Source: Cashmoneys Price: £1.69 Where To Get It: Steam
Bards have quite the reputation in tabletop circles. They can and will romance anything, or at least try to, whether it’s advisable or not. And, due to their natural charm, this will often work. It gets them into trouble, sometimes fatal, as much as it provides rewards.
So, in essence, they’re human beings who aren’t aromantic.
Okay, okay, there’s more qualifiers and nuance than that, but yes, Bard Harder is simultaneously about one of the more out there examples of bardery (A lich, to be precise), and of their player’s struggle to ask the DM they like on a date.
It’s cute, it’s silly, and, overall, it’s a story about the importance of knowing the target of your affections, listening to them, and clearly communicating with them. It’s a visual novel in which most of the bad ends are due, simply, to not using the information you gather.
I’ll freely admit I didn’t gather all the endings. I just wanted the one. But it was the main one, and it was sweet. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, UX is pretty standard for a Ren’py work, but the music and visuals appeal, and the writing… I have to admit, I agree with the people who simultaneously spoiler and screenshot said lich screaming “WHY ARE YOU SO CUTE?!?”
If you want a short, appealing visual novel, this one’s a pretty pleasant one, although I would drop the content warning of “Kissing a skeleton.” Even I’m not sure how that one works.
At first, I had mixed impressions. A beautiful piano piece on the one hand, not making it clear the drawers are the menu, and the key the options on the other.
The piano remains good. And the opening crawl… Don’t let it put you off. Yes, it’s all text, but being that fits. Toma has no good pictures for this. Why should she, when she feels off, isolated, and feeling like her core, her identity, was stolen via the simple fact her aunt named her baby with Toma’s mother’s desired name for her daughter. And it’s affected her self esteem, to the point where she, a beautiful young lady (and she is) feels plain, weird, uncomfortable to be around.
A kinetic novel (where one doesn’t choose, but simply experiences the story), it revolves around two people, both young: Toma and Emmeline, and the fateful meeting they have in a graveyard. And it’s an emotional ride, where I found myself tearing up at one phrase early on:
“Every person has a story, and there is not enough space on a single tombstone to say it.”
But the story is told, and I teared up several times. That, in and of itself, says a lot. I sometimes tear up at the weirdest things (Like the SST arrange of Space Harrier, of all things. No idea why), but I don’t often do it overall…
But Toma’s story, and Emmeline’s struck a chord. They both loved a girl, and, in the end, they both got the relationships they wanted, and resolved, at least partly, the histories that plagued them.
You’d think that was a massive spoiler, but no. The details matter. The very British nature of the game matters, the small things matter. Just like a light brush of the hand, or a stammered set of words.
The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns is free, is hella gay, and it made me almost cry. If you want that experience, and don’t mind it being a kinetic novel… Go give it a go.
Oh, and the gallery is in the book, and the music box’s function is obvious.
And so we close our tale, the biscuits and milk all eaten, the night drawing in. Sweet dreams, one and all…
Source: Free, Cashmoneys for the DLC Price: Free (£4.79 for an extra romance route and extra eye candies) Where to Get It: Steam
Omigosh. This is so hecking wholesome. So hecking wholesome, in fact, that I’ve said hecking twice.
Okay, okay, let’s get into it. Rawr.
Witches x Warlocks is a visual novel with some resource/raising elements, in that you need potions to cast and learn spells from the four potential sweethearts, and you have times of the day to choose to make potions with one of said sweethearts, learn spells from them, and work part time to buy potions. And, naturally, learn about your four potential sweethearts, and romance the heck out of them as The Matchmaker of Dwimmermere, the Halloween Town!
…Who’s also a witch who completely forgot to study, and realises exams are in a week’s time. Which is why you’re doing all this. Whoops.
So, aesthetically… Everyone is cute. The visuals are clear. The music is nice, and my only (minor) gripe with the VA is that, no matter what gender presentation and pronouns you pick, your protag has exactly the same voice. Otherwise, everyone is characterful, and there’s just enough VA to get more of a sense of their characters.
Speaking of characters… I love them all, and if time actually permitted, I would smooch all of them. There’s Damion, the frankensteinian cutie, Zero, the gruff poltergeist who, nonetheless, is warm beneath that, Lawrence, the grumpy werewolf, and Carmilla, the wry, seductive vampiress who nonetheless hides some pain in her past. I want the best for all of them, and this is a hallmark of a good dating sim: You want to date them all.
And then there’s something I enjoy most of all: This is a game that wants to be played. So long as you have at least 8 of every potion at the end, and a selection of spells that cover most situations, you will be fiiiine, and the full selection of a given character’s skills goes a long way, and, y’know… Gives you more chances to get to know them, and closer to giving them a big sloppy kiss.
So yes, Witches x Warlocks is fun, it’s wholesome, it’s cute, and it tugs at my heart in the right ways. Give it a go.
Now, what we need are more queer villainess isekai otome visual novels. And manga. And anime. I won’t shut up about this, you can’t make me.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £7.19 Where To Get It: Steam
Princess Maker is a funny old series. It popularised the life simulation and trainer genres in the west, and, for all that its basic formula has remained the same, it managed to create different characters, moods, and refinements throughout the series.
Even so, when I found Go! Go! Princess, I sat there for a while, just… Blinking. A board game with life-sim elements, containing the first four princesses to be of the series. Competitive princess making, if you will.
Naturally, I got some friends together to play it (after playing it hotseat and solo.) What we agreed on was that this… Definitely had its weirdnesses. Fun overall, but also with a fair bit of jank.
So yes, you are four princesses to be, and the king is setting a number of tasks, which will determine who has the right to join the Prince on the throne… And who gets any other one of the 36 endings (some of which are unique to the princesses.)
There’s, er, just one problem with that last bit. You’ll have a bastard of a time achieving the ending you want unless you’re specifically gunning for it, completely ignoring the mad rush to the quests which are… All around the damn map. There is an option to have a smaller map to work with, and quicker games than the full 8 years (96 turns), but even so, there’s a lot of running around, and, with having to move the full value on the die or dice, without going back on your path, some of the quest locations are painful to get to, being at the end of a path. So right off the bat, you have a sometimes painful quest system, which either results in a mad, unstructured rush to each quest location, or, in the case of everyone but a single player ignoring the quests in favour of their ending (itself a problem due to needing to learn the board, rather than just thinking “Ah, yes, this job would do this, perfect for a General’s necessary stats!”), one player going for one quest, and then the rest of the game a cavalcade of “Ahh, fuck it.”
It’s… A very odd design, where the incentive to faff around on the board is, once you’ve achieved a princess ending for the first time, much larger than winning, unless there’s conflict for a goal. Add in that behind the scenes is somewhat obfuscated, and you have further confusion. How does a high magic skill influence the magic roll in combat? Dunno. Is there any way to relieve stress beyond the random 500g doctor event or some specific churches on the map? Dunno. Do higher stats = higher rolls in general? Seems like, but dunno…
Aesthetically, the game is… Alright. It has the small text problem of earlier games, free mode in the map isn’t as helpful as “Original” mode, and while the icons tell you roughly what to expect, it takes practice to know how it benefits, but…
In the end, this is a weird one. I don’t really see it as appealing to lifesim fans, and similarly, it’s got enough board game annoyances and lack of incentive that I don’t really see it as appealing to them, either. It’s a hodgepodge which feels aimless, and, although we had fun, it was mostly because we were friends playing, not because the game was well designed.
The Mad Welshman wonders what else could be shoehorned into a game like this. Doom? System Shock? Alan Wake, maybe?