My friends, we have made it.
We are in the first week of a brand new year. Already we are seeing long-awaited releases and brand new EVNs step up to the plate to welcome us to a year of new chances and opportunities! But, before we fully move forward, there are some traditions that must be upheld! Hopefully, this will mean that my Best Of list won’t be far behind. Tentatively, those announcements will come this weekend so if you haven’t made your nominations yet GET THEM IN.
But we’re not talking about the Best here; oh no. Tonight we remember the banal; celebrate the clichéd. After a year in hiatus, we are bringing back the Worst Ofs: the bottom five EVNs released in 2015! Could it have been longer? Yes. But I like to stick to five because it is less depressing that way. An honorable mention, however, does go toSunrider Academy by Love in Space. While I have not completed the game yet, the fact that it is taking this long is due completely to my desire NOT to play it. The simulator is best in small bursts; not as the focal point of an entire game. The already weak characters from the main series get watered down even further and while I understand that there is an important piece to the overall Sunrider lore at the end, getting to it has proven to be a grinding task at best.
I was really looking forward to this one too and had hoped to praise it. Unfortunately, it’s been a wash out so far and I don’t see it getting any better. But, because I haven’t finished it, I cannot put it on the list proper. It just wouldn’t be fair and, as you guys all know, I’m all about being fair when it comes to dishing out my rage.
With all of that said, while there were some fantastic EVNs in 2015, there were also some that were definitely not up to par. In fact, ‘not up to par’ is being very nice about it. They sucked and we’re going to talk about them! These are the WORST EVNs of 2015!
5. Incolore (PPPantsu)
At my absolute merciful, I’d just considered this title a bland waste-of-time that relies too much on a narrative structure stolen from yaoi fanfiction. However, then you’d have to ask what exactly makes it so bland in the first place and that is where the real problems begin for Incolore. The cast are made up of completely unlikable prats that not only did not mature past the age of 13, but are also solely defined by their degree of thirst for our main character. Speaking of the little prick, our main character Mason is a catty jackass who when not basking in the glow of his friends and suitors, is busy taking swipes at the relationship between his sister and The Only Sane Man in this Game: Drake.
Why? Well the game’s narration says it’s because Drake had the audacity to date his sister, but the game’s dialogue says that Mason’s jealousy outweighs his sister’s happiness. Seriously, if I could gently massage Mason’s face with a power sander I would.
The plot is barely there and with no one to inject any fun or intrigue into it, the only way to finish this one is to grit your teeth and power through. And that’s only if you really care that much about seeing two bishonen, whose tropes you’ve most likely already seen make out, make out. And EVEN then, in order to get to that you have to push through ANOTHER fifteen to twenty minutes of game since each of the character endings have been cut off and stuffed into the Extra section. Great.
Currently the developer of this game is on an indefinite hiatus. I would hate to see this be the last thing we’d remember them by, so hopefully they can learn from Incolore and return one day to make something much better.
4. Catnip (SparkyRailgun)
Honestly, the best way to start this one is to just take a look at the game’s own synopsis:
Originally slated to be an actually (or intentionally) good visual novel about a boy and his new catgirl, living in a world where genetic manipulation is the new topic of contention worldwide, various personal failings have led to this iteration of the game. Which is objectively not particularly good, rather short, completely different from my original concept, and essentially made in a night so I could do something with the assets I’d collected and created earlier in the month. With poor writing, unnecessary Cyrillic dialogue, and potentially racist artificial accents, it’s sure to be worth the fifty megabytes and ten minutes you spend on it!
Catnip stands as the first EVN I’ve played that felt mean-spirited and dark just for the sake of being mean-spirited and dark. And this is coming from someone who can usually find an excuse for more bloodshed in EVNs. I understand the desire to have something finished in a certain amount of time and I also understand the discouragement one can feel when something they’ve worked on doesn’t live up to expectations. But that doesn’t excuse spitting at the audience and expecting a free pass because ‘at least you finished something’. And yes it was made for NaNoRenO, but even the ‘meh’ of NaNoRenO at least feel like the developer actually wanted to make it so no; that’s not an excuse.
Hopefully if this developer continues on, they’ll develop something they feel much better about. For everyone else, if at any time you start feeling like the game synopsis hints that this dev was feeling when making your visual novel, shut down your rig and walk away. It is better to make nothing at all than make something like Catnip.
3. Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 (Winged Cloud)
This may well be the first and only time Winged Cloud makes it onto this prestigious list. Last year I didn’t do a Worst Of list because it would have just been me ranting about Sakura Spirit and moving forward, I’m not planning on playing anything else from the Sakura series. It would almost be a bittersweet moment…if WC had ever produced anything worth being bittersweet over. ANYWAY, this year Winged Cloud continued along their path of commercial success and creative bankruptcy in the seven titles they released…that’s right; SEVEN. And while I would love to include Sakura Clicker on this list, no game emphasized the level of quality coming from WC quite like Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1.
To be honest, I struggled over which Sakura title to choose here because Sakura Santa or Sakura Swim Club also deserve to be on this prestigious list. In the end, though, Sakura Fantasy won out thanks to its total banality and the amount of time it decidedly wasted. This is a three-hour game that you can cut down to two hours and some change and still have the exact same amount of story in. That should not be possible, yet WC found a way. So instead of a satisfying story, the narrative junk food you get centers on our terrible protagonist Raelin training to be a soldier, peeping on other women in the name of fanservice and having mysterious conversations with the immortal empress of this realm. Does it all mean anything? No. Does it build up to anything for a future installment? Not really. So what’s the point?
You know, I’m still trying to figure that one out.
The story in this game is so non-existent that most of the first half resorted to repeating itself and recapping events that occurred no less than three minutes prior. My friend and the Mountain that Rides, Chris Tenarium, experienced this first hand and, well, the results speak for itself. Arguably, the only thing this game has going for it is the only thing any of these games have going for them and that is the fanservice. Unfortunately, even that isn’t enough to save Sakura Fantasy. By this point, Wanaca’s art has lost its unique charm ages ago and now feels tired and tacked on especially, and ironically enough, in the action scenes that aren’t driven by boobies. But the most tacked on, most worthless part of this game is something some have tried to defend to me: the yuri part.
WC announced in the development of this title that it would feature lesbian relationships. Because of that, yuri fans actually came out of the woodwork and tried to defend this game to me NOT because they thought it could be good, but because it at least had yuri and would therefore spread acceptance of a subgenre they wanted to see more of in the West. It was an unmitigated disaster for that particular fandom as any romantic scene in Sakura Fantasy was turned into a dream sequence in the name of male-driven otaku wank material. So hopefully a lesson was learned there, but who knows?
Even if you just want to see shiny anime tits, there are so many other ways to get them. Sakura Fantasy offers nothing but a joyless drought for anyone dumb enough to spend money on it and stands as a testament to a group held up by the low expectations of nearly everyone around them. I cannot wash my hands of this series fast enough in 2016.
2. Divine Slice of Life (AJTilley.com)
At the very least, the customers and critics don’t seem to be giving AJT and Dharker Studios the same amount of leeway its given WC. But that hasn’t stopped Tilley and his motley crew from pumping out six titles of their own (seven if you count Beach Bounce Episode 1 and 2 separately) and while you may think that Beach Bounce is more deserving of this spot, that’s only because you haven’t heard me talk about Divine Slice of Life.
Saying that there is even an attempt at a plot here is being more charitable than this visual novel deserves, but what am I if not a charitable reviewer? The story this game WANTS to tell is of an average guy who doesn’t have the best luck who finds out he’s a reincarnated ancient god and, with the help of two other reincarnated deities, matures and finds romance and hijinks along the way. The story the game ACTUALLY tells is of a moron utilizing the power of Deus Ex Machina and the Word of God to get laid. Repeatedly. Whoopie.
Watching Aaki (the Generic Male Protagonist) get lucky would be entertaining, at the very least, if there was an actual character behind the mask of flesh that makes up his non-existent face. Hell, if there was more to ANYONE in this game other than the bare minimum of the most basic anime tropes you have seen rehashed a thousand times before and you will see rehashed a thousand times more in the next six months alone, MAYBE one of the legion unfunny jokes would have actually been worth a chuckle. As it is, the highest level of entertainment Divine Slice of Life reaches is a yawn and a shrug through any conversation that doesn’t have to do with Aaki’s penis: roughly 5% of all in-game dialogue. The rest of it is annoying as bloody Hell as the creative team ignores any sort of attachment and just throws characters together in the name of fanservice in a way that would cause even the horniest of perverts to have a moment of reconsideration.
I mean, if you had to stop a sex scene in the middle of a visual novel to decide where you wanted the bland protagonist to ejaculate, I would hope that would give some of you a moment of pause.
I know that so far it’s sounding a lot like Beach Bounce, and to be fair in this area it is. What makes this one worse is that Divine Slice of Life also represents Tilley and Co. putting actual effort into their work. The artist they used is different from the one from Beach Bounce and Sword of Asumi, the group included voice actors to make it look and feel as good as possible…and it’s all for naught. I usually defend voice acting in EVNs as it can be a fun addition to the overall game, even it isn’t always the highest of quality. However, there is no defending the onslaught of awful performances here. I cannot blame the VAs themselves as I’m sure they delivered what they were ask to deliver. But that doesn’t change how wooden and forced the performances sounded in the final product. Hell, if I didn’t care about voice acting AT ALL and didn’t use it as a Presentation metric for reviews, it would have been switched off after the first ten minutes of the game!
Beyond that the artwork stays solidly in the realm of bland and generic; only escaping to look absolutely ridiculous for the game’s sex scenes. All of this, tied with a soundtrack that will make your ears bleed makes for a package that in excruciating to experience. And, again, this was AJTilley.com’s best foot forward. With a bank full of Kickstarter money and plenty of time to focus on this since Beach Bounce was in the hands of a third party, Divine Slice of Life is the project that showed the world what AJTilley.com, operating at 100%, can do.
I’m just going to leave that one right there.
1. Major/Minor Episode 1 (HF Interactive)
JP, this can’t be worse than a Winged Cloud VN.
Oh yes it can.
JP, THIS CANNOT BE WORSE THAN AN AJ TILLEY VN.
Oh yes it is. My friends; say hello to the worst English Visual Novel I played in 2015: Major/Minor Episode 1.
Why did I play Major/Minor? Well, honestly it was either it or Time Tenshi and Time Tenshi lost the coin toss. So instead of yet another onslaught of shiny anime boobies, I got to experience this…thing. Now, there is currently a controversy brewing around it and it’s gotten to the point where the developer no longer deals directly with the Steam community for the game. That I will have to deal with in another feature because this is just focusing on the game by itself. But, if you’re interested, here’s a link to the Major/Minor Steam page and I’m sure you can all figure out what’s going on pretty quickly from there.
As for the game itself, it features all of the other cardinal sins listed here. An unlikable, cliched cast, a terrible presentation featuring stilted designs and repetitive dialogue that circles the drain the minute the cast spit it out. Despite being furries, no one character stands out from the other, especially the main character who’s only defining trait is that he’s such a Klace fanboy he drink enough energy drinks to shut down his endocrine system. This can get really confusing thanks to the awful user interface and programming that only gives you the power to move forward with the option to save at predetermined points.
It’s a mess all around, but that’s not what sank Major/Minor. For that, I have to brief you on the synopsis. The POV character arrives to Japan after wining a contest to follow a popstar named Klace on his global tour. While in Japan, a series of homicides begin to happen in Tokyo with nothing tying them together other than that they happen at midnight and that they started when Klace’s tour rolled into town. And yes, I can hear a few of you screaming at your screens about Persona and while I’ve never played anything in the Persona series, I know enough about it to acknowledge the clear inspiration it had on this game. But that is a secondary plot thread in the first episode, which is mostly introducing the larger cast and learning more about Klace. While everyone else’s backstory is virtually non-existent, pretty much everyone has an opinion about the unseen popstar and as the first episode comes to a close, the climatic hook it tries to end of deals directly with Klace’s well-being.
So, some of you are most likely asking right now what makes Klace so special that he’s the sun of which this entire game revolves around at the cost of narrative cohesion and the other characters in the game? That is an excellent question and I have the answer! Klace is the in-game avatar (seen above, on the right), and nickname of, the creator of this game. HF Interactive apparently handled the marketing and publication, but the actual content of the game came directly from him and said content is basically his own fanfiction starring a fictional version of himself sprinkled with a little Persona to keep it interesting.
This year, in June, I will have been doing this for five years and it wasn’t until right now have I seen a visual novel released with so much unmitigated gall. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever created a visual novel centered around a fictionalized version of themselves and focused the entire game on that author avatar strictly in the name of self-indulgence. Say what you will about Winged Cloud and AJ Tilley, but even they have never stooped this low in creating their great works. If Major/Minor was free, it would still be a bad game because of the absolute lack of anything good to point to. But with a $10 price tag? With this quality and focus? It is indefensible.
It’s not often that something can make me tap into this kind of rage, but congratulations Major/Minor; you did it! YOU are the WORST EVN OF 2015!