Short Reviews: NaNoRenO 2019: Part 2!

Last week, I wrote a few short reviews of entries in this year’s NaNoRenO, the game jam that brings visual novel developers together every March to see what they can accomplish in just one month. The extended submission period for NaNoRenO 2019 has now concluded, with a total of 90 entries! Even I’m not going to read every single one of those, but I congratulate every developer who participated, and I’d like to recommend a few more that I enjoyed.

Charles 2.0
Similar to Prison of Lies, which I reviewed in my last post, Charles 2.0 immediately thrusts you into a bizarre situation you know nothing about. You’re a clone of the president of the United States—who, in this universe, is an extremely muscular gay man named Charles Denton—and you’ve been suddenly awoken to speak to the press and quell any anxieties about the president’s health while the real one is in surgery following an assassination attempt. The opening scene, in which you have limited time to ask an FBI agent a few questions about what’s going on before you have to give a press conference, was really intense and my personal favourite part of the game. And if you make it through the press conference without embarrassing yourself, you’re rewarded with one of two sex scenes—although the dramatic music and absurdity of the situation made me feel too stressed to really enjoy them. I was worried someone was going to find out I was a clone at any minute! Readers who are especially interested in the erotic element of the story should make sure to grab the uncensored patch from the writer’s website.

This one is a bit less on the visual side than most other visual novels, with a lot of descriptive text appearing simply on top of backgrounds and only rare glimpses of the characters. But the limited amount of art that does appear in the game is well done, and often supplemented with subtle visual effects like a bit of screen shake during action scenes. One aspect of the writing that bothered me a little bit was how often it redundantly described sound effects I could already hear, but I can see how that could be a useful accessibility feature for some readers—it would just be nice to be able to turn it on or off in the menu somewhere. And one thing that’s especially intriguing about Dynaeleos is that it seems to be one of several brief glimpses into a gradually developing sci-fi world; the writer has two previous projects and more to come that take place in the same setting. I’ll have to keep an eye on that and see where it goes.

Monochrome Blues
Monochrome Blues starts out with its protagonist teaching children art at a preschool, but quickly evolves into something much stranger and more unsettling—and it reminded me once more how absolutely terrible I am at reading unconventional mysteries. I must have totally missed all the clues that pointed toward what was really going on, making for a bit of an odd experience when the ending blindsided me and made me re-evaluate a lot of my personal interpretation of the story. But I still really appreciated a lot of it, especially the character designs for each unique preschool student and the expressive facial expressions of the main character, Maja. Her face sometimes reveals a little bit more than her dialogue does, and I always like to see VNs taking full advantage of the different aspects of the medium like that. I’ll definitely be interested in seeing other people’s reactions to and interpretations of this one, even if they’re pretty different from mine, and I’m sure whatever the developers do next will be worth reading.

A Hero and a Garden
A Hero and a Garden is a hybrid visual novel/clicker game, which I initially thought sounded like a bit of an odd combination—one is something that usually requires you to dedicate your full attention to reading an in-depth story, while the other you usually leave running in the background and don’t think about much. But the more I played, the more this unique way of telling the story of Cyrus and his garden grew on me. It was a lot of fun to meet the variety of characters you can help by growing cute little berries, and the music was very relaxing. The story’s message and social commentary might come across a bit too heavy-handed for adult readers, but I can see this game being a great tool to teach kids to be open-minded about different cultures and worldviews. And like many of npckc’s games, A Hero and a Garden is available in Japanese as well as English, so visual novel fans from both of the genre’s major markets can enjoy it.

Alice in Stardom
Finally, this story about an idol competition would be a great recommendation for fans of VNs like Backstage Pass or Kira Kira. It clearly has a lot of effort put into the art, with several alternate outfits for the protagonist—a girl named Alice who stumbles into a chance at stardom mostly by accident—as well as the other three young women you can get close to during the competition. I think my personal favourite romance option was the quiet and mysterious Taylor. A bit of a minigame where you have to quickly click on the song lyrics in the order they appeared also helps you feel more involved in Alice’s performances. And if you like this one, Crystal Game Works has several other game jam projects you could check out next.

Counting last week’s post, that’s ten short, free, visual novels that passionate developers made in only a month—and that’s only about 11% of what the submission list for NaNoRenO 2019 has to offer! I hope these reviews can inspire a few more people to peruse the list for anything they might be interested in. Maybe something there will even inspire you to start brainstorming for another game jam yourself!

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