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Published April 10, 2016

And so, the Madness begins. Before we begin, let’s go over the rules shall we?

  • This is a ‘competitive review’ series where I am competing with myself to finish all of the NaNoRenO projects for 2016. I’m sure some will not like the format, but if it keeps me going it keeps me going. And with fifty-four games to go through, I need something interesting to keep me going.
  • Each round will feature thoughts lasting for three to four paragraphs summarizing what I liked and didn’t like for that game. After Round Two, the limit goes up to six paragraphs. The two games that last to the finals will get full, separate reviews. There will be no winner named because the only one who truly wins here is me because I will have FINALLY covered all of the NaNoRenO games for a year! B)
  • Demos and Alphas are not including in the bracket. We’ll covering them in time in a separate venue, but I wanted this year to focus on just what was finished in full.
  • There is a chance that we get more completed NaNoRenO titles before the month is out. If so, we’re going to do it like a fighting game. That New Challenger will be put up against a randomly chosen VN. Yes, this isn’t exactly fair but again this isn’t about declaring winners and losers: this is about keeping the process fresh. Besides, if a VN can make it from Round One to Round Four or Five, then a surprise match-up shouldn’t be a problem.

Now then, this match-up will be quite interesting. We have two stories looking to create an emotional connection with the audience: both using memories and nostalgia as their catalyst. Which one will resonate through the heart of the reader? Ready? GO!

 

Her Stars Were My Light

I first came across NomNomNami in 2014 with the surprise hit Romance Detective. It was a well done VN with excellent comedic timing and easily one of my favorites of that year. Since then however, her games have stuck to a particular wheelhouse that seemed to fall short of what was accomplished with Romance Detective. Something just seemed missing and while it never felt like I was playing a bad visual novel, they never really came out too good either. So with that curiosity in the front of my mind, plus the fact that Nami’s games are usually pretty short, I decided it would be the best place to start April Madness with!

So, was this a return to form? In a lot of ways, yes. I wasn’t a big fan of how the game starts out because it heavily relies on two devices that can get old quick: ‘moe’ and time travel. And while the cuteness never really hit home for this humble reviewer, the time travel element did. Nami uses every element of the Ren’py engine to immerse the reader into this world and it does succeed thanks to a solid understanding of visual storytelling. It not only pulls together, but elevates the second half of the story. It shows Nami’s growth since Romance Detective and while I don’t agree with every creative decision, I am happy to see her continued progress insofar as the Presentation and Technical aspects of game development.

The plot itself is weak. The personifications of Time and Space meet up one day in the cosmic expanse and become fast friends, only to realize that they are not as alone as both think they are. It’s unfortunately one-note and only one character has anything close to an interesting pathos and backstory. The entire game is framed as a fairy tale, so the characterization can be explained at the very least. But that’s doesn’t excuse it, especially when you start to question the time paradox that is central to the entire story and hinges on said personalities.

Ultimately, Her Stars Were My Light isn’t a bad game: especially to be made in a month. It has its share of flaws, but nothing that can’t be educational while entertaining for the rest of us.

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Days on the Hydrangea Path

As noted by one Chris Tenarium, Mikey and ATP Projects are one of the most prolific VN devs active right now. They have over twenty completed projects to their name and in this year’s NaNoRenO, the group has submitted five completed projects. So, this won’t be the last we see of them in our bracket. That being said, after playing through Days of the Hydrangea Path, I’m still not completely sure what the Hell I played.

This story is told in a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ as the unnamed protagonist returns to an unnamed town to go for a walk. It is heavily implied that the protagonist has been there before and the title spends its time as the protagonist walks along the path and slowly recalls their previous trip there. I know it was aiming for nostalgic, but much of the story came off as rambling. The reader is never really sure what the protagonist is feeling or why the locations they stop at are important to them. In fact, we are often told the exact opposite: that the places we’re going no longer has any emotional resonance with the protagonist. Because of this, there was no emotional connection between the reader and the protagonist. For this type of story, that connection is absolutely vital if you don’t want to confuse and alienate the reader and that is exactly what happens.

Visually, this game is good. This is definitely the best use of photographic backgrounds I’ve seen in a visual novel and Mikey, who is listed as the photographer, deserves serious kudos here. There is a character sprite in the game and it isn’t as strong as the photographs. It’s rough work with odd body proportions that would make a giraffe blush and a color palette that clashes hard with the photographic backgrounds. Give some time, the artist will be able to refine the style. But, in a first for a visual novel review site, the only drawn sprite looks completely out of place in this game.

Again, I believe ATP was going for wistful and nostalgic, but that emotional string didn’t connect. It desperately needed to be more than just a walk in the woods, but that’s all we got. At the very least, this is only ATP’s first bite at the apple. They are plenty more NaNoRenO projects waiting in the bullpen.

Moving On

With all of that said, Nami’s Her Tears Were My Light will be moving on in the brackets. Even though I think the plot was weak, it was still enough to carry it forward. In Round 2 I’ll get more in depth with the game as it goes up against Diamond Rose.