If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve indulged in a visual novel or two in your time. Perhaps they’re even a primary form of entertainment for you.
Those of you who have explored the medium to some extent have doubtless discovered that there isn’t really any such thing as a “typical” visual novel — some, like Dharker Studio’s Negligee, are effectively short stories designed to be enjoyed over the course of no more than a couple of hours, even if they have multiple endings or routes. Others, like the wonderful Grisaia and Fate/stay night, can take a hundred hours or more to see through to completion.
Sometimes, you want the experience of a visual novel’s approach to interactive multimedia storytelling without having to devote a significant proportion of your life to enjoying it. Sometimes you want something that will just entertain you for an evening but still give you the sense that you’ve “completed” something. Sometimes a game like Lily’s Day Off is exactly what the doctor ordered.
“I don’t actually play visual novels,” admits author and developer Kyuppin to me. “They’re too long for me and I have a terrible attention span, which is why I made [Lily’s Day Off] with such a fast-paced pick-up-and-play design. Straight to the point, crazy plot, crazy endings, no filler.”
He’s not joking. Lily’s Day Off has sixteen endings, and you can see all of them in less than an hour. And yet this isn’t an experience that feels like it’s in any way rushed or compromised, which is a blessing for those who enjoy how visual novels tell their stories, but perhaps don’t have the time to delve into the more substantial ones.
In Lily’s Day Off, you take on the role of a self-insert protagonist as they wake up somewhat bleary-eyed in the middle of the street, with a crying young girl — the titular Lily, a famous pop idol — in front of them. From there, a series of choices determine who the protagonist actually is, how Lily got there, what their relationship with one another is and how things unfold after their initial, fateful meeting on the street. Fifteen of the endings depict wildly divergent outcomes from the initial encounter, providing a mixture of happy, “good” endings and “bad” endings that are by turns violent, miserable or just plain upsetting in one way or another, while a “true” ending ties everything together and explains the overall concept. Don’t worry, this game doesn’t make you go to the same lengths as Doki-Doki Literature Club to see its true conclusion.
“I originally made the game on Ren’Py as a little joke game to show my younger brother and sister to entertain them for an hour or so,” Kyuppin tells me. “Originally, I used music and sprites from the anime Toradora! and the game was called Taiga’s Day Off. After getting Unity some time later, I realised I had basically a full game I could port over and put on Google Play to see how it does. The game originally had just eight routes. I added eight more, outfits, menus and art/music, put it on the Android store, and to my surprise, people actually downloaded it.
“Lily’s Day Off is the only game I’ve released on PC,” Kyuppin continues. “In the long run, the game has definitely sold more on Android, which I think makes sense since it is really such a simple game to pick up and play in quick spurts, reach an ending or two, and then put it down for a while.”
16 endings is a substantial number for any visual novel, but fortunately despite Kyuppin’s self-professed lack of experience with the genre as a player, Lily’s Day Off features plenty of quality of life features to help track your progress — the sort of things you’d expect from a full-scale project in the medium but don’t always get! There’s an ending “checklist” accessible from the main menu, for starters, and the various choices you make throughout the game dim out when you’ve seen all those possible branches through to their various conclusions. In this way, you can quickly and easily see which routes you still have left to explore, even if you don’t devour the whole game in one sitting like I did.
The various routes run the gamut from the mundane to the ridiculous, and take in a wide variety of popular anime, manga and light novel tropes along the way. In one, “you” and Lily might recognise one another as childhood friends and start a relationship from there; in another, things might take a rather darker turn. This latter aspect in particular is handled very well; one thing the VN medium is good at is providing a sense of inevitable tragedy or lurking horror — look at the aforementioned Fate/stay night or titles like Deus Machina Demonbane for great examples of how full-length works approach this. Even with its short runtime, though, Lily’s Day Off manages to capture this feeling in several of its routes, with the juxtaposition between the cutesy visuals and the events of the narrative proving particularly effective (and unnerving) at these times!
Despite hailing from Jersey, Kyuppin clearly has a good understanding of the conventions of Japanese popular media, even going so far as to use honorifics and Japanese onomatopoeia at various points in the text. The game is filled with obviously self-referential humour, both poking fun at itself and the conventions of the media from which it has drawn inspiration, but this never feels mean-spirited or like it’s trying to force things, even in its most… peculiar moments.
“I love jumping the shark,” explains Kyuppin. “I want to take existing cliches and turn them on their heads, even if the cliche is what people really want. I think the true ending of the game reflects that well enough.”
This is evident in a number of the routes through the game — sometimes one of the four initial choices can lead to a seemingly hackneyed scenario, but subsequent choices can cause these situations to veer off in strange and wonderful directions. You’ll never quite be sure where you’ll end up until you explore all those possible choices , and it’s a constant delight to do so.
Kyuppin has been working on a sequel to Lily’s Day Off, dubbed Lily’s Night Off, for the last few years now, and promises a much more polished experience. At the time of writing, we can expect to see it at some point within the next couple of months on Steam — and Kyuppin is very keen to get a release on the Nintendo Switch, too. The platform has already played host to a number of visual novels to date — including the underrepresented otoge genre aimed at female players — so chances are good. Fingers crossed.
“Lily’s Night Off is going to be basically more of the same, but upgraded in every way,” Kyuppin tells me. “I have four more years of game dev experience since the first game! It will be about twice as long as Lily’s Day Off, and will have a CG image for each ending with art from over 12 different artists.”
The new game features not only Lily, but also her two fellow idol group members Nym and Vicky. It will once again start with a choice of four different routes to follow, and diverge from there — only with more characters in the mix this time around.
While Kyuppin is still handling the majority of development duties himself, Lily’s Night Off will also feature an original soundtrack composed by Vect as opposed to the royalty-free instrumental samples used in Lily’s Day Off. Those four years of additional experience have certainly brought things a long way from those humble beginnings!
And after that? Can we expect more Lily? Is Lily now Kyuppin’s official mascot character?
“Interestingly, Lily wasn’t even in the original version of the game,” admits Kyuppin. “When I first ported the game from Ren’py over to Unity, I needed some original art, so I decided to use a random character I had drawn the week before. Lily had such an unintentionally humble beginning, but she’s really grown on me over the years. Hoping for more fanart in the future!
“My dream game is a 2D anime girl headpatting game, where you headpat anime girls to level up your affection with them and unlock VN story routes to read through,” he continues. “However! The next game I work on will most likely be a 2D sidescrolling Metroidvania about a robot girl who attacks using electricity. It’s a concept I’ve been throwing around for a while now.”
Based on the fun I had with Lily’s Day Off and the further enjoyment I anticipate from both its impending sequel and Electric Robot Girlovania, I’d say Kyuppin’s definitely one to watch. Stay up to date on his latest projects (and explore a bunch of previous games, too!) via his official website, or follow him on Twitter for more.
More about Lily’s Day Off
Thanks to Kyuppin for the copy of Lily’s Day Off and the contributions to this article.
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