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ExtraMana

Ghost In The Shell Online - Episode 1 Demolition 
From The Steam Page:
Love is in the air, and to commemorate Valentine’s Day, we want to give our operatives a sweet gift! Simply complete one Dive Match between February 13-15 and you’ll be rewarded with both the V-Day and Sweetheart Name Cards!
Objective: Complete Dive Match
Count: 1 
Reward: V-Day and Sweetheart Name Cards
CUPID EMBLEM
Team up and share your skill to earn the special Valentine’s Day emblem! Use Skill Sync 80 times between February 13-15 and you’ll be rewarded with the Cupid Emblem!
Objective: Skill Sync
Count: 80
Reward: Cupid Emblem
EVENT DATES
STARTS: February 13th 10AM PST/ 1PM EST/ 7PM CET
ENDS: February 15th 10AM PST/ 1PM EST/ 7PM CET
*This event can only be completed in Dive Matches.

ExtraMana

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I Interviewed Marcus Lam of InvertMouse about his latest Visual Novel ‘Cursed Sight’ which is currently undergoing funding through Kickstarter. InvertMouse’s previous games include Unhack, Unhack: Destruction, andWithout Within.

How did you get into visual novels?


From a young age, I have set myself a goal to become a novelist. Then, during college in 2005, I wanted to put together a graphic novel for an assignment. I did some research on what was out there, and that was when I discovered the visual novel genre. Thank you insani.org

What are your favorite visual novels?

Narcissu was my first visual novel and remains my favorite to this day. If I had picked a different title for my first experience, perhaps I would be pursuing something completely different right now. Say, being an NBA player (no.jpg). Ever17, Utawarerumono and ONE ~Kagayaku Kisetsu e~ also rank quite highly on my list. 



How important do you think alternate endings are in a visual novel?

I read and wrote traditional novels long before I knew what VNs were, so I have no issues with linear games. Always happy to hear what the players want, though! 


What inspired you to make ‘Cursed Sight’?

In my previous titles, some players have raised that my stories clashed with the gameplay. For Cursed Sight, I wanted to focus solely on telling the story. That was the format I grew up with, anyway. I wished I could make up some story about seeing a veil wearing girl in a dream or something, but in reality, game development is work.

 Cursed-Sight-Visual-Novel-Kickstarter%2B2.jpg

 
How much time do you spend working on this project?
 
I have a full time job, so I get up early (4-5am) every morning to sneak in some work before heading to the office. After coming home, I would clock in another hour or so before calling it a night. Weekends are when I go all out, but I also try and unwind a little on Sundays. 
 
What tools have you used to create this visual novel?
 
I am using Ren’Py to create Cursed Sight, with help from programmer Kyle Tyner. For illustrations (Tooaya) and music (Efe Tozan), I will use Photoshop and Audacity respectively if anything comes up. 
 
What techniques do you use to make us relate to the characters in the story?
 
I cut the strings from the characters and let them do as they see fit. It is all about them. I just happen to be the one typing up their stories.
 
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How important is the use of music in a visual novel to set the scene?
 
The Narcissu series really moved me, and I know that soundtrack had a lot to do with it. Yeah, its pretty important! 
 
 
What has been the biggest challenge during this project?
 
A visual novel involves less programming than a game project. However, the longer script more than makes up for that workload. Having to write and edit for months on end can be a test of patience. While the pieces are falling in place, I admit I am often clouded by doubt and insecurities. 
 
How do you organize the team and manage your time developing the game?
 
Our team is quite small so we have no complex systems in place. We just aim to communicate frequently and succinctly. I am grateful everyone has been so professional. It allows us all to focus on our assigned duties. 
 
 
You’ve worked on other visual novels before can you tell us what that was like?
 
When you develop a game for the first time, you might realize just how tedious the process really is. Then, once you release the project, you will discover how much a lot of things can hurt. Sure, you learn new techniques through every project, but I think there is plenty to gain from the emotional experiences as well. 
 
 
What have you have learnt from working on visual novels in the past?
 
Never hesitate to seek help when you need it. Plenty of people made fun of my drawings back in the days. It hurt, but now, I want to say thank you for pushing me into making a change. 
 
What effect do you think crow funding platforms like KickStarter have had on visual novel development?
 
Back in my college days, before Kickstarter existed, I funded my own projects. To be honest, I am a little jealous–if only I was born later! Really, though, Kickstarter gives creators a chance to turn their dreams into potential careers. I am thankful to everyone for supporting my efforts so far. 
 
 
Where do you think the medium is heading in the future?
 
I am not really smart enough to make any predictions! In recent months, I have seen plenty of open minded people experiencing visual novels for the first time. A lot of them ended up enjoying it, so I hope to see this trend continue into the future.
 
  Originally published: 21st March 2015
 
ExtraMana
 
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I interviewed Team21 about the development of their computer role playing game Dungeons of Aledorn which is undergoing a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter.

You mention how ‘Betrayal at Krondor’ was an inspiration which itself had a mixture of turn based combat and first person exploration, what kind of gameplay systems are needed to develop this type of game?

Well, there’s actually several quite different mechanics and we believe that this part of our game is absolutely paramount, that we decided to gradually mention all of them in our Kickstarter campaign updates. At the moment there are already two updates, that are live, that disclose with readers our various GUIs and the advantages of our exploration mode. I’d recommend to anyone interested in the game’s specifics to take a look at our campaign and the updates. 

What is it about the blend of turn-based combat and first person exploration that you feel makes for such an immersive gameplay experience?

From the very beginning Dungeons of Aledorn was conceived with one main goal and that was to transition a classical pen and paper experience into a PC game. Most people I’ve played various games with were always trying to imagine being inside the game, seeing everything with their character´s eyes – and that´s basically why we implemented the first person exploration. The second view, during combats, is a kind of a compromise between realism and comfortable battlefield overview – of which you usually have during D&D and other similar gaming experiences. The immersion is additionally improved by the system which places everything from the exploration view to the battlefield, including the actual positions of your enemies and your party, which may differ after every reload. 
 

 
How did you get started in the games industry?
 
To be honest, I’ve always wanted to be in the industry, but I’ve not actually decided to make my dream come; it was shortly after my university studies that I decided to make the move. Ive since undertaken numerous courses for game developers (Unity, game design, 3D Studio etc.) and at the beginning of 2012, I started to write my first GDD. After several consultations with professionals from Disney studio my GDD was ready at the end of the same year, and so, the team assembly for my project began soon after that. It is since that point that I considered myself being a part of game industry. 
 
How did you meet your collaborators?
 
With GDD in hand and with some general game development knowledge, I knew that I needed at least two people – a graphic designer and a programmer. I asked around my circle of friends and other acquaintances and it didn’t take too long to find a very capable friend who used to play some MMOs with me, Arbiter. After some time I met another team member, Jarda Šlajch, at one party and the basic development team was formed. But our development advance was all but quick and there were many other team members, who contributed a little to our project and then left. However, everything took a more positive direction when I met Daniel Nezmar, in June 2013. He was leading a considerably big team of experienced members, especially graphic and sound designers and all he needed was a programmer and a designer. It was clear to everyone that we should combine our strengths to finish the project and at that is how we formed TEAM21.
 
Why did you pick Unity as an engine to develop on?
 
The beginning of our development process, and, also former Arb (our programmer) had Unity scripting experience. Our graphic designer, Jarda, also had some experience with Unity, so it was actually sensible to play to our strengths. Even though other engines have a few neat advantages compared to ours, we still find Unity as a powerful tool, if handled correctly. 
 
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You mention that if funded you can move the game from Unity 4 to Unity 5 what advantages will this bring?
 
Unity 5 has a new physical based shading system, upgraded light mapping a several performance optimisations, which will definitely improve the general quality of our game. Especially the visuals should reach a much higher level. 
 
How did you come up with the game World of Nirma and what kinds of things can we expect to see there?
 
Nirma is actually the central and biggest island of a whole archipelago, where our game takes place. Aledorn is then a name of a human controlled county, that spreads over a significant part of Nirma. I’m not quite sure how I came to use such names – a bigger part came to me accidentally or they caught my eye during my experiments with name generators. The whole game is set in a familiar high fantasy setting that draws inspiration from a vast number of literal and game sources. Travelling our world, you can expect to encounter every thinkable classical terrain one usually finds in fantasy world setting – dark dungeons, forests, mountain passages, swamp, towns, castles and all with various climates and conditions. We’ll share more of relevant details in one of our forthcoming Kickstarter update, so be sure to check on it also.
 
Dungeons-of-Aledorn-interview-gameplay-screenshot-4.jpg
 
 
 
 
How was the music composed for this game?
 
Nowadays, most game and movie music is created within a studio on a PC, with various music “boxes”, special keyboards and so on. Our project is no exception in this case. We’re using mainly the VST instruments (virtual instruments). Our composer is a very experienced professional. Even though this is his first game project, he found it to be his element as it gives him a great freedom in his creation and expanded his knowledge about the historical music at the same time.  Don’t expect to hear a sax solo or bass guitar underlining the main theme as we’re aiming for a quality medieval-fantasy atmosphere.
 
 
What has using motion capture allowed you to do that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible?
 
The motion capture is a great time saver. MC animations are usually always a bit more natural, but every skilled animator can achieve the same results – the only difference is the time demand of such techniques, which is significantly higher in terms of time. We use MC especially for typical combat animations and NPC actions within the town and during conversations. 
 
 
Can you tell us a little bit about what effect player actions can have on quest lines?
 
There are three types of quests in DoA. The main story quests which will concentrate on and further expand the game’s story about the human vs. Orc conflict. The order of these quests is actually fixed, but the player will often get a chance to fulfil the quest in more than one ways. No matter the manner he does that, the main story is, apart from some world changes, always same. Secondary quests, or side quests, will be quite complex and will have several different outcomes. As an example I’ll disclose a hypothetical quest about a farmer’s disappearing sheep. You might try to follow the suspicious tracks from the vicinity of the farm or wait for the night thief to expose himself during the act or you could simply ask around for more clues. Two of these options will take you further, but here’s where it all begins to get complicated. Have you really found the mastermind behind the stealing or just some of his goons? Will you kill them or will they escape before you can act? And if you really find their boss, then you have to figure out how to deal with him. We like to make our quests complicated and to evade the classical “go and kill” cliché. The third type is the so called minor quests. They are in fact smaller side quests without the complexity of the secondary quests and are closer to typical RPG quests. They should encourage the player to explore more or to travel between various locations. They fill the loose ends of our world, where the complex quests wouldn’t make much sense.
 
How does the party management work in the game, can you swap characters in and out of your party for different parts of the story for instance?
 
The group may be split at almost any time and some quests or puzzles will demand on this powerful feature. The only restriction’s that all of the characters must be all within a single game area.  Character switching, as you may remember it from Betrayal at Krondor, is not possible and we don’t plan to implement it at this time either. 
 
Is there a level cap in the game?
 
We are not really big fans of a level cap and the latest version has none. This mechanic will be decided probably in the beta testing phase – which obviously hasn’t happened yet. 
 
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What has been the biggest challenge during this project?
 
The biggest challenge is surprisingly the KS campaign. Tens of interviews and forums’ administration, KS updates, creations of new graphic content and even the very preparations are very demanding. But, it’s also a great opportunity to gain a solid fan base and to get in contact with the hardcore games community – so it really pays off in the end. 
 
How has the communities feedback and reactions to ‘Dungeons of Aledorn’ been like so far?
 
The positive reactions significantly outweigh the negative, but to our surprise the total amount of reaction is lower than we’ve expected. We are sure that we’ve gained the attention of our target audience as we were Greenlit on Steam just in six days, which is a remarkable result and we can assume from it that our game is definitely attractive for many players out there.
 
  Originally published: 1st June 2015
 
 
ExtraMana
 
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I interviewed games artist and promoter Mark Jackson to learn about his current projects, and his experiences in the games industry.

How did you get involved with game development?

I started out with warcraft 3 custom level designed maps and worked on them for years being very well received as a terrain designer especially on the European shard. I also worked on mount & blade mods and custom models and maps for medal of honour,call of duty and battlefield before they closed of their mapping scene. Unreal 03/04 also took up a large chunk of my time on invasion and onslaught maps. 


What projects have you previously worked on?

 
In terms of involvement in the visual novel scene in question I’ve been involved in the promotion of :
  • Fastermind Games: Icebound
  • Lupiesoft’s titles The Menagerie & Toko: The reject demon
  • Invert Mouse Cursed Sight
  • Sekai Project/Key planetarian
There is to much to really name in terms of mod/custom maps although popular games that I’d like to say are influenced by my direct work are Dota & Red Solstice having worked on the original Notd aftermath map & dota Pre Icefrog. There have been a few unfinished projects over the years also these are normally caused by poor funding or high expenses required for development whilst many of these teams might have great talent but they can fall apart very quickly.
 
What was your favourite studio to work with and what are you currently promoting?
 
My favourite studio I’ve worked with is lupiesoft.  Right now I’m promoting Toko & Cursed Sight.  I am developing two other titles that are visual novel like titles with additional gameplay mechanics one has animated action gameplay like Time and Eternity. Whilst the other has chess/netrunnner like gameplay. The artist  Edalie is assisting me on the animated project, I’m doing art for the 2nd project. & The lead artist that worked on Huniepop Kopian is helping out on background art, & some additional Cg/Character art on an rpg.
 
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2014 saw a burst of new Indie visual novels on Steam. Do you think the demand for the genre is growing?
 
I think the awareness for the visual novel scene is growing and more people are trying it out. I think we’re still in a little of a grey area for sites covering it with many people still of the stance that Visual Novels are not games. 
 
What effect do you feel Kickstarter and Patreon are having on Western visual novel development?
 
Kickstarter has the mentality of a make it or break it approach but most kickstarter goals are never really the real funds to make the game. The problem with the kickstarter route is normally because the money even if above the goal is not enough for a normal person to develop full time, issues arise regardless of success. Most development teams can never really expect an indie title to be their main source of income unless its a very small team. So even if you say “we can make a game by this time” most people are still only working part time. If a dev team say lives in Thailand or Indonesia then they can afford maybe a 1/5th of the amount another team has raised. Values are very hard to analyse.
 
Quite often in addition to all this the artists working on a project tend to have rates that are much higher then the team can naturally afford anyway so post kickstarter they find they might not be able to afford it all. This issue then comes to the type of team that you are and how interconnected you are. If you are all the best of friends then you might let a bit of money go to work together and finish things. But if you are that one guy on a team that works for 5-6 other teams to make a living I can see how people end up leaving when the flow drys up. When those circumstances happen you end up with the one unfortunate guy at the top mostly being blamed cause the other employed members have left.
 
Lets take a weird line to put thought into perspective. If I rent an apartment with a friend both of us are liable to damages to the apartment. When a visual novel team or any other indie team makes a kickstarter most people only end up seeing the Project Lead or guy that started development as the liable party. But each member in their own way is responsible for success or collapse. Its a tricky field. I could talk more about this as I have worked on a crazy amounts of projects and witnessed this first hand.
 
What do you think of fan-translated Japanese visual novels?
 
I think they let me play games I would of never bought before cause there was no english version :D? Clannad & the kira kira series are ones I’ve played that have had fan translations. Though I’ve bought both.Otherwise I don’t mind waiting for eventual translations although I’m studying Japanese myself so I’d rather learn then read (: 
 
  Originally published: 20th March 2015
 
 

 

ExtraMana

I interviewed Tay of fuwanovel to ask about his thoughts on visual novels, the community, piracy, distribution, and the possible future of the medium. Fuwanovel is a fan translated visual novel repository website. 

 
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How did you get into visual novels?
 
I think I was “hooked” by visual novels for a few different reasons, but mostly because they were therapeutic and helped me parse out my depression. The most nefarious part of depression in my experience is that you tend not to recognise it in yourself until you’re about to bottom-out (that’s why supportive friends, loved ones, or significant others keeping an eye on you is so important). That’s pretty much what happened to me. I booted up Katawa Shoujo, and pretty soon I was feeling some levity and happiness, and I realised – all at once — I had been really, really “down” for weeks. I remember leaning back in my chair and saying out loud, “I think I’m depressed. Huh.” Visual novels didn’t cure my depression, but they were therapeutic and helped me parse out my emotions.
 
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How did you get first get involved with the community of VN fans and what made you decide to build Fuwanovel?
 
Katawa Shoujo was a fascinating, weird, and awesome experience and I wanted to find more games like it. I signed up for a handful of VN communities and tried to get some help in understanding the hobby’s landscape … and I was amazed and surprised by  how negative and rude people were to me just because I was new. I was asking questions like, “Hey, I just tried Katawa Shoujo and loved it. What other games can I try that are similar?” and getting responses like, “Katawa Shoujo is the worst thing to happen to eroge. Now we have a bunch of idiots and weebs running around needing their a#& wiped”. I couldn’t believe how rude and toxic a lot of people were. I found a few, decent friends who helped me learn the hobby, but I decided I was going to shop around until I found a community that was actually welcoming.
 
I knew about Fuwanovel (a lot of people were talking about it around that time), and one day I decided to stop in and take a look around. Fuwa was a small, and very welcoming group, and the zeitgeist was “break away from the negativity and build a positive home for VNs on the net”. It was exactly what I wanted, and since it was re-building I knew I had a chance to contribute and maintain that same mentality.
 
How do you feel the medium is perceived?
 
As far as outside gamers go, I think Visual Novels are misunderstood just as often as they are misrepresented. A lot of “outsider” gamers see them as “porn/hentai games” or “dating sims”, and are intrinsically suspicious or put-off by the anime art styles. But. I think the trend is changing thanks to the rise of talented Western devs and the transition of games onto Steam. I see outside opinion slowly moving from “porn games” to “intriguing oddities”, and I just hope the VN community can work together to push that rebranding even further in a positive direction.
 
 
Within the hobby, it’s a little harder to say. We’re a diverse bunch. I think there’s a lot of cautious optimism as VNs make their way onto Steam (especially if an 18+ patch is offered separately by the dev, which matters a lot to purists). Sekai has made a big splash in the zeitgeist, but I think all the big companies have contributed meaningfully to a sense of momentum. Take, for example, the aggressive release calendars of “the big three” over the next 18 months. For all the cynicism you find in VN circles, a lot of people are sitting up and taking notice.
 
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What upcoming VNs are you most excited about (translated Japanese & Western)?
 
Western VNs: I’m going to be following and playing all the NaNoRenO games (I really wish I could participate, but I’ve got a little too much on my plate atm). If you don’t know what that is, google it or head over to Lemma for more info.
 
Translations: Fuwa publishes a TL update every week (thanks, Zaka!) and I’m following just about every project on the list. Here’s the problem: my VN fund has recently been emptied (I had to save up for a long time to afford to import Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, and buy Eden) and since I purchase all of my VNs, I kinda need to keep the hype in check until the VN money tree regrows some branches  : P
 
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2014 saw a burst of new Indie and translated VN’s on Steam. Do you think the demand for the genre is growing?
 
I hope so, but without insider knowledge of the VN companies it’s impossible to tell.Hopefully this is an indicator of increased demand, but it may be something else altogether: I ran several surveys throughout the years and found that a lot of players pirate VNs only because there isn’t an easy way to get the games (kind of like movie piracy and the advent of Netflix). Steam is definitely that “easy way”, and so sales may just as much be coming from former pirates. In that case the bump is still useful: we’re finally starting to see a more accurate picture of the extant fanbase.
 
What effect do you feel Kickstarter and Patreon are having on VN development?
 
I think these crowd-funding tools have done wonders for each project’s public perception, raised a lot of money, and accomplished a major feat by converting many torrent-users to paying customers. That first point (being able to control the public image and perception of demand) is a major boon for the devs, and they’re utilizing it well. I’m not really qualified to say any more than that. Personally I think it’s unfortunate that devs have to use those platforms (I’d rather give my money directly to the devs and let them keep the (substantial) fees skimmed off the top by the platform), but I get it. If it’s working for them, then I’m happy.
 
What do you think of fan-translated Japanese VN’s?
 
The best thing we can do in niche hobbies, like visual novels, is help transform consumers into producers. The more fan translation groups (and original devs) out there, the stronger the hobby will be going forward. A rising tide lifts all ships. This is especially true when a patch’s quality is sufficiently high that the team can be hired by one of the licensing/distributing companies.
 
If you’re asking about quality of TL… I have some personal experience with translation (I learned Russian in my early 20s and have done a lot of personal and commercial Eng < > Rus translation), and I know how hard it is and how widely TL quality can vary. Speaking specifically about VNs: I think we’re doing ourselves a disfavour if we shame new TL groups when their patch products aren’t as polished as an experienced teams’ results. What I’d like to do is help catalyse a standardised system to categorise patches: it’ll give readers an idea of TL quality, and it won’t shame TL groups’ efforts. I know the mantra has long been “one TL for one game”, but I see no problem if a group wants to develop a higher-tier TL patch over a lower-tier one for the same game. We’re seeing it more and more often these days. Life’s too short to make everything personal and constantly attack budding TLers efforts.
 
What’s next for Fuwanovel?
 
Fuwanovel has grown and changed a lot over the years, and we’re always trying to innovate and come up with new and better ways to support VN players and devs. Recently we made a big announcement that we’re pivoting away from game torrents (it was a big decision, but it was the right one for us to make), and replacing them with several cool new features (with more in the pipeline):
 
VNR Hub (http://reviews.fuwanovel.net) — We’re building a VN Reviews hub which both hosts and links to external reviewers all across the net. The goal of the hub (besides consolidating reviews all in one place) is to support VN reviewers and help maximise their traffic. All of the reviewer feeds are truncated (we only post a short blurb and a link back to the original post), and we hope to add as many reviewers as will sign up. We’ve got 10 blogs up so far, another 5 should be added within a week or two, and we’re actively searching for more. The hub is a little rough around the edges — it’s a work in progress – but we think it’s a cool idea and we hope to breathe new life into the VN reviews scene. (If you’re a VN reviewer, or you have a couple reviews on your blog, go to the hub and send us a message! We’d love to add you)
 
Overhaul of Front Site + Mobile VN Database – We’ve pulled the front site apart piece by piece and have some awesome (and gorgeous) changes we’ll start to roll out over the next few weeks. On the PC database front we’re planning on adding >100 new games and updating each game page with information about where to purchase the games, where to download the patches, patching guides, and how to support each dev. The mobile database will be our best effort to collect all the VNs being released on iOS and Android, and helping players find the best and most interesting ones to play.
 
Fuwanovel Academy – I think Fuwa’s the best place for new VN players to learn about the hobby, and we’re putting together a new suite of resources on the front site to help them figure this stuff out. We’ve got 5 lessons which will take a player from zero to playing their first VN in minutes, and then flesh out more advanced and nuanced hobby information. We’ve got a dictionary/lexicon. And we’ve got a player mentor program which at this point is just an experiment, but it aims to connect new players with experienced players who can answer their questions and nerd out with them about the games they’re playing. There’s a lot more coming after this, too, so be sure to keep an eye on the forums or the Fuwazette news blog.
 
  Originally published: 4th January 2015
 
 
ExtraMana
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Shan Gui is a very simple visual novel. It is in essence nothing more than a pleasant walk in the park with some subtle character development and plenty of descriptive imagery used in the text to accompany the setting. It’s extremely short, in my first playthrough I beat it in less than an hour. Yet the pacing is deliberately ponderous and reflective which is put to great use during the slightly tragic climax of the story.

 
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The characters look a tad off, whilst the general anime style in visual novels has disproportionate characters this one seems to take it further by making the arms thinner and hands smaller. The facial features look a little under detailed and the characters don’t quite meld with the landscape. As for the backgrounds they are lush with a tremendous amount of detail on lighting and shadowing. There is also a decent variety of locales within the tropical setting, giving us a sense of the history of this place with old statues, and plenty of landmarks.
 
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There are some great ambient sounds such as cicadas, and birds, and plenty of tranquil environmental noises. The BGM itself uses a lot of meditative piano to set the mood. The tracks themselves however can tend to clip a little harshly when repeating. Although the music helps to set the tone fairly well it isn’t memorable. The voice acting for the characters is a little underwhelming both in terms of their performances the low quality of the actual recording, suggesting this was not recorded using professional equipment.

 
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This is a standard kinetic visual novel, meaning there are no choices to be made by the player and no puzzles to solve. The game does have controller support which is handy for comfort when you will only be using a single button throughout the game. It features achievements which don’t really add anything, and are in fact a little distracting. There is also has the standard assortment of extras like artwork to examine from certain scenes and the ability to replay any song from the soundtrack. Shan Gui is an enjoyable peaceful little game with some very beautiful backgrounds and likeable characters.

 
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