Well, well, well. What do we have here?
Considering the EVN clientele, a Boys Love game is something of a rarity. To date, I’ve only reviewed one title in the subgenre and, well, the less said about Duael the better. So we’ll have to get our money’s worth out of this one since there is no guarantee another will come around again this year. I convinced my friend and the Pride of His Nation Chris Tenarium to tackle Incolore before I came out with a review. He made it roughly an hour in before he said, and I quote, ‘Fuck You JP’. I knew that would happen because I had already played it and, unfortunately for the creator of this game, Tenarium’s reaction to the game is pretty much accurate.
Allow me to explain.
Incolore is the story of Mason: a makeup artist who is also homosexual. I feel the need to point this out because the game did before I even started it. He is approached by a young photographer on the first day of a new modelling project and told outright that the photographer loved him. And, of course, he isn’t the only beau vying for Mason’s scrawny ass.
There are a couple of positive points and we’ll go ahead and knock that out now. One thing I enjoy in fiction is where there is clearly unresolved history or a long backstory between characters, since when it is properly done it gives the characters more dimension and depth. Incolore attempts this with Mason’s former lover and boss Klein. When it was first introduced, it actually kind of worked and it made their conversations stand out without spending game time on building their relationship. This gets abused later on, but in the first few scenes they use it in it does work.
And that exhausts our list of things the game did right. Now for what went wrong.
The cast caused me pain. Actual, physical pain on a level I haven’t felt in a while with visual novels. Save for one character, they all perfectly fit on a rail of anime tropes that were old ten years ago when I regularly watched anime. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of assuming that the obvious characters would simply grow as their tropes tend to grow over the course of an atypical anime-inspired story. However, none of the characters experience any sort of change. Not only do they say the exact same as they started when they’re introduced, but by default you’re supposed to find the listless tropes romantic in and of themselves since there is literally nothing else there.
This decision is stupid: there is no way around it. Even if you decide not to venture to far out of the clichéd comfort zone, there are established ways to stick to the tropes and use them to at least simulate character development and an interesting story. To dump the tropes out and leave them there to rot in the sun isn’t a bold attempt at artistry; you’re just aiming for the lowest common denominator and hoping to be called a genius for it. I don’t say it to be sarcastic: that’s a problem that occurs too much in the EVN community and needs to die a screaming, bloody death. If your story is, at its core, the cold, worm-eaten corpse of other story’s clichés, it’s time to rethink that story.
Of course, it would probably help the cast out if they were something more than their sexualities. But, there I go being logical again. Considering everything else I’ll be getting into, this seems like a minor slap in the face. But allow me to shock some of you by stating a fictional reality that is ignored often: a character’s sexuality IS NOT a character trait. Allow me to stay there for a moment, because I could feel the reverb of someone’s jaw hitting the floor.
This is something that happens a lot in fanfiction, especially anime fanfiction, because the only way most of those stories can get done is if Characters A and B are TOALLY AND COMPLETE GAY FOR EACH OTHER GUYS despite the source’s canon. However, when you’re not forcing someone else’s characters to fit your particular kink, then wrapping your cast’s entire role with who they find attractive is grating. And I’d say that it was just an amateur mistake, but there’s a trend that occurs through the story that romanticizes not only this, but the fact that we’re dealing with children.
There’s a running thread through the entire game that romanticizes immaturity. When you boil all of them down, Mason and his beaus are teenagers in the skins of supposed adults. They all have little responsibility or concern outside of their own desires thanks to the financial security either provided by others or an industry that holds physical beauty above hard work. Even the hardest working among them, Ray, isn’t valued so much for everything he does to move ahead in the world as he is for the level of affection he has for Mason. And even, even then, he is considered by all of most immature because of his shyness.
This was a recurring thing in English Visual Novels, but more and more projects are moving away from an idealized world of perpetual adolescence. Games like this where no one ever grows the Hell up by dictate of the writer feel archaic here. This is less of a critique of the game and more of a signpost as were this particular genre is going. With more and more EVNs introducing more complex work, this kind of world-building isn’t enough anymore and I, for one, am happy for it.
No bad game is complete without a bad protagonist. ‘Macey’ is a freelance make-up artist kept afloat by the apparently affluence of his family and is never hinted to have any other skills or knowledge outside of being a gossip. Yet with this stunning lack of notable success and life experience, he’s treated by the cast and the game as a whole as the moral center by which this world continues to spin. Now, don’t get me wrong; I like characters with moral flaws and I have a soft spot in my withered heart for villains. The difference, however, with Daniel Plainview, Louis Bloom or Michael Corleone is that their stories never romanticized them. Some sympathized with them, but they showed their darker actions for what they were. With Incolore, every flaw and shortcoming is treated positive, which makes Mason a romanticized jackass who just needs a boyfriend in his life again!
I’m sorry, but why? Why does everyone want to bang him? Does Mason’s penis emit soft serve ice cream when he orgasms? Do you get an extra heart chamber post-coitus? No reason is given: he’s just looks like a girl so apparently that is enough of an imperative for everyone to treat him like a living doll.
The inner monologue we have to suffer through from Mason could have been interesting though. The approach to this wasn’t just to set up the dialogue, but to provide a running commentary for Mason to the story…well, ‘events’ for lack of a better word. While this could have been used to flesh out the limited character, instead it cements just how much of a jackass Mason especially: especially when it comes to Drake. ‘Drake’ will serve the role as The Only Sane Man in This Universe for the game and whenever we cut to him, I wonder why he isn’t in a much better VN. Then the game refuses to call him anything other than ‘Dagger’, his stage name, and I knew if he was ever granted sentient thought, he would think the exact same thing.
Drake is the boyfriend of Mason’s sister I was talking about earlier and Mason sure does enjoy making his life Hell for it whenever he gets a chance. I would almost believe it when the story tries to point out that he’s trying to look out for his sister’s best interest, IF Mason didn’t have a running inner monologue of nothing but positive, swooning thoughts for the dude. The moral event horizon for me on this matter was when Mason told his sister than Drake was flirting with other women when she wasn’t around. This was immediately followed by him thinking that he did it out of revenge for Drake dating his sister and at that point, the boy really doth protested far too much for my taste.
I wish there was more to bite into on this game, but I’ve knocked out all of the tent poles holding it together. If you’re not into the shallow character tropes this game relies on, all of the paths become a test of endurance. Klein’s route was bearable if only due to their past. Akira’s, AKA Lizard-Face, is pure toxic waste because despite the game telling us how good Mason is for him and how much he’s changing from a total brat to a mature human being, he doesn’t. That isn’t conjecture, by the way. In the main scene where the secondary characters tell Mason about how much growth they seen in Lizard-Face since Mason started hanging around him, Akira can then be seen harassing Ray as always. So yeah; zero-change. Thank you game for contradicting yourself and making this review of you easier!
Ray’s route is unbearable. Nothing happens for over an hour. You will gain just as much entertainment staring at a wall as you will when you read the scenes between Ray and Mason. This is something shocking to me, because EVNs rarely bore me. It’s either good, bad or there are interesting issues to talk about in the middle for improvement. But I couldn’t get through Ray’s route fast enough and end my total boredom with the character.
That isn’t a good sign.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation is a straight-forward anime style that secures the trope rails the cast is on. Oddly enough, the best drawn character by far is Melissa: Mason’s sister. Her design actually reminds me of another redhead surrounded by Bishonen, but at least I could pick her out of a lineup of other female EVN characters if I had to. All of the guys, on the other hand, look like they were copied from much better versions of the tropes they represent. The worst, ironically, is Klein whose character model looks like a palette swap of Mason’s older brother Dave. It isn’t terrible, but nothing reaches out and grabs your attention. There are a few Event Graphics for when they get around to kissing, but that is done close up and looks, frankly, odd over the backgrounds.
The backgrounds deserve special mention because they were done in a very minimalistic style. If practiced on, this could work out for the artist who did this. However, as it stands right now, the game might as well have been done in front of a blank screen or blurred out pictures for all the good the art did. The best is the café; however, the weaknesses come through here since you cannot tell if the windows are windows or just paintings of what could be clouds or if the chairs are just small tables. Maybe, in time, this will improve. For what we get though, it’s a small highlight.
Gameplay is a mixed bag. The choices work fine and there are no bugs or glitches to report, however there also isn’t a UI on the game screen. In order to save, load or change your preferences, you have to switch to the secondary menu screen. This is more tedious than anything and considering the other issues with the game, it’s just another strain on the audience’s time.
Normally, time is never an issue with an EVN. They’re naturally shorter than their Japanese elder siblings, so you will be done with a Western-made game well before you get tired of it. But this game…this game has the nerve, theaudacity, the unmitigated gall to not only be long, but take something I have championed on this site in bonus material and abuse it. A single route of this game, taking my time, clocked in just over two hours: most likely shorter if you skip repeated scenes with Mason’s family. So, to complete all routes you’re looking at six hours of gameplay.
Then you get to the Extras menus. Without Event Graphics, I didn’t know what supplemental material they would put here. What we get are the canonical endings to each romance. The writer for this project cut off the end of each route and put it in the Extras section. SO, if for some odd reason you want a proper ending to the story instead of being cut off at the knees, you have to get through another five to fifteen minutes of story in the extras section depending on how much the writer decided to cut off.
This is an issue that is rampant in console gaming right now as publishers cut off pieces of the game proper to sell later as DLC instead of creating actual new content to supplement a completed game. This is the first EVN I have played that has an Extras section it did not need. All of the ‘epilogues’ could have easily been added back into the game proper and is only there to make the game feel deeper and more put together than it actually is.
As for whether or not you’ll want to replay this game again; you won’t. I haven’t screamed ‘END ALREADY’ this many times since I played Nowhere Safe 1. You have to be among the hardest of the hardcore of fangirls to find enough entertainment here for repeated play.
‘Of course you didn’t like it JP!’ Someone is probably spouting right now in fury. ‘This game wasn’t meant for you!’
Bullshit. That is my response to that old excuse: bullshit.
Bad writing is universal, no matter what the target audience is. Even as someone who isn’t a fan, I should be able to peak in and see a decent attempt if nothing else. Allow me to remind you that I was able to do that for SAKURA ANGELS: the successor of a game I spent the better part of a year crapping on. If Winged Freakin’ Cloud can do enough right for someone who isn’t a fan of theirs to notice, then that whole ‘it isn’t made for you’ excuse can burn in Hell.
By all reports, though, this isn’t the game the writer intended. It has been frequently delayed and wasn’t fully proofread. That’s a shame, but again delays are the end of the world if the work being delayed is being improved on in that time. Incolore is so barren of any originality; it’s clear that the writer just tacked on what they felt would be passible and slid it out to appease their own sense of timing.
If you can bear it, then vaya con dios. For those of us with discerning tastes, this is clearly lacking in substance and character. Hopefully the writer for this will learn from the mistake of rushing their work and take their time in their next project to make sure the work is more than just bland repetition of other people’s ideas. Unless you’re just morbidly curious or the site of two Bishonen kissing blinds you to reality; avoid, avoid, avoid.
If you want to see a partial playthrough, check out Tenarium’s Let’s Play!