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. 

PREVIEW: Majestic Nights

Conspiracy theories are not always just conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s simply something which (or whom) cannot be denied existence – especially not if you have witnessed everything. Or have you? In fact you are not really sure, but everyone around you seems to believe you did. So perhaps you really did – working as an intelligence operative deep undercover and constantly living in the shadows can’t be healthy. No, you need to know for certain that what has been seen cannot be unseen.

And with that, welcome to Majestic Nights.

Majestic Nights

Introducing Majestic Nights – an episodic role-playing-thriller set in an alternate 1980s where all conspiracy theories, past and present, are true.

Set in the 80’s bright, lively and colorful world, the six darkest and most controversial conspiracies through the last 50 years are about to slowly become unwrapped and revealed – all from experiments with mind control and alien abductions to government hoaxes. Indeed, Majestic Nights has been announced to be released in six standalone chapters, excluding the seventh and free prologue Sunset After Dark, all covering one of the six aforementioned conspiracy theories. A season pass allowing access to all episodes once released will moreover become available – though each episode may be purchased individually for a small price.

Gameplay-wise through the roughly 30-40 minutes the prologue takes, it is evident that Majestic Nights is an intriguing mix of stealth, interrogation and action-packed shootouts. Worth noting, however, is that if the protagonist is spotted by enemies, the game will enter a slow-motion mode which significantly reduces the excitement regardless of difficulty. Though, ignoring stiff movement and what at times feels like unresponsive, or slow, controls, the gameplay from a game still in development feels solid. Furthermore, Australian developer Epiphany Games has assured me that several improvements and tweaks (likely addressing the above) will be implemented accordingly prior to launch.

Majestic Nights

You may decide to walk the shadows and avoid direct shootouts, or play by the motto: There’s no one to notice, if there’s no one to notice. A melee-option has moreover been confirmed, something which only adds to the stealth-play.

Another aspect worth noting is the three difficulty-levels, and unfortunately, after having played through all options, there seem to be little-to-no difference between either. Significant differences such as limited or reduced ammunition, reduced cover time, reduced running, no indicator around story-related elements or similar between the difficulty-levels would be very welcome. It is important to stress that the vast majority of players will enjoy the story regardless of difficulty, but those who seek a challenge whilst following an intriguing story would appreciate this.

The visual design of Majestic Nights seems – at first glance – to be a mix of respectively Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. This means comic-like drawings from an unusual and unique color palette which isn’t afraid of bright colours. The lightning effects when caught is moreover a nice twist and most unique. Admittedly this art style won’t please everyone, but it suits the overall environment and story nicely.

Depending on the player's choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Depending on the player’s choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Overall Majestic Nights seeks to offer a unique perspective on conspiracy theories – an interesting subject which allows for many options. It will be interesting to see how the actual chapters will unfold, but with the right tweaks and fixes together with a firm focus on delivering an intriguing story, Majestic Nights will likely turn majestic.

Pre-order Majestic Nights on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/284140

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