Guidebook to Another Culture

Video games are a great means of immersing yourself in another culture. For years now, Western gamers have been enjoying titles like Yu Suzuki’s sadly unfinished Shenmue series and Atlus’ Persona titles not only for their enjoyable gameplay and overarching storylines, but for their ability to make you feel like you’re “living the Japanese life”.

There’s a huge amount of scope for interactive entertainment in general to promote and foster understanding between different cultures, whether you use the word “culture” to refer to national identity, socioeconomic groups, minorities of various descriptions or simply groups of people who have chosen to gather together under a particular banner for whatever reason. And it’s something of an underused aspect of interactive entertainment, too, though with the growing diversity of the games industry — particularly thanks to the indie scene and how easily we can access content from all over the world via the Internet these days — it’s something that more and more developers are starting to explore.

Nitroplus and 5pb.’s visual novel Steins;Gate is an interesting example of this practice in action, and it’s arguably only now that it’s been localised into English that it can be truly effective at one of the things it’s doing.

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A Misshapen Family

In this, the second part of our look at the free visual novel Katawa Shoujo, we delve into the narrative path that focuses on Lilly the blind girl.

If you missed the first part of our exploration of this fascinating game, take a moment to read The Fastest Thing on No Legs from the other day, which takes a close look at Emi, the athletic girl who lost her legs. And if you’re yet to play Katawa Shoujo for yourself, I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself; it really is an excellent, worthwhile experience — and for free, too.

Lilly, the subject of today’s piece and the character you initially know as “the mature-looking blind girl”, is an interesting character. From the moment the protagonist Hisao first meets her in the secluded abandoned classroom that she and her friend Hanako have been using as an improvised tearoom, it’s clear that she’s cut from a different cloth to many of the other students at Yamaku, the special school that is the setting for most of Katawa Shoujo’s narrative. Of course, the other students at Yamaku are also cut from a different cloth to the rest of society thanks to their various disabilities — including Hisao, who suffers from a debilitating heart condition — so for Lilly to set herself apart from such a group must make her pretty remarkable.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Dungeon Crawler

I was something of a latecomer to the RPG party; yes, I was one of those people who discovered RPGs with Final Fantasy VII.

Consequently, I didn’t really grow up with first-person perspective grid-based dungeon crawlers like The Bard’s Tale and the early Dungeons & Dragons games. To the teenage me, an “RPG” was a narrative-heavy game with predefined characters who had limited customisation, and in which battles and boss fights were but punctuation in the overall experience’s storybook rather than the central attraction.

This isn’t to say I didn’t play any first-person dungeon crawlers, of course; just not many of them. And, while I enjoyed some of them — the original Lands of Lore from Westwood Studios being probably the most standout example — I still found the “J” approach to RPGs to be the most compelling and interesting to my specific tastes.

Which is why I was so surprised to find myself enraptured with Kadokawa Games and Experience’s Demon Gaze, a title which recently made it to the West courtesy of localisation specialists NIS America.

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Eorzea Diaries: Quest for the Atma

MMORPGs are constantly changing games, both in terms of the content they offer to players and the community that plays them.

This is particularly apparent in Square Enix’s MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which has been ticking along nicely since its release (well, re-release) last August. Ever since producer Naoki Yoshida and his team threw open the doors of their fantasy land to all and sundry, they’ve been listening very carefully to feedback from the player base and continually tweaking and adjusting the game accordingly.

Some of these changes are welcome. Some less so. And some just need a bit of refinement. The Zodiac Weapons quest added in the most recent major content patch Through The Maelstrom is one very clear example of the latter.

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Visual Novels and Games: The Same, But Different

Every time I settle down to play — or even to write about — a visual novel, I’m reminded of how much I love the medium.

I use the word “medium” when referring to visual novels rather than “genre” because in many cases, it’s not entirely accurate to call them “games”, despite the fact that they tend to be festooned in the trappings of video games. Most tend to include some sort of metagame element, be it a simple checklist of endings, a CG gallery with a completion percentage or, in the case of more complex games like the recently localised Steins;Gate, even achievements. Most of them are presented in a distinctly game-like fashion, with console-style main menus that make pleasing noises when you click on them, colourful but clear text boxes with a little spinny thing in the corner that tells you when you’ve reached the end of the current paragraph, and all manner of other things.

And yet they’re not games. Not really. They’re interactive stories — some having no more than one or two meaningful choices over the course of the entire narrative, and some even eschewing the element of choice whatsoever — that make use of multimedia presentation to distinguish themselves from, you know, reading a book. The combination of static background images, static or lightly animated characters, music, voice acting, sound effects and text all combine to create a very distinctive effect — and one that can be a powerful poke to the imagination.

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I Lost My Heart to a Starship

Ell, or Starship Ezekiel to give her her full name — yes, she really is a starship — is the resident “cute” character amid the cast of Alcot’s comedy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President.

My Girlfriend is the President tells an eminently silly story about how the protagonist Junichiro’s childhood friend Yukino becomes, through a series of unfortunate and hilarious circumstances, the president of Japan. But, like most visual novels, it doesn’t just tell that story; it also tells three more, and by far my favorite of them all was the romance between Junichiro and Ell, so it’s that which we’re going to explore today, with a delve into the other routes coming later.

Even more so than the overflowing moe of Yukino, Ell-chan is the character that you’re supposed to want to protect, hug and snuggle up under a kotatsu with. She’s also the resident Robot Girl — after a fashion anyway, given her true nature. And, for many people who indulge in the peculiar pleasures of My Girlfriend is the President, she’s a fascinating character whom you can’t help but want to find out more about.

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We Need to Talk About Your Sister

The definition of a “classic” varies from person to person in any medium, but if ever there were a visual novel that deserves to be branded with this label, it would be Kana Little Sister from D.O.

It’s a title that most enthusiasts of the medium have at least heard of if not played, and one which has gained some notoriety even outside of the core fanbase — though not necessarily for the right reasons, it has to be said.

Kana Little Sister, you see, makes people uncomfortable. Rather than this aspect making it something to shy away from, however, it’s one of the more interesting things about it. Considering why it makes people uncomfortable and whether or not those reasons are justified make up a big part of any discussion surrounding this remarkable work — and that alone makes it a fascinating title to study.

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