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…

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