A while ago, Keltena clued me in to this past March being NaNoRenNo, a VN NaNo. She also sent me some games to check out, and so I did! Here are some thoughts on three of them.
The Blind Griffin is an otome game set in an urban fantasy 1920s setting. The whole setup is pretty cool and pretty well-thought-out; for a short game, a lot of effort was put into the world-building and the game does a good job at suggesting the universe is much larger than what you see. The idea is some people are born with magic, and our protag doesn’t know she has it, and she stumbles into a magic coven masquerading as a speakeasy and starts to work there as she trains in magic.
The art style is clean and pleasant, though not really anything to write home about. It’s got that pseudo-anime look that Avatar had. The game’s real MO is diversity, as the cast is widely varied and features an Italian man, a Latino boy, a trans woman, a black woman, a Russian man and the protagonist is Chinese. I liked the idea of people from various backgrounds coming together via magic, which acted as an equalizer.
There were three love interests. The Russian guy, Alexei, was the one I went with first and he had the best plotline, IMO, in the way that he really treated the protag as an equal and was dedicated to her betterment. I thought their romance was the most believable, though his route did have a lot of pacing issues at the end– you could tell when the dev started to run low on time. The Italian dude, Giovanni (my people!), was just okay. His plot was a bit more trite and he was a nice guy (lowercase), but I just couldn’t seen him and the protag together. They seemed likely to be friends, not paramours. Then there was the Latino kid, fucking Emilio.
I could not stand Emilio. He was a misogynist (that obnoxious kind where is whole character arc is learning the protag is one of those special not-shitty women), an idiot, and just a prick all-around. Also the idea that the Latino was the one with temper problems was Unfortunate to me. His plotline is that his family owns a store and their competitors are racist, so he tries to burn down their house. Which, yeah. It was not exactly empathetic and he was just an ass. I think the game was trying for “victims of oppression get justifiably angry sometimes,” but I’m not sure if premeditated arson and potentially murder is the direction you wanted to take that lesson. Also he was just an awful person in general. I wanted him to die, but failing that I tried to get the worst ending where you don’t pass your magic test and your memory is erased. I couldn’t, but fuck if I was going to let the protag end up with him. I couldn’t stand him.
There were a lot of endings — two per love interest, plus one Bad Ending that applied to everyone — and one thing I really liked that surprised me was that after you complete a route, if you played it again, you would be treated to snippets of internal narration from the other characters. I thought this was a brilliant way to give the game replay value and encourage you to see all the endings, and I’d love to see more games do something like this.
This game was, to me, a character exercise — the setup is that two former magical girls who are also ex-girlfriends are forced together to defeat one last big monster. You the player then have to navigate their tense, angry, jealous relationship in a way that doesn’t get one or both of them killed.
The biggest strength of this game is in how well-constructed the relationship between the girls, Jory and Lana, is. The tense feeling of two exes who hate each other but aren’t over each other being shoved into close quarters is captured perfectly. Everything else about the plot and setting is really a backdrop to the two of them trying to navigate the ruins of their former relationship, which did not end amicably, and seeing everything on fold really is quite interesting.
The biggest issue with this game is that the choices don’t make much sense. It’s just not clear what you need to pick to get anywhere, and after getting the first ending I found it frustrating to get another one without the walkthrough. The problem is really that there are too many extraneous choices; in some instances, there are three options but only one gets you not dead-ed, and there’s just too many for experimenting by changing one option at a time to be feasible. I’d recommend going through by yourself once and using the dev’s walkthrough to get the rest of the endings.
Personally, I thought 2B was the best ending as far as finding a true resolution goes, but I did like that all of the endings provide their own sense of closure.
The art style was also really cool and unorthodox. The backgrounds especially had a super-neat aesthetic.
Those Without Names
This was a short game that was just okay. It was one about the journey and not the destination, as I literally figure out the big reveal during the opening, and it was a tad frustrating for the characters to be so far behind. The biggest strength of it was that the mechanics of the world were unique and interesting, and that kept me entertained through my first playthrough, but it was just a staunchly mediocre game.
I also didn’t like the endings. The only one that mattered was the “real” ending, which I fortunately got on my first attempt, but when I went back to get the other ones I was disappointed to find that they added literally nothing interesting. They were all just, “And so the protagonist stayed where she was and/or was in denial, the end,” without any elaboration on the setting or characters. The whole game, all endings included, was only like a half hour long, but once you get the good one there’s no point in going back for the others.
The protagonist was also really unlikable. I think the dev may have been trying to recreate the feeling of having an anxiety disorder, but did they really not at any point think, “Hmm, maybe having the female character be so weak and ineffectual she literally hides behind her big brother when other people approach has some Unfortunate Implications?” Also I resent the implication that an anxiety disorder makes you an idiot who is afraid of their own shadow.
I was thinking… so we have Strong Female Character to describe a certain archetype, but is there an accepted term for the opposite? A so-called Weak Female Character, who hits every single “fretting woman” trope and constantly has to rely on the nearest Man for protection? I’ve never heard of a common term for this, but there should be.