I have repeatedly stated that I am willing to give ecchi visual novels a shot because just based on mathematical probability, THEY CAN’T ALL SUCK. Even if the vast majority sucks, in order for the universe to remain balanced one ecchi title has to be legit good. I, personally, have yet to find this fabled title and, in my search, stumbled upon Pantsu Hunter from Russian developer Aesthetic Studio. On the surface, this should be something akin to an oasis in the middle of the freaking Gobi desert. If for no other reason, it looks different than most of its contemporaries.
Pantsu Hunter’s aesthetic (I see what you did there) evokes a bygone era in anime and manga. And credit where it is due: the group has perfectly recreated that artistic style. If you are not an ‘Oldtaku’ or fan of the older anime OVAs or series, I expect this will be something of an adjustment if they are used to the cleanliness of the digital format. Beyond the screen tone to give it an aged film quality, the character models and backgrounds mirror their inspiration very well and give the work a feeling of authenticity that, well, fits its namesake.
It also helps that they’re inspired by more than the aesthetics of the period. Pull up a chair folks so we can talk a bit. Now, there was a time in anime and manga when the self-insert character wasn’t synonymous with fanservice/ecchi works. The self-insert characters of anime’s yesteryear were usually either complete monsters, making them a warning of what happened when someone takes their fantasy too far, or so grounded that it’s too close to the potential audience’s real life to WANT to fantasize being. Akira Fudo from Devilman, Jack from Violence Jack, and to a degree Shinji Ikari from Evangelion (sorry guys, but it’s true) all fall under this banner and I’m sure plenty others could as well.
Fanservice works, however, often required more from their protagonist at the time. More often than not, the women the main character drooled over were not interested in him. So he had to prove he was with their attention: creating a character that presumably lonely young men could aspire to be. Think Kintaro Oe from Golden Boy. Overall, the message was that the girl you wanted did owe you reciprocation for your lust. Either figure out how to make her happy or expect to be Slapped™.
Pantsu Hunter borrows heavily from that thematic thread. Our protagonist is a clear leach, however you can only go so far in the storyline by being a leach. The very first girl in the demo needs you to fix her video cassette player: which leaves the player with the option of having to figure out how to talk to the girl to get her comfortable enough around you so you can stay long enough to…get her panties. I said you had to work for it, not that the endgoal wasn’t suspect.
This theme should connect the different girls. As a gameplay mechanic, you have several ways to get several pairs of panties in the game to fulfill your completionist needs. However, most of those ways immediately lead to a Bad End. To actually advance the story, you’ll have to figure out what she wants and get it done for her. Narratively speaking, it should lend itself to much better story-telling than just assuming the audience wants to be some paper badass, wish-fulfillment. It could deliver very well on its premise in a way that its contemporaries, so far, hasn’t…yeah I’m saying it could be a good fanservice game.
The biggest detractors to this are that its overall theme can still be a no-go depending on an individual’s sensitivities. At the end of the day, as said previously, the main goal of the game is to steal a girl’s underwear. I imagine that won’t fly with everyone. Other than that is the language barrier. Aesthetic Studios is a Russian developer and the first demo was cursed with outright broken writing. Now that they have voice actors attached to the project, I’m assuming that means they have a native English speaker to help ensure a good translation for us on this side. However, it could mean a mess for other translations outside of Russian: currently they’re planning six translations in all. We English speakers are still not clear of a potential disaster on that front either as it could still go wrong in the full game.
And despite their promise not to fill the game with ‘tiresome combining or boring puzzles’, the Pantsu Hunter demo does come with some hurdles that will take time to solve. Despite my misgivings, I have to admit I invested a lot of time into the demo solving the puzzles and figuring out the story. However, I still have to say its ultimately a wait-and-see. We’ve seen hints of the different stories that will make up the main narrative, but we’ll see what that means for the full game. Same as our protagonist who is a total empty suit and needs a lot of character building right off the bat , as having a self-insert protagonist will defeat the setting and theme.
But I am curious about this one. I’ve been bitten by these things before, so I am cautiously curious: but still curious. It will be interesting to see if they can address the fundamental issues (ensuring proper translations, a solid protagonist fitting the era, no broken English and solid gameplay) that started to show during the demo to put together a solid game. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this one. If you would like to as well, they are about to wrap up their Kickstarter campaign. You can get more information on that, including the demo, here. JP3: OUT.