Thursday, October 31, 2013

Games for Adults Halloween: Saya no Uta

Saya no Uta

                Well, given how all I’ve been covering this Halloween have been imported eroge and the sadly limited amount of horror themed eroge available in English, this review was probably to be expected. Seeing as how mediocre Insai no Shima was it just wouldn’t do to end this year’s Halloween on a low note and so for that we’ll be taking a look at Nitro+’s classic horror romance eroge, released by JAST USA on May 6, 2013, Saya no Uta.

Pros: Overall excellent horror story, characters are interesting, good artwork, great voice acting, excellent music.

Cons: A couple pacing issues.

WTF?!: From Fuminori’s perspective, every weapon looks like the Soul Edge.


                Saya no Uta tells the story of Fuminori Sakisaka, an unfortunate young man who is the only survivor of a car crash that claims the lives of his parents. Yet that is the least Fuminori has lost as the injuries he suffered were so severe one of the treatments he had to undergo was brain surgery and the aftermath has left him with a warped view of the world around him. To Fuminori his surroundings appear to be mounds of twisted flesh, people appear as completely repulsive monsters, and everything that he can touch or taste comes across as equally disgusting. It’s so bad that Fuminori can’t even stand to interact with those who he once considered his closest friends. What keeps Fuminori going though is a mysterious girl he met and befriended while at the hospital named Saya, the only one who appears human to him now. It’s through Saya that Fuminori now has the companionship he needs, but questions remain. Who is Saya’s father and why is he missing? And just who or what is Saya?

                I have to say in all my years of playing visual novels I have yet to encounter one as dark, disturbing, creepy, and somehow beautiful as Saya no Uta. If you ever wanted to see if a serious romance and horror (especially the kind reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos( could be blended, then this could very well be worth a look. I know that sounds ridiculous if not impossible, but trust me when I say the game succeeds to being an interesting romance and a good horror story.

                Regarding the romance, note how I call it interesting because that’s really the best way to describe our central pair of Fuminori and Saya. The writer,  Gen Urobuchi (who some of you may know as the writer for Fate/Zero and Puella Madoka Magica), does a good job in establishing these two as a couple by showing how not only are they together just because of Fuminori’s condition but also because of how they complete each other. You get a good feel of how they’re two people alone in the world under extraordinary circumstances and they give each other the companionship they both desperately need. This is also supported by their interactions that do a good job in making it believable that these two genuinely care for each other. All of these things are not only good elements, but also very necessary…to show that there is no atrocity or depravity too horrible for these two to commit all so they can remain together.

                This is where the romance leads into one of the major parts of the horror aspect of the story. At a certain point in the story Fuminori has to choose between staying together with Saya or have his senses returned to normal. Choosing the former, which is the canon choice (the other choice leads to a premature, but still well written in its own way, ending), leads the pair down a path where they go to all manner of lengths to insure they remain together and happy. When I say “all manner of lengths” I really mean it as the murder of even a possible threat to their happiness is the least of what they’re willing to and do. These two go to very disturbing lengths for each other’s sake with very little regard for who they harm in the process (and boy does one character get the worst of it) and yet somehow you can’t entirely hate them because the story does a good job presenting why they’re doing these things and they do make sense from their point of view. It also helps that this pair is able to command your attention from there as the story kind of gives the Fuminori and Saya a larger than life air in their crusade for their happiness together; they’re almost like an Eldritch Bonnie and Clyde.

                Of course the horror element of this game isn’t just composed of the disturbing; at times it can evoke a good scary atmosphere. All of these moments involve the mystery behind Saya and her missing father, and they all serve to evoke that sense of foreboding in investigating something that one would probably be better off not. These range from minor moments such as descriptions of how what went on in the hospital while Saya was secretly living there which serve to build up the mystery behind her (even if it is pretty easy to figure out) to strong moments of fear of what the dark conceals such as when Yoh investigates Fuminori’s house. That’s one scene that’ll have you at least mentally shouting at the screen “Don’t go into the house, you fool!!”

                As for the characters (click here for profiles) they’re all well written, even though Fuminori and Saya get the focus, and you get a feel for their situations when you play from their POV. As a result you do care enough about the other characters besides our two mains that you do feel bad when bad stuff happens to them, which also helps on the horror front. Aside from the aforementioned scene with Yoh, the best example can be seen in Koji, who depending on perspective can be considered a hero or a villain. You really feel for this guy as he gets drawn into the mystery surrounding Saya without even knowing about her and when that mystery takes him down a path of vengeance you may even end up rooting for him. Even a character like Ryoko, whose main involvement isn’t until late in the story manages to leave a good impression.

                If there are any flaws to this game’s story I’d say, and this is nitpicking mind you, that there are a couple of pacing issues. Mainly I think a few story elements could have been looked at a little longer such as maybe a little more of either Fuminori or Saya interacting with the world outside or maybe a little more screen time for Ryoko. I’ll admit that maybe once or twice it seems the game may be trying a little too hard to be disturbing, but that’s really just because maybe the events happen a little too close together. Then again one other good thing about Saya no Uta is its short length (it'll take you 5-10 hours to complete) means no filler and I wouldn’t want to risk ruining that.

                In the area of presentation Saya no Uta does phenomenally. The artwork is good even though it doesn’t have the polish a lot of VNs typically have. I’d say that works to the game’s advantage in a couple ways: first, it gives everything a good hand drawn feel that actually helps in giving the characters a little extra in their expressions and posture than if they had been your typical anime artwork, and second, when it comes to the more horrific or supernatural looking artwork the artist succeeds not only in creating imagery meant to be strange and horrifying but also in somehow managing to put in an element of beauty to some of the images that doesn’t stand out. The music track for this game is also excellent with each track capturing and conveying the right mood for their respective scenes perfectly, be it the searching feeling you get from “Seek”, the lurking feeling from “Scare Shadow”, or the chaotic yet badass feeling fight music of “Savage”. Yet perhaps out of all the tunes, the most memorable to me is the theme song titled “Saya no Uta” as it really succeeds in bringing about the right feel for the third ending, evoking a mixture or triumph, soothing, and mourning. Equally amazing is the voice acting; every character is perfectly voiced, but the standout performances are without a doubt that of Hikaru Midorikawa as Fuminori, followed close behind by Yasunori Matsumoto as Koji. And to any otakus from my generation who recognize both names from The Slayers, enjoy watching Zelgadiss and Gourry kill each other.

                As for the ero scenes…well, I’m not entirely sure what to say about the ero scenes. They’re not meant to get a rise out of you as their purpose is to disturb and/or horrify. Even the more innocent seeming scenes have a pretty disturbing context to them once you’re aware of certain plot elements, not to mention the music that plays during those scenes give you a feeling that something isn’t quite right with what’s happening.


In Conclusion:

                Saya no Uta is an excellent horror eroge and certainly one of the best of the few horror visual novels officially available in English. I will warn you that this game is not a happy story and can get downright disturbing, but if you can take that then you can enjoy a horror story that has good characters, suspense abound, and two main endings that will both leave quite the impression on you. I highly recommend this to you, especially considering you can get it at Rightstuf for about twenty bucks, so price shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Final Score: 8/10 Awesome

Author Recommendation: Buy it now.


                And before anyone asks, no I haven’t read the infamously bad comic book adaptation. The copies are rare and I’m not really interested in scouring the internet for scans.

                So with that this year’s Halloween reviews have come to an end. Hope you all enjoyed the string of reviews I posted and hopefully at least one of those reviews has gotten you interested in trying out one of them. A Happy Halloween to you all and I hope we get to do this again next year.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Insai no Shima ~Chi to Hakudaku no Nie~

Insai no Shima ~Chi to Hakudaku no Nie~

                Having covered zombies, psychotic killers, and aliens this Halloween how about a look at something featuring some of the more classic monsters? Our next review hails from Hourglass, released on December 12, 2010: Insai no Shima ~Chi to Hakudaku no Nie~. Featuring in this game are vampires, a werewolf, a giant ape (King Kong or Big Foot take your pick), and…a giant multi-tentacled pink worm…okay, three out of four isn’t bad.

Pros: Interesting premise for the story, core characters are alright, Shinobu’s story is pretty good, good artwork and voice acting, decent music, interesting use of CGI.

Cons: Story seems indecisive about itself, only Shinobu’s route matters storywise, unsatisfying conclusion, weak villain, weak sub characters, overuse of CGI.

WTF?!: Who knew after Gilligan and co. left the island monsters would move in?

                Insai no Shima tells the story of a small group of friends who decide to visit the island of Karasujima, a small island long since deserted after a devastating earthquake many years ago. Among them is our main character, Shinji Takeda, a boy with the ability to see glimpses of the future in his dreams. Lately Shinji has been having a series of nightmares in which some unknown horror attacks his friends and a woman in red seems to call out to him. The trip to the island is mainly for Shinji and his friends to relax and unwind at a largely unused beach and possibly look into some of the strange legends about the island’s history. Things take a strange turn when an earthquake hits and Shinji and co. find themselves on what seems to be a completely different island and the boat they took to get there and its boatman are gone. As the group explores the island to find shelter and possibly help it soon becomes clear that this island seems to have people living there, but its inhabitants are not entirely human…

                In the area of story, Insai no Shima has a lot of good story elements. The premise of a group of friends unwittingly going to a haunted island, discovering and struggling to survive against the monsters that inhabit it, and how the romance plots with the heroines would fit into all this are all the making of a good horror themed eroge. This was a game that I was really looking forward to playing and reviewing for this October since it seemed to be perfect for Halloween, but sadly this game somehow ended up being okay at best.

                Before I start discussing what’s wrong with InS, there’s something about it I think needs mentioning: it looks and feels a lot like a game from the Kansen series. The game even seems to use the same program as Kansen 5. I did a bit of checking around and it looks like some of the people who worked on the Kansen series worked on this, though I guess that’s to be expected because it and Speed share the same parent company, Janis. The reason I’m bringing this up is because InS has quite a few things in common with its more renowned cousin, though it seems to have inherited the flaws of the series more than the better parts and isn’t helped that it also has flaws of its own.

                To its credit, InS does have a decent start with it taking time to introduce the characters while slowly building up into the main story. Thanks to that we get a good enough impression of our main characters so we’ll remember them and also actually care about their survival in the main part of the story. Of the main characters I’d say Shinji and Shinobu are the best introduced with the former being a decent MC and his ability to see the future is pretty well presented and does a good job setting the ground for what’s to be an overarching mystery (more on Shinobu later). The beginning part of the story also succeeds in getting the player interested in the island that’s going to be the main setting and wonder just what is it that’s going to make it such a dangerous place. Sadly the game isn’t really able to deliver much when it gets to that point in the story.

               Perhaps the biggest story flaw InS has, and this one being wholly its own, is how indecisive its story comes across as. When it comes to the horror area it seems like the writer wasn’t sure if he wanted the story to be mysterious or scary which results in it being neither and leaves you with many overall bland scenes. A good example would be this one scene where the characters are exploring the island and come across an impaled corpse: the music and imagery clearly indicate this is supposed to be a scary scene but the writing for the scene doesn’t do a good job conveying a feeling of dread because it’s too short and really just comes off as pointless overall. I could see this scene used for a mystery/horror effect if it took place earlier in the game, before it was revealed that the island was inhabited so as to build up the mystery of who or what is on the island with the characters, but since at that point we already know all that and already seen how the island’s inhabitants are that dangerous so the scene doesn’t really have any effect at all.

                That said, the faults of this game’s story structure are best seen in our main villain, and vampire, Kasumi. While the beginning of the game does a good job building her up, one she actually shows up and takes an active role in the story prepare to be about as confounded as the writer seems to be as to what sort of villain she’s supposed to be. The game tries to present her as a villain that’s supposed to be mysterious, intimidating/scary, and sympathetic but fails on all three counts. It fails on the mysterious end because the revelations about Kasumi are all conveniently revealed through Shinji’s dream sight ability which gives that series of story segments a very railroaded feel that isn’t helped by the fact that these segments tell more than show and once you’ve seen it in one route you won’t see anything new until you play the true route so that also hurts the replay value of there.

                As a villain that’s supposed to be intimidating and/or scary villain Kasumi fails for a two reasons. First, her barely showing any emotions was obviously there to portray her as this cold monster that doesn’t care who she hurts or kills to get her way, but it more results in her having almost no personality instead. Second, for a vampire her powers are surprisingly ineffectual: her flame abilities most of the time barely hurt (let alone kill) anything, her power to control her minions sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t for barely any reason, and the only supernatural ability she has that causes Shinji and co. trouble is how hard she is to kill. As a result we have a villain that’s a threat but the story does little to back that up. Seriously, if your vampire villain in your serious horror story is less scary than Marceline from Adventure Time you might want to consider a rewrite.

                Finally, Kasumi fails at being a sympathetic villain because that almost wholly depends on the dream sequences Shinji sees. While this could have made for a good plot element in us seeing two completely different side to our villain and wondering what the difference could be, that’s prevented by the main plot barely acknowledging the reveals from the dream sequences so it comes across as our villain just coming off as evil but the story wants us to feel some sympathy for her just because it says so. While the writer tries addressing this in the true route, one of the main problems of that route brings that down.

                Before I get to the true route though, I feel I should discuss the other routes first. I’d give you a ranking, but that’s kind of pointless because the only route that really matters is Shinobu’s. Like with some of the Kansen games, the story is pretty much written with one heroine in mind and in InS’ case it’s Shinobu. This is kind of a double edged sword since Shinobu’s role in the story is really the best written (the only problem being her route’s ending comes across as faker than even the cheapest Halloween costume). I’ll even go so far as to say her story’s probably the best part of the game. She has a nice little subplot of dealing with her own personal problems throughout the course of the story, the relationship she has with Shinji feels like a natural progression from close friends to lovers, and she even manages to have moments where she outdoes Saori in the badass front.

                The obvious problem that arises though is Saori and Rin’s routes (which I like about equally) don’t really have as much impact as Shinobu’s. While both characters are likable, have their moments of coolness (between Saori’s sword skills and Rin’s bomb making what’s not to like?), and form a believable enough relationship with Shinji in their routes (I’ll even admit Saori’s good ending ends on an interesting note) it still feels weird playing the scenes not unique to their route since like I said before the main story is written Shinobu in mind as the heroine. It also doesn’t help that their personal problems are really minor and forgettable in the grand scheme of things. As for anyone whose taken a look at any Japanese walkthroughs and seen Kasumi has a route, then you’ve mislead as that is just a short bad ending with Kasumi that has no real bearing to the plot yet for some reason requires you to see the bad endings for each of the three heroines to unlock it.

                Back to the true route, which is basically Shinobu’s true ending, while it does answer the hanging questions the non-canon endings leave and does its best to try and validate Kasumi’s sympathetic moments one glaring problem really curtails both. The true ending is probably one of the best examples of why we have the storytelling rule “Show, don’t tell”. The moment things move on in a different direction from where Shinobu’s non-canon route ended and Shinji and co. are back at the original island, a certain character shows up and for several minutes said character starts explaining everything so as to answer the aforementioned questions. This scene just comes off as boring since it’s just a long infodump with very little input or reaction from the main characters at this new information and there isn’t anything to spice it up like some unique imagery to go along with the explanation. After that we get a hastily put in final enemy for our heroes to defeat (though I will admit it is hinted at early in the game so it’s not a plot element that comes out of nowhere), it’s defeated almost as quickly as it shows up, and we get a short epilogue that ends on a weird note. This ending just leaves you feeling drained after all this so whatever impressions it’s trying to make on the player fall flat since you won’t really care by then. It also doesn’t help that even though this is the true ending for Shinobu there isn’t really any unique moment between her and Shinji in the epilogue for them to appreciate making it out alive and together. Once again, we’re only told that.

                The final problem Insai no Shima has in the writing area concerns its two sub characters, Hiroshi and Nao. They’re basically supposed to be a sub pairing similar to Kansen 1, 3, and 4 but I think the writer forgot a major part of what made those memorable was there was something about them that was interesting. These two are often just dull, having very little to say or contribute to the plot for a good portion of the game. Their only real plot significance is a sub plot where Hiroshi secretly has a thing for Shinobu even though he’s with Nao and is holding a mixture of jealousy at her closeness to Shinji and frustration at his friend’s not seeing it. This could have been an interesting story bit, but it fails at that because aside from its introduction in the prologue (which you actually have to replay to see because Hiroshi’s POVs are locked until you clear a route) it’s pretty much pushed to the side until really late in the game. It also doesn’t help that at that point in the game where it’s used as a conflict between Shinji and Hiroshi, the latter doesn’t come off as sympathetic as the writer probably intended which makes it harder to sympathize when the consequences of that conflict happen to him.

                Concerning the system, Insai no Shima uses about the same program that would later be used in Kansen 5. They even share the same POV switching that the fifth game introduced to its series. While not as glitch plagued as Kansen 5 was, InS has the habit of crashing if you’re not running it as an administrator and there are the occasional text spacing glitches (sorry no pictures this time since they occur during the ero scenes). There are timed choices, but they're not as annoying as in the Kansen series because you have a couple seconds to read the choices before the countdown starts.

                In the area of presentation, InS does good for the most part. The voice acting is good for all the heroines and the music is pretty good. One thing that the game does that is interesting is how it uses CGI. Being an eroge company there’s obviously going to be budget limits, so the CGI would obviously be cheap looking. This is actually used to an advantage by using the dark to mostly obscure that, but shows enough so that enough of that uncanny valley look can be used to create a creepy looking image. Sadly the people at Hourglass didn’t seem to know when to show restraint as they decide to use of those sequences as Kasumi’s attack animation and it is used so often you get sick of seeing it. As for the artwork, it’s all good for the most part be it the character artwork or the CG, though I should point out there is one odd hiccup where the werewolf design in the CG looks awesome, almost Jon Talbain-ish, while the character portrait looks cartoony.

                As for the ero scenes, they’re good, though like with Kansen 2 there’s a bit of an unusual placement for some of them. All of Saori’s “good” ero scenes only occur in her normal ending and not in her good ending. Plus it’s weird that out of all three heroines Shinobu, our main heroine, only has only three ero scenes (only one of them “good”) compared to Saori who has seven and Rin who has six.

 Character Profiles:

Shinji Takeda:

Main character of the game. Shinji is usually the quieter member of the group, usually preferring to stay in the background socially.

Shinobu Ichinomiya:
Shinji’s class mate and childhood friend. Shinobu is generally the more positive and upbeat member of the group. She used to be in the school’s archery club, but quit after an incident she doesn’t like talking about.

Saori Kyogoku:
Half French on her father’s side, Saori , despite her looks, has a fluent command of the Japanese language and has a pretty dignified air about her most of the time. Learned swordsmanship from her father, but due to her father’s strict upbringing has a difficulty expressing some of her emotions to others.

Rin Igasaki:
Shinji’s classmate and the group’s mischief maker. Rin is definitely the cleverer of her circle of friends, though she uses most of her intellect to come up with pranks and make fireworks. Is very sensitive about her height.

Nao Kobayakawa:
Shinji and co.’s homeroom teacher. Is secretly going out with Hiroshi.

Kasumi Izumo:
The master of Karasujima, this mysterious woman appears before Shinji soon after the group arrives on the changed island. Seems to be drawn to him out of curiosity, but her intentions are shrouded in mystery.

Hiroshi Uesugi:
A friend of Shinji and Shinobu’s since childhood and one of the more outgoing members of the group. Is secretly dating Nao.


In Conclusion:
                Insai no Shima is a horror eroge that had so much potential; so many of its story elements sound great individually, leaving you with expectations of a good horror story. Sadly the writing that ties all those together really bring it down. Thankfully there are some good story elements that save it from being a bad game, but I only recommend getting it if you can get it at a low price.


Final Score: 5/10 Average

Author Recommendation:  Try it out.


                Also yes, I am aware of there being a “Motion Plus” version of this game coming out in December. Not interested.

                In other Janis related news, the anime OVA for Kansen Ball Buster has screenshots on getchu and it looks terrible (warning NSFW images if you follow the hyperlink). You know considering most of what I’ve gotten from Janis’ companies this year have not been what I’d call treats I think I owe them a trick or two. I’ve got the toilet paper necessary, but now that leaves getting all the way over to Japan and finding their office…

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Injuu Kangoku ~Dirty Prison Ship~

Injuu Kangoku ~Dirty Prison Ship~

                For our next review for Halloween we’ll be moving on from our little planet and turn to the stars for our setting and the extraterrestrial for our monsters. The game we’ll be looking at will be the first (and at this moment only) eroge to be released by doujinshi circle EROQUIS! on August 18, 2011: Injuu Kangoku ~Dirty Prison Ship~ …Please try not to click the back button just because of the name…

Pros: Decent story for this genre, Liz, core cast of characters are interesting and likable.

Cons: Aoi’s route has a terrible set of endings, the game’s shortness limits the game’s story potential, a couple instances of unintentional humor with the alien designs, skip function has problems.

WTF?!: Believe it or not that guy on the right hasn’t been taken over by the alien…yet.

                Injuu Kangoku has you playing primarily from the point of view of Jonathan Hopkins (called John by his friends), the vice-captain of the exploration vessel “Settler”. With the exploration mission nearly over, the ship is on its way back to Earth when a derelict research vessel is found. Exploring the ship yields a few usable supplies but no survivors, but unbeknownst to John and the rest of the crew, one of their number secretly knew about this ship and what its crew had been researching: an alien life form. Having been assigned to retrieve a sample of the life form, the crewman does so and brings it aboard only for it to break loose and unleash a parasitic horror that one by one begins to take members of the crew.

                Okay, before I discuss the story any further I have to make a confession: this was kind of a last minute addition to this year’s Halloween reviews. I basically came across this by accident on VNDB on the last week of September and from the look of things I thought it was an eroge ripoff of Alien (and yes, it’s a really weird coincidence that the week I post this review James Rolfe covers the Alien series on this year’s Monster Madness) with tentacle/monster ero scenes replacing character death. Since it was marked as short and I could find it for a decent price online, I got it figuring I could make a short review making fun of it. The thing is… the story was actually not what I expected… in other words I think Injuu Kangoku’s story is pretty good, especially considering its genre. No, I have not taken leave of my senses and you should probably look outside to see if the moon’s turned blue because Injuu Kangoku is one of the rare tentacle eroge that not only tries to have a story but it’s of the even rarer kind that, for the most part, succeeds.

                While the influence of the much beloved sci-fi horror classic Alien is obvious at first glance, one would actually be only three quarters of the way right in that assumption. Injuu Kangoku’s story borrows not only from that movie but also from another much beloved sci-fi horror movie: John Carpenter’s The Thing. Story structure wise IK does borrow quite a bit from Alien, a couple things from Aliens, and from The Thing there’s obvious influence for the concept of the alien’s base form (and if you can read the above picture I know it sounds ridiculous but the writer actually managed a good monster based off that concept) and the use of a blood test to see who’s infected by that form. What prevents IK from being a ripoff, at least in my view, is it does its own thing with the elements that it borrows from said movies. For example, things go differently with the aforementioned blood test than in The Thing depending on which route you’re on, and the shadowy organization’s plan for recovering a sample of the alien makes more sense than in Alien. Basically the plan comes off as sensibly prepared and the only reason it goes wrong is because they assigned it to someone who didn’t know what they were doing. Seriously, I get why you’d have to move the sample to another container seeing as the old one is damaged and it’ll die otherwise but why would you handle it (something you know is dangerous to kill an entire ship’s crew) with your bare hands?!?!

                Another thing that helps Injuu Kangoku is it has a good cast of core characters. For starters, our main character John is a good lead, being a good and likable character that also benefits from being different from your typical eroge protagonist by being an older and more mature man. The writing does a good at portraying him as someone dedicated to protecting his colleagues when the aliens attack and you actually do feel for the guy when he loses so many friends over the course of this game. Of course being the vice-captain of the ship he gets his awesome moments, the best of them being in Liz’s route where he battles the alien’s main body in a final battle that I know from the below CG looks familiar but manages to be epic in its own way.

                Speaking of the routes, I guess we should start with my route preference:

1)      Liz

2)      Rail

3)      Aoi

                Out of all the three possible routes I’d say Liz’s is the best of the bunch as she’s the one who gets the best writing. A good example would be how well she’s involved in the route as she fights right alongside John when the time comes for the few surviving crew to find a way to either escape or kill the aliens and is a more than reliable partner in that role, which we see especially in the final battle of that route. It also helps that when it comes to romantic development between her and John it’s written pretty well starting with the two having a platonic history together that’s supported by a convincing combination of writing and acting that helps make their friendship believable (which in itself is pretty impressive considering this is a short game) and the progress of their relationship from there is just as convincing. The writing in her route also does a good job at driving home the feeling of loss on both her and John’s end for their crewmates, which, along with the romance plot, help in giving this route’s story some heart that doesn’t feel out of place, an even bigger rarity for this genre. It also has two endings I found satisfying in their own way (plus a bad ending that’s basically what you’d expect of this genre): a normal ending that ends on an ambiguous note reminiscent of your typical horror movie and a happier ending that still ends on open note similar to Alien and Aliens.

                Rail’s route is a decent route overall; it does have its strong points like doing a good job establishing her relationship with John and it has a satisfying but open conclusion. Its final strength is sadly also its greatest weakness: Liz. Basically in this route she’s just as, if not in some ways more, awesome of a character, especially at the near end of the story (wish I could give specifics, but I don’t want to spoil this route). In comparison, Rail doesn’t really do much, though I will say to the writer’s credit they didn’t make her come off as a dead weight type of character, it’s just that Liz contributes a lot more to the plot of this route than Rail does which is a problem considering this is supposed to be her route and also be the route that results in what’s considered the canon ending. It also doesn’t help that Liz’s extensive plot involvement means significantly less interaction between Rail and John over the course of the route compared to Liz or even Aoi and such limited interaction between the route’s two romantic leads means that while the pairing is well established at the start there isn’t very much interaction between the two to support it.

                Aoi’s route is a route I really wish I could praise because if not for one big problem this route might have tied with or beaten Rail’s route in my ranking. To begin with starting the route has John make an interesting alteration to the start of the game’s story post prologue, which really helps in grabbing your attention so as to see what other directions the story can go now. This route also has some good character moments from some good interactions between Aoi and John to a scene that shows even John is capable of making mistakes with dire consequences, but portrayed in a way that’s understandable and doesn’t make him look like a complete idiot. There’s also a pretty good final battle with the main alien that may not be as awesome as the one in Liz’s route but still a good fight scene to read through, especially considering Aoi contributes to the fight to the best of her abilities which gives her a brief moment of awesomeness. So what undermines all these good story elements? The endings. There are three possible conclusions to this route and all three of them are generic to this genre. The worst offender would be one particular ending that would have been a good tragic conclusion, but that gets screwed up by an unnecessary epilogue/ero scene. Considering how much Aoi gets screwed over throughout this entire game I almost wonder if the writer simply hated the character.

                Aside from the aforementioned flaws of Aoi and Rail’s routes, the remaining weakness Injuu Kangoku has concerning its story is the game’s shortness. Basically while this game is good, there is definite potential for it to have been better, but that would have required a longer game. For example the side characters all get taken out by the alien in about the same way and same point in the story regardless of the route you choose. Another example would be there’s not really enough time given to establish an atmosphere of dread at being trapped of a space ship with an alien creature that has more of an advantage in that setting than the crew like in Alien and the paranoia of who could be infected by the alien is only given the minimal amount of attention storywise. These shortcomings are understandable though considering this is the first game by a doujinshi circle so there would obviously be budget constraints that would prevent them. To have more scenes with the side characters would mean paying more for the voice acting and probably even on the art front. Then of course there’s time constraints so all in all I wouldn’t consider this too big a flaw, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get a fandisk with routes for the unwinnable side heroines (and maybe a better Aoi route).

                In the system area at certain points in the story you can switch character views, which does offer a couple interesting character perspectives and can lead to different scenes in a couple cases. Don’t expect this to be like with the Kansen games though as for the most part it’s just used to unlock ero scenes. The only problem IK has system wise is that it’s skip function has a weird problem of stopping to let the sound effects play which gets a bit irritating when you’re skipping over scenes you’ve read and want to see the new ones.

                In the area of presentation I’d say Injuu Kangoku does pretty well for the most part. The voice acting and music are both good, and speaking of which the menu’s little tune should sound familiar. The artwork’s pretty good for most of the characters and some of the monster designs are pretty nice. There are some hiccups though in that area as the male red shirt characters obviously didn’t receive quite as much attention in the art department (I’ll even admit the few times you see John from another character’s POV his portrait looks a little stiff) and there are some alien designs that I’m pretty sure are unintentionally funny. Best example would be in a couple ero scene CG where one of the aliens is obviously designed to look similar to a xenomorph. Let’s just say adding a certain…”attachment” to the xenomorph design that would put The Penetrator from the Saints Row games to shame is probably going to bring about laughter more than anything else.

                As for the ero scenes, they’re alright. I’ll admit I like the happier ero scenes more than the darker ones only because the latter kind of gets repetitive. Speaking of which, to any who want to try this for the good endings only I should point out even if you go that path you’re still going to have to wade through a good number of unavoidable tentacle ero scenes with the unwinnable side heroines.

Character Profiles (note: I’m only going over the three main heroines, if you want to see the rest of the characters go here):

Captain of the Settler and a close friend of John’s. Over the course of their time working together Rail has come to rely greatly on John’s support.

One of the Settler’s exterior technicians. Liz has known John since they were children and the two often share drinks and conversation together when off duty.

One of the Settler’s communication officers. Aoi is a good friend of Liz’s and gets on well with John the few times they’re able to talk.


In Conclusion:

                Injuu Kangoku is a very good debut title for EROQUIS! and an example of the rare few tentacle eroge that has a story and a good one. While it does borrow quite a bit from Alien, Aliens, and The Thing, I’d hesitate to call this game a ripoff of those movies and be more inclined to consider it a clone similar to Roger Corman’s Forbidden World or Galaxy of Terror (believe it or not I actually like both of those), but with a better written plot. Kind of funny that this game is in many ways closer to John Carpenter’s The Thing than its prequel movie and most of the comics Linkara’s been reviewing and a better Aliens game than the infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines (though that probably isn’t a very difficult accomplishment).


Final Score: 6/10 Above Average

Author Recommendation: For Fans Only!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Import Games for Adults Halloween: Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou

Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou Review

                In light of how my look at the latest entry into the Kansen series turned out I think that’s enough for zombies for this Halloween. Let’s move on to a genre I sadly neglected last year, that of the good old fashioned murder mystery (the Kara no Shoujo review I wrote and posted to a now dead blog the year before that so it doesn’t count).  For that we return once more to Caligula Soft and the sequel to Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori (which I reviewed previously): Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou, released in Japan on May 1, 2009 and like its predecessor is a remake of a game from Nihon Plantech, Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou, that was released back in January 1997. While I found SRO to be a decent (though kinda disappointing) game, its sequel shows definite signs of the creators doing everything they could to make improvements. Overall, I can say their efforts succeeded as Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou is superior to the first game in almost every way.

Pros:  Good story, the setting and characters are built up well, good artwork, good music and voice acting.

Cons: Playthroughs can get tedious after a while, after three routes there’s nothing new to add to the mystery, some heroines routes are too short, some character portraits could have used variation.

WTF?!: Joji Nakata, are you and Norio Wakamoto having some kind of competition to see who can play the most bizarre characters?

                Set many years before the events of the first game, SRO2  has you play as a younger Takeshi Saito, the security guard who helped the MC of the first game (sorry, he’s not voiced by Norio Wakamoto this time).  Takeshi has just taken a job as a security guard at the amusement park, Fantasien. It’s not long until he becomes well acquainted with the many employees of the park, and with so many of them being beautiful women the job seems perfect. However, all that changes with the sudden death of one his coworkers and the incidents that follow make it obvious that there’s a killer at work somewhere in the park who is more than ready to kill again.  Can Takeshi unmask the killer and prevent more deaths? Could the killer’s motives be tied to the suicide of an employee years ago, or could there be more to the park’s past than some of the other employees are letting on?

                Improvements from the first game can be seen soon after you begin the main story of SRO2. For starters, the story pacing is more relaxed so as to get you familiar with the amusement park setting and so you can get acquainted with the large and diverse cast of characters. I know I praised the first game on similar lines, but in this case you interact with the employees of the park a great deal more than you did the employees of Zeroshiki giving them more fleshed out personalities and the interactions Takeshi has with them help in creating a more genuine feeling of these people being his friends and coworkers than with the MC of the first game. This also helps in strengthening the effects of major story events that occur later such as the first murder, with the shock and loss felt by everyone who knew the victim even a little.

                I would also say that I found Fantasien to be a better setting than the Zeroshiki Department Store for three main reasons. The first reason ties in with the characters being so well established because through getting to know them you also remember where they work and since in some cases the characters have an affinity with the theme of the area they’re assigned to or the costumed character that they’re acting as which helps on both fronts memorability and giving insight into the characters. Second the park’s layout is simpler than the store was, not having multiple floors to it and having less locations, but comes off as an improvement because not only are the locations used more in being the settings for plot related scenes but also in giving you a sense of familiarity with the park and through that when the time comes for Takeshi to investigate you feel like you’re in his shoes using his familiarity with the park to look for clues to solve the mystery. Finally, the setting has a more open feel to it being a park rather than a large building and it gives a better feel for the passage of time in the story with its shifts from morning to afternoon to evening to night being visible while in the first game your only real indication was your in game clock.

                Another improvement is that I think the mystery is better written into the plot. While there are some similarities in terms of how they fit into the plot structure, such as the mystery being kept in the background until late in the game, it works better in SRO2 for a couple reasons. To begin with there’s more than one mystery that Takeshi investigates and over the course of the game where you go and who you talk to help to slowly reveal whether they’re connected or not. Also considering Takeshi actually knows the murder victims, there’s more of a sense of personal obligation to solve the mystery, whereas in the first game the MC was only trying to solve the mystery because it was his job. It also helps that there isn’t a true end route so the game’s story doesn’t have to hold very much back in terms of plot reveals, plus there’s an actual presence to the culprit this time. In the first game the culprits didn’t give much of a sense of their involvement until the end when they’re revealed, while in this game a combination of scenes that seem to give glimpses of the culprit and looking into the mystery behind a character who seems to be the most likely suspect give you a sense that Takeshi actually has a suspect to pursue.

                Speaking of Takeshi, he definitely makes for an improvement over the MC of the first game in having an actual name that we can hear him be called by and more of a personality.  While he is a bit of a goofball and pervert, the writers were able to pull that personality off (unlike in Kansen Ball Buster) by balancing that out with good interactions and scenes with the other characters and by showing when things get serious storywise so does our hero and it feels both believable and in character.  I should also point out that the decision to tie the two games together by making Takeshi the main character of this game was a good one. While he did feature prominently in the first game there wasn’t much we knew about him personally, which not only gives room for backstory but also making it that pretty much any heroine could be his love interest without any danger of breaking canon. Unfortunately the one downside to this being a prequel is this game seems to take place before the Cthulhu mythos themed section of the park from the first game was built, so those awesome sounding attractions mentioned but never shown in the first game are doomed to remain a mystery.

                Speaking of the heroines, I guess I should list my route preferences, but I should point out one big improvement on the subject of routes: there’s no true ending. As I just mentioned with the tie in on Takeshi’s end having room for any route to take place before the first game, SRO2 takes full advantage of that by allowing each route to be their own story and essentially leave it up to the players to decide for themselves which route they’d prefer and several of the endings drop enough hints towards the first game that you can argue for the possibility of the route leading into it. While some routes have different outcomes to the case depending on your choices, there’s nothing that specifically denies any of the other routes. Having said that, let’s talk about the routes and my preferences for them:

1)      Tie between Kazuko and Hikaru

2)      Makiko

3)      Shizuko

4)      Tie between Kyo and Miyuki

5)      Yukari

6)      Yuko

7)      Tamami

8)      Sakura

9)      Hiromi

(and before anyone asks about Moemi’s route I can’t rank it because I couldn’t unlock it and both walkthroughs I consulted did not help)

                The reason I like Kazuko and Hikaru’s routes the same is for two main reasons, the first being they both have really good chemistry with Takeshi and the second reason is that they both have a personal tie to the main story’s mystery in their own unique way. To better explain the former, in Kazuko’s what really helps is we get to see the relationship between her and Takeshi progress differently in how the two become a couple fairly early in the game and the route does a good job of portraying them as two people who just simply click together well. The first murder and events that follow actually fit well with this route’s story structure by using those story events to interrupt the aforementioned romance plot and using that as a point to explore both the mystery and a certain aspect of Kazuko’s backstory that ties in with it. Concerning Hikaru’s route it follows the more traditional structure of her and Takeshi not getting together till late, but does it well by not only building up their relationship but also giving her a bit of involvement in the main story that ends up leading into a reveal that ties her to a major part of the mystery. It also helps that with the right choices she can help in dealing with the villain in a very satisfying (and karmic) way.

                Makiko’s I rank second because it makes for a good follow up to Kazuko’s in how it reveals something new behind the case (incidentally I recommend first playing Kazuko’s route and then Makiko’s).The interactions that she and Takeshi share are interesting and I wish I could discuss more specifics on that, but then I would potentially spoil the route so all I can say is they’re good. I will say that the route has an interesting look at Dracula to tie into its main story theme (so there's another thing to link this to Halloween). Also the conclusion of the route is satisfying if somewhat bittersweet.

                Shizuko’s route is good mainly because the relationship between her and Takeshi is well written with the two having some very amusing interactions. While you can get her involved with the case at the end, it feels a little tacked on considering its optional and the reason why she gets involved is a tad on the flimsy side. Kyo and Miyuki tie for fourth place because they both develop an interesting relationship with Takeshi, but they also share the same weakness of this occurring a little too late in the game with only the bare minimum of scenes to make the relationship believable. It’s a real shame considering that both routes introduce some interesting ideas about the two heroines such as Kyo’s picking the role of a Valkyrie at the park as a way to put up a front of inner strength in the face of her own personal problems or Miyuki dealing with the aftermath of a murder occurring in the park she was in charge of.

                Yukari’s route I found to be decent as it does a good job setting up the relationship between her and Takeshi, but its problem is that it doesn’t do enough on that front as their interactions while interesting are few and it seems odd that her involvement in the murder case is so limited considering her job at the park. Yuko’s route is similar in that regard, but it also suffers from starting too late to actually give her route much story. Tamami and Sakura’s routes are essentially joke routes, though Tamami’s is better mainly because she and Takeshi interact more. Strangely you can get Tamami involved in the case at the end if you make certain choices, but it feels really out of place as there isn’t really much of a reason given for her involvement whereas at least a somewhat plausible reason was given for Shizuko.

                As for Hiromi’s route…I have to say I’m not even sure if I should even call it a route. Really it’s more of an ending than a route since the only interactions she has with Takeshi are story related and don’t really help to establish any sort of relationship between the two. It also doesn’t help that none of the scenes portray her as a very likable character, especially when it comes to the ending itself. The ending is literally a few sentences explaining that after the mystery is solved she and Takeshi become a couple (simply because), an ero scene, and that’s it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “route” this lazily put together before but the idea that anyone would let something like that pass in this day and age is perhaps the scariest thing in this game.

                Aside from some of the routes suffering from being too short, the main story problem SRO2 suffers from is that after you’ve cleared 3-4 routes there isn’t anything new to add to the mystery. From there the confrontation with the villain is the same, there aren’t any new revelations, nor can you expect much contribution from the remaining heroines to the main plot.  With that all you’re really playing for are the scenes unique to the remaining heroines for their routes and sadly they aren’t very many in between all the stuff you’ve already read. This sadly makes replays tedious after a while and for a game that features so many interesting characters it’s too bad interactions with them are so limited.

                Concerning the system, SRO2 doesn’t have the same character movement exploration that the first game did and instead uses a standard system of clicking a location on the map to go to it and there you may meet certain characters or find a clue. A certain amount of time passes for each location and some events are only available during a certain time length. The removal of the old system might at first seem like a step backwards, but honestly it helps to make replays less tedious than they were in the first game where not only did you have to repeatedly go to the same places at the right time but also move to and check the right spots in those places. I’ll admit selecting places over and over just to skip through several lines of text gets tedious too after a while, but at least there’s less repeated busy work.

                In the area of presentation, SRO2 does well on almost every front. The music’s good and the voice acting is great all around. Everyone but Takeshi is voiced and their VAs performances all do a good job at bringing the characters to life from Hikaru’s cheerful personality to the wackiness of Tamami and Han (and speaking of which in the case of that pair we get top performances from Miru and Joji Nakata). The artwork is just as good as if not at times better than in the first game, though I should point out there is one hiccup in the art department: some of the character portraits have very limited poses and/or expressions. The character that gets this the worst is (ironically) Hiromi who has only this one single character portrait throughout the entire game, and through most of the game the only emotion she shows is anger.

                As for the ero scenes, they’re certainly a lot better than in the first game with them being longer and some of them having more CG.

Character Profiles:


Makiko Kitazawa:
One of the main cast for the Dracul Castle attraction, Makiko is quiet and introverted girl who mainly interacts with Shizuko. Has recently begun dating one of the cast members in the Artemis Land section of the park, Makoto Kajiwara.

Shizuko Kanzaki:

Another of the cast for the Dracul Castle and Makiko’s friend, Shizuko is the daughter of a high standing family and graduate from a top notch school. Began working at Fantasien out of a desire to experience more varieties in society.


Kyo Sasazuka:
Cast member in charge of the Viking Ship attraction in the Odin Land section of the park, Kyo is a very popular cast member mainly thanks to fitting her Valkyrie costume and role so well. She and Inoue, Takeshi’s main co-worker, appear to be dating.

Kazuko Shimamoto:
In charge of maintenance in the park, primarily the electrical equipment and the vehicles for the park’s parade events, Kazuko is basically a more behind the scenes member of the park’s cast. Currently single and looking for a boyfriend, she takes an interest in Takeshi early on.


Hikaru Hizumi:
Cast member in charge of the Ghost Home attraction and a dancing performer during the park’s parade events, Hikaru is a cheerful and energetic young woman with dreams of performing in on stage musicals. While usually a confidant person, Hikaru is actually plagued by self-doubt in regards to her dancing talents and whether it’s enough to achieve her dream.

Tamami Miyashita:
Waitress for Fantasien’s Chinese restaurant and friend of its chef, Han. Tamami is quite skilled in martial arts and usually practices her newly learned techniques on Takeshi.

Sakura Midorikawa:
Saleswoman for the pastry shop Milky House in the World Bazaar section of the park, Sakura’s looks and friendly personality have made her very popular with the guests. Currently single though that may be due to the fact that Sakura is infamous for her terrible cooking that is so bad it’s considered a danger to all living things.


Yukari Sakuma:
The main operator for MAOS (Multiple Affairs Operating System), a computer system that monitors and runs the major functions of Fantasien, Yukari is now also in charge of monitoring Takeshi  as he’s new on the job.


Miyuki Amano:
Fantasien’s head manager, Miyuki has been an employee of the park since the beginning and achieved her position through years of hard work. While devoted to her work, she has started to question some of her superiors’ decisions especially in the aftermath of the first murder. Outside of work, her main pastime is betting on horse races, with very little success.


Yuko Kurumizawa:
A rookie detective working on the murder investigation, Yuko’s casual manner and dress don’t exactly fit the bill for a police officer, which tends to annoy her superiors. Takes a liking to Takeshi soon after meeting him and asks for his assistance in finding the culprit.

In Conclusion:
                In Shinsetsu Ryouki no Ori Dai 2 Shou we have another example of the original game being surpassed by its successor. It has a more interesting mystery, a better written cast of characters, the setting and exploring it is better, and best of all there’s no true route that invalidates the other routes. It does have its imperfections such as some routes getting more writing attention to it than the others and replays can get tedious after you’ve cleared three or four routes, but certainly not enough to ruin the experience. Even if you didn’t like or play the first game, I’d still say it’s worth picking up considering its aforementioned improvements and its being a prequel doesn’t spoil anything from the first game.

Final Score: 7/10 Great

Author Recommendation:  Try it out.

                As for the anime, it’s a good three episode adaptation, covering most of the key parts of the original game’s story. If you haven’t seen it yet but want to check out the game first then I recommend playing Kazuko and Makiko’s routes first since the OVA is kind of a combination adaptation of both routes and will spoil things revealed in said routes. I’m saying kind of because some things that happen in the anime don’t happen in either route or in the game at all, but fortunately these changes work. I will admit I do find it odd that they give Tamami more involvement in the story than she had in the game whereas Shizuko and Hikaru are barely in it. A difference between the anime and the game that I find interesting has to do with the tone of the ending: the OVA’s tone is one of tragedy at the community formed by the many employees of the park now irreversibly broken by the deaths that occurred while the game’s endings (most of them) end on a more hopeful note, acknowledging the tragedy of the events but showing that Takeshi and the route’s heroine together have the strength to move past it and hopefully to a better life.

                Also, just to mention it, there does exist a manga adaptation entitled “Remains of the Darkness” but I haven’t been able to find any copies of it to say whether it’s good or not. The few pictures I’ve been able to find seem to show that it follows Shizuko’s route, but I can’t really say I’m that interested mainly because if I want an abridged take on the game there’s the aforementioned OVA and the manga’s artwork ranges from okay to bad fanart level.