"So, don't be concerned about anything.
You don't need to worry about anything.
You can have fun each and every day...
That is, if you stay here with us."
Ohji Kamogawa's life rather sucks at the moment. As if failing the university entrance exams wasn't bad enough, his girlfriend Yukari also dumps him soon after and hooks up with some other guy. This would be enough to get most any man down, but finally Ohji's parents have had enough and suggest that he take a short vacation; anything but having him mope around the house for another few months straight. He takes the advice and vacations to a beach where he and Yukari used to go, and proceeds to spread emo about the place.
However, his self-indulgent inner whining is cut short when he stumbles across a girl, dressed in an elaborate maid uniform, being sexually assaulted by a trio of punks! Before the three escalate it to full-blown rape, Ohji leaps into action, rolls his Manipulation+Subterfuge (difficulty 6), and successfully frightens the punks away, thus proving his worth as a human being*.
The young maid is understandably shaken by the whole ordeal, but recovers quickly with Ohji's assurances. Introducing herself as Mari, she invites him out of gratitude to stay for a bit at the mansion where she works, a proposition Ohji agrees to. The mansion turns out to be on an island off the coast, where Ohji is greeted (mostly) warmly by the owner, a woman named Hime, and the other three maids. He is then given a stipulation on his visit; as an honored guest, he has certain privileges...
Finally, people who can satisfy my desire for all-night ice cream and pinochle!
Little My Maid
...what? Don't look at me like that. It looked cute enough to buy, and was supposed to be difficult to finish (to get all of the endings, that is), so I bought it (in a fit of supreme irony, I bought it at the same time as Yume Miru Kusuri).
As for the game itself...well, this game has two very different faces. You'll see what I mean. I hope. Let's get started.
This is the first game I've played that I feel comfortable (in a single sense of the word) describing as a dating sim. It does follow the visual novel format, in that you read and make choices affecting the course of events and Ohji's relationship with the people of Ryuguu Mansion, but this time around, there's more to it. A stat system is in place instead of simple relationship points, measuring the amount of love and trust each of the three primary maids feels towards Ohji, as well as how much stamina they have for sweet loving (Ohji also has a stamina bar, and the day ends when it runs out for whatever reason). Friendly interaction, in and out of the bedroom (or wherever), naturally tends to increase both of those things, though trust can also rise in some weird instances.
You don't need to reference this screen all that often, unless you're playing the field.
Other than that, your main options are usually exploring the mansion and grounds or requesting the company of the maids (being as tender or coercive as you wish). Both tasks are necessary for getting any ending but the default one, as is deciding Ohji's reaction to various events as they pop up.
The story in this game is something I was totally not expecting: it's actually pretty clever. The story is strongly based* on the Japanese fairy tale of Urashima Tarou, a fisherman who rescues a turtle and is invited in gratitude to the Undersea Dragon Castle, where he lives for a while before returning home (only to find that 300 years have passed in the human world). This influence is seen, of course, in the general setup, as well as character names (Urashima's wife in the fairy tale was Otohime, for instance).
I'd consider the game divided into three parts, roughly according to ending type: the default ending, the five love endings, and the five sex endings (I'm stealing the labels from the walkthrough I wound up using).
The default ending ("Love is Reborn") is just that, the ending you get if you don't make headway towards any of the ten special endings (i.e. Ohji doesn't fall in love with or dominate any of the women). After three days, Ohji becomes disillusioned with the endless "present time" and leaves the mansion (one of two endings where he does) with Hime and the maids' blessings. Believe it or not, this is actually a good ending, one of the happiest ones even. I won't spoil what happens, but suffice to say, it's the ending where Ohji by far shows the most character development.
Of course! My girlfriend left me because I was a douchebag!
The love endings are also just that, resolutions to the story where Ohji and one of the mansion's inhabitants (not just the maids, but Hime or Aya as well) fall in love. These paths are the ones that actually explain the backstory (the reason for the strict rules, why Mari was on the beach where she was attacked, who and what the mansion and its inhabitants are, and the like) and are, as a whole, rather cute. Oddly, this grouping also includes Mayu's sex ending, which regardless of subject matter (Mayu and Ohji's happy sex friend relationship) actually shares more in tone with the love endings than the others, and has the added bonus over her love ending ("Precious Little Thing") of not making me want to smack Ohji upside the head for a selfish decision (that luckily doesn't pan out).
I really don't want to talk about the third part.
I mean I really, really don't want to talk about it. I've spent the week since I finished the game trying desperately to repress the memories of those endings. Now, you'd think that something called a "sex ending" would be self-explanatory. You'd be part right, and part horribly wrong. With the exception of Mayu's ending ("Be My Maid"), these endings are basically Ohji turning one or more women into his (semi-willing) sex slaves. Getting these four endings is actually difficult, especially if you're like me and the "discipline" options during sex are anathema. These vary in horror potential, from decidedly uncomfortable to twisted and disturbing to traumatizing*.
Characterization is a little lighter in this game than I'm used to, but it's there. Ohji, of course, starts out emo (and unlike most of the internet, I don't use that as an insult lightly, he's really emo), and tends to be obsessed with the maids not "betraying" him like his ex-girlfriend, but he can develop in a few different ways. Depending on the ending and how much he matures, I either want to pat him on the back, punch him in the mouth, or beat him to death with my bare hands.
Aya, the head maid, immediately earns my approval.
Most of the mansion inhabitants start off sort of bland, until their love endings: Mari is friendly and soft-spoken, Hina is friendly and mildly dominating, Hime is friendly and horny as all get-out, Aya is a strict boss, and Mayu acts like a young girl (in one route even referring to Ohji as "oniichan," a cutsey way of saying "big brother"). Mayu doesn't really change all that much until her sex ending, and I get the feeling she's here specifically as fanservice for those who like "little sister" characters (though not lolicon, luckily), but the others all have surprisingly complex reasons for acting like they do.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the artwork in this game, especially the backgrounds (which have good coloring, but kinda mediocre drawing). Only about half of the CGs struck me as worthwhile (not surprisingly, over half the gallery is hentai in nature), but that half ranges from decent to pretty good (Major Spoiler: a personal favorite, not entirely sure why). Character design is mildly better, if somewhat generic, but the game is sort of unusual in its inclusion of semi-animated character sprites (mostly with blinking and lip movements).
The soundtrack does its job all right, but isn't really worth commenting on (other than the interesting design choice that half the tracks used are specific character motifs). On the other hand, the voice acting is excellent. Hina and Hime in particular are rather soothing to listen to (something Ohji even comments on in-game), and Mari and Aya's acting isn't far behind. Again, Mayu is close to the only exception, since her voice actress makes her a little too squeaky for my taste, but she's still sort of cute to listen to. Still, if you read the rant, you'll probably note that good voice acting is a double-edged sword in this game...
Ohji, like almost all eroge protagonists, isn't voiced.
I was tempted to put this first in the list, since it's pretty obvious I'd be a filthy liar if I tried pretending this wasn't a central concept of the game. Yes, this truly is an H-game, and the sex is abundant in quantity and qualities. Most of which I'm not going to be getting into, naturally. Suffice to say, it runs the gamut from tender to oh Jesus god please stop (thankfully weighted towards the former, which are pretty well-written erotic scenes).
To say the sex in this game is important would be an understatement, since it's pretty much the only way you can advance. Seriously, the most common way of ending a day is passing out from exhaustion. Other than that, just how you go about achieving this makes a huge difference in story progression; typically, the choice is between asking any given maid to just keep you company (which Mari and Hina tend to interpret naughtily, anyway) or just flat-out asking for sex, and then deciding how to go about it. While few of these choices lead intrinsically to any of the endings, being nicer or meaner tends to open up options that lead one way or the other.
Unfortunately, quantity and moral choice can lead to violations of my coveted "no fetish, no rape, no lack of emotion" standard. It's perfectly possible to play through the game to more than half of the endings without coercive sex or bondage...and dear god I wish I'd just done that part.
Ideally. I just wish the game stuck with this idea throughout.
Humorous note: though the art is uncensored, this game, like most Japanese games I've seen, censors the words "chinchin" and "manko" (slang terms for male and female genitalia) in the voiceovers. The only Japanese work I've heard use one of these terms uncensored? Lucky Star.
A verdict? I'm still trying to sort out what I think about this game. Impassioned rant aside, I do want to be fair after all; most of this game I wound up enjoying a fair bit. It's just that there's a portion of it (two endings, Hina's sex ending "Silent Siren", and the full harem ending "Path of Darkness...And Its Destiny") that the softhearted me found so utterly nightmarish that they rather overwhelmed the other parts...though that might also be because I left those endings for last, and they're still fresh in my mind. The irony, of course, being that I had to consult a walkthrough to get those endings in the first place. I felt terrible enough one time with Mayu begging me not to yell at her, there's no way I could have conceived of what I'd need to do to finish the whole game.
Would I recommend this game? ...I don't know. I guess I would, but while the story is decent and the ero is all right, I think I'd only recommend this to someone with pre-existing interest in eroge.
Okay, that's over. If you're wondering why I didn't review Hourglass of Summer like I said, it's because I ran into some technical difficulties. Turns out Hourglass is literally an interactive DVD, and my poor laptop wasn't running it too well, so I grabbed this game just to get it over with. I think I've solved the problem, though playing on a DVD player will make for slow-going, and screencaps are going to be a nightmare...
Hmm, as far as vices go, I think I'm overloaded on sex for a while. How about some good old-fashioned violence to complement it? I think I'll do that Devil May Cry retrospective I've been thinking about...