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Blog Entries posted by Clephas

  1. Clephas
    First, it should be noted that this game was planned and written by Watanabe Ryouichi, who also wrote the Harumade series (Harumade Kururu, Natsukumo Yururu, etc).  As such, it is - quite predictably - a mindfuck game.  Don't expect SOL romance in the traditional sense, because that isn't the kind of game this is.
    This game has two protagonists... the first is the normal-seeming Koumi Masataka, who begins the story by encountering Sarasa, the game's main heroine, as she eats canned saba miso (mackerel in miso) at a convenience store.  The other protagonist is Tsubaki, a young woman who spends her nights obsessing over videos of deaths of all types and thinking about herself in the same situation (it is more complex than that, but if I explain too much, you won't get to experience the creepy weirdness properly).  
    While this game has four heroines, there is only one actual path.  All choices that go off that path lead to cut-off endings ten lines later (which makes sense in the context of full knowledge of the mindfuck), so there really is no point in picking them.  For H-freaks, there are multiple h-scenes for each heroine... just don't expect happy romance endings, since there is only a single ending.
    There isn't a whole lot I can say about this game besides what I said above without ruining it for you, but I'll tell you what I liked that doesn't touch upon the mindfuck or main story.  I really liked the way the Preppers Club members got along, as they are one of those 'group of friends' that can't seem to stay on topic for more than a few seconds at a time (usually due to Yaotome Hanae making a sex joke or one of the others bringing up a subject that derails the conversation).  As such, I found many of the scenes involving the club highly amusing.
    Tsubaki and Amika's relationship is pretty weird, by any standard.  I won't go into details, but don't expect lots of soft normal emotions there.  
    As a conclusion, I can recommend this to fans of the Harumade series and the mindfuck niche in general.  It is often hard to follow what is happening due to the way the story is told, but, even with that, it was an enjoyable ride.
  2. Clephas
    Whatever else you can say about Skyfish's Soleil series, they never do the same thing (precisely) twice in a row.
    The Soleil series is based in a multiverse that comes into existence after the end of Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods from Norse mythology.  Previous entries in the series have ranged from your typical old-style chuunige (Shirogane no Soleil) to crazed ventures into chaotic medlies of Norse, Chinese, and Cthulhu Mythos (Gouen no Soleil).  
    Blade x Bullet is perhaps the  most straight-out 'after-story' of Norse mythology in the series yet.
    Based in a world that is pretty much identical to our own (in fact, the US president in the setting is pretty familiar, lol), a decade or so before the beginning of the story, monsters called Gears, the undead remnants of the ancient deities, giants, and monsters killed in Ragnarok, have pretty much exterminated humanity.  Artificial Valkyries, made from weapons that have tasted the blood of many, the flesh of a mortal woman, and the soul of a Valkyrie, are the only weapon said to be capable of taking them on... but most nations failed to make them until it was too late (the US being the only exception, as their president was a crazy who took one look at the tech and put massive amounts of money into it, eventually making his daughter into one).  The protagonist, Yagi Mutsuki, is one of the rare humans who can and have fought the Gears on his own and taken them down, and at the beginning of the story, he dies and drops into Hel (Norse underworld) where the goddess of the same name informs him that he is the vessel of her father Loki's soul, and he wants him to join in a competition to determine which Valkyrie will become the god of the new world... and ensure that humanity's hope is cut off forever.  He then uses his dead lover's hair and an iron maiden (yes, the torture device) to make his Valkyrie, Reginleif (a Valkyrie who almost always seems to draw the short straw no matter what entry in the series she appears in).
    Yagi Mutsuki is... pretty much what you would expect from the mortal incarnation of the Norse god Loki.  His essential nature is definitely chaotic, leaning toward evil.  He is something of a sadist, a schemer, and a trickster.  If there is a direct path and a twisty curvy path to the same goal, he will almost always take the twisty-curvy path.  He is also a blood-hungry warrior, almost a berserker.  Yet, it is surprisingly fun to watch him navigate the darkness of the competition.  He is capable of a limited sort of compassion... but he himself is never quite sure what he is feeling during those times when he shows it.
    I'm going to be blunt... this is the most graphic game in the series, and while this series isn't known for being as extreme as stuff like Venus Blood, it definitely has its guro moments.  For those with a weak stomach or an aversion to blood, I recommend you find something else to play.  In addition, this is a game where the 'good guys' are actually worse than the natural villains, so I don't recommend this to people who like black and white stories or have problems when heroines happen to be serial killers or psychopaths.
    However, it is also one of the most satisfying entries in the series, not the least because it doesn't waste time on separate routes in a game that has such a central plot.  The central story is there, it is interesting (if not godly), and it is a fun read, even with the more distasteful elements such as torture and SM.  Mutsuki's relationship with Reginleiv is so hilarious I often found myself giggling during serious scenes.  
    In addition, there were some elements I found fascinating... such as Loki's punishment for his role in Ragnarok (I won't spoil it for you, but it is an interesting one), and how they integrated the various elements of the mythos into the flow of the story.   
    While I don't consider this to be the best game in the series (I have a strong fondness for Gouen no Soleil), it is the easiest to pick up, because it isn't long enough to cause brain fry, but it is interesting enough that you won't feel like you wasted your time.
  3. Clephas
    First, I should state for those who are unfamiliar with my history that I have played a seriously ridiculous number of SOL romance/charage over the past decade.  While the sheer number I played exhausted me and I frequently desired something else to play, I don't think I ever came to truly hate the genre, regardless of how much it bored me.  What I liked most were ones that contained science fiction, fantasy, or science fantasy elements.  
    Now, for those who are unclear about the differences between the genres (in other words, people who aren't nerds/experienced readers of the genres), I'll go ahead and explain them.
    Fantasy is a genre where some element, if not most of the elements, of the setting/settings ignore physical limits without any explanation of how they might fit into existing physics (magic, esp, monster summons, etc).  As the genre name indicates, it involves the fantastical, quite literally.  This is further separated into urban (also known as 'junk' fantasy) and high fantasy, the Dresden Files (book series by Jim Butcher) falling into the former and Lord of the Rings falling into the latter category.  
    Science fiction is a genre that creates a futuristic or near-future setting with a believable tech advance that fundamentally alters how the world functions.  'Believable' means that it at least claims to be based off of a more advanced version of existing physics.  An obvious example of science fiction for those unfamiliar with the genre would be the Star Trek series, which, while fantastical and often defying belief, nonetheless speculates about a world that simply grew out of modern science and tech.
    Science Fantasy is a less-defined genre that stands between fantasy and science fiction.  While many concepts might be based on outgrowths of 'maybe' or existing science, in science fantasy there will also be elements of the impossible or fantastical, such as esp, magic, or some other element that can't be explained by science even within the universe it exists in.  Classic examples that might or might not be familiar to you in Western media would be Star Wars or the Deathstalker Saga (a book series by Simon Green).  
    This is a relatively short list of high-quality games in each genre that have an SOL focus for those who like a bit of escapism without digging into a deep story or insanely complex setting.
    Science Fiction
    Ai Yori Aoi Umi no Hate
    Prism Recollection
    Koko Kara Natsu no Innocence
    Ayakashi Contract
    Ore no Tsure wa Hitodenashi
    Princess Frontier
    Hyakka Ryouran Elixir
    Curio Dealer
    Suzunone Seven
    Sakigake Generation
    Haruru Minamo ni
    Senren Banka (translated)
    Sanoba Witch (translated)
    Tenshin Ranman (supposedly still to be translated)
    Cafe Stell to Shinigami no Chou
    Bokura no Sekai ni Shukufuku o
    Uso series by Campus (Fuyu Uso, Aki Uso, Haru Uso, Natsu Uso)
    Yorite Konoha wa Kurenai ni
    Gokudou no Hanayome
    Konna ko ga Itara Boku wa Mou...!!
    Lunaris Filia
    Magus Tale
    Suzukaze no Melt
    Natsu no Majo no Parade
    Primary Magical Trouble Scramble
    Valkyrie Runabout
    Shuffle (series)
    Tayutama (original)
    Toki o Tsumugu Yakusoku
    Wakaba-iro no Quartet
    Science Fantasy
    Kamikaze Explorer
    Kokorone Pendulum
    World Election
    Kizuna Kirameku Koi Iroha
    Unionism Quartet
    Otomimi Infinity
    Sakura Iro Quartet
    Sekai o Sukuu dake no Kantan na Oshigoto
    As you can see, it is really heavy on fantasy, mostly because fantasy is easier on the limited skills of a charage writer.  Similarly for science-fantasy.  
  4. Clephas
    Haruru Minamo ni is one of my favorite games by one of my favorite charage companies, Clochette.  Clochette is known for a combination of decent stories, moe-ero (sexy and moe) heroines, and fantasy/sci-fi settings.  Haruru Minamo ni is based in the same world as Amatsu Misora Ni, which is - ironically - my least favorite Clochette game.  In this world, the idea and existence of Japanese-style deities is a self-evident reality.  This is partly due to the fact that 'arahitogami' (kami who take a human shape and live as humans) come into existence regularly enough that they are obviously recognizable and accepted as what they are.
    This game has five heroines: The protagonist's little sister and goddess of the mountain, Miori; the new sea goddess of Tamatsue, Kanau; a young thunder goddess named Mei; Tatsuki's (the protagonist) and Miori's osananajimi Ena; and the fisherman's daughter Asumi. 
    Miori comes across as the most level-headed of the five heroines, having been a goddess from birth, rather than ascending to the position.  She was 'raised' to a great degree by her older brother, and she is all-too-aware of how the task of raising her has shaped his personality and way of looking at the world.  She has all of her worshippers' names, faces, situation, and lifestyles (and that of their relatives to the fourth degree) memorized, and she is the trusted and beloved goddess of the mountain.  She is also a heavy gamer (console) due to the fact that the siblings' ancestor (the first goddess of the mountain) having promised to remain upon the mountain, thus binding her to the old town around her shrine, thus making her a homebody.  She is the epitome of the Japanese idea of a tochigami, being able to express her will anywhere within her territory and protecting it against misfortune.  Obviously, she is a brocon.
    Kanau is a young girl who became a goddess at a relatively late age, and as a result, she doesn't have great control of her powers.  She is also extremely unlucky and tends to draw misfortune to herself to an extreme degree.  However, she also has a hidden core of steel in her spirit that lets her get up after every failure with relatively little help or interference.  Her kind and hard-working nature show a great deal of potential, though it is, as of the beginning of the VN, unrealized.
    Mei is the incarnation of a bolt of lightning given the form of a girl after attaining divinity.  Unlike Kanau, who is learning to be a goddess because she was born human, Mei needs to do so because she has had little connection with humans.  She is very straight-laced and honest, telling people what she thinks upfront. Her emotions are obvious, but she will often hold herself back for the sake of what she thinks is right.  She desperately wants to be of use to humankind, but she has no idea of how to go about it.  
    Ena is the daughter of a Japanese sweets shop owner and the Yamagami siblings' osananajimi.  She is an easygoing, kind-hearted girl who cares about others first and foremost, without a malicious bone in her body.  Having grown up around Miori and Tatsuki, she knows them almost better than they know themselves, and thus she has made a point of restraining her long-held feelings for Tatsuki and keeping them below the surface.  For better or worse, she is the type of girl who suffers as a result of her tendency to put others first.
    Asumi is a seemingly standoffish daughter of a fisherman.  Having been raised near the sea, she became an excellent swimmer at a young age.  However, she quit the swimming club and now avoids swimming anywhere but the mountain river, avoiding the seas like the plague.  She also doesn't believe in deities, feeling deeply betrayed by them for reasons that come obvious later.  Despite this, she is actually very straightforward and easy to get along with... once you understand she doesn't like wasting time on small talk.  
    Mei has the cutest dere of all the heroines, I'm just going to say right up front.  Think 'cat who absolutely adores her master' and you'll get an idea.  Mei's path is pretty heavy on ichaicha... but since her dere is cute in a good way and there is little romance drama to annoy me past the actual stage of them getting together, I didn't mind either time I played it.  
    Her path's drama is mostly centered around her growing as a kami by being loved by Tatsuki (yes, seriously), so most of it isn't that serious.  However, there are a few 'trouble moments', especially toward the end of the path.  Nonetheless, all is well that ends well, and the path is tied off nicely.
    Miori, despite her efforts to keep her brother at arm's length, is a rather self-evident brocon.  This is fairly typical of Clochette imouto heroines (incidentally, Clochette little sister routes are some of the best out there, though they lack the twisted stuff you see in some other companies' lineups).  However, this is made more complex by the background of the two.  The first part of the path, the formation of the relationship, is more of a clash of positions: brother/sister, priest/goddess along with a bunch of other baggage that was inevitable.  However, it does make it a lot more interesting than your typical 'incest is bad' drama you see in most imouto routes.
    Miori and Tatsuki, once they get together are somewhat... intense.  This was also the case with Mei, but if Mei and Tatsuki were an extreme version of the typical bakkouple (idiot lovers), Miori and Tatsuki are so insanely intimate (think finishing each other's sentences half the time) that it takes it in a somewhat different direction.  There is some significant drama near the end of the path that is very, very revealing about the setting in general... but because of that, I would recommend that first-timers play most of the other routes before this one (Kanau's and Miori's can be done at the end) for the best experience.  
    Honestly, as a character, I like Asumi the most of the five heroines.  However, I have to say her dere is more 'hidden' than the other girls, as her feelings don't really reach the surface in the same way as the others.  As a result, in her path, you don't get to enjoy the kind of melty deredere crazy couple ichaicha you do in Miori or Mei's path.  On the other hand, her path is a gift to those who like intimacy over brain-melted ichaicha.  
    Asumi's romance starts the most 'naturally' of the three paths I've played this time so far.  This is probably because she isn't a goddess (meaning Tatsuki's hangups aren't as strong an issue in that stage of the relationship), and Asumi's seduction of Tatsuki happening to be a lot more subtle than the others because of the way she handles emotions.
    Honestly, I don't like the way this path ended, in comparison to the way the previous two did.  While it is highly emotional, it also trips one of my major most-hated tropes
    Kanau is a pretty straightforward girl in every way... but the beginning of the romantic part of this path is seriously weird.  I mean, it is a Clochette game, so sexually charged scenes are normal but...
    The attraction of Kanau's path is the way she starts to change things in Tamatsue as a result of her personality.  While Kanau isn't my favorite heroine, she definitely has a strong path worthy of a main heroine.  
    This path can be considered to be the 'main' or central path of the game, as it has the most story-focused approach, whereas most of the other paths had a tighter focus on the lovey-dovey aspects, with the story growing like weeds between ichaicha moments.  That said, it isn't like this path makes the other heroines feel underserved.  Rather, it feels more like a natural extension of what was going on from the beginning.  
    I'm not a fan of Ena's path or Ena as a heroine (Ena as a side or helper character is ideal, but I don't like her type as heroines).  As such, I'm not interested in replaying her path.  This game in general is Clochette at its best, in particular the way there are so many diverse elements interacting with the central characters, as opposed to the charage standard, which generally has only the heroines, the protagonist, and maybe a few friends with relatively few other connections.  There are mild cathartic moments, humor, and ecchi enough for anyone who likes a more varied 'flavor' in their charage, and the heroine paths actually have a story to tell, not just a 'romance'.  I recommend this for people who want some mild fantasy and story in a primarily SOL setup (and for people who like heroines who happen to be attached to oppai).  
  5. Clephas
    First, this was written partially by Morima Marimo, one of Light and Campus's writers who specializes in naki-scenes and SOL.  Marimo has always sort of stood in the shadows of the other Light writers, but in terms of multi-genre versatility, he (she?) is worlds above the other writers employed by Light.
    This game is one of the few 'ladder-style' story structure games that haven't driven me into a rage.  The simple reason is that the main story is more interesting than the little side trips into heroine-land.  This is surprisingly rare in this type of game, where many games using the ladder-style tend to accidentally make a side-story or character more interesting than the main or do it inconsistently.  The other reason, obviously, is that it is also a fetish-game.  This game has twelve mimikko (kemomimi, animal-ear) heroines, more than enough for any of us who love this type of thing.  I can forgive a lot of things for a set of cat ears.
    The story focuses on the protagonist, Akinari, who can speak to animals, a skill that has led to him being somewhat isolated from most of his peers, with rare exceptions.  At the same time, it is also the story of the anthropomorphized 'etogami' (the twelve animals of the zodiac) who are suddenly thrust into his life as family.  
    Akinari is an altruist.  He gives out love to those around him (and no, not that kind, though accidents happen, lol) without reserve, and he has the strength of personality to empathize with just about anyone, given a reason.  
    This story is something of a nakige, told in fourteen chapters (common routes>12 zodiac heroine arcs>true arc).  Except for the common route, which took me about six to seven hours to complete, each individual chapter, if you don't choose to read the zodiac girls' romance paths, took between one and a half to two hours, depending on the heroine.  Most of the heroines have a cathartic moment (exception is Takami), and the last arc is heavy on the catharsis, as you discover just why the 12 etogami suddenly ended up gathered in Tenbu (the name of the town).
    If you like cry-worthy back-stories and stories about affection beyond reincarnation, this is a great VN to read.  However, those who want more extensive heroine paths will inevitably be disappointed, because the main story is the focus of the game.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and not just because they somehow managed to create such a wide variety of heroines without any real overlaps in personality.
  6. Clephas
    This is the second mimikko game from January's releases, a pure moege made by Cabbage Soft, the makers of two other games, both of which I disliked (perfect examples of charage/moege slogs in the sugary and brainless mud).  I can't honestly say that Amairo Chocolata is that different from the company's other games... but I'm willing to forgive a lot for mimikko heroines.
    This game is pretty short, so short I finished it in just under eight hours (it's been a while since I bothered with a game as empty of content that it was this short).  Like most 'pure moege', this game is essentially endlessly cute with no real content beyond cuteness, adorableness, and H-scenes.  That I was able to get through it is a mark of how much my fetishes drive me, but it also brought about a severe response from my old battle scars from years of playing such games.  
    The two heroines in this game are Chieri (the loli catgirl) and Mikuri (the miko doggirl).  Chieri is a straight-out tsundere, whereas Mikuri is a straightforward tennen genkikko heroine.  I can honestly say that there isn't a ton of depth to either of them or the protagonist, and I was more than a little dissatisfied that they focused entirely upon the cafe as the setting.  With some work, it would have been possible to make this game a lot more intimate-feeling and turn both heroines and the two side-characters into something more unique.  Unfortunately, such efforts were severely lacking, meaning that I played this game solely for ears and tails.
  7. Clephas
    Yes, I'm going to go there.  I've actually been asked this more by my Japanese friend/supplier than anyone else, but I've always refrained from answering except to name one or two that I liked.  However, I made the mistake of watching a few imouto anime on a binge a few weeks ago, and I began seriously considering which little sister paths were the best in the VNs I've played up until now.  Note that I say these are the best 'paths', not necessarily the best imouto heroines.  To be blunt, imouto heroines are a dime a dozen, and I've seen every variation on the concept a dozen times over, so I'm focusing on which paths were best, starting from ten, counting down to one.  
    First, little sisters in these will not include cousin paths unless they were raised under the same roof as siblings.  Adopted sisters will be included, as will blood-related sisters who were parted from the protagonist for long periods of time.
    10.  Kuguyama Konoka (Prism Recollection by Clochette)
    9.  Shimazu Akira (Komorebi no Nostalgica)
    8.  Minori Hikari (Unmei Yohou o Oshirase Shimasu)
    7.  Kurosaki Sayo (Aoi Tori)
    6.  Hasuno Saki (Hapymaher)
    5.  Kaede (Shuffle Essence)
    4.  Tokitani Shinobu (Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru)
    3.  Saisu Riku (Floral Flowlove)
    2.  Asagiri Futaba and Ichiha (Realive)
    1.  Shimazu Aki (Reminiscence)
  8. Clephas
    I will say it, yes, games with trap protagonists are one of my secret pleasures.  While there are numerous types of this particular niche in VNs, and there are a disproportionate number of this type of game compared to ten years ago, there are some rules shared by all the greats that I thought I'd put out there.
    1.  A good trap protagonist is a voiced protagonist.  Most trap protagonists are voiced.  There are a number of reasons for this, but, regardless of the reason, almost all the 'good' trap protagonist are voiced.  There are exceptions (early on) or ones where the voice was added on later (Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou), but they are just that, exceptions.
    2.  The protagonist has some kind of spectacularly high level skill or attractive point.  This really is universal.  In some cases it is housework (protagonist in Otome no Sahou) and in others it is physical prowess, force of personality, or artistic talent.  However, regardless of what it is, no good trap protagonist is devoid of such skills.
    3.  There is at least one 'ojousama' heroine.  While this is not universal, given the nature of this type of game and the fact that most of the schools they 'sneak into' are girls' schools, this is inevitable.  Girls schools, even in Japan, are private institutions, meaning there is inevitably (or so says the kami of eroge) going to be at least one sheltered girl that comes from wealth.
    4.  There will be at least some drama when the protagonist is 'revealed' to the heroines.  Easy transitions make for bad games.  All the heroines merely accepting it as if it doesn't matter at all means that there was no weight at all to the protagonist's earlier whini- *coughs* ahem, worrying about being revealed.  While this drama might be comedic, tense, or sexual in nature, it should not go without note.
    5.  At some point, most such protagonists will begin to react naturally as their female persona without realizing it (leading to many fans simply forgetting their original names, such as in the case with Mizuki in Koi no Canvas).
    There are two major types of this type of protagonist.  One is the 'forceful personality' type, and the other is the 'submissive personality' type.  An example of the former would be Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu, and an example of the latter would be Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas.  In the former case, the protagonist has a clear objective in infiltrating the girls' school, and he uses his personal abilities ruthlessly and aggressively for that purpose.  In the latter case, the protagonist loses himself (herself as I sometimes think of Mizuki) in his role so completely that he often catches himself reacting entirely as a female.
    I like both types, and I find this particular niche tends to produce a disproportionate amount of good games compared to the rest of the VN world... but then, I'm biased.
    Edit: As a side note, for those who are interested in recs involving this kind of thing, there are no truly transgender protagonists in any of these games, as far as I know.  There are a few who get addicted to dressing in drag or who live as a woman of their own free will even after the story is over depending on the route (Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou), but as far as I know none of these have been confirmed as actually being transgender.  That's not to say that none of the writers/makers have intended any of these protagonists to be such (it is a distinct possibility), but so far, in the games I've played/read, none of them have actually confirmed themselves as being such, even in their own thoughts (though again, some have edged around it or verged upon it).  
    Edit2: Examples of this type of game that have either a submissive or a dominant protagonist that also are top tier.
    Submissive (outside of H, since most H scenes in male-oriented VNs are inevitably bed-yakuza affairs)
    Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou
    Otome ga Tsumugu Koi no Canvas
    Otome Domain
    Tenshi no Hane o Fumanaide 
    Ojousama no Hanbun wa Ren'ai de Dekiteimasu
    Otoboku (despite appearances, all three games)
    Koi Suru Otome to Shugo no Tate (though this one can be borderline at times)
    Hmm... there were fewer great ones than I thought... the barrage of endless Ensemble games makes me forget sometimes, lol.
  9. Clephas
    Ototsuki is one of the few, in fact the only, Ensemble trap protagonist game I hadn't at least tried.  There were a number of reasons for this, but the biggest one was that it came out after my burnout on SOL reached its peak.  By that time, I had no energy for any kind of SOL VNs, even ones in genres I normally liked.  In retrospect, I'm glad I waited until I recovered before playing this, because this is the game that proves that Ensemble still has potential as a company, despite the last five years of mediocrity.
    Ototsuki focuses on a servant-ojousama pair, to be specific, Yuuki Touya (the protagonist and servant) and Shijou Ran (the ojousama).  Ran is a genius in science and maths, as well as an extremely capable athlete.  She is also extremely eccentric, walking her own path to a degree that would probably drive most of us crazy.  Yuuki, who grew up beside her, is used to dealing with her eccentricities and acts as the ideal servant for her type, occasionally restraining her and at others merely assisting.  However, one of Ran's bad habits becomes a central point of the game's story, when she goes to an all-girls school and forces Yuuki to cross-dress and come with her, and while they are there, Ran and Yuuki regularly switch places (they have mastered dressing up as one another) as needed to make Ran look good, lol.
    The choice to create such an intimate situation for the main heroine and protagonist was, in my mind, the reason why this game stands out from the rest of Ensemble's games made in the last half-decade.  Ran and Yuuki's synchronicity and odd couple dynamic make for an ideal situation for this type of game.  There are downfalls to this approach (such as it being difficult to consider heroines other than Ran), but the benefits are rather obvious.
    Still, this game is rather straight-out as a charage, albeit with a few minor twists to make it feel like it actually has an overarching plot (technically, there is something going on behind the scenes, but its relevance varies by path).  
    I knew that Ran was the main heroine of the game, but I couldn't stop myself from playing her path first.  The intimacy of Ran and Yuuki's relationship and how it deepens into romance is the major draw of this path, though it probably doesn't happen the way you would think it would.  Ran's tendency toward being straightforward to the point of bluntness and unapologetic about it (she isn't the type to be bothered by others' reactions to her) is one of her major draws as a heroine.  The climax of this path has some nice drama, and I honestly liked how it concluded.  However, typical of Ensemble and its endless fandisc-preparation, there was not a significant after-story/epilogue.
    To elaborate on Ran's personality, since she is a relatively rare type of character, she technically falls into the 'arrogant genius' archetype.  However, her character doesn't come across as being abrasive, most likely because there isn't even a scrap of contempt or prejudice on her part.  Rather, she simply doesn't have a humble bone in her body... which, combined with the fact that she really is as capable as she says she is (for the most part), makes it hard to be offended by her personality.
    Shizune is one of the ojousama heroines in this game, the daughter of the head of the school board of directors, and a member of the student council.  Despite all these titles, she is fundamentally a humble, kind-hearted girl who always puts others first.  Unfortunately, her family name and tendency to be strict with herself make her somewhat less than approachable for common students.  She is paired with the game's 'other' servant, Iroha, who serves her with obvious affection and devotion.  Shizune is pretty much the picture of the 'total innocent' when it comes to life outside of the wealthy old families of Japan, to the point where she honestly had never experienced such common things as shopping for herself or using a bus.  
    Shizune's path probably isn't what anybody would expect from this description, lol.  I won't spoil it for you, but I appreciated the departure from tradition in this path, though in another way it uses a common trope (drawing a 'special status' character out of their usual life).  The romance is fairly cute and relatively innocent for this type of game, and I appreciated the 'revelation drama' as being just right.  It isn't at the top of my list for trap protagonist game paths, but it is pretty good.  I did have to laugh at how she found out, though.
    Iroha side-story
    After completing Ran's and Shizune's paths, Iroha's side-story popped up, and I read it, curious about the details.  This path is an H-scene free path that focuses mostly on what was going on behind the scenes of Ran's and Shizune's path, and it also has a pretty big revelation with some mild catharsis along the way.  Honestly, it was nice to have the gaps filled in, though the game as a whole probably would have been better if these revelations could have been somehow integrated into the main paths instead of being told in a side-story.
    Conclusion for now
    I blasted through two paths of this game, but I'm pretty sure I'll come back to the other paths eventually, if only to experience the commoner heroines' stories.  My current conclusions based off of what I have played are that this is one of Ensemble's more memorable games, taking third place overall behind Koi no Canvas and Gokigen Naname so far.  While the story in this game is not spectacular, it provides enough variation from the usual norms of the niche trap protag genre without alienating the fanbase.  I liked the heroines, and I felt their paths were well-designed.  I am a bit annoyed, as I usually am, that it was made with fandiscs in mind, but the quality of the heroines I bothered with is such that I didn't mind as much as I usually would have.
  10. Clephas

    *weeps hopelessly, his face a mess with tears and other fluids*
    Inochi no Spare is an utsuge, produced by Akabeisoft3, the conglomerate company made from all of Akabeisoft2's subsidiaries except Akatsuki Works.  I'll be blunt, I didn't know what to think going into this.  It was blatantly an utsuge, right from the beginning... and one that is merciless in its descriptions of the characters' suffering.
    The disease in question is called Oumon Disease (fictional), which manifests initially as cherry flower petal-shaped marks spreading outward across the patient's skin from over the heart and later as horrible pain attacks that are so terrible that they cause the patients to harm themselves in order to distract from the greater pain.  No element of this disease is spared from the reader's point of view, and it can get pretty graphic, both in narration and in appearance.  For those who can't stand watching others' suffering, this VN is probably going to be too much for you.
    The protagonist and heroine's suffering, joy, love, fear, loneliness, and despair are all portrayed in an intimate fashion that gradually grasps your heart, building up from the initial point, where you don't know precisely what is going on.  For better or worse, I have to advise that you avoid reading spoilers on this VN, as the pace of revelation is as important as the content itself.
    The writing of this game is excellent... and ruthlessly true to the characters and scenario.  The characters aren't perfect.  They are as deeply flawed as any human being can be.  Meguri isn't a saint, nor is Ria a pure-hearted martyr. 
    The protagonist of the story, Shizumine Ryuuji, is a young man whose expression rarely shifts, living for all practical purposes alone in a home that once held his parents and an elder brother.  One thing that struck me as I read this story was that, for all his weaknesses, Ryuuji is a frighteningly strong-willed person, when given reason to be.  His role in this VN is as important... or even moreso than the sisters' roles. 
    This is a 'soft' utsuge, meaning that the ending is extremely bittersweet but not devoid of salvation, and there is joy along the way, not lost entirely in the despair and suffering.  For those who like 'soft' utsuge, this will be pure crack... and it reminds me of some of the best moments of Konakana, which is still the best utsuge I've ever read.
    Overall, this is a kamige... and it is rare for an utsuge to manage to reach that level.  Most utsuge slip up somewhere along the way, but this one is presented perfectly for fulfilling its purpose.  I cried out loud for the ending, vicariously experiencing the loss without needing to think myself into it, which was amazing in and of itself.  That's not to say it is entirely without flaws.  It is a bit slow to get going, at least in part because you aren't given all the pieces of the puzzle initially, but I can still honestly call it a kamige, because even those elements that felt like flaws at first added to the experience later on.
  11. Clephas
    In plotge of all types, whether they are chuunige, kinetic novels, horror suspense, or mysteries, infodumps are ubiquitous throughout the VN world.  Infodumping in and of itself isn't a horrible thing to do to the reader (as some people claim), but it is a tool that is often abused by writers who want to expound on their beloved world and its characters.  
    First, the definition of an infodump is a scene with little or no dialogue where background information is provided without directly proceeding with the story.  Infodumps can vary in size from as small as forty lines of narration to up to a thousand, depending on the writer and the subject matter involved.  There are even multiple types, which I will describe here.
    The Lump of Infodump
    The Lump of Infodump (as I put it) is the most common type of infodump in VNs.  In the 'Lump, a great amount of information, sometimes with brief bits and pieces of dialogue or character stream of thought, is provided in a single scene, interrupting the story.  The 'Lump is the type of infodump most likely to drive people crazy, due to its tendency to create walls of uninterrupted text.  When abused, it tends to interrupt and/or destroy the flow of the story, and I've encountered a number of games where a more measured approach to presenting the setting or explanations of the particulars of an event or the 'why' of an action would have been less monotonous.  In fact, that is the big flaw of this type of infodump.  It is almost impossible to avoid monotony with this kind of infodump, because all it is doing is literally dropping information on you.  That said, infodumps often have a reason for existing that becomes clear in coming scenes, so it is not necessarily always a bad thing.
    The Scattered Infodump
    'Scattered Infodumps' are a technique where the writer provides the information in smaller, more digestible asides throughout the story, as it becomes relevant.  This technique tends to be received with less irritation and often goes almost unnoticed by the reader, because it doesn't go on long enough to disrupt the flow of the story.  Unlike the 'Lump, it is less likely to be abused, though many writers who use it get into the habit of always using it, which can be problematic for those with an allergy to non-dialogue text, lol.  
    The Flashback Infodump
    The Flashback Infodump is just that, an infodump provided in the form of a flashback instead of an aside.  These often fill in the gaps in the motivations of characters or their upbringing, and their purpose is, 90% of the time, to reveal something that would have made things less interesting if it were revealed earlier.  Flashbacks are often abused, though.  They are common throughout VNs, with roughly 90% of plotge having at least one and 30% of all charage (in my experience) having one.  They are a convenient method of revealing a character's past, so many games also use them for character development, particularly in heroine paths.
    The Prologue Infodump
    This is probably the least annoying of the 'obvious' infodumping and is a sub-category of the 'Lump.  Some games, rather than dumping setting and character information on you mid-story, will instead infodump immediately after you start.  This has the advantage of getting around the disruption of the game's flow that is inevitable with mid-game 'Lumps and providing background information without the writer having to remember to include it strategically throughout the story.  This technique is, however, rarely used.  Games that use it are rare mostly because if the first thing you see when starting a VN is a wall of text, most people will drop the game right then and there.  Because of this, most games that use this are directed to a very specific fanbase or niche of the VN community that already has an established interest in the game in question.  
    A few thoughts
    The reason I decided to make this post was because of a conversation I had with @fun2novel  regarding infodumping in Bradyon Veda.  In Bradyon Veda, infodumping is integral to the game's battle scenes (incidentally the discussion began with me giving examples of good battle scenes to him).  Because the science-fantasy techniques being used by the characters manipulate matter and physical laws, there are infodumps built into the battle scenes, explaining what they are doing.  Because of this, I noted that Bradyon Veda's battle scenes were an example of positive infodumping, because it was done in such a way that it enhanced rather than disrupted the telling of the story.
    What am I trying to get at?  Nothing, really.  I just thought that people give infodumps a bad rap, when they have probably been infodumped without even noticing it.  
  12. Clephas
    I had someone ask me why I consider some VN battle scenes to be good and others to be low quality just the other day, and I thought I would address this here.  
    First, I should state that while visuals definitely have an effect on the quality of a battle scene, the quality of visuals is less than 15% of the reasons why I pick one VN's battle scenes over another's.  The considerations when it comes to visuals are raw quality (artist skill, detail, etc), number of combat-related CGs and sprites, and the quality of the visual effects.
    More important (roughly 25% of the whole) is music and sound effects.  It is quite possible to turn a VN whose visuals are mediocre and writing are good into a masterpiece based solely on how the BGMs and sound effects are used.  I've seen it happen (Devils Devel Concept being a prime example), and I can honestly say that this aspect almost always trumps visuals when it comes to determining the quality of a given battle scene.
    Another 25% comes from context and presentation.  I split this evenly because these two factors tend to be inter-dependent in battle scenes.  Without the context, you can't tell whether you should care, and presentation (the art of bringing writing, sound, and visuals together to create a collaborative effect on the reader) quality can dramatically alter how you see the battle.
    The last 35% is all writing.  My prejudice would have put it at 50%, but realistically, in a VN, writing is at the very least 35% of what determines the quality of a battle scene.  The very simple reason is that making a battle scene interesting requires an eye for detail, for stringing descriptions of character actions, emotions, and words into a cohesive whole.  There are plenty of writers outside of the VN industry who only do this well and literally are incapable of 'peaceful writing'.  That is because what is demanded of writing during a battle scene is fundamentally different from what is demanded outside of battle scenes.  To be blunt, most VN writers have no idea of how to write a battle scene, which is why the good ones stand out so much.  'Tom blasted magic sword at Dave, Dave took it on his shield with a grunt' is about as far as it goes with most VN battle scenes... and that is fairly horrid, since there is no sense of what is actually going on in that exchange. 
    It isn't uncommon for VN makers with unskilled writers to simply substitute visual and sound effects for descriptions of the battle simply because the writer can only handle dialogue and minimal or copy-paste action lines.  However, this results in amazingly boring scenes, since there is usually almost no variation in visual or sound effects from scene to scene, action to action.  This means that they are essentially using a square block for a round peg.  I don't know how many third-rate battle scenes I've fallen asleep to over the years...  
    Anyway, ideally, a good battle scene should have all the elements come together in one cohesive whole.  However, in practice, that almost never happens.  About the only companies that have ever managed to do that consistently are Nitroplus, Light, and Propeller... and we all know what happened to Propeller and (more recently) Light. 
  13. Clephas
    Say what you want about Studio Ryokucha, but their weird plotge/charage hybrids are some of my quirkier favorites.  To be specific, Minamijuujisei Renka is my favorite game by this company, at least partially because of how deftly they sidestepped the worst of the 'high school' tropes while keeping the advantages of familiarity.  
    Minamijuujisei Renka is based on a fictional island still ruled by a post-colonial Caucasian aristocracy that long-since lost its connection with its long-dead original nation (I'm guessing Prussia is the model for the fictional dead nation, based on certain aspects of the setting).  It has achieved a high level of technological and societal development despite being handicapped by a small land area, a relatively small population (just around a million), and the gap between the aboriginal population and the white aristocracy.  The game's true/main heroine, Kanori, is the half-white, half-Japanese princess and currently the sole heir to the nation, a fact that has the more conservative elements grumbling about mongrels and other predictable purist BS.
    The protagonist of this story, Tobe Ryousuke, meets Kanori by chance on his first day in the nation, when he gets lost and encounters her while she is fleeing from men in black.  This leads to a predictably amusing set of small chase scenes, and it also solidifies Kanori and Ryousuke's relationship (her in love with him, him thinking of her as a friend) before he ever realizes who she is.  
    Ryousuke came to the nation involved along with his twin sisters, little genius girls who, when he collapsed from exhaustion trying to take care of them, took a job in the Dukedom in order to allow him to go to school and be a normal kid, essentially.  Rina and Rena, the twin sisters, are both children (literally), and their cuteness of both manner and feature serves as a constant throughout the game, as they often appear at important moments to move the story forward.  There are hints that if 'nii-chan' didn't have the good taste to get hitched before they were grown, there would have been some incest there, but, unfortunately for the lolicons out there *laughs at them* and fortunately for our peace of mind, they aren't heroines.
    Anyway, this game is designed with a chapter system, where incidents occur and get resolved, bringing the protagonist closer with the heroines throughout the common route.  This system often falls flat in games that use it, because it can get repetitive, but the creativity with which the writers set up the story makes that a non-issue in this game.  Like a lot of games from the middle of the decade that just ended, most of the heroines are deredere almost from the beginning (the exception being Elize, though it can be argued she is just another tsundere along with Miyako).  
    Unlike many charage hybrids, this game doesn't kill the story in the heroine paths or only have the story in the heroine paths... rather, the story flows in different directions based on which heroine you pick, and it feels natural at the time, which is what is important.  There are exciting moments in each path, without it flowing over into excessive seriousness (most of the story is interwoven with amusing or cute elements).  
    Though the story is good in this game, perhaps the place where this game shines the most is in character development.  By the time the common route ends (it is fairly long), you have a solid idea of what all the heroines are like under the skin, and you have almost definitely gotten attached to one or more of them.  Tbh, each time I play this game, I always waver between routes before making my choice, simply because I like all the heroines to one degree or another.  
    This game's weakness, from an objective standpoint, is the very length that allows for such extensive character development.  Many simply won't have the stamina to finish even one path in a single run, due to the length of the common route.  To give you an idea of its length, it is roughly the same as the common route of Clannad.
    I occasionally go back to this game for one reason... it is so reliably enjoyable that just finishing a single route can temporarily restore my faith in the possibilities of charage.  
  14. Clephas
    People who drop themselves into the abyss of otaku media tend to have their sense for things dull over time.  Action scenes don't excite like they used to, rom-coms aren't as funny, ecchi isn't as hot, and only the densest stories succeed in scratching the itch.  This is what I (and some others) call becoming a 'jaded veteran otaku'.  Jaded veteran otakus often become 'genre specialists' (meaning they only play one type of game, watch one type of anime, and/or refuse to play specific types), and only the most hypocritical have less than ten favorites in their medium. 
    However, how exactly do you tell that a VN (in this case) is one of your favorites?  There are a number of signs.
    1.  Does watching the opening get you excited no matter how many times you've seen it?
    2.  Does a great phrase that shattered your personal gate of tears do so again on a second playthrough?
    3.  Can it still make you giggle?
    4.  Can it still delight you with new discoveries or even only confirming the ones you made the last time you played?
    5.  Does defending it to everyone around you fill you with passion and do you have an intense desire to chain every other VN fan in site to a chair in front of a computer to play/read it?
    6.  Do you find yourself wistfully wondering if you'll ever find anything else like it again?
    7.  Do you feel like a junkie coming down off a great high after you finish it?
    These are just some of the signs of a VN happening to be your favorite... and one of the strange side-effects of being a long-time addict of otaku media is that your favorites become ever more distinct to you as time passes.  I have literally forgotten the contents of more VNs than most people have played, but the ones I love remain in my memory with surprising detail, even after years without playing them.  Not all of my favorites are kamige (in fact, surprisingly few of them are), but to me they are irreplaceable friends similar to the books I can never bring myself to get rid of. 
  15. Clephas
    I realized that I've always focused excessively on Sora, the protagonist, when I was describing this game, so I thought (on a whim) that I would go ahead and introduce the heroines to you all. 
    1.  Amatsu Kanata https://vndb.org/c8804
    Amatsu Kanata is the first heroine in the recommended play order and perhaps the heroine who comes closest to Sora in personality.  Selfish, cold-hearted, ruthless, and in possession of an iron will that would make a normal chuunige antagonist shudder, on the surface she plays the popular student council president.  Her past is probably the nastiest and most victimized of the heroines, but the personality that past created is by several degrees the most naturally dangerous while being coldly rational in most ways.
    Depending on which path you pursue for her, you get an ending where she takes the lead or Sora takes the lead.  Ironically, she is far more forgiving and easygoing in the one where she takes the lead, and in the one where Sora takes the lead, her bloody-minded nature is far more in evidence, especially toward the end.  Kirito (Sora's friend) describes her as being someone who, rather than taking a situation as it is and fitting herself in, molds the situation to her liking.  He also remarks that taking such a course is the resort of a genius or a madman, while avoiding pointing out which she is.
    2.  Minami Mutsuki https://vndb.org/c4110
    Minami Mutsuki is Sora's sex-friend, a whimsical senpai who has a tendency to play with words, deliberately poorly concealing what she wants in any given situation.  Like Kanata, she is highly intelligent, but her personality is a great deal more mild and open.  Part of this comes from the fact that she still has living family (a rather silly older brother and his wife), but a great deal of it comes from her essential nature.  Sora remarks internally and to her several times in the story that she is a lot closer to being human than he is.
    Unlike Kanata and Sora, Mutsuki is capable of feeling guilt, though only toward people she considers to be worthy on an instinctive level (a trait common to all the heroines is that they are unbelievably cold to people they don't consider equals under the surface).  She is a hedonist, indulging in sex (with Sora), cigarettes, and frequent sleeping just because she feels like it.  Outside of pleasure-related activities, she is mostly apathetic, but she has a sense of honor unique amongst the heroines. 
    3.  Mukou Misora https://vndb.org/c4114
    The only 'full adult' in the group.  She is a teacher at the school and the older sister of Azumi, Sora's violently whimsical osananajimi.  She is very good at hiding her desires and impulses, even going so far as to present a false face to Sora throughout much of her route.  Unlike the other heroines, she has a strong desire to see Sora find some kind of normal, conventional happiness, though she herself is a bit too twisted inside to really understand such things. 
    Because she 'sees' too deeply, she misunderstands Sora's nature the most out of the heroines, save for perhaps Mei.  Like all the heroines, she is coldly ruthless in going after what she wants, and she is also an inveterate liar.  At the same time, despite her greater age, she is the most vulnerable (in every way) of the heroines, though her attitude toward people she doesn't like goes beyond cold into being outright murderous. 
    4.  Nanagi Akane and Akari 
    Twin sisters who share all of their emotions and most of their sensations.  Though Sora isn't aware of it, both of them have been in love with him since early childhood.  Akane is the more rational of the two at the surface-level, whereas Akari is more primal and instinct-driven.  As such, Akane has a tendency to fall behind Akari when it comes to acting on her emotions.  In the setting of this game, twins who are also 'Enja', have to keep a careful balance between their wants, desires, and their fulfillment.  If one wants to take one as a lover, one has to take the other as well, lest they gradually go insane.
    Akane is very much a 'pretender', putting up a facade of geniality in normal life.  However, she is also brutally sadistic and cold toward those she dislikes, while being somewhat cowardly and malleable in the hands of someone she loves.  Like all the heroines, she possesses a strong urge toward violence and an inherently primal nature that goes beyond that of normal humanity.  Other than Amatsu, she is probably the best at hiding it though. 
    Akari is kept confined to their home, due to the fact that her 'henshitsu' has already proceeded to a point where subtle signs of inhumanity have begun to show (eye color, a desire for the taste of blood, etc).  She is not particularly dissatisfied with this arrangement, but she does wish she could see Sora.  Unlike Akane, who is intensely jealous of her for something that happened in the past, Akari is deeply concerned for her sister.  Also unlike Akane, Akari doesn't bother to hide her darkness, since she never goes out amongst 'normal humanity'.
    5.  Aono Mei https://vndb.org/c4113
    To be honest, the best description of Mei would be 'innocent evil priestess'.  Mei is like a more violent version of Hecate from Shakugan no Shana, as well as being even more innocent in some ways.  Her only real interests are in her duty and in Sora... an interest that is profoundly unnatural given their natural positions within the natural order.  While she is profoundly innocent in some ways, she reacts automatically to threats with excessive violence, often to the point of splattering those who threaten her without understanding they couldn't possibly know how stupid it is to provoke her. 
  16. Clephas
    (The first few lines of this can't be hooked, and I've never had the scripts extracted, so forgive me for not presenting the Japanese for them)
    Half of this world is made up of 'evil'. 
    'Evil' is desire.
    That which humans spill out as easily as breathing. (Clephas: combination of two lines, due to this VN being NVL style, it is often necessary to translate multiple lines together)
    That is an unseen crystallization of people's emotions.
    That is desire.
    That is 'evil'.
    Apparently, half of the world is made up of that 'evil'...
    Amidst the silent blue night, my footsteps echo into infinity.
    My prey turned around slowly.
    An alley painted by dim light.
    Breathing out gray smoke, I looked at the abomination standing in the darkness. 
    Though it was supposedly a summer night, there was a chill in the air that threatened to send shivers along my spine.
    The scent of 'blood' that wasn't quite dry.
    The scent of something once alive that had just begun to rot.
    It seems this is a 'battlefield'.
    A place that was a battlefield.
    And a place soon to become a battlefield.
    I didn't know this place existed in this town until today.
    An unknown alley.
    Unknown scenery.
    'Where' is this?
    I almost laughed at the question, already knowing the answer.
    I always wonder.
    Is this 'reality'?
    Or is this a 'nightmare'?
    The answer is the same.
    Who cares?
    It's not like it changes what I'm about to do...
    Demon: --- Truly beyond salvation.
    「つくづく救えない! この虫螻共!」
    Demon: You all are truly beyond salvation!  Insects!
    A vigorous voice, with a volume that resembled the discharge from a broken dam.
    In an unpleasant voice that resonated heavily in my ears, the man began to insult me.
    It seems he's lost his patience.
    「目敏く! 浅ましく! 愚かしく! 学習能力のカケラもない!」
    Demon:  Sly!  Despicable!  Foolish!  Devoid of any ability to learn!
    Demon:  Just a few days ago, I deigned to trample you under my feet, so why do you fail to understand!?
    Demon:  Why can't you understand the king's mercy!?
    Sora: ... Tha hell?
    「何の話をしてんだ? お前」
    Sora:  What are you even talking about?
    I looked up at the man before me, my cigarette still clenched between my lips.
    A tall figure surpassing two meters...
    No... he even threatened to surpass three meters.
    Truly a lean and tall figure.
    Abnormally long arms and legs, and eyes that shone gold in the darkness.
    It was obvious he wasn't 'human'.
    There is no 'individual' like this in the family Hominidae. 
    No matter what disease they might have, no matter what unusual DNA they might possess, no human would become like 'this'.
    I've never seen such an 'ungainly' human.
    That wasn't a 'cheap lifeform' like a mere human.
    A lifeform stronger than humans, faster, more durable, and disgusting beyond measure.
    Sora: ... and so... what does it matter?
    Demon: What?
    Sora:  It's because it's beyond salvation you know it's reality, right?
    Sora:  You can't do anything about it, so you can dream, can't you?
    Sora:  An ideal perfect world... that can't be anything other than pure hell.
    Sora:  A reality where hope has 'no way' to exist can't possibly have any value!
    Stronger, faster, more durable, and more disgusting than 'humanity'.
    Sora: Or does that kind of childish fantasy of a world happen to be your ideal world?
    「お前等、“悪魔”の、理想郷か? それが」
    Sora:  Is that you 'demons'' utopia?
    That was a 'demon'.
    Mine, our, and their enemy.
    The enemy of the 'world'.
    Demon:  ... I see.  You were sent by someone different from the insects from yesterday.
    Demon: However... such foolishness.
    The unknown demon's response to my honest opinion was given with a thin smile.
    No matter how many of them I kill, they keep coming.
    Just like humans, no matter how many are killed, continue to be born.
    「この我に、説法か? たかが百年も肉体を維持できないような下等生物が! 誰に向かって摂理を説いている!」
    Demon: You preach to me, of all people?  A lower lifeform that can't even maintain its body for a hundred years?  Who do you think you are preaching divine truth to?!
    Sora: To you, of course.
    Sora: Oh higher lifeform,  who can't even live more than a thousand years.
    Sora: Oh self-proclaimed... idiotic 'Naked King'.
    Sora: Geez, you were the one who asked, weren't you?
    「こ・こ・に、何を詰めて生きてんだ? お前」
    Sora: Just what do you have stuffed up here?
    When I tapped my head with my finger, I could see red blood instantly flow into his eyeballs.
    Those golden eyes instantly transform into gleaming red.
    Truly interesting.
    Just how do they do that?
    Almost like a fish, 'the color of his eyes' changed.
    They truly are lifeforms worth teasing.
    Sora: Who you are, what you are... what you have done...
    Sora: ... or how many people you've killed... none of that matters.
    That's right.  None of that matters.
    Sora: ... It's just that I can't sleep lately.
    Yes, just for that little of a reason.
    Sora: When you stinky lifeforms are loitering in this town's streets, it seems I develop insomnia...
    Yes, for that is my 'contract'.
    Sora: ... because of that, every evening, every night, I wander this town at random and get lost in places like this...
    Yes, I get lost.
    In this...
    In this 'midnight world'...
    Sora: And... every once in a while I encounter something like 'you all'....
    Yes, something like them.
    This blue-black thing. 
    These 'demons'.
    I encounter them...
    Sora: ... I'm bound by my 'contract.  And so...
    Sora: When I find something like you, I always kill it.
    「理解したか? ムシケラ」
    Sora: Do you get it? Insect.
    Yes, for that is my 'contract'...
    The 'contract' that exists for me to be myself.
    The thing that makes up most of my reason to live...
    Sora: I hope that it will come to a complete end with you, so I can sleep peacefully from now on...
    Sora: If you know of any others like you, introduce them to me, worm.
    In response to my question, the unknown 'demon's' expression froze.
    In response to that careless, haughty, arrogant, and impolite provocation, it smiled in a fashion that reflected anger and hatred so intense it approached madness. (Clephas: one of those times when combining the lines is the only option, lol.  NVL style is great in Japanese, allowing for some truly great artistic writing flair, but it doesn't work for english that well)
    It was an ugly, demon-like smile.
    When they show me that shape of a smile, it makes me want to smile too.
    It makes me feel like I'm going to overflow with arousal, excitement, and bloodlust.
    Demon: ... I see, so that's what is going on.
    Demon: You are...
    Demon: You are the cause of the taint corrupting this land!!
    With a scream of rage, the demon catapulted itself toward me.
    He launched himself right in front of me in an instant, his massive leg unleashing a brutal, whip-like kick that literally sliced through the air right in front of my nose.
    It was completely different from the strength possible for a human.
    Speed and...
    ... agility and...
    Everything was completely different.
    The point where it was beyond comparison.
    Even a light appraisal told me it was more than even a wild beast could have produced.
    Even a rough estimate of his movements told me they were those of a 'monster'.
    Sora:  ... Like I said, I have no idea what you are talking about.
    I easily matched his kick, whose movements completely surpassed those that could be detected by the eyes of 'normal humanity' with a back-step.
    At the same time, I spat out my cigarette.
    The still-lit cigarette butt rotated slowly as it fell towards the ground.
    While it was falling, I used my open arms and legs to retaliate, ripping through several dozen of what would have been 'vital points' on a human, with perfect accuracy.
    Demon: Gahaa....!!???
    The sensation of rupturing, impacting, and popping.
    It was like the sensation of muscles as hard as steel snapping apart.
    It was the sensation of bones grating as they were shattered.
    It was the disgusting sensation of organs being crushed.
    For the hell of it, I went ahead and destroying his eyes, nose, and throat... but the only thing that gave me was his 'anger'.
    Demon: Gugaaah!!!
    As tough as expected.
    As to be expected from a 'demon'.
    It was in truth, the monsters that were 'our' eternal enemy.
    I can't help but be impressed with their tenacity, every time.
    I can't help but feel unmatched joy.
    It should always be like this...
    'Conflict' can only be called conflict if both sides are hurt.
    A death match should be where both sides are killed and are killing one another.
    If it isn't that way, it is boring.
    Sora: As to be expected of a 'demon'... even a lesser demon is still a demon.
    Sora: No matter how weak, no matter how similar in form you are to a human, inside you are completely different.
    Sora: Completely different in every way from 'Stray Sheep' or 'Dolls'.
    Sora:  Completely different, truly different.  Exceptional, exceptional!
    Sora: As expected of the parasites that eat away at the world... it has to be like this.
    「殺りがいがないよな……なあ? クソ悪魔」
    Sora: Otherwise there's no point, right?  Shitty demon?
    I was excited.
    I was aroused.
    I was enraged.
    The vision of my 'naked eyes' was infinitely fresh and clear.
    There were no 'constraints' or 'vows' to get in the way.
    And there was no reason for me to hold back or exercise self-control. 
    Just acting like an animal is so like us... and so good.
    My smile can't help but grow wide.
    I want to lick my lips at the prey before me.
    Sora: Now, let's begin the atrocities!
    However, the end came quickly and easily.
    It was a true and blue monster, incomparable with pathetic humanity.
    Though it was tough, robust, and strong; though it was powerful and unmatched as a lifeform; though it was a true 'demon', not a fake; when I came back to myself I had ripped it apart.
    I had slaughtered it like always.
    As always, in obedience to my 'contract'.
    I 'violated' it as usual.
    I destroyed it as usual.
    And, as usual, I killed it.
    That was a truly anticlimactic, normal ending...
    Honestly, when I first played this game, I was unfamiliar with roughly half of the kanji choices, so I  missed a lot... but the style and the way this writer perfectly utilized the unique aspects of the NVL system made the game hypnotic for me. 
  17. Clephas
    Primal Hearts is a game I have an odd relationship with.  At the time I first played it, I don't think I gave it a completely fair assessment.  The reason why?  I was hitting the first of my many 'charage doldrums' periods.  However, in retrospect, it grew on me... sort of like mold.
    First, I should note that the game is actually fairly old-fashioned, despite its modern visuals.  The wacky concept, larger-than-life characters, and the sometimes ridiculous 'coincidences' that pop in all hearken to a previous era.  At various times, this game channels such famous games as Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no, Majikoi, Shuffle, and any number of 'golden age' games.  Of course, it doesn't go as far as any of those does, but the makers' fanboyism is fairly evident throughout the game on a second playthrough (something I didn't notice on the first playthrough).
    First, the resemblance of Majikoi lies in the larger than life characters and sometimes crazy abilities some of them have (the protagonist included).  The protagonist's casual manipulation of the other characters for his own amusement (and for their own sakes, more often than not) is very much reminiscent of Yamato, without ever actually approaching his level. 
    Perhaps the strongest resemblance to Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no lies in Haruhi's path... to be blunt, Haruhi is a redesigned version of Miyabi, with Kanna a reformed version of Lida who also happens to be a heroine.  The resemblances and relationships are so obviously drawn from fanboyism of that particular kamige that I just had to shake my head during this replay. 
    Shuffle is channeled, along with a lot of other early charage, through the setting.  While the specifics are drastically different, the wacky, overblown occurrences, the general madness surrounding the 'elections', and any number of other factors in the setting make me nostalgic for the middle of last decade (soon to be the decade before last). 
    I perhaps didn't notice all this the last time because I was focused on heroines... and I was playing charage rather mechanically already, two years into VN of the Month.  A peculiar element that you generally don't see in most charage in general is character designs like that of Mizanori.  Most charage tend to make all their regular characters (the ones at the center of the cast) attractive to one degree or another.  However, Mizanori stands out as a character who was made comically unattractive, which struck me as hilarious at the time, since I used to make some of the same excuses he did to eat more as a teenager, lol. 
    The common route of this game is excellent.  The relationships between the characters are formed and deepened appropriately, and it actually makes sense that the heroines would fall for the protagonist by the end.  It helps that the protagonist is really a 'great guy' in every way, though he can lack common sense at times.  The decision to avoid mediocrity in the protagonist and those around him is one that is rarely made in charage, which just made it that much better as a result.
    Sadly, after the common route, this game stumbles somewhat.  The heroine routes lack some of the depth the common route does, perhaps because the shift to romance automatically debuffed the intelligence of the writers.    Oh, the heroines are unbearably cute when they go dere (Sera's dere makes me giggle hysterically even now, and Haruhi's is as strong in its own way), but the 'drama' included in the heroine paths pales a great deal in comparison to the drama that pops up in the common route.  In that sense, it felt almost like they were running out of ideas at the end...
    Overall, this is an excellent charage that manages to escape mediocrity by channeling some of the best parts of a number of famous VNs into its characters and setting.  I won't say it is a kamige (because it isn't), but if you are just looking for a good charage to add to your collection, this is a good choice.
  18. Clephas
    To be blunt, I might or might not continue playing this game, so I thought I'd go ahead and get my thoughts down now, after finishing one path.  More and more these days, I only play one path of a game before moving on, after all.
    Shinigami no Chou is Yuzusoft's latest release, and it is more along the lines of its more SOL-focused games like Sanoba Witch, as opposed to its more plot-focused ones like Dracu-riot or Senren Banka.  As such, the ichaicha and H-scenes are a bit overly long and the common route drags out more than their more plot-focused games. 
    That said, this game is an example of what Yuzusoft does best... amusing characters, decent settings, reasonably good protagonists, and a fantasy edge to the whole thing.  In this case, the protagonist turns out to have a 'large soul' that can cause miracles by interacting with the weaker wandering souls (in the form of mystic butterflies), and as a result, when he dies, his wish to live causes time to reverse itself.  The shinigami Kanna, whose job is to guide souls to the afterlife, is essentially ordered by the divine brass to watch over the protagonist to make sure he doesn't harm reality further by creating more miracles, and the solution to the problem is for him to be satisfied with life (romance in other words). 
    This game's concept is a bit closer to a nakige than most of their previous games, which tended to be either primarily humorous love-comedies or story-focused with some action (with some exceptions).  The common route supplies some decent cheap catharsis at a few points without going overboard, and Kanna's route, which is the route I chose to do, has some really nice cathartic points in the classic nakige sense (almost Key-style). 
    I will say that my primary complaint is that the clothes the characters end up wearing for the larger part of the game (the waitress uniforms) are actually some of the ugliest clothes I've seen in a moe-influenced VN in some time.  I know that is a weird complaint coming from me, but it seriously bothered me that the girls were calling those uniforms 'cute'.  I won't go so far as to say they were repulsive, but they were of a style that lost my interest instantly, lol.
    One element that many who are tired of the usual tropes will be happy with is that the protagonist is actually in his third year of college when the story begins, and school is definitely not the focal setting of the game.  The greatest amount of time is spent in the cafe where he ends up working, and, unlike many games where a cafe is the focal setting, it actually manages to be interesting (most 'cafe setting' VNs are either nukige or extremely boring moege with sugary sweet heroines that seem like you might be able to see the sun shining from their eyes due to the hole in the back of their heads). 
    Kanna's route is an excellent example of the best way to handle a story of a soul searching for happiness, and I absolutely loved the way the ending was handled, with the relatively extensive epilogue that followed the protagonist and Kanna for at least half a decade after the climax of the path.  That said, since she is the obvious main heroine, it strikes me as unlikely the other paths will reach the same level, lol. 
  19. Clephas
    One of only two games written by Kazutaka, the writer of the somewhat comically-named Doushite Daite Kurenai no!?  Onna no Ko Datte Yaritai no! (incidentally, despite the title, the aforementioned game is not a nukige, which is in itself humorous, lol).  It is also the game that gave substance to Ensemble's quest to define itself as a specialist company in trap protagonist and ojousama-ge.  Ironically, it is also the flat-out best SOL game the company has ever made, which makes it somewhat sad for me that Kazutaka faded out after this game was released.  I can say right out that the only reason I still try Ensemble games is because of the experience I had with this one.
    One of the parts anyone who first plays this game will notice is that the protagonist is voiced.  More than that, 'Mizuki' is voiced by a female VA that was able to put a hint of androgyny into the voice, giving you the impression that it was quite natural that most people mistake him for a girl.  Another part of this game that is obviously noticeable from the start is that the writer has really done his research into the art field.  'Mizuki' has an extremely wide and deep knowledge of all forms of art and their care, and this serves as one of his (actually, it is easier to think of him as a girl with a penis, lol) charm points for the reader, along with his obvious love of housework. 
    One part that makes it easy to regard this game's path as being far more in-depth than the norm for an SOL-focused game is the way the choices are handled.  Essentially, before you exit the prologue, you will have already chosen your heroine, since all choices are concentrated in a very short period of time at the beginning of the game.  By choosing to essentially get the choices 'out of the way', the writer manages to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of VNs in general... breaking engrossment in the game by inserting choices into every important scene.  This game essentially ignores the lie of player agency (Clephas: Player agency in a VN, pfft), which is definitely a positive in this case.  This allows the protagonist's and the heroines' personalities and actions to become clear to the reader (and there is no doubt that you are a reader with this VN) without the interference of random choices or the need to keep which heroine you want to go for in the back of your mind constantly.
    Ootori Rena
    Rena is the game's obvious main heroine.  She is the daughter of the town's owner and permanent mayor (literally, their business bought the town in which the game is based).  She is also an art dealer from a family of art dealers.  It is tempting, at first glance, to call her a tsundere... but for once, this archetypical characterization fails.  Rena is very straightforward in how she expresses her feelings, having a policy of expressing her emotions openly regardless of what they are.  She is also very mature in the sense that she has a solid grasp on what her responsibilities are to those around her, coming from her upbringing as the successor of a family of primary art dealers (art dealers that primarily 'raise' artists and sell their works as opposed to buying artists' works that already have an established market value). 
    I say she is the main heroine, and indeed, her path is one of the few paths where the protagonist is forced to confront his own issues head on.  For better or worse, in most of the paths, Shin/Mizuki manages to avoid directly confronting his past and his own weakness, making this path an obvious favorite for me.  That said, this was the first path I played originally, so I couldn't help but play this one first again.
    Chiharu is my yome!  lol  Seriously, if you were to ask me which heroine (as opposed to 'which girl' since Akie is my favorite girl... I love haraguro characters) touched my heartstrings (and my libido) the most, it would be Chiharu.  Chiharu is the single-minded but kind-hearted bodyguard that serves Rena.  She is very serious and kind-hearted, but it often shows in odd ways, because she is somewhat socially awkward.  Her reactions are also driven by her early upbringing and profession, the former of which was strict and the latter of which is professional security. 
    Chiharu's dere is... frighteningly powerful.  Oh, this can be said of all the heroines, really, but Chiharu is a very loving soul.  I love Chiharu's path for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that she is, at heart, someone who just wants someone who can accept her from the bottom of their hearts, flaws, disabilities, and all.  This very human worry is what turned Chiharu from a two-dimensional character to a person in my mind.
    Also:  「だって幽霊って死んでるんだよ、死霊って生きてないんだよ、生きてなければ殺傷することもできないじゃないか、刀で死人は斬れないよ怖いよ!!」
    Chiharu "But ghosts are dead!  Ghosts aren't alive!  If they aren't alive, you can't kill them!  You can't kill the dead with a katana!  I'm scared!"
    Akie "No, but you can cut the TV.  Please refrain from damaging dorm property."
    Shizuku is an art auctioneer and the daughter of the head of the Karasuma Group, a company that specializes in the resale of art.  She and Rena are on bad terms, not the least because their places in the art industry make it inevitable.  To most people, she is a sharp-tongued (dokuzetsu) but elegant-looking girl who dominates her surroundings by her very presence.  In private, she is an intensely loving and passionate woman who will do absolutely anything and everything for the person she loves.  However, she has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions (something that can be said of the other two heroines above as well, though not of Yuki and Anastasia), especially when it comes to Shin.
    Tbh, this is the most frustrating of the routes to speak of, because so much of her profile is spoilers for the other routes.  Let's just say there are some seriously hilarious antics that occur partly because of Shii-cha- *coughs* ahem, Shizuku's tendency to jump to conclusions, her willingness to do anything for the people she loves, and Rena's inevitable reactions, lol. 
    This path is primarily hilarious, but it also gets into the more intimate elements of Shin's 'why' in a way that even Rena's path doesn't.  Tbh, if I were to put a recommended route order up, it would be Rena>Shizuku>Chiharu>Yuki>Anastasia.  My reasoning for this is because this game actually benefits from experiencing it in an order that could be seen as 'main to sub' instead of 'sub to main' as I would normally recommend.  All the paths are good in their own ways, but the knowledge from Rena and Shizuku's paths enhance the experience of the other three paths to a rather large degree.  Moreover, playing Anastasia's path without having played Rena's would make it somewhat confusing, and I'm pretty sure some important points would be missed by first-timers. 
    For now, I'm going to stop, because I need to take a rest from SOL for a few days, but I'll finish this one up soon.
  20. Clephas
    Since ceasing VN of the Month, I've been slowly recovering from my years of over-reading VNs, the vast majority of them ones I normally wouldn't have taken an interest in.  While I still play VNs regularly, I do so at a slower pace, reading more conventional literature and playing normal games as much as I do them.
    I recently began to regain some of my VN stamina (though I will never get back to where I was), and I've found that even the SOL VNs I choose to play are far less stressful than before.  It is nice to reconfirm that I truly love VNs, after so many years playing far too many charage threatened to make me hate them. 
    However, I've also noticed that I am far less tolerant of obvious blunders and poor choices on the part of writers, regardless of genre.  When something touches on my pet peeves, I immediately drop the VN, and I lose all urge to play it, often for months after.  This was the case with Sorceress Alive and it is also the case with Raillore to Ryakudatsusha (dameningen protagonists with no interesting or redeeming traits are one of my pet peeves). 
    On the other hand, my stamina for 'sweetness' and 'ichaicha' in a VN has recovered somewhat, and I can play a route in a charage with no troubles... However, I no longer desire to play any routes other than that of my favorite heroine.  I used to mechanically run through all the heroines in a VN without hesitation or slowing down, but now I only go for the one or two heroines that interest me, ignoring the others entirely.
    This change in my own behavior leaves me somewhat bemused, though I can see where it comes from rationally.  I simply got tired of plowing through huge numbers of boring heroines that almost buried the good ones, lol.
  21. Clephas
    First, I should state that I went into this game with a specific heroine in mind from the beginning.  I might go back later and play one of the other heroine routes, but I played this game specifically because I thought the concept was interesting and I liked Hanna's character description. 
    This game is by Hook Soft, a company primarily known for its combination of lovey-dovey relationships, mild comedy, and surprisingly long paths.  This company generally produces high-quality charage, but I always found it hard to play their games because of the sheer amount of ichaicha involved (it is probably more than you are imagining).  Their protagonists are usually reasonably capable (so far, none of the ones I've played has had an average or stupid protagonist), and their heroines tend to have their own strong moe-characterizations (this company is a bit heavy-handed on the moe sometimes). 
    This game is no exception.  The protagonist, while having the usual 'light and joking' qualities of a charage protagonist, is mostly an honor student who lives alone, works part-time to  pay for his living expenses, and keeps his grades up for the sake of his scholarship.  As such, it immediately passed the first 'charage hurdle' without a problem (charage hurdles being stupid tropes that ruin everything but are endemic to the genre). 
    This game's theme is also its gimmick.  As the title hints, you have a choice after the heroine is locked in as to whether the protagonist will take the lead in the relationship or the heroine will.  This results in differing outcomes and h-scenes, which provide some extra depth to the experiences with the heroine in general.
    The heroine I focused on, Hanna, is technically a foreign transfer (not exchange) student, having moved to Japan with her parents and little sister Lisa some time before the game begins (relatively recently).  She attends a rich girls' (ojousama) school in the area and is an object of admiration for her grace and beauty both in and outside the school.  She is a gentle-mannered girl from beginning to end, meaning you'll only rarely see her angry... but she does get jealous (in an adorable fashion).  I liked how the path and common route both hand the protagonist learning what kind of person she was, her circumstances, and filling in the gaps between his initial perceptions and the reality as it went.
    I really want to praise this company for the smooth transition from the common route to the heroine route.  It felt so natural that I wouldn't have even noticed if it weren't for the choice as to who was to take the lead in the relationship.  In fact, I've rarely encountered VNs that were this smooth and well-paced, which reminds me of why I kept trying to play this company's games despite the fact that the huge amounts of ichaicha could wear on me at times. 
    Hanna- Protagonist Lead
    The path where the protagonist leads is pretty straightforward.  As they spend time together, Hanna gradually changes, losing some of her hesitance to rely on others, and she gradually comes to rely on the protagonist deeply.  This is generally a path where an already adorable Hanna becomes even more adorable and reveals more facets to her personality and her relationship to her family.  There is a ton of ichaicha, as is common for Hook soft games, and the 'small drama' common to charage heroine paths is fairly easily resolved in a way that provides a neat conclusion to the path.  The epilogue is fairly cute, and it made me smile.
    Hanna- Heroine Lead
    The first thing I noticed was that the confession scene was completely different.  Where the protagonist was the one desperately pushing himself to confess to her in the previous route, in this route, it was her trying to find a way around her hangups to confess to him.  The interesting thing is the difference in how the initial hangups are resolved between the paths, and I thought it was a clever gimmick. 
    While some key parts and details are echoed between the path, they are presented differently, and in this path, Hanna is far more aggressive about the relationship, whereas the protagonist is slightly more passive (this route actually feels more like a standard charage route, given how most charage protags only have fake personalities).  From a visual perspective, Hanna's everyday-wear outfit is changed in this path from the other and the common route (indicating that you were meant, at least in her case, to play the other one first - yay me! - most likely). 
    In addition, this path has short scenes from Hanna's perspective, something the other path lacked, probably because it was a path focused on the protagonist leading the relationship. 
    What is most marked about this path in comparison to the other is Hanna's personal growth.  She quickly goes from your standard 'passive ojousama' to a strong personality that dominates the relationship without crushing the protagonist's personality or pride.  I liked that they changed up how Hana acts in every way while not ruining her basic characterization, and I had to appreciate how carefully thought out it must have been in advance.  Indeed, there are facets of Hanna that come out only in this path, which makes it worth playing on its own.
    A Hooksoft charage with an interesting gimmick/concept, some good comedy, and a lot of heavy ichaicha.  If you want the 'gold standard' for charage, Hooksoft is one of the companies to look to.

  22. Clephas
    This is perhaps one of the few games from my first five years playing untranslated VNs that isn't a chuunige that I remembered vividly.  I decided to pick this up again because I wanted some good catharsis, and I was tired of waiting for Mangagamer to get off their butts and actually release this. 
    Boku ga Tenshi ni Natta wake is what is called a 'soft utsuge', in the sense that there are no good endings but it focuses more on the bittersweet sorrow rather than the absolute despair of a 'hard utsuge' like Houkago no Futekikakusha.  Each of the first three heroines has a bad and a normal ending, and no matter what you choose, darkness awaits.  The fourth heroine, the angel Aine, is the true heroine and only has one ending (the true ending) which is also bittersweet, though there is some sense of salvation for the protagonist, albeit at a price. 
    The first three heroines are the aggressively helpful osananajimi (who is the only one of the heroines who knows his past) Naruko, the soft-mannered but somehow gloomy Yuri, and the standoffish Minamo.  Thankfully, only Naruko falls into an archetypical role (osananajimi characters have a very limited range of roles), which is nice for someone looking for something with unusual heroines. 
    This game focuses on a sort of tug of war between the apparently apathetic Kirinokojima Tomoe, who actively loathes romance in general, and the optimistic clumsy angel Aine, who believes in romance as the ultimate force for human happiness with all her heart.  Tomoe is kind-hearted under his apparently apathetic exterior, inevitably caring about what happens to the people Aine wants to help, but his belief that romance only brings suffering and is a force for evil in the world is so strong that he is constantly wavering on whether to go along with Aine or not.  This conflict, though it is not one born of malice, defines the main storyline, as the characters worry about what is best for the people involved.
    The first six chapters of the game are the common route, and each chapter covers a different romantic mess that draws Aine's attention.  These messes are never simple nor easily resolved, and regardless of which path Tomoe chooses in the end, nothing turns out perfectly.  The seventh chapter covers the heroine routes, which are much more intimate and have an impact that quite naturally surpasses that of the arcs of the common route.
    I advise anyone who plays this game to play Naruko's route third, regardless of which of the other two paths you do first.  I say this because Aine's (the true path) splits off immediately before you would otherwise head into Naruko's route... 
    Yuri's route is pretty... sick-minded.  Sorry, the writer of this game probably has a serious mental illness, and I shouldn't be insensitive about it, lol.  Anyway, there are hints of what Yuri's conflict is in the common route, but it escalates rapidly once you actually get to her route and her personal issues are laid bare.  Tbh, Yuri's route is the most horrifying of the initial three routes for reasons that become obvious to anyone who plays it, and I wept at the normal ending and was somewhat disgusted at the bad ending (both times). 
    Minamo's route is a bit less psychotic than Yuri's... but in exchange, the issues are more 'worldly' and familiar to the average reader.  The central conflict involves Minamo's work as an idol and a combination of her past issues, family issues, and the inevitable problems of a celebrity in Japan getting involved romantically with someone else.  While this path is milder than Yuri's, it is a lot easier to empathize with, and it also epitomizes Tomoe's nature to a greater degree than the other two paths. 
    I didn't bother with the bad ending this time, instead going for just the normal one.  The normal ending is bittersweet and strikes me as the ending that most fits Tomoe's personality outside of the true ending.  It is sad, though.
    This is by far my least favorite path in the game, though it isn't just because I dislike osananajimi paths.  I won't go deep into why I didn't like this path either time I played it, because I don't want to spoil anything important, but I will go ahead and cover the spoiler-free issues.  This path is the only one of the first three paths that actually touches upon the reason for Tomoe's apathetic/asexual personality, and it also is the only one that touches upon the truth of what the angels work is.  As such, it is absolutely vital that you play it before the true route even if you want to go straight to it, since the explanation isn't repeated in the true route.  Moreover, Naruko's route's normal ending serves as an example of the game's true central conflict that is vital for understanding the true route.
    True Route
    What can I say about the true route/Aine route?  It is by far the best path in the game (though the ending is still deeply bittersweet), and after you finish it, there is a sense of salvation for Tomoe that doesn't exist in any of the other paths.  I say a sense of salvation, but it is salvation at a cost, as is typical of every blessing any character in this game experiences.  This path reveals the fullness of why Tomoe hates himself to the point where he rejects all possibility of happiness for himself, and, to be honest, I replayed the rest of the paths solely so I could re-experience the heart-jerking events of this route in the same manner I did the first time. 
    I can recommend this to someone who wants catharsis and doesn't mind a darker atmosphere than you would see in a nakige.  It is also something I can recommend to utsuge lovers (if you liked Swan Song for the emotional elements, there is a good chance you'll like this).  I do not recommend this for people who want undiluted happy endings.
  23. Clephas
    Originally, when this game came out, I bought it, played the first part of the prologue, facepalmed over the protagonist's actions, then dropped it.  I still don't think that choice was a mistake, even now.  That's not to say this is not an excellent game (it is), but the fact is that Kouki being a total doofus at times is annoying as hell. 
    This game is split into two parts, Sorceress and Alive.  The two parts have significantly different story progression and outcomes, and it would be safe to say that Sorceress is a different game from Alive in many ways.  Sorceress can be called a 'combat sport charage', as it focuses primarily on the heroines, romance, SOL, and the Rave tournament.  This in itself is quite an enjoyable example of the sub-genre, though the gap between Kouki in his 'strategist mode' and his 'dense doofus mode' is startling at times. 
    Alive is more of a plotge with chuunige elements (I've had people describe it as a chuunige, but it doesn't have most of the major qualities of one).  The story there is darker and much denser, showing sides of the various characters you can't see in Sorceress.  Though, tbh, it is bound pretty tightly to some tropes familiar to most otakus. 
    The heroines are Azuria, Akina, Yuzuriha, Miya, and Riri.  Riri only has an ending in Alive, but she does play a role in both parts of the game. 
    Azuria is your typical mother-like oneesan character... with the classic physical features to go along with it.  Of the five, I think she has the strongest personality second only to Yuzuriha, who is intense behind her calm appearance.   She wields earth magic, which she uses mostly in a defensive manner at first (though she does expand her repertoire).
    Akina is your typical 'fire magic tsundere'.  To be honest, there really isn't any need to explain her further if you've seen any number of anime tsunderes with fire magic.  They all act the same way and are equally predictable.  Her relationship with Kouki ends up somewhat like that of Yuuji and Shana in Shakugan no Shana (the first half of the season) in some ways.
    Yuzuriha is the quiet bullied girl of the group.  She uses ice magic, and her manner seems to reflect this...  However, she is probably the most passionate and loving of them all by several degrees.  Her relationship with Kouki has a rather larger portion of psychological dependence than the other paths, but I still think of her as the strongest personality of the group.
    Miya is the apparent 'imouto' character, constantly clinging to the protagonist, always with a mischievous smile on her face.  While there are definitely hidden depths to her personality, it is somewhat hard to get at them early on.  She wields wind magic, which reflects her (apparent) whimsical nature.
    Riri... is your typical arrogant tsundere ojousama, with fight-loving traits blended in.  To be honest, she has the least amount of character development, so I have to say I think she got gypped.  That said, she is a great rival for the Sorceress part of the game, and a wielder of darkness magic.
    An important character to keep in mind is Yuumi, who is the most powerful mage in the school, a wielder of light magic that dominates her opponents easily.  Her personality is apparently hedonistic and driven by the whimsy of the moment.  She also is extremely lazy.
    I'll state here again that Sorceress is basically a charage with battle elements tacked on.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The 'working together to win the tournament' element provides an excellent reason for the protagonist to get close to the heroines despite his original meeting with Akina, and the actual individual story progression is quite good.
    However, except for Yuzuriha's ending, the character endings were somewhat disappointing in comparison with the deeper character development of the common route and the drama of their individual routes.  This is understandable in retrospect, if you've played Alive, but it was still irritating.  Considering how much the romance of the paths built up the characters' dreams for the future, the lack of a 'significantly after' factor to the endings was disappointing.
    The action in this game in general is about the same as a low-end chuunige (reasonable action, low on descriptions of what happened...). 
    Alive is a far darker story, which strips away the veil hiding the nature of the Queendom (females are dominant due to a low rate of male births), and there is a lot of death and destruction...  For those who loved the characters in Sorceress, Alive can be painful at times, though the catharsis is pretty decent, especially in the middle and later parts of the story. 
    To be honest, due to the structure of this game, it is really, really hard not to spoil anything important.  So, I'll just say that the story is good... for what it is.  It is not terribly unpredictable (though I imagine some will think there is a light mindfuck in there), and the twists were rather obvious.  However, for what it is, it is enjoyable. 
    That said, it isn't without a few severe flaws endemic to its structure.  Alive is essentially a single path with seven endings (one normal, five good, and one true).  As a result, there is little effort to give further life to such characters as Riri or Yuumi (until near the end), and I was immensely disappointed with how the endings were handled... in particularly the true ending.
    While the five main girls all have a 'years after' ending, the lack of a harem ending (I'm not joking) after making all the girls fall in love with him (not kidding) is just ridiculous.  In addition, the true ending fell flat... yes, it was nice in an abstract sense, but for someone who read through the last part of the main path on the edge of his seat, I had to wonder what the writer was thinking.  While it does bring tears to the eyes somewhat, there were at least a half-dozen ways it could have been easily turned into a bawling tear-jerker final scene that would have had all the readers dribbling snot and going through whole tissue boxes.  This lack  of a satisfying catharsis to top off the game was a somewhat flat ending to an otherwise excellent game.
  24. Clephas
    As I'm currently playing Sorceress Alive and have played numerous Digination games in recent years, I thought I'd talk about my thoughts on the company and its subsidiaries. 
    My first thought is that the company is both aggressively pushing the current boundaries of the industry fanbase while also regressing into an older time.  When I first expressed this thought to a friend of mine, he asked me if I was crazy... but this is how I explained my thoughts to him.
    While charage/moege have always dominated the non-nukige part of the VN industry (since the turn of the century, anyway), there have been times when the percentage of such games to other games has leaned toward more variance.  This last year and a half has been very much such a period, and the period between 2004-2008 was another such period.  In these periods, less 'genre-bound' games have been released in larger amounts than is common in what I call the periods of stagnation (2008-2010, 2012-2017).  Common genres often named are charage/moege, chuunige, nakige, utsuge, and plotge.  While these should be merely generalized 'umbrellas' under which games fall, during the periods of stagnation, there is far less blending between the genres.  Chuunige are chuunige with little or no SOL, charage/moege are entirely SOL-romance focused, nakige go for your tears from beginning to end, etc, etc...  The current period is one where we are seeing more genre blending and the resurrection of genres that were mostly dead until recently (mystery, psychedelic, etc). 
    I first noticed the trend was changing (as well as the number of non-nukige being produced overall going down) when Navel released Kimi to Mezameru, Ikutsuka no Houhou, a peculiar blending of genres (mystery, sci-fi, chuunige, nakige, SOL) that was unusual in my experience when coming from a frontline charage company like Navel (though they have at times produced more plot-heavy games like Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou).  However, Digination was already digging into this back in 2016, albeit in the form of the 'close but not quite there' Shinsou Noise.
    I'm uncertain whether Digination has succeeded because it happened to start producing this type of game when the market's hunger for more varied genre-blends was rising or because it was doing something a newer generation of VN fans had yet to experience.  However, soon they had begun putting out genre-blending and unique titles at a rate I found somewhat surprising, though not all of their games appeal to me.  Sorceress Alive, for instance, is hard to get past the first part of the prologue, because the protagonist is somewhat of a doofus when he lets his enthusiasm take over.  I actually had to come back after dropping Raillore no Ryakudatsusha to be able to be able to appreciate its better points, lol.
    Missing X-link told me this company, owned by DMM, is serious about making its mark on the industry, because it was both ambitious and highly emotional in a way I found fascinating... though I also found their choice to use the ladder-style structure to be frustrating, since many of the side-heroines are as interesting or moreso than the mains.  However, Digination strikes me as a company that is willing to experiment to a degree that most other companies are wary of even considering.  I find in this company a gleam of hope for the future of VNs in general, though it will take more than a single company pioneering the way to drag the industry out of its sludge-filled ruts.
  25. Clephas
    I love my cat.
    Let’s get that out of the way from the beginning. Even though she is gone, as of today, I have never, for one moment, believed that I would ever stop loving her. For seventeen years and eight months, this calico wonder has made her home in my heart, never failing to wrap me around her paw and jerk me around by my heart strings.
    As the undisputed mistress of all she surveyed (all eleven rooms and corridors of it), she has dominated the lives and conversation of our family for almost long enough for a child to have graduated from high school. In a very real sense, she was one of the most important pillars of our family, and her presence both lightened the atmosphere and gave us something to talk about even in the darkest of times.
    My cat loved people… primarily because she knew a few stares and quiet nuzzles could get any given person to pet her or give her what she believed she wanted at any given moment. She liked being with people, even if it was just in the same room, completely ignoring one another (incidentally, her favorite game).
    In her youth, distant as that is to me now, she was a rambunctious and hyperactive ball of calico fluff, her medium-length fur usually disheveled from one event or another until she chose to let us smooth it out. When we got saltillo tile on the first floor, she could be found with red dust on her belly constantly until it was sealed. When new carpet was put into the master bathroom, she was the first to roll on the floor, and when new furniture was brought into the house, she was always the first to ‘test’ it. Heck, I couldn’t keep her out of my computer chair when I wasn’t sitting in it.
    As she grew older, she retained many of her kitten-ish traits, being enthusiastic and affectionate to often extreme degrees, given our previous experiences with cats. She purred loudly, meowed insistently, ran at ridiculous speeds only to slam into walls, and generally made us laugh and smile.
    When we went out of town, she always made her displeasure known upon our return.
    She was an inside cat, mostly by our choice. While she enjoyed short periods outdoors, she could generally be trusted to want back in whenever her slaves decided to go back in, due to an incident with a coyote in her misspent (I can hear her indignant meow at the thought of her time ever being misspent in my head, even now) youth. If her life was a somewhat boring one by feline standards, she made up for it by being loved and lovable in general.
    When she first became ill, over a year ago, I had my first close encounter with absolute panic. The cat, as we always referred to her (subcontext: Empress) as being, was listless, had lost her appetite, and she had, for some reason, decided that my sink was her new home.
    We took her to the vet, where she was diagnosed as having thyroid problems, as is typical in elderly cats (as she was by this time). We began giving her medicine on a daily basis, and for some time, she was doing relatively better, even if she never quite regained the spunk and vigor of the now-lost past.
    However, a month ago, what vigor had returned to her was rapidly lost. She gradually ceased to eat, began to have bowel problems… and she began to starve to death. The only time she seemed happy was when she was sleeping on one of us, being lightly caressed, comforting herself with her own purrs.
    It was with a heavy heart that we listened to the vet start speaking of quality of life, a typical speech made whenever a loved one nears death… and, our hearts already broken, we eventually assented to euthanasia.
    Less than five hours later, I don’t know if it was the right choice. Was it a mercy, an act of love? Was it a betrayal of the absolute trust one can only gain from an animal when that pet is treated as family? Or was it something in between… I can never know. While I understood many things about my cat, I will never know what she thought on this, her last day, what she felt toward us as she went into the final sleep.
    I will never know. There are so many things about that last day that I will never know. I feel my heart breaking all over again as I write this. I feel the empty feeling of loss. The standard words are no comfort. The euphemisms and trite words of comfort that come out of people’s mouths at times like this feel like excuses and obfuscations. The bitter flavor of grief sours food in my mouth and makes the world a darker place.
    I can’t even make the excuse that she wouldn’t want me to grieve for her… because she is a cat, and no cat would ever miss out on a chance to be the center of attention.