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.

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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.

Heroes Rise: HeroFall Impressions and Review – Spoilers

HeroFall Image

Basic Premise: In the final act of the Heroes Rise trilogy, you play a hero trying both to regain lost super powers and to protect family in a dangerous political climate.

Bottom Line: Recommended; a must-play for those who enjoyed the first two Heroes Rise games. Not recommended for those looking to enter the series. While I like both, you can probably get away with skipping The Prodigy and starting with The Hero Project and feel caught up.

Spoilers Ahead!

Positives

  • Decisions from the first and second installments change the options available in this third installment. I was pleased my character could remind two minor secondary characters about how she kept their secret early in the first game.

  • The stats matter.

  • Prodigal’s past actions aren’t ignored. She has kidnapped and killed many people, the game acknowledges it, and doesn’t really soften her. Instead Sergi (the author) makes Prodigal an entertaining fruit loop. Her commentary on a situation usually made me laugh.

  • When Jenny died I felt walloped.

  • Sergi obviously made some characters available for romances at players’ requests, but he makes sure the player knows he judges those choices and does not think they make sense. XD

  • The story has a proper conclusion and epilogue.

Negatives

  • Not having a high enough revenge stat negates the option to kill Victon. It makes sense by the numbers, but not necessarily for the story. One particular hero had just watched his love Prodigal be murdered by Victon as he was also trying to kill him and his parents. Dude had had enough…but couldn’t shank the guy because he wasn’t consistently vengeful.  Emotions don’t work like that.  :/

Choice of Games’ Heroes Rise: HeroFall is available on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Steam.

Flirting with Pigeons: Hatoful Boyfriend

According to Forbes, Hatoful Boyfriend is being remade and will be available later this year.  The description “pursue your pigeon of choice while attending high school” sounds like an ornithologist’s fever dream.  I had to make sure this game actually existed.

I found it, downloaded it, changed my computer’s language, and settled in for a bizarre hour.  My character (the only human so far) has spent the past month reminiscing with her oldest friend (a rock pigeon), being beaten at marathon running by a bird, breaking up feathered fights, and trying to decide whether to make a picnic lunch in her barren cave home.  The demented merry-go-round background music makes it even more surreal.

I assume this is a parody of other visual novels, but the excellent translation and editing make it hard to tell this early.  If I survive the experience, I’ll be back with my impressions.

PigeoNation’s Hatoful Boyfriend is currently available on Windows and Mac.

Moacube’s Cinders Impressions and Review

In honor of it now being available on Steam, I revisited Moacube’s Cinders.

  • Basic Premise: Shape Cinderella’s character, attitude, and reactions to her upbringing and choose how she escapes. The many character trait and action choices that actually impact the story’s end make this visual novel stand out. I’ve played through it several times and still have not found all the paths.

  • Music: Most visual novels’ and sims’ soundtracks have me hunting for the mute button, but this one is gorgeous. You can download the soundtrack here.

  • Visuals: Gracjana Zielinska’s art has a detailed, ethereal quality without becoming prissy or cutesy.  It’s beautiful.  I’m so pleased she’s returning for Solstice.

  • Programming: I appreciate the ability to quickly skip through already viewed scenes with one button press.  All visual novels should implement this.

  • Writing:

    • *thunk*

    • *thunk*

    • *thunk*

    • That noise, dear friend, is the characters’ dialog and the insights into their behavior being delivered with all the subtlety of a frying pan to the back of the skull. The reader is never left to infer anything. Cinders’ inner monologue or other characters will spell it out. During the first long conversation between Cinders and Sophia, they tell their back-story and motivations to one another without the reservation and self-protection that the back-story would naturally have bred.

    • It drove me crazy until I remembered Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Yes, the two works don’t seem to have much in common but bear with me. Like Karazmov, Cinders uses characters to represent a consistent type of person rather than how you and I would interact on a day-to-day basis. Once you go with it, they both deliver a good story and observations on human nature.

    • Boom. A 2012 visual novel saved by Dostoevsky.

  • Writing: The banter between characters usually makes me smirk (Sophia and Gloria should have their own spin-off). The only exception is the romantic dialog. Excuse me for a moment, game, while I fetch some nachos to go with all this cheese. Fortunately, the game has many endings with no romance whatsoever.

  • Writing: The grammar, spelling, and word choice are nearly perfect. Kudos to the editor.

  • Female Characters: The writers clearly spent more of their effort developing the women. Cinders, Carmosa, Gloria, Sophia, and Madame Ghede all have distinct personalities and goals. Sophia’s snark is always welcome: “The only things missing from this picture is holding hands and singing. And dancing. Possibly in circles. In the middle of a flowery meadow. I think I might throw up.” I want an ending in which she and Cinders escape together.

  • Male Characters: The men aren’t bad, but they lack the depth and care the women received. I won’t dwell on them (particularly since the developer has already addressed this), but here’s a brief run-down.

    • Tobias: A childhood friend who tends to deliver motivation speaker advice with the aforementioned frying pan; I want to like you, Toby, but you have to stop thwacking me over the head.

    • Perrault: A guard captain caught between duty and ethics, he is my favorite of the three.

    • Prince Basile: The least developed of the three, though the conversations between him and Perrault are good. He and Cinders discuss Levia Malich’s work in a scene ripped straight from Ever After, but other than that I enjoy their interactions.

Bottom Line: I recommend this to anyone (not just women) who wants a strong, competent protagonist and enjoys tinkering to discover different endings. If you happen to have a snarky sense of humor, even better.

Moacube’s Cinders is available on PC and Mac.