Lately I have started reading a bunch of short visual novels (mostly EVNs) and since Covid leaves me with a lot of free time, I decided to write a series of posts containing several short reviews for them. I will focus on ones I recently purchased but maybe there will even be time to go through my backlog of short titles, even the ones I got in bundles and probably would not touch under normal circumstances. So let's dive right in.
The Agony by KishMish Games & Talentplace
This one I picked up for 49ct or something like that because Steam reviews said it was hilariously bad, and, well, they weren't wrong about at least one of those two words. We follow the story of Oleg, who is very masculine (which he never fails to point out in his inner monologues), and his girlfriend Olga/Olia, whose character traits are that she is very beautiful and in love with Oleg. They get lost in the underground maze beneath their home city after having to run from a couple of bad dudes and Olga/Olia gets kidnapped by someone or something lurking down there. Can Oleg rescue his loved one and defeat the evil lurking in the dark?
Personally, I didn't bother to find out after reaching the first ending telling me everything going on isn't real (spoilers, I guess). The whole thing reads like one of those bad fantasy fan-fictions where the author makes stuff up as they go with incompetence showing at every level. The English translation from the original Russian is, to put it nicely, not that great either. It starts out with the titlecard for the opening chapter saying "Oleg and Olga" and then the next sentence calling her Olia. I know, transcribing names from different alphabets can be complicated, but the inconsistency in the spelling points to how little care was put into the translation, which is full of grammar errors and weird sentence structures (yes, I know my English isn't perfect either, but I don't charge anyone for reading my stuff).
I didn't get far enough into the VN to find out what the title refers to, so from now I'll pretend that it's supposed to describe your experience reading it. Avoid it, unless you really want to laugh at how bad it is.
Cyber City 2157 by Harotobira
Speaking of bad translations from Russian to English, this game taught me to read the text in the screenshots on the shop page before buying a VN instead of just looking at the visuals, and I only mention this game here to tell you to not pick it up unless you can read Russian. Because unlike The Agony, CC2157 seems like it has some artistic ambition behind it and seems to rely heavily on verbal images and metaphors. The English version is so garbled that I probably wouldn't even be able to figure out if the effort was brilliant or terribly misguided, so I dropped it shortly after the opening sequence.
Alone with You by Benjamin Rivers Inc.
Alone with You is a hybrid between 2D adventure and visual novel (it doesn't have a vndb page), where you lead your unnamed protagonist through the ruins of a deserted space colony originally designed to terraform a planet that is hostile to human life. Your only companions are the AI that controlled all systems of the colony before its crew went extinct and the virtual replications of four former engineers and scientists whose memories it uploaded. As energy reserves are low you can only spend time with one of them at a time. During the day you explore the colony's facilities together with the AI in search of things you can use to make your escape vessel work, finding clues to where and why things went wrong on your way. At night you talk to one of the alter egos about their work and what their life was like.
Despite being wildly different from the outside, the closest thing to compare AWY to when it comes to the overall experience in my opinion would be Analogue: A Hate Story. It has a similar back-tracking structure where you first work your way closer to finding out how a certain catastrophe could happen in the past (only in this case its through exploring areas in the colony instead of reading logs), interrupted by sections where you talk to a witness of the events about the details (there even is a little romance involved). Where Analogue tries to paint the picture of a collapsed society though, AWY is more introspective, focusing on themes of loneliness, self doubt, regretting past decisions and how people behave in the face of an inescapable disaster. The gameplay sections as well as the brilliantly done visual and sound design give you a real sense of desolation and solitude, although they can get a little repetitive and the game can feel too long at times.
So if you're willing take in its atmosphere, Alone With You is definitely worth checking out. If you need something to happen at all times, better pick something else.
Ghosts of Miami by Pillow Fight Games
I really wanted to like Ghosts of Miami, with it being a detective story set in 1980s Miami and its cool visuals. Sadly I found it to be pretty mediocre. My main complaint is that it often struggles to find the right tone. It tries to capture the hedonistic happiness of the era as well as issues of race, sexual minorities, drugs and cartels, but then never fully commits to either side of its story, dulling the 80s-ness and failing to make an emotional impact in its darker moments at the same time. I wouldn't recommend picking it up, especially not at full price (which is 15€).
These two short VNs share the same premise and are made by the same person, so it makes sense two review them together. Both revolve around an unnamed protagonist coming to his senses and the first thing he sees being famous tsundere pop idol Lilypad Lily. What makes these games unique is that the only thing fixed in each (very short) playthrough is the setup, but the plot and even characters' memories and motivations can change completely depending on your choices. So it's basically a collection of joke endings which can mean anything from cutesy romance to cat aliens. They are kind of hit and miss, but at least Lily's Night Off with its significantly higher production value than its predecessor, including short character animations that do wonders for the comedic timing and a CG for each ending (each drawn by a different artist), is a fun way to kill an hour or two. And I just love its Secret True Ending.