Christine Love is weird.
Here’s the thing: I stand by my opinion on Analogue: A Hate Story. It remains one of the best written EVNs I’ve played and the level of detail in its society makes the brutality of the world much more realistic. The Analogue versions of Hyun-ae and Mute remain some of the most sympathetic and engaging characters in the EVN community and, quite frankly, the world is a better place with this game than without it.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that my opinion on Hate Plus hasn’t deteriorated over the past few years. When the game focuses on the ship’s politics and the slow fall into authoritarianism, it maintains the quality of the original. When it tries to shove how ‘cute’ Hyun-ae and Mute are down my throat, or taking control of the game away from me in the name of a cheap gimmick; it’s more than a bit frustrating. A similar tone was struck in the first C. Love game I played Don’t Take It Personally Babe, which managed to be very satisfying in its commentary on the nature of privacy in the digital age, and pretty damn bad when it came to the relationships of the students.
So maybe Christine Love is not so much ‘weird’ as she is inconsistent….no, she’s both. When she writers with her intellect and research, we get some solid work. When it comes to writing relationships and making them matter to the overall story, it comes off as being a distraction at best; mind-bending at worst. To be fair, writers have their strengths and weaknesses and, as several of her games have shown now, writing sex and romance may be a weakness of Love’s. With that in mind, let’s talk about the pornography she’s producing!
My Twin Brother Made Me Crossdress As Him And Now I have To Deal With A Geeky Stalker And A Domme Beauty Who Want Me In A Bind!! Or Ladykiller in a Bind for those of us not amused by insanely long titles has been on this particular critic’s radar for quite a bit. Not just because Love is joining the flood of erotic(?) titles that is about to crush us all, but just in the way this thing has been marketed. A wise man that is not yours truly once put said, ‘You cannot have a thought-provoking boner’. Low and behold, here comes Christine Love to apparently challenge that maxim by making the game just as much about social standing as it is about getting laid. It has been baffling to watch, but now there is something else to chew on: the PAX Prime teaser for the game which was recently released.
Every time I think I’m out, I get pulled back in.
First, let’s talk about what the teaser gets right and that starts with the dialogue. All of your dialogue options are not presented to you up front and you get fewer or more options as the conversations happens. Silence is also a valid option and actually pretty advisable when you’re dealing with ‘The Beauty’: the only other person on the ship who knows your actual identity. Your dialogue options are tied to a ‘Suspicion Meter’ that will fill up depending on your what you do or do not say. This system is actually pretty inventive and forces those of us who are used to having all of our options presented to adapt depending on what your goals of the moment are.
For example, in the teaser you can risk someone called The Boy, a friend of the main character’s brother, getting suspicious of your behavior by flirting with another friend called The Stalker. The risk earns you a brief make-out session with The Stalker, but it comes with The Boy watching you a bit closer than they would have if the main character had kept her libido under control. Those types of choices, where short-term pleasure could equal long-term consequences, has a lot of potential and I’ve read enough of Love’s work to believe she’ll take full advantage of it to create many fun scenarios that cut it close for our cross-dressing protagonist.
And, taken on its own, the relationship between the main character called The Beast (how cute) and The Beauty is, at least in the teaser, intriguing. It’s sleazy as Hell and I needed a shower after watching them, but it is still intriguing. As I said earlier, The Beauty knows you’re a woman and uses that as leverage to explore her, um, kinks. The way the teaser spells it out is that the more people begin to suspect the Beast, the more she’ll need help from The Beauty. She’ll provided said help as long as The Beast lets her ‘play’. Considering the risk-reward setup of the dialogue I talked about earlier, I’m guessing it will be very easy for your ‘relationship’ with the Beauty to get sleazier and more screwed up with time.
Maybe it’s just my deeply religious Southern roots showing, but seeing how far the two of them push each other might give them space to actually develop into something other than, what would we even consider these two at this point? Collaborators? Playmates? Mutual Sociopaths? Either way, it’s a Hell of a lot more potential than what was shown in the other characters even if the potential for the entire game to go flying off the rails starts from this particular point.
Finally, LCA familiars Isaac Schankler and Raine are back to handle the Presentation side along with one Owen C. doing the background art and they are all on top of their game. The teaser looks and sounds great; setting a more haunting mood than what you would expect from a game so up-front with its own sexualization. However, I will never complain with more work from Raide and Schankler, so good to have you back guys.
Now for the rest of it.
I’m not sure about this one guys, but I think I can unravel the entire game in a single question. I don’t think I’ve done that yet, but we’re going to try for Ladykiller in a Bind. Ready? Here we go: does no one else on this ship really not know that ‘The Prince’ has a twin sister? While identical twins have enough physical similarities to confuse the outside eye fraternal twins, which is what The Beast and The Prince are, would have a much harder time pulling a switch like this. Forget the obvious biological identifiers such as breasts and hips, unless nobody in their family talks about The Beast publicly, it defies logic that no one who knows about the Prince wouldn’t know about his twin sister.
‘Gee JP, I don’t see how that information matters in a scenario where that same twin sister has to pretend to be her brother among a bunch of people with intimate knowledge about his conscious and subconscious behavi-ohhhh now I get it.’
But, this is porn we’re talking about, which is ridiculous by design. So let me shelve my annoying logic and let’s talk about sex. Well, the teaser is probably as mild as it’s going to get. And by ‘mild’, I’m talking about a scenario in which The Beast gets tied to a chair, whipped, slapped and gagged for The Beauty’s titillation when you get a dialogue option wrong. I find this particular turn interesting because of an article on Polygon earlier this year, where Love expounds on the overall sexuality of the game;
“I feel like so long as you’re practicing good consent, [dirtbag characters are]not necessarily a bad thing,” Love said. “There’s charm in that. There’s appeal in that. I’m more interested in something that is sorta sleazy but in a well-negotiated way. Video games are very good at non-consensual sleaze. This is a fairly dirty scenario, and not just because of the kinky sex. You’re playing as a slightly sleazy person trying to deal with a bunch of people trying to wreck your shit.”
So this game, by design and as shown in the teaser, will explore a lot of different sexual proclivities where your personal mileage is definitely going to vary. It is a real possibility that Love goes too far in this game when it comes to kink and with the focus on it being sex, it’s going to be one of those situation that once your audience is turned off, they’re done. Again, going back to the teaser, the line between sexy and sleazy gets blurred very quickly with The Beauty and The Beast. I’m sure that was the plan for these two anyway, but it highlighted the overall issue I mentioned earlier with Love’s writing. Even when it is blatantly attempting to be intimate (when she’s not hitting the main character), it never actually feels intimate. It just feels, and I’m going to the critically correct word for this one; icky.
Yeah: icky is the right word.
With the sexual emphasis on this game, the plot could be the best social thriller on the face of the Earth with twists and ties to keep my head busy for a week. However, it’s going to always come back to some sort of sexual kink by design and if they’re all written along these lines, it’ll turn it into one Hell of a tight-rope walk for Love. But then again, that could just be my deeply religious Southern roots showing again, so let’s wrap this one up.
Did playing this teaser change my opinion on Ladykiller in a Bind? Sort of? I do still think that Love is a good writer and while there are elements of the teaser that intrigues me, I’d be lying if I said I walked away from the teaser wanting to see more of the game. If you cannot handle the sexual acts on full display here, then that should be a big red flag in your face. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will see that and not consider it a negative, and I do want to emphasize that not nearly enough has been shown in the teaser to say this will be bad. Enough has been shown that I can safely say Ladykiller is far more interested in rolling in the muck of its kinks than anything else and that will make it much easier for the full game to stumble.
As I said, I’m sure it’ll have plenty of fans that are perfectly fine with what I see as potential flaws and I am definitely going to be in the minority when it comes to this game. But, that is alright. Christine Love gave me and the world Analogue, so if she wants to make her final VN a sordid, sleazy romp it’s her right. And as much as the darker side of me is curious to see how it comes together, the fact that my skin is still crawling typing this tells me that I’ll be just as fine giving this one a pass.
Ladykiller in a Bind is currently scheduled for a 2016 release. If you want more information about it, you can check out the game’s website here! JP3: OUT.