I’m okay. I’m okay. I just started thinking about what’s on the chopping block today and got a little upset. What I am about to say here, I say knowing the full implications of everything I’ve reviewed up to now: Blossoms Bloom Brightest may be one of the worst visual novels I’ve ever played. Considering the pantheon of crap VNs we’ve covered here, that is not an easy feat. But it has been a while since I’ve walked away from a title knowing the developers thinking anyone who plays this is a goddamn idiot.
Rarely is a title so cynical and spiteful and rarely am I so happy and willing to give it the ass-kicking it rightly deserves. Roll out the fucking tarp, because we’re taking this thing out to the pasture Old Yeller-style. This is Reine Works’ Blossoms Bloom Brightest.
- Genre: Fantasy, Romance
- Release Date: April 28, 2017
- Developer: Reine Works
- Publisher: Dharker Studios
- Language: English
- Platform: PC
- Website: Steam
In the near future three women wake up on a space ship travelling to an unknown destination. Only one woman on board, Erica Matthews, knows the mission they’re about to embark on. However, first and foremost she has to make sure her new crew is ready for the mission? How exactly? Well, by not telling them anything about the mission they’re supposed to be on. Yup.
Before you dig into the story proper, you start with that conceit: that Erica kidnaps the other two characters in the game for a mission she will not tell them about or allow them not to participate in. One of the kidnapped women, Sara Evans, was taken right before she was about to get married and she spends most of her time in the game wanting nothing to do with any of it. The only solution the game gives you and cares about is to make Sara fall into a lesbian tryst with Erica so that she will forget about her fiancé on Earth and accept her role in the overall mission.
Let me repeat that for the folks in the back: the major role for a traumatized character has to play in this game is as a romantic target for her abductor. Other than that, she’s is completely extraneous. What makes this so much worse, if it can actually get worse, is that the issues she brings in her rage shreds the plot to the point of no redemption. And it needs to be pointed out now that every issue she has with what Erica is doing is a legitimate critique of how the story is written and will be repeated here in this review. Therefore, I must assume that the developers know exactly how bad their story is and has included the character of Sara in this way specifically to mock anyone critiquing this mess.
I am not amused. I’ll get into the deeper part of the ‘why’ in a bit, but I am not amused.
Sara has other issues: namely that she’s a romantic target at all considering the implications that her trauma and fiancé can be washed away with enough peer pressure and infatuation. But thankfully, that’s secondary to hands down the dumbest character I have ever seen portrayed in a visual novel. ‘Idiot’ is a word I rarely use, but that is the least of the pejoratives I can throw at Kotoha Ichinose. At the very least, Sara and Erica both react to each other and to their situations like human beings. Erica is a bit more psychotic for reasons that have to do with the plot, but their actions and reactions are what you’d expect from people in their situation. Kotoha, however, is just happy to be there. I mean, why wouldn’t she be? She’s on a spaceship! Off to be a part of a secret mission! And the captain of the ship is hot! It’s everything she could want!
Containing my rampant need for an armored car door right now, this is as far as Kotoha gets. There is nothing more to her character than she’s a willing participant in everything going on and more than happy to be Erica’s sexual plaything in return for an exciting adventure. Beyond just not being realistic in any sense, let’s not bury the lede here in that Kotoha is nothing more than a literal sex doll. Her entire existence is reliant on turning a living nightmare for any sane person into acceptable because, hey, THERE IS LESBIAN FLIRTING OVER THERE! MAYBE THEY’LL HAVE SEX.
Kotoha and Sara are emblematic of the approach of this game and it is appalling cynical. As I’ve said, the developers know exactly where the plot holes are in this one, but they won’t fix it because they believe what’s more important to anyone playing it that you have a willing piece of ass somewhere in your vicinity. A part of me would consider this satire or a gigantic middle finger from the developer (Reine Works) to the publisher (Dharker Studios aka AJ Tilley) for saddling them with such an insulting story. However, that would require appropriate reaction insomuch as someone to recognize the critique (Sara) and accept it despite the plot saying otherwise. And with Kotoha there just to get dunked into a hormone tank every few seconds, that leaves Erica to either damn this game or salvage it.
If it was the latter, I would’ve led with it.
Erica Matthews is a monster: period. Now, I revel in villainous characters and enjoy a good antagonistic force when I can get it. But those characters from those stories acknowledge their role in the story. Erica, on the other hand, IS PLAYED UP AS THE VICTIM IN ALL OF THIS. She doesn’t want to abducted perfect strangers and force them into some strange intergalactic mission, BUT SHE MUST! THE WORLD DEPENDS ON HER AND DAMMIT THEY’RE GOING TO GET ALONG AND COMPLETE THIS MISSION! So, that begs the question, what is the mission Erica kidnapped Konoha and Sara for? Erica and the narrative plays keep away with this answer for as long as possible: wasting half of the game with dare I say Slice-of-Life antics that neither builds the characters beyond their introductions or explains what in the blue Hell is going on. Finally, out of time and ideas, they roll out the explanation by the halfway point. Yes, I’m about to spoil this game. I’m sorry (I’m not, but let’s pretend I am).
You see, Erica is a representative of the Earth Survival Committee. This secretive organization has decided that because of various factors they have studied over its millennium of existence that our little blue marble in the cosmos has two hundred more years to go. Luckily, the ESC has been working on a race of genetically-altered humans to travel the cosmos. I’m guessing the exact ‘what’ of that will be explained in the sequel, but this mission is so important she couldn’t tell them until that point otherwise they would’ve been killed and they can’t go back or they’ll also be killed.
Let’s start from the top.
THEY. DON’T. KNOW. THAT. At best, the ESC has a theory on the survivability of Earth and the human species. They have been in existence for long enough to see medicine and industry evolve and transcend what was thought possible ten years ago, much less one thousand years ago. Hell, people live in the ‘harsh’ conditions of space RIGHT NOW and have been living in outer space for decades now off and on. It is laughable to assume that two-hundred years from now, IF these assholes are right, that humanity will not have moved beyond our current living condition: if not for peaceful reasons (Star Trek), then for military reasons (Halo, Mass Effect). They’re just being massive dicks and passing judgment on humanity BECAUSE THEY CAN. Well at least they’re not immortal and will be long dead before they know for sure! Otherwise, they would be held responsible for flushing billions down the toilet for a problem that doesn’t exist and will never happen.
And that’s the second thing: THEY AREN’T SAVING ANYTHING. By Erica’s own admission, the three aren’t human. They appear human, but are genetically modified to have certain superpowers basically. But they’re not human, which means that this group has no desire to SAVE a shred of the human species from what they think might happen. Their goal is just to engineer a race fitting their genetic ideal and screw anyone else who doesn’t fit that particular ideal and instead of building up to it, yes you can start making Third Reich comparisons now.
These are just vague comparisons. Erica is fully aware of these things and endorses it. And that feeds into my final point, we can’t trust Erica. Despite the game doing its damndest to make her out to be just as much of a victim as Sara, we have nothing but Erica’s word that the threat of death is over them if they don’t do as she says. And we can’t believe her word because the ESC spent thousands of years, billions of dollars to create a genetically-ideal race. Do you really expect me to believe they made that investment only to blow it all away if they don’t cooperate? Of course not.
That means Erica is not letting them go because Erica wants them there and screw whatever lives they had before: her plans and goals come first. I’ve seen my share of psychotic behavior in my time (looking at you Shuuki) and this is right up there. And I’m supposed to like this sociopath? Screw you.
That is the depth of the plot. A couple of genetically-altered girls (who are allowed to live regular lives and never have any indication of being different before now, but let’s not get into that) get kidnapped by a crazy woman who forces them into a space adventure and does her best to when them over by either becoming their friend or sleeping with them. That’s called Stockholm Syndrome, in case anyone has forgotten, and here it’s being celebrated with a giant, sugary glow because of the genders involved.
Again, I am not amused.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation is, to put it bluntly, bleak. The sprite art is fine, but their emotional range is too limited to make them anything special or have any particular scene stand out. For the most part, you’ll be looking at the exact same blank stare in the exact same room for hours on end with nothing to break the monotony. The only Event Graphics of note cap off whatever romantic subplot you see through and it’s the requisite kiss scene that every romance visual novel uses as a climatic point.
On that thought, how bad are your romance scenes when bloody PYRITE HEART pulls it off better? Ugh.
There is voice acting touted here, but it’s only partial: kicking in every now and then to only denote there was no one trying to direct a cohesive presentation here. More often than not, it’ll break up the frankly bad soundtrack for a few seconds before the dirge continues. Clearly, no one on this side of the card knew what tone the developers wanted and tried to find some middle ground, but there wasn’t any point they could agree to. It’s depressing to listen to, especially now when so many talented musicians are plying their trade here.
And yes, even technically, this game manages to screw up. While I didn’t experience any major crashes or errors, there are a lot of choices here that are ultimately meaningless. A good handful simply direct the choices of the plot which must be followed regardless. Only a few determine the four endings of the game (two good, two bad). For all intents and purposes, the Kotoha ending is as canon as we’re getting with Sara along for the ride. Romancing Sara is insulting to sit through and the bad endings just tries to enforce that winning the girls’ affection overrules kidnapping in the first degree.
This is where things take a turn for the worse. Yeah.
Blossoms Bloom Brightest is free. Usually this is where I applaud, because at least people don’t have to spend money on this. But this was just an appetizer. Dharker Studios (AJ Tilley) is planning a remake of this title right now where Erica’s psychopathy is removed in favor of all the girls being in the exact same boat. Of course, this one will be commercial because it is bigger! With more choices and full visual novel functions (that’s a selling point). So, take a look at Galaxy Girls/Angels – a title that makes Blossoms Bloom Brightest completely irrelevant.
So, even if you (like me) played this one out of morbid curiosity there is no reasons to go back. By design, it is now completely irrelevant dandruff on the scalp of AJ Tilley. At least with other titles I noted for having zero replay value it managed either by being a full kinetic novel or some other restricted experience. This is the first time it’s not worth playing because, well, its existence is irrelevant.
This game is radioactive. Its very presence in the visual novel sphere is toxic on a level I rarely see. After playing through it, I commented on my Twitter page that no one should play Blossoms Bloom Brightest because ‘it exists to hurt your soul’ and I stand by that. If its illogical plot, warped use of romance, and psychotic characters doesn’t drive that home, the fact that it’s just a stepping stone for yet another Dharker Studios fanservice vehicle certainly will. I have seen twenty car pile-ups that are less horrific than this bloodbath. Better visual novels have been dreamed up in between classes of amateur writers and subsequently forgotten. I’d tell this game to go to Hell, but clearly Hell has rejected it and God isn’t merciful enough to just put it out of its misery.
Blossoms Bloom Brightest is easily, EASILY a contender for one of the worst visual novels I’ve ever played and I rue the day when one comes along to top it.