I really do like Hentai Games. I will now spend umpteen paragraphs qualifying that statement.
When you say “Hentai Games” at this point you’re actually referring to way too huge a genre, like if you said “Action Games” instead of “First Person Shooters”, “Platformers”, “Shoot-’em-Ups”, and so on. So to be more specific, I’m a big fan of “Tree-Based Dating-Sim Romance Games”.
In these games, you play the part of an indecisive person, usually obscured in identity, who’s at a critical juncture of his life but lacking any real direction of where to go next. You are introduced to a variety of characters, and among them are a number of girls your age (and sometimes younger and older). They say things, you have some plot, and a number of decision trees pop up. Do you go to the movies with a girl who asked you to take her somewhere, or do you stay home? Do you work at the store today, or go to the library? After between 15 and 30 decisions, you will reach some sort of conclusion, where you will be either in a relationship with one of the girls, or alone, or possibly a completely evil person devoid of soul and heart.
Like everything else in the entire world, this game genre has high points and low points and a lot of stuff in between. Obviously I don’t care for every single example of this genre, instead preferring the ones that share a number of specific traits:
- A Byzantine construction of situational setups and interrelating plotlines not unlike an episode of Fawlty Towers or Noises Off.
- Asiding cultural references to Japanese or American trends, such that your characters have a sense of reality even though they live in one a few planes of existence over.
- Art where they obviously hired a talented artist and gave them enough money to do more than 10 drawings.
- Characterization where you actually feel you’re looking at a half-dozen different people and not the same person six times with different colored hair.
Here’s some concrete examples. In Tokimeki Check-In!, your family, which runs a hot springs Inn in the country, has bought a new inn and your parents are concentrating on the new property, leaving you in charge of the old. You’re left with three trusted staff: a cook who’s a little older than you, a maid who has been a friend since childhood, and an older gentleman who has been running the facilities of the Inn for a very long time. You welcome into your Inn a total of about eight girls, who sometimes are traveling together and sometimes alone. There’s an artist, a dark and mysterious girl, a trio of college students, a pair of girlfriends. The timeline takes place over three days, and during that time you get up to all kinds of trouble, deal with all sorts of conflicts, and make nice with some patrons and anger others. Meanwhile you’ve got some sort of conflict with the cook, an unsure relationship with the maid, and a variety of drunken escapades. At the end of these three days, you will find yourself everywhere from nearly engaged to utterly shamed, trapped in a crime family or simply waving goodbye to your happy and rested patrons.
Oh, it gets better. In Plenty of Pretty Sisters, you find your house is beset by aliens, who have appeared in the form of four cute girls. One of them has used a memory ray on your parents such that they suddenly believe that they have five kids, that is, you and these four girls. They range from cold and unfeeling (one’s a robot, another is some sort of space spirit) to fist-shaking emotional whirlwinds. Through the use of this memory gun and a variety of situations involving alien invasion, you both try and save the world and also get hooked up with one of your “sisters”.
Dozens of these games come out every year, and some are, like I said, very good and a lot are very bad. The reasons for this should be obvious: just like anyone with a camera and a pad of paper can throw together a film, so can anyone with a contract anime artist and a competent programmer throw together something that resembles a game.
But what I specifically like about these games are the tree-based narrative shifts, specifically when the characters in each tree plays variant roles. This is what’s as or more compelling than the inherent aspect of the game where you might hook up with the girls; it’s that in one juncture someone is your girlfriend, in the next one an enemy. A dance where you walk around inside meets one person; hanging out in the parking lot meets another. If the person putting together the tree is talented, this real inclusive world happens, and you feel the machine of destiny grinding slowly with your every choice. Playing the game over and over is even more rewarding, as you find that scant references in one scene are front and center action from another point of view. This is, at the core of it, what I find compelling about interactive narrative in general, and part of what drove me to work on GET LAMP.
If you’ve never played one of these things before, and have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll go ahead and suggest the services of J-List, an excellent and trustworthy software site, with a strong sense of customer satisfaction and proper treatment. Of the games they list, I suggest the JAST Memorial Collection, which has three of these games for an inexpensive price ($15).
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