So! As is immediately apparent from the trailer etc it's a good quality, professionally made game, with nice art, music, writing, (partial) voice acting etc and a pretty good translation from the original Japanese. It's also about highschool girls, very tropey, and has a deeply unfortunate premise: two ghost girls in love ask the protagonist Yuna to help f/f couples at the school get together so that they'll have sex and the ghosts will know how sex between girls works.
You can see why I didn't rush out and buy it right away, especially since one of the couples is teacher/student. I was also worried about it all being from the protagonist's external point of view which sounded like an unfun way to play romance. But I heard the romances were cute and the sex scenes were (a) very tasteful and (b)largely cut from the Steam release (mostly from complaints about this fact lol) and decided I could always skip any paths I didn't like.
So! Good news is the point of view shifts between characters. Bad news is it doesn't have distinct paths you can play separately: it divides into months, and you have to play all of a month's scenes to progress the game. Right now I have to get through scenes from two different paths I'm finding squicky and am psyching myself up to skim through on high-speed autoplay to get back to the paths I like.
Overall I'm liking the characters and relationships in general more than the romances. Yuri as a genre is all about Adorable Female Friendship and there's a lot of that, which is sweet, and cuts down the ROMANCE IS ALL THAT MATTERS subtext some dating sims can have. Yuna starts out very anti social and grumpy and slowly warms up to people as she gets drawn into matchmaking them, I'm really enjoying the way her arc of personal growth is heading.
The romances are, for the most part, not bad but one of the ghosts is mildly psychic and gives Yuna updates on how the various romances are going before we see those scenes, sometimes even before the characters themselves even realise what they're feeling. That both undercuts a lot of the romantic tension and makes for a bit of sameyness, as we see every relationship start with one girl in love and the other oblivious. There is some variety in the kinds of girls, though, and they're all endearing in different ways. Also the fact you have to play everything in roughly chronological order means all the stories tend to always be at similar points in the narrative which can get boring, and will presumably mean I get like 5 happily ever afters at once when I finally reach the end. It looks like you can replay scenes in any order you like once the game is done, which will be a fun way to replay the bits I like and nothing else. But the journey there can be a slog.
The premise is...still pretty unfortunate. And no, noone suggests Yuna download some porn/sex manuals onto her phone and lets the ghosts watch even though that is the OBVIOUS SOLUTION. I've watched one sort-of sex scene at this point and my sex squick was not helped by knowing the ghosts were watching (also, voiced sex noises. I am turning off sound next time). On the plus side the ghosts do also just want to help these girls because they are obviously sad about their unrequited feelings, and explicitly say they will be ok with rejection etc if that turns out to be the best outcome for a given couple. It's also not as bad about "real love means sex" as I worried it would be. It's definitely not what I would call a queer game, and can be a bit "yuri is purer than lesbianism" which uh...ok then. But...one of the characters goes "I guess I'm gay then??" and decides she's ok with it?? (No, nobody is bi, that would require feeling something other than a Pure First And Only Love (For Another Girl))
It's less fanservicey than I was expecting: the designs are generic Cute Anime Girl but not OMG BOOBS, there's no gratuitous shots of girls in underwear etc, and the one sex scene I've seen was pretty understated and in character. The romances are mostly quite adorable, asides from the teacher/student one where the teacher got over her objections to dating a student way too easily and seemed to have zero objections to dating a teenager in principle. YOU ARE TWENTY FOUR YOU CREEPER. There's the odd moment of "this was written by dudes wasn't it" where girls compare boob sizes, seem oblivious to certain consent issues, think "like a little sister" and "sexy" are synonyms etc. Also it leans a bit hard on the innocent adorableness button, even during sex which....:/ Girls divide neatly into Talls and Shorts, there's a few tall/tall pairings and dominant/older etc short girls but it can make age gaps seem bigger when relevant.
It's also SUPER LONG, I have 18 hours on record and am in the middle of August when the calendar goes up to November. The "interactivity" seems to be entirely decorative, this is a kinetic novel in all but name. As is evidenced by being able to play scenes in different orders to no effect! I usually find kinetic novels boring but you have to click stuff often enough to keep my brain from turning off.
Oh also it starts with a huge THIS CONTAINS SEX BUT EVERYONE IS OVER 18 disclaimer which was initially reassuring to me as an Australian with underage sex issues but I quickly realised it didn't mean everyone in the game is over 18, and am increasingly suspecting that what actually means is that for all the 16 and 17 year old girls they painted bike shorts on the art and cut some of the more explicit dialogue lines. Which...I guess is less squicky? And less likely to get me arrested? But mostly I just don't want to see them having sex at all and wish there was some way to signal that to the game. Especially since Yuna's compulsory love interest is a really short and young looking/sounding 16 year old D: (I ship her instead with either of my two favourite characters, who are of course the ONLY TWO GIRLS IN THE GAME with no romances. One of whom clearly has a fatigue disorder that her friends are mostly decent about but the adults in her life are massively negligent for leaving untreated. INCLUDING THAT CREEPER TEACHER don't think also seeming to be chronically ill means I like you >:( )
As a game writer I find the structure interesting (feel free to skip this if you don't care about game structure): There are like 6 separate paths. Each follows the arc of a small group of characters (usually the relevant pairing) and every scene in the path will be from the point of view of someone from the group. The central path involves Yuna and the two ghosts and their matchmaking attempts, and every month starts by going through the Yuna path in chronological order in the calendar/planner. Then the planner lets you see the other scenes that show up that month, and you can either play them in chronological order or go through path by path etc. Since Yuna is meddling in all the couples lives, we often see moments from the Yuna path again but from someone else's point of view. Other characters show up in multiple paths too, and are viewed differently by different characters. The game doesn't play with this a lot but I found it really interesting. Also the not-quote-linear structure with a calendar to show you how long has passed between scenes, what things were happening on the same day etc. It's got me wondering what it might be like to use this kind of structure for a mystery. Also wondering what it would be like to replay the game in a different order, either entirely chronologically or only playing scenes from one path etc.
Ok I think I have run out of things to say. Time to post this and then...probably play Squarecells or something haha.
This entry was originally posted at http://alias-sqbr.dreamwidth.org/63