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Blog Entries posted by Clephas

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

  13. Clephas
    This is perhaps one of the few games from my first five years playing untranslated VNs that isn't a chuunige that I remembered vividly.  I decided to pick this up again because I wanted some good catharsis, and I was tired of waiting for Mangagamer to get off their butts and actually release this. 
    Boku ga Tenshi ni Natta wake is what is called a 'soft utsuge', in the sense that there are no good endings but it focuses more on the bittersweet sorrow rather than the absolute despair of a 'hard utsuge' like Houkago no Futekikakusha.  Each of the first three heroines has a bad and a normal ending, and no matter what you choose, darkness awaits.  The fourth heroine, the angel Aine, is the true heroine and only has one ending (the true ending) which is also bittersweet, though there is some sense of salvation for the protagonist, albeit at a price. 
    The first three heroines are the aggressively helpful osananajimi (who is the only one of the heroines who knows his past) Naruko, the soft-mannered but somehow gloomy Yuri, and the standoffish Minamo.  Thankfully, only Naruko falls into an archetypical role (osananajimi characters have a very limited range of roles), which is nice for someone looking for something with unusual heroines. 
    This game focuses on a sort of tug of war between the apparently apathetic Kirinokojima Tomoe, who actively loathes romance in general, and the optimistic clumsy angel Aine, who believes in romance as the ultimate force for human happiness with all her heart.  Tomoe is kind-hearted under his apparently apathetic exterior, inevitably caring about what happens to the people Aine wants to help, but his belief that romance only brings suffering and is a force for evil in the world is so strong that he is constantly wavering on whether to go along with Aine or not.  This conflict, though it is not one born of malice, defines the main storyline, as the characters worry about what is best for the people involved.
    The first six chapters of the game are the common route, and each chapter covers a different romantic mess that draws Aine's attention.  These messes are never simple nor easily resolved, and regardless of which path Tomoe chooses in the end, nothing turns out perfectly.  The seventh chapter covers the heroine routes, which are much more intimate and have an impact that quite naturally surpasses that of the arcs of the common route.
    I advise anyone who plays this game to play Naruko's route third, regardless of which of the other two paths you do first.  I say this because Aine's (the true path) splits off immediately before you would otherwise head into Naruko's route... 
    Yuri's route is pretty... sick-minded.  Sorry, the writer of this game probably has a serious mental illness, and I shouldn't be insensitive about it, lol.  Anyway, there are hints of what Yuri's conflict is in the common route, but it escalates rapidly once you actually get to her route and her personal issues are laid bare.  Tbh, Yuri's route is the most horrifying of the initial three routes for reasons that become obvious to anyone who plays it, and I wept at the normal ending and was somewhat disgusted at the bad ending (both times). 
    Minamo's route is a bit less psychotic than Yuri's... but in exchange, the issues are more 'worldly' and familiar to the average reader.  The central conflict involves Minamo's work as an idol and a combination of her past issues, family issues, and the inevitable problems of a celebrity in Japan getting involved romantically with someone else.  While this path is milder than Yuri's, it is a lot easier to empathize with, and it also epitomizes Tomoe's nature to a greater degree than the other two paths. 
    I didn't bother with the bad ending this time, instead going for just the normal one.  The normal ending is bittersweet and strikes me as the ending that most fits Tomoe's personality outside of the true ending.  It is sad, though.
    This is by far my least favorite path in the game, though it isn't just because I dislike osananajimi paths.  I won't go deep into why I didn't like this path either time I played it, because I don't want to spoil anything important, but I will go ahead and cover the spoiler-free issues.  This path is the only one of the first three paths that actually touches upon the reason for Tomoe's apathetic/asexual personality, and it also is the only one that touches upon the truth of what the angels work is.  As such, it is absolutely vital that you play it before the true route even if you want to go straight to it, since the explanation isn't repeated in the true route.  Moreover, Naruko's route's normal ending serves as an example of the game's true central conflict that is vital for understanding the true route.
    True Route
    What can I say about the true route/Aine route?  It is by far the best path in the game (though the ending is still deeply bittersweet), and after you finish it, there is a sense of salvation for Tomoe that doesn't exist in any of the other paths.  I say a sense of salvation, but it is salvation at a cost, as is typical of every blessing any character in this game experiences.  This path reveals the fullness of why Tomoe hates himself to the point where he rejects all possibility of happiness for himself, and, to be honest, I replayed the rest of the paths solely so I could re-experience the heart-jerking events of this route in the same manner I did the first time. 
    I can recommend this to someone who wants catharsis and doesn't mind a darker atmosphere than you would see in a nakige.  It is also something I can recommend to utsuge lovers (if you liked Swan Song for the emotional elements, there is a good chance you'll like this).  I do not recommend this for people who want undiluted happy endings.
  14. Clephas
    Originally, when this game came out, I bought it, played the first part of the prologue, facepalmed over the protagonist's actions, then dropped it.  I still don't think that choice was a mistake, even now.  That's not to say this is not an excellent game (it is), but the fact is that Kouki being a total doofus at times is annoying as hell. 
    This game is split into two parts, Sorceress and Alive.  The two parts have significantly different story progression and outcomes, and it would be safe to say that Sorceress is a different game from Alive in many ways.  Sorceress can be called a 'combat sport charage', as it focuses primarily on the heroines, romance, SOL, and the Rave tournament.  This in itself is quite an enjoyable example of the sub-genre, though the gap between Kouki in his 'strategist mode' and his 'dense doofus mode' is startling at times. 
    Alive is more of a plotge with chuunige elements (I've had people describe it as a chuunige, but it doesn't have most of the major qualities of one).  The story there is darker and much denser, showing sides of the various characters you can't see in Sorceress.  Though, tbh, it is bound pretty tightly to some tropes familiar to most otakus. 
    The heroines are Azuria, Akina, Yuzuriha, Miya, and Riri.  Riri only has an ending in Alive, but she does play a role in both parts of the game. 
    Azuria is your typical mother-like oneesan character... with the classic physical features to go along with it.  Of the five, I think she has the strongest personality second only to Yuzuriha, who is intense behind her calm appearance.   She wields earth magic, which she uses mostly in a defensive manner at first (though she does expand her repertoire).
    Akina is your typical 'fire magic tsundere'.  To be honest, there really isn't any need to explain her further if you've seen any number of anime tsunderes with fire magic.  They all act the same way and are equally predictable.  Her relationship with Kouki ends up somewhat like that of Yuuji and Shana in Shakugan no Shana (the first half of the season) in some ways.
    Yuzuriha is the quiet bullied girl of the group.  She uses ice magic, and her manner seems to reflect this...  However, she is probably the most passionate and loving of them all by several degrees.  Her relationship with Kouki has a rather larger portion of psychological dependence than the other paths, but I still think of her as the strongest personality of the group.
    Miya is the apparent 'imouto' character, constantly clinging to the protagonist, always with a mischievous smile on her face.  While there are definitely hidden depths to her personality, it is somewhat hard to get at them early on.  She wields wind magic, which reflects her (apparent) whimsical nature.
    Riri... is your typical arrogant tsundere ojousama, with fight-loving traits blended in.  To be honest, she has the least amount of character development, so I have to say I think she got gypped.  That said, she is a great rival for the Sorceress part of the game, and a wielder of darkness magic.
    An important character to keep in mind is Yuumi, who is the most powerful mage in the school, a wielder of light magic that dominates her opponents easily.  Her personality is apparently hedonistic and driven by the whimsy of the moment.  She also is extremely lazy.
    I'll state here again that Sorceress is basically a charage with battle elements tacked on.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The 'working together to win the tournament' element provides an excellent reason for the protagonist to get close to the heroines despite his original meeting with Akina, and the actual individual story progression is quite good.
    However, except for Yuzuriha's ending, the character endings were somewhat disappointing in comparison with the deeper character development of the common route and the drama of their individual routes.  This is understandable in retrospect, if you've played Alive, but it was still irritating.  Considering how much the romance of the paths built up the characters' dreams for the future, the lack of a 'significantly after' factor to the endings was disappointing.
    The action in this game in general is about the same as a low-end chuunige (reasonable action, low on descriptions of what happened...). 
    Alive is a far darker story, which strips away the veil hiding the nature of the Queendom (females are dominant due to a low rate of male births), and there is a lot of death and destruction...  For those who loved the characters in Sorceress, Alive can be painful at times, though the catharsis is pretty decent, especially in the middle and later parts of the story. 
    To be honest, due to the structure of this game, it is really, really hard not to spoil anything important.  So, I'll just say that the story is good... for what it is.  It is not terribly unpredictable (though I imagine some will think there is a light mindfuck in there), and the twists were rather obvious.  However, for what it is, it is enjoyable. 
    That said, it isn't without a few severe flaws endemic to its structure.  Alive is essentially a single path with seven endings (one normal, five good, and one true).  As a result, there is little effort to give further life to such characters as Riri or Yuumi (until near the end), and I was immensely disappointed with how the endings were handled... in particularly the true ending.
    While the five main girls all have a 'years after' ending, the lack of a harem ending (I'm not joking) after making all the girls fall in love with him (not kidding) is just ridiculous.  In addition, the true ending fell flat... yes, it was nice in an abstract sense, but for someone who read through the last part of the main path on the edge of his seat, I had to wonder what the writer was thinking.  While it does bring tears to the eyes somewhat, there were at least a half-dozen ways it could have been easily turned into a bawling tear-jerker final scene that would have had all the readers dribbling snot and going through whole tissue boxes.  This lack  of a satisfying catharsis to top off the game was a somewhat flat ending to an otherwise excellent game.
  15. Clephas
    As I'm currently playing Sorceress Alive and have played numerous Digination games in recent years, I thought I'd talk about my thoughts on the company and its subsidiaries. 
    My first thought is that the company is both aggressively pushing the current boundaries of the industry fanbase while also regressing into an older time.  When I first expressed this thought to a friend of mine, he asked me if I was crazy... but this is how I explained my thoughts to him.
    While charage/moege have always dominated the non-nukige part of the VN industry (since the turn of the century, anyway), there have been times when the percentage of such games to other games has leaned toward more variance.  This last year and a half has been very much such a period, and the period between 2004-2008 was another such period.  In these periods, less 'genre-bound' games have been released in larger amounts than is common in what I call the periods of stagnation (2008-2010, 2012-2017).  Common genres often named are charage/moege, chuunige, nakige, utsuge, and plotge.  While these should be merely generalized 'umbrellas' under which games fall, during the periods of stagnation, there is far less blending between the genres.  Chuunige are chuunige with little or no SOL, charage/moege are entirely SOL-romance focused, nakige go for your tears from beginning to end, etc, etc...  The current period is one where we are seeing more genre blending and the resurrection of genres that were mostly dead until recently (mystery, psychedelic, etc). 
    I first noticed the trend was changing (as well as the number of non-nukige being produced overall going down) when Navel released Kimi to Mezameru, Ikutsuka no Houhou, a peculiar blending of genres (mystery, sci-fi, chuunige, nakige, SOL) that was unusual in my experience when coming from a frontline charage company like Navel (though they have at times produced more plot-heavy games like Tsuki ni Yorisou, Otome no Sahou).  However, Digination was already digging into this back in 2016, albeit in the form of the 'close but not quite there' Shinsou Noise.
    I'm uncertain whether Digination has succeeded because it happened to start producing this type of game when the market's hunger for more varied genre-blends was rising or because it was doing something a newer generation of VN fans had yet to experience.  However, soon they had begun putting out genre-blending and unique titles at a rate I found somewhat surprising, though not all of their games appeal to me.  Sorceress Alive, for instance, is hard to get past the first part of the prologue, because the protagonist is somewhat of a doofus when he lets his enthusiasm take over.  I actually had to come back after dropping Raillore no Ryakudatsusha to be able to be able to appreciate its better points, lol.
    Missing X-link told me this company, owned by DMM, is serious about making its mark on the industry, because it was both ambitious and highly emotional in a way I found fascinating... though I also found their choice to use the ladder-style structure to be frustrating, since many of the side-heroines are as interesting or moreso than the mains.  However, Digination strikes me as a company that is willing to experiment to a degree that most other companies are wary of even considering.  I find in this company a gleam of hope for the future of VNs in general, though it will take more than a single company pioneering the way to drag the industry out of its sludge-filled ruts.
  16. Clephas
    I love my cat.
    Let’s get that out of the way from the beginning. Even though she is gone, as of today, I have never, for one moment, believed that I would ever stop loving her. For seventeen years and eight months, this calico wonder has made her home in my heart, never failing to wrap me around her paw and jerk me around by my heart strings.
    As the undisputed mistress of all she surveyed (all eleven rooms and corridors of it), she has dominated the lives and conversation of our family for almost long enough for a child to have graduated from high school. In a very real sense, she was one of the most important pillars of our family, and her presence both lightened the atmosphere and gave us something to talk about even in the darkest of times.
    My cat loved people… primarily because she knew a few stares and quiet nuzzles could get any given person to pet her or give her what she believed she wanted at any given moment. She liked being with people, even if it was just in the same room, completely ignoring one another (incidentally, her favorite game).
    In her youth, distant as that is to me now, she was a rambunctious and hyperactive ball of calico fluff, her medium-length fur usually disheveled from one event or another until she chose to let us smooth it out. When we got saltillo tile on the first floor, she could be found with red dust on her belly constantly until it was sealed. When new carpet was put into the master bathroom, she was the first to roll on the floor, and when new furniture was brought into the house, she was always the first to ‘test’ it. Heck, I couldn’t keep her out of my computer chair when I wasn’t sitting in it.
    As she grew older, she retained many of her kitten-ish traits, being enthusiastic and affectionate to often extreme degrees, given our previous experiences with cats. She purred loudly, meowed insistently, ran at ridiculous speeds only to slam into walls, and generally made us laugh and smile.
    When we went out of town, she always made her displeasure known upon our return.
    She was an inside cat, mostly by our choice. While she enjoyed short periods outdoors, she could generally be trusted to want back in whenever her slaves decided to go back in, due to an incident with a coyote in her misspent (I can hear her indignant meow at the thought of her time ever being misspent in my head, even now) youth. If her life was a somewhat boring one by feline standards, she made up for it by being loved and lovable in general.
    When she first became ill, over a year ago, I had my first close encounter with absolute panic. The cat, as we always referred to her (subcontext: Empress) as being, was listless, had lost her appetite, and she had, for some reason, decided that my sink was her new home.
    We took her to the vet, where she was diagnosed as having thyroid problems, as is typical in elderly cats (as she was by this time). We began giving her medicine on a daily basis, and for some time, she was doing relatively better, even if she never quite regained the spunk and vigor of the now-lost past.
    However, a month ago, what vigor had returned to her was rapidly lost. She gradually ceased to eat, began to have bowel problems… and she began to starve to death. The only time she seemed happy was when she was sleeping on one of us, being lightly caressed, comforting herself with her own purrs.
    It was with a heavy heart that we listened to the vet start speaking of quality of life, a typical speech made whenever a loved one nears death… and, our hearts already broken, we eventually assented to euthanasia.
    Less than five hours later, I don’t know if it was the right choice. Was it a mercy, an act of love? Was it a betrayal of the absolute trust one can only gain from an animal when that pet is treated as family? Or was it something in between… I can never know. While I understood many things about my cat, I will never know what she thought on this, her last day, what she felt toward us as she went into the final sleep.
    I will never know. There are so many things about that last day that I will never know. I feel my heart breaking all over again as I write this. I feel the empty feeling of loss. The standard words are no comfort. The euphemisms and trite words of comfort that come out of people’s mouths at times like this feel like excuses and obfuscations. The bitter flavor of grief sours food in my mouth and makes the world a darker place.
    I can’t even make the excuse that she wouldn’t want me to grieve for her… because she is a cat, and no cat would ever miss out on a chance to be the center of attention.
  17. Clephas
    Let us speak of another world.
     我々とは森羅万象の法則が異なる世界、 違うものたちが生きる世界のことを。
    A world where the laws of creation differ from our own.  A world where beings different from us live.
    When that world was born, that world contained nothing but the void.
    Since nothing existed nothing happened.  No matter how many tens of thousands of years passed, that world continued unchanged.
    Eventually, coincidentally, a being that could be called a 'god' was born there.
    God had the ability to control the world as he saw fit.
    God bewailed that his world was empty and, in order to turn the void into existence, chose to use his power.
    God began by splitting the world into two parts.
    One part was the 'heavens' he existed in and the other was the 'earth' he ruled over.
    God called the heavens the Land of Blessings and the land Goltrok, and he created the sky to exist between them.
    Next, God gave Goltrok foliage, water, and living things.
    However, since he hadn't given 'death' along with life to them, the foliage filled the land and rose to the skies, living things increased to the point where the earth began to quiver, making the earth a horrible thing to look upon.
     神は嘆き、彼らに“死”を与えることにした。 そして死を与えるという重要な役割を負わせるために、神は自らの存在も二つに分かつことにした。
    God bewailed this and chose to give them 'death'.  And so, in order to give the important role of giving death to life, he split himself into two.
    At this point, God, split into two beings, came to have a name.
     生を司る神エル・アギアス。 死を司る神ヘルダイス。
    The god that ruled life became El Agias, the god who ruled death became Helldais.
    The two deities continued to infinitely give the land life and death.
    Eventually, there arose those amongst the creatures of the land who had intelligence, walked on two feet, and used tools... it was the birth of humans and demi-humans.
    Humans and demi-humans cooperated to make the world a better place.
    However, within a few centuries of the rise of the humanoid races, the God of Death, Helldais, slowly began to go mad.
    Due to their intelligence, the humanoids possessed an attachment to 'life' that far surpassed the imagination of the gods.
    The regrets of the dead he touched every time he gave death drove Helldais mad, and this eventually caused him to hate El Agias.
    And so, finally the war of the gods began.
    The two gods used magic and the divine weapons, Trobrahm to try to deny the other's existence, indulging in an infinite cycle of mutual slaughter.
    At the moment the gods began to fight, the humans and demihumans, almost as if they were influenced by the godswar, began to fight for control of Goltrok.
    A time that seemed infinite in its length passed...
    And the long war between the gods came to an end.
    The defeated Helldais's name was stripped from him, and he was exiled from the heavens, causing him to fall to the earth.
    El Agias created the Death Spirit Slaidbass, a spirit without emotions, to give the earth death.
    The thing that had once been a god, fallen to the earth, began to think with its rotten brain.
     ――生を憎め。 ――生を受けたもの全てを憎め。 ――生を謳歌するもの全てに等しく死を与えんことを。
    --- Hate life.  ---- Hate all things that live.  --- Give death to all things that have life.
    --- I am the King of Undeath.
    This was the birth of the 'King of Undeath'.
    He used 'Necromancy', and, obedient to the thoughts of his hollow spirit, created many zombie servants.  (Clephas note: Just easier to call it Necromancy rather than saying 'He used techniques that controlled corpses')
    Villages, cities, and countries fell into ruin.
     屍兵が大国を滅ぼせば、大国の民たちも屍兵と化した。 屍兵が巨人の集落を襲えば、巨人たちの屍が歩き出した。
    When zombies destroyed a great nation, the great nation's citizens became zombies.  If zombies destroyed a settlement of Giants, the corpses of the giants strode forth.
    When it was almost too late, those dwelling upon the earth finally realized what was happening.
    That if they didn't defeat the Undead King, the world itself would die.
    All the people of the world--- humans and demihumans alike, came together to form the Goltrok Army, in order to fight the armies of the Undead King.
    However, the Goltrok Army quickly began to lose ground to the zombies, for they continued to fight day and night unless their heads were not destroyed.
    (at this point, the dialogue shifts to vicariously echoing the people of the time)
    'Is there no way?'
    The area around the Undead King's frozen castle is protected by a near-infinite number of zombies, and even Giants and transformed dragonewts would have to beg God for a miracle to arrive at its walls.
     偉大なる神エル・アギアスはおられぬのか。 崇高なる存在エル・アギアスは我らを見捨てられたのか。
    Is the great god El Agias no longer present in the heavens?  Has the divine El Agias abandoned us?
    As all that lived upon the earth bewailed their fates, nine mages appeared at the frontline fortress city of Garey.
    They called themselves a group of mages from the first country to be destroyed by the Undead King and bestowed upon the people a single hope.
    'Using our magic, we can send heroes to the foot to our homeland, at the foot of the Undead King's castle.'
     だがその魔法は一人の魔法使いにつき、たった一度きり。 即ち、九人の魔法使いによって送ることのできる戦士はわずか九人。
    However, that magic could only be used once per mage.  In other words, the nine mages could only transport nine heroes.
    After considering for a time, the Goltrok Army selected warriors from eight races that possessed the largest military power at the time.
     人間からエイベル・スカイウォーカー。 エルフからフュール・サングマイン。 ドワーフからゴットロープ・ラナチウム。 オークからラッカロコ・ライターン。
    From the Humans: Abel Skywalker.  From the Elves: Karafyur Sangmainn.  From the Dwarves, Goltrope Ranaschium. From the Orcs: Raccaroko Rytan.
     ジャイアントからワイズマン。 ゴブリンからサブル・ハブル。 リザードマンからジル・レ・シャドウフィールド。
    From the Giants: Wiseman.  From the Goblins: Sable Habble.  From the Lizardmen, Jil Le Shadowfield. 
     ドラゴニュートから、 イングリッド・フォルテンマイヤー。
    And from the Dragonewts: Ingrid Fortenmeyer.
    And, last of all, an attendant, tasked with assisting the Eight, was chosen.
    The heroes were transported in an instant to a spot next to the Undead King's castle, Valtran.
     されど。 九人の眼前に立ちはだかるのは、『不死の王を護る』という命令だけに従う、屍兵の軍勢。
    However, what stood before the Nine was an army of zombies obeying only a single order... 'Protect the Undead King.' 
    Their numbers, around one hundred thousand.
    Here began the fight to determine the fates of all of Goltrok's people... a war between nine and one hundred thousand.
    The heroes fearlessly struck down flesh-less zombies atop rotting horses.
    The Nine used powerful weapons, great magics, iron will, and brilliant strategems to break down the army of one hundred thousand, breaking through the fortress walls, and they finally made their way to the foot of the Undead King's throne.
    However, even for the seemingly invincible heroes, the fight with the Undead King reached the peaks of ferocity.
    No matter how many times they cut at him with holy swords, burned him with magic, sliced him open, or froze his flesh, they could not destroy the Undead King.
    From the beginning, the Undead King was a god who only gave 'death' to others, and he was not a being that could be given 'death' himself.
     誰かが神に祈り、 誰かが膝を屈しそうになったその時、
    At the moment when one prayed and another was about to fall to his knees...
     不死の王の前に一人の男が進み出た。 これまで八人に付き従ってきた従者だった。
    A single man walked out before the Undead King.  It was the attendant who had, up until this moment, followed the eight heroes.
    The attendant began to chant the words to a spell he himself did not know.
     魔法の名は“神の降臨サモン・ゴッド”。 選ばれし者にしか詠唱できない、屈指の大魔法。
    The name of the spell was 'Summon God', a Grand Magic that could only be chanted by one chosen.
    At this moment, the attendant was given to know that the Undead King was a being that gave death to others while not knowing it himself.  As such, he could not be destroyed by normal means.
     滅ぼす方法はただ一つ。 死を知る者の躯の中に不死の王を召喚すること。
    There was only one way to kill him.  He had to be summoned into the body of one who knew death.
    In other words, forcing the experience of death upon one who knew it not.
     そして。 神はそのために九人の中から自分を選んだのだということも。
    And he also came to know that it was for that very reason that he had been selected from amongst the Nine.
    The attendant confessed this reality to his former mistress Ingrid and asked her to destroy him along with the Undead King.
    Ingrid refused at first, but, in response to her attendant's please, she thrust her holy sword through his body.
    So it was that the Undead King came to know 'death' and was destroyed.
     彼が滅んだ途端、屍兵たちも塵へと還った。 朽ちた大地に再び草木が芽生え、穢れた水は清らかさを、瘴気に病んだ風は生気を取り戻した。
    At the moment of his death, the zombies turned to dust, the withered land began to bloom once again, the tainted water was cleansed, and the wind was cleansed of miasma.
     大地を再び生者の手に取り戻したのだ。 人々は歓喜し、八人を英雄として褒め称えた。
    The land was reclaimed by the living.  The people yelled in joy, praising the Eight as heroes.
    And, as a reward for having defeated the Undead King despite their own mortality, the great god El Agias bestowed upon them the Sacred Crest.
    The Sacred Crest is the proof of heroism, to be passed down through the generations.
    This is so the Eight Heroes will continue to be told of in stories for eternity.
    This Sacred Crest is a miracle I bestow upon you.  A proof that all that lives fought against a great evil.
    In order to show this, I bestow upon the inheritors of this Sacred Crest an immense power.
    And so it was that the story of the Eight Heroes, destined to be carved into history for eternity, was born.
  18. Clephas
    Kazuki Fumi and Silky's Plus Wasabi's newest game has arrived.  This is the third game in the series that began with Nanairo Reincarnation.  I will say this outright from the beginning... this game isn't as good as either Akeiro or Nanairo.  It does have its high points, but it needs to be noted that this is not on the same level as the previous two games.
    This game uses the Emote system heavily, with the sole heroine (Annelise) being extremely 'animated' (think constantly swaying boobs) to a degree I haven't even seen in other games that utilize this system.  Similar to the other games in the series, this game has excellent artwork that differs from most other Japanese VNs. 
    The music in this game isn't as good as Akeiro's or Nanairo Reincarnation's was.  To be blunt, in both the previous games, the music played a strong role in making the game what it was, and the music direction (when to use what BGM) was on the highest levels I've seen in the VN industry.  Unfortunately, this game falls far short of either of those two in this area, with a much weaker set of BGMs.
    The game focuses around the protagonist's efforts to solve the mystery behind the mass suicide of the denizens of an apartment in the same town Nanairo Reincarnation was based in.  Based on what is said in-game, the canon path that reaches to this game is Kotori's path in Nanairo and Youko's path (the Tsukihime-style normal ending) in Akeiro.  Also, based on certain 'events', it is apparent that around two decades have passed since the events in Nanairo, for reasons that will become rather obvious early in the game (in other words, play Nanairo and Akeiro first if you don't want to be spoiled). 
    To be blunt, this game has a much tighter focus on the mystery element than either of the previous games, with less immediate sentimentality and more confrontation with the dead people 'living' in the apartments.  In addition, Anne's constant advances help it retain the goofiness that was present in both the previous games. 
    This game has multiple endings, but I chose to only play the true one, as I figured (and I was right) that it would have the best possible result for everyone involved.  Of course, when everyone besides the protagonist is dead or inhuman, that can be somewhat bittersweet.
    If you were to ask me whether it was worth crying over what happened in this game, I would say yes... in particular, I cried for Kanon and Akira (two of the victims), as their lives and final deaths were the most tragic and their natures (surprising in the case of Akira) were the least inimical to others. 
    The true ending is definitely a tear-jerker...though it doesn't pull the tears out of me to the degree that either of the previous games did.  Part of this is that both Akeiro and Nanairo are long games with extensive, detailed, and deep character development and superb presentation. 
    The other part is that, while I predicted the truth behind what happened about two-thirds of the way through, I found that the mystery 'investigation' system crippled the game's ability to draw me in and keep me in.  To be blunt, if a game only has a single heroine, I only want minimal choices to be present, and I certainly don't want to have to deal with this kind of gameplay.  The gameplay is too perfunctory to be enjoyable, and it is too intrusive and intrinsic to the game as a whole for the reader to be able to stay fully engrossed in the experience.
    In conclusion, this is a game where the concept was good and the staff was first class, but where the attempts to be clever (such as with the gameplay system) fell flat.  It is still a reasonably high-level game, but, considering what Kazuki Fumi has managed to do in the past with this universe, I can't help but feel it could have been handled better.
  19. Clephas
    This scene is the opening of Silverio Vendetta, and the two monologues (one from Zephyr, one from a spoiler character who isn't named in the scene) define the nature of the game's theme.
    What is victory?
    What is glory?
    I choose that path, will I be able to live without losing anything?
    Can I save what is mine?  Can I protect it?  Can I really find happiness?
    I ask this earnestly.  For victory is by nature frightening to me.  I know the poisoned fangs hidden within its glorious light better than anyone.
    Honors that leave capability in the dust, more money than one can spend, success that can't help but be noticed...  Those things can't help but cause the holder suffering the moment they overdose upon them.
    In other words, it is a reaction.
    Amongst the more obvious would be jealousy from the defeated, the price of fame, the public's view differing from reality, and unfounded rumors and expectations.  The more extreme end can even go to death threats, worship, blackmail, etc...
    Whether it is malice or berserk good will, they are both terrifying.
    At times, that even becomes a suffering far more terrible than simple defeat, and it can even become the cause of utter ruin.
    It is the same as losing your family as the cost for succeeding in business.  It's counterproductive.
    It is an absolute truth that there are times when it is best to consider allowing defeat or showing humility. 
    Of course, I'm not saying 'don't win'.  Anyone who says that is a total idiot and is blind to reality.
    Humans... no all living things regardless of origin seek a victorious result.  That way of being is perfectly natural and a matter of course.  It is truly rare that victory is unadulterated.  In the first place, if you are always on the losing side, it is hard to even live, and the world isn't so kind as to infinitely forgive the defeated. 
    That's why the ideal is to seek victories one is capable of handling and defeats one is capable of accepting.  I can't help but believe that the key to living a full life is acting while keeping an eye on that thin line. 
    'Rather than suffering a terrible defeat as the result of pursuing a great dream, it is much smarter and less painful to avoid challenging your limits and be satisfied with minor victories and losses...'
    That's the nauseating thought process of the weak, but there are a lot of people out there who talk this way... and I am one of them.
    卑小? 凡人? そうだな、指摘されてもその通り。自分自身でよく分かっているよ。予め負けた時のために予防線を張っているだけだろうと誹られても、まったく、ぐうの音も出ない
    Pathetic?  Mediocre?  Yes, what you are saying is correct.  I know that very well.  Even if you say I'm just making excuses for the time I lose in advance, I can't refute you. 
    That's right, I'm a pathetic man.
    Whether as a person or a man, I am only capable of so much.
    I live without any real ideals or convictions, an opportunist who is quite satisfied as long as he can make enough money to live day by day.
    I'm passive as well as pessimistic.  To sum me up in a single word... pathetic.
    Still, if you'll let me make one excuse, I would like to report on the life I lived until I came to this realization.
    I didn't end up this way because I kept losing but rather because of an unwanted set of victories.
    That's right... nothing good comes of winning.
    Without fail, the next, much larger tribulation follows it up.
    That might seem like some kind of joke... but it was an absolute truth for me.
    Really, oh really... every time, always, always always...
    Whether an enemy, a mission, a difficult question, or a competition, achieving victory fails to improve the situation.  Moreover, I found myself facing similar situations at escalating levels of difficulty.  Seriously, what's with that?
    The moment I won by running myself ragged, an even worse problem would always, without exception, pop up before me.
    The moment I came out victorious, puking blood, another great enemy would appear before me.
    It was almost as if the contents of fate's treasure box were scattered before me.  Problems, enemies, and every tribulation you could possibly imagine welling forth endlessly... the duty a victor must bear.
    Is the world saying that, since I won, since I achieved glory that proceeding to the next stage is a matter of course, and I have to throw myself into a more fitting conflict?
    それが勝者の宿命だから? ふざけろよ、こんな馬鹿げた話があるか
    Because that is the duty of a victor?  Screw that!  Can there be anything more idiotic than this?!
    Everyone seeks victory and glory to make their present better, but for some reason, in my case, that just strangles me.  You can't call that anything other than absurdity.
    And of course, since I'm just a normal person, I lose as well.  No, it was actually more common for me to be crawling the earth, helpless.
    There was a time when, because I didn't like that, I took the unfamiliar path of working hard.
    However, if I won, I was doomed to face the next tribulation.  It was a hellish existence I was incapable of escaping.  I felt like I was going to go mad.
    Placed into that kind of situation, the human heart isn't so strong as to be able to maintain an indomitable will.
    And so, I decided I had enough, exhausted.
    I chose to live going with the flow.
    Though I hated it, I even accepted the fact that I was worthless trash.
    Yest still, I found a girl I had to protect.
    I vowed to use this pathetic life to save her.  For that reason, I forced myself to stand and go forth once again.
    It was a once in a lifetime, final gamble... and for some reason I won...
    And I achieved yet another terrible victory.
    I foolishly failed to realize that that was doomed to transform into a one-way trip to hell...
    (at this point, it changes narrators from Zephyr to another)
    The grim reaper is called forth.  Trials and tribulations beyond my ability to handle arrive.
    Protecting her to the end is absolutely impossible.  He will never become a true victor.
    What comes is another enemy, another misfortune, another tribulation, another ruin.
    The future he thought he'd reached continues to move forward, eaten away by darkness.
    Rather, the miracle he managed to create becomes fuel for another challenge, turning the wheels of fate.
    That is the nature of a 'counterattack'.
    As it is a concept that exists through the weak destroying the strong, if the glory of victory is achieved, the right to use it is lost.
    ... He is an eternal loser, the cursed silver werewolf.
    The gaunt evil beast who crushes all enemies in its great jaws while howling its despair from the depths of defeat.
    He continues to struggle, even though he knows that the next hunter will be even more terrible than the last, unable to escape his destiny.
    It is impossible to escape from victory.
    It is impossible to escape from victory.
    It is impossible to escape from victory.
    ... now, what will you do?
  20. Clephas
    Usually, I focus mostly on the perspective of a consumer when I write in this blog.  I do this because I am and always have been primarily a consumer of material rather than a creator.  However, that doesn't mean I've never created anything... just that I haven't published anything (well, under my own name... ghost writing doesn't count) since some early fiction on Deviantart over a decade ago. 
    So, since I'm not writing as many reviews, I chose to start a small corner describing the techniques I use when I'm writing fiction (which I still do as a hobby, though I stopped posting it after the last site I posted massively on went under).
    Today's corner is about the techniques I use when creating a character (usually the protagonist and his immediate surrounding characters, as well as the antagonist) in the brainstorming process.  There are two types I use... the flow of thought type and the 'important points' type.
    The flow of thoughts (similar to flow of consciousness style of writing) involves simply writing out all the qualities, the basic history, and abilities/talents/weaknesses of a character as they occur to you in prose form.  This is very similar to the character summaries given on official websites, but in much more detail, with specific important points (to you) described in detail.  Immediately after I complete this process, I ink out the setting (I usually create a setting in parallel to the characters) and then I start the 'sculpting' process.  The sculpting process involves slowly shaving away or altering parts of the character that don't quite fit with the full setting, are excessive (it is easy to make fantasy protagonists over-powered, for instance), or just don't seem to be internally consistent in retrospect.  The final step is to try to write an intro scene for that character that would make sense for that character in the universe you've created, giving you an impression that you can use to form their role in a story.
    The second method I use is more mechanical.  In this case, I write out all the qualities in list form, based on what kind of character I'm interested in making.  I usually use this for side-characters, as it is a much 'dryer' approach.  Essentially, I create Personality, History, Relationships, and Abilities/Talents/Quirks/Weaknesses categories.  Relationships is generally the first category I focus on, connecting their strand of the web to that of the protagonist and/or other characters.  The second is usually either History or Personality.  The reason is that this defines the nature of the Relationships, giving it a more distinct form.  Last is the Abilities/Talents/Quirks/Weaknesses category.  To be blunt, while this is important to their role in the story, it is the aspect that is most likely to be subject to change based on what is necessary to keep the plot going.
    These are the basic techniques I use... to be honest, since I've never been formally educated in creative writing, I don't know how close my methodology is to that which is commonly used, but I find that this works best for me.
  21. Clephas
    Yami to Hikari no Sanctuary is a game made back in 2017 that came very close to being my VN of the Year for that year, for good reason.  Since I've already reviewed this game as a whole once, I'm going to go into more detail about what the catch points are of this game, as opposed to merely assessing it based on a lot of general points.
    A major plus point of this game is the way Alice, the main heroine, often serves as a sounding board to provide the reader with an intellectual understanding of a situation.  Alice, to be frank about it, is a straight-out genius with an incredibly strong will and a pragmatic personality.  Throughout much of the story, she provides the reader with a better understanding of how the upper classes' culture works. 
    How is this important?  It is important because this is one of the few games where people from extremely wealthy backgrounds interact in a non-idealized fashion (in other words, they aren't always straightforward and are willing to trap the characters with their words and actions).  As an example of this, Claudette (one of the four main heroines) is constantly trying to trap Souji into giving her an opening to drag him into a romantic relationship.  The wordplay is often used in a way that those unaccustomed to the customs of old money will find hard to interpret, and it is Alice's early explanations that provide the background to understand the byplay for scenes like this.
    All the little bits of information and explanations that Alice gives along the way provide the reader with a deeper understanding of how the setting works, all without it feeling unnatural, because Alice is defined early on as what is known as an archetypical 'wiseman' character when it comes to social interactions. 
    Souji, on the other hand, is played as a contrast to Alice, as he is both socially inexperienced and seemingly 'normal' in personality... until the first time you get some background dropped on you or you see him fight (it is hard to get this across, but essentially he was trained to see fighting/killing monsters as mere routine work, like getting up in the morning and eating breakfast).  Souji was raised to master 'Izumo Style', a martial art that requires the trainee to literally be trained as an infant (their limbs moved in particular ways even before they can walk) and grants the user incredible physical prowess.  As an early example, without really trying, he can crack titanium body armor with his bare hands.
    There is a rather large contrast between the extended common route/Alice's route and the other three heroine routes (partially because someone different wrote them).  The extended common route/Alice's route is much more serious from beginning to end than the others, where more time is spent on mundane activities.  For those who merely want to experience the story, I recommend just playing Alice's route, and for those who want something milder/more standard, I suggest playing the other heroine routes.
    One thing I need to emphasize is that all the routes are very high-quality... which is something that is hard to do when you split responsibilities between two writers with distinct styles/tendencies.  The consistency (internal consistency) between the routes is not perfect (one of the factors that went into me not picking it for VN of the Year that year), but it is consistent enough that I don't feel that anyone who plays the game will pick up on it without actively nitpicking. 
    The characters in this game are also very well-designed/characterized.  Whether it is the two mains (Souji and Alice), the other heroines (Yuuri, Yurie, and Claudette), or the side characters (Joseph, Kisara, Saika, Noa, Noel, etc), they all have distinctive roles that fit in with their individual character backgrounds and personalities.  In particular, I want to note that Saika (who is also a sub-heroine for a normal ending) has probably the second  most influential position in the VN behind the two main characters (Alice and Souji).  There is literally no path in the game that doesn't feel her influence to some extent, and it is this effective use of side-characters that often defines the difference between a second-rate writer and a first-rate writer.
    One thing that bothered me both times I played this game was that Saika didn't have a separate route of her own.  Yes, she often plays the antagonist, and her excessively manipulative nature makes her a hard fit in some ways for a Japanese visual novel.  However, the degree to which her character is built up in the game made me fall in love with her to a degree that matched any of the main heroines, and it left me wishing the makers of this game had given her a better chance.
    This game could have easily become a chuunige, with a few tweaks, and, in retrospect, I'm somewhat surprised that they didn't go that path, considering the setting.  There are mysteries, a protagonist who is incredibly powerful, influential heroines with strong personalities, and individuals with ambiguous motives galore.  That they didn't go down that road makes me feel somewhat wistful, as I would have liked to see Souji go all-out more than once in the entire VN (there is really only one fight where he goes all the way, and the results are splatter, lol). 
    Despite the often complex content of the story, the language of the narration is surprisingly easy to decipher, though it is definitely harder than the narration found in a charage.  As such, I often find myself recommending it to people who want something serious but are new to playing untranslated visual novels.
    Overall, this game has a lot to offer to someone who likes a lot of interesting details in their settings, while not becoming a game that is entirely dependent on the depth of that setting.  It is also a game with a strong cast of characters and an interesting story... and in the end, that is pretty much all I want out of a visual novel, lol.
  22. Clephas
    Wakaba-iro no Quartet is the latest mimikko VN from Lump of Sugar, a company that has a huge variance in quality from game to game (kamige one time, kusoge the next, lol).  Lump of Sugar has of late  mostly been doing mimikko games, with the Tayutama sequels/FDs and now two newer IPs having come out in the last four years.  Since I love mimikko (it was my first fetish) this is a happy thing for me.
    In the setting of this game, the mimikko come from an isolated mountain nation and are basically considered a genetic variant of humanity that has the ability to transform into animals.  The protagonist of this story, Yuuto is a normal (think standard-issue VN protagonist) perverted young man who lives in an outwardly run-down dorm (inside it is modern and well upkept) with his osananajimi/childhood friend Miyako and his cat (who later turns out to be a mimikko) named Ai.  However, things change for him when a young princess from the mimikko nation named Sophia transfers into his school and a girl named Hiyori confesses her love for him and asks to become his maid at the same time (yes, that was a wtf moment, but it was funny).  Soon after, Sophia comes to live at the dorm (right after Hiyori does) and Ai is outed as a human being, resulting in all four heroines living under the same roof with the protagonist.
    Now, I'm going to say this straight up... I never had any intention of playing the non-mimikko routes in this game.  I like Miyako and Hiyori, but my love of mimikko means that they could only disappoint in comparison, even if their routes were better, lol.
    The common route of this game is the usual LoS mix of cute and mild hilarity (Ai is probably the single cutest thing in the entire VN), and it is also the part of the game I had the most fun with.  It isn't terribly long, but it doesn't really need to be.  In it, there are some issues that come up and are resolved, giving you a solid idea of the character and personality of the heroines before you are presented with a straightforward choice of which route you go to (no other  choices, yay!).
    I went for Ai first, simply because Ai is so cat-like after nearly twenty years solely in her cat form that, as a cat person, I couldn't do anything else.  Since I just told you she is definitely cat-like, anyone who has ever lived with a cat has a basic grasp of her personality (lazy, imperious, etc). 
    Ai's path is a pretty straightforward sibling-like relationship transforming into lovers path (think one of those paths where cousins live together and suddenly fall in love with one another one day), with a few twists due to Ai's past and a rather startling revelation about her origins.  Since this was a straight-out charage, there are no dark parts to this story, but the ending is cute and a years-later epilogue, so I was satisfied.
    Sophia is outwardly very princess/ojousama-like, but her basic personality is that of a future NEET (lazy, hedonistic, etc).  Or at least, that is how they portray her in the common route.  However, in her own route, her negative (not negative to me, negative in the context of the story) qualities don't come out that often... which surprised me, because her personality would have provided an endless potential for gags, even moreso than Ai's cat-like behavior.
    Romance-wise, the path is very much standard vanilla fare.  Don't expect any surprises, because there aren't any, really.  There is some decent ichaicha, but nothing excessively cute, nor is there a huge amount of meaningless dating.  That said, for being vanilla fare, it is well-paced and doesn't become boring.
    There is some drama to the path, but it is resolved relatively easily (though not quite as easily as in Ai's path).  I honestly felt that more detail could have gone into some aspects of the drama if they reworked things a bit (and I am half-sure an FD with an Aria path will pop up at some point), but, similar to Ai's path, I was happy with the ending and epilogue, which is rare in and of itself (though LoS is better about epilogues and endings than most charage/moege companies).
    Despite being a fetish-ge for mimikko-lovers, this is a decent charage, though not one that reaches the highest tiers.  I don't think I would recommend it above all the other mimikko-focused games out there, but it is definitely worth a play if you've exhausted all the other mimikko fetish games.
  23. Clephas
    Anyone who has read one of my reviews knows I'm something of a cynic and a pessimist.  I try to think the best about every VN I go into, but my first impulse is to see what is wrong, rather than what is right. 
    Whether it is optimism and rose-colored glasses or pessimism and cynicism, and excess of either is often a negative influence on the quality of a review.  Generally speaking, I usually make an effort to find something I like about a VN's concept before going in, then I start the VN trying to enjoy it as an outgrowth of that.  By the end, this usually results in me having experienced both the negative and positive aspects of the VN... the problem is, when reviewing, it is all too easy to forget what is good about the VN.
    As a result, when I'm writing up a review, the first thing I do is write up a list of the good points I found, ignoring the mitigating negative factors.  I then build the review around these and include the negative points in with the rest... but you can probably tell that being positive just doesn't come naturally to me, since I tend to be pretty harsh.
    However, by using this system, I've found dozens of VN gems over the years that I probably would have discarded for perceived negative qualities if I didn't use this process.  Indeed, early on in my reading of untranslated VNs, I dropped numerous ones simply because they had a negative aspect that I got obsessed with.  I would later go back and replay them, only to find that the negative aspect wasn't as big a deal as I thought at the time, since I made the effort to go back with a differing perspective.
    A poor quality in a reviewer is the tendency to ignore the negatives about something you like.  Another one is to rate things entirely based on aspects you only have a vague grasp or focus on (in my case, due to my eye problems, I'm not the best judge of artwork, and my musical sense is entirely based on how it enhances the atmosphere, rather than raw quality comprehension).  I'm a story reviewer.  I review almost exclusively based on the story, characters, and presentation.  As such, art and sound rarely have a place in my reviews, since I don't think I'm qualified to evaluate them except in the most general of terms.
    I can tell when a VA did an exceptional job, because it stands out enough for me to notice.  I will even mention this in the review, since it takes a lot for a performance to stand out to me.  However, I never pretend to know the ins and outs of specific aspects of VA or musical quality.  I simply don't have the right kind of ear for that kind of thing, not being musically inclined. 
    One thing I've noticed in some reviewers who prefer niche genres (such as myself) is to display a tendency I refer to as PGRD (or Popular Game Reactionary Disorder).  It is a fictional mental disease that many of us who have a distinct preference for a niche genre display that causes us to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to popular works, simply because they are mainstream.  This is a problem that is particularly common in Western otakus of around my age, who became fanboys during a time when watching anime, playing Japanese video games, and reading manga had a rather strong stigma that left us feeling isolated and defensive.  However, it is also present in people who prefer niche genres (I get the double whammy, being both).  That sense of isolation leads to a tendency to over-praise our favorite materials and bash anything that we see as being too popular.
    In reverse, there are those who automatically dismiss anything that isn't mainstream.  Both types are reactionary in nature and have little to do with the quality of the materials in question.  Being a long-time sci-fi addict, I can't understand why anyone would enjoy Avatar (the movie).  However, if I make the mistake of saying that in front of a fanboy of the movie, I will inevitably get a vociferous lecture on how misunderstood the movie is by science fiction fans...
    There are many such examples of such behavior I have experienced over the years, both in myself and in others.  As such, a reviewer has to be willing to examine his own motives for liking or hating something.  Are you being cynical for the sake of being cynical?  Are you over-praising something to the point of overlooking the obvious problems with it?  Are you making excuses while thinking you are making a reasoned argument?  On the other side, are you ignoring the voice of reason to give you an excuse to dislike something? 
    In the end, bias is unavoidable... but it is a reviewer's duty to do their best to cast aside as much of it as possible, because people use our reviews as reference points when they pick what they want to play/read/watch.
  24. Clephas
    Yurayuka was released  in 2017 by Cube, a company that I never got around to messing with (mostly because their other games were nukige, for the most part).  I chose to put this one in my 'rainy day' archive for a time when I wanted something to play that I hadn't read before but wasn't a charage (most games I set aside are charage, since there is only so much virtual sugar I can consume without getting virtual diabetes). 
    From the very beginning, this game makes its 'time loop' concept obvious, and a large part of the reason for this is that the focus of this game is not on mystery or mindfucks (the two primary aspects of many timeloop games) bur rather on the emotional aspects. 
    The denizens of the timeloop realm, which is an island school with no people there other than them, number five... four girls and one guy (yes, a harem, lol, though there is no harem ending).  The protagonist, Aoi, is a young man with a strong aversion to romance (almost a phobia) that partially comes from his little sister Tomoe's incestuous advances.  Tomoe, is sister is basically a straight-out 'I only need nii-san' imouto character who will do anything to get him to pay attention to her.  Sumire is a sharp-tongued and whimsical (also highly intelligent) young woman who seems to want something from Aoi.  Tsukino is the dorm's 'mother' character, doing most of the cooking and cleaning, as well as generally babying the cast.  The last character, Konoha, is a young girl who is rather dependent emotionally on Tsukino, to the point where her world revolves around her.
    Now, this game does do some of the 'shocking revelations' that are common to timeloop games, but most of them are rather obvious or foreshadowed by Kuro and Shiro (the mysterious twins who drop hints during all the paths and don't get involved directly with anyone other than Aoi). 
    Now, it is tempting to lump Aoi in with hetare protagonists at first... but since he can generally bring himself to meet the emotional challenges presented in the various paths head-on, it isn't really appropriate to call him one.  He does, however, have a strong aversion to making choices or getting close with other people, up to and including his sister. 
    Each path, thankfully, has a completely independent conclusion, in the sense that it isn't required that you see any of the others to grasp the true/canon path (Tsukino's), and, because of this, I have to praise the way they handled the various paths, especially Sumire's and Konoha's.  It doesn't feel like any of the heroine paths are gypped by the way the true path is handled, and it doesn't feel like the other heroines are only a tool to get you into Tsukino's panties (a common habit in many 'true end' VNs). 
    I can't really say there is any good humor in this game (a rarity, since most VNs make at least some attempt at humor that I find reasonably close to funny) outside of Tomoe's brocon, which stops being funny if you read her path.  However, there are some good cathartic moments in all the paths, especially Sumire's and Tsukino's.  Tsukino's path's two endings are both tear-jerkers worthy of remembering.
    Overall, this game is a decent and somewhat different type of timeloop story that I found enjoyable, though it isn't a kamige by any stretch of the imagination.  It did, however, grant me some much needed catharsis, and that was really all I was looking for when I picked this game out of the cardboard box I had it sealed in.
  25. Clephas
    To be honest, I wasn't intending to read this game... then I happened to catch a Japanese review and immediately purchased a copy (that arrived two days ago).  This game has surprised me by being the first comedy SOL VN to make me laugh this year (comedy VNs being small in number in the first place making this worse), so just starting this game up was enough to satisfy me that I hadn't wasted my money.  ASa Project is a company that has long produced standard charage of various levels of quality, but their last few games have been only just barely reaching levels I consider acceptable. 
    Like their last game, Karigurashi Ren'ai, this game picks a somewhat eccentric approach to SOL comedy.  In this case, the protagonist essentially takes on a part-time job that is on the border between legitimate work and enjoukousai, where he gets hired to play a role (boyfriend, boytoy, big brother, friend, etc) for his clients.  This causes a lot of weird antics that are generally amusing (at least to me), and it is helped along by a cast of sub-heroines that are several levels above the two main ones in quality (yes, i'm bashing Emi and Hasumi) or general amusement factor.  Tsubaki, the teacher heroine, is easily my favorite of them all, with an adorable gap between her gamer self, her teacher self, and her lonely homebody self that was very pleasing on many levels.  The twins, Chinatsu and Konatsu (both total perverts, if with slightly differences in degree and vector) had a path that was full of shimoneta and didn't really have anything but humor and H (which was fine, since I never thought to see anything deep out of that relationship). 
    After the split-off point for Tsubaki and the KonoChina twins' paths, a second arc begins, following the love triangle that forms between Hasumi, the protagonist, and Emi.  It also has two short (think fifteen minutes of reading) paths for their friends, Momoko and Saki. 
    Saki's path... is not so much a path as a bad/normal ending (with two fairly hot h-scenes).  It's worth laughing about, but there is none of the intimacy of Tsubaki's path or the absolute perverted hilarity of the twins' path.   Momoko's path is almost the opposite... it is more of a 'comfort sex' ending, which is good in and of itself, because it steps outside of what is normal for the SOL genre.  Too bad that Momoko wasn't a main heroine, since she would be an interesting main heroine.
    Now I get to Hasumi... I don't care if she is one of the two main heroines.  I disliked her from the beginning.  I hated everything about her characterization, save for the hints of loneliness they drop here and there throughout the common path.  The unnatural-feeling characterization for her just made me want to break something... and while she could be amusing at times, her interjections into the  early sub-heroine paths often fell flat, at least in my estimation.  Her personality comes out more after the break between the first and second arcs of the common route (first arc includes the split for the twins and Tsubaki's routes), and she makes a bit more sense... but her characterization still grates on my nerves.  What really gets to me is that if it weren't for the aesthetics of her characterization, I probably would have liked her character background... that laugh just drove me nuts.  I did like her half-yandere qualities, but the fact that I have to plow through that weird laugh and annoying mannerisms to get through it kind of ruins things...  Her path itself is as amusing as the rest of the VN... except that her annoying mannerisms become a constant rather than an occasional annoyance.
    Emi makes a much better best friend than a lover.  To be honest, I just found it hard to take her seriously as a heroine (fake lovers to real lovers always does this to me).  The way the relationship (the business/acquaintance level relationship, not lovers) with the protagonist begins (fake boyfriend bought with money) is an amusing variation on one of my most hated VN tropes, and her personality makes for great comedy relief.  However, her as a lover... sorry, I couldn't see it.  It was much more amusing when she was getting verbally abused by the protagonist for her bad habits.  As the butt of a joke, she is a great character, but as a heroine?  Not so much, in my estimation.  That said, she does a much better job as a heroine than Hasumi, at least to my mind... though the nature of the relationship between the three (the love triangle doesn't break up regardless of which one he chooses, which means the antics continue right up to the end) meant that I had to deal with Hasumi's personality even throughout this path.
    One of ASa Project's better games, though it suffers from a poor choice of main heroines.  Tsubaki is by far my favorite heroine in this VN, and I would have liked to see a more detailed version of her path (meeting her family, general antics, lol).  This VN's standout element is its comedy, as it uses slapstick, sit-com, and manzai as needed to amuse the reader.  As far as romance goes... the comedy element is far stronger than the romance element, so it is hard/impossible to take seriously, but that was this VN's salvation when it came down to it.
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