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Love Sniper

Game review - 1 agree

Love Sniper is not to be taken seriously in any way, shape or form. Its story, if you can call it that considering how light it is, is just a convenient excuse to see how many twisted ways Heiji’s desires can be destroyed. It is a decent mix of dark humor and the regular variety with light jabs to romance clichés. And while there are some truly hilarious and memorable endings, there is a good chunk of the endings are pretty forgettable because they’re either too serious or the joke just doesn’t translate to ‘funny’ in English.

Unfortunately, that’s just the law of the jungle. But what does work works very well; including the main character Heiji. As the center of this unfortunate string of events, we have to not only laugh with him and at him, but also sympathize with him. And the timing of his dialogue is so sharp that we manage to feel all three when appropriate. I can only compare him to Daffy Duck or Tom (of Tom and Jerry of course) where knowing something bad is going to happen to him makes you laugh.

What will also make you laugh is the little devil that’s interjected himself in Heiji’s situation. Picchu is an arrogant, ridiculous looking thing who levels the playing field a bit in that no one is expected to feel sorry for him. His banter with Heiji is rightfully the highlight of the game and the two make a great tandem. Unfortunately you never really feel like Picchu gets his comeuppance for being so arrogant, but at least the ‘apple’ gets flicked around a few good times.

Love Sniper was fun for what it was. The plot was pretty endearing and several endings will leave you on the floor laughing. But once I stopped playing it, a good portion of it began to fade away. It's the unfortunate reality of making something so short and focused on just the laughs, but it's a game with a goal and it does deliver on it.


Analogue: A Hate Story

Game review

This is where the story could have easily become a dry history lesson with Love dumping information on us and she doesn’t…and it’s awesome. Anyone who’s played Digital knows that Christine Love enjoys non-linear storytelling and in this one she masters the art form. Not only does the style make sense story-wise, but it also makes the characters of Analogue feel real. Despite the historic inspiration, the issues brought up in their logs reflect problems you don’t have to go very far to see in 2012: family politics, marital dysfunction, dealing with ‘black sheep’ and trying to maintain position…or at least appearances to name a few.

And while tragic, our Pale Bride isn’t completely sympathetic herself. When we first see her, she’s not exactly the picture of sanity…although living as a political pawn, becoming an AI and spending millennia alone is more than enough to warp the human mind. Throughout the VN, a part of you feels sorry for you and, at the same time, a part of you wonders if she even understands just how far she’s fallen. All she can really grasp is that she isn’t alone anymore, regardless of the reasons.

Playing opposite of *Hyun-ae is *Mute: the security AI. Outside of the ship’s logs, Mute is our best representation of what happened to the Mugunghwa. Designed to have a female interface, *Mute even acknowledges that her position clashes with the world around her. Which means that, at some point before the madness began, someone reprogrammed as much of *Mute as they could in order to make sure she fit in with ‘modern society’ while being able to fulfill her primary functions.

This is more than just a visual novel. This is a well-made suspense story. This is a deconstruction of the science fiction genre as a whole. Analogue: A Hate Story isn’t just one of the best visual novels made this year; it is possibly the definitive English Visual Novel. Do not deny yourself this experience.


Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos

Game review - 1 agree

One of the things that impressed me about this first episode is the sheer amount of subtle depth that is used to paint a broad picture of not only the cast but the world around them. Chief among them is the main character Winter who, in the beginning, strikes you as an atypical tween (I hate that term but it applies). She's not prepared, not very focused and far outside of her element interfering in the affairs of other worlds. As the game continues, you get a sense of who she actually is underneath her more bookish tone and by the final act, after dealing with a truly cataclysmic event, I found it very hard not to like her. That says a great deal about not only her overall character but how their world views other worlds...more on that in a second. Considering just how broken she is when Episode 1 wraps up, there is a lot of room to grow in the next four episodes and they have a great deal to build on.

Dysfunctional Systems is freakin' gorgeous. Doomfest's artwork delivers once again with distinct characters and somber backgrounds often blending into the best water color Event CGs you may see this year. Along with the great artwork is a fantastic soundtrack by CombatPlayer that revels in the games science fiction roots. It's mostly atmospheric techno and synthetic mixes with a few poignant piano pieces to even out the mix. Everything punctuates the story when it needs to and it fits into my usual standard for EVN soundtracks: it sounds great on its own. When I downloaded DS, I was able to download the entire soundtrack for free and hopefully it'll become something of a standard in the coming weeks and months for other developers (HINT HINT).

Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1: Learning to Manage Chaos isn't a perfect game, but even with its flaws it is a stunning achievement.


Ristorante Amore

Game review

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.

Some of 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 Katawa Shoujo 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.

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.

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.


Loren The Amazon Princess

Game review

Now I know what you’re thinking when you look at this game. “JP (the 3rd) that sounds very predictable and cliché right off the bat” and to be fair…it is. Now, is that a bad thing? Yes and No. No it isn’t because it doesn’t stop the characters from being uniquely them with their own back story and issues in the current world. The characters are all quite fun to interact with and each are given time in the VN to not only delve into their back stories but also have their own defining moments which range from touching to badass. The world itself is very rich and the complexities interwoven in it make it feel more like a real place. Slightly going into spoiler territory here there is a great scene about midway in the game where Loren, sheltered princess that she is, has to deal with the fact that she just can’t beat her chest and make everyone fall in line. Despite being the hero of our tale, she still has to work within the laws of the universe and it is awesome to watch play out and get that extra bit of development you wouldn’t normally see in these types of tales.

And yes it is because it’s the signal flag that LtAP isn’t trying to do much different story-wise than most other high fantasy epics that you’ve seen or read. I am reminded of the story of Katawa Shoujo where it all feels familiar and there are no big surprises: in other words it’s ultimately played safe outside of its character wardrobe. While during my game play I was focused on what was playing out in front of me, whenever I walked away from it my mind wandered off into spots I felt Winter Wolves could’ve took some risks.

Loren the Amazon Princess is a solid addition to the Winter Wolves lineup boasting a strong and likable cast, a fun story and a great RPG system that fully realizes all previous attempts to merge VNs and RPGs in a cohesive way. As well-crafted as it can be, there are plenty of areas where the story keeps it safe and familiar with only a few fireworks.


dUpLicity ~Beyond the Lies~

Game review

On the offset this looks like just another boy chasing game and to be fair there is a romantic element to Duplicity. However, it’s so dialed in its hard to point to as anything worthwhile. Each romantic subplot is predictable, the guys don’t stand out and by the end of them any relationship you achieve feels more like the runner-up prize to the actual story. This isn’t a knock on Duplicity from where I sit, since what the story pushes in its place is more psychological narrative surrounding the plot hatched by Dr. Serizawa. But I feel it is a fair warning to any fan girls who look at the promo art for Duplicity and think that it’s going to be worth their time to chase around Youji or the Doc. It’s not.

Roseverte tries something bold in this realm by focusing instead on a pseudo psychological thriller targeting girls. It has more than a few rough spots that leave you lost in translation, especially when you’re grinding. As for our heroine Yukina really stands out. Every path in one way or another backhands her with the uncomfortable reality that the men she can develop feelings for are nearly damaged beyond repair. And again, being fair to Duplicity, her actions are true to life and make her a much stronger character than what you would expect from other otome heroines. Similar praise goes for the handling of the men around Yukina who are all equal balance of broken and resolute.

Duplicity is an odd game. It doesn’t do any one thing extraordinarily well, yet at the same time it stands pretty well on its own. While its weaknesses are noticeable, there is still a lot of fun and thinking tied into Duplicity that will entertain otome fans while serving as a nice distraction for the atypical EVN player...just don't expect fireworks.



Game review

In the Jisei pentalogy, this particular chapter was inevitable. This is because, as I hammered repeatedly in the Yousei Top 3, the group barely knew each other. The Mizutanis had absolutely no reason to put Kan’s safety over each other’s. On the flip side, Kan had little reason to trust them or Li Mei or Gurski or, really, anyone. As for Li Mei…oh look butterflies. Sorry, distracted. Anyway, as for Gurski being the by-the-book type, his relationship to you and the others was set in stone relatively early so in the grand scheme of character development, where does that leave us?

Well Yousei’s themes are self-evident and it is confident in taking the reader on an emotional journey that isn’t often experienced in the medium. Overall the characters all have great writing attached to them and the entire Jisei series is better and more understandable because of what they go through here.

With the exception of Chance, the supporting cast are there to make sure you’re getting the real story that’s being told: a story only slightly associated with said death. From my small stool on the sidelines, this would’ve been solved easily if there were less endings because then some of the endings would’ve become plot points that would’ve brought a closure to the emotional story at least for now while deepening up the murder investigation; only now with the full understanding of the fascinating mystical component that is beginning to overtake the series as a whole.

To be clear, I fully respect the terrific writing young Miss Sakata has done on this project. Overall the story is great and 90% of it should be commended. But I couldn’t shake the feeling at that point between the second and third acts where I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and something better could’ve been put there. The simple truth is that it isn’t a balanced story.

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