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[Review] Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace (Nintendo Switch)

De surpresa, STEINS;GATE: My Darling's Embrace é disponibilizado para o  Switch no ocidente – Switch Brasil

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: 5pb
Release: Dec 10, 2019 (for Western markets)
Price: $40 USD

Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace is a spin-off of the popular Steins;Gate series of visual novels. This spin-off in particular, focuses on pure dating sim / romantic comedy elements and takes the Steins;Gate universe in a very light-hearted direction, so be warned that if you are looking for the same sort of tension that you usually found in Steins;Gate then this spin-off is not for you. Also, it is highly advised that you play either Steins;Gate or Steins;Gate 0 before going into this spinoff, just to get a better introduction and background to most of the characters. There’s no true bad endings or game overs in this game.

Kurisu invites Rintaro over...
Kurisu invites Rintaro over…

Plot: The main protagonist, Okabe Rintaro, has found himself in a new Delta attractor field, which seemingly does not have any world shattering consequences like the Alpha or Beta attractor fields do. This is a relatively peaceful attractor field, and several new gadgets have been made by the Lab members. There’s notably a gadget that cuffs two lovers together, zaps them if they argue or try to get away and will only let them break free if they have the same thoughts together. Another gadget displays the thoughts of a person and transmits it to a video display, and yet another gadget broadcasts video publicly for the whole world to see. Clearly, all these gadgets work together to much embarrassing effect for the Lab members. In particular Rintaro finds himself with one of 6 possible Lab members to be in romantic subplot with.

In this Delta timeline, Moe's the lead singer of the Lab band
In this Delta timeline, Moe’s the lead singer of the Lab’s band

Gameplay: Like other Steins;Gate games, it uses the D-Mail system. So the different routes are affected by when (or if) you open your phone at certain times, which people you contact, and which emails you send (or don’t send). The rest is standard visual novel reading as this series is not point and click or investigative in nature.

Faris and Mayuri with their typical cafe greeting
Faris and Mayuri with their typical cafe greeting

Characters: Steins;Gate has fairly memorable characters, and all of them are represented here with no new additions.

-Okabe Rintaro: the protagonist of Steins;Gate who is a self described mad genius, who comes across as both eccentric and self-loathing at times. 

-Daru: Okabe’s closest male friend, a pervert and a prodigal programmer and hacker who can bypass almost any security system. 

-Kurisu Makise: the heroine of the original series, a tsundere, a scientific prodigy, and canonically Okabe’s main lover. Of course, she is presented as a romantic option here.

-Mayuri Shiina: Okabe’s closest female friend, cute, innocent, a bit ditzy but always there in need for her friends. Another romantic option here.

-Suzuha Amane: A time traveler from the future, usually a very serious personality from the other series, she’s a bit more light hearted here, and thus appears as another romantic option here.

-Faris NyanNyan: A cosplaying catgirl who comes from a well to do background and owner of a popular maid cafe. Available as another romantic option here.

-Luka Urushiba: Biologically a male, but always appears and acts very feminine, leading many to mistake his gender. He’s one of Mayuri’s close friends, and – despite his gender – also available as a romantic option in this game 😉

-Moeka Kiryu: Nicknamed ‘Shining Finger’ for her preference for and speed at texting, a very introverted girl who – unlike the original series – does not pose any kind of threat in this game, and thus is available as another romantic option.

A rare visual of Moeka
A rare visual of Moeka

Graphics: Steins;Gate has always had a signature graphical style with pastel-looking backgrounds and characters and if you enjoyed that style, then nothing changes here. I personally do like this style as well.

Music: Again, I’ve always enjoyed Steins;Gate’s background music which I think have always matched the mood of the scene. In this game since it’s so lighthearted it’s mostly that kind of music as well, which is fine by me.

Conclusion: 7/10. It’s definitely not as engrossing as the original Steins;Gate (10/10) or Steins;Gate 0 (9/10) for me, since it focuses mostly on romantic comedy here, which is a tried and true genre for visual novels. Since I reference Muv-Luv a lot (a great visual novel series for those of you who haven’t played it), I’ll continue with the analogy that if Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 were the Muv-Luv Unlimited/Alternative then this spin off must be the Muv-Luv Extra of Steins;Gate. I.e it’s really light-hearted, relatively short, and if you are just looking for a visual novel to lighten up your mood then this will do it. If you’ve always wondered what the Steins;Gate universe could be like if the characters didn’t have to deal with the impending doom or SERN/WWIII/Mayuri/Kurisu’s death and wanted a more light hearted ‘fun’ take on the universe, or maybe wanted to ship Rintaro with one of the main cast, then this one is it. Otherwise I consider this one a fairly average visual novel; it’s not a must get or anything, but it will help you unwind after a long day at work.

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[Review] Aokana: Four Rhythms (Nintendo Switch)

Aokana - Four Rhythms Across the Blue on Steam

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Sprite
Release: Aug 21, 2020
Price: $60 USD

Aokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue (not sure why they named it that) is a visual novel with a premise that’s a bit different than most visual novels – instead of being a typical dating sim or investigative type visual novel, it focuses on a competitive sport.

Plot: In Aokana’s universe, there’s an invention called Anti-Gravity Shoes which like the name implies, allows its wearers to fly in the sky. There’s a popular sport in the game called Flying Circus which makes use of the shoes. 
The sport is deceptively simple: it’s a one on one sport where the players have to stay within a square, and a player scores a point either by touching the outer posts of the square consecutively before the other player, or by touching the other player’s back. The player with the most points at the end of regulation wins.

Masaya typically commentates on a match
Masaya typically commentates on a match

Of course, there’s more to it than that. There’s different playing styles – Fighter (focuses on touching the opponent’s back), Speeder (focuses on touching the posts before the other player), and All-Rounder (can do either, but does not specialize as much as the other two). There’s lots of basic and advanced moves shown in the game. There’s also different types of Anti-Grav Shoes and different settings for them. Honestly, the sport and the strategies they explain are fairly well detailed for a visual novel like this and sometimes I felt myself getting sucked into this fictional sport and rooting for different teams as if it actually existed.

The protagonist, Masaya Hinata, was a former top FC (Flying Circus) player, who quit the sport due to a traumatic event, and is now tasked with coaching a team of 3 girls and 1 guy to lead their school to the FC championship. 

Shindou demolishes Misaki in an FC dogfight
Shindou demolishes Misaki in an FC dogfight

Gameplay: Ok, it’s not entirely focused on the sport, there are some dating sim and eroge elements in the game – but they happen mostly towards the end of the game and are very light by visual novel standards and nothing too shocking occurs. Hinata can date/focus on one of 4 girls in the game, depending on which options you select in the game, but the options don’t come up very often, so the majority of this game is basically just reading. 

One of the more dating sim type moments in the game
Dating sim elements are in the game but they are rather uncommon

Characters: I love the characters. They’re probably the strong point of this game. Masaya Hinata is not that pervy compared to most visual novel protagonists, and mostly focuses on the tasks at hand. He’s a relatively serious protagonist, despite the harlem of girls around him, and that’s a welcome change of pace from all those perverted protagonists from other visual novels I’ve played. 

-Asuka is the main and default girl in the game, she’s a very cheerful type that’s hard to dislike, a bit ditzy sometimes, but also an FC prodigy and the school’s best player. 
-Misaki is Hinata’s close female friend, an academic genius, has an odd sense of humor and a bit of a tomboy. I have no problems with Misaki, I think she’s pretty cool.
-Mashiro. I personally don’t really like this character. She’s a borderline lesbian stalker with her one sided obsession with Misaki, and honestly doesn’t really have many redeeming qualities unlike the other characters. Still, she’s in here as a ‘cute/dorky’ type.
-Rika is Hinata’s next door neighbor and unlike the other 3 girls she’s the only dateable option that’s not from the same school. She has a pretty serious personality that makes it hard for me to get into her, but some players may like her.
-Madoka is the FC club’s manager and a very silly girl with a lot of funny comments sometimes. Honestly it makes her charming and I wish she was a dateable option, but alas she is not.
-Shion is Madoka’s older brother and president of the FC club, the only guy Hinata coaches, and has an obsession with muscles and working out.
-Aoi is Hinata’s homeroom teacher, his former mentor, a former FC superstar player and the FC Club advisor. 
-Shirase is the Grav Shoe’s store owner and drops by sometimes for advice.
-Satouin is a typical princessy-type girl who is one of the regular opponents for the FC Club
-Shindou is the initial antagonist in the game, a top FC player and a big opponent for the FC club
-Saki and Irina are the final antagonists in the game, and behave (and play) in a manner that suits that title

The characters overall are very fleshed out and the humor plays out pretty well sometimes between them, I think the fact that the characters are interesting also makes the FC matches fun to get into as well. 

the whole gang

The Whole Gang
The FC Club and the whole gang

Graphics: I have no complaints about the graphics in this game, they are high quality modern Anime style graphics and I’m not surprised that just like Steins Gate, Yu-No, Muv-Luv and others – that this game has been adapted into an Anime series. There’s sometimes characters moving in the background or animations but those scenes are relatively uncommon. The chapters are even split into ‘episodes’ making it feel more like an Anime.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash got nothing on this
Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash got nothing on this

Music: The background music is very fitting to the scenes, and sometimes during certain eventful scenes, jpop music will start playing, making this game feel even more like an Anime sometimes. I have no problems with that.

Conclusion: 9/10 from me. I really enjoyed this visual novel more than I expected. I usually play dating sims, sci-fi and investigative type visual novels, so it’s kind of refreshing to play a title that focuses on a competitive sport and coaching these girls instead of just romance. Sure there IS romance, but it’s very sparse and light compared to other visual novels. The characters are very easy to get into and that makes the FC sport and matches themselves very interesting to get into too. Had no complaints about the graphics or music either. The only thing is people who are expecting a visual novel with more gameplay should probably look elsewhere – this visual novel is very heavy on reading with very little gameplay elements. There’s a few choices here and there but that’s about it. Overall I do recommend this title if you are ok with mostly reading instead of clicking options.

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[Review] Yu-No – a girl who chants love at the bound of this world (Nintendo Switch)

Image result for yuno a girl who chants love

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: ELF Corporation (original) / 5pb (remake)
Release: Dec 26, 1996 (original) / Oct 1, 2019 (remake)
Price: $60 USD

So I guess I’m now a regular reviewer of visual novels. Heh, well I just got another good one to add to my review collection. 

Yu-No: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world (unwieldy title, I know) is a classic game that originally came out for the beloved NEC PC-98 in Japan back in the mid 90s. It was originally an Eroge game that got the sex scenes removed and re-released as a just a regular visual novel with a lot of perverted dialogue and scenes still intact. Yeah, similar to how Muv-Luv also turned from an Eroge into a beloved visual novel series I guess. This game has now been remade and released in Japan in 2015 and now released here in the West this year 2019.

But man, there are still alot of perverted scenes left in. I don’t mind it too much – but some people might take offense to it. It’s literally just the sex scenes removed and the rest of the Eroge dialogue remains intact – and yes the boobs/skirt/legs are almost always clickable on a woman.

One such perverted scene still in the game
One such perverted scene still in the game

But other than that, it’s a great game. A pioneering time travel / sci-fi visual novel that must have been the inspiration for Steins;Gate and so many others. 

Plot: So the plot is that your father Koudai Arima is reported dead – but you, Takuya Arima ‘the walking libido’, soon receive a package containing a time travel device called the Reflector. You suspect that your father is not really dead at all and he’s somewhere – but you must find him. 

The main goal of the game is to collect 6 different jewels in different timelines – you already start out with 4 jewels in the device – making 10 total. Each jewel can be used at any point to essentially ‘save’ the game so that you can come back to it later. But you have to make sure you don’t use up all the jewels – if all jewels are used then you are stuck and you can’t power the Reflector device anymore. Loading up a jewel frees up that jewel so that you can use it again. So there’s essentially a limited number of save slots and you have to be careful with where you save. Using the Reflector device was a little confusing at first but then I figured out how to use it and man it must have been pretty revolutionary at the time for visual novels to have such a feature. 

Similar to Steins;Gate you can essentially time travel between different parallel worlds – there’s a certain time limit that you have before you get ‘chaos corrected’ back to the beginning of the game – but you retain your items from each timeline – this is essential because there are parts in one timeline that might require items from another timeline. There are multiple endings within each route. You need to go through all the endings in order to get all the items you need to get all the jewels which are hidden within each route. Once you get all 10 jewels – you are transported to the Epilogue – which is another lengthy playthrough in itself but its quite a different experience from the main game – so this game definitely has a lot of replay value to it. When you get to the Epilogue, there’s no more mysteries to solve so the jewel finding goal turns into a goal to search for [not going to spoil it, you will have to play through it ;)]

Gameplay: It’s a point and click adventure style game, similar to Root Letter and other mystery / investigation type games, so its more interactive than the typical visual novel.

One such interactive scene
One such interactive scene

Characters: Well, similar to Muv-Luv this was originally an Eroge – so obviously its full of women wearing short skirts and school uniforms. But you knew that right? 

-Takuya Arima – the main protagonist, who is a bona fide pervert, but also a guy who is driven by a desire to find his father and solve the mysteries of time travel.
-Ayumi Arima – the stepmom of Takuya and Geo Technics manager, who is a romance option in this game, despite the incestual overtones of it
-Kozo Ryuzoji – the headmaster of the school and the main antagonist of the game
-Mitsuki Ichijo – a former lover of Takuya’s and Ryuzoji’s secretary, who is also a romance option for him.
-Mio Shimazu – a spoiled ‘princess’ type girl and Takuya’s classmate, who is also a romance option for him.
-Eriko Takeda – Takuya’s homeroom teacher who may know more about time travel than she lets on…
-Kanna Hatano – a classmate of Takuya’s who always behaves very mysteriously. She is also a romance option for him.
-Masakatsu Yuki – the obligatory ‘annoying best friend’ character of Takuya’s
-Kaori Asakura – An investigative journalist trying to get down to the mysteries surrounding Geo Technics
-Hideo Toyotomi – An annoying employee and subordinate of Ayumi at Geo Technics
-Sayless, Amanda and the namesake character Yu-No are actually characters that you will have to play to the Epilogue to find out who they are, so I won’t spoil them here.

A nice candid moment
A nice candid moment

Graphics: I’m torn. The original graphics from 1996 just scream 80s/90s Japan. the NEC PC-98 is famous for these kinds of graphics. I am a 90s anime lover so naturally I prefer the old look better. It has such a nostalgic charm to it. But the remake isn’t bad either – it’s done in a more modern style and you can take a look side by side to see which you prefer. I wish there was an option to use the old graphics though.

the original PC98 graphics compared to the remake
the original PC98 graphics compared to the remake

Music: Amazing. You can choose between the remade soundtrack and the original soundtrack from 1996. I prefer the original – but the remake is done pretty well. It perfectly fits with the mystery / sci-fi style of the game. 

Conclusion: This game is a 10/10 from me. I literally could not put it down since I started it. I am a sci-fi visual novel lover and a big fan of Steins;Gate so its obvious that this game would peak my interest as well. This was the original sci-fi visual novel that was very influential on subsequent visual novels. I wish there was an option to use the original graphics but the remake does pretty well recreating all the characters and scenes, the music is awesome, the gameplay has a lot of replay value and the characters – while not super original – you have to remember it was originally an eroge title – are ok for what they are which is bringing the story together. There’s a lot of perverted dialogue and scenes – but if you are comfortable with that, it’s not that bad. A solid game that will take you a while to reach 100% completion (and a bonus if you do!).