Sunday, December 23, 2012

Characters with Character: Kirei Kotomine

Characters with Character: Kirei Kotomine

                Many stories have at least one villain, and a villain must have a motivation that puts him or her upon a path that runs opposed to our heroes’. These motivations could be anything from a desire for power to revenge, and for a memorable villain these motives can be used to give the character depth. Out of all the motivations a villain can have, the most usually scorned is that the villain does what he does simply because he’s evil. It is understandable why since that usually results in a character with little depth and often times one that can’t even be taken seriously. Type Moon’s Fate/Stay Night provides a rare exception to this rule in Kirei Kotomine.

                Warning before we continue, I will be discussing (and showing) spoilers for both Fate/Stay Night and its prequel light novel recently adapted into an anime Fate/Zero. If you have not played the game and want to experience the (excellent) story without being spoiled, buy it now here or here, install the game, patch it into English (your choice if you want to seek out the voice patch), play all three routes, watch Fate/Zero, and come back (feel free to play F/SN again after watching Fate/Zero, I sure did).

                One of the things that makes Kotomine so fascinating as a character is how his backstory makes for an interesting nature versus nurture story in which nature ultimately wins out.  Born “broken” as  a few characters in the game call him, Kotomine could only find joy in things most people would see as negative, particularly the suffering of others. However, because his father was a man of the church Kotomine was essentially raised to be a good man and through that grew up knowing he was abnormal but could not really find a way around it. It’s this upbringing of his that sets the stage for an inner struggle that helps to not only give credence to his eventual step into villainy, but also to give him the character depth necessary to make him both believable and memorable.
                The details provided about Kotomine’s backstory during the Heaven’s Feel scenario help in properly establishing the disorder he was born with so that it doesn’t come off as a cheap way of backing up his motivations in the game. The player learns how Kotomine, prior to the game’s events, really put every effort into  trying to become normal from devoting himself to the church in hopes that God would show him the way to getting married and starting a family. In the end both only resulted in giving him indulgences for his twisted personality from finding pleasure in seeing the depression and self-loathing of church attendants brought on by the sermons he spoke to only finding joy in his wife’s dying of a terminal illness and the anguish it caused their daughter.

                Left like that, Kotomine probably would just come off as an interesting villain, but one that could be interpreted as an  “I’m evil, but I feel ‘so’ terrible about it” kind of villain. However, Kinoko Nasu avoided this by writing it that rather than feeling guilt over finding joy in these things, Kotomine’s disorder conflicting with his upbringing brings about a feeling of bafflement (and to some extent anguish) instead which will end up tying into a question he considers his entire life which I’ll get to later. In the case of his mass readings, particularly on December 31 as in his eyes his preaching’s effect on people gave him the power to ruin both the past year and the New Year, his bafflement was in how thankful the parishioners were to him after the mass even after being reduced to such a sorry state.

                Kotomine’s reaction to his wife’s death is a bit more complex and requires some explanation. The woman he chose to marry was someone he knew had a terminal illness from the start, but it’s debatable if that’s the reason he chose to marry her or if it was because she was the only choice he had as not even Kotomine himself could figure it out. Still, despite the illness, his wife was, in Kotomine’s eyes at least, a saint to him, knowing of his disorder and accepting him. Until her death she did all he could to change him, but to no avail with Kotomine even admitting to her as she was dying that he was unable to love her. She noted however that he was crying as he said this and soon after died believing that she had managed to change him. In reality, the reason for Kotomine’s tears was because he was unable to kill her himself.

                The main bafflement he has as a result of this is the recurring thought on his wanting to have killed his wife at that time. Kotomine is never able to determine if this thought is one of regret at a missed opportunity or some form of regret at having those thoughts towards someone who he loved (or tried very hard to love). He eventually gives up on trying to find an answer to that question because in his mind finding a definite answer would make her death worthless, which is something he didn’t want even if their time together couldn’t change him.

                Kotomine’s giving up on finding an answer to that recurring question actually ties in to the only solution he could find at that time. In despair at not being able to change even with starting and losing a family and unwilling to take his own life, Kotomine concluded that joy and pleasure must be sinful as his finding that in other people’s pain could only be seen as such. Until the events of Fate/Zero, he would devote himself to his work in the Church until gaining a Command Seal that would designate him a Master in the Fourth Holy Grail War, all the while seeing himself as an empty man devoid of any real desires.

                The Fourth Grail War is where Kotomine finally accepts his true nature, beginning with his interactions with the summoned Servant of Tokiomi Tohsaka, a fellow Master and a mage that the church has assigned him to serve (the Church and the Mage’s Association have an agreement with one another when it comes to managing the Grail War). This Servant encourages him to embrace pleasure rather than reject it, giving Kotomine the necessary push that would lead him down the path of villainy. These interactions make for an interesting look at two characters with completely different viewpoints and are written well enough so as not to diminish Kotomine as a villain as the actions he takes from pursuing his curiosity about the other Masters to utterly destroying one of them for fun are all his own and not something that can be put under “the devil made me do it” trope (insert Star Wars Episode 3 joke here). I do however find it interesting that the aforementioned Servant to give Kotomine this advice is Gilgamesh, who in his mythological story loses the fruit that will grant him immortality to a snake.
                To make a long story short, Kotomine does get killed in the war by the last remaining Master Kiritsugu Emiya, but the Grail, corrupted in the previous war by the Servant Avenger ( a little more on him later) preserves both his life and Gilgamesh’s (who at this point had become Kotomine’s Servant after Tokiomi’s murder at his hand). This ends up setting the stage for the next Grail War, the events of Fate/Stay Night, in which he ends up manipulating both the daughter of Tokiomi, Rin, and the adopted son of Kiritsugu, Shirou. While the Fate and Unlimited Blade Works routes portray him as a pretty one dimensional villain who ultimately dies in a way ironic to his killing Rin’s father, it’s in the Heaven’s Feel route that not only portrays him better as a written character but also provides a conclusion to his story that actually ties him well with Shirou.
                To begin with, one of the things I liked about Heaven’s Feel was how it portrayed Shirou as a more human and believable character than in the previous two routes. This route does the same for Kotomine in a few ways. First it reveals most of the background information I just discussed and second it shows him act in a role other than as a manipulative villain in his allying with Shirou against the new threat posed by Zouken Matou/Makiri and his plot concerning Sakura (the main heroine of that route (unless you count Ilya…and Rider) and the Holy Grail. Thanks to that alliance we actually get to see Shirou and Kotomine actually talk to each other from a genuinely funny scene (always comes to mind whenever I see mapo tofu on a menu) to an interesting bit of character dynamic that makes for another interesting look at two characters with opposing viewpoints interacting that comes off as an opposite of Kotomine and Gilgamesh’s interaction yet at the same time ties in with it in how Kotomine rationalizes allowing the birth of something that could very well destroy all life it comes across.

                This brings us to the third part, in which we learn about a question that Kotomine has been pondering his entire life: whether or not his birth was a mistake. In the aftermath of the death of his wife, part of his deciding joy must be a sin was his deciding that it was a mistake, but the events of Fate/Zero open that question up again as he eventually begins to ponder whether or not something born evil can really be considered evil if it’s just following its nature and doing what feels right to it. He ends up getting a chance at finding an answer in Avenger, a Servant summoned by mistake during the Third Holy Grail War that ended up becoming part of the Grail after its defeat and corrupting it. This is because Avenger’s identity is Angra Mainyu, a spirit of pure evil and destruction from the mythology of Zoroastrianism (to any who have played Prince of Persia (the one that doesn’t have anything to do with the other games) you’d probably remember it as Ahriman, the main villain of the game) so his influence ends up corrupting the grail, and his summoning is a mistake mainly because there can only be seven servants: Saber, Archer, Rider, Caster, Assassin, Lancer, and Berserker (in Avenger’s case he replaced Berserker) and up until then the Grail could only summon heroes whose alignment would be good.

                Avenger ends up becoming a part of Kotomine’s lifelong  question during the events of Heaven’s Feel as the events of that route lead to the Grail giving it life as an “incarnation of All the World’s Evils” (as the game describes it). Kotomine essentially wants to see this new creature born, even if it does mean it’ll probably kill everything on the planet including himself, because it will be something that will be evil in nature like him. Up until this point Kotomine has seen himself as unique in his desires, which seem to support the notion of his existence being a mistake, but with the impending birth of Avenger from the Grail he now has a chance to see how something born evil will react to the world that it’s born into and compare it to his own. The reason this all helps his character is because this is as close to a personal wish that Kotomine ever has (aside from his earlier desire to be normal) because it the Fourth Grail War he didn’t have a wish at the start and even after he betrays Tokiomi his main motivation from there on was basically to have fun .

                This is basically where the part about Kotomine’s character tying in with Shirou’s comes in. The character reveals about Kotomine in this route establish him as someone similar to but at the same time very different from Shirou. They’re both empty beings as a result of their backgrounds, each trying to find some sort of happiness. The difference being that Shirou’s aims are to do good for other people as opposed to Kotomine’s joy coming from the suffering of others. By the route’s climax the two are actually in a similar position, while they both have a personal desire, Shirou to save Sakura and Kotomine’s to see the birth of another being like himself, it’s not something that the Grail can grant them (revelations about it aside) and is therefore something they have to fight each other to the death for.  While in the end Shirou wins, Kotomine is able to find some satisfaction at his life’s end because he was at least able unleash his frustrations and envy he had towards normal people.

                Interestingly, Kotomine’s being drawn to both Shirou and Avenger in Fate/Stay Night and Kiritsugu in Fate/Zero may also be signs of a twisted desire for companionship with those who have something in common with him. When the fourth Grail War begins, the first thing to catch Kotomine’s interest is Kiritsugu after going over intelligence gathered about him and from those (limited) details determines that Kiritsugu must be a person similar to him. Unfortunately for Kotomine, he soon finds that Kiritsugu is neither empty like he is and even has companions who he has genuine bonds with, which ends up planting the seeds of hatred and envy that will influence the wish he will make upon the corrupted grail. Kotomine’s being drawn towards Shirou could be an unconscious one considering their differences and while part of the reason the two of them interact so much in this route is a combination of circumstance and so Kotomine can manipulate Shirou, there’s no denying that in their interactions Kotomine is surprisingly truthful towards Shirou and by the end the two don’t really hate each other even if circumstances have forced them to fight to the death.

                Unlike the case with Roa in Tsukihime, Kirei Kotomine hasn’t faded into the background and is both well remembered and regarded by the Type Moon fanbase when it comes to the villain characters of Fate/Stay Night. While I admit Fate/Zero probably helped to extend his character relevancy, the fact that he makes a bigger impression than most of the Servants as a villain in the Heaven’s Feel route and its prequel story is a testament to how well written he is as a villain. His backstory not only manages to  give him the necessary depth that he was lacking in the other two routes, but it also makes an effective motivation for a villain out of the much derided “because he’s evil” motive. Considering his presence in all of the spinoff material (and yes, I realize he’s not in Ataraxia, but considering much of the events of the that fandisk are connected to him I’ll count him as “present in spirit”) from Fate/Unlimited Codes to Fate/Extra*, it’s practically undisputable that Kirei Kotomine is a major part of Type Moon’s Fate series and is well worthy of that place. Now having written so much about the serious side of Kotomine, it’s time for me to take a look at his funnier side be it battling the other Masters and Servants of Fate/Stay Night and Zero together with Gilgamesh and Lancer in a game of hanafuda all to reach the local hot springs or overseeing a Grand Prix version of the Holy Grail War…yeah, Type Moon is weird.

*On a side note, if you want a good sample of the Fate series, Fate/Extra was recently released in English for PSP (don’t worry, it’s available on PSN) by Aksys. It’s an alternate universe to the original game where the Holy Grail War is fought inside a virtual reality with more than seven Masters and Servants and many of the returning characters are completely different from their F/SN versions. The story’s really good, though the RPG gameplay can get a bit monotonous outside of boss fights. I do recommend playing it, though I must say you’ll find it a bit more enjoyable if you’re familiar with the Fate series…also I want it to do well so Aksys can license its upcoming sequel of sorts Fate/Extra CCC where one of the Servants we get to choose is none other than Gilgamesh (the official thread for it is here).

Characters with Character: Shiki Tohno and Roa

Characters with Character: Shiki Tohno and Roa
            The hero and the archenemy, this is a character relationship that we see time and time again when following the ongoing adventures of a heroic figure. The archenemy can sometimes be the complete opposite of the hero such as Mario and Bowser or Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, but in a lot of cases that character can be portrayed as one who is so similar to yet also so very different from the hero such as Harry Potter and Voldemort or Solid Snake and Liquid Snake. I have to admit I favor the latter relationship mainly because it tends to add more complexity to both sides, and the two (technically four) characters that we’ll be looking at in this special “Characters with Character” segment are certainly of that category. I present to you, Shiki Tohno and Roa of Tsukihime.

            Warning before we continue, there are major spoilers for  Tsukihime’s story, so if you want to enjoy this game’s story first then go download and play or youtube it (reminder, game’s out of print) then please do so. I’ll even help you with the latter with a look at the game’s opening:
            Almost everyone in the VN community knows who Shiki Tohno is as a result of the well told story of Tsukihime and the narrative from his point of view throughout the game helps in establishing him as a character who manages to be likable, believable, and badass. Out of all the MCs I’ve ever come across in the visual novel game genre, Shiki would be in my top three favorites, and to be honest one could easily make a CwC article about him alone. However, I’ve noticed that the subject of his enmity with Roa rarely comes up aside from explanations about the events of Tsukihime. Now don’t get me wrong there’s plenty about the character as his character history has been well expanded over the years, but it seems Roa gets pushed aside in Shiki and co.’s rogues gallery in favor of the more over the top powerful vampires like Nrvnqsr Chaos (it’s pronounced Nero) or TATARI/Night of Wallachia. While it is understandable why, it is a shame considering the two make a fine example of hero and villain who are both alike and different. This article will be my attempt to examine that with as much detail as possible.
            Now at first glance, Shiki and Roa could not be more different; Shiki is a high school student who has been living a mostly normal life until his fateful encounter with Arcueid ends up drawing him into the hidden world of the supernatural while Roa is an ancient vampire, formerly a powerful member of the Church named Michael Roa Valdamjong, infamous for his ability to reincarnate and avoid permanent death. However, once you start taking a look at them, one of the firsts in this strange combination of similarity and difference is that both characters have something about them relating to death. Shiki has the ability to see the death of living and nonliving things, meaning their eventual fated destruction, expressed as small points on them with lines connected to said points that spread out from them. Tracing these lines results in (according to Type Moon wiki, who can explain it a lot better than me) “…realizes the fated destruction, and the victim is cut or cracked or broken along those lines. Because this destruction is destined, this method of injury ignores any of the victim's defenses; armor, magical protection, regeneration, and so forth are useless. While a line symbolizes "damage" along that part of the body, a dot symbolizes the totality of that body's damage, and by extension, "existence". When a dot is pierced, the victim's concept is destroyed.”  On the other end, Roa has the ability to reincarnate as a result of having altered his soul so that after death it can retain itself in Akasha (Kinoko Nasu’s take on the Akashic records) and from there he can revive in a new body after a period of time.
            With these two death associated abilities that are also opposites (Shiki’s to end life, while Roa’s is to continue it), we also get two different outlooks on life and death from these two. Shiki discovers his ability at a young age, but guidance from a sorceress he meets by chance named Aoko Aozaki results in him not only learning that his death dealing ability isn’t something to be used on a whim but also that there’s a value to life. This is coupled with his having unstable health as a result of an injury in an accident he can’t remember which not only helps him appreciate living but it also gives him a more accepting regard to his own death because for a while his bad health made it very unclear if he would live for very long after the accident. That’s not to say that Shiki isn’t afraid of dying as events throughout the game do show moments where he’s close to dying and does indeed feel fear, but he’s always able to find some sort of drive to help him pull through. It’s this value of life that is a central part of Shiki as a character from his appreciation of the normal everyday life he’s able to lead with his friends to his willingness to go the extra mile to in some way save those close to him, the best example being in Akiha’s route in which it’s revealed that the main reason Shiki survived the “accident” that occurred all those years ago is because Akiha gave him half of her life force to save him. Unfortunately this leaves her susceptible to the cursed bloodline of the Tohno family and over the course of her route it starts to drive her insane and the only sure way to return her to normal is for Shiki to either return that life force to her and the only way that can happen is through his own death or keep her bloodlust brought on by it sustained by letting her routinely bite him (a very painful process) in order to drink blood from the wound and hope she eventually returns to normal. While the former choice is considered canon to Akiha’s story, either choice shows just how much of a personal sacrifice he’s willing to make for a loved one’s sake. Nasu even made sure to write the scene following making the canon choice to show as noble a sacrifice as Shiki is making he doesn’t have any illusions about making this choice: he knows killing himself would be one of the last things he’d ever consider, he realizes what he’s about to do is only the lesser of the two evils as it may save Akiha but it will also hurt her, and despite knowing what he has to do he still feels fear at his impending demise but is able to pull through as he focuses on the person he’s making the sacrifice for. Surprisingly, this scene is pretty short, yet it really is an effective one.
 On the other side is Roa, whose ability to reincarnate came about as a result of research on a way to obtain eternal life as he believed that eternity was the only thing worth attaining. This belief stemmed from a view established when he was very young that all living things, including himself, were pitiful in how no matter what they did nothing about them could last forever, that they were all destined to break down or degrade over time in almost comically repetitive series of cycles. To obtain his goal of eternity, Roa ends up sacrificing his humanity and countless human lives over the course of his many reincarnations. Ironically though, Roa’s personality fades with each reincarnation and by the time Tsukihime takes place, Roa’s goal has become simply to continue his cycle of reincarnation. We also get a second irony relating to the loss of Roa’s original personality over the course of these reincarnations in that it counts as one of the very degradations that he was trying to avoid. Finally, one more ironic twist is that even though one of the things he disdained about mortality was how repetitive it seemed, once Roa gained the eternity he sought through reincarnation, each reincarnation would follow the same course of gaining power in his new body until Arcueid confronts and kills him, making his view of life by the time Tsukihime takes place simply a means to an end so he can keep meeting the vampire who he became obsessed with from the moment he saw her (we’ll talk about that later).
 This is where we see the opposing viewpoints of Shiki and Roa on life and death, for Shiki life is something to be appreciated for every moment there is and death is something to be acknowledged as something that will happen eventually and while it’s natural to fear death that fear shouldn’t be allowed to consume you. For Roa, originally, life was a series of the same degradations from birth into death that he wanted to break away from, and by the game’s time it’s just another phase until death. Roa’s view of death was initially just as something that he was to surpass in order for him to accomplish his goal and by the game’s time it’s simply the equivalent of pressing a reset button after a game over. Interestingly though, despite these differing viewpoints, at the near end of Ciel’s good ending we see the only scene where we get to see Roa’s thoughts on finally dying for real and he simply says that nothing is interesting at all even all the history of his reincarnations represented in a large book before disappearing. It gets you to wonder, did he reach the same conclusion Shiki did (or a similar one) about death or was he simply giving up and acknowledging that he couldn’t surpass death in the end?
            Now when talking about Shiki and Roa to fully analyze them, you’re also going to have to address the other Shikis and to do that I’ll need to explain more backstory. The Shiki Tohno we know is actually the child of a different family, the Nanayas, a clan of demon slayers massacred by the Tohno family as they were part demon and would be hunted by the Nanayas. Shiki was spared due to his being very young and after erasing his memory he was adopted by the Tohnos. He’s raised alongside the head of the family’s children, a boy also named SHIKI (the name’s written with different kanji so the English speaking fanbase write it as SHIKI) and his younger sister Akiha. Not long after, SHIKI ends up succumbing to his demonic blood, goes insane and attacks Akiha, Shiki ends up protecting her and is nearly killed in the process, so the head of the Tohno family has SHIKI imprisoned and Shiki’s memories of the incident and SHIKI are erased and he ends up taking SHIKI’s place in the Tohno family. Roa ends up reincarnating into SHIKI and that’s the body he’s using throughout the game; during the Near Side routes Roa is the dominant personality while in the Far Side routes SHIKI is the dominant one. SHIKI also possesses eyes similar to Shiki’s but can only see the aforementioned lines and not the dots and only on living things and not inanimate objects. This is because he’s more perceiving the life of something rather than its death, which makes for an interesting match with Roa considering his only regard for death is a step into another life for him.

Moving on to Shiki himself, unbeknownst to him until later in the game, Shiki has another side of himself that emerges when the supernatural are about that is more adept at fighting and seems to revel in killing. This other side is basically the result of the training Shiki received from his blood relatives the Nanayas before the Tohnos attacked. It’s debatable if this other side is truly another personality or just a result of his memories being erased, though Shiki does at some points refer to his other side as if it were another person, and the fanbase tends to treat it like one (dubbing it Shiki Nanaya) so I’ll count it as one.

Having explained all of this, I’ve covered the similarity of regardless of which version of Roa that Shiki faces they both have a second hidden personality. The contrast though is that Shiki never gives in to his other side completely, even in fights where it emerges usually as a result of nearing death, while SHIKI ends up becoming Roa or vice versa. With Shiki and Roa we see a sub theme of succumbing to/giving in to vs. not succumbing to/giving in to quite a bit throughout the game: Shiki is always able to resist attempts to either drive him insane like we see in the Far Side routes (though that is mainly a side effect from his connection to SHIKI) or control him like in Ciel’s route where Roa tries taking him over after his body is destroyed and aside from his first major encounter with Arcueid he doesn’t give in to his desire to kill brought on by his Nanaya side; conversely Roa is unable to fully maintain who he originally was in any of the routes as a result of his reincarnating and SHIKI can’t resist the madness brought on by the demonic part of his bloodline. Another example would be how Shiki never gives in to despair from the apparent hopelessness of a fight like when Nrvnqsr Chaos tries devouring him to when he has to deal with getting over having to kill Satsuki Yumizuka in self-defense when she’s turned into a vampire by Roa all of which helps in leading to a drive to continue moving forward and living, meanwhile Roa gives in to his despair towards life’s having an inevitable end. Shiki’s struggling and prevailing against these rather than giving in shows us the value of inner strength while Roa’s cycle of giving in provides us a look at a villain that lacks the inner strength of the hero but is able to manage without it even if it does bring him lower, which is certainly interesting to see.
Finally, the last major area of similarity and contrast with Shiki and Roa comes from how both have some connection to the heroines of the game; Shiki’s being positive and Roa’s being negative. The best example would be in Arcueid’s case: while at first there’s the more  obvious part of Roa being responsible for Arcueid having to live a monotonous existence of killing each incarnation of Roa and then sealing herself back into the Brunestud castle in order to sleep until the next incarnation (though admittedly that’s only half Roa’s doing since Arcueid was created by the True Ancestors as a weapon to kill the True Ancestors who had gone insane from blood drinking) as Roa tricked her into drinking his blood in order to become a powerful vampire as Arcueid wasn’t aware of her nature as a vampire (and yes I’m aware of Roa’s being associated with the snake due to his reincarnating so queue this), while her relation towards Shiki results in her experiencing a life outside of all that and subsequently some of his value of life rubs off onto her, there is a slightly less apparent one in the area of romance. This basically covers the root of Roa’s obsession with Arcueid; basically when a then human Roa (here’s a bit of trivia Roa also wore glasses, originally) first saw Arcueid he essentially felt feelings of love for her as he saw her as the embodiment of eternity that he was seeking, however since he didn’t understand what he was feeling was love having not experienced it before he instead interpreted it as his first feelings of hatred, blaming her for changing his goal of attaining eternity simply for the sake of attaining it to a means for him to keep reaching out to her. On the other end, Shiki does start feeling an attraction to Arcueid soon after helping her with Nrvnqsr Chaos, which he does recognize but has a hard time admitting until their relationship develops further, and it does give him an interesting perspective when he sees into Roa’s soul and finds out his initial feelings of Arcueid, leading Shiki to ponder what would have happened if someone had just explained to Roa that his feelings were actually love. Now I could write about the other connections as they’re all very fascinating such as Ciel’s being Roa’s incarnation prior to Tsukihime and how Shiki’s influence affects her similar to Arcueid, Roa’s incarnating into Akiha’s actual blood brother and how that affects her relation towards Shiki, and how Kohaku’s cooperation with against the Tohno family SHIKI affects her and Hisui, but if I discuss those in detail I’ll probably have written enough to fill a National Geographic magazine. However I can say that these arrangements of both Shiki and Roa having ties to the heroines adds depth to them both in how it fully rounds out Roa’s role as a villain not just for Shiki to overcome but for him and the main heroine of the route (though this significantly less so for Hisui and Kohaku) to overcome together after Shiki plays a role in helping to fix the negative influence brought upon said heroine by Roa.

Finally this leads into one final aspect concerning these two, companionship and what they take from it. Both Shiki and Roa have or have had companions over the course of their life, for Shiki it’s the friends he’s made and for Roa it’s the allies he makes from the people he worked with when he was a member of the Church, Kohaku, and Nrvnqsr Chaos. In Shiki’s case these are genuine bonds and from those bonds he learns things that help him grow as a person such as with Aoko Aozaki it’s why he needs to control his power and the value of life or why his continued living is more important to those close to him than he realizes over the course of Akiha’s route. With Roa his allies are mainly just associates he can rely on for aid without any real attachment between them; while there is some indication that some of his allies from his days in the Church may have regarded him as a friend (much of this is from Nasu’s published notes and Melty Blood rather than Tsukihime), I can only really talk about Kohaku and Nrvnqsr Chaos for sure. For Kohaku, it’s mainly an alliance of convenience with both using the other for revenge, Kohaku against the Tohno family and SHIKI/Roa against Shiki. Nrvnqsr Chaos is the closest to an actual bond since the two do call each other friends and have helped one another out, though there seems to be a line for as to how far this friendship goes since even Nrvnqsr Chaos won’t accept him as a numbered member of the Twenty Seven Ancestors of Dead Apostles (who basically the most powerful vampires in the Type Moon universe) because even though the Church has declared him one of them they won’t accept Roa as such because they view him as a heretic for his methods as a vampire, and in Roa’s case he never seems that upset after Nrvnqsr Chaos dies at Shiki’s hand.

It really is a shame Roa fades into the background as a villain after Tsukihime and Nrvnqsr Chaos is more iconic in that aspect. He and Shiki make for an interesting hero and archenemy to analyze from the major points they have in common contrasted with their many differences, yet it’s this case of similarity and dissimilarity that ties in so well with their enmity making them such interesting characters with character. Each of their unique confrontations per route makes for one of the many pillars that has helped Tsukihime stand the test of time and be remembered to this day as a classic of the visual novel genre. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fry my brain on the product of Kinoko Nasu’s decade long buildup of the Type Moon universe’s mythology coupled with his insanity, Carnival Phantasm, only those who have played at least Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night may join…it’s the only way you’ll get the jokes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Games for Adults Halloween: Sexy Demon Transformation

Sexy Demon Transformation Review

                Well, here we are for one more Halloween review for 2012, this time we’ll be looking at a more light hearted game than usual. I’m sure at least once or twice most of us here have dressed up as something for Halloween, well in the case of this game our main character wears actual monsters… Okay, pretty weak tie in to a Halloween theme, but it was the best I could come up with. Anyway, the game I am referring to is one of Mangagamer’s most recent releases Sexy Demon Transformation, originally in Japan by Softhouse-Seal on February 25, 2011 and released in English September 14, 2012.

Pros: Amusing little story, characters are surprisingly likable, interesting ideas with the demon possession, good artwork.

Cons: Game could have been longer, no Airi route, demons could have had some more screen time, little opportunity given to the demon possession system.

WTF?!: I’d like to meet the person who this idea would immediately come to mind to.

                 As some familiar with my old blog may remember, I wasn’t really looking forward to this game as I was pretty disappointed in Mangagamer’s license announcements at this year’s Anime Expo convention. Also the story summary didn’t make this game look very promising either:

“This is a story of a shadow world where humans and demons continue to war...

My name is Ashiya Yamato.
I am a genius exorcist whose job is the cleansing of demons.
That's not something that can be revealed to the outside world, though, so no one knows about it.
With the spread of civilization, demons have been reduced in size, and are about as dangerous as bugs,
but I have containers in which I can collect them... because I have been disgraced!
She, Asuka, dared to snatch the position of Boss, greatest leader of the exorcists, away from the one
it should have belonged to - me!

No matter. I will recover what was stolen from me.
The possession abilities obtained from the demons, and the demon cleansing powers of the exorcists -
once combined, nothing is impossible!

That's right, with a myriad monsters under my command, I will have no trouble ravaging Asuka!
Once pregnant, her spiritual power will be reduced, and she will fall from the position of Boss!”

Sounds like the story for your typical supernatural rape eroge, doesn’t it? So as you can guess, I wasn’t really looking forward to this game and only bought it because it was cheap and figured I could at least warn people about it in review. However, I was in for a very pleasant surprise as I found myself enjoying it. For it turns out Sexy Demon Transformation isn’t a rape eroge, it’s actually a rather decent parody of the supernatural part of the genre.

                Basically what makes the story an amusing little romp is how it’s used as a setup to subtly present some tropes of the genre and make fun of them. This includes the convenient dumbness of characters in these types of games all so the plot can work and also just how ridiculous the monsters can be. One scene features a demon made out of toilet paper… I swear I’m not joking. Of course, SDT doesn’t just rely on those jokes, aside from the humor from the character interactions there’s even some joke references to Pokemon.

                Of course this parody wouldn’t be as good without likable characters (click here for profiles) and for such a short game SDT manages to provide just that. All the heroines are interesting enough as characters and they each have interactions with Yamato that are often pretty funny. Surprisingly even Yamato is likable, which I know is hard to believe considering how this game’s story is summarized. It’s actually even harder to explain, but basically he’s a parody of the type of character that would feature in the kind of eroge being parodied here except he’s really a decent guy just really silly and comedically short sighted.  

                As for which of the routes I like, I’d say that my favorite would have to be Yukihi’s since I really liked her interactions with Yamato as they were both interesting and in some cases kind of cute. Asuka’s and Shiori’s routes tie for second place because while they’re both really good and establish a believable enough relationship between them and Yamato at the end, I feel the routes could have used a little length in the later parts. Last place goes to a sort of harem end, as it had an interesting premise but it kind of feels like there should have been more be it character interactions or ero scenes.

                Now don’t think I’m giving this game a free pass just because it’s a comedy; it does have its problems in the area of story. Most of them are because of its shortness. For example, the demons are giving an interesting presentation at the start with their own unique designs and hints at a personality, plus the game does a good job presenting a very genuine feeling of empathy Yamato has towards them (which is especially seen in Yukihi’s route). The problem is the only demon given a real role or personality is Nurarihyon, and I feel the game could have been more interesting if the others had gotten similar treatment. Also there’s sadly no Airi route.

                In the area of system, SDT has an interesting one centered around Yamato’s merging with the various kinds he meets throughout the course of the game from the infamous Muramasa to the wall like Nurikabe. Basically you select which demon to take along with you and then select the right area where one of the heroines is and if you have the right one with you, you get an ero scene and begin unlocking her route. Sadly that’s all there is to it as you don’t get any variance in what ero scene you get depending on your choice of demon, nor is there anything like using more than one demon at once even though there are two slots open when you pick which demon s to bring along.

                When it comes to presentation SDT does a pretty good job. The artwork is really good and the voice acting is pretty solid. The game’s music is just okay though, with the only really memorable piece coming from the game’s opening.

                As for the ero scenes, they’re all pretty good, some of them are even animated (sort of). Don’t worry about how the premise of this game sounds, all of the scenes are pretty light hearted ones.

In Conclusion:

                Sexy Demon Transformation is a game that I had low expectations for, but its turning out to be a good comedic take on an eroge genre I’m not usually fond of made for a pleasant surprise. I’ll admit it’s short and its demon possession system could have used some polish, but it makes for a fun little game all the same that’s well worth the price of around $25. After all, who wouldn’t want to put on an actual monster for a costume and go out for a night of tricks and treats on the town? Happy Halloween and maybe next year I’ll have more reviews handy.

Final Score: 6/10 Above Average

Author Recommendation: Buy it Now.

Game can be bought here, by the way.

Games for Adults Halloween: Deus Machina Demonbane

Deus Machina Demonbane Review

           Didn’t think I was going to ignore the actual holiday did you? Since we started on an official English release, I feel it appropriate that we should end on one too so our final review for Halloween 2011 will be for Deus Machina Demonbane. Its announcement back in June 2009 marked two significant points in the English eroge market: firstly, this meant JAST had made a deal with Nitro+ one of the most famous of eroge companies as the DVD release of Phantom of Inferno by Hirameki September 16, 2005 had helped in earning the company a strong cult fanbase, and secondly, this was the first time JAST had reached out to a fan translation group to commission the translation they were making for a game; a practice that has resulted in the license of other well known eroge such as School Days, Seinarukana, and Kara no Shoujo. Sadly, Demonbane had the misfortune of being stuck in development hell for over a year due to the fact that Nitro+ was working on moving its company HQ in Japan at the time and there was difficulty with putting this game originally released back in 2003 (under the title Zanmataisei Demonbane) onto a more modern system. Fortunately, the wait was worth it when it finally released May 13, 2011 as the game proved to be so much more than I anticipated and I can see why it was popular enough to receive a PS2 port (released July 2004 under the name Kishin Houkou Demonbane), a sequel, novel tie ins, and an anime series, and why it was so well regarded by importers.

Pros: Excellent story, diverse plot, very good characters, great artwork, good music, well performed voice acting, writers did their research on the Cthulhu mythos.

Cons: Start is a little slow, Leica’s route is pretty weak compared to the other two, very limited voice acting (officially), skip function only works when it wants to.

WTF?!: Dr. West…just read and see.

            In Demonbane you play as Kurou Daijuuji, a former student of Miskatonic University’s magic academy now turned down on his luck private detective in Arkham City (sorry, no Batman in sight). One day he receives a job from a girl named Ruri Hadou the heiress of a powerful industrial company to locate a grimoire of incredible power that she requires. The book that he finds is none other than the Necronomicon, unfortunately for him it’s taken the form of a young girl named Al Azif and soon Kurou finds himself dragged into a battle with a powerful crime organization that has amassed some of the greatest powers of technology and the occult. A battle of giant robots, Great Old Ones, and dark sorcery that will escalate into a conflict over the fate of the very world.

            Sounds like an interesting combination, doesn’t it? The Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft and giant robots, and no I’m not talking about the Evangelion kind or the Gundam kind, I’m talking about the old school epic giant robots from Getter Robo to the great tribute to that genre Gurren Lagann. The creators of this game were able to make this combination work so well together through, for the most part, very good writing and well researched handling of the Cthulhu mythos so as to integrate the two aforementioned concepts together as well as take creative liberties here and there (such as with the Shining Trapezohedron) and make them work. It really is interesting to see how well the story of Kurou and Al is written into elements from these classic stories including “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Haunter of the Dark”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to name a few. The writer even went so far as to include some Easter Eggs such as with character names from how Ruri’s butler Winfield is named after H.P. Lovecraft’s father to the more obscure with the children under Leica’s care: George, Colin, and Allison being named for three people who produced a hoax version of the Necronomicon. Of course, considering our main heroine is the Necronomicon, the writer for this game didn’t forget to make a small nod a certain beloved movie trilogy in one scene where some of the characters fight a sorcerer who has the actual book of the dead (and yes she actually says the name).

            When it comes to the story for Demonbane, it actually is surprising just how well the story turned out. Aside from the integration of giant robots and Lovecraft, the writer managed to blend action, comedy, horror, and romance together very well. You really get into the battles as the story goes on considering they become more intense and action packed, and this applies to fights both with and without the giant robots as the writer managed to portray the skills that Kurou and the enemies he fights over the course of the game have are unique depending on whether they’re fighting with or without their mechs and these differing styles of combat are shown in a way that makes them equally compelling, meaning you won’t feel like the mech fights are cooler than the non-mech fights or vice versa and you won’t feel any disappointment when the battle shifts from one to the other. Concerning the humor, while I admit some of it isn’t so different from what you’d see in an anime it’s still pretty funny thanks to good writing, characters, and voice acting. As for the horror elements, they may seem sparse at first in the story but once they start becoming more prevalent in the later half of the game they become pretty effective for building suspense. While I will admit that these story elements aren’t that scary, it’s made up for with how it instead sets the right atmosphere and matches with many of the themes from Lovecraft’s writings, particularly the chaotic horror brought on by the Great Old Ones and the like. I do wish that the story could have matched the creepy atmosphere that Lovecraft’s stories usually provided, but still…

            Naturally a story like this requires good characters in order to carry it and Demonbane’s cast is certainly up to the task (click here for profiles). For starters, Kurou makes for surprisingly effective hero, surprising because he starts out as a pretty down on his luck kind of character and not the best of magicians, however the writer managed to do a very good job at using that as a starting point for him to develop into an effective and all together bad ass hero in the later parts of the story. Of course the rest of the cast is really good to; Al, for instance, turned out to be really great heroine in being both cute, funny, and her development in the later parts of her route is pretty effective. Also the villains are all good ones with the Anti-Cross making for interesting opponents for Kurou and co. over the course of the game (though I will admit it gets a bit annoying having to sit through half of them getting beaten in about the same way and time three times), Master Therion making for an effective final opponent for Kurou and the writer actually wrote things so that it makes sense he follows the James Bond villain route and not kill Kurou right at the start, but the best of the villains (sort of) in my opinion is Dr. West (no, not that one). This character is quite possibly one of the best comical foils that I have seen in a while. Imagine if you will Dist the Reaper of Tales of the Abyss combined with Dr. Insano and that’s pretty much Dr. West. His one sided rivalry with Kurou is always hilarious to read through be it for the bizarre inventions he makes to fight him and the random and hilarious dialogue he has in most of his scenes.

            My route preference is as follows:

1)      Al

2)      Ruri

3)      Leica

The reason Al ranks at the top really is because her route is the best one; the relationship she forms with Kurou over the course of the game is very well done, especially in how it evolves from partner into lover (not to mention her interactions with Kurou are a good and often funny read), it’s the route where Kurou develops the most as a character and subsequently the one where he comes off as the most badass, and the ending is the most satisfying and conclusive (little wonder why that ending is canon). Ruri’s route comes in at a very close second; I admit I didn’t have very high expectations for it considering a lot of the import fanbase described the other two routes as unnecessary or that Ruri came off as a copy of Al in her relationship with Kurou. Thankfully those were proven wrong as not only is Ruri her own character and her relationship with Kurou different, but this route did a surprisingly good job in developing her as a character. Not only does she become a very competent heroine once her route takes off, but her route also makes interesting reveals about the story that you wouldn’t have gotten in Al’s route (though I will admit I saw the twist for her normal ending coming). The only thing that prevents her route from tying with Al’s is that her true ending for me was just too simple; I didn’t mind the way it was revealed (I actually got quite a bit of a chuckle at how it jokingly admitted its using a deus ex machina) it’s just that the ending itself just left me with a “that’s it?” kind of feeling.

Moving onto Leica’s route, this is sadly where we also have to move on to where the main story flaws of this game are. Now don’t get the wrong idea, this route is not terrible as it does have story elements that are really good such as showing how Kurou relates to the Leica and the kids she’s taking care of, more involvement from them storywise, and some of the differences from the other routes were really good like the Hunting Horror. One the route’s problems for me was its predictability; basically, every major secret that’s being hinted at such as Leica’s past and who Sandalphon is are about as obvious as who Darth Sidious was in the Star Wars prequels, which sadly makes the route not as interesting as the other two. Another problem has to do with the role given to Sandalphon where they essentially give him too big a role as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part Sandalphon is a pretty good villain in both looks and mannerisms and at first I liked that he was given more to do in this route than in the others but by the end they give him a role that quite frankly is too big for his character. Now I realize that these first two problems don’t sound very big and I can admit I might have just been burnt out after playing Al and Ruri’s routes, but these next three are the routes three biggest problems when it comes to story. The first of these is that at the start of the route a character that in Ruri and Al’s routes wasn’t a villain suddenly is for no other reason except to kill this character off so as to give Leica an important role later on, which makes for a pretty major moment of character inconsistency. The second is that considering Leica’s role in most of the game, it really is disheartening to see her role for most of her route being downgraded to damsel in distress. I can’t explain why this is without spoiling anything but you’ll see why once you play the game a bit. The third goes along with the second reason in that during that portion of the story, the writer decided for some reason to write in some scenes that I feel serve only to appeal to the lowest common denominator and don’t serve much purpose aside from that. I do realize similar scenes occur in the other two routes but those fit better in context with the story for the route and it doesn’t feel like those scenes were there just to titillate the viewers.

Before moving on, I should say one more thing about the routes in that there actually is an underlying structure to them that sort of ties them together. I recommend clearing the routes in this order:

1)      Ruri (Normal Ending)

2)      Leica

3)      Ruri True Ending

4)      Al

Now while Demonbane doesn’t have any gameplay to it, there is one flaw with it system wise that I really should point out. Basically the skip function only works when it wants to, meaning after completing a route and replaying to start another one, the skip function won’t skip over some scenes even if they’re word for word the same as they were in the route you played only because the scene now leads into a completely new one. This may sound like a minor complaint, but trust me after reading the start of the second half of the game with Black Lodge carrying out their big plan, you’ll get sick of it really quick.

In the area of presentation, Demonbane does very well. For starters the artwork is excellent both in the area of illustration and also in the 3D designs of the various giant robots. The artists I think did a very good job of using the dark color schemes of artwork in order to blend these two things together without them contrasting. Also done well are the few anime scenes that are shown at the start of the game; while I do wish that we could have had one more at the end, I am glad these scenes were kept to a minimum so they didn’t become tedious. The music for this game is very good with each piece catching the right mood for its respective scene, however the Demonbane’s biggest score in the sound department is in its voice acting. The seiyuu in this game do a very good job, but there is one flaw I should point out first: there is very little voice acting in this game, just during the beginning and ending parts. However, there exists a fan made voice patch that adds in all the voice acting from the PS2 port and this is one voice patch I highly recommend applying since not only does it add in the voices of big name actors like Norio Wakamoto, Takehito Koyasu, Joji Nakata, Kazuki Yao, and the late Daisuke Gori, but it also gives more lines to the rest of the cast and that’s a very good addition not just to hear more of Hikaru Midorikawa and Takumi Yamazaki’s performances as Master Thereon and Dr. West respectively (performances that are truly well done), but also to hear Kentaro Itou’s performance as Kurou. I’ll say it right now, this is the ebst role I’ve ever heard him in, even better than his role as Renji in Bleach (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what helped him get picked for that role) as he’s given a much bigger part playing the main character. I will admit that the voice he does is pretty close to the voice he does for Renji, but he delivers the comedic and dramatic lines (especially the ones where Kurou kicks ass (and let’s face it cool as he is, has Renji even beaten an enemy since that one arrancar when they were first introduced?) so well he makes the role its own.

Now concerning the ero scenes, well…they aren’t bad but they’re pretty ridiculous. This mainly has to do with the art style and the fact that most of the scenes are written to be comedic, which is a bit hit or miss in that area.

In Conclusion:

            Deus Machina Demonbane truly is worthy of its place as a classic amongst Nitro+’s library and really should not be missed, especially if you like Lovecraft, giant robots, or both. With its well rounded and well acted cast of characters and well drawn artwork, you can forgive the few flaws that this game has here and there. Let’s hope this sells well enough that we can get the PC port of the sequel, Kishin Hishou Demonbane, where you can actually control Demonbane.

Final Score: 8/10 Awesome

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

            As for the anime, I’ve only seen a little bit of it (mainly the last episode), but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not an awful adaptation from what I’ve seen, but I wouldn’t call it a good adaption either. Because it’s only 12 episodes long, things move along so fast and are simplified to save time that many significant scenes portrayed in it from the game just aren’t as effective. They also make some significant changes with the removal of a character, the way some characters look, and the final episode is its own original take on Al’s true end and while I do appreciate that they give a nod to Al’s normal end, the placement of that comes off as a cheap deus ex machina and then there’s also the fact that the ending doesn’t have any of the scenes from Al’s true ending that built up together to make the ending so conclusive and satisfying. There does exist a single episode OVA released with the PS2 port that tells an extra story, and while it’s decent its biggest flaw is that it’s only about 25 minutes long and to be honest this feels like it should have been twice that length. It basically just leaves you with a plot that moves almost too fast to follow, the core cast has very little screen time (I think Dr. West gets the most of it), and it’s a little hard to tell when it takes place in relation to the game’s plot. I’d recommend looking at the OVA if you’re curious, but only after you’ve played the game. As for the anime series, if you really want to watch it, play the game first so as to avoid spoilers but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Anyway, that concludes this year’s Games for Adults Halloween reviews. I hope you all enjoyed it and maybe were introduced to at least one good game to match the season. Happy Halloween and I hope you join me next year.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Kansen 3 ~Shuto Houkai~

Kansen 3 ~Shuto Houkai~ Review

                Well, another October another Halloween, so it’s only fitting that for the first of this year’s reviews I offer my thoughts on the third game in the Kansen series. Those of you who have read my previous reviews know I enjoyed the first game and was greatly disappointed in its sequel. Ordinarily I would have been wary of trying the next game, but I’d received reliable assurances that this would be better than the second game and some of the fanbase even consider this to be the best of the entire series. While I still have two more games to go before I can decide the latter part I can say that this game is much better than the second one (I’d even say some elements of Kansen 3 are what the second game wanted to be) and it also manages to surpass the first game.

Pros: Well written and diverse story, likable and memorable characters, excellent artwork.

Cons: The true ending routes could have used a little more diversity in their story, those @%$#*&^ time limits!!, game bugs.

WTF?!: If you’re trying to do something secretly, I don’t think this is the best way for one of your associates to dress.

                Kansen 3 takes places four years after the events of the first two games; Japan seems to have recovered from the outbreak and the survivors are trying to move on with a normal life. However, a new strain of the infamous zombie virus has emerged and Wataru Ayase and his group of friends will be caught in the middle of the outbreak.

                The second Kansen game I will admit did try to be better than its predecessor, but it just didn’t have what it took to back up much of what it brought to the table. From what I’ve heard the game was still a hit in Japan but not as well received as its predecessor, and if that’s true Kansen 3 is pretty much proof that the creators listened to whatever criticisms they got as we get a far superior story and characters you actually want to read more about.

                From the start, Kansen 3’s story draws you in first with an interesting setup regarding the return of the zombie virus that helps in building suspense when the story moves on to the more peaceful part of the beginning concerning Wataru and his friends. The glimpses you see of what’s happening in the background really help with invoking a feeling of tension as you wonder just how much time is left for the normal life Wataru and co. are enjoying and once the virus hits just how bad is it going to be. Still, it’s from that beginning part that we start to see each way the game trumps its predecessor.

                To begin with, the game really does a good job in establishing the lives Wataru and co. are leading before the outbreak starts, introducing several characters who they know well and how they figure into their daily life. This helps in getting you to feel for the core cast as that life is shattered and it becomes apparent that there won’t be any way that those normal days will come back as so many of these people they know get infected no matter what. It also helps in keeping you in suspense at to what the fate of the Wataru and co. will be as they try evading the zombies, find shelter, and avoid getting infected themselves.

                This brings us to the next story element Kansen 3 does better than its predecessor’s: the setting. Unlike in the first two games where the city where the outbreak occurs is just there to be the location, Kansen 3 provides the player with a good look around the city at the start so as to show locations that will be important later (there’s even an in game map function for each area of the city you’re in, even if it serves little purpose). Seeing the city helps in establishing the chaos brought on by the outbreak since you’ve seen how things used to be just before along with strengthening the aforementioned loss of the characters’ normal everyday life as the game does a good job in conveying the attachment most of them feel to it as their hometown. Finally, the city setting gives the game a more open feel than its predecessors and it makes for an interesting opposite to the first game’s school setting and how isolated the characters in it were.  This is a change that makes sense considering that in the first game the isolation of the setting went along with how little both the characters and player knew about the virus while the openness of Kansen 3’s setting goes along with how both the characters and player know a lot more about the virus now.

                When it comes to characters, Kansen 3 does a great job and this is the main story element where I would say that we see either what the second game wanted to be or should have been. Like in the second game, we have a larger and more diverse cast of characters, but the creators this time made sure to make all of these characters likable and/or interesting (the one exception to that is also handled well in that they downgrade him to comic relief for a good portion of the game). Even the redshirts introduced at the beginning of the game are given just enough background and personality when it comes to how they relate to Wataru and co. that you actually feel bad when they get infected. The creators also make an interesting change from the previous games by having the Wataru be a more average and reserved person who develops into a more heroic role as the game goes on instead of being a proactive guy who leadership comes naturally to and required only minimal character development like Yasuyuki and Hiroshi. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this change at first, but it didn’t take too long for Wataru to grow on me and after seeing how well his character development fit into the plot and in advancing his relationship with the heroines of the game I’d say this is a good example of taking a chance with making a change that pays off.

                In the area of romance, I’d say that Kansen 3 does a little better than its predecessors (though I suppose you could say “a lot better” in comparison to the second game), having three romanceable heroines this time with each of them having a good story to their route. The game does give a good set up for each heroine to have a relationship with Wataru by the game’s conclusion and their route’s stories do a good job presenting and developing their characters. Kansen 3 also takes a step forward from the first game by doing something few eroge are willing to do, have a subpairing where one of the MC’s friends and a nonromanceable heroine form a relationship over the course of the game. That particular subplot makes for a good story, though I do think one part kind of falls back on a cliché. As for which of the routes I like the best, that’s a bit of a difficult choice since all three routes are well written and each heroine so likable. If I had to narrow it down, it would be a tie between Ren and Margarita for which I like best. While I really like Yuuho’s route, in fact the way the overall game’s story is written kind of favors her, the route has two problems for me. First, some of the melodrama in her route is pretty eye roll inducing (though to be fair most of that is on Wataru than Yuuho), and second, while not as much as Alice in the second game, Yuuho also has moments where she comes off as a clone of Yu from the first game from some initial aspects of her character. Now while the game’s writer takes steps to fix that as the game goes on, you can’t help but wish that the writers of the Kansen series would make a different main heroine.

                With all this praise I’m giving, I’m afraid that I now have to point out the one glaring flaw that this game has in the area of story: very little plot diversity in the true end route.  Don’t get me wrong though, except for that there is still plot diversity as early on there are branching points that lead to a shorter more bittersweet route for Yuuho and Ren individually which are definitely worth reading. Also the true end route makes for a good and satisfying conclusion. It’s just that with the true end route for some reason you only get a few unique scenes late in the route that corresponds to the heroine you have Wataru romance but it doesn’t really affect the main story at all. Even the epilogue is the same and you don’t get even a unique CG for the heroine of the route.

                Now let’s talk about the system for this game as I’m afraid this is where it really got a strike against it. For starters, Kansen 3 is plagued with bugs; mainly the kind that cause the game to crash. The main three I encountered were as follows: if you click the game window too soon after you start the game will crash instead of skipping to the start menu, sometimes if you’re playing the game and decide to load a previous save like if you made the wrong choice and want to correct a mistake the game will crash, and sometimes while you’re skipping through previously read text the game will crash. Fortunately, the first one is avoidable and the other two don’t happen too often, but the worst of the bugs I encountered was one that caused the choices at a certain point of one of the routes to not appear, leaving the screen empty and the game practically frozen. Fortunately there is a patch that fixed that (but sadly not the crashing bugs), but applying it erased all of my save files and I had to start over.  
                The second problem I have with this game’s system is the return of the timed choices, and this is one area where I can say Kansen 2 did better in. While they were annoying in Kansen 2, at least there was a continue option that came up after the bad/dead end finished that took you right back to just before the timed choice. The creators of Kansen 3 for some reason decided to remove that, so if you haven’t saved for a while and the timed choice comes up, you’d better hope you pick the right choice within that three second time limit or be prepared to retread your steps.  Now if anyone’s going to say anything like this makes the game more difficult or challenging, maybe but it’s not the good kind of difficult or challenging that leaves you with a sense of satisfaction at overcoming it like a boss fight or enemy rush but rather the aggravating kind of difficult like quick time events that either kill your character instantly if you get it wrong or prevent you from killing a boss.  My advice to any who play this game is save often and if you have a walkthrough handy make sure it indicates when timed choices are coming up.

                In the area of presentation, Kansen 3 does excellently with artwork and music far superior to the previous two games. The voice actresses all do a great job in their respective roles too. Speaking of which, I do wish that the Kansen series would start voicing its male characters; I mean it’s an established series now with all but the fourth game receiving an anime OVA adaption so you’d think by now they’d at least give voices to the major male characters.

                As for the ero scenes, they’re all really good be it the romance scenes or the zombie related ones (assuming you’re a fan of the darker sort of ero scenes).  

Character Profiles:

Wataru Ayase
An ordinary school student whose hobby is stargazing, Wataru is an all around good natured and reliable fellow well liked by his friends. The events of  the outbreak four years ago have given him an appreciation of the peaceful life shared with his friends and family.

Yuuho Kannagi
Wataru’s childhood friend and classmate. As a result of her looks, good grades and excelling at swimming, Yuuho is very popular at school. Unbeknownst to her, Wataru has a crush on her but has not worked up the courage to confess.

Ren Ayase
Wataru’s stepsister and another part of his circle of friends despite an illness that frequently keeps her at home. A modest and quiet girl, Ren has developed a talent for playing the violin which she inherited from her late mother and it’s one of her most treasured possessions. Harbors a secret crush for Wataru as he frequently took care of her while they were growing up.

Margarita Vasquez Homura
The daughter of one of the embassy staff of a South American nation* and a recent transfer student to Wataru and co.’s school. Is part Japanese on her mother’s side and even briefly lived in Japan as a child, and part of the reason for her transfer is to relive a part of those memories. Practices martial arts as a hobby.

Mizuki Kugayama
Childhood friend of Yuuho and Wataru, Mizuki had dreams of becoming a singer and had also begun going out with Kousuke before suddenly disappearing without any word for years. Has recently reappeared in town working for Jin and his gang.

Kousuke Sai
Wataru’s best friend and Mizuki’s boyfriend up until her sudden disappearance. While a good and reliable friend, can be a bit of a hothead.

Jin Magatsu
High ranking member of a yakuza gang, Jin has been given the task of secretly transporting a girl who may have some connection to the viral outbreak four years ago.

Jin’s main subordinate. A crude and perverse man, Shigeyoshi is mainly kept in line by his fear of Jin.

A high ranking member of the local yakuza gang (different one from Jin’s), Tadahiko is a well respected member of the community and has known Wataru and co. for years. Both Wataru and Kousuke look up to him.


In Conclusion:

Kansen 3 is a true return to form for the series, improving on almost every aspect of the first game that made it so good including story, characters, and artwork. While it isn’t without its flaws in the area of story and system, most of the latter problems can be fixed or easily worked around. I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the first game (and parts of the second) or even if you want to experience a zombie game that isn’t just about killing zombies and enduring QTEs as Kansen 3 makes for a decent entry point to the series (though fair warning, you will miss out on a big reference to the first game).

Final Score: 8/10 Awesome

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

                As for the anime OVA, I’d say that the first episode is an okay adaptation of Yuuho’s true end route. It has problems though such as skipping over the beginning of the game and taking odd liberties with the original story such as killing off two characters that don’t die in the game. The second episode is an odd combination of one of Yuuho’s bad endings and Maragarita’s bad ending. Don’t really know what to say about that one.

*On a side note, there's an odd writing flub where Maragarita, who's native tongue is probably supposed to be Spanish considering her nationality, reverts to speaking English at certain points like it's her native tongue. Sadly I couldn't provide any images since those only happen in her ero scenes.