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.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Kansen 2 ~Inzai Toshi~

Kansen 2 ~Inzai Toshi~ Review

            The first Kansen game was a good example of making a good survival horror themed eroge with its likable cast of characters and a story to keep you on edge for both main routes (not to mention it made a pretty ridiculous sounding zombie concept something you could take seriously). So naturally, it was a hit, despite the fact that it was obviously made on a budget. The next thing for Speed to do in light of that was to make a sequel, which was released June 15, 2007, and from the start it shows how they put work into making it bigger and better than its predecessor with a bigger setting in a large mall (pretty obvious what that’s a tribute to), a bigger cast of characters, improved artwork, and a longer story. Sadly, all that effort failed as Kansen 2 turned out to be a shining example of how bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Pros: Some of the main characters are likable, better artwork than the last game (for the most part), Maya’s route, story revelations behind the outbreak are interesting, character POV switching was an interesting idea.

Cons: A number of the game’s characters have no real plot importance, Alice’s route, Miki and Naomi are unwinnable, no ero scenes in the good endings, other ero scenes feel gratuitous, Infection route’s endings are disappointing, timed choices, the zombies look ridiculous.

WTF?!: These are the game’s zombies…scary huh?

            Kansen 2 takes place at about the same time as the first game, starting a couple days before the outbreak. You play primarily from the point of view of student Hiroshi Ohkura as he and his friends go on a class trip to the city’s supermall for a look at possible future career choices. Soon the outbreak occurs and Hiroshi and co. end up having to work with the few remaining uninfected that they meet in the mall to somehow make it out alive.

            All of this sounds like the setup for a very good zombie story and at first it looks it too with the game introducing a very diverse cast of characters brought together by this one disaster and having to cooperate to survive. Unfortunately, the story runs into two main stumbling blocks: the characters and its higher ero content. The problem Kansen 2 has concerning its characters is that it doesn’t really handle them well. While most of the core cast is likable only a few of them are given good story roles, while the rest kind of get shafted as characters go. This includes one of the two winnable heroines, Alice, who already has the problem of coming across as a clone of Yu from the first game. I will admit that the writer at least tried to deviate from that problem later so I won’t count it as a major flaw, considering the flaw concerning her character lies with her route. Let me start by saying this, both endings for her route are good ones as we get either a nice bittersweet conclusion or a dark almost cliffhanger-ish conclusion that hints at more going on behind the outbreak and its containment. These two endings are sadly marred by a story from Alice’s POV where very little except ero scenes happen and she has to interact with two of the three most useless (and unlikable) characters in this game, which really lessens the effect of both endings.

            Speaking of heroines that get the shaft, Kansen 2 also suffers from having two heroines not being winnable, but for different reasons. The first case is with Miki, who we’re introduced to fairly early on and not only is she a likable character, but she also has interesting story behind why she’s at the mall with her trying to find her boyfriend who she was waiting to meet when the outbreak occurs. Sadly the game only uses her character as rape bait and nothing else, even the so called “conclusion” to her subplot in the Infection route is handled badly. Now I realize in a comment concerning the first game I said I didn’t mind Tomomi being unwinnable since the story already has her in a relationship, but in that case we know both her and Yuji pretty well, making their being unavoidably infected such a tragedy while in this game we never see Miki’s boyfriend except in one scene during the Infection route so there’s no emotional investment there. Considering one of the main dramatic themes in the Kansen series is the main characters having to deal with the loss of friends and loved ones as a result of the outbreak one could have easily given Miki a route based on that, so really she comes off as a missed opportunity.

            Speaking of missed opportunities, we now move on to the second unwinnable heroine to get the shaft (no pun intended), Naomi. My main problem is that her only role in the game’s story is in the Infection route as we play through it primarily between her and Hiroshi’s points of view as Naomi is an SDF soldier sent into the mall to look for and rescue any survivors shortly after all the main characters get infected. What’s interesting is when Naomi encounters Hiroshi and co., Hiroshi is able to maintain his sanity and is able to get some of the group to keep theirs and rather than try to kill them, Naomi ends up making it her mission to get them out to try and get them treated while there’s still time. The writing for the route does a good job in showing that Naomi’s choice to do this isn’t one based on compassion alone due to the aforementioned portrayal of Hiroshi and co. plus her willingness to go the extra mile to save them not only helps in portraying her as an awesome character considering how much the odds are against her, but it also gives some subtle depth to her character as you wonder how much her motivation is backed by not wanting the rest of her team to have died in vain. It’s no exaggeration that Naomi makes the Infection route so memorable, but the problem is the two endings; they’re both insultingly abrupt and Naomi is just suddenly removed from the picture. If the writer was trying for a tragic conclusion, then I’m afraid that failed because of how abrupt both endings are as it leaves you with more of a “that’s it?” kind of feeling than anything else. Actually no, it does leave you with one more feeling; after completing the Infection route and you reflect a bit about it, you wonder why the writer didn’t have Naomi in the main story as there are a few characters  that could have easily been written out, which brings us to the next flaw.

            Perhaps the one of the most significant flaws Kansen 2 has concerning its characters is its inclusion of three characters who are completely useless to the plot. The two biggest offenders (and also the ones that made Alice’s route suck) being Ryuya and Chihiro Nagasaki. Part of what makes Ryuya such a useless character is that his role in the story is supposed to be as a villain, but that role is pretty much confounded by the fact that the way Kansen 2 is written it doesn’t really need a villain as the zombies are more than enough of a threat. Now I know you can have an effective human villain in zombie stories; someone who comes off as a different but still very significant threat to the characters, but in Ryuya’s case, he just doesn’t have the character for it. The only thing that makes him threatening to the other characters is that he happens to have a knife on him while the others are unarmed, but what really makes him such a crappy villain is the fact that his only motivation throughout the game is to molest anything female that he sees to the point that he barely seems to care about the zombies. This makes him more annoying than villainous, but in all honesty the main thing that makes Ryuya useless as a character is that overall, he barely does anything storywise. He mainly just features in Alice’s route, and is barely in Maya’s, and his only real role in the Infection route is for Naomi and Hiroshi to yell at him from time to time.

            Moving on to Chihiro (notice I have no gripes about her being unwinnable), she actually suffers from about the same problems I have with Ryuya, including really only featuring in Alice’s route and contributing nothing to the overall plot. However I have two main problems with this character, the first being that similar to Ryuya she’s also attracted to just about anything female plus she has a snooty disdain for anything male. I won’t play any anti-homosexual stereotypes complaints card since I don’t know enough about the issue to make an appropriate argument, but I really hate the man hating bitch character type since it more often than not results in an annoying character and Chihiro is sadly no exception since that and her attraction to Alice are the two main aspects of her character. My second problem is that unlike Ryuya, we see a glimmer of likability in Chihiro in the Infection route where she actually has a couple of amusing moments interacting with the main cast like when she basically has them raid the mall’s clothes shops since they need new clothes and no one’s really going to care now. We actually get to see Chihiro have an actual conversation with the other characters rather than her drooling over Alice like in the rest of the game and subsequently this is one of the few scenes where she acts like a believable character rather than a heroine whose only real purpose is to be in ero scenes.

            Finally we come to the final useless character that the writer didn’t even bother to name; basically Hiroshi and co., while fleeing the zombies, come across this girl hiding from the zombies who they decide to take with them despite the fact that she’s obviously mentally unstable. Now originally my problem with this character was that their taking her with them even though she’s obviously been infected seemed pretty stupid, but considering they don’t find out about the infection until later I’m willing to let it slide on the grounds that the group did it out of compassion. My guess is that maybe she was supposed to be a tragic sort of character who we see is doomed to become a zombie and slowly lose her remaining sanity and our not learning her name was supposed to add to the tragedy, but if that’s the case the writer failed to accomplish that as first the character’s lapses between sanity and insanity come off as annoying rather than dramatic so they don’t illicit much sympathy for her either and second the character has absolutely no impact on both the story and the characters. This is seen best when she finally leaves the group so that the infection can run its course away from them; this is supposed to be a dramatic scene where we see a character sacrifice herself for her companions but this scene falls flat because we never see her get close to Hiroshi and co. and she barely interacts with them so there isn’t much of a sense of loss and finally after this scene and Hiroshi and co. move on to the next part of the mall, this character is never brought up again. In the end you’re left wondering just what the point was.

            Now having said all that, you might think I utterly hate this game, but there is one redeeming story element besides the majority of the Infection route: Maya’s route. This is the only all around good one from its start as not only does Maya make for a good sympathetic heroine as the writer did a good job in demonstrating the personal loss she goes through as the result of the outbreak, but the character development in the route is handled well in how we see Maya bond with the rest of the group as well as how we see develop from the shy introverted girl we initially meet into a significantly stronger young lady. Also well-developed is the Hiroshi and Maya’s relationship as it does a good job in first establishing it as friendship brought on by Hiroshi having a role in helping in encouraging her to survive (it also helps in establishing him as her first real friend) and when we finally see the beginnings of romance at the end of her route it feels believable because of all they’ve gone through to make it out alive and as it becomes apparent that they’re both really all they each have by the end. There’s really only one flaw to this route, but I’ll get to it later.

            Now while the game doesn’t have any real gameplay it does have it that you can change character perspectives at certain points in the story and you unlock more as you complete routes. It makes for an interesting addition as we learn a bit more about some of the characters (it is interesting to see things from Yuki’s perspective) and a little background info about the virus. Sadly this isn’t used as well as it should and its main purpose is to unlock ero scenes. A new addition that wasn’t in the original game, which I sadly have to count as a con, is some of the choices are timed. The reason this is a con is because it only gives you three seconds to make your choice, a bit of problem if you’re only semi-literate, even if you are using a walkthrough as you need to read the choice fast if you want to make the right choice. I get it was supposed to add an edge to the choice making, but three seconds is way too short and comes off as an annoyance instead. I realize Mass Effect 2 had those dialogue interrupts that lasted about that long, but that did not result in a game over if you missed it, and while other VNs like the Moero Downhill Night series and the Sakura Wars series have timed choices those at least gave you enough time to read the choices. I will say that the game at least gives you the option to continue right before the timed choice after the game over, but it’s still annoying none the less.

            Presentation-wise, this game does a lot right. For the most part, the artwork is superior to the first games as the characters are better drawn and the music, while mostly the same as the first game’s, does have better sound quality. There’s only one problem in the art department; as can be seen in the WTF?! back at the top: the zombies look ridiculous. In the first game, the zombies looked off but still came off as creepy and intimidating, but in this game, they just look silly, including the core cast that gets infected. This makes for a really bad contrast with the first game because in that game, when one of the core cast got infected and the group ran into them it was unsettling not only because you’d grown to like them over the course of playing but also because the way they looked and acted as zombies was almost like a twisted mockery of their original personality. In Kansen 2 we only see this happen to one character, Yuki, but all the other characters that get infected don’t have that depth of change and they don’t look any bit intimidating (I dare you to take a look at an infected Miki’s character portrait and not laugh).

            Finally we get to the ero scenes and this is one of the few cases where I have two cons that seem so opposed to each other. While the artwork and voice acting is pretty good, the problem is that the ero scenes just come off as gratuitous. In the first game there was some actual purpose to each scene such as showing the incoming danger of the outbreak or the horror of seeing a friend so utterly changed by the infection, while in this game, the ero scenes just feel like they’re there just to be there; like the game is more interested in showing ero scenes than telling a story. This ends up making the game come off as boring at certain points, which is not a good thing for a survival horror themed game. My next complaint is that for all the ero scenes this game has strewn throughout its story, there are no ero scenes between Hiroshi and either Maya or Alice in their good endings, only in final bad ending for their routes. Some of you may wonder why I’m complaining about that just after complaining about the gratuitous ero scenes, and the reason is simple: if any ero scenes were of importance to the plot those would be it. To better explain, in the first game the final ero scene that occurred between Yasuyuki and either Yu or Hitomi served not only as a way of showing them taking the solidifying step in their relationship that had been built up from almost the beginning, but it also served as a culmination of sorts of the pair making it through all the danger and drama of the route and serves as not just some sort of reward or salve for the loss they experience but also as a setup for them moving on past the events of the route. The lack of this in Kansen 2 essentially lessens the effectiveness of the good endings, and while I understand that with the way both endings are written an ero scene would have been hard to include in the main part of the end of the route but an epilogue could have worked.

Character Profiles:

Hiroshi Ookura:
The main character of the game, Hiroshi ends up being the un-appointed leader of the group of survivors after the outbreak begins. A good natured fellow to a fault, Hiroshi can’t abandon someone in need.

Alice Hayami:
One of Hiroshi’s friends and classmates. Gets along so well with Hiroshi one would almost assume they were a couple.

Maya Jinguji:
The daughter of the head of a large company, Maya has lead a pretty secluded life and main company is her dog, Jean, and her grandfather. Has seen Hiroshi, Alice, and Yuki while walking her dog and has wanted to actually meet them, but never has had the nerve to do so.

Yuki Kobayashi:
Another of Hiroshi’s classmates, and his best friend. Is very popular with girls as they consider him a pretty boy, though he doesn’t seem all that interested by that.

Miki Anzai:
A recent graduate from medical school, Miki works in the nearby hospital and is currently in a relationship with one of the medical staff. Like Hiroshi, she also feels a need to help those who need it and takes it upon herself to help Hiroshi and his friends escape.

Chihiro Nagasaki:
Popular, athletic, and intelligent, Chihiro is admired by the many girls at her school like an idol and she’s more than happy to return those feelings of her admirers. Hates men.

Naomi Tsuruta:
A soldier from the JSDF sent in as part of a team to find any survivors. After she barely escapes her team being annihilated by the horde of infected, she encounters Hiroki and his friends, unaware of their being infected.

Ryuya Sugou:
A truck driver for a local transportation company, Ryuya is a vulgar and selfish man who has no problem using the outbreak as an excuse to satisfy his own self-interests, especially concerning any women he may encounter.

Hiroshi and co. encounter her while hiding from the infected. Shows obvious signs of being mentally unstable from the start.

In Conclusion:

Kansen 2 is a game that I really wish I didn’t have to render such a harsh judgment upon. It’s obvious that the creators put work into it in order to make it a game to surpass its predecessor. However before it can even take the first step forward, it stumbles back and falls on the weaker story and characters, and bumps its head on the bad placement of ero scenes, not scary zombie designs and timed  choices. It does get credit for picking itself up with Maya’s route and an improved (but sadly flawed) Infection route. While those two elements save it from being a horrible game, it’s still not that good a game, and (especially considering the price for importing) I only recommend it to people who really like the Kansen series and want a little more background information concerning the virus.

Final Score: 5/10 Average

Recommendation:  Avoid it.

As for the two episode anime, I will say the first episode is decent. However, there are two things I’m not particularly fond of in it, both of which I’d consider just my luck. First, considering how much I liked Maya’s route, guess who’s completely written out of the story? And don’t tell me it’s because her character design looks too loli, they could have easily changed how her character looks to make her look older in that case. Then again since the anime adaptations always follow the bad ends, maybe it was for the better. Next, the second episode focuses on Chihiro…enough said.