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Found 31 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Collar X Malice

    Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS Vita Release Date: July 28, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature With the likes of distorted camera footage showcasing ruthless murders in the name of "justice," the PS Vita's newest visual novel Collar x Malice quickly sets the tone of its tense setting. One would be hard-pressed to find any trace of Idea Factory's romantic otome underpinnings until at least an hour in, if that. At least until a group of pretty males that were former officers join the fray to help you solve various murder mysteries. But even that does not bring much comfort considering just how cold they all are at the outset. At the start of the game, it's bad news all around. An extremist terrorist group named Adonis has been publicly announcing systemic "X-Day" killings to judge various "sinners" that the law has apparently failed to reach. After months of failing to apprehend these suspects, the Japanese government has grown so desperate that they decide to quarantine Shinjuku entirely to help contain the terrorists' influence. Trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low and public unrest at an all-time high. Just when things could not seem to get any worse, Ichika Hoshino -- the main heroine, and a fresh and upcoming officer -- gets kidnapped. The next moment she wakes up, she learns she is saddled with a deadly collar around her neck. Though she is temporarily saved by a group of mysterious former police officers rather quickly, she is told by the leader of Adonis, via her collar, that she needs to uncover the truth behind the "X-Day incidents" alongside these men or she will be poisoned to death at the end of the year. And so, that becomes the player's primary objective Collar X Malice is a visual novel structured around five different character routes (the last of which is locked until one completes the four others) with each tale standing well enough on their own. What is intriguing in how it is told is each story route has an entirely different focus and the many pieces to the overarching storytelling only really make sense upon finishing all of them due to their complex subplots. Though, one will have to be able to overlook a hokey story element or two to see it through (like how the Japanese government apparently thought it was a good idea to issue guns to all citizens during the Shinjuku quarantine?). Collar X Malice is largely about investigating murder mysteries and conspiracies with a dash of romance interspaced between it all. Flowery otome fanservice is present, but generally speaking, it is the furthest thought from the primary cast early in. Each of the male leads has rather distinct personal objectives that give them plenty of reason to act cold to the main heroine (the same also applies in inverse). Because of this pretense, the trust that is gained between what is initially a business-only relationship feels much more organic than one would expect. My favorite of these character developments is the incredibly brash former officer of the cyber crimes division, Takeru. Though he is more than a bit haughty (aggressively so usually), his route is far more personal focused than most others in the entire game (except for maybe the eyepatch-wearing Mineo perhaps). For as prideful as Takeru may be, his side of the storytelling does a wonderful job of making him feel down to earth during the course of it. Also, he has some hilariously sassy quips at times, so that's a plus for me too. Some routes are certainly better than others, however. The one that personally took me the longest to shoulder on through, purely for thematic reasoning, was that of the Special Protections officer, Kei. Now, I like Kei enough as a character but I found his character route to be rather obnoxious. It encroached upon a trope that I dislike in otome games especially, which is the fixation of protecting the main heroine. Admittedly, the context behind Okazaki's seemingly selfless motivations unravels to have much darker implications over time. Still, one will hear some variation of the phrase "I will protect you" a nauseating amount of times. Of course, reminiscent of Code Realize: Guardians of Rebirth in this small regard, both characters and their narrative arc focus are extremely subject to taste and, occasional narrative grips aside, are told well overall in spite of excessively long banter at times. That said, there is actually more that goes on in Collar X Malice than thumbing through walls of story text and earning the hearts and minds of one's eventual male suitors as a game. Without a doubt, most of the progression stems from picking correct dialogue choices to properly reach a tale's conclusion and hoping they don't die in doing so. There are also instances of basic point & click-styled detective work and, surprisingly, an occasional gun-based quick-time-event to shoot down a prospective criminal. Speaking of which, there is an alarming amount of bad endings. Most bad endings usually not-so-subtlety apply the expression "curiosity killed the cat", but there are a few bad ends that are surprisingly meaningful to the overarching story despite not technically being required to see. For as much as the player is likely to stumble to their doom before reaching their desired conclusion(s), Collar X Malice is usually quite slick in how it is presented. The beautifully drawn character art is but one clear perk of it (unless one is uncomfortable with the occasional otome-styled fanservice scene. I'm not). The Japanese-only voice-acting is also really impressive, making each main character have a distinct presence throughout, though the main heroine herself is unfortunately unvoiced. Idea Factory proves yet again they have the visual novel interface thing down pat, for the most part. Godsends to the subgenre like fast-forwarding until reaching unread text, instant story scene rewinding, and various save options are all there and then some. However, the biggest replay tool of all, that being the chapter select, is not available until reaching a character's "true end". This is very important to keep in mind as I personally almost locked myself into a bad ending right before the finale of the last character route and was really close to a redundant VN fast-forwarding nightmare to fix it. While Collar x Malice is pretty good at implying that you are on the right path "for the most part" I'd recommend other's veer on the side of safety and follow a dialogue choice guide when they can just to get those true ends out of the way first. This is especially true since character routes themselves are only triggered through rigid and specific dialogue choices early in. Of Idea Factory's many otome visual novel offerings, Collar x Malice comes across as their most well-rounded. A fascinating, crime-based storytelling setup and a nuanced lead cast of characters make it easy to be drawn into its world, though various pacing mishaps and an inconsistent overarching storytelling emphasis placed upon certain leads do hold the game back from its full potential. But, all in all, Collar x Malice stands tall on its own and has the heart of a genuinely good visual novel, and it becomes quite rewarding to uncover the larger truth buried beneath its lengthy adventure. Pros + Intriguing storytelling with a heavy emphasis on murder mystery and crime-solving + Gorgeous character art and often slick visual novel interface + Healthy mix of very serious storytelling and lighthearted moments throughout + Takeru is the best boy Cons - Triggering specific story routes or right dialogue choices can feel redundant at times - Varying significance of overarching storytelling between routes can make some character's tales feel longer than others - Localization hiccups Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good A gripping premise and cast of characters make it quite easy to forget Collar x Malice's occasional foibles in how it is told as a visual novel. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Developer: Idea Factory Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: May 6 ESRB: M (for Mature) Visual novels have certainly hit their stride in the Western world lately. More publishers are willing to bring the genre that used to be seen as uncouth and shallow dating sims over to a small, but steadily growing fanbase. As exciting adventures like Steins;Gate thrill players and hybrid experiences like Virtue's Last Reward give players a bit of gameplay with their text dumps, more gamers come to learn the value of visual novels amongst the many other games and genres available. Even so, while visual novels are in more of a demand, the otome game--essentially a visual novel where you play as the girl as you build relationships with boys--is widely ignored. While Sweet Fuse seemed to make some waves amongst the fanbase, there are very few otome choices out there... and though the Hakuoki series has actually seen a few titles released Stateside, Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi hopes to win a new audience by being on the PlayStation 3. Will this enhanced port of the PSP and 3DS title Demon of the Fleeting Blossom hold a bright torch for the console visual novel and otome game, or will that torch fizzle out? In Stories of the Shinsengumi, you are Chizuru (whose name can be changed), a young girl who came to Kyoto to look for for her father, who had gone missing a few months before. Upon reaching Kyoto, though, she is accosted by rogue ronin (despite being disguised as a boy to deter that very thing). One thing quickly leads to another, and the girl stumbles upon a dark secret of the Shinsengumi, a group responsible for upholding the peace in Kyoto. After learning of Chizuru's search for her father, who happened to also work with the Shinsengumi, they decide not to kill her to keep their secrets, and instead take her under their (mostly begrudging) care to help find the doctor. Stories of the Shinsengumi follows the path of the force through the entirety of its historical life, from 1864 to 1869. As you might expect, the characters you meet and can eventually build relationships with are actual Japanese historical figures; of course, they have been prettied up a bit to appeal to audience. However, the game isn't purely historical; fantastical sub-plots involving demons and "furies" (which are best described as a form of vampires) add an extra layer of tension to the wars and battles and more weight to the protagonist herself. Granted, these sub-plots are better written into some character paths than others, but for the most part they're a decent, though not particularly great, part of the story. As for the title's overall writing, it usually stays on a pretty high mark. All of the eligible relationship interests and even some of supporting cast get a fair amount of depth to them, mostly avoiding the typical tropes of the genre and giving an interesting plot to work through. Since the men are all loyal members of the Shinsengumi as well, it adds the perspective loyalty, and what everyone does when things take a turn for the worse. The more interesting conversations of the game are between the different captains themselves rather than their relationship with Chizuru, and while it can be questionable why the members of the Shinsengumi would allow a random girl to be privy to all their private conversations, it's an excusable offense to really get a glimpse at the depth these characters have to offer. Due to the fact that this 8- to 10-hour visual novel covers a fiveyear span, the action moves by at a pretty brisk pace. Stories of the Shinsengumi will skip months at the time, and mostly only focus on the major battles of the group, and their eventual downfall. As such, while you get an interesting amount of growth and changes amongst the characters, there isn't too much time for romance. Thankfully, the Hakouki Stories help a little with that, with the Memories of Love offering more tender moments with the eligible bachelors, and the Shinsengumi Adventures are more comical, light-hearted affairs. It's a bit of a shame that these stories aren't integrated into the game proper, but it also makes sense as the small stories would have probably interrupted the flow of the overall story. As you play through these extra Stories, you can bloom your cherry blossom in the Eupherma mode; and as you do so, you'll unlock even more little pieces of content, which is new to the PS3 version from the portable releases. These little bits include random conversations in the Hakuoki world, as well as stints where the the characters are cast into a modern school setting. Honestly, these bits are mostly throwaway, but as you'll likely want to play through the Stories for the extra characterization anyway, it's a nice, but ultimately unneeded, little bonus. Whether or not you'll enjoy Stories of the Shinsengumi depends more on your interest of Japanese culture; obviously, a title involving a historical police force is going to be steeped in Japanese lore. For those not heavily educated on the subject, the game's Encyclopedia helps to explain some of the less known terms, but if you have no interest in Japanese lore, historically accurate or otherwise, it will seem plodding and boring even if it is well-written. Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is a good otome game, but it will not be everyone's cup of tea. Those that are willing the take the plunge into a game steeped in Japanese history and sometimes strange demon plots will find deep and multifaceted characters and stories that are worth experiencing. Pros: + The potential relationship paths go beyond simple tropes, giving characters with depth + The graphics are surprisingly nice looking on the big screen Cons: - Some character paths have awkward writing or poorly implemented plot threads - The title's setting isn't for everyone Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Stories of the Shinsengumi provides a good story for those that bring an interest in Japanese history and just a bit of tolerance for demons and vampires. Disclosure: A download code was provided by the publisher for this review.
  5. 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.
  6. If you're a fan of visual novels, especially otome games, then you're probably already aware of the upcoming Sweet Fuse: At Your Side for PSP. It's rare that North America sees any otome game releases, so Sweet Fuse needs all the support it can get. Maybe this newly announced pre-order bonus will convince you to buy the visual novel? There aren't any images of the pre-order bonus yet, but it's basically a replica of the skull necklace that the antagonist, Count Hogstein, wears. So far, it seems to be exclusive to Amazon. In any case, I can't wait to see how it looks! Sweet Fuse releases for PSP both physically and digitally on August 27th.
  7. Even though Hakuoki: Warriors of the Shinsengumi wasn't very good, it looks like Aksys is still keen on the series. So, they're bringing Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi to North America! Memories of the Shinsengumi returns to its visual novel roots and explains what happens in between major events of the original game with six new stories. And since this game is for the Nintendo 3DS, you'll be able to view the handsome samurai in 3D! Another fun little addition that Memories of the Shinsengumi has is a "photo booth." Inspired by Japanese photo sticker booths, you'll be able to take pictures with your favorite Hakuoki characters and decorate with a myriad of themes and backgrounds. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is available only on 3DS and currently does not have a release date.
  8. Aksys has given visual novel and otome game fans a great Valentine's Day gift this year! That gift is an announcement for a visual novel they will be bringing to North America on the PSP called Sweet Fuse: At Your Side. In Sweet Fuse, you are Saki Inafune (niece to famed video game developer Keiji Inafune). Her uncle's brand new theme park is having its grand opening and she's looking forward to a grand day of fun, when suddenly... The evil Count Hogstein blows up the ferris wheel and takes over the park! It is then that Hogstein begins his set of deadly games. Saki volunteers herself to be one of the participants so she can save her uncle. Can she make it out alive with all the other players... and maybe find some love on the way? As silly as Sweet Fuse may sound, getting any sort of otome game in NA is a real treat. It's looking to be a great game for anyone interested in adventure games and visual novels, in any case (especially for those that liked 999 and Virtue's Last Reward)! Sweet Fuse boasts 14 different endings and some crazy puzzles. There's not a concrete release date yet, but you can expect to be enjoying Sweet Fuse on your PSP sometime this summer. Until then, check out the screenshots below!
  9. The only pigeon dating sim out there now has a holiday-themed sequel! Wait... There's a pigeon dating sim?! Yes, the original Hatoful Boyfriend (which released for Valentine's Day last year) allows you to interact with and date pigeons and other birds as a human female at St. PigeoNation's Academy. It sounds absolutely silly and idiotic, but the game actually does feature some story and heart-touching moments. This newly released sequel, Hatoful Boyfriend Holiday Star, expands upon the original game's characters and setting even further as you experience a winter at the St. PigeoNation Academy. If anybirdie is interested in purchasing this fine feathered game, it's available at DLsite for the low price of $4.84. If you would like to try out the demo first, you can download it from the official Hatoful Boyfriend website.
  10. Leah

    Review: Cinders

    Developer: MoaCube Publisher: MoaCube Platform: Windows, Mac Release Date: June 20, 2012 (out now) ESRB: N/A (T for Teen recommended) This review is based on the Windows version of the game. Visual novels made outside of Japan are usually unheard of. And even when we do see them, players of the genre typically dismiss them without a second thought. It“s usually due to misconceptions that non-Japanese visual novels can“t be any good. Katawa Shoujo is one example of an American-made visual novel that pushes aside that fallacy – though it“s obvious that it draws from how Japanese visual novels present themselves and still very much feels like one (not that it“s a bad thing!). Cinders, on the other hand, is something that“s completely different. That fact is especially evident in its art style, among other elements. Does that necessarily mean it is good and makes it a game worth checking out, however? Cinders is based upon the fairytale of Cinderella. Our protagonist, Cinders, isn“t anything like the passive and dainty Cinderella we all imagine in our heads, though. Even though she is still practically held as a prisoner in her own home by her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinders is a strong, serious, brave, and adamant girl. Throughout the story, you“ll help Cinders decide exactly how to escape from this lifestyle she“s had to endure for years. This means you don“t necessarily have to go to the ball, meet the prince, fall in love with each other, and live with him in his castle happily ever after. It“s a much more serious and deeper approach to this classic fairytale, and it“s what makes the title seem so intriguing. It doesn“t really try its absolute hardest to become a memorable and emotional tale, but it still is enjoyable. What really makes Cinders worth checking out, especially for those who claim that visual novels have a minimal amount of interactivity, is its whopping amount of dialogue options. It boasts 120 decision points and over 300 options that will put you down an incredible variety of paths and will change what happens in your playthrough. An icon will also appear for events that are consequences from earlier ones where you made a decision. It“s extremely helpful for those who want to go through different playthroughs. Cinders made me very much surprised and pleased with its amount of interactivity. The game also tackles endings in an interesting and unique way. There are four base ones, but depending on your actions, there are also variants in the endings themselves. For example, in the Traveler ending, there are several different characters who you may run away with. Those important decision points you settled on during your playthrough determine it all. The way the endings and paths are done in Cinders definitely add quite a bit of replayability. What is probably my absolute favorite part of Cinders is its artwork, which is done by illustrator Gracjana Zielinska. There“s no denying that it“s all utterly gorgeous – from the backgrounds to the character portraits. And not just the artwork itself, but the character designs as well. While I do wish most of the women weren“t drawn so stereotypically “sexy†– with almond-shaped eyes and full, pouty lips – everything else about them and the other characters is done well. Cinders“ art style is without a doubt something different to see in a visual novel. There are some dull patches to trudge through during playthroughs of Cinders and it is a wee bit longer than many other visual novels, so that may turn off some with shorter attention spans. There are a couple of noticeable typos I“ve seen as well. And the one big deciding factor that pushes you away from or pulls you into purchasing a game is its price; $23 for Cinders. It“s quite steep for a visual novel, but worth it if you“re into the genre. Cinders could have a lot more put into it if it wants to be a masterpiece of a visual novel, but as it is now, it“s still good. The mature twist to the fairytale of Cinderella and the beautiful artwork will most likely grab in some of those looking for a different sort of visual novel. It even includes a little bit of romancing, which is always a treat if you“re a sucker for it like I am. I enjoyed my time with Cinders, and I hope you do, too, if you“re willing to take the plunge. Pros: + Unique method of doing endings/paths + Immense amount of dialogue options + Absolutely gorgeous artwork Cons: - A few boring parts that are scattered throughout the story and annoying to trudge through - High price point for a visual novel at $23 - Its premise may not appeal to many Overall: 7.5 (out of 10) Good While it doesn“t do too much to make itself the next great visual novel, Cinders is still worth a look to those that are fans of the genre.
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