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Chronopolis

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Blog Entries posted by Chronopolis

  1. Chronopolis
    On my journey to try and write a complete story, I found it incredibly satisfying creating my story's universe. Mostly characters, relevant parties, and cause and effect. So after a few months of creating, I end up with a decent amount of details and a fair chunk of my story plot filled in.   But I haven't written a story. In fact, I haven't even completed a single scene in it's entirety. Strange.   These "details", feel so integral to the story. I feel like I'm creating the story. And yet when I google "how to writing", everything is dead focused on the scene: making the perfect scene, the build-up of scenes, scene dialogue, etc.   It seems like our focuses are different.   Anyways, without going into how modern writing is too presentation focused, let me lay out these two contrasting features which constitute a story.   A World   The world of a story is its own characters, and their thoughts, interactions, histories, and details. And a timeline of events with explanation of cause and effect.   To me as a writer, a world is already the story. Creating the locations, characters, and happenings. Just like how facts and forensic evidence can tell a story, the existence of this separate world, it's characters and events makes it a story to me.   Telling a Story
    However, there is another huge element in stories. That is, how we convey them.
    When we talk about a good writer, we often applaud their gripping text, captivating storylines. A good part of that is the art of presentation. The first implication of presentation is that of selection. Not every fact and character's thought reaches the reader's eyes, and certainly not every cause and effect is layed out.   A story consists of a series of scenes which convey the journey, and also bring the reader through the build-up and through the climax of the story.   Beyond that, a story has description, which helps the reader to imagine the scene and put them there.    A scene can have a mood, which immerses the player. It's possible to like a scene just for it's mood. Note this mood is a very subjective thing which is both conveyed and imagined. A mood might also might suggest something about the character's lines of thoughts, or it might connect to the punch line of the scene.   A narrator can use different tones, which achieve similar effect to a mood. For example, the ironic tone in the narration of the post apocalyptic world SukaSuka encourages us to grin painfully as we hear about curious history and the downfall of foolish parties, deserving and tragic alike. A caustic tone in another post-apocalyptic story could be emphasizing to the reader that human lives matters little here. Of course, the writer could offer up these ideas directly, but a tone or mood simply hints at them.   Mostly what these things contribute to is to bestow an experience to the player. This is a subjective experience which is distinct from the world that the author created. Before you think I'm saying "objective rulz", I note that it is possible for a story's universe to have certain emotions or ideas that permeate through it, which the author was trying to convey in the first place.   I guess this is why they talk about stories often having an over-arching message. I personally am not a big fan of stories having a primary message, though that it is definitely something which can be done. However, even without having a message, stories usually end up effectively talking about something. This is because they inspire us to think about the phenomena/conflict that they depict.     In closing, my fellow VN readers, I leave you with this. Think about a story you've read or are writing.   Does the world exist for the sake of the telling, or does the telling exist on behalf of conveying the world? 
  2. Chronopolis
    Would have liked to put the main title, but it's NSFW. Introduction:Koukyuu Shoufu (高級娼婦), is the first of two games (the second being Hotel Ergiffen) released in 2002 by the unknown and defunct company Maple. It boasts an unusual painted art style by Haimura Kiyotaka (灰村 キヨタカ). These being his early works, he is much better known for his art in Yume Miru Kusuri (ユメミルクスリ) and the anime Toaru Majutsu no Index. This game is obscure. Like 1 vote on VNDB obsure. I could only find one (japanese) review of the game outside of eroge gamescape. As an old game without any well known company to be associated with, or classic status, it's been totally forgotten over the years. As an author's and writer's pet project, doubtless it was never well known to begin with. And yet, I find the game, and the two others similiar to it, quite enjoyable for the work the artist and writer put into them. Premise:Our protagonist Ouran, is a prodigal musician in Renaissance Europe.  He used to play for the royal courts: people would pay a great deal to hear him play. That was, until a foul plot left him unwelcome in the palace. And so to the streets he went, left with but the clothes on his back. A mysterious lady comes, the widow of a baron. She's seen him before, apparently, and offers to give him room and board, in exchange for teaching music to some of her subjects. He's more than happy to grab this chance. A few hours a day lets him squander the remaining drinking his devils away. Then, one day the landlord shows him two girls, Elsa and Emilia. Their dance and song leave an impression on him.As he belatedly learns, the Lady dealt in the pleasure sector. Why she was running such a shady business out of her own volition, he did not know.At the start of novel he's presented with a choice.  Having seen the potential in the two girls, the Lady wants Ouran to be instruct the two girls on prostitution and how to carry themselves among the opposite sex. She had them becoming, not a common whore but a courtesan in her sights. He was not particularly fond of the arrangement, but the Lady was correct in her assessment: as such a man of pursued skills, he could not so easily abandon potential talent. He would show them that much pity. The two were more oblivious than most, he later glumly admitted. Perhaps that was to be expected. To say "whore" is but a single word, and yet the path towards being one is littered with feelings of confusion and torment, of emptiness and shame. But there was still something in each of the girls which drew him. Perhaps there was something else to be found within these two months, however insignificant and transient. Through conversation, Ouran learn more about the two girls and the landlady(the baron's widow), and various going-on's of the world. The two girls Elsa and Emilia, meanwhile, follow the only path they have. CharactersEmilia (the girl in the opening picture)  is perhaps the more expected of the two heroines. I don't really have a good grasp of her character, but I keenly felt her thoughts throughout the story. I really felt bad for her...Every step of the way, she was suffering. I found the setting pretty seamless in that characters' pasts fit within the setting, and minor characters had their own personalities. You didn't know exactly their nature the moment you saw them, you had to judge them as you met them.  Here's Annet, one of the minor characters. She's ill-tempered, way older than she looks, and a bit of an enigma. And Analiza, the owner of the brothel. Even though there wasn't much on-screen plot, as a backdrop, the topic of the royal court (王宮) was brought up occasionally, along with that of rumors, marriages, families, and ranks. Overall for me there were many unfamiliar concepts. System:The production values are low overall, though the art, music, and text are arguably quite decent. It's also a pretty short game. It's worth noting that the game is raising sim (albeit a crude and cryptic one: I couldn't clear the damn thing!). Besides that, all the scenes happen between brief game menu's, seperate from each other. This is a common feature with this game and Hotel Erigriffen. It'd say it's pretty appropriate. It makes you step back after every scene and go "hmm" at what just happened, and before you click it, wonder what's going to happen in the next scene. Ero and PlotThere's one sequence of scenes for each of the two girls when the MC instructs them on the ways of courtesans. The scenes were completely different from the typical cliche anime presentation. I didn't find myself ever criticizing the unbelievability of the ero in the back of my mind. It was less the scenes were realistic, and more like a real life counterpart didn't really come to mind. The threshold between the ero and the plot was basically almost zero: they were pretty much entwined. The erotic presentation in those scenes was probably designed in some fashion, but they were also a major part where the MC would interact with the girls.  The AtmosphereMy greatest praise for the two games is how the text, the art, and music, all work together to create the atmosphere.  The music, likely to draw puzzled stares listened in a vaccumn, is shatteringly effective in conjugation with the art and text. To speak of the prose, there's not much objective I can say about it. If you like it you'll love it, if not you won't. While not repetitive, it's long-winded and can be hard to read. While the art in both games has the same painting art style, if you compare Koukyuu Shofu's art to Hotel Ergriffen's, you'll find the differences which resulted from the two atmospheres the games strives to bring out. The former brings out the European historic era with shades of red, maroon, brown, tan, orange, gray: all colours of the wood, garments, and furnishings of the presented world. Hotel Ergriffen's slightly disshapen heads bring out a mild sense of horror to the dreamlike atmosphere. The background is a blur of warm colorful specks with colors a mix between faint neons signs and city lights, and colour of reflected oil. The surroundings are often barely in focus. The colour scheme is "pink, green, white, and beige". Conclusion:Koukyuu Shoufu didn't leave me satisfied. But it was something different and something I don't regret seeing. It's like the author and Haimura banded up to bring the author's vision and Haimura's art to life. It's kind of brief and unsatisfying, but they get full points for embodying a style. The vn's never felt like the staff was being lazy with the writing, art, or characters. And that's why I didn't mind bearing with the janky interface and lack of satisfaction.  Koukyuu Shoufu is one of the three games by this pair. The other two are Hotel Ergriffen and Minato Gensou (which actually takes place in the same location and shares some characters with Koukyuu Shoufu), which I'm reading now. Koukyuu Shoufu is probably the weakest out of the three games, because it's so limited, while not aiming for the crazy dream-like sensorial experience of Hotel Ergrifen. But, if the aforementioned portrayal of 'something' and the art interests you, you'll probably find any of these three novels somewhat enjoyable. 
  3. Chronopolis
    Introduction:
     
    When it comes to reading VN's in Japanese, required skills can be grouped into four areas: Vocab, grammar, basic parsing skill, and kanji skill. In this post, for each area I'm going to explain:
    -what knowing skills in the area are good for
    -how you might study them
    -how much you'll need to start reading.
    I'll also give some related tips.
     
    The requirements mentioned below are a conservative estimate. I've known people who've jumped in to playing VN's with less or much less, but I'm giving a safe estimate. A level which at most people, without any special knack for learning languages through immersion, should be able to gain traction. If you learn this much before starting an easyish VN, the amount you are completely lost should be significantly less than the percentage you are able to pick up and improve from.
     
    This is not a comprehensive how-to guide by any means. Just an informative post.
     
    ------------------
     
    1. Vocab
     
    Knowing enough vocab to study your grammar resource without being bogged down by vocab:
    -About 30 verbs and 50 other words for Genki 1/ Tae kim Basic.
    -By the time you get to Genki 2/Tae Kim Essential you'll want a good set of verbs (about 100), and maybe about 300 total vocabulary.
    -~600 words about how much you'll want to be able to study N3 grammar without getting bogged down in vocab.
     
    Having enough vocab to start your first VN:
    -I recommend over 1000, but anywhere from 800-1300 is good. I remember trying Clannad with only 800, and I felt like ramming my head into a wall. It's also important to pick an easy title. It will still feel hard no matter what, but an easy title will be much more helpful and rewarding to play. You also must just translation aggregator and ITH. They are the reason why Visual Novels are the best medium for learning Japanese out of anime/books/movies/drama/etc.
     
    Vocab Lists:
    There's a dedicated verb list here: http://nihongoichiban.com/2012/08/13/list-of-all-verbs-for-the-jlpt-n4/
    Verbs are helpful to learn, because they are often the most important part of the sentence AND you need to to have stuff to conjugate.
    In general JLPT-based vocab list is here: http://www.tanos.co.uk/jlpt/jlpt5/vocab/
     
    Regarding English definitions:
    Be mentally open and flexible. If the english definition doesn't quite add up, don't try and think about it too hard. Focus instead on associating the word with the situations where you see it.
    For example, you might be confused by the word 都合 and it's unhelpful definition J-E definition, but if you seen 都合がいい used in a situation where you know it means "is convenient for me" from context then remember that occurence. There might be (there are, in fact), other usages of the word 都合, but that doesn't hurt you in anyway. The next time you see 都合 you can pair it against this meaning and see if that makes any sense.
     
    2. Grammar Skills
     
    With N5+N4 grammar you will be barely able to start making your way through a VN. Without N4, you will have quite limited gains in the long term from reading visual novels. (Equivalent to Genki 1+2.)
    -Required to be able to play VN's
     
    With N3 grammar, everything will feel a lot clearer, the amount of grammar you'll understand will exceed 60%. (Equiv. to Intermediate approach to Integrated Japanese). Highly recommended to study this before or soon after you start your first VN.
     
    N2 grammar further cuts the amount of unknown grammar you face in three.
     
    N1 is kind of like a bonus that gives you a lot of uncommon or formal expressions. It's NOT comprehensive at all, in terms of covered all Japanese phrases. From my experience, some of the phrases you learn in here show up often in novels (ばかり、んばかり), others quite less. Good to know, though
     
    Expressions not covered in JLPT
    There are a lot of patterns and phrases not covered in JLPT that you will see in typical native reading material. Examples (社長に議長, phrases like なんだと!? Xってなんだ? ですって!? ~てくれないかな。 オレって、なんてバカなんだ ) Not to worry, many of them can be picked up as you go. For the rest, once you get settled into reading, you can start noting down those phrases you don't get and google them or ask other people.
     
    Imabi for grammar
    You can also try studying from http://www.imabi.net/. It's a phenomenal reference, it's just goes into tons of depth, too much. I think there's 2 or 3 times as much information there is covered by JLPT up to JLPT 1. As such it's going to be overwhelming for a beginner and is much better suited as a reference for intermediate or advanced learners.
     
    3. Basic Parsing Skill
     
    Knowing the different types of words (Covered by doing a vocab list of about 100 verbs, and then the JLPT 5 list. You also have to have done or be doing Tae Kim's Basic Guide, since he explains what na-adj's, i-adj's, and other word types are, etc.).
    -(nouns, suru-verbs/nouns, verbs, na-adj's, i-adj's, adverbs, temporal adverbs)
    -Required to be able to play VN's.
     
    Knowing the basic sentence structure and how words can modify each other and fit in a sentence.: (adjectives modifying nouns, verbs).
    The knowledge is covered by Tae Kim Basic + a mix of Essential Grammar and Genki 1/2. I personally find Tae Kim's explanation good even though the learning curve is steep and his lessons aren't good for review like Genki books are. He tries to convey to you the big picture.
    -Required to be able to play VN's.
     
    Being able to breakdown sentences and spot the different types of words based on their position.
    -you can practice this by reading bits of text in your genki textbook, but more likely, the first time you really gain this skill is going to be the first month in which you read a visual novel with TA. Heavily practiced during your first month or two of reading VN's.
     
    4. Kanji Skill:
     
    Learning to spots radicals in kanji (could be covered by doing the 214 radicals, about 1 month. You could also do this ongoing basis, learning how to spot the radicals that make up a kanji, for the words you learn.)
    -not needed to read VN's with TL aggregator, but extremely helpful for learning new words which have new kanji.
     
    Learning to remember kanji, ie. start recognizing when words share the same kanji. (it is a long ongoing gradual process. You can start doing this with the vocab you learn once you are comfortable learning vocab. You can also pick out words you see in vn's and check whether they use the same kanji by typing them out (example 朝(あさ) and 朝食(ちょうしょく) use the same kanji.). Oh course, to be able to easily produce the kanji you want to compare you need to remember how to spell a word that contains it (in this case 朝). So, as your vocab expands, you'll be able to compare more kanji. Note that to be able to do this comparing you must be able to spot radicals in kanji (previous level skill).
    -moderately helpful for learning vocabs. The same way remembering radicals helps learning with kanji: if you know the kanji clearly, you can remember a word just by the two kanji it uses, which is very precise and doesn't take a lot of mental bandwidth. It also means that you will much more rarely confuse words which have similiar looking kanji.
     
    The following two skills are for more advanced, they won't be particularly useful until much later. You might not notice the problems they solve until later as well. I include them mainly for completeness.
    Learning on-yomi for many of the Jyouyou kanji (start when you are intermediate-advanced, a medium-long process)
    -helpful for exactly what it is, reading kanji words and compounds correctly.
    -don't need to worry about this. From learning vocab you might pick up some of the common ones, but there's no need to pursue this actively for a while.
     
    Learning kanji meaning: (start when you are advanced, and can use a J-J dictionary)
    -suffixes like 府、省、性、症, as well normal kanji whose different meanings apply to clusters of words.
    -helpful for kanji compounds which won't directly show up in dictionaries
    -helpful for developing a native level understanding of vocabulary (not everything can be learned by exposure). A lot of literary words are fairly influenced by their kanji meanings, though sometimes consulting the word differentiation explanations can be more helpful.
     
     
     
    One last topic...
     
    On learning enough grammar and jumping into works too difficult for you.
    Reading a VN isn't the best way to learn basic sentence structure. However, it's a great way to reinforce grammar points you've learned. It's also a great way to get an understanding of conversational patterns you won't find in textbooks or JLPT. But you won't have the presence of mind to pay attention to that if you are bogged down by not knowing basic grammar.
    There are benefits for venturing early into native material or difficult vn's, but you wouldn't give a grade two student Tolkien, or even Harry Potter to improve their English. All the fancy prose and unusual concept would distract you from the more immediately useful things like, say: basic sentence structure.
    There are works which are the right level, and there are VN's which you really want to read. For the best experience, it's best to find some combination of the two.
     
    ------------------
     
    Ok that's all for now. Feel free to ask any questions: I didn't really go into the details of how to study, instead focusing on the, well, skills involved. But it's also hard to remember what it's like for someone just starting out. I remember parts of studying very clearly, but I forget the thousands of things I used to be puzzled through varying stages of understanding but now take for granted.
    The process was all I could think about for the longest time. Now I don't give it much thought, it's just a regular part of my life, reading and a bit of studying. It's not bad idea, to just find a type of study that you know is helpful, stop thinking about all the right ways and wrong ways and magic tricks which don't exist, and just do it, for a while. Regularly. For a month or three.
  4. Chronopolis
    Made sure to use the version where Kuon is actually wearing something.
    Introduction:
     
    Phew, that was long. I wasn't playing the whole time, but I still took nearly a good month and a half. Despite that, I actually have less to talk about than last time.
    Gurenka left me with a satisfying feeling finishing Kuon's route. The game has two satisfying routes with decent endings (two of them, to be exact), but outside those two routes it seriously lacks substance. I'd say what I enjoyed the most were Elsrise and Kuon's characters and the BGM.
     
    This post is pretty much non-spoiler, I'm don't mention the details or the endings.
     
    Character notes:
     
    Elsrise's was my favourite character. She had several sides which were quite different, but her character felt well-formed and not forced. A number of developments were only plausible/possible because of her personality.
     
    Kuon was a mashup of a ton of different elements, which doesn't make her a strong character so much as her being entertaining in pretty much every scene featuring her ever. She does settles down into something much more coherent in her route though. In fact, I'd Ryouji and Kuon's evolving relationship was one of the shows of the VN. If you like supernatural romance you'll enjoy her route. It's still kinda short though, because there isn't that much plot.
     
    Saori was a bit verbose and too explanatory at times. I guess her super frankness didn't mesh well with me. That and it never stops, she doesn't have another mode, other than occasionally being worried.
     
    Katsuragi-sensei was a pretty cool minor character who makes the most appearances in Saori's route. It was cool how he brought together the frustration of a denied future, with the strong goal of guiding the next generation towards their futures . He even has one scene with kuon. That was fantastic. In general, I enjoyed the way the MC interacted with him. It was intermittent, off-beat, but pleasant.
     
    Fumika, was kind of a non-character. 悪いが文香人権なし。
     
    Alize was a joke character, but her prescence was relevant in some places, like bringing together Elrise and Ryouji. Her combat arsenal was a needed contrast to everyone's else lack of magic-y and summon-y skills. I also thought her last fight in Elsrise's route was very tense and cornered, just like the rest of that extended battle.
    It's also clear how much Alize and Elsrise care for each other. Alize is the one who helps Erise interact with the protagonist, and in Alize's route Elrise clearly shows an almost mother-like gaze on Alize and Ryouji.
     
    Nothing to note about the other side heroines. I can't stand the Miko though. Not believable, frustration to watch, and indirectly screws over everyone else, if I recall correctly.
     
     
    Addition comments on the Common route:
     
    The common route had a large mystery component as the MC is gradually exposed to more and more raw information as he runs around trying to solve incidents.
    I read some Japanese player's blog and agree with him on these points:
    -The mystery-heavy common route is probably fun if you proactively sort through the presented information and come up with theories. However the problem here was the problems weren't captivating enough to keep the reader's attention.
    -It was easy to fall behind in what was happening if you didn't pay attention. If you fell behind, you wouldn't get what was happening, the MC's objectives were, etc., and you'd probably just give up the damn thing.
     
    The theories about people's psychology weren't as interesting as I was hoping. I think this was because there wasn't enough unique conflict to warrant discussion of the underlying psychology. There were some other notions that did get developed decently, though (see below).
     
     
    On Gurenka and the concept of the Everyday
     
    The everyday school scenes in Gurenka were merely passable. They didn't really serve a purpose or go anywhere. I get the feeling this is common of second-rate Visual Novels. The everyday scenes did ultimately produce the feeling of everyday school life with friends, I suppose.
     
    There's a common topic that comes up in a lot of stories, and that is protecting one's everyday life. At one point the MC of Gurenka expresses his fears that their "everyday" was gradually being undermined by the Otherworld.
     
    I'm don't really understand the notion wanting to protect the everyday life. In sounds like a vague, cool statement, to protect one everyday, but is that not misguided?
     
    If people in your circle of friends is afflicted by hurt or hardship, then of course your everyday will start to crumble.
     
    But it's not the "happy, carefree times" one should place first, but your friends. The truer aspiration is to support your friends through hardship and help them find happiness. It's possible to have an everyday where everyone *seems* happy and open, but holds their fears and regrets inside. [1]
     
    It's quite human to take comfort in a current set of friends, with the unconscious notion that things will always remain like that. However, time is finite, and the time we have together is even more limited. Even the idea that the everyday is static is mistaken. The everyday we treasure is in fact constantly changing. [2]
     
    Kuon also says something similiar, that she's become fond of this daily life and wishes to protect it. Amusingly, I find Kuon's statement a lot more convincing than Ryouji's.
    She is speaking from the perspective a very-long lived person. She knows that the time she will spend with Ryouji is finite, and her wish to protect it is made on top of that awareness.
     
    [1] This topic is awfully relevant to the light novel Utsuro no Hako no Maria.
    [2] From the VN Semiramis no Tenbin. Yes that exact point. It was one of the many societal, psychological, and moral observations made by its characters during the VN.
     
     
    The romance component of the game:
     
    The romance component isn't deep in this game, what I mean by that there aren't that many satisfying romantic moments, and the romantic components aren't holding up the routes. The only appreciable romance in the game is between the MC and the two heroines Kuon and Elsrise.
     
    Both the romances felt pretty short, but they both had an existing relationship that started developing way before they crossed the line of lovers. In the case of Kuon, more is depicted (compared to Elsrise) after the two become a couple.
     
    Kuon's felt like a deep connection. Elsrise's felt like doting adoration, with the MC being carried along with the flow a bit. They weren't half bad, really.
     
     
    The ideas expressed in the game:
     
    I think there were a few themes that Gurenka utilized successfully, and that they led to some of the VN's more satisfiying experiences. They are:
     
    - Nostalgia (The flashbacks, Kuon and Elsrise telling about their pasts)
    - Frustration over unreasonable and unfair circumstances (Katsuragi-sensei, to a lesser degree the MC).
    - Lamenting the past (Kuon, Elsrise, Haru-sensei)
     
    The BGM really contributed to bringing out the nostalgia. It's a melancholic, slightly lonely nostaligia. The two non-human heriones feel like they've actually lived their pasts, and aren't just characters with the longevity "tag" tacked on.
     
     
    Suggestions:
     
    I'm going to consider Fumika's route a backstory route, as Fumika really doesn't develop or do anything during her route. Why does she even exist? God forbid if you were hoping for something.
     
    Saori was decently established as a character.
    Her route could have been made worthy if the themes were made stronger and more plot was involved.
     
    Alize, though she's a bit of a joke character, had her roles. I would have welcomed learning more about the her nature and origin of her abilities.
    It also would have been nice to have had more meaningful Elsrise/Alize and Kuon scenes. There weren't that many.
     
    It's hard for me to suggest additional scenes in the routes because there were so few plot elements. On the character front, Kuon doesn't have any more to show; she only started to develop soon after she met Ryouji, and all the sides of her are shown. There also isn't any more interaction to be had between Elsrize and Kuon without introducing new elements to the story. If you boil it down, there's actually an unbelievably small amount of complexity/substance in the VN.
     
    The most developed part of the VN was really Kuon and Elsrise's story. Kuon's route felt satisifiying because it finished explaining the past which involved both of them. Elsrise's route felt satisfying because of Elsrise's personality, her identity, and the satisfactory explanation of fights and the Otherworld following incidents. Both routes are where the "ideas" I mentioned earlier get evoked the most.
     
    In that case, they could have just focused on this part of the story, and gotten rid of all the other routes except those two. The MC's backstory could have been slipped into Kuon's route, and Katsuragi-sensei's incident could have been put in Kuon's side of the common. Hell, I think Kuon should have been relevant for the MC coming to terms with his somewhat misfortunate past.
     
    Final words:
     
    All in all, Gurenka is a reasonably 'decent" game. The core story (Kuon and Elsrise's route, mostly Kuon's) is satisfying and enjoyable. The VN is just somewhat too long for what it's really about: the surrounding scenes and other routes, while interesting here and there, are lacking in substance. I have yet to see a game with youkai (or equivalent) heriones where the human routes are better. Demi-humans too strong?
     
    I give Gurenka an 8 for the Kuon and Elsrise's route and 6 for the other routes.
     
    ---
     
    Other Misc. Thoughts: (In case you are interested in hearing even more of my rambling)
     
     
  5. Chronopolis
    Introduction:
     
    Gurenka (vndb) is made by Escu:de, a VN company which has a fairly long history of games I've never heard about. I stumbled upon the title on vndb (The naked red-haired girl in the screenshots had nothing to do with it, I swear!). As a Chuunibyou story, I thought I'd try to make a new start to the genre. My previous experiences in Chuunibyou ran me aground with 11eyes -Tsumi to Batsu to Aganai no Shoujo, which featured lack luster school slice-of-life combined with endless battles I couldn't see a point to. I ended up dropping it fairly early on.
     
    As far as I can tell, Chuunibyou is all about embracing your the young teenager in yourself, the way some of us might have played "pretend games" with spies, secret organizations, and superpowers when we were kids. Chuunibyou involves combat where the circumstances of the fight fall secondary to the rolling emotions and the impact of the characters. Perhaps it because the characters themselves didn't make an impression but I couldn't get into the characters emotions during the 11eyes's fights. But that is fine, because Gurenka was a lot better in that regard.
     
    From the UI and title song, I immediately felt the atmospheric component of the game. From the the lack of visible characters on the title screen (it's just wall of hazy red), I also thought the story might be more tragic, with the atmosphere acting stifling at times. When you finish a routes, you can toggle a character display on the title screen. Such a different impression from that red wall! All in all, the system aspect is very well polished. It's great.
     
    Story:
     
    {Note: This post is made having finished the common route (or at least one side of it) and Elsrise's route.}
     
    In the first few hours, the presence of the supernatural is quickly established. Unlike VN's who start with a supernatural prologue and then fall in slice-of-life, the MC has the supernatural be, quite literally on his doorstep.
     
    It isn't long before Otherworld's start popping up. To be honest, when the protagonist starts invoking his powers and dealing with the situation, I was pretty left in the dust. I get what you're probably capable of combat-wise, but I don't know how it works, don't know how it solved the problem, don't know how I should think about it, nor where things are going to go from here.
     
    From there on, the VN is a flurry of conversations with the characters, investigating the strange events, and new outbreaks. The incidents exist very much in an on-going fashion, with them happening and being dealt with in a non-linear fashion.
     
    Now that I look back on it, most of the conversations were kept short and light. The few extended scenes themselves were varied, including a slice-of-life conversation and the conversation between the teacher and Saori in the hallway. I liked how that one stirred the pot of possibilities up while hinting at the two's characters. Good pacing overall.
     
    The latter half of the common route and beginning of the route had some important fights involving Kuon, Ryouji and Elsrise. I enjoyed how past confrontations often got brought up later in the story. Sometimes things that happened are explained, other times the characters mention things that were strange that they noticed. Doing so made the fights feel important to the story.
     
    I also think the middle part of the novel had pretty good flow. The relevant conversations, shifting of relations, and successive scenes all felt quite smooth.
     
    The final segment of Elsrise's route was one big showdown. Suffice to say, it was exciting. Kuon is badass. When the trio was pinned down in the city, despite it just being a fight (there was no huge plot build-up nor greater purpose they were fighting for), just the renewed danger made it feel like full-on crisis mode. Though, it was a bit hard to follow along with the Otherworld plot, as it wasn't obvious what was going to develop into the next source of adversity. The origins and objective of the "foe" probably weren't fully explained in Elsrise's route, though I expect them to be in Kuon's route.
     
     
    Plot structure:
     
    The overlying plot was Kuon staying by Kyouji's side until she sealed enough Otherworlds. As is common for stories with an initial nebulous overarching objective, its progress wasn't focused on much, other than Kuon noticeably becoming stronger as time went on. As Ryouji took towards sealing the Otherworlds, he quickly found himself caught up in much more immediate matters. Then, towards the end of the story, when Kuon breaks the news that this next incident might be the last, the reader, at least I was, filled with nostalgia/reluctance. This doesn't strike me as anything groundbreaking, but still, I can approve of a VN that can properly induce those emotions. There are a few BGM tracks that only play once or twice near the end which help set the different moods. There were a lot of little enjoyable things in the novel.
     
    Besides sealing the Otherworlds, there wasn't really a major concrete goal to work towards. This was pretty different from what I was used to.
    If I had to say, what made the plot feel moving forward was:
    1. The protag gradually gaining an understanding of the Otherworld. At first he was just thrown into the fray, but later he makes observations and hears speculation and explanations of the other characters. [1]
    2. The protag gradually learns more about Alsrise and Alize. [2]
     
    --Moderate spoilers--
    [1] We first viewed the Otherworld as something that encroaches on the real world, and which attaches to (ie. haunts) a person.
    Then comes the hypothesis from Saori, that the Otherworld and the real world being two seperate worlds with can be crossed by making them overlap slightly.
    Then we get the explanation from Elsrise that the Otherworld is basically "masses of power" present all over the world, which reacts to people's strong emotions and manifests them.
    [2] At first we only know that she doesn't mind leaving the Otherworlds alone. Later on we learn that she is worried what will happen if too many are sealed and gathered in one place, instead of being allowed to dissipate naturally. Lastly, we learn about Alsrise's homeland and her nature, being the product of people's dreams/longings.
    --End of spoilers--
     
    I think I understand how the Otherworld forms the plot in the common route. The idea is that a ill-defined source (the Otherworld) leads to seemingly very-different scenarios, but which have some similarities to each other once we understand more of the details. The way Gurenka does it seems like one approach to using supernatural phenomena to fuel plot events.
     
    I find it exciting how the nature of the Otherworld makes keeps the supernatural element relevant even for the human heroines. The humans routes will almost certainly focus more on the internal struggles of those heroines and how they are realized by the Otherworld.
     
     
    Presentation:
     
    At the start I mentioned Gurenka's polished menu and UI. Gurenka's one of the few novels which I've really felt how much the production values improved the experience (another that comes to mind is Eustia). The sprite and visual effects do a solid job in accentuating the characters motions. That, combined with the music, art, and sfx helped immerse the reader in the fight scenes.
     
    I did had some minor complaints for the fights, nothing too much. It might be me not being used to reading fight scenes, but some of the effects CG's didn't seem match with the text description. Also sometimes attacks from different people used the same cg, which was confusing and made it harder to picture the action.
     
     
    On the personableness of the opposing heriones
     
    I like how Gurenka handles potential enemies interacting and sharing the same space. What I mean is this setup can lead to some constrained and predicable scenes (Tsukihime and Fate/Stay night). In Gurenka, they bump heads occasionally, but it isn't drawn out, and so it ends up feeling very smooth and pleasant while still being believable. Though, the latter might have only been possible thanks to the broad-mindedness of Kuon and amiableness of Elsrise.
     
    Both kuon and Elsrise are in a position where they can further the main plot, without dumb quarrels (of course, if their quarrels had been story-worthy, that would have been a different matter).
     
    I thought the Elsrise was going to be kuon's direct enemy, with their history being somehow tied to that, but she ended up being an unrelated existence, which was unexpected, but nice. The story might have felt constrained and a bit of a rehash if Elsrise's route was just another side of the same quarrel.
     
    Kyouji and Elsrise's relationship development is a quite abbreviated, but their relationship is given an appropriate amount of along-the-way thought considering the space and the fact that the VN's plot does not hinge on their relationship. In terms of plausibility, Alize surprisingly succeeds in making the two's quick development more believable, but here also Elsrise's personality plays a large role.
     
     
    On the MC's lack of personality:
     
    Ryouji's thoughts, comments and reactions are sufficient to make the the VN scenes flow and be interesting, but he doesn't have a strong personality you can pin him down to.
     
    Having an MC with a stronger personality would let the reader appreciate him as a character when he interacts with the other characters. It would also might include his character development. As he gets closer to Elsrise, you can see most prominently in her reactions. I can't recognize a change in him, because I can't grasp him as an individual in the first place!
     
    A stronger personality might have also made his conversations with Saori more animated, with a back-and-forth dialogues instead of one-way conversations.
     
     
    On the MC acting and thinking like a middle school student:
     
    Ryouji being a bit of a kid actually interacts well with the characters and parts of the story:
     
    Kuon is doesn't mind having fun together with, and at the expense of, a teenager like Ryouji.
    Elsrise, at first, treats Ryouji as a noncombatant [3] (in that she has mercy on him), because of their gap in power and experience and because he is a human. However afterwards, she considers him properly and doesn't dismiss him for being a teenager.
    To be honest, Ryouji having the mind of a teenager didn't effect his ability to get things done. There were no tactical geniuses in this VN: he was just about as competent as everyone else. It just is clearly visible occasionally, such as during Elsrise's route. It would have been nice if he gave more thought and consideration to Elsrise, towards the individual she might be.
     
    Ryouji's human friends operate on pretty much the same frequency, so that fits too.
     
    The other thing that works well with his young self is the fights in Gurenka. While they have a sense of crisis and "oh shit", they don't have a grave seriousness like a more serious title would. Because of that, perhaps his teenager's fighting spirit is more appropriate than an adult's would be. I'll be sure to compare the emotions at play when I read other Chuunibyou VN's like Evolimit and Tokyo Babel.
     
    [3] リーゼ「これで分かったでしょう?あなたの所にいるあの化け猫の所にお帰りなさい」
    俺に何の力もなく、くおんのおまけとしか思われていない。
    だからこそこうして会話もするし、手加減もされる。
     
     
    Closing words:
     
    So far it's been an enjoyable ride. The characters are impressionable. Kuon is a riot and occasionally a storm, Elsrise is admirable, Fumika is adorable when she is pouting, Saori is the intelligent deducer of the group: I will be pleased if her route reflects the intelligence she displays so far. The miko is by far the character we know the least about. She has almost no telling lines in the whole route. I hope she gets a long enough route and makes an impression later on.
     
    For the next route, I'm going to resume from the closest branch on the flowchart (flowcharts 最高!!!). Onwards to Kuon's(?) route!!!
  6. Chronopolis
    Welcome to my VN Blog! As for a why I'm making this blog: I've always wanted to do write-ups on VN's I read. I admire those reviewers who can see deep into all levels of the story. It's also those people I depend on to make sense of mystery of complex VN's like Subarashiki Hibi or Cross Channel. But varying levels of astuteness aside, I love to share with others this hobby of VN's and see all the peoples' different reactions.
     
    As for why I don't consider myself to be reviewing visual novels: I don't really set out to judge the VNs, I usually only do so if I feel confident about my understanding of the VN and the genre/design-space it is working in. As an aspiring hobbyist writer, I am interested in components of a story (themes, characters, setting, scenes) and how they are used to construct good stories from different genres. And thus, I am apt to focus on those areas.
     
    When a story's or route's setup interests me but the route doesn't come though, I tend to fill in the blanks and explore different possibilities. "A disappointing story is one with tons of possibilities.", I like to think. In that sense I can spend a lot of time on things that aren't even about the VN in question.
     
    If you have read some of the VN's I post about, or end up so in the future, or if something here catches your fancy, please do make yourself comfortable. Stay a while, relax, comment. You can expect about two posts for one visual novel a month. (Eeek! This writing business is hard!) That's a little slower than how fast I go through VN's, but I probably won't post about every VN play.
     
    PS: Feedback is welcome! Are you interested in this stuff? Should I put the tangents in a seperate "tangents" post? If no one wants to read it, I'm happy to stick on topic and focus on just the VN's.
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