Suzu Fanatic reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, VN of the Year 2016
As usual, I spent a lot of time thinking over this before I even considered making a decision. The original list of candidates at the end of the year (after the initial series of in-brain eliminations) is as follows:
Karenai Sekai to Owaru Hana (knocked Inochi no Spare out of the running)
Tokyo Necro is Nitroplus's first masterpiece outside of the Science series (Steins;Gate, for those who don't know what I'm talking about) since Muramasa, all those years ago. As such, it is an obvious favorite, being the sole chuunige kamige of the year, as well as a solid story from beginning to end even without considering my personal tastes (if anything, the presence of zombies is a negative for me, normally). It is brilliantly written from start to finish, with a masterful twisting of the elements of the setting to create a fascinating variance between the paths that made for some really interesting endgame story paths. In addition, the characters themselves were awesome, acting out their roles within the story in a down and dirty way that you generally don't get in most non-rapegames. In other words, this is Nitroplus at its dark and dirty best for the first time in over half a decade.
Like its predecessor, Nanairo Reincarnation, Akeiro is a brilliant blend of supernatural darkness with everyday life... and with real consequences rather than the moe goofiness that defines most such mixtures in VNs. It has mystery, it has horror, it has catharsis, and it has great characters. Depending on what path you choose, the protagonist's path through life is dramatically altered, as is the fate of the heroines. This reminds me of why Nanairo won the incredibly competitive 2014 competition so easily, despite the presence of Bradyon Veda and a number of other awesome games.
Amatsutsumit is a game for those who want a good cry, and it shows. It lost out to Floral Flowlove in its VN of the Month competition, but the truth is that it should have been a dual winner, when it came down to it, since they were equal in quality from beginning to end, with only the ladder-style story structure causing me to rate it somewhat lower. Seen apart from that, however, it is an ideal example of Purple Soft's evolution from a third-rate charage maker to a brilliant maker of fantasy nakige since the release of Mirai Nostalgia.
Karenai Sekai to Owaru Hana
This is 2016's biggest surprise, an overwhelmingly powerful nakige that doesn't bother doing much more than stabbing your heart with the plight of the characters and their travels from the depths of despair up the staircase of hope. In terms of emotional impact, I can honestly say no other VN in this year even got close, which is why Inochi no Spare got knocked off the list by this one. I'll be straight... I'm a sucker for the heroes drunk on their own heroism, and the protagonist in this one fills that bill perfectly. As such, I literally spent hours in tears playing this game.
VN of the Year Announcement
Those four were the final candidates when I moved to my inner-brain semi-finals, and they fought one another viciously for a place in the finals, then the golden Pocky of VN of the Year. Karenai Sekai shattered Amatsutsumi in a battle that lasted only a few moments, and Tokyo Necro and Akeiro Kaikitan fought a brutal fistfight that ended with broken bones and Tokyo Necro's heel on Akeiro's head.
In the end, there came a brutal month-long battle in my back-brain between Tokyo Necro and Karenai Sekai, the two kamige blasting entire imaginary cities away in their attempts to claw out one another's guts. Again and again, they shattered swords on one another's bones and regenerated from seemingly fatal wounds in an instant. A continent sank beneath their feet, yet they continued to war with one another, even as their armies of followers drowned in the onrushing waters of the world's oceans.
In the end it was a matter of overall brilliance of design as a victory over pure emotionalism that resulted in Tokyo Necro being victor over Karenai Sekai, thus becoming VN of the Year 2016. Unlike 2015, where there were few to choose from, 2016 was excellent, with numerous candidates from various genres to pick from. While I won't go so far as to say the year was awe-inspiring, it was indeed a pleasure to read the VNs listed above, as well as those below.
Honorable Knockouts/Worthy of Memory
Inochi no Spare
Ryuukishi Bloody Saga
Sora no Tsukurikata
Lamunation (this and Signalist were the best comedy VNs of the year)
Sakura no Mori Dreamers (knocked out of the running by Akeiro Kaikitan)
Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru (knocked out by Floral Flowlove and Amatsutsumi for nakige candidacy)
Koi Suru Otome to Shugo no Tate - Bara no Seibo - (sequel, so not a candidate)
Ou no Mimi ni wa Todokanai (two great games by AXL in one year...)
Suzu Fanatic reacted to Fred the Barber for a blog entry, Some thoughts on Highway Blossoms's writing
I want to preface this by saying that I enjoyed Highway Blossoms. But if I want to see better stuff out there in English language Visual Novels, whether OELVN or in translation, people are going to have to start criticizing the problems they have, and I didn't see criticism of the problems I found in Highway Blossoms. So, so that the creators (be they OELVN writers or translators) can learn and benefit from criticism and hopefully come back with something stronger next time around, and so that potential readers know what they're getting into, here's my critique of some of the flaws I found in Highway Blossoms's writing.
I'm really just talking about the writing here. I'll start by talking about macro-scale problems: issues I had with themes and how they were handled, and problems that should have been solved in developmental editing. I'm, frankly, not very good at seeing these kinds of problems: I'm better at seeing small-scale (line-by-line) problems. I'll talk about those second.
For what it's worth, I think the macro-scale issues are not that bad, but the micro-scale issues are pretty bad. If your reaction to the broader problems I talk about first is "yes, but all games have issues like this, and many/most are much worse about it", let's be clear that I'm totally with you on that one. I just think that this game could be made better by addressing some of them, so I want to talk about them a little bit. Let's start there.
Themes - Americana and music
"Americana" is a big overarching theme for this game, but in spite of that, the VN includes a lot of Japanese-isms. Why is an earthy late-teens American girl fretting about "indirect kisses" (scare quotes courtesy of the original text) like a typical Japanese schoolgirl eroge heroine? Why are both of the heroines flashing peace signs in a photograph, again for all the world like Japanese schoolgirls? In one scene that I blocked out of my mind until I found it in my screenshots, some late-teenage American guy is bowing repeatedly. Highway Blossoms wants to be about the rural American south-west, but these weeaboisms, in part, compromise that goal. Examples:
The topic of music was treated very oddly. It was almost constantly there, hanging over the conversation and the action, but it somehow never made its way into being a focus. One character liked to talk about music, and it seemed to hold a deep meaning for her as a personal connection to her grandfather, but the others just kind of nodded or frowned along when the topic came up - they understood and accepted the importance, but there was no real discourse about it, just constant name-dropping. Music as a theme featured prominently in both minor scenes and key scenes, but somehow never felt particularly important to the narrative. When I was done reading, I still didn't really feel that Marina and Amber had connected over music, and I still didn't have a good handle on what music meant to Amber. By way of contrast, I read VA-11 Hall-A about a week after I read Highway Blossoms. In the space of three drinks with Kira Miki, I learned more about the significance of music to that character than I did throughout all of Highway Blossoms's music mentions.
An unnecessary scene
Lastly on macro-scale problems, I did feel that there was at least one whole scene that should have been cut from Highway Blossoms: the Jumbo scene. The actions of the main characters in this scene actually subverted their characterization: I don't view Amber as the sort of person to commit petty vandalism against an individual, nor Marina the sort of person to laugh prettily about it afterwards, even if the victim was a redneck who wouldn't stop hitting on both of them. This scene was, I guess, meant to be comic relief? But it didn't succeed, at least for me. It just introduced a flat side character who served no purpose but to be the butt of a bad joke. Cut it.
Telling rather than showing
At a micro scale, which admittedly is something I'm more picky about, the writing has a few big problems. First, it tends to tell rather than show, a fair amount of the time. Examples:
The telling/showing issues are at their worst when the narration adopts what I can only call a first-person omniscient point of view, where the narrating character somehow reads the mind of the other main character and narrates all of her emotions directly. The first time I saw this, it was just a straight-up description of complex emotions and motivations; this does not make for an interesting or compelling read. In contrast, the very next line was a solid example of showing: it described actions in a way that vibrantly communicated the underlying emotions. The potential for solid work is here, but it's headed off by missteps like the above examples.
Second, verbosity and purple prose are a serious problem. Examples:
Most of these are not describing crucial events, and even the ones that are need better handling. For the second screenshot, for instance, all that needs to be communicated is "we drank a lot of beer" (not necessarily in those words; just that idea). Instead, it's been turned into a mess of mixed metaphors and unnecessarily complex verbiage. Unfortunately, this is par for the course - every well-executed line is balanced by one full of dead weight. Important lines fade into the background because descriptors are bloating the unimportant lines as well. Economy is an essential element to good writing, and it's sorely lacking in Highway Blossoms.
Finally, there's a lot of simply unnatural phrasing and odd language choice, some of it even apparently intentional. Examples:
When the writing avoids all of these issues, or when (as happened to me in one noteworthy scene) the music and CG combine to carry the reader pell-mell through a scene, so that you skim the text rather than actually reading it, the VN has some great moments. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the time, it does fall victim to one or more of the above issues and becomes a lot less of a joy to read.
Now, look, I know that all sounds pretty bad; it probably sounds like I hated this game. I didn't. I think the art was generally gorgeous, especially the background art and some of the CGs. I rather liked the soundtrack, and I thought it fit the setting well. On that topic, I love the setting — different is good! I am always up for VNs outside of high schools and outside of Japan. But the bulk of the experience in a visual novel, for me at least, is the novel part. It's the script, the writing. The writing in Highway Blossoms, especially when looked at line-by-line, comes up short.
Suzu Fanatic reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Kimi to Yumemishi
Ok... this is by a new company by the name of Laplacian, and as a result, I didn't really have much in the way of expectations for it. As a result, I wasn't disappointed... but they didn't manage to surprise me either, sadly. This VN's protagonist has the ability to enter people's dreams when they dream about him and uses a perfume he designed himself to make people remember and dream about him when they go to sleep.
This VN, when it comes down to it, is a straight-out moege. The low-level character development, the obvious targeting of moe-points, and the general shallowness of the conflicts, drama, etc. are all fairly standard for the ancient 'pure' moege genre. The common route of this VN is basically sort-of ecchi dream scenes with slice-of-life inserted between. I'll be straight with you when I say that there really isn't much content at all to this game, at least in part because the makers apparently couldn't decide if they wanted this to be a straight-out moege or a nukige.
There isn't enough H in this game to call it a nukige, but the level of characterization is about the same as your average nukige, sadly. What reinforces this is that the visuals are about at the same level as a mid-high level doujin circle's work (in other words, it lacks the polish of commercial moege but looks too good for most doujin games), and the rather sloppy nature of some of the technical aspects. In particular, the scene transitioning is done poorly, with the music switching off abruptly between scenes rather than merely shifting to a new track... In addition, the system sound is ear-piercing and omnipresent if you highlight anything with your mouse... and you can't turn it off without eliminating all sound effects (even if you turn it down to the lowest level, it is still painful to the ears).
It is rare for me to rate a VN on technical and visual aspects, but the fact is that the game's other content just isn't good enough to cover for the problems with the technical and visual aspects. The story could have been touching, save that the routes are generally bare-bones affairs and character development is minimal.
In conclusion, this VN is an abortion... don't bother playing it.
Suzu Fanatic reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Some explanations about my current state
Some people here already know that I hurt my knee falling down the stairs a while ago... what most of you don't know is that the stuff they have me on (non-narcotic pain drugs, sleep pills, and antibiotics) in combination make me a zombie for most of the day... I sleep around twelve hours a day, am fuzzy for two to three hours more, have to do rehab exercises for another two hours, and I spend around four hours of what is remaining working.
Needless to say, this doesn't leave much time for anything else... which is why VN of the Month is so far behind. Normally, by this point I would have played through at least four or five of the month's VNs, and I would probably be considering which one - if any - was worth the VN of the month rating... as it is, it has taken me a little over seventeen days to finish just two VNs from April's releases.
I'm basically venting my frustration right now... since I lose money with every day I can't work at full capacity and I go a little more stir crazy with every day I can't go out and get some fresh air without using crutches. For the first time in almost nine years, I actually had to use up my entire pay for a month for bills and food (the medical bills being the highest, obviously).
Needless to say, I'm in a sour mood.
If I seem harsh toward the remaining VNs this month, please forgive me. It is really, really hard to concentrate outside of work right now... and I'm actually having to reconsider a lot of my plans for the rest of the year based on the costs I project for the rest of the next few months. Nothing pisses me off more than being unable to rectify everyday money problems (which is why I work so much normally)....
Anyway, that's enough moaning from me for now. The two key points are that the above are the reasons VN of the Month is so far behind and I so rarely post, despite the fact that I'm technically 'online' (I rarely if ever shut down the fuwanovel tab, lol) all the time. If I'm slow to respond, it is because I'm not myself, not because I'm not interested in doing so.