Sleepless Nights

Visual Novels - because insomnia builds character.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Little Busters!

  • Title - Little Busters!
  • Author - Key
  • Style - Multi-path Visual Novel (interactive)
  • Rating - All-Ages
  • Trial - Yes
  • Engine - RealLive (requires JP environment)
  • Price - 8800 yen (before tax)
  • Website - Official Website
  • Get - Himeya Shop, J-List
Note: This game is only in Japanese. This review is based off my readings of it in Japanese while learning Japanese. I have no connection to any translation effort, nor am I skilled enough to attempt one.

Its been a long time since I started Little Busters, I remember receiving the box, starting it up and realizing I needed to get the script out of that little text window and into something a bit more dictionary friendly. A bit of hacking (by other people) and a lot of command line typing (by me) later and I had a folder of text files I could put in a HTML wrapper and use rikaichan to read. That was three years ago. Not wanting to fall behind on other (English) titles I read Little Busters off and on completing a route every once in a while. It would have been easy to give up and say "I've gotten the endings for my favorite girls, I'm done with this" but I heard good things about some unlockable path and I kept pushing. It was worth it.

For summary and character information please see this post on Wakeless Days.

Graphics - Key's art is always a love it or hate it topic, I obviously do like it. Tachi-e character portraits had a lot of variation and detail for emotions, lighting, and posture. Even the protagonist, Riki, had quite a wide variety even though they weren't used except in the rare perspective shift. The retro-sprites for the batting game are quite adorable. Background were carefully crafted and built up the story successfully. Event CGs were lush and well framed but were not exclusively focused on showing off the girls but rather on pushing the story forward. That being said, the CG distribution is a bit uneven. Some scenes were crying for event CGs and just didn't get them while, other scenes could have probably done fine without (not that I mind those). 9.5/10

Music/SFX - The music is fantastic. I use some BGM clips for ringtones and have the CD set on order. There are over forty tracks, including multiple ending vocal songs. Music is of course used to set the mood of the scene but each heroine has her own theme as well. The only track I disliked was Nishizono's theme as it seemed a bit too somber, but that's a minor quibble. The range on the BGM is quite impressive from tracks that are barely music to vocal insert songs and transitions aren't too heavy. I don't know if there is such a thing as a perfect soundtrack but I have yet to see better. 10/10

Voice Acting
- The characters that were voiced were portrayed deftly and even though there was some role doubling each character was clearly distinguishable and cast well. However, not all characters were voiced. Key is small but certainly one of the top in its field, one would think they could hire (or double up on roles) to voice a few lines here and there for side characters. Voicing is expensive but since this was a sure-fire hit they ought to have spent the money (but as a sure-fire hit, they felt no need to bother?). That being said, in minigames and scenes with perspective shifts the protagonist was voiced. This was a nice touch, and helps us get a feel for Riki as his character development does impact the story. 9/10

Story - The story can be evaluated in three parts: the trunk/common route, the individual routes, and the Rin/Refrain routes. The trunk is enjoyable enough, lots of humorous scenes and side plots are peppered thoughout as well as minigames. A lot of effort went into writing this section and it shows. The (non-Rin) character routes are some times a bit messy but engaging. The weakest, Kudo's route, was a bit of a trainwreck but certainly not boring.

While these two aspects of the game (the only aspects promised by the box) together make a quite acceptable galge, it is the third part that pushes the boundaries. After clearing the individual routes Rin's character route can be played. After clearing this rather unusual story, a new option is added to the title menu: Refrain. At this point, LB sheds its galge skin and Key tells the story they meant to and with near-flawless execution. This is the strongest part of the game and more than makes up for any flaws in the earlier sections. 9.5/10

System/Extras - Little Busters! uses Visual Arts RealLive engine and runs only on Windows 2000 or newer. Unfortunately it seems to use some sort of DRM that requires the disc to start the game, this is extremely annoying (my only system complaint). Otherwise the game has all the standard features, wrapped in an extra shiny GUI. There are also various minigames (see screenshots above), which I enjoyed greatly but can be disabled if one wishes (they do not affect the plot significantly). In terms of extras there are the standard music and CG modes. 4/5

Overall - Little Busters! is not perfect, especially in the earlier parts. If you just want a dating game there are better choices. However if you let your self become immersed and clear all the normal routes, the world will reveal its secrets. As odd as it sounds, the strongest feeling I have towards LB is that of gratitude. I am grateful to Key for letting me read this story, letting me know these characters. It is a rare work that brings this feeling out of me and I hope you over look its flaws and enjoy it.

Score - 42/45 - 93% - Exceptional

Note - Ecstasy
There is also an 18+ version of Little Busters! titled: Little Busters! Ecstasy. Besides the obvious addition of erotic content (warning: Key is not known for their ero-writing). This version has 3 new routes (for two side characters and one entirely new character) as well as some script revisions (possibly a new ending for Kudo). I am playing through LBEX now but haven't played any of the new routes yet (instead I am enjoying rereading the original parts). As I said above, the refrain is the strongest part of the game (and surely the same in both parts) so owners of the original surely aren't going to miss too much.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Impressions of Fate/Stay Night

I am the bone of my review
2D are their bodies and moe is my blood
I have clicked over a thousand choice menus
Unknown to sleep
Nor known to wake
Have withstood carpal tunnel to read many H scenes.
yet those hands will never know a true end
So as I pray
Unlimited Review Works

This will be unsurprising to anyone who recognized what the sentences above are based off but I am not going to add to the pile of comprehensive Fate/Stay Night reviews since they all say about the same thing:

You should play this game now.

Seriously, its fantastic. The game may have its flaws but it paints three distinct and well woven tales of excellent fantasy. To be honest, I am not a fantasy nerd, I prefer soft sci-fi or realistic fiction but F/SN is an example of excellent fantasy writing. To be fair it is set in modern Japan but the story is entirely focused on swords and sorcery.

F/SN also takes advantage of the visual novel format by offering three stories that build on each other. Fate (Saber's route) is a simpler story that introduces you to the Holy Grail War's mechanics. Unlimited Blade Works (Rin) is more complicated and reveals much about characters that I can't put here. Lastly, Heaven's Feel (Sakura) is a complex drama thriller. Beside Ever17, I can't think of another title that demanded to be played all routes in full.

As you can probably tell I can't speak rationally about this title. I love it to pieces. Its the only game I've been playing >_<. If you are going to pick it up do get the PS2 disc to patch in the voices. Yes it adds some cost but the voices are worth it.

I'm also going to attach a list of patches I have applied as the final content is much expanded from what comes on the disc:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Explicit Instruction [Digital Manga]

  • Title - Explicit Instruction
  • Author - Kuroi Games
  • Style - Enhanced Digital Comic (Manga+)
  • Rating - Not for sale to minors, 18+
  • Trial - Yes
  • Engine - Ren'Py
  • Price - 2.99$
  • Website - Offical Website
  • Get - Kuroi (Download) (Can be ordered on a CD if desired)
Explicit Instruction is hard to rate because it basically makes a genre of its own. Digital comic distribution is something many have tried; from Tokyopop's attempts to pull anime fans in with music and limited animation to simple e-books packaged as iPod apps or released on the Kindle (but with no color). Kuroi is the first I've seen that sells a standalone computer application (made from the well supported multi-system Ren'Py engine) This is likely the best way to go for small press adult material which cannot make it into stores or the more famous digital distribution channels.

Enough on the format, as for the work itself, it's a spinoff of Explicit Proposal, Kuroi's debut work. I reviewed Explicit Proposal here . Like its predecessor, EI is a short sex-focused story.

Graphics - For better or for worse, the art is absolutely put-on-a-coffee-mug adorable (This does NOT mean they look lolicon!). The disadvantage of this style is that it is a bit awkward for some of the more explicit pages. I highly recommend the trial version to anyone considering purchase. While only the first few pages are colored (following the traditions of manga) the color work is well done with pastels and same detail and style carries over in to grey work. The line work needs a bit of polishing for consistency and smoothness but I have no particular complaints. Background art is smooth and matches well (I didn't notice it was a different artist until viewing the credits.) 8/10

Sound/Voice - Since this is a manga, and therefore fairly short, music plays a much lesser role than in a game. (and no role in page mode). Voice is the primary auditory component of EI, every line is voiced, and the recording quality is good. The voice actors are convincing and quickly set the tone both our characters. Music is standard Creative Commons fare, certainly appropriate and well written but has that vague feeling you probably heard is somewhere else. Page sound effects are a nice touch in page mode. 7/10

Story - While not completely implausible to reader's not familiar with Explicit Proposal, EI is a direct spin-off and references the preceding title. While EP was not "serious" in premise, the characters acted in a serious manner. EI is much more humorous. Mika's absolute adoration of Rei is charming and Rei's willingness to exploit it gets us straight into the action. Mika seems to go along with this all surprisingly easily. Much like the original this is the sort of title I would pick up when stressed or pissed because it is pure entertainment for entertainment's purpose. No moral queries or long monologues to click though in hopes of getting a panty shot some time next week; EI is like candy corn: not illustrious but cheap, tasty and bite-sized. 8/10

System/Extras - If Explicit Proposal was a manga book, Explicit Instruction is a doujinshi/fan comic with the added benefit of sound. The length (20 pages) and price are the same as comic book singles. There are two mode of play, Frame Mode which uses panel by panel zoom and pans and Page Mode which lets the user scroll around each page freely. Sadly one cannot zoom in and out of page mode. Oddly, (since English reads left to right) the pages were made in a right to left orientation. This seems to be a common quirk among OEL manga artists (and preferred by some readers) so I won't debate the merits here. This only becomes a usability issue in page mode because buttons are orientated so one clicks on the right button to advance to the next page (which in a book would be to the left hand side). Luckily a flipped option was added to Page Mode though it would be ideal to have the buttons move as necessary between the two modes. Cute menus with lots of extra art but no standalone extras. 4/5

Overall - The price point makes this a worthwhile purchase for anyone who enjoyed Explicit Proposal but I highly recommend playing that work first. If you were interested in EP but turned off by the art style give EI a try. A low-risk price for an experimental format, there isn't much to lose.

Score - 27/35 - 77% - Average

I altered review format to put less emphasis on sound (therefore more on story/visual) since this is marketed to the manga crowd.

Thanks to Kuroi Games for providing a review copy!