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Review of Lessons in Love
|Subject||Lessons in Love|
Lessons in Love v0.35.0 - Uncensored Edition
Vote: 2atavar on 2021-08-31 last updated on 2022-09-15
|Review||0.18.0, P2; I'm leaving this because I've noticed a lot of glowing reviews, and I'd like to leave an alternative perspective. Lots of words ahead; for all my reviews, I leave a summary at the bottom. That said, I think you'll get a much better idea of why this one isn't my cup of tea and whether it'd be a good fit for you by reading, so let's start.|
EDIT: I believe, after review of the new version, I can safely say that the elements I find to be bad have become worse, the size has ballooned without saying much of anything, the unusually hostile stance towards other visual novels, and the bleed between the author into the cast mean I'm going to regrettably downgrade this review to a two, or 20/100 out of an original four, or 40/100. I still think that if you like the kind of content within it, you can have an enjoyable experience, but I also feel like even those who DO like the content within are likely to burn out and read the novel in the hopes of later moments of interest that are few and far between, or simply don't happen.
Honestly, it's very hard not to drop this to a one. I feel like hyperbole renders both reviews and stories meaningless, something that I believe would benefit the story and pace of this one to remember.
I don't always dislike metafiction. I think that, when done well, the concept can make you ponder things philosophically, revisit old questions and the media that introduced you to them. But that requires building the narrative up before pulling the curtain down -
Lessons in Love starts by telling you that 'you' believe reality is boring and barfing meta at you.
Umineko, Forest, Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo, even DDLC handle this with an incredible amount more restraint and buildup. I could name more novels, but it wouldn't matter; if you're into metafiction for metafiction's sake, this won't bother you in the slightest, but for me, the hackneyed writing was a sign of things to come.
You then take over as Sensei, who manages to be one of the least likeable protagonists I've ever encountered - and I say that as a good thing. The detached, empty way he's written as he wanders through events, itself important is wonderfully creepy and macabre, an excellent example of a predator that everyone sees as cool and reliable while he doesn't feel much of anything at all. If this were just a character study of Sensei and/or the people within his orbit, it'd be outstanding. There aren't a lot of character novels that explore that; I can think of Thomas Covenant, and he's mostly just a cipher.
But Lessons in Love isn't about Sensei, or any of the girls, even though they're all very important. There is an entire metaworld which may or not be real, secrets and lordy, I could not bring myself to care about any of it. Melodrama is introduced because, although the game reminds you it is a game, nothing is beautiful and god is dead : ( and yes, recurring frowny/smiley faces are grating as possibe; the melodrama is sometimes written beautifully, but often written cloyingly, especially in the earlier events.
The author has apparently had plans to touch them up, kudos; but that's the other problem. Lessons in Love is BIG. And it just keeps adding characters. I don't mind ensemble casts, but the patreon model incentivises adding more events, more girls, more words for plots that may or may not go anywhere. Umineko had an ending in sight from day one; it wasn't an ending that pleased everyone, but it certainly did end things with a bang.
If I were invested in finding out the answers the game poses, I'd be very worried about getting to them. Hell, I'd be worried about getting resolution for a character or two I like, especially if the community feedback stirs the development away. (I also am pretty opposed to the idea of communities interacting with authors, but I'm old. I get that for a lot of authors and communities, it's cool, interesting. I won't judge it, but I'm including it here as another point of contention - if you don't like seeing messages from the community in the games you're playing...)
Not only is Lessons in Love BIG, however; there's a lot of empty room. The wiki is sparse, and you're constantly suggested to hit it or the discord. I stumbled through Divi-Dead on my own, I'm no stranger to messing up until I understand what's going on. A game that requires a constant referencing walkthrough to avoid 'punishments' for playing it is not a good game. Actually, scratch that.
Each character and many days have events.
Each event may (or may not) unlock if certain triggers are met.
Some events have alternate paths (cool! I respect how much time referencing event x.019 in event chain y.12 takes), and some can lock you out entirely.
As of now, with no signs of stopping, a 'complete' playthrough is about 400 days. I'm at 650, since I was taking everything very slow and trying to experience as much as I could.
There will be more content in the future.
All things considered, the content, writer, and community will continue to view gating content behind mechanics a good decision.
I, personally, feel that's a good example of Lessons in Love.
Unfortunately, that same quality is presented in the tone of the writing, too. I've talked about the structure up above - but I'm going to talk about the writing, now.
The characters sometimes bleed into one another. It's supposed to be important that the Sensei we're familiar with babbles on about game elements so when other characters do it, early in the game, about throwaway concept, for throwaway gags which aren't even funny... Mmn. Like a lot of metafiction, the game seems to want to write by archetypes, while destroying archetypes, instead of just writing what the writer wants.
(And they can! The writing that's good, it's really good! I've been pretty negative so far, but the mid-to-late writing is GENERALLY far better, when it's not melodramatic for the sake of being melodramatic.)
Unfortunately, it's not just character bleed; I think authorial bleed happens, too. A very disturbing, sombre scene in the early game where the Sensei we're familiar with is in a room with entities called angels, and some kind of guro sex machine is absolutely rendered ridiculous by one of the angels saying Cucked by a machine!
This is one of the most egregious examples, but I couldn't take any scene for like, five after that seriously. It was like being hooted at in the morning by a larval incel. I get the intent, but certain other scenes carry the concept better.
Which leads us to another problem - every time I read a VN, I ask myself if the sex is necessary. YMK? Yeah, absolutely. Lessons in Love?..
I honestly think a lot of the language, sex, and 'scary' themes are done so poorly as to render the effect the opposite. Which is a shame, as the novel itself DOES have some interesting questions and ideas. I'm not entirely sure where all of them are going; I don't like the idea of 'purity' routes being good somehow, or a redeemed new Sensei, and a lot of the writing makes me leery about the eventual conclusion.
Taking all the heavy issues the story introduces and tying them up in a neat metafiction bow would be a hell of a copout, for example.
Hmn, I feel like I've been pretty harsh, so I want to say that the pace at which the author/team works is really impressive, and I get why people who like it, like it. There are a lot of interesting mystery elements. When the characters are likeable, they're very likeable, much as the writing is very good when it's good. I feel like the writing doesn't respect the cast enough, and the narrative's question of why should you respect them, or even anything? can anyone care about anything? would be interesting if I didn't feel like I knew exactly what the conclusion'll be.
I haven't mentioned the graphics 'til now. The game pushes the KK engine pretty far, and the handmade quality of the horror effects can help them... Sometimes. Other times, see my note about the angels above. The ham-fisted crucifixion was also similarly something.
But I don't really think they matter much; the quality of a VN is always the writing, first. And LiL is close to being something I could say - this is interesting, and has an interesting story to tell.
Right now, given that it's a punishing and time-consuming mess to play through, with varying levels of care in the writing and the spectre of feature creep, I can't really recommend it.
* Writing quality is variable, feels derivative more often than not, doesn't seem to trust itself.
* Feature creep means that it's hard to imagine a scenario where anything is resolved, let alone satisfyingly.
* Themes are handled clumsily, and sometimes seem to contradict each other beyond the scope of the plot.
* Writing can be very powerful and effective, especially in longer events that rely less on outre content.
* As of 2021-08-01, there are a lot of different stories within the game, and enough mysteries to attract mystery/meta-fiction aficionados.
* Main character is uniquely unpleasant, without being unreadable. It's hard to do this, and it deserves a LOT of praise.
Originally 40/100; as of review of 25.0, 20/100, and possibly lower on personal preference, in contention for the worst VN I've ever read, due in part to content but mostly because of the intense amplification of what I considered the flaws above, as well as introduction of new flaws that would require a new, much longer review.
There's a lot I like, but it's all so disjointed and made a chore far beyond what's needed to introduce the more meta aspects of the game - imagine a system of head-pats in Ren'py. Now imagine you need to do it an uncomfortably long time. Creepy, you're a little unnerved... But it just keeps going, and you need to input 500 headpats to progress. Now imagine that kind of feeling permeating the game design - that even playing it in one go, over several days, I found myself constantly referencing notes, asking who characters were, and so on.
I really want to echo that my opinions are subjective; but I think it's important not only to say 'hey, there are some folks that didn't much care for it' but also why. Might help you save a lot of time down the drain, or find a VN that you really care for.