Visual Novel Theatre: Yandere-Chan

Usually, for our Visual Novel Theatre series, we highlight one of the best visual novels available. We take our pick of the crème de la crème. We either go for something professionally created by a team of high caliber auteurs, or a freeware project that has proven itself well by garnering a lot of regard through those interested in such things. Today, though, I thought we’d do something a bit different. Rather than picking up on one of those projects that has actual teams, money, or experience behind it, I thought we’d go for a story that’s a little more grassroots. Something put together by an amateur hobbyist with no goals of ever making it as a visual novel rock star. Today, we’ve got a piece from someone who simply had a story they felt needed telling, and that a visual novel was the way to do it.

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The VN on our plate today is Yandere-chan, a freeware story by Zero-Q Dimension, also known as Nyodude, also known some-guy-who-did-a-bunch-of-anime-parody-fandubs-a-few-years-back-I-never-heard-of-him-Aether-why-are-you-doing-this-Aether-why? For those of you who are just that specific level of nerdy where you’re actually able to find this page but not nerdy enough to know your niche moe terminology, a Yandere is a term for a character in a work who is and is driven by an obsessive, sometimes stalker-level love for another into insanity and generally violence. So think Kathy Bates from Misery, Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim, Anakin Skywalker from Battlestar Galactica, you get the picture. Mentally unbalanced individuals who are primarily motivated by love for another and often hurt the ones around them because they’ll lash out at anything to get to the one they love. We’ve all dated at least one of these, right? And obviously, that’s the topic of our story here. You play as some geek moving to a new high school, then soon meet yourself a traditional Yandere. Then you do your best to not let her spontaneous, irrational, psychotic love which appears out of nowhere lead her to brutally murdering you and ditching the body someplace you’ll never be found. So, it’s basically an OKCupid simulator. Sounds like fun, right?

So far, we’ve covered either professional productions or amateur works that nonetheless had a lot of time and expertise put into them. Yandere-chan’s not like that. It only has one creator, on his first Visual Novel, who didn’t have the time nor the resources we’ve been seeing from most of the creaters here at Visual Novel Theatre. There are a lot of ways to handle that, when you don’t have quite the production the big players do. Zero-Q Dimension elected to focus on a story of a really small scale. There’s only two real characters, you’ve got one main story event to get through, and the experience as a whole is really quick. I got through it in about 45 minutes my first run, then, thanks to the magic of the skip function, the rest, save one, took about 5 minutes a piece, catching up on all the myriad endings I missed. In fact, I may actually spend more time on reviewing this work than I actually did experiencing it! Let’s try to avoid that. In any case, yeah, this is a remarkably simple visual novel. The author was aiming low for his first attempt in the genre, but he hit that point solidly. There’s not a lot of depth, but for the most part, the story’s not carrying any extra fat. The only elements included are those that need to be there. The visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of flourish, but it carries its bare bones structure well. With a few exceptions, the author composes his minimalist work competently.

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As mentioned above, there’s only two characters we’re playing with here. You’ve got your main, he of the user-generated name. He’s a perfectly bland high schooler come to a brand new school. He’s got pretty much the behavior you’d expect, concerned with making friends, his hormones drive his thoughts a bit into the dark side when girls pay attention to him, but never too far, possibly comes from an abusive home, but for the most part, he’s a pretty good kid. At the end of his first day at school, he encounters himself a mysterious young woman, who seems oddly familiar with him…

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Here’s the Yandere-chan of the title. Mia, a strident loner at school, she seems to go out of her way to avoid talking to anyone. Yet, she’s really, really happy to open up to you. Extremely so. She claims that the two of you knew each other some time ago, and event you have absolutely no memory of. She is all over you from the word go, which reminds me of my own high school experience. Also reminding me of my own high school experience, she will straight up try to BLOODILY MURDER YOU as soon as there’s the slightest hitch in events. Yeah, as it turns out, Mia’s a loner because she’s a bit touched in the head. Specifically, she’s touched in the head by some crazed psychotic hate-god, because she will lose track of reality and murder you over the smallest thing. Mia’s personality is never consistent over the course of this visual novel. You could call that bad writing. Or it could be deliberate, she’s that way because of her clearly unstable sanity. It is a little striking, though. Through one path, she clearly has no sense of reality and is manically trying to kill you because she believes you’re an imposter sent to hurt her. Through another, she’s cold, remarkably intelligent, and very, very lucid as she attempts murder upon you following a very strongly prepared plan. It’s hard to get a handle on her because of how much her personality varies. The one thing that is consistent is that she is just plain sick.

One thing that really impressed me about this work is that while it’s not very vertically long, it is pretty sizable, horizontally. By that, I mean that while you’ll never spend a lot of time on any individual playthrough, the story has several branches, and every one of them past the first gives you a completely different story after that point. This isn’t one of your lame ‘make your choice now and it will maybe change some numbers two games from now while having no impact on the story’ Mass Effect style choices, every choice beyond the first gives you something completely new to experience. In all, there’s eight endings you can get.

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Most of them end like this. Bloody murder of some sort or another. Usually involving scissors. There’s one good ending you can get. It’s not really that good for the people involved, but hey, everyone ends up alive, and that’s better than any other ending. No matter how much the moe fandom may fetishize them, getting involved with murderous crazy ladies doesn’t generally end well. That’s the moral of our story today.

When thinking about how to review this work, the phrase ‘limited, but competent’ came up a lot. That really would describe this whole work pretty well. The plot really just has one point to hit, but it does so well enough. The visuals are perfectly fine, there’s just not a whole lot of them, nor is there much in the way of variation in Mia’s character portraits. The game as a whole is obviously a small, limited project, but it seems comfortable in being that, and hits its low targets solidly without really excelling.

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There’s just three main weaknesses, all in writing style, that I felt were apparent enough to be worth pointing out. First, Nyodude could really have used himself an editor, or at least someone to take a look over his text. Typos abound in this work, and there are some words, such as ‘chili’, that it’s really apparent he doesn’t know how to spell. Second, and this is a weakness Yandere-chan shares with a lot of its contemporaries, the Visual Novel has a habit of getting too wordy. There are a few instances where the work will keep going on and on after we already get the point, using several lines to say what really only needed one. And third, the author doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of how court or mental illness really works. It’s not such a big deal, the court scene is quickly brushed over and if you can accept the premise of Yandere-chan, you probably won’t be too bothered by the fact that being a Yandere still isn’t a recognized condition in the DSM-IV, but still, if your suspension of disbelief is fragile, that may be well more than enough to break it.

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In closing, I’m not sure if I can give Yandere-chan a recommendation to those who aren’t already a fan of visual novels or the moe fandom. Other visual novels have more of a story to tell, and, speaking as someone who is about as far from moe as you can get, I feel like there were some anime-style calls or features put in there that I was completely lost on. If you’re already into visual novels? It might be worth your time. It’s free, quick, unique, and competent, and may just scratch a quick itch for you.


Never Trust an Author

No Author

Western culture has an odd fascination with liars. So many people, telling lies so blatant that everyone’s learned not to trust them, yet still we place them at the highest echelons of our societies. Politicians, corporate executives, lawyers, and the like, all very well known as fibbers of the highest order. Yet still we raise them up, largely because of their lies, giving them some of the highest salaries and greatest honors our communities have to offer. They’re some of our culture’s most accomplished false witnesses, some of the most public liars, yet they are far from the most blatant. No, the most devious, the boldest, the most blatant liars take up an occupation that generally gives them a lot less income or prestige, but it’s worth it to them because it affords much more opportunity to lie. Most professions at least have to give off the impression that they’re there for legitimate reasons, but this one, we’ll readily pay them to lie to us. In all of human history, has there been a bigger rat liar than the humble storyteller?

Authors, writers, dramatists, playwrights, that whole blasted trade. They will give us the most obvious lies imaginable and expect us to take them with a smile. These are the people who will just make up a tale from whole cloth then devote themselves completely and utterly to making us believe it could be true. They’ll do their best to convince us, through words, details, and any other tool of their trade, that their imaginary words are real, that their characters exist, that their stories are actually happening, even as you read them. They will do anything they can to immerse you in their lies, to make their words leave the page and overtake your own reality, at least for as long as you’re reading them. These are the mendacious folk who will just spawn a character from their own twisted minds, then make them complex and fleshed out enough that we feel for them just as much as we do those in real life. These are the cruel beings who will use their wicked powers over words to make us feel every twist and turn in the plot as if it was actually happening to us. The author is the malicious mage who draw us into their cold, cruel worlds and personally feel every smile and tear their characters go through. It is they who trick us into making the unreal real in our own minds, in tearing and boosting our emotions with nothing more than their tall, tall tales.

And we love them for it.

Visual Novel Theatre-Re: Alistair++

Re: Alistair Title

It’s always a little odd, experiencing a story that connects with something in your personal life. Whether it’s about a subject that relates to your job, speaks to something you do as a hobby, or includes something you’ve been through in the past, it’s like you’re experiencing it on a level somewhat different than the average viewer. You’re seeing the same things, but absorbing something completely different. I had that feeling recently when I made my way through the freeware visual novel Re: Alistair++. There were three things that called out to stuff I’ve been going through in real life, in fact. First, it’s about video games, which anyone who reads this blog knows I’m well immersed in. Second, a large part of it is about exploring how relationships between people online transfer into the real world, again, a subject I have experience in. Third, it really calls back to that one time I was a high school girl in some vague setting and had to go get all the boys. In fact, that’s probably the strongest connection I have with this game. Re: Alistair++ gives me the freedom to relive those days, to linger in the memory of having the wind blowing in my hair, of the constant sleepovers and pillowfights, of the eternal fight to spend as much time as possible shopping, or whatever high school girls are supposed to be into. I don’t know, I wasn’t in that state very long.

Re: Alistair++ is a freeware visual novel put together by sakevisual. You can download it here! It’s an otome, a game targeted towards the interests of young Japanese ladies, which I’m sure you’ll all agree fits me perfectly. In this game, you play as Merui Lucas, a short-tempered but otherwise average high school student with a deep passion for the MMORPG Rivenwell Online. And it is during one session of the game that our adventure starts. Merui and her online partner in crime have been taking on a boss above their level, hoping to get the precious Blessed Stone it drops. After a grueling fight, they’ve got it ready to fall when some total knobhead, known as Alistair, killsteals it out from under them, landing the final blow and taking the Blessed Stone for himself.

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Of course, Merui’s not one to let things go, and an argument follows. It’s cut short, however, as Merui’s school, where she’s playing the game over lunch, is struck with a network outage. As Merui finds when she’s able to log back on, Alistair was affected by that outage, too, meaning she knows he goes to her school. Further investigation reveals that only three other people were logged onto the school network at the time of the outage. Merui’s got quite the lead onto who he could be. In response, Alistair lays down a bet. If Merui can figure out who he is in real life within one month, she gets her Blessed Stone. If not, he gets all the gold she makes in that month. Merui, not one to turn down a challenge, begins the investigation.

In game, RuiOfTheSword may be a mighty knight who answers to no one but herself, but in meatspace, Merui is a high school girl, with all the responsibilities that entails. You’ve got your investigation ahead of you, sure, but you also have to work on homework, maintain your social life, go shopping (see! I told you!), and, if you’re lucky, get yourself a boyfriend. It’s only by managing all of those that you’ll be able to find success in your endeavors.

The three boys who may possibly be Alistair are also your eligible bachelors, and naturally, you’ll be getting closer to each of them as you investigate who Alistair may possibly be. It’s already hard forging bonds, knowing that any one of them may be a rampant dicknostril in disguise, but to make matters worse, all three of your potential suitors/future punching bags play Rivenwell Online but are somewhat cagey about it, for various reasons. However, as the game progresses, the search for Alistair takes more and more of a backseat, and your goal becomes more about growing close to these potential mates.

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The True Power of Artistic License

Artistic license.  The concept that a good plot is more important than a realistic depiction.  That which an author uses when reality selfishly refuses to accommodate what they need for the plot to work.

I was talking with Harliqueen a while back, when she was in the process of writing what would become Heart of the Arena. At the time, she was greatly concerned about historical accuracy, about making sure all the facts she was implementing to her story conformed as much to historical fact as she could make them. She wanted to ensure that her story stuck as closely to reality as reasonably possible.

At the time, I was struck by that. I’ve been taking the exact opposite approach in my own ongoing work, treating my subject matter with however much flexibility I needed to make the awesome scenes I wanted, and I’d been considering that one of my strengths. And you know what? I still do. Both approaches, that of perfect accuracy and of wanton artistic interpretation, definitely have their merits. It just so happens that the latter is serving my story a lot better.

Even from the outset, I have a lot of room, a necessity even, for utilizing artistic interpretation. While Harli’s tale draws its roots from Roman history, mine bases a lot on mythology and religion, a much softer science. Moreover, I’m drawing from both quite a few different cultural tales and faiths, and taking some inspiration from apocrypha as well, so I really need to implement a lot of ‘creative interpretation’ to ensure my story’s logic can integrate all these sources yet still be consistent. Even beyond that, though, I’ve been thinking that heavy use of artistic license, to the extent I’m looking at with my current work, could be a very beneficial factor in itself.

Basically, what I’m thinking is that a properly applied sense of artistic license can add its own layers onto the work as a whole beyond just what it allows for plot. A good, strong, consistent manner of deviating from what’s established by reality can help to establish an atmosphere and tone for the work on its own, helping it to stand out and creating its own unique. Pretty much any work based in any way on the real world makes use of some degree of artistic license. By being deliberate about it, though, and ensuring its applied consistently throughout, the author can take command of it to help make the work as a whole more unique, having a stronger overall design, and more flexibility in how to implement stories.

There’s a fine line there. Artistic license should only be applied where there’s room for it. That’s one of the reasons I have a lot more flexibility in working with mythology and religion than on other subjects. I’ll already be using a lot of various sources with a lot of internal inconsistencies, where there may not be in something like history. However, every inconsistency is the seed for some sort of interpretation. And by managing those inconsistencies and growing out of them creatively, I’ll be able to make my work a lot stronger than it would be otherwise.

Aether Reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane


That’s right, boys and girls!  Not only does Aether play video games, not only does Aether watch movies, but Aether reads the occasional book as well!  As part of my efforts to absolutely avoid any sort of thematic consistency in my blog, I’m going to review one of them!  Because you can’t be truly popular until you’ve successfully alienated everyone who’s followed you since the beginning, right?

Self-targeted snark aside, Neil Gaiman has long been one of my favorite authors/writers.  Not because I always enjoy his works; I don’t exactly have the best track record of OMG LUVING everything he puts out.  No, it’s because I really admire his writing style.  Gaiman has a way of making his stories so simple and accessible while still maintaining a surprising amount of depth, and I always find it interesting to analyze how he works his way through the plot, even when I don’t like the work itself.  Gaiman is one of the few authors I’ve deliberately stolen elements from to try in my own writing styles, as opposed to… you know… just unconsciously stealing from.  So I imagine it’d be no surprise that I’ve picked up his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is a book that’s really hard to classify.  It’s definitely an adult title, but it reads like a children’s book.  The protagonist is seven years old and the narrative uses simplified language to match that, and the book itself is a really quick read, much like a young adult title.  However, the story deals with very mature concepts, such as child abuse, suicide, and imprisonment, and is definitely too dark for most well-adjusted children.  On it’s surface, the book is a fairly standard contemporary fantasy, yet it adds a lot of supernatural horror elements to the story as it goes on.   Of course, it’s not like the classification really matters, so long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.  This is a story that blends together several genres and sections, and finds a way to make them work so well that you won’t even notice the seams until you try to blog about them later.

The story feels almost folklorish in it’s execution.  Spellcheck says that folklorish isn’t a word, but I don’t care.  It mixes the mythological with the mundane fairly evenly, and its magic would not feel out of place in those night-time stories your grandmother used to tell you.  The viewpoint character is the seven year old nameless protagonist, who lives in the English countryside in the mid-1900s.  When his family’s tenant dies, the protagonist (you know what?  Let’s just call him Steve.) finds himself briefly in the care of the Hempstock family, three generations of women who live down the lane and seem to know just a little too much about what’s going on.  As it turns out, the tenant’s death, suicide over money troubles, has brought an unseen entity closer to the material world who seeks to sale that community’s money problems in the worst ways possible.  We’re talking choking people with money, assaulting children with coins, that sort of thing.  After some misadventures in the Other World with Lettie, the youngest member of the Hempstock family who seems to take a liking to Steve, that supernatural entity focuses its attention on Steve personally and starts ripping his life apart.  Steve flees to the Hempstocks for help, and it’s up to them to remove that entity from this world.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels a lot like Gaiman’s earlier work, American Gods, and has a lot of similar elements.  Both have first-person protagonists who are essentially pawns in supernatural conflicts much greater than them, both have magical elements that are internally consistent without ever being properly explained, and both have plots that expect you to keep up on your own volition without really helping you along the way.  Thing is, I didn’t much like American Gods, where I actually enjoyed this book.  I think it’s an issue of scope.  American Gods was a grand conflict spanning across the nation with a wide variety of characters involved and working against each other, whereas Ocean is a story set in one small community with just a handful of major characters, and it works a lot better.  Both books don’t hold your hand to help you understand the forces being presented to you, but in American Gods every unexplained thing just compounds on one another, whereas in this book there’s not as much to be worried about so it’s much easier to keep up.   It feels natural for Steve in Ocean to be naive and uninformed about the world around him, because a) he’s only seven and b) this was a relatively small event, taking place over a short amount of time and only involving a few people, so he didn’t really have time to get acclimated to it.

This was a fun read.  The book doesn’t overstay its welcome, is deep enough to provoke a bit of thought, and develops a fairly interesting world.  Those going into it expecting a large fantasy epic or big grand conflicts aren’t going to find what they’re looking for, but for the rest of us, this tale of a young child being terrorized by otherworldy forces and finding help from a friendly magic family should definitely entertain.

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

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Heading back to the Christine Love visual novel well a second time, I recently made my way through the tangled romances of high school in don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story.  Yes, that’s exactly what it’s called.  Capitalization and all.  My spelling is prefect, don’t question me.  dtipb,ijays is a spiritual successor to Christine Love’s earlier work,  Digital: a Love Story, which we reviewed here.  Like Digital, it can be downloaded for free here.  As a spiritual successor, it hits a lot of the same themes as Digital.  It’s about love, and the way the internet is used, and inter-character relationships drive most of the plot.  However, the way diptb,jiysa delivers on those themes is radically different than its predecessor, and in my opinion, a lot stronger.

In this game, you play the role of John Rook, a twice-divorced 38 year old man who lands a teaching role at Lake City Academy, a private American High School that apparently has only seven students enrolled.  Well, saying you “play the role” of Mr. Rook is stretching it a bit.  pdibt,ayisj‘s storyline is a bit more flexible than Digital’s completely linear plot was, offering you the chance to push a variety of characters down a few different paths and having three different endings, but you’ve actually got very little input over Rook’s actions.  Whereas the main character of Digital did nothing without you pressing a button for it, John Rook is his own man.  Your only affect on the game is occasionally choosing which of two or three conversation options to take.  It’s not a bad thing.  If you go into a visual novel expecting to be able to bend the plot to your whim, you’re going to be more disappointed than I was when I was 5 and I learned my “Mickey Mouse’s Underwear” joke wasn’t funny.

Anyways: you=John Rook, teaching english literature at Lake City Academy.  You have seven students in your one class.  Maybe there’s more, but they’re never relevant to the plot so the game doesn’t bother to mention them.  However, as the title mentions, this just ain’t your story.  The story’s really about your students and the various juvenile romantic entanglements and personal problems high school always involves.  Rook’s role is to take the bishop pawn and help the black queen put the white queen into checkmate within three moves.  Oh wait.  What were we talking about again?  Right.  btipd,jsayi takes place in a world were high school students actually talk to their teachers.  Voluntarily even!  So your role is to help your students work out their personal issues with love and… well, mostly love.  Or, you could use your power to make sure everyone dies friendless and alone.  If you’re a dick.

But you don’t go into your matchmaking services without help.  Oh no!  The school, in order to curb bullying, has given teachers full access to its students social media profiles and private messages!  So you get every opportunity to spy on your students and learn that Jake is so dreamy but Rebecca’s already got dibs on him so I think I might try to move on his best fried Zack but oh he does that weird thing with his knuckles that’s soooooooooooo gross I don’t think I can go through with it.  Obviously, there’d be some pretty big issues if the students found out that their worthless gossip spread outside their circle, so you have to keep your ability to read every private issue a complete secret.

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