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)

     

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    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)

     

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    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.

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

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    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 Summer With the Shiba Inu (Switch)

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    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

  • 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.

  • Blind Men (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blind Men
    Developed by: Man-Eater Games
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: April 17, 2020
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: M- Mature +17 Strong Language, Sexual Themes
    Price: $4.99

    I would like to thank Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code for Blind Men on the Nintendo Switch.

    As it turns out, watching spy flicks is a celebrated past time for both myself and my father. You see, my dad and I were two totally different types of people. No, we didn’t really play catch with each other or go fishing together, I simply was not into those things. However, there was one thing we enjoyed doing together, and that was watching movies. Our favorites were the James Bond films where the debonair spy comes out on top of a rouge's gallery of diabolical villains. Those movies were always entertaining because you could never really know what was going to happen next.

    Fast forward nearly two decades and I have retained my love for those types of movies. I was recently given the chance to review a brand new title called Blind Men on the Nintendo Switch, and I gladly took on the assignment with the understanding that it was about spy stuff. Call it naivety, but I really didn’t know what I was playing when I agreed to review the title. Blind Men is indeed about a secret spy organization and the villains who facilitate it, but it is a far cry from James Bond. In fact, consider it a spy drama satire of sorts.

    Before I get into this review, I think it beneficial to know a little about the genre of this game. Blind Men is considered to be a “BL” drama, or “boys love” for short. This style of storytelling has its origins in Japanese manga and is still quite popular across the pond. A BL game is simply a story that features male to male attraction, but it is usually not explicitly sexual. These titles are more about romance and less about sexual and sensual behavior. Most game experiences allow for players to choose how to interact with their “crushes,” whether to brush them off or lead them on, so on and so forth. Blind Men fits very well into this mold as an interactive story and a dating simulator.

    Blind Men
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Short and engaging playthrough; offers multiple endings; can change game speed
    Weak Points: Translated in only two languages; shallow storyline; caters to a specific audience
    Moral Warnings: Occasionally strong language; use of alcohol; suggested violence; same-sex attraction is the central focus

    The story centers around a young man named Keegan who lost his parents (and his eye) in a tragic car accident years ago. His supervillain uncle, Sphinx, has looked after him for all those years and has reared the fledgling villain in his secret base since the accident. Keegan wishes to become a great villain and join the illustrious Leauge of Evil, much to his uncle’s delight. So Keegan sets off on several missions to prove himself as the self-proclaimed supervillain, Dr. Cyclops, but along the way, he meets the two antagonists who will become his love interests. There is the suave and flirtatious Bond-like Hunter, and the stoic and more serious Sergei. Both of those men become a stumbling block for Keegan in more ways than one.

    As is the case with most visual novels, Blind Men gives the players various choices to manipulate the outcome of the game. There are a grand total of 8 endings, 4 endings for each romance possibility with each spy. All dialogue speeds can be controlled by the player, and cut scenes can be skipped at will. This gives the player to option to search out each eight of these endings in relatively no time at all. If one allows for the dialogue to run naturally without skipping, one playthrough is about as long as a standard Hollywood movie. The developers did a very good job of making Blind Men a smooth visual novel to navigate through.

    The game only supports two languages, English and Spanish. Blind Men was originally created in Spanish, so the parts that are voiced are completely in that language. The English dialogue is very basic, almost juvenile in its delivery. Along with this, there are quite a few grammatical errors in the translation. If someone usually struggles to get through a visual novel, this makes the experience so much harder. The art style itself is somewhat cartoonish and whimsical, which does not gel very well with the adult themes that are displayed.

    Blind Men
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay: 10/20
    Graphics: 6/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls: 3/5

    Morality Score - 52%
    Violence: 6/10
    Language: 4/10
    Sexual Content: 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 4/10

    Since this is Christ Centered Gamer, I think the only way to accurately assess the moral issues within this game is to do so in light of Scriptures. First off, this game is not violent and shows very little blood and gore, if any, within its sprawling storylines. There is some adult language, but even that is kept to a minimum. The main problem is with male to male attraction, which implies homosexuality. That is an action that is spoken against within the Scriptures in various places. So, this game stumbles greatly in that area.

    I will admit, however, that I did not see as much “sexual” activity as I was initially expecting. This game is a romance story, and as such, it is very ambiguous about the sexual orientations of the characters themselves. The most sexual activity that is shown is within a couple of scenes where the men are kissing each other. It doesn’t really go beyond that, even though it is implied. Regardless, many players with personal convictions against the homosexual lifestyle will want to steer clear from this game.

    With all these things in mind, I can conclude that Blind Men is a straight-forward and accessible visual novel with a shallow, yet moderately entertaining storyline which presents a wide array of endings. The adult themes of alcohol consumption and same-sex romance are easy breaking points for many, and the ambiguity of the relationships makes this title uncomfortable for many players.

    It’s up to you what you would like to play, but if you are a Christian reading this, I hope that you allow for the Words contained within the Scriptures to be your guide in choosing your newest title.

  • BRG's Red Riding Hood (PC)

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    Game Info:

    BRG's Red Riding Hood
    Developed By: Brave Rock Games
    Published By: Brave Rock Games
    Released: October 2, 2014
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $1.99 on Steam

    Thank you Brave Rock Games for sending us this game to review!

    Never in my life have I written a review that took longer to make than the entire timespan of the game, and I don’t think I ever will again. BRG’s Red Riding Hood only took fifteen minutes to clear both routes, and as a result, earn all three achievements. One of the achievements was for the good ending, the next for the bad ending, and the last one for starting the game in the first place.

    The story itself is based around the original Red Riding Hood fairy tale, and is written in an older style. It may have been taken out of the public domain, as there are many variants of the story there. However, there is one choice in the “novel,” and it concerns the wolf. One choice leads to the wolf being hunted down, and the other choice leads to the girl and her grandmother being gobbled right up.

    BRG's Red Riding Hood
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Pleasant visual sprites; voice present; ability to choose character’s path
    Weak Points: Voice acting is a little dry; art style clashes a little with background photos; game is only 15 minutes long
    Moral Warnings: One of the endings implies a violent death by being eaten

    The voice acting is a little hypnotizing in the sense that it may make the reader fall asleep, and when they reach the bad end, the voice acting (which is a narrator) switches to that of another person. Nothing is exaggerated or dulled down for effect. There is music, but it’s very ambient and only changes occasionally. Once when I was playing through, I found it glitching, playing two tracks at once. However, it never ended up crashing.

    The art style is rather cartoony and is easy on the eye. While it is very original, the lack of detail clashes with the photographic backgrounds, as the amount of detail in the respective elements is so different. However, as this is a game geared for younger children, they probably would not care as much toward the visuals, as long as they aren’t grotesque or scary (which they’re not).

    BRG's Red Riding Hood
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 56%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls for the novel are very similar to that of traditional visual novels, making them very simple. The interface, as a result, is very standard, where the reader is clicking around to get what is desired.

    Morally, this game doesn’t cross any lines, except for the implied violent deaths that are experienced in the bad ending. This makes sense considering the audience, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

    It was honestly challenging to write this up, as it’s hard to create a lengthy review on a game that took only fifteen minutes to thoroughly play. The price is certainly very reasonable for a game of this length, as a hardcover book version would probably cost significantly more. While the motives are clearly positive, it would certainly be ideal if this was a game that could be enjoyed for an extended period of time.

    --Kittycathead

  • Cherry Tree High Girls' Fight (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Cherry Tree High Girls' Fight
    Developer: 773
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 13, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel, Card Game
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $ 12.99

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

    People who know me think I have a bias towards anime games, but this is not true. A good game is a good game and a bad game is a bad game no matter how kawaii or “bouncy” things may get. People also think I am too soft on games with a lot of focus around luck. Today's game, Cherry Tree High Girls’ Fight, pushes the limits of luck tolerance to the most extreme level. The most credit I'll give the game is that it has a good game trying to get out. However the luck reliance got so bad it felt like I'd have a better chance getting amazing line hits on a slot machine.

    Cherry Tree High Girls’ Fight puts you in the role of a faceless gym coach who recently got a job at the elite academy Cherry Tree High. You are put in charge of forming a team for the Girls’ Fight, a mixed martial arts tournament to see which combatants are the best in Japan. Once you pick your three girls to form your team, you spend each week training, talking to, and taking care of them. Every Friday in the game is a match for the tournament. If you win enough matches you'll qualify for the finals, eventually reaching the final fight in the game.

    Cherry Tree High Girls' Fight
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: None Whatsoever, buy a better game.
    Weak Points: This game will give you the feeling of sitting at a slot machine in a casino. All luck, no skill. 
    Moral Warnings: Sexy outfits and perverted moments are in this game such as touching breasts for no reason or giving the girls a punch below the belt, also a strange reliance on  high school kids to fight demons. Some fighters use magical based attacks to win the tournament.

    When you name your coach you also have an option to pick between different perks for various bonuses. In the gym, you choose what stats to boost through various training exercises. You may teach your girls new attacks as well instead of boosting stats. If you choose, you can walk around the school to eavesdrop on conversations. This may give you various hints about the game or new conversation topics to have with your girls. You can talk to your girls to find out more about them. If they get injured you can choose to massage them in various places. If training goes poorly you can scold, encourage, or punch them in different places as well. Some of these actions cost Action Points or AP, you gain more the better you do in fights. During fights, every turn you draw five cards which can activate punch, kick, throw, grab, rush, ki, or special attacks. Each card has a number and each attack has a number next to it. The number on the card dictates advantage points, while the number next to the move indicates how difficult the move is to pull off. You can also choose to guard or evade as well with any card. You pick three different moves to do every turn and then the best attacks go through. You win by knocking out your opponent's three girls or by having higher combined HP than your foes at the end of twenty turns.

    So for quick reference I did manage to beat the game at least once on normal. Just because I beat it doesn't mean it must be easy to figure out. The game doesn't explain certain status ailments like downed. You are apparently better than your opponent if you see their cards on occasion, yet what determines that? Stats? Moveset? What determines what attacks are evading and which aren't? I would ask more questions yet that would feel like I am cheating my own paragraph. The only really clear thing about the game is what moves benefit from what stats. Through trial and error I was able to figure some of it out, yet it didn't feel satisfying. Sure a game doesn't need to hold your hand; challenge is always good. However the definition of challenge isn't black and white, you don't always want to be thrown headfirst without knowing whats going on. The tutorial and tip section in the game are rather bare bones. The company released a translated manual, yet that doesn't give you the depth of the game either. When figuring out a game feels like trying to solve the riddle to the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, it's just not fun. It's not true difficulty, it's trial and error figuring out a luck based game.

    This game prides itself as a strategic card game yet I don't see that. Sure you can prioritize what stats you get, but when you focus your character on strength based attacks, If you don't get your punch and kick cards then your other attacks will either be weak or you'll be forced to try and guard and evade. If you draw only level one or two punch cards and your opponent draws level 4 or 5 attacks, you won't get a single hit in and you'll just take punishment. I've checked every character's move set through repeated save files, and there is no move to upgrade the level of cards or draw extra cards. This is a common thing in other card games to mitigate luck yet this game is absent of such mechanics. In other non-card games with an element of luck, they always have a mechanic to mitigate and lessen the reliance on luck.

    Cherry Tree High Girls' Fight
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 50%
    Gameplay - 5/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    Backgrounds are bare-bones and minimum, artstyle is ok yet it seems low effort compared to Sekai Project's other games. Even their visual novels have more movement. Animations are minimal and most of the time you're looking at still pictures. The music is generic and repetitive; at first I thought each girl had unique theme songs yet I quickly found out I was wrong. The story setup and payoff is the most generic thing ever: the tournament is a cover to train fighters to fight off some ancient Japanese flower demon with a dumb name. Does Fleurdermort sound like a credible threat or some weird cosplay original character? Also, while there may be scenes and even special unlocks with characters if you just talk to them, there do not seem to be any special benefits for doing so. Save your AP points for special training. The less you focus on your stats the more you set yourself up for failure.

    With morality, expect the usual perverted moments and scantily clad outfits with this game. No gym coach would need the option to massage his fighters breasts. Certain outfits in the game are intended for an erotic response. The boxer in a sports bra and gym shorts I can understand, that is the common outfit for most female boxers. A belly dancers outfit or a jungle girl in a thin and tight outfit that barely covers her body seems like its for the fan service. I am only going to knock the violence down one point because it's all text bubbles and flashing lights. I'll knock it down a bit more for giving the option to pull random sucker punches on your fighters. It's not only unethical, it's just bad coaching. Even if the story didn't impress me, it's still strange to rely on high school students to protect Japan from some flower demon. Some fighters use magical based attacks as well.

    If you're in an anime mood and you want to weeb out, you'll have superior anime style games to choose from. If you want a strategy game you'll have superior games to choose from. If you want a card game or game with an element of luck, you guessed it, you'll have superior games to choose from. This game fails in three categories and succeeds in none. The only positive out of this experience? Maybe I'll give a visual novel style game a try and see if I have fun with it.

  • CLANNAD (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    CLANNAD
    Developed By: VisualArts/Key
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: November 23, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $49.99

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

    CLANNAD is a visual novel (VN) originally released back in 2004 in Japan, that ended up spawning several sequels as well as anime adaptations.  Given the quality of this source material, it’s easy to see why – contained herein is quite a moving tale of friendship, love, and hardships – and how we can get through it all by supporting each other.  There are also many times the game will bring you to tears – both from laughing, and immense sadness.

    Like a massive percentage of all Japanese media exports, this takes place in and around a local high school.  Tomoya Okazaki is a third year student (out of three) who is at a highly regarded prep school, but has long ago lost any desire to go to college, so he slacks off in a major way with his close buddy Youhei Sunohara, who finds himself in a similar situation.  So rather than study and prepare for entrance exams, they skip class, mess around, have fun, and talk to girls.  Like many other visual novels, what conversation choices you make impact everything from which girl you go out with (if any) to various school activities.  

    Despite being labeled as a delinquent and having a sharp tongue, Okazaki has a very good heart, and it really comes through in the way he treats the people he loves when it matters.  He tends to say exactly what he thinks, and can be a little rough at times, but he always cares and his friends know it.  His mother died before he could remember, and his relationship with his father is very strained, so he looks for deep relations outside of home.  Depending on the choices you make, you can get to know many of the people in your life quite well, and form deep connections with the girls you date.

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly well written story; excellent Japanese voice acting; very nice art and music; lots of routes which deeply explore each character; many laugh out loud moments, along with some so sad that tears are virtually guaranteed; takes a deep look at the hardships in life
    Weak Points: No controller support; 4:3 resolution
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco consumed by several characters, including player; fortune telling present, including tarot cards and astrology; magic spells can be cast in story on a certain route; many jokes border on inappropriate, including some that joke about homosexual things; a girl gets love letters from other girls; one ending has a character going gay (it’s a joke ending); one male character looks like a girl at first, and makes many jokes of this fact, including a guy falling for him even though he finds out (it’s played for laughs); several students skip school on a regular basis; porn and masturbation talked about, including as part of jokes; sexual fantasies explored in some routes; one relationship becomes sexually active before marriage; in one route, they move in before they get married, but it appears sex does at least wait until after marriage for them, and the girl’s father encourages him to bring some dirty books home until she opens up to him; most foul words are used, including ‘b*st*rd’, ‘*ss’, ‘hell’, ‘d*mn’ and variations, ‘sh*t’, ‘b*tch’, and one noted use of ‘f*ck’

    With a few exceptions, most of Tomoya’s circle of friends suffer with some kind of loss or disadvantage compared with the expected norm.  Many have lost parents, siblings, loved ones, or suffer from some kind of physical malady.  Part of the richness of the story is seeing how these problems not only hold them back in some ways, but it also matures them and draws them closer to each other for support.  

    There are many character routes to choose from, and almost all of them must be completed in order to unlock the After Story, which leads to the true ending after gathering a couple of endings there as well.  The After Story is around half of the game, and takes the story in a much different, deeper, and more mature direction than the mostly silly school scenarios.

    The writing in CLANNAD is legendary in that even the creator said that he reached heights that he is not sure he will be able to reach again.  And the translation, as done by Sekai Project, is simply masterful.  Rather than trying to translate out some of the Japanese terminology, they added a 'Dangopedia', which translates and explains each cultural reference to keep the readers in the loop.  They also show up as red words, to make them even easier to refer to.  And the voice acting, despite being in Japanese, is simply amazing.  Each character is clearly discernible, and some of them make me laugh or smile just thinking about those voices.  (My favorites are probably Fuko, Akio, and Kyou, though I could just as easily name any of the rest as also great.)

    What surprised me is how each route, even the ones that are not canon (i.e. do not lead to the true ending) are extremely well developed, and could easily be expanded to whole new stories by themselves.  Incidentally, one of the routes was expanded on as its own VN, and it has just been released on Steam.  In some ways, I kind of prefer some of the other girls, though I still appreciate the main heroine, Nagisa.

    Despite all of this praise, it’s fair to say that there are still some faults.  The true ending feels forced, and not nearly as interesting or fleshed out as some of the bad endings.  Most of the characters follow some kind of anime trope, though that doesn’t actually bother me.  But if you dislike that, you may want to reconsider, or just watch the anime (which I have not seen yet at the time of this writing).  After all, this VN took me over seventy(!) hours to complete, so it is a pretty significant investment to see everything.  And another thing – it’s practically impossible to see everything without a walkthrough.  There is a very good one on Steam that should cover most needs.  The game does not support controllers.

    There is also the issue of appropriateness.  Visually, this novel has no graphics that are inappropriate in any way.  That is a relief, as I haven’t played one like that so far.  The only problems visually are some of the pranks that have Sunohara flying across the hallway.  They are funny though.

    Thematically, there are some moral points to be aware of with the story.  There is spirituality, as though there is some spirit watching over the city that takes care of people.  There is some mention of God as someone to be prayed to, and Christ is used as a curse word a small number of times.  Language wise, most common curse words are used to varying degrees.  They aren’t too common, but all present. Even the word ‘f*ck’ is used once.  ‘B*tch’, ‘b*st*rd’, and ‘sh*t’ are used a few times, and ‘hell’, ‘*ss’, and ‘d*mn’ in its various forms are used more often.  

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Bonus points:
    Promotes the importance of family: +3
    Delivers a good moral lesson: +3

    A fair amount of written sexual content is present, with much of it for laughs. Sometimes Okazaki or Sunohara will say something stupid or try to get someone else in trouble, and hilarity ensues.  One joke revolves around trying to clear up a misunderstanding about one’s sexual orientation (no one in the story is actually homosexual, though misunderstandings in that way are used to comedic effect).  In another, the girlfriend’s father is trying to get the main character to bring home dirty magazines, even though he doesn’t want them, since she is a rather modest girl.  Porn and masturbation are mentioned a few times, and appears to be considered normal by most guys where discussed, though the main character seems to rarely indulge in that, as he seems to display self control.  The words ‘jerking off’ is used in that context.  There is also the occasional reference to breasts of various sizes.

    * spoilers *

    Most of the relationships with the girls are thankfully pure, with notable exceptions.  One of the couples live together before marriage, though it appears that they do save sex for after they get married.  Another relationship is quite the opposite – they have sex quite early and often.  It clearly changes how the main character looks at her, as he has (humorous) sexual fantasies about her as well, and he occasionally makes his desires known to her.  The rest of the potential girlfriends do not cross that line in the time those relationships are given in the story.  

    * end spoilers *

    CLANNAD is a highly celebrated visual novel, that spawned two sequels as well as various other media, like manga and anime.  It is this way for a very good reason – it's very well written, has a compelling story to tell, and it brings on the feels train – keep those tissues handy.  This grown man had cried at least twice.  It has a great soundtrack, and nice art.  There is its fair share of appropriateness issues, and should be kept away from children despite its all ages appearance.  If you enjoy slice of life anime, and similar relationship stories, there is a lot to like in CLANNAD.  It's a story that has great moral lessons woven throughout, and really made me think about life and value my family a lot more.  And thank God for my many great blessings, and may I have more compassion on those who don't.

     

  • CLANNAD Side Stories (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    CLANNAD Side Stories
    Developed By: VisualArts/Key
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 2, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99

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

    CLANNAD Side Stories is a relatively short set of additional stories that expands on what CLANNAD already showed you.  Several stories take place during the high school arc, with others taking place in other side arcs, and a few canonical ones also.  It’s a nice set of stories for those who have already played CLANNAD and are looking for more.

    Half of the stories take place before the story of CLANNAD.  They help set up background information to help you get to know the characters better.  With one exception (I’m not a fan of the first story), they are all wonderful.  After all, who wouldn’t love a story told from the perspective of a baby boar?

    CLANNAD Side Stories
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: If you love CLANNAD, there are more stories here, and almost all original ones; voice for Tomoya; new sound effects; widescreen; nice art
    Weak Points: Kind of short (6-7 hours); no gameplay choices (it’s more like a DVD with a menu); no choice to manually forward or skip text, and no scrollback (if you miss a line, you need to restart the chapter); no way to save progress; no controller support
    Moral Warnings: Spirituality similar to CLANNAD (town spirits) and a character is summoned by saying her name; fortune telling (with playing cards); magic spells cast using a spellbook; words like ‘h*ll’ and ‘t*ts’ used; alcohol is consumed by main character and father in law (legally); some jokes include innuendo with some homosexual; dirty books mentioned; phrases ‘bumping uglies’ and ‘grow a pair’ used; a couple of different bath scenes, where females are shown undressed, with steam covering the necessary parts; silly ‘girl talk’ comparing breast sizes; a ‘pretty’ guy is confused for a girl; an angry girl is accused of being on her period

     

     

     

     

    The other stories take place during or after the main scenario of CLANNAD.  I really liked these; some were very funny, and a few were really touching.  It was also really nice to see a story that takes place after the true ending in CLANNAD After Story.  I felt like the final ending in that novel was a bit short, and this expands on it in a nice, heartwarming way.  It is good to see how the main character Tomoya has grown, also.

    On a technical level, the visual novel engine is improved, with nicer, widescreen graphics, and sound effects that corroborate what is happening on screen and in the text.  The character art is slightly different, and mostly for the better.  Tomoya is voiced for the first time, which is a nice touch.  There are some really nice still shots that appear to be hand drawn, and look great.  The music is pretty much the same as the base game, not that it’s a bad thing.

    While the game looks better, I was disappointed to find that you have no control over the progress at all.  Voices and text automatically continue with no input. You can’t save, and once you start a story, it simply continues at its own pace until it completes.  Honestly, this could easily have been a DVD with a menu – that’s exactly what it plays like.  The only difference is you can access a menu to pause or quit – which you can also do with DVDs.  You don’t even get an icon saying what you already played.  Despite that, it’s not the end of the world, as each episode is about twenty to thirty minutes, so it’s not too hard to get through them.

    Like CLANNAD, there are some appropriateness issues to be aware of.  There is actually less language, as I only noted ‘h*ll’ and ‘t*ts’ as far as individual words go.  There is still present the spirituality issues, like the town spirits, and magic spells out of a spellbook.  Alcohol is consumed by both the main character and his father-in-law, but they are both of legal age.  The phrases ‘bumping uglies’ and ‘grow a pair’ are used.

    CLANNAD Side Stories
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

     

    The sexual content as described isn’t much different than CLANNAD, though there is a bit more visually.  Like CLANNAD, there is occasional perverted or suggestive talk, mentions of dirty books, and ‘girl talk’ about breasts.  (There's 'guy talk' and fantasizing about them, too.)  There is a scene with shopping in a lingerie store. Also, it appears that a girl wants her much older sister to be in love with her, but it’s hard to tell if it is serious because of the character saying it.  

    Unlike CLANNAD, there are a couple of visual things that are inappropriate.  There are two bath scenes that are drawn.  Naturally the important parts are covered by steam or other things, but you can see girls in each scene (there is a male one also) and breasts are visible either from behind, or frontally at an angle, with steam covering them up as needed.

    CLANNAD Side Stories is a nice companion to CLANNAD for fans of the series.  There are sixteen mini episodes, each focusing on a different character, and all of them (except maybe one) are enjoyable.  Having seen them, I would recommend playing them in the order listed in the game.  Do not watch the last three out of order.  Of course, please consider appropriateness issues from the start; other than the two bath scenes, they are nothing out of the ordinary for existing fans of CLANNAD.  Given the length, waiting for a sale does seem reasonable.

  • Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~ (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~
    Developed by: Idea Factory
    Published by: Aksys Games
    Release date: April 23, 2020
    Available on: Switch, Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, drug reference, language, mild violence, suggestive themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Aksys Games for sending us a review code!

    I recently reviewed and enjoyed Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ on the Switch. This is an otome visual novel series meaning that there are a bunch of guys fawning over the main female character, Cardia. Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~ is the second in the series and for the best gameplay experience, you should complete them in order. If you skip to this title, you’ll be missing out on a ton of character development.

    The first game has a story route for each eligible bachelor and I was wondering how my previous gameplay choices would impact this entry’s story. As it turns out, there are additional hour-long arcs picking up where the story left off in the previous game. Since I previously completed all of the arcs in the first game, I was able to enjoy all of the continuations. Each of these arcs are kinetic meaning that there are no choices to be made that will impact the story.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent art and (Japanese) voice acting; great sound effects and background music
    Weak Points: No option to skip to next choice
    Moral Warnings: Blood and descriptive violence, though some characters avoid killing at all costs; language (d*mn, b*stard, S.O.B) and blaspheming; drug addiction and alcohol consumption; implied sex scenes and innuendos; a barely clothed statue is shown

    Most of the story continuations involve curing Cardia’s poisonous skin. Victor Frankenstein is usually involved with concocting a cure, but St. Germain’s story takes a different approach. Since the poison was addressed in Lupin’s route from the previous game, his story picks up on their honeymoon. Intimacy is implied, but not much is seen thankfully. In Lupin’s route, Cardia is upset since she can’t resist her husband’s advances and she fears that her love is stronger than his and hopes to balance things out. Impey’s story revolves around his dream to go to the moon. Van Helsing’s route is about finding true happiness. Frankenstein’s story deals with a tough decision.

    There are several side stories including one about a new bachelor, Herlock Sholmes. In this five-chapter arc, you’ll find out the history of his name change, his arch nemesis, and what happened between him and Watson. The theme of forgiveness is quite good in Sholme's story. Even though I wasn’t fond of Cardia’s brother, Finis, his 5-chapter story arc is quite intriguing, and explains why their father only shows love towards Cardia. The side-story of Cardia’s first female friend, Shirley, is pretty good and deals with revenge.

    After you complete all of the After Stories for the bachelors, Shirley’s story, and obtain happy endings for Finis and Herlock Sholmes Extra Stories, you’ll unlock all of the mini-stories in Delly’s room. The stories about Delacroix II are roughly 5 minutes long apiece.

    Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~
    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/Interface: 4/5

    Morality Score - 52%
    Violence: 3.5/10
    Language: 1/10
    Sexual content: 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10

    There’s plenty to do in this title and you’ll get your money’s worth if you enjoy the previous entry. Like the first game, there are some moral issues worth noting. Foul language is often used and you’ll see many instances of d*mn, b*stard, S.O.B., and the occasional blasphemy. Though some characters are against violence, there is still plenty of bloodshed and descriptive violence. Shirley’s story deals with her family’s medical herbs being misused in a highly addictive drug that’s devastating London. This drug is being smuggled in by replicas of a popular statue featuring a nearly naked woman.

    Without going too much into spoiler territory, you can expect to see many kissing scenes. Most of the relationships end in marriage or intending to do so. One of the routes has the couple merely exchanging vows in front of a church without a legally binding/religious service.

    If you don’t mind the moral issues, the Code: Realize series is worth looking into.  I’ve enjoyed the first two entries so far and look forward to the next two!

  • Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~
    Developed by: Idea Factory
    Published by: Aksys Games
    Available on: Android, PS4, Switch, Vita
    Release date: February 6, 2020
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, mild violence, mild language, suggestive themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Aksys Games for sending us a review code!

    Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is the first in series in a series of four games that was originally released in 2014. This is an otome visual novel meaning that it’s a reverse harem with multiple eligible bachelors for the main character, Cardia, to pursue a relationship with. If you don’t like the name Cardia, you can change it before starting your thirteen-chapter adventure.

    The first eight chapters are pretty much the same throughout the different story arcs, but the last five are unique to each suitor. The story takes place in 19th century England with a Steam Punk setting.  The men you can date include many known historical and fictional characters. On my first playthrough without using a guide, I wound up dating Victor Frankenstein. Other notable characters include Abraham van Helsing, and though they’re not romance options, Jack the Ripper and “Herlock Sholmes” make appearances in the story as well. In order to unlock the true ending with the gentlemen thief, Arsene Lupin, you must complete four story arcs with other suitors.

    Code Realize ~Guardian Rebirth~
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story with multiple arcs and endings; wonderful art; good voice acting though it’s Japanese only
    Weak Points: No option to skip to the next choice
    Moral Warnings: Language (dumb*ss, b*stard, d*mn); descriptive violence and blood shown; sexual dialogue; some skin shown along with a male’s rear end.

    Carida is naive and doesn’t have any memories before two years ago. She lives in an abandoned mansion awaiting her father’s return. Her father, Isaac Bedford, is a renowned scientist who has catapulted Britain’s technology by leaps and bounds beyond its rivals world-wide. Cardia loves her father despite being called a monster by him and being told that she cannot pursue love. She is quite unique with her body producing a poison that melts almost anything she touches. She has to wear special clothes that can withstand it and allow her to stay modest. Additionally, she has unique crystals embedded on her chest. Because of those and her lineage, she is the target of the British army, and the story begins with them invading her home.

    Arsene Lupin rescues Cardia from the army and brings her to London to live in a mansion owned by Count Saint Germain (romance option). Impey Barbicane (romance option) also lives there and is an excellent engineer and cook. He’s a bit talkative and has a lot of suggestive dialogue. Other characters like Victor Frankenstein and Van Helsing move in as well as the story progresses.

    The story arc is determined by Cardia’s choices, especially ones where she decides who she will train with. There are two training opportunities, but she will learn skills automatically from everyone no matter what choices you make. Though the story arcs were good, some of the bachelors and Cardia’s reaction to them were a bit jarring at times. One of the suitors is abusive to the point of nearly breaking bones and another one kidnaps Cardia with the intent of killing her. That fact that she can forgive and forget their misbehavior is honestly quite odd.

    Code Realize ~Guardian Rebirth~
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay: 17/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls/Interface: 4/10

    Morality Score - 52%
    Violence: 3.5/10
    Language: 6/10
    Sexual content: 1.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10

    Violence is prevalent throughout the story, but thankfully, it’s not too bloody. With that said, the game is quite descriptive and pairing that with bone cracking sounds and the screen flashing red, it leaves quite the impression that someone is getting hurt badly. Language is worth noting as well with words like dumb*ss, b*stard, and d*mn in the dialogue. For what it’s worth, Cardia doesn’t say any of those words.

    There are several references to God as Saint Germain prays before eating and before dangerous battles. Another character wishes to become a god and reform the world. There is some minor nudity where you see part of a male character’s rear end. With Cardia’s poison, there aren’t too many kissing scenes or much beyond that. Her poison is removed in a couple of the arcs and one of them has Cardia living together with her partner without being married.

    Visually, this game is stunning with detailed backdrops and character avatars. Their faces show many emotions and have some animation to them. Though the voice acting is Japanese, it’s well done, and you can hear the emotion in the character’s voices. I’m thankful for the sub-titles, and I only spotted one typo.

    It took me roughly twenty-five hours to complete all of the story arcs. This title ran great on the Switch, and I love the ability to play on the go and during my lunch breaks at work. If you enjoy otome visual novels, Code Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ is worth checking out digitally or physically.

  • Coffee Talk (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Coffee Talk
    Developed by: Toge Productions
    Published by: Toge Productions
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Release date: January 29, 2020
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for language, sexual themes, use of tobacco
    Price: $12.99

    Thank you Toge Productions for sending us this game to review!

    Coffee Talk is a visual novel style game where you’re a barista who listens to your customers’ woes and soothes their problems with refreshing drinks. The only interaction and choices you get to make are in the forms of the coffee and tea that you brew and optionally add latte art to. Apparently, if you mess up someone’s order, it can affect the story line. The game can be completed in less than five hours so the only replay value is playing the endless mode or trying to get a perfect ending.

    Endless mode gives you an opportunity to learn recipes for the story mode without any negative consequences. There’s also a challenge mode where you have to try and get many successful orders in a row without messing up. Most of the customers place their order by requesting ingredients (ex. Coffee with milk and honey), but some order by the drink’s name. If you haven’t unlocked that recipe yet, you’ll have to give it your best guess. If you mess up a drink, you can throw it out before serving it to the customer.

    In the beginning, you start off with a few ingredients and only a handful of recipes.  Most drinks require three ingredients to make them.  Expressos are one of the easiest drinks to make since it’s just three helpings of coffee.  Your best customer, Freya loves the way you make them and relies on the caffeine to pull all-nighters to finish her book before the publishing deadline.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice pixel art and music; funny dialogue and characters
    Weak Points: Not much direction on beverage recipes; less than five hours long; selecting continue from the game menu starts from day one no matter how far into the story you are
    Moral Warnings: Language (d*mn, sh*t, *ass, b*stard) and blaspheming; characters seen smoking; references to underage drinking; a character’s backside is shown in a newspaper; talk about premarital sex; prejudice 

    Freya is influenced by the life stories shared by the customers at the coffee shop. Of course, they’re not aware of that and she vows to change names and ethnicity to keep their anonymity. Although Coffee Talk takes place in 2020, it’s a completely different world than it is today. In this game, elves, dwarves, faeries, merfolk, orcs, succubi, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures live in harmony (most of the time). There is some prejudice and one of the story arcs is about a mix-raced couple that has been dating for ten years and is hesitant on taking the relationship any further due to parental disapproval.

    Some of the conversations get sexual. One of the customers is an alien visiting Earth to learn how to communicate and breed with Earthlings. Not surprisingly, there’s awkward discussions about birth control and premarital sex.

    Cursing and blaspheming are pretty commonplace. There are no f-bombs but everything else (d*mn, *sshole, b*stard, sh*t) is there. Smoking is allowed and some of the customers take advantage of the privilege. Alcohol is not served, but drunkenness and partying is mentioned.

    The 2D pixel art is colorful and well done. The characters show their emotions throughout the conversations. There aren’t any fights or blood shown, but a character stumbles into the coffee shop after they got into a nasty brawl.

    Coffee Talk
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay: 14/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Controls: 4/5
    Stability: 4/5


    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence: 9/10
    Language: 2.5/10
    Sexual Content: 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 6/10

    There is no voice acting, the conversations consist of “beeps” and “boops” sound effects. Background noises like rain and the coffee machine are believable. The smooth jazz background music is soothing and is available for purchase on Steam for $9.99 by itself or with a 10% discount by purchasing the digital art book too.

    For the most part, this game ran well. The only hiccup I experienced was by clicking “Continue” from the main menu, the game would start from the first day instead of restoring my last save. Thankfully, I was still able to resume my progress by manually loading the most recent day.

    For controls you can use keyboard/mouse or gamepad simultaneously. I usually prefer playing with a gamepad, but my latte art looked better when drawn with a mouse.

    Many gamers compare this game to VA-11 HALL-A, but I can’t comment since I haven’t played it. If you ever had any desire to be a barista or enjoy relaxing visual novel games, Coffee Talk may be worth looking into, as long as you don't mind the language and sex talk.

  • Collar X Malice (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Collar X Malice
    Developed by: Otomate, Idea Factory
    Published by: Aksys Games
    Available on: PS Vita, Switch
    Release date: June 25, 2020
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, violence, drug references, mild sexual themes, strong language
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you Aksys Games for sending us a review code!

    In 2016, Collar X Malice was released on the PlayStation Vita in Japan and came to the rest of the world in 2017. In the summer of 2020 this otome (multiple datable bachelors for the heroine to choose from) visual novel became available on the Nintendo Switch platform.

    Collar X Malice takes place in Shinjuku Tokyo which is under quarantine because a terrorist group called Adonis is systematically judging and murdering “sinners” every month. Because this has been ongoing for several months, the public’s opinion of the police is at an all-time low. It also doesn’t help that the first judgement/murder was a corrupt cop. Until this group is disbanded, citizens are under lockdown and have been issued traceable guns to defend themselves.

    Your character is a low-ranking female police officer. Her last name is Hoshino, but you get to decide her first name. Hoshino’s job is to take and respond to calls from concerned citizens. Every time a new Adonis murder is publically broadcasted, the phones ring off of the hook.

    On one of Hoshino’s patrols, she is ambushed and wakes up in a church not able to move any of her limbs. She has a collar around her neck that injected a slow-acting poison into her system. In the nick of time, a group of men show up and enter the unlock code into the collar to release the antidote. Although her life has been temporarily spared, Hoshino is being monitored by the collar and cannot act recklessly or let her police officer co-workers know about it.

    As it turns out, each of the guys who saved her are datable and by completing their individual routes you’ll see different aspects and alternative endings to this mysterious story. Most of the routes have six chapters, but one of them has seven.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story telling from different perspectives, you'll have to play through all of the routes to get the whole picture; great artwork and Japanese voice acting
    Weak Points: Some translation errors
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco use; drunkenness; blood, violence and murder; strong language and blaspheming; implied sex outside of marriage

    Here’s a breakdown of the eligible bachelors:

    Kei Okazaki – A special police force officer who is stealthy and often patrols nearby the detective agency where the other bachelors work. Though he seems clueless, it’s often an act. However, he’s not good with technology and has been nicknamed “Analog Man” by Takeru Sasazuka.

    Takeru Sasazuka – He’s a computer hacker with very little social skills. He hurls insults at Mineo Enomoto and often refers to Hoshino as a stupid cat. He’s bribable with sweets and especially loves donuts.

    Mineo Enomoto – A history buff who wears an eyepatch in honor of a feudal Japanese samurai. He’s a fun spur-of-the-moment guy who expresses his thoughts openly even if they’re not intelligent.

    Kageyuki Shiraishi – He’s a profiler at the police station and can often read Hoshino before she says anything. He loves cats and wears cat ears to work. Because Shiraishi talks down to everyone, he has his own hate club at work.

    Aiji Yanagi – The leader of the detective agency who is the most mature and responsible bachelor of the bunch. He’s a good cook and keeps the place clean. Yanagi has a mysterious past that haunts him though.

    Collar X Malice
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay: 18/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 55%
    Violence: 2.5/10
    Language: 1/10
    Sexual Content: 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8:10

    As you play through the game, you have the option to skip through any dialogue that you have previously read. This makes replaying the game not as tedious. The dialogue is all voice acted in Japanese and sounds good. Thankfully, there are subtitles for everyone else. I did notice a couple of minor typos though.

    The artwork is unique in this game and the characters are very expressive and change their facial expressions depending on the dialogue. Since this game revolves around murders, there is blood shown at some of the crime scenes. The other backdrops are nicely detailed and look good.

    Other than blood and violence, you can expect to see characters drinking and smoking. Some of them get too drunk and need to be escorted back home. Many of the characters curse and use all sorts of language shy of the F-bomb. Blaspheming occurs as well. For a romance-themed visual novel, Collar X Malice is pretty tame with most routes not going past kissing. Some of the routes imply that premarital sex takes place though.

    If you enjoy a good murder mystery and otome visual novels, Collar X Malice is worth looking into if you don’t mind the mature themes. The price tag is $39.99 and offers an engaging story with multiple routes that share different perspectives. It’s highly recommended to play through them all and there are walkthroughs available online to help you get the best endings for each route. According to my Switch profile information, I have spent over thirty hours in this game.

  • Companion (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Companion
    Developed by: Narrator
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: March 31, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

    Companion is a kinetic visual novel that tells an interesting tale in roughly two hours. There are no choices to be made, so the ending and dialogue will be the same for everyone who chooses to embark on this story about finding love despite an apocalypse quickly approaching.

    You play a male astronomer approaching thirty. He is one of the few humans who will hibernate underground, as the rest of the world is oblivious to the massive asteroid that will strike Earth within a couple of months. Not many people know about this and even fewer are taking safety measures to ensure humanity’s survival. The hibernation slots are so limited that the scientists are not even allowed to bring their young children to the bunker with them.

    Companion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story
    Weak Points: Only two hours long; the Mandarin voice acting isn’t that good
    Moral Warnings: The story begins with the main character accepting solicitation from a prostitute; sex is referenced but not shown; Airi wears some revealing outfits; language and blaspheming

    With less than a week before going underground, the main character is on his way home just like any other day. The rain is coming down pretty hard when a young girl asks to share his umbrella and home with her for the night. This isn’t his first time with a street worker, but her helpless demeanor pulls on his heart strings and he falls for her charms.

    The game’s text is vividly detailed and the story is very well written. Sex is implied, but not drawn out or expounded on more than necessary. The F word is used to describe the encounter. Blaspheming is also found in the text as well. Many of the dialogue lines are voice acted with the exception of the main character's. The voice acting is done in Mandarin and in all honesty I found the prostitute girl, Airi’s voice quite grating at times.

    Aside from her voice, her character didn’t really resonate with me. I get that she had a troubled past and a hard life, but she comes off as fickle and is even more difficult to figure out than a standard female. As a woman, I can vouch for how complex we are at times, but still there is usually a reason for why we act the way we do and Airi seems to fly off the handle more than I would anticipate.

    Companion
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The main character is still drawn to her and wants to give her happiness and show her kindness in the limited amount of time he has left. This becomes more than a one night stand and he put her feelings above his on many occasions in this story. Because this game is so short I’ll leave the story a mystery and not spoil it for any visual novel fans out there.

    The artwork is really nice and you can view many of the stills from the extras menu. Some of Airi’s artwork is provocative and revealing. The background music and sound effects are well done. Most of the voice acting was well done with the exception of Airi’s in my opinion.

    In the end, I enjoyed the story and time in this visual novel. Because it’s only two hours long I’m not sure if I would want to pay $9.99 for it since it’s only good for one play through. It’s certainly worth adding to your wishlist and picking up on sale as long as you’re not offended by the cursing and adult content.

  • Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars
    Developed By: Spike Chunsoft
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: April 15, 2014
    Available On: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Role Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M; Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Dusk Circles have appeared around the world, launching monsters formed within into many populated areas, seriously threatening everyone.  Each Dusk Circle represents one of the seven deadly sins.  To combat this, the Star God, some time between a child's 16th and 18th birthday, will make a brand appear on their hand. This brand is a sign that the child has been chosen to combat the forces of evil, and has been granted special powers to do so.  They are called Disciples.  This brand, and their powers, disappears on their 19th birthday, so the government of Aterra has setup a special school where all children who have the brand are gathered and are trained to fight the monsters and save the world from this grave threat.  Female Disciples possess Star Energy, which is the main power for most magic, and males possess Ether, which can greatly amplify Star Energy, and is also a direct counter to Dusk Energy, which is what flows out of the Dusk Circles.  

    In Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, the protagonist, named by default Wake Archus, is a male Disciple who finds out quickly after having his skills and Ether levels tested that he is more than what he appears.  While most Elite Disciples (those who show higher promise than most) have an Ether count of around 50, Wake shows a reading of at least 1500 – the highest level ever measured in the 20 years since the Dusk Circle crisis began - before promptly causing the measurement device to crash.  As a result of this, he is seen to be a fulfillment of a promise the Star God made to the High Priest – and is heretofore referred to as God's Gift.  Since you can customize the main character's name, the voice acting often refers to you as such, or alternatively, G.G.

    And the voice acting is strong with this one.  Seriously, there is a lot, and it's great.  While not every written line has a voice over, much of it is, and it's all done extremely well.  Where there is not voice acting, there often are emotion noises that convey the sense and character of the person speaking it.  Many characters follow some anime trope, especially the girls, but despite this I found them very likable.

    And the game strongly encourages you to get very close to all seven of them.  You see, in order to fight against the monsters, and ultimately cleanse the Dusk Circles by defeating the Dusk Spawner, you need to raise lots of Star Children. Much of the game mechanics revolve around ways of making stronger and stronger Star Children.  They are born by a ritual that takes place in the Church where a male's Ether and a female's Star Energy combine inside a Star Womb Matryoshka doll.  This process brings about a Star Child in every case for God's Gift; others who practice this ritual also have a very small chance to produce a Star Child, but you travel with your heroines and children.

    conception2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent story; very likeable characters; fantastic voice-overs; good graphics and music; interesting party composition options; many, many hours of gameplay
    Weak Points: Dungeons get boring and very repetitive; quite a bit of grind (the bad kind...); enemies very repetitive with little variety
    Moral Warnings: RPG Violence; blood in a few places; some language, including 'sh*t', 'a**hole', and h*ll; Lots of sexual themes and imagery, including: perverted priests, bouncing breasts, girls wearing extremely revealing clothing; accentuated crevices of nearly every kind; near-nudity and sexually charged situations in a few places; silhouetted girls in extremely sexual poses; “promiscuous” (though not technically) behavior towards your 'harem' of seven girls; many, many romantic or near romantic situations; a few moments of homoerotic tension

    These children are not your physical descendents, but they are the Star God's children that you bring into the world.  Despite this, they do take on physical characteristics of their mother.  Each of them looks like a ten year old, and comes ready to fight.  Depending on the stats, levels, and mood of the mother, the Star Child's maximum level and available classes can change.  As a result, Star Children can become both disposable, and very valuable depending on their maximum level and skillsets.  Those with lower maximum levels, or are maxed out, are often made independent – where they can raise the level of the town the game takes place in, and raise the levels of various buildings and functions.  It does make for some interesting strategy, though it makes it harder to feel any sort of bond with your Star Children, despite enjoying their silly banter in dungeons.  Of course, if I let my ten year old child live on their own, I'd be in jail.

    While the game makes it clear that the process of making Star Children, called 'classmating', is in no way sexual, the developers decided to unnecessarily saddle the process with sexual imagery.  The process itself is described as touching each other in some way (holding hands is enough), along with thinking deeply about each other.  The better they know each other, and the more they like each other, the more powerful the Star Child.  But during this process, they insert a scene with a pink silhouette of the girl (or girls in the case of tri-mating later on...) in ridiculously sexual poses.  As you progress in the story and in your relationships, these scenes get longer, with poses getting dramatically more sexual, and the song (with lyrics) eventually saying 'I want to make love to you'.  Thankfully you can skip this scene, but it adds overt sexual overtones to a mechanic that, while a little odd, did not need it.  Later on there is also 'classmanting', with two guys... which is less sexual in the silhouette scene, but the game sure does play up the obvious homoerotic angle in ensuing dialogue.

    But even before the first classmating scene in the intro, there are hints, some more subtle than others, that sexual tension and related humor will be present throughout.  Even before the first fifteen minutes is up, there have already been upskirt jokes, perverted priests, and a “smokin' hot tomater!”, referring to the busty lab chief Ruby.  Included are associated breast physics.  And her response is “You're an honest young lad.  I like that.  I might have a nice reward for you later.”  It is quickly clear that she likes to tease the boys.

    Despite the obvious sexual overtones, they did do a fantastic job with character interaction in general.  In the visual novel/storyline scenes, characters talk, their bodies move, and there are a lot of small details that make the characters feel alive.  And with the top notch localization job, it can be very entertaining to watch at times.

    conception 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 1/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The visual novel/storyline sequences were by far my favorite part of Conception II, despite the many appropriateness problems contained within.  It is so well polished, and the characters are all so likeable and fun to talk with and listen to, that this was the main draw, for me.  But because of the content, I felt very conflicted at times playing it.  If my wife did not offer to allow me to review this game, she probably would have given me dirty looks had I spent my own money on it...

    And I would have deserved them.  By design, you are encouraged to flirt with seven different high school girls, each at various levels of 'development', simultaneously.  In a way, it's a form of sanctioned two-timing – except it's really seven-timing.  While a few of the girls are appropriately non-sexual, and your character is always a gentleman, it's still obvious that romance is an undertone with most of them.  Near the end of three of the girls' storylines, you get to see them naked – though at least some of it is left to your imagination in each case, which doesn't really make it much better.  On the other hand, there is an ending for each girl if you choose them, and at least two of them feature you getting married, which is a pretty nice.  Now the harem ending on the other hand... (it's cute up until the last line, where they all agree to have your children!)

    While the visual novel aspect is well polished, the dungeon crawling is far less so.  Each girl has to transform into their battle suit, with a few of them being completely ridiculous outfits.  While some are actually kinda cool (girl carrying a minigun, anyone?) one in particular is basically wearing a leather bondage outfit only fit for the most risque of bedrooms.  The environment you travel together is a bunch of boring randomly generated combination of rooms and hallways in a fashion that is quickly rather predictable.  The monsters are visible and can be avoided if you wish, though not always, as some will block the exits.  Dungeons are between five and twenty-five levels deep.  Shorter dungeons aren't so bad, but the deep ones get really boring in a hurry.

    And the battle system, while not terrible, doesn't do enough to keep grinding from getting monotonous.  In theory, it should be great.  Your party is made up of you and a chosen heroine, and three groups of three Star Children, which, like you and your girl, act as a unit.  Each Star Child has skills of their own, and combinations can enable team skills which are often very powerful.  In battle, you can position your teams to attack enemies either at their weak points, or make direct attacks, which can raise a chain gauge, which once activated, can allow you to get in extra attacks on an enemy.  In practice it works, but the repetitiveness of the battles, with little enemy variety, and the same with the dungeons, makes that aspect of the game rather boring.  It also doesn't help that the first half of the game is dead easy – but near the end, the challenge ramps up significantly, which requires you to learn battle tactics, where they really didn't matter too much up to that point.

    The graphics are quite good outside of dungeons, and passably good inside. Dungeons and battle do have decent stereoscopic 3D effects, which helps some.  But based on screenshots I have seen, the PS Vita version looks much better.  While the bottom screen is used, it is also a wasted opportunity – the dungeon map, for example, would have been a great use for the bottom screen; instead, it overlays the top screen like it would have on the PS Vita.  On the other hand, the music is really decent, with some very catchy tunes.  Even the ones with the dorky lyrics can be a fun listen.

    Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars is a really quirky game with a bit too much over the top sexuality to recommend to even our most adventurous readers. There is a good visual novel combined with a decent (but not great) dungeon crawler that makes a very long and somewhat entertaining package.  Being the completionist that I am, I clocked in over 150 hours.  Most people could easily beat it in half of that – but again, should you?  I would say that the primary target audience, men, probably should not.  With softcore porn-like imagery, and sexual humor, it's probably best to pass.  

     

  • Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Corpse Party: Book of Shadows 
    Developer: MAGES. Inc. 5pb
    Published by: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA Inc.
    Release Date: October 29, 2018
    Available on: Windows, macOS, PSP, PS Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel, Horror
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for the review code!

    So today's game is definitely a niche title, not something for mainstream audiences. However, this game does have quite a famous cult following; it has spawned several movies, mangas, and a weird dating sim. I would even say that Corpse Party is probably what inspired some of the modern horror visual novels like Umineko or Higurashi. Let's find out just how terrifying a haunted high school in Japan can be. This is Corpse Party: Book of Shadows.

    Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is meant to fill in details the first game did not explore; they also explore several what-if scenarios and moments deviating from the original game. Each chapter has you play as different characters during different moments in the game's main timeline.

    If you want to play this game and you're just getting into the series, play Corpse Party first. If you're a newcomer and you start with Book of Shadows, these chapters won't make a lot of sense to you. As for the chapters themselves, they are ok but I still don't know why I should have cared. The first chapter, for example, focuses on the characters Naomi Nakashima and Seiko Shinohara. The only thing this chapter does is reinforce how doomed these two girls really are. I have actually played the original game and I completed it 100 percent. I didn't need to see Seiko die a new way. I didn't need the game to tell me, “Hey, remember these two, yea they are still screwed!” Each of the chapters has this problem to some effect.

    Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It is lovingly crafted for fans of the original series; The art style is well drawn.
    Weak Points: Darkening mechanic feels irrelevant and unnecessary; Poor localization; Not as scary as it wants to be.
    Moral Warnings: A few naughty jokes here and there; Extremely gory; occult element

    The final chapter sets up for the next game in the series, Corpse Party: Blood Drive. If you have a save file from the original game on the PC, the final chapter will be automatically unlocked. If you are playing this game for the first time before Book of Shadows then you have to get every bad end in the game before the final chapter unlocks.

    The gameplay is typical fare for a visual novel; there are some exploratory and point-and-click elements when you're exploring different rooms in the game but it's mostly just watching cutscenes and making choices to see what happens next. The “darkening” mechanic in the game isn't as interesting as some people made it out to be. By examining certain objects a meter goes up that makes your vision in the game hazier and you start seeing things that may not be there. If it gets to 100 percent, in some chapters it leads to a game over, in others, it leads to bad endings. This mechanic felt like a barrier to get to 100 percent and it didn't add to my fear in the game in the slightest. The Artstyle and music are pleasing at least; the anime style is well drawn and the sound adds to the ambiance of fear.

    The worst part of the game was the localization. I've been taught before that the hardest part about translating Japanese to English when it comes to video games and movies, is that certain references or jokes just don't translate over very well. At that point, the localization team usually has one of three options. They either directly translate the lines, they try to Americanize the joke or reference, or they write entirely new dialogue. The problem is I am unsure what option XSEED Games took. The Japanese voice acting was kept in the game, we have no english voice actor options, so some of the lines did not match the voice acting at all. You'll hear it in the tone and length of the voices compared to the sentence. I also got assistance from friends who knew Japanese, just to make sure I wasn't hearing things Some of the jokes and references felt out of place as well. The game had a lot of grammatical errors too. The bosses here at Christ Centered Gamer know I am a bit of a lazy bum when it comes to editing my own pieces; maybe they should have been grammar sticklers for this game too.

    Corpse Party: Book of Shadows
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 38%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Finally, let's talk fear factor with a game like this. Corpse Party may have been one of the first visual novel horror games and it has its place in niche gaming history, however, if you're used to horror, it's just not that scary anymore. The shock of cute anime characters suffering brutal deaths doesn't work like it used to. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows adds time loops and multiple timelines to this series and that just feels like a lazy excuse to keep it going and to use the same characters until the curse is over in later games. If you really want a good scare, other games do it much better than Corpse Party.

    On morality, sure we have a few sparse naughty jokes like a girl who wants to grab butts, however, the main attraction is blood, guts, and gore galore. The deaths are not just caused by stabs or gunshot wounds either; you will see characters getting brutally tortured in multiple ways. It also has an occult element; that's how these students got trapped in this school in the first place. If you're a concerned parent, no one under the age of 17 should play this game.

    Corpse Party: Book of Shadows is ok if you're a fan looking to know the entire story, or if you're a gamer who wants to examine a famous game from overseas. If you are looking for a game that has a well-written horror story or you just want the pants scared off of you, look somewhere else.

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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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