Friday, 8 November 2019

Maggot Baits Review (Japanese Visual Novel)

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Maggot Baits is something of a Holy Grail of dark eroge, highly anticipated guro fans within the Western VN community and often hyped as possibly the greatest achievement of the company that produced it, Clock Up. As one the most gruesome VNs ever produced, and quite likely the most brutal one ever brought to the West, it contains dozens upon dozens of violent sex scenes, all accompanied by intricate CGs, with small variations in them so numerable that they sum to nearly 2500 unique illustrations. All of that placed in a highly-unique, modern-fantasy setting populated by amazingly-crafted characters and tackling interesting philosophical and religious topics. While it’s pretty much the furthest possible thing from what I usually write about on this blog, few games intrigued me as much as this one, particularly after my inconsistent, but extremely interesting experience with Clock Up’s another famous title, euphoria. Everything I’ve heard about Maggot Baits suggested that it was both more extreme and overall better than studio’s other bestseller, and after reading it to completion, I felt the need to share my thoughts about it in detail. Both because it’s a pretty fascinating case of strengths and pitfalls of this breed of eroge, and to warn those interested in it as a piece of storytelling – while in many ways an incredible achievement, this game is extremely hard to recommend for a “normie” reader such as myself. Why is that exactly?
                Before I go into story details, it’s most important to deal with Maggot Baits’ greatest issue – its structure and general storytelling formula. This game is, at its core, a guro nukige and it’s incredibly dedicated to this template. It throws h-scenes at you at very consistent intervals, disregarding whatever might be going on in the story and sacrificing any sense of pacing or tension so it can constantly offer a new piece of violent hentai. Quite often, the scenes are not important for, or even directly connected to what’s happening in the plot, pretty much pausing the whole narrative to insert a new piece of fanservice. In this, it goes even further than euphoria, which did a much better job intertwining its scenes with the story and had a bit more restraint in the most dramatic and meaningful parts of the plot. Maggot Baits even goes to the length of adding a major side-branch in the first chapter of the story, which is nothing but 3-4 hours of futanari porn leading to a bad ending. All of it narratively empty and pretty much derailing your experience if you expect any kind of interesting reveals or a meaningful conclusion within it. I still don’t understand why it was a part of the main story, and especially inserted so early in the game, before you build any connection to the characters involved or can understand the full implications of what is happening in those scenes. 
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Maggot Baits’ possibly greatest strength lays in its characters – both “heroes” and “villains” have complex motivations and their actions, as cruel as they might be, are hardly ever plain good or evil
 
There’s also one more crucial issue that should be made clear for anyone approaching this game simply looking for a dark, gore-filled story. The fetish-serving character of Maggot Baits means it’s full of a very specific brand of gore – sexualized violence on female characters. The near-immortality of the witches is a useful gimmick allowing the game's creators to push the abuse to its logical boundaries without killing off characters every time (although even this goes with a caveat that rape is way more prevalent in the h-scenes than actual bloody torture). While there’s a bit of general blood and guts, and a bit of chuunige-style fighting, most of it is conveyed in the form of text rather than shown in CGs. The massive focus on porn also means the actual story content is smaller and less developed than both the length of the game (20+ hours) and the incredible amount of visual assets would suggest. I’ve spent hours simply skipping through h-scenes that didn’t seem to have any plot relevance and quickly scanning through those that I felt could offer some bits of worthwhile information or character development, trying to get to the next story bit. While in euphoria one could argue there was some kind of balance between the story and hentai, here all the efforts were ultimately aimed at serving the guro porn, with the narrative being the icing on top of it and never really prioritized. And that’s to the point where even some guro fans might find the experience a bit overindulgent and tedious – there’s only that much stimuli you can take in before going numb.
                At the same time, it’s absolutely impossible to argue with the game’s production quality. The writing is excellent, including the greatest h-scene text I’ve seen to date. While the visuals left me mostly indifferent after a short while, despite their truly extreme and detailed nature, the gruesome, vivid descriptions accompanying them did a good job at keeping me uneasy. In many ways it surpassed writing of euphoria, really focusing on the psychological dynamic of the torture scenes rather than just absurd lines spewed by the heroines (those are still present, but I’m not sure that part of h-scene dialogue can be done in a way that doesn’t feel absurd to me). All of it is accompanied by extremely unsettling and suggestive voice acting and sounds, both done in a way that is probably hard to find anywhere outside of Clock Up games. Music is properly gritty and dynamic, underlining the brutal and hopeless atmosphere of the whole experience.
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While the game’s writing is, for the most part, stellar, even if it can’t escape some awkward exposition and over-the-top edginess
 
But, I haven’t even started on what this game is exactly about? Maybe I’m subconsciously avoiding this part, as it’s both not easy to explain and hard to talk about without spoilers. The general outline features Tsunuga Shougo, a former policeman, on an extremely-bloody path of revenge against powers controlling Kantou’s Pandemonium – a lawless city carved out of modern Japan, infested by powerful, supernatural beings known as Disaster’s Witches. Those apparently immortal women, unbeatable through conventional means, are what transformed the Pandemonium into an exterritorial den of vice and murder, populated by the worst scum this world knows – their origins and purpose, however, are a complete mystery to both the outside world and the witches themselves. During the game’s plot Tsunuga’s self-destructive quest, aided by a few of the witches and most closely connected to the one known as Carol, will (accidentally) uncover the meaning behind the existence of Pandemonium and all the insane happenings within it. And all of this happens with the brutal "witch hunts", capturing the seemingly-invincible women and thoroughly testing the limits of their immortal bodies, happening in the background.
                The setup, despite relying on some tired eroge tropes (primarily “the magic of semen”, which serves as one of the main sources of power for the witches), is pretty awesome and the primary characters in the story are even better. There’s little place for black and white morality in Maggot Baits’ world, with even the protagonist and the three “good” witches allied with him committing various atrocities. At the same time, outside of random, sadistic henchmen and thugs, there’s also no evil for the sake of evil. Shimon, the main antagonist of the story, is a prime example of this, having his hands in some incredibly despicable acts, but doing all of them as part of his work towards a very surprising and arguably noble goal. Even the other memorable villain, the brutal witch Sandy, proves to be much more than just a sadist murdering people and hunting her own kind for sports, despite the first impression she gives. As the story progresses, few things in Pandemonium stay as they first appeared to be and I found most of the twists and reveals the game offered quite fantastic.
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The love story component of the game is both well done and in line with the dark, tragic nature of its setting, despite a few questionable narrative choices
 
There’s also the romantic subplot between Shougo and Carol, the thing which earned the game its “pure love story” categorisation. This develops between two playthroughs: after you finish the game for the first time and reach the first proper ending (at this point there’s just one choice in the whole game, leading to the aforementioned futanari side-arc), you get a few extra choices unlocked, making it possible to steer Shougo in a slightly different direction. This allows for the troubled romantic subplot to blossom and the game to reach its true ending – not necessarily “better” than the first one when it goes to its overall tone, but more fulfilling from the viewpoint of the protagonist. There’s actually a very interesting dynamic between the two endings, as the first one introduces some extremely intriguing religious and philosophical themes, like various understandings and meanings of love, and concludes the story with a utopia being born out of the hell of Kantou’s Pandemonium. For me, it was absolutely the most engrossing and thought-provoking moment in the game – to the point that the true ending, even though it iterated on the first one's ideas and featured a few interesting twists of its own, felt kind of bland in comparison.
                And all of this would be truly great, if not cut into tiny pieces by the relentless stream of h-content. The game bends itself at every turn to squeeze additional fanservice and outdo itself in its extreme nature. Sometimes it’s truly unique and disturbing, sometimes plain laughable (my personal favourite being the pig sex scene from the aforementioned futanari arc). Most importantly, though, it’s simply not worth going through for anyone reading VNs for the story and not being specifically interested in guro porn. I don’t regret reading Maggot Baits, as I was simply too curious to not check it out, but it’s quite likely the last game of this type and the last Clock Up title I’ll ever read. And ultimately, I can only suggest avoiding those to the vast majority of VN readers – while euphoria had its share of problems, it compensated for it with the excellent climate and by expertly integrating much of its h-content with the flow and leading themes of its story. This game, on the other hand, is just a dark nukige – a damn good one, but truly worthwhile only for the very specific subset of readers for whom guro is a reward in itself, and the story is just a fun bonus. If that’s you, you can grab this game without a second thought. If not… There are infinitely better ways to spend 45 dollars and 20+ hours of your time.
 
Final Rating: 3/5
 
Pros:
+ Awesome quality of the visuals
+ Tons of CGs
+ Excellent characters
+ Great Soundtrack
+ Serious approach to its main themes

Cons:
- No consideration for pacing
- …like, none at all
- A lot of h-scenes feel forced and repetitive


VNDB page
Buy Maggot Baits on MagngaGamer Store

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