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!


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