Tag Archives: indie

1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum (Visual Novel)

By Black Chicken Studios

My rating: 4 of 5

1930, New York City: Prohibition is in effect, and the Great Depression is making itself known across the country, but for wealthy heiress Scheherazade Keating (Sadie to her friends), other things are much more immediately important. Having just graduated valedictorian of her high school class, Sadie is ready to make her mark, embarking on a whirlwind college degree in archaeology that includes on-site work at a variety of digs around the world. Incidentally, she’s following in the footsteps of her parents, a pair of famous (now missing) archaeologists . . . . She’s also following a trail of clues that may (she hopes) lead to more information about what’s happened to her parents. And she’s not afraid to break a few rules of society if that’s what it takes.

How to describe Scheherazade . . . it’s honestly a pretty unique experience, although there are similarities to a lot of other stories and games in certain aspects. It definitely plays like a visual novel–nice backgrounds, music, character pics, text describing what’s happening, and choices for the player to make that influence how the story progresses. You could, I suppose, even compare it to an otome visual novel in some senses; there are certainly several romance paths that can be pursued, if desired. But it’s entirely possible to play with purely platonic relationships as well. I actually loved how much good friendships were a part of the story. Mechanically, the game is also almost a princess-maker sort of game in that you have to choose how to spend your time, different choices build different skills, and your skills influence how certain challenges resolve. There’s actually a good bit of challenge to the game mechanics if you really want to play to meet certain goals; however, there’s also an easy mode that basically lets you focus on the story. And Sadie’s story is pretty interesting in a pulp novel sort of way. She’s a very strong character, and an amusing one to read–even if her ridiculous wealth tends to make you forget how bad life is in the world at large for a lot of people. But then, she’s more ridiculous than even her wealth, getting caught up in chases, digging in the dirt, getting into arguments, and suchlike. And there are actually a lot of interactions with people of a variety of stations in life–lots of interesting relationships to build. On the whole, I really enjoyed playing Scheherazade and found it to be an interesting slice of an era as well as an exciting romp around the world and a fun exposition of a fascinating character.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Choice of Robots (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Kevin Gold

My rating: 5 of 5

You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?

Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.

Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.

2 Comments

Filed under Media Review

Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Bloodsucking Bastards (2015 Movie)

Shout! Factory

My rating: 2 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE/Not rated, but would be rated R for language and blood and gore

Live in corporate America is completely unfair. You really try to do your job, and on the one hand your best friend who works with you thinks you’re lame for trying so hard, while on the other your boss overlooks you for your expected promotion–only to high your college nemesis from outside the company instead! Evan finds it all a bit too much, especially when his girlfriend Amanda (who works in HR) is currently shunning his as well (although it really was his fault). But really, finding out that the new company strategy is to turn its workers into vampires?! Truly unfair, and also a bit disturbing.

So . . . picked this up because Fran Kranz. Adorable and fun actor to watch, although this certainly isn’t his best movie. Basically, take The Office and add vampires, and you’ve got the basic plot of Bloodsucking Bastards. I honestly almost didn’t finish this; the first chunk is kind of boring, full of corporate politics, love problems, and bad/awkward comedy à la The Office. But once the action starts–people acting strange, bodies showing up, that sort of thing–the story becomes more interesting, although still full of awkward comedic moments and lots of language (fair warning). There are elements of the story that are clever in an indie-writing sort of way, I guess. Kranz comes into his own as things heat up, showing that he is capable of making even a rather awful movie into something at least somewhat interesting. Still not my favorite role for him, though. Also, fair warning that the vampires in this movie splat something awful–blood and gore everywhere in a goopy, but not really graphic, kind of way. I think . . . if you’re into horror-comedy and enjoy a poke at corporate politics, Bloodsucking Bastards might be fun, but it’s generally not something I’d recommend on the whole.

Written by Ryan Mitts & Dr. God/Directed by Brian James O’Connell/Produced by Brett Forbes, Patrick Rizzotti, Brandon Evans, Colleen Hard, & Justin Ware/Starring Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Emma Fitzpatrick, Joey Kern, Joel Murray, Justin Ware, & Marshall Givens/Music by Anton Sanko

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Island (2011 Movie)

Soda Pictures with Finite Films and Tailormade Productions

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience (This is technically not rated, but if it were, it would be at least PG-13, more probably R)

Nikki Black travels to an isolated island, giving the story that she’s there for a human geography research project. While staying in this small, insular community, she takes a room with the terse Phyllis and her son Calum. Although their interactions are awkward at first, Nikki soon strikes up an unusual friendship with Calum, a young man who is different–magpie-like with his collection of island treasures, full of wonder with his fairy stories, yet hesitant from living under his mother’s possessive control. But there’s much more going on here than a research project and a random friendship, something deeper and darker by far.

Island is one of those rare films that I probably would never have found if not for my attempts to watch everything Colin Morgan’s in (not to be confused, by the way, with another 2011 film, The Island). It’s really a beautiful movie, although not for everyone, I would think. This is a British psychological thriller/drama that is based on Jane Rogers’ book by the same name. It is a very indie production, which I personally found to be a good thing. The lighting, the camera techniques, the use of music, all of it is different from what you’d find in a mainstream movie, but I found it to be refreshingly so. Still, if you’re all about epic scores, fast-paced action, and big explosions, this is not the film for you. It is spare, quiet, and slow-paced. There are moments where you get simply silence, with the characters just standing there or sitting and thinking. It works here, though, and it suits the story and the bleak but beautiful island setting. The pacing allows for gradual but thorough character development, which is beautifully done through both the scripting and the excellent acting. I had never seen Janet McTeer in anything before, but her portrayal of Nikki is brilliant and nuanced. And Colin Morgan’s acting is, as usual, outstanding, bringing us a (I’m figuring, although it’s never specifically stated) high-functioning autistic young man who quickly becomes a sympathetic and beloved character. All the fine details of expression, posture, everything are just perfectly done, and I loved his work here. The plot itself is a gradual unfolding of mystery, touched with just a hint of magical realism which was surprising. All in all, Island was a well-done and interesting movie that I would recommend to those who have the patience to make themselves sit and listen.

Directed by Brek Taylor and Elizabeth Mitchell/Produced by Amy Gardner, Clare Tinsley, & Charlotte Wontner/Screenplay by Elizabeth Mitchell/Based on Island by Jane Rogers/Music by Michael Price/Starring Natalie Press, Colin Morgan, and Janet McTeer

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (Video Game)

By EasyGameStation & Carpe Fulgur

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Ditzy and warm-hearted Recette finds herself left with her father’s enormous debt and no way to pay it off. But in the interests of protecting their investment, the creditors contract the straitlaced fairy Tear to help Recette pull her act together and open an items shop in order to pay off her debts. A shop with Recette immediately names “Recettear,” a combination of their names, with a huge grin on her face. Excited to face this new adventure, Recette begins the process of acquiring items, building relationships with customers, and honing her haggling skills. Poor Tear’s got an uphill battle to make this thing work!

If I had to boil Recettear down to one word, “cute” would definitely be it. The anime-like art style, the character designs, the music, it’s all basically adorable. The premise draws on the concept from your typical RPG of the ubiquitous items shop. But while in most games, these shops are pretty generic, this story takes it from the shop owners’ perspective, selling to adventurers and townsfolk alike. It definitely plays like an RPG, but the majority of the focus is on resource management in the shop. Not that you can’t go dungeon crawling if you want to–and sometimes the variety is nice. While the whole buying and selling thing can be a bit repetitive, you are faced with time-management challenges and an increasingly complex market as time goes by. Plus, there are some fun character interactions mixed in, especially between Recette and Tear. I think the adorable relationship between these two–and the stark contrast in their personalities–is what truly makes this game. It’s certainly what I enjoyed the most. As for sound, the music is simple but cute. There is some minimal character voicing, mostly just set phrases, which is all in Japanese but is quite well done; the timing and quality of the actors really does add to the overall flavor of the game, although none of the actual words will make sense unless you have at least a basic understanding of Japanese. All the written text has been translated to English, though, so it’s completely playable–also, the translation is actually quite good. So yeah, it you’re looking for cute RPG that’s a bit different from the norm, I think Recettear is a fun option to try.

Note: You can find Recettear on Steam at http://store.steampowered.com/app/70400/Recettear_An_Item_Shops_Tale/.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review

Lust for Love (2014 Movie)

Gravitas Ventures

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Sweet, overly-affectionate Astor manages to scare off his lifelong crush Mila shortly after they started dating; although he’s a nice guy, he was waaaay too transparent and clingy for her to handle. Desperate to win her back, Astor goes to Mila’s old friend Cali for advice, only to find out there’s been a huge rift in their friendship–details not disclosed to him at the time. Not to be discouraged, he bugs her for help in wooing women, with rather pitiful but kind-of cute results. And as he and Cali spend more time together, he begins to fall for this cynical, wonderful woman, although he’s still too set on winning Mila to admit it at first . . . not that Cali’s any better at admitting her growing feelings for him. Meanwhile, Astor is also trying to manage a truce with Mila’s current boyfriend Jake and to get Mila and Cali to work out their differences. Life for this poor guy is complicated!

This is another one of those random indie films that I basically only watched because of the cast. Lust for Love is a pretty cute and random romcom focusing on this guy who is super sweet and earnest but who totally has no clue and no luck with girls, especially with the girl of his dreams whose personality totally does not mesh with his. I don’t even know what to call the love polygon that ensues during this story’s development–there are so many weird off-shoots and connections that it resembles some bizarre molecular construct. And I’m not usually a fan of even your basic love triangle, so that part of the story was kind of a downer for me. Also, fair warning that, while this is officially not rated, it would probably be rated R if it were . . . so there were some parts that were definitely TMI. But in spite of that, there were aspects of this story that were really beautiful. I loved the dynamic between Cali and Astor; there’s this one scene where they’re on the roof together just relaxing, watching birds, dancing, and being themselves, and it’s pretty much perfect and wonderful. (Of course, I think Fran Kranz and Dichen Lachman have a good dynamic on-screen together just in general. Actually, the whole cast pretty much has a great dynamic, which is one of the things I love most about this group of people.) It’s pretty obvious right from the start that these two will end up together–so much so that I don’t even feel guilty about spoiling that part one little bit. I also liked the way that all the friendships were worked in amidst the drama and the romance. I would actually have loved to see more of this so the ending didn’t seem quite so forced; it almost feels like we’re missing a scene or two right before the conclusion. One of my favorite relationships (and one of the few that was never romantic at all) is the friendship between Astor and Jenny (played by Miracle Laurie). They just have such a fun, sweet atmosphere between them that’s absolutely precious. I think for people who enjoy indie romcoms–or for those who enjoy Whedon’s shows (especially Dollhouse) and want to see more of the actors in them–Lust for Love may be a random but fun movie to try.

Written & Directed by Anton King/Produced by Anton King, Dichen Lachman, & Jack Wylson/Starring Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Beau Garrett, Caitlin Stasey, Enver Gjokaj, Karim Saleh, Miracle Laurie, Felicia Day, & Maurissa Tancharoen/Music by Jed Whedon

Note: You can find out more and view the trailer at the show’s website, http://lustforlovefilm.com/.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media Review