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  1. 4 points
    Clephas

    Kami-sama no You na Kimi e

    Kami-sama no You na Kimi e is the latest game by Cube, and it is based in a near-future setting where AIs run just about every aspect of society. In this society, people have gotten past that raw terror of AI horror stories and have pretty much accepted the the ease and luxury of having AI run most of the important things that make civilization possible. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Kaito, is hacking into Central AI, the AI based on the Moon that runs most of the world's infrastructure. Triumphantly, he succeeds, essentially gaining control over the AI that rules the world... and the one thing he asks for before getting out of the system is for it to find his ideal girlfriend, which the system then says doesn't exist. Kaito, quite naturally, is a bit down after this, but he goes to sleep more or less normally... only to answer the door in the morning to find his ideal girl standing outside. Quite naturally, this ideal girl is Tsukuyomi, the game's flagship heroine and the embodiment of Central AI in girl form. As requested, she is already completely deredere over him, and a great deal of the common route has him running from her excessively sexual approaches. In the days after this, like dominoes falling in a row, he meets a number of attractive heroines, and he shows off the usual donkan protagonist routine almost constantly when it matters. Now, just from this, you'd think this was your standard charage... but in actuality, it is a lot closer to a plotge in structure. The heroines have real issues, the protagonist doesn't flake out or become less interesting as you proceed, and the paths actually have solid stories that involve most of the game's cast of characters. For someone who wants an SOL plotge with some decent drama in a futuristic setting, this game is pure crack. Tsukuyomi I probably should have left her for last, but I played Tsukuyomi's path first. Tsukuyomi is the game's obvious main heroine, the girl who is most prominent on the package and in the advertising, and in general is the one most central in the common route. In most cases, I don't like 'no common sense' heroines, but Tsukuyomi manages to pull it off without it feeling excessively contrived, which is actually a feat, considering she is a robot heroine. It is helped along by the fact that Kaito generally accepts that Tsukuyomi is what she is, has no illusions about her nature, and is perfectly fine with her being a different existence from himself. Her story is your usual deredere heroine romance at first, but it quickly goes dramatic about midway through, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. While the templated turn of events in this path is not revolutionary, it is well-executed and interesting. There is even a truly surprising and emotional moment near the end that had me crying. That, in itself, makes this path a success. My only real complaint is that this path lacked an epilogue to tie off the story. Rein Rein is the cold-hearted student council president, an honor student with a black heart and an overabundance of pride. Her path branches off from Tsukuyomi's path and is a great deal weaker, at least in my opinion. To be honest, this path was kind of 'meh' for me, since it never revealed anything important about the details of what was going on with Rein beyond the basics that were revealed in Tsukuyomi's path, which is a huge weakness in a plotge or a charage. While the protagonist remains a cool and interesting character, the failures of this path are really glaring. Worse, the same as Tsukuyomi's path, there is no real epilogue, meaning you don't get to find out what happened after. Rana Rana... Rana is the heroine on the cover dressed like Sherlock Holmes, a cosplay uniform she wears nearly constantly. As it indicates, she is a private detective and extremely intelligent... but also fairly perverted (she has a thing for Kaito's butt). Her path... let's just say it is surprising and diverges widely from the events in Tsukuyomi's path (I didn't really like how Tsukuyomi almost became a non-entity in her path, but meh...). This path... is a bit depressing, to be honest. Oh, if you choose the Rana-only good ending, it is actually pretty good and heart-warming at the end, but the process you go through to reach that point is pretty hard if you came to like Rana. Sophia/Sophia & Rana At first glance, Sophia seems like your standard 'yurufuwa oneesan', but she is actually a fairly intelligent adult (yes, she is the adult heroine in this game). She is Rana's older sister and one of those involved in developing the S-CHIP, an AI chip designed to be implanted into the human brain as an aid to those who have brain diseases. Sophia's 'path' diverges from Rana's during the darkest period of Rana's path, and... to be honest, while it is easy to understand why it happens, this path is fairly unusual/stand out for a modern VN for reasons I'm not going to spell out here. Anyway, toward the end of Sophia's path, you have to decide whether you want the protagonist to be with just Sophia or with both Sophia and Rana... of course, after a seriously awkward set of events. Generally, I recommend the Sophia and Rana choice... the guilt-trip you get from choosing just Sophia is pretty awful. Kirika Kirika is the protagonist's fellow loner, a girl who accuses him of stalking her because they keep meeting whenever they are trying to find places to be alone. Her secret comes out relatively early in the common route, but I'll keep it quiet since it is funnier if you don't know in advance. Her path actually begins very much like a charage path. It is only toward the end where it becomes as deadly serious as the other paths above. Indeed, in some ways it is the grimmest and most shocking of the paths, even compared to the depressing aspects of Rana's path. It is also the path where the other heroines showed the least amount of relevance, a fact that I have mixed feelings about, considering how powerful the characters are. Similar to most of the paths above, this path's greatest weakness is the fact that while it does have a conclusion, it doesn't have an epilogue or after-story to tie off the last few loose ends. For that reason, I'm pretty sure they are planning a fandisc, as I can't see them leaving things as is. Airi Airi has the dubious honor of having the single weakest path in the game. She is a net idol that the protagonist meets in the course of interacting with Kirika, and her main focus in life is on her work, despite being the youngest heroine. Unfortunately, she is also the least unusual personality in the group, meaning that her character is by far the weakest... and her path follows suit. Where the other paths had somewhat grandiose episodes that showed off the darkest aspects of an over-connected society, Airi's path's drama feels like an extension of internet trolling, so I had trouble getting into it. Conclusion A good game with a solid setting and characters, this is probably a good choice for those who want a decent near-future sci-fi plotge who have already played Komorebi no Nostalgica and Missing X-Link. Tsukuyomi is an above-average AI heroine, though she falls short of the genius of Cinema and Fluorite from Komorebi or the raw emotions experienced with the AIs in Missing X-Link. It's greatest flaw is how it handles the endings, a common flaw in modern VNs that seems to be born of the bad habits of the fandisc-loving charage companies. It's greatest strength lies in the way it manages to keep the protagonist, the heroines, and the story interesting while balancing it with enough SOL to make them feel real in the first place.
  2. 3 points
    Human beings are contradictory creatures, whose behaviour is rarely as consistent as we would like to see and whose motivations are often complex, to the point they’re not fully understood even by the specific person themselves. This fact is often minimized in fiction, which instinctively strives for clear narratives and characters that are ultimately possible to fully understand and assess according to some kind of moral standards. At the same time, there’s undeniable value in exploring the ambiguity of the human condition and ebi-hime is one of the EVN authors that do it with a borderline-painful consistency, often creating harsh or melancholic plots and populating her stories with deeply flawed, realistic-feeling characters. And her latest release, The End of an Actress, definitely do not break this trend. Released on Steam in late February 2020, this new title by ebi is loosely based on the last years of Marie Antoinette’s life, where she was imprisoned by the revolutionaries and eventually executed for her perceived crimes against the French people. It transfers these core events and many features of the queen’s biography into a fictional setting, closely resembling 18th-century France, but without any pretences for full historical accuracy. However, instead of a grant political tale, what plays out on this stage is a very intimate drama involving the deposed queen, Liliane, and Marcus, a revolutionary who led the assault on her palace and unwittingly became her jailor. In isolation and hopelessness, the relationship between the two will be redefined in a few possible directions, fluctuating between naïve fascination, hate and, possibly, mutual understanding and affection, making for a rather captivating literary experience and one of my new favourites in ebi’s catalogue. But what makes it this special? Considering its inspiration, the game’s plot leads to some predictably grim conclusions – however, it’s hardly a full-on utsuge, featuring many ambivalent, and even hopeful moments Me calling The End of an Actress “intimate” is connected less to its romantic elements and more to its storytelling formula, focused very heavily on interactions between Liliane and Marcus, with other characters present in a purely episodic manner, usually without even having sprites. After capturing the queen, Marcus is tasked with keeping her imprisoned in her palace until she can be tried for her crimes – a process that is constantly prolonged by the legal and political disputes between the revolutionaries. With Liliane permanently confined to her bedroom and Marcus, as the most trusted agent of the revolution’s leadership, unable to leave his post as her jailor, the two become the only meaningful sources of human interaction for each other for months-on-end. In this time they have many opportunities to rework their preconceptions about each other and the peculiar “relationship” they shared – a hopeless fascination of a poor orphan, sparked by the queen that once embodied hope and national pride, but became the reviled symbol of monarchy’s corruption, turning all that love into disappointment and hate. While we observe the story primarily from Marcus’ perspective, the most interesting part of it is probably still the queen. Proud and arrogant, she never allows herself to show fear or weakness, even when her life is threatened by the revolutionaries. She also seems to show little remorse for the disastrous reign, despite being confronted with her failings by Marcus on multiple occasions. Over time, however, she shows more of her true thoughts, as fatigue and new tragedies striking her family make her persona crumble. Her relationship with Markus evolves accordingly, although how far this change will go depends on the player’s choices. There’s even an option in which Markus kills Liliane immediately after storming the palace, which is more or less the outcome she hoped for, allowing her to escape the humiliation of being imprisoned and executed like a criminal. Other endings, while also tragic in their own ways, involve Marcus and Liliane getting closer to understanding each other and forming a genuine bond – with the “best” ending blooming into a short, hopeless romance. The game’s art, with its level of detail and otome-feeling character designs, does a good job of presenting the quasi-historical setting and building appropriate climate While the game definitely has an utsuge vibe, with no “happy ending” that could fully circumvent the characters’ hopeless circumstances, I wouldn’t necessarily call it depressing. It focuses less on the impending death that is awaiting Liliane, and more on the paths that led her and Markus to this point, along with their clashing personalities and ideals. The true strength of the VN lies exactly with how compelling they are as characters – both are essentially wearing masks, playing roles they think they’re obliged to perform while hiding their true feeling and the pain the current situation brings them. The more their façades crack, the more complex things become, with internal conflict, regrets and vulnerabilities showing up on each side. Particularly the character of Liliane is, even at her most sympathetic moments, highly ambiguous, quite like her historical counterpart. Her unhappiness and limited influence in no way absolving her selfishness and careless pursuit of pleasure at the time when her kingdom was crumbling, but lets the reader understand her better. At the point they’re at, neither Liliane nor Markus can hope for redemption, but they can achieve some kind of closure and the endings in which this happens are, in my opinion, more touching than plain sad. In the “best” route, the romance between the queen and Marcus leads to the game’s sole sex scene, which is quite like the one I complimented last year in ebi's The Language of Love – not overly explicit and very much story-relevant. I was quite worried it would feel out of place considering the dire circumstances the characters are at, particularly in the later parts of the story, but it felt like an appropriate and believable conclusion to the troubled romance, exploring the characters in new ways. I find this “softcore” formula a lot more meaningful than the typical h-scenes and I’m glad that’s how the erotic content was dealt with in this case. And speaking more broadly, I have a hard time pointing out something I didn’t like about the story in The End of an Actress. The biggest one I can think of is that between the 5 different endings, not all of them are very distinct. Also, not everyone will be satisfied with its small-scale, melodramatic approach to topic, resembling a minimalistic stage play rather than an epic political drama, but I think that it was excellent in what it was trying to achieve. Even the way the queen’s character has been modified, being younger and less politically involved than her historical inspiration, shows that this was meant to be, above all, the story of her and Markus as people, very much succeeding in this task. The typos in the initial release often showed up in most unfortunate moments, but in my experience, such details are pretty much as far as this game’s flaws go Visually, the game uses a rather detailed artstyle somewhat resembling otome games, which are also quite often period dramas – this also applies to Markus’ design, as he could easily pass as an ikemen in an Otomate title. The setting, while fictionalized, represents XVIII-century France in a rather believable manner, with environments and various details of daily life seeming decently-researched and consistent. For history buffs, the highly-simplified version of the French Revolution, starting with the abolition of monarchy and imprisonment of the royal family, might be something of a disappointment, but it's believable-enough as its own story and gives all the necessary context for the core narrative, that is one about the relationship between Lilian and Markus. The minimalism of the story also made it possible for the few backgrounds and CGs being decently-detailed and while the game does not linger on the extravagance of the royal palace or show much of Liliane’s life before imprisonment, it gives a good-enough impression of its lavishness. And finally, the music consisting mostly of classical tunes, would not be out of place in a good TV drama set in the same period – it's nice to listen to, despite the overall sad tone and enhances the climate of the whole experience. There's even an original song that kicks in during some of the most touching moments of the story and although I usually prefer instrumental background music in VNs, this one blended in very well without taking me out of the experience. Ultimately, The End of an Actress was a highly refreshing and satisfying experience for me, using a formula heavily under-utilized in VNs other than otome and telling a genuinely emotional, impactful story. While its clear focus on personal drama and romance will not appeal to everyone, it delivered on its promises and kept good pacing and climate all the way through. While I had a somewhat ambivalent experience reading ebi's previous period drama, Blackberry Honey, being tired of the persecution the protagonist constantly suffered through and the extremely slow story progression, here I was kept engaged by the character progression and thought-provoking ambiguity of the events. It wasn't perfect, as the romance didn't avoid a few cheesy moments and the first bad ending CG got a clearly-unintended chuckle out of me, but such details could not really undermine my overall, extremely positive impression. If this kind of story is even remotely within your preference, I deeply recommend giving this VN a try – in its category, there are few better ones. Final Rating: 4,5/5 Pros: + An interesting, complex relationship between the main characters + Well-constructed quasi-historical setting + High-quality art + Climatic soundtrack Cons: – Some endings feel similar to each other/repetitive – The political context is only vaguely portrayed, as a background for the personal/romance drama VNDB Page Buy The End of an Actress on Steam or Itch.io
  3. 3 points
    Hello and welcome to EVN Chronicles' seasonal Steam Curator Wrap-up, where I cover the VNs sent to me for review through Steam's Curator Connect functionality. Lately, I’ve come to a sad realisation that I’m unlikely to keep up with all the games I’m receiving, with the appropriate tab in my Steam library growing more and more intimidating over time. However, I’ll be still working to give a chance to as many of them as possible, and assess them for all of you. This time around, I've been able to check out five titles, the main highlight being the newest VN by the Indonesian studio Kidalang, Legend of Everything, with its deeply unique spin on the isekai formula. This is, however, not where the interesting stuff ends, as the climatic Revenant March and wonderfully-stylized Tell a Demon also proved to be strong contenders, making this one of the most compelling lists I've worked on in this series. So, please join me in this brief overview and if any of the games catch your interest, you can go straight to their Steam pages by clicking their titles. Enjoy! Legend of Everything Legend of Everything is definitely the most unusual visual novel in today’s post, particularly because of its subject matter. At first glance, it might look like a simple spin on the isekai formula, with an inhabitant of a fantasy-themed, video game world being the protagonist and interacting with a particularly chaotic person transported there from our reality. However, pretty soon it transforms into a giant thought experiment, and basically a lecture on the simulation hypothesis – the idea that our universe is actually a simulation created by some advanced intelligence. This notion might seem absurd at first glance, but is made less so the more you learn about modern physics theory and strangely arbitral rules that govern various phenomena it describes. While never fully abandoning the formula of comedic fantasy adventure, Legend of Everything thoroughly explores this idea and conveys tons of legitimate science knowledge, basically becoming the most moe course on modern science you're likely to can find, presented in a highly accessible, but genuinely educational way. If you’re at least marginally interested in this kind of topics, the game should be quite enjoyable to you. What’s less impressive, in my opinion, is the visual side of the experience, dependent on subpar-quality 3D sprites and environments. It’s particularly disappointing in contrast with the rather-stylish art in this studio's previous titles, An Octave Higher and One Small Fire at a Time. However, I was pretty quickly able to look past it thanks to how enjoyable the writing was, consistently combining well-constructed science discussions with quirky characters and humour, and even some epic and heartfelt moments worthy of a “proper” fantasy story. Saying anything more would inevitably involve spoilers, so I’ll simply recommend everyone to check this game out – it offers a lot more than you’d expect at first glance. Final rating: Highly Recommended Weeping Willow Weeping Willow is a short (2-3 hours of reading, no choices) detective story observed from the perspective of Sophie, a young demi-human woman whose recently-wed husband, a wealthy noble, disappeared mysteriously during a plague. After she starts working with the local investigator to learn what happened, a man claiming to be the missing Baron von Wolf enters her house. Desperate to expose the impostor before she’s removed as an obstacle, but without appropriate proof, she has to cooperate with the investigator, who's also suspicious of the Baron’s sudden “return”. This creates a tense, high-stakes story with a decent amount of twists, while Sophie fights to preserve both her life and her sanity amid a conspiracy that proves even more complex and hard to break than she could imagine. Once more, saying anything more would inevitably involve spoilers, as the story relies very heavily on mystery and subverting reader’s expectations. While the plot involves some minor contrivances if you analyse it closely enough, I have to say that I deeply enjoyed the writing and production quality the game offered. The art and music were maybe not exceptional, but fully serviceable and the intrigue never stopped being suspenseful. Also, for the low price of $2, it’s an amazing value proposition. If murder mystery and detective stories are your things, you should definitely check this one out. Final rating: Highly Recommended Usagiri The newest game by a veteran of this section, Mikołaj Spychał, is something of a disappointment even by the humble standards of his usual output. It tells a story of a person (you can choose the protagonist’s name and gender) who becomes a patron for two bunnygirls – humanoids that appeared on modern Earth in mysterious circumstances and were all placed under an assimilation program, where they receive education and get acclimated to human society under volunteer caretakers. The protagonist is one such volunteer, anxiously awaiting their first assignment. What follows this brief setup is an extremely fluffy and by-the-numbers slice of life story without any real twists, or even romantic elements one would usually expect. While this is not a huge issue by itself, when coupled with relatively low production values, just around 3 hours of linear story and the relatively steep $10 price tag, there’s really no way to recommend buying this game. The author’s previous titles at least let you derive some entertainment from their unusual approach to romance and the ability to utterly ruin it with irresponsible decisions. This time around, even this hook is absent, which alongside purely-meaningless choices condemned the game into being utterly generic and forgettable. You can feel free to skip this one. Final rating: Not Recommended Revenant March Revenant March is another one of those low-budget EVNs that might look very unassuming, but compensate for that with strong climate and imaginative setting. This short mystery game follows the story of Olenine, a young exorcist who gets hired by a powerful merchant to save his daughter from a town beset by a curse. After travelling through magical mist, she finds her target kidnapped by a powerful spirit and the town’s community extremely hard to cooperate with, despite being besieged by an army of undead. To succeed, she’ll have to uncover the many secrets hidden in the town, including the one directly connected to the spirit’s presence – and not die while doing so. Quite appropriately to this theme, progressing through the game involves navigating a massive maze of choices (including many dead ends) through which Olenine attempts to gather information and build alliances with people crucial for her goals. At the same time, we’re learning details from her own, disturbing past, and the path that led her to the craft of dealing with the dead. The game, at first, seems pretty simple visually, but includes a lot of assets which are all stylized in a way that reinforces the suffocating, gloomy tone of the story. There’s a good number of major characters that are important for uncovering the town’s secrets, pretty much all of them very decently designed, and well fleshed out when it goes to personalities and motivations. Despite the rather brief main story (3-4 hours), Revenant March managed to be just as multi-layered and full of twists as I'd expect from a good mystery game, and even the sub-optimal ending I've reached on my first playthrough was pretty satisfying. The only real negative might be the choice-maze which makes it really hard to identify the path leading to the best ending, which also unlocks an epilogue expanding on Olenine's story. Even with this small caveat though, it's a worthwhile experience for anyone liking the mystery/investigation genre – if you're even remotely interested in those, I highly recommend checking out this VN. Final rating: Highly Recommended Tell a Demon Tell a Demon, the sequel to a freeware VN Asher, is not a new release, first appearing on Steam in mid-2017. It is, however, obscure enough that it completely escaped my attention before being sent to me through Curator Connect – and I’m glad it was, as this small series, despite some issues I have with its mechanics, has many interesting things to offer. It utilizes a unique Urban Fantasy setting, taking place in a city on a secluded continent, once ruled by the universally despised, immortal Empress. While the tyrannical monarch was killed by one of the nobles from her court, the blood-drinking demons she created, as both servants and enforcers, still roam the land, despite being considered a mere legend by the general public. Both games involve the same set of central characters, demons and those whose lives are influenced by them in the shadowy corners of the Asher city, stylized after 1920’s US but full of magic and hidden, ancient artefacts. Tell a Demon combines this setting with a striking, painting-like artstyle and a complex intrigue with three protagonists, the fate of whom will be decided by the player’s choices. Those choices, however, might be the single biggest issues I have with the game – with the number of them present and the ability to either pick a dialogue option or let it time out, they create a maze-like structure that only the most dedicated readers should approach without a guide. This is more of a personal preference though and other than that, the game’s complex world, eerie climate and atmospheric music are deeply enjoyable. I’d recommend Tell a Demon to anyone interested in mystery VNs that escape the usual tropes – although if you’re not sure it’ll be to your liking, it’s anyway highly advisable to read Asher first and familiarize yourself with the setting, some of the main characters and the visual style of the series. Final Rating: Highly Recommended Like I’ve mentioned, today's list was rather exceptional when it goes to the quality of games that got sent to me and it’s always very satisfying when I can compliment the developers that decided to share their work with me. With the sad, but somewhat expected exception of Usagiri, all these VNs impressed me with their creativity and interesting concepts. In this, they’re showcasing the best features of the EVN niche, able to overcome its small budgets and often tiny development teams through creativity and ability to escape overused tropes. I hope you’ll consider giving at least some of them a chance. Have a great weekend everyone, and until next time!
  4. 2 points
    The story of how I came to read this EVN is kind of like Countdown to silence itself. It started out with a bit of comic relief mingled with human drama (The dev came in and posted a link on the Fuwanovel discord and I grilled him for a bit because my ego is large and my opinions voluminous, but he managed to at least catch my interest). Then trouble struck (My Internet’s been down for hours now and it’s doing a number on me), but this led to some exciting events (I played the VN on a whim and it turned out to actually be good). The ending… well, my Internet’s still not back on, can someone tell the wankers over at Comhem to hurry up and get my router a bloody IP address? Thanks in advance. 13 hours later, I finally have the connection necessary to post this. Holy fuck. Countdown to Silence takes place in a world where (entirely benevolent and harmless) experiments intended to give humans superpowers have succeeded, but in an unexpected fashion: only their kids got a splash with the supe brush. This ability is called IO for “Information Overlay”, and true to its name it presents itself as an overlay showing you certain information – with varying levels of usefulness depending on your specific ability. The protagonist and (voiced!) narrator, Josh, didn’t get particularly lucky with his: all it shows him is a countdown to when people will speak to him next. While there are _some_ uses for this, it mostly doesn’t give him much benefit. His best friend Kyle has a much better ability: seeing potential conversation choices when talking to people, potentially revealing their secrets but also making him a great guy to talk to. The setting and abilities are used surprisingly well in the story, but don’t expect anything about uncovering government conspiracies or rebelling against society or whatever, it’s just accepted as a Thing in universe. You could probably rewrite the thing without the abilities, but it wouldn’t have the same zing to it, so I can’t say I’m bothered. No, but self-isolation does, so basically half of us are in the system now. The VN walks a delicate line between drama and comedy, and will frequently take the edge off tense moments with a comedic segment before ramping up the tension again. Thankfully, it succeeds in the balancing act; neither the comedy nor the drama are cheapened too much by its counterpart. The humor does have indulgent parts; the main character is a weeb into magical girl shows for kids. This doesn’t get too grating in my opinion, and it’s only mentioned in like three scenes, but after reading this many EVNs I still feel it’s a bit cliché. Otherwise, I would describe it as… a bit camp, I guess? On the low end of the scale though. I swear to god if the creator of this isn’t British I need to get my tea-dar fixed. Nisemonogatari >>> Bakemonogatari So why do I like it so much? Well, first of all, the plotting is tight: it doesn’t waste time, keeps you interested, and things slide into place from foreshadowing in pleasing ways. Second, the voiced narration actually adds a lot for me. There’s a constant echo-ish effect to it, it’s clearly not a super high quality recording, but I find it charming. Combined with the rest of the voices in this fully voiced VN (not badly acted, but certainly not recorded with the best equipment), the weird style convention of leaving off most ending periods in text boxes, and the uhh, funky backgrounds, it feels very doujin. Alone, any of these elements would be less than ideal, but together it forms a gestalt I find strangely palatable. Though I still must insist that you really should still end your text boxes with periods – I got used to the style because it was consistent and repetition legitimizes, but it’s not going to be a good fit for most stories and arguably made even this one worse. Anyway, the aesthetic fits the drama-comedy flow of the story pretty well. I’m left with the impression that it all shouldn’t fit together so well, and yet it just does. So yeah, I really recommend this for a fun and engaging 30-60 minutes or so of content. Extremely positively surprised. Download free at: https://plotline-progenitor.itch.io/countdown-to-silence – Okay, but as we all know I have autism, so let’s nitpick the craft a bit instead as I think the writer has potential and might read this. If you’re not into that, feel free to skip the rest of this. Hotkeys: Page up/down do nothing, despite the fact that they’re listed on the Help page! No hotkey to show message history, the SUPERIOR history function. UI: There’s no way to replay voice lines besides going back from a later line with rollback (and then they always play due to renpy rollback.) Rollback is the default backlog for mousewheel (my JVN soul cries for it to activate the backlog instead and then have scenario jump and voice replay buttons in that history). Uses default UI rather than anything custom as far as I can tell, though at least the modern Ren’Py default doesn’t make me want to tear my eyes out. Sound: Some voices are too hard to hear at the default music volume (full) while others are perfectly fine. I remember a scene where this made me have to go into the settings and lower the music volume to like half (which I left it at). I feel like this could have been avoided with more careful sound design. Why put this on your download page when you can just change the default settings??? Music doesn’t fade out, it just cuts, which makes scene transitions feel unnecessarily and jarringly sudden. Especially the final line of the game suffers from this – it really needed a soft fadeout to mimic the emotion at that point. Overall, think about transitions more when scripting. Voices sometimes do not fully match the written line, though the wording is often better than the actual text. One voiced line even adds a word that was accidentally omitted in the text! Text: Apart from the aforementioned thing where sentences just end without punctuation half the time, there’s a few typos that could’ve been caught by a careful eye. The phrasing style, and well, the style in general is unusual and feels like veering into the relaxed conventions of, I don’t know, fanfic writing? With everything else it kind of works, but it certainly won’t work for just any tone, and you’ll need to be careful with this in the future. The voiced narration does help sell some fairly long sentences without punctuation, so it’s good we have it. …And that’s about it, I think. View the full article
  5. 1 point
    Foreword: Every time I start a slice of life charage I really want to like it. But too many companies follow the same trends and present the same product. For praising reviews please refer elsewhere 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. Synopsis: Tsukasa starts to work at a girl's high school after graduating from university. But the school is located at the edge of peninsula, no house around. On his first day of work, he gets out of a bus and walks to the school. And he is surprised to see the school building, a huge western building. Soon after he knows several facts, that this is a branch school, and students are isolated from society for personal reasons. He doesn't know them but it's too late. His life as a teacher starts... Youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AybmlGKC84&list=PLs4Gp5VU4Fv-xsNOvH0rFGxruMUt5Kifd Game type: School romance Character Design rating: 6/10 Protagonist rating: 6/10 Story rating: 6/10 Game quality: 7/10 Overall rating: 6/10 There are so many English reviews that I don't need to elaborate on details. My personal impression is pretty bad, far below masterpiece level. So I'll just ramble about things that worry me here. The biggest mystery for me is some super-positive reviews and great overall score on VNDB and EGS. EGS gives overwhelming median value of 85. The majority of votes on VNDB are for the 9 score followed by 8 with a narrow margin. But let's look at actual reviewers scores from reddit. Out of four reviews there three readers give 7.5 score and one gives 7/10. There are also very critical reviews like these ones (1 2) What's going on here? The answer is hype. This game won the 2007 Bishoujo Game Award as the best pure-love genre game among the voters. But Japanese readers read the game in original and understand all the details, so they can't be wrong, ne? But reality is very different. I noticed it on multiple occasions in the past that Japanese readers don't understand shit. They constantly obstruct plotge and adore moege. They are the real destructive force that turned industry in a moege fest. And I see three reasons why this particular title has such good votes from Japanese readers. They are... Lolicon, teacher taboo, sex tilt. Basically, a seemingly traditional pure love game becomes a cradle for multiple fetishes that suit nukige much more than a normal bishoujo game. Seriously, do you remember any other bishoujo game before 2006 with teacher at all girls school as a protagonist? Any sexual relations with students are immoral, but here all the heroines are students and all are active participants in sexual relations. Some heroines might look more or less mature, but some like Misaki are absolutely childish. And by some twist exactly our lively prankster Misaki is a sex-addict in a very late stages. Her route has like six H events or so (I did not bother counting), but here is where our final trait starts to shine. H events in this game are colossal by length. Last time I remember something like that was Tsuyokiss. And by a sudden twist of fate it's yet another title super-popular in the East and moderately unpopular in the West. In both these games H scenes don't exist as isolated skippable pieces at the end of the individual routes. Instead, they start at the beginning of individual routes and take the majority of the route time only occasionally being interrupted by conventional life events. Moreover, these scenes are interrupted by dialogues and then continued again very often. So H events pierce the whole reality, they become the reality substituting any school life. School starts to be treated as just another place to have sex among many others. It's tiresome to edit such routes because every time H event seemingly ends, it may either continue after couple minutes talk or new event starts in couple minutes. So there is always a dilemma to cut this whole mega H event taking majority of the route or cut actual action with leaving midterm dialogues - and in this case there would be too many cuts with too many skip scene notice displayed. But there can't be everything wrong with this game. What's good about it? Actually, there are two games in one here. I don't care which of two writers wrote which routes, but it's evident that one writer wrote Miyabi, Tonoko and Shino routes while the second one those horrible sex-tilt routes of Misaki, Sumika and Yuuna (Yuuna route to the lesser degree as there only some three H events). First three routes are traditional ones - short, relatively fun and with just one short H scene in the end. And exactly these routes are usually positively assessed, especially Tonoko and Miyabi ones. I played Miyabi route as first one, and it was of masterpiece level due to two reasons - natural continuation of common route, plus tsundere personality. Common route is the most important and often most entertaining part of any game. And in Haruka ni Aogi common route is all about chibi principal Miyabi. Most of jokes are based on her tsundere behavior. So her individual route is almost same funny and pleasant. Tonoko is kind of main heroine for those who can't stand tsundere and like serious girls with good personal stories. So this game is very controversial. It tackles dubious theme of love between teacher and students very differently in first three routes and last three routes. And while first three routes make up for a touching school love story, second half of routes should just burn in hell, seriously. And another proof of that is the stalled translation project. Three normal routes are translated in a flash, and last three are so weak and H tilt that they made translation stall indefinitely. I'd really hope to see partial patch with only normal three routes in it. Misaki, Sumika and Yuuna routes should never have been a part of this overall not bad game.
  6. 1 point
    Foreword: Choosing a chunige from Caramel Box can't be wrong. Synopsis: In 2022, the world is afflicted with a mysterious phenomenon. Adjoining multi-dimension world assimilates and becomes another space, dimension assimilation phenomenon called "Petulation". Humans can't approach these areas and their number keeps increasing... One day, Kuroudo receives summons from the government to help the related scientific investigation at Shin Shinonome Academy located on the newly reclaimed land in Tokyo bay. He has no idea what is going on. But the world gets closer to the destruction little by little. All he has is his skill of swordplay and one sword. There he meets others, whom just like him are destined to fight for the future of mankind... Youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq3br0Dm-r4&list=PLs4Gp5VU4Fv8vL6O9gksA54sSIv93SKwF Game type: Eschatology story set in near future. Character Design rating: 8/10 Protagonist rating: 8/10 Story rating: 9/10 Game quality: 8/10 Overall rating: 8/10 Another Caramel Box game, and again a 8. But this time it's much closer to 9. There are already good English reviews on the game, so skipping introductions. My main impression from Shuumatsu Shoujo Gensou Alicematic is how much in common it has with Aekanaru Sekai no Owari ni despite the fact that scenario writers are different. First of all, both games have virtual world dimension. Second, both games present unique settings with very rich in detail worldview. Third similarity is non-cliche and developed personalities of heroines (well, Rikka may be an exception). And structure is unusual for both games. But Alicematic learns by past experience. Scenario is now more epic and overall more exciting. Male characters are voiced. We even get to see and hear protagonist for the times when protagonist shifts. There are good action scenes including sword fights. Unlike Aekanaru Sekai no Owari ni, Alicematic does not really require to have special mindset anymore, it's quite entertaining for newcomer readers. But there are also problems. CG aren't enough for me. I had trouble even picking some CG for this review as there are few cool CG here. Another strange thing is game's font that's really uncomfortable for the eyes. But probably main problem is how unexciting is the first half of the game. It's some strange academy where we meet teacher with some girls, get tons of seemingly unimportant information, and just spend time with our pal Nobutsuna doing usual boys stuff occasionally even in Green Green fashion. Things really take time. In the raw outcome we have once again a very special game with unique worldview. It's more heroine focused than story focused, but heroines in this game are worth it. Game complexity and lack of excitement can easily scare unprepared readers, but there is enough depth to keep the interest. I should especially note cool and able protagonist. Game is not for everyone, and that's not a bad thing.
  7. 1 point
    To be clear, I dropped this game today after about nine hours of playtime, mostly because I wasn't getting any joy out of it. That's not to say the story wasn't interesting, but... Anyway, Soushin no Ars Magna is the most recent release from Ninetail, the rpg-focused sister brand of Dual Tail, the makers of the Venus Blood series... and it shows. This game reuses a modified version of the gameplay from Venus Blood Brave, which was a more dungeon-exploration oriented game than previous entries, which tended to split between conquest strategy and dungeon defense or invasion. To be blunt, this was probably a poor choice for a game where alchemy plays such an integral part. The dungeon exploration in the game is focused on you moving your party down specified paths one point at a time, hitting traps, enemies, treasure, or materials based on the point. This isn't necessarily an awful idea... except that for purposes of gathering materials for alchemy, it makes things unnecessarily tedious. While alchemy-based rpgs and dungeon crawlers are generally at least a little tedious at times, the relatively low returns for dungeon exploration, whether in terms of money and resources or in terms of experience and materials, makes it necessary to abuse the free dungeons... and since you can't just get what you want then leave immediately and the materials aren't always the same, this can be frustrating. This also means that there is no real sense of exploration, which is one of the attractions of a dungeon explorer game in the first place. Story-wise, the game definitely has possibilities... but the sheer amount of grinding it takes just to strengthen your party through level gaining, finding crests, and alchemy makes it feel like you do a lot for relatively little reward. Considering that I'm comparing this to Venus Blood games at their worst, that should tell you a lot. My impression of this game is a half-hearted attempt to reuse a more polished version of a previous system to make a few extra bucks. While the story has possibilities, the game balance is iffy at best, and the lack of better customization items speaks of laziness on the part of the makers.
  8. 1 point
    alpacaman

    AlpacaReviews - Part 1

    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€). Lily's Day Off / Lily's Night Off by Kyuppin 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.
  9. 1 point
    MayoeruHitori

    Summer Pockets Review

    Summer Pockets Review Before I begin, I'd like to point out that the Frontline Japan review is excellent. The only part I didn't like is that they indirectly reference one of the most important hidden elements of the story (but it's possible some people won't notice or think too hard about it) and that they say it's too short. Edit - Just to re-emphasize, this is an atypical style of VN review. If you want a more normal review, check out the Frontline one. This is intended to be a spoiler-free review. I never reveal anything concrete about the story itself or its themes, that isn't clearly evident from the first hour, or assumed if you know anything about Key (like the fact their games are nakige). Key's Creative Intent If you didn't know, Summer Pockets is the next major Key title (not a short VN like Harmonia) that came out recently. In Key's promotional interview back in December of last year (translation), the director and writer Kai revealed that Key staff tried to have a "fresh approach" and come up with ideas for the next Key title internally, but didn't like any of the proposals. Then Maeda Jun spoke up and said, "Uh, I have this one idea..." And they said, "This is Maeda Jun!" and went with it. That's the core of Summer Pockets. Maeda was unable to write for Summer Pockets due to medical problems. Key had already hired Niijima Yuu by then, and Kai worked with Niijima to flesh out the story. Hasama and Imashina Rio also wrote part of the scenario. How Summer Pockets Actually Turned Out, Overall Summer Pockets is easily the most Key-like game since Clannad. It's not an unconventional title like Rewrite. Niijima's influence definitely stands out; he was responsible for many of the most important parts of the scenario, and from what I've seen, fans have praised those parts most. However, Kai's role shouldn't be understated, since he was the director and worked closely with Niijima. Despite some people's fears, Summer Pockets was not turned into a distinctly "Niijima" work like Majo Koi Nikki or Koikake. That was only to be expected, since Niijima didn't come up with the concept behind Summer Pockets, and he wasn't the sole planner either. Although Niijima is no Maeda, IMO he's the best Maeda they could possibly find, because their overall styles are similar. There was no sense of discord with Niijima as the lead writer. The parts not written by Niijima weren't problematic in any way, either. At the worst, you could say they were typical Key routes. To me, each route felt very unique, and each heroine had her own charm and appeal, so even if the prose didn't wow me, I always had fun. The production quality of the rest of Summer Pockets was also extremely solid. They seriously didn't skimp on the CGs this time. Since Angel Beats! -1st beat-, Key's art has been (in my personal opinion as a non-Itaru fan) much more beautiful and expressive. The seiyuu are top-notch too. But it's too bad that the male lead Hairi wasn't voiced. Key always has nice music, too; I've spent hours with the jukebox in the extras menu. Orito's tracks are typically my favorites, and I also like Maeda's "Sea,You Next" and "Pocket o Fukuramasete". Normally I'm a major Mizutsuki Ryou fan, so the fact she's overshadowed by two people just makes me think, "Yep, that's Key for you." My favorite track from her in Summer Pockets is "Yoru wa Mijikaku, Sora wa Tookute". What It Feels Like to Play Summer Pockets From here on out, this review will be "less spoiler-free" simply because I'll talk about stuff like... the extent to which the heroines interact with one another in the common route, or the common route's structure. Don't worry, I never reveal anything concrete about the story itself or its themes, that isn't clearly evident from the first hour. At the story's start, the male lead Hairi arrives on a small island that's located off the coast of his home city. He's ostensibly there to help his aunt dispose of his recently departed grandmother's possessions, but she tells him, "I'm still sorting through everything, and don't need your help yet. Go out and have fun!" So he has no choice but to wander around the island every day. A major part of the charm of Summer Pockets rests in the island and its inhabitants. As Hairi wanders around, he becomes friends with the handful of locals who are his own age. They already know each other well and have their various humorous character dynamics, so it's wonderful how they accept Hairi into their circle despite the fact he's not from around there. To quote someone on EGS, it's "an island atmosphere filled with kindness and consideration." Many people love this aspect of Summer Pockets. It probably appeals to players even more than the nakige aspect does (judging from the EGS tags). The fixed part of the common route is very short, and from then on you have to repeatedly choose who you want to spend time with in order to select a route. It's very typical. In the heroine routes, you'll learn about the hidden sides of the heroines and come into contact with various mysteries. Unless you've never heard of Key before and want zero expectations (don't confuse "intended to be spoiler-free" with "completely blind"!), I don't think it is a spoiler to say that you should expect to deal with drama that arises from supernatural plot devices. The average reading time of Summer Pockets on EGS is 30 hours. That's the same length as Air, and longer than Kanon. Of course, it's much shorter than Little Busters EX, Rewrite, or Clannad. The Bottom Line: How Good Summer Pockets Is Just look at the numbers. Summer Pockets has an extremely robust score on EGS, a median of 89 with 200+ votes. For comparison, the only clearly better-received VNs in the past 5 years are Sakura no Uta, Rance 10, and ChuSinGura 46+1. It's similarly well-rated on VNDB. What appeals to people most is, as you'd expect, that this VN successfully nails the Key formula: comedy, lovable characters, and of course, tears. As one person put it, "Key isn't dead. I've been convinced." And like I said earlier, the production values are excellent. Key's VNs used to be known to skimp on art (of course, the music was always solid) but they've broken away from that limitation. There are so many nice CGs in Summer Pockets, as well as sprites. It seriously improves the experience. Summer Pockets is truly a modern VN. There were other improvements over previous Key VNs, too. Kai probably deserves credit for them. He mentioned in the December interview that for Summer Pockets, they tried to make the heroines interact with each other more, and they also added handsome male side characters. Key pulled this off well; while the level of inter-heroine interaction still wasn't at the level I hoped for (I know I'm crazy to want harem love comedy situations in a Key VN...) it was still solid. The two boys, Tenzen and Ryouichi, resembled Kengo and Masato (from Little Busters) respectively. Although they clowned around a lot, and rarely seemed as reliable as the Little Busters boys. Not that they didn't have their cool sides. But if you're Kyousuke-sexual, you probably won't find what you want in Summer Pockets. If anyone, perhaps Ao was the "Kyousuke" of Summer Pockets, socially. Despite being a heroine, she's a friendly person who's easy to talk to and well-connected on the island, so there were plenty of roles for her to play in every route of Summer Pockets. I would say that Summer Pockets has 2 notable "flaws". The first is that some routes are better (worse) than others. Frankly, this should surprise no one who has read Key VNs--or VNs at all. Not all writers are equal, and Key often has multiple writers work on the same VN. But as I said before, none of the routes are especially bad in any way. I personally enjoyed every one of them. Only 1 of them felt fairly predictable. To offer you an idea of what my tastes are like, I was decently entertained by every route of Little Busters aside from the ones Tonokawa did (Komari and Kurugaya). So if you're someone who would say that every route but Refrain and maybe [some other route] was terrible, then maybe you actually will think that ~2 of the routes in Summer Pockets are terrible... Tastes vary. The second "flaw" is that it's fairly derivative of other Key VNs. Maybe now you see why at the start of this post, I related the little anecdote from the interview. It shows how Key attempted to innovative, but in the end, they went the safe route with a very Maeda-esque story. Since I read this interview before I played Summer Pockets, I didn't expect a revolution... Anyway, I personally don't think it makes Summer Pockets any less excellent, except to the extent that it doesn't blow anyone's mind because they've played VNs like this before. A lot of people realize that Clannad copied from a certain other classic VN, but that doesn't make Clannad any less of a masterpiece which achieved success beyond that classic. Even if Maeda recycled some themes or plot devices when he came up with Summer Pockets, the fact of the matter is that Summer Pockets delivers them in an unpredictable way, with plenty of red herrings. You can tell from the impressions people left on EGS that few people care about the parts that are derivative. And for the record, it's not completely derivative thematically. For example, the themes about summer and summer vacation are potent and unique to Summer Pockets. The final title drop especially wowed me. Niijima VS Maeda I want to talk about Niijima's style. A lot of people assumed that a Key VN wouldn't feel like a Key VN without Maeda Jun, with comparisons to Rewrite. But a Key miracle happened. Summer Pockets has been just as successful (I mean, when you adjust for the fact that the industry is smaller than it used to be) as many of Key's past titles, like Air. Credit where credit due: Niijima Yuu, the same person who wrote the hit Hatsuyuki Sakura (#1 VN of the year 2012, as voted by 2ch), who has been praised by many writers in the industry, did for Key what I presume someone hoped he would when they hired him: he utilized his Maeda-like style to capture the sort of atmosphere that they'd previously relied on Maeda to deliver. For the record, I'm not denying that there are still many people (even those who loved Summer Pockets) who, after they played it, still think, "I miss Maeda." Niijima and Maeda are not exactly the same. I personally love them both. From an objective standpoint, Maeda is probably better. However, Niijima has his own strengths. Both Niijima and Maeda like to write comedy that involves eccentric side characters, with male leads who tends to wander around like a loner. They both write scenarios that make the player cry at climactic moments. They both lean toward narratives with unlockable routes and true ends. They both tend to incorporate the supernatural into their plots, yet at the same time don't completely rely on it, or employ it as a kind of metaphor. A major part of what I feel is Maeda's charm is that there is a deep sense of intimacy, or camaraderie, between his characters. The characters don't subconsciously keep each other at a distance--they form a unique bond almost immediately which deepens as they come to know each other, in a way that every reader loves to see, especially more socially isolated Japanese readers. Niijima's flaw is that he can't quite do this--it wasn't until some of the scenes toward the latter part of Summer Pockets (perhaps not written by Niijima) that I really felt I could sense a heartfelt connection between Hairi and the side characters. There were many parts of Summer Pockets where a character would have some sort of comic reaction, where they became really upset or passionate, but then 2 sentences later when another character switched the subject to move on with the conversation, that upset character suddenly was calm and matched the pace of the conversation, as if they'd instantly quelled their emotions with zero explanation, or as if their previous reaction had been totally fake. I'm sure that Maeda would have depicted more smooth conversational transitions. Niijima's humor has its own brilliance, but often it feels like the characters just relate to one other with humorously eccentric behavior at a superficial level, without the sense of closeness of Maeda's character dynamics. On the other hand, Niijima's text appeals to me a lot more as a fan of eroge. His humor may not be quite as... hmm, "creative" and "unprecedented" as the weird situations Maeda comes up with, but it feels less childish too. One very Niijima-esque technique is to have a set of ~3 side characters who talk back and forth to each other about the male lead in the male lead's presence for comic effect. In other words, he pokes fun at misinformed attitudes and social expectations. Compared to Maeda, Niijima's humor is a bit more, hmm... "mean-spirited"? It feels like the humor often revolves around one character who teases another based on a misconception. Connected to that, it often feels like there's more of a flirty atmosphere. Well, honestly, Summer Pockets was still a lot less lewd than I expected from Niijima. The lewdest parts of the VN weren't even written by him. So the overall more "eroge-like" atmosphere of Summer Pockets may owe itself to the director Kai more than Niijima. But I think that Niijima's style is what enabled this. Anyway, this is the first Key VN I've read where I actually really wished it had ero. Still, as a Niijima fan, I wished I'd seen a little more of his style in the fabric of Summer Pockets. While it's true that the text definitely felt Niijima-like, and one of the routes that Niijima wrote deeply resembled a route he wrote in a certain other VN... Part of what I had really hoped to see Niijima introduce to Summer Pockets are elements of action. It's not like I expected the amount of combat to match Hatsusaku, but at least once or twice, I would've liked to see a few short battles. The nature of the way Niijima writes such clashes, as half-metaphors which emphasize differences in perspective, leaves the story's atmosphere intact, so it wouldn't have hurt. But I'm afraid that Kai may have wanted to avoid any Rewrite-like action, as Key attempted to return to their foundation with Summer Pockets. In any case, without this, Summer Pockets suffered from a deficiency of 盛り上がる要素 (excitement/tension). Despite the fact that in many ways Summer Pockets felt like a modernization of Key's style, it still lacked one of the most prominent elements of modern console ADVs--action. Kai may have perhaps clamped down on Niijima a little too much, but I'm still very happy with Niijima's role in Summer Pockets. The "summer vacation" that's at the core of the story (adjacent to the parts that Maeda came up with) as it's developed is 100% Niijima thematically, and is also the most memorable part of the story to me, besides just how fond I am of the characters. Key, After Summer Pockets Actually, I'd rather ask you, theoretical reader of this post. Do YOU know what Key plans next? Has anyone at Key said how they feel about the positive reception to Summer Pockets? I haven't heard any information yet, but then, Summer Pockets only came out recently. All I want to say is that Key's future is on my mind. I'm hopeful they will make a fandisk, because they've made a fandisk for every other major Key VN besides their first 2. If so, they will probably keep Niijima around for a little while more. I want Maeda back, but I think Key is an excellent fit for Niijima, and maybe Key can allow him a tiny bit more creative freedom next time to repay him for Summer Pockets. I wouldn't mind if they let him direct a smaller-scale project like Harmonia. That's all from me. Have a nice day.
  10. 1 point
    This game is the second project made by Samoyed Smile, a subsidiary of the same corporation that owns Softhouse-seal. This is, incidentally, why the game has the really crappy lip-sync and sex animations so familiar from that company's works. That said, this company is not a nukige company, despite the lateral relationship. The game starts with a young teacher, Haruki, teaching a class of dropouts at a night school. Haruki, having had horrible experiences at his first teaching job, has a poor attitude at first, primarily because he was lured by his estranged father with the promise of the equivalent of $4M in inheritance if he succeeded in graduating the last three students at the night school. Haruki is unusual amongst VN protagonists for being an adult with at least some experience in life, and as a character, he is extremely well-written, his humanity laid bare for the reader to see. The situation is also unusual, since VNs with the kind of atmosphere you start with in this game tend to end up as rape/despair spirals in most cases. The heroines are all a bit loopy and the protagonist isn't much better, when it comes down to it (situation-wise). Common Route However, the game's common route is actually fairly uplifting, once you get past the initial bumps in the road involved in the characters getting used to one another. Haruki and the heroines slowly get to know one another and even form the beginnings of something like a bond of trust, which comes to a nice high point before the heroine routes split off. I honestly felt that it was nicely orchestrated, though I did feel that they included an unnecessary number of choices, considering that the events in the common route don't change as a result. Koshimizu Hayate Hayate is a spiky tsundere who never fails to fulfill the best - as opposed to the worst - standards of the archetype. She actually has justification for her attitude, for one thing... she came across her flaws honestly. She is also, despite appearances, probably the most 'normal' of the heroines under the surface. Hayate is a Japanese male name, which should give you at least some idea of why she hates having her name spoken or written. Hayate's problem, like the problems of many runaways, is with her parents. I won't spoil it for you, but it is a pretty deep problem... it reminds me of Fumika from Semiramis no Tenbin, except Hayate is a lot more aggressive and less gentle, lol. Her path is deeply touching, especially as she and the protagonist manage to get over or around their traumas and make peace with who they are. The student-teacher relationship thing doesn't take its usual turns (probably because the night school itself is too intimate for that kind of social drama to occur), so you shouldn't expect the 'oh they got found out, so he might lose his job!' crap you see with similar protagonist-heroine relationships in other VNs. Kadokura Riko and Kadokura Ayako I'm going to be clear about something... I hate real lolicon content in every way, shape, and form. If this path had discarded the H content, I honestly would have loved it, but the h-scenes in this path ruin it. This is one of the few cases where I honestly think that sexual content is an active barrier to enjoyment rather than a mere annoyance. That said, this path is well written... Riko and Ayako are mother and daughter. Ayako is a weak-mannered, weak-willed young woman who had Riko as a young teenager and is now serving as a single mother to her. Riko, for her part, is a 'good girl' (think Sachi from Grisaia, though not quite that extreme). However, there are lots of problems with those two... and the two biggest ones are Riko's 'illness' and Ayako's inability to see anything in a positive light. This path is all about the nature of human weakness and it deals more with the protagonist's issues with his mother, as opposed to the ones with his father (which were dealt with in the previous path). That said, he is far more pathetic in his 'down time' than he was in Hayate's path, so that was another reason why I honestly left this path with a bad taste in my mouth. The main ending (Riko only) is happy, but the other one is obviously a bad ending, albeit one that is probably pleasant in the sensual sense of things. Niijima Kina Kina is a sweet-natured airhead. I don't mean this as an insult... it is an accurate description. She has a definite learning disability, and she is a natural airhead on top of that. That said, she is also determined to learn and the first of the heroines to take a shine to the protagonist, partially because he actually takes the time to create a personalized curriculum for her and partially because he doesn't look down on her after a few initial bumps in their student-teacher relationsip (say what you like about him, but he has to force himself to act like an asshole in most of the cases where he does). Kina's path is about even with Hayate's for quality, overall... but when you find out the full reason why she's attending night school, I guarantee you will either wince or cry. They go into specifics, and it is pretty nasty at times. Kina's path also shows off her best qualities as a character... such as her capacity for love and her empathy. However, it also shows off some of her negative points... such as being consumed by hatred and being just a tad psychopathic at times, lol. Unfortunately, despite rumors to the contrary, she isn't a yandere (I thought she would be, but meh), but she comes close to it sometimes. Probably, if they had a bad ending for this path, she would have gone down that path, since she definitely has potential. Overall Overall, this game was a bumpy ride. Is it good? Yes. Is it perfect? About as far from it as possible while still being a good game. Reading this game is a high-stress experience, and I actually found myself growing wistful for charage by the end. Nonetheless, this game is of a type that is rarely seen these days, lining up with Yume Miru Kusuri for the heart-wounded heroines and screwy psychological twists.
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