For those familiar with me, you know I spent year after year doing VN of the Month and that I ritualistically complained about how tired I was of this or that trope or bad habit that plagued the industry or games. I was asked repeatedly why I could still plow through so many VNs, despite the stress? The simple answer is that I have always been stubborn as hell. I've experienced 'burnout' numerous times in my life, mostly because I have a naturally obsessive personality. Once I start obsessing over something, I literally am incapable of ceasing to do so without something jarring me completely away from it for a time, which usually results in me realizing I burned out long ago and have just been hanging out of stubbornness.
The same was the case for VNs. When I first started playing VNs, all VNs were worth at least trying. However, as time went on, I increasingly lost interest in most nukige and eventually my interest in 'everyday teenaged life SOL romance' (or 'the standard charage') began to fade. It was probably about 2016 when this reached the critical point, but it took another year and a two-week bout of flu where I couldn't think well enough to play anything to bump me out of my years-long trance.
Part of it was that I rarely, if ever, took a break from VNs during those years. I was always playing at least one, and I had a tendency to barrel through them consecutively without even a short pause to rest, week after week, month after month. I used most of my free time to play them, I structured my work schedule and habits around playing them, and I generally existed solely to do so.
I dunno how many of you can even imagine what living like that is like... but it was the fact that I am no longer driven to play game after game that is letting me sit back and enjoy the few I actually want to play. I go back and pull stuff out of my attic on a whim, I dig through my collection based on a desire to relive a single scene, and I generally just take pleasure in playing what I want to play.
Would it be strange for you to hear that this all feels unnatural to me, after all these years? I've been playing third-rate charage I didn't want to even see, much less play, for years... and now I only play stuff that takes my interest, dropping them if I don't see any hope for the game to break out of the shell of mediocrity. I don't feel driven to blog about replays beyond when I feel like it or when I think I have something to add to a previous assessment, and I can actually sit back and enjoy the few charage I actually feel like I want to play.
While I do have regrets, they aren't about the years spent obsessing and over-playing VNs, despite my previous words. I set out to do VN of the Month because, at the time, there was no way for people to have an idea of what they were getting into with most VNs. It was a bit startling how few people were seriously trying to let people know what kind of VNs were out there without spoiling everything from beginning to end. Even today, most reviewers can't seem to keep heavy spoilers out of the text, which saddens me. However, I no longer feel that it is my mission to 'fix' this. I've been there, I've done that, and I won't be doing it again.
I will still play VNs, and I will still review them (on occasion), but don't expect me to be as prolific as I used to be, lol.
Realive is Purple Soft's latest game. For those unfamiliar with Purple Soft, they are the makers of Hapymaher and Chrono clock, and their specialty lies in nakige with fantasy and/or sci-fi elements. As an example, Chrono Clock has the time-manipulation watch, Amatsutsumi has 'kotodama' (the ability to control people and some phenomena with words), and Aoi Tori has divine and demonic powers. In this case, the characters are drawn into playing an AR game called Alive, which grants them strange abilities based on how far they have progressed in the game. Since these abilities actually bring about real life results, I call it a 'mystical app', lol.
Anyway, this game was written by Nakahiro of Hoshimemo and AstralAir fame. In combination with the sheer eroero nature of Purple Soft's artists' character designs (since his previous works that weren't nukige were mostly 'cute' games) it definitely presents a different picture from what you would expect from Nakahiro at first... but as you progress through the game, you will inevitably - if you have played his previous games - come to recognize similarities in how he handles the emotional and comedic elements to his previous works.
The common route of this game is mostly light-hearted, though it shows at times the deep worries the various heroines and protagonist have (on the surface level). For those familiar with Hapymaher (which is translated), it becomes evident that Nakahiro is a fanboy of that particular work pretty early on, as he deliberately inserted many small easter eggs into the character personalities and settings that are drawn from the characters of Hapymaher. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have been fond of Saki (how could anyone play that and not love Saki?!!) but the heroines seem to have carried on a lot of elements from Hapymaher characters for some reason... though I won't spoil it for you. Have fun figuring out which characters inherited which Hapymaher elements, lol.
Anyway, there are four heroine routes in this game and one Grand Route (just a different name for a true route, save that it usually has a bigger focus on resolving central elements of the main game's story as opposed to the heroines' individual ones). I'll introduce the heroines as I go.
Kaya is, on the surface, your classic arrogant/selfish ojousama. She has distinct manipulative tendencies and a strong need to be on top, no matter what the situation. However, that surface hides a crybaby who lived a sheltered but strictly-regulated existence that tried to squeeze all traces of personality out of her. This is not that uncommon in ojousama heroines, but the way Kaya is presented is cute, generally speaking. Her class is Alchemist, which oversees destruction and creation of objects.
Like all the four initial heroine routes, this one focuses on resolving Kaya's issues as she tries to complete the game, which is often difficult, since the conditions of the missions given by the game are often vague and designed to help the characters grow and face their inner demons... and Kaya's demons are a doozy (those this can be said about all the heroines to one extent or another). While some of her issues might seem minor to someone looking from the outside in, it is nonetheless made easy for the reader to empathize with her suffering.
This path was my first experience with how the endings were going to be handled for this game... and the ending was something of an exercise in frustration for me, primarily because there is so much hinting at the background setting without giving me answers to match up with my suppositions. In addition, since we have no way to see how things progressed between the events at the climax of the path to the epilogue (this is deliberately not spoken of), I found myself wishing that they'd left epilogues to after the game was done completely.
Minato is a loner by choice, living a hard life working part-time jobs to keep her in food and shelter while attending high school. She actively hates the idea of trusting others, and she resents deeply the hypocrisy of those who try to help her out of pity. Normally, she presents the picture of a 'koakuma' heroine (and that's what she is), but she is also a rather obvious tsundere, albeit one who only shows her true tsun when someone manages to embarrass her. Her class is Trickster.
Minato's path is... much more viscerally emotional and at the same time amusing than Kaya's path. I chose her second because she was the other 'outlier' heroine amongst the four initially available (I almost always pick heroines who aren't already close to or in love with the protagonist first, since osananajimi and deredere classmates are usually boring). She resists both the idea and reality of her romantic feelings for Chihaya (the protagonist) for a long time, and her reactions to those feelings were just hilarious... up until the point she finally gets down to being deredere, then she is even more clingy than Kaya, and that takes work.
Minato's theme is 'overcoming dependence and making peace with the past', and it was much more effectively executed than Kaya's path... that said, i do still have complaints with how the epilogue was handled. However, that's the case with all of the four initial endings, so I'm just going to grin and bear it.
I'll go ahead and get this out in the open. Nemuru and Satsuki are the heroines I had no interest in from the beginning. Satsuki is an osananajimi in the classic 'cooks and cleans for him' style (albeit not tsundere for the most part) and Nemuru is your typical shy girl who has trouble speaking with men. Nemuru's class is, ironically (at least on the surface) Idol, and her skills are all centered around gathering or controlling the attention of others.
My major problem with Nemuru's path came down to the fact that Nemuru was the heroine, in the end. As a path, it is actually fairly good, even if it lacked a lot of the non-standard twists and turns seen in the previous two paths (incidentally why I picked those two heroines first). However, Nemuru's character was irritating to me (shy heroines who remain shy for most of the game drive me crazy), and while she grows a great deal as she overcomes her trauma (much like the previous two), I was left unmoved due to my lack of interest in her.
Again, her path is technically good, and a less-jaded player would undoubtedly be able to empathize more with her (the me of two or three years ago probably could have), but I've grown used to not bothering to tolerate heroines I don't like of late, so my reaction was probably inevitable.
Satsuki is the osananajimi neighbor, living with her younger sister Yayoi. She constantly wants to take care of people, especially the protagonist, and she intentionally matches her time leaving the house to his... do I have to enumerate anymore reasons why I left this path to last? lol
Anyway, Satsuki has a strongly self-sacrificing personality with an intense desire to help and protect others. This is reflected in her class, which is Knight. Her path is perhaps the second most emotional (for me) so far, right behind Minato's. That said, her existence as an osananajimi and an essentially 'normal' person pretty much eliminated any possibility of me preferring her as a heroine, hahaha. Her path is all about overcoming the loss of something precious, and as such, it is inevitably a tear-jerker.
Early in the Grand Route, the reason for the links to Hapymaher become clear, and about a third way through, it becomes clear why all the events in the other path occurred. I'll be blunt... you'll probably spend most of the first third of this path in tears, if you have a heart. It is also an extremely familiar set of themes and setting ideas for someone who has read Hapymaher, so I can clearly state that this game is a Hapymaher derivative rather than just supposing it might be.
This path forces the protagonist and the heroines to face their largest trauma, the one not mentioned even slightly in the other paths. This trauma... is bad enough that I'd honestly be tempted to rename this an utsuge. However, typical to Purple Soft's nakige brand, the ending is a happy one, if somewhat bittersweet. I know I cried. I will say that the protagonist's solution to the problem was... novel and typically convenient of a Japanese nakige, lol.
For the last two years or so, I've gotten repeated requests to unequivocally name my top VNs made up until the present, ignoring objectivity, my vndb votes, etc. I've more or less just ignored most of those requests, because it is a pain in the ass to name a 'favorite' VN in the first place. I've made lists of VNs I loved from various genres, and I've also made lists of VNs for a specific purpose. However, I've avoided making a list like this one up until now, mostly because my 'favorites' switch out so often.
Let's get this straight for those who are going to criticize my choices... these are the VNs I like the most, not the fifty best VNs of all time. I make no pretense to preeminence of opinion in this case, because I'm also discarding all attempts at objectivity. What a person likes is ultimately a matter of personal tastes, not a matter of logic.
Why did I make it fifty? Because my number of VNs played, setting aside replays and nukige, is over six hundred already (with replays and nukige, it is closer to eight hundred...)... I'd be surprised if I didn't have this many VNs I considered wonderful.
Keep in mind that these aren't in a particular order.
2. Dies Irae (the one by Light)
3. Ikusa Megami Zero
4. Nanairo Reincarnation
5. Semiramis no Tenbin
6. Bradyon Veda
7. Vermilion Bind of Blood
9. Tiny Dungeon (as a series)
10. Bullet Butlers
11. Chrono Belt
13. Otome ga Boku ni Koishiteiru 2
16. Otome ga Tsumugu, Koi no Canvas
17. Silverio Vendetta
18. Konata yori Kanata Made
19. Grisaia series
20. Akatsuki no Goei series
21. Reminiscence series
22. Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no
23. Harumade, Kururu
24. Soukou Akki Muramasa
25. Tokyo Babel
26. Tasogare no Sinsemilla
27. Komorebi no Nostalgica
28. Yurikago yori Tenshi Made
29. Izuna Zanshinken
30. Moshimo Ashita ga Harenaraba
31. Kamikaze Explorers
32. Devils Devel Concept
33. Suzunone Seven
34. Baldr Skydive series
35. Baldr Sky Zero series
36. Toppara Zashikiwarashi no Hanashi
37. Tsuisou no Augment (series)
38. Kikan Bakumatsu Ibun Last Cavalier
39. Shin Koihime Musou (series not including the original Koihime Musou)
40. Soshite Hatsukoi wa Imouto ni Naru
41. Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide
42. Irotoridori no Sekai
43. Noble Works
44. Koisuru Otome to Shugo no Tate (series)
45. Kitto, Sumiwataru Asairo yori mo
46. Jingai Makyou
47. Sakura, Sakimashita
48. Abyss Homicide Club
49. Re:Birth Colony Lost Azurite
50. Owaru Sekai to Birthday