Getting back into anime
I'm not the anime and manga fan I once was. I still like a good anime now and then, but damn, I used to like every damn anime. I liked stories about milquetoast teenage boys who got nosebleeds when they saw boobies, and thought peeping toms and panty raids were excellent comedy. I liked anything with ninjas, samurai, karate, boobies, robots, guns, boobies, animated characters doing things—just anything. I studied Japanese almost solely because I thought anime was cool. That was my high school experience.
I kicked that obsession sometime after high school, and generally soured on the whole thing, but lately I've enjoyed regressing a bit and catching up on what I've missed in the past ten years. This weekend, Steam is running a sale on anime games (the term used loosely, I know), so I decided it was a good time to learn about a genre I've mostly ignored: visual novels. My journey through the Anime Weekend begins on the next slide...
WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Slim
... ..... ....... I awake feeling cold, with a weird tingle in my spine. There are ellipses everywhere! I lift my legs with some effort and stumble into WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01.
The title suggests it'll be as up its own ass as Neon Genesis Evangelion or Serial Experiments Lain (things I liked despite their up their own assness, to be clear), but World End actually seems to be a pretty sensible tale so far. Naturally, it stars a brilliant rebel teen, but his life on the moon is interesting and written with a YA novel's captivating clarity. The issue is that it's a visual novel in the most pure sense: hit space to read more words, and that's it. It's like a book was copied onto flash cards one paragraph at a time. Am I supposed to be memorizing it?
I'd lose the music and art, but I'd be much more inclined to keep reading World End if it were printed on paper. I'm so old fashioned like that. As I continue my journey, I wonder if I'll feel the same about the rest...
Long Live the Queen
Time played: 1 hour | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: High
...This isn't like the last one at all, and while I'm initially skeptical about the princess trope, Long Live the Queen turns out to be my favorite of the bunch. The goal is to manage the mood, education, and choices of a princess to keep her alive until she becomes queen. It’s funny, with a rich world history and opportunities to be cunning, swift, cruel, kind, generous, reckless, and devious. You can also turn out to be irredeemably stupid, as I did when I attempted to solve an arrow wound by pushing it deeper into my body.
I die, because that's a terrible way to treat an arrow wound, and move on...
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Like, a little
...Fading Hearts could be called "Teenage Boy Fantasy Life Sim: Cool Guy Chronicles." You’re an orphan with his own apartment and a lucrative programming contract (you’re kind of a computer genius), you’re good at video games (but not a total nerd like your friend), you’re kind of slacker in school (it’s cool, you’re a genius), but you’re friends with the two most popular girls, one of whom is totally into you—but not the girl you want, of course. Jesus. Oh, also, guess why you’re an orphan? The Y2K bug. No joke.
Anyway, it took me half-an-hour to do anything more than click to advance dialogue, and the first thing I did is help an indie game company with its website’s SEO optimization. Um, well except for SEO optimization, it's all the things I wanted my high school experience to be when I was in high school. I might keep playing this. What.
Time played: 25 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Nah, I’m good
...I must be near the center of the sale now. Yes, I think I am. I am approaching peak anime.
Sakura Spirit is about boobies, and a little bit about butts. I play as a cool guy who knows Judo and gets transported to another world where a fox spirit (read: sexy girl with fox ears) throws panties in my face. This is exactly the tropey stuff I was expecting, but I feel bad for seeking it out just to roll my eyes at it. Also, I'm at work, and I'm terrified someone will see my monitor, so I move on quickly...
QP Shooting - Dangerous!!
Time played: 10 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: None
...I'm lost. I must've made a wrong turn or... gosh, I don't know. I'm such a clutz! Baka baka baka, etc.
I didn't realize QP Shooting was a bullet hell game when I blindly downloaded it (um, it's in the name, idiot). It's not a bad bullet hell game, and I like that everyone has forgotten what pudding is, but bullet hell games don’t tend to hold my attention for long. It has something to do with 100% Orange Juice, but I don't know what that is. I do know that orange juice goes well with champagne, so (now home) I drink some champagne and the wisdom holds true. Slightly inebriated, I head back into my Steam Library...
Analogue: A Hate Story
Time played: 1 hour | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Oh, for sure
...I almost pass by this one, but remember that I've heard of it. I decide to peek in for a moment, and the moment lasts an hour. I'm way into this. Analogue is a story told through the logs of a derelict deep space ship—you, a detective revealing the history of two Korean families and their part in the ship's fate. I can see why it's popular even though the most interaction I've had is chatting with an AI to reveal more logs—it's just good reading. And unlike World End, it feels a more like I'm investigating than reading a novella on flash cards.
I have to stop before I become too invested in deciphering a family tree so I can move on...
Time played: 20 minutes | Likelihood I'll keep playing: Zero
...I must've looped around and ended up on Princess St. again, but Pyrite Heart is nothing like Long Live the Queen. No, this isn't where I want to be. I'm playing as an irredeemably awful princess who joins the peasants at a public high school to prove some kind of point to her brother. I also wink for like five minutes at a time.
I guess she'll probably be redeemed in the end when we all learn a valuable lesson or something, but I refuse to click through stuff like this long enough to get there: "Eyes wide, Ryuu backs up and stumbles. Our beautiful pizza tumbles out of his hands and down my formerly sterling maid outfit." Yeesh.
I burst back out into the street and keep walking...
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I'll keep playing: Pretty darn good
...Ah, here we are! This is just the kind of thing I was hoping for.
I think I was being fair when I soured on the anime I used to like, because much of it was tropey, predictable teen fantasy, easy for my high school self to project into, but ridiculous when examined any deeper. I also think, though, that I also soured on the high school me who loved it, and unfairly projected that dissatisfaction with myself onto this whole classification of fiction.
Because here's something I would've instantly dismissed until now, but that (despite being yet another high school comedy) is actually sweet and sincere and mechanically interesting. I sheepishly admit that I've been wondering why more games aren't designed this way while ignoring the games that are.
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is about a girl attempting to recruit members for her club on a deadline. Each day comes with choices of what to do—consume media, eat, do jobs, do homework, talk to classmates, and so on—and certain actions cause time to pass. The goal is to manage fatigue, homework, and income while making friends by learning about their interests and talking to them, ultimately to influence them into joining the club.
This is all interesting to me because most of the games I play are concerned with movement through space, but not especially concerned with movement through time. They're also more concerned with combat than interpersonal relationships, and the latter can be equally interesting. I've been missing out on a whole genre on the assumption that it's all dating sims or stuff like Sakura Sprit and Pyrite Heart. I've been thinking about how grounded stories about human interaction might be turned into game systems, but without the benefit of all the thinking that's already being done.
That said, while I like CTHCC, it appears to be pretty simple and short so far—640x480 in all respects. But along with Long Live the Queen, it's changed my mind about so-called "anime games" and the visual novel genre. It's a bit of a crapshoot, but I'll keep exploring (and they're still cheap on Steam for a while). Hatoful Boyfriend, here I come...