LnScramble, Reviews

Ludonarrative Scramble: Literally Every Single YaoiJam 2020 Game

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 entry’s theme: Every. Single. Yaoi Jam 2020. Entry. Yes. You heard me. All 35 final entries. (Well, 34 others in addition to mine.) Some were good! Some were great! Some made me question every decision I ever made to bring me to this point! But, all in all, they were a fine collection of talented developers.

Explicit content note: Every game page features content warnings for itself. The None-Mild-Spicy rating is just to give a feel for each game.

Mild-partial nudity, slightly more explicit descriptions of kissing (beyond a smooch), mentions of sexual content

Spicy-full nudity, extended sex scenes, heavier sexual content overall

Hart of the Matter

Dev: Pixels and Pins Studio

Genre: fantasy

Explicit Content: Spicy (sexual content and language)

Best Feature: I made it!

This is my game! It tells the story of three mercenaries at the biannual mage conference trying to recruit a new artificer to the company. Turns out the way to do this is to humor said artificer by helping them with the scavenger hunt. Along the way, drama between two powerful rival archmages trickles out to all their followers, and the fun and games get a little bit too…personal.

The story is told from three different perspectives, so pick which tale to hear, play through a series of mini-games, try to recruit Mx Tien Kiplagat, and…fall in love? Maybe? Or at least get laid.

100 Degrees

Dev: magicfluffnugget

Genre: Slice-of-Life

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Kawaii

OKAY SO. One of my “things” is when an EVN developer feels like they have to give their game a Japanese skin. This one, though, references Japanese cultural stuff without leaning into that “anime-influenced” art, and that works better? Somehow? Overall it’s a terribly cute little game and I love Yuuma to death. I’m hoping they can polish it up for a really nice little full release.

2ha Gacha

Dev: toki

Genre: Gacha

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: 7dots

Yeah, you know what? This is more a review for 7dots than the game itself, because I never even thought about using Ren’py to make something as complex as 2048 as a mini-game, and now I’m OBESSSED with the idea of more programmatically complicated mini-games. Damnit. This little toy did put all these games together cutely, though.

Asterism: Time and Space

Dev: Crystal Game Works

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: Space Penguins

It’s just cute, you know? It helps a little bit to have played some of Asterism and be familiar with the boys, but at the same time it’s also just a nice little diversion. Just a cute little story with some smoocheroos.

Autumn Is His Favorite Season

Dev: Franciszek

Genre: Horror

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Mood

I want to strangle both of them, but in a good way? Like…Thomas needs to get punched. That’s just the long and short of it. I say this as a person who is very much like Thomas, so it comes from a place of love. I really like the “unseen protagonist” approach they’re going for. Let’s me sort of sit in his shoes. It also starts with a bang, so even through the writing’s a little eh, I want to see how to get there. It also has a real sick trick that reveals its framing device. Play it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Bara Beach Bear

Dev: sanctioned13

Genre: Ecchi, Furry

Explicit Content: Spicy

Best Feature: Fluid Dynamics

It is what is says it is on the package. I’m not even mad. Brings back fond memories of early Newgrounds flash porn games. God speed in your journeys with Blender.

Deep in the Forest

Dev: Ertal

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Scenery

It was alright? I think the semi-medieval setting lends itself to a much different aesthetic than usual, and the background art is LOVELY. I had hoped the combination of “apothecary” and “mini-games” would yield something really cool, but if they’re in the full game as they are in the demo, then I don’t see the point of having them. Overall, the demo is very VERY polished, but didn’t really leave me wanting more enough to come back to it. Which is kind of shame for how well-constructed it is.

Deep Inside

Dev: Banya

Genre: Horror

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Mystery

You know, I know that there’s a whole genre of RPGMaker horror games, but like…why don’t we expand on that more? Because I always enjoy playing them when I find them, they’re just…are all very similar? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Like…there’s a reason it’s a full genre unto itself. I want to come back to this one because I love the characters and the acting and the spookiness. I want to see what’s goin’ on

Doggy Style

Dev: Sinnia

Genre: Ecchi, Furry-Lite (Nekomimi? Hell, idk)

Explicit Content: Spicy

Best Feature: “Assert Dominance”

This is a spin-off game, and I’ve never played the original, but I already…like…understand the characters? It takes about 7 seconds to get everyone’s dynamic, and that’s some solid writing.

Fleeting JKT

Dev: xxmisscharichanxx

Genre: Ecchi, Sci-fi

Explicit Content: Mild

Best Feature: A strip-tease “…but don’t worry. It’s non-explicit.”

So, I’m learning, I guess, how many people use jams to make just unabashedly porny games with no real…like…purpose. And it’s weird? Because like…this is a SWIFT AS HELL gamelet as far as polish and construction. So it did the job of making me at least look at their other games. And this game is a spin-off for the as yet unreleased game. Like…I want to play THAT game. But how much will it be like THIS game? I’m…I just want a mech pilot visual novel. I will play that.

Franken Tutor

Dev: Foleso

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Worldbuilding

This game is just a little snackle, a little treat, a little why isn’t it longer, DAMNIT, FOLESO. What it does, though, even in that short amount of time is something a lot of fantasy fails at (myself included sometimes) and that’s to just…throw you in the deep end and let you figure it out. Wizard academy? Solid. Sword-boy? Golden. Monster-man? Let’s go! I can appreciate that.

Gay Zodiac

Dev: Pomegranate Club

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: Mild

Best Feature: Shonen, shinwa ni nare

This game is written partially in English by a non-English speaker, and that doesn’t even matter because it’s like…it lives in my brain. These are my words on the page written by someone else. I…I love this. The art. The feeling. I need to come back when I can focus on working through it a little better. I’m so amused, holy hell. I may just need to read it in Spanish….

Hard 2 Swallow

Dev: symone.onesym

Genre: Sci-fi?

Explicit Content: Spicy

Best Feature: Dat Innuendo

Have you ever started a game, saw what its premise was and went ah, yes, this is ALREADY running thin? But you also don’t care because you’re interested in seeing where they take it? That’s this guy. If the full game ends up playing like the promised mechanic, it could actually be REALLY interesting. But the game has a bug that broke it when I played, and I didn’t care to go back and try to subvert it. So…there’s that…

Heart is Muscle

Dev: Heiden Rosen

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

This game’s not out, yet, but because it’s Heiden it’s like…it’s gonna be good. Luv u.

I’m a SIDE CAHRACTER in a BL Story

Dev: WitPOP

Genre: Comedy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Meta

It can be rough coming in with high expectations for a game BUT. This was the first full game that was the right amount of length and desire to play all of it. It’s also VERY difficult because my friend Kevin plays Peter and that always makes games more fun, but less immersive. It’s a curse. But he also sounded great. They all did! And this game? chef’s kiss This is my exact favorite type of game to play. Short, sweet, got me in stitches.

La Vie en Rose

Dev: Abyss Team

Genre: Slice-of-Life

Explicit Content: Mild

Best Feature: The En Media Res

This game and the page description throw a bunch of warnings at you, so I thought there was something more sinister under the soft art…but…no! Unless something happens in the second hour of the demo…or maybe I just need to be putting more warnings on my own stuff, damn. It’s a very saccharine story (which can be fun), and it very interestingly starts sort of in the middle of the story. I almost wish they did more with the “work the story backward” element, because it was interesting! It’s a cute game! I like the characters. They’re fun. Something bad is going to happen to them, I know it.

Lilian – the beginning of the end –

Dev: xiri

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Aesthetique

This game is very soft in a very…universal way. The writing, the art, the presentation. The end is a little odd, but it sort of…flows…like a river…it’s…soothing. It’s a game that knows what it is, even if it doesn’t visually look like what one would come to expect. It reminds me a lot of Mirrormask, and I applaud them for trying something so experimental.

Make It Last: While You Can

Dev: Starwberry Dagger Studio

Genre: Slice-of-Life

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Models

OOOOOHHHHH. This one hid from me. It randomly showed up after the others, so I guess they had their page off? In any case….Great job! I have to admit I didn’t have quite time to finish, but this is such good work? I love the use of bespoke animated 3D models in this. REALLY livens it up. And I love a good domestic relationship. Too often all our games focus on the “beginning” of the romance that we forget that “the middle” can be just as fraught and full of potential for story. I love it.

Moonlight, Memory and Ashes

Dev: Burned Out GamesCrystal Game Works

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Lack of Answers

What a wonderfully odd little game and another that’s just a tease for something else. I like the art as art, but it’s kind of weird from an overall layout perspective. Also, I…I need more? WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE’S RORY? I stg.

Onefold Crush

Dev: TheJayDuck

Genre: Slice-of-Life

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Intention

This seems like it was more a prototype for a bigger system, but you know what? They did a much better job of it than some people I know who’ve done the same thing. Well done! Applause! Ganbatte!

Ouija Sleepover

Dev: Yu Topia

Genre: Horror

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Tension

I need to come back to this one because I got stumped right at the wrong possible moment, and I didn’t want to start over right away but hot diggity! I’ve only played a handful of RPGMaker horror games in my day, but this one! This one I was IN. I’m gonna play it again, like….totally. Note: the next day I came back and made generous use of the walkthrough. It’s got some snags, but like…I love it, still?

Our Secret Garden

Dev: Yazorius

Genre: Drama

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Industriousness

Real talk: I couldn’t actually play this game for very long. It set off my motion sickness. But it introduced me to an engine I was not familiar with and has intrigued me. I can really appreciate trying to push yourself to do something different…even if I couldn’t figure out how to open the FREAKING DOOR.

Second Chances

Dev: NaMaeli

Genre: Omegaverse

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: Making My Dreams Come True

HOLY FUCK YES IT’S AN OMEGAVERSE VISUAL NOVEL. That’s it…that’s the review. I have no shame. I like omegaverse. I wanted an omegaverse game. I think you can probably appreciate this one without being familiar with the setting, though which is a definite plus. It’s a really solid kind of “newcomers” game. If they get some bespoke backgrounds, they’ll have something really really cute.

Silver Blue

Dev: Bun Bo Soup

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Polish

So they initially pulled the downloads for this, so I wasn’t able to play. Then lo and behold, they bring them back. I don’t know how much of this was done for the jam and how much was cleaned up after. This is one of those games that almost makes me wish I DIDN’T play as many visual novels as I do with the regularity that I do. Because it’s GORGEOUS, and one of the most polished demos in the whole jam. But it’s just kind of a bishie parade. Which is SOLID, don’t get me wrong. Like, bishie parades are legit. I think I’d just like a little “something” I can’t quite place before I, personally, would settle for the 150k words the full game is promising. But, again, it’s a BEAUTIFUL game.

Snake Charmer

Dev: Overtired_FOX

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Storytelling

The English is a little wonky (I believe it’s their second language, which is already one more language than I can speak well, so no judgement), but the overall way the story is told is really fun! Not just in the language, but the use of art and music. This is a REALLY cute little game, and I think it abides by the “jam spirit” really well. Something short and compact that stands on its own.

Space Explorer Iyo!!

Dev: OHISASHI

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: Atom’s Croptop

I usually like stories that just sort of give you the thing and say go crazy, but this one might have gone a little too skint in the exposition. It’s a bit of a whirlwind. But it SLAMS you with so many CGs that it’s really easy to appreciate it for that. And it’s just a fun little smoochin’ story.

Splash! Tournament of Love

Dev: samclee

Genre: Comedy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: HIGH STAKES FLIRTING ACTION

This was so cute the hell! AH! I love little short, highly polished things like this. Like, I for sure want to come back and play through the other little ways for it to end. And using Godot was…a choice….it worked!

Summer at Marisol Bay

Dev: LegendEx Games

Genre: Slice-of-Life

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Cast

I literally can’t form an unbiased opinion of anything Anna does 1.) because she’s my friend and 2.) the game has my friends as voice actors. However! This was a great team to pull together. The characters are fun. I LOVE THEM, and I must protect Kyro at all costs. Takes a liiiiitttttllle bit to get going, but I also know that it’s a slow burn, so I’ll be back to get into it in full, later.

The Ocean at Night

Dev: Merpus

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: Wetness is the Essence of Beauty

This is a very soft and slow game, but the pacing is great with the light actiony bits! It does immediately raise the answer to “why aren’t there more merman games.” And that is…how do you write a story around a bathtub? Oop. I care VERY deeply about Kova as a character, and I only want him to be happy.

The Seer

Dev: Fruci

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: Mild

Best Feature: The Terms of Endearment

I love this game? It lacks refinement, but the cinematics of the art, the story beats, and the characters are just?…so well done? I really hope they come back to it, finish it, and maybe find another artist and a text editor to help them take this very lovely thing they’ve already started and help them polish it and finish it. It’s got hella good stuff in there.

The Serpent Prince

Dev: artsdahl

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Storyboarding

For a first solo game, damn! DAMN! For a 100th solo game DAMN. I really hope they keep the artstyle (even if they clean it up and add expressions) because I really love it, and it’s wonderfully unique. And the very cinematic approach to the art is just great. Just really really great. I’m REALLY stoked on a full game, but I hope they can get their engine to behave a little better.

Way To A Vampire’s Heart

Dev: Akane Hayashi

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Collarbones

There are a couple of games I’ve played recently that do this text dump exposition at the start, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. They’re always just a bit too long, and they answer questions I haven’t always been presented, yet. This is one of those where I think they would have just benefited from leaving it off because the game itself covers it. And I think it would heighten the mystery of “learning the world.” That’s obviously just my opinion. Fun demo! Gave a good taste! I want to see what happens next.

Unbirthed By My Beefy Trans Tiger Boyfriend

Dev: TastyAce

Genre: Ecchi, Furry

Explicit Content: Spicy

Best Feature: Press X to Top

Was it my personal thing? Hell no. But I can appreciate objectively solid writing with a distinct voice. Indie erotic writers are often exceptional writers just, in general, and this falls into that category. They are NOT afraid to use the proper names for genitalia and still make it not feel weird or clinical. And, generally, they’re WAY better at forming ideas around things like consent, paraphilia’s, and aftercare. Mainstream Romance could learn a thing or two.

Unearth Your Gays

Dev: ParrotWatcher

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: Mild

Best Feature: Dem Boys

I kind of wish it got to the point a little bit faster, but alright! Okay! This feels like it would be a fun game to stream with friends. I really like the aesthetic character design, but I think it could benefit from sort of clipping up the pace a little. I was too busy waiting for the shoe to drop to really, like…enjoy my conversations with them. Maybe something where you don’t HAVE to talk to every single boy. I don’t know.

UNISTAR

Dev: OHISASHI

Genre: Fantasy

Explicit Content: None

Best Feature: The Outfits

This dev submitted two games to Yaoi Jam and this ended up being the second one I played. It’s not a bad start to a game. This dev has a really REALLY great sense of design and their art is slick, but they could use some work in the story-telling and the narrative design. Everything hits really fast, and it’s hard to get a real grip on what’s happening before it’s moved on to the next thing. With such a large cast, I think they’d benefit from taking a little extra time. It’s okay to allow a little more breathing room.

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