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.

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.

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


3


2


1


NOW

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.

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.

The Royal Trap Review and Impressions – Spoiler Free

the_royal_trap___game_promo_by_hanakogames-d5wa8zp

In Hanako Games’ The Royal Trap, you play a prince’s retainer as she navigates a foreign court’s politics, conspiracies, and central mystery. Like Cinders, you have many routes and endings to explore.

  • Music: I like many of the tracks individually. The transition from one to another can be jarring though.
  • Visuals: The event stills are beautiful, but the sprites themselves made me cringe. The color combinations are often bizarre, the proportions and perspective are off, and even people who expect to engage in combat have hair in their eyes. Stop it.
  • Writing: This political intrigue plot delivers. Once I got past the fluffy, cutesy prologue, I found a compelling world. I had to play through a good few routes to finally figure out exactly what had happened and the perpetrators’ motivations.

Principal Actors

  • Madeleine: an intelligent, competent MC; retainer to Prince Oscar
  • Prince Oscar: Madeleine’s charge; tasked with winning a bride
  • Prince Callum: host kingdom’s prince; Cassidy’s brother
  • Princess Cassidy: young heiress of the host kingdom
  • Prince Gaston: exuberant, foppish visiting prince
  • Prince Nazagi: calculating, cold visiting prince
  • Dolores: impertinent palace page

The plot has five main routes with enough variations to total fifteen endings. Many of the endings have no romance at all or it’s not the person you initially suspect. I appreciated the variety.

  • Oscar: I liked him, but felt really conflicted about betraying his family’s trust in the best version. The conversation that leads to the worst ending made me laugh.
  • Callum: It felt as though the author couldn’t come up with a believable way to start his attraction to Madeleine, gave up, and then started channeling some fourteen-year-old’s idea of romance. At least Madeleine can be calculating and circumspect about his affections.
  • Gaston: He’s original, crazy, sweet, and grand. Princess Cassidy has much more initiative and spunk in this route than the others – a definite plus.
  • Nazagi: The political manipulation aspect is most prominent in this route. Both Nazagi and Madeline are focused and cunning without being mua-ha-ha cruel. The best ending floored and delighted me. As Madeleine says: “this is not how fairy stories are meant to end,” but it made perfect sense for the story. ❤
  • ????: This one felt the most arbitrary, but the end CG is lovely.

Bottom Line: I recommend this to anyone who can see past the sprites to the intricate political plot underneath.

Hanko Games’ The Royal Trap is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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.

In Your Arms Tonight Review and Impressions

In Your Arms Tonight was the first Voltage game I tried – and I very nearly didn’t. After nearly a week of trying to get over the presentation (super-pink, covered in hearts, cheesy taglines), I bought it as a distraction from a long illness. And have been reading their stories every since.

Like all Voltage games, the individual stories are very different. Therefore each route in In Your Arms Tonight will get its own little review. But first, the comments that apply to all the routes: I enjoyed playing an MC who’s over 25 and has real-world problems. I also liked having so many fleshed-out secondary characters; it’s not just the MC and her potential beaus.

Now, on to the individual routes.

  • *update* Ritsu Main Story: one of my favorites; full review found here.
  • *update* Koichi Sequel: good; full review found here.
  • *update* Koichi POV: good; full review found here.
  • *update* Ginnosuke Sequel: not recommended; full review found here.
  • *update* Shohei Sequel: not recommended; full review found here.
  • Kippei Main Story: good; he felt like a believable person, not an archetype.
  • Kiyoto Main Story: interesting, but not for the sensitive; Kiyoto makes many unwanted physical advances, and while the MC always defends herself well, it made me nervous.
  • Shohei Main Story: I’m conflicted on this one; I like Shohei himself, but the story itself makes me want to scream; the MC has no backbone, and the antagonist characters act so dastardly I expected mustaches to appear just so they could twirl them.
  • Genji Main Story: ugh; I PAID to watch this presumptuous, conceited jerk insult the MC while she spends all her time falling apart? He calls her too fat, too skinny, and stupid all within five minutes. Screw you, Genji, and not in the fun way.
  • Soji Main Story: one of my favorites; the MC has initiative and brains, and Soji himself is more complex than most of the other guys; Genji is more attractive here than in his main story.
  • Ginnosuke Main Story: oddly enough, I like this story more for how Koichi’s portrayed and his interactions with the MC than Ginnosuke himself; the back-story you gain on Kippei is also good; unfortunately, the MC has some nearly unbearable stupid moments.
  • Kiyoto Another Story: love it; Kiyoto’s personality is the same as his main story, but the undercurrent of anger is gone; the MC is a whole lot of fun too.
  • Kiyoto Sequel: like it; the MC’s father is over-the-top, but other than that it’s really good.
  • Koichi Another Story: I really like this one; both he and the MC feel like distinct, realistic individuals.
  • Shohei Another Story: meh; the scenes with Koichi’s mother were very good but the rest bored me.
  • Kippei Another Story: meh.
  • A Day with Him: zzzzzz; no secondary characters, no choices, no real narrative

Before writing this post, I downloaded the app to be sure I didn’t forget any routes and saw two new characters listed.  I’ll update the review as they are released.

Voltage’s In Your Arms Tonight is available on iOS and Android.