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Blog Entries posted by Clephas

  1. Clephas

    Ogishima (Brandole) Jun
    The son of Id Brandole and Yukari of the Ogishima family.  He was raised as a human by his mother, who sealed his vampiric nature on a regular basis since early childhood.  While he seems mild-mannered on the surface, he has an incredible capacity for rage and ruthlessness in defense of those he considers family.  He is highly intelligent, even brilliant.  At the beginning of the story, Belche arrives to inform him that, if she thinks he is fit to rule, he will take over the Brandole Family of vampires and marry a woman of good family (Lian).  Jun, while he resents the intrusion at first, quickly adapts to Belche's presence in his life, coming to see her as a mentor, a second mother (who loves him deeply and makes it obvious in a number of little ways), and vassal.  His tendency to value 'family' (in a broad sense) over anything else is apparently shared by all men of his bloodline.  As a Shinso/First, he is technically immortal (he can be killed but will eventually resurrect given time) and will turn anyone he bites or shares bodily fluids with.  His blood, saliva, and other fluids feed his vampire virus to his servant vampires, maintaining their lives and powers.  

    Belche (Elceranto De Annoyance)
    Belche is perhaps the most interesting character in the game.  She was originally from Ireland (up to four hundred years ago, as the rumors and historical records are blurred and she herself states she forgot just how old she was), and she was turned into a vampire by Id Brandol in order to grant her revenge on those who had harmed her.  She relates her experience of growing into vamprism as a process of 'staining a white canvas, as my common sense was blotted out by a frightening darkness' in a tone devoid of any emotion.  To the entire Ogiwara 'family', she is a mother figure, gentle but strict, wise beyond words.  To the enemies of her family, she is death and horror itself, the Witch of Cacophany, who brings death and horror with her wherever she goes.  (it is also remarked a few times in the story that she is the most powerful Second to have ever existed)
    "My flesh is untouched by age and undying.  Even should I die, I shall rise again and again for the sake of my master.  For my name is both the strongest and most terrible.  For those who hear my name, let those who are correct find tranquility... and for those of evil heart, may they hear the echoes of Hell... I am a servant of the Brandole Clan, Elceranto De Annoyance.  All of my existence is solely for the sake of my master... Pleased to make your acquaintance from now on, Master." 

    Lian Lucie Dimermore
    Lian is a lesser First of the Dimermore family, which is known for the sheer amount of the vampire virus they carry in their blood.  At first she comes across as arrogant and ignorant of the ways of the world outside of vampire society, but she is also deeply loving.  Having been raised as a noblewoman intended to marry the successor of the Brandole Clan, she was originally promised to Id (who was MUCH older than her), a fact that did not in any way displease her, as he was one of the few adult vampires that didn't treat her as a bother or a tool to be used.  She has the ability to alter the minds of those around her, and she has a tendency to use it with casual ruthlessness on those she considers lesser.

    Rika Pembleton
    Draculius's resident tsundere, a fake nun from a vampire-hunting organization who is insanely trigger happy, has problems with details, and is something of a zealot.  Her fiery nature causes her a great deal of trouble, and she becomes Jun's first 'child', to both their dismays.  Like many tsundere characters, she actually has an immense capacity for emotional dependence, and she also has a strong need to have a purpose in life, which is one reason why she is so zealous in her work.  She is also Jun's first lover.  She gains the ability to alter the flow of time, which also allows her to alter the trajectory of her bullets (an ability that was eventually given to the protagonist of 3rdEye's Bloody Rondo, along with part of the terminology used in this story).  Of the characters, Rika probably changes the most obviously depending on which of the two paths, the joke path or the true path, you choose to go down.  
    Takayanagi Misao
    One of Jun's closest friends, a trans girl who constantly clashes with Jun and Shuu for teasing her (because they both think of her as a boy and Japanese society didn't recognize trans officially at the time this was made save as a curiosity or a trope).  She is fairly simple-minded, though reasonably intelligent (she gets good grades but is easily tricked and manipulated).  She is something of a glutton and more than a little childish, constantly being mothered by those around her to a ridiculous extent.  She is not a heroine in the story, though she wishes she was.

    Xeno Jailburn
    Lian's werewolf servant (she is also a vampire, since Lian's and Id's virus was used to allow her grow up healthy) who is obsessively loyal to her mistress.  Despite her loyalty (which is absolute), one of her favorite pastimes is making fun of her somewhat naive mistress, and her sense of humor is definitely the most hilarious in the game.  Like her mistress, she has a deep capacity for love, but that capacity is very narrowly focused, usually limited to people she considers family (which is a very strict delineation in her mind, stricter than Jun's).  She takes great pleasure in rubdowns in her wolf form from those she trusts, but earning that trust is not easy, to say the least.  She has the ability to turn into a liquid, which allows her to do things like hiding in Lian's shadow or entering areas through cracks in doorways.  
  2. Clephas
    Ou no Mimi ni wa Todokanai is one of my favorite games by AXL, which has consistently made high-quality games since the middle of the last decade.  Ou no Mimi is based in a medieval fantasy village in a nation that is still recovering from a war that wasted most of an entire generation of young men's lives.  The protagonist, Cactus (generally called Cas), lives his daily life as a self-proclaimed bodyguard for Baree Village while skipping out on working in the potato fields and taking long naps at the riverside.  However, at night he really does protect the village, patrolling the area to look for bandits, wild beasts and monsters, and various other dangers that might harm the village.
    Cactus was originally a spy and assassin from an organization known openly as the Izayoi Knights and behind the scenes as the King's Ear.  During the war, he carried out all sorts of dirty work for the King, ranging from assassinating enemy commanders to purging traitorous aristocrats.  However, in the last days of the war, he was used as bait, along with his friend Collum, and his friend was killed in the process, though not before asking him to bring his heirlooms to his grandmother in Baree Village.  When he arrived at the village after a long period of wandering, Collum's grandmother's kindness gave him a purpose, in quietly protecting his friend's village and family, while never letting on he was doing so.
    Now, none of this spoiler material.  All of it is revealed in the prologue or in the Getchu page.  However, a lot of people don't take second looks at AXL games because their art style is different from the current trends (though it has been refined over the years).  So I felt a need to go into more detail about the setting than is usual.
    Now, this game, is for the most part, a medieval slice-of-life game with occasional moments of serious drama (in both the common route and the heroine routes both).  This game probably has the darkest moments of any game made by this company, with the possible exception of Shugotate 2.  Cas was a master of assassination and misdirection, and there are times in each path where he gets to show off that expertise.  His primary weapon is the needle, followed by the long dagger.  He is also a master of poisons and various chemical concoctions which he uses to provide specific effects, which can range from mundane stuff like laughing endlessly to instant death or the complete loss of all memories.  
    The four heroines are Coreo, Thistle, Peony, and Jinnia.
    Jinnia is the princess of the Reste Kingdom in which Baree Village sits.  She is a proud but kind-hearted princess with high ideals who can nonetheless admit when she is wrong.  While she has led a very sheltered existence, she lacks the arrogant disregard for commoners which is common to her fellow aristocrats, and this leads to her being a much more interesting character than  most variations on the princess archetype.
    Coreo is the daughter of a former mercenary and bandit who has spent most of her young life looking after her father and his small gang, who now work mostly by hunting meat and exchanging it with the villagers for veggies and various other goods.  She fell in love with Cas at first sight and has been pursuing him for years, but she is innocent of most of the details of what goes on between men and women, which can lead to a number of amusing situations.
    Thistle (pronounced as Shizuru) is a poverty-stricken aristocrat girl living alone with her butler in the run-down manse at the edge of town.  She is sweet-natured and compassionate, as well as being a glutton with a stomach that seems to have a black hole inside.  She is also immensely clumsy, constantly tripping over her own feet or getting into other messes that put her in compromising positions (think lucky sukebe).  
    Peony is an apothecary/doctor (literal Japanese term is kusushi, which is a pre-modern word for a doctor who is trained in the use of herbal remedies as well as minor surgery and diagnosis of various common ills) who is dispatched to Baree Village shortly after the beginning of the story... and turns out to be Cas's estranged adopted sister.  Kind and impartial by nature, with a tendency to be harsh with Cas's apparent laziness, she serves as a tsukkomi character throughout much of the game.  She is also the game's main heroine, though none of the heroines are neglected in any way.
    I have already reviewed this game in the past, so I'll conclude by saying this is an excellent game with well-written routes with just the right balance between SOL and drama in a medieval setting.  For those who want something based outside of a school in modern Japan, this game is an excellent choice.
  3. Clephas
    The final game in the Silverio series enters with a whimper and exits with a bang.
    First, this game absolutely requires that you have played the previous two to appreciate.  Too much of what is going on requires understanding of concepts that aren't reintroduced but constantly referenced throughout the game.  This game is based only a few years after Trinity in Canterbury, the theocratic state ruled by a Japanophilic religion based on seeing old Japan as a sort of El Dorado.  
    I should note that the brief summary of the concept I am about to give WILL spoil parts of Trinity and Vendetta, so I am going to ask that anyone who wants to avoid these skip down past the next paragraph..  I also recommend that anyone who has played the previous two games that wants to start Ragnarok avoid the official website and store pages' descriptions and character profiles at all costs.  While most of the information there is revealed within the first hour or two of play, it does hurt the experience that so much is revealed just by reading up on the game in advance.
    Ragnarok starts as a revenge story, wherein the protagonist - Ragna - and his childhood friend - Misaki - set out to take revenge on the four immortal gods who founded and have ruled Canterbury for the past thousand years.  They are accompanied by Cecile, the current head of the Liberati family of Antalya and they are allied with Angelica, an Inquisitor of the Church.  
    Now, I should note that a recurring theme throughout the story is that the four immortals are not, as is standard to most stories, full of weak points that can be easily used against them.  They are immortals who have long-since left behind the weaknesses of their youth.  They have such an immensity of experience behind them that they have literally seen (in a general sense) every variation on rebellion, love, hate, betrayal, etc that humans have to offer.  In addition, their brains are still young, so they are constantly learning, and they instantly process everything around them based on preexisting experience.  I feel the need to make the distinction partly because it is constantly emphasized at every point of the story and in part because my own assumptions were sort of left in the dust by this approach to immortality.
    I'll be blunt, while the first scene is dramatic and awesome, the pacing of the early part of the game is pretty abrupt.  I think this is worth noting because it is out of character for Light, which tends to produce games that start out at a pretty deliberate pace before accelerating rapidly as you approach path splits.  This led to an uncharacteristic disconnect with the characters for me during much of the common route, which is perhaps the most negative part of this game.  In addition, there are a lot of aspects of this game that are more... intimately gut-wrenching and visceral than either of the previous two games.  In particular, any major scene that involves Izana threatens to give me nightmares, because she seems like someone you would normally see in a Clock Up game.  I also felt a constant sense of pity for all the people used by the antagonists.  To be honest, the degree to which the antagonists quite naturally manipulate people without it seeming like manipulation makes Gilbert from Trinity look open and honest.  
    Now for the main characters.  One thing I liked about this game is that the main characters had actual reasons for being so deadly beyond mere 'fate' or natural talent.  Ragna and Misaki are mercenaries (with Ragna having been an unwilling comrade of Dainslief at one point), Cecile was raised from birth to her role, and Angelica both has unmatched talent and has worked to polish it.  One problem that constantly hurts many chuunige is the obsessive tendency many games have to give massive power to someone who has no training, no knowledge, and no skills to use it.  It might make newbies find it easier to empathize with them, but for someone a bit more jaded it can be highly irritating.  
    The music in this game utilizes a mix of music from previous games in the series, as well as new tracks.  In this case, it works to the game's advantage, because it provides a distinct sense of continuity between the three entries in the series.  This is especially the case for the few SOL scenes and the less climactic battle scenes, where a new track would be unlikely to help.  
    For people who hate Izana as much as I do, Angelica's path can be seriously depressing at times.  Of the three paths, it pushes the plotting aspects of the four immortals into the forefront the most bluntly and in the most distasteful of ways.  There is no sense of the glorious (a common experience in Trinity and Vendetta) in the battles, save for one midway through, and there is a lot of devastation left in the wake of the story's progression (even by Light standards).  
    Angelica is an Inquisitor, as well as being the one in control of the foreign pleasure district, and she has a good brain to match.  This is a girl who has survived by hiding her rebelliousness and utter hatred for the four immortals for the entirety of her young life, always acting the obedient servant of the gods.  As such, she is as twisted up inside as some of the series' antagonists, and she makes Chitose from Vendetta seem simple and straightforward.  That said, she is an Amatsu, so she is predictably extreme in her loves and hates.
    This path's most excellent moments mostly concentrate near the end, with there being a lot of plotting and losing battles (which can get frustrating) in the middle.  That said, without the buildup of all those tragic and frustrating moments, this path wouldn't have turned out nearly as good.
    Cecile is the head of the Liberati, one of the Ten Families of Antalya, an oligarchic nation ruled by laissez-faire capitalism at its worst.  As such, she has a definite dark side... but with Ragna and Misaki she is easygoing and loving.  In fact, with Ragna she aggressively shows her loving side... while showing her bloodlust in private whenever they speak of the antagonists.  Other than Ragna and Misaki, she has the most intense hatred for the game's antagonists, and the impression of her as a blood-hungry avenger is only enhanced, rather than weakened, by her friendship with the other two avengers.
    Her path is more straightforward than Angelica's, but it still has a ton of plotting by the path's two primary antagonists.  What would be a perfect plan to the antagonist of a normal chuunige antagonist is only the first of many layers for the antagonists of this game, and this path shows the sheer cold-blooded nature of that plotting without the more grotesque aspects you see in Angelica's path.  I'd say that the battles in this path are slightly improved from that of Angelica's.
    ... it is fairly obvious that this is the true path from the beginning, but even without that, the fact that this path is literally 2.5 times longer than the other two heroine paths would tell you that in any case.  Misaki is Ragna's childhood friend, partner, almost-lover, and best friend all wrapped into one silver-haired package.  Normally, she is a cheerful, easygoing country girl with a slight tendency toward eccentricity.  However, in the worst kind of battles, she can show a cold harshness that is at odds with her normal persona.
    This path has so many turn and turn about moments that I won't bother to explain them here.  Just let it be said that this path was a fitting... a more than fitting end to the series that I wished would never end.  There are so many points where you think things are over and suddenly the apparently losing side turns the tables that after a while, I just felt like I was going to drop from sheer emotional exhaustion.  
    This is, by far, the most complex of the three games.  As such, it is also the most challenging for the reader to keep everything that is going on straight.  Considering that both Vendetta and Trinity were fairly complex, even as chuunige go, that is definitely saying something.  I will say that, while the pacing can be choppy toward the beginning, once things really get going in the heroine paths, that clears itself up pretty quickly.  This game, like most Light chuunige, has great battles, great characters, great writing, and a great story... and it probably will never get translated, lol.
    I'm sad to see this series end, and I am even more sad not to know the future of Light's staff or even the Light name (I'm still hoping that Akabei will keep the team together).  However, if it had to end, it does end on a bang.
  4. Clephas
    Kanojo-tachi no Ryuugi is a game made by 130cm back in 2006, during the 'golden age of VN innovation'.  Like many of the games made during this period, it is far less bound by convention than you see in modern VNs, which has its ups and downs (as most games from this era do).  In this case, the most striking element for modern VN readers would probably be the fact that the protagonist is fully voiced.  The second is that, in most of the H-scenes (of which there are plenty), the females are the dominant side and the protagonist isn't a bed yakuza even when he is dominant, for the most part.  
    Essentially, this game's story begins when Kotaro, the protagonist, is called back to his estranged family's home after his mother dies of illness.  There, his twin older sisters, Tobari and Akane are waiting for him... but their attitudes are odd.  Akane, the older sister, has become active, mischievous, and selfish, and Tobari, the younger, has become a cold, expressionless young woman.  There is no sense that he is welcomed into his old home, despite the fact that he and his sisters were once very close.  
    Things become a bit clearer when he discovers his sisters are vampires (and bisexual), and he ends up having sexual relations with both of them (Tobari reverse-rape and Akane essentially psychologically cornering him into doing it).  Worse, there is no sense of actual affection from either of his sisters, who apparently can draw sustenance from the acts.
    Now, the reason why I drew out these initial scenes is because they aren't really spoilers (my rule limiting spoilers to the prologue at max), is because you need to understand that this, typically of most of 130cm's games, is a heavily incestuous story (literally and metaphorically) with some seriously twisted relationships resulting.  There is love, but it is often only referenced laterally or after a great deal of pain on all sides.  Kotaro has serious hangups that keep him from forming healthy relationships with anyone (mostly because of his weird relations with his sisters, Tobari in particular), and the girls aren't that much better.
    Really, it is recommended that Suzuki and Seseri be handled first by most people who read this VN, but I always end up going for Tobari first... mostly because figuring out all that is going on in her head is seriously hard the first time around.  Tobari is a genius in general but also a genius when it comes to acting in particular.  The drama club and its play, which serve a central role in all the paths to one degree or another, is her idea, as is drawing in Kotaro as the heroine (yes, he does dress up).  While there is another club president, she is the obvious leader of the club.  Moreover, her forceful personality and overwhelming acting talent pretty much keep anyone else from really even considering disobedience toward her.  
    Her relationship with Kotaro, in their childhood, was that of really close siblings, but the changes she began to experience (vampires in this setting are atavistic throwbacks to previous generations who lose the ability to have children, live eternally, and must consume blood or life energy through sexual intercourse in order to survive) shattered their family without Kotaro every knowing why.
    Her attitude toward Kotaro is cold and distant, except when she suddenly draws him into sexual relations or the drama club in general.  She loves Akane and will show emotion toward her easily, but in most other matters, her expression remains flat.  Her path is a journey of unwinding the twisted ball of yarn that is her emotions toward Kotaro and the circumstances that make everything about their relationship difficult.
    Akane is technically the older sister, but at first glance, you would guess her to be the younger.  She is more active, she is less mature, and she has no intention of controlling any of her impulses.  Anything that feels good (drinking blood, having sex with Kotaro, eating food, etc) is good for her, and she has no interest in struggling to do anything she doesn't feel like doing.  
    As a child, Akane was sickly to the extreme, rarely leaving her bed and unable to do even the simplest of activities for the  most part.  For her, vampirism was salvation, though it cost her five years with her younger brother (she does care, but her hedonistic nature dominates mostly).  While she isn't precisely affectionate toward Kotaro (there is some affection, but, again, her hedonism tends to hide it), she is affectionate and loving toward Tobari.  Despite this, Tobari can be considered to be the 'dependent twin' of the two.
    Akane's path is more about dealing with Akane's own inability to understand certain aspects of her sister's feelings toward Kotaro, the harmful aspects of her impulsiveness, and Kotaro himself.  It is more straightforward than Tobari's path, but it also has some serious issues, some of them leftover from before she became a vampire.
    Suzuki is a misanthrope who only trusts Seseri.  She is described as 'excruciatingly beautiful', but her manner, especially toward Kotaro, tends toward the acidic in the best of times.  She has a rather extreme version of the aversion many women of her age have for sexuality in general, though it does have a good reason.  
    Her path is more about Kotaro getting past his siscon and her getting past her dislike of him (and herself) than anything else.  Of the heroines, she is by far the most psychologically fragile, despite her thorny persona.  She understands Kotaro the best of the heroines, when it comes down to it on a fundamental level, and this becomes rather evident toward the conclusion of the path.
    Seseri is your standard deredere kouhai and Suzuki's best friend.  Seseri is a really straightforward and innocent girl who hits everything head on, yet she is also sensitive enough to get down in the dumps at times, though she usually gets right back up.  The very first scene of the game has her confessing her love to Kotaro and him refusing her.  
    Her path on the surface seems to be an odd couple romance, but in fact it is a bit different.  Seseri's feelings toward Kotaro never change, she loves him and she is really open about this fact.  
    Honoka's path splits off pretty late from Akane's path, before things get all twisted up with Tobari and requires that you have played Akane's path to pursue.  Honoka is the retainer (not maid) for the Shirogane family (Tobari and Akane) and a sort of blood bag for the two vampires.  On the surface she is a mature older woman, but underneath she is pretty girly.  
    Her path is the most straightforward romance in the game, with an incident bringing her feelings for Kotaro into the open and forcing her to confront them.  She has some real-life hangups that make for some mild drama toward the end, but her path ends on a pretty familiar (for charage readers) note.
    Chisato is the game's tsundere osananajimi, and she is also perhaps the most template of the heroines.  For this reason alone, I would have wanted to avoid her path, but since I'd already gone through all the other  paths, I felt I had to finish hers as well.  This is perhaps the only path in the game where the protagonist's past is revealed in something other than the words of the protagonist and heroines.  There are a few flashback scenes that are pretty revealing about a young Tobari and Chisato, and it does add to the story in general... but it also felt like the writer was favoring the least interesting heroine in the game a bit excessively.
    Like all the heroines except Seseri, she has issues.  Chisato has an inferiority complex toward Tobari, whom she considers a friend (Kotaro also has one toward Tobari), and she is by nature a hard worker who makes up for a lack of talent by putting more effort and time into things.  The path is pretty revealing about Tobari as well... however, it feels like Tobari's path should have been the one route-locked, not Chisato's, in the end.
    Black Moon
    There is no need to hide this, but this is the game's true ending.  This ending serves as an alternate ending to Tobari's path and is fairly dramatic.  To be honest, I found this about ten times more interesting than most of the other paths in this game, save for Tobari's original one... which is probably the point.  the first half of this path is the Tobari path told entirely from Tobari's point of view up until a certain turning point, where Kotaro takes an action that is different from the original.  
    This game has a number of flaws, not the least of which that there really only needed to be three heroines (Honoka, Tobari, and Akane) and the fact that the actual paths feel abrupt at points, showing the peculiarly odd pacing that was common to a lot of games from the time.  However, it is also a nice game for people who like messed up and twisted relationships that don't stray into NTR or rape-related stuff.  
  5. Clephas
    Realive is Purple Soft's latest game.  For those unfamiliar with Purple Soft, they are the makers of Hapymaher and Chrono clock, and their specialty lies in nakige with fantasy and/or sci-fi elements.  As an example, Chrono Clock has the time-manipulation watch, Amatsutsumi has 'kotodama' (the ability to control people and some phenomena with words), and Aoi Tori has divine and demonic powers.  In this case, the characters are drawn into playing an AR game called Alive, which grants them strange abilities based on how far they have progressed in the game.  Since these abilities actually bring about real life results, I call it a 'mystical app', lol.
    Anyway, this game was written by Nakahiro of Hoshimemo and AstralAir fame.  In combination with the sheer eroero nature of Purple Soft's artists' character designs (since his previous works that weren't nukige were mostly 'cute' games) it definitely presents a different picture from what you would expect from Nakahiro at first... but as you progress through the game, you will inevitably - if you have played his previous games - come to recognize similarities in how he handles the emotional and comedic elements to his previous works. 
    The common route of this game is mostly light-hearted, though it shows at times the deep worries the various heroines and protagonist have (on the surface level).  For those familiar with Hapymaher (which is translated), it becomes evident that Nakahiro is a fanboy of that particular work pretty early on, as he deliberately inserted many small easter eggs into the character personalities and settings that are drawn from the characters of Hapymaher.  Sadly, he doesn't seem to have been fond of Saki (how could anyone play that and not love Saki?!!) but the heroines seem to have carried on a lot of elements from Hapymaher characters for some reason... though I won't spoil it for you.  Have fun figuring out which characters inherited which Hapymaher elements, lol.
    Anyway, there are four heroine routes in this game and one Grand Route (just a different name for a true route, save that it usually has a bigger focus on resolving central elements of the main game's story as opposed to the heroines' individual ones).  I'll introduce the heroines as I go.
    Kaya is, on the surface, your classic arrogant/selfish ojousama.  She has distinct manipulative tendencies and a strong need to be on top, no matter what the situation.  However, that surface hides a crybaby who lived a sheltered but strictly-regulated existence that tried to squeeze all traces of personality out of her.  This is not that uncommon in ojousama heroines, but the way Kaya is presented is cute, generally speaking.  Her class is Alchemist, which oversees destruction and creation of objects.
    Like all the four initial heroine routes, this one focuses on resolving Kaya's issues as she tries to complete the game, which is often difficult, since the conditions of the missions given by the game are often vague and designed to help the characters grow and face their inner demons... and Kaya's demons are a doozy (those this can be said about all the heroines to one extent or another).  While some of her issues might seem minor to someone looking from the outside in, it is nonetheless made easy for the reader to empathize with her suffering.
    This path was my first experience with how the endings were going to be handled for this game... and the ending was something of an exercise in frustration for me, primarily because there is so much hinting at the background setting without giving me answers to match up with my suppositions.  In addition, since we have no way to see how things progressed between the events at the climax of the path to the epilogue (this is deliberately not spoken of), I found myself wishing that they'd left epilogues to after the game was done completely.
    Minato is a loner by choice, living a hard life working part-time jobs to keep her in food and shelter while attending high school.  She actively hates the idea of trusting others, and she resents deeply the hypocrisy of those who try to help her out of pity.  Normally, she presents the picture of a 'koakuma' heroine (and that's what she is), but she is also a rather obvious tsundere, albeit one who only shows her true tsun when someone manages to embarrass her.  Her class is Trickster. 
    Minato's path is... much more viscerally emotional and at the same time amusing than Kaya's path.  I chose her second because she was the other 'outlier' heroine amongst the four initially available (I almost always pick heroines who aren't already close to or in love with the protagonist first, since osananajimi and deredere classmates are usually boring).  She resists both the idea and reality of her romantic feelings for Chihaya (the protagonist) for a long time, and her reactions to those feelings were just hilarious... up until the point she finally gets down to being deredere, then she is even more clingy than Kaya, and that takes work.
    Minato's theme is 'overcoming dependence and making peace with the past', and it was much more effectively executed than Kaya's path... that said, i do still have complaints with how the epilogue was handled.  However, that's the case with all of the four initial endings, so I'm just going to grin and bear it.
    I'll go ahead and get this out in the open.  Nemuru and Satsuki are the heroines I had no interest in from the beginning.  Satsuki is an osananajimi in the classic 'cooks and cleans for him' style (albeit not tsundere for the most part) and Nemuru is your typical shy girl who has trouble speaking with men.  Nemuru's class is, ironically (at least on the surface) Idol, and her skills are all centered around gathering or controlling the attention of others. 
    My major problem with Nemuru's path came down to the fact that Nemuru was the heroine, in the end.  As a path, it is actually fairly good, even if it lacked a lot of the non-standard twists and turns seen in the previous two paths (incidentally why I picked those two heroines first).  However, Nemuru's character was irritating to me (shy heroines who remain shy for most of the game drive me crazy), and while she grows a great deal as she overcomes her trauma (much like the previous two), I was left unmoved due to my lack of interest in her. 
    Again, her path is technically good, and a less-jaded player would undoubtedly be able to empathize more with her (the me of two or three years ago probably could have), but I've grown used to not bothering to tolerate heroines I don't like of late, so my reaction was probably inevitable.
    Satsuki is the osananajimi neighbor, living with her younger sister Yayoi.  She constantly wants to take care of people, especially the protagonist, and she intentionally matches her time leaving the house to his... do I have to enumerate anymore reasons why I left this path to last?  lol
    Anyway, Satsuki has a strongly self-sacrificing personality with an intense desire to help and protect others.  This is reflected in her class, which is Knight.  Her path is perhaps the second most emotional (for me) so far, right behind Minato's.  That said, her existence as an osananajimi and an essentially 'normal' person pretty much eliminated any possibility of me preferring her as a heroine, hahaha.  Her path is all about overcoming the loss of something precious, and as such, it is inevitably a tear-jerker. 
    Grand Route
    Early in the Grand Route, the reason for the links to Hapymaher become clear, and about a third way through, it becomes clear why all the events in the other path occurred.  I'll be blunt... you'll probably spend most of the first third of this path in tears, if you have a heart.  It is also an extremely familiar set of themes and setting ideas for someone who has read Hapymaher, so I can clearly state that this game is a Hapymaher derivative rather than just supposing it might be. 
    This path forces the protagonist and the heroines to face their largest trauma, the one not mentioned even slightly in the other paths.  This trauma... is bad enough that I'd honestly be tempted to rename this an utsuge.  However, typical to Purple Soft's nakige brand, the ending is a happy one, if somewhat bittersweet.  I know I cried.  I will say that the protagonist's solution to the problem was... novel and typically convenient of a Japanese nakige, lol.
  6. Clephas
    I hadn't paid attention, but this series was apparently made by a subsidiary of the same company that owns Minato Soft... which explains the familiarity of the humor and the sound effects.
    Shukusei no Girlfriend 2
    This entry in the series focuses on Maya, the heroine who serves as an antagonist initially in the first game.  Maya is a very straightforward girl with a strong desire to take care of those younger than her.  She is very much a warrior maiden with a strong motherly side (which she shows frequently).  She is also a tennen character, meaning the humor in her path lies mostly in her continual failure to understand exactly what is going on until it smashes her in the face... particularly when it comes to the protagonist's normal sexual desires.
    Unlike Yuuri, is a misandrist, Maya is more of a tennen boke (one of those types who doesn't recognize romantic inclinations for what they are).
    Shukusei no Girlfriend 3
    This path focuses on Kanoko, Yuuri's best friend and the slightly yandere-ish girl you are introduced to in the first game.  Unlike the first two, which occur around the same time period (2 starts about a month or two after the point where 1 began), this one occurs a year later, after Maya and Petra have settled solidly into their new roles.  Unlike the previous two games, which forced the heroine and protagonist (Seiji) together within the first ten to twenty minutes of the game, this one takes about twice as long to reach that point, showing Seiji gradually falling for Kanoko while Kanoko comes to realize he exists (Kanoko isn't exactly a people person).
    This is the longest of the three games... the first two each took up about four hours of my time, whereas this one took up about five and a half hours.  This is perhaps because of Kanoko being the most complex of the three heroines by several degrees...  There are a few serious points to this game, but even during the serious points there is a lot of ecchi, H, and comedy.  Kanoko's dere is... dangerous.  Well, all three heroines have a powerful dere (constructed by several months alone with the protagonist), but Kanoko's stands out for the fact that she is a closet pervert of a rather hard persuasion as well as a natural nympho.  Well that, and I liked the long stretch there in the middle where 
    Fujiko Disc
    Fujiko's path is of decent length, and it is basically an ichaicha-only path with none of the battle time you see intermittently in the other paths.  Nor does it have an actual plot.  Rather, it uses the same setup as Yuuri's path from the first game to create a live-together situation between Fujiko and the protagonist, with the result that they end up together.  
    Overall for the series
    This is a pretty good series of games if you want to play something heavy on ecchi, ichaicha, and Minato soft style comedy.  If you are looking for tentacle rape and aku-ochi, you will be (mostly) disappointed.  
  7. Clephas
    Shukusei no Girlfriend is the first of three games in the series, based in a world where mahou shoujo-like girls calling themselves Stars fight demons to protect humanity... a pretty standard setting that, in most games, would mean lots of tentacles, aku-ochi, and general mayhem that would range from the mildly distasteful to the outright disgusting.  While in anime (non-hentai) most mahou shoujo are fairly straightforward and rigidly formulaic battle anime, in VNs, mahou shoujo usually end up on the wrong side of tentacles and/or monsters in the worst kind of way.  Shukusei no Girlfriend, however, is neither... it is essentially a series of live-together rom-com vns.  
    This one focuses on Yuuri, the genius wielder of light magic whose power is only matched by her arrogance, laziness, and narcissism.  Normally, she puts on the face of being your standard 'pleasant to everyone' girl, but when in her Stars form, she shows her self-worshiping face as she exterminates massive numbers of Demons with her powerful light magic.  Unfortunately, one night, she gets mortally wounded while failing to protect the protagonist (Seiji) and their lives get linked together... and they can't go more than a meter away from one another without dying.  Yay! A perfect excuse for a live-together rom-com!  
    Anyway, Yuuri is a bit of a misandrist, and at first there is a bit of mild domestic violence.  However, the game soon shifts to a mix of ecchi, Yuuri being hilariously arrogant and occasionally showing her weak points.  Generally speaking, the actual plot of this game is nonexistent to weak, but it is a generally amusing experience with nice ichaicha, an excellent cast of equally amusing female character, and a great ending (I love ten years later endings).  
  8. Clephas
    The Recluce Saga, despite being a somewhat niche 'high fantasy' novel series, is perhaps one of the largest and most monolithic such series to have been written in the last forty years.  Beginning back in the eighties and spanning more than twenty books now, it is LE Modesitt Jr.'s signature series, the series that propelled him from a somewhat eccentric author of varying science fantasy and science fiction novels and series to one of the quiet dominators of high fantasy as a genre.  
    The Recluce Saga setting is defined by wars, conflicts, and clashes between normal society and the mages of the two forces known as chaos and order.  Chaos is energy, change, destruction, and entropy, whereas order is structure, reinforcement, defense, and healing/restoration.  It is very easy, if you read the early books, to regard users of chaos as 'evil', and it is true that a disproportionate number of them are evil.  Order users find it extremely difficult (painful and sometimes deadly) to be dishonest in any fashion, to kill, and even to touch edged weapons at times.  Chaos users fling firebolts, break down the structure of objects, and corrupt/corrode the people and world around them.  Chaos users and those who are touched by chaos are natural liars and deceivers, often selfish and ambitious, and they generally can't be trusted at all. 
    However, later books, regarding the foundation of Hamor and the Cyador era (both in the past) show that there are chaos users who escape the fate of those who not only use chaos but let it into their souls.  Lorn'alte is a man who has the passion and ambition of a chaos user, combined with the idealism and sense of what is right that one who can also touch order possesses.  In a nation built on the use of chaos, he sees what is best about his nation and strives to make it stronger, even as the forces of those whose ambitions are entirely selfish and those driven by irrational fears try to destroy him again and again.  Lerial, the second son of the Duke of Cigoerne, has a journey from a somewhat petulant child of a chaos wizard to a mature adult who understands the costs and necessities of protecting the fledgling nation his grandmother formed.  Perhaps the greatest gift these two series granted me, as a long-time reader of the series, was transforming white mages from faceless schemers and destroyers to people with cares and woes not so different from the average person, just enhanced by their power.
    The earlier books primarily focus on events around Recluce and the order users.  Recluce is a nation formed by one of the most powerful weather mages (weather magic being born of order) in history and a gray mage who was bound to him.  Recluce is a nation born as a refuge of order users, who are often disliked by those in power because their benefits are subtle and their ability to see truth (and the knowledge they don't lie) is well-known to the average person.  However, by the time of the first book (Magic of Recluce) Recluce is one of the greatest powers in the world (a defensive-isolationist power but still a power), with steam ships made out of black iron and mage-engineers forging weapons that no chaos mage can stand against.  Most of the protagonists of the various arcs of the early series are young men who are idealistic order mages, who don't learn until after many painful trials and tribulations that the world is what it is and what is right is not necessarily what is.  This is an issue for many young order mages, apparently, because of their tendency to view what is right as what should be (order mages have a tendency toward rational morality that is somewhat rigid).  Moreover, as a result of their journeys through life, they experience suffering on enormous scales, as they must deal with the world's backlash to their attempts to make it better.  Many end up unleashing terrible destruction and change upon the world, ironically creating the very chaos they themselves sought to reduce.
    And that comes to the nature of the Balance.  In the world of the Recluce saga, the two forces are always, no matter what, evenly matched.  For every iota of order energy in the world, whether bound in objects or free in the world, there will always be an equal amount of chaos present.  As Recluce builds itself up, chaos mages become more plentiful and powerful, and it becomes possible for Recluce and artificers in general to make better and more effective weapons from iron and steel, thus also incrementally increasing the amount of free chaos in the world.
    Most of the protagonists in the Recluce saga are good people at heart, often forced into situations where they have no choice but to kill, destroy, and bring about change in order to make things better for the future.  They are people who can see beyond the immediate, who often see generations and centuries into the future, and they possess the inner steel necessary to change things... even as their actual desires are often more humble in origin, to have a family, to be able to work a forge without fear of caprice from the powerful, to see that their female children not be used as chattels, etc.  This is a theme throughout most of Modesitt's fantasy, as the basic motivations of his characters are humble while resulting in great change, because of the expanded viewpoint they gain as a result of their journeys through life.  
  9. Clephas
    Orefuka is the newest game by Hulotte, a company infamous for making extremely ecchi charage with actual plot.  In this game, the protagonist, Haruki, is given pills that make him invisible by a net idol named Kusunoha Chitose, and he begins using it to stand in the same room while the heroines get naked, masturbate, etc without even a hint of hesitation.
    Haruki is a young man who sees everything around him as an opportunity for fun, and he sees not having fun as a waste of time.  If he finds an idea or activity interesting, he will do it without hesitation, and he doesn't hide the fact that he wants to see all the heroines naked at all.  That said, he is not just an open pervert protagonist.  Rather, he uses his open perversion to hide a tendency toward quietly helping those around him, though he isn't always aware that is what he is doing.
    The common path is an endless series of him sneaking in to see the heroines naked along with comical reactions, and SOL scenes full of heroines either going along with his 'nori' or acting in the tsukkomi position.  
    Nayuri is the student council president, a brilliant young woman with an eidetic memory, as well as one of the heroines who goes along with the protagonist, constantly dropping hints that she doesn't have any problem with him going through with his openly-stated desires involving her.  Her route is... extremely ecchi.  There is serious drama in toward the end, but it is resolved in a classic manner that was so predictable I had to shrug and give a wry smile.  I did like that she turned out to be a total nympho and she wasn't kidding at all in the common route.
    Ame is the protagonist's cousin who lives with him and her older sister.  She refers to him as 'nii-san' and is fairly obviously in love with him, even before a certain scene in the common route.  She is very serious and straight-laced on the surface, but under the surface is an endless lake of deredere brocon imouto jelly.  As the game's resident tsundere, quite naturally her dere is pretty ridiculously adorable.  However, the sheer amount of effort it takes to get to that point in her route is seriously ridiculous.  It doesn't help that her route is one of those 'sex before confession of love' routes.
    On the surface, Kohaku is what is referred to as a 'cool beauty'.  She doesn't show her emotions, and she has a tendency to just quietly do what is required of her without complaint.  However, she is actually has the most common sense of all the heroines (including Ame, who is essentially a pool of molten dere inside whose common sense melts away when it comes to nii-san), and it shows in the way she gets together with Haruki.  Unlike the two paths above, it isn't a 'sex before confession' route, and it makes sense that way, seeing as she is the most 'distant' of the four heroines initially available (Chitose being locked).  The lack of intensive previously-existing intimacy (emotional or physical) means their relationship comes together in a more natural form.  
    Kohaku's path after the romance is formed is a bit more of a 'kandou' (touching in a non-cathartic way) type, as opposed to the somewhat nakige (and nearly identical) drama at the end of the previous two paths.  Kohaku is also a lot more straight-up adorable than Ame and Nayuri from the beginning (Ame being a tsundere and Nayuri being a mischief-making oneesan type).  
    Towa is what is called a 'gyaru' heroine, a heroine who dresses and does makeup in such a way that it is both flashy and fashionable (by Japanese standards).  One thing I should note about these heroines is that there is a huge gap between them in nukige and charage/moege.  Gyaru heroines in charage/moege are usually using their fashion-love to cover up a fragile but kind/sweet heart and/or some kind of trauma.  In nukige, they are usually nymphos who are selling their bodies on the side.  Keep in mind that this is one area where the two umbrella genres split rather dramatically.
    Towa is a kind-hearted kouhai with a love of gaming who is very weak to peer pressure.  She is pretty obviously deredere over Haruki (like most of the heroines) from the beginning, but she isn't self-aware enough to realize it.  Her path stands out in the way it handles the plot device that played such a huge role in Nayuri and Ame's paths, as well as the 'different' approach it had.  Sorry I can't go into specifics without spoiling it, but this particular template was used in a very conventional fashion in Nayuri's and Ame's paths, whereas Towa's path gives it something of a twist.  Towa and Haruki's relationship is something of a traditional 'transition from good friends to lovers' path, albeit without quite as much in the way of relationship drama as such situations tend to bring up in charage that don't have a story to provide real drama.  Towa does have a personal issue that becomes central to the path in general, but it isn't quite as severe as Nayuri's or Ame's.  Overall, it was a good path, though not a godly one.
    Chitose is the game's true heroine and the provider (AKA drug dealer) who provides Haruki with the invisibility pills.  She is a virtual idol who attracts her followers through a mix of random daytime talk, cute mannerisms, and humorous interactions with them through paid comments.  Haruki is also one of her most devoted followers.  While she seems whimsical and easygoing on the surface, underneath lies an endless sea of desperate loneliness and self-denigration.  
    That said, her path seems to be one of hope regained, despite the way it begins (incidentally, the scene where things start to tip toward romance is unbelievably rofl-worthy, hahaha), up until the point where you run into her underlying trauma...  though, needless to say, this trauma is resolved to an extent (as you would expect, since this isn't an utsuge) and she is 'saved' (truthfully, after playing this path, I wince to think of her fate in the ones besides Towa's).
    Harem Scenes
    This is basically an extra scenario where you can pick from a number of sub-heroine and threesome 'endings' that don't have any story.  It doesn't add anything but fap material and laughs, lol.
    Overall, this is a decent game for someone who wants a charage with high ecchi and H content and a central storyline.  I'll probably forget this game fairly soon (charage are usually forgettable, even when they have stories), but I can still honestly say it is a good VN.  In particular, the way the protagonist uses the invisibility and gets used to staring at Ame naked regardless of the path (it becomes routine, which his funny in and of itself) makes me laugh.
  10. Clephas
    To be clear, I dropped this game today after about nine hours of playtime, mostly because I wasn't getting any joy out of it.  That's not to say the story wasn't interesting, but...
    Anyway, Soushin no Ars Magna is the most recent release from Ninetail, the rpg-focused sister brand of Dual Tail, the makers of the Venus Blood series... and it shows.  
    This game reuses a modified version of the gameplay from Venus Blood Brave, which was a more dungeon-exploration oriented game than previous entries, which tended to split between conquest strategy and dungeon defense or invasion.  To be blunt, this was probably a poor choice for a game where alchemy plays such an integral part.
    The dungeon exploration in the game is focused on you moving your party down specified paths one point at a time, hitting traps, enemies, treasure, or materials based on the point.  This isn't necessarily an awful idea... except that for purposes of gathering materials for alchemy, it makes things unnecessarily tedious.  While alchemy-based rpgs and dungeon crawlers are generally at least a little tedious at times, the relatively low returns for dungeon exploration, whether in terms of money and resources or in terms of experience and materials, makes it necessary to abuse the free dungeons... and since you can't just get what you want then leave immediately and the materials aren't always the same, this can be frustrating.  This also means that there is no real sense of exploration, which is one of the attractions of a dungeon explorer game in the first place.
    Story-wise, the game definitely has possibilities... but the sheer amount of grinding it takes just to strengthen your party through level gaining, finding crests, and alchemy makes it feel like you do a lot for relatively little reward.  Considering that I'm comparing this to Venus Blood games at their worst, that should tell you a lot.  
    My impression of this game is a half-hearted attempt to reuse a more polished version of a previous system to make a few extra bucks.  While the story has possibilities, the game balance is iffy at best, and the lack of better customization items speaks of laziness on the part of the makers.  
  11. Clephas
    Kami-sama no You na Kimi e is the latest game by Cube, and it is based in a near-future setting where AIs run just about every aspect of society.  In this society, people have gotten past that raw terror of AI horror stories and have pretty much accepted the the ease and luxury of having AI run most of the important things that make civilization possible.  
    At the beginning of the story, the protagonist, Kaito, is hacking into Central AI, the AI based on the Moon that runs most of the world's infrastructure.  Triumphantly, he succeeds, essentially gaining control over the AI that rules the world... and the one thing he asks for before getting out of the system is for it to find his ideal girlfriend, which the system then says doesn't exist.  Kaito, quite naturally, is a bit down after this, but he goes to sleep more or less normally... only to answer the door in the morning to find his ideal girl standing outside.
    Quite naturally, this ideal girl is Tsukuyomi, the game's flagship heroine and the embodiment of Central AI in girl form.  As requested, she is already completely deredere over him, and a great deal of the common route has him running from her excessively sexual approaches.  In the days after this, like dominoes falling in a row, he meets a number of attractive heroines, and he shows off the usual donkan protagonist routine almost constantly when it matters.
    Now, just from this, you'd think this was your standard charage... but in actuality, it is a lot closer to a plotge in structure.  The heroines have real issues, the protagonist doesn't flake out or become less interesting as you proceed, and the paths actually have solid stories that involve most of the game's cast of characters.  For someone who wants an SOL plotge with some decent drama in a futuristic setting, this game is pure crack.
    I probably should have left her for last, but I played Tsukuyomi's path first.  Tsukuyomi is the game's obvious main heroine, the girl who is most prominent on the package and in the advertising, and in general is the one most central in the common route.  In most cases, I don't like 'no common sense' heroines, but Tsukuyomi manages to pull it off without it feeling excessively contrived, which is actually a feat, considering she is a robot heroine.  It is helped along by the fact that Kaito generally accepts that Tsukuyomi is what she is, has no illusions about her nature, and is perfectly fine with her being a different existence from himself.  
    Her story is your usual deredere heroine romance at first, but it quickly goes dramatic about midway through, for reasons that should be fairly obvious.  While the templated turn of events in this path is not revolutionary, it is well-executed and interesting.  There is even a truly surprising and emotional moment near the end that had me crying.  That, in itself, makes this path a success.  My only real complaint is that this path lacked an epilogue to tie off the story.
    Rein is the cold-hearted student council president, an honor student with a black heart and an overabundance of pride.  Her path branches off from Tsukuyomi's path and is a great deal weaker, at least in my opinion.  To be honest, this path was kind of 'meh' for me, since it never revealed anything important about the details of what was going on with Rein beyond the basics that were revealed in Tsukuyomi's path, which is a huge weakness in a plotge or a charage.  While the protagonist remains a cool and interesting character, the failures of this path are really glaring.
    Worse, the same as Tsukuyomi's path, there is no real epilogue, meaning you don't get to find out what happened after.
    Rana... Rana is the heroine on the cover dressed like Sherlock Holmes, a cosplay uniform she wears nearly constantly.  As it indicates, she is a private detective and extremely intelligent... but also fairly perverted (she has a thing for Kaito's butt).  Her path... let's just say it is surprising and diverges widely from the events in Tsukuyomi's path (I didn't really like how Tsukuyomi almost became a non-entity in her path, but meh...).  This path... is a bit depressing, to be honest.  Oh, if you choose the Rana-only good ending, it is actually pretty good and heart-warming at the end, but the process you go through to reach that point is pretty hard if you came to like Rana.
    Sophia/Sophia & Rana
    At first glance, Sophia seems like your standard 'yurufuwa oneesan', but she is actually a fairly intelligent adult (yes, she is the adult heroine in this game).  She is Rana's older sister and one of those involved in developing the S-CHIP, an AI chip designed to be implanted into the human brain as an aid to those who have brain diseases.  Sophia's 'path' diverges from Rana's during the darkest period of Rana's path, and... to be honest, while it is easy to understand why it happens, this path is fairly unusual/stand out for a modern VN for reasons I'm not going to spell out here.  
    Anyway, toward the end of Sophia's path, you have to decide whether you want the protagonist to be with just Sophia or with both Sophia and Rana... of course, after a seriously awkward set of events.  Generally, I recommend the Sophia and Rana choice... the guilt-trip you get from choosing just Sophia is pretty awful.
    Kirika is the protagonist's fellow loner, a girl who accuses him of stalking her because they keep meeting whenever they are trying to find places to be alone.  Her secret comes out relatively early in the common route, but I'll keep it quiet since it is funnier if you don't know in advance.  Her path actually begins very much like a charage path.  It is only toward the end where it becomes as deadly serious as the other paths above.  Indeed, in some ways it is the grimmest and most shocking of the paths, even compared to the depressing aspects of Rana's path.  It is also the path where the other heroines showed the least amount of relevance, a fact that I have mixed feelings about, considering how powerful the characters are.
    Similar to most of the paths above, this path's greatest weakness is the fact that while it does have a conclusion, it doesn't have an epilogue or after-story to tie off the last few loose ends.  For that reason, I'm pretty sure they are planning a fandisc, as I can't see them leaving things as is.
    Airi has the dubious honor of having the single weakest path in the game.  She is a net idol that the protagonist meets in the course of interacting with Kirika, and her main focus in life is on her work, despite being the youngest heroine.  Unfortunately, she is also the least unusual personality in the group, meaning that her character is by far the weakest... and her path follows suit.  Where the other paths had somewhat grandiose episodes that showed off the darkest aspects of an over-connected society, Airi's path's drama feels like an extension of internet trolling, so I had trouble getting into it.  
    A good game with a solid setting and characters, this is probably a good choice for those who want a decent near-future sci-fi plotge who have already played Komorebi no Nostalgica and Missing X-Link.  Tsukuyomi is an above-average AI heroine, though she falls short of the genius of Cinema and Fluorite from Komorebi or the raw emotions experienced with the AIs in Missing X-Link.  It's greatest flaw is how it handles the endings, a common flaw in modern VNs that seems to be born of the bad habits of the fandisc-loving charage companies.  It's greatest strength lies in the way it manages to keep the protagonist, the heroines, and the story interesting while balancing it with enough SOL to make them feel real in the first place.  
  12. Clephas
    I'm not going to lie... Erect is an appropriate name for this game in a number of ways.  However, this game is, despite the name, not a pure nukige.  Rather, it is more of a romantic (actually romantic, not just playing at it) charage with high sexual content (about 6 H-scenes in the common route and something like eight to ten in each path).  Now, this is the game that got me paying attention to Astronauts as a company, and it is from Astronauts: Spica, a subsidiary that has so far only produced this game and Aozora Stripe.  
    The first thing that stands out about this game is that all the heroines are succubi (in the classic sense).  In the setting, succubi live alongside humans and have chosen to adapt to modern society by finding ways to survive without rape (lol).  An interesting fact of the setting is that when succubi/incubi have children together, their powers actually weaken instead of getting stronger, whereas when they have children with humans the resulting child is more powerful and always a succubus or incubus.  
    The protagonist, Kento, is a serious, sincere, and kind-hearted young man who works at his father's flower shop and is learning flower arrangement from his father.  He provides flower arrangements to the local hospital for free as volunteer work, and he is generally the type of guy any community would love to have.  He and Luna, the game's main heroine have a sort of weird platonic relationship going on at the beginning, where she waves to him from her balcony and he waves back on his way to school.  It is cute in a really archaic way, and it is one of the reasons why I actually thought of this game more as a romance than a nukige.
    Now, when he happens to encounter Luna in a berserk state in her true form, she drains him (just by touching him) in a way that would turn most people into a mummy.  However, he wakes up shortly after that, just fine and dandy.  This leads to him 'helping' her handle her overwhelming powers as a royal succubus (yes, that way) and attending the local international boarding school, which is a front for succubi and incubi to learn how to live amongst humans.  
    Generally speaking, the game is split between culture shock shimoneta jokes, heroines being cute and falling for Kento in classic harem-ge style, and h-scenes born out of the heroines being unable to control their nympho genes in the common route.  The heroine routes, however, are surprisingly thoughtfully written.  The heroines have realistic worries based on their personalities, the parts of them hidden behind the casual eros and natural shimoneta talk come out, and there were actually scenes where I cried throughout the VN because of the intensity of emotion on the characters' parts.
    This game has always been a quiet favorite of mine, simply because it took the best of romance, charage, and even nukige and somehow made a package that couldn't quite fit into any of those categories.  The music is actually fairly high quality (above the industry average), and the art style is surprisingly attractive, even now that it looks somewhat dated in retrospect.  For those who want more than casual eros, there are some really strange H-scenes in this game (the girls are succubi, after all), and it never goes down and gets dirty in the emotional sense, at least partly because of the way the girls regard sex in general.  
    If you want a game with high sexual content, decent slice of life, shimoneta comedy, and good romance (if not godly) this game is an excellent choice... especially if you like nympho heroines.
    Edit: I forgot to properly introduce the heroines.
    Lunastia Astyr
    The game's main heroine, the current titular head of the Astyr family and a throwback to the early ages of succubi, both in power and her need for life energy.  She has been quietly in love with Kento from afar for quite some time when the story begins.  She has also been surviving by draining flowers bought from his shop of energy to keep herself from going into seizures and randomly seeking life energy from those around her.  A kind-hearted, sensitive, and innocent (other than sex... she is a succubus, after all) girl who single-heartedly loves Kento.  In terms of pure power she is the strongest succubus in existence.  However, her hunger is such that draining a normal human of the entirety of their lifeforce would only give her a few weeks of satiation.  
    Ririela Churack
    Luna's maid and a member of the Churack family, which has produced retainers for the most powerful succubus clans for some time.  She is unusual amongst succubi for her bashful reactions to sex talk and her unwillingness to show skin if she can avoid it.  She is absolutely devoted to Luna, as Luna is both her best friend and her mistress.  She has a long-standing acquaintance with Kento from buying his flowers to bring to Luna.  For those who want a nearly-normal heroine, she is the best choice.
    Euphoria Trinity
    The daughter of the director of Trinity Hospital, a local hospital that caters to succubi as well as to the general public.  She works as a nurse while going to school, and she is considered a very reliable senpai.  She has always had a fondness for Kento, having known him from frequent conversations when he brings flower arrangements for the hospital lobby.  While she is powerful, she has a complex born of a physical aspect of her heritage that causes her issues in contact with the opposite sex, even her father (no, it isn't nymphomania, though all the heroines are nympho, technically).  She is definitely a 'ecchi oneesan' type.  
    Tiana Gill Lilistia
    The daughter of the school's owners, a stiff-necked tsundere ojousama who is a mass of inferiority complexes just waiting to explode.  However, at heart she is deeply passionate, deeply loving, and extremely hard worker.  As a classic tsundere, she tends to say the opposite of what she means more often than she would like, especially with Kento, as his relationship with Luna, whom she considers to be her rival, brings out her competitive side.  
    Eris Erotis
    The game's sub-heroine/extra heroine.  Called a 'walking violation of vulgarity laws', she heads up the one-member 'pleasure research club' and can generally be found to be linking every word and action to sex and pleasure in one way or another.  
  13. Clephas
    「かつて、核爆弾という殲滅兵器があったらしい。旧暦二十世紀に誕生した破壊の炎は、長らく人類を焼き尽くせる破壊の象徴だったんだとよ。 2500年代にもなればどの国でも当たり前の基本装備になり、それぞれが世界を焼き尽くせる量を保有しつつ、それぞれの領土へ常に矛先を向けていたそうだ。おまえ達が撃って来たらこっちも撃ち込んで滅ぼしてやる、という感じでな――いわゆる核抑止論というやつだ」
    Dainsleif "In the distant past, there used to be a weapon of annihilation known as the nuclear bomb.  This destructive flame, born in the twentieth century of the old calendar, was for a long time the symbol of humanity's ability to destroy itself.  By 2500, it was basic equipment for every nation, every country had enough to wipe out the world, and they always had them pointed outward toward their rivals.  It was like, 'If you guys shoot, we'll destroy you'... in other words, it was the idea of a nuclear deterrent."
    Without stopping his destructive actions, Dainsleif suddenly began talking about something strange.  He spoke of what was before the Catastrophe obliterated civilization, of the old era's history.
    Dainsleif "The point of the theory was that if everyone had the ability to obliterate humanity, everyone would be too scared to start a war, but... what the hell is that?!  Were they making fun of each other?!"
    ぞくり、と。聞く者の背筋を震わせるような悪寒が走る。今まで欠片も見せなかった怒りを顔に滲ませてダインスレイフは続けた。 紡がれる言葉はその一言ごとに殺意の圧力を発する言葉の刃。抑えようもなく溢れる暴竜の怒気に星辰体が感応し、大気を震わせていく。
    A chill sufficient to make one shiver ran up the spines of those who could hear him.  Dainsleif suddenly showed his rage as he continued.  With every word, the pressure of his bloodlust came down on those around him like a blade of words.  The Astral around him responded and the atmosphere shook in response to the dragon's rage.
    「どうして本気でやらなかった? なぜ全力を出さなかった? 本音を殺して、不本意を甘受して、求めた未来へ必死にならずわざわざ我慢し続けた? 大統領に総統、帝王……支配者なら普通考えるはずだろう? 世界征服ってやつをよォ。 自分以外のあらゆる国を這いつくばらせて、自分の国のためだけに生きる格下の奴隷国家として従えたいはずじゃねえのか? 世界の盟主になりたかろう? そのチャンスをどうしてわざわざ封じたんだ」
    Dainsleif "Why didn't they go all in?!  Why didn't they use everything they had?  Why the hell did they bother hiding their true desires, endured their own reluctance, and went out of the way to keep their self-control instead of desperately seeking their desired future.  Presidents, Fuhrers, Emperors.... if you are a leader, wouldn't you think of this at least once?  ... World domination.  Wouldn't they want to make every country other than your own crawl on their bellies, living as slave nations for the good of your nation?  Wouldn't they want to become the ruler of the world?  Why did they go out of their way to eliminate that chance?"
    「そいつらはなぜ、邪魔な国に核ミサイルを撃ちこもうと必死に努力しなかったんだ? おかしいだろうが、常識的に考えてッ」
    Dainsleif "Why didn't they work their hardest to shoot nuclear missiles into the countries in their way?!  It doesn't make any sense, if you think about it logically!"
    Mistel "Kuh...!"
    Ash "Uoooh...!"
     静かな、しかし他を圧倒するダインスレイフの情動に比例して激しさを増す暴星の嵐。邪竜の毒が世界を侵し、変質させていく。  暴れ狂う巨竜と化した戦場で、魔星は世の不条理を憎む正義のように持論を吐き散らしていた。 何故だ、ふざけるなと――光に焦がれる殉教者は凡愚たちへの憤りをもはや隠しもしない。抑えることなどできはしない。
    The tyrant star's storm of Astral become more ferocious in direct proportion to the quiet - but overwhelming to all others - emotions Dainsleif was displaying.  The evil dragon's poison violated the world and changed it beyond repair.  On the battlefield which had itself become a giant dragon, the Masei proclaimed his own worldview like a form of justice that hates the world's unfairness.  'Why?  Don't give me that bullshit -' The martyr who longed for the Light couldn't hide his anger at the world's foolish masses.  He couldn't hold it back.
    「止めようとする副官の家族構成をなぜ調べて脅さない? 発射命令を出す兵士をなぜ権威や金で懐柔しない? 秘密裏に協力者を募ろうとなぜ欠片もしようとしないのか? できるはずだ、やれるはずだ。必要な情報を調べるのにかかる年数はいったい幾らだ? 資金を、人材を集めるのにはどの程度の時間がかかる? 二十年、十年? いいや恐らく必死になれば五年程度でやれるだろう。 本気で自国以外を核の炎で焼き払う。それを真剣に考えて考えて努力して……鋼の決意で実行すればやってやれないはずはないのに」
    Dainsleif "Why didn't they research the family structure of the subordinate trying to stop them and threaten them?  Why didn't they corrupt the soldiers who were to give the launch orders with power and money?  Why didn't they even try to secretly gather supporters?  They should have been able to do it, they were able to do it.  How long would it have taken them to gather the necessary information?  How much time to gather the money and personnel?  Twenty years?  Ten years?  No, most likely, if they put their all into doing it, they could have done it in five years.  To burn away all others outside their nation.  If they thought of it seriously and worked at it...  if they had the iron will to do it, there is no way they couldn't have."
    「もったいねえ。英雄ならやるし邪竜もやるぞ? なぜなら常に本気だからだ。 一片の曇りもなく、一度決めたのなら怯まないし諦めねえ。ああ、ああ、ああ、ああ……なんだその様は、まるで生きちゃいねえぞオイ! 人の可能性を、人生の価値を、どこまで馬鹿にしてやがる……ッ!」
    Dainsleif "What a waste.  The hero would have done it, and I would do it too!  For we are always deadly serious.  Once we decide to do something, we, without a hint of doubt, will never falter or give up.  Aah, aah, aah, aah... what is wrong with you?!  It's like you aren't even alive!  Just how far will you go to make fun of the value of life, of people's possibilities...!?"
    Gotta love Dainsleif... one of the craziest game characters I've ever seen, right up there with Kefka from FF VI...
  14. Clephas
    In preparation for the release of the Silverio series' conclusion, Silverio Ragnarok, next month, I decided to replay Silverio Trinity, one of my favorite chuunige.  First, I should note that I consider the Silverio series to be one of the three most well-designed VN settings in existence.  One is Eushully's Dir Lifyna, the other being the Nasuverse (Type-Moon's Fate and Tsukihime universe).  In terms of details, unique aspects, and generally fascinating fun, they all have their high points.  Dir Lifyna's high points mostly revolve around the intricate dance of dark gods, light gods, old human world gods, demons, demi-humans, and the faith-based magic that make up its background.  The Fate/Tsukihime universe's strengths lie in its approach to the occult, the inhuman, the mystic, and the unnatural.  
    Silverio's strengths lie in a combination of turn and turnabout philosophy mixed with a world that has survived the tribulations and trials of our own, plus another fifteen hundred years (and one cataclysm that ended our civilization).  As in the excerpt of Silverio Vendetta I previous translated, 
    The first game had an intensive philosophical focus on the two extremes of victory and retribution.  Zephyr himself is defined as an eternal loser, whereas Valzeride, the antagonist, is defined as the ultimate victor.  
    In many ways, Trinity is an answer to the question Vendetta poses, since Vendetta, despite its ending, didn't really pass judgment on the argument between the two extremes.  Trinity's protagonist, regardless of which path you are on, is a straightforward young man who is facing a fate that is in many ways far worse than Zephyr's in Vendetta was.  However, he is also potentially the second-wisest character in the game (behind Galahad, who is an example of the best kind of priest) in the game, depending on the path.  His experiences and his limitations have the potential to give him a perspective unique among all the characters in both games, which makes him an ideal protagonist for the second of three games.
    Like most Light games, this game has over the top action... but it needs to be said that some of it is seriously crazy even for Light.  Gilbert is probably among the top three scariest characters I've seen in any otaku media... not so much for his abilities (though he is extremely capable) but for how his mind works.  He is unbelievably intelligent, simulating literally hundreds of potential outcomes for each action he takes, manipulating everyone involved in the story with a skill that makes my head hurt.  What is worse is that he is also ruthless without being in the least bit cold-blooded.  What do I mean?  Gilbert is the kind of guy who will kill someone, hate himself for it, and use his anger at himself for what he did to them as fuel to keep him going on his path.  
    This game, like Vendetta, uses a very similar approach to telling its story to Dies Irae by Masada.  It is heavy on exposition, relying far less on the dialogue (in fact, dialogue is often as not used as an accent in key scenes) than is normal in most VNs, often waxing poetic about the characters' thought processes, their nature, and various other elements key to the scene.  
    The story of Trinity is based three years after Vendetta in the city of Prague.  Prague is one of the few cities that remains mostly unchanged from our own era... save for the fact that the Japanese National Diet now sits in its center, making it a religious spot for the Japan-worshipers of the world-spanning religion based in Canterbury (which is also the name of the nation that rules the British Isles).  It is also a strategic key point for both Adler and Antaruya, two countries that have been at each other's throats for decades at the point this story begins.  As such, it has become a quiet battleground, with people fighting and dying in surprisingly large numbers but no one really acknowledging the conflicts in the open, so as to avoid showing weakness to the other two nations. 
    In general, it is a pretty explosive setup.
    Now, I love this game... on my third playthrough, I found myself translating random scenes and sending them to friends, who complained that if I was going to tempt them with excerpts, I should translate the entire thing (which of course, I didn't deign to respond to, lol).  It has its flaws (the fact that there is no Alice path... I'm a sucker for mature heroines who have survived horrible pasts more or less intact save for a wide streak of amorality), but it shows off the best of Light's non-Masada team's skills.  In fact, it was this game that led me to pronounce that they had surpassed Masada, simply because they have proven to be far more consistent than he is (he reminds me of George Lucas... dreaming grand, often poetic, but with eccentricities that get in the way and with a tendency to pander at weird moments).  
    If you want a game with great exposition, an interesting concept, a deep setting, and great characters, this one is an excellent choice... if you've already played Vendetta.  Unfortunately, most of this game doesn't make sense without playing Vendetta.
  15. Clephas
    Yes I played this, for obvious reasons.  This is one of those rare nukige that makes an attempt at escaping being a nukige.  It attempts to have a story, has an interesting setting, and even has interesting heroines with dark pasts...
    Unfortunately, there are places where it stumbles (and no, I'm not talking about the high H content).  The most obvious place it stumbles, for someone just starting it, is the horrible way the music is handled.  It cuts out in some scenes, has little connection with what is going on in others, and is outright (and completely so) generic at others.  Considering the money that had to have gone into the Live 2D system and the character visuals, this strikes me as being a singularly stupid way to handle things.  Yes, you don't expect a nukige to have GREAT music, but I do think a baseline of good music such as is seen in even the weakest charage, should be well-within the capabilities of even a newbie company.  I was horrified to see them reusing the 'everyday life' music heard in Norn/Miel games, which is pretty much the worst everyday life BGM in existence.
    The character designs in this game, while not godly, are definitely done extremely well.  In particular, the kitsune Tamayo, the inugami Yanoe, and the yukionna Hisame have excellent character designs, even if the latter two are just a bit off from my personal tastes.  You can tell that a large portion of the budget for this game was put into the character designs, and it definitely pays off.  
    Live 2D is, like most motion animation, a waste of money.  It doesn't really add anything to the experience (except for people who just want to see boobs bounce), and it requires an engine that is so bug-ridden that the weirdest crap can render it inoperable (I hate Unity engine).  
    Now, for the story... and there is a story, albeit not a great one.  Essentially, the protagonist, due to some kind of mess in his past lives (and he has a large number of them, lol) is cursed with bad luck, to the point where if something bad is going to happen in the area he is in, it will always hit him.  One night, he encounters a beautiful kitsune during a kimodameshi at his school (for those unfamiliar with it - in other words, people who don't normally play SOL games - a kimodameshi is basically a staged test of courage), who promptly and gleefully reverse-rapes him (though he gets into it halfway through).  The next day, the class idol, Tenko Tamayo, is all over him, and eventually he ends up learning about youkai and their relationship with humanity.
    To be honest, what bothers me most about this game, after finishing it, is the fact that every single one of these paths at least meets charage-level and possibly nakige-level requirements for writing and scenario.  Unfortunately, the music and oddly-timed jumps into H-scenes tends to break things up whenever they start to get really serious.  Moreover, some of the paths (Yanoe's in particular) sometimes get weird jumps from decision-making to the results, taking out a lot of the fun of watching the characters struggle.  
    Nonetheless, since I enjoyed the youkai H, the setting, and Tamayo's path, I added extra points that kept it out of the gutter in my vndb list, lol.
  16. Clephas
    Umm... wow?
    This game is seriously out there.  
    Yes, I needed to start with that.  Love Destination's every aspect is more than a little crazy.  It starts with a salaryman in his late thirties dying in a car accident and being told by the lazy-ass woman at the gates that she accidentally killed him on a whim.  She offers him a chance to start over from the branching point of his life (after several other attempts to cover her own incompetence), and he ends up going back in time... only to choose to go to the girls' school he previously refused to go to.  
    Now, up until this, you might think this was a charage... but that couldn't be any further from the truth.  This game is a seriously screwed up plotge with a scenario designed by someone with a rather twisted mind.  There are four paths in this game, one monogamist and the other three threesomes.  There are also a ton of bad endings at two normal endings (some of them branching off from the paths).  
    Now, up until now I've focused on how crazy this game is, but I need to say that this game has some negative aspects I need to state early on.  First, though the scenario itself is actually at kamige tier, the writing is... second-rate?  I felt like I was reading something by someone who loved chuunige but also liked to insert symbols in the place of words.  A lot of this game already has furigana even without a parser because of this, which bemused me somewhat.  Personally, I found the methods this writer used to be pure eye and brain cancer, so if you are a fan of god-tier writing, you aren't going to be happy with this game.  I seriously empathize with anyone who might attempt to translate this, lol.  
    Second is the protagonist and his osananajimi.  The protagonist, in his previous life, was the type of guy who, rather than seeking out positives, always sought to eliminate negatives.  As a result, he ended up on the lowest rungs of a decaying Japanese society that was on the verge of losing its sovereignty before his death.  While he does try to change in his new life (literal), it is only in the actual heroine paths and at the end of the common route that he actually starts to strip away the layers of cowardice that make up his personality.  He does this in a grand fashion in several of the paths, so I can forgive the way he is at the beginning... but I really hate his interactions with his osananajimi Mayuri early on.  Mayuri keeps insisting he act in a way convenient to her without ever actually getting around to telling him what she wants from him.  That this is true both in his former life and in his new life is one point that annoyed me to no end.
    Rina and Shina
    The Otona sisters are descendants of foreigners from northern Europe (so no, the older sister did not dye her hair).  Early on, the relationship between Shina and the protagonist is almost antagonistic, whereas Rina is so quiet she is not in the picture.  Shina pretends at being a delinquent, but she fails utterly (even moreso because the protagonist sees through her easily), but she does, unfortunately, have a relationship with real delinquents.  
    Honestly, I can't dig deep into the heroines' personalities without ruining the experience for you all, so I'll stick to a vague description of what the path is like.  I didn't bother with bad or normal endings on this path.  In this path, the protagonist gets caught up in the twisted problems hidden beneath the surface of the seemingly normal sisters and is forced to grow far beyond his previous limits in order to deal with what he finds there.  The actual events that occur in this path are... dark and depressing until things turn out all right.  This path is probably too muddy for anyone interested in a simple romance, but I thought the ending made everything worth it, since I loved both heroines (despite their... issues).  
    Mayuri and Sakurako
    Mayuri is the protagonist's overbearing osananajimi (who has the worst kind of tsundere thing going) and Sakurako is her best friend, a rich girl who obviously has certain 'tendencies'.  Most of this path focuses on this particular love triangle's difficulties (Protagonist>Mayuri<Sakurako), and there are a lot of facepalm moments involved... mostly because all three have similar personalities hidden under different facades.  Now, this path's impression, for me... was that it was good but exhausting.  
    I liked the solution they came to in the end, and I had to rofl at some of the weirder moments.  However, the antagonist of the path is a seriously exhausting person... and this is the first time in the VN that I encountered her (vicariously).  The first scene in which she appears left me needing to watch something fluffy, so I went and watched a few episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura to cleanse some of that atmosphere's effects on my mind.  
    This path is quite a bit less dramatic and dark than the previous path... and thus it lacks the sheer gravity born of comparison when you watch the ending.  Still, it is a pretty good path, with an interesting concept.
    Ai's path is the only monogamous path in the game, and Ai herself is a somewhat 'mysterious' heroine.  Her role in the story is minimal... until you do her path.  For various reasons, I recommend that anyone who plays this game do this path last, as it spoils all the other paths' secrets.  
    Since Ai's path draws on elements from all the other paths, many of the events and revelations were familiar to me.  For obvious reasons, I left the Mizuki/Karin path to last, but in terms of experiencing the story as it is meant to be experienced, it is better to do this path last.  
    Ai appears randomly throughout the common route, often questioning the protagonist's ridiculous good luck (which does seem ridiculous toward the end of the common route, though the heroine routes reveal that his luck isn't as good as it seems), and she has a familiar role to many true heroines... the heroine it shouldn't be possible to get together with.
    Now, I'm not questioning whether this trope works.  I've played any number of VNs where this trope was used effectively to create truly exceptional stories.  Indeed, this path is one of the single best uses of the trope I've ever seen.  However, the ending feels waaay too convenient in comparison to the other paths.  Yes, it was exhilarating to see the antagonist of the game getting what she deserved, but the way they went all mystic with the ending gave me a headache.
    Mizuki and Karin
    Yes, I played this path.  No, I didn't play this path for the H (as one guy joked with me as I conversed with him on discord).  Instead, the events in Ai's path made me curious enough to get over my inhibitions.  Well, to be straight, this is a weird yandere SM path.  Well, that is the relationship anyway... both heroines are a bit crazy/obsessive/possessive/etc.  
    This path was surprisingly good, despite the fact that I had to actually read the h-scenes to get to parts of the story (normally, I skip h-scenes, but the first few are vital to progression of the story, as are some later).  I also found myself laughing through much of the latter parts of the path, despite the darkness of what was going on, because both Mizuki and Karen are so... out there.  Their common sense and personalities are pretty abnormal by most standards, though they grew on me as the path reached its end.
    The ending... well, like most of the paths in this game, the ending was good.  I still like the twins' ending the best, though.
    Well, this game was an unexpected treat.  It doesn't really fall into any established genre beyond 'plotge', and the writer/writers (no names are listed) are not the most skilled out there (tons of typos, use of symbols in place of words, etc), but the story itself was pretty interesting.  The only 'downside' to the whole thing is that you only ever really see the heroines truly happy near the end and in the epilogue.  
  17. Clephas
    For those who read my reviews, you will have probably heard me refer to catharsis as a positive element in VNs.  I push catharsis like it is the best new designer drug on the market I'm dealing and you are my customers.  So... the question that occurred to me recently was, what is the meaning and value of catharsis?
    First, while the strict dictionary definition of catharsis in literature refers to a emotional, moral, and spiritual release or cleansing, I can honestly say that the word as I use it is a bit narrower in definition.  The way I have used it in the past is to refer to the emotional release that comes with empathizing with a character's troubles and tribulations to the point where your own internal stresses and emotions are blown out the door with those of the characters.  Mostly, this has referred to nakige and utsuge style situations where the protagonist and/or heroines are suffering and are either released from that suffering or it comes to its natural end.  
    However, in the larger sense, catharsis can also occur with positive scenes (not just release from stressful scenes).  As an example, the Ruri and Ruka ending of Akeiro Kaikitan.  Spoilers for Akeiro Kaikitan below
    All humans have crud that builds up in their psyche over days, weeks, months and years.  Stress from loneliness, stress from being around people, stress from loss, stress from fear of failure... stress builds up no matter what kind of life you live.  Catharsis in fiction is one method of blowing the built up crud out of your system by flooding yourself with an extreme buildup that is released at the moment they reach their peak, taking your stresses with them.  
    For this reason, catharsis will always be an important element in fiction.  It is the reason why nakige and utsuge never really fade in popularity when other VN genres are in flux, and it is also the reason why sappy emotional stories will always be a staple of all forms of media.  There are many stresses in life that cannot be removed from your life experience.  However, a good catharsis moment can provide relief and bring you back on even keel in a way that is far better for you than indulging in alcohol or other traditional methods.  
    Edit: I probably shouldn't post this, but it was only because of catharsis in fiction that I was able to live this long.  Just being around people is extremely stressful to me, as is dealing with people as part of work.  In my worst moments, I've even thought about how wonderful it would be if I just had an aneurysm and toppled over right then and there.  Fiction has been saving my life repeatedly on a weekly basis for almost twenty-seven years... and as such, I think there is no way to underestimate the value of catharsis in fiction to those of us who have social issues.  
  18. Clephas
    First, Smee is one of the few companies I've never bothered with in the past.  There were a number of reasons, but it all came down to one issue in the end... I don't like VNs where you name the protagonist.  Naming the protagonist inevitably means the protagonist is a shallow cipher/non-person whose personality and characterization can be changed to fit which heroine he is with.  As such, I tend to avoid games where it is possible to do so.
    HaremKingdom was an exception for two reasons... one, I like harem games... and the second reason is that I love isekai (no matter how bad it is).  In this case, the protagonist is summoned to a kingdom in another world, where he is informed that he is the last member of the royal family and has to form a harem or he'll die.  Now, this 'sex under the necessity' (once a vndb tag, don't know if it still is) setting would normally have put me off... but instead of jumping on it, the protagonist is scared to death of the idea (he has trouble talking to women).  This kept my interest past the point where I usually would have dropped the game... and I'm glad it did.
    The major draws of this game are the unrelenting humor (it is a constant rain of jokes of various sorts, though usually dirty), mild romance, and the H, which is frequently hot.  The heroines are varied (the cool and collected Premier of the kingdom, Marue; the shy and defensive slave girl, Kiki; the manipulative merchant noble's daughter, Charlotte; the innocent but mischievous princess Sophia; and the osananajimi who knows everything about the protagonist, Hikari) and interesting enough to wet the appetite of your average harem-loving otaku, and they actually manage to grow to a degree after getting close to the protagonist.
    The game's main peculiarity is how it handles routes... instead of having pure heroine routes, you instead choose what type of harem you want to create (each has a heroine who suggested it and serves as the primary for the path) and things proceed from there.  
    This is where the typical 'personality alteration' of a nameable protagonist comes in... but it is oddly not harmful in this case, since pretense at storytelling is fairly limited here.  Yes, there is a bit of story to tell, but it isn't that important.  What stands out more is the sheer hilarity of what I experienced in the two paths I went through.  For the first time in a while, I couldn't restrain my need to laugh hysterically until tears and snot were running down my face... and that alone is a good enough reason to play this game... or at least, that is how I feel.
  19. Clephas
    First, it should be noted that this game was planned and written by Watanabe Ryouichi, who also wrote the Harumade series (Harumade Kururu, Natsukumo Yururu, etc).  As such, it is - quite predictably - a mindfuck game.  Don't expect SOL romance in the traditional sense, because that isn't the kind of game this is.
    This game has two protagonists... the first is the normal-seeming Koumi Masataka, who begins the story by encountering Sarasa, the game's main heroine, as she eats canned saba miso (mackerel in miso) at a convenience store.  The other protagonist is Tsubaki, a young woman who spends her nights obsessing over videos of deaths of all types and thinking about herself in the same situation (it is more complex than that, but if I explain too much, you won't get to experience the creepy weirdness properly).  
    While this game has four heroines, there is only one actual path.  All choices that go off that path lead to cut-off endings ten lines later (which makes sense in the context of full knowledge of the mindfuck), so there really is no point in picking them.  For H-freaks, there are multiple h-scenes for each heroine... just don't expect happy romance endings, since there is only a single ending.
    There isn't a whole lot I can say about this game besides what I said above without ruining it for you, but I'll tell you what I liked that doesn't touch upon the mindfuck or main story.  I really liked the way the Preppers Club members got along, as they are one of those 'group of friends' that can't seem to stay on topic for more than a few seconds at a time (usually due to Yaotome Hanae making a sex joke or one of the others bringing up a subject that derails the conversation).  As such, I found many of the scenes involving the club highly amusing.
    Tsubaki and Amika's relationship is pretty weird, by any standard.  I won't go into details, but don't expect lots of soft normal emotions there.  
    As a conclusion, I can recommend this to fans of the Harumade series and the mindfuck niche in general.  It is often hard to follow what is happening due to the way the story is told, but, even with that, it was an enjoyable ride.
  20. Clephas
    Whatever else you can say about Skyfish's Soleil series, they never do the same thing (precisely) twice in a row.
    The Soleil series is based in a multiverse that comes into existence after the end of Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods from Norse mythology.  Previous entries in the series have ranged from your typical old-style chuunige (Shirogane no Soleil) to crazed ventures into chaotic medlies of Norse, Chinese, and Cthulhu Mythos (Gouen no Soleil).  
    Blade x Bullet is perhaps the  most straight-out 'after-story' of Norse mythology in the series yet.
    Based in a world that is pretty much identical to our own (in fact, the US president in the setting is pretty familiar, lol), a decade or so before the beginning of the story, monsters called Gears, the undead remnants of the ancient deities, giants, and monsters killed in Ragnarok, have pretty much exterminated humanity.  Artificial Valkyries, made from weapons that have tasted the blood of many, the flesh of a mortal woman, and the soul of a Valkyrie, are the only weapon said to be capable of taking them on... but most nations failed to make them until it was too late (the US being the only exception, as their president was a crazy who took one look at the tech and put massive amounts of money into it, eventually making his daughter into one).  The protagonist, Yagi Mutsuki, is one of the rare humans who can and have fought the Gears on his own and taken them down, and at the beginning of the story, he dies and drops into Hel (Norse underworld) where the goddess of the same name informs him that he is the vessel of her father Loki's soul, and he wants him to join in a competition to determine which Valkyrie will become the god of the new world... and ensure that humanity's hope is cut off forever.  He then uses his dead lover's hair and an iron maiden (yes, the torture device) to make his Valkyrie, Reginleif (a Valkyrie who almost always seems to draw the short straw no matter what entry in the series she appears in).
    Yagi Mutsuki is... pretty much what you would expect from the mortal incarnation of the Norse god Loki.  His essential nature is definitely chaotic, leaning toward evil.  He is something of a sadist, a schemer, and a trickster.  If there is a direct path and a twisty curvy path to the same goal, he will almost always take the twisty-curvy path.  He is also a blood-hungry warrior, almost a berserker.  Yet, it is surprisingly fun to watch him navigate the darkness of the competition.  He is capable of a limited sort of compassion... but he himself is never quite sure what he is feeling during those times when he shows it.
    I'm going to be blunt... this is the most graphic game in the series, and while this series isn't known for being as extreme as stuff like Venus Blood, it definitely has its guro moments.  For those with a weak stomach or an aversion to blood, I recommend you find something else to play.  In addition, this is a game where the 'good guys' are actually worse than the natural villains, so I don't recommend this to people who like black and white stories or have problems when heroines happen to be serial killers or psychopaths.
    However, it is also one of the most satisfying entries in the series, not the least because it doesn't waste time on separate routes in a game that has such a central plot.  The central story is there, it is interesting (if not godly), and it is a fun read, even with the more distasteful elements such as torture and SM.  Mutsuki's relationship with Reginleiv is so hilarious I often found myself giggling during serious scenes.  
    In addition, there were some elements I found fascinating... such as Loki's punishment for his role in Ragnarok (I won't spoil it for you, but it is an interesting one), and how they integrated the various elements of the mythos into the flow of the story.   
    While I don't consider this to be the best game in the series (I have a strong fondness for Gouen no Soleil), it is the easiest to pick up, because it isn't long enough to cause brain fry, but it is interesting enough that you won't feel like you wasted your time.
  21. Clephas
    First, I should state for those who are unfamiliar with my history that I have played a seriously ridiculous number of SOL romance/charage over the past decade.  While the sheer number I played exhausted me and I frequently desired something else to play, I don't think I ever came to truly hate the genre, regardless of how much it bored me.  What I liked most were ones that contained science fiction, fantasy, or science fantasy elements.  
    Now, for those who are unclear about the differences between the genres (in other words, people who aren't nerds/experienced readers of the genres), I'll go ahead and explain them.
    Fantasy is a genre where some element, if not most of the elements, of the setting/settings ignore physical limits without any explanation of how they might fit into existing physics (magic, esp, monster summons, etc).  As the genre name indicates, it involves the fantastical, quite literally.  This is further separated into urban (also known as 'junk' fantasy) and high fantasy, the Dresden Files (book series by Jim Butcher) falling into the former and Lord of the Rings falling into the latter category.  
    Science fiction is a genre that creates a futuristic or near-future setting with a believable tech advance that fundamentally alters how the world functions.  'Believable' means that it at least claims to be based off of a more advanced version of existing physics.  An obvious example of science fiction for those unfamiliar with the genre would be the Star Trek series, which, while fantastical and often defying belief, nonetheless speculates about a world that simply grew out of modern science and tech.
    Science Fantasy is a less-defined genre that stands between fantasy and science fiction.  While many concepts might be based on outgrowths of 'maybe' or existing science, in science fantasy there will also be elements of the impossible or fantastical, such as esp, magic, or some other element that can't be explained by science even within the universe it exists in.  Classic examples that might or might not be familiar to you in Western media would be Star Wars or the Deathstalker Saga (a book series by Simon Green).  
    This is a relatively short list of high-quality games in each genre that have an SOL focus for those who like a bit of escapism without digging into a deep story or insanely complex setting.
    Science Fiction
    Ai Yori Aoi Umi no Hate
    Prism Recollection
    Koko Kara Natsu no Innocence
    Ayakashi Contract
    Ore no Tsure wa Hitodenashi
    Princess Frontier
    Hyakka Ryouran Elixir
    Curio Dealer
    Suzunone Seven
    Sakigake Generation
    Haruru Minamo ni
    Senren Banka (translated)
    Sanoba Witch (translated)
    Tenshin Ranman (supposedly still to be translated)
    Cafe Stell to Shinigami no Chou
    Bokura no Sekai ni Shukufuku o
    Uso series by Campus (Fuyu Uso, Aki Uso, Haru Uso, Natsu Uso)
    Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni
    Gokudou no Hanayome
    Konna ko ga Itara Boku wa Mou...!!
    Lunaris Filia
    Magus Tale
    Suzukaze no Melt
    Natsu no Majo no Parade
    Primary Magical Trouble Scramble
    Valkyrie Runabout
    Shuffle (series)
    Tayutama (original)
    Toki o Tsumugu Yakusoku
    Wakaba-iro no Quartet
    Science Fantasy
    Kamikaze Explorer
    Kokorone Pendulum
    World Election
    Kizuna Kirameku Koi Iroha
    Unionism Quartet
    Otomimi Infinity
    Sakura Iro Quartet
    Sekai o Sukuu dake no Kantan na Oshigoto
    As you can see, it is really heavy on fantasy, mostly because fantasy is easier on the limited skills of a charage writer.  Similarly for science-fantasy.  
  22. Clephas
    Haruru Minamo ni is one of my favorite games by one of my favorite charage companies, Clochette.  Clochette is known for a combination of decent stories, moe-ero (sexy and moe) heroines, and fantasy/sci-fi settings.  Haruru Minamo ni is based in the same world as Amatsu Misora Ni, which is - ironically - my least favorite Clochette game.  In this world, the idea and existence of Japanese-style deities is a self-evident reality.  This is partly due to the fact that 'arahitogami' (kami who take a human shape and live as humans) come into existence regularly enough that they are obviously recognizable and accepted as what they are.
    This game has five heroines: The protagonist's little sister and goddess of the mountain, Miori; the new sea goddess of Tamatsue, Kanau; a young thunder goddess named Mei; Tatsuki's (the protagonist) and Miori's osananajimi Ena; and the fisherman's daughter Asumi. 
    Miori comes across as the most level-headed of the five heroines, having been a goddess from birth, rather than ascending to the position.  She was 'raised' to a great degree by her older brother, and she is all-too-aware of how the task of raising her has shaped his personality and way of looking at the world.  She has all of her worshippers' names, faces, situation, and lifestyles (and that of their relatives to the fourth degree) memorized, and she is the trusted and beloved goddess of the mountain.  She is also a heavy gamer (console) due to the fact that the siblings' ancestor (the first goddess of the mountain) having promised to remain upon the mountain, thus binding her to the old town around her shrine, thus making her a homebody.  She is the epitome of the Japanese idea of a tochigami, being able to express her will anywhere within her territory and protecting it against misfortune.  Obviously, she is a brocon.
    Kanau is a young girl who became a goddess at a relatively late age, and as a result, she doesn't have great control of her powers.  She is also extremely unlucky and tends to draw misfortune to herself to an extreme degree.  However, she also has a hidden core of steel in her spirit that lets her get up after every failure with relatively little help or interference.  Her kind and hard-working nature show a great deal of potential, though it is, as of the beginning of the VN, unrealized.
    Mei is the incarnation of a bolt of lightning given the form of a girl after attaining divinity.  Unlike Kanau, who is learning to be a goddess because she was born human, Mei needs to do so because she has had little connection with humans.  She is very straight-laced and honest, telling people what she thinks upfront. Her emotions are obvious, but she will often hold herself back for the sake of what she thinks is right.  She desperately wants to be of use to humankind, but she has no idea of how to go about it.  
    Ena is the daughter of a Japanese sweets shop owner and the Yamagami siblings' osananajimi.  She is an easygoing, kind-hearted girl who cares about others first and foremost, without a malicious bone in her body.  Having grown up around Miori and Tatsuki, she knows them almost better than they know themselves, and thus she has made a point of restraining her long-held feelings for Tatsuki and keeping them below the surface.  For better or worse, she is the type of girl who suffers as a result of her tendency to put others first.
    Asumi is a seemingly standoffish daughter of a fisherman.  Having been raised near the sea, she became an excellent swimmer at a young age.  However, she quit the swimming club and now avoids swimming anywhere but the mountain river, avoiding the seas like the plague.  She also doesn't believe in deities, feeling deeply betrayed by them for reasons that come obvious later.  Despite this, she is actually very straightforward and easy to get along with... once you understand she doesn't like wasting time on small talk.  
    Mei has the cutest dere of all the heroines, I'm just going to say right up front.  Think 'cat who absolutely adores her master' and you'll get an idea.  Mei's path is pretty heavy on ichaicha... but since her dere is cute in a good way and there is little romance drama to annoy me past the actual stage of them getting together, I didn't mind either time I played it.  
    Her path's drama is mostly centered around her growing as a kami by being loved by Tatsuki (yes, seriously), so most of it isn't that serious.  However, there are a few 'trouble moments', especially toward the end of the path.  Nonetheless, all is well that ends well, and the path is tied off nicely.
    Miori, despite her efforts to keep her brother at arm's length, is a rather self-evident brocon.  This is fairly typical of Clochette imouto heroines (incidentally, Clochette little sister routes are some of the best out there, though they lack the twisted stuff you see in some other companies' lineups).  However, this is made more complex by the background of the two.  The first part of the path, the formation of the relationship, is more of a clash of positions: brother/sister, priest/goddess along with a bunch of other baggage that was inevitable.  However, it does make it a lot more interesting than your typical 'incest is bad' drama you see in most imouto routes.
    Miori and Tatsuki, once they get together are somewhat... intense.  This was also the case with Mei, but if Mei and Tatsuki were an extreme version of the typical bakkouple (idiot lovers), Miori and Tatsuki are so insanely intimate (think finishing each other's sentences half the time) that it takes it in a somewhat different direction.  There is some significant drama near the end of the path that is very, very revealing about the setting in general... but because of that, I would recommend that first-timers play most of the other routes before this one (Kanau's and Miori's can be done at the end) for the best experience.  
    Honestly, as a character, I like Asumi the most of the five heroines.  However, I have to say her dere is more 'hidden' than the other girls, as her feelings don't really reach the surface in the same way as the others.  As a result, in her path, you don't get to enjoy the kind of melty deredere crazy couple ichaicha you do in Miori or Mei's path.  On the other hand, her path is a gift to those who like intimacy over brain-melted ichaicha.  
    Asumi's romance starts the most 'naturally' of the three paths I've played this time so far.  This is probably because she isn't a goddess (meaning Tatsuki's hangups aren't as strong an issue in that stage of the relationship), and Asumi's seduction of Tatsuki happening to be a lot more subtle than the others because of the way she handles emotions.
    Honestly, I don't like the way this path ended, in comparison to the way the previous two did.  While it is highly emotional, it also trips one of my major most-hated tropes
    Kanau is a pretty straightforward girl in every way... but the beginning of the romantic part of this path is seriously weird.  I mean, it is a Clochette game, so sexually charged scenes are normal but...
    The attraction of Kanau's path is the way she starts to change things in Tamatsue as a result of her personality.  While Kanau isn't my favorite heroine, she definitely has a strong path worthy of a main heroine.  
    This path can be considered to be the 'main' or central path of the game, as it has the most story-focused approach, whereas most of the other paths had a tighter focus on the lovey-dovey aspects, with the story growing like weeds between ichaicha moments.  That said, it isn't like this path makes the other heroines feel underserved.  Rather, it feels more like a natural extension of what was going on from the beginning.  
    I'm not a fan of Ena's path or Ena as a heroine (Ena as a side or helper character is ideal, but I don't like her type as heroines).  As such, I'm not interested in replaying her path.  This game in general is Clochette at its best, in particular the way there are so many diverse elements interacting with the central characters, as opposed to the charage standard, which generally has only the heroines, the protagonist, and maybe a few friends with relatively few other connections.  There are mild cathartic moments, humor, and ecchi enough for anyone who likes a more varied 'flavor' in their charage, and the heroine paths actually have a story to tell, not just a 'romance'.  I recommend this for people who want some mild fantasy and story in a primarily SOL setup (and for people who like heroines who happen to be attached to oppai).  
  23. Clephas
    First, this was written partially by Morima Marimo, one of Light and Campus's writers who specializes in naki-scenes and SOL.  Marimo has always sort of stood in the shadows of the other Light writers, but in terms of multi-genre versatility, he (she?) is worlds above the other writers employed by Light.
    This game is one of the few 'ladder-style' story structure games that haven't driven me into a rage.  The simple reason is that the main story is more interesting than the little side trips into heroine-land.  This is surprisingly rare in this type of game, where many games using the ladder-style tend to accidentally make a side-story or character more interesting than the main or do it inconsistently.  The other reason, obviously, is that it is also a fetish-game.  This game has twelve mimikko (kemomimi, animal-ear) heroines, more than enough for any of us who love this type of thing.  I can forgive a lot of things for a set of cat ears.
    The story focuses on the protagonist, Akinari, who can speak to animals, a skill that has led to him being somewhat isolated from most of his peers, with rare exceptions.  At the same time, it is also the story of the anthropomorphized 'etogami' (the twelve animals of the zodiac) who are suddenly thrust into his life as family.  
    Akinari is an altruist.  He gives out love to those around him (and no, not that kind, though accidents happen, lol) without reserve, and he has the strength of personality to empathize with just about anyone, given a reason.  
    This story is something of a nakige, told in fourteen chapters (common routes>12 zodiac heroine arcs>true arc).  Except for the common route, which took me about six to seven hours to complete, each individual chapter, if you don't choose to read the zodiac girls' romance paths, took between one and a half to two hours, depending on the heroine.  Most of the heroines have a cathartic moment (exception is Takami), and the last arc is heavy on the catharsis, as you discover just why the 12 etogami suddenly ended up gathered in Tenbu (the name of the town).
    If you like cry-worthy back-stories and stories about affection beyond reincarnation, this is a great VN to read.  However, those who want more extensive heroine paths will inevitably be disappointed, because the main story is the focus of the game.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and not just because they somehow managed to create such a wide variety of heroines without any real overlaps in personality.
  24. Clephas
    This is the second mimikko game from January's releases, a pure moege made by Cabbage Soft, the makers of two other games, both of which I disliked (perfect examples of charage/moege slogs in the sugary and brainless mud).  I can't honestly say that Amairo Chocolata is that different from the company's other games... but I'm willing to forgive a lot for mimikko heroines.
    This game is pretty short, so short I finished it in just under eight hours (it's been a while since I bothered with a game as empty of content that it was this short).  Like most 'pure moege', this game is essentially endlessly cute with no real content beyond cuteness, adorableness, and H-scenes.  That I was able to get through it is a mark of how much my fetishes drive me, but it also brought about a severe response from my old battle scars from years of playing such games.  
    The two heroines in this game are Chieri (the loli catgirl) and Mikuri (the miko doggirl).  Chieri is a straight-out tsundere, whereas Mikuri is a straightforward tennen genkikko heroine.  I can honestly say that there isn't a ton of depth to either of them or the protagonist, and I was more than a little dissatisfied that they focused entirely upon the cafe as the setting.  With some work, it would have been possible to make this game a lot more intimate-feeling and turn both heroines and the two side-characters into something more unique.  Unfortunately, such efforts were severely lacking, meaning that I played this game solely for ears and tails.
  25. Clephas
    Yes, I'm going to go there.  I've actually been asked this more by my Japanese friend/supplier than anyone else, but I've always refrained from answering except to name one or two that I liked.  However, I made the mistake of watching a few imouto anime on a binge a few weeks ago, and I began seriously considering which little sister paths were the best in the VNs I've played up until now.  Note that I say these are the best 'paths', not necessarily the best imouto heroines.  To be blunt, imouto heroines are a dime a dozen, and I've seen every variation on the concept a dozen times over, so I'm focusing on which paths were best, starting from ten, counting down to one.  
    First, little sisters in these will not include cousin paths unless they were raised under the same roof as siblings.  Adopted sisters will be included, as will blood-related sisters who were parted from the protagonist for long periods of time.
    10.  Kuguyama Konoka (Prism Recollection by Clochette)
    9.  Shimazu Akira (Komorebi no Nostalgica)
    8.  Minori Hikari (Unmei Yohou o Oshirase Shimasu)
    7.  Kurosaki Sayo (Aoi Tori)
    6.  Hasuno Saki (Hapymaher)
    5.  Kaede (Shuffle Essence)
    4.  Tokitani Shinobu (Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru)
    3.  Saisu Riku (Floral Flowlove)
    2.  Asagiri Futaba and Ichiha (Realive)
    1.  Shimazu Aki (Reminiscence)