The Way We All Go

Change is inevitable.

In many ways this remains an undeniable truth which everyone, young as old, has to face and accept one day. Today is that day for the main protagonist in The Way We All Go, the young student, Atcchan. He has returned to his hometown during a short holiday following two-years of studies in another city. He is visiting his grandparents, and is overwhelmed with familiar surroundings and nostalgia. However nice the nostalgia may be, one cannot leave for two full years and not expect things and people to have changed. A new reality which accompanied by anxiety slowly sinks in for Atcchan. He’s worried sick that his treasured friendships might have changed – that those he once considered dear friends might not remain his friends today. The uncomfortable thought that he might have changed too occurs, too.

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The Way We All Go is an interesting mixture of actual drawings and edited, real-life images like the one above. It works decently for the vast majority of images, but does appear somewhat unprofessional or even amateurish in others – though ultimately accomplishes to add a unique touch to the game.

It quickly becomes evident that whilst Atcchan appreciates being back, although temporarily, he did leave the sleepy Japanese town with significant unfinished business. He reluctantly explains and excuses himself as it turns out that he only managed the courage to say goodbye to one friend before moving. That is despite claiming to have had two best friends; Amu and Noelle, of whom only Amu got a goodbye. Atcchan thus becomes determined to reach out to both girls – despite being almost obsessively overwhelmed by anxiety and worries. The latter to a degree which risks causing the reader to grow frustrated (and even permanently annoyed) with Atcchan due to his constant whining and severe worrying.

The insecure and somewhat incompetent protagonist is however an interesting character which, perhaps better than most other characters, genuinely manages to portrait the world through the eyes of a teenager suffering from social anxiety. The reader is in other words forced to share Atcchan’s seemingly endless stream of consciousness – for better and worse. The lengthy ramblings does however make it easier for the reader to decide for Atcchan – partly because virtually every perspective of a situation has been analysed thoroughly, and partly because you genuinely want the story to progress.

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The game allows the reader to dictate the story through a few, but very significant and at times tough, choices for which the consequences often appear impossible to comprehend for Atcchan.

And boy, does the story progress!

A reaction I never quite expected to get prior to playing. I should stress that my experience with anime games, and thus visual novels, is extremely (almost embarrassingly) limited to just a handful of titles. This means that I’m forced to judge almost exclusively on the story and the interaction with the player. A natural question thus becomes whether the story works, or not? The short and cryptic answer to that is yes, mostly.

The vast majority of visual novels are either strictly kinetic, or relatively linear. The Way We All Go appears linear, but is delightfully different and does offer several endings. However, despite the numerous endings, the decisions left with the player are not exactly overwhelming nor overly exciting. In fact most appear harmless or even silly, however, the truth of the matter is that every decision effectively pushes the player down a slippery and irreversible slope. A path which often-times appears to take Atcchan, who’s been busy desperately piecing back the imaginary utopia he expected on arrival, by surprise.

Nothing is ever as it seems...

Nothing is ever as it seems…

The Way We All Go is an interesting piece of content which takes a slightly different approach to the visual-novel genre with unique artwork and several unique, and delightfully surprising, endings. Those interested in the genre will thus find The Way We All Go a solid game featuring interesting endings and bizarre plot-twists. Those new to the genre may want to enter through a slightly more traditional game, but will get a great glimpse into the world of Japanese games nonetheless.

Buy The Way We All Go on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/352610/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the publisher.

 

EARLY ACCESS: Welcome to the Sunrider Academy

Introducing the second chapter of the Sunrider trilogy, developer Love In Space welcomes the player to the ever hectic student life at the imaginary Sunrider Academy campus. The player takes the role as Kayto Shields – a young and decently ambitious man whom, unable to decline, ends up being appointed as the school’s Club Manager. He finds himself forced to take the unwanted responsibility and must ensure the three worst-performing clubs regain a minimum of five members each, fix their respective administrations and compete in competitions. Kayto must moreover manage his already tight schedule to fit both a healthy focus on school, homework and exercise, as well as building relationships.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player's holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player’s holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

Sunrider Academy requires the player to pay a constant and very cautious eye at Kayto’s extremely tight schedule in order to properly explore the different character paths. It is evident that the dating-like aspect is meant as the end-game (and likely with different endings depending on which character you attempt to pursue), whereas the time-management is a mere requirement to get started. This can prove a surprisingly challenging thing to accomplish however. Fortunately the game does offer various difficulties allowing players to simply enjoy and explore the various paths without fearing a bad ending. Though, as the game does offer a delightful amount of choices, playing on a difficulty risking a bad ending does make the player think more long-term when deciding.

An unique aspect to Sunrider Academy compared to other visual-novels and anime games is the character progression. All activities the player engages in awards points in various categories (RPG-players, read: skilltrees) such as intelligence, luck, charisma and fitness. All events throughout the game are either directly or indirectly related to these parameters – passing an exam requires a high intelligence, for instance. Failing to manage your time properly means an increased stress-level followed by a higher risk of failing everyday activities and ultimately less points. Similar, success in dating depends on these parameters.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it's evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it’s evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product – image source.

However, these types of games does not appeal to everyone, and should not be purchased nor played by everyone. Whilst Steam has experienced an exponential increase of respectively visual novels and anime games throughout 2014, the genre does remain extremely unique and requires a genuine interest (or curiosity!) in anime. If you enjoy anime, reading and dating-like simulation (or perhaps just the everyday management similar to The Sims), Sunrider Academy appears to be a very solid game to explore. It is moreover beginner-friendly for players unfamiliar or inexperienced with the genre.

It is important to stress that Sunrider Academy mostly feels like an extended demo for what’s to come in its current state – one can expect about four of the announced thirty hours of gameplay. However, the developer appears very active and does listen to community feedback, so the estimated months of early-access might be worth the wait. In the meantime I’d recommend to check out the free demo if any of the above sounds appealing!

Buy Sunrider Academy (EARLY ACCESS), or download the DEMO, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/340730/

Play Sunrider Mask of Arcdius (F2P) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/313730/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

A journey to the Outer-Poles

In a desperate attempt to escape a calamitous attack on Rughzenhaide Castle and securing the life of Princess Selphin Rughzenhaide, the royal guardian Ritona Reighnvhasta performs an unorthodox and highly hazardous teleportation spell. The untested spell, utilizing the rich and extremely powerful manastreams, quickly shows a greater test of Ritona’s skills as a manakravter than expected, and the two young women find themselves alive, but stranded on the other side of the planet in foreign lands surrounded by mysterious characters as a result.

Princess Selphin and Ritona must now enter an adventurous and circuitous journey back to Rughzenhaide to face their assailants and re-take what’s rightfully Selphin’s… and without further ado, welcome to the first milestone, or part, in the fault miniseries by Japanese doujin circle ALICE IN DISSONANCE, published by Sekai Project and realized by 1137 Kickstarter backers.

The art and character design is done nicely and suits the anime-genre perfectly. Worth noting is how the male characters are slightly westernized.

The artwork is very well made and will be eye-candy for anime lovers.

It is important to stress for readers unfamiliar or new with the genre that this is not a game; nor an interactive novel. In fact fault is verging on being a kinetic visual novel (a novel with pictures and audio), rather than an actual visual novel, as the player is met with only one interactive choice which seemingly has no significant importance for how the story unfolds. An increased amount of interactive choices would have been appreciated as the otherwise very controlled kinetic-approach undeniably puts a lot of pressure on the story. The prologue does in this regard appear slightly light-hearted, but it nonetheless manages to set the scene for a delightfully intriguing story following the mysterious and fascinating Rune character.

The mysterious Rune, whom quickly befriends Princes Selphin and Ritona upon their arrival in Kadia City, suddenly disappears the day before their planned departure. Princes Selphin, whose body, like Ritona’s, is running out of natural mana and thus energy, insists that they dedicate some of their limited time to figure out what happened to Rune, and whether she requires their help. And with that decision, the two young women enters a very dark rabbit hole…

Innocence can not always hide dark and terrifying secrets, or can it…?

fault -milestone one– is exquisitely accompanied by an impressive instrumental soundtrack. Unfortunately some tracks are somewhat short, and slow-readers will thus experience several repeating tracks as a result. However, repeating tracks are compensated by immersive suspense-music which intensifies perfectly following the story line. Overall, the soundtrack accomplishes everything a well-made soundtrack should – which is great and very appealing in a visual novel!

The user interface is moreover surprisingly beautiful and super simple to use – unlike other visual novels which have a tendency to be slightly clunky. The reader is met with neat saving- and loading-features as well as an encyclopedia which may be accessed at any time. The encyclopedia is extremely helpful due to the occasional and very complex descriptions of mana- and manakravte terminology as readers, whom may feel inclined to skip a few information-heavy paragraphs, can catch up if need be. Things like locales and noteworthy items are moreover covered.

The villains are share a special mysterious and, admittedly, highly interesting aura.

The villains all share an unique and highly mysterious aura.

In conclusion, fault -milestone one- remains nothing but a very polished visual novel with an intriguing text-only story starring mysterious and dark characters in an Earth-like fantasy world. The artwork is great and the soundtrack accompanies both art and story impressively. However, due to fault being the first part in a mini-series, readers will be left with several unanswered questions and a keen desire for closure. So, ALICE IN DISSONANCE and Sekai Project; hurry up!

Buy -fault- milestone one- on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/286260/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this review is reviewing the director’s cut version exclusive to Steam. 

planetarian -the revierie of a little planet-

Hope.

Post-apocalyptic.

A melancholic environment.

The above are all valid keywords and terms when describing the themes in the apocalyptic visual novel planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  by Japanese-developer Key – a kinetic novel fast approaching its 10th anniversary in November later this year.

It is important to stress that this is not a game – nor is it an interactive novel, but rather a kinetic visual novel meaning that the player, unlike traditional visual novels, is given no choices in terms of how the story progresses. An approach which undeniably puts a lot of pressure on the story as it needs to be stellar and very solid to both entertain the player and justify the price. My review will thus primarily focus on the story and illustrations rather than the game mechanics. Though, it is important to remember that the game is nearly ten years old, and that the UI and resolution-options thus are limited and clunky due to that.

The world a wasteland with a consisted poisonous and corrosive rain - all a direct result of humanity's warfare on themselves.

The word is a ravaged wasteland which suffers from a consistent poisonous and corrosive rain – all a direct result of humanity’s warfare and inability to forgive and communicate properly.

planetarian introduces the reader to the ravaged remains of an once magnificent and monumental civilization which, due to depletion of limited natural resources, overpopulation and a failed Space Exploration Project, has become the victim of its own biological- and nuclear warfare. Once started, the war wouldn’t end and the bloodshed continued for thirty rough and unforgiving years – well into an era dominated by automated war machines set to kill anyone trespassing their territory on sight and capable of withstanding the now poisonous rain.

Whilst humanity remains present in small, unfriendly and very scattered groups, the story only includes one human-character; a middle-aged soldier and so-called junker (a person who enters dead cities on their own in an attempt to scavenge and track down valuable and undamaged objects) – simply referred to as ‘the junker’. Our main-character enters a derelict city and finds himself in the Flowercrest Department Store, where he unexpectedly is greeted by the ever talkative gynoid attendant, Yumeni. It quickly turns out that Yumeni is completely unaware of what have happened the previous 30 years as the databases she connects to are long gone. She thus welcomes the protagonist like a regular guest and refers to him as Mr. Customer, and proceeds as if nothing is wrong by showing massive loyalty and attentive while sharing happiness.

There are only two characters throughout the entire story, one of them being the talkative robot, Hoshino Yumemi.

In fact, Yumeni welcomes the junker as the store’s 2 500 000th visitor (despite him really being the 2 497 290th), and insists on showing him a special commemorative projection – an offer which he despite his aggravations accepts. Unfortunately the projector device, Miss Jena, is malfunctioning and the junker is required to repair it. As the junker works on the projector, he continues to observe and talk to Yumeni, whose innocence, amazing work ethic and almost childish happiness makes him grow fond of her.

The above ultimately means that a great amount of the dialogues consist of pure small-talk – something which appears subtle at first, however, is the fact that the small-talk perhaps are the most important dialogues. They truly show the differences between the junker and Yumeni, and how the two of them are respectively born and created into two different worlds years apart.

The illustrations are all very well-made with rich colours.

As the story progresses, it is evident that writer Yūichi Suzumoto understands how to play with the reader’s emotions and how to create a unique setting for his story. Mixed with very appealing illustrations, music and dialogues the character development furthermore remains intriguing and charming.

When that’s said, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  is not a game (or story) for everyone. A passion for anime is an absolutely minimum requirement, and an acceptance of the fact that there are no choices or interaction to be made beyond the dialogue speed. However, if you like anime and don’t mind a kinetic novel, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ is a great choice for an emotional and solid story.

Buy planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/316720/

A press copy was kindly provided for reviewing purposes.