Otome Review: Frozen Essence

Looking over my past posts, it’s easy to get the impression that I enjoy picking on the early projects of known-creators. After all, project #1 is a guaranteed to be their worst. But, truthfully,  I enjoy playing the first VNs for my favorite creators because it helps me appreciate the ones I love so much. Such is the case with the gaming company Unbroken Hours, who gave me my one of my favorite Life-Sim/Visual Novels to date: Heartstring Bugs.

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-Link here if you wanna read that-

This game especially caught my eye since Heartstring makes mention of it a few times and even features costumes of the characters. This is Frozen Essence, their debut game that started it all.

 

  • Plot

 

We open to a cult – complete with capes and dark foreboding attitudes – checking up on their prized possession: a girl, frozen in crystal. Suddenly, through some mildly confusing wibbly-wobbly magic, the girl is freed from her prison and rescued by a different cloaked figure. She learns that her name is Mina and that she created a realm of perfect blue crystal to live in now. The man identifies himself as her Oracle and warns her that she is not safe on the outside world. She is to remain here, where her three bodyguards will feed her life essence to keep her alive.

Mina and Oracle

But a voice called out to Mina, claiming that it needs her urgent help. She steps outside her safe place and suddenly finds herself in the clutches of that same evil cult, The White Order. They have information about what she is and they want nothing more than to keep her sealed yet again for an eternity. Because, like it or not, her very presence brings nothing but sadness and death.

 

  • Gameplay

 

As mentioned prior, this was one of Unbroken Hours’ early projects. The gameplay itself isn’t bad, but the story is very rough around the edges.

Things here work like a typical Otome in the Ren’Py engine. As the story unfolds, you get prompted to make decisions that alter the main story either a little or a lot. The goal is to get closer to a specific character in the first two arcs, with a third arc that’s unique in each path.  What’s fascinating about the choice system is that there isn’t really an easy way to figure out which character you’re earning points with and it requires you to spend time with almost all of them at any given point. In a way, I feel this makes the game a bit more complete than others.

Choices with Aysel

The story itself is pleasing – it smacks of a 90’s anime and hits all my nostalgia love – but the writing is where some of the “First Time” mistakes start rearing their silly heads. It occasionally sounds unnatural and clunky, with sentence structure that made the perfectionist in me start twitching. The dynamics of the game were also rather strange, as the actions characters took weren’t always described very well. Funny enough, fights were accompanied by a smacking clip that sounded like they were getting into slap-fights constantly.

Cat Fight

CAT FIGHT!

But, I’d be remiss not to mention what was, salvageable from this game. The plot itself has a lot of replayability with two or sometimes three endings per character. And, while the effects were a bit lost in absurdity, I do applaud the game for having lots of movement to it, be it moving sprites or blood spatter. I can see the beginnings here of what made me love Heartstring Bugs, and I’d much rather have an intricate read than a generic one.

 

  • Art

 

And now we get to the part where I have to take away points. Since this was the first VN for Unbroken Hours, and the debut for artist VenusEclipse, it’s expected that the art won’t be professional grade. I was pleasantly surprised at the backgrounds, which were very oil-painting-like and beautiful, but I was very disappointed with the sprites. What they had in expression and pose variation, they lost for looking skewed with awkward proportions.

Frozen Art

That being said, you have to fall before you fly. Artist VenusEclipse has gotten much better, and I highly recommend checking out their DeviantArt page. If they were willing to update the art for the game with the talent they display now, I’d be willing to pay money to see it.

 

  • Romances

Rune

Rune

 

Rune is one of the first bodyguards you meet. He’s a bit uptight and super protective, demanding that you remain in your created realm for all eternity strictly for his own sake. He has nothing but disdain for the outside world and wishes to remain in your peaceful, everlasting realm to sleep… and sleep… and sleep some more…

But, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Rune’s obsession with peaceful slumber – and overall hatred for life – has some damn good reasons and I won’t spoil any of it, because it is pretty fascinating, but I can safely say Rune earns his spot as the longest story in the entire game. It’s an intense, but time-consuming path, but it’s well worth the play.

 

 

Caius

Caius

 

Ah, the bad boy, and super popular with the fans. It’s just a shame I could barely stand him.

Caius is dangerous, no ifs or buts. He was a former assassin who kinda got tricked into being your bodyguard and he’s not happy about it. He enjoys seeing people sad and/or in pain and can’t fathom why in the world anyone would worry about him or show any kind of attachment. That won’t stop him from using said feelings to his advantage and, predictably, falling head-over-heels in a real sudden fashion. And I do mean sudden, as Caius’s fall from Jackasshood seems awful quick.

I was never into the “tame the bad-boy” routes in these games, so I was more annoyed by Caius than anything. I found his antics grating and that sudden turnaround rather amusing. I think he’d make a better impression if he had more character development or if more time were devoted to him slowly being socialized. He still wouldn’t quite be my type, but at least it wouldn’t give me mood-whiplash.

 

Varian

Varian

 

When you do decide to step outside into the big bad outside world, you’re rescued by a strange-looking fellow hanging around your realm and an Inn in the southern continent. He’s on the persnickety side and seems to be constantly busy, so interacting with him is a bit difficult. But if you can – and I highly suggest it – you’ll see that something clearly has him conflicted. This man, who holds his morals so dear, who truly wants to be the hero of the world, looks like he’s suffering from quite the inner struggle. And it all has to do with you.

Writing-wise, I was very impressed with Varian’s route. He displays the kind of character development I think Caius was missing, making his eventual “epiphany” at a later date much smoother and more realistic. While there were still points that could be smoothed out, I can safely say that Varian as a character was a well-written example of just how skilled Unbroken Hours can be with making likable people.

 

Aurelius

Aurelious

 

Speaking of likable people, I want you to meet my second-favorite route of the game. Aurelius is one of the Hex-Guardians, people who watch over the five hex spheres that keep balance in the world. He’s one of the more popular ones, here at the glorious Sapphire Festival to bring gifts from his home-kingdom of Luveria, where he finds himself drawn to the dark, foreboding aura around Mina. He pledges that he will lift it from her and make her the happiest woman possible and he’s not taking no for an answer.

Aurelius hits what I have dubbed the “Tamaki-Suoh Sweet Spot.” For those who haven’t seen Ouran Host Club, this is when a character is, indeed, flirty and thick as a brick, but is genuine in their want to help people and just doesn’t really know any better. It’s really the only way I can like any kind of Charmer Path and I found it oddly satisfying to see the White Knight played straight.

 

Secret Path – Oracle

Oracle

 

But let’s say for a second that none of the above appealed to you. Caius is a jerk; Rune is grumpy; Aurelius is a flirt, and Varian is whiny. That just leaves you to trust your Oracle, that dark shadowy figure that’s been keeping secrets from you, with an unhealthy obsession with keeping you in your realm. Can you really trust this loyal but risky fifth party?

Asi t turns out, yes, because you’ll finally learn what started this whole mess if you do. Once again, the secret path turned out to be the best part of this entire game as it gives you all the answers and provides you a unique romantic interest. If you wanna find out just how deep this rabbit hole goes, give this one a try. Be aware that this will be a lengthy exposition-dump.

 

Death

Death

 

Or, you know what? Screw all of them. You are death incarnate, should you so choose. And maybe it’s about time you exacted some revenge on the group that put you inside that crystal in the first place?

In short, you have the option to say “screw the world, I have evil,” and give into Mina’s dangerous powers. It’s very rare that a game gives you the option to be a total badass/villain at the end of the game and it’s insanely fun. But I would only do so after exploring all the other options.

 

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

For all of its faults – and there are several –  I did enjoy playing Frozen Essence. I can see the seeds that led Unbroken Hours to become as good as they are now, and the story was good enough that what did go wrong can be brushed off.

Next Time: Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town.

-Announcement: This part of the blog will be moved into the rotation of Saturday posts. This is not only to accommodate the large project I’m about to embark on but to allow for more time to cover more extensive games and for new ones to come out. Thank you to my readers for their patience and understanding.

 

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Death of Long Anime?

I wanna take you all back, yet again, to ye olden days of early anime. I’m sure many an 80’s and 90’s child can recall spending months upon months on the likes of Dragon Ball Z, G-Gundam, and other such long shows. The kind of TV that used to keep you glued to your couch day after day, ensuring that money would be coming in and more content would be coming out.

And now it seems like that kind of anime may be going the way of the dodo bird.

Someone queried the Answerman about how long anime appear to be happening less and less on the scene. Answerman gives a great explanation of what’s going on behind the scenes financially, link here if you wanna read it. But I decided I’d like to focus on what could be happening with us, the lovely audience, that could be shaping this change.

Because, at the end of the day, we direct what we consume.

So, do I think long anime aren’t around thanks to changing financial landscapes? I believe they play a part, but that those changing landscapes came from a different type of audience.

 

  • We’re Smarter and Less Receptive to Filler.

 

I’ve always believed that the worst thing anyone could do to a story is stretch it past the natural ending. But, back in the day, doing just that was a fairly common occurrence. Now… well, now we tend to spot that a million miles away.

Back, useless story, BACK!

That’s right; we are, collectively, better at spotting when filler episodes rear their ugly heads. The idea of filling your anime with episodes that do nothing for the overall plot is now considered lazy, and an overpopulation of it becomes the Kiss of Death. Word spreads that the show has lots of filler and you can bet the view count will take a kamikaze dive.

Even the likes of One Piece has some filler to it – a risk given the insane length of the show – and fans don’t put up with it much anymore. It’s a bad move, but a necessary evil when you just can’t keep up with the manga.

 

  • Binge Culture

 

Though, if you really wanna get down to brass tacks, I believe the real culprit for a lack of longer anime is our streaming-services and how often we’re encouraged to devote a day to devouring television.

All the anime at my weird fingertips

A loooong time ago, pirating had a different means than it does now. Back in ye olde 80s and 90s, you were only gonna get your anime if you were a proper nerd: tuning into Toonami at, like, 1 am or knowing a guy who knows a guy who can get you video cassettes from Japan. Now, you can just jump on Netflix, Crunchyroll or some other streaming service and watch all those shows you missed as a kid and the new ones that roll out. But, as a consequence of this freedom of information spread, we’re encouraged to sit down and watch almost all of it in one or three sittings.

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And you’d think this would have the opposite effect and make them want more long anime, but how many people are gonna sit down and watch 80+ episodes in a binge session? The likes of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon and other Monster of The Week anime would never survive this rapid-fire culture we have now.  

 

 

  • So What Do We Have Instead?

 

As much as the landscape for anime has changed, this is far from a death knell for large-size anime. On the contrary, I believe there’s a golden opportunity if writers and producers can get extra creative.

If you just look around, you’ll note that anime with long lists of episodes haven’t vanished; they simply changed their formula to reflect the changing times. Shows like D-Grey Man and Attack on Titan do their best to stray away from the Monster Of The Week Formula and, instead, give the audience small chunks of a huge, overarching plot. By taking small plot points and expanding them, they manage to stretch a show out to several episodes and, most of the time, avoid making the audience feel like their time is being wasted. Granted you’ll still find filler episodes here and there – occasionally more often than any of us would want – but the majority of time is devoted to fleshing out a multifaceted plot. This was the key that made shows like One Piece so interesting back in the day, mainly that they just broke a very intricate story down into small, digestible chunks.

Not that that stopped it from filler. *sigh*

In short, I don’t feel long-standing anime are dying; I think anime with thin plots and lots action are dying. The creators are just following the flow of their audience and making their plots more complicated/convoluted to keep those dollars coming in rather than throwing out random fights with non-important mooks.

Do you think long anime are going bye-bye? Feel free to comment below! And don’t forget to like and follow for more content like this.

Otome Review: Monstrata Fracture

There’s a strange fascination within the Otome community: dating dangerous monsters.

This isn’t too surprising when you consider the popularity of the vampire romance genre (which has come to completely take over teen novels these days) but I never thought it would stretch out past Edward Cullen. And, while this particular type of story does remain a niche market, the wish-fulfillment is pretty easy to see. Danger + Exotic Partners + safe environment will always sell.

In that vein, I have found a game that, when finished, promises to be like What’s Your Name. Monstrata Fracture is a game of dating dangerous monsters…. and that’s about it.

 

  • Plot

 

Nameless Character (whom I will call A-Ko because obscure anime joke) is starting her/his/their new life as a college student on the very wrong foot. The main campus burned down a day ago and now you have to attend class in a creepy old castle. And, because things like this never end well, you also start to notice that some of your fellow students look… odd. And by “odd,” I mean blue-skinned with seaweed in their hair or lots of colorful wings.

Nik&Celion

 

A quick call to talk to your professional witch father reveals that humans and monsters technically live side-by-side, but a magical barrier keeps humans from seeing them.  To keep the barrier going, humans just refuse to interact with them and, eventually, stop seeing them altogether. The shield will continue as long as everyone agrees to keep playing ignorant, but it looks like A-Ko is too smitten by a few of them to listen.

 

  • Gameplay

 

When I started up this game, I came in expecting something that went full parodic horror. The game’s itchio page details a tongue-in-cheek experience, but what I got was far tamer than expected. After you name your character (and select your gender, or lack thereof), you’re thrust straight into the creepy castle where you meet your three monster-mash candidates. As you’re introduced to all three, one at a time, you have the option to hang out with one, all, or none

Hang Out

The game takes you on at least one date with each option before coming to an end, but I found myself uninterested in the full game. The description of the game implied a level of self-aware absurdist humor that the real game didn’t follow through on. In fact, the whole “date a monster” bit was played pretty straight; your character genuinely finds these characters intriguing. I’d have preferred the game to dive in completely, playing up the strangeness for laughs or going straight into Otome Parody. The story is hampered by the game being a demo certainly, but it could benefit from some tongue-in-cheek.

Skeleton Fetish

It may also just be me. Feel free to point out anything I’m missing.

That being said, the writing does do a great job at creating some unique characters. Dealing with monsters has great narrative potential and the author did flex their creative muscles. I like the idea of “created monsters” suffering social ostracization in the monster community, narrative-wise, and I love the fact that each date has a personality that’s distinct. I may not like one of those romance options, but I would never accuse these characters of all being badly written.

 

  • Art

 

For what complaints I have about the game, I was mighty impressed with the overall art. These colors are gorgeous and bright, giving us an entire rainbow. And those backgrounds have this lovely brushed pastel look that’s really pleasing to the eyes.

MonstraArt

The fact that each dateable option looks unique is a major bonus. The one thing I didn’t like, and the creators have addressed this, is the lack of expressions on the sprites. Jams don’t add much time to add variation in the faces of the sprites, so that should be fixed eventually.

 

  • Romances:

Nickoli

Nick

 

Beautiful and rather mean, Nickoli is what they call an “Alkonost,” or an avian type creature. He’s sporting some pretty plumage and seems to be the type to move fast. But this kind of playboy, with this much disregard for people’s feelings, could prove himself to be dangerous. It doesn’t help that his family has some very strong political connections and a whole lot of money.

What also doesn’t help is that Nicki here is bloated, stuck up, and clearly sporting the “spoiled rich guy” attitude. All the above is a major turn-off, so I would only hope the story goes into changing all of the above. If not, then all I see is a pretty chicken with an attitude problem.

 

Cailean

Cel

 

Blue-Boy is a Kelpie, a Scottish shape-shifter that normally appears as a horse-like creature. Since these creatures were rumored to reside in Scottish “lochs,” the seaweed in the hair is a lovely touch. However, whereas most Kelpies were rumored to prey on humans, this one would be too shy to say “hello.” He seems downright kind and friendly, in fact. But this sweet little seahorse seems to have a more dangerous family, a family he warns you to stay away from. Is this the danger I was promised?

I’d like to think so, though the demo doesn’t offer much insight otherwise. Cailean seems like a run of the mill shy guy, which usually has to work a little harder to win me over. That being said, seeing that seven-foot tall brother who may eat me would be a plus in this path since the boy in question seemed as harmless as a fly.

 

Deka

Deka

 

Deka the skeleton is one of many “created” monsters, mainly creatures who were artificially made from magic. Other monsters subject created creatures to a great deal of racism, or at least that’s the impression I got, so Deka here is quite lucky. They have a job as a cleaner for the university and get free tuition as a bonus. From what I gather, Deka hopes to better understand the cultural impact of magic-made monsters and mentions how they’re becoming rarer and rarer in this age. After all, it’s much easier to stop creating them than to give them the same rights as everyone else.

Truthfully, I find myself very interested in this story. Deka’s pretty adorable and theirs is the only path to hint at dark rumors of dangerous necromancers and creepy happenings. If I did seek this game out on completion, I can safely say this would be the path I’d be most curious about.

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

In the end, I don’t think I’ll be keeping a lookout for this one. While I liked the characters, and while I’m sure the full game will uphold its promises of possible character death, I found the game too straightforward. The description on their page hints at more parodic writing that I just didn’t see and the straightforward approach it took just didn’t do it for me. If I’m going to play anything featuring mythical monsters, I prefer to play with real danger and some well-placed comedy.

 

Next Time: Frozen Essence

My Favorite Upcoming Anime (2018)

One of the first things I like to do around January is check out anime news network’s “Upcoming Anime list,” and other similar websites. For, while it’s true that I am perpetually playing catch up with shows I should have already seen, I also like to track down new material to watch. There’s something oddly satisfying about tracking down where a new show’s gonna be streaming, watching the episodes as they air, and then waiting in sheer anticipation for the next air. It’s nostalgic for me, like those days when I woke up extra early to catch the latest Sailor Moon.

And ho boy, am I excited for this year. Buried within the normal crop of magical girl/slice of life anime are a quite a few series that left me jumping for joy.

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On that note, I figured I’d share which titles caught my attention the most. These are my favorites from the list of upcoming anime, be it for nostalgic reasons, favorite genres, or continuations that I am damn impatient about. This is not an exhaustive list, but definitely an itinerary as I go forward.

  • Junji Ito “Collection” (Yesterday)

Let me tell you about a man named Junji Ito and how I gained some interesting nightmares.

I hadn’t heard of the famed horror mangaka for quite some time, blissfully remaining under a rock, until about three years ago when I discovered the horror that was Uzumaki. I claim not to be an expert – been too much of a chicken to try – but I adored the surreal, uncanny valley artwork I saw in Uzumaki. That, combined with the downright sadistic stories Ito wrote, made it a fun and frightening read. Dare I say, it made for quite the twisted experience?

But this year I have a chance at redemption, to look at the horrifying sketchbook of the master. Studio Dean will be adapting stories from the Ito’s Master Collection book and Fragments of Horror. The first episode premiered yesterday, and they’ve got eleven more to go alongside two OVAs.

I’ll be watching that one when Crunchyroll feels merciful… or awful, depending on your viewpoint.

  • Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc (January 7th, 2018)

I was through the roof when I heard about Sailor Moon Crystal, several years ago. It was a heavy Nostalgia OD to see my longtime hero recolored and repackaged for the new audience and, while I can’t say it’s a perfect revamp, I heavily enjoyed what I saw. And now, another gem from my childhood is due for a dusting off.

 I started watching what I knew as Cardcaptors around the time Sailor Moon left cartoon network, solidifying my love of the magical girl genre. Now, CLAMP is all set to animate the sequel Manga, “The Clear Card Arc,” about twenty years later.  While I can’t say for sure that this type of show would still appeal to me today without any kind of childhood memories attached to it, I can say that I find myself extra curious about how this anime will go. 

Mmmmm, I can feel the cute dripping off it.
  • Castlevania Season 2 (TBA as of Today)

 

Y’all remember my two posts on Castlevania The Anime? I was skeptical about the existence of this show if only because Castlevania’s early games were never very story-heavy, and later story-heavy games were heavily convoluted. Lo and behold, the man behind Red and Stranger Things delivered yet again and gave us a hilarious, gory and downright epic anime for about four episodes.

Fans were left begging for more after this mini-preview, and more they shall have. Since the first four episodes were so well-received there will be a definite sequel season this year, though no date as of yet has been released. This is one I am extremely excited for myself, as I was mighty impressed with how lore-friendly the anime was overall. Gimme more magic, more Trevor being a badass, and more Old School Alucard and I will be a happy camper.

One of the prettiest men in-game is bad-ass. That’s just made of win.
  • Shingeki No Kyojin (Attack on Titan) Season Three (July 2018)

Strap yourself down this summer, kiddies, because the madness is not over.

Attack on Titan is one of those odd shows I was unsure if I’d like; everyone described it as part drama part horror., not a common mix. But upon watching the first seven episodes, I knew I was in for a good time. The show has no qualms about showing both the psychological horror associated with being hunted by giant creatures AND the graphic horror that would come with it. After two seasons of blood, sweat, and character death, we’re gonna have to steel ourselves for round three.

Now, fans of the series will approach this news with excitement, but also with a little skepticism. After all, last year we suffered quite a bit of delay with the second season of the show, to the point where it became an internet joke that the show would never actually see airtime. But, thankfully, it pulled itself out of development limbo and I’m sure this one will do the same. In fact, as long as all of these shows can get that hard takeoff, I can predict some relatively smooth sailing.

 

Which anime are you looking forward to? Feel free to share in the comments below. And don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

 

Otome Review: Memory Days

Happy 2018, darling readers! It’s time to wipe the slate clean, start fresh… so let’s take a trip down memory lane.

All joking aside, I decided (somewhere in my fever-induced haze this last week) that the best way to bring in the new year and get the reviews going again was to pick the game that returned me to the genre as a whole. There was a point when I had actually gotten bored with most of the free-to-play Otome games that were floating around the internet and had actually given them a long break. Then, I decided to check Pacthesis out, just on a whim, and she’d made something completely different from her normal formula.

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This is Memory Days, an Otome on the web that broke a lot of standards for her games and refreshed me on the idea of how these kinds of titles should work.

  • Plot

Strange things happen in West Cigam, from aliens to ghosts. And while Protagonist Ai Tanaka (or Hana, as I decided to name her) experienced very little of this during her summer vacations there, she still feels quite attached to the city. So she’s pretty thrilled when her family finally moves there for good. In the midst of catching up to a lot of old faces from her past, she may realize that the strange parts of West Cigam may include some more subtle things as well, like forming her own love story right under her nose.

Intro

And, well, that’s it. From there, it all depends on which of the three eligible bachelors you choose. And even then, what differs is almost minuscule. I have to say that, with everything this game got right, I found that the story was a rather underwhelming experience, sans a few instances of weird Pacthesis style humor here and there.

  • Gameplay

But where this game may have been light on story, it made up for by introducing gameplay elements that were pretty innovative when compared to her usual forte.  But first, we start with some familiar territory.

Mainly, we have a certain amount of energy each day that we can spend on various activities, regaining it when we go to bed. This includes working, studying for tests and attending class. However, these will also drain your “mood” meter, which makes you less willing to do the less pleasant activities the lower it gets. You can raise your mood, thankfully, by watching movies, reading books, and other such things. If you need more energy before bedtime, there’re places to buy food.

FastFood

But all this is accomplished because you now have access to a town that feels so much bigger. Back in her normal games, Pacthesis would usually provide one tiny hub screen with a few locations to visit. This time around, we have one large hub that connects to several areas in the game, a feat that somehow makes the whole town of West Cigam feel bigger. On top of that, our “schedule” dynamic has improved significantly from before. Instead of a one-month relationship that you have to rush to make work, you have four weeks that represent the four different seasons in Cigam, meaning you spend a whole year on this endeavor. It gives a sense of progression rather than a set time limit and it’s very satisfying.

 

Calender

Oh, but I know why you’re here. Indeed, the dating mechanic is still around, but far simpler than it used to be. Now, if you want the cute boy, you just gotta remember to track him down and chat with him as much as possible. Most of the time, you’ll get the usual schtick, where you pick one of two responses to earn some points towards their ending but, occasionally, you’ll trigger an important event in their story that you need to participate in for the best ending. Eventually, you’ll hit the event that will allow you two to become a couple, so that you can spend holidays together and go on on-screen dates for more points. You still have to remember to get gifts, but now there’s no need to memorize which one they specifically want AND no need to buy a bunch for that date.

 

Chat

  • Art

The art in most Pacthesis games has always been a curious experience. It’s anime-inspired – that much can never be denied- and the fact that her games are made in flash does place some limits on shading and fleshing out. That being said, I did always find her bishounen guys appealing and the little chibi sprites have their appeal as well.

Cutscene

I did find a few moments in the game, however, where perspective was a tad skewed. The head-size to body-size ratio was off a few times, but not enough to make the experience as a whole damaged.

  • Romances

Kai Utsugi

Kai

 

Kai is an odd addition to our journey here. Longtime fans may not recognize him without his crazy mop of hair, but he actually appeared in one of Pacthesis’s joke games way back in the day and just so happens to be the brother of Mako, the soccer-obsessed boy from Festival Days. He’s had a rough time of things after losing both his father and his cousin (Xolga). And yet, he’s managed to keep a decently happy mood about him and remains one of the more upfront and honest students in the school. He was looking to become a journalist, hopefully finding out what caused his cousin to vanish. But his plans may very well change when he starts getting oh so close to his new protagonist buddy.

Kai’s whole theme is the idea that he doesn’t beat around the bush with what he wants, given that he knows it could vanish at any point. I do feel him being the assertive, go-getter of the group could have been pushed much harder though, and his sensible personality did taste a bit bland on occasion. Still, his storyline is sympathetic enough that I found the flavor to my liking eventually.

 

Daichi Tomo

Daichi

 

On the opposite end of sensible and easy-going, we have manic optimistic and sporadic. Daichi is the Already Spoken For Guy that occasionally pops up in most dating sims but, like all of them, the relationship comes crashing down. It was bound to happen, according to him, because he didn’t take the relationship seriously. It doesn’t take too long for him to move onto you next, springing his feelings on you out of the blue and overall being extremely pushy. But he’s clearly putting lots of time and thought into spending time with you, so maybe this is when things finally change.

Of course, they do, not that I’m complaining. Daichi’s a funny and energetic character, so his path certainly kept me from being bored. I didn’t latch onto his character so well, mainly in that I felt his conflict was kinda pushed aside for the sake of smiles, but I can say that anyone who has a taste for bright-eyed optimism will certainly find a home here.

 

Haru Noru

Haru

 

Our last candidate is a standard for Pacthesis games – the shy but adorable boy in glasses. He’s also another continuity branch from Festival Days as he’s the half-brother of Akito, the cafe boy. Their father owns said cafe and Haru believes that he still clearly loved Akito’s mother more than he does Haru’s, which weighs heavily on his mind. As such, he tends to read and keep to himself most of the time until protagonist de jour comes and does what she does best: drag him out of the shadow and give him something to really stutter about.

Haru’s story is sympathetic and sweet, and he himself is pretty damn cute. But I was never really all that pulled in by shy types, or shy characters, so I never really latched onto him either. I feel for the boy and enjoyed the dialogue branches with him well enough, but he ranked lower on the totem for me overall.

  • Final Thoughts

The story in memory-days is extremely slice of life and that alone usually isn’t enough to pull me in. But I was so impressed at the time by the scale and appearance overhaul of the game that I kept going and found an enjoyable experience. This was the game that encouraged the creator to explore and try new styles with their future projects and, for that, it has my respect.

 

Next Time:  Monstrata Fracture

My 2018 Anime Resolutions

The old year has finally shuffled off its mortal…mortal-ish coil and slunk off into History’s Hall’s. 2018 will soon be upon us, a chance for a new start. And I got to start my new year with the influenza virus from Hell. What a way to start.

It is also my excuse for why we’re a day late. My bad.

So, while I try to recover and get back to regular breathing status, it’ll be about time for you to start thinking about what promises you’ll make while super drunk. Some of you may even avoid the alcohol and take those new year’s resolutions extra seriously. I personally see it as a chance to set some new goals for the year and that includes my little blog here on the internet

So, these are my new resolutions for the Otaku-don as we enter the new year, and anime as a whole. My 2018 Anime Resolutions promise more content, experimentation, and judgment aplenty.

Party on and don’t get dead!
  1. WATCH. MORE. ANIME.

Yeah, this sounds like it should be a given. But my track record for keeping up with new anime has shown that I am super slow on the upkeep.

The problem mainly stems from some ADD issues, but it’s fair to say that it takes me awhile to get around to watching shows, even when I like it. I have work and so many other things I like to do that watching a show for a review, or even for pleasure, sometimes takes a backseat to that new video game I gotta play for the Otome review or that new video by a YouTuber I totally haven’t been stalking.

Well, not in the legal sense. But I MAY hang around a channel or three….

But seriously, I miss those days from high school where you sat down and watched the entire Arlong Saga from One Piece in a single sitting because you were avoiding your homework. I’m going to make a conscious effort this year to sit back and relax more, kicking up some Nana or Ancient Magus Bride along the way.

Speaking of Shojo vs Shonen….

2. Explore Genres I Tend to Ignore

So, hey, you may recall a while back when I did a post about how Chobits Changed My Anime Experience. Mainly, I watched a show that featured lots of sexual innuendo, Real Robots (™), Magical Girlfriend Tropes, and some harem elements. Nothing about that list had appealed to me before – in fact, the likes of Tenshi Muyo turned me off harem completely  – but I watched this particular show because people who equally disliked those things told me the show was really freakin good. They were right and my entire landscape changed.

I appreciated the show’s sense of humor about its blatant moments of accidental perversion.

It’s time I shake off what makes me nervous about other anime genres and get some new titles under my boots. I’d have missed out on one of the sweetest shoes ever had I let the harem tags scare me away from Chobits and I need to remember to give every show the same fair chance. There’s no reward if there are no risks.

  1. Hold the Terrible To The Fire

And, as I venture into the unknown, my final resolution is to not be as forgiving as I’ve been before. As I explore genres I’m normally not used to, this means that a few of them will be fantastic and others will be… horrific.

Some things were doomed from the start

But I enjoyed the brief times I got to sink my teeth into a real stinker, so I vow this year to watch more and hold more terrible shows to the flames, as they deserve. Because it seems people enjoy seeing a furious reviewer more than a happy one, and what I want more than anything is to keep people happy. So,I hope that your joy comes from either finding a new series or seeing me suffer. Happy new year, fellow Otaku; let the good shows roll.

 

First Impressions: The Ancient Magus Bride

It is very rare for a show to catch me off-guard so. It’s also rare to find a female-led shonen series with such a heavy emphasis on, of all things, a fantastical romance.

But that is exactly what we have here today, much to my shock and pleasure. It’s time to sit down and finally address the new elephant in the anime room, which has managed to gain a very faithful following in the span of a handful of episodes. Ancient Magus Bride, based off the manga of the same name by Kore Yamazaki, looks to prove itself to be a shatterer of expectations and one hell of a ride through romance, magic, and Faerie. The ongoing series is too short to warrant itself a full review, but first impressions prove the show to be poignant and charming.

What would you do if you had no family, friends, or anything else to live for? Chise Hatori, fifteen, decides that her only course of action is to willingly sign her life away to a private auction, ready to finally find a perch with the highest bidder. But she avoids being the new playtoy of some rich pervert when a strange, non-human figure plops down a big ole’ check. His name is Elias Ainsworth, a non-human mage looking for an apprentice and a future bride.

And from then on out, we fall down a vast rabbit hole. Chise has always known she was more than a human since she can see all kinds of fairy creatures, but it turns out she’s a specific kind of mage capable of producing magic at a damaging rate. But, unfortunately, it means a good deal of magical creatures are attracted to her, some with foul intent. She’s in for a wild ride in training to use magic like a true mage, a ride full of tricky fairies, “fertile” fair queens, playful dragons, and so much more. All the while, a strange spark begins to take shape between Chise and her new husband-to-be, one that may surprise them both.

If you come into this series expecting a cute romance story with lots of magic, you’ll find yourself more than satisfied. However, if you expected that magic to resemble anything Disney has given us about fairies in the last ten years – cute, good, wholesome, all that – then you will find yourself traumatized and crying in a corner. The first five episodes of this show make it very clear that we are dealing with old-fashioned versions of the Fair Folk, the kind who kidnapped children and shot arrows of rheumatism. None of the creatures are inherently good or evil; they’re capricious and do what they selfishly want. It’s quite refreshing, though it sometimes leads to disturbing places.

Despite all that, I never would have believed this show was a shonen series for all the pretty and downright adorable people and creatures it’s populated with. Fairy creatures who get to look cute and adorable fulfill their purpose to be so, unabashedly. And our main character, Chise, radiates moe so bad it’s no wonder the “emotionless” Elias feels so protective of her so soon. But the more I examined the eleven available episodes, the more I realized that the shonen is under the skin. Chise is very much an underdog, on a big fantastical quest to become something remarkable, and there’s a far greater focus on action than drama. There’s plenty of drama to be had, mind you – and romance aplenty – but it looks like Yamazaki is really good at dressing it up with action and horror. Combine that with the semi-distressed damsel and I can easily see what would draw younger boys to the show.

But what I adore about this show more than anything is how the characters in this show bounce off each other so well. Besides Chise and Elias having a growing relationship that continues to be adorable, their experiences with other characters are equally compelling and entertaining. If it isn’t the wise Lindel catching Chise off-guard and proving himself to be quite the smart-ass, then it’s Elias being rather childish with people he claims to like, such as Angelica, and their oddly parental response to him. Furthermore, watching Chise as a person grow thanks to the people around her has been, as of this point, truly captivating.

Take note. It’s important for any story to remember that there are other important characters besides the love-interests.

My First Impressions of Ancient Magus Bride are good ones: It’s deceptively cute with lots of whimsy, but with just enough danger and darkness to bring in the shonen crowd. I predict a big reveal about our “magus”  – who’s barely aware of what he is anyway – and some substantial personal growth for our main couple. More faeries, more danger, and learning more about the sorcerer whom I predict will be the antagonist.

Otome Review: The Thing With Mistletoes

I tend to play the games of all creators completely out of order. This is mostly on accident – random selection and all – but this is also somewhat on purpose. Because this isn’t about creating a profile of any ole author; this is about looking at the game by itself. The only hiccup with this is that it tends to leave me criticizing the first game of a creator as if it were their most recent one, especially when I really like their later works.

Lucy Sacrifice

Oh Hanako Games, I’m so sorry…

But first times are always supposed to be terrible; it’s the only way to improve. So, let me make it very clear that, in criticizing Ran’s The Thing With Mistletoes, I come from a place of absolute love of her game Once Upon a Hallow’s Eve. She got better; she got loads better, but her first stab was cringy.

  • Plot

Lumina Duval lives in what I think is France; no establishing remarks are really ever made and we only have small snippets of French to distinguish. At 17, she’s left behind to watch her little brother while her parents go on a business/pleasure trip without them. Lumina is doing… something important (cooking, I think) and her brother is being a nuisance by playing video games. When she tries to do what my folks always did – i.e unplug it – her brother pushes her out the door and tells her to take a walk.

Kicked Out Again

If I could get away with that with my older brothers, ho boy…

But lo, Lumina has made a terrible mistake, for children have been vanishing in Local Neighborhood #23 and now, poor Vincent has become another victim. I’m expected to believe that Useless Police can’t do anything until he’s been missing for 48 hours (even though real police start street-combing after the child’s been missing for one hour) and so she’s gotta hit the streets with her friends to find him. Will they find him before certain doom? And will Lumina’s mistletoe obsession ever become important to the plot?

  • Gameplay

Gameplay-wise, we have nothing to really stand out. You make choices at a few points in the story that dictate which guy you’ll be chasing and, hopefully, guide you towards the happy ending. But the game did one strange thing where it asks you to play each path twice before it gives you a kiss CG and a happy ending. Considering most people will just skip ahead and make the same decisions as last time, I really don’t see how this changes anything.

Choices

Comic sans?! NOOOO-!

Furthermore, I really wouldn’t want to replay any paths on this game if I didn’t have to; had I not been doing a review, I probably would have played it once and called it done. The story is far from compelling, with characters that feel flat, writing that’s super clunky, and a fanfic feel without the presence of original work. The romantic situations are hackyned with little to compensate, and the random bouts of French language are jarring. 

All this may have only been a small pain if Lumina’s dialogue had been more natural – or if anyone’s had been. Everyone talks in a way that feels either repetitive or generic to their personality; Clarissa is the pretty girl, so she’s vain, and other things like that. There’s a lot of surface level things here with no real depth or substance to them, but I can see the attempts. I think it laid the groundwork for Hallow’s Eve and I can respect that. Though I’ve come to realize I may be playing too many of these.

Same Arcade

I’m starting to recognize backgrounds
  • Art

Oh, I’m not looking forward to this.

The game makes use of stock photos, so we have no background artist. Our sprites and single CG’s, however, come from an artist named Hapuki, whose site has little for me to browse. What a quick google search has told me is that she’s good at drawing anthro-animals. This game, however, does not display good sprite work:

Doesn’t even remotely match

The CG’s look fine, strangely, but the sprites have these large heads and anime eyes that just look super alien-esque. Lumina herself is a huge offender here, with a face that isn’t all that expressive.  

  • Romances

Jake Buckley

Jake

 He’s the bad boy, except he’s not… that’s about it.

The idea of breaking an “Otome Stereotype” is admirable and employed in other places. But, here, it’s so hamfisted it may as well be a sledge hammer. Jake is not a Bad Boy, he’s just an aloof geek with no family to spend time with, and the story reminds us of this over and over.

As for Jake himself, I found him boring. He was supposed to be contrarian but nice, but his corrections and care-free attitude came across to me as monotone and confusing. We see next to nothing about what’s going on in Jake’s life and we don’t get to know him enough for me to think a romance is warranted.

Landice Rosenfeld

Landice

Childhood Best Friend is back and I still don’t find him all that appealing. Even less so here, where he seems to lack a spine AND speaks random German. You’ve known each other forever, and have so obviously been crushing on each other that the “I can’t date him, he’s my best friend!” line didn’t work on me at all.

Landice’s path is a strange one. You’re supposed to be taught that he’s actually the one taking care of Lumina, despite being shy and easily startled, but the “soft-guy is tough” approach just didn’t come through. I’m already not the biggest fan of the Childhood Friend option; this didn’t make a convincing case to change my mind.

 

Gabriel and Daniel Laurent

So, hey, while Officer Laurent is looking for your brother, how about hanging with one of his sons? Alas, ladies, there will be no twin-double dates here as this path specifically makes you choose between the two brothers. We’re presented with Gabby, the “tough” twin, and Danny, the “nice one,” but apparently those get reversed to prove that, once again, preconceptions are wrong.

Either way, I would still take  Ouran High School’s Hikaru and Kaoru over these two. They exist for shenanigans – as most twins in these kinds of games do – and watching them banter gets really confusing since no one indicates who’s talking and they can’t be told apart. Besides some bare-bones bits, the two are honestly similar enough that it would have been more efficient to condense them into one.

  • Final Thoughts

It’s clear I didn’t like The Thing With Mistletoes. The story trudged; the characters came and went, and everything was basically shoe-string bare-minimum. However, as much really dislike it, I see it as a necessary evil for the author to get better. We have to build on the bones of our first attempts to become great at anything, which means we gotta fall flat on our face first. And lo, we did – with some really bland results.

*Due to the holiday season, I am taking a short hiatus from doing reviews on Otome games. There will be no post next week. Happy Holidays everyone, and see you again soon.

What Anime Taught Me About Storytelling

There are certain drawbacks to being a writer. It lends a certain amount of genre savviness that makes it that much harder to sit down and be surprised as the plot unfolds. It’s why I’ve enjoyed anime so much since it allows me to sit back and focus on the art. By doing that, I have a better chance of experiencing the plot.

But that art is still only a skin to the story, which stands as foundational bones of any anime.  And anime loves to bend the rules of plot-normalcy all the time, allowing for plot twists I hadn’t seen before. Or, if I could see it coming, some have the amazing ability to engross you so completely that it doesn’t even matter.  There are valuable lessons to be had within anime when it comes to telling a story and drawing an audience, and you can bet I’ve been taking notes.

  • Try Everything; They Will Come

I’ve said it so much now it may as well be my tagline: anime are the kings and queens of weird and unusual.

The beauty of the medium is that, as a tool, it gives creators the ability to try everything and anything when it comes to a story. Wanna make a computer that looks like a moe woman? Wanna create a squid that can walk on land as a human? Or how about giant monsters that eat humans for seemingly no reason? However strange and unusual you can go, anime lets you go there. And, what’s more, almost every time it has “gone there,” people have come in droves to see it.

Case in point: Space Dandy

Anime taught me not to be afraid of putting out content that may stray from the norm or be perceived as “weird.” The worry about who will read your work, who will watch your work, or who will take any kind of liking to it is strong within writers; it’s debilitating in a few cases. But anime makes it very clear that the key to most successes is just to create what works for you and others like you will follow.

  • You Can Tell a Great Story With or Without Stretching It

For some shows, the phrase “cash-cow” gets tossed around a lot. For others, they were here, then gone, leaving behind an underwhelmed audience who could have used more content. But the golden place to be is that story that’s either so large it needs a long time to explain itself or so tight and succinct it can give you a full range in sixty-four episodes.

The Brotherhood version of FMA has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen, so much so that any changes would hurt the plot overall. Brava, Arakawa-san.

The problem comes in when you try to tell a story beyond its natural stopping point. Naruto has been guilty of this since the end of the Akatsuki arc, and Bleach took its sweet time coming to an end long after anybody cared about its ginormous amount of characters. When you stretch a show past where it should have ended, and start putting in more filler than anyone wanted, you lose what drew people to the show in the first place in favor of a cash-grab. Or, worse yet, you stave off the ending with useless back and forth that doesn’t accomplish anything… Inuyasha.

“I seem to have lost the Shikon shards for the UMPTEENTH MILLION TIME.”

Balance is key, this I have learned. Take only as long as you need to tell your story, and no more. Because when you stretch the patience of your audience, they start looking for more entertaining places to be.

  • Anyone Can Be a Hero

Boy, shonen sure loves its underdog. And so does shojo, in a way.

Basically, anime loves to tell stories of strange heroes from improbable places, lifting up ragamuffins to badass levels in the blink of an eye, etc. Be it a little boy from a secluded island or a frightened and selfish crybaby schoolgirl, anime will find a way to turn them into the hero all of us secretly wish we could be. It is, in short, that which allows us to fantasize about being a badass despite our many issues.

But it isn’t always the underdog. Sometimes our hero is the supporting character who has been a minor liability. Sometimes it’s a scraggly looking insomniac already at the top of his game, or a greedy, perverted jerk who discovers the horror of the Japanese School system. Literally, any kind of character within anime can rise up to become a protagonist with the right writing. The many shows I’ve seen taught me that, with a flick of my pen, I can tell the story of anyone I see fit. There’s no need to sculpt a character that’s traditionally heroic when literally anyone can be in the spotlight.

  • But Everyone Can Be the Villain

Since I dropped a picture of everyone’s favorite, scraggly detective, that brings me nicely to my final point: He may be an unlikely hero, but no one is safe from being the villain. They can literally come from anywhere. 

Like one of my favorite books has always said, it only takes one bad day. Then, any and all kinds of people can go from your average citizen to a complete monster. Take, for example, the ever infamous Light Yagami from the awesome show, Death Note. While there are some that still argue whether or not he’s a “villain” there’s no mistaking his one event requirement – the falling of the death note – to start the change from grade-A student to master manipulator/chess player with a messiah complex.

Complete with evil laugh.

And so, in keeping the theme with the rest of the post, my final lesson was that I can make anyone my antagonist, be they self-righteous or loved by everyone around them. The most unlikely specimen can become the most feared character in the entire story.

In short, anime has taught me to go for it when it comes to telling a narrative. In a medium where anything can be good if handled with care, writers would take care to take notes from it. They know how to sell the strange and unusual, a solid skill for storytellers worldwide.

 

 

Otome Demo Review: An Otaku’s Guide To Santa’s Reindeer

It’s Christmas, kiddies! Or, at least very close to it.

My Christmas spirit is a tad wobbly, given my retail day-job, but I still manage to hold a soft spot for the more family-oriented parts of the holidays. Love, peace, and joy are still things I try to employ day-to-day and I enjoy my favorite holiday films. I’m picky about what I watch though. Nothing bores me worse than those hackneyed Hallmark films with no soul.

If I could put a word to these movies, it would be “plastic” but that’s another can of worms

But, hey, the one place I have yet to really explore anything Christmas-related is in my wish-fulfillment hobby. So, let us drift into the land of absolute insanity and play us a little demo: An Otaku’s Guide to Santa’s Reindeer.

  • Plot

Alice (or whatever you decide to call her) is the cloned child of two female scientists. They live at a lab in the middle of the North Pole where they study… something, we’re never really told. But we do catch them in the middle of an argument about the existence of magic. Mommy Tallest believes while Shorter Mommy is more scientifically pessimistic. While it doesn’t end with any hard feelings, Alice still decides to go for a walk to watch the Northern Lights. She gets caught in a blizzard, hits her head, and wakes up to… this.

Oh God XD

Oh dear, we’re really doing this

Yes, we’re in Santa’s Workshop and we’re introduced to Pretty-Boy and Pretty-Girl reindeer with gigantic antlers. They have to keep their unexpected guest here for an undisclosed amount of time due to an abnormal blizzard, which may be magical enough to threaten their home. She’ll have to be “guarded” by one of the reindeer. But oh, which one will it be? And will magic find a way to dating some of the most famous names in Christmas poetry?

  • Gameplay

Yes, dear readers. You will be dating the big eight reindeer AND the most famous reindeer of all. They will be turned into nine eligible bishounen and bishoujo (with a few older options as well) who just so happen to change into furry, magical animals. If that wasn’t weird enough for you, you are legitimately in Santa’s workshop; Santa and the elves are just off the premises at the mo. We have completely mixed christmas with Otome, going full-yuletide and wish-fulfillment.

Reindeer CG

And yet, I can’t help but be intrigued. Because, for as strange as the story is, the game is played very straight. Every so often, this fanfic-style madness will stop and ask your character to make decisions. The decisions have you spending time with different characters and I can only guess it builds on whose path you end up following. The demo ends at a point where it looks like you have to choose who you’ll be spending the most time with, which I can only assume is based on how much they liked you from previous choices.

Choices

Not only does the gameplay as normal, I did not find a shred of tongue-in-cheek with the actual story. The story itself is played completely straight, like some Christmas-themed anime, with only a mild acknowledgment that this is strange and bizarre. In fact, the whole damn theme of it is that “yes, this doesn’t make scientific sense – who cares?”

  • Art

The art is an interesting specimen this time around. We have three artists: King-sama and Glassheart on the backgrounds, Zino on the sprites. The backgrounds are lovely full-christmas scenes of Santa’s workshop and scenic snow. The sprites, however, were completely hit or miss.

CGOtaku

The eyes on these characters are strange and speak a little of the uncanny valley. Mind you, each sprite is easy to distinguish and very expressive – even at the sacrifice of attractiveness – but the tilt of some of the eyes just feels off.

  • Romance

Here we are folks – that which you’ve been waiting for: dating all the famous reindeer. And you know what? It’s gonna be weird, but not all that bad.

As I said, the story is played 100% straight but bent in a way that could be a pretty plausible Christmas anime. Through magic, these nine famous residents of the North Pole can go into human forms and each one has been given their own personalities, roles, and defining features.

 

I went in with the expectation that these characters were going to be drowning in Christmas Cliche: loving eggnog, snow, talking about being good for goodness sake, etc. But, instead, the characters above are about as dignified as their different personalities will allow. Listed in order from left to right, Dasher is the strong, fast racer with a big heart; Dancer has a femme fatale feel and may qualift as a “bombshell”; Prancer is the wise, older option and uncle to the others; Vixen is basically Pinkie-Pie, chaotically happy and “not okay”; Comet is a stick in the mud and rude jerk who tends to run the place; Cupid is a friendly, warm, magical fellow; Donder, not Donner, is a bad-boy who’s lewd and punkish; Blitzen is a spitfire, the opposite of ladylike; and Rudolph is the youngest, unsure of himself in every way.

I am honestly impressed by what little I saw of each. They avoided most, if not all, cliches they could have had and gave us something quite fantastical but familiar. It’s fun to read about how each of these characters bounce off each other, some clicking and others negating each other. I’m intrigued to see the final paths for each in the finished product, especially with the funny dialogue.

Feel my antlers

-And they snuck in some adult humor-

 

  • Final Thoughts

The demo for An Otaku’s Guide to Santa’s Reindeer is worth a play to whet the appetite. With a good hook for a plot and some funny characters to set loose, the game does a good job of setting its scene and promising a fun time for the final product. I will be looking into this one when finished and I encourage others to do so.

Next time: The Thing With Mistletoes