enfrdeitptrues

Visual Novel

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

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

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

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

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

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

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

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

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

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

    Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord

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

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

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

    *** Massive Spoiler Alert ***

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

    *** End Massive Spoilers ***

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

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

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

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Ballad Singer
    Developed by: Curtel Games
    Published by: Curtel Games
    Released: February 15, 2019
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $22.99

    Thank you, Curtel Games, for sending us a copy of the game for review!

    The definition of a ballad is that of a light, simple song, usually romantic by nature. Originating in France around 1350, the definition has loosely changed over the years to the point where many people regard “ballad” to be synonymous with “song,” or sometimes even a longer song that tells a story (which actually is an epic).

    I suppose for this offering from Curtel Games, “The Epic Singer” just doesn't have the same ring to it, so they named it “The Ballad Singer,” instead. Ironic, because the stories in this narrative adventure are quite lengthy, and there is very little singing that takes place.

    In “The Ballad Singer,” the player reads through the story (which also is, for the most part, fully narrated) and then has to choose how to proceed. They start with two characters to play through the prologue, then can choose one of four characters to play through the bulk of the story. These characters include an elf assassin (who has an unfortunate resemblance to “bat boy” from tabloid fame), a sylph ranger (a woodland female who looks like she's constantly crying tears of blood), a human wizard who also serves as the main villain of the story, and a middle-aged human bard who serves as the central hero of the story. One of the things that makes these stories interesting is that, if the first character dies or is removed from the central narrative in some way, the player can pick up the story from the perspective of a second character in a world influenced by the choices of the first. For example, if the player gets the assassin killed early on, the assassin won't show up in the climax of another character's story.

    The game includes four difficulty levels, which indicates how many save slots the player gets, as well as how many times they can “change their fate,” or rewind the story if their character gets killed. The most difficult level provides no save slots and only one chance to change their fate – however, this is simply an illusion, because the stories never change regardless of the difficulty. If the player can remember the correct choices from start to finish, they can breeze through the maximum difficulty without a problem (which this reviewer did successfully – it is a requirement for an achievement). Once one of the stories is successfully completed, a new mode called “explorer” is unlocked, which simply gives the player an infinite supply of “rewinds.” They can only rewind whenever the character dies, though – the only way to “back up” the story to a point where a different plot can be explored is through the use of save files – or starting the game over from the beginning.

    The Ballad Singer
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lengthy stories with multiple endings; good graphics
    Weak Points: Forgettable music; typos and grammatical errors; easy to memorize stories for repeated plays
    Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; sexual situations, including nudity and rape; magic use; language; undead 

    The game provides each of the characters with stats, but they seem to be completely arbitrary. There are no random components to the game. Combat is resolved simply by choosing the right maneuver (or, in some cases, by choosing the correct answer to a riddle), and it will always be the right move. As a result, by the time the player runs through the stories a couple times, it becomes a breeze to skip through the stories to try to get all the endings or achievements.

    In my opinion, this is one of the weaker parts of the game. In order to play through all the stories, the player will have to go through the prologue several times. It would be nice if there was a way to simply bypass the prologue entirely after the first few playthroughs in order to get to the meat of the narrative. Sadly, this is not an option, meaning the player has to waste time clicking the same choices over and over again for a couple minutes. At least the cut scene announcing the duel with the dragon can also be skipped by clicking on it.

    The graphics consist largely of still images, with an occasional bit of animation to provide a bit of variety, such as crackling fires or motes of light. The text can be read in a large book that dominates the left side of the screen, and the choices the player can make are along the right. There is a button that can be pressed to pull all of these to the sides so the full picture can be seen. The pictures vary in quality, from scenes that look fully painted to those which seem to be sketches, but they look pretty good and fit the flavor of the text. The background music is good, but hardly memorable. In my opinion, it is disappointing that a game with the name of “The Ballad Singer” doesn't put more emphasis on the musical aspects of the game.

    The Ballad Singer
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 29%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 1/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    The game has a few other flaws. There are typos and grammatical errors sprinkled throughout the text, and the voice actors went ahead and read these as well without a break (which could be why they were never corrected). Some of the text never received any narration, including one instance where the reader stops when there are still several pages of text remaining. I did have the game lock up on me once – during a scene transition the narration started, but nothing loaded on the screen. Without any choices or menus to access, I had to force the program to quit. Fortunately, this only happened once, even after I took the same choices that caused the lock in the first place. Overall, while I found the story interesting, I've definitely read better. I did like how you could choose a “good” path for the elf assassin, where he turns his back on his murderous ways and tries to reform for the sake of love.

    For moral concerns, there are many. The game is quite violent – several pictures show people and creatures being bloodily killed, and the text often goes into even more detail. There also is plenty of sex happening in the story – including rapes, which can be done with the villainous elf – and a few of the pictures spare little detail in the nudity or the actions the couples are performing. It certainly isn't to the level that could be found in a porn game, certainly, but it's prevalent enough, and for the “best” endings, even required. Pretty much every curse word can be found in the game, including the f-word, and the text is heavy with innuendo and sexual taunts. One of the characters that can be played is a magician and using spells is a heavy part of his story – however, the game doesn't go into detail about what he does to cast the spells, so it is of the generic fantasy-type magic. There is very little reference to the theology of the world, with the exception of one of the paths the mage can take, in which he fights elemental gods in order to achieve immortality. Finally – and this seems almost inconsequential in light of everything else – a couple undead monsters can show up during a mandatory portion of the story where some tomb robbing takes place.

    The Ballad Singer has a lot going for it, but much to be desired, too. The storyline is good, but not phenomenal, and although it is tagged as a role-playing game, this couldn't be farther from the truth. There are numerous endings, though, and even achievements for those who play it on Steam (oddly enough, there are different “trophies” within the game itself, independent from the Steam achievements). Those who enjoy visual novels and don't mind the myriad of moral issues might find some enjoyment in this game, as it can take hours to find all the different endings and choices. Those who are looking for more of a musical offering, though, will be sorely disappointed.

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    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    The Bell Chimes for Gold
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me
    Developed by: SMILE
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: October 26, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99

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

    The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me is a visual novel that tells the story of Ren and his high school days of being surrounded by beautiful demon girls that all fall in love with him. He lives with his adopted sister, Emiri, who also has a crush on him. Since their parents are away for long periods at a time, the school principal and her daughter, Riria, live with them. Riria and Ren have known each other since they were babies and she too is in love with Ren.

    Each of the girls in this game have a secret and a flaw that sends them to a special program to straighten them out. Some of the secret identities include a witch, succubus, and mummy with an aversion to clothing. The teacher in charge of them isn’t a great example and gets drunk in their presence on multiple occasions. Ren is her assistant and is tasked with helping them better themselves.

    This rehabilitation program is very luxurious and resides on a beach resort. There’s a nice hot spring bath and each student has their own bedroom. Ren is the best cook so he uses the kitchen facilities the most. One of my favorite scenes is a funny cooking contest that goes hilariously wrong.

    The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Wonderfully drawn and animated artwork; funny characters
    Weak Points: There’s more lewd content than story
    Moral Warnings: Strong language and blaspheming, every curse word and sexual slang possible is used; many sexual encounters are explained in detail; lots of cleavage (without nipples) and crotch shots (with underwear) are shown; alcohol consumption and drunkenness; one of the girls is a witch and another is a succubus

    Although there are some comedic gems in this visual novel, the majority of it revolves around sexual escapades that are explained in detail and most likely shown vividly with the available adult patch. It doesn’t take long for the game to get lewd either as it begins with Ren being surrounded by these attractive girls as they manhandle him (literally). The game then backtracks to how he got into that situation. Since this visual novel is kinetic, the only choice you get to make is which girl you want to pursue a relationship with and ultimately lose your virginity to. There are Steam achievements available for each relationship option.

    Before choosing a girlfriend, you get to know all of them intimately without “going all the way.” There’s about eight hours of content before making your decision. Since most of the content is not suitable for many eyes there’s a handy panic button (P) that changes the game’s appearance to something more appropriate. If you activate this feature, you’ll unlock a Steam achievement.

    Once Ren begins a relationship, he’ll get to experience many firsts. These include kissing and holding hands which usually comes before the other stuff he has done. Many of the sexual acts fall under the adultery category and some of them are borderline illegal with one encounter having the girl telling Ren to “Please stop” and things continue to progress regardless. Although this incident was not forceful, it could be viable for a rape charge in court and lower his chances of being eligible for a Supreme Court position.

    The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 43%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    In the route I played through, things escalated pretty quickly between Ren and the witch, Miyabi. I don’t even know if they were dating a month before spicing things up and utilizing some purchases made at an adult store. Things got pretty risky and domineering between those two and it seemed unhealthy on many levels. At that rate, it makes me wonder how their relationship could survive the test of time.

    The artwork is exceptional with vibrant colors and scenery. The characters are nicely animated and beautifully drawn. Most of them are well endowed and expose more of their skin than I’d like to see. Of course, there’s a beach scene with Ren rating everyone’s swimwear. There are many scenes where the characters are topless and perhaps even bottomless in the uncensored version. Nipples are not shown and are tactfully hidden from sight. I was thankful for not seeing the actual sex scenes and was often clued in to what happened, but there was one pre-dating encounter that I honestly didn’t know what happened between the two of them other than Ren not having actual intercourse.

    Although there’s a lot to see and do in this title, the majority of it is not appropriate. I'd wager that there's a kinky thought or sexual encounter every ten minutes or so. There’s probably a ratio of 80/20 of naughty versus clean content in this game. On top of the sexual content, there’s all sorts of vulgar and crude vocabulary. Even the censored version is not suitable for most people in my opinion. There are many better options out there that have characters and an actual story that go beyond sexual encounters. People who read adult magazines for their articles may enjoy The Ditzy Demons Are In Love With Me, but everyone else should stay clear.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The House in Fata Morgana
    Developed By: Novectacle
    Published By: MangaGamer
    Release Date: May 13, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $24.99

    Thank you MangaGamer for sending us this game to review!

    Recently, one of my visual novel (VN) reviews made it to Reddit’s r/visualnovels, and after engaging with those folks there for a bit, one member of the community highly recommended I check out ‘The House in Fata Morgana’. Armed with their recommendation, I approached MangaGamer, and they graciously offered to send us a review copy. I’m glad they did, as this is one memorable story that I won’t forget anytime soon.

    The House in Fata Morgana takes places in what is called a cursed mansion, where the protagonist awakens with pretty much no memory of their past, or any knowledge of anyone at the mansion. A well-dressed and reserved maid welcomes you, sees your condition, and offers to give you a tour, which she hopes will help you jog your memory. Each room leads to you viewing various memories of past events that have taken place there. These memories are quite memorable, and set the stage for future revelations, even if it’s quite subtle in how it does it.

    The first story is about a boy and his younger sister, and their comfortable, if lonely, lives as children of nobles. He lacks in confidence, but is a quick study, while she absolutely adores her big brother. Their relationship is quite heartwarming, and the writing, and especially the music, does a great job of really getting you to love these characters.

    The second story is one of the darkest pieces of storytelling I have ever seen in any media – though to be fair, I am not one who seeks out horror stories. Here you see the story of an intelligent beast who is having a hard time understanding who or what they are. This beast has a nearly insatiable bloodlust – he enjoys nothing more than killing, plain and simple. The screams of his wounded victims, their cries for mercy as they beg him to spare them, all serves to further empower and enrapture him. This story is extremely gruesome and graphic. Is it not for the faint of heart and I felt a little sick reading it at times.

    The House in Fata Morgana
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Deep, engaging story with memorable characters and relationships; writing and localization is top notch; fantastic Gothic art style; music is extremely memorable, with hauntingly beautiful singing
    Weak Points: Game engine is fairly primitive, and the options menu is not really discoverable without luck or the one hint the game gives you that one time; resolution is in 4:3 aspect ratio; art and text is in a low resolution; could only get to the text history with the mouse wheel (not with keyboard or gamepad)
    Moral Warnings: Blood and gore abounds, and is one of the bloodiest pieces of media I have ever consumed in any format; foul language used of nearly any variety, including '*ss', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'd*mn', ‘b*st*rd’, and 'f*ck', and sometimes with God used in conjunction; tragedies abound for the characters, and include things like mass murder, rape, and attempted incest; said rape is described in some (but not excessive) detail; the darkest aspects of humanity are presented in an extremely human and detailed manner; reincarnation is a major part of the story; God is mentioned a lot in the story, as is the devil; the Church is represented in a mixed light at best, as humanitarian actions are shown as positive, but motivations are impure, and more than one character resigns to being a priest/nun when they did not have the strength to do something better; some meant to represent the faith are closed minded and kill those they deem to be demonic; miracles are present, and represented in a mixed way; one character is shown topless with her arms covering her nipples; some breast size and a few other sexual jokes

    The third story is about a very wealthy businessman, and how poorly he treats his lovely wife, and the trials that come about from this later. It’s an incredibly moving story that shows how even the very best and self-sacrificing people have limits, and everyone will eventually break.

    All of these stories have incredibly tragic ends, that could have been avoided with some other decision – be it better communication, honesty, or repentance. But they serve to introduce characters that have a long-lasting effect on the overarching narrative, as well as establish the relevance of the mansion and its curse. Describing even a word past chapter three leads too far down spoiler territory to say any more.

    I’ve already mentioned that the writing is excellent, and this is absolutely the case. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing in even the simplest of events, and the story takes the time it needs to expound on each character, story, and theme. And to back up that writing is amazing art, in a style that is wholly its own. It’s properly Gothic in style (not just people wearing black), and semi-realistic. It’s awesome, and I hope I haven’t been spoiled to anime art after reading this VN...

    As great as the art is, and indeed it is, the music is perhaps even more amazing. Now I have to say, the first time I heard it, I was like ‘what?’ It’s not of a style that I would have chosen at first, but it didn’t take long for me to warm up to it. Each character, scene, and mood is properly represented with a theme, that is sometimes really eerie with noises and sound effects, other times a moody piano, and often with simply incredible female vocals. The words are all in an ancient dialect of Portuguese, and sound very Latin and mysterious. Some of the songs will make your hair stand up, while others sound nearly reverent. This OST (original soundtrack) is nothing short of fantastic.

    After the initial chapters, the story turns to another set of characters, that also faces tragedy and suffering. Some of these are simply unspeakable. Unfortunately, I have to share with you some of what happened, both now and before, because of the content concerns. I would much rather not spoil this as such, but be warned – it’s hard to speak of the appropriateness of this game without addressing the incredible darkness contained therein. So here we go.

    One character finds himself in a love triangle with a woman and his... sister. She loses her mind and causes unspeakable pain to them all. Another is literally a serial killer, who ends up hurting the ones he loves, and even wipes out a whole village. This chapter is incredibly disturbing; there are not words to describe how depraved and evil it gets. Even cannibalism is a reality here. Another story has a strong component of deep-seated hatred and betrayal.

    One story revolves around two characters who have each gone through incredible pain. I hate to even describe this, as it’s massive spoilers, but I’ll do my best to keep it as spoiler-free as I can, and blocking it out as needed.

    First, a woman is terribly raped by the lord of the manor she is working at. He does this repeatedly, and even carves words into her skin to further humiliate her. She describes what he does to her in some detail, and as such, is for mature audiences only. When she tells part of this tale, she undresses, and the reader sees her completely naked from the navel up, while she holds her breasts with her arms, which hides her nipples. Given the art style, it’s more realistic a sight than perhaps expected, and my wife, who knows I review a lot of VNs was like ‘what are you doing?!?’ I explained it was part of the VN, and in context, not as bad as it looked – but still bad. Most of the VN is not like this, but it does have this scene. They never have sex. For the record, there is also a prostitute character later on who wears very skimpy clothing, with little left to the imagination. She does describe her line of work in front of a child, though. Most women are very conservatively dressed otherwise.

    *** Spoiler begins ***

    Another character was born what appeared to be female, but, at the age of 14, started having his voice become deep, grew very tall, and had broad shoulders – he clearly had a birth defect, and was born a man, but you could not tell this before puberty. His external appearance, after puberty, was male in all but the most private parts, where he was missing what is expected in a man. (It’s a very rare but not unheard of birth defect.) Those born with such defects have it hard enough in any era – but in the medically ignorant era of the eleventh century? He was called a demon, and banished from the family, after years of torture and isolation. Eventually, when he wanted to return home with the woman he loved, he was called a demon and a witch and was literally crucified and burned at the stake by knights of the Church.

     

    *** Spoiler ends ***

    The House in Fata Morgana
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 40%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - --5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    When it comes to spiritual content, there is quite a bit to discuss. First of all, God is mentioned quite a bit, as are nuns and priests. In a couple of cases, people who eventually became nuns or priests did it for the wrong reasons – the love of their lives were lost, or they didn’t have the willpower to say no when asked to serve, despite their faith not being strong enough in their opinion. The Church is a mixed bag; though there are positive examples of the Church helping people, there are also cases where it is being used as an excuse to hurt others.

    Reincarnation is also a massively important theme in this story, and it would literally be impossible to tell without it. It’s also said that strong wishes made in death can be made to come true, including wishes for your next life, as well as carried forward memories.

    At this point it may seem like an afterthought, but virtually all common curse words are present and accounted for, including '*ss', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', 'd*mn', ‘b*st*rd’, and 'f*ck', and sometimes with God used in conjunction. By far the most common curse words are probably God used inappropriately, typically with some form of ‘d*mn’. Cursing is not common as a whole through the nearly forty hour story, but it’s most definitely present. Some people are also somewhat prejudiced against someone from another continent.

    Technically, the game engine is honestly nothing special. The interface and art is very low resolution, and some of the interface elements require a mouse, despite having basic support for both keyboard and controllers. I could not figure out how to see the scrollback history without a mouse wheel, for example. I could not get to the options menu without either luck or that one time the game tells you where to go; it’s in the bottom corner of the art – not the screen. All art is in 4:3 aspect ratio, which is where you need to move your mouse to save the game. Once you figure this out, it’s fine.

    The House in Fata Morgana is one of those tales that is incredibly mature, dark, and bloody like few others – but also exceedingly well written and memorable in a way that few other stories have been. I recall looking at the store page in the past and thinking ‘Gothic? Nah, not for me’ and moving on. But now that I have stopped and actually experienced this masterpiece for myself, I can’t help but sings its praises. It’s an extraordinarily well-written story, and if you are a mature adult, and can stand the content, is worth experiencing. But you need a strong stomach, and it is absolutely not for children under any circumstances. Just be aware that if you do decide to experience this story for yourself, you get to see both what true, sacrificial love looks like – as well as get a good, long look at the deepest, darkest depths of depravity in the human soul.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence
    Developed By: Novectacle
    Published By: MangaGamer
    Release Date: May 17, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $14.99

    Thank you MangaGamer for sending us this game to review!

    Not too long ago, I reviewed The House in Fata Morgana, and rewarded it one of the highest gameplay scores I have ever awarded any game (it’s hard to beat perfect). It’s an excellent story, and incredibly memorable. As one of the best visual novels I have ever read, I gave it a strong recommendation, with also a strong warning – this is full of content that is very dark, bloody, has tons of foul language, and is not for the faint of heart. It’s also chock-full of other appropriateness issues, and should be read by adults only. All of that applies here.

    What also needs to be said, very clearly, is that this is a sequel work, and as such, most certainly will spoil the first game, and the first visual novel must be read first for this to make any sense.

    Do not read any further in this review if you have not completed The House in Fata Morgana! Spoilers for Fata Morgana are impossible to avoid going forward! Go read that review, complete that game, and then come back here.

    The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fleshes out several characters more completely, and fills in gaps missing from the main House in Fata Morgana game; some shorter side stories that help fill in other missing gaps as well; deep, engaging story with memorable characters and relationships; writing and localization are top notch; fantastic Gothic art style; music is extremely memorable, with hauntingly beautiful singing
    Weak Points: You must play The House in Fata Morgana first, or prepared to be confused (and spoiled); game engine is fairly primitive, and the options menu is not really discoverable without luck or the one hint the game gives you that one time; resolution is in 4:3 aspect ratio; art and text are in a low resolution; could only get to the text history with the mouse wheel (not with keyboard or gamepad)
    Moral Warnings: Blood is present and common, including scenes with a naked girl with bleeding cuts all over her body (private parts are hidden); a tyrant lord uses slaves as his personal enjoyment, using the most debased forms of torture possible, including forced cannibalism; foul language used of nearly any variety, including '*ss', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', ‘b*st*rd’, ‘b*tch’, and 'f*ck', and sometimes with God used in conjunction; tragedies abound for the characters, and include things like mass murder, torture, slavery, rape, and more, including with children; much of the story takes place in a brothel, so many prostitutes are present, and what they are paid to do is explained, though not in great detail; reincarnation is a major part of the story; God is mentioned a lot in the story, as is the devil; the Church is represented in a mixed light at best; some sexual jokes (though rare); one character is revealed to be bisexual in the extras; significant alcohol use is shown, including drunkenness

    Well, that was awkward. You read The House in Fata Morgana, and now you have also already read A Requiem for Innocence, because you loved Fata Morgana so much that you had to read even more because it existed and you couldn’t get enough. I totally get you!

    If that’s not you, well, that’s okay. I just figured that would actually cover most people reading this review right now. Or, you like to see what other people think of games/stories you love. I get it; I sometimes do that too! Moving right along...

    The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence is made up of a titular main story, along with several shorter ones. Each of them explains or expounds upon something covered in The House in Fata Morgana.

    The main story, A Requiem for Innocence, is a retelling of what happened during the last door in the main game. In the previous telling, you see Michel going ‘back in time,’ meeting each of the characters from when Morgana was still alive, and seeing what happened from their perspective, as Michel tries to reach Morgana’s heart. In A Requiem for Innocence, you find out what actually happened – that is to say, not including Michel’s meddling with Morgana’s memories, but things as they happened before Morgana turned into the witch that tormented those around her for around a thousand years.

    It starts off with Morgana being chained to the ground in Lord Barnier’s estate. She is being held naked, against her will, and with cuts and slices all over her body. Morgana, and many other people, think her blood has healing properties, so the lord has been serving her blood to his guests. It’s a nasty and gruesome sight. You finally get to see what that evil lord looks like, and he’s even crazier than I thought he would be.

    Rather than just reading about the slave revolt that removes him from power, you get to see everything that led up to it, as well as the mechanics of it all. It was awesome to watch him get what he had coming to him. From there, you get to experience much more of Morgana’s happiest days of her far too short life; when she was living in the brothel with Maria and the girls.

    You really get to see so much of Jacopo and Morgana’s early relationship, and how that grew. It was quite charming, even if the day-to-day reality of living in the back of a brothel is far from ideal. In the main game, I felt like the titular character was shown much more for her dark side (understandably) than the nicer aspects of her character; now you get to know the young her a lot better.

    The trials and tribulations, and the character growth and ultimate destruction of Jacopo is really the other highlight of A Requiem for Innocence. It’s also amazing to see how so many characters could have changed things massively for the better – if only they’d taken the opportunity to do so. In many ways, this is an incredibly heartbreaking tale, and absolutely should not be missed. It’s sad to see Jacopo come so, so close to being a great man – and to have that just thrown away, bit by bit, by a combination of short-sightedness, misunderstandings, and a sense of desperate self-preservation. That, and the events that led to Morgana’s imprisonment, are an amazing lesson on what not to do, and a really sad look in how far and quickly one can fall.

    The other stories available are much shorter. Assento Dele is a really neat story about how Michel, before he met Giselle, had made another friend in Imeon. I don’t want to spoil this character too much, but it’s a really nice story that introduces you to a really awesome character.

    Tales Wasted Away in Obscurity are three very short stories, just a few minutes long each, that fill in some small pockets in various points in the past. You learn more about what happened after the events of the first door in one, you learn more about a character from the second in another, and more about Michel’s family as well.

    Happily Ever ~After~ is a really sweet continuation of the final ending from Fata Morgana. You get to see what Michel and Giselle are like once finally reunited. It’s cute, heartwarming, and finally, a story without any sadness whatsoever. Definitely what those two long had coming (even if Giselle lied to her parents, tsk tsk).

    Like the main game, there is a Backstage, which is a really neat way for the developers to talk directly to the readers, and a secret episode unlocks once you’ve read everything else. I’m not going to say any more here other than to say that it’s totally worth it to get through it all just for this alone.

    Like the main game The House in Fata Morgana, there is a ton wrong from an appropriateness perspective. There is blood, gore, and the works, though rather than the gruesome deaths by a serial killer, you have the gruesome deaths at the hand of a tyrant lord, including forced cannibalism. (It’s really nasty.) Every curse word in the book is used, including but not limited to '*ss', 'sh*t', 'd*mn', 'h*ll', ‘b*st*rd’, ‘b*tch’, and 'f*ck', and sometimes with God used in conjunction (or standalone as well, including inappropriate uses of Christ). Reincarnation is still a central part of the story, upon which it simply would not work if it wasn’t present. Girls work in a brothel, with all that such entails (not described too much, thankfully, but nor is it ignored, either). A few characters show massive amounts of cleavage. A side character is revealed to be bisexual at one point. As previously mentioned, a young girl is shown naked (with required parts covered by her hair). Slavery, alcohol use, drunkenness, and more is all accounted for. This story is for adults only.

    The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 40%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The music is awesome, like it was in the main game, The House in Fata Morgana. I wouldn’t put it on quite the same level, and some tunes are repeated or remixed, here, but it’s still really great, with some beautiful pieces. Graphics are low resolution, but still in a wonderful art style that I wish was used more often. The art and graphics are still presented in the outdated 4:3 aspect ratio. The interface is still a bit wonky like it was in the main game, but if you are playing this in the proper order, you’ve already gotten used to its quirks.

    The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence is an absolute must-read for anyone who has already read The House in Fata Morgana. There’s really not much more to say than that. All of the things that make Fata Morgana great are still very much here, though I found it interesting that since the element of mystery was largely missing (you know the ending before you start if you read Fata Morgana), you had to be driven along by the great writing and storytelling, instead of an unending desire to know what’s going to happen. This meant it was a bit easier to stop reading when other things in life required me to, but I still went back to it as soon as I could. And I suspect, if you followed my instructions above, and read Fata Morgana already before looking at this review, then hopefully my suggestion to just read it already is enough for you to do just that. The moral concerns are just as massive as before, but if you read Fata Morgana already, then you already know what to expect and have accepted it as such.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep
    Developed by: Namaage
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release Date: June 20, 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Linux
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

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

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

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

    The Orchard of Stray Sheep
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Witch’s Love Diary
    Developed by: Qoobrand
    Published by: Sekai Project
    Release date: July 26, 2019
    Available on: Windows, Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you Sekai Project for sending us the censored version of this game to review!

    It’s always a bad sign when a visual novel begins with letting you know that all of the characters are over eighteen. Like many Japanese visual novels and animes, this title takes place at a school. The main character’s name is Alice and she lives in a small barbershop that her deceased parents used to run. Alice is a little bit on the ditzy side and often forgets to do laundry, which makes locating clean underwear in the morning a challenge.

    On the school grounds is a mysterious clock tower that nobody knows of its origins. Rumor has it that girls that go there at night can get their wishes granted. When Alice and her friends meet up there, a book mysteriously comes in contact with Alice and she takes it home with her.

    Although Alice realizes that this is a personal diary, she begins to read it anyway. Interestingly enough, the book reveals only one story at a time and the tales inside are quite raunchy and often star classmates and faculty that Alice sees on a day-to-day basis.

    The Witch’s Love Diary
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting stories and characters
    Weak Points: Some of the stories can get a little confusing at times
    Moral Warnings: Lots of sexual encounters are recorded in detail in the diary; cleavage and underwear imagery is shown; lots of language and blaspheming; occult rituals with animal sacrifices are described; alcohol consumption and drunkenness

    The stories are told from the perspective of Takumi who is a good-looking and wealthy young man who is known around school for being a womanizer. That reputation is well earned as the escapades recorded in the dairy involve several students, a teacher, and even the principal!

    Each of the love interests has a different personality and aspirations in life that the player will learn and care about as they get drawn into their story. The relationships usually get intimate and the text doesn’t leave much doubt in that regard. Various sexual acts are alluded to but not shown given that this is a censored version of the game. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of skin and cleavage shown. One of the female characters was shown topless with band-aids covering up her nipples.

    There are several images with girls in their underwear and swimsuits. One of the ladies works at a hostess club where liquor is served and the patrons usually end up inebriated. At the luxurious salon there is a masseuse who seems to be a transvestite or a drag queen. On the language front, every word and blaspheme possible is used in the story’s text.

    The Witch’s Love Diary
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 36%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

     

    One of the students runs the occult club and in order to grant another classmate’s wish, a cat’s life is sacrificed in a ritual. The actual act is not shown, but the text and sound effects are quite sufficient to conjure a mental image of what happened. Because Alice befriends a dragon named Baragon, she is considered a witch. Together on a flying broomstick they search for lost entries of the Witch’s Love Diary.

    There are numerous stories and they take place in different time periods. It’s a little hard to keep track of them all. One of the stories involving Alice borrows heavily from Cinderella with her attending a ball put on by Takumi without the knowledge of her step-mother and sisters. However, instead of the prince using a shoe to find his love, Takumi is searching for a particular (powerful) slap.

    I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but it’s safe to say that this visual novel is very sexually charged, even in its censored format. If the mature content doesn’t matter to you, the multiple stories are sure to keep you entertained for over twenty hours.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

     

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

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

    This Book is a Dungeon
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you VisualArts for sending us this game to review!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tomoyo After ~It's a Wonderful Life~
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 3/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

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

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

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

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth
    Developed by: Aquaplus
    Published by: Atlus
    Release date: September 5, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Visual Novel, SRPG
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

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

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

    This game quickly picks up where Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception left off. Though there is a bit of a recap, I highly recommend playing that title before enjoying this one. Spoilers will follow in case you haven’t played that one yet. Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception left off with Haku wearing Oshter’s mask and taking over his role as the Mikado’s pillar general. This game focuses on his new life and having to lie to friends and their families about his true identity.

    Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging and often funny story with excellent character development; balanced battle system
    Weak Points: Slow performance during some of the final battle sequences
    Moral Warnings: Strong language and blaspheming; violence and bloodshed; sexual situations and nudity with the bare minimum covered; many deities and some of them require sealing away; excessive drinking and drunkenness

    The Mikado, Anju, is still healing from the attempt on her life. Besides recovering her health, she must reclaim her throne and win back the support of her people. It’s an uphill battle for Oshter and his group of friends, but they are hard to beat when they set their minds to something.

    There are many enemies and they have former allies become foes and vice versa. Despite the long story sequences, there are a fair amount of battles and several gigantic bosses to defeat towards the end. Several times, I thought I was at the end only to find more story sequences and battles ahead. The final boss battle lets you use all but two of your party members.

    As the characters fight together, they will form bonds, which allow chain attacks. Enemies can perform the same combo attacks as well so make sure you always have a healer in your party. Some melee fighters can do counter attacks which are helpful. As you win battles, you’ll unlock equipment that can raise defenses against physical, mental, elemental, and magical attacks.

    Characters also bond outside of the battlefield throughout the many story sequences. There are several emotional moments where you feel for the characters while they are struggling with various problems. Each character has a backstory, and like many popular manga and anime, many of the females have a crush on Oshter/Haku. They all happen to be good looking and a couple of them try to seduce him on numerous occasions. Despite the many opportunities do to so, Haku does not get intimate with anyone in this title.

    There are many instances of sexual humor with nudity being described in detail. There is a scene where Oshter teaches Nosuri a new gambling card game and she winds up losing all of her clothes and leaves his room in her birthday suit. While the bare minimum is not shown, many of the characters wear revealing outfits.

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

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

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

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

    Language is another issue to address. Every curse word is used and they are all used frequently, including the F bomb. Blaspheming also occurs. Christianity is not present and there are several deities shown and some of them grant wishes in a sadistic manner. Many of the Mikado’s pillar generals, like Oshter, have hidden powers within their masks. In battle, these guardians can gain superpowers in exchange for their soul.

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Winds of Change
    Developed by Tall Tail Games
    Published by Tall Tail Games
    Released on August 21, 2019
    Available on Linux, macOS, Windows
    ESRB Rating: None
    Genre: Visual Novel, Point and Click Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $19.99 on Steam

    Thank you Tall Tail Studios for sending us this game to review!

    Winds of Change takes place in the fantasy world of Alestia, where all characters are anthropomorphized animals and fantasy creatures with humanoid bodies, or, in simpler terms, furries. The protagonist is born with a special ability to see the future, and therefore labeled as a Seer. Their country, Valinorth, is secluded from the rest and is the only one who still believes in the spirit realm and “spirit idols.” It is from these idols that the Seer received their ability. The Seer also has a Scribe, which is their assistant in interpreting visions. This role introduces the protagonist’s childhood friends, Valessa and Fortaime, the former being the Scribe, and the latter being the Scribe-in-training.

    The Seer can, however, be a Seeress. The game gives the player the option of choosing between being a male or a female character, and they can even enter in a name to go by. There is no restriction to this, as it is literally a space for the player to type in a name.

    While Winds of Change is mostly a visual novel, there are point-and-click aspects to it as well. There are several areas where the player is free to explore their surroundings, and they can pick up books explaining the lore of the world. During these explorations, there are also typically options to socialize with other members of your party, as a sort of party system is used. It’s not a strict party system, but it dictates the characters the story focuses the most on. Depending on the area they are in, sometimes the player can talk to others. They can learn more about the area, and some of its history from the more knowledgeable ones. There’s also “Heart-to-Heart Conversations,” which are the most opportune times to develop romantic relationships with all of the characters in your party. Sometimes, there’s “Party Banter,” which is when they talk to each other, and the player can view these scenes playing out. There’s also “Parallel Chronicles,” where it focuses on antagonists and those not yet introduced to help contribute to the story. All of these are optional, but encouraged heavily by the tutorials and tips provided as the story goes along.

    Winds of Change
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Stunning English voice acting; high-quality art; fitting background music; amazing writing; engaging and interesting story; great point-and-click interface; can define protagonist’s personality freely
    Weak Points: Several typos scattered throughout; a few instances where the voice lines didn’t exactly match up with the on-screen text, and were off by a word or two; no drawn background scenes; crashed a few times; when clicking through the story parts, a character’s face sprite is shown for a split second when the speaking character changes; very rarely when you click ahead too fast, two voice files play at once; no matter how you approach the purity and corruption system, the ending stays practically identical
    Moral Warnings: Constant references to drinking and alcohol; in-game romances don’t have to be straight, and the player can therefore flirt with any and all characters they interact with; a little bit of light swearing; implied sex, nothing shown or described; tons of described gore, nothing actually drawn; possession of dead bodies; character is given an opportunity to cross-dress

    As for the story itself, there are tons upon tons of choices, but only ten or eleven of them actually matter, because of the existence of the “Purity and Corruption” system that is in place. Each of the important choices affect the purity and corruption trackers by ten percent, and they are all indicated by a notification bar at the top saying, “This choice will affect the future of Alestia.” These are the only choices that change the course of the story, all the way down to the basic plot line. The other choices will only truly affect the interactions that are made with the other party members in individual conversations that happen during the exploration of the world. However, even the important choices do not affect the route very much at all, as there is really only one ending. The so-called important choices only determine which characters are involved, who dies, and the degree that they are involved.

    The protagonist has no voice acting, or even a speaking text box. There are several occasions where the player has the opportunity to choose how they respond to a greeting, each one with a different symbol next to it, to show the different personalities or moods that they represent. Their face is never shown, leaving their looks up to creative interpretation. Some scenes only have one possible response to a situation, and even then it’s shown as a button that needs to be pressed. However, the lack of description for looks and personality allow for the player to define their own personality for their protagonist, which is an approach that seems to be quite uncommon.

    As Winds of Change is a game about a war, there is lots of described blood and gore. None of it is drawn, but the details are very specific in the writing. Surprisingly enough, there are only a few light swears ever uttered, which were h*ll, d**n, and suck. As a sort of relief from the stress of battle, there are also several scenes where the characters are in a tavern, and sometimes those scenes are inevitable. One of the romance routes can only be fully achieved when drinking with that character. The scene is started with the first Heart-to-Heart Conversation with that character, and is finished in the second one, when the player character enters their dorm and they drink a little bit more before the writing implies that they had sex. Nothing is shown, or described, but it says something along the lines of “We let out our passion.”

    When I was playing through Winds of Change, I noticed a few things that ruin the otherwise clean polish shown throughout. There are several typos displayed in the text spaces throughout the course of the story, and even an instance where the writers didn’t know how to spell a word properly, and seemed to be unaware of their mistake. (The word was “pendant,” and they wrote it as “pendent” in-game.) Every time the speaker switches, a flash of the first character’s face sprite appears for just a split second before switching to the new one’s sprite. There were also a few lines that were recorded slightly differently than what was shown on-screen. Once or twice, there was a line that used the male gender pronoun, and I was playing a female character. The line on the screen, however, used the proper pronoun. It also happened the other way around once too. A few times, I clicked too fast and two voice files played at once.

    Winds of Change
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 45%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The background music is very fitting for the style of the game, and all of the art is very high-quality. The story is written very well also. However, there are very few sound effects outside of the voice acting, and there are plenty of moments where said sound effects could have been implemented.

    Winds of Change isn’t completely stable, either. Saving and loading is slow, and if the player clicks around too much, the game will crash. There was also a time when it crashed on its own. Hopefully these issues will be fixed in a later patch, and the developers will continue to bug-fix until it’s at polishing perfection.

    All in all, Winds of Change is a great game for anyone looking for a good story or just a furry visual novel. It’s not a kids’ game in any way, shape, or form, but the general high quality shown makes Tall Tail Games one of the better English visual novel developers on the market.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    WORLD END ECONOMiCA 
    Developed By: Spicy Tails
    Published By: Sekai Project
    Release Date: December 21, 2016
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux (macOS/Linux Ep1 only for now) (PSVita/PS4 coming in 2017)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Kinetic Visual Novel
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $35.07

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

    WORLD END ECONOMiCA is rather unique among visual novels as far as I can tell. Rather than being a typical high school drama (though the characters do start out as teens), it grows into a much deeper tale, filled with lots and lots of economics.  For a short time, I worked at a trading firm in Chicago, and I was blown away with the incredible amount of accurate detail that the writers included, not only in depicting the technical aspects of stock trading, but also what kind of personalities succeed in that field.

    This is a kinetic visual novel, which means that there are no choices.  This kind of visual novel is most like a book, as there are no branching paths at all, and are simply story beginning to end.  There is high quality artwork that covers up most of the screen, with text overlaid on the bottom third.  Sometimes the characters' expressions can change, but it's mostly static images on each scene.  It's a system that has been common in visual novels for many years, and works well here.  Each episode is between ten and fifteen hours long, and is both a self contained story, and a longer arc that spans episodes. There is no reason to start anywhere but at the beginning.

    Episode one starts off with the main character, Yoshiharu Kawaura, having run away from home to pursue his dream of earning the means to be one of the first people to set foot on yet another extraterrestrial body: Mars.  You see, Yoshiharu was born on the moon, in a future where we built a space elevator from the Earth to the moon, and also built a climate controlled dome over the Sea of Tranquility.  The moon has become a paradise for those who desire profit above all else.  As a self governing utopia, the taxes are extremely low, and regulations are nearly non-existent.  In many ways, it's the ultimate expression of capitalism, as even the dome and essential life support systems are corporate owned.

    His family are Japanese immigrants who came to the moon with the first wave of settlers, and set up a farm on the lunar surface.  Seeing the wealth and prosperity of those in the trading world, he felt compelled to leave his home on the edge of the lunar dome and head towards the center, where the real money is.  When he compared the amount of money that he could make doing hourly labor with what he could earn with stocks, it was no contest.  Rather than making nine mools an hour and barely making it, he could potentially earn millions with the only possession he had that mattered – his laptop.  Via online trading, he could make money anywhere he had an internet connection.

    WORLD END ECONOMiCA
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Deep, engaging storyline; fantastic characters; makes something as boring as economics fun; positive view of Christianity; great moral lessons; shows what true love and friendship is
    Weak Points: Some name inconsistency between episodes; typos
    Moral Warnings: Some sexual situations (but no sex); curse words, including '*ss', 'sh*t', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'p*ss off', 'f*ck', 'hell'; alcohol consumption, including by a minor; tobacco use (Note: Most moral issues are in episode one. Episodes two and three are comparatively tame.)

    It turns out he is very skilled at trading, and it doesn't take him long to prove it.  He has earned over seventy thousand mools on the stock market in a mere three months living out of an internet cafe, with only the two thousand in seed money that he stole from his parents to get him started.  Not too surprisingly, this led to his runaway.  Unlike on Earth, where there are so many people that some can be lost in the cracks, the police on the moon catalog every person, and even if caught for a petty reason, they will be sent home to their parents.  So Yoshiharu was constantly eating, sleeping, trading, and avoiding police.

    His life began to change once he was rescued from a police chase by someone who turns out to be a nun from a nearby church.  Being one of the very few Christians on the moon, Yoshiharu is rather shocked to meet one.  She takes in desperate runaways as part of her ministry and helps them get back on their feet again.  She is relatively young and idealistic, but is very wise beyond her years and really helps people out with her wonderful example of unconditional love.

    Lisa/Risa (more on that in a bit) gives Yoshiharu the nickname Hal (since using his real name would more likely lead to capture).  She also was taking care of a girl about his age called Hagana, who is a brilliant mathematical genius, who tutors others in order to help keep the church running.  Much of the first episode deals with getting to know each other, building and developing skills as people and in trading, and helping others.

    The second episode takes place four years after the first.  Much has happened, both good and tragic, and Hal/Haru (again, more on that in a bit) has learned a lot about himself and growing up.  He has made some wonderful friends, and has the opportunity of a lifetime.  His upstanding moral character, and desire to see justice prevail at almost any cost, grants him the chance, at much personal risk, to expose a massive fraud going on.  This gains him much fame and notoriety throughout both the lunar surface, and even back on Earth.

    The third episode takes place four years after the second.  Hal has become much more settled into a good life, though not without regrets.  But their world is about to be rocked by a massive systemic financial crisis that is awfully similar to the sub prime mortgage crisis that hit the USA in 2008.  It's not only a great lesson in history if you pick up on the similarities, but a fantastic conclusion to this very engaging tale of friendship, love, and lots and lots of mools.

    Despite the many positive things to say about this story, there are a few negatives worth pointing out.  First, and probably most obvious, is that the episodes are not consistent with each other.  The names of several characters change between episodes.  For episode 1/2/3, we have: Hal/Haru/Hal, Lisa/Risa/Risa, and Serrault/Cerrow/Cerrow that don't match.  Thankfully, the rest are consistent, but those three are oddly out of place.  Honestly I prefer their episode one names the most out of them all.  Hopefully, before the PS4/Vita version script is finalized for release in 2017, they will update the text on the PC version as well to make them all consistent, and fix some of the typos I found.  

    WORLD END ECONOMiCA
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    They are currently also in the process of converting the series to Ren'Py, which is an open source visual novel engine that supports many platforms.  Episode one is currently complete, which is why it's available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.  I do hope that they figure out their music looping issues however, as episode one would occasionally have a song end abruptly and start again, while the others didn't have that issue.  The developers have been posting updates to all three episodes, so hopefully this gets resolved soon enough.  Also, Steam Cloud sure would be nice.

    Also, appropriateness in this story is kind of tricky.  In one sense, it never crosses the line in many ways, so there are no sexual encounters depicted here, which is a relief.  In other ways, what goofiness and tension there is, is almost completely frontloaded into episode one; the other two do have romantic moments, but are handled in a more mature fashion.  Despite this, even what there is in episode one is handled tactfully and for full story impact.  For example, one character passes by you in her underwear, and you even get a screenshot to prove it.  And there is a moment described (nothing shown) where she obliviously goes into her room through the hall without anything on.  This stops once Lisa gives her a good scolding.  It does set up her character for later though, as you learn more about her background.  The story touches upon mature topics like child slavery, self worth, tragedy and betrayal, and what real love looks like.  There are moments where Hal shares a bed with a girl, but it is non-sexual; they hold hands.

    There are most curse words present, though they are mostly handled in realistic ways.  In episode one, where most of them occur, Hal is a bit of a punk at 16 years old, so his foul mouth is somewhat understandable.  As he matures, those words are very rare, with one exception that is so tormented and understandable even I might curse if I found myself in that situation – and I say this as someone who typically puts years in between slip-ups.  Overall foul language use is very rare.  I noted '*ss', 'sh*t', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'p*ss off', 'f*ck', and 'hell'.  

    Lisa is a good role model most of the time.  She says she is not there to convert others, and the story never quite comes out and says she converted anyone, but Hal and some of the other characters start off as being atheists eventually become those who seem to accept that there may be a God with a plan for them as the story goes on.  Some characters even give sacrificially from their own earnings to help out the church.  I was very pleased with how Christianity is portrayed overall, as looking out for others first, showing real love, and self sacrifice are all well portrayed.  Also shown is grace under pressure, forgiveness, and compassion while keeping clear and healthy boundaries.  Well, except for lap pillows.  For some reason, it's a bit of a running joke that she allows her closest friends to use her lap as a pillow.  That, and for some reason, the writer didn't think a nun would know that the story of Noah's Ark isn't a myth or legend, but that it's in the Bible.

    Another area where Lisa slips up in (my opinion, I know this is cultural) is that during a serious and difficult conversation, she offers the underage Hal some liquor to drink.  When they are older, they also celebrate a college entrance for another with alcohol as well.  Hal generally, but not exclusively, avoids alcohol. Other characters smoke tobacco as well.

    WORLD END ECONOMiCA -Complete- really blew me away.  I have enjoyed other visual novels before, and I'm not ready to say this is now my favorite or anything, but after looking at the premise, and honestly not expecting much from a VN about economics, I was very pleasantly surprised.  It took the complex and seemingly tedious world of modern finance and not only made it very interesting, but wrapped a very human story around it that shows that finance not only matters, but can have a real and lasting impact on society.  It also gives us the negative impact that loving money over what is truly important can have in a life – but if there is humility and forgiveness, it's never too late for a second chance.  Bravo, Spicy Tails/Sekai Project.  Well done.  Nevertheless, given the content I describe above, it's not for children.

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

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