Short Reviews: NaNoRenO 2019

Every March for the past 14 years, an increasing amount of visual novel developers have focused all their creative energies on producing a game in only one month for the game jam NaNoRenO. This year, I participated for the first time, and released the creepy email simulator RE:BURN! Trying to get everything done in the time limit was a bit stressful, but I learned a lot and I’m really glad I gave it my best shot. And toward the end of the month, I couldn’t wait to find out what my fellow participants had created. Here are some of my favourite entries of NaNoRenO 2019 so far!

Order a Pizza: A Visual Novel
If Order a Pizza was all that it appeared to be on the surface—a short game about a divorced dad who hopes that the perfect pizza might make up for the awkwardness of introducing his daughter to his new girlfriend—I would already be fairly impressed with it. Developers Rocket Adrift not only managed to put together their first release for a one-month game jam, but also included some nice animated effects, an interactive pizza ordering app, and several funny endings in which the wrong pizza toppings somehow lead to tragedy. And much like a pizza with cheese baked into the crust, there’s even more to Order a Pizza than meets the eye—but even the parts of the story that get really weird are ultimately a heartfelt way of exploring the difficulties of raising children and moving on after the end of a relationship. I finished this eerie, enigmatic, and ultimately endearing experience even more excited than I already had been to read whatever Rocket Adrift comes up with next.

With Eyes Full of Stardust
With Eyes Full of Stardust is another impressive first project, this one by solo developer derpychocho. From the very beginning of this tale about a student whose mysterious lover visits only in dreams, some lovely lighting effects and fitting music choices pull you into its relaxing atmosphere. I think it could have benefited from being just slightly longer so that it could spend more time establishing the characters, but it still does a good job making them all pretty likeable and sympathetic in the little time it has. I would especially recommend this one to any readers of mine who enjoyed the VN I wrote for yaoi jam last year, Well Met by Moonlight. Stardust has a really similar concept, which made reading it an especially touching experience for me—like finding a kindred spirit. I hope to see a lot more from derpychocho in the future.

Prison of Lies
Prison of Lies caught my eye with its intriguing and disturbing concept: four prisoners fitted with lie detectors are forced to debate for their lives, with the one the others deem least trustworthy to be sent to the electric chair. I felt like a bit more detail about the characters and the dystopian world they live in would have made me care more about the outcome of the argument, but being thrust into the situation with no background knowledge is effective in its own way too. My favourite part of this one was how it plays around with language and ambiguity as the characters try to avoid setting off the lie detector by saying what the others want to hear, worded in such a way that it isn’t technically a lie. Some really creepy and unsettling sprite art and character design also adds to the well-crafted atmosphere.

Contract Demon
Of course, I wasn’t going to skip an entry from nomnomnami, a prolific developer whose works I’ve praised on this blog before. This short romance between an angel named Eleni and a demon named Kamilla is sure to please anyone who’s a fan of nami’s adorable style. A lot of attention to detail in things like sprite movement and GUI elements makes Contract Demon especially polished for a game jam project. And even though the two main characters are both extremely silly supernatural beings, it still has some more serious moments that speak to the difficulties of having a relationship that doesn’t exactly fit into societal norms. I’d love to read a sequel or side story that goes into more detail about the job of being a contract demon, and the lives of Kamilla’s intriguing co-workers!

Cooked with Love
The last VN I read for this post follows in the food theme of the first one. After losing their wallet on the day of a first date, the protagonist—whose name, appearance, and pronouns are customizable—has to scramble to put a nice dinner together with only the contents of a student house’s cupboard. Will you somehow manage to impress your date? Will you end up seeing your drinking buddy in a different light instead? Or will you just get food poisoning? I was too hopeless at the cooking game to discover very many recipes, but I did have a lot of fun trying out different dialogue options and seeing how the sarcastic narrator reacted. This one has eleven different endings and countless possible variations along the way, so there’s likely to be something in there that everyone will find cute or funny or both.

And these five are only a small taste of the 60+ submissions that NaNoRenO got this year. There are so many good ones left that I think I’ll probably write a part two to this post once I’ve read some more! I hope some of my readers will check some of them out, and maybe even think about participating in next year’s NaNoRenO.

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