…………..Where in the blue Hell do I even bloody start?
I think it is worth noting that you can trace a line between the fanfiction writers of over a decade ago now to many of the genre writers of today: which includes visual novels. While I’m not here to critique the positives and negatives of fanworks, a clear negative comes in when it comes to sexual content. Or, to be more precise; non-consensual sexual content. I’m sure there are intellectual theories and essays out there as to why someone would be stimulated by this sort of thing. However, as I’ve said many a time, my Southern Christian upbringing usually kicks in well before the clothes come off in these sort of situations: so adding any kinks to it is just going to hurt my brain.
Regardless, it is undeniable that many of the games I’ve covered here on VNs Now have had some sort of non-consensual route in it, if not an outright non-consensual theme with the most flagrant examples being in Christine Love’s work (you can read more about that here). And even in a sex game that I’ve outright recommended, Sanguine Rose, the line is barely there as the antagonist plays fast and loose with sexual norms to manipulate our protagonists. I’ve tried my best, though, to avoid anything that could force me to get a second baptism though. And then I was introduced to Pact With A Witch.
I will not tell you which of my fellow critics pointed this one out to me, but I will tell you it happened by pure chance. A literal random VNDB search while we were deciding which multiplayer game to spend some time with. From there, my morbid curiosity led me into one of the strangest visual novels I’ve ever played. Not since the game where your fridge comes alive and wants to bang you have I been left with such a clear feeling of ‘WHAT THE FUCK?!’ I’m not even going to pretend I’m going into this with an open mind: I’m not. But I do think this is a great learning moment for all of us when it comes to ‘adult’ visual novels. With all of that said, hold on to your butts because this ride is about to go into a tailspin. If anything I’ve said so far wasn’t a clear enough hint, I’m about to get into a touchy subject and now is the time to GTFO if you’re sensitive to, well, anything.
Alright. Here we go.
In Pact With A Witch you play as a nameable protagonist who catches his longtime friend Didac about to rape a girl. Oh we haven’t even gotten into the guts of this one yet. This is just how the game starts. You have a chance to stop him, but not before the girl named Neus bites his hand to try to fend him off. We’ll get back to the bite in a second, but first let’s cover the fact that you, the protagonist, INSTEAD OF GOING TO THE POLICE TO REPORT A SEXUAL ASSAULT, Neus tells you to essentially forget about it.
Now, credit where it’s due here because the game doesn’t make the assault on its own look like a good or pleasurable thing. Neus doesn’t want to do it, Didac is clearly in the wrong and you are given the option to stop him before he furthers the assault and actually rapes her. What it does do is set a context for the world we’re about to step into. That context being that sex is less of a pleasurable or romantic act and more of a power game as Oscar Wilde once opined. Didac and the Protagonist are framed as the archetype of male sexuality. Neus is framed as less of a victim and more of a shadow player: think Littlefinger with magic and breasts….okay that’s a weird image but it works. She doesn’t seek revenge against Didac for nearly raping her, but rather makes him vulnerable to the sexual games in this world: essentially knocking him to the bottom of the totem pole.
How, you may ask?
Well, the bite turns out to be a spell that slowly but surely changes his body from male to female. It’s implied that she has control of the spell to a degree because if you try to take him to a hospital he INTERNALLY COMBUSTS. He also become hopeless aroused once the transformation is complete: leaving him literally a slave to his new body. The game takes this ball and uses it to make him the shameless fanservice character: taking quite a lot of glee in objectifying him once the process starts. And I may be underselling this a little bit.
Why do you people question these sorts of things when you know I have pictures?
The issue this creates in the game proper is that it negates what happens in the opening acts in order to feed into a fetish. Essentially, the problem wasn’t that Didac tried to assault a woman, but rather Didac tried to assault someone that was more powerful them him. So, enjoying his sexual exploitation is fine! After all, he only has himself to blame for his situation and those are the rules of this world! What’s worse is that there really isn’t any point to him being turned into a woman other than to exploit the situation. Its repeated frequently that being a woman, or being turned into a woman, is not a punishment. So he’s really not here to learn anything or be repentant for his actions. He’s just here to be be slutty for the audience. Considering this is porn, I shouldn’t be surprised but: seriously guys? What even in the fuck?!
Now, here’s where it gets bizarre. You heard me.
Neus uses Didac’s ‘condition’ to force the protagonist on a series of dates. On the surface, it would seem like it would serve as a contrast to what’s happening to the protagonist’s friend, but it really isn’t. Neus controls what you do, what you drink, what you eat and keeping her happy is the key to figure out what the Hell is going on. She wants to control the MC as well, but rather she wants him to submit by choice rather than by force. Interesting enough, this isn’t portrayed as sexy.
I repeat. Neus is never, EVER, portray in a sexual light through these exchanges.
The only time we even get remotely close to anything sexy, she turns into a predator and the tone of the game switches from offbeat What The Fuck to a horror show. This repackages her interactions entirely because even if you wanted to see her as a one-note sexual fantasy, what the Hell is even the fantasy? Is anyone out there really dreaming of a partner who will make them eat beets? Or stay up late? Or vomits because she drinks too much?
That’s the rub, at least to me. The only appeal to this character is that she makes the main character, and by proxy the audience, do what she wants them to do. And this appeal isn’t portrayed as sexual, but rather on the same level as having an overly-doting mother. In a game that is supposed to have a foundation of sexual appeal, even if that sex appeal is rooted in a questionable fetish, the fact that there really isn’t any appeal here is amazing, to say the least.
I could go on, but at some point I’m going to start talking myself into a circle. I finished the demo a few hours ago and I still cannot tell you the anything concrete that was compelling either in a sexual way or a baseline narrative way. And I will concede that it’s because I’m just that frigid where I don’t get the overall appeal of the core fetish of non-consensual sex, but I think that only works if I also point out that this game is scraping the bottom of the barrel in what it wants to do. It wants to create a game that is Game of Thrones combined with Sodom and Gomorrah: where sex is about power and the powerless enjoy being taken advantage by the powerful. Instead it literally trips up out of the gate and falls flat on his face.
Usually in AQLAs I try to provide some constructive feedback as well and, to be frank, I don’t know if my feedback will help here for a few reasons. This game is native to Spain which creates something of a cultural barrier right out of the gate and, as with most anything these days, there’s already a receptive audience that are fine with how it is now. But, I should try at the very least and instead of changing the entire game, I would suggest just changing one thing: Neus’ strategy.
The game has Neus initiate the spell and then leave the two of them alone so that your friend can become wank bait and she can blackmail the MC into a series of dates. Okay, scrap that. Instead, have the spell happen as before but when the MC starts looking for her for answers, Neus pretends she didn’t know what would happen and feigns repentance. She insists the MC bring his friend to her place so she can reverse the spell. You can still have the same ‘take him to a hospital and he’ll INTERNALLY COMBUST (I still can’t get over that)’ bad end if you want to to make it easier.
Once he does, some ‘force’ removes the MC from the girl’s home: leaving his friend trapped with her. When the MC goes back to try to get him out, the place is gone but she finds him and shows him pictures or video or something of his friend changing into a woman and her…taking advantage of the situation. The MC gets mad, but Neus promises to let him go and return him to normal IF the MC becomes her plaything for -insert a length of time here-. They can still go out after the fact, but it’s secondary to her using him for sex.
From there the story writes itself, I think? You can still have Didac fulfill the original role, but by putting him into a situation where he’s vulnerable with the person he tried to attack, it raises the narrative stakes by forcing them both under her thumb for reasons only Neus knows. It’s hinted during the demo that there is something more occult at play, and you can easily keep that. Or you can just have her be someone who, again, has this particular fetish. Either way, what Didac is going through now matters and what the MC will have to go through to get his friend back also matters. Neus also goes from being a really one-dimension goth girl to someone who is more three-dimensional and can become more complex depending on how the audience interacts with her through this ordeal. Can they try and seduce her? Romance her? Or just flat out fight back with everything in them?
It’s admittedly a little depraved and sleazy, but as I’ve said before this is porn: it’s par for the course. Anyway, let it not be said that I didn’t at least try to help improve a Work In Progress. Will it get any better? Hell if I know. I didn’t even touch on the bizarre third girl on the full detour we take to discuss abstract art. I have no desire to try Pact With a Witch again, but if you would like to you can get the public demo here. JP3: OUT.