This is Ludonarrative Scramble! Over the course of a week, I play a handful of (mostly) free, small, indie narrative games (visual novels, IF, text adventures, etc), and talk about them.
This week’s theme: Yaoijam+ entries.
Yaoijam is an annual visual novel game jam focusing on games that feature mlm or bxb relationships. I put out my first yaoi game, Hart Connection, in 2018 for this jam, and am working on its sequel, right now. This years’s Yaoijam+ was a way for developers to finish games they had already started. I took the opportunity to finish off the last route of Hart Connection. I thought it would be fun, then, to take a bit of a break and play some other yaoi games to clear my brain.
Dev: Puzzle Deluxe
Genre: slice of life; time management
My Playtime: ~20 min.
It’s a pretty standard time management game with pretty cute art that has one, very specific, interesting quality. So it’s been translated from Spanish into English. And you can tell. I think they actually tracked down a proper translator, but it’s not perfect English. A little rough around the edges. But not as bad as some poorly written games I’ve played that were written by English-speaking natives. More importantly the voice and tone feel like they’re completely intact. Whoever the English writer is, even if the grammar and structure is a little meh, they did a pretty good job of translating over the humor and the charm. I really like these characters.
The reason I stopped playing relatively quickly, though, is that the “end day” button just…disappeared, and I couldn’t physically keep playing without restarting. This sort of pairs with other pretty awkward interactables that only stand out so much because time management games are so programming heavy. Some QA focused on that specifically might have helped.
This game does have a bangin’ musak soundtrack, though, holy crap. I was jammin’ the whole time.
Genre: comedy, slice-of-life; visual novel
My Playtime: ~15min; through the demo
Another game with a bangin’ soundtrack? Cool?
So I’m already hooked on the premise. Like..reel me in like a fish, babes. The characters are adorable. The art is adorable. The writing is fairly solid. I’m into it. It’s the meta reference, that keeps…kinda…slightly killing it for me. The game’s almost too blunt. Looking at some of the other games from the developer (like Baked: Magic, which I’ve played previously), this semi-self aware approach is a solid part of their metier.
I’m here. I’m playing this game. I’m aware it’s a trope turnaround. I’m good. Yet it kept dropping direct references that remind me “oh, hey, remember that you’re playing a visual novel.” Meta textural story-telling is SO HARD to pull off well. You have to either go all-in, smash the fourth wall or use such a light touch that you don’t even really notice it the first time. I think they took a risk, and I’m not sure it’s paid off, yet. I’m willing to be surprised by the full release when I get around to buying it.
Dev: Strange Chemistry Atelier
Genre: psychological drama; visual novel w/ IF option,
Content: adult language and themes, bullying, rape
My Playtime: ~20 min; 1/? endings
CW: discussion of rape and torture in media
More sick-nasty beats, I just had to turn them down because they were quite loud.
I’m conflicted about this game. It has a rape scene in it, but they let you skip said scene (which I did). I have very complex, sometimes conflicting feelings about sexual/sexualized violence in media. There are things I otherwise LOVE that happen have said violence as a central plot element and I just kinda…skip…those scenes. Or they’re done in such a way that I can work bear with it. Mostly, I prefer my media not to have it and will take it on a case by case basis depending on the context. In this particular story, I don’t think it really added anything. It worked perfectly fine without having read the scene, so why bother writing it to begin with? Why did it have to be rape? That particular aspect feels so non-essential to the overall plot.
But then what if they had non-sexual torture, instead? Or psychological torture? Couldn’t that be equally traumatizing for a reader? What options would they have otherwise? Isn’t there room for upsetting stories and dark content?
All fabulous points, theoretical questioner. And I think that highlights where the game is actually lacking. The writing isn’t mature and refined enough to really carry the weight of something so horrible. There’s not enough tension or build up to prepare for how dark everything turns. It’s very scattered and jumps back and forth between kinda wistfully melancholic and seductively mysterious with maybe a slight hint of fun danger. Then it slams you with this turn-around, making the whole game just feel like a vehicle for this one narrative gotcha.
I actually almost didn’t keep playing after about five minutes, because I was kind of bored. It didn’t feel like the story was going anywhere. Interestingly, though, they included a “twine version” that I actually really like conceptually I almost wonder if this is something that we should all start including in some narration-heavy games. It made it really easy to read and process a little quicker.
So weird, double-faced dilemma. You should probably avoid your game being the sort I just want to flip through, but also providing me with an easier way to do so meant I actually played the whole thing. So, I continue my refrain of “I don’t know how to feel.”
Genre: slice-of-life, romance; visual novel
My Playtime ~30 min; 1/? endings
This game is adorable. Like. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. The art is cute, the writing is solid, the story is pretty simple, but lovely. Apart from a very few visual tweaks with sprite placement, there’s nothing that I would change. I loved it. You should all play it. I demand it.