Beyond Eden; Jeremy Route

Next morning Edward is asking what happened to Alex over breakfast, and why Jeremy didn’t tell him. Alex fobs off everyone with “I took headache pills after drinking too much,” and wonders who the fuck went delivering some less than romantic and welcome flowers into his room while he was out for a wander.

Both the flowers and the notepaper the note was written on are from inside the house and accessible to everyone, so arguably ANYONE could have sent them.

 

After this, you get options for how to spend your morning: option one: sniff around the Edenic brothers by hanging out in the library with Joshua and Oscar, or go see Dr. Bell who wants to examine Alex after his little spell last night.

After completing Jeremy’s route once, a third option opens up here, too.

 

Because I’m playing Jeremy’s route, and Dr. Bell has discussed Jeremy’s medication with him, I figure we’ll go that route. Jeremy is being sweet as pie, and suggests writing to mother, while Edward sneers that it’s pointless because she never bothers responding anyway: poor lil kiddo.

Every decision or choice Alex makes around now is to do with sourcing information on the family, and then honing in on someone like a fucking apex predator picking off the weakest critter in a herd. Obviously things don’t have to turn out that way, but it’s largely about assessing and then concentrating his focus.

So Dr. Bell examines Alex after we get to see his room, and it doesn’t appear that there’s anything actually physically wrong with Alex, though the dude’s sleeping habits are up utter shit creek.

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Callin’ Doctor Feelgood!

Alex decides to do some detective work and asks about the letter, but Dr. Bell isn’t really much help and points out the same thing Alex already knows: that the stationery it’s written on is freely available and accessible to everyone in the house.

Jeremy turns up, and Alex asks what this medicine’s for, if he’s sick. Nope, he’s just on supplements because he was last year, and his dad is deeply worried about him.

Alex is like, “WTF?” and since we know how Edenic treated Joshua, that’s a pretty damned reasonable reaction.

Actually, the more I play this game, I think armchair psychologists and r/raisedbynarcissists over on Reddit would have a field day dissecting the family dynamics: clearly William Edenic has some issues going on around abuse and control. Oscar, with his trying to smooth over his dad’s abusive tendencies and stop the kids getting abused by keeping them quiet? Classic enabler. Then you have sweet little Jeremy, who, like it or not, occupies the role of the Golden Child, which should mean the other siblings resent the fuck out of him, but Joshua and Oscar, at least, don’t, and actually are weirdly protective of him.

Edward and Joshua seem to be in competition for the role of Black Sheep or Family Scapegoat: one acts out and rebels and seems to have, well, some emerging masculinity issues going on: Edward is so desperate to prove how grown up and what a man he is, (which might explain some of his weird attachment to Alex) while enabler Oscar is basically trying to keep him “down” and childlike. (Edward is, despite his youthful looks, nineteen. And here’s the poor kid basically being babied by Oscar.) Joshua is basically invisible to everyone, and doesn’t react or really seem bothered about by anyone, while, kind of heartbreakingly, gets to watch his little brother be treated as he probably would have liked to have been. It’s like the guy doesn’t bother caring or getting affected or worrying about what happens to him because he’s internalised their lack of giving a shit about him.

And while all this is happening: where’s Mum? According to Laurence, she’s out on the town by herself, which roughly translates to “she’s slutting around and partying like a rockstar.” According to the whole family, she’s ill and lives in London, though judging from her shopping habits, she’s not exactly pining away in a sanitarium like Dr. Bell’s wife, she’s just all outta fucks to give about her family and living it up. (Then again, if William was off screwing other people and having them move in with him and having kids with them, and being a ragey abusive shit, I don’t think it takes a whole lot of psychoanalysis to work out why Josephine isn’t exactly keen on hanging around.) Edward seems to realise what’s up and resent her, Jeremy doesn’t have any idea she’s not even his real mum, Oscar is in denial about the whole situation, and presumably Joshua is just like, “*shrugs*, as long as dad isn’t angry I don’t care.”

SERIOUSLY THESE PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST BRUTALLY FUCKED UP FAMILIES IN ANYTHING EVER.

I think the absolute kicker is how ordinary and stiff upper lip they look on the surface too: it almost, almost makes you feel a bit bad that Alex is basically storming in there and trying to shake the foundations a little more. But I like Alex and trust his judgement and believe in him, so I’m not gonna feel too bad unless he goes to full on reprehensible levels.

 

*clears throat* A-hem. Okay, so sweet little Jeremy wants to know if Alex can teach him how to play piano because he really wants to learn. …Alex can do one of two things, but let’s teach him because Jeremy’s route, and when you do that, Alex recalls… Beth… his dead sister, teaching him and Oscar how to play piano. Yeeeeouch.

What follows is actually quite sweet: Alex and Jeremy starting to build a relationship, and for the Alex-haters, Alex actually redeeming himself somewhat.

 

There’s a break after this, and Alex thinks on his plans; this is one of those marking points where things pan out depending on your so far choices.

 

Next day, Edward’s inviting Alex to his “club.” It appears that Edward sees himself as a proper British gentleman and has joined a club to play cards and hang out with other kids who are too young or socially inept or not important enough to be in more prestigious clubs. Alex is thinking, “Shit, how do I get outta going to this?” and Oscar comes along; Edward nonchalantly asks if he and Alex can visit a friend, Oscar’s like, “Nope, Alex is OUR GUEST, that would be rude and IMPOSING on your friend,” and Edward’s all, “Urrrgh,” because his bullshit didn’t faze Oscar. Even though Oscar was more likely saying “no,” because it’s clearly obvious that he still doesn’t trust Alex around the older siblings, and Edward’s already a handful and a half and may or may not have a massive crush on Alex.

Oscar asks why Edward wants to go out anyway, Edward says something about playing cards, and Oscar’s like, “Nope.” Alex doesn’t intervene because he was trying to work out how to decline the invite anyway. But he’s seen the tension it’s caused, and asked his investigator to find out what the deal is with this club that Edward’s in.

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Not a happy lil chappy

So Edward, after dinner, is not in his typically smart-arse mood, so Dr. Bell suggests they go play some cards, which doesn’t cheer Edward up either.

 

They head for the games room and Edward is still pissy, and Oscar tells him he’ll have people to play cards with when he goes to college. Edward’s still unimpressed.

So next up, we have another choice for Alex around positioning at card tables: I put Alex at the table with Jeremy, and we get to see the resentment Edward (formerly the baby of the family, I guess) has towards Jeremy: it’s pretty damned amazing how seriously immature this guy can be: he’s nineteen and he acts like a kid in his early teens taunting his ten year old brother. All the while being all, “I am TOO grown up and manly!”

They chat about education: Jeremy’s off to school, and Edward’s… meant to be off to college, right, but Edward drops a bombshell: “I don’t believe academia agrees with me.”

Yeah, he doesn’t want to go to college: he wants to be a soldier. (And nowadays how many people join the army so they can get paid uni degrees?) The thing is, he’s… not stupid; it’s his way of distinguishing himself from his brothers: Oscar’s the responsible, smart, next in line one, Jeremy’s the cute angelic one, and he’s… gotta shine in his own light.

The really awkward bit though, which also shows how much at odds he is, how he’s sort of been pitted against him– and again how poor bloody Joshua is just basically treated like shit by his parents: a military career was Baron Edenic’s “hope and dream” for Joshua. Joshua is all, “*shrugs*, Dad will approve” which sort of puts Edward in an awkward spot since pretty much everything he does is done so with the goal to rebel and buck authority.

 

Anyway, Alex thinks  about the brothers and decides that Jeremy is different to the rest. Arguably you’d think Alex would have a deeper concern for or feel some sort of kinship with Jeremy because of who he seems to be and that he’s basically completely innocent in this whole mess, but… Alex has issues and warms slowly to people, right?

Jeremy is basically untouched innocence, and unlike everything else in the household, and… he reminds Alex of Beth.

So Alex has this moment of “Is he really like that, or is he just stupid and naive or putting it on?” And… yet he kind of wants to admit that he actually likes and cares about the kid, and that his opinion on him has shifted since getting to know him.

 

So we get one of those closing off cut scenes, and basically, it’s time to shift down the Jeremy route a bit closer to the outcome.

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Beyond Eden, Jeremy Route

Okay, so let’s take stock here:

Alex has returned to the family and household he spent his childhood with, planning on destroying both. His sister is dead, presumably because of these people, and after no contact for over ten years, the Edenic kids have grown up, staff have left or been promoted, and Baron Edenic, whom Alex remembered as a bully and a tyrant who bashed his kids and was obsessed with hunting, seems to have mellowed out and become particularly fond of Jeremy, his youngest son, who has a different mother to his older children.

Our cast at Dysfunction Junction is:

  • Alex Rake Wake, a dashing, intelligent, smarmy bastard with issues with what happened in the house as a child, and a brilliant revenge plan.
  • Baron Edenic, the now-reformed dad who bullied his kids– and Alex– years ago.
  • Oscar Edenic, responsible, upright, humourless enabler of daddy dearest’s abuse.
  • Joshua Edenic, who is quiet, gentle, kind to animals, and who has a dodgy leg from a previous injury, as well as shut-in tendencies. Yes, I am on Team Joshua.
  • Edward Edenic, the rowdy lil redhead who is rebellious against authority figures, and seems to be a bit interested in Alex in some form.
  • Jeremy Edenic, the sweet, cherubic half-brother of the aforementioned siblings, who has no idea that his mum isn’t their mum.
  • Theodore Burton, smexy megane butler and childhood playmate of Alex and the Edenics.
  • Dr. Morris Bell, eccentric, gentle and middle-aged family doctor who knew what was going on.

And, with ringside seats for this whole clusterfuck of a situation is poor hapless little sidekick of Alex, who didn’t really want to come along and witness all this, Laurence de Lafayette.

Alex is waiting on a certain letter which will cement (and explain) what exactly his revenge plan is, and a few days later, Theodore has mail for both Oscar and himself.

But before anyone can get mail, they’re in the drawing room playing piano: Laurence asks for music, good host Oscar provides the entertainment, and he and Alex wind up playing together, in harmony, wowing the rest of the family. See? They can get along!

The piano, and playing it, brings up some memories and issues: Oscar is the only Edenic who can play, and Alex plays too, and clearly once upon a time they did play together. And even then, there’s this rather weird… challenge-y vibe between the two of them, like Alex is still subtly taunting and able to dominate Oscar here, and absolutely no one else has picked up on it. Actually, everyone else thinks they play beautifully together and reminisces about this song they haven’t heard in ages, including Baron Edenic, and then things get weird when the mail shows up.

Oscar is visibly shaken by his mail, and disappears quickly. Alex seems pleased about the arrival of his, simply says, “From my business partner,” and nicks off as well.

 

In his room, we learn what has gone down and how Alex is planning on getting revenge: the letter he’s received is about the huge debt incurred by Lady Edenic… and that it’s due.

And… that’s okay, because Alex has not only purchased her debt, but through a subsidiary of his, loaned Lady Edenic even more money which she can’t pay back, at high interest. The beauty and brilliance of the plan is that literally: the only asset they really have to repay the debt is the estate.

We learn a bit more about the absent lady of the house: she was wealthy when she married Baron Edenic, and probably her father in law made it a condition of the marriage that they have joint ownership of the property.

So Josephine Edenic is just as screwed up as everyone else in the house, and consoles herself with stuff. Nice clothes. Jewellery. And on the side, she breeds racehorses.

And all of that goes to shit: the racehorse situation is a costly gamble, and soon she’s amassing debt as she’s trying to make money to pay off OTHER debts, and because we’re all being polite and not talking about money, and she’s gotta keep up appearances, no one actually knows how much shit she’s really in.

Alex does, though, and he’s paid off her creditors and all they can pay him back with is the house, right?

Important lesson, people: buy someone’s debt, and you fucken OWN them, and it’s a damn slick, badass thing to do.

 

So dinner is an interesting affair: Alex is chill and quite pleased about the turn of events, Oscar is quite upset about something. Alex has his own private celebration on his success by overindulging in alcohol, and then walking it off, returning to his room and planning on flaking, as you do.

And then he gets more than a little freaked out: someone has left him a bunch of lilies.

We get a memory flash of his dead sister with a bouquet of lilies next to her body, and Alex reacting very badly to the smell, having a massive headache and feeling faint… and then he finds an anonymous note “lovingly” left on the floor.

I know what you are trying to do. 

Way to kill the fucken mood, hey, Alex?

So, Alex tries to steady himself and sees the lilies again, and basically: not meaning to sound like I am minimising anything, but he is basically triggered into some unpleasant reactive state by seeing/smelling the lilies, and he passes out. He’s thinking of his sister, Beth…

Jeremy finds him, and this freaks him out a little more, and then Laurence overhears things and comes in and takes care of him, helping him undress and then rather cryptically telling Alex not to lose himself to pleasures. It’s all a bit out of left field and confusing: it feels like Laurence is very much declaring that nope, he is NOT a romanceable option in this game, he likes WOMEN, DAMMIT, and cards, but doesn’t want to take either of these things to excess even though Alex so far hasn’t shown any inclination towards either.

Anyway, Laurence leaves after advising that Dr. Bell’s on his way in, and considers the whole mess. Sure, Laurence is right, but fuck the Edenics, they’re gonna pay. The arrival of the lilies and the note haven’t scared him, they’ve just cemented his determination.

“For the sake of justice. Even if I must burn myself down to ashes.”

Hadaka Shitsuji Intro…

Okay, this is the notorious one. The infamous yaoi VN that even people otherwise unfamiliar with the genre seem to know about. The one that divides fans: you either love it, or hate it.

I love it. I know, it’s shocking and over the top and ridiculous, and, well, hard core, but it’s genius on a range of levels:

  • Most of it was made me one person. Yep, that’s right, one dude with some out there ideas and a thing about butlers decided to create this game. To be able to do something like this, to believe in a project that much and then develop it virtually on your own? That’s pretty damn amazing. Mito Togo is actually someone I regard as an inspiration. He got out there and made the game he wanted, and knew no company would cosign on or fund. And years later, it’s got a cult following. Serious respect to you, my dude.
  • The sheer number of outcomes is staggering. Yes, there are a lot of bad endings. But wow.
  • The game itself is a lot more intense and involved than it looks on the surface: there’s very much lampshading of yaoi VNs and the genre as a whole. The player both observes, and is almost pushed into the mindset of the protagonist, who becomes increasingly nasty just because he can as the game progresses. It is entirely possible to avoid becoming this… and to get a benign ending… but the structure of the game, and the curiousity it inspires, actually has you thinking like Tomoaki: “I wonder what will happen if I do this…?” It’s interesting: the gameplay and the choices you make doesn’t so much turn into any kind of plan, but morbid curiousity about absolute power and bastardry, and just how much you can get away with as a player. It very quietly breaks the fourth wall, and to be honest, that’s probably one reason people are so damn uncomfortable with it.
  • The music is great.

 

Fun story: ages ago I used to have one of the songs from it, the flute piece, as my ring tone. I figured no one would recognise it, so it wouldn’t be particularly weird if it rang while I was at uni or in a professional setting or around people who’d probably raise their eyebrows if they recognised videogame music. Anyway, I was at uni when my phone rang, in a general area.

This woman clearly heard my ringtone, and looked over, like, “I recognise that song from somewhere.” Then it must have dawned on her just where the song was from, and the two of us looked at one another like we’d been caught red-handed doing something really scandalous. So I know there’s at least one another person on my campus who knows about this game.

Anyway, in the interests of supporting the original content and creators thereof, I bought it when it somehow– Christ knows how– got released on Steam. I commend MangaGamer’s work, and while I played the unofficial fan translated version years ago, wanted to buy the legit one to encourage and thank those who brought us this cult masterpiece.

I’m gonna warn ya’ll: it’s really not one of those games that has mass appeal. Please don’t let this be your introduction to visual novels or yaoi. There’s, um, much gentler stuff out there. Also, content warnings for pretty much everything under the sun… off the top of my head, I don’t think there’s any gore or cannibalism, but there is pretty much every other utterly depraved thing you can probably imagine, and likely a few things you can’t. If we’re going that thing of comparing VNs to literature and Beyond Eden is The Count of Monte Cristo and Pigeon Blood is kinda like Poe but with more gay and body horror, Hadaka Shitsuji falls into shock-lit Marquis de Sade territory.

Seriously, the warning at the opening of the game is actually there for a damn good reason, and I think more than a few Steam users bought it, didn’t think much of the warnings before purchasing it, and then got a bit freaked out and pissed off.

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter: Hadaka Shitsuji has some hectic warning going on. 

I love the bit about “no part of this software is intended nor to be interpreted for use in any real life situation.” Treating butlers like Tomoaki does is more than likely to violate every known piece of legislation regarding harassment and occupational health and safety. (But honestly, if you’re a grown fucking adult and think video games are a great educator and need to be taken literally, and emulated, you’re probably already beyond being helped by warnings.)

At least, I’d argue, the sexual depiction stuff is so over the top and borderline grotesque that it really isn’t meant to be even loosely interpreted as ideal, romantic, or realistic. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey was full of abuse, disturbing descriptions, inappropriate use of household items and practices that should also not be interpreted for use in any real life situation, and people were sighing about how romantic it was, and The Guardian had editorials about how great it would be to have a man like Grey as a partner. The cinemas ran Valentine’s Day events showing it.

Anyway, I have deep affection for this completely batshit crazy butler escapade, and right now the thought of hearing the music from the PilSlash games I’m playing or Beyond Eden is going to send me insane, so time to crack open the official English translation of Hadaka Shitsuji – Naked Butlers. 

Beyond Eden; Day Three, General Route -> Jeremy

Okay, this is where the routes start to bottleneck and you get forced to make some decisions, to move on a certain path and get an ending with a specific character.

For the purposes of the write-through, I’m going to move towards Jeremy’s route (so MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR JEREMY’S ROUTE IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED IT) because Jeremy’s route is required to unlock a couple of other characters’ and also because it’s a good opener to finding out wtf is actually going on in Ashgrove.

Apologies to the yaoi fans, no smut here, but ye gawds, I am beyond grateful because Jeremy is, like, thirteen, and yeah, we know Alex is hellbent on ruining the Edenics, but even “evil” has standards, right?

 

So, the morning after Alex has pondered his revenge, (and we, the players learned that he hired investigators to see what the Edenics were up to!) and thought rather cryptically about the loss of his sister, we come to breakfast, where Edward basically is like, “I’m going shooting, Alex, you coming with?” and I’m honestly not sure if this is Edward just wanting to go out shooting and trying to be, in a kind of brash and unsophisticated way, polite to the guest; if it’s Edward with a bit of a hero complex towards Alex; if it’s Edward trying to show Alex what a Big Grown Up Man he is, or if it’s just Edward trying to piss off Oscar and assert his dominance as the social one engaging with guests as man of the house.

Oscar’s already like, “WTF, did Dad say you could play with guns?!” and Edward’s like, “He did when I said I’d take Jeremy.” And Jeremy’s all flustered and awks about it suggesting that nah, he didn’t know about it at all, but there’s not really much Oscar can do about it, so he has to let it slide. Worse yet, Dr. Bell is busy, as Joshua points out, the younger boys probably should learn how to shoot because they’ll likely be invited to go hunting in the future, and Alex, seeing the discord, calmly sides with Edward on it.

Turns out both Dr. Bell and sweet little Laurence can’t stand hunting anyway: Dr. Bell for what sounds like ethical reasons, Laurence because he’s squeamish about blood. Oscar very reluctantly agrees to go with them, which pisses off Edward. So it’s all settled, and they head off.

Joshua meets Alex out the front, and even though he’s not going (with his bad leg, he can’t ride) he introduces Alex to his horse and honestly, it’s all very sweet and GAAAAAHH I LOVE JOSHUA (but not following his route right now, so when faced with the option, I steer clear of asking him about his old injury). Seems our poor little black sheep with the downcast expression and the dodgy leg is a total sweetheart who has a real connection with one of the horses.

They briefly chat for a bit about the brothers; about how Jeremy’s off to boarding school soon, how Edward was at school, and… Alex realises through his intel: Joshua never went to school and was homeschooled.

Edward shows up and is almost stalkery in the way he gets miffed that Alex didn’t walk down with him, and they go off to do some shooting. Laurence decides to go for a wander, chuckling that he won’t shame his father by getting shot, and Edward is all, “Teach me, Alex!” while Oscar is super apprehensive because what if Alex doesn’t know how to handle guns any more? It’s all very subtle domination big dick energy stuff, and Alex gracefully says, “How about I just demonstrate?” which seems to placate everyone.

Alex impresses Edward, and then he and Oscar move on to instruct Jeremy, who has never used a gun before and is nervous and inexperienced. Both of them are very patient and gentle with Jeremy, and talk about how when Alex was a kid, he used to go hunting with the Edenics… and about how Oscar taught Alex to shoot. Oscar acts like he can’t remember, and Alex remembers how Baron Edenic was obsessed with hunting and basically saw his sons as just hunting partners, basically only really praising them when they killed stuff. Apparently he gave up hunting, much to Edward’s annoyance, since all the others know how to…

Alex remembers “the christening” he received when he found the first critter they killed one season, which basically reminded me of that weird blood ritual thing they did to JJ when he joined Dragon Head in Omerta, only this time with a decidedly English flavour to it: still creepy and gross and not vegan-friendly.

After this, they return to Ashgrove as the sun sets, and Baron Edenic is waiting in the drawing room, asking how it all went.

Edward is all, “I caught a bird!” and Jeremy admits that basically nope, he doesn’t want to kill things. Baron Edenic surprises everyone and gently says he doesn’t have to, no big deal, and then Alex has a flashback to when he was a kid, seeing Edenic berating the fuck out of poor Joshua who was similarly hesitant– and then slapping him– while he tried to intervene and Oscar, the enabling prick, stopped him.

Like, what the fucking shit, Baron Edenic? Worse yet, poor bloody Joshua is standing there witnessing this hypocrisy, too. …Alex approaches him, commenting on how much Edenic has changed, to which Joshua isn’t entirely sure… and then they get talking about Jeremy. “I’m glad he’s loved,” says Alex.

“He’s our brother.”

“You mean half brother.”

Um, er, ohhhhhkaaaaaay.

Joshua tells Alex not to tell Jeremy the truth, and explains that the kid is happy because he doesn’t know the truth, and then excuses himself.
And Alex realises he’s seen some interesting cracks in the familial relationships, thinking once again about his lil revenge plan and how he’s going to make them pay: but he’s going to be doing it elegantly.

Beyond Eden: Day Two, general route

Okay, so it’s Alex’s second day at Ashgrove, and first thing he does is go for a stroll when Dr. Bell, the family physician, appears.

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I’m a bit confused by Dr. Bell, but he seems affable enough and, well, unlike the rest of the household, a lot warmer. He’s a middle-aged, clumsy, sweet-natured doctor, and gets along with Alex, so they head inside and have tea and a bit of a chat.

It becomes painfully clear that Dr. Bell (aka Morris) cares about Alex and was well aware that as a child certain people in the house (ie. Mary Fox) were kinder to him than other people (ie. a lot of the other servants) were.

We learn a little about Alex’s arrival at Ashgrove: initially he and his sister lived with relatives who weren’t very nice to them at all, and his sister defended him as though she had been attacked… and when they arrived at Ashgrove, the servants’ treatment was cold– but at least, in Alex’s view, it wasn’t as bad as the way his own relatives had behaved towards him. And presumably, at least, he had the companionship of the Edenic kids.

Morris and Alex have a smoke and continue their chat, and the game introduces us to a rather cute function which gives the narrative a new spin: interactive mode. In short, CGs contain hotspots you can roll over for detailed descriptions of what’s happening in the picture.

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Interactive mode is indicated by the right hand corner.

It’s a nice little feature, skippable if you don’t want it, and unobtrusive, but just adds a little something else to the experience of the game.

Alex asks how Dr. Bell’s wife was, and it gets a bit awks: she’s unwell and in a sanitarium… Dr. Bell asks Alex about his love life (“I have no intentions of marrying at present”) and then asks just why Alex came back, expressing surprise that he has, and mentioning that Alex couldn’t even write back to Oscar– sending the letters, unopened, back to Oscar, even, when he wrote to him– while at boarding school.

This is where you get a branch: “Be evasive” or “Show concern.” Because Dr. Bell is basically nice and poses a minimal threat to Alex, and we’re still on the general route, I’m gonna go with being nice about it.

Dr. Bell expresses that he just wants Alex and Oscar to make up, and it’s a bit awks again as Alex says that he plans on talking to Oscar, which lovely Dr. Bell takes in the most optimistic way ever, and then proposes a toast.

“In broad daylight?” Alex asks, though seriously, early-morning drinking is probably the least fucked up thing anyone in this house does, so they go for it and it’s all happy times until Burton, the butler, interrupts to advise Alex that the coach for his business meeting is here. Alex departs, explaining to Burton that he’ll be back later; and…

Later means after midnight later.

He gets back to Ashgrove, and then we’re met with this:

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Burton, the gorgeous butler, sat up waiting for him after hours!

Burton escorts him to his room, and acts as valet, removing his coat, and they have a brief chat, where Alex uses his first name, apparently a big no no, and they both do this “I didn’t think you’d remember me!” “I didn’t think you would remember me” thing, which seems very subtexty, and there’s lots of flattery and chat about how far they’ve come since they last saw one another. But Theodore has come a fair way, being promoted to butler at a young age. Alex comments on how studious he was as a kid (Theodore’s mum worked for them as a servant, too, sop Alex grew up with Theodore as a similar-aged playmate) and Theodore says that Lord Edenic was kind enough to educate him. Alex is taken aback: not the Lord Edenic he remembered… but Theodore tells Alex he changed after Alex left… apparently the man was something of a bully, with violent outbursts.

They chat for a little while longer, and Alex tells Theodore he’ll deal with his shirt himself, which is mildly disappointing because there I was wanting some butler smut.

After Theodore has left, Alex considers Dr. Bell and Theodore: both nice people whom he has no intention of harming, both of whom were kind to him and his sister, but… also both people who are loyal to the Edenics and who might pose a problem. He muses about how his plan is a few days from coming to fruition, and thus ends the second introductory section.

Beyond Eden: Opening chapter, general route

Okay, so I’m actually gonna writethrough this while I still have momentum: expect spoilers and commentary and pictures and lots of opinions you may or may not like, plus content warnings where appropriate.

First off: I’d never heard of Korean company Studio PiePlus until I was bored and looking for new yaoi VNs to get into, and played the demo of Beyond Eden, swearing I’d buy and play the full version when I had time/money/etc. Wh ile none of the characters automatically jumped out at me, I dug the music and the artwork, and I am a complete sucker for psychological thrillers and revenge schemes and morally grey, if not outright utter bastard protagonists. I had a few concerns, to be honest: a) I’m not really into Jane Austen-y stuff, and b) one of the characters seemed to be very young and cute and innocent, and everyone ever was warning that this game was heavy on rape, and I was thinking, “Oh shit, just no.” Even I have my limits, and frankly getting in trouble for having what could fall afoul of my country’s legal definition of kiddie porn isn’t exactly an item on my bucket list.

Rest assured: multiple people online have said it: Jeremy Edenic’s route does NOT contain any sexual content. Sigh with relief, buckle up, and let’s go, folks.

 

Okay, so we start off with a small movie explaining that in 1889, these two cuties are headed off to a country estate called Ashgrove Park in Norfolk.

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That’s Alex Wake on the left, and his adorable, socially apt, and charming sidekick, Laurence de Lafayette, on the right. Laurence is kind of miffed that Ashgrove sounds gloomy, remote and boring, and that he’s leaving society life for, well this, and assumed Alex was off for a vacation involving super secret funtimes, and decided he had to come along.

Alex is in for super secret funtimes, but his sense of funtimes is markedly different from what most people’s is, though as the story progresses, it becomes glaringly obvious that Alex is kind of what he is for some damn good reasons.

“What sort of unholy business do you have there?” Laurence asks.

Completely deadpan, Alex replies: “I’m returning to Ashgrove Park… to destroy everything in that house.”

 

This is the point where we get the first of one of the more dramatic piano/violin pieces and some opening credits, and I already decide that I like Alex Wake. No idea what the hell is up with him, but someone that committed to, and hellbent on revenge, especially when he looks slick as fuck, is kind of badass. Later on we find out that Alex is a businessman, primarily dealing in investments, and studied Law at uni, (where he and Laurence met), so basically: my kind of dude.

I’m getting the real Count of Monte Cristo vibes hard here, too, only we know that with this being a yaoi VN, it’s gonna involve a lot more gay stuff than everyone who wasn’t de Sade was writing back in those days, so, well, cool. Modern convention holds that revenge is a dish best served cold. My take on that is that so are salads, and they’re healthy, delicious, and give you sustenance: I fucking love diabolical, well thought out revenge schemes.

(I know the internet wisdom is basically that Alex Wake is a complete arsehole: I don’t so much as beg but demand to differ on this point, but then again, a lot of fangirls adore cute blushy bishie virginal protagonists, and I’m not really a fan of those. So, mileage variance here. Also, Alex is an Aquarius, and, well, we fucking rock.)

 

So anyway, Alex gets to Ashgrove, which looks like this.

__Ashgrove.PNG

And this is where I just want to say this: I fucking LOVE the art style employed here. It’s crisp and tidy and yet the textures and colour schemes used inject this drama and depth into it; it’s unlike any other VN art I’ve seen. I think architecture and buildings nerds are probably going to dig the graphics in here; the attention to detail is exquisite, and the daytime/seasonal changes are reflected beautifully, breathing a whole new feel into the graphics. Honestly, no one credits background artists with good work, everyone notices shitty backgrounds, though, and the artists here deserve some massive adoration and kudos. And the style really complements the story. Better yet, absolutely nothing in the backgrounds ever feels like it was done quickly and cheaply or overused, which is a pretty huge thing in VNs.

 

Okay, so now we start meeting the characters: heeeere’s Oscar!

___Oscar.PNG
Oscar Edenic, eldest of the brothers, next in line for the title

Oscar’s the sensible, responsible eldest brother of the Edenics, and a firm fan favourite on the internet, it seems.

Oscar greets Laurence in a rather polite fashion, and then turns his attention to Alex, and it’s clearly evident that a) there’s some hardcore tension there, and b) Oscar seems to have a giant stick up his ass.

Alex just coolly observes, ala

___Alex
Dat look. “I came. I saw. I fucked things up. I came again.” 

Totally getting a Sebastian from Kuroshitsuji crossed with Tomoaki from Hadaka Shitsuji vibe here, which is kind of hilarious and terrifying if you think about what both of them are capable of. Alex already seems like he’s committed to not only being a devastating shit stirrer, but coolly smirking about it, too. Poor innocent Laurence has fuck all idea what’s going on, and Oscar is clearly being less than gentlemanly and kind of rude to Alex: classic power display thing: Oscar is trying to look like he’s throwing his weight around and can be rude. Oscar is mentally shitting himself. And Alex is well aware of this and finds it amusing.

This is something the game does beautifully, too: the tiny little double entendres and details in the comments various characters make is just utter perfection. Some of them later on in the story are absolutely brutal and heartbreaking, but the writers have gotten the art of subtlety down so bloody well here that it’s wonderful. While the character sprites are varied and used well, the writing really fleshes out the small stuff: the body language, the non verbal communication, etc, going on as well.

Laurence wants to extend his greetings to Baron Edenic, but Oscar explains he isn’t around at the moment: he’s at the rectory. Initially that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but later on it feels like it is: beyond attending church to keep up appearances, Baron Edenic isn’t religious. The thought of Alex reappearing at Ashgrove probably has this guy praying like mad.

Next we meet Edward Edenic, the second-youngest of the Edenic brothers.

___edward.PNG

Despite the bowtie, this guy’s trouble. He explains that he, too, was at the rectory but came back himself to explain his father’s, and the family doctor’s absence, and asserts himself against his older brother.

Laurence is perfectly charming and compliments the brothers on their good looks, notably Oscar’s blond hair, at which point Alex indicates he has a bit of a thing for redheads, which makes Edward blushy, Laurence a little awkward, and Oscar uncomfortable to the point of distracting himself with his pocketwatch, like a ye olden days version of glancing down at your phone when someone’s been a bit conversationally odd. He suggests they go up to their rooms… and then we meet the servants.

___burtonandmary.PNG
Burton and Fox, which sounds like a British countryside detective series, now I think of it.

Burton is your classic butler trope, and normally I’d roll my eyes, but I kind of love the butler trope in these games, especially when they’re wearing glasses, so coolies, looks like I’ve found the route I’m wanting to pursue here.

Mary Fox looked after Alex and the Edenic boys when they were kids, and still remembers him fondly. The guests are shown to their rooms, and Laurence comes into Alex’s room for a chat, commenting that Alex has been acting a bit “queer” (now now, in the old-fashioned sense, not in the sense of the vibes Laurence is giving off when he’s talking about how good looking the Edenics are*) lately, and asking a few questions, which Alex seems to evade. Their conversation is interrupted when a coach arrives from the rectory downstairs, and they watch as the rest of the family enters the building.

(* Was this a thing in Victorian times, where dudes just openly complimented one another’s good looks and there was absolutely nothing suggestive in it, or is it one of those things that crosses eras and cultures and is universally accepted as “this dude thinks you’re hot”? I honestly don’t know. I know that in this culture, “you look like a piece of Greek sculpture art and have piercing blue eyes like crystal rivers and blond hair I could run my fingers through”– okay, Laurence doesn’t quite say that but it gets close– sounds pretty damned interested to me.)

Laurence remarks that he’s met Lady Edenic at society events, but not the Baron, which seems a bit suss, but, eh.

 

Scene change, and everyone’s having dinner and we’re getting to meet the rest of the Edenic family: Baron William, who looks like an older, colder version of Oscar; Joshua, the second-oldest brother who is quiet and reserved and a bit emo, and Jeremy, the adorable little cherubic type who’s the one who makes everyone familiar with yaoi VNs go, “Oh fuck,” and assume the utter worst.

I will admit it; really not a fan of cutesy characters and Jeremy didn’t instantly pique my curiousity, but the narrative suggests that he looks like someone Alex “knew very well.”

__joshua
Joshua: yeah, he’s the brunette sheep of the family
__Jeremy
Jeremy. 

There’s then some suss discussion around the table about just why Alex is even at Ashgrove, which he somewhat vaguely says is about business, but it seems that Oscar assumes that it’s not the kind of getting down to business that one expects in a yaoi VN. Alex, being smart enough to come with a remotely feasible cover story, apparently actually does have some business in the region: he’s buying some nearby land. They get talking a bit about what Alex’s work is; “trade and investments” according to him, to which Edward pipes up and starts asking him about his job and travels.

It’s clear that Oscar and Edward have some tension between them: “Eddy” is kind of bold and blunt and Oscar is this meticulous-mannered gentleman type. Oscar thinks “Eddy” (and he hates being called that) is being rude, and thinks nothing of chastising him in front of Alex and Laurence.

They discuss how long Alex is going to be there for, and the tension is clear between Alex and Oscar, while everyone else seems hilariously oblivious and poor Joshua just sort of sits there silently. Jeremy comments on the cherry blossoms flowering in a few months, and Alex is reminded of… that person again.

We don’t get a reveal of whom that person is, but don’t worry, that comes up soon enough, and the pacing in here is pretty reasonable and the tension builds nicely without it getting irksome.

Alex retires to his room to think about how much the people at Ashgrove have changed in twelve years and that the only one who seems openly wary of him is Oscar. Oscar, on cue, shows up at Alex’s room, suspicious af, and asks why Alex is really here.

Cue another little power struggle where Oscar basically shows the whites of his eyes and Alex just coolly owns him… but Oscar does have a point: Alex lived there, didn’t write or visit, and just rocks up out of the blue? It… kind of does seem suss. Oscar’s torn between being polite and showing his teeth, and basically only does to warn Alex not to “exert any negative influences on my brothers” which in modern day terms reads like, “don’t fuck around with my siblings,” which coincidentally also happens to be exactly what Alex seems to be interested in doing.

“Do you understand what I mean?”

Alex basically plays dumb and smirks like a motherfucker, wonders why the hell Baron Edenic allowed him to stay over in the first place– did he believe that Alex would reconcile with the family?– and then it’s the first cutscene/end of section.

 

 

 

Beyond Eden

__beyondeden
From Steam; where you can buy the game

 

Okay, internet, why isn’t this game seeing more love?

It’s beautiful. Graphics are gorgeous, NSFW art is tasteful and pretty, the music is lovely, and it’s a far gentler game than most of the usual yaoi 18+ games are. I’ve seen a few people asking what good starting out games would be in the genre: here’s your classic example. The writing is stellar, there’s massive replay value, and it’s emotionally intense but without any outright horror. The choices and routes are very commonsense practical: the forks in the road where you make choices aren’t vague and random and aren’t going to penalise you emotionally if you make a seemingly inconsequential choice.

Adding this to my writethroughs because there’s a lot worthy of discussion and love, and even though I am really not into Victorian era stuff (beyond Alice in Wonderland) and the only Merchant-Ivory film I’ve bothered watching was Maurice, this is beautiful, compelling, and full of twists and schemes and just damn good writing.

It’s over there on Steam, and while the price tag might look hefty, the quality is good, the replay value is immense, and Steam have sales all the time, not to mention, it’s always nicer to support the artists and buy stuff like this when it’s out.

Pigeon Blood Discussion time, part two.

Okay, so let’s talk about Pigeon Blood, Pil/Slash’s horror visual novel.

 

First up: I’ll be blunt: this is definitely not the game/story/experience for everyone. In addition to the game pretty much opening with a graphic rape scene, there’s a pretty hefty smattering of semi-realistic blood-and-guts imagery involving dead birds and animals, and the game is absolutely brilliant at putting in jump scares that even had me, who doesn’t usually freak out at jumpscares, actually freezing up and going, “Fuck!” on more than a few occasions. There’s also a hefty bent of generalised paranoia and if secondhand humiliation is something that you can’t deal with, then please, don’t do this to yourself, or if you do, go in aware.

I love psychological thrillers/horror, though, and can appreciate pretty much anything that makes me react in some way. If I’m rooting for the characters, if I’m angry for them, upset for them, happy for them: you got me, and I’m fairly chill with fictionalised awfulness if it serves the story rather than is used gratuitously or for titillation or controversial value. If something awful in fiction horrifies me: well good, that’s what it’s supposed to do. But I realise that’s not everyone’s bent and that coming across stuff like this—especially unexpectedly— can be super horrifying or triggering for people, and hey, absolutely zero judgement from me at all: but there’s your warning. A final warning: some of the flickering graphics might make this unsuitable for folks with seizure issues or motion sickness stuff going on.

 

And also: there are spoilers in this write up. I haven’t explained how to get to points explicitly, but have referred to some of the outcomes. I’m not bothering to explain with walkthroughs on how to get to certain points, either: there are several walkthroughs available already (thanks, guys!) and the “Easy Mode” allows you to follow endings through logically to get the good endings.

 

Finally: I played it through VNR, and would like to thank the translators who’ve worked on it and also note that Google’s translation to English has improved rapidly since last time I ran PB through it. (I noticed this when playing Paradise, actually.) My Japanese is pretty scant, but I was able to get through at least one character and where the fan translations dropped off, and know what was going on, so yeah, definitely don’t let lack of Japanese or formal translation put you off.

 

All that out the way, I’ll admit: I initially didn’t get into this game. I shelved it for awhile due to a basic inability to connect with any of the characters, and due to the lacking translation at the time: I didn’t understand what was going on, but I also didn’t care. The writing felt sloppy and full of plotholes and tropes. It’s actually becoming a bit of a THING with me that initially I’m unimpressed with a game, and then I come back to it later on for some reason, and give it a bit more attention and suddenly I love it. (Apollo Justice in the Ace Attorney franchise is a classic example. Persona was another one. Fallout 3 sucks ass until you level up enough to be able to do stuff without getting killed every five minutes. Even the original Ace Attorney game—I only picked it up because my copy of The Sims 4 wasn’t working.) It’s got what looks like a disorganised opening, and shoddy writing, and then, damn, after a particular point, you realise that everything comes together, there aren’t mistakes as much as unsettling details, and it is amazing.

Pretty much the only criticism I have right now (and I haven’t completed the game yet!) is that a lot of the soundtrack is recycled in Paradise, which feels sloppy and cheap, and that some of the tracks in that (that slow, chilling and desperate piano piece where you realise that no, no one’s coming to the island to provide food or bring you home in Paradise is so perfect there that it seems drastically out of place in Pigeon Blood) are better suited to that game than this one.

 

So, what the hell is the game?

You are viewing the world through the eyes of Kazuki Kirishima who has had to return to the family mansion in some remote countryside place following the untimely death of his older brother. Big bro Mizuki was the young head of the house and the Kirishima Group/Family and was very close to Kazuki, looking after him, protecting him from the world’s horrors, and basically serving as a parental figure to him. Not too long into the game we meet Kaoru, the household’s butler, who seems unnervingly creepy and to be treating Kazuki like a little kid, and Noriko, the housekeeper who also looks over the family’s burial chamber. Kazuki’s stay at the family home is due to the fact that there’s family tradition which entails mourning the dead for 49 days with a nightly ritual. This one didn’t seem too weird to me: I kind of assumed it was like a Shinto-inspired extended version of sitting shiva, no big deal.

While all this is happening, a car in the area breaks down, and its four occupants: a seemingly random group of rich kid uni students who admit they aren’t even particularly good friends, wind up on the property, and because they’re in the remoteness of nowhere, they need somewhere to stay for the night while the car is fixed. They claim they were friends of Mizuki—and Kazuki, who is basically naïve and kind of lacking in any kind of self-preservation, wants to meet them, despite their lukewarm attitude towards him.

 

Absolutely NONE of this felt coincidental to me, and when coincidences aren’t adequately treated, it feels like sloppy writing to me. And being the cynical little critic I am, I was already formulating “What ifs” about the whole thing. When explanations or even realisation didn’t come forward from the protagonist, I wasn’t especially impressed.

 

What follows is the four of them drugging and sexually assaulting Kazuki whilst filming it, though their plan is interrupted by a chandelier collapsing in the room they’re in, after Kazuki cries out for help. Supernatural forces at play? His brother’s spirit protecting him? Seems a bit ooky.

The following night, they barricade Kazuki in his dead brother’s room, forcing him to watch the footage, and tell him they’re playing a game: where Kazuki needs to find the hidden recording of the assault, which is hidden somewhere in the vast mansion, or needs to kill one of the four of them. The “game” seems to be concocted by the group’s ringleader, Mimasaka, a seemingly pretty, cheerful blond guy who gives off hefty sociopath vibes from the get go. His cohorts aren’t much nicer: Yuuya is little more than a jock with violence issues, and Tooru is the coldly uninterested intellectual dude wearing glasses. The closest to sympathetic any of the four are is Hirotsugu, who seems out of place with the other three, and who is clearly the group’s dogs-body. (But experience has taught me these ones are usually the most aggressive to outsiders as a way of trying to prove themselves to the ringleaders and feel important—and also probably because they are so used to being shat on that they relish the idea of getting to shit on someone else.)

Normally, the conniving sociopath gamesmaster, or the potential kichiku megane would have had me wanting to follow their path: but these guys? At this point, their irredeemable awfulness and lack of motive, not to mention Kazuki’s childishness, just made me go, “Meh, I don’t care about any of these people and assume that this game is basically an excuse for shock tactics and rape porn.” Not really my thing, yanno? A further issue was what felt like the insistence of a supernatural theme which seemed to exist solely to give the game a bit more “respectability” if not excuses for what at that point felt like meaningless brutality. Combined with translation issues, and I wasn’t really getting much inclination to continue with the story.

 

The interesting thing worth keeping in mind is that everything is from Kazuki’s point of view, and that his childishness and naivety about things isn’t so much as a yaoi bishie trope, but, as you get into the story, something you realised has been deliberately cultivated by his family and caregivers.

When shit starts getting serious, and he realises that he’s been denied information about things involving his family and the house, and his awareness of the world, it gets downright horrifying.

 

Worth noting here: Kazuki’s family name is Kirishima. “Kiri” in this context (lol, I recognised this one and wondered!) with the kanji it has, means “paulownia.” The princess tree. (Throughout the game, the four intruders refer to Kazuki as “ouja-sama/chan” or “princess” as a means of putting him down.) That was my first tip-off that, ye gawds, maybe a little more thought went into the writing than I was willing to credit this game with initially, and that maybe things that look like throwaway casual offhand things just aren’t. The creepiness from Kaoru and the kind of “ye gawds, I feel gross thinking this, but there is something seriously unsettling about the relationship Mizuki and Kazuki had” sense? Not mistakes. One thing the game does brilliantly is leave a weird sense of being very unsettled hanging over your head, in a way I haven’t really experienced; I think reading Lolita comes close: where you have a biased narrator and mentions that you know are off but are presented as the story and you feel kind of squicked out about, only here you feel kind of awful for reading in subtext and innuendo that might not actually be there. The thing with Lolita that fascinates and horrifies me, is how it’s frequently treated as some kind of coquettish sexy thing and its titular character herself sexualised… when the book is literally the warped narrative of a creepster pedophile trying to justify to himself that he’s okay. (Like, hey, it feels like most of the literary world misses that one: this is actually even more subtle, and the fog of translation obscures it even further.)

 

Kazuki’s “innocence,” has made him what he was: in these games, a common trope is for the protagonist to be an innocent who has never even been kissed before, and who is completely submissive, and inexperience is just sort of an accepted thing. What PB does that is really cool is that it turns that trope on its head by making it a fundamental part of the story: it’s not that Kazuki has never had sexual interests or urges, they’ve been actively penalised or denied or he’s been made to feel so shameful about them that he’s repressed them, and this is basically shown as NOT a good thing. His demon—both literal and figuratively—is being told that sexual expression is filthy and corrupt and has rendered him impure. His naivete has been cultivated by his older brother and Kaoru, both because of their own selfish needs for him to remain a child to them, and because they’ve believed in his general incompetence. He lacks information, and lacks the perception to question it. It’s not so much innocence, we learn as the story progresses, but that he’s been prevented from growing up normally, and the denial of information or allowing him to develop some autonomy and spine is literally the cause of 90% of the horror in the game. If he’d just been treated as a competent adult and just told things, none of the horror would have happened.

 

And this is again where the game gets cool: the underlying theme of it all is “loss of innocence,” in a spiritual sense, in terms of relating to people with biased information and agendas, and sexually. Over the course of the game, Kazuki realises how sheltered he’s been, how warped things really are and have been, and he grows with that, and… you’re with the guy. His knowledge doesn’t come lightly: he’s feeling guilty about questioning the honesty of those he’s been brought up by, and if he even has the right to not  trust people because he’s figured out they’re lying, he’s conflicted because they’re what he’s known as his loving caregivers and his normal. If this was by design or not, it is chillingly accurate for adult abuse survivors to deal with this stuff if they’ve grown up in dysfunctional families.

 

So far I’ve finished with one general ending early on, where Kazuki asks his brother to help him, at which point, understandably driven mad by his trauma, he goes and coldly kills every other person in the house. At the point where I was in the game, I was like, “How is this not one of the good endings? These people are fucking awful. Good fucken riddance.” The one bit that made me start wanting more: this was literally the point where I got hooked enough to continue—was the reactions from the characters as they were approached. Mimasaka is amused. Kaoru is shocked and betrayed. But Yuuya, the jock/bully/creepster? “Thank God.”

 

It was literally that point where my thinking shifted from “These characters are just indifferent and terrible people” to: “OMFG, why the fuck are they like this and do they actually have some self-awareness?”

[[Spoiler alert: they’re fucked up to the point of being sociopaths or utter nihilists. Cue discussion of Durkheim’s Anomie Theory, people.]]

 

I then went with Tooru’s route because of the four, he felt like the closest to sympathetic, and I wanted to know just why he’d gotten in with these people and this fucked up nonsense. Tooru’s route is the one that seems to get the least love from the fanbase, too, because much of what happens with his bad endings are really about the other people. I disagree with the criticism that Tooru’s identity is just as a filler character: his bad endings aren’t so much about something bad happening to him, but to Kazuki as an absence of having a good ending with him. (One bad ending is particularly awful, where Tooru is referred to but Kazuki is stuck in a miserable situation with someone else, now indifferent to even missing out on Tooru. It’s reminiscent of those bad endings where the true horror isn’t some hideous act of violence, but basically being kept alive and constrained and miserable and having given up: very I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream or the Virus/Trip bad ending in DRAMAtical Murder. Maybe it’s just me [I once wrote a fucked up sci-fi thing as a teenager which ended with a character basically unable to die, but also unable to do pretty much anything else and being trapped in this stagnant state of helplessness and misery] but those Live Forever, Nothing Gets Better endings are the absolute fucken worst for me.)

His good ending is actually really lovely, and for a game with so much fucked up sex stuff going on in it, his entire route is actually beautifully done in regards to healthy sexuality, in a way I don’t think I’ve seen in other games. An example: there is actually a discussion around how no, sex isn’t evil, even if you’ve been told that, and that yeah, this stuff takes years to unpack, but there is nothing wrong with having a libido or masturbating even if you’ve been told there is. It’s surprisingly sweet and not creepy. And literal WTF moment: I can’t think of ANY media off the top of my head where that’s ever been a casual discussion in the context of something bigger. Active consent is demonstrated in this route as well, which is refreshing both in this game and in the genre in general, and it isn’t done awkwardly either, it just flows naturally. Like… whoa, wtf is going on here? Even in perfectly mainstream non-disturbing media, you don’t have characters checking in and asking if something’s feeling okay and not pressuring their partner.

 

I don’t know if these themes are kept up in the other routes (Yuuya’s seems questionable if they want to keep his character consistent, TBH) but it was kind of awesome seeing this addressed and written as well as it was.

 

With visual novels, the choices you make in interactions and general movement dictate the outcome you reach. For example, choosing particular characters over others, or siding with them, or hanging out in their area, or being nice/honest/etc to them will lead to their route, and a bad decision (which can sometimes include being honest with various characters!) will send you on a different ending. It’s a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, and you work through it like it’s a maze, or Russian Doll, where when you hit a dead end, you go back and try an alternative option if something doesn’t work.

For Kazuki, the ultimate good ending for each character, from my understanding, involves getting to the point where you learn the harsh truth of everything going on, and literally go to battle with your demons, both the ones in your head, and the one lurking around the countryside and killing people and various critters. Its growth and dealing with harsh honesty and realities, having to confront things that you thought were the truth or were just normal, and learning some brutal realities about human nature along the way—but also, in at least one route—learning about human decency.

 

So… if you want something that pushes you, is going to stay with you, and you aren’t afraid of going to some fucked up places to get resolution, this might be the game you’ve been waiting for. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but the writing is solid and it’s a lot richer and deeper and has more literary merit than I’ve seen it promoted as.

We REALLY Need to Talk About Pigeon Blood

Okay, so I mentioned awhile ago when playing Paradise that I’d sort of had a go of Pigeon Blood and it hadn’t really grabbed me, so I wound up moving onto other things.

Paradise made me go back for another look and play; I made it through one of the good endings of Paradise, but having a “WTF is going on here?” sense of the game, definitely enhanced by my lack of Japanese and the lack of translation, and hearing that people are working on Pigeon Blood, I decided to go back for a more in-depth play. I also remember it having some crash issues last time I had a go with it, too, something I didn’t have this time round.

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Pigeon Blood. In many ways I’m seeing similarities to Paradise, and feel like Paradise didn’t quite hit the mark (much as I loved it) while PB was more over the top in some ways, it packed a punch in ways that Paradise didn’t. Maybe my expectations for PB were a lot lower than they were for Paradise, and replaying PB made me go, “Hang on, there is so much more going on here.”

So PB: a quick Google reveals it’s a class/colour of a type of ruby, and that next to no one really talks about what the game is actually about in English, beyond a summary of the introduction: you play as Kazumi Kirishima, a rich kid at uni who’s had to return to the family home in the remote wilds of nowhere to partake in a 49 day ritual following his older brother’s untimely death. Whilst doing that, a car full of young dudes appears, the car broken down, our dudes needing somewhere to stay.

So basically, it’s like a weird revamp of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, only a lot less musical and campy and a lot less flexosexual, since everyone, barring one of the household staff, is a dude.

One of the things that basically did get in the way of me connecting with the game is that everyone… is kind of unlikeable. First impressions:

Kazuki: bland baby-faced uke. Yawn.

Mimasaka: Pretty, acid-tongued blond with sociopathic tendencies. Seems to be the leader of the group.

Tachibana: Just a big stupid bully of a jock. Major aggression issues.

Yukinomiya: Bland stereotypical megane character. Obviously I have a soft spot for these guys, so I didn’t mind him, and was kind of wanting his route, but not a whole lot stood out about him.

Hirotsugu: slightly punk looking guy who doesn’t really seem to be like the others but also seemed pretty bland.

Kaoru: Unnervingly creepy butler.

 

So once you get that, most people stop talking, and the game then goes into these guys staying for the night, then basically out of nowhere, drugging, raping and then filming the assault, terrorising the protagonist a bit more, and then blackmailing him with the resulting SD card of the assault or just their general unpleasant presence, so they propose a game: Kazuki has a month to find the card, or kill one of the four guys, and if he does either, they get up and leave him alone.

All the while, there are little things, which initially might be mistaken for sloppy writing or translation issues, that crop up, suggesting that everything in the house Kirishima is a bit suss. After awhile, you realise that, yeah, nah, it was all intentional, and holyfuckingshit it gets intense, but initially, there’s a looseness to the game and not really much to get attached to.

 

I’ll be dead honest: it was Mimasaka for me. Not because he’s pretty or nice or any of the rest of it, but basically because all I wanted was his motivation for being such a complete and utter bastard. And again, that felt like an uphill battle because it feels like the entire fandom loathes the guy, while loving Tachibana, who I just don’t see any appeal in whatsoever: Tachibana seems like the “muscle” and rapey; Mimasaka’s motivation seems to be more along the lines of making someone *crack*, and, I dunno, maybe revealing something awful about myself here, but that’s always been more interesting to me than just violence because someone’s feeling aggro.

 

Okay, so even though this is only a cursory introductory post: SPOILERS ABOUND.

I want to, hell, need to talk about this game, and it feels like no one else really is beyond very helpfully sharing walkthroughs and CGs.

 

First off: I haven’t completed the game. I completed one very short general bad route, where Kazuki wound up going into a massive traumatised state and asking for his brother’s spirit to help him kill everyone, and honestly, when I reached that point, I was like, “I can understand exactly why the poor bastard wound up there. THIS SHOULD BE ONE OF THE GOOD ENDINGS.” Because, let’s face it, at this point, the four potential love interests are: a sociopath puppetmaster; a rapist jock who loves guns and has poor impulse control; and their two followers: a completely cold and indifferent dude who doesn’t really have any presence, and one who seems like that pathetic girl who hung out with the in crowd clique in high school even though it was painfully obvious how hard she was trying and how disposable she was to the rest of the group. (Protip: I’ve always found they’re the most vicious to outsiders because they’re so desperate to have some power to swing around, and to prove their value to the rest of the group.)

Secondly: persevere and suddenly it gets SUPER interesting and what looks like careless writing actually comes together and… wow. Admittedly, the game has a LOT going on and doesn’t explain itself, leaving gaps for questions and interpretation. What looks like plotholes… might not be. Probably the biggest mistake someone could make with PB is assuming it’s just pretty pictures and a few jump scares and some porn. It’s a finely spun web of backstories and motivations and innuendo, and a hell of a lot of complication and symbolism.

So I started playing and my initial thoughts were:

  • Did the brother DIE or disappear or get killed?
  • How come absolutely NONE of this feels at ALL coincidental? The guys rocking up, the death of the brother, the period for the mourning ceremony thing? Even the fact that they rocked up with roofies or whatever they drugged Kazuki with: that was intent.
  • What DOES “fusa uchi” even mean?
  • What WAS the relationship between Kazuki and his brother? because, I dunno, it seems very …touchy feely in a slightly disconcerting manner. Yeah… I feel icky thinking that, but that’s not gonna stop me wondering just how close they were.
  • What the hell happened to the parents? Was this part of the plot or just some attempt at explaining “No Mom and Dad! Time for shit to get weird!”
  • What does the Kirishima Group *do*? (And then when the dudes rock up: “Is this some sort of very fucked up predatory corporate sabotage effort, like how L’Oreal buys up companies after the CEO is in crisis?”)

 

Later on:

  • Why are these guys even hanging out together? They barely like one another. They have nothing in common. Why the fuck are they loyal to Mimasaka like this: is he blackmailling them, too? Even though he’s put their lives at risk?
  • OMFG, have they done this TO OTHER PEOPLE? Did they do it to the older brother?
  • What if, let’s say, maybe the older brother wasn’t exactly the beloved saint the protagonist, with his myopic narrative, makes him out to be, kind of like in Loveless? Maybe his death wasn’t so much murder but someone taking out the trash?
  • What if these guys are all kids of companies the Kirishima Group has royally fucked over, and this is basically their way of enacting revenge and destroying the company?
  • Is the seemingly supernatural stuff supernatural or being staged as supernatural by the butler?
  • What the fuck is UP with the butler? Like, dude, if you hate the guests, why aren’t you keeping an eye on them around Kazuki rather than holing the guy up in his room and letting him walk around at night alone?
  • Why doesn’t Kazuki ask the butler to just buy a random SD card, same size and brand as the one Mimasaka has, and then hand it to him, declare it’s been found and the game is over, and wait for Mimasaka to find the actual one  to reveal where it is?
  • Seriously, the butler is really fucking creepy. Sorry, cute butler, but you really are.
  • Of fucking COURSE that game of pool is going to be thrown. DUH.
  • Did Mimaska sabotage the car after the repair guys fixed it? I mean, since he was the one who went out during dinner instead of Hirotsugu who was up til then, actually fixing the car, or Tachibana, who actually *owned* the car?
  • Tachibana likes Wagner! Okay, I can grant the guy decent musical tastes at least.
  • Hahaha, Yukinomiya’s frustration at having no internet? I understand this. Also, is it a rule in Japan that is you’re quiet and wear glasses, you’re into playing the stock market?
  • Hahaha, Yukinomiya has the same birth date as me? I think this is the first time any character, other than Ernie from Sesame Street has. I was getting Big Capricorn Vibes from Yukinomiya.
  • Holy shit, is this the same soundtrack as the one on Paradise? Really?
  • Why is my brain automatically crossing this game over with other games? Like… what if Mimasaka is Mitsugi’s evil lil brother? What if Yukinomiya is related to that head butler from Hadaka Shitsuji?
  • What the fuck is the terrible bad ending that everyone seems to know about but no one will actually describe? Literally drawing blanks on this one but am curious as all hell.

So, yeah: LOTS of questions, and I have reached a point where I really, really want answers on all this.

 

In other words, yeah, there’ll be a walkthrough.

Paradise: foreward

Okay, so I’m going to add Paradise to my playthroughs.

A few things before we start off: it’s LOVE+DESTROY meets Pil/Slash, which means if you already know what these games are like, you probably have an idea what you’re in for. If not… you sweet summer child… you are basically in for something that is visually lovely, complex in terms of writing, and completely fucked up in terms of content.

I haven’t played the CAGE series, but understand that there’s, well, guro*.

have played some of Pigeon Blood, where there’s horror, rape, dead animals and jump scares, as well as this pervasive off feeling which is hard to describe but which is sort of vaguely nauseating, especially when paired up with the overall prettiness of the graphics. Honestly, if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, tread carefully.

Anyway, Paradise is pretty, and about hot guys on an island together, which initially sounded some alarm bells for me because I read Lord of the Flies as a kid, and because camping isn’t really my thing anyway. And because I know exactly what Pil/Slash get up to, lulling you into a sense of comfort and then pulling out a jumpscare or a rape scene. As a reader/player, I kind of love the contrast, especially if it has the gravity to actually get at you: horror movies tend to not really scare me and slasher flicks, well, yeah, people get wounded, people bleed, that just seems obvious to me; but something like this which is a combination of detailed, realistic, and sparingly used horror along with a headfuck? Yeah, cool. If it feels gratuitous or just an attempt to shock, meh, it doesn’t really interest me, but if it’s done well, I am so there.

So yeah, I was wanting to play this for awhile. I was suspecting that it would get picked up by MangaGamer, who picked up Room No. 9 for translation, and was happy to wait, but then downtime IRL and a shift back to fannish activities made me give it a go, so my experience with it is very much through rusty translations on VNR, as an English-speaker who doesn’t know a great deal of Japanese. This has meant on a few occasions I was left trying to work out WTF actually happened in various scenes (which kind of adds to the unsettling vibe, TBH). I played it pretty much unspoilered because I haven’t actually found any walkthroughs that actually discuss what’s going on, other than how to get particular good or bad endings for the three characters you can have story lines with.

One thing I did find, and this might be influenced by the fact that I was running it through VNR: it feels like it took a long time to warm up to the action, but that allows the horror stuff to not feel gratuitous: you care about the characters and are legitimately shocked when stuff starts going down.

So my write ups? I’m going to be spoilering the hell out of anyone reading, simply because I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere and think it might be a good conversation to have.

* Google describes it as  an art movement featuring “eroticism and grotesque” content. I’d describe it as “seeing body parts which you normally don’t because they’re internal organs. And possibly people having sex with someone while those body parts are on display.”