Friday, 2 November 2018

Yuri Game Jam 2015-2017 Visual Novels Retrospective, Part 1

Close to a year ago, I’ve published a top-list of my 5 favourites Juri Game Jam visual novels – a post that, in hindsight, was rather poorly thought-out and based on my, at the time, not-that-great knowledge on the event in question and the games that came out of it. While my appreciation for the game listed there didn’t change (just as my love for indie yuri games in general), I realized that both the “Top X” formula and the small selection of VNs presented there could not give justice to the quite impressive roster of titles produced for the YGJ over the years. While the Yuri Game Jam 2018 has recently ended and I’m (slowly) preparing my own summary of this year's edition of the event, it’s also a good moment to look back at the most popular and interesting titles that came out of previous ones – from highly-appreciated classics such as ebi-hime’s entries, all the way to various significantly less fortunate projects, which nonetheless played their parts in the history of yuri EVNs. Let's get started! 

The Victorian drama by ebi-hime is the best know and probably most-appreciated Yuri Game Jam entry – and not without good reasons. While short and, as a kinetic novel, following a purely linear formula, this tragic story offers excellent writing, emotionally impactful storytelling (with a "story within a story" structure) and a great aesthetic, all way above the levels you would normally see in an event like this. It also doesn't rely on shock value or leave the reader with a depressing conclusion – with all the titular sadness still in place, it's a relatively hopeful, touching story of love cut short by fate and a great reading experience – one which might have yuri romance as its main theme, but offers much more than just that.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

While extremely sweet when it goes to artstyle and even the main theme (which is, as the title suggest, candy), Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet by NomnomNami is a wonderful short story about prejudice and friendship, that delivers much more than its cutesy exterior might suggest. With well-written dialogues, charming atmosphere and cast of quirky characters it’s a great casual experience – in many ways a polar opposite of The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns, but equally worth reading. Also, with romance being implied rather than explicitly shown, it can appeal to anyone looking for a funny, warm story, rather than just fans of the genre.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Simple, but unpretentious and well-written game with a very original, “crude” artstyle. Despite it having a non-human cast (with a werewolf protagonist and two heroines being a nymph and a succubus), both routes in Loan Wolf are very down-to-earth and relatable, with characters discussing common problems (even student loans, referenced in the title) and ambitions to free themselves from their dead-end office jobs. Depending on your choices, the protagonist's relationships might turn into even deeper bonds of friendship, or bloom into proper romance – either way, what you’ll find will be a rather interesting and heart-warming read.
Final Rating: Recommended

This short yuri eroge by Unwonted made a surprising career thanks to reaching Steam relatively early, before the platform was flooded with shovelware VNs both free and commercial. Its status as one of the most-downloaded EVNs ever is, however, strongly contrasted by its underwhelming content – a sci-fi story that is strangely both cliched and nonsensical, combined with an over-the-top loli design of the protagonist (she’s 18 though, as she states numerous times in the game), poorly written characters and humour, and one of the most baffling cliffhanger endings I’ve seen to date. All this makes for an unsatisfying and at times uncomfortable experience, that is best to be avoided even as a free game.
Final Rating: Not Recommended

Sofdelux's (a collaboration project by NomnomNami and DarkChibiShadow) Disaster Log C is not in any way a traditional love story, but apart from some slight LGBT+ themes and wacky visuals, it offers a highly amusing, unusual story about two drastically different and initially antagonistic individuals trying to survive through a cataclysm that threatens to destroy their world. Interesting characters and Nami's strong writing makes it a thoroughly enjoyable read, if you can get past the game's obvious eccentricities. It also, unlike many other YGJ titles, offers a branching plot and a decent variety of memorable endings, making it differ even further from the usual, sappy romance stories dominating the event.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Reine Works' debut is a deeply flawed, but at times cute and fairly original story about three women set on a one-way space journey into the unknown. It’s also the game that served as a base for the Dharker Studio’s infamous Galaxy Girls, which added completely new visuals and, of course, tons of sexual content. Still, while the latter can be described as typical, male-oriented piece of yuri smut, the original BBB is a tame and character-centric romance story, in which the player has to guide the protagonist, Erika, through a potentially jeopardous situation – finding a way to keep balance between her two companions and make them accept her leadership in a mission that has been forced on them against their will. And while the game struggles to develop consistent characters and make good use of some of its more interesting ideas, it’s ultimately not a terrible read – especially if you don’t aim for the edgy bad endings and focus on the more straightforward part of the experience.
Final Rating: (Cautiously) Recommended

It goes without saying that Yuri Game Jam produces mostly short, simple games and usually there’s only that much variety and depth they can reasonably offer. Still, the event manages to spawn surprises every year – both titles that are simply excellently crafted and are a joy to read, without defying expectations when it goes to dominant themes and structure and ones that do something genuinely original and intriguing. In two weeks, we’ll continue with the overview of 2015-2017 YGJ releases – and after that, we’ll take a look at the highlights of the most recent edition of the Jam, hopefully just as fun and inspiring as the ones before it.

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