enfrdeitptrues

Visual Novel

  • 2236 A.D. (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    2236 A.D.
    Developed By: Chloro
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Released: May 11, 2018
    Available On: Linux, MacOS, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: No Rating
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for the review code.

    People always look towards the future in many ways. Some people are excited to see what it holds for them while others are terrified of it. Sometimes, the past, and the future is a judge of character. Finding yourself, your purpose, can be a lifelong journey for many. One of the scariest things for a person to experience is themself, but what happens when a seemingly small situation leads you on an adventure of self-discovery and worth?

    The visual novel 2236 A.D. stars our protagonist Yotsuba, a young boy attending school in the distant future. This future doesn’t have flying cars or instant teleportation like how many futures are portrayed. What differs from this reality and our own is that the people of the future are capable of telepathy, which for the most part bypasses verbal communication. Telepathy can also be used on objects to see who previously had them and what they have done with them. Some of the people even have special devices called Smart Tools, which act as personal assistants.

    2236 A.D.
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: An engaging philosophical and scientific story that is much deeper within than it leads on. A strange, yet appealing soundtrack that fits the tone of every situation.
    Weak Points: Character art is sub-par. Dead inputs quite frequently, requiring multiple inputs to achieve an action.
    Moral Warnings: Various sexual acts and situations. Full frontal nudity of characters, some who may be quite young. Mild and strong language usage. Some characters submit to their more lustful urges. God’s name is used in vain quite a few times. Blood is sometimes shown in scenes and some instances of descriptive violence. 

    Our protagonist finds himself drawn to the only two classmates that are incapable of telepathy, which makes it very difficult for the two to complete their tasks as most forms of communication are by telepathy. He takes a special interest in one of these classmates; a girl named Haru Shion who stays completely quiet in the classroom, of whom he finds very intriguing. After class ends, he finds a screwdriver on the ground when walking home. Using his telepathy on it, it leads him to an abandoned house, where he then meets a motionless girl, also by the name of Haru Shion. Opposite to the other Haru Shion, this one is only able to communicate by telepathy. Are the two Haru’s the same person, and why do they look so much alike?

    As 2236 A.D. is a visual novel, it puts a heavy emphasis on story, character interaction and dialogue. Some visual novels have gameplay aspects to it, but this one is like most visual novels, where there are some dialogue choices to make. There are not a huge amount of choices in this one, but like most, choosing the wrong dialogue will lead to a sudden and abrupt end. It is pretty obvious what choice or choices to make when the time arises. 2236 A.D. differentiates itself from other VNs by taking a more philosophical approach to its narrative. It really peers into the mind and thought process of a person. It will make you question why people do the things they do, and what things make them act the way they act, and frankly, it does a great job at it. When going through the VN, many different kinds of emotions will be felt, and some situations will hit the heart very heavily. As the game goes on, it takes a more scientific approach where it will talk about various theories that scientists have made in the past, but still keeps up with the philosophical questions about the natural curiosity of a person and ones self-worth.

    As this strange world is based on a possible future of our own, the developers took this liberty to make most of the backgrounds pictures of real life. There are many effects added to these photos such as inverted colors in some of them which give off a bizarre and unsettling feeling. The backgrounds also contain these little subtleties that make the world feel more organic such as wrinkled bed sheets, scattered items throughout and natural settings such as rain and snow. Even though the backgrounds are beautiful and eye catching, I unfortunately cannot say the same for its character design. For a game that originally released in 2015 in Japan, the art of the characters are mediocre and even border around the edge of bad in some scenes. I’ve played low budget VNs that have come out in the late '90’s and early '00’s with vastly better character art. Contrast to the scenery, it makes the characters stick out in a bad way even more and left me very unimpressed.

    2236 A.D.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 53%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Most VNs utilize voice acting to bring more life to it, but as the VN was created by a smaller team on a smaller budget it does not have voice acting outside of a few intro scenes and credits. With the lack of voice acting, they more than make up for it with the music and sound production. The music covers all sorts of genres, at times focusing on classical pieces and other times focusing on modern sounds. Whenever a strange scene happens, strange music accompanies it, with distorted notes and beats, really giving an abnormal feeling. Even though I did not experience any crashes of the sort, there was some odd moments where the game just would not accept my input. I have a computer that far exceeds the system requirements, so it is rather annoying to experience random pauses and eaten inputs.

    Visual Novels have many subgenres to them and one of those genres are of the eroge (erotic+game) variety. 2236 A.D. was originally an eroge, but to be distributed through the Steam client, it has to have its graphic sexual scenes removed. Thus, the version on Steam is an “All Ages” edition. As such, there is an “18+” version distributed via Denpasoft if one is interested in the additional scenes. Even with the removal of the H-scenes, it is still a game marketed and meant for adults. Instances of mild and strong language are shown, with frequent F-bomb usage, as well as some instances of using God’s name in vain. Even by omitting graphic sexual acts, there are still sexual moments such as the groping of breasts or instances of masturbation. Frontal nudity is also shown of a few characters, and some of these characters are of a fairly young age as they are depicted as being in middle school and high school, but their exact age range is never specified. Violence is never outright shown in any of the scenes but there are some scenes where blood is shown, as well as a few scenes where violence is described in detail.

    2236 A.D. takes you and its characters on a crazy journey, letting you see a similar, yet different world through someone’s point of view. It is a coming of age story where many emotions are experienced: anger, jealousy, fear, cowardice, but also joy, and happiness. As the story goes deeper and deeper, it starts to make you question yourself. Do you accept yourself? Do you even love yourself? How far are you willing to go to achieve your dreams and find a place where you belong? 2236 A.D. ends up being a very enjoyable visual novel with a strong narrative, a complementing and compelling soundtrack, and realistic characters that is great for VN veterans and newcomers of the genre, even with its rather unappealing character design. Lovers of science will get enjoyment out if it due to its views and how it tackles the subject. Just be aware that since the game in its original form is of the eroge genre, it still has many sexual situations, and content to match. As such, I would advice caution when considering this title, as there are many tamer games in this genre to enjoy.


    -Cinque Pierre

  • 7’scarlet (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    7’scarlet
    Developed by: Idea Factory, TOYBOX Inc
    Published by: Intragames Co. Ltd.
    Release date: March 12, 2019
    Available on: Vita, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for alcohol reference, blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you Intragames Co. Ltd. For sending us this game to review!

    7’scarlet was originally released for the PlayStation Vita in 2016 and received positive reviews. Two years later, it made its way to Steam though the porting job is messy to say the least. When the game is first launched it will have configuration window where you can adjust the resolution, full screen settings, and look over the key bindings for the controls.

    The first time I played the game (on my work lunch break), I lost my progress because I didn’t know how to bring up the game menu (C). The second time I played the game I took note of the quick save button (F3). After watching the whole intro movie again (which is unskippable) I got to where I left off before and did a quick save. I was a bit miffed upon launching the game a third time and finding my progress all gone! The fourth time was the charm as I used the main menu and did normal saves with the three slots provided. Thankfully, these saves are stored in the cloud if you’re like me and play games on multiple devices.

    The story is about a girl whom you get to name whose brother went missing in the mysterious town of Okunezato last year. Her childhood friend, Hino, offers to take her there to investigate on their break. Your character’s memory isn’t the best and she has blocked out some traumatic events that others are aware of. For example, she’s not sure why, but she doesn’t like strawberries though that was not always the case. Throughout the many different routes this visual novel offers you’ll learn how that came to be along with the origins of her memory fragments.

    7’scarlet
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story that becomes more clear as you play the different routes
    Weak Points: Horrible user interface; quick saves do not work; multiple crashes to desktop
    Moral Warnings: Cold blooded murders are described in detail; blood is not shown but your screen will flash red when your character is attacked or killed; several kissing scenes with a couple of them being open mouth; alcohol references; language (d*mn, *ss); undead characters 

    7’scarlet is an otome visual novel meaning that it’s a reverse harem with most of the male characters being datable throughout the different routes. Not all of them are available from the get-go. You have to complete one route before the next one unlocks and each of them offers a bad, normal, and a happy ending. Thankfully, when you begin a new game you can begin after the prologue or at the beginning of that character’s route to save time. Like other visual novels, you can fast-forward through the text that you have already read (F2).

    The characters are tropish with some being more interesting than others. Your childhood friend is a jock who has been in love with your character for a while though she’s oblivious to it. She can also date a smooth talking chef, an intellectual med student with glasses, a clumsy guy who attracts cats, and the hotel owner who is quite frankly a spoiled jerk. There is a true ending route that’s pretty heartwarming. Once all of those stories are cleared, a new route/character becomes available. After all of the routes have been played, all of the story holes will be filled.

    The endings are determined by how you answer various questions throughout the game. There’s a handy Steam guide that will tell you how to unlock all of the achievements and ending types. The limited number of save slots makes things a bit challenging, but I highly recommend saving often as this game is very unstable and is prone to crashing often.

    7’scarlet
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 0/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    From a moral perspective there are several things worth mentioning. Romance is possible and thankfully it’s just limited to kissing. Some of the kisses involve tongues though. Killing and murders are another prominent theme. Though blood isn’t shown (other than the screen flashing red), it’s described in great detail. Language is used as well with d*mn and *ss showing up occasionally. Alcohol is consumed though I don’t recall any of the characters getting drunk. There are references to other gods and ghosts.

    Other than the lousy interface and stability issues, this game is great when it comes to the visuals and voice acting. The artwork is really nice and the movie cutscenes are a nice touch. It was nice to see animated fireworks instead of a still frame of them. The characters have different facial expression, with and without blushing. The Japanese only voice acting is well done and conveys the characters' emotions nicely.

    I’ve spent over eighteen hours playing through all of the routes and endings and enjoyed the story thoroughly. I experienced many crashes and glitches that hampered my gaming experience and as a result only recommend buying this game on a sale or playing it on the Vita system it’s ported from. If you enjoy otome visual novels, 7’scarlet is worth adding to your wishlist.

  • 9-nine-: Episode 1 (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    9-nine-: Episode 1
    Developed by: PALETTE
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: January 31, 2019
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    9-nine-: Episode 1 takes place in the town of Shiromitsugawa which has many students in its population. It’s a quiet town that wants to become a tourist attraction but instead is known for the flopped anime it produced called “Mobius Ring, the Cycle of Reincarnation.” Despite the poor writing, there are still some diehard fans that attend an annual festival at the shrine where much of the folklore originates.

    Even though he has never seen the anime, the main character, Kakeru Niimi, decides to check out the 2nd annual festival and gets to witness his classmate and love interest, Miyako Kujo, in a revealing cosplay outfit. Her performance is cut short as an earthquake rattles the shrine and breaks one of its coveted relics. Apparently, this relic was responsible for sealing away powerful artifacts which are now in this universe and a couple of them fall in the hands of evil users. Coincidentally, this is the very same plot of the failed anime and there’s a handful of students who notice and discuss these events on a revitalized website forum.

    9-nine-: Episode 1
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story; likable characters; great artwork; good (Japanese) voice acting
    Weak Points: Getting an unavoidable bad ending is rather odd
    Moral Warnings: Language (d*mn, *ss, sh*t) and blaspheming; skimpy outfits; sexual jokes and references; references other gods; mystical artifacts the bestow potentially harmful powers

    Though he’s not sure of his power, Kakeru Niimi is told that he’s a "user" or the owner of a powerful relic. He’s not alone and makes friends with other users in an attempt to catch a powerful user who has been turning some of the students into stone. Until he figures out his own abilities, Kakeru Niimi helps others refine their powers so they can take down this challenging foe. One wrong move and they could be petrified. Unfortunately, witnessing one of your friends dying is unavoidable on your first playthrough.

    On your next playthrough you will get to make a few decisions that can lead to the true ending and a relationship with Miyako Kujo. To save time, you can fast-forward through the text or skip to the next decision. The game will automatically slowdown the text if there is new dialogue to be read.

    The story is pretty interesting and the dialogue is funny at times though it’s often riddled with language and blaspheming. There are some sexual jokes and references as well. There is talk about the two lovebirds making out; it’s also alluded to that they have become intimate towards the end of the game. Thankfully, nothing is seen in that regard. At least not in the Steam version.

    9-nine-: Episode 1
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 47%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    With the power-giving relics there is a fair amount of mysticism. Not surprisingly, the town’s shrine is a focal point of this visual novel’s story. Parallel universes are mentioned and I’m curious how that aspect will play out in future episodes.

    The background music is pleasant to listen to and fits the mood of the game perfectly. Though I don’t understand much of it, the Japanese voice acting is well done. The artwork is exceptional and the backgrounds are nicely detailed with vivid colors.

    If you don’t mind the mysticism, language, and sexual references, 9-nine-: Episode 1 is worth checking out. Since I played some of this game offline I don’t know my true game time but there’s probably about ten hours or so. The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and I look forward to future installments!

  • 9-nine-: Episode 2 (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    9-nine-: Episode 2
    Developed by: PALETTE
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: August 16, 2019
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    9-nine-:Episode 2 takes place in a parallel universe with a different chain of events due to the main character, Kakeru, letting his pushy sister, Sora, sleep over at his place. That one decision leads to less murders taking place in the small town of Shiromitsugawa. A different romance is possible for Kakeru and new bonds are formed in this episode as well.

    Though this chapter refreshes your memory of the events of the first installment, it’s highly recommended that you begin there. The premise remains the same in both chapters though. The town of Shiromitsugawa is known for being the backdrop of a failed anime called “Mobius Ring, the Cycle of Reincarnation.” After an earthquake destroys the town’s sacred shrine relic, the events from the anime begin to unfold like prophecy. Powerful artifacts have made their way into the hands of students who use their newfound powers for good or evil. Those who are chosen by a relic are known as “users.”

    9-nine-:Episode 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story; likable characters; great artwork; good (Japanese) voice acting
    Weak Points: A lot of rehashing before new content is revealed
    Moral Warnings: Every curse word and blaspheme possible is uttered throughout this game; inappropriate relationship between siblings; partial nudity; violence and death; supernatural powers and references to other gods

    Both episodes describe a boy losing control of his power and engulfing a section of the school in flames. Another similar event is the petrification of a female student at the park. In both episodes/parallel universes Kakeru joins up with other like-minded users who want to stop the murders from continuing. Although his powers elude him in the beginning, Kakeru is considered a user.

    The main focus of this episode is on the relationship between Kakeru and Sora. Like many siblings, they have their fair share of bickering and smacking each other around. The dialogue between them is great and I believe that anyone with a sibling will totally be able to relate. Sora is spoiled by her parents and is used to getting her way. After Kakeru moved out, she took over his room at their parent’s house and has since been invading his new home by treating it as if it were her own. Sora often uses her charm and crocodile tears to get her way, but Kakeru doesn’t always fall for her tricks.

    With the dangers of bad users in the town, it’s natural for these siblings to want to protect and ensure the safety of one another. They both save each other’s life through this story and grow closer as a result. The question of how close they grow depends on the only true choice you’re given in this visual novel.

    In the previous episode, Kakeru can develop a romantic relationship with Kujo.

     

     

    The only relationship option in this episode is with his sister, Sora. There are two endings depending on Kakeru’s choice of accepting or rejecting Sora’s advances. Until that decision prompt, there are several awkward moments where Sora undresses in front of her brother or enters the shower with him.
    The artwork for that scene shows her to be well endowed but leaves the nipples to the imagination.

    9-nine-:Episode 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 45%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When the artwork wasn’t risqué, I found it to be very colorful and nicely detailed. The expressions on the character’s faces matched their moods perfectly. There’s are a fair amount of background scenery images too.

    The voice acting is in Japanese and the actors convey their emotion really well. Especially Sora’s character during her temper tantrums. Many of the conversations get heated and contain every curse word in the book including the f-bomb on several occasions. The Lord’s name is taken in vain multiple times as well.

    Like the previous chapter, there are some deaths. Some blood is shown, but not too much. The relics give their users supernatural powers that come from various gods.

    Even though the story is still good and the characters are well-developed, the awkward relationship route ruined this episode for me. Hopefully, future chapters will have more standard options available.

  • 9-nine-: Episode 3 (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    9-nine-: Episode 3
    Developed by: Palette
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date; August 31, 2020
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    9-nine-:Episode 3 takes place in a parallel universe with a different chain of events. When you first begin this story it gives you a refresher of the premise of weird events happening in Kakeru’s hometown of Shiromitsugawa. After an earthquake destroys the town’s sacred shrine relic, powerful artifacts have made their way into the hands of students who use their newfound powers for good or evil. Those who are chosen by a relic are known as “users.” These events were foretold in a failed anime called “Mobius Ring, the Cycle of Reincarnation.”

    Each episode has a different story route and love interest. Though I wasn’t a fan of the previous entry, it’s still recommended that you play the other two episodes before diving into this one. Many questions are answered in this episode including the identity of the evil eye user who can petrify people that make eye contact with them.

    9-nine-: Episode 3
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fascinating story with lots of answered questions in this episode; superb visuals and good  voice acting
    Weak Points: No story altering choices this time around
    Moral Warnings: Every curse word and blaspheme possible is uttered throughout this game; sexual dialogue; violence and death; supernatural powers and references to other gods

    The love interest this time around is with Haruka whose power allows her to charm and have male classmates flock around her. When her power is activated she has a confident persona, though in real life she’s quite timid, especially around boys. The are two groups of artifact using classmates and Haruka is on the opposing team despite not being comfortable with the leader’s use of violence to achieve his goals. She wants to switch to Kakeru’s team but he doesn’t want her to be put in danger so he pretends to be charmed by her and betray his team in order to gather intel on Haruka’s group.

    Throughout this episode Kakeru learns more about his friends' abilities and his becomes less of a mystery. There’s a lot of treachery and back stabbing in this chapter. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the story development is good despite the predictability of falling in love with the person you’re pretending to be in a relationship with.

    9-nine-: Episode 3
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 45%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When Kakeru and Haruka’s relationship becomes official, she starts spending the night at his apartment. Though they make out and take a bath together, it’s not explicitly stated if they have sex. The language is all over the board with many F-bombs dropped and some blaspheming. There is some violence and death in this story arc. When damage is inflicted the screen will flash red, not much blood is shown but it is described in the text. The artifact usage is similar to magic and there are references to other deities.

    The visuals and sound effects are still top notch. The same background music is used and the voice acting is consistent with the previous episodes. I’m still captivated by the artwork and expressions on the characters. The colorful backdrops are plentiful and beautiful.

    Despite being turned off by the inappropriate relationship route of the previous chapter, I’m glad I gave this 9+ hour episode a chance. I look forward to seeing how the future episodes will pan out.

  • 9-nine-: Episode 4 (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    9-nine-: Episode 4 
    Developed by: PALETTE
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: March 19, 2021
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    9-nine-:Episode 4 takes place in a parallel universe with a different chain of events. Like the other timelines, powerful artifacts have made their way into the hands of students who use their newfound abilities for good or evil. When you first begin this story you’ll be chatting with Sophie and be given an overworld view of the various timeline branches (Episodes 1-3). It’s highly recommended that you’re familiar with the previous three games before playing this one. You’ll be doing a lot of timeline hopping in the hopes of defeating Iris and saving the lives of your friends.

    Up to this point, you have not managed to defeat her despite having a powerful party that can break through her barriers. In Episode 3 Noa Yuuki (referred to as the parfait queen in previous entries) froze up and it’s your goal to get closer to her to figure out what held her back and how to unlock her power’s full potential.

    9-nine-: Episode 4
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great love story between Kakeru and Noa Yuuki
    Weak Points: No ability to fast forward automatically
    Moral Warnings: Every curse word and blaspheme possible is uttered throughout this game; sexual dialogue; premarital sex; violence and death; supernatural powers and references to other gods

    By using his overlord ability, Kakeru can predict future events that happened in previous timelines. He’s pretty accurate and quickly earns the trust of his allies in this timeline as a result. Due to Iris’ meddling, the timeframe shifts sometimes but if things get really bad, Kakeru can rewind time and do things over (within reason).

    As Kakeru earns Noa’s trust, he’ll learn about her past and the traumatizing events that hinder her ability to harness the full power of her judgment ability. Despite the somber events, there are plenty of light-hearted moments to keep this visual novel upbeat and enjoyable. The dialogue is funny at times though it’s often riddled with language and blaspheming. There are some sexual jokes and references as well. Like previous entries, premarital sex does happen and there are adult patches available for this game to unlock lewd artwork. I played the vanilla version that leaves that stuff to your imagination.

    9-nine-: Episode 4
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 43%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Violence and bloodshed are also present in this episode. Severed limbs are shown and other deaths/injuries are vividly described. When any party member takes damage the screen will flash red. Tough decisions are made in this episode and sometimes that involves preemptive strikes. If given an opportunity to kill someone before they murdered many others, would you do it?

    The visuals and sound effects are still top-notch. The same background music is used and the voice acting is consistent with the previous episodes. I’m still captivated by the artwork and expressions on the characters. The colorful backdrops are plentiful and beautiful.

    If you don’t mind the mysticism, language, and sexual references, 9-nine-: Episode 4 is worth checking out. Since I played some of this game offline I don’t know my true game time but there are probably more than 11 hours or so. The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and I look forward to seeing the teased final ending/installment.

  • A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow
    Developed by: Unison Shift: Blossom
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: March 18, 2022
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    MSRP: $24.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us a review code!

    In 2017, Sekai Project successfully Kickstarted the A Clockwork Ley-Line visual novel trilogy. A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow is the second in the series and we reviewed the first game, A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk, here. It’s highly recommended that you start with A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk to have a basic understanding of the characters and the strangely magical school they attend.

    The Libra Lapis Lazuli Private Academy isn’t your typical school. After classes, the students are whisked away to their dorms and are not allowed to leave until the following day. A disciplinary committee strictly enforces these rules. The Bureau for the Investigation of Special Affairs and disciplinary committee often work together to solve cases affecting both the day and nighttime students. At night, the school magically transforms and students from another dimension appear and attend classes there.

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story and characters
    Weak Points: Most of the choice you make don’t impact the story
    Moral Warnings: Language (d*mn, b*stard, hell); using the Lord’s name in vain; magic use; blood and talismans are required to seal magical items; sexual references; sensual imagery

    The main character, Koga Michiru, is part of the Bureau for the Investigation of Special Affairs. The school has a storeroom of magical artifacts called Mists. It’s not uncommon that these artifacts break free at times and cause a ruckus until they are sealed away again. One of these Mists is a family heirloom from a prestigious family of powerful magic users. The heiress and her butler are guests at the school in hopes of retrieving their heirloom. While they are waiting, they manage to cause the Bureau for the Investigation of Special Affairs some trouble and are extremely curious as to what this magical school is hiding. The uncovered truths will be revealed to the guests and to the bureau throughout the six episodes in this installment.

    Like the first game, A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow is a visual novel style game with several choices to be made throughout your ten+ hour play-through. Most of your responses won’t impact the story until the final chapters where wrong answers will kick you back to the title screen after seeing a bad ending. After completing the game and seeing the credits roll, you’ll be graded on how many correct responses you have provided. I had over 90% and a SS ranking. Wrong answers are pretty easy to detect as you’ll often be corrected if you’ve given an undesirable response. I played for over ten hours. There is some replay if you want to attempt to get all of the answers correct, but I’m happy with my current rating.

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 54%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Morally, A Clockwork Ley-Line: Daybreak of Remnants Shadow has many of the same issues as the previous game. Magic use is prevalent and drawing of blood and talismans are required for sealing away mists. One of the characters has a foul mouth and you’ll hear him say words like hell, d*mn, b*stard, and use the Lord’s name in vain. Sexual references are made and there are some awkward situations. For example, the female school principal’s clothes get muddied while she’s unconscious and it’s up to the main character to bathe her. During this scene my screen was blacked out with just the dialogue showing. I have no doubt that the uncensored version of the game shows a lot more. Some of the artwork in the version I played showed some details that I’d rather not see. For example, I was able to see the crevices of a female character's crotch. There is some "Barbie doll" nudity of non-human characters.

    Overall, the story is solid and I learned a lot about the characters and the school’s sketchy history in this installment. The quality is top notch in this series so far with the good (Japanese) voice acting and nice artwork. I look forward to the final entry in this trilogy. If you enjoy visual novels and don’t mind the moral content, the A Clockwork Ley-Line series is worth checking out.

  • A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk
    Developed by: Unison Shift: Blossom
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: December 18, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    I have seen many games begin with a disclaimer about the names and characters being fictitious, but A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk takes it a bit further to note that the characters in this game are also 18 or older. While there are some moral concerns in this title, this review is based on the Steam version without the available 18+ patch installed.

    The story begins with the main character receiving a letter of acceptance for a college he did not apply to. Besides the magical blue birds flying out of the envelope, the promise of granting any wish catches his eye. With his sick brother in mind, he sets forth on his adventure in checking out this mysterious school.

    On his first day at school, Koga Michiru meets his first friend by catching him as he accidentally falls out of a window. In order to save his life, he winds up breaking a valuable statue of the school’s founder. As it turns out, this wasn’t an ordinary statue, but a seal that kept magical mists at bay. With the seal broken, chaos ensues and Koga Michiru along with his new friend are recruited into a bureau to solve these mysterious cases. The principal accepts their duties as repayment for the valuable statue that broke.

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story and character development; funny scenarios
    Weak Points: Steam integration does not work 
    Moral Warnings: Lots of references to magic; blood and talismans are required to seal magical items; sexual references and imagery; a male butt is shown along with up skirt shots of females; lots of strong language and blaspheming

    The Libra Lapis Lazuli Private Academy isn’t your typical school. After classes, the students are whisked away to their dorms and are not allowed to leave until the following day. A disciplinary committee strictly enforces these rules. The Bureau for the Investigation of Special Affairs and disciplinary committee often work together to solve cases affecting both the day and nighttime students. At night, the school magically transforms and students from another dimension appear and attend classes there.

    Some of the cases you’ll get dragged into involve missing items, students acting abnormally or even left unconscious. Most of the time a magic infused item called a mist is behind the fiasco. For example, there was a rash of keys missing and the main character and a female bureau member spent more than a day handcuffed to each other as a result of the key being taken by a mist right before their eyes. It took him a while to be forgiven for his little pranks but he had no idea that there was a fairy on the loose swiping keys on the campus. As it turns out, the fairy was asked to find a key, but no details of its appearance were given so she took every one she could find. Once getting to the source of the fairy and unlocking the handcuffs, this case is solved.

    Like many visual novels, you are given choices on how to answer various questions. I like how you can save at the questions and I highly recommend doing so. Answering incorrectly will cause you to lose the respect of your colleagues so loading and retrying is worth the effort. Some other nice features include the ability to lock save files or to skip ahead to the next prompt if your previous save was a ways back.

    A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 54%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The overall interface is really nicely done and has a lot of polish to it. I like the animated clockwork gears in the pause menu and the voice overs on the menu is a nice touch as well even if I can’t understand it in Japanese. The voice acting is all Japanese, but there are subtitles for native English speakers. Unfortunately, the subtitles have some character spacing issues and some trailing letters appear out of place from the words they go to. Graphically, the artwork is really well done and I like the appearance and facial expression changes of the characters.

    Each of the characters have distinct personalities and much humor is derived from their differences and clashes. The dialogue and language get heated at times and pretty much every curse word (d*mn, h*ll, *ss, b*stard, sh*t, f*ck) and some blaspheming is seen in the subtitles. In order to dispel mists, a bureau member must cut herself and place a talisman on them. The blood dripping from her hand is shown. Some awkward situations are present in this game and nudity is referenced but not explicitly shown other than a male’s rear end and some female underwear shots.

    Since the Steam overlay wasn’t working for me, I’m not exactly sure how much time I spent playing this game. I will estimate about six hours since A Clockwork Ley-Line: The Borderline of Dusk is broken down into five episodes and a finale, and each of the episodes are roughly an hour in length.

    If the magical and moral issues don’t bother you, there is much to like in this visual novel. It’s part of a trilogy and I look forward to the release of the future installments. The all ages version on Steam sells for $19.99.

  • A HERO AND A GARDEN (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A HERO AND A GARDEN
    Developed By: npckc
    Published By: Ratalaika Games
    Released: August 28, 2020
    Available On: Google Play, Microsoft Store, PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99, free on Google Play, PC

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us this game to review!

    A HERO AND A GARDEN is developed by npckc and ported to the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch by Ratalaika Games. It is also available on the Google Play and Microsoft stores. It is a short but sweet game about a hero who tries to save a princess, only to find that she enjoys living in the tower. (The discovery of the princess not wanting to leave the tower isn't a spoiler, it's something that is stated almost as soon as the player enters the game.) I played this game on the Switch, so my experiences will focus on that particular version.

    When the hero went to save the princess, he brought along a magic sword. He destroyed a town of monsters in his way in his attempt to bring her back to her kingdom, and upon finding out the hero’s crimes, the witch that lived in the tower sentenced him to a curse. He had to sell magical berries in order to help pay for the repairs of the town’s damages, and he could not leave until he was finished.

    As the hero’s berry-selling career grows, the player meets a whole cast of monster characters, each with their own distinct personality and background. Each one requests a different kind of berry, and each one has their own reasons for doing so. Every character is portrayed as having some sort of flaw, which spices up their personality. Nobody is truly perfect. The story is mostly kinetic. There is only one opportunity for the player to make a choice, and it’s near the end, when they want to choose which character to attend a festival with (as friends).

    A HERO AND A GARDEN
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Strong characterization; charming art; great story; fitting music
    Weak Points: Music is only a few tracks; takes a bit to wait for certain types of berries and there’s nothing the user can do to speed up the process; button layout for harvesting berries gets confusing fairly fast; only a few hours long
    Moral Warnings: The word “sucks” is used once; protagonist admits to being gay; fantasy magic; mentions of violence

    The story, characters, and setting are all very well thought out, which led to the creation of an excellent and engaging story. The conversations (and the characterization behind them) felt real and brought me into their world, and the wholesome message that it provided was the icing on the cake. The only gripe I have with A HERO AND A GARDEN is its length; it’s only a few hours long.

    The graphics in A HERO AND A GARDEN are simple, but they’re extremely memorable and charming. The art style is absolutely adorable, and a lot of the cut scenes are presented in a manner similar to a storybook. The fonts used in the game’s interface fit extremely well with the game’s overall style, which is a very nice and thoughtful touch. I liked the drawings so much that they inspired me to try a simpler style in my own artistic endeavors.

    The music is simple, but fitting. However, I did notice there were only a few tracks in the entirety of the game. There aren’t very many sound effects, but more of them aren’t really necessary. The only sound effects I can notably remember are the ones that play when the character harvests berries, which is a popping noise of some kind, and when someone is at the storefront of the berry-selling tower, which is a bell ringing. Neither of those examples are in any way particularly annoying, and they fit the tone and nature of the story.

    The controls were fairly easy to grasp, but they were pretty confusing at times. I found myself pressing the wrong button to harvest the different types of berries. This happened despite the fact that it tells the player which button is associated with which berry, by showing the button to press right above the berry bush.

    The garden UI is a little more complicated than I expected for a game of its kind. There’s a request list, a button that brings the player to the storefront when pressed (which is where most of the story happens, and is also the only place without the storybook frame cutscene style), and a list of things that the player needs to pay off in order to progress. On the left hand side, there is a small menu that tells the user how many of each kind of berry they currently have available. The orders menu has a list of orders that the player needs to fulfill, as well as a list of finished ones. The latter page has each order represented by the type of berry that it was for, and when the player no longer has to fulfill orders for a certain berry, it will say “OK!” at the end of the line of orders.

    A HERO AND A GARDEN
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 89%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls – 3.5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence – 8.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The UI caused me the most frustration, because I had to push the down arrow key to access the requests and the payoff options, and half the time, the button wouldn’t take. There were times I had to use the Switch’s touchscreen instead in order to be able to click on either of those particular things.

    The process for harvesting berries in-game is somewhat tedious. The player has to wait for the berries to appear on the bushes, and there is nothing they can do to speed up the process. Each bush has a different length of time that the player has to wait for the berries to harvest, and when time progresses and the player has to manage five bushes at once, the confusing button layout and the varying times for each berry can become very frustrating for some. I wasn’t particularly affected by this frustration, but I was a little more patient with this game because it was overall very enjoyable for me.

    However, there are a few moral issues that parents (Christian parents in particular) may want to take note of. The characters in-game say “sucks” around once or twice throughout the entirety of the story. It features plenty of fantasy magic, as it makes up the majority of the game’s world. However, said magic has no basis on actual occult practices. There is also the issue of the protagonist offhandedly mentioning that he is homosexual. It is honestly a shame that the creator decided to promote the progressive agenda, as that factor plays no other part in the progression of the story.

    There are also several mentions of violence, which are the reason the protagonist is in the predicament that he’s in for the duration of the story. This violence is also the reason why one of the characters is motivated to buy berries from him, as her mother suffered from his choices.

    Overall, I enjoyed A HERO AND A GARDEN a lot, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a short but wholesome play. However, if you are a Christian parent and plan on showing this game to a younger child, be prepared to teach them about the Christian view on homosexuality.

    - Kittycathead

  • A Little Lily Princess (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Little Lily Princess
    Developed by Hanabira
    Published by Ratalaika Games
    Released on May 28, 2021
    Available on Linux, MacOS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Visual Novel/Dating Sim
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Language
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $14.99 on all platforms

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us this game to review!

    A Little Lily Princess is a dating simulator-style visual novel based off of the famous classic A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (however, the original book does not have any form of lesbian relationships, because it was released in 1905). It is set in Victorian England; more specifically, an all-girls seminary school in London. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, was sent there by her loving father because he thought she wouldn’t be able to handle the climate in India, where she was raised. The headmaster, Miss Minchin, is a cruel and abusive woman who doesn’t care whatsoever for her students and only treats them with respect if they have a lot of money to their name. There are six love interests in the game, all with very different personalities.

    The gameplay is very similar to most visual novels: you just click (or on a console, press a button) and the text goes forward. However, this game is technically a dating simulator, so there is a system that runs on weeks. Every week, the player has to pick an activity to take up each day for the five weekdays. Because of the stats system in place, each activity can generate three possible outcomes for stats gained. At the beginning of the game, there are seven possible stats to collect for: knowledge, artistry, patience, sympathy, grace, belief, and vigour. (The belief stat does indicate belief in Christianity, which I personally find extremely ironic considering the game’s focus on immoral relationships.)

    A Little Lily Princess
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very well done art and CGs; nice orchestral background music; well written story; neatly organized dating simulation system
    Weak Points: No true choices, only events to play; building up resources for events can be very tedious at times; one or two typos
    Moral Warnings: This game is advertised as a yuri, which means it’s a lesbian dating simulator; the girls romance each other but it never goes past kissing; proposal for the Victorian equivalent of lesbian marriage; questionable romantic options; abusive authority figure

    The stats are collected so that the user can play events for various characters. There is only one possible ending per character, as there are no true choices other than the player’s decision to visit a particular character. Collecting these stats can get tedious at times, as the requirements can get pretty drastic for certain events. Having to constantly balance the character’s activities in the right order is somewhat draining when you’re just trying to enjoy the game.

    As this game is based off of the classic book A Little Princess, there is a point in the game when the protagonist loses everything, and thus, the stats change: the seven stats at the beginning of the game are morphed into six: hunger, fatigue, pride, pain, sorrow, and chill. They serve the same purpose as the original seven, the only difference being that they utilize negative traits instead of positive ones.

    The music is alright, and the player can listen to it in the main menu. There are some sound effects, but they aren’t super prevalent because they simply don’t need to be. The soundtrack is orchestral, which fits the mood and setting of the story.

    The art style is adorable. I really do enjoy it. The backgrounds are also very well drawn. However, the CGs, while also being very well drawn, are clearly designed to evoke sexual tension of some kind. There are a few that showcase the protagonist kissing someone, and there’s a couple that display her being pinned against a wall. There is even an image of her on her knees, doing the equivalent of proposing to another character.

    A Little Lily Princess is very well polished. There was only one typo that I noticed, and I have an eagle eye for these types of things. It wasn’t a misspelled word, it was merely a capitalization typo, where a word was supposed to be capitalized but wasn’t. The story is well written, and the routes are as well. Even if I do not agree with the values it is promoting, I cannot deny that this is a well-produced game.

    A Little Lily Princess
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 77%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound – 7.5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Morally, there is a lot to avoid in this game. If you are a Christian parent, this game would not be wise to introduce to your child, because the entire premise revolves around homosexual relationships. A Little Lily Princess was rated by the ESRB as Teen for language, but there are no explicit words present, so my guess is that it is rated due to the nature of the characters’ relationships. Any romance present in this game never goes past kissing, but there are a few routes where the protagonist proposes to another girl. They don’t explicitly ask to marry them, as the setting is in Victorian England, but the intent is very clear.

    Some of the options for the protagonist to court are questionable at best. The protagonist herself is twelve, and one of the possible characters is eight. Another is her maid at the beginning of the game, who is a fully grown woman. Granted, these routes don’t have nearly as much romance as some of the other ones, but their presence is somewhat concerning. The headmaster of the seminary in the game, while not a dateable character, is also not a good role model at all.

    Overall, it’s a well made game, but you should be aware that A Little Lily Princess promotes sinful lifestyles.

    - Kittycathead

  • A Summer With the Shiba Inu (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Summer With the Shiba Inu
    Developed By: Quill Game Studios
    Published By: Quill Game Studios (PC), Ratalaika Games
    Released: August 23, 2019 (PC), June 26, 2020 (Console)
    Available On: Linux, MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Language
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us this game to review!

    A Summer With the Shiba Inu is a visual novel starring a Shiba Inu named Syd. After spending ten years of her life living in the land of Canine-da, she returns to Shiba Island in order to find her brother, Chun-wen, who has been missing since she left. With the help of a Labrador that made its way onto the island somehow, she hopes to uncover the mystery.

    When every dog on the island was a pup, they were all forced to participate in a battling system called the ARInas, which would determine their ranking in society. Syd, being the winner, was given the fabled Feather of Truth, which allows her to alter reality as she wishes. Since many dogs are after the feather, there are a few times when she is forced into rematches, and where she relives the past experiences of the games. While these scenes force Syd to pause her investigations, they give deep insight into the nature of her character. The general setting is very reminiscent of a sci-fi world, as the characters are using holographic wristwatches for their primary communications, and they are tracked using a pendant that they have to wear around their neck at all times.

    A Summer With the Shiba Inu
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging story; nice graphics; fitting music; high-quality sound effects; multiple endings
    Weak Points: Only 12 save slots; can’t scroll up the history log very easily
    Moral Warnings: Light cussing (p***, h*ll, d**n); tons of described violence; betrayal and/or lying is necessary to proceed in some situations; implied lesbian attractions at one point

    The music for the game is quite fitting, and addresses the mood of each scenario accurately. There are occasional sound effects, but they usually consist of growls or whines made by the characters in order to express emotion. Whenever a pendant is broken in an ARIna match (which is how each character is eliminated), there is the sound of glass shattering. There are other miscellaneous sounds as well, all of which fit the use case and have a high enough quality to not be taken into question.

    There are many different choices the player can make throughout the course of the story, whether it be simple responses to a conversation or a life-threatening situation. Each and every one, I’ve found, has an effect on the ending that is received. Occasionally, the time taken to make a choice will be measured and showed to the player onscreen. The choices that seem trivial have the same weight on the story as the ones that determine Syd’s survival. There are five endings, all of which vary greatly from each other. The advertising page for the game claims there are three main endings and ten less important ones, but I used a walkthrough to get all of the in-game trophies, and there were only five. The fact that they all go in such different directions is oddly satisfying, because the player isn’t quite sure what to expect.

    The only things that majorly annoyed me were things in the user interface. For example, I noticed that there are only 12 save slots that the player can use, which was inconvenient for me because I needed a lot of save slots. I had to overwrite a save several times. The other thing I noticed was the fact that the history log doesn’t allow you to continuously scroll up. I had to repeatedly hit the up key on my Switch in order to scroll up more than one line.

    A Summer With the Shiba Inu
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language – 7.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 7.5/10

    At first glance, the character sprites and backgrounds appear to be photographs. As I continued gameplay, though, I began to notice little differences in the way the characters’ proportions were portrayed, and when looked at closely enough, they appeared to be rendered with painted strokes. The sprites and backgrounds, I deduced, are indeed painted, and not photos with effects added to them. The fact that I, an artist, could barely tell the difference makes the art astounding.

    However, A Summer With the Shiba Inu isn’t really designed for children. Nothing is actually shown, but it has tons of violence, blood, and gore (all in a virtual realm) described in detail throughout the story. Occasionally, the protagonist needs to lie to proceed in some situations, or to betray another character in order to ensure self-preservation. At one point, it is implied that many of Syd’s past actions were done because of a lesbian attraction she was harboring for another character in a match. Light cussing is present throughout the game, in the form of the words suck, p***, h*ll, and d**n. All other cursewords, and any instances of using the Lord’s name in vain, are replaced with food equivalents, and His name is replaced with ‘Dog.’

    When I initially started playing A Summer With the Shiba Inu, I was expecting a lighthearted comedy, but got something much deeper instead. I would highly recommend this game to anyone over the age of 13 who is looking for a serious story that is a little different from standard visual novels.

    - Kittycathead

  • A YEAR OF SPRINGS (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    A YEAR OF SPRINGS
    Developed By: npckc
    Published By: Ratalaika Games
    Released: December 10, 2021
    Available On: Linux, MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Sexual Themes
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99 on all platforms

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us this game to review!

    A YEAR OF SPRINGS is a visual novel collection consisting of three games and an epilogue that is unlocked when the player beats all of them. All of the games center around the lives of three characters: Haru, a transgender woman; Manami, Haru’s childhood friend who supports Haru all the way through; and Erika, Manami’s other friend who has a desire to learn about everything.

    The first game, One Night, Hot Springs, the player sees the world through Haru’s eyes, as they navigate trying to bathe in the hot springs without bothering anyone at Manami’s birthday party. There also happens to be a staff member with a transgender sibling at the spa, so she helps out Haru with arrangements for a hot spring. Most of this game is basically just Haru talking about experiences as a transgender woman, being denied access to the spaces that they believe they belong in. Erika mentions she has dated a girl in the past.

    The second game, Last Day of Spring, switches over to Erika’s perspective as she tries to book a spa day for Haru’s birthday, but gets turned down over and over and over again because Haru is transgender. The game tries to frame it as an injustice that Haru (who has not undergone any medical procedures, by the way) cannot enter women’s spaces despite identifying as and dressing like a woman. Erika also happens to discover that she has a crush on Haru (who at one point she impulsively asks to kiss).

    A YEAR OF SPRINGS
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute and distinct art; fitting music; interesting story, hint hearts for choices
    Weak Points: The plot, while fairly interesting, is somewhat weak; story does more telling than showing
    Moral Warnings: Light swearing (h*ll used a couple times); game revolves around the concept of sexuality and gender; brief conversation about sexual arousal; two characters that are both supposed to be girls end up dating and moving in with each other; heavy focus on transgenderism; bisexual character; “aro-ace” character (aromantic and asexual)

    The third game, Spring Leaves No Flowers, focuses on Manami, as she slowly discovers that she doesn’t harbor the same sexual desires that most people have, and as a result, she gets labeled “aromantic and asexual”. There is a conversation at one point where Erika basically asks Manami "Have you ever gotten horny?". The story also reveals that Erika and Haru start dating.

    The epilogue catalogs Erika and Haru moving in together.

    The controls are pretty simple, as this is a collection of visual novels. There are optional hint hearts to try to direct the player on the "right" track for the “good" ending in any particular game, but it isn’t obvious at first glance what they are there for. The "good" endings are all basically where the characters discover and affirm their identities.

    The music is pretty calm, and it fits the tone of the game for the most part. Some of the topics are a bit heavier in nature, and the music doesn’t really tend to represent that. Sound effects are not present, but they don’t really need to be. There isn’t voice acting either, but since the game developer is independent, this is forgivable.

    In my opinion, the art is the best part about A YEAR OF SPRINGS. It’s cute, simple, and gets the point across. The art style is very distinct, which is fairly hard to achieve in the visual novel industry while succeeding. The story was interesting, but in my opinion it was basically nonexistent without the characters’ identity crises, which were a bit much for me. It'd be one thing if said identity crises were just a subplot, but they are literally the entire story. The player learns nothing about these characters outside of their "struggles" as portrayed in the story. What were their childhoods like? What do they want to be when they grow up? What are their interests, their hobbies? Who are they? They player doesn't get any of this information. They only get bits and pieces as they relate to the identity crisis.

    A YEAR OF SPRINGS
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay – 13.5/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Morally speaking, the list of issues goes on and on and on. I tried to touch on them in the mention of each game. Something I didn’t mention is that there is some light swearing (in the form of h*ll being used a couple of times – and not in reference to the place).

    The entire plot of the games revolves around gender and sexuality in some way. In One Night, Hot Springs, it revolves around Haru explaining the day to day challenges of being transgender to Erika, who mentions she is bisexual (she says that "she dated a girl once"). In Last Day of Spring, it switches to Erika, where she struggles to book a spa for Haru's birthday, and finds it outrageous that a transgender "woman" can't enter women's spaces. In Spring Leaves No Flowers, Manami goes on to discover that she is "aromantic and asexual," which is basically a fancy way of saying she doesn't really feel romantic attraction (supposedly, that is. Manami has a boyfriend throughout the entire series). In this game, there is a point (which is probably supposed to be a pivotal moment) where Erika asks Manami if she has ever felt proper sexual attraction. In the epilogue, Erika and Haru end up moving in together, and they mention that they needed "an LGBT-friendly realtor" in order to do so, as the series takes place in Japan.

    In the special thanks section of A YEAR OF SPRINGS, the developer wrote that they “hope that in the future, the world will be a kinder & more accepting place for Haru, Erika, Manami, and all of us.” I am assuming this means the developer made this game to, as they would probably put it, “spread awareness.” While we as Christians cannot accept their identities as they are not right, we should instead take these words as a reminder to love everyone as they are, Christian or not. As malicious as the transgender movement may come across to be, they are still people and God loves them nonetheless. They are simply lost.

    The ESRB rating says T, but I personally would not recommend this to anyone under the age of 18, unless they have a very clear grasp of themselves and the world around them. Even though A YEAR OF SPRINGS isn’t particularly explicit in anything it does, it takes a lot of maturity to approach a perverse topic like this with the right lens in mind.

    - Kittycathead

  • ACE Academy (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    ACE Academy
    Developed By: PixelFade Studios
    Released: August 22, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac and Linux/Steam OS
    Genre: Visual Novel, Sci-Fi, Romance
    ESRB Rating: N/A: Recommended 16+
    Number of Players: 1 Offline
    Price: $24.99

    Before I go any further in this review, I do wish to note my own personal biases for this game. I really, REALLY, loved this game. I love the studio; I'm not a Patreon for them but I totally would be if I had the disposable income and I think I have a good relationship with one of the writers and the development team as a whole. Now watch as I get mass tweeted by them telling me how they actually don't think I am that cool. But whatever, I felt the need to point out I have a personal bias in favor of this game. It was basically my perfect game.

    ACE Academy is the debut title from PixelFade Studio, an independent studio based in Toronto, Ontario. They funded this game through two methods: a Patreon and Steam Early Access (which is how I got a hold of the game). The developers have made it a point to keep in touch with their fanbase. For example, they changed Mayu from a non-romanceable to a romanceable character.

    ACE Academy
    The Full Gang from left to right: Shou, You, Nikki, Valerie, Kaori, Yuuna, Mayu

    The story takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2049. GEARs, what this game calls its giant robots, were developed for military purposes and, much like military technology of today, eventually made their way to the civilian sector. They were used for commercial purposes and somehow found their way into the sports entertainment industry. This sudden boom of interest in GEARs created a new field called "Cenorobotics".

    The protagonist finds himself transferring to ACE Academy after his parents are killed in a car crash. Now, in a new place with no friends, he has to find a team willing to deal with his outdated American GEAR so he can compete in the intramural tournament. As he begins to lose all hope, a group of pilots are just desperate enough to accept him into their fold.

    ACE Academy
    Eagle Powered Up
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Memorable characters; GIANT ROBOTS; witty references; great art; catchy music; strong family themes
    Weak Points: Several noticeable typos; missing audio; one particular dialogue was played with the sentences reversed (First sentence was second and second was first)
    Moral Warnings: Anime hot springs and beach day show the characters in swim suits

    The gameplay is rather vanilla as far as visual novels go. Read and click your decision, decide who you're going to hang out with, pick your girlfriend. However, as the old saying goes: “If it's not broke, don't fix it” and PixelFade has held strongly to that. Occasionally, you will be thrown into a match with competing teams as they use their GEARs to fight yours. The original combat system was, as they put it, "keyboard DDR." However, they since recreated the combat system by having the player choose through the usual visual novel choice selection on what your character is going to do combat wise. These fights are usually placed closer to the end of the chapters, which is how they break up their stories.

    In this game, the stories are divided into four chapters. The first being more the introduction, the second is when you're getting into the swing of things, and also where you pick your girlfriend. The third is a few lovely dates with your significant other and some nice story chunks. The fourth chapter is the lead up to your team's final match and the story wraps itself up from there. I personally felt the final chapter was rushed a little; they could have easily extended it to beyond a fourth into a fifth chapter. Things seemed to go by a little too fast for my comfort, at least story-wise. During the final chapter there is a lack of unique backgrounds that feel a little off sometimes; I'd go to an entirely new restaurant and the café would look exactly the same as the school's cafeteria. However, in their defense, we only went to those new locations once. Also, there aren't any epilogue scenes, something I really enjoy about other visual novels.

    Which brings me to a series of compliments they may not get. I chose Valerie as the young woman for me. She was very much into PDA, innuendos, and talked in a rather sultry tone. I chose her because I figured she would be the best chance to see if this game had sex. Surprisingly, it did not. There was a “Fade-to-black” scene, but it is later revealed that nothing sexual happened as Valerie is apparently very bad at describing what sex is like because she's never had it before. The game has a reassuring lack of sex that made me all the happier to play it.

    ACE Academy
    Team Pilots
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    They didn't use God's name in vain for a while, which I was really hoping they wouldn't because I was thinking that would be really cool. Unfortunately, they used God's name in vain, though thankfully, it was a rare occurrence.

    There are more innuendoes and sexual comments than some may be comfortable with. Valerie wears a two-piece bathing-suit level cat costume for Halloween, which you can choose to buy for her. Certain comments are directed at Yuuna's breasts, and you can choose to wear fetish police gear for the same Halloween party Valerie wears a cat-girl costume to. I chose to be the Batman parody and thought it was a clever play on Batman and Catwoman. Sadly, that dialogue choice wasn't programmed in.

    If you can deal with blasphemy, prime-time television swears, beachwear, the occasional bad typo, missing dialogue, and you really love your visual novels, I would recommend this to you. It is one of my favorite games of all year, and definitely among my top picks for visual novels.

    -Dabuddah453

  • Action Taimanin (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Action Taimanin
    Developed By: LiLith
    Published By: Infini-Brain inc.
    Released: October 6, 2020
    Available On: Android, Microsoft Windows, iOS
    Genre: Visual Novel, Action RPG
    ESRB Rating: Mature (Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: Free to Play, optional in-game microtransactions

    Note: All information is based on what is available on the PC port client at the time of release.

    As many who have sampled adult media that gets watered down to be more mainstream know, many "adult games" can stand on their own minus the explicit pornography, which is often added simply for the sake of attracting the lowest common denominator to purchase it. Action Taimanin is an attempt to take the "Taimanin Asagi" adult visual novel franchise and strip it of the explicit elements and provide an action game using the setting, characters, and general backdrop in the form of a mobile game now ported to PC.

    A little background and a confession. Back in my more degenerate days, I played the original visual novels (which were Japan-only imports) via fan translation. While possessing some interesting blend of cyberpunk meets urban fantasy story, most of the original visual novels were devoted to graphic mosaiced scenes of rape by demons, humans, and lots of other torture and sexual sadism. Even back in my more shameful days, I figured the story setting and characters would easily be able to stand on their own without the graphic porn and that it would make for a fun game. Action Taimanin is an attempt to prove that assumption correct.

    Set in a futuristic world where there is a shadow war going on between humans and demons, the former having some colluding with the latter to make the war an open one. To combat this, especially since they have a particularly heavy presence in Japan, the Taimanin (aka Anti-Demon Ninjas, who have fought against demons for generations) are brought together with forces from the Chinese Federation, the United Federal States (the US), and various other irregulars to combat what has become a worldwide threat. On top of the demon-run criminal syndicate NOMAD, they must also fight other forces who have sold themselves to demons for power for their own goals.

    The setting is a place where magic and technology are common and often intermingled, the Taimanin must use both to stop the demonic threat. As a result, both magic (as a result of the Taimanin having an innate connection to it in their blood) and technology (like cybernetics) will be key tools in their arsenal against their varied enemies. To that end, you, as their commander, must manage their base and sortie the Taimanin on various missions.

    Action Taimanin
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent mobile to PC port; good adaptation of a visual novel to an action RPG format
    Weak Points: Tedious grinding for resources is a common gameplay element
    Moral Warnings: Lethal violence against humans and demonic beings; some brief displays of blood; some PG-13 language reference throughout the dialogue (b***t**d, s**t, a**, etc.); a few God***med references (in context of someone who sold their soul and betrayed their family, the term refers to them in a religious sense in context); lots of skimpy outfits that reveal a lot of female skin; some veiled sexual innuendos; references and allusions to sex out of wedlock; omnipresent references to demons and practices like necromancy

    The gameplay is split into three sections: visual novel story mode, base management, and action RPG missions. The visual novel style scenes give Fuuma (your Taimanin commander player character) some choices in some scenes that have a bearing on how the plot dialogue plays out as well as advance the story. The base management mode allows you to delegate Taimanin to train, hone their weapons and skills, and micromanage your HQ for making field ops easier. The action RPG missions allow you to control your available Taimanin in the hack and slash action stages to take down enemies, with some special stages like a racing minigame available as bonus missions.

    The game is a PC port of a free to play "gacha" game or a game based on disposable toy machines in Japan with a random chance element. Action Taimanin's gacha mechanics allow the player to spend in-game currency and currency bought with real-world money to exchange for random items, weapons, and other bonuses. There is also an "AP" mechanic, limiting how many times a player can select stages a day, though more is replenished daily as your levels increase, and beating certain challenges can provide various ways to stockpile more AP.

    Graphically, the game uses a slightly cel-shaded anime style with a lot of emphasis on 3D effects, adapting the hand-drawn art of the original visual novels (which had a milder version of the same type of effects) to an action game medium. The general aesthetic is "cyberpunk urban fantasy", which is reflected in the futuristic level design with lots of neon and metallic touches. The urban fantasy element is prevalent in the various nightmarish demonic enemies, many of which would not be out of place in a dark fantasy game, though some fit the cyberpunk theme as well. Given it was ported from iOS/Andriod to PC, most character models and visual novel scenes look great, though some setpieces and enemies have a somewhat "plastic" look from obvious upscaling and smoothing.

    The music and sound effects all go for the "techno synth-rock" genre, with some orchestral infusion with a distinct Japanese themed flair. While the music and sound effects are both catchy and fit the theme like a glove, the internal volume of the game is quite low, so I recommend wearing headphones for a good experience. Voice acting is still in Japanese, a lot outside of the visual novel scenes untranslated (important story dialouge is subtitled, miscellaneous dialouge is not like at the beginning of missions), but a lot can be figured out from context or is rather generic.

    Controls use a mixture of the mouse and keyboard, with the mouse being the PC substitute for the mobile version's touch controls, as the UI still references the original control scheme somewhat. It's not hard to navigate menus at all, and the action levels tend to be easy to navigate as well, with some tutorial levels at the beginning to ease you into the controls. The only real complaints are that the timing for certain attacks takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it will feel like second nature.

    The PC port is based on an older version of the mobile client (and so far only the first act of the campaign is available), but that said it's very stable, loads reasonably fast, and the framerate is butter smooth. I had little to no issues with holding a stable connection to the game servers and found, provided you meet minimum settings, the game runs very well on a suitable laptop or desktop.

    Action Taimanin
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 42%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10 (+3 for promoting loyalty and one's duty to one's family, blood-related and otherwise)

    Morally, this game is a vastly cleaned-up adaptation of some very explicit hardcore pornographic source media, so I will compare and contrast the originals to the adaptation where need be to give a moral evaluation.

    Violence is toned down from the source to a considerable extent. There is some mild display of blood when killing humans or other creatures, but this disappears shortly afterward along with the body. All violence is done as self-defense against terrorists, demons, or other troublemakers, and your forces are deputized to use lethal force to take down such threats, as they are unwilling to stand down peacefully.

    Language is again toned down from the source. There is some semi-frequent usage of strong language in the PG-13 realm (b*stard, s**t, etc.), though R-rated or higher terms are quite rare. There are a few uses of the word "god*****ed", though the party this refers to sold their soul for power and betrayed their own family and comrades, so they are, in a literal sense, damned before God. God in general is not mentioned outside of this but was otherwise regarded neutrally to positively by everyone save the outright evil in the source canon this adaptation is from.

    Sexual content was vastly toned down. Unlike the source, there are no explicit scenes of rape, torture, or sexual sadism. Some references and allusions are made to it, some in slightly crude terms, but unlike the source actual displays are absent. There are implied references to adultery and out of wedlock sexual relations, most in the non-pornographic visual novel scenes. There are a lot of sexy ninja catsuits and fetish outfits like bunny suits available, but unlike the source, these are no worse than something in a daytime movie, with many outfits deliberately censored to ensure there is no display of genitalia through clothing. There is some notable "jiggle physics" for the female characters with considerable bustlines, but all in question have the essentials clothed at all times.

    While most of the more blasphemous and depraved references to the occult and supernatural are absent or toned down from the source, they are an omnipresent element, as your foes are often demons or humans using demonically enhanced technology. Such is regarded, insofar as it's existence is in any way intended for evil, as beyond the pale and worthy of suppression legally. Your main characters, according to the lore, are descended from women who were raped by or otherwise share blood with demons according to the source canon, as they are equivalent to the Nephilim mentioned in the Book of Genesis. However, the playable cast and their allies take this demonic strength and magic inherited by the circumstances of their birth and consciously choose to use it for good, defending humanity from demons and humans who would use the same for evil.

    Morally and ethically, your playable cast is officially deputized by multiple legitimate governments to put down international terrorism, and you are given official support and sanction by the same. There is a clear chain of command, and treason to both family and superiors is considered a dishonor worthy of death. The playable cast is, for the most part, either part of the same clan of ninja (and thus family by association) or allies of the same, and loyalty is a strong focus. Some prejudice does come up, most of it of historical reference between Chinese, Japanese, and American personnel, but all agree in general to put it aside for their mutual mission of putting down terrorism that threatens all their respective countries and people.

    Overall, for someone who played the source games, this is a good adaptation for a more mainstream audience and a competent mobile to the PC port of a hack-and-slash game with base management and visual novel aspects. Morally, it is leaps and bounds above its source games in terms of being appropriate for a more mainstream audience, though it still has lots of content not fit for anyone who is not an adult. And, as someone who always figured the Taimanin Asagi franchise could ditch the pornographic aspects and it could stand on its own regardless, this game stands as excellent proof that is true.

  • Angels with Scaly Wings (PS5)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Angels with Scaly Wings
    Developed by: Radical Phi
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: April 29, 2021
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS4, PS5, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood and gore, language, sexual themes, violence
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code!

    In the year 20XX mankind is on the brink of extinction and a discovery of a portal offers them some hope. On the other side of the portal are intelligent dragons who speak fluent English (what are the odds?) and have sent and replied back to many letters of introduction. A human diplomat by the name of Reza Izquierdo has been sent over to represent humanity. Reza has negotiated a trade of PDAs filled with data about our society in exchange for their self-sufficient generators. It’s up to your non-gender specified character to bring over the PDAs. You can personalize your character by naming it and assigning its text color.

    After teleporting, you’re greeted by a peaceful sentient dragon. You soon discover that dragons hold humans in high esteem and most of the citizens want to make your acquaintance as a result. Many of the dragons are open to being more than friends too. Never in my gaming career did I expect to play a dragon dating simulator!

    If you’re not into dating dragons, there’s a neutral ending available, but much of the story plot holes are filled by seeing the good and bad endings for each of the main reptilian characters. In total, there are thirteen endings to see. To save time, you can skip or speed through text you have read in previous arcs.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story; thirteen endings
    Weak Points: You can’t visit every dragon during your free time so multiple playthroughs are encouraged
    Moral Warnings: Blood and violence as you investigate dragon murders; swearing (d*mn, b*stard); drinking and drunkenness; you can hit on and date dragons; same-sex relationships possible 

    The diplomatic relations quickly get strained as murders start happening in this peaceful village. To make matters worse, Reza disappears around the same time and is the prime suspect. To restore humanity’s image and to get to the bottom of this, your character aids the police force in solving these mysteries. Along the way, you’ll discover that their world is in danger and if you play your cards right, you may save them as well as humanity (win win).

    During your down time, you’ll get to choose which dragons you’ll hang out with or assist. You can help Remy at the library, swig some beers with the police chief, assist Lorem with making a video game portraying humans, and plenty of other activities. It will take many playthroughs to see all of the interactions and the choices you make affect who lives or dies in the various story arcs.

    With the murders, you can expect to see some bloodshed. Nudity is implied at times, but nothing is shown. The dragons for the most part don’t wear clothes. When it comes to dating you have the opportunity to hit on and get intimate with dragons of either gender. There is some language including d*mn and b*stard. Drinking and drunkenness are shown too.

    Angels with Scaly Wings
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay: 17/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence: 3.5/10
    Language: 6.5/10
    Sexual Content: 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10

    There is no voice acting in this game, but the background music and sound effects get the job done. The music isn’t very memorable and as a result stayed out of my head.

    The art style is unique and grew on me as I played the game more. I thought that it was funny when the background got blurrier and blurrier during the drinking game with the chief.

    If you like dragons or ever daydreamed about dating them, you’ll probably enjoy this visual novel. It’ll also scratch the itch for anyone seeking a good murder mystery too. I still can’t get over the notion of dating dragons though.

  • Arcadia Fallen (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Arcadia Fallen
    Developed by: Galdra Studios
    Published by: Galdra Studios
    Release date: January 5, 2022
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, violence, alcohol use, suggestive themes, language
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Galdra Studios for sending us a review code!

    In Arcadia Fallen you play as Morgan (you can change the name), an apprentice alchemist in a small town called Anemone Valley. The main character can be further customized by changing their body type (androgynous is an option), pronouns and voice. The sexual pandering doesn’t end there! This game promotes LGBTQ+ dating options and even if your character is heterosexual, other characters are not.

    Elizabeth runs the alchemy shop and guides Morgan on how to create various elixirs. She’ll also send Morgan on errands to gather ingredients or buy some from the non-binary flower shop owner. I was under the impression that Quinn was a girl until the epilogue used the phrase “their flower shop” instead of a gender specific “her flower shop”.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting character development dialogue options; Good (partial) voice acting
    Weak Points: Crashed at the end
    Moral Warnings: Blood, death, and violence; language (sh*t); homosexual characters; option to date same-sex party members; magic use; magic users are persecuted

    It doesn’t take long for this peaceful town to be assaulted by demons and it’s up to your character and the friends that they’ll meet to stop the invasion and reverse the damage they have caused. Your party will consist of a knight who upholds justice no matter the cost, a rebellious mage, a timid spirit, an outcast nightwalker, and a scholarly mage who prefers books over people. Each character has a backstory for your character to discover and is bound to clash with other party members. The banter between them as you’re selecting your next destination is mildly amusing. If you missed out on any of it, you can listen to it again from the Banter main menu option.

    Like many visual novels, you can make story-altering decisions. Romance dialogue options are also present between your party members. After several flirtatious conversations you’ll be asked if you are interested in a character and if you say yes, the romance dialogue options will disappear for the other party members.

    Other than the gender and sexual orientation oddities, Arcadia Fallen is unique with how it lets you define the main character. You can respond to questions angrily, cheerfully, determined, jokingly, nervously, and sad. The ability to define your character’s personality is refreshing. However, towards the end of the game, you only have two routes to choose: sadness or vengeance.

    Arcadia Fallen
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay: 17/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence: 7/10
    Language: 6:10
    Sexual Content: 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 6/10

    The artwork is well done and the theme song at the beginning is a nice touch. The characters have profile pictures when speaking and they show many emotions as they speak. This game is partially voice acted and what's there is exceptional. In the dialogue is some language (sh*t).

    Magic is prevalent throughout this game’s story. Mages were persecuted and many forms of magic are illegal and punishable by death. Morgan has a locket that is used for doing alchemy and sealing demons. The locket consists of four circles that you have to rotate to match the alchemy recipe or mimic the layout of the diagram shown.

    The romance route is pretty tame and I didn’t see any more than kissing between my character and love interest (Kaiden). It’s implied that other homosexual couples have gone further than kissing. Violence and death are part of the game’s story. A couple of taverns are visited throughout the story as well.

    The story spans seven chapters and it’s really well written. You’ll get about ten hours of game time each play-through. If you can look past the LGBTQ+ propaganda, it’s a fun game.

  • Autumn's Journey (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Autumn's Journey
    Developed by Apple Cider
    Published by Ratalaika Games
    Released on December 11, 2020 (Switch)
    Available on Linux, MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99 

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us this game to review!

    Autumn’s Journey is a visual novel developed by Apple Cider and ported to Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch by Ratalaika Games. It stars an aspiring knight by the name of Auralee Bayard, who finds herself hiking in the forest one day when she discovers two dragons that are in a human form. She then embarks on a journey with them which allows her to get to know them for the people they really are inside.

    In the world of the game, there are two predominant races. The first is the dragonkind, which has existed on the setting’s world for many years. The second is heavenkind, which is basically humans, that have only began existing recently. Many of the funniest moments are based around the cultural differences that the two species have. Much of the storyline is taken up by explaining these differences, but it does so at a pace that helps the plot along instead of dragging down the reader.

    Autumn's Journey
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute art with no obvious flaws; launches right into the plot; cute and fitting music; nice characterization
    Weak Points: Endings are not vastly different; only lasts an hour per session
    Moral Warnings: Described violence; some scenes are designed to imply sexual tension that is later revealed to never actually have been there; references messing with the dead; fantasy magic; rebellion against human norms is scripted; kissing (both romantically and platonically)

    The gameplay is very simple, and this is because of the genre. I was able to tap the Switch’s touch screen to continue to the next piece of text, or press the A button if I preferred. All the button combinations for the other functions are indicated next to that function on the text bar at the bottom of the screen. Everything is simple, leaving no frustration or confusion on how the game operates. The only complaint I have is the fact that the skip function runs quite slow at times, which is something that confuses me. My best guess is that it is a bug.

    The music in Autumn’s Journey is simple, but fitting. It blends with the theme very well, and emphasizes the emotion in the scene when it is theatrically necessary. There is partial voice acting, which is a pleasant surprise for an indie game. It was very well done, and captures the emotions of the characters in a realistic manner. There are very few sound effects other than these, but they are present in the battle scenes that are described throughout the game.

    The graphics are quite pleasant and well done, especially for an indie game. The art is very cute and expressive, and has no (obvious) anatomical flaws. The coloring and shading are well done as well, and the backgrounds are immersive in nature. There is a forest background that is reused for two very different locations, but other than that, I have no gripes.

    Autumn's Journey
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence – 7.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 7.5/10

    I particularly enjoyed the characterization in this story. There were not many people present that were notable to the plot, but for a story of this length, it wasn’t necessary. There were only four character sprites (the protagonist, Auralee, her two companions, and her mother). The small cast allowed for more time to be spent on developing the personalities and backgrounds of the existing members, and I felt a bit like I’d befriended them myself. A small detail that I appreciated was the way that the story took place in and progressed through the season of autumn. It heightened the story’s environment by connecting back to the title, and I felt a little more immersed in the world of the story as a result. There are 3 endings, but they are not vastly different from each other. There are differing cutscenes, but the overall nature of the ending is the same. The game itself is short, which is a shame because I wanted to spend a lot more time getting to know these characters and the world they live in.

    Morally, there are a few issues. There is one use of h*ll, in the context of “what the h*ll.” There are also a few scenes that imply an awkward brand of sexual tension, and as the story progresses, said tension is revealed to never have truly existed in the first place. There are also scenes of described violence, where the characters are engaged in battle, and a major part of the plot deals with the mishandling of (dragon) corpses. There are also several references that Auralee’s companions make to going to altars and talking to dragons, using fantasy magic to do so. Near the end (which I am not going to spoil), the protagonist has to rebel against the human norms for her world for the sake of her companions. There is also described kissing, both in heavily implied romantic feelings, and in a platonic sense for one of the characters, who is merely attempting to wrap their head around the concept. No romantic endeavors go farther than this.

    Overall, Autumn’s Journey is a short, sweet, and charming tale for those who want a good, quick story to occupy an hour of their day. I would recommend this story for those who are a little older, as there is minor swearing and some references to things that adults are geared to understand.

    - Kittycathead

  • Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies (PS5)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies
    Developed by: Magenta Factory, ZiX Solutions
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: July 8, 2021
    Available on: PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for language
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code!

    Most of the visual novels I’ve played take place in Japan. Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies take place in China and is voice acted in Chinese. It’s a nice change of pace, though it took some getting used to. There are subtitles available if you' don't speak Chinese. The story begins with a character named Xiao Su who receives an unexpected package that was supposed to go to his former neighbor, Li Jiayun. Upon asking around for her new address, he discovers that she’s now dead. While reminiscing about her, he receives a knock on the door from a young gentleman named Wei Qiuwu who asks if he has received an unexpected delivery recently.

    Xiao Su and Wei Qiuwu exchange stories about how they got to know Li Jiayun and most of the game is told from Wei Qiuwu’s perspective. Despite Xiao Su knowing Li Jiayun longer, Wei Qiuwu spent more time with Li Jiayun in the last six months of her life than Xiao Su did in her entire lifetime.

    Li Jiayun has had health issues since childhood. The game doesn’t go into specifics, but there are multiple surgeries involved and mention of waiting for a transplant. When Wei Qiuwu’s father was in the hospital for an ulcer, he met Li Jiayun as she was playing her concertina. They started talking and a friendship blossomed as a result. Even after Wei Qiuwu’s father was discharged, Wei Qiuwu would find excuses to go to the hospital to see Li Jiayun.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful 4K background art and unique-looking characters; Chinese voice acting (subtitles available!); good background music; multiple routes/endings
    Weak Points: Some typos
    Moral Warnings: Language (d*mn, dumb*ss, bullsh*t, b*stards); using the Lord’s name in vain, descriptive violence; suicide/euthanasia; references to sex outside of marriage and unmarried couples living together; many of the female characters are sensually drawn with nipple outlines and underwear visible at times.

     

    There are a few choices to be made throughout this visual novel. Depending on your choices, a romance can develop between Wei Qiuwu and Li Jiayun or with another female character. Wei Qiuwu’s parents are anxious for grandkids so they’ll be rooting for him no matter which female he pursues.

    Li Jiayun has many friends and family members that visit her in the hospital. While she’s not in the hospital, Wei Qiuwu and Li Jiayun’s friends and family hang out together. A good portion of this story revolves around Li Jiayun being a lead character in a school play and all of the preparation that goes along with that. There are some other events like partaking in a picnic and Wei Qiuwu teaching many of the girls how to ride a bike for the first time.

    Most of the dialogue is light-hearted and fun, but there are some serious moments and taboo topics brought up. One of the characters recalls being beaten by her parents with a cane so badly, that she couldn’t walk for a couple of days.

     

     

    With the constant health issues and pain, Li Jiayun doesn’t wish to suffer or be a financial burden to her parents and goes to a facility that offers euthanasia.

    Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay: 17/20
    Graphics: 9/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls/Interface: 4/5

    Morality Score - 61%
    Violence: 8/10
    Language: 1/10
    Sexual Contents: 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10

    Foul language is present and has a variety of curse words falling short of the F-bomb which is never dropped. The Lord’s name is taken in vain on multiple occasions though. There is some sexual dialogue as Wei Qiuwu’s parents tell him to practice safe sex and leaves a condom behind in his bedroom before they go out somewhere. In one of the endings, Wei Qiuwu lives with his love interest before marriage.

    The production quality of Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies is superb with the voice acting and 4K background images. The character art is unique and sadly offers quite a bit of fan service. You’ll see well-endowed females wearing tight fitting shirts with outlines of their nipples. They don’t appear to be wearing bras. Thankfully, they are wearing underwear for the numerous up-skirt shots you’ll see throughout the story.

    Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies provides a memorable story that has a touching ending. In the beginning of the story you know that Li Jiayun dies. How and why it happens is a bit sobering. While I appreciated the 4K artwork on a big screen, I was not thrilled with the sexualized female characters. If the crotch shots and language doesn’t bother you, Bai Qu: Hundreds of Melodies is worth checking out.

  • Baldr Sky (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Baldr Sky
    Developed By: GIGA
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: December 20, 2019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel, Action
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $49.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

    Over the years, I've reviewed quite a few visual novels, always reviewing censored versions where applicable (I will not play something that qualifies as full-on porn, like some uncensored visual novels are). I find the format interesting, and the stories engaging. Often I am rewarded with a deep and compelling story, and that's certainly the case here. What did surprise me is just how close to the (appropriateness) edge this game did get, though.

    Baldr Sky stars Kou Kadokura, a cyberspace mercenary who is investigating the truth behind the events that happened on 'Grey Christmas' - a tragic event where Kou lost the woman he loves, not to mention almost everyone else in the city he knew at the elite college he attended. While deep in an investigation, he blacks out from a powerful blast - that not only kills most of his crew, but also wipes out several years from his memory. Those memories hold clues which help unravel the mystery of this deep and engaging tale.

    The story takes place some time in the 22nd century, after brain chips become commonplace, and AI computers control the whole of cyberspace. Interestingly, there was a technology race late in the 21st century, where mechanical computers (not unlike what we have now) and biological AI, which are made of organic materials, were competing for supremacy; the organic AI came out on top. Mechanical AI (and computers in general) were relegated to existing systems where they control common activities like climate control; the new AI systems manage everything else.

    The relationship between the AI and humanity is mostly symbiotic; the organic AI is almost certainly the most advanced life form on the planet, and manages cyberspace for humanity - as humans dream of more things to do, the AI will create, modify, and even upgrade the simulation for your mind and virtual avatars to travel to. Certain exceptionally gifted people, often called 'wizards', can create almost anything you can imagine in cyberspace - an NPC (non-player character), any items you wish, or even an entire city, and the AI will maintain that space for anyone who wishes (or is allowed) to go there. It's a fascinating vision of the future, and one that real-world companies are even now trying to make happen. As soon as I saw how the brain chips worked, it immediately brought to mind the possibility of a really advanced version of Elon Musk's Neuralink.

    Baldr Sky
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Deep, engaging and interesting story; lovable characters; overall excellent translation; great art, even if low resolution; very good music and sound effects; action battles can be fun; one of the highest-rated visual novels of all time; extremely long
    Weak Points: Battles can get a bit frustrating at times (thankfully there is an easy mode); extremely long; in one part of the game I had stability issues
    Moral Warnings: Foul language of every kind, including liberal uses of 'f*ck' and God's name in vain, not to mention 'd*mn', 'b*tch', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', and likely others; violence, including blood and death, though most of it is in the form of simulacrums fighting (virtual reality robot avatars); sexual content is almost everything you can imagine, including premarital sex, rape, incest, hints of homosexuality, human trafficking, orgies, and more; characters in various forms of undress, including completely naked, and even in sexual positions on screen, though nipples and private areas are censored out (on the Steam release); an uncensor patch is easy to find, which then would offer full on-screen sex; atheism is shown as generally positive, and the only religion mentioned is a doomsday cult who uses an upside-down cross as their symbol and preaches that

     

     

    everyone must die online and join the AI to become 'wired ghosts'
    ; genocide and human experimentation discussed

    This form of cyberspace even includes the concept of limiters - if present, you can experience whatever you like, without fear of serious injury or death. On the flip side, experiences there are not as intense - if all limiters are removed, you can certainly die from an experience, but it also fully feels real. This is a feature that places like the 'Love and Pleasure Forum' take advantage of to the fullest, and virtual sex orgies are a common occurrence there.

    As a result of the sudden influx of such advanced technology, there are various factions that have sprung up. These include pro and anti AI factions, as well as a religious cult called Dominion that believes that all humanity should become one with the AI, and upload their consciousness into cyberspace - allowing their bodies to die in reality. In another remarkable coincidence, this idea is also something mirrored in reality - the US company Nectome wants to do the exact same thing here in the real world. Hopefully, they don't create a suicide cult that uses the symbol of an upside-down cross to spread their message, though.

    Baldy Sky was originally released in Japan in the form of two separate games, Dive1 and Dive2. Dive1 focused on setting up the plot, and explored three relationship arcs for Kou - Rain, Nanoha, and Chinatsu. In each of their stories, you romance them - and premarital sex with them is unavoidable. You also see different sides of the same conflict, determine some of what happened during the disaster you lived through with your school friends, and glimpses into how to stop the coming war.

    Dive2 picks right up where Dive1 left off by actually starting at the same place, but it opens up new dialogue choices, as well as giving you access to a fully contiguous Reminiscence feature where you can watch the entire last year before the tragedy play out in order, giving you more and more backstory on what happened to you and those you love so much. You also romance Aki, Makoto, and Sora in these routes. Again, premarital sex is unavoidable. This release combines both Dives into one contiguous package.

    Your time reflecting about your school days revolves around Kisaragi Dorm, where you, your second cousin Aki, your buddy Masa, your childhood friend Nanoha, as well as other close friends (Chinatsu, Makoto, Sora) all live together under one roof. Almost all of them suffer with some personal tragedies, and the love and deep relationships formed together there is the closest many of them have to a family. This is all extremely well written, and I personally came to appreciate every character, especially those in Kisaragi Dorm.

    Unfortunately, as mentioned before, Grey Christmas happens, and Kou loses the woman he loves - and he's not the only one dealing with huge losses. Every character's arc deals with the aftermath of this in some way, as well as shows how they approach the future. Everything is very well written, and quite engaging.

    Given that this takes place in a future where cyberspace is a place of human dreams come true, naturally man figures out a way to battle in giant robots. These are called simulacrums, and they are used in virtual combat both for sport and real cyber warfare - where lives are lost in the process. Anyone with access to the appropriate software can access a battle robot, and of course Kou finds that he has a natural talent - no doubt in part because his mostly-absent dad is also a legendary simulacrum pilot whose seen countless battles.

    About thirty percent or so of the story is told through these battles, where Kou fights various viruses (combat programs) or other human-controlled simulacrums, often to the death. All combat is performed in real time, where you have three different attack buttons, a dash button, as well as a way to move around to line up or avoid attacks. The game plays perfectly well on a gamepad, though mouse and keyboard is also supported. I played the entire game with a gamepad.

    Combat can be really intense, with each button having assignable attacks, so you can have up to sixteen of the available weapons equipped at any one time. During combat, you earn Force, which you can then spend on weapon development, or even unlocking various interface plugins while you play. Force is quite a valuable commodity, and you can earn more by doing more damage to your opponents. Since enemy health scales up as difficulty increases, a great way to earn more is to increase the difficulty, if you can still win that way. While I played most of the game on normal, there are five difficulty settings, ranging from very easy to very hard. I sometimes played on hard when I wanted to earn a bit more, and dropped to easy or even very easy when I struggled. Once I found a good set of weapons, I rarely went below normal.

    Weapons range from melee attacks like punches and kicks, to missile barrages and lasers, and everything in between. Some of the harder to unlock weapons, like bits, are incredibly powerful and are practically required to do well later on in the game. Each bout generally lasts no more than a few minutes, with some exceptions, though back to back fights happens quite often. The story can be told in pop-up text during fights, or with dialogue that happens between bouts. Some scenario are made based on how well you do in certain battles. For example, if you win or lose against some enemies helps determine what ending you get. You need to see all good endings in order to get the final, true one.

    In the first three routes (originally Dive1), there are humiliation scenes that have been thankfully mostly been censored out, but your effectiveness in combat determines what happens. To make a long story short, if you take too long, your female companion gets raped by a total scumbag. While nothing is shown in the censored version of this game (as shipped on Steam), what happens is implied. Apparently little is left to the imagination if you apply the 18+ patch.

    Baldr Sky
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 36%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Not only is sex (and rape) a recurring theme in the game, but as mentioned before premarital sex is seen as a reward for getting close to each girl. One even goes so far as to use it as a wager to try to keep your relationship closer. As the story goes on, one character whom you treat as a sister becomes your lover; others are closely biologically related to you, though you don't know that until later. That knowledge makes no impact on your relationships or choices, however. Several routes have you travel to the previously mentioned Love and Pleasure Forum, where your characters observe orgies and other group sex acts in large numbers. In order to infiltrate this location, you have to take a virtual drug which instantly makes you feel strongly sexually attracted to the girl you are with in order to get past the 'horny' test. Speaking of virtual drugs, there is also a scene where some of the Dorm members get virtually drunk - and another person drinks real alcohol by mistake.

    While most outfits are reasonably modest most of the time (with the exception of some significant cleavage, and girls wearing sports bloomers or bikinis), some scenes, especially endings, hold little to nothing back. One ending has you and one of the girls basically together in a many-hours long sex escapade, day after day; the image on screen shows your bodies together in a sexual position, but all nipples/privates are covered or whited/clouded out. Nevertheless, little is left to the imagination. There are also shower scenes with similar streaks and so on. Another time you carry a naked woman, and a light streak covers her private parts. A back alley doctor's office has an adult sex toy shop as a front, and a mannequin there has nipples; ironically these are the only visible nipples in the censored version of the game. Several lines in the dialogue also talk about sex, or joke about it. Two of the female characters are in a sexual relationship with each other. Because of the Steam version's censoring, all actual sex scenes fade to black, but you do know more or less what happened. According to the Sekai Project, approximately 4% of the original content was censored or removed for this release.

    As mentioned before, there is plenty of violence, including deaths of various kinds. Blood is rarely shown, but there are a few scenes where there is. In a few cases, powerful weapons wipe out life on a massive scale. Foul language is relatively common, but not gratuitous; no character swears just because, so it makes sense on context, but Kou in particular is known to drop quite a few f-bombs. Pretty much every other common curse word is also present, including 'd*mn', 'b*tch', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', as well as God's name in vain. From an occult/supernatural perspective, everything is based on technology; the biggest negatives is nearly no mention of God other than as a curse, or the Dominion cult that is almost a parody of a Christian-like cult, with upside-down crosses as their symbol, and it's being led by a psychotic leader named Father Gregory. He will use almost any method to help progress his movement, including violence with his twin chainsaws.

    From a technical perspective, it's a pretty good and solid game with some notable exceptions. The system requirements are vanishingly low - it should run on almost anything made in the last fifteen years, as the art is all 2D, including the battles. The graphics resolution is 800x600, though I found the upscaling to work much better than I expected. Sure it can be pixelated, but given how much is hand-drawn art, that didn't bother me at all, and some scaling algorithm is applied to battle content that blurs the pixels in a really effective way. The only major problem I had is that near the end of one of the last routes, I had the game crash a bunch of times - enough where I actually had to launch the game on another computer to get past that. It sure was strange. (This was after 100+ hours of perfectly stable gameplay.)

    The art overall is well done, with a unique character art that my daughter called a 'tall person' anime art style. It's quite different from the more typical 'chibi' style and looks really good. The music has around sixty tracks, and is quite excellent as well.

    Baldr Sky has a really interesting story and characters, and is even a good value - it took me about one hundred and twenty hours to finally see the true ending, and I enjoyed my entire time with the game. If I wanted to, I could easily get more out of the game by playing the survival mode, where you get to fight against wave after wave of enemies. It's a fun game and an engaging story, but man, that appropriateness pushes the edge so far that it's a really difficult recommendation. If you have any struggles with lust, you may want to avoid this title.

  • Blackberry Honey (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blackberry Honey
    Developed By: ebi-hime
    Published By: Ratalaika Games S.L.
    Released: February 22, 2022
    Available: Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Language, Sexual Themes
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $12.99

    Thank You Ratalaika Games S.L. for providing us with a review code!

    Originally released in 2017 on the PC platforms, Blackberry Honey is a yuri romance kinetic novel by developer ebi-hime. Kinetic novels are slightly different from visual novels in that kinetic novels have no choices to be made. It goes from beginning to end in a straightforward narrative. Yuri stands for “girls love” and is usually used for a sexual romance between two girls. That isn’t always the case as the yuri genre can and does have platonic relationships such as friendships and spiritual connection. Blackberry Honey is of the former, and I knew of this when choosing to review this rather controversial entry, despite knowing the audience of this website.

    Taking place in 19th Century Victorian England, our protagonist Lorina Waugh finds herself in Bly, located within Liverpool. After being forced to resign from her previous position, Lorina now works for the Lennard family. Constantly working fourteen-hour days under the hate-filled and bratty Lady Constance, Lorina’s life is far from luxurious. Constance continuously takes her anger out on Lorina making her accomplish obnoxious tasks such as tending to the rose gardens without any tools or protection or forcing Lorina to obtain sweets that she turns her nose up to. Most days for Lorina consist of getting verbally abused by the royal family, long shifts, and every Sunday, attending church to receive the Lord’s blessings.

    Lorina works with a half-dozen other maids such as the chubby and friendly Ada, the Swiss native Lieselotte who has many stories about her siblings, and the strange Effie who doesn’t speak often, but when she does, it’s always confusing. There are the two other maids Isobel and Pauline who have an antagonistic relationship with Lorina. They force her to do the chores they were tasked with to skip out on their duties and flirt with the valets. Last, and the most important, is the older Taohua, the mysterious maid who has been working for the Lennard family for longer than all the others. Her aloof behavior has Lorina annoyed at first, but after a while can’t help but be drawn close to her after Taohua stands up and supports her on numerous occasions.

    Blackberry Honey
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Eloquent dialogue; strong characterization
    Weak Points: Some immersion-breaking moments; art limitations; seldom wants to delve into deeper issues while teasing the thought 
    Moral Warnings: Yuri (lesbian) romance; discussions about pre-marital sex; discriminatory language such as “whore”, “slut”, and “hussy”, as well as foul language such as “h*ll” and “b*tch”; a few descriptions of violence and blood; unfaithfulness and blasphemy towards God

    Blackberry Honey’s main focus is on the blossoming relationship between Lorina and Taohua that starts off with a one-sided dislike and soon becomes love. The romance progresses fairly quickly as the entire story takes place during a six-month period. The two characters do have pretty good chemistry together and it does seem believable given their personality quirks; Lorina wants someone to confide in while Taohua wants someone to dote on. Another main relationship is between Lorina and Constance and explores the dynamic between master and servant. While Constance is abusive towards Lorina, the interactions between the two hint that Constance may not want to be this way.

    The characters are multi-layered and nuanced and are well-written in nearly all circumstances. It’s very easy to hate on Lady Constance with her “holier than thou” attitude and the cruel methods she inflicts on Lorina, but she is given enough backstory and subtlety that a person can feel a little bit of empathy towards her. Lorina herself is designed as an attractive character and many within the setting comment on this aspect, but she doesn’t think so. She sees herself as rather plain and homely. Even Taohua is interesting, especially given that Taohua's name is Oriental in origin. She goes out of her way to help Lorina in many situations but is also very reserved to let Lorina return the favor. The other maids aren’t as developed as the three main characters, yet they’re given enough to work with that they are multi-layered as well. The dialogue hits the mark with the setting in most cases, but can sometimes break immersion at points as when the moments between Lorina and Taohua get more saucy, it can slip into modern language and terminology.

    The backgrounds of Blackberry Honey have an art painting aesthetic to them. Developer ebi-hime took pictures of various locations inspired by the Victorian England era and commissioned an artist to use them as a reference. I find them to be lovely, and the fact that they are based on real-world settings makes the whole thing feel authentic. On the other hand, I’m iffier on the character design. They all have an animesque design to them, but are also limited in poses/sprites. Not every character has a full design, some are only seen from head to shoulder and others don’t have a portrait at all. The poses are also limited as they usually only keep one, with a few variations such as a hand movement here or there with some basic facial expressions. I don’t think it’s bad in a designed way as the color and shading are done well on the characters, but something about how the characters look feels uncanny to me. I feel it mostly has to do with how inconsistent the computer graphic (CG) scenes are, with how many of the characters are drawn as looking at the camera instead of looking towards a character or setpiece. On an other point, the music fits the setting of Victoria England using pianos and string instruments, as well as the organ for the church setting. This kinetic novel is voiceless so none of the characters speak or even make simple grunts.

    Blackberry Honeyf
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6.5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 2/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4/10

    Hoo boy! Now we’re at the morality section, and as evidence of the narrative, there is a lot to discuss. In terms of violence, there isn’t too much. There are some descriptions of characters slapping each other or a few moments where a small amount of blood is drawn such as Lorina tending to a rosebush. Language amps up a bit more with foul words such as “h*ll” and “b*tch”. There is a lot of discriminatory language used such as “whore”, “slut”, and “hussy” that Pauline and Isobel say towards Lorina due to what happened to Lorina at her previous job. Taohua is also discriminated against due to her half-Chinese heritage and some characters call her a “savage.”

    Sexual content is one of the biggest contributors to morality as many of the well-endowed characters are drawn in such a way that they are almost always cross-armed, putting your gaze towards their breasts. The maid outfits are also form-fitting and many CG scenes emphasize their breasts and butt. As mentioned before, this is a more sexual-based yuri visual novel with lesbian romance. There is plenty of kissing between two females, and Lorina and Taohua are quick to get intimate. (Sometimes, it can lead to cognitive dissonance as Lorina is taken aback that people view her as promiscuous—and yet, it was pretty easy for Taohua to sleep with her.) One scene shows Lorina in a bathtub with only a towel covering her bare breasts and her legs crossed so her genitals are obscured. There are a couple of scenes where they discuss their sexual moments together. A few moments of blasphemy do occur such as Lorina in a fit of anger “swearing to God” (but she does acknowledge this, as well as her relationship with Taohua). There is another moment in which Taohua is explaining her backstory to Lorina she talks about the time when she encountered another person “superior to Him.”

    It doesn’t have to be said. I knew Blackberry Honey would be something from the getgo that the vast majority of this reading base would not get into, let alone even entertain the thought. It managed to be even more morally questionable than I previously assumed. So why did I choose it in the first place? There are many reasons as to that. Some are simple such as me liking the Victorian England setting. Others are way more complicated than that. But I also believe as a reviewer that it’s a good thing to cover something controversial every once in a while as it can potentially broaden your horizons.

    Even so, my feelings on Blackberry Honey are very mixed after spending somewhere between eight and nine hours on it. I did enjoy plenty of aspects of the game as the characterization is done well. The usage of words and descriptions of settings and events are also nicely crafted. My issues with the experience are that at many times throughout the narrative, it seemed like ebi-hime wanted to tackle certain aspects such as Lorina’s conflict between her faith and her love for Taohua, the class system, and the grittier details of discrimination. Yet every time it almost does so, the narrative handwaves it and just says “eh whatever, here's more lesbian smut!” While Lorina develops in personality throughout the narrative, Taohua also comes across as a savior archetype and if it wasn’t for her, literally, then Lorina would be stuck in the same situation despite her growth. Even the conflict between Constance and Lorina is left unresolved. It is what it is. Blackberry Honey did set out and accomplish what it was meant to do—but whenever it could have been something more, it decides to opt for the easy way out.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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