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alpacaman

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  1. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, Blog: Why is everyone reading Umineko the "wrong" way? [spoilers]   
    If I had to summarize the experience I had when reading the first half of Umineko for the first time, it would go something like this: At least for the first three episodes I mainly tried to identify the culprit with a typical mystery reader mindset. Even when it became obvious the game told its story from a fantasy standpoint, my focus was on discerning which parts could be taken at face value and which were made up by Beatrice. Even as I was able to see how this approach was getting deconstructed, I was still waiting for Battler to come up with the one logic argument able to solve it all. Even as Beatrice kept repeating "without love it cannot be seen" (or WLICBS, as I am going to call it for the rest of this post)) I took this mainly as an incentive to look at all the romantic and fantastical scenes from the "detective" angle and tried to spot if anyone had unintentionally slipped up. I dismissed the scenes where "real" characters chatted with fantastical ones as merely character building because to me they weren't actually happening. If the discussions of Umineko on this forum and especially in the "What are playing" thread are anything to go by, most readers have a somewhat similar experience. Even the ones whose theories get quite close to the truth usually base them on secondary clues like character designs.
    Recently I started rereading Umineko, and well, now I know what the "it" in WLICBS is about. The scene where Maria is searching for the wilting rose isn't primarily setup for the first mini-mystery, namely who gave her the umbrella, it's a tale about a small girl who, being overwhelmed by the loss something precious to her and getting abused by the one who should console her, gets saved by love. The first hour or so of episode 2 isn't just Shannon and Kanon bonding with their love interests and a witch, it is important context for establishing the culprit's motive. Which is way more helpful when trying to figure out who is behind the Rokkenjima killings than guessing how the culprit could have killed someone inside a room locked with a key chain. Thinking about why Shannon and Kanon don't see themselves as full humans deserving of love brings you closer to the truth than pondering on some howdunnit.
    So why do most readers seem to not pick up on this the first time, even when it is right in front of them? Why is everyone reading Umineko the wrong way at first?
    Yeah I know, it is a polemic question. There is no objective right or wrong way to read something. However, more or less every piece of media contains some form of message or subtext, either explicitely stated or at least implied by its author, often intentionally although it doesn't have to be, and which can be read into.* Depending on your own view of the handled topics and which motive you assume the author to have, your interpretation can change (as well as your overall enjoyment of the work). To name one example and shamelessly plug one my other blog posts**, in my analysis about Steins;Gate I argue the common interpretation of its message that fate can't be changed doesn't really get at the core of S;G but that rather it's a story about growing up and learning to make your own fortune. I came to this conclusion based on the true ending contradicting the former reading. If you assume it wasn't included for some deeper reason, but rather the writers feeling like
    that is also valid, keeping the "inescapable fate" interpretation as the most reasonable one (although a message definitely becomes weaker when it gets contradicted by the story itself).*** Of course that doesn't mean all interpretations of pieces of media are created equal. They should be somewhat rooted in the plot, characters, themes and so on.**** If your main takeaway from Steins;Gate is that microwave radiation is evil, you are either a troll or should seriously work on your reading comprehension skills.*****
    So is there even one "correct" reading of Umineko? Not really, though luckily the game more or less directly states that it wants you to read "with love" for lack of a better term, and not just Umineko but in general. The concept is pretty complex and it takes Ryukishi07 the whole 60+ hours of Chiru to explain it. The basic idea is to base your mindset while reading on the motivations of the characters and the author. Umineko is not even secretive about this or makes it some unexpected twist. Beatrice says WLICBS for the first time at the beginning of episode 2, and over the course of the VN this sentence gets repeated many, many times. So why does it often take readers so long to adapt this mindset, besides it seeming somewhat abstract at first?
    I would say it is because Umineko intentionally tricks you into reading it as a mystery story at first. It deliberately frames itself as a murder mystery. This begins with its setting where a rich family fights over an inheritance while at a remote mansion with a mysterious backstory and then people start dying under strange circumstances. Of course you would want to know what is going on there and the seemingly easiest and most logical way to do so is to look for inconsistencies in the alibis and shown series of events. If Umineko wanted to be read as a story about love from the beginning it would have built up the interpersonal drama first and then culminated in the serial killings. Also each episode has a new set of murder mysteries, constantly giving your inner detective more fodder. After the first game board the battle of wits between Battler and Beatrice gets presented as the central conflict. The latter is a witch claiming to be the culprit and killing people in the most ridiculous and unrealistic fashion possible, so of course you would take the viewpoint of her opponent who tries to explain the killings as "real" murder mysteries and try to solve everything his way******. Umineko's structure caused me (and presumably others too) to not really think about what all the scenes of characters talking about the nature of love and miracles and such are trying to convey, but rather search them for clues for the whodunnits and howdunnits, which made me miss the core of the story.
    Which is the point of telling it this way: "Mystery literature" thought patterns don't just not help you to solve Umineko. In fact they get you further away from being able to see the truth, even though it is right in front of you the whole time. Umineko basically forces you into adopting the "mystery" mindset to make its deconstruction hit you harder. By gently, but decisively shoving you into taking a certain perspective you start to have a personal stake in the story, which makes the takedown of said viewpoint so much more effective.******* Only by utterly defeating your own seemingly logical default approach it becomes apparent why the alternative Umineko proposes is superior.********
    There is one huge downside to this approach though: Most readers wont get even half of what is going on in Umineko on the first reading. Which is a big deal when your VN is so long most people won't bother going through it a second time. Those that do though get rewarded with an experience that is even better than the first readthrough. Or as Kinzo would put it: The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the magic that results.*********
     
     
     
    * This topic does a great job exposing (probably, hopefully) unintentional subtext in a certain subgenre of VNs. Not to say this only happens in trashy media, whenever something is considered to "not have aged well" it usually has to do with some its implicit assumptions about how the world works not being considered acceptable anymore in today's society.
    ** Originally I thought about naming my blog "Paca Plugs" which would have been an amazing pun, if I dare say so myself. I decided against it because I didn't actually plan on doing any plugging. I don't orgle on here either though so maybe I should have gone with my original idea…
    *** I have to admit that after having read Steins;Gate 0 and Chaos;Child, both of which seem very confused about what they want to communicate, I've become much more inclined to accept this admittedly more cynical interpretation, and have started to see Steins;Gate as more of a case of a broken clock showing the right time twice a day within the SciAdv series. I hope Robotics;Notes manages to prove me wrong…
    **** I mention this mainly for the sake of completeness, to preemptively invalidate the "if any interpretation is possible, no interpretation can be true, thus interpretation is pointless" argument, not because it ties into where this post is going.
    ***** Here, have another footnote where I apologize for the length of the sentences in this paragraph and for adding so many footnotes. There's just too many possible ways to get sidetracked with this topic. I thought about adding another one later on where I would rant about Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi and why I thought the way it forces the reader into becoming complicit doesn't work, especially when compared to how clever Umineko achieves this, but then decided not to.
    ****** One of the greatest ironies in Umineko is that the "real" murder mysteries in the games are just as made up by Beatrice as her fantasy explanations. And just like she keeps adding characters to a closed circle, I keep adding footnotes to a post that would work just as well without them. Without my boredom during proofreading "it" cannot be seen.
    ******* So about why Totono doesn't work in comparison: Where Umineko lets you make the choice how you want to read it in your head, Totono literally forces you to take the approach to its choice system it is trying to deconstruct if you want to progress beyond its first few hours. Because of this it is easy for you to divorce yourself from your in-game decisions. So when the game scolds you for picking them, you can rightfully shrug it off because your only alternative would have been dropping the VN. I can't imagine Nitroplus praising you for asking for a refund in that case though.
    ******** The more I think about Umineko's concept of love, the more I find myself actually disagreeing with it. No, I won't go into more detail here because it would take me another blog post of this length to properly explain why. Weirdly enough despite this my enjoyment of the VN hasn't suffered at all.
    ********* Oh my, this post has gotten really really long. Thanks a lot to everyone who actually bothered to read through all of it! Yes, all three of you!
  2. Love
    alpacaman got a reaction from kokoro for a blog entry, Blog: Why is everyone reading Umineko the "wrong" way? [spoilers]   
    If I had to summarize the experience I had when reading the first half of Umineko for the first time, it would go something like this: At least for the first three episodes I mainly tried to identify the culprit with a typical mystery reader mindset. Even when it became obvious the game told its story from a fantasy standpoint, my focus was on discerning which parts could be taken at face value and which were made up by Beatrice. Even as I was able to see how this approach was getting deconstructed, I was still waiting for Battler to come up with the one logic argument able to solve it all. Even as Beatrice kept repeating "without love it cannot be seen" (or WLICBS, as I am going to call it for the rest of this post)) I took this mainly as an incentive to look at all the romantic and fantastical scenes from the "detective" angle and tried to spot if anyone had unintentionally slipped up. I dismissed the scenes where "real" characters chatted with fantastical ones as merely character building because to me they weren't actually happening. If the discussions of Umineko on this forum and especially in the "What are playing" thread are anything to go by, most readers have a somewhat similar experience. Even the ones whose theories get quite close to the truth usually base them on secondary clues like character designs.
    Recently I started rereading Umineko, and well, now I know what the "it" in WLICBS is about. The scene where Maria is searching for the wilting rose isn't primarily setup for the first mini-mystery, namely who gave her the umbrella, it's a tale about a small girl who, being overwhelmed by the loss something precious to her and getting abused by the one who should console her, gets saved by love. The first hour or so of episode 2 isn't just Shannon and Kanon bonding with their love interests and a witch, it is important context for establishing the culprit's motive. Which is way more helpful when trying to figure out who is behind the Rokkenjima killings than guessing how the culprit could have killed someone inside a room locked with a key chain. Thinking about why Shannon and Kanon don't see themselves as full humans deserving of love brings you closer to the truth than pondering on some howdunnit.
    So why do most readers seem to not pick up on this the first time, even when it is right in front of them? Why is everyone reading Umineko the wrong way at first?
    Yeah I know, it is a polemic question. There is no objective right or wrong way to read something. However, more or less every piece of media contains some form of message or subtext, either explicitely stated or at least implied by its author, often intentionally although it doesn't have to be, and which can be read into.* Depending on your own view of the handled topics and which motive you assume the author to have, your interpretation can change (as well as your overall enjoyment of the work). To name one example and shamelessly plug one my other blog posts**, in my analysis about Steins;Gate I argue the common interpretation of its message that fate can't be changed doesn't really get at the core of S;G but that rather it's a story about growing up and learning to make your own fortune. I came to this conclusion based on the true ending contradicting the former reading. If you assume it wasn't included for some deeper reason, but rather the writers feeling like
    that is also valid, keeping the "inescapable fate" interpretation as the most reasonable one (although a message definitely becomes weaker when it gets contradicted by the story itself).*** Of course that doesn't mean all interpretations of pieces of media are created equal. They should be somewhat rooted in the plot, characters, themes and so on.**** If your main takeaway from Steins;Gate is that microwave radiation is evil, you are either a troll or should seriously work on your reading comprehension skills.*****
    So is there even one "correct" reading of Umineko? Not really, though luckily the game more or less directly states that it wants you to read "with love" for lack of a better term, and not just Umineko but in general. The concept is pretty complex and it takes Ryukishi07 the whole 60+ hours of Chiru to explain it. The basic idea is to base your mindset while reading on the motivations of the characters and the author. Umineko is not even secretive about this or makes it some unexpected twist. Beatrice says WLICBS for the first time at the beginning of episode 2, and over the course of the VN this sentence gets repeated many, many times. So why does it often take readers so long to adapt this mindset, besides it seeming somewhat abstract at first?
    I would say it is because Umineko intentionally tricks you into reading it as a mystery story at first. It deliberately frames itself as a murder mystery. This begins with its setting where a rich family fights over an inheritance while at a remote mansion with a mysterious backstory and then people start dying under strange circumstances. Of course you would want to know what is going on there and the seemingly easiest and most logical way to do so is to look for inconsistencies in the alibis and shown series of events. If Umineko wanted to be read as a story about love from the beginning it would have built up the interpersonal drama first and then culminated in the serial killings. Also each episode has a new set of murder mysteries, constantly giving your inner detective more fodder. After the first game board the battle of wits between Battler and Beatrice gets presented as the central conflict. The latter is a witch claiming to be the culprit and killing people in the most ridiculous and unrealistic fashion possible, so of course you would take the viewpoint of her opponent who tries to explain the killings as "real" murder mysteries and try to solve everything his way******. Umineko's structure caused me (and presumably others too) to not really think about what all the scenes of characters talking about the nature of love and miracles and such are trying to convey, but rather search them for clues for the whodunnits and howdunnits, which made me miss the core of the story.
    Which is the point of telling it this way: "Mystery literature" thought patterns don't just not help you to solve Umineko. In fact they get you further away from being able to see the truth, even though it is right in front of you the whole time. Umineko basically forces you into adopting the "mystery" mindset to make its deconstruction hit you harder. By gently, but decisively shoving you into taking a certain perspective you start to have a personal stake in the story, which makes the takedown of said viewpoint so much more effective.******* Only by utterly defeating your own seemingly logical default approach it becomes apparent why the alternative Umineko proposes is superior.********
    There is one huge downside to this approach though: Most readers wont get even half of what is going on in Umineko on the first reading. Which is a big deal when your VN is so long most people won't bother going through it a second time. Those that do though get rewarded with an experience that is even better than the first readthrough. Or as Kinzo would put it: The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the magic that results.*********
     
     
     
    * This topic does a great job exposing (probably, hopefully) unintentional subtext in a certain subgenre of VNs. Not to say this only happens in trashy media, whenever something is considered to "not have aged well" it usually has to do with some its implicit assumptions about how the world works not being considered acceptable anymore in today's society.
    ** Originally I thought about naming my blog "Paca Plugs" which would have been an amazing pun, if I dare say so myself. I decided against it because I didn't actually plan on doing any plugging. I don't orgle on here either though so maybe I should have gone with my original idea…
    *** I have to admit that after having read Steins;Gate 0 and Chaos;Child, both of which seem very confused about what they want to communicate, I've become much more inclined to accept this admittedly more cynical interpretation, and have started to see Steins;Gate as more of a case of a broken clock showing the right time twice a day within the SciAdv series. I hope Robotics;Notes manages to prove me wrong…
    **** I mention this mainly for the sake of completeness, to preemptively invalidate the "if any interpretation is possible, no interpretation can be true, thus interpretation is pointless" argument, not because it ties into where this post is going.
    ***** Here, have another footnote where I apologize for the length of the sentences in this paragraph and for adding so many footnotes. There's just too many possible ways to get sidetracked with this topic. I thought about adding another one later on where I would rant about Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi and why I thought the way it forces the reader into becoming complicit doesn't work, especially when compared to how clever Umineko achieves this, but then decided not to.
    ****** One of the greatest ironies in Umineko is that the "real" murder mysteries in the games are just as made up by Beatrice as her fantasy explanations. And just like she keeps adding characters to a closed circle, I keep adding footnotes to a post that would work just as well without them. Without my boredom during proofreading "it" cannot be seen.
    ******* So about why Totono doesn't work in comparison: Where Umineko lets you make the choice how you want to read it in your head, Totono literally forces you to take the approach to its choice system it is trying to deconstruct if you want to progress beyond its first few hours. Because of this it is easy for you to divorce yourself from your in-game decisions. So when the game scolds you for picking them, you can rightfully shrug it off because your only alternative would have been dropping the VN. I can't imagine Nitroplus praising you for asking for a refund in that case though.
    ******** The more I think about Umineko's concept of love, the more I find myself actually disagreeing with it. No, I won't go into more detail here because it would take me another blog post of this length to properly explain why. Weirdly enough despite this my enjoyment of the VN hasn't suffered at all.
    ********* Oh my, this post has gotten really really long. Thanks a lot to everyone who actually bothered to read through all of it! Yes, all three of you!
  3. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Zalor for a blog entry, Blog: Why is everyone reading Umineko the "wrong" way? [spoilers]   
    If I had to summarize the experience I had when reading the first half of Umineko for the first time, it would go something like this: At least for the first three episodes I mainly tried to identify the culprit with a typical mystery reader mindset. Even when it became obvious the game told its story from a fantasy standpoint, my focus was on discerning which parts could be taken at face value and which were made up by Beatrice. Even as I was able to see how this approach was getting deconstructed, I was still waiting for Battler to come up with the one logic argument able to solve it all. Even as Beatrice kept repeating "without love it cannot be seen" (or WLICBS, as I am going to call it for the rest of this post)) I took this mainly as an incentive to look at all the romantic and fantastical scenes from the "detective" angle and tried to spot if anyone had unintentionally slipped up. I dismissed the scenes where "real" characters chatted with fantastical ones as merely character building because to me they weren't actually happening. If the discussions of Umineko on this forum and especially in the "What are playing" thread are anything to go by, most readers have a somewhat similar experience. Even the ones whose theories get quite close to the truth usually base them on secondary clues like character designs.
    Recently I started rereading Umineko, and well, now I know what the "it" in WLICBS is about. The scene where Maria is searching for the wilting rose isn't primarily setup for the first mini-mystery, namely who gave her the umbrella, it's a tale about a small girl who, being overwhelmed by the loss something precious to her and getting abused by the one who should console her, gets saved by love. The first hour or so of episode 2 isn't just Shannon and Kanon bonding with their love interests and a witch, it is important context for establishing the culprit's motive. Which is way more helpful when trying to figure out who is behind the Rokkenjima killings than guessing how the culprit could have killed someone inside a room locked with a key chain. Thinking about why Shannon and Kanon don't see themselves as full humans deserving of love brings you closer to the truth than pondering on some howdunnit.
    So why do most readers seem to not pick up on this the first time, even when it is right in front of them? Why is everyone reading Umineko the wrong way at first?
    Yeah I know, it is a polemic question. There is no objective right or wrong way to read something. However, more or less every piece of media contains some form of message or subtext, either explicitely stated or at least implied by its author, often intentionally although it doesn't have to be, and which can be read into.* Depending on your own view of the handled topics and which motive you assume the author to have, your interpretation can change (as well as your overall enjoyment of the work). To name one example and shamelessly plug one my other blog posts**, in my analysis about Steins;Gate I argue the common interpretation of its message that fate can't be changed doesn't really get at the core of S;G but that rather it's a story about growing up and learning to make your own fortune. I came to this conclusion based on the true ending contradicting the former reading. If you assume it wasn't included for some deeper reason, but rather the writers feeling like
    that is also valid, keeping the "inescapable fate" interpretation as the most reasonable one (although a message definitely becomes weaker when it gets contradicted by the story itself).*** Of course that doesn't mean all interpretations of pieces of media are created equal. They should be somewhat rooted in the plot, characters, themes and so on.**** If your main takeaway from Steins;Gate is that microwave radiation is evil, you are either a troll or should seriously work on your reading comprehension skills.*****
    So is there even one "correct" reading of Umineko? Not really, though luckily the game more or less directly states that it wants you to read "with love" for lack of a better term, and not just Umineko but in general. The concept is pretty complex and it takes Ryukishi07 the whole 60+ hours of Chiru to explain it. The basic idea is to base your mindset while reading on the motivations of the characters and the author. Umineko is not even secretive about this or makes it some unexpected twist. Beatrice says WLICBS for the first time at the beginning of episode 2, and over the course of the VN this sentence gets repeated many, many times. So why does it often take readers so long to adapt this mindset, besides it seeming somewhat abstract at first?
    I would say it is because Umineko intentionally tricks you into reading it as a mystery story at first. It deliberately frames itself as a murder mystery. This begins with its setting where a rich family fights over an inheritance while at a remote mansion with a mysterious backstory and then people start dying under strange circumstances. Of course you would want to know what is going on there and the seemingly easiest and most logical way to do so is to look for inconsistencies in the alibis and shown series of events. If Umineko wanted to be read as a story about love from the beginning it would have built up the interpersonal drama first and then culminated in the serial killings. Also each episode has a new set of murder mysteries, constantly giving your inner detective more fodder. After the first game board the battle of wits between Battler and Beatrice gets presented as the central conflict. The latter is a witch claiming to be the culprit and killing people in the most ridiculous and unrealistic fashion possible, so of course you would take the viewpoint of her opponent who tries to explain the killings as "real" murder mysteries and try to solve everything his way******. Umineko's structure caused me (and presumably others too) to not really think about what all the scenes of characters talking about the nature of love and miracles and such are trying to convey, but rather search them for clues for the whodunnits and howdunnits, which made me miss the core of the story.
    Which is the point of telling it this way: "Mystery literature" thought patterns don't just not help you to solve Umineko. In fact they get you further away from being able to see the truth, even though it is right in front of you the whole time. Umineko basically forces you into adopting the "mystery" mindset to make its deconstruction hit you harder. By gently, but decisively shoving you into taking a certain perspective you start to have a personal stake in the story, which makes the takedown of said viewpoint so much more effective.******* Only by utterly defeating your own seemingly logical default approach it becomes apparent why the alternative Umineko proposes is superior.********
    There is one huge downside to this approach though: Most readers wont get even half of what is going on in Umineko on the first reading. Which is a big deal when your VN is so long most people won't bother going through it a second time. Those that do though get rewarded with an experience that is even better than the first readthrough. Or as Kinzo would put it: The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the magic that results.*********
     
     
     
    * This topic does a great job exposing (probably, hopefully) unintentional subtext in a certain subgenre of VNs. Not to say this only happens in trashy media, whenever something is considered to "not have aged well" it usually has to do with some its implicit assumptions about how the world works not being considered acceptable anymore in today's society.
    ** Originally I thought about naming my blog "Paca Plugs" which would have been an amazing pun, if I dare say so myself. I decided against it because I didn't actually plan on doing any plugging. I don't orgle on here either though so maybe I should have gone with my original idea…
    *** I have to admit that after having read Steins;Gate 0 and Chaos;Child, both of which seem very confused about what they want to communicate, I've become much more inclined to accept this admittedly more cynical interpretation, and have started to see Steins;Gate as more of a case of a broken clock showing the right time twice a day within the SciAdv series. I hope Robotics;Notes manages to prove me wrong…
    **** I mention this mainly for the sake of completeness, to preemptively invalidate the "if any interpretation is possible, no interpretation can be true, thus interpretation is pointless" argument, not because it ties into where this post is going.
    ***** Here, have another footnote where I apologize for the length of the sentences in this paragraph and for adding so many footnotes. There's just too many possible ways to get sidetracked with this topic. I thought about adding another one later on where I would rant about Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi and why I thought the way it forces the reader into becoming complicit doesn't work, especially when compared to how clever Umineko achieves this, but then decided not to.
    ****** One of the greatest ironies in Umineko is that the "real" murder mysteries in the games are just as made up by Beatrice as her fantasy explanations. And just like she keeps adding characters to a closed circle, I keep adding footnotes to a post that would work just as well without them. Without my boredom during proofreading "it" cannot be seen.
    ******* So about why Totono doesn't work in comparison: Where Umineko lets you make the choice how you want to read it in your head, Totono literally forces you to take the approach to its choice system it is trying to deconstruct if you want to progress beyond its first few hours. Because of this it is easy for you to divorce yourself from your in-game decisions. So when the game scolds you for picking them, you can rightfully shrug it off because your only alternative would have been dropping the VN. I can't imagine Nitroplus praising you for asking for a refund in that case though.
    ******** The more I think about Umineko's concept of love, the more I find myself actually disagreeing with it. No, I won't go into more detail here because it would take me another blog post of this length to properly explain why. Weirdly enough despite this my enjoyment of the VN hasn't suffered at all.
    ********* Oh my, this post has gotten really really long. Thanks a lot to everyone who actually bothered to read through all of it! Yes, all three of you!
  4. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Dreamysyu for a blog entry, Umineko's opening scene   
    The recent discussions about Umineko here on the forum made me want to pick up the whole damn thing again. Only this time I'm going spend even more time on it because I'm taking notes. I'll take the game's advice though and not focus on the howdunnits (which it argues are trivial and unimportant), but rather on what meaning is hidden inbetween. I'm doing this mostly for myself, though every now and then I might feel like turning my thoughts and interpretations into a blog post like this one.
    The German realist author Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) once said "the first chapter is always the main point, and within the first chapter the first page, almost the first line." While I think he is exaggerating a little bit and tbh I only opened with a quote of his to get a chance to mention how much I hate his writing (some of his novels are required reading in high-school in parts of Germany), it is true that the opening to a novel or any piece of fictional media can be a more important part of the work than it is often given credit for. Which brings us to Umineko's first scene. While it might not be the most spectacular example out there, I think it does what it sets out to do so well that it is worth taking a look at it from an analytical standpoint. I'm going to mention one or two twists that happen at later points in the VN, so you might not want read any further if you do not want to get spoiled.
    The scene takes place at an unspecified point in time in Kinzo's study with him, Nanjo (his doctor) and Genji (his head servant) present. It starts out with Nanjo telling Kinzo to lay off the alcohol as the medicine he prescribed to keep him alive won't work otherwise. Kinzo responds by saying the liquor (which has a sweet scent and a venomous green colour) has been with him longer than Nanjo, and that it is what is actually keeping him alive, not the medicine. Then he orders Genji to serve him another glass, but water it down a bit. Kinzo asks Nanjo how much time he has left, to which the doctor replies by comparing it to their chess match which is apparently entering its final stages and where Kinzo managed to corner Nanjo's king.  The physician suggests Kinzo should write a will, which the latter one heavily objects to: "...And what is a will, Nanjo? Handwritten instructions to the vultures on how to devour and scatter my corpse?" He wants to leave nothing behind and insists everything he built up during his life shall disappear with him, as it is part of the deal he made. He goes on to speak about his only regret, which is not being able to see the smile of the witch Beatrice once more, resulting in him screaming at thin air offering his remaining life to her for her to appear before him one last time. Opening Credits roll.
    The main thread running through the scene is a lingering conflict between what is "real" and what isn't, already introducing one of the main themes of the VN. This starts with the setting and props: There is no real indication if what you see takes place in the real world or some fantasy realm nor does it properly fit into any specific timeframe. The occult study, Kinzo's gown and the venomous green liquor all make the whole scene look surreal, but then there is also a real world physician doing standard medical examinations. In this sense the whole dialogue between Nanjo and Kanzo can be read as a conflict between material reality and fantasy, with Nanjo and his medicine or science representing the former and Kinzo having completely embraced the latter. Nanjo tries to bring Kinzo to care about his own physical wellbeing and his remains (stand-ins for material reality), both of which the latter one doesn't care at all about. The liquor in this context is basically a metaphor for fantasy. It has an inviting scent but looks like venom. It poisons Kinzo and according to him is what actually keeps him alive at the same time. His addiction turns his health and life miserable (as well as those of his children), while it is also what keeps him going. The booze or rather fantasy keeping him alive is also rather funny imo considering we later learn that, while he is part of all the "non-real" scenarios, in "real life" he has already been dead for quite a while. [It has been some time since I read the VN the first time so I don't really remember if the booze motif gets used at other points but it is one of the things I am going to keep an eye on this time around.]
    One of the main and more obvious purposes of an opening scene is to make the audience want to read on, usually by using a narrative hook. In this case it is the question about Beatrice's existence. You immediately ask yourself what the deal is with a witch that might or might not be real and that some weird and menacing old man is apparently trying to summon. Her (non-)presence is one of the main threads running through the whole VN and it gets established in the very first scene. This hook also ties right back into the overarching uncertainty of the scene about what is "real" and thus one of the main themes of the VN.
    The whole scene imo exemplifies pretty well what Umineko excels at, namely tying its separate narrative layers together. From the outset, characterization, plot, horror, fantasy, metaphor and theme are never truly separable but form a coherent and interwoven whole. I only implicitely talked about characterization and didn't even talk about why Genji is present in the scene at all or about the introduction of the chess motif (or the Kinzo being dead before the end of the game part). But since I already spent too much time writing this I'll keep it with one of Umineko's core messages and let you figure out how these things tie into the rest yourselves.
  5. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Zalor for a blog entry, Umineko's opening scene   
    The recent discussions about Umineko here on the forum made me want to pick up the whole damn thing again. Only this time I'm going spend even more time on it because I'm taking notes. I'll take the game's advice though and not focus on the howdunnits (which it argues are trivial and unimportant), but rather on what meaning is hidden inbetween. I'm doing this mostly for myself, though every now and then I might feel like turning my thoughts and interpretations into a blog post like this one.
    The German realist author Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) once said "the first chapter is always the main point, and within the first chapter the first page, almost the first line." While I think he is exaggerating a little bit and tbh I only opened with a quote of his to get a chance to mention how much I hate his writing (some of his novels are required reading in high-school in parts of Germany), it is true that the opening to a novel or any piece of fictional media can be a more important part of the work than it is often given credit for. Which brings us to Umineko's first scene. While it might not be the most spectacular example out there, I think it does what it sets out to do so well that it is worth taking a look at it from an analytical standpoint. I'm going to mention one or two twists that happen at later points in the VN, so you might not want read any further if you do not want to get spoiled.
    The scene takes place at an unspecified point in time in Kinzo's study with him, Nanjo (his doctor) and Genji (his head servant) present. It starts out with Nanjo telling Kinzo to lay off the alcohol as the medicine he prescribed to keep him alive won't work otherwise. Kinzo responds by saying the liquor (which has a sweet scent and a venomous green colour) has been with him longer than Nanjo, and that it is what is actually keeping him alive, not the medicine. Then he orders Genji to serve him another glass, but water it down a bit. Kinzo asks Nanjo how much time he has left, to which the doctor replies by comparing it to their chess match which is apparently entering its final stages and where Kinzo managed to corner Nanjo's king.  The physician suggests Kinzo should write a will, which the latter one heavily objects to: "...And what is a will, Nanjo? Handwritten instructions to the vultures on how to devour and scatter my corpse?" He wants to leave nothing behind and insists everything he built up during his life shall disappear with him, as it is part of the deal he made. He goes on to speak about his only regret, which is not being able to see the smile of the witch Beatrice once more, resulting in him screaming at thin air offering his remaining life to her for her to appear before him one last time. Opening Credits roll.
    The main thread running through the scene is a lingering conflict between what is "real" and what isn't, already introducing one of the main themes of the VN. This starts with the setting and props: There is no real indication if what you see takes place in the real world or some fantasy realm nor does it properly fit into any specific timeframe. The occult study, Kinzo's gown and the venomous green liquor all make the whole scene look surreal, but then there is also a real world physician doing standard medical examinations. In this sense the whole dialogue between Nanjo and Kanzo can be read as a conflict between material reality and fantasy, with Nanjo and his medicine or science representing the former and Kinzo having completely embraced the latter. Nanjo tries to bring Kinzo to care about his own physical wellbeing and his remains (stand-ins for material reality), both of which the latter one doesn't care at all about. The liquor in this context is basically a metaphor for fantasy. It has an inviting scent but looks like venom. It poisons Kinzo and according to him is what actually keeps him alive at the same time. His addiction turns his health and life miserable (as well as those of his children), while it is also what keeps him going. The booze or rather fantasy keeping him alive is also rather funny imo considering we later learn that, while he is part of all the "non-real" scenarios, in "real life" he has already been dead for quite a while. [It has been some time since I read the VN the first time so I don't really remember if the booze motif gets used at other points but it is one of the things I am going to keep an eye on this time around.]
    One of the main and more obvious purposes of an opening scene is to make the audience want to read on, usually by using a narrative hook. In this case it is the question about Beatrice's existence. You immediately ask yourself what the deal is with a witch that might or might not be real and that some weird and menacing old man is apparently trying to summon. Her (non-)presence is one of the main threads running through the whole VN and it gets established in the very first scene. This hook also ties right back into the overarching uncertainty of the scene about what is "real" and thus one of the main themes of the VN.
    The whole scene imo exemplifies pretty well what Umineko excels at, namely tying its separate narrative layers together. From the outset, characterization, plot, horror, fantasy, metaphor and theme are never truly separable but form a coherent and interwoven whole. I only implicitely talked about characterization and didn't even talk about why Genji is present in the scene at all or about the introduction of the chess motif (or the Kinzo being dead before the end of the game part). But since I already spent too much time writing this I'll keep it with one of Umineko's core messages and let you figure out how these things tie into the rest yourselves.
  6. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Mr Poltroon for a blog entry, Umineko's opening scene   
    The recent discussions about Umineko here on the forum made me want to pick up the whole damn thing again. Only this time I'm going spend even more time on it because I'm taking notes. I'll take the game's advice though and not focus on the howdunnits (which it argues are trivial and unimportant), but rather on what meaning is hidden inbetween. I'm doing this mostly for myself, though every now and then I might feel like turning my thoughts and interpretations into a blog post like this one.
    The German realist author Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) once said "the first chapter is always the main point, and within the first chapter the first page, almost the first line." While I think he is exaggerating a little bit and tbh I only opened with a quote of his to get a chance to mention how much I hate his writing (some of his novels are required reading in high-school in parts of Germany), it is true that the opening to a novel or any piece of fictional media can be a more important part of the work than it is often given credit for. Which brings us to Umineko's first scene. While it might not be the most spectacular example out there, I think it does what it sets out to do so well that it is worth taking a look at it from an analytical standpoint. I'm going to mention one or two twists that happen at later points in the VN, so you might not want read any further if you do not want to get spoiled.
    The scene takes place at an unspecified point in time in Kinzo's study with him, Nanjo (his doctor) and Genji (his head servant) present. It starts out with Nanjo telling Kinzo to lay off the alcohol as the medicine he prescribed to keep him alive won't work otherwise. Kinzo responds by saying the liquor (which has a sweet scent and a venomous green colour) has been with him longer than Nanjo, and that it is what is actually keeping him alive, not the medicine. Then he orders Genji to serve him another glass, but water it down a bit. Kinzo asks Nanjo how much time he has left, to which the doctor replies by comparing it to their chess match which is apparently entering its final stages and where Kinzo managed to corner Nanjo's king.  The physician suggests Kinzo should write a will, which the latter one heavily objects to: "...And what is a will, Nanjo? Handwritten instructions to the vultures on how to devour and scatter my corpse?" He wants to leave nothing behind and insists everything he built up during his life shall disappear with him, as it is part of the deal he made. He goes on to speak about his only regret, which is not being able to see the smile of the witch Beatrice once more, resulting in him screaming at thin air offering his remaining life to her for her to appear before him one last time. Opening Credits roll.
    The main thread running through the scene is a lingering conflict between what is "real" and what isn't, already introducing one of the main themes of the VN. This starts with the setting and props: There is no real indication if what you see takes place in the real world or some fantasy realm nor does it properly fit into any specific timeframe. The occult study, Kinzo's gown and the venomous green liquor all make the whole scene look surreal, but then there is also a real world physician doing standard medical examinations. In this sense the whole dialogue between Nanjo and Kanzo can be read as a conflict between material reality and fantasy, with Nanjo and his medicine or science representing the former and Kinzo having completely embraced the latter. Nanjo tries to bring Kinzo to care about his own physical wellbeing and his remains (stand-ins for material reality), both of which the latter one doesn't care at all about. The liquor in this context is basically a metaphor for fantasy. It has an inviting scent but looks like venom. It poisons Kinzo and according to him is what actually keeps him alive at the same time. His addiction turns his health and life miserable (as well as those of his children), while it is also what keeps him going. The booze or rather fantasy keeping him alive is also rather funny imo considering we later learn that, while he is part of all the "non-real" scenarios, in "real life" he has already been dead for quite a while. [It has been some time since I read the VN the first time so I don't really remember if the booze motif gets used at other points but it is one of the things I am going to keep an eye on this time around.]
    One of the main and more obvious purposes of an opening scene is to make the audience want to read on, usually by using a narrative hook. In this case it is the question about Beatrice's existence. You immediately ask yourself what the deal is with a witch that might or might not be real and that some weird and menacing old man is apparently trying to summon. Her (non-)presence is one of the main threads running through the whole VN and it gets established in the very first scene. This hook also ties right back into the overarching uncertainty of the scene about what is "real" and thus one of the main themes of the VN.
    The whole scene imo exemplifies pretty well what Umineko excels at, namely tying its separate narrative layers together. From the outset, characterization, plot, horror, fantasy, metaphor and theme are never truly separable but form a coherent and interwoven whole. I only implicitely talked about characterization and didn't even talk about why Genji is present in the scene at all or about the introduction of the chess motif (or the Kinzo being dead before the end of the game part). But since I already spent too much time writing this I'll keep it with one of Umineko's core messages and let you figure out how these things tie into the rest yourselves.
  7. Like
    alpacaman reacted to Zalor for a blog entry, The Other 4chan VN   
    Lesser known than its more popular sister, The Dandelion Girl is another VN that at least started its development by anonymous users on 4chan. And like Katawa Shoujo it's quite good, although very different. And in fact, I think it contrasts quite nicely with Katawa Shoujo.
    Katawa Shoujo very intentionally strove to conform to the standard visual novel formula. Hence why it takes place in Japan, in a high school, has branching routes with various heroines, and even included H-scenes. I think the goal of Katawa Shoujo was to make a solid entry in the visual novel landscape within the standards commonly set by the High School romance genre it chose.
    The Dandelion Girl on the other hand is not an original story, being an adaptation of a short-story of the same name by Robert F. Young. To me this was a breath of fresh air, as I always welcome VNs that see themselves more as digital books then as games. The early to mid 2000's doujin scene seemed to embrace this mentality a bit with works like Narcissu and True Remembrance, and accordingly the art style of The Dandelion Girl somewhat reminds me of True Remembrance.
    In fact as a whole the Kinetic Novel genre/medium seems to be a weird bastard child of VNs that probably would see more success with print novel readers rather than with it's current target demographic of VN readers. Which is probably at least among the reasons that The Dandelion Girl seems to be languishing in relative obscurity. But it is a solid adaptation which really places the reader in the world of the original short story.
    Its opening scene where the screen fades into a view of a blue sky with a melancholic piano piece playing in the background creates a strong ambiance which contextualizes the writing quite nicely. Overall the music and visuals do a good job supporting the writing. Never interfering with it by being overly flashy, nor contradicting the mood of the prose. It serves its purpose by distracting your eyes and ears, and allowing your mind to effortlessly focus on the story. And before you know it, you'll be finished with the heart warming tale and left with a cozy feeling inside.
    If Katawa Shoujo is nice meal, than The Dandelion Girl is a nice evening snack to accompany your tea.
  8. Thanks
    alpacaman got a reaction from Dreamysyu for a blog entry, Steins;Gate and Your Inner Child   
    Spoilers for Steins;Gate ahead! 
    As far as I'm aware, most deeper discussions of Steins;Gate revolve around one of two of its more obvious central aspects. On one hand its time travel mechanics tend to get picked apart a lot, with arguments about whether they make sense, if Rintarou basically destroying whole timelines renders the plot meaningless, and so on. On the other hand its theme of the dangers of humans playing god gets brought up a lot, pointing to how you cannot create an outcome where everyone is happy. While both of these things are among what makes S;G special, I think they are only part of its larger theme of fate and how we as humans learn to deal with it as we grow up.
    Did you notice how there is no actual main villain in Steins;Gate? The Committee? The threat it poses always remains somewhat abstract. Mayuri dies regardless of whether they intervene or not. Even once they get a face in the form of Moeka and Mr. Tennouji, they turn out not to be some super-villains but an emotionally vulnerable woman tricked into doing bad things and a single-father trying to make ends meet for his daughter. Thus there is no real sense of victory in beating them, there are just two more people to feel sorry about getting wound up in the larger scheme of things. Also, once Rintarou beats the Committee, they immediately get replaced by a new menace, namely the threat of World War III. Both these threats are, on a metaphorical level, manifestations of the greater hardships life has in store for you. You can never achieve total victory in life, there will always be threats beyond your control, and the only thing you can do is try to find the best trade-off for yourself and everyone else. But more often than not there is going to be someone who gets hurt by these decisions (this point actually gets brought up rather often in discussions about the “Changing your Past” theme, but I think this also plays into my argument, so I thought I'd mention it here).
    Then what about Doctor Nakabachi? He also is just a clog in the machine. He doesn't have some great agenda or even the ability to foresee the consequences of his actions. He is just some scientist with an ego hurt so deeply he would even murder his own daughter if it meant he could get recognized by his peers. Consequently the final showdown isn't about Rintarou beating him in a fight (which would have been easy, considering Rintarou is probably physically more capable and having the advantage of the element of surprise), but about tricking fate.
    I'll come back to both Nakabachi and the true ending later. First I want to talk about how the character arcs in S;G tie into its overarching theme of learning to grow up in the face of calamity. All side heroines who send messages to the past have somewhat parallel arcs (except maybe Moeka, who I already talked about). They revolve around them learning to come to terms with some great misfortune, usually after being shown what life would have been like without it ever befalling them. The story even shows how they live happier lives after accepting their fates. Suzuha has to give up on her time with the lab members or the prospect of ever finding her father, but in turn she achieves her goal of securing the IBN 5100 and lives a happy adult life instead of losing her memories and committing suicide once she remembers her failure. Faris losing her father turns her from a princess waiting to be saved by a white knight into a responsible adult who basically rebuilds a whole part of Tokyo the way she wants. Luka learns her happiness is not tied to her physical sex and that her friends are more important than what her genitals look like (yeah, S;G doesn't handle her character all that well). Their setbacks actually make them grow as human beings. One important aspect about this growth is that they don't just keep part of their inner child intact, it also propels said growth. Suzuha sees her younger self in the adolescent Mr. Tennouji when she takes him in. Faris keeps her love for otaku culture and uses it to transform Akihabara. And in Luka's case, her swordfight roleplay with Rintarou gives her the power to carry on.
    Which brings us to Rintarou's character arc. At the beginning of the story, he is basically still a child refusing to grow up. His childish side manifesting as a chuuni alter ego, the mad scientist Hououin Kyouma, seems fitting, seeing how chuunibyou translates to “eighth-grader-syndrome”. Hououin Kyouma is self-absorbed, stupid, careless, and in his own way pretty naive. In the first half, Rintarou is scared of what it means to be an adult, and whenever he feels insecure because of this, he delegates control to his alter ego. Then, when Mayuri dies, he is forced to acknowledge how useless this approach is once confronted with real calamity, but doesn't know what to do instead, so he tries to just turn things back to the way they were before, turning to Kurisu, the most adult and cool-headed of the characters, for help most of the time. The realization that there is no going back as it would mean letting Kurisu die forces him to finally accept the reality of having to become an adult. He sees it as his responsibility to try to save Kurisu, but fails. He only succeeds once he embraces Hououin Kyouma again. This time though, Hououin Kyouma isn't his shield for whenever he doesn't want to confront his anxieties, but rather the spark of positivity and creativity that helps him overcome the seemingly insurmountable adversity in front of him. I guess the name Houou(Phoenix)-in Kyouma (unspeakable truth) becomes pretty self-explanatory foreshadowing once you look at it this way. From this point of view, it also makes total sense that Rintarou's final showdown is against Doctor Nakabachi, who is also a mad scientist, but whose joy for his fringe science got turned into mediocrity through bitterness and pettiness, and is thus the antithesis to the reborn Hououin Kyouma.
    Mayuri and Kurisu as characters are also built around the theme of growing up. Mayuri is basically childlike naivete turned to flesh and a symbol for Rintarou's childhood days. Thus his attempt to save her is an attempt to recreate their innocent past. Him distancing himself further from her the longer his journey to save her takes is also a signifier for how this goal is getting further away from him. Her slapping him once he fails to save Kurisu is the culmination of this, showing that there is no going back to the carefree days back at the lab (I still don't like how she gets fridged and turned into a macguffin simultaneously, but whatever). As for Kurisu, her status as a child prodigy caused her to only be around adults from a very young age, forcing her to grow up very quickly and suppress her more childish personality traits. Thus the general carefree atmosphere of the lab draws her in and over the course of the VN she learns to feel more comfortable with her more youthful character traits.
    The true ending also makes a little more sense from this angle than with the “don't play god” interpretation. The latter telling you there are no objectively perfect choices and playing with fate tends to make things worse rather than better gets rejected by the true ending as Rintarou gets his total victory by finding a loophole in the rules of the universe and basically cheats fate. But if you look at it as a story about embracing your inner child, it makes some sense. “Of course you can't escape fate” and “there are no perfect endings” is the way a grown-up without imagination thinks. But who can prove them wrong if not Hououin Kyouma, the ultimate adolescent?
  9. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, AlpacaReviews - Part 2   
    Hello again and welcome back to the second part of my series of short reviews of EVNs I picked up. Once again I have a mixed bag regarding both content and quality to get through, so let us dive right in.

     
    Eliza (Zachtronics)
    Eliza follows our protagonist Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey and how her life and those of others change due to the eponymous AI counseling program she developed some years prior. This is the most ambitious game I'm going to talk about today, mostly being a meditation on how people search for meaning in their lives in a highly technologized society rather than a plot-driven story, with some interesting choices when it comes to its storytelling and game mechanics. Most of them work really well (like the implementation of choices), while others turn out to be double-edged swords. Especially the lack of a distinct central conflict both underlines the MC's lack of direction nicely and makes the VN quite boring to read at times.
    When it comes to presentation though, Eliza is probably as good as it gets with EVNs. The art style and soundtrack are quite unique and really aid the overall atmosphere, and the game is completely voiced, with most VAs doing a really good job. Eliza also contains the best and most challenging Solitaire card game I've probably played so far and on which I might have spent more time than reading the actual VN.
    Eliza is one of those pieces of media where it is hard to figure out whether you will like it before picking it up. If its themes and atmosphere resonate with you, you will probably really like it. I couldn't really get into it, but I can still acknowledge what it tries to do and where it succeeds. It just isn't for me.

     
    The Miskatonic (Rapscallion)
    Speaking of not being for me, The Miskatonic is a comedy VN with a sense of humor I just can't stand, so I dropped it about one hour in. If I had to describe it, I would say it's Big Bang Theory humor (including its reliance on short skits) in a Lovecraft setting with a good measure of sex jokes (get it, it's funny because everyone looks gross). If that sounds like your thing, go ahead and check The Miskatonic out. For me personally though the short time I spent on it felt like a Lovecraftian nightmare in a very different way then the creators presumably intended.

     
    Misadventures of Laura Silver: Chapter One (Studio Attic Salt)
    The Misadventures of Laura Silver series (assuming there is going to be at least a chapter two) takes place in 1920s Czechoslovakia, following a duo of supernatural investigators. Where this game absolutely shines is its cast. Laura Silver might be one of my favorite detective MCs with her arrogant and quick-tempered personality. There are several instances where you get the choice to pull out your gun just because someone made a mean comment. The other characters have their entertaining quirks as well, making for a lot of funny dialogue. This first entry suffers a little from a few issues opening chapters in serialized stories tend to have, namely some technical problems (none of them game-breaking though), some interesting though a little clunkily executed gameplay features, and unsteady pacing. The first roundabout two thirds revolve around a murder mystery, while the last part consists of a lot of exposition.
    Overall it's a promising opening, but it definitely feels incomplete. I would say it's one of those VNs where you should wait for reviews of the second chapter when it comes out, but then again if nobody buys the first chapter, there might not be a second one.

     
    Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze (Tin Man Games)
    Another series of short murder mysteries, Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze actually includes two cases. There won't be anymore though as the series has been discontinued due to poor sales (there is only two user ratings on vndb and one of them is mine). Only after starting to read did I find out that it was actually based on an Australian TV show (which in turn is an adaption of a series of crime novels) taking place Down Under in the 1920s, and it shows in how little the game bothers with proper character exposition. This isn't too much of a problem since every recurring character has a personality that is pretty easy to grasp. The cases feel like they would fit right into a pre-primetime serial, which might be one of the reasons the game didn't do so well commercially. It could also have to do with the fact that the Miss Fisher series feels like it is geared towards women 50+, a demographic that isn't exactly famous for buying a lot of PC games.
  10. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Mr Poltroon for a blog entry, AlpacaReviews - Part 2   
    Hello again and welcome back to the second part of my series of short reviews of EVNs I picked up. Once again I have a mixed bag regarding both content and quality to get through, so let us dive right in.

     
    Eliza (Zachtronics)
    Eliza follows our protagonist Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey and how her life and those of others change due to the eponymous AI counseling program she developed some years prior. This is the most ambitious game I'm going to talk about today, mostly being a meditation on how people search for meaning in their lives in a highly technologized society rather than a plot-driven story, with some interesting choices when it comes to its storytelling and game mechanics. Most of them work really well (like the implementation of choices), while others turn out to be double-edged swords. Especially the lack of a distinct central conflict both underlines the MC's lack of direction nicely and makes the VN quite boring to read at times.
    When it comes to presentation though, Eliza is probably as good as it gets with EVNs. The art style and soundtrack are quite unique and really aid the overall atmosphere, and the game is completely voiced, with most VAs doing a really good job. Eliza also contains the best and most challenging Solitaire card game I've probably played so far and on which I might have spent more time than reading the actual VN.
    Eliza is one of those pieces of media where it is hard to figure out whether you will like it before picking it up. If its themes and atmosphere resonate with you, you will probably really like it. I couldn't really get into it, but I can still acknowledge what it tries to do and where it succeeds. It just isn't for me.

     
    The Miskatonic (Rapscallion)
    Speaking of not being for me, The Miskatonic is a comedy VN with a sense of humor I just can't stand, so I dropped it about one hour in. If I had to describe it, I would say it's Big Bang Theory humor (including its reliance on short skits) in a Lovecraft setting with a good measure of sex jokes (get it, it's funny because everyone looks gross). If that sounds like your thing, go ahead and check The Miskatonic out. For me personally though the short time I spent on it felt like a Lovecraftian nightmare in a very different way then the creators presumably intended.

     
    Misadventures of Laura Silver: Chapter One (Studio Attic Salt)
    The Misadventures of Laura Silver series (assuming there is going to be at least a chapter two) takes place in 1920s Czechoslovakia, following a duo of supernatural investigators. Where this game absolutely shines is its cast. Laura Silver might be one of my favorite detective MCs with her arrogant and quick-tempered personality. There are several instances where you get the choice to pull out your gun just because someone made a mean comment. The other characters have their entertaining quirks as well, making for a lot of funny dialogue. This first entry suffers a little from a few issues opening chapters in serialized stories tend to have, namely some technical problems (none of them game-breaking though), some interesting though a little clunkily executed gameplay features, and unsteady pacing. The first roundabout two thirds revolve around a murder mystery, while the last part consists of a lot of exposition.
    Overall it's a promising opening, but it definitely feels incomplete. I would say it's one of those VNs where you should wait for reviews of the second chapter when it comes out, but then again if nobody buys the first chapter, there might not be a second one.

     
    Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze (Tin Man Games)
    Another series of short murder mysteries, Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze actually includes two cases. There won't be anymore though as the series has been discontinued due to poor sales (there is only two user ratings on vndb and one of them is mine). Only after starting to read did I find out that it was actually based on an Australian TV show (which in turn is an adaption of a series of crime novels) taking place Down Under in the 1920s, and it shows in how little the game bothers with proper character exposition. This isn't too much of a problem since every recurring character has a personality that is pretty easy to grasp. The cases feel like they would fit right into a pre-primetime serial, which might be one of the reasons the game didn't do so well commercially. It could also have to do with the fact that the Miss Fisher series feels like it is geared towards women 50+, a demographic that isn't exactly famous for buying a lot of PC games.
  11. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, AlpacaReviews - Part 1   
    Lately I have started reading a bunch of short visual novels (mostly EVNs) and since Covid leaves me with a lot of free time, I decided to write a series of posts containing several short reviews for them. I will focus on ones I recently purchased but maybe there will even be time to go through my backlog of short titles, even the ones I got in bundles and probably would not touch under normal circumstances. So let's dive right in.
     
    The Agony by KishMish Games & Talentplace
    This one I picked up for 49ct or something like that because Steam reviews said it was hilariously bad, and, well, they weren't wrong about at least one of those two words. We follow the story of Oleg, who is very masculine (which he never fails to point out in his inner monologues), and his girlfriend Olga/Olia, whose character traits are that she is very beautiful and in love with Oleg. They get lost in the underground maze beneath their home city after having to run from a couple of bad dudes and Olga/Olia gets kidnapped by someone or something lurking down there. Can Oleg rescue his loved one and defeat the evil lurking in the dark?
    Personally, I didn't bother to find out after reaching the first ending telling me everything going on isn't real (spoilers, I guess). The whole thing reads like one of those bad fantasy fan-fictions where the author makes stuff up as they go with incompetence showing at every level. The English translation from the original Russian is, to put it nicely, not that great either. It starts out with the titlecard for the opening chapter saying "Oleg and Olga" and then the next sentence calling her Olia. I know, transcribing names from different alphabets can be complicated, but the inconsistency in the spelling points to how little care was put into the translation, which is full of grammar errors and weird sentence structures (yes, I know my English isn't perfect either, but I don't charge anyone for reading my stuff).
    I didn't get far enough into the VN to find out what the title refers to, so from now I'll pretend that it's supposed to describe your experience reading it. Avoid it, unless you really want to laugh at how bad it is.
     
    Cyber City 2157 by Harotobira
    Speaking of bad translations from Russian to English, this game taught me to read the text in the screenshots on the shop page before buying a VN instead of just looking at the visuals, and I only mention this game here to tell you to not pick it up unless you can read Russian. Because unlike The Agony, CC2157 seems like it has some artistic ambition behind it and seems to rely heavily on verbal images and metaphors. The English version is so garbled that I probably wouldn't even be able to figure out if the effort was brilliant or terribly misguided, so I dropped it shortly after the opening sequence.
     
    Alone with You by Benjamin Rivers Inc.
    Alone with You is a hybrid between 2D adventure and visual novel (it doesn't have a vndb page), where you lead your unnamed protagonist through the ruins of a deserted space colony originally designed to terraform a planet that is hostile to human life. Your only companions are the AI that controlled all systems of the colony before its crew went extinct and the virtual replications of four former engineers and scientists whose memories it uploaded. As energy reserves are low you can only spend time with one of them at a time. During the day you explore the colony's facilities together with the AI in search of things you can use to make your escape vessel work, finding clues to where and why things went wrong on your way. At night you talk to one of the alter egos about their work and what their life was like.
    Despite being wildly different from the outside, the closest thing to compare AWY to when it comes to the overall experience in my opinion would be Analogue: A Hate Story. It has a similar back-tracking structure where you first work your way closer to finding out how a certain catastrophe could happen in the past (only in this case its through exploring areas in the colony instead of reading logs), interrupted by sections where you talk to a witness of the events about the details (there even is a little romance involved). Where Analogue tries to paint the picture of a collapsed society though, AWY is more introspective, focusing on themes of loneliness, self doubt, regretting past decisions and how people behave in the face of an inescapable disaster. The gameplay sections as well as the brilliantly done visual and sound design give you a real sense of desolation and solitude, although they can get a little repetitive and the game can feel too long at times.
    So if you're willing take in its atmosphere, Alone With You is definitely worth checking out. If you need something to happen at all times, better pick something else.
     
    Ghosts of Miami by Pillow Fight Games
    I really wanted to like Ghosts of Miami, with it being a detective story set in 1980s Miami and its cool visuals. Sadly I found it to be pretty mediocre. My main complaint is that it often struggles to find the right tone. It tries to capture the hedonistic happiness of the era as well as issues of race, sexual minorities, drugs and cartels, but then never fully commits to either side of its story, dulling the 80s-ness and failing to make an emotional impact in its darker moments at the same time. I wouldn't recommend picking it up, especially not at full price (which is 15€).
     
    Lily's Day Off / Lily's Night Off by Kyuppin
    These two short VNs share the same premise and are made by the same person, so it makes sense two review them together. Both revolve around an unnamed protagonist coming to his senses and the first thing he sees being famous tsundere pop idol Lilypad Lily. What makes these games unique is that the only thing fixed in each (very short) playthrough is the setup, but the plot and even characters' memories and motivations can change completely depending on your choices. So it's basically a collection of joke endings which can mean anything from cutesy romance to cat aliens. They are kind of hit and miss, but at least Lily's Night Off with its significantly higher production value than its predecessor, including short character animations that do wonders for the comedic timing and a CG for each ending (each drawn by a different artist), is a fun way to kill an hour or two. And I just love its Secret True Ending.
  12. Like
    alpacaman reacted to Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, Steam Curator Wrap-Up – Winter 2020 (Legend of Everything; Weeping Willow; Usagiri; Revenant March; Tell a Demon)   
    Hello and welcome to EVN Chronicles' seasonal Steam Curator Wrap-up, where I cover the VNs sent to me for review through Steam's Curator Connect functionality. Lately, I’ve come to a sad realisation that I’m unlikely to keep up with all the games I’m receiving, with the appropriate tab in my Steam library growing more and more intimidating over time. However, I’ll be still working to give a chance to as many of them as possible, and assess them for all of you.
                    This time around, I've been able to check out five titles, the main highlight being the newest VN by the Indonesian studio Kidalang, Legend of Everything, with its deeply unique spin on the isekai formula. This is, however, not where the interesting stuff ends, as the climatic Revenant March and wonderfully-stylized Tell a Demon also proved to be strong contenders, making this one of the most compelling lists I've worked on in this series. So, please join me in this brief overview and if any of the games catch your interest, you can go straight to their Steam pages by clicking their titles. Enjoy!
     
    Legend of Everything

    Legend of Everything is definitely the most unusual visual novel in today’s post, particularly because of its subject matter. At first glance, it might look like a simple spin on the isekai formula, with an inhabitant of a fantasy-themed, video game world being the protagonist and interacting with a particularly chaotic person transported there from our reality. However, pretty soon it transforms into a giant thought experiment, and basically a lecture on the simulation hypothesis – the idea that our universe is actually a simulation created by some advanced intelligence. This notion might seem absurd at first glance, but is made less so the more you learn about modern physics theory and strangely arbitral rules that govern various phenomena it describes. While never fully abandoning the formula of comedic fantasy adventure, Legend of Everything thoroughly explores this idea and conveys tons of legitimate science knowledge, basically becoming the most moe course on modern science you're likely to can find, presented in a highly accessible, but genuinely educational way. If you’re at least marginally interested in this kind of topics, the game should be quite enjoyable to you.
                    What’s less impressive, in my opinion, is the visual side of the experience, dependent on subpar-quality 3D sprites and environments. It’s particularly disappointing in contrast with the rather-stylish art in this studio's previous titles, An Octave Higher and One Small Fire at a Time. However, I was pretty quickly able to look past it thanks to how enjoyable the writing was, consistently combining well-constructed science discussions with quirky characters and humour, and even some epic and heartfelt moments worthy of a “proper” fantasy story. Saying anything more would inevitably involve spoilers, so I’ll simply recommend everyone to check this game out – it offers a lot more than you’d expect at first glance.
    Final rating: Highly Recommended
    Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
  13. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from ChaosRaven for a blog entry, Themes and Stuff: Baldr Sky   
    So this post got way longer than I expected it to, probably because it's easier to explain something that is there than prove something is missing, especially in a VN of this length. It is the first post in what I hope will become a series where I want to discuss a couple of VNs and some their themes and how they are explored in more depth, especially ones I either have a strong emotional connection to or dislike despite them being highly regarded in the community. They are all going to contain spoilers for the games they cover, in this case Baldr Sky Dive 1&2. In this one there are a lot of footnotes where I try to explain plot points and so on well enough for someone who wants to read this review without knowing the game to be able follow what I'm talking about. In case you're just looking for my spoiler-free condensed opinion about this game, you can read the last paragraph.
     
    At the time I finished the first route of Baldr Sky I thought it was a quite promising start. It was obvious a story of this scale would need a lot of exposition and the game handles it pretty well in always trying to tie every piece of information to a mystery waiting to be uncovered and the introduced concepts were interesting enough to be fun reading about them on their own. I wasn't to fond of the narrative choices regarding Rain's (the heroine of the route) character arc, because her family background seemed like a great starting point to explore several aspects of the setting and themes it implies (1). She grew up in the Midspire, a gated community for rich and influential people who are opposed to the organic AI (2) that controls many aspects of the outside world. Her father is a hardliner in that regard and the commander of an anti-AI military force of the world government. He has become estranged from Rain, who starts sympathizing with the pro-AI faction, and his wife, who slowly started to degrade mentally and finally joined an abusive cult called Dominion and died shortly after (3). Isn't this a fantastic set-up to simultaneously explore how certain parts of the society in this world function, discuss why the pro-AI and anti-AI faction hold their respective believes and establish an agenda for Rain that's at the same time complicated and relatable, making her a three-dimensional character? While there are two or three scenes and a little dialogue addressing each of these topics, the route focuses on how she has always been in love with the protagonist, made a promise to dedicate her life to him after Gray Christmas (4) and was friends with Sora, the true heroine who died back then. Her connection to the cult is only used to give her and the protagonist a reason to not run away before the final showdown. All of this robs her of an actual agenda beyond doing what the MC tells her, effectively turning her into a prop that talks exposition and provides military intelligence in the later routes (she becomes rivals with another heroine later on, but that is more of a small subplot rather than something that adds actual substance).
    While I thought this approach was a wasted opportunity, I could also see how it aids the main story by not having Rain's personal issues interfere with the the main plot advancing and it gives Sora some more time on screen. So I didn't think too much of it, especially as there still was more than enough time left in the VN to fill its world with life and explore all the topics the first route hints at. And there are a lot, for example: Poverty vs. wealth in a highly developed society, what happens when a private company becomes so important to the world order that the state doesn't have any means of properly regulating them, the ethics of modifications of body and genes, what constitutes your personality, especially in a world where your memories get stored on some hard drive and your body can be replicated, the ethics and politics of sentient AI, even the theme of spirituality in a world where said AI sets and controls the rules for a cyberspace where people spend just as much time as in the real world, effectively turning the AI into a deity, and possible afterlife in cyberspace.
    At one point in Baldr Sky I started to notice a pattern that keeps being repeated over the course of the VN in how it deals with most of these themes. Or rather doesn't, as issues rarely ever get discussed on their merits, but rather on what faction or character holds which position or what the game needs to be true. Let's take the conflict about organic AI as an example. The anti-AI people are the bad guys. You know that because they call the other side names and have a tendency to get violent. So when they create designer babies that's bad and the children turn out to become sociopaths. When the leader of the pro-AI faction clones her dead sister with minor changes to some of her genome to make the two non-identical (for reasons), it is a clever maneuver against the big bad and the child is a genius. When the anti-AI faction builds its own machine-AI supercomputer, it is possessed by an evil super-AI trying to annihilate mankind. When the pro-AI put the control of all of cyberspace into the hands of AIs they have no eefective control over, they happen to only want everyone's wellbeing. When Chinatsu (5) switches to the Anti-AI faction, it is because she has a false conception of who is responsible for Gray Christmas and not because her believes or worldview change. So it is not some deep insight that makes her overthink her position again, but her commander betraying her. And of course he does, he is anti-AI after all (6).
    Whenever someone opposed to the way Ark Industries (7) does things raises a good point, it rarely ever gets addressed, and when it does, it immediately gets drawn back to the personal level. A protester criticizing their lack of accountability is not to be taken seriously because he is part of an angry mob. The leader of Dominion telling the MC that Ark and Dominion are basically doing the same thing in trying to revive people in cyberspace who died in real life is just the ramblings of a madman. Even when it turns out that Ark is in fact doing this exact thing, it is alright because Ark does it with good intentions and Dominion are evil so their experiments only produce digital zombies. The game even acknowledges that Ark doing this would be a huge scandal, because the anti-AI faction sends spies to their cyberspace to expose this and weaken Ark's political position. Still Ark doing this is seemingly OK, as they only experiment on old rich people who don't want to die and are willing to pay to reach digital afterlife, and also because it becomes an important plot device to save the world later on. I could go into how BS resolves and picks sides in the three way conflict between Ark, Dominion and anti-AI people makes a pretty weird point about faith and religion but why bother when the writers probably didn't think that far anyway?
    I think I made my point about how Baldr Sky avoids making any moral or political statements beyond “torture is bad” or “making pacts with lunatics is bad” and reduces any clash between ideas to conflicts between people or factions. It cannot even bring itself to say that corruption is inherently bad. At one point the sleazy mayor Anan, whose secret cooperation with Dominion has brought the city to the brink of destruction, gets captured by the good guys. One of them points out, without it getting challenged, that Anan's shady dealings have made the economy flourish by bringing high-tech industries to the city. Which is a great point to make when all the returns enrich Anan and his corrupt pals while a major part of the population lives in poverty.
    There actually is one theme Baldr Sky tries to explore to some degree, namely memories and how important they are to forming your personality. A big portion of the VN is told through flashback, most of the heroine arcs revolve around past promises, Makoto (8) has a sickness that causes her to have memories from different timelines (yes, those exist in BS) and lose her sense of self in the process, there are different ways factions try to recreate real people in cyberspace by feeding their memory data to NPCs, a certain memory is sent to the past to solve everything, the titles of the two parts of the game are “Lost Memories” and “Recordare”, and so on. To me this seems like an odd choice for a plot that mainly revolves around conflicts between political factions in a high-concept sci-fi setting. BS makes a few interesting points on that front, especially in regards to the connection between memories and what the calls soul, but as with the other themes I mentioned before, a lot of it seems to be mostly window-dressing, not something that impacts the plot or the characters' motivations in a major way. Additionally, seeing how often VNs in general use flashbacks as a storytelling technique, its not that novel of a concept.
    You could also make the valid point that not every piece of media needs to discuss complex philosophical questions, and you would be right. But then why raise them at all, when all they do is serve as props to either give the setting the appearance of depth and complexity or serve as a means to introduce other plot devices that could just as well have worked without them?
    Another problem this approach causes is that it does not allow the characters to have any deeper agency. They cannot have any ideals, because then the game would have to talk about those. Their alignments revolve mostly around who they have sympathy for and who could harm them. I already talked about how this keeps Rain from getting meaningful character development that ties into the larger narrative. To pick another example, Nanoha's route (the second one in the game) has very similar flaws: While she is the least interesting one of the heroines to begin with, her backstory still offers enough to create some drama that adds some depth to both her character and the themes Rain's chapter introduces. Nanoha's parents were leading pro-AI scientists who got killed by terrorists. Also the aftermath of Gray Christmas made her a refugee. She deals with this by clinging to her happier past and spending all of her free time in the replication of her college dorm in cyberspace and trying to live her life just as she did back then. But instead of being the basis for some character growth with her finding a way to embrace the present or exploring why the cyberspace is so attractive to so many people, there is another romance plot involving a past promise (9). This is especially frustrating considering that this way BS misses a great opportunity to further explore the aforementioned theme of memories. Her life as a refugee gets dealt with in like three scenes where you learn that she works in an internet cafe and has to live in an actually not that shabby love hotel (oh the horror!) and some dialogue where other people about how hard she has it. As for her relation to the overarching plot it revolves around her still trusting and being in contact with the scientist responsible for developing Assembler, whom she has known since being a child and who went into hiding after Gray Christmas, while the everyone else is trying to hunt him down. He seemingly betrays her and implants a device containing Assembler into her stomach, so she gets sad and runs away. He goes mad, so maybe he really is a bad guy? Again, the heroine's personal struggle has to take the backseat and her route mainly utilizes her as a means to lead up to another set of plot points and provide a little romance and h-content.
    The other routes are not that much better either, with the exception of maybe Makoto's character arc (10). The protagonist's character arc is solid though nothing to write home about, I guess, and there are a few well written side characters, although not enough to change my overall opinion on BS's treatment of its cast. I cannot finish this review though without talking about the evil mastermind who plotted everything. I will keep it short though. Having your grand villain appear nearly exclusively through exposition by other characters is pretty bad writing, unless you want to make a very specific point. Which BS does not. He does not embody some vague concept, like fate or human hubris or whatever. He is just an under-characterized seemingly a higher intelligence that wants to kill all humans in every timeline or whatever.
    To sum it up: The way Baldr Sky engages with the more general subjects it raises is, to put it nicely, fascinating. It just refuses to do it. It is a story about a conflict between political factions, yet it does not want to discuss politics or policy. It takes place in a world where the relationship between humans and technology raises tons of moral and social issues, yet it does not want to talk ethics. At the same time it does not seem like it cares that much about its characters either. So if BS wants to engage seriously with neither its themes nor its characters, what does it expect me to get emotionally invested in? That there's six women in this world who want to carry the MC's baby? In the end, apparently that is close to all there is to it. Which I find pretty disappointing for a VN of this length and reputation. I still rated both parts 7.5/10 on vndb as the pacing and overall advancing of the plot are executed well. I also liked the gameplay enough to add an extra half point.
     
     
     
     
    I should probably clarify a few of the terms I'm going to throw around to avoid confusion. To borrow from wikipedia, the setting “is both the time and geographic location within a narrative”, the premise of a story is “the initial state of affairs that drives the plot”, and a theme is “a central topic a narrative treats”. To make the distinction between these three more clear with an example, in MuvLuv Alternative the setting is present Japan in an alternative history where aliens invaded earth and mankind started building mechas to fight them. The premise is a young man who keeps looping through this timeline trying to use his knowledge of coming events to ensure mankind's victory and return to his original world. Themes MLA explores include, among others: trauma, patriotism, coming-of-age, alien intelligence, comradeship and the struggle against fate.
    Organic AI in BS has acquired some level of consciousness and thus can't be completely controlled by humans, but greatly surpass classic machine AI in processing power. The anti-AI faction (as in anti-organic-AI) sees this uncontrollable alien intelligence overseeing all the rules in cyberspace as potentially very dangerous, whereas pro-AI people believe the AI to be benign and thus point to its advantages.
    Dominion is an end-times cult that believes the AI to be a goddess and tries to separate peoples' consciousnesses in cyberspace from their physical bodies.
    An event where Assembler, a nanomachine to rebuild the earth's destroyed environment, but with the potential to wipe out all life on earth in its unfinished form, gets released from a research facility and the world government prevents its outbreak by obliterating most of the city surrounding it with a megabeam weapon in earth's orbit.
    The heroine in the third route.
    Actually Kirishima Isao's character arc is one of the more interesting ones in BS. Him acting against his morals by betraying and knowingly sacrificing his closest confidant because he is too focused on reaching what he thinks would be the best outcome leads to him losing not just the battle, but also his closest ally and the moral high ground he claimed. This would be way more effective though if BS ever showed any sincere interest in the morals of its characters.
    The company leading the pro-AI faction. Don't get me started on them. How you could pick a company with their business model as the good guys simply baffles me. They act as mediators between AI and humans, but seem to earn their money by implanting bio-chips into infants' brains (and those of everyone who can pay for it) that connect them to the internet 24/7 and upload all their memories to the cloud (which the AI can access and use). They also built a college with high tuition fees for these people where they get taught by the AI itself and turned into an internet elite class (but which gets destroyed on Gray Christmas).
    The heroine in the fifth route.
    There are between three and five of those in all six routes, depending on how loosely you define “past promise”, if I remember correctly.
    It involves her learning to cope with her illness in a positive way and emancipating herself from the grasp of Dominion/Neunzehn (the big bad). There even is a symbolism-heavy CG! It is as on-the-nose as it gets, but at least there is an attempt at doing something even remotely ambitious.
  14. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, Themes and Stuff: Baldr Sky   
    So this post got way longer than I expected it to, probably because it's easier to explain something that is there than prove something is missing, especially in a VN of this length. It is the first post in what I hope will become a series where I want to discuss a couple of VNs and some their themes and how they are explored in more depth, especially ones I either have a strong emotional connection to or dislike despite them being highly regarded in the community. They are all going to contain spoilers for the games they cover, in this case Baldr Sky Dive 1&2. In this one there are a lot of footnotes where I try to explain plot points and so on well enough for someone who wants to read this review without knowing the game to be able follow what I'm talking about. In case you're just looking for my spoiler-free condensed opinion about this game, you can read the last paragraph.
     
    At the time I finished the first route of Baldr Sky I thought it was a quite promising start. It was obvious a story of this scale would need a lot of exposition and the game handles it pretty well in always trying to tie every piece of information to a mystery waiting to be uncovered and the introduced concepts were interesting enough to be fun reading about them on their own. I wasn't to fond of the narrative choices regarding Rain's (the heroine of the route) character arc, because her family background seemed like a great starting point to explore several aspects of the setting and themes it implies (1). She grew up in the Midspire, a gated community for rich and influential people who are opposed to the organic AI (2) that controls many aspects of the outside world. Her father is a hardliner in that regard and the commander of an anti-AI military force of the world government. He has become estranged from Rain, who starts sympathizing with the pro-AI faction, and his wife, who slowly started to degrade mentally and finally joined an abusive cult called Dominion and died shortly after (3). Isn't this a fantastic set-up to simultaneously explore how certain parts of the society in this world function, discuss why the pro-AI and anti-AI faction hold their respective believes and establish an agenda for Rain that's at the same time complicated and relatable, making her a three-dimensional character? While there are two or three scenes and a little dialogue addressing each of these topics, the route focuses on how she has always been in love with the protagonist, made a promise to dedicate her life to him after Gray Christmas (4) and was friends with Sora, the true heroine who died back then. Her connection to the cult is only used to give her and the protagonist a reason to not run away before the final showdown. All of this robs her of an actual agenda beyond doing what the MC tells her, effectively turning her into a prop that talks exposition and provides military intelligence in the later routes (she becomes rivals with another heroine later on, but that is more of a small subplot rather than something that adds actual substance).
    While I thought this approach was a wasted opportunity, I could also see how it aids the main story by not having Rain's personal issues interfere with the the main plot advancing and it gives Sora some more time on screen. So I didn't think too much of it, especially as there still was more than enough time left in the VN to fill its world with life and explore all the topics the first route hints at. And there are a lot, for example: Poverty vs. wealth in a highly developed society, what happens when a private company becomes so important to the world order that the state doesn't have any means of properly regulating them, the ethics of modifications of body and genes, what constitutes your personality, especially in a world where your memories get stored on some hard drive and your body can be replicated, the ethics and politics of sentient AI, even the theme of spirituality in a world where said AI sets and controls the rules for a cyberspace where people spend just as much time as in the real world, effectively turning the AI into a deity, and possible afterlife in cyberspace.
    At one point in Baldr Sky I started to notice a pattern that keeps being repeated over the course of the VN in how it deals with most of these themes. Or rather doesn't, as issues rarely ever get discussed on their merits, but rather on what faction or character holds which position or what the game needs to be true. Let's take the conflict about organic AI as an example. The anti-AI people are the bad guys. You know that because they call the other side names and have a tendency to get violent. So when they create designer babies that's bad and the children turn out to become sociopaths. When the leader of the pro-AI faction clones her dead sister with minor changes to some of her genome to make the two non-identical (for reasons), it is a clever maneuver against the big bad and the child is a genius. When the anti-AI faction builds its own machine-AI supercomputer, it is possessed by an evil super-AI trying to annihilate mankind. When the pro-AI put the control of all of cyberspace into the hands of AIs they have no eefective control over, they happen to only want everyone's wellbeing. When Chinatsu (5) switches to the Anti-AI faction, it is because she has a false conception of who is responsible for Gray Christmas and not because her believes or worldview change. So it is not some deep insight that makes her overthink her position again, but her commander betraying her. And of course he does, he is anti-AI after all (6).
    Whenever someone opposed to the way Ark Industries (7) does things raises a good point, it rarely ever gets addressed, and when it does, it immediately gets drawn back to the personal level. A protester criticizing their lack of accountability is not to be taken seriously because he is part of an angry mob. The leader of Dominion telling the MC that Ark and Dominion are basically doing the same thing in trying to revive people in cyberspace who died in real life is just the ramblings of a madman. Even when it turns out that Ark is in fact doing this exact thing, it is alright because Ark does it with good intentions and Dominion are evil so their experiments only produce digital zombies. The game even acknowledges that Ark doing this would be a huge scandal, because the anti-AI faction sends spies to their cyberspace to expose this and weaken Ark's political position. Still Ark doing this is seemingly OK, as they only experiment on old rich people who don't want to die and are willing to pay to reach digital afterlife, and also because it becomes an important plot device to save the world later on. I could go into how BS resolves and picks sides in the three way conflict between Ark, Dominion and anti-AI people makes a pretty weird point about faith and religion but why bother when the writers probably didn't think that far anyway?
    I think I made my point about how Baldr Sky avoids making any moral or political statements beyond “torture is bad” or “making pacts with lunatics is bad” and reduces any clash between ideas to conflicts between people or factions. It cannot even bring itself to say that corruption is inherently bad. At one point the sleazy mayor Anan, whose secret cooperation with Dominion has brought the city to the brink of destruction, gets captured by the good guys. One of them points out, without it getting challenged, that Anan's shady dealings have made the economy flourish by bringing high-tech industries to the city. Which is a great point to make when all the returns enrich Anan and his corrupt pals while a major part of the population lives in poverty.
    There actually is one theme Baldr Sky tries to explore to some degree, namely memories and how important they are to forming your personality. A big portion of the VN is told through flashback, most of the heroine arcs revolve around past promises, Makoto (8) has a sickness that causes her to have memories from different timelines (yes, those exist in BS) and lose her sense of self in the process, there are different ways factions try to recreate real people in cyberspace by feeding their memory data to NPCs, a certain memory is sent to the past to solve everything, the titles of the two parts of the game are “Lost Memories” and “Recordare”, and so on. To me this seems like an odd choice for a plot that mainly revolves around conflicts between political factions in a high-concept sci-fi setting. BS makes a few interesting points on that front, especially in regards to the connection between memories and what the calls soul, but as with the other themes I mentioned before, a lot of it seems to be mostly window-dressing, not something that impacts the plot or the characters' motivations in a major way. Additionally, seeing how often VNs in general use flashbacks as a storytelling technique, its not that novel of a concept.
    You could also make the valid point that not every piece of media needs to discuss complex philosophical questions, and you would be right. But then why raise them at all, when all they do is serve as props to either give the setting the appearance of depth and complexity or serve as a means to introduce other plot devices that could just as well have worked without them?
    Another problem this approach causes is that it does not allow the characters to have any deeper agency. They cannot have any ideals, because then the game would have to talk about those. Their alignments revolve mostly around who they have sympathy for and who could harm them. I already talked about how this keeps Rain from getting meaningful character development that ties into the larger narrative. To pick another example, Nanoha's route (the second one in the game) has very similar flaws: While she is the least interesting one of the heroines to begin with, her backstory still offers enough to create some drama that adds some depth to both her character and the themes Rain's chapter introduces. Nanoha's parents were leading pro-AI scientists who got killed by terrorists. Also the aftermath of Gray Christmas made her a refugee. She deals with this by clinging to her happier past and spending all of her free time in the replication of her college dorm in cyberspace and trying to live her life just as she did back then. But instead of being the basis for some character growth with her finding a way to embrace the present or exploring why the cyberspace is so attractive to so many people, there is another romance plot involving a past promise (9). This is especially frustrating considering that this way BS misses a great opportunity to further explore the aforementioned theme of memories. Her life as a refugee gets dealt with in like three scenes where you learn that she works in an internet cafe and has to live in an actually not that shabby love hotel (oh the horror!) and some dialogue where other people about how hard she has it. As for her relation to the overarching plot it revolves around her still trusting and being in contact with the scientist responsible for developing Assembler, whom she has known since being a child and who went into hiding after Gray Christmas, while the everyone else is trying to hunt him down. He seemingly betrays her and implants a device containing Assembler into her stomach, so she gets sad and runs away. He goes mad, so maybe he really is a bad guy? Again, the heroine's personal struggle has to take the backseat and her route mainly utilizes her as a means to lead up to another set of plot points and provide a little romance and h-content.
    The other routes are not that much better either, with the exception of maybe Makoto's character arc (10). The protagonist's character arc is solid though nothing to write home about, I guess, and there are a few well written side characters, although not enough to change my overall opinion on BS's treatment of its cast. I cannot finish this review though without talking about the evil mastermind who plotted everything. I will keep it short though. Having your grand villain appear nearly exclusively through exposition by other characters is pretty bad writing, unless you want to make a very specific point. Which BS does not. He does not embody some vague concept, like fate or human hubris or whatever. He is just an under-characterized seemingly a higher intelligence that wants to kill all humans in every timeline or whatever.
    To sum it up: The way Baldr Sky engages with the more general subjects it raises is, to put it nicely, fascinating. It just refuses to do it. It is a story about a conflict between political factions, yet it does not want to discuss politics or policy. It takes place in a world where the relationship between humans and technology raises tons of moral and social issues, yet it does not want to talk ethics. At the same time it does not seem like it cares that much about its characters either. So if BS wants to engage seriously with neither its themes nor its characters, what does it expect me to get emotionally invested in? That there's six women in this world who want to carry the MC's baby? In the end, apparently that is close to all there is to it. Which I find pretty disappointing for a VN of this length and reputation. I still rated both parts 7.5/10 on vndb as the pacing and overall advancing of the plot are executed well. I also liked the gameplay enough to add an extra half point.
     
     
     
     
    I should probably clarify a few of the terms I'm going to throw around to avoid confusion. To borrow from wikipedia, the setting “is both the time and geographic location within a narrative”, the premise of a story is “the initial state of affairs that drives the plot”, and a theme is “a central topic a narrative treats”. To make the distinction between these three more clear with an example, in MuvLuv Alternative the setting is present Japan in an alternative history where aliens invaded earth and mankind started building mechas to fight them. The premise is a young man who keeps looping through this timeline trying to use his knowledge of coming events to ensure mankind's victory and return to his original world. Themes MLA explores include, among others: trauma, patriotism, coming-of-age, alien intelligence, comradeship and the struggle against fate.
    Organic AI in BS has acquired some level of consciousness and thus can't be completely controlled by humans, but greatly surpass classic machine AI in processing power. The anti-AI faction (as in anti-organic-AI) sees this uncontrollable alien intelligence overseeing all the rules in cyberspace as potentially very dangerous, whereas pro-AI people believe the AI to be benign and thus point to its advantages.
    Dominion is an end-times cult that believes the AI to be a goddess and tries to separate peoples' consciousnesses in cyberspace from their physical bodies.
    An event where Assembler, a nanomachine to rebuild the earth's destroyed environment, but with the potential to wipe out all life on earth in its unfinished form, gets released from a research facility and the world government prevents its outbreak by obliterating most of the city surrounding it with a megabeam weapon in earth's orbit.
    The heroine in the third route.
    Actually Kirishima Isao's character arc is one of the more interesting ones in BS. Him acting against his morals by betraying and knowingly sacrificing his closest confidant because he is too focused on reaching what he thinks would be the best outcome leads to him losing not just the battle, but also his closest ally and the moral high ground he claimed. This would be way more effective though if BS ever showed any sincere interest in the morals of its characters.
    The company leading the pro-AI faction. Don't get me started on them. How you could pick a company with their business model as the good guys simply baffles me. They act as mediators between AI and humans, but seem to earn their money by implanting bio-chips into infants' brains (and those of everyone who can pay for it) that connect them to the internet 24/7 and upload all their memories to the cloud (which the AI can access and use). They also built a college with high tuition fees for these people where they get taught by the AI itself and turned into an internet elite class (but which gets destroyed on Gray Christmas).
    The heroine in the fifth route.
    There are between three and five of those in all six routes, depending on how loosely you define “past promise”, if I remember correctly.
    It involves her learning to cope with her illness in a positive way and emancipating herself from the grasp of Dominion/Neunzehn (the big bad). There even is a symbolism-heavy CG! It is as on-the-nose as it gets, but at least there is an attempt at doing something even remotely ambitious.
  15. Like
    alpacaman reacted to Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, NaNoRenO 2019 Highlights, part 2   
    Welcome to the second and final part of EVN Chronicles’ NaNoRenO 2019 coverage (if you missed the first part, you can find it here), where I’m going through my highly subjective picks from this year’s submissions to the biggest annual visual novel game jam. While I don’t think any of the games listed this time could seriously threaten the position of Mnemonic Devices as my personal “winner” of the event, there are at least two worth giving closer attention to – Monochrome Blues, which is another excellent story tackling the topics of grief and depression (even though it adds a much more questionable sci-fi subplot to the mix) and Cooked With Love, which stood out with excellent sense of humour and compelling mix of comedy and smart SoL content. Of course, every VN featured here gets my genuine recommendation and I think they’re all worth the humble amounts of time they require to fully read through – especially considering that, once more, they’re all absolutely free and clicking the titles on the list will lead you straight to DRM-free downloads on itch.io. So, let’s find out what else NaNoRenO participants have prepared for us!
     
    RE:BURN

    OS-simulation games, where you interact with a story through an imitation of a computer interface, have a pretty rich history in NaNoRenO, with Christine Love’s Digital: A Love Story being probably the best-known example. While RE:BURN is not the most innovative or intricate iteration of this formula, it tells an intriguing, short story using UI of an e-mail client and an online communicator, and the mechanics of deleting or replying to messages instead of typical dialogue choices. The protagonist, a female student who took up a job as an editor in her college’s scientific journal, is tasked with clearing out old emails from the paper's official account. As the messages slowly synchronise, she starts uncovering more and more strange correspondence and even starts receiving popup messages from someone claiming to be her predecessor at the editorial job, giving her borderline-incomprehensible warnings – and whether she listens to them might have some serious and unpredictable consequences.
                    RE:BURN’s intrigue is not particularly deep or memorable, but where the game truly shines is in its inclusion of various writing styles, unique to every character in the story and creating a sense of danger and urgency despite the rather static manner in which you interact with it. I would love to see more interactivity or some Easter eggs hidden within its Windows-like interface, but even as it is now, it’s definitely worth your attention for its brief, 30-40 minute runtime.
    Rating: Recommended
    Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
  16. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Dreamysyu for a blog entry, Why are all good men either already in a relationship or secretly serial killers?   
    A few days ago I watched an anime about a series of child murders. The show was pretty solid except for the fact that I was able to correctly guess the culprit the moment the show established that they were going to be more than just a minor character. Was it because the show was really bad at foreshadowing? No, except for one scene where the protagonist casually mentions that the culprit could be someone he knows. Was the character behaving suspiciously? No, they were cooperative to the point of actively sabotaging the murder attempts. Then what did they do wrong to earn my suspicions right from the beginning?
    Be a grown male authority figure with a more or less friendly relationship to the young protagonist without being related to them by blood. I'm relatively new to anime and visual novels*, and I've already seen characters fitting this description turn out to be villainous to varying degrees in about ten different titles (in one of them even twice within a few chapters).**  Some of these guys are just being forced into doing something shady because of unfortunate circumstances while some them are psychopathic monsters because the writers liked themselves some shock value. Sometimes they are only minor villains or even red herrings, sometimes they are the big bad. What most of them have in common is that they at least pretend to be helping the protagonist out to the best of their abilities while secretly using the information they get from their conversations against them. I found only one example where the character in question is female, and even then the same twist happens another time with the male one being the major villain (#feminism I guess?).
    I get why this trope is popular with writers. The culprit should be someone who has been introduced early on and appeared in a reasonable amount of scenes for their reveal not to come out of nowhere. They should be an adult to have the necessary physical, mental and financial capabilities to properly commit and cover up a crime. Having a close relationship with the protagonist is a good justification for giving them enough scenes in a story that mostly revolves around younger characters. Add to that the betrayal of the protagonist's trust and you have everything for a good dark twist.
    So in theory "the nice adult is actually a murderer" can be a very effective trope if well implemented, it's just so overused it lost most of its its element of surprise, at least to me. I suspect that the writers of some of the titles I consumed were aware of this, but instead of not utilizing the trope they took the "let's add shock value by making the bad guy psychopatically evil" route, which is something that rarely turns out well, even if you add in discussions about the nature of psychopathy. I would really love to give examples of cases where I either really liked or really hated the implementation of this trope to add a bit more substance to my rambling. But I have no idea how to discuss plot twists when even mentioning the title of the game means spoiling them, so this will have to do.
     
     
    *This twist isn't exclusive to Japanese media. For example two of the first four Harry Potter books utilize it and I played one well known western storytelling game that does as well.
    **I even went through my vndb profile and made a list to confirm this. The reason I don't share it here is obviously spoilers.
  17. Like
    alpacaman reacted to Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, Plk Lesiak’s Shovelware Adventures: Beach Bounce series   
    Beach Bounce was the second title introduced by AJ Tilley, the creator of Dharker Studio, just a few months after his debut with the infamous Sword of Asumi. It stood out from his other work in a slightly paradoxical way – while Tilley’s other projects dealt with different breeds of fantasy or experimented with unusual plot elements (ex. Highschool Romance’s gender-bending), Beach Bounce was meant to be a much more standard nukige, placing our average male protagonist in a summer resort with a substantial number of scantily-clad, horny women and no competition in sight (to the point one might think the rest of the male kind was wiped out by some global cataclysm, but the story at least doesn’t mention any such event taking place). The game initially followed an episodic formula, with the first part released in August 2015 and the second one two months later. However, with the termination of AJTilley.com label, under which it was originally published, it disappeared for a while and then re-emerged in a new form, as a full, “Remastered” release by Dharker Studio – this final version of the game went live in late February 2019.
                    That’s the simplified version at least, as the confusing network of Dharker’s sister companies created and terminated by AJ Tilley over the years, including Brightly Studios, BurstRay Games and StudioX, among others, is hardly worth deciphering at this point. Still, whatever label is attached to a Beach Bounce game, it’s always Dharker Studio hiding underneath and that’s pretty much the only part of the puzzle that is genuinely worth knowing. Going back to our main topic, while the “Remastered” label might’ve been quite a stretch for a game that never before saw a full release, it doesn’t mean things didn’t change – the overall plot, the characters and their relationships were rewritten in rather significant ways and the complete story now included seven different love interests, with multiple h-scenes for most of them. This meant quite a lot of anime smut in a time when porn VNs weren’t available in such as abundance as they are today, especially on Steam. Thanks to all this, while not necessarily a critically-acclaimed title, Beach Bounce proved successful enough to warrant two sequels, Beauty Bounce and Bunny Bounce, released literally two weeks apart from each other, in February and March 2017. Setting aside the question of what went wrong with those development cycles, I’ll focus today on taking the closer look at the Beach Bounce trilogy and find out whether they deserve the dubious honour of being some of the lowest-rated VNs on VNDB.
    Beach Bounce

    Beach Bounce starts with our unassuming protag-kun, Tomoyo, being summoned to a hospital by his ill grandmother, the owner of the titular summer resort. Not being able to perform her managerial duties, she asks Tomoyo to help her staff with handling the everyday affairs on the property – a dream come through for a guy who just dropped out from a law school and was thrown out for it by his apodictic father. To no one’s surprise, all the employees on the resort happened to be beautiful, young women and while at first some of them were rather apprehensive towards the protagonist, seeing him as a loser who only got involved with the company because of his family ties, they’re all soon enough ready to jump into his pants at his every word. And as we’re dealing with 4 primary heroines and three secondary, “wild card” love interests, after the short introduction sex scenes are hiding literally around every corner, and as most of them are tied to choices, there’s quite a lot of unique paths through the game’s minimalistic story.
    Read the full article at evnchronicles.blogspot.com
  18. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Templarseeker for a blog entry, A Case for The Silver Case (I guess)   
    Let's talk a bit about Postmodernism. I don't have the time nor expertise to properly explain the term and its origins, so if you don't know the term, I'll just recommend reading the TVTropes article on it. The gist is that Postmodernism in fiction “question on the nature of narrative and plot and characterization.” This can take different forms, from deconstruction to meta-commentary, self-awareness, fourth-wall breaking, not resolving narratives, putting existing fictional elements into a new context, subverting tropes, mixing media, and many more. This sounds rather intellectual, but there are lots of examples in popular culture with varying degrees of artsy-ness, like remixing in music, more or less every Quentin Tarrantino movie, most superhero movies or comics these days (as they are either heavily self-aware or deconstructing the inherent archetypes), and even two of the most highly rated VNs on vndb are pretty postmodern: The Muv Luv trilogy deconstructs the Mecha genre by looking at how throwing a stereotypical harem protagonist into a post-apocalyptic world with giant robots would impact his psyche (you could argue that Steins;Gate does something quite similar, only using a different setting end set of archetypes), while Umineko takes a pretty basic whodunnit setup and then just keeps pouring on unending layers of meta, deconstructing the very genre it pretends to be at first in the process.
    For a postmodern element to work for the recipient, they have to understand the context of it to some degree, not necessarily intellectually, but in the form of certain expectations not being met or a reference putting something known into a new context and a feeling that the subversion or reference is happening with a purpose. For example, when the aliens attack for the first time in Muv Luv Alternative, you expect a fight scene, with some sort heroic moment towards the climax. Without spoiling too much, that's not what happens, and the reason why is to show that there are actual stakes that are too high for some random guy who thinks he's the hero. If the recipient can't see any indication of an apparent purpose to a subversion of expectations, it just feels random to them.

    Anyway, how is your sex life? I really didn't expect a The Room reference to appear in some Japanese art game.
    Which brings us to The Silver Case, the first game the notorious experimental game developer Suda Goichi (better known as Suda 51) wrote and directed for his own company Grasshopper Manufacture. Originally released in 1999 for the original Playstation, it was only localized and remastered for the West as a PC release as recently as 2016. It's an interactive adventure game consisting of two story threads that sometimes intertwine to some degree. In one (called “Transmitter”) the protagonist becomes part of a special police unit after his original unit becomes exterminated by a serial killer and walks around crime scenes and in the other (“Placebo”) you're a journalist investigating the same cases. As for visuals, you're constantly watching a background on which windows pop up that contain the 3D environments, painted CGs and character portraits, written and spoken text, and sometimes even full motion video. According to Suda 51 this system was implemented due to the newly founded studio not having enough manpower to animate the complete screens in 3D, but it looks pretty stylish and unique. There is gameplay that consists of you moving through grids in the aforementioned environments and occasionally interacting with someone or something and solving a few puzzles, but more on that later. There is an overarching plot about a serial killer, I guess, but the game is really vague about it and there already is a very good Eurogamer.net article on its themes, which makes the game sound way more accessible than it is though.
    It's a game that takes a postmodern approach to everything, not caring if it makes the experience less enjoyable in the process, be it gameplay, visuals, characterization or storytelling. The Silver Case constantly forces you to figure out of you're supposed to take what's on the screen for its face value or on some kind of meta or thematic layer, willingly breaking the rules of what makes games and stories good by traditional standards, making you connect the dots yourself and even question certain game and storytelling mechanics itself. Going by some of the reviews, not everyone who played it was aware they were supposed to do that*, and it's easy to see why: The game never explicitly tells you to read some deeper meaning into anything, not even implicitly. It just assumes you read it as art, something video games nearly never do.
    Take the protagonist of the Transmitter sections as an example. He is nameable and completely silent, so he basically is your run-of-the-mill self-insert MC. After the incident exterminating his unit, he just gets taken along by two detectives of a different unit investigating said incident without any explanation and is just assumed to be part of the team from then on. His colleagues treat him like he knows what is going on or don't care about leaving him out of the loop, but either way the player never gets any necessary exposition. The MC is only ever given footwork tasks instead of actual detective work, but still gets the nickname “Big Dick” and of course it turns out he is the Chosen One (spoilers, I guess, not that it matters in this case). Now you could either say that this is bad writing, or see it as a deconstruction of the silent protagonist trope, showcasing how nonsensical it would be for a troupe of badass cops to take someone like this along and turning a character like this into the hero of your story. I'm not advocating for reading deep meaning into every mundane thing or excusing every bad decision as “terrible on purpose”, but in this case I have more evidence. For example in one of the chapters about cyber crime your unit decides that you should infiltrate the crime ring. The rest of the chapter basically consists of you waking up in your apartment every morning, reading a new mail about how it's just going to take a little while longer until you become an official member, and then going to work, where you and your colleagues just sit around and do nothing. When you finally become a member of the internet group, you go to their quarters, where someone tells you you're late to the party and the leaders are already gone, and then there is a citywide power blackout and the chapter ends. I just can't imagine the writers just couldn't think of a better way to include the MC into the plot, so I assume they did this on purpose.

    Of course there is fourth-wall breaking in a throwaway line. Even though it may seem different going by my screenshots, The Silver Case is not a comedy. At least I think it isn't.
    The gameplay is basically the same. You often get interrupted while moving around by not really necessary dialogues (although these often imply that the other characters are actually doing something), you never actually see anything in the 3D environments which consist of samey looking rooms, and places you can interact with are even marked by symbols and if there is something of note, you just get a dialogue, a CG or a short FMV sequence. There are a few riddles, but they have nothing to do with the plot and are way to easy (in the remastered version the game there even is a button giving you the solution). Often you just have to look through several identical rooms until you find the place that advances the plot. Again, on its own, the gameplay sections are pretty tedious, especially as the controls are just incredibly counterintuitive. It's repetitive, wastes a lot of time, and does nothing to advance the plot. If you look at the MC's role in the story it becomes clear that this actually serves a narrative function in purposefully disconnecting the MC and thus the player from the actual action which you can also read as meta-commentary on how the gameplay in interactive adventure games often has little to do with their plots. In the Placebo chapters you even only walk between your sleeping couch and your working space, where can either read E-Mails (important ones even get opened automatically, so the game even robs you of the interactivity of clicking them, and the MC answers them without any input from you as well and occasionally writes Memos to himself), answer your phone whenever it happens to ring, or talk to your pet turtle, which you sometimes actually have to do to advance in the story. If you read the Eurogamer article you can probably figure out what function this serves on your own**.
    I mostly talked about game mechanics in this blog entry but you can dissect the plot, storytelling techniques, characters, pop culture references and the scene direction in the same way (I included two examples in the screenshots). For instance there is the fact that the Big Bad and the McGuffin don't get established until the short cliffhanger epilogue. Or that the short titlecard at the end of each episode shows a full moon and the title of a song by either Joy Division or New Order (maybe somehow playing into the whole “Kill the Past” theme Suda 51 has going on, with the band not only changing their name but also their musical style after their lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide). I could go on, but the whole experience is just to long and confusing to talk about everything.
    So is it worth reading? Probably, as long as you're not allergic to artsy-ness (at points even pretentiousness) or and okay with a game challenging your intellect as well as your patience. Is it actually good? The answer is the same as the one to the question of why I spent quite some time writing an essay on a game nobody actually played: No f*cking clue. Did I mention that there is a lot of swearing in TSC?

     
    *Which isn't to say that everyone not liking The Silver Case “just didn't get it”, just that some of the negative criticism in these reviews was about aspects that were most probably deliberately "bad" without acknowledging the not that hard-to-spot meta aspect. A lot of the criticism is still valid as The Silver Case definitely has its major flaws.
    **The most interactive scene in the entire game funnily enough is also the most pointless one. At one point during the third case in the Transmitter section, the chief of your police unit and one of its members decide to test if you're qualified for the job by making you take a 100 question pop quiz, including questions about everything from Japanese geography to jazz music (and even implying the cop testing you already cracked the case you're currently working on, but he still sends you do more footwork later on). You pass no matter how well you perform and you don't even get to know your score because "there are no points to be gained in policework", as the chief says. At some points I just can't help but admire how much The Silver Case hates its readers.
  19. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, A Case for The Silver Case (I guess)   
    Let's talk a bit about Postmodernism. I don't have the time nor expertise to properly explain the term and its origins, so if you don't know the term, I'll just recommend reading the TVTropes article on it. The gist is that Postmodernism in fiction “question on the nature of narrative and plot and characterization.” This can take different forms, from deconstruction to meta-commentary, self-awareness, fourth-wall breaking, not resolving narratives, putting existing fictional elements into a new context, subverting tropes, mixing media, and many more. This sounds rather intellectual, but there are lots of examples in popular culture with varying degrees of artsy-ness, like remixing in music, more or less every Quentin Tarrantino movie, most superhero movies or comics these days (as they are either heavily self-aware or deconstructing the inherent archetypes), and even two of the most highly rated VNs on vndb are pretty postmodern: The Muv Luv trilogy deconstructs the Mecha genre by looking at how throwing a stereotypical harem protagonist into a post-apocalyptic world with giant robots would impact his psyche (you could argue that Steins;Gate does something quite similar, only using a different setting end set of archetypes), while Umineko takes a pretty basic whodunnit setup and then just keeps pouring on unending layers of meta, deconstructing the very genre it pretends to be at first in the process.
    For a postmodern element to work for the recipient, they have to understand the context of it to some degree, not necessarily intellectually, but in the form of certain expectations not being met or a reference putting something known into a new context and a feeling that the subversion or reference is happening with a purpose. For example, when the aliens attack for the first time in Muv Luv Alternative, you expect a fight scene, with some sort heroic moment towards the climax. Without spoiling too much, that's not what happens, and the reason why is to show that there are actual stakes that are too high for some random guy who thinks he's the hero. If the recipient can't see any indication of an apparent purpose to a subversion of expectations, it just feels random to them.

    Anyway, how is your sex life? I really didn't expect a The Room reference to appear in some Japanese art game.
    Which brings us to The Silver Case, the first game the notorious experimental game developer Suda Goichi (better known as Suda 51) wrote and directed for his own company Grasshopper Manufacture. Originally released in 1999 for the original Playstation, it was only localized and remastered for the West as a PC release as recently as 2016. It's an interactive adventure game consisting of two story threads that sometimes intertwine to some degree. In one (called “Transmitter”) the protagonist becomes part of a special police unit after his original unit becomes exterminated by a serial killer and walks around crime scenes and in the other (“Placebo”) you're a journalist investigating the same cases. As for visuals, you're constantly watching a background on which windows pop up that contain the 3D environments, painted CGs and character portraits, written and spoken text, and sometimes even full motion video. According to Suda 51 this system was implemented due to the newly founded studio not having enough manpower to animate the complete screens in 3D, but it looks pretty stylish and unique. There is gameplay that consists of you moving through grids in the aforementioned environments and occasionally interacting with someone or something and solving a few puzzles, but more on that later. There is an overarching plot about a serial killer, I guess, but the game is really vague about it and there already is a very good Eurogamer.net article on its themes, which makes the game sound way more accessible than it is though.
    It's a game that takes a postmodern approach to everything, not caring if it makes the experience less enjoyable in the process, be it gameplay, visuals, characterization or storytelling. The Silver Case constantly forces you to figure out of you're supposed to take what's on the screen for its face value or on some kind of meta or thematic layer, willingly breaking the rules of what makes games and stories good by traditional standards, making you connect the dots yourself and even question certain game and storytelling mechanics itself. Going by some of the reviews, not everyone who played it was aware they were supposed to do that*, and it's easy to see why: The game never explicitly tells you to read some deeper meaning into anything, not even implicitly. It just assumes you read it as art, something video games nearly never do.
    Take the protagonist of the Transmitter sections as an example. He is nameable and completely silent, so he basically is your run-of-the-mill self-insert MC. After the incident exterminating his unit, he just gets taken along by two detectives of a different unit investigating said incident without any explanation and is just assumed to be part of the team from then on. His colleagues treat him like he knows what is going on or don't care about leaving him out of the loop, but either way the player never gets any necessary exposition. The MC is only ever given footwork tasks instead of actual detective work, but still gets the nickname “Big Dick” and of course it turns out he is the Chosen One (spoilers, I guess, not that it matters in this case). Now you could either say that this is bad writing, or see it as a deconstruction of the silent protagonist trope, showcasing how nonsensical it would be for a troupe of badass cops to take someone like this along and turning a character like this into the hero of your story. I'm not advocating for reading deep meaning into every mundane thing or excusing every bad decision as “terrible on purpose”, but in this case I have more evidence. For example in one of the chapters about cyber crime your unit decides that you should infiltrate the crime ring. The rest of the chapter basically consists of you waking up in your apartment every morning, reading a new mail about how it's just going to take a little while longer until you become an official member, and then going to work, where you and your colleagues just sit around and do nothing. When you finally become a member of the internet group, you go to their quarters, where someone tells you you're late to the party and the leaders are already gone, and then there is a citywide power blackout and the chapter ends. I just can't imagine the writers just couldn't think of a better way to include the MC into the plot, so I assume they did this on purpose.

    Of course there is fourth-wall breaking in a throwaway line. Even though it may seem different going by my screenshots, The Silver Case is not a comedy. At least I think it isn't.
    The gameplay is basically the same. You often get interrupted while moving around by not really necessary dialogues (although these often imply that the other characters are actually doing something), you never actually see anything in the 3D environments which consist of samey looking rooms, and places you can interact with are even marked by symbols and if there is something of note, you just get a dialogue, a CG or a short FMV sequence. There are a few riddles, but they have nothing to do with the plot and are way to easy (in the remastered version the game there even is a button giving you the solution). Often you just have to look through several identical rooms until you find the place that advances the plot. Again, on its own, the gameplay sections are pretty tedious, especially as the controls are just incredibly counterintuitive. It's repetitive, wastes a lot of time, and does nothing to advance the plot. If you look at the MC's role in the story it becomes clear that this actually serves a narrative function in purposefully disconnecting the MC and thus the player from the actual action which you can also read as meta-commentary on how the gameplay in interactive adventure games often has little to do with their plots. In the Placebo chapters you even only walk between your sleeping couch and your working space, where can either read E-Mails (important ones even get opened automatically, so the game even robs you of the interactivity of clicking them, and the MC answers them without any input from you as well and occasionally writes Memos to himself), answer your phone whenever it happens to ring, or talk to your pet turtle, which you sometimes actually have to do to advance in the story. If you read the Eurogamer article you can probably figure out what function this serves on your own**.
    I mostly talked about game mechanics in this blog entry but you can dissect the plot, storytelling techniques, characters, pop culture references and the scene direction in the same way (I included two examples in the screenshots). For instance there is the fact that the Big Bad and the McGuffin don't get established until the short cliffhanger epilogue. Or that the short titlecard at the end of each episode shows a full moon and the title of a song by either Joy Division or New Order (maybe somehow playing into the whole “Kill the Past” theme Suda 51 has going on, with the band not only changing their name but also their musical style after their lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide). I could go on, but the whole experience is just to long and confusing to talk about everything.
    So is it worth reading? Probably, as long as you're not allergic to artsy-ness (at points even pretentiousness) or and okay with a game challenging your intellect as well as your patience. Is it actually good? The answer is the same as the one to the question of why I spent quite some time writing an essay on a game nobody actually played: No f*cking clue. Did I mention that there is a lot of swearing in TSC?

     
    *Which isn't to say that everyone not liking The Silver Case “just didn't get it”, just that some of the negative criticism in these reviews was about aspects that were most probably deliberately "bad" without acknowledging the not that hard-to-spot meta aspect. A lot of the criticism is still valid as The Silver Case definitely has its major flaws.
    **The most interactive scene in the entire game funnily enough is also the most pointless one. At one point during the third case in the Transmitter section, the chief of your police unit and one of its members decide to test if you're qualified for the job by making you take a 100 question pop quiz, including questions about everything from Japanese geography to jazz music (and even implying the cop testing you already cracked the case you're currently working on, but he still sends you do more footwork later on). You pass no matter how well you perform and you don't even get to know your score because "there are no points to be gained in policework", as the chief says. At some points I just can't help but admire how much The Silver Case hates its readers.
  20. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, A halfhearted defense of weak protagonists in VNs   
    In my previous blog entry I talked about protagonists in fictional media by comparing their ability to advance a plot vs. how much they actually do in their respective stories. With the model I came up with I identified four archetypes (in the meantime I remembered a possible example for “useful idiot” characters, which I edited into that post, in case you missed it). This time I'm going to focus on visual novels and why they seem to produce mainly “weak protagonists” by my metric (which doesn't say anything about how interesting they might be as it doesn't really account for blandness). There certainly is a cultural and psychological component to this, but I think I'm not enough of an expert on Japanese society to talk about the former and the “self-insert”-aspect is kind of obvious and also something I already talked about in the last post in the paragraph about Harry Potter. So instead I'll try to focus on the unique way many visual novels are structured from a narrative standpoint and how this in my opinion often makes choosing a weak protagonist kind of the logical choice from the writer's point of view.
    I think there are two main aspects to this. The first one is pretty obvious solely from looking at game mechanics. Most VNs have a choice system, and the character the reader makes these choices for should be able to believably carry them out in-game. A writer either needs a lot of very good ideas about how to bring the protagonist into situations where they could go either way without breaking character, or let them have a personality that's just bendable enough to always do what the plot requires them to.
    The second aspect is a bit more complex and has to do with most VNs being multi-route. This poses a great challenge to a writer as it's not that easy to tell several stories from the same setup without them ending up too similar. And even if the plot of each route is completely different, chances are the protagonist's character arcs are still going to end up more or less similar. A route feels incomplete if the main character's central personal struggle isn't resolved to some degree. The most common workaround for this is centering the routes themselves around a supporting character, usually a hero(ine), and giving the protagonist just a minor character arc, often in the veins of something like "love gives me the determination to achieve every goal". This basically means creating subplots where the overall protagonist isn't the literal main character anymore as entering someone else's route means also entering their story and character arc most of the time. These characters' development would be diminished though if the protagonist just went along and solved the respective heroine's problems for them, as for the development to be believable the character going through it has to do the substantive part of the emotional work (this is why white-knighting isn't just problematic from the viewpoint of gender roles but it's bad writing as well). 
    In other media the protagonist most of the time either isn't present during most of the subplot or at least not involved too much. In visual novels both of these options in general aren't viable as from the point of entering a route the subplot becomes the narrative focus and it would be pretty weird if the protagonist just disappeared or at least decided not to interfere in the third act and climax of a playthrough, especially since the choices leading up to a route usually involve the MC trying to get closer to the character it revolves around. The fact that routes are often based around romance and the necessity to include a justification for H-scenes involving the MC further complicate this issue.
    As you can see, a capable protagonist is incredibly hard to employ under these circumstances. They have to fall in love with a hero(ine), yet shouldn't get so involved with them too such a degree that they decide to essentially rob said love-interest of their character arc. In many cases there is no proper solution to this dilemma. And this is where the weak protagonist comes in handy as them not becoming proactive once they have a reason to act can be justified by them simply not being able to. This setup also already has an inherent starting point for the aforementioned minor character arc for the protagonist.
    I don't want to imply that weak protagonists are always the best choice (or ever), but they often are the most viable compromise imo when a VN main character has to be so passive that they don't outshine the supporting cast but at the same time be a justifiable lead character. The most important feature in a VN protagonist in general simply isn't being proactive, as their main purpose is a structural one, namely to connect the game mechanic aspect of making choices to access new parts of the story with the way these new segments are set up from a narrative standpoint. This sounds kind of convoluted, but I hope by now you get what I'm trying to say. Of course the points I made don't apply to every visual novel or even every genre of VN, but I think they cover a reasonable share of weak protagonists out there. And of course this doesn't excuse bland MCs, but many of the things I pointed out don't exactly make it easier to give them colourful personalities.
  21. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Plk_Lesiak for a blog entry, An attempt at classifying protagonists   
    Protagonists perceived as weak seem to be something a lot of people reading VNs complain about, and as this is an interesting topic imo, I've been spending some time trying to organise my thoughts on it and write them up in a way that's not completely incoherent. In the process I started reflecting on main characters and their role in fiction on a more fundamental level and came up with a very basic way to categorise main characters, by comparing their personalities to how much it advances the plot in their respective stories. I even made a very professional looking diagram to explain my thinking:

    As you can see, the y-axis is supposed to be a measure for the MC's personality, while the x-axis shows how much they actively influence the plot. As each quadrant marks a certain general category of protagonist, I also named those in a way I found fitting (in italic) and added a few examples from VNs I read.
    The measure for personality I chose is a mixture of a protagonist's general determination to face problems head on and to which degree they are actually able to solve the ones the plot poses. I know this is kind of a soft category but this whole thing isn't supposed to be a scientific essay and I couldn't come up with anything better so it will have to do. On the top end of this scale you would have someone like Superman, on the bottom end probably Bella Swan.
    The question about how proactive a protagonist is at least in this metric boils down to if they mainly react to plot points happening or if they themselves make plot points happen. This category also isn't perfect though. For example almost any character arc involving a protagonist in the "weak" category is about them turning stronger. In my opinion this doesn't make a character more proactive though as this is usually driven by plot necessity.
    In this metric you can define four broader types of protagonists. The weak protagonist is someone who usually stumbled into his situation and mainly goes with the flow. The strong protagonist makes his own destiny. The observer is someone who isn't getting too actively involved in the things going on around him, either by their own choice or some external reason. As for the fourth category, I don't know if there actually are protagonists that combine being incapable or weak willed with being proactive. I used Phoenix Wright as an example as you could at least argue that he's only getting by through luck while he always keeps fighting till the end, but that should also move him further up on the personality scale.
    You will probably also disagree with other choices I made about where to put certain characters. So as you can see, this is more of an orientation to think about characters and their roles in fictional media than an objective measure. It also doesn't tell us anything about how well a character is written. There are bland action heroes as well as super well developed wimps. I still thought this self-made graphic might be an interesting thing to share. It might also turn out to be a good place for me to reference whenever I might think about writing something about an MC. At least until someone comes along and completely destroys all of my personal theories I based this on.
     
    edit: I thought I'd add and explain a few examples for each category (except the useful idiot as I can't confidently name any) from other media so people who don't know any of the guys in the chart or find my explanations too abstract or incomprehensible can get a grasp on what I mean. But first to give an example of what I mean by proactive vs. passive, because just doing a lot of things is not the same as being proactive: Imagine a story where someone dear to the protagonist gets murdered. If this turns into them killing everyone responsible, the MC is extremely proactive. they could just wait for the judicial system to prosecute the bad guys and testify as a witness, but his thirst for revenge drives everything happening from then on. A passive protagonist in such a scenario might be someone who struggles with the loss and is overwhelmed by everyone else not caring and instead fighting over the inheritance. But now for the protagonist types:
    Weak protagonist: Harry Potter - Although everyone in universe talks about how special he is Harry Potter doesn't have that much of a personality, does he? The Sorting Hat talking about how he would be a good fit for any house is true (except for Slytherin as that's basically the Hat telling you you're a bigot) as he shows reasonable degrees of bravery, intelligence and blandness. He doesn't have the magical skills to beat the most powerful wizards either and more often than not gets bailed out by his mother's love or whatever. His personal struggles are always pretty similar to what any kid his age goes through and rarely impact the plot in any major way. In most books he either ends up as a part of the main either through witnessing certain events by chance or because the bad guy plots to get him killed. And most times he gets a "becoming a stronger person and beating the bad guy" arc without him actually groing as a person that much. Harry Potter is also a good example of why a weak protagonist isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the world around the main character or the plot are the actual star of the story, a too strong protagonist could take away from that. The role the protagonist fills is basically to  go through the world with the same sense of wonder the audience would while providing an "everyday person becoming a hero" arc. Which is probably the reason why people who don't like the Harry Potter franchise in general are usually the ones complaining about its protagonist. Frodo would be another example for this kind of protagonist. As mentioned above I'm going to write another blog post about why I think weak protagonists are very common in certain types of VN and why they often seem more annoying than in other fictional media.
    Strong protagonist: James Bond - While his stories always start out with him getting a mission he certainly approaches them in a very unique fashion. I don't know if I have to write a lot more about him. Most iconic action heroes fall into this category.
    Observer: This type of protagonist seems to be more common in Japanese than in western media. Stories with this kind of protagonist usually have them coming in contact with the plot through either coincidence or their line of work and often involve them providing some kind of service while the narrative focus is on the ones the MC comes into contact with and these side characters tend to have the biggest arc. To name an example in western media Mad Max (at least from the second movie on) is pretty good at surviving in the post-apocalypse but he doesn't have some higher goal beyond that. In Fury Road he might be the main character, but the plot is driven by Furiosa's goals and he just happens to help out as it aligns with him trying to flee from the same people. He still helps out a lot, but technically it's just not his story. Which is why he just leaves at the end. As for Japanese Media Gingko in Mushi-Shi might be the prime example. The anime has more than 40 episodes and three specials, still we learn next to nothing about him. Every time he walks into someone else's story, helps them realise their respective arcs without ever getting too personally involved, and leaves again. Violet Evergarden also fits the description for the major part of the anime. She is a killing machine and apparently quickly becomes very good at her new job as well, yet, while there are episodes focusing on her, in most of them she just helps someone else come to terms with their emotions through providing them the service of writing a letter. Violet Evergarden also shows that it's possible to develop protagonists in episodes not focusing on them.
     
    edit 2: So I managed to come up with an example for  a"useful idiot" (although I don't really like that name, I couldn't think of a better one): many characters in movies by the Coen brothers fit this category. While the protagonists themselves usually are straight man characters, the plots (especially in Fargo and Burn after Reading) often revolve around how bad decisions by incompetent characters lead to catastrophies.
  22. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from FinalChaos for a blog entry, An attempt at classifying protagonists   
    Protagonists perceived as weak seem to be something a lot of people reading VNs complain about, and as this is an interesting topic imo, I've been spending some time trying to organise my thoughts on it and write them up in a way that's not completely incoherent. In the process I started reflecting on main characters and their role in fiction on a more fundamental level and came up with a very basic way to categorise main characters, by comparing their personalities to how much it advances the plot in their respective stories. I even made a very professional looking diagram to explain my thinking:

    As you can see, the y-axis is supposed to be a measure for the MC's personality, while the x-axis shows how much they actively influence the plot. As each quadrant marks a certain general category of protagonist, I also named those in a way I found fitting (in italic) and added a few examples from VNs I read.
    The measure for personality I chose is a mixture of a protagonist's general determination to face problems head on and to which degree they are actually able to solve the ones the plot poses. I know this is kind of a soft category but this whole thing isn't supposed to be a scientific essay and I couldn't come up with anything better so it will have to do. On the top end of this scale you would have someone like Superman, on the bottom end probably Bella Swan.
    The question about how proactive a protagonist is at least in this metric boils down to if they mainly react to plot points happening or if they themselves make plot points happen. This category also isn't perfect though. For example almost any character arc involving a protagonist in the "weak" category is about them turning stronger. In my opinion this doesn't make a character more proactive though as this is usually driven by plot necessity.
    In this metric you can define four broader types of protagonists. The weak protagonist is someone who usually stumbled into his situation and mainly goes with the flow. The strong protagonist makes his own destiny. The observer is someone who isn't getting too actively involved in the things going on around him, either by their own choice or some external reason. As for the fourth category, I don't know if there actually are protagonists that combine being incapable or weak willed with being proactive. I used Phoenix Wright as an example as you could at least argue that he's only getting by through luck while he always keeps fighting till the end, but that should also move him further up on the personality scale.
    You will probably also disagree with other choices I made about where to put certain characters. So as you can see, this is more of an orientation to think about characters and their roles in fictional media than an objective measure. It also doesn't tell us anything about how well a character is written. There are bland action heroes as well as super well developed wimps. I still thought this self-made graphic might be an interesting thing to share. It might also turn out to be a good place for me to reference whenever I might think about writing something about an MC. At least until someone comes along and completely destroys all of my personal theories I based this on.
     
    edit: I thought I'd add and explain a few examples for each category (except the useful idiot as I can't confidently name any) from other media so people who don't know any of the guys in the chart or find my explanations too abstract or incomprehensible can get a grasp on what I mean. But first to give an example of what I mean by proactive vs. passive, because just doing a lot of things is not the same as being proactive: Imagine a story where someone dear to the protagonist gets murdered. If this turns into them killing everyone responsible, the MC is extremely proactive. they could just wait for the judicial system to prosecute the bad guys and testify as a witness, but his thirst for revenge drives everything happening from then on. A passive protagonist in such a scenario might be someone who struggles with the loss and is overwhelmed by everyone else not caring and instead fighting over the inheritance. But now for the protagonist types:
    Weak protagonist: Harry Potter - Although everyone in universe talks about how special he is Harry Potter doesn't have that much of a personality, does he? The Sorting Hat talking about how he would be a good fit for any house is true (except for Slytherin as that's basically the Hat telling you you're a bigot) as he shows reasonable degrees of bravery, intelligence and blandness. He doesn't have the magical skills to beat the most powerful wizards either and more often than not gets bailed out by his mother's love or whatever. His personal struggles are always pretty similar to what any kid his age goes through and rarely impact the plot in any major way. In most books he either ends up as a part of the main either through witnessing certain events by chance or because the bad guy plots to get him killed. And most times he gets a "becoming a stronger person and beating the bad guy" arc without him actually groing as a person that much. Harry Potter is also a good example of why a weak protagonist isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the world around the main character or the plot are the actual star of the story, a too strong protagonist could take away from that. The role the protagonist fills is basically to  go through the world with the same sense of wonder the audience would while providing an "everyday person becoming a hero" arc. Which is probably the reason why people who don't like the Harry Potter franchise in general are usually the ones complaining about its protagonist. Frodo would be another example for this kind of protagonist. As mentioned above I'm going to write another blog post about why I think weak protagonists are very common in certain types of VN and why they often seem more annoying than in other fictional media.
    Strong protagonist: James Bond - While his stories always start out with him getting a mission he certainly approaches them in a very unique fashion. I don't know if I have to write a lot more about him. Most iconic action heroes fall into this category.
    Observer: This type of protagonist seems to be more common in Japanese than in western media. Stories with this kind of protagonist usually have them coming in contact with the plot through either coincidence or their line of work and often involve them providing some kind of service while the narrative focus is on the ones the MC comes into contact with and these side characters tend to have the biggest arc. To name an example in western media Mad Max (at least from the second movie on) is pretty good at surviving in the post-apocalypse but he doesn't have some higher goal beyond that. In Fury Road he might be the main character, but the plot is driven by Furiosa's goals and he just happens to help out as it aligns with him trying to flee from the same people. He still helps out a lot, but technically it's just not his story. Which is why he just leaves at the end. As for Japanese Media Gingko in Mushi-Shi might be the prime example. The anime has more than 40 episodes and three specials, still we learn next to nothing about him. Every time he walks into someone else's story, helps them realise their respective arcs without ever getting too personally involved, and leaves again. Violet Evergarden also fits the description for the major part of the anime. She is a killing machine and apparently quickly becomes very good at her new job as well, yet, while there are episodes focusing on her, in most of them she just helps someone else come to terms with their emotions through providing them the service of writing a letter. Violet Evergarden also shows that it's possible to develop protagonists in episodes not focusing on them.
     
    edit 2: So I managed to come up with an example for  a"useful idiot" (although I don't really like that name, I couldn't think of a better one): many characters in movies by the Coen brothers fit this category. While the protagonists themselves usually are straight man characters, the plots (especially in Fargo and Burn after Reading) often revolve around how bad decisions by incompetent characters lead to catastrophies.
  23. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Dreamysyu for a blog entry, An attempt at classifying protagonists   
    Protagonists perceived as weak seem to be something a lot of people reading VNs complain about, and as this is an interesting topic imo, I've been spending some time trying to organise my thoughts on it and write them up in a way that's not completely incoherent. In the process I started reflecting on main characters and their role in fiction on a more fundamental level and came up with a very basic way to categorise main characters, by comparing their personalities to how much it advances the plot in their respective stories. I even made a very professional looking diagram to explain my thinking:

    As you can see, the y-axis is supposed to be a measure for the MC's personality, while the x-axis shows how much they actively influence the plot. As each quadrant marks a certain general category of protagonist, I also named those in a way I found fitting (in italic) and added a few examples from VNs I read.
    The measure for personality I chose is a mixture of a protagonist's general determination to face problems head on and to which degree they are actually able to solve the ones the plot poses. I know this is kind of a soft category but this whole thing isn't supposed to be a scientific essay and I couldn't come up with anything better so it will have to do. On the top end of this scale you would have someone like Superman, on the bottom end probably Bella Swan.
    The question about how proactive a protagonist is at least in this metric boils down to if they mainly react to plot points happening or if they themselves make plot points happen. This category also isn't perfect though. For example almost any character arc involving a protagonist in the "weak" category is about them turning stronger. In my opinion this doesn't make a character more proactive though as this is usually driven by plot necessity.
    In this metric you can define four broader types of protagonists. The weak protagonist is someone who usually stumbled into his situation and mainly goes with the flow. The strong protagonist makes his own destiny. The observer is someone who isn't getting too actively involved in the things going on around him, either by their own choice or some external reason. As for the fourth category, I don't know if there actually are protagonists that combine being incapable or weak willed with being proactive. I used Phoenix Wright as an example as you could at least argue that he's only getting by through luck while he always keeps fighting till the end, but that should also move him further up on the personality scale.
    You will probably also disagree with other choices I made about where to put certain characters. So as you can see, this is more of an orientation to think about characters and their roles in fictional media than an objective measure. It also doesn't tell us anything about how well a character is written. There are bland action heroes as well as super well developed wimps. I still thought this self-made graphic might be an interesting thing to share. It might also turn out to be a good place for me to reference whenever I might think about writing something about an MC. At least until someone comes along and completely destroys all of my personal theories I based this on.
     
    edit: I thought I'd add and explain a few examples for each category (except the useful idiot as I can't confidently name any) from other media so people who don't know any of the guys in the chart or find my explanations too abstract or incomprehensible can get a grasp on what I mean. But first to give an example of what I mean by proactive vs. passive, because just doing a lot of things is not the same as being proactive: Imagine a story where someone dear to the protagonist gets murdered. If this turns into them killing everyone responsible, the MC is extremely proactive. they could just wait for the judicial system to prosecute the bad guys and testify as a witness, but his thirst for revenge drives everything happening from then on. A passive protagonist in such a scenario might be someone who struggles with the loss and is overwhelmed by everyone else not caring and instead fighting over the inheritance. But now for the protagonist types:
    Weak protagonist: Harry Potter - Although everyone in universe talks about how special he is Harry Potter doesn't have that much of a personality, does he? The Sorting Hat talking about how he would be a good fit for any house is true (except for Slytherin as that's basically the Hat telling you you're a bigot) as he shows reasonable degrees of bravery, intelligence and blandness. He doesn't have the magical skills to beat the most powerful wizards either and more often than not gets bailed out by his mother's love or whatever. His personal struggles are always pretty similar to what any kid his age goes through and rarely impact the plot in any major way. In most books he either ends up as a part of the main either through witnessing certain events by chance or because the bad guy plots to get him killed. And most times he gets a "becoming a stronger person and beating the bad guy" arc without him actually groing as a person that much. Harry Potter is also a good example of why a weak protagonist isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the world around the main character or the plot are the actual star of the story, a too strong protagonist could take away from that. The role the protagonist fills is basically to  go through the world with the same sense of wonder the audience would while providing an "everyday person becoming a hero" arc. Which is probably the reason why people who don't like the Harry Potter franchise in general are usually the ones complaining about its protagonist. Frodo would be another example for this kind of protagonist. As mentioned above I'm going to write another blog post about why I think weak protagonists are very common in certain types of VN and why they often seem more annoying than in other fictional media.
    Strong protagonist: James Bond - While his stories always start out with him getting a mission he certainly approaches them in a very unique fashion. I don't know if I have to write a lot more about him. Most iconic action heroes fall into this category.
    Observer: This type of protagonist seems to be more common in Japanese than in western media. Stories with this kind of protagonist usually have them coming in contact with the plot through either coincidence or their line of work and often involve them providing some kind of service while the narrative focus is on the ones the MC comes into contact with and these side characters tend to have the biggest arc. To name an example in western media Mad Max (at least from the second movie on) is pretty good at surviving in the post-apocalypse but he doesn't have some higher goal beyond that. In Fury Road he might be the main character, but the plot is driven by Furiosa's goals and he just happens to help out as it aligns with him trying to flee from the same people. He still helps out a lot, but technically it's just not his story. Which is why he just leaves at the end. As for Japanese Media Gingko in Mushi-Shi might be the prime example. The anime has more than 40 episodes and three specials, still we learn next to nothing about him. Every time he walks into someone else's story, helps them realise their respective arcs without ever getting too personally involved, and leaves again. Violet Evergarden also fits the description for the major part of the anime. She is a killing machine and apparently quickly becomes very good at her new job as well, yet, while there are episodes focusing on her, in most of them she just helps someone else come to terms with their emotions through providing them the service of writing a letter. Violet Evergarden also shows that it's possible to develop protagonists in episodes not focusing on them.
     
    edit 2: So I managed to come up with an example for  a"useful idiot" (although I don't really like that name, I couldn't think of a better one): many characters in movies by the Coen brothers fit this category. While the protagonists themselves usually are straight man characters, the plots (especially in Fargo and Burn after Reading) often revolve around how bad decisions by incompetent characters lead to catastrophies.
  24. Like
    alpacaman got a reaction from Mr Poltroon for a blog entry, An attempt at classifying protagonists   
    Protagonists perceived as weak seem to be something a lot of people reading VNs complain about, and as this is an interesting topic imo, I've been spending some time trying to organise my thoughts on it and write them up in a way that's not completely incoherent. In the process I started reflecting on main characters and their role in fiction on a more fundamental level and came up with a very basic way to categorise main characters, by comparing their personalities to how much it advances the plot in their respective stories. I even made a very professional looking diagram to explain my thinking:

    As you can see, the y-axis is supposed to be a measure for the MC's personality, while the x-axis shows how much they actively influence the plot. As each quadrant marks a certain general category of protagonist, I also named those in a way I found fitting (in italic) and added a few examples from VNs I read.
    The measure for personality I chose is a mixture of a protagonist's general determination to face problems head on and to which degree they are actually able to solve the ones the plot poses. I know this is kind of a soft category but this whole thing isn't supposed to be a scientific essay and I couldn't come up with anything better so it will have to do. On the top end of this scale you would have someone like Superman, on the bottom end probably Bella Swan.
    The question about how proactive a protagonist is at least in this metric boils down to if they mainly react to plot points happening or if they themselves make plot points happen. This category also isn't perfect though. For example almost any character arc involving a protagonist in the "weak" category is about them turning stronger. In my opinion this doesn't make a character more proactive though as this is usually driven by plot necessity.
    In this metric you can define four broader types of protagonists. The weak protagonist is someone who usually stumbled into his situation and mainly goes with the flow. The strong protagonist makes his own destiny. The observer is someone who isn't getting too actively involved in the things going on around him, either by their own choice or some external reason. As for the fourth category, I don't know if there actually are protagonists that combine being incapable or weak willed with being proactive. I used Phoenix Wright as an example as you could at least argue that he's only getting by through luck while he always keeps fighting till the end, but that should also move him further up on the personality scale.
    You will probably also disagree with other choices I made about where to put certain characters. So as you can see, this is more of an orientation to think about characters and their roles in fictional media than an objective measure. It also doesn't tell us anything about how well a character is written. There are bland action heroes as well as super well developed wimps. I still thought this self-made graphic might be an interesting thing to share. It might also turn out to be a good place for me to reference whenever I might think about writing something about an MC. At least until someone comes along and completely destroys all of my personal theories I based this on.
     
    edit: I thought I'd add and explain a few examples for each category (except the useful idiot as I can't confidently name any) from other media so people who don't know any of the guys in the chart or find my explanations too abstract or incomprehensible can get a grasp on what I mean. But first to give an example of what I mean by proactive vs. passive, because just doing a lot of things is not the same as being proactive: Imagine a story where someone dear to the protagonist gets murdered. If this turns into them killing everyone responsible, the MC is extremely proactive. they could just wait for the judicial system to prosecute the bad guys and testify as a witness, but his thirst for revenge drives everything happening from then on. A passive protagonist in such a scenario might be someone who struggles with the loss and is overwhelmed by everyone else not caring and instead fighting over the inheritance. But now for the protagonist types:
    Weak protagonist: Harry Potter - Although everyone in universe talks about how special he is Harry Potter doesn't have that much of a personality, does he? The Sorting Hat talking about how he would be a good fit for any house is true (except for Slytherin as that's basically the Hat telling you you're a bigot) as he shows reasonable degrees of bravery, intelligence and blandness. He doesn't have the magical skills to beat the most powerful wizards either and more often than not gets bailed out by his mother's love or whatever. His personal struggles are always pretty similar to what any kid his age goes through and rarely impact the plot in any major way. In most books he either ends up as a part of the main either through witnessing certain events by chance or because the bad guy plots to get him killed. And most times he gets a "becoming a stronger person and beating the bad guy" arc without him actually groing as a person that much. Harry Potter is also a good example of why a weak protagonist isn't necessarily a bad thing. When the world around the main character or the plot are the actual star of the story, a too strong protagonist could take away from that. The role the protagonist fills is basically to  go through the world with the same sense of wonder the audience would while providing an "everyday person becoming a hero" arc. Which is probably the reason why people who don't like the Harry Potter franchise in general are usually the ones complaining about its protagonist. Frodo would be another example for this kind of protagonist. As mentioned above I'm going to write another blog post about why I think weak protagonists are very common in certain types of VN and why they often seem more annoying than in other fictional media.
    Strong protagonist: James Bond - While his stories always start out with him getting a mission he certainly approaches them in a very unique fashion. I don't know if I have to write a lot more about him. Most iconic action heroes fall into this category.
    Observer: This type of protagonist seems to be more common in Japanese than in western media. Stories with this kind of protagonist usually have them coming in contact with the plot through either coincidence or their line of work and often involve them providing some kind of service while the narrative focus is on the ones the MC comes into contact with and these side characters tend to have the biggest arc. To name an example in western media Mad Max (at least from the second movie on) is pretty good at surviving in the post-apocalypse but he doesn't have some higher goal beyond that. In Fury Road he might be the main character, but the plot is driven by Furiosa's goals and he just happens to help out as it aligns with him trying to flee from the same people. He still helps out a lot, but technically it's just not his story. Which is why he just leaves at the end. As for Japanese Media Gingko in Mushi-Shi might be the prime example. The anime has more than 40 episodes and three specials, still we learn next to nothing about him. Every time he walks into someone else's story, helps them realise their respective arcs without ever getting too personally involved, and leaves again. Violet Evergarden also fits the description for the major part of the anime. She is a killing machine and apparently quickly becomes very good at her new job as well, yet, while there are episodes focusing on her, in most of them she just helps someone else come to terms with their emotions through providing them the service of writing a letter. Violet Evergarden also shows that it's possible to develop protagonists in episodes not focusing on them.
     
    edit 2: So I managed to come up with an example for  a"useful idiot" (although I don't really like that name, I couldn't think of a better one): many characters in movies by the Coen brothers fit this category. While the protagonists themselves usually are straight man characters, the plots (especially in Fargo and Burn after Reading) often revolve around how bad decisions by incompetent characters lead to catastrophies.
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