Coveted Games: All over the place

What my brain looks like right now. 
I'm a hot gaming mess these days. My collecting instinct came back with a vengeance some two weeks ago, prompting me to buy such a crap ton of games that I'm up to date again on my To Buy-List. As it is, I'm using all my willpower to curb my roaring purchasing drive and refrain myself from sweeping those seven Japanese Vita games that are currently lounging in my Amazon basket. Wait at least until an hypothetical localization announcement, dang it!

Having said that, I'm fully aware that there will be fewer and fewer localization announcements for the Vita in 2018. Games that would have been released on the PS4 and the Vita a mere year ago are now being proudly advertised as coming to the PS4 and the Switch. It's getting harder and harder to resist the lure of Ninty's newest piece of kit, and the only reason I haven't caved in yet is because I'm waiting for the console's next iterations. A portable-only Switch, yes please!!! The games, on the other hand, are darn tempting; I'm probably going to get my paws on my Very First Switch Game very soon, and it's probably going to be a Japanese copy of Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna, with its convenient english and french subtitles. Unless it's the North-American physical version of Fallen Legion, which I want to secure before it becomes prohibitively expensive. Or maybe Nights of Azure 2, which I've been wanting to play, like, forever. And what about the famed Dark Souls, a game that was beyond my reach until now and whose legendary difficulty piques my masochistic streak? I sure won't have any problem finding good Switch picks in the months to come, oh no precious.

More of my greedy, gaming-obsessed brain.
Not that I have problems finding good Vita and 3DS picks right now, mind you. Squeenix treated us to Romancing SaGa 2 at long last, Limited Run Games released a Vita RPG for the first time in weeks, and those high-profile 3DS titles I've been drooling over for months are slowly but surely starting to grace digital shelves. I'm a very happy little collector right now.

Not only am I greedy for new additions to my precious collection, but I'm also yearning to play tons of games. I want to start them all, play them all, all at once! Those six games I received two days ago? Bring them on, says my gaming instinct! That's a most unusual state of affairs, but I cannot say I dislike it. It's just that there's no way this can work: if I start six games at once, I'm gonna be overwhelmed and drop them all before long. Better be reasonable and focus on the three games I'm playing right now, all the more so as I'm clearly neglecting two of them already. I'll see you soon with posts about these three games, dear fellow gamers; in the meantime, feel free to let me know what you're playing right now, as I'm also greedy for gaming tidings. Thanks for reading as always, and be my guest anytime!


Etrian Odyssey: Drop it like it's hot

After an indecent number of hours spent playing EO, I finally called it quits and erased my save file — and boy, am I insanely relieved. I love that game to pieces, but it was starting to make my gaming life a misery. I made it all the way to the bottom of the Sandy Barrens; and there, on the cursed 20th floor, I was confronted with my biggest challenge so far. I was given the mammoth task of defeating 14 FOEs and a boss in a row, all that without exiting the labyrinth — coz if I did, all the defeated FOEs would respawn. That was the mother of all insane challenges, and in any other circumstances, I would have been thrilled to bits and would have taken up the gauntlet with gusto; but this time, I just didn't feel like it. I have to admit that the level cap did do a number on my motivation, no matter how hard I tried to pump myself up; and so did the 4th stratum's dreary colour palette, the nagging backtracking, the annoyingly high encounter rate, the infuriating status effects and the cursed absence of an instant save feature. In the end, I just got drained, and those hateful 15 were the last straw that broke my crawling drive.

This is not the first time I give up on a FPDC, mind you. My run of Class of Heroes also came to an abrupt end back in the days; however, my reasons for giving up were different. I ditched CoH because I was sick to death of its obnoxious dungeon design; on the other hand, I ditched EO because I was sick to death of its obnoxiousness, full stop. EO is like that new pal you meet and click instantly with, thinking you're gonna be mates forever only to realize after a few weeks that they're a bit of a prick after all. EO is a game that's stupidly hard for the sheer sake of being stupidly hard; and when I say "stupidly", I mean it literally. The kind of difficulty boasted by EO is neither fulfilling nor genuinely challenging: stuff like the absence of an instant save feature, the low escape rate, the random action order in battle or the level 70 cap are just arbitrary limitations whose sole purpose is to make the player's life miserable and force them to pour more hours into the game.

Now, does that mean that I'm swearing off that game and the series it belongs to? Absolutely not. On the contrary, I see this run as a necessary baptism of fire that allowed me to figure out the series' rules and to be better prepared for my next run. As a matter of fact, here are the things I'm already planning to do next time I play some Etrian Odyssey:

  • I'll experiment with other classes before deciding which one to pick for my one and only. I went straight for Protector this time because of that class' high defense and healing skills; but maybe other classes could fit the bill just as well and offer more profitable combinations of abilities. 
  • I'll retire my lone ranger at least once to gain yummy stat increases. I didn't dare to do so in my run because the mere thought of grinding all the way back to my current level was more than I could bear; however, I neglected to factor in the gear element. Being decked in powerful gear when I retire means that I can grind on deeper floors and level up faster. Given how fast I reached the level cap, I can definitely afford to keep grinding longer.
  • I'll ignore the sidequests and focus solely on roaming. I tackled a lot of sidequests in the early stages of my run and lost some precious time doing so — time that would have been better spent exploring. On top of that, the rewards granted by these quests are not really worth the time and hassle. 
  • I'll use more healing items in the exploration phases, i.e. when I map out floors. My playthrough has proved that the money balance in EO is not a problem at all when running solo, so I can afford to stock up on restoring stuff and indulge in longer roaming sessions. 

So, while me and EO are clearly done for the time being, this is absolutely not an adieu. I'm gonna play that game again, I'm gonna play its sequels, and I'm gonna keep purchasing every new game in the series and rejoice at the though of the many hours of crawling goodness that lie ahead. This is not the end, indeed; this is only the beginning between me and Etrian Odyssey! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Bad Apple Wars: From love to hate to love again

Let's get straight to the point: I ADORE Bad Apple Wars, so much so that it can claim the honour of being my absolute favourite otome VN so far. (Yup, I love it even more than Norn9—although to be fair, there's but a teeny-tiny gap between the two games in my heart.) But as the title implies, it was not always that way. It took a lot of time and runs to reveal that game's true potential, and my feelings for it went through a lot of ups and downs in the process. Without further ado, here's the story of how BAW meekly but decidedly climbed to the top of my personal otome chart. (Minor spoilers!)

Things started auspiciously, as I had an instant crush on BAW the very second I started playing it. I was hopelessly fond of the sharp character design, the distintive art style, the vivid colour palette, the lush soundtrack, the unique font, the lively translation, the zesty voice acting, the eerie setting, the mesmerizing atmosphere—the everything. I just loved that game, period. It oozed some strong Danganronpa vibes, and yet it was unique enough to not feel like a complete rip-off of said Danganronpa. I relished the fact that the heroine was this bland, unremarkable, nearly blasé character instead of your usual cheerful and upbeat otome MC, and I was delighted by her uncanny ability to maintain her apathetic edge even in the face of a completely foreign and ludicrous situation. I cleared Satoru's route first, and I enjoyed it so much that I was just that close to jumping on my keyboard and ordering a physical copy of the game. However, experience had taught me to be cautious with VNs and otomes, and to not judge a whole game on a single route. So I restrained my roaring purchasing impulses, and kept playing.

And sure enough, things started to deteriorate right from the second route. I went for Higa, and I was quickly irritated by Rinka's submissive attitude towards the Bad Apples and by the goody-two-shoes and holier-than-thou attitude of said Bad Apples. I started suspecting that the writers had a mighty big bias towards the Bad Apples indeed, and that the choice between two sides I had somehow been promised was nothing but a marketing sham. Then I played Alma/Aruma's route, and the repetitions promptly drove me crazy. Higa's and Aruma's routes had so many scenes in common that I felt like I was virtually playing the exact same route, only with a different suitor. And to my utter dismay, the same pattern reared its ugly head yet again in Shikishima's route. That's when I resorted to skipping massive chunks of the game in order to reach the next exclusive scene without having to sift through mountains of already read dialogue; and by the time I polished off Watase's route, I had virtually stopped reading segments that didn't feature the beau du jour. That sure didn't help alleviate my negative feelings towards BAW, as all that skipping made me feel more disconnected from the game than ever. To add insult to injury, the story was not answering all my questions, and you know how much I hate it when a story leaves me hanging and doesn't bother tying loose ends. In a nutshell, I was pissed off, and my initial love for the game had turned into contempt and aversion.

I thought things were well and truly over between me and BAW—but lo and behold, a few days after the end of my run, I started nursing second thoughts. I though that maybe I had missed some key information by skipping so many scenes; and I wondered if maybe the bad endings, which I had carefully avoided, could shed light on some unexplained story elements. Most importantly, the game still tugged at me and draw me in somehow; and deep down inside, I really didn't want to dislike it. And that's how I decided to give BAW a second chance and found myself replaying the whole game from scratch, bad endings included.

And to my utter delight, everything clicked into place during that second playthrough. It turned out that BAW is one of these stories in which nearly every word uttered by the characters contains meaningful information and is relevant to the plot, and that I had indeed missed a lot of important narrative elements by force-skipping entire sections and avoiding bad endings. I finally managed to piece everything together and I was able at long last to understand the whole story—and holy cow, is it a mind-blowing story indeed. Very consistent rules, no major plotholes, no trace of ad hoc or deus ex machina and last but not least, a delightful plot twist—albeit a bit too muted for it own good. It took an awful lot of unraveling to get the full picture, but gosh, that was so worth it. The game's title finally made sense, as well as the fact that there's only one true side available: the sole purpose of the NEVAEH Academy is to coax dead youngsters into overcoming despair and recovering the will to live, and that deed can solely be achieved through being a Bad Apple. Fully understanding the story's stakes also gave me a new appreciation of all the characters, whose hurdles and hardships suddenly became much more touching and heart-wrenching. And that's how I found myself not just merely loving BAW again, but loving it ten times more than when I started playing it.

It goes without saying that after all that, BAW brilliantly passed the Shall We Get Physical test. And it passed with honours too, since I ended up purchasing the regular North-American edition AND the Japanese special edition. As they say in french, when you love, you don't count the (shipping) costs! Having said that, I'm going to skip the route report for that game. The reason for that most unusual course of (in)action is twofold: first, the romance in BAW is clearly secondary to the overarching story, a mere side dish to be enjoyed along the way; and secondly, although I kinda liked all the guys and could relate to their plagues, I don't have much to add about them. I was thinking of laying down the rules of the BAW universe in a dedicated post, but I'm not sure I'll have the drive to do that. What I have the drive to do, on the other hand, is play the last otome VN I snatched during that January PSN sale. Let's get back to the love grinding! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Etrian Odyssey: The trick is to keep crawling

Here I am with tidings from the third stratum, tidings that mingle disappointment and delight. While I adored Emerald Grove and despised Primitive Jungle, I have mixed feelings about Azure Rainforest. Things started auspiciously enough, with lenient trash mobs, softcore FOEs, easy to navigate layout and, last but not least, a great decor that made crawling deliciously pleasant and relaxing. XP was raining on me, especially when Treefrogs and their propensity to call for help were involved, and I already saw myself reaching the big 99 before I was done with the stratum. In a nutshell, I was enjoying myself tremendously and relishing the change of pace after the obnoxiousness of the second stratum.

Best enemy evah.
Then came the nastier blow I had endured since I started the game, a blow that was made all the nastier by the fact that I didn't expect it one second: the level 70 cap, folks. I reached that level as I was innocently cruising the 11th floor and realized, to my utter horror, that battles that ensued didn't yield any more XP. A frantic internet search revealed that for some unfathomable reason, party members in EO cannot go beyond level 70. Seriously, game? Why the heck do you violate the implicit RPG rule that states that characters can go up to level 99? Are you trying to be edgy or something? I'm not gonna lie: the discovery of that level cap was such a blow to my gaming morale that I seriously considered giving up on the game entirely. Not only did I see random encounters as pointless obstructions with no benefits whatsoever after hitting level 70, but I also genuinely feared being ovewhelmed further down the labyrinth. Having reached the maximum level at the beginning of the third stratum, was there any hope that I could go all the way down to the maingame boss? Sure, I was seriously oveleveled; but would that be enough? And if that wasn't enough, then why did the bloody game let me run solo only to stab me in the back?

I was getting all fidgety and paranoid, and my drive to roam was slowly but surely evaporating; but them, I suddenly remembered something that gave me a glimmer of hope. The farming, folks! It's a well-known EO feature that monster drops can be used to forge gear — the stronger the enemy, the better the gear. I suddenly had a very good reason to forge ahead, as well as the implicit guarantee that I would indeed be technically able to forge ahead: I just needed to get my paws on good monster drops, and I'd have my progression covered.

My drive to roam blossomed again after that, and I spent the next hours blazing through what proved to be the fastest and easiest stratum by far and the perfect breather after the tediousness of its predecessor. Oh, it sure had its share of hindrances and nasties: the 12th floor ants were a pain in the behind that generated many a Game Over, and I could have done without all those Killclaws that tried to sneak on me when I was engaged in random battles. But overall, it was a jolly good ride. As planned, I clawed and sliced myself some neat monster drops that granted me powerful pieces of gear that compensated for the levels I was no longer gaining. And here I am now, standing at the entrance of the freshly uncovered 4th Stratum and ready to keep crawling. I'll get to the bottom of that labyrinth or die trying, I swear. See you soon for a red-hot Sandy Barrens report, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Period Cube: Poyo-Poyo's route — The best for last

Heck, I love Poyo-Poyo's route. It was the very last route I played, and it was so darn good that it somehow redeemed the whole game in my eyes. It roused me from the comfortable slumber the other routes had put me in, blew my mind and made my heart skip a few beats; and as far as I'm concerned, it's the only route worth its salt in Period Cube. Let's get on with the praise! (Spoilers ahead!)

Why Poyo-Poyo's route is the greatest: 

— Of all the bachelors, Shiki is the one we get to know best — as a matter of fact, he's the only beau we get to know extentively before we can romance him, and that makes all the difference in the world. By the time his route becomes available, we've heard about him so much that we already formed an opinion about him and that he feels somehow familiar to us; yet at the same time, we can't help but be curious about what he's really like and what makes him tick. As a result, Kazuha's romance with him feels much more natural than her romances with the rest of the crew and flows much more effortlessly. Also, the whole story is kickstarted by Kazuha's strong desire to find Shiki; so it feels only fair that said story should end up with her getting her paws on him at long last — in all possible ways.

He's bringing sexy back.
— Shiki is a vibrant mix of tenderness, affection, passion and lust — and so is his route and his relationship with Kazuha. This is the only route that explores the full emotional spectrum of a romantic relationship: the combination of Poyo-Poyo's kindness, cuteness and good-natured banter and Shiki's intense love and repressed lust for Kazuha creates a potent and heart-wrenching mix that has way more impact than anything you can find in the other routes. And talking about Shiki's intense love and repressed lust, this guy simply delivers the single best declaration of love I've ever read in an otome game. Every otome beau can come up with run-of-the-mill sentences such as "I love you so much" and "I want to be by your side forever"; but Shiki cranks up the passion and comes up with a declaration that makes you feel the love & the lust. Heck, I swear I fell in love with him for a split second when I saw him bare his heart in such an ardent way.

— This is a route that respects its peers. I usually despise true routes for their annoying habit of casting all the routes that preceeded them as redundant and pointless and making the player feel like they've been betting on the wrong horse all that time — and I like Shiki's route for abstaining from all that. As a matter of fact, all PC routes have the exact same outcome, namely the destruction of the Period Cube and World V and Shiki's return to the real world sans memories; the only thing that varies is the beau that winds up on Kazuha's arm. Shiki's route is what all true routes should be: a route that explains the story's ins and outs while coexisting peacefully with its fellow regular routes. The fact that it can be unlocked at the halfway point depending on which routes you played first is quite telling: this is but a mere route amongst others, a route that ain't a league of its own.

How Poyo-Poyo's route — and by extension the whole story — could have been better: 

— Scrap the whole Akashic Records deus ex machina. It's a fascinating concept I'd certainly like to learn more about, but it has no place in PC's story. If we assume that Shiki could have discovered a way to separate the soul from the body on his own, we have to admit that the Akashic Records have been implemented solely to allow Kazuha to go back in time, avoid the accident and spare Shiki the whole descent into madness he had to endure after said accident; and not only is it a frustrating plot device that comes completely out of left field, but it also cancels the whole Shiki route and makes it null and void. Now look, game: I don't want to be told that all the developments I witnessed and rooted for never happened, nor do I want to be fed a bloody ellipsis and told that Kazuha fell in love with Shiki this time around without getting the opportunity to see said falling in love with my own eyes. What I wanted was to see Kazuha uncover and acknowledge her love for Shiki in Shiki's route. If she fell head over heels in love with Hiroya in a couple of days despite never seeing him as anything more than a friend before that, then surely it would have been possible to do the same thing with Shiki, now wouldn't it? Just let her realise that her feelings for Shiki are deeper and stronger than she thought and come to terms with them, and voila! Definitely less far-fetched and more believable in the story's context than that whole time travel crap.

— Concurrently, tone down Shiki's endeavours in Arcadia and cut down on the insanity, so that he can live on without being tortured by remorse and doesn't require a reboot to live a happy life. Scrap the player killing, the nocturnal fondling, the experimentation on Natsu, the jealousy bouts and the overarching sick desire to preserve Kazuha's soul and memories forever like a twisted trophy — all the more so as it's highly improbable that someone could be driven over the edge so severely just because their stepsister landed in a non-lethal accident and lost a couple of trivial memories. Replace those twisted antics with more interactions with Kazuha in Arcadia, and let the girl realise that she sees Shiki as more than a mere stepbrother. Proceed then to reveal that Kazuha loves Shiki and that they can be together in the real world, and make Shiki drop his mad plan to focus on his dream come true. Arcadia players are spared, everybody is freed from Server V and can go on with their lives, Shiki and Kazuha become an item, The End. More romance, less craziness, and happier players — both Arcadia and Period Cube ones.

— Better still, scrap the whole World V, Amadeus and Period Cube shebang entirely, and also scrap that lame accident while you're at it. Use the following premise instead: Shiki is buckling under the pressure of his unrequited love for Kazuha, and he's recently become an hikikomori that plays some Arcadia all day long to get away from the dire reality of his life. Everybody is at a loss, but ingenious little Kazuha comes up with the idea of creating her own Arcadia avatar to reach out to Shiki from inside the game. Proceed then to slowly reveal Shiki's feelings and make Kazuha realise the true depth of her love for him, which she had never dared to acknowledge in earnest because of their family situation. Then crown it all with a good ending in which they end up together and Shiki goes back to his happy straight-A student self, and a bad ending in which he doesn't dare to confess to Kazuha and retreats even deeper into his room and Arcadia. The beauty of that premise is that it would also make the other routes more interesting, by allowing Kazuha and her beau du jour to interact both in Arcadia and the real world and get to know each other over a much longer time period. Cherry on the cake, you don't even need to alter Shiki's destiny in these other routes: just make him loose his memories because of the sheer shock of seeing Kazuha fall in love with another man, and you're covered. (Heck, it's not even that improbable IRL.) Call the whole thing 'Arcadia: Shackles of Love&Despair' and you're good to go! Such a straightforward and unfussy story would flow much more naturally and spare us the many plotholes PC bristles with.

So, you may ask, you declare your love for Shiki's route yet claim in the next breath that it should have been entirely different? Yup, that's totally what I'm doing. I loved Shiki's route, the passion and intensity of it; but had it unfolded the way I just described, I would have adored it. I would certainly have adored the other routes as well and ultimately purchased a physical copy of Period Cube, which is something that's definitely not going to happen with the story being the mess it is. That's sad, because there was some potential for stellar love stories and even — let's dream wildly — dashes of RPG-inspired gameplay. Well, maybe the next romantic VN will prove better — because indeed, I got my paws on a couple more of these during the January PSN sale; and since I'm still very much in the mood for love, I'll put them to the Shall We Get Physical test without delay. Better strike while the iron is hot, indeed! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Period Cube: Pick your poison

A.k.a. the route report I promised you, folks. Let's face it: overall, all the beaus in Period Cube are temperamental little pricks that don't deserve Kazuha's favour — and by extension mine — and their romances with the lead lady pack very little romantism and hardly more plausibility. Without further ado, let's get to the whipping! (Spoilers ahead!)

Astrum: Making cool, calm and collected Astrum an awkward and grumpy nerd in real life was a neat idea and an unexpected twist. However, the game spoils that premise by piling up the flaws and making Astrum also jealous, pervy, domineering and rude. Like, how dare you call me an idiot when I'm professing my love for you, you ungrateful little nerdo? Do you want to get laid or not? The way you insisted on applying healing balm on Kazuha's thighs, I'd have thought you were desperately hungry for it. Honestly, if I want a fulfilling love story with a geek, I'd rather go for Meoshi in Sweet Fuse; because as it is, Astrum is merely a creepier, nerdier and skinnier version of Kent from Amnesia:Memories.

Demento: That route is a complete joke. On top of being a truncated route that branches off Astrum's route quite late into the game, it also features a bloodthirsty nutcase that beats Kazuha and proudly flaunts his love for murder. I'm sure this route wasn't initially planned, and I can nearly hear someone at Otomate scream: "Shoot, we forgot to add a psycho route! Let's fix something before the game ships!" Said game would definitely have been better off without that pint-sized excuse for a route.

Hiroya: A.k.a. the token childhood friend consumed with unrequited love. He's the teary-eyed guy on the cover art; and he has good reasons to cry, since he has to watch Kazuha cavort with other guys in all routes but his. I could nearly pity the poor thing, if not for the fact that he's a sullen and immature brat with a high-maintenance streak. The way he harasses Kazuha and demands that she relies on him more while throwing tantrums when she doesn't is not exactly a caring behaviour in my book. Not to mention that, why don't you just prove that you're reliable, instead of coercing me into leaning upon you? Sour cherry on the cake, Hiroya gets all flustered when Kazuha shows him her love and blames her for embarrassing him. Wait, you've been in love with me forever, and now that you got what you wanted, you're playing all coy and bitchy? Stop being hot&cold and make up your mind, boy.

Libera: Have you ever fantasized about a slice of yuri in your otome? Now your dream can come true thanks to Libera, a boy who masquerades as a girl in Arcadia. Libera is actually one of the best bachelors, boasting a playful streak and a touching backstory, but his posturing as a female somewhat soils his route. You could tell that the writers themselves were not completely at ease with that premise, because they made his Arcadia character model completely devoid of bosom, bottom or any other distinctive female attribute and gave him instead the same willowy body sported by all the bachelors — only with skimpy clothing. I can't help but think that if they were not going to go full force and make him a buxom female, they should simply have stuck with his male identity.

Zain: A.k.a. Mr. Plothole. Why this guy is even part of the bachelor crew is a mystery to me: as an NPC, he has no volition whatsoever and gains a will of his own solely through accidentally fusing with Demento. Ensue weird events and plotholes by the truckload, until Zain is somehow magically warped into the real world while retaining his Arcadia appearance. Now wait a minute, game: how is that even remotely possible? Okay, Zain fused with Demento in Arcadia, and it's implied that the former is hosted in the latter's body in the real world; but how can Zain modify Demento's facial features to make them look like his own? The answer is simple: he cannot, and that turn of events was implemented solely to spare the player the twisted outcome of having a romance with a Zain looking like Demento.

Radius: Okay, now I'm pissed. You had one simple job, game: to make my fellow solo runner Radius a compelling character with a good backstory — and you screwed it royally. You want me to believe that this guy was actually a regular party runner that got traumatized because he had to abandon his party to save his life, and that he's been running solo ever since to avoid reliving that trauma? How asinine is that? Couldn't you come up with a more believable solo runner, i.e. a guy who runs solo because he's a genuine lone wolf yet warms up to love and company upon meeting Kazuha? Also, you want me to believe that this guy is actually an idol in real life? If he were really an idol, he would be slaving away for his label, not running solo in an MMORPG. The romance is also way too rushed in that route, with Kazuha claiming that she wants to make Radius happy and doesn't want to be separated from him a mere day after meeting him. That's too fast, even for Period Cube.

Well, I'm done with the route report. But wait, I hear you ask; what about Poyo-Poyo's route? Well, Poyo-Poyo's route is a bit of a special case: as the true route and the only route I genuinely enjoyed, it deserves its own dedicated post. Thanks for reading, and by my guest anytime!


Period Cube: Not worth its case

Its plastic case, that is. See, I have a new approach regarding Vita VNs with a romantic overtone: since many of these games hold little to no replay value as far as I'm concerned, I've decided to use the PSN sales to purchase them digitally at a bargain price. If it turns out that I love them and can see myself replaying them at some point, then — and only then — will I go for a physical copy. Period Cube is the first discounted otome VN I got my digital paws on, and the first to be put to the Shall We Get Physical test.

Having said that, let's cut to the chase: Period Cube is neither a good VN nor a good otome game. Not only will I certainly not invest in a physical copy of that game, but I really think that Period Cube was not worthy of a physical Western release and should have been a digital-only game with a $20 price tag. That may seem a bit harsh, especially coming from a collector that advocate physical games for life at every turn; but PC is simply too much of a half-baked game to deserve a full-price boxed release. (Spoilers ahead!)

Why PC is not a good VN: 

It's not explicit enough. PC is your typical "How the heck did I end up here and why the heck is this happening" story, and such stories require meaty explanations at the end. Loose ends must be tied, and all mysteries must be laid down in a satisfactory way; and that is exactly what PC cheekily chooses to dispense with, preferring instead to drop allusions and lapidary statements in a nearly offhanded way and let the player put two and two together. Because of that, misunderstandings can easily arise despite the fact that the story is really simple and straightforward when put down on paper. For instance, Shiki never clearly states that he uses World V both as a tool to hone his custom-made soul-trapping process and a way to lure the strong players who carry the data needed for the final Period Cube update. He never explains properly that he was planning to wield the Almighty power himself as a sub-character on his Arcadia account and that Kazuha gained said Almighty power by mistake when she created a sub-character from his computer. Nor does he fully explain that the whole "Trilogy of Swords" setting was a mere scheme whose sole purpose was to lure powerful players to the Ark in order to feed their data to the Period Cube, and that himself was supposed to lead said powerful players — including the bearers of the two other swords — as the wielder of the Almighty power. And so on and so forth. It's annoying to have to rack your brain to figure out why things unfolded the way they did when a five-minute explanation from Shiki would have done the trick.

It's stuffed with incoherencies and plotholes. Like, why would Shiki carelessly let his PC running and connected to World V, when he knows fully well that Kazuha has the keys to his flat and can waltz in whenever she pleases? How can NPC Zain appear in the real world with the exact same body and voice as in the game? Why does Shiki only gains theorical knowledge about how to separate the soul from the body when he visits the Akashic Records and has to work for years to implement what he learnt, when Kazuya gets to travel back in time instantly like she's been making a wish to a lamp genie? Et cetera, et cetera. If there's one thing I hate more than stories that don't explain themselves properly, it's definitely stories whose plot looks like honeycomb.

It's brimming over with ad hoc. The guys always arrive precisely at the right moment to get dumb little Kazuha out of a bind, dumb little Kazuha always gets to use the Almighty power precisely when she needs it, information always drops in the characters' lap precisely when they need it, and so on — and let's not even talk about the Akashic Records, a.k.a. the most shameless deus ex machina of them all. It becomes so transparent after a while that you stop caring about the characters because you know they'll never be in real trouble.

Why PC is not a good otome game: 

L'amour comes into the picture way too fast. There is no common route apart from a tiny branching prologue, and the romancing starts literally five minutes after you boot up the game. When I started my run, it actually took me a while to realize that I was locked on a guy's route and that I had to start hitting on him — so much so that I had to restart the route to get the 'right' answers I'd missed. Because of that lack of a common route, you don't get to know the guys and grow attached to them before getting the opportunity to woo them, which makes said wooing a bit forced and vacant. I know we're here to bag up dudes first and last, but surely a bit of exposition and preparation wouldn't hurt? The way PC rushes things, I feel like I'm playing "Dogs in heat: The game" rather than an otome VN.

Kazuha is too painfully transparent to make a believable love interest. I cannot believe for a second that all these guys are fawning over a girl that dull and devoid of personality. Heck, I'm supposed to be her and I cannot figure her out, so how can these dudes fall for her like she's a femme fatale? The game repeatedly states that she's kind, optimistic and always smiling, but is it really enough to make her that irresistible? On the other hand, all these dudes seem to be virgins, so maybe that's why they melt when a woman smiles their way.

The guys are too similar. They're all feisty young men with the same lithe body, the same tousled hair and the same eye-rolling tendency to get embarrassed and peevish when Kazuha expresses her love for them. Now look, you little b*tches: I'm about to put you out of your virgin misery, so stop acting like darn tsunderes and show some gratitude already. To be fair, I think the problem is not so much the sameness of the guys as the fact that I'm not exactly the target audience. PC is obviously aimed at teenage girls, who can undoubtedly appreciate those androgynous princes charming much better than I ever could. As for me, I would have preferred more variety in terms of body shape, age and behaviour.

Now, did I hate Period Cube? Absolutely not. Although it qualifies neither as a good VN nor as a good otome in my book, I had a good time playing it and there were a couple of things I genuinely liked. For one thing, Arcadia boasts the most gorgeous colour palette I've seen in a video game ever — heck, I sure wish I could get trapped in a game world boasting those lush crystalline hues. For another, the secondary characters were really endearing — especially the Forte crew, whose dynamics were hilarious and whose bond came across much more blatantly than Kazuha's supposed bond with her beaus. And there was also that route — the route that blew me away and somehow made the whole game worth playing. And talking about routes, I'll be back soon with a full-blown run report. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!