Tag Archives: visual novel

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse

the-huntsman-winters-curseCreated by Desert Owl Games & Universal Studios

My rating: 4.5 of 5

An old woman sits by the fireside, telling fairy tales to the children sitting at her feet. Tales of great happenings, like the invasion of the snow queen Freya and her armies. And tales of things smaller but perhaps of no less import. Like the tale of Elizabeth, a young woman who took up her father’s sword after his death and went out into the wilds to seek her missing brothers. Or Marcus, the man she meets in the woods who insists upon accompanying her but keeps many secrets. Perhaps, in the end, all the old woman’s tales are really just a part of a greater story.

The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is an American visual novel that incorporates a card battle system into the gameplay. It’s a bit different–usually you get one or the other–but in this particular setting it works remarkably well. I should go ahead and say that I’m pretty sure this visual novel is connected to a movie (or movies) which I have never seen. I’m coming at this review purely from having played the game, so if you’ve seen the movie, your perception of the game may be markedly different. . . . I don’t know. Just playing the game, it’s clear that this is very intentionally made to appeal to the largest possible audience–which is both good and bad. Bad in that you don’t get all sorts of fun indie/nerdy jokes and references like you do in games like Impossible Quest. Good in that the gameplay is really polished. Seriously, the card battles are just challenging enough (but if you die, you get another chance, and another), the story flows well with some choices (all of which eventually lead you back to the same story path), and the balance between story and card battles is so natural feeling that it had to have been carefully researched. In other words, this visual novel would be playable even to those who aren’t particularly used to gaming, and it’s got enough variety to be interesting even to those who don’t like to sit still for visual novels. Also, the story is interesting, if a bit predictable, and the art is pretty, although a bit to Disney-esque in the character design for my taste. As a plus, although the game is technically rated teen, I think it’s fairly appropriate for ages 10 or 11 and up–there’s fantasy-style fighting, but it’s fairly clean and appropriate for the most part. All in all, I think The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is an enjoyable and playable visual novel/game that should appeal to a wide variety of players (although not perhaps to hardcore gamer types). Definitely worth a try.

Note: On the topic of giving the story a try, you can find it on Steam or on the game’s own website. On Steam (where I played) it’s listed as free to play . . . which it is for the first chapter out of five. So fair warning, you can try out the game for free (and there’s enough there to really get a feel for whether you want to play more), but if you decide to play the entire game, it’s about $18 for the whole thing.

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Impossible Quest

Developed by Axel Sonic/Published by OtakuMaker Studioimpossible-quest

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Interested in a quirky text-based game filled with wacky humor, snark, and tons of geeky references? Impossible Quest might be just the game for you. In this choose-your-own-adventure game, you are given a text cue and must select from three possible choices to advance through the game. . . . Actually, that sounds kind of boring. If you don’t take into account the hilarity of some of your possible choices, the 100+ possible endings, the frequency of your demise, and the probability of at some point meeting zombies, Nyan Cat, or Doctor Who.

I have really enjoyed playing Impossible Quest, as weird as it may sound. It is a weird game, and it will appeal strongly to certain people while others will likely hate it–it’s just that sort of game. Still, it’s well worth a try (especially at $1.99 on Steam). It has had me laughing, dying, and repeating quite enjoyably. The dying . . . reminds me significantly of Long Live the Queen in that you die, try something different, get a bit further, and die again, having fun even while being infuriated. And the endings themselves are kind of funny in a snarky way. Hey, there are even a few endings in which you survive and escape. Also, the geekiness must be mentioned. Your initial scenarios are A) a dungeon where you may meet trolls, mermaids, and a talking walrus, B) a plane trip complete with zombies and flying cars, and C) a spaceship with most of the usual suspects for that sort of scenario present at one point or another. So yeah, geekiness in the basic setting, but also inserted wherever possible in the text options as well. Very fun!  I know Impossible Quest won’t be for everyone, but I would strongly encourage those with geeky leanings to at least give it a try.

 

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Cinders

MoaCubecinders

My rating: 5 of 5

You all know the story, right? A young, orphaned noblewoman oppressed by her evil stepmother and stepsisters until her fairy godmother steps in, saves the day, and gives the girl the opportunity to meet Prince Charming. But what if none of it is that simple? What if Cinders’ stepmother and stepsisters are more than just evil oppressors? What if there’s a chance to really be a family? What if there are other people involved, other secrets to uncover? And what if Cinders decides to take matters into her own hands and decide her own fate?

Cinders is such a great visual novel! It takes the classic fairy tale and utterly transforms it in an amazing way. The creators describe it as a “mature” version of the story, and it’s definitely that–but not in the sketchy way that might seem to imply. Rather, it’s mature in the sense that choices have consequences and people are complex individuals. I think the characters are some of the best, most developed ones I’ve ever seen in a visual novel. There are so many different facets of their personalities, and even the unlikable ones (like Cinders’ stepmother) have a depth that is unusual. Cinders herself is a far cry from the typical stereotyped “Cinderella” character–fiery red hair, determined self-confidence, and a witty tongue complement the dreamier side of her character, making her a rich, enjoyable character to role-play. And there is a good deal of role-playing and decision-making involved in this visual novel, with the choices you make significantly influencing the ending you get and what you encounter along the way (although of course, there are numerous set events along the way as well). I found it interesting that the creators put in a small, tasteful indicator in one corner to show the places you could have a different outcome if you chose differently (it popped up a lot). The music and art add a lot to this visual novel as well, with the art being particularly notable. It takes a more western semi-realistic style (as opposed to the anime-styled art of many visual novels), and the work is really quite beautiful. There’s so much attention to detail that I found myself pausing just to stare at the scenes and take it all in–colors, expressions, fashions, even subtle animations on flames and such. For those who enjoy visual novels–or who just enjoy a great retelling–Cinders is an excellent game that I would highly recommend.

Credits: Game & Story by Tom Grochowiak/Art by Gracjana Zielinska/Music by Rob Westwood/Writing by Hubert Sobecki, Agnieszka Mulak, & Ayu Sakata

Note: Cinders is available on Steam, and you can find more information at the official MoaCube website. One play-through took me about 3 hours, and the game definitely has replay value, with at least 4 distinct endings available.

 

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Carpe Diem

Carpe DiemCreated by Eyzi

My rating: 3.5 of 5

How precious is your time really? Jung’s life has been so busy that he only has today to spend with Ai. What choices should he make so that the time they have together is well spent?

Carpe Diem is a super-short kinetic novel that’s free to play on Steam (took me a whole 12 minutes). The entire plot centers on Jung’s day with Ai, and the camera angle is always focused on her and her adorable anime-style expressions. In general, simple but very cute animation. There’s a nice improvised-sounding piano soundtrack as well. You get one major choice, and from there the story pretty much flows to the same ending without any other real player interaction–so sit back and watch the day unfold. I loved the surprise ending; that totally took the story from “meh” to “quite nice” in my books. For a free game that doesn’t chew up lots of time, I think Carpe Diem is not only fun but a great reminder to spend our time wisely.

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Infinite Game Works Episode 0

Created by Sakura River Interactiveinfinite gameworks 0

My rating: 3 of 5

Sorayama high-school student Justin has always had a knack for computers, and in a country that’s struggling to recover from technological disaster after the Y2K bug hit, that skill is quite an asset. After winning some prize money for a video game he built, Justin decides to make a business of it, designing video games and selling them at conventions around the country. He even ends up hiring some cute classmates, Cleo (an artist) and Aki (a musician as well as a friend who’s always on his case) to help him with the work. Who knows, if he does well enough, Justin might even go into the business full-time after graduation.

So, basically Infinite Game Works Episode 0 is a simulation/visual novel game that follows Justin in his last year or so of high school as he designs video games and interacts with his friends. It’s by the same creators as Fading Hearts, and is set in the same fictional country at the same time. (Actually, Justin even ends up chatting with Ryu online a few times during Infinite Game Works.) The premise of the game was interesting, and the art and music were nice. I think where IG fails a bit is that it’s an early product for the creators and it’s just kind of clunky at times. The story is relatively linear, without many choices (and it’s sometimes hard to tell if the choices even matter). The simulation of game creation was quite functional in its mechanics, but I felt the level was too easy for the amount of time allowed between games. And I kept having this weird malfunction where then screen would black out–although I found that if I minimized the window then opened it again it would auto-correct, so no big. I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re bored and can get the game inexpensively, it might be a fun way to pass the time, but for most people, I wouldn’t recommend putting a lot of time or money into the game. Still, I actually did enjoy playing Infinite Game Works Episode 0. And I’m excited that Sakura River Interactive is finalizing an Episode 1 that’s a sequel (and is supposed to have fixed a lot of the mechanical bugs); that will be fun to try.

Note: This game is available from Steam and also directly from Sakura River Interactive–I played the version from Steam.

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Deal Alert: Steam Games

Hey, this is just an FYI for anyone who’s interested. Steam is holding a pretty significant sale on a lot of games through 12/1/15. Personally, I don’t care about the actual games so much, but they’re starting to get a nice selection of visual novels, several of which are included in the sale. 😀

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Fading Hearts

Created by: Sakura River InteractiveFading Hearts

My rating: 4 of 5

In the years since the Y2K disaster wrecked havoc on the small country of Sorayama, Ryou has shown an incredible amount of initiative and determination, working to support himself so that he can get away from the terrible foster care conditions experience by so many orphans in the aftermath of the disaster. He’s also shown a true commitment to his two best friends, Rina and Claire. But now that they’re in high school, things are becoming more complicated for these three friends. The girls are keeping secrets from him. Ryou has never told them about the freelance programming he does to earn his living. They’ve got an awkward love triangle developing between the three of them. Ryou’s other good friend Alex has rumors floating around that are totally inconsistent with the guy Ryou knows–yet that are just about believable. Not to mention the rumors flying about of giant monsters in the nearby forest and of a truly magical girl named Mystica. It’s hard to know what to believe, sometimes; harder still to make the right choices.

Fading Hearts is a unique video game that combines elements of several different game types: visual novel, dating sim, life/work sim, and RPG, possibly a few more. The premise is that the choices you make (point and click from a list of options, usually) will alter the direction the story is going, and even the genre of the game. It’s true, although I think a lot of people see that advertised and expect huge story-altering changes with each decision–and then they get disappointed or upset when they play it again, make different choices, and end up with similar story lines for large parts of the story. The way it seems to work is more that there are a few major decision points like that, but on the whole, the story is directed by the accumulation of the small choices you make over time, so the alterations you see are more gradual. Also, there are a lot of subtle things you can choose to do (like, with your spare time) that will make surprising differences–in other words, try random stuff and see what happens! Seriously, I liked the game mechanics, and I enjoyed the story also. You’ve got friendships and romance (if you choose to pursue it), otaku culture, work and school, and some really random mahou shoujo stuff mixed in. And yes, you can end up dying in this game; I have. I liked the characters–Rina and Claire are interesting, if stereotypical in some regards, and even Ryou (whom you play as) actually has some solid character built into him. Plus, the art is an attractive anime-style design. Minor points off for a soundtrack that can get repetitive and that seems to randomly trail off into silence and equally randomly start playing again (this tended to startle me), but it wasn’t enough of an issue to make the game unenjoyable. And honestly, I figure there’s a good bit more to the game that I’ve yet to uncover, considering the list of accomplishments I still have to unlock (all of which are story-centered). I think that for those who enjoy visual novels but would like a little more interaction and control–and for those who like sims but prefer more story–Fading Hearts would be a fun choice.

Note: This game is available on Steam and directly from the Sakura River website.

 

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