Okay, I lied - Review 2(D): Electric Boogaloo

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Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2012 7:22 am

Okay, I lied - Review 2(D): Electric Boogaloo

Post by Tired » Sun Jan 08, 2012 8:08 am

Ah, so I posted a really short paragraph of love for this game and realized that, as I stared at my monitor and had the itching (being indulged even as I type) to replay the game that my short whispered words of love simply weren't going to be enough. So here it is for real - a mindnumbing wall of text in the best tradition of sleepy, warm hacks everywhere. Chances are it won't make much sense and I'll probably come back every once in awhile to edit something into this post, make it cohesive. I figure that's better than posting every other day with a new post going 'AH I JUST REALIZED SOMETHING FUUUU THIS IS AMAZING~' ri? Well if it isn't, too bad. S'what I'm doing, it is what it is, killing it.

There will be some spoilers, as to be expected. So, everything under this cut is going to be in the spoiler tag, just to play it safe.
Spoilertags removed, because they make walls of text impossible to read, natch? Instead, I'm just gonna leave this massive space in between.

You have been warned!

You've completed every route, right?

All of them?

For serious?

You aren't yanking my chain?

Psi Rockin'. Let's jam!

Some backstory, relevant to the review.To be honest, I've only followed the game for about... Three years, now? I think. Seems that way. It interested me in the same ways all visual novels do - I'm somewhat a fan of them because I think the format is interesting and often explores ideas in different ways. I thought Drug that Makes you Dream did an excellent job of cutting to the chase about all sort of problems in modern Japanese society, even if not as effectively as a Satoshi Kon flick (RIP). And with loads of melodrama, heh! Cross Channel was interesting though again, melodramatic at times, and Nasu is a great light read that my sis and I have developed a wonderful drinking game for. My favorite up until this point however, the story that kept me coming back again and again, has been Umineko. I won't go into the long of it, but the short is that it appeals to my sensibilities and beliefs even as it does fall back on some of the cliches I am not fond of in writing. I absolutely love it, the characters, the setting, the mystery. It's amazing.

But never once while reading it, or any book for that matter, have I forgot that I am reading a book.

Defective Girl changed that (I use the title here precisely because it seems there has been some reaction on 2ch. I find this hilarious because I can take any Alicesoft title and tentatively mention some of their... Flaws and get bashed because of cultural insensitivity. Oh, *chs.). I fell into that most dangerous of traps (according to Nabokov, anyway); that which the reader starts not to believe the characters are characters, but actual living human beings - or worse still, forgets that the novel they are reading is a novel in the first place. And my usually critical and acerbic self didn't and does not care, not one bit. Every expectation I had, every one, has been completely kicked to the curb and I can say without reservation that is a great and amazing thing. This isn't a novel about girls with disabilities, porn, or even just girls - who happen to have disabilities and sex. It's about people - perhaps like you or me - defined by many things, constantly changing around them. It's about warmth, nostalgia, melancholy - and moving on with life. And that is, I don't think I've even seen something like that.

In visual novels, I'm used to there being a 'good end' or a 'bad end'. The former feels often saccharine and very final - you have reached the end, the story is over, go home, and the latter is usually a way of 'punishing' the player often for arbitrary or even stupid decisions that seem nonsensical and ruin immersion. The choices in Defective Girl feel completely different - organic and sometimes confused with the mindset of a young man who is not SURE what the good or bad decision may be; or even if things are so simple. And the endings - though there are certainly bad ones - are not endings as such, are they? Each one feels like a beginning. And I have never, NEVER seen a visual novel do that. Ever. I noticed a thread mentioning general ending sadness - to me, these are the only happy ways to end stories - that there is no end, at least not one that the reader knows. The future is yours or ours or mine to make, and as someone once said - things happen. The future becomes the present. Nature goes on. Life-

Right. So before I got lost there, where was I?... To be honest, even though it had become clear from Act 1 that this wasn't going to be just a funny game about seducing cripples, I had no idea that each of you was going to create such a vivid story. I want to place a writeup of each path here, later - but I am not going to right now if that is acceptable, because honestly I still am parsing through my thoughts. Suffice to say that is is impossible to pick a favorite in the same way that a good friend can't pick a favorite couple out of their friends based solely on the idea of them being a couple; I love all of them.

... I can say without hesitation that the person who caught me most off guard was Misha. I had a hunch that I forgot about some point through the game, right up until a certain scene arrived. And that scene felt so familiar - unsure about how one feels about one person, loving another person, wanting to get close to THAT person by any means necessary, wanting to feel anything... It was enough to make me walk up and be like 'You want to go raise ostriches or something? That isn't, a metaphor. I like your short hair. Dr. I garden.' And waggle my eyebrows and hope that counted as sufficient to win her heart.

In general though, I loved what different writers (was there also a bit of cross-pollination between scripts, or at least mutual editing going on? I'm pretty sure I noticed areas where one of you or perhaps an editor/someone decided to influence things a bit; it lent to a wonderfully cross-knit feeling script where I think I can identify your general styles, yet each route came off feeling different not just because of the characters but because of the style - even though never once did I lose immersion thinking about it!) did with the same characters. Seeing the perspective of 'in-focus' characters change about 'secondary-focus' characters was fascinating, and if it's all right to say, beautiful. I don't know how to say it other than that. I am also annoyed because I like being critical and despite my intention of starting every sentence with something to pick apart in mind - there's nothing there. I can't. You assholes, you've done it. You've made something I can't criticize!... Wonderful. Amazing, even.

Instead of laughing or fast-forwarding the (sometimes painfully, snrk) realistic sex scenes, I even read every single one. And you know what? They were good. They didn't break the immersion - I know I've said it but it bears repeating - or feel forced at all, and more importantly still - they advanced the plot. I've heard about this before but never seen it happening. I can't just what how. They were sad and beautiful and fun all at the same time - like the sort of awkward sex that happens in real life. Ah, why is this all so good? And for that matter, so hard to write a review about...

I think it's because... Hmrn, a lot of reasons. Women that don't feel like you were writing them to write 'women' especially not just 'women, to be fucked' is... It's amazing how much I've missed that what with the sort of literature I usually end up hacking together. Empowering. Nice. Being a footsoldier in the feminist conspiracy, I will make sure there is a note of armistice in place for our eventual takeover, hah. Having a main character I actually liked, laughed along with... That was also nice. Fuck, I'm gushing. On to something else. The Engine! None of that onscripter crap! I noticed PyTom in the credits, so yay, Python. It worked very well, I think! Though I imagine getting the beast together was probably about as fun as can be, what with my novice machinations in the language....

The art and music linked together perfectly for scenes. I love classical music and the nouveau classic style of the music was just heart-string tugging. I'm actually thinking of putting it on a mix-tape which is both horribly nerdy and going to be very hard to explain if the recipient finds out where it comes from. But I'm just cool like that. The art was like writing in that I could tell different artists had done different things - and yet it not once distracted or broke the immersion. I have seen for-profit works that break this rule time and time again. Regardless of what you might all say about how there have been differences working with one another, the fact that people can see the end project and feel that way should say a lot. If it doesn't, I'll say it for you - great job.

Although I realize y'all are probably about as far as interested in further work as can be right now, I'll be eagerly following any future projects you might sling together, here, as a team, singularly, or elsewhere. Any combination of those things, even. I'd request you keep us updated via the blog, perhaps, or the forum - but whatever might be appropriate. You've earned rest or relaxation of your choice, and more than that, you've earned my respect. The respect of a solitary and bitter person!.. It's a rare gift, so treasure it always. I may at some point write terrible fanfiction of this, but I don't think so. It's far too precious to me, and it's weird saying that. One last thing, everyone. Thanks.

That's all she wrote, Madeline. There isn't anymore. (Save that there might be I might do an actual pathwriteup at some point. Hyrgh. Effort.)

{Edit: Ah, but the twitching of even an amateur detective's little grey cells begins to stir after so many hours of languishing retrospect. Let's you and I dance, shall we? Rev up that jukebox, Archie. Path thoughts ahead, along with more rambling.}

So, it's been some time. I've replayed every path at least twice, now, and have had time to foment my thoughts like a tall, cold glass of coffee. I'm going to do them in alphabetic order, similarly how to the scenes menu is organized. There will be some overlap, however, so please feel free to read all of them - hopefully they shall be at least cogent.

Emi: Emi was actually the first path I got in Defective Girl. Guess my Sporty Spice vibe just totally had her warmed up to me, hah! In the demo however, she looked younger-ish and I wasn't sure how I felt about that? Despite genuinely enjoying her personality, the fact that she showed up relatively late in the storyline was something of an alienating factor, and like Act 1 itself, no matter how much I enjoyed it - became soon lost under the pressure of shirking life responsibilities and hiding from people. I mean, applying for jobs and soul-searching, ayup!.. Then the full game kicked in. Where in all of Gaea should I start?

Perhaps from the first moment her new capricious grin flashed across her face, Emi had me hooked; her art upgrade for the full game was perfect, even more perfecter than everyone else. And as much as I loved her capricious grin, that little smile she has before becoming so hurt she needs to hurt you back? So amazingly true to life, brittle, and beautiful that I cannot get enough of it. And the best thing about it is you can see how much it hurts her as well, for nothing hurts as more than hurting those you are for just because you do not want to deal with emotions, with feeling *things*.

And Emi's path was an amazing deconstruction of so much - that sex is love, that emotional baggage is either something you need to be a white knight to 'save' someone else from, OR something you can deal with entirely on your own, all while still never demeaning how strong she was as a person - Emi was coping with her own baggage on her own, and carrying her own weight. It's just never easy, and it never will be - and the emotional closeness required to close that gap is... Well, anyway. I loved Emi's personality and laughed even as I recognized some of the mistakes both she and Hisao made; and like all of the routes, there were scenes that were both funny even as they were painfully familiar. I do not know what histories you have, but the realism of emotional dissonance made me believe it had been experienced first-hand - and the resolution of that distance, or rather the first of steps necessary to resolve it, were portrayed beautifully.

And Nurse is~ Just~ The best~

Hanako: This was the route that had me most assured I was going to dislike it from the get-go. Not because of Hanako or the quality of writing or ANYTHING to do with the game, but because of my critical expectations and because I am so used to being let down. That the magical powers of dickin' a woman up will heal her emotional scars(ba-da-bum-tsch), that her magical Mansavior will teleport out of the wings and reduce her role to one of reaction while speaking for and protecting her in every scenario, and that the actual process of healing - therapy, confidence-building, and being treated as an actual human-being - would be cast aside for hollywood fluff. Needless to say, I ignored what my gut told me were the right answers - and got a very, very warm surprise with an absolutely astoundingly good bad end.

Needless to say, I cheered Hanako on in that scene. And needless to say, once again y'all turned my expectations upside down. Not only was the art in that scene perfect - the look of defiant anger upon her face - absolutely beautiful (and from a somewhat more terrible place, angry women~ Hanako would be a great rocker, xaxaxaxa), but it completely broke through to me, the gamer. Holy shit! Where the writers actually thinking, about the perspective of someone with extreme social anxieties and how she would develop and behave? THEY WERE THEY DID IT SO MANY TEARS - And then I went back and did things right, and it felt amazing. And when I did it right, I noticed all the clues in Hanako's dialogue, the differing and more naturalistic ways she speaks both in her own and other scenarios as she develops, and was just wowed by how subtle - but well done - her development was carried out.

And all of that was done without outright condemning the desire to protect or help others; instead, it was merely the overprotective and objectifying of a person as a delicate flower that was deconstructed. In the end, Hisao and Lilly both helped nurture Hanako - but every step she took was her own, and that of no one else. Seeing this happen naturalistically in Lilly's is even more of a treat, and makes me proud of Hanako. I look forward to the day she can confidently acknowledge her beauty and self inside and out, and how soon it will come.

Lilly: OH MAN CHRISTIE REFERENCES SO MANY CHRISTIE REFERENCES - My love for the art of mysteries and the Golden Age aside, one of the only complains I can muster, and one that occurred from time to time, was the fact that Hisao or Lilly would sometimes make blanket statements like 'you know girls like x' or 'welp, I don't know a girl who doesn't like shopping' - but given their backgrounds and thoughts, it felt like them (I mean, Lilly likes <3Christie<3 and is from a rather upper-crust family, after all) and not the writer... And I am overtly sensitive to such things as it is. So how did the path measure up? As always, superlatively. Amazingly superlatively. The amount of subtle continuities were perhaps strongest in Lilly's route, too. As appropriate to a connoisseur of fine mysteries, of course!... The references to the music box, to her taste in literature, and to small comments made previously were just divine.

Lilly's relation with her family - and the fact that her default choice is to go with them, even though she has found someone she loves - was also, as is so common in these stories you have woven, painfully realistic. The scene where she collapses to the ground and begins hitting it, and curses, just once... Superb. It was so off-kilter and dissonant that my heart beat for a moment and I had to go back to the text menu and make sure I had not misread something. Those little moments were the most stunning things in each route; not once did the characters simply settle into being characters, or perhaps better said, caricatures, but continued to grow with, in concord with, and despite of Hisao. Like people. Have I mentioned how stunning and unusual this is? I will mention it again and again, until the largest stone becomes ripe with moss. Please carry this goal with you, wherever you all may drift.

Other things that I noticed were the fact that Lilly is proactive in taking care of her birth control. Fuck yes. Just like the awkward, dangerous and wistfully naive (and yet again, realistic) mistakes that happen in each route, so it is too realistic to have a character take matters into HER own hands. Way to go, again. I also felt that Lilly's art for for those scenes was somehow the most intimate; perhaps because of her natural profile, or perhaps because of the scene where she blindfolded Hisao; which was so beautifully illustrative as to ache. And the results... Yet again, I am in astonishment. And, uh, Akira, man. Wow. Oh, and in Hanako's route where Akira treats you all to a jazz club? Damn, that's classy. Although really, her gifting of folks with alcohol - and Lilly's suspicious familiarity with that aforementioned stuff - made me chuckle a bit. Oh, and the scene amongst the wheat? Poetry.

Rin: Again, I was unsure if I would like this route - because it is so easy to do a character like Rin wrong, precisely by reducing them to the level of a character. Haha, it is the weird artist! They are weird because they have problems/do drugs*/will die young/etc! That's funny/sad! Feel emotion/laugh!... And at first, I was most worried that this route would not assuage my fears. Like Lilly's path, I noticed the odd blanket statement - human nature, Rin? Really? Someone as unique, as unconventional as you believes in such a silly concept? - and the early references to drugs and smoking and 'destroying' oneself seemed to foreshadow melodrama and pointlessness. I grit my teeth and bore with it - and then found, to my surprise, that every fear I had was destroyed uncompromisingly. Hisao pockets the extra pills, the smoking scene is beautiful but also self-destructive and ultimately pointless (it does not build Rin's desire to create; at the end, it is her friendship/romance with Hisao and herself that do that, nothing else), and destruction, like creation, is transitory and often unreal. In the end, it's fine just to live. Oh! There was one thing that still bothered me, but it was of little and no consequence. I was unsure why Hisao found Rin masturbating 'disgusting'. Tragic, maybe, since she was so alone and forcefully removing of those around her - but disgusting? Maybe it was supposed to mean he felt disgusted with himself? It's not liked he had forewarning she would be doing that while walking in, though...

Anyway. Those complaints were minor, and nothing compared to how lovingly crafted the story was. As someone who has always had trouble saying the things they want to say(especially in the 'real' as opposed to the Wired), Rin's introspections were as personal as they were painful. Very rarely do stories, of any form, cover not only the changes we wish - or do not wish - to undertake, but also the fact that we are uncomfortable with what we say and think, and how the very way they are perceived is not the way we mean them to be. The little dissatisfaction of even the happiest of relationships, of any kind. The forceful, vicarious pressures to be successful by others - even and especially when we do not want, or do not know if we want those things ourselves. Nomiya actually said TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) - one of my least favorite phrases in the world, while calling Rin out for not living up to HIS expectations, and all in all this song goes out to him. And yet, even well I disliked him and his positions - never once did I not understand where he came from or why he did what he did, and at times I even empathized with him. That is a true feat of writing, right there.

And the ending was absolutely beautiful. Both endings, but especially amongst the dandelions. I would say more, but sometimes a silence is all that is necessary.

Shizune: First things first - the ability to have two characters talking through one character, while maintaining the distinct feelings and emotions of both characters, is a feat of art, writing, and everything. As someone who plays these games mostly to read, as well, I also enjoyed the uncomplication of choices, even though I felt that all choices in previous routes were both sensical and meaningful. Both ways - many choices or few - were done excellently, and in Shizune's route that lack of obstruction seemed almost artful. And not only that - I recall somewhere a desire being said to break the idea of silly tropes like 'ah a tsundere' or something. Rest assured, I could not feel at ease if I described any character in this game as merely a label, least of all Shizune. And wait, what was this? A character who had ambition, which was not portrayed as flawless, of course - but neither portrayed as being pure evil?! And she was a WOMAN!?! Kyaaaah! My heart~ The kyaaah is dead serious, by the by. I haven't felt so attached to a character with ambition since Eva - and Shizune's as far more openly 'good' than hers, and far more explored as well.

More than that though, I liked how Shizune never once doubted herself or her ambitions - she knew what she wanted, and how she planned to do it. Conflicts arose from miscommunications, drifting apart, pushing away - the vagaries of life - but she never once lost sight of her goals. That is a rare trait in writing at all, especially visual novels. Plot advancement is usually held by introducing 'new' 'shocking' developments like amnesia, childhood friends, random ailments - one of the amazing charms about Defective Girl is that it never relied on such artificial things. A good example is Jigoro - despite the outlandishness of his dialogue, he is the sort of person you can meet, most likely have met, somewhere in real life. The sort of person that many people actually laugh at and with and call a 'good guy' despite the fact that, however funny, the things he says are hurtful, hateful, and in the end, infantile - he is a man, well-off, and successful. He feels he has earned the right to disdain other people. A very real complication indeed.

And one, ultimately, that plays little relevance to the relationship between Shizune and the world, and Shizune and Hisao. And that too was refreshing, almost as much as the incredible sweetness (and slight sorrow) of fishing together. Ah, I should have probably mentioned in Lilly's route, but I did like how that hinted things might resolve between the two, at some point... But more in that in a bit. The ending, more than any other, is I think emblematic of Defective Girl - it is NOT an ending, but a beginning. No, more than that - a continuation. Unlike a book which is sealed and has a conventional structure, the fragment of these stories, of the characters, no, the people we have known and love, will continue long after our eyes and minds have drifted foggily from them; they will grow and change without us, and we can be comfortable that their lives, regardless of how long or short they may be, what they achieve and how they are 'disabled' - will go on. And that is a feat I can think few can say.

Also, the sex scenes were so painfully realistic in their naivety and innocence it hurt. Which leads me to my final reflection.

Misha: Thank you for including Misha. Seeing her with Lilly and Shizune in that one photograph was near heart-breaking, and several little references throughout the game just made me amazingly sympathetic to her. And then the option to have awkward, unhappy, self-hating sex with her... Wow. The ending that leads to afterwards only served as the icing on the heartbreak cake. Heartcake. Even now there are topics asking about or implying that Misha might not have been a lesbian or that, since she had sex with Hisao, she is secretly interested in boys, or something - thank you, from the bottom of my heart(cake) for not pulling that card, and for instead just making things sad, painful, and realistic - and yet, implying that at the end of the day, hearts do not remain broken, and people do not sink into melancholia. People learn to smile, love their friends - and find people they love even more. And life continues, and things are all right.

You are all excellent storytellers, coders, artists, musicians et all. I am tired now, so I will go rest though the sun just now has shown it's head; hrmn, I cannot wait for the last frost to hit, so sunflowers can rise playfully above the soil once more. The best,


*Like seriously, I get so many comments about my writing asking if I'm on drugs and it just makes me wanna gnash my teeth and fight some zombies you know what I mean, chocolate helicopters. Why can't someone be creative without having some problem - ah, thanks Rin! You're the best. I love you all, so very much. My hat is off. Good night, and good luck.

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