Friday, 16 November 2018

Yuri Game Jam 2015-2017 Visual Novels Retrospective, Part 2

Two weeks ago we’ve started our journey through the world of Yuri Game Jam visual novels and today we’re gonna conclude its “historic” part, with another 6 games from the 2015-2017 period. As before, the order in which the games are presented is semi-random, but I’ve tried to mix commonly known and widely appreciated titles – ones you might be familiar with even if you never followed the event itself with some lesser known entries, which are still worth a closer look. While even the list is obviously not exhaustive (and of course don’t cover the huge library of non-VN YGJ releases), it covers most of the entries I’ve personally found interesting. While I might still cover more of them in the future, it will most likely be in a different format and above all, I hope to focus on giving an overview of the latest event every year. But, that's in the future for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this one last look at the GxG visual novel glory of YGJs past!

Once on a Windswept Night by ebi-hime is definitely among the most ambitious Yuri Game Jam VNs, with an intricate meta-narrative and multiple layers of mystery for the player to uncover (starting with an element as basic as the identity of the protagonist). Featuring two touching, tragic love stories, up to three hours of content and very solid writing, it delivers much more than you would normally expect from a free game. The visual side of things suffered slightly from the relatively short development cycle, but it doesn’t change the fact that its a very creative and in many ways unique experience and, for a game jam entry, an impressive artistic achievement, in many ways on par with ebi's commercial projects.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

This story of a runaway slave and a warrior who saves her life and leads her to a safe haven of Libertad is a pretty standard and brief, but well-written fantasy tale with mild f/f romance added on top of it. The author’s focus on the main characters’ journey and fight for survival, and the bond that forms between them during that struggle, effected in something rather universal, that should prove appealing not only for fans of yuri visual novels or love stories, but anyone looking for a solid, short fantasy adventure.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Sofdelux’s first title is a rather impressive achievement when it goes to aesthetic – the underwater world it presents, populated by extremely varied types of merpeople, is vibrant and detailed, while character designs simple ooze personality and charm. All that being said, it suffers heavily from the predictable structure, rather shallow dating sim mechanics and repetitive routes. There are no real surprises or effective drama, especially after you learn the general structure of the plot in your first run no matter what romance path you choose, you'll encounter similar situations and extremely similar outcomes depending on the schedule you set up. While I quite enjoy my portion of silly, cute yuri fluff from time to time, here there's simply too much of it and too little of everything else it feels a waste of great art assets and a fun setting, even if in the end, it's still not in any way a bad experience.
Final Rating: Recommended

Princesses’s Maid is a tiny dating sim about a “maid”, who acts as a personal bodyguard and servant to the two young princesses of a fictional kingdom. During the hour-long experience, she builds up stats and gets closer to one of the princesses, uncovering their long-held secrets and burdens they kept from everyone around them – and the highly-inappropriate feelings they hold for the protagonist. While the dating sim mechanics are highly simplistic and fully open to save scumming, the drama, dialogues and characterization are really well-done and make for an ultimately satisfying experience. While it might not be especially surprising, it’s a great way to spend a lazy evening – and that’s sometimes absolutely enough for this kind of short, free visual novel.
Final Rating: Recommended

While not as interesting and brilliantly-written as Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet, this tiny VN has a lot of the same charming artstyle and heart-warming mood known from other games by NomnomNami. Even if it’s too short to offer a comprehensive story (it features a witch basically speed-dating during the titular soiree and experiencing her first kiss within tiny, ~10 min "routes"), it works great as an amusing distraction between “serious” readings, with some great lines and creatively-designed characters. Closer to what you would typically expect from a game jam entry, it’s still a pleasant, worthwhile experience.
Final Rating: Recommended

If being cute and lovely, while also touching on the problems of prejudice and discrimination are some of the dominating traits of Yuri Game Jam entries, Magical Witch Bell by npckc can be described as a quintessential YGJ title. This little VN with a simple, cutesy art and a straightforward love story featuring a witch living among non-magic users is minimalistic, but fun to read in this thoroughly drama-free, heartwarming fashion – while it might hold no real surprises, it’s a nice, relaxing experience, easily accessible the next time you need something to make you smile.
Final Rating: Recommended

And thus my retrospective of the previous years of Yuri Game Jam’s contribution to the EVN scene is complete. The event itself, however, is not going anywhere and I expect it to provide enough material for many more lists like this in years to come. Also, since last year there’s even a yaoi version of it and while participation was relatively small so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it grow substantially in the future and so far, it’s definitely visual novels that dominate it. While some authors who made the YGJ probably more than anyone expected it to be, like ebi-hime, are very likely not participating in it again, as they focus on their commercial projects, there will be other fledgling developers and hobbyists that will defy our expectations (for better and for worse – but considering the history of the event so far, mostly for the better) and make the event worth observing for all the yuri and EVN fans out there.
          But, this is not the end of my involvement with YGJ this year in two weeks, I'll be publishing the first part of my comprehensive overview of visual novels that entered the 2018 edition of the event. Be sure not to miss it! 

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