deIz

I wasn’t so sure about reviewing another game by a maker that already has a heavily established fan base, but I decided to do it anyway. deIz is a visual novel about a guy with a crush on an indie film director who goes to his same high school. It was created by Mike Inel, who wrote an apology for his poor writing right before the main menu even shows up. He didn’t even give me a chance to form my own opinion first. That’s either gonna be a good or a bad thing.

At first, the main menu is plain. As you get more endings, the menu fills up with all of the characters. It’s a nice touch. One of the best parts of deIz was the gallery feature. I hate it when I can’t look back on CGs that I’ve collected, especially when the artwork is as nice as the art in this game. There are over fifty CGs, and at least twenty pieces of “extras,” including a history of the game, concept art sketches, a look into Inel’s drawing process and an animation. The game is short enough that you can get all of the pieces in a comfortable amount of time, so the gallery alone is enough of a reason to play.

Unfortunately, as gorgeous as the gallery was as a whole, the more I played his game, what he apologized about proved to be true. The writing wasn’t gripping. I gave it a chance because of the art. The game also doesn’t have any sound. That fact, combined with the empty writing, made the game feel like it lacked polish. It felt like it was taking steps in the right direction, but it was missing extra “oomph” to put it over the top.

The endings were creative. Some of them are kind of twisted, though, namely the one with [censored] forcing themself on [censored] (play the game to find out). That one was just creepy. One of the characters has boobs so massive that it’s comical. She literally cradles her boobs in her ending. While there are a couple of sweet “that’s cute” endings, most of the others are either comedic or disturbing. Guess that’s what they mean by bad endings.

deIz is equal opportunistic with its fan service. It has something for mostly everyone. Cat ears, broken fourth walls, scary eyes, panty shots, near nudity, thinly veiled anime references, friendly curiosity, really shiney girls, and more. There are twelve different endings, and loads of pictures to see and collect in the gallery & extras screens. It turns out that an enhanced version is in the works, so keep a look out on Mike Inel’s DeviantArt page for a release date.

You can download it from here and read a walkthrough here (WARNING: SPOILERS).

EDIT: Mike Inel is also the guy that created the wonderful FMVs in Katawa Shoujo. Pretty fitting that I wrote about Katawa Shoujo right after deIz.

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Slimey – A Romantic Movie

IT’S SO FLUFFY!

Slimey – A Romantic Movie is an animated kinetic novel created by Celianna. You might recognize her name if you’re familiar with the RPG Maker scene, her Harvest Moon fanfiction & fanimation Pretty Ore, or her up and coming Harvest Moon-inspired game Tailor Tales.

Created with the RPG Maker VX (RMVX) program, Slimey – A Romantic Movie is the classic story of slime meets girl. After being rescued from one of those pesky hero types by a kind girl named Karin, Slimey falls for her. In order to have a chance with her, he makes a deal with a witch to be turned into a human. There’s only one catch. If he doesn’t get a kiss from Karin before the full moon, the witch will have his soul FOREVER.

The mapmaking here is awesome, but that’s to be expected when Celianna made the tiles herself. The choices in music were completely appropriate for each scene. I loved the way that the music flowed seamlessly from one piece to the next, without any noticeable pauses. If you watch the YouTube version like I did, you’ll see that the animations are all smooth. There are absolutely no hiccups. The writing was light-hearted, warm, and fuzzy. I loved the dialogue, to the point where the “blipblipblip” talking noises they made became actual voices in my head as I read.

Slimey – A Romantic Movie is the perfect pick-me-up animation to watch when you’re having a bad day. I will never look at blue slimes the same way again. I rooted for him from the start. I couldn’t get over how adorable this story was while I was watching it. I still can’t, even as I write this review. My heart was one hundred percent with Slimey, from the moment I hit play. When he danced with Karin towards the end of the story, I literally held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t mess up.

I cheered, I was sad, I laughed, I was scared – I felt so much for these characters. One of my favorite moments in Slimey – A Romantic Movie was from 09:54 to 11:26 on the third part. I loved everything about that part, especially the music and their interactions. It’s so fluffy, indeed. Don’t miss out on watching Slimey – A Romantic Movie. And, don’t even try to resist its infectious sweetness.

You can watch it and discuss it here at LSF, or click here for a direct link to its playlist on YouTube.

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Digital: A Love Story

Beating this game felt like a triumph. Seriously. I’m a computer champion now. Throw any computer at me, and I’ll hack my way right through it, no problem. Just watch me as I traverse through every single dial-up channel available – oh, wait, you don’t have to punch in any phone numbers to connect to your network? What do you mean, you’re not going to hit me with an Amie Workbench? What? This isn’t 1988, either? Um, forget everything that I just said, then.

Digital: A Love Story is an adventure game created by Christine Love. You play the game as someone (you pick his/her real name and his/her username) who gets his/her first computer in 1988 called the Amie Workbench. Welcome to the old school Internet world of dial-up, complete with BBS (Bulletin Board System) networks and an Amiga-esque interface. All of your actions take place on the Amie Workbench’s screen. As expected from Love, this isn’t your standard visual novel set-up. You’re literally in front of the system. Playing this in full screen mode enriches the experience.

This game took me way back. Hearing that irritating screech of the dial-up connecting reminded me of when I was really little, around 7, all the way back in 2000. Back then, I used America Online on a connection so slow that I didn’t even know animated gifs were supposed to move. Remember all of those free trial CDs? As much of a pain that noise was, it was also almost comforting in its familiarity.

It was fun clicking around BBS pages and sending messages to random people. It was a little confusing at first that I couldn’t read what I was sending. Eventually, I got used to it, and being able to guess and interpret my own replies added to the fun. Love’s not handing your replies to you. They’re all within your own imagination. This game is smooth. In the beginning, it really does feel like you’re someone with a new computer.

On your local BBS, you take notice of a poet named Emilia. Lonely, you find a kindred spirit in her. Your connection becomes more serious as you get drawn into a mysterious web of hackers, crazy network exploits, and a satisfyingly dark puzzle that’s too good not to crack. I really felt for the protagonist. The journey to the end of the story got to me.

The music was excellently digital sounding. Every piece drove its points home, whether sad, romantic, or intense. This game was as much of a visual treat as an auditory one. I do have to admit that if you’re a person who’s prone to frustration, you shouldn’t play this game in one sitting. There’s no copy and paste feature, so you’ll have to enter every number time and time again whenever you want to connect. And you connect to various places A LOT. You download a notepad application early on in the game, but I suggest writing the numbers down, too. It saves you a headache in case you run into trouble.

All in all, this game is awesome if you have the patience for it. Download it from the RAA here, from its fancy page on the gamemaker’s website here, and discuss it here at LSF. Also, keep a look-out for the Heart of Fire easter egg!

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Dusk ~A Moonlight Romance~

First review of 2012. If this isn’t a totally coherent post, sorry. New Years does that to people.

This time, instead of reviewing something sad and/or cerebral, I’m going to write about a funny one that takes aim at everyone’s favorite teen angst vampire sparkle crap story Twilight. Yep, that book series that’s ruined the vampire genre forever. I miss the days of Buffy and Angel… Anyway, jokes about the books and movies have been done to death and beyond, but Dusk holds its own. Dusk ~A Moonlight Romance~ was created by Chensterrain of Studio Super63, the same one that created the celebrated otome (GxB) game Lucky Rabbit Reflex.

Forget that stupid Vampires Suck movie. This is the definitive Twilight parody, one that’s guaranteed to make you at least smile in amusement. Saturated with purple prose, this kinetic novel makes fun of everything that the first part of Twilight stands for. You’ve got your oblivious Mary Sue named Angelica Chastity Honeydew Rosebud Dove (seriously). You’ve got Ephraim Callahan, the mysterious pretty boy with a secret to tell. And, you’ve got Jared Brown the Indian Native American of the Qufifosjoa tribe. I’m not even going to attempt the true spelling right now. I’m glad I wrote most of this ahead of time.

I loved the gloomy choice of Kevin MacLeod music. It added to this melodramatic story of a boring girl with “russet locks” inexplicably drawn to an “icy, rock hard man.” The customization is great, right down to the “options” screen being a bookmark over the storybook layout design. Chensterrain’s unique art style, although inspired by anime, is refreshing in the sea of big eyed small mouthed clones. The comedy writing feels effortless, which keeps the story amusing all the way to the end rather than a drag. It doesn’t lampoon the entire movie, but that’s alright.

Now knowing how witty and good at comedy writing Chensterrain is, I’m more inclined to buy her commercial game Lucky Rabbit Reflex. And, on a related note, if you’re in the mood for some more Twilight-centered laughter after reading Dusk, check out Twilight: The Broodening over at Newgrounds. Haha.

You can discuss and download Dusk here at LSF, or download it here from the RAA.

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Remembering Amie

I picked out Remembering Amie, a kinetic novel written by Kazuki “lunasspecto” Mishima and released May 30th, 2009, at random. It’s a minimalistic story, told mainly from the point of view of Francis, a person thinking back on the times he spent with his childhood friend Amie.

When other kids played Pokémon, they talked about things like the vastness of the universe, and how small people can feel within that infinite backdrop. Heavy stuff for an eleven and twelve year old. Now an eighteen year old on the edge of adulthood, he is stuck in the past, unwilling to move on from those memories that they shared. Too bad, memory is such a fragile thing to latch on to…

Honestly, Remembering Amie was a pleasant surprise. Sure, the graphics are bathroom signs, but they actually fit perfectly within the context of the story. Because their appearances weren’t handed out to me on a platter, I was able to imagine everything for myself. Much like Francis, I put together the pieces of the past to form a memory I could walk into. I loved the movement of the backgrounds while he and Amie spoke of infinity. As colorless as it is, Remembering Amie is an unexpected visual treat.

The orchestral music considerably works in the story’s favor. It might have been because it was a fast read, but I didn’t get tired of the pieces at all. The music, like the grayscale design, showcased Kazuki Mishima’s wonderful story beautifully. I loved the punchline, and the murkiness of Francis’s sense of reality.

You can discuss it here and/or download it from here. This is the final review of 2011, by the way. Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

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Christmas

With December quickly coming to a close, I felt like I should do a write-up on a holiday themed visual novel. Might as well, right? Lucky me that I pick the one with a main character that’s more of a Scrooge than Ebenezer himself. This girl’s so pissed off about the holiday season that she even makes priests want to bash their skulls open in frustration. Someone pissed in Jennifer’s cornflakes. And her lunch bag. And her TV dinner. And her damn midnight Twinkie. Every Christmas, she writes hate mail to Santa, cursing him for not fulfilling his duty as a white bearded wish granter. Bah humbug.

Jennifer is notorious around town for hating Christmas. She stomps her way around the snow, attacking everyone she sees for their merriment. Fed up with everyone’s cheer, she decides to go for a drive in her car. While driving, she sees an old man stranded by the road. Not one to ever say no, she agrees to give him a lift to the local cemetery, the very same one that her brother, who died on Christmas, rests in.

There, she meets a supportive stranger that can relate to her grieving. They connect during their conversation, where the stranger tries to convince her that she doesn’t hate Christmas. Whether or not their meeting is enough to change Jennifer’s mind about the holidays, is up to you to find out.

DragoonHP’s visual novel “Christmas” is a heartfelt story of loss and restoration, and a sad one at that. The grammar errors might make it hard for some people to enjoy the story. Some of them were glaring, but easy-to-make mistakes. For instance, “loose” instead of “lose,” and writing “this” instead of “these.” Small stuff. It’s a kinetic novel, meaning that there aren’t any choices. The customized main menu screen screams winter. The game gives you the option to play it edited or unedited. The unedited version contains stronger language. Coming from various sources, the music and filtered backgrounds were well-picked.

Zhee’s character art isn’t the shiniest, but that’s alright. It’s endearing, all the same. Who cares if the art isn’t highly detailed? Visual novels aren’t just the pretty pictures. They’re like an intersection of story, art, music, and programming, each contained within their own universes. And, was the art up to par for this work? Yes. Don’t let comparisons to others’ stories stop you from releasing your story. Do you have something to tell? Tell it, then. But, I digress. Back to DragoonHP’s work. The icon being a snowflake is a nice touch. Everything works in conjunction here to build a wintry setting. Christmas, indeed.

It’s definitely not the happiest Christmas story out there. I don’t know if it was because of her Scrooge sensibilities in the beginning of the story or what, but even the somewhat uplifting ending left me feeling down.

You can download Christmas from the Ren’Ai Archives here and discuss it here in its LSF thread.

Christmas was released on Jan. 27, 2011. Review written while playing version 1.1

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Decorus Carcer / Beautiful Prison

Beautiful Prison

If you’re used to playing all of your Originally English visual novels in the Ren’Py format, you’re going to be in for a surprise when you load up Adam “dechorus” Thompson’s atmospheric visual short story Decorus Carcer (Beautiful Prison). When I loaded up the file, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. The first thing I noticed was a file named Tetris. Interest piqued. I’ve always preferred Pacman to Tetris, but, hey, who am I to complain about a medieval/fantasy Tetris adventure? Armed with artwork from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and music from various Internet corners, Mr. Thompson programmed this game & its engine from scratch over two years.

Unfortunately, people who strictly use Mac or Linux won’t be able to play this story, because it was developed in Microsoft XNA. After install screen after install screen, the game finally loaded up – full screen, without warning (alt+enter for windowed mode). You’re treated to an animated opener, with Ken Burns-style zooming away from a castle or a fortress in the distance, while colorful grass sways at the bottom of the screen. The opening text failed to leave an impression on me. It was just flavoring that very indirectly introduced the game’s setting, if you squint hard enough.

I made the mistake of hitting Escape, thinking it would minimize the program. The game won’t ask you if you’re sure you want to quit; it just closes. Not a bad thing if you’re early in the game, but if you’re close to the middle, you’ll be frustrated. There’s no main menu, and no saving & loading feature. You can’t skip anything that you’ve already seen. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, this game has zero to do with any old school arcade games.

decorus carcer

Another bug that I ran into happened when Hadrian (more on him, later) was complaining about wanting to check his letters before Hope (more on her, later) arrived. I’ll admit that I couldn’t find where the mail box was. I was clicking all over the room, listening to Hadrian’s descriptions and complaints about being too slow. I liked the point and click interactivity. What I didn’t like was when I hit my Enter key, expecting it to advance the text, when it suddenly zoomed through the story. Dialogue between Hadrian and Hope raced across the screen, music came on, and suddenly, there were the credits. Odd.

The music and the artwork strengthened the game’s medieval/fantasy setting immensely. The sprites are static, but my imagination was strong enough not to care about that. The characters’ speech go in and out from old time to modern, and there’s a mention of Hadrian’s place being his apartment with a landlord, but that’s the fantasy element for you. The game has a gritty look, but the story was unexpectedly a lot lighter than its dark appearance.

The game play revolves around Hadrian, a troubled engineer who’s lacking confidence in his writing, so much so that he’s ran into some writer’s block with a play he’s writing, called Beautiful Prison. He gets a letter from his friend Hope’s little sister Hana, wanting to know how his story’s going and wishing him well. She even mentions that she and her sister like him a whole lot. Hadrian just might feel the same way for Hope, depending on how you want the story to play out.

dc bp

I didn’t get the best grasp on who Hadrian and Hope were, but I didn’t mind that. Decorus Carcer makes its readers into an audience for a cute, fledgling romance, one that’s still playing with the idea of crossing that fluffy line between friends and something else. The other focus with the story is how Hope helps Hadrian completely formulate his story. He talks about things that a lot of artists, not just writers, can relate to. Actually, come to think of it, even people just taking pictures on their cellphone can relate to not being completely in the moment when they’re focused on capturing the scene. Their conversations get pretty philosophical.

The final scene provides an honest look into the struggles of the writing process. I wished that the menu choices that were already read could have been crossed out after reading them, or erased. As more topics are added, the menu just keeps vertically expanding. It broke part of the feel of the scene for me.

Despite that, I liked Decorus Carcer overall. I think it’s worth a look. It’s not a story that has a whole lot happening. That’s the point. It’s a snapshot into the life of a man overcoming writer block, whether it’s through the love of a girl or by some other means. If romance isn’t your thing, you might enjoy it for its philosophies, and vice versa.

Check it out and download it from its LemmaSoft thread here.

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