Friday, 4 January 2019

2018 Curator Connect Wrap-Up, Part 2 (The Wilting Amaranth; NEKOKORO; Perseverance, Part 1; Event-D)

Welcome to the second and last part of my 2018 Curator Connect Wrap-Up (if you missed the first half, check it out here)! The horror themes were strong in the VNs sent to me this year and while it will be less explicit in this part, they’re not completely gone either, mostly represented by Perseverance – an episodic, postapocalyptic game which strives to prove that story-driven experience featuring zombies is still not passée in 2018 (and, possibly, that the Telltale storytelling formula is not as dead as the studio that created it). Other than that, we’ll get to experience an ominous sci-fi mystery Event-D and two low-budget, simple romance VNs, all of them holding some surprises… Not always positive ones, though.

I have pretty complicated feelings about Reine Works’ visual novels – on one hand, they show genuine effort, have decent visuals and are not cynically exploitative even when implementing sexual content. On the other, they always struggle when it goes writing and characterisation, to the point they always short of being genuinely good and compelling. The Wilting Amaranth showcases these problems especially well – while the set-up protagonist’s personality and her backstory are all simple (a lesbian-in-denial princess, pressured by her parents into an arranged marriage, is accidentally summoned by a witch to her remote tower), they’re interesting enough to carry a simple, romantic plot.
            Where it pretty much falls apart is the heroines and how their characters are developed: the witch is shy and stuttering to the point she’s barely able to hold a conversation at any point of the plot and her quirks grow tiring very fast. The other possible love interest, a prisoner of the witch who tried to assassinate her for a bounty, is a first-class sociopath who can do all kinds of despicable things if it makes her some money, but switching her attitude in certain scenarios for no clear reason. Even with how short the game is (around 3-4 hours of reading) there’s no real justification for how these characters are developed and sadly, it takes away quite a lot of fun from the experience, with contains not-awful production values and some fairly cool ideas. While reading it is not a complete waste of time, it’s also not something I would ever strongly recommend, even for yuri fans.
Final rating: (Cautiously) Recommended
When talking about NEKOKORO, the first elephant in the room that has to address is the character art (I’ll ignore the “riding the Nekopara bandwagon” issue completely, as in reality, the game has nothing in common with NEKO WORKs’ series beyond catgirls themselves). While in Jake’s Love Story, which was made by the same Polish developer, the sprites were simply very basic and lacked variety, here they are just unsettling, with proportions and perspective simply feeling wrong, and with chibi CGs multiplying that effect even beyond what’s appropriate for "super deformed" artwork. The solid background art, simple animations and the tidy-looking UI only make the contrast worse, showing that the game had the potential to become much more than it ended up being.
            Beyond that, NEKOKORO offers pretty similar content to JLS, admittedly with a better English script, but still giving a very basic romance and SoL experience that might have a few cute and fun moments, but doesn’t offer any real twists or anything particularly memorable. It also does a surprisingly poor job at fleshing out the heroines – while Iris, more or less the game’s main love interest, is given enough meaningful dialogue and interactions with the protagonist to establish her as a proper character and make her relatively appealing, Rose shows pretty much one identifiable trait (being an "idiot") and Lilly barely exists before the beginning of her route – at the point in which you decide which catgirl you’re going to pursue, you barely know anything about most of them! This is especially hard to justify in a game that is all about lighthearted romance. In the end, the whole experience ends up feeling rather hollow and I can only advice to skip it altogether – although with some slight adjustments, it could've been a fun piece of moe fodder, and I genuinely hope that the author's next game addresses these problems effectively.
Final rating: Not Recommended
The first episode of the post-apocalyptic survival story by the polish studio Tap It Games (any sexual connotation apparently not intended) is a very promising start to what might become a memorable horror franchise – it is, however, still a rather short and fundamentally linear prologue with some significant flaws. The story, presented in a nice, non-anime artstyle follows a rather average protagonist, Jack, struggling to keep his marriage and his life together in a small, secluded American town. While, after a major argument with his wife, he leaves to his late father’s forest cabin to seclude himself and think things through, the hell breaks loose in the town due to the unknown disease brought in by a test subject of some kind of medical experiment.
            Part 1 mostly sets up the characters and the basic storyline, ending pretty much at the beginning of the outbreak. It gives you some choices, but those were actually the biggest issue I had with the game. Apart from a few life-or-death situations, you basically choose between Jack being a somewhat decent person or being an over-the-top asshole, to the point of defying common sense. Other than that, it was quite an interesting and immersive experience and I’m very eager to see what else the developers have in store for us – if you’re not sick of zombies (in a very broad definition of the word) and post-apocalyptic horror by this point, give Perseverance a try and keep an eye for the upcoming episodes or any other projects by its authors.
Final rating: Highly Recommended

I'm usually quite comprehensive to even approach EVNs created with 3D models and environments I've seen enough teasers of horrible, creepy porn games made with this technique for the sheer sight of it to make me uncomfortable. This, however, made Event-D, an assuming sci-fi mystery by a debuting Freedintale Studio, even more of a pleasant surprise. While its visual side is still far from perfect, the slightly cartoonish stylisation of the character models makes it quite bearable, while the 3D graphics allow showing more than a VN normally would when it goes to space travel and some more dynamic/dramatic scenes. While I think it would still be more effective with good 2D illustrations, it has a set of decent assets and uses them in a surprisingly effective manner.
            What makes it potentially worth your time, however, is the story, which has all the clunkiness and peculiar charm of a low-budget Sci-Fi Channel show, but manages to build some interesting characters and an intrigue which develops in a satisfying manner throughout the experience. The premise itself – the whole crew mysteriously disappearing from a spaceship on its way to start a colonisation effort on Mars and another mission being organized to recover the ship – is pleasantly ominous and promising. Event-D manages to expand on it in a well-paced manner and introduce meaningful twists, without ever explaining too much or turning the whole plot into a convoluted mess. It ends in an open-ended manner, clearly signalizing the sequel, but manages to stand on its own as a complete and relatively satisfying experience. If you're into classic, sci-fi TV shows, with their technobabble, questionable production values, coupled with genuinely interesting and imaginative stories, you'll feel right at home reading this VN. And with the $5 price tag, it won't cost you much to give it a chance.
Final rating: Recommended

And this concludes my Steam Curator Wrap-Up for 2018! While it’s hard to predict the future and I don’t know how much time I’ll be able to dedicate to the blog in the coming year, I’m extremely happy with the progress my little initiative made since the rebranding and launch of the Blogger site back in June. Hopefully, I’ll be able to expand my presence both in the VN community and on Steam even further, having new opportunities to make contact with developers and experiencing the titles they send my way. But, whatever 2019 might bring, I hope you’ve all enjoyed these posts and will continue to follow my work. 

I wish you all a wonderful year, and until the next Friday!

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