Tuesday, 15 March 2016 00:00

CUPID - A free to play Visual Novel Review

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I was left baffled by the experience, confused by what it was meant to be.

Cupid. The word brings to mind a fat, naked baby wielding a bow and a heart-shaped arrow. As everyone knows, this Greek god’s image is portrayed every year on Valentine’s Day. With these sourly familiar references brought to the forefront, I started playing--

--Or, reading this book? No. Game? I think.

In case you can’t tell, this was my first encounter with a visual novel. I was left baffled by the experience, confused by what it was meant to be. I needed answers, and answers I found. After doing some digging, I discovered that visual novels indeed appear alongside other video game genres. However, their popularity has yet to fully blossom. And, I’m disappointed to say, if any more are starved of water the way this one was, they will continue to wilt in the shadows of more noticeable titles.

Now, some of you may be wondering. What is this grouchy person talking about? What is a visual novel?

Visual novels are comic or manga styled literature on a screen format. Some are simple and just that. Others take it a step further and apply choices for the reader to select, which can alter the direction and ending of the story. Cupid made such an attempt. How well it succeeded in this endeavor is another point entirely. So, with this idea in mind, here’s my review of Cupid.

You begin in the darkness, reading a strange conversation a young woman has with her mother. It becomes very apparent that this is a toxic relationship. Essentially, “I hate you, you’re so stupid!” Shifts immediately to, “Just kidding, I love you.”

The conversation is in the girl’s mind. Her mother is deceased.

This young, battered and tattered woman enters a church for respite. She also seeks penance for her sins. The sin heavily hinted towards is some sort of sexual misconduct. It’s up to the player to guess what exactly happened with the limited material offered. This is also an annoying pattern that Cupid tends to have.

But, it seems that men find her oh so desirable, including the elderly priest who tends to her wounds. You can then play as the voice of the mother and choose to tell the daughter to stay or leave. Either way, the girl feels that she must punish herself and gashes her left eye with a cross.

Now, at this point, I’m thinking this is where it’s going: Cupid cursed this young woman to have every man who gazes into her eyes fall completely into an unstoppable lust for her. She landed herself and others into trouble because of this, and blames herself, even though it isn’t her fault. This is why she gouged her eye, in an effort to help put a stop to it.

I was way off. She just hated herself.

That was the Prologue. I was still on board in reference to the story. However, the visuals were already buckling at the knees. Aside from one other drawing, all you see throughout the whole Prologue is the image of the girl staring back at you. She might change her expression every now and again. You never see the priest. You don’t see him bandage her up. You don’t see his hand on her thigh. Nothing. It's infuriating and lazy.

This is the running pattern. The same character models are reused. Same expressions rehashed. Although, sometimes a person might be slightly nudged closer to another character for that special sexual-tension action! Or, if you’re really lucky, their clothes might change color or shape. It’s like watching someone play with paper dolls.

Very rarely would a new character drawing emerge from the dullness, and most of the time, these were used for titillating purposes. Heaven forbid you enhance the story in any other area.

One more note before I finish my rant on the artwork. It was apparent that the artists involved in this project were all at very different levels of skill. Oftentimes, it resulted in an unbalanced effect. The character drawings were usually fine. But, the overall lackluster backgrounds were very distracting. Where the characters had more care taken to ensure a somewhat natural flow to their look, the backgrounds almost always remained static and stiff. The art team relied too much on the program to make their work easier for them. Not only that, but it was a headache to find that they hardly bothered to do any research when rendering these graphics. The game claims to be set in 18th century France, but there are pieces of furniture and décor that are unmistakably modern--along with being decidedly square. I hated that.

It did not bother taking more than a few steps into the possibilities presented by the mix.

Art rant over. Let the rant of gameplay begin. Let me start by saying I love books, reading, stories, and games. So, you’d think a visual novel would be a match made in heaven. It was not. If this story was reformed into a book, I’d be singing a different tune. The fact is, this story was made for a visual medium, and it did not bother taking more than a few steps into the possibilities presented by the mix. These possibilities being the amount of choices that the user could have influence over. Granted, there are some of these options available already. Being the voice of the mother, you can tell the daughter, Rosa, what she should do when faced with a certain decision. Perhaps, I have become accustomed to a clear a) good option, b) evil option, or c) whatever option. But, more often than not, the choices were a) evil option or b) I’m-a-huge-jerk option. On one occasion, it tricks you entirely! In Chapter One, there was the conversation choice of either saying, “This is all your fault.” or “My poor child.” I chose the latter, thinking it was the kindest. Instead, the mother says, “My stupid little girl.”

Either way, these options were few and far between. Cupid mostly consists of reading successive and prolonged dialogue scenes, or having characters argue with themselves in their minds without warning. I thought those instances were unnecessary, and added to the confusion of the time-jumping story line. A better idea would have been to have ample opportunities to converse with Rosa. Then, rather than have only the ending effected, have it change the entire direction throughout the experience. Really, this makes one want to pick up a copy of Choose Your Own Adventure instead, to have some control over the story without taking full advantage of it.

Moving on. For those of you who are interested to know if going through three hours of all of that was worth anything, I will tell you.

Depends. The actual storyline wasn’t to my taste. The recommended age for players is seventeen and older. Because of the noted mature content, I felt obliged to turn the Mature Filter on, having little ones in the house. Just so you know, even with this on, there is one piece of artwork in a nightmare sequence that could be considered inappropriate for younger audiences. A woman is seen naked and gnarly, with a sharp-toothed, open-mouthed, monster crotch and derpy eyeballs for nipples. TMI.

There is magic, murder, intrigue, and a pretty decent twist, I must admit.

The story consists of the girl, Rosa, who is taken in by a little piano prodigy named Catherine, and to some extent, her patron Guilleme. Her mother does not trust this situation. Then again, she never trusts anyone. Over the years, she becomes best friends with Catherine and supports her as she is eventually engaged to the playboy Guilleme in her adult years. Things turn south, and Rosa suspects Guilleme is not all that he appears to be. He is a gentleman in public, but reveals a colder side when alone with her. All the while, Rosa is growing into her own and starts to learn that her mother isn’t right in everything. She will soon have to make the choice to either go on her own or continue being guided. There is magic, murder, intrigue, and a pretty decent twist, I must admit. It was torture to play. I would have preferred reading it, where it could have been more inflated and less confusing.

Before I finish, I have to say that the shining star in all of this was the music. Great soundtrack. Since Catherine plays the piano, there are classics from Bach, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff that will be heard. But, my favorite pieces were composed by Yasupochi. They were gentle pieces, really from the heart. Those works were what brought life to long bouts of dull imagery and reading. I’d only recommend it for the music.

I haven’t given up on the idea of visual novels, to be sure. I look forward to eventually experiencing one with a sustainable amount of art, reading material that doesn’t linger, and a generous amount of choices.


The Verdict

I haven’t given up on the idea of visual novels, to be sure. I look forward to eventually experiencing one with a sustainable amount of art, reading material that doesn’t linger, and a generous amount of choices.

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Kaley Gold

Kaley Gold is a new mother who is spending her next chapter in life trying to fulfill her childhood dreams. Other than raising her little boy, she’s working on a book that she hopes will be published someday. But, in actuality, she’s spending most of that time in the wastelands of Fallout 4. Gotta make beds for the people. She loves games for their storytelling abilities and looks forward to the ever-changing possibilities of entertainment.