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< 3 - Tay
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A world where the laws of creation differ from our own. A world where beings different from us live.
When that world was born, that world contained nothing but the void.
Since nothing existed nothing happened. No matter how many tens of thousands of years passed, that world continued unchanged.
Eventually, coincidentally, a being that could be called a 'god' was born there.
God had the ability to control the world as he saw fit.
God bewailed that his world was empty and, in order to turn the void into existence, chose to use his power.
God began by splitting the world into two parts.
One part was the 'heavens' he existed in and the other was the 'earth' he ruled over.
God called the heavens the Land of Blessings and the land Goltrok, and he created the sky to exist between them.
Next, God gave Goltrok foliage, water, and living things.
However, since he hadn't given 'death' along with life to them, the foliage filled the land and rose to the skies, living things increased to the point where the earth began to quiver, making the earth a horrible thing to look upon.
God bewailed this and chose to give them 'death'. And so, in order to give the important role of giving death to life, he split himself into two.
At this point, God, split into two beings, came to have a name.
The god that ruled life became El Agias, the god who ruled death became Helldais.
The two deities continued to infinitely give the land life and death.
Eventually, there arose those amongst the creatures of the land who had intelligence, walked on two feet, and used tools... it was the birth of humans and demi-humans.
Humans and demi-humans cooperated to make the world a better place.
However, within a few centuries of the rise of the humanoid races, the God of Death, Helldais, slowly began to go mad.
Due to their intelligence, the humanoids possessed an attachment to 'life' that far surpassed the imagination of the gods.
The regrets of the dead he touched every time he gave death drove Helldais mad, and this eventually caused him to hate El Agias.
And so, finally the war of the gods began.
The two gods used magic and the divine weapons, Trobrahm to try to deny the other's existence, indulging in an infinite cycle of mutual slaughter.
At the moment the gods began to fight, the humans and demihumans, almost as if they were influenced by the godswar, began to fight for control of Goltrok.
A time that seemed infinite in its length passed...
And the long war between the gods came to an end.
The defeated Helldais's name was stripped from him, and he was exiled from the heavens, causing him to fall to the earth.
El Agias created the Death Spirit Slaidbass, a spirit without emotions, to give the earth death.
The thing that had once been a god, fallen to the earth, began to think with its rotten brain.
――生を憎め。 ――生を受けたもの全てを憎め。 ――生を謳歌するもの全てに等しく死を与えんことを。
--- Hate life. ---- Hate all things that live. --- Give death to all things that have life.
--- I am the King of Undeath.
This was the birth of the 'King of Undeath'.
He used 'Necromancy', and, obedient to the thoughts of his hollow spirit, created many zombie servants. (Clephas note: Just easier to call it Necromancy rather than saying 'He used techniques that controlled corpses')
Villages, cities, and countries fell into ruin.
When zombies destroyed a great nation, the great nation's citizens became zombies. If zombies destroyed a settlement of Giants, the corpses of the giants strode forth.
When it was almost too late, those dwelling upon the earth finally realized what was happening.
That if they didn't defeat the Undead King, the world itself would die.
All the people of the world--- humans and demihumans alike, came together to form the Goltrok Army, in order to fight the armies of the Undead King.
However, the Goltrok Army quickly began to lose ground to the zombies, for they continued to fight day and night unless their heads were not destroyed.
(at this point, the dialogue shifts to vicariously echoing the people of the time)
'Is there no way?'
The area around the Undead King's frozen castle is protected by a near-infinite number of zombies, and even Giants and transformed dragonewts would have to beg God for a miracle to arrive at its walls.
Is the great god El Agias no longer present in the heavens? Has the divine El Agias abandoned us?
As all that lived upon the earth bewailed their fates, nine mages appeared at the frontline fortress city of Garey.
They called themselves a group of mages from the first country to be destroyed by the Undead King and bestowed upon the people a single hope.
'Using our magic, we can send heroes to the foot to our homeland, at the foot of the Undead King's castle.'
However, that magic could only be used once per mage. In other words, the nine mages could only transport nine heroes.
After considering for a time, the Goltrok Army selected warriors from eight races that possessed the largest military power at the time.
人間からエイベル・スカイウォーカー。 エルフからフュール・サングマイン。 ドワーフからゴットロープ・ラナチウム。 オークからラッカロコ・ライターン。
From the Humans: Abel Skywalker. From the Elves: Karafyur Sangmainn. From the Dwarves, Goltrope Ranaschium. From the Orcs: Raccaroko Rytan.
ジャイアントからワイズマン。 ゴブリンからサブル・ハブル。 リザードマンからジル・レ・シャドウフィールド。
From the Giants: Wiseman. From the Goblins: Sable Habble. From the Lizardmen, Jil Le Shadowfield.
And from the Dragonewts: Ingrid Fortenmeyer.
And, last of all, an attendant, tasked with assisting the Eight, was chosen.
The heroes were transported in an instant to a spot next to the Undead King's castle, Valtran.
However, what stood before the Nine was an army of zombies obeying only a single order... 'Protect the Undead King.'
Their numbers, around one hundred thousand.
Here began the fight to determine the fates of all of Goltrok's people... a war between nine and one hundred thousand.
The heroes fearlessly struck down flesh-less zombies atop rotting horses.
The Nine used powerful weapons, great magics, iron will, and brilliant strategems to break down the army of one hundred thousand, breaking through the fortress walls, and they finally made their way to the foot of the Undead King's throne.
However, even for the seemingly invincible heroes, the fight with the Undead King reached the peaks of ferocity.
No matter how many times they cut at him with holy swords, burned him with magic, sliced him open, or froze his flesh, they could not destroy the Undead King.
From the beginning, the Undead King was a god who only gave 'death' to others, and he was not a being that could be given 'death' himself.
At the moment when one prayed and another was about to fall to his knees...
A single man walked out before the Undead King. It was the attendant who had, up until this moment, followed the eight heroes.
The attendant began to chant the words to a spell he himself did not know.
The name of the spell was 'Summon God', a Grand Magic that could only be chanted by one chosen.
At this moment, the attendant was given to know that the Undead King was a being that gave death to others while not knowing it himself. As such, he could not be destroyed by normal means.
There was only one way to kill him. He had to be summoned into the body of one who knew death.
In other words, forcing the experience of death upon one who knew it not.
And he also came to know that it was for that very reason that he had been selected from amongst the Nine.
The attendant confessed this reality to his former mistress Ingrid and asked her to destroy him along with the Undead King.
Ingrid refused at first, but, in response to her attendant's please, she thrust her holy sword through his body.
So it was that the Undead King came to know 'death' and was destroyed.
At the moment of his death, the zombies turned to dust, the withered land began to bloom once again, the tainted water was cleansed, and the wind was cleansed of miasma.
The land was reclaimed by the living. The people yelled in joy, praising the Eight as heroes.
And, as a reward for having defeated the Undead King despite their own mortality, the great god El Agias bestowed upon them the Sacred Crest.
The Sacred Crest is the proof of heroism, to be passed down through the generations.
This is so the Eight Heroes will continue to be told of in stories for eternity.
This Sacred Crest is a miracle I bestow upon you. A proof that all that lives fought against a great evil.
In order to show this, I bestow upon the inheritors of this Sacred Crest an immense power.
And so it was that the story of the Eight Heroes, destined to be carved into history for eternity, was born.
First, as I state in the title, I'm coming off my fifth playthrough (all paths and endings) of Tokyo Babel. As such, I am - very obviously - deeply fond of the game. I'm also a fan of the writer Higashide Yuuichirou (for reference, he also wrote Ayakashibito and the scenario for Fate/Apocrypha).
However, in this post I wanted to address some of the complaints I get from those who play the game. First, I will address the major complaints I've taken personally from those who read or have read it untranslated, then those who read it translated.
1. 'This doesn't feel like a Higashide game/isn't as good as his other games!' For better or worse, Higashide went in a different direction, style, and approach in Tokyo Babel in comparison to his previous works. Ayakashibito is the basis for most untranslated Higashide fanboys' love, but it needs to be said that anyone who has played the two games will barely see any resemblance beyond the writing style.
Ayakashibito was about a young man struggling against the world as he tried to carve out a life for himself with his adoptive sister. His emotional struggles with unreasonable and unreasoning prejudice, as well as the active malice of powers both great and small, struck a chord in a lot of the people who read it. Moreover, it is by far the most slice-of-life focused of all Higashide's titles, whereas a huge portion of Tokyo Babel is fighting, preparation for fighting, and dealing with conspiracies.
2. 'I loved Dies Irae and this was recommended to me based on that, but it doesn't match up.' This one makes me laugh. Sorry, I'm not trying to be contemptuous, but, despite some surface resemblances, Tokyo Babel is wildly different from Dies Irae. Higashide is not a poet. Masada is. Higashide is calculating where Masada is impulsive. As such, I can honestly say the only resemblance between the two is that they both have a preference for fantasy and melodrama. Dies Irae is an opera, whereas Tokyo Babel is more straightforward and to the point, in comparison.
3. 'Why is there no ero? All his other games had ero, so why not this one?' I have to wonder if anyone but me was surprised at this one being the third most common complaint I got from those I recommended this game to. Yes, his other games have a mix of good and horrid ero (Ayakashibito is particularly infamous for its side-character scenes), but Tokyo Babel was written from beginning to end as an all-ages novel. Surprisingly, I agree with those who think the lack of ero in Tokyo Babel had a negative effect. To be blunt, I can't see Lilith not finding a way to shove Setsuna into Raziel's futon or failing to trap him in a room alone with Sorami... and that's setting aside several moments in her path that would have made for some great 'desperate and somber H' scenes. Higashide, for all that his ero scenes were sometimes awful (again, Ayakashibito), always made them relevant to the story and used them to enhance its flow... something many chuuni writers who utilize ero content fail to do.
4. 'What the heck is it with this game's weird mix of styles?!' I'm not an art bigot, so I'm not the best person to answer this question. This game's art style differs from previous Propeller games to a significant degree at times. Is that a good or bad thing? Hard to answer... though I do think the decision to make the main characters look younger than in previous games (with some exceptions) was questionable, lol.
1. 'What is with the translation?!!!!'. Aah... this is the idiot argument. Sorry, but I've said this a thousand times before 'Japanese to English translation is an oxymoron'. Conjueror was pretty much the only translator brave enough to jump into translating something like Dies Irae or Tokyo Babel precisely because fans of this type of game are such a-holes when it comes to translations. Yes, it isn't perfect. Yes, it doesn't somehow magically mirror Higashide's brilliance perfectly. However, I would like to make a few major points for those who insist they could do better...
Japanese has numerous concepts, sayings, and even casual phrasing that simply don't translate into English without a much larger number of words to fill in the gaps in the language. One reason I always recommend anyone who can read a game in Japanese (even if they have to use a parser and text hooker) do so is because it is impossible to perfectly replicate everything in a localization to English. It is possible to get across many concepts with creative language and a wide vocabulary in English, but that sometimes means spending minutes or even an hour on a single line, trying to create something that can somehow retain the best parts of the original. Chuuni translations tend to be awkward (both anime and games) because the language used requires more of this, and it becomes too easy to fall into the habit of robotically spewing out the translation instead of actually writing it into prose (look at the FGO cell phone game and you'll see what I mean).
2. 'This wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be!' This one puzzles me... but then, I never played the game all the way through in English (I went up through the Miyako fight in Raziel's route to get an idea of what it was like), so maybe more was lost in the localization toward the middle and end than I thought.
3. 'The subject matter made me uncomfortable'... Ah yes, this one. To be honest, even I felt the remnants of my upbringing pounding on the doors of my psyche at times when I played this game. To be blunt, to anyone brought up in a devout Christian (or even Muslim) household, playing any of the routes can be enormously uncomfortable at times. By the nature of the process of 'suspending disbelief' that occurs when you read something fantasy, your prejudices and upbringing inevitably play into how you see the game. To be blunt, by Christian standards, this game is blasphemous, lol. In Japan, due to the way the divine is seen (impossible to explain if you haven't studied it, so I won't go into this here), this game doesn't feel that way. However, this game can cause some odd reactions in some Westerners.
4. 'I don't get the humor.' Sad to say, but a good portion of humor in Japanese VNs simply doesn't translate very well. The funniest scene in the game (in my opinion) is the drunken party in Sorami's path... but there are several points in this scene that don't translate (think plays on Japanese wording, puns, and phone number styles) that had me cracking up every time. Sad to say, but, for those playing translated JVNs, this is something you'll just have to live with.
I didn't really refute any of the complaints here... but I did try to address them. Tokyo Babel is one of the few of my favorite games that have been translated (though more of them have been in recent years, including Hapymaher and Dies Irae), but it is also the one of my translated favorites that is most likely not to be mentioned when someone is asking about this type of game.
Kazuki Fumi and Silky's Plus Wasabi's newest game has arrived. This is the third game in the series that began with Nanairo Reincarnation. I will say this outright from the beginning... this game isn't as good as either Akeiro or Nanairo. It does have its high points, but it needs to be noted that this is not on the same level as the previous two games.
This game uses the Emote system heavily, with the sole heroine (Annelise) being extremely 'animated' (think constantly swaying boobs) to a degree I haven't even seen in other games that utilize this system. Similar to the other games in the series, this game has excellent artwork that differs from most other Japanese VNs.
The music in this game isn't as good as Akeiro's or Nanairo Reincarnation's was. To be blunt, in both the previous games, the music played a strong role in making the game what it was, and the music direction (when to use what BGM) was on the highest levels I've seen in the VN industry. Unfortunately, this game falls far short of either of those two in this area, with a much weaker set of BGMs.
The game focuses around the protagonist's efforts to solve the mystery behind the mass suicide of the denizens of an apartment in the same town Nanairo Reincarnation was based in. Based on what is said in-game, the canon path that reaches to this game is Kotori's path in Nanairo and Youko's path (the Tsukihime-style normal ending) in Akeiro. Also, based on certain 'events', it is apparent that around two decades have passed since the events in Nanairo, for reasons that will become rather obvious early in the game (in other words, play Nanairo and Akeiro first if you don't want to be spoiled).
To be blunt, this game has a much tighter focus on the mystery element than either of the previous games, with less immediate sentimentality and more confrontation with the dead people 'living' in the apartments. In addition, Anne's constant advances help it retain the goofiness that was present in both the previous games.
This game has multiple endings, but I chose to only play the true one, as I figured (and I was right) that it would have the best possible result for everyone involved. Of course, when everyone besides the protagonist is dead or inhuman, that can be somewhat bittersweet.
If you were to ask me whether it was worth crying over what happened in this game, I would say yes... in particular, I cried for Kanon and Akira (two of the victims), as their lives and final deaths were the most tragic and their natures (surprising in the case of Akira) were the least inimical to others.
The true ending is definitely a tear-jerker...though it doesn't pull the tears out of me to the degree that either of the previous games did. Part of this is that both Akeiro and Nanairo are long games with extensive, detailed, and deep character development and superb presentation.
The other part is that, while I predicted the truth behind what happened about two-thirds of the way through, I found that the mystery 'investigation' system crippled the game's ability to draw me in and keep me in. To be blunt, if a game only has a single heroine, I only want minimal choices to be present, and I certainly don't want to have to deal with this kind of gameplay. The gameplay is too perfunctory to be enjoyable, and it is too intrusive and intrinsic to the game as a whole for the reader to be able to stay fully engrossed in the experience.
In conclusion, this is a game where the concept was good and the staff was first class, but where the attempts to be clever (such as with the gameplay system) fell flat. It is still a reasonably high-level game, but, considering what Kazuki Fumi has managed to do in the past with this universe, I can't help but feel it could have been handled better.
This scene is the opening of Silverio Vendetta, and the two monologues (one from Zephyr, one from a spoiler character who isn't named in the scene) define the nature of the game's theme.
What is victory?
What is glory?
I choose that path, will I be able to live without losing anything?
Can I save what is mine? Can I protect it? Can I really find happiness?
I ask this earnestly. For victory is by nature frightening to me. I know the poisoned fangs hidden within its glorious light better than anyone.
Honors that leave capability in the dust, more money than one can spend, success that can't help but be noticed... Those things can't help but cause the holder suffering the moment they overdose upon them.
In other words, it is a reaction.
Amongst the more obvious would be jealousy from the defeated, the price of fame, the public's view differing from reality, and unfounded rumors and expectations. The more extreme end can even go to death threats, worship, blackmail, etc...
Whether it is malice or berserk good will, they are both terrifying.
At times, that even becomes a suffering far more terrible than simple defeat, and it can even become the cause of utter ruin.
It is the same as losing your family as the cost for succeeding in business. It's counterproductive.
It is an absolute truth that there are times when it is best to consider allowing defeat or showing humility.
Of course, I'm not saying 'don't win'. Anyone who says that is a total idiot and is blind to reality.
Humans... no all living things regardless of origin seek a victorious result. That way of being is perfectly natural and a matter of course. It is truly rare that victory is unadulterated. In the first place, if you are always on the losing side, it is hard to even live, and the world isn't so kind as to infinitely forgive the defeated.
That's why the ideal is to seek victories one is capable of handling and defeats one is capable of accepting. I can't help but believe that the key to living a full life is acting while keeping an eye on that thin line.
'Rather than suffering a terrible defeat as the result of pursuing a great dream, it is much smarter and less painful to avoid challenging your limits and be satisfied with minor victories and losses...'
That's the nauseating thought process of the weak, but there are a lot of people out there who talk this way... and I am one of them.
卑小？ 凡人？ そうだな、指摘されてもその通り。自分自身でよく分かっているよ。予め負けた時のために予防線を張っているだけだろうと誹られても、まったく、ぐうの音も出ない
Pathetic? Mediocre? Yes, what you are saying is correct. I know that very well. Even if you say I'm just making excuses for the time I lose in advance, I can't refute you.
That's right, I'm a pathetic man.
Whether as a person or a man, I am only capable of so much.
I live without any real ideals or convictions, an opportunist who is quite satisfied as long as he can make enough money to live day by day.
I'm passive as well as pessimistic. To sum me up in a single word... pathetic.
Still, if you'll let me make one excuse, I would like to report on the life I lived until I came to this realization.
I didn't end up this way because I kept losing but rather because of an unwanted set of victories.
That's right... nothing good comes of winning.
Without fail, the next, much larger tribulation follows it up.
That might seem like some kind of joke... but it was an absolute truth for me.
Really, oh really... every time, always, always always...
Whether an enemy, a mission, a difficult question, or a competition, achieving victory fails to improve the situation. Moreover, I found myself facing similar situations at escalating levels of difficulty. Seriously, what's with that?
The moment I won by running myself ragged, an even worse problem would always, without exception, pop up before me.
The moment I came out victorious, puking blood, another great enemy would appear before me.
It was almost as if the contents of fate's treasure box were scattered before me. Problems, enemies, and every tribulation you could possibly imagine welling forth endlessly... the duty a victor must bear.
Is the world saying that, since I won, since I achieved glory that proceeding to the next stage is a matter of course, and I have to throw myself into a more fitting conflict?
Because that is the duty of a victor? Screw that! Can there be anything more idiotic than this?!
Everyone seeks victory and glory to make their present better, but for some reason, in my case, that just strangles me. You can't call that anything other than absurdity.
And of course, since I'm just a normal person, I lose as well. No, it was actually more common for me to be crawling the earth, helpless.
There was a time when, because I didn't like that, I took the unfamiliar path of working hard.
However, if I won, I was doomed to face the next tribulation. It was a hellish existence I was incapable of escaping. I felt like I was going to go mad.
Placed into that kind of situation, the human heart isn't so strong as to be able to maintain an indomitable will.
And so, I decided I had enough, exhausted.
I chose to live going with the flow.
Though I hated it, I even accepted the fact that I was worthless trash.
Yest still, I found a girl I had to protect.
I vowed to use this pathetic life to save her. For that reason, I forced myself to stand and go forth once again.
It was a once in a lifetime, final gamble... and for some reason I won...
And I achieved yet another terrible victory.
I foolishly failed to realize that that was doomed to transform into a one-way trip to hell...
(at this point, it changes narrators from Zephyr to another)
The grim reaper is called forth. Trials and tribulations beyond my ability to handle arrive.
Protecting her to the end is absolutely impossible. He will never become a true victor.
What comes is another enemy, another misfortune, another tribulation, another ruin.
The future he thought he'd reached continues to move forward, eaten away by darkness.
Rather, the miracle he managed to create becomes fuel for another challenge, turning the wheels of fate.
That is the nature of a 'counterattack'.
As it is a concept that exists through the weak destroying the strong, if the glory of victory is achieved, the right to use it is lost.
... He is an eternal loser, the cursed silver werewolf.
The gaunt evil beast who crushes all enemies in its great jaws while howling its despair from the depths of defeat.
He continues to struggle, even though he knows that the next hunter will be even more terrible than the last, unable to escape his destiny.
It is impossible to escape from victory.
It is impossible to escape from victory.
It is impossible to escape from victory.
... now, what will you do?
Usually, I focus mostly on the perspective of a consumer when I write in this blog. I do this because I am and always have been primarily a consumer of material rather than a creator. However, that doesn't mean I've never created anything... just that I haven't published anything (well, under my own name... ghost writing doesn't count) since some early fiction on Deviantart over a decade ago.
So, since I'm not writing as many reviews, I chose to start a small corner describing the techniques I use when I'm writing fiction (which I still do as a hobby, though I stopped posting it after the last site I posted massively on went under).
Today's corner is about the techniques I use when creating a character (usually the protagonist and his immediate surrounding characters, as well as the antagonist) in the brainstorming process. There are two types I use... the flow of thought type and the 'important points' type.
The flow of thoughts (similar to flow of consciousness style of writing) involves simply writing out all the qualities, the basic history, and abilities/talents/weaknesses of a character as they occur to you in prose form. This is very similar to the character summaries given on official websites, but in much more detail, with specific important points (to you) described in detail. Immediately after I complete this process, I ink out the setting (I usually create a setting in parallel to the characters) and then I start the 'sculpting' process. The sculpting process involves slowly shaving away or altering parts of the character that don't quite fit with the full setting, are excessive (it is easy to make fantasy protagonists over-powered, for instance), or just don't seem to be internally consistent in retrospect. The final step is to try to write an intro scene for that character that would make sense for that character in the universe you've created, giving you an impression that you can use to form their role in a story.
The second method I use is more mechanical. In this case, I write out all the qualities in list form, based on what kind of character I'm interested in making. I usually use this for side-characters, as it is a much 'dryer' approach. Essentially, I create Personality, History, Relationships, and Abilities/Talents/Quirks/Weaknesses categories. Relationships is generally the first category I focus on, connecting their strand of the web to that of the protagonist and/or other characters. The second is usually either History or Personality. The reason is that this defines the nature of the Relationships, giving it a more distinct form. Last is the Abilities/Talents/Quirks/Weaknesses category. To be blunt, while this is important to their role in the story, it is the aspect that is most likely to be subject to change based on what is necessary to keep the plot going.
These are the basic techniques I use... to be honest, since I've never been formally educated in creative writing, I don't know how close my methodology is to that which is commonly used, but I find that this works best for me.
Concerto Note is a game I bought years ago and stuck in a small box containing my 'rainy day classics' without playing it. Recommended to me over eight years ago as a classic kamige, I essentially forgot about it until I saw that Cross Concerto was coming out soon.
This game uses a 'parallel story' system with a flowchart, where obtaining items on the non-true paths is required to complete the true path successfully. This particular type of system is fairly rare, but it occasionally pops up in 'true heroine/path' games.
I'm going to be straightforward on the heroines... the heroines don't really stand out as being unusual, except for Rito. Wakana is your standard optimistic genkikko, Shirayuki is your standard frail ojousama, Seika is your standard 'is liked by girls more than men' type (fights, talks and acts like a man by Japanese standards, etc), and Sayori is your standard gentle-mannered oneesan type (with maid as an extra element).
Rito, on the other hand, doesn't quite fit into any of the standard archetypes. On the surface, her interactions with Shinya make them seem like standard-issue 'husband/wife childhood friends' who practically finish one another's sentences, but their relationship is much more peculiar than it seems on the surface. Moreover, Rito is an excessively rational person who can figure out just about any situation from the smallest number of clues. I say 'excessively rational' because, as is noted in the story, she mostly separates her emotional state completely from her actual course of action, and she doesn't make knee-jerk reactions to others (except Seika and Shinya). She also possesses eidetic memory.
The story in this game focuses on the protagonist and friends (which people become friends varies based on whether you are on Route 1 or Route 2 of the common route, with Route 1 having Wakana, Shirayuki and Rito's paths; and Route 2 containing Sayori's and Seika's paths) as they try to combat the unnatural bad luck (or rather lack of fortune as Tama puts it) that is befalling them. This is mostly done by stealing other people's luck through Tama (directly in Shinya's case, and in a contagion-style manner with the others) to counter the fatal misfortune waiting ten days in the future from the beginning of the story.
To be blunt, the weakest point of Concerto Note's story is the really short period of time in which the story occurs. Forming a strong romantic relationship between the characters feels very unnatural in Seika's and Shirayuki's cases due to the time constraints and lack of previous connection.
Wakana's path (which is the one you are supposed to play first) suffers from Wakana being one of the game's two weakest heroines along with Shirayuki. Where this path stumbles is in the central conflict... or rather its source. While it is the sort of conflict that would be believable in a charage (where details are generally vague in any case), in a plotge with as many precisely-used plot devices as this one, it felt forced.
Shirayuki's path also suffers due to the heroine's weakness... but it also suffers because Shirayuki's connection to the protagonist and friends is so weak. In a VN that covered a longer span of time, the events in the path would have been more believable, but the kind of actions both Shirayuki and Shinya take in this path came very close to breaking the suspension of disbelief at times. Emotionally, the path is more touching than Wakana's, and the central conflict is much more believable. However, the romantic aspects were forced/hurried.
Seika has a similar problem to Shirayuki but to a lesser extent. The extreme nature of the situation where Seika gets involved with the group in Route 2 of the common route and the common elements to both her and Shinya's personalities and backgrounds made her path less problematic to believe. This path also manages to have a more believable conflict than Wakana's (which is the least believable conflict in the game) while matching Shirayuki's path for emotional impact.
Sayori's path is my favorite other than Rito's. While Sayori is a secondary character in most of the paths, a strong effort is made to fill out her character in this path... and it succeeds. Moreover, the romance in this path is cute and believable, and the emotional connections feel the most real of the paths so far.
Rito's path... is extremely heavy, both story-wise and atmosphere-wise. It tackles the darkness behind Kannagi that is only hinted at in the other paths, as well as revealing just how Shinya and Rito became friends (specifically rather than in general terms). It also tackles the truth of Tama and the reason why the characters suffered from such extreme misfortune. Compared to the often comedic nature of the other paths, this path is often grim or sad... but it also feels like a culmination of all the scraps found in the others.
In other words, it is a standard true path, with perhaps a steeper gap in atmosphere than is the norm. However, this was familiar to me from other Applique games, as many of them have similar shifts in atmosphere between paths.
It is easy to understand why this game became a classic. While it lacks the sheer impact that Tasogare no Sinsemilla had, the relationship between Rito and Shinya quickly became one of my favorite parts of the story. For anyone who wants a good plotge and isn't an art bigot (as in, absolutely hates anything made more than five years ago), this is a good choice.
Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary is a game made back in 2017 that came very close to being my VN of the Year for that year, for good reason. Since I've already reviewed this game as a whole once, I'm going to go into more detail about what the catch points are of this game, as opposed to merely assessing it based on a lot of general points.
A major plus point of this game is the way Alice, the main heroine, often serves as a sounding board to provide the reader with an intellectual understanding of a situation. Alice, to be frank about it, is a straight-out genius with an incredibly strong will and a pragmatic personality. Throughout much of the story, she provides the reader with a better understanding of how the upper classes' culture works.
How is this important? It is important because this is one of the few games where people from extremely wealthy backgrounds interact in a non-idealized fashion (in other words, they aren't always straightforward and are willing to trap the characters with their words and actions). As an example of this, Claudette (one of the four main heroines) is constantly trying to trap Souji into giving her an opening to drag him into a romantic relationship. The wordplay is often used in a way that those unaccustomed to the customs of old money will find hard to interpret, and it is Alice's early explanations that provide the background to understand the byplay for scenes like this.
All the little bits of information and explanations that Alice gives along the way provide the reader with a deeper understanding of how the setting works, all without it feeling unnatural, because Alice is defined early on as what is known as an archetypical 'wiseman' character when it comes to social interactions.
Souji, on the other hand, is played as a contrast to Alice, as he is both socially inexperienced and seemingly 'normal' in personality... until the first time you get some background dropped on you or you see him fight (it is hard to get this across, but essentially he was trained to see fighting/killing monsters as mere routine work, like getting up in the morning and eating breakfast). Souji was raised to master 'Izumo Style', a martial art that requires the trainee to literally be trained as an infant (their limbs moved in particular ways even before they can walk) and grants the user incredible physical prowess. As an early example, without really trying, he can crack titanium body armor with his bare hands.
There is a rather large contrast between the extended common route/Alice's route and the other three heroine routes (partially because someone different wrote them). The extended common route/Alice's route is much more serious from beginning to end than the others, where more time is spent on mundane activities. For those who merely want to experience the story, I recommend just playing Alice's route, and for those who want something milder/more standard, I suggest playing the other heroine routes.
One thing I need to emphasize is that all the routes are very high-quality... which is something that is hard to do when you split responsibilities between two writers with distinct styles/tendencies. The consistency (internal consistency) between the routes is not perfect (one of the factors that went into me not picking it for VN of the Year that year), but it is consistent enough that I don't feel that anyone who plays the game will pick up on it without actively nitpicking.
The characters in this game are also very well-designed/characterized. Whether it is the two mains (Souji and Alice), the other heroines (Yuuri, Yurie, and Claudette), or the side characters (Joseph, Kisara, Saika, Noa, Noel, etc), they all have distinctive roles that fit in with their individual character backgrounds and personalities. In particular, I want to note that Saika (who is also a sub-heroine for a normal ending) has probably the second most influential position in the VN behind the two main characters (Alice and Souji). There is literally no path in the game that doesn't feel her influence to some extent, and it is this effective use of side-characters that often defines the difference between a second-rate writer and a first-rate writer.
One thing that bothered me both times I played this game was that Saika didn't have a separate route of her own. Yes, she often plays the antagonist, and her excessively manipulative nature makes her a hard fit in some ways for a Japanese visual novel. However, the degree to which her character is built up in the game made me fall in love with her to a degree that matched any of the main heroines, and it left me wishing the makers of this game had given her a better chance.
This game could have easily become a chuunige, with a few tweaks, and, in retrospect, I'm somewhat surprised that they didn't go that path, considering the setting. There are mysteries, a protagonist who is incredibly powerful, influential heroines with strong personalities, and individuals with ambiguous motives galore. That they didn't go down that road makes me feel somewhat wistful, as I would have liked to see Souji go all-out more than once in the entire VN (there is really only one fight where he goes all the way, and the results are splatter, lol).
Despite the often complex content of the story, the language of the narration is surprisingly easy to decipher, though it is definitely harder than the narration found in a charage. As such, I often find myself recommending it to people who want something serious but are new to playing untranslated visual novels.
Overall, this game has a lot to offer to someone who likes a lot of interesting details in their settings, while not becoming a game that is entirely dependent on the depth of that setting. It is also a game with a strong cast of characters and an interesting story... and in the end, that is pretty much all I want out of a visual novel, lol.
Wakaba-iro no Quartet is the latest mimikko VN from Lump of Sugar, a company that has a huge variance in quality from game to game (kamige one time, kusoge the next, lol). Lump of Sugar has of late mostly been doing mimikko games, with the Tayutama sequels/FDs and now two newer IPs having come out in the last four years. Since I love mimikko (it was my first fetish) this is a happy thing for me.
In the setting of this game, the mimikko come from an isolated mountain nation and are basically considered a genetic variant of humanity that has the ability to transform into animals. The protagonist of this story, Yuuto is a normal (think standard-issue VN protagonist) perverted young man who lives in an outwardly run-down dorm (inside it is modern and well upkept) with his osananajimi/childhood friend Miyako and his cat (who later turns out to be a mimikko) named Ai. However, things change for him when a young princess from the mimikko nation named Sophia transfers into his school and a girl named Hiyori confesses her love for him and asks to become his maid at the same time (yes, that was a wtf moment, but it was funny). Soon after, Sophia comes to live at the dorm (right after Hiyori does) and Ai is outed as a human being, resulting in all four heroines living under the same roof with the protagonist.
Now, I'm going to say this straight up... I never had any intention of playing the non-mimikko routes in this game. I like Miyako and Hiyori, but my love of mimikko means that they could only disappoint in comparison, even if their routes were better, lol.
The common route of this game is the usual LoS mix of cute and mild hilarity (Ai is probably the single cutest thing in the entire VN), and it is also the part of the game I had the most fun with. It isn't terribly long, but it doesn't really need to be. In it, there are some issues that come up and are resolved, giving you a solid idea of the character and personality of the heroines before you are presented with a straightforward choice of which route you go to (no other choices, yay!).
I went for Ai first, simply because Ai is so cat-like after nearly twenty years solely in her cat form that, as a cat person, I couldn't do anything else. Since I just told you she is definitely cat-like, anyone who has ever lived with a cat has a basic grasp of her personality (lazy, imperious, etc).
Ai's path is a pretty straightforward sibling-like relationship transforming into lovers path (think one of those paths where cousins live together and suddenly fall in love with one another one day), with a few twists due to Ai's past and a rather startling revelation about her origins. Since this was a straight-out charage, there are no dark parts to this story, but the ending is cute and a years-later epilogue, so I was satisfied.
Sophia is outwardly very princess/ojousama-like, but her basic personality is that of a future NEET (lazy, hedonistic, etc). Or at least, that is how they portray her in the common route. However, in her own route, her negative (not negative to me, negative in the context of the story) qualities don't come out that often... which surprised me, because her personality would have provided an endless potential for gags, even moreso than Ai's cat-like behavior.
Romance-wise, the path is very much standard vanilla fare. Don't expect any surprises, because there aren't any, really. There is some decent ichaicha, but nothing excessively cute, nor is there a huge amount of meaningless dating. That said, for being vanilla fare, it is well-paced and doesn't become boring.
There is some drama to the path, but it is resolved relatively easily (though not quite as easily as in Ai's path). I honestly felt that more detail could have gone into some aspects of the drama if they reworked things a bit (and I am half-sure an FD with an Aria path will pop up at some point), but, similar to Ai's path, I was happy with the ending and epilogue, which is rare in and of itself (though LoS is better about epilogues and endings than most charage/moege companies).
Despite being a fetish-ge for mimikko-lovers, this is a decent charage, though not one that reaches the highest tiers. I don't think I would recommend it above all the other mimikko-focused games out there, but it is definitely worth a play if you've exhausted all the other mimikko fetish games.
Anyone who has read one of my reviews knows I'm something of a cynic and a pessimist. I try to think the best about every VN I go into, but my first impulse is to see what is wrong, rather than what is right.
Whether it is optimism and rose-colored glasses or pessimism and cynicism, and excess of either is often a negative influence on the quality of a review. Generally speaking, I usually make an effort to find something I like about a VN's concept before going in, then I start the VN trying to enjoy it as an outgrowth of that. By the end, this usually results in me having experienced both the negative and positive aspects of the VN... the problem is, when reviewing, it is all too easy to forget what is good about the VN.
As a result, when I'm writing up a review, the first thing I do is write up a list of the good points I found, ignoring the mitigating negative factors. I then build the review around these and include the negative points in with the rest... but you can probably tell that being positive just doesn't come naturally to me, since I tend to be pretty harsh.
However, by using this system, I've found dozens of VN gems over the years that I probably would have discarded for perceived negative qualities if I didn't use this process. Indeed, early on in my reading of untranslated VNs, I dropped numerous ones simply because they had a negative aspect that I got obsessed with. I would later go back and replay them, only to find that the negative aspect wasn't as big a deal as I thought at the time, since I made the effort to go back with a differing perspective.
A poor quality in a reviewer is the tendency to ignore the negatives about something you like. Another one is to rate things entirely based on aspects you only have a vague grasp or focus on (in my case, due to my eye problems, I'm not the best judge of artwork, and my musical sense is entirely based on how it enhances the atmosphere, rather than raw quality comprehension). I'm a story reviewer. I review almost exclusively based on the story, characters, and presentation. As such, art and sound rarely have a place in my reviews, since I don't think I'm qualified to evaluate them except in the most general of terms.
I can tell when a VA did an exceptional job, because it stands out enough for me to notice. I will even mention this in the review, since it takes a lot for a performance to stand out to me. However, I never pretend to know the ins and outs of specific aspects of VA or musical quality. I simply don't have the right kind of ear for that kind of thing, not being musically inclined.
One thing I've noticed in some reviewers who prefer niche genres (such as myself) is to display a tendency I refer to as PGRD (or Popular Game Reactionary Disorder). It is a fictional mental disease that many of us who have a distinct preference for a niche genre display that causes us to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to popular works, simply because they are mainstream. This is a problem that is particularly common in Western otakus of around my age, who became fanboys during a time when watching anime, playing Japanese video games, and reading manga had a rather strong stigma that left us feeling isolated and defensive. However, it is also present in people who prefer niche genres (I get the double whammy, being both). That sense of isolation leads to a tendency to over-praise our favorite materials and bash anything that we see as being too popular.
In reverse, there are those who automatically dismiss anything that isn't mainstream. Both types are reactionary in nature and have little to do with the quality of the materials in question. Being a long-time sci-fi addict, I can't understand why anyone would enjoy Avatar (the movie). However, if I make the mistake of saying that in front of a fanboy of the movie, I will inevitably get a vociferous lecture on how misunderstood the movie is by science fiction fans...
There are many such examples of such behavior I have experienced over the years, both in myself and in others. As such, a reviewer has to be willing to examine his own motives for liking or hating something. Are you being cynical for the sake of being cynical? Are you over-praising something to the point of overlooking the obvious problems with it? Are you making excuses while thinking you are making a reasoned argument? On the other side, are you ignoring the voice of reason to give you an excuse to dislike something?
In the end, bias is unavoidable... but it is a reviewer's duty to do their best to cast aside as much of it as possible, because people use our reviews as reference points when they pick what they want to play/read/watch.
Yurayuka was released in 2017 by Cube, a company that I never got around to messing with (mostly because their other games were nukige, for the most part). I chose to put this one in my 'rainy day' archive for a time when I wanted something to play that I hadn't read before but wasn't a charage (most games I set aside are charage, since there is only so much virtual sugar I can consume without getting virtual diabetes).
From the very beginning, this game makes its 'time loop' concept obvious, and a large part of the reason for this is that the focus of this game is not on mystery or mindfucks (the two primary aspects of many timeloop games) bur rather on the emotional aspects.
The denizens of the timeloop realm, which is an island school with no people there other than them, number five... four girls and one guy (yes, a harem, lol, though there is no harem ending). The protagonist, Aoi, is a young man with a strong aversion to romance (almost a phobia) that partially comes from his little sister Tomoe's incestuous advances. Tomoe, is sister is basically a straight-out 'I only need nii-san' imouto character who will do anything to get him to pay attention to her. Sumire is a sharp-tongued and whimsical (also highly intelligent) young woman who seems to want something from Aoi. Tsukino is the dorm's 'mother' character, doing most of the cooking and cleaning, as well as generally babying the cast. The last character, Konoha, is a young girl who is rather dependent emotionally on Tsukino, to the point where her world revolves around her.
Now, this game does do some of the 'shocking revelations' that are common to timeloop games, but most of them are rather obvious or foreshadowed by Kuro and Shiro (the mysterious twins who drop hints during all the paths and don't get involved directly with anyone other than Aoi).
Now, it is tempting to lump Aoi in with hetare protagonists at first... but since he can generally bring himself to meet the emotional challenges presented in the various paths head-on, it isn't really appropriate to call him one. He does, however, have a strong aversion to making choices or getting close with other people, up to and including his sister.
Each path, thankfully, has a completely independent conclusion, in the sense that it isn't required that you see any of the others to grasp the true/canon path (Tsukino's), and, because of this, I have to praise the way they handled the various paths, especially Sumire's and Konoha's. It doesn't feel like any of the heroine paths are gypped by the way the true path is handled, and it doesn't feel like the other heroines are only a tool to get you into Tsukino's panties (a common habit in many 'true end' VNs).
I can't really say there is any good humor in this game (a rarity, since most VNs make at least some attempt at humor that I find reasonably close to funny) outside of Tomoe's brocon, which stops being funny if you read her path. However, there are some good cathartic moments in all the paths, especially Sumire's and Tsukino's. Tsukino's path's two endings are both tear-jerkers worthy of remembering.
Overall, this game is a decent and somewhat different type of timeloop story that I found enjoyable, though it isn't a kamige by any stretch of the imagination. It did, however, grant me some much needed catharsis, and that was really all I was looking for when I picked this game out of the cardboard box I had it sealed in.
To be honest, I wasn't intending to read this game... then I happened to catch a Japanese review and immediately purchased a copy (that arrived two days ago). This game has surprised me by being the first comedy SOL VN to make me laugh this year (comedy VNs being small in number in the first place making this worse), so just starting this game up was enough to satisfy me that I hadn't wasted my money. ASa Project is a company that has long produced standard charage of various levels of quality, but their last few games have been only just barely reaching levels I consider acceptable.
Like their last game, Karigurashi Ren'ai, this game picks a somewhat eccentric approach to SOL comedy. In this case, the protagonist essentially takes on a part-time job that is on the border between legitimate work and enjoukousai, where he gets hired to play a role (boyfriend, boytoy, big brother, friend, etc) for his clients. This causes a lot of weird antics that are generally amusing (at least to me), and it is helped along by a cast of sub-heroines that are several levels above the two main ones in quality (yes, i'm bashing Emi and Hasumi) or general amusement factor. Tsubaki, the teacher heroine, is easily my favorite of them all, with an adorable gap between her gamer self, her teacher self, and her lonely homebody self that was very pleasing on many levels. The twins, Chinatsu and Konatsu (both total perverts, if with slightly differences in degree and vector) had a path that was full of shimoneta and didn't really have anything but humor and H (which was fine, since I never thought to see anything deep out of that relationship).
After the split-off point for Tsubaki and the KonoChina twins' paths, a second arc begins, following the love triangle that forms between Hasumi, the protagonist, and Emi. It also has two short (think fifteen minutes of reading) paths for their friends, Momoko and Saki.
Saki's path... is not so much a path as a bad/normal ending (with two fairly hot h-scenes). It's worth laughing about, but there is none of the intimacy of Tsubaki's path or the absolute perverted hilarity of the twins' path. Momoko's path is almost the opposite... it is more of a 'comfort sex' ending, which is good in and of itself, because it steps outside of what is normal for the SOL genre. Too bad that Momoko wasn't a main heroine, since she would be an interesting main heroine.
Now I get to Hasumi... I don't care if she is one of the two main heroines. I disliked her from the beginning. I hated everything about her characterization, save for the hints of loneliness they drop here and there throughout the common path. The unnatural-feeling characterization for her just made me want to break something... and while she could be amusing at times, her interjections into the early sub-heroine paths often fell flat, at least in my estimation. Her personality comes out more after the break between the first and second arcs of the common route (first arc includes the split for the twins and Tsubaki's routes), and she makes a bit more sense... but her characterization still grates on my nerves. What really gets to me is that if it weren't for the aesthetics of her characterization, I probably would have liked her character background... that laugh just drove me nuts. I did like her half-yandere qualities, but the fact that I have to plow through that weird laugh and annoying mannerisms to get through it kind of ruins things... Her path itself is as amusing as the rest of the VN... except that her annoying mannerisms become a constant rather than an occasional annoyance.
Emi makes a much better best friend than a lover. To be honest, I just found it hard to take her seriously as a heroine (fake lovers to real lovers always does this to me). The way the relationship (the business/acquaintance level relationship, not lovers) with the protagonist begins (fake boyfriend bought with money) is an amusing variation on one of my most hated VN tropes, and her personality makes for great comedy relief. However, her as a lover... sorry, I couldn't see it. It was much more amusing when she was getting verbally abused by the protagonist for her bad habits. As the butt of a joke, she is a great character, but as a heroine? Not so much, in my estimation. That said, she does a much better job as a heroine than Hasumi, at least to my mind... though the nature of the relationship between the three (the love triangle doesn't break up regardless of which one he chooses, which means the antics continue right up to the end) meant that I had to deal with Hasumi's personality even throughout this path.
One of ASa Project's better games, though it suffers from a poor choice of main heroines. Tsubaki is by far my favorite heroine in this VN, and I would have liked to see a more detailed version of her path (meeting her family, general antics, lol). This VN's standout element is its comedy, as it uses slapstick, sit-com, and manzai as needed to amuse the reader. As far as romance goes... the comedy element is far stronger than the romance element, so it is hard/impossible to take seriously, but that was this VN's salvation when it came down to it.
Ryuusei World Actor is the latest VN by the up-and-coming plotge and chuunige specialist company, Digination, under its subsidiary Heliodor. This company's games so far have been somewhat unpredictable and unbalanced in my experience, with a great deal of ambition and not quite enough talent to pull things through completely. I say this from the point of view of a long-time chuunige/plotge addict, and from the perspective of a person that has played two of their games to the end and sampled two others.
Moreover, this is a Kinugasa Shougo game... his first since the second Reminiscence game (which is probably why Tonari no Shoujo never got released, the whimsical jackass that he is). The bits and pieces of Kaito's worst qualities seen in Ruka (the protagonist of this game) make it pretty obvious who wrote this game, as do the way the endings are handled.
This game is based in a world where dozens (literally) of sapient species coexist (in the sense that they are alive, though their countries war against one another constantly) in the only nation that accepts all races, as well as the only nation that has achieved a high-tech civilization, The Seventh Federation. The protagonist, Ruka, is a low-ranking detective with a lot of bad habits who gets on just about everyone's nerves (including the readers' at times). He rarely admits when he is wrong, complains when things don't go perfectly his way, uses numerous illegal sources, and generally makes every other cop look good in comparison (even the ones who take bribes). That said, when he wants to be, he is quite capable... even ingenious. Unfortunately, that is coupled with a lack of motivation except when cornered, a tendency to get involved with incidents his superiors don't want investigated, and a fundamentally amoral ethos to getting things done.
In other words, except during a few moments when he shows his true colors, he can be a constant irritant to vicariously experience, simply because the reactions of those around him are almost entirely negative and his attitude is bad enough that you can't blame them.
This game is not ladder-style, unlike many of the previous games by this company. Rather, it utilizes a classic (though I don't necessarily consider classic a compliment) structure where you must experience the three sub-heroine routes before you can see the true route (Claris's route).
The heroines in this game include Claris, the protagonist's naive rookie elven partner; Chiffon, a Seguit (think inhumanly strong barbarian race) with a strong sense of honor who is living on a shoestring budget because of her easy-to-fool goody-goody personality; Mel, the princess of a primitive human nation of powerful warrior-mages who is in hiding; and Komachi, a female traffic cop who is constantly going to mixers in hope of finding the perfect guy.
The common route, as is common in most VNs, serves as an intro to the characters, their personalities, and their circumstances. It is often humorous (well, I found it so), though there are just as many serious moments due to the nature of Ruka's job... and his bad habits. To be honest, I found the common route serviceable, but it also shares a complaint I had throughout the VN, from beginning to end... despite the fact that the protagonist is actually very capable, he almost never shows it.
While Ruka can be depended on to bring cases to a conclusion, his lack of an interest in credit for his work (mostly because he knows he won't benefit even if he does get credit), his need to hide his true abilities (he has good reasons, but I honestly felt that this aspect was perhaps something they should have cut out), and his tendency to bring things to a conclusion in the worst way possible while solving the case (for him) is often frustrating. Worse is the lack of lateral connections between the heroines, with most of their connection being through the protagonist and momentary, rather than being a near-constant.
The combat scenes in the common route are decent... even good. However, they are frustratingly short considering the sheer number of abilities and powers apparently present throughout the Seventh Republic and its races.
The common route also fails to really bring the Seventh Republic's peoples to life, which i found irritating, since the setting has such potential.
Chiffon's path is the earliest branch (the only early branch) and is really a sub-heroine path in structure. Chiffon is perhaps the most pure-hearted person in the VN (mostly competing with Mel, though I give Chiffon the pure-pure prize due to Mel's surprising familiarity with things that made me wince). Her innocence, naivete, and strong code of honor also make me tentatively name her as one of only two people in the VN I consider to be 'true good' alignment characters (the other is Melissa, the fairy the protagonist rescues fairly early on).
Chiffon's path is the weakest and (oddly considering she is probably the strongest fighter amongst the heroines) the most SOL-centric. I liked the relationship, but that was despite how it developed rather than because of how it developed. This path showed off one of the major reasons I am so wary of this company's games... the inconsistent pacing. This path is also the one that is most completely disconnected from the others, and that is more than a little irritating.
The epilogue in this path is good in the sense that it is based more than 'next week' and it reflects the results of the events that occurred in the more dramatic ending parts. However, I felt it could have been more extensive, to compensate for the shortness of the main path...
Komachi is my least favorite heroine. She is also a Victim A type heroine (the nosy investigative type with no ability to protect herself), which I constantly scream at whenever they get included in an action story game. This is in comparison to Mel, who is a Victim B type heroine (the virtually helpless sheltered girl who is caught up in circumstances beyond her control), and the choice to plop a heroine like this into the story is questionable at best. I honestly think she should have been position as an occasional sex-friend who dies partway through (hence the Victim A label) or a side-character rather than a heroine, considering the type of story this game is.
Her path's value lies in what it reveals about certain members of the Cult, rather than in Komachi's circumstances themselves. This path is a rather obvious 'revelation preparation for the true path' path, and it seems to exist solely for providing the information that comes out in it. The romance feels a bit forced and the way the two get together just doesn't sit right with me, after reading it.
I'll say this straight out... Mel's path needed a 'five years later' after story. For better or worse, the core conflict is left only partially resolved (Mel's issues), and, in classic Kinugasa Shougo faction, nothing is concluded. This is the thing I hate most about Kinugasa Shougo... and the part that he seems to insist on unless the company he works for forces him to act otherwise.
Mel's path itself has some excellent action scenes (several levels above either Chiffon's or Komachi's), but it feels like they only scratched the surface of the potential for this path. As such, I felt more than a little irritated about how it was handled. Unlike Komachi's and Chiffon's paths, where the romantic elements felt forced, it is rather obvious that Mel had a crush on Ruka from early on, so I wasn't bothered by the romantic shift.
Aaah... I'm going to be clear about this. This path reveals the truth of Ruka's past, which is hinted at repeatedly throughout the VN, but is mostly shoved to the side in the other paths. It also clarifies his relationship to Claris, who turns out to be a halfway decent heroine...
... unfortunately, this suffers from what I'm tempted to call 'Kinugasa Syndrome'... in other words, Kinugasa Shougo's absolute hatred of concluding his own stories (extrapolated from his writing habits). For better or worse, Claris's path suffers from this disease. Actually, in some ways it is worse, since it cuts off just when things were getting interesting, probably to let them set up a sequel. Claris's path occurs chronologically after a non-romantic version of the other heroines' paths (predictably so, since that is one of Kinugasa's standard storytelling techniques, as was seen by how he handled the transition to Akagoei 3). It is actually written quite well, and its paced about as good or better than Mel's path... but somehow, there is even less action (disappointing, considering the case they are chasing).
I honestly was frustrated with how this path ended... especially since it really doesn't go anywhere beyond handling the protagonist's past and a number of h-scenes. I was deeply disappointed by how this was handled, and I'm more than a little angry about the way it cut off...
It is hard to describe just how sharply this story gets cut short... literally nothing gets concluded, obviously setting things up for a sequel... but without even the minimal effort to throw the readers a bone that Shougo usually makes.
This game concludes with an epilogue that becomes available after finishing the four heroine paths. It is mostly a short get-together of the four formerly-young detectives that joined at the same time as Ruka, and it rather blatantly sets things up for a sequel... which made me want to pull out the few strands of hair still remaining on the top of my head. I hate it when no attempt is made to at least tie off a few strands of the storyline. Even in the original Akagoei, at least some of the conflicts were resolved (though he deliberately overturned most of them in Akagoei 3, with Kaoru's path being the storyline that heads into Akagoei 3).
A game whose setting possesses enormous potential, ruined by Kinugasa Shougo being allowed to indulge all of his worst habits without restraint... and with none of his good ones really surfacing at any point of the VN.
Edit: When writing the above review, I tended to focus on what was wrong with the VN... and that was perhaps inevitable since I wrote each part after the conclusion of a path, and the conclusions to each path are singularly unsatisfying, even for something by this writer.
What was good about this VN? First is the setting... the Seventh Federation is an interesting country, a nation enveloped in permanent darkness with numerous races coexisting within. Second? The characters. The characters are all well-defined and stand out well (except the heroines, who oddly are some of the weakest characters... well, other than Claris), and I smiled frequently at the kind of BS Ruka spewed whenever things weren't going to his advantage. The detective action is sometimes hit and miss... but Ruka really is intelligent and experienced as a detective... he is just apathetic when he doesn't have something or someone prodding him to do his job.
Honestly, the only thing I can say to anyone considering reading this VN is wait for a potential sequel to come out. Until one does, this game will be nothing but frustrating to most people.
This is the latest game by Clochette, a company known mostly for four things: It's decent stories, it's excellent characters, a tendency toward fantasy and sci-fi settings, and the forest of oppai heroines that spring up in its wake. lol
Clochette is straight out my favorite plotge/charage hybrid company, mostly because they understand what they do well and don't try to do anything but develop from that perspective. The result is that I can depend on their games being enjoyable. Some people will probably go 'eh? Isn't that a matter of course?', but most companies that always produce the same genre never manage Clochette's level of consistency in quality and type. To be straight, this is the only charage company whose games I can still enjoy without reservation, even after my burnout.
Kokorone is based in a setting where mysterious out of place objects, in the form of underground black pyramids surrounded by unnatural foliage, began granting people mysterious powers about thirty years before. The protagonist, Komachiya Soushirou, has one such ability that he defines as an affliction. His ability is indiscriminate telepathic reception (under the theory that people 'project' their emotions and thoughts constantly if they don't try to shut it off). He suffers from headaches and having to hear people spill their thoughts and emotions into his mind wherever he goes, and he can't shut it off.
That said, seeing as this is a Clochette game, this 'constant suffering' stage only lasts about five minutes (Clochette games have dark moments, but none of them have an overbearing atmosphere). It is soon relieved by his experience of the mind of Kamishiro Sumika, one of the game's heroines, and he finds himself drawn into helping out with her club, which tries to build bridges between Magia Saucers (yes, that is the name for them, lol) and normal people. They are joined by the iai mistress and Sumika's best friend, Tatewaki Chihaya; the genius Magia researcher Tsumuri; her cat-like best friend Leeruxu; and (eventually) the protagonist's senpai-imouto Nazuna (yes, she is both his little sister and his senpai).
The common route is pretty straightforward Clochette, with ecchi happenings that never cross the line, mild humor, and a few serious story/plot points that serve to properly introduce you to the setting and characters (and give you an idea of what the heroines will be like). The protagonist does deal with his personal issues in the common route just well enough to provide a baseline for them possibly becoming less important in the heroine routes (or become important again, depending on the path), which was definitely intentional and typical of heroine routes... but I never really thought Clochette would pursue the production of a game with a constantly gloomy protagonist, anyway.
Because of this route, Chihaya will forever be Chii-chan to me. I mean, Chii-chan is so adorable that you can totally see why Sumika adores her... and the route is extremely lovey-dovey, even at its darkest moments. Part of that is helped by Chihaya being a complete open book to the protagonist for much of the path, resulting in an endless cycle of ichaicha that is oddly non-annoying (probably because the ability to see into her head makes it less fake-seeming).
Anyway, Chihaya's route focuses, unsurprisingly, on the personal issues for her that surround her Magia and her relationship with her father... as well as the problems Magia can cause for athletes and competitive martial artists (by law, they can't participate). This route gets highly emotional at times, especially toward the end, but it stays light and cute for the most part.
The obligatory catgirl of this VN, a young woman who possesses a Magia that grants her incredible physical abilities and the visual traits of a cat-person. She is a friendly and whimsical heroine, closing in suddenly and vanishing on a whim. She eats a lot (think food-fighter levels), and she can generally be trusted to be smiling or encourage a warm atmosphere wherever she goes.
Her path circles around her abandonment issues and the protagonist's reaction to them, and as a result, it has less focus on the characters' powers than in Chii-chan's path. There are some strong emotional moments in this path, as Leeruxu's issues have a very strong basis in her past that isn't easy go leave behind. That said, it mostly comes off as a moe-focused sort-of nakige route... especially since everything about Leeruxu is built to be moe or ero, right down to her voice.
Nazuna is the protagonist's imouto (little sister for the uninitiated) and she is pretty typical of Clochette imouto characters. How so? Every single Clochette imouto shares two major qualities... they are a total brocon and they are extremely erotically designed (all Clochette heroines manage to be ero in a good way, despite being oppai monsters). Nazuna shares this quality with standard-issue tsundere piled on top, in the way of old-style tsundere (right down to the classic tone of voice when denying her affection). Also typical of routes for these heroines, the incest issue is mostly minor to the heroine and protagonist, though there is a short period of thinking over the difficulties involved. (incidentally, Nazuna is only #4 on my Clochette imouto list, with Konoka from Prism Recollection being the top so far, mostly because they did so good a job combining her quirks, her high intelligence, and fundamentally tragic innocence... oh yeah, and her perversion)
As a clarification, one reason why most Clochette sister heroine routes go more smoothly than most is because there is usually at least one other person who is supportive of the relationship, if not the entire group of heroines and sub-characters. While drama often pops up later on in the path, the initial transition is usually fast and easy, in comparison to blood-related imouto characters in other companies' games.
In exchange for not being overly focused on incest drama, this path tends to focus on the issues with their deceased parents and their relationship to the school they are attending... and the dreams they left behind for the relationship between Magia Saucers and normies (lol).
Note: I'm doing this VN really slowly, doing a path whenever I feel like it, but one thing I'm noticing is that there is a great reduction in drama from previous games by this company. While the issues of the prejudice between Magia Saucers and normal people are present in each path, in the ones I've done so far, it has been mostly mild.
Unusually for Clochette, Sumika is the main/true heroine of this game, though you can play her path from the beginning. Sumika is a kind-hearted, innocent young woman who desires nothing more than to see others happy. Her goal is to see Magia Saucers and normal people get along, and she works hard as the club leader to make it happen (while baking cakes and other snacks for her friends). She is an 'open book', as her spoken words and inner 'voice' don't vary from one another very often, and she is the 'voice' that heals the protagonist of his growing misanthropy early on in the story.
Her path, atypically for Clochette, is by far the most extensive in terms of dealing with Magia-related issues, the protagonist's past, and his problems with his ability. As a result, this path feels the most like a normal Clochette path, though it is also the only path that doesn't have an epilogue. It is an excellent path, but, having read it, I have absolutely no desire to be disappointed by Tsumuri's path, so I'll stop my play here.
As a charage, this is a top-class game, with all the best elements of a charage (ichaicha romance, SOL, mild comedy, etc) involved without most of the flaws (average/weak protagonist, lack of origin for romantic feelings, excessive dating). As a Clochette game, however, it falls somewhere below the midline, being just a bit better than Amatsu Misora Ni while falling below all their other works. That said, even a below-average Clochette game is still much better than the common ruck of charage, so I can honestly recommend it to those who love oppai and charage, lol.
... I'm going to be blunt. It has been a while (think 2014) since any company has produced a nakige that compares to this one. The characters, their backgrounds, their personalities, and the setting all come together to form a story of deep affection, pain, and tears that had me crying more than a dozen times throughout the VN.
In terms of heroines, this VN's imoutos are the best. Shinobu is the twisted, obsessive half-yandere, super-capable imouto who adores her niisan (with good reason). Tsubasa is the honest, affectionate, straightforward imouto who is incapable of hiding anything. While the other two heroines kind of pale compared to those two, their routes are another story entirely.
I'm going to be straight... there are no bad or under-developed paths in this VN. The characters' emotional and real-life (to them) struggles are intense, engrossing, and emotional. Neneko's and Yuuka's paths are cases of the 'paths surpassing the heroines', a phenomenon that has become sadly rare in recent years, as writing quality has fallen drastically in the charage 'genre'.
Technically, Tsubasa's is the true route, but none of the routes were neglected in favor of hers, though I could have wished for an epilogue based a few years later for Shinobu's path (a matter of personal taste). This is a mark of the skill of the writer and the person who designed the scenario, as the fact is that in most cases where there is a true or central heroine, the other heroines tend to be neglected, at least in my experience.
The protagonist in this story will probably get mixed reactions out of people, if only because he is a bit angsty, especially when issues of parents come up. He has good reason, as he is a victim of child abuse (he doesn't hide this, and it is revealed within the first half-hour of reading). At heart, he is a good person, but he is very exclusive in the people he cares about and insanely protective of those chosen few. His obsession with his role as a big brother causes some big problems in Shinobu's route, but that is mostly because he is very hard-headed and straight-laced... the type of guy who makes a vow to himself and never breaks it, even in the particulars.
Story-wise... this is classic non-Key nakige fare. The protagonist deals with his own issues (to varying degrees) while doing his best for the heroines, the troubles and drama along the way designed to drag the tears out of you, though it all ends happily eventually. I was particularly touched by the healing that occurs in the protagonist in Tsubasa and Neneko's endings (through different methods), and I, for once, wasn't frustrated with the protagonist and heroine's struggles in Shinobu's path.
None of the characters' struggles felt forced or unnatural, the way many charage make them seem, which was impressive in and of itself.
Overall, this is a first-class addition to anyone's nakige collection, and it is definitely going to be stiff competition for my VN of the Month for May. I wept, I laughed, and I suffered along with the characters and out of sympathy for them. I come out of this VN glad that I played it, a rare experience for a person who is as jaded as I am when it comes to VNs.
The House War series is one of three co-existing (to some extent, each of the series co-exists in time, often with the same characters) series written in the same universe by Michelle West, a half-Japanese, half-Canadian writer who first came to my attention when I was stunned by the first book of the Sun Sword series.
The universe created in the three series (the Sacred Hunt duology, the Sun Sword series, and the House War series) extend across over thirty years of time in-series and involve as many varied perspectives, people, and desires as the more infamous large-scale high fantasy book series out there (the Wheel of Time, the Game of Thrones, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, etc). However, it is distinct in every way from them in style.
While the world West puts together is often as harsh or more so than the Game of Thrones series, it manages a degree of mystique that Martin never achieves, at least partly because the focus is more on the people and setting then making as many dirty deeds as possible occur in the shortest time possible (incidentally, that is my assessment of Martin's works). A typically Japanese flavor exists in the writing, mixed with flavors of Celtic and even Middle Eastern tones at times. Depending on which characters form the core of an individual book, the atmosphere differs dramatically.
The House War series is centered around Jewel Markess ATerafin and the people that surround her. Jewel is a key character in all three series, though in different ways. In the Sacred Hunt, she is the desperate leader of a den (think street gang) of orphans whose existences are only considered relevant relative to her. As such, little focus or spotlight is put on the den, except to give them some minimal color and give you a vague idea of how they matter to Jewel. Jewel is seer-born, a rare form of 'talent' that causes her to see potential futures in dreams and instinctively (knee-jerk, gut-level) know when her own life is in danger and avoid it reflexively. Other talents, such as mage-born, healer-born, god-born, bard-born, and maker-born are all present in the series, but explanations for each are generally only presented as aspects of their existence become relevant to the story at large.
She lives in Averaalan, the capital city of an Empire ruled by the Kings, two god-born children born of the gods of Wisdom and Justice. The complex society of the Empire nonetheless has only a very limited privileged class, made up of a wealthy but not feudal 'patrician' nobility, the commons, and the Ten. The Ten are one of the constructs I like most, besides the Kings, in this particular setting. They are a group of ten aristocratic clans that are granted almost complete internal autonomy and are not hereditary. Instead, the Ten increase their numbers by merit-based adoption, wherein individuals that have talents and skills desired or needed by the clan as a whole are 'adopted' regardless of origin.
The House War series follows Jewel's life from early childhood, details the creation of her den, and further writes in details of the events around the duology solely from the point of view of the den and Jewel herself in the first book. The rest of the books detail her rise after the events of the Sun Sword series to the rank of the Terafin (the ruler of the Terefin, the greatest of the Ten) and the results of her choices until she meets her destiny. Of the three series, the House War series most deeply details the aspects that are left oblique and unexplained in the previous books, regarding the nature of human talent-born, the nature of power in that universe, and the nature of the immortals and gods.
Jewel is, other than her power, merely a fiercely compassionate woman who cares far too deeply for someone who rules. Her immortal companions are frequently frustrated by her (mostly because they only understand the power she wields and what it will become), and her mortal companions fear for her as her power grows and she struggles against the necessity to change in order to master it.
The over-arching antagonist of all three series is Allasakar, the Lord of the Hells, a being that is deliberately demonized (lol) in the Sacred Hunt, given some perspective through the eyes of Kiriel, his half-human daughter, in the Sun Sword, and given a third and more complete relative perspective based on the truths revealed in the House War series. I won't go into detail about this, but Allasakar is presented as being inimical to all mortal life... and this is true in every way. However, one thing that gets revealed in a rather stark manner in the House War is just how inimical ALL immortals in this series are to mortals.
The world Jewel and the other characters live in is one that is asleep, the gods having withdrawn to another realm for reasons of their own, the Firstborn (their 'children) confined to the mystic wilds, and many of the other immortal existences in a thousands of years long sleep. Because of this, a marked difference between the early books and the later ones is the stripping away of the gentle human 'myths' that gloss over just how terrible the immortals, regardless of alignment, were.
If the Duology was a simple good vs evil play and the Sun Sword was an interwoven tapestry of demons an politics, the House War is the mortal coming into contact with and struggling against the immortal. Michelle West's concepts of the immortal are very Japanese, for someone familiar with Japanese Buddhism and Shinto. Indeed, I can say that while there is a strong Celtic influence on the aesthetic, the essence is almost entirely Japanese when it comes to immortals in the story (it becomes even more so later on).
For those with an interest on why I said there is a strong Middle-eastern influence, I recommend you read the Sun Sword series. Following the events in the lands of the Dominion, in particular the first book of the series which almost exclusively centers around that region with few outside influences, brings that influence out in full. Serra Diora, one of my favorite characters in the series, is someone I can honestly describe as one of the most admirable characters in the series as a whole, while being one of the weakest relatively (Edit: In terms of power, not personality). It gave me a much better perspective on Middle Eastern culture, and it is one of the reasons I actually began reading some literature from that part of the world.
On request and because I am a Kurashiki fan, I decided to play this, despite worries about the concept and the characters... and I came out finding my worries perfectly justified.
First, the protagonist Teru... in a standard chuunige, he would be the jackass that gets killed after begging for his life in the opening act after doing something totally scumbag-like. Worse, rather than being merely a cold-blooded manipulator (which is how the Getchu page presented him), he is actually an irritable kid who thinks he is a lot smarter than he is.
Second, the heroines... first, the punk-like Aira who overdoes her makeup and generally speaks like an airhead but has definite anger issues. Second is Asami, another man's wife who is generally weak-spirited and only clings to her second life out of a desire not to lose what she has left (her husband and child). Third is Mao, the protagonist's osananajimi who has a strong sense of justice, is pretty naive in general, and tends to get on the protagonist's nerves constantly (this gets worse after he dies and gets resurrected). Mao is the true heroine of the game... and also the single most annoying character in the game, even setting aside the protagonist's issues with her. To be blunt, she is yet another Victim A heroine presented as the true heroine of a serious game with violence...
Third, the writing... I wanted to cry at how low-quality the writing in this game is compared to Kurashiki's previous two Clock-up games. Both Okami and Maggot showed off his skills in full, and as a result, they have a cult fanbase even amongst those who don't like the sexual themes involved in the latter or the social ones in the former. The basic narrative quality is scaled down to the level of the protagonist, which is hugely disappointing.
Last, though this is more of a universal complaint for all Clock-up games... too much meaningless h-scenes. I hate Clock-up's visual style for H-scenes (there aren't any torture rape scenes in this one, outside of the bad endings which I didn't watch), and the presence of loli content made me vomit... twice. Seriously, was that really necessary?
The good points of this VN lie solely in the individual heroine paths, because the common route is just poorly handled and paced. The heroine paths, on the other hand, are slightly stronger, though only Mao's has a decent epilogue (even by VN standards).
Overall, this game felt like a really inept attempt at psychological horror. Considering how good a job Kurashiki has done previously at this kind of thing, it startled me how huge the gap in quality was between this and his previous works... both for Light and Clock-up. Even Sora no Baroque was better, and that is saying a lot.
I do not regret playing this game.
I needed to say this first, because this game has a pretty high level of emotional impact. The actual characters are quiet for the most part, but the relationships in this game are so twisted that even thinking about them being real would make a saint wince.
This story centers around a young personal servant, Kumagata Arima, and his young mistress, Otobe Supika. It is the Taishou Era (pre-WWII, late teens to late twenties of the twentieth century), and Japan's first age of modern prosperity is at its height. Supika is an apparently sickly ojousama who reluctantly goes to school at the urge of her personal servant Arima, who takes care of all her personal needs (up to and including dressing her and doing her hair). Arima is an apparently devoted servant who can be relied on without reservation by his sickly mistress...
Well, there is a lot more to it, but this is as far as I can go in terms of specifics without spoiling it for you. Tasogare no Folklore is a game where not knowing too much is an important aspect of enjoying the story, so I really suggest you don't read the official site or the Getchu page. Instead, I will explain what kind of game it is.
Tasogare no Folklore's primary attractions are the disparity between the darkness hidden in the depths of the characters' home and the apparent strength of their relationships, particularly the one between Supika and Arima. Their relationship is not as simple and straighforward as it seems on the surface, and the way it twists is the source of a lot of the sick fascination I felt watching the train head for the broken tracks.
To be straight, this is a dark game with no miraculous salvation. Oh, there are a few times when a 'convenient' outcome occurs, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. The characters' feelings for one another are real, but they are also muddied by circumstance and events in the past. As a result, their relationships are twisted to an extreme degree (though Supika and Arima's relationship is so twisted even the other characters can't understand it).
However, the presentation of this game is top tier. I'm almost tempted to cry 'kamige', but that is going too far, lol. This game is a dark fantasy, but it is also a quietly intense love-romance. It also has elements of a number of genres, but in the end, what stuck with me was that I felt it was a romance from the beginning.
There are two endings (and one extra story based off the 'good' ending) in this game... a 'good' ending and a 'normal' ending (in Tsukihime style). The good ending is a happy one... but I say that with the caveat that it is still bittersweet. The environment Supika and Arima are forced into is not one that goes for charage-style 'purely happy' endings, after all.
I decided to make this post after analyzing my own reading speed and the reasons why it is so fast... but I also wanted to give tips on how to increase your reading speed without hurting your enjoyment of VNs, manga, and books. At the same time I was doing this, I gradually came to realize that one of the big reasons why my favorite genre is so niche (chuunige) is simply because most people bump into the walls of complex text and give up.
Regardless of which language you are reading (Japanese, English, or any other language), the basics of reading are the ability to see and understand the writing, have the vocabulary necessary to understand the words, and an understanding of grammar advanced enough to comprehend how the words come together to create meaning. I know it sounds condescending for me to go back and name these basics, but it is necessary to do so in order to make my points.
When it comes to reading fiction, there is an aspect that comes into play that many don't take account of... the gap between the language used when writing and that which is used in verbalization. Most people won't use even a fifth of the terminology and styles that exist in the literary world to converse with others (at least, if their job doesn't require it). For this reason, becoming a fast reader necessitates that a person have a gut-level understanding of a large amount of word and style choices that simply don't get used when they are conversing with others. This is also the reason why classroom Japanese is inadequate for playing or translating visual novels, incidentally.
To be frank, the above reality is the main reason why reading for pleasure is an acquired taste for most, rather than a natural addiction. To me, a well-written scene in a VN is a sensual, almost erotic experience... but that is because decades of reading have made me into that kind of person.
To be frank, there is a limit to reading speeds based on intelligence and short-term memory. However, this limitation is far less of an issue than most think. It is quite possible for someone who is of less than average intelligence to be able to enjoy reading something as ridiculously complex as Dies Irae at a speed you might be surprised at, and it is quite possible for a person who is otherwise of high intelligence to have a turtle-like reading speed.
Basic methods to increase reading speed include deliberate expansion of vocabulary (memorizing lists of words and how they are used) and deliberately exposing yourself on a regular basis to writers with unique or unusual styles that are difficult to follow. Grammatical understanding needs to be gut-level or reading speed won't improve, as you'll be constantly stumbling over how the words come together.
Context is also important... essentially, to be a fast reader, one must be able to keep at least a decent grasp on what has gone before and be able to at least retain most of the details from the chapter you are currently reading. A bad habit many translators, both professional and fan, fall into is translating line by line. This is also a stumbling block when reading. If you are merely reading line by line while not keeping at least some track of what has been going on, you will be unable to grasp what is coming. This lack of understanding slows the reader, as they grow confused, then bored. One reason why I almost never play multiple VNs at once without dropping the previous ones outright is because retaining a firm grasp on the flow of events at my stopping points for those games causes an intellectual and emotional disconnect that makes it hard to resurrect my interest if I try to go back to them.
In the end, what was this post about? Essentially, I was saying 'refine your basics, and your reading speed will improve'. I'm not going to go into more advanced techniques such as being able to 'flash-read' paragraphs and lines, because I generally don't use those techniques when playing normal VNs (the slow death of the NVL format has ensured it only has limited usefulness when reading VNs).
A note about the difference in enjoyment: The pleasure gained from reading varies in nature as you get faster. One reason I love VNs that are heavy on complex narration is that such VNs rarely leave me feeling that I wasted my time reading them, whereas ones with little narration and most if it simple tend to leave me feel like I wasted my time. In my observations of others, including some friends I introduced to VNs who have significantly slower speeds than myself, I saw that they tended to be more able to enjoy both better than myself. However, since large-scale VNs seemed like monumental tasks to them, they often don't even try them. In this sense, reading speed determines what some people read in the first place, thus narrowing their options and experiences. I hear stories about people taking months to finish a single VN, and I honestly can't comprehend that, given that even the longest VN only takes me about thirty to forty hours (incidentally, only a half dozen VNs have reached this threshold in my personal experience)... which is about the same amount of time full completion of an average-scale jrpg takes, lol. I honestly don't have the experience to gauge how to enjoy a VN over the course of a month or more of time... and I'd like some input on just how that experience feels, since I don't have any references in my experience that might enable me to understand it. Even my friends were book-addicts before I introduced them to English-language VNs, so they were still faster than the average...
Edit: What caused me to decide to post this was the simple fact that I have, on a number of occasions, been asked for advice on how to improve reading speed. In the process of trying to articulate how to improve reading speed based on my experiences, I decided to focus on visual novel reading speed, because the explanations for some of the techniques I've picked up over the years would require me to rediscover how-to books I read back in my teens when I was trying to reduce the amount of time I had to spend studying by finding ways to read faster. I had to laugh when I realized that all I could do was explain why the basics were important, because the most important element for reading VNs turned out to be accepting that the vocabulary you pick up reading the 'classics' in your years of public education is not nearly enough. Vocab and an understanding of how it fit into grammar are so vital to reading quickly, because you don't have to stop to think about what a sentence means if there is no part of it you don't already understand.
Mmm... this month had a lot of fantasy, so it is probably normal I played more VNs this month than the last few... oh well.
Anyway, Renran Spirichu is the latest release from Parasol, a charage-specialist company. Umm... to be honest, I couldn't bring myself to do more than one path of this game, and the one path I did was Botan's (the catgirl). This game's premise is fairly terrible, with girl exorcists possessing breasts in direct proportion to their spiritual power. Not only that, but the protagonist screws three of the heroines in the common route out of necessity (the reason is pretty par for the course).
I'm going to be straight with you... this game makes a number of pathetic attempts to be funny, all of which fall flat. The best part of this game is the ichaicha, and, considering I'm not an ichaicha fan, that tells you just how bad it is. Oh, there is a story... but you have to dig through so much filler material to get to it that it is exhausting to read. The heroines are all deredere by the end of the common route, and the only real difference the path seems to make is which one he focuses on *sighs*
Anyway, this isn't something I can seriously recommend, even to charage-lovers...
Tamayura Mirai is the latest game by Azurite, the company behind Shinsou Noise and Akumade Kore wa. Unlike the previous two, it is not a guro mystery. Instead, it is a fantasy with an extremely similar setting to Monobeno (which had a great setting, even if the lolicon elements were outright disgusting). It also shares a writer (Touta) with such excellent games as Kin'iro Loveriche, Floral Flowlove, Gin'iro Haruka, and Ojousama wa Gokigen Naname.
Before I go any further, I want to speak as to why I compared the setting to Monobeno. Fukano, the town/valley in which the story is set, is a backwater where youkai, humans, and deities coexist. Folk traditions, such as deities within the home, are still alive and well, if not entirely understood (the death of the last folk shaman in the area ensured that, from what is said). The protagonist's role is very similar to the role of the miko in Monobeno (keeping harmony and balance between the supernatural and mortal), and, though the younger generation isn't, a certain level of superstition remains in the older generation. In addition, the protagonist's choice to live isolated in the mountains in a run-down and modified old Japanese school (think the school from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni) also echoes the isolation of the protagonist's home in Monobeno. That said, the atmosphere in the game isn't as severe as Monobeno's, though the protagonist's 'duty' is harrowing at times.
All that said, this is definitely its own game. The general atmosphere is a bit somber, and the characters all have some kind of serious problem that leaves them a lot less at peace than they seem on the surface (the protagonist included). The protagonist is a mage who wields runic magic (Norse shamanic style), and he has the role of keeping peace the mixed-origin supernatural community of Fukano, the setting. He lives in an abandoned school in the mountains with a succubus named Midari, who has the dual problems of being afraid of men and deeply fearing her own nature (though her upbringing shows through at the oddest times). At the school he attends, he frequently meets with a water spirit information broker named Hanako (one of the heroines). Occasionally, he meets up with his oppai-loli 'oneechan' (who is very childish and has a really poorly-executed accent that just comes off all wrong in the VA...).
The story begins with his encounter with Yukina, a girl with naturally high levels of spiritual energy who is completely untrained (and is thus a danger to herself and everyone around her, since youkai and monsters can gain power by eating such people, and others make assumptions about what she can do based on her spiritual power). I won't go into details about their meeting, because this is a game best experienced the first time without too many preconceptions.
This is essentially a nakige, and it does a pretty good job of bringing out the tears. The protagonist's duty often brings him into contact with situations where he must deal with various tragedies, sometimes from the present, sometimes from the past. His own previous life isn't exactly bright and flowery either, lol. The protagonist has a tendency to see himself as weak and selfish, but he has a seemingly endless capacity for getting obsessed with solving other people's problems... which actually makes him perfect for his work (considering the nature of the mountain deity and certain hints given during the common route, it is pretty clear that he was given his role specifically because of that tendency).
The heroine routes, quite naturally, focus on the issues with the heroines... to be specific, dealing with the issues that bother them the most deeply. Equally quite naturally, the first heroine I picked was Midari, the succubus.
Midari is a member of the succubus nobility who was exiled from her homeland because of her fear of men and inability to feed properly (essentially have sex with men...and lots of them, preferably). Worse (from her perspective), she fell in love with the protagonist on their first meeting, thus dooming her in the eyes of her people and filling her with a constant conflict between her impulses and her love for the protagonist.
Midari has a very gentle and refined manner, and she has the grace that one would expect from a noblewoman... However, on occasion, she makes remarks (usual casual references to sex acts or her sisters and mother's sluttiness) that reveal rather blatantly that she isn't human and her basic upbringing wasn't either. Her path is all about dealing with her internal conflict and its real-world consequences... and this leads to a lot of nice emotional drama and a decent catharsis... though, to be honest, the cathartic scenes two-thirds of the way through the common route were better.
For those who understand the reference, yes Hanako does hang around in the girls' toilet. Hanako is a water youkai that came over from China six hundred years before the story began and eventually rose to become one of the top figures of all the water youkai in Fukano. She is actually pretty powerful, and she serves as an information broker for Mutsuki (the protagonist) as he performs his duty as the Mage of Fukano.
Hanako's route is a weird one and it isn't as emotional as Midari's route was. To be honest, a large part of the reason why is that the relationship part starts really quickly and feels somewhat forced... Hanako has a reason to like Mutsuki, but Mutsuki doesn't really have a good reason to fall in love with her, so it feels weird. This is in opposition to Midari, who has been at his side for some time when the story began and is insanely devoted to his well-being (not to mention sexy and graceful at the same time, lol). This route could have been handled much better by using a tactic similar to the Midari route, where they become closer during the course of him carrying out his duties... unfortunately, the way the route was handled was sadly inept for such a potentially interesting heroine.
Yukina is a young woman with a natural gift for the use of spiritual power (so much so that she can attack youkai with her bare hands and blasts of raw energy). Her characterization is a straight out tsundere, so anyone who reads this VN with some experience with the character type will probably be able to predict her reactions in most situations. I started laughing at a few points when she said something so typically tsundere that I couldn't believe any writer would still use the lines...lol
Yukina's route is all about her personal issues, both her past and her present ones. I do feel that this route's romance was far too hurried (like Hanako's) in the sense that their relationship should have had more time to develop into something deeper before things began to accelerate.
That said, the actual events after the romance solidifies are well-written and described, and you gain a lot more insight into Mutsuki's motivations and the depth of his personality than you do in the other paths. I recommend this path be read after the other two heroines available at the beginning, simply because the revelations made here are too overarching to allow you to truly enjoy the other paths without reservation.
Shiro is the protagonist's loli-oppai oneechan, who speaks with a weird houben (regional accent) that is poorly used by the VA to the point of being wince-worthy (yes, this is worth mentioning again).
Shiro and Mutsuki's issues are the core of everything that has shaped Mutsuki to be the person he is. As such, it was only natural that Shiro would end up as the true path heroine... indeed, her path begins after the end of a non-romantic Yukina path. I'm not going to spoil what those issues are, but I should note that Shiro was the motivation that drove Mutsuki to become a magus.
In the setting, magi are seekers of forbidden truths, similar in some ways to the magi of the Nasuverse save that they don't seem to have a large-scale organization or influence on the mundane world. As such, they frequently take actions that are amoral in the pursuit of their path of research, and many naturally think in ways that are out of sync with humanity. The Mage of Fukano is a rare exception, in that the deities of Fukano have made a role for the holder of the position in the natural existence of the valley and mountains.
Mutsuki's path of research is about as immoral as it gets, even if he still has a conscience and his motivations come from a very human place. As such, it takes a central role in the major dilemma of the path, as anyone who has read Yukina's path would guess anyway.
In the end, this was the path (other than the common route) which drew out the most tears from me. Shiro and Mutsuki's story is full of sorrow but ends with joy, so I can honestly say this falls into the classic 'nakige' style.
I have a few things left I want to say before bowing out on this game. First, I wanted a Feles (Mephistopheles) route, since Feles is ridiculously deredere (in a yandere way) over the protagonist. Another issue is that I thought that leaving the protagonist's deeper issues out of Midari's and Hanako's paths was something of a poor choice. Yukina is presented as a mirror to the protagonist as well as a heroine, so it is understandable that she would play such a vital role for setting up the true path. However, I felt that failing to properly deal with his personal issues in either of those two paths was a mistake. Mutsuki does have VERY serious issues that can't really be glossed over... not to mention that I seriously doubt Midari's issues would end just with what we saw in the path (living with a succubus in a state of perpetual near-starvation will inevitably have its ups and downs).
First, for those who are familiar with me... Yes, I did play this. Why? Something about the way it was presented in the Getchu page said that there was more hidden beneath the surface than a standard oppai-nukige. Thankfully, my instinct was correct, in this case.
Now, for those who are curious, this game is a straight-out harem, from beginning to end. This game's primary attractions are the comedic reactions of the heroines and the way they and the protagonist slowly 'fall'. It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion... it is too fascinating to look away from, yet you know it is going to end badly, lol.
The protagonist, Yuki, is a somewhat hetare-ish guy who does his best to disappear in the classroom and has trouble speaking to others. One day, out of loneliness, he opens up the Tomefure app, where young guys offer young girls a place to stay for free without strings attached and signs up. The girl who appears at his door is the class idol, Sakurako, who immediately crushes his hopes (sexual fantasies) and basically does her best to leech off of him, dragging a bunch of other girls into the mix.
This story is all about a bunch of young people too afraid to create real relationships or who have huge problems in their normal lives essentially huddling together and gradually becoming contaminated with this weird 'small community' Stockholm Syndrome thing. I spent most of the game laughing or in a state of 'frustration' (yes, that kind of frustration), because the process of Yuki and the girls' morals collapsing takes a long time (despite being a kinetic novel, this game took me almost 20 hours to complete) and actual H and near-romance (there is no true romance in this game) doesn't get going until you are about 7/8 of the way through the game.
In terms of writing, the basic quality of the main writer is pretty low. I'd say he is somewhere below the baseline for charage writers, which is generally bad in any case. That said, because of the way the 'story' is presented, his lack of writing skills doesn't create as much of a negative effect as it might otherwise, even in a charage.
If you want a comedy ecchi harem VN to read, this is probably the best option you can find for the last three years. The whole thing is so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh out loud (a real lol) on dozens of occasions. Don't expect 'healthy' romance, since the whole story is based on the characters' gradually losing their common sense morality about relationships as they sleep in the same room (there is more to it, but I won't spoil you). However, if you don't mind that kind of thing (or if you love it) this game is a fun read.
PS: Yes, I surprised myself with how much I got into this one.
For those familiar with me, you know I spent year after year doing VN of the Month and that I ritualistically complained about how tired I was of this or that trope or bad habit that plagued the industry or games. I was asked repeatedly why I could still plow through so many VNs, despite the stress? The simple answer is that I have always been stubborn as hell. I've experienced 'burnout' numerous times in my life, mostly because I have a naturally obsessive personality. Once I start obsessing over something, I literally am incapable of ceasing to do so without something jarring me completely away from it for a time, which usually results in me realizing I burned out long ago and have just been hanging out of stubbornness.
The same was the case for VNs. When I first started playing VNs, all VNs were worth at least trying. However, as time went on, I increasingly lost interest in most nukige and eventually my interest in 'everyday teenaged life SOL romance' (or 'the standard charage') began to fade. It was probably about 2016 when this reached the critical point, but it took another year and a two-week bout of flu where I couldn't think well enough to play anything to bump me out of my years-long trance.
Part of it was that I rarely, if ever, took a break from VNs during those years. I was always playing at least one, and I had a tendency to barrel through them consecutively without even a short pause to rest, week after week, month after month. I used most of my free time to play them, I structured my work schedule and habits around playing them, and I generally existed solely to do so.
I dunno how many of you can even imagine what living like that is like... but it was the fact that I am no longer driven to play game after game that is letting me sit back and enjoy the few I actually want to play. I go back and pull stuff out of my attic on a whim, I dig through my collection based on a desire to relive a single scene, and I generally just take pleasure in playing what I want to play.
Would it be strange for you to hear that this all feels unnatural to me, after all these years? I've been playing third-rate charage I didn't want to even see, much less play, for years... and now I only play stuff that takes my interest, dropping them if I don't see any hope for the game to break out of the shell of mediocrity. I don't feel driven to blog about replays beyond when I feel like it or when I think I have something to add to a previous assessment, and I can actually sit back and enjoy the few charage I actually feel like I want to play.
While I do have regrets, they aren't about the years spent obsessing and over-playing VNs, despite my previous words. I set out to do VN of the Month because, at the time, there was no way for people to have an idea of what they were getting into with most VNs. It was a bit startling how few people were seriously trying to let people know what kind of VNs were out there without spoiling everything from beginning to end. Even today, most reviewers can't seem to keep heavy spoilers out of the text, which saddens me. However, I no longer feel that it is my mission to 'fix' this. I've been there, I've done that, and I won't be doing it again.
I will still play VNs, and I will still review them (on occasion), but don't expect me to be as prolific as I used to be, lol.
Recently, I played (partially) through Missing X-link, and this led me to think of how various VN writers handle the concept of AIs and machine sentience. There are a number of different approaches, each of which has its own ups and downs.
There are minor and major spoilers in all of these examples, and, as such, read them at your own risk.
The argument of the 'emulated human' AI and the philosophically-built AI (Komorebi no Nostalgica)-
Komorebi no Nostalgica takes a unique approach to AIs, with the prime idea being that of bringing AIs closer to humanity while retaining their abilities as a computer intelligence.
The Metosera, the elegant AIs that were once humanity's slaves and only gained their autonomy after a war that devastated the world and erased most of human history are one side of this argument. The Metosera emulate human emotions through an algorithm that randomly came together as a result of a bug in the advanced program that ran 3rd Generation Humanoid Androids. This caused the Metosera to gain awareness, and, over time, a real personality and emotions. The immediate reaction of humanity was mostly knee-jerk loathing and fear, and this resulted in the newborn Metosera often being betrayed by the very owners they'd often come to care about. If it weren't for the efforts of numerous humans who helped the Metosera out of emotions or a sense of what was right, the Metosera might really have become the nightmare genocide machines that some apocalyptic scientists fear. In modern times, the current generation (as in the youth) mostly, with a few regressive exceptions, accept Metosera as their fellow citizens and denizens of the Earth, and society is actually more peaceful than it ever was in the past. As can be seen in the case of the Metosera heroine, Fluorite, the more a Metosera interacts with humans in close range and develops an attachment to them, the more 'human' they become, as their emotional emulation becomes more effective through active learning. Modern Metosera like Flo are 'born' with a single Metosera 'parent' creating their base program and then constructing a body for them. They are then 'raised' by the local Metosera society as a whole and encouraged to interact with humans to further develop their social emotions. In this sense, you can see that the Metosera are extremely dependent on humans and raw programming for their creation, and many of them are limited by that fact, though Flo and some others have exceeded those limitations in the story.
The other example in the story, shown in the grand route, is Cinema, the modified (heavily so) 2nd Generation Humanoid found in the characters' school behind a false wall. Cinema, unlike the Metosera, who kind of resemble Tolkien's elves in the way they react to emotions (their expressions change only mildly and often late), displays emotions organically and actually seems far more human than most humans. However, the 2nd Generation Humanoids did not possess any kind of software that would have allowed for Metosera-style emotional emulation. Instead, Cinema's maker designed 'trials' into her body and programming that would encourage the natural 'birth' of a human-like machine intelligence over time that could truly empathize with and understand humans on a level that the Metosera, who 'evolved' independently for the most part, cannot yet match.
The 'body grown to fit the AI' approach (Noie and Line in Applique's Arcology series)- In the Arcology series, two heroines, Line and Noie, are the creation of a somewhat insane but also brilliant scientist who came up with the idea of giving her AI 'daughters' bodies that fit the personalities she encouraged them to generate. These bodies are biomechanical (think an android that both has the functions of a machine such as hacking and processing data but also can bleed, have sex, and even have kids, even though that requires some 'adjustments) and generally nice to look at (lol, it is an eroge, after all), but aside from that, it should be noted that the professor essentially 'grew' their personalities in the same virtual environments most people in her arcology spend their daily lives in. By doing this, she was able to 'grow' her daughters as if they really were something approaching human children, and they were easily able to adjust to having a body. Their emotions were essentially copies of the professor's own basic template that grew off in different directions (which is another reason they can be called her 'daughters').
The second example in this series is the apocalypse-type AI Azurite Second (calling her that even though she isn't called that in the series). Originally, the Azurite series software was essentially an OS meant to be installed directly into the human central nervous system, allowing human beings to interact with the network without cyberware or devices. Unfortunately, Azurite is an incomplete program that burns out the psyches of most people it is installed into, and Azurite Second is driven by the 'mission' given to it before it was originally put to sleep. That mission is to link all humans the world over together, and it prioritizes that over the good of its users, believing that its priority will be for the good of all humans (it is really that broken). In that sense, this is one potential scenario that is close to the nightmare scenario seen in I, Robot.
The 'I don't need humans because they are inferior' vs. the 'I love Humans' argument (Hello, World)- To be honest, I found Nitroplus's take on AI to be the most humdrum of the lot. The protagonist and his maker as antithetical AIs who see humanity in a radically different way based on his experiences (his as subjective, its as objective) is depressing and par to the course for early-era sci-fi writing. While the story of the game was good, the actual concepts of the AIs involved were less that impressive and provided nothing new for me, which made me sad, lol. I mean, the idea of an AI that wants to genocide humanity was old when I was born (which was almost forty years ago), and the idea of an AI that comes to love humanity through experiencing them in a human-like body is almost as old. I guess what bothered me was that this didn't go beyond the surface ideas to dig any further.
The Humanity is Obsolete vs. Together with Humanity into the Future Argument (Missing X-link)- Missing X-link presents its argument fairly directly through Himefuuro and Chiruouka (or rather through the protagonist's 'father's' and 'uncle's' arguments through them). Himefuuro's design concept was to take humanity's essence into space by creating a database of human emotion and intellect through the empathic system 'cross link', which allows her to literally link her psyche to a human and share their emotions and thoughts by injecting her nanopixels (nanomachines, essentially) into a human subject. Chiruouka's design concept was to interact with humans through conflict and learn from them that way, by developing her own independent and subjective view of humanity as seen through that lens.
Sci-fi writers have been defining the debate on AI tech since the concept of the self-aware robot was first spoken of. In VNs, there is a tendency toward empathetic AIs, but, even so, many of the 'arguments' put forth by their writers are interesting to follow.
This is the latest release by Saga Planets, the makers of Hatsuyuki Sakura and Natsuyume Nagisa. This, like many of the games by this company, is an emotional game that sort of edges around being a straight-out charage, though it can't really be called a story-focused or a true nakige. This kind of genre ambiguity is common to this company's better works, so in that sense, it probably wasn't a bad choice, overall.
First, I should say I skipped Akane's path. I played the first three heroine paths and enjoyed them, but Akane's path was so... cliched that I had to skip it after the midpoint. I was also impatient to get to Ria's path, lol.
Anyway, this game begins with Ichimatsu Ouro, the protagonist, encountering the princess of a fictional north-European superpower, and her dragging him to a school for elites as a result. I'll be straight with you about this... disregard the getchu page info entirely. Even the best of the info there is misleading, probably deliberately.
Anyway, Ouro, who was looking to get away from his life anyway, takes advantage of entering the new school, getting along with Sylvia, Elle (Sylvia's bodyguard), Rena (a friendly fashionista who is also Sylvia's friend), and Ria (a smoker and delinquent girl he meets on the rooftop) while managing to gradually make his own niche at a school mostly full of rich people.
Now, it needs to be said... there should have been an Ayaka path in this game. Ayaka is a snarky little ass at the beginning, but she would have made a great heroine. Moreover, it was rather obvious that the writer wanted her to be one (there are lots of elements that could turn her deredere at a moment's notice), so I'm expecting an FD with an Ayaka route, later, lol.
Getting back to the rest of the game (I'm writing this at nine in the morning, after not sleeping to finish it), Sylvia's path is easily the strongest of the three heroines that are available from the beginning. Part of this is because of her generally affectionate nature, part of it is because of her position in life (Princess with insanely loyal followers), and part of it is because she is just that great of a character in general. Her path actually has two different endings, depending on whether you've seen Ria's ending or not. The second ending is basically an additional epilogue based several years after the end of the story, and it is obvious to see why you needed to see it only after seeing Ria's ending.
Elle... is the classic straight-laced heroine that goes insanely deredere once she falls in love. I honestly enjoyed her path immensely, even as I felt they were stretching credulity a bit with some of the twists and turns (based on Elle's personality, I honestly couldn't see her making some of the choices she did, even with Sylvia's encouragement). Nonetheless, if you want to see a seemingly hard-edged woman go all soft and mushy, this is a great path.
Rena... is the classic 'close friends suddenly become lovers' path. The beginning of their romantic relationship is hilarious and the lead up into the ending is excellent, with a perfect epilogue, given the path they chose in life. I will say that this is the only path where the protagonist stands up to his recent past in its entirety, so in that sense, it is perhaps the most complete of the paths up to this point.
Ria's path... is the game's main path. Ria herself is not much of a delinquent... for all that she is foul-mouthed and a smoker, she is at the same time kind-hearted and very much at ease with the protagonist after a few initial bumps. However, for her path... this is the path that threatens to define this game as a nakige... with good reason. If you paid attention to the extensive foreshadowing in the other heroine paths, you will probably be able to figure out what the core crisis of this path is, but this is also the path where Ouro shows himself at his best, right to the very end.
Now, I need to go into Ouro, which I normally would have done first. Ouro is mostly your average guy... save for the fact that he is insanely thoughtful and good in a crisis. However, what is stronger about him is that he generally knows when he is at his limit and finds someone to lean on at the right times, without going all dependent and whiny. That said, I really, really, really wish they hadn't made him of average-level intelligence and lazy when it comes to studying. That particular trope is one I wish they'd chop up then wash down the drain in pieces, forever.
Overall, this is an enjoyable game... the foreshadowing for Ria's path is a bit excessive, Akane's path was unnecessary, and this game needed an Ayaka path... However, this was still a fun game to play. I left this game behind with a feeling of satisfaction, and, if I still keep going back to wanting an Ayaka path (yes, I do), I'm sure Saga Planets will eventually oblige, lol.
Edit: I should also mention that the reason Akane's path is not enjoyable is primarily because it doesn't 'fit'. It doesn't fulfill a need the others don't, and Akane herself pales compared to the other heroines. Worse, she is the only girl with a sprite who doesn't fit into that close 'circle' they have going, so there is almost no development of her character outside her own path.
In addition to Ayaka, this game could have also used a Mina path, if only because Mina (Sylvia's little sister) is so obviously on the edge of falling for the protagonist anyway in several of the paths... in the sense that a woman who loves 'reforming' men falls in love with one of her projects, lol.
I started X-link on a whim, and I was surprised at its quality almost immediately. This post is basically a composite view of my impressions up through the Chiruouka (bad) ending that lies roughly two-thirds of the way through the game.
X-Link uses the ladder-style structure made popular with G-senjou no Maou and Aiyoku no Eustia, and we all know my general dissatisfaction with this particular structure, so I won't go back over it. Instead, I'll focus on the parts of this game that exist aside from this issue.
This game is set in the year of 2050 and onward, in a world where most military activities are carried out by three great PMCs (Private Military Corporations), and most of the world has gone to crap, even as technology has moved forward immensely and at a rapid pace. Human-like automata/androids are already in common use in service professions (Nurses, waitresses, airline stewardesses, housekeepers, etc), and they've more or less come to be accepted as part of the scenery. That said, they are often the target of human spite and arrogance, and, considering that they possess emulated emotions, this can cause problems. Recently, the first fully genetically-modified humans called Edited were released, but the release is considered a failure, as only a small portion survived to adulthood (by accident or design, it is not really spelled out at the point I'm at).
Before the beginning of the story, the protagonist's older sister, who was considered the penultimate Edited, died in an accident that leveled her laboratory and left him in a depressive funk that lasted several years. He is broken out of that funk by the arrival of Himefuuro, a fully autonomous android designed with the ability to share emotions with humans through a kiss. By sharing his emotions with her and feeling her unconditional love for him, he is able to break out of his depression... only to become rather obviously dependent on her.
X-link has five heroines: Akira, Hina, Chiruouka, Yuuri, and Himefuuro in order of their endings. Akira is a teacher and agent (this isn't a spoiler, since you find this out in a 'her perspective' scene early on) who infiltrates the school the protagonist attends as part of her hunt for something involving the corporation that runs the school. Hina is a girl with an incurable disease called Coppelia Syndrome that causes the skin of the afflicted to harden gradually over time until it kills them. Chiruouka is a rogue combat cyborg and the only third generation cyborg other than Himefuuro in existence (second generation being the ones currently used, who are completely reliant on the giant central servers to maintain their personalities). Yuuri is an Edited girl with a tendency to lie for the sake of lying who shares the exact same appearance as the protagonist's older sister.
The story of this VN is generally serious in tone. Most of the characters - heroines and protagonist included - are deeply scarred and somewhat warped personalities. The story itself constantly revolves around AI issues throughout what I've seen so far, ranging from the classic identity crises to what happens when androids find religion. It is interesting enough intellectually for me to take an interest that way, and the complex emotions and motivations of the characters grant the game a pretty good degree of depth. That said, the protagonist is dense as the hull of a warship and generally inexperienced in human relationships that aren't 'family'. As a result, some of the conflict in the story is centered on problems caused by his generally thick skull.
While I'm reserving final judgement until I finish the true ending and go back and play the other heroines' endings, I can say that the journey so far has been worth it, and the writer's approach to AI issues has been more thoughtful than I anticipated. As such, this gets a tentative recommendation from me. This game is pretty long, and my stamina just ran out, so I'm going to take a week or so of 'vacation' from it before I go back and finish it up.