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Found 16 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Norn9: Var Commons

    Developer: Otomate/Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: Vita Release Date: November 3, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen I have become increasingly fascinated with playing otome visual novels as of late. A lot of the blame for that is due to the game Code: Realize:Guardians of Rebirth, which I found to be a pretty pleasant surprise. So, upon seeing that new otome Norn9: Var Commons was made by the same developer (and on the Vita handheld) as Code: Realize so shortly after piqued my curiosity. But, surpassing that, otomes can be a pretty refreshing contrast to most standard visual novels. If oddly sincere pigeon dating sims or romances at a themepark made by Keiji Infafune are any indicator, they are also willing to take risks with how their stories are told as well. Fortunately, Norn9 seems to be trying out some unique ideas too even if, well, you'll ultimately be seeing a lot of effeminate anime men, like most otomes. Still, Norn9 starts in a pretty unconventional way. Opposed to focusing on the main cast of heroines and their would-be love interests right away, it actually starts from the perspective of a young boy named Sorata. Sorata himself being what he assumed to be a normal boy from the modern era who unwittingly time-travels back to the 1920's Taisho Era of Japan. Utterly baffled by his current predicament, with likely no way to get home anytime soon, Sorata decides to eventually accompany a kindly "weird girl" (which is revealed somewhat early as Koharu) on a ship, or rather an airship, that may very well be the key to get him back home. The story sort of clumsily stumbles about until it ultimately decides to focus on the daily lives of the inhabitants on the airship. Both the airship and most of the inhabitants themselves, of course, being far from normal... probably because most of them are espers. Also not normal is how the main story is actually told through the perspective of three completely different heroines, each with their unique narrative routes, leading to nine in total. Because the prospect of nine different story routes sounded sort of daunting to me, I decided to follow the game's "recommended" route order. There are three locked routes but the first character paths the title recommends are to play the pink-haired heroine "Koharu" and pursue either the sadist Kakeru or the hermit Senri. After completing both story routes I was quickly led to wonder if I would like the game at all after completing them, because of how little I cared for either of them. Now, I don“t mind either Kakeru or Koharu separately as characters (Senri perhaps less so...), but their story route teetered on badly written fanfiction territory. The character relationships and eventual character "development" within them felt very unearned and clearly important narrative devices were brushed aside for a cavity-inducing romance. Honestly, I was close to wrapping up the review right there after being burned by two of the stories (Kind of ironic considering Koharu's esper ability is actually fire...). But, despite my weary first impressions, I decided to give the title one more chance -- and I'm glad I did. You see, there is a huge disparity in terms of quality between different narrative routes in Norn9 as I eventually learned. I don't even mean in just tone or a general taste thing, like the radically different character routes in Code: Realize had presented. I honestly think there is a big qualitative gap between many of the nine stories in Norn9 and it is clear to me that the lead women Mikoto and Nanami had the the better stories of the bunch. The one to open my eyes to this realization the most is the tale between Mikoto and her childhood friend Sakuya. Now, let's be real -- childhood friend romances are far from original in Japanese anime storytelling. That said, what made Mikoto's route more interesting to me is that Mikoto herself is not only much smarter (and more capable) than -- let's say -- Koharu, but her relationship between her childhood friend actually starts pretty distant. They aren't on bad terms per say, far from it, however the talk between them is far more business than not. Intentionally so. As the story reveals more of itself it presents some pretty interesting moral conundrums and earns its romance over time. Though, it doesn't entirely fix its abrupt broader narrative issues (and some overly preachy themes) as with most routes, unfortunately. The stories that create the biggest narrative conundrums are generally tied to blue-haired heroine Nanami's. The main reason for this is because of her inherent power is, well, erasing people's memories. This alone allows the story to have some rather twisted narrative implications depending on the route. That, and well, Nanami herself did not have the most pleasant upbringing, let's say. Without going into spoiler territory, Nanami definitely had my favorite stories of the bunch and I frankly wish more of Norn9 reflected it. Walls of text and hit & miss romances aside, Norn9 is a pleasant-looking visual novel overall. The character art is quite well-drawn and has clean gameplay interface tools as well for possible thorough playthroughs. The script, and occasionally iffy localization, are noticeably less consistent (as well as the soundtrack), but the Japanese only voice delivery is very solid in spite of it. With the division of its nine different character routes, Norn9: Var Commons has a pretty apparent divide in its overall visual novel quality. It can feel like a dice roll between getting a story route that feels genuinely worthwhile and heartwarming to significant shift in others paths that border on cringe-worthy fan-fiction level romances. Despite their many differences, I can not help but feel like most would be better served playing Otomate's own recent Code: Realize for a possible otome visual novel fix before considering Norn9. There is good in Norn9 but it is more difficult to uncover than it should be. Pros: + 3 different heroine perspectives bring a pretty distinct take on how the storytelling is told + Well-drawn character art + Endearing character development moments depending on the story route Cons: - Huge disparity in the quality of narrative routes, some of which are outright bad (most of Koharu“s in particular) - Broader overarching story does often get tossed aside Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent Some moments Norn9 has the makings a genuinely good visual novel but its wildly inconsistent quality between stories can easily wear out many but fairly tolerant otome fans with its nine different character routes. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Otomate/Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: Vita Release Date: October 20, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Otome-styled visual novels and myself have somewhat of a checkered history. I am not opposed to visual novels centered around romance but I simply have had difficulty finding ones that click with me. In the matter of fairness, it is seldom that we even see them localized in the first place beyond multiple ports of Hakuoki or the far more eccentric Hatoful Boyfriend. But, something about the exclusive English release of visual novel Code: Realize - Guardians of Rebirth caught my eye. Maybe it was because I could hook up with an effeminate version of Victor Frankenstein, or its odd take on Steampunk piqued my curiosity. Regardless of my off-kilter reasoning to play it, I had a feeling that my toxic outlook on many otome visual novels could be changed -- and I was correct. Code: Realize has a pretty bizarre premise. The main heroine, named Cardia by default, lives in isolation while awaiting the return of her father in an abandoned mansion. The most apparent factor for her isolation is the deadly poison that courses through her body and quickly destroys most things by a mere touch from her. For this reason, and several more ambiguous ones, she is most explicitly told by her "loving" father that she can never be loved because she is a monster. Rather than allowing her to rest in isolation, however, the royal knights of Queen Victoria invade her home under orders to capture her. After some rough treatment, and them learning a quick lesson about her deadly poison, Cardia ends up with little choice in the matter but to go with the soldiers. Well, that is until the notorious thief, Lupin Arsene, gets in the way. Though deviating from his original objective, the thief with a seeming heart of gold decides to steal her away from her would-be captors, and, less originally, with the mindset of taking her heart as well (though, he claims it to be literal). The setting itself poses lot of questions. Cardia's poison, for example, bears many stipulations to have it make any sort of internal logic work for it. To Code: Realize's credit, its world is actually pretty fleshed out and explains most of its distinct lore, even if you have to stick to it to see it happen. Though, unfortunately, certain story elements are essentially hand waved by means of "magic" despite its steampunk mentality. As an Otome, however, most of the storytelling emphasis comes across through its characters... as effeminate and pretty as its main cast may be. No point in dancing around it, as an otome the basic mindset that comes with most of these games is that the main heroine will likely hook up with one of the male protagonists through each of their story routes. What is interesting about the unusually attractive men of Code: Realize is that they are all pretty much based off of classic novel or literary characters: such as Victor Frankenstein, Lupin Arsene, Saint Germain, Impey Barbicane, and even Van Helsing help round out the main male leads. They may not be terribly faithful to their literary works but as a character template they help make the story go through some wildly different directions and it can be fun to see their certain novel parallels, tons of creative liberties aside. Admittedly, in the early goings it does not feel like Code: Realize really knows what it wants to be. The pacing is all over the place with a plodding slice of life feel, even with the alluded darker undertones. The game really hits its stride when you are locked into character routes, however. Character motivations differ wildly per route as well as the sequence of events that follow them. With maybe the exception of the locked Lupin routes (which unlocks after you complete the other four story paths), that feels like a "true end" of sorts, there is next to no similarities in their stories even in tone. Which, for how lengthy each story path is, it is quite intriguing how much it justifies multiple playthroughs because of the likely case by case nature with which story will resonate with someone the most. Honestly, probably my favorite narrative route of the game plays around expectations the most -- this being Saint-German's narrative branch. Throughout the storytelling you know the least about him than any other character (and they make that very clear). It is upon this precept that the storytelling plays with a much more shocking, and decidedly more antagonistic, relationship with the heroine right from the start. Without going into explicit spoiler territory, let's just say that Saint Germain willing to get his hands dirty (and push the T rating along with it), regardless of who it is. And, for how dark the pervading tone is, I found the narrative payout for it to be quite gripping. Heck, most character stories are handled pretty well, some pacing issues and occasionally hokey melodrama aside. For example, a character that I found incredibly unlikable at first, Impey, managed to win me over time with his surprisingly endearing story. That said, I do chalk a lot of that up to Cardia for setting him straight and not leaving Impey to be irredeemably obnoxious. Speaking of that, the most pleasant surprise of the storytelling is not the distinguished men around her, but how surprisingly capable Cardia herself ends up being. It is very easy for most otome stories to fall under the trope of having the male leads resolve all conflict and the heroine herself be a blank, damsel-like figure. But, an understated strength is how Cardia herself does not take most situations lying down. Though her initial characterization is rather tepid, primarily because of narrative circumstance, she ends up showing that she has a lot of spunk as the story progresses. Many of the narrative choices, for instance, are focused around her having a cool head or taking initiative in a bad scenario (and knocking some fools out), which is honestly quite refreshing. Another easily overlooked strength is how it is all presented. No, I don't need to tell you the character portraits are really well-drawn (which they are) or Japanese dub has some noteworthy voices. What I actually want to talk about is how Code: Realize honestly has the best, and most convenient, approach to subsequent playthroughs that I have seen in any visual novel. After beating the game once you can literally pick the character route and chapter you want -- which both in tandem is pretty much unheard of in visual novels. To emphasize, most visual novels generally become fast-forwarding/guide-following tedium on extra playthroughs and that does not really exist in Code: Realize at all. Not just that though, you can even rewind the story scenes without messing with quick saves, and I can not stress how seemingly minor features like this should become the norm in visual novels with distinct story variations. . Few games this year have made my opinion fluctuate as dramatically as Code: Realize - Guardians Of Rebirth. The early goings are an unattractive beast mainly due to its pacing issues and indecisive nature. But, when it reveals more of itself in the distinct (and lengthy) character routes, it goes from plodding to gripping with its macabre in one moment to heartwarming another world and characters. Code: Realize may not be free from some narrative baggage but keen fans of otome visual novels will be able to see the beauty that lies beneath it with some patience. Pros: + Great character art + Highly involved storytelling with wildly differing narrative routes + Incredibly useful interface options making subsequent playthroughs rather painless + Surprisingly capable main heroine Cons: - Pacing is quite plodding at times - Some forced narrative contrivances diminish storytelling - Impey is usually quite obnoxious Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Code: Realize - Guardians Of Rebirth is a messy beast in the early goings but those who are patient enough to see past it will notice beauty that lies beneath its fleshed out world and characters. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: 3DS Release Date: September 19, 2013 ESRB: M for Mature A download code was provided by the publisher for this review Before Aksys brought Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom to the West last year, otome games were largely unheard of here. Since they took the plunge, we've been getting more and more games in the genre. Now, Aksys's efforts have brought the samurai romancing visual novel to 3DS owners with Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi. Memories of the Shinsengumi can be described as a port of the original PSP game with some new bonus features. On top of the riveting main game that includes many routes and endings, Memories of the Shinsengumi also totes six new stories and a photo booth mode. Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom already know what goes on in the Hakuoki universe. This may be an intimidating title to others, however, especially because it“s an otome game. True, there is some romancing going on from the view of a female protagonist, but the game is largely focused on Japanese history, politics, action, and violence. The point in time that Memories of the Shinsengumi takes place in is during the late Edo Period. As the game“s title implies, the game follows the exploits of the legendary Shinsengumi – a special police force. Much of the game retells the history surrounding the Shinsengumi, of course. However, not everything is as it seems… Supernatural beings such as bloodthirsty “furies†and demons cause strife throughout the story and make for an interesting twist. The protagonist, Chizuru, still manages to find love during these troubling times. Those interested in the romancing aspect might be a little disappointed that there isn“t much of it throughout Memories of the Shinsengumi, but there“s still just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. All of the characters are quite well developed and have some great backstories. It“s very much worth it to go through each guy“s route and get all the endings. Be careful, though! You just might fall in love with these handsome men and won“t know what to do with yourself. Now, unless you“re very well-versed in Japanese history, you may have a bit of trouble understanding what“s going on through Memories of the Shinsengumi. There are many people, landmarks, and battles you will not know and have to remember during the course of the game if you wish to comprehend what“s going on. Thankfully, there“s an encyclopedia provided for you in the game menu that is filled out each time you come across a new term. The art of Hakuoki is very beautiful, especially when it“s displayed at its best in the special CG scenes. My problem with the art in Memories of the Shinsengumi, however, is simply because it“s on the 3DS. Because the system“s screen is small, portraits and whatnot have been sized down and look very low quality when compared to Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP. It“s a shame to do such a thing to such pretty artwork, but what can you do? What about those new modes that Memories of the Shinsengumi boasts over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? Well, the “Hakuoki Memories†mode (the six new stories I mentioned earlier) doesn“t offer much. The stories are extremely short, even if they do offer a little insight into the lives of the men of the Shinsengumi. There“s some very lovely pieces of artwork at the end of each story, though. The Photo Booth mode does offer some silly fun, but perhaps only for a few minutes or so. So, is it worth it to get Memories of the Shinsengumi over Demon of the Fleeting Blossom? If you have a PSP or Vita, you should probably get the latter. Those that just have a 3DS, however, should definitely pick up Memories of the Shinsengumi. As for me, I got the limited editions for both versions anyway! I love Memories of the Shinsengumi and the Hakuoki universe. Not only is it an otome game, but it“s a great game for those looking for something different (or for some hot samurai boyfriends). Pros: + Lots of routes and endings + Encyclopedia to help you learn important historical terms + A focus on history and action for those not interested in romancing aspect Cons: - New features aren“t very exciting - Art quality is lowered from original game Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Those that have already played Demon of the Fleeting Blossom might want to skip Memories of the Shinsengumi (unless you want to support otome releases in the West!). Definitely pick this up if you haven“t played the original, though.
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