Yumina the Ethereal

yumina

Ayumu is a guy that just wants to take it easy. He’s the adopted son of a body guard who put him through intense training as a kid, so for a change of pace now that he’s at the boarding school Jinbu Academy, he does his best to relax and do as little work as possible, just barely passing. His closest friend is a girl named Yumina, who is similar in that she also doesn’t know her parents, though she grew up at an orphanage. But she’s also Ayumu’s opposite in many ways, in that she puts in tremendous effort, but still doesn’t manage to pass.

Due to a series of circumstances, including those involving Ayumu, it seems that she’ll be forced to repeat a year, with absolutely nothing in the rules that gets her out of it. Desperate to get around that, she runs around school asking anyone she can for help, ultimately coming upon Kirara, a small (though it would be dangerous to call her that) and somewhat sadistic girl, who is also the head and sole member of the debate club. She says that there’s a single way for Yumina to avoid having to repeat a year. If nothing in the rules allow it, she must simply change the rules, by participating in the upcoming election and becoming student council president. Yumina, being easily led on, quickly agrees and Ayumu also joins. And later on a mysterious, strange, and food obsessed girl names Ai transfers to the school and also joins.

The complete debate club works hard on their election versus the varying other clubs in the school. However, it’s important to note that the election at Jinbu academy is very different from other elections, involving a tournament style elimination structure, and being centered around debate battles that involve Ethereal technology, which works kind of like holograms. And even beyond the issues with dealing with the various competitors they must face in the election, there also seems to be something mysterious happening behind the scenes at Jinbu Academy that seems far bigger than the election itself.

***

Yumina the Ethereal is primarily a visual novel though it does have a good amount of game play in the form of combat during debate battles and otherwise. The game play is a turn based RPG with combat during the main story as well as in a fantasy themed dungeon crawler portion called the Ordacle that exists pretty much completely separate from the main story and has a storyline that can only be told across three playthroughs. The combat is decent at best, having some unique mechanics, but not really much depth, in that there are a lot of abilities, but there isn’t a lot of variation among them. The battles can also feel very slow, even when sped up, but for the most part are paced well enough with the main story that this never becomes an issue. The Ordacle itself, was very annoying at first, because doing side quests in the Ordacle is completely and utterly annoying. Thankfully, I quickly discovered its possible to ignore them all and do your best to avoid combat in dungeons and still be perfectly fine in terms of being properly leveled. That made combat much more bearable. I would like to note that there were some elements that were incredibly annoying such as essentially being required to have certain abilities, mainly chain stasis and hydroblaster, at the right levels for certain bosses without any prior warning, wherein if you haven’t gotten the abilities yet it may require reloading a much older save. I would also like to note that an extra combat type is added about half way through that adds a good amount of diversity to the combat, which did help a good amount in preventing it from feeling repetitive, though it still ended up doing so somewhat. So all in all the game play wasn’t particularly great, but it was good enough for what it was in keeping the player involved and at the minimum wasn’t a hindrance.

The structure of the visual novel portion is centered primarily around choosing what events to do, in that you are able to do two events a day, one morning and one evening, with a limit on the number of days. These events often chain together, and hence the order they are performed in needs to be carefully considered. These VN portions can ultimately give you abilities to use during combat, but they are also the primary means of telling the story. I felt that this structure was somewhat lacking, in that it was somewhat hard to follow and quite easy to do events in such a way that it feels out of order. This was especially true if you take the Ordacle related events into account. The game is also divided into two portions, the first of which takes place at Jinbu Academy and goes through the election, and that sets the stage for the next phase, which takes place in space. Jinbu Academy is also where you choose which route you end up on in the second half, with the choices being Yumina, Kirara, and Ai. The academy portion was pretty laid back, very slice of life feeling, though there were some obvious things that were bizarre with a major mystery lurking in the background. The space portion was far more intense and exciting, being at a whole other level than the election portion. However, to go through the various routes, its necessary to go back and forth between them, which I felt was pretty awkward, though the true ending did wrap things up nicely.

The routes, in terms of my playing order, which in hindsight I think is the best order:

Kirara’s route was interesting. She’s a very interesting girl being somewhat sadistic but also gentle, though her route was also somewhat depressing. Her character design I wasn’t too fond of, and though at first I really liked her personality, to be honest that decreased a bit as the story went on . The backstory on how Galeorn became someone she despised was interesting and one of the most important plot points for her, but how she didn’t get revenge at all in the end was somewhat unsatisfying, though I can understand the point they were making about moving on. I was worried they were going to sort of end it on a cliff hanger, but they fully developed the ending with the flash forward ten years later and it was great to see everyone doing well. Her ED was also great, though it wasn’t really unique to her. Also, how she was suddenly in a relationship was really random.

Ai’s routes plot seems to take the base story from Kirara’s route, and extend it, exposing a whole host of other characters and taking things further, such that the overall lore of the universe comes together much better. The plot itself from a character development point of view was also more interesting than Kirara’s, with a plot oriented around whether she should be her own person or to continue on the goals that were given to her when she was young, which ultimately amount to chasing after her sister. The ending was where the majority of the story was told, which resulted in it proceeding very differently from what I expected, but in terms of structure it makes sense, and ultimately it came to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Her ED was decent and fit her pretty well.

Yumina’s route is the route that takes things the furthest, in terms of lore and plot. It builds upon everything introduces in the other routes, and adds quite a bit more. It also has a lot of unique moments, such as going through everyone else’s perspectives for certain events. Yumina is also someone who I didn’t like much at first, but as her character was developed she quickly became my favorite character. She’s an airhead that pretty much derives power from her airheadedness while also being kind and overtly selfless, but learning to be selfish. Her route came to the most solid conclusion of the three, which was also quite satisfying. I should also note that this route has the most music, which was great, and her ED is both good and fitting.

The conclusion route, thats unlocked upon finishing all other routes and finishing the Ordacle, was a solid way to wrap up everything bringing everything from school and space together in one epic finale. Though not exactly, it pretty much picks up near the ending of Yumina’s route, but goes in a different direction. There’s a focus on having a lot more depth to it, that primarily manifests itself in existentialist concepts being discussed when arguing with Barais, and although that in itself was rather weak and didn’t make much sense, feeling very awkwardly put together, the emotional aspects surrounding it were reasonably strong. The ending was interesting in that it doesn’t quite end for the main characters, even though a lengthy conclusion is given for the side characters. That the story is very much still going is kind of awkward in that it clearly hasn’t reached a conclusion yet, but the characters seem perfectly happy and it allows them to stay together, which was especially nice to see in the journal, but they’re still drifting outside the universe. Ultimately, it’s a rather strange feeling to be completely done with the whole novel like that. It doesn’t feel like it’s completely over, and it makes me kind of miss them and want to know what they get up to afterwards.

As for some overall comments, the music was fantastic, which makes sense as it was a core story portion. The art was decent though not exceptional, across sprites and CGs. The character designs were decent as well. The voices were fine, though it was weird to only have Ayumu voiced in some scenes.

A VN with passable game play that has a major genre shift that somehow works pretty well.

8/10

It’s disappointed the fandisc will never happen.

Also I’m surprised they translated all the info of each skill and item. That must have taken forever and was completely pointless as few would read it. I’d rather they have just saved the time and money.

Also, it’s really hard to find good images of this game to use for the header. :/

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Majikoi S

majikois

Majikoi S is sort of a sequel to Majikoi, in that you should absolutely go through Majikoi first, but also sort of a prequel, sidequel, and alternate. So in terms of how it places the story, it’s everywhere. It doesn’t branch off of any single route of Majikoi, but rather has branches for pretty much all of the main ones, though some branches get significantly more material than others. All of Majikoi’s main heroines, Momoyo, Wanko, Chris, Yukie, and Mayuki, routes all get sequels, but they’re all kind of short and sweet rather than heavy in development. They all go further in showing off the growth each of the heroines had in their previous routes, while also having a bit of slice of life. There’s generally very little conflict, and they all serve as a sort of epilogue to the epilogues in Majikoi. In addition to the heroine routes, there are also two branches off of the Agave route, the final route of Majikoi. One of these is the Kazama family route, and like the heroine routes serves as a sort of light epilogue without much development. To be completely honest, I was hoping for quite a bit more from all of these, but they were nice in their own way.

The other branch off of the Agave route is the first main route, Tatsuko’s route. It explores the themes of family and such pretty well, and gets to a pretty satisfying ending. Now while this is considered a main route, and it definitely has more plot and development than the other routes mentioned so far of Majikoi S, it’s still pretty lacking compared to the main routes in Majikoi and was more to the level of a side route. I quite liked Tatsuko in Majikoi, and her character definitely shone in this, so I find it somewhat unfortunate that she only got so much.

All of the rest of the routes branch off of the No Relationship route from Majikoi, which is essentially the route where nothing happens. Hence, it’s starting the story essentially from a blank slate, which is an interesting choice that I was somewhat skeptical about, but it worked out quite a bit nicely because while throwing out most everything from the first one did feel a bit strange, it prevented the creators from being boxed in and let them go wherever they wanted in terms of story, which they take in a completely new direction that sets the stage for so much more than any previous route could. All of this begins with a common route, which is where I feel the core part of Majikoi S begins, because there’s a difference in tone and intensity as well as the feelings of a new beginning. It serves as a solid set up and introduces a whole cast of new characters, though most of them don’t have routes in Majikoi S. It then opens up a single choice over which character to pick, Tsubama, Margrit, Monshiro, or Kokoro.

Tsubame’s route is the first route that felt like a full fledged route, with a great action, a solid story, major character development, and an epic finale. It revolves around Tsubame’s ambition and how that impacts those around her, but also develops Mamoyo’s and Yamato’s relationship as siblings quite a bit. It then branches off two ways depending on a choice made towards the end, regarding which takes the lead in the relationship. That felt like a pointless split though to be honest, and Yamato felt quite off in he branch where Tsubame takes the lead. Still, overall this route was pretty great, at the level of the routes from Majikoi.

The latter three were quite a bit different from Tsubame’s however. Margrit’s route revolves around her development as a normal girl. The entrance to the route is pretty abrupt. There was definitely a good amount of character development, but the plot felt at the level of a side route, without much depth. Monshiro’s route also had a good amount of character development, mostly surrounding her relationship with her mother and her desire to prove herself to her, but the story was also lacking in terms of plot and also felt more like a side route than a main route. In the exact same vein, Kokoro also had a route with good character development, mostly revolving around her pride, but was also lacking story. In addition to these routes, Iyo’s route can also branch off of the common route, though in a more complicated manner, and similarly also has some good character development for her, though it’s even more of a side route than the others. As an overall note, it seems that Majikoi S chose to take the path of having far more routes, but having less depth to most of them. They’re all still great quality, so it’s not a matter of quality vs quantity, but more of something that comes down to preference, and I’d have to say I preferred how Majikoi was handled more.

Now, lastly there’s Koyoki’s route. It’s a bit strange, in that it doesn’t directly branch off of the No Relationship route from Majikoi, but rather involves changes that occurred far before, when Yamato and friends were still children. Other than these changes, in terms of plot and the characters involved, it’s still pretty much exactly how it is during the No Relationship Route. This route is the main route of Majikoi S in a way, similar to how the Agave route was the main route in Majikoi. It pretty much takes everything developed in all the other routes, all the hints, all the character motivations and abilities, not just from Majikoi S but Majikoi as well, and throws them into an epic story at a much larger scale than anything else so far. Some of the twists were expected, such as those involving Maple, and some of them were completely unexpected, such as those involving Seiso, but overall the story was great, and ultimately the main part of the route was just as good as Agave.

This branches off into Koyoki’s route continues depending on a choice made during the route. Honestly, this I felt was handled pretty badly and felt like it was random throw away and lazy, where it just sort of happened at the end, because the plot of the route was oriented around things at a much larger scale than just their relationship and the relationship didn’t seem all that developed at all. I much preferred how Agave was handled, in that it didn’t focus on any one character, and would have preferred that here as well, calling it Bushido route or something, with a solid non-romance end. Furthermore, I also felt that this was a tremendous waste in potential, as it resulted in a pretty weak route for Koyuki, who I thought had major potential. A route with her branching off of Agave with a happy ending could have been amazing.

In addition to all of that, there were also a bunch of easter egg type routes, such as branches off of the Hermit Crab route in Majikoi, where Yamato continues down the Hermit Crab route or ends up with Yumiko. There’s also a route, Tachibana’s, that branches off of the anime, that was really strange, but I liked her character and look forward to seeing more of her. There’s also a route with Kosugi, the ‘premium’ girl, that is unlocked after playing through the tutorial a number of times. There’s a maid route that branches off of Monshiro. There’s also a couple guy routes, Shima and Chosokabe which are like joke routes. Like Majikoi, veering off the path can also lead to a sudden Mayuki route, which is still funny.

The art was still stupendous. The soundtrack was still great, and the vocal tracks were all still awesome. There was a much higher usage of anime scenes as well as a lot more effects, which overall gave it these feeling of being higher budget and more polished that made it feel very high quality.

Overall, the highest high in Majikoi S was just as good as the highest high in Majikoi, and there were a good amount of these highs, but in general I feel the routes were lacking compared to the routes for the main five in Majikoi. The development of the world that took place as well as the new cast of characters were great and add a tremendous amount to the franchise, however a lot of it felt like it was somewhat of a set up, just touching the tip of the iceberg on quite a bit more to come. In that vein, this made me very much look forward to the A installments.

A solid sequel to Majikoi that sets the stage for a much longer franchise and has a lot of high quality content, but not as much content per route as it’s predecessor.

9/10

Good luck JAST. Please don’t take forever like Sumaga.

Majikoi

majikoi

In the city of Kawakami exist the Kazama family, a diverse group of students that are united as if family. It is led by and was founded by the free spirited Kazama Shouichi alongside the incredibly intelligent and politically minded tactician Yamato. But eventually, a number of others also become integral parts of the group. Some of the first to be added include the highly muscular but terrible with women Gakuto and great with computers though very shy Moro. But a the core part of the group would be the ‘samurai girls’, all of whom are incredibly powerful: First off Momoyo of the Kawakami temple and Yamato’s honorary older sister, who is ridiculously overpowered to the point of ridiculousness. There’s also her adopted younger sister Wanko, who is very naive and simple, but a harder worker than anyone. Then there’s Wanko’s rival, Chris, a recent transfer exchange student from Germany, and hence a recent addition to the family, who believes strongly in justice and has a lot of misconceptions about Japanese society. Another new addition is Mayucchi, a girl that has a goal of making 100 friends, but is awful at dealing with people making this goal very out of reach, though she’s also secretly incredibly powerful. Lastly there’s Miyako, who was bullied as a child but saved by the family, resulting in her obsessively being in love with Yamato and fiercely loyal to the family, though this results in a very strange personality. All of them are high school students at Kawakami Academy, and all have their own goals and motivations, leading to a number of stories involving the bonds between them and a host of other characters.

***

Majikoi is told primarily from the view of Yamato, though it occasionally switches to other characters for short periods of times. It starts off with a prologue that sets things up and introduces all the characters involved to some degree, at which point you can make choices that determine which route you go down. There are 5 main routes based on the girls Momoyo, Wanko, Chris, Mayuki, and Miyako, all of which have what are called After Stories, which are epilogues of sort. There are also 6 much shorter sub routes based on the other family members Gakuto, Moro and Capt, as well as some of Yamato’s other class mates Chikarin and Mayo, and also their teacher Kojima. There are 2 bizarre endings that are somewhat of bad ends, though they pretty much end instantaneously. There’s also an ending where nothing really happens and it just ends almost immediately. Lastly, there’s what’s called the Agave route, which only unlocks upon completing all the other main routes, and may also in a way be seen as the final route.

The prologue was handled pretty well in that it set up all the characters and events that were to come, though overall not much really happened beyond that, so it felt slow towards the end and longer than it should have been. The rest of the routes are described in the order I went through them:

Momoyo’s route focused on her dissatisfaction with not having anyone that could match her in terms of strength, and Yamato trying to find her something else to be passionate about. This eventually leads Yamato to truly begin to pursue his own dreams, to become someone who can help Kawakami, which is a bit generic, but plays well into the plot line surrounding Momoyo, which ultimately comes to a point where Yamato must prove himself worthy of Momoyo. It’s highlights were that it had a lot of intense action, where every character got to shine in the final  battle, but the focus was still heavily on Yamato, his abilities, and his own progression, even more so than Momoyo’s, though that’s not to say she didn’t grow as well.

Wanko’s route was heavily focused on her pursuing her dream of becoming an assistant master at Kawakami Temple, but ultimately simply not having the talent for it. It came to a very different conclusion than I was expecting, which was in a way heart breaking but incredibly powerful. It was a very good twist on a standard message, that you should give it all to pursuing you dream, but that in the end that there are other paths other than your first major dream, though any hard work you put in never goes to waste. A con I had with this route though compared to Momoyo was that it was too heavily focused on her and that there wasn’t much good action beyond the fight with Chris.

Capt’s route was very cliche and about saving a book store through gambling and then writing a book. It hit the themes of being a hero and the pressures of reality alongside also the joy of creation and working together with a party to support the hero. It was very pointed which makes sense considering how short it was, but its a side route so that’s expected. It was lacking depth but enjoyable for what it is.

Chikarin’s route was rather boring. There was some sort of message in there about being open to different people and things. But there was no major plot and it was just a jumble of a bunch of events. There were some character development and plot points hinted at such as having to choose between friendship and love as well as an overbearing girlfriend, but they were never fully developed. Chikarin isn’t a bad character, but she’s not all that interesting either, at least here.

Chris’s route was about her growing from a princess dependent on her father to someone strong in her own right, including beyond just physical strength. This is centered around a story about the incredible strength of love and how difficult it is to actually be dependable. It was really predictable, but cute. The love aspects were done mostly very well but some parts felt very awkward. Some parts also felt like they were too slow and dragged on too long as well. The last battle was also pretty interesting but I feel it was not as epic as it could have been.

Moro’s route dealt with the issues of having to deal with people around him that are so much greater than him, resulting in him feeling small and feeling like his own problems didn’t matter enough to discuss with anyone. He ultimately also has a string of small failures, in both test scores and creating games, all of which ultimately lead him to believe that he has no potential. All really hit home and I think was done well so I very strongly sympathize, though ultimately I feel the ending felt a bit weak and didn’t do much to conclude anything, but rather just brush it all aside.

Mayo’s route showcased that she’s a pretty awesome character. Her diligence and earnestness is amazing, and having to actually deal with whether that’s actually worth it was an interesting concept. Though as with most sub stories, not much plot or depth.

Mayuchi’s route was centered around her goal of becoming more social and making more friends, 100 to be exact. It was heavily friendship focused, but in a very awkward but well meaning way so it was interesting. There was very good progression in her slowly becoming friends with Oowada and Kokoro, though I feel there was a disconnect in becoming friends with both of them essentially separately. However, I think an important point about how its more important to have good friends than a lot of friends was glossed over. The subplot with the tournament was great too in that Yamato and all characters got to shine and there was great action. Kokoro and Ageha getting their time in the spotlight was especially cool. “Kuyashi no ja”.  Ultimately the best in terms of that so far.

Gakuto’s route was focused on how sadly pathetic Gakuto is despite meaning well. Incredibly predictable and cliche but amusing nevertheless. Chikarin is much more cruel than she is in other routes and a lot of other people’s actions also felt very off. There really wasn’t much meaning to anything either.

Kojima’s route revolved around Yamato being a teachers pet, which was fun. It was incredibly rushed and abrupt though, even for a side story. The message about how it really sucks to feel like you’ve missed out on the good part of life or completely irreparably screwed it up was very apparent, though a message beyond that about how there’s still hope or something never really materialized.

Miyako’s route revolves around her having a very anti-social character, not in the sense that she’s awkward like Mayuki, but rather the opposite in that she’s very good at dealing with people, but because of how she was bullied when she was younger due to her mother’s promiscuousness, she actively looks down on them and tries not to get involved with anyone outside of the Kazama family, and hence is somewhat overtly attached to the family and especially Yamato. Also because it starts off so happy you know that things are about to get a lot worst, which is heart rending. There’s a sense of impending doom that eventually arrives. I have some social anxiety so I can definitely sympathize tremendously so it by far the strongest emotional impact on me. The part where she had to apologize to the archery club was surprisingly pretty intense. Capt side story in it was an interesting idea and worked pretty well. The ending was somewhat too abrupt, but her After Story was surprisingly good so that worked out. Overall the one I got the most into. “Shomonai”

And ultimately there was the final route, which I’m also considering as the main route. All the other routes felt like a build up to it, especially considering all the 4th wall breaking referring to it. It wrapped things up perfectly. All the characters got their due. It was especially nice to see the characters that were only slightly in the other routes, the Takagi family mostly, as well as the motivations behind some of the other mysterious characters. There were awesome battles, the best in the series other than possible the ending to Momoyo’s route.  The plot was awesome and resolved the vast majority of things that were touched on in the other routes, finally making the story feel complete. And the tactics and planning involved worked out great. The ending separation was sad though, with a message about time always moving forward, but it fit perfectly, and was all the more impactful after all the other routes, so it was an incredible ending to an all around fantastic VN.

The way that the VN was structured, so that you didn’t have to go back and go through remaking choices in a multitude of places and having to fast forward between parts, but rather, just made a bunch of decisions and were set on a route, was one that I think worked out very well and one that I haven’t seen much in VNs like this. I would also like to remark that I feel that there was a lot of depth to both the tactics and combat throughout and that choosing to focus on the tactician of the group rather than the ‘heroic leader’ was definitely one of the strengths. The comedy was also spectacular, with many broad strokes for the many different kinds of characters.

On a final note, the art was great, both in terms of the characters designs and the quality of the sprites and CG. The music was also really good, both the soundtrack and the OP and the two EDs. Voice acting was good as well, and I preferred it over the animes.

An all around fantastic slice of life and action VN with a good focus on a lighthearted battles of wits.

10/10

Also, why the hell is there no render for the logo? Had to render it myself and I’m not very good at that. >_>