I’ve had this one on the front burner for a few weeks now after the development team, Pixel Fade, asked for my opinion on their demo. The game attempts to merge two different, and popular, Japanese mediums: sports manga and slice-of-life. These types of mergers aren’t rare, but whether or not they succeed is a completely different story. Currently, Kendo Crush is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign and has under half of their requested $12,000 (Canadian) budget. It boasts not only a vocal cast, but original soundtrack and ‘an abundance of fanservice’….yay….Well JesuOtaku already gave the demo a thorough reaming on an impromptu Livestream (although that video hasn’t been posted anywhere else!), so surely there is nothing else I can add right? Wrong! Welcome back to You Asked For It: the only feature on the Internet where ripping apart hopes and dreams is just another Tuesday!
So, let’s attempt to be nice to start this off shall we? Kendo Crush features a brooding male protagonist (because outside of Yowapedal all male protagonist must brood) who moves to Japan with his younger sister after the sudden death of their parents. On his first day in a Japanese school, he gets into a fight with one of the local punks and gains the attention of the Kendo Club which is on the brink of closure thanks to the growing popularity and regional success of the Karate Club.
I actually like the setup for Broody McBishiepants’s story arc. Yeah it all have the familiar tropes attached to it, but the crucible of his story rests with an activity that is more mentally challenging than physically challenging. The sport is much more strategic and philosophical than just being the best swimmer or the best team. To quote a famous movie, during the match it is all about individual achievement; only here that achievement can only come with total focus. So to take a character who is still in mourning and is experience (or should be experiencing) culture shock and drop him into a sport that demands his total attention is a journey in and of itself. In the right hands, it would be a roller coaster as Broody learns to process the recent events of his life in order to overcome the immediate challenge.
I also like that you have a constant option to be a snarky bastard. It doesn’t always work but there are a few moments peppered in where this is an effective comedic tool; especially when the token tsundere shows up. This shows me that this character can be used effectively to connect with the audience, even if it’s on a base level. The reason he doesn’t is…well…let’s go ahead and jump into that now.
Outside of some moments with the main character, it will not surprise anyone to learn that I didn’t enjoy the demo. Let’s start with the most obvious offense: Japanophilia. Now, let’s quickly examine the term and why I didn’t use another. Most would look at this game and call the creator a Weaaboo or Otaku; but both of those terms denote either a narrow focus on anime and manga or ignorance. It’s clear from playing the game that, at the very least, it is researched well. The basic understanding of kendo, cuisine, etiquette, etc is all on the money and clearly the creator enjoys writing about it.
Now, here’s the problem with presenting the game along those lines. Instead of using this knowledge and love of Japan to craft a unique story, we got the same damn story we’ve read a thousand times. Everything from the major plot points to the potential romances you have seen and will see coming from a mile away. So then, why go through all of this trouble to impart knowledge of the culture if it’s not going to be used to enrich the story? Well, if you’re going to have a character use Japanese to describe Kendo only to immediately dismiss her because of her gender (we’ll get into that) or throw the player into a mini-section on cooking ramen without explaining what the Hell makes good ramen…your ego is showing.
The majority of the demo for Kendo Crush can be summed up by the creators bragging about their knowledge of Japan to the player. This removes a large chunk of the potential audience because not everyone has studied, or want to study, Japan deep enough to understand what the Hell is going on in a visual novel. So we (I’m including myself on the outsider crowd) are on the periphery as a very small, select crowd find some meager enjoyment in this title…and even they have to be in minority in a minority.
And that can be fine.
If you want to make a project that’s just for you and a small crowd of like-minds, I don’t have a problem with it. If I did, this site would only cover murder mysteries and noir thrillers. But, at the same time, there is clearly a desire to reach beyond that small crowd with this game. You cannot isolate the larger audience and not consider how they will read your work WHILE asking for their eyes, ears and wallets. It just leaves people confused and with plenty of better things to do, and that is one of the big reasons I think this game has been taunted outside of its core audience.
The narrative presentation of this thing has to be changed immediately. Even if Pixel Fade keeps the worn-out story line, how they tell their story is absurd and does far more damage than good…especially when the ‘romances’ cause so much damage.
Get out a tarp folks. This is where this little feature gets bloody.
To be fair, EVERYONE is written badly so cherry-picking feels out of place. But Yuuka and Kaori (the two interests we see in the demo) represent what is supposed to be a major draw for this game, the dating sim aspect, and it is a miserable, miserable failure. As our obvious tomboy tsundere, a little teasing will turn Kaori into a stuttering mess. Nice. Meanwhile, everyone in the game pretty much treats Yuuka like a child. This is only compounded when the protagonist has a chance to have a conversation with her and it often either leads to embarrassed silence or an elementary word game.
This doesn’t create a moment of sincerity or cuteness. It’s just aggravating because it highlights the weaknesses in the characters that the creators think is appealing. The only way these two works as believable romantic interests is if the AUDIENCE is interested in them. And considering the promises of fanservice in this title, this portrayal has to be considered intentional. Ergo, there really isn’t a need to make unique, interesting datable character is there? As long as they fill their fanservice quota, they’re good to go!
This is starting to become less funny to me and more annoying. Even though this genre is inspired by Japanese media, since we’re not IN JAPAN it is borderline insanity to stick slow close to the tropes that are corrupting anime and manga right now. Kendo Crush has enough issues without turning its female into fandom bait, yet here we are: a full circle of crap with no regard for anyone outside of a niche audience.
A part of me wants to believe the folks at Pixel Fade want to create something fun and reflective of their talents. Much of the rest of the project is up to your own personal tastes. The art is mostly hit or miss as well as the music and voice acting. I enjoyed the Quick-Time counter for the fights and Kendo matches, but other than that their main issues are strictly story and production related.
So, with nine days to go, should you support this project? Well…no. ‘Polish’ aside, it is bad and several changes need to be made, or at least promised to be made, before this one is ready for prime time:
- Do not leave members of your audience out of the story. When you have your counting game moments, ramen cooking moments or anything of the sort without explaining the context, it doesn’t make us appreciate your knowledge of Japanese culture; it removes us from the tale.
- If you’re going to have your main characters be ‘fish out of water’, don’t make them awesome. They lost their parents and moved to a country they’ve never lived in. They shouldn’t have typical days where everything is more or less exactly how it was when they left the States. Show us their struggles. Show us their work to adapt to their new lives. That is far better than the option of oogling the teacher’s breasts.
- Your girls are cardboard. Fix this. Make them interesting characters, not just barely-taped together tropes, and we will care about a potential relationship between them and Broody McBishiepants. And while we’re on the subject, give the ENTIRE cast another try. If you want people to care about the Kendo Club closing, make the Kendo Club INTERESTING. If you want people to care about Broody and his Sister’s loss, make them more than just every other brother and sister combination in anime and manga. This isn’t hard, it just hard work. But you’re asking for $12,000 (Canadian). Hard work is the least you can do in return.
- SHOU IS NOT FUNNY. STOP HIM FROM BEING NOT FUNNY.
- And, to the EVN Community at large, can we stop praising a project’s ‘polish’? Being a technically-sound turd doesn’t stop it from being a turd. I care about functionality and how well you can play a game, but this trend of using ‘polish’ to prop something up that can’t stand on its own is getting old.
I hope for the best for Kendo Crush, but it has a longer way to go than the creators thought it did. With some hard work and a lot of rewrites, it could earn some decent attention. For now though; you’ve seen it all done before. Until next time!