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NaNoRenO 2019 Overview

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lunaterra

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Originally posted on Pixels, Polygons, Prose.

Another year, another NaNo. For the uninitiated, NaNoRenO (short for...nothing at all; it's a reference to NaNoWriMo) is a month-long visual novel game jam which has occurred each March since 2005. I chose not to participate myself this year, but like each year since I've gotten into visual novels, I've been looking forward to the entrants—some pretty amazing games have come out of NaNos of the past.

I couldn't go through every single entry, but I've provided an overview of several of the completed games (no demos, sorry! I couldn't go through all 90 entries in just two weeks!). There might be some minor spoilers ahead.

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Title: Contract Demon
Developer: NomnomNami
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 25 minutes

Contract Demon is a kinetic novel set in the same universe as the Treat series, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet, and First Kiss at a Spooky Soiree, featuring demon Kamilla having to deal with the affections of (and her affections towards) the angel who keeps summoning her. Nami's stuff is always a treat to enjoy (pun not intended), and this is no exception. Contract Demon is equal parts cute, funny, and romantic, and well worth the time it takes to read it.

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Title: A HERO AND A GARDEN
Developer: npckc
Original release date: March 29, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 2 hours (before an update which made the gameplay take less time, so it'll likely be less now)

A HERO AND A GARDEN is a cute VN/clicker hybrid about a wannabe hero who destroyed a town of monsters while trying to rescue a princess who (unbeknownst to him) didn't want to be rescued. As penance, the "evil witch" who lives in the town has cursed him and forced him to harvest berries for the townspeople.

The clicker mechanic is very simple, but the VN as a whole is a heartwarming experience, with the protagonist learning about the town and the monsters who live in it, and realizing that what he thought the world was like isn't really what the world is like at all.

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Title: After the END
Developer: Stomach God
Original release date: March 28, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

After the END takes place a decade after the start of a zombie apocalypse which killed or turned nearly every person in the world; protagonist BB believes they are the only person left alive and spends their time exploring the wasteland. The current town they're in has 12 houses to explore, but there's only enough time to explore 8; you're all but guaranteed to die a few times before managing to get the good ending.

I'm not a huge fan of zombie apocalypse stories, but After the END manages its setting fairly well despite some technical issues (the "skip read text" function also skips unread text) and a few text errors.

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Title: Cooked with Love
Developer: STARDUSTSODA
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

College student Perry (nameable) finds themself in a dilemma after they finally ask their crush Lily out—their wallet goes missing the night they planned to take her out to a fancy restaurant! They come up with the idea of a home-cooked meal instead, but Perry has never cooked before, and there's not a whole lot for them to work with. Luckily, Perry's roommate Brooks is there to provide emotional support (not during the date. That would just be weird).

A fun, short VN with a crafting minigame and a great sense of humor, Cooking with Love is extremely polished for a jam game, featuring animations and simple customization (name entry, short/long hair, pants/skirt, he/she/they pronouns). If it weren't for its short length, I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this as a commercial game.

One of the highlights of the game is trying out different combinations of food to see what "dishes" you get; I didn't think you could turn all that into...those.

Also, I think I have a crush on Lily too. Oops.

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Title: Seven Seasonings
Developer: Sleepy Agents
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 30 minutes

A surreal VN with a unique aesthetic and an interesting soundtrack. The game makes use of an inventory system, randomized stats, map movement, and a simple trading mechanic; I'm not entirely sure how (or if) they affect the story. Seven Seasonings is one of those stories where I'm not quite certain what happened or what any of it meant, but it provides an interesting topic to think about.

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Title: One Last Salty Kiss
Developer: fullmontis
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 50 minutes

A kinetic novel about a newly-single man who finds an unconscious woman on the beach one night; what results is an emotional vignette about life, death, and the roles our memories play in our well-being. I felt the whole thing moved too fast; I'm not a fan of stories where the couple goes from zero to True Love in the space of two days.

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Title: Charles 2.0
Developer: Team Conwolf
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 40 minutes

Charles 2.0 has what's probably the best logline of the jam:

You're the President, but you have no memories. Crap.

Short, sweet, and to the point. This isn't an amnesia story; you're playing as a clone of Charles Denton, President of the United States, and must gather enough information about "yourself" and the country to bluff your way through a press conference without arousing any suspicion. Nobody can know that you're a clone, not even Charles' husband Lorenzo or assistant/polyamorous boyfriend Jonas. The result is a story that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout and is one of my favorites of the jam.

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Title: Enc and the Flying Machine
Developer: TangledVirus
Original release date: March 30, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 20 minutes

Enc and the Flying Machine tells the story of a mushroom girl tasked to write about machines. While the setting is interesting, I found the story hard to follow at times, with the occasional confusing wording. Besides that, though, it's a lighthearted story about friendship and love, and hopefully some polish on the text can help bring that out more.

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Title: RE:BURN
Developer: Jane Titor
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 25 minutes

Closer to interactive fiction than a traditional visual novel, RE:BURN finds you in the shoes of Charisse LaFlamme, newly-minted part-time editor for an academic journal. One of your jobs is to delete all the old emails that have been accumulated over the past few months. However, things soon start to get really weird. The game was written by one of the writers of DemiDato, one of the projects I'm working on—but trust me, they're two very different games. RE:BURN is something closer to horror; it does a good job at unsettling you just enough to make you wonder if you're really making the right decisions.

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Title: this was for you.
Developer: Watercress
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 50 minutes

this was for you. is one of the more technically-advanced entries of the jam, featuring lots of animations, voice acting, and general polish. Our nameable protagonist is grieving the loss of their best friend, Ji-min, whom they only knew through a VR world. While it works for its duration, it ends abruptly, without a satisfying conclusion, leaving me in a weird limbo where I don't really know if I can recommend it or not.

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Title: Robot Daycare
Developer: Kigyo
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 40 minutes

One of the longer non-gameplay entries in the jam, Robot Daycare follows a trio of college students as they create and raise a robot child for an assignment. How the story goes from there is based on a handful of choices—not exactly revolutionary for visual novels, but the two paths are very different, with the good path being a story about friendship and trust and the bad path being a straight-up horror story. (Some of the descriptions in the horror path are...eurgh. No wonder there's an option to disable gory text.) Both paths are good, but in different ways, obviously.

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Title: REDD War
Developer: Good Tales
Original release date: March 31, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io (free/PWYW)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour

Hm, so this is a story about murder being legal for 12 hours...

No, that doesn't remind me of anything at all.

Parallels with famous movie series aside, I just couldn't get into this one. A high school student gets caught up in a REDD War, where Earth-occupying murderous aliens are legally allowed to murder any human they want for 12 hours (whereas humans are bound by normal laws and cannot kill REDD except in self-defense). Ultimately, the "killer aliens" trope doesn't do anything for me, and I spent most of the story being vaguely uncomfortable (in a bad way). Watching two of the bloodthirsty REDD call the timid REDD a pussy over and over is just annoying (and yes, I know that the other two REDD are supposed to be unlikable, but they're not the fun kind of unlikable that makes hating them enjoyable).

I also thought it was strange that it includes a warning for violence after the cold open where some aliens murder a guy in cold blood.

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Title: Alice in Stardom
Developer: Crystal Game Works
Original release date: April 1, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Availability: itch.io, Steam (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 40 minutes

The best part of Alice in Stardom is the writing during the performances themselves (aside from the pointless minigame); everything else is hit-or-miss. I had a hard time getting into the entire concept thanks to my distaste for idols, made stranger by the decision to set the story in what appears to be the USA in 2019, where the idol culture Alice in Stardom depicts really doesn't exist (source: I live in the USA in 2019).

I'm a bit confused by the minigame. I failed it the first few times since the game doesn't explain what you're supposed to do (click on the lyrics in the order in which they appear). It doesn't really add anything except making going for your second/third route take a couple minutes longer.

Additionally, the "romance" is limited to about three lines (total, across all three routes, although the end of Taylor's route can be interpreted as romantic subtext). There's nothing wrong with a story about friendship or friendship-that-could-lead-to-romance—but I think it makes the "lesbian" and "yuri" tags on itch more than a bit misleading.

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Title: Mnemonic Devices
Developer: Minyan
Original release date: April 2, 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Availability: itch.io (free)
Approximate time for completion: 1 hour 30 minutes

I'm generally not a huge fan of the amnesia trope, but Mnemonic Devices has one of the more interesting takes on it that I've seen: the (customizable) protagonist (default name Quinn) eventually finds out that they are actually an extremely advanced android assassin, whose current mission is to kill corrupt hot-shot lawyer Caesar Rivera—who also happens to be Quinn's husband. (They had to get close to him to gather information on him, you see.) The person who breaks the news to you is Quinn's partner Alto, who does a really bad job of hiding how madly in love with them he is.

The game itself, however, does a really good job at balancing both routes to make them equally satisfying, although I personally preferred Alto's route. There's a lot of moral ambiguity regarding whether or not to kill Caesar; the game doesn't really say that either is more or less right than the other, though they lead to different endings depending on which route you're on.

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