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Indie Wonderland: Sepia Tears

I assume you’re familiar with ‘you get what you pay for’? Here on VNADS 2016, we’re about to put that truism to the test. I found on Steam a visual novel called Sepia Tears: Midwinter’s Reprise (by Scarlet String Studios), for the unenviable price of zero dollars and no cents. An entire free visual novel! That’s like the review equivalent of nature’s bounty. Of course, there’s a significant chance that there’s a good reason no money is asked for this product. But we won’t know that until we try, right?

Welcome to another exciting VNADS 2016 adventure, readers! Let’s find out of Sepia Tears is figuratively worthless as well as literally.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, visual novel.)

(Game source: Technically I could put anything in here and it’d be accurate. I’m going to go with ‘happenstance’.)

After the break: Sepia Tears. This might be the least informed I’ve ever gone into a game, so that ought to be fun!

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Indie Wonderland: We Know The Devil

Do you know We Know The Devil? I don’t know We Know The Devil, but I know of We Know The Devil. Which is to say, I know that We Know The Devil is something that I don’t know. And I know that I want to get to know We Know The Devil, because I know that people who know it seem to think it’s worth knowing. I know, right?

“Jarenth, are you just reviewing this game because you wanted to babble about the title like a lunatic?” Okay, okay, you got me. I actually saw a lot of We Know The Devil news and hype pass by my Twitter timeline around February/March this year, in no small part because I follow the indefensible Twitter account of Aevee Bee — one of the Date Nighto triumvirate, creators of this game. I didn’t get around to playing it at the time, for reasons that… I don’t actually remember? I’m going to say I mentally banished it to November, because all visual novels instill that automatic fear reflex in me now. Whatever the cause, I’m getting around to it now. Save for the apparent importance of a few alchemical symbols, I’ve actually managed to stay entirely spoiler-free, so I have no idea what to expect. Presumably the devil will be involved.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-light. Mechanical, ‘visual novel’.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: maybe I’ll even get to know them! The devil, I mean. You know? Because it’s like… okay, okay, this is genuinely the last time I giggle at the title.

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Indie Wonderland: Sunrider Academy

One of the very first visual novels I reviewed for this VNADS experiment, back in the heady heydays of 2014, was Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius. I remember thinking it was an interesting game: it combined a fairly straightforward and competently-written character-driven romance story with number-crunching tactical space battles. Which had its ups and downs, as an approach, but it was definitely unique enough to warrant remembering. It was quite a stretch from your standard ‘all characters attend the same high school’ cliché setup.

And here we are, two years later, with Denpasoft‘s next game. Sunrider Academy. Which takes the same colourful and interesting characters from Mask of Arcadius… and puts them all in a high school together.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium-high.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: Sunrider Academy. I… really have to wonder who *asked* for this. Who was clamoring for a repeat Sunrider character cast performance? But, all the same, here *I* am. So…

VNADS 2016

Heya, readers! It’s November again, which, if you’re a long-time reader, you know what that means: it’s Visual Novels And Dating Sims month here at Indie Wonderland!

If you’re not a long-time reader, then hello! My name is Jarenth, and for reasons I can’t accurately recollect, I decided two years ago to devote every November (and sometimes December, too) to playing exclusively visual novels and/or dating sims. Hence, Visual Novels And Dating Sims month, or VNADS. I know, the acronym is terrible. It fits the games I tend to play. You can find them all under the ‘VNADS’ tag in our tag cloud. Here’s a link.

“Oh, boy, VNADS! I can’t wait to see which terrible Sakura games Jarenth is gonna review this time around!”

Yeah, see, that’s… kind of the main reason I’m writing this intro post. I know my Sakura reviews are popular, for reasons I’ll never* understand; I can look at my traffic plugin and see all of them climbing the ‘most ever read’ rankings, Sakura Spirit still squarely on top. But I can’t do another whole month of these. Because a) I’d go mad, and b) there are other, more interesting visual novels that I want to play. Trust me! I’ve got one or two good ones lined up already. And the field is so large. To arbitrarily restrict myself to Sakura novels just for fleeting website hits… that’s just not what I do.

So, a compromise. Since my last Sakura game review, four new of these weeds have sprouted in the marketplace. Sakura Shrine Girls, a game about hosting a Japanese shrine while also dealing with two sexy cat girls. Sakura Space, a classic Sakura adventure where the lack of atmosphere and gravity will in no way hinder all the near-naked pool parties. Sakura Nova, an academy for aspiring knights that can’t seem to decide if it’s past-themed, present, or future. And Sakura Maid, the one that didn’t even make it to Steam, because Winged Cloud decided that putting in hardcore Patreon-only sex scenes was too juicy a proposition to let pass.

I’m going to review one of these. And I leave the choice of which one to play up to you, the readers. Cast your vote in the comments, with as much or as little explanation as you care for. Or, alternatively, go over to the Twitter poll I made for the purpose, which — from today — stays up for seven days. I’ll collect data at the end of the week, and then review the chosen game in the last week of VNADS. Something to look forward to, for all of you!

Now, in the meantime, why not take a look at the first game I actually reviewed for VNADS, Rose of Winter? You can find the review by scrolling just a little further down, or by following this handy hyperlink

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Indie Wonderland: Rose of Winter

Rose of Winter! What a lovely name for a lovely game (by developer Pillowfight, but be sure to check out the more accurate credit assignments on the game page) to lead in a lovely winter with. Unfortunately it’s early fall right now, and living in the Netherlands as I do that means a lot less ‘lovely weather’ and a lot more ‘why did I forgot my umbrella again, it’s grey and rainy here literally always‘. But you can’t win ’em all, I guess. I doubt I’d have picked up a game called Dreary Grass Patch of Autumn.

For real though: I ran into Rose of Winter a month ago, and decided to save it in the limbo of my Chrome tabs for the oncoming November. It genuinely looks lovely at first glance, art-wise, and I feel that a story about an up-and-coming knight escorting fancy princes through a snow-covered mountain (or so the website tells me) will be a lot nicer and a lot more interesting to talk about than yet another slog through the land of anatomically implausible anime boobs.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-high-ish. Mechanical, I guess completely?)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Rose of Winter. I’m not sure how roses would bloom in winter, but I assume it’s probably a metaphor for something.

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Indie *Very Technically Early Access* Land: Shenzhen I/O

I have a story to tell about Shenzhen I/O, latest in Zachtronics‘s stable of iterative puzzle games based on modern engineering work. I was vaguely aware of the game’s development thanks to a timely mailing list, but the volume of email I get on a daily basis — not even specifically Ninja Blues-related email, just in general — means I don’t always read everything equally accurately. I was aware of Shenzhen I/O ‘being in development’, but for the longest time, that was about it.

That changed about six weeks ago, when I (on a whim) decided to read one of those emails more closely. In it, Zachtronics talked about a second and final ‘print run’ of the Shenzhen I/O ‘limited edition’. One of Shenzhen I/O‘s selling gimmicks is its reliance on a printed ‘reference manual’: the game is about circuit board design (I think), and part of the experience is supposed to be having a manual nearby where you can look up game commands and the like. In this age of Steam, obviously that manual is primarily delivered online, to print out (and bind in a folder or something) if you want. But the Shenzhen I/O limited edition had what I considered a strong selling point: a pre-printed, pre-bound physical manual, everything needed to play the game and some extra goodies to boot, to be delivered to your house around when the game would go live on Steam. A pricey €52 investment to be sure, but it looked cool and fancy, so I clicked over to the limited edition order page to see what the stocks were like.

I got the last one. I swear I’m not kidding on this. The website made it very clear that of this second-and-final limited edition run, only one version was left. Just as I landed there. So those were an intense ten minutes of agonized thinking and cash-counting, lemme tell you.

The manual binder hit my local delivery station about three weeks ago, just as the game keys were Humble’d out. Which makes this not exactly a day-one review, but there are two reasons for that. First, Shenzhen I/O is technically still in Steam Early Access, at time of writing. If they’re feeling comfortable enough about it to print manuals and ship goodies around, I feel comfortable reviewing it as a proper product, but it’s a factor nonetheless. And second… well, you’ll probably figure out the second part by reading this review.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, somewhat high if you look at the screenshot.)

(Game source: Bought it myself.)

After the break: Shenzhen I/O, the game that’s making me reconsider a career in academia. Who knew circuit board design could be *fun*? And *incredibly frustrating*?

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Indie Wonderland: Soul Axiom

Video games and their naming schemas, I swear. What in the devil is a ‘Soul Axiom’? I know what an axiom is — in science and logic, at least, an axiom is a rule taken to be self-evident. And I get the concept of a soul. But ‘soul axiom’? Those are just two nouns! You can’t words that way! What does it even mean? Are we talking about an axiom that is soul-related? A soul that proves itself by virtue of definition? A clever play on ‘sole axiom’? And why am I rambling about this so much?

The reason for rambling, of course, is that last week I bought Wales Interactive‘s Soul Axiom on a Steam Sale-induced whim. I don’t even remember if I ever heard of it before. It was bundled with one Master Reboot, the studio’s previous work, which I think I’m continually confusing for Hard Reset. But impulse purchase is as impulse purchase does. I figured, worst case scenario, I’m out ten bucks. And best case scenario, I get something interesting to write about! The fact that this review exists should probably give you a clue as to what the outcome of that particular gamble was. But in order to respect the purported timeline of the Indie Wonderland format — at this point in narrative time I ‘haven’t played the game yet’, remember — demands that I say here:

Let’s find out which one Soul Axiom is together.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-ish. Mechanical, light-ish.)

(Game source: Bought it myself; I prefer to save Patreon funds for games I’m sure I’ll review, instead of blind guesses like this. I’m Dutch, we’re frugal like that.)

After the break: I hope I didn’t shatter too much of the Fourth Indie Wonderland Wall for you there. Anyway, how about that Soul Axiom? It’s certainly a confusing game!

Rannekos of the Lost Quark

YouTube Link

I may have picked this game based purely on the name. How can you pass up a game with the ridiculously long title Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. It has everything, Indiana Jones references, physics, cats, how did this game not set the gaming world on figurative fire? I don’t even know what kind of game this actually is. Let’s dive in and find out.

Continue reading

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Indie Wonderland: Shu

You know me, readers: I often like to tell stories at the beginning of a review. I think it helps characterize and colour the review if you can see the thought and connections I had going into a game. Is it something I’ve been wanting to play? Was I looking forward, was I dreading? Did I back it, did I wishlist it, did I buy it on someone else’s say-so? Important context elements all.

But I’ve got nothing like that this time, I’m afraid. Coatsink‘s Shu was pretty much the definition of an impulse buy: I’d had a rough week, and I figured that an artsy platformer about bird people outrunning an evil storm sounded like perfect relaxation material.

Wanna see if I was right?

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds. And can I just say how grateful I am that you guys make it possible for me to do this? Just take a chance on an unknown game review? It’s really incredibly generous, and I love it.)

After the break: Shu. I pronounce it like ‘shoe’, but I have no idea of that’s correct. ‘Shuuh’, maybe? Or ‘Shuh’? The linguistic sky is the limit here. Also, I talk about the game proper past this link.

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Indie Wonderland: Heart’s Medicine – Time To Heal

I’ve written before how one of my favourite things about playing/reviewing indie games is that they allow for rapid variety. I play one for the week, gather my thoughts over the weekend, write, and then it’s on to the next one. In theory, there’s an endless breadth of game types to experience. But in practice, though, some interest-driven pigeonholing is unavoidable. How often have I written about deck-building games on this site? About pixel art? About primarily narrative-driven adventures? And in contrast, how much time have I spent total writing about (say) racing games, or sport games, or hardcore simulations? Or visual novels that aren’t poorly-disguised softcore porn? It makes sense, I get it: I have to want to review a game to actually do it, and my weekly play time isn’t what it once was. Still, I think it’s important — and maybe illustrative — to go outside my comfort zone every now and again.

Which is why this week we’re looking at Gamehouse‘s Heart’s Medicine – Time To Heal, a game that — for all intents and purposes — seems to be about playing an up-and-coming doctor in an E.R.-style drama-first hospital setting. Will there be romance? Will there be betrayal? Will there be mysteriously ill patients, only to be saved when the grizzled old doctor has an epiphany just in the nick of time?

God, I hope so.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium-ish.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

After the break: I don’t even have a good title riff for Heart’s Medicine: Time To Heal. It’s so perfect. I can practically see the prime-time TV ads.