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Rant: Moving out...

After some thought, I have decided to start my moving out process from LJ on to a different site.

To my readers (all three of you), thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings, and I hope to see you on the other side.

-Moroboshi Yuumei

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The New Year's Issue

Long time no see.

I would like to wish everyone out there a happy New Year, and hope 2013 brings good things to all.

As the Mayan Calendar ran out of room and we had no moon/asteroid/Lavos hit our planet to bring all existence to an end, I decided to take some time to write in the seemingly-abandoned journal.

2012: A Year in Eroge

While my reviews add up to a total of three for the whole of 2012. I have played other games during the year that simply have not been worthy of a review for several reasons.

Last time I wrote anything, I mentioned Legend Seven ~Snow White and the Seven Heroes~, which I eventually lost interest in due to some issues I had with the plot structure, despite understanding why it was written the way it was. I won't go into specifics, but meh...

I'll say the highlight of the year was definitely Astraythem, while disappointment of the year goes to Akiiro Renka. I wish I had more to say but there's not much when the other stuff I've seen is along the lines of Ore-sama no RagnaROCK and Kyounyuu Fantasy 2.

2013: What's Ahead

After much deliberation and some mulling over it, I decided to cave and get a copy of GJ's latest release, Hyakki Yakou. Unlike some of the more recent titles (stuff designed around the BOIN concept), Hyakki Yakou once again attempts to play on some character depth while using a setting that seems to be GJ's version of the Russo-Japanese War (with some geographical morphing and changing of countries' names). Suffice to say, the fact that they've gone the way of mecha battles + character interactions made me think of Sakura Taisen and Raimuiro Senkitan (without the singing).

At this point, I'm at a crossroads. I've seen several reviewers gather at specific blog sites, and I'm wondering whether I should do the same or stay here on LJ. Additionally, I'm not sure I can dedicate time to writing reviews for the time being. Turns out that my hopes of more time were dashed post-Astraythem. We'll see how this all turns out, though.

Non-sequitur: Last year I did a proxy of my ideal harem. This year I think I'll write about Imouto characters that I liked.

Name: Tohno Akiha
Game: Tsukihime

While an acquired taste, Akiha definitely grew on me as I continued her route. The after-stories unlocked by clearing Kagetsu Touya are what really made me appreciate her while allowing me to see beyond the super tsundere she is portrayed as in Tsukihime.

Admittedly, Akiha is a combination of the rich girl (ojousama) and tsundere archetypes built on the foundation of a younger sister/imouto character. She knows what she wants and how she expects things to be done, and leaves little to no room for argument once she's made a decision (further backed by the fact she's the head of the household). At the same time, she doesn't exactly push the envelope to the extent where she becomes annoyingly commandeering.

What probably helps her stand out is that she's the only character in Tsukihime that has a bad ending and a true ending. In a way, it plays into the "tragic" fate of the Tohno bloodline, as if the game were to tell you that Akiha's story does not have a happy ending regardless of what you do.

You also have to love how most characters put Akiha in her own category, most notably Arcueid and Satsuki ("Let the vampires, agents of the church, and even Tohno-kun's sister try to defeat me!").

Name: Kanzaki Miyu
Game: Amatsu Misora Ni!

Miyu I found largely amusing because of the fact that there's a dual nature to the way she deals with Amamiso's protagonist. She often does her best to keep things platonic, but also tries to subtly seduce our protagonist or provoke some reaction from him. While she acts as if she does this (especially the former) unknowingly, her connection to snakes due to being a hebimiko suggests otherwise.

Prime example of this would be early in her route, where Miyu gives Takahisa a copy of a new poster released by the company sponsoring Miyu's idol career. Our protagonist declines on accepting it because even he can tell it's a provocative poster meant to be sold to fanboys. Miyu treats it more like an innocent picture and gets upset at his refusal. She even goes to the extreme of accusing him of not wanting to keep a picture of his own sister. Kanna eventually steps in and comments that Miyu's poster does have a "check out this cleavage!" vibe going.

Name: Roze Argent
Game: Pygmalion -The Dark Romance-

Like the rest of the Pygmalion cast, Roze earns more symphathy from me than anything else.

To start, Roze is the younger sister of Pygamlion's protagonist (Johaan Argent). She is refered to as the apple in the eye of their parents, while Johaan was hated by his parents to the point he was kicked out of the house while he was still a teenager.

As eventually revealed, Roze actually died several years ago after she fell into a river and drowned. In his grief, a young Johaan called out that he would give anything to bring Roze back. This summoned the demon Bell, who offered to revive Rose in exchange for something. As Johaan was too young to have anything tangible in value, he offered his "happiness" in exchange for Roze's life. While Roze was brought back, Johaan would be doomed to never have good experiences for the rest of his days.

Skipping to the present, Roze decides to visit Johaan to see how he is doing (also in light of his engagement to Julietta). After Julietta's death, Roze tries to keep her brother's feet on the ground, understanding the amount of pain he's gone through most of his life. Still, she is not aware of what happened to her all those years ago, and contributes her health and tendency to come out of things unscathed to dumb luck.

Roze's fate varies depending on how the player goes through the game. The doll, if allowed to develop with low mental health will kill Roze in one such ending.

Another possible outcome is that she'll be sent to a dinner party on a ship on behalf of her employer, only for the ship to explode. Johaan and the doll (provided she has high mental health) agree to give up their own lives and "flesh" to bring Roze back a second time. As Roze heads back home after the death of Johaan, Bell sits hext to her on the train and tries to strike a deal with her as we fade to black.

Conversely, she can just simply go home convinced there's nothing she can do for Johaan, which opens up two additional routes.

Name: Shindou Mei
Game: Akibakei Kanojo

My favorite imouto character from the GJ games.

Mei is interesting in that she's infatuated with Shindou Nikita (Akibakei's protagonist) but is afraid to seriously develop the relationship.

It is implied that Nikita is pretty much the only person she's developed any sort of bond to, as she was quiet and an introvert when she was first adopted into the Shindou household. As is common in imouto characters, she is a little on the possessive side, and tries her best to compete with the more "mature" women in the cast.

Something to note is that while Nikita was more than willing to continue his relationship with her, it is Mei who decides that she has some growing up to do before she can permanently be with the protagonist. To this end, she moves out and asks him to wait for her. Of course, as her reason for doing this is to become a "proper woman", she asks the protagonist to become a "proper man" and stop being an otaku/akibakei.

As an interesting aside, Mei was used as the true heroine in the Akibakei Kanojo (H) anime. Considering she has more depth than Ren and Hatoko, the writers chose wisely.

Name: Touma Kotomi
Game: Shiritsu Akihabara Gakuen

Kotomi is what I consider a strange twist to several of the tropes that surround imouto characters. She plays on the stereotypes but the circumstances of her route succeed in making her actions tug at the player's heartstrings.

To start, she constantly makes passess at Souichirou and often reminds him that she's adopted. Because the protagonist is her "target", she goes to great lengths to get him to notice her. To Kotomi's dismay, Souichirou at first finds her advances a little creepy.

After the relationship between them is sort of started, Souichirou gets a call from his parents, and while she begs him not to ask them about it he asks his father why they never told him Kotomi was adopted. To his surprise, dad asks why he'd think that, as Kotomi is their real daughter.

There's a confrontation of sorts, with Kotomi confessing that she lied to the protagonist because she really was in love with him. She knew that if she was related by blood to Souichirou, she would never be able to be with him. This is the point I found interesting, as the conflict created by Kotomi's lie is what raises some interesting questions in our protagonist's head, but also allows the heroine to step outside of her normal devil-may-care attitude to reveal a girl that is weighed down by a love that cannot be.

Of course, Frontwing's writers pulled a Deus Ex when the God of Otakuschool principal later reveals that Souichirou is actually his son, thus making his relationship with Kotomi quite possible. The conflict was fun while it lasted, though.


New Year's Video

While most welcomed the end of the Mayan Calendar with stuff like that website that was based around Majora's Mask, I decided to watch the playthrough for a shoot'em up game that takes inspiration from the book of revelations. =P



That's it for today. Happy new year to all!

-Moroboshi Yuumei

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Rant: The oath sworn through Quickies

Damn, the ides of July are upon us. I hate summer, by the way.

Anyway, that was a good way to get back into things. I've been digging around for the next best thing since sliced bread, but have come up short due to what games have crossed paths with me. I am a bit bothered that I've strayed from my To Do list and picked up random things, but considering Astraythem pretty much revitalized my desire to play and review games, I think it'll balance out in the end.

Legend Seven: This one dragged me in more because of the subtitle to the game than anything else. Said subtitle being "Snow White and the Seven Heroes".

This is the first impression game for the studio NONSUGAR, with an obvious backdrop to the story Snow White...with some twists. The protagonist is Wakanae Yuu, a semi-hetare boy who starts out with a dream where he kills everyone in cold blood. He awakens to what he believes to be ten days prior to his supposed massacre and finds a mysterious girl in his class (that he doesn't remember ever meeting) as well as a huge tree that materialized in the outskirts of town.

It is eventually revealed that the girl is a princess, and her followers are heroes that have arrived to protect the world from creatures from a mirror world bent on destroying all life.

Despite the clever tie-ins to the story of Snow White and the seemingly complex setting, so far the game feels overly...wordy. Not so much in description and monologue, but more in dialogue. Characters stating and restating the same thing just feels odd. Aside from that, the pacing seems to better fit an anime TV series than an eroge. Then come the talking animals and giant robot...

Ore-sama no RagnaROCK: In another one of those bouts where I lost to my own curiosity, I decided to give this game by Akabe Soft a try. I'm not much of a buff for Norse mythology, but I did find the references well thought-out. The player takes the role of Njord, a demon lord who is forced to live in a city where he has to bear the singing and overly intrusive personalities of the Aesir (who make their living in the modern world as idol singers) while putting up with his sister Nerthus. After growing tired of living in a run-down apartment, he decides to start his own idol troupe to "conquer" the land and reclaim what he sees as his rightful throne.

The game is designed as a strategy-esque game reminiscent of Ogre Battle for the SNES: you send units to a city, defeat the enemy and thus conquer/liberate that city for your faction. Since this is an eroge, the difficulty curve is not set to very high (unlike games like Sengoku Lance and Daibanchou), and the strain on resources like money and personnel is nearly non-existent.

The more notable aspect of the game is obviously the characters, with many references to Norse myths as well as important events like the Vanir-Aesir war. Of course, some liberties were taken, to the point 90% of the pantheon of Norse gods was turned female, but oh well.

Final Fantasy XIV: Contrary to popular belief, I still partake in things outside of eroge. I haven't been playing much as of late, as my binge of Akiiro Renka => Astraythem => Legend Seven + Ore-sama + work + life have suddenly taken up all of my time. Considering that I'm waiting for 2.0 to come out and see how that affects the game, it's probably best I continue to bide my time.

Featured Character


Name: Nagi Kuurin - Present, 1999, 1996(?)
Game: Astraythem
Designed by: Ginta
Voiced by: Kurata Mariya

Kuurin is introduced as the adopted daughter of the protagonist's benefactor in 1999, Nagi Kyouichirou.

To start, Kuurin is seen as a very intimidating girl at school, though this side of her seems to apply only to males in general. Most boys know to stay from Kuurin, and her "tools" (including pepper spray and a stun gun) make it seem like a very wise decision.

When dealing with girls, Kuurin takes on the air of an onee-sama character from a yuri novel, and as Tsukumo eventually discovers, has several girls that pine for her. She confesses that she also likes Natsuki "that way", but realizes that she can't really compete with the mystery boy her best friend has been waiting for over the past three years. She compares her view of Natsuki to the way a fan "loves" an idol singer or famous actor/actress.

Kuurin doesn't take well to Tsukumo at first, treating him with the same disdain that she treats all other males. She accepts his presence at the request of her father, and is kept in the dark as far as to why Tsukumo was allowed to stay in her home; in fact, she's skeptical of his cover story but does little to uncover the truth. She eventually starts taking jabs at our protagonist and seems to enjoy the fraternal relationship set up for them, as it gives her openings to embarrass and argue with Tsukumo.

What perhaps bothers Kuurin most is that she doesn't find Tsukumo instantly repulsing like she does other men. Even Kyouichirou notices that her reactions to him are very different, and ponders over the possibility of Kuurin having feelings for our protagonist (which she hotly denies).

The details on Kuurin's past are somewhat sketchy, as Kyouichirou mentions that he met her while both were interned in a field hospital after the big earthquake of 1996. He adopted her after seeing that no one had come to pick her up, giving her a new name and new life to go with it. He also mentions that she showed clear signs of abuse, but doesn't go into detail. The fact that Kuurin is prone to having nightmares where she asks for "the hurting to stop" clearly supports this. The nightmares themselves seem to be more subconscious than anything else, as she doesn't remember anything before the 1996 earthquake.

Chapter 3 hints that Kuurin may be related to our protagonist. A younger version of her is seen around near the beginning of the chapter, holding a familiar-looking baby. Tsukumo comments that she holds the baby as if it were her son, but "she looks too young to be the baby's mother". This version of Kuurin is last seen abandoning the baby at the pier, near the location of the Tanabata Festival. The fact that one of Kuurin's "girlfriends" and Natsuki comment that there is a slight resemblance between Kuurin and Tsukumo indirectly corroborates this.

Interestingly, Kuurin's ending has her try to convince Tsukumo to stay in 1999 to fulfill his promise of protecting Natsuki. At the same time, she decides to "try" to fall in love with him. Much to our protagonist's dismay, he ends up trapped in a three-way relationship with Natsuki and Kuurin tugging at him from both sides.

That's it for today.

-Moroboshi Yuumei

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Due to the shockingly vast sea of mediocre eroge, I at times find myself at a loss over what filters should be used when it comes to looking at games. For a while, I figured the most complex-looking stories had the most potential and was proven wrong by some titles (including the horrible waste of time known as The God of Death). This is why I eventually decided to just try whatever draws my attention and let my views on gaming sort where each game falls on my scale of recommendations.

The allure of complex concepts and premises can easily cloud one's judgment, leading to mediocre experiences and unrewarding wastes of time. Likewise, the simplicity of concepts and certain premises fools people into thinking there might not be much to a particular game. Luckily for me, we have games like today's review to prove that even simple concepts can bring about incredible story-telling and development potential if created by the right set of hands. Even something as cliche as the story of a boy falling in love with his (step)sister can be turned into something emotionally-involved and well written, and Chuable Software's Astraythem easily drives this point home.

Game: Astraythem

Astraythem was released on June 29th, 2012 by the studio Chuable Software. The game features artwork by Ginta with a scenario by Kusakabe Yoshio, OPTO, Kamishiro Izumi, Utaya, Natake, and Wajin. The game was unveiled near the beginning of the year, and was released under the genre "Onee-san One-path Romance Adventure". The title seems to be an Engrish version of the word "Asterism", which is an astronomy term for a series of stars that form a recognized pattern but may or may not not be part of a constellation.

The player takes the role of Sakurazuka Tsukumo, a 5th year student at the Naobi Academy. For as long as he can remember, our protagonist has given himself the task of becoming strong in order to protect and take care of his older sister, Natsuki. This is a result of seeing Natsuki get hurt while saving him from drowning when he was a child. One could say that it has given him a drive to better himself physically. The complicated part of his self-imposed duty is that he also harbors feelings for Natsuki; feelings that up until six months ago he could hide without issue.

When Tsukumo's parents move out in order to take care of his grandparents in another city, they reveal to our protagonist that he is actually adopted and was taken into the Sakurazuka household when he was little. Unknowingly, this sparks the feelings he has for Natsuki to full force, understanding the prospect of being able to be with her given that they're not blood-related.

When Natsuki suddenly dies, our protagonist is faced with the idea of living life without his beloved older sister until he has a chance encounter with a man named Nagi Kyouichirou. This man offers our protagonist the opportunity to "bring her back" by sending him through time to prevent the chain of events that would lead to Natsuki's death. As such, the story focuses on Tsukumo's journey through three time periods as he tries to put the pieces of the story together while interacting with his sister in three different forms, with only the hope of being able to save Natsuki guiding him.

The Players - Present
Sakurazuka Tsukumo C.V.: Nagakura Jinpachi

Tsukumo is our protagonist. Despite his somewhat intimidating demeanor, he's actually very ordinary in his way of doing things. Still, most of his fellow students tend to avoid him, with very few being able to see that he really doesn't mean any harm to others. This is not to say he's a pushover, as Tsukumo will get into fights on occasion, and draws the attention of several ruffians as the story begins. As far as he is concerned, he tries to avoid fighting unless it's in self-defense or to protect someone.

The main driving force behind our protagonist is his great desire to protect Natsuki and to always be there for her. Consequently, he has trouble dealing with his infatuation with her, and wishes he could be be more open about his feelings for her at the beginning of the story. It is because of this love for her that he is willing to do anything to save her, going as far as putting his life on the line to alter history.

Aside from his infatuation with Natsuki, Tsukumo seems to gravitate towards action-oriented things. He currently follows a training routine every day and is a kung fu movie otaku. He seems to be particularly fond of the Bruce Lee movie Enter The Dragon.

Spoiler: As made clear later in the story, the trip to 1999 was not the only trip through time made by our protagonist. He is also the boy that Natsuki promised to wait for back in 1996, though he made that trip for very different reasons.
Sakurazuka Natsuki C.V.: Koharubara Eika

Tsukumo's older sister.

Natsuki is a somewhat-doting young woman that very much loves her brother. Because of her lighthearted personality, she tends to pick on and poke fun at our protagonist from time to time. She is also one of the few people that can perfectly read him.

Despite being Tsukumo's step-sister, Natsuki starts out thinking of our protagonist as her brother, and worries that he may not be able to find happiness because she is "in the way". Her attempts to encourage Tsukumo to find a girlfriend are often met with resistance, which as she later discovers, stem from the way he feels about her.

For her part, Natsuki's heart is set on a boy she met many years ago. A boy that suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing but a bandana and a promise to return to her. As such, she has been waiting for this boy to return to her throughout the years. Incidentally, Tsukumo's resemblance to the boy in her memories is a source of confusion at first, but paves the way for her realization that she actually loves our protagonist as a man instead of a brother.

Natsuki contracted a fatal illness back in 1999, as a result of her falling into a polluted river while saving her younger brother. The disease has been festering inside her body for more than a decade, and finally takes its toll not long after Natsuki and Tsukumo get together.
Kagami Mimi C.V.: Suzuta Miyako

Sub-heroine.

Mimi is an underclassman that meets our protagonist while in search of her lost cat, Sugar (which turns out to be short for Schroedinger). While in search of the cat, she wanders into a warehouse that turns out to be the hideout of a gang. When the gang members try to rape her, Tsukumo fights them to protect her.

With the help of Tsukumo's best friend and his girlfriend, Mimi manages to officially introduce herself to our protagonist and confesses that she likes him. While she tries to not trouble him, Tsukumo eventually decides to try dating her after some prodding from Natsuki.

Sadly, Mimi quickly picks up on the fact that Tsukumo only has eyes for Natsuki, which causes the relationship to fall apart.

On a side note, Mimi is the daughter of Kagami Toshimichi, a college professor that has written on the theory of time travel.

The Players - 1999
Sakurazuka Natsuki C.V.: Koharubara Eika

A 5th year student at the Naobi Academy. Natsuki is a lively girl with a very friendly disposition. While she has no trouble getting along with others, everyone at school knows that trying to date her is close to impossible because of the promise she made to wait for a certain boy three years ago.

Upon seeing Tsukumo, she declares that our protagonist is the very boy she has been waiting for, and becomes determined to be with him now that he has "returned as promised". As part of Tsukumo's cover story in 1999 was that he has amnesia, she decides to do all she can to help him remember her and love her as he did three years ago.

Apart from her love for Tsukumo, Natsuki seems to be very interested in astronomy and science fiction. Her favorite book is The Door into Summer.

When Tsukumo convinces her that he is not the boy from her memories, Natsuki still decides that she likes the protagonist and wants to be with him. This ends up altering history somewhat (including an encounter with a much younger version of himself), but eventually allows our protagonist to save Natsuki from the accident that would lead to her contracting a fatal illness.
Nagi Kuurin C.V.: Kurata Mariya

Sub-heroine. Kuurin is the adopted daughter of the businessman known as Nagi Kyouichirou.

Aside from being overly intimidating to everyone that crosses her path, Kuurin is respectful only to her father, and does all she can to abide by his wishes. That being said, she has an extreme distaste for men, as she thinks of them as hopelessly savage creatures. As such, her tastes seem to lean in the other direction, and has something of a harem of girls that answer to her beck and call.

Her quirks aside, Kuurin is also Natsuki's best friend, and has looked out for her prior to Tsukumo's arrival in 1999. At the behest of her father, she plays along with the cover story made for our protagonist, and takes the role of his younger step-sister.

While she is quick to put Tsukumo in his place, Kuurin also recognizes that his presence makes Natsuki happy, and eventually charges Tsukumo with the task of being there for her best friend.

Spoiler: Kyouichirou reveals that he met Kuurin in 1996 at a field hospital set up after a major earthquake hit the city he was living in. Kuurin had more than just injuries obtained from debris, and showed clear signs of being abused. As she suffered from amnesia and no one came to look for her, he chose to adopt her and give her a better life. The scars of the past haven't subsided, and Kuurin is prone to having nightmares.
Nagi Kyouichirou C.V.: Kamanberu Juuendou

A self-proclaimed "simple businessman" and Tsukumo's benefactor in 1999.

In the present, Kyouichirou offers Tsukumo the opportunity to go back in time and save Natsuki from her fate by using his time machine to send him back to 1999. There, a younger Nagi Kyouichirou offers to house our protagonist, giving him the identity "Nagi Tsukumo" with a cover story of our protagonist being Kyouichirou's son that was studying abroad but had to return "home" after sustaining an injury that led to him getting amnesia.

Despite his claims of being a businessman, Kyouichirou prefers to be called hakase (Doctor), and seems to know much more than he lets on, not only with regard to the events that surround Natsuki's fate, but our protagonist as well. He also mentions that he owes his life to the mystery boy that Natsuki is waiting for, as said boy saved his life back in 1996.

The Players - 1996

Sakurazuka Natsuki C.V.: Koharubara Eika

A young girl that is part of the committee preparing for her city's Tanabata Festival.

Natsuki is somewhat willful and in a hurry to be seen as an adult. She develops a very strong interest in an older boy she encounters in town. While she doesn't really understand why, she feels very much at ease around him, and begins to worry about him after realizing that he's actually very ill.

Past a certain point, Natsuki realizes that she likes the older boy and refuses to be separated from him in the days leading to a major earthquake. She ends up getting separated from him, but is given the boy's bandana, with a promise that she'll return it to him when they meet again.
Kagami Nene C.V.: Arisugawa Miyabi

The wife of the college professor Kagami Toshimichi. While her husband is away due to work, Nene has been living a relaxed life at home, anxiously waiting for the moment she gives birth.

As revealed by Toshimichi, Nene lost her family when she was still in middle school, and as such he was focused on making her happy and giving her the family she always wanted. It is her death that motivates the doctor to drop everything and devote himself to research on time travel, with the hopes of saving her, no matter the cost.
Kagami Toshimichi C.V.: Kamanberu Juuendou

In the present, Toshimichi is a scientist that most people in town try to stay way from. A man entirely burried in his research to create a time machine. The reason behind this is that he wants to prevent the death of his wife, who perished during a major earthquake that ocurred in 1996.

In order to test the machine, he sends his timeline's version of Tsukumo to 1999 to save his older sister (which plays out differently because Tsukumo is on his own instead of having the help of Nagi Kyouichirou in 1999). Upon Tsukumo's return, Toshimichi reveals that history did change, but had an unintended consequence: a temporal paradox that now has two versions of our protagonist. One that made the trip through time to save Natsuki, and one that grew up as Natsuki's younger brother.

With the knowledge that the machine works, Toshimichi sets himself to travel back in time to 1996. He is stopped by Tsukumo, who volunteers make the trip to that time period to protect the doctor's wife (as he realizes that the current timeline has no place for him, as well as the fact that he in turn contracted the illness that killed Natsuki in the original timeline).

An alternate version of Toshimichi travels back in time to 1996, and meets with our protagonist to not only focus on saving Kagami Nene, but also anyone who will believe their claims that a major earthquake will strike in the days leading to the local Tanabata Festival. As a cover for himself and Tsukumo, he takes on the name Nagi Kyouichirou and gives the protagonist the name Nagi Tsukumo.

Plot Structure

The game follows daily progression and is split into chapters that are unlocked in order, with an epilogue at the very end to wrap things up. Chapter 1 focuses entirely on the present, building on Tsukumo's attraction to Natsuki while she slowly realizes that she has feelings for the protagonist as well. Chapter 2 is where the time travel begins, as Tsukumo is sent to the year 1999 to prevent an injury that turns out to be life-threatening to his older sister. Chapter 3 explores the concept of parallel worlds by presenting us a different version of Tsukumo, who had a very different journey while in 1999 and ends up travelling to the year 1996 to protect his benefactor's wife and unborn child.

Given that this is a "one-path" adventure, there are almost no dialogue choices aside from the choices that trigger the Mimi and Kuurin endings. Part of me gets the feeling that if Chuable Soft had the chance, they might have taken the "multiple endings" (a la Chrono Trigger) approach to resolving the story. The way the story is structured and all the events from the multiple timelines very much imply it is possible.

On a concept level, the game borrows a good amount from what happens to be Natsuki's favorite book, Robert A. Heinlein's The Door into Summer. This includes the use of time travel as well as the protagonist (in this case inadvertently) remaking himself. The way Nagi Kyouichirou made his fortune is also something of a throwback to the ending of the book.

While Heinlein's book largely inspired Astraythem, the game also makes use of slightly more modern outlooks on time travel, like the inclusion of parallel worlds, multiple timelines and temporal loops.

Overall, the game plays out like a novel or book rather than as the average eroge. The only real exceptions are Mimi and Kuurin's endings, which play out similarly to those of a normal eroge.

Artwork

Character designs are credited to Ginta. I've never played a game with artwork by this artist, but I am impressed with the designs and use of colors. The only thing I find odd is that he/she seems to have a fascination for fancy hair and eye colors, or perhaps there may be a meaning behind them that I am not picking up on. Blue and gold seem to be recurring eye colors. This is not to say I dislike the artwork, because I did find it pleasing to the eye.

Sound & Video

Astraythem is fully-voiced. The only real big name would be Suzuta Miyako, who is also known for doing the voice of Akizuki Ritsuko in the Idolm@ster games. Aside from that, the only other name I recognize is Kurata Mariya, who played Flare/Ayanoujo Reiko in Queen Bonjourno. Kamanberu Juuendou sounds awfully familiar, though I can't find any entries for him aside from two other games I've never heard of. I was surprised to see Natsuki's VA have only this game under her belt, though I feel it may be someone more popular than we know using a new alias.

Music is credited to Manack. I was very impressed with the music for this game. It's not fully orchestrated nor complex, but the instrumentation and placing makes the tracks fit perfectly. The BGM tracks are interestingly all named after stars. The game also has three OP songs, one for each chapter of the story.

As for video, we have three opening movies (for chapters 1, 2, and 3). I am particularly fond of OP 2.

Omake

The game has several extras aside from the standard faire of CG and scene selectors. Completing the first chapter unlocks the CG and scene gallery, along with the sound test mode. Aside from that, there is also a flowchart (linked in the Plot Structure section) that slowly fills out as each chapter is cleared. Interestingly, Kuurin and Mimi's endings don't really seem to affect the flowchart at all.

Verdict

I haven't played a game so loaded with emotion and desperate hope in a very long time. The last time I saw this much emotion in a game was back when I played Kazoku Keikaku, which goes to say something right there. This is one I definitely recommend to anyone that can put aside the game's lack of dialogue choices and its "one-path" approach.

The way the story is put together definitely kept me wondering how this was all going to end, and as someone who can often tell where the story is going, this was a very nice change of pace. The characters are all very likeable, and between the impressive presentation, great pacing and story, and good artwork, I can definitelly call this a keeper. Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.

-Moroboshi Yuumei
"Twinkle twinkle little star..."

I'm never going to make another post using the LiveJournal app for iPhone.
With every passing year, eroge continue to evolve and change in the way things are normally done. As some of my readers may know, eroge used to be made using simple (and at times cliche'd) storylines and set ups, with characters that were fairly predictable and often-times one-dimensional.

As has been proven here and in other blogs, oldies can still be on par with some of the more complex and higher budget titles of today. At the same time, the older titles do have a harder time measuring up to progress, causing some to show their "age" more than others.

In order to help drive this point home, I have taken a look at my backlog of games and found a title that I've been meaning to review for the last three years. It's not exactly new by any stretch of the imagination, while not falling into that "ancient" category currently occupied by the likes of Comic Party and Kazoku Keikaku. While I was expecting to see the "age" of this game clearly, I am sad to say that what I ended up with was a rather mediocre game that, despite its best efforts, fell short of anything memorable. The game I speak of is Purple Software's Akiiro Renka.

Game: Akiiro Renka

Akiiro Renka (Akiiro for short) was released on February 25, 2005 by Purple Software. It is their 6th release, featuring a scenario by Shimizu Izumi, Fuminori Aki, Kitagawa Hare and Yamada Kouichirou with character designs by Tsukumori Hiro and Yuuki Makoto. The title literally means "Autumn-colored Love Blossoms", though renka/恋華 in the title is a homophone of renka/恋歌, which means "love song".

The player takes the role of Niiyama Shinobu, a boy who lives on his own while dealing with school and everyday life. His parents currently work outside the country, and his step-sister Aoi lives elsewhere due to work. As such, Shinobu has taken something of a passive approach to life, doing the bare minimum to interact with others while still doing what is expected of him. His general outlook on things is that he's alone, and his actions don't really matter much. The few people capable of breaking this monotony are his childhood friend Eriko and his best friend Hayato.

As the month of October begins, Shinobu sees the change of season as a sign of the world still moving forward, regardless of what he does or does not do. The sudden arrival of a transfer student to his school begins to draw our protagonist out of his shell, as he is presented with five heroines to interact, get to know, and fall in love with admist the poplars of autumn.

The Players

Nanjou Ibuki C.V.: Sasa Rumiko

Ibuki can be considered the de facto main heroine of Akiiro Renka. She is introduced as a professional tennis player that has taken time off due to an arm injury. While she is out of the world of professional tennis, she has transferred to the Sera Academy until she is deemed ready to start playing again.

Despite expectations of being a worldly person due to her constant travelling around, Ibuki is actually very simple in nature. She also seems to lack basic common sense in what Shinobu and his friends consider everyday life, and at times takes some of the comments and suggestions that they make very seriously. That being said, she is a very friendly girl that easily takes to enjoying life as a normal person, though at times Shinobu compares her way of thinking to that of a child.

Spoiler: As the story progresses, we learn that Ibuki has actually faked her tennis injury in order to get away from what she considered a very hectic lifestyle. She eventually reveals to Shinobu that she has no real reason to play tennis and that what she always wanted was simply a normal life to spend with friends and family. The fact that she is all alone (her mother is deceased and her father works abroad) allows her to find solace in our protagonist while being someone he can truly relate to.

Of course, her acquaintances in tennis believe otherwise, and Shinobu himself begins to doubt whether he can be part of Ibuki's life or perhaps let her return to her seemingly-rightful place.


Sera Kasumi C.V.: Morota Kaoru (under the alias AYA)

Kasumi is introduced as a half-Japanese, half-Russian rich girl that is in Shinobu's class.

As easily demonstrated by the prologue, Shinobu and Kasumi have no real reason to interact with each other given their very different backgrounds and lifestyles. What ends up bringing them together is Shinobu's accidental discovery of Kasumi's dirtiest and most shameful secret: her unrivaled love for gyuudon (which is apparently unbecoming of someone of her status and wealth).

As the story progresses, Shinobu learns that beneath her seemingly well-bred demeanor, Kasumi is actually a very willful and immature girl. To make matters worse, she has a tendency to try to get around the gaze of her overprotective father to indulge in what she considers her "secret gyuudon life".

After a series of accidents involving Shinobu walking in on Kasumi while she is in various states of undress, our heroine makes our protagonist "take responsibility" by declaring him her partner. While Shinobu often comments that she seems to confuse the word "partner" with "underling", he grows used to Kasumi pulling him around to try out new gyuudon restaurants and eventually help her learn to cook so that she can make her own gyuudon.

For her part, Kasumi sees herself as a bird in a gilded cage, between the restrictions her father tries to place on her and the things that are expected of her. Unsuprisingly, Shinobu being "free" is one of the factors that truly draws her to him.

Tokura Mayu C.V.: Ohhanadon

Mayu is introduced as a classmate of Shinobu's. While our protagonist has known her for a while as such, Mayu does all she can to keep to herself and is particularly known for avoiding any interaction with boys.

As part of her attempts to be aloof from the other students, she often comes off as a stoic person that is always busy. The latter is actually quite true, as she has two part-time jobs in order to help support her family. Despite her rather busy life, she still manages to get good grades and at the time the story takes place already ranks at the top of her class.

Interestingly, the fact that Shinobu has a younger sister is what begins to draw Mayu to our protagonist (as she has a younger sister of her own). Once said sister (named Tsubasa) finds out about Shinobu, she does all she can to bring our protagonist and this heroine together. Something very interesting about this route set-up is that Tsubasa acts as the point that connects the otherwise quiet Mayu and our normally-innactive protagonist.

In a way, Mayu is the archetypical "poor girl" that goes through more than the other characters in the story. With her mother living elsewhere due to work and her father deceased, she is in charge of the house and looking after Tsubasa. Her sense of duty at times causes her to refuse help from others, largely out of feeling that she would be troubling others if she were to rely on them for anything.

Sagawa Eriko C.V.: Asano Ruri (under the alias Misaki Yuuka)

Aside from being the obvious teacher character, Eriko is introduced as a young woman that takes it upon herself to wake our protagonist up in the morning and cook meals for him whenever she can. As revealed by Shinobu, Eriko has actually known him and his sister Aoi since they were children, and has been like an older sister to both for a very long time. When Shinobu's parents moved abroad, they asked Eriko to do what she could to look after them.

Given her current position as Shinobu and Aoi's homeroom teacher, the three have agreed to keep their relationship a secret. While there have been slips here and there, the ruse has been successful as of the time the story begins. Perhaps as a sign of bigger things that our trio doesn't talk about, there does seem to be a bit of tension between Aoi and Eriko.

Spoiler: Unlike characters of her type, Eriko's connection to Shinobu does go beyond the boundaries of friendship. We eventually discover that Shinobu and Eriko were romantically involved up until six months before the story begins. Both had agreed to keep their relationship a secret from Aoi, but had to stop "dating" when Aoi found them out. For her part, Eriko agreed to stop out of respect for Aoi and the way she feels about Shinobu. Incidentally, this causes Eriko to also fall under the ex-girlfriend character type.

Niiyama Aoi C.V.: Kimura Ayaka

Aoi is introduced as Shinobu's step-sister. Her mother married Shinobu's father many years ago (our protagonist mentions that it was while he was in elementary school). She is actually eleven months younger than the protagonist, which has allowed her to be in the same grade level and class in school as him.

Aside from being Shinobu's very jealous younger sister, Aoi currently works as a Gravure Idol. This has sadly forced her to move out into her own appartment for the convenience of her employers as well as to preserve her image (as Aoi living on her own with a boy is deemed innapropriate, even if said boy is her brother). While she is dedicated to her work and looks to further her career, Aoi still tries to spend as much time as she can around our protagonist (more often than not to the chagrin of her manager).

Personality-wise, Aoi is very friendly and welcoming to the other characters in the cast. Some even say that she can easily get along with anyone. At the same time, she is also very weary of anyone that might be looking to get too close to Shinobu, though the majority of her ire seems to be aimed at Eriko. That being said, she does reveal late in the story that she felt confined to the label of "sister", and was always fearful of being stuck in that "zone" when her competition includes girls like Ibuki, Kasumi and Eriko.

Spoiler: It is this pseudo-inferiority complex that pushed Aoi into always keeping an eye on Eriko and prevent her from restarting a relationship with the protagonist. It is also the driving force behind her desire to change to a strong and independent girl in order to be up to par with her competition.

Story & Structure

The game takes place over the course of one month, give or take a couple of days. In accordance to the game's title, it starts on October 1st and ends somewhere between October 28th and November 7th.

The story opens with the line "everyone has a secret". This is followed by an internal monologue narrated by our protagonist, going over the different types of secrets and how lives can be shaped and changed because of them. Our protagonist awakes and we are thrown into the prologue, introducing Shinobu and his everyday life. We quickly learn that Shinobu is the type of guy that is very passive, feeling like his actions and choices don't really matter in the larger picture.

Because of Shinobu's rather bland personality, he can easily be swayed in any heroine's direction with the proper nudging. Of course, this means that while there is a main scenario of sorts, a lot of the story we see per route is solely determined by the heroine chosen by the player. In order to facilitate this, there are dialogue choices throughout the scenario that will push Shinobu towards one of the five heroines.

While each route develops individually, there are two events that anchor the cast to what can be considered the "main" story: the welcoming party held for Ibuki on October 10th, and the school field trip that takes place on October 20th. The events that follow continue as usual until the big climax, leading to the ending that takes place as the month of October comes to a close.

Akiiro seems to suffer from poor pacing throughout, with Ibuki's route being the biggest offender. Aside from that, there is also the issue of lackluster resolutions, of which Eriko's route suffers most. While the writers tried their best to stick to the theme of secrets and what role they play in each route, a lot of the story is so wrapped up in slice-of-life situations that the climb to the climax and then resolution feels sudden and too brief.

As if that weren't bad enough, the five routes seem to be written within a formula of sorts: You have the protagonist being nudged towards a heroine. The protag and the heroine begin to notice each other while one of the external forces (Tsubasa, Kasumi) start pushing them together. The relationship forms and our couple is happy. Something happens that tries to separate our couple. The external forces enter once again to bring them together again. Ending takes place. Lackluster epilogue follows.

Following the above formula, the only route that didn't invoke some form of "what the hell were these writers thinking?" from me was Aoi's route. In a way, I felt that the other routes were shoe-horned into this type of narrative instead of allowed to have their own developments. It's pretty blatant in Eriko and Ibuki's routes.

On the bright side, the characters themselves are interesting up to a point, but are in need of more development. There were a lot of missed opportunities for growth in each route, and I can't really say whether the bad pacing or focus on slife-of-life had anything to do with it. I definitely know that the story as a whole suffered from being forcefully confined within one month, and the routes being shoe-horned into the previously mentioned formula made things that much worse.

Artwork

Character designs are credited to Tsukimori Hiro and Yuuki Makoto. The designs, as far as I can tell, are pleasing to the eye. There is a decent variety when it comes to the appearance of the characters, while remaining simple in design.

Sound & Video

Akiiro is fully-voiced, with more than just a few veterans in its fold. The big names in this one would be Sasa Rumiko and Morota Kaoru. The latter is better-remembered as the voice of Inagawa Yuu in Comic Party. Then we have Ohhanadon, who is known as the voice of Daikuuji Ayu from Kimi ga nozomu eien. To round things up we also have Kimura Ayaka, who was unfortunate to suffer from some bad sound editing (you can actually hear her breathing into the microphone every time she says something).

BGM is credited to LANTIS, a sound company that does all sorts of things ranging from anime music to all sorts of games. We also have three insert songs credited to Anze Hijiri (OP), Kurusu Katsuhiko (ED) and Kageie Jun (Aoi's ED song). The music is actually decent, though a bit limited in terms of instrumentation. It's not incredible but it's not terrible, either.

As far as video, we have a promotion movie and the OP movie.

Omake

There's not much in terms of omake for this game, aside from the standard scene sceletion menu that becomes accessible after clearing the game once. That being said, Purple Soft released a fandisk for Akiiro titled Akiiro Ouka, whose big selling point is an Another Story scenario where Tsubasa (Mayu's sister) is the lead heroine.

Verdict

Despite the star-studded cast, good character designs and decent music, the story and poor execution really hurt this game. Purple Soft managed to survive after this, but I can't really recommend this game based on what has been presented. Perhaps the fandisk may redeem it, but if past experience has taught me anything *coughHoshiutacough*, the chances of that happening are slim to none.

This is not to say I disliked everything about the game, as I really liked Mayu and at times even found Aoi tolerable. As to whether their other "season-color" games (like Haruiro Ouse) are any better...well... Anyway, that's my two cents on the matter.

-Moroboshi Yuumei
"GAO~!"