Thursday, June 25, 2015

Circus Reviews - Always Sometimes Monsters

Visual novels are all about choice. Your choices determine where the story goes and how it ends; there are all sorts of possible outcomes based on what you pick. Now imagine if there were an RPG that took this idea up to eleven, and that's kind of what you get with Always Sometimes Monsters.

Your protagonist is a down-on-their-luck author who's lost the love of their life and is close to getting kicked out of their apartment. Upon finding out that their ex is getting married in another city, they resolve to get things together and make it to the wedding to win their former partner back. You have thirty days before the wedding happens...and also, you have no car and only thirteen dollars in your bank account. How are you going to make it across the country in thirty days?

Interestingly, you get to pick your protagonist and your ex at a party that happens at the beginning of the game; while this only changes the cosmetics, it's a nice touch nonetheless. Whoever you pick, though, your character is the same: a struggling author trying to find motivation and finally resolving to do something better when faced with losing everything they have. It may hit a bit close to home for some of us writers...I admit, it hit a bit close to home for me in parts. Your ex seems supportive at first, but I kind of lost all liking for them when I found out the details behind the breakup...I'll let you figure that one out yourself. There are other characters around, including your former roommate and book partner Sam, a heroin-addicted rockstar named Darkeff, a flirtatious druggie named Hailey, your publishing contact Larry...the list goes on for quite a while, and the characters are well developed for the most part. Sometimes the bad luck and outside blame thrown at your protagonist borders on ridiculous, but it gives you that much more to struggle against.

I think my favorite thing about this game is the world they set up. It's a very open area, and you're free to do pretty much whatever you like, with your only constant goal being to get to your ex's wedding before thirty days are up. You can choose what jobs you'll take to earn money; you can choose where to sleep; you can choose which of your friends to help out and which to ignore; you can choose whether to reach your goals through moral means or cheat and steal your way out of town. The places you can go are just so vast (and nicely designed to boot!). I love the openness of the setting; I love getting to wander around and pick what I do each day.

...not that I always pick that option, per se.

The game has a high emphasis on moral choices and their consequences, as well. The right thing to do in a given situation is not necessarily what's going to be the best thing for you, and sometimes the best way out of a jam is to screw someone else over. You can rip off your kind elderly neighbor; you can blackmail a doctor into helping out a friend, or smash his car instead; you can pickpocket the coats at a temporary coat-checking job. The entire course of the game is left up to you, and when you get one of the many endings, you'll know you've earned it all on your own.

From the outside, this might look like a casual RPG. But the way it throws you in with a bunch of tough choices and then deconstructs the very concept of being a good person gives you a lot to think about. The game is a good length; getting through thirty days takes a good bit of time, and of course you'll want to try it again with different choices and see what other outcomes you can get. Overall, this one is well worth a play or several.

Always Sometimes Monsters is available on Steam, the Apple Store, and the Android Market.

Final verdict: A gritty RPG with a large open world and a dizzying array of choices, Always Sometimes Monsters takes a hard look at choices, morality, and consequences, and will provide large amounts of replayability and maybe provoke you to take a look at yourself as well.

Always Sometimes Monsters is developed by Vagabond Dog. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sheets, my first interactive fiction game, is now available!

......Well, this kind of came out of nowhere, didn't it?

I mean, I do also want to write interactive fiction games, so to that end, I've been tinkering around with Twine. And in that tinkering, I ended up adapting a previously written poem for the engine. And so now we have a game-like thing.

This is very short, like five minutes maybe. I do not expect it to get worldwide praise and acclaim. But I think I've made a big first step. I finally have an actual game that I can point to and say, "Yeah, I am a game developer!" I'm not a big one yet, and I have a very long way to go. But I've made a step. And that's a big deal for me.

So...about the game. It's adapted from a poem I wrote, also called "Sheets". (I will probably post the original poem at some point.) It's very short. It is dark. It is a dear poem to my heart. I used to write poetry all the time, and the time I wrote this was around the time where I started being able to look at my work and not automatically hate every bit of it.

To get a little personal...It's very hard for me to be happy. I would not call myself a happy person.

But this makes me a little happy. And that's good. :)

So guys! Play the game should you desire! Like it or hate it, it's out there, and I did it myself.

Circus Reviews - Ib

I don't only play visual novels, after all; I also really enjoy free games in general! This one is a horror RPG made in RPG Maker, originally created by kouri in Japanese and translated to English by vgperson, who translates quite a few RPG Maker games (some more of which will probably be reviewed at some point).

Ib is about the titular girl, a girl whose parents probably should have hired someone else to give her a name. On her ninth birthday, she and her parents visit an art gallery to see an exhibition on the works of the artist Weiss Guertena. While Ib is exploring the gallery, the lights suddenly go out and all the people disappear. Ib suddenly finds herself in a strange world similar to the gallery but much more dangerous, where paintings and sculptures are out to hurt her. As she wanders through the unknown trying to find a way out, she meets a man named Garry and a girl named Mary, and the three resolve to stick together. Will they find a way out, or will they be trapped in the gallery forever?

Gameplay involves exploration and puzzle solving. The puzzles do require some thought, but they aren't anything horribly tricky. The gallery itself is an entity that will get very mad at you if you break other artworks or try to harm it, and it definitely doesn't want you to leave. Paintings and sculptures will chase you and take from your life if they hit you. The rose in the corner of some pictures up there is your life meter; at full capacity, it has five points, and if you lose them all then you're dead. Luckily there are health-restoring vases and journal save points scattered around the place; you would do well to make use of them.

I think the best thing about the game is just the way it builds itself up. The atmosphere, the soundtrack, the characters...They all fit together so well, and build a dark and frightening little world. You're a nine-year-old girl wandering around a land of death traps, and the game reminds you of this fact quite often. Even your older companion Garry (his actual age is unknown, but he's hypothesized to be between 19 and 24) is terrified by what he sees. There are some jump scares, but they're not the core of what makes the game so chilling. The graphics, admittedly, are a bit limited, but it's what they do with them that counts. For example, what happens when Ib innocently takes the key you need to open the first locked door?

But I'm not a thief; I'm just a role player!

Garry and Mary, your sworn compatriots on this quest, are both very interesting in their own way. Garry quickly takes on a protective role towards Ib, while Mary latches on to her as a friend. Ib herself is nearly a literal silent protagonist; you don't ever see her talk, and she's noted by her mother to be very quiet in general. But the game itself actually changes in a few ways to reflect that despite trying to be strong, the gallery is getting to her in a bad way. At one point, you and Garry come across a painting of Ib's parents...But why would a painting of Ib's parents be in the gallery? It could be the gallery trying to mess with you...or, from the way Garry reacts, Ib might just be seeing things. It's hard to tell. Both are kind of freaky.

There are multiple endings; the one you get varies depending on how you bond with Garry and Mary, whether you make the gallery angry with you, and whether you make it out alive. They vary from a golden ending to a couple where everything just goes to hell. Most of them are pretty damn heartwrenching. There's also a bonus dungeon if you make it to the end of the gallery and a special exhibition where you can see all the artworks you've witnessed; you also get a new game plus feature that allows you to go through another playthrough to find the artworks you missed. Those together give the game good replayability; one ending will take you maybe a couple of hours, but you'll definitely want to come back for more.

I have to be honest...I love this game. It's one of my all-time favorites, even including console games and big fancy high-budget visual novels. It proves to me that high quality game doesn't automatically mean giant monster game. This game's quiet scares, its subtlety, its characters, and its strong emotional pull make it a must play.

Ib is available for free download in English from vgperson's website, or in the original Japanese from kouri's website.

Final verdict: A horror RPG that gets the scary part down; throws in memorable characters and touching moments to make an unforgettable experience.

Ib was written, illustrated, and developed by kouri, and translated into English by vgperson with the developer's permission. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

General Development Update #3

The Prince and the Wolf

Writing has kind of slowed down on this one, to be honest. Both the artist and myself have been rather tied up with personal life stuff. I'm going to try to work on it more tonight, though.

The Tower

I've taken this one off the development list for now, as I'm not actively working on it at the moment.

Yumi-chan's Wonderful Cake Shop

This one kind of quietly crept into development, didn't it? The script is progressing nicely and I'll probably start recruitment for artwork and GUI soon. As for what it's about...Well, all I want to say for now is that it's a short kinetic novel about a man who meets a young cake shop owner and how his life changes from there. There will be lots of cake and cookies, probably.


This is an interactive fiction game I made in Twine, is ready for release! Just as soon as I work out hosting and get my actual website up to speed. Look forward to it!

Actual Website

The website is coming along all right; still needs some tinkering before I can officially unveil it, though.

So look forward to a text-based game, a website, and other fun things!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Circus Reviews - [Text] A Summer Story

At A-Kon 26 this year, I had the chance to meet the fine folks of sakevisual at their table. It was quite a fangirl moment for me, although I did my best not to gush too much. (We chatted a bit about Backstage Pass and how it got pushed back by the studio in favor of some little indie b-film for some Dragon Ball franchise.) And while I pray that Backstage Pass goes down a bit in price on the Steam Summer Sale, I thought I'd pay some tribute to the first sakevisual game that I played, the one that is still my favorite: [Text] A Summer Story.

The story follows a girl named Maya who goes to visit her uncle one summer. She attempts to text her uncle informing him that she has arrived, only to discover that her uncle gave his phone away to a boy named Takeshi. The two teens strike up a friendship that ends up giving way to a dark mystery that only Maya can solve.

The game bills itself as a "sound novel", a visual novel without voice acting that uses background music and sound effects to convey the story. Sure enough, the soundtrack is top notch. It's upbeat when things seem normal and creepy when things start to show what they really are. The background art is nicely done, despite being constantly taken up by the ever-present cell phone (although I can forgive it since it's so central to the plot).

We only get to meet a few characters, all of them related to Maya in some way. Maya herself is a pretty typical teenage girl, glued to her phone and trying to be more independent than her mother will allow. Maya's mother is a bit overprotective; the uncle that Maya stays with on vacation seems a bit drifty and forgetful with something vaguely implied to be dementia. Takeshi seems like a normal teenage boy at first, if a bit forward with Maya...but like everything else in this game, he turns out to be quite different than his first impression.

The game has seven different endings depending on the choices you make. Getting one ending takes about fifteen minutes, so 100% completion won't take you too long. I feel like the short length fits it, though; if this game were longer, it would probably wear itself out on me pretty quickly by way of needing filler to keep things going. As it is, the story keeps itself to the necessities, and performs better for it.

It's a short game, yes. But it's also free. And I think it showcases the talents at sakevisual in a great way. I can't call the soundtrack the best in the world or anything, but I think it's one of the best at bringing out the inner horrors of its game. The mystery is well-done; you don't solve it in all the endings, but you don't actually need to get all of them to solve it, only a certain few. But sakevisual kindly provides a walkthrough for the game on the download page, and like I said earlier, getting all the content in the game won't take you too long. So if you have a spare hour or two, check this game out. And as the developer recommends: listen to the sound.

[Text] A Summer Story is available for free download directly from the developer.

Final verdict: A quick and engaging read with a good mystery and a phenomenal soundtrack that really helps the game live up to its title of "sound novel."

[Text] A Summer Story is developed by sakevisual. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Circus Ranks - Top 5 Anticipated Visual Novels of 2015

This past year, I've become a lot more involved in the visual novel scene than I have been previously, probably due to that whole thing where I'm trying to write visual novels. This has also involved me looking around for new visual novels to play, which of course leads to finding things like announcements and Kickstarters and all sorts of goodies. And this leads to me being excited for projects, only to sigh when I remember that they aren't quite out yet.

For the first in another little series, here are my top five anticipated visual novels of 2015. Do keep in mind that none of these are out yet; I will link to demos and/or websites where applicable.

5. Ladykiller in a Bind by Christine Love

The title on the image up there is in fact the game's full title, but its developer, Christine Love, tends to refer to it by the shortened moniker of "Ladykiller in a Bind" and I think I'm going to do so as well for the sake of my fingers. From the developer of such well-known titles as "Digital: A Love Story" and "Analogue: A Hate Story" comes this, described as "an erotic visual novel about social manipulation and girls tying up other girls." I think the title, combined with that descriptor, tells what it's about well enough. It seems like it will be a lot different from Love's previous titles, although this game will apparently include computer interaction as well. It also seems very different from visual novels in general, something it does share with its sister games, and stands out as something to look forward to.

Ladykiller in a Bind is currently projected for release in 2015. For more information, see the developer's website.

Edit: Projected release date has been pushed back to 2016.

4. Myth by Circletempo

Myth is a doujin game about a boy who lives in a world without shadows, and how his life changes when he meets a mysterious girl who does have a shadow. It was picked up by Mangagamer and successfully Greenlit on Steam, but I can't seem to find much more information about it (other than the developer's website itself, which is in Japanese). It doesn't have a release date and Mangagamer's website doesn't list it as having any translation progress. Still...I've heard good things, and I like the trailer, and I feel like the game is going to present a good mystery about things not being what they seem. And maybe some tragedy as well.

Myth currently does not have a projected release date. For more information, see the Steam Greenlight page.

3. Cursed Sight by invertmouse

Being rather strapped for cash most of the time, I was first attracted to Cursed Sight by the low entry cost. The lowest pledge was only $3 and it came with a digital copy of the game. You can't do much better than that. But I also liked the premise a lot, and when I played the demo, I was very impressed with what I saw. It tells the touching and sad story of Miyon, a girl born with a powerful ability that makes her both a great asset to her king and a danger to the people around her. The game starts when a boy named Gai is sold into a temple by his parents and tasked with looking after Miyon. I expect that the full game will impress just like the demo did.

Cursed Sight is currently projected for release in late 2015. For more information, see the developer's website.

Edit: This game has been released! See my review of it here.

2. Starlight Vega by razzartvisual

A Kickstarter that started out small and blew up thanks to some good marketing and also to getting picked up by publisher Sekai Project. It follows Aria, who moves into her grandfather's old house and somehow manages to end up getting a demon named Lyria attached to her via a magical stone. Her best friend, Melody, tries to help her undo the spell, and in the process all three uncover unexpected feelings for the others. I'll admit that I like GxG games, and this one is of course going to be full of it. But I also enjoyed the demo quite a lot and I think the premise lends itself to all sorts of fun shenanigans.

Starlight Vega is currently projected for release in late 2015. For more information, see the developer's website.

Edited: Projected release date pushed back to 2016.

1. Clannad by Key Visual Arts

All right, get ready to smack me upside the head...I have never read Clannad. I've heard plenty about it, can identify certain characters and story aspects, but just never got around to trying it out myself. It certainly looks very nice, and I've enjoyed the other Key works I've read. Unfortunately, I was a little late in noticing the Kickstarter for the English version and thus didn't get to be a backer. However, I have been consistently impressed with what I've seen from both Key and Sekai Project, and that combined with this game's overwhelmingly positive reputation are enough to have me plenty excited for release day.

Clannad is currently projected for English release in the fourth quarter of 2015. For more information, see Sekai Project's Kickstarter campaign.

Edit: This game has been released!

The opinions expressed in this article are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this article.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Circus Reviews - Fairly Dangerous

In some sort of honor of those like me who can't afford to spend too much on the Steam Summer Sale, have a review of a free visual novel instead. This is another NaNoReNo game, meaning it was done in a month, although it is still being updated a bit. Once again, I have to commend developers who undertake this; I know I certainly couldn't.

Fairly Dangerous follows a group of five fairies who are tempted by the world outside their Great Tree and skeptical of their elders' claims that the human realm is as horrific and dangerous as they claim. One weekend, they stow away in a hiker's backpack, and end up in a human's apartment. But the new world they've encountered turns out to be far more dangerous than they anticipated, with rat traps and microwaves and outlets and box fans and other such dangers (not that they know the names for any of these things, much less how unsafe those things could be for fairies). To make things worse, it turns out that being so far away from the Great Tree nullifies their magical powers. Will the fairies be able to make it back home safely, or have they bitten off more than they can chew by venturing too far from home?

Right off the bat, I have to say that this is not a game for the faint of heart. The developers classify it as "a dark comedy visual novel with horror and tragicomedy elements" for good reasons. It's one of those games where death is around every corner and certain choices can unexpectedly lead to one of your fairy friends meeting a terrible end. You can watch one of your friends get eaten by a rat, microwaved, impaled, drowned, snapped in half...the list goes on. Most of the deaths are caused by the fairies not knowing "humanese," as they call it, and being generally unfamiliar with human objects in general. And pretty much all of the deaths are described in rather gruesome detail. They're made all the more painful by knowing that the deaths were, for the most part, simple to avoid if only the fairies had known what they were dealing with.

The writing accomplishes all of this very well though. It does a great job of painting a much bigger picture than the fairies will ever realize exists. You can pretty easily put together the story of the humans whose apartment the fairies are in, and you can also put together why their quest to get back home is going to be unexpectedly tricky for them. Admittedly, I hesitate to call it a comedy in any sense...but I can definitely call it dark, and dark suits it.

As for the fairies themselves...Honestly, the protagonist herself is pretty insufferable. Mentha, the girl who narrates and whose choices you make, is a bratty know-it-all who doesn't act like she cares one bit about any of her friends. She only really likes pursuing knowledge and "being the leader," and it takes her way too long to start realizing that they're in a pretty bad situation. When one of her friends dies, she repeatedly insists that it isn't her fault in any way (even when it completely is). In one case, her first instinct is to hide the body and make sure that no one else knows that the other fairy is dead. Reading most of what she says makes me want to strangle her in the most unpleasant way. The rest of the fairies I could pretty much take or leave, save for Lavender, who is quirky and fun but gives off the impression that she knows way more than she's saying. She's also the one who implies that Mentha's emotional detachment is actually a trait of all fairies, and that your other friends are only acting like what they think being sad is like, which is interesting to ponder.

The art is enjoyable; though the poses of the sprites feel a bit limited at times, the fairies are all appropriately pretty, and the backgrounds scale correctly to account for their much different view of the world. There's a rather large lack of CGs, which to me feels like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I would appreciate getting to see more of the terrible world that the fairies have found themselves in (and I really do like this artist). On the other hand, most of the CGs that you could put in would just be pictures of the fairies' gruesome deaths, replacing the gory discretion shots that the game makes large use of with, well, just gory shots. And I'm not sure that that would really add to the game.

The game has sixteen endings to achieve, and they can be grouped into three categories: everyone dies, some fairies survive, or some fairies make it back to the Enchanted Forest. There is no ending where everyone survives: one fairy's death is inevitable no matter what you do, and it's pretty easy to make a wrong choice and end up accidentally killing another fairy. The developers have been kind enough to provide a walkthrough if you get stuck. The game's not too hard once you get the hang of it, although you might end up accidentally killing everyone your first playthrough or two.

Overall, we have a good free experience; with all the endings, there's a good amount of replayability, and the game's world was enough to keep me coming back despite my inherent dislike of the protagonist. You may want to practice a bit of fairy-style detachment from all the death, though...or just be really careful of dangerous human objects.

Oh, and don't pick up random food off the ground and eat it.

Oh, and don't go near windows.

Oh, and...

Fairly Dangerous is available for free download from,, and on the Android Market.

Final verdict: Though somewhat lacking in characterization, Fairly Dangerous makes up for it with a strong story and setting, and does a good job of drawing the player in with a grim narration.

Fairly Dangerous is developed by kaleidofish, Thestral, and kaenSe4, and illustrated by Tilly and Duskylli. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Starting tomorrow, I will be at A-Kon 2015. So probably no updates until I get back. There will hopefully be a decent bit of swag purchased.

Ta ta!