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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. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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