Game Impressions: June Part 2/2

Continuing right along with the rest of the games I played in June. 👌  Overall, I have to say Ken ga Kimi was my pick of the month, with honorable mention to Sweet Pool.

Sweet Pool

Sweet Pool was definitely not a game I expected to like as much as I did.  It has been and still is the butt of a joke for a lot of its content, which is exacerbated by the fact it’s a BL game.  I personally have extremely low tolerance for gore and mpreg (?) elements, so I was quite worried about how I might find it.  Something else that was also holding me back was the fact that I still remembered the grand ending of Sweet Pool from a blog post.  Ultimately, though, I am glad I decided to experience the game myself. Sweet Pool is a sensory experience and it shines in its ambiance, not what actually happens in the plot.  Truly, truly a game to play for yourself rather than reading a digest of it.

Even long time N+C players will likely find the style refreshing because the writing is a little peculiar.  Details are told to such specificity that they tend to stick in your mind; the number 3, all the imagery with light and reflections, the texture of chapped lips, the crunchy sounds a kitten makes as it eats, Youji and Tetsuo’s development told primarily via food, for example.  This technique is used to great effect, particularly in highlighting the sensory aspect of the experience.

On a similar vein, the music in Sweet Pool is simply amazing.  There are two particular tracks that I still remember several weeks after the game, and one of these is the track that plays in the penultimate scene of Makoto’s route: the gradual addition of static and electrical guitar as the tension escalated with each of Makoto’s lines was masterful.  The other song is the piano track with a minor note strewn in every two chords or so, just so that things feel completely wrong but only for a slight second before the track goes on.  The contrast here is quite powerful when you play Tetsuo’s instinct routes back to back, as they both use piano tracks and have similar outcomes – only, the latter is decidedly more haunting.

Also some more comments that tread on spoiler territory (highlight to read):

  • The dialogue between Youji and Youji’s sister: the themes in this conversation were the same as those in Lamento, i.e., there is strength and kindness in the warmth you receive from those that care about you that help you move forward.  Despite all the terrible things that happen to these characters, many of which they were born into and couldn’t control, it’s heartwarming that there is a sliver of hope at the end of the tunnel. In fact, when stripped to their core, one could argue that N+C games all have this same message. Their games tend to have a lot of hardcore content, but the more grotesque circumstances are, the more pronounced this contrast.
  • I found it interesting that Sweet Pool took a religious approach to the Uchinarusonzai’s origins, as with lifeforms that infest humans, it’s more common to see them characterized as aliens i.e. have them be a purely biological/more scientifically rooted species.  Similarly, there are parallels with Youji and the Virgin Mary, and the obvious cult inspired elements of the Free People.
  • Above all, humanness is the motivating factor for every single character in Sweet Pool, even the Uchinarusonzai.  Even the myrmecoleon analogy and its very existence came from the human error in mistranslation.
  • Like all N+C games, Sweet Pool didn’t disappoint with the metaphors and double meanings penetrating almost every single aspect of the game.  The pool at the end of the game, for one, could stand for quite a number of things, e.g., a womb, or an aquarium.  I also found this after the fact, but apparently some species of fish die when they mate, and others can even change sex depending on external circumstances.  Mind blooooown.
  • The liner notes on this game were particularly eye opening as well.  The art director apparently paid extra attention to the light and shadow balance, which they completely nailed IMO. I loved the muted aesthetic of the character models, and the red color not getting overbearing except exactly when they wanted them to.
  • The adviser also wrote that, even though the job of a creator is to satisfy the needs of the audience, doing so is only a “technical” accomplishment that is akin to cheap, instant gratification.  True satiation come from giving them something that completely transcends their wants and expectations… and because that place is completely unknown, the creator has no choice but to rely on his or her own desires to find it.  Even if that runs the risk of just being labeled by others as self-pleasure, self-pleasure and pleasing others are two sides of the same coin, and neither can exist without the other.  They go on to say Lamento was really close to being something that just pleased the audience, hence, why Sweet Pool is what it is.  If anyone was wondering how they could go from cat boys to meat monsters, this is essentially the reason.  The director later adds that while it was a challenging game to work on, they were quite proud of it because it established the direction they wanted to go in as N+C as constant challengers.  I really respect that the staff said this; despite significant risks, they will always try to push the envelope as true storytellers and entertainers.

Overall, I think a large part of what contributes to the peculiar feel of Sweet Pool is the fact that it is set in a school.  It is a typical high school setting with everyone on typical living arrangements and schedules – but with the characters also carrying secrets so removed from reality and common sense, everything meshes together to produce something both removed from and rooted in reality.

Kyoukai no Shirayuki

Any game I decide to play immediately after a N+C game has a high sense of getting judged unfairly, but I am not sure whether Kyoukai no Shirayuki was forgettable because of my play order or if it was because of the game itself….

Anyways, Kinako’s art was extremely refreshing and the bright coloring made for an overall very unique looking otome game.  I also liked most characters individually, but unfortunately, the plot of the game suffers quite a bit.  The flow of every character’s story is more or less the same, with minor surprises and nothing you didn’t see coming from the prologue with the exception of Utsuro’s origin, so with seven total characters getting through the game feels like quite a chore.  I also think they missed a prime opportunity for a tie in with the seven deadly scenes, considering how as a game with Snow White in the title, they had a set up with apples going without any particular effort.  Instead they opted for a pomegranate and a Hades/Persephone metaphor, and tried to cram in as many other fairy tales they could throw in with no actual weighted importance to Snow White.  The characters were cute though… and uh, the characters were cute…?

Taisho x Alice

I went into this game expecting an existential game with double, triple meanings just like Shinigami to Shoujo.  Actually, I was outright expecting a second Shinigami to Shoujo, which I was not entirely wrong about… but not in a good way: the Alistea plot twist had already been done in StS, so it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking.  The plot points themselves weren’t executed badly, and the build up and pinnacled confusion in Snow White’s route were nice, but almost all of it was ruined by…

The game suffers VERY HEAVILY from redundant writing to the point that I will probably remember this game just for that.  I could have forgiven this if it had happened once or twice, but it happens several times in offensively increasing degrees.  I understand that the games originally came out in installments with gaps spanning several months in between, but that doesn’t excuse recapping the entire route within the same route.  Gretel’s route started this bizarre trend and it culminates in Alice’s post-epilogue which is basically the epilogue that you had just played to unlock it.  Yes, the recapping is told from a different perspective (vis a vis that of Yurika – except Yurika is physically with the character whose route you are on 95% of the time anyway so the sequence of events doesn’t change at all), but that different perspective doesn’t add anything about the said character’s motives or feelings that you couldn’t already tell from their spoken lines.  Some of the metaphors that it makes (e.g., chess pieces) would also have remained clever if only they didn’t reference the same one dozens of times as if the audience couldn’t be trusted to get it the first time.  I am only this disappointed because Taisho x Alice had many solid ideas and build up that it could have had enough volume without the superficial padding.

Actually, going back to Gretel’s route, that was my turning point with how I felt about the game. For one, the redundancy in writing started there, but also, this route was what made me do a 180 on what I thought of Yurika.  I had been greatly enjoying her way of thinking and actions up to that point, but then she goes and makes a decision in Gretel’s route that feels so pessimistically out of character that I had trouble accepting its plausibility.  Ryoushi explains the reason for this later – that Yurika has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary if it’s for the one she loves, hence, she’s also mentally questionable, –  and also, much much later where it’s said she changes her personality to match what the other person wants most in order to be liked.  These explanations make sense and I am sure the writers intended for some dissonance, but I never quite recovered from my alienation from her after this point on.  If anything the rest of the game felt unbalanced because while she was just as unhinged as the rest of the cast/Alistea, the game still one-sidedly pushed for her to save him.

Other than that though, I think Alice and Yurika are some of the funniest characters in all otome games I have played and the game as a whole does toy around with a couple of interesting ideas (e.g., the double meaning of its very title Taisho x Alice).  If it wasn’t as redundant as it was, I would give it a 8 out of 10… as it is though, I will probably give it a 6.

KINGSGLAIVE FINAL FANTASY XV Impressions

 

prize

Gift for those that go to see the movie!

 

I am still working on the second part to my June games roundup, but I just saw KINGSGLAIVE FINAL FANTASY XV in theaters and wanted to jot down my thoughts very quickly. 

The movie… was great!  I was insanely excited about it and still managed to enjoy every minute.  For a lot of Final Fantasy fans, I think it will actually be harder to watch the movie without rose-tinted glasses.  Final Fantasy!  In full CG movie form!  For the most anticipated title in the series!  There are a lot of improvements the movie could use, objectively speaking, but those don’t feel very relevant in light of… Final Fantasy! In full CG movie form! For [abridged].

There seems to be some disagreement over whether the movie learned from Advent Children or not, particularly with regards to the fight scenes, but I am in the former camp.  Some actions are too fast-paced to follow, but not all fight scenes are like this, and at least gravity still exists in the world of Kingsglaive. 🙊  Story flow and transitions are slightly better than AC as well, to make no mention of Spiri… That Movie That Shall Not Be Named.

Despite all of that, the graphics look great, the scale of battles was massive, and the muted hopelessness underlying the entire movie carried throughout nicely.  Some other points summarized in bullets:

The Best:

  • Scale of the battles, particularly higher level magic and That enemy in the opening fight
  • Graphics: warping, magic, sword summoning
  • Setting up the themes of: not all lives are equal, power only comes to those worthy and at a heavy cost
  • Cameos and easter eggs for Final Fantasy fans
  • Nyx’s ass shot

The Good:

  • Likability of the main cast, particularly Lunafreya and probably Nyx
  • Politics and tensions behind treaty day, and how it sets up what will transpire afterwards (the game!)
  • Emotions invoked by Regis and circumstances surrounding him

The OK:

  • The facial animation felt over-emotive at times, though this is probably necessitated by the directors being Japanese and how Japanese acting in general is over-expressive compared to Western acting
  • On the same vein, the lip syncing to Japanese audio was only passable and almost distracting at times.  I hope this is due to the syncing actually being set to English audio so that this will look natural in the stateside release
  • Lunafreya’s actress was not bad but she felt a little flat and, because Luna is such a strong character, the acting made her feel unintentionally robotic
  • I feel ambivalent about main characters other than Nyx, Luna and Regis (who were the three mains in this movie, so I suppose the movie accomplished what it set out to do).  I liked the side characters well enough, but they could have benefited from a little more development, and some antagonists felt a little two dimensional as well.  More to be revealed in the game I am sure?
  • Choppy transitions in the first half of the movie

Aaaaand some more comments on specifics under the cut! Spoilers!

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Game Impressions: June Part 1/2

I have been blasting through a bunch of VNs this past month, making June perhaps the most productive I have been in terms of gaming this year.  So I thought: what better timing to write up an impressions post in a long while! 💪

Code: Realize

I know, I know, I have been putting this game off for a couple years now and I finally got around to clearing it.  To start off with the verdict: I enjoyed it quite a lot!  With the game being set in London, I went into it expecting historical fiction with a flair of sci-fi and… that is not what C:R ended up being. 🙃 San’s route was a little disorienting for me at first because of that paradigm shift, but looking back on the game as a whole, I realized all those clashing elements were what made this game unique. Code: Realize is genre-fluid due to its cast of characters that more or less come from different sources (real historical figures and fiction).  The writing was not without its flaws, but almost every character route managed to evoke an emotional response and surprise me in some way – that latter of which is actually hard to do for a game that has such a strong focus on plot progression, i.e., you more or less know what to look for and what should be coming.

To dwell on those flaws a little more though… while I appreciated that every route differed so much from each other, the actions the side characters and antagonists took differed completely depending on the route, despite those characters technically operating under the same motives.  I suppose you could make an argument for why character x would act this way in response to circumstance y vs circumstance z, but a good story should never require the audience to make excuses for it. 🙊 Because of this, I felt that Code: Realize was one of those games where the order of the routes you do really makes a difference.  Each character story highlights 1-2 side characters, whose perceptions of them will affect how you feel towards their actions (or lack thereof) in other routes.

Overall, though, definitely a great game, definitely would recommend to others that might be on the fence.  I walked away from the game feeling happy and fulfilled, which is sometimes all we need to have made the investment worthwhile.

POSSESSION MAGENTA

I tried to look up a few reviews of this game to get an idea of what I was getting into, and the first review of POSSESSION MAGENTA I found said this: “I have so many complaints I have no idea where to start.”  🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊  As it turns out, that reviewer mostly found the system (specifically the skip function) too cumbersome until she sat down with the manual and worked through it, but I completely understand the jarring feeling of playing a non-Otomate game and having the button do completely different things.

The biggest flaw I found with this game was that the writing was… sooo… redundant.  It’s sort of a murder mystery game, so there is a need for a Let’s Recap The Facts scene if the facts where convoluted enough to possibly lose the player.  However, they’re not. Or perhaps they are by the time you would have gotten to the end of the game, if the game did not recap everything every time every little thing happens.  It’s unfortunate since the characters are very colorful and their dialogue can be very entertaining. 😫 As long as one goes into POSSESSION MAGENTA expecting just that – great characters but subpar plot; definitely NOT the next Arcana – it shouldn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the game too much.

Ken Ga Kimi for V

This was by far the star of the batch.  I was a little hesitant to start Ken Ga Kimi because the last Rejet title I played, Black Wolves Saga, had so much volume that were more flowery descriptions than were necessary, but Ken Ga Kimi never felt as if was dragging on for the sake of length.  It is an extremely long game, no doubt about that – longer than even Lamento by a good 12 hours or so – but I absolutely loved every minute of it.

Going in, I was warned about not every character route having an explanation for everything, some deus ex machina elements, and cliche plot devices.  Slight flaws like these are there, but the emotional payback in every single route is SO GOOD that they aren’t even a concern.  The character development in both the main and side characters are masterful, and with four completely different endings for every character, it’s intriguing how the same concepts can be spun (sometimes to horrifying results) in so many different ways in a true Rejet fashion.  Because the endings are so different, sometimes the dialogue choices you make throughout the story don’t seem quite causal of what perspires in the end, but again, this is a very minor concern if at all.

I cannot praise this game enough; it was quite an emotional ride with moments where I felt overwhelmed with happiness, and others where I physically felt an ache in my chest.  Not many other visual novels, and even books or movies, offer stories where you feel emotionally invested to that extent.  If anything, Ken Ga Kimi is just an extremely well made, high quality game.  The voice acting, music, and visuals are all wonderfully nuanced and top notch.

RE:VICE[D]

RE:VICED is about the Four Heavenly Kings that serve the Demon King on a journey to find a Demon King replacement in the human world.  I have give this game props for not having every candidate ultimately maturing into a demon king, as you might typically expect from a premise like this.

The dialogue in this game was great, but much like POSSESSION MAGENTA, the gems in character interaction tend to get buried in an otherwise underwhelming plot.

Lamento

I was expecting Lamento to be long long LONG LONG SO LONG I WILL TURN 40 BEFORE I FINISH based on other reviews but it turned out shorter than Ken Ga Kimi by 2 playing days.  One character route from start to completion is indeed relatively long, but there are only three characters, so comprehensively Lamento wasn’t as long as I initially thought it would be.

I went into it prepared to forgive a lot of things, considering that the game originally came out in 2006 – ten years ago! The sound effects definitely didn’t age well, and the story arcs could have been fleshed out better (curse/Konoe’s arc –> Leax/character arc). Bard’s route also felt superfluous as Rai and Asato were clearly designed to be parallels to each other (white and black; relationship basis on lack of communication vs overbearing straightforwardness; future and the past), but overall I enjoyed it quite a lot. The writing was full of parallelism and heart per usual N+C fanfare.

It had been a long time since I read or played something that was so purely just about love, not the various forms it takes, just… love. I was honestly glad I played Lamento so far removed from when it was originally written. For one, I was nearly not as mature or patient when I was 15 in 2006, and I think the theme of being uncertain of how far you have come and of what IS to come in life has much more impact on someone in their twenties when they’re facing uncertainty with relationships/careers in their first foray into being adults.

 

That’s it for part 1! In the next post I will talk about Sweet Pool, Kyoukai no Shirayuki, and Taisho x Alice.

 

Back From Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I am not quite sure how to start this off – as WordPress so kindly let me know, it has been three years since my last post!  The reason I have not been posting is half because of RL and half just… not having much to post about.  I usually live blog games as I play on Twitter, and putting up posts on WordPress take so much more time and effort compared to that.  Usually the plot, characters and themes in games tend to speak for themselves too, so there may not be much to reflect about after seeing the ending.

In any case, I just wanted to acknowledge how things have been and to apologize for all the comments that I have been unable to respond to over these past few years.  I’m going to change direction with this blog and stop summarizing otome games, and instead just write up my impressions of games when the game compels me to write about it for more than the 150 characters that Twitter allows.  Hopefully this will mean I will post more than once every 3 years!

 

Getsuei no Kusari: Wataru’s Izon End

I would have preferred to avoid writing about this game altogether for multiple reasons. For one, there is simply too much to write about if I really wanted to be thorough with all that this game brings up. Secondly, it’s just heartcrushingly depressing and the very thought of this game saps my mental energy. I need all the strength I can muster to keep trucking through the game. (´;ω;`)

I however wanted to just discuss Wataru’s Izon ending because Wataru was a character that shared my view of the world – and in the izon end, his ideal gets crushed into smithereens. Of course I must talk about it!

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Gender Roles in Princess Arthur

I was a bit hesitant over Princess Arthur, considering that a. it is a game called Princess Arthur, and b. Arthurian legend spinoffs have been done before, and have failed. I decided to push through the game though since Fate/Extra-CCC put me in the mood for stories based around legendary icons, and boy, was I glad I did.

I am planning to write a proper review of it later, so rather than explaining the setting, characters and the system and talking about my impression of the overall game, I wanted to focus on just one of the things that makes Princess Arthur a great otome game: its take on gender roles.

The issue of “strength,” particularly when it comes to the heroine, polarizes the otome game fandom. A girl who is great at cooking, lets emotions control her judgment and can’t handle herself in battle usually draws contempt. She’s too feminine! She’s too submissive! She can’t do anything! While not everyone feels this way about feminine heroines, a lot of Western fans find themselves desiring a more straightforward and independent heroine, one that they can identify with more (undoubtedly due to differences in cultural expectations between the West and the East). Princess Arthur steps boldly upon this landline by introducing a heroine who is relegated to the position of king at an early age. She has big hats to take on: that of a military commander, of a policy maker and of a fair ruler. Her struggle to juggle these on top of her individual identities such as that of a daughter, friend, and young girl, comprises a large part of Princess Arthur’s story. Will Aru grow into an independent, masculine woman? Or will she struggle as a vulnerable, feminine girl?

The reason I felt compelled to write about this issue was that the way Princess Arthur handles Aru, particularly in regards to her gender, felt very progressive, especially for a game created by and intended for Japan. Aru isn’t someone who is peerless in swordsmanship (though she can certainly handle herself well in battle), makes decisions entirely on her own, and possess other such “masculine” qualities that essentially make her, well, perfect. She likes to cook. She knows that she is not good enough in some areas and works to improve herself. She cries when things get to be too much. Despite this, she makes a great ruler. Or rather, it is because of this, that she becomes a great ruler. Her femininity empowers her and I believe that she sets an extremely positive example for girls who these games are intended for.

(Major spoilers for chapter four; minor dialogue spoilers for Lancelot’s, Gawain’s, Tristan’s and Merlin’s route, after this point)

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