4 pointsThe final game in the Silverio series enters with a whimper and exits with a bang. First, this game absolutely requires that you have played the previous two to appreciate. Too much of what is going on requires understanding of concepts that aren't reintroduced but constantly referenced throughout the game. This game is based only a few years after Trinity in Canterbury, the theocratic state ruled by a Japanophilic religion based on seeing old Japan as a sort of El Dorado. I should note that the brief summary of the concept I am about to give WILL spoil parts of Trinity and Vendetta, so I am going to ask that anyone who wants to avoid these skip down past the next paragraph.. I also recommend that anyone who has played the previous two games that wants to start Ragnarok avoid the official website and store pages' descriptions and character profiles at all costs. While most of the information there is revealed within the first hour or two of play, it does hurt the experience that so much is revealed just by reading up on the game in advance. Ragnarok starts as a revenge story, wherein the protagonist - Ragna - and his childhood friend - Misaki - set out to take revenge on the four immortal gods who founded and have ruled Canterbury for the past thousand years. They are accompanied by Cecile, the current head of the Liberati family of Antalya and they are allied with Angelica, an Inquisitor of the Church. Now, I should note that a recurring theme throughout the story is that the four immortals are not, as is standard to most stories, full of weak points that can be easily used against them. They are immortals who have long-since left behind the weaknesses of their youth. They have such an immensity of experience behind them that they have literally seen (in a general sense) every variation on rebellion, love, hate, betrayal, etc that humans have to offer. In addition, their brains are still young, so they are constantly learning, and they instantly process everything around them based on preexisting experience. I feel the need to make the distinction partly because it is constantly emphasized at every point of the story and in part because my own assumptions were sort of left in the dust by this approach to immortality. I'll be blunt, while the first scene is dramatic and awesome, the pacing of the early part of the game is pretty abrupt. I think this is worth noting because it is out of character for Light, which tends to produce games that start out at a pretty deliberate pace before accelerating rapidly as you approach path splits. This led to an uncharacteristic disconnect with the characters for me during much of the common route, which is perhaps the most negative part of this game. In addition, there are a lot of aspects of this game that are more... intimately gut-wrenching and visceral than either of the previous two games. In particular, any major scene that involves Izana threatens to give me nightmares, because she seems like someone you would normally see in a Clock Up game. I also felt a constant sense of pity for all the people used by the antagonists. To be honest, the degree to which the antagonists quite naturally manipulate people without it seeming like manipulation makes Gilbert from Trinity look open and honest. Now for the main characters. One thing I liked about this game is that the main characters had actual reasons for being so deadly beyond mere 'fate' or natural talent. Ragna and Misaki are mercenaries (with Ragna having been an unwilling comrade of Dainslief at one point), Cecile was raised from birth to her role, and Angelica both has unmatched talent and has worked to polish it. One problem that constantly hurts many chuunige is the obsessive tendency many games have to give massive power to someone who has no training, no knowledge, and no skills to use it. It might make newbies find it easier to empathize with them, but for someone a bit more jaded it can be highly irritating. The music in this game utilizes a mix of music from previous games in the series, as well as new tracks. In this case, it works to the game's advantage, because it provides a distinct sense of continuity between the three entries in the series. This is especially the case for the few SOL scenes and the less climactic battle scenes, where a new track would be unlikely to help. Angelica For people who hate Izana as much as I do, Angelica's path can be seriously depressing at times. Of the three paths, it pushes the plotting aspects of the four immortals into the forefront the most bluntly and in the most distasteful of ways. There is no sense of the glorious (a common experience in Trinity and Vendetta) in the battles, save for one midway through, and there is a lot of devastation left in the wake of the story's progression (even by Light standards). Angelica is an Inquisitor, as well as being the one in control of the foreign pleasure district, and she has a good brain to match. This is a girl who has survived by hiding her rebelliousness and utter hatred for the four immortals for the entirety of her young life, always acting the obedient servant of the gods. As such, she is as twisted up inside as some of the series' antagonists, and she makes Chitose from Vendetta seem simple and straightforward. That said, she is an Amatsu, so she is predictably extreme in her loves and hates. This path's most excellent moments mostly concentrate near the end, with there being a lot of plotting and losing battles (which can get frustrating) in the middle. That said, without the buildup of all those tragic and frustrating moments, this path wouldn't have turned out nearly as good. Cecile Cecile is the head of the Liberati, one of the Ten Families of Antalya, an oligarchic nation ruled by laissez-faire capitalism at its worst. As such, she has a definite dark side... but with Ragna and Misaki she is easygoing and loving. In fact, with Ragna she aggressively shows her loving side... while showing her bloodlust in private whenever they speak of the antagonists. Other than Ragna and Misaki, she has the most intense hatred for the game's antagonists, and the impression of her as a blood-hungry avenger is only enhanced, rather than weakened, by her friendship with the other two avengers. Her path is more straightforward than Angelica's, but it still has a ton of plotting by the path's two primary antagonists. What would be a perfect plan to the antagonist of a normal chuunige antagonist is only the first of many layers for the antagonists of this game, and this path shows the sheer cold-blooded nature of that plotting without the more grotesque aspects you see in Angelica's path. I'd say that the battles in this path are slightly improved from that of Angelica's. Misaki ... it is fairly obvious that this is the true path from the beginning, but even without that, the fact that this path is literally 2.5 times longer than the other two heroine paths would tell you that in any case. Misaki is Ragna's childhood friend, partner, almost-lover, and best friend all wrapped into one silver-haired package. Normally, she is a cheerful, easygoing country girl with a slight tendency toward eccentricity. However, in the worst kind of battles, she can show a cold harshness that is at odds with her normal persona. This path has so many turn and turn about moments that I won't bother to explain them here. Just let it be said that this path was a fitting... a more than fitting end to the series that I wished would never end. There are so many points where you think things are over and suddenly the apparently losing side turns the tables that after a while, I just felt like I was going to drop from sheer emotional exhaustion. Conclusion This is, by far, the most complex of the three games. As such, it is also the most challenging for the reader to keep everything that is going on straight. Considering that both Vendetta and Trinity were fairly complex, even as chuunige go, that is definitely saying something. I will say that, while the pacing can be choppy toward the beginning, once things really get going in the heroine paths, that clears itself up pretty quickly. This game, like most Light chuunige, has great battles, great characters, great writing, and a great story... and it probably will never get translated, lol. I'm sad to see this series end, and I am even more sad not to know the future of Light's staff or even the Light name (I'm still hoping that Akabei will keep the team together). However, if it had to end, it does end on a bang.
2 pointsAnyone observing the EVN scene should know well that yuri, besides being my personal obsession, is one of the most vibrant niches for non-JP visual novels, with many studios and creators dedicated to this theme and a very active fanbase. This seems to be particularly clear nowadays, as even companies like Winged Cloud, the infamous producers of low-effort VN smut, capitalized majorly on the trend, producing mostly GxG games for the past few years. On the other side of the spectrum, Studio Elan recently pushed the standard of quality for EVNs in general with their modern fairy tale, Heart of the Woods. As a result, yuri fans have a lot to choose from, both when it goes to quality work and amusing trash. The game I’ll be writing about today, Aikawa Collective’s Mizuchi 白蛇心傳, definitely aimed for the “quality” side of the spectrum and seemed like something that could rival Studio Elan’s hit with its climate and visual spectacle. This yuri-themed retelling of the famous Chinese folk tale, the Legend of the White Serpent, looked spectacular in its promotional material and easily reached its Kickstarter goal of $8500 in September 2018. While the development cycle for it proved long, going 9 months beyond its initial target of August 2019, it never lost its place as a promising and highly-anticipated yuri EVN. Releasing on Steam and Itch.io in mid-April 2020, it gathered overwhelmingly positive feedback – but, did it truly live up to the hype? Don’t worry, for those like me not blessed with proper knowledge of Japanese, these scenes get explained later on, but not knowing what is said is actually pretty important for the game’s mystery and climate-building Mizuchi is a story of a young, poor peasant girl from the game’s equivalent of medieval China (her default name is Linh, but it can be changed). After years of living a harsh, but simple live as youngest daughter of the family, she’s unexpectedly proposed to by her childhood friend, who just came back from serving in a war. Just a few days later, after discovering something unexpected about her fiancée, she’s falsely accused of adultery and as a “trial” thrown into a pit of snakes. Left for certain death, she’s miraculously saved by an entity she assumes to be the serpent god revered by her community and wakes up in an unfamiliar house, whose only other inhabitant seems to be the said deity, now using a monstrous, half-serpent, half-human form. Terrified and confused, she has to navigate this new situation, made even more complex by the arrival of Jinhai – a strange, but kind female monk with a deep-running and turbulent relationship with the serpent goddess. While Mizuchi incorporates many fantastical elements, particularly with the serpent goddess, Ai, being a major focus, at its core it’s a slice-of-life VN, spending most of its time on the backstories and personal development of the three main characters. This is often done with slow-paced, casual interactions and depictions of daily life in the estate, near-perfectly isolated from the outside world. For those expecting a more dynamic story, or even a primarily romantic one, this might be a disappointment, as you’ll find in it at least just as many discussions about cooking and the local variety of mushroom as you might scenes that contribute to the romance or plot progression. This casual-feeling routine is only occasionally broken up by more dramatic events or tension, with the main axis of conflict being what Jinhai perceives as Linh’s imprisonment or forced servitude to Ai. Things change significantly in the final act of each route, with a lot more stress on supernatural phenomena and higher stakes, but this part might be slightly hard to get to for anyone not tolerant to slow pacing and very subtle character development. The amount of ultra-casual moments and “pointless” trivia sometimes threaten to devolve into genuine boredom, particularly in some of the scenes in Jinhai’s route The reason I nearly never had a problem with the game’s relaxed approach to storytelling is that the setting and characters it builds are excellent enough to justify it. Linh starts overwhelmed and hurt, limited in her understanding of the world and striving to come back to her familiar home despite the struggle and possible danger that awaits her there. Her journey is mostly one of understanding her full potential and the injustice of the position she held in her village, which she previously considered as natural and inescapable. She’s believable in her reactions and the game delves pretty deep into emotional mechanisms of trauma, with which she has to deal with over time. All this definitely has a touch of female empowerment in it, as Linh has to break free of the constraints and common sense thinking of her extremely patriarchal and conservative community, with Ai offering her broader perspective on the world and promising new opportunities. Thankfully, it’s done well enough to never feel like pandering and is not exactly detached from the historical realities of medieval China the game takes inspiration from. Ai’s and Jinhai’s arcs are harder to talk about without spoilers, but the goddess in particular make for a really interesting character. As a powerful, shape-shifting spirit often moving between the worlds of nature and that of people, she has an attitude that combines a form of misanthropy with curiosity about humans and appreciation of specific individuals. Her arc is mostly themed around fully understanding humans and being able to grasp the love and devotion they often show to each other – a wish clearly signified by her adopted name. Jinhai is arguably a lesser character, as she’s defined mostly by her relationship with Ai and the responsibility she feels to keep her in check. The development she receives is definitely not as deep as that of the other two main characters and her route, by extension, is less captivating – which doesn't mean she isn't plenty likeable and doesn't have her own inner conflicts to resolve. I previously mentioned that Mizuchi’s romance arcs are not its central focus and I’m willing to stand by this claim, although I have some conflicted feelings in this regard. The game does some really excellent things when it goes to showing intimacy between the characters when the romance finally blossoms, with a set of mature, but not explicit scenes for both routes (inexplicably delegated to a patch on Steam, while they definitely should be a part of the core package and can hardly be considered "adult-only"). The road to those scenes is, however, kind of cliched and pale in comparison with how interesting the backstories of the characters and the core intrigue are. The positive part is that each route adds something to the understanding of the overall story and lore of the game’s world. Still, the non-romantic “harem” ending felt most satisfying to me, which is really weird for a yuri fanatic such as myself. My only explanation is that seeing all the characters staying together and overcoming traumas of their pasts simply feels like the best possible outcome, so this friendship scenario ends up being more satisfying than romance that naturally pushes someone out of the equation. The game does a good job of including some nudity and intimacy without explicit visuals – all mild and tasteful enough that the inclusion of Steam content patch for much of it feels pretty uncalled for Now, for genuine complaints, I have very few, but my biggest one is probably the choice structure. It relies on an invisible affection system, with some choices contributing to it in a less-than-intuitive manner. This means that reaching some of the 5 endings, particularly the true ending for each heroine, can be really frustrating without a guide – while the number of choices is not massive, the sequence you need for those is really specific. Also, the execution of some of the endings was somewhat lacklustre, as they not always managed to explain well-enough what was going on and maintain reasonable pacing. Also, it’s clear that even among the “true endings” Ai’s felt a lot more robust and satisfying, showing where most of the team’s focus actually went. Visually, Mizuchi is absolutely beautiful, although it definitely prioritizes quality over quantity. Because the action of the VN is limited to less than a dozen locales, all the illustrations are really high-quality and do a great job of projecting the far-eastern-legend feel of the story. Sprites do not have much variety when it goes to poses and clothes, but once more make up for it with being highly-detailed and gorgeous – and to be fair, the sheer amount of forms Ai shapeshifts into required quite a lot of work to portray properly, in practice creating a significantly higher character count. CGs are relatively few and the high quality of other art kind of prevents them from having as much impact as they would in an average EVN, but that latter part is something I wish I could complain about more often. The music is fairly tranquil in its feel, matching the overall climate of the story – it was very pleasant and never got in the way of reading, which is just what I want from a VN soundtrack. In summary, Mizuchi is a game with a slightly niche appeal, due to its heavy focus on slice-of-life content and one that occasionally doesn’t seem to rise to its authors’ ambitions (particularly with the impact of the romance subplots). Despite all that, though, I found it to be a rather excellent experience, with charming characters and story that should satisfy not only yuri fans – while it doesn’t shy away from delving into the GxG love stories, its most important parts are much more universal. Its climate and unique approach to the far-eastern setting are something that should appeal to a broad audience and I recommend every VN fan that wasn’t scared off by my earlier criticism to give Mizuchi a chance. Also, as Aikawa’s debut, it’s a very promising achievement – hopefully, they won’t stop there. Final Rating: 4/5 Pros: + Beautiful visuals + Well-constructed, unusual fantasy setting + Likeable heroines + Good psychological depth of the main characters Cons: – Uneven pacing and occasionally dull slice-of-life content – Unintuitive choice system – Romance subplots lack impact VNDB Page Buy Mizuchi on Steam or Itch.io
1 pointKanojo-tachi no Ryuugi is a game made by 130cm back in 2006, during the 'golden age of VN innovation'. Like many of the games made during this period, it is far less bound by convention than you see in modern VNs, which has its ups and downs (as most games from this era do). In this case, the most striking element for modern VN readers would probably be the fact that the protagonist is fully voiced. The second is that, in most of the H-scenes (of which there are plenty), the females are the dominant side and the protagonist isn't a bed yakuza even when he is dominant, for the most part. Essentially, this game's story begins when Kotaro, the protagonist, is called back to his estranged family's home after his mother dies of illness. There, his twin older sisters, Tobari and Akane are waiting for him... but their attitudes are odd. Akane, the older sister, has become active, mischievous, and selfish, and Tobari, the younger, has become a cold, expressionless young woman. There is no sense that he is welcomed into his old home, despite the fact that he and his sisters were once very close. Things become a bit clearer when he discovers his sisters are vampires (and bisexual), and he ends up having sexual relations with both of them (Tobari reverse-rape and Akane essentially psychologically cornering him into doing it). Worse, there is no sense of actual affection from either of his sisters, who apparently can draw sustenance from the acts. Now, the reason why I drew out these initial scenes is because they aren't really spoilers (my rule limiting spoilers to the prologue at max), is because you need to understand that this, typically of most of 130cm's games, is a heavily incestuous story (literally and metaphorically) with some seriously twisted relationships resulting. There is love, but it is often only referenced laterally or after a great deal of pain on all sides. Kotaro has serious hangups that keep him from forming healthy relationships with anyone (mostly because of his weird relations with his sisters, Tobari in particular), and the girls aren't that much better. Tobari Really, it is recommended that Suzuki and Seseri be handled first by most people who read this VN, but I always end up going for Tobari first... mostly because figuring out all that is going on in her head is seriously hard the first time around. Tobari is a genius in general but also a genius when it comes to acting in particular. The drama club and its play, which serve a central role in all the paths to one degree or another, is her idea, as is drawing in Kotaro as the heroine (yes, he does dress up). While there is another club president, she is the obvious leader of the club. Moreover, her forceful personality and overwhelming acting talent pretty much keep anyone else from really even considering disobedience toward her. Her relationship with Kotaro, in their childhood, was that of really close siblings, but the changes she began to experience (vampires in this setting are atavistic throwbacks to previous generations who lose the ability to have children, live eternally, and must consume blood or life energy through sexual intercourse in order to survive) shattered their family without Kotaro every knowing why. Her attitude toward Kotaro is cold and distant, except when she suddenly draws him into sexual relations or the drama club in general. She loves Akane and will show emotion toward her easily, but in most other matters, her expression remains flat. Her path is a journey of unwinding the twisted ball of yarn that is her emotions toward Kotaro and the circumstances that make everything about their relationship difficult. Akane Akane is technically the older sister, but at first glance, you would guess her to be the younger. She is more active, she is less mature, and she has no intention of controlling any of her impulses. Anything that feels good (drinking blood, having sex with Kotaro, eating food, etc) is good for her, and she has no interest in struggling to do anything she doesn't feel like doing. As a child, Akane was sickly to the extreme, rarely leaving her bed and unable to do even the simplest of activities for the most part. For her, vampirism was salvation, though it cost her five years with her younger brother (she does care, but her hedonistic nature dominates mostly). While she isn't precisely affectionate toward Kotaro (there is some affection, but, again, her hedonism tends to hide it), she is affectionate and loving toward Tobari. Despite this, Tobari can be considered to be the 'dependent twin' of the two. Akane's path is more about dealing with Akane's own inability to understand certain aspects of her sister's feelings toward Kotaro, the harmful aspects of her impulsiveness, and Kotaro himself. It is more straightforward than Tobari's path, but it also has some serious issues, some of them leftover from before she became a vampire. Suzuki Suzuki is a misanthrope who only trusts Seseri. She is described as 'excruciatingly beautiful', but her manner, especially toward Kotaro, tends toward the acidic in the best of times. She has a rather extreme version of the aversion many women of her age have for sexuality in general, though it does have a good reason. Her path is more about Kotaro getting past his siscon and her getting past her dislike of him (and herself) than anything else. Of the heroines, she is by far the most psychologically fragile, despite her thorny persona. She understands Kotaro the best of the heroines, when it comes down to it on a fundamental level, and this becomes rather evident toward the conclusion of the path. Seseri Seseri is your standard deredere kouhai and Suzuki's best friend. Seseri is a really straightforward and innocent girl who hits everything head on, yet she is also sensitive enough to get down in the dumps at times, though she usually gets right back up. The very first scene of the game has her confessing her love to Kotaro and him refusing her. Her path on the surface seems to be an odd couple romance, but in fact it is a bit different. Seseri's feelings toward Kotaro never change, she loves him and she is really open about this fact. Honoka Honoka's path splits off pretty late from Akane's path, before things get all twisted up with Tobari and requires that you have played Akane's path to pursue. Honoka is the retainer (not maid) for the Shirogane family (Tobari and Akane) and a sort of blood bag for the two vampires. On the surface she is a mature older woman, but underneath she is pretty girly. Her path is the most straightforward romance in the game, with an incident bringing her feelings for Kotaro into the open and forcing her to confront them. She has some real-life hangups that make for some mild drama toward the end, but her path ends on a pretty familiar (for charage readers) note. Chisato Chisato is the game's tsundere osananajimi, and she is also perhaps the most template of the heroines. For this reason alone, I would have wanted to avoid her path, but since I'd already gone through all the other paths, I felt I had to finish hers as well. This is perhaps the only path in the game where the protagonist's past is revealed in something other than the words of the protagonist and heroines. There are a few flashback scenes that are pretty revealing about a young Tobari and Chisato, and it does add to the story in general... but it also felt like the writer was favoring the least interesting heroine in the game a bit excessively. Like all the heroines except Seseri, she has issues. Chisato has an inferiority complex toward Tobari, whom she considers a friend (Kotaro also has one toward Tobari), and she is by nature a hard worker who makes up for a lack of talent by putting more effort and time into things. The path is pretty revealing about Tobari as well... however, it feels like Tobari's path should have been the one route-locked, not Chisato's, in the end. Black Moon There is no need to hide this, but this is the game's true ending. This ending serves as an alternate ending to Tobari's path and is fairly dramatic. To be honest, I found this about ten times more interesting than most of the other paths in this game, save for Tobari's original one... which is probably the point. the first half of this path is the Tobari path told entirely from Tobari's point of view up until a certain turning point, where Kotaro takes an action that is different from the original. Conclusion This game has a number of flaws, not the least of which that there really only needed to be three heroines (Honoka, Tobari, and Akane) and the fact that the actual paths feel abrupt at points, showing the peculiarly odd pacing that was common to a lot of games from the time. However, it is also a nice game for people who like messed up and twisted relationships that don't stray into NTR or rape-related stuff.