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Published August 22, 2012

Ah NaNoRenO…how I failed the crap outta you.

Okay some of you may not be completely acquainted with what happened so I’ll give you the abridged version. NaNoRenO is the EVN equivalent to National Novel Writing Month or whatever the abbreviation means. EVN writers have one month to produce a full visual novels: no small feat. To celebrate this, I planned to release a video series on all of the completed projects…then I played all of the completed projects. While I have a lot of respect for the people who write or draw EVNs, a month is an incredibly short time to do anything completely well: least of all what is technically a video game.

So, after a few weeks of recording and playing back my work, I realized that I sounded like a world-class jerk on some of them. Because I actually do want people to get something more from this idea of mine and believe it or not I’m not a pompous twit 14/7*, I went back to the drawing board. I figured instead of talking about them all, I could talk about a handful of the ones I felt stood out while mentioning the positives of as many as I felt were appropriate. Along the way, it was pointed out by a friend that if I did that, the one’s that stood out might get a raw deal from others who didn’t know why I gave so little attention to their work. By the way, if she’s reading this, thanks a lot for that realization…really.

When June hit and I had no video, I figured, screw it. It was too late to do anything timely and instead I’ll just do a few reviews for again the ones that I felt stood out and that way, while I liked them all in their own way, not doing average or possibly even negative reviews would be better than not talking about them on a video dedicated to NaNoRenO. That was around the same time my website started giving me crap so again it was put on the backburner until the issue could be resolved.

However, at the end of the day what is important to me is that this period of time passed and I never gave their developers their due. It goes against everything I am and so in the past week I replayed those titles in order to give you as good of a take on why they stood out to me three months ago as I can. While it’s too late to do what I wanted, I can still do what I should’ve done from the beginning: a full and proper review. With all of that said, let’s dig into the first of the NaNoRenO projects I absolutely loved – Cyanide Tea’s Ristorante Amore.

 

STORY

The key about Ristorante Amore (or RisAmo for those of you who liked this VN before it was cool) is that it was made for April Fool’s Day so, SPOILER ALERT! But if I’m spoiling anything in this title for you….where have you been?

Technically this visual novel is a combination of two stories: split into the Prologue and Post-Prologue respectively. The Prologue follows Lily, a young and slightly clumsy waitress working at her Uncle’s high-end Italian restaurant. On this path you have a choice to chase down three of your male coworkers and I’d like to stop here for saying this was probably the most elaborate April Fool’s Joke I’ve seen since one I pulled a few years ago. Despite it’s shortness, the entire Prologue could be classified as a full otome VN. It’s trite and predictable and has no issues poking fun at the medium, but it is a complete game in and of itself and does have some funny moments (mostly from Ethan) outside of the meta jokes. So kudos to Camille for making what could’ve been, nay should’ve been, a throwaway moment for the larger story.

The larger story concerns an alternate world that receives their energy from emotions felt on Earth. For those of you who remember Monsters Inc, this is the EVN equivalent though I still lean closer to Christopher Nolan‘s Inception and I‘ll get into why shortly. Anyway ‘Ristorante Amore’ is, conveniently enough, an otome game designed by this parallel Earth (Or Bizarro Zone, if you will) with the actors being nothing like the characters they play. Once the Post-Prologue starts you step into the shoes of Josh who played Pierre in the Prologue: a delinquent slacker coasting solely on his looks and half-decent acting ability. Once the game within a game wraps up and we watch Josh beat the back snot out of a drunk for a pretty decent recent, he and his cohorts go out for a night of boozing after which he drunk dials someone and this insanity jump starts into the stratosphere.

As far as romantic leads go, Josh is something of a pleasant surprise…and by that I mean I didn’t want to break his jaw. He is obviously flawed but his character was very relatable, at least to me. I’ve certainly gone through a stage where I just wanted to get by without thinking about the future and that is solidly where our Dark Prince is at when we meet him. Even if, for some odd reason the jabs at otome visual novels in the Prologue tick you off, I have yet to find anyone who wasn’t solidly in Josh’s corner throughout the game.

But the same can be said for nearly everyone in Ristorante Amore. All of them have their flaws, but that just makes them more relatable than anything because just like Josh, most of us over the age of 18 have been there. So while Ethan can come off as a bit neurotic, you know why and can recall the times you wanted something bad enough to work yourself sick. Same as with Laura’s inferiority complex with her ridiculously amazing family and Angelina’s inability to give herself credit for her success because of what her parents wished she focused on. You may have noticed I left Liam out of this equation and that’s because I hate that little brat. Not a word of a lie here folks I was emotionally invested in everyone’s story and wanted to see them end up together regardless of sexuality EXCEPT FOR LIAM. If Josh is slightly immature, Liam’s has the total brain power of a room full of Middle School Twilight fanatics. His entire story arc…his ENTIRE STORY ARC…is to go all passive aggressive on Josh so that Josh will develop feelings for him. Because I guess he left his testicles on the night stand when he came up with this stupid plan…oh and if you play it out to the good end it works.

God I hate him.

Laura and Ethan play their cards close to the vest as well. But those two didn’t try and twist your feelings their way and in the end they did just come out and say it. LIAM on the other hand has no problem trying to screw with you in order to, well, screw you. And there’s something about them being childhood friends and what not but still he is the only one here I wanted to see suffer and if this was Break Chance Memento, that manipulative twit and his Cheshire grin would be dead by now. But since this is supposed to be a lighter tone from the usual Cyanide Tea fanfare, I happily took the next best thing: his Bad Ending.

Which means instead of showing off the different graphics you will get from playing RisAmo, I’m just going to show you Liam’s Bad Ending because if anyone deserves to fail miserably it’s that arrogant bastard. Plus this is in the middle of those two hours a day when I’m a jerk and it makes me laugh SO THERE.

The only real trip up here I think can be placed on the month deadline. At a point in the story you realize that, without counting Liam, the stories all work out the same way: Josh realizes he likes one of his close friends, they start making overtures at one another, something happens with one of the friends that makes Josh realizes it’s time to grow up, Josh declares his feelings, the end. There are slight deviations along the way but this is Josh’s story. You only get so much time with your potential mate and most of that is them worried about their own ambitions so there’s only teaspoons of back story at a time and considering that the bits of history we get surrounding all of them, it does make me wish for a bit more about them rather than more of Josh ruminating about how hard they work and how much of a dork he is.

Also the romances here are possibly easier to navigate than the ones in Katawa Shoujo. You literally have to work at either getting the Friendship ending or failing at a relationship because you can hit coast at certain parts and still have everything work out. It helps that you like most of the people here, but like KS RisAmo could have easily held up to fresh trauma that Josh had to deal with in order to A: Show he was moving forward with his life and B: He wants to be with the intended person.

There’s also the weird fact that you learn Josh’s real name but everyone else maintains their in-game alias. I have my own theory on that but more on that later. Despite my small issues, this is a unique twist on the atypical love story and even non-fans of the genre will get a kick out of it. Also Josh and Angelina is the canon ending and I don’t care what anyone else tells you.

 

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Ohhhhhh Pookie, what happened? Didn’t get the boyfriend you wanted?

 

PRESENTATION AND GAMEPLAY

I have said in the past that there are three current visual novel artist who can take the anime style and make it unique. One of them is Auro-Cyanide and she absolutely delivers with this one. Everyone looks fantastic and blends in well with the photographic backgrounds. Usually I knock using pictures of this, but the way it was blended in to make it look like a watercolor painting brings out the more subdued tones in the sprites. That is a very pretentious way to say it all looks very good. I cannot praise Auro enough for a job well done here.

It’s isn’t completely perfect when you take a close look at Liam’s shirts or Josh’s tattoo. But those are minor nitpicks for what is otherwise great art. The music that goes along with it really works as well. I don’t think this was an original soundtrack yet it all felt unique to RisAmo. So good work to whoever it was who picked out the background music.

One of my favorite things that they added where removable bits of attire. Things like Ethan’s glasses and Josh’s cigarettes which you don’t really noticed until they get knocked off someone’s face. It’s a small addition that would have been tedious if used differently, but here it added to the flavor. Also our little Auro has come a long, long way since the Event CG s of don’t take it personally babe, as everything here is solid and touching when need be. Okay that’s really just because she gave me Liam suffering and Angelina and Josh in bed together (further making it canon) so maybe I’m just being cheap.

Gameplay is what you’d expect, except for the use of hotkeys in game to move things along a bit faster. I didn’t run into any serious bugs and with only a month to put everything together that is a victory in and of itself. There really isn’t much more to say here. It all looks good and it works.

 

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Don’t worry at least you get to go home to Jos…oh wait…

 

REPLAY VALUE

Ristorante Amore clocks in at a maximum of six hours for me. Not only did I want to get everyone’s ending and play through their stories, strangely enough I wanted to play all of the routes of the prologue. It isn’t the longest EVN of all time but it has plenty of content that will keep you fully invested whenever you turn it on. And when it’s all said and done there are a few routes you will love to play again (coughAngelinacough). Oh and it’s free so no excuses!

OVERALL

…What the Hell? ONE MORE TIME!

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YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! 

That look just hits the perfect spot in my shell of a heart.

I got the feeling while playing Ristorante Amore that this was the black sheep of the Cyanide Tea family. No one dies and there’s not a lot of real drama here. It’s a light, heartfelt look at maturing and finding love that, while not perfect, is great in and of itself. Before I leave you, I want to give you this one final thought about RisAmo. The entire premise of the VN is that the Prologue was a game designed to draw out love for the characters right? Didn’t the Post Prologue do the same thing? Along the way the VN drops hints that the actors played in a lot of similar roles in similar games. So is it possible that the reason only Josh got a name change is because the world created a different game: or rather a game within a game within a game. Three levels deep baby: Inception.

Okay that might have been a stretch but when a VN gets you think about the entire world and its characters, it’s badass. Outside of some predictability even in the Post-Prologue as well as a harsh transition shift, this is a must play. If you haven’t played it yet, stop reading this and do so.

*It’s only fourteen hours a day instead of twenty-four because I need at least eight hours of sleep and there are always two hours a day where I feel like just being an ass. Usually that’s when I go and play something like Bulletstorm or Mortal Kombat (and THAT is why I don’t classify myself as a feminist).

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