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Kamisama no Shippo ~Etogami-sama no Ongaeshi

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First, this was written partially by Morima Marimo, one of Light and Campus's writers who specializes in naki-scenes and SOL.  Marimo has always sort of stood in the shadows of the other Light writers, but in terms of multi-genre versatility, he (she?) is worlds above the other writers employed by Light.

This game is one of the few 'ladder-style' story structure games that haven't driven me into a rage.  The simple reason is that the main story is more interesting than the little side trips into heroine-land.  This is surprisingly rare in this type of game, where many games using the ladder-style tend to accidentally make a side-story or character more interesting than the main or do it inconsistently.  The other reason, obviously, is that it is also a fetish-game.  This game has twelve mimikko (kemomimi, animal-ear) heroines, more than enough for any of us who love this type of thing.  I can forgive a lot of things for a set of cat ears.

The story focuses on the protagonist, Akinari, who can speak to animals, a skill that has led to him being somewhat isolated from most of his peers, with rare exceptions.  At the same time, it is also the story of the anthropomorphized 'etogami' (the twelve animals of the zodiac) who are suddenly thrust into his life as family.  

Akinari is an altruist.  He gives out love to those around him (and no, not that kind, though accidents happen, lol) without reserve, and he has the strength of personality to empathize with just about anyone, given a reason.  

This story is something of a nakige, told in fourteen chapters (common routes>12 zodiac heroine arcs>true arc).  Except for the common route, which took me about six to seven hours to complete, each individual chapter, if you don't choose to read the zodiac girls' romance paths, took between one and a half to two hours, depending on the heroine.  Most of the heroines have a cathartic moment (exception is Takami), and the last arc is heavy on the catharsis, as you discover just why the 12 etogami suddenly ended up gathered in Tenbu (the name of the town).

If you like cry-worthy back-stories and stories about affection beyond reincarnation, this is a great VN to read.  However, those who want more extensive heroine paths will inevitably be disappointed, because the main story is the focus of the game.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and not just because they somehow managed to create such a wide variety of heroines without any real overlaps in personality.

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Well, this VN is heavy on animal-human interactions, so you can probably guess there is a lot of tragedy involved.  Indeed, the fact that all the heroines except Kikyou and Renge are 'reincarnated' as the humanoid forms of the etogami says everything.  These moments of sorrow are tempered by their present happiness, but there is no denying they happened.

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