Friday, 7 December 2018

Yuri Game Jam 2018 Visual Novels, Part 2

Welcome to the second part of my Yuri Game Jam 2018 summary! Just like the last week's article (if you haven't read part 1, check it out now!), this post will offer you a short overview of visual novels that entered the event this year, this time with the focus being solely on fully-released titles. While in the previous post there were very few surprises (with mostly the two titles I actually expected to deliver, Starship XO and Valentine Disaster, standing out from the crowd), this time there were a few unexpected latecomers to the event and games that genuinely surpassed my expectations – Scrambled: Syd City being probably the most notable one, and quite possibly the best VN in YGJ this year. It will also make a small trip outside of the VN sphere, but what that is exactly about, you'll see at the end of the article... Enjoy!


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This story about two colonies of humanized ants, and two simple workers that brought those together despite the distrust and differences between them, is one of the most charming and compelling stories in this year’s YGJ. Thanks to its relatively longer script (it takes around 2 hours to fully read through), A Game About Ants managed to not only convey an amusing “love beyond prejudice” main plot, but also set it in a pretty elaborate "political" context of a clash between the aforementioned nests (heavily inspired by actual species of ants, with their specific appearances, habits and social hierarchies). The end result is a really intriguing and visually pleasant experience, also featuring probably the most sensual scene of antennae “kiss” you’ll ever see in a visual novel... And, quite likely, anywhere else. Do you really want to miss out on that?
 
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
 
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Team ANPIM, veterans of YGJ, managed to deliver one of the more traditional love stories in this year’s event – a kinetic novel about a high school girl who finds herself in borderline life-threatening trouble and is saved by an unassuming kouhai from her school, only to fall in love with her despite their different backgrounds and personalities. It’s a simple, slightly cheesy piece of yuri romance (around 2 hours long, with only a handful of CGs and photographic backgrounds), but drawn and written well enough to give all the cute and fuzzy feelings you’d hope to get from this kind of game. The lead couple is simply adorable and the conclusion was good enough to nearly get a few tears out of me, and while I’m a sucker for this kind of fluff, I believe it’s as good of a recommendation as I could ever offer – give it a try!
 
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
 
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Magic Mirror Hall is another tiny, but beautifully stylized and interesting VN, telling the story of Alex, a (non-binary) magic shop owner who ends up at the center of their dear friend’s relationship problem – one that manifests itself through supernatural events (or two be specific, dangerous and uncontrollable outbursts of wild magic), but is rooted in the lack of communication and understanding between the girls. Depending on the protagonist’s choices and advice they give, they might help resolve the issue, or risk it turning into a genuine tragedy – and for Alex personally, who's struggling to keep their business afloat and find meaning in the job they inherited from their grandmother, there might something more at stake than someone else's happiness.
 
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
 
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Another Yuri Game Jam VN that feels much more like a teaser or an exercise in using game creation software than a standalone title of any sort, Like Sisters provides an interesting setup (a young writer coming to the US to visit an old friend of hers after hearing that she struggles with depression) and a promising pair of lead characters, and… Does literally nothing with them. While this could have been a start of a fun story and the writing is arguably quite decent, the 15-minute experience is just as empty as its CG gallery – but I’d definitely not mind seeing a “proper” release from this author in the future. 
 
Final Rating: Not recommended
 
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Team Rumblebee, responsible for stylistically-unique and enjoyable YGJ VN Loan Wolf, this time decided to give its own spin to the theme of superheroes. Just like their first game, it features a struggling protagonist (C-List superhero with invisibility powers, who chose an unfortunate nickname “Scrambled”) and two romanceable heroines (an ex-hero turned small-time villain, and a veteran hero on a path of revenge against the former). Unusual character designs, solid writing and high attention to detail (with fun gimmicks heavily-stylized nametags for all the “super” personas), all make for a very satisfying experience. Also having probably most content from all this year’s entries (2-3 hours of reading), Scrambled could be easily justified as a commercial product, and as a free game, it's pretty much a must-read for anyone who enjoys yuri and EVNs with actual personality, that don’t just stop at blindly replicating Japanese aesthetic and storytelling tropes.
 
Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Honourable Mentions
While VNs were the main focus of my coverage, it wouldn’t feel right to ignore a few of the titles in a different category, similarly focused on telling interesting stories and created by experienced authors, who should be familiar to many EVN fans out there. Because of this, I've decided to give the spotlight to a pair of RPG Maker games that weren't tagged as visual novels, but should still be interesting to anyone interested in yuri VNs, or quality GxG content in general.
 
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Dreaming Treat by NomnomNami is the fifth in her series of RPG-maker games about a lonely wolf, trying to find a place for herself in a world that holds little more than contempt for her kind. It once more does a very good job of combining the themes of discrimination and love beyond prejudice with Nami’s lovely artstyle and writing, making for a satisfying experience (and evolving into what is probably the only truly heart-warming polyamorous story I’ve seen to date). Also, don’t get fooled by the JRPG formula – this game is focused purely on storytelling, with map movement and interactions serving no other purpose than presenting the plot and immersing you in its world. And the kind of story it offers is something most VN fans should find enjoyable.
 
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
 
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Npckc is an author known for creating small, rather cute games in VN and RPG-maker formats, that tackle minority issues in relatable, subtle ways. Lilac, while very similar to those earlier project, might actually be the weakest of them all, simply missing on opportunities to tell a slightly deeper story – the premise, with a girl that literally lost her colour and is turning everything she touches grey is excellent and her first confrontation with a witch, who makes a surprise visit to her house and ends her isolation is very promising. After this, however, not very much happens and while the resolution is not completely unsatisfying, it never tells us anything about the source of the protagonist’s depression or the future that might await her. While I always liked the minimalistic style of npckc’s stories, here there’s simply too little of everything and while the experience of playing lilac & her light is still a relatively positive one, it’s nowhere near as memorable as some of this author's earlier work. For the more dedicated YGJ fans.
 
Final Rating: Recommended


And this concludes my YGJ coverage for this year! To be honest, at the beginning this edition of the Jam looked pretty bleak when it goes to VNs – most of the really interesting entries arrived late, often literally making major updates or delivering the full version of the game past deadline. The end effect, however, was a highly amusing set of free games, including some really memorable titles, that didn't stand out negatively when compared to previous iterations of the Jam. While it might be a while before we see again something as brilliant as The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns or Once on a Windswept Night taking part in the event, some of the games on this list came pretty close – and from my perspective, that's already pretty damn awesome.

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