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Blog Entries posted by Clephas

  1. Clephas
    This is the prologue of the book I'm currently writing (though, given my procrastinating habits, it will never see the light of day). 
    It was a foggy night on the research center docks. A front came through during the day, dropping the temperature and raising the humidity. As a result, the ferry to the mainland was forced to delay for a night, and the ‘guests’ scheduled to leave were forced to stay for another night.
    Unfortunate for the slightly overweight security guard watching the entrance to the restricted sections of the center, not so unfortunate for his assailant.
    The middle-aged white man with the brown beard never saw the small clawed hand that swept across his throat, opening it in a spray of arterial blood that splattered across the bulletproof glass of his station.
    Uzume, his killer, wiped her bloodied fingers off on his clothing, shoving his still warm hand down on the biometric pad in front of his corpse to give authorization for the temporary security ID she’d set the system to print. A small plastic card with a magnetic strip and another, much older, woman’s face on it slid out of the output socket and into her other hand.
    With no visible emotion, her glowing golden eyes regarded the corpse for a moment before she vanished into the mists, gliding through them toward the restricted building.
    Uzume’s features were elfin and delicate, showing traces of her mother’s land of origin, but what truly stood out were the two triangular furred ears sticking out of her pitch black hair, flicking back and forth as they caught faint noises in the distance. The two sinuous furred tails emerging from just above her buttocks only gave more evidence to her inhumanity, if the eyes were not a dead giveaway.
    The catlike demihuman moved with a grace and speed that no human could match, killing each security guard she came across with perfect strikes of her clawed hands, leaving their corpses to cool on the concrete. The client specified havoc and slaughter, and she had every intention of giving him just that.
    When she finally reached the outermost doors, she slid her new ID card through the reader, causing the thick metal door to click open and swing outward. She slid inward and rushed the guard standing just inside before he could cry an alarm, slamming her left palm into his belly to prevent him from crying out before thrusting her right index finger into his left eye, using the grip this gave her on his head to draw the head back to bear the throat, which she bit into without a second’s hesitation, ripping his throat out with her razor sharp canines.
    The taste of salty, warm human blood upon her tongue threatened to send her in to a state of excitement, but she forced it downward with the same iron will that allowed her to survive her life so far. She dropped the human to the ground at her feet, pocketing his sidearm for later use, along with his two spare magazines of 9mm ammunition.
    In the next room, she found another guard sleeping, and, using the claw at the end of her right index finger, precisely pierced his voice box without harming the nearby arteries, ensuring he wouldn’t be able to cry out an alarm. Two slashes of her claws separated the tendons at the elbow, and she jammed the edge of her hand into the wound before using a spell to force-heal it, sealing the skin, flesh, and bone around the damage without undoing it. She couldn’t afford for him to die just yet, but she didn’t want him able to struggle effectively.
    With impossible strength, she dragged him to the nearby biometric scanner , forcing him to activate the combination palm print and retinal scan, opening the doorway into the center’s inner sanctum.
    With the same carelessness a child gives to a discarded toy, she snapped his neck and dropped him to the floor, flowing through the open doorway before it could shut.
    There was no guard at the station inside. Unsurprising, as by all accounts the facility’s security budget was cut by the current project manager only weeks before. The assault rifle armed guards on the grounds and the two layers of biometric scanners probably seemed more than enough to prevent intrusion in the eyes of a scientist.
    A young woman, most likely in her mid-twenties, stepped out of a nearby room, rubbing bleary eyes, her labcoat stained with chemicals that smelled sour to Uzume’s oversensitive nose. Without hesitation, Uzume slammed her right palm into the woman’s nose, forcing her back into the room she left, even as she drove stiffened clawed fingers deep into her belly, tearing through her innards viciously, shredding her stomach and ripping deeply into her left lung.
    Seeing two other scientists behind the woman, looking stupefied, she leapt over the woman with a display of inhuman agility and tore the face off one, twisting in midair to hit the metal wall feet first before launching herself to tear the throat out of the other. The gurgling noises of the dying were all that signified the three terrible blows dealt, and Uzume noted that she had cut half of face-torn one’s tongue out, causing him to choke on his own blood.
    With a sigh, she slammed the heel of her booted foot into his throat, crushing his trachea. His eyes were gone, but a witness was a witness.
    Uzume’s form-concealing black clothing was already soaked with blood, and her face was splattered with it, especially around her mouth. She took a moment to use the dying woman’s labcoat to wipe the worst of it off of her face before moving on in perfect silence.
    She also wiped the caked blood off of her claws with a white cloth as she continued making her way through the facility, stopping at each room to kill those within in perfect silence. Most didn’t even have time to react before their corpses hit the floor, and that was no surprise. The speed with which she moved was beyond the human ability to react, to the point where two or three were usually dead before any remaining individuals within realized something had happened. Uzume’s kind lay outside the realm of human common sense, which was why they were so effective at work like this.
    It took her almost an hour to clean out the accessible areas of the facility, literally painting the walls red in places. Going back through the facility, she used the drying blood of her victims to write a series of symbols on the wall of each room before heading for the way out.
    As she reached the door she came in through, she activated the spells with a thought, and flames burst into being throughout the facility, erupting from the blood within, burning everything, starting a conflagration that would gain the attention of the rest of the facility as a whole within moments. Unfortunately for anyone investigating the incident, there wouldn’t be enough material evidence remaining to get even the vaguest idea of what had happened.
    Uzume stripped naked, tossing her clothing and boots into the flames inside without a second thought, gliding back into the mists with the same grace and silence she’d displayed upon arrival.
    As she left the grounds, her body shifted, the ears and tail melting away, her metallic golden eyes becoming a mundane brown, the blood in her hair and on her skin vanishing as it was consumed as an afterthought to power the shift.
    So it was that a young human woman named Uzume, an unremarkable half-Japanese woman knelt down in a group of bushes and dressed in the plain school uniform she’d used to gain access to the island. There was no sign of the terrible grace and horrifying brutality she’d shown only minutes before in the slow, shuffling gait of the woman that remained behind, though their elfin features were the same.
    She made her way back to the employee dorms ‘her class’ was staying in without the least sign of guilt or concern, for all the world as if she really were the young student she appeared to be…
  2. Clephas
    First, I should state that I'm avoiding the after stories for now, simply because I'll want to see them for the first time immediately after replaying the original game, rather than over a year after I originally played it, when my memory for details has faded as much as it has right now.  As such, this post will focus on the Ayaka and Mina paths that were added on for this fandisc release.
    Common Route
    The common route covers a summary of the events that happened in the first game and serves as a basis for just how much Ouro has 'remembered' about his own past with certain female personages and what he knows about certain figures vital to the story.  It also covers the basic (very basic) resolution of Ouro's personal issues (in a really off-hand manner) in such a way that it means the writers are just 'letting you know' they won't be important to the two new paths.  This ends once the summary passes the winter holidays and school is about to go back in session.
    Shirogasaki Ayaka was the heroine who should have been instead of Akane.  I say this because it is the same thing every Saga Planets fanboy said immediately after finishing the game... Akane had no business having a path in the game when Ayaka didn't.  The tightly-knit nature of the group of heroines other than Akane and Ouro made the gap between Akane and the others as a heroine far too wide for a mere genkikko to really be considered a serious heroine in comparison.  Ayaka, however, makes a strong impression from the beginning and involves herself (albeit in a negative way) with them from the beginning.
    This path is hilarious.  Anyone who played Rena's path will probably have some idea of just how hilarious a character Ayaka can be when she isn't putting her mind to it, but in her own path, I found myself giggling constantly.  The way she and Ouro get together is so absurd, and the buildup to it is so... funny.  Even after they became lovers, I couldn't take the serious stuff seriously because they made me break out laughing ever few minutes.  I definitely rate this highly as an add-on path, and it is as long as the paths in the original game, so you can't say Ayaka was gypped.
    Ayaka also has a 'what-if' append story that appears in the extra section after you finish her path.  This what-if is just as hilarious in its own way, and it focuses on what she 'knows' pretty early on.  This what-if dramatically alters her attitude toward Ouro in a way that is as hilarious as she was in her path, if in a drastically different fashion... 
    This is a path without any emotional catharsis, but in exchange you'll probably spend a great deal of time laughing.
    As anyone could guess by the way she and Ouro interacted in the original game, Mina's path's theme is, in opposition to the ero-comedy of Ayaka's path, a straight out cute romance.  As such, there isn't a whole lot I can go over here without spoiling details, sadly.  I will say that the relationship formation is typical for this type of heroine, in particular because, unlike Sylvie, she is a lot less honest/familiar with her own emotions.  For Mina, who has a strong sense of herself as a princess first and an individual second, dealing with emotions like those born out of   young love is a bit awkward. 
    Unlike Ayaka's path, you probably won't find yourself laughing every few seconds, though Sylvie and the crew are as generally amusing as they were in the original game. 
    The append story for Mina is a straight-out after story, focusing on the aftermath of the two settling in as publicly (at the school) acknowledged lovers and dealing with Mina's homeland (which isn't as dramatic as you might think).  As usual, the focus is more on the cute romance, so you won't see any real drama here (there isn't really a ton of drama in the main path either). 
    While the new paths aren't as straight-out powerful as the ones in the main game, I found myself more or less satisfied at Mina and Ayaka finally taking their rightful places as heroines.  The laughs I got out of Ayaka's path made it worth shelling out the money to get hold of this, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the append stories for the other characters once I get around to replaying the original, lol.
    Edit:  Ok, so I couldn't resist.  I broke down and played Ria's new path after all... I tried to stop myself, but my curiosity got the better of me... and I don't regret it.
    If Mina is cute romance and Ayaka is ero-comedy, Ria's new path is a pure catharsis.  For those who didn't like the ending of Ria's path (there will always be those who complain when the ending is bittersweet like that), this path is probably what you were looking for.  I enjoyed it and came out of it feeling good, which is nice... but I do think that this path is pandering a bit too much to fan pressure.  Well, since it is a fandisc, I suppose that was inevitable, in any case, lol.
  3. Clephas
    First, I should mention that this post is mostly going to focus on how this VN improves on the original content from Shin Koihime Musou.  The reason is fairly simple... if you like the series, you'll eventually play this, and if you played the original Shin Koihime Musou, then that is probably what you want to know.  I know I would.
    Next, I will go ahead and come out with it... I loved what they did with this path.  The degree of added detail in this VN is actually higher than in Souten no Haou (Gi/Wei), and at least part of this is that it adds in a huge portion of time in the prologue, added story in the later areas of the game, and significantly revamped scenes involving the much larger cast of characters available to the somewhat sparsely-populated (comparative to Shoku/Shu and Gi/Wei)  of the original. 
    The prelude (the period of the game starting with Kazuto's arrival through the Yellow Turbans and Dong Zhuo eras) is so completely redone as to be unrecognizable.   Son Bundai (Sun Jian) being both alive and present in this part of the game alters how it begins dramatically.  Ienren (her manna) is like Sheren/Hakufu magnified with a foul mouth and a fighting power roughly equivalent to Ryoufu/Lu Bu.  She is harsh with her enemies, domineering but thoughtful with her subordinates, and rules her people with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Under her tutelage, Kazuto actually ends up pushed into the bloody/dirty parts of war, and as a result, he ends up a bit fiercer/harsher than he is in the other paths at times.  
    This path does indeed follow the basic bones of history (if you know what happens with Sun Jian and Sun Ce in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you know what I'm talking about), which matches the original events of the path in the original Shin Koihime Musou.  However, because of the experiences in the prelude with Ienren, the emotional moments were all the more poignant, and I felt myself able to empathize more with the characters as a whole than I did in the original path, where things seemed to move far too fast through that part of the game.
    The generalized 'fattening up' of the story is present at all levels, and the story is much more complex in the particulars as a result.  While this has the effect of making playing all the way through this path somewhat exhausting, I felt it was worth it in the end. 
    The extra heroines are something of a mixed bag.  I really liked Taishiji and Raika, but I despised Pao and was disinterested in Teifu (yet another drunkard older woman in a game that already has way too many).
    I do want to say that I really seriously don't understand why they kept the system where you can't read all the heroine events each chapter.  Sengoku Koihime allows you to read all of them, and it didn't seem to hurt the story... and it was immensely annoying to end up seeing some of the scenes that were slightly out of line with the current progression of the story.  Only the 'ruler' heroines' scenes perfectly matched what was going on in the story as a whole, and that disrupted my enjoyment of them immensely. 
    Last of all, as rumored, there is indeed an 'alternate' ending to Go's path, unlike Gi's.  This ending branches off at the most dramatic/sad turning point of the original path and gives you a 'what if' for if
    This alters the events that proceed from there and the ending as a whole greatly.  I honestly cried happy tears at this ending, and for those who are displeased with that particular turning point of the original path, it is a treat. 
    Anyway, that is my commentary on this game, for those who are interested.
  4. Clephas
    First, I'm going to state that all charage/moege are harem-ge (with the exception of kinetic novels with only a single heroine).  In all these cases, you have a bevy of heroines that are, at the very least, friendly with or somehow attached to the protagonist.  There are a three standard types of harem that I consider to be general umbrella types.  These harems do not include nukige sex-only harems or the type of harems that pop up in gameplay hybrid VNs, as these often have distinctive story-exclusive reasons for harem formation.
    The Disconnected Harem
    This is the standard-issue harem for modern charage/moege.  In this harem situation, the protagonist is independently connected to most of the heroines, with very little or no interaction between the members of his harem of latent deredere troopers.  The reason this has become the dominant harem in the charage genre in the last seven years or so is because it is the one that is the most 'tasteful' to monogamists and traditionalists.  In this case, the heroines either have no real connection with one another or only weak connections that become tenuous the second the heroine path begins.  Games that have these harems tend to have extremely weak casts of characters in general, and there is usually very little or no real conflict between the characters (low incidence of love triangles, few jealousy attacks, etc).  As a result, games with this type of harem tend to have weak or nonexistent plots, lackluster SOL outside of ichaicha dating, and 'convenient' drama that is resolved so quickly it might as well not even exist.  These harems generally disband at the end of the common route, as the protagonist seems to completely forget any attraction he had to the other girls and they fade into the background.
    The Dominant-Sharing Harem
    The Dominant-sharing Harem is defined by the members of the harem being at least somewhat familiar with each other (often friends, family, or members of a group or club) and able to be cooperative to an extent while competing for the protagonist's love and attention.  Girls in this kind of harem situation (Shuffle is a prime example of it) are ok with the idea of sharing the protagonist in the abstract, but in practice they want to be the 'first wife' or the 'wife' and relegate the other heroines to the mistress or concubine status (though it isn't always stated this bluntly).  This is perhaps the most realistic harem situation, as, historically, real harems - other than royal ones - have usually been structured with a head or first wife and a number of secondary wives, often married with the permission of or by the choice of the first wife, lol. 
    The Everybody's Equal Harem
    The Everybody's Equal Harem is, just as the name indicates, a harem where the protagonist essentially loves and treats all the heroines equally and the heroines accept this situation, albeit often with a tacit understanding between one another that they won't stop aiming for a Dominant-Sharing type situation.  As such, this can often be considered a prelude to a Dominant-Sharing Harem result in practical terms.  A classic example of this would be the end of the Grisaia series or the ending of Strawberry Feels, where the protagonist himself never forms a preference, even if the heroines do build a sort of pecking order based on dominance of personality or circumstance.  Tiny Dungeon's Endless Dungeon ending can also be considered this kind of ending, whereas the individual routes represented by the first three games would be considered Dominant-Sharing harems. 
    Why I bothered with this post
    Anyone who has been an otaku as long as I have been has to accept that harem-thinking is essential to SOL otaku-ism.  As early as Love Hina and Tenchi Muyo, rom-coms have been creating wacky harems and weird situations that result.   This is because romantic comedy is the easiest type of comedy for anyone to get into, and the easiest one to empathize with... and comedy used to be the dominant genre in otaku media (though romance always came a close second). 
    The evolution from that type of loose harem (though in later incarnations, the Tenchi universe threw off all pretense of not being harem-ist) to the current situation took decades, but it was a natural evolution in visual novels in particular, due to the fact that most visual novels are multi-route, heroine-focused affairs.  Charage in particular, with their focus on SOL, inevitably give off a sense that the protagonist is the center of a harem, even if it is only  in the common route.  Since this kind of situation appeals to the more primitive parts of the male psyche (males are genetically predisposed to seeking multiple mates, though socialization and emotional attachment overwhelm this in modern settings), eroge tend to abuse this flagrantly. 
    Oh yeah, if you haven't figured it out, I like harem endings that aren't sex-heavy... but that isn't so much because I have a thing for 'collecting' bishoujos.  Rather, I like the various situations that result in VNs, as they are often intellectually interesting, heart-warming, or hilarious (or all three).  Nukige-style harem endings are boring and make me roll my eyes, mostly because I question whether anyone has that kind of stamina, and because ignoring the emotional and practical aspects entirely like that makes it hard to suspend disbelief.  If a plotge can make me think a harem would work, I want to see it work, lol.
  5. Clephas
    Spiral is the latest game from Navel, the company responsible for Shuffle and Tsuriotsu.  This is also based in the same world as Shuffle, albeit a generation later (which is suitable, seeing as it has been almost a generation since the original Shuffle was released).  For those who aren't aware of this fact, the original writer of Shuffle, Agobarrier, died a back in 2016, and it is perhaps inevitable that the world he created would end up looking a lot different once someone else took over completely...
    Now, I have a single complaint to get off my chest before I start my assessment of this game... in a setting where part of the attraction is the  multiple races involved, why did they choose to create a situation where all the heroines are human?  Seriously, I honestly think this was a poor choice, even with the protagonist being of the divine race. 
    The story begins with Crom, a divine race intelligence agent who previously specialized in the capture of inter-world criminals and the investigation of interworld criminal organizations, being forced to give up his long-desired vacation in order to infiltrate a human-only school in order to investigate the area in advance of a princess's attendance of a local school.  Crom is one of those protagonists who can do everything but sees that as being perfectly normal, so he stands out whether he likes it or not, and he can pass for a girl easily (though he is rarely a trap in-game). 
    Since this was written by a writer that I personally consider to be a fourth-class charage writer (Takeuchi Jun)... I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at how it turned out.  His primary works were all Da Capo related, which pretty much says everything, since Da Capo is a series that manages to make magic eminently boring.
    Common Route
    The common route involves him settling in at the school, and it ends just before the culture festival, which is the turning point where the heroine paths split off completely.  I'd say it 'gets the job done' of introducing the characters and making the heroines attractive to the reader... but in my mind that just means that a lot more effort could have gone into developing the character relationships and building up the characters' personalities.  While there was no sense that it was being hurried along, I couldn't help but feel that things were kept intentionally at the surface level during the common route, even moreso than in the usual charage.
    I picked Rose first because she was the person least touched by the issues at the school, having transferred in at the same time as Crom.  Rose is very much a 'borderless' person, having no prejudices... at all.  She lives in the moment, but she isn't a hedonist.  She simply finds the world and people around her to be fun and enjoys them as they are rather than pushing her expectations on others. 
    I can honestly say her path felt rushed and forced, which disappointed me deeply.  While there is drama, it is quickly resolved and the rest is mostly ichaicha.  None of Crom's personal issues are really touched upon (despite a massive amount of hints at their existence during the prologue and common route), and it felt like they deliberately avoided adding any real depth to this path, which I found disappointing. 
    Ibarako was my second choice because I have a soft spot for misanthropes (being one myself).  Ibarako is an extreme misanthrope, but, because of the existence of the divine and demon realms and their peoples, she managed to avoid becoming a nihilist, happily.  When she is first encountered, it is quite obvious she is just counting down the days until she can leave the human realm...  Despite her negativity, she is essentially a good person... she just really, really dislikes people.
    Her path is pretty much straight ichaicha with a side of learning about her personal issues, why she came to hate humans, and some emotional drama that lasts all of ten minutes before it is over.  The romance is mildly cute and traditional... but the writer's lack of creativity is evident here.  While there is a tear-jerk screen, it is brief, poorly-written, and conveniently resolved without real conflict.  As such, I can call this a failed route despite my fondness for Ibarako as a whole.
    It needs to be said, but this writer just committed the cardinal sin of this kind of game... he made one heroine's path so much better than the rest that there is no comparison.  Sango is a generally helpful, kind-hearted girl who generally takes up a leadership position whenever possible.  She is also the daughter of the school's administrator.  However, she has one issue that becomes apparent early on... she's something of a racist.  She is aware of this quality and dislikes it about herself, but because of the way she was raised, she struggles with it.
    This path is the most complex of the three I played so far (I'm writing these up as I finish the paths).  The drama is complex and multilayered, and some of Crom's issues come to light (finally, thank god) in this path, though they are not resolved by any means (meaning I'm still irritated at the writer).  What bothers me most about this is that there is no reason all the paths couldn't have had this level of drama, since each of the heroines had their own issues to deal with and Crom's own position should have inevitably created some troubles.  Since this isn't a locked true path, there really isn't any justification for the wide gap in path quality here...
    ... why is it that the least interesting heroines in this game got the better paths?  Mizuki is your standard-issue genki airhead heroine, with a side of an obsession with magic.
    Her path is a bit below Sango's and a bit above the other two in terms of quality, and it is probably the most 'Shuffle-like' path in the game, in the sense that I could see such a heroine popping up in Shuffle.  That said, the drama is as 'convenient' as it was in Ibarako's and Rose's path, and in that sense, I found myself left a bit irritated once more.  It also has the weakest epilogue of the four paths..
    This game needed to include at least one other heroine (preferably a devil or deity heroine) and deal more intimately with Crom's issues.  I say this because perhaps the most immediately startling of Crom's issues doesn't surface in the heroines' views even once in all the four paths, which is a HUGE negative, considering it is one of Crom's most interesting parts.  In addition, even Sango's path leaves you with more questions than answers, though it will probably end up being the canon path for whatever sequel they are planning (as they obviously are)... or at least the general flow of events will. 
    This game was rather obviously - and this is a horrible practice - set up to be followed quickly (probably before the end of this year) with the announcement of a sequel or fandisc.  I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it was in development before this VN was released... poor overworked Navel staff, lol.
    For a Shuffle fan, this game is a major disappointment, and, even for a fan of Navel in general, this game probably won't make it to the top of their list unless they only play the Sango path and don't want anything to do with the other heroines.  While this game tries to deal with some interesting issues that might theoretically be born of the situation of three worlds with humanoid races that can interbreed coming in close contact, it does so in a way that is haphazard and not quite believable.  As such, it actually falls short of Shuffle even in this sense, since Shuffle and its after stories and add-ons actually dealt with a number of such issues on its own in a way that was believable within the deliberately comically-presented setting at the time. 
    For me, it felt like the generally positive silliness of Shuffle was lost when they made this game, due to the weak attempt to tackle serious issues such as racism and misanthropy.  Shuffle had a lot of serious points that were actually somewhat dark in retrospect, but because of the general atmosphere of the game, my actual impression of the game and its various attachments and fandiscs is one of a light but interesting comedy SOL VN with traces of nakige. 
    To be blunt, their choice of writer is probably the biggest problem with this game.  His comedy is weak, his SOL is archetypical, and he over-favored one heroine in a game that doesn't clearly present a central heroine. I really hope that any sequel or fandisc is written by someone with a higher level of skill at this kind of thing...
    Edit: I gave this game a 7 on vndb, but, if it weren't for the quality of Sango's path, I would have given it a 4 or a 5, which is an extremely, extremely low rating for me.  I was really tempted to just give it a six, since I hate how the writer treated the Rose and Ibarako paths (to be honest, I could have done without Mizuki entirely), but if this game were a kinetic novel with just Sango, I would have probably gave it an eight.
  6. Clephas
    It has been almost six months since I ceased VN of the Month.  I can say now that while I do, surprisingly, miss some aspects of that particular column, the freedom giving it up has granted me is far greater compensation. 
    When I was doing VN of the Month, I was literally the only person commenting on most of the non-nukige VNs in a given month.  I was driven by a sense of obligation to those who read my blog to continue regardless of what it was doing to me and my life, and I can say now that that wasn't a healthy situation for me. 
    I am still a VN addict.  I probably always will be, just as I am a heavy reader in general and a lover of role-playing games.  However, I still think the role I put it on myself to play was a necessary one.
    How many people who play untranslated VNs give honest opinions devoid of spoilers?  For that matter, how many of them are honest about their biases when they feel they can't give a particular VN a fair chance? 
    I made myself abide by a pretty strict set of rules when I was doing VN of the Month.
     One was that I would primarily evaluate VNs based on story, character development, and setting, while only mentioning visual and audio elements when they were obviously exceptional.  My reason for this is that I lack the background to properly evaluate the technical aspects of audio-visual materials, whereas I have extensive experience with all sorts of reading material in general and fiction in particular. 
    Another was that I would, on a regular basis, restate my particular biases, reminding people of the limitations of my objectivity.  This was because I was writing on all VNs I played for the first time, and it would have been unfair for me to fail to state my biases beforehand when playing something that was outside my tastes or something that hit them spot on.
    The third was a resolve to avoid excessive spoilers.  My standard was the Getchu page.  If information was released on the Getchu page or the official site, I didn't consider it to be a spoiler, but I was to avoid spoiling things beyond that, except when absolutely necessary.
    The fourth and final rule was to strive for objectivity inasmuch as possible and be honest with myself and my readers when it wasn't possible. 
    These rules were my guide posts for the years I did VN of the Month, and they served me well, generally... but I reached my limit.  To be blunt, VN of the Month was only made possible because of my high reading speed and my willingness to structure my life solely around playing VNs and making money to buy more.  Naturally, this way of doing things was doomed to failure eventually, but I got so caught up in actually doing it that I didn't notice it really at the time.
    Now, I play only what I want to play, and that makes me a much happier person, despite a few wistful moments where I wonder if I couldn't have done it a little while longer.
  7. Clephas
    Sakura, Moyu is the latest game by Favorite, the producers of Hoshimemo and the Irotoridori series.  For those who aren't yet familiar with Favorite, I should tell you that there are three things this company is known for.  For one, they produce first-class 'nakige' in a unique style full of pastel colors and manipulation of visual and narrative perspectives.  Second, they are known for their excellent stories and characters, regardless of which writer they have on the job.  Last of all, they are known for being lolicons (lol).  No, I'm not kidding.  The fact that every one of their true heroines at least looks like a loli at first glance says everything, hahahaha.
    Sakura, Moyu was written by Urushibara Yukito, the same writer as the Irotoridori games.  As such, it should surprise no one that the setting is layered and complex and the story not at all what it seems on the surface.  It should also surprise no one that there is a lot of emotionality in this game... but I don't think anyone was expecting just how emotional this game is.  To be blunt, I spent roughly 80% of this game either on the verge of or in tears.  Considering that the game is one of the longest games I've ever played (at least partially so because I so thoroughly relished Urushibara's writing style), that's a lot of tears... and a lot of tissues *glances at the overfull wastebasket next to his pc and the empty tissue boxes lying around it*. 
    However, there are some issues with this game that need to be mentioned to get them out of the way.  Few games are perfect, and this one is no exception.  To be specific, Urushibara has always been mediocre at the romantic elements of his games.  Unless the romance exists at the end of a path full of suffering and despair or occurs in an incredibly stressful situation, he can't seem to write it very well (in other words, he is good at dramatic love but only a bit less than average at everyday love).  As a result, the romance in the first two paths (Chiwa's and Hiyori's) feels abrupt and forced... not to mention the fact that the beginning of Chiwa's path is so at odds at first with the game's atmosphere that I had to put the game down for two days to get past the emotional disconnect it created.  Hiyori's path is somewhat less problematic but still feels forced and abrupt, so I'm basically saying that readers who have high hopes for romance in these two paths will probably be disappointed, at least to an extent. 
    One other issue that always nags at you as you play the numerous paths is the treatment of Kuro, the game's true heroine... to be blunt, like all of the Favorite true heroines, the story is set up so that if you aren't on her path, she gets screwed over to one extent or another.  Now, if you don't instantly fall in love with Kuro during the opening scenes, like I did, this might not be a problem for you, but one reason I spent the end of every path in tears and couldn't empathize with the characters' happiness was precisely because of this.
    This game is very much a story of self-sacrifice... to the extent that it feels like every time you turn around, someone is sacrificing something for the sake of someone else.  The creatures of the Night (the underworld-like dream realm the characters fought in ten years before the story's beginning) are, as is openly stated, driven to feel unconditional love for humans, and as such, their excessively kind hearts spend much of this game suffering as a result of human actions and the tendency of humans to disregard their own happiness at the oddest of times.  
    This is also a game full of loneliness... to a degree that 'loneliness' or 'lonely' (さみしさ and さみしい) are the two most common words in the game by an exponential level.  All of the main characters in this game suffer from loneliness to one degree or another at some point.  Some take it on of their own will, others have it inflicted upon them, and yet others endure it because it is their fate.  As such, there are very few points outside of the relatively few standard SOL scenes (compared to the game's over length) where the game isn't somber in atmosphere.
    This game is also unbelievably layered and complex... so much so that it reminds me of games like Harumade Kururu and Ever17 in retrospect.  It has been a long time since a writer managed to keep me so thoroughly in the dark about so much of the game's general story for so long (the last time was Bradyon Veda), and, in that sense, I'm grateful for this game's existence.
    I do, in fact, like how it all (the main story) ends, and I even liked how each of the individual paths ended, taken by themselves (If i ignore how Kuro gets screwed over).  I also found myself to be completely satisfied once I finished the game... to the extent that I don't think I'll ever be able to replay this game.  This game was very high stress in the sense that I was constantly being bombarded with the characters' emotions, and as such, it isn't a game that would be easy to come back to any time soon.  The sheer length of the game also adds to this. 
    In conclusion, this is a game that is worthy of the legacy of Favorite as a company, worthy of being the first mainline project since the release of AstralAir in 2014.  It has problems and the game is probably one that is emotionally stressful.  However, for catharsis addicts, it is a worthy addition to their collection of nakige and utsuge, lol.
  8. Clephas
    As always, I played the one with the catgirls.  lol
    This VN is a kinetic novel from the makers of Karenai Sekai, Sweet & Tea.  At this point (the third game) the pattern the makers of these games are following has become apparent, though this game is not really on the same level as Karenai Sekai or Kemono Musume.  The protagonist is generally amusing (he is the type that constantly sends conversations off track by saying random crap and then forgetting it ten seconds later), and his surrounding situation is interesting...
    However, I thought this VN was a bit poorly handled.  There is a major genre switch about four-fifths of the way through the game, and that genre switch makes me go 'eh?  Seriously?'  i was left feeling that this game needed multiple paths, at least partially because at least half the cast of characters wasn't explored at all (though delicious hints were dropped here and there).  In my mind, this makes the game something of a half-assed failure, since a well-designed kinetic novel should leave you with the feeling that 'this is how it was meant to be' rather than the feeling that 'they must have cut the other paths for some reason'. 
    As amusing as the game was at times, the actual story was badly handled and the romance was so-so, at best. 
  9. Clephas
    Wow, there are a lot of VNs being released for February this year that aren't nukige... this happens occasionally, but usually it is four or five games.  A few major names got concentrated into this month, as well as a bunch of games by new companies or new subsidiaries.  To be honest, from my point of view, despite the fact that this is my birth month, there isn't much to look forward to.  There is a  new VN in the Shuffle universe here, but with Agobarrier, the universe's father, deceased, I can't say that I have a lot of interest in its continuance...
    Spiral is the aforementioned new game in the Shuffle universe, focused on a young spy from the god race who is ordered by his boss to attend a human school the princess is thinking of going to as a spy (and a trap).  Given that this is the Shuffle universe, it is probably going to be standard rom-com fare, with some fantasy antics and drama.
    To be honest, since this is made by a subsidiary of More, which is famous for its impressively mundane SOL romance games... I can't say it looks interesting.  Based on the summary, maybe some potential NTR/love triangle action...?
    The fandisc for Kin'iro Loveriche.  Definitely going to play this, if only for the extra path for the snooty ojousama (who should have had a route anyway, since hse had more of a connection to the protagonist's group than Akane). 
    This is made by the makers of Karenai Sekai to Owaru Hana, which is one of the few kamige made in the last four years.  As such, I'm going to play it... well, with a cat ear heroine, I'd play it anyway, lol.
    Evenicle II... to be honest, do you really think I'd play this?  I barely got through the original, and Alice Soft's sequels tend to be iffy, in my experience.
    What looks to be an SLG sex fest from Astronauts' gameplay hybrid division.  No interesting heroines (at least to me), so I probably won't play this.
    Made by the new subsidiary of a company famous for anything from standard moege to harem-ge, I might try it eventually, but probably not in the next month.
    To be honest, the premise of this game gives me a headache.  Feng tends to use any excuse to produce third-rate rom-com SOL games... so it is hard for me to take them seriously. 
  10. Clephas
    The Uso series is the original series of kinetic novels made by Campus based in a school campus where magic and mundane exist in parallel.  The protagonist of the Uso series, Sakurai Souichirou, is the head of the Cat's Hand Club, which is a jack-of-all-trades club that will take on just about any request, as long as the individual is willing to pay the price.  However, that is merely the open face of the club, which has the purpose of gathering magical energy from the emotions of those whose requests he fulfills in order to power the magical artifact implanted in his body.  This magical artifact is the Redline, a powerful tool that lets the person who is melded with it see the lies of others (portrayed as red text in the game's text boxes).  Despite this ability, Souichi isn't cynical and is generally a good and straightforward person, though, in his own words, that is only because he met the right people.  The main Uso series is made up of four kinetic novels, each following the path of an individual heroine (a similar setup to Tiny Dungeon, though the details differ).  It begins in 'Spring', continues with 'Summer' and 'Fall', and concludes with 'Winter'. 
    Haru Uso
    The spring-themed game of the Uso series follows the serial liar and school idol Himeno Satsuki as she essentially pushes Souichi into forming a relationship with her.  This game is a bit heavier on the H content than the three games that come after, though some of that is because Satsuki has a pretty forceful personality under her pleasant atmosphere.  The conflict in this story begins when Satsuki confesses her love for Souichirou (in the first scene) and moves on from there.  The formation of their romantic relationship is sweet and frequently amusing, though it is mostly ecchi because of how it begins.  While I normally don't like the trope used here, it is used in the least awkward fashion I've ever encountered in an SOL VN, so I was willing to overlook it. 
    There is some serious drama, but this is immediately after Souichi starts to realize his feelings for Satsuki are real... and the drama will definitely come as a surprise if you haven't been paying close attention with an eye for mild mindfucks.  It all comes to a happy end in the end, but it can be a bit wrenching emotionally at a few points if you've gotten to like the couple in question along the way (which I did).
    After Story 1
    After Story 1 was present with the original game and is pretty extensive for an after story, mostly focusing on a much milder set of trials and tribulations that you'd see in any charage.  That said, since you already saw the more dramatic scenes immediately before, it comes off as cute rather than boring, since it is impossible to shake the feeling that 'they'll be all right no matter what' after the ending of the main path.
    After Story 2
    Drawn from Full Uso, this is based a few months after the end of the story, when the two have begun to live together and have settled in.  Satsuki is starting to come into her own and has grown as a person, and Souichirou is feeling his way out of some of his more extreme donkan habits (yes, he is donkan).  As in the previous after story, this one comes across as cute in comparison to the main story, and it mostly leaves you smiling at the lovers as they survive the trials any established couple is prone to.
    Natsu Uso
    Natsu Uso focuses on Izumi Aoi, a member of the student council who, even in Haru Uso, is rather obviously a deredere heroine hiding under a tsundere mask.  That said, as is indicated from certain scenes in the previous game, the past between her and Souichirou is complicated and painful for them both, and it becomes central to the background conflict of her story.  Aoi is pretty much the perfect tsundere heroine, but this is not because of her personality alone.  More, this is because of how Souichirou's Redline underlines precisely when she's telling the truth and when she's lying.  It's an experience worth having even if you aren't particularly into tsunderes, lol.
    Anyway, due to a certain event, Souichirou and Aoi end up forced together by circumstance and Souichi's inability to be dishonest.  While both of them have serious hangups about the past, the fact is that Aoi is rather blatantly in love with him from the start, so don't expect this to be so much about relationship development as untangling the complex emotions the two hold for another and growing beyond them.  The ending is pretty touching, and worth a smile or two.
    After story 1
    Natsu Uso's After Story 1 is a lot more focused on ichaicha than Haru Uso's in the first half... not to mention having some really heavy h-scenes.  Basically, for those accustomed to the tangled emotions that made up the atmosphere between the two in the path itself, this is a time when they are more open with each other.  Aoi adorable-ness is more extreme here  (which looks impossible until you've actually experienced it), and she gets really clingy (which is part of the adorable-ness). 
    However, if you've come to know Souichirou by this point, you know he always puts what is best for others first.  This is what causes the minor tribulations that make up the second half, though these aren't relationship troubles but rather troubles relating to Aoi growing as a person.
    After Story 2
    Similar to Haru Uso's second after story, this one occurs in the school year after the original game.  Aoi has taken up a place of responsibility, with Souichirou by her side.  Settling in to their new rhythm, one of the issues that has plagued Aoi since before she met Souicirou rears its head once again.  The resolution is pretty quick and not dramatic, but it is nice to see Aoi still following her chosen path. 
    Aki Uso
    To be frank, the heroine of this story, Eris R Renford, has a wildly different story from the other heroines.  As such, the path's drama is a bit more serious than in the first two games and her issues are mostly on her side, rather than involving her personal relationship with Souichirou exclusively (though that does come into play).  Since it is treated as a spoiler and not stated in the previous two games, I won't reveal the core reasons for the conflict in this story.
    Eris is a heavy gamer, a wannabe NEET, and a generally lazy person on all levels.  If Sou didn't kick her out of bed she would sleep all day; if Sou didn't feed her real food, she'd probably eat nothing but ramen and takeout; and if Sou didn't teach her, she probably would have dropped out of school long ago.  In other words, she is completely dependent on Souichirou, which makes her the butt of numerous jokes both in her own path and in the other games. 
    Her path/game is worth going through twice, if only to use a certain function that pops up on the second playthrough to lead you through the mindfuck hidden inside the dialogue. 
    After Story 1
    The first after story covers the growth of Eris after the turning point of the main game, along with a number of humorous and H scenes.  Since there is pretty much nothing I can say about this without spoiling the main game, I'll just say that it was this after story that made me want a second after story for Eris, lol.
    After Story 2
    For anyone who was expecting this after story to be full of drama based on the ending of the previous one, I have to inform you that, unfortunately, the events that followed the end of the after story 1 were spoken about in a short summary at the beginning (from the sound of it, they could have made a whole new VN out of them), and instead this is just another bit of SOL, which I found somewhat disappointing... though the Uso series characters are generally fun to read about.  Still, it does close out Eris's story, even if it didn't fulfill my desires, lol.
    Fuyu Uso
    Fuyu Uso follows Teidou Setsuka, the daughter of a powerful (not just wealthy) family and the Student Council President of the mammoth school they are attending.  She is beautiful, brilliant, and incisive.  From the very beginning (Haru Uso) she has been openly pursuing Souichirou, though Souichirou is perpetually suspicious of her reasons and wary of her in general.
    This is, by far, the darkest of the four paths.  Teidou Setsuka's personality is the hardest to read from surface cues of all the heroines (even Satsuki, who is a mistress of lies), and she is so capable she doesn't even really provide an opening to read her.  I'm going to say that, like Aki Uso and Haru Uso, there is a mindfuck built into this story, though it is one (just like those) that you can figure out if you pay close attention to what is going on and the various cues you should have learned to pick up in the previous games. 
    However, this story is, as I said, much darker than the others, which were essentially straight-out romances involving simple deredere heroines with various issues.  Setsuka is... scary.  I say this from the point of view of a guy who likes his VN heroines scary.  I'd say that she is on my list of top 5 scariest heroines that aren't yangire (yangire heroines being scary because they are unpredictably homicidal). 
    Damn, it is hard not to spoil this one, lol.  Thankfully, this isn't the main company (Light) so this isn't a bad end path, hahaha.
    After Story 1
    I'm going to start this by saying that, of the after-stories so far, this one shows the heroine's personal growth the most.  For better or worse, Setsuka is pretty twisted up inside, and this covers her growth after the dramatic end of the main path (along with a number of really hot h-scenes).  In a way, Setsuka's growth in this after story is as dramatic as the other heroines' growth in their own paths, and in a crappy charage, this would probably have been enough for a path on its own, hahaha.
    After Story 2
    This is the shortest of the second after stories by far, probably because Setsuka's issues were resolved so completely in the original path and the first after story.  It follows Setsuka and Souichirou after she has graduated, and it lightly touches on the aftermath of the original path (considering what happened, that isn't surprising).   There really isn't much to it, but it was nice to see a less yandere-ish Setsuka, lol.
    Hare Uso
    Hare Uso is the harem story added for those who bought each of the original four games separately before this month.  Essentially, all the events (including the sex) happened in each of the games, but Souichirou never chose any of them as his lover.  Just to be clear, given that Souichirou ends up forced into the sexual situations in all four games (through different means), this is not as unrealistic as it might sound.  Moreover, I was laughing throughout much of its hour long length.  Harem paths with serious protagonists are always hilarious...
    Overall, playing the Uso series altogether is like playing the best of the best of plotge/charage hybrids.  It is amusing at times, heart-warming at others, and it brings tears out at the right times.  The heroines are interesting and unique, presented in a first-class fashion, and generally given a depth of character development that has been lacking in recent years.  By handling each path as a separate game with an intensive focus, Campus made the heroines feel like real people, rather than props or sex dolls (which is what most charage heroines end up being).  While the series has its flaws, it is definitely worth playing as a whole.
  11. Clephas
    For those of you who are curious, I played this VN on a request from an old friend who wanted an opinion before he bought it (I already had the game, just hadn't opened it).  This game is relatively short, being a kinetic novel, but that doesn't detract from the experience at all, at least in my eyes.
    Now, I was skeptical about the concept of a VN focused on romance between a middle-aged guy and a girl in school... for one thing, it is a theme that has been mostly avoided like the plague outside of nukige in recent years.  For another, it is a type that is hard to pull off without it seeming like a self-serving old man writer vicariously enjoying time with young girls.
    Luckily, this game manages to pull the relationship and its formation off rather believably, which was a surprise to me.  While this game isn't the type to get named in an awards show or make it to the top of my list of VNs to play, I can honestly say it was worth playing, and I don't regret the time spent on it.  The relationship formation is extremely gradual, with neither of them having any feelings for each other beyond awkward friendliness at first.  This made the slow shift in their feelings feel natural to me, as they began to get past their mutual loneliness and began to care for one another aside from the need to ease it. 
    This isn't, for once, a story about an old man taking advantage of a much younger girl (if anything, she's the one who forces things along at the critical points), but it doesn't avoid the issues that inevitably come up in this type of situation either.  There is some drama, but it ends on a touching note, with the major issues involving the characters' relationships solved for the most part.
  12. Clephas
    I recently got the impulse to go back and replay Eien no Aselia, which sat at the top (mostly by inertia and alphanumeric reasons) of my vndb votes for so long.  Eien no Aselia was one of the final games I played in English before I took the dive into Japanese untranslated VNs, and I hadn't replayed it since, though I played Seinarukana within a year of entering the labyrinth.
    Eien no Aselia is one of those few 'oldies' I found hadn't lost anything vital in the years since I last played it.  I still immensely enjoyed the story (which is only mildly different in Japanese), and I still fell in love with Aselia on first sight (I'm a sucker for bloodstained fushigi-chan girls with big swords).  I empathized with Yuuto's struggles as he went from a somewhat whiny standard-issue eroge protagonist to a fully rounded out human being with a lot of admirable qualities.
    Eien no Aselia is one of those rare hybrids where the gameplay is something you can pick up easily even though you haven't played it in almost a decade.  Oh, there were aspects I had to remember through trial and error, but I was using my old clear save, so I didn't have to bother with leveling or building anything other than ether gates... which made things a lot simpler.  I remember just how much pain I suffered on higher difficulties to get those maxed levels... and why I never went back after finishing all the heroine paths, hahaha.  The game is long, though it isn't nearly as long as Ikusa Megami Zero or some of the other strategy VNs.  Playing it from beginning to end seven times was more than enough for me in the past.
    A few aspects of the game have aged poorly (though not really the visuals, which were great for the time it was made).  The aspect that bothered me the most was that more effort wasn't put into developing the non-heroine spirits that you fought with.  While you could access scenes that did develop them somewhat if you made the right dialog choices and didn't let them die in battle, there is definitely a sense that the writers considered them disposable, despite giving them really distinctive personalities that came out on first meetings. 
    Replaying Aselia made me remember why I was so eager to see a third Eien Shinken game, and I'm still eagerly awaiting the day when the TBA on the vndb page for Shinyaku Eien no Aselia turns to a real release date. 
  13. Clephas
    Venus Blood Hypno is by far my favorite Venus Blood game.  There are a number of obvious reasons.  The story itself is the deepest and most interesting, it is emotionally powerful, and, if you follow the Law route, it is possible to avoid sexual corruption issues entirely.
    However, the true reason I love this game is because of Leonhardt and Anora.
    Leonhardt and Anora have one of the most powerful, deepest relationships I've seen in any type of VN, ever.  The emotional bonds between them are literally inseparable, and the trust between them is literally unbreakable.  They have had innumerable horrible experiences, which have left them bitter and cynical, but their love for one another, while having a strong element of mutual dependence, is nonetheless untainted.  It is unselfish and giving, and, while no sane person would ever envy them their lives, it is hard not to envy their love.
    Leonhardt and Anora were once members of the Arknoa royal family, a human (sort-of) kingdom that lay at the lowest level of Helvetica, tasked with protecting the seal on the demonic races, but considered to be tainted and cursed because of the unique abilities the family often displayed.  Anora, because her abilities were particularly strong, was feared and generally distanced from most of the family.  Only her older cousin, Leonhardt, was close to her from the beginning, and when the seal broke and the demons flowed forth, it was Leon who carried her as he sought to escape certain death.  Unfortunately for them both, Calvia Karlsefni, the Demon Empress who destroyed their family, was waiting... and in exchange for Leonhardt begging shamelessly for their lives, she made them her toys.
    Leonhardt and Anora were used in an experimental procedure to create a weapon to get around the weakness of demons to divine power, fusing a different soul into that of another living being, transforming them into something that was neither human nor demon.  Of all those who underwent the procedure, less than one in ten thousand survived, and many of those went insane or burned out soon after.  They became what is referred to in the story as a 'Reisu Unit' (which refers to the fact that they use the soul fused to them and their own soul as fuel for their power).    Incidentally, none of this is spoiler, really.
    Now, down to the setting, one of the other reasons I love this game.  Hypno's setting is dark, even for a Venus Blood game, where tentacles about and most of the main characters have demonic blood.  In the events leading up to the game's beginning, the demons, who had long been confined to an underground world where there wasn't enough energy to sustain them, much less keep them powerful, overcame this problem in a way that was both simple and terrible... they used a new technology (called Laugraphia) to transform people's souls into crystals called Tactica, that could be used to power their magic, thus allowing them to break the seals and emerge back into the surface.
    The demons went to war with the forces of angels and humans led by the Goddess, and the Great War began.  Using the Reisu Units, the demons forced open the teleportation gates to the floating continent from the other surrounding continents, and Calvia killed the Goddess, transforming her into a Tactica. 
    Now, the Empire, which is the most powerful of the four demonic nations, rules the central floating continent and the southern continent of Brookheart.  It converts large numbers of humans to Tactica on a daily basis, using any excuse such as criminality, religious activity, or simply being in the wrong place at the right time.  All four nations are reliant on Tactica technology, at least partially because they are all afraid to give it up, lest the others rush in and overwhelm them using that power.  As a point of reference, each of the four demon lords possesses at least one Myorne Class Tactica, which is a Tactica containing the equivalent of more than a million souls.  It is common for most mid and high level commanders to possess a Ten-thousand soul Tactica, and most soldiers with potential have one that contains a hundred or more.  Worse, Tactica can be 'used up' if their power is abused, meaning that huge numbers of souls are being burned like fuel on a fire on a daily basis. 
    As a setting, it has both depth and darkness, two things that I can't help but like.
    Hypno, like most games in the series, is split between Law and Chaos paths, but with a slightly different twist, there is a true Law ending that can only be accessed under specific conditions on a third playthrough after you've been through the Law and Chaos paths once each.  This is the True Law Anora ending, and it is, quite obviously, the single best (or at least the happiest) of the game's endings.  I cried, lol.
  14. Clephas
    First, I should note the reasons why I keep playing Venus Blood games, despite not being fond of tentacles in general and rape in particular.   The first reason is that the story and characters in each game have been exceedingly interesting, which is a good enough reason in and of itself.  However, the second reason, and the one that makes this series stand out, is the sheer depth of the gameplay most games in the series since Frontier have displayed.
    I played Empire and Abyss first, and, to be honest, they aren't really that impressive as games go.  The stories were good and I liked the characters, but if you were to ask me if the gameplay was all that memorable, my answer would be no.  However, it was with Frontier that I first experienced the need to truly delve the depths of the series' system of skills and unit building (as opposed to just randomly gathering units that seemed to go together and relying on the hero characters, like i did in Empire, lol).  This system is one where you are rewarded for putting together good combinations of units, rather than randomly putting together a force of OP units.  Most units have a role they are particularly suited for, and there are dozens of different factors to take into account when picking what units to recruit and put in a squad. 
    Venus Blood Lagoon came out at the end of last year, and it is already being billed as the hardest game in a series known for high difficulty levels (as opposed to the impossible ones frequently present in SofthouseChara games, where the gameplay is frequently unmanageable altogether).  If you have played a VB game before, I suggest that you consider normal difficulty to be the hard difficulty of most other VB games, at least in part due to the limitations of the hero units this time around.
    Most people who just like to play VB games once or twice (to get both paths or different endings) develop a habit of building all their units around their hero units.  Part of this is because Hero units in past games have been more than powerful enough to form the core of a central squad each, meaning that it is perfectly workable to rely on them at least up through hard difficulty.
    Lagoon, however, punishes this tendency at times.  Part of the reason for this is that this game has a ridiculous number of dragon units compared to previous titles.  As a result, you get a lot of units that have half-assed builds that don't stand out when compared to late-game recruitable units.  There is a lot of crossover between unit types, creating a tendency toward all-rounders in a game where it is generally better to specialize in a single role (which is why Zahack and Tia stand out, since Zahack is DPS all the way and Tia is a perfect tank).  A classic example of this is Ain, who, for all that he looks cool, is actually fragile and weak in comparison even to mid-game units, at least in part because they made him too much of an all-rounder without giving him the stats and skill levels to pull it off.  Eden also stands out in the same way, turning out to be a decent tank, even though her skillset and stated class say she should be DPS. 
    Despite the class names, there are really three major roles and a few sub-roles in this game.  The main roles are Tank, DPS, and Support (not used in-game).  Tank units should be kept in the first slot and possibly the second to serve as a wall between the rest of the unit and enemy damage.  Ideally, they should have a nice set of skills that make them hard to damage or hit (there are a number of such skills) and/or allow them to retaliate with something nasty when someone does attack them (counter-tanks and passive tanks are the two types you can pursue in this game, dependent on skillsets).  DPS units generally have high attack (duh) stats as well as skills that make them more effective at dealing damage, such as skills that reduce enemy defenses, boost their own damage, or allow them to spread damage across multiple units.  Support units are units that exist to provide boosts, defenses against bombardment, and healing.  The rule of thumb in all VB games is to abuse the 活性 and other booster skillsets to create units that have massively boosted stats to deal disproportionate amounts of damage to the enemy.  While this tactic isn't quite as effective as it has been in previous games, it is still the most important basic element of building a squad. 
    The major sub-role you should keep in mind is the Treasure-Hunter squad.  This type of squad has a different role than the average 'smash and invade' squad type.  To be specific, all units in such a squad should have boosted loot-related passive skills and equipment to increase the amount of drops after a battle.  Ideally, you should pair such squads with more powerful smasher squads to maximize loot gain and minimize the possibility of the treasure-hunter squads being wiped out.  If you want the resources to build up your army on your first playthrough, doing without Treasure-hunting squads is not an option.
    Now, down to the meat of things... this game channels Hypno's system down to the letter.  The Legion system, which allows you to move and deploy up to three units in a single battle, has returned... meaning that tactics have become more advanced and you are faced with a need to create far more squads than is the norm in most games in the series (I had fifteen squads fully formed and leveled by the end, with three on the back burner to make a full eighteen).  Part of this is that you can't avoid creating a wide battlefront in this game if you want to get high after-battle ratings.  Another part is that some units just do horribly against certain enemy squad builds.
    The Main Route
    This game's story begins with Tia's homeland of Elysses being destroyed by Gashel, the High Priest of the Divine Dragons (which included Elysses and its mostly human subjects).  Tia's brother, Julian, sacrifices his life and resurrects the Demon Lord Zahack, the powerful being that once faced off against the Original Dragon, Eden.  Zahack, even weakened by his long sleep, manages to get Tia away, and he forms a contract with her to help her get her revenge against Gashel.
    Now, the main story of the game is focused on Tia's journey to gain revenge, but I should note that there are a number of points that differ from previous titles, story-wise.  First, the protagonist, Zahack, is an assistant and ally rather than the overall leader of things.  Zahack is a demon to the core, and his focuses are on the fulfillment of his contract, sex, and fun in general (not necessarily in that order), while Tia is an idealistic young woman constantly at war with herself as her idealistic nature and compassion conflict with her burning desire for revenge and growing addiction to tentacle sex (lol, yes, that is an issue, as it usually is in VB games). 
    To be blunt, in most previous titles, this protagonists tended to relatively easily force the heroines into submission (even the story battles tended to end with the heroines on their knees in relatively short periods of time once the protagonist's plans were complete).  However, this game is one where nothing ever goes perfectly and plans frequently have to be adjusted or abandoned entirely due to circumstance and the fortunes of war.  Tia is a good leader, but she is very clearly the one at a disadvantage from the very beginning.  While she desires revenge, she is also kind by nature and not naturally pragmatic or ruthless as VB protagonists generally are.  Zahack is generally willing to go along with her, as her struggles amuse him, lol. 
    The Law Route
    I managed to get the true Law ending on my first try (happily), so I can honestly stay that the Law route has a lot to recommend to it for people who like more classic 'not evil' paths (calling the characters 'good' when most of them are mass murderers or using their own children as weapons of war is a bit of a stretch).  There is an enemy worth defeating, a goal worth reaching, and the actual writing is perhaps the best in the series outside of Hypno.  Zahack himself grows somewhat (though Zahack is Zahack, lol), and Tia grows immensely as a person as she gets past her dark desires and finds a new path in life. 
    The other characters also find themselves renewed as they face the new threats they had no way of knowing about at the beginning, and I actually found myself surprised at the antagonist, even if it followed the usual VB path of being a somewhat standard/archetypical choice in retrospect.  This is also the first game in the series where I honestly couldn't find a connection with another game that has come out before, so I have to wonder if they are intending on creating a time-distant sequel at some point...
    I will play Chaos eventually... but tbh, it took me sixty hours to complete this game (about eighteen hours of that was just thinking about then building units and squads), so I think I'll put that off for a while.
  15. Clephas
    Hatsugamai (or Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru) is one of my favorite nakige from the last four years.  Feeling in the need of some emotional catharsis, I finally went back to it a while back, and I was blown away a second time by just how powerful the emotions this game brings out are.
    First, it should be noted that Alcot Honeycomb, the subsidiary of Alcot that produced this game is known for two things... that it is a low to mid-price and budget company and for the fact that they have never produced a flop.  Every one of their games has come out in the black within six months of release, and they inevitably end up placing at least in the top twenty of any given year.  Another quality of their games is that there are no 'wasted scenes' in their games.  Every scene drives story and path progression, without exception.  This game is no exception.
    I am going to focus on introducing the characters of this game, since you can check out my previous blog post on the game if you want an idea of what the game as a whole is like. 
    Tokitani Kazuharu- The protagonist of the story, he is a hard-working young man who is absolutely devoted to his own financial independence and protecting his 'family' (currently consisting of Shinobu and Manami).  At the age of eight, he ran away from home to get away from verbal and physical abuse from his mother and eventually adopted another runaway, his 'imouto' Shinobu.  If it weren't for Old Man Tatara, their current guardian, he probably would have ended up living on the street for the rest of what was likely to be a very short life.  As it is, he works hard every day at multiple part time jobs to feed, clothe, and shelter himself and Shinobu (ignoring Tatara's offers to pay for everything) and lives at a rickety school dorm with Tatara's granddaughter Manami.  Kazuharu is a young man of intense feeling and kindness.  While he considers himself to be a practical, at times unfeeling person, it is fairly obvious to those around him that he is the very reverse of that.  Kazuharu is constitutionally incapable of setting aside responsibilities or abandoning someone who calls out to him for help.  His immense capacity for love and selfless behavior make him a powerful character, and his emotional scars often bring tears to my eyes.
    Tokitani Shinobu- As a small child, she ran away from an abusive situation to live under a bridge, where she was found and informally adopted by Kazuharu.   She quickly and intensely fell in love with Kazuharu after his ferocious efforts to protect her and keep her fed in the time before Tatara discovered and took them in, and that love has, if anything, only grown deeper and more intense with time (she is almost yandere at times).  Unlike Kazuharu, who struggles with school while working, she is the student council president and the highest scorer on school tests, while still working multiple part-time jobs.  Like Kazuharu, she has a very clear-headed and down-to-earth view of the future... if you ignore the fact that her view of the future involves her creating a corporation solely so she can take the burden of financial support off her brother's shoulders.  Despite how this sounds, she isn't completely monomaniacal.  Having been practically raised by Kazuharu and seeing him as an example, she is a deeply kind and compassionate young woman, with a deep capacity for love that matches his own.
    Tatara Manami- One of the three major side characters in the game, along with her grandfather, she is a child (about ten) who speaks in Kansai-ben and has a tendency to abuse pseudo-anglicanisms.  Her cheery personality and cute attempts to sort-of mother the people at the dorm hide a deep loneliness born from the fact that her parents abandoned her, leaving her busy grandfather to raise her pretty much as an absentee parent.  She has a strong bond with the Tokitani siblings, one that is at times adversarial (jokingly) with Kazuharu and conspiratorial with Shinobu. 
    Tatara Taizen- Shinobu and Kazuharu's guardian and Manami's grandfather... as well as the owner and head of the board of directors for Shinobu and Kazuharu's high school.  He is a man who has spent his entire life in education and sent innumerable students out to succeed in the world.  However, his own family is a horrible mess, with his daughter and son-in-law having abandoned his granddaughter Manami and his own responsibilities making it impossible for him to raise her in his own home.  He adopted Shinobu and Kazuharu when he discovered them as runaways (he has apparently done this in the past) and supported them out of compassion.  He is a true educator at heart, devoting himself to the well-being and future of his students.  He and Kazuharu frequently fight (in a friendly manner) and his mannerisms are frequently humorous or deliberately display him as a dirty old man.  However, his love for Manami and the two siblings is deep. 
    Minamino Shouhei- Kazuharu's best friend and the son of a yakuza family.  Despite his origins, his goal in life is to work in childcare, and his personality is kind and cheerful to the core.  Along with Yuka and the Tokitani siblings, he is part of a group of 'hard-working friends' who have been together more or less since before middle school.  He deeply resents the path his father wants for him in life, and he is definitely in rebellion against the family business.  While he is unaware of the Tokitani siblings' past, he is still the only person who can confront Kazuharu on completely equal terms in the game (for reasons that become obvious if you play the game).
    Miyamoto Yuuka- The other childhood friend besides Shouhei (and one of the heroines) she is a pin-up model who dreams of becoming an actress, working long hours after school toward that goal and ignoring her parents' skepticism.  Yuuka is a bright and cheerful character with perhaps the most 'normal' viewpoint of the characters in the game, serving as a touchstone for the warped (understandably so) viewpoints of the other characters.  That said, she is also in the entertainment business, so she isn't unfamiliar with the 'dark side'.  However, it hasn't tainted her, as of yet.  She has a strong will and is a dreamer at heart (whereas the others are mostly down to earth), contrasting her to the other characters on just about every point.
    Tanaka Neneko- A ferociously strong-willed senpai at both Kazuharu's work and at school, she is also the worst kind of boss, ordering him to do everything in five minutes.  Raised in an unstable household where both her parents were frequently ill, her role model was her elder sister, who worked intensely hard to bring the family back together after the kids were briefly put into the system due to their parents' inability to work.  Neneko works intensely hard, often getting exasperated reactions from Kazuharu (who works for money, only working hard when it is necessary or when it is part of the job).  She is constantly smiling and is the older sister of the group, frequently ending up as the advisor when it isn't her path.
    Kawatsu Tsubasa- The game's main heroine, whose appearance is the catalyst for the events that create the game's story.  Like Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has experienced both abandonment and abuse from her family (mostly psychological abuse), but unlike those two, she isn't really capable of anger, so she has no outlet to release her stress.  Despite her fragile appearance, she is not weak-willed... she is simply the type that endures, bending with the wind rather than standing firm within it.  Like both Kazuharu and Shinobu, she has an intense, deep well of love.  However, she is also far more willing to believe in others than either of them is, unwilling to give up on others until she is driven beyond her ability to endure. 
  16. Clephas
    After ten years playing VNs, you would think I would have completely lost faith in them by now, especially considering just how many I've played (744 not counting most of the nukige, replays and incomplete/dropped ones).  Most VNs that aren't nukige are SOL-fests that exist solely to promote nostalgic fantasies about life in high school and getting into bishoujos' pants... not that that is an entirely horrible goal, but it isn't something I want to see five hundred times over.
    The romance is usually puerile and has no relation to reality, the characters have all their hard edges filed away by the needs of the archetype, and drama is used solely to add 'spice' (like one sprinkle of pumpkin spice, not cracked red pepper) to an otherwise endlessly sweet and bland recipe. 
    So how is it that someone who has experienced that much essentially boring and pointless repetition of the same scenarios able to continue to enjoy VNs, even if he can't stand meaningless SOL anymore?
    At one time, it was a sense of duty, a belief that I was doing the community good by digging gems out of the piles of crap that are the SOL genre.  I also had a sense of pride that I made an effort of objectivity that I have literally seen no one else attempt.  I played games no one else bothered with because they didn't have the time or patience, and I did it because I thought someone looking at the games would want to know what they were getting into.
    I paid a price in a growing sense of bitterness, of boredom, and of a sense that I was forgetting the reason why I began to read fiction in the first place.  I paid a price in people continually being trolls and trying to draw me into fights over my opinions on these games.  I had people start reddits and send me pms being sympathetic about the very conversations they'd started (yes that happens). 
    I also had people who respected what I was doing, and I knew there were people in the community who benefited from the fact that I was doing it.  I watched VNs I had pushed get localizations and fantls (usually to my surprise), and I saw others that I had labeled as mediocre get hyped to a ridiculous degree.   I tried to get other people to help with what I was doing, only to find that, without a reading speed similar to mine, it was too much of a burden on their lives and ate up the time to read the VNs they wanted to read. 
    The bad generally outweighed the good immensely while I was doing VN of the Month, and even after, I found that the after-effects of my years of playing games I wasn't interested in personally had left me with scars I was unable to feel while my sense of duty was keeping me going. 
    However, I can say that I still haven't given up on VNs.
    The reason is ridiculously simple and at the same time profound (at least to me).  I love the medium.  For someone who likes an experience that combines the reading, visual input, and music without the need for a lot of input from the one experiencing it, VNs provide a unique storytelling experience.  Books are great for the imagination and can send our souls exploring across landscapes that exist only in our own minds, but VNs provide a more filled-out framework for those who don't necessarily have the imagination to fill in all the gaps on their own, without rotting the imagination to the degree manga and anime do.  I've been able to get people who had trouble reading books into VNs, then led them straight back to books and opened the world of imagination to them.  I've seen people who had begun to feel the otaku community offered nothing more to them come alive again after playing a chuunige or a charage.  I've picked up a random moe-looking VN and found a deep and compelling story that remains within me dozens of times.
    In the end, it is moments, experiences like that that keep me coming back, believing in the possibilities of VNs even now.  It is the desire to find more such experiences that keeps me looking at new releases each month, and it is the belief that those experiences will never entirely vanish that keeps me from condemning the industry as a whole for the way it sabotages itself at times. 
  17. Clephas
    Paradise Lost was the first game in Masada's/Light's 'Shinza series (Paradise Lost>Dies Irae>Kajiri Kamui Kagura).  For the sake of those who read Dies Irae but still don't understand how this universe/setting works, I'll explain it in a spoiler box at the end of the post. 
    Paradise Lost is based in the ruins of a city once called Sodom, now the Quarantine City, a city full of poisonous miasma that causes death and mutation in its inhabitants, a city sealed from the outside world by an impenetrable barrier, a city where Darwinism is the only law.  All the denizens of that city are beasts, monsters who combine human cruelty with the lack of restraint of an animal.  In that city, a man, sometimes named Lyle, at others Nacht, and at yet others Death Scythe, walks the streets of the darkest, most toxic area of the city, stained with the blood of those unfortunate enough to encounter him.
    That's my intro to one of Paradise Lost's two protagonists, Lyle.  In a city where everyone is out for themselves, with no pretense of anything else, Lyle is a living legend, a monster who kills simply because he can, because he feels like it.  Always at war with his even more violent alternative ego, Nacht, he searches for a past lost so long ago that it was forgotten by time itself.  Frozen in place for years, time begins to move forward when he encounters the angel Ririel deep in the depths of the Dead Zone.
    The other protagonist, Knowe Christ, is a bit more comprehensible from the average human perspective.  He is a young man who is on the lowest rung of the Quarantine City's societal ladder.  Born with defects that make a life of violence impossible for him, he supports his adopted little sister Sophie by selling drugs and being a 'body chopper', selling his own body parts for enough money to feed them both.  He loves Sophie dearly, and she is the only thing keeping him sane in the abyss that is that city.
    Paradise Lost is, like all Masada games, over the top and pretty much a perfect example of epic chuunige style (as opposed to the standard types, which are less melodramatic and grand in scale).  In some ways, this game avoids everything that Masada normally does poorly (namely slice-of-life) entirely.  It is pure story from beginning to end.  There is no conflict between daily life and the darker struggle, because the struggle is merely an extension of that daily life.  Both protagonists are dark by nature, though Knowe can be pretty frustrating for his surprising naivete (understandable, since he is a weakling by the standards of the city). 
    This game has a lot of great fights and slaughter, and the actual story is pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, the visuals are dated (though still pretty cool) and the protagonists aren't voiced, both of which are negatives for a chuunige (you would have thought Light would have fixed that when they re-released the game).  There is only one truly good person in this entire VN (Ririel), and most of the characters in the game would be considered to be monsters by our moral standards.  Both inside and outside of the city the world is a huge dystopia, with merely the vector differing.
    This game uses a lot of Christian apocrypha (as should be obvious, considering that Ririel is an angel) in the setting, but it is done in a way that should be pretty offensive to most Christians, lol (seriously, I don't think that Masada could have so thoroughly designed a blasphemous work even if he'd done so intentionally).
    While there are six endings to the game, it should be noted that there are only two possible overall outcomes, with the only differences between them being whether the endings are focused on Knowe's side (and one of his two heroines) or Lyle's side.  Basically, the essential difference between the endings is determined by whether the antagonist succeeds or fails in his main goal (ironically, the antagonist succeeding creates the 'good' endings). 
    Overall, this game is a great chuunige... but anyone who doesn't like chuunige won't like it, because there is literally nothing but chuunige content in this game.
  18. Clephas
    This game is on a short list of VNs from 2015 that I am pretty sure I underrated.  As a result, I decided to take a second look at it and see if my impressions changed.  To an extent, they did.  I was much nicer to it this time around, if only because I had better perspective after having taken a few steps back from VNs in general. 
    This game is focused on the Gardening Club of a Protestant boarding school in Japan.  The protagonist, Haruto (real name Hartviche or something like that) is a vampire born in the twelfth century and staked rather thoroughly by the Inquisition in the sixteenth century.  He was then revived by the game's main heroine, Kureha, who gave his mummified corpse some of her blood as a child.  His body then reverted to a child state of equal age to hers and he ended up being raised a second time as her little brother. 
    It should be noted for those who hate nerfed fantasy that this game is somewhat borderline in that respect.  In this game's version of our world, vampires are actually people who, through intense mental and magical training, exceeded human limits and became able to live solely off of life energy or blood.  Their purpose in doing so (at least the ones who became vampires by this method) was to save humanity by eventually becoming one with the world.  If this sounds vague to you, don't worry, you aren't alone... it is probably the most out-there outlook on vampires I've seen since Twilight, lol.
    Anyway, Haruto, who is a member of the club, one day finds that he has entered a state called the Flower Choosing, in which he is required biologically to find his mate and drink their blood, with the near-100% chance they will turn into a vampire themselves.  Haruto, being a goody-goody type, is of course greatly conflicted by this idea (since his experience tells him that very few humans can withstand the burdens of eternity), and, like the hetare all charage protagonists who aren't hot-blooded or super-lucky (as in, the situation resolves itself without him having to move), he waffles a lot during the common route and heroine routes. 
    You won't see any action scenes in this game... though there are plenty of scenes that are emotional, the game's length turns out to be its greatest weakness at times.  The common route and the heroine routes are about as long as you'd expect from a Yuzu-soft game, rather than your standard charage, and a ridiculous amount of time is spent with Haruto and the heroines wringing their hands about stuff that is exasperating, looking at it from the outside.
    Nonetheless, the emotional moments are generally worth the wait, and I can honestly say there is one area in which this game managed to redeem itself in my eyes... the endings.  Every one of the endings in this game is a 'years later' ending, meaning you aren't stuck reading what they did the day after the climax (a common occurrence in charage, mostly because companies want to leave stuff for a possible FD or just because it is 'tradition' now).  However, one thing that seriously irritated me about this game (besides the somewhat excessive length created at least in part by switching out scenes depending on which heroine is set to dominate at the end of the common route) is the way the vampire setting only ever really lives up to its full potential in Kureha's route.  Oh, there are a few moments in each route where you can go 'that would be kind of cool', but Haruto's general reluctance to use his abilities or actually change the girls ruins most of it. 
    I have better perspective now, so I can see it didn't deserve the poor rating I gave it way back when... but if you asked me if it was satisfying, I'd say it falls short.
  19. Clephas
    This is a list of VNs I think are worthy of playing, regardless of my vndb vote (no VN of the Year, since I don't do VN of the Month anymore).  While I haven't been playing much since September, the fact remains that I still played a large number of VNs this year.  Feel free to object, but I have no obligation to listen anymore *whistles cheerfully as he juggles the flaming skulls of those who have opposed him in the past).
    Fuukan no Grasesta
    Mirai Radio no Jinkou-bato
    Haru to Yuki (if I could say I'd played most of the games this year, this would be my VN of the Year choice)
    Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei Son Go no Ketsumyaku
    Curio Dealer
    Kimi to Hajimeru Dasantekina Love Come
    Kimi to Mezameru Ikutsuka no Houhou
    Butterfly Seeker
    A.I. Love
    Unjou no Fairy Tale
    Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteiru: Trinkle Stars
    Hataraku Otona no Ren'ai Jijou 2
    Shogun-sama wa Otoshigoro
    Hello, Lady Superior Entelecheia
    I might add the new Venus Blood, depending on whether I come out on the other end feeling it was good, lol.
  20. Clephas
    If yall haven't guessed (or just read my previous posts) my primary reason for giving up VN of the Month was being buried in SOL... well, that and the fact that playing that many new VNs a month took up too much of my time and left me none for any pursuits beyond work. 
    My immediate realization afterwards was that I quite simply couldn't play SOL games at all for the first few months.   After years of constant overdosing on saccharine fake romance and meaningless conversations that exist only to make you go moe over the heroines, I had simply had enough.  Even now, I literally cannot play a pure SOL game without my body physically rejecting it by putting me to sleep or giving me a headache. 
    After a while, I got to where SOL didn't bother me, as long as I knew there was something beyond it (actual plot of some sort, maybe a little violence or a protagonist I could like).  Unfortunately, that means I can't bring myself to play anything where I see no hint of something beyond the SOL (seishun doesn't count, since that is default).  My most recent experiments (Clochette games) told me that I could still enjoy SOL as long as it was peppered with something interesting.  However, I quickly realized when I tried to play some of the newer games that came out this month... I wanted to vomit after starting several of them.  I literally couldn't stand the obviously standard-issue protagonist, the weak carbon copy heroines, and the dead copies of games that came out years ago. 
    For instance, Sora ni Kizanda Parallelogram was such a blatant attempt to use the nostalgia of both Aokana and Walkure Romanze fans (FD for the former and complete pack for the later came out recently) that it made me want to be sick.  The protagonist's situation and personality were carbon copies of the one from Walkure Romanze, and the situation and setting were partially stolen from Aokana.  Hell, one of the heroines is of the same type as the main heroine from Aokana.  That sent me over the edge, and I sold my copy to a local eroge addict so I wouldn't have to look at the filthy thing again. 
    Worse, a bad copy of Ninki Seiyuu no Tsukurikata came out this month, and I wanted to smash something (I hate games that focus on entertainment industries).  Ugh. 
    *coughs* ahem, now that I got that out of my system, I have to wonder... am I going to have just as violent a reaction next month and the next after?  There are things I used to like about SOL games that I just can't enjoy anymore, and that saddens me deeply...  and my tolerance for blatant and pathetic attempts at milking other companies' games' popularity has gone down to zero, apparently. 
  21. Clephas
    Prism Recollection is a more recent release by Clochette, with a less fantastical setting than Kamikaze Explorer's or Suzunone Seven's.  Prism Recollection's setting is in a future Japanese town that is being redeveloped by corporations using it to test cutting-edge technologies and techniques for comprehensive economic redevelopment (as opposed to the piecemeal redevelopment that is normal in most cities).   From the fact that most stores require people to use digital money to the AR holograms that can be made to appear like screens or holographic overlays throughout the new city, it shows off a possible near future that we already see in bits and pieces in our modern lives. 
    The protagonist, Masanobu, moves back to this town after seven years away to reunite with his little sister Konoka and his parents... or so he thought.  However, his parents hardly ever come home, and he finds that his sister has become an impulsive oni-san obsessed pervert and heavy otaku in the years he has been in the way.  In addition, he allows himself to be convinced to join the Three Stars Club, a school club run by an impulsive and typically (for Clochette) massive-breasted girl named Sayaka for the stated purpose of giving guided tours of the developed and undeveloped portions of the town.  In reality, the club ends up doing whatever is helpful to the people around them, and thus is as much a jack-of-all-trades club as anything else. 
    Masanobu is a devoted older brother, a surprisingly wise and capable young man who cooks at a pro level, has a strong understanding of computer hardware, and is accustomed to working hard.  He is far more mature for his age than the others around him, except Veronica and with the exception that he doesn't bother to censor his appreciation for the *coughs* physical allure of the girls around him.  He is a terrible liar, so he generally doesn't bother.
    Konoka, Masanobu's sister (also the main heroine, though there isn't excessive favor to any individual heroine in this game) is more than a bit of an oddball.  She openly tries to seduce Masanobu into compromising situations, toys with everyone around her to varying degrees, and she can generally be trusted to say something sexually inappropriate every five lines or so.  She also records just about everything around her, using sketchpads, notepads, video recording, audio recording, and cameras.  She has good reason for this, as she has a neurological disease that prevents her from recalling episode memories more than three days in the past, though it doesn't interfere with her ability to gather knowledge.  It has, however, stunted her emotional expression in some areas, and she doesn't self-censor what emotions have developed at all, which is one reason for her often inappropriate behavior (though she also loves the reactions of those around her). 
    Sayaka, the club president, is a cheery, outgoing young woman who has almost no impulse control.  She takes pictures constantly, loves nothing more than to help people, and she can be trusted to be attracted to trouble like iron filings to a magnet.  She also has a tendency to overdo things, to act without thinking, and she rarely bothers to restrain her impulses.  She rarely gets depressed, and when it happens, it generally only lasts half-a-second before her optimism breaks through.  She loves Tonan, her hometown, and she wants nothing more than to see everyone else come to love it to, which is the main reason she formed the club.
    Hinano is Sayaka's kouhai and one of the two initial members of the club.  She is a master hacker and generally brilliant young woman with tsundere tendencies that generally do a poor job of hiding the fact that it is easy get on her good side.  She has trouble saying no to those close to her, and both Konoka and Masanobu are extremely good at getting around her personal barriers.  In the club, she generally is in charge of gathering information and organizing it into reports.  She is personally indebted and in the hire of the director of the school board, Kujou Hatsune, and as a result, she is forced to also dress up as a maid and work as a waitress at the cafe Hatsune runs on the side (which also serves as Hatsune's research lab and the club room). 
    Aina is a half-Japanese exchange student from a fictional European country with a military background and a powerful politician and general for a father.  She is easygoing, open, and she can generally be trusted to create explosive synergy with Sayaka if left to her own devices without someone to stop them (usually Masanobu).  She is openly friendly and open about her initial attraction to Masanobu from the beginning.  She loves Japan and is, without a doubt, a true weaboo.  Moreover, she is in the weaboo stage where even knowledge of her own absurdity does not in any way weaken her adoration of Japan, lol. 
    Like all Clochette games, this one combines a lot of SOL with just as much story and character development.  In this case, much of the story involves the effects the redevelopment, the corporations running it, and the people 'left in the dust' by the process.  Central issues include the advanced quantum computer used to run the town's services (the way it is used, its invasiveness, the implications of such systems, etc), the disregard of corporate interests for outliers' circumstances, and the dark side of the town's economic rise.  While the atmosphere is generally kept cheerful, there are a lot of serious moments and moments of danger in each of the paths. 
    Overall, I was glad to come back to this game... if only because Konoka is hilarious, lol.
  22. Clephas
    Kamikaze Explorer was the third game from Clochette I played, and even today it remains in my memory as one of the most well-balanced charage/plotge hybrids I've ever played.  I say 'balanced' because most games don't achieve hybridization at all.  Most charage are essentially character development, light romance, and SOL with little else.  Plotge, on the other hand, often tend to go for 'efficiency' on character development, romance, and SOL (exceptions exist), and true hybridization of the genres has become exceedingly rare in recent years (specifically since the beginning of 2015, we saw a general decline in charage with actual stories and a fall in the overall number of plotge). 
    Clochette is a company more famous for being full of oppai girls than for its stories... but that is mostly because anyone's first impression on seeing the cast of one of their games is that the heroines are all... large, to say the least.  That said, except for a few failures like Amatsu Misora ni, this company has produced nothing but charage/plotge hybrids since it came into existence, with the company having a steady, if not huge, following in Japan and over here. 
    Kamikaze Explorer is based in a future where much of the world has been sunk under the oceans and technological development has stagnated.  However, about twenty years before the story began, large numbers of children began to be born with or display supernatural abilities that came to be labeled as Metis.  These abilities generally were based somehow off of the hidden desires of the user, and, in the more well-off countries, it was decided to research them in a humane manner rather than the inhumane one you would usually expect.
    The protagonist, Hayase Keiji transfers into a school that is centered on researching and training such individuals (such individuals being labeled as Metis-passers).  At the school, he is immediately recruited by the pretending-to-be-arrogant-but-actually-shy ojousama Mishio into Argonaut, a club that seeks to  help people in general while also acting to solve Metis-related incidents at the same time.  Keiji is something of a genius, driven by his sense of curiosity to the point of obsession, and his current obsession is Metis. 
    From a purely SOL-romance point of view, this game is pretty sappy.  There are a lot of really obvious emotional points, and the ichaicha is heavy-handed... However, in this case, that doesn't come across as a negative... mostly because the ichaicha is usually interspersed with relatively serious moments and plot-related issues. 
    The plot itself isn't huge in scale, but it is dramatic and shows off perhaps too much of a dark side for the average charage at points.  However, for the most part, it is not heavy-handed or excessive.  Well, I will say one of the antagonists is a bit creepy/scary, but that just made the game interesting, at least for me. 
    It needs to be said again, but this game is a hybrid of charage and plotge so those who purely want one or the other should think before playing.  Like all the games by this company, the H-scenes are mostly mild... but they are also extremly erotic and relatively plentiful for a game of its length.
    Edit: Incidentally Miiko (Mishio) is my waifu.  Grab one of the other girls if you want a waifu *snarls viciously*
  23. Clephas
    Over the last few weeks, I've gone back through all of the chuunige Hino Wataru was responsible for, and I came up with a number of common points that exist in each of his games, that define his overall style.  At the same time, I thought I'd also mention why I usually recommend Comyu to people despite the translation being such a disaster.
    Hino Wataru patterns
    Hino Wataru has a number of unique patterns that define his style of writing chuunige (some of it spills over into his SOL games, which I plan to replay soon as well).  Here, I will describe these patterns and why they are unique in modern non-nukige VNs.
    First, every Hino Wataru game has at least one major character (antagonist, protagonist, main character, or heroine) who is sexually open or strongly driven by their sexual impulses to the point of being out of control.  In Ruitomo, it was the infamous predatory lesbian Atori.  In Hello, Lady, Narita Shinri is himself the one with the overdriven libido.  In Comyu, both Haru and Akihito can be considered to be of this type, albeit for opposite sexes.  Shizuku (a major antagonist in Suisei Ginka) is pretty much a bisexual succubus.  Akeno Shuri himself in Hi ga Nai is the sexually amoral one.   (incidentally, the first complaint most people have about Akihito from Comyu is that he is a cheating man-whore... but I always figured they were just being prudes)
    Second, every Hino Wataru chuunige has some kind of internal catchphrase (sometimes multiple ones) that plays a vital part in the thought processes of the protagonist.  In Ruitomo, it is 'we are cursed'.  In Comyu, it is 'koko wa yasashii oukoku' and 'soredemo, to'.  In Hello, Lady it is 'Nasu beki koto o nasudarou.'.  Generally speaking, these phrases are often loaded with multiple meanings or meanings that are unconventional.  Unfortunately, these phrases and a lot of Hino Wataru's other wordgames just don't translate at all, which is one of the reasons why Comyu's translation comes across as flat or awkward. 
    Third, a lot (not all) of his chuunige involve a group of characters forced together because of circumstance that never quite get over that first awkwardness.  The heroines of Hello, Lady never really settle down around Shinri.   Ruitomo's group of friends are constantly on the verge of being at one another's throats over one thing or another.  Comyu's main cast has so many conflicting personalities it is a miracle they don't kill one another (literally). 
    Hino Wataru loves to philosophize.  All of his chuunige protagonists philosophize or have a moral policy that is slightly or completely out of sync with conventional morality.  Narita is capable of valuing life deeply while taking the lives of others ruthlessly for the sake of his goals.  Akihito is ruthless at times, excessively soft on women, and actively prioritizes those close to him over what is right.  It goes on.
    During my recent replay of Comyu, I was reminded again of why I stopped playing VNs in English.  I played the patched version of Comyu shortly after it came out, out of curiosity... and it was enough to put me off playing translates games entirely for years after.  A lot of this has to do with elements of Hino Wataru's style that just don't translate well, so it can't be said to the translator's fault entirely... 
    As such, it always screws with me when people nitpick the translation then use it to bash the game itself.  Calling Akihito a man-whore is fine, but using that as a reason not to like the game always struck me as stupid, since he has a lot more stuff to him that makes him interesting. 
    Anyway, down to the nuts and bolts... 
    Comyu, as anyone who has played it knows, suffers because of the way the paths are locked at the beginning.  To be blunt, nobody who plays the game likes Benio as a heroine.  She is naive, her personality is incompatible with what is going on, and, though she serves as a perfect opposite to Isawa, that doesn't get around the fact that her naivete is frequently annoying.  As a side-character, she is excellent, but, like Ruitomo, forcing you to play the least interesting heroine first doesn't make for a good start.
    Hisoka's path benefits from being highly emotional... Hisoka's situation is a tear-jerker, and the way you are introduced to it is ideal for ripping your heart out and serving it back to you on a plate.  It has one bad, one normal, and one 'sort of good' ending...  However, it is also much bloodier and darker than Benio's path, providing a strong contrast.
    Mayuki's path is significantly more light-hearted and SOL-focused than the previous two paths, but it too has a number of strongly emotional moments.  It has one bad and one good ending and only one major fight.
    Now we come to Kagome's path (Ayaya's not being worth mentioning).  Kagome is, very obviously from the beginning, the true heroine of the game.  She and Akihito are inseparable in all the paths, and the one thing she never does is abandon him.  This path reveals the 'area behind the stage' in its entirely, and as a result, it is exponentially more bloody than all the other paths combined.  Kagome's own truths are about as dark as they come, and all the characters are pushed to their very limits, many of them dying in the process. 
    Kagome is one of the major reasons I come back to this game on occasion.  She is also the heroine who sparked my recognition of the phenomenon of the 'absolutely connected' heroine (the type of heroine who is so close to the protagonist that she is still by his side in all the paths, unless she dies).  Not to mention she is the only heroine I've ever encountered who honestly loves the protagonist to the point of being truly deredere and yet has a semi-permanent sneer/contemptuous smile on her face (I consider her to the ultimate spiky tsundere).  Well, she is also truly contemptuous of him... it just doesn't get in the way of her loving him.
  24. Clephas
    This is essentially a bundle release of all Hello, Lady related games/scenarios.  As such, normally I wouldn't really see much of a need to go back over it... but there was enough material added here to make it worth a further assessment.
    Hello, Lady
    The original game, Hello, Lady, is unchanged from its original version.  That's to say, it is the last truly great Akatsuki Works game. 
    For those who have never read my long-past review of the game, it occurs during the same time period as Hi no nai Tokoro ni Kemuri wa Tatenai and in the same generalized setting as Ruitomo.  It is also based in the same city as Hi no nai Tokoro, though the events occur completely in parallel without having any effect on one another. 
    The game focuses on Tenkawa Noble School, an educational institute for those possessing the special power known as 'Halo', a power that takes many forms but at the core allows the possessor to alter reality within strictly defined limits.  The school is run partially as a research institute and partially as a training school for MHIs (the possessors of the aforementioned ability).  At the head of the student body are five highest-ranking MHIs (the only five who have reached Etoile class) who are also called the Crown. 
    Into this comes Narita Shinri, a supremely arrogant, supremely capable, and supremely perverted man with a habit of speaking in a manner more suited for the stage of live theater than real life.  He enrolls as a student, but from the very beginning, he says he doesn't agree with the ideals espoused by the school's management and founders... and he also has an extremely bad habit of feeling up every girl he meets.
    Hello, Lady's main game is, in the end, a story of vengeance and romance intertwined.  It is frequently deeply emotional, and Narita is surprisingly human under his arrogant outer layers (OK, he never stops the arrogance, but it grows on you pretty quickly and is the source of a lot of laughter).  The issues with MHIs, both social and practical, are deep and effect the story strongly. 
    Overall, that this is a game that I could still enjoy on a third playthrough says everything.
    New Division
    New Division focuses on two girls who were immensely intriguing in the original game, but were essentially shuffled to the side.  My guess is that AW figured they could make more money by keeping these two stories separate than by including them in the main game, even as extras.
    Hishia, Narita Shinri's utterly loyal maid, is one of the two heroines bestowed with a route in this game.  The basic scenario of her story is a mixture of recollections of her past with him, her interactions with the heroines during their brief meetings, and it follows the outline of Saku's path (albeit without romance between those two).  Hishia, even before you get to know her past, is an interesting character (and not just because she is a maid with machine guns under his skirts).  Her constant making fun of Shinri (which he hardly notices for the most part) and the way she talks about him behind his back with the heroines is pretty amusing.  I found her battle with one of the major antagonists to the best part, chuunige-wise, in her path... while the ending of the battle was inevitable, Hishia was still badass.
    Mitori is one of those rare individuals born an MHI, meaning that she used her powers as a matter of course through her young life and was... significantly 'different' from the rest of humanity until her meeting with Saku.  Her path, unfortunately (and predictably for anyone who played the main game) is full of tragedy and despair... but it is also very informative about the setting itself, filling in some of the holes left empty or poorly filled in by the main game.  I cried several times in this path, as I did for Hishia (Hishia's past is tragic, by most standards). 
    Superior Entelecheia
    This is the extra scenario from the Vita version of the game.  Superior has a strong focus on the motivations of the antagonists (all of them), and as a result, it is pretty over the top.  The battles and conflicts in this path are more complex and less of a one-sided 'Narita getting what he wants' kind of thing.  This path has a lot of emotional ups and downs, and it digs much, much farther into the reasons why things ended up the way they did before the original story started.  The ending itself left me in tears, then had me laughing.
    I do have some complaints about this, though... one is that the VA quality is lower, the VAs differ for several characters (Hishia's VA was so different as to be almost unrecognizable), and there are a few lines here and there that probably could have been fixed with a simple retake.  Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from enjoying the experience as a whole.
    Alls well that Ends Well
    This is the only part of this unique to this release... to be straight, it is a comedy scenario with h-scenes for all the heroines but Sorako.  It made me laugh briefly, especially toward the end.
  25. Clephas
    Now that I've completed the main game, it is time to post about the story... which is the most important part of any VN, hybrid or not.
    The story begins with Judar Schwarka, a Rovari (race of nomad/barbarians who are the source of prejudice due to their physical attributes) mercenary and his employer, Eutre Hyte, heading out to ambush the supply train of a Telphion Federation army besieging the Belgrad Empire forces in a fortress.  Judar, flat and uninterested in anything except the job, is forced to listen to his loquacious employer as he expounds on the battle below, and it is in that scene that you get your first impressions of two of the game's key characters. 
    Naturally, given that Judar is a general badass, the prologue is mostly about him being a badass and getting the job done, but the idiot general who was protecting the fortress surrenders about the time they get the job done.  This results in Judar and Eutre being sold to the Vanguard City of Grasesta as war slaves for the purpose of serving as cannon fodder against the constant incursions from the underground dungeon. 
    This should give you an idea of the atmosphere of the early game.  Judar, being razor-edge focused on survival and the keeping of his contractual obligations, takes being sold as a slave in stride.  Judar's personality is unique amongst the protagonists I've seen in Eushully's VNs.  Having clawed his way up from the worst slums of an Empire aligned with the Dark Forces, Judar is extremely straightforward and blunt.  He is a mercenary because it is all he knows, and, while he loves battle, he is nonetheless a survivor at heart, so he will avoid battles that don't benefit him or his employer.  He is an honorable individual to a fault, and he always keeps his word in all matters, large or small.   If I were to give him a D&D style alignment, it would be Lawful Neutral, albeit with the stipulation that his guide is his given word rather than the law as laid down by others.  Judar could probably be considered a fighter/barbarian hybrid.
    The early game is mostly about him fighting various forces in the underground and facing the oppression in the city itself, but he meets some interesting characters along the way, many of them party members.  I'll go ahead and give you a quick spoiler-free rundown of the recruitable characters and their personality/roles in battle.
    Eutre Hyte is a schemer by nature and a military man at heart.  He gathers information and uses people who aren't his allies ruthlessly, and he is not above spying or assassination as tools to fulfill his goals.  He does feel a strong sense of obligation to those in his care (Judar being one of those he considers to be such, though Judar just ignores him most of the time), but he is definitely from the Belgrad Empire, meaning his nature is more aligned with Darkness than Light.  If I were to give him an alignment, it would probably be True Neutral with one foot into Evil.  His role in the party is mostly as a battle-focused rogue, but he spends very little of the game in your party, so that is mostly irrelevant.
    Yuunagi is a gambling-addicted hedonist from a race that is a cross between oni and kitsune.  She is a freeman fighter (having willingly entered the city rather than coming as a slave).  She is very light-hearted and focused on pleasures of the moment, and she doesn't even really care that her personality is self-destructive.  Her alignment, quite naturally, would be Chaotic Neutral.  Her class would probably be barbarian with a bit of rogue, albeit with more of a focus on evasion.  I say this because all of her attacks are single-enemy, physically based, and she has the lockpick skill. 
    Ekthel is probably the second weirdest non-dark elf I've ever encountered in any game (the first weirdest being the child-killing schizo elf from Darkengard).  I say this, but i'm not going to tell you why.  On the surface, she seems kind and helpful... but appearances can be deceiving.  I'd consider her to be Neutral Evil.  Her class would probably be ranger, with no deity alignment.
    Aguna is the battle-addicted mage-warrior who would probably scare the shit out of any man irl.  She loves battle, money, and sex (in that order), and she absolutely loves life in Grasesta, despite having been enslaved (mostly because she couldn't stop picking fights and got dropped down there).  She would probably be considered a hybrid class of fighter and mage, as she can wield swords, staffs, and whips, and she has both a high attack and magic attack stat.  Unfortunately, she is also one of the two slowest characters in the game, with only Rosalind being slower.  Her alignment would probably be Chaotic Neutral.
    Rosalind is from a sub-race of dwarves known as the Nebel, who are less hairy and... round.  She is cheery and light-hearted on the surface, but she has a bad habit of making weapons that explode... on purpose.  Her alignment would probably be Neutral Good, and her class a combination between the engineer and fighter classes.  In battle, she wields a warhammer and has some nice area attacks, but she is so slow that most characters get multiple turns before she gets hers. 
    Mikuri is probably the only 'pure mage' character in the game.  Her personality is that of a studious sorcerer type... with the twist that she is cursed so that bad things happen to and around her whenever she goes to sleep (ranging from the silly to the seriously dangerous).  I'd probably call her True Neutral.  She is a pure wizard type, but until you finish her character quest, she has serious disadvantages due to her 'sleep deprived' 'skill'. 
    Yureeshya is an angel who has been asleep since before the worlds were fused together.  As such, she is extremely naive and uneducated about the current world, and she still acts as if she were in the service of the creator god of the original human world (most angels in this setting have either 'fallen' and turned dark or are in the service of one of the many deities on the side of Light).  If you manage to complete her events (which should be started as soon as you get her) she becomes one of your better healer characters, though she is only mediocre as a sacred magic user.  Unfortunately, you only have a very small window in which to complete her character events, and they require you to use her healing/support spells in battle and have them fail to activate them (this failure is a roughly 25% probability).  If you don't like her, you are given an opportunity to sell her to the brothel halfway through her events, but this means she isn't around to provide HP to your overall HP bar, lol.  Needless to say, she is Lawful Good.
    Dulphia is a Telphion noble and third in command of the Indigo Knighthood.  She is very much a believer in knightly virtues, but her personality has some... problems.  Primarily, she is a natural sadist and has a tendency toward tough love in her interactions with subordinates.  She also joined the Knights pretty much since she didn't want to get married to some random aristocratic scumbag and because going into battle lets her get the sadistic tendencies out of her system.    Her alignment would probably be Lawful Neutral, like Judar, but it should be noted that her fighting style is that of a fight-focused paladin (light element sword enchantments, power against monsters and undead).  She is only permanently recruited near to the endgame, and this makes it impossible to get full use out of her... but to be honest, this game has too many light-element mages and fighters already, so I only used her against regular monsters.
    Lilika is the main heroine of the story, a Grasestian noble who, due to exposure to dark miasma in the past, is forced to live most of her days with her soul attached to a flying mechanical doll whose technology is based off of the Madou Koukaku magitech concept.  She is a sweet-natured but determined girl who has a lot of the positive elements of aristocratic upbringing without the negatives.  She is also a skilled researcher of divine magic, magitech, and ancient languages.  She wields holy magic based off of the Blue Moon Goddess Luscion,  which is the most effective light magic in the game by far.  She can also cast healing and support spells, making her the closest thing you'll have to a true cleric.  She is Lawful Good by nature.
    After playing this game, my basic impression is that, while the story segments that exist are excellent, it is too sparsely spaced out through each chapter, due to the inevitable grinding of a dungeon crawler.  While I say 'inevitable grinding', it should be noted that it isn't grinding for levels... it is grinding for items to make money off of to upgrade skill levels, buy back weapons, or just in general for any of a number of purposes.  I found that the only item I used regularly after the first few chapters was the container item Gladiator's Bird, which can be used to store Gladiator's Wings, which restore skill uses.  One-use items are not something I found myself using on a regular basis.  Instead, I tended to rely on healing magic and just not getting seriously damaged by enemies.  Levels generally come to match the enemies around you or pass them slightly just by winning every symbol encounter and regular encounter on your way through each level of the Black Caverns. 
    Like a lot of Eushully's more recent titles, this game makes a number of major mistakes, the most annoying of which is the simple fact that gameplay has too strong of a grinding element without an accompanying 'reward' element.  Rewards from grinding are generally meager, outside of first trips through a given dungeon.  I only started seeing good drops in the final dungeon, where I was getting the ultimate female stat-boosting accessories on a rate of one for every other random encounter.  The story itself is not layered on heavily, and it is hard to find some of the heroines' events without a guide, which is a huge problem, since that meant I never did get rid of Yureeshya's negative skill (she has a very small window to see her events that lead to this occurring, and it requires you to do something counterintuitive).  Ekthel, for instance, needs you to occasionally sleep while she is not a member of the party to progress her events (because she shows other sides of herself away from you). 
    I'm also pretty sure I completely missed the extra events for the high-level courtesan, Atelyla, and she was a pretty intriguing character I never really got a full grasp of.  I'm also pretty sure I missed out on non-H events related to Lucilla, the brothel owner in the lower city. 
    One thing that seriously annoyed me about this game is that it is completely linear... there is no room for altering the ending or picking someone other than Lilika.  I would have appreciated a full-on Fleurety ending, just for the fun of it. 
    In conclusion, this was a reasonably fun game, and it is probably the best one from this particular writer.  However, it has a number of glaring flaws that keep it from reaching its full potential. 
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