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  1. 6 points
    Welcome to my blog. Where have we been? Where are we going? TIMELINE 1980s: - Early eroge largely consist of still art (what we call pixel art now), very short dialogue/narrative elements, and some primitive interactive elements, while spanning many genres. 1990s: - The point-and-click adventure game, which has its roots in 1980s video games, establishes itself as one of the most popular genres of eroge. Many games emerge which have interfaces that are visually similar to those of most point-and-click adventure games, but with gradually differing gameplay. These games are all collectively called "adventure games" or "ADV" in Japanese. The general style of having an interface which consists of a rectangular text box at the bottom of the screen, and a collage of visual elements meant to serve as a guide for what the main character sees, is also called "ADV". In other words, ADV becomes a genre that embodies a style of presentation. - The non-adult game company Chunsoft puts out Otogirisou, a kind of illustrated story in which pictures are placed in the background as visual aids while the full narrative is conveyed as overlaid text. This style of presentation is called a "novel game" or "NVL" in Japanese. The gameplay of Otogirisou purely consists of the player making choices on where to take the story, similar to "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, a simple yet powerful narrative tool which would prove influential to ADV as a whole. - Two major eroge brands that specialize in ADV, elf and Leaf, create popular games like Doukyuusei and To Heart. These games stand out from their competitors by the way they utilize talented artists and writers to focus on the personalities of charming heroines, rather than treating pixel porn as what matters and the characterization as an afterthought. This character-centric evolution is called a charage (character game) and encompasses both NVL (like Kizuato) and ADV. And with the release of YU-NO and Kamaitachi no Yoru, two ADV/NVL games that have well-written stories, the term scenarioge (scenario game) becomes more popular. 1999: - Kanon is released by Key. It's the first time a large number of players became very emotionally moved by the story of an eroge, or any ADV at that. Even someone like Baba from Visual Arts, who was just a businessman without much personal interest in ADV, became interested after Kanon. Aside from inventing the nakige (naki game, which means "crying game") genre, it awakened in players a desire for longer scenarios as necessary to deepen their attachment to the heroines. But its most significant role is being the first major moege (moe game) at a time when the term "moe" wasn't even very well known. 2000: - The doujin NVL Tsukihime comes out, and its quality lets it rank among the very top, if not at the very top, of both scenarioge and charage. See Popular Views on What Defines the Chuuni Genre for more info on the influence of Type-Moon's works. 2000-2006: - Now that Kanon and Tsukihime have come out, it seems like a dam bursts and a flood of popular and influential ADV/NVL are released. There are comparatively fewer in 2001, with the most notable ones in my mind being Kiminozo and Kazokei. But in 2002 you have Ever17, Higurashi, Kusarihime, Baldr Force, Hello world, Da Capo, and others. And every year after that just has more and more top quality ADV/NVL. The biggest year is 2004, which sees the release of both Clannad and Fate/stay night (successors to Kanon and Tsukihime, respectively). - Around the middle of the decade, the term "visual novel" is invented among English speaking fans of these games, and basically refers to any game which has an ADV/NVL-style interface and a strong and constant narrative. Since the rest of the world directly bypassed the early history of Japanese eroge and ADV/NVL, they didn't bother with the origins of these styles of games, and just chose a term which seemed to more naturally describe the most famous and representative ADV/NVL. Since then, the term "visual novel" has been recognized by the Japanese too, although the broader Japanese playerbase still commonly thinks that VN is synonymous with "adventure game". In any case, the term is excellent and I like it. - Over the course of this decade, the major tropes and popular genres of VNs, which were mostly foreshadowed in the late 1990s, are firmly established and standardized. They include TIPs, unlockable routes/end, true ends, bad ends, hidden heroines, time loops/leaps, moe, chuuni, nakige, utsuge, imouto games, and many more. The diverse and awkward gameplay of the 1980s and 1990s more or less disappears. - Meanwhile, many of the most successful eroge companies like Key, Type-Moon, and Leaf/Aqua-Plus successfully rebrand themselves and reduce their focus on adult content for the sake of marketing their works to the rest of the Japanese "otaku" industries. They adopt the label of "bishoujo game maker". Many of their most popular IPs (intellectual properties) receive anime adaptations or evolve into multimedia franchises, with "Fate" being the most famous example. On the other hand, as these industries embrace VNs, they also learn from them and try to emulate that same appeal within their own IPs; Fate/stay night is especially influential as a progenitor of the "chuuni" genre. 2006: - Statistically, eroge sales begin to decline. The industry itself doesn't immediately begin to decline, though, because investors take time to notice and react to such trends, companies are still in the midst of developing games, and they will try to shift strategies to fight the trend. The decline in sales won't slow down until 2012. WHY Causes of the trend? This was fiercely debated for years and still hasn't been completely settled. But it's more or less clear. VNs served as a creative outlet without rivals for several years. At first, in the early 1990s, nobody expect much from eroge. But as we entered the later part of the decade, that changed. Eroge was always a venue for weird and exciting scenarios that wouldn't be accepted elsewhere, and it was easier than ever to make quality audiovisual experiences, with multiple free or cheap VN engines available. Writers like Maeda Jun and Nasu took advantage of the medium's ease of entry, along with the freedom of expression it afforded. It was a fresh, mature alternative to the LN industry. However, that didn't last forever. Major publishers in other mediums distilled the parts of eroge that appealed most to players: the nakige components, the moe components, the fanservice and unapologetic harems, the handy sci-fi tropes, the balloon breasts. Everything except the deep emotional and mental investment that's only possible with literature. And of course, the mature themes and content. Above all, what VNs brought to the table was no longer as fresh to people. Without a sense of excitement, the fact that VNs require people to sit down and actually read continuously for hours became... problematic. The era of smartphones and social media also heralded the era of low attention spans. People came to think that "adventure games" = "boring". This was coupled with the fact that more and more people play bishoujo games on their smartphones, and who wants to play eroge in public? Waifu/husbando social games like Fate/Grand Order and Granblue Fantasy dealt especially heavy blows to players' interest in VNs. They let players pick between countless more waifus and husbandos than VNs, have more exciting plots to engage casual players (not some ordinary school life drama), have the slutty outfits and exaggerated figures of nukige heroines, continually put out new content for the most popular characters, let you put your waifu/husbando in your home screen so you can constantly look at her, and tap on the portrait of her/him to hear some flirty line voiced by a popular anime seiyuu. They even copied the feature of some VNs where you can give your favorite hero or heroine chocolates on Valentine's Day or White Day. The proof is in the recent anime Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy where the "guy who's only interested in 2D girls" stereotype no longer involves VNs on a PSP, but rather depicts a social game on a phone. To be frank, even the latest Fire Emblem game probably makes VNs less appealing by comparison. The main draw of VNs was always the cute and flirty heroines and romance, but these elements have been thoroughly exported. The exact same situation arose with Japanese web novels on the site Shousetsuka ni Narou. An initial wave of authors pioneered new genres with certain distinctive tropes, most of them related to isekai, and started a trend which has dominated the Japanese web novel scene. But the mainstream LN industry quickly learned and started to put out its own isekai LNs, as well as aggressively recruit these authors (who naturally didn't object to being paid for what they'd initially put out for free online). A few years later, Narou's talents have more or less moved out, and the stories at the top of the popularity charts haven't been supplanted by any new talents. In any case, the major difference between Narou and the VN industry is that Narou authors are overall much better off with editors, whereas the transition from VNs to LNs/anime is absolutely a creative downgrade. WHAT DO 1. Copy FGO. Social games are a natural evolution of the appeal of many VNs. Unfortunately, they're also largely vapid experiences with have less voice acting, silent protagonists, a massive cast of heroines who receive little character development, a disjointed narrative, a story that's mostly dialogue and constantly interrupted by battles, and many other flaws that prevent them from achieving literary excellence. These games have invariably underestimated how popular they'll become and worked with cheap art assets and flimsy storytelling, only to fix this by hiring better artists and writers for the more recent arcs of their ongoing main storylines. However, even those recent arcs are still shallow experiences compared to VNs. The best they can do is have good comedy--no one will ever feel as empathetic toward the characters as they do in VNs. But of course, despite the problems with social games' storytelling, they are still... inevitable. They will still successfully rake in cash from people with personalities prone to gambling addiction. So one VN company after another has tried to become the next FGO. Eushully, light, August, Key, Lilith, Frontwing, Nitroplus and many others have pursued social games, virtually all of which failed to really take off like FGO--in part because they weren't very well-made, and in part because the Fate franchise is more popular with more devoted fans. Frankly, this solution has been thoroughly pursued by all sorts of VN companies, and we know exactly what happens: it fails unless they're very lucky. 2. Give up. This is a wise and fine choice. The river of life flows ever onward. Sometimes it's best to accept defeat. 3. Make NOT a visual novel. Be Kodaka Kazutaka. Start from the idea that you want to make an adventure game. Then to appease your producer, call it a detective game instead, and add a 3D world with gameplay that takes place within it while occupying a lot of the player's time, so it in no way feels like a pure ADV. Make the narrative largely dialogue-driven. Write in a way that wastes less time on subtlety and imagery and takes more advantage of humor, twists, and action. Then call it Danganronpa and be successful, while feeling that you tricked the world by making an adventure game with the quality storytelling of an adventure game that doesn't feel like an adventure game. Too Kyo Games plans to water down a full-fledged ADV-quality scenario with meaningful realtime gameplay, by partnering with studios that actually know how to make fun games. It's a long-term experiment on tricking people into playing adventure games. 4. Make a visual novel, but be better. Find a slightly new angle. Gather the A-Team. Target non-traditional markets. Cultivate one's prestige. In short, reorganize and rebrand. But still make a visual novel, with ordinary 2D art and probably little to no gameplay. The only problem is that people don't like VNs anymore because smartphones shrunk their brains until they had flea-sized attention spans. So at best, such "better" VNs will simply exist in the top tier of modern VNs, able to survive and maybe make a little profit. These are VNs for the sake of creators who want to stay in the VN industry despite how comparatively little it pays. Aniplex.exe, a new VN brand started under Aniplex that Makura staff like Sca-ji are involved with, seems to fall under this category. They're identifying as makers of "novel games" probably because that sounds more respectable these days than bishoujo game. I'm frankly more interested in Sca-ji's other still unannounced projects (but that's just because I'm not personally a fan of Konno Asta or Umihara Nozomu). 5. Copy FGO, but EVOLVE. Before Light's "Pantheon" mobile game died mid-development, Masada planned for it to have a substantial scenario. That kind of story would fatally clash, like matter and dark matter, with social games as they exist today. Unless they rethought the entire premise from scratch, I assume they'd have to at the very least dilute such a lengthy narrative into segments with constant breaks, rewards, and mini-games. And they'd have to make a tough choice about whether they seriously want to market it for smartphones, or stick to PC like Granblue Fantasy. It's easier to not evolve or just give up. But moreover, I think industry veterans are just pissed off and unable to accept that something as amazing as VNs can't find its consumers anymore. So they will struggle. Visual Arts will struggle, for sure. Key pretended to be half-dead in their 20th anniversary message, but they were actually hard at work. They've let Maeda take on the scenario of a high budget smartphone game called "Heaven Burns Red". Will he be able to do for social games with "Heaven Burns Red" what he did for VNs with "Kanon"? I'm not too optimistic, since I haven't seen any indication that the overall story concept was Maeda's. 6. ??? To quote Sca-ji, a writer who's qualified to talk about the unique worth of eroge, from late October: "People across various otaku industries have said, 'I want the wonderful culture of eroge to stay alive.' They're going out of their way and doing many things to make that happen. If I'm pessimistic, this might be our last chance to revive this industry, so I'm cheering them on. Do your best. ... People around their late twenties to thirty years old have started to take positions of power in society, praising eroge and doing many things for us." ZZZ 「Kanon」や「CLANNAD」「Angel Beats!」など…「泣きゲー」からアニメ原作まで、美少女IPを仕掛け続けた28年! ビジュアルアーツのユニークなブランド戦略と経営思想を馬場隆博社長に聞いてみた 『ダンガンロンパ』、『東京クロノス』、『グノーシア』の開発者が語る。「アドベンチャーゲームは滅ぶのか?」緊急座談会 「なぜエロゲ業界は衰退してるのか」 それをまとめた画像が話題にwwwww https://twitter.com/gannbattemasenn/status/1015644154271973376 https://enty.jp/avestan https://twitter.com/sca_di https://vndb.org/ EPILOGUE A new decade is upon is, and we're in the midst of a wave of 20th anniversaries that inevitably prompt retrospection. What I'm keeping an eye on, out of concern for the industry, as we enter it: - Too Kyo Games - Heaven Burns Red (unveiling on February 28) and Visual Arts as a whole - Sca-ji's Twitter account - Aniplex.exe as a whole - Any news from Masada about new publishers for Pantheon - Major non-adult scenarioge companies like Spike-Chunsoft and Mages (they may absorb some talent or try to carry on eroge culture) - Any actual new VNs from Nasu, like the Tsukihime remake
  2. 4 points
    Clephas

    The nature of an infodump

    In plotge of all types, whether they are chuunige, kinetic novels, horror suspense, or mysteries, infodumps are ubiquitous throughout the VN world. Infodumping in and of itself isn't a horrible thing to do to the reader (as some people claim), but it is a tool that is often abused by writers who want to expound on their beloved world and its characters. First, the definition of an infodump is a scene with little or no dialogue where background information is provided without directly proceeding with the story. Infodumps can vary in size from as small as forty lines of narration to up to a thousand, depending on the writer and the subject matter involved. There are even multiple types, which I will describe here. The Lump of Infodump The Lump of Infodump (as I put it) is the most common type of infodump in VNs. In the 'Lump, a great amount of information, sometimes with brief bits and pieces of dialogue or character stream of thought, is provided in a single scene, interrupting the story. The 'Lump is the type of infodump most likely to drive people crazy, due to its tendency to create walls of uninterrupted text. When abused, it tends to interrupt and/or destroy the flow of the story, and I've encountered a number of games where a more measured approach to presenting the setting or explanations of the particulars of an event or the 'why' of an action would have been less monotonous. In fact, that is the big flaw of this type of infodump. It is almost impossible to avoid monotony with this kind of infodump, because all it is doing is literally dropping information on you. That said, infodumps often have a reason for existing that becomes clear in coming scenes, so it is not necessarily always a bad thing. The Scattered Infodump 'Scattered Infodumps' are a technique where the writer provides the information in smaller, more digestible asides throughout the story, as it becomes relevant. This technique tends to be received with less irritation and often goes almost unnoticed by the reader, because it doesn't go on long enough to disrupt the flow of the story. Unlike the 'Lump, it is less likely to be abused, though many writers who use it get into the habit of always using it, which can be problematic for those with an allergy to non-dialogue text, lol. The Flashback Infodump The Flashback Infodump is just that, an infodump provided in the form of a flashback instead of an aside. These often fill in the gaps in the motivations of characters or their upbringing, and their purpose is, 90% of the time, to reveal something that would have made things less interesting if it were revealed earlier. Flashbacks are often abused, though. They are common throughout VNs, with roughly 90% of plotge having at least one and 30% of all charage (in my experience) having one. They are a convenient method of revealing a character's past, so many games also use them for character development, particularly in heroine paths. The Prologue Infodump This is probably the least annoying of the 'obvious' infodumping and is a sub-category of the 'Lump. Some games, rather than dumping setting and character information on you mid-story, will instead infodump immediately after you start. This has the advantage of getting around the disruption of the game's flow that is inevitable with mid-game 'Lumps and providing background information without the writer having to remember to include it strategically throughout the story. This technique is, however, rarely used. Games that use it are rare mostly because if the first thing you see when starting a VN is a wall of text, most people will drop the game right then and there. Because of this, most games that use this are directed to a very specific fanbase or niche of the VN community that already has an established interest in the game in question. A few thoughts The reason I decided to make this post was because of a conversation I had with @fun2novel regarding infodumping in Bradyon Veda. In Bradyon Veda, infodumping is integral to the game's battle scenes (incidentally the discussion began with me giving examples of good battle scenes to him). Because the science-fantasy techniques being used by the characters manipulate matter and physical laws, there are infodumps built into the battle scenes, explaining what they are doing. Because of this, I noted that Bradyon Veda's battle scenes were an example of positive infodumping, because it was done in such a way that it enhanced rather than disrupted the telling of the story. Conclusion What am I trying to get at? Nothing, really. I just thought that people give infodumps a bad rap, when they have probably been infodumped without even noticing it.
  3. 3 points
    Today I wanted to talk a bit about an interesting project, and one that provided me with a unique opportunity to, for the first time, act as a proof-reader and do minor editing for a sizeable VN. Because of this personal involvement, this won’t be a full-on review, but more of a loose rant, highlighting both the worthwhile aspects of the game and my somewhat-peculiar experience with it. The VN in question, Bewitched is indeed a rather interesting one, as all games by Graven Visual Novels are – just as they are weighted down by extremely awkward translations from Russian and inherent flaws of their author’s prose. This time, however, the developer made their first attempt to work on properly polishing the game’s English script with the help of a few volunteers (including my gloriously dyslectic person). This move was quite likely inspired by the discussions I had with them regarding their previous projects and the problems with their English versions. If my involvement in the EVN scene ever made a tangible difference, this is the most concrete example of it, and I hope you’ll be willing to join me as I briefly explore what that difference actually is… Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
  4. 3 points
    I had someone ask me why I consider some VN battle scenes to be good and others to be low quality just the other day, and I thought I would address this here. First, I should state that while visuals definitely have an effect on the quality of a battle scene, the quality of visuals is less than 15% of the reasons why I pick one VN's battle scenes over another's. The considerations when it comes to visuals are raw quality (artist skill, detail, etc), number of combat-related CGs and sprites, and the quality of the visual effects. More important (roughly 25% of the whole) is music and sound effects. It is quite possible to turn a VN whose visuals are mediocre and writing are good into a masterpiece based solely on how the BGMs and sound effects are used. I've seen it happen (Devils Devel Concept being a prime example), and I can honestly say that this aspect almost always trumps visuals when it comes to determining the quality of a given battle scene. Another 25% comes from context and presentation. I split this evenly because these two factors tend to be inter-dependent in battle scenes. Without the context, you can't tell whether you should care, and presentation (the art of bringing writing, sound, and visuals together to create a collaborative effect on the reader) quality can dramatically alter how you see the battle. The last 35% is all writing. My prejudice would have put it at 50%, but realistically, in a VN, writing is at the very least 35% of what determines the quality of a battle scene. The very simple reason is that making a battle scene interesting requires an eye for detail, for stringing descriptions of character actions, emotions, and words into a cohesive whole. There are plenty of writers outside of the VN industry who only do this well and literally are incapable of 'peaceful writing'. That is because what is demanded of writing during a battle scene is fundamentally different from what is demanded outside of battle scenes. To be blunt, most VN writers have no idea of how to write a battle scene, which is why the good ones stand out so much. 'Tom blasted magic sword at Dave, Dave took it on his shield with a grunt' is about as far as it goes with most VN battle scenes... and that is fairly horrid, since there is no sense of what is actually going on in that exchange. It isn't uncommon for VN makers with unskilled writers to simply substitute visual and sound effects for descriptions of the battle simply because the writer can only handle dialogue and minimal or copy-paste action lines. However, this results in amazingly boring scenes, since there is usually almost no variation in visual or sound effects from scene to scene, action to action. This means that they are essentially using a square block for a round peg. I don't know how many third-rate battle scenes I've fallen asleep to over the years... Anyway, ideally, a good battle scene should have all the elements come together in one cohesive whole. However, in practice, that almost never happens. About the only companies that have ever managed to do that consistently are Nitroplus, Light, and Propeller... and we all know what happened to Propeller and (more recently) Light.
  5. 3 points
    People who drop themselves into the abyss of otaku media tend to have their sense for things dull over time. Action scenes don't excite like they used to, rom-coms aren't as funny, ecchi isn't as hot, and only the densest stories succeed in scratching the itch. This is what I (and some others) call becoming a 'jaded veteran otaku'. Jaded veteran otakus often become 'genre specialists' (meaning they only play one type of game, watch one type of anime, and/or refuse to play specific types), and only the most hypocritical have less than ten favorites in their medium. However, how exactly do you tell that a VN (in this case) is one of your favorites? There are a number of signs. 1. Does watching the opening get you excited no matter how many times you've seen it? 2. Does a great phrase that shattered your personal gate of tears do so again on a second playthrough? 3. Can it still make you giggle? 4. Can it still delight you with new discoveries or even only confirming the ones you made the last time you played? 5. Does defending it to everyone around you fill you with passion and do you have an intense desire to chain every other VN fan in site to a chair in front of a computer to play/read it? 6. Do you find yourself wistfully wondering if you'll ever find anything else like it again? 7. Do you feel like a junkie coming down off a great high after you finish it? These are just some of the signs of a VN happening to be your favorite... and one of the strange side-effects of being a long-time addict of otaku media is that your favorites become ever more distinct to you as time passes. I have literally forgotten the contents of more VNs than most people have played, but the ones I love remain in my memory with surprising detail, even after years without playing them. Not all of my favorites are kamige (in fact, surprisingly few of them are), but to me they are irreplaceable friends similar to the books I can never bring myself to get rid of.
  6. 2 points
    Ds-sans is a British VN developer whose work I've been following since the times I started writing my blog, first being charmed by his free romance game Sounds of Her Love, (check out my review of it here). Released on Steam March 2017, this very tame and heartwarming, small love story was extremely by-the-numbers and rather cliched, but stood out through its solid execution and likeable heroine. Later, I’ve checked out this author’s first VN, Lost Impressions, which also proved enjoyable despite being something of a mess visually and including edgy story elements typical for many beginner VN writers – a rather standard amateur project, but showing traces of genuine talent. As you can imagine, I was quite interested in reading ds-sans’ first commercial VN, Chemically Bonded, announced and successfully crowdfunded in late 2017. It promised to continue the wholesome, romantic climate of Sounds of Her Love, but with a more in-depth, branching story and better production values – pretty much a product catered exactly to someone like me, who enjoys fluffy slice-of-life content in VNs over pretty much everything else. After a full year of delays, the game finally came out on November 2019, proving to be… Very much a mixed bag. But, what could go wrong with a concept this straightforward and such a promising background? The game is full to the brim with trivial internal monologues from the protagonist, narrating mundane events and expressing the same exact sentiments towards the heroines over and over again Chemically Bonded is a story of an unassuming Japanese high-schooler, whose boring routine is turned upside down when he’s invited by Kiyoko, the best student in his school, to join the science club. With her being the only other member, the protagonist is pretty much guilt-tripped into accompanying her in the various “club activities”, and by this is thrown right into the center of a conflict between Kiyoko and Naomi, the captain of the track team and quite likely the most popular girl in her year. The two heroines, formerly friends, fell apart in a dramatic manner, and our lead takes upon himself to bring them back together. Here we encounter the first of the game’s major issues: the (nameable) protagonist is the blankest of blank slates, with less background information and personality than the average male lead in a Sakura game. He apparently also doesn’t have anything going on in his life apart from dealing with Kiyoko and Naomi, as we never observe him interacting with his family or other people in school in a meaningful manner. This really detracts from the experience, as even the Sounds of Her Love protagonist, still arguably a self-insert, had a decently-defined family that played into the story and provoked fun dialogue, making him feel like an actual person. His characterisation also made it somewhat clear why he connected so well with the heroine – here, there’s pretty much nothing meaningful that can be said about the lead and it’s hard to tell why the girls are even into him. There’s one more, deeply problematic thing about the protagonist, which is also the biggest issue the whole game suffers from – his monologues. While visual novels strive on dialogue and meaningful interactions between the key characters, Chemically Bonded’s idea of core VN content is overly-colourful narration of trivial, everyday occurrences, and constant repetition of a few uninspired statements about the heroines’ emotional state and the protagonist’s intention to help them. It’s very hard to truly communicate just how broken the game’s writing is in the first two acts (first 3-4 hours of the game) and how much it damages the pacing of the story. Moments that push the plot forward are drowned in countless lined about dust particles dancing in the sun or descriptions of how deeply heartbroken either Kiyoko or Naomi is. It also borderline-ignores the visual input of the game’s assets, often describing things that are in plain sight or obvious from the scene’s context. The situation improves significantly after the breakthrough is achieved in the conflict between the girls and they start interacting with each other a lot more, but the experience of getting to that point is generally not that great. Naomi’s tsundere persona wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t this exaggerated and inconsistent – even with all the explanations for her behaviour, she’s just not relatable or endearing Another thing that starts broken and gets (slightly) better over time is the tsundere heroine, Naomi – in the opening segments, she’s juggling at least three different personas in a completely incoherent manner, switching between abusive, boastful and flustered modes in a way that is neither believable nor amusing to watch. The game makes a point of her initial behaviour being fake, but this doesn’t help it feel any more fluid or cleverly-written, and even the overall very talented Amber Barile, who voices the character, couldn’t make the confusing, stuttered dialogue sound right. This also changes after the second act, when Naomi mostly drops the pretences and only playfully re-enacts elements of her “tsun” persona, but it’s a bit too little, too late to make her arc truly satisfying. Kiyoko, on the other hand, is a fine heroine – the science theme in her story is paper-thin, rarely going beyond chemistry puns, but her cheerful personality and her relationship with the protagonist are fairly believable. As someone heartbroken and isolated from her former friends, I can see her falling for someone who treated her without judgment and offered his support. At the same time Naomi, essentially a school celebrity, have very few reasons to show her “dere” side so quickly (it’s there nearly from the beginning), especially if we consider that the game’s plot plays out literally within a few weeks. If I have any problem with Kiyoko, it would sadly be her VA – at the beginning, she sounds more like a small child than a high-schooler, and even later her tone and mannerisms hardly match the sharp, energetic personality the game is trying to communicate. Voices of the secondary characters (all dialogue in the game is voiced), by the way, are just fine – nothing more and nothing less. If you’re waiting for me to stop complaining, we’re nearly there, but… I have to say a few things about secondary characters and cameos. While the Sounds of Her Love heroine Ceri showing up is pretty fun (also because she’s simply an endearing and well-designed character), other supporting characters which received sprites (three in total, random schoolmates/teenagers Ken & Sae and a teacher, Mr Kabeer) didn’t seem to serve a real function in the story. They were sometimes used for humour, but most of the jokes didn’t land well enough to by themselves justify their presence – all three feel more like artefacts of the development process that planned for their inclusion early on and then failed to find a proper role for them to play. In a way, this is also the feeling the whole Naomi route gives out – because of how the game was conceptualized her romance arc was necessary to make, but I haven’t seen in it an actual idea on how to execute it in an effective and cohesive manner. The supposed feelings between her and the protagonist show up practically out of nowhere and most scenes with her are narratively empty, adding nothing to the story. In result, it simply doesn’t work as a romance plot, in contrast to the reasonably satisfying Kiyoko’s arc, which is maybe still a bit rushed, but goes through all the steps necessary to get you emotionally invested in the relationship. Starting with Naomi’s scenario was both a curse and a blessing for me, as it initially soured me towards the whole game, but also let me skip a lot of repeated narration while reading Kiyoko’s arc and fully enjoy its genuinely good moments, which are basically the best narrative elements of Chemically Bonded. Naomi is also much more tolerable as a secondary character and honestly, she should’ve stayed as such, with Kiyoko’s story getting more development. The one thing Chemically Bonded definitely got right is the visual quality and aesthetic – if only the story was this consistent... Reminding me slightly of PixelFade’s Crystalline, the thing that works the most in Chemically Bonded is its visual quality – being something of ds-sans' speciality, the level of detail and visual cohesion of all the assets are pretty great. The heroine sprites have a very good degree of variation, with clothes and hairstyles changing depending on the situation, along with a proper set of facial expressions. It’s clear a lot of effort went into this aspect of the VN and helps to offset the very limited number of dedicated CGs, mostly present in the introductory scenes and crucial romantic moments. I still think a few of the more casual scenes could've gained a lot from some additional illustrations, but the quality of what’s already there is hard to argue with. Many immersive details, like a believable smartphone interface showing up for texting and calls, are also present in the game, even though I feel they weren’t used to their full potential. For example, it’s a shame that text messages the characters exchange aren’t more involved, as it would be a great method to expand on their relationships without using the expensive, voiced dialogue – these, however, are nitpicks rather than serious complaints. The game’s original soundtrack is overall very good, although at times misused: while I fully enjoyed the ambient themes in more relaxed parts of the game, when the heavier moments kicked in the music tended to go overly-dramatic, to the point of distracting me a bit. What are my final thoughts on Chemically Bonded then? When I started reading it, I was genuinely afraid it will prove to be a complete waste of time, but Kiyoko’s arc ultimately proved satisfying and I’m willing to recommend the game just so you can experience it. Naomi’s romance is better left ignored and because that means skipping quite a lot of content, it’s probably a good idea to wait for a significant discount before buying this VN. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that ds-sans himself is very much aware of the problems CB suffered from and he’ll be able to correct his mistakes in his future project – despite this one definitely being a disappointment, I’m very curious what he’ll come up with next. Final Rating: 2,5/5 Pros: + High-quality, stylistically consistent visuals + Good soundtrack + Kiyoko’s arc Cons: - Poorly-written and bloated narration - Weak pacing in the first half of the story - Weak and inconsistent characterisation of Naomi VNDB Page Buy Chemically Bonded on Steam
  7. 2 points
    Clephas

    Random VN: Primal x Hearts

    Primal Hearts is a game I have an odd relationship with. At the time I first played it, I don't think I gave it a completely fair assessment. The reason why? I was hitting the first of my many 'charage doldrums' periods. However, in retrospect, it grew on me... sort of like mold. First, I should note that the game is actually fairly old-fashioned, despite its modern visuals. The wacky concept, larger-than-life characters, and the sometimes ridiculous 'coincidences' that pop in all hearken to a previous era. At various times, this game channels such famous games as Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no, Majikoi, Shuffle, and any number of 'golden age' games. Of course, it doesn't go as far as any of those does, but the makers' fanboyism is fairly evident throughout the game on a second playthrough (something I didn't notice on the first playthrough). First, the resemblance of Majikoi lies in the larger than life characters and sometimes crazy abilities some of them have (the protagonist included). The protagonist's casual manipulation of the other characters for his own amusement (and for their own sakes, more often than not) is very much reminiscent of Yamato, without ever actually approaching his level. Perhaps the strongest resemblance to Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no lies in Haruhi's path... to be blunt, Haruhi is a redesigned version of Miyabi, with Kanna a reformed version of Lida who also happens to be a heroine. The resemblances and relationships are so obviously drawn from fanboyism of that particular kamige that I just had to shake my head during this replay. Shuffle is channeled, along with a lot of other early charage, through the setting. While the specifics are drastically different, the wacky, overblown occurrences, the general madness surrounding the 'elections', and any number of other factors in the setting make me nostalgic for the middle of last decade (soon to be the decade before last). I perhaps didn't notice all this the last time because I was focused on heroines... and I was playing charage rather mechanically already, two years into VN of the Month. A peculiar element that you generally don't see in most charage in general is character designs like that of Mizanori. Most charage tend to make all their regular characters (the ones at the center of the cast) attractive to one degree or another. However, Mizanori stands out as a character who was made comically unattractive, which struck me as hilarious at the time, since I used to make some of the same excuses he did to eat more as a teenager, lol. The common route of this game is excellent. The relationships between the characters are formed and deepened appropriately, and it actually makes sense that the heroines would fall for the protagonist by the end. It helps that the protagonist is really a 'great guy' in every way, though he can lack common sense at times. The decision to avoid mediocrity in the protagonist and those around him is one that is rarely made in charage, which just made it that much better as a result. Sadly, after the common route, this game stumbles somewhat. The heroine routes lack some of the depth the common route does, perhaps because the shift to romance automatically debuffed the intelligence of the writers. Oh, the heroines are unbearably cute when they go dere (Sera's dere makes me giggle hysterically even now, and Haruhi's is as strong in its own way), but the 'drama' included in the heroine paths pales a great deal in comparison to the drama that pops up in the common route. In that sense, it felt almost like they were running out of ideas at the end... Overall, this is an excellent charage that manages to escape mediocrity by channeling some of the best parts of a number of famous VNs into its characters and setting. I won't say it is a kamige (because it isn't), but if you are just looking for a good charage to add to your collection, this is a good choice.
  8. 1 point
    First, I'm going to say right out that this VN feels very familiar to me, as someone who dropped Hoshi Ori Yume Mirai. I dropped that game for a number of reasons... but the biggest one was that I was extremely tired of slice-of-life and romance at the time. Since Hoshi Ori (and indeed all games by Tone Works) is a pure slice-of-life/romance VN (not charage) it just was a bad time for me to hit on it. As I studied my feelings about my experiences with the path I'd played, I went ahead and rated it based on that, and I'm going to tell yall some of my impressions of Tone Works' games. Tone Works, unlike most slice-of-life companies, doesn't utilize any sort of heavy-handed moe. As a result, it definitely isn't a moege company, as most slice-of-life companies are. This is only the first - and least important- distinction. The most important distinction is the detail in which this company portrays the blooming, growth, and maturity of the relationship between the lovers. The creation of the relationship, its growth into deep love, and its mellowing and deepening into maturity in adulthood are all portrayed in this company's VNs in incredible detail... That is why their heroine paths are generally ten hour affairs (seriously) and actually much longer than the common route. This VN is no exception that way. The common route covers the first half of the central cast's middle school experience together... and that in itself covers about six hours of reading. However, from there it extends through the end of middle school, throughout high school, college, and into the characters' mid-twenties, touching upon various experiences in each era, as the characters grow and mature. To be honest, this kind of VN will probably overwhelm most people who read it with the sheer overload of information you get. By the time I'd finished Bethly's path, I'd been playing for eleven hours, just covering the growth of their relationship and path to marriage. As such, I can't really make a good comparison to give you reference points for how to understand the experience of a VN like this. In my experience, neither novels nor VNs actually cover this kind of gentle, almost real-feeling relationship growth. That is probably the reason why I had trouble with Hoshi Ori. For better or worse, the story goes so deep into the characters that it really feels like a betrayal when you pick another heroine, to the point where I actually feel like I'm cheating on Bethly for starting a new path. I didn't even realize I was becoming this emotionally invested in her, lol. It isn't quite the same as the epiphany I had when I first watched a love-comedy anime (Ai Yori Aoshi), but it is the first major epiphany I've had in some time, when it comes to fiction. While I always complain about the incomplete nature of Vn endings, I am definitely getting the feeling that I should have been careful what I wished for, lol. PS: Incidentally, I rofled hard at the scene from the pic below. http://s21.photobucket.com/user/Rihochan/media/Bethly zombie.png.html
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