Getting back into anime
This article was originally published in January 2015. It has been slightly edited and updated by the author, who watched Ping Pong The Animation last year and enjoyed it. For more, read our lists of the best visual novels and best anime games.
I'm not the anime fan I once was. I'll still watch the occasional series—One Punch Man, for instance—but as a kid I liked every anime, no matter how generic it was or how many nosebleeds occurred due to boob visibility. I blew all my money on VHS tapes with two episodes of Ranma 1/2 on them and bootleg VCDs from Chinatown in San Francisco. I studied Japanese in high school solely because I thought anime was cool. Also my teacher was nice.
I ended that obsession sometime after high school, and never got back into anime in the same way—I'd say I felt pressured to leave my teenage interests behind, but my job suggests otherwise, so that can't be it. Now I'm trying to catch up on what I've missed in the past ten years, starting with a genre of game I've mostly ignored, visual novels, by binging on a 'Steam Anime Sale.'
What I feared true turned out to be true: I should've been giving much more respect to games I previously dismissed. But the path there wasn't a straight line. Here's how I fared...
WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Slim
...I awake feeling cold, with a tingle in my spine. There are ellipses everywhere! I lift my legs with some effort and stumble into WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01 (opens in new tab).
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.
I'd be much more inclined to keep reading World End if it were printed on paper, because I'm not very cool. 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 (opens in new tab) 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 be irredeemably stupid, as I do when I attempt 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 so I move on to the next game...
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Like, a little
Fading Hearts (opens in new tab) 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. I deal with SEO at work, so that's cool. Relatable. That aside, though, it's all the things I wanted my high school experience to be when I was in high school. It turned out that I'm not a computer genius.
Time played: 25 minutes | Likelihood I’ll keep playing it: Nah, I’m good
...I must be near the center of the Anime Sale now.
Sakura Spirit (opens in new tab) is an English-language game about boobs, 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 (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 (opens in new tab) was a bullet hell game when I blindly downloaded it. It's not a bad bullet hell game, and I like that everyone has forgotten what pudding is, but this isn't a visual novel. 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 I go home and drink some champagne. Detour over, I continue my journey...
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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) is nothing like Long Live the Queen. 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, 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 continue my journey through the sale...
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club
Time played: 30 minutes | Likelihood I'll keep playing: Pretty good
Finally, I come to a game I would've instantly dismissed until now, but that (despite being yet another high school comedy) is actually sweet and sincere and smartly designed. I admit that I've been wondering why more games aren't designed this way while perhaps ignoring the games that are, just because I soured on my mopey, Shinji Ikari-wannabe teenage self.
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club (opens in new tab) 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. You've gotta 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. I've been missing out on this genre on the assumption that it's all dating sims or stuff like Sakura Sprit and Pyrite Heart.
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. Hatoful Boyfriend, here I come...