And so, a new chapter opens.
Yes, I am still done with the Sakura series. My hands are washed of it and I am not looking back. However, I’m not necessarily free from the sub-genre that spawned it. Interestingly enough, despite the success of Sakura Spirit a few years ago (siiiiigh), only a handful of Western developers have attempted to follow in their footsteps. Off the top of my head I can only list three groups even remotely attempting to copy Winged Cloud’s success. There’s Dharker Studios helmed by AJ Tilley, who need no further debate, Marble Syrup, who built their reputation off art theft and fraud, and the subject of today’s review, Silver Cow Studios.
Silver Cow and I nearly crossed paths last year. I was trying to decide whether or not to play their first title Time Tenshi or ‘Klace’ Lambert’s Major/Minor to see if either managed to make it on the Worst Ofs list. Time Tenshi lost the coin toss and Major/Minor ended up being the Worst EVN of 2015: yeah, worse than Beach Bounce or Sakura Fantasy…I still can’t believe it nearly six months later. But it was always destined that our paths would cross again and a few months ago I availed myself of their second title: Burokku Girls. So, was the experience a mountain of fictional goodness or does it, like so many others like it, fall flat? Let’s get to it.
- Genre: Ecchi, Fantasy
- Release Date: February 17, 2016
- Developer: Silver Cow
- Language: English
- Platform: PC
- Website: Steam
- Edited By: Ozzytizer
One day, a young male protagonist named Takeshi checks in on his Father who is busy working on his latest invention: a fully immersive virtual reality machine. Takeshi managed to convince his Father to let him to test it out and, after a quick fanservice scene, Takeshi gets his wish. Unfortunately, once the machine is on Takeshi wakes up in a world too real to be a video game. As evil beings begin to rip the world apart, he will have to make new friends and find the courage to face the coming darkness head on.
So, having read that synopsis, many of you have pictured how this plot is going to roll out and the chances are high that you’re exactly right. From how our intrepid generic male protagonist ends up in this alternate Earth to the conflict that has embroiled it, there is no escaping that most of us have seen this story before. Even the threat Takeshi and his friends find themselves up again, heretofore known collectively as the Darkling Army, are your straight-up ‘Evil for Evil’s Sake’ antagonists bent on destruction for the sake of destruction. There is no denying that the basics of the plot are rooted in tropes from twenty years ago (think more Escaflowne than SAO), so saying it can be predictable is like saying you can drown if you shove your face in enough water. Because of this, none of the characters actually develop beyond what you would’ve seen well before now. The plot never really shifts gears enough to stand as a distinct work of fiction at any time. It can be argued that without the references to other (some would argue better) pieces of media, it would inevitably collapse on itself. Silver Cow seemed to be fully aware of the limitations of the plot they chose and decided to make the most of it. And color me shocked as Hell, because while Burokku Girls isn’t innovative or all that original, it does not suck.
Where did Silver Cow go right where so many others have fallen? A great deal of that is due to how the game treats its protagonist: Takeshi. We have spent slightly over a year dismantling the ‘Generic Male Protagonist’: the empty vessel used in many an ecchi or harem title to try and embody the restless libido of many a male otaku. These off-white knights that so often take center stage barely lift a finger yet somehow improve the lives of everyone around them and are rewarded with a harem of nubile young women for it.
And yet, there is another GMP we often don’t talk about. GMP Classic, if you will.
The GMP Classic Model is your Tenchi Masaki, Shiro Amada and, in certain ways, Kazuki Fuse…if anyone is old enough to remember any of these guys. This particular GMP has the potential to be a badass, but more often than not doesn’t really care. The reason for this not caring can shift from just being a lazy jackass or having some other goal that doesn’t directly deal where their badass talent is. As such, the story relies more on their mentality and point-of-view rather than them being the biggest asskicker in the room. And it usually leads to more investment from us, even if these guys are a bit simpler than what we (and I’m including myself in this one) would want from a protagonist.
Takeshi is a GMP: there is no denying this. However, he falls closer to the Classic end of the scale than his modern brethren. The game separates him at the beginning of the game when his Father’s lab assistant tries to have sex with him outright and he refuses because he wants to, at the very least, have some feelings for the girl he’s banging and not just do it out of lust. I’m sure many an otaku out there will groan about the reasons given for Takeshi being averse to sex with a ridiculously endowed woman grinding in his lap, but might I point out that it is, in fact, a reason?
More importantly, the scene sets the overall tone of the story through separating our main guy from the rest of the pack. The game makes no attempt to make Takeshi special or center the world around him. In fact, the majority of the game sets up the real possibility that the Darkling Army can win and his best hope is to be transported back home before the world succumbs completely. It is exactly how he should be treated and it allows him to show his moral fortitude and build up to the eventual moment when he unlocks the badass within. We know it’s coming, but allowing for even a small amount of drama to build instead of constantly assuring readers that the main character is the greatest thing walking allows for a solid bit of tension that keeps you invested in Takeshi as a protagonist.
I wish I could say the same about the girls themselves, but they aren’t anything to write home about. They all fill their roles (no subversions intended) well enough, but that role is strictly utilitarian. There are a few fun moments, especially with the literal sex bunny/town healer, but there just isn’t enough character in between them all to be anything more than a plot device. However, since the threat of a harem is surgically removed and they are fully invested in the war going on, they are used just well enough to keep from being a strain on the overall game.
This is best seen with Asahi: the main female character and potential love interest. While it is heavily hinted in character dialogue that she may be growing fond of Takeshi, the writers remained focused on the bigger picture. It allows for a solid moment of drama when the reality of their situation comes down on her and Asahi begins to crack, giving Takeshi a moment where he shines as well. Again, VERY utilitarian but it gets the job done.
Other than that, there really isn’t much to say about the overall plot. The first half of the game establishes the war and warring factions with the second half devoted to the battle itself. While predictable, it is a fun scene that fully realizes the genre tropes it’s built off of and manages to be entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it hit its beats and paid off on its buildup and expectations and while I cannot say it’s the best written fight scene in visual novels, or even English Visual Novels, it does just enough to wrap the events of the story up in an enjoyable way…save for one thing.
You only have two real choices in the game and the second one comes in between the fight scenes. It directly leads to either the Good End or the Bad End, and as much as I promote the darker side of fiction and indulge in blood and strife wherever I can get it, the Bad End for this game just doesn’t fit the tone. While it doesn’t show anything too explicit, it does have a graphic murder scene and foreshadows Takeshi raping a few of the female characters. I understand this behavior has an in-universe explanation (believe it or not), but that doesn’t mean it fits the overall tone. The Bad End is so far out of left field it makes Burokku Girls feels like a completely different game and even at this moment I’m not sure why it was put in other than just to make it as bad as a Bad End can possibly be. I get it; it just doesn’t fit.
Before we move on, I’d like to spend a brief moment on the fanservice. If the body designs weren’t a dead giveaway, the game does enjoy its fanservice but it’s never done without any context. This is hinted at from the start with Dr. Candy, but it carries over in the alternate Earth as well where fanservice is a literal magical art. Most of Dawn’s (that sex bunny I talked about earlier) healing magic works by people groping her massive tits and the Darkling Army grows its ranks by corrupting people with molestation tentacles. Is it ridiculous? Yup. However, I’ve never said that fanservice cannot be ridiculous. In fact, I fully expect for it to be absolutely ludicrous whenever it’s involved.
What I’ve said, and what I’ve continued to say, is that it’s a problem when fanservice brings the game to a screeching halt. And a game built on fanservice is the narrative equivalent of taking a long car ride with someone who has to pee every thirty minutes. Here, surprisingly, all of the fanservice has a logical reason to happen, so until everyone else gets the message, it stands as probably the best use of fanservice in EVNs to date. I would be impressed, if I wasn’t still trying to figure out exactly how that healing magic thingy worked.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation is limited to say the least. Only Asahi, Dr. Candy and Dawn have anything close to a distinctive look, but that is offset by the fact that most of the women here have the exact same proportions. I understand that ecchi titles have ridiculous proportions to the point where it would be a gag if every woman WASN’T tucking away watermelons in her bra, but a little variety would go a long way in making the characters feel unique. Without it, the girls feel monotonous: especially when more than one is on the screen as seen in the screenshot above.
Outside of our major female characters, everyone else looks flat and relatively cheap in comparison. It doesn’t help that the backgrounds are hit or miss. The alternate Earth is a very obvious homage to Minecraft, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making the character sprites look disjointed and separated from the world instead of blending in. Your eyes will never adjust to the disparity between background and characters and it takes away from the overall game when you can’t enjoy looking at it.
The Event Graphics suffer from this particularly. Most of them are just the characters in question superimposed on the background in a way that the regular sprite wouldn’t allow. It gets the intended mood across, but it really hits home just how cheaply made this game is. It almost made me miss Wanaca’s art, but then I remembered what it was attached to. At the very least, the soundtrack is pleasant enough. It feels generically shonen, but is placed at the right moments to sell the story; which is what a soundtrack is supposed to do. It’s nowhere near even middle tier, but it keeps everything together long enough to cross the finish line.
Technically speaking, the game is surprisingly solid. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the devotion to a Boob Shake mechanic, everything functioned well and I didn’t receive any serious crashes or error reports. This game was actually made in TyranoBuilder if I’m right and while it clearly doesn’t have some of the finer animations and transitions as Ren’py, I am happy to see people get the most out of it.
Burokku Girls is available for $8.99 on Steam. It only took me around four hours to wrap everything up and the truth is that I cannot see myself jumping back in. Everything you need you get quickly enough, and it just isn’t memorable enough to warrant anything more than an odd whim every now and then. Ultimately, I cannot see any strong replay value here so if it interests you hold on for a Steam sale at the very least.
I went into Burokku Girls without even considering the possibility of being fair to it. I was ready to burn it to the ground as I have many of its kind that came before it. And yet, I’m walking away from Burokku Girls with a much more positive look on it and its creators. I will probably never be the audience for this kind of thing, but I can respect the effort to make sure everything ties in so that Silver Cow can tell a story. There are several moments of solid drama that successfully paid off in creating a moderate buildup to the second half of the story. The second half, ostensibly a long fight scene, is a legitimately fun read that makes full use of the tropes and cliches the game is built on. With fan service backed by in-universe logic and a decent protagonist in Takeshi managing to tie together an otherwise underwhelming cast the audience is spared the groaning associated with many a male otaku fantasy.
That being said, the group still has a great deal of work to put in before it manages a good story. Beyond its predictability, Burokku Girls shoots itself in the foot with its frankly garrish presentation and a bad end that radically diverts from the tone set by the story. And outside of Takeshi the cast barely registers as anything other than an afterthought. There are actually eight other characters in this game other than the four I keep coming back to, but with three of those four (Candy, Asahi and Dawn) barely standing out as is, everyone else just fades into the background: serving their predetermined roles and exiting the scene just as quickly.
Maybe with some practice and time, Silver Cow can be the first studio to actually pull out a solid title with bountiful handfuls of plot in both the way I mean it and how horny otaku mean it. For now though, while stills a long way from good; Burokku Girls does not suck…and that is alright with me.