Monday, October 31, 2016

Games for Adults Halloween: Kara no Shojo -The Second Episode-

Kara no Shojo – The Second Episode Review

                Happy Halloween, folks!!  For our final entry in this year’s review-athon ,we return to another franchise, this one not requiring knowledge of Japanese to play, Innocent Grey’s delightful little murder mystery universe. The entry is none other than Kara no Shojo – The Second Episode, released in Japan February 8, 2013 and released in English by Managagmer October 30,2015 with a physical release July 1, 2016. Given how the previous game ended a sequel was inevitable but shortly after the game’s Japanese debut things took an interesting turn. Several Japanese players and  importers who played the game had mixed or negative reviews which was surprising, at least to me. While Innocent Grey is far from perfect I’d yet to hear anything that consistently critical of their releases and considering how good KnS was, I was curious how such an anticipated sequel could be so bungled. Still when the English release came about I kept an open mind and was even hopeful that what I’d heard was wrong after enjoying the demo. No after playing the game I can say that while a good game overall, KnS2 is one of those sequels that isn’t as good as its predecessor even if you can clearly see and appreciate its efforts to surpass it.

Pros: Returning characters are as enjoyable as before, some of the new characters are good, there are some really nice twists in the mystery plotlines especially at their conclusion, story does a good job building off plot elements from previous games, great artwork, excellent voice acting, good music.
Cons: The pacing, a lot of the new characters are on the bland or forgettable side, most of the ero scenes feel unnecessary, the true ending has issues.
WTF?!: No joke, she means that literally…

                Kara no Shojo – The Second Episode takes place two years after the first game with our protagonist, Reiji, continuing his usual detective work while on the side still pursuing the hanging mystery around Touko Kuchiki. While helping the police investigate a new series of serial murders, Reiji soon finds himself taking a suicidal suspect in the case, one Masaki Tomoyuki, under his care and strangely enough under his wing as an assistant. As the pair dig further into the case they begin finding connections not only with a religious cult on the rebound since its collapse in the aftermath of the Ueno murders but also with a strange series of events and ritualistic killings centered around a curse from an angry god that occurred in an isolated mountain village known as Hitogata during the early days of the Second World War. Meanwhile, the escaped culprit from the murders two years prior seems to be making moves of his own, but to what end is anyone’s guess…

                With a plot summary like that I had a hard time believing KnS2 could be bad. The premise of Reiji investigating a curse based murder set in a remote village sounded perfect: a change in setting and murder mystery type that are almost an opposite of the previous game that has the added benefit of giving some Higurashi vibes. True, it did seem like hanging plot thread from the last game would be put to the side, but it’s kind of to be expected since barring really creative writing it you can’t really make a whole game’s worth of story out of that, plus you would want to give the new story room to be its own thing. In fact at the start of the game things seem to be going in the right direction, it was good to see returning characters again while new plot threads were being established, especially with the new character: Masaki…but then we soon run into the game’s most apparent writing flaw: the pacing.

                Okay, I kid it's not that bad, but KnS2 has a habit of slowing down its plot in order to establish future story elements that feels kind of forced. Ideally, when a story slows down to build things up it should either feel natural or be apparent at first but quickly pull you in by its own merits that you don’t mind it. KnS2 doesn’t quite hit either for a few reasons and these reasons are very apparent early in the game with a flashback arc that starts soon after the introduction. This flashback is a slow and overly long arc that many who have played it will nod sympathetically at you the moment you bring it up. I myself was warned about this part of the game, but I did try to give it a fair chance and am willing to admit there are good parts. The beginning I found interesting in seeing how a remote Japanese village is affected by World War II and how even though the setting is distant enough talk of the war still reaches that far and even affects some members of the community. It gives the setting some good flavor and while it’s there it does make for a nice contrast to the peaceful viewpoints of the setting’s main character. Also the arc’s last part gets interesting as it sets the stage for the murder mysteries in the present. The problem is soon after it focuses more on the everyday occurrences in the village alongside preparations for an upcoming festival that drag on and on. It’s supposed to establish how life is in the village and the function of the major families in the village and how the children of those families relate to their relatives, but only the parts that pertain to the central characters: Ayato, Naori and Satsuki are interesting the rest feel like information that you’re only reading because it’s required. That last part isn’t an exaggeration as quite a bit of the overarching case does depend on you knowing most of what the flashback explains. It’s too bad learning this is a slog since the plot revelations that come of it all are really good. It really makes you wish this part had the story and characters to not have you constantly wondering when the story will return to the present. And speaking of which…

                Okay, let me make something clear: the new characters introduced in KnS2 aren’t bad, but aside from the ones who are central characters the rest of them are just bland and for an Innocent Grey game that is a significant flaw. Generally the side characters from previous Innocent Grey games have been interesting in one way or another from the playful Rin of Cartagra to the adorably silly Tsuzuriko of the first Kara no Shojo, but in this case I can only think of a few memorable side characters and this out of many. Some of them have aspects to their characters with interesting potential but those aspects are either not used much or the story doesn’t do any more than one might expect. While it’s good that the central new characters don’t fall into this, it’s still a problem for several reasons. First these side characters are supposed to be supports to the new story built around the new characters; give the new setting places such as the village life or a sense of uniqueness. I realize considering how KnS2’s story goes a feeling of dullness and/or stagnation is fitting for the village but I’m not sure if being able to perfectly capture that is good at least for the start of the story. Second, having the side characters be bland doesn’t give you much investment in them, which makes the story moments when some of them die have little impact compared to the previous games. In those games you usually felt bad when their characters died, heck Cartagra was even able to make you feel sorry for an initially unlikable character’s death with a pretty well put together “we hardly knew ye” segment following that character’s funeral. In KnS2, the most you get from one of these characters’ deaths is a “well, that’s too bad…then again it’s not one of the characters I was really invested in, so…” kind of feeling. 
                All that said, once you get past the flashback the game does get better as it builds from what it establishes to not just tie into the mystery being followed in the present but also set things up for what for a while seem like B plots to eventually connect with the main plot. These are done fairly well and lead into plot twists that I really didn’t see coming (though I admit there is one mystery with a disappointingly obvious reveal). This is helped by some good character interactions, especially between Reiji and Masaki whose back and forth between each other make for not only make for good character chemistry worthy of a good buddy cop movie but also make for a good setup for a potential passing of the torch to Masaki for main character status in future games in how Reiji does end up mentoring the other in his own way. This leads into Masaki doing some investigation of his own in later scenes from his point of view that, while showing he is still an amateur at it Masaki does have some potential as a detective. In all the ways KnS2 ends, that does seem likely, and speaking of endings…

            Once again this is a game where I can’t do a route ranking because in Kara no Shojo 2 there aren’t really any routes just endings: most of them bad endings, 1 normal ending and the true ending. The bad endings are a mixed bag of including your typical dead end, endings which give a sudden premature end before taking you back to the main menu, endings that manage to mix tragedy and with a chilling outcome pretty well and a decent bittersweet conclusion. The normal ending just concludes the main story and the true ending acts as a continuation from that point. Personally I like the normal ending better since I feel it makes for a better stopping point than the true ending, but we’ll get to that after I explain the latter a bit more.
                Despite what flaws I feel it may have, I will admit the unlocking of the true ending has an interesting aspect to it. While it’s unlocked after finishing the normal ending, you need to start over from the beginning to see it and in doing so you get a nice new opening and unlock some new story sequences from other characters’ point of views that are for the most part interesting and do serve to enhance the plot you’ve already experienced as well as answer a few lingering questions from the normal end. There are a couple scenes that I feel are unnecessary but those are pretty brief so I won’t count it against the true ending path. What I sadly have to count against it though is even with the new reading material the majority of the text is the same as before so expect to have the game be skipping previously read text for quite a while at points. At one point while the game was skipping text I literally had enough time to grind a couple levels for my characters in Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on my PS3 before I got to new text and had to pause (and mute). While good stories can leave you wanting more I don’t think this is quite how it should be done; which brings us to my main problem with the true ending itself.
                Okay, I’m going to do my best to be vague so as not to spoil things, but I can say one thing in the true ending story arc’s segment is it does give proper focus to the hanging plot thread from the first game, tying in well with the few hints about it going on in the background throughout the main story and bringing in a plot element said story that has interesting plot potential. The problem is it leads into an ending that isn’t as conclusive as the normal ending was. I’m not saying it ends on a cliffhanger or anything like that, but it will probably leave you saying “Wait, that’s it?!” once the credits are done rolling. Don’t get me wrong, my overall problem is not with the outcome that kind of seemed like an inevitable conclusion even at the end of the first game. My problem is that compared to the first game’s true ending it is just not as good. Kara no Shojo’s true end did leave a hanging plot thread but it still felt like a conclusion in that you had firm knowledge of where the characters were in relation to how the case ended for good or bad. In KnS2 you’re not only left wondering how this outcome will affect the characters but also with so many questions about a newly introduced plot element enough that if I were to make “five second sum up” of this ending it would include this (credit to Linkara for making this a thing):

                System-wise the investigation mechanic is back with your collecting evidence, story details and even character connections based on what you examine which in turn give you options of what to present to support certain choices and/or deductions. There's also the return of the notes which explain various terms and references that crop up throughout which do make for a ice bit of extra reading if you're interested in Japanese history and culture. The system itself is good and works fine, but it feels underused in part because of how much story occurs in between to actually use what you acquire it that you would be forgiven for forgetting when the last time it was you did this. Plus over the course of the game you’ll collect enough evidence to fill a real life crime evidence storage room, but you’ll barely use any of it. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the Ace Attorney games in that of the evidence you gather enough of it is used that there’s an entertaining of mystery wondering just which of them will be the most useful, but I don’t remember the evidence I gathered in the first game feeling largely superfluous.

                In the area of presentation I can say that Innocent Grey hits it out of the ball park once again. The artwork is fantastic as always for the characters, event CG and background CG. The characters have a realistic enough look to them but at the same time leave enough room to retain that range of facial expression one can get from anime/manga style should a scene call for it without it looking out of place. The event CG is always well drawn to capture and express the events of that scene be it an emotional climax to a story arc or the grisliness of the murder’s that occur, be they the act itself or the aftermath that you investigate. In those latter cases KnS2 perfects the presentation its set in previous games of using fragments of the CG to lead up into the reveal for all the scene’s bloody horrific glory. The background CG is just beautiful, each one creating a picturesque setting for each location. The voice acting is phenomenal with everyone turning in a great performance especially from Reiji’s VA who is none other than Junichi Suwabe the voice of the Fate series’ mainstay Archer. The music is well put together as always, portraying the mood various scenes perfectly from creepy sounding “Curse”, to the ominous sounding “Together…” to the menu music you get upon clearing the true ending which I will admit does a good job capturing the tone of the true ending with it starting out small and somewhat gloomy but gradually building up into a tune that seems to hold the possibility of hope for moving forward from the events the true ending established. Finally the opening movies for this game are a sight to behold; mixing in good music with some really well put together visuals you’ll want to look at more than once for the pretty visuals and to appreciate what they hint at in the story. 
            As for the ero scenes…this is where I think KnS2 has another big weak point. There are only eight of them in this entire game and only two of them you can argue have any real necessity to the plot or characters. As ero scenes go they’re decent, having good artwork and are well acted. The problem is with the remainder, four of them are skippable depending on choice and two of those four feel like scenes you’d access from the extras gallery like with some of Cho Dengeki Stryker’s ero scenes. The remaining two, one of them being the first you’ll see, feel completely pointless; you could remove those scenes and have no effect on the plot whatsoever. The aforementioned basically as a callback to a plot element from a previous game but it just gives off a “…did we really need to see this?” kind of reference, while the other one I guess you could argue establishes a character’s motivations for stuff that happens later in the story but we learn it through character dialogue anyway and to be honest it’s effective enough with that just being left to the imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suddenly going into prude mode; I still affirm my favorite VN series as being the Kyonyuu Fantasy games, but in this case it’s a matter of wanting better writing around the ero scenes and when only two scenes really have that it’s definitely a problem.

In Conclusion:
            Kara no Shojo –The Second Episode- is an overall good game and an experience I would recommend to any who are invested in Innocent Grey’s murder mystery series or want a good read (after reading the first game). It’s certainly a well-designed game and on the design front it does top previous games in the series, but I can’t say it’s a sequel that surpasses its predecessor on the writing front or even breaks even with it on that front. If you can get past its pacing problems then I’d say it’s worth getting, but its sequel status may make this one Halloween treat accessible only to some.
Final Score: 8/10 Awesome
Author Recommendation: For Fans Only!

            And with that we conclude our 2016 Halloween Review-athon. Happy Halloween to you all, and here’s hoping next year time (and circumstances) can keep this tradition going.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Kansen - Clipping Chronicle

Kansen - Clipping Chronicle Review

                It appears like zombies themselves, even the Kansen series won’t be gone for very long no matter what may try to return them to the grave. Let’s continue in our Halloween 2016 review-athon with a return to Speed’s well known series with Kansen - Clipping Chronicle, initially released digitally December 18, 2015 (there was apparently a limited physical edition too) and given a later physical release May 27, 2016. After the infuriatingly franchise disrespectful abomination that was Kansen Ball Buster things can go is up, right?...The answer is “sort of” but as you’ll soon see, the series still has a ways to go before a true return to form.

Pros: Likable characters, mostly good voice acting, good artwork.
Cons: Slow story, endings don’t feel as conclusive as in previous games, Misuzu is unwinnable, certain plot elements feel useless, a neat reference to previous games ends up poorly used in the end, kind of a flub on one VA’s front.
WTF?!: Glad to see Kansen’s getting into the Halloween spirit.

                Set at the same time as the first, second and fourth games, Kansen Clipping Chronicle follows Akira Shibue and his circle of friends who are among a group of school fitness clubs attending a training camp. As time passes with potential romances blossoming, Akira can’t help but get an unsettling feeling as word of unusual happenings not too far from the camp start going around. Little does he or any of those around him realize the horrors that await them as these events slowly escalate to the inevitable outbreak…

                Okay, let’s get the main question out of the way: yes, Kansen Clipping Chronicle is a way better game than Ball Buster. I also wouldn’t even call it a bad game, but as I’m going to explain, it has problems. Still, let’s start with what this game does right as I feel it’s enough for it to at least half stand on.
                  If there is one thing that all the good Kansen games have in common, it’s having a likable cast of characters (click here for profiles). Even an almost good title like Kansen 2 at least focused on the likable characters and thankfully Clipping Chronicle has that. We’re given a good intro of Akira and his circle of friends, learn their quirks, some details of their lives back home, and it’s enough to get you at least fond of them so when the outbreak does occur you have some investment in their fates. While admittedly that sounds par for the course for this series considering that in the last game we had Kasumi the failure clown (because clowns are supposed to be funny…and/or scary) a cast of likable characters is an accomplishment.
                This unfortunately leads us into one of the problems CC has though: its story is slow. Now bear in mind I’m saying this as someone who’s played every game in the series, which all had slow starts so as to introduce their cast and setting. Heck Kansen 3’s pre-outbreak segment is probably longer but it never feels slow because in that case you’re getting to know the characters and setting all throughout. Clipping Chronicle’s problem is after you’ve gotten a good enough intro to everyone along with some nice interactions, it still takes a while for the zombies to show up. While to some extent this is a problem because the character scenes start to go stale, there’s a more noticeable reason…
                While I can’t prove anything I can make an educated guess that I probably wasn’t the only one who disliked Ball Buster since if you take a close look you can tell Clipping Chronicle likely had less of a budget than its predecessors. This could be a sign of less faith in the series, especially considering how long it took for us to see another Kansen game, or it could be because lately Speed has been releasing shorter titles and CC got the same budget as one of those, but either way the budget cut shows, especially in the writing. This means that with a limited amount of money for voice acting there’s going to be more scenes and lines for the unvoiced characters and as a result we get scenes that don’t feel as lively as ones where the voiced characters are present (or if they are their lines are short if they speak at all).
                Once again this leads into another problem as despite the writer’s best attempts to extend the story, Clipping Chronicle still feels short for a Kansen game. While the pre-zombie part of the story is too long, the zombie outbreak part is a little too short. With one exception (bad ends aside), the basic structure is after the outbreak Akira and the heroine he’s with run for the only visible shelter, get there and that’s it. There’s some struggle in between with the zombies they encounter but it’s minimal at best, feeling more like a checklist of tropes from the prvious games than scenes meant to have an emotional impact. The reason for this is there’s only a short amount of time to show how this affects the survivors before the credits roll, which again brings us to another issue: the endings themselves.

                Before we get into detail I should probably explain why I’m not doing a route ranking. This is because CC’s routes are more endings than routes. Your choices do determine which heroine Akira escapes with, but the in story circumstances that establish it are hand wavey at best, especially since the true route pretty much retcons both endings. If you were to ask me which heroine I prefer then my answer would be Rui because not only is she one of the funnier characters in the game, but she and Akira also have the best chemistry hands down.

                As for Riri…the reason she loses in comparison is for two reasons. The first is because while a likable character in the end, she still feels too much like you’re typical tsundere childhood friend heroine, and while I admit the game does try something to make her different from the mold it’s not enough to make her as interesting as Rui. This brings us into the second problem as what’s attempted to make Riri’s character different is a love triangle plot that doesn’t work because it doesn’t really go anywhere. It has the right place in the story when it comes to establishing how it figures into Akira and Riri’s back stories and actions as characters, but it’s not given nearly as much focus as it should in the overall story in order to give it the right payoff. This is especially confounded when the other part of the love triangle only shows up in brief flashbacks and a very short unlockable extra scene with no real effect on the plot.
                Anyway, back to the subject of the endings, while the true route is the best of them, having some actual tension and the characters taking a more proactive approach to their survival, it too shares this same problem the other two endings have: barely conclusive endings. All the other games in the series got to the end of the outbreak in their endings (the ones that weren’t bad ends) and at the very least established where the survivors were and what was in store for them in the aftermath: good and bad. In Clipping Chronicle, the endings leave the survivors’ fates somewhat uncertain and while that may sound like the writers were trying something new the presentation comes off as the endings feeling incomplete rather than ambiguous.

                Finally these last two problems are minor ones, but problems all the same. First, in continuing tradition from Kansen 5, we have another unwinnable heroine in a mainly comic relief character named Misuzu Nenohi. In the game there is a background written for her as a character, she and Akira do seem to at least like each other as friends and there is an option at the beginning of the game to say Akira is interested in her. Admittedly the choice is part of a scene where the characters are joking around, but still…

                The last problem concerns a certain reference put in for the previous games. I won’t spoil what it is because at the start it is a pretty nice reference (and no it’s not the one pictured above), but that’s only at the start. Basically at the end of the true route it goes from a reference you can chuckle at if you’ve played the previous games to feeling like the series is ripping itself off all of a sudden. It’s too bad as this might have turned into a good plot element and potentially something to lead into stories for future games in the series if something more had been done with it on the writing front as this does connect to a background plot element that’s featured throughout the series. Unfortunately the way the true route’s ending goes makes it clear that all the writers were interested in was trying to be clever about their references to previous games.

                In the area of presentation Kansen Clipping Chronicle does all right. The artwork is good, another staple of the series, though once again budget limitations rear their ugly head in how the game designers figured just a reverse image of the same CG counts as another CG. Even if they were trying to make the characters in that scene move it’s a laughable attempt at best. In the sound department, the music is fine even if it is all music from previous games. Thankfully, they don’t use any of Ball Buster’s unique tracks, so count that as a positive. On the voice acting front, the voice actresses all turn in good performances and we even have some familiar voices such as Ruri’s VA, Alice Sakurai, who some of you may recognize as the voice of Kyonyuu Fantasy series heroine Isis, and Himari who voiced Kanae in euphoria. Unfortunately for the latter, I think there may have been a line flub on her end as there is one scene where it sounds like she’s phoning in her lines. On the other hand it is for an overly long ero scene, and maybe the intent was to show tiredness on the character’s part. Speaking of which…
            As for the ero scenes, they’re pretty good. They’re drawn well enough at least and mostly well acted, but some of them suffer from being too long. About the only other complaint I have is for some reason Rui doesn’t have a “good” ero scene, which while from a writing perspective makes some sense in that it would be difficult to fit one into the main story, it could have been put in an epilogue like in the first game…if the creators had bothered to make epilogues for this game.

In Conclusion: 

            Kansen – Clipping Chronicle is an overall okay return for the series. We thankfully have a likable cast again and at least in the true route we have a struggle for survival for the characters that feels like a Kansen game. Sadly its lacking budget, inconclusive ending and shortness prevent me from declaring this a return to form for the series. Hopefully future games can improve from here, but for now we’ll have to settle for the latest game not being good, but at least not being horrible. It may be the equivalent of “loser candy” as Gravity Falls put it, but like said show demonstrated it is at least edible.

Final Score: 5/10 Average

Author Recommendation: For Fans Only!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Games for Adults Halloween: euphoria

Euphoria Review

                Happy October 2016, folks!!  Moving and new jobs may have reduced this year’s number of reviews but this Halloween tradition will not go way so easily, so let’s get started. A year ago I closed out Halloween with a look at the demo for Clock Up’s euphoria. Ever since I played the demo I knew I had a shoe in for this year’s series of reviews and while I was right I have to also say this game turned out to be very different from what I was expecting. Without any further delay, let’s take a look at what many consider to be Clock Up’s best game, release in Japan June 24, 2011 and released in English by Mangagamer November 27, 2015.

Game OP:
Pros: Interesting premise that takes on very interesting turns with each route, interesting characters, Natsuki, very good art, great voice acting, good music.
Cons: The premise is not for everyone, Rika is not for everyone, true route has some minor writing issues, design for unnamed characters.
WTF?!: One reason I like Natsuki, we have a similar taste in movies.

                The plot of euphoria begins with our protagonist, Keisuke Takatou, waking up to find himself and six women, all of whom he’s at least acquainted with, trapped in a strange white room. A mechanical voice then informs them that the reason for their entrapment is to participate in a game that is also their only hopes of getting out. The game’s rules are:

As outrageous as the rules sound naturally there are objections, but the group is soon given a very vivid demonstration of what happens to those who refuse to participate, making it clear participation is the only way to make it out alive. Yet as the group copes with this inescapable situation, Keisuke inwardly finds the idea of the game strangely appealing to his hidden sadistic urges, desires which he has long tried to suppress. One of the girls, Nemu Manaka, then approaches him and reveals she’s aware of his desires and wants to use this game as an opportunity to bring them out. Between surviving this game, the desire to protect his childhood friend and fellow game participant Kanae Hokari, and this, what fate awaits Keisuke and the others only time will tell…

                Okay, at first glance euphoria looks like the eroge equivalent of the Saw series. Heck, my demo impression used that idea as a lead in, and yet that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  While you do get that at first(and a bit more in some routes), at a certain point things change and over the course of reading each route it becomes apparent there’s more going on besides the game the characters have found themselves in.
                If there’s one thing euphoria excels at is how it’s able to get the routes prior to the true ending to lead into it effectively. To those unaware, one pet peeve I have with true endings is how if not done right (which can happen) it ends up coming off as retconning more interesting stories in favor of a less interesting story or main character/heroine  to focus on because it has more story revelation than the others. It comes off as the game telling you what to be invested in rather than you finding that yourself which breaks immersion. Thankfully euphoria avoids this by having each route work as a setup for the True Ending, and that’s going to take some explaining…
                Normally this would be I’d do a route ranking but of the four routes that precede the true one, only two of them can stand on their own as stories: Rika and Natsuki’s. This is because this pair of routes function as introductory stories that offer a good look at the game’s face value premise with brief glimpses at what’s beyond it. As such I would recommend playing at least one of them first and by that…well, it looks like we’re in for a (mini) route ranking after all…
1)      Natsuki
2)      Rika

                The reason Natsuki wins is for two reasons: first she and Keisuke have really good chemistry, arguably the best on the romantic front. Their conversations are interesting and even funny, plus they lead into some character info about Natsuki herself that honestly has me wanting at least another story with her as either a lead or main character. Second, the story I found to be pretty good too as it makes for a good way of starting to analyze the mystery around the game and through that get hints at what could be going on behind the scenes, enough for you to start making theories but only enough for that. Honestly if I were to do a route ranking that included the True Route, Natsuki’s would rank second for those reasons and because even taking into account what’s revealed in the True Route I think it can stand on its own as a “what if” story compared to the other routes.

                Now onto the subject of Rika’s route, this is the reason why I recommended reading “at least one” of this pair. That’s not to say this route is bad (I have played worse…far worse), in fact from a writing standpoint this route is probably the best to start with. Its function is basically to introduce the story’s premise and provide hints there’s more going on than at first and leave it at that with its ending, prompting you to play the other routes to find out more. The problem is Rika herself.
                The problem with having Rika’s route be the first you read depends on your tolerance for  flawed characters, because if it’s not high you may end up being turned off from this game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not using this as a “the masses just can’t appreciate flawed characters” kind of defense, since even from that angle I’ve read better. I’m saying that since that seems to be what the writer was going for (that includes commentaries). The thing is, as I indicated back in my demo impression, Rika is essentially written as that one character in the horror movie that has you wondering how long until the killer/monster gets them, and seeing as this is her route that means you’re going to have to spend a great deal of time with her and even I’ll admit that can be grating after a while.

                Ultimately if you decide to play or skip Rika’s route (which you can do since it’s not required to unlock the true route and you won’t miss anything critical to the overarching plot), I can at least say the character isn’t wholly without value. The game does some interesting things with her in other routes and I admit at the end of her route I was invested enough to see how it ended. Heck, the fact that I’ve written three whole paragraphs on this character means I got some kind of impression from her. On a final note on Rika, I believe I can point out on positive that I’m sure the majority can agree on. In keeping with Spoony’s assertion that the horror movie trope Rika falls into should be considered comedic, there is quite a bit of dark comedy gold in how over the top bad things go for Rika in the majority of her ero scenes.
                Moving along, we come to Rinne and Nemu’s routes, which may not be able to stand on their own as much as the previous two, but more than make up for that in their role of setting things up for the true route. Rinne’s introduces some interesting backstory information and goes in a very…unique direction that has the distinction of being penned by Banya Izumi, who some of you may recognize as the writer the majority of Black Cyc’s good games (like this one), Koichi’s route in NO, THANKYOU!!!, and one of our previous Halloween features: Dark Blue. All I can say further about this route is once you finish it try to remember your impression of the route then and consider it with what the true ending reveals. You may appreciate what it all means then, you may laugh, or you may feel like you need a shower…or all three.

                Now as for Nemu’s route…this one’s a little hard to explain without even hinting at potentially big spoilers but I’ll do my best. The key plot element here is what you would expect versus what you don’t expect. The route essentially goes along with what you’re expecting of it, but here and there tosses in moments where Keisuke briefly sees something very unusual before things suddenly go back to normal leaving you wondering what it could mean. These moments are few but are written in a way that indicates their importance to such extent that you feel as confounded as Keisuke when things finally come to a head and the route leaves you with more questions and how the true route can possibly answer them.

                This brings us to the True Route, aka Kanae’s route and boy is this a doozy to write about without setting off a veritable mine field of spoilers. While I could do a spoiler section like usual, I’m going to make an exception here because this route is something best experienced for yourselves. All I can say is the following: first, that aforementioned plot element from Nemu’s route of expected vs unexpected comes back, but in a different way than before. Second, the big reveal of the story is handled surprisingly well by taking something that sounds ridiculous but and not only building on it to make it effective  and natural, but also in making you want to go back and read at least some parts with a new perspective to see if there are any hints in disguise.
                With that praise though, I’m afraid I do have to point out some flaws euphoria has in the writing department. For starters while the routes do a good job  building up building up to the true route (and are at the very least interesting reads) there is the problem of the first arc of the game getting repetitive. Basically at that point the story segments that happens in between the scenes concerning the heroine you choose have very little difference and after two playthroughs you’re essentially left waiting until the text skipping is done so you can start reading something new. This even includes the end of the arc which is an exciting read the first time but only the first time since your previous choices really only change a few lines of dialogue (not counting the bad end choices).

                This brings us into the first of two flaws the true route has in the writing department, this one also concerning repetition. For story reasons, Nemu and Kanae’s routes follow a very similar plot line beyond the first arc. While this makes sense and leads into a good story payoff, it also means you’ll be skipping quite a bit of text for a while. Enough that you can get up, eat a snack and come back before the text skip reaches new story material. Considering this is the true route, having it take a while to get to anything new is a bit of a drag. It’s kind of like reading a really long and engrossing thriller and just as you’re about to find out the big reveal you lose your place in the book and now have to flip through almost every page just to get back.
                The second flaw, at least to me, concerns the ending. Don’t get the wrong idea, the ending is really good. In fact one bit of praise I can give is it didn’t end where I thought it would and manages to move forward from there without feeling like its dragging. The story goes along surprisingly well during that point and creates an interesting build up from some plot elements that time seem reminiscent of parts from the game NO, THANK YOU!!! which aside from the Izumi writing also shares a parent company and the same artist. The thing is I think the last few scenes are a little too short for what the story was building up. I can’t give any spoiler free details but I can say those few scenes could have used a little more length considering the content of the buildup and also to give the final scene more emotional effect.

                In the area of presentation, euphoria does very well. The artwork by Shigeo Hamashima is for the most part excellent, giving the characters good appearances and convincing expressions as well as giving the CG some good “detail”. The background CG is also well done, as it gives each major location the right impression such as the story’s game location with its largely white and clean appearance and how at odds yet at the same time strangely fitting it is as a setting for such a game. About the only case where the art weakens is later in the story where you see some scenes featuring other people besides the main cast. These are mostly nameless and voiceless characters and as such are given only the most basic character portrait but said portrait just doesn’t look very good and clashes with the better artwork we’ve been seeing up till then.

                In the area of sound, euphoria does really well on both fronts. With its music most of the scores are meant to generate atmosphere and do a good job establishing it, be it the mysterious nature of the series of white rooms the characters are trapped in and their seeming emptiness or the intensity of the scenes where Keisuke and co. are suddenly in peril. There are some more unique tracks for the really important story scenes, but describing what they invoke would be entering spoiler territory but I can say they do a good job in making the scenes feel as important as they’re written to be. Still, of the two the aspect of the sound department most notable is the voice acting.

                While our cast of heroines are the only ones voiced their voice actresses turn in such a good performance you hardly even notice this. Each actress does a superb job in bringing their characters to life from Nemu’s sadistic yet seductive nature offset by her more mysterious moments to hint she knows more than she’s letting on, Natsuki’s supportive and altruistic tendencies coupled with a strangely inquisitive side, to Rika’s self-centered behavior and how the story plays off that for her for better or worse. It’s helped that the actresses chosen for the roles are all really good ones such as Mei Misonoo as Natsuki, who some of you may recognize as Momoka from Eroge!, Nellis from Kyonyuu Fantasy Gaiden and onwards, and Nadine from Kyonyuu Fantasy 2 and if. Speaking of, similar to the aforementioned NO, THANK YOU!!! one unlockable extra that features here are commentaries  from those involved in the game’s creation, including the VAs. If on commentary is worth listening to it would be that of Konoha, Rika’s VA, as she has some very interesting and amusing things to say regarding how playing the role went, especially for one particular scene. This brings us right along to our next segment…
                We finally get to the ero scenes and this actually is going to take a little more talking about than simply saying if they’re good or not. First off, let’s dispel a little misconception one might get from the story summary and at face value attributing this game to Saw. While euphoria does feature ero scenes of the hardcore variety none of the scenes go into being straight up gory and bloody. If you’ve been looking at CG for this game then I should point out that (aside from shame on you for potentially spoiling yourself) that those CG occur in bad ends which you can avoid.

                As for the quality of the ero scenes, they’re all good, at the very least for what they are. Despite the story’s premise only some of the scenes are hardcore, and some of them are so over the top they’re (unintentionally?) hilarious, so you can expect some more vanilla-ish scenes waiting for you. I will say though that while there aren’t any guro (look that up yourself) type scenes (that’s anotherClock Up game hopefully for next year) there are going to be a few scenes that may make you gag a little and not just those of the scat department.

Final Thoughts:
                All in all euphora is a well written thriller of a story that over the course of its routes twists and turns into something quite different from where it starts. This is helped along by a cast of interesting characters who are all well-acted, great artwork and a good musical score. I will admit the game has some pacing problems and there could be some factors that turn people off from Rika to the dependency of one’s gross out tolerance. Still if you want a good dark story filled with twists that will keep you guessing until well into the true route, then this is a worthy, albeit unusual, treat for Halloween.
Final Score: 9/10 Must Own.
Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

As for the anime…well all I can say is if you haven’t played the game don’t watch it. The anime spoils a lot and at the same time really mishandles the story of the true route…and the other routes. Strangely this OVA is 6 episodes long but the true route is handled in only one episode and it’s episode 5 with the episode 6 being an abridged version of Rinne’s route…with a completely different conclusion that if you’ve played the game to completion I almost would recommend watching just for the train wreck viewing appeal (there’s one character death scene in episode 5 that is so hilariously bad I was laughing through what was supposed to be a serious scene).  Again if you’ve completed the game feel free to watch as a curiosity but don’t expect anything good.