Thanks to Zenophilious for showing me the internet cache so I wouldn't have to revive the posts by rewriting them.
First, an introduction to Izumo the series. This is just based on various scenario outlines and reviews I read (I haven't actually played any of the Izumo games before this one), but it is basically a simple rpg/VN hybrid series that involves the kami of Shinto myth in an older-style chuuni gakuen fantasy setup. My interest in the series originated with the OVA that came out over a decade ago (based on Izumo 2), and despite it being a hentai, it actually had an excellent story (one of the weirder aspects of some older hentai anime, lol). Anyway, this focus on a 'Japanese' style of fantasy was one of the big draws of this series for me, and the only reason I hadn't played any of them up until now was a simple lack of availability... most of Studio e.go's games have been unavailable, so I hadn't gotten around to playing them (that and they weren't high on my list of priorities due to my low tolerance for the mediocre gameplay written by the programming team they share with Debonosu).
Now... for those still interested in playing this after all that I've already said, here are some serious reasons to want to play this game... First, Light's Zero Infinity Team is completely responsible for all the writing in this game, meaning that it is extremely high quality and the scenario design itself is on a much higher level than the old Studio e.go's works. They are also partially responsible for some of the BGM.
Unfortunately, the Debonosu team is responsible for the artwork and voices, meaning that people who can't stand the older styles of VN artwork are inevitably going to be put off at first glance. First, the voice actors are all people that aren't in extreme demand like some of the more idol-like seiyuu are, and as a result, some of them you will probably either not recognize (newbies) or feel nostalgic about (vets). The parts of the music not done by Light's team make up most of the 'everyday' themes, though the battle themes, the opening and ending, and several of the themes used during major scenes are definitely done by Light (the style is recognizable from Dies Irae and Kajiri Kamui). The artwork... to be honest, I had no problem whatsoever with it. It is a pre-moeblob style, where there was more variance in heroine design. In particular, heroines like Enishi, who looks like an adult human being rather than a pair of boobs with a heroine attached, have gone out of style since, and I hadn't realized how much I missed them. In fact, I picked Enishi as my first heroine solely on the basis of her character design, lol.
Story-wise, matters are fairly simple... except the Zero Infinity team definitely let loose its Masada-worshiping genes on a lot of the major plot elements, and as a result, you end up with a far more interesting story than I've generally experienced in any Debo or e.go game. In particular, Hakuto and Enishi stand out as the best kind of 'mysterious heroines', though Enishi is more of a walking tragedy, versus Hakuto being a walking absurdity.
I picked Enishi as my heroine for my first playthrough (there are no distinct routes, though there are apparently distinct endings and numerous scenes unique to each heroine). Enishi is... a temporary antagonist who exists in the vein of the 'eternal sufferer' heroine archetype. If you like heroines who have been through hell and still managed to maintain a good heart despite their exhaustion with life, she is an excellent choice.
I really liked the way they played with the concept of the kami in this VN... in particular, the relation of faith and belief to a kami's nature and the changeability of the kami. It is a central theme - in fact it becomes more and more central toward the end - and I in particular loved the way Enishi herself deals with it (as well as hearing her relate her personal experiences with how it relates to she herself). You apparently get another perspective from Hakuto, but I'm going to wait a while before I go back and play another heroine of this, despite being able to restart with everything.
In terms of gameplay... as I indicated above, it isn't something to write home about. There really aren't any truly great aspects to the gameplay, though the elemental combo system adds a decent level of strategy to boss battles (since regular battles generally aren't hard enough to justify using elemental combos, lol). The presence of an auto-battle function and the way anybody can learn any magic through the magatamas, as long as they have the corresponding one equipped, means that you can effectively make all your characters all-rounders. This is really useful in the mid to late game, when more and more bosses can really lay down the status effects and render you utterly helpless if you don't watch yourself (not to mention that the game's version of mimics has an instant death spell that effects all of your party members). Nonetheless, having played through the game from the beginning... I really recommend just begging someone for their clear-save and using that to trample everything right until the end. Since the battle system is nothing to write home about, I see no reason whatsoever not to just sit back and enjoy the story if you can get away with it, since the story does stand well on its own.
Overall, I give this game high marks as a chuuni-fantasy story and low marks for gameplay. The art is going to split people's opinions based on taste and tolerance, so I'm not going to dictate to others whether they should play this game, like I might otherwise. If you want something with a lot of Japanese themes with great writing and story, this is a good choice. Just be prepared for some easy grinding and some dungeon-drudging to get you to the end of it.
Miagete Goran, Yozora no Hoshi wo
Yes, I more or less said I was thinking about not playing this... and I wouldn't have, either, if it weren't for the fact that I had three separate people beg me during one of my brief appearances on mirc to play it... and the fact that I had so much trouble getting Izumo4 setup. So, while I probably won't play Korona's route (she annoys me), I plan to play the other three routes for VN of the Month.
First, my worries about the osananajimi issue have been, to some degree, borne out by my experiences in this VN. To an extent, a lot of the character development for Hikari and Saya seems to have been entirely reliant on flashbacks, though they were good flashbacks. To be honest, once I found out why they'd become so distanced from one another before the story began, I was more than a little exasperated/disappointed at how petty it was, but it wasn't as bad as some similar situations I've seen in other VNs in the past.
The music in this VN is generally high in quality, so much so that I felt the need to actually come out and mention it. Some of it is reused from other Pulltop VNs, but there are several high quality themes used that are unique to this game.
Art-wise, a lot of people have been making a lot of noise about this game, and I can see why. It was very hard not to choose Saya's route from the very beginning simply because of the degree to which they made her visual characterization so absolutely perfect in combination with her audio one. Looking at it from a purely writing/story-based perspective, her character is no different from a hundred different 'shy osananajimis' I've encountered in the past, but the characterization in this game manages to bring her to life to a degree that makes her stand out from all the heroines and characters... by leaps and bounds. Of course, I'm a contrary bastard who never chooses such obvious 'main heroines' on my first playthrough, so I chose Orihime first.
The common route is a classic seishun-drama, focused around a combination of flashbacks and a 'personal revival' (the renewal of a character - usually the protagonist - that leads to them regaining something they lost or abandoned) scenario. If I have a complaint to say about the common route it is that there is a severe lack of 'bumps in the road'. Generally speaking, a 'good' seishun drama scenario will have some major bumps in the common route in order to give you a reference point by which you can emotionally grasp how hard it was for the characters to do what they were doing. In that sense, the common route can be considered a failure, as far as seishun drama goes... except that the flashbacks provide that 'bump' for you, the regrets of the past basically acting as a replacement for the lack of such obstacles in the present.
Mmm... Orihime is a dreamer. Dreamer heroines are some of the most annoying heroines out there... or some of the most inspiring (or both). Orihime tends toward the former in my eyes, but that is mostly because my view of such heroines/characters is automatically negative, due to my preference for pragmatism and practicality over dreams and ideals. As a heroine, she has some serious oddities, though... and they are amusing enough that I never managed to hate her. However, her route isn't exactly an exciting one, and humor and light romance with no obstacles doesn't really make for a memorable path (I'll probably have forgotten this path existed two months from now). The choice to make her an 'ojousama' heroine was probably a poor one, as an underused ojousama character setting is like having a bottle rocket set up and not lighting it up.
So basically, her route was amusing... but there was nothing really emotionally moving about it, from my perspective. For better or worse, it is light fare that doesn't leave much of an impression.
Hikari is one of the two main heroines, the two points of a love triangle between the protagonist and his two osananajimis. Typically for her type - the somewhat tomboyish genki-heroine - she is extremely awkward in how she deals with the protagonist's advances and just doesn't know when to quit when it comes to trying to dump him off on her shyer, much more adorable best friend Saya. This quite a typical scenario in this kind of love triangle, and - to be honest - I found it to be unbelievably irritating. It was made worse by the fact that it was obvious that was the way they would choose to do things almost from the beginning of the path split (Saya and Hikari share a rather large amount of story, as their paths are split off completely from Korona's and Orihime's). That isn't to say it was an awful path... those who have played Kono Oozora will recognize the general 'feeling' of the path... it is by the same team, after all. This is a lot more apparent in this path than it was in Orihime's, though the influence was almost as obvious in the common route. Also, you should probably know that the Soaring Club makes an (text-only) appearance as a part of the path, for those who are interested... please no one ask for this to be tled by Sekai Project, lol. I honestly can't see any way the relationship formation would make sense without the h-scenes.
Saya's route is pretty close to what you would call the 'classic osananajimi route'. Why? Because the first worry that comes up when they get together is 'its no different than it was before!' I had to sigh in exasperation that they actually went through with using that particular trope, because it is one of the primary reasons osanajimi routes tend to be as boring as hell. That said, Saya's character is by far the most well-developed of all in the entire VN, and as a result, her path has the strongest emotional impact. In fact, it has even more drama to it than Hikari's, and it gets pretty emotional at times... but because of the way they drew out the drama, it started to feel monotonous toward the end. I did think that the actual epilogue and ending parts were really good, but I have to conclude that they went a little overboard with Saya. However, Saya's character is... adorable. She's one of those extremely devoted types with infinite patience, and the result is really, really hard to choose anyone else for your first heroine of the VN, lol.
I have a few comments to make before I conclude this. First, this VN's route balance is horrible. Hikari's and Saya's routes and characters get almost all the emphasis, and as a result, anyone who plays the other routes will be able to tell at a glance that they are sub-heroines. To be honest, this VN would have been much better if there had only been Saya's and Hikari's routes. However, Saya's and Hikari's routes are both quite powerful, leaving you feeling satisfied (with their routes) at least partially because of the same over-used flashbacks that ensured that Orihime and Korona would be relegated to sub (or sub-par) heroine status in comparison. In reality, Saya's and Hikari's routes feel like they are an extension of the flow of the common route, and that is how it should feel in a case like this. For those who are interested in this VN, I suggest you just play Saya and Hikari's routes, as the others can only be disappointing in comparison.