enfrdeitptrues

Visual Novel

  • Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Doki Doki Literature Club! 
    Developed by: Team Salvato
    Published by: Team Salvato
    Release date: September 22, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Dating Sim
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free

    As a visual novel/dating sim, this game is most unique in the areas most prone to being spoiled. I will spoil no plot, but the less you read about it, the more this game will be able to have its intended effect. This is a short and carefully-crafted narrative unlike any other. It's available for free through Steam and the developer's website, though it's not for kids. If that's enough for you, play it now. If not, read on.

    "Doki doki" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a heartbeat, such as a middle school boy might feel when confronted with a cute girl or a bloody knife. Depending on your inclinations, Doki Doki Literature Club! (DDLC) will earn every part of its title, including the exclamation point. The player-named protagonist is invited to join the high school Literature Club by his next-door neighbor female friend whom he has known since childhood. That day he goes to the club and meets the three other club members. If you guessed that they are also female, then you’ve probably played a dating sim before. If you further adduced that the four girls range from shy yet deep to hyperactive yet insecure, all the better. Your expectations will let you ignore the growing chill in your spine just a little bit longer.

    The player is inexplicably attractive to each of the girls, but naturally, you have the choice of who you want to get close to. This is primarily done by composing poetry that you think your personal best girl will enjoy. In gameplay terms, you pick words from lists like “cloud, slipper, corpse, cake, kiss,” and the game lets you know which girl will like that word the most. It's a simple minigame to determine which girl you focus on. The writing, not the gameplay, is the star of the show--except insofar as the game plays you.

    Doki Doki Literature Club!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Strong writing; effective music;  avoids sexual imagery typical of dating sims; foreshadowing adds appreciation to replays
    Weak Points: Not a typical dating sim, and knowing that weakens the effect already
    Moral Warnings: F***, s***, d***, b****, God's name in vain, and more; graphic blood, death, and self-harm; a reference to masturbation in dialogue; themes of depression and abuse

     

    Do you tend to forget that choices have consequences? DDLC will remind you. Every day, you swap poems with each of the other club members and receive feedback. Each girl has a distinctive style of writing, and the poems they produce are well-written and insightful in their own right. Whichever girl most enjoys your poem will start to spend more time with you, typically in scenes alone with her. Said scenes are light and playful for a while, and there is no sexual activity or even kissing. There is, however, a reference to masturbation in dialogue.

    DDLC comes with standard visual novel quality-of-life features like variable text speed, a save/load system, and the ability to skip over previously-seen dialogue. You can skip almost any dialogue by changing a setting, making experimentation with different choices much easier. The game is text-only aside from certain noises I'd rather forget and a very catchy credits song. Actually, all the music that isn’t distorted and dissonant is quite catchy. By the way, remember that DDLC is not over until the credits roll.

    Doki Doki Literature Club!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 58%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Graphical design is likewise exceptional. The environments tell more stories than you will understand on your first time through the game. The designs of the girls are full of detail and expression. The very paper and handwriting through which the poetry is conveyed give almost as much insight into the characters as their faces do. The eventual heavy swearing adds additional flavor.

    The messages of DDLC are more bright than one might expect from a dating sim. Again, there are no sex scenes or explicit sexual imagery. Instead, DDLC tells a story of dealing with loneliness, rejection, and depression. A thoughtful handling of these topics demands sad moments, small rays of light, and, in retrospect, several subtle indications of the issues experienced by the girls. A thoughtful handling does not demand detailed and colorful drawings of violence, death, and self-harm, so consider those a bonus.

    I recognize that I have not been entirely upfront with you in this review. To be fair, DDLC was not entirely upfront with me. If you have been at all intrigued as to how, then play the game. It is a dating sim with multiple endings. It teaches lessons about friendship, depression, and helplessness. It is best experienced late at night, alone, and can be finished in about four hours. Experiences of its kind will probably become old hat soon, but today, you still have a chance to dig into something unique in this game. You’ll be the freshest victim DDLC has ever played.

  • Fatal Twelve (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Fatal Twelve
    Developed by: aiueoKompany
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: March 30, 2018
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you, Sekai Project, for sending us a review code!

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A certain number of people have been gathered up to compete in a knockout killing competition taking place over several weeks. Each of the characters can be immediately (and accurately) shoehorned into a well-defined archetype. The game proceeds as presented, but twists and reveals lead to the inevitable conclusion that the rules given are not as clear-cut as it was thought. Do [main characters] have what it takes to win, and can they live with their consciences?

    Were this an actual conversation, most of you could have stopped me at “knockout.” Did you think of Battle Royale? The Hunger Games? Danganronpa? Tomodachi Game? PUBG/Fortnite? In any case, add “Fatal Twelve” to the list of killing competitions in anime and the media at large. But before writing it off, consider: an overused premise must have qualities which commend that premise to so many writers. Killing games provide a spectrum of characters on a pedestal, free to display the best and worst of humanity. Consequently, a killing game lives or--if I may say so--dies on the strength of its character interaction and storytelling finesse more than on the specifics of the competition itself. Fatal Twelve knows what it’s doing as a visual novel and a story, and it builds a premise which inherently requires deep character interaction. This visual novel earns a place next to its many genre siblings. If some of its component tropes have been done better elsewhere, the tropes serve Fatal Twelve admirably regardless.

    Shishimai Rinka was a high school girl who ran her grandma’s coffee shop in her free time. On the train one day, she saw a metallic glint in a fellow passenger’s backpack. It almost looked like a--Ah, so it was. Fatal Twelve’s cold opening ends in an effective fiery explosion which ends Rinka’s life and begins her participation in Divine Selection. This process, overseen by self-proclaimed goddess Parca, decides who will get a chance to undo their untimely demise.

    Fatal Twelve
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Premise leans into strong character interaction; good translation in general; consistent characterization backed by effective Japanese-only voice acting; helpful controls and navigation; consistent thematic tone
    Weak Points: Formulaic elimination game setup; occasional distracting translation errors; lazy sound effects; romance could be seen as heavy-handed
    Moral Warnings: Several kinds of death described and depicted, including suicide; intentional killing and “elimination” by multiple characters, including the main character; some revealing clothing; PG-13 swearing throughout, including s**t and the Lord’s name in vain; casual and pervasive homosexuality; lewd humor; alcohol consumption and drunkenness; goddesses and supernatural beings throughout; subjective morality and denial of a Supreme Being suggested

    Rinka’s death coincided with those of eleven others across the globe. For twelve weeks, each of their deaths is undone, and the participants can live out their lives as they wish. However, only one will continue living after the twelve weeks. Every Sunday, the participants can encourage long-term survival by “electing” others for “elimination.” “Elimination” means the death which had been reversed is reverted; in other words, the participant dies at the original time in the original manner. “Electing” is performed by determining and announcing three pieces of information about another player: their name, their cause of death, and their life’s regret. In short: to eliminate competitors and survive past twelve weeks, find the names, causes of death, and regrets.

    It is a shame that Fatal Twelve’s strong opening must be followed by an info dump even harsher than the one I just gave. Divine Selection has specific rules about the order of elections, multiple overlapping elections, what constitutes enough information to eliminate, and more. The details are important to the plot, as are the apparent holes in the rules. For example, competitors are referred to by numeral to hide their identities and define the order of elections. The main character Rinka is Numeral I and, therefore, must announce her election decisions without knowing what other competitors plan to do. Most of the participants are in Japan, making them more vulnerable than the others; an in-universe reason is provided by the end of the game. As game master Parka acknowledges, “I do not recall saying anything about fairness.” This is more than a lampshade hung on a convoluted premise; there’s a reason for nearly every aspect of Divine Selection, and Fatal Twelve parses out its secrets wisely. It’s not critical to follow everything at first, and the game makes sure you understand specifics when they become relevant.

    Being a high school student, Rinka can do little to actively research her opponents. Furthermore, it’s a constant struggle to decide if she wants to win. After all, two of the participants are younger than she is. One of the participants is a school friend with a major crush on her. Election might not be active murder, but it does result in another’s death. Is that murder all the same? Rinka spends a large portion of the game considering this question with her friends. This group of four had been driven together by their shared ostracization at their competitive school whether for looks, talents, or simple association with the others. The friends are divided along expected lines: generically kind; popular yet isolated; quiet and smart; and spunky. Each character shows more depth as the story goes on, and each is shown to be true to core character traits in the end. A love triangle loaded with excitement, awkwardness, and tension rocks the group in convincing ways, especially because two of those involved are in Divine Selection. The romance plot comes off a bit strong at times (teenagers can be so dramatic), but it is well-written and believable within the context of the story. This group of friends provided a strong backbone to the visual novel.

    Rather than deal with Rinka’s limited perspective, Fatal Twelve freely hops to another perspective character for interactions that would otherwise be hidden. At first I was suspicious, and sometimes Fatal Twelve sloppily resorts to an omniscient narrator who says things like, “He was acting selfishly out of his wish to survive. That desire, at least, was not wrong.” When confined to a character’s inner monologue, the perspective shift was appreciated as it gave me more time with the rest of the participants. On the surface, they are only so many conniving slimeballs, adrenaline junkies, and cowards. But an important theme of Fatal Twelve is each person’s unique life and perspective, so the player will learn about why these disparate people might be the way they are. The need to discover regrets often fuels these interactions.The interpersonal nature of Divine Selection is what makes this killing game premise special. The theme of individual personalities lends itself to subjective ethics and relativity; indeed, Fatal Twelve addresses those issues head-on with a very clear stance. There are few monsters; there are many desperate souls. I found the discussion interesting, but its conclusion earns a spot in the coming paragraphs on moral issues.

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 42%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Whatever one’s stance on the litany of potential ethical concerns, Fatal Twelve presents itself well. The graphics are good rather than exceptional. It’s a visual novel, so come for the story and forget about gameplay. There are a few dialog choices which control the multiple endings. Most of the ending-critical choices are packed after the half-way mark. Despite getting all the endings, I could not tell you with certainty which choices are innocuous and which steer you to a premature bad ending. I can tell you, though, that the endings tended to feel like a natural result of the choices made. Previously-seen dialog can be skipped. This, combined with saving, means it is easy to see all Fatal Twelve has to offer. An epilogue of sorts is hidden in plain sight after the True Ending; I leave its discovery as an exercise to the reader.

    Fatal Twelve is localized into English from Japanese. The Japanese-only voice acting is well done across the board. Music is good; alas, effects are provided by weak stock sound bites. The translation is better. It hides honorifics from English speakers, so if not reading “sempai” bothers you, pay attention to the voice acting. Avoiding honorifics is indicative of a translation focused on localization. In one sense, this is great. Idioms are understandable, and grammar irregularities are far between (though a few stand out in the opening song). Those who are used to visual novels or anime will feel right at home. And yet, Fatal Twelve is set in Japan without effort made to acclimatize the uninitiated to the cultural festival, geography, Tanabata, seniority, and other Japanese norms. It is dissonant to set such an accommodating translation next to thoroughly-foreign and unexplained content. While I expect those new to Japanese media to get along alright, Fatal Twelve might give such people a slight fish-out-of-water experience.

    Fatal Twelve could also shock with its one female character who walks everywhere in, more or less, her underwear. Dialog dips into lewd propositions from male adults to teenage girls at times, though this behavior is never condoned. Hand-holding is as “sexual” as the action gets. There is a good deal of combat between characters, along with guns, knives, and explosions. Characters regularly consume alcohol, sometimes to the point of drunkenness. One character cuts and acts suicidal; another is a child soldier (like I said: archetypes). Most characters swear at a PG-13 level and take the Lord’s name in vain. Some murder takes place. Of course, characters “eliminate” each other. While the game acknowledges the inherent “evil” of this action, it contends that the human drive to survive explains and, maybe, condones this behavior. Divine Selection takes place in an abstract moral realm outside of death, so the ethics are creatively muddled. Philosophically, the game promotes relativism. It is stated and shown repeatedly that perception shapes reality. Despite the atheistic bent of a few characters, Divine Selection is run by a so-called goddess, and a “something” more powerful and essential to the universe is alluded to at times.

    One thing this game is unambiguous on is homosexuality. Every romance in Fatal Twelve is lesbian, including the adolescent love triangle. One character is openly bisexual and confesses her romantic love for a woman. A different confession and player-determined response is tied to the final resolution of the plot. Maybe this comes off as heavy-handed homosexual promotion. If anything, I’d say Fatal Twelve is notable for how mundanely it treats homosexual relations. Sexual orientation is never a defining characteristic. A few characters state that they don’t find lesbianism unusual. I think the writers truly believe that, even if the need to state it indicates that the writers know not everyone believes it. The romances are written and integrated into the plot with as much care as any heterosexual relationship might have been. This stance is not unique to Fatal Twelve, but you should be aware of it nonetheless.

    Fatal Twelve derives ideas from a variety of sources, which is arguably the best way to be inspired by previous works. Visual novel fans who are bothered by a lack of originality might balk at the premise. The game nevertheless distinguishes itself among elimination game stories. It gave me over 16 hours of engaging story couched in an excellent visual novel interface. Its ethical and philosophical questions appealed to me personally. The questions are tied to characters from many backgrounds who feel like humans because, like me, they all want to live.

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

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * minor spoilers below *

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

    * end minor spoilers *

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Harvest December (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Harvest December
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Hoshizora no Memoria - Wish upon a Shooting Star (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Hoshizora no Memoria - Wish upon a Shooting Star
    Developed by: Favorite
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: December 18, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

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

    Hoshizora no Memoria - Wish upon a Shooting Star has an interesting story about a teenager named Kogasaka You who moves back to his childhood home after the sudden death of his mother. Now that he’s back in town, he sets off to reunite with his childhood girlfriend whom he kissed and promised to marry as a young boy. All he knows about this girl is her first name, but he quickly forgets it after running into a female grim reaper who reaps nightmares/memories. Ironically, this grim reaper who goes by “Mare” looks a lot like the friend he’s after, though You isn’t convinced that it’s really her.

    In school Kogasaka You quickly makes new friends who have ulterior motives to have him join their various clubs (astronomy, occult, and school council). The town of Hibarigasaki is known for its beautiful starry sky that You is fascinated with so joining the Astronomy Club is a given no matter what storyline/route he takes. One of the story arcs has him juggling between the Astronomy Club and the Student Council.

    There are only a handful of choices to make in this game and depending on the ones you make, you’ll wind up dating one of the seven girls and the first choice doesn’t appear until you’re a couple hours into the game. In order to date Mare, you’ll need to complete all of the other story sequences first. While I really wanted to see Mare’s route, the sexual content in this game has made me reconsider pursuing that option since it requires starting an incestuous relationship with You’s younger and barely adolescent sister beforehand.

    Hoshizora no Memoria - Wish upon a Shooting Star
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good story and character development; multiple endings/routes/romances
    Weak Points: Experienced several game crashes; no Steam integration/hours tracked; typos
    Moral Warnings: Every curse word and blaspheme is used; the main character has pre-marital sex with his girlfriends and the option is there for him to have an incestuous relationship with his barely adolescent half-sister; many references to deities and tarot cards; frontal nudity and an 18+ DLC patch is available for purchase; blood and violence

    Not that I’m excusing the adultery/premarital sex with the different females in the other routes, but Biblically pursuing a sexual relationship with a half-sister is wrong on two counts (Exodus 20:14 and Leviticus 18:8-10). To make matters worse, the sister is only a freshman in high school and barely developed as the naked chest artwork reveals. Other than various breast shots, there are plenty of bikinis and underwear shots, leaving little left to the imagination when it comes to female anatomy. 18+ DLC is available from the developers for an additional fee. I’ve seen enough with the vanilla Steam version though.

    It’s a shame really since the characters are really well developed (story wise), especially with some of the side stories of the different females You can date (and quickly consummate in a matter of days). Chinami, his sister, is extremely happy, loud, and annoying as most younger siblings are. The sibling roughhousing is rather humorous with the noogies, neck chops, forehead flicks, and eye pokes she gets in the beginning of the game. I liked the maid café girl that I wound up dating during my first play through. Not only is she cute, but she’s got a good personality and back story. I didn’t care too much for the next door neighbor girl who kept telling me to hurry up and die every other time I talked to her. There is a reason for her attitude and I found her story was engaging. There are also attractive twin sisters who are shrine maidens. They have an interesting past and one of the twins is quite feisty while the other seems to be attracted to her sister sexually, or at least she seems to fondle and tease her inappropriately often.

    Other than the fan service moments, I did enjoy the artwork. I like how expressive the characters are and many of them are associated with animals. Some of the love interests are described as a dog, hamster, and a horse. Asuho the waitress pouts and gets excited like a dog and she is sometimes drawn with puppy ears and a wagging tail. The starry sky the students are drawn to looks beautiful and I would love to see that many stars in the sky by me, but there’s too much light pollution for that to ever happen.

    Hoshizora no Memoria - Wish upon a Shooting Star
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 22%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4.5/10

    The Japanese voice acting is well done and I appreciate the subtitles since I can barely understand it. Sometimes the characters do curse in English though. Every cuss word and blaspheme imaginable is used in this game. There’s a ton of text in this game and apparently a few typos did slip through the quality testing. The background music and sound effects are well done though.

    Other moral issues to note are the use of Tarot cards by one of the girls and there are references to various deities. There is a lot of silly sibling violence, but there are some scenes with blood and death. While the sex acts are not shown, the fact that they happen are pretty clear and there are some suggestive and barely clothed scenes shown.

    Though the game ran fine for me most of the time, I did experience several crashes that required switching to and from windowed mode to get the game running again. Steam integration doesn’t appear to be functioning as of this review. I wish I knew how much time I put into this game as I know I put in way more than the two minutes Steam shows for me.

    Despite the many moral issues, I did enjoy the first half of the game which can be fast forwarded for future playthroughs to save time. The fact that they cannot be skipped outright is annoying, but I do like how it will slow down and make you read scenes you have not seen before. If you don’t mind excessive foul language, blaspheming and sexual content, there is some good storytelling. Sadly, the bad outweighs the good in this title for me though.

  • How to Raise a Wolf Girl (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    How to Raise a Wolf Girl
    Developed By: Sweet&Tea
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Released: October 11, 2019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    ESRB Rating: None specified (Developers Notes: Nudity but nothing explicit shown (no nipples/genitals). Mildly sexual dialog and references to sexual content.)
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $19.99

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

    One of the foremost classic works of Japanese literature is "The Tale of Genji." It pioneered many firsts in the world of literature, including the concept of an older man raising a girl in a platonic, paternal way, and when she comes of legal age, the relationship then takes a romantic connotation as he takes the now-grown woman as his wife. How to Raise a Wolf Girl cribs more than a few notes from this work in its tale of a similar situation, only with the twist the girl has wolf ears.

    The story is that a wolf girl named Iroha once lived among humans, but then spent some time in another world with her father, but her father has her return to the world of people because he wants her to not forget how to live in the world of men.

    This is when she meets the protagonist Shuuji, and a guy who already has a potential human girlfriend waiting in the wings now finds himself taking care of Iroha. He takes her under his wing and helps her relearn how to live as a human being, including relearning the skill of speaking with others as well shedding some of her "feral" habits.

    How to Raise a Wolf Girl
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent piano-based soundtrack and animations
    Weak Points: Unstable engine; various graphical glitches; bad UI color scheme making reading text difficult
    Moral Warnings: Considerable amounts of sexual innuendo; the possibility to defy parental figures; sex outside of marriage; frequent nudity (albeit mostly non-explicit in the censored version); the potential for sexual relations with someone of questionable mental age whom you are supposed to be something of a parental/guardian figure for; frequent reference to Japanese animist traditions and myth; potential harem route

    The story, in general, is a mix of romantic comedy and has elements of Japanese myth (cribbing especially from Japan's animist traditions). The romantic comedy aspect concerns how Iroha and several other characters are potential romantic paramours with Shuuji. The mythological aspects come from Iroha's not entirely human heritage and how Shuuji and the other members of the cast help her re-adapt to the society of Humanity once more. There is also the possibility of becoming romantically involved with Iroha, with Shuuji becoming more than just her inadvertent guardian. While the version of the game reviewed is the censored version, this still carries the implications Shuuji winds up in frank sexual activity with Iroha (and/or Kana if you go that route) if he goes down a certain set of choices chosen by the player.

    Graphically, this is a well-drawn, richly animated visual novel with expressive faces including optional eye blinking. The colors are vibrant and the airy anime aesthetic makes this VN easy on the eyes. There are some graphical glitches if certain game settings are changed and the game does not adapt well to switching to different tasks, which can result in some minor graphical errors at times. The text box has an unfortunately bright yellow backdrop and hard to see text that is white-colored, even with text shadows added.

    Sound is the typical Japanese voice acting, some of which is rather shrill and high pitched but otherwise not too unpleasant. Music has a lot of piano styled pieces that sound very pleasant, and I would recommend listening to them if you want some relaxing music while you play.

    Controls are typically point-and-click like most visual novels and are thankfully quite responsive. Stability of the game, however, is not as good, as on top of the graphical glitches I mentioned, which are not infrequent, I did get some occasional crashes due to game engine issues that cropped up for no apparent reason at the time, so frequent progress saving is a good idea.

    Morally, this game is definitely on some shaky grounds as well.

    Violence is thankfully absent, and language, if any, remains rather mild in the profanity department, with only occasional usage of some strong language. As for sexual comments and innuendo, that is quite frequent, unfortunately, and they are especially prevalent from the human female option, who is not very subtle about wanting to be sexually forward with you.

    How to Raise a Wolf Girl
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 58%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4/10

    As for sexual content, there is a fair amount of partial nudity even in the censored version, especially because of the titular wolf-girl (who is largely human but with a wolf tail and ears), who has to be taught for a fair majority of the plot not to run around naked, which due in part to her stunted social knowledge and partially to her animalistic nature. Most scenes are portrayed in a way to show her innocence early on, but even in the censored version (should you try romancing her later), these scenes take on an increasingly sexualized tone, and while the censored version stops well short of the explicit frontal nudity of the adult version, this is still a game not suitable for non-adults. The other romance option has some scenes also played for obvious titillation. Further, both romance paths involve strongly implied sex outside of marriage, frank sexual overtures, the possibility of threesomes, defiance of parental figures to engage in licentious sex they made clear in advance they would not consent to allow, marriage or otherwise, and in short none of the sexual content even in the censored version (which omits explicit sex scenes) is remotely morally appropriate.

    This game also draws a lot from Japanese animist tradition, with the title character being based on Japanese myth, with all the occult, supernatural, and religious implications that would imply. Culturally and ethically speaking, this game has a lot of red flags as well.

    As mentioned above, the story borrows themes from "The Tale of Genji", where a parental/guardian figure raises a girl who they later enter an intimate relationship with, and while the censored version cuts out most of the explicit scenes of the results, the implications are still disturbing and not at all subtle. Worse, the more mundane romance option still involves rampant promiscuity, especially encouraged outside the context of marriage and with the openly declared intent of engaging in promiscuous sex, especially in defiance of parental authority figures, which is required should you choose to go this route. There is also a possible harem route, combining aspects of the other two routes in all their moral issues.

    Overall, it's got decent production values, is a bit rough around the edges and somewhat shaky from a stability standpoint, but it is worth getting on sale if the themes are not a concern and you want a visual novel styled after classical Japanese literary style. From a moral point of view, I could not in good conscience recommend the censored version to anyone who is not an adult (and even then it's quite likely inappropriate for them), and I would not recommend even the uncensored version to adults in any case.

  • Impressions (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Impressions
    Developed by Infinite Level Games
    Published by Infinite Level Games
    Released February 4, 2020
    Available on Windows
    Genre: Indie
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: Free on Steam

    Thank you Infinite Level Games for sending us this game to review!

    Impressions is a politically-based indie game revolving around the topic of extraterrestrial life. It follows the news station Stream 47A as they comment on the various events concerning these aliens over the span of four days. At the beginning of each day, the event with the aliens is announced, and the user is greeted with an article about the event. They can click on an arrow in the bottom right corner to see a text chat with various users commenting on the event as well. There is also a button that says “Start Day” that the player clicks in order to start the stream officially.

    Before the player ever starts any of that, though, they are given a quick but dramatic introduction to the topic of the plot, and are then allowed to choose the appearance and give a name to their character. As they are put on the stream, they are in the center position between their two coworkers, Patricia and Clark. Patricia serves to have an optimistic view on the aliens, while Clark expresses a position of fear and anxiety. As the streams continue, Patricia and Clark have many arguments, which do have a tendency to escalate, and the user has the opportunity to be the tiebreaker or just remain neutral. However, the sentiments they choose affect the overall atmosphere the aliens receive from the humans, allowing the user to replay the game many times and being able to receive a different ending.

    Impressions
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Well-developed story; fitting music; expressive characters; provides information for the player to use in the discussions; realistic trains of conversation; characters represent diverse viewpoints; real-time conversation where the player can answer; can choose character gender and appearance; ending changes based on perception of the user
    Weak Points: Short (only about 25 minutes); 2D graphics sometimes lack proper perspective; cannot save
    Moral Warnings: Blatant disrespect and insults thrown at other characters for their opinion, prejudice against said opinions (which don’t deviate from the topic of extraterrestrial visits)

    The general user interface and controls are easy to handle and grasp, and any differences from normal controls are pointed out in-game. It is mentioned from the very beginning that saving is impossible, which makes sense because a single playthrough only takes about half an hour. However, this lack of length doesn’t allow as much to be explained in the overall plot. The graphics are simple as well, with a distinctive retro feel, and the music is very fitting for the atmosphere of the game’s world, and help to set the mood for each day. The characters, despite being simply rendered, are very expressive, and have the ability to show a wide variety of emotions.

    The photos on some of the articles, on the other hand, are not as well drawn, with one of the most notable examples being the picture of a building, where the building is upright and the windows are slanting diagonally in such a way that it appears they are inching closer and closer to the edge of the building wall. These small graphical things that I’ve noticed, though, are only things that I’ve picked up because of my scrutinizing artist’s eye, and are not things that particularly hinder the storytelling.

    The pacing of the conversations on the stream during the day is very close to real-time. The characters discuss the day’s events, and if the argument begins getting heated, interruptions and talking over each other are accurately rendered, not giving the user time to read what is inside each bubble. There are many opportunities to make choices, which are counted as responses to conversation, and the player only gets twenty seconds to answer when allowed to talk.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    As the characters of Patricia and Clark are developed, the story pits the two characters against each other in such a way that their arguments tend to get very disrespectful. There is clear prejudice toward the other’s opinion, and they generally tend to be closed-minded. Each character tends to try to sway the player character into ganging up on the other character in order to invalidate their viewpoint by a majority vote. However, amongst the heat and backstabbing betrayal, there isn’t cussing in any of these interactions. While the intent is clear in each sentence, the vocabulary stays civil and appropriate for all ages. There is a recap at the end of the game, allowing the player to review the decisions they made and see how it tied into the results they got in the end, which would be humanity’s opinion on extraterrestrial life.

    Morally, the game is surprisingly well suited for all ages. While there is the constantly hammering banter between the various characters, the vocabulary stays civil, and none of the interactions escalate into violence. However, there are a few mentions of various world religions (none of which are practiced in reality, out of those named), and how they might take the presence of extraterrestrial life into account in their belief system, as well as a group of extremists who are mentioned resort to violence.

    While I do wish Impressions was longer, so that I could get more details on the story, it is a very interesting game overall. It does have its shortcomings, as all games do, but they don’t noticeably harm the game in any way. It does a great job of using a slightly unconventional format to tell the story, and so I highly recommend this game to science fiction fans looking for a quick play.

    - Kittycathead

  • It's You: A Breakup Story (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    It's You: A Breakup Story
    Developed By: Brwarner Studios
    Published By: Brawrner Studios
    Released: August 1, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Linux
    Genre: Visual Novel, Simulation
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 player
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Brwarner Studios for the review code.

    Life is ever-changing, with the huge leaps in technology. It has become easier to communicate with each other than it was hundreds of years prior, but with daily tasks becoming easier, relationships seem to be harder to maintain.

    It’s You: A Breakup Story is what the title states: A narrative-driven game where the player takes the point of view of Carlee. Carlee is a nurse at a hospital who comes home after a long and exhausting shift. Her boyfriend, Josh, typically calls her at midnight to discuss their day and to relieve some stress. Again, as the title states, this is a breakup story. There is only one ending to this event, and that is to break up, but as the player, you decide how Carlee breaks up with Josh. This relationship is already on thin ice and there is no saving it. It’s a rather nice statement on life in general. Even if there is no stopping what is coming, people can make the best of a terrible situation.

    Only the screen of Carlee’s monitor lights up her room. What is displayed is typically what a person has on their desk: scattered pins, a calendar, a cup to drink from, a phone, a stapler, some notes, and her ID badge. The silence of the night takes over as she attempts to unwind after a day of hardship. Everything, except for what is displayed on the screen, looks like something that was drawn in a sketchbook. A nice, simple color pallet to complement the life of another human being. Soon after, Josh will make his call, and the two of you will start the conversation that will lead to the end.

    It's You: A Breakup Story
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The game gives the player a lot of choice in how the inevitable breakup happens; solid voice acting from the antagonist.
    Weak Points: Grammatical errors throughout; ending sequence is disproportionately low in volume.
    Moral Warnings: Strong uses of language; some blasphemy; the story is about a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive relationship. 

    As you take part in this conversation, you will notice that displayed on the screen are five tabs. One tab is a Twitter knockoff called Tweeter. The second tab displays a surprisingly addicting tic-tac-toe game called Tractor Dad: Civil War. The third and fourth tab each respectively show a messaging app and a music app called WhatsDown and Toon-ify. The last tab is of Carlee’s email, and interestingly enough is the tab this game begins on. Each tab is a glance into Carlee’s life and gives us insight on who Carlee is, and quite possibly what she wants to be.

    Choice is the definitive factor of this journey. Even though It’s You will always end the same (as in a breakup), you have the power to give Carlee a chance on how she will leave this relationship, and I applaud that concept. As Josh and Carlee make conversation, you can distract yourself with the various tabs on display. You can choose to be sympathetic to Josh, or even hostile. You can even “nod off” in mid conversation, or blatantly hang up on him. Sometimes I would even let the phone ring and just play Tractor Dad and listen to the playlist of classical, rock, electronic and bossa nova music. There can be a reason to break up with him or no reason at all. Of course, for the narrative, it is in your best interest to talk with Josh as long as possible. As the conversation deepens, you really start to see just how dysfunctional their relationship is and that it was never meant to last.

    Josh’s voice actor, Jacob Burgess, does a solid job as our antagonist. He pours in all of these nuances into his performance that make Josh feel like an actual living person. Josh is a flawed individual, which you can clearly see within the first five minutes, but only until you look deeper do you truly see just how bad Josh really is. Burgess in his performance at times really made me feel and think multiple times that Josh is such a… jerk, to put it kindly. Carlee is not a perfect person either, but she is nowhere near what Josh is. Interestingly enough, Josh is not all to blame on how this relationship turned out the way it did. Of course he is the biggest contributor to this sinking ship, but I did step into the situation expecting Josh would be a lazy straw man to support a skewed point of view that the developers hold. I was plenty surprised that was not the case.

    It's You: A Breakup Story
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    +3: The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson

    A narrative driven game is not going to have many mechanical issues, but I did notice quite a few grammatical issues. In their Resources option, the number 3 was listed twice as for pieces that influenced this game. There are also misspellings scattered throughout the work, such as “my” instead of “by” in certain parts. Some written dialogue doesn’t match the dialogue spoken either. Most importantly, the sound for the ending speeches is way lower than the general sound for the game, such as when Josh speaks or when music plays. I had to turn my speakers all the way up just to hear what the ending speeches were saying. Nothing detrimental to the work, and it will most likely be fixed in an upcoming patch, but it is still something that needed to be pointed out. 

    As It’s You: A Breakup Story is based on multiple resources, both real and fictional, it will have morality issues that come with it. The characters in their discussion will use mild and strong language, such as F-bombs, some S’s, some not-so-river dams, and instances of blasphemy. The use of colorful language does make the troubling relationship feel more organic, at least in my viewpoint. The game and the developers also make it no secret that the relationship at hand is also an emotionally abusive one—which can be uncomfortable for some to experience. I did also notice one instance of sexually suggestive dialogue.

    It’s You: A Breakup Story isn’t more so a game than it is an experience, and I'm glad I took part of it. I couldn't exactly review it like I could my reviews in the past because it cannot compare to any of them. It peers into why some relationships just don’t work out. It also looks into the ugliness of humanity and how some people will try to hurt and control others, just because they were hurt or controlled at some point themselves. Sometimes, people may think that there is no way out of a situation, or that a bad situation is a better choice than that feeling of crippling loneliness; but life is what you make it. No matter what, you have control of your own life and no one or no thing can say or tell you otherwise.

    Even though It’s You is from the perspective of a female, I think men should also give the story a shot as well. Maybe it can give insight on what went wrong in a relationship and what can be taken from it to make the next one right. Situations like these aren’t just exclusive to women after all. The entire story is relatable, whether it can be applied to a relationship, a job, a friendship or anything else. I feel this game is important to experience, especially to people who feel that the main topic is an uncomfortable one to observe, as it can teach people that there is always a way out and to seize control of your life.

    -Cinque Pierre

  • Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk (3DS)

     

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    Game Info:

    Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
    Developed By: Arc System Works Co.
    Published By: Aksys
    Released: September 28th, 2018
    Available On: Nintendo 3DS
    Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $29.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Aksys for sending us your game to review!

    Ah, the murder mystery classics - rife with fedoras, cigarettes, and private investigators with a knack for narration in the first person. It’s an entertainment medium made famous and codified in film noirs. You know what I’m talking about. The seedy heroes, the seedier ruffians, and the story’s curious ability to deliver thrills in a surprisingly demure manner. It is kind of ironic how morally grey the heroes often are in a genre that’s popularly screened in black and white. Their plots usually acknowledge man’s sinful condition yet tend to do so with a resigned sigh. For over twenty years, the Jake Hunter murder mystery series has delivered this kind of storytelling quite well to the Japanese populace. Only recently have these video games started moving into our corner of the world. Thing is, a ‘murder mystery’ by nature might lead to rabbit holes we’d regret following.

    Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk is labelled as a visual novel, so I’d naturally expect the game to spin a good story. Good thing then it came out swinging. We follow our title character to his favorite little joint, where he planned to celebrate another closed case over a few drinks. He barely downed his first few shots when a frazzled college kid bursts in. Based on his muddy shoes and leaf-littered hair, Private Detective Hunter smelled trouble. It seemed the shaken kid and his fellow college buddies were engaged in classic college tomfoolery when they happened upon a rundown, supposedly haunted building. They predictably dared each other inside. Mere moments after, they discovered a man - a dead man. One faint eerie cackle later and they were running scared. Upon hearing this, Jake retraced the kid’s steps. Indeed the mansion was creepy. The corpse laid there as reported, but soon Jake would find that one strange death wasn’t the only thing haunting such a forsaken place.

    By virtue of a murder mystery, I can’t discuss details. One must preserve all its twists’ integrity, but I can give my overall impressions. The narrative is told in first person from our hero’s point of view (surprise, surprise). Cliché you say? Well, I say the game used this narrative tradition quite well. If a story-driven experience doesn’t nab its players on the spot, the game’s main draw dies. However, I’m happy to report that my interest didn’t waver from this game. It read like a good book. In fact, it was so engrossing, I resorted to setting clock alarms for myself just so I wouldn’t lose track of time. All I could think was, ‘What’ll happen next? What’ll happen next?’ It kept me right on rolling. That is until I got close to the end. The plot stumbled a bit there for me. It’s not that the final twist wasn’t good. It was. The pacing is what got off kilter. You know that feeling you get when someone is slowly explaining a point you already understand? Yeah, that’s what happened to me. It was near climax time. I already concluded the ultimate secret of the house, so I naturally suspected the ending was just around the corner. Well, wouldn’t you know it? It took an hour and a half to wrap up. The piling dilemmas lengthened and lengthened to the point of ridiculousness. It ended well once I got there, but I’d rather it wasn’t hampered with so much needless pandering.

    Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid Mystery Story, Good Writing, Engaging Music, Illustrative Visuals
    Weak Points: Near Zero Gameplay, Foreign Voice Acting Sounds Funny, Investigation Controls Need Fine-Tuning
    Moral Warnings: Mild Language, Murderous Acts, Alcohol, A Few Inappropriate Jokes

    With the developers so focused on delivering a juicy case, it’s no surprise the gameplay seemed rather neglected. In fact, other than it being on a 3DS, I would hesitate to even call it a game. The main way you interact is by constant multiple choice, and this multiple choice had no wrong answers. You can select who you want to talk to, what you want to inspect, or where to go. However, if you don’t follow the strict train-track this story is soldered to, you’ll be given the gentle brush off until you do it ‘right’. Even in investigation or interrogation modes, incorrect decisions have no consequence. You just keep trying until you get the scripted answer. Kinda sounds like the game is playing you, doesn’t it? That’s not a good feeling. Most gamers enjoy a sense of agency, like their decisions matter. Where is the joy of succeeding if failure isn’t allowed? Even games without ‘Game Over’s have lent players enough leg room to win on their own - not simply because it was scripted. That’s the key element that separates videogames from other entertainment forms. Movies, television, and books are passive activities. Games are proactive. They invite the audience to manipulate its world. It’s what makes games tick. Ghost of the Dusk, sad to say, is thus missing a vital organ.

    The controls in Ghost of the Dusk are super easy. Push ‘A’ or touch the screen to make your selections. You use the d-pad to scroll through the text as well. The fact that you can scroll backwards if you missed/forgot a piece of dialogue is a very useful feature. I really appreciated it. I can even think of some of my past games where that would have come in real handy. The one area where the controls failed for me though is in investigation mode. During investigation mode, you examine rooms by tapping objects of interest on your screen, or directing the search reticule around with the d-pad. The reticule will turn deep blue if it’s above something important. Two issues arise from this setup, unfortunately. ‘Tapping’ won’t indicate whether an object in question is significant. You’ll just get the standard ‘nothing to see here’ statement over and over again that way. On the flip-side, scrolling around on the d-pad is no less frustrating. The reticule you direct will start to move slowly then rapidly zoom to the opposite side. The result is that, more often than not, you’ll overshoot where you wanted to click. Deciding which method you prefer then falls into what annoys you less. Would you rather tap around blindly for results? Or just try not to continually bypass your targets? I feel that the problem could have easily been avoided.

    Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 5.5/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As a visual novel, Ghost of the Dusk certainly looks the part. Background pictures and character still-shots illustrate the story in their soft pencil strokes and watercolors. The artists even found ways to animate these freeze frame characters in cutscenes. These sequences, though nothing groundbreaking, were a pleasant surprise. Reviewing Ghost of the Dusk also presented a category I never had to extensively evaluate in a game before: writing. So much of its immersion rides on its text that the game would tank if it was weak. It’s great then that the writers didn’t slack off. I compared this to a book earlier for a reason. The descriptions expressed good imagery. The dialogue rarely got slow and fit each individual personality. The only fly in its ointment were the occasional misspellings. These typos weren’t terrible, but they jolted me out of the story once in a while. However, what drew me into the plot emotionally was the music. The score covers swanky smooth jazz, to heart-pounding percussions with tense strings, and everything in between. All that combined with the visual shots were enough to elicit the proper moods. I can’t say the same for the vocals though. I hoped this American import would feature English speaking actors, but the Japanese voices were unchanged. Now, don’t take me the wrong way. I respect Japanese people wholeheartedly the same way I respect all peoples. Everyone is an equally and wonderfully made bearer of God’s image. I’m sure the original actors did a good job too, but for me (who knows only five Japanese words and isn’t accustomed to its sound) it sounds funny to me personally, especially when the characters never move their lips. I ended up giggling inappropriately at sobering moments. I could mute in-game voices, but cutscene voices turned out to be permanent. For some, having the original Japanese voices is a boon. If that’s you, I’m very happy to report that Ghost of the Dusk kept it. As for me, I wished I had the option to mute it all together - if just so I could stay in the proper story tones.

    Stories of this type aren’t usually written with families in mind. Violence wise, a murder mystery requires - you know - murder. Lots of creators, though, tend to use that as a license to show over the top carnage. I mentally prepared for the worst, but to the game’s credit, the violent content stayed pretty low key. It’s not gory, overtly yucky, or even that bloody. Sure, there are moments of blood in it. One picture shot of a murder scene skirted the edge of nasty, but most unhappy surprises are described for us in text. The rest is left to the imagination. Also, a cherub’s baby-butt is uncomfortably displayed on the lower screen for nearly the entire game. The last of our ethical issues are in our characters. Now, our protagonists aren’t bad. Their priorities are in the right place. They’re smart, work with the police, and enjoy healthy relationships. However, Mr. Hunter is a prolific smoker (in fact it’s used as the game’s hint mechanic). He and several others have spewed the occasional a**, bas***d, hell, and God’s name in vain, and some enjoy their booze a tad too much. Jake never got drunk, thank goodness, but still. Then there exists one bar customer who likes cracking inappropriate jokes. Notably, he insinuates Jake Hunter is a homosexual. (Jake isn’t actually gay though.) The bartender is clearly disturbed by this rumor yet tries to act accepting, and Jake, though annoyed by the falsehood, doesn’t bother to correct the matter. It didn’t outright implicate homosexuality as a good thing, but implying it’s simply ‘okay’ is just as problematic. I also was expecting unscrupulously dressed women to enter at some point. To my pleasant surprise, though, only one very minor character had some cleavage. The rest were dressed sensibly and tastefully. For as dirty a business as homicide cases can be, at least this one had the courtesy to limit its potential filth.

    Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk, is indeed a story through and through. What it lacks in gameplay (by which I mean near zip), it makes up for in solid plot and presentation. The fun doesn’t even have to stop after ‘The End’. This game packs three bonus mysteries from the series’s past games to boot! The Japanese voice acting may sound silly to some (though I heard some will fully appreciate it). The investigation controls might be a tad wonky, and the main story’s ending dwindled, but for what it’s worth, I had a good time. Really proactive gamers should probably give this one a pass, though. The game is so disengaged with its players, it doesn’t really feel like your’e ‘playing’ at all. However, those satisfied with plot-driven entertainment should like it. If you seek something a tad more interactive than a book you’ll certainly get your fix. Keep in mind, though, that Jake Hunter is a fair bit edgier than Detective Pikachu, and his cases are more CSI than Scooby-Doo flavored.

  • Japanese School Life (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

     

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

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

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

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

    Japanese School Life
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • KARAKARA (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    KARAKARA
    Developed by: calme
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: June 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

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

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

    karakara
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • KARAKARA 2 (PC)

    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.

  • Last Stanza (PC)

    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.

  • Little Busters! English Edition (PC)

    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!

  • London Detective Mysteria (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    London Detective Mysteria
    Developed By: Karin Entertainment
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: July 31, 2019
    Available On: Windows, PS Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us the PC and PS Vita versions of this game for review!

    London Detective Mysteria coming to English is an interesting bit of history. It's a game that XSEED considered several years back, but didn't have room for in their busy schedule. Once they lost the license for Ys VIII (NISA published it), their team had some extra time on their hands. So, one of the (now former) employees, who singlehandedly edited about 75% of this VN (visual novel) herself, suggested that they pick this title up since she had spare time. She found this game to be a much larger task than anticipated, but still did a wonderful job, with the nearly impeccable localization job that followed.

    I have had the pleasure of getting to know this person through Discord and Twitter, so when the chance to review this game came up, nothing would stop me. Also, I thought it would be a great chance for me to review an Otome game, which I have not done before. Otome is a Japanese game genre where the main character is female, and often have many potential male romantic partners. These games are typically targeted towards women, but, I figured why not? Since my wife has played many romance VNs with male main characters in the past, why not see what it's like for her? Given my experience with other VNs with romantic plots, I had no trouble relating to her or the story. I do wonder how my perspective on which guys are 'best' would be different from a lady's given my natural instinct to protect women, but that has nothing to do with the game or story itself.

    London Detective Mysteria
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great art; lovely music; lovable characters; interesting story that never gets boring
    Weak Points: Art resolution could be higher; characters are a bit cliche’ though still interesting; good, but just short of being great; epilogue’s ending is a cliffhanger for a sequel that doesn’t exist
    Moral Warnings: Intense descriptions of serial killers, and how they do their job; blood is shown; though no gore is shown, it is described;  racism and discrimination is present and dealt with, including racist slurs like 'yellow monkeys'; a fair amount of romance, though most of it is tasteful; couples shown kissing in bed; one scene where the main (female) character is shown naked, though nothing is visible but cleavage; discussion about and with prostitutes, including what they do as their job; foul language like ‘f*ck’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, ‘h*ll’, ‘b*st*rd’, and ‘*ss’ shown in dialogue; antiquated words that have an offensive meaning in modern day, like queer, used in their original sense (aka queer = strange); God's name used as both an exclamation (Thank God) and a derision (My God, Jesus Christ); church is shown in a positive light for some characters, while others have no regard for it; occult activities are shown to be taking place, including a ritual that involves children and a pentagram; both alcohol and hard drug usage shown (and not always voluntarily)

    Given that it is finally available in written English, it's somewhat ironic that it takes place in the birthplace of the language, in 19th century London. Queen Victoria is the ruling monarch, and several characters of both fact and fiction are present and part of the story. Most of it is experienced through the perspective of Emily Whiteley, a young noble, and the heiress of a massive fortune. She lost her parents both at a tender young age, and lives along with her family's remaining staff, including her far-too-capable butler, Pendleton. Her Majesty the Queen personally requests that you join the Harrington Academy, where you join the detectives program. Before long, you run into many notable characters, including the sons of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Arsène Lupin, and the granddaughter of Agatha Christie's Marple, and other notables like Jack the Ripper. To round out the cast, we also have a couple of exchange students from Japan, Akechi and his assistant, Kobayashi. They each have clearly distinct personalities, and bring something unique to the story, even if they are somewhat stereotypical.

    Emily herself (you can change her first name, but not last) is an extremely likable, and very cute young lady who brings a sense of energy and positivity to everything she does. Throughout the story, she will soften defiant hearts, charm the silent into talking, and bring out the best in everyone. She is also quite progressive and independent for a woman of her era; she is educated, she is the head of her household, and has no real concept of racism or discrimination. She is one of few who seem to think this way, given how some of these things are dealt with. She also has a tendency to think everything will work out, so is apt to sneak out or run straight into danger, which Pendleton does his best to stop. Luckily for her, she was chosen as one of the Queen's special detectives, and wears a special crown ring to prove it. This grants her access to go places she otherwise could not, as well as cooperation from the police, to solve different and dangerous crimes or other mysteries.

    The structure of the game is pretty similar to many VNs. As you read the (lots of) text, there are questions throughout where you choose your appropriate reaction. Depending on your choices, certain boys may find themselves more and more charmed by you, and after a certain point, you start down the chosen route. Most routes have some mystery to solve, or some secret to uncover. Sometimes it is a crime, others it is getting past a systemic injustice. It is expected that early on you will complete Holmes’ and Watson's routes; after those are complete, several more open up, including Lupin's, Jack's, and Akechi's. In order to see the eventual true route, you need to see them all, including Marple's and Kobayashi's. This ends up solving one of the main mysteries of the game: the reason for Emily's parents' death. There is also an epilogue for each potential suitor, and a final one that sets up for a sequel (that sadly has never been developed).

    If you are somewhat of a slow reader like I am, you will likely enjoy the many twists and turns for around forty hours or so, which is a decent length for a visual novel. It also really helps that the art and music are both excellent; while the PC version's art resolution could be a bit better (I play games on a rather large 4K screen, and it is a PS Vita port), the music is unquestionably excellent. While I don't know if I will be listening to the soundtrack regularly or not, I can say that it fits the story extremely well, and sets the moods perfectly. I've been listening to it while writing this review, and I haven't gotten sick of it yet.

    During the process of reading this entertaining story, you will run into quite a significant amount of inappropriate material. There are some issues of a sexual nature, but that's actually not the majority. During one story arc, Emily becomes cold and wet, so she is stripped and kept warm by another (male) body. She is shown unclothed, and some cleavage, part of a breast, and other skin are shown. There is a fair amount of kissing, and she wakes up in bed with the boyfriend (depending on the route) during some scenes as well. Other than some passionate kissing and what I just mentioned, the other sexual content is more explained than shown.

    During some of the scenes, women are called 'wh*res' and are killed mercilessly by one of the antagonists. Some discussion of their craft is done as well, as prostitutes, with descriptions such as 'they drink their minds rotten, [and] play loose to f*ck strangers'. Violence and gore are quite present in several routes, as you are investigating the work of a serial killer called Jack the Ripper. You see red blotches and red swipes as people are described as being gutted and maimed in excruciating detail. Gunshots are also described, with red flashes and sound effects present, but no entry wounds shown, except for when Emily treats a wound on one of her potential boyfriends.

    As you may have noticed, most common curse words are present. They are not actually all that common; if it is in character for one to curse, they do. Some routes use little more than 'd*mn' and 'h*ll', while others use up to and including 'f*ck'. Other examples include 'sh*t', '*ss', and 'b*st*rd'. Derogatory words like 'wh*re' are used. Interestingly, some words are used with their classic meanings - like 'queer' is used to mean strange or odd, and has nothing to do with sexuality. God's name is used, both as an exclamation (Thank God) and in derision (My God, Jesus Christ).

    During some of the routes, racism and classism are dealt with as topics. Emily always seems to have an idealistic, modern, and perhaps naive perspective, but the world around her does not. Japanese people are called 'yellow monkeys' in at least one place, and a general distrust of people unlike themselves is shown, including stereotyping the poor (which was sadly shown to be sometimes warranted, but not always). The terrible conditions that the poor had to endure was shown, and it shows how classes divide people, even across continents and cultures.

    London Detective Mysteria
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 4/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    During some of the routes, a secret organization is discovered, and they deal in human trafficking, and also occult rituals. Some of these rituals take place below a church, which is rather disappointing (though not impossible, sadly). The rituals involve addictive drugs, young children, and satanic symbols like a pentagram. This is clearly shown to be evil, and a real tragedy for those pulled into it. Some abuse drugs and alcohol willingly, while others are forced against their will to take a powerful hallucinogen, or are knocked unconscious.

    I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to review both the PC and PS Vita versions. I played primarily on PC. I would say that if you like larger screens, keyboard and mouse controls, and faster skipping, then go with the PC version. The PS Vita version was the original, and you can sometimes tell - the scene transitions are a bit smoother, and it has a bit more polish. The PC version uses a scalable font, so it's always crisp, even at very high resolutions. As I mentioned before, the art resolution could be higher, as it looked just a bit better than the PS Vita assets. I like how the PC version has menus that are easier to navigate, even though it does work fine with a controller. I didn't like how it was easy to accidentally activate auto or skip with a controller on PC, though.

    London Detective Mysteria is a good and memorable visual novel that I certainly don't regret reading, but it is also what I would consider good but not great. I have read some of the truly great VNs out there, and I would not put this in that list. But I have also read some truly bad/forgettable ones as well; this is not that, either. This is what I would call a 'B+' VN. It's certainly worth reading, and definitely enjoyable. I was never bored with it during my time reading it, and gets a solid recommendation - as long as you are a mature adult, and find the subject matter contained herein acceptable.

  • Love’s Sweet Garnish (PC)

     

    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.

  • Maitetsu: Pure Station (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Maitetsu: Pure Station
    Released: Month day, year
    Developed by: Lose
    Published by: Circle Ent.
    Available on: PC, PS4, Switch
    Release date: January 16, 2020
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for partial nudity, sexual themes, alcohol reference
    Price: $34.99

    Thank you Circle Ent. for sending us a review code!

    Sotetsu was involved in a terrible train accident as a child. He lost his parents and his twin sister when the steam locomotive derailed. The Migita family adopted him and they run a shochu distillery in the town of Ohitoyo. In order to make great shochu, you need a clean water source and the main river is in danger of being polluted if the proposed Aircra (automated aircraft) factory is built. Upon hearing about the factory, Sotetsu takes a break from school (assuming college) and returns to his hometown to stop it from happening.

    The proposed factory promises this quiet town some jobs and income, but there has to be another way. While making himself at home, Sotetsu helps clean out his deceased grandfather’s room and discovers an abandoned Raillord in it. Raillords are life-like automatons that drive and maintain various trains. Hachiroko, is the name of the Raillord that Sotetsu discovers and she’s in charge of the 8620 steam locomotive.

    Maitetsu: Pure Station
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Multiple routes/endings; animated characters; fully voiced (in Japanese)
    Weak Points: The game constantly switches to automatic mode; some typos; $20 more expensive than the PC version (which has an 18+ version available)
    Moral Warnings: Minor language (d*mn, *ss); bath scenes and crotch shots sexualize the female characters a bit; some sexual comments/references; alcohol consumption; references to shrines, deities, and ghosts; you can get romantically involved with your adopted siblings; one character cross dresses

    As much as Sotetsu fears trains, Hachiroko and the 8620 are key in revitalizing this town and bringing jobs and tourists back into it. Throughout the various routes, Sotetsu will learn about himself, his hometown, and the strengths of his romantic partner of his choice. There are three built-in romance options/routes and the others are unlocked and launchable from the main menu. Other than the three options, there is no user interaction other than reading and advancing to the next slide/page. While the automatic mode can be nice, it’s extremely annoying because I constantly had to disable it every couple of minutes (and sometimes more than that!). Though the automated scrolling pace can be adjusted, it was still too quick for me despite being a fast reader.

    Each route has Sotetsu revitalizing the town with different methods and resulting obstacles. He can convert an abandoned coal mine to a theme park, connect to other cities through the railways, or expand the town’s tourist attractions. The three built-in routes are the most fleshed out and in comparison, the additional routes feel rushed. I often finished the add-on routes in one or two sittings.

    I like how each of the main routes have their own theme music to them. All of the routes are fully voice acted in Japanese and are well done. There are multiple font options but I didn't see a way to increase the font size. The text is pretty small on the Switch's screen.

    The romance options are a little weird as there are only a couple of socially acceptable dating options. The three main choices are your younger adopted sister, Hibiki, Hachiroko the Raillord, or Paulette the town’s mayor. Dating your older and more endowed sister is a menu option and that route suggests that they are intimate without any mention of being married. Reina is another Raillord and she talks and looks like a little girl. Despite drinking from a sippy cup, Reina is datable and accepts Sotetsu’s marriage proposal. Most of the routes end with marriage proposals and don’t go any further than kissing.

    Maitetsu: Pure Station
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay: 15/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 3/5
    Controls/Interface: 3/5

    Morality Score - 57%
    Violence: 9/10
    Language: 6./10
    Sexual Content: 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 6.5/10

    One route involves two younger schoolgirls. They obviously have a crush on Sotetsu and invite him to go on a field trip with them. Though they don’t officially “date” they intend on taking more field trips together in the near future. Hibiki (the younger sister) is only fifteen or sixteen years old, which is apparently old enough to run for mayor.

    Other moral issues worth noting is some mild language including d*mn and *ss. There’s a ghost shrine in town and its priest is a friend to all of the characters in the story. With Sotetsu’s family business of running an alcohol distillery, there are plenty of alcohol references and some scenes with drunkenness. Bathing scenes are commonplace as putting coal in the train’s furnace is a messy job. Surprisingly, the baths in the game are co-ed. Though nothing is seen, there are story sequences with Sotetsu getting an eyeful. There are some images with panty shots and other revealing poses. In one of the routes, a character is revealed as a cross dresser.

    While Maitetsu is not as polished as other visual novels I have played, it’s still an enjoyable experience. I don’t think it’s worth the $20 premium over the PC version. I must admit that I am curious if it has the same glitch of constantly enabling the auto scrolling mode. If not, I would recommend the PC version wholeheartedly as long as you don’t mind the odd dating choices and other moral issues.

  • Memory’s Dogma CODE:01 (PC)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Memory’s Dogma CODE:01
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • My Little Kitties (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    My Little Kitties
    Developed by: COSEN
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 21, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

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

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

    My Little Kitties
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project (PC)

    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.

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About Us:

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

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