Juusan Kihei BoueikenA highly-produced, narrative-focused game with a line length comparable to that found in a medium-length visual novel. The story is told through 13 shifting perspectives, frequently out of chronological order. The result is pretty spectacular – a complex & intriguing mystery gradually unraveled. Surprisingly, 13 Sentinels pays extra attention to be clear with what goes on – with an in-game glossary & visualized timeline. This is invaluable, as the work has many moving parts – the significance of which is obfuscated until the end. The plot itself is best described as a novel take on overused plot devices (time travel, multiverses) – the result is predictable, but the execution is engaging. 13 Sentinels, for better or worse, is an extremely consistent work – there are no ‘twists’ or moments that stand out – it’s constant good writing that snowballs into “great.”
Rakuen ~Ai Kawarazu na Boku. no Baai~Rakuen is an eroge about otaku and 2D culture. The plot surrounds the day-to-day of boku (僕) – an otaku who works in the eroge industry. The work explores the ups and downs of the industry – through its production cycle – all the while examining boku – a boy at a crossroad in life. The work is clearly written towards an otaku audience – chock-full of references & inside jokes. The message which the work sets to convey – through the concept of 堕落 (“to fall”) – is most powerfully felt & understood by eroge veterans (who have similarly experienced the highs and lows). The work itself is written superbly, maintaining a delicate balance between the puerile and the somber – and is worth the read, if nothing else, for its unique artistic vision.
Konata yori Kanata madeKonokana is a reflective work on dying - its effects on the person & on others. The terminally-ill protagonist ruminates on what it means to live "ideally"; in each route, the protagonist comes out differently on this predicament. Ultimately, while Konokana raised
& dipped into interesting ideas, its execution of them was cursory.
RitterordenRitterorden is a grounded, low-fantasy work. Reading through it provides a unique vibe: the feel of a ‘classic adventure’ fostered by a simpler scope & focus. The work is set in its original, vibrant universe – laden with politics, history, and culture. The plot and ensemble cast of characters, while well-crafted, are not revolutionary. Ritterorden is refined by a deliberate design philosophy, a standout soundtrack, and a meaningful central theme. Being a doujin work, its production quality is not ideal; but, does more than enough to make the most impactful, climactic moments memorable.
Kosaka-san.Despite its length, it’s actually a very solid game – it tells a short, at times cheesy story. The writing is mildly philosophical, often conversational – and ultimately, easy to read through. Its production value, while not outstanding, is still very solid (for its genre & size) – especially for when it matters. Its most climactic scene is better executed than that of most major studios. Ultimately, what the game misses in length & budget, it makes up for entirely in heart, soul, and direction.
Kitto, Sumiwataru Asairo Yori mo,Kitto, Sumiwataru Asairo Yori mo (Asairo), written by Shumon Yuu, is a multifacted work. On the surface, it tells a very human tale – about relationships & the impact that people have on one another. Beneath the surface, like the reflection of a lake pool, it develops an intricate, at times cryptic folklore-inspired mystery. Yuu imparts this story by weaving wordplay and symbolism into his writing – surprisingly, while the prose feels well thought-out (elegant), it remains very approachable. All of this is bettered by Yuu’s personal touch on the work’s direction – making the most evocative, profound scenes all the more awing.
Utawarerumono: Futari no HakuoroUta3 is an easy-to-read novel because of how well-produced it is. The writing is inconsistent, with the first 2/3rds of the work feeling like a different type of work than the last third (with the latter feeling rushed/comparatively pointless). Enjoyment bolstered by attachment to characters from Uta1 (and truly, the game is only saved by what Uta1 did). Large ensemble cast still feels shallow; lack of meaningful themes which encapsulate the work and make it memorable. Gameplay tows the line between fun and frustrating far too often (chasing a character on a large map is never fun - nor is having to fight the same character 3x to 'defeat' them).
SeaBedSeaBed is subtle work - consisting primarily of languid, dry prose coupled with truly mundane slice of life. It evokes a sense of realism, from both its artistic direction (photorealistic backgrounds & at times brusque sound effects echoing reality) - but also, in how quotidian the events are. Through this, it manages to be truly immersive in a way that no other work can - because of how possible it feels (no sense of escapism traditionally associated with Japanese media). The actual reveal to its mystery is not so important - because SeaBed is fundamentally a work more about the experience than the destination. (MA)
Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no KamenBy all accounts, the prologue to Uta3. Work itself has high production value, a strong localization, and an easy-to-read plot. Uta2 suffers from comparatively surface-level characterization, a too nonchalatant protagonist, and irregular pacing (front-loaded slice of life followed by hard plot leading to a brusque conclusion). Gameplay itself is enjoyable and feels complex, but is too easy (can beat every fight using spur-of-the-moment setups + strategy). Uta2 has great worldbuilding, which makes the universe in which it is in feel alive (although still pretty limited at this stage).
Soushuu Senshinkan Gakuen: HachimyoujinSenshinkan is a well-produced, multilayered work that showcases a cast of well-developed characters and a simple, but intertwined philosophy at its pith. The prose is often grand, at times, belaboring, but ultimately succeeds in conveying the work's purpose. Familiarity with Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (八犬士) & Soseki generally is not essential to, but would improve the reader's appreciation of the work -- same goes for ~20th century Japanese history & Buddhist iconography/literature. The work can be construed as a multi-route mystery - for better or worse; nothing is truly known until the true route - but this revelation doesn't rob the other routes of their meaning, but instead, empowers them. (MA)
Baldr HeartAlthough smaller in scope & size, Heart retains the 'spirit' of Sky. Murasaki writes an intriguing, feasible-feeling futuristic world - like its predecessor, work does a good job at discussing the progression of technology and envisioning the problems that could arise. Plot is centered on a mystery, which is written pretty innovatively - intriguing and well-executed. Work suffers from multiple route mystery structure - some events felt repetitive and characterization/romance was consequently superficial (ladder structure would have been better). Gameplay more advanced than its predecessors, but far easier to cheese. Ultimately, if you liked Sky, you'll like Heart - question is to what degree.
CarnivalA wild tale of humanity, in all its good (and often bad); an optimistic utsuge of sorts. Setoguchi is one of the best authors for writing convincing, psychologically-complex characters - he develops his characters through extensive monologue in a way that makes empathizing with them natural (even when the characters are 'irregular'). The actual plot itself serves primarily to develop the characters' psychological portraits, and is in itself, nothing special (but it does cover the gamut of dark plot devices). Work suffers mildly from repetitive route structure, making subsequent routes lose the intoxicating allure earlier routes had; most side characters written superfluously. Game is dated, but soundtrack stands the test of time. Packs a punch for its size & worth the read.
J.Q.V Jinrui Kyuusai-bu ~With Love from Isotope~Heartfelt beauty in its writing and scope - this is a multilayered, oft complex work that manages to balance the "human" with the extraordinary. Features a "central" mystery so to speak, offbeat (at times absurd) humor/writing, and manages to shine when it matters most. Work itself doesn't feature an awe-inspiring philosophy or storyline (some bits felt a bit trite, if not dated). Nonetheless, work manages to enrapture the reader through its prose and presentation -- and that in itself is a noteworthy feat.
Yoru Meguru, Bokura no Maigo Kyoushitsu(HAYATE ONLY) Yoruboku takes its premise seriously and generally maintains a wistful, but hopeful atmosphere. The work gives an honest try at exploring the characters' psychologies through perspective shifts, monologues, and some minor interactive elements to varying degrees of success. Drama is generally developed at a good pace, but some blunders in writing. Work lacks "ambition" to hit true emotional highs, and is held back by its premise & art form (protagonist wants to be a model teacher - can't do that when having relationships with your underage students...) Would have liked to see the protagonist more as a teacher -- i.e a guide, as opposed to a hero that solves the heroines' problems.
Inochi no SpareAlluring concept, but rather poor execution. Characters remain caricatures -- affable, but as deep as smooth granite (see discussion post on VNDB). Enjoyment of work contingent on attachment to plight of heroine and protagonist. A solid read for beginner readers because the prose is terse and simple. (MA)
Musicus!At it’s core, Musicus is a game about life – existence, music, and love. It’s philosophical, and obviously-so – but not overbearing. From the start, it boasts consistency, excellence throughout; its climactic, evocative moments are searing; its themes are multivarious – sowed then brought to life; its characters are complex – living, but above all else – endearing. Naturally, the music is good when it matters. Has taught (or perhaps reminded) me of the beauty of the moment.
9 -Nine- Yukiiro Yukihana YukinoatoA fulfilling ending (?) to the series. I'm impressed by how polished 9-nine- feels; the characters (for better or worse) feel manufactured, but in an intentional, planned way (Palette knows their target audience & accordingly write the characters). I do lament that the characters aren't really well-developed (they're easily likable + act really cute, but there's no depth). The actual plot developments were great; the visual novel medium was really used to its fullest potential, which as a fan of the medium, is something great to see. The overall pacing of the work was really good too. See VNDB discussion post for full thoughts.
9 -Nine- Haruiro Harukoi HarunokazeProduction quality in this installment is insane (and that's saying something, from an already above-average production). The music went from decent to really good (ED song is a banger). In terms of plot, more of the central mystery is revealed; I'm very excited to see how it'll culminate (that reveal...). The character in this route, Miyako, is affable, but she feels a little too manufactured (suspension of disbelief only goes so far). Nonetheless, she's gotten the most development out of all the heroines (so far) by a longshot. The average reader will probably really appreciate her.
9 -Nine- Sorairo Sorauta SoranootoCompared to the first installment, the plot & world develops substantially more (and consequently, the central mystery (?) of the work). I was ambivalent towards the romance in this arc, primarily because I don't like incest as a trope - but there were pockets of touching moments. Sora's an infinitely more entertaining character than Miyako.
9 -Nine- Kokonotsu Kokonoka KokonoiroI guess Kazuki Fumi has firmly established himself as writing folklore mystery -- This is a genuine prologue (if even) chapter. The actual plot presented so far is pretty meh. Miyako's characterization is pretty generic/thin; the romance made no sense (imagine falling in love after 2-3 scenes).
Ore-tachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai - Under the Innocent Sky.OreTsuba is a work that you end up appreciating more and more after you've finished reading it - a work that perfects itself through time.
Jackson masterfully writes a varicolored ensemble with unique, memorable voices. Each character, even the minor side characters, get ample development. Boasts solid production value, an atmospheric soundtrack, and a lovable character cast. A quintessential character-driven game - reading through it feels intimate, as if you're connecting with friends - never has a City felt so alive. OreTsuba lacks compelling drama, but seldom feels like a drag to read through. While individual heroine routes felt short, lackluster compared to common - ultimately fixed by the fandisc. Ultimately more about the experience - ever-so memorable, than the conclusion.
Sakura, Moyu. -As the Night's, Reincarnation-Sakuramoyu presents an intricate, grand story told frequently through verbose, repetitive prose. The result is something awe-inspiring, but the experience may not be the most enjoyable. At its core, Sakuramoyu is a nakige which moonlights as a complex, mechanics-driven work (comparable to Island, where its world is as mysterious as it is deep). Character routes (all with maybe the exception of one) have a compelling dramatic, satisfying resolution and develop the work’s core philosophies. Sakuramoyu is not without its flaws, as it suffers from atrocious pacing and repetitive writing; it could have been categorically better if it were edited more. While Sakuramoyu is admirable as it is, it had the components of a masterpiece – lacking only in execution.
ATRI -My Dear Moments-A short, albeit poignant tale. Boasts high production value, and has Matsumoto Fuminori as its composer (this itself should be reason to read). Heroine is extremely affable. The plot itself is predictable - not quite the fault of the writer as much as it is the inevitability of its length. The antagonist was unconvincing, making some dramatic scenes dull (arguably work could have been better if this 'conflict' was left out entirely). An easy read that never felt like it "carried on too much."
IslandThe strength of ISLAND lies in its world - ever-so complex and cryptic. Tells a grand tale - but as a result, alienates the reader who desires a down-to-earth conclusion. Lacks the emotional draw that its predecessor Himawari had - while also lacking the "linchpin" that holds everything together.
Toki o Tsumugu YakusokuA trite work where the protagonist saves each heroine (as opposed to some type of mutualistic growth experienced in better-written games). Characters play a symbolic role in embodying the spirit of the work -- being insignificant and unmemorable [Indeed, by virtue of the fact that two heroines had the exact same hair color, for the first hour of the work, I failed to notice that the two were distinctively different in each scene.] The "magic" in this series is used cheesily and the character reactions to it are bewildering.
Akeiro KaikitanWork has a more compelling central mystery than Nanairo, but is worse paced. Character routes aren't as repetitive as the predecessor, but are not really that important to the plot (the true route is for the most part, self-contained enough that you could get the whole plot without paying too much attention to the side routes). Nanairo felt more original & unexpected than Akeiro, which felt more "ordinary" (structure and storytelling wise). Lacks the charm of its predecessor.
Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no Sahou 2Requires knowledge of both predecessor works to enjoy fully. Work pales in comparison to its predecessor works because of a weaker, fairly static protagonist (Yuusei, protagonist of previous works was far more dynamic, primarily because he had a reason to need to grow - here, Saika's essentially already living the life; whereas Yuusei fought tooth and nail to accomplish his dreams, Saika's quandaries are more mundane). Plot borrowed its structure from tsuriotsu1 (same runway show plot) and copied its plot devices (making a garment for the one you cherish -- although I really like this device).
Otome Riron to Sono Shuuhen -Ecole de Paris-Might be sacrilegious to claim that this work outdoes its predecessor (as Luna isn't a major character) - but Risona is no slouch. The work focuses its efforts on a smaller cast, and in doing so, provides a more fleshed-out story & fixes a flaw of tsuriotsu1. The cast itself is fantastic, although the quality of individual heroine routes varied (Risona, understandably, had a great route). Lacks the feeling of interwoven connectedness that the main cast of tsuriotsu1 had - but, also boasts a more developed side character cast.
Tsuki ni Yorisou Otome no SahouFashion is one of my major hobbies - reading this work was enjoyable because of how much the work cared about explaining and exploring the design process. This was a work where fashion/design was at its pith, as opposed to being an accessory to advance the plot. Character cast was fantastic (Navel really is the best at character-driven works) -- but the route quality of most of the heroines outside of Luna was dubious at times (perhaps another symptom of a Navel work). Lacks grand significance, but has pockets of serendipity.
Miagete Goran, Yozora no Hoshi oA character game which discusses the conflict between technology and tradition - and seeks to bridge the divide. In contrast to predecessor work, is set in a rural, but charming town. Has better plot & thematic development than KonoSora, but a weaker (albeit not bad) character cast. Has a love triangle - but it isn't obnoxious. Work is clearly centered on two main heroines - and the other heroine routes are for the most part, accessories. However, true route (and runner-up route) are well-written and good.
Boku wa Kimi dake o Mitsumeru ~I Gaze at Only You~A work that develops its entire cast - but, the work itself lacks significance. The plot itself is fairly forgettable and while the characters are developed through the common route, the work implodes during the heroine routes (only main heroine has a route -- other routes are essentially 15-20 minutes long of "should've chosen the main girl"). Storytelling left a lot to be desired. Work as a whole boasts an impressive production value that increases the readers' immersion into the work (everything has a sprite and was never left wanting for more CGs). Has the spirit of CSG46+1 in that there are some deceptively similar sprites - and that it focuses more on the ensemble than any one character.
Seikishi Melty ☆ LoversSetting is kinda cheesy. Not a bad work by any means - it just isn't that significant. Feels manufactured in a way - it doesn't try to do a lot, but what it does do, it does well. Solid aesthetics though.
HimawariThis is a grand work with heart - and a work that shouldn't be as good as it actually is. What it lacks in production value, it makes up for in its storytelling, plot, and soundtrack. This is a work that is good on its surface, and perhaps, brilliant underneath it. At its core, it's a character-driven drama set in a sci-fi setting. Largest weakness is that at times, it's hard to "tie" together all the plot points conclusively (does not have the usual true route - or an ordinary route structure at all for that matter; this, for the bulk of the work, contributes to its strength).
Sorcery JokersAccentuates on the strengths of its prequel, Gensou no Idea, while fixing some of its weaknesses. Characters are much better developed in SJ and have some tie-in to the central purpose of the work (whereas in GnI, some heroines felt like accessories). Has an intriguing, central theme - but its hard plot (i.e. how it goes about telling this story) leaves a lot to be desired at times - very disappointing true route plot.
Gensou no Idea ~Oratorio Phantasm Historia~A chuunige written comparatively simply for its genre. The work moves quickly and takes the reader on a fun ride. It boasts impressive production value, which contributed greatly to its immersive storytelling. It executed its most dramatic scenes extremely well. Character cast was both memorable (i.e. original) and affable. At times, the speedy storytelling worked against it (some characters weren't developed as well as they could have been). Suffers from occasional infodumping and/or what feel like in-the-moment dei ex machina; enjoyment not substantially affected. Would be better if work took itself more seriously overall.
Mirai NostalgiaThe work has an interesting concept (nostalgia both of events in the past & the future). It executes the events themselves pretty well (what to be nostalgic about), but fails to develop a meaningful way of actually explaining how the nostalgia is possible (i.e. lack of intriguing mechanics; the possibility of "future nostalgia" is by its design, a necessary assumption). At its core, a charage; but it's frequently bogged down by insufferable slice-of-life and somewhat purposeless side characters (could kill off two of the heroines and the work wouldn't change).
Neyuki no Gen'ei -Shirahanasou no Hitobito-Descartes once pondered what it was to be - I wonder if this is a plot-orientated game with a lot of H, or a nukige with better plot than some plot games.
Neyuki no Gen'ei has an interesting, fulfilling central mystery (it isn't revolutionary or utterly mind-blowing, but it wasn't bad). The plot itself - or how the mystery got solved, felt nukige at times (sleeping with the heroines for i n t e l - rationalizing that your long-time girlfriend would be chill with you wanting a mistress if you ask really nicely). Plot points get mildly misogynistic too... (idk how to interpret my notes on this work from 2015).
The mystery itself wasn't told perfectly, but was engaging enough (AMA, only person to read this for the plot). The mystery lacked 'significance' in that the reader is never told "why" to care about it (kind of like an episode from a random arc-based mystery). Ultimately, be it curiosity or my unwillingness to cut my sunk cost, I found myself wanting to learn more about what happens at the end.
Oh yeah, the art to the game is pretty nice too.
Parfait ~Chocolat Second Brew~If you like Maruto works, you'll like this. Carries the essence of a quintessential Maruto work - love is inexplicable in that it leads reasonable people to do stupid things. But in the name of love, such a transgression is easily forgiven. At its core, this is a charage with drama - like most other Maruto works, the game itself focuses primarily on the main heroine and the runner-up. The other heroines are likable, but not essential.
SumireA work with an interesting concept (i.e. interpersonal relationships and their effect), but the execution and result leaves much to be desired. The drama in this work was there - but it felt unconvincing and hard to empathize with. Love was discussed, acknowledged, and also there - but never convincingly developed. The work tries to use an ensemble to tell a grand story, but only achieves in presenting an underdeveloped character cast. Shot for the stars, and fell short. Solid music though.
Natsuiro RecipeThis work has realistic looking food and captures the "Pulltop feel" -- i.e. atmospheric works often with a relaxing setting and a story through which the characters mature and develop. Does a good job at showing the passage of time; bogged down at times by needlessly long slice of life episodes. Overall, enjoyable - doesn't try to do much, but of what it does, it does pretty well.
Pure x ConnectThis is a charage which excels on the surface - it has a cast of warm, engaging characters; a reliable (somewhat original) protagonist, and one of the strongest common routes in a game of its genre (well-paced; felt like I was watching an anime). The work develops each heroine fairly evenly at the start, but as a result, makes a lot of the romances feel forced and unconvincing (the branching mechanism was through sending the heroine a text - apparently 3 comedic texts = confession). Respective heroine routes felt lackluster.
Natsuyume NagisaYuu never fails to impress me with how well he captures the "fairy tale" feel; he adeptly balances the whimsical with the grim. As with his other works, route structure tends to be heavily true-route focused (the other heroine routes don't matter that much to the actual purpose/plot). I found the plot to be incredibly touching & thought provoking; regardless of how the work ended, it left me smiling. As good as Hatsuyuki Sakura in several aspects.
Hikoukigumo no MukougawaA moege (?) which seeks to illuminate the nature of love - it does this successfully in some respects. Enjoyability of the work is contingent on how much the reader likes the heroine, who matures substantially throughout the work (code: annoying at times) -- and how tolerant they are of the protagonist (who is "passive" at times). Side heroine routes were pretty bad, which is a shame since the characters themselves are likable.
Chrono ClockTwenty hours, forever gone. If only I had a clock that could give me back my twenty hours. Rather generic character cast with a poorly-conceived plot. Despite the title of the work, time travel wasn't a major part of the work (it was naturally discussed during the common + the true, but entirely forgotten in the side routes; where it is utilized, it's done rather uninterestingly).
Tokeijikake no Ley Line -Asagiri ni Chiru Hana-A meaningful conclusion to the Leyline series. In contrast to its predecessor works, cuts out the slice-of-life aspect substantially and zeroes in on the plot. Leyline as a whole is an ensemble work, where no one character truly stands out. Leyline doesn't do anything groundbreaking, but it does what it wants to do well. The actual mystery was rewarding to read.
Tokeijikake no Ley Line -Zan'ei no Yoru ga Akeru Toki-A markedly more interesting read than the prologue prequel. The central mystery begins to ramp up, and additional characters are introduced (fun interactions and awing moments of badassery included). Ends off on a cliffhanger that leaves the reader wanting more.
Tokeijikake no Ley Line -Tasogaredoki no Kyoukaisen-The genuine prologue to the Leyline series - this installment is filled primarily with slice-of-life and is in itself, not that interesting. The focus on the plot is kept to a minimum, with the arc-based, heroine routes focused more on everyday tedium than on setting anything up substantially. Characters are introduced, but only some of them are developed (and others disappear). Reader is able to 'feel' the set-up to something greater in the future - would not take this chapter to be indicative of the future, more interesting installments.
Boku no Hitori SensouA game so mediocre that it caused its parent company to only produce nukige after the fact (joke). Not Looseboy's finest work - not a fan of deceiving the audience, especially when the pay-off is so lackluster. The concept of the work was interesting (the King's game), but the execution itself was dumb (a commentary on interpersonal relationships through symbolic combat). The message was there -- but it was unconvincingly expressed.
EvolimitTo transcend humanity, is to transcend the limit of evolution. A rather impressive work; it poses profound themes without being didactic/preachy; supported by a strong character cast with strong chemistry. Plot itself is engaging - reader unravels the mysteries of a multifaceted storyline; it's consistently good on the micro level (what happens within the arcs themselves), but suffers on the macro level (arguable dei ex machina due to uncertainty surrounding the conclusion). Not groundbreaking, but enjoyable for what it strives to do.