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  1. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, For Weebs (like me): Rise of the Ronin   
    Rise of the Ronin is an open-world game that covers important events from 1853-1868 from the perspective of a ronin (masterless samurai) of the fallen Kurosu-han (fictional).  This period of history is often called the 'Bakumatsu' (TL: The End of the Shogunate) or the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration beginning with the opening of Japan (signing of unequal treaties) and ending with the surrender of Edo to the Satsuma-Choshu forces.  Your character is one of a pair of twins (you can choose male or female) who has a chance encounter with Sakamoto Ryouma before he enters Yokohama, and much of the central story is told from your outside perspective interacting with important individuals in one of four periods of the time: The anti-foreigner movement and Ansei Purges, the rise of the Anti-Shogunate movement, the breakout of open conflict in the streets of Kyoto (the Ikeda-ya incident and the first Choshu Rebellion), and the Boshin War.  
    What I didn't like
    There were two major issues I had with the game, not having to do with the gameplay but rather with the story.  The first was the blatant favoritism of the scenario team toward the anti-Shogunate side of things.  The second was the blatant historical inaccuracies that were just plopped in.
    To be blunt, from the very beginning, you are encouraged (and not subtly so) to side with the Anti-Shogunate (Tobaku in future mentions) forces.  It is at its most blatant in the prologue and first chapter, where your main character's homeland is destroyed by the Shogunate (Bakufu in future references) after a failed assassination attempt on Admiral Perry.  In the first chapter, you meet a lot of famous and interesting figures in the Tobaku's historical membership, Sakamoto Ryouma, the silly drunkard Katsura Kogoro, the gambler Takasugi Shinsaku, and the idealistic young hero Kusaka Genzui, and for much of the main story you are basically following the major points of Ryouma's journey, even as you go off to do side-quests and the like along the way.  In addition, the main Bakufu characters are a Geisha with a creepily subtle approach to things and an old man who seems like he'd order your death without a blink if he felt like it.  
    The problem is that this deliberate placing of extremely likeable and idealistic characters on one side and a slightly creepy group on the other makes it natural to just choose the Tobaku side from the beginning.  While later chapters introduce more interesting characters on the other side, such as Katsu Kaishu, the Shogun Yoshinobu, and the Shinsengumi, you are still encouraged at key points to take the side of the Tobaku, and it isn't even subtle.
    The second issue, historical revisionism, is actually tied in with the issue above.  Two key points that I need to stress are the enthronement of Yoshinobu and the death of Kondou Isami of the Shinsengumi.  
    The former, the enthronement of Tokugawa Yoshinobu as Shogun, is something that - in actual history - didn't occur until August of 1866, whereas in Rise of the Ronin he is already Shogun in 1858, when Yoshida Shoin is executed.  This might seem like a minor revision, but considering how it was the internal disorganization caused by his predecessor's illness and inability to rule that led to Ii Naosuke having the power to order the Ansei Purges that martyred a lot of Tobaku philosophers and activists, the only reason I can see to treat his character the way they did was to make him seem incompetent, thus leading to more favorable impressions of the Tobaku side in comparison.
    The latter is less of an issue, except as a convenience for those who wanted the story wrapped up neatly in the second Edo chapter.  However, losing Kondou early in the sequence of events (since he was still active after the surrender of Edo), was a somewhat questionable decision.  I will admit that the event itself was incredibly emotional to watch in video, and a certain mission involving the Shinsengumi survivors afterward was equally so.
    What I did like
    The gameplay is the first thing that comes to mind.  There are so many different ways to fight your battles in this game, from utilization of its nine different main weapon types (including bare fists), to the varying combat styles (particularly in the katana and nodachi styles), to the use of the hang-glider and horses to get around.  The mini-games are interesting without being intrusive, and they include hang-gliding courses, target-shooting with a rifle, horse-archery, and mock fights in the dojo with NPC unique characters, all of them for prizes.  
    For side-quests, you have collection quests for each region:  treasure chests, Usugumo Dayu's cats, cleansing of violent ronin, and taking pictures of scenery.  I should note that the cats and dogs in this game are ridiculously cute and a constant source of easy items that can at the very least be disassembled for upgrade parts.  Completing all the quests in an area of a region gives you a reward that helps you advance your character or your bonds with NPCs.
    Your home, a small longhouse that is on the edge of town in each region, is a good place to meet random friend NPCs and interact with them without going to them.  It is also the place where you initiate pilgrim dog and cat service missions, both of which are a steady source of income without effort.  You can redecorate it with your favorite weapon, a picture or scroll, and six curios that attract different personality types amongst the NPCs you've met so far.  In your house, you can also put together an ensemble through the redesign feature that lets you look less like a murder hobo.
    Story-wise, there are a ton of extremely emotional moments.  This was a period of Japanese history that was full of heroes on both sides, many of them tragic and glorious at the same time.  The fact that it is possible to save three major tragic heroes from their fates (Sakamoto Ryouma, Okita Soji, and Takasugi Shinsaku) earned points with me.  The battle of Toba-Fushimi is a perfect illustration of why the samurai caste was doomed, as men with swords fought against others armed with rifles, gatling guns, and cannons.  Being able to fight this battle and other key scenes from both sides without replaying the game from the beginning made the story as a whole come to life.  Though I was a bit annoyed that your efforts don't make any difference in the final result (I love it when historical games let you break history), but the personal story was decent enough, in the end.  
    Rise of the Ronin is one of the better open-world games I've played, making others like Assassins Creed seem stale and boring in comparison.  This might be because I'm a weeb and tired of AC's stale plotline, though.  The story is impactful and emotional in a way purely western-made games never seem to manage for some reason, and it showed off why Team Ninja is one of the better game developers out there.
  2. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random VNs: Thoughts on Houkago no Futekikakusha   
    This is an utsuge.  For those who don't already know what an utsuge is, it is a VN where the main endings are 'bad' endings.  Generally speaking, the intention with an utsuge is to give the reader catharsis through a sense of despair or sorrow.  Unlike in a nakige, where the sorrow or despair is temporary and everything ends with what amounts to a 'happily ever after', an utsuge's endings tend to be ones where everyone dies, despair goes on unending, or some other kind of bitter aspect.  While most of an utsuge's endings will be 'bad' or 'sad', even with an utsuge, there is generally one or two endings that are merely bittersweet or almost good, though.
    A 'soft' utsuge is one like Konakana or Eden, where the primary emotion is sorrow and the sense of loss is relatively mild.  In a VN like this, the sense of 'bitterness' is a lot lower than in a 'hard' utsuge.
    A 'hard' utsuge is defined more than anything by 'despair' and the emotions that come from it.  The crushing of hope, the end of dreams, and the inevitability of a heavy reality are all popular themes in VNs of this type.  Swan Song is probably the most obvious translated one of this type.  Houkago no Futekikakusha falls into this type.
    I'm going to be blunt... even with this being my second playthrough, I've been crying all the way through my first path.  This VN is an unrelenting well of sorrow, despair, love, caring, and loss.  For every positive moment, the inevitable ending lurks in the background or hangs over the head like the Sword of Damocles.  Salvation comes for some at the cost of heart-rending despair for others, and love is no barrier to the despair that infects the VN as a whole. To put it bluntly, the protagonist and his friends, classmates, and teacher are all lost beyond hope from the beginning.  This isn't a VN where hope is anything more than a blade gouging at the hearts of those involved, and those who don't benefit from this level of catharsis should keep away from this VN.  The narrative presentation in this VN is of the highest quality when it comes to describing the characters' emotions and unique perspectives, and the writer seems to take a certain pleasure in creating a situation that gouges the heart of the reader, using those perspectives masterfully.
    Now, to address the biggest complaint people inevitably have about this VN... the setting in this VN is horrible.  I don't mean the characters' immediate surroundings, but rather just why the characters had to end up like they do in the VN is never made very clear.  Part of this is because the characters who might otherwise reveal the source of the conflict in the story simply aren't present, acting through pawns rather than in person.  Another part is that I think that while this writer is excellent at emotional writing and skilled at manipulating the reader's emotions, s/he honestly has no idea of how to create a coherent setting.  It is a mark of the VN's impact that I never really felt like seriously complaining about it... but it does make it stop short of kamige level.  It is also the primary reason people use to bash it (when they really just want to lash out at someone for what happens to the characters in the VN, lol). 
    The Protagonist
    Tokiwa Itsuka is pretty much your normal, overly kind-hearted harem-building protagonist at heart... but the situation he is in has made him into something very different.  He is broken down, shattered by his taking on of the heaviest role in the characters' collective fate, and he is unable to give up, as doing so would doom all the others to a fate far worse than death.  He is their one, sad, brittle hope and the only reason they haven't all succumbed to despair.  About 60% of the VN is told from his perspective, relatively frequently switching perspectives with various other characters, including the heroines.  For him, the very kindness and capacity for love that is default equipment for an eroge protagonist is a blade gouging at his heart, leaving him hopeless and helpless before the grinding gears of fate.
    One of the the heroines and the class's teacher.  As the only adult in the group, she bears the heaviest burden, after the protagonist.  She is the kind of 'young teacher' who tends to become an 'extra' heroine in various older VNs.  She is gentle and kind, as well as being something of a dojikko.  She is easily influenced by movies, and this generally leads her to impulse-buy expensive things like cars and cameras (her family is apparently rich, lol).   During the story, her primary role is as the 'mother' archetype, giving love freely and without reserve to her students in general, and Itsuka in particular.
    Suenaga Haruka
    The only one of the heroines in the VN that isn't a direct victim of the fate that is swallowing them.  She transfers into the class at the beginning of the story and watches over the events that occur with a kindness and compassion that makes her the equal of any of the other heroines.  In many ways, she is the representative of hope in the VN as a whole, though her actual role with the characters tends to differ.
    The tomboyish, older of Itsuka's twin-sister osananajimis.  She is also one of the heroines.  When she isn't down in the dumps due to what is going on, she is bright and active, but she is fundamentally more fragile and sensitive than her younger sister Yuugao, not to mention a bit on the dim side.  She, along with Yuugao, are representatives of the precious 'daily life' the protagonist lost forever before the story began.
    The class president, a friend to most in the class, and the last remaining heroine.  She tends to be kind to everyone and is something of an optimist, though the fate they are enduring makes it harder for her to be so.  She learned the piano from Yuugao.  Despite the stark knowledge of what is coming in the near future, she has a deep well of strength that allows her to continue on, unifying the class where it would have otherwise long-since broken apart.
    Asagao's elegant, quiet younger sister.  The story starts being told from her perspective.  Her deep love and compassion are impressed upon you almost from the beginning, and her comments on the characters in the class are your first impressions on them all.  She is actually much stronger mentally and emotionally than Asagao, but people tend to underestimate her based on her manner and appearance.  She loves everyone in the class, and it is through her that the bonds between the members are  most obviously seen.  Without her perspective, the emotional bond I felt toward the characters would have been much weaker.
    Kousuke and Rika
    A couple born within the class after things fell apart.  Kousuke was once a delinquent, but through the efforts of Itsuka and friends before the disaster, he was settling down.  He is devoted to his friends and deeply in love with Rika, despite lingering feelings for Shiori.  Rika is a 'normal girl' who fell in love with Kousuke despite his rough past and got up the courage to confess despite the inevitable end that awaited them.  Their bond is a bright point for a class that tends to be more than a bit gloomy.
    A high-strung former member of a music club, she is one of those most obviously effected by the knowledge of their fate.  She and Ryou are the characters who have the most difficulty adjusting to the facsimile of 'daily life' while the axe of fate hangs above their necks.  At heart, she is a weak and vulnerable young woman, but she covers it up with her somewhat harsh manner.
    A quiet young man who nonetheless feels a strong bond with his few friends.  Like Anna, he is a bit high-strung and has a lot of difficulty adjusting.  To him, the wait for his inevitable fate is an unendurable terror, and he isn't able to relax enough to really take the feelings of the others around him into account.  However, his introverted personality tends to make him less... caustic than Anna.
    The former ace of the soccer team and Itsuka's best friend.  He used to play soccer with Itsuka, with Itsuka as the team captain.  He cares deeply about his friend, and he is hurt deeply by how helpless he is to do anything for him.  He has many friends but Itsuka is his best one.  He is in love with Yuka, but due to the situation he has been unable to bring himself to confess.
    She has been friends with Itsuka since middle school and at one time was on the verge of falling in love with him, but Itsuka's closeness with the twins made her back off.  Now, she is close with Jun, though they are not yet lovers.  She is a bright and easygoing girl who is very good at hiding her emotions regarding the fate they are all living with.
  3. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Magatsu Barai: Story   
    First, I should note that this game suffers from what are likely budget constraints.  I say this because some of the VA choices are... questionable.  Ragou's VA in particular is something of a disaster, with a discordant mismatch between the voice and the characterization.  This stands out even more because other choices like Kaen and Diran's male VAs are actually really awesome matches.  
    I failed to properly articulate what the music in this game resembles at most sometimes... and that would be Persona 5.  Something about a number of the tracks resembles the ones seen in that game enough that, in combination with the horrible color choices, made me feel like something was off at a lot of points in the story.
    Common Route
    The common route of this game is not particularly long (the game as a whole is not nearly as long as any of Light's other games), but it does serve its purpose.  In introduces the primary antagonists, the heroines, the side-characters, and the protagonist while setting the stage for future conflicts.  It is functional, more than anything else, and if it weren't for the excellent characterization for Mizuri, Shion, Amane, and Tsubasa, it would be considered bland.  Ragou and Kaien, for pure chaotic evil characters, are pretty amusing to watch, despite the fact that they are doing horrible things to people.  
    My complaint is that there is too much time spent on SOL for a Light game.  Yes, there is a sense that you need to know what the characters are losing for it to be poignant when everyday life is disrupted, but the ratio is a bit skewed for this game, considered the golden ratio of SOL to plot and action in any good chuunige is 1:4:3.  
    Tsubasa is a weird heroine... not the least of which because she is a TS heroine who was once a guy.  However, in opposition to this, she tends to be the sexiest of the three heroines due to her characterization (it was intentional).  She is also the most 'classic' onmyouji of the two human heroines, using some familiar onmyouji techniques and preferring the bow as her weapon of choice.  
    Her story is, at least in part, a confrontation with her past, and the primary conflict - for her, at least - is internal rather than external.  While there is some buildup to a major confrontation toward the end, it needs to be said that the whimsical nature of the antagonists makes the shift to the final battle somewhat abrupt.  In addition, it felt like this path didn't really have the sheer drama I'm familiar with from the company's usual works.  It isn't a horrible path, but it does feel more like a Millie path than a Chitose path.
    Amane is Hayato's adopted older sister who was raised by his grandfather with him.  She is a total brocon and constantly clinging to Hayato when she is with him.  However, the best way she can be described when she is away from him is 'cold and competent'.  She is a master of kenjutsu and a 'power type' onmyouji, using techniques that fall into the 'open path' style of direct combat rather than the more roundabout styles like Houjutsu (which is basically a preparation is everything), Fuujutsu (the art of binding and sealing), or Injutsu (the art of curses and turning ties against an opponent).  It makes sense, since the protagonist takes a lot of his inspiration from her.
    Her path is more involved with Kaien, as opposed to the way Ragou was the prime antagonist for Tsubasa's path.  You'll discover this during his first appearance, but Kaien is the kind of absolute evil that just deserves a good superhero punch to the face.  He likes to make people suffer above all other things, and he finds the hatred people direct his way to be pleasurable.  The irony is that, rather than the confrontation with him, Amane's inner conflict with her yandere nature is the bigger draw point of this path.  To be blunt, if you played the common route, you'll have noticed the signs of yandere in her actions, and this path brings them out in a big way midway through.  Uncharacteristic of Light's usual style, it isn't taken to its logical conclusion, instead being solved with the power of love *vomits*.  
    Shion's path is far more typical of Light's style, in that it is long, highly-detailed, and has a lot of twists and turns.
    Now for some explanation.  Amongst the Magatsu, there are thirteen called the Thirteen Demonic Generals, who both possess a humanoid shape and intellect, as well as the ability to touch on one of the Seven Aspects of Creation and use them in a spell that matches their desires.  Shion, also known as Saikakou Nue, is one of these.  In the distant past, she was sealed away by the founding onmyouji of the Isurugi bloodline (Hayato and Amane's ancestor) during the Heian era.  Shion herself is one of the few of her kind that is capable of coexisting with the human race, for reasons that are only illuminated in her path.  She is a contrary individual, being something of a tsundere combined with someone who puts on arrogant airs and brags about her abilities to any and all that will listen.
    To be honest, I was a bit startled at the huge difference between Shion's path and the other two.  While the first third is mostly SOL, almost the entirety of the remaining two-thirds is pure plot and action.  There are plenty of good action scenes toward the end (the last two chapters of her path are almost entirely battle scenes), as well as background for Kaien (whose origin story is unbelievably sad) and Shion (whose origins are equally sad, which seems to be typical of most humanoid Magatsu).  The ending itself is a tear-jerker, and I was somewhat annoyed at the very last part, for reasons that will be self-evident to anyone who dislikes Ragou.
    I'd say this one is on the lower end in terms of quality for a Light VN, even if you don't include the minus points for the character design and VAs.  It is ironic that even a low-quality Light game is still better than most of what the rest of the industry can produce, though, lol.  Typical of my habits, I have been a bit harsh on this game, as it is in my favorite genre.  It isn't going to become one of those chuunige I replay on a regular basis, either.  However, it is still fine if you are starved for the genre.
    Edit: If I have one thing I wish they would redo (other than some of the VAs and the artwork) it would be making the story somewhat less straightforward.  Too many of the conflicts in the story are resolved too easily for a Light game, and there is no foreshadowing or long sides that give life to the characters' hidden sides.  In particular, Ragou remains a two-dimensional character to the end, despite being the main antagonist.  It is ironic that the nihilistic sadistic demonic priest Kaien has a more filled out character than him.
  4. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Magatsu Barai: Preliminary Thoughts   
    Before someone asks, I merely paused the other VN to start Magatsu Barai (and Xenoblade Chronicles 3).  I will finish it (eventually).
    Magatsu Barai is the first Light game to be made from beginning to end after the collapse of the company's original owners.  As such, it is only natural (and unfortunate, at least to an extent) that some things will have changed.
    To address the elephant in the room for anyone who has seen the cover or sample cgs... The coloring really is that awful.  I mean, how could any cg artist think those colors wouldn't be eye cancer?  
    On the other hand, the music is an interesting set of contrasts.  There are a lot of themes that have been slightly rearranged to seem like new ones but are actually just modified ones from the Silverio series.  The rest are actually quite high-quality, but then, Light has never had any problem on that side of things.
    For those unable to read the official website due to being Nihongo-disabled, I will explain the basic setting.  
    Essentially, it is a world where sorcery in Japan remained intertwined with politics and daily life right up to the modern day.  In that sense, the setting is somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo Ravens.  However, a vital difference is that there was no real magic left outside of Japan before WWII, when the atom bombs spread it over the world when they hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  This resulted in the Japanese having a valuable service to provide the rest of the world... exorcists and sorcerers to counter the new laws of reality that made some of the habits the rest of the world had developed disastrous.
    As an example of this, the 'magatsu' in this world setting essentially causes a magical reaction whenever enough harm is done to a feeling being (even an insect), and this effect magnifies the more this is done.  At the beginning of the story, a news story comes up on the TV where, as the result of a country overusing pesticide against a plague of locusts, the locusts' spirits became a cloud of demonic insects that were even worse than the locusts in question.
    Because this happens all over the place, it is a world where magic-users always have a role to play.
    As such, I find the setting interesting... at least so far.
    As for the heroines, I'd say the two magatsu heroines are the most interesting, with the protagonist's older sister entering one step behind and Tsubasa falling a few steps behind her.  This is my tastes though, so others might feel differently.  A huge positive is that there are no 'Victim A' heroines in this story.  All the heroines are capable of protecting themselves (sometimes better than the protagonist is... actually all of them), so there is no sense that any of them is helpless, one of the most annoying chuunige tropes.
    On the other hand, the protagonist is under the influence of one of the more annoying tropes of the genre... the talentless guy who nonetheless throws himself into things (think Emiya Shirou from Fate).  While he does gain a power that lets him keep up, this is a power given to him by the true heroine, not a power of his own (which is another trope).
    All in all, my opinion so far is that this is an interesting chuunige VN whose art is eye cancer.
  5. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random Translation: Ashley Horizon and Dainsleif   
    Come into being, oh starlight written across the heavens... for we are a shining falling star.
    Oh how foolish, you blind and ignorant master of the throne!  How could you believe that you could take from my heart hope for the future with a mere prison at the bottom of the sea and an endless labyrinth?
    Look within these two eyes.  Know the fierce and undying flame within my gaze.  I already fly far into the distant sky, seeking the solemn flame (the sun).
    Even though my wings burn and melt away, there is nothing for me to fear.
    Fly oh Icarus, that you might obliterate the sins.  Rage, smash, and burn everything away!
    Let us bring down judgment upon all that is impure as we burn in the light of victory!
    Upon my fall, so shall the flames of creation arrive!
    For that reason, oh all that is evil.  Submit and quietly die out.
    Metalnova-- MkBlaze Hyperion!
    Shine brightly in the heavens, oh my guardian star, that I might raise up the iron flame.
    You are so beautiful, oh treasure that stretches as far as I can see.  The jewels I stole when I killed my father, the mount of gold wet with crimson... oh why do they shine as they grab hold of my heart and never let go?
    Now nothing is reflected in my eyes but what shines oh so brilliantly.  I won't hand it over to anyone, for it is mine!  The dragon relishes his joy as he breathes poison breath upon it.
    Oh steel sword that pierces and tears apart that joy.
    Oh death scream that resonates through my nest.  The evil creature is slain, and the epic saga begins!
    Oh immortal hero who knows not fear.   I acknowledge that you are true treasure of mankind, and the true form of the gold I desire!  Before the solemn light, my overflowing desire brings life to my dead flesh!
    For that reason, I will devour you whole.  For you are mine, I will hand you over to no other!
    To speak a prophecy of ruin and endings, I will thrust a sword into your back!
    Metalnova--- Sigurd's Bane, Dainsleif! (Demon dragon's war story, the hero-slaying sword of ruin)
  6. Like
    fun2novel reacted to MayoeruHitori for a blog entry, Will VNs bring about a revolution in social games? A look at Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine.   
    Welcome back to my blog.
    You might have seen a few headlines about Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine, two upcoming mobile games from writers Maeda Jun and Kodaka Kazutaka.
    These aren't just your average games. They're ambitious ventures that blur the line between visual novel and social (AKA gacha) game.
    So I'm here today to talk about exactly why VNs fans should pay close attention to the potential of these two upcoming games, given both how unique their stories could turn out to be and  their implications for the VN industry as a whole.
    As an important disclaimer, like almost all social games, these two titles will probably be a bad fit for anyone who has a predisposition to gambling addiction. If you think that label could apply to you, my recommendation is: don't even consider playing them (or any other social game). Just stick with VNs, and watch these games' stories on YouTube or elsewhere later.
    The Worn Soil of the Visual Novel Industry, and Social Game Money Trees
    There's no question that Japanese visual novels have declined relative to their peak. (International VNs are very much on the rise, but that's another subject, and they have yet to reach Japan's heights anyway.) The golden age is far behind us, and there are no more VNs that turn into famous multi-industry franchises. The otaku community as a whole has shifted its interest away from VNs and back to anime and manga, or onward to the likes of isekai novels, doujin eroge, and social games.
    If you can't accept this and want to understand exactly when and why visual novels declined, check out this post's prequel, Notes on the past and hope of Japanese visual novels.
    Back in the heyday of VNs, CEOs of eroge companies were buying sports cars, and there was no lack of investors. When the decline happened, there were a variety of causes/symptoms, but the one that produced the most tremors in the industry is that the cash flow dried up. Somebody moved Baba's cheese. So where did the cheese go, then?
    The best answer is that it went to social games. In fact, the year that the sales decline of eroge leveled out (you might say that people finished evacuating) was the same year that there was a broad movement by the Japanese game industry to take their social games off of SNS and onto independent platforms like GREE to boost profits.
    No social game born from a visual novel IP has drawn more attention than Fate/Grand Order. True, Fate was already a massive franchise even before FGO, and that certainly helped the game succeed financially. However, the all-time revenue from console Fate/stay night is infamously less than a week's worth for FGO. FSN sold less than a million copies on all platforms, but the same core Type-Moon artist, writer, and pair of composers have built the creative foundation of a mobile spin-off with more than a million active users, and vast revenue thanks to whales.
    Bad Stories: An Inevitable Problem with Social Games?
    Visual novels have a reputation for deep and powerful stories. Social games don't, despite the fact that they share so many elements with VNs: they often have an ADV presentation style that's similar to VNs, talents from the VN industry often work on them, the plot can end up quite lengthy and complicated just like VNs, the player meets hero(in)es and builds relationships with them like in VNs, and so on. Instead, what social games have a reputation for is waifus/husbandos and fanservice.
    There's a reason for that reputation: developers' attitudes. As a genre, social games weren't developed with the goal of telling compelling stories; they were created in order to facilitate gameplay that leverages behavioral habits to encourage players' engagement and investment. And while the presence of VN-esque heroines can serve to boost players' engagement, lengthy VN-esque narratives are regarded by social game developers as an impediment to engagement, given the way consumers have trended away from VNs. As a result, social game scenarios are often short, and constrained by the gameplay's predetermined "plot" such as random monster attacks every 2 minutes. They even have silent protagonists, a convention that the story-driven JRPG and VN industries abandoned a long time ago.
    The truth is, developers' disregard for scenario quality actually isn't new at all. Leaders in VN and eroge companies have always had a pattern of naively thinking that the artist is the person who matters most in a VN's development, and that the writer is the person who matters least. In the early days, they would even hire absolutely anyone to be an eroge scenario writer, because they just didn't care. So it's a problem that many decision-makers in these companies are actually idiots whose presence does the social game industry a disservice.
    And so no, bad stories in social games aren't inevitable. In fact, many game development teams recognized their bad stories and belatedly tried to improve them. That's why you will often hear people say of social game stories "the later events at better" or "they didn't think it would be so popular early on..." Unfortunately, a bad story can't truly be fixed by additions to it; it should be at least rewritten, but that rarely happens. So what you have is an industry that's still full of bad stories, and producers who think that's perfectly natural.
    The Ambition to Create Deep Stories in Social Games: Enter Key and Too Kyo
    In December 2019, Key announced Heaven Burns Red. Key needs no introduction; their writer Maeda Jun's nakige Kanon was largely responsible for redefining VNs as emotional experiences in the first place. 1st beat was the last game he had direct involvement in. Pre-registrations are already open, and trailers and interviews have come out which show many indications that Heaven Burns Red has potential:
    The protagonist actually speaks, and forms clear emotional connections with other characters. Without a real protagonist, a social game story's prospects are much lower, because players can't self-insert as well; they wonder why an epic plot revolves around a character who has the expressiveness of an emoticon set. This is one of the major complaints people have toward social games with relatively good stories like Fate/Grand Order. Maeda Jun's humor is as spectacular as ever. Key's writer has once more created a world full of characters who are funny and distinct. Just a few lines spoken between them is enough to entertain or intrigue the player. Good comedy is one of the few things that can instantly grab a person and maintain their attention. Too few social games are actually fun to read early on. Baba, someone whose vision of visual novels' potential aligns with what I've talked about, is fully behind this. Baba Takahiro, a smart businessman who founded and still leads Visual Arts, has shared his views with the world in interviews. He had Key partner with WFS, a competent and experienced developer which has created some of the more story-oriented social games, like Another Eden and Shoumetsu Toshi. He has a realistic awareness that VNs are no longer as popular as they once were, but at the same time, as recognizes and wishes to continue to leverage the potential of VN-style stories to let players form deep attachments to characters. HBR is just one of many projects Baba has approved in order to help Key and its talents adapt to industry trends. You can count on there being nakige elements. This is clear from trailers, if it wasn't already clear from the fact that Baba will naturally leverage Maeda's talents. It's not like other social games haven't made many of their players cry before, via plot elements like tragic backstories and character deaths, but they don't be able to hold a candle to what Maeda can do. The scale is broad, as you'd expect from a social game that's been taken so seriously by its developers. There are already character designs and concepts for 48 main characters, Maeda involved in all of them, beyond the 12 who have been introduced so far. Even just as a social game, the production values and system look better than almost anything I've seen before. The 3D environments and models, special attack animations, character designs, music, and voice acting are all impressive. If you want more of a sense of what Heaven Burns Red is like, I recommend watching the first and second trailers.
    In February 2020, Too Kyo and Akatsuki announced a new social game called Tribe Nine. (For those who don't know, Too Kyo is a collaborative indie company established in 2017 which employs a number of creative talents, such as writer Kodaka Kazutaka the rest of the Danganronpa team, Zero Escape's writer Uchikoshi Koutarou, and Root Double's writer Nakazawa Takumi. They all left their former companies.) Anyway, at the time Tribe Nine was announced, it was a teaser that most people didn't pay much attention to. But in fact, half a year later, Too Kyo secretly went from an LLC to a corporation. Then earlier this year, they put out a call to recruit a number of new writers. While the scale of the changes at Too Kyo isn't clear yet, Nakazawa and Kodaka have described the company's atmosphere as intensely busy and full of enthusiasm.
    The game's storytelling approach comes from Kodaka. Like Baba, he has strong views about the potential of emotionally moving stories to redefine our expectations for game narratives, and he has enough ambition for 3 Babas. The scenario size is already more than the original Danganronpa's, and they plan for it to be more than double that before the game's release. Not that they will release it all at once. Danganronpa was easily a medium-sized VN. Having twice that written before release is unprecedented for a social game. For comparison's sake, the entirety of FGO's Arc 1 (through Solomon) is just comparable to a medium-sized VN that's on the long size, 750K characters. Great value is placed in the writers for Tribe Nine. Look at what I just said about the scenario size; the implication is that Too Kyo will output maybe half a million characters in just the next few months. While it's too early to make any definitive judgments, the implication from recruitment notices and Kodaka's comments about them is that Too Kyo's new writers have been directly enabled to create the kind of stories they want to tell, that they can be passionate about, and fit those stories into the world of Tribe Nine's Neo Tokyo. Both Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine are mobile games, with no PC ports or localizations announced yet. But it's clear that both Key and Too Kyo want to release their works in the West, and I believe that WFS (partnered with Key for HBR) is particularly equipped to make that happen, since they also localized Another Eden. Historically, every Too Kyo project has also seen localization, even simultaneously.
    Conclusion: Exploration and Wandering in Search of Forgotten Beauty and Prestige
    Social games are one of the most lucrative genres of video games in existence, thanks largely to whales' wallets, but also due to their popularity among ordinary people. Yet ironically, they are the subject of constant ridicule, and not just for their gambling elements. Even the most popular ones are often criticized as having generic, snoozefest stories and vapid, grindy gameplay.
    But if you look closely, there's a subset of fans who actually rave positively about social games' stories. Stories that are objectively "okay" at best, even if you don't factor in the bad gameplay that accompanies them. And the reason they do that is actually the same reason people might also praise the potential for lengthy VNs to immerse players: the more time players spend with characters, the more they become attached to them.
    When you wake up every day and tap on an app icon and see your waifu say hello on your home screen, take her into battle constantly, watch as new side episodes and versions and skins of her are released multiple times a year, browse tons of fan art, and so on... you become attached to that character, and all her idiosyncrasies. So even if some new event's plot that involves her is bland by any objective measure, it's still directly about someone you're fond of, who you just love to see talk and act--so you enjoy it. Consider a certain tiny dragon who's a generic JRPG mascot character with the catchphrase "I'm not a lizard" voiced by Kugimiya Rie, and who has zero character depth or character development ever... After you've watched 100+ short slice-of-life scenes involving him over the course of 2+ years, he feels like an old friend with a bit of a silly personality, it comforts your heart a little to just be around him, and you'll even create memes about his love of apples to share on Reddit or Discord. That's what it's often like to become a fan of these games, as a cognitive process.
    Long-lived social games are, inherently, epics. They are expansive worlds with vast casts of characters, explored over the course of months and years. And yet, they're even more than that. They're epics where the gameplay is designed to make us feel emotionally engaged with their world, in spite of their poorly written and ambiguously connected stories which only have a few occasional good scenes.
    If social games that follow these two upcoming games' example were to become the norm, I believe we'd have a chance to see a game that is simultaneously objectively great--at the very least, one tier below VNs' top tier--and epic in scale, and viscerally engaging. That kind of intensively integrated experience, which simmers alongside one's daily life, is something that I hope to one day get a taste of.
    But in the meantime, I will have to wait for these creators' attempts to pan out--for them to crack the code that will successfully fuse the charm of both social games and VNs. And so my eyes are on Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine.
    Misc. Reference
    It occurred to me that I didn't link to many sources for much of the info I have, so to help remedy that a bit, I've edited in this section to add a few links.
    https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/210930f Tribe Nine, Denfaminico Gamer interview with Kodaka
    https://voice.aktsk.jp/6773/ Tribe Nine, Akatsuki's interview with their producer Yamaguchi
    https://twitter.com/kaibutsukantoku/status/1444452237108039682 Tribe Nine translated info from above 2 articles
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNQNZiy7K2I Tribe Nine game promo movie (no gameplay shown)
    https://www.reddit.com/r/gachagaming/comments/poc3oo/what_we_know_about_heaven_burns_red_so_far/ HBR, good summary of info
    https://www.reddit.com/r/grandorder/comments/k31fxx/jp_script_size_by_singularity/ Source for FGO numbers
  7. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Princess x Princess and Kurogane Kaikitan   
    Princess x Princess is the sequel/extension of Rishia's route from Shuffle 2.  Essentially, it begins with Rishia enthusiastically searching out extra wives for Raito while he has difficulty adjusting to his girlfriend's values.  However, this quickly expands into a game that, to some extent, can actually be called a sequel rather than a fandisc.  This is similar to how the original Shuffle's 'extras' functioned more like true additions to the original game than fandiscs.
    I'm going to be blunt... this is better than the original game, to a significant degree.  A lot of the things I hated about how they handled Shuffle 2 are done differently in this game, and the style in general is much closer to how the original Shuffle was put together in terms of humor and character interactions.  For fanboys of the original Shuffle who hated or just weren't satisfied with Shuffle 2, this game is a saving grace.
    That said, this game has the characters traveling to different parallel worlds, where they are inserted into their own roles (with varying degrees of memory alterations) in them.  In each, there are differences big and small (there is even one world where every character holds a near-perfect replication of the personality and role of a corresponding heroine from the original Shuffle), but the theme is mostly centered around Raito dealing with the issues in his own life using the experiences he has in these parallel worlds.  
    The 'paths' in this game are either threesome or harem combinations with Rishia, based on how Raito takes in his experiences in the various worlds.  There is a threesome with Selena, Ai, and Lapis, with a full-on harem path and a Rishia-only path put in for kicks.  
    For fanboys of the original, this game also succeeds in clarifying the 'canon' of continuity to this game from the original Shuffle.  The canon apparently is that Rin married Shia but died a significant period of time before she did.  
    Kurogane Kaikitan part 1
    Kurogane Kaikitan is the port of the Vita game by Minato Carnival.  It is a somewhat more action-focused game than is the norm for Minato Soft and its subsidiaries, with a much more serious subject matter.  The protagonist, Habaki Masamune is the leader of a student anti-terrorist task force using mystical weapons called Kurogane that manifest certain 'recorded' phenomena that can be controlled by the user (this is not explained on the official website, which annoyed the hell out of me when I was reading up on the game beforehand).  Masamune is a heavily-scarred victim of terrorism that hates terrorists to an incredibly strong degree, to the point where he is willing to cut them down mercilessly at a moment's notice.  
    In Kurogane Kaikitan's world, Manhattan was destroyed by a mysterious explosion, obliterating the city and allowing Japan to sign a peace treaty with more of its political and military power intact.  As a result of Wall Street being gone and America's resulting economic downturn, Japan was able to take the helm of the world's economy, becoming a special financial zone and the battleground for various countries proxy terrorist activities.  This necessitated the creation of units devoted to dealing with this, which at first was the Special Police but more recently a militarized unit called SWAM.  The protagonist and his comrades are in training to join the Special Police.
    The first thing most people will notice on beginning the game is the horrid use of Live 2d that can't be turned off.  I will say that it was a huge quality of life crapfest that they didn't allow the turning off of the sprite motion system, since it isn't that good.  Normally, I don't comment on visual aspects, but this was worthy of mention for its negative impact on the experience.
    The prologue/common route of the game is pretty long, at just over seven hours on its own (though I wasn't reading it hurriedly, so I probably could have shortened the experience to five or six if I tried).  In exchange, the first two paths I did, Amakuni's and Kotetsu's, were roughly four hours in length each.   The prologue does an excellent job of developing the cast of characters to the point where you know which heroine you want to pick first (though you have to do Amakuni's or Fusehime's path first), as well as introducing the most important elements of the setting and setting the stage for the events that follow.
    Amakuni is the protagonist's childhood friend, who was sickly as a child but became healthy by the time the story begins.  She is a master of combat iaido (the action of drawing the katana, slashing, then returning it to the sheath), and she is the classic 'self-proclaimed fiance' heroine.  Her path has a good mix of action, ichaicha, and feels, with two arcs (a 'buildup arc' and a finishing arc) that succeed in making her path feel like an extension of the prologue instead of being a random story based loosely on what happened before (as is common with a lot of VNs).  Her ending is highly emotional and somewhat bittersweet (a theme for this game as a whole).
    Kotetsu is a different animal entirely from the aggressive and tennenboke Amakuni, as she begins as a quiet loner who turns into a koakuma heroine later on.  I mostly picked her for my second heroine because I was extremely curious about her reactions to various events in the prologue and Amakuni's path.  She is the type of heroine who, once she falls for the protagonist, becomes somewhat emotionally dependent on him.  Her path is cute up until the point where events start rapidly occurring and certain facts about what was going on behind the scenes come to light.  Kotetsu's situation is one that draws pity naturally from the reader, so don't be surprised if you find yourself tearing up or wanting to look away because of some of the events of the story.  The ending is somewhat less satisfying than Amakuni's unfortunately, but that was perhaps inevitable considering the situation in both paths.
    Nene is the teacher of the protagonist's class and the overseer/handler of the Kurogane unit for the First School.  Her path is significantly more twisty and labyrinthine than Kotetsu's or Amakuni's paths, whose trials were mostly personal for the characters involved.  Nene is that classic 'older heroine who falls apart in private' that Minato Soft and its subsidiaries love to put into their games.  She is also the equivalent of this game's Momoyo (in other words, the trump card/ultimate power that can flip the game board if put into play), albeit with none of Momoyo's whims.  I enjoyed this path, but like Kotetsu's path, the epilogue was somewhat unsatisfying.
    Tamane is the oldest member of the Kurogane unit, a member of a military family famous for its skills with the bayonet and rifle.  She often plays the mature and stern older sister role in the group, except that she, like Nene, tends to fall apart in private due to her weakness to those she cares for.  Her path, like Nene's, is pretty twisty and complex in comparison to the first two routes I played.  I enjoyed this path (the action toward the end, in particular) a lot, and the epilogue for this path is as good or better than Amakuni's, with the parting point in taste being whether you want sweet or bittersweet.  
    I don't like Fusehime.
    I have messed around with a lot of heroines I didn't like over the years, especially in serious games, but Fusehime is this game's Victim A, an out of place character who should have been just another class member.  I know that there is this temptation to put a morally naive party member into every 'group of friends', no matter how dark the setting, but Fusehime is particularly bad this way.  Naive, idealistic, and full of delusions about what her job is about... just about everything about her rubbed me wrong.  So, don't be surprised that I skipped this path, bwahahaha!
    Kaikitan Path
    This is the game's true path, devoid of romance.  It is also the path where a lot of the story's hidden elements come into the open and some of the best battles occur.  However, it is also a path that is somewhat rough emotionally on the reader if they came to like the main cast.  Honestly, I thought it was a bit too predictable compared to what it could have been with a little bit less teasing in the other routes.  
    Extra Endings
    All the heroines have extra path/endings after the Kaikitan path, based in a different timeline (specifically stated).  Like the original timeline, it is a 'what-if' world that is meant for those who like happy endings.  These secondary paths are actually reasonably enjoyable, but I honestly enjoyed the main game's paths more.
    An enjoyable game based in a what-if world.  The world it is based in isn't the one of Majikoi, Tsujidou, and Tsuyokiss, for those who are curious.  It could have been a great deal better if they spent less time on SOL, but considering that this is Minato Soft (well, one of their subsidiaries), I suppose it was inevitable that it wouldn't be like that.  In a lot of ways, the version of Japan portrayed in the game reminds me of a Japanese-flavored America, in that it suffers from many of the same problems.
  8. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random VN: Raillore no Ryakudatsusha   
    Raillore is 3rdeye's  most recent chuunige, made back in 2019.  At the time, I tried to play it and dropped it after the prologue, for a number of reasons.  The primary reason was the lack of narration in combat scenes... For some reason, 3rdEye has almost no narration in this game, comparative even to charage.  Instead, battle scenes are done using CGs, brief animations, and sound-effects.  Unfortunately, this means you generally have no idea of what is going on, due to the limitations of such things.  The second issue was the second protagonist, who is your classic sorta former-criminal dameningen, Grey.  Grey is... very familiar.  He is the type of guy who has frustrated anime, manga, and LN fans for decades with being the lazy and feckless bastard who is only good at tricking people.  This type of protagonist makes for a very predictable story that is not in the least bit interesting, at least in my experience.  The last was the pacing... which is generally awful.  Though, it is hard not to be awful when no real effort is put into explaining the world outside of the ever-increasing number of encyclopedia terms hidden behind the game's clunky menu.
    Supposedly, Raillore is at least a few generations later than us, after some kind of apocalypse that destroys civilizations and leaves pockets of people with weak superpowers excavating the ruins of their ancestors living in primitive cities like Raillore.  At some point before the story began, some people began losing their original superpower and gaining the power to transform relics of the old civilization into working artifacts.  Unfortunately, due to several incidents, these poor individuals experience extreme persecution and, at first, are hunted to death then later are inserted into a machine that erases their power and memories.
    The first of the protagonists is Reno, one of the two boys in the prologue, who has been through enough hell that his personality seems to have been cut down until he became a machine-like warrior existing only to follow orders.  He is a Snatcher, (so is Grey), his power allowing him to take others' superpowers temporarily and convert them into power to fuel is much more powerful superpower, which increases all of his physical abilities in exchange for transforming his personality into a berserker of sorts.  Since Reno is already at Cloud (from FF7) levels of physical ability even before the transformation, this means stone buildings blowing apart at a blow and tiles cracking just from him running around, lol.  
    Snatchers seem to suffer under a similar - if less intense- level of prejudice from the population of the city.  Snatchers are generally feared and used as weapons by the authorities, partnering them with powerful supers who are tasked with judging when is best to give them permission to 'Plunder' others' powers.  
    All of this means that if I hadn't had to dig for every, single, frigging detail by going through the encyclopedia there was an immense amount of potential for this setting.  There is a lot that could be played with to make the story interesting, but the fact that you have to actually search for even vague details means that there is no real enjoyment from the world-building aspect.
    Similarly, this game's story should have been interesting, the battles should have been epic, and the characters should have been memorable...
    Unfortunately, 3rdEye's approach to the game meant that none of these promises were fulfilled.  In a VN, especially an action VN and/or a plotge, narration is the foundation of the story.  You can fool around with visuals all you want to color in the gaps and give people something to build on, but it is the narration that makes the story.  The near-complete lack of narration in this game, particularly in battle scenes and important story scenes, is fatal to this game's quality.  
  9. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, JRPG: Saga Frontier Remastered   
    Saga Frontier is one of the most oddball rpgs to have been released on the ps1, and the ps1 was long considered the 'era of classics' for all jrpg-dom, with remakes of the earlier major names and innumerable newer classics being released for the system.  The Saga series in general is something of an acquired taste, due to the sheer opaqueness of the leveling mechanics and odd, often nonsensical experimentation with random game elements.  
    In terms of game mechanics, Saga Frontier is easily the most well-explored of the series.  It's devoted cult of fanboys and -girls have revealed everything of consequence about the original version over the years, so how much is this changed from the original?
    First of all, for those of you who have played the original, a number of quality of life improvements.  The ability to quicksave and autosaves at important points mean you are far less likely to trap yourself into having to spend hours regaining progress.  The immense expansion of save slots makes it possible to backtrack when you underleveled for the final zones.  As important in its own way, the spark trees and probabilities for weapon/fist techniques have been unified into a single one usable by all human and half-mystic characters.   Last of all, New Game+ lets you bring over character progress, money, skills, and items between paths, making it unnecessary to keep re-leveling them each time you start a new character path.
    However, for true fanboys, the true wow moment is the added content.  Now, Saga Frontier is a game that is very sparse on active storytelling.  It has the same 'silent presentation of the environment' that can be seen in a lot of the pre-2000 jrpgs taken to extremes, and this is the primarily element that takes the Saga series into a niche of its own.  More than anything, I loved that they added in all the cut-out content from the original... especially a ton of content in Asellus's story, which was my favorite and most painful (leveling Asellus is painful at first) path from the original.  This includes extra ways to get out of the first area (depending on your method, you end up in different places and have slightly different experiences), the fixing of the old Asellus path bug that sometimes made it difficult to get the Half-mystic or human endings, and a general polishing of the experience in general.  
    The other chunk of added content is the Fuse path.  In the original game, Fuse was a curiosity of a character usually gained too late for him to be of any use (the method for obtaining him requires confronting a firebird on steroids who can incinerate your party in one hit).  In this game, he has his own path, which is essentially his case files on each of the characters where his own work intersected with theirs.  Since these are always told from his - slightly narcissistic - point of view, they are highly amusing to someone who has finished all the other paths.  While this path doesn't add anything story-wise, it is still funny to go through.
    Now for my assessment of the base game...
    First, the most opaque of the game mechanics, the Battle Rank System.  To be honest, this is perhaps the easiest way for someone new to the series to self-sabotage.  Every battle you undertake, whether it is against a slime or a dragon, upgrades your Battle Rank (which is unseen), eventually unleashing upon you a new tier of enemies for you to fight.  To be blunt, if you sit around in the first area killing the same things, the game punishes you with monsters that can one-shot you in the next area, because you raised the battle rank too high.  This means that grinding essentially requires you to leave whatever dungeon you are in every once in a while to upgrade the enemies into something you can actually gain upgrades off of.
    That brings me to the second unusual mechanic, the leveling system.  Saga Frontier and the series in general doesn't have linear numbered leveling such as is seen in Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy.  Instead, depending on probability mechanics and what you did in the battle (hit stuff with the sword alone, used techniques, used magic, etc) you gain a stat upgrade of some sort at the end of battle, though this slows if you are fighting enemies below your character's (hidden) level.  What adds an element of annoyance to this is that the probability of whether you get any gains or not is heavily dependent on the enemy group you encounter.  This makes only a few of the scaling areas attractive for grinding (pretty much just the Bio Research Lab, which always has the top tier of the battle rank).  
    Last of all is sparking... which is the process of gaining new skills, techniques, and magic.  If you use a sword in combat, your character will not only gain physical stats at the end of battle, but there is also a chance - based on the enemy's 'spark value' (a hidden factor) that your character will be inspired and obtain a new tech or magic.  Sword and fist techniques are sparked randomly based on which tech or whether you simply used the weapon devoid of techs.  Gun techniques are based off of you using a gun and are given to you after battle.  Sparking magic requires that the character using the magic have its 'gift' (gained through quests), have used that school of magic during the battle, and the character's intelligence stat.  
    For story, Saga Frontier will always be a somewhat disappointing game, despite the sheer beauty of its visuals.  There will be innumerable times any given player will have wished for a few extra lines to flesh out a dialogue or for clearer hints to find the next place you need to go.  The fact that NPC dialogue doesn't really change significantly between paths says a lot in and of itself, and this is a common complaint for people who play any Saga game.
    The fact that I found this to be an immensely enjoyable game is as much nostalgia as the game's actual worth.
  10. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, VNs and Me Today   
    I've had numerous comments from people who were asking, 'Do you still play VNs?' in the last year or so because I hardly post anymore.   When I do, it is usually litrpg, random commentary, or maybe one game a month.  The short answer is yes.  The full answer is a bit more complicated.
    First, I should note that a lot of this is about timing... to be slightly more specific, a confluence of factors that created a singularity of me just not posting anymore.  The events in question are my increasing intolerance for disinteresting themes and pure SOL (that is, slice of life without a central plot, even if it is loose); Coronavirus causing a dramatic drop in the release of non-nukige JVNs; and the resulting tendency I had for going back and replaying stuff I've already posted about in the past (sometimes multiple times).  
    While the sheer number of VNs I play per year has gone down from 50-70 to about 20-30, a good portion of those are replays.  I'd say about a little over two-fifths of all the VNs I've played in the last year and a half have been ones I've already replayed multiple times, another fifth were ones I dug out of my archives, another fifth were kusoge not worth posting about, and the remaining fifth are the ones I posted on.  
    A contributing factor to this is Coronavirus and the resulting depression in the non-nukige VN market for PC (which I play almost exclusively, since I don't want to mod  my consoles for the sake of VNs alone).  Companies that once put out games multiple times a year have maybe released one in the last year and a half, other companies have quietly gone out of business, and yet other ones had to drop projects because they couldn't work around the health restrictions.  Charage alone have seen an unprecedented decrease in production, with entire months going by with NO releases (something that would have been unthinkable before Coronavirus).  
    The last major issue is that my burnout on pure SOL (at least high school SOL) has turned into a complete intolerance.  I once thought it would ease somewhat with time, but, if anything, it has gotten worse.  If there isn't something besides pure SOL in there to catch my interest (like nakige, utsuge, or plotge elements), I simply won't be able to finish them.  
    If the protagonist is interesting, I can still (barely) play school life that have something in the way of non-SOL elements, but otherwise, they are unplayable to me.
  11. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random VN: Duelist x Engage   
    Duelist Engage is one of a number of VNs I was pretty sure I underrated relative to my time doing VN of the Month.  The fact that the VN stuck in my mind even almost a decade later says that this supposition was most likely correct.  Thankfully, after replaying it (after so long it was mostly new to me) I found that this supposition was correct.
    Before I dig into story and character issues, I need to note that one way this VN stands out over modern charage is the expressiveness of the heroine sprites.  Before I went back and played this, I never realized just how much the expressiveness of VN sprites has decreased over the years, as well as the lack of any individuality.  Certain restrictive conventions that came into place later on (no bangs overhanging the eyes, no extreme changes in posture, etc) are not found in this VN, and it is surprising the degree to which this gives each character sprite more impact.  Monaka and Tomoe (his mother) in particular have extremely expressive sprites with a distinctive style and posture that is notably different from what you see in later VNs, even those just three or four years later.
    It needs to be said that this is an old-style VN.  That comes with positives and negatives.  Old-style VNs tended to have stronger heroine routes than newer ones, and characterization was often more extreme to emphasize charm points of the various heroines.  Newer VNs tend to be a bit more subtle with heroine characterization, and there is a lot less reliance on dramatic entrances and extreme personality traits.  This led to a tendency - particularly in charage - for everyday life dominating VNs, versus the comedy drama that tended to be more ever-present in earlier VNs.  It's a matter of opinion as to which approach is better, but I generally prefer the older style.
    In this VN, the protagonist, Yukito, for the sake of saving his mother's restaurant, has to marry someone from Colangrein (initially his arranged fiance, Violetta) in order to gain access to an inheritance from his father.   However, Violetta is a knight and immediately challenges him to a duel, with a ballooning series of antics going out from there as more and more heroines get dragged into a traditional 'shuraba' (numerous girls competing for a single - usually donkan - guy's attention).  I'm not going to go into individual heroine routes, so I'll just give you an idea of what the game is like in general.
    The heroines include: his fiance Violetta; his childhood friend Monaka; the aggressive loli (one year younger) Erica; the mysterious former student council president, Tsubaki; and the meek but surprisingly big-hearted Hina.  
    Violetta is your traditional stick-up-the-rear-end heroine, who refuses to marry anyone weaker than herself and is driven to achieve her ambition of becoming the next Knight King of Colangrein.  While she is essentially good-hearted, her competitive side dominates her most of the time, and she naturally takes control of most situations just by being present.  On the other hand, she is needlessly stubborn and surprisingly cute when she thinks no one is watching.
    Monaka is the protagonist's osananajimi (tsundere due to the fact that Yukito is as dense as a warship's hull).  Like a lot of early such relationships, the protagonist goes to wake her up at the neighbor's house every morning and feeds her as naturally as one would a pet.  That said, Monaka isn't as much of a wild child as others of this particular achetype tend to be.  While she can be aggressive, she is surprisingly thoughtful when it comes to others' feelings, which drives her crazy when Yukito fails utterly to notice her infatuation with him.
    Erica is the token loli of the VN (token lolis were almost universal in old-style VNs, even chuunige).  Like a lot of such characters, she is as childish as her physical appearance would indicate.  However, this comes from her upbringing being a mixture of mental abuse and extreme sheltering.  Her family isn't exactly warm-hearted, and her bodyguards are constantly trying to rein her in, thus leaving her devoid of anyone close enough to really serve as a mentor or role model.
    Tsubaki is your standard Yamato Nadeshiko heroine... on the surface.  She has a lot of things roiling beneath that calm and elegant exterior, not the least of which being an extremely aggressive personality that is a good match for that of Violetta, when provoked.   She is also desperately poor, living in the belltower of the school, despite being a relative to a wealthy family.  
    Hina is the most 'normal' of the heroines (even compared to Monaka).  At first she merely seems meek and timid, and this is a valid assessment much of the time.  However, she has the force of personality necessary to remain next to someone like Erica without being overpowered, and she is perhaps the most honest with herself of all the heroines, especially when it comes to Yukito.  
    One thing that struck me when I played through the paths was the consistency of the main storyline.  Like many early charage, this game has a solid main storyline that continues into the various heroine routes (albeit with dramatically different events following the split), and no relevant element of the setting is left ignored.  The fights/duels, while not on the level of a true action VN, are still of some interest when they happen.  In addition, this VN was really good at creating an emotional attachment to the heroines, which is an area where most charage tend to fail in the last five years or so.
    Duelist x Engage is an excellent example of the best of the nascent era of charage, when they were just gaining momentum as a genre.  As a result, it stands out greatly when compared to the charage of today, which tend to be more bland and mundane in comparison.  For those who want a bit more substance to their charage, this is an excellent choice.
  12. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, VNs I still Remember, no matter how much Time Has passed   
    This might seem like an odd choice for a blog post, but it should be noted that, after more then twelve years and seven hundred VNs, remembering each and every one is impossible.  In fact, I hardly recall roughly 70% of all the VNs I've played, and less than 10% are memorable enough that I consider replaying them once in a great while.  I'm somewhat infamous for my lists, but I figured one more wouldn't hurt.  Remember, these are the VNs I still remember to the point where I can state almost everything about what I like and hate about each.  This list is going to be split into two parts, the VNs I loved and the VNs I loved to hate.
    The VNs I loved to Hate
    Suburashiki Hibi- Yes, I hate this VN.  In truth, I hate almost everything written by Sca-ji that I've read.  Sca-ji's style drives me up the wall (for some reason, it presses all the wrong buttons), and his love of unreliable narrators only makes it worse.  Suburashiki Hibi is just the most obvious example of a VN I can't forget, even though I want to, badly.  I can admit that Suburashiki Hibi is interesting... but to me that just doesn't stop me from hating it anyway.
    Aiyoku no Eustia- For a chuunige fan like me to actually outright hate a chuunige is actually fairly difficult.  90% of the reason I eventually came to hate Eustia was because of its true/Eustia route.  I didn't like Caim's rapid personality change, the fact that elements of the setting introduced in Eustia's path make all other paths impossible, and I absolutely loathed Eustia herself (what is it with the love for the helpless and frail heroine in some games?).  That said, it doesn't change the fact that I liked most of the game before I got onto Eustia's path... but it does mean that I will never admit this is a truly great game.
    Ryuusei World Actor- Similarly to above, this is a chuunige I love to hate, despite it being memorable.  There is one simple reason for this... it was made to be a prequel rather than a whole game in and of itself.  There is no sense of completion, no satisfaction to be gained by completing this story.  In addition, it was only recently that its sequel was - finally - announced.  Worse, Kinugasa Shougo's style of never really explaining the setting, except in the most oblique of fashions, greatly harms the enjoyment of this game's plot.  In the case of his previous works, it was relatively easy to extrapolate and speculate yourself into an understanding of the setting based on what was there, but there is a definite sense that way too much is left unsaid about this setting.
    Sakura no Uta- Oddly, this is a game I thought I would have loved, given the twisted relationships and messy backstory involved.  However, once again Sca-Ji's style of presentation and love of unreliable narrators drove me nuts.  Not to mention the constant abuse of foreshadowing and repetition
    VNs I Love so much they are unforgettable
    Dies Irae- Obviously, Dies Irae is one of the penultimate chuunige ever made.  While I personally think Masada turned into a complete incompetent after KKK, there is no denying the quality of Dies Irae's narrative, its characters, and the way it seems to age so well.  Dies Irae is one of those rare VNs that doesn't suffer at all from the passing of a decade or more between its original release and now.  That isn't to say it hasn't been left behind somewhat by the conventions of the genre, but in the end, that doesn't matter as much as you would think it would.
    Fate/Stay Night- Arguably the VN that turned chuunige from a mere curiosity to an actual niche genre.  While many people have a love/hate relationship with Shirou and the Nasuverse, there is no denying that much of the game is enjoyable and it embodies most of the virtues and flaws of the early era of the genre.
    Draculius- The VN that changed my viewpoint on the harem ending and actually did vampires right (outside of the comedy, anyway).  In all honesty, before I picked it up at random, I had no idea this would become one of my most-replayed VNs of all time.  While this game has aged poorly in some ways, in others it's presentation is almost ideal.
    Evolimit- In my mind, this game is Higashide's masterpiece, the defining game of his career, whereas others will argue that it was Ayakashibito.  However, for all that I enjoyed Ayakashibito, this is the game I go back to play over and over, whenever I want my faith in JVNs revived.
    Devils Devel Concept- No, this is not the best game out there.  It is a total niche within a niche game.  I love its characters and setting, but most people would probably drop it solely based on the artwork.  Devils Devel Concept taught me that the protagonist didn't need to be the good guy to be interesting and that heroines didn't need to be fainting lilies to make a chuunige work.
    Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no- Let's be clear... visually this game has aged horribly.  It is from a much earlier era than most of the games on this list and it shows.  However, I  have to note that it is one of the single best nakige ever made.  I can still go back and cry for Tonoko, Shino, and Miyabi no matter how many times I replay it, and the sense of salvation after the end of one of those three paths, the catharsis is so strong that my stress buildup is perfectly lanced afterward.
    Houkago no Futekikakusha- I frequently give this as an example of the ideal 'hard' utsuge.  The situation the protagonist is in is hopeless from the beginning, and his suffering his pre-determined.  Moreover, when the story begins he is already broken almost beyond repair.  The way it is presented provides great catharsis, though like many hard utsuge, the setting is all over the place.
    Konata yori Kanata Made- Many consider the first Konakana to be the ideal for the 'soft' utsuge genre, and I don't generally bother to argue with them.  While similar games were made later on occasion, one can always feel the influence of this game in them, often to the point where it feels like they are almost plagiarizing parts of it.  
    Akatsuki no Goei- I have a love/hate relationship with Kinugasa Shougo.  He hates completing stories, he never explains anything unless he has to, and his endings are always open-ended unless he is coerced to make them not so.  Akatsuki no Goei (the series) embodies him at his best, with Kaito being a complex character that only appears to be your typical 'dameningen' protagonist if you aren't paying attention.
    Hapymaher- What often comes back to me about Hapymaher, compared to later Purple Soft games, was the ideal synchronicity of its aesthetic and its music.  It is very, very rare for me to bother complementing a VN on its music, since most essentially use rearrangements of old BGMs without accounting for unique themes and atmosphere.  While there are some severe obstacles to making this an easily replayable game (the Christmas arc is overwhelmingly boring the second time around), it is still a VN worth experiencing.
    Semiramis no Tenbin- Semiramis no Tenbin is an oddity.  It is a game based in a school setting in modern Japan that doesn't gloss over Japan's social flaws or exaggerate them to excess.  I say this because the Japanese are as good at pretending certain issues don't exist as we white Americans have been at pretending racism doesn't exist.  Not to mention that the beginning of this game locked it in my memory eternally.
    Nanairo Reincarnation- This is one of the few games in my VN experience that I actually out and out named a kamige on first playthrough.  I don't regret it today, and I don't think I ever will.  I could put down any number of reasons to love this game, but it is better, in this case, for readers to make their own conclusions.
    Akeiro Kaikitan- I mostly chose to keep multiple VNs by the same author and team off this list.  However, I should note that I have actually replayed Akeiro six times since its original release... despite it having been released in 2016, a mere six years ago.  I play it about once, sometimes twice a year.  Why?  Because it is still interesting no matter how many times I read it.  The presentation of the various paths is about as close to the storyteller's ideal as it is possible to get, making it difficult to get truly bored of if you put some time in between replays.
    Komorebi no Nostalgica- Say what you like about Takaya Aya, but his moments of brilliance definitely leave an impression.  Komorebi no Nostalgica is easily the best (mostly) non-action sci-fi VN I've ever read.  Ironically, the primary reason for this is how the central non-heroine character, Cinema is handled in the various paths.  It is impossible to fully explain to someone who hasn't played the game just how powerful a role Cinema plays as a supporting character as well as the game's central character, and I'm not even going to try here.
    Ayakashibito- While Evolimit is my favorite Higashide game, I can't fail to mention Ayakashibito here.  Ayakashibito is the work of a genius, and it most definitely shows.  It was also the VN that first showed Higashide's basic style, which almost always utilizes a protagonist with an intimate relationship with the true heroine that continues to thrive regardless of heroine choice.  Ayakashibito is less refined than Evolimit, but in exchange, it also feels more freeform than some of his later works.  It also established his creation of high-quality antagonists (Kuki Youkou, Shannon Wordsworth, etc).
    Ruitomo- Ruitomo is probably the most famous of all the Akatsuki Works games, for good reason.  It is a high-quality classic plotge from an era where such games were relatively plentiful, and its style was the one that defined the expectations of fans for the company's games, though they later took things in a more action-focused direction.
    Kikan Bakumatsu Ibun Last Cavalier- This VN is one I push for weaboos who like the romanticized eras (Sengoku Jidai, Bakumatsu era, etc).  It is based in an alternate world where young Japanese women are sometimes chosen by 'demon-aura stones' that grant them immense physical powers and heightened intelligence in exchange for being unable to have children and being naturally more aggressive than is the norm.  As a result, these women are generally adopted by samurai families and raised to be bodyguards, assassins, and in various other roles normally reserved for men.  The protagonist is a young man raised by a feminized version of Kondou Isao and Hijikata Toshizo and is essentially Okita Soujirou.  It begins previous to the formation of the Roshigumi and branches off after the initial stages of the rebellion that began the collapse of Tokugawa power.  
    Sekien no Inganock- This is pretty much the only Liar Soft game I didn't have trouble playing.  In retrospect, it isn't as good as I remember it being, but it is still enjoyable.
    Majikoi- Say what you want about Majikoi.  Various people either love or hate it and everything by Minato Soft, but I personally think it was an excellent base that they used effectively to milk the setting.  Later games and fandiscs added depth to the characters and expanded the cast, and this, the original was a great game (in my eyes) in itself.
    Grisaia- Probably the most popular VN to introduce VNs to newbies now that Tsukihime and FSN have become so dated as to be almost unreadable for new people.  Like many VNs that got translated, it has a lot of people either worshipping or hating on it, but its quality (in Japanese) is undeniable.
    Soukou Akki Muramasa- Easily the best game Nitroplus has ever produced.  While it is a heavy read, it is also a VN worth reading at least once, if you have the mastery of Japanese to do so.  However, it is also emotionally draining, so many who start it never finish it.
    Hello, Lady- I could have chosen any of Akatsuki Works' chuunige, but with the final version of the game that includes the FD routes and the new true route, this game has easily become my favorite Hino Wataru game.
    Kitto Sumiwataru Asairo yori mo- A game by Shumon Yuu.  Nothing else needs to be said.  Play it, or you aren't a true JVN fanboy.
    Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide- An oddball sort of chuunige by Shumon Yuu.  This one is fully voiced (protagonist included) and has a solid story and cast of characters.  
    Silverio Trinity- of the three Silverio games, I'll say right off that this is the one I liked the most.  While Vendetta has some great moments, Trinity is where I thought the setting first came alive truly.
    Sakura, Moyu- Honestly, I think this is the best VN, by far, that Favorite has produced.  I cried more while I played this game than in all the other games combined, and I was more emotionally invested in the story than any of them by far.
  13. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Akatsuki Yureru Koi Akari   
    This is the third game in Crystalia's series based on a world where a sport has grown up around using spiritual swords and a prequel to the original game, Kizuna Kirameku Koi Iroha.  For those who haven't played the other games, I can say that you might or might  not get more out of this game by playing the others first, as playing the original spoils you on the winner of the tournament and a few other issues.  On the other hand, this game also fills in a lot of gaps on characters from the original, such as Miyako and Tsubaki.
    I'm going to come out and say this outright... this game is probably the best of the three.  Why?  The more obvious reason is that the battles are generally better quality than the other two games.  However, the larger reason is the way it is structured.  Ninety-percent of the game is actually a straightforward seishun drama based around a class of talented dropouts and a teacher protagonist.  Romance doesn't change the outcome, and actual heroine paths are actually in the 'omake' section of the game, rather than being the main focus.  
    This comes as a trade-off.  For those who want romance to be the central element of their VNs, this game will probably be a disappointment.  However, if you like seishun drama with fierce competition and lively interaction between the characters, this is a first-class game.  
    The protagonist, Murakaki Iori, is a member of the JSDF's Tenju Tokka unit (wields Origami and Tenju as part of their tactics), and he gets pulled for a side mission involving educating a class full of talented individuals who normal teachers can't seem to handle.  Iori is, on the surface and for the most part, a good-hearted and hotblooded teacher with a true belief in acting in the best interests of his students and treating them equally.  However, he does have a somewhat traumatic past and that past isn't ignored during the story.
    Takamine Setsugekka is your classic 'aho no ko', also known as the 'idiot child' or 'airheaded' heroine.  She wields a close-in style wielding a ninjatou and hand-to-hand combat, and she starts out at the lowest point of all the heroines in terms of skill.  She occasionally, when hurt or driven to rage, goes berserk and wields immense power, but in this state she is easy to handle for an appropriately skilled opponent.  Typical of this kind of story, she grows the most in skill as time goes on.
    Suzakuin Momiji is, on the surface, a competent and cool swordswoman who focuses on taking apart her opponent's style and habits until she can predict and lead them down the path to destruction.  She wields a long katana similar to that of Sasaki Kojirou from Fate/Stay Night.  She is Tsubaki's (from the original) eldest sister.  However, behind the scenes she is a lazy young woman who can't be bothered to pick up her own trash or get out of bed if she isn't forced to.  In all honesty, the first time I saw her chugging non-alcoholic beer (apparently, when at her family home, she goes for the real stuff) with sashimi in her other hand, I fell in love, so I favored her from the beginning (yes, I'm a bit weird sometimes with my heroine preferences).
    Kuki Asahi is the younger sister of Iori's best friend and former rival, Kuki Takahisa.  From a very young age, she has been in love with Iori, but for some reason she has grown up into a very yandere-ish Iori-worshipper who will ruthlessly act to protect her hold on him.  Her preferred style is 'iai-battou', a defensive style where the user counters their enemies with draw-slashes.  Emotionally, she is perhaps the most volcanic of the characters, though I imagine some will say Setsugekka is.
    Tobe Ririmu is a gyaru swordswoman who has a rather unique style that is very-dance like, combining Tenju illusions with unusual steps with a difficult to predict rhythm.  In all honesty, I felt bad for how this game treats her toward the end.  While she has a strong presence throughout much of the game, that presence fades almost to nothing due to the events of the tournament near the end.  In a very real way, she is a character that existed solely to provide emotional firewood for certain events near the end.  She is something of a free-spirit, with a desire to combine fashion with Jindou, designing combat costumes and Origami skins.  In many ways, she is like your typical 'slightly delinquent-like child' character, especially when it comes to dealing with teacher-student issues.
  14. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Ren'ai x Royale   
    This is the latest game by ASa Project, a company that rose up during the Golden Age of VNs, making a name for themselves as solid comedy charage makers.  To this day, their style hasn't changed significantly, but in some ways that gives them an advantage over modern charage, which tend to be less comedy-focused (actually, most newer charage makers don't seem to know how to make the readers laugh anymore).  
    This game is focused on the harem of a young man named Hirotaka.  The situation is, structure-wise, a classic 'all the girls already love the protagonist' setting, a style that you don't see as often anymore.  Instead of the girls getting along and being friendly (the more common modern iteration of this setup), is almost 90% the girls fighting over Hiro.  Moreover, the girls are so over the top I couldn't stop laughing throughout the common route, to the point where my voice got hoarse by the end of the day.
    There are four main heroines and two sub-heroines with one bad ending extra heroine and two male-oriented 'normal endings'.  The main heroines are: The returning idiot osananajimi who throws everything into chaos with her return to town, Mari; the narcissistic and more than a little perverted (too self-absorbed to realize she is a pervert) Shione; the yandere-ish little sister, Nonoka; and the idol who constantly goes back and forth between being a straightforward deredere heroine and deliberately acting cute, Renna.  The sub-heroines include the popular idol Yuuna and the class president Ikuyo.
    Something important to note about this VN is that the constant byplay with the side-characters contributes a great deal to the comedy and bringing the heroines to life, another technique that requires skill that most modern charage writers lack.  The fact that Hiro is something of a forgetful airhead (who happens to be handsome and subconsciously seduces heroines without even realizes he's doing it) as well as being a bit crazy also helps, since it generally means that things never really ease up or calm down.
    Yes, I did a sub-heroine first... but most people who get through the common route will understand why.  There are just too many reasons to pick Yuuna for a first heroine, even aside from her being an interesting character.  Though I call Yuuna a sub-heroine, she is actually a strong enough heroine with a long enough path to be called a main heroine.  
    Her path  is mostly straight-up ichaicha and dealing with the main heroines insane levels of jealousy (seriously), as well as planning for the future.  It is generally heart-warming while also keeping the comedic atmosphere of the common route.  I liked that the path had a 'years later' epilogue.  
    I had to play Renna's path after Yuuna's, because I wanted a good comparison between a sub-heroine path and a related main heroine path.  Renna is Yuuna's understudy and younger partner in the idol group Gloria Snow.  Renna is a pretty straightforward character who uses a 'cute' persona to seduce the protagonist.  In all honesty, since Yuuna was my favorite from the beginning, I kind of wanted this to be a 3P path, but ASa seems to be ignoring the trend toward such paths, lol.  
    Like Yuuna's path, this one felt like an extension of the common route, with perhaps a bit more in the way of drama (short drama that doesn't really add anything to the experience) and about the same amount of ichaicha.  So, for those who just want the ichaicha comedy, it is roughly equivalent to Yuuna's path in those terms.  
    I'm going to be blunt... this is the path that kind of made me stop playing the game.  It wasn't that it wasn't funny... but as a heroine, Shione's clumsy attempts to take control of the relationship made me nearly go crazy.  This path spent way too much time dancing around instead of getting to the point, and as a result, I felt like it took a lot of fun out of the more humorous moments.  
    For fans of old-style comedy harems where the girls are constantly at each other's throats, this is actually a great VN.  If you want romance, it isn't.  I say this because, except for Yuuna's path, the romance is the weakest part of the game.  The heroines are mostly psycho (makes for great humor and catfights, but not so much for romance), so, while I spent a great deal of time laughing, I didn't get much out of the romance.  I did like that the girls never did stop trying to reclaim Hiro, even after he chose one of them... the way girls always seem to give up entirely in other VNs always struck me as odd.
  15. Like
    fun2novel reacted to kivandopulus for a blog entry, Abyss -Homicide Club- 殺人クラブ [Festival]   
    Foreword: Abyss is one of the more known doujin games and even has a fuwanovel recommendation page. But I could find only one English review, so it needs to be fixed asap. Synopsis: Sasayama Akira was born into a family of assassins and trained as a child to become one of them. However, due to psychological issues, his father decided to send Akira to a relative's house, to live a normal life. Several years later, Akira gets asked by the student council president to investigate a rumor of a group called Abyss, a shadowy group of students responsible for abducting and killing students in a grotesque game. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLs4Gp5VU4Fv_JpraEZN60LRLufWm3loZt   Character Design rating: 7/10 Protagonist rating: 7/10 Story rating: 8/10 Game quality: 7/10 Overall rating: 7/10 I'm still not ready to evaluate a doujin game without voicing too high. And abyss is huge. It was actually delivered in three different issues before the complete version with first one seeing the light in September 2007. As a result, completing all the routes took 38 hours, and such volume without voicing can be difficult to digest. The concept is simple - murders start to happen at school, and protagonist is dragged by a masked person to join the game. Basically, it's common battle royale concept that is popular in doujin chunige. But the actual game is neither pure survival like Killer Queen nor the battle of wits and hints like Umineko. We strive to survive, but also gather hints about opponents identities as well as learn to counter them. Quite a few mysteries pile up, and final Nami routes gives a lot of answers about protagonist past and ABYSS. And it's also not a simple mortal combat style game, because assassin means are deadly and fast, but also because multiple viewpoints are given throughout the story. We even start as a girl protagonist in common route. There's a lot to uncover, so mystery persists till the end. As for deficiencies, I still don't like this concept just because it's battle royale. Participants are placed in a limited space so that they make the story themselves like a sandbox. A lot of stuff and twists are put on top of that to make forget about the core concept, but I still don't see an interesting story behind it all. Well, I did not like any game with similar concept, even FSN, so safely ignore this point. It's been a long time since I played a game with a zero voicing. It's a matter of habit, but everything gets a huge minus from me because of that. BGM is mostly good, but there are some with just a few sounds on repeat to create tension or smth, and I'd rather hear normal melodies. Game system is horrible for auto reading. I had to put lowest possible speed, but huge chunks of text disappeared too fast after small ones, and vice versa. CG are uneven. Basically, all heroines are strong, but in other people's routes they become weak. Another nitpick is that setting of ABYSS organization feared even by police is loosely shaped, lacks detail. Battles are depicted poorly and settled with one blow usually, but buildup and wits battle prior to that is nice. Some heroines routes bring little new and can be considered bonus ones. Enough with negative points. On a bright side, in every route characters are mercilessly butchered, and you never know who or when gets to die. So there's a lot of room for emotional approach. Every heroine has her own story and motivation, and with so many masks identities remain unknown. Hints recovered throughout the game create doubts, but final route managed to take me by surprise, anyway. The good thing is that only couple heroines have traditional love scenes, some have violation, and Nonko has none at all. As you see, despite simple concept there's a lot of room for mystery, wits, tactics, twists, emotions and in-depth character stories. Don't let my evaluation scare you as it includes personal reasons. If you find such game enticing, you most assuredly won't be disappointed.
  16. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Drapri Guu-Ta-Life   
    Really, the name of this game says it all... 'A Dragon Princess's Lazy Life'.  This game centers around Takeru, a young martial artist NEET who will do anything to avoid real work, his osananajimi Suzuka, and the dragon he picked up off the street, Haru.  I'll be honest, this game is pretty similar to Nekonin in length, if not in quality (it is slightly better), and I mostly enjoyed it because the double-boke of Takeru and Haru is so hilarious.  Neither Takeru nor Haru has anything resembling common sense, and they are both perfect sponges, so most of the game has them quite naturally sponging off the people around them, Suzuka in particular.
    The H in this game is plentiful for its length (four scenes in a three hour game), but they really aren't that important.  Neither Haru nor Takeru has a serious bone in their body (all they think about is food).
    I'll be honest when I say I can't call this a great game... but it was amusing.  I'd hoped that this would be a new plotge by Whirlpool, but I guess I can live with a short comedy VN.
  17. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Steam: Silverio Trinity append stories   
    A few weeks ago, I picked up the Steam versions of Silverio Vendetta and Silverio Trinity.  My reasons in the latter case were pretty self-explanatory... I wanted to read the append after story that Light so cavalierly and cruelly only included with the all-ages version previously only available on the Vita.  Considering that the after story append serves as a bridge between Trinity and Ragnarok, as well as giving you what amounts to a four to five hour extension to the true route... I can say it was worth paying for, even though I essentially skipped through the entire game to unlock it.
    There are two new append stories included.  The aforementioned after-story is one, and the other is Ashley Horizon's origin story.  For those who haven't read the main game, this will contain major spoilers.
    The after-story append could have easily become the core of a fandisc for most games.  It is extensive (about four-fifths to two-thirds as long as one of the heroine paths) and is action-packed, as well as being chock-full of content of the sort fanboys like me can't help but scream with glee about.  (More spoilers below)
    Say what you want about Light, but their tradition of extensive append stories and gaiden stories is one I think more plotge companies should consider imitating.  Too bad they went down with Masada's delusions of glory.
    Edit: I should note that there is currently no text hooks for the Steam versions of either game, so if you want to use a text-hooker, you'll have to either create an h-code for yourself or beg someone who already knows how.  I had a huge headache from the usual Light 'I've got to gather all the rare kanji into a single sentence!' when I was done.
    If nothing else, it is worth it to see this.
  18. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Reflecting on my Otaku Origins   
    I took my first steps onto the road of the otaku in 1992, when I watched the poorly dubbed (all dubs were godawful back then) Record of Lodoss War Volume 1 OVA VCR tape.  Now, I was already a heavy fantasy addict, having been introduced to the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance in 1990, and my obsession was at its peak at the time.  When I watched Record of Lodoss War, I saw the typical 'elven maiden with human hero' romance in a new way (incidentally, this is a pretty typical romantic theme in those days, less so nowadays).  I also saw oddities that stood out as odd to me precisely because of the oddly black and white point of view enforced on one by the various D&D universes.  
    Of course, I was a chuunibyou brat by that time, already, so it should surprise no one that I got obsessed.  It got ten times worse, however, when I encountered Chrono Trigger as it was played on my cousin's SNES.  Chrono Trigger is still, to this day, one of the single best rpgs ever made.  Looking back, considering all that has been done since then, it is almost TERRIFYING that someone was able to do what was done with Chrono Trigger with the limitations placed by using the SNES system.  The story, the world, and the various layers of time were put together into such a subtly complex experience that, to this day, I've yet to see any other rpg manage it.  Chrono Cross would manage to imitate some elements of this with its parallel world jumping, but Chrono Trigger's jumping around in time gave you impetus to explore how every aspect of the world could change based on how and when you did certain things.  Rumors constantly abounded that there were secret endings (such as the infamous 'vampire Chrono' or 'Save Schala' fake rumors, which some believe led to the way the Chrono Cross storyline was handled), and people - such as me - would play the game repeatedly, using all the meager saves allowed by the cartridge limitations of the time, in hopes that they might trigger those endings or find a way to discover something new.  
    In all honesty, Chrono Trigger being the game that got me into jrpgs probably ruined me for life.  It set my standards to a ridiculously high level on a subconscious plane, resulting in me comparing every single jrpg experience since then to it.  Aesthetically, musically, and structurally, it was a true jrpg kamige.  It was also the game that turned jrpgs into my second otaku obsession.
    During the SNES-PS2 eras, I literally bought and played EVERY jrpg that came out.  I still own them, in fact.  I played most of the PS1 and SNES era games multiple times.
    However, it was also in the PS2 era (often called the 'dawn of the mainstream jrpg') that jrpg quality began to fall off drastically.  The kind of genius and artistic flair using minimal resources you saw in previous eras was lost entirely within a few years of the release of FFX (FFX being a good game that also turned VO from a curiosity to a mainstream 'thing').  Musical direction, a role differing from composition, where someone was assigned to decide the timing of using a musical score and which ones fit which dungeons, which story scenes, disappeared in the middle of the PS2 era, as VO was used to fill the gaps of emotionality.  However, this also meant that the subtlety of previous eras was lost with a swiftness that left me bewildered at the time.  
    By the time the PS3 era came around, jrpgs were slowing down, due to what I now call 'flashy kusoge fatigue'.  Oh, a few sub-genres, such as the Atelier series' alchemy obsessed SOL titles and the more action-based titles continued to be prolific, but what were called 'console-style rpgs' started to vanish.  MMO elements were introduced into normal jrpgs, making progression and gameplay less interesting as a result (mostly because it seemed to have been done primarily to draw the WoW crowds into solo rpgs).  Storytelling was dying a surprisingly swift death, as tedious gameplay elements (for loot and level-obsessed completionists) began to devour higher and higher proportions of each game's overall playtime.  
    There is a very good reason why people go back and play so-called 'retro' jrpgs so much.  There simply aren't that many more recent jrpgs that have that kind of flair and subtle genius.  I know for a fact that one of the best ways to get people addicted to jrpgs is still just to let them play Chrono Trigger.  
    Ironically, it was VNs that saved my soul.  This was back in 2008, four years before I joined Fuwa.  I was introduced to Tsukihime by a fellow anime fansubber, and, for the first time in over three years, I had something interesting enough (story-wise) that I was given a perspective on the nature of my growing irritation and fatigue with jrpgs in general.  At the time, the JVN industry was still as vital and full of genius as the jrpg industry was in the PS1 era.  Tsukihime and a few other major classics put out near the turn of the century had created the potential for a market of story-focused VNs that had allowed more and more creative people to get into the medium.  Masada was releasing his latest version of Dies Irae, and there were literally hundreds of potentially interesting VNs for me to try.
    Needless to say, I lost my mind almost as badly as when I first played Chrono Trigger.  I must have blown four grand of my meager savings on VNs within the first year, and I didn't regret a penny of it.  Yes, roughly two-thirds of what I bought was pure crap.  However, the gems I discovered gave me a taste of the potential of the medium in a way that was horribly addictive.  Moreover, after a few years of being starved of any decent new stories, even the worst VNs had something that I could find I liked about them.  
    In retrospect, I have an addictive personality.  I get addicted to things easily, especially when they scratch my story bug.  People have said to me, when it came to my jrpg obsession 'if you want a good story, why don't you read a book?', to which I usually gave them a blank stare and said 'I'm already reading good books.  I just want stories in my games too.'  
    Interestingly enough, there were a few bursts of true creativity in jrpgs in the years since, like Tales of Berseria and Nier: Automata, but they partially stand out due to the sheer bleakness of the genre landscape.  People praise Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest XI with intensity, and they practically worship Bravely Default.  However, I have been shocked at how low-quality the presentation of these stories has been.  It's like an entire generation has gotten used to ineptness in presentation to the point where they can be charmed by backhanded efforts at retro-nostalgia.  Octopath has all the grind of the old SaGa Frontier games with none of the charm, the best part of each of the paths being at the beginning.  Dragon Quest XI retains the horribly grindy nature of Dragon Quest games without improving on the formula in any real way.  Moreover, locking so much content into the post-game annoys the hell out of me (I prefer new game +, obviously).  
    JVNs have suffered their own decline, which is ironically due to the same demographics that inflated the medium in the first place (the dominance of the moe/charage lovers).  VNs were always destined to be a niche medium, but the over-specialization of the industry has led to an inability to adapt to changing spending habits and demographics.  Even if they wanted to regear for a new generation of consumers, most companies no longer have the access to the necessary talent to do so.
    I'm fairly sure that jrpgs suffer from a similar lack.  Yes, there are some excellent composers and graphic designers in the jrpg industry, as well as access to the solid voice-acting industry of Japan and the growing one here in the US.  However, there is a severe lack of writers capable of bringing a story to life, and there is no point in a top-tier OST that has no one to properly coordinate its use.  The very fact that something like Undertale could bury so much of the commercial rpg industry, in the eyes of rpg fans, says everything about how far the industry has fallen.
    So what am I getting at?  Not really anything, in truth.  I just needed to blow off some steam.  Thank you for reading.
  19. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Getting back into VNs after time away   
    For most people who play VNs, taking a break is a normal thing.  Even taking a hiatus of a few months or a year seems to be standard for many in our little community.
    For ten years, for me, it wasn't.
    My new addiction to litrpgs succeeded in breaking me of my compulsive VN-reading for the first time in a decade.  While some might consider this a bad thing (and have told me so), others have said that it was a good one.  Personally, as I've started playing Purple Soft's latest game, Seishun Fragile, I'm leaning more towards good than bad.  Many things that had ceased to be joyful in recent years have regained their luster, such as cheap manzai humor, obvious moe, and general donkan harem protagonist antics.
    I won't say I love that last part (ha, like that would happen), but I can say that my viewpoint on it is less... bitter and jaded than it was before.  I've had a refresh, and 
    I don't regret it, despite how much it built up my backlog with those few games I bought anyway despite not starting any.  One thing I find interesting is that I find it easier to find good stopping points than before, instead of just forging on ahead for a straight twelve hours and then flopping into bed.  I no longer stare at the screen for entire days while downing endless snacks and bottled water.  
    I also didn't want to get rusty on my Japanese, which is why I started up a new VN today.  It was then that I realized that I no longer felt the pressure that still remained, even after I tossed aside VN of the Month.  To me, this was an amazing sensation, harking back to my third year playing VNs, when my love of the medium was at its most fanatical.  
    I've advised many people to take a step back and rest from VNs when they have started to lose their way, but this was the first time I took my own advice... and it worked (even if it was by accident).
  20. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random VN: Vermilion Bind of Blood   
    This is my fourth time replaying the Light VN, Vermilion Bind of Blood, and to my startlement, I realized that my only commentary on this is is in my ancient VN of the Month Thread on the forums.  So... of course I cannot leave my beloved public ignorant of this game (though I've made a habit of recommending it to everyone, like Evolimit).
    Vermilion was the first chuunige made by Light's second team, and it was my first experience of the team's work.  It is also probably that team's single most balanced VN, and it is the only one I call a kamige, albeit with a few reservations. 
    The protagonist of this story is one Kashima Toshirou (who is referred to in the Western fashion as Toshirou Kashima throughout the whole game).  He is a former samurai from the era just before the opening up of Japan by Perry's black ships who became a vampire.  Now he is a gloomy man who serves as a watcher for the vampiric community of the fictional American city of Foggy Bottom.  Toshirou is something of an anomaly amongst vampires in general... and most seem to hate him instinctively (there is good reason for this, though few ever know it).  He considers all vampires merely to be an extension of humans, denying the vampire legend that most believe in, and he has nothing but contempt for those who allow themselves to drown in their power and the arrogance born from it.
    This game has four heroines.  They are:
    Anne Portman- The first heroine.  You are forced to play her route first (probably because nobody would want to go after her if given a choice).  Unlike the other heroines, who are more or less easy with their lives as vampires, Anne is a timid, kind-hearted girl who is fundamentally unsuited to being a vampire.  Her role in this game is quite similar to that of Kasumi in Dies Irae (more as a contrast in the form of a 'normal person' than as a real heroine).  While her character is less than inspiring (that she is a heroine is the only flaw I see in this game), her path is actually quite good, though less so than the others in this game.  I did and do find the ending worthy of mention, because it is... pleasant in a sad sort of way.  It is also surprisingly uplifting, coming back without being tainted by my dislike for the presence of a Victim A heroine in a chuunige VN.
    Sherryl McGregor- The victor of the heroine polls twice in a row, Sherryl is Toshirou's long-standing partner in both work and the home.  Their relationship is a 'don't ask, don't tell' one where they don't talk about their pasts.  It is an easygoing relationship, but it is fairly obvious that Sherryl fell for him decades ago.  If I were to compare Sherryl to a translated VN heroine, it would be the adult Cal Devens from Phantom of Inferno, albeit with a century and a half of experience under her belt.  Sherryl was born in Victorian England, and her experiences in the slums there shaped her base personality.  She bluffs, she fights, and she has a temper... but underneath it all, she is as soft as a fuzzy teddy bear when it comes to Toshirou.  She is also a talented singer, a skill she shows off at Casanova, the bar near the office.  Her path is the most revealing of Toshirou's past (in fact, that is its structural purpose, though that doesn't interfere with its quality), and it is a fun ride...  Her ending is actually pretty hilarious as well as touching, because it is probably the only path in the game where Toshirou manages to move on to some extent (Toshirou is very very stuck in his ways).  Sherryl also grows a great deal as a character in this path (as a matter of course) and it is a pleasure to watch.
    Nina Orlok- The Principal (political leader of a Diaspora, which is the name given to vampiric communities) of the Western US Diaspora, a young woman forced into a position far beyond her personal power by her powerful blood father's will after his death.  She sees her duty as the only way to repay her father's trust in her, and she constantly struggles with the gap between what she wants to be and who she actually is.  That said, she is actually a quite capable political leader (a given, since she isn't dead or imprisoned, despite being a youngling in a position that would normally only be allowed to an ancient vampire), with a core of strength hidden under the girl struggling desperately to fulfill her father's hopes.  I sincerely enjoy her path, each time, because her growth as a character is inspiring, especially once she gets past her father complex.  Toshirou in her path is probably the most samurai-like (in the classic sense), and the battle that closes out this path is the third-best in the VN (behind two of the fights in the Grand Route).
    Ariya Takajou- The Jaeger (vampire hunter) White Pile's successor, who has come to Foggy Bottom specifically to hunt Toshirou Kashima.  Driven by her desire to prove herself and a latent fear born from her experiences as a child (her family killed before her eyes by vampires), she endured training that would make a Marine recruit run away screaming to obtain the ability to almost match the physical abilities of a vampire (it is something close to inner qigong).   She despises all vampires and sees them as inhuman monsters, but her meeting with Toshirou fills her with a personal hatred, as his obvious (to her) difference from other vampires drives her to obsess over him.  Ariya's personality (on the surface) is very... twisted.  She is probably the single most sharp-tongued heroine I've ever encountered (she makes Kagome from Comyu seem pleasant), quite naturally using insults in a tactical fashion to get vampires to lose their heads and simply because she doesn't like people.  In her own path, she also develops a rather... twisted sort of love for Toshirou (and it is love, mixed with hate, gratitude, and intense sado-masochistic lust).  I always rofl at the way she changes in this path, and the ending... is actually really really cool. 
    Grand Route- The Grand Route of this game focuses on fighting the antagonist who was the root cause of the conflicts in the VN, as well as dealing with the origins of vampires in general.  In this path, Toshirou finds himself facing his past and looking into the future in a way he doesn't in the other paths.  This path also has two of the best fights in the game, including the final face-off between the antagonist and Toshirou himself.  This path also gives a really significant insight into the mind of a side-character whom I loved... Klaus, the previous White Pile.  The ending of this path is bittersweet and faintly sad (as is common in a lot of chuunige true endings), but it also gives you a sense of completeness, closing out the VN nicely.
    Side-characters worthy of mention
    Isaac- Isaac is the bartender at Casanova and plays a key role in all the paths.  He is Toshirou's one true friend, and his personality is a cross between a hedge philosopher and a boy who never gave up his dream (and never will).  His (oddly troubling) life advice frames a lot of the game's key internal conflicts, and his influence can be felt throughout every part of the game, to some degree.
    Klaus- The previous White Pile, an elderly Jaeger who fights with a gigantic stake (think a log from a log cabin with its edges carved into a spike-like tip and you get the picture).  He is a warrior to the core, a man who hates vampires absolutely and has made a living sacrifice of his life to cleanse as many of them from the world as possible.  In contrast, his unstinting love for humanity, including its flaws, is awe-inspiring in its strength, and he has an absolute faith in humanity's potential to rise above its own filth.  He saved and raised Ariya to be his successor, and she is perhaps the only chink in his armor other than his personal hate (he normally sees vampires not as individuals but as harmful insects to be crushed) for Toshirou.  He loves her deeply, in a fatherly fashion, and it is his love that is perhaps Ariya's greatest salvation, though it is also her second greatest weakness.
  21. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Random VN: Semiramis no Tenbin   
    Semiramis no Tenbin is a game by Caramel Box, best known in the West for the Otoboku series but who is more generally famous in Japan for being the home of Takaya Aya, one of the better writers in the industry.  This game... is unique.  I say this outright because there literally is no other VN like this.  It isn't the characters or the themes that make it unique (though those are part of it), but rather the sheer impact of Takaya Aya's 'side trip into thinking like a chuunibyou patient' as he put it.  
    Semiramis no Tenbin is a game with two sides, Law and Chaos.  Law is represented by the Fortune-Telling Club's president, Eru, and Chaos is represented by Kamio Ami, the 'demon' of the story... a transfer student who appears in the prologue.  The other heroines are placed at various points of balance between the scales (Sunao for Chaos, Touko for Balance, and Fumika for Law), with Eru and Ami serving as the absolute points of their alignments, as defined by Takaya Aya.
    The game really begins with the protagonist, Hayami Reiji, being blackmailed by Ami after she tricks him into having sex with her by using her circumstances to manipulate him (this is not a spoiler).  Ami is the penultimate pragmatist, an individual who puts results above means, and while she can't (quite) be called ruthless, she comes pretty close to it.  She is a heroine type that is rare to unheard of in Japanese VNs, an extremely manipulative person who wields her genius level IQ throughout the story to create situations in her immediate vicinity that would otherwise never have occurred.
    Much of the common route (two-thirds of which is standard, with the last third being split into Chaos and Law branches) is spent with Ami proposing a result she wishes to achieve, with Eru presenting her argument against it, and the protagonist acting or arguing in favor of one side or the other to decide things.  
    Eru and Ami are both extremely intelligent individuals, whose conversations provide a lot of food for thought, not the least of which because Ami is ingenious at manipulating conversations to go her way, whereas Eru is good at seeing through these manipulations.  While there are only five of these direct 'debates' in the common route itself, they leave a strong impression and provide a reason to come back later, if only to ruminate over what is said.  
    Calling Ami evil would be easy.  She is pragmatic to a fault, doesn't believe in valuing the 'process' of doing something over the results, and she has a tendency to manipulate situations when there is no apparent need to do so.  One thing that is striking about Ami's character, other than the obvious, is that she has extremely good reasons for being the way she is, reasons that are ironically similar to why Eru is the way she is.  
    Ami does have a (very limited) sense of ethics, but these ethics are extremely narrowly-defined.  It is her viewpoint that even if she manipulates a situation and people in a way that has negative results, it was the people involved who made the choices that led to that situation, so it isn't her concern what happens after.  However, if an unexpected factor gets involved to cause such unpleasant results, she is willing to act to counter that unexpected factor.  In addition, she does have a strong affinity for helping those she gets close to, though this also usually involves manipulating and controlling them into better results, because this is apparently the only way she can really involve herself with others.
    Eru, throughout much of the game, has a tendency to react with a logical interpretation of standard morals and ethics.  This is not necessarily because she believes in them blindly but because of how she was raised (it is more complex than stated in the common route).  She is referred to as a 'wall of ice' by Ami and at least one other person during the common route, as she fundamentally defaults to keeping people at arms length and reacting using that same logical attachment to common morals and ethics.  
    That's not to say she isn't fond of some people... she likes the members of the Fortune-telling Club and values her time there, but it also needs to be noted that the situation is unique for her, as she apparently doesn't hold the rest of her positions in life in the same esteem, apparently.
    Fumika plays the role of the sweet-natured kouhai with a speech impediment.  She is very good at worming her way into the affections of Reiji and the few others she trusts, but she is surprisingly detached from most others.  She is also one of only two characters other than Reiji himself who manage to worm their way into Ami's heart in any of the paths (which is notable, since while Ami might become fond of someone, it usually doesn't extend to actually caring about their life and fate).  
    Her path... has so much impact you would never guess that she isn't one of the characters in the foreground of the game's cover.  To be blunt, Fumika's quotes in this path have an impact that have stayed with me for the past six years, often serving to me as an example in the best uses of powerful phrasing at key points.  Fumika rarely speaks in full sentences, so the sheer impact when she forces these quotes out of her mouth without stumbling is...staggering.
    Touko is the game's erstwhile narrator, (though it isn't apparent through much of the game) and the character presented as being the writer of a novel based on the events in the story at the very beginning.  She is also the heroine who has potentially the most intimate friendship with Ami, which says a lot about her hidden perceptiveness at important points.  Normally, she is presented as a 'yurufuwa' character, a bookworm who sleeps through much of the day at school while speaking in slow but clearly enunciated sentences when awake.  She is Reiji's osananajimi and many fans of the game consider her the 'hidden true heroine', as she is the heroine that represents Balance.  
    Sunao is the weakest of the game's heroines.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the most obvious one is that she is deliberately a derivative of Ami (a more normal/healthy minded version).  The most powerful one, though, is that her ending can be considered a second bad Ami ending (there is a bad ending in Ami's path).  I won't go into details, but once you get accustomed to Ami's quirks, you quickly realize what she is doing with Sunao and Reiji, which makes it hard to even maintain an interest in Sunao... much for the same reasons Reiji puts forth if you pick the conversational path that leads away from a relationship with Sunao.  I honestly don't recommend playing Sunao's path unless you are just a completionist.
    Notes on the Common Route progression
    One thing that will probably strike anyone who picks the Law route is that the conflicts are... darker.  To be blunt, the last few arcs of the common route are much darker in nature in the Law route than they are in the Chaos Route, which can be seen as the world bearing out that Ami's viewpoint of results over process being a better choice might be correct.  Ami is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a 'good' person.  However, the story itself states that the results she get are more likely to create a good situation.  I found this an interesting - and possibly telling - choice on the part of Takaya.
    In addition, this game has a tendency to rile 'pure-hearted weaboos'.  I say this because the picture of Japanese society it presents is as unflattering as that of Yume Miru Kusuri... if not moreso.  If nothing else, the portrayals of how 'officials' react to domestic violence are telling of the flaws built into their legal system.
    If you are wondering why I don't go into more details on the routes and the like, it is because it is impossible to do so without spoilers.  I focused on giving each heroine a proper introduction and telling you what to expect from them.  This game is not meant for those who want sweet and romantic.  Most of the paths aren't romantic, except in a really rough sense.  There is love, there is affection, and there is sex.  However, it tends to come in a fashion that is 'dirtier' than most VN readers will be accustomed to, unless they dig into the borderline dark nukige out there.
  22. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Why I dropped Tenmei no Conquista   
    Normally, considering how far I got into this game, I would have just kept going (I got halfway through, literally).  However, it needs to be said that I only kept going in hopes the game would get more interesting as things went on.
    The answer was no.
    This game uses a system that draws partially from the early Fire Emblem games, partially from the Disgaea series by NIS, and partly is drawn from other Eushully games.  The Fire Emblem elements include the basic 'flow' of strategy rpg battles, leveling up where stats randomly appear (it is purely random, I know from some deliberate testing with saves), and an intermission where preparation for battle occurs.  The Disgaea elements primarily reside in the 'Ritual' system, where you can use various rituals to strengthen your allies, level them up (by expending Ritual Points) and sacrifice or contract captured monsters (the former giving you Ritual Points, the latter giving you a new unit).  
    A few negative aspects, first.  No battle is repeatable in a single playthrough, there are no 'free battles', and battles take a ridiculous amount of time to finish.  The reason for the last part is simply economical.  If you don't take the time to capture as many enemies as possible, you'll be unable to maintain a capable army.  As such, capturing a good portion of each map's enemies is not a convenience... it is a necessity.  This is not to mention the other Disgaea-like element, which is putting a bunch of sub-missions into each battle, which you fulfill for ritual points and items.   Treasure chests have to be opened by an ally unit with the unlocking skill.
    The positives next.  If you aren't trying to capture enemies, the battles are actually quite interesting.  The ritual system has an immense amount of potential (if they'd taken the time to make it deeper with a wider variety of potential paths for unit evolution), and capturing monsters only to use them as sacrifices later is totally fitting with the game's aesthetic.
    Now let's get to the story... never mind, there isn't one.  I'm not kidding.  For beating a battle that took you thirty minutes, most often you'll get a very, very short scene (think thirty seconds for a fast reader) and get sent back to the intermission.  There are technically scenes in the intermission (called interaction scenes), but these are generally equally short... and halfway through the game, I've only found ten total, for all the characters I have combined (most of them just excuses for h-scenes and new skill acquisition).  Technically, I guess you could count the ubiquitous contract h-scenes (one for each female unit type and one for a small minority of the males), but I don't.
    All in all, this game wasn't providing me with any joy for the amount of time I put in (think thirty minutes of story for twenty hours of play), I so just dropped it.
    Edit: As a side-note, the potential ways to improve this game are so blatantly obvious a five-year-old could figure it out.  They needed to create a large number of interaction scenes and extend the story scenes to make it actually worth digging into it.  As it was, the tiny number of interaction scenes I'd experienced halfway through the game (despite having leveled the named characters thoroughly) only taught me what the heroines were like when they were naked.
  23. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Shuffle! Episode 2   
    To be honest, I had great hopes for this game, based on the fact that Agobarrier wrote up the drafts for the story before his unfortunate passing.  I thought I'd see the peculiar humor, the deredere-MAX heroines, and the wacky antics that I associated with the original game.  I expected running jokes (frequently used as accents to various scenes), and I hoped that Navel would finally regain some of its original 'magic'.
    Unfortunately, it seems that those hopes are a bit too high.  Perhaps it was inevitable... the team that did this game was partly made up of the writers that have been doing the Da Capo games, which should have told me they would have a less amusing approach to things (though it saddened me that Ou Jackson didn't manage to force things into his style more often...).  The loss of Agobarrier's unique style is sadly all-too-clear in this game, as, while it does channel some parts of the original, the way the most important scenes is handled is far more fumble-fingered and lacking in flare, which is just sad.  
    That said, there were some parts where the writing quality suddenly jumped up massively, such as in any scene where Primula was involved (for some reason).  To be honest, it was that very jump in quality that illuminated just how poorly some parts of the game - in particular the prologue and large swathes of the common route - are handled.  
    What is truly sad is what they got perfectly right... the characterization of side characters.  Primula, despite being, and all the side characters are really well-done.  So it kind of amazed me that the heroines were so sloppily done.  There is far more effective character development done in the common route for the side characters than the heroines (other than Lims, who has good characterization for the most part) considering their roles, which struck me as a horrible approach.  Rishia in particular is a horribly awkward character from the very beginning, and while some of that comes from her character concept, more of it comes from everything from her VA to her sprite poses... not to mention an odd lack of face time in the common route.  Her voice actor is a familiar and excellent one, so I can only imagine that it was the director that screwed things up...  
    To clarify, the heroines that had the strongest characterization in the common route go in this order Lims>Kohaku>Kirara (I hate Kirara anyway though)>Rishia>Nelia.  I say this because Kohaku gets more face time due to living with Raito and Kirara's characterization is so blatantly obvious that it can't help but be effective, if annoying.  Nelia has the least amount of face time in the common route (even if you pick her 'side' of things in the various choices) than the other heroines, and Rishia suffers from her initial introduction.
    What is canon?
    Without spoiling the important stuff:
    1.  It is 100 years since the end of Shuffle.
    2.  A great disaster happened sixty years in the past.
    3.  Primula is apparently an eterna-loli and is still alive and well.
    4.  The current King of the Gods is the son of Shia's much younger (born after Shuffle) brother.
    5.  All characters other than Primula from the original have long-since passed away.
    7.  At least some of the events in each path actually occurred.  
    8.  Rishia was very close to her great-aunt, Shia, who passed while she was still a child.  
    9.  Neria was very close to Nerine, who died childless and was her adoptive grandmother.  
    Primu- errr... I mean Limstone
    Lims was the first heroine I went after.  This wasn't because of any fetishes on my part (my fetishes lead me to Nelia), but simply because she had the best characterization of the non-human heroines in the common route.  Her development and even her story pretty much mirrors that of Primula's, up to a point.  More is revealed to the protagonist than was to Rin in his time, and the development of their relationship - up to a point - feels natural and even touching.
    Unfortunately, the romance is handled... awkwardly.  Considering this comes from a team known for having at least minimal skills in this area (if few others), I was awed at the way the romance in this path felt so unnatural.  While this isn't a path-killer for me (because romance isn't that important to me as part of a story), it was a disappointment.
    On the other hand, the drama in the last part of her path and the path up to the actual relationship formation were both excellent... too bad the ending was a little wince-worthy in terms of quality.
    Nerine's adoptive granddaughter is a seductive young woman who has horrible characterization in the common route (if you read the official character profiles and compare them to the actual heroine in the game, there are almost no similarities).  She has inherited her grandmother's recipe for tamagoyaki, and her path has some eerie similarities to Nerine's in Shuffle (in a generalized sense) without having the same impact.  I won't spoil the original game for you, but I had to wince at the drama used in this path.  
    I'll be honest, if more effort had been put into making Nelia into a real character instead of a caricature in the common route, this would have been a good path.  Unfortunately, very little time was spent on Nelia in the common route relative to the other heroines, and this has an unfortunate dampening effect on the reader's emotional investment.
    I have to wonder after finishing this path if they just intend to partially mirror the paths from the original game...
    Rishia's scenes in the prologue are the single most awkward introduction scenes I've seen from a heroine in a commercial VN from a major name in over ten years... no, ever.  To be honest, considering that intro scenes are something most charage writers do well, I didn't expect the awkwardness I experienced.  I mean, I almost dropped the game inside the first half hour, which I wasn't expecting, considering how much I loved the original.  Rishia's character eventually sheds the awkwardness created by the introductions, but I thought my feelings toward her would be ruined by the introduction to the very end.
    However, her actual path is a complete turnaround from my experiences in the common route.  Suddenly (and jarringly) the quality of presentation goes up and Rishia goes from being a thin caricature of a heroine to an actual person.  To some extent, this also happened in Nelia's path, but part of the reason this path suddenly took on depth for me was the way it tied into the story of Spiral.  In fact, it feels like a direct extension of the political elements of Spiral, which is why it felt much deeper to me than it probably is if you haven't played Spiral.  
    That said, the impact it had was enough to overcome the awful introductory scenes... but it still needs to be noted that this game is horribly flawed, not the least of which by the difference in style between the four writers (why they combined the writers of Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou and that fluff-fest series - Da Capo- I'll never understand).
    Understand, I have no interest in the human heroines in this game.  Kohaku is ok, but I find Kirara to be so annoying that the idea of romance with her makes me want to vomit.  
    Anyway, this game's primary flaws lie in the common route, which is, to be blunt, mostly fluff.  The character introduction for Rishia was botched, and there was a severe lack of face time for the two main heroines.  These flaws don't make the game unplayable, but for fans of the original, it can't help but be a disappointment.  Rishia's route manages to overcome most of the weaknesses of this particularly mismatched group of writers, but that is more because of the existence of Spiral than the inherent value of the story.
    Also, there should have been a path for Marine and Citron.  
    To add to the canon above, I should note that Spiral was apparently written as a prequel to this game.  It occurs a few months before Rishia's arrival in the human world, and it is centered around an agent from the Divine Realm.  I originally thought it was a prequel to Shuffle, but it turns out that it was a prequel to this game, lol.  
  24. Like
    fun2novel reacted to kivandopulus for a blog entry, Bullet Butlers [Propeller]   
    Foreword: There are so many superb English reviews (1 2 3 4 5 6) that it's already evident how great this game is. I'll only try to consider if flaws are big enough to prevent from playing.

    There are various races living together at Ocelot City. Land, who lives as a mystic one, is one of the most famous citizens there. Rick, the main character, is a butler, and works for Selma. Selma lost her ability to transform herself into a dragon after a certain accident, and is always depressed that is one of his concerns. But, he somehow enjoys his life with his friends and other butlers. One day, Rand is assassinated by someone unknown, and their life turns around 180 degrees...
    Game type: Suspense mystery
    Character Design rating: 8/10
    Protagonist rating: 8/10
    Story rating: 10/10
    Game quality: 9/10
    Overall rating: 9/10

    Infodumping. There's a lot of information to process on the history, geography and current state of events. It produces a rich in detail and characters world. Can hardly blame any story for it.
    Composition is a bit redundant with three story arcs where first two only reveal small details about villains and focus on different heroines stories. Heroine ends can't compare to True End in terms of action, but in my opinion they should be skipped only if you can'ts stand both Valeria and Yuki. But I can't say I don't like Yuki. There are people who absolutely like all the heroines here, so see for yourself.

    Erotic scenes. I see them as disgusting in this game. HCG with twisted faces and degraded from main style art look very alien to me. It feels much better without H scenes for me, but - again - there are people who love H scenes in this game.
    SOL scenes can be considered as sleepy fillers and humor as simplistic. But those scenes whirling around SD CG are often hilarious. Tsundere behavior adds a lot to the humor. 
    It's not a game to read about. It's a game to play. And don't let any negative comments mislead you. All flaws are either insignificant in the long run or can be easily turned in advantages for many readers.

  25. Like
    fun2novel reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Silverio Ragnarok   
    The 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.  
    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 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.
    ... 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.  
    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.
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