Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Feb 262021
 

We’ve talked about a lot of visual novels this month.

And there are a handful of romance-focused games in other genres.

And a lot of RPGs have multiple romance options that you can choose between.

But what about games that fall into other genres and are about more than just romance, but also feature one canon romance at the center of the plot?

That’s the type of game we’re going to focus on today, and so here are my picks for five great games that feature a central romance.

5. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

You might argue that the love story isn’t exactly at the center of a story about Professor Layton getting sent forward through time and trapped in a future London, but Professor Layton and the Unwound Future prominently features flashbacks that show Layton getting to know and fall in love with a woman named Claire. Their story is actually much more important to the main plot than it might first appear, and it’s one of the things that makes Unwound Future one of the best in the series.

Without that romance, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as it is.

4. The Last Story

I played The Last Story for the first time just a few months ago, and I stand by what I said in my review – this Wii action JRPG deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. Now, why is it on this list? Well, while the story follows a band of mercenaries, a fair amount of time is also devoted to the growing relationship between Zael and a young woman named Calista. There’s a lot more going on in the story besides just that, but it’s a sweet romance that really helped it stand out.

I just wish The Last Story would get a re-release to make it easier for more people to play it.

3. Final Fantasy IX

That’s not a problem for our next game, however, because not only is Final Fantasy IX still readily available for the original PlayStation, but they’ve since ported it to pretty much everything. Now, I know a lot of you are raising your eyebrows at me for not picking Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy X, and I’ll admit I’m biased toward Final Fantasy IX because it’s one of my favorite Final Fantasy games, but for me, the romance in Final Fantasy IX just outshines the others. Watching Zidane and Garnet go from strangers to friends to falling in love with each other felt natural to me, and the song “Melodies of Life” just makes it even better.

(I also loved the romance between Beatrix and Steiner, so that’s yet another reason for me to pick Final Fantasy IX for this list.)

2. Trails in the Sky

Okay, there’s a lot of Trails games I still need to play, but I wanted to highlight Trails in the Sky for this list. As I mentioned in my review, it’s a slow-paced yet highly story-driven JRPG that is well worth taking the time to see through to the end. And yes, there is a slow-burn romance between the two main characters that is also worth playing it for. The relationship gets a fair share of (in my opinion undeserved) criticism, but as long as you aren’t put off by a romance between two characters who are seen as adopted siblings (but aren’t related by blood and met each other when they were old enough to know that), I think you’ll enjoy taking this journey with Estelle and Joshua.

Now, I need to get back to playing Trails in the Sky SC to see the rest!

1. To the Moon

But if you play only a single game on this list, make it To the Moon. To the Moon is on PC, mobile, and now the Switch as well. You play as two scientists going back through an old man’s memories to fulfill his dying wish in his mind, and while there is no romance between the actual main characters you play as, the love story in the past as you explore Johnny’s memories is truly central to the story.

In fact, of all the games I’ve covered today, this is probably the one that most requires the romance for the rest of the game to work. It’s a wonderful, beautiful game that you really need to play.

Conclusion

And there you have it, five excellent choices if you want to play a great game with an important romance as part of its plot. I was really tempted to include Yakuza 0 on this list, but I couldn’t figure out a way to talk about it without spoilers. So, uh… play that one too!

Anyway, what do you think? What are your favorite games that feature a canon romance, and what do you think of my picks? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Feb 242021
 

Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is another otome I picked up for my Vita (although it’s also out on Steam now), and when I started it, I expected to love it.

The protagonist is a young woman who wakes up with amnesia in a mysterious manor. Soon she learns that there are several others trapped there with her, as well as monsters that prowl the manor’s halls.

If they want to escape, they need to search the manor for the pieces of a broken kaleidoscope, as instructed by the manor’s mysterious master.

I love this premise. The eerie, monster-filled manor gave me almost a Resident Evil or Fatal Frame vibe, and the premise felt similar to something like Zero Escape – a group of strangers who may or may not be able to trust each other, trapped for reasons they don’t understand and given a strange task to complete to escape.

There’s even a combat mini-game, of all things, that rewards you with points you can spend to unlock short episodes, which we’ll get back to in a minute.

Psychedelica’s structure is a bit unusual for a game like this. Instead of branching onto character routes right away, you’ll play through the common route and get the main ending first. After that, you can make different choices to see character-specific endings and other alternate paths, some of which are locked behind seeing specific scenes, other endings, or certain short episodes.

Short episodes are small scenes that either show something from the characters’ pasts or an additional scene from their stay during the mansion, often with a slice-of-life focus.

This structure can be a bit confusing, but fortunately Psychedelica has what I love to see in a visual novel like this – a flowchart that lets you quickly jump back to any scene.

The common route and main story are pretty interesting, and I enjoyed learning the truth about what happened. The short episodes also have some entertaining moments, even if they do steer the tone a lot more toward slice-of-life than the game’s initial premise might suggest, and a couple of the character endings are interesting (especially for one character who is largely a mystery outside of his route).

But oh, the romance is bad. Some of the love interests are straight-up unlikeable, and even for the ones I liked, the actual romantic connection was pretty weak.

Click for Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly spoilers
And did they really need to use the “childhood friend had a crush on the protagonist” trope for four of the five love interests?

This led to a weird situation where my enjoyment of Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly steadily diminished after I finished the common route. That core story was pretty interesting, but after that I felt like I was trudging through a series of awkward and bland scenes just to see the full story.

There are definitely some good things in this otome, but ultimately this isn’t one that will stick with me. But what did you think of Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Feb 222021
 

Katawa Shoujo is a free visual novel that introduced a lot of players to the genre, and I finally played it this year.

It follows a high school student named Hisao, who learns he has a heart condition and transfers to a new school for students with disabilities.

While that premise might raise some eyebrows, I’m happy to say Katawa Shoujo treats the subject matter respectfully and doesn’t try to use it to drive the conflict.

For example, Hisao learns sign language on Shizune’s route so he can talk to her without an interpreter, but the core of the route focuses on her personality and conflict with a friend.

Depending on the choices you make, you’ll end up on the route for one of the five main heroines, and from there your choices determine whether you’ll get a good, neutral, or bad ending.

While the different routes are significantly different and I liked some more than others, they’re all detailed and well-written – and some have pretty emotional moments. The stories are a bit more slice-of-life than I normally prefer, but I enjoyed them and found myself thinking about them when I wasn’t playing.

Hisao’s own character development is also an important part of the story, as he starts out bitter but comes to terms with his condition as he gets to know the other characters.

Katawa Shoujo deserves its good reputation, and I understand why it brought so many people into the genre. It’s a great visual novel for beginners, one that really is a good example of the genre (much more than something like DDLC, which is great but not necessarily indicative of what visual novels are like).

It’s kind of staggering that Katawa Shoujo is free. We’ve looked at plenty of visual novels that are only a couple of hours long and have bland stories, and yet here’s one that gives you a sizable amount of well-written content for free! So if you haven’t tried Katawa Shoujo yet, I definitely recommend it, whether it’s your first visual novel or one you’re coming to later like me.

What do you think of Katawa Shoujo? Who is your favorite character? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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