life in prison is the limit, that means I might as well do everything I feel like doing'.  Kotarou often ends up facing the results of this policy in his work, and he once comments that 'I will kill more than even my predecessor.'  Considering his predecessor was called 'Senningiri', essentially meaning that he cut down over one thousand men, that is a very heavy statement.

Conclusions

Like a lot of chuunige, Izuna Zanshinken tends to make a broad attempt at being philosophical in addition to being over he top, and, surprisingly, actually succeeds to a degree.  While I think the theoretical Japan showed in this game is extreme, it is not nearly as extreme and out of this world as some of the dystopian theories I've read about in the past.  Moreover, it feels possible in the visceral and logical sense, an important element in suspending disbelief, which is an absolute necessity when trying to enjoy fiction.

 

Clephas

This is an opinion that has been a long time in forming, but I am coming around to an opinion that the more simplistic viewpoints I've possessed on the differences between American approaches to storytelling and Japanese ones are somewhat off the mark. Note:  This is a rant, it should be treated as a rant, and if it doesn't make sense to you, that is because it is my brain leaking into text on this blog.

First, my original opinion:

To put it simply, it was my belief that the Japanese had a tendency to go for emotional surrealism (in other words, emotional bombardment) and visual excess (exaggeration) to tell their stories.  In opposition, Americans tend to go for the 'gritty and realistic', with straight out bullet to the head realism.  This was a generalization that, while based on my experiences with Japanese video games that told a story (both VNs and jrpgs) and Western games that more or less tried to do the same (Isometric RPGs, Bethesda-style games, etc), was never meant to be an absolute statement but just a general opinion of the tendencies I'd encountered.

Second, my new opinion: 

First, I've come to the conclusion that American gaming companies don't know how to tell a story anymore (since Bioware has gone crappy, Obsidian is about to get absorbed/has been absorbed by a company that has no idea of what it is doing, and the Witcher was made by Polish people).  Second, the Japanese seem to suffer from a similar malaise... and the source is, quite ironically, fairly similar in the cases of mainstream games.

It is the disease I call the 'MMO virus'.  Yes, you who actually read my blog know my opinion on online multiplayer games and what they have done to erode storytelling games in general, but my recent conclusion is that this erosion has actually reached a critical point in the last five years.  Rebellions against the progression of this disease have occurred (Tales of Berseria, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Nier: Automata come to mind for the Japanese, and Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire for America), but these have been relatively minor upthrusts against the toxins released by the cloud of mission-based 'stories' you see in games nowadays.  Bethesda has also contributed to this plague (fetch quests and hunt the monster quests  being a common plague for them as well), and it seems like every time I turn around, I see another game trying to tell its story through an obvious mission or quest system is sitting right there.  Sure, the systems had their roots in D&D games, but the way they've developed is the result of the plague that infected the world using games like WoW as its vector.

I first began to see signs of this disease back in the PS2 era, though it was mostly limited to 'high end' games at the time, like Final Fantasy (XII having essentially repurposed and altered XI's MMO battle system for a single-player model), I was honestly horrified to see how easy it was to let myself get led around by the nose from objective to objective in hopes that I'd find the story in there somewhere.  The problem was, once the objectives became my reason for playing (as was inevitable, because that is the tactic they use to draw you in), I increasingly realized that I couldn't enjoy what story was being told, because I was impatient to get to the next objective, even though I didn't find any of that searching for objectives to be fun in the least.

VNs suffer from a different set of problems.  While jrpgs and western games suffer from the simple fact that the current generation of makers grew up obsessing over pathetic attempts to graft stories onto multiplayer games, VNs suffer from the fact that the best and brightest of their creators are... getting old.  Hell, some of them even died in between projects.  Worse, no one of equal capability has replaced them, leading to an unfortunate confluence of near-universal incompetence and corporate inability to grasp the reasons for failure and fix it. 

No, I'm not saying that all new VNs suck.  Hell, if they all sucked, I wouldn't still be trying to go back and play them, like the burnt-out junkie I am.  No, my issue is that there is a sudden dearth of developed talent within the world of VNs that has gotten horrible in the last five years.  Most of the major names are retired, have moved on to 'greater' things, or are dead.  Shumon Yuu is silent, Hino Wataru seems to have gone underground, Masada is probably off in his own little world, Fujisaki Ryuuta is circling in place, Kurashiki Tatsuya is off indulging his inner sadist with half-assed games, Kazuki Fumi can't seem to stick with one thing long enough to make it great since Akeiro Kaikitan, and Agobarrier is three years dead.  That isn't even mentioning all the formerly major names that have just decided to retire without telling anyone or got hired away by mainstream video game companies. 

What is replacing them are primarily LN writers... who, unfortunately, tend to write like middle school street kids on crack (and not in a good way).  They often have great ideas, but they are fuzzy about execution and lacking in technique.  As a result, you get a bunch of third-rate one-off VNs that no one really likes.

Artists aren't a problem.  There will always be plenty of skilled otaku artists who can draw h-scenes.  The issue is and always will be writers... because it is the writer that decides whether a VN will become remembered for years to come or be dropped back into the dung at the bottom of the latrine.

Clephas

The first thing most of you are going to ask is why I didn't play Deep One first, given my tastes... but the answer is fairly simple.  An a-hole spoiled the entire story on the release day to me in a PM on another site, and I read it before I realized what he was doing.  As such, my enthusiasm was dampened to almost nothing, and I'm left feeling listless about everything in general.  The commentary about it all over the untranslated VN community only accelerated its trip to being sealed in my archives, lol.

I picked up this game mostly because Hulotte games are generally good for cheap laughs and funny characters in slightly mystical settings.  This game is unusual for them, in the fact that there is a true path and heroine.  Sadly, my tolerance for happy SOL games has gone down greatly in recent years, and so don't be surprised if I'm a bit harsh at times while writing this commentary.

First, the protagonist, Yuuma (how many Yuuma protagonists have I encountered now?  lol), obtains a watch that can stop time for five minutes from a clearly suspicious fortune teller named Hakua who promptly worms her way into his life, constantly encouraging him to use it for sexual reasons.  Sadly for her, he gets bored of the watch inside the prologue, and the watch itself only serves as a catalyst to move the heroine relationships forward outside of the climax of some of the paths, lol. 

I'll be straight with you... I love Sakura, so when her path was over, I felt like I'd been cheated greatly.  Oh, there was some decent drama and incest love is always good for me, especially when her actions are so hilarious.  However, this path is the one that decided my impression of all the non-true paths. I felt that there could have been some more detailed drama included in this path, and the drama that was there was mostly her being an idiot.  The path took only about two hours for me to read, and I came out of it feeling cheated, somehow.  *sighs*

Unfortunately, this greatly effected my feelings toward the other paths as I played them, and I became so bored by the end of Noa's path that I dropped the game outright for a week while I did other things (like work and playing random video games) before picking it up again yesterday.  I forced myself through Kanon's route, enjoying some of the moments but still fuming about Sakura... and in the end, I couldn't even fully enjoy Hakua's path.  Part of that is Hakua's path is nothing I haven't seen a few dozen times in games like this, but that was made worse by my lingering sourness on the game in general. 

Objectively, Hakua's path is obviously better structured and written than the others... but it follows the pattern of self-sacrificing true heroines everywhere.  Moreover, the exact happenings in the story were rather predictable due events in the other paths which established just what state she was in before I even headed into it.  In the end, I came out of this game feeling cheated and wishing they'd just stuck with the harem formula from their previous games.

Clephas

First, it should be noted that I love the Silverio series, regardless of its flaws.  I see those flaws, I recognize them, then I shrug as I realize I don't give a flying fart about how the critical part of myself feels. 

First, lets consider the two games that have come out (so far, given that the setting is so insanely detailed that it would be sad if they didn't make more games) in the series separately. 

Silverio Vendetta

Silverio Vendetta follows Zephyr Colerain, an unemployed deserter with an inordinate fondness for alcohol accompanied by an inability to handle it.  Zephyr, if you take a step back and look at him, is antithetical to every other chuunige protagonist in existence.  The cynicism isn't a problem.  Roughly half of all chuunige protagonists are cynical on one level or another.  The pessimism, while extreme, is nothing unusual.  No, what makes him unique is his sheer... baseness.  Zephyr, at his core, is a weak man who is perfectly willing to stain his hands with the blood of the innocent and the good to protect what he cares about... in order to protect himself.  Zephyr is a coward, he is not only afraid all the time in battle, but his first impulse is to run away whenever a situation gets hard (though that fleeing takes different forms depending on the situation).  When he is confronted with someone who sees him an obstacle to their ideals, he wants nothing more than to trample and spit on the glory of the person in front of him.  Zephyr is essentially the embodiment of the part of us that is envious and resentful of those more capable than ourselves, with his only saving grace being that he nonetheless can at times drive himself to stand against his own nature. 

In other words, in 99% of all the games I've played, he'd essentially be one of those petty minor bosses who got squished like a bug by my level 10 characters.  He is also very similar to Rusalka from Dies Irae (if you have played the game, note her Creation spell's essential meaning). 

Zephyr is accompanied by Vendetta, an artificially weaponized and resurrected corpse with an unknown purpose who is psychically linked with him, who constantly kicks him in the ass to get him to be a man and be a better person (which is often hilarious in and of itself, since Zephyr has no intention of doing so on his own). 

On the other side is Christopher Valzeride, an undoubted hero who gives selflessly of himself, who never gives up, who moves forward with no desire for recompense.  In most chuunige VNs, Valzeride would be the protagonist.  His intensity of spirit, his iron will, his burning idealism... combined with a realistic understanding of the costs of his path forwar... make him an ideal archetype for a chuunige protagonist in a 'heroic style' chuunige. 

However, the fundamental theme that starts out the game and resonates throughout all the paths is 'What is victory?'  Zephyr is a man who has been destroyed, carved away, piece by bloody piece, by his own victories, gaining nothing but more pain and the next, even more difficult battle from anything he achieved.  He is the picture of a man forced into a role by his talents and utterly unsuited to it by his essential nature.  Valzeride is a man who seeks victory above all else and merely accepts the greater tribulations that await him as the price of his path. 

Essentially, the two men are polar extremes of human potential that encompass both the best and worst of the two extremes.  Zephyr, while capable of kindness and gentleness, is cruel in his cowardice and malicious toward those who corner him with their valor and vivid idealism.  Valzeride loves human virtue but is utterly incapable of kindness or personal empathy, as his own nature rejects anything ambiguous and weak.  He honestly can't empathize with the suffering others draw from their tribulations, and this is why he serves as a great antagonist, despite essentially being a truly virtuous man in addition to being a hero.

Silverio Trinity

Silverio Trinity focuses a lot more intensely on the nature of the 'Light', as embodied by Valzeride in the previous game.  It portrays those who take after him as 'Zombies of Light', men and women who simply move forward because they are incapable of conceiving of any other course of action.  As is said repeatedly in both games in various fashions, 'A hero of light continues forward, running over the hapless individuals who get in their way, unable to compromise, unable to consider the suffering of others except as the price for the brilliant shining future they seek to bring about.' 

Ashe, the protagonist, is by nature a good and caring young man.  He can be driven to anger for the sake of others, and he has a deep well of compassion that is honest in its depth... and contrasts starkly with the other characters aspected of Light, such as Gilbert, Helios, and even Dainsleif.  Ashe recognizes and empathizes with the weakness of others, and his understanding of them is more than just the intellectual recognition you see out of individuals like Valzeride and Gilbert.  In this fashion, Trinity is more of a contrasting of common humanity with the two extremes of human nature (darkness and light as represented by the protagonists and antagonists of Vendetta).  Its narrative, while having a different locale and characters, is a direct continuation of the conversation with the reader begun with Vendetta, and its conclusion is interesting, to say the least (Edit: Though it can be said to be a typical conclusion for such 'conversation' in a Japanese VN).

 

Clephas

Due to work and other stuff, I hadn't had time to really get into this until recently, and with friday signaling the release of October's list of VNs, at least one of which (Deep One) will play immediately, I felt that it would be fitting to go ahead and give you my initial impression  of the game. 

My first impression, after playing through the prologue, was that, while this game is pretty old, it is also very... familiar in an odd way.  At first, I couldn't figure out where that impression was coming from... but then it struck me!

I finally figured out where Favorite stole its basic style.  It always bugged the hell out of me that Favorite was able to produce such decent to great games despite essentially being a company full of lolicons and the writer basically being an unknown who produced two mediocre games before Irotoridori.  The atmosphere of Meguri, Hitohira is almost identical to Irotoridori and AstralAir... which made the game feel pretty familiar as I delved into it. 

However, this familiarity wasn't a bad thing, because I always liked the atmosphere of those games, even if I felt nothing but contempt for the loliconism.  Say what you want about Favorite, but the atmosphere of their games is usually worth buying them for.

That said, this is a Shumon Yuu work... and Shumon Yuu is easily the best non-genre-specific writer in VNs.  I was crying inside the prologue, empathizing deeply with the protagonist, his predicament, and his hangups, despite knowing that similar protagonists in other VNs have pissed me off in the past (understand, it takes a master's hand to make the suffering and self-hatred of a sensitive young man as sweet as honey, and when it goes wrong, it generally feels like I was eating aspartame in powder form afterwards).  The fact that the game is very, very dated didn't hurt the presentation nearly as much as it does with some other old games (Ikusa Megami comes to mind, as does Tsukihime, despite my love for it). 

Since I haven't hit an ending, I don't have a conclusion for you... but even if this game were to flop on its face later (an impossibility, given the writer) it would still be worth playing.  You probably won't see my final impressions for a while, because, even though this game is engrossing and emotional, it takes actual courage get into it, since I know Shumon Yuu's habits well enough to figure out in a vague sense where he plans to go with the story (Hint: Most of Shumon Yuu's games almost border on utsuge at times, with the exception of Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide).

Clephas

Let's be clear... I have no reason to try to be fair to charage anymore.  This might sound like a terrible statement to make, but the fact is, I've been a lot nicer than I wanted to be for years when it came to charage.  I went out of my way to look for positive aspects, and when I found one, I deliberately put it in as positive a light I could without overdoing it.  This was because the sensation I got coming out of most charage was fatigue.  SOL, in small doses, is enjoyable and even relaxing... in the kind of doses I experienced over the last five years, it is downright toxic.

Now, down to the game... CharaBration is what is termed a 'thematic charage'.  This is a type of VN with a preset theme that all the heroines and possibly the protagonist all adhere to to one degree or another.  In this case, it is the duality of the heroines/protagonist's character types.  Each of the characters presents one face to the world and another in private... and in the case of this game, the gap between them is massive.  

The heroine who starts as the initial focus is Hai, the protagonist's cousin whom he thought was a sickly ojousama that he had to take care of... and is really the kind of tomboy who dominates all the males around her, with a coarse manner and foul language.  Yukia, who is pretending to be her sister Mirei, presents herself normally as an arrogant leader who always dominates the room, but in private, she is shy and has trouble talking at all.  Himeme is normally acts in a false male role, but she really prefers to act like the girl she really is.  All the heroines are like this to one degree or another, and Rikka (the protagonist) ends up splitting his life between pretending to be a maid and attending school in his male form.

Now... this is a game with a lot of potentially fun elements, and it would have been great if the 'hidden' character traits for Hai, who was presented as the main heroine at first, weren't so grating.  Starting out with a positive hatred for Hai that never really faded even after I got into the heroine routes (her ojousama act just made me more irritated, due to that fake cough) was a huge drag on the experience for me, and it is the reason why I took so long to finish even the paths I did.  Hai is annoying, to be straight about it.  While her presence is necessary to create the situation going in, her persona (both of them) drove me up the wall. 

The fact that I actually liked the other heroines only made it worse, because whenever she came onto the scene, I just wanted to delete her character.  I'm sure some will love her (there is someone for everyone, supposedly), but she isn't for me.

Common Route

Tbh, the common route spent so much time on Hai and stuff related to her that I'm tempted to erase it from my brain.  However, it needs to be said that it does a good job of introducing the heroines and creating their relationships with Yuki/Rikka.  Rikka is a standard 'I protest dressing up like a girl but I subconsciously am coming to love it' trap protagonist, and that creates a few moderately amusing scenes... However, I can't really said this did a good job of anything but introducing the heroines and creating those basic relationships.  It is a pretty short common route, and the heroine routes afterward aren't long either, so it feels like more time and effort could have been spent deepening the relationships before they headed off into the romantic wilds. 

Yukia

Yukia is easy to like, at least for me.  Her helpful, kind nature is prevalent throughout much of the VN, and her other persona is mostly amusing (some of the ways she strings together lines to hold a conversation together make me laugh).  Her relationship with her sister, Mirei, which comes out in her path, is amusing on several levels, and I like the way she grows as a character during the course of her path.  That said, her ending is somewhat disappointing, as I would have liked to see what she and Rikka were like after graduation.

Corona

I chose Corona as the second heroine mostly because she is Yukia's opposite in so many ways...  and because I rolled a pair of dice to decide which would be the second and final heroine I would play (I can't bring myself to play all the heroines in this type of game anymore).   Umm... I really like her character, if only because it makes me laugh (an easily-embarrassed prime personality and a secondary personality that strips without a hint of hesitation and is obsessed with other women's breasts... definitely worth a laugh).   In fact, this path is nicely weird, especially because of how those twin personalities interact with the romance.  If Yukia's path was par for the course (predictable and staid as trap protagonist and ojousama heroines go), Corona's went pretty far out there.  The epilogue and after story was also too close to the ending in chronology though, *sighs*.

 

Conclusions

Despite some high points, this game is pretty average as charage go.  Like a lot of thematic charage, it makes the mistake of assuming that the theme is all-powerful, and, as a result, it falls short on a lot of minor points.  I was particularly irritated at the way they handled the endings/epilogues, and I felt that the writer didn't really do Corona or Yukia justice, when it came down to it.  Given more detail and time spent deepening character relationships in a believable fashion, it would have been much easier to engross myself in the setting.  Unfortunately, that never happened here (the good parts of Yukia's and Corona's paths stand out so much precisely because they are the best parts of the VN by far).  It felt like the writer wrote his favorite scenes first then sort of created a bare-bones framework to support it using the theme.

Clephas

Recently, @Dreamysyu liked one of my older posts, and I felt it was worth revisiting three years later, simply because it has become an even more valid post in light of current events.

At the time I wrote this post, I was pretty angry.  Why?  I'd had the misfortune to see several fellow otakus who happened to be female being subtly (and not so subtly) denigrated by other male otakus at a small gathering at a local gaming event.  The girls were obviously enjoying their cosplay (it was a cosplay-allowed private event for jrpg-lovers of various ages without about fifty people), and they were discussing their favorite games as heatedly as you would expect from the obsessed types that show up at such events (I'm just as bad, obviously).  Unfortunately, about halfway through, several male members of the conversation turned the discussion to eroge, and sexual innuendos started flying at the girls mixed in with various poorly-used Japanese phrases that would have made me wince even if I hadn't hated the content of their statements. 

This was disgusting in and of itself, but it was obvious that the males in question were losing their grasp on the line between reality and eroge (exactly how is that possible, really?).  They started fantasizing openly about what would happen to the character versions of the girls' cosplay if they were put in an eroge... and things just got out of hand from there.

Now, this is just one event that I attended on a whim (under my real name) because I got an invite from an old friend.  However, I had to wonder afterwards... how many of us fail to understand just how warped the sexual viewpoints in VNs are?  I've always been well-aware of it, but I got the impression that those males (listed as 'kids' in my mind, due to my extreme old age of 34 at the time) had no understanding of just how warped those viewpoints are.

I've always understood that most of the Japanese VNs I've read are fundamentally sexist on some level (some weren't, but most were), but I felt like I was listening to someone born in a different universe at that moment.  Perhaps it is because I really don't see rl women as subjects of sexual attraction anymore, but I honestly couldn't comprehend on a gut level falling into that kind of pattern of behavior with someone I was conversing with in a congenial manner only moments before.   It bothered me then and it bothers me now that others could.

Clephas

Kemono Musume no Sodatekata

This is the newest game by Sweet & Tea, the makers of the near-kamige (kamige in my heart) Karenai Sekai to Owaru Hana.  This has a different set of writers, with Ban'ya of Kuroinu and Mugen Renkan handling the sweaty H-scenes and NYAON, the writer of Moshimo Ashita ga Harenaraba (and a few charage and nakige besides that) as the main writer. 

Now, this is a kinetic 3P lovey-dovey nakige about a girl named Iroha who, after spending ten years trapped in a divine realm by accident with a wolf god, is returned to that realm... with wolf-ears!  (lol)  I say it is about Iroha mostly because of my fetish, but it is really about her, the protagonist Shuuji, his girlfriend Kana, and the people around them. 

Now, a few things to get out of the way before I put down my own feelings and impressions... for those who don't like cheater protagonists, I'm going to come out with it straight up.  He cheats on Kana with Iroha.  The fact that this is mostly a comedic element is because of Iroha's animalistic/innocent manner (she's actually just aggressive about what she wants and more knowledgeable than her speech patterns indicate), and the fact that Kana has pretty much been the seducer/brainwasher side of the relationship with Shuuji, who tends to be the type to give in to the girls he cares about in just about everything.

Now, this game never goes really dark.  It has some bad moments for the characters emotionally (the protagonist has his own issues and ten years is a LONG time), but that is all properly resolved in a cathartic way, as is the way with nakige.  Unlike Karenai Hana, there is no aura of terrible suffering and despair, and the protagonist is mostly about compassion and love rather than self-sacrificing love and guilt. 

While this game is pretty short (think about four hours for me, six to seven hours for the average reader), it doesn't feel unsatisfying for what it is.  I did want a more extensive epilogue, but the one I got was hilariously H, so I came out of this feeling mostly satisfied. 

Perhaps my sole real reservation is the fact that this didn't become a 4P with Chihiro, who is obviously interested in Shuuji (even moreso by the end). I'm thinking that they will eventually make a followup, sequel, or fandisc to advance the whole story more.  However, with the immediate issues all resolved, the game doesn't feel as truncated as I usually feel with games setting up for sequels or fandiscs from the beginning.

 

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