Thursday, February 26, 2015

Circus Reviews - eden*

This review has been edited from its original posting.

Had this in my Steam library for a little while, and finally got around to playing it. I read it over the course of two nights; only the fact that I had to wake up for work stopped me from finishing the whole thing in one sitting.

....Dear goodness, this game.

In the future, a red star appears in the sky, and according to scientists, it signifies the end of the world. Wars and terrorist attacks break out in the aftermath, wiping out nearly half of Earth's population. Finally, the World Integrated Government is formed to stop further loss of life and to create a plan to save humanity. This plan comes in the form of the Felix, a genetically engineered human with superior intelligence and bodies that don't age past the early twenties. 3000 of these beings are created, and the most intelligent of them, a girl named Sion, comes up with the Earth Evacuation Project, a series of colony ships that will take all of mankind into space to find a new planet.

99 years later, Earth's extinction is almost at hand. The last of the colony ships will soon depart, and Sion's role is nearly complete; however, she still has work left to do, and anti-evacuaters and fanatics post a constant threat to her. To protect her, Warrant Officer Ryou Haruna is hired as her guard. It's a strange assignment, to say the least, for Sion refuses to leave her room for any reason. Not to mention that he knows his commanding officer from the past, and the maid acts like she knows him from somewhere even though they've never met. And just who is this mysterious Sion, the savior of Earth?

And what follows is a very deep story, full of mystery and sadness. The plot can basically be divided into two parts, and while I won't say what those parts are to avoid spoilers, each part is strong. They move a bit slowly, particularly the second half, but it kind of fits. As you can tell from the premise, the characters are all fully aware that the world is ending, and the game is basically a journey to the end that everyone is waiting for.

Speaking of the characters, they're all well-developed for such a short game. Lavie, your partner in guarding Sion; Inaba, your commanding officer; Elica, a maid who personally cares for Sion; Maya, a persistent reporter...all of them are well-developed, and all of them have vital parts in the story. And no character is what they appear to be at first glance; everyone has hidden depths that will surprise you.

The artwork deserves a mention, or rather, a lot of mentions. It is amazingly well-done; it's obvious that a lot of attention to detail was paid here. The game doesn't use the traditional sprites of most visual novels; it's all CGs, and the high quality of the art makes it work well. The only issue I could speak of is the scene and art transitions. They only really use a white fade for scene transitions; it kind of puts me off for some reason. It feels like every scene might be the end of the game. And sometimes the character artwork is a bit slow to update for the next piece of dialogue. I admit, though, that this may have been a hardware issue; I had troubles playing the opening video. So I'm not sure how much of this complaint is true and how much is just related to this computer.

But the minor complaint I have regarding the transitions is just that, minor. Other than that, I can't come up with a whole lot of criticism. There's just too much to like here. Maybe I'm just saying that because I enjoy sad stories...and to be fair, this is a really sad story. You can kind of tell where it's going, and the ending was no surprise to me at all. But it was heartwrenching, humorous, and touching all at once, and damn if it isn't a good journey getting there.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but eden* is a kinetic novel, which is basically a visual novel minus the choices. A lot of kinetic novels tend to be short, and eden* is among them. I'm a fairly quick reader, but I would say I finished it in about five hours, maybe give or take a bit. But even for a slower reader, it wouldn't take that long. And since there's only one path to take, there's not a whole lot of replayability, unless you truly enjoy rereading stories like I do.

The price tag of $20.00 originally put me off, since I am rather poor. In fact, my original review of this game had a big long paragraph on how I wasn't a fan of that price. But the more I pondered it, the more I realized that it really was fair. This game has a much higher production quality than a lot of games I've seen, and were it a full visual novel with routes and everything, it probably would have hit around $30.00. Grisaia no Kajitsu, for example, is $39.99 and also has very good production quality. Mangagamer is also trying to use the sales of eden* to fund another visual novel by the same developer, which probably factored into the decision on the price at least a little bit. So with all of that in mind, I can't keep my original position on the price being too high. I can understand it being a bit steep for those without much cash to spare, but I think it's worth it.

All in all...this is a wonderful game and I am hard pressed to come up with much criticism for it. Just go try it out. That is all.

eden* is available on Steam and on eden* Plus+ Mosaic is available from Buying either version from Mangagamer will provide you with a Steam key for the all-ages version.

Final verdict: An amazing experience from start to finish, with superb story and characters, eden* is a sad and overwhelming journey that will probably tear your heart out and rip it to shreds...but you'll love it all the same.

eden* and eden* Plus+ Mosaic are developed by minori and distributed in English by Mangagamer. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Updates and sore feet

Hey guys! Just wanted to let you know that this will probably be a little quiet for a while. I am just starting a brand new job and will be pulling a bunch of overtime for the next several days.

There are awesome developments in the works! Hope to unveil soon!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Circus Reviews - Sword Daughter

In 2014, Georgina Bensley of Hanako Games announced the start of a new sub-brand of games, Hanabira. These games are produced by Hanako Games but written by someone else. The first of these games is Sword Daughter, a visual novel adaptation of a Choose Your Own Adventure style book written by Rhondi Vilott and published in 1984.

Our protagonist is Tyrna, a young redhead with a fiery temper and an affinity for battle. She trains daily to maintain her skill at swordsmanship and, along with her father and a group of caravaners, is on her way to the Warrior Games to prove her worth. But trouble strikes them on the road - a band of orcs attacks, killing Tyrna's father and kidnapping the caravaners. Tyrna herself barely manages to survive the encounter safely, and is found afterwards by Gavin, an elvin Ranger. He insists that Tyrna isn't safe and should go back home, but Tyrna is consumed by a desire to avenge her father and save the caravaners.

From here, you must choose what Tyrna will do. There are a myriad of choices to make, all of which branch the story off in some way. Having that much power to choose your path is nice, although sometimes the choices tend to lead in unexpected directions, and sometimes different choices will end up having consequences that don't make a lot of sense. For example, at one point you are attacked by a pack of wild dogs and are given a choice between charging them and slipping away before they notice you. You are told that charging the dogs could be dangerous. But fighting back against the dogs works and allows you to continue the game. Trying to slip away from the dogs results in them noticing you anyway, and even though the fight goes roughly the same for the most part, you somehow end up getting thrown from your horse and the game ends with you too injured to continue on your quest.

But the world you're given to explore is quite interesting, despite how easy getting kicked out of it can be; I definitely wouldn't mind seeing more. The art is beautifully done, especially the background art for areas in the mountains, and the sprites look quite nice. There is a noticeable tendency to reuse certain CGs, and some of the repeated ones don't match with all the scenes they're in. It makes me think budget issues, but to be fair, Hanako Games has other, bigger stuff in development right now, and I wouldn't blame them for putting more of their budget towards those bigger projects. (Like the awesome-looking Black Closet!)

The game itself is very short; I got 100% completion in roughly three hours. (I am an extremely fast reader, though.) There are a total of twenty-two endings, and to make finding them easier, the game includes a section map that allows you to reload from any scene in the game and marks any choices you haven't explored. This is a really nice touch that made going back to find new scenes and dialogue options a lot less tedious than it might have been otherwise.

As for the characters, there aren't a whole lot of them outside of Tyrna and Gavin. Tyrna is interesting enough; a girl who wields a sword in this kind of fantasy world is a sharp contrast, though the game doesn't touch on it much. Her glaring flaw is her tendency to ramble on about how she thinks she's falling in love with Gavin...even though she's only known him for a few hours. This coming from a girl who insisted to her father that she was solely focused on swordplay. I guess Gavin is just that pretty. Or maybe it's just that he too says he loves Tyrna and keeps trying to take her home. Again, these two have only known each other for a few hours. But hey, there are all kinds of love...

All in all, we have a good little game here. The writing and art are enough to keep you engaged in the world, and there are plenty of story paths to explore. I might have liked to see a longer storyline, or a little less talk about the sudden wonders of true love. But still, Sword Daughter was an enjoyable experience, and I look forward to seeing what else Hanabira ends up producing.

Sword Daughter is available on Steam or directly from the developer.

Final verdict: Despite some missteps in character personalities and an overall feeling of wanting more from the story, Sword Daughter is an enjoyable experience, and the art and world design in particular do a lot to make the game fun.

Sword Daughter is written by Rhondi Vilott, illustrated by Kim Sokol and Iacocca Khen, and developed by Hanako Games. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Announcing my first two project titles!

Today I'm announcing the titles of the first two projects I plan to release. This is all subject to change at any time, but barring any random happenings, these games will be the first two to be released.

Game number one: The Prince and the Wolf. This is the game I'm currently writing.

Game number two: The Tower. This one is not currently being worked on; I have the basic idea, but I still have a lot to hash out.

Both of these games will be text-based interactive fiction. I am looking into hiring an artist for The Prince and the Wolf. More details will be coming on The Prince and the Wolf once I get more of the script for it done.

Welp, back to work! Good night, everyone!

Circus Reviews: no-one has to die

This game has one of the most ironic titles I've seen in quite a while.

The game starts right in the middle of the action: you are a delivery man who happened to notice a fire breaking out in an office building while on the job. You wander into the security room and manage to log into the chat system, and from here you meet four employees: Troy, Steve, Christina, and Lionel. Because you're the only one with access to the security system, you are the one who must engineer the escape of the employees trapped in the burning building. The gravity of the situation is made clear to you very quickly when the computer calculates that because of the fire, at least one casualty is unavoidable.

Your goal in each level is to contain the fire. You can do so by locking doors (try to ignore the logic of that) but you can only have one door locked at a time, and once you lock a door it is locked for that level. You can also have a character standing by a water switch turn the water on, but water will spread like fire, and the employees will die just the same if they get caught by it. Once you've successfully contained the fire for one move, you go to the next level.

In between levels, you chat with the surviving employees, and a mysterious story unfolds. There's the question of who started the fire, of course...But there's also a pair of dead security guards in the room with you. And some of the employees bring up the very strange business practices of their corporation. And, of course, there's the big question: Who do you save each level, if it's impossible to save everyone? How do you, a complete stranger to four people in danger, know who to save?

In real life, this would be an absolutely horrible situation. In the game, it's still horrible, but the player is oddly detached from it. The way the puzzles are presented, it makes it feel like the characters really are just pictures on a screen. And that adds a certain chilling effect. You're causing all these deaths, but at the same time you're deliberately removed from them. This is heightened by the fact that you're all using some sort of chat device to communicate with each other...while the building you're in is burning up.

The puzzles themselves are a bit tricky, but each puzzle only has two solutions, one for each of the two characters you're choosing between, so once you figure it out it's not too bad. It shouldn't take you very long at all to complete the which point you're told that you haven't solved the mystery yet. In order to get to the truth of what's really going on, you have to explore all the possible solutions to the overarching puzzle of how to save the employees. The chart at the beginning of the game shows the branching options you've taken and lets you load from a previous level so that you can make different choices and end up on different paths. Each employee has crucial information to share about all the unanswered questions...but since they're generally unwilling to share, you'll have to get them alone. By killing off their coworkers.

All in all, you're left with a short but intriguing mystery to solve, one that forces you to make difficult choices to get the answers you need. The eventual picture that you put together is a very interesting one, to say the least. It takes clear inspiration from another couple of video games, but saying what those are would probably spoil what the mystery is for all the games involved, so I'll just leave it at this: It's complex but fascinating!

Definitely give this game a try in your spare time. It's a short and sweet bit of freeware that will make you think, and maybe even break your heart a little.

no-one has to die is available to play in browser at and

Final verdict: A gripping mystery with interesting characters and multiple plot twists that keep things moving nicely.

no-one has to die is developed by Stuart Madafiglio. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Circus Reviews: Paranoia

Some of you might have heard of Choice of Games. They're a company that produces text-based interactive fiction games, using a programming language that they created. They also allow users to utilize this language to make their own games, letting developers to make their own games and have them hosted on the Choice of Games website in exchange for a share of the profits. This site was where I played my first fully text-based game: Paranoia.

You play as a man suffering from paranoid delusions who was recently diagnosed and given medicine by a doctor. However, you're hesitant to take the prescribed medication, as you worry that your doctor may be out to kill you. At first glance it seems like this is just the paranoia talking...until a little research reveals that you have very good reason to be suspicious. But how do you get the word out? And how do you survive in the meantime?

Gameplay consists entirely of making choices regarding what to do each day. One of the most important daily choices is whether or not to take your medication. Taking it lowers your paranoia, which helps keep you sane, but if the doctor is not to be trusted, his prescriptions may not be either. Not taking your medicine increases your paranoia, and if it gets too high, you run the risk of game over by man in white coat.

Whichever way your mental state goes, it can affect your available choices and how you view them, sometimes adding a choice or taking one away depending on the situation. For example, letting your paranoia get too high will prevent you from taking your medicine at all, and at that point, the game is sure to tell you, you're pretty much screwed. Touches like this make the writing stand out. The game does a good job of making you feel what it might be like to be trapped in this situation. Your character is completely right to be paranoid about the doctor, but who's going to believe you?

The game is rather short, and once you've figured out the path to victory, replayability goes out the window. But for a free story game, there isn't much else to ask for. And it's a great way to introduce someone to the interactive fiction genre; it's the game that got me so excited about the concept, after all.

Paranoia is available for free download on the iOS Store and the Android Market, and available to play in browser at Choice of Games.

Final verdict: A short yet enjoyable experience with a gripping story and excellent writing, good for introducing a new player to interactive fiction.

Paranoia is written by Kie Brooks, designed and developed by Dan Fabulich, and distributed by Choice of Games. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated for this review in any way.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Circus Reviews: HuniePop

Good morning, few readers that I have at present! Welcome to a new segment, if you will, that I am calling Circus Reviews, in which I review random games, almost like a professional! (Almost.)

To start things off, I will be covering one of my most recent purchases, a game I was not expecting to enjoy nearly as much as I did: HuniePop.

I started seeing HuniePop everywhere when it came out a few weeks ago, and was curious. My Internet inquiries revealed that it was basically a dating sim and a match-three game put together. Well, I happen to like both of those things...So why not? I hopped on both sides of the fence for a bit, and then I got my federal tax return, threw my hands up in the air, and bought a few games, with HuniePop among them.

HuniePop is, at its core, a dating sim. You start out as a hapless male or female with no romantic experience whatsoever, but luckily for you, a loudmouthed, porn-obsessed love fairy named Kyu descends from on high to set you on the path to romance...or, more accurately, the path to getting laid. She then shows you one half of the game, the not-quite-Bejeweled "date grid". When going on dates, you have a limited number of moves to make enough matches to fill a girl's affection meter. Each girl has matches they prefer over others, and there are also matches that give you extra moves, extra affection, or the ability to use power-ups called date gifts. Whether you succeed or fail at a date, you are given Munie, a currency that you use to purchase food, drinks, and gifts for the girls. You get more if you succeed, though, and filling a girl's affection meter is the only way to raise her heart level, which is the only way you'll be able to (eventually) take her home with you. Since each date increases the number of points you need to get to succeed but doesn't increase the allotted amount of moves, the game actually gets fairly challenging and starts to require a good amount of strategy if you want to pass.

You are introduced to eight different girls (with four "secret" characters unlockable later on), each with their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. To progress in the dating sim portion of the game, you talk to the girls, trading opinions or asking then questions about themselves - and make sure that you remember their answers, because they will quiz you on them later. Making a girl happy in conversation by telling them something they like hearing or remembering a personal fact they've told you previously awards you Hunie, the other of the two in-game currencies. Hunie is used to purchase upgrades for the aforementioned match-three game, upgrades that you'll need pretty badly before too long, since each date you go on gets progressively harder. You can also get Hunie by buying a gift for a girl; the more expensive the gift, the more Hunie you get.

So, if you hadn't already figured it out, the goal of this game is basically to get every girl in bed. And as you might expect from such a game, the whole thing has a certain aura of sleaziness about it. Special mention goes to the HunieBee, which is a PDA-like device that you receive fairly early on. It allows you to track a girl's location, keeps track of her stats, tells you what she likes and dislikes...The real life implications of this are perhaps a bit troubling, to say the least. Then there's the fact that Kyu, your personal love fairy companion, kind of pushes you on this quest against your will in the first place; she stalks you to your bedroom after meeting you in a bar one night and refuses to let you alone until you agree that yes, your hopelessly virginal self is in desperate need of her help. And the way the dating sim is set up leaves no room for silly things like monogamy or actually caring about a girl; if you want to get anywhere, you're going to need to tell the girls what they want to hear whether you actually believe it or not. And you can only take a girl on a date once per day, so trying to focus on one girl at a time is made ridiculously impractical. Paradoxically, you also have a lot of stats to remember for each girl, and you're not allowed to look up the answers in-game while a girl is asking you to recall the information; trying to do so only gets you the message, "Nice try, cheater!" (Of course, there isn't anything stopping you from opening an Internet browser to look the stuff up...)

The girls themselves are carefully designed to encompass a wide variety of tropes, from the introverted gamer girl to the outgoing college cheerleader. They do have well-developed personalities, the character art is high quality, and the voice acting in particular was clearly given a lot of attention (I personally found the voice of Jessie, the "adult film star," to be very fitting). But it feels a lot like you're just fulfilling a list of fantasies, and not anything really new.

All that said, HuniePop's writing is amazing. Offensive and terrible, but hilariously so. The love fairy talks about the girls like they're meat candy; the porn star calls you "daddy" with a completely straight face; the cat girl adopts you as her master and means it exactly like you think she means it. It's so obviously meant to be insulting that I couldn't help but laugh. You could take the whole project at face value and be wounded by it, or you could take it as a laughable parody and have some fun with it.

The biggest complaint I'd have to give the game is its lack of a strong finish (har har har). Once you get a girl in bed, they don't really treat you any differently aside from one flirty comment the morning after, and outside of unlocking the four secret characters, the post-game is non-existent. You will probably max out your trait upgrades before completing the game, and once you do that and get all the girls in bed, there isn't really much else to do; the game just kind of keeps going indefinitely. You could always try to buy every girl every possible gift, or make sure that you've asked them every question about themselves you can, but grinding on these tasks gets tedious rather quickly, and with your in-game currency maxed out it doesn't serve much purpose.

Another issue I have is that despite the well-developed characters, their relationships outside of you aren't really explored. You meet each girl by catching sight of them during your introduction to another girl, but outside of these first interactions, the girls' friendships away from you don't get much attention. You even find out that two of the girls are an estranged mother and daughter, but that relationship isn't delved into either.

Now, at time of writing, the developer has mentioned a planned patch for the game that will add some more post-game content, so my concerns above may well be addressed in the near future. As it stands, it's a fun little game that contains some hours of enjoyment, but ultimately fizzles out at the end.

Whether or not you enjoy this game depends entirely on your ability to take it with a grain of salt. It's not everyone's cup of tea, and I can see why people are offended by it. But keep it mind, it was made with a certain purpose and for a certain target audience. If you're really that upset by it, then don't worry; it wasn't made for you. And besides, it's only ten bucks for some match-three games, dirty pictures, factoid memorization, and bonus orgasm mini-games. The complete package right there!

HuniePop is available on Steam, MangaGamer, or directly from the developer. The Steam version is censored; the MangaGamer and developer versions are uncensored, and purchasing either also provides you with a Steam key.

Final verdict: An amusing game with high production value that is a good buy if you aren't offended by some of its more unfortunate implications. Hurt by a lack of content outside the main goal, but fun while it lasts.

HuniePop is developed by HuniePot. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Day One of work

I have just started writing for my first interactive fiction game!

It's like...This is really happening. I am actually doing something with this and not just talking about it.

I know, I have a lot of work ahead of me. But a start is a start!

I want to wait to post more details until I have something a bit more concrete to share. But know that something is coming!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The beginning of a journey

Hi, guys! I am Chelsea, or somestrangecircus, or whatever polite name you wish to call me. I am the one-woman operation behind Some Strange Circus, the newest game developer out there.

I plan to start by developing some text-based interactive fiction games, with the hopes of eventually developing full-length visual novels. (The latter will require artists, because I am horrendously awful at drawing.) However, I am going into all of this blind. I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing to start out, basically. I am doing lots of research, though!

So guys, this is my journey into the world of game development. Ride along with me as I write things and look up things and trip on things and generally make a complete mess of things. But it will be a fun ride, and I hope to get a lot out of it.

I plan on working out a real website in the near future, once I have a bit more content for it. And on this blog, I will be posting development notes, rambles, ideas, and whatever else I can come up with.

Stay tuned, folks, and wish me luck!