Queen’s Gambit Senator Lindsay Tom Walker V Impressions and Review – Spoilers

Tom All the AnswersOh, my dear MC, you have no idea.

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If you’re looking for my thoughts on the game in general, please read the first section of my Joao Morais review.

The Good

The MC gets to operate almost completely on her own in this particular spy plot. It’s pretty cool.

Several characters from To Love & Protect are weaved into the story.

I like Tom. He’s not as subtly written as I wanted, and his simplistic views made me sigh at times, but he’s fun to challenge. And the route usually lets the MC do that.

I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two leads when the MC isn’t being inconsistent. They’re equals intellectually and professionally, and it shows.

The rookie ending made me laugh SO HARD after playing Emmett’s route:

Emily Meets TrainSeriously?  That’s all it took?  HA!

The Bad

  • The MC says she won’t sleep with Tom.
  • The MC and Tom are fighting. She gives no indication that she is attracted to him.
  • The MC jumps him in Chapter 3 without any option for me to stop her.
  • Me, yelling at the screen: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GAME? He just KILLED somebody for the first time, and I don’t even like him yet! STOP IT!”

It doesn’t go with the story, it’s particularly jarring after Joao’s and Emmett’s routes, and I wanted a CHOICE not to jump Tom. I wanted to see a bad-ass, professional spy, not somebody who would take advantage of their charge. Blargh.

The Ugly

Tom Voltage PoliticsIf only the writer had done the same…

Nobody who comments upon the subjects has views on politics, government, bureaucracies, cabals, PMCs, America’s two party system, media, social issues, or businesses has nuanced or consistent opinions. Not the MC, not Tom, not the President…

It made my brain hurt every time it’s brought up. Swapping “democrat” and “republican” in the conversations wouldn’t help the story either (third parties aren’t mentioned at all). I’m baffled as to where the grayness of the setting and room for different opinions present in Joao’s route went.

And then having Tom and the MC go on like they’ve got it ALL FIGURED OUT with no options for the reader to express their opinion.

And then they’re not even consistent.

It’s rough, guys.

Oh, wait. I nearly forgot Emily. She’s consistent – completely bitter, but consistent. I cheered her speech near the end when she starts calling everyone on their crap:

Emily speech 1

Emily speech 2At this point in the story I was actually okay with the worst ending in which Emily wins.  Yeesh.

Bottom Line: If you can ignore the lack of nuance in the political/world view sections, this is a fun read. Try Act 1 next time it’s on sale and go from there.

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

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

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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

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.

To Love & Protect Marc Main Route Impressions and Review – Spoilers

Basic Premise: The MC discovers she’s the president’s daughter and must now be protected from his enemies.

My general impressions of the app and other route reviews can be found here.

*Spoilers for the Central Mystery Ahead*

Positives

  • The MC doesn’t immediately click with her father and has some trouble adjusting to her new circumstances.
  • Some of the conversations and internal dialog made me laugh.
  • The main mystery plot does not focus on the MC or her father’s political enemies but on Marc’s serial killer case. The handling of the kidnapping and how the case resolves (or rather doesn’t resolve) surprised and pleased me. People get scared no matter who’s with them, suspects refuse to talk, and murders go unsolved. It didn’t feel unsatisfying though; more of this please!
  • Marc’s making it a point to detangle his expectations and feelings about the MC from his former girlfriend and telling her so is surprisingly well done. He’s reasonable, he’s fair, and (mostly) sounds like a believable person. The MC’s response is good too.

Negatives

  • The MC has to be under constant surveillance yet still bops out to get groceries alone in the middle of the night so she can run into Marc for a small relationship building moment that could have been worked in elsewhere. And no one brings it up. And later in the story she gets scolded for running off. This is just the first example. Her security needs are terribly inconsistent and her encounters with different characters don’t feel natural. I kept sighing and asking, “Care to explain yourself, game?”
  • The dialog and interactions between the two leads aren’t good enough to overcome all the “now wait a minute” moments it takes to get them together.

Everything Else

  • Using the symbolism behind the flowers is a nice touch, but the in-game explanation is wrong.

Bottom Line: Despite the problems, it’s still worth reading if you can get it on sale.

Voltage Entertainment USA’s To Love & Protect is available on iOS and Android.

My Forged Wedding’s Akito Main Route Impressions and Review – Slight Spoilers

Basic Premise: The main character and an old childhood friend pretend to be a couple in order to dodge family pressures.

I’ve always been slightly creeped out by the prologue of My Forged Wedding. “Hey, you don’t have any job prospects or anywhere to turn so go live with this random guy and help him” sounds like a prelude to human trafficking, not a cute romance. Yeah, I know that’s not how the routes go. It doesn’t make the initial first impression any less unsettling.

Therefore when I read that in this route the MC had refused to move in with a stranger, was interviewing for different positions, and had known her male lead for years I thought the uneven power dynamic would be gone and I could simply enjoy watching the two get to know each other.

Nope. Instead:

  • Akito: “If I tell HR that you ran off, you wouldn’t get hired…if you don’t want that, just follow along.”
  • MC: “Aki, are you threatening me?”
  • Akito: “Yeah.”
  • MC: “Seriously?” I was screaming my head off at Aki in my mind.
  • Me: You and me both, sister.

Akito uses his position at the company where the MC interviewed to blackmail her into living with him so his parents will stop nagging him to move back home and marry a local girl. He doesn’t ask, doesn’t express sheepishness or regret, and doesn’t offer to help with the MC’s job situation until the very end of the route.

Why would anyone do this?

It’s clear the author is going for a “oh, they missed their first opportunity to be together, but they fit so well together, and now they have a second chance” … but having Akito be remorselessly manipulative and, frankly, mean-spirited in many of his comments made me wish the MC would tell him exactly how horrible he was behaving, where he should go, and what he should do to himself when he got there.

And the sad thing is this route has some really nice moments. Akito’s mom’s talking with the MC, the siblings’ skepticism and commentary, the MC and Akito’s returning to the brewery, and all the scenes involving Ren have a surprising amount of delicacy. I kept hoping the next scene would be Akito’s apologizing and rectifying the situation, but no. Sweet moments soured by overarching jerkiness.

And so I can’t really recommend it to anyone. Dangit, Voltage.

Voltage’s My Forged Wedding is available on iOS and Android.

Scarlet Fate Gentoka Route Review and Impressions – Spoilers

It took me two weeks to replay this route. It’s been rough.

The odd thing is Gentoka’s route is more interesting than Akifusa‘s, but that made it harder to get through. I kept almost getting pulled into the story or almost having the relationship work – and then having bad pacing or a repeated metaphor kill it. Then I’d work out how to fix the problem, then make myself stop because down that road lies fanfic, and I just don’t have time for that.

I can’t discuss positives and negatives properly without spoilers so

SPOILERS AHEAD IN

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Positives

  • The MC is focused, competent, and gets to rescue the guy.
  • Akifusa gets to be a cool character. In all the other routes he’s an object of pity or ridicule. Here he’s on equal footing with everyone else.
  • Gentoka is the only one who consistently refers to the MC by her given name, not her title. It accents his disinterest in divine and human politics and is a welcome break after the other guys’ routes.
  • It has some of the weightiest story moments of the routes. Two of the main cast intentionally kill each other. Gentoka goes mad and kills soldiers on his side, and the MC kills men who were forced to track her. And none of it is hand-waved or magically undone by the end. The characters must acknowledge what they have done and decide how to proceed.

Negatives

  • No secondary female characters appear.
  • The relationship pacing and progression are odd – like the author had the individual scenes written on index cards, tripped, scrambled to pick up the scattered notes, and never bothered to put them back in order before writing the story. It’s a pity, too, because some of the scenes felt believable and mature enough to really make me care about these two.
  • Unnecessary threatened rape featured.
  • Near the end of the story the MC remembers that she didn’t actually commit the act that had caused her so much guilt for years. Why? What purpose does this serve? She’s still killed others since then. What, does the author want us to think they didn’t count for some reason? It doesn’t flow with the whole “yeah, we both have done some pretty crummy things to survive but we’ve got to keep going” message that’s emphasized throughout the story. To make it doubly weird, she receives no such reprieve in the other routes.
  • Gentoka’s treatment of his one friend really bothers me. “Hello, my bosom comrade! We have just lost a bitter war, and our allies have turned against us. I have snatched you from the brink of death and will FORCE immortality upon you. And now I’m leaving. Have fun completely alone as you’re eaten up by PTSD. Forever.” All the other horrible things Gentoka had done before I could see as self-defense, but this was just cruel. And neither of the leads react appropriately. Ugh.

Everything Else

  • The translation is competent, and the story flows. The point of view shifts are not always well-signaled though.
  • The word “sin” is used all the time and for situations that don’t quite fit. Once I started replacing the word “sin” with “guilt,” the story and themes made much more sense.

Bottom Line: I recommend Kodonomae‘s or Kuso‘s routes over this one, but this is the best of the three routes that send the MC to the capital.

Idea Factory’s Shall We Date?: Scarlet Fate courtesy of NTT Solmare is available on iOS and Android.

Hakuoki Impressions and Review – Spoilers

I realized I cannot review Idea Factory’s Scarlet Fate without referencing their earlier game Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom and its definitive edition re-release Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi. As many reviews detailing what kind of game it is, who the Shinsengumi are, and the general plot already exist, my impressions and review will focus solely on the characters and routes. As always, these are just my reactions. If you enjoy a route I don’t, more power to you.  Also, wordpress is fighting me on the formatting so apologies for the layout.

SPOILERS AHEAD IN


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Toshizo Hijikata’s Route

On Chizuru Yukimura, the MC: I like how much initiative she has during key plot choices, but her flustered crush the entire route got old.


On Hijikata: I like him the least as a character in this route. He spends much of his time bemoaning the fate of Kondou, the other Shinsengumi, and the way of the Samurai. And it IS hard, but in this route you get to hear all the horrible things the Shinsengumi did in the past while reading chapter after chapter of angsting. In the other routes, I sympathized with Hijikata. In this route, I kind of felt like if they had done all those horrible things to their soldiers and prisoners that I was okay with their losing.


On the relationship: Make up your **** mind, dude. Either you’re into her or not. I really felt the age difference, and for so much of the route Hijikata seems to feel it too and treats Chizuru as a parent would a child. And he’s good in that role. It never does feel like a relationship between equals even in the best ending.


On the plot: This route is the longest, and my goodness did I ever feel it. It just drags on. And on. And on. I did however enjoy one of the secondary character that only appears in this route, Ootori Keisuke. He represented a unique viewpoint, using Western tactics while standing with the shogunate.

Souji Okita’s Route

On Chizuru Yukimura: I don’t like how she has to keep making choices to seek out such an obvious jerk. The writing where she finally remembers how her origin family was destroyed and her accompanying emotions was lovely though.


On Okita: Nope. Cruel tease who loves Kondou way too much for it just to be friendship.


On the relationship: I don’t understand why they’re together. I really don’t. Maybe the “and then they both die” ending would make me understand?


On the plot: The main antagonist is Kaoru, Chizuru’s brother. Kaoru resents that Chizuru is a girl and therefore was cared for better than he was, and spends the second half of the game trying to make her as miserable as possible. Because she has a uterus and he doesn’t. Apparently he too wishes to be stalked by homicidal demons and forced to bear their children. What the heck.

Hajime Saito’s Route

On Chizuru Yukumra: She’s not as active as here as she is in, say, Heisuke’s route, but she’s intelligent and feels the most mature of the fully-fledged character routes. In this route she cares about all the Shinsengumi, but the menace from them always is present. She also doesn’t idealize individuals or different worldviews, something that really grated in some other routes.


On Saito: Intelligent, loyal, and deeply focused, Saito is not the person to choose when you need a hug or a chatty drinking partner. He’s not mean or dismissive – just not interested in anything outside his goals. Any time I read a story in which one of the main characters is supposed to be cool but the author makes him a jerk too, I want to email this route. Reserved, quiet people don’t need to be jerks.


On the relationship: I like this route because it feels like the MC’s choice the most. Chizuru and Saito know each other as comrades for years before a romantic relationship begins. Saito does not pressure her, she does not pressure him, and she makes her own decision. There are barely any romantic moments in the main story so don’t choose this route it you’re in a mushy mood, but the epilog is incredibly sweet.


On the plot: The first time I played through it I expected Chizuru to die, but I was fine with that because, again, she feels like a grown-up making her own decisions. I was also fascinated by Amagiri, one of the secondary demons. He works with Chikage yet has his own goals and ethics.

Heisuke Toudou’s Route

On Chizuru Yukimura: I like how active she in this route and that she calls Heisuke on his crap.


On Heisuke: The youngest of the group, Heisuke is still trying to figure out who is right and wrong in this civil war and what actions can be justified.


On the relationship: This is a romance between equals and feels believable.


On the plot: The secondary characters Senhime, Kimigiku, and Sannan drive this exciting story. Kimigiku broke my heart at the end.

Saonosuke Harada’s Route

On Chizuru Yukimura: I like how active she in the first part of the route and how the revelation of her true nature deeply shakes her. She’s terribly dense about Harada’s interest though.


On Harada: I appreciate that he (and his best friend Nagakura) wish to protect others, not cling to an old code.


On the relationship: Chizuru’s cluelessness about Harada’s feelings is painful to witness. That may be why his is the only route with a sex scene – he’d tried every other way to make her understand he loved her.


On the plot: Secondary demon Shiranui Kyo features prominently and never fails to make me smile. The guy’s nuts. This route focuses much more on personal relationships than the battles and politics.

Kazama Chikage’s Route

On Chizuru Yukimura: I like her in this one. Her assessing the situation at different points then taking the most logical option (even if it does make everyone else do a double-take) is refreshing.


On Chikage: He still wants Chizuru to be his demon baby mama, but I liked him once I decided to ignore his characterization in the other routes. He can be considerate while still wanting to take over Japan.


On the relationship: It’s a prolog – a fun prolog, but there isn’t a relationship by the end.


On the plot: See *Default Route*

Default Route

Nearly everyone but Chizuru dies. I actually like this one. XD

Overall: A well-executed civil war tragedy in which romance takes a backseat.

Idea Factory’s Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is available on PSP and the definitive Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is available on PS3.

Speakeasy Tonight Cliff POV Impressions and Review

This review assumes you have already played Cliff’s main route and makes no attempt to keep the plot unspoiled.

Positives

  • The scenes in which Cliff covers up the murders are interesting. His detachment and resignation work there.
  • The one thing that really bothered me in Cliff’s main route is omitted here.

Negatives

  • How Cliff describes his past and personality does not click with his main route. His inability to feel and process ANY emotions before the MC arrived had me trying to figure out exactly what kind of disorder he would be diagnosed with today – or if he’s simply a robot. This coupled with his careful mimicry of how others act in order to lie to them made me think of a serial killer. Was all this in his backstory before his main route? Because I never got that vibe before playing his POV. Y’all are creeping me out, Voltage.
  • Either you buy all the different metaphors for how Cliff sees the world or you don’t. I don’t. Every time he got started, I’d sigh and start tapping more quickly.
  • I wanted more time with secondary characters and less “MC is the greatest” daydreaming. The scene with Andrew is nice, but I was expecting something with Cleo since she features fairly prominently in the main route.

Overall: Not recommended.

Voltage Entertainment USA’s Speakeasy Tonight is available on iOS.