Hello all and welcome to the inaugural edition of the Visual Novel Review Digest (VNRD?)! As I said at the beginning of the year, the era of me doing long-form, detailed reviews is over. To better compensate with my schedule, I’m switching to a format where I can review a minimum of five visual novels every two weeks in at least two to three paragraphs. This is going to take some getting used to for all of us: especially me. You will see other changes happening over the next few weeks to the traditional formats I’ve used to cover visual novels on this website. All of is still being tinkered with and the next six to eight weeks trying it out will be very critical. So your thoughts and comments are appreciated!
SO, let’s get started!
Walkerman Act 2: Herdchaser Girl
Developed by: Scalemail | Published by: Sekai Project
Scalemail continues to deliver as an EVN developer with its second entry into the criminally underrated Walkerman series. The second chapter takes place shortly after the first with Jorgen recovering from his first assignment as a Walkerman and having to deal not only with the complex politics of Midgard’s streets, but also try to bridge the gap between his ideology and reality. On top of all of this, a new ghoul is haunting the merchant’s quarter and because of Jorgen’s attempts to follow the loose rules of the trade, he is forced to split the contract with Sigrid: his exact opposite philosophically and emotionally.
This is, bar none, the best single-chapter character development I have seen in an episodic EVN. This should be studied by developers looking to create a complex protagonist. We also get a strong dose of world building as both the natural and supernatural in Midgard are fleshed out with the help of the game’s strong supporting cast. By the end of the game, the lines of right and wrong are not only muddied; they are gone. This is not only due to the main storyline, but the running subplots dealing with the supporting cast that do the lion’s share of fleshing out the world and pushing our Protagonist repeatedly into situation’s that his mindset can’t solve. Who Jorgen will decide to be in Act 3 makes the game worth playing, but on top of that are the consequences for the mountain of compromises Jorgen was forced to make. This includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it choice where Jorgen can earn the confidence of one of the local cultist by directing Kaula’s associate Anitelu to him for the night…and considering how she ends this act that could be a very bad idea.
My only true negative on this one is that there is one subplot that was not given enough attention throughout the game that deals with humans making deals with the supernatural. By the final act, it turns out to be an incredibly important subplot that I literally guessed and was able to solve on the third try. Even paying VERY close attention to the game, you will not pick up on the singular important detail you need to complete the game. That is something I may have to talk about on a separate segment but hopefully that will be solved through patches. Also, while it isn’t nearly as bad as the first act, there are still bugs and glitches throughout the game even after a few patches. Hopefully over the next few acts, Scalemail and Sekai Project will get their QA down to a science because that is the one consistent flaw in an otherwise impressive series. Beyond that, if you haven’t picked this one up yet, what the Hell is wrong with you?
Final Score: 9/10 (Great)
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National Park Girls Episode 1
Developed by: Studio Coattails | Published by: Sekai Project
This is one that took me by surprise. I was never a big fan of the Moe subgenre and ‘national parks personified as cute anime girls’ is about as Moe as it gets. Then you toss in an environmental anvil the size of North Dakota? My doubts were not immediately extinguished upon starting the game either. We take the role of Eve: a park ranger who is about on step away from being fired from her job and forced to take a remote posting to avoid getting canned. I wasn’t fully won over until after she was left alone but just before she runs into the titular ‘national park girls’ that I got the full sense of the main character: someone who has made the fateful mistake of achieving her childhood dream. THAT is when I got on board.
A wise man once said that there are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting what you want (I’m paraphrasing). Eve got, to the letter, exactly what she wants in life and now she’s stuck with it. There are no new passions to chase and with that gone is the reality of federal bureaucracy, mismanagement, and dealing with a disinterested and often destructive public until the day she either quits or is fired. Beyond ‘burnout’, she’s stuck. And feeling stuck in life is a completely different Hell everyone reaches sooner or later. It’s a story often ignored in fiction: the realities of growing older.
The arrival of the girls signals a chance to rekindle the original passion for the job and a chance for Eve to decide what she wants her life to really look like. I am always down for that type of story. As for the Moe antics, they’re all there in force but relatively balanced out by the banter between Eve and Yosemite. Even the voice acting is solid and that can be hit or miss in this field. I still need to play Episode 2 to see how the narrative goes on, but this is a solid start with a lot of promise behind it. Hopefully, Studio Coattails will hit a few solid runs with this one.
Final Score: 9/10 (Great)
Developed by: Nova-Box
Nova-Box has quickly become one of the premier visual novel developers in the world. With only three titles under its belt, some may find that praise overrated BUT I can think of only a few VN developers who have so quickly developed a unique style and following. Their work is a consistent feast for the eyes and Seers Isle is no exception with stunning designs and backgrounds that give the world a type of fantastical vibrancy very few games with a multi-million dollar budget can recreate. However, we’re not an artistic outfit here. So, how does the narrative go?
For the majority of the game, the narrative is strong and inviting. The entire cast are interesting and their various reasons for coming the island are either strongly hinted at or shown enough through their actions. The island itself is shown to be mysterious and functioning under a different rule set: setting itself and a horned spirit up as the natural antagonists of the group. Then it begins to falter by trying to tell the same story through the viewpoint of each of the characters: including the horned spirit named Rowan. These multiple perspectives loses the heart of the story; instead hoping that through multiple playthroughs, the reader will understand and appreciate everyone’s story as a collective tale: think The Canterbury Tales.
The only problem with that is that despite what you may have heard, your choices are ultimately irrelevant. Certain choices unlock different aspects of the collective tale, but at the cost of making each of those tales interchangeable. If they’re all so similar that one choice doesn’t fundamentally change their narrative, then why should I go back to see the story from another perspective? It isn’t a world-ender and it doesn’t even stop the game from being good. It just takes a very solid entry that didn’t fully meet its ambitions. I still recommend it but know that you may not be rushing to 100% complete this one.
Final Score: 8/10 (Good)
Developed by: Frostwood Interactive
That was my reaction after playing Rainswept for the second time and I sincerely wish it wasn’t. I can safely say this is the one where I wish I had two thousand words to explain what I think happened, but I don’t. So, I ask that you bear with me as I try to explain why a title that should absolutely be my thing ultimately wasn’t.
Rainswept isn’t too concerned about solving the mystery at its core: presumably a murder/suicide. It is far more interested in exploring how personal and societal pressure can cause tragedies. Our main character, Michael Stone, is haunted not only by the ghost of his dead wife, but by a decision he made to put his own personally expectations ahead of everything else. The picturesque small town reinforces their desire to keep everything ‘normal’ through a mixture of subtle and forward acts which we explore through the backstory of the recently departed. It’s the setup to a modern tragedy and the idea is very compelling: especially using the backdrop of a detective noir or murder mystery game.
Rainswept is solid for half of its run time, however, it doesn’t maintain its momentum or deliver on its major themes. Probably the only satisfying resolution deals with Mike Stone coming to terms with his personal ‘ghost’. The solution to the primary murder/suicide plot thread is a cop out that essentially swerves the audience with a resolution that not only the audience could not have known, but one that the evidence doesn’t support. I’m not even joking. Given the evidence of what happened, the resolution is impossible.
It is a shame because given the minimalist approach to presentation and artwork, Frostwood pulls off some impressive visuals and moments: especially during the dream sequences. Stone is a compelling protagonist, even though they don’t grow him too far out of the hard-boiled noir archetype his character is based on. However, as a certain anime reviewer always says, ‘The Ending is Paramount’ and this one face-plants the mat about as hard as I’ve seen any game face-plant. A little more control and focus throughout their next game and it should be a solid hit. In the meantime, this will definitely get a feature explaining the ending and my problems with it because I need more space.
Final Score: 6/10 (Above Average)
Developed by: Dusky Hollows
Yes. Those are boobs you’re looking at. Because I’m reviewing an ‘adult’ visual novel. I’m sure the pigs flying around Hell right now are having fun snowboarding upside-down. However, after covering the demo a few years ago and playing it recently, I felt this deserves a bit more consideration because it is very, very good.
The central theme of this game deals with control and how it intersects with power. Who is in control at any given moment will determine not only their fate, but the fate of everyone else in the cabin and often power is determined by who gives in to their desires first. It’s a fantastic contradiction considering the genre Dusky Hollows decided to play in as the more the reader pushes to see the steamier side of the game, the more power they put into the hands of the game’s antagonist, Carmen, who has no problem killing any of our main characters to escape. It forces the question of the true cost of desires and if there is anything else more important than just the satisfaction of indulging oneself.
A small gripe is that the game only covers three days and not every character or theme gets fully fleshed out. With the exception of Roman and Crow, you’ll get the feeling that the others are circumstantial: even our main antagonist at times. I certainly would be up to seeing more of this world and the various outside forces and nations that led to the events of the story as well as anything that fleshed this central cast more. Maybe a prequel would fit best? For now, it’s a very good VN than points to a promising future for Dusky Hollows.
Final Score: 8/10 (Good)
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My Burning Heart
Developed By: Ertal Games
Soooooo, One Thousand and One Nights is the story about a sultan who kills women after sleeping with them on the first night of their marriage to keep them from cheating on him. This act of serial murder is stopped by one of the greatest heroines in historical fiction: Scheherazade. Scheherazade manages to stay alive after marrying the sultan by not sleeping with him on the night of their marriage. She accomplishes this by telling a story so riveting the sultan wants to hear the end. Unfortunately for him, tge stories take all night: forcing her to stop at daybreak. This pattern continues for the titular one-thousand and one nights, by which point the sultan was enraptured with Scheherazade, the killings stop and they live happily ever after.
I am describing this because THIS STORY IS IN NO WAY BASED ON ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.
My Burning Heart is about a street rat named Adnan who is a prisoner for reasons but instead of having his hands cut off for being a street rat, he is handed over to the palace to become a harem slave. I’m guessing the writer had a crush on Aladdin at some point in their childhood, but that’s another analysis for another time. Anyway, after taking his anal virginity, this game’s sultan feels remorseful because this is the nice version of sexual slavery and the game follows Adnan from there as he adapts to his new life as a royal concubine.
From there, the game is straightforward if you’re familiar with fanfiction or your standard yaoi/BL tropes. Speaking strictly as a narrative, it plays it fairly safe and the routes flesh out more or less as you expect. All of the characters are forgettable, but that’s insomuch as they were written to be so. Even the protagonist and his purported desire to escape is a weak plot point considering how little force (ahem) on him as a concubine. My biggest critical point is that it not only readily uses BL tropes but also tropes associated with a very base understanding of Arabic folktales and history. Considering that a royal concubine could and did wield considerable influence in Arabic and Ottoman courts (look up Roxelana), a deeper understanding of the setting could have produced something more substantial. For what it is, though, its appeal is mostly to those who already enjoy the BL subgenre and want some light reading. The rest of us are best left to the sidelines of this one.
Final Score: 4/10 (Below Average)
Technically in my first VNRD I reviewed three games with uncensored sex scenes. That should fill my quota for at least the next six years, so no matter what Verdelish tells you, I don’t need to play anymore. Thank you kindly and I’ll see you guys in the next one.