enfrdeitptrues

Visual Novel

  • 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 Now, in a new place with no friends, he has to find a team willing to deal with his outdated American GEAR so he can compete in the intramural tournament.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

  • Cherry Tree High Girls' Fight (PC)

    boxart
    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.

  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
    Developer: Spike Chunsoft
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: September 26, 2017
    Available on: Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
    Price: $60.00 (PS4/PC) $40 (PSV)
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

     

    Thanks to NIS America for providing a review code for the PS4 version! The reviewer bought their own copy for the PS Vita as well to test cross-save as well as technical differences.

    It’s Punishment Time again! Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the third main game (not counting the spin-off Ultra Despair Girls) in the Danganronpa series. Danganronpa (a compound word from the Japanese “Dangan” meaning “bullet” and “Ronpa” meaning “refute,” which you can combine into “Bullet refutation”) is a series that fuses elements of mystery fiction presented as a visual novel with courtroom legal puzzles akin to the Ace Attorney series. In these games, a group of special high school students (localized as the “Ultimates” who each have an “Ultimate” talent) are trapped in a prison-like setting and forced to participate in a “Killing Game” overseen by the exceptionally creepy Monokuma. The students are imprisoned until they “graduate.” How does one graduate? By killing a fellow student! But merely killing a fellow student isn’t enough; the killer also needs to survive the Class Trial. In the Class Trial, the students will debate over who they think did it, and if they are correct, the murderer (referred to as the “Blackened”) will be punished (a word which here means brutally executed) and the remaining students will continue to be imprisoned. However, if they are incorrect, all students except the blackened will be punished, and the blackened walks free.

    We don’t have reviews for Danganronpa 1 or 2 on this site (yet), and some familiarity with the game should be assumed to adequately describe the differences in V3. Further, despite being the third main game, the game should be referred to as V3, because there is an anime series already called Danganronpa 3, which has very little connection with this game (save for a few references here and there). V3 represents a series of refinements to the Danganronpa formula that work reasonably well. As such, despite any statements to the contrary, I firmly believe you should play Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair before playing V3. The final chapters of V3 spoil major elements of both prior games, and familiarity with the characters is highly recommended.

    New this time around are the Monokubs, the “kids” of Monokuma. They each have distinct personalities and designs, all of which have a unique color that replaces the black in the black-and-white design of Monokuma. First is Monotaro, the leader the the Monokubs, whose color is red, and has a scarf with a sheriff's badge on it. Next is Monodam, who is the most robotic of the group, and is colored green. Monokid, who is blue, has distinctive features of talking like a rock star, having noticeable chest hair, and carrying an electric guitar. The pink-colored Monophanie is the only female of the group, who wears a flower in her ear and a coconut bra. Finally we have the yellow-colored Monosuke, who wears glasses and flashes luxury items around. Interestingly, Monosuke is apparently meant to be an Osaka stereotype, and he even speaks in the Kansai dialect of Japanese in the Japanese dub.

    The setup is thus: 16 students are trapped in a prison-like complex with only very vague memories of how they got there. The cast of characters is especially diverse this time around, including such folks as Gonta Gokuhara, the large, well-dressed Ultimate Entomologist who speaks a bit like Tarzan; Korekiyo Shinguji, the masked and somewhat-withdrawn Ultimate Anthropologist; and Kirumi Tojo, the prim and proper Ultimate Maid.

    Gameplay consists of three major parts: Free Time, Investigation, and Class Trial. In Free Time, you wander the school, and can talk to characters. If you choose to hang out with them, you can get closer to them. You can also give them a gift (but each character has different likes and dislikes!), which will help strengthen your relationship with them in the form of Friendship Fragments, which are used to buy abilities for the Class Trial. Developing the relationship in this way also gives you insight into their backstory. If you continue to strengthen your relationship with them, you can unlock new abilities for the Class Trial (without having to buy them with Friendship Fragments), as well get a better backstory for the character in question. Hanging out with someone passes the time (a mechanic similar to spending time with Confidants in Persona 5). You only get a limited number of Free Time slots per chapter, so choose carefully! Further, unlike the Confidant/Social Link system in the Persona games, it is impossible to max out everyone on a single run of the game. Some characters will almost certainly die before you can max them out, and because of the limited slots, it is mathematically impossible to complete everyone even if you are playing the game for the second time. However, if you want to complete them all before starting the game again, the bonus mode Love Across The Universe allows you to max everyone’s bonds out and allows you to use their abilities in the Class Trials. Free Time comes to an end when someone is murdered.

    Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Best-looking and sounding Danganronpa game ever, great cast of characters, highly intriguing plot, lots of bonus modes, improved minigame mechanics.
    Weak Points: Sometimes it is not obvious where to click to find the item needed to complete the investigation, ending is definitely polarizing, some bonus modes feel a bit simple.
    Moral Warnings: Intense and graphic violence, partial nudity and skimpy outfits on occasion, many sexual references and jokes, very strong language, some occult references

    Once someone is murdered, the investigation is on! You interact with elements of the crime scene and interview characters to earn clues (referred to here as “Truth Bullets”), and once you have found all of the Truth Bullets, the game will progress to the Class Trial. The Investigation is impossible to fail, but it can be difficult to tell where to go to find clues. Usually a character will tell you where you need to go, or a marker will be placed on your map. Further, your character won’t allow you to leave a room until you’ve collected all the evidence in the room at that time, so don’t worry about missing something crucial, but there will be times you haven’t investigated a non-obvious part of the room and might tear your hair out trying to figure out what you missed. New to V3 (this can be done in any room) is the ability to slap things around. By slapping things around, you unlock monocoins, which you can use to buy presents to give to people during Free Time.

    Then comes the real meat of the game: the Class Trial. In the Class Trial, you must piece together the truth of the murder, including who did it and how. This is accomplished through various minigames and logic puzzles. The first minigame you come across is the most common: The Non-stop Debate. In a Debate, statements appear on the screen as characters talk. Certain statements will be Yellow/Orange, indicating that they are weak points. You will also get a loadout of selected Truth Bullets with which to attack these weak points. To attack the weak point, aim the cursor at the weak point with the selected Truth Bullet, and fire! However, only the correct Truth Bullet and the correct weak point will work, otherwise you will take damage. If you take too much damage, the Trial will end, and you will lose. Additionally, other mechanics come into play here, including White Noise and V-Counters. White Noise is a staple of Danganronpa, where colored text (in V3, it is red) can appear in an Argument, and hitting it with your Truth Bullets will cause you to miss. You can use an alternate fire called the Silencer to dispel white noise. V-Counters are a new thing to V3, where you can hit a specific part of the weak point (indicated by holding the Focus button) and gain extra points. It is wholly optional, but a nice test of skill.

    There are other minigames too, which tackle various parts of the Trial proceedings as well. These include a tile-flipping game, a rudimentary driving simulator, and a couple variations on the Argument that spice things up a bit. Part of the fun of Danganronpa is figuring these games out on your own, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but for returning veterans, here’s what you need to know: There is no Bullet Time Battle/Panic Talk Action; instead you get Argument Armament which is a mostly-less-frustrating rhythm section. Cross-Sword confrontations are back, and don’t seem as limiting as they were in Danganronpa 2. The Logic Dive from Danganronpa 2 has been functionally replaced by Psyche Taxi, which involves picking up objects to construct the question, and then answering the questions. Finally, there is a new mechanic added to the debates: lying. By holding the fire button, your truth bullet will invert its meaning, and there are some weak points where you can lie to progress the story. This doesn’t always seem optional, but it is mostly something you don’t need to do aside from a few places. The lying mechanic allows you to progress the trial differently, enabling what is called a “back route” in the trial.

    The story is the main draw to Danganronpa games, and the story in V3 is really something else. Without spoiling too much, the story goes in very unexpected directions (especially near the end) that not all fans may like. I was left speechless by the end of the game, and had to think on it for a few days before I could determine how I felt about it. In the end, I decided that I liked it, but felt like it could have been executed better.

    Once you complete the main game, some bonus modes unlock for you to play with as well. The first of these is called The Ultimate Card Death Machine. This operates a lot like a Gacha game, where you have absurd drop rates for certain rarity cards, and while progressing another mode makes the rates better, it also makes each “pull” more expensive. Next you have Ultimate Talent Development Plan, which is a board game that features all characters from prior Danganronpa games and allows you to level up those cards you got in the dispenser. With them leveled up, you can then proceed to the next bonus mode: Despair Dungeon: Monokuma’s test. This bonus mode is a dungeon crawler that is a pretty standard turn-based RPG. It’s very similar to NES-era RPGs, and you shouldn’t have any trouble with this.

    The final bonus mode is a continuation of prior Danganronpa bonus modes, which allows you to complete the Free Time events for characters you did not have time to complete during the main game. It also adds dating sim aspects. This mode is fun if you like the characters, and allows you to experience Free Time events that would otherwise be inaccessible in the main game. The dating sim portion seems equal parts played for laughs and for fan service.

    Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 26%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    The bonus modes are completely optional, and do not have any impact on the story other than giving you extra things to do once the main game is over. The bonus modes definitely add to the overall package value of the game, but do not worry if you don’t find them interesting; the core of the game is still well worth the price of admission.

    Alright, now that we’ve talked about the gameplay, let’s talk about some of the more technical and aesthetic aspects of the game. The Danganronpa games have always had a very eccentric visual style to them, and V3 continues this trend with vastly improved UI, higher resolution textures, and higher quality sprites. The character designs are excellent, the backgrounds are top-notch, and the overall style is very good. This is the best-looking Danganronpa game yet, especially on PS4.

    Another standout for Danganronpa games has been the music, which always hits the right notes for the situation. Composer Masafumi Takada has done it once again, and created an excellent score that reuses the best parts of prior soundtracks while blending new songs in too. His music serves as great backing to the tense Class Trials, or the relaxed Free Time, and even the brutal Punishments. The music hits all the right notes when it needs to, and it is excellent. On the other hand, voice acting is a more complicated issue. On the Vita version, the audio is severely compressed and clips noticeably while also sounding very distorted. Spike Chunsoft has released a patch that I highly recommend downloading from the PlayStation store, as it gives the game the uncompressed audio it deserves. It’s called Danganronpa V3 - HQ Audio Pack. Meanwhile, the game comes with both English and Japanese audio. I played the game with Japanese audio, and I found it to be a very good experience. English audio in Danganronpa games is a bit more complicated. I think I am in the minority of Danganronpa fans who prefers Japanese audio to English (based on a StrawPoll on the Danganronpa subreddit). The English dub here is fine. Nothing bad, nothing particularly outstanding either in my opinion. In the end, this choice is up to you, and you can’t really go wrong either way.

    One thing I feel compelled to talk about is how the game was localized. The localization of the game makes some adjustments to the text, and if you know a little Japanese or are great at picking up details, you can hear inconsistencies in the dialog in the Japanese audio track and the text being rendered on screen. One character has lines changed that really alters the way their character is perceived, and I’m not happy that they did. Spoilers abound, but the description is here: http://oumakokichi.tumblr.com/post/166327441530/what-do-you-think-about-nisamericas-localization  

    A new feature this time around takes advantage of the simultaneous releases on Vita and PS4. The game supports cross-save between the PS4 and Vita versions, and as I already had the Vita version on pre-order when I was given the review code, I decided to try it out. The good news is: it works! The bad news is: it feels excessively complicated. To transfer a save, on the first console you need to back out to the main menu, select Cross-Save, then select Upload. Then pick the save you want to upload. First, it will load the save. Then you will be prompted again to actually upload the loaded save. Finally, it will upload to the PSN. On the second console, go to the main menu and select Cross-Save. Then select Download, and download the save onto your device. Then you go back to the main menu, and load the save. While there are far worse ways this could have been handled, it still feels unnecessary to go through so many menus to accomplish it.

    Loading times could be a severe issue at certain points in the game. In chapter 4, a new area is introduced that was rife with loading pauses that made that section of the game really drag. Near the end, I also encountered some longer load times when entering and leaving buildings. I did not encounter any serious bugs, nor were there any crashes on the Vita or PS4. The Vita version has reduced texture quality compared to the PS4 version, and pop-in was sometimes noticeable as well, however it was not obtrusive as to ruin the experience.

    The moral content section for this review was the one I was most dreading to write, in part because there are so many things to cover. Please be warned that there will be minor spoilers throughout this section except where more direct spoilers are needed. These will be tagged accordingly, but consider yourself warned.

    Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

     The sexual content in Danganronpa games has always been pretty minimal in my experience, but V3 seriously ups the ante here. Danganronpa games have always had at least one perverted character (someone who has an innuendo-laden response to almost any situation), and V3 is no exception. The main difference this time is that it’s a girl, Miu Iruma, who happens to be the perverted one. She frequently makes references to her and other female characters' breasts, makes jokes about how all the guys are just dying to sleep with her, talks about sex toys and condoms, makes references to her very...unique fetishes, and so on, usually seeming to arouse herself in the process. She flirts with K1-B0, and even gives him some upgrades (which DO have actual uses), but the entire topic is approached in a very innuendo-laden way. I have to admit, it got really tiring. A scene near the beginning involves a female character changing clothes and we see a naked silhouette that isn't too scandalous, but is a little bit revealing. Additional scenes involve seeing characters in their underwear, or naked but from angles such that nothing is shown. Maxing out a bond with a character during Free Time will give you that character’s underwear, and while normally this is not addressed in the segment, in the case of Miu, she uses a device that teleports it off of her and hands it to you during the last Free Time event.  One of the characters mentions being “very in love” with his sister, and while the rest of the cast reacts with appropriate levels of disgust to revelations of incest, the entire sequence where he mentions how much he loves his sister is exceedingly uncomfortable. In fact (tying in with the occult section below), he has been (or at least claims to be) partially inhabited by his sister’s spirit since he performed a seance, and their dynamic is very odd indeed.  

    On a more minor note, one of the characters refers to all of the male characters as “Degenerate males” and doesn’t really let up her slack outside a few Free Time events where you learn more about her. One character is always wearing a swimsuit, but usually also wears an open robe that makes it a little less scandalous than it would otherwise be. In a scene in the A/V room, a character finds what is almost certainly a pornography video. They never show anything onscreen, and the character is clearly very embarrassed that they found such a thing. Further, as part of the Love Across the Universe section, going on a date with someone allows you to select from a range of options, including the ability to read a dirty book together in the library. The content is never explicitly discussed, but it is still something you can do.

    There is also what is sometimes referred to as the “Love Hotel” where you can spend casino coins (more on that in a moment) to buy a key. Using the key at night will give you a random scene with one of the characters. In this scene, you are a participant in that person’s fantasy. The fantasies can take several forms which range from touching conversations to those that heavily imply the two characters slept together.

    Drug content consists mostly of just references, and non-specific ones at that. Miu makes reference to wanting to take some drugs and forget about the situation they are in. Monosuke is sometimes seen holding what looks like a cigar.

    Given all this talk about executions and murders, it's no surprise that there would be a lot to talk about here with respect to violence. Danganronpa games are very violent, and V3 is no exception. Characters are killed in very gruesome ways (*SPOILER TAG*)(one character is killed by having a sickle forced through their neck, another is killed by drowning only to have their body consumed by piranhas, and so on), and blood is often everywhere. One particularly gruesome case involves a body being crushed by a hydraulic press.(*END SPOILER TAG*) Thankfully we don’t witness the actual killing, only the aftermath (*SPOILER TAG*)(with the exception of the piranhas scene, and an off-angle view of the hydraulic press case in video form) (*END SPOILER TAG*). The blood is purple, but it’s still very clearly blood. Executions are just as bad, including such items as: (*SPOILER TAG*)a character being hung by the neck and swung around before being crushed by spikes, a character being forced to climb a spiked rope while being slashed at with saw blades only to fall to their death, and a character being boiled alive in a melting pot. (*END SPOILER TAG*)

    Danganronpa has never really held back in the language department either, and again, this game is no exception. Characters use all manner of curse words from the C-word in reference to female anatomy, F-word, S-word, both B-words, and other swears. The game definitely earns an M rating in this department.

    The occult/supernatural content of this game is a little tricky to pin down. One of the characters claims to be a mage, but her title is magician. All of the stuff she does are normal magic tricks, but she claims it is real and not the illusory stuff. A resurrection ritual is mentioned, but never performed. A seance is held, but does not work. In one of the executions, the character’s spirit appears to leave their body, only to be pelted by salt (injuring them in the process). As mentioned above, (*SPOILER TAG*)one character claims that his dead sister’s spirit has inhabited his body. Further, he has killed girls so that they can be friends with his sister in the afterlife. (*END SPOILER TAG*) One of the characters worships a god (or claims to) called Atua, that she claims possesses her when she makes art. Further, she often claims to speak for Atua, and even manages to convert a few characters to her side for a brief period of time. This character seems to be heavily inspired by Polynesian culture, where Atua is a word often used to refer to plural gods or a monotheistic god.

    Lastly, there are some points to make about ethical content in the game. The big thing to note here is the new lying mechanic. Lying is mostly optional and is not usually needed to progress the story (I only used it a few times when I saw no other way to progress), but lying will give you a different route to the end of the trial. Whether or not this is seen as encouraging it is left as an exercise to the reader, but it is something I believe I should note. Further, at the end of the game, you are left with the impression that lies are not inherently bad, and can lead to hope, while some truths can lead to despair.

    Danganronpa V3 almost feels like a swansong from the developers of Danganronpa. The story and characters are more ambitious than prior games, and the ending is definitely the kind of polarizing that will keep people talking for a while yet. The improvements to the gameplay and aesthetics are proof that a lot of love went into the development of this game. If the content outlined is something you are willing to put up with, you will find a very competent set of murder mysteries with a plot that really wants you to think about the game more. But on the other hand, the ending is polarizing enough that I can also see being massively let down by it. In the end, I can’t really recommend or not recommend this game, as how you will like it is entirely dependent on how you feel about the story developments, and of course, if you are willing to put up with the very large amount of objectionable content in the game.

  • G-senjou no Maou - The Devil on G-String (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    G-senjou no Maou - The Devil on G-String
    Developed By: Akabeisoft2
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: November 5, 2015
    Available On: PC
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99 voiceless, $39.99 voiced

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this Visual Novel for review!

    While I have played other games with visual novel aspects, this is the first time that I played a game fully in the visual novel category.  There is no game here – it is a choose your own adventure book with pictures.  Despite this simplistic description, the story written here is anything but simple.

    The main protagonist is a character called Azai Kyousuke (in Japan, last names come first).  His real father got into trouble with the yakuza, and owed them a massive sum.  His adoptive father is Azai Gonzou, a notorious yakuza boss that is tough as nails and always gets what he wants.  Thankfully, Kyousuke has a brilliant mind, and has found himself in a very important role in the company, and earns a hefty paycheck as a result.  He has been doing this work to slowly get his family out of debt, as well as take care of his mother, if he can.

    Over time, he does start to 'think' like a yakuza.  While he tries to avoid outright crime most of the time, he is willing to make back room deals and exert undue influence to get what he wants.  And, the occasional thug is still employed to accomplish various tasks.

    Azai Gonzou is an intimidating and powerful man.  Though he has taken Kyousuke in as his son, he treats their relationship as more business than personal.  His 'love' is more approval based on his successes rather than anything else.  He also seems to have an uncanny sense of what is going on, with contacts in many places, high and low.  

    G-senjou no Maou - The Devil on G-String
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very interesting and engaging story; lovable characters; great localization; voice acting (in Japanese) is really fun to listen to; very interesting multiple endings
    Weak Points: Maximum resolution is 1080p; Steam overlay doesn't work; achievements would be nice
    Moral Warnings: Every curse word in the book, including the F-word; characters are criminals, and manipulate people to get what they want; lots of references to the devil; God's name (and Jesus, with and without Christ) used a few times; premarital sex, sometimes without negative consequences; some female body parts shown before or after sex, or in other compromising positions, though key parts are cut off; adoptive-incest, and it is encouraged by their 'father'; student hits on a teacher successfully; tons of suggestive content; one girl is lesbian, and seems to have a history with another, though the other girl did it only out of necessity; gay characters mentioned but not shown; blood and violent scenes described and shown; at least one character seems to be atheist

    Many legitimate businesses are a front for various yakuza organizations, and their moneymaking arms.  There are various other ways that they make or bleed money, including splitting territories between other yakuza branches, or siphoning money from famous people and others with connections.  The novel does a great job of making the world of the yakuza seem alive and interesting.

    The story revolves both around Azai Kyousuke's work life, and the diversions that he can enjoy with his classmates at high school.  The school they go to is generally for those who miss grades for various reasons, including those who are too busy taking care of their careers at a young age.  There are several famous stars there, children of politicians, and so on.  As a result, it is not unusual to find older students, even into their early 20s.  While most students find school as the most stressful part of their life, Kyousuke goes there to relax and take a break from his grueling work career.

    Kyousuke makes some very good friends.  There is his buddy Eiichi, who is a pretty boy with a rather selfish streak.  He also makes friends with several girls: Tsubaki, Kanon (who is also his adopted sister), Mizuha, and Haru.  Each of them can become a love interest, with another girl Tokita playing a major part, but is not usually a love interest (she is lesbian).

    There are in the area of twenty choices the reader can make, and some of them make only small changes, but a few of them are critical, and lead to either each girl's special branch, or towards the one true ending.  You can also get a few bad endings if a few certain choices are made while going down each girl's path.

    * minor spoilers below *

    Each girl's path seems to focus on healing and personal growth in a certain way. Tsubaki's is probably the 'happiest', with Kyousuke seeing what a good family looks like, and having it help heal his wounds.  Kanon's is a bit odd, but he helps her resolve conflict and turmoil in her past and present.  With Mizuha, he helps take a very shy and insecure girl and make her into someone great.  The main/true path is a bit more complicated to describe, and I would rather avoid spoilers in this case.

    * end minor spoilers *

    I must say that the story is really compelling and very, very well localized.  It also has a decent length, as I was able to clear the shortest path in around 12 hours, and I saw all of the various endings in around 35 hours.  I did see the occasional typo, but overall, the personality of each character comes through really clearly.  The art is also great, as is the music and voices, though only in Japanese.  Despite this, the character's personalities come through clearly even in another language.  I found this visual novel very memorable and I doubt I will forget about it any time soon.  

     

    G-senjou no Maou - The Devil on G-String
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 41%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 2/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3/10

    Despite all of this excellent writing, it's absolutely full of adult content, including nearly everything but visible sex itself.  (That was in the original Japanese version, but was thankfully removed for the Steam release.)  In a few cases, a woman's body parts are in view, but critical parts are covered or obscured.  Girls in only underwear are also shown.  There are several instances of fade to black sex.  Sometimes it's implied, and sometimes it's much more explicit, with descriptions of how much or often they did it.  It is always premarital, though there are also cases (usually around bad endings) where it is borderline consensual.  In those cases, you can see the results, as people can have their lives ruined as a result.  Consensual premarital sex is not shown as a negative.  

    Some of the characters, Eiichi in particular, are incredibly selfish and say some pretty ridiculous things, like 'I'm going to mount her a*s', 'fooling around with those stupid sl*ts', and 'I'm at the age where I just want to penetrate something'.  Curse words are very common.  This includes words like 'b*tch', 'a*s', 'sl*ts', 'hell', 'd*mn', 'f*ck', and God's name in vain is used, including Jesus (with and without Christ).  There is reference to a 'booty call', and Gonzou even tells his adopted son to 'tame' his own daughter, which is of course incestuous.  If you go down that character's storyline, they joke about being siblings, and don't feel guilty about their sexual relationship.

    There are cases where characters choose to betray their friends for the money, though there is some self-preservation going on there also.  People can and are used in the worst sense.  People are murdered, and one is murdered because he is homosexual.  One character is lesbian, and she seemed to have an unhealthy relationship with another of the major other characters.

    There are many mentions of the devil, and people acting like or being him.  There is also a line 'unheard prayers to a useless god as I used to', implying that the main character is now an atheist.  How the darkness is people's hearts can be manifested or restrained is a major part of the plot of this visual novel.

    G-senjou no Maou – The Devil on G-String is an incredibly fascinating and well written visual novel with an equal amount of incredibly inappropriate content. (For the record, G-String refers to a string on a violin, not a certain type of undergarment.)  It surprised me how hard it was to pull myself away from my PC while I was reading it.  However, it cannot be understated how much inappropriate content is contained within.  No child should read this.  There may be cute anime graphics, but this is incredibly mature and not for children.  I have mixed feelings about recommending it at all, for this reason, but it is a very compelling story that really makes you think.  You may lose a small amount of faith in humanity in the process.  It's hard to get a peek into that amount of darkness and evil in the human heart without stepping back impacted.  Even still, somehow, there are glimmers of hope in even the darkest circumstances.

  • Harvest December (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Harvest December
    Developed by: Talestune, Flyhigh Works
    Published by: Circle Entertainment
    Release Date: December 10, 2015
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: mature
    Price: $11.99

    Thank you Circle Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    As a fan of both anime and visual novels, Harvest December piqued my interest.  Instead of flashy visuals, solid voice acting, or player interaction, this title relies on the story alone to captivate its audience.  The artwork and background music are sparse and recycled often, but the story and likable characters made me overlook those minor details and enjoy this game as a whole.

    The story is broken down into thirteen chapters that elapse over a year period as a high school student named Masaki moves from the city of Tokyo to the town of Tagami where it is rumored that their god roams the land in human form.  Not only does Masaki discover that the rumor is true, this attractive female god wants him to be her husband and he agrees.  The very next day in school a kimono-wearing (Masaki has a thing for women wearing kimonos) heiress takes notice of Masaki and asks him to be her boyfriend.  Attracted by her boldness, he accepts her offer as well.   It doesn’t take long for the two ladies to find out about each other and fight over Masaki.

    Harvest December
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging story with likable characters and funny situations
    Weak Points: The story changes narrators without much clarification at times 
    Moral Warnings: Lots of language and blaspheming; violent acts are graphically described; many sexual encounters and situations but nothing really becomes of them; lots of references to other gods, shrines, rituals and divine powers

    As time goes on, more female (and some male) students become infatuated with Masaki and this adds a lot of drama, stress, sexual situations, and physical abuse.  The beatings Masaki receives are usually at the hands of his girlfriend, Yuki.  As the Towada heiress, (the most powerful family in town) Yuki often gets what she wants and carries around a marriage certificate hoping for the chance to get it signed by Tagami’s most eligible bachelor.  Her family has a tradition of marrying and conceiving young.  She desperately wants to have a child though she’s not familiar with the process involved.  Thankfully Masaki is a gentleman and doesn’t take advantage of the many opportunities provided to him.  His classmates and townspeople think otherwise though.

    Throughout the year the story switches perspectives from Masaki to sometimes his friends and their siblings.  Masaki has a habit of overthinking things and toying with peoples' feelings to get the best possible outcome he can devise.  For example, he would tell a pregnant woman to get an abortion just to see their reaction.  His over-analysis rubs off on his friends who go through identity crises along with Masaki to make sure they’re setting down with the right girl and for the right reason.  Masaki and his best friend, Kohei, want to follow their dreams and not be forced to live the dream of a significant other.  There are many lessons on life, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

    Despite the redemptive qualities, there are many moral issues to take note of in this title.  Harvest December earns it Mature rating for the graphic depiction of violent events and strong language.  There are many battle scenes with bones being broken and limbs being nearly torn off.  Fortunately, the gory imagery is not shown and it’s up to the reader’s brain to supply the violent imagery.  Cussing and blaspheming is pretty commonplace and every word except for the F-bomb is used.  In place of the F-word are Xs in some cases.  

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 41%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    With some of the characters being gods and children of gods, there are a fair amount of religious references.  There’s a wedding scene that depicts the rituals and blessings given by the goddess Shiro.  The gods in this game vary in powers and have the ability to lose it depending on their actions and influence from their believers.  Many Biblical characters are referenced including Moses, Job, and Joseph.  Joseph was brought up as an example of a guy having to deal with the consequences of sex without experiencing it for himself.   

    Most of the sexual situations are unintentional, funny, and awkward.  There are co-ed bathing scenes but usually one of the characters still has some clothes on of some sort.  Some accidental breast grabs provide a little humor and punishment beatings for Masaki.  There are also some peeping Tom and kissing scenes as well.  As detailed as the violent scenes were, I’m happy to say that there are no sexual encounters told in this story.  There was a scene with Kohei applying suntan lotion on a girl’s back and she flipped over for him to do the front side (despite his protesting) and the game said that the scene was censored for the reader’s protection.  

    Even with the censoring Harvest December is not suitable for a younger audience and it definitely earns the Mature rating it was given.  If you don’t mind cussing and awkward sexual humor, Harvest December will entertain you for roughly twenty-one hours.

     

  • Japanese School Life (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Japanese School Life
    Developed by: code:jp
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: November 22, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

     

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

    As a fan of anime, I’m intrigued by Japanese culture and would love to visit Japan someday.  Through the various high school themed animes I’ve learned about many of Japan’s pastimes. I’ve realized that there’s much more to learn after playing Japanese School Life.  

    Japenese School Life is a 2D visual novel that gives you a glimpse into the life of typical high school kids.  You’ll learn about etiquette and various customs that take place throughout the year.  This three-and-a-half-hour visual novel features multiple endings and a nekomimi mode if you want everyone to wear cat ears.

    The main character is Brian, a self-proclaimed otaku (obsessed fan) that becomes a foreign exchange student.  He is permitted to stay in Japan for one school year which is broken up into three trimesters.  Brian wants to absorb as much of Japan’s culture as possible and desires to visit several locations that are on his “bucket list.” 

    Japanese School Life
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: An interesting way to learn about Japanese culture
    Weak Points: Not many choices to make in this three and a half hour game
    Moral Warnings: Minor language (d*mmit, hell); bikinis are shown in the summer time; references to gods and Buddhism; fortune telling 

    On his first day he meets and exchanges cell phone numbers with two girls who are polar opposites, personality wise.  Chiyoko is the studious class representative who is soft spoken and very courteous.   Arisa is very outspoken and competitive when it comes to sports.  Both Brian and Arisa freak out when it comes to test taking and get together with Chiyoko for study sessions.

    There’s more than studying as the students enjoy singing karaoke and going to arcades to play crane games.  In the summertime the girls wear revealing bikinis and take part in suikawari which involves swatting a watermelon with a stick piñata style until it cracks.  

    Since Brain loves anime and manga, he visits Akihabara which is a mecca for those hobbies along with gaming.  He also attends Comic Market, or Comiket for short, and he discovers a secret about one of the girls there.  There is a school trip that takes place in the more traditional Kyoto and much is revealed about Japan’s history there.

    Japanese School Life
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Depending on the choices made throughout the game Brian can fall in love with Chiyoko or Arisa.  There are six Steam achievements and two of them are for each of the endings.  Another achievement can be unlocked for playing the game in Japanese.  While the voice acting is in Japanese you can have English subtitles.  Unfortunately, there are a few instances of minor cussing with the word d*mmit appearing a few times and hell used a couple of times.  The voice acting was well done, but I wish there was more variety in the background music.

    Visually there’s a fair amount of variety in Japanese School Life.  Throughout the year the girl’s uniforms will change along with the climate.  For example, in the wintertime they’ll be bundled up in coats.  There are a few holiday parties where the girls wear Halloween costumes or Santa outfits.  Some of the cutscenes switch visual styles to a cute chibi cartoon mode as opposed to the anime appearance.

    Though the premise and characters are cute, I wasn’t as drawn into this visual novel in comparison to others I have played. It certainly is educational and more fun than some “edutainment” style games though.  The price is a reasonable $9.99 and there’s a free demo to check it out before purchasing it.

     

  • KARAKARA (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    KARAKARA
    Developed by: calme
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: June 27, 2016
    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 visual novel to review!

    A great calamity wiped away three quarters of the human population and the ones that remained experienced reproductive difficulties.  By merging traits with cats, dogs, and even vampires, humans began to thrive again on the hot and dry earth.  Persecution took place among the various forms of humans, but in some areas like the village of Sagami Francisco they all manage to live peacefully.

    Sagami Francisco has a population of two thousand and on a lonely desert road is a café run by Leon and his live-in employee Lucia.  Leon and Lucia are close like family though they are not related.  Since Leon’s parents passed away they have been running the café and have been desperately seeking more help to ease their workloads a bit.

    karakara
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great artwork and expressive (Japanese) voice acting
    Weak Points: Game is only two hours long
    Moral Warnings: While there are no sex scenes in the Steam version, an 18+ patch is available; some sexual situations; minor language (d*mn)

    On a drive to the city, Leon and Lucia encounter Aisia on the side of the road and offer her a ride to their café. They take pity on her and offer her a job and a place to live.  At first Aisia is klutzy, but she learns quickly and becomes quite helpful.  

    Cullen, the resident police officer (who wears a skimpy uniform) often reminds Leon that bigamy is permitted in their state.  Though Leon and Lucia were not romantically involved, their relationship changes once Aisia comes into their lives.  Lucia takes on a maternal role and guides her while Leon fears that she will become jealous of Aisia.  

    Since this game is only two hours long I won’t divulge too much information about the story.  There is a demo available and I’m curious how much of the story is revealed in that.  I enjoyed playing this visual novel and liked the characters and their silly banter.  

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Unfortunately, some of the events in this game are sexual in nature, but nothing too sensuous takes place.  There is some fan service with bust shots as the two main female characters debate on who is more endowed and ask Leon to be the judge and settle the matter.  There is also a scene where Aisia inadvertently shows off her rear end and skimpy underwear while hunched over and cleaning the floor.  Both Lucia and Leon take notice and Leon gets called out for doing so. Last but not least is a scene where the girls get to see Leon’s guy parts.  Fortunately, this scene is described, but not shown.  There is an adult patch for this game and I have no idea what it adds visually or story wise as I was not interested in it.

    In the end, KARAKARA is a short and entertaining visual novel.  Because of its length I would not recommend paying full price for it.  It may be worth picking up on sale as long as the fan service and mild language doesn’t bother you.  Be sure to browse through the Steam screenshots before purchasing this title.

  • Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Memory’s Dogma CODE:01
    Developed by: Liz-Arts
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: November 4, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

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

    Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 is a 2D visual novel that takes place in 2030.  Technology has advanced quite a bit and everyone in Japan wears mobile augmented reality devices (MRDs) that are used for communication and payments.  With the built in GPS signal they can be used for directions or for being tracked by the government.  Another technological advancement is the e-memory system that allows people to communicate with the deceased’s memories which are stored for forty-nine days until they are deleted/digitombed.  

    The main character is Hiroki, who is taking the death of his girlfriend pretty badly.  He’s in the hospital for another attempted suicide.  When he comes to, he’s greeted by his hacker friend, Kakeru.  After much procrastinating Kakeru persuades Hiroki to communicate with his girlfriend’s memories before they are deleted in six days.

    Memory’s Dogma CODE:01
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice visuals and voice acting when present
    Weak Points: Not very interactive; intermittent audio causes awkward periods of silence
    Moral Warnings: Extreme language and blaspheming; violence and bloodshed with torture scenes; avoiding the law

    At the Connect Center where the memories are stored, they learn about some of the rules regarding talking with the deceased.  The biggest rule is that you cannot ask them how they died. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest question that Hiroki wants answered because his girlfriend was not suicidal and it was unlike her to throw herself in front of a moving car.

    As Hiroki skirts around the question and tries to get some answers, his friend Kakeru is busy hacking into the Connect Center’s data center and begins copying her memories along with other suspicious files.  Once their shady activity is detected, they spend the rest of the visual novel avoiding detection while making some unusual alliances as well as enemies.

    There really isn’t much interaction in this visual novel.  Half of the time when the main character asks what he plans on doing next, the dialog just keeps on going without seeking input from the reader.  There are a handful of choices to be made and I must have answered them all correctly since I did not experience any bad endings.  I’m sure they’re there, but the choices seemed pretty obvious to me with exception to the one asking which finger to cut off of somebody.  Even when I made a selection, the game ignored it.

    Memory’s Dogma CODE:01
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    There are torture scenes and plenty of violence eluded to.  Some blood is shown in certain scenes, but it’s described more than shown.  Other issues to be aware of is the harsh language.  There is blaspheming as well as every cuss word in the book including the F bomb.

    The artwork is top notch and the characters look nice and change their facial expressions along with the dialogue.  If a character is hurt, they’ll have an eye closed.  If they’re described as bleeding it won’t show in their avatars.   There are lots of different background stills and they’re very colorful and nicely detailed.

    The background music is fitting when it’s playing though it often stops and causes awkward moments of silence.  The voice acting that is present sounds good and conveys emotion really well despite being in Japanese and not being able to understand it.  Fortunately, there are subtitles.  

    Overall Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 is a well-polished science fiction visual novel that’s bound to entertain mature gamers for roughly ten hours.  The asking price is a reasonable $14.99.  If you don’t mind not making too many decisions and having some of them overlooked, there’s a solid story being told here.

     

  • My Little Kitties (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    My Little Kitties
    Developed by: COSEN
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 21, 2016
    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!

    Haru is a teenage boy who seems to attract animals.  In his garden a mother cat passed away and Haru started to care for her kitten, Nuri.  Bakenekos are cats that can shape shift into human form by using spiritual energy.  Nuri happens to be a Bakeneko along with another slightly older kitten name Sora who also starts to live with Haru.  Yura, who manages the existence of souls, takes a liking to Haru as well and spends a lot of time at his house.  To complicate matters, she longs to have descendants with him.  *spoiler* In fact, if she’s given the opportunity you’ll get a bad ending for the game. /*spoiler*

    Each character in this visual novel has a different personality.  Haru is a gentle natured father figure who cares for his kitten like children.  Yura doesn’t hide her feelings toward Haru, but he’s not ready for kids of his own quite yet.  Nuri is very agile and has a ferocious appetite, she’s sweet, but not very bright.  Sora is a sophisticated vegetarian who likes to cuddle with Haru, but doesn’t want him to know that.  Though Sora usually tolerates Nuri, she knows that she’s smarter and often calls her a “dingcat.”

    My Little Kitties
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Heartwarming story with a good moral lesson
    Weak Points: Only a few hours long; not as funny as I hoped it would be 
    Moral Warnings: Some minor language (hell & d*mn) and sexual dialogue

    As far as I can tell there are at least two endings and several choices to make throughout this four hour game.  You’ll have the option to allow Nuri to have seconds or thirds of some meals and the option to scold or ignore certain behaviors.  Much of the story revolves around something the girls are hiding from Haru and he has to decide on how to pursue and handle this situation while considering everyone’s feelings.  Without giving away the ending, I do like the good moral lesson that this game taught.

    Though most of this game is child safe, not all of it is.  There are a few sexual references and some mild language (hell and d*mn).    Haru does bathe with the kitten girls, though nothing is shown or mentioned in those sequences.  God is briefly mentioned in statement about an illness that He can’t even cure.

    My Little Kitties
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 13/10
    +3 for a good moral lesson

    While I had no stability issues running the game, I did see one typo (presse) in the dialogue.  While this game does run at full screen, there is no option to adjust the resolution and there is some blurring as a result.

    The artwork is cute and the characters are likeable and show a wide variety of emotions.  Throughout the game you’ll unlock various accomplishments that could have worked well as Steam achievements, but this game doesn’t have any to speak of.

    The sound effects and background music are decent.  Despite me not being able to understand the Japanese voice acting, I can tell it’s well done and brings life to the silly kitten girls in this story.    

    Overall, My Little Kittens is a cute story that’s not as funny as I hoped it would be.  It made me chuckle once or twice, but it’s definitely not one of my favorite visual novels I’ve read.  I did enjoy the airplane mini-game though.  While the asking price of $9.99 is a bit steep for this few hour game, it may be worth picking up on sale if the moral issues don’t bother you.

  • Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Narcissu
    Developed by: stage-nana
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: January 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $2.99 (includes the free stories and an epilogue) each additional story is $9.99 or you can get the season pass for $29.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us a review code for the series!

    Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project was successfully Kickstarted by Sekai Project in November of 2015.  The $75,000 goal was exceeded and went towards licensing, artwork, voice work, and programming.  Before the crowdfunding campaign, Sekai Project had already invested localizing this popular Japanese series.  The voice work in this collection is still in Japanese, but it is well done and filled with emotion.  Despite a couple of typos, the English translation is pretty good as well.

    For twenty dollars, backers were able to get the digital version of the game and an extra $10 included the music soundtrack which is also pleasant to listen to.  Currently, the first couple of chapters are free and the remainder of the stories are purchasable via a season pass for $29.99 or individually for $9.99 each.  If you’re new to kinetic visual novels, this is a good series to look into trying for free!

    Kinetic visual novels don’t have you interact with the story whatsoever; you just get the pleasure of experiencing it.  Since there are no choices to mess up the game’s ending, I was surprised to see the generous number of save slots provided.  I typically saved at the beginning of each new chapter within each of the stories.  I should have saved more often as I lost progress from my system running out of battery power and by pressing the F12 key in an attempt to taking a screenshot and having it exit out of the game instead.  The first couple of stories support Steam’s F12 screenshot taking ability, but the later DLC stories use a different game engine that does not.

    Narcissu
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting and thought provoking stories about characters with terminal illness and their quest to be remembered, and to live life to the fullest before leaving this world
    Weak Points: The stories sometimes switch narrators and it’s hard to keep track of who's talking at times
    Moral Warnings: Suicide is heavily pondered and prevalent in this series; there are violent and bloody deaths in the A Little Iris story; stealing; drinking; smoking; gambling; mild language (d*mn, hell, *sshole); various religious beliefs, and some of the characters are practicing or inactive Catholics; spiritual possession  

    Most of these stories revolve around terminally ill patients residing on the 7th  (hospice) floor of the hospital. There’s a set of rules/advice verbally passed down to each new patient as a form of initiation so to speak.  The rules describe the best way to escape from the hospital in case you don’t want to die there, or burden your family with it.  The incoming patients are also warned that they will get up to three temporary leaves, but never a fourth. If a patient wants to end their life sooner, the fastest route there is to stop eating since the roof is fenced in and the windows don’t open past 15cm.  

    Suicide is explored in depth in this series and some of the patients want to end their life on their terms and stop being a burden on their families.  These patients also want to live life to its fullest before checking out of this world.  Many of the stories have fun car rides with stops at the ocean, Mt. Fuji, and at various restaurants or convenience stores along the way.   One of the road trips takes place in a stolen car and when money runs tight the patient goes to a Pachinko parlor to steal some winnings from unsuspecting gamblers.  On this trip they also stop at a laundromat to steal some clothes and run off with prescriptions from the pharmacy without paying for them.  Given their dire circumstances, I empathized with them, but stealing is still wrong regardless of how much time you have left on Earth.

    One of the characters has a bucket list that they want completed before they die.  An item on the list is having a drink, and their underage friend accompanying them partakes in this event as well.   In a different story, a couple of the characters smoke and the hospice patient tries it for the first time and coughs from doing it wrong.  While sex doesn't make it on any bucket lists, some of the artwork shows the characters in revealing clothing. 

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 60%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5.5/10

    Most of the stories are non-violent with the exception of A Little Iris.  This story takes place in Medieval Europe and tells the tale of a young princess who was locked away in her room for safe keeping.  The only time she left her room was when she was traveling to the neighboring country to get married to a man she did not know.  When that marriage didn’t happen, her usefulness vanished and she had to learn to kill or be killed in order to survive.  In her years in prison, she befriends a mercenary and they travel in search of safety and a new life.  Can a girl who only knows how to kill be redeemed and start a new life?

    The last moral issue worth noting takes place in the most recent installment, Sumire.   In this story, the characters can possess people as a form of immortality.  When their host is no longer of use, they can kill them off and take over another unsuspecting human.    Immortality has its drawbacks and there are some severe limitations to this ability.

    Until the possessions came into play, this series was pretty tame with the exception of some mild language and violence.  I still recommend checking out the first couple of chapters on Steam since they are free to enjoy.  Narcissu provides you with an interesting perspective on coming to grips with your morality and making sure you leave behind a legacy that you’re proud of.

  • PacaPlus (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    PacaPlus
    Developed By: PacoProject
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: March 30, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $9.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this visual novel to review!

    I have to admit that when I requested this visual novel for review, it was more out of curiosity than any compelling love for alpacas. Apparently there is a genre for everything in Japan, and people turning into animals is no exception. (I kid. I think.) This is a very silly story that doesn't take itself too seriously.

    Like most exports from Japan, our main character, Kazuma, is a high school student, who has a wonderful girlfriend named Yukari. They have been an item for a long time, and compliment each other very well. She is the hard working, serious one, while he adores her and lovingly teases her. They are a cute couple, and many at school even tease them as though they were already married.

    PacaPlus
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice art; likeable characters; good (Japanese) voice acting
    Weak Points: Kind of short; cute story, but not deeply compelling; requires 4:3 resolution for proper art aspect ratio, and windowed mode is not resizable; no Steam Cloud
    Moral Warnings: Curse words like 'd*mn', 'hell' spoken; God is mentioned a few times (both good and bad); trying to get an effeminate boy to wear girl's clothes is played as a joke; *spoilers*: generational curse present

    Kazuma has always had a strong love for alpacas since he was a kid, and that hasn't changed as he grew up. Yukari also has a good appreciation for them, and understands and appreciates his love for them. She occasionally gives him a friendly jab about that, but nothing mean or hurtful.

    For her 16th birthday, she wants to go on a trip to the Alpaca Kingdom with Kazuma. This place is somewhat like a petting zoo, where you can feed them, pet them, and spend time in their habitat. After he makes sure she really does want to go there and isn't just saying it for his sake, they take the long bus ride there, and really enjoy their time together. On the way back, he falls asleep next to her, and wakes to a surprise – she looks just like an alpaca to him!

    Going any further into the story would spoil it, but this relatively short story has four endings, and a few questions throughout that lead to those branches. I got the best ending on the first try, and the others were not too hard to figure out, though there is a handy guide available also. All in all, I got all of the endings in around five hours, which is somewhat short, but honestly, appropriate for a kitschy game like this.

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

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I could tell that the game engine is somewhat on the old side, as full screen mode ignores aspect ratio, and distorts the art by stretching it wide on a 16:9 screen. If you make a custom 4:3 resolution, or read it in windowed mode, everything looks as it should. Unfortunately, windowed mode is not resizable, so if you have a 4K screen you may be in for some major eye tests there. On one of my computers, the game would crash on alt+tab, though I did not experience this on another. Unfortunately, Steam Cloud is not supported.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, this is one of the cleanest visual novels I have seen, but it's not perfect. There is a cheeky school project for a maid cafe (it's hard to tell if it's meant to be a spoof of the trope or fully embraced.) You do not get to see anyone but our favorite alpaca in the maid outfit, though you read about an effeminate boy being asked to put one on. The curse words 'd*mmit' and 'hell' are used. God is referred to in both a positive (God never gives you more than you can handle) and negative light (pray to God and it never happens). *spoilers* A wedding happens in a Christian church.

    PacaPlus is a very silly and simple visual novel that can be a nice change of pace from other, longer games or VNs, but not really deep or fulfilling on its own. Its short length of 2-5 hours depending on how many endings you see makes it a nice diversion if you are looking for something different. If you want a well written, deep, or moving story, this is not it. But if a silly diversion is what you are after, especially if it's on sale, go for PacaPlus. You know you love alpacas. Who doesn't?

  • Selenon Rising: Episode 1 Darkness Rising (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Selenon Rising: Episode 1 Darkness Rising
    Developed By: Fastermind Studios
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: April 29, 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Linux
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $5.99

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

    Selenon Rising begins with a famous quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in this universe or we are not.  Both are equally terrifying.”  This four-part visual novel revolves around the second option.  The Selenon are an alien race that have taken control of Earth and prohibit the use of modern technology.  With oppression comes opposition and there is a group called the New Moon Resistance that wants to take back control from this powerful alien threat.

    The main character is Violet and her name is fitting since she has both purple eyes and hair.  Violet and her partner Blue (yes, he has blue hair), have psychic abilities and work for an agency called SPECTRA.  Blue is a clairvoyant who can sometimes see the near future while Violet is an esper that can tap into people’s emotions.  Her ability comes in handy for interrogating people since she can detect false emotions or lies.

     

    Selenon Rising: Episode 1 Darkness Rising
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good character development and storytelling
    Weak Points: Some inconsistencies with the player mugshot (wrong image or gender shown)
    Moral Warnings: Psychic powers; language; blaspheming

    Violet and Blue are called over to look into a murder case and it’s here that Violet will learn how to conduct an investigation as well as an interrogation.  The investigations are done by clicking on all of the possible items in a room to learn more about them.  There’s a menu option to highlight interactable objects if you need a little assistance.  The interrogations are a little more in-depth and you only have room for a couple of mistakes before blowing it.  

    When a person is being interrogated, Violet can question their statement to have them clarify or expound on it.  Sometimes by questioning it will provide a hint as to what inventory item to present as evidence to dispute what they are saying.  The last option is to use her esper powers to call out the false emotion that they are exhibiting.  Sometimes a suspect can cloud their thoughts with noise statements and they have to be cleared out before she can sense their true emotions.  The interrogation system is interesting and I recommend utilizing the quick saves since you can only make a handful of mistakes through the whole process.

    Like many visual novels, there is a lot of dialogue and the player gets to make some choices that will determine Violet’s alignment.  She can learn towards being lawful, neutral, or chaotic.  If you're curious of how she’s leaning, you can pause the game where you can see her current alignment.  Even though I purposefully made some reckless choices, the game didn’t let me stray too off course.  It seems to be forgiving on the bad endings I guess.

     

    Selenon Rising: Episode 1 Darkness Rising
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While the story is good, it shouldn’t be played by younger children.  There are some violence scenes with stabbing and blood shown.  There is some language and blaspheming with the word d*mn and with God in front of it at times.  Last but not least, there are hints of romance, but nothing is shown.

    The characters are well written and likable.  There is no voice acting, but the sound effects and background music are well done.  The art style is unique and many of the backdrops are monochrome.  I did notice some inconstancies with the character dialog mug-shots.  One time a soldier was referred to as a he when the mugshot was clearly female.  Another instance was when Violet was undercover and changed her appearance and the dialogue mugshot switched between both looks mistakenly.  

    The first episode took me roughly three hours to complete and it left on a bit of a cliffhanger.  I look forward to more episodes in this series and they should all be released in 2016 at $6 apiece.   There are seven Steam achievements available and as long as you sit through the end credits, it shouldn’t take much effort to earn them all.

  • Sound of Drop – fall into poison – (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sound of Drop – fall into poison –
    Developed by: aiueoKompany
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: October 30, 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $12.99

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

    Not too many video games have made me cry, but this is one of them.  Sound of Drop – fall into poison – is a visual novel that puts you into the shoes of a shy school girl named Mayumi.  Her only friend, Himeno, tells her about the ghost stories surrounding the Manten Aquarium where people are said to disappear into tanks full of blood red water on nights with a full moon.  Mayumi is well aware of the stories as she lost her younger sister in that aquarium five years ago.  She doesn’t tell Himeno right away and begrudgingly agrees to accompany her to the museum on the next full moon.

    The trip to the museum goes well and there are several pages of well written dialogue to read through as it sets the scene and adds some background information of the two main characters.  Progressing the dialogue can be done with the mouse scroll wheel or left clicking.  Decision making isn’t required until Mayumi talks to a part-time employee at the museum, Hiyoshi.  The player can choose to be nice or a jerk to this guy.  

    Sound of Drop – fall into poison –Sound of Drop – fall into poison –
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great story and dialogue; colorful anime artwork 
    Weak Points: Can be beaten in less than an hour to get a bad ending, 2-3 hours to get a good ending; game crashed once
    Moral Warnings: Some blood and  many ways to die; minor language; interacting with ghosts

    Before making any decisions it’s a good idea to utilize the quick-save or a save slot from the game menu.  I like how you can save at the dialogue screen before supplying an answer.    Providing the incorrect answer will result in Mayumi’s or a friend’s death.  There are thirty-one possible endings and only four of them are good.  I have probably experienced about a dozen of the bad endings before getting the good (and touching) ending.  

    While there are Steam trading cards, I think achievements would have been funnier.  I would have loved to get an achievement for each of my fatal mistakes.  In my three and a half hours of game time I have managed to turn Mayumi into a jelly-fish, a meal for orca whales, and get her and her friend Hiyoshi beheaded.  Drowning and dying a slow death in the hospital are possibilities too.  

    Sound of Drop – fall into poison –
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some of the deaths can be rather gruesome and since this is a visual novel, they are described pretty well.  There is usually disturbing imagery to go along with it.  While the characters are drawn in an anime style that usually looks cute, there are images of them bleeding and coughing up worms.  

    Because of the haunted theme, I can see why this game is being released around Halloween.  There are interactions with ghosts and if the player doesn’t get herself killed, goes on to discovering the reason behind the hauntings and aides in helping the spirits cross over to the “other side.”   One last issue worth noting is that there is one instance of the word d*mn.

    There isn’t any voice acting, but the background music and sound effects definitely add to the experience. When Mayumi’s life is hanging in the balance, the music is usually pretty tense. During normal conversations, the music is much calmer. When there was singing, it was in Japanese.

    Sound of Drop – fall into poison – is a solid visual novel that kept me reloading my saves and striving for a good ending.  The skip function that fast forwards to dialogue choices is a nice feature too.  Unfortunately, it did crash to my desktop.  Other than that it ran great and I highly recommend picking up this game when it’s on sale.  The $12.99 price is reasonable, but the game will only take about three hours to complete.  

  • Strawberry Vinegar (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Strawberry Vinegar
    Developed by: Ebi-Hime
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: January 5. 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Steam OS
    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!

    Strawberry Vinegar is a visual novel that only provides a few choices per chapter for the player to make. There are six possible endings with only a couple of them being happy ones.   There are many customization options including the text scrolling speed and how fast to have it automatically progress the story for you.  The story is about an unlikely friendship between an introvert and a young demon (demons can reproduce apparently) named Licia who is visiting the human realm, specifically Japan, to experience their culture and cuisine.  

    Rie is an intelligent nine-year old girl who doesn’t have any friends.  She’s okay with that and she loves her mom who is a successful actress that financially supports the family and her father who stays at home and cooks and cleans.  Rie’s father is very emotional and wears frilly aprons while cooking extravagant meals.  Some of his cooking skills have rubbed off on Rie and she likes to cook and bake as well.  After baking a batch of checkered cookies, Rie discovers a girl her age except with horns and a tail, munching on her cookies without even asking or introducing herself first! 

    Upon being discovered, Licia introduces herself as a demon and tells Rie to “Feed me or I will reap your soul.”   Rie has several ways of responding to this demand, but if you want to go for the happier ending, I recommend accepting this strange offer.  Given that Licia has seven stomachs she is often hungry and wants to experience all the specialty dishes that Japan has to offer.

    Strawberry Vinegar
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Likable characters and funny dialogue
    Weak Points: Game frequently crashed to desktop; skipping only worked intermittently
    Moral Warnings: One of the main characters is a demon visiting the human realm; possible same-sex attraction; language and blaspheming; references to multiple religions; Christianity viewed as a “convenient fantasy made up by desperate people”; Rie’s father is treated poorly and is portrayed in a negative light

    Rie has the option of making foods for Licia or taking the easy route and go with some pre-packaged snacks/meals and no matter what route is taken a Steam achievement will unlock and Licia will eventually be satisfied.  Since this game revolves around food and has numerous close-ups of it and vividly explains its taste and texture, this is probably not a good game to play if you haven’t recently eaten or are trying to diet.

    Throughout Licia’s six-day visit, Rie and her can go to a festival (or stay at home and do homework), school, a field trip, and a restaurant.   Each event is packed with some funny dialogue as these characters are pretty well developed and are very loveable.  One characteristic I did not appreciate was how the father was always being disrespected by his wife and daughter.  While an excellent cook and clothes maker, he was portrayed as useless when it came to doing anything else.  Despite being portrayed as effeminate, he was no doubt Rie’s father as she shares the same pink hair as him.  

    Licia is Rie’s very first friend, though it takes Rie a while to come to that conclusion. There are possibilities to take the relationship further depending on some of the choices made in the game.  Surprisingly, Rie’s mother encourages this relationship to become more than just friends. The good ending I earned left them as good friends in the epilogue that takes place nine years later.

     

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

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 0/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 13/10
    +3 for promoting spending time with family

    Besides the potential for same-sex attraction another issue worth noting is the after-life themes.  Many religions are represented and attacked by Rie’s mother who is an atheist that says religion is a “convenient fantasy made up by desperate people.”  The father who admits that he is not very smart, is open to the idea that there may be a deity and hopes that there is.   So I guess I must be desperate and dumb to be a Christian.  Got it.  The words hell and d*mn are usually used in their proper context, but that’s not always the case.  Not surprisingly, the Lord’s name is also used in vain as well.  Last but not least, Rie’s mother sometimes wears outfits that flaunt her cleavage.

    Despite the colorful graphics and whimsical background music (which is sold separately for $4.99), I don’t believe that this game is suited for younger (Christian) children.  My kids were attracted to this cute game, but I won’t let them play it any time soon.  I truly love visual novels and think that they’re a great way to encourage kids to read more, but my quest for finding one that’s child safe continues. 

    The asking price is a reasonable $9.99, but only expect to get a few hours of entertainment out of it.  After replaying it a couple of times due to earning bad endings, I was able to get a good ending within five hours.  There is an option to skip dialogue, but I only found it to work intermittently.  Another issue worth mentioning is that this game constantly crashed to my desktop if I left the dialogue text idle for thirty seconds or so.  As long as the game was auto scrolling, it seemed fine.  I had to make sure that I saved my game often just in-case I got a phone call or some other issue came up that required interrupting my game.  

    The story and characters were cute and I enjoyed watching this friendship blossom. However, the opportunity to take it beyond that and the negative portrayal of the father and religion in general, like vinegar, left a bad taste in my mouth.  

  • The Orchard of Stray Sheep (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep
    Developed by: Namaage
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 20, 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Linux
    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!

    Ichiro Yamada is a seventeen-year-old teacher at a secluded academy with only a few female students.  As if a seventeen-year-old teacher isn’t odd enough, the students at this private school don’t have any memories of their lives prior to attending the academy.  In their altered state, it’s the teacher’s job is to maintain the physical and emotional well beings of the students. If that means getting close to them, it’s permitted.  Yes, relationships between the students and staff are okay here.

    Going along with the oddities of this academy, the students are all named after kitchen items.  The student assigned to the main character is named Casserole, but goes by Cassy.  Her classmates are: Mincer, Peeler, and Oros Zester.  All of the students have a silver halo floating above their head that keeps their emotions in check and allows the teachers to render them unconscious if need be.  This is shown throughout the game and unlike many of the other visual novels I have played, there is very little interaction in this title.

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story twist once you discover the purpose of the academy
    Weak Points: Short game; not much interaction; unlikable characters; no voice acting
    Moral Warnings: Tons of language and blaspheming; sexual situations; violence and blood shown

    In fact, the first time I was prompted for a response was in the seventh episode.  There are nine episodes in total and I was able to complete this game and see all three endings in less than five hours.  There is one good ending and two bad ones with one of them being labeled “very bad.”

    Once you discover the true nature of the academy and its students, the story gets more interesting.  Until then, it’s building up the characters which I really didn’t care for.  The protagonist is a self-loathing and unpredictable teenager whose mouth is unfiltered towards the staff and students.  There is some sexual dialogue and he does make out with one of the students against her will.  Although he describes the embarrassment of getting an erection in front of the girls, this game doesn’t take it any further than that.

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 53%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Like the excessive foul language and blaspheming, the violence in this game is unavoidable.  There are some deaths and blood shown. The main character has a violent past that is slowly revealed as the story progresses.  

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep takes place in the future where supercomputers control much of society and artificial intelligence has come a long way. While there are references to God, Adam, Eve, and the forbidden fruit, a supercomputer is also referred to as a god.  

    Though The Orchard of Stray Sheep tells an interesting sci-fi story, I can’t recommend this title at full price.  The graphics are good and the background music is passable.  It does get a bit repetitive and doesn’t fit the mood at times.  Unfortunately, there is no voice acting to comment on.  Given the unlikable characters and short amount of gameplay, this title is best scooped up on sale or in a bundle of some sort.  There are better and more appropriate visual novels available at the same price point or less.

     

  • This Book is a Dungeon (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    This Book is a Dungeon
    Developed by: Nathan Meunier
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release Date: Oct 9, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Adventure, Novel
    Number of Players: Single Player game
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $5.99

     

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us a review code.

    Interactive book style games and horror are usually two genres that don't hit that entertainment button for me. Usually a novel game like the Telltale series of games bored me personally. It never forced me to use my imagination. With horror games most of them rely on cheap jump scares or usual safe bets like zombies and vampires. With both of these genres, not many people try to push the limits like other games do. Yet someone decided to channel the madness of H.P. Lovecraft in the game This Book Is A Dungeon. It's rare that I'll give such games a try so let's see if it really scratched my itch for horror.

    This Book is a Dungeon
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A strong minimalist game that evokes a sense of fear and horror.
    Weak Points: No checkpoints or clear measurement of how to get to different endings.
    Moral Warnings: Extremely violent story with self-mutilation and a focus on occult imagery.

    This Book is a Dungeon is a simple choose your own path novel game. You are an unnamed character who has just been diagnosed with cancer. On your lonely trip back home on a subway you notice a package with a grotesque book. Once you take it home you get sucked into an eldritch dungeon with no idea what's happened. You have no powers, no magical abilities, or any extra strengths while you're in this world. As a normal, weak and lonely human you must survive by any means necessary. After you get through the first dungeon, you are presented with three challenges that you must solve. Death will start you over from the beginning though you do have the option of skipping the first dungeon after you play the game the first time.

    Visuals are minimal pixel graphics with no animations to speak of. The only interaction you'll have is picking blue text options as you're reading the story and seeing the results of your choices. The game has no soundtrack or audio effects. However, the game's journey is very well written and absorbing. Text is not usually enough to drag someone into a story, yet Nathan Meniere is a very masterful writer. This adventure sparked my imagination which is impressive to say the least for a text based game. If people are curious a developer's diary is included with the game.

    This Book is a Dungeon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 0/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 54%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3/10

    The only negatives in this game are very nitpicky. Some checkpoints may have been nice as you explored the story. While sound isn't necessary to enjoy this game a bit of ambiance might have enhanced an experience that requires a lot of imagination. This game isn't made for everyone and those seeking a catch-all experience will be very disappointed with this game.

    When it comes to morality, expect demons, ritualistic summonings, magic and occult references in spades. The character you play as has to do whatever he has to for survival and that includes self-mutilation to use blood as paint or using rituals to try and trick or make deals with demons. Despite the simplicity of this game I recommended keeping it away from children under the age of 17.

    If you want a horrific experience that shows how far a human will be pushed for survival then This Book Is a Dungeon will horrify you to the core. 

     

  • Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~ (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~
    Developed By: VisualArts/Key
    Published By: VisualArts
    Release Date: July 1, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel/RPG
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you VisualArts for sending us this game to review!

    After the incredible success of CLANNAD, there are many fans that prefer some of the main character Tomoya's other possible girlfriends and their routes, rather than the canonical Nagisa route and their after story.  There are many possibilities for unexplored after stories, like Kyou, Yukine,  or Kotomi, but many fans really love Tomoyo.  Tomoyo is definitely one of my favorites as well, and I can certainly understand the appeal.  She was popular enough that the creators decided to write an alternative after story for their life together.  This game was the result.

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~ takes place a few months after the end of Tomoyo's route in CLANNAD.  As such, it is highly recommended that you play CLANNAD and complete her route before starting this game.  We also have a review of CLANNAD.  

    Unlike Nagisa in CLANNAD, who is a physically weak person with big heart and a wonderfully supportive family, Tomoyo is in many ways her opposite.  She is brilliant, both mentally and physically.  Her family has a painful history, with her parents having had affairs and various other marital struggles.  Tomoyo had a rough childhood as a result, and became very physically violent towards anyone who stood in her way.  In CLANNAD, you meet her trying to turn the corner and change from that old life of hers.  In Tomoyo After, this transition is mostly complete, as she rarely resorts to violence, and is very kindhearted towards those around her.  She will do absolutely anything for those she loves, even at great cost to herself.  This driven determination, and the relentless pursuit of her goals, is a strong part of the woman she has become.

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very well written story; excellent Japanese voice acting; very nice art and music; some meaningful choices with a few different endings; some very funny moments, other very touching or sad ones
    Weak Points: No controller support; 4:3 resolution
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol consumed by several characters, including underage; there is a scene with street fighting; sexual jokes, including homosexual ones; sex before marriage happens (off screen) and is considered normal; main character and his girlfriend are considered lovers; a kiss between brother and sister is played for an inappropriate joke; woman dresses up in stereotypical fantasy attire, like cat girl, teacher and maid; she is also shown in a very revealing bikini; she moves in with the main character before marriage; porn mentioned; jokes about male prostitutes; many foul words used, like 'hell', 'sh*t', 'douche', 'a*s', 'b*st*rd', 'd*mn', 'd*ckh*ad'; references to God or a god/gods; joke about a contract with the devil (who is gay)

    The main character, Tomoya, was a delinquent in school (as explored in CLANNAD) and as such, never goes to college.  He gets a job as a repairman and recycler, taking old appliances and equipment and repairing them.  He gets his own apartment, and Tomoyo visits him very often, often helping him with meals.

    It doesn't take too long before you are introduced to Tomoyo's younger brother, Takafumi.  He has a knack for showing up at the most inopportune times, and often walks in without even a knock, to hilarious (or embarrassing) effect.  He is also very gifted, both academically and athletically, just like his sister.  He is very skilled with computers, and that is evident through the Dungeons & Takafumis minigame that he wrote for him and his friends to play.  This is accessible through the main menu, or within the story on the second playthrough.

    Then there is Tomo.  She is an adorable child, who is in kindergarten, that is the illegitimate child from Tomoyo and Takafumi's father from back in the time when their parents were separated.  They do not know she exists.  In order to protect the fragile peace between their parents, they both decide to hide Tomo from them, and have her live with Tomoya.  Tomoyo basically moves in at that point, and thus begins the main story in Tomoyo After.

    Takafumi's childhood ex-girlfriend Kanako suddenly shows up.  She is running away from her mother who wants to get remarried after her own family experienced tragedy, as her father died three years before.  Needing a place to stay, she also stays with Tomoya.  That one room apartment is a very busy place.

    With the cast set, the story goes in several different directions, dealing with the consequences of their pasts, as well as the challenges that lie in their future.  There are both significant victories as well as deep sacrifices that everyone makes in order to do the right thing to help each other and those they care about.  A major theme of this story is the deep love they have between each other and the importance of family.  There is both great joy and deep sadness that Tomoya, Tomoyo, and their friends and family deal with, as well as great inner strength that is both found and developed during this roughly ten hour visual novel.

    Dungeons & Takafumis (D&T) is a very silly strategy RPG that is developed in story by Takafumi.  There are a ton of goofy characters as well as CLANNAD Easter eggs within.  You can easily play for another ten or more hours trying to see everything there is to see, or get all of the achievements in D&T.  The game plays simply: You give your characters orders before the round begins, and then you simply watch what they do each turn.  You have no control outside of the directions you gave them before you started.  Each character has their own skills, as well as various class skills and character classes for further customization.  There is quite a bit of strategy and a whole lot of luck needed to win.

    Like CLANNAD, there is a fair amount of appropriateness issues to be aware of.  Being a sequel, it has many of the same issues, though it has a bit more 'fan service' that isn't present in CLANNAD.  Tomoyo is seen in various outfits, including a very revealing bikini.  Outside of this, little else is shown.  Now, it has to be said – the original Japanese versions were 18+ and have outright pornographic content.  Thankfully, the Steam release is fine on that front outside of the bikini.

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~
    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 - 73%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

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

    Also like CLANNAD, there are jokes as well as a few conversations sexual in nature.  Tomoyo and Tomoya are lovers, and their sex life does come up a few times.  You can choose to have sex at least once throughout the story, though giving in to your baser desires almost always leads to bad results.  This all occurs before any talk of marriage.

    A few jokes are odd or homosexual in nature.  Sometimes Tomoyo says that she wonders if Tomoya and Takafumi are together since they are so close at times.  One time Tomoyo kisses her brother Takafumi to get back at him for something; that backfires and humor abounds.  In D&T, the Takafumis are male prostitutes, and at least one of the one hundred Takafumis sells himself to the devil who is gay.  There are also jokes that talk about pornography.

    Some foul language is used.  There are a few parts of the story where it is more common, and then several hours can go by without any at all.  I noted many words used, like 'hell', 'sh*t', 'douche', 'a*s', 'b*st*rd', 'd*mn', and 'd*ckh*ad'.  A few characters also talk about becoming a god or thanking God for blessings or struggles in life.  Alcohol is used by some characters after a celebration, and an underage girl has a hangover.  There is also a scene where people are street fighting.

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~ is a very interesting and memorable visual novel that I would recommend to any CLANNAD fans, especially those who really like Tomoyo.  In considering the stories of CLANNAD and Tomoyo After, it's interesting to see how the same person's life can be so dramatically different based on just a few choices, like which girl to fall in love with, or whether you choose strength or fear to make a choice.  These visual novels are designed to help make you a better person – to prepare you for the difficult things in life, and to help you value what blessings you have as you consider how tough life can be, or the inner strength you gain by going through challenges.  Just be warned, that like CLANNAD, you will probably need tissues handy as Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~ may encourage watery eyes, especially in the later parts of the story.

  • Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception
    Developed by: Aquaplus
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: May 23, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel, SRPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    The Utawarerumono (I have no idea how to pronounce that) series has been around since 2002 and Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is the latest entry and the first I’ve played so far. Later this year the final chapter, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, will be coming to the West and I’m looking forward to it. This series is known for its hybrid combination of visual novel and strategy RPG (SRPG) gameplay. The turn based battles are few and far between the hour-long (or more) segments of text and story arcs. If you’re looking for a lot of action, then you may want to consider another game.

    When you start your adventure your first choice will be selecting the difficulty. The options are Normal and Hard; if you’re unhappy with your selection, you can change it at any time. I found the normal difficulty to be well balanced and I never felt under-leveled during the battles. However, you do have the option of doing free battles if you want to level up some of your neglected party members. Though all of the party members will level up, only actively used characters can earn points to increase their various stats like health, attack, defense, and speed. As you improve their attributes, the cost to do so again increases. The neglected characters will only increase their level number.

    The game begins with the main character waking up in the future from a cryogenic sleep but there is an error in the process. As a result, he suffers from amnesia. When he finally comes to, he’s in a tent with a humanoid female tending to him. Her name is Kuon and she has animal like ears and a long tail that’s often used to choke the protagonist when he gets out of line. Kuon assigns him the name Haku and agrees to help him until he’s self-sufficient.

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging and often funny story with excellent character development; balanced battle system
    Weak Points: Slow performance during some of the final battle sequences
    Moral Warnings: Strong language and blaspheming; violence and bloodshed; sexual situations and nudity with the bare minimum covered; strange powers and the emperor is considered a god; excessive drinking and drunkenness

    Haku quickly discovers that physical strength is not one of his strong suits as chores that children do are much too strenuous for him. Thankfully, he does have a sharp mind and is good at strategizing and solving problems that his party gets into. He’s also quick to come up with various excuses to justify his slacking off.

    There are many light-hearted moments and it’s been a while since I’ve played a game that made me laugh out loud on several occasions. There are also several emotional moments where you feel for the characters while they are struggling with various problems. Each character has a backstory, and like many popular mangas and animes, Haku accumulates a disproportionate amount of female companions. They all happen to be good looking and a couple of them try to seduce him on numerous occasions. Despite the numerous opportunities do to so, Haku does not get intimate with anyone in this title.

    There are many instances of sexual humor with nudity being described in detail. Kuon is very fond of baths and there is a scene where she strips down and hops into a hot bath despite male party members still being present. While usually a gentleman, Haku is the last to leave the bathing house and enjoys the view. Several female characters are shown naked or close to it. They either have very little clothing to cover up the bare necessities, or some obstacle like steam, bubbles, or a fire ember is obstructing the view ever so slightly.

    Pretty much every character in this game drinks regardless of how young they look. The various liquors are described in detail and if there was a drinking game based off of the consumption rate in this title, the participants would surely get wasted along with them.

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 33%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Language is another issue to address. Every curse word is used and they are all used frequently, including the F bomb. Blaspheming also occurs. Christianity is not present in this game and a majority of the people in this world regard their leader, the Mikado, as a god since he has lived for several centuries. The Japanese themed country of Yamato is very prosperous and has a powerful military thanks to the eight pillars and their hidden powers within them. In battle, these guardians can gain superpowers in exchange for their soul.

    With battles come violence and there is plenty of bloodshed in this game. The actual 3D battles themselves aren’t so bad since you just see the physical or magic attack being done without much detail. However, in some of the story sequences you’ll see some bright red blood splatter onto the Vita screen to get the point across that a character is fatally hurt.

    The only game changing choices you can make are on the battlefield. I was able to win most of the battles on the first try and felt that the game was well balanced in that regard. Though you usually have multiple story arcs, they all have to be completed in order to progress the main story. All you get to do is select the order of the side stories.

    From start to finish, I completed this game on normal difficulty in twenty-six and a half hours. While I enjoyed it, I see little reason to play it again on a harder difficulty. If you’re a fan of the previous entries, then you’ll most certainly enjoy this one. If you’re looking for a visual novel with a great story and some action and don’t mind the many moral issues, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is worth looking into.

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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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