Developed by sole creator, Nikita Kryukov, (the second game has assistance by other people for cutscenes and other aspects, but it’s still Krukoy’s show), Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk and Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk (referred to after this point as Inside and Outside) are self-aware horror visual novels/ point-and-click adventures games about an unnamed girl (people on Steam seem to call her Milk, so that’s what she will be called) dealing with an intense reality. Milk is like if the protagonist from the game Song of Saya was instead played by Lain from the anime Serial Experiments Lain; this plucky but tired looking kid sees the world in only blacks and reds, like she’s never stopped playing the Virtual Boy, and everyone looks like a Trevor Henderson cryptid. Not a lot happens in these games but also many things, including tough subjects like suicide and child abuse, happens in these games. Because both games are so short, they should be discussed together.
What immediately stands out with Inside is a mechanic where instead of picking Milk’s actions or commands, choices are instead given to a voice inside Milk’s head. Many of the options while talking with Milk are often antagonistic and sometimes mean, like Milk is an annoying child the player has to babysit while they get milk from the corner store. Which, as the titles suggests, is literally the entire scope of Inside, travelling to get milk for Milk’s mom. Inside is spent building up or tearing down Milk’s emotional confidence and wellbeing while getting her to stop going off on math formula tangents and just buy the damn milk. She can tolerate some of the player’s bullying, but cross her enough and Milk will restart the game. Milk is dealing with some heavy stuff at home and Inside works as the prologue.
Developed by Victoria Dominowsk, Secret Little Haven follows Alex, a trans teenager who escapes her life of social pressure from her lonely dad by talking with friends online. Alex also spends a lot of time on the fan forums of her favorite show, Pretty Guardian Love Force, a thinly veiled Sailor Moon homage, called PGFans. These forums are where Alex feels she can better engage with people, unlike how she struggles to communicate with classmates at school or her childhood friend Andy. It’s difficult to discuss Secret Little Haven’s rather intense plot past this point, as exploring Alex’s personal life and friend associations comprise most of the game.
Secret Little Haven involves maintaining multiple different conversations with Alex’s PGFans friends, usually discussing different aspects of the show they like. This ranges from discussing fan art to full chat role-play sessions. When things get heavy in one chat later in the game, it creates a weird parallel where Alex is casually role-playing her Pretty Guardian Love Force original character in another. This conceit replicates a certain mood shared by people in the late 90’s when it involved their interests and the social circles connecting them. This is an experience I know other people have but it’s not something I am personally familiar with, as I do not engage with fan spaces on this level. It works as a late 90’s time capsule of anime fandom, including jokes about fansub tape trading.
Desktop cats will save us. They will save ALL OF US.
Let’s Plays by themselves are not usually things I really watch or get into unless the people playing them are already someone I enjoy from a different venue. It’s probably a para-social deal, where I would rather listen or watch people I already discuss video games, art film, or the novels of French writer Marcel Proust. For example, I have watched a bunch of Youtuber Pikasprey’s Let’s Plays because he plays a lot of games he discusses in video essays or reviews, usually Pokémon fan games, 2-D Castlevania, or indie horror games. Press Buttons N Talk is another Let’s Play channel I started watching because I enjoy voice actor Sungwon Cho’s channel, as he reviews a lot of board games. Sungwon hosted Press Buttons N Talk with his friend, Alex Mankin, the sole developer of Here Come the Mystery Teens!, a meow-and-click adventure. Segue way, provided!
Here Come the Mystery Teens! follows the titular Mystery Teens: useless leader/walking TinTin reference Duke Douglas, high energy Sunbeam Song, macho but levelheaded Mugsy Malone, serious and regal Valorie Violet, and coward Larold Leremy. The Mystery Teens are assigned to enter the mansion of late eccentric millionaire Oscar O. Oswell’s and retrieve a painting for a family member. Instead of playing as any one of these kids, control is through their cat (named by the player and will now be referred to as Sabre, in reference to the cat companion from Dragon Quest V). Sabre’s main method of communication is through meowing, which lets them talk with the mansion’s Ghost Trick–like ghosts to solve puzzles, thus helping the Mystery Teens finish their assignment.
Video games like to use cards for just about everything. The GameCube seemed to love them for RPGS like the Lost Kingdoms and Baten Kaitos games, where cards were used for combat. Slay the Spire uses it as part of its rogue-like game play. App games like Hearthstone, Ascension, or Magic: The Gathering Arena utilize each respective card game with a focus on online competitive play. But I want some story and characters to get invested in with my card games. Where is the Netrunner game about a cyberpunk future where everyone puts on their goggles and styles their mohawks to play Netrunner at a run-down bar or at a table in front of a ramen shop? Where is the Final Fantasy 8 spin-off where a nameless street urchin plays to become the Triple Triad champion of the world? Where have all the Trading Card Game adventure games gone?
Monster Rancher Battle Card Game GB was a Game Boy Color game about collecting cards representing the dozens of memorable Monster Rancher creatures in a world in which you fight to defeat…something. Joking aside, I never got farther than five minutes into this one as a kid. The Pokemon TCG game for the Game Boy Color was this charming world where everyone on Trading Card Game Island (that’s its real name) only cared about one thing, a kid’s card game. Like regular Pokemon, TCG Island has a resident Professor, this time it’s Dr. Mason (Oyama). People like me who cite Bulbapedia verbatim know that Dr. Mason is based on Pokemon TCG co-creator, Kouichi Ooyama, and compared to Professor Oak, Dr. Mason is flush with funding. Professor Oak has maybe two assistants, whereas Dr. Mason has fifteen, spread across two large rooms. TCG Island clearly cares more about its research of pieces of card board with images of Pokemon on them more than Kanto cares about actual Pokemon.
I think I read somewhere that the island is in the shape of Mew, but don’t quote me out of class on this.
Horror video games use to break up their chills and thrills with safe rooms, these often pleasant breaks from monster hunting or, more realistically, surviving. Because horror games seem to be focused less on that surviving, safe rooms are not as common. Lone Survivor was a game I played when I first started to use Steam. Made exclusively by developer Jasper Byrne, Lone Survivor focused on a nameless masked man tasked with getting out of his comfy bed and leaving his monster-filled apartment complex. He’ll even die in bed if he’s not motivated enough to escape. Proximity to danger is the kind of horror Lone Survivor revels in, as monsters roam literally outside the apartment front door. Safety inside means the apartment now has to work as a base, not just a safe space. The survivor’s exit from the apartment is right in front of him when he gets up, as it’s the fire exit by his bedroom window, but he needs to progress before it can be unlocked.
Lone Survivor’s gameplay rhythm is reflected in its protagonist’s mutterings, which often boil down to “cool I got this new important item, better go home and sleep”. It’s an active way for the game to remind you to save, but it shows how important he feels about his one pleasant space in his new hellish existence. Similar to how collecting bedding or sticks for the cave in the Lost in the Blue games feel like a massive boon to the standard of living, the man can find stove gas or a can opener that can help him both physically and emotionally comfort himself. I rather enjoyed how one third of the man’s apartment is locked off for the first thirty minutes of the game. It provides something minor to work on, separate from the nebulous act of escaping monsters. The game has a teleport mechanic where all the other apartment mirrors are connected to the one in the main hallway, as teleporting into a safe space sort of feels like returning to a more relaxing state of mind. When Lone Survivor gets really stressful and resources are low, I started missing the protection of apartment 206 just as much as the nameless man.
The nameless man’s pixels are undetailed enough that I thought his mask was just him grinning really big. Like some big creepy smiley face. Scariest thing in the game.
When I first became acquainted with Francisco Garcia, he suggested that I play a certain visual novel/boys’ love dating simulator known as DRAMAtical Murder. At the time, I was more preoccupied with pestering Francisco for advice on how to set up a good team to fight the final boss in Persona 3 Portable, so I put his recommendation on the backburner. Now, after nearly two years and a rather tedious period of downloading and extracting various files to get the game to run, I can finally talk about this game in detail.
DRAMAtical Murder was developed and published in 2012 by Nitro+Chiral, the boy’s love- branch of visual novel production company Nitroplus. Nitro+Chiral was also responsible for such games as Togainu no Chi and Lamento -BEYOND THE VOID-. DRAMAtical Murder proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, re:connect, that follows up the individual character routes, anime and manga adaptations, and will get a future PS Vita port that removes the game’s sexual content.
Let’s play a game called “find the women in the CG backgrounds”.
Let’s say you like an anime, and feel like looking it up. What’s this? It was originally a visual novel? Whatever could that be? And what are these “eroge”? Forgive me if I am insulting anyone’s intelligence; rather, I am trying to empathize with the lowest common denominator, which is a tall order for me. I shall try my best to explain what visual novels are and what is their relationship to eroge and dating sims.
Whether Visual Novels are real video games or not is a debate I am not going to get into here. But for the most part, Visual Novels are text scrolling games that tell a narrative while paper cutouts of characters talk and interact with the main character or other characters, usually with accompanying voice acting. A common approach is to have you, the player, look at things from the eyes of the protagonist in an attempt to have youbecome the protagonist. This sometimes extends to leaving the protagonist’s face blank on images they show up in. The faceless protagonist is so pervasive in visual novels that it often becomes a good thing to check whether the protagonist even has a face or voice acting. It shows the protagonist is important enough to the narrative to warrant the efforts of fleshing them out as actual characters. Outside of the faceless protagonist constancy, visual novels are too busy trying different character archetypes, plot twists, art styles, etc. so the only constant in visual novels is that you will be doing a lot of clicking and reading.