Note: While I didn't plan on tackling Japanese-produced OELVNs on this blog, this title is a perfect representation of mobile game market's business practices implemented in a VN and for this reason was worth a closer look. More than by itself, it's interesting as a negative example of scammy policies that aren't in any way endemic to JP developers and are sadly used by many different companies with various backgrounds.
I don’t think many people have any doubts about how horrible the mobile game market is nowadays, both when it goes to quality and dominating business models. Generic, borderline plagiaristic games, ridden with pay-to-win mechanics and exploitative microtransaction systems are a sad standard in most genres popular on phones and tablets, swarming the AppStore and Google Play in a way that makes it nearly impossible to find actual quality products just by browsing these storefronts.
Considering the absurdly-high revenue that many mobile games bring their developers, often through relatively small investments, it shouldn’t be surprising that the plague of exploitative mobile market model would find its way into the world of visual novels. Still, how can you make an ultimately single-player, story-driven formula “pay-to-win”? Moe! Ninja Girls, a mobile OELVN produced for the western markets by a Japanese company NTT Solmare inc. shows that it’s absolutely possible to turn a text adventure with anime drawings into one of the most predatory, scammy games on iOS and Android.
Want to read 1/3 of a story season in one evening? No problem, that will be just 30$ worth of “story tickets”!
So, how can you extort money from players with something as simple as a VN? The most obvious answer, if we can learn anything from other mobile releases, is by locking content behind long waiting times, skippable only by paying real-world money. This is Moe! Ninja Girls’ primary tactic – the game provides you with a free “story ticket” every 4 hours (up to 5 stored at once, so you can’t just wait for them to accumulate for more than a day), every one of them letting you access one, usually very short, part of a story chapter. Every season of the story (game have 10 so far and authors are regularly releasing new ones) is composed of 11 chapter, each divided into 7-10 parts. As you can easily calculate, reading through a full season of the game without paying, considering you’ll be as efficient as possible with using free tickets, takes around 18 days, for maybe 2-3 hours of actual content. Daily login and event rewards might make the whole process slightly faster, but if you want to keep reading the story at any reasonable pace, you would have to invest literally hundreds of dollars into this game.
This is however only the beginning – after all, a patient person could potentially suffer through all this waiting without actually paying any money. For those resilient ones, additional mechanics were implemented. The first of those is an extremely simplistic and fully pay-to-win “ninja battle” combat system, completely dependent on passive stats, provided you by ninja gear – obviously, better variants of which are available pretty much exclusively for RL money. If you would like to skip this tacked-on, pointless feature, sad day for you – it provides you with two kinds of in-game currency necessary to progress the story. Obviously, those occasional checkpoints can be bypassed. Can you guess how? With real life money. The situation is similar when it goes to in-game events, that can provide you with powerful rewards if you climb high enough in the ranking. However points in them are mostly dependent on fights and story progression, so as the game gives you the story and combat tokens at a fixed rate, the only way to beat the competition is by investing real life money.
Some of the art in the game in the game is admittedly quite pretty, even if generic in style. Visuals and (mild) fanservice are definitely the main selling points here
Is there any aspect of VN that wasn’t monetized here yet? Oh yes, romance! In every season, you have two possible love interests – every choice in the game will give you affection points with one of them, often in a cryptic, hard-to-predict ways. If you reach high enough affection with one of the girls you can unlock a special season-epilogue chapter connected to her. Don’t worry though, if you messed up with your choices, you can always boost you affection meter with real money! How sweet of the dev team to give us that option. I should also mention higher-quality CGs, that can be unlocked by buying premium gear. To be honest, the diligence of the developers in making every possible element of their game into a money-making scheme is absolutely stunning.
But, is there actually any content hidden beneath this scam? To some extent, yes. While the plot is a pretty standard high-school comedy with ninja themes, it has its amusing moments and rare pieces of good writing. The protagonist, definitely inspired to some extent by Yuuji from the Grisaia series, also produces some interesting scenarios and funny interactions with his quasi-harem. Mostly though the game just relies on flashy visuals (with generic, but well-executed style) and significant amounts of all-ages fanservice to keep the reader entertained. It’s not horrible, but just as shallow and bland as you would expect.
This game might seem a boring topic to write about, as soon as you get through the initial shock of its unrelenting greed and trashiness. However, there’s another, probably even more disturbing part of this story – Solmare produced close to 50 (!!!) otome romance VNs using the exact same business model. You can find all of them on the Google Play, along with dozens of similarly exploitative, shitty titles by other companies. It’s a part of a plague that we should expose and criticise at every opportunity – while it might now go away anytime soon, I would at least like to see that the scumbag policies of mobile game companies don’t go overlooked and unchallenged. The only proper conclusion I can give is to avoid this game at all costs and whenever possible, warn others against touching it and all other shameless scams disguised as VNs, that swarm the mobile storefronts.
Final Score: 1,5/5
+ Decent art
+ Story has its funny/amusing moments
- Horrible, exploitative business model
- Nonsense plot full of tropes and clichés
- Stock characters without any real depth
- Pointless, pay-to-win “ninja battle” minigame
Please, don’t ever download Moe! Ninja Girls on Google Play