Micro Visual Novel Reviews


The opening screen of the Verbena demo

The opening screen of the Verbena: Tales of Growing Up demo


Why These Quick Reviews?

Some visual novels - and their demos - take longer than others to play through and offer more grist for the mill. Some inspire more reactions in me, and I have to talk about them at length to get them out of my system. There are also things I try out on a lark, even if I'm not sure they're going to work for me. I figure sharing my thoughts can help get the word out to someone else. Just because a VN isn't for me doesn't mean it doesn't have an audience out there, waiting to find it.

Chronicles of Tal'Dun: The Remainder: Act 1 by Square Weasel Studio

The art style drew my attention to this demo first, since it's wonderfully Gothic fantasy and distinctive. I also found the opening premise interesting: you're trapped in a wizard tower where something has gone horribly wrong and you're running out of time to save your own skin. It's your tower and you're the high wizard, but the problem is, you don't remember much of that, probably because of however this mess started. There's one person in the tower with you, and you can only hope they're telling you the truth or that you can uncover their lies in time.

I enjoyed the look of everything, including the UI. I thought it was cool that you can look in the mirror, and if you like their character art for the MC, you can select an option that will show more art featuring that look. If you don't like it, you can select the option to keep the main character's physical description vague and won't see the additional art. I was also glad to see nonbinary characters front and center, since they often seem to be side offerings in visual novels.

But I wasn't prepared for how heavy the game is. First off, it's text-heavy. So. Much. Text. In many visual novels, you only see a few lines at a time; then you click and new lines pop into view. In this one, the text usually just scrolls down the box in a stream that won't end. It's more of a traditional novel with more artwork in it. It also wasn't always easy to tell that I needed to make a choice because the options weren't visually well distinguished, and it felt like it took a long time between choices.

On top of that, the characters are heavy in their tones and interactions. The main character is weighed down negative self-talk even when they learn the stakes, have a direction to take, and know time is short. And yes, I understand that the situation is dire and it's easy for characters to feel distresed. But there aren't enough choices for you to steer them much, so I felt stuck with their ruminations and reactions. The only other character who's with the MC, Ilar, says they're your partner, but they certainly don't act like it. They can't be bothered to be comforting in any way, even when they learn the MC has amnesia. Every conversation with them is an argument or about to become one. When a shadow monster/being appeared, it seemed like it was about to say something and I was so looking forward to the chance to speak with anyone else. Then Ilar ran it off.

I tried to stick with it, but the story was going in circles and while some of the lore was interesting, it wasn't enough to hold me. I closed and uninstalled it before completing a first playthrough, which is a first for me. I'd like to try it again for fairness' sake, since I know first playthroughs can be rough and limited, but I'm not sure I can get myself to do so. But it has a following and the creators are running a successful Kickstarter right now, so it's definitely someone's cup of tea.

Dual Chroma by Galen Games

Since the Kickstarter for this project is ongoing, I thought I'd check out their demo. The art is lovely throughout, with lots of detail and color. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the character designs are interesting and distinctive; no two look alike yet. The story is set in a fantasy world with magic, and you get to see a few spell effects and some rather elegant scenes. The interface is unique and in keeping with the overall style. You get to choose the main character's first name and hair color, and the purple was too pretty for me to pass up - but I'm a purple fan in general, and it seems to be used often in the demo, which made me happy.

The main character is a descendant of a legendary sorceress, but her family's fallen on hard times: she's been educated at the best magic school in the nation but it hasn't been cheap. She's an exemplary student and a Violet Mage who has mystic visions. She's about to embark not just on a new job but a whole new life as the advisor to the Second Prince. Yes, she starts having visions early on. And yes, the Prince is a handsome and dashing guy who can be a bit of a brat. Which is to say that most aspects of the story and characters didn't surprise me, but that's okay: I was interested in where the visions were going and totally fine with letting Keldran charm me anyway. This is also a brief demo; there's a lot of room for growth.

I liked that there were mouse-over glosses for people, places, and other important aspects of the lore. It helps you keep track of all the new terms (along with First and Second Empresses, Princes, etc.).

I had a few technical issues with the version I played on Steam that I wasn't able to resolve:

  • The sound blip whenever I moused over a clickable element was driving me batty, but I didn't turn it off completely because I wanted to hear the other sound effects. Please, please, make that an option we can turn off on its own.

  • The volume of the music and voices was too low. Even when I set them to max levels and wore headphones, I couldn't get a good level of sound. What I did hear sounded pretty good; I would have liked to hear more of it. While I do have some noise issues because of fans and AC running, I am not hard of hearing, I checked all sound settings on my system more than once, and I haven't had this issue with other games or programs.

  • I couldn't use magic during the first round of combat for no clear reason. The Talk option made it seem like Keldran could/would heal the main character, but he didn't.

I have to admit, I'm new to the hybrid visual novel that intersperses combat with narrative scenes. In general, I'm someone who can enjoy older RPG games and simpler styles, but I just don't know if hybrids are going to work out for me. Even though the combat layout and sprites looked good in Dual Chroma, the fighting just didn't draw me in. There were so many extra clicks I had to do to move things forward, such as every time anyone takes a turn, that rounds became tedious. I'm glad there's a story mode option to skip battles in Dual Chroma, so people can play in whichever way suits them best. The project is off to a good start and I hope it does well!

Monster Lover: Balasque by Y Press Games

Everything is going wrong for the main character, a sweet guy who's inherited his father's private museum but is getting swindled by his dad's business partner. In desperation, he tries to summon a vengeance demon - and succeeds. His interactions with the demon are funny, and the switch in perspective at one point makes everything even funnier. It isn't a very long demo, but the art is good and the creature design is interesting. I tried it out when I found it on Kickstarter because I hadn't tried a yaoi before. While it's cute, it's not for me - but I'm not the target audience and I don't tend to go to VNs for comedy. Almost 400 people backed it, which is a great start!

Red Rebellion by Aikasa Collective

I tend to enjoy medieval fantasy, and it doesn't get much more medieval than Robin Hood. This project's Robin, however, is a woman, and she'll take on various roles to lead a rebellion, depending on the outfits she wears. (There's a change of wardrobe in the demo, but you don't get to choose it.) While the story starts with Robin, a scene shifts away fto focus on Alicia, the mayor's daughter, who's being married to the cruel Thomas Lyng, not entirely of her own free will. But he's coming in to establish law and order and his own power, and he's the clear villain of the tale.

The demo was sweet overall, and the backgrounds were particularly gorgeous. It offers glosses for historic terms if you click on them. I didn't learn much that was new to me, but it's a nice touch. I liked that Robin's internal thoughts were in a different color, so it was very clear no one was speaking those lines. You're definitely going to wonder what all is going on with Red the shapeshifter and Will the rival marksman, but the other characters seemed fairly predictable. Still, it was nice to see a visual novel focused on sapphic couples. I'd never tried a yuri VN before this, so it was an interesting change of pace.

There was only one choice to be made, it was most of the way through the demo, and it didn't change much, so I was left feeling antsy and mildly disappointed, but as I've noted elsewhere, I want a lot of choices in my VNs. Since the finished novel is only due to have two endings and I didn't feel a strong urge for more, I opted not to back the Kickstarter. 400 folks did pitch in, however, so it definitely has an audience!

Speakeasy by Open Late Games

When I first saw this project on Kickstarter, I was hyped. It's an erotic otome full-length visual novel; that right there had me. (Otome is my preferred type of VN. I also support erotic and explicit VNs for adults who know what they're signing up for.) It's set in Prohibition-era Los Angeles and based in an illegal jazz club. What's not to dig about that?

The anime sprite style was the first thing that dampened my enthusiasm. It's a historic setting with music that's striving to be period, but most of the characters have unnatural hair colors (like blue, pink, and green). I know it's just me, and I thought I could get it go, but it kept grating on me. The demo itself is a hybrid demo/trailer. It starts out in a linear way but then jumps between scenes featuring different love interests. I imagine this is a way to give the audience a taste not just of the characters but how spicier moments are written, which can be an important thing when choosing an erotic story. But because of this, there weren't really any choices to be made and my experience ended on a down note.

I didn't back the Kickstarter, but over 600 people did. I'm glad it did well, and I'm glad it's moving forward.

Verbena: Tales of Growing Up by KokoisGod111

A small town in the 1980s where weird things are going on. A group of high schoolers who meet in detention and start going through the weirdness together. A main character who has someone (or is it something?) else in their mind, speaking to them when they're alone. A variety of romance options, and character art for a male or female main character. Yeah, I was interested right away when I found this on Kickstarter.

I liked the opening framing device: the main character describing their day to cops because things went quite astray. It's a little weird to just see the interrogation room with no sprites, but it is a demo. I enjoyed the classroom banter; it made things lively and gave the impression of who already knows whom. While they're obviously young adults, I was glad to see that the characters are drawn as older teens on the verge of adulthood. I liked the art style and the hints of the 80s. (A lot of times when I see a show or some other story set in the 80s, it's like they try to throw everything that's associated with the decade into the mix and while I appreciate the effort, it's a bit much.) It's a bit jarring to move on from the Bad Thing that happens as quickly as people do, but I think that's part of the point. All in all, I want to see a lot more of it, and I'm glad its Kickstarter was successful!


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