Sword Daughter Impressions and Review

“Well, I enjoyed Hanako’s Long Live the Queen and The Royal Trap. I’ll give Sword Daughter a chance.”

Positives

  • Kim Sokol’s and Iacocca Khen’s art has a soft, oil-painting quality that fits the setting and is easily the best Hanako has used. I hope they continue to illustrate future titles.
  • The music fits.

Main Negative (or Positive of a Different Sort)

  • The base plot concept is sound: The protagonist’s traveling party is attacked by orcs, her father dies, and her fellow travelers are abducted. She’s found by the male lead and now must decide how to proceed.
  • Unfortunately the execution is so bad that at first I felt insulted. Her dad’s still fresh corpse is a yard away and the two leads are arguing – yet the protagonist is focused on how cute the elf is.  What is this?
  • Then I nearly started crying from laughing when the perfectly beautiful, eerily intelligent white horse shows up and somehow magically gives the protagonist the power to win a footrace.
  • Then I started crying from laughing in earnest when I spent the next playthrough doing my best to make the two leads hate each other (and they do express frustration without attraction) only to have them turn right around and snog each other and talk about how concerned they were.
  • The best part of all, however, came during one of the possible endings in which the fellow travelers have been rescued, the male lead has been jarringly mushy, then wanders off. Female lead: “Maybe I’ll see you at the warrior games some time?” Male lead: indifferent shrug.
  • The entire thing is both terrible and glorious.

Bottom Line: This is not a good story, but for $6.95 I definitely got my money’s worth. If you enjoy picking apart books or games MST3K-style, give it a try. It’s now on Steam so you might nab it at a good discount in the future.

Hanako Games, Hanabira, and Rhondi Vilott’s Sword Daughter is available on PC, Mac, and Linux from Hanako Games’ official site and Steam.

The Last Monster Master Impressions and Review

Monster Master

Basic Premise: As headmaster of a struggling monster academy, you must train and place your newest class as the entire country prepares for battle.

Positives

  • The editing and coding are spot on.
  • The entire premise and setting intrigued me.
  • Once the mystery and political plot starts, I was riveted.
  • The various monster school subjects, pupils’ personalities, career options, and relationship standings matter.

Negatives

  • You must choose which training facilities to repair before knowing what order the monster traits shall be trained. I’m the headmaster of the entire school; unless my Monster Master is an amnesiac I should know what we’ll need fixed up when and plan accordingly.
  • The discipline/compassion meter seems to have really large gains and losses. In a few conversations I was worrying about how far off my perceived personality I was going rather than just role-playing my Monster Master.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

  • Oh good. Apparently I’m a junior high guidance counselor. And, after all my time and effort, a particular character is still grousing at me years later. I already have a toddler and social media; I don’t need more whining in my life.

*Highlight Below for Spoiler*

  • ******No matter how considerate and compassionate your Monster Master, Alumig fights you at the end. He makes fair points too – ones that I wondered about during my first play-through. Why couldn’t y’all team up and work for equal rights for monsters earlier in the story or even be offered a place as a useful tool on Alumig’s road to the complete subjugation of the human race?******

Bottom Line: The Last Monster Master‘s choices impact the story, and the writing is solid. The guidance counselor section bothered me enough that I doubt I’ll replay it, but I will check out whatever Serviss writes next.

Choice of Games’ The Last Monster Master is available on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Google Chrome.

Find out more about author Ben Serviss.

Impressions and review based on a provided code.

Queen’s Gambit Emmett Impressions and Review – Spoilers after the Jump

IMG_0787

Basic Premise: As a top spy at Destrier, a private security agency, the main character must complete her assignments and protect her team at any cost. (And, if you work really hard, she might get to snog the character who appears in all the lovely stills.)

What Differs from Previous Voltage Entertainment USA Titles

  • = The player no longer receives messages directly to a personal email account. I miss getting content from secondary characters but do not miss having to close the app every chapter to see if a new one had appeared.
  • = Three acts of five chapters each net you more content than previous titles but also cost more at $5.97 total rather than $3.99.
  • + Each character has a unique prolog. It keeps the plot and characters voices consistent.
  • + All four endings unlock upon completing the route, and each ending differs significantly. It’s worth reading them all.
  • + Save slots, a rewind button, and a relationship meter keep the player from having to reread huge batches of text if they make a mistake or miss something.
  • + The sprites have many poses, and the MC’s expressions now appear in her dialog box.
  • + Sound effects and how the text pops onto the screen emphasize the action and mood of a scene well.
  • + As I noted in a previous review, Voltage USA’s gun illustrations up to this point have been terrible. Queen’s Gambit‘s illustrations are a huge improvement.  No sprites hold weapons that I remember – which keeps the description of a particular gun from clashing with the visual – and the few stills that feature guns have them held properly.

Overall I like Emmett better than João, but the main plot is not as strong. Since this comes down to a matter of taste, I’ll give a few general points before digging into more specifics and spoilers after the jump.

I really like Emmett as a character. He’s focused, intelligent, kind, and has a slightly goofy sense of humor. He has issues, but he doesn’t pity himself and has enough perspective to address his problems. He also ties into White Lies & Sweet Nothings (though none of those characters cameo like Speakeasy Tonight‘s Neil does, darn it).

IMG_0745

The two leads may get together as a couple by the end, but for most of the route Emmett and the MC feel and interact like what they are: long-time, close, adult friends. I actually love the slower buildup, hesitation, and having the few little romantic interactions being able to be reasonably brushed off as friendship, but I can see players who expect more mush in their visual novels being frustrated.

The MC mentors Cameron (the team’s rookie) well.

The main plot ties into the MC and Emmett’s history. It starts unraveling towards the end though.

If inaccurate medical details can completely destroy your suspension of disbelief, you may want to skip this story. It reaches Master and Commander levels of unbelievable.

MORE DETAILS, SPOILERS, AND A NSFW STILL AFTER THE JUMP

Continue reading

Queen’s Gambit João Impressions and Review – Spoiler Free

IMG_0783

Basic Premise: As a top spy at a private security agency the main character must complete her assignments and protect her team at any cost. (And, if you work really hard, she might get to snog the character who appears in all the lovely stills.)

What Differs from Previous Voltage Entertainment USA Titles

  • = The player no longer receives messages directly to a personal email account. I miss getting content from secondary characters but do not miss having to close the app every chapter to see if a new one had appeared.
  • = Three acts of five chapters each net you more content than previous titles but also cost more at $5.97 total rather than $3.99.
  • +Each character has a unique prolog. It keeps the plot and characters voices consistent.
  • + All four endings unlock upon completing the route, and each ending differs significantly. It’s worth reading them all.
  • + Save slots, a rewind button, and a relationship meter keep the player from having to reread huge batches of text if they make a mistake or miss something.
  • + The sprites have many poses, and the MC’s expressions now appear in her dialog box.
  • + Sound effects and how the text pops onto the screen emphasize the action and mood of a scene well.
  • + As I noted in a previous review, Voltage USA’s gun illustrations up to this point have been terrible.  Queen’s Gambit‘s illustrations are a huge improvement.  No sprites hold weapons that I remember – which keeps the description of a particular gun from clashing with the visual – and the few stills that feature guns have them held properly.

IMG_0784

On the MC: I really like this one. She has a definite history and motivations which weave nicely both into the plot and into her attraction to João. She’s fairly intelligent, competent, and has a nice balance of idealism and skepticism. Now, if I could just add a dash of snark, she’d be perfect.

On João Morais, the LI: He’s…kind of a Disney princess, actually. He’s pretty. He cares about family. He needs to be rescued a few times. He cares about the environment. He tries to befriend almost everyone. His naivete is both cute and potentially obnoxious. He’s kept from cloying preciousness by the heroine’s inner commentary, different sides of the political and environmental issues having a bit of nuance, his willingness to work, and his character evolution late in the story.  I still laughed like mad when this popped up though:

IMG_0723Don’t worry, Emmett.  Your route’s next on the list.

On the Romance: I really like that the MC takes a while to switch from a professional attitude to a “crud I really like this guy” attitude. The relationship is built slowly on values and goals the two truly share. Compared to other Voltage USA titles, the story has fewer romantic moments, but I don’t see where more would have fit in the narrative.

On the Main Plot: The spy plot never felt copy-pasted and stayed away from one-liners. As long as you don’t squint too hard at the Client’s motivations (or why top spies do not use burner cell phones) you’ll be fine.

On “Stop Using Your Fictional Characters to Lecture Me Please”: I’ll admit I was apprehensive during the first few chapters of this route. I don’t enjoy seeing one stance on a political or social issue portrayed as THE CORRECT THING AND EVERYONE ELSE MUST BE COMPLETE IDIOTS even if I agree with it. Fortunately, the writer gives both characters representing the issues some flaws, some shading, and no one person or position has a perfect solution at the end of the route.

On the Tone: I was surprised and pleased at how ambiguous the world is. While I respect the two main leads and some of the secondary characters, many of their actions gave me pause. João researches ways to improve the environment, yes, but chooses to do so in an area outside any countries’ jurisdiction in a manner that could potentially be as damaging as the problems he’s trying to correct. The MC lies and kills for an organization that she trusts helps others, but we never get a proper explanation or proof that they are not, in fact, doing terrible things to good people. Read the nightmare ending at least once. My jaw was on the table. I now want to read every route just to see what the nightmare ending is for each one.

On Secondary Characters: This is a fun bunch. My favorite is Cassidy, the MC’s younger sister, but Cameron, the team’s rookie, is close behind her.

IMG_0721I see it’s time to take him into the study and have a heart-to-heart.

Bottom Line: Recommended. While João himself is not my cup of tea, puzzling out the main plot and learning about the MC’s relationships with the secondary characters kept me intrigued. More Cassidy and Tom please!

Voltage Entertainment USA’s Queen’s Gambit is available on iOS and Android.

Our Two Bedroom Story Tsumugu Kido Impressions and Review – Spoiler Free

Basic Premise: The MC moves into her new stepfather’s house at the same time her stepfather’s nephew, Kido, arrives claiming sole rights. She also receives a promotion to Seasonelle magazine and teams up with a new hire. Named Kido.

Positives

  • The word choice and localization that provide characterization are fantastic. All the characters’ commentary and interactions are good and click with the other routes. Watching Chiaki pine for Kaoru never gets old.
  • The MC is priceless. While she comes across as more everyday than, say, Metro PD‘s or Queen’s Gambit‘s protagonists, her snarky observations and measured decisions about what behaviors to let slide and what needs to be called out give her an intelligence and agency I adore. When the MC starts mockingly imitating Kido’s regional accent I shrieked in glee. She also sticks to her plan to move into a new apartment despite Kido’s half-hearted offer to let her stay in the house.
  • Kido is such an odd duck. As the MC says, he’s “a slob, and a cheapskate, and mean,” he falls into none of the archetype categories, and I couldn’t predict what his back story or actions would be. He was confusing and layered and I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. Also, his unimpressed face is my favorite sprite ever.
  • The relationship between these two veers between open hostility and friends who like to prod each other for most of the story. It never felt unhealthy or abusive to me though. Yes, Kido tries to bulldoze the MC into doing what he wants at times and lists what he thinks are flaws to her face. But she pushes back, gives him a frank assessment of his faults, and – importantly – does not blame herself for his behavior. In the end, these two only agree to start dating; they’re not swearing grandiose oaths of undying devotion. Good grief, I love whoever did this story and localization.

Negatives

  • Having such believable interactions backfires in one case. Kido repeatedly tells the MC to butt out of his business. I too hate having nosy people poking in my affairs so my natural reaction would be to choose “you got it – call if you need anything” options and leave him alone. The MC never does anything too meddlesome, but it is a little annoying.

Bottom Line: Recommended. While not very romantic, the unique characters and funny repartee make this a great read.

Voltage’s Our Two Bedroom Story is available on iOS and Android.

Aloners Impressions and Review – Spoilers

You wake up thirty-something years after the apocalypse to this.

Sleeping Beauty's Wake Up Call

You’ve had better starts to a day.

Bottom Line: Please go play this right now. It’s free, it takes less than three hours, and I can’t talk about it properly without giving specifics. I’ll wait.

Hard to believe it’s free, right?

VISUALS

  • While the backgrounds are adequate and Trash’s sprites are varied and nicely done, the lack of sprites for muties and other characters kept me from feeling as threatened or connected at the appropriate moments. Gamma in particular needs a proper sprite.

AUDIO

  • The background music sets the mood but did not blow me away.

GAMEPLAY

  • Click-read-click-read-click-read-click-read-choose an action or dialog option.  Repeat.

PROTAGONIST

  • The choice moments that define your protagonist are clearly phrased and believable.
  • Whatever choices you make, the female protagonist feels like a distinct person. My favorite is a smart-ass who spent the entire game trying to avoid physical contact with Trash. Well, she did voluntarily kick him in the balls once. Poor guy. XD

TRASH

  • Trash, the male lead, is basically a good guy stuck in a miserable survivalist situation dealing with it as best he can. His family tried to raise him right, but he definitely has flaws. He’s survived solo for years, he knows he can’t stay at his home base indefinitely, and then a potential nutter appears in his bed. The protagonist is both a liability and a godsend.
  • And it all informs his character, decisions, and interactions with the protagonist. That coupled with the beautiful relationship pacing makes him feel like a believable, complex individual even though he grows to love the protagonist no matter her personality or decisions.

RELATIONSHIP

  • As you may have gathered from previous sections, Trash always comes to love the protagonist, but your protagonist is under no obligation to return the sentiment. She can, and the little romance interactions are sweet without becoming cloying, but I appreciate that the protagonist and player are ultimately in control.
  • The pacing of the leads’ interactions and relationship evolution kept impressing me throughout the story. My favorite part has to be when they’re trapped inside the shack for days. The grinding, claustrophobic, spiteful atmosphere is captured perfectly. When Trash started whistling, I screamed in delighted frustration.
  • The few times I began to worry where a scene might lead (being forced to pick a flaw, initiating a physical relationship too early, etc.) the author neatly and, almost with a wink, dodges the potential problem. Brava.

PLOT AND SETTING

I’ve played many Fallout and “main character can’t remember their past” games, yet I still enjoyed the setting and some of the plot beats.

  • +The protagonist has amnesia…but she does eventually remember some things, and some of the blanks allow you to shape her personality and history.
  • +It’s a post-apocalyptic setting…that has no definite explanation and allows the relationship between the two leads to evolve beautifully.
  • +The protagonist is part of what appears to be a secret government conspiracy…that is not over-explained or the ultimate villain.
  • +The protagonist is threatened with harm to make the male lead comply…and they both keep their heads and endure what they must.
  • = Some “well isn’t that fortunate for y’all” moments flirt with breaking the player’s suspension of disbelief, but because they drive the protagonist and Trash’s grounded character interactions they never bothered me. It kind of equals out.
  • – Having Trash accept and help the protagonist for a while before he discovers her origin and having the Easter Initiative feel ominous before the apocalypse is more problematic. It kept me from ever doubting where the protagonist’s loyalties lay and whether she would forgive and fully side with Trash.
  • – The protagonist and Trash forget they a need a key to out of their fortified jail cell. Nice one, guys.

EVERYTHING ELSE

  • Apparently in the post-apocalypse humans no longer need to relieve themselves and women no longer have periods. Yes, I know most games treat these things as though they don’t exist, but in a story that puts an emphasis on long stretches of confinement, the scarcity of supplies, and the importance of reproductive ability it feels weird. Maybe put “I noted the bucket tucked behind the screen and grimaced at the implication” when the protagonist first explores the shack or something similar?

Despite my nitpicks, I love Aloners. sonnet009 is a writer and developer I now trust to take well-worn ideas and interactions and make interesting, believable characters. I look forward to what she does next!

Aloners is available for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Follow the developer at sonnet009games.

Finally, in Love Again Kazuki POV Impressions and Review

This review assumes you have played Kazuki’s main route and will not attempt to keep the plot unspoiled.

Positives

  • The word choice and pacing are spot on. It seems like the same writer and translator who worked on Kazuki’s main route went on to this one.
  • Kazuki and the MC are the same almost painfully believable individuals.
  • Kazuki’s inner commentary and scenes with secondary characters slip seamlessly into the main route’s story. His conversations with Tae and his fiance, while brief, made me grin.

Negatives

  • The MC has no sprite. It makes Kazuki look like he’s talking to his imaginary friend.

Everything Else

  • No choice moments appear, but that complete authorial control allows for a tighter story and relationship.
  • Does a married Japanese women typically wear a wedding ring on her right hand?

Bottom Line: Recommended.

Voltage’s Finally, in Love Again is available on iOS and Android.