Friday, 21 December 2018

2018 Curator Connect Wrap-Up, Part 1 (Silenced: The House; The Necklace of Blood; Jake's Love Story; Welcome to... Chichester)

Since I’ve established my Steam Curator profile last winter I’ve been sent a number of games, some of which received full reviews on the site (ex. Sable’s Grimoire or Crystalline), while others, for various reasons, did not get covered at all. In most cases, the games I didn’t write posts about were small or low-budget titles, hardly giving enough material for an in-depth review – still, as I don’t like the idea of ignoring people that were generous enough to offer me their work for free, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post, and the one two weeks from now, to giving a short overview of titles that were given to me through Curator Connect in 2018, but didn’t get to appear on the blog. Just as in the mini-reviews series, every entry will receive a short summary, concluded with a simple rating on a scale from “Highly Recommended” to “Not Recommended”. So, let’s get this party started!

If someone asked me to define “wasted potential”, showing them this game would be an easy way to thoroughly explore the concept. Silenced starts with a slightly edgy, but appealing and unusual concept. You play as a villain (although to a large extent manipulated into hurting others, rather than plain evil) – a girl adept in the occult, who lures a group of some particularly obnoxious teenager to a secluded mansion, as a sacrifice to a malevolent spirit. There, things quickly go out of control, and our protagonist has to struggle both to satisfy the demon she’s forced to serve and keep herself alive, while fighting off against vengeful ghosts that come after her “companions” and uncover the sins from their pasts.
            The general set up and the simplistic, but well-stylized art are fairly promising, but that impression quickly falls apart as you experience the game’s clunky and often cringe-worthy writing style – to some extent a victim of the less-than-perfect translation from Russian, but having problems that go far beyond anything that the poor localization could explain. The unnatural English, overly-contrived metaphors and edgy internal monologues of the protagonist quickly make the whole thing unpleasant to read and while the storyline has its moments (the backstories and hidden motivations of the characters are kind of fun to explore, especially after the intrigue picks up), it’s just ultimately not enjoyable to go through. The game is also technically clunky, adding to the cheap feel of the whole experience – even the large number of CGs and effective use of gore can’t save it from being a poor VN.
            Unless you’re able to read the original, Russian version, this one is simply not worth buying – but I also hope that the devs behind it will try creating something similar in the future and improve on the formula, because as disappointing as this game was, it was also not very far from becoming something genuinely interesting. Time will tell.
Final rating: Not Recommended
Quite many EVN projects bite more they can chew, having to either scale down their ambitions during the development process or simply failing to rise up to their goals. Necklace of Blood is definitely in the second category, attempting to adapt a possibly interesting novel by a Spanish-language writer German Ramos Briñez, but doing it with presentation and English script so bad, that it’s nearly impossible to experience the story properly. MS Paint-grade illustrations, unedited photographic backgrounds, awkward wording, an abundance of grammatical and orthographic mistakes – it was all enough to make this the second VN I’ve actually dropped (the other being the machine-translated Tricolour Lovestory), giving up after the second act (of 11 in total).
            The plot of the game feels slightly kitsch, with a lengthy sequence of a satanic ritual as the opening, later leading to a stand-off between secret organizations working for or against the Devil. It’s a supernatural horror more than anything else, but especially in this aspect, the disastrous production values destroy much of the suspense and the impact that the more gruesome moments could've otherwise had – its over-the-top gore and religious symbolism would always be cheesy, but could’ve been so in a fun way. How the things are now, however, there’s no entertainment and no satisfaction to be found in Necklace of Blood – and while I imagine the Spanish version might read significantly better than the clunky English translation, I'm not convinced it would be really worth your time even if you can read it that way.
Final rating: Not Recommended
This tiny romance/comedy VN by the Polish developer Mikołaj Spychał could be described primarily by one word – basic. The visuals are very simple, with decent-looking backgrounds and very minimalistic sprites, with a rather insufficient number of expressions (especially the protagonist seems to have the same, dead-looking face no matter what). The storyline is as standard as possible, with a high-school romance involving a small group of friends and spanning across three years – obviously, with a game that takes less than two hours to complete, we only see a few tiny bits from that period, with giant time-skips showing up on a regular basis. Close to the conclusion of the plot, you can invite one of the two heroines to the prom and depending on your previous choices, she will accept or decline, leading you to appropriate endings.
            There’s definitely very little that can surprise you here – the plot is utterly predictable, with only a few somewhat amusing, brief branches and the main entertainment factor coming from the possibility to be a complete asshole. That last aspect of the game even includes the opportunity to set up your best friend with both heroines for the prom and then silently observe the fallout – a great option for those that simply want to see the (fictional) world burn. There’s also, admittedly, nothing really offensive in the script (apart maybe from some poor fourth-wall-breaking jokes) and there’s even some attention to detail involved, with dialogues frequently referencing your previous choices and heroine’s attitudes reflecting your path. All this sums up to a game that isn’t particularly bad, but still generic and forgettable – maybe just worth the $3 asking price, but also one you can easily skip without any regret.
Final rating: (Cautiously) Recommended

So, what can you create with Degica's Visual Novel Maker, a bunch of royalty-free assets and a few hours of free time? If I have to be honest, most likely something better than Welcome to... Chichester. Still, the first game, a 10-minute-long collection of somewhat random jokes about the "best spy in the world" going for vacation and immediately meeting his archnemesis on the plane, could be partially forgiven – it's a free title, more or less an experiment with the software and while I might find putting something like that on Steam highly questionable, it at least doesn't ask you for money and could be treated as a harmless joke. While it contains some things that are first-rate, personal triggers of mine, such as unedited, photographic backgrounds and some really bad attempts at humour, others might be less sensitive to such stuff and even enjoy this absurd little story to some extent.
            The second part, however, does not warrant similar leniency, even if the price tag on it is as low as $1. It continues with the exact same formula, with often ill-fitting, photographic backgrounds, stock sprites, myriad of falsely-attributed dialogue lines and other mistakes, random gibberish instead of a story... It has one (questionably) redeeming quality though – the author seems to be seriously into the town of Chichester and one portion of the game includes legitimate photos and information about it. I didn't expect to expand my geographical knowledge while approaching this "series", but at least it inspired a short Wikipedia search and some reading about a fairly interesting 12th-century cathedral... You can get that without touching these games though and I highly recommend choosing that route – there's really no reason to touch this developer's titles at this point in time. Avoid at all cost.

Final rating: Not Recommended

Curator Connect is one of the tools that make the Curator system meaningful – an easy way for devs and publishers to reach out to reviewers and media outlets with games those people might never spot on the chronically-overcrowded Steam storefront. I’m always extremely thankful towards the devs that decide to offer their work to me, but my first responsibility is to be honest in my assessments and give useful recommendations to my readers – and with low-budget projects like these, they’ll often be less than complimentary. Still, I hope their authors can take something positive from this criticism and improve – creating a better EVN market, with more fun for the players and more satisfaction for the devs is the main reason for this blog’s existence.
            Two weeks from now we’ll continue with the 2018 wrap-up, going through another four titles that were sent to me for review – including some slightly more compelling and high-budget ones. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this one – and, until the next Friday!

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