I’m always interested whenever someone attempts to portray humanity in a realistic way. We like to romanticize our behavior and attitudes to one another in order to promote the ideal of decency. And while that’s not always who we are, portraying humanity any other way risks alienating the audience. It’s a fine line to walk and more people fall off the line that succeed in making it across, so it’s always interesting to watch who attempts to do it.
This year, we have a few attempting that very tight rope walk. That’s right: two games that want to have an honest look at humanity in a very intimate way. But will either of them actually make it to the other side? Are both VNs all set? Ready? GO!
One Night Stand
Every year for NaNoRenO, we inevitably get a bunch of first time projects that manages to stand out from the crowd. These games strike a chord immediately and show the potential of everyone involved for more than what even this humble Internet reviewer can see. After playing the NaNoRenO version of One Night Stand, I can confidently say that this is easily one of the highlights of this year’s NaNoRenO and the team behind it could be on their way to some excellent work.
How does it manage it? By making the most unromantic, non-sexy game about sex you could possibly imagine. That isn’t to say that they take a judgmental view on the subject. But they don’t sugar-coat it either; opting for a clear and honest look at the aftermath of a hook up. It’s a heavy game that has the player walking on emotional eggshells from the moment they wake up and the game never overplays their hand or try to romanticize the moment. It just lets the awkwardness build and carry these two people as they try to figure out what to do next.
I don’t want to spoil any more than that, because each choice needs to be experienced. You can try and be the nice again if you like, or you can try to avoid the emotional aftermath. You can also make things worse and each option feels like it was born from an actual conversation that has happened in this time period that romantic fiction and popular entertainment so often ignores. A lot of that effectiveness also comes from the animation which is very solid. It’s very simple, but the warm color tones and designs create the perfect atmosphere for this type of animation. All of the little head nods and small emotions it manages give so much more impact to your choices in the game. Hopefully, more people will learn from this game and we’ll see more animated sprites moving forward.
Apparently a longer version is in the works and this version was just a test run. I’m not sure about other’s reaction, but for me that test was a resounding success. I would like to see the soundtrack fleshed out more to better compliment the narrative, and there were a few bugs that I’m sure will be squashed moving forward, but in the end One Night Stand delivers. Its raw humanity is a breath of fresh air in VN sphere and I am very grateful this time decided to developer their craft among us.
Lucky Me, Lucky You
Okay; I only have four paragraphs to knock this out without getting lost in a red mist of rage so let’s all hope for the best, shall we? Lucky Me, Lucky You is, if God is merciful, the worst that NaNoRenO 2016 is going to get this year. The game is basically a road trip for protagonist Nanami and her friend Ryo after Nanami’s most recent breakup. The goal of the road trip is quite fantastical: to give Nanami a chance to meet the gravure idol turned porn actress whose work made Nanami realize she was a lesbian. Unfortunately for the audience and I, that means you have to put up with Nanami and her friend Ryo’s insufferable natures for the rest of the game.
From beginning to end, Nanami is an unrepentant, shallow bitch who needs (not wants to, needs) to look down on everyone around her with every breath she takes. Her attitude is eclipsed only by her even bitchier friend and goth fashion enthusiast Ryo who puts up with her BS for reasons that continue to escape me. The only excuse we get for her behavior is that deep down she’s a scared child putting up a façade so that she doesn’t have to be alone, but did anyone read that and their mind not immediately jump to her? And to the point, that façade just makes her more alone as it can directly be tied to her break-up, familial tension and terrible taste in dessert. So, why include a defense that’s total BS? Whoops; red mist of rage again. Moving on.
At best, Nanami’s character a trope that has been beaten to death for decades now and it still doesn’t excuse the fact that this game wants us to like people we would cheer getting punched repeatedly in the face if we knew them in real life. Yeah; you read that last bit right. While I can admit I might be wrong here, the way the story is written really makes me feel that we’re supposed to at least sympathize with Nanami. The game goes out of its way to give Nanami and Ryo self-indulgent speech time to try and get the audience on their side. But it’s a shield at best: not a character moment that can take the edge off Nanami’s spite towards anything not under her thumb.
The only thing that could have saved this game is if Nanami never met her closet key, had a massive breakdown at the game’s end and went home completely ashamed at being a spoiled brat: preferably in tears the entire way. Instead she does meet her, she realizes her feelings for the woman were based on a fabricated image, declares that she didn’t love her anymore (yes, fucking really) because she isn’t what she appeared to be and she simply shrugs off the entire trip as a possible learning experience. So with nothing learned or changed from this experience, what in the blue freezing Hell was the point of all of this? What do we get other than an hour of the worst humanity can offer?
As I said, I originally put these two games together because it seemed from their synopses that they were on the same narrow narrative line. In many ways they both were and, as warned, one inevitably fell to the wayside. One Night Stand is an incredible gem and more than deserves to move forward in this review off. We’ll see how it fairs against The Phantom of the Hospital.