Writing 1000+ word posts for everything I played recently is too troublesome so here’s a collection of short impressions. There’s a bunch of stuff I played, but didn’t write a proper review for when I was still motivated. Basically scrap review bin for mostly VNs.
Getsuei Gakuen -kou-
A visual novel developed by Arc System Works for the PS Vita, based off of voice actor Sugita Tomokazu’s doujin game. It’s a modern supernatural battle story set around a high school whose members of the student council fight monsters called Hazards at night. The student council members consist of students from the Kuzuryu, the council of the nine families that govern the town, and only they have the special powers needed to fight. The protagonist is Touyama Kou, a transfer student who happens to have the power of copying other people’s powers (including the enemy’s) despite not being even remotely related to the Kuzuryu. On top of that, time loops back when he dies, as shown in the first day of school where he gets killed. The beginning of the game reminds me of Persona 3, atmospherically.
Being a loop game, there are no good endings except for the very final one, and even that does not provide a very satisfying conclusion. It ends on an overall positive note, but is pretty much a slap in the face if you cared for anyone other than the main girl. The truth behind the setting is revealed rather late into the story, which ends as you start getting absorbed into the *real* setting. The major twist is bizarre and somewhat reminiscent of Danganronpa’s reveal.
With that said, the high school part and battles with superpowers take up the large majority of the text and they aren’t particularly well done. The characters stick a bit too close to the template high school cast without offering anything special to seriously care for, and the battles, while backed by good production values and dynamic special effects, ultimately lack weight when it comes to the actual writing. Most of the battles are Musou-style mob fights against copy and pasted enemies, except you’re watching someone else do it from a first-person view. The story gets pretty interesting near the end, and I also really liked the Asou sisters’ route (the fact that the two sisters got a shared route was disappointing, though), of all the necessary “bad” ending branches. The writing is also kind of plain, but some characters have enough charisma to make it more fun to read (Kyouichirou best dude). Too bad the characters I liked ended up taking more of a backseat in the overall story and grand route, and the ones they keep trying to force onto the player are the least interesting ones. The protagonist’s feelings weren’t very convincing, either, and the touching moments were dryly executed.
Music was nice, especially some of the battle themes. I don’t care for the art nor the character design (except Ritsu, green twintails are cute), but the production values are good thanks to being developed by an actual mainstream-ish game company.
How much you like the final parts of the game probably depends on how well the main heroine sits with you. She’s a terribly done tsundere who just comes off as a rude girl lacking even the most basic manners, and is also a massive brocon. I normally like tsunderes, but Eiri is just pushing it too far without a proper reason for being outwardly hostile. The final battles were also underwhelming in execution, because none of the writers displayed any talent in writing one-on-one fights, either in pure action style or grandiose chuuni style. Boring fight scenes and anticlimatic battles really bring down a VN that centers around fighting monsters.
Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru: 11-nin no Suspect
A mystery sound novel that’s supposed to be this generation’s follow-up to Chunsoft’s famous murder mystery, Kamaitachi no Yoru. Unfortunately, it’s terrible as a murder mystery. You can tell that more effort was put into the joke scenarios than the main story. Also, what kind of murder mystery lets you prevent the entire plot of the game on NG+ with a few choices in the first chapter? The main story is also littered with pointless dialogue options. Some of the main character’s deductions should have been made into choices, rather than pointless stuff with no relation to the case on hand. The “inspection” gameplay is a waste of time since you only get one chance to examine an object in the room, and even if you choose the wrong object, the text will lead to the right one automatically. There’s also a system where you piece together evidence to create a working explanation, but that pops up once in a blue moon, and the rest of the game is spent reading conversations.
The joke scenarios (which add up to be longer than the main thing) range from pointlessly long to mildly entertaining. The Shinigami episode determines your ending by counting up how many “death flags” you made the main character say. The Spy episode was the most fun, because choices pop up every few minutes, and there are actually loads of branches and bad ends depending on whether you chose to pick up certain items or how many bullets you have left in your gun. Speaking of bad ends, there are a shitload of them in this game, and most of them are from the joke scenarios.
At the end Shin Kamaitachi turns out to be a watered-down product that tries to reproduce the fun joke scenarios of 428, without what made 428, y’know, actually good.
Himawari Aqua After
Fandisc to the doujin VN, Himawari. It’s the follow-up to Aqua’s ending in the original, and despite being called a fandisc, it doesn’t contain much fanservice. There aren’t even any new CGs! What it does do is provide a thorough examination of Aqua’s character, bringing out all sides of her to produce one of the most complex and dynamic eroge characters I’ve seen. As stated in his afterword, Goo was prepared to turn off a good number of Aqua fans since the Aqua After essentially strips away her appeal as a strictly 2D eroge heroine.
The care and thoroughness put into characterizing Aqua is probably why she manages to be one of my favorite eroge heroines, though. You can also see Goo’s improvement as a writer, since his writing felt kind of rough at the beginning of Himawari, but is really coherent and effective by the time he wrote Aqua After. Also some unanswered questions are expanded on, along with the setting. Definitely worth a read. The ending might not appeal to everyone , since it changes what some people consider Himawari’s only true happy ending into something more ambiguous. This is the type of work that can probably only be gotten away with because it’s a doujin, and serves as a reminder why doujin works are needed despite the fact that the good:bad ratio is even lower than commercial eroge.
Easily the best thing on this list, and probably the best eroge of 2014 so far according to a good number of people. It’s easy to see why, too. Not only does HL have the best protagonist I’ve seen in recent times, it also has absorbing prose and a tightly-paced, thematically driven story that is closer in tempo to a play than an eroge. The story follows Narita Shinri, who transfers into a school for those who have powers know as ‘Halo.’ The Halo are powers that would bring upon a revolution in the world, and the recent increase of them signifies that the current world is approaching a need for mass reform. The school aims to produce ‘Nobles’ fit to lead the world, but Narita opposes the idea as he believes that people need to desire for change on their own, rather than being led by Noble leaders.
Students are ranked based on the power of their Halo, and the top five students with the rank of Etoile form the student council-esque group known as the Crown. Narita, upon his transfer, immediately gets the rank of Etoile and is invited to join the Crown. However, he rejects the offer due to conflict of interest, and even manages to defeat the Crown’s strongest combatant without using his Halo at all. Being directly against the ideal of the school, Narita is basically a walking troublemaker, and seems to have transferred into the school with a certain purpose in mind. He drives the entire plot, is overpowered from the start, and appears to be an almost flawless protagonist ability-wise, defined by his elaborately theatrical speech pattern and sometimes lack of common sense. He operates with a certain goal of revenge in mind, and it doesn’t take long to reveal that he’s two-faced and unhesitating with the methods needed to achieve his goal. His objective is one that serves to satisfy his anger and in return benefits no one, yet he is human enough to make you root for him.
There are four heroines with an enforced route order. While the heroines are average to good, it’s difficult to outshine our colorful protagonist. At the end, I found Saku to be the best fit for him, in no thanks due to hers being the final route that the other three build up to. Their clashing personalities also work very well together. The first three routes reveal information bit by bit, but only Saku’s route really builds up to a high climax. And while all the routes focus on the theme of revenge, Saku’s route is the one that explicitly shows how it can never be satisfying, even if successfully carried out. Although Ell was supposed to have the penultimate route, I found her route rather lacking for such a position. Sorako’s was better.
The pacing is snappy and the story often skips directly to the important parts. There’s some humor and slice-of-life as well, but they’re only shown enough for the reader to “get the point” and understand that they do have fun in the academy, rather than being driven home through repetition like countless other works in the medium. The story also reveals enough information at any given point so that the next “twist” can be reasonably predicted, and the draw is more on the writing and the theme of revenge than the excitement of the chuu2 setting. Even that one final twist is rather expected if you study a certain side character’s behavior. The story ties together so that most important plot points introduced are explained and make sense, but there’s also a lot left in the setting that could be further expanded on. I’m hoping the fandisc does that. Hishia, Narita’s super maid, has a rich background that I expected to be unveiled in detail in the end, but it was wrapped up in a few lines of summary and she remained a battle-support character to the very end.
Music was good, but I wasn’t a fan of the art. Not only does the smooth, shiny art actually look kind of off on the simple character designs, the soft style doesn’t really suit the overall tone of the work. It does emit that ‘Noble’ aura though, I give it that.
Ima Sugu Onii-chan no Imouto datte Iitai!
An all-ages galge in the same setting as the eroge Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate, which I did not read nor watch the anime adaptation of. It’s about Mitani Rikuto, meets a cute girl when checking his high school entrance exam results. Then he finds out that his father is getting remarried and the other party has a kid named Ayumu…who happens to be the girl he met. The thing is, she’s now pretending to be a boy and claims to be his new little brother, despite being as convincing as Kenshiro trying to pass off as a high school girl. Oh, but she’s still attending school as a girl, so now Rikuto has a little sister pretending to be his little brother pretending to be a girl at school. As you can probably tell, both the Japanese title and the English title (I wanna say that I’m not your brother right now!) point to Ayumu. It’s no surprise, then, that she can be considered the main heroine and holds the route with the most effort put in.
The story takes place over the first month or so of high school, where competitive events between first year classes are being held. A good deal of the common route focuses on uniting the class and participating in class discussions for school events. Ayumu’s route deals with Rikuto getting over his dead mother and accepting his new family, and ends up being rather heartwarming. There are three other heroines, and their routes are pretty much standard moege fare in terms of conflict and resolution. I guess Matsuri’s issue is a pretty strange one for an all-ages galge to attempt, but the other two are pretty by-the-book with the Haida’s route focusing on her gaining more courage and leadership ability, and Mao coming to terms with her inner girlishness. I didn’t really like how the latter was done since it took some really roundabout way for the character in question to reach a conclusion that most modern people would come up with two minutes into the problem. I guess they were trying to go for the gap moe with Mao with the setting of her being a cool swordsman pretending to be a guy but secretly liking cute things, but the balance was too skewed in favor of the “secret” cute side to properly create the ~*gap*~.
The watercolory art is nice and the background environments give a refreshing atmosphere so it’s certainly a very pretty game. I wish they used the blue backlight technique more, because it looks really good. Otherwise it’s a pretty average moege that isn’t too heavy on comedy and doesn’t do anything exceptional for the genre. Perhaps it’s due to the game’s all-ages nature, since I find all-ages galge to be more restrained in general when it comes to comedy and the type of content they try to tackle (barring SF stuff).
I liked Miku, the self-proclaimed imouto with no route. Also Ayumu’s mother is cute and looks like a teenager.
One Way Heroics
Possibly the best game I have ever bought for less than a dollar. Despite looking like a game made using some version of RPG Maker, it’s actually not (the creator made his own RPG creation tool, available for public use). It also combines some unusual elements to make a fun, refreshing game that makes for a high amount of replayability.
One Way Heroics is a scrolling roguelike. It takes the basic gameplay concepts of a roguelike, where you move tile-by-tile and the enemies move with you. The player character has a hunger bar in addition to an HP bar. Hunger decreases with every action and restores when you eat. if hunger drops to 0, HP starts decreasing instead. Battles are done on the world map, and enemies will attack whenever you attack, if they’re within attacking range. Each player’s world is procedurally generated, so you’ll never know where the towns are beforehand. Your goal is to defeat the Demon Lord. It all sounds par for the roguelike genre, until we get to the scrolling part. A cloud of darkness engulfs the world with every few steps, from the left hand side of the screen. If you touch the darkness, you die. Therefore, you must continue moving right at all costs, and you won’t be able to return to previous areas once you walk past them. There’s also an in-game time system that keeps track of day and night, which is used for some mechanics.
There are a wide variety of classes you can choose to play as, including unlockable ones. There are also multiple difficulties. On the easiest difficulty, the Demon Lord is set to appear at a certain mark. On higher difficulties, he will show up after a certain amount of time has passed and can leave and appear again. Once you die it’s game over, but depending on how well you did, you are awarded points that can be used to unlock new classes or carry over items to your next playthrough.
Roguelikes are known for being a hardcore genre with a steep curve, but One Way Heroics is very accessible for beginners and gamers who take a more laid-back approach to their hobby as well. The first playthrough on the easiest difficulty took me less than three hours, but higher difficulties last much longer since the Demon Lord can come and leave. There are also more ways to “clear” the game than just beating the Demon Lord in combat on the higher difficulties. Overall, it’s a fun spin on the roguelike genre and great for its value. Music is also good.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
I loved Miracle Mask, the previous Professor Layton game, so I figured I’d get the final game to finish off the prequel trilogy. It’s pretty much more of the same: a collection of puzzles strung together by an adventure story featuring Professor Layton and his apprentices. Absurd plot developments are expected. The story this time is more similar to an actual RPG than the others. Not only do you get an airship, there’s a part in the middle where you have to travel to five places around the world collecting key items, and a story that ends up with uncovering the secrets of an ancient, extinct race and a final struggle that once again boils down to proving that humans don’t and won’t repeat mistakes of the past. I like orthodox JRPG stories, but not in Professor Layton.
As for the rest of the game, it’s pretty much series fatigue for me. I remember enjoying a lot of the puzzles in previous entries (and even ended up using math to calculate answers for simple riddles), but this is the sixth Layton game so I guess during the gap between Miracle Mask and Azran Legacy, I got tired of all the rehashed puzzles. There’s only so many ways you can change up things like “count the amount of ____ he will need to _____ if it takes n amount of (the first blank) to do k amounts of (the second blank) (by the way this is more likely than not a trick question)” or sliding puzzles. There were a number of fun puzzles, but I wasn’t as compelled to solve most of them like I was in previous games.
I’m currently playing Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, and finding it much more enjoyable to play through since it has better pacing an a more interesting plot in general, along with snappy dialogue thanks to the awesome combo of Shu Takumi + the Ace Attorney localization style.
On a more positive note, the 3DS Layton games look great. I hope Level-5 makes more games in the visual style of the series, or at least the beautifully illustrated backgrounds. The game also has plenty of content, and should be enjoyable for anyone who hasn’t experience series fatigue yet.