Friday, July 24, 2015

Import Games for Adults: Prima ☆ Stella

Prima Stella Review

                Well as promised, here’s the third in my unplanned line up of all girls’ school set game reviews and a long overdue return to Atelier Kaguya. Though my last review was of an ultimately second rate game, I can say that I experienced the proper antidote to what I didn’t like about Harukoi Otome in Prima Stella, released by Atelier Kaguya’s branch company Atelier Kaguya Berkshire Yorkshire on June 27, 2008. I hope that bit of hinting from the last review didn’t give too many people the ideas that I’d be reviewing something else

Pros: Story does a pretty good job with its premise, characters are likable, very good artwork, excellent voice acting.
Cons: Yu is unwinnable, the common route has a bit of a writing flub, an event in the latter part of this games can weaken things a bit.
WTF?!: Well that’s an interesting choice for tug of war…

                You play as Kousuke Sakaki, an all-around nice guy and one of the top members of the swim team at his school, enough to be considered for an international tournament. Unfortunately his dreams of competing get cut short after saving a stranger from an oncoming traffic accident, sustaining injuries that put him in a coma and upon awakening learns that his body currently isn’t in any condition to take any real strain. A second chance soon comes however, when a representative of the all girls’ private academy, Etoile visits on behalf of the person Kousuke saved. As the school’s students are mainly from rich and powerful families, it also hosts an advanced program that could help Kousuke rehabilitate and realize his dreams of becoming an international champion swimmer and he’s being offered the opportunity to temporarily transfer to the school to do so. Kousuke accepts and while his arrival is met with much curiosity from the student body as many of the girls have had limited contact with men, Kousuke quickly meets and befriends Shizuka Touhouin and makes more through his childhood friend and cousin Kusumi who also attends Etoile. With this, Kousuke’s road to recovery may also become a road to romance too…

                While the story premise has been done before Prima Stella makes for a good demonstration of how far you can take a concept that’s been done before with an enjoyable cast of characters (click here for profiles). The heroines are introduced well with their personality quirks helping to get us to know and like them quickly while at the same time setting things up so that when we get a more in depth look at them as characters we’ll care what happens during those story events. Of course it helps that these quirks fit well into the many humorous scenes throughout the game such as Shizuka and Kusumi’s rivalry over Kousuke,  Yu as the straight man to Kusumi’s often silly antics or Miyabi’s subtle teasing/flirting with Kousuke. As for our main character, I’d say Kousuke is good enough in terms of writing; he has just enough depth to be interesting when the story needs him to be but at the end his main character trait is that he’s simply a nice guy. While that may sound too basic, I can say the writers for Prima Stella are able to utilize this trait to give us a main character that’s likable and interacts well with the heroines.

                Another writing element of note would be how well the episodic aspect of the game works for it. The story is divided into eight episodes; the first five make up the common route and each heroine’s route consists of three. The first five are constructed so as to give each main character the right amount of focus, the first being to introduce everyone and the remaining four focusing on each of our heroines, each of them getting a plot that at times takes a slightly serious tone, but its resolution usually foreshadows some element of the plot of her route. All in all this setup works because it gives the heroines the right amount of spotlight throughout the common route and helps make the story is easy to follow and remember, even if you should decide to take breaks in between episodes.

                Before we get to the routes though, I feel that the two most significant writing flaws should be discussed. The reason for this is the first one has to do with the common route and the second one concerns a plot element the routes all share. The thing is explaining it will involve some light spoilers so I’ll give you a brief explanation before cordoning the spoilers off behind some appropriate pictures. The first problem is basically during the common route some events happen throughout it that seem a bit contrary to how one of the characters is written and the second problem is when the common route ends an event happens that kind of weakens things a little for the routes, some more than others. Anyway, to those unfamiliar with how I handle spoilers, see the spoiler warning pictures below? If you don’t want to be spoiler about anything in this game, scroll past that first set and the text that follows until you reach the second set which marks the end of the spoiler section. You can read without fear of spoilers from there.

                The problem regarding the common route is each heroine has at least one ero scene in it. This is a problem mainly because this kind of clashes with Kousuke’s character even if the writing tries to justify this and even though you could write off the heroines not having a problem with this happening as “hentai logic” it still feels a little weird that even rival heroines Shizuka and Kusumi pretty much shrug off. Not to mention there strangely isn’t a harem route in this game, even as an unlockable, which could have made at least a more passable justification. I can at least say thanks to this I may have encountered my first case of the (rightfully) much maligned gaming term “ludonarrative dissonance” in an eroge. Though that does open up another question: do ero scenes count as gameplay?
                Err…anyway, the second problem is basically what starts off the routes: Kousuke’s time at Etoile ends and he goes back home. Now don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t wholly a bad idea and it makes sense story-wise, but the problem lies in the change of scenery itself. Basically when compared to Etoile the new setting is a bit on the dull side and even ignoring that in some routes it means there’s none of the more entertaining character interactions with the more colorful cast aside from the heroine of the route.  Like the previous case it’s not something that ruins the game, but it’s still a flaw that would have been nice if in some way fixed.

                With that out of the way, let’s get to the route rankings:
1)      Kusumi
2)      Miyabi
3)      Tie between Shizuka and Tomoe
4)      Miyuki

                I have to say I did not expect to like Kusumi’s route as much as I did. The main reason for this is in my years of playing VNs I’ve found it to be a recurring thing where the more comical heroines tend to have pretty underwhelming routes. We have a rare exception with Kusumi partially because it kind of maintains its humor for most of the plot, helped by the fact that Yu also features prominently in the plot and subsequently the routine between her and Kusumi is maintained (which also helps lessen the effect of the second writing problem).  Even when it does take its dramatic turn, and while I admit it does seem a tad forced at first it manages to turn that around by resolving it in an over the top way that I’m not sure was meant to be intentionally funny or not, but it does make for a good way to buck a tired cliché.

                Miyabi’s route comes in at a very close second for a few reasons. First, she and Kousuke have good chemistry as can be seen in quite a few of their interactions in the common route and second, when things get to her route there’s actually writing good enough that you barely notice the aforementioned second writing problem. The third reason would be a really good performance from her VA: Maki Izumi, who many of you would recognize as the voice of Akane in the Da Capo 2 games, Chihiro from ef, and Tatsuko from the Majikoi games. While the other actresses turn in a very good performance too, this case is a bit more notable in that she manages to bring the character to life and do a voice different enough from what you usually hear that it may take you a while to recognize it. What keeps this route from tying with Kusumi’s is the dramatic part of her route is pretty par for the course; you’ll know what’s going to happen the moment the foreshadowing starts.

                What makes Shizuka and Tomoe’s routes tie for third place is they both have the problem of having just okay later parts of their route. In Shizuka’s case it’s basically because while the dramatic portion isn’t really bad from a writing perspective as it has to do with Shizuka’s own insecurities and low self-esteem it has the problem of feeling a little too slow. In Tomoe’s case it’s that while her story is fairly light hearted with the drama part being really short it has the problem of being really cliché, and is in fact very similar to a route I just recently finished playing in Da Capo 2: Plus Communication. I should point out though that neither route is bad as they both have really good things going for them. Shizuka has the advantage of being pretty well built up from the beginning of the story, her interactions with Kousuke are pretty cute and we have some good slice of life scenes before the drama of the route kicks in. For Tomoe we have, as noted before, the advantage of a route that doesn’t let itself be bogged down with drama and she makes for a likable and funny heroine throughout the game. 

                Now as for Miyuki’s route…what’s that? Some of you have taken a look at a walkthrough and seen she doesn’t have a route listed? Well, it turns out she does have a route…of sorts. You see, PS has another extras section where you can view extra ero scenes that aren’t in any of the routes which you unlock through progressing through the game. Among them is a string of scenes that make up what amounts to Miyuki’s route. I have a theory that the creators had a full route planned, but ran out of time and only had time to write her ero scenes and a rough draft of what the route’s plot. So they went ahead and recorded for those scenes, made the CG and wrote summaries of the plot to give context for why these scenes are strung together. While this means we essentially have the bare bones skeleton of route, I can say they’re worth looking at as aside from the (good) ero scenes, it is interesting to read hints of what we could have gotten.

                Sadly our Lunamaria Hawke look alike, Yu, does not receive even that and joins the ever growing roster of unwinnable heroines. It’s a shame since she does feature prominently in the game’s story and has good interactions with Kousuke. As indicated above, she does have a couple ero scenes, one of them probably written based on the premise for what her route could be. It is a shame the second one couldn’t have been incorporated into Kusumi’s route though…

                 In the area of presentation, Prima Stella does really well. The artwork is really good, the music is nice and the voice acting is excellent. The aforementioned Maki Izumi aside, we also have great performances from Miru, Shizuka’s VA, Tomoe’s VA Yasura Chatani who some of you may recognize as Yoruko from Comyu or Cat Sidhe Nekoko from Yume Miru Kusuri, and Kaoru Momozono gets to be in a good game this time thanks to her role as Miyuki. Should also mention there’s a couple male VAs in this too and they turn in good performances, one more than the other who manages to do an entertaining over the top performance but considering the gravelly voice he had to do I wonder how many throat lozenges he had to take afterwards… 

                As for the ero scenes, they’re all really good. Atelier Kaguya once again maintains its quality in the H department at least as well as it does in the area of writing.

In Conclusion:
                Prima Stella is an enjoyable game with its charming cast of characters, very good performances from their VAs and good artwork. While it does have some writing flaws, they’re not too big a subtraction from the enjoyment factor. If you want another example of the quality you should expect from good old Atelier Kaguya, then this is certainly worth a look.

Final Score: 7/10 Great
Author Recommendation: Buy it now.

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