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Plk_Lesiak

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About Plk_Lesiak

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  • Birthday 05/31/1989

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    PulkownikLesiak
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    Anime & VNs, writing, popcultural studies
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    Plk_Lesiak
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  1. In my never-ending journey through the world of EVNs, I often happen to stray away from the more mainstream titles or things explicitly sent to me for review, and into the world of extremely niche games published by countless small-time developers, either for one of the many VN-related game jams or for no reason in particular. While most of them end up being unremarkable, many others turn out to be diamonds in the rough, showing really promising elements and fresh ideas, but being brought down somewhat by their small budgets and lack of polish. Rarely, I find really excellent and memorable titles, that are able to overcome their limitations through thanks to their author’s creativity and storytelling prowess – and while they are definitely worth writing about, they’re usually also small enough that they don’t fit into most of the formats I’ve used so far. For this reason, this new series will be dedicated to such games: mostly unknown, short EVNs that I’d love to see receiving more attention. And my first picks are three excellent, freeware games by the secretive developer working under the name Ludeshka: Hierofania, Hierofania 2 and Rhyme or Reason. Probably the most unique aspect of Ludeshka’s games is her art, which feels heavily inspired by expressionism. Rough, often slightly deformed shapes and exaggerated or unnatural colours seem to match the emotional aura of the characters and the climate of the scenes she portrays, rather than present them in a realistic manner. Often her illustrations are not something you would call pretty in the conventional sense, but their striking features give her VNs a lot of personality (particularly when combined with the grim storylines of her “flagship” titles, Hierofania 1 and 2) and it’s hard to ignore their artistic merit. The distinct artstyle is closely matched by the surprising and interestingly-structured plotlines – those, however, will be best to deal with one by one. So, please join me in this short overview of Ludeshka’s work, as I explain why it offers a lot more than you might expect at first glance. Hierofania Hierofania is the tale of Crocket, possibly the last trainee in the dying order of Knights of Utrecht. Ten years after their god stopped manifesting and the magic powers he blessed his disciples with disappeared, only a handful of Knights remained, still clinging to their ancient creed. When a mysterious stranger, chased by the clerics of another deity for the crime he claims he didn’t commit, appears at one of Knight’s remaining strongholds and asks for help, Crocket is sent on a mission to prove his innocence – one from which few expect her to came back alive. I won’t hide that I find the setup and climate of Hierofania absolutely fascinating: the game is short, with around 3 hours of content, but manages to establish a cohesive setting that brilliantly subverts some common fantasy tropes. Be it Crocket, a naïve disciple of a dead religion who still believes that her faith will one day be rewarded with a miracle. Be it her captain, who gouged his own eyes in a gruesome ritual, one that was once a source of great power granted by his deity, but now simply made him a cripple. Or be it the stranger, who obviously holds some dark secrets, but the severity of which is hard to imagine before they’re revealed by himself in the bad endings… It’s hard to find a major set piece in this story that doesn’t feel captivating and the striking visual design only makes everything more intriguing. The short plot didn't make it possible to explore this world to the fullest, but the whole experience still feels extremely fresh – and that’s something you rarely get reading your 200th+ EVN. If I was to complain about something in Hierofania, it’d probably be the choices – they’re quite often cryptic or feature options very similar to each other, so you can’t really predict their consequences and usually have to unlock alternative endings through pure trial-and-error. This is something of a recurring theme in all of Ludeshka’s games and negatively impacted my experience with them, as I simply dislike this kind of confusing story structure. Still, it was a relatively minor issue in all these cases, and in the first Hierofania and Rhyme or Reason, the choices at least weren’t numerous enough for them to become frustrating mazes. So, I still highly suggest giving Hierofania a chance – with all its limitations, it’s an utterly unique story that will inevitably leave you with a strong impression. Final Rating: Highly Recommended Hierofania 2 Herofania 2 might seem like a repeat of certain themes from the first game, starting with a death of a goddess and despair of people deprived of her blessings, but ultimately tells a very different story, only loosely connected to the one from its prequel. It also offers a lot more significant branching, more visual assets (including simple animations) and a better sense of player’s control over what happens in it. It follows the story of Caramela, a young queen of a small fishermen kingdom of Currents. After her lands and her own family were ravaged by a mysterious plague a decade earlier, she ended up receiving the crown while unprepared for ruling and became dependent on her regent Senteltje, a man with a dark reputation and a history of conflict with the deceased queen. With the Kingdom devoid of its patron deity, the Sea Goddess also killed by the mysterious disease and a war raging between its neighbours, Caramela will be forced to finally choose a path for herself and her country. The game is an overall improvement over the first Hierofania, both in its production quality and its storytelling, but above all, maintains all positive qualities of its prequel. The characters are immediately memorable and interesting, the story is engrossing and develops in directions that are never banal or easy to predict. Caramela herself is a much more complex character than Crocket, quickly growing beyond the first impression of a spoiled and disinterest noble, content to let others take the burden of ruling. While how much agency she’ll ultimately have is heavily dependent on player’s choices, there’s a surprising variety in how her story can be resolved, without any obvious “good” or “bad” outcomes – in politics things are rarely black and white, and even conclusions such as Caramela forever staying Senteltje’s puppet is not necessarily bad for her or for Currents. One of the more decisively-positive endings can be considered the canon one, as it rewards you with a short epilogue connecting the story directly with the events of the first game, but this feels more like just an excuse to tease the overarching plot, which was meant to be resolved in the third entry in the series. Ultimately, Hierofania 2 is a story that stands very well on its own and lets you take away from it whatever you wish – and this makes it that much more worth reading. Final Rating: Highly Recommended Rhyme or Reason Rhyme or Reason, released by Ludeshka between Hierofania 1 and 2, was an attempt at creating a more traditional romance VN and diversify from the fantasy drama driving the author’s main project. It’s a short game, with around 2 hours of content, following the story of Rhyme – a protagonist whose face and gender are never shown, but who still manages to show a set of interesting characteristics. They’re an aspiring singer and songwriter, passionate about their work, but also too demotivated by their tedious life and self-doubt to really chase their dreams. What has a chance of changing this sorry state of affairs is an invitation from protagonist’s close online friend, Karen, to stay for a week at her house, in a scenic small city by the ocean. After getting there they immediately meet Nancy, a somewhat-overwhelming aspiring singer, who’s in the middle of a desperate search for a guitarist for her band – the previous one disappeared, just before a major gig. Depending on the way you navigate this situation, it can lead you to 6 different endings, including two romantic conclusions featuring one male and one female character. Rhyme or Reason’s story shares some of the positive qualities of Hierofania, despite its vastly different tone: it tells you a lot about the characters through meaningful bits of information, rather than lengthy backstories and keeps you engaged with interesting story developments and fun dialogue. Thanks to all this, it manages to tell a rather satisfying and complete story in a very short time. Admittedly, the unusual artstyle does not work as well with this kind of mundane themes as it does with fantasy, but still feels properly expressive and makes the characters look unique. Overall, the game is not as engrossing as Hierofania and feels a little bit rushed, with maybe a few too many questions left unanswered and the endings very much open-ended. Still, it’s a fun short story that I don’t regret spending my time with and if you like simple romance VNs, I recommend checking it out. Final Rating: Recommended Sadly, it seems like Ludeshka, for the time being, put her VN-developing endeavours on-hold and there’s little chance for the previously-announced Hierofania 3 to show up any time soon. While one can hope for the trilogy to be concluded one day, all her games are self-sufficient and satisfying stories that are worth checking out, even if we never get a “true” conclusion to some of the subplots. They’re also completely free, which in my book is always a major positive. So, if what I wrote about these VNs piqued your interest even a little bit, be sure to give them a chance – you won’t be disappointed. Also, as the last note, at some point mobile versions of both Hierofania games were available on Google Play, published by Visual Wordplay. However, just like many ports by that company, they seemed to suffer from serious technical issues. If you want to play Ludeshka’s games, I suggest downloading them for PC from her Itch.io page.
  2. I've tried to bait you into doing it for a while but I guess you never noticed.
  3. That was fun! ^^ Eh, I must get my shit together and resume my Japanese learning soon. If I don't one day get to a level where I can read and/or translate Koi Iro Crescendo myself, my life will never be complete.
  4. The Fruits Basket anime have a very intense otomege feel if you ask me. Probably more than all those half-assed otome adaptations (there's like 10 of those maybe).
  5. Outside of the Japanese stuff Onorub mentioned I think the stuff but Cheritz (Korean company) and some EVNs are worth mentioning. Primarily: Dandelion Nameless Cinderella Phenomenon (Arguably) Cinders Mystic Messanger is a mobile game by Cheritz, but one that is widely considered very interesting structurally and not particularly scummy when it goes to its business model.
  6. Hi from Spain

    Welcome to Fuwanovel! I hope your project goes well! ^^
  7. Summer 2019 Anime Discussion

    Aye, that was pretty powerful. Also, it sets up pretty nicely what the second season will be about. I'm kind of excited for it, because the first one is kind of one giant piece of setup and character introduction. Although, I'm kind of unsettled how Tohru was treated in that sequence... That girl is putting up with way too much and most of the time it feels more disturbing than admirable, even though the show tries to push very hard how her doormat attitudes are universally a good thing. I guess they at least removed some of the misogynists tropes connected to Akito, but still, the show has some issues... EDIT: I guess while I'm in this thread, damn, there are some stinkers in this season. Fire Force is slowly degrading into brain-dead mess of obnoxious harem tropes and nonsense shounen cliches. On the other hand, Kimetsu no Yaiba grew into something truly excellent. It took me a while, but I'm now super-invested in all these characters and the strange setting. It's pretty obvious it'll have a second season and I can't wait to see things escalate even more. Plus it's pretty fascinating how the show uses pretty realistic passage of time, I have a feeling like we'll see a decent part of Tanjirou's life before everything gets resolved...
  8. What Anime are you watching now?

    Hah, I wonder how I'll feel about season 2. I just finished Season 1 and the second half of it was quite adorable. It obviously goes overboard with how omnipotent Takagi is (I mean, she's basically less chaotic Joker with better success rate, considering her level of scheming and foresight) and she quite far at times, but... It never felt like it was too much, and I'm actually pretty sensitive when it goes to teasing and constant embarrassment in the things I watch. Last season's Hitoribocchi had that problem, as it kind of repeated the same embarrassing gags over and over again with very little growth from the characters. Here it was a lot more clever and interesting, and quite importantly, Nishikawa was always up for the challenge and the teasing was not only getting him frustrated, but also motivated him to step up his game. I imagine the problem with Season 2 is that it'll start basically from page 1 and, once more, only get to the fluffy moments around episode 10. But I kind of don't mind? I mean, the payoff of the first season was quite decent. I'd only dislike it if it never made clear that Takagi really likes Nishikata back and didn't make her act on it in some way. If the second season goes just a bit further, it'll still be way less frustrating and inconclusive than 98% of harem anime.
  9. Fuwanovel Confessions

    I feel you, man. I messed up my Bachelor's Degree defence super-hard because my brain kind of shut down from stress. I was also a pretty shitty student back then, but still did WAY worse then my actual knowledge allowed for. The only thing that helped me was that the reviewers pretty much saw I just did so poorly because of how nervous I was. I still get anxious at the sheer memory of it. The part that makes it better is that I did really well with my master's thesis. You might also have some opportunities to redeem yourself still? In general, no need to agonize over it. It's a learning experience and if your mentor isn't a dickhead he'll treat it the same. :]
  10. Hi

    Hey there and welcome to Fuwanovel! I somehow kept reading your nick as "Beastcraving" for the first 15 minutes of so. Gave me a slightly different vibe than the correct version.
  11. Popular Western visual novels.

    Most Western VNs are anime-style. Like, the vast majority of them, so it's not a good distinction. And they're not very popular in the way that most of them are very much limited to the niche Western VN community as its only audience. They're also low-budget, indie titles, while JP VNs come to the West as part of the huge eroge/visual novel industry and are considered higher quality. This means not even all VN fans will be interested in Western-produced VNs when they have tons of translated Japanese games to choose from. I read mostly Western VNs for the reason I'm writing about them and don't have time for much else, but they're definitely on the more indie/amateur side of things and niche pretty much by design, while Japanese stuff often has quite a broad appeal, with super-high-quality art and tons of sexual content. When it goes to Fuwa's slogan? It was definitely thought of in reference to Japanese VNs, which were put on the site's torrents back in the day (the ol' good pirate days, yarr!). Nowadays, if it still means anything, it's about all VNs. And just as a point of reference, Katawa Shoujo and DDLC achieved the kind of mass appeal no other EVN could replicate so far. But they're not the only notable ones. I'd mention Butterfly Soup, which got noticed by gaming media and I think circulated more within the LGBT+ community than in the VN spheres, and Sakura Spirit & its immediate sequels, which appealed to masses of horny otaku teenagers and not VN fans necessarily. Mein Waifu is the Furher might be a similar case to DDLC, as it exploded as a meme game rather than a VN. With "proper VNs", titles like Lucid9, Cinderella Phenomenon, Heart of the Woods, Analogue: A Hate Story or Cupid gathered decent notoriety and a lot of positive feedback. But still, it's all in the context of a niche within a niche – VN fans that are able to look past their biases, as for the longest time Western VNs were considered universally shit within the "core" VN community.
  12. What Are You Watching: Movie and TV Show Edition

    I'm currently on a nightly showing of Stephen King's It duology, now around the last third of the Chapter 2 and sharing with a whole crowd of people the amazement with how awful it is. I didn't care that much for the first part but holy shit, how could they mess up it this heavily? Literally, it's a Golden Rasberry-grade movie. Just with decent actors and way higher budget than the horrible script and bitter-laughable CGI scares deserved. 3/10 and a good 4-points drop from the Chapter 1. Edit: 2/10 for the last 40 mins. That was just really bad self-parody.
  13. Check out my interview with Georgina Bensley, the founder of Hanako Games, published recently on Fuwanovel Welcome back to another one of my seasonal (yup, I get enough things sent my way for that to be a thing now) summary of games given to me for review through the EVN Chronicles Steam Curator page. Once more, I’ll be focusing on the shorter titles, that would most likely be hard to write a full-length review about or had to give up their spots for games I really wanted to cover in detail. This, of course, doesn’t mean there are no really interesting VNs among them. In today's list, the title standing out the most is undoubtedly Jack-In-A-Castle, a whimsical tale about a world populated by living toys and a marionette investigating the disappearance of its king. This extended version of a free NaNoRenO 2019 VN proved to be an unusual and twisted experience that caught me completely by surprise. While the other three games I’ll cover this time didn’t offer similar levels of quality, all of them proved interesting in their own ways – even if they didn’t subvert my expectation quite like they wanted to... Jack-In-A-Castle Every once in awhile, I stumble upon small VNs so unusual and creative that they’re hard to categorize. Jack-In-A-Castle is, by its own admission, a rather cute, cartoonish boy’s love story happening in a fantastic world populated by animated toys. However, there are a few caveats to it: the BL label feels somewhat irrelevant considering the androgynous designs of the main characters (particularly the protagonist, Marion) and the relatively tame relationships they develop. Between all those cute living toys and minimalistic love stories they’re involved in, gender barely seems to hold any meaning. At the same time, the cartoonish art can be misleading in its own way – the game features some mature themes and the characters, Marion in particular, can be quite devious and even violent (although such things are mostly presented off-screen). The three hero routes all develop in pretty unpredictable directions, leading Marion to resolve the mystery of the missing king and the tenuous regency of his right-hand-man, Jack, in vastly different ways (or not at all). This makes for a surprisingly engaging and fun experience – varied, cleverly written and executed with a lot of attention to detail. The game’s environments change to reflect the plot progression (mainly through the constant spread of mysterious vines infecting the titular castle). What seems like throwaway choices can lead to some drastic consequences, completely subverting your expectations. Everything is presented in a distinctly stylish manner, with the simplicity of character and background designs being outweighed by their expressiveness and the quirky atmosphere they create. The overall impression I’ve got from Jack-In-A-Castle was extremely positive and I highly recommend checking it out – unless you’re hoping for traditional VN romance, it definitely won’t disappoint you. Final Rating: Highly Recommended Elf Enchanter: Arousing Anima Belgerum is a developer of small hentai games that combine VN-style storytelling and simple, RPG-like battle mechanics. After his surprise hit from 2018 NaNoRen0 contest, Demon King Domination, he capitalised on it with an extended, commercial version that reached decent popularity on Steam. Later he also created a follow-up game, Magebuster, once more featuring a supernatural, villainous protagonist and an antagonistic heroine he has to dominate. His third title, Elf Enchanter, was meant to partially break away from this formula, being a “pure” visual novel and not focusing so much on dark themes. Featuring a support mage that accidentally casts a taming spell on his dark elf companion, making her incapable of opposing his commands, it sounded quite intriguing in theory: I usually find games where you’re given complete power over other people, and can use it for either good or bad, very compelling. Elf Enchanter, however, does very little with this setup: featuring only a few choices and three possible endings, it’s too short and basic to really engage you in its narrative, while the 5 h-scenes (two unavoidable one and one extra per each ending) are average in quality and only one of them stands out with some unusual elements. It’s quite adequate as a $1 nukige (that’s how much it costs on Steam), but ultimately very forgettable – and that’s a shame, as with just a bit more content and complexity, it could’ve been a really cool experience worthy of a much more serious price tag. Maybe another time… Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended Kingdom of Lies The fact that Visual Novels are somewhat easy to put-together, even without any programming prowess or high-quality assets involved, makes it quite common for extremely low-effort ones, or straight-up troll games in VN form, to reach Steam. Kingdom of Lies looks like one of the latter, a cynical attempt at trolling and getting attention with edgy content, but is actually something a bit different – a confusing, broken and ultimately unplayable mess, that still quite a lot of work and thought went into. It features a really strange story about a maniacal-murderer protagonist, guided by a demon (represented by gradually-decaying rat corpse) into a killing spree in a modern-fantasy setting. It then combines it with some literally-impossible Hotline Miami-style gameplay sections and minigames that will make your head hurt (although the combination of shogi, go and chess on a three-dimensional board and with a possibility to modify rules was pretty hilarious). All of that coupled with MS Paint-grade visuals, tons of anti-SJW memes and high levels of randomness. It’s quite possible that I haven’t seen this much effort going into something so overwhelmingly bad since Sonic Boom and if the game was just a battle bit less broken, I could’ve even suggested checking it out for its hypnotizing trainwreck-like qualities. It also involves a few genuinely cool ideas: for example, the rat corpse/demon you communicate with before every mission is quite disturbing, with the constant decay and disease it seems to spread all around it being well-portrayed despite the simplistic graphics. In reality, though, the experience of playing Kingdom of Lies is just too confusing and frustrating to be worth it. Final Rating: Not Recommended Caladria Chronicles Caladria Chronicles is a debut VN by a small studio called Starlight Visual, one which was meant to launch a whole saga set in the titular modern-fantasy world of Caladria. It’s also, by most measures, a rather spectacular trainwreck: overly ambitious, unfocused and grossly unpolished in its execution. The full voice acting is a mixed bag at best, with some characters being hard to listen to and whole lines misplaced or missing. The narrative lacks clear protagonists, and introduces way too many character and subplots within its 3-hours reading time. The humour is very much hit-and-miss, with two rather unbearable chuuni characters at the center of most of the gags. The anime clichés are everywhere and their presence, along with many explicit references to Japan, are utterly confusing unless you took your time and read the game’s encyclopaedia, explaining many crucial lore details that are never properly communicated in the story. An encyclopaedia which, BTW, is also full of errors and clunky writing. Why do I leave this game with a positive recommendation then? Not because I necessarily advice reading it, but because of a huge potential I see in its setting and some of its characters. Caladria is a copycat world – a planet whose people used the help of mystical being known as angels to gain knowledge of Earth’s history, technology and culture. They then proceeded to copy and expand on all of it, boosting their own development in incredible ways. In the process, Caladria lost most of its own identity, with whole nations mimicking Earth’s civilizations and identifying with these artificially-imported, second-hand cultures. With a few forms of magic and a tumulous political situation added to the mix, the setting itself offers great promise, even if the first game only briefly touches on its most interesting aspects. While for now, Caladria Chronicles can be only worth experiencing as an unfortunate curiosity, if its authors manage to learn from their mistakes, they have a good basis to create something really memorable and compelling. Skip on this VN, but keep Starlight Visual on your radar – personally, I’m extremely curious where the Caladria project goes next. Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended And this would be it for this season’s Steam Curator summary! I hoped to include at least one more game in it, but the real-life responsibilities forced me to move it to the fall update – that one will hopefully be more substantial, including some more notable games and ones that were waiting particularly long to get covered. Still, I hope you all enjoyed this small update and as always, my huge thanks go to the developers that decided to share their work with me. I hope this feedback, even if not always positive, will be of use to them and maybe even inspire (even) better VNs in the future. Until the next time!
  14. Nintendo Switch VN

    I think it'll mostly come to publisher policy. Sekai is very interested in reaching out to consoles with their Sekai Games branch and I think we'll see a steady stream of digital Switch releases from them. I hope other companies will follow – while I don't have a Switch and probably won't ever bother to get one, it's a huge market and VNs are very cool choice for a portable system. Unless the porting process is particularily tricky (and it doesn't seem to be considering the number of indie VNs already there), it'd be just stupid for JAST or MangaGamer to not explore it, especially now when Nintendo proves less problematic to work with than Sony or Steam. And having some quality all-ages titles like Flowers there could even do some good for the medium as a whole.
  15. Birthday thread

    All best wishes to @MaggieROBOT and @Kenshin_sama! Keep being awesome you two. ^^
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