Short Reviews: Charity Bundle Edition 2.5

The Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid raised over $900,000 for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency recently, and I’m very proud to have been a small part of it! After reading five of the many great visual novels included while the bundle was running, I’m back with five more short reviews of games whose developers threw their support behind the project. If you picked up the bundle, these games are already in your library—and if you missed it, check them out if you’re interested and consider supporting some of the people who contributed to raising so much money for a good cause!

Who Killed My Father Academy!
This metafictional dark comedy tasks the player with exploring every potential end to one eventful Valentine’s Day fundraising event in order to solve the mystery of which student council member murdered the protagonist’s father. I felt like the experience could have been improved with the use of some persistent variables, which could have allowed the game to react to more immersively to which clues you’ve already learned and which you haven’t, and the art style also probably isn’t for everyone. But it does play with the multi-route mystery structure and a semi-genre-aware protagonist in some fun and creative ways, and I really enjoyed reading it overall; my favourite route was the one for flamboyant bad boy Dux. I’ll be interested to see how developer Ntagonistic might build on this story’s ideas in the future.

Parcels And Pollen
This charming little point-and-click adventure follows a few days in the life of a rabbit running a flower shop and doing his best to keep his customers happy despite a limited inventory. One of my favourite touches was the varying sizes of the different animal sprites, especially the tiny mouse who has to climb up onto the counter! I think this one could have used a little bit more dialogue and description at points, as it took me a while to pick up on what the pre-existing relationships between some of the characters were. But once you get to know them all, there’s an absolutely adorable true ending in which you get to see the results of all your hard work, as well as start a relationship with a new friend.

Songs & Flowers
Another slightly metatextual story, Songs & Flowers features a protagonist who’s dedicated to becoming a font of information about cute boys at her school, so that she can be like the best friend character in a dating sim. The pacing of this one felt a bit too fast to me at times, but it suits the attitude of the constantly energetic narrator, whose offbeat and unique voice is consistently entertaining to read. And while a lot of it has a light-hearted and comedic tone, it also manages to fit some more emotional moments in as you learn more about “Miss Info” and either one of the other two main characters, Noct and Carol. I especially enjoyed one scene on Noct’s route where he opens up about his past during a power outage in the subway. And while romantic endings are a possibility too, the routes are largely focused on getting to know the boys as friends, so check this one out regardless of what kind of relationships you’re interested in reading about.

Red Embrace
I’ve been meaning to give this one a try for a while, so I was really glad when it got added to the bundle! Red Embrace is a dark romance story starring a nameable protagonist who’s thrown into a new and terrifying life when his night shift job at a diner happens to put him in the path of two warring gangs of vampires. I really enjoyed the multitude of dialogue options that shape your character’s personality, especially the “blunt” and “aggressive” ones that sometimes let you be a bit of a dick to your potential love interests. The romance routes in this one are a  bit shorter than you might expect from this kind of game, but that’s obviously not a big problem for me, since I read and recommend short visual novels all the time! My personal favourite guy was smartly-dressed businessman Isaac, but alternate options Dominic and Rex have their charms too. And if you enjoy this one, there’s also a sequel, Red Embrace: Hollywood, which looks like a lot of fun.

After School
This last one also has the potential of either friendship or romance endings for teenage protagonist Ellis, a troublemaker who has an opportunity to bond with one of three classmates and learn that they might have more in common than he thinks. It could be a great example for aspiring VN developers of how much you can accomplish when you supplement a few original assets with some creative commons stuff; the well-chosen photographic backgrounds complement the aesthetics of the sprites, and I especially liked the soundtrack. I think some of the writing could have been fleshed out a little more, but all three routes are still enjoyable reads. Make sure you don’t miss the bad endings!

That’s probably the last post I’ll make about this individual bundle, but I still have plenty of other games from it in my backlog for the future. Feel free to comment if you want to recommend anything else in it people might have missed!

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