Visual Novel Theatre: Everlasting Summer

Hey, you remember when those degenerates at 4chan decided to make a visual novel, and how they were supposed to make something horrible and shameful and a blight on society but they threw a big curveball at us by actually making something really meaningful?  What if Katawa Shoujo wasn’t just a one off?  What if that exact same thing happened again?  And while we’re playing with our fun little vision, let’s imagine that everyone was wearing giant furry hats while they were doing it.

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And that brings us to Everlasting Summer.  No, it’s not a 4chan game.  Rather, this one came from the minds at… well, whatever they have going on at IIchan, a Russian imageboard.  Now, I don’t know anything about IIchan.  I got out of the whole chan culture around the time the edgelord thirteen year olds started flooding it.  Which, really, aside from the somewhat shared origins, Everlasting Summer doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with Katawa Shoujo that isn’t absolutely standard for the form, so let’s let the comparisons drop there.

So, Everlasting Summer is a romance story that you can turn into a sorta-eroge assuming you hang around all the right (or very wrong) places on the internet.  It’s Russian.  Very Russian.  It does its best to not be inaccessibly Russian, and does a very good job of that, but yeah, it’s Russian.  Be prepared for that.  Also, full of references to Russian imageboard memes that are guaranteed to fly right over your head.  It first seems a slightly oppressive dark paranormal mystery, then turns into a light fluffy romance with somewhat malevolent overtones, then, when you know where to look, those overtones start taking over and the mystery comes way to the fore, then the story just kind of peters out without going anywhere at the end.  Oops, spoilers.  I did find it to be a pretty enjoyable ride up until then though.  Also spoilers.  Sorry if you were hoping to whiteknuckle things all the way to the end of this rollercoaster of a review.

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Everlasting Summer places you in the surprisingly roomy pants of Semyon, an anime obsessed shut-in who spends his life on imageboards and who hasn’t had a meaningful interaction with another human being in years.  I am struggling so much not to ‘accidentally’ confuse him with one of the many other people I know who fits the description. Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – The Club

The Club

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So let’s go ahead and start getting in on the people our poor, tragic Keiichi has been hanging out with.  The people he loves.  The people who turned his life into spiders.  The people who ended up killing him.  Because, get this, in a character driven story, the characters end up being a little bit important.  And when your lead character is largely a cypher, the supporting cast end up picking up all that personality weight.  So let’s take a look at these people, who they are, and what they’re doing in the story.  Now’s a good time to put your overthinking cap on, by the way.  I certainly am.

Rika and Satoko

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Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first.  I do want to say, it is clear that Rika and Satoko are both very important to the overall plot.  There’s enough going on with them in this chapter alone that it’s obvious that we’re going to be seeing a lot, lot more of them in the arcs to come.

That said, although the both of them are around for a lot of Onikakushi, they’re not present for all the big moments, and they don’t really do a lot.  They’re not active characters, the plot does not turn on them.  At least, not yet.  Or maybe not in front of the curtains.  Yeah, it’s that kind of story.

Both Rika and Satoko are members of the big name families of the village.  Both of their families fell on the “wrong” side of the dam incident, Rika’s for not protesting it hard enough, Satoko’s for being in support of it.  Both have family members who were killed/onikakushi’d in the yearly incidents.  Multiple times, for Satoko.  And both of them live together, alone.  No parents, no caretakers, just the two of them.  Alone.  Rika gets some respect from the rest of the village, due to being their resident shrine maiden, and coming from a family strongly connected with their faith.  Satoko, we don’t really get an idea of what everyone thinks of her.  Well, except for Mion.  We’ll get into that in a bit.

In fact, let’s get into that right now!  Mion is competitive.  And you’ve got a club built around playing games against each other.  It stands to reason she’s going to be butting heads.  With everyone else, it seems just a good bit of friendly smacktalk.  It seems to cross the line a bit when she’s up against Satoko, though.  Could just be Satoko’s nature.  She’s definitely one to take the playfight a little too far.  But even so, Mion seems a little more ready to poke at Satoko’s vulnerabilities than she does to others.  And remember that her family was a supporter of the dam project while, according to Ooishi, Mion herself was on the other side of that fight.  Starts to make those barbs seem more a veiled blade.

It’s really, really strange nobody pays much attention to Satoko this story.  Her family gets called up all the time.  Her brother, Satoshi, in particular.  Keiichi even gets a bit obsessed with him.  Yet, even as Keiichi finds himself walking in her brother’s footsteps, he never bothers to talk to her about him.

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And as for Rika… we know she’s a bit devious.  She’s good at knowing things, and not letting on that she knows these things.  She shows that in the games, where she plays up her childlike appearance to manipulate people and lull her opponents into an unfounded sense of security.  In truth, she’s very analytic, and good at sussing things out, but she keeps that hidden.

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So where is she at with this story?  I’m going to do that thing where I read a lot into a single scene, but you recall when Keiichi took up Satoko’s brother’s bat, and started training with it as a weapon?  Rena freaked out.  Mion had a lot of trouble with that.  Rika noticed it, even as he was trying to hide it, and all she did was warn him not to lose the bat.  She wanted to make sure he kept it with him.  And earlier on, she was particularly concerned about Keiichi’s health.

Does that mean that she’s on his side, and wanted him to have it to defend himself?  Does it mean she knew what would happen to Rena and Mion in the end, and wanted to set him on that path?  Given that nature of this story, I think we can safely discard the idea that she knew nothing about the happenings and only wanted to Keiichi to be careful with the cherished bat.

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The Higurashi Notes: Onikakushi-Keiichi’s Sanity and Ooishi’s Behaviour

All right, so now that we’ve taken a look at the happenings in our last post, let’s go back and try to work out… you know, what actually happened.  Onikakushi drops a whole lot of questions.   No answers.  But if you know where to look, there might be a few hints.  So, what do you say we start with the biggest question?

How much is actually real?

Yeah, yeah, Onikakushi runs really heavily on the “Is it magic? Is it mundane?” question, to the point it has the characters arguing about it OOC at the end.  But you know, that question is nowhere near as interesting to me as this one.  Stuff happened in this plot.  A lot of stuff happened in this plot.  But, did all the stuff that happened actually happen?

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At its core, Onikakushi is a story about Keiichi’s descent into paranoia.  You see him going from being a normal kid, run into a conspiracy so far beyond him that starts targeting him for even knowing about it, and in defense, Keiichi starts backing into the corner and pulling out the claws.  Starts smashing up nothing, thinking enemies are all around him.  But, maybe it goes beyond justifiable paranoia.  Maybe Keiichi starts experiencing things that are not actually there.

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It’s interesting to me how much Keiichi does that seems to serve no other purpose than to make his house a portrait of madness at the end.  The entry way of his home is all smashed up.  Mashed garbage strewn all over the room.  A hastily scrawled note asking “Was there a needle?” on the fridge.  The brief, hand-written memoirs of a crazed child stuck with tape behind his clock.  The kind of home that would make you think its owner escaped from the asylum if you came across it in any crime drama.  Of course, all of these were in response to something Keiichi was reacting to, and you see all the context for that, but take a look at that from outside Keiichi’s head for a bit.  He smashes up his house by swinging at something invisible and intangible.  He has a relatively calm phone conversation with Ooishi, then mention of the needle causes him to take a break and throw garbage all over his house, before he returns to the calm-ish conversation.  Keiichi knows what it all looks like.  That’s why he’s so very careful about what he puts in his dead drop note, and why it ends up being way too vague to be useful, outside of the bits that get torn out before the police find it.

But how far back does Keiichi’s altered perception go?  Let’s start from the end, and take a look at some contradictions between what we’re shown and what we know.

So first, the police report at the end.  Right off the bat, it states, and states conclusively, that Keiichi had called Rena and Mion over to his house before he beat them to death.  Now, it doesn’t list any of the evidence for that claim, but logically, the police would be able to look into phone records in regards to what calls were made.  At least, I’m going to assume they could.  I don’t know ‘bout that 1983.  So we can figure that it’s more than just an assumption that Keiichi called them out.  Thing is, if you recall from the events we saw, when Keiichi woke up in his house before he killed his friends, Rena was already there.  Sure, she called Mion from Keiichi’s house, but there’d be no reason for Rena to be called over.  Unless, either the ‘Director’ she called share’s Rena’s number, or Keiichi had in fact called her over, and just wasn’t cognizant of it.

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Keiichi died in exactly the same way as Tomitake did earlier.  That’s exactly what Mion was threatening, saying he’d be injected with the same drug.  But there’s two problems with this.  The first, going by what we saw, Keiichi was never injected with the drug.  He blacked out just before he did, came to with his friends dead, then recalled that he had knocked them away before he was injected.  Possibly, this is recreating memories after the fact, but otherwise, he should never have been impacted by the drug at all.  The second notable thing is that Keiichi started following in Tomitake’s footsteps long before the drug ever came up.  The big moment is when he smashed up his front entryway, striking at the presence he detected but couldn’t see.  Ooishi had notice that Tomitake had been found with a two-by-four that had impacted several things, but had no blood, skin, or biologic materials found on it.  He smashed up a guardrail, but had no sign of actually hitting anyone else with it.  Mayhaps he had been finding a presence that couldn’t be seen or touched, himself. Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – Plot Rundown

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Look at this!  Isn’t this amazing!  I said I was going to do a thing.  Which, ok sure, that happens.  But then!  But then I actually did it!  How often does that happen in your life?!

In any case, here’s the first part of typing waaaaaaaaaaaay too many words talking about Higurashi.  If you missed our intro post, here’s the deal.  I’ve been playing these visual novels.  I’ve been wanting to talk about them.  To analyze them.  To dissect them.  So that’s what we’ll be doing today, over the first chapter of the series, Onikakushi.  We’re going full on for spoilers for that chapter, but we’ll be keeping things safe for all the other chapters.  We’re free on discussing chapter one, whatever we need to there, but we won’t be brushing on anything else.  Might be literally the only place on the internet to do that.

Do I need any further ado?  I think that’s enough ado.  Let’s get into the do.

So, today, we’re mostly going to be following along with the plot.  Summarizing things for those who are just joining us or could use a bit of a refresher before we jump right into the deep end.  We’ll be dropping some bits of analysis on the way, but it’ll be the next post where we really get into things.  So hey, if you’re interested in this stuff, why don’t you follow along?  If not, go ahead and wait for next time.  Do whatever works for you.  Ain’t required reading here.  But, chances are, it will make your life better.  So much better.  In fact, I’m pretty confident about that.

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The Manly Guide to the Lady’s Choice

I’m going to be shameless today.  Well, more shameless than usual.  Yes, even more shameless than my standard practice of filling every reasonable opportunity with a treatise on how good I look.  Which is very, incredibly good, by the way.  Seriously, just check me out.

Okay, and now try your very best to put that out of your mind for the moment, because I have something else to talk about, and I don’t want you getting distracted.  A very close personal friend of mine is an independent game developer.  She recently came out with a new release.  The Lady’s Choice.  It’s a regency romance otome visual novel, which I never realized was a genre until she started work on this game.  Anyways, I played it, and you should too.  After all, if I enjoyed it, and my heart is already a stone-cold hunk of bitterness forged by way too many late-night Linkin Park sessions, someone with a more “healthy” personality will probably find it quite enthralling.  And it’s free, pay what you want or nothing at all.  Find it here.

Thing is, the game, as previously mentioned, an otome.  Literally translates into ‘games for girls’.  So I, being the manliest warbeast ever to bless this Earth, am obviously not in the target demographic.  You might not be either.  So I thought I’d do us all a favor, and take the opportunity while I’m shilling to present the man’s man’s man’s perspective on The Lady’s Choice.

So let’s run down our crew.

The Lady

Yeah, here’s our lead.  The game has a default name for her, but you’ve got no obligation to stick to that, and can name her whatever badass name you wish.  Anyways, she gets called back to her homeland from the country due to some happenings with her family, and finds herself immersed in the world of the society once more.  Has to deal with all the social gatherings of a bunch of people whose primary focuses in life are counting all their money, being posh, and finding a socio-politically advantageous mate.  She’s a strong, independent woman and don’t need none of that, but given that this is a romance game, winds up finding herself a little someone to call her own anyways.

Arabella

So, Arabella’s your main homegirl, and the Obi-Wan all over your quest to find love.  She’s been part of the society for quite some time, and has done it all already, so she knows the lay of the land.  Knows who’s the jerks, who’s the hunks, who’s the bad boys you just can’t be seen with, who’s the types to hold a grudge.  Whatever you do, whoever’s feathers you ruffle, she’s got your back.

Lord Stanton

So here’s Lord Stanton.  Lord Stanton’s the man.  Nobody else likes him, but they don’t know what they’re missing.  You see that cane there?  It’s not for walking. It’s not for looking cool.  No, that’s a drubbing cane.  See, Stanton’s walking on the dark side of town, and he needs that cane to deliver these drubbings to all the bad boys and girls.  Every time you’re walking around, running into some guy who just desperately needs a drubbing?  Bam, Stanton’s there.  He’s the classic shadowed hero on top of that, too.  Dude with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, set up in a society that just assumes he’s always on the dark side.  And he bears that all.  Dude knows he’s righteous, he doesn’t need to worry about what everyone else thinks.

Guy Blake

So here’s the guy, Guy.  Guy Blake is a member of the military in an era where only the well-born get enlisted, in spite of coming from a pretty poor background.  He does this by being straight up harder than everyone else.  He works harder, fights harder, lives harder, that’s all how he do.  The only thing he doesn’t do harder than everyone else is put up with the stupid jerks at the Society.  Until they push him too far.  Then he’s putting them in their place in the most proper way possible.  Probably the realest character on cast.  Aside from you, of course.

Mr. Amesbury

Here’s Mr. Amesbury.  We don’t know much about Mr. Amesbury.  He shows up in the first party you go to, but doesn’t get his own route.  People might say that’s because this was a NanoReno game, and time was at a premium, but I think it’s more that he just got busy right after that party.  Very busy.  After all, you didn’t hear of England getting invaded by the horde that year, did you?

That’s the Lady’s Choice!  Find it here!

Visual Novel Theatre: Ristorante Amore

Hey there, hey there.  So, recently, your main man Aether played yet another visual novel marketed primarily towards girls who like all that touchy-feely romance stuff.  You know what that means!  Time for yet another Visual Novel Theatre.

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So, our offering up today is the freeware novel Ristorante Amore from developer duo Cyanide Tea.  As you might guess from the title, it’s a love story.  I mean, really, pretty much everything is a love story at its core, right?  James Bond is almost always about him saving their girls as much as him saving England, Final Fantasy X wrapped up its world-saving plot in a big ol’ fantasy love story, Dark Souls was at its heart a tale all about how much I love hating myself.  This one’s just a little more up front about it than most.  It’s also really up front about screwing with my screencap capabilities.  We’re going to have to see just how far I can get by shamelessly ripping things off the internet.

Jumping right into it, the most notable thing about Ristorante Amore is the big twist at the end of the first act.  Which, in all honesty, the concept behind the twist is pretty neat.  You start the novel, and right away, you’re going through an utterly standard, blatantly clichéd romance story, the type that’s in like everyone’s first romance VN ever.  You progress through the story pretty quickly, then get to the end of the complete arc, and BAM!  Everything you thought you knew was wrong, time for the real story.   Kind of impossible to get into the real story without talking about that twist.  So, I’ll give you one chance.  If you’re going to be interested in Ristorante Amore at all, if there’s even the slightest chance you’re going to want to play it after reading this and you care about spoilers, go ahead and download it now and spend about 15 minutes getting through the prologue, and come back so you can have your precious little fresh experience.

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Visual Novel Theatre-Fantasia: Realm of Thanos

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Fantasia: Realm of Thanos.  Here’s a visual novel that owns some really odd online real estate.  Most of the visual novel market, as least as far as I’ve seen, doesn’t pay much mind to it, but on certain segments, certain forums?  People are absolutely fanatical for it.  There’s something that draws people there.  What is it, exactly?  Is it that it really emphasizes its anime-style bad boys, and that’s just what all these people are into?  Is it that the main character’s situation, being a stranger in a world completely foreign to them, strongly resonates with today’s disaffected youth?  Does being pushed to enter the world of romance and finding all your options to be total jerks and losers feel so familiar to so many people?  In our special, exploratory edition of Visual Novel Theatre, I pack my best shorts, make myself a sandwich, and head deep into the bushes of Fantasia to find out.

In Fantasia: Realm of Thanos, you’re behind the wheel of Hammercles Von Chunkmeier, or whatever weak name you decided to give your main character instead, a 15 year old girl whose parents died in a plane crash and who apparently has literally no one else involved in her life at all.   So, you’re going through your hard knock life, doing whatever things it is that 15 year old girls do, when all of a sudden some random woman shows up, and tells you that there’s another world out there and it’s going to be destroyed unless you go out and get some loving from a guy whose life sucks as much as yours does.  Of course, you agree to that right away, because this wouldn’t be much of a story without it.  So off you’re whisked to the land of Fantasia, to go all big pimpin with four messed up mammajammas in the hopes that one of them will love you enough to produce a magic key that will save the land from the invading realm of Thanos somehow.  I don’t even know.  I think the author lost a little steam there.  Anyways, that’s the gist of it.  New world, gotta save it by getting some guy with a screwed up life to love you.

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Fantasia ROT is a homegrown effort by AzureXTwilight, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of thought into it.  Well, into certain parts of it at least.  There’s fifteen endings, plenty of branching paths, and a lot of character intertwining.  I do want to lead with this.  Whatever I may say about the rest of the visual novel, that’s something that always stands.  It feels like I’ve been given a little peek into an imaginary world that the author’s been spending a lot of time in, and that’s a really special thing.  It reminds me a lot of all my own imaginary worlds, stories, and people that just never made it out of my head.  That’s something that’s just so great out of all these amateur and indie releases we’re seeing now in the information age, that is lets people share these experiences that would normally be locked away, so valuable to one person yet invisible to all else, and that is truly on great display here.

That said, I didn’t like it.

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Visual Novel Theatre: Narcissu

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Narcissu has been on my list forever, and I just haven’t wanted to experience it.  Which is an oddity for me.  I love fiction, I enjoy visual novels, and I enjoy thought-provoking works, all of which, by reputation at least, Narcissu fits.  But I didn’t want to read it.  I didn’t want to deal with this.  I know the subject matter it covers, and it’s not something I’ve historically done well with.  Sure, you might look down on me for it, for letting myself get so cowed by such a simple, universal subject.  You might call me names, like wuss, and coward, and gorgeous.  And I might deserve them.  Especially that last one.  But the topic at the core of Narcissu is one that I’ve not handled well over the course of my life, one that regularly cuts through the cold, chiseled, manly outer shell into the tender emotional heart underneath.

Narcissu is about dying.  Slowly, inevitably, dying.

Narcissu’s reputation ensured I was interested, but its subject ensured I needed to be in the right mindset for it.  And so it remained in limbo for a long, long while, until now.  I’m coming off of one of the worst months I’ve had the displeasure of living through, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s all it took to finally tip the scales and get me to do this thing.

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Narcissu is a Japanese-based visual novel written by Tomo Kataoka, an experienced visual novel creator whose works have almost never left Japan so you’d really have almost no reason to know who he is outside of this entry.  It comes in two parts, both of which we’ll be covering here: Narcissu and Narcissu Side 2nd, of which each tells a self-contained but related story and both of which have been given officially endorsed fan translations.  It’s available for free on Steam here or for regular download here for those who would rather not have DRM in their freeware, fan-translated, absolutely-no-strings-attached visual novel.

Both entries in Narcissu largely start from the same place.  You’re behind the eyes of a young Japanese person who’s been struggling their entire life with an unnamed terminal circulatory disease, probably Dramatitus or something like that.  The opening lines of the novel tie your protagonist pretty firmly with the local hospital, where they become particularly well-acquainted with the 7th floor, the hospice, the end-of-life care center.  Your protagonist makes friends, of a sort, with one of the residents there, and become acquainted to the rules of that place.  Namely, once you’re admitted there, there’s no getting better, and though you may recover enough to go home for a while, you will eventually be readmitted to the hospice, and you will not live long enough to make it to a fourth stay.  Together, you journey, with your friend dealing with the issues they’re facing near the end of their life.

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Narcissu, that is, the first part of this duology, puts you in the shoes of a nameless, featureless, faceless young man who is admitted to the 7th floor hospice after losing your lifetime battle with your illness.  There, you meet Setsumi, a quiet, reserved girl just a bit older than you.  Over the course of weeks, you get to know each other.  Eventually, your condition stabilizes enough that you’re released to your home, but rather than heading back to spend time with your family, on a whim you steal your dad’s car and escape with Setsumi.  You’ve got no real plan, and while Setsumi has ideas, she’s so closed-off that she’s really not forthcoming with them.  You travel simply for the sake of travelling for a while, stealing what you need as you go, before you work out enough hints from Setsumi to get together a goal.  After you figure out what she really wants, you and Setsumi begin searching Japan for a flower, the narcissus, or daffodil, that gives this visual novel its name.

Side 2nd is a prequel, taking place around seven years before the first part.  You spend most of the time in Setsumi’s head, before she found herself consigned to the seventh floor hospice and was just a long-term outpatient.  Her family is just now shifting and changing their life to accommodate her illness and unique needs, and are absolutely ecstatic when she makes a friend.  The catch?  That friend is Himeko, a resident of the seventh floor hospice.  Himeko, who has by all outward appearances cast of everything, faith, family, friends, from her old life, pretty much takes the shy, quiet Setsumi under her wing.  Setsumi begins visiting daily, at Himeko’s request, and Himeko starts taking the younger girl on small outings as she checks off a list of the ten things she wants to do before she dies.

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Both sides of Narcissu are very much an experiment in using minimalism as part of the visual novel craft.  This is most obviously apparent through the presentation.  Visuals are limited to pretty basic backgrounds, and you barely see your characters at all, while the music is simple and understated, and the game limits itself to using 1-3 lines of text at a time.  This extends to the plot itself, as you get barely any characterization, and events follow a pretty simple structure and progression.  Each game only has two main characters, maintains few moving parts, and has little in the way of big splash screens or special effects.  The second game opens up a bit, incorporating a few side characters, having two intertwined plotlines, and featuring a notable animation and songs, but even so, compared to other visual novels, it’s a pretty bare bones tale.  By word of the author, this is all very deliberate, both to evoke imagination in the reader to fill in the gaps and to play with the medium a bit.

It is very easy to do minimalism poorly.  When you’re creating an experience without a lot in it, well, sometimes it can be hard to fit all the pieces together.  Minimalism lays your story bare, and to be successful, you need to have something to shine through.  Hard to put together when you’re trying to use as little content as possible.  And Narcissu does have some missteps I implementing its minimalism, mostly in the first part, as the author seems a lot more comfortable with the form in the second.  But the minimalism does allow the work’s themes to shine through, in such a beautiful way.  I was never engaged by the story, nor was I really entertained, but the theming was so powerful, because of that minimalism, and that’s what truly stuck with me.  These tales work on a high, concept-level more than anything else, are more as a whole story than as the sum of its events.  More than anything else, the first part of Narcissu is a tale of finally taking control after a lifetime without it, of facing inevitability, of death and suicide, of disregarding the structures of society when it has nothing for you.  And the beauty of Narcissu Side 2nd is almost entirely in its treatment of themes.  The story is self-contained, but in no way separate from the first game, and the connections are largely through its themes.  The themes in Side 2nd serve as a counterpart to those in the first part.  Where the first part is about looking ahead and finding nothing, the second part is about finding solace in re-living the past.  Where the first deals with coming to an end, the second deals with cycles.  Where the first covers the progression into hopeless situations, the second is about faith in adversity.  The theming in Side 2nd is such that, though the plot itself may be fully experienced enjoyed on its own, you will never get a complete picture without also going through the first part.  In fact, it’s one of the few works that retroactively makes its predecessor better, and it does so entirely through its treatment of themes.  The themes in both parts of Narcissu are so powerful, and come through so clearly, that I fear I’m not a skilled enough writer to properly discuss them in this review.

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And so, moving on.  I was worried this was going to be a depressing work.  It wasn’t.  Not for me, at least.  Others on the internet have reported different experiences.  I never connected with the characters to quite emphasize with the crappy situations they were going through.  Going by the author’s notes, this was by design.  I did, however, find it very thought-provoking.  I had finished it up shortly before heading to sleep, and it had kept me up in my hotel bed for hours, thinking through the content it provided.  Which is a truly strong showing for a work as minimal as this.

You have to be willing to read into it to get anything out of it, though.  This isn’t a story you can really enjoy casually.  In his notes, Kataoka had mentioned he was trying to create a work that was really subject to the whole Death of the Author deal, where it’s all about the reader filling in the gaps and interpreting the story as makes sense to them, individually.  I think he may have gone a little too far that direction, particularly in the first part, where it can start to feel less open to interpretation and more clueless and deliberately obtuse.  Some odd writing on the part of either the authors or the translators doesn’t help either.  However, there is enough there that if you’re willing to work at it, you’ll probably be able to draw something meaningful out of this work.  I certainly did.

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Visual Novel Theatre: OMGWTFOTL

I’ve had more than a few people call me ‘manly’. But what does that even mean? Is it even possible to define a trait or ideal that encompasses in some way nearly half of the human population? There are some who consider manliness to be the ability to provide for and serve others. There are some who consider manliness the act of being burly and old-fashioned. And there are some who consider manliness being ludicrously excessive and wild.

And you know, that last one may not be entirely accurate, but it does make for some good experiences.

OMGWTFOTL1

OMGWTFOTL (Odious Manly Genuflection With Terrible Fury, Only True Lamentation) fits pretty squarely into that last definition. This is a quick and simple freeware visual novel about the glory of excess and random humor. It’s very, very small. You can see everything this story has to offer in about a half-hour’s time, and it only has like five CGs and two background tracks. In fact, I’m making an effort here not to spend more time building this post than I spent going through this visual novel. But for that half-hour? It will rock your world. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have this magnificent lumberjack beard when I started playing through it. That’s what this game will do for you.

OMGWTFOTL2

Plot? What do you care about plot?! There are skulls to be shattered. Fine, so OMGWTFOTL starts out with you in the middle of a fight with Osaka Bancho, a beast of a man who brought to heel 300 Kansai street gangs, raped your sister, and gouged out your best friends eyes. He wants you to genuflect. In fact, that’s what the game’s all about. Genuflection. Don’t do it, though. Well, I mean, you can, but that would fit well into the Odious Manliness and the Terrible Fury of the game’s title. From there, the VN pretty much plays out in a sort of stream of consciousness format. Random ideas are just spit out all over the place, with only the barest attachments to each other. Where the story starts has absolutely no bearing on where it ultimately ends, and very little on what occurs between points A and B. It’s all random humor. And if you’re into that, OMGWTFOTL does it among the best in the business.

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One of the really valuable things about such a short visual novel is that the writers are able to have every single choice lead you on a different path. There are a number of decision points in the game. Every single one of them, even the initial title screen, offers you the option to genuflect. And you can always take it. If you’re some sort of namby pamby. If you’re Sick Wicked like me, though, you’ll find yourself ending the fight with Osaka Bancho in one of three ways. Or you might die along the way. There’s plenty of opportunity for that. But at least your death will be sweet. After that, well, the world is your oyster. Maybe you’ll find love. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you’ll storm an American military base naked with nothing but a katana. Who knows? You will, if you give this story a try.

And, I’m hitting about a half-hour of posting and editing for this half-hour game, so I’m calling this post right here. OMGWTFOTL: If you like random humor, if you like the Internet’s flavor of ‘Manliness’, you’ll like this game. Find it here.

Visual Novel Theatre-Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius

sunrider title screen

I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for those works that are made not because someone’s trying to make a profit, not because someone wants to get a name for themselves, but simply because someone decides that this is a thing that needs to exist. The urge to just create is a powerful, beautiful thing, and some of the best works of art out there are just these kinds of projects, those that exist for no other reason than to fulfill someone’s passion. In fact, I believe that’s one of the greatest things about the internet, that it makes it so easy for creators to just produce and get their works to an audience, with no worries about the costs of publishing, marketing, or anything else that normally goes into most of the creative works we all enjoy. The freeware creators are incredibly valuable.

There is one big flaw with creators, though. They’re people, too. And that means they need to eat, take shelter, and bungee jump over active volcanoes just as much as regular people like you and me. And for that, they need money. And money changes things. I’ve seen that so many times, through my background in both working with nonprofits and as a small business consultant. Nonprofit projects where everyone regularly stretches every dollar involved as far as possible will suddenly get a lot more convoluted when people find there’s the possibility of getting paid, and artists trying to turn their craft into a business quickly find out how much they need to change their approach to their art. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make a living out of your work, but the pursuit of compensation does necessitate a different way of creating, and oftentimes your work will be quite a bit different than it would have been had you just done it for nothing other than the need to create. It’s not necessarily a worse situation, just a different one, and we’ve been seeing plenty of it lately with the rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Patreon.

And I think that’s a large part of the reason why I like Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius so much. This is a work that has money behind it. And yet, even though they got money involved, this is very much an obvious labor of love. Love in Space, Sunrider’s creators, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over $44,000, almost fifteen times their original goal. Nobody’s going to get rich off that, but that’s still more than enough, with proper management, to get a small, limited, indie game out into the world with a tidy profit trailing it. With Sunrider, though, the production values, the amount of content created, the amount of just plain work that’s so, so apparent in the finished product is so high that I will never believe that Sunrider’s turning a profit. All the crowdfunder money and more is accounted for in the completed work. The visual novel has professional quality voice actors, sound design, art, and more, to the point that the amount of money they’ve collected through the crowdfunder could never cover all this alone. It’s obvious that the team behind Love in Space are volunteering at least some of their own time and resources to the project, yet even so, this project is still completely freeware. They’re creating it simply because they want this to be a world in which Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius exists. Just the amount of integrity and passion going into Sunrider makes the work notable. The fact that it actually delivers are long, enjoyable experience for the pricetag of completely, no strings, no expectations, free only makes it more so.

Sunrider asaga screenshot

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is a combination visual novel/turn-based strategy game, currently in open beta available on Steam. Basically, you’ve got turn-based strategy battles, with the visual novel format telling the story in between. Or maybe it’s visual novel story segments with turn-based strategy battles in between. Whatever. The game uses both of them and keeps them at about equal importance, so you can’t say it’s a ‘turn-based strategy game with visual novel elements’ or however the reviewers would phrase it these days.

In keeping with Love in Space’s moniker, Sunrider is a good old fashion space warfare tale with a bit of a romance bent. You are Captain Kayto Shields, the suspiciously silver-haired commander of the warship Sunrider, the pride of the planet Cera’s military. Unfortunately, said military doesn’t get to bask in it’s magnificence long, as that organization, along with the planet’s government and a good chunk of it’s people, simply stops existing shortly after the Sunrider’s first taste of real combat with the nefarious PACT. And so, you are left with one of the most powerful military vessels in the galaxy, absolutely no chain of command or oversight, an unlimited amount of ammunition, and a real grudge against the PACT fleet and all their explodable, squishy, bullet-magnet spacecraft. What do you do?

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