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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

The definition of a 'capable' heroine, in my case, is a heroine who manages to surf the waves of life and move circumstances to create a situation convenient to herself, either through manipulation or force of will.  A heroine of this type might pursue a dream, pursue revenge, or pursue power, but what defines them is that they both 'seek' and 'take' what they want.  Most heroines in male-oriented and otomege VNs do not fall into this area.  Most are reliant on the males in their life to some extent, and without them they wouldn't get anywhere.  This is a list of heroines who don't fit that particular stereotype, for one reason or another (incidentally, this isn't me being a male feminist... I just like this kind of heroine).  These heroines aren't dependent by nature, though they might feel a strong attachment to or obsession for someone.  These are heroines capable (both in general and psychologically) of navigating the sea of life with none or little help.  If you feel someone belongs on this list, feel free to add them in the comments section.  I might argue with you, but if it is within the ballpark, I won't delete the name, lol.  (an exception... most heroines that are born all-powerful don't count, since they meet few if any challenges in their lives.  As an example, Sofia from World Election doesn't count since she was born essentially unkillable, with a genius-level intelligence, and more power than anyone else in the world)  A heroine of this type should be at least a little ruthless, even if it is only the sense that they are capable of pulling out stops in the way of their goals or manipulating others if necessary. 

Kamio Ami (Semiramis no Tenbin)

Hinaori Kagome (Comyu)

Himehoshi Arika (Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu)

Chitose Oboro Amatsu (Silverio Vendetta)

Amatsu Kanata (Devils Devel Concept)

Otonashi Saku (Hello, Lady)

Himegami Alice (Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary)

Fujina Kanori (Minamijuujisei Renka)

Tsukigase Sayane (Shuumatsu Shoujo Gensou Alicematic)

Hijikata Sei and Sakamoto Ryouma (Kikan Bakumatsu Ibun Last Cavalier)

Leona Kaname Burns (Electro-Arms)

Shiguresato Himeno (Hyper→Highspeed→Genius)

Naname Nanami (Ojousama wa Gokigen Naname)

Kizuna (Reminiscence)

Sakurakouji Luna (Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou)

Nagisaka Hakua (Namima no Kuni no Faust)

   
   
Clephas

It is no secret that I am a huge Higashide Yuuichirou fan and that Evolimit is my favorite Higashide Yuuichirou game.  Before I go any further into this, I should note that Evolimit has the dubious honor of being the VN I've played the most often... a total of six times, as of two hours ago.  I should also explain what Higashide's unique qualities are as a writer.

Higashide Yuuichirou wrote six VNs for Propeller before retiring from VNs completely to work for Type-Moon as a writer.  He also worked on the Vita version of FSN, with the Caster and Rider routes, the Muramasa FD, Princess Waltz (as an assistant), and Fate/Extella Link.  His qualities as a writer include a peculiar genius for the characterization of 'heroic' characters, the ability to create villains/antagonists worthy of those same heroic characters, and an even rarer ability to both write and integrate SOL with those aspects.  For better or worse, most SOL writers fail utterly when it comes to dramatic characterization and most chuunige writers suck at SOL compared to specialists.  However, Higashide manages to do both at a very high level and, when he is 'in the zone', does it better than any other writer I've encountered. 

Some will argue with me about this, naming Shumon Yuu, Masada, or even Hino Wataru.  However, it needs to be said that Shumon Yuu writes in a manner that is so unique that it is completely genre-free.  Masada writes excellent dramatic characters, but his SOL is average at best.  Hino Wataru tends to shift the balance of his games back and forth, and there is usually a huge gap between the quality of the paths of heroines he loves and those he merely likes.

I have never felt like Higashide has failed to give a heroine a fair shake.  In fact, Higashide almost never makes heroines the true focus of a game/path from beginning to end.  Circumstances, events, the protagonist, the antagonist, and the pattern as a whole often far transcend the heroine of a given path.  His heroines are often good, but I've yet to encounter a path in a Higashide game where I felt cheated. 

Higashide is a devout follower of the concept of the 'heroine that is always by the protagonist's side, no matter who he chooses'.  This type of heroine pops up in a lot of chuunige.  Kagome in Comyu is probably the most blatant example of this, but Higashide takes it to extreme lengths.  In Ayakashibito it was Suzu, in Bullet Butlers it was Selma, and in Evolimit it is Shizuku.  The key point of each of these heroines is that the bond with the protagonist transcends romantic relationships (though it leads to them in their own paths).  Suzu is both parent and older sister to Soushichi, Selma is Rick's master and truest friend, and Shizuku and Shiranui are ridiculously close friends, so close that they easily settle into a familial role toward one another.  Why is this important?  Because these characters and their relationships form the largest and firmest pillar that serves as a backbone for each of these protagonists' view of the world and how they relate to it. 

Evolimit

Evolimit is a kamige.  Yes, that is my opinion, but I'll stand by it until the end of days if necessary.  For this entry, I'm going to focus on characters, their interrelationships, and their influences on one another.  From here on in, I will intermittently add in spoilers, which I will put in boxes.  These spoilers will often reveal aspects of the story you absolutely do not want to know until you've played the game, so I recommend just reading the parts that aren't spoiler-boxed and going back after you've had the opportunity to play the game.

The Characters

Shiranui (nobody calls him Yoshikazu, interestingly), is an interesting character.  Like the other two Higashide kamige protagonists (Ayakashibito's Soushichi and Bullet Butlers' Rick), he is, when it comes down to it, a classic hero.  He is the type who will, without hesitation, throw away his life for others if it comes down to it, take a bullet for a friend, or mercilessly destroy someone or something that seeks to harm them.  Since this is revealed in the prologue (and my rules about spoilers don't apply to prologues), I'll go ahead and describe his basic set of circumstances. 

First, Shiranui was one of the Calamity Monkeys, the first colonial/terraforming expedition sent to Mars by the more-or-less unified governments of Earth.  Born with a bad heart, he spent much of his youth in horrible pain and fear, wondering if that day would be the day his heart went out.  However, he received a heart transplant, and soon after he encountered Kokoro, the spiritual remnants of the young Chinese girl who was his heart's original owner.  The reason I reveal this particularly dramatic element in advance is because it is necessary to describe his peculiar personality.

On the surface, Shiranui is a slightly pervy young man with an ever-present smile who goes out of his way to be something of a clown.  In stressful situations, he is surprisingly perceptive, brave, and compassionate.  However, there is one peculiarity that is all-important to grasping his character.

He is incapable of sorrow.

The reason goes back to the spiritual remnant of his heart's original owner, Kokoro.  In order to allow her to remain within him, he, of his own free will, gave up his ability to feel sorrow (as well as odd bits and pieces of other emotions) in order to allow what amounts to a second person to inhabit part of his brain.  She is also the reason he chose to head for Mars.  When he discovered that her dream was to go to Mars as part of a colonial expedition he, without hesitation, chose to take the baton and run with it, ferociously devoting himself to the duty of taking her there as part of himself. 
 

Spoiler

 

During the trials to become one of the colonists/terraformers, he met Ichijou Shizuku, a fellow aspiring colonist (and an all around genius) and befriended her.  That friendship deepened to a ridiculous degree as the number of aspirants fell, reducing from around ten thousand to forty-five hundred, to around five hundred at the end.  Brutally hard physical training and tests, psychological examinations, sociological studies, and constant testing of their knowledge are the things mentioned off-hand... meaning it was probably even worse to experience, lol.

After arriving on Mars, he formed close relationships with six other fellow colonists.  These included the powerfully charismatic and brilliant Shannon Wordsworth; the rough-mannered former soldier and geologist Dmitri Kalanikov; his biologist daughter Tsunami Kalanikov; a genius robotics engineer, programmer, and African-American  Tyron Bistwark; a Swedish doctor and psychologist named Maya; and Hoan Wenchui (incidentally, I'm uncertain of the actual best romanization for his name, but meh), a Chinese man of the same age.  It was these relationships that formed the center of his early experiences on Mars.

His relationship with Kokoro, who is his heart donor, is the closest one from the beginning, including Shizuku.  This is obvious, since she is quite literally part of him, his motivation for trying to reach mars, his oldest friend, his first love, and perhaps the single best female character in the game.  His love for her is so much a part of his life that, in most cases, he cannot even consider giving up on her even to save the life of his lover of the time.  There are endings where he does choose to move on from her... but this is always initiated and encouraged from Kokoro's side and it inevitably scars him deeply in the process.  It is a mark of how powerful she is as a character that two of the three heroine paths have endings defined at least partly on whether he decided to lose her in order to gain the power to save his lover.  Kokoro herself is easily the wisest character in the game, with a unique outlook born from being an eternal observer.

Shannon Wordsworth was Shiranui's mentor.  He was a brilliant but inscrutable man with a dark past, a definite charisma, and a near-infinite curiosity.  He is also, despite indications otherwise in the various paths, completely and utterly sane.  He is a  man who, once he discovers what he wants, will do anything and everything to obtain those desires, up to and including sacrificing friends and companions and causing them immense suffering.  It isn't that he doesn't care.  He feels guilt, he feels sorrow, he feels regret... but he doesn't even consider stopping.  His desire to pursue his dreams is prioritized over all things, and it is an aspect of his personality that is reflected at least somewhat in Shiranui himself. 

Tyron Bistwork is a brilliant man who desires nothing more than a future where intelligent robots are friends with children.  However, like all three of the adult Disasters other than Shannon, his love for humanity was twisted by Shannon's manipulations so that he believed forcing humanity to face him and the others as a tribulation and a test was the best thing for humanity as a whole.  Tyron is a playful child in a lot of ways, often modifying his machines or playing tricks on people on a whim.  This remains when he becomes Earthquake in his development of Hecatoncheir, a giant Barbaroi robot with a giant plasma cannon, multiple Patches, and the ability to learn.

Dmitri Kalanikov is, at his core, the most heroic character in the game.  Oh, he is also a villain.  That is inevitable, considering the role forced on him.  As Volcano, he was the most obsessed with putting humanity to the test... but that was due to his incredible love for humanity, twisted as it was by Shannon's manipulation of his psyche, as well as his daughter Tsunami.  Before his transformation, he was very much the doting father, the cheery leader, a man of courage who stood out amongst other men of courage.  It needs to be said that, if I had to name a character outside the central cast (Shiranui, Shannon, the heroines, and Kokoro) who should be considered the game's MVP, it would be him.  His death in Shizuku's path left such an impression on me that I find myself comparing all other sacrifice scenes to it, no matter the anime I'm watching or the game I'm playing.

Maya leaves the weakest impression of the Disasters.  Part of this is because she is quiet and retiring by nature, part is because she lacks the ferocity, the fire of some of the others.  In a cast of characters burning with passion, she is a woman of gentleness, kindness, and compassion.  However, this very kind nature is twisted against her by Shannon when he transforms her into Avalanche, making her believe not only that the trials are the best thing for humanity, but that her actions are a mercy.  She is the most self-aware of the Disasters (excluding Shannon and whereas Tyron is the least), and Higashide uses this poignantly to demonstrate just how thoroughly the psyches of the three are manipulated.

Kou is insane.  He is, in fact, the only character in this game that can really be considered to be insane.  The reason I say this is because, for the most part, he can't tell the difference between his hatred for humanity and his hatred for Shiranui.  Kou, before he discovered that Shiranui has Chenfui's heart, was a mildly misanthropic young man who nonetheless managed to be cheerful and friendly within the small circle of friends he had made.  However, the fact that Shiranui was his closest friend made his hatred all the stronger when he discovered the truth about it.  For this reason, almost every scene involving him and Shiranui is intense and emotional... and heartbreaking.  It also makes the 'Departure of the Calamity Monkeys' in Shizuku's second and third endings all the more poignant, since it is the only path where brother and sister reunite and are able to talk directly, even if it is only for a brief time before they go to their eternal rest.

Pochi-sensei is a character that is typical of Higashide... he loves to include talking animals in his games, and Pochi-sensei is, in my opinion, the best of those.  He is intelligent, wise, and warm-hearted.  He is a teacher to the core, educating, protecting, and watching over the students as the school principal for Forsyth.  He is also incredibly cool in battle and a wonderful supporting character.

 

The Heroines
 

Spoiler

 

Kazuna is an interesting heroine.  As a 'Star Priestess' (the name for the rare leaders with near-godly powers of telekinesis), she is required to remove all forms of bias from her interactions with others.  She was trained (brainwashed really) almost from birth for this purpose.  While she is often playful and loves to make jokes, she is bound by psychological chains to her duty.  Moreover, she has a mass of complexes born from her inherent distance from the rest of humanity.  Her route is made incredibly hilarious by the cycle of Shiranui making an inappropriate comment>Kazuna flushing while blowing him away>Shiranui apologizing in a way that makes it worse.

Rydia is adorable.  Seriously, if you don't instantly think this when you see her leaping toward Shiranui or Shizuku, you probably aren't an otaku.  She is also very charismatic in other senses, a warleader with a talent for situational awareness and tactics.  Her great complex, about her mostly mechanical body, is one I can't really empathize with (I dream of discarding this fleshy body for a nice android shell), but the emotions behind it make perfect sense in a setting where machines automatically equal the enemy.  The contrast between her and Hekatoncheir in her path is interesting, not the least how it ends in the threesome ending with Aqua, where Hekatoncheir finally gains something close to humanity... as he dies.

Aqua is a side-heroine available in Rydia's path as part of a threesome ending with her.  She is an Earth Seed, a type of human born with a psychic connection to the spirit of humanity's homeworld.  As such, her emotions are extremely limited, and she is bound to obey a creed of putting humanity first in all things.  However, her emotions toward Rydia are pretty obvious from the outside (protectiveness, love, etc), and she is incredibly cute when she ceases to be an Earth Seed and has to confront the full set of human emotions. 

Shizuku is... Shiranui's greatest friend (whereas Kou was his best male friend), his comrade in arms, and the person outside of Kokoro who understood him the best.  As such, in her path, the relationship shift is a bit painful for both of them, since they subconsciously avoided forming such a relationship for years.  She loves anything Japanese, loves fighting, and has a thing for jidaigeki.  She is also Shiranui's designated tsukkomi role, meaning she spends an inordinate amount of time hitting him with a paper fan.  She is an all-around genius, capable of mastering just about any skill given time, and because of this, Shiranui has a minor complex toward her.  At the same time, she has a similar complex toward his ability to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances.  Typical of the 'true' heroine of any Higashide game, she is so close to Shiranui and understands him so well that they rarely require words.


 

 

Clephas

A few words before I get into this...

As my previous post spells out, I will no longer be doing the VN of the Month column, and this VN was the one that was the straw that broke the camel's back.  That said, it isn't like I didn't enjoy what I played of it once I got past the sticking points (date scenes).  If anything, this game is a definite increase over the quality seen in Ensemble's works since Gokigen Naname blew me away. 

That said, when it comes down to it, this game is SOL all the way.  The protagonist is the son of the owner of a small but stylish restaurant cafe and what amounts to the assistant cook.  He has a firm grasp on what he wants out of life (to become a fully accredited cook), and he is also very responsible and good-hearted in general. 

The common route is basically one typical harem-building element after another, ranging from meeting a girl who constantly gives off 'I'm sickly but trying to hide it poorly' vibes (the protagonist doesn't notice, of course) to a seemingly strong-willed and free-spirited oneesama who shows off her fragile side at odd times.  By the time it was over, even though it wasn't really long, I was so happy that I wanted to thank the  magic bunnies for releasing me from that cliched hell. 

It needs to be said that there are too many heroines in this game, and Ensemble's current art team has such a limited range of facial designs that I honestly found it hard to tell the 'normal heroine' trio (Iori, Sanae, and Misato) apart from visuals at times.   This was one of the reasons that my first impression of the game was blandness, despite the characters having dynamically different personalities, for the most part.

Before I go any further, I'll say that the paths I played were the omake Nazuna path and Youko's path.  This was because those were the only heroines I became interested in during the common route, which is probably the best reason possible.

Youko's path is surprisingly long (it looks like the short common route is compensated for by longer and more complex heroine routes), and it is pretty emotional.  While there were some definite moments where I winced at the predictability of certain events, I did manage to enjoy it to the end... which brings up the ending, which is actually excellent, because it is a 'four years down the road' ending that sees Youko having grown past her hangups and living happily with the protagonist... a definite benefit of an epilogue that goes forward significantly in time.

Nazuna's path is an omake path, but it shouldn't have been.  Nazuna is probably the cutest character in the game (other than possibly baby Minamo or a certain character who pops up in Youko's epilogue), and she is a rare yamato nadeshiko type to boot.  However, she is cursed with an omake path that is short, feels forced, and ends without an epilogue.  The decision not to make Nazuna a central heroine was a horrible one, and it isn't one I'm going to forgive anytime soon, lol.

Clephas

I've been considering this for some time, but it has suddenly become a reality.

To be blunt, I've come to my limit when it comes to playing pure SOL games.  Oh, I can still enjoy many of them, but if you asked me whether I can look at them without my resentment of 'normal' SOL content blinding me, the answer is no.  If I have to read through one more template date scene or see another osananajimi climb through the window from next door, I'm going to start tearing out the last remaining hairs atop my head.

*coughs* Ahem, now that I've got that out, it needs to be said that I've been doing this since September of 2012... a ridiculous amount of time to be playing roughly 80% of all non-nukige VNs that come out (I'm figuring those I dropped or just couldn't play because they were just that bad into the twenty percent). 

Just to be clear, I will still continue to play VNs and comment on/review them in this blog.  However, I will no longer play as many outside my tastes, nor will I go out of my way to seek gems from companies I hate reading from. 

I realized while I was playing Koisaku (Ensemble's latest game), that a few years ago, I would have read this game without any real problems, and I wouldn't even have blinked at the crap that now drives me up the wall.  Oh sure, Ensemble's base quality has fallen massively, but when I took a step back, this is actually one of the better amongst their more recent games, with plenty of indications of real stories for the heroines in the background.  However, I found I just couldn't tolerate it.

It hit me in the date scene that occurs in the common route... I have no tolerance for date scenes at all anymore.  Scenes like that exist for every heroine in every SOL VN, and they all turn out in almost an identical fashion.  Reading it, even though it was basically a 'friend date', was like dragging my brain through mud.  I just couldn't do it.

I promised myself that I wouldn't BS myself on this particular matter years ago... and I knew the limit was coming.  I just didn't realize that it would be this soon.

So, I have to announce that this is the end of my VN of the Month column.  Now, all that remains is my Random VNs and whatever VNs I choose to play each month.

I will continue to play what I'm interested in, and that will probably include slice-of-life at times.  However, I will no longer play SOL out of a sense of duty to my readers. 

My original reasons for starting VN of the Month

When I first started Clephas' VN of the Month, it was because vndb gives nothing to you for info on their games beyond poor tls of the game summary from Getchu, character profiles, and sometimes tags (that might or might not be accurate).  I felt that that didn't do most games justice, and I hated the way I had to go into a game blind on so many occasions.  As such, I started putting up commentaries on just what kind of VN I was playing, with few or no spoilers.  This was a need that, at the time, was not being fulfilled (and as far as I know, still isn't, since most reviewers include major spoilers because they are inconsiderate). 

Over time, my routine each month started with figuring out which games weren't nukige and which I would play first...  and picking out which one was the best after I played them (the latter of course being entirely a matter of my opinion, informed as it might be). 

However, it is time to set down my burden.  I tried handing off my work to others, and that worked for a while (thanks to @Dergonu@fun2novel@BookwormOtaku@Kiriririri for their help over the last year - yes, even you, Kiriririri).  In the end, though, I'm just one man... and one middle-aged man with increasingly bad health isn't going to be able to keep this up any longer.  Heck, I'm amazed i kept going this long.

I do hope someone else takes up the torch of at least informing people of what to expect in newer games (and not just the ones from popular companies), but that isn't my job anymore. 

Thanks for reading,

Clephas

 

Clephas

This is the latest VN by AXL, and it is also the latest in its 'swords fantasy' (there is very little magic in these games) series (I say series, but they are just a line of similarly-designed games).  The previous games in this series include Princess Frontier, Hyakka Ryouran Elixir, Racial Merge, and Ou no Mimi ni wa Todokanai.  This is also AXL's fifteenth game, making it one of the most prolific companies (ignoring subsidiaries) still active. 

Like all the games in this series, it is based in a world whose tech level is medieval with bits and pieces of higher levels of technological development here and there.  This one falls in an area similar to Ou no Mimi, rather than Princess Frontier or Hyakka Ryouran, meaning it has a somewhat more violent turn almost from the beginning.  The protagonist is an antique dealer (thus the game's name) named Rowan who, due to the loss of his parents during an adventure at the highest levels of the tower, has had to deal with an aversion to the tower that is at the center of the town that serves as the center of the game's story.  This changes when a young girl bearing a greatsword named Linaria comes into the picture, and he finds himself guiding a young group of adventurers through the lower levels of the tower.

Rowan is not only an antique dealer but an exceptionally talented dagger-user and toolmaker.  He is also the only individual in the town that can repair the various machines that come down from the tower.  If I were to pick his class, I'd consider him to be a cross between an engineer and a rogue, with excellent crowd-control techniques and stuns.  Like a lot of mature protagonists, there is a disconnect between his emotions and rational behavior, and as a result, he will often take the logical path, even when it conflicts with what his heart wants, thus leading to him being a bit dense about emotions in general. 

The tower is much like a lot of roguelike rpg towers (though this game isn't an rpg) where people climb the tower to gather treasure, fighting monsters and robot-like Guardians as they do so.  The power gems taken from the Guardians can be used in various devices made from parts taken from the tower, and this is the source of most of the setting's higher technology.  The tower itself is self-repairing and self-defending, deploying seemingly endless numbers of Guardians and monsters.  No one knows how high it goes.

The three heroines are the young princess Karin, the protagonist's adoptive sister Mira, and the newbie adventurer girl Linaria.  Karin is a sort-of tsundere who very obviously is in love with Rowan from the beginning.  Her father is the second King of the country (that consists of the tower, the town, and the land around it), but she only realized she was a princess at a relatively late age due to the closeness of the royal family to the people.  Mira is a responsible girl who takes care of most of the chores and the account books at Rowan's shop... and has an unnatural attachment to the spiky ball and chain she uses as a weapon (the first time you see her flushing after squashing an enemy says everything).  Linaria is the daughter of a deceased adventurer who came to find out why her father abandoned his family in order to seek fame and wealth in the tower.  Though she resents adventurers as a profession, she is too kind-hearted to actually take it out on anyone.

Common Route

The common route mostly accounts the trials and tribulations of Rowan and company as they rise through the lower levels of the tower to be acknowledged as full-fledged adventurers (novices are called 'virgins' until they reach town on the Twentieth Floor).  If you like AXL games' style of character interaction, you'll like the slice-of-life elements, and the battles are actually tactically interesting (something that is unusual for AXL).  There are a few emotional moments dealing with Rowan's past, but the common route mostly serves to familiarize you with the characters. 

Normal Ending

This is an ending you get if you fail to pick one of the three main heroines.  It is basically a joke ending where the results of his actions in the common route come home to roost, lol.

Karin

Karin's path starts out with a lot of light ichaicha and a somewhat annoying get-together sequence.  However, at roughly the halfway point, it suddenly turns dark and violent... and outright bloody.  The violence in this path startled me a bit, as it is out of character for AXL (AXL generally restricts violence to one or two scenes in a given path, and never on this kind of scale).  However, the story was interesting, and I left the path feeling satisfied.  The actual progression from lighter atmosphere to darker one is common on AXL's games, and anyone who has played one will probably recognize the pattern...  That didn't bother me, though, since it was interesting in and of itself.

Linaria

I recommend that anyone that plays this game play this path last.  The reason is is that this is the only path that deals with the tower itself and climbing to the top as its subject matter.  It is also the only path where certain major issues involving the protagonist are completely and finally resolved in a direct manner.  This is perhaps not surprising, seeing as Linaria was being presented as the 'main heroine' almost from the beginning.  However, it is a situation where anyone who plays this path will be a bit displeased with the other two if they played it first.  The path itself is a lot less bloody than Karin's (to be blunt, Karin's path is the only one that gets bloody and serious to that degree), but it is still a good path, with a more emotional focus than Karin's.

Mira

Mira is my favorite of the three heroines, so I left her for last this time.  She is the protagonist's adoptive little sister, and she falls under the archetype of the 'imouto who scolds her beloved oniichan but adores him'.  Mira is a serious girl who cares deeply about the antique shop they are running, and as a result, most of her path deals with the economic issues of the city and the tower.  It was when I finished this path that I came to the conclusion that Mira's path is the 'merchant' path, Karin's is the 'nation' path, and Linaria's is the 'adventurer' path. 

Mira's path is full of secrets and conspiracies, and it has some really good moments for Verbena (who is incidentally my favorite character in this game).  It is also frequently humorous in ways the other two paths didn't manage, which was a plus for me.

Some thoughts

A few thoughts/complaints about this game.  I honestly liked this game a great deal... but it seriously needed a grand route to put the themes of the other paths into a single one.  The issues in each path weren't going to go away just because they weren't dealt with in those individual paths, and it bugs the hell out of me that there was no single path that brought them all to a resolution.

I also think Verbena should have had a path other than the normal ending.  Sure, she is a slut, a heavy drinker, and takes pleasure in unleashing her spiky weapons (ranging from morning stars to kusarikama)... but her personality is just awesome.  Seeing that kind of character go all deredere is one of my favorite AXL events (AXL does really good 'haraguro' heroines).

Conclusion

If you liked any of the other 'swords fantasy' AXL games, you'll like this one.  It has all the elements that make those games great, such as the protagonist being equally or more important than the heroines, decent action without being focused on the action, and a mix of light humor and serious story that keeps slice of life from getting out of hand.  I'll be the first to admit that AXL doesn't change its art style or character archetypes, but that never seems to effect whether their games are good or not.

 

Clephas

VN of the Month, May 2018

First, VN of the Month, May 2018 is Shunkyoku no Tyrhia.  While the game had some serious flaws, like all Liar Soft games, it was enjoyable enough that I felt it worth becoming a candidate for VN of the Month. 

Maoten

Maoten is the game I was looking forward to the most for June's releases... and I was not in any way disappointed.  The game is classic Candy Soft in some ways (the over the top characters, looser sexual mores than the norm in non-nukige, etc), but it also stands out as its own story. 

This game focuses on a small town where a large number of demons settled after giving up rather quickly on conquering the world.  The protagonist, who is at first unaware of this, is forced to an awareness of their existence by the rather extreme occurrence of Carlen's emergence into the world.  Carlene, who is essentially a hedonistic free spirit with a child's attention span, becomes a catalyst for an interesting central story. 

The protagonist of the story, Rentarou is a fishing addict with a kind heart and an inordinate fondness for women with large breasts (I know... *smiles wryly and shrugs*).  He can be be proactive when it is necessary, but, as is typical of many essentially introspective protagonists, he has a tendency to fail to ask for help when he needs it. 

There are three heroines in this game (though there are several noteworthy side-characters with h-scenes as well).  The heroines are Rita (the protagonist's psychotic osananajimi), Yuuri (the protagonist's adoptive elder sister who happens to be a battle angel), and Carlene (the demon lord who devoured Shiva when he came down to obliterate the demon world). 

In Maoten's world, demons who disrupt the human world seriously are subject to obliteration (usually along with any geographical features and lifeforms in the area) by the Angels, who are 'guardians of order' (supposedly).  As such, the demons who arrived twenty years before survived by making agreements with Earth's government to allow for their settlement there.

Common Route

The common route varies between comedic and serious moments, with those same moments (typical of Candy Soft and its subsidiaries) often being mixed heavily.  Generally speaking, most of it is comedic, with the more serious moments concentrated mostly in the beginning and at the end.  A lot of this is simply because of the need to form a solid picture of Carlene's character, since she is the only one of the three heroines not to be living in immediate proximity to the protagonist. 

I enjoyed the (rather long) common route and it had good pacing.  However, it did leave a lot of things to your imagination int he worst way, so I felt myself wanting more even as I went into the heroine paths.

Carlene

Naturally, Carlene's path is the one I chose first.  The relationship formation in this path is... kind of weird.  Oh, there is definitely love there, but the resulting relationship can't really be called romantic.  Rather it ends up as a rather weird version of a Queen and consort relationship, mostly due to Carlene's beliefs and her own view of her feelings toward Rentarou.  There were a lot of rofl moments in this path, not the least during the h-scenes (you know that you are enjoying it when the h-scenes make you laugh).  The actual story was good...  and though I disliked how they dealt with the protagonist's own major issue, I just shrugged and lived with it in the end.  The ending is one that made me smile, and it was perhaps too convenient... but I've yet to encounter a good ending from this company or its subsidiary (Minato soft) that wasn't that way to one extent or another.

Yuuri

Yuuri is an adorable person.  While she seems both strict and friendly in public, in private with the protagonist, she is very much the 'wannabe oneechan', and she values her relationship with Rentarou greatly.  The relationship building in this path is ridiculously straightforward, but in exchange this path deals with the events of ten years before (which involve the protagonist). 

Like Karin's path, this one starts mostly amusing but becomes more story-focused as the protagonist digs deeper into past events surrounding the decaying hospice and himself.  It was enjoyable, and the ending is worthy of a few happy tears in itself.

Rita

Rita's first path is something of a bad/normal ending.  The story itself is excellently-written (as should be expected, given my experience with the previous paths), and this story deals the most intimately with the protagonist's most dramatic past issue.  That said, this path has a much darker turn than the other two, at least for a time, and there is one scene that is borderline guro, so anyone coming into this one should be prepared.  The humor in this path is much like the humor in the rest of the VN (typical Minato-soft/Candy Soft style character typical humor). 

To give you a better idea of Rita's personality, she is like Kagome from Comyu (if she wasn't killing people to survive) or Momoyo from Majikoi (if she wasn't a martial artist).  She is actively mischievous, strongly attached to her small circle of closest friends, and extremely hedonistic and self-absorbed much of the time.

Rita 2 (Another Path)

This path is referred to as Rita's second ending, but it is actually a non-romantic ending that serves as a general conclusion (it also wraps up the biggest loose end from the first Rita ending) to the story as a whole.  This path is equally dramatic to Rita's path, but it is also a lot more emotionally stressful for much of its length.  That said, I can honestly say there are no more secrets to this game's setting once this path is done, so it left me with a definite sense of satisfaction with the game as a whole.

Omake

The omake scenes in this game are basically a series of post-Another Path story and h-scenes focused on side characters (including one yaoi scene with Ramu).  They are mostly humorous and/or ecchi... and it was nice to get some h-scenes with the game's rather large set of interesting female side-characters. 

Conclusion

A first-class game that I've already put on my list of VN of the Year candidates.  If you like the Majikoi style, this is an excellent game for you, but if you don't like it, there is a good chance you'll hate it.  This game is apparently based in the same world as the Majikoi series, based on a cameo of certain characters, but I honestly question that, since I can't see Momoyo failing to sense Carlene and come to 'visit', lol.

Clephas

Before I go visit my remaining grandparents this weekend (my grandmother on my father's side and grandfather on my mother's side are both in extremely frail condition right now, so we are taking time to show my sister's kid to them), I thought I would give my thoughts on modern VN trends.

Charage aren't going anywhere

Though I frequently bash the industry for over-saturating the market with moege/charage/SOL, the fact is that the demand for this type of VN is never going to go away as long as the Japanese eroge VN market exists.  Why?  Because it is the single easiest way to present the formation of relationships of young people into a sexual one.  While the genre isn't that attractive for people in their late teens or early to mid-twenties (incidentally the reason this market is declining), the majority of any older generation is always going to prefer this.  The lesser numbers of young people in Japan compared to my generation and the lower relative amounts of income are the main reasons for the current contraction of the genre.

Good Writers don't go into VNs anymore

This is a truth that few of the plotge addicts like me want to admit.  Most of the best writers in the VN industry are getting into middle age or later now (or have already left it), and the new and upcoming writers are mostly up and coming LN writers who have a far looser grasp on how to write/narrate and (more importantly) complete a story.  This doesn't mean they won't evolve their styles to match the new medium eventually, but whenever I've read a VN written by one of these newbies, the plot holes and poor handling of the endings of their games stand out painfully.

Chuunige are in decline

I absolutely hate to say this.  However, it needs to be said.  Trends in the last nine years in chuunige have tended to result in far too much side-story exploitation and sequelitis.  There is also a distinct lack of innovation, and when innovation does come, it tends to come with a huge drop in quality in the final product (Sora no Baroque).   Fans of the genre are getting older, and some companies (such as Light) have been putting their games in non-ero form on consoles to try to grasp the hearts of younger VN lovers (this has actually succeeded to an extent), but the fact is that it takes a much longer time for a chuunige company to  make back its investment after a release.  This is exacerbated by economic issues in Japan, and the fact that these companies mostly suck at advertising (like many niche genre companies, they only put it up in places where those already 'in the know' will find them).

VN Trends are always years behind the rest of Otaku-dom

VN communities in Japan are insular.  Even moreso than they are in the US.  When rom-com anime vanished for the most part at the end of the last decade, it was replaced with cheap action-fantasy (shallow, weaker stories for the most part, with more emphasis put on 'cool' elements) and moeblob.  The glut of such anime is reaching its peak right now... and that influence is starting to overflow (interpreted through the lens of the hyper-conservative VN community, of course) into our side of things.  That said, this is a trend that is unlikely to take hold, because it requires a modicum of writing skill that doesn't involve dialogue, and most VN writers just don't have that.  Instead, VN companies that have been around for a while have been 'testing the waters' by making games that step out of their usual niches, hoping to diversify to deal with the changing trends.  Light went with going down a much darker path than usual with its most recent game, and Navel actually put up a half-assed plotge last month.  These, along with many other incidences in the last two years, make me wonder just what the market will look like five years from now. 

Clephas

Tsukiakari Lunch is an oddball game that, despite the fact that I was in a particularly miserable state when I originally played it, I couldn't help fall in love with.  I was playing it in thirty minute snatches in between some of the hardest work I've ever done, and it took me almost two weeks (that's a long time for me) to finish it.  Because of the way I played it, I've always felt that I didn't really do it justice, so I have wanted to go back and play this for years.  I recommend it to people, but I couldn't really say I had a clear memory of all that went on it.

This game's structure is setup so that you first see the prologue (without going to the menu screen) and once you are done with the prologue, you go to the menu screen and start the main game.  When the main game starts, you are immediately asked to pick one of the four heroines.  The individual paths then proceed from there (and are of a pretty good length, though not as long as a chuunige path) to one of two endings (a bad ending or a normal/good ending). 

This story is based in Hoshikage Gakuen, a mysterious school where it is always night and during the two hours of 'Lunchtime', a creepy period where color seems leeched from the world, shadows attack and individuals called 'Witches' seek to devour anyone else they find.  The protagonist of this story, Shiki Haruhiko, is a wannabe teacher who wakes up with Fuyu, one of the heroines, sticking a gun (what looks to be a Mauser C96).  The situation that proceeds from there eventually leads to him meeting the four heroines... and finding out that one of the ways to leave the school and return to their various worlds is for someone to grant their wishes... with the catch that none of them remember those wishes (so remembering the wish is part of the journey).  The nature of these wishes is such that they could not, under any circumstances, be granted in the worlds from which they came.

The Heroines

Fuyu- Fuyu is the first heroine the protagonist meets.  She is an emotionless girl with an extensive knowledge of fighting, survival, and killing who always acts in a rational way and displays (and for the most part, feels) no emotion.  Like all the girls in this game except for Aki, she lacks common reference points with the others, because her world is one that has been at war for so long that they are down to children and young women... and nobody else.  It is so bad that she seems to honestly have no idea of the causes of the war or why anyone is fighting, save for survival.

Aki- The second heroine (and the one unlocked after all the others).  Aki is a quiet, kind-hearted girl who tends to keep her emotions bound up inside.  She is the most 'normal' of the girls on the surface, and she can generally be depended on to give good advice at the right times.  She is probably from a world similar to that of Haruhiko, because she understands his perspective well and naturally enough (they share reference points).  However, this is not certain, because she has no memories, including her name (Aki being the name Haruhiko gives her).

Natsuno- The third girl to arrive, a bundle of curiosity and smiles from a world where technology has advanced to the point where people are overseen by their computers, kept locked into a virtual space from birth to death, without any interaction with one another.  She is a genius, capable of creating machines to do just about anything in minimal amounts of time, and she is curious about everything, especially other people.  Because she has never had any real contact with others, her innocence is sometimes jarring on matters of interpersonal communication.

Avrill- A young princess from a world where humans wield swords and magic desperately to fend off hordes of monsters that plague their lives every day.  She is definitely a leader type, with a tendency to forge ahead and take control of situations.  However, she is rarely without a smile on her face, and she can be depended on to tease Haruhiko constantly.  Above all the others, her personality is the most mature, most likely because she has, unlike Natsuno, experienced the dark sides of the world, and, unlike Fuyu, understands the emotions and feelings of others. 

The Witches

Nishino- The individual responsible for summoning Haruhiko, an ever-smiling witch who loves nothing more than toying with others and watching their reactions.  Like all witches, she loses her ability to think rationally and is driven by the desire to devour non-Witches during Lunchtime, but most of the time, she is actually fairly helpful.  She is an alchemist and doll-user.

Kitayama- The resident witch of the infirmary, a handsome male witch with a tendency to sit around just putting his life into his research.  He is a sorcerer type (magical attacks and the like).  He is very wise... but like all the other witches, he too loses his rationality at Lunchtime and is driven by the desire to devour others.

Azuma- A cold-eyed witch who wanders the  halls of Hoshikage at random, searching for quiet places to be alone.  While she is apparently close to Nishono, her reactions even to her tend to be very kuudere-ish.  She really does resent interruptions and having people chat her up, and she likes even less other people asking her for help. 

Minami- A kind-hearted witch who ends up serving as Haruhiko's assistant homeroom teacher.  Her gentle manner and inability to handle sexual jokes hide a surprisingly sharp mind.  She warns the most strongly of the witches about running if they meet her during Lunchtime, and she can be made to blush easily by Haruhiko's stare or oddly suave words (since he never talks that way to anyone else). 

The Paths

Fuyu

Fuyu's path begins with the protagonist, Haruhiko, gradually gaining understanding of her as an individual, pulling out the emotions she cut away to allow herself to survive.  Fuyu's transformation from what amounts to a living doll to a warm-hearted and deeply loving (almost motherly) woman is one of my favorite parts of this game, even aside from the reasonably good battle scenes.  This path is highly emotional, in part because her wish is so basic that in any sane world it would have been possible to grant without being dragged into Hoshikage Gakuen.  I spent the last thirty minutes solid crying.

Natsuno

This is becoming almost a theme for this VN, but I spent most of the last part of this VN in or on the verge of tears.  Seeing Natsuno evolve from a true innocent into someone who understands at least something of how actions have consequences was interesting... and the relationship between her and the protagonist is gentle and beautiful.   Sadly, I can't go into details, because that would spoil the path... but it ends on a somewhat bittersweet note (the bad ending is sort of sexy). 

Avril

Avril's path, while having a some dramatic moments at the beginning, is mostly a gentle one.  Like the previous two paths, this path was about the heroine's personal growth and her achieving a personal salvation that wasn't possible on her own world, a world plagued by endless hordes of monsters.  Like Natsuno's path, the road to the ending is full of love, joy, and salvation... even for the witches.  The ending, true to form, is bittersweet.  I also recommend that people play this path third, regardless of the order you played Natsuno and Fuyu's paths, because the after scene is too revealing about what lies behind the scenes of the stage they are acting upon.

Aki

Of course, Aki's path is the final path, revealing everything that lies behind the curtain (as opposed to merely hinting or giving you bits and pieces, like the others).  You find out what precisely the 'witches' are and the how and why of Hoshikage Gakuen's existence and purpose.  However, like all the others, it begins with opening the heroine's heart to the protagonist... but in the process, you also learn about the hidden aspects of Shiki Haruhiko's own presence in the school.  This path has a happy ending, and it also shows ending parts for the other three heroines that tell you what happened to them 'afterward', leaving you satisfied as to their fates.

Conclusion

As I always thought, I definitely underestimated this VN due to my situation at the time I originally read it in 2013 (I already updated my rating of it on vndb).  Though I knew most of the important details (remembered them), I still laughed, cried, and enjoyed the process of figuring out the school with them.  One thing that I didn't mention above is the degree to which the paths reveal individual witches' fundamental humanity, which periodically switches to the monstrous shell they wear during 'Lunchtime'.  I should note that the Bad Endings for Natsuno and Aki are worth watching, simply because the endings are in the best tradition of such endings.

Overall, I can honestly state this game is a kamige.  It has everything, good music, good visuals, an excellent plot, near-perfect pacing, and great characters.  The stylistic choices in the writing at certain points were a true work of art, and I can honestly recommend this game to anyone who wants a good cry. 

Clephas

First, I should note that this is a series that is right up the alley of people like Dergonu... it were a VN.  This series, Under Jurisdiction by Susan R Matthews, mostly follows Andrej Koscuisko, a Drakonij Prince and would-be (though not by his own will) Inquisitor. 

Setting

The Under Jurisdiction series is based in a sci-fi future where humanity, at some point, diversified so greatly that sub-specification has occurred (though most aren't quite separate species entirely.  In this future, humanity (such as it is) is ruled by the judiciary, in the form of the Bench.  All humans are subject to the law as proclaimed by the judicial forces, and punishments are mostly corporal... horribly so in some cases. 

In this setting, torture is not only allowed, it is actually carried out by licensed medical professionals trained to inflict the maximum amount of pain to gain confessions of crimes (regardless of how heavy the evidence is), and, where it is justified, to torture them to death in the most horrible of fashions.  This legal use of torture as a deterrent to criminals has led to a gradual decay in the morale of the planets ruled by the Judges on the Bench, and rebellions have begun to occur on a regular basis by the time the protagonist, Andrej, takes his first steps into the world of the Fleet.

Andrej Koscuisko

Andrej is an extremely complex man... a man raised in a noble family of oligarchs who believe intensely and with absolute conviction in the duties of noblesse oblige and the duties to those under a lord's protection.  He is also a young medical professional, a genius surgeon and chemist with a the kind of skill in actual surgical procedures that is seen so rarely as to be unheard of.  He understands the human body (all races) to a degree that is often terrifying, and this is part of what becomes his plague... for when he begins his training, he discovers that, to his horror, the process of Inquisition brings out an intense, sick hunger to inflict pain upon and dominate the subjects that come under his hands.  Coupled with his natural understanding of the body and human psychology, he comes out of his training as the most horrifyingly skilled Inquisitor in Bench history, an artist of pain eternally on the verge of madness due to the conflicting imperatives within him.  He is only held back from the edge of the cliff by the efforts of his Bond Involuntaries, former criminals implanted with behavioral governors that force them to absolute obedience, so they can serve as his aides, and they are thus under his protection.  Their care for him, for his sanity, for his health, and for his honor, is all that keeps the sadistic madness at bay as it fights with his honor and inherent compassion...

The Story

The story follows Andrej from his training as an Inquisitor and first encounter with a Bond Involuntary, to his first duty as a Fleet Inquisitor and beyond... His fight with madness as he tries to glean mercy and justice from the horrors he is forced to perform on others, his fight to keep his honor, to protect his Bond Involuntaries from others who would use them poorly, and his fight with his own, culturally-ingrained sense of filial duty are intense to read.  For all the foreignness of his culture, Andrej's journeys through life leave behind an impact far out of proportion for the actual deeds he performs. 

Unfortunately, if you have a weak stomach, I can't recommend this story at all.  The galaxy Under Jurisdiction is one of the most horrifying dystopian sci-fi systems I've ever seen... all the worse when you realize that it all began out of a desire for justice and fair play in a universe where human racism has, if anything, gotten worse thousands of years after leaving Earth.

Clephas

This is a question I've asked myself on any number of occasions (and despite my own thoughts below, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this as well).  For some reason, most vampire literature with a vampire protagonist has that protagonist hating him/herself and his/her condition (switching to 'his' after this sentence, for the sake of brevity). 

Let's be honest with ourselves... if we could gain immortality, immense strength, and the ability to control people's minds in exchange for having to suck human blood and stay out of the sun, the greater majority of us would probably leap at the chance.  Humans are selfish creatures, and the advantages seem to far-outweigh the disadvantages on the face of it.

One common answer to this is morality.  To be honest, I think this is the second worst answer of them all.  Yes, in the case of a vampire setting where the vampire has to kill the subject or infects anyone he bites, it makes sense for there to be a moral issue.  However, if that is not the case, this one doesn't pan out.  Sure, drinking blood sounds evil in and of itself... but if you aren't human, it isn't cannibalism, now is it?  Hedonism?  Is there anyone in a first-world nation that isn't at least a little hedonistic?

Another one is a sense of isolation.  Now this one makes a bit more sense as a negative for vampirism... but not for sucking blood.  Sure, it might be hard to make friends with your food, but it wouldn't be the first time.  No, the issue here is lies.  By nature, vampires need to hide themselves, since they are well... scary.  I mean, if something essentially eats a part of you to survive and looks similar to you, how can that not be scary in a visceral sense?  So yes, the isolation is a good reason to be afraid of your own vampirism if you are a vampire.

A sense of normalcy.  This is the one you see the most in VNs, and I honestly think that it is an abomination.  It is the worst answer.  Almost every vampire protagonist in a VN wants to regain their 'normal life', and this often results in them taking their anger out on the people who saved them and/or love them.  Sure, you pay a price for your vampirism... if you can't go out in the sun (a rarity in VNs), then it is hard to go to school.  If you have to suck human blood, then you can't really be called normal.  However, that sense that normalcy trumps everything (no I don't mean the president) is ridiculous.  I honestly find this kind of attitude annoying as hell in a protagonist, and it is only the ones who don't linger on it constantly that I'm willing to forgive.

Violent instincts... now this one is laughable.  'Vampires have violent instincts!!!'  Umm... hello?  What race goes around killing people for stupid reasons like religious affiliation, what side of a line on a map they live, and who has a better cow in their barn?  *snorts contemptuously*

In the end, vampirism in fiction is a trade-off... and self-hating vampires who stay that way without a good reason always strike me as fake (Toshirou from Vermilion has good reason, but most don't).

Clephas

This is my fourth time replaying the Light VN, Vermilion Bind of Blood, and to my startlement, I realized that my only commentary on this is is in my ancient VN of the Month Thread on the forums.  So... of course I cannot leave my beloved public ignorant of this game (though I've made a habit of recommending it to everyone, like Evolimit).

Vermilion was the first chuunige made by Light's second team, and it was my first experience of the team's work.  It is also probably that team's single most balanced VN, and it is the only one I call a kamige, albeit with a few reservations. 

The protagonist of this story is one Kashima Toshirou (who is referred to in the Western fashion as Toshirou Kashima throughout the whole game).  He is a former samurai from the era just before the opening up of Japan by Perry's black ships who became a vampire.  Now he is a gloomy man who serves as a watcher for the vampiric community of the fictional American city of Foggy Bottom.  Toshirou is something of an anomaly amongst vampires in general... and most seem to hate him instinctively (there is good reason for this, though few ever know it).  He considers all vampires merely to be an extension of humans, denying the vampire legend that most believe in, and he has nothing but contempt for those who allow themselves to drown in their power and the arrogance born from it.

This game has four heroines.  They are:

Anne Portman- The first heroine.  You are forced to play her route first (probably because nobody would want to go after her if given a choice).  Unlike the other heroines, who are more or less easy with their lives as vampires, Anne is a timid, kind-hearted girl who is fundamentally unsuited to being a vampire.  Her role in this game is quite similar to that of Kasumi in Dies Irae (more as a contrast in the form of a 'normal person' than as a real heroine).  While her character is less than inspiring (that she is a heroine is the only flaw I see in this game), her path is actually quite good, though less so than the others in this game.  I did and do find the ending worthy of mention, because it is... pleasant in a sad sort of way.  It is also surprisingly uplifting, coming back without being tainted by my dislike for the presence of a Victim A heroine in a chuunige VN.

Sherryl McGregor- The victor of the heroine polls twice in a row, Sherryl is Toshirou's long-standing partner in both work and the home.  Their relationship is a 'don't ask, don't tell' one where they don't talk about their pasts.  It is an easygoing relationship, but it is fairly obvious that Sherryl fell for him decades ago.  If I were to compare Sherryl to a translated VN heroine, it would be the adult Cal Devens from Phantom of Inferno, albeit with a century and a half of experience under her belt.  Sherryl was born in Victorian England, and her experiences in the slums there shaped her base personality.  She bluffs, she fights, and she has a temper... but underneath it all, she is as soft as a fuzzy teddy bear when it comes to Toshirou.  She is also a talented singer, a skill she shows off at Casanova, the bar near the office.  Her path is the most revealing of Toshirou's past (in fact, that is its structural purpose, though that doesn't interfere with its quality), and it is a fun ride...  Her ending is actually pretty hilarious as well as touching, because it is probably the only path in the game where Toshirou manages to move on to some extent (Toshirou is very very stuck in his ways).  Sherryl also grows a great deal as a character in this path (as a matter of course) and it is a pleasure to watch.

Nina Orlok- The Principal (political leader of a Diaspora, which is the name given to vampiric communities) of the Western US Diaspora, a young woman forced into a position far beyond her personal power by her powerful blood father's will after his death.  She sees her duty as the only way to repay her father's trust in her, and she constantly struggles with the gap between what she wants to be and who she actually is.  That said, she is actually a quite capable political leader (a given, since she isn't dead or imprisoned, despite being a youngling in a position that would normally only be allowed to an ancient vampire), with a core of strength hidden under the girl struggling desperately to fulfill her father's hopes.  I sincerely enjoy her path, each time, because her growth as a character is inspiring, especially once she gets past her father complex.  Toshirou in her path is probably the most samurai-like (in the classic sense), and the battle that closes out this path is the third-best in the VN (behind two of the fights in the Grand Route).

Ariya Takajou- The Jaeger (vampire hunter) White Pile's successor, who has come to Foggy Bottom specifically to hunt Toshirou Kashima.  Driven by her desire to prove herself and a latent fear born from her experiences as a child (her family killed before her eyes by vampires), she endured training that would make a Marine recruit run away screaming to obtain the ability to almost match the physical abilities of a vampire (it is something close to inner qigong).   She despises all vampires and sees them as inhuman monsters, but her meeting with Toshirou fills her with a personal hatred, as his obvious (to her) difference from other vampires drives her to obsess over him.  Ariya's personality (on the surface) is very... twisted.  She is probably the single most sharp-tongued heroine I've ever encountered (she makes Kagome from Comyu seem pleasant), quite naturally using insults in a tactical fashion to get vampires to lose their heads and simply because she doesn't like people.  In her own path, she also develops a rather... twisted sort of love for Toshirou (and it is love, mixed with hate, gratitude, and intense sado-masochistic lust).  I always rofl at the way she changes in this path, and the ending... is actually really really cool. 

Grand Route- The Grand Route of this game focuses on fighting the antagonist who was the root cause of the conflicts in the VN, as well as dealing with the origins of vampires in general.  In this path, Toshirou finds himself facing his past and looking into the future in a way he doesn't in the other paths.  This path also has two of the best fights in the game, including the final face-off between the antagonist and Toshirou himself.  This path also gives a really significant insight into the mind of a side-character whom I loved... Klaus, the previous White Pile.  The ending of this path is bittersweet and faintly sad (as is common in a lot of chuunige true endings), but it also gives you a sense of completeness, closing out the VN nicely.

Side-characters worthy of mention

Isaac- Isaac is the bartender at Casanova and plays a key role in all the paths.  He is Toshirou's one true friend, and his personality is a cross between a hedge philosopher and a boy who never gave up his dream (and never will).  His (oddly troubling) life advice frames a lot of the game's key internal conflicts, and his influence can be felt throughout every part of the game, to some degree.

Klaus- The previous White Pile, an elderly Jaeger who fights with a gigantic stake (think a log from a log cabin with its edges carved into a spike-like tip and you get the picture).  He is a warrior to the core, a man who hates vampires absolutely and has made a living sacrifice of his life to cleanse as many of them from the world as possible.  In contrast, his unstinting love for humanity, including its flaws, is awe-inspiring in its strength, and he has an absolute faith in humanity's potential to rise above its own filth.  He saved and raised Ariya to be his successor, and she is perhaps the only chink in his armor other than his personal hate (he normally sees vampires not as individuals but as harmful insects to be crushed) for Toshirou.  He loves her deeply, in a fatherly fashion, and it is his love that is perhaps Ariya's greatest salvation, though it is also her second greatest weakness.

 

Clephas

I'm going to be blunt... if it weren't for the urging of one of my online friends, I wouldn't have played this game.  For one thing, it is a direct prequel to Gakthun, which I didn't have much fun with (I don't really like Japanese versions of Liar Soft games, for some reason... though I loved the English version of Sekien).  It is based in a steampunk world version of one of the most-visited eras of Japanese history in otaku media, the Bakumatsu era. 

In that era, Japan was opened by British air-fortresses, rather than by Perry's gunships, but the results were pretty much the same up until the beginning of the game (albeit with the usual liberties taken).  Since there was no walkthrough out for this game, as of yet, I ended up on a path whose history pretty much echoed rl history save for who died and when (oh and the individuals' motivations, of course).  Whether this was a good thing or not, I dunno... but the ending was decent, if bittersweet (not to mention that the last scene indicates that it is the one that heads into Gakthun). 

The protagonist, Hachirou, is the child of a Shogunate vassal family famous for their real combat oriented sword style.  He himself is a bit obsessed with modern steam technology, and his habit of constantly referring to his pocket watch shows off his straight-as-a-yardstick personality. 

Like a lot of steampunk-series games, this one jumps around between many different perspectives for about three-quarters of the game (relatively little time is spent with Hachirou, considering he is the protagonist), but this game escapes the rather... Steven Brust-style story narration (reference to the Phoenix Guard and its two sequels, which are written in a style that is excessively dramatic and roundabout) that poisoned me against Gakthun and some of the other games by this company.  In that sense, this was the easiest Liar-soft VN for me to read.

This game has heavy Cthulhu Mythos influence throughout its latter parts, ranging from a rather blatant one in the final battle scene of the ending I got to numerous smaller indications throughout.

Is this game good?  Yes, it is well-written and interesting to read.  Is it a kamige?  I can't really judge, since I have no idea how to get the other endings without a lot of trial and error (and I'm too lazy to do that with a liar soft game).  I'm giving it a decent rating because I liked a lot of it... but the way the game treated the Shinsengumi was a bit depressing at times (it really, really sucks to be Shinsengumi in this game). 

Clephas

This is the latest kinetic novel based in the setting created by the 'Uso' series by Campus.  The name of this VN says a lot about how it begins - the name means 'How we began our calculating love-comedy'.  The protagonist, a young man who managed to pay off his parents' massive debt through hard work after their deaths, comes to Mahoshi Gakuen in order to find a rich girl to marry.  This is in part because he is actively suspicious of romantic inclinations due to the fact that his hopelessly inept parents were from rich families and eloped because of opposition from both sides (and he saw his misery as a child being caused by his parents' decision to take love over wealth). 

Despite this, he is essentially a good person... and intelligent, despite frequently making facepalm-worthy decisions and taking facepalm-worthy actions in pursuit of his gold-digging goal.  He approaches Teidou Shirayuki (a younger relative of Setsuka from the Uso series) and is rebuffed harshly... but his experiences in life have left him more than a little psychologically tough, so he decides to continue pursuing her.  It is then that he is approached her maid, Sakura Nono, who offers her help in his plans...

Just to get this out in the open for people who aren't fans of nontraditional or unconventional relationships (or those who are), this VN is a 3P romance story, and it is typical of this series for bucking the common trends in VN romance in a few little ways (that I won't spoil for you).  After I got over wanting to bury my head in my hands over the protagonist's actions in the prologue, I quickly took a shine to the three main characters and their odd little relationship (and it just gets more odd as time goes by).  The protagonist's overconfident attitude and endless optimism about his own capabilities (sometimes justified, sometimes not) is frequently a source for humor, and seeing Shirayuki's cold attitude melt away is a true pleasure to watch.  While Nono frequently takes on a sidekick like role, she still manages to be a solid heroine in her own right, with her possessing almost as much affection for Shirayuki as she does for the protagonist (this is true of Shirayuki as well). 

Despite its premise, this game actually manages to be much more believable in some ways than other VNs with a romantic focus, and that is a huge positive, at least in my view.  I love the relationship building in this game (both before and after the required and omnipresent 'confession scene'), and I came away from this game feeling some of the built-up negative feelings from playing so many charage with almost identical romances shaved away.

Clephas

I'll say this first off... this game actually needed locked paths or a true ending.  Like most Windmill games, the character interactions are pretty heavily reliant on easygoing manzai humor and running character personality and behavior jokes (in fact, most VN humor is based on that).   This game has a cast of four writers (one amateur, one h-scene specialist, and two established names), including Imashina Rio (Gin'iro Haruka and Hoshi Ori Yume Mirai) and Kagami Yuu (ef, Eden*, and Mirai Nostalgia).  Unfortunately, the styles of the two main writers are extremely different, and it is rather blatant when things shift... sometimes in the middle of scenes (this can be jarring and disturbs the flow at times).

Understand, I started out liking this game... I like non-city settings (for some reason, city locales always end up being multi-date ichaicha fests even for heroines who wouldn't be interested in that kind of thing), and the interactions with the heroines and side-characters were amusing.  I even still liked how things were going early in my first heroine path (Serina), but after I headed into a second path, it became apparent they were abusing the 'osananajimi is scared of friend group falling apart' trope.  Oh, the way they abused it is different in each path, but the abuse is so rampant that I had to wince.

Worse, the characters have these pretty much useless powers that only work on each other.  All the paths have the powers as part of the central conflict, but, considering how little the characters seemed to care about their powers in the common route (one way or the other) it felt unnatural how they became central in the actual heroine routes.

Understand, I'm a fantasy freak, so characters having powers is (of course) fine with me... what bothered me was the artificial-feeling limitations and the way the characters so blithely accepted a revelation midway through the path that would have turned most games a bit gloomy.  Again, what's worse is that this was seemingly only utilized conveniently to explain why the other girls (all of whom are latently in love with the protagonist) stop pursuing him once you get on a particular heroine path.  I will say the way they did it was mildly funny (the pseudo-yuri in Himari's path was lol-worthy for instance), but it felt very, very forced to me.

Another issue is that Rinka is rather blatantly the main heroine (the scene I mentioned above makes that very clear).  As a result, all the other paths proceed without resolving the issue of just why that certain event and the issues it brought to the surface came into being.  Of course, as a result, Rinka's path is a very obvious 'true path' and blows away all the others in terms of quality (and length), drawing on elements from the other paths that hinted around the edges about what is revealed in Rinka's path. 

Anyone who plays this game should either only play Rinka's path or play the other paths first (like I did).  While the paths other than Rinka's have some serious issues (the biggest one being choppy pacing and poor use of the setting elements and plot devices), Rinka's path and the common route are definitely worth playing.  Sadly, I can't recommend this one for VN of the Month, but if you want a mildly funny plot-centric charage (yes, they coexist at times), this is a decent choice. 

 

 

Clephas

First, I should apologize for taking so long (for me) to get around to finishing this game.  Despite the fact that Kazuki Fumi games are always high-priority for me, for some reason I stalled after finishing the first arc and two of the paths in the second arc.  The main reason is probably because the first arc pretty much satisfied me, and I didn't feel like the game needed much of a second arc or the third arc that comes after.

As indicated above, this game has three arcs.  The first arc is a dark and emotional story that focuses on the protagonist, an android programmer and mechanic, the people around him, and a legless abuse victim named Hatsune that is left on his doorstep.  The whole thing is emotionally powerful, has a Sharin no Kuni/G-senjou no Maou style battle of wits, and it generally left me completely satisfied with how things turned out....

Then came along the second arc (which will hereafter be named the romance arc).  The romance arc shows off the style Kazuki Fumi has put together in the last few years (to varied reactions from otakus, for whom his approach to romance tends to be hit and miss).  The romantic formation is abnormal, the romance is strange, and the end result is generally not what you would expect.  Is this a good thing?  If there hadn't been a third arc, it probably would have been. 

Now, let's get down to the third arc.  First, the third arc is a dramatic conclusion to the aftermath of the events that occurred in the first arc.  This was actually the biggest mistake made in this game's structure and the reason I expelled it from the running for VN of the Month.  The first thing you are asked to do upon starting this arc is pick which of the heroines you romanced in the second arc, which essentially just changes one or two scenes and the ending scene.  The arc's story as a whole doesn't change at all, and it is short enough that I was able to finish it all in under an hour. 

Now, why is this a problem?  The reason is fairly simple.  It completely screws up the pacing of the game.  For better or worse, the second arc's 'endings' feel like a conclusion, even though I knew from the walkthrough that they weren't.   They weren't a great conclusion, but if they'd been followed up with individual after-stories or completely customized versions of the third arc, this might have become a solid VN of the Year candidate.  Unfortunately, the third arc is what amounts to a 'one size fits all' affair that makes the whole romantic mess of the second arc feel mostly irrelevant.  Coming from someone who generally doesn't express a fondness for romance, I know this will sound strange... but this was a horrible way to handle things.  This game isn't a kusoge, but I honestly can't recommend it with the current conclusion (hope for a story FD to smooth things out, maybe). 

In conclusion, this is a game that shows signs of greatness throughout the first arc, falls back on romance in the second arc, and stumbles in the third arc.  It has great characters, a good story and theme... and falls far short of what I've grown to expect from this writer after Nanairo Reincarnation.

Clephas

This is the latest charage from Hearts, a company specializing in 'yurufuwa' charage with nakige elements.  This company's works have a tendency to make me want to puke waves of sugar, but, in my experience, this is one of the better 'yurufuwa' companies out there.

This game focuses on a kind-hearted young man named Harutoki Narumi as he suddenly (and by accident) summons a high-level spirit named Haruharu, and, as a result, he gets dragged into the world of witches and magic users whose duty is to keep the balance of nature by conversing with such spirits.  Narumi is generally your classic 'good guy' protagonist that everyone at least likes, and this VN doesn't have any real confrontations in the sense that you might see in another VN, so he doesn't really have a combative side at all. 

Haruharu is the spirit Narumi summoned, a generally cheerful and lively young woman who lives in the moment and is driven obsessively to help others.  Her spirited and cheery manner generally warms the hearts of those around her, and it is hard even for me not to like her, since she is basically like an embodiment of pure good with no negative elements whatsoever (except a lack of modesty, if you use some standards, lol).

Kazane is an iinchou-type who is the head of the Garden Club, which serves as a front for the activities of the school's small community of witches (the heroines and the protagonist, essentially).  She is ambitious, in the sense that she wants to be a Grand Witch, but her essential nature is that of a person who can't help but want to help others (seeing a pattern here? hahaha).

Mashiro is your classic fushigi-chan genius... the most skilled (versus Haruharu being the most talented) of the heroines in magic, she always has a high-level cat spirit named Bastet riding on her head.  Despite her brief period as a seeming kuudere (it ends almost immediately) she is, in fact, just as much as a goodie-goodie as Kazane and Haruharu, and her only really unusual quality is her sense of humor.

I'd be tempted to call Mikana a dojikko, in any other VN... but Hearts really hates to include negative personality traits in its heroines, so she just happens to be the least skilled of the heroines.  She likes baking and is generally a sweetheart and something of an innocent... and just like all the other heroines, she likes helping people (it is almost amusing that they unified the heroines to this degree, lol).

Now, the charage of this VN has a lot of cheap feels and cuteness... and that is pretty much all there is.  The girls and Narumi go around solving minor issues (not incidents) while practicing their power to speak to the spirits of the world, and generally you can expect that any event is either going to result in some kind of low-level emotional scene or lots of cuteness.  Given the fact that it was well-written and paced enough to affect me, I have to wonder how the people who eat this up will feel playing this.

The heroine routes... are all about at the same level.  Oh, Haruharu's route is the most emotional by far, but I can honestly say that the routes are basically extensions of what I experienced in the common route... lots of low-level feels and cuteness, with h-scenes added in.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing... if anything, this game is pure crack for the lovers of the genre.  If you want a low-stress, cute as a fuzzy bunny game, this one is ideal. 

I will say that you should probably leave Haruharu's route for last... since the feels leading into her ending are the best in the VN.  However, I can also say that you could probably play this game just for Haruharu's route and come out feeling quite satisfied if you like the genre.  Given my tastes, I'll probably forget this game ever existed by the end of next month, but I felt a need to mark that this game is a rare ideal production for those with a taste for the fuzzy-feely and adorable.

Clephas

To be blunt, I only started this one first because I don't want to read something written by Kazuki Fumi (the writer of Nanairo Reincarnation) just yet... I'm sleep-deprived, so I wouldn't be able to appreciate it, lol.  In any case, it was either this game or the new Windmill release, and, when in doubt, I try to get the new company games out of the way first. 

This is written by Scokan, a new writer on the VN scene.  Judging by what I saw in the common route, he is about of average level for a charage writer or maybe slightly better, with a tendency toward using the wrong kanji for some archaic terms.  The characters in this VN all fall into classic VN stereotypes.

Kikyou is a somewhat innocent tsukumogami (For the inexperienced: tsukumogami are objects that have, over a long period of time, gained a form of sentience and some spiritual power) who is devoted to her duty but hopeless at doing anything related to that duty (whereas she is abnormally good at cooking and other daily tasks).  She is enthusiastic and kind-hearted, but she has a tendency to apologize excessively. 

Haruka is the classic genki stepsister.  She loves her niichan and is virtually attached to him at the hip, despite his protests.  She is generally cheerful and tends to want to touch those she likes constantly.  Underneath, she is surprisingly vulnerable, though her fundamental baka-ness means that she rarely remains down in the dumps for long.

Shiori is your classic kuudere (a type that we don't see that often these days).  She seems aloof at first, but, when people try to talk to her, she has a tendency to give them the benefit of the razor edge of her tongue.  She also has as much trouble being honest with her feelings as any other tsundere variant.

Misaki... is your classic deredere osananajimi miko (yes, this pops up enough in charage that it has become an archetype).  She rather obviously is in love with the protagonist from the beginning, and this makes his rather half-hearted and awkward attempts to avoid her rather irritating in the prologue.  Moreover, she is extremely pushy and tends to settle into the usual 'fuufu manzai' situation in front of others when it comes to the protagonist. 

The protagonist, Yuuto, is... a hetare.  I'm sorry, but that is how I feel.  Oh, the getchu page makes him seem like a shadowed character, but he is just half-heartedly misanthropic... and this part of his character is handled poorly in the common route (he hardly struggles at all against what is happening, despite his supposed misanthropy).   I found him immensely irritating a lot of the time, though his interactions with Haruka are frequently amusing (as opposed to his interactions with Misaki being downright annoying). 

Common Route

The common route is mostly classic charage fare.  You get lucky sukebe events on a regular basis, the heroines forgive the protagonist quickly, and the protagonist eventually stops resisting the friendship of the heroines (without crossing the line into favoring any particular one).  Thankfully, all the routes split off from the same choice, so there is no massive number of meaningless choices to annoy the reader, but I thought that Kikyou's character was poorly developed in the common route, considering that she is the obvious main heroine.  A lot of this is that she is a non-presence during most of the school hours, and the writer applies the plot device of the magic power keeping the protagonist from getting too far from her inconsistently.  As a result, I exited the common route with a fondness for most of the heroines but a bit irritated/stressed because of the way Kikyou was neglected and the protagonist was such a hetare about some things.

Kikyou

It was a close race between her and Shiori, but I picked Kikyou first (I have no intention of bothering with the other two heroines, as they are both types that make better side-characters than heroines).

As if they were sorry for treating Kikyou like a side-character in the common route, her own route is... emotionally-packed.  There is some serious drama in there related to her nature as a tsukumogami and the protagonist's trauma (which is touched on in much more detail here), and it was almost as if an entirely different writer was handling the more serious parts.  I cried several times... but this path uses a rather archetypical set of events (if you've played other kamisama-heroine paths, you'll recognize the tropes instantly), and even though it is presented well, the pacing is kind of sloppy toward the end.   The ending of this path is... short.  I say this in annoyance, because this would be an ideal path for a Hikoukigumo no Mukougawa-style 'to the very end' ending.

I want to talk about the ichaicha in this path separately because it is worthy of note that it almost felt like a nukige at times.  Kikyou and the protagonist have almost no restraint, and it is made worse by the fact that Kikyou is the type to gladly respond to just about any kind of advance and the protagonist is the type who has self-control issues once he actually has a girlfriend.  There is, thankfully, only one date in here and they didn't try to insert something unrealistic like the innocent kamisama wanting to go shopping (which would be out of character for Kikyou but which some writers would have insisted on). 

Shiori

I picked Shiori for a very simple reason... I have a weakness for kuudere heroines who really hate being alone.  Shiori's path is, like Kikyou's, fairly emotional, with her asthma playing a role in the path's story along with the protagonist's trauma (once again, and showing off a bit more detail as to what happened leading up to it). 

By the time I got halfway through this path, I started to recognize a pattern in how this writer is handling the protagonist... at some point, the heroines start to mother the protagonist to one degree or another (the reason why this is part of the relationships makes sense when you've played the common route), and, similar to Kikyou's route, the protagonist is like a dog in heat throughout much of the route after the romantic connection forms (as is the heroine).  I feel it necessary to mention this because the 'intensely sexual' phase of most charage routes tends to be a lot less extensive than I saw in this one.  This felt much closer to Majikoi levels in some ways, hahaha.

The ending is reasonably touching... but again, by my standards, it felt like it wasn't quite enough, as it ended less than a month after the climax (I like 'years later' endings). 

Conclusion

If you want to try a newer (up and coming) charage company, this is a good choice.  For this game, they used artists from Studio Ryokucha and Gesen, and it shows in the styles.  There are more emotional moments than is the norm for your standard charage, but that is a plus rather than a negative.  The only real downsides are a few pacing issues, the briefness of the endings, and the weakness of the common route (lol). 

Clephas

Now that I have confirmation from Dergonu that the game he was playing is not VN of the Month quality (he has stalled on it), I will move on to finally announcing VN of the Month for March and April.

March

March was a decent month, since it had three potential candidates for VN of the Month.  Those candidates are:

Butterfly Seeker

AI Love

Unjou no Fairy Tale

Now, despite my rating of it, I'm going to go ahead and disqualify AI Love.  Why?  Because it is essentially a borderline nukige.  It made its way onto my Chicken Soup for the Soul list, but, as I've stated in the past, that isn't necessarily an indication of kamige status.  Rather, it is an indication of how good the game is at soothing and relieving non-violent stress.

So, this comes down to Unjou no Fairy Tale versus Butterfly Seeker.  Based purely on my personal tastes, I'd probably go for Unjou no Fairy Tale, since I'm an admitted fantasy addict... but in the end, I had to (reluctantly) admit that Butterfly Seeker was the better VN.  The depth of the story, the characters, and even just the details of the important events was such that I couldn't honestly give Unjou no Fairy Tale the victory for VN of the Month, March 2018.

My reasons for excluding Etatoto from the final running are... that fun2novel's own review and private comments didn't leave me with the impression of VN of the Month quality.  Worth reading for a certain portion of the community?  Yes.  Worthy of being recommended on a larger scale... no.

April

Having dropped Taiju for the moment (SofthouseChara's newest SLG), I was left with only one viable candidate for April... Yuusha to Maou, to Majo no Cafe.  This is perhaps the weakest VN of the Month candidate I've put up in quite some time, but it still easily won over Kari Gurashi Ren'ai, which is the only other game that hit my baseline standard.  Naming it as VN of the Month, April 2018 actually troubles me a bit... given a choice, I wish that Unjou or AI Love had been released in April so I'd have a better candidate.  I almost decided not to name one for this month, but I reluctantly decided that it meets standards. 

Clephas

I'm doing a spotlight on this author for a number of reasons... one is that I'm currently going back through his works on my new Kindle (lol), but another is that I have never really understood until recently just how profound an effect his works have had on my thinking until I had the opportunity go back and marathon some of his series.

Modesitt has been writing since 1982 (the year I was born, incidentally) and has a massive number of works to look at (seventy novels across a number of series).  He writes primarily sci-fi and fantasy, but he also ventures into poetry, non-fiction, and other areas.  For the sake of those, like me, who are only interested in fiction outside of history books, I'm going to focus on his fiction.

Modesitt... is probably one of the most subtle writers I've ever encountered.  Part of that is that the current trends (straightforward writing with an emphasis on less... roundabout methodologies) hadn't been established when he first began writing.  Another part is that he is that he has been writing on the same basic themes for over thirty-five years. 

Those themes, though it isn't obvious unless you go back with an analytical mind, include environmentalism, gender politics, personal growth, and the costs of poor sociological and practical choices.  Perhaps one of the most common statements (whether internal or external) that you'll see in his books and that is probably the most important one for the reader to grab hold of is, 'See the world as it is, rather than as we would have it.'  Most of his protagonists are people who either act out this way of looking at the world or eventually grow into it.  In the Internet Age, this is a particularly relevant theme, because the sheer amount of information available means that otherwise sane individuals will subconsciously or consciously ignore information that is inconvenient to their preconceptions of what is true and what is not (we have seen a lot of this in America recently, lol).

Another thing that you'll see - primarily in his fantasy series - is the tyranny of dominant genders.  Generally speaking, in his fantasy realms, there is usually at least one realm, usually embattled by its neighbors, where a matriarchal society exists, at least one where the genders are almost equal (it tilts back and forth based on the era) and many where patriarchal societies are dominant.  One thing that is striking about the matriarchal realms he depicts is that men tend to be relegated to roles you'd normally see in females in other societies on the same world (stay at home parent, decorative spouse, etc).  Another is that he depicts an approach that is far more balanced in those realms than in the patriarchal ones, where treatment of women can vary between the casual chauvinism that is so prevalent even in the West to the pet-like treatment you see in nations in the Middle East and parts of Africa.  The reason I find this interesting is because, while he obviously thinks that a matriarchal society is healthier than a patriarchal one, he still sees the same ills (albeit on a lesser scale) that plague a patriarchal one. 

He also has a rather obvious contempt for the 'warrior archetype'.  Individuals who fight for the sake of fighting, seeking conflict out of vainglory or ambition, his books generally portray dying horribly or in incredibly stupid manners... usually after failing to back down when the protagonist of the books confronts them.  The most obvious of these is in the Spellsong Saga, where Anna, the former American music teacher turned song-sorceress, is continually confronted by the stupidity and shortsightedness of men and women who refuse to see that there is no 'honor' in killing for the sake of harmful traditions or ambition.

Another theme that pops up, his contempt for those so short-sighted as to believe the world is going to last forever or problems will fix themselves, is generally portrayed in the endless line of antagonists or passive rulers/characters who see that something is wrong but fail to take action to fix it, causing their downfall.  These characters generally see that their own lack of action is going to lead to the destruction of what they love, but they often cannot accept this and will ignore it, if it is inconvenient to their peace of mind.  This is most glaringly obvious in the Corean Chronicles and the Forever Hero.  In the Corean Chronicles, a race of humans called the Alectors or Ifrits, has made a habit of using their magic to escape each world they occupy after they render it worthless.  The Alectors have literally drained three worlds of all life in the past, using it to fuel their magic engines, using it to make their clothing nearly indestructible, and using it to control the populations of the worlds they seed and conquer.  Their attitudes bear distinctly similar tones to those of modern Westerners, particularly in their stated concern about waste (in this case, of life-force) vs their unwillingness to reign themselves in in any real sense.  Considering the end results of this attitude... well, it is rather obvious what Modesitt thinks about this kind of thought-pattern. 

The Forever Hero Trilogy is... probably the most depressing work by this author I've ever encountered.  It portrays a future where Earth was laid to waste by careless over-exploitation to provide the resources for colony ships and contaminated itself beyond natural recovery.  The protagonist is a young 'devilkid' (a sub-species of human involved for individual survival above all other things) who is captured and educated by the Empire, the successor to the Earth-based galactic government that preceded it.  Having been educated, he sets about the task of resurrecting Earth... only to find that the simple physics of space travel and the economics of the Empire make resurrecting Earth nearly impossible.  Fortunately, as a natural immortal (he doesn't age), he has the time... and the intelligence to work it out.  He is perhaps the most ruthless and amoral of Modesitt's protagonists, but his cause is enough to grasp the reader and not let them go.  This series also deals with the 'dirt and grit' of a far more realistic sci-fi environment than is common in modern science fiction, where the details tend to be sanitized outside of dystopian efforts.

I generally recommend this writer to those who like reading sci-fi and fantasy that makes you think, characters that are good at the beginning but grow to be great as their role requires them to, and those who don't mind their comfortable way of looking at the world being jarred on a regular basis. 

 

Clephas

This was one of the group of about forty VNs I played in my first year after I began playing untranslated VNs.  It was also the fourth chuunige I played that was untranslated.  For those who are interested, this game was written by Takaya Aya (the writer of several kamige, including Komorebi no Nostalgica and Otoboku 2).  He is a writer who can handle just about any genre, including nakige, chuunige, charage, serious drama, and deep science fiction. 

Alicematic is his first chuunige, written in 2006, during the 'golden age of VNs'.  It is based in a version of our world where the dimensions that comprise reality are collapsing, and as a result entire swathes of the world are becoming unlivable, the survivors driven mad.  The protagonist, Marume Kuroudo, is summoned to an experimental facility based on an artificial island in the Tokyo Bay in order to participate in an experiment to alter the currently unavoidable extinction of humanity and the end of the world as we know it. 

He and the others summoned, are told that they must fight to the virtual death (pain and sensation included) in a virtual realm to supply the mental energy to alter the fate of the world.  

Now, this game has a pretty diverse cast.  The protagonist, Kuroudo, is a wild, pure-hearted type who knows his own limitations as a person and devotes himself to the things he feels are important without hesitation (he uses the odachi).  Sayane, a young woman constantly dressed in the goth-loli style, is a master swordswoman with a passionate heart and an iron will (she uses the standard katana).  Kuroe and Shiroe are twins, with the older sister Shiroe being hesitant and gentle and her younger sister Kuroe being an overprotective siscon (their weapons are kodachi).  Iori is an unsociable young woman whose hobby is observing people (her weapon is an executioner's sword).  Rikka is a cheerful, talkative, and active young woman (and the most normal of the heroines) who wields a crescent-spear.  Fuyume is a blind and innocent miko who is also a talented onmyouji and can see the souls of people and objects.  Nobotsuna is a seemingly light-hearted womanizer who quickly befriends Kuroudo and the others, his surprising wisdom coming out at just the right moments.  Kei is a cross-dressing young woman who is also a master of western sorcery (also a confirmed lesbian).

Common Route

This game's common route changes depending on what choices you make throughout it leading up to the heroine branch-off, the events occurring after the prologue changing the most dramatically.  While there is a lot of repeated text, it can mostly be skipped using the skip function on subsequent playthroughs.  This is a technique used a lot in early chuunige, because events tend to accelerate rapidly in chuunige once you get into the heroine paths.  The differences mostly lie in which heroines you interact with the most and the fate of a certain antagonist that appears early on... as her fate is usually related to how things turn out in the heroine paths, somehow.

Route Order Suggestion

I honestly suggest that you use the exact route order found in the Foolmaker walkthrough: http://sagaoz.net/foolmaker/game/s/alice.html

The reason is fairly simple... despite not restricting any of the paths but Fuyume's, there are assumptions made about your preexisting knowledge for each path. 

Sayane

Nine out of ten people who play this game through the end of the prologue without picking a heroine will choose to do Sayane's path first.  Why?  Because she is the heroine who leaves the most vivid impression in the prologue, by far.  As a result, for the second time around... I ended up picking her again (it was a toss-up between her and the twins).  Sayane's rather twisted value system is the basis for why the actual buildup to relationship formation is so... long.  However, the reasons make sense, given the events of the prologue, and the romance is... beautiful in a sense that is rare in visual novel romance in general. 

The battles in this path are first-class (really all the battles in this game are), and the last battle is just... superb.  I laughed, I cried (a lot), and I felt my heart wrench with empathy for Sayane and Kuroudo.  This is an excellent path, and, even if you play none of the other paths, this one would make the game worth playing (though I might end up saying the same for some of the others as well, lol).

Kuroe and Shiroe

I just ignored my own advice... but I don't like Rikka, so that was inevitable (her type of heroine is my least favorite, because they are so common).  Kuroe and Shiroe are a pair of twins that are one year younger than Kuroudo.  Shiroe is the older sister, a gentle-mannered girl with a tendency to view her own motivations negatively, particularly when it comes to Kuroe.  She is rather obviously in love with Kuroudo almost from the start (the incident that brings it on is fairly obvious).  Kuroe is the younger sister, and the dependent half of the pair (most otaku media twins operate on the theory that one is dependent and the other dominant).  She loves her sister first, second, and last, lol.  She is also an aggressive violent tsundere with a fondness for jump kicks and a generalized dislike of men.

Kuroe and Shiroe's path has a much different focus than Sayane's... the swordsmanship aspect is far less important (the fights in this path are mostly short ones), and it is very much about the twisted psychology of the twins' dependent relationship, their past, and how it effects the experiments when Kuroudo gets mixed up with them (hint: the results tend to be mixed).  Generally speaking, the path itself can probably be called one of the weaker ones in the VN from a chuunige perspective, but it is emotionally rich and generally enjoyable to read.

Rikka

I'll say it right out.  Rikka is the heroine I like the least in this game.  She is mostly a comedy relief character.  She is genki, she eats a lot, she makes random sexual jokes, and she is in a deep manzai relationship with the protagonist and other characters. 

That said, her path is of even quality to the others so far.  This path... will probably be hard on people who like Sayane (I won't go into details), and I had to wince at some of the things that happen to the characters here.  However, in exchange you get a series of three first-class swordfights, a bunch of lesser fights, some seriously crazy turns of events, and a nice ending.

Iori

Iori... by the time you get to this path (I recommend doing it last amongst the initially-available paths for reasons I'll mention in a moment), you'll have some idea of her personality.  On the surface, she is calm and collected, but underneath, she is very much like a lonely child who desperately wants the love she never received from her parents.  However, she also has a tendency to instantly make decisions others would procrastinate on, and there is little in the way of hesitation to her personality.

Her path... is split into two parts.  The first part, which is treated pretty much the same as the other heroine paths, is a sad ending (almost like a Tsukihime-style normal ending), that feels bittersweet.  It is also fairly revealing about Iori's personality and her limitations as an individual.  The second part has you start from the beginning of the game from a slightly different point, and it dramatically alters events when it comes to how Iori, Fuyume, and Kuroudo interact with one another and eliminates a major story element common to all the other paths, including Iori's first path.  How it differs most radically from the first version, however, is in how Iori deals with her personal issue that pops up in almost every path of the game.  Let's just say that the issue is confronted much earlier, at least in part because Iori held close contacts with the others at a much earlier point.  This is also the most revealing path so far for the Cthulhu Mythos elements in the story.

Fuyume

Because of Fuyume's tendency to refer to herself in the third person, whenever she talks, I get the feeling she is putting herself down (my backbrain keeps interpreting her name as Fuyu and 'me' as that deliberately servile appellation some retainers to wealthy or socially high-ranking individuals use for themselves).   However, her personality is fundamentally kind-hearted and gentle with a strong flavor of curiosity about new things and a tendency to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders.

This path... is very emotional, both in the romantic and in the story/drama parts.  While this path doesn't have any superlative fights, the flow of the story is the most 'complete', and I honestly loved the way the relationship between Fuyume and Iori strengthens throughout the path.  I smiled, I laughed, and I cried... and in the end, I was left with a sense of completeness, as this path put an end to the story as a whole. 

Overall

This game is one of those that was hard to appreciate fully on the first playthrough.  Part of it is that, when I first played it, I was unfamiliar with much of the terminology (occult, scientific, and swordsmanship) involved.  However, the largest part was that I simply didn't have the understanding of the concepts involved necessary to fully appreciate how this story plays out.  Most who read this game will be satisfied entirely by the sword-fights and the story, but, later on, if you have a wider understanding of the concepts involved in this game, it becomes a much richer/deeper read. 

Clephas

Yay!  Two catgirl harems in one month!!!  lol

Anyway, this is the newest game by Moonstone's crappy subsidiary, Moonstone Honey.  It is a straight-out catgirl harem moege from beginning to end... which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The game is set on an island that has been completely built up with leisure facilities of various types (amusement park, pool, beach, a mall, etc), and the protagonist is a young man in his early twenties who is given a chance to take charge of resurrecting the stagnant pool business. 

I'm going to be blunt (as usual) here... there really isn't a lot to this VN except endless ichaicha between the protagonist and the three catgirls.  The protagonist accepts the catgirls' presence and change to a human form with relative ease, and within a few days, he has them working part time at the indoor pool he is running.  While problems pop up along the way, they are solved quickly and with relative ease, and the girls make the transition from 'just pets' to his harem rather early on (albeit without h-scenes). 

The catgirls' names are Mikan, Lime, and Lemon.  Mikan is the innocently affectionate type, constantly trying to be helpful and showing her love for her master in an honest and straightforward manner.  Lime is a mischievous type, showing her affection and trust by teasing and playing small pranks on the people she likes.  Lemon is... a classic tsundere.

Don't expect a real story or any kind of drama in this game.  The whole point of the game is to enjoy the ichaicha between the protagonist and the catgirls, so there isn't a whole lot extra outside of that.  How the girls transformed is never explained (in fact, it is pretty much forgotten ten seconds after they first emerge), and there is no step-up of affection from them toward the protagonist, as they already love him pretty much from the beginning (it just changes to romantic love later on).  This is a kinetic novel, the choices only deciding whether you see a CG or not.  There is no H content during the main part of the game, but the rather long after story contains about twelve h-scenes for those who are interested.

Overall, if you just want some catgirl harem action, this is a decent choice, but if you don't want what amounts to an old-style moege (not a charage) this probably isn't a good choice.

Clephas

This is the second game in the 9 -nine- series, a half-chuunige series that began last year.  For my comments on the first game, look below.

 

I'm going to be blunt... all my complaints about the previous game in the series still apply here.  While a little more information is revealed in the second game than the first, and two of the characters (Haruka and Sora) come to life a great deal more than in the first game, it has to be said that the sense that I should have waited for all the games in the series to come out before I played it is unchanged.  Oh, I liked Sora as a heroine (the interplay between her and the protagonist is frequently worthy of laughs).  However, I absolutely hated the way it trailed off at the end, right after revealing something of absolute importance.

The battle scene in this one (there is precisely one worthy of the  name) is good, and the writing (of course) is first-class... but playing a game like this in pieces is immensely frustrating. 

Clephas

This review was written by fun2novel and edited for grammar and style by Clephas. 

Etatoto review

The mystery genre is one of the most interesting and captivating genres in fiction (Clephas: We are all entitled to our opinions). While there are many mystery vns out there, finding one that has an addictive, twisting plo, and a satisfying ending is a difficult task. It is even harder if you’re looking for something really unique and different from the usual murder who’dun’it, detective, mystery plots... Such as something that will make the reader doubt and rethink what they think they know but also gives satisfying answers.

Welcome to Kieta Sekai to Tsuki to Shoujo -The World was Prayed by The Girl Living A Thousand Years- or Etatoto. Okina Seiji comes back to his home town for a visit. After his arrival, he reunites with old friends and makes new ones, goes to school with them, and spends time bonding with them. However, the real reason for his visit is the mysterious death of his mother, and his goal is to find out the truth. Nothing goes as planned, of course. As the story progresses, the mystery grows more and more complex, questions are raised, and more mysteries are uncovered. This is ALL you need to know, as saying anything more than that will ruin the plot. So, if you’re looking for a good mystery visual novel that is not quite the usual kind of mystery, something complex and twisty, this is a game for you. It’s not quite as complex as the Infinity or the Zero Escape series, but it’s definitely worth your time.

In terms of art the game made a few odd artistic decisions. While the backgrounds looks great, and the main characters are all drawn well, some of the characters look as if drawn by a completely different artist than others. On top of that, their sprites look rough and sketched in comparison. CGs have a similar problem due to a strange artistic decision to draw the h-scenes in one style and the other CGs in a different one. The non-H CGs look rougher, almost sketched. These CGs still look good and match the atmosphere, so perhaps it was an artistic decision rather than a budgetary one (Clephas: It is Lacryma... it was probably just a fumble).

Speaking of production values, the music deserves special recognition. The music is superb, with a variety of deep soothing compositions, atmospheric music, emotional music, and perfectly timed moving pieces. However, there aren't a lot of them, so they might come to feel old with repetition. That said, the music is so good that it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone.

There are a few low points in Etatoto’s writing as well. Most of the characters are not especially well developed and leave you much to be desired. Though,  this wasn’t a huge deal breaker, as the story was good enough to pull all the right strings.  The reason for this is that most of the game's focus goes into the story, rather than the characters. The romantic elements are a bit sub-par as well, since almost every route develops its romantic relationship in exactly the same way, with pretty much the same amount of time spend on each heroine and with the same ‘date’ spot as everyone else... Not to mention, it takes a while for the story to get going. The first few hours were very difficult to get through, but it is still worth it, in my mind.  Those slow peaceful times are used to introduce the characters as well as do some clever and obscure foreshadowing about the events to come.

On a technical side, things aren’t perfect either. The auto skip function doesn’t work as expected (Clephas: Lacryma's technical staff sucks), and sometimes it just doesn’t work at all. At other times, it takes a little longer to load the backgrounds after you resume from a saved game. These are relatively small annoyances that could (and most likely will) be patched later; so, thankfully, they don’t become an obstacle for enjoying the experience of the VN as a whole. 

In conclusion, talking about Etatoto is difficult without spoiling the intricate details of its plot. It’s the kind of VN where you should avoid searching for more information than is contained within this review. This gives you a good idea of the pros and cons of the game, and with a little patience, a mystery lover will get hooked on what is probably one of the best mystery visual novels in a while.

Clephas

For March's VN of the Month

fun2novel has finished etatoto and will be sending me his review at some point in the near future.  Dergonu is currently playing Akumade, Kore wa ~ no Monogatari, though the current date he will be finishing it is unknown.  When I have their reviews for these two VNs, I will announce the VN of the Month for March.

For April's releases

I've currently completed three VNs from this month.  Koneko, Maou to Yuusha, and Tenpure.  Only Maou to Yuusha, of the three, is at VN of the Month levels of quality, but I still have to finish Taiju (SofthouseChara's newest gameplay hybrid) and the second game in the 9 series by Palette.  I do not plan to play Front Wing's new release at this time... (mostly because I don't have any charage energy left after the SOL overdose from Tenpure and Maou to Yuusha).   I might get to it later in the month (I don't plan to announce April until after March...), but that will be after I've made a recovery, lol. 

Clephas

Now, considering that all the games Mint Cube made up until now were kusoge (personal experience speaking here), I didn't expect to be especially impressed by this game.  Thankfully, I was surprised a little by how this game turned out.  In the world of this VN, the light and darkness, embodied in the Maou and Hero, fought one another ten years before... and no one knows the outcome.  Since then, the world has settled into a relative state of peace.

This game focuses on the amnesiac Tarou, who is taken in by the witches running a cafe in the middle of the forest.  Tarou possesses powerful light and darkness abilities, and he is generally an intelligent young man who is utterly up front and honest about his feelings (including his ecchi ones). 

The game uses a combination of a chapter flow chart and a ladder-style structure, but since each heroine's ending/path makes sense/is consistent within the greater setting, it didn't bother me as much as it might have.  Most of this game is ecchi antics and peaceful SOL in the cafe, with occasional battle scenes (one-sided against monsters) sprinkled throughout.  The 'common route' leads straight toward one of three endings for Rufuna, who is the main heroine (Dark, Light, Neutral), and at the end of each chapter two heroine paths are added to the flow chart. 

If I had something to recommend about this game, it would be the fact that the side-heroines all get a substantial path that is worth reading in and of itself, taking away my usual objections about heroine neglect that come up with ladder-style story structures.  In addition, most of the game alternates between wacky and 'hohoemashii' SOL that generally keeps a smile on your face. 

That said, by the end of the game, I was starting to feel SOL fatigue (the fact that I had only just started to feel that way says everything about the relative quality of the SOL in this game).  However, people with a higher tolerance than me shouldn't have any problem with this.

One group of people likely to have problems with this VN are the monogamists... Tarou, the protagonist, is very ecchi and indiscriminate until he actually chooses a heroine, and even in the 'common route' he has relations with several of the heroines in a very casual fashion.  That said, he is, at heart, just a more open and ecchi version of the average harem protagonist, so that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Despite the dramatic turns of phrase used by some of the characters for the events that occur within the VN, this game rarely falls into seriousness.  The characters themselves are generally amusing (if not laugh out loud amusing), so people who don't want a lot of drama and darkness messing up their SOL will probably like this game.

Edit: For those who are interested in this game, you should know that the Getchu page spoils what story there is badly.  I've basically stripped all the spoilers I could have legitimately dropped here (based on my policy of using information from the official site and Getchu as a guideline) because it becomes rather evident (in my eyes, anyway) that you aren't in fact, supposed to know certain things about Ruhuna, Peko, and Assam (there are actually spoilers for Peko's path in her character description, to my exasperation).  While it is possible to guess at some of these things based on hints early in the story, I would suggest avoiding reading up in advance on this game in the official site and Getchu page.  This is particularly egregious when it comes to Ruhuna, as her secret is stated outright in her character profile, and is treated as a big reveal in the story itself (relatively late in the game). 

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