Mostly ADVs and Compile Heart RPGs.
Table of Contents
A very well known console galge made by FOG, the ridiculously untrendy company that went on to make a galge where you spend the majority of your time navigating through Hokkaido by yourself on a ghetto version of Google Street View and is selling a PDF walkthrough of their latest game burnt onto a blank CD and packaged into a generic paper CD slip through Amazon in 2015. Maruto of Parfait/WA2/Saekano fame was a fan of the game and got invited into Kikakuya by the writer of Kuon no Kizuna, who discovered the former through fan communities for his game.
Kuon no Kizuna is a tale of a couple who reincarnate through 1000 years from the Heian period to modern day, and the people around them who get roped into the same fate. Featuring three widely different eras in Japanese history and heavy use of Japanese mythology, it’s an interesting work that showcases how the characters change through various iterations of their lives. Each era has its unique atmosphere with the same characters reincarnated into different roles and circumstances, and each heroine has two or three variations other than their modern day one. It’s easy to see why the game was so influential, since it was extremely story-heavy for a console galge in the 90’s and had some pretty dense writing that resembled a novel more than an ADV. There’s plenty of concepts used that were fresh at the time, which likely inspired games later on that do it better. The best parts about the game were the flashbacks to past eras, with the Heian era being the best realized part of the game. I honestly would not have minded if they set the entire game during Heian with the Onmyouji setting instead of jumping back to bad 90’s high school occult drama. The routes other than the main heroine’s are basically not worth doing, the climax is rather anticlimatic, and the action scenes are poorly written compared to the rest of the game. The last point is a huge minus since the game really likes to pit the protagonist into 雑魚 fights to give the player “choices”. The pentagram drawing mini-game is miles better than pointless choices like “dodge right” or “dodge left”. The pacing and atmosphere were pretty good around the Heian era but the rest of the game is almost 超展開 level with some really cheesy 90’s high school supernatural stuff. I appreciate that they keep bringing out new events and reveals that would take entire routes in modern eroge, but the whole thing sped up too fast and refuses to slow down and explore its characters beyond a superficial level even when there was so much interesting stuff set up. There was a lot more they could do with the characters in the modern era given how their characters parallel that of their past lives, but the game decides it’s a better idea to keep throwing an angry delinquent at you to create more shallow conflict. Ultimately, like a lot of popular galge in the 90’s, Kuon no Kizuna would have been much, much better if you played it in the 90’s. I still liked it somewhat, but the second half of the game is quite underwhelming for a 1000 year reincarnation story as built up by the Heian arc.
Another good thing about the game is that every heroine gets to be a loli in one time period. Not just a 1x year old petite female like how eroge like to handwave it but an actual 12-13 year old. The main heroine also gets a pseudo h-scene in her 13 year old iteration and hey, it was totally legal during the Genroku era! Even the teacher heroine gets to be 13 in the Bakumatsu era and boy was she a great loli. Probably had the most distinct character out of all the iterations of all the heroines too, it’s a shame that she had criminally little screentime in her era. Looking forward to how each era portrays the heroines differently yet in a way that parallels their original setting is part of the fun of the game, and the various male characters involved in the reincarnation process bring some neat points to the table. For example, the annoying delinquent was actually a chill bro in one era until he fell for a girl who liked you and everything came crashing down. I wanted the game to continue that thread but the guy never gets his redemption (except in the bonus 再臨詔 route whose purpose is to come back and give everyone else a convenient happy ending after the true route) and ends up as a filler fight fodder in every route. Speaking of the 再臨詔 route, it was added in the Dreamcast (and later PS2) port of the game as a route that happens after Mayou’s true ending to give unfortunate side characters a better conclusion. It could work given the length and effort of a full route, but as it stands it’s a rushed effort. It also introduces a new ambiguous ending that essentially overwrites the clean ending in the original true route, which probably pissed off a lot of fans. It stands as a 賛否両論 thing today, and my feelings are 微妙 because while I don’t hate the idea of the route or the ending, it simply wasn’t written very well.
Kuon no Kizuna is basically that doujin game Tomoya & co. make in the first part of Saekano. The observations Maruto make about it in the context of the modern galge industry are pretty spot on. Also I discovered a love for 和風 fantasy. There should be more.
I think this might be the first moege that I managed to fullcomp in a long while. If you’re looking for a pure high school romantic comedy with no extraneous setting to misuse and no drama for the sake of drama then Fureraba is a pretty good choice. The characters are fun and all feel like actual teenagers doing immature things/having dumb conversations, and the heroines are unique twists from the moege archetypes they appear to belong to at first glance. The conflict in each route is pretty low key and tend to be solved gradually without any sort of climatic turnover. The important thing is that they all feel natural to the heroine’s character and are never unnecessary shit shoved in for the sake of conflict. The common route is weaker than Pure x Connect’s, but I enjoyed the heroine routes a lot more and the heroines themselves as well. Misaki is the cutest, and I thoroughly enjoyed Himari’s route despite her being arguably the most generic moege heroine the game has.
I probably won’t play another moege for a while but if I do it’ll be from these guys. Perhaps I was too harsh on Pure x Connect.
It’s pretty much a normal galge in a high school setting, except the heroines are hardly typical for such a template setting aside from one or two. I can see why it has so many fans and is fondly remembered, since the characters are kind of out there for a mainstream console galge. The heroines’ personalities really jump out at you, especially compared to Photo Kano’s cookie cutter character settings. There’s also some CGs that put the D in the CERO rating and the weirdest situations to go with them instead of mildly erotic scenes like one would expect. I mean, you get to cut a girl’s toenails and let your senpai shave your leg. I’m no riajuu but I’m not sure that’s how high school kids flirt, even in galge… Well, there’s one route where the heroine just goes into full-on attack mode in the friend stage and kisses you, which is kind of refreshing compared to how the former industry giant Tokimemo took three years to get to a confession.
One of the neat things is that there’s a Love route and a Friend route for each heroine, and the latter doesn’t mean the friendzone (at least from the two routes I played). You take the Love route for a normal (I guess) galge approach to romance, and the Friend route for a friend to lovers kind of relationship in the last third. The gameplay consists of having “conversations” with the heroines by selecting the right topic at the right stage in the conversation, which is pretty much trial and error so it gets annoying having to restart the day when you fuck up. There is basically no plot so I stopped after four heroines, but the characters are weird enough that they kept me going more than Photo Kano’s.
Japanese high school ghostbusters, basically. I dropped it around halfway through because the minigame was too annoying to play through, but the story appears to be an episodic thing where the main gang goes around dealing with ghosts that come with various backstories. The characters were kind of hard to enjoy to be honest, and the story is nowhere near gripping enough to put up with the lame board game you have to go through each time you hunt ghosts. I would have probably pushed forth towards the end had the game been a full visual novel or had the battles used a regular SRPG system instead of “guess how the ghost will move next turn and swing at empty space or break some objects.” Instead of taking turns, your characters and the ghosts will move at the same time so where you see the ghost now is not where it will be when your characters actually swing their weapons to attack it. The production values are also rather shitty since all you see is a white grid board, and the interface is more of a pain to deal with than it should be.
It’s not a hard game and guessing where the ghost is moving to next is not exactly difficult, but neither is it fun. The saving grace is the art, which is pretty good and uses a painting style that isn’t very common in ADVs these days. The characters obnoxious, especially the main (?) girl who seems to be unreasonably hostile to the point where the writing prioritizes her being tsun over her being believable at her role.
Atelier developer Gust’s ultimate kamige whose marvel cannot be described with words. It is so amazing, that one would never have to play another adventure game ever again. From the stunning 3D animations to the totally not cryptic puzzles that can be solved with common sense to the elegantly designed crocodile shooting mini-game, it is everything I have ever hoped for in a video game. The dog partner who can drive a car is the best bro, and you get to fight tanks and submarines while exploring ancient ruins. A masterpiece like this can never be made in the modern era.
This game has become famous by now for being an otome game about dating birds, with actual photographs of birds used as the tachi-e for the characters. The protagonist is a human girl.
On the surface, the game seems to be an absurd parody of otome games, with the protagonist attending a high school for pigeons and the game playing out like a standard 学園モノ with a half-baked stat raising component stuffed in. The protagonist, being a human hunter, starts off with a ridiculous stat distribution of 1 INT, 800 STR, and 5 Charm. You experience things like the athletic festival, Tanabata, cultural festival, and all kinds of school events, except with birds. The individual routes, aiming to parody just about every kind of well-known romance game templates circa 2011, have a bunch of 超展開 and go as far from unity as you possibly can in a single game. Some routes tell normal romance stories, while others are seeped in denpa and chuuni from head to toe, and then some are downright horrifying routes. Because this is a doujin game about dating birds, no one is expected to give a fuck even though this shit would never fly in a commercial game. In a good way.
Everything is tied together and then flipped on its head in the final route. Only in this route does the setting even get properly introduced, and basically all limiters are removed as the plot goes to lengths that no one would have expected from a game that starts off as a school love comedy parody with birds. Absurd elements that the reader would quickly write off as just silly things for the sake of a joke game get properly explained, and a good sense of tension persists for the entire route. As a final route, it serves as the most satisfying part of the game in which every character gets their best moments, and it’s where you start liking the cast of birds as genuine characters. Okay, the two comic relief characters are still jokes, but I liked them from day one, and they do the best things in the final route. Most people who like Hatoful Boyfriend do because of the final route and how well it plays around with the silly concept of a bird otome game.
I’m sure anyone with an ounce of interest in otome games have heard about the massive bomb that was this game. The art is beautiful and the setting had potential, but the writing is atrocious and all you can do is laugh or roll your eyes as you watch scenes intended to be tragic get piled on top of each other with characters that are hard to care about. The gameplay system Ravir essentially simulates a battle of words. Many of the conversations and all of the choices are enclosed within this system, and I guess I would have appreciated the gameplay better if the conversations were actually interesting to read. The game wants to create a romantic European setting with knights and ladies in dresses having eloquent conversations, but the dialogues are ridiculously dull, and whatever semblance of fun conversation and personality is drowned out once the first chapter is over. The characters are designed with traits such that any half-competent otome game writer can at least make them appealing to the target audience, but all the side characters ended up being more likable than the main heroine and heroes.
Each of the endings require the protagonist to sacrifice something huge and there is no full salvation ending, but the text fails to give any weight to the sacrifices or drama and they feel incredibly empty. It really says something when Violette, whose original purpose is to save & maintain the world, decides to destroy it half the time and the heroes just coolly accept it despite being characters who would clearly oppose her decision. The routes like to contradict each other, bring up a character’s true goal only when it’s his route despite there being no reason why he wouldn’t execute it in any other, and generally have a narrow vision where none of the settings behind the other guys even matter.
At the end I would have been more lenient on the game if it accomplished the basic requirement of having enjoyable conversations that use the high class French-inspired setting well. My favorite scenes is this funny one involving Leon in chapter 1, which was honestly a scene that could have worked in any setting.
As far as scenario-focused otomege go, Psychedelica is pretty solid in regards to having a plot that doesn’t stop throwing new things at you. The atmosphere is neat and the visuals accompany it well with the brightly colored characters contrasting against the creepy gothic mansion environment. The characters are a decent bunch and despite the format of the game I find the build up to the romance to be pretty good. I would cite the breakneck pacing of the plot and how little time it wastes on irrelevant slice-of-life events to be its strong point, if it weren’t for the fact that you are forced to read bonus SoL scenes in the flowchart before proceeding to the next chapter. This chapter lock often happens when the plot is gripping and the player is the most anxious to see what happens next, which really kills the otherwise smooth pace. If it wants the player to read through all these random SoL scenes in the common route anyway, might as well stick them in the main plot at appropriate downtimes instead.
There’s certainly a lot of concepts in the game that could be explored more, but I guess I liked the main hero’s route enough. It’s not a particularly long game and I finished it in a day or two, so it doesn’t ever feel like it overstays its welcome and the characters get adequate development, but at the same time it always feels like they could have gone a step further with its ideas in writing. Overall it concludes nicely and I liked it except for the 大団円 end which basically undoes everything relevant for a forced 100% happy ending.
I sure have played a lot of their games. I’ve probably played a higher percentage of Compile Heart games than games of companies that I would actually consider myself a fan of. As far as their games go, I’m not as enthusiastic for their main series Neptune as I am for some of their other recent stuff. I don’t dislike most of them during my playthrough, but shortly after finishing I get the whole “I could definitely have spent those 40 hours much better” feeling.
I say all this, yet I still find myself coming back to Compile Heart like some sort of moth to white light. At this point I think it’s a combination of liking the art and being too comfortable with the company despite all complaints, like how I’m still eating McDonalds. You pretty much know what to expect from their games and none of them pretend to be anything other than a chara-ge. I was pleasantly surprised with Makaishin Trillion but that’s a NIS game at heart (and I gotta see how MeiQ is before saying anything else).
Neptune Re;Birth 2 – A remake of mk2 for the Vita, replacing it with V’s battle system and adjusting the difficulty so you don’t have a braindead game that suddenly throws in a boss that can basically wipe your entire party in one move. The Remake system makes the game a lot better, and there’s a real-time minigame that gets you items even when idle. Re;Birth 2 takes out Nippon Ichi and Gust-chan, which sucks since I look forward to seeing the maker characters more than the main cast. They put in RED and I forget who else, and former DLC characters are included in the base game so that makes up for it I guess. The most fun I had with the game was the Delphinus fight before level cap increase DLC were released, which meant fighting a boss that you can’t grind for. It was a pretty ギリギリ battle that required strategy and a good understanding of the battle system, and shows that good things can come out of the Neptune series’ battle system.
As a remake it’s good and makes the original game better in almost every way.
The Noire SRPG – I forget the full name but you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s an SRPG starring fan favorite character Noire, developed by Sting. As an SRPG it’s not terrible, but also not great (sure loses to Utawarerumono 2, which also had its battles by Sting). The story is underwhelming as they somehow shoved in a random male protagonist and Noire’s character isn’t handled as smoothly as in the main series (though I never did like her much despite being extremely popular and made out of a bunch of traits I’d normally like), but there are a lot of 擬人化 of Playstation game series and that made it fun. There’s a large cast of characters to use as well. IMO the series is better off introducing more new makers or new characters for spin-offs than reusing the regulars every time.
The production values aren’t exactly high, but it’s a rare game that doesn’t completely reuse assets from other Neptune games since everyone gets a chibi 3D model and the SRPG maps are scaled accordingly.
Action U – Collaboration with Tamsoft brings forth a Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus clone with a Neptune skin, with basically none of the parts of the former that make the plot worth reading. You just get worse-than-usual Neptune jokes with Musou gameplay and clothing damage mechanics. There’s about 5-10 hours of content before the main story credits, and I still got sick of the game before hitting post-game contents. I guess I just tire of Musou easily, but I don’t remember that being the case with Senran Kagura. I suppose the more of them you play, the earlier you get bored. Like most Neptune games, there’s something that tickles the grinding and collecting itch in the form of monster medals, but I don’t want to slash through another 300 Dogoos.
Ken to Mahou no Fantasy
A standalone light novel by Tanaka Romeo, which has been remarked to read nothing like a light novel. After reading it I’d have to agree — the plot construction and characterization (especially the main heroine’s) are rather far off from most books that are marketed as light novels. The story takes place in a fantasy world inhabited by western fantasy races like elves and dwarves, with none of the romantic adventurousness that typically follows a swords and sorcery setting. “Magic” is a parallel to our world’s technology and computers, and young people in university are dealing with the dreaded job hunt. The protagonist goes through many soul-crushing rejections and terribad interviews, and the answer he finds at the end of the novel is the equivalent of “fuck this shit” in the eyes of modern society. The ending doesn’t resolve many threads at all, but the conclusion is powerful and the message is clearly realized. It’s an interesting book that didn’t really need to be set in a fantasy world, and for those expecting an actual fantasy light novel, the story’s development and the “resolution” will probably be uncomfortable. I actually like the heroine’s characterization a lot and what the book does with her, but her story is left open at the end, much like many things. I guess I’ll go read Aura now.