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 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.