Sunday, August 30, 2015

Games for Adults: Free Friends

Free Friends Review

                There are two basic genres that you can divide eroge into, especially the ones with more of a focus on the H content: the light genre with its focus usually on slice of life and traditional romantic based ero scenes and the dark genre which have a more oppressive atmosphere/setting around its characters and ero scenes of the nonconsensual variety are more common. Now and then a you’ll see games that try to be something in between the two and the kind that succeed are usually story focused games like the Grisaia trilogy or Innocent Grey’s games, while the nukiges usually don’t fare quite as well with cases like Gimai Hitomi/Hitomi My Stepsister* or Magical Teacher (not that it’s impossible, the Kansen games are mostly good). The game we’ll be looking at today is one of the rare exceptions: Free Friends, released in Japan as Furifure by Noesis, a (sadly now closed) sub-company of Innocent Grey, on April 3, 2009 and released in English by Mangagamer on June 26, 2015. While not anything comparable to the aforementioned story game successes, it’s still a decent game all the same.

Pros: Interesting characters, decent story, good voice acting, mostly good artwork.
Cons: Story feels a bit short, a couple slips in the art department, strange gallery glitch.
WTF?!: I get the feeling you’d get more than weird looks if you listed a person as your hobby…

                Free Friends story focuses on two people: Yui Kurahashi and her teacher, who you play as. After a fight with her parents, Yui leaves her house only to find herself without any place to stay. A friend she contacts suggests using a message board called Free Friends which Yui does, unaware that it’s actually a site used for hook ups.  Through this she ends up meeting her teacher, and he ends up forcing himself on her. From there your choices will determine whether Yui’s teacher will use the night’s events as a means to blackmail her into being his slave or end up becoming involved in her problem and become the savior she hoped for…
                Okay, I should probably get this out of the way: if you’re in this mainly for the game’s good route then you’re going to have to go with the dark start first. Obviously this is not going to be a vanilla romance story either way. While the evil route is more diverse in the directions it can go it is pretty par for the course if you’re familiar with the genre but it actually does make for a good prelude to the good route since it drops hints about the characters that are followed up in the good route (though just to be clear there's no enforced playing order; you can just play the good route if you want). Speaking of which, the good route has a bit more substance to offer in how it takes some time to give its two main characters a bit more focus on them as characters in between the route’s ero scenes. While not as deep as you’ll find in more story focused games, there’s enough given to at least our main character to make the story interesting as the writing does a good job portraying him as someone beat down by the life he’s been leading and this helps in conveying a sort of world weary atmosphere that matches with his initial mood as a character.

                Basically what makes the story of Free Friends’ good route interesting is how it’s able to do a decent job with its premise. Two people both struggling with different things imposed on them by society and while their meeting does not end well a connection between them is established, and the question is whether or not any good can come of it. It’s enough to give both Yui and her teacher arcs, though admittedly the latter gets more of it, and it’s good enough that not only did I get some investment in the outcome but I even forgot that the MC doesn’t even have a revealed name.
                Still Free Friends has its flaws and the ones in the writing department can be narrowed down to the game being short. Basically there are certain story elements that are kind of glossed over, especially in the good route, such as the main character’s wife having about as much screen time as Maris Crane (but less presence) or it might have been more interesting to see more from Yui’s POV as it could have given some scenes more emotional weight.  I admit that these are overall minor flaws as there’s no way of knowing whether the inclusion of these would have benefited the story or just ended up as padding. Still can’t help but wonder though…

                Before we move on to presentation there are a couple system related things that bear mentioning. The first one falls into the flaw category where there’s an odd glitch I encountered with the galleries for this game where there’s a black bar covering about a third of the screen on the right. Strangely the select-able items that the bar covers you can still click on with the mouse, you just can't see them. I admit I downloaded installed the game the day it came out so it may have been patched, but I haven’t found any evidence of one on MG’s site. The second is a minor thing I noticed, but the game’s menu screen uses the same option select chime that Waffle uses. Probably just a coincidence but I admit it does feel a bit strange hearing something I’ve associated with another company pop up in a game not from it.

                In the area of presentation Free Friends does a pretty good job. Concerning the artwork, the backgrounds are well drawn as is Yui herself. We have a bit of hiccup in this area though as the only two males with character portraits look a little less polished, and while I get it’s because of their role and it’s to reflect that aspect of their characters it’s something that stands out enough for me to nitpick. The sound department fares better with the music being decent, the tunes accomplishing their respective purposes in the scenes they’re designed for but admittedly not that memorable. As for voice acting, the only one who bears mention is Yui’s VA Yukina Fujimori who some of you may recognize from her other acting name Konoha, and has played many notable roles from Nene in Eroge! to Ruseria and Elicia in the Kyonyuu Fantasy series. She may be the sole voice actor in this game, but she puts all the effort into her voice work for Yui all the same and you get a good feel for what the character goes through all throughout the game.

                As for the ero scenes they’re all really good. First of all, the aforementioned Fujimori-san does as good a job in the voice acting for these scenes as she does in the story scenes, and second the artwork for the scenes is excellent too. Whether you’re in it for the dark or light scenes you’ll definitely be satisfied with either ones.

In Conclusion:
                Free Friends is an overall pretty good little dark nukige that manages to blend in a little light into its plot without it feeling out of place. I admit it’s not a particularly exceptional game, but it makes for a nice little read none the less thanks to some decent character writing and good voice work for its heroine. A shame this branch of Innocent Grey went under since this seems to be an indication they might have had the makings to start a good nukige line.

Final Score:  7/10 Great
Author Recommendation: Try It Out.

                As for the anime…it isn’t very good. Leaving aside the fact that the character design for the anime just feels too jarringly different (especially the face they decided to give the teacher), they really screw the setup up at the start. Not only do they change where Yui and her teacher meet, they also change a pretty major aspect of the teacher’s life from how it is in the game. The reason I guess is so the episode could skip over the character aspects for him so they can get right to the H content. The problem is doing so pretty much renders this adaptation into as generic as the genre gets, so really just play the game.

*For anyone expecting me to review, Hitomi, I've considered it, but...that would require replaying the game and I think you can guess what I think of it from there...

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