Monday, June 5, 2023

VN Talk: My Sweet Bodyguard - Part 2: Katsuragi

Picking Daichi Katsuragi first was a "me choice" rather than seeing who the protagonist seemed to mesh with the best. Voltage protagonists are never named, though they often come with their own personality, so they aren't completely blank slates. But when I first started messing around with the Love 365 app I didn't think about it so much as looking for a story with a love interest that I would find interesting. So those early days were a lot of hopscotching through the various titles to use my free reading time as much as possible before I had to pay.

What I'm getting at, is I was lured to My Sweet Bodyguard due to its premise (a lot of Voltage games are exactly what the name says on the tin) and then chose Katsuragi to be my protagonist's bodyguard because I thought if I was going to read a romance with any of these guys, I wanted the boss, who's older and more experienced than the others. (Might also be my own age talking.) I played about halfway through his story before my free time ran out and then set the game aside as I played other things.

Coming back after all this time, and having bought a bunch of other My Sweet Bodyguard routes while they were on sale, I restarted from the prologue and found I almost wanted to set up the protagonist with either Kaiji or Subaru, just so their age would be closer. Katsuragi's age isn't given anywhere to my knowledge, but since he's the only love interest who goes by his family name instead of his given one, he's probably several years older so they would not be able to address each other as peers. My personal guess is he's in his thirties since there are other love interests in Love 365 who are canonically in their forties and they look older than Katsuragi.

Monday, May 29, 2023

VN Talk: My Sweet Bodyguard - Part 1: Overview

In which I talk (write) about visual novels from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: iOS (also on Android)
Release: 2013

My Sweet Bodyguard is a Love 365 title, which means that it's a part of Voltage's pay-per-route otome library app. Though I don't usually gravitate towards a particular trope in my otome gaming, on seeing this title I was actually surprised that the bodyguard trope hadn't already been exploited left and right, and arguably hasn't since. (Shout out to Variable Barricade's Nayuta though for being the one otome bodyguard I like who isn't in this game.)

With a title like My Sweet Bodyguard I expected a guilty pleasure sort of game, being in general the otome-flavored opportunity to live out Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard. The game even name drops the movie in one route, when the main character's friend finds out about her situation. And in that respect it delivers.

My Sweet Bodyguard does not take itself seriously. The villains are often cartoony, the situations unrealistic, but all the game really wants to do is give the player a good time that involves the main character and her chosen bodyguard falling in love. Normally I prefer heavier stories, but I found the irreverence charming, and even the more contrived situations (like the ever popular faceplanting into a kiss) are just right when in search of popcorn fare.

As I did previously, this blog post series will only cover the first of what Love 365 calls the "Main Story" for each route, which is the falling in love part of the romance. There is fandisc-ish material that follows the relationship as it progresses, but it's unequally distributed among the guys due to the modular way mobile content tends to get updated and My Sweet Bodyguard seems to have wrapped up. At the moment, I'll only be covering the first five love interests, though I may add others at a later date if I get around to them.

Monday, May 22, 2023

VN Talk: Kiss the Demiurge

In which I talk (write) about visual novels from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: Windows (also on Mac and Linux)
Release: 2022

Kiss the Demiurge is an unusual visual novel for me to play since it's yuri (lesbian romance) and usually if I look for a romance game I gravitate towards otome or RPGs with romance elements. But the developer of KtD, Studio YuriEureka, asked if I would cover it on my blog and provided a free copy of the game. It looked to be a supernatural themed plot and I like to try out indie games when I can, so I agreed.

The game follows Minori, a girl who accidentally made a contract with a demon as a child, costing her her parents, and the experience has forged her into a harsh and uncompromising teenager who works for a secret organization to hunt demons. She's actually a bit of a pill in the opening moments of the game, being so uptight that it borders on caricature, but surprisingly her zeal in saving the muggles from the realities of magic is exactly what makes her entertaining.

This game was released within the past year and is still fairly new, so this is a fair warning that this post will include spoilers after the cut.

Monday, May 15, 2023

VN Talk: Buried Stars

In which I talk (write) about visual novels from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: Switch (also on PS4 and PC)
Release: 2020 (Switch, PS4), 2021 (Windows)

Buried Stars is a mystery game, but placed in a very odd setting for the genre. It takes place in a recently renovated building being used to film the titular TV show, Buried Stars, which is described as a survival audition show where performing contestants move on to subsequent rounds based on the amount of votes they get and the lowest ranked is eliminated at the end of each episode.

At the start of the game, the contestants have been whittled down to the Top 5 and by the time voting wraps up they'll be reduced to the Top 4. Each of the five performers are introduced and given a little spiel about who they are and commentary on how their fans have responded to them, resulting in their current placement. Just after that, the stage begins to shake and the building around them collapses.

Following the collapse, the Top 5 and the floor director are trapped in an intact space in the rubble and cut off from the outside world (making them quite literally buried stars). This results in a much different cast of characters than you'd normally have in a genre more frequently populated by detectives and high school students. It was a little weird at first when the deduction mechanics start popping up before it's apparent any crime has taken place, but by the end I didn't even notice.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Anime Talk: The Fire Hunter

There were a couple of good concept shows this past winter anime season, both of which I had high hopes for, only to end up frustrated by their progress. I don't know if I'll finish the second one, but the first is The Fire Hunter, based on the novel series by Rieko Hinata, and since it's proper novel series as opposed to the light novels anime is more commonly based on, it's less likely that it will get picked up for English translation, but I'm hopeful, because the worldbuilding is fascinating and just the right mix of strange and familiar that I want to know more.

The world of The Fire Hunter appears to be roughly equivalent to Taisho era Japan, with many people living in rural communities, but there is also the existence of an industrialized capital city with factories. This doesn't appear to be an alternate Japan so much as a far future one after something happened that caused humans to burst into flames if they tried to interact with conventional fire or the objects made by or made use of it. This caused civilization to collapse until humans learned to hunt the fire fiends whose blood can be used an an alternate source of fire.

What exactly caused this malady, where the fiends came from, and the origin of the gods that now watch over the city aren't revealed by the end of the first season, and I'd love to know more, because it feels like a setting I could happily dive into. The antagonists looming in the near future are a clan knows as the "spiders," who are humans who have somehow managed to remaster fire without setting themselves alight. Why? How?

I don't mind not knowing, because these are things that I expect will be revealed as the story progresses, but the worldbuilding is the best part of The Fire Hunter.

Where it falls down is in the presentation. From my understanding, large chunks of the story are being rushed through without exploration, which makes it hard to understand the characters and their motivations. In the last episode something crazy happens to one of the dual protagonists' sister and the household that is sheltering them. Rather than asking anything in regards to what he just witnessed he just sends his dog after his sister and then business (so far as we can tell) resumes as usual, even when he's talking to the head of the household who likely knows exactly what went down that night.

I suppose he could be biding his time, but we never get any internal thoughts belonging to these characters and they tend to wear neutral and/or slightly nervous expressions no matter the situation, from being attacked by monsters to eating a meal. I'm not sure if that was an artistic choice or a holdover from the novel's narrative style, but it doesn't make for good viewing.

That and the animation is pretty sketchy. I don't need to see butter smooth animation, and the general style is likely an intentional throwback to the early aughts, but the flat shading and poor frames of animation in the convey attack were pretty bad, to the point where I was certain it passed from stylistic choice to just trying to get the animation done before deadline.

Given how anyone not interested in the world building aspect probably checking out early on, I was a little surrpised to see that a second season has already been greenlit. I might end up watching it, depending on what its competition ends up being at the time is airs, but I'm hoping they fix the adapation issues, since I can feel that there's a good story there. I'm just not getting it.

Monday, March 27, 2023

My Top 10 Otome - Refresh for March 2023

The end of March seems a bit of an odd time of year to be doing a Top 10 list, but the last time I did one of these I kept it to a Top 5, and a lot of games have come out in the two and a half years since. While undoubtedly I'll get a few more otome under my belt before the end of the year, I figure this list isn't likely to change too much. And in any case, I tend to feel uneasy about listing something I played too recently, as my love of a game can fade with time, as we'll see one of the games that was previously in my Top 5 has actually fallen.

Moving the number up to ten also gives me space to add a few indie titles, which can't match the production values of a dedicated company willing to shell out for recognizable talent in voice, art, and music.

I'd also like to give honorable mentions to two titles: Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms, for being my first otome and covering a part of history I find fascinating, and to Bad Apple Wars, for giving second chances to those most willing to fight for it. I thought maybe when I expanded to a Top 10 I might be able to fit them in, but couldn't.

10) Halloween Otome

Halloween Otome is a bit of a sentimental favorite in the English speaking otome community. It was made several years ago when indie projects were much fewer and less often complete. The artwork, while adequate for a free game released nine years ago, would not generate much enthusiasm in today's indie pool, but what I like about Halloween Otome is that it's just sincere fun. Emma Cee is fabulously lucky, and it's worked right into the story as she finds herself with a free ticket to a costume party for the rich and famous. There is no danger. Just people having fun and trying to win a contest put on by their host. The characters are entertaining and it's nice seeing them cameo in the Valentines Otome sequel/spin-off.

You can find this one on the popular indie site, and it runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

9) My Vow to My Liege

My Vow to My Liege is probably the direct opposite of Halloween Otome, being full of war and betrayal. I wasn't sure exactly where I'd put in the bottom half of my Top 10, but settled on #9 because to be honest, I only really liked half of the love interests. What makes it for me personally is the attention to historical and folklorical detail (once past the part where King Fuchai is actually a younger sister crossdressing as her deceased older brother in order to maintain a hold on her kingdom's power). Fuchai is quite possibly one of my favorite otome protagonists ever. She is king in a time of war and the game lets her do everything a king in ancient times could do, from leading an army to torturing prisoners for information. If you need a more aggressive protagonist than most, Fuchai is your girl.

I believe this one is Windows only, and can be found on Steam.

8) Pre-Odyssey: Odysseus, Penelope, and Her Ducks

The most recent otome on this list in terms of release, I just adored this very sweet and funny story about the courtship of Penelope by Odysseus. It was entirely a one person dev team, so there are rough spots where it shows, but the ducks add a note of levity to what could otherwise be a very serious story, and the nods to the original Greek mythology are top notch. I don't usually talk about the ending credits to a game, or the bonus material, but they're genuinely worth it for this game, since anyone familiar with the mythology knows what happens to these two in the future and the extra material is entertaining commentary from the characters themselves.

The dev also has you covered when it comes to being able to play. Aside from supporting Windows, Mac, and Android, there is a web version that requires no download at all. The game can be found in

7) The Blind Griffin

Though not without its flaws, I think The Blind Griffin is still my sentimental favorite indie, for combining two things I have never see in a game before: 1) being set in the 1920s and 2) starring a Chinese American protagonist. Though the protagonist is player-named, she has her own identity as a Chinese American child from a large family in a time when the Chinese were not particularly welcome. Having come from earlier generations of Chinese immigrants, I knew what sort of history she likely had (for instance, she was more than likely Taishanese, like my own family) and being able to combine that with my general interest in early 20th century history, was pure catnip.

The Blind Griffin can be found for PC, Mac, and Linux on

6) Norn9: Var Commons

The reason I originally justified this in my previous Top 5 is that it emotionally moved me in a way that lower ranked games did not. Norn9 certainly isn't perfect, and the non-romance portion of the plot was a complete mess, but what it did, it did well, and chances are you will like someone in the cast, even if it's not who you originally thought it would be. It's like a bag of jelly beans. You might not like every single bean in the bag, but there are enough of the good ones (assuming you like jelly beans) that it's still worth buying the bag in the first place.

Also, Norn9: Var Commons has now been ported to Switch and in fact is coming out in English this week! So there's no longer a need to own a Vita to play it. The translation has been updated and the fan disk Lost Ark is coming out in English for the first time later this year, so now is a good time to get into the first game.

5) 7'scarlet

Despite being a little light on the romance, I was never not engaged in trying to figure out the mystery of Okunezato in 7'scarlet, and I love a good mystery, but when I looked at its competition I realized that there are a few flaws that really bothered me; mainly the half-baked brother route at the end, but also that there were inconsistencies between routes (such as Sosuke's level of knowledge about the town secrets) that didn't make any sense. I also don't like yandere romance options, though not badly enough that it affects my ranking.

Though this was originally a Vita release, it can be found on Steam where it's often on sale.

4) Collar x Malice

This is the game that probably dropped the most, having been previously at #2. While I did really enjoy the investigation and liked (slightly) over half the romance options, I still don't like the plot problems in Shiraishi's route and even though I bought the fan disk, the longer I go without playing it the more I realize that I'm not quite as in love with it as I originally thought. Still, I really love that Ichika has a social life outside of her interactions with love interests, and especially that she has other women to both hang out with and back her up. It's still a good blend of action and romance that other games don't quite hit.

It originally came out for Vita, but is also available on Switch.

3) Cafe Enchante

I had just gotten Cafe Enchante at the time of my last ranking, so I wasn't sure where it would fall, but after some time and distance I've decided that I really still like it. It's aided by an excellent cast, one of the few where I can say I genuinely liked every guy, including the one I thought I would be ambivalent about. Though it suffers from a lack of quality checking (names are sometimes translated differently, and the dubious translation of "hako oshi" introduced a whole new term to the English speaking fandom), I still like the directions the story was willing to go, making this a surprisingly poignant game by the time I finished.

Cafe Enchante is only available on Switch.

2) Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly

Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly was originally my #3, but was bumped up by the fall of Collar x Malice. It's still not a traditional otome in that the common route (with its own ending) is more or less the canon ending with everything else being either "in addition to" or "instead of," but I love the mystery and the shared story of the cast. The primary characters wake up in a mansion with no memories of how they got there, but the more they learn about their true circumstances, the more painful regaining their memories becomes. Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly gets its placement for having amazing plot twists and a non-linear method of storytelling to show how everything came to be. Romance is much weaker in this game than others due to the nature of it, but it's still a solid game.

Though it was initially released on Vita, it's also been ported to Steam!

1) Code:Realize (series)

And now for my favorite, which is unlikely to be toppled anytime soon, and that is Code:Realize. Spanning three games, Cardia's story of falling in love and finding a way to touch another person without harming them still resonates with me. She's fully capable of facing bad guys with or without her man and the men themselves form a formidable band of friends who work together, so the game is never just a one-on-one with Cardia and a pretty face. Many of the best moments are watching the guys interacting with each other, making them full fledged characters with lives outside the romance, and in turn, that makes the romance better, because when the chips are down it feels like the rest of the cast is 100% behind the couple. They're all friends. Why wouldn't they be? Add in a gorgeous steampunk London, hidden organizations, and the philosopher's stone and you've got quite a combination!

Code:Realize and its sequels were originally released on Vita, but have since come out on PS4 and Switch.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Ambition: A Minuet in Power

Platform: Switch (also on Windows)
Release: 2022 (Switch), 2021 (Windows)

Ambition: A Minuet in Power is more of a social sim than something with a conventional plot to it, but there is a story nonetheless. You play as Yvette Decaux, a commoner woman who has come to Paris on the eve of the French Revolution at the behest of her fiancé, Armand, a baron. We don't know much about Yvette other than she was most likely in love with Armand (I think it's possible to avoid ever implying she was in love with him, but it's hard) so this was not a marriage of convenience. In fact, she expresses disappointment at how readily her elated parents packed her off to Paris to join him.

Once in Paris though, everything goes wrong. Armand doesn't pick her up from the tavern where they were supposed to meet and people shun her when asking about him. After she finds his home the maid is happy to let her stay but has no idea where her master is, and on top of that, when Yvette attends a party in Armand's stead, the host humiliates her in place of her fiancé and tosses her out.

Things are not off to a good start for our heroine, but even though she came to Paris for Armand, she has ambition and has no intention of returning to her village in disgrace, so Yvette decides to tough it out and make her way into Parisian high society.