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  1. 3 points
    I’ll be completely honest: I didn’t have a good opinion of NTT Solmare even before approaching the game this review is about. After exploring their sole non-otome visual novel, Moe! Ninja Girls, I was absolutely stunned with the predatory monetisation and poor quality of that title. I was still curious about their otome projects though and decided to check out one featuring the theme I personally enjoy a lot: vampires. Thus, I ended up playing Blood in Roses+, one of the over 20(!) games in the Shall We Date? series and what I found there was an extension of my Moe! Ninja Girl experience, along with some interesting surprises (which doesn’t mean any of them were particularly pleasant). First, however, a bit of context is required. NTT Solmare is a Japanese company producing e-books and mobile games primarily for the Western market. Shall We Date? Otome games are their flagship product and can be split into two categories: paid apps, which are mostly Android/iOS, English-localized ports of Idea Factory otome VNs and free apps which are produced by NTT Solmare themselves. Since 2011, they’ve released literally dozens of cheaply-made, but aggressively monetized games, particularly in the free-to-play segment. This is also the category where Blood in Roses+ fits in, being a fully free-to-play mobile VN, in which you can theoretically experience an impressive and constantly-expanding pool of content without paying anything. There’s a catch though… Or a dozen, which are all worth discussing in detail due to the unbelievable abuse of the VN format they represent. The consistent setting and a cast of characters shared between the many alternative-universe scenarios are among the game’s few redeeming qualities Before I get to ripping the game to pieces for its business model, what is Blood in Roses about? At its core, it’s a supernatural romance featuring a human protagonist becoming involved with a group of powerful vampires and other fantasy creatures – nearly all of them in the form of ridiculously-attractive ikemen, of course. Every one of the 25(!) hero routes (there’s a token yuri one too) revolves around the Hotel Libra Sincera, a castle built at the crossroads between the human and magical world, and a core cast of characters, including Alfred and Rupert, the vampire twins in charge of the hotel. There’s also the mystical rose garden present within the Libra Sincera's walls, which the game takes its title from and which usually proves to be of crucial importance for the heroine. Every arc can be considered an alternative-universe scenario, telling a self-contained, conclusive intrigue and romance scenario. While there are some recommended “beginner routes” that works best as introduction to game’s lore, the only thing you probably shouldn’t do is starting with one of the arcs featuring the “hunter” protagonist – the second version of the lead character, added in one of the later updated to the game, original one being the “witch”. Those play a lot on the previously-established lore and will be more fun to experience if you know the “core” stories like Alfred’s and Rupert’s. While, in general, the game’s writing is generic and sometimes quite uninspired, most routes have their interesting moments and the ability to see so many version of the story and different perspectives is quite fun, making the game more enjoyable the more you play it. The protagonists (they’re explicitly two versions of the same person from different timelines, but are also different enough in their skillsets and behaviour to be considered separate characters) are also rather fine, with a major caveat that I mostly enjoyed them when choosing “moonlight” dialogue options. This is part of the game’s karma system, determining the ending you get: moonlight choices usually involve the protagonist being more decisive, aggressive and openly affectionate towards the hero, while the opposite “sunlight” route basically means her being a bag of wet noodles (or in other words, a stereotypical otome protagonist). Especially in the case of the witch, who starts her story as a prisoner of the vampire brothers, sunlight choices are rather jarring to observe and often lead to submissive endings that rubbed me the wrong way. The avatar system and all the gameplay mechanics of Shall We Date? games are more roadblocks preventing you from experiencing the story, than actual sources of fun Thus far, it doesn’t sound so bad, right? What’s the issue then? Well, the first problem is that you read the story in tiny, 1-2 minute bits (scenes), each of them costing a story ticket. You can get up to 6 free story tickets per day (with up to 5 stored at once), but if you want to read faster, you have to buy premium tickets at an insane price of $2 apiece. This already creates an extremely stilted reading experience, exasperated by the Blood in Roses’ clunky UI and very high input lag – the client acts pretty much as a web browser, with all the nasty implications you might be familiar with if you played old browser games in the early 2000s. If you think, however, that you’d be able to just buy $200 worth of story tickets and read a full route in one go, you’re sorely mistaken. The game also forces you to participate in the crude minigame called “Miss Rose Contest”, where you compete with other players to farm two in-game currencies: Tokens and Lady Level. You require both to bypass “Love Challenges”, literal roadblocks that prevent you from reading the story any further until you buy a specific avatar item for Tokens or reach high-enough Lady Level. This is, of course, another way to extort money from you, although bypassing these challenges with cash is so expensive that you should probably forget about doing so unless you’re a Saudi sheikh. There’s another layer of scummy to Love Challenges: using premium currency to buy special items in some of the challenges will reward you with premium version of the story, with special dialogue and an extra CG that will save to your library (quite often for a price of a full route or two in a much better game). The Love Challenges are also designed to show up often enough and with so high Token prices required to bypass them, that you’re likely to get stuck for literal days farming currency to just continue reading (no matter how many story tickets you might have). And if you wondered there was some aspect of the VN experience that wasn’t monetized yet, the aforementioned moonlight/sunlight endings also have a trick to them. You cannot go back on your choices without resetting the whole route (each consists of ten chapters, or around 170 scenes total) and losing all the story tickets you used and Lady Level you farmed (it always resets after finishing or switching a route). This means that if you mess up the dialogue too many times and don’t get enough points in either alignment, you’ll end up being stuck with a short, bad “Farewell Ending” – that is, unless you use the premium currency to boost your points. What makes all this even worse than Moe! Ninja Girls is that while that game also represented shocking levels of greed, it at least had the decency of consistently awarding you premium currency through events and rewards for finishing story chapters. Here, you can only rely on your wallet to get you any of the game’s premium features. Speaking of events, as you can imagine, those are pretty impossible to complete in without going full pay-to-win – in my first experience, even using up all the very significant starting bonuses (around 70 premium story tickets and other expensive item you get for free in the first two weeks of playing) I could just barely keep myself in the top 1000 ranking and earn some worthwhile rewards. Interestingly enough, after I already invested a lot into said event (they work in 20-day cycles), the game sabotaged me in a way by starting a new character’s launch bonus, giving five times the diamonds for reading chapters in his story, which I had no interest in (and would have to abandon the route I was two-thirds into and actually enjoying). The sudden need for choosing between reading something I had little interest in and shooting myself in the foot gameplay-wise was not something I enjoyed. Some of these heroes might look like abusing assholes at first, but ACTUALLY, they are abusive assholes with minor redeeming qualities, which magically make everything they do acceptable...? Of course, the are minor prices in the events that you can get to just by playing consistently and one of the Blood in Roses’ features I actually like comes into play here too – you can get a lot of minor bonuses, like extra diamonds for events, extra energy for Miss Rose Contest and faster story ticket recovery by watching ads. This is something I consider a much more reasonable option that just asking you to pay up, but it hardly changes the predatory nature of all the game’s core features. In this topic, I should probably quickly go through the avatar system, which lets you equip items you get from mandatory Love Challenge purchases, the events, the "Make a Date” gacha (another thing that is fuelled mostly by the Miss Rose Contest, as every 5-win streak will award you tokens for the gacha machine) and unreasonably-expensive premium gachas. For a non-paying player this is another source of frustration, as while there’s a number of cool items you can buy for Tokens, if you also want to read the story consistently, you’ll pretty much never have any extra ones to buy an item you actually want, rather than the ones you need to progress through the roadblocks. Also, there’s a pretty strict limit on how many avatar items you can own, possible to expand through pricey consumables – another limitation that seems to have little purpose other than making you pay up If you’re not lucky enough to earn those from events or gacha and you run out of space. In the end, literally everything in Blood in Roses is an aggressive, meticulously-crafted scheme to extort money from the player. The depth of predatory monetisation is so severe that I have a hard time to consider it a game, or especially a visual novel – it’s a scam disguised as one. It might look and sound decent-enough at first, but quickly shows its ugly face of a cynical money-making machine that puts manipulating the played into spending money over any kind of fun or creative integrity. While the daily routine of interacting with the game might not be wholly-unenjoyable, I find what it truly represents nothing short of disgusting, mostly because it’s not an isolated case, but simply an iteration of NTT Solmare’s utterly corrupt business model. This is mobile gaming at its absolute worst and a gross bastardisation of the visual novel formula – if you care about our niche at all, otome and beyond, please don’t support this company and other ones utilizing similar practices. They don’t deserve it. Final Rating: 1,5/5 Pros: + The art isn’t bad + Most routes have their moments Cons: - All-around despicable business model - Overly simplistic, tacked-on gameplay mechanics - Clunky UI that makes daily tasks an absolute chore - Ultimately shallow storytelling VNDB Page (Please don’t) play Shall We Date? Blood in Roses+ for free on Android or iOS
  2. 2 points
    Clephas

    Kokorone Pendulum

    This is the latest game by Clochette, a company known mostly for four things: It's decent stories, it's excellent characters, a tendency toward fantasy and sci-fi settings, and the forest of oppai heroines that spring up in its wake. lol Clochette is straight out my favorite plotge/charage hybrid company, mostly because they understand what they do well and don't try to do anything but develop from that perspective. The result is that I can depend on their games being enjoyable. Some people will probably go 'eh? Isn't that a matter of course?', but most companies that always produce the same genre never manage Clochette's level of consistency in quality and type. To be straight, this is the only charage company whose games I can still enjoy without reservation, even after my burnout. Kokorone is based in a setting where mysterious out of place objects, in the form of underground black pyramids surrounded by unnatural foliage, began granting people mysterious powers about thirty years before. The protagonist, Komachiya Soushirou, has one such ability that he defines as an affliction. His ability is indiscriminate telepathic reception (under the theory that people 'project' their emotions and thoughts constantly if they don't try to shut it off). He suffers from headaches and having to hear people spill their thoughts and emotions into his mind wherever he goes, and he can't shut it off. That said, seeing as this is a Clochette game, this 'constant suffering' stage only lasts about five minutes (Clochette games have dark moments, but none of them have an overbearing atmosphere). It is soon relieved by his experience of the mind of Kamishiro Sumika, one of the game's heroines, and he finds himself drawn into helping out with her club, which tries to build bridges between Magia Saucers (yes, that is the name for them, lol) and normal people. They are joined by the iai mistress and Sumika's best friend, Tatewaki Chihaya; the genius Magia researcher Tsumuri; her cat-like best friend Leeruxu; and (eventually) the protagonist's senpai-imouto Nazuna (yes, she is both his little sister and his senpai). The common route is pretty straightforward Clochette, with ecchi happenings that never cross the line, mild humor, and a few serious story/plot points that serve to properly introduce you to the setting and characters (and give you an idea of what the heroines will be like). The protagonist does deal with his personal issues in the common route just well enough to provide a baseline for them possibly becoming less important in the heroine routes (or become important again, depending on the path), which was definitely intentional and typical of heroine routes... but I never really thought Clochette would pursue the production of a game with a constantly gloomy protagonist, anyway. Chii-chan (Chihaya) Because of this route, Chihaya will forever be Chii-chan to me. I mean, Chii-chan is so adorable that you can totally see why Sumika adores her... and the route is extremely lovey-dovey, even at its darkest moments. Part of that is helped by Chihaya being a complete open book to the protagonist for much of the path, resulting in an endless cycle of ichaicha that is oddly non-annoying (probably because the ability to see into her head makes it less fake-seeming). Anyway, Chihaya's route focuses, unsurprisingly, on the personal issues for her that surround her Magia and her relationship with her father... as well as the problems Magia can cause for athletes and competitive martial artists (by law, they can't participate). This route gets highly emotional at times, especially toward the end, but it stays light and cute for the most part. Leeruxu The obligatory catgirl of this VN, a young woman who possesses a Magia that grants her incredible physical abilities and the visual traits of a cat-person. She is a friendly and whimsical heroine, closing in suddenly and vanishing on a whim. She eats a lot (think food-fighter levels), and she can generally be trusted to be smiling or encourage a warm atmosphere wherever she goes. Her path circles around her abandonment issues and the protagonist's reaction to them, and as a result, it has less focus on the characters' powers than in Chii-chan's path. There are some strong emotional moments in this path, as Leeruxu's issues have a very strong basis in her past that isn't easy go leave behind. That said, it mostly comes off as a moe-focused sort-of nakige route... especially since everything about Leeruxu is built to be moe or ero, right down to her voice. Nazuna Nazuna is the protagonist's imouto (little sister for the uninitiated) and she is pretty typical of Clochette imouto characters. How so? Every single Clochette imouto shares two major qualities... they are a total brocon and they are extremely erotically designed (all Clochette heroines manage to be ero in a good way, despite being oppai monsters). Nazuna shares this quality with standard-issue tsundere piled on top, in the way of old-style tsundere (right down to the classic tone of voice when denying her affection). Also typical of routes for these heroines, the incest issue is mostly minor to the heroine and protagonist, though there is a short period of thinking over the difficulties involved. (incidentally, Nazuna is only #4 on my Clochette imouto list, with Konoka from Prism Recollection being the top so far, mostly because they did so good a job combining her quirks, her high intelligence, and fundamentally tragic innocence... oh yeah, and her perversion) As a clarification, one reason why most Clochette sister heroine routes go more smoothly than most is because there is usually at least one other person who is supportive of the relationship, if not the entire group of heroines and sub-characters. While drama often pops up later on in the path, the initial transition is usually fast and easy, in comparison to blood-related imouto characters in other companies' games. In exchange for not being overly focused on incest drama, this path tends to focus on the issues with their deceased parents and their relationship to the school they are attending... and the dreams they left behind for the relationship between Magia Saucers and normies (lol). Note: I'm doing this VN really slowly, doing a path whenever I feel like it, but one thing I'm noticing is that there is a great reduction in drama from previous games by this company. While the issues of the prejudice between Magia Saucers and normal people are present in each path, in the ones I've done so far, it has been mostly mild. Sumika Unusually for Clochette, Sumika is the main/true heroine of this game, though you can play her path from the beginning. Sumika is a kind-hearted, innocent young woman who desires nothing more than to see others happy. Her goal is to see Magia Saucers and normal people get along, and she works hard as the club leader to make it happen (while baking cakes and other snacks for her friends). She is an 'open book', as her spoken words and inner 'voice' don't vary from one another very often, and she is the 'voice' that heals the protagonist of his growing misanthropy early on in the story. Her path, atypically for Clochette, is by far the most extensive in terms of dealing with Magia-related issues, the protagonist's past, and his problems with his ability. As a result, this path feels the most like a normal Clochette path, though it is also the only path that doesn't have an epilogue. It is an excellent path, but, having read it, I have absolutely no desire to be disappointed by Tsumuri's path, so I'll stop my play here. Conclusion As a charage, this is a top-class game, with all the best elements of a charage (ichaicha romance, SOL, mild comedy, etc) involved without most of the flaws (average/weak protagonist, lack of origin for romantic feelings, excessive dating). As a Clochette game, however, it falls somewhere below the midline, being just a bit better than Amatsu Misora Ni while falling below all their other works. That said, even a below-average Clochette game is still much better than the common ruck of charage, so I can honestly recommend it to those who love oppai and charage, lol.
  3. 1 point
    kivandopulus

    Dear My Friend [light]

    Foreword: This is going to a slightly unusual review, because I'm going to totally ignore main three heroines and focus solely on two side heroines because of Masada scenario writing and uniqueness of these two heroines compared to conventional ones. Title: Dear My Friend Developer: light Date: 2004-07-09 VNDB link:https://vndb.org/v519 Youtube walkthrough:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvEtF1Nh89A&list=PLs4Gp5VU4Fv-vEHq8MQwNWKJi9NyRbYch Synopsis: This light-hearted, high school eroge surrounds the exploits of a soon-to-be non-average student named Kyoichi Morikawa. The son of the odd paring of a nurse and a poorly-selling novelist, he’s been living his life in mind-numbing virtuosity. One auspicious day his father returns home after running errands with a girl (about Kyoichi’s age) claiming to be orphaned. Being the good Samaritan, our hero’s father adopts the hapless girl. Now Kyoichi must explain the extraordinary circumstances to his one and only friend. Furthermore, seeing the main character with a girl has caused several of the female student body to take notice of him... Game type: Charage Character Design rating: 9/10 Protagonist rating: 8/10 Story rating: 6/10 Game quality: 8/10 Overall rating: 8/10 Rating comments: I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the game. The two heroine routes I saw were unique and charming, protagonist contributed to gags a lot, and side characters really shined in here. A firm masterpiece, I say. Protagonist: Kyouichi is not really our usual nobody. He has a face and a strong personality. He does not have piety towards girls and plays jokes on them a lot. He's almost as fun as Taichi from Cross†Channel, just less pervy. Characters: There are five heroines. Kushiro Mai is our main heroine. And - according to To Heart tradition - the most boring one. She's blushing at every second line and is extremely shy overall. But even she has something fun about her - she leans to Kyouichi all the time despite the environment. That becomes the source of some nice joyful moments. She's the only naive heroine in the game. Kurihara Tsukuyo is the second heroine that's available from the start. She's our traditional ojou-sama, polite and kind. It's good that she's serious and not naive, but all the other heroines look more interesting to me. Kitazawa Miyako is the last of three heroines available from the start. She's a genki heroine, but really intelligent at the same time, kind of Ayaka from To Heart. She would be my natural first choice if not for the other two heroines... Kurosaki Komugi is our crazy alien or so she's introduced in the game. The cute girl with bunny ears swears like a sailor and picks up on everyone. She makes every scene whirl around her. By To Heart analogy she's definitely Multi. Nagamura Saeka is kind of joker of this game. She looks like a serious sempai, but she turns out to be of mischievous kind. Masada went a long way to invent all kinds of plot twists for her route. The one fact is that in her route Kyouichi dates.... drums-drums... Mai! And Saeka kind of tries to support them. Finishing with To Heart analogies, she's definitely Shiho. Story: Don't think there is integral story. Mai just starts living in Kyouichi family and attending the same class. Game starts with the choice between heroines, but if we start following Mai route there's later branching to Komugi and Saeka routes. I especially want to take notice of Kyouichi parents - they're marvelous and really funny. Guess now it's time say a few words about my attitude towards heroines. Both Komugi and Saeka routes were really good for the comedy part and quite good for the drama. Not really should game would make it to the masterpiece status for me without these two brilliant routes written by Masada. Overall comments: I'll be brief since it's not a plotge. I never really cared for charage and grew a disgust towards the titles with great evaluation like Mashiro Iro Symphony or White Album 2 (I hope to bitch about it some day too). I got assured that I can appreciate a charage only in conjunction with some great story like in SubaHibi or Cross†Channel. So Dear My Friend really took me by surprise. There's no great depth or drama in here, but it's an absolutely enjoyable cozy read. And it's not all Masada's praise as Kyouichi's parents written by main author are equally enjoyable. Guess Dear My Friend produced a little revolution in me, and I've yet to know how to live with this thought.
  4. 1 point
    Are you the kind of guy that loves stews but hates having to prep all the shit going into them? If so you’re uncomfortably close to being me holy shit stop. Anyway if you try to google up recipes for a pork stew using wine you inevitably get something that could be much simpler. Here’s my attempt at such a thing; I’ve cooked this twice and IMO it’s excellent. INGREDIENTS (serves 2 if you’re me and my dad) ~500g pork meat cut into medium pieces 1 bouillon cube ~200ml red wine ~100ml water 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped chili flakes to taste LITERALLY THREE PLUS ONE FUCKING STEPS BECAUSE I PUT THE PREPARATION STEPS IN THE INGREDIENTS PART 1. Brown the meat in your fat of choice on high heat in a saute pan. Salt and pepper those shits for good measure, though honestly idk if it matters so I cba to put them in the list. 2. Turn down to low heat and add wine, water, onion, garlic, chili flakes, and crumble in the bouillon cube. I usually mix it all together but who knows if this is even needed? Not le watakushi. 3. Let stew w/ lid on for as long as it takes for the meat to be nice and tender. 4. Serve with magically appearing rice I didn’t tell you about. QUESTIONS How do I know how long the meat will take to cook? Since this is a general recipe I can’t tell you, but pork chops took ~1h 15m and store-tenderized pork chop meat took like an hour. Tougher cuts made for stewing might take as much as 2 hours 45 minutes or more. I also recommend the “google it” and “ask your mum” options if available. On your first time using a new kind of meat, I recommend sampling the meat at likely points. This will fuck with your rice timing which sucks, but so does life so nothing new there really. How do I make this efficiently timewise? The main timewaster is the slow boiling process, so the goal should be to get that started as soon as possible. Start by cutting the meat into pieces unless it is already. After that use any downtime, for example when the fat’s warming in the pan or when you’ve just put the meat in and are letting it rest for some surface, to chop the onion / garlic. It’s not particularly important to add the garlic or onion or really anything to the stew at the same time as you add the wine, just get them in once you finish processing them. Ok but I have beef not pork Then do the exact same things and it will probably still work lol. Ok but I have chicken not pork Then make this high effort recipe instead. Or just try anyway. Cooking time will be much shorter though. Ok but I have <other kind of meat> We live in a society, dear reader. I’m sure you can figure it out. That’s still too many ingredients Fair enough. I don’t think the garlic is essential and chopping it is annoying so take it out if you wish. The chili flakes are also a bit of a flourish and you might not even like them so omit them if you want. I would not omit the onion but if you’re a hater it probably won’t kill the dish entirely to take that out too, I’m never actually going to try that myself though so good luck. Ok but I don’t have a bouillon cube I will assume you have liquid broth then, use that. Otherwise supply your goddamn kitchen. Since broth will increase the total amount of liquid you probably want to cut down on or use no water at all. I have not tried this at home but like it’s a stew it’ll work out. Actually I think a few more ingredients would be ok I would suggest looking up more traditional recipes at this point but here are some things I have not tried: mushrooms seem like they’d fit in well. Carrots are also often mentioned though idk if I like the idea as much. I can also see bell pepper but I have a bell pepper fetish. As for spices you could try grated fresh ginger (obviously ditch some or all of the chili then I’m not responsible if you kill yourself with this) or maybe szechuan pepper. Where’s the obligatory shitty picture? View the full article
  5. 1 point
    VNDB DLSite (NSFW) Official site I came across this Japanese-language title while scrounging around for gameplay titles with defeat rape. I found the concept of defeat NTR intriguing, so I gave the game a spin. The game's "prologue" spans almost half the game's length (~20hrs total) , and manages to tell a reasonably interesting tale of a broken nation's struggle against a brutal and militaristic empire. It starts off with a cliched love story between a knight commander (the protagonist) and his foster father's daughter, but it's spiced by twists and turns and political intrigue. The protagonist is cliche to the extreme, but it works because fate isn't always on his side, and his naivety often works to his disadvantage. The characters are mostly standard cookie cutter stereotypes. The plot twists are believable despite the shallow setting and characterization, and these are what keep the story interesting. The prologue also serves as a tutorial for the battle system. Once the prologue is over, the map opens up and the player is free to begin conquest, with the eventual goal of toppling the empire. Movement takes place in real time, but combat consists of turn-based one-on-one battles. The combat is fairly simple: the force with a larger army and higher base stats wins. The general can use skills that can affect the course of battle, but simply speaking the side with the most resources to buy soldiers wins (I played on Platinum difficulty). As such, the best strategy is to quickly zerg resources and upgrade your units. For the most part enemies play by the same resource rules, so depriving them of resources early on makes the mid game a bit easier. Clearing the map took me between 10-15 hours. If you play your cards right, the hero prevails and ends up with his favored heroine. Let your heroines fall into the hands of the empire, and after a period of time they'll get NTR'd. There's also mini-events sprinkled about like landmines that can get a heroine or two NTR'd if you take a wrong step. The story and gameplay are simple but entertaining. For a doujin group, the quality is impressive, but the production values don't match up to heavy hitters like Eushully and Alicesoft. This is a basically a niche title for those who are tickled by the defeat NTR gimmick, and that's the audience this game should satisfy. If you subtract out the abundant avoidable NTR content, the ratio of sexual content is actually quite low. The developer Makura Cover Soft is working on a sequel that should be coming out this year, and looks like more of the same but on a bigger scale: more nations, more heroines, and some added systems. I liked how this game took a cliche JRPG plot and mellowed the sickly sweet moe with the threat of bitter NTR, so I'll probably check it out when it's released. Score: 7/10 (Good) Recommended for fans of simple strategy gameplay who are interested in defeat NTR.
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