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Revised rating system and the eroge food chain or "why certain genres can't attain enlightment"

Narcosis

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I've been meaning to do this for a longer while now, but various circumstances always prevented me from making it.

Before we start, let me make this clear. I dislike value-based rating systems, where numbers are supposed to be an estimate on how "good" something is, or how much quality there is to it. In my opinion, those systems are all fair and square but don't really work the way we'd like them to, not to mention a simple number is vague as hell and doesn't really provide anything except a scale between "good", "bad" and "mediocre" in-between. Why is that? Because vns don't work that way, sadly. You can't really rate a visual novel in the same exact manner as a standard Hollywood movie, plastering a number on top of it; it's because vns are insanely diversified works with many unique sub-genres, built with particular audiences in mind. It's a world, where one fan's treasures are another fan's trash, often within the same genre trees. The same can be said about almost every other work medium belonging to japanese pop culture. Discarding this tiny nuance might actually have a pretty detrimental result in terms of ratings, that are either too vague, unfair or way too hedonist, without actually trying to get the gist of what the game actually is and to whom it is addressed. I'd rather want to think of actual ratings as something that helps in deciding how much a game is in line with one's personal interests and how high that goes. Different groups of players have different needs, therefore it's probably easier to explain the whole thing in form of a diagram:

eroge_food_chain.png

Don't think of it as "things consuming things", but more as "things supporting other things". Moege aren't particularly worse than high-rated vns, they simply have a completely different target audience, with completely different set of tastes and demands. Obviously, certain genres are more common - because there's a much higher demand for those, but at the same time it means lowering standards to match tastes of a far wider audience, which uniquely leads to genre blandness (this happened to moege and majority of charage already). The games higher on the list in terms of complexity are more streamlined and niche, requiring more refined tastes and greater knowledge in a variety of topics, which leads to them being far less approachable by majority of players. This by default leads to subsequent categorization and further alienation which is one of the major reasons why it's so hard to get into those games and communities that surround them.

Those tiers are permanent and games belonging to them remain forever bound to their respective positions within the chain. It can't be changed, nor affected in any way, as accessibility by ease of understanding is the sole factor that decides about their fate. This also lead me to believe, that a proper rating system should actually take this into consideration. As much as you play a high-tier chuunige for it's cool story and characters, you play a simple charage not for the plot, but for character interactions and protagonist finally connecting with one of the heroines; you want to see where their relationships will lead to and it's the only actual thing you will care about. It's not really possible to compare both through the same exact value-based rating system.

Obviously, we could argue about this forever, so without further ado - I present my new rating system, I'll be using onwards for my vn reviews.

 

Basic ratings go as follows:

Awful - When things get so bad, you might as well ask yourself what kind of wrong have you committed to end up with such game in your hands. Somehow, you ended up picking it along the way - maybe because it had a cute maid on the cover or a synopsis, which looked particularly interesting; who knows. The point is - the more you play, the less impressed you are and by the time you reach the end, you might be banging your head against the desk in utter disappointment and resentment you ever got yourself into vns. Looks can be deceiving, after all. Avoid whenever possible, since there's probably a thousand things more worth wasting your time on, than crap in p(r)etty disguise.

Hopefully, I won't ever stumble upon a game, that will prompt me to give it a lower score.

Imperfect - Games that strive to be good, but fail somewhere along the way - in one or more aspects. Typically a result of many problems piling up on the dev side of things, including lack of proper knowledge, skills, financial aspects, neglect, and/or faggotry. Those titles might (and prolly will) be enjoyable, but often most, the amount of issues outweighs positive aspects, successfully lowering the enjoyment factor to a large degree. They range from being mildly obnoxious in their issues to outright annoying and might be even riddled with bugs. Needless to say, they should be played in moderation to avoid salt overdose and in most cases, only the most devoted fans are arguably able to look past their flaws. For every imperfect game, you will find at least few similar titles that don't suck as badly.

Mediocre - Games considered a widely accepted quality norm, stuck at their designated level. Mediocre titles tend to be far simpler in nature and typically offer fair value from a consumer standpoint, but lack in soul and technical aspects, making them cheap in comparison with anything above their tier. They tend to be mostly forgettable and don't leave a long-lasting impression (exceptions happen), but remain enjoyable while they last, giving you something to do for a bunch of cozy afternoons. In overall, they tend to leave players with hunger for more and unfulfilled dreams. Expect whatever being mass-produced at current moment to fall under this group, including majority of moege. At times, I tend to leave them with a tiny +, to indicate devs at least tried.

Impressive - A game, which elevates itself above norm and skilfully uses tropes, settings and standards along with various medium-related mechanics to create memorable experiences. Those are typically good games by default, albeit not devoid of flaws, often times being a part of their very nature. They still tend to be far from perfect, but you'll love them regardless of those tiny mistakes and bumps, which remain an indicator of hand-crafted approach. Titles as such aren't uncommon, but more than often - they will leave you thirsty for more and that thirst is something, they aren't really capable to quench; after many of those, you will most probably want to delve deeper. They will purposefully tingle your ego, but don't expect them to give you clear answers, nor solutions to problems they create. They are more often about the voyage itself - asking questions and leaving their readers in a state of bewilderment - rather than the end result. Nonetheless, they are almost always a truly enjoyable ride till the very end. This group tends to attract simpler story-heavy games, as well as more ambitious charage titles.

Outstanding - Very few games reach this sort of artistry, that could be only matched with writers' attention to detail and cleverness in which they build their settings and play with commonly found tropes, much to everyone's surprise and delight of their more hardcore fanbase. In those, the definition of up and down doesn't really exist and any sort of distinctions between what's considered widely accepted moral norms blur to the point of being almost indistinguishable. They rarely give a damn about normalfaggotry conceptions of the perceived genres. Such games will often have great heroes and even greater antagonists - actual people made of flesh and blood, driven by most primal human desires and emotions that will defy physics, bend time and space, obliterate entire armies and cause nations to fall. Such characters often find themselves fighting no less with their enemies, as much as themselves - their flaws, imperfections, inner demons hidden somewhere between the folds of their souls and enjoying to peek outside at times. In those tales, people will die and things get destroyed, with certain fates becoming far worse than a visit to the nearest afterworld. Don't expect your favourite characters getting selective treatment; in realm of outstanding stories, characters considered to be "redeeming" or "favourable" often go through even bigger hell than defeated antagonists - at most if they win - with worst possible cases including moral event horizon induced insanity, gruesome deaths or eternal suffering (preferably all in a never-ending cycle). Those stories will make you laugh, they will make you cry, they are frequently emotionally draining - and boy oh boy - entertaining as hell, provided you're capable to grasp concepts behind their inner workings.

Considered a desired habitable zone by many aspiring and skilful writers, simply because it allows badassery to exist without hurting immersion in the process.

Brilliant - Games that ultimately defy laws and conventions of genres they belong to, written by literate geniuses, capable to mould words into whatever the hell they want. Plot no longer functions like in normal space and characters are akin to visitors on a vast plane of  reader's subconsciousness. Those games are typically considered difficult to grasp for most people and with a good reason, because you're expected to deal with creators themselves and whatever personal issues, grudges, hate and passions they throw at you, while you're trying to make sense of everything. They are extremely rare and as such, prone to complete subjectiveness, becoming battlefronts for fan-based warfare. They always attain a cult following and grow endless forests of epileptic trees, which serve as fuel for discussions, that will go on for years - AND YEARS, if not decades after release.

Masterpiece - This, my ladies and gentlemen - is what any fan could consider a holy grail of eroge... if one would only exist. I doubt I'll ever come across a visual novel as good, to be able to freely - and without doubts - give it such a high rating. It didn't happen yet, perhaps I'm yet to read them, who knows. Most of the really good games I know fall somewhere between outstanding and brilliant, to give an example. This rating is more of a gimmick to keep myself at bay there are no perfect games.

 

In addition, I use the following special tags as well:

Highly recommended - Games I consider being capable of showing "how things should be done", both in terms of writing as well as genre standards and rules they operate under. Such works, are - more or less - exemplary and at the same time - provide both content and enjoyment in a way, that's easy to grasp even for novices and people unaccustomed with their tropes or elements.

Guilty pleasure - You DON'T question why certain games get this tag. Period.

This is something I typically reserve for titles, that might not really be the best or most worthy of attention or general context (I could quite possibly not play them under most circumstances), but definitely deliver elsewhere. Where the former doesn't apply, they simply have things I have a strong and particular fixation about and approach them in such an excellent way - including fetishes I can't really live without anymore - I'm able to forgive those games any other flaws. I don't really play them because of their depth or plot, I play them for my personal enjoyment on a very carnal level and you might find them of equal interest.

Wicked - A game that breaks any contrived norms or standards and does it in a fashion, that's definitely worth praising. I use this tag specifically for games that are a cherry on the top amongst the more morally ambiguous titles, often scaling between "cute", "awful" and outright "disgusting". Those games usually throw players into a vortex of extreme emotions, crushing their hopes and uplifting them seconds after, only to cast them into despair once again; The sort of games, that leave you both with sense of a profound disapproval and an almighty grin on your face. TL&DR Games that are literally a blast to plough through, provided you are both physically and emotionally strong enough (lol).

 

For those of you, who ever wondered how do I rate the games I play, or what's my perception of vns in general this hopefully clears things up, even if a little bit.



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I'm not sure why you claim that this problem is especially important in VNs, numerical scores are always deeply flawed - they're, however, quite convenient and can be still useful if you make clear how you use them and keep some levels of consistency. They may reflect something very specific (your level of enjoyment with the game) or many things at once (many people on the Forums described their elaborate systems of rating VNs, with various amount of points attached to different aspects of them) - the real problem is that people both treat them way too seriously and compare them in ways that are grossly misleading. I think you could easily replace those basic ratings you've laid out with numbers without losing much of their meaning, the argumentation you add to your reviews and the additional tags that explain what kind of enjoyment these games might offer and who they're targeted towards are much more important.

EDIT: Also, I wonder, would that second category be closer to "Deeply flawed"? I know it doesn't sound as good, but I think "imperfect" is too mild of a term to communicate a game being one tier above pure trash. ;)

Edited by Plk_Lesiak

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I know it's not meant to be the main attraction of your entry here, but I'm very impressed and amused by the exceptionally large fly you drew. Its face is hilarious. Thank you.

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Heh, my evaluation numbers fall quite accurately to your grade, really:

Awful - 4 and lower

Imperfect - 5

Mediocre - 6

Impressive - 7

Outstanding - 8

Brilliant - 9

Masterpiece - 10

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19 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

Also, I wonder, would that second category be closer to "Deeply flawed"? I know it doesn't sound as good, but I think "imperfect" is too mild of a term to communicate a game being one tier above pure trash. ;)

VNs are a very subjective medium, aiming to appeal to a very wide crowd of people with different, distinct tastes and pet peeves. After so many years of being a part of the entire environment and a fan of the medium myself, I came up to conclusion that there truly are no awfully bad games, as well as there are no masterpieces. Most games fall within the zone of mediocrity, offering you easily approachable entertainment and that's the thing most people expect them to give. We want to have fun and enjoy the games we play and each of us is different in that manner - some are fine with simplistic games that aren't way too deep or thought-provoking, while others require more intellectual stimulation to consider them enjoyable in the same manner. The fact is that simple games are more or less enjoyable to everyone doesn't change, though. Even very bad games sometimes have something that's worth discussing about and might actually be enjoyed by certain people - that's the charm of visual novels and eroge in general.

I don't want to be overly critical anymore, that's beyond the point and doesn't lead anywhere. I want to provide helpful reviews in a way that will tell people what to expect and whether the game I'm reviewing is a game they could pick up themselves.

On 29.06.2018 at 5:21 PM, Norleas said:

The first error is considering popular franchises better than trash when they are radioactive garbage.

I think you misinterpreted the diagram. The food chain isn't about who's the strongest or best; popularity is strongly tied to charisma, assertiveness and smooth talking. If a game gets popular and spawns a franchise, it's for a reason and you can't deny those games had a lot more to offer.

The pyramid itself is about everything aside from being "better". The higher you go, the less approachable games are. Those titles might uphold small rabid communities, but they will be never able to support the entire community. Contrary to that, games at the bottom are the games that - in fact - keep the entire community on their shoulders.

What I'm trying to say through this blog post is that people need to stop comparing games from different groups, as it's not really possible. My approach is to compare games within each of their respective groups and perhaps say, whether a certain title appeals only to fans of said respective group, or is it approachable to a wider audience, reaching outside that group. Such games are the good games - stories capable to reach out to many people, despite being deeply rooted to their own genre

7 hours ago, kivandopulus said:

Heh, my evaluation numbers fall quite accurately to your grade, really.

Glad to hear that.

19 hours ago, Zander said:

I know it's not meant to be the main attraction of your entry here, but I'm very impressed and amused by the exceptionally large fly you drew. Its face is hilarious. Thank you.

You're welcome. that fly is actually the single best part of the diagram and perfectly represents an image of our average vn fan.

The fly phase is short tho, each shit you visit gives you different perspectives. After a while you slowly discover what vns are about and embrace the true otaku within yourself. It is where people typically grow up, acquire their own taste and join in with the rest of people within their circle.

Obviously, some people never grow up :makina:

Edited by Narcosis

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4 hours ago, Narcosis said:

I think you misinterpreted the diagram. The food chain isn't about who's the strongest or best; popularity is strongly tied to charisma, assertiveness and smooth talking. If a game gets popular and spawns a franchise, it's for a reason and you can't deny those games had a lot more to offer.

The pyramid itself is about everything aside from being "better". The higher you go, the less approachable games are. Those titles might uphold small rabid communities, but they will be never able to support the entire community. Contrary to that, games at the bottom are the games that - in fact - keep the entire community on their shoulders.

What I'm trying to say through this blog post is that people need to stop comparing games from different groups, as it's not really possible. My approach is to compare games within each of their respective groups and perhaps say, whether a certain title appeals only to fans of said respective group, or is it approachable to a wider audience, reaching outside that group. Such games are the good games - stories capable to reach out to many people, despite being deeply rooted to their own genre

Sry, i don't see the food chain title the first time that i read the diagram, sometimes my selective reading just stop working, the pyramid make sense now. Nukiges are undoubtedly the big base, but they are a strange base, in a future erogedoom i could see them surviving without much damage, but being unable to save more than themselves, they are like a big non-structural base. And them, with the next levels being moege and charage, you reach the actual situation where they almost don't support their own weight and risk everything above to ruin with them.

About ratings, nowadays i just say  i like, it's meh or i dislike, but obviously never made sense to give the history of a charage the same importance as in a chunnige. One curious thing about the vn community is how much discrepancy we could have between "veterans" ratings, it's not uncommon to see two veterans with similar tastes having a difference of three or four points in the same vn in vndb.

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Brilliant seems similar in tier to Outstanding, except one is a meta focused work and the other isn't.

Works in the outstanding category have not only a great story to tell, but several good design choices exist made by the author in order to strengthen the experience or theme. This could be choice of moods, point of view, guiding expectations, or skillful incorporation of visuals/gameplay.

I agree with the pyramid, it makes sense after reading Narcosis's comments.

Edited by Chronopolis

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