Thursday, December 10, 2015

Indie-Cember 2: Go! Go! Nippon!

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~
  • Publisher: MangaGamer
  • Developer: Overdrive
  • Release: PC, 30 September 2011
  • Genre: Visual Novel
  • Players: 1
  • Price: US$10
After reviewing two Roguelikes back-to-back, even if they are really good Roguelikes, I feel like I need a break.  Or, perhaps a vacation.  And me being the egregious otaku I am, if I could go anywhere in the world on holiday, it would be Japan.  What can I say, it is relevant to my interests.  Well, realistically speaking, that would require so much preparation that Indie-Cember would be long over by the time I'd get going.  So in the meantime, I've come up with a solution to address both my wishes.  I'm going to review Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, a visual novel about taking a vacation in said country.

Now, this review will be tricky as I'm nowhere near being an expert on the genre.  I haven't even played any visual novels before this, unless you count the Ace Attorney series, which I don't because A) there's more to the gameplay than just scrolling through text boxes, and B) the underage girls in those games never whip their jugs out (thank God).  But in terms of how we in the West associate with that genre, namely the "dating sim" type of visual novel, then Go! Go! Nippon! was what took away my metaphorical virginity.

In Go! Go! Nippon!, you, the player character, are off on a week's holiday in Tokyo, Japan, escorted by two sisters named Makoto and Akira.  Makoto is the gentle, voluptuous older sister, and Akira is the tempermental, flat-chested younger sister.  They stick rigidly close to the "yamato nadeshiko" and "tsundere" character types respectively.  Although, if you stick around you might get to learn some secrets about them which, without wishing to spoil, bring in the feels like a...  Well, I was going to say "tsunami" but that would've been tasteless.  I'll get back to you on that comparison.
Makoto (left) and Akira (right) stick close to their character archetypes... at first. (ver. 2015 shown.)
So if Go! Go! Nippon! can't innovate on its characters, what does it do to stand out amongst so many dating sims?  Context, context, context.  As I stated before, this game is about exploring various real-world sites around Tokyo and abroad, with Makoto and/or Akira as your tour guides (they even made little uniforms for themselves, how cute).  How it works is for each of the first three days, you get to pick from six (eleven in the 2015 version, more on that later) destinations to visit for that day.  Your guide(s) will describe the various sites and sights of Tokyo districts like Ginza, Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, et cetera.  They take you to different landmarks and restaurants, and spout tidbits of trivia about them all along the way.  As somebody who has already been around Japan more than once, I may not have learned all that much from this game alone, but you probably will.

Apart from choosing your destination for each day, there's nothing much in the way of answering multiple-choice questions or anything like that, which would give you a chance to project your personality for the virtual characters.  If I may be permitted to use my imagination for a bit, I would have put in a handful of multiple-choice questions, where the answer you choose would elicit a different reaction from whom you were speaking to, but not immediately trigger a different scenario to play.  But each response would build up an invisible counter, or set of counters, resulting in a nuanced picture of your personality that the characters can respond differently to.  Again, I don't know if this a standard trend in this genre, so I don't know how valid it is for me to be complaining about its absence.

Then, after three days of free-wheeling fun, the plot gets a bit railroad-y as the girls take you on an overnight excursion to Kyoto.  The same tourism approach is still in place for this chapter, and it's fun to see both Makoto and Akira play off each other, but my problem is that the Kyoto part is always the same for every game you start.  There are many other places in Japan they could've done in Kyoto's place, so why couldn't they have done that like they did with the Tokyo chapter?  After that, you get one of two endings based on which sister you ended up taking with you during the first three days.  At the very least, these endings reveal hidden depths of the girls, and with them bringing down the feels like a... ton of bricks, that's what I wanted to say before!  Yeah, that'll work.
This game depicts numerous real-world locations around Japan. (ver. 2015 shown.)
Visual-novels are some of the most bare-bones games in terms of graphical presentation, but Go! Go! Nippon! is even more deficient in this arena (I assume).  It has a nasty habit of breaking the "show, don't tell" rule of storytelling, as sometimes the characters will talk about something specific in the area that isn't shown in the background art.  And some places don't even have background art, but just cut to a picture of the sky!  The character portraits don't move at all either (unless you're running the 2015 version)  There are little touches I do like, such as the fast-forward button and the two language tracks displayed at once.  Having both English and Japanese text together means that you could  even learn bits of the language if you'd care to study it, isn't that cool?  (The 2015 version adds more language options, namely Chinese and romanized Japanese as of this article.)  The translation is fine, apart from a few instances of "om nom nom", because... funny?

Before I end this review, I wish to inform you that there was recently a major update made to this game.  So I shall.  *ahem*  There was recently a major update made to this game.  Called Go! Go! Nippon! ver. 2015, this downloadable upgrade adds five Tokyo excursions to the 6 from the base game, effectively doubling the content.  They also added widescreen display support, as well as "animations" which "morph" the character portraits to simulate the characters' chests rising and falling with their breath, or their hair waving in the wind.  Now, this is paid DLC, and I said before, it's pretty sad when you have to pay extra for a decent experience.  But I'm not mad, because both the base game and the expansion are cheap enough (you can get a bundle of both for US$15).  It's not like some $60 multiplayer-only FPS with only, like, four maps and a $50 season pass on top of that!  Because that would just be stupid!  ...Right?

So, has Go! Go! Nippon! sold me on the visual novel genre?  Eh, not really.  In terms of its characters, it doesn't evolve much beyond the standard archetypes, but that's not to say I didn't develop some sort of emotional connection to a degree.  The real reason to try this game, if any, is for its Japanese tourism trivia, so if you're planning to go there yourself or it's just an interest, it won't hurt to check it out.  It would have been stronger, though, if I had more say in how my player-character acted with them.  I do see a lot of potential in this genre, however, that wasn't realised by Go! Go! Nippon!.  If you readers know of any better ones out there, I'd be willing to check them out.

+ Lots of interesting facts to learn about Japan.
+ A satisfactory Japanese-to-English translation.
+ Give it time, and you can form a real attachment to these virtual girls.
- Breaks the "show, don't tell" rule on numerous occasions.
- Not much in the way of player choice.
- Too little content (unless you buy the 2015 upgrade).

Design: 3 tours out of 5 (Base game) / 4 tours out of 5 (ver. 2015)
Writing: 4 tours out of 5
Audiovisual: 2 tours out of 5 (Base game) / 4 tours out of 5 (ver. 2015)
The Call: 60% (C-) (Base game) / 75% (B-) (ver. 2015)

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