Analogue: A Hate Story

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Analogue: A Hate Story (released Feb. 2012) takes the best parts of Digital: A Love Story and don’t take it personally… and makes them even better. In terms of presentation, this is definitely Christine Love‘s best work. The animation, the music (by Isaac Schankler), the coding, the art (by Raide) and the storytelling are all top-notch. This is a visual novel that’s more than deserving of its groundbreaking Steam release.

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You play as someone (in that “you” sense that Digital had) investigating the mystery behind the Mugunghwa, an empty ship that was found adrift in space. With help from two AIs (but only one at a time), you will read the former inhabitant’s message logs and discover the reason why they never reached their destination. It’s a brilliant story full of intrigue, heartbreak, and societal change. It’s hard for me not to spoil anything. I’ll say this, however: Analogue is a conversation starter in the best way possible. It turned out to be better than I expected it would be.

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Let me talk about the music before I go on. It’s gorgeous. “Gorgeous” might be a strange word to use when describing sound, but it’s true. It’s electronic with great bass. It fits perfectly for the story’s mood and science fiction setting. After my first play-through, I literally opened the game up to listen to the game’s main track on repeat as I worked on an assignment. It’s that good. The soundtrack’s well worth the purchase.

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The story had all kinds of twists from left and right. I don’t think I’ve ever written “whoa” so many times in my reviewing notes for a game. Seriously, the word “amazing” doesn’t do Analogue justice. I have to warn everyone, however, that it’s not for everyone. It requires a lot of reading and keeping track of who’s who in a large (but dead) cast of characters. The game has a glossary and family tree to help keep track of things, but I suggest making small notes as you go along, especially since some of their names are so similar.

It’s like an interactive mystery story with a dark, sci-fi edge. You can even dress *Hyun-ae up as a detective when you get far enough in the visual novel. Raide’s art in this is a delight. By the end of the story, you find out that its setting is a reflection of an actual Korean dynasty. I’ll let players find out which one. The treatment of the whole thing was haunting, and each character was a piece in Analogue’s powerful puzzle.

Christine Love is writing inside of a new territory, in a place where few other indie visual novel makers have gone before. She doesn’t write about these issues on a surface level, and then put them aside without doing some heavy exploration on them. As you read Analogue, you’ll discover layers and layers of details. You’ll think one thing, learn something new, and think something else. As I wrote before, the “whoa” moments are plenty in this one.

Analogue: A Hate Story is available for $10 from Steam here or its official website here. The OST is available for purchase here for $5. You can also get the OST and game as a package deal for $12.99 on Steam. If you liked Analogue: A Hate Story, check out the creator’s other works Digital and DTIPB. And don’t forget: namjon yeobi. “Men are honoured, women are abased.”

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Hierofanía

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Hierofanía (released Feb. 2012) is a whimsical visual novel that stands out from the usual anime-inspired crowd, for all of the right reasons. It was its defined art style that drew me in first. The color palette that Ludeshka, the artist/writer/programmer, used gave the game a sickly feeling reminiscent of a Tim Burton film. A. Rothaus’ soundtrack worked beautifully with the fantasy setting, despite volume equalization issues from time to time.

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The story is written in a way that allows you to experience the setting as you play, rather than relying on an unnecessary infodump. You play as Crocket, an idealistic knight with a thirst for adventure. She’s one of the last four who fights in the name of a deity, Utrecht, whose powers haven’t manifested in ten years. They have no magic to speak of, but she maintains her faith in the thought that some day, Utrecht’s powers may manifest again. When a stranger calls on the knights to help clear his name for a crime he didn’t commit, Crocket jumps at the chance for justice.

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With seven endings – many of them varying a lot, there are plenty of choices to keep you entertained as you play. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the majority of them aren’t happy. It suits the plot, though. Depending on how you play, you can give Crocket a nice dose of reality to wake her up from her heroic dreams. Touches of humor keep the game from being overwhelmingly dark.

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There was some roughness around the edges. The font couldn’t handle italics or the é in cliché very well. Some of the poses weren’t colored as crisp as the others. There were some parts that could have been smoothed over grammatically. All of my nitpicks felt minor in the bigger picture, however, and they didn’t ruin my reading experience.

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The characters had wonderful designs. I really liked the EllsMiralls clerics. Douglas and Deedra’s outfits were as colorful as their personalities. Murphy, the Knight’s leader, looked haunting, yet wise. Gillan seemed like an old war hero. The dialogue exchanges between Kia, Gillan’s granddaughter, and Crocket were great. I got the perfect sense of their friendship and how they cared for one another. The characters had multiple pose changes for their expressions.

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What I loved the most about this visual novel is that it reminded me of all of the visual novels that made me interested in English visual novels in the first place – the ones of 2007 and 2008, back when I first started this blog. It was refreshing to play through something this original, with its own unique edge and viewpoint far away from mainstream expectations. In a time where some people are worried about the quality of the EVN scene, we should all remember that there are stories like Hierofanía still being told.

Some of my favorite quotes from this were: “A conversation made up of stock questions and answers can’t really be a conversation. To me it’s polite noise.” and “I’m stronger than the lumberjacks, but weaker than the blacksmith.” That one made me laugh.

You can discuss Hierofanía here, and download it from its website here. You don’t want to miss this one. If you’d like to play a game from 2007 that’s similar in feeling (and was also an inspiration for Ludeshka) once you’re done, play Winter Shard. Hierofanía made me nostalgic in a good way. I’m happy I played it.

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A Peek into NaNoReNo

Hey, all. It’s been a while. I blame it all on school getting the best of me. If the wait for new content was killing you, then you should follow me on Twitter so you’ll know when posts are done the moment they’re up. Or, you can use it to recommend games to me, to get in touch, or anything else that you may want.

We’re over halfway through March, which means we’re over halfway through NaNoRenO. Don’t try to guess what the name stands for. Its name is a cutesy take on the abbrievation for National Novel Wrting Month – NaNoWriMo. Game creators are challenged to create and finish a project during the month of March. To quote Lemmasoft Forums, “[it] ends when April begins.”

There aren’t any hardset rules, which is what makes NaNoReNo so fun. People are allowed to revise their projects after they’re released, if they wish. You’re even allowed to release the project later on if you don’t finish on time (it’s just not a NaNoReNo project anymore). The only prize that people can “win” is the joy of finishing their project. Even if you don’t make it across the finish line in time, you’ve still won for trying, and making progress on whatever you set out to do.

You’re in charge of your own victory conditions. Think about that. Anyone can join. Even you, who’s reading this right now. April’s right around the corner, but, hey.

This year, there are at least 40 NaNoReNo contenders, not including the ones that haven’t been announced. Will they all make it to completion? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll play however many of them that do make it in time. Since I’m a crazy person, I’ve decided to write a short blurb on every game that we *might* expect to see at the end of the month. If you manage to read this entire post, you deserve a cookie!

Again, if any of these projects don’t make it, it doesn’t mean anything bad about the creators themselves. Like I mentioned before, when it comes to NaNoReNo, they’re the ones who are ultimately in control of their own victory conditions. This post is going to be huge. I apologize in advance for only naming the poster of the thread him or herself, rather than the entire team (save for three studios) – proper credits will be given upon the games’ releases if/when they’re reviewed.

Without further ado, the 40 that have been officially announced with their own threads here on LSF…

Esc. is a visual novel by Ginger, about a freelance programmer who returns – horribly unwelcomed – to her traditional hometown after her childhood friend kills herself.

Unusefull Bystanders is a departure from your usual anime-inspired visual novel by gas, and is full ofzany artwork that’s guaranteed to make you laugh or cry.

mugenjohncel is making a short visual novel on educating people about the positive aspects of marijuana and why it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation called MARIJUANA – The Truth.

Kuroko no Basuke is a Kuroko’s Basket fangame being made by v3-kei, which will be a yaoi (BxB) game with one straight (BxG) pairing that revolves around basketball in a highschool setting.

Tell Her a Story! is a visual novel by kaleidofish about a guy who has to distract his girlfriend with his meager art skills, to keep her from leaving a restaurant before his friend brings him the ring he needs in order to propose to her.

SusanTheCat is creating a stat-raising game with a Pokemon-inspired battle system, called Kitten Crusade, where your goal is to control all of the kitty territories in your neighborhood.

The Forgetful Kiwi will be a collection of short visual novel stories by Cidz, about a kiwi appropriately named Kiwi whose forgetfulness sometimes gets him in trouble, his playful best friend Pingu, and the rest of Kiwi’s friends and family.

Shadow on the Bridge is a slice of life tale by Maelstrom-Fenrir, about the chance meeting between a guy and a girl on a bridge.

Pyonkotchi is making a fantasy-themed visual novel called Black Feathers about Cassandra Winlan, the princess of Aeronia, who unexpectedly grows black wings, revealing that she’s part demon and turning her into a hated target because of her demon blood.

Night Line is a visual novel by sorani, about a shapeshifer sent to Earth to ensure that the connection between Earth and the Night Line – a city of monsters and other mythical creatures – won’t be severed.

Twin Faces is a project by Lumen_Astrum, about a former Sergeant’s struggle to not only face the past she’s tried so hard to walk away from, but also having to face the split personality claiming to be her sister within her.

My Angsty Classmates Can’t Be This Tsun is a comedic visual novel by Shadow, about a girl and her class full of angsty badass boys, and the possibility that she’ll date one of them before she graduates at the end of the year.

Awakened with a Crimson Kiss is a yuri (GxG) visual novel by vociferocity about a human girl caught up in the middle of a stand-off between a tall, protective vampire hunter, and two beautiful vampires of the non-sparkly variety – one sweet, and the other wicked.

KomiTsuku is working on Pet Tails, a collection of comedic short stories revolving around Mark and the three unruly animals (an absent-minded koi fish, a destructive hawk, and a clumsy cat) he has to watch for his uncle.

Chronicles of a Timetraveler’s Wars: The Beginning is the the first part to a science fiction story by SvenTheViking, about a soldier who uses her time traveling power to take part in a war against extra-dimensional abominations.

Curse of the Caribbean is a super natural GxB visual novel by Morishita, about a girl named Desirea who wants to uncover the rumors that say that her grandmother’s village’s festival isn’t just about fun and games – it’s meant to distract everyone from thinking about the village’s mysterious curse.

Freezing is a visual novel by GeneDNC, with its first chapter planned for NaNoReNo, and is about a man whose normally ordinary decision on what to drink causes him to be dragged down an unexpected path that flips his world upside down.

Operation Magic Hero is a visual novel by Kokoro Hane about a plain girl named Chiharu who discovers Operation Magic Hero, an organization that gives her the ability to transform herself into a magical girl to take down bad guys at night.

sake-bento (of sakevisual) is creating a demo for Swan’s Melody, a story that’s supposedly about a group of four adorable friends (I’m expecting to be trolled somehow).

Toribi: Prelude is a visual novel by Capsy about Hum and Maria, two friends that have been together since birth who will be seperated in seven days when Hum packs up to go to a rural boarding school, away from the city that they grew up in.

Cheerful!Polymorph is a comedic fantasy visual novel by Mink, about a girl who’s cursed by a bitch to become a weremongoose, and goes to collect on her witch’s curse insurance policy only to be told that there’s nothing to pay her with.

Out of the Darkness is a science fiction visual novel by DarkSpartan, about a man who picks up a strange message – “Houston, we’ve had a problem” – on his comm unit, and decides to investigate the mystery behind those words.

Hidden in Spring is a yuri (GxG) visual novel by silenteve about a group of friends over spring break, and all of their secrets that threaten their friendships.

HigurashiKira is making Automaton: Memories of a Broken Girl, a GxB visual novel about an amnesiac girl recently released from a mental hospital, and her decision on whether to seek out her forgotten memories, or to just move forward with her life.

Shadowborn is a super natural horror visual novel by MiSi, about a normal guy with a relatively normal life, until he and his girlfriend’s quiet son becomes strange, sending him off on an occult adventure to unravel the truth behind his son’s behavior and his girlfriend’s obsessions.

azureXtwilight is working on the second episode of her ReSet series, ReSet Ep 2: Under the Golden Sun, about a pair of supernatural detectives who track down and capture demons – in this episode, they take shelter from a storm in a manor, where it becomes obvious that there’s something more to the mansion and its inhabitants than it seems.

Letters for You is a visual novel by Patty, about a mailman and a girl who stubbornly doesn’t wantto accept any of his deliveries.

…Wait, What Did I Just Read? is an experiment by Funnyguts, where anyone (yes, you can do it) can illustrate six 800×600 pictures for her short tale, based on your interpretation, to clear up its vagueness.

Nanolife is a visual novel by Anna about an AI stuck in his MMORPG without a player to control him.

Onigami is a mystery otome (GxB) game by Kitten the Cat, about a girl investigating her father’s disappearance from the Onigami House.

Anago Love! is a GxB visual novel by Aurehan, about a girl attending a fashion school in Japan, her obsession with anagos (eels), and the three boys that she can potentially date.

Sleepless Night is a short horror visual novel by NoJoker, about a person trapped in their room – full volume recommended for the ultimate scare.

Troubleshooter Tales – Lemming Check is a science fiction visual novel by DarkSpartan, and is part of a series; it’s about an investigation into a politician’s mysterious suicide.

CheeryMoya is making My Beautiful AI, a science fiction visual novel where you’re Zachary Wright, a lead researcher studying Artifical Intelligence, and with help from an AI you created, your choices will determine where your study leads.

The Knife of the Traitor is a comedy visual novel by clua, about Lady Os, who awakens after a four year sleep with a knife in her throat that keeps her from speaking – with help from her servant Corvus, she will explore the tower she’s trapped in and figure out who stabbed her.

Nellie is creating Spiral Destiny, a visual novel about a group of people trying to survive after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Thailand.

Ah! Peku is an adventure-style visual novel by NickelBuckle9, about an egg that falls from the moon and hatches – you’ll have to help it become strong enough to fly back to its home.

Ristorante Amore is a visual novel by Cyanide Tea, about a recent college graduate who starts working at her uncle’s restaurant – could she find love or something else?

Virus is a sci-fi/romance visual novel by Chushiki Maho, about a girl who has to deal with boyfriend drama, her beloved computer crashing, and her childhood friend confessing his feelings for her.

And, finally… we have Juniper’s Knot, a visual novel by dischan, a story told from two perspectives, “that of a demon and a boy.”

So! We’ll see how many of those projects make it by the end of the month. I wish everyone – announced or not (the unannounced ones might be killers) – the best of luck in finishing their projects. There’s a strong showing of visual novels this year, and it would be great to see at least half of them finished and posted.

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don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story

Romance, drama, and technology are three themes that fans of Christine Love‘s other works (such as Cell Phone Love Letter and Digital: A Love Story) should be familiar with. don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story is a visual novel that includes all three in spades. You play as John Rook, a two-time divorcé and high school teacher that secretly monitors his class’ social network on his Amie XTablet computer for potential cyberbullying. Through both reading their private messages and talking to his students face-to-face, Mr. Rook becomes seriously involved with seven of his special snowflakes’ lives.

The game plays out in two different ways. It’s like your typical visual novel with a bunch of choices, three endings, seven chapters, character development, and lots of dialogue. What makes the game shine is in its second feature – the Amie XTablet. That’s where you find the high level of customization that you’d expect from a Christine Love game. The tablet is your voyeuristic passport into the personal lives of your students. Their social network is like a better, more interesting FB with status updates you can actually care about, rather than bash your head open over.

Every time one of the kids posted something new (indicated by a noise), I rushed to read it. It didn’t matter to me that they weren’t paying attention in their lessons. Who cares about that when you can read about the latest classroom gossip? It’s funny how different they seem online versus reality, when you first meet them. There’s a quiet and proper girl standing in front of you in her uniform, and there, online, is that same girl with a suggestive profile picture. It made me laugh, because the same thing happens in real life – people have all kinds of pictures that their teachers shouldn’t be seeing, but probably can by doing a simple search.

The social network aspect made this game worth it to play, especially since we’re all stalkers. “Friending” and following and checking up on people – those are today’s most acceptable forms of stalking, because people post every minute detail of their lives, hoping that someone, somewhere out there will read it, even if they’ve only got their moms as followers/friends/etc. Some of us admit our creep status more readily, but social networking has provided us a whole window into people’s private lives. People air all sorts of dirty laundry online.

The characters in this game do exactly that. When they have problems, they write about it. As soon as they’re done confronting someone, they post about the aftermath. Nothing offline is kept one hundred percent separate from the online world. Even when John talks to his students, they’re texting away on their tablets, carrying on with the latest news.

The game is set in the year 2027, which is important to the plot. The chatspeak that the characters use might get annoying, but as someone who hears people quoting memes on a near daily basis, I think it’s feasible that kids in 2027 would have adopted “lol” into their regular speech. Strong language (including a certain homophobic slur) that we’d find offensive in 2012 has also become as common and innocuous as saying the word, “cat.” I found it more surprising that the kids weren’t using chatspeak in their actual posts.

It’s also set in a more liberal era, where homosexuality is more readily accepted. You witness the struggles and innocence of a new gay relationship, and can choose whether or not to help a broken up lesbian couple get back together. You can also choose to accept the advances of one of your underage students, if you’re feeling up to that. It was great to read a story where the relationships were treated naturally and realistically. There’s an opportunity to look at one of your students’ nudey pictures, too, by Googling a password. If any of those things bother you, then this might not be your game (’cause it definitely ain’t your story). The pedo storyline did gross me out, though, mainly because of their first kiss graphic.

Speaking of the CGs, some of them were pretty awkward looking. For the most part, the art is passable. The writing and coding completely trumps it. The side images are redundant, but I loved finding out more about the characters, and realizing how much more insightful they were than what I expected them to be on the surface. They’re more mature than they look, but at the same time, they’re just kids. And, this game, ultimately, is about their stories and lives, not yours. These are characters that will stick with me for a long while.

Read it. Play it. Whatever. You won’t regret it. The ending was a little preachy, but it did make me think about what the kids of the future will be like when I’m around John Rook’s age in 2027. I think I’ll look back on this game, and see how much of it rang true.

Become the bro-est of bros, and download the game here.

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Yume Nikki

Madotsuki had a dream, too. In fact, she had several dreams, each one freakier than the last. Some nights, she’s haunted by a myriad of eyeballs, backed up with a windy, electronic undercurrent. Other nights, she imagines herself in a room of candles, the sound of footsteps approaching echoing throughout her head.

When she wakes up, she returns to a reclusive reality, where the only door she ever exits is the one leading to her balcony. Try as she might, she’ll never leave her one room apartment. No. The world out there is a cold unknown, not the place for a shut-in like Madotsuki. All she has are her dreams, and her ancient TV & Famicom system, two symbols of how removed she is from every advancement outside.

In her dreams, she can walk into a dark place full of doors leading to all kinds of dream worlds. She first picked the door that was calling her name – the shiney, technicolor one. It was surreal, with bouncing neon creatures everywhere she turned. Unsure of herself, she walked down hallways, trying to avoid the monsters.

Some laughed when she knocked into them, and others grunted; all of them scared her. She ran, but no matter how fast she moved, there were more of them, in every direction she turned. Freaked out, Madotsuki woke herself up from her nightmare.

The next dream was just as weird. She chose a door that took her to a place that’s floor was a bird’s eye view of the entire dreamscape. Ominous music played as she walked along red serial numbers. It wasn’t like the dancing dream that she had had the night before. There weren’t dancing, wonderful creatures. Only two-legged red faced things.

The game/experience doesn’t hand you a plot. You’ve gotta do your own thinking. Everything you imagine about the experience comes from your own head, as much as it comes from hers. You don’t have any directions on where to go. All you know is that you have to travel throughout these dream worlds and capture “effects” ranging from cat ears to kitchen knives. When you place all of the effects in the room of doors, the game ends. That’s it.

It’s fun to guess what every symbol in her dreams mean. Something happened to this girl to make her into such a recluse. What that is, is up to you to decide, based on the figures in her dreams. There are plenty of theories floating around out there.

It’s not a game for everyone. If you’re the type of person that needs a clear objective, then Yume Nikki is not for you. In fact, if you are that type of person (nothing wrong with that), you should find yourself a walkthrough. The majority of the game is spent wandering from dream to dream, in search of 24 objects with nothing to point you where you should go. Like I said before, this is an EXPERIENCE, and a beautifully creepy one at that.

It’s like the sick twisted love child of Silent Hill (in atmosphere) and Earthbound (in looks). There’s a lot to discover within the game’s open-ended worlds. It’s not a scary game in the sense that a bunch of things pop out at you. The scares aren’t cheap. What makes Yume Nikki so scary is that it crawls under your skin. It does psychological horror right; your imagination makes it terrifying.

Yume Nikki isn’t a visual novel, but it’s an experience that I feel that most visual novel fans will enjoy, and one that I feel like visual novel developers can take a lot away from. When you create stories, you don’t have to spell everything out to your readers. Imagination goes a long way.

Kikiyama created Yume Nikki in 2005, using the RPG Maker 2003 program. You can download the English version here. Special thanks to Crimson for suggesting that I review this.

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That Cheap and Sacred Thing

Traffic’s gone down on the blog since last week. Bummer. I blame that on lack of updates, and lack of me writing a continued Katawa Shoujo review and more impressions. Sadly, I haven’t had the time nor privacy to 100% complete it yet.

Since college has started, I’ve actually had less time available for visual novel playing and reviewing than I thought I would. Things will calm down eventually. Also, the internet sucks so bad in my dorm that it takes hours to download projects that would’ve taken me only minutes to get at home. Things aren’t looking so good.

Luckily, I downloaded a few games that piqued my interest before I left, one of them being That Cheap and Sacred Thing, by carosene [DA] (who won Rookie of the Year in another VN blog’s 2011 award ceremony, congrats). I remember playing an early version of this game years ago. The file name was called TCAST back then, too.There weren’t any pictures in that version, but I do remember it being a science fiction love story that got my attention. I wasn’t sure that the project was going anywhere, but, surprise! In my absence, it did.

The game folder comes with some screen shots and CGs in it. I tried to avoid looking at them, but I couldn’t help it. The pictures contain spoilers, so don’t open them up until after you’ve read the story. The main menu is simple – it’s standard Ren’Py fare, but carosene makes it work. There’s even a “Bonus” button that can be unlocked upon completion. Everything’s pretty standard, actually – there isn’t any fancy customization. It’s got a very… “out of the box” Ren’Py look.

You play from the point of view of Autumn, a girl that’s never let go of her friendship with her favorite android, Elly, to the point where she’s never gotten a replacement ‘droid. Androids? Yep. You see, Autumn lives in a world full of robots and androids that look deceptively human, manufactured for specific purposes. MyPals – protectors of children, MyServants – almost as cool as Rosie the originator, AmorBots – rental robowhores, EternaLovers, GuardBodies, and more; you want it, they got it.

Her world’s full of robots that look deceptively like humans, manufactured to carry out certain tasks. Unfortunately, she’s not allowed to have any of them become “committed” to her (that’s when they establish a “love you forever” bond with their owner) with a real personality, because of a past accident that happened with Elly.

Like a boss, she’s always kept Elly’s backup disk with her, for sentimental reasons, like celebrating their best friend anniversary. And since their BFA is also Autumn’s birthday, a bunch of her friends throw her a party, and surprise her with a 24 hour AmorBot. Not happy about it, she agrees to spend time with the robot just so their money doesn’t go to waste.

Wow. The artwork for Elly’s “accident” was excellent, by the way. Shocking. Brilliant choice in coloring it so starkly. Well done overall for all of the pictures, actually. The art team included Leaux, Ashley Coulter (backgrounds), Verity, Morhigan, and Sena. I also liked the music, done by Shadelight with a couple of Kevin McLeod pieces thrown in, a lot. They all fit with their scenes. Congratulations to everyone else involved (sorry for the cop-out on not listing everyone’s names, I’m a zombie right now).

The ending hit me hard. I had a feeling that it was g oing to happen – it HAD to, but I couldn’t help feeling genuinely sad for both of the characters involved. I think I understand why this game resonates with people so well. It really does pull at your heart strings. Even now, I feel like I’ve taken a punch to the stomach, in a good way. I can’t think of many good ways to feel punched, but this is one of them.

Once you beat the game, you can see a variety of game bonuses, including an art gallery, thoughts about & analyses of the game from carosene, and a look into Darlings Lost, carosene’s seemingly permanently hiatused game (don’t worry about it, real life happens). Oh, and since you asked, carosene, I’d definitely read a sequel to TCAST, ero or not.

I liked how the story included Autumn questioning her own humanity, especially when it comes to something as extreme and nebulous as love. There’s a lot of layers to TCAST, and I really appreciated that. It really makes you take a step back and think. It’s the type of story that makes for a good and complicated conversation starter.

You can look at bigger screenshots here and download & discuss it here.

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Katawa Shoujo – My First Impressions

Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil anything here. When do I ever?

I’m not the type who would normally buy commercial visual novels. But, if I were the type, and I had bought Katawa Shoujo in a world where it wasn’t free, would I have been happy with my purchase? Yes. Definitely yes.

Having been on a number of gamemaking teams that crashed and burned because they were too ambitious, I have to give a hand to Four Leaf Studios for successfully finishing KS. Over twenty hands were involved in the five year making of Katawa Shoujo, and it shows.

Let me clarify that this is NOT a Katawa Shoujo review, at least not one written in my usual style. These are my first impressions. I wouldn’t feel right reviewing something this good without finishing the whole game. And, to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to completely review KS. This is a game that I’m playing without my reviewer hat on.

So far, I’ve gotten one bad ending, and just started Shizune’s fourth act. I’ve been impressed with this game right from the opener. You play as Hisao, a boy who has a heart attack after a girl he likes confesses her feelings to him. After spending months recovering in the hospital and finding out that he has a serious heart problem (arrhythmia), he has to go to a school for people with disabilities.

There, he can find friendship and maybe even love on five story arcs, each arc corresponding with a specific girl. There’s (okay, brace yourself for my bluntness) burnt Hanako, deaf Shizune, legless Emi, armless Rin, and blind Lilly. It’s reminiscent of Japanese visual novels in that you spend the first arc “playing the field” and figuring out which girl or girls to spend time with. The second act and beyond are focused on a girl’s storyline.

Katawa Shoujo is surprisingly sensitive in its treatment of its characters. As you play through the game, you, like Hisao, learn to see the girls as women beyond their disabilities. They’re not the tactless descriptions I gave them in the paragraph above. For example, Shizune’s not “deaf Shizune.” She’s witty with a competitive flair. As someone with my own physical, although mostly invisible, disability, I was thankful that the girls are developed characters and not simply fetish vehicles.

The game has an option for censored and uncensored, so if you’ve got options if you’re trying to avoid the porn aspects. The censored version makes the sex scenes fade away into pictures of fruit or cute gerbils. It’s kind of funny. The game has a great amount of extra features, like a jukebox, gallery, a library where you can check your progress & replay scenes, and a cinema where you can rewatch videos you’ve unlocked.

I love the music. One of the tracks, “The Student Council” theme, got stuck in my head when I was trying to sleep last night, which only happens when I like the music. The music is entirely appropriate for a visual novel, meaning that it enhances the reading rather than distracting from it. “Parity,” “Hokabi,” and “Generic Happy Music” are others that I really like.

Did I already mention that the art is awesome? Okay, if I haven’t said it already, it is. It’s the reason why I raged when I forgot to run the game in Admin mode. I must have taken around thirty screenshots during Act Two alone. Whenever I saw something I liked, I hit the “s” key. Sadly, none of those pictures saved because I forgot to play KS in Admin mode (it’s a Windows 7 thang). Boohoo, whatever. I found them again later. The art’s awesome, end of story. There’s also a ton of lovely visual tricks in the game.

The writing for Shizune’s path doesn’t blow me away, but it is pretty good. It actually does make me care about Hisao’s relationship with her. I still feel bad over a choice I made at the end of the third act – that’s how much this game gets to me. I can’t wait to keep playing. There were a couple of outlandish scenes, but I appreciated them for their comedic relief.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a visual novel that’s made me this absorbed in it. When I was playing KS around 1 this morning, I told myself that I’d only play for a half hour, then go to bed. Before I knew it, it was 3:30 AM, and I still didn’t want to pull myself away from it. That’s how good KS is.

Wow, it turns out that I wrote a lot more than I thought that I would. To sum it up – my first impressions are that this is a game that you shouldn’t miss. This isn’t just another generic high school story. It’s a lot deeper than just a “cripple school” story. Katawa Shoujo stands out, and for good reasons. That opinion might change the further I get in the game, but as of now, I’m doubtful of that.

This might be the last of the daily posts for a while. College starts up again for me on Monday, which means busy busy, and I’m going to need a few days to prepare for that. Have fun, and happy playing!

Posted in Impressions | 4 Comments