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Visual Novel

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    KARAKARA 2
    Developed by: calme
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: November 10, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

    KARAKARA 2 takes place after the first game and I highly recommend playing that one first before diving into the sequel. The same characters carry over including Leon, a rare human with only two ears and no tail. Most of the residents including his live-in female friends, Lucia and Aisia, have dog or cat traits as a result of a great calamity that wiped out ¾ of the population.

    There are two episodes in this sequel and the third one begins with the resident female cop, Cullen, bringing Leon his monthly marriage proposal letters. Leon doesn’t consider himself ready to marry yet and turns down each lucrative offer. Declining in writing is substantially easier than doing so in person. Leon learns this the hard way when an attractive girl named Rebecca shows up at his doorstep unannounced.

    KARAKARA 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters/story; nice artwork and Japanese voice acting
    Weak Points: Ended on a cliffhanger; two hours long
    Moral Warnings: Skimpy outfits and well endowed females; some sexual humor; undead characters; language (d*mn, *ss)

    Rebecca does not accept "No" for an answer and gets Leon to agree to a one week trial period where she can prove her worth as a potential wife. Rebecca definitely possess many great homemaking skills like cooking, sewing, and gardening. Lucia and Aisia take notice as well and devise a plan to find a weakness to keep Leon to themselves. Rebecca does indeed have a secret which I will not spoil, but it does provide some shock and comedy later on in the game.

    Cullen seems to take notice that Leon’s harem grows every time she takes leave and this is no exception in the fourth episode. The café requires the services of a guardian ninja to keep everyone safe from a dangerous duo wishing to kidnap and sell Leon. Mari’s source of Ninjitsu training is a bit peculiar, but she is very agile and defends herself well.

    The fourth episode goes into Mari’s past and the rest of the girls take a liking to her right away. Unlike the previous episode, they try to fan the flames of passion between her and Leon. While there is a kissing scene with a female in the third episode, any sexual encounters are not made too obvious. Many opportunities are presented but Leon seems to be a gentleman and turns them down outright.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    All of the females in Leon’s life are well endowed and there are conversations between the girls comparing their physiques. There is also some crude discussions and some language (d*mn, *ss). Mari’s outfit is very skimpy, but it does not hinder her movement at all.

    I was able to complete this visual novel in two hours and enjoyed it. Since it ended on a cliffhanger, I can’t wait for the sequel. If Leon’s harem continues to grow, I’m going to wonder where everyone will wind up sleeping. Things are starting to get pretty cramped with the sofa being used as a bed now.

    If you enjoyed the story, characters, art, and voice acting from the original game then you won’t be disappointed here. The sequel sells for $9.99 and, as far as I can tell, does not have an 18+ patch like the original did.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Last Stanza
    Developed by: Innocence
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: November 9, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $7.99

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

    High school is a unique time in a person’s life. The school workload gets harder and hormones really kick in and make it difficult to focus on studying. Last Stanza revolves around the suicide of a classmate and shows the different perspectives of several people including the girls’ father, boyfriend, and the other girl that has a crush on the guy as well.

    The first perspective is Liam’s who rides the bus with Beatrice and has known her since childhood. Without her initiating conversations, it would be a silent bus ride as he often has his head in the clouds. Liam is totally oblivious to Beatrice’s feelings toward him and he views her as nothing more than a friend. He’s taking the loss of Charlotte pretty hard and Beatrice tries to comfort him without overstepping her bounds.

    Last Stanza
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story told from multiple perspectives
    Weak Points: Only three hours long
    Moral Warnings: The story revolves around a suicide; alcoholism; minor swearing (d*mn); churchgoers depicted in a negative light; God is mentioned in lowercase

    As the story unravels, you’ll get to meet several characters and learn about them and why they chose the school clubs they did. Gregor is Liam’s best friend and can always be found playing on the football field so him joining the sports club comes as no surprise.

    Gregor does throw out a couple of sexual jokes, but Liam is a gentleman. In the 70,000 words of dialogue in this kinetic visual novel you’ll find a couple of swears (d*mn), some references to God with a lowercase ‘g’, and a reference to local Christians acting like phonies. Lastly, one of the characters is an alcoholic. Other than these moral issues, The Last Stanza is pretty tame.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The art style is rather unique and the characters are nicely detailed with a handful of different expressions. I’m not really a fan of the blurry backdrops, but they consistently appear that way. Perhaps with them appearing blurry they look the same regardless of the screen resolution.

    I enjoyed the background music and it fit in within the story appropriately. There is one classical music performance using one of Beethoven’s pieces. The looping was obvious and they should have used a longer piece in my opinion.

    If you’re on the fence with this visual novel, there is a free demo available on Steam. I can’t imagine it being too long since the whole game is a little over three hours. Since it has no choices, there is only one ending and it’s hard to not earn all of the eight Steam achievements available for this title. If you want to 100% a game, Last Stanza is a good option. The asking price of $7.99 is reasonable and a better value than a movie ticket for a film that’s half as long.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Little Busters! English Edition
    Developed By: VisualArts/Key
    Published By: VisualArts
    Release Date: November 1, 2017
    Available On: PC
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $34.99

    Thank you VisualArts for sending us this game to review!

    Ever since I had the opportunity to review CLANNAD, I have been keeping an eye on VisualArts' releases. Despite some flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed CLANNAD, and it was a story I won't soon forget. Their works are so moving that for some they provide therapeutic value, or at least reflective – sometimes the hardships or challenges that others face, whether in real life or in fiction, can help us put perspective on our own lives. So when given the opportunity to review Little Busters!, I jumped on it.

    Little Busters! is a very long and well written visual novel (VN) with many, many choices to make along the way. In terms of raw content, it may be the longest one that I have played yet, as it took me over eighty hours to see pretty much everything. If that's not enough, there is a baseball mini-game, as well as a dungeon crawler (though a rather simplistic one) to keep your interest if you so choose.

    Our main character is Riki Naoe, who is a friendly but otherwise unremarkable boy in his junior year of high school who suffered an unspeakable tragedy when he lost his parents at around ten years old. Thankfully, he was able to move beyond that with the help of his childhood friends, the Little Busters! This group includes Kyousuke (who is the oldest and the ringleader), his sister Rin, and best friends Masato and Kengo. The five of them attend a boarding school together.

    Lamenting how quickly their lives are moving towards the final 'must grow up' phase, they decide to do something incredibly silly for their final school year before college prep: form a baseball team. To do so, they make a bunch of new friends who join this new team, taking a boy-heavy group and tilting it the other way with the addition of a bunch of girls, including Komari, Kud, Yuiko, Mio, and Haruka.

    Little Busters! English Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly well written story, with many emotionally impactful scenes; wonderful characters full of joy and life, as well as challenges and hardship; many laugh out loud moments; several sad or difficult moments that a strong emotional reaction is likely; shows the joy and value of deep friendships; excellent Japanese voice acting
    Weak Points: No controller support
    Moral Warnings: Curse words like '*ss', 'd*mn', 'sh*t', 'p*ss', 'b*st*rd', including God's name in vain (God d*mn and Jesus) as well as some coarse words like 't*ts'; some 'fan service', like visible cleavage, and scenes in baths or hot springs; several situations with sexual tension, like flipped up skirts, the bath or hot spring scenes, and another where you have to co-ed strip in order to survive (represented in text, not images); one female character has irresistible urges regarding cute things (played for jokes), including other females; your friendship with a male friend is so deep there are questions of sexuality (played for jokes); there are a couple of instances of cross dressing; several suggestive jokes in the dialog, including things like breast sizes; RPG violence in the form of descriptive text describing fights, complete with hit point reductions; blood is present in a few scenes

    Each of the girls has their own route, which can be accessed via various choices that you make during conversations with them and others. Unlike some other VNs I have read, they guy friends are not throwaways – you have some great conversations with them, and they feel very important to you and your character. You can 'love' one of them, but it's meant as a source of laughs rather than anything real.

    The only endings are accessible via the girls' routes. There are many, with good and bad endings available for each, though (with a few exceptions) there is only one 'good' ending, which often includes an expression of love and is capstoned with ending credits and a song. Others just give you clear data. Seeing as many endings as possible is still valuable, as some scenes can only be seen in bad endings, and some of them are absolutely hilarious.

    The humor in Little Busters! varies from Masato's muscle obsessions, Kengo's aloofness (to later absolute silliness), to Yuiko's and Mio's dry or perverted jokes, to just completely off the wall craziness from Haruka, Kyousuke, and others. There is a lot of humor here; though not all of it is clean, it is likely to bring more than a few smiles.

    Through all of the routes, there seems to be a few underlying themes, and that is the power and value of true friendship. This is told very well through the story, as even your most goofy of friends shows in several places what true friendship is really all about. When the usually stupid Masato gives some of the best and most sagely advice, it really gave me pause.

    Rather than just 'the value of friendship', there are a few more deeper themes as well. Most of the characters, but the main ones especially, go through some deeply troubling hardships. What you come to find is not only that your friends really need you, and that as a good, caring friend you can help carry them through their life challenges, but that by being that kind of person, and sharing whatever strengths you may have with them, you also become stronger yourself. You change from someone who merely gets by because of your friends to someone who can face the most dangerous of challenges, even when life and limb are at stake – and persevere. It's hardships themselves that make us better people, and we then carry that forward to the next challenge.

    The writing on the whole is excellent, though I did find a few more typos than typical near the end on a few routes, but it wasn't too distracting. The music is great, and very fitting to the moment. The art is also fantastic, though I did not realize that some of the pictures have more to be seen if you use the mouse to drag the image around (at least in the gallery view). Unfortunately, doing so does expose a bit more of the 'fan service', as it were. Thankfully there is not a whole lot of it, and it's mostly done tastefully.

    'Fan service' is, for those not aware, an unfortunately common thing in games these days, where the developers put in visuals or other situations that are there just 'for the fans' – in other words, with little narrative value, but make some subset of fans happy. These scenes are overwhelmingly of a sexual nature, with things like compromising co-ed situations, or visuals like cleavage, up-skirt shots, or bath house scenes. Thankfully Little Busters! avoids up-skirt shots on screen, but they do happen in text. Cleavage and bath scenes are present, though. Cleavage is not excessive thankfully, nor are the bath scenes. But they both happen. It's not constantly in your face, but it happens. Nothing is shown except for some cleavage in some cases. Most is left to the imagination of the reader. And they are thankfully rare.

    Little Busters! English Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    I point this out because (outside of the obvious need to inform) CLANNAD, another VisualArts/Key visual novel, did not have fan service. But it did have more than just sexual jokes, indeed premarital sex itself (and marital sex, which of course is fine). None of them are shown or really described, but rather stated as having happened. Little Busters! has no sex of any kind in the story. The farthest it ever gets is french kissing. While romance is clearly important to the story here, it's less important than in CLANNAD, where you can even get married and have children; that does not occur here.

    Sexual humor varies from simple 'she has large breasts' or 't*ts' to jokes asking if you are 'a homo'. One girl on several occasions misinterprets what the guys say to make it sound homoerotic. A girl apparently has strong 'urges' that she finds hard to control with cute things, which is why she has her own room (she claims she couldn't control herself if a cute girl (or boy) bunked with her). There is a scene where you are snuck into a slumber party and they make you dress like a girl, and a girl wakes you up, teasing you about every boy's desire for a secret rendezvous. Thankfully, he is a gentleman throughout. There are other lines about panties and a few awkward situations. Late in the game, there is a life-or-death puzzle where the only solution is for both you and the girl you are with to strip naked and make a rope out of your clothes. As I said before, nothing is shown.

    Curse words are used, with things like 'd*mn' and 'h*ll' being more common, with a few very rare 'sh*t', '*ss', or 'b*st*rd'. Sometimes God's name is used in vain, like 'God d*mn' or 'Jesus'. There is also some violence, in the form of silly slapstick violence, or the humorous RPG-style battles. Each character is given a weapon (sometimes real, sometime silly) and you must fight the other using them. Hit points are deducted from a life bar, and the victory goes to the one to survive. No one ever dies except when it is required for the narrative. There are scenes with a person chained up in a dramatic manner, and there is blood visible in a couple of scenes. There is one scene where you rescue a girl from her oppressive family on the wedding day of an unwanted arranged marriage.

    Little Busters! English Edition is another quality release from VisualArts/Key. Like CLANNAD, I really loved reading about these kids goofing off in high school, and the main themes and messages throughout are heartwarming, have positive moral lessons, and have significant emotional impact. Despite some of the fan service and language, there is a lot of excellence here as well. Whether the trade-offs are worth it is up to you, and it's definitely not for children. More mature teens and adults who are looking for a good, memorable story will find a lot to like in Little Busters!

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Love’s Sweet Garnish
    Developed by: Canvas+Garden
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: September 7, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $12.99

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

    Love’s Sweet Garnish is a mostly kinetic visual novel that tells the story of Asaki, who decides to take over his grandmother’s café while she’s recuperating in the hospital from a back injury. His female childhood friend, Chisato, is an excellent pastry chef who looks forward to the café’s re-opening as it’s been shut down for over a month. Chisato is also the designer of the waitress uniforms that attract two of Asaki’s classmates, Rira and Richer. The two new hires are instrumental in creating some new pastries that become the talk of the town and revitalize Café Carmella.

    There are only two choices to be made in this game and depending on your selections, Asaki will fall in love with one of the waitresses. Love’s Sweet Garnish isn’t the first café themed visual novel I’ve played, and it probably won’t be the last. Despite the unoriginal story, I still did enjoy my 5.5 hours spent in this title.

    Love’s Sweet Garnish
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful art style; multiple endings
    Weak Points: Unoriginal story scenario
    Moral Warnings: Mild language (d*mn); female shown in her undergarments; kissing; adult DLC available

    Each story arc has a different nemesis and hurdle for the café and its employees to deal with. On my first run, I fell in love with the white haired and bunny ear wearing Richer. On my second play through I was able to resume my save from the first choice selection. If you didn’t save there, you can automatically fast forward or skip to the first choice prompt. Out of the two endings, I felt that Rira’s was the intended one.

    No matter which choices you make, walking in on Rira undressing is unavoidable. Thankfully, the Steam version of this game only shows her in her undergarments. Nothing past holding hands and kissing are alluded to in this game either. An adult DLC is available, but this review is based off of the Steam "All Ages" version. There is some minor language (d*mn), but it doesn’t happen often. On a positive note, I like how this game addresses bullying, blackmailing, gossiping, and other negative behaviors.

    Love’s Sweet Garnish
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    +3 for good moral lesson

    The visuals are top-notch in this title and I love the art style. The chapter loading screens show the female characters in a chibi style while they are drawn anime style throughout the rest of the game. Each of the characters are shown with varying expressions during their conversations which brings them to life. The backdrops are colorful and nicely detailed as well.

    Though the background music wasn’t particularly memorable for me, the Japanese voice acting on the other hand was well done. I’m grateful for the subtitles though they were not shown on the loading screens so I had no idea what they said.

    If you enjoy harem visual novels and don’t mind only two choices, Love’s Sweet Garnish will entertain you for a short while. The price is reasonable though you may want to hold off for a sale. It’s certainly not an original or the most engaging visual novel I’ve played, but it’s not the worst one either. It’s also one I wouldn’t mind letting my kids play as long as it's the all ages version.

  • boxart
    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.

     

  •  

    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.

  • boxart
    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.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    NEKOPARA Complete + Extra
    Developed By: NEKO WORKs
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: December 29, 2014 for Vol. 1, July 27, 2018 for Extra (others in between)
    Available On: Windows, Switch; PlayStation 4 coming soon
    Genre: Kinetic Visual Novel
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Sexual Themes
    MSRP: $29.66 for Complete + $4.99 for Extra

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

    NOTE: This review discusses more mature/adult topics than our usual fare. It is also filled with spoilers. Please consider yourself warned.

    I never had any intention of covering NEKOPARA on Christ Centered Gamer. I thought everyone knew that it was the type of visual novel series that gives the genre a bad name – the naughty kind that has lots of titillating, sexually charged scenes and dialogue, and even has an 18+ version that leaves little to the imagination. But, it turns out, that not everyone does know this, as my wife accepted a code for one of the entries without knowing anything about it, and was going to offer it to my 13-year-old daughter to review! (In her defense, the store page did not have an age gate, and the tags were not yet in place to warn of nudity, either.) I swooped in and nope’d that one, and set out to review what would otherwise be quite an embarrassment to play given pretty much any other circumstance. How many guys can honestly say that their wife told them to play a game about well-endowed catgirls?

    I was also surprised at how popular the NEKOPARA series is. I had no idea that these games are some of the top selling visual novels on Steam, with the series surpassing two million in sales. Also, some games in the series have already been released on PlayStation 4 and Switch, with more of them having been announced as on their way. It’s well known that cuteness (and sex) sells, but I had no idea of the market power they represented in the real world. So I guess covering them is valuable after all.

    With that out of the way, NEKOPARA (which is a combination of neko, the Japanese word for cat, and paradise) takes place in a not too distant future where geneticists have created the ultimate human-cat hybrid in the form of catgirls. These creatures were created to be the perfect pet: smart enough to be talked to, but cat-like enough to still be cute, purr, and so on. Since many of their feline instincts were intentionally left in place, catgirls are owned, regulated, and treated as pets. A very small percentage of them, generally only the most well behaved, can go through rigorous testing in order to earn a license to be allowed outside of a house alone.

    I could not help but draw a few parallels in my mind when I thought about catgirls as they are described in-universe. Having recently watched the Blade Runner series, the parallels to Replicants are obvious. I also thought about the possibilities for exploitation and slave labor, which is lightly touched upon in the story, but never expounded upon at all. The other parallel I drew was analogous to the current controversies over sex dolls and the future of the human race that comes up quite often in articles here and there. If people don’t need to go through the challenging work that is maintaining human relationships, will they?

    NEKOPARA Complete + Extra
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Art is very well done; visual novel engine is fantastic, with lip and body movement and expressions; sound, voices and music is similarly well done
    Weak Points: For several episodes, the plot is very weak and kind of boring; titillation seems more important than story, especially in the early episodes
    Moral Warnings: Foul language like ‘b*tch’, ‘h*ll’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, including using God’s name in vain; breasts jiggle and move, and there is even a slider for boob physics; frequent sex with catgirls, including having multiple partners at the same time; lots of sexual humor, including one catgirl who gets hot and bothered from any little thing; each episode has one or more scenes with nude catgirls, including baths, bathrooms, or sex, with only the minimum required nipples hidden or brushed out; while most sex is heterosexual, there is one lesbian scene, and most sex is in the form of a threesome; polygamy is common and accepted by catgirls apparently

    In NEKOPARA, you take the role of Kashou Minaduki, who is the oldest child in the Minaduki household. He also has a much younger sister, Shigure. She is very helpful and responsible, though she has a rather odd brother complex where she wants to be intimate with him. Other than that, she is a rather kind and helpful sister who is always looking out for him and her catgirls.

    A few years ago, Shigure brought home her first stray catgirl, Azuki. Since then, she brought home Maple, Cinnamon, and Coconut. Not much later, Kashou rescued the twins Chocola and Vanilla. (If you were curious, Azuki is a kind of bean, so they are all named after food.) Catgirls grow up at the same rate cats do, so are fully grown within about a year. Shigure raised them all, and did a great job doing so.

    Kashou moved out of his parents’ house suddenly, as he had a dream to start his own Western-style patisserie. His parents run a Japanese-style sweets shop, and he learned that trade growing up, but preferred to branch out on his own rather than take over the family business. As a result, he left quickly and suddenly, without warning.

    While unpacking, he was in for a big surprise: Chocola and Vanilla came with him by sneaking into packing boxes! He originally meant to leave them with his sister, but they would have nothing to do with it – they loved him the most as it was he who rescued them, despite spending more time with Shigure since she trained them. Eventually, he gave in to their demands, and they moved in with him, while Shigure continued to take care of the other four catgirls.

    I wish I could say ‘and they lived happily ever after, with a litter-full of catgirl hijinks’, and there is certainly some of that. But when Kashou walks down the street, friendly ladies ask if those are his ‘catpanions’, which is a term that means a catgirl who has sex with their owners. Chocola and Vanilla like that idea, which Kashou shoots down, at first. However, it doesn’t take too long before he caves in to the pressure from his sister, other people he meets, and his own catgirls being in heat for the first time, after which he finally makes them his catpanions.

    Each of the main episodes, Vol. 1-3, has Kashou getting in bed with some new catgirl, until he has finally made all of them his catpanions by the end of Vol. 3. I can’t even imagine what the announced Vol. 4 could possibly include... will he finally indulge his sister in the incestuous relationship she is begging for? Will he start picking up catgirls off the street to grow his harem even more? It is explained that catgirls do not get jealous in polygamous situations with other catgirls. Supposedly it’s a species thing. Will he actually... *gulp* meet a human girl?

    If that wasn’t enough, each episode (even the prequels, like Vol. 0 and Extra) has at least one bath scene, where the catgirls are seen naked, with white puffs and glare covering any nipples or private parts – but otherwise very little is left to the imagination. Vol. 3 even went so far as to have you catch a girl going to the bathroom, and another where two catgirls stimulate each other to climax – though one of them was furious afterwards and promised it would not happen again. They seem to be somewhat slaves to stimulation. One of them has a really dirty mind, and she will interpret anything that sounds sexual in that way, and will start acting all hot and bothered at any possible opportunity.

    As you can see, much of the story revolves around sex, sexual feelings, or sexual jokes and innuendos. But not all of it. Each episode does have some story to tell, and I found that as the episodes progressed, the stories got better and better. I played them in release order, and could clearly see that progression happen.

    For the record, while I try to be objective with a game and its stories, it is kind of difficult to separate the quality of a story from the negative feelings I get around the sexual content. Part of that is, for example, Kashou’s eventual hookup with Chocola and Vanilla feels incredibly wrong – they are the youngest of them, and even in ‘cat years’, they are most likely approximately equivalent to a teenager, and Kashou appears to be a college graduate. I had a hard time separating out my disgust with my feelings for the story.

    NEKOPARA Complete + Extra
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Vol. 1 is the first released game, and revolves around Kashou opening his shop, and the growing relationships between him and his catgirls. While of course it’s important and sets everything up, I felt like overall it wasn’t that strong of a story. The sexual content detracted from my ability to enjoy the story, given that this one is where Chocola and Vanilla hook up with Kashou. Chocola is a young, innocent personality whose innocence needed to be protected in my opinion. Kashou considered himself like their parent, or a much older sibling. Anyway, the strengths did not override the weaknesses for me.

    Vol. 0 is a very short prequel view of the characters; a single day at home with Shigure. It was very short and wholly unremarkable.

    Vol. 2 is where the story starts to turn the corner and get more interesting. It’s still nothing special, but the writers at least tell a story. The catgirls are a bit older, so it doesn’t feel so creepy, which helps a lot. A few of the characters grow some, which certainly helps.

    Vol. 3 is both the best and worst episode of them all. It was worse because it had lots of sex in it, including between two of the catgirls. But as for the story, it was by far the best. There was actual character growth, an interesting plot, and an enjoyable finale. This one touched more on catgirls’ place in society, and how some people outside of Kashou’s little circle feel about them. It also showed how catgirls who worked hard could become something greater than just being a house pet. If the other episodes were this good, my opinion of the series might have been much more positive.

    Extra was a cute prequel, where you get to see what they were like when Chocola and Vanilla first joined your family. It was mostly cute, but unfortunately some of the perverted stuff still crept in. The Steam page for this entry does not have an age gate, and I would prefer that it did – there is still a bath scene, with far more to be shown than I would like to see for something without an age gate.

    The art and visual novel game engine used here is second to none. I am very impressed with the way the characters move around the screen as they do things, how their lips move, the voice acting, and even the music fits well. When it comes to spit and polish, this is probably the best looking ‘traditional’ visual novel I have ever seen. (I say ‘traditional’ as more VNs have been innovating in style lately, like Danganronpa, but I do not consider them traditional in interface like this one is.) Of course, being the style of game it is, the girls’ breasts have to move as they do, and you can even jiggle them at any time by pressing ‘P’ on the keyboard. There is a breast physics slider in the options as well. You can also pet the catgirls with the mouse, and they meow at you when you do that.

    If I didn’t cover everything to worry about with appropriateness in most of this review already, be aware that common curse words like ‘b*tch’, ‘h*ll’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’ are used. God’s name in vain is spoken, and one of the episodes has you and the catgirl twins going to a temple to pray for good luck, where the reader learns that Kashou isn’t really religious, but is superstitious enough to go to temple anyway.

    NEKOPARA is a cute visual novel stamped all over by near-constant sexual jokes, innuendo, or outright sex. The storytelling did get significantly better over time, enough so that if all of them were as thought provoking as the last ones, perhaps my opinion of the series would have been much better going through it, making any recommendation a bit more balanced. But at this point, the smut to quality ratio is way too high for me to recommend it to even the most jaded. And most certainly not for Christians. Oh – and avoid the 18+ patch.

  • 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?

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Project LUX
    Developed By: Spicy Tails
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: February 2, 2018
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive or Oculus Rift required), PS VR
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Violence, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language
    MSRP: $24.99

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

    Project LUX is a virtual reality (VR) visual novel (VN) made by the fine folks who made one of my favorite visual novels, World End Economica. Rather than experiencing a world or enjoying an action game, this one is unique for a VR game, in that it tells a story in a new way, that other mediums really cannot. I mean sure, they might have made the game so you could experience it while looking through a window (a.k.a. monitor), but it's really a much more involving experience to virtually live through it. It also helps that the story being told is engaging and interesting.

    In the distant future, the vast majority of humanity has had their minds directly connected into cyberspace, with their bodies in a kind of stasis, rarely needing to be accessed. These new brains are called cyberbrains. Memories are often shared among many, and humanity and artificial intelligence blend together and accomplishes more and more at staggering rates.

    However, there are a few 'normal' humans left. One is a girl artist named Lux. The story starts with an explanation that she was murdered. In the court investigating her death is the last person in her presence, whose memories are being replayed and experienced again by the player. This person is actually a human with a cyberbrain, who is borrowing an android body for his visits with Lux. He works for the government, and seeks to encourage her to explore different kinds of artwork, which she then posts online via some of the last computers available for those without a cyberbrain.

    Project LUX
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fantastic character speech and movements, as Lux is a believable character; Japanese voice acting is very well done
    Weak Points: Short; only subtitles for English speakers; graphics are mixed in quality; really exposes limitations in the headset
    Moral Warnings: Gun violence; visible underwear in spots; (small) breast size briefly mentioned, along with other mildly suggestive dialogue; mild language like 'p*ss me off'

    At first, she feels threatened by your presence, and points a gun at you. But once you explain why you are there, she relaxes and allows you into her home. Once there, you get to experience conversations with her from his perspective. While she definitely looks like an anime girl, what amazed me is how naturally she walked around, talked, and carried on a conversation with you while you observe. Most of the story is told without your input, but there are a few small choices that you can make throughout the story.

    In many ways, Project LUX, as the name suggests, is kind of like a tech demo. It's short, and 90% of the game takes place in the same room. Nevertheless, I really feel like this method of exposition could be a massive step forward for the visual novel genre. Most visual novels are a strictly 2D affair; you see well-drawn still images, and a text box. Sometimes, the mouths move, or the sprites move some, but even that is the exception. Here, not only are you dropped into a 3D area, but Lux's character is quite remarkable.

    As I mentioned previously, you can see her walk around, listen to her talk, and occasionally make choices throughout the story. What is amazing is how naturally they managed to make her movements and actions. Her lifelike actions are a result of motion capturing the voice actress who plays her, Aimi Tanaka. Depending on the moment, she will sit down, stand up, bow, walk around, swing her arms, tap her feet, sit on the floor, lean on things, and so on. The way she does these things is in a slightly exaggerated style typical of an anime girl, but it's still quite remarkable. There is a moment where you see her and your avatar hold hands and hug, which is also pretty amazing. There is no sexual content, outside of a few statements about small breasts, and "Are you...coming onto me?".

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

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

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Other appropriateness issues include the subject matter (investigating a murder) and, occasionally, visible underwear. I don't recall any curse words other than 'p*ss' (but I admit it is quite difficult to take proper notes in VR). Other themes of the story is what it means to be human, and the value of individuality.

    Graphically, Lux looks nice, though a bit simple. The same can be said for her surroundings. They do the job, but lack a bit of detail. Overall, I would say most of the graphical quality was spent on Lux herself, which is appropriate. Given the nature of the style of art, the screen-door effect of the Vive headset was extremely obvious, and made me long for a newer, higher resolution model. The sounds were clear and did their job, with excellent Japanese voice acting.

    Project LUX surprised me, and in a good way. It is short, yes, but it is also a glimpse into the future of storytelling. Being able to watch and listen to a virtual character, while appearing to be in the same room as you, is unreal. It is emotionally impacting getting to know this fictional character, and is unlike other experiences I've had in virtual reality. The story is excellently written and interesting, which helps as well. The talking happens pretty fast, and is in Japanese, so I hope you can read quickly, though there is a backlog available. It is short for the price, so is an easy recommendation during a sale. If you do, I think you'll agree it gives you a tantalizing glimpse into the future of storytelling in virtual reality.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition
    Developed By: Yeti, Regista
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: April 27, 2016
    Available On: PC, PS Vita coming soon
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $34.99

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

    Root Double -Before Crime * After Days is a visual novel that is now available for the first time in English.  This novel is both long and intense, with very detailed story arcs, with lots of pseudo-scientific explanations for most of the relevant phenomena, as well as some actual science mixed in for good measure.  It explores the back stories of each character in a way that I have never seen before. You will come to understand, if not appreciate, each and every character quite well before completing this 50+ hour visual novel.

    On September 16, 2030 at 6:19am, there is an explosion at LABO, which is a research facility called the '6th Laboratory of Atomic and Biological Organization'.  Almost immediately afterward, a 'Case N' is declared, and massive impenetrable bulkheads come down, sealing several people inside.  This situation, called the 'incident', is the main point around which the whole story rests, as all of the main characters are trapped inside seeking escape before the radiation kills them, or worse.

    Initially, there are two routes available, route A (or Root After – the homophone seems intentional) and route B (or Root Before).  While you may be tempted to start Before first, and you can, it becomes obvious that After really should be read first.  After follows one of the main protagonists, Watase Kasasagi, who is a captain of the rescue squad who was sent in to retrieve any survivors.  After just a few minutes on site, he appears to have sustained an injury of some kind that has given him complete amnesia.

    Route B follows the other protagonist, Natsuhiko Tenkawa.  He is a high school student who finds himself caught up in this disaster, and is also trapped inside, along with some friends.  His mother, Miyoko, is a world renowned researcher at LABO, who rarely has time for Natsuhiko because of work.  And with his dad having died many years ago, he has few, but very close friends.  This is the story leading up to the incident, that also explains why they are there in the first place.

    Root Double -Before Crime
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 50 hour+ visual novel with a captivating plot filled with intense storytelling; lovable, interesting characters; good Japanese voice acting; great art
    Weak Points: Some parts kind of drag on
    Moral Warnings: Almost all common curse words present, including 'sh*t', 'd*mn' (with and without God), 'hell', 'f*ck', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rds', '*ss'; some scenes have gruesome blood, including bullet filled corpses; atmosphere is at times dark and desperate; psychic abilities portrayed at length, including sending messages, mind reading, and even memory manipulation; some rare sexually suggestive content, with one scene where you can see a woman's breast from behind; one girl seems to like both a guy and a girl

    Most visual novels use some form of 'how do you respond to this situation?' menu dialog at some point.  Rather than the typical choice 'A or B', this game uses the Senses Sympathy System, or SSS.  Each time a decision is to be made, rather than outright choosing it, you instead choose, on a scale from 1 to 7, how you feel about that person at that time.  When this relates to yourself, it conveys a sense of confidence in your choices, or a lack of it.  Making various indirect choices in this way can have a significant impact on what happens next.  Often this is in the form of a bad ending, of which there are many.  Most choices have an immediate effect, but a few endings are only obtainable by following longer threads of confidence or lack thereof in various characters.  There are a veritable ton of endings, with the vast majority of them bad.  Thankfully, reloading earlier saves is not difficult, as there is a quicksave system as well as normal saves.  There are well over a hundred choices throughout Root Double.

    Of the many mysteries uncovered or explained through this novel is the role of a phenomenon called BC.  BC stands for 'Beyond Communication', and is what was formerly called ESP, or extrasensory perception.  BC allows Communicators (BC users) to be able to use telepathy (sending words, emotions, thoughts or ideas) and empathy (reading the thoughts of another).  BC was often confused with the occult before it was understood to have a scientific basis.  According to in game lore, there is a BC receptor on everyone's brain, and thoughts are transmitted as information between brains using BC particles.  It's an interesting, scientifically-sounding basis for the powers as described.

    Things in game, like BC and far more, are all described using scientific language. Once something is learned about, you can quit to the main menu, and read through the TIPS glossary.  It explains what is fiction, what is partially fiction, and what is actually true science and history.  It can be confusing in game, but the TIPS make it much clearer.  And I definitely learned something.  I found the explanation of Maxwell's Demon quite fascinating!

    Both Christianity and Buddhism are portrayed in some way in this game.  A funeral is done in the Buddhist tradition.  Most other religious references are actually Christian, and shown in a positive way.  Each chapter starts with a Bible verse, taken for its shock value more than theological, but it sets the tone for that chapter.  There is also one minor character that admits to being a Christian, which is fairly rare in Japan, and also done well.  There are cults or sects mentioned that are not given such a positive treatment however.

    The many plot twists and turns, and the general intensity of the story I found to be quite compelling.  It was very hard for me to pull myself away from reading just one more scene when I clearly had more important things to do.  Unfortunately, the thrill ride did have plenty of reasons to give me pause before recommending it to others.

    Root Double -Before Crime
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 48%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    For one thing, there is pretty much every common curse word you would hope not to see.  While they are use naturally and not without cause, the fact is, every curse word from 'd*mn' (with and without God), 'hell', and '*ss', to 'sh*t', 'b*tch', and 'f*ck' are used.  Some scenes are extremely graphic, with bullets through heads or torsos, rooms full of bullet ridden bodies, as well as burned and charred remains.  There is no animation, but a lot of still scenes which depict the blood and violence as described.

    The vast majority of the main story doesn't have a ton of sexual content, but it is there.  One scene has a male character carrying a well endowed female.  He notices two sensations pressing against his back; he then chides himself on clean thoughts.  There is another case where a woman is injured in her back, and a man has to clean her wound, which requires her to remove her top.  You see her breasts from the rear/side, and the male character handles the situation like a gentleman.  There is no sex of any kind in this game, other than mention of a relationship that birthed a child.  *begin spoilers* One rather odd situation is that in one of the endings, a few of the characters have some kind of love triangle going.  Two girls and a guy, and the guy cannot decide.  One of the girls seems to like both the guy and the other girl.  Oddly, they all seem at peace with this for now.  A third girl wants into the triangle, as she feels left out... *end spoilers*

    As has already been implied, there is plenty of psychic-like BC happening.  These scenes somewhat remind me of what some New Age materials teach about what reading minds is like.  I would caution anyone playing that the 'I wish this were true' thoughts are quite likely here, and ideas like that can lead to curiosity about the occult or New Age practices.  So I would not recommend this to teenagers or those who understand the Truth enough to have a prepared defense against these things as a result.

    Root Double -Before Crime * After Days- Xtend Edition is an extremely well written and engaging visual novel that I would highly recommend to older visual novel fans that can properly take into account the appropriateness issues above.  There is plenty of content, and the localization is great, along with enjoyable voice acting, despite being all in Japanese.  Though my children were automatically drawn to watch me read this story, I had to ultimately keep them away, and I would suggest you do the same with any children, or those predisposed to occult ideas.

  • boxart
    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.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shining Song Starnova
    Developed by: Love in Space
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: July 25, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

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

    Shining Song Starnova was successfully Kickstarted in September 2017. Though the game has been released on schedule on various sites, it has yet to be made available on Steam. Because of the sexual content in this title, Valve is waiting for filtering options to be released before allowing this game on its storefront. Users looking for a censored experience can order it though GOG.com. The 18+ version is available on Denpasoft.com. This review will compare the two versions.

    In this game you play as an idol producer who was recently fired from Golden Calf Productions. I have to admit that’s a funny name for an idol company. The reason for the firing is explained later in the game. Mr. Producer (as he’s referred to) is given a job at a new firm with seven girls who have a wide variety of experience, issues, and personalities. It’s your dream to make an all-star idol group, but can it be done with these misfits?

    The girls fall into various tropes and constantly make fun of themselves for it. The oldest of the bunch, Mariya, is in her mid-twenties, chain smokes and often stumbles into work hungover. She has the most experience in the idol industry and she was a former member of the idol mega group, Quesar. The other girls tease her about her age and fading beauty, and they also brush off most of her comments on how producers can take advantage of them. Thankfully, the main character is an honorable man, but still prone to temptation.

    Shining Song Starnova
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters and dialogue; good voice acting and music
    Weak Points: There is an 18+ version available and the censored version constantly prompts you to “upgrade” to it; lazy censoring that consists of white rectangles and chopping of text that confuses the reader to what actually happens during the blackened screens
    Moral Warnings: Tobacco and alcohol consumption; drunkenness; every curse word fathomable is used along with some blaspheming; references to sexual acts, sexting, and implied sexual encounters (outside of marriage); the adult version shows everything including all of the girls topless, bottomless sex along with fully animated sex scenes that show both male and female anatomy; references to rape; one of the characters is openly homosexual

    Sasami is shy and innocent and in order to play through the route of making her the center girl for Starnova, you’ll need to complete all of the chapters for the other girls. Aki was a popular twelve year old idol and wants to maintain the young and innocent image despite her body giving her away. Everyone including the producer refer to her as a “sh*t loli”.

    Julie is a blonde mix of American and Japanese heritage. She’s beautiful and knows it. Her team refers to her as the “top b*tch” and she’s fine with that. It’s because of characters like her that there are so many blonde jokes out there. Mika is an unusual one who is in her own world and constantly talks in Dungeons and Dragons RPG lingo. Some of her dialogue has occult references in it.

    Natsuki is your typical country bumpkin who is simple minded, but strong. Don’t underestimate her intelligence, strength, or sex appeal though! Nemu is beautiful and incredibly endowed. She comes from a rich family and seems almost too good to be true. Be careful of what you think about because she can read minds!

    At first, this visual novel seems kinetic as there are no choices to be made until you get into the second chapter. The game does have a sense of humor by giving a bad ending scene for a situation that your character literally had no control over! In fact, the humor and writing are very well done and I did laugh on several occasions.

    The biggest decision you’ll have to make is choosing who will be the center/representative for the group.  Each of the girls is hoping to be selected for this sacred spot and are willing to seduce the producer to earn his favor.   Though there are different character routes to take and perspectives see, it doesn’t take long for the adult nature of this game to reveal itself.  

    If you’re playing the censored version you’ll be greeted with many white rectangles covering up breasts and bottoms.  Having an alternate drawing with undergarments shown instead of a five minute censor job would have been better in my opinion.  In all honesty, I could have done without the changing room and bath scenes, but I realize that I’m not the target audience here.  

    Shining Song Starnova
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 39%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    I’m totally fine with the naughty bits being blanked out and I preferred seeing rectangles over topless girls. With that said, the intimate scenes on the censored version are confusing since massive chunks of dialogue are removed and you have no idea what actually happened in the missed scenes. Along with the blank screen, some clarification would have been nice instead of an offhand remark afterward.

    Absolutely nothing is left to the imagination on the 18+ version of the game. Everything is shaved, shown, and animated. It’s obvious that this is the intended way for the game to be played and that the censorship was an afterthought. I can now see why the developer insisted that this was the version we look at (unless it was a successful trolling attempt?).

    As gorgeous as the visuals are, they’re too graphic for my tastes and I’m going to leave the rest of the game unfinished since I have seen and heard enough to warrant the appropriateness rating this title is receiving. The censored version of the game's menu will constantly nag/tempt you to get the free 18+ DLC. If you can resist that temptation, great, but if you struggle with pornography I highly suggest passing on this game. The soundtrack DLC is also available for purchase and is worth picking up if you enjoy J-POP music.

  • 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.  

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Steins;Gate Elite
    Developed by: Mages
    Published by: Spike Chunsoft
    Release date: February 19, 2019
    Available on: Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
    Price: $56.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Steins;Gate Elite is one of the best visual novels available. It combines nearly all the text and routes from the original Steins;Gate visual novel with footage from its classic anime adaptation. The story of a homemade time machine feels small-scale until the characters realize just how in over their heads they have gotten. The key to Steins;Gate’s story is pacing; it starts slowly to let the player become attached to the characters and knocks them out of complacency at precisely the right moment. The small cast of characters are fun people to spend time with, and when they get in trouble, you want to see them claw out. Steins;Gate Elite is a story that’s been told a few times over the past decade, but it’s a complete and exceptional version well worth the time of a newcomer or long-time fan.

    If there’s a hurdle to hopping into the story, it’s probably main character Okabe Rintaro. This college student who serves as the story’s narrator lives in Akihabara, the nerd center of Tokyo. Okabe declares himself a mad scientist repeatedly to everyone he meets. His insistence that he is hounded by “the Organization” and that all history moves in accordance to the will of “Steins;Gate” is dealt with by other characters with bemusement, irritation, or avoidance. Once the maniacal laughter becomes endearing, it’s easy to sympathize with Okabe, especially as the reason behind his self-delusion is revealed. He’s a funny and intelligent lens into the story.

    Okabe runs the Future Gadget Lab with childhood friend Mayuri and computer geek Daru. The lab is an apartment above a used CRT shop and produces such useful inventions as a TV remote shaped like a ray gun and a microwave which can be switched on with a phone message. It’s this phone-connected microwave that kicks off the time travel plot. Steins;Gate hits the ground running, and the corresponding anime episode is a common example of the right way to start a show. The lab quickly grows with a colorful cast of young adults who wrap themselves up in a conspiracy spanning the world and various timelines.

    Steins;Gate Elite
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Story is as well-written and structured as ever; Beautiful art, animation, and voice acting; Limited choices result in tighter routes through the story; New animation for the alternate endings is fantastic
    Weak Points: Essentially the same story as previous, cheaper versions; Long build-up could lose players; Music sometimes does not complement visuals; Occasional discrepancies between text and the anime footage
    Moral Warnings: Knife and gun violence with blood splatter; Sexual discussion and innuendoes, with kissing shown; Strong swearing, including multiple f-bombs; Homosexual and transgender character; Rebellion against fate and God discussed

    Government cover-ups aside, this is a story about the characters. The detailed time travel mechanics, with everything else, are vehicles to stretch themselves to the limit. Half the story is about getting in trouble; the other half is about getting out. It plays out like a tragedy in many ways. The inciting incident is no one’s fault, and fate and the universe itself seem determined to keep Okabe from rescuing his friends from the mess he inadvertently created. This does mean that if the player doesn’t connect to the characters during the slower first act, it will be hard to stick with them for the whole story.

    The player doesn’t have much control over the story, but that’s a good thing. Interactions are limited to choosing Okabe’s response to texts and emails and making a decision at the end of some chapters. The texts flesh out his relationships with the characters and are critical to reaching the True Ending route of the game. Players of the original Steins;Gate visual novel will notice that some branching choices involving how to use the phone are missing in Elite. While I missed setting my own ringtone more than I thought I would, this really is for the best. Depending on certain decisions, the game will automatically have Okabe call/ignore different people throughout the story. This helps focus the experience and provide variety on repeat trips through the story to reach the two primary endings.

    There are several premature endings, and they might be the biggest reason to experience Elite instead of the cheaper original or the anime. The text of the endings isn't new; they're taken from the original version. Each of these alternate endings is reached by decisions made at the end of later chapters. These endings are long and satisfying in their own ways. Most of Elite borrows animation from the anime; these endings are all newly, beautifully animated. They were the main reason I wanted to play Elite, and the details did not disappoint.

    Comparisons to the anime are inevitable, not least because Elite only exists as a result of it. Every scene has been taken from the anime or recreated in the anime's style, using the original visual novel's Japanese-only voice acting (which is excellent and largely the same voices behind the anime). The subdued, smooth, melancholy animation of the show slides into the visual novel format well. The placement of characters enhances the dialog. The streets of Akihabara are usually empty in the game to emphasize Okabe’s isolation; when the streets are full, it’s because our characters are lost in the crowd. The animation is an upgrade not just to this story but to the game genre as a whole. It’s a shame most visual novels don’t have the backing of a decade-old fan base, ten hours of finished animation, and a sequel to warrant a production like this.

    The melding of anime with visual novel is not seamless. Despite the game packaging’s promises, playing Elite doesn’t feel like “playing the anime.” Characters wait for you to progress the story unless they are looping a motion like typing. Not even the auto-advance option allows characters to truly interrupt each other. The art style is clean instead of the splotchy coloring of the original. The anime had a subdued soundtrack, and the visual novel’s music is more bouncy to keep the player engaged through long stretches of reading. The music works but obviously was not composed for the visuals. Sometimes narration will contradict what is seen; maybe Okabe will claim that he is sitting down when, on screen, he is standing in the corner. The motion itself is an undeniable improvement.

    Steins;Gate Elite
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 58%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Not much about Elite is entirely unique. The new opening song might have the best accompanying animation of Steins;Gate’s several incarnations, though the song itself doesn’t beat the anime’s Hacking to the Gate. The arc involving 4°C is cut almost entirely in favor of the anime’s truncated version of events. His absence should not be mourned, and Elite cuts little outside that one chapter. That means it has significantly more time with the characters than the anime could afford at the expense of slightly less content than the original. I think it works in the story’s favor, but tastes vary.

    The visual novel includes an interesting discussion of real-life time travel theories, at least one section critical to understanding events in the following movie and game, and more. Most of the characters are nerds who make consistent references to Japanese internet memes circa 2010. The astute otaku will pick out many anime and video game references, and the game provides an entertaining encyclopedia for terms you don’t know.

    Steins;Gate’s dedication to an accurate representation of 2010 nerd culture extends to the sexually-perverted comments Daru constantly makes. It’s gross; it’s typical of a certain kind of college-age man; it lives up to the M rating. So too does the in-game fictional version of the Japanese equivalent of 4chan. The game reproduces the terrible ways people act and talk online with shocking accuracy. The reader can skim past the image board if desired. Offline, characters still swear in English and translated Japanese. God’s name is taken in vain, and characters will outright defy fate and God (the two concepts are somewhat conflated in their minds).

    Other moral concerns include gun and knife violence. It isn’t gory, but the game is not shy about blood. In one dark moment, a character contemplates assaulting another. Camera framing of the latter’s body is appropriately disturbing. Kissing is shown, and so is a brief shower scene with much covered by steam. Steins;Gate also includes a chapter focused on a homosexual and transgender character. It’s complicated, and the game accepts the character’s sexual orientation in the end.

    I played Elite on the Switch. This included a new 8-bit adventure game which doesn’t include a save function, spoils major plot points of the main game, and is not, in my estimation, worth the time to download. The Switch’s portability was great, however. The PC and PS4 versions include the first official English release of a collection of side stories about the broader cast called Linear Bounded Phenogram. Which version to buy is a question of portability versus this extra content.

    Steins;Gate Elite is an exceptional version of an exceptional story. It can be a hard sell because of the cheaper original and anime alternatives. For those willing to take thirty or so hours to play Steins;Gate Elite, the journey can be rewarding. It’s a beautiful game of fun characters and a carefully-crafted plot. I wish I could play it for the first time again.

  • 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.  

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Developed By: AQUAPLUS
    Published By: Atlus
    Release Date: October 14, 2014
    Available On: PS3
    Genre: Visual Novel/SRPG|
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord is the second game in the series, but is the first one to hit our shores.  That was a PC game (which contains erotic material, so please don't look for it), which was later remade for PlayStation 3 with the erotic material removed, but it never left Japan.  This second game is it's own independent story, and does not require having played the first, though I did see some of the connections when I went back and read about it more later.

    You follow Hamilcar Barca, usually called Hamil, and his goddess Astarte, usually called Tarte, and their band of friends as they throw off the oppressive Divine Empire and take back Hispania from their evil rule.  While at first glance it may seem cliché, it really is not – this game is loosely based on the historical figure of Hamilcar Barca and his son, Hannibal, though some say that Hamil's in-game events more closely resemble Hannibal's life than his father's.  Another switcheroo is that Hamil's father's name is Hasdrubal in the game, while history shows that name to match another of Hamilcar's sons.  Regardless of this, it allows the game to have a deep, deep lore to draw from to fill out the game's events and storyline – and that it does with aplomb.

    And it takes plenty of time to develop the incredibly engrossing storyline.  Tears is what they call a Visual Novel, which is to say that much of the game is really sitting through reading and watching the story unfold in a non-interactive manner. While this may sound boring, and if you did not expect it, you might be a bit surprised (the PR from Atlus took special pain to make sure that reviewers understood this going in) and disappointed – if I expected a typical strategy role-playing game (SRPG), I would have been quite upset that I had to wait over two hours before the first battle, and over five hours before getting to the world map. But they did such a great job telling this story, that I am glad I waited it out.

    This game really has two primary modes, along with an overworld map, which is accessible after the second chapter or so.  First, and primarily, is the cut scenes.  These are primarily rendered in engine, with text boxes and character portraits.  The portraits change based on the person's expression, and they are constantly swapped out as conversations continue.  The chibi-style 3D rendered sprites also move a bit to further enhance the storytelling.  Playing this game is, in many ways, like watching an interactive anime, or reading an interactive book (hence Visual Novel).  It does follow many anime tropes, like the tsundere (hot-headed but soft hearted female, for those not up on anime lingo) heroine, the kawaii (extremely cute) girl, and the very attractive cross dresser.  Incidentally, it also in no way underplays a woman's power as a warrior – they more than hold their own in a fight, both in your party, and during storyline sequences.  Also, like many anime, there are at least a couple women who show off far too much skin.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Incredibly engaging storyline; very likeable characters; long, engrossing 80+ hour adventure; excellent music and (Japanese) voice overs; fantastic translation; loosely based on real history
    Weak Points: Very long cut scenes if you aren't prepared for it; all voice acting is in Japanese except for the Bonus Scenario, which has none
    Moral Warnings: Violence and blood, including a few rather dramatic scenes; occasional PG-13 language, like h*ll, b*stard, b*tch, sh*t, d*mn; some alcohol and tobacco use, especially one character in particular; Some female characters regularly show significant skin, with one in particular showing a lot of cleavage, with another showing midriffs throughout; heavy themes of polytheism, some pantheism, some atheism, and the heroes are fighting against an established religion that seems awfully similar to Catholicism; Lucifer is considered a good guy; contains a few hexagrams

    The cast of characters is quite extensive, and the game does a fabulous job endearing the player to almost all of them.  There is Hamil, who is a fantastic leader.  He shows his strengths, weaknesses, and his human side.  They did a great job making him a complex character you grow to love.  His goddess, Tarte, is a lovable tsundere who always encourages people to worship her, while bringing out the best in Hamil.  Dion is a goofball, whose sole goal in life is to figure out how to become popular with the ladies.  Monomachus and Enneads are formers servants of Hamil's father, Hasdrubal, and are leaders of the Barca Faction, the secret organization working against the empire whose sole purpose is to revive the glory days of Hispania and the Barca family.  There are many more characters I could introduce you to – and there are many – but suffice it to say, other than a few late-comers like Golyat, each character is fleshed out in a way that you quickly come to love all of them.

    The other aspect of the game is the SRPG combat.  Each character has a different class, weapon type, and strengths and weaknesses.  Warriors have attacks and techniques, magic users have attacks and spells, and some unit types have both techniques and spells.  Magic and techniques cost magic points, and some skills also cost chain stocks.  Chain stocks are built up during battle, and can be used in a few ways.  The most common way is to press a button while attacking, which allows you to get a second attack in.  Later in the game, as you get more chain stocks, you can actually do this repeatedly, and get in 2-5 attacks in at once. However, skills that require chain stocks to cast are usually a much more effective way to use them because they are often very powerful, or do damage to an area.

    The battle area is arranged in a grid, with various obstacles in the way.  A few characters can float, and actually fly over some obstacles, but most cannot.  Every attack has a range, and an area of effect.  Most melee warriors, for instance, have at least one technique that strikes more than one range, which can be great for avoiding counterattacks.  There are also leadership skills, as well as skills that characters learn through leveling up, or by reading skill books, which uses them up.  Books can be found, purchased, or crafted.  A few skills, like double action or forbid counters, can be game changing.  Forbid counters does what it sounds like, but double action allows you to attack twice if you don't move first. This can really make a huge difference if you saved up the necessary MP or CS to unleash two incredibly powerful attacks.

    A couple of characters, namely Hamil and Tarte, can unleash alternate forms, which are very powerful.  You see, Hamil was cursed by Melqart's sword, and has a demon living inside of him as a result.  He made a pact with this demon, where he promised him the blood of his enemies, and in exchange, he will allow Hamil to summon him at will.  Tarte is a goddess, so she can channel her 'older sister' Tanit, and when summoned, is also considerably more powerful.  These abilities are temporary, and can only be summoned when a meter at the bottom is filled up, based on various factors like how many attacks, deaths, and other things have happened in the battle so far.  After summoning their alter egos, they only have two turns to enjoy their altered state, and then they have one turn of cooldown where they are very weak and vulnerable.  But, with proper planning, it can completely turn the tide of battle.  Melqart, in particular, can sometimes wipe out a boss by himself, and with proper planning, double action and a technique called Eternal Return can send many bosses to, well, their eternal return.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    Bonus Points: +3 for showing great examples of friendship and self sacrifice

    There is also a map view, where you can do any necessary training or grinding if you wish, along with a base where you can purchase new equipment, items, or craft upgrades to your existing equipment.  The 'game' side is a very solid strategy RPG, and also a very good challenge.  The game allows you to rewind to the beginning of any turn, in case things don't go your way.  Any turn taken the exact same way, will have the same results, but switching the order of things can sometimes change the results, and of course doing different things can as well.  It's very interesting, and fun for those of us who try to do things perfectly.  But get too perfect and you will pull your hair out – aiming for S ranks, which requires getting all objectives, bonus objectives, using few items, and having no overleveled characters – that is a challenge, and I ended up giving up on that goal if I ever wanted to complete this game in a reasonable timeframe.

    And even still, this game took me well over eighty hours to complete.  I started the Bonus Scenario, but decided that I simply couldn't afford another ten plus hours at this time – not that I didn't want to.  It is fun, but I got the most out of the storyline, and the battles, while entertaining, are very challenging and can become frustrating.  On top of all of that, there is a New Game+ mode, so you can carry over all of the equipment you earned on the first playthrough if you want to do it again.  You can certainly get your money's worth here.

    And the quality of the experience is fairly good.  The graphics are nothing special, though they do the job well enough.  The music, sound effects, and voices are fantastic.  No two ways about it – I had my kids (who I couldn't let watch me play too often... more on that soon) asking me for the game music CDs from this game.  It is that good; I agree with them – I want the music too!

    Given that the graphics are anime-like, and the battles are fantasy violence, it may not be immediately obvious why this game would not be safe for kids or teenagers.  But the more you play, the more obvious it becomes that this game deals with a lot of mature topics, and really requires discernment to handle properly.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

    First of all, there are the surface issues.  Blood, while not a common occurrence, when it does appear, is rather intense.  It is not gory, but one character offers their bloody arm to another to try to appease Melqart's bloodlust (and it is not figurative – he really does want to drink blood.)  Another time, there is a rather dramatic and emotional death that involves lots of blood everywhere.  Alcohol and tobacco is used by a few characters.  There are PG-13 curse words used, like h*ll, b*stard, b*tch, sh*t, and d*mn.  There are also a few hexagrams found, though no pentagrams thankfully.  One lady Izebel has massive cleavage and very short skirts, while another, the goddess Tarte, has bare midriff syndrome – and she's a melee tank.  I guess being a goddess must give her skin of steel.

    Occasionally, the characters will find themselves in a compromising or 'humorous' situation.  One time, they were traveling through a tropical forest, and several suggested that they strip a bit to handle the weather better.  As it happened, your character (Hamil) accidently stumbled onto Kleito (a dragon goddess) changing. Now, she has a trickster side to her, so she orders him, as a goddess, to put himself into a compromising situation.  Of course, Tarte, who at this point won't admit that she likes Hamil but does, catches him, and 'hilarity ensues'.

    While this is the only situation of this nature exactly, there are several other scenes with characters in odd situations meant to garner a laugh.  Kleito one time seemed like she was making a 'move' on Charis – a twelve year old girl.  I don't want to make it out like Kleito is some crazy evil sex fiend – she is not, and 90% of the time she is respectful, patient, and generally a good character, but once in a while they show a different side to her, where she tries to stir the pot a bit in strange ways.

    And of course, there is the case of Daphnis.  This is a rather strange case, where Elissa, a noble's daughter, is given at a young age by her father a young boy as a bodyguard who he dressed in girl clothes so that they could stay together all the time.  As Elissa and Daphinis go to join Hamil on his quest, they find themselves in a perilous situation, where Elissa expressed her love to Daphnis, and he seems to reciprocate.  But it soon seems like their definitions of love may be different, as Daphnis soon makes strange statements talking about 'my type', and always in reference to other guys...  This is one of several running gags with him, especially with Elissa's reaction to follow.  Some of the girls find him more feminine than they are.  One time he actually wears men's clothes, and they say 'hey no crossdressing' -  and he reminds them that he is actually a man...  Oh and it was an awkward moment when one of my kids walked in and asked 'what is a boy in drag?' since that is his class type name.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

    And then there is the brunt of many jokes, Dion.  He is actually a likeable character, despite being a pretty big coward for much of the game, though he does grow and develop into someone at least a little bit more mature.  He always seeks out the ladies, and keeps striking out.  More than once, he doubts that Daphnis could really actually be a man and wants to find out... he says that if he's that cute, maybe he should try dating him anyway?  Is it really that important that 'his first' be a girl?  He does eventually snap out of it.  While far from common, there is enough sexual humor that this is definitely not an experience for a younger audience.  On the plus side, outside of a picture if a lady's bare back, a bit of 'side cleavage' in one shot, and the aforementioned Izebel cleavage and really short skirts, nothing else is really shown.

    And that really only scratches the surface.  What really sets this game apart is the story, and much of it would really give pause to many used to western monotheistic ideas.  The main character came from a family of the Canaanites, in a long line of Ba'al worshipers.  For anyone who knows their Biblical history, that alone should give you pause.  It's not quite as bad as it sounds in some ways, but in others perhaps worse.

    The principle enemy is the Divine Empire, whose trappings seem suspiciously similar to the Catholic Church in many ways.  This Empire talks often about sin, judgment, heaven and hell.  There is also talk of a Divine Scriptures, and a leader called a Pontiff.  The Divine Order worships a God (yes, the game uses a capital G for him, but not for other gods/goddesses) named Watos.

    *** Massive Spoiler Alert ***

    This Watos, whose existence is questioned at certain points in the game by the very founder of the Divine Order himself, was trying to kill humanity, and they were saved by an angel called Arawn, whose other name is Lucifer.  So Lucifer is pitted as a good guy, and he rebelled against the other angels, trying to protect humanity from destruction by Watos.  The Ba'al tribe was a group of an older race called the Elves, and that tribe worshiped Watos very faithfully.  After they decided to help the rebellion to save themselves and the humans, they taught the very young human race basic life skills and the young humans worshiped them as gods.  They initially resisted, but Lucifer encouraged them to accept it.  Like the Elves, the Dragons were also an ancient race, also called gods by the humans.  The end climaxes with you trying to defeat the very machine Watos himself sent to destroy the human race.

    *** End Massive Spoilers ***

    The gods of Ba'al are shown as the good guys, with free will and tolerance as prime traits, while the Divine Empire and its Supreme God is shown as intolerant, discouraging independent thought and education, and generally really bad guys.  

    On the flipside, Hamil bucks the trend of his ancenstors, and decides to avoid the pure warlord path, and tries very hard to save the lives of innocent people as much as possible, even at the cost of great personal hardship.  He is a great example of self sacrifice, and inspires the very best in others.  Hamil is a wonderful leader indeed.

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord ended up being absolutely nothing like what I expected going in.  We have a very richly detailed and interesting world, with lovable characters, buttressed by a solid SRPG gaming experience, filled with mature and difficult philosophical and theological questions that are not for anyone who is not theologically grounded.  This game could help the reader/player ask questions that could lead them to take an atheistic or contrarian perspective for the easily influenced or unstable follower.  For those willing to tolerate the downsides mentioned above, and in my opinion an adult player only, there is a deeply satisfying storyline contained herein that can inspire very deep thoughts – it's not everyday that we get to put on the hat of the other side of the polytheist/monotheist divide and see things from a little bit different point of view.  And on top of that, I learned something about history.  This game was extremely memorable for me, and I won't forget it for quite a while.  But you better set aside a minimum of about two hours per play session, because it's very difficult to play for much less than that in one sitting.

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Bell Chimes for Gold
    Developed by: Otuson Club
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: April 6, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Dating simulation
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

    The Bell Chimes for Gold had a rough start with an unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign. The Japanese developers were not deterred and moved onto a Patreon format to produce an English Translation and an adult version of the game. We’re reviewing the (clean) Steam version which is available thanks to Sekai Project.

    Although The Bell Chimes for Gold seemed to target PC users, the oblong resolution and controls made me assume that this game was a mobile port. Other than the mature option, I could not find any other versions available. Despite the unusual resolution, this game is still cute and reminds me of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale.

    The Bell Chimes for Gold begins with Maria’s mentor and prospective husband, Richard, confessing that he impregnated her friend Jessica. As a result he will marry her and put an end to the student/teacher relationship he has with Maria. The parting words of his really ruffle Maria’s feathers and she vows to make a lot of money to buy herself a husband that will put up with her “plain Jane” appearance.

    The Bell Chimes for Gold
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting premise and fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Weird resolutions that would make this game ideal for mobile devices; can be completed in a couple of hours; repetitive dialogue; uninteresting bachelors
    Moral Warnings: Sexual references and an 18+ version is available outside of Steam;  swearing, drinking and gambling references; magic/necromancy

    Richard did acknowledge Maria’s great skills as an herbalist and by creating and selling potions, she’ll earn enough money to win over one of the five eligible bachelors. The problem is that the prospective marriage candidates are all flawed in one way or another. The best looking of the bunch (and Steam reviewer favorite) is William, the naive elf who everyone takes advantage of. Other bachelors have drinking, gambling, selfishness, or obsession issues.

    In order to snag a husband, Maria must pay down their debts that increase from a few thousand gold to over one hundred thousand. As daunting as that sounds, it doesn’t take long to accumulate the cash and you can win over the bachelor of your choice within a couple of hours.
    At her house, Maria can check her stats to see how much energy and stamina she has. Energy is required for making potions and stamina is needed to venture forth into a dungeon with a hired bachelor bodyguard at her side. If either of those attributes are lacking, a potion can be used by Maria or a bodyguard to replenish them. Status potions can remove negative status effects like sleep and poison. Love and aphrodisiac potions are good for selling. Every new day reveals a potion that will sell for more or less than normal. It’s good to sell on days where a potion is worth three times its typical price. Try to keep healing, energy, and stamina potions on hand for dungeon excursions.

    In town, Maria can go into the alley to talk to a merchant that can buff up her bodyguard for a price. If you visit different parts of the town at different times of the day you’ll have a chance to meet everyone and see the same conversations looping every day. There’s not a lot of dialogue, but the gameplay is still entertaining.

    At the tavern, Maria can buy cheap liquor needed to make some potions. The rest of the ingredients will have to be obtained in dungeons. With the help of a bodyguard, Maria can venture out and gather directly, or she can pay to have the items gathered and delivered at her house the following day. Doing both is possible and that’s what I typically did.

    The Bell Chimes for Gold
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The dungeon exploration is pretty simplistic. As long as the bodyguard has enough stamina/steps they can move forward. Almost every step triggers an event. There may be an ingredient that needs to be collected, or an enemy that needs to be defeated. Energy can be spent to disable random traps and open up treasure chests. Sometimes an option to skip ahead ten steps is offered as long as you have the ten energy points required. After ninety-nine steps are taken, a boss battle begins.

    If the bodyguard runs out of stamina or health, the dungeon ends and the characters head back to town. There doesn’t seem to be any penalty for depleting a bodyguard’s stamina or health fully. After a dungeon run is finished, the stats are shown including the amount and monetary value of the ingredients collected along with the bounty for each monster killed. Maria can choose how much to pay her bodyguard. She can be stingy, fair, or leave a reasonable to generous tip. The tip amount doesn’t seem to impact the bachelor/bodyguard’s feelings as much as paying down their debts. However, the more you use a bodyguard, the stronger they will get. It’s also worth noting that each bodyguard has an affinity or special ability that usually gives them an advantage in specific dungeons.

    While romancing/paying William’s debts, I did encounter some moral issues worth noting. There is some language (d*mn, *sshole) and blaspheming. Kissing is shown and the two love birds seem to agree to be life partners as they decide to move in together. No word or mention of an official wedding ceremony. I'm not sure how the adult version differs, but ignorance is bliss.

    In the end, The Bell Chimes for Gold is a quirky, but cute game. If you like simple dungeon crawlers and dating simulations, this game may scratch that itch. There are no Steam achievements or trading cards available as of this review. The $9.99 price is reasonable if you plan on multiple playthroughs or partners. After the credits roll, you can keep your current guy and continue making money if you desire to do so.

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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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