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Girl you need a shot - Boyz12
" Girl, You Need a Shot Of B12
You Know You Do
{Verse 1}
You've Got B12 Flowing Through Your System
You Better Lose That Boyfriend Before I Fist Him
B12 Will Make You Feel All Bright And Alert
Lay Down On The Bed And Take Off Your Shirt
Boyz 12 The Biggest Boy Band And That's For Sure
More Boys Than I Think you've Ever Seen Before
And Definitely These Boys will Give You Other Things
But You'll Get B12 When My Men Sing
Oh Girl, You Need A Shot Of B12
(Break It Down)
{Verse 2}
I'm B1 And I'm Tons Of Fun
I'm B2, I Wanna Get With You
I'm B3, Wanna Be With Me?
I'm B4, And I'll Make You Sore
I'm B5, I'll Make You Feel Alive
I'm B6, I Pick Up Sticks
I'm B7, I'll Take You To Heaven
I'm B8, And I Am Great
I'm B9, And I'm So Fine
I'm B10, I Remember When
I'm B11, I'm In Love With B7
I'm B12, And We're Boyz 12
Girl, You Need A Shot Of B12
You Know You Do
{Verse 3}
Abraham H
And Constantine
Girl, You Need A Shot Of B12
You Know You Do
Let's Hear About The Boys!
{Verse 4}
BOYZ 12!
Girl, You Need A Shot Of B12
You Know You Do
Girl, You Wanna Shot Of Boyz 12
It's Overdue "

This was a treat, my first multi sit-down game in a few months, and it honestly makes sense because the game found a really great groove that stuck with me over a few days. I feel like it may have impacted me a bit harder if I'd played it about 5 years ago. On the other side of that coin, however, were some really poignant moments that my 23 year old self could uniquely relate to. Lots of fun, also Bea is the best :)



CW: Sexual assault, sexual violence, bestiality, incest, pornography, victim-blaming/shaming, misogyny, sexualisation of minors, gore, obscenity, descriptions of the aforementioned. The four-letter 'R-word' is also invoked repeatedly without censoring or obfuscation.
This review is split into sections. While you can read them all at once, I advise taking breaks as necessary due to length and subject-matter, as well as to better digest the text.
I also wish to stress I am not endorsing these sorts of games. I am just presenting my own understanding of media in a culture different from my own, with my own Western perceptions and biases. Draw your own boundaries when it comes to the media you consume.
On the 'List of controversial video games' page of English Wikipedia, there's an entry for a 1986 PC-8801 game by Macadamia Soft titled 177.¹ It has one incorrectly archived citation. The only article for 177 itself is on Japanese Wikipedia. Given that 177 allegedly "ignited a public furor that reach the National Diet of Japan," this absence of concrete evidence puzzled me.² However, as there remains an abundance of media of its ilk in contemporary Japanese culture, I was also curious as to what that furor achieved, and the why of 177's production. In this review, I will argue that 177 and similar such works represent gendered power dynamics in Japanese culture, operate in intentional contradistinction to moral sexuality as an extension of nation-building and family-making, and that these titles reflect Japan's interpretation of ethics -- in relation to pornography -- in a manner incongruous with Western perceptions, necessitating a knowledge of their context.
There's an undeniable prevalence to rape and sexual assault in eroge generally not seen in Western produced erotic games. The obvious keystones include AliceSoft's Rance series and Illusion's titles like RapeLay and Battle Raper. However, these works are not anomalies in the sea of eroge. Searching the Rape tag on VNDB gives 5,125 total results. 1,572 have a tag score above 2.0, meaning a step up in importance above "the tag certainly applies."³ 507 garner a 3.0 meaning "the tag applies, is very apparent and plays a major role."⁴ These numbers do not account for the plethora of doujin works on platforms like the NEC PC-88 and PC-98, or contemporary releases on storefronts like DLsite. Furthermore, this only quantifies visual novel releases. A cursory search of DLsite bears 282 eroge titles tagged Rape. And this says nothing of Rape anime/manga hentai or erotica. ExHentai has over 60,000 doujinshi, manga, and CG galleries tagged Rape in Japanese, even then only representing uploads from 2007-onward. That's out of 700,000 total works in those categories. Though a wider and more thorough analysis would garner more accurate numbers, what I am trying to convey the presence, prevalence, and pronouncement of rape in Japanese pornography.
None of this is new, as the 1986 release of 177 would already intimate. Depictions of rape in Japanese visual art go back at least as far as the late 18th century, seen in the ukiyo-e prints of [Koryūsai](https://ukiyo-e.org/image/famsf/5050161212810079) and [Utamaro](https://ukiyo-e.org/image/bm/AN00601086_001_l). Even as far back as the Heian period, rape plays a prominent, if not important, role in Murasaki Shikibu's Genji Monogatari. Widely considered one of the first literary novels, Genji Monogatari is a critical work in its detailing of aristocracy in Heian Japan, including its moral code. Furthermore, its role in the cultural zeitgeist of Japan to this very day has it informing other works from nougaku theatre to television adaptations to manga to women's gossip magazines. Rape is by no means the primary focus of Genji Monogatari, to the extent that most discussion of the work either eschews mention of it or relegates it to a footnote, but I bring it up because it is undeniably a part of the work.
Esteemed translator of Genji Monogatari into modern Japanese, the late Jakucho Setouchi, noted that the clandestine and tasteful acts of sex therein were "all rape, not seduction."⁵ English translator of Genji Monogatari, Royall Tyler, takes umbrage with this assertion of rape, stating that in this time period, no woman could properly give consent in a decent or proper manner, thereby making any first-time sexual encounter within established social bounds meet our contemporary definition of rape.⁶ The particulars of a 'correct' reading here are far too complicated to dive into (and I don't consider myself well-read enough to argue one way or the other), but the chapters following Genji's death are so fervent in their description and criticism of rape that even if Genji is not a rapist, Murasaki's world is still abound with rape. Returning to Tyler's position, Genji can be understood to not be raping his victims because they are seduced prior to, during, or after sex. Regardless of if this is valid for those women, the work and this reading thus perpetuate a litany of rape myths we still deal with contemporarily, and that are still seen in the pages of hentai manga or the scenes of eroge. I bring this up because the claim of 'alleged' rape being a preliminary step to marriage is critical to 177, as well as RapeLay, the Rance series of titles, and a large swath of eroge.
A Post-Mortem Review of Morimiya Middle School Shooting
In my review of Morimiya Middle School Shooting, I intentionally avoided an in-depth discussion of its gameplay as I thought putting play into words was a gratuitous and unnecessary act for such a heinous work. As the total number of plays, reviews, and visitors to the erikku Discord rose following that review, I realise that by omitting that gameplay discussion, I was in effect fostering a morbid curiosity for something I argued people should not see for themselves. That was by no means what I wished to have happen, and to some extent that perusal of ammorality would happen irregardless. What I will highlight in the next section is how 177 actually plays, with full discussion of its three endings. It is my sincere hope that will, if not dissuade people from playing it, demonstrate that the game isn't engrossing enough to warrant play. It should by no means be lost to the annals of history, but I want to assure you, you are not missing anything by reading about 177 rather than playing it. This is not like Morimiya where I argued it was mechanically novel. 177 is rather vapid by comparison. I recommend watching a longplay rather than playing it, if engaging with it at all.
An Overview of 177 by Macadamia Soft
「Rape... it's not a crime if it's a game」
On the title screen for 177, we see a young red-haired woman flanked by trees on either side of the path she walks. The path splits into three branches. The woman wears a white sleeveless blouse and red skirt. She looks over her shoulder and breaks into a jog, accelerating to a rapid pace. The internal speaker of the NEC PC-88 clicks in time with her footsteps. As the game loads you hear a deep heartbeat. There's no build up to the chase here, it happens before the player even gains control.
The manual (emblazoned with 177 and an all-caps RAPE beneath it) stipulates that to enjoy the game, one must 'become' a rapist.⁸
The game screen features an animated sprite of the woman in the top left, constantly looking over her shoulder. Beside her is a map showing the start point, winding and branching paths, her home, and a graveyard.
The woman's name is Kotoe Saito. She is a 21 year old pink-collar worker for a foreign computer company. She is 160.9cm tall. Her blood type is A. Her three sizes are 82-60-83 (if, for some reason, you need to be able to visualise the figure of a fictitious rape victim, these match Yuuki Asuna's measurements in the web novel of Sword Art Online). She has a bright personality and a partner named Akira Shindo. Her parents approve of their relationship.
The player character is a 26 year old man named Hideo Ouchi. He has been working at an automotive factory for eight years. His hobby is browsing manga in convenience stores at night. His personality is serious but taciturn. He is poor at socialising. The other tidbit of biographical insight we get is that his 'target' is Kotoe Saito. This is a premeditated rape, as Hideo has been scouting out Kotoe's commute to and from work to determine how to chase and rape her. Hideo doesn't want to enact a sexual violence onto any woman, he wants to hurt this specific woman.
The bottom of the game screen shows Kotoe and Hideo in a mad dash to the left of the screen. Stumps, stones, graves, fans, cats, skunks, turtles, dogs, and moles stifle your chase of Kotoe. The player can throw bombs to increase their score, destroy obstacles, and slow Kotoe down. Picking up street signs changes Kotoe's escape route to keep her from getting home. Everything in your path hampers your movement, and the closer you get to Kotoe, the less time you have to react. When you're within striking distance of her it's a pure gamble as to whether or not you'll succeed. When the player reaches Kotoe, they strip an article of her clothing off as her portrait shrieks. First the blouse, then her skirt, then her bra, lastly her panties. The difficulty is obscene to the point of frustration, perhaps deliberately to make the eventual 'reward' of rape and sexual gratification all the more satisfying. Catching up to her a fifth time has Hideo pin Kotoe to the ground as the heartbeat returns. Thus concludes Act One of 177.
The screen goes black and shows us Hideo raping Kotoe. In the top we see percentages assigned to the four cardinal directions. Next to it is a Power metre rapidly counting down. Below that, a Desire metre changing its reading rapidly. Underneath the percentages is a pink orchid which slowly opens its petals fully in bloom. Drops of water land on it. The bottom left corner displays the four cardinal directions the player can maneuver themselves as they rape Kotoe. Assuming a position which obfuscates the penetration, we see Kotoe's distressed face and sometimes an exposed breast, the rest of her covered by Hideo and his undulating hips. Kotoe lets out the occasional yelp.
Should Hideo's power metre reach zero, he is arrested and Section 2 of Article 178 of the Japanese Criminal Code is quoted, which altogether states:
"Article 178. (Quasi Forcible Indecency; Quasi Rape)
(1) A person who commits an indecent act upon a male or female by taking advantage of loss of consciousness or inability to resist, or by causing a loss of consciousness or inability to resist, shall be punished in the same manner as prescribed for in Article 176.
(2) A person who commits sexual intercourse with a female by taking advantage of a loss of consciousness or inability to resists, or by causing a loss of consciousness or inability to resists, shall be punished in the same manner as prescribed in [Article 177]."⁹
At the time of publication, the punishment outlined in Article 176 was imprisonment with work for six months to ten years. The punishment outlined in Article 177 was imprisonment with work for a minimum term of three years. Demonstrating an all too comfortable familiarity with the Japanese Criminal Code, 177 decides to argue semantics. This act of physical and sexual violence is not technically rape, it is only quasi rape, as if that makes it somehow less egregious.
This ending comprises one of two 'bad endings' in 177, the other happening if Kotoe reaches her home. In that event, she jumps for joy and the game ends, no punishment for battery or attempted rape.
If the player instead gets the Desire metre high enough for long enough, the orchid will quiver and Kotoe screams in a pink speech bubble instead to indicate her orgasm. The Desire metre isn't Hideo's own lust, it represents Kotoe's growing attraction to Hideo, suggesting continual rape eventually crosses a boundary of becoming ordinary, consensual sex. The screen fades to black again before we see a photograph of Kotoe in bridal attire with a demure expression. The sun rises behind Mount Fuji, and Hideo lays on the ground in the same clothes from Act One, propping his head up and wearing a weary expression. Below the picture reads "Well, I'm beaten." The implication is thusly, similar to Genji Monogatari and representative of rape myth beliefs, the victim's orgasm means they weren't raped, that she wanted it, and that this is an act of seduction rather than assault. Considering her protestation throughout the course of her rape, the genuine terror in her eyes during Act One, and her incredible glee if she makes it home successfully, her alleged enjoyment is a laughable falsehood, perpetuating rape myth acceptance by wrapping it all in a happy bow. So supposedly smitten is Kotoe that her relationship with her partner Akira is called off so she can wed her rapist. Hideo is meant to be an target of pity, doomed to domesticity with a woman he lusted after but perhaps did not love.
The 'Story' of 177
Across all discussions of 177, not a single one makes mention of the manual. Photographs of the physical release on PC-88 and Sharp X1 are few and far between, and a scan of the manual was only made available in February 2022 on the Internet Archive. The scan is in dreadful quality to the point where complex kanji are nearly illegible.¹⁰ After much hardship I managed to at least transcribe the 'story' of 177 presented therein, and machine translate it with some light edits for readability:
[Rape... it's not a crime if it's a game]
[177 Story - To enjoy this game, it is important to be a rapist. Read this story to help life your mood. We will also teach you some techniques to clear the game.]
[強姦]。 美際の行為に及ぷ者はいない。なぜならば刑法第177条「強姦罪」に触れる事になるからだ。しかし、ゲームなら可能である。このゲームは、世の男性・女性諸氏の健全かつ正常なる愛の営みを願い開発されました。あなたの心に潜む、その危険な願望をゲームの世界で存分にお楽しみください。決して現実の世界に足を踏み入れないために。
[[Rape.] No one should engage in the act of rape. This would be a violation of Article 177 of the Penal Code, outlining the crime of rape. However, it is allowed in a game. This game was developed with the hope that men and women in the world will have healthy and normal love lives. Please enjoy the dangerous desires that lurk in your heart to the fullest in the game world. Never bring these acts into the real world.]
Chapter 1
[Kotoe Saito, a 21-year-old office lady, was heading home along her usual path at a quick pace after working overtime and leaving late. She heard a rustling sound coming from the grass behind her. When she turned around, the face of a man with glazed eyes was close to Kotoe's. The man grabbed Kotoe's plump breasts. Kotoe shook off the man's hands and ran away at once.]
Chapter 2
[Kotoe ran desperately. Right now, she had no choice but to run. If that man grabs me, I don't know what he will do to me. Just thinking about it gave her goosebumps. The man flinched for a moment, but then he gave a wry grin and ran after her again. The sound of the man's footsteps gradually approached Kotoe... The man grabbed Kotoe's clothes and tore them off.]
Chapter 3
[The man looked for a moment at the clothes he had torn off. Kotoe took the opportunity to run to a crossroads. On the right was a shortcut that she always took, but she did not hesitate to turn left. The man's attempts to rape Kotoe were premeditated. He had been secretly following her for several days, and he knew the topography of the area and had placed signs at all the intersections that moved automatically at the flick of a switch.]
Chapter 4
[Kotoe's desperate attempts to escape were in vain, as she was stripped of her skirt, bra, and panties one after the other, until she was completely naked. "The next time I catch you will be the last," the man thought, his chest and loins heaving with anticipation. Kotoe could not run any faster. Gradually, the man's rough breathing came closer and closer. Finally, Kotoe was pushed down.]
Chapter 5
[The man quickly removed his clothes and climbed on top of the limp Kotoe. The loveless sex was painful for Kotoe. The man was desperate to move his hips in spite of her. "If I use my hips well and make her cum, it means that this sex is consensual," thought the man. Even if he was prosecuted then, he would not be charged with a crime.]"¹¹
The (Hi)story of Macadamia Soft
The specifics of development studio Macadamia Soft are difficult to pin down precisely, not only due to most resources being in Japanese, but also because early computer software was seen as ephemeral and inconsequential enough to not warrant extensive documentation. This section is my attempt to piece together the origins of Macadamia Soft and 177.
In 1980, a Sapporo-based computer shop was founded under the name 'Computer Land Hokkaido' (株式会社コンピューターランド北海道). As was typical of many developers in the infancy of the home computer revolution, 'Computer Land Hokkaido' was a store which sold computer software and hardware, with software development happening behind the counter as a secondary commercial endeavour. That department, under the name '7 Turkey,' released at least seventeen titles for the NEC PC-6000, PC-8000, and PC-8800 series of 8-bit home computers.¹² Around 1983, '7 Turkey' changed their name to dB-SOFT alongside the release of one of their most important games, Flappy.
dB-SOFT's first adult title, Don Juan, was released in March 1984. A 'game of debauchery,' it tells the story of a casanova trying to seduce a woman named Madoka while avoiding debt collectors.¹⁴ Madoka can be sweet-talked into sex with a highly difficult pickup line guessing game. Eventually presenting her 'flowers' to Don Juan and having sex with him, her buttocks undulate similarly to Hideo's in 177. Don Juan is of low quality in terms of its gameplay and graphical goods, but this anti-social function of holing yourself away with a woman paved the way for dB-SOFT's later eroge releases.
By 1985, as recalled by Yasuhiso Saito in a 2013 interview, 'Computer Land Hokkaido' was still operating as a general computer store in the front of their building.¹² Behind it were the administrative and sales departments, then a planning division, a Japanese-style work area (desk all together, no cubicles), and lastly a cordoned off area known as the 'secret development room.'¹⁵
That year saw the publication of Macadam: Futari Yogari [Foreplay for Two] under dB-SOFT's new Macadamia Soft imprint, created to further differentiate their adult works from their other titles as Don Juan had failed to do.¹⁶ Not all reputable software firms created such imprints (though Koei did create their own "Strawberry Porno Game Series" label, for one), but what cannot be understated is how pervasive eroge was for those firms. Browsing databases for the era's Japanese home computers, and retrospective review sites like erogereport, show countless erotic works developed and published by the likes of Hudson, Enix, Square, Nihon Falcom, Championsoft, ASCII, JAST, and Pony Canyon. It should come as little surprise that the team that brought us Flappy also made Don Juan and 177; their contemporaries who would create Dynasty Warriors released 1984's My Lolita, an erotic surgery simulator; the makers of Dragon Quest slapped their publisher label on a contest winner's Lolita Syndrome in 1983.¹⁷ There wasn't much shame in creating these works as a company as they satisfied a market niche and helped fill corporate coffers.
Macadam tasked the player with using vibrators, candles, their mouth, a feather, and a whip on four different women to bring them (and presumably the player) to orgasm. Each women presents herself in seven poses (stages), with their pleasure being increased by targeting their weak points (marked by stars) with their preferred implement. The astute reader might already be drawing parallels between Macadam's gameplay and Meet and Fuck flash games of eld. The comparison is apt given the strict progression of pleasure therein, though Macadam has actual challenge to it, particularly in the 'final action scenes' for each woman which involve rapid keyboard presses of increasing difficulty.¹⁸ This same style of quicktime gameplay reemerges in 177, just as the presence of candles and whips betray the softcore nature of Macadam like an ill portent of what was to come.
Macadam was allegedly a bit of a shock upon its release partly due to its novel gamification of foreplay, earning it the description of a 'touch game' (similar mechanics had actually been seen earlier in CSK/LOVECOM's 1983 卍 MANJI for Fujitsu FM-7 and NEC PC-88).¹⁹ By pure coincidence, Macadam released in close proximity to Mike Saenz's MacPlaymate, wherein players similarly seduce a woman with different 'toys.' Though MacPlaymate took off like wildfire, Macadam was relegated to a more quiet interest as it required players to have a mouse back when they weren't standard with home computers.
In 1986, with two moderate eroge successes under their belt, dB-SOFT's development team sought to create another title for their new label. One employee who specialised in adult software, described by Saito as an ojii-san "who used to be a taxi driver," came up with the proposal for 177, with Saito charged as main programmer and composer, and graphic design being headed by an unnamed female employee.²⁰ Also known as Shibata-san, this employee, in addition to the core game, came up with the idea for the 'good ending'. Throughout development and following 177's release, there was allegedly never an air of concern at dB-SOFT. As Saito puts it, "We didn't think we were making something bad. It just happened to become the topic at the diet. But of course none of us were able to tell that to our parents, and even now my parents don't know that I was involved in creating 177."²¹ That lack of worry towards their craft was purportedly due to the work culture of dB-SOFT, with employees working on a litany of software from word processors to games to erotic works. Their rotational schedules meant they regarded the work on 177 less as making a game about rape, and more as just programming, combining audio and visual parts with code. Takaki Kobayashi noted that "even female staff were debugging 177, and [they] would just do it without any particular emotion. [There weren't] embarrassed, and would say "Why can't I take her clothes?" ," this would-be condemned title was internally considered fundamentally no different from working on productivity software.²² "It was what they did, and even the package was created by a female member of staff in the advertising section," recalled Kobayashi, just as female art students had reportedly made the scenes in Macadam as well.²³
The 177 Controversy
On October 10, 1986, Councillor Shozo Kusakawa, member of the religious-conservative New Komeito party presented 177 to the Japanese National Diet to demonstrate that hurtful software should have its sales restricted. The lack of restrictions already in place, as he argued, had children effectively competing with one another for the purchase of eroge, to the point of children shoplifting them at times.²⁴ He asked the Diet to open the sealed plastic bags containing the software he had brought, and spoke firstly of 177. This was the first time eroge had been brought up in the National Diet. In Kusakawa's eyes, the title coupled with the packaging's claim that the rape experience is thrilling manifested a mockery of Japanese criminal law.²⁵ With computer use skyrocketing in the mid-1980s to the point where most Japanese households owned a computer of some form (including game consoles like the Famicom, SG-1000, PV-1000, and Sega Mark III), the concern was that this space was unregulated and, in part, unknowable.²⁶ Independent doujin releases could be made in the privacy of a home or behind the closed doors of a computer shop's backroom, copies could be made rapidly and cheaply, they could be sold with little to no scrutiny by those same computer shops, they could be illegally duplicated with basic equipment; when a title like 177 released, it could theoretically spread like wildfire, including publication in magazines catered to computer users, long before parents could even be aware of its presence or content.²⁷ Worse yet, children and teens seemed to have more interest in using computers for games (including eroge) rather than what they were being pushed for, education purposes.
Kusakawa's issue with 177 and eroge was not merely its content, but its context. His argument centred on the notion that, "while people can read about or look at illustrations of such situations, the context of rape transformed into a game was far more problematic."²⁸ The manual may have stated that not to bring the contents of the game into the real world, but that required one to actually read the manual (resplendent with complex kanji without accompanying furigana) if players even had the manual. If a player had a copied version, they might not have the supplementary materials. Further still, one would have to read the manual's text without seeing it as a sarcastic afterthought, taking its stress on leaving rape purely in the game at face value; given the lighthearted tone and argumentation of what is and is not rape, such a serious reading seems unlikely. Kusakawa and Shiokawa Masajuro, then Minister of Education, firmly stated that, though these works were protected due to freedom of expression, there still needed to be an onus on developers and retailers to refrain from promoting and selling such software titles to minors. Concrete steps were not taken at first when the Ministry of International Trade and Industry implored the software industry self-regulate its content. It would not be until the arrest of Miyazaki Tsutomu, the 'Otaku Murderer' in 1989 that the issue would re-emerge for debate.
The team at dB-SOFT never thought 177 would become a topic of national concern, particularly due to the anarchic state of software development in the early to mid 1980s. If anything, the ending was intended to ebb any consternation as Hideo was, in effect, 'taking responsibility' for what he had done by marrying Kotoe.²⁹ Even in the wake of the furor surrounding 177, dB-SOFT was largely unaffected. The national moral panic partly influenced their decision to pull out of the eroge space, though Konyamo Asama de Powerful Mahjong in 1988 would still bear light erotic elements. dB-SOFT was in fact pleased with the media coverage as it led to increased sales and notoriety afforded to them.³⁰
The controversy might itself seem minor and quaint compared to the United States' 1993-1994 congressional hearings on video games in the wake of DOOM, Mortal Kombat, and Night Trap. That moral panic saw tangible effects with the development of the ESRB and countless other rating systems self-imposed by publishers, but the same was not the case for Japan. Even when eroge was under scrutiny in the 1990s, little firm action was taken, and CERO wouldn't be established until 2002. The RapeLay controversy did not stymy the development of rape-centric eroge either, instead Japanese publishers chose to deny access to their works to those outside of Japan. What the 177 incident demonstrated was an intense reluctance on the part of the Japanese government to impose censorship outside of what laws were already in place. The moral panic asked parents to be mindful of what content their children were or might consume, rather than punish the industry or its intended customer base more broadly. The following section goes into why Japan wasn't as concerned with the production of rape-centric work as the Western world has been.
Commodified Sex & Rape (Culture)
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese erotic works knows the abundance of rape, bestiality, scat, gore, incest, and sexualisation of minors therein. It would be irresponsible to say it applies to a majority of works, but the point is these aspects are hard to miss. As demonstrated near the beginning of this review, rape plays a prominent role in innumerable Japanese-language works, but rape hentai and eroge have entered the zeitgeist outside Japan as well; consider the popularity and awareness of the aforementioned Rance series by Alicesoft or ShindoL's Metamorphosis. These 'disgraceful' works, be they about sexual disgrace, sexual assault, or rape, certainly stand out as Nagayama Kaoru highlights in their history of eromanga, but 'pure disgrace' works like 177 are a relative rarity, at least in theory.³¹
To understand the cultural context that permitted then condemned works like 177, we need to look at how erotic content is consumed in the Japanese market, particularly before the advent of the Internet. As Yakuza 0 players are likely aware, vending machines did (and still do!) carry erotic works and sexual paraphernalia in a rather open context, as did (and do) konbini. These materials were not cordoned off in the same way they were in the western world; arousing items were everywhere to the point of their visibility effectively being an invisibility. While erotic photography was made to abide by strict guidelines vis-a-vis production, consumption, and promotion, ficticious works like eroge and eromanga were more openly tolerated and gazed upon.³² The partaking of eromanga was thereby common, with a market saturated and open enough for prices to plummet and to breed a culture of rapid, consistent purchase. With skyrocketing land prices in the 1980s and 1990s, most Japanese workers in cities lived in the suburbs with potentially astoundingly long commutes by train. Those commuters were easy to convert into consumers in no small part due to the liminality of transit; a commuter train car is not conducive to a maximally realised relaxation, nor productive labour in a pre-Internet landscape. It should come as little surprise then that those commuters accounted for sixty percent of all printed mass media sales around 177's release.³³ This mass consumption would thus suggest a commonplace standing of the typified male dominance, female victimisation, and sexual violence/assault in Japanese eromanga and erotic works more broadly. As cultural anthropologist Anne Allison argues, this generalised and universalised reading of pornographic material as (re)producing male dominance, chauvinism, violences, and privileges -- proferred by anti-pornography radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon during the feminist sex wars of the 1980s -- ignores and erases cultural contexts and that non-cishet-males "have found pleasure and empowerment in particular pornographies [...] which has the effect of moralizing against, rather than advocating, the sexual agency of women."³⁴
Erotic works consumed in this mode by no means account for the totality of these sales, but they operate in service of a similar goal as other printed mass media. Consider the plethora of Japanese print mass media works dealing with the relatively mundane: slice-of-life, romance, sports, drama, mahjong, comedy. These are often as popular as more outlandish, bolder, fantastical works. What journalist Shinichi Kusamori claims regarding those grounded light novels, manga, and magazines, is that a lack of time for substantive engagement in hobbies or socialising necessitates the consumption of this material. As a fan of mahjong unable to make time for actual play, Shinichi partook in the Baudrillarian simulacrum of mahjong, playing the game vicariously through manga. Counter to the notion that increasing popularity of mahjong manga would correlate with rising popularity of the physical game, Shinichi demonstrates that their relation is inverse, the simulacrum in effect supplanting the real.³⁵
We can extrapolate this to other genres with ease and validity. Japan's birthrate has been on the decline since the mid-1970s, with the rigors of capitalism demanding ever more time and energy be devoted to work rather than the home life. With less time to enjoy non-work life, slice-of-life manga fills that void. With less time to pursue romance, romance manga fills that void. Without time and energy to engage in sexual relations, eromanga brings satisfaction without the actual act. It stands to reason that this is not unique to print media either. Mahjong, sports, romance, and sex are all time and energy commitments that can be approximated through play. Eroge thus serves a similar purpose to eromanga and pornographic works as a whole, but bringing it into the confines of the home (or computer cafe) without the additional effort and labour of the act. Skip the foreplay, get to the point of release. This can be taken even further with the popularity of soaplands, image clubs, pink salons, deriheru prostitutions, nuru/sumata massage parlours, compensated dating, fashion health shops, peep shows, mistress banks, and salacious karaoke bars. Sex and romance have and had become commodities in and of themselves, a labour on the part of the 'product,' paid for with the spoils of labour by the purchaser, the fiduciary cost being offset by the lack of time investment.³⁶
Japanese commentators (as quoted by Allison) Kusamori, Takeru Kamewada, Tadao Sato, and Akira Nakano argue that sex fit the medium of manga better than anything else because the content depicted, usually of an 'offensive, secretive, dark, violent, evil, dirty, and lewd' nature reflects the attitudes in Japan towards sex as a whole.³⁷ It is not some unconscious, accidental by-product that was willed into existence. Japanese erotic works are, as visual culturalist Sharon Kinsella puts it, "the end product of a series of complicated conscious social exchanges and intelligent cultural management," a deliberate realisation and commodification of acts which might not be attainable due to time, anxiety, or social knowledge.³⁸ The hows and whys of sex didn't stay in eromanga either. One of the first erotic games ever, Koei's 1982 Night Life was marketed not just for its lewd imagery, but as an aid for sexual education for couples, including a period tracker and questionnaire to suggest sex positions. Night Life and erotic works should thus be understood not purely for personal sexual gratification, but for sexual knowledge and the promotion of intimacy as well. Not that that stops the consumer from seeking pleasures off the page or screen, however, as the phenomenon of chikan on public transit demonstrates.
It would be disingenuous to describe eromanga or eroge on the whole as elucidating and informative to the public, or as some wholesome if lascivious body of work. It is a fact that erotic works largely recreate the male gaze, the Freudian fetish, the Lacanian objet petit a. What is placed on the page or screen is a recreation and representation of sexual fantasy and desire, reinterpreted, reiterated, and reproduced by and for a culture. The female body is frequently transgressed upon, be it through molestation, harrassment, being gazed upon voyeuristically, rape, or sadomasochism. Whether these fictitious women are shown enjoying this transgression or not, they bear physical, mental, or spiritual marks of violence imposed upon them, as men see, possess, penetrate, and hurt them.³⁹ Should women demonstrate their own will and initiative, they are often put back in their place as subordinate to men, subservient to the gender order. And yet these works were and are available with astounding openness compared to the Western (particularly, American) compartmentalisation of sex into the realm of privacy.⁴⁰ In the mid-1980s there was more clamouring from the government and advocacy groups about depicting pubic realism than there was about showing rape, or the sexualisation of minors.⁴¹ By 1993, it was reported by the Youth Authority of Somucho that approximately 50% of male and 20% of female middle and high schoolers frequently read eromanga, yet the Liberal Democratic Party's 1991 introduced legislation to reduce sales of eromanga to minors floundered.⁴² Japan at the time had a Child Welfare Law which prohibited child prostitution, but no law against child pornography; even the consumption of pornographic materials by minors was more a moral concern than a legal one. Maybe it really is no big deal. Japan has one of the lowest rates of rape in the world after all; perhaps this openness and contextualisation of sex actually serves its purpose as a sort of release valve for frustration. Perhaps they know something we don't.
The (In)Visiblity of Rape in Japan
Allow me to problematise the notion of Japan's low rape rate. A reading of sex crime statistics done at face value shows a clear downward trend for already obscenely low numbers:
1972: 4,677 rape victims | 5,464 rape offenders | 3,139 sexual assaults
1975: 3,692 rape victims | 4,052 rape offenders | 2,841 sexual assaults
1980: 2,610 rape victims | 2,667 rape offenders | 2,825 sexual assaults
1985: 1,802 rape victims | 1,809 rape offenders | 2,645 sexual assaults
1990: 1,548 rape victims | 1,289 rape offenders | 2,730 sexual assaults
1995: 1,500 rape victims | 1,160 rape offenders | 3,644 sexual assaults⁴³
This downward trend from 1972-1985 seems concomitant with rising sales and production of sexually explicit material, including that which depicts rape. Similar trends were historically seen with the rise of sexually explicit materials in Denmark, Sweden, and West Germany following the legalisation of pornography therein in 1969, 1970, and 1973, respectively.⁴⁴ Sexologist Milton Diamond and cultural anthropologist Ayako Uchiyama emphasise that rape has always been taken seriously in Japan, and that inhibiting factors for the reporting of rape (and other sex crimes) have diminished, thus making this trend reflective of an actual decrease in rape cases.⁴⁵ Furthermore, the Japanese Ministry of Justice espouses its own rationale for Japan's low crime rate, citing, among others, a highly law-abiding citizenry, a web of informal social control in local communities, a highly cooperative spirits of the citizenry towards the criminal justice system, and efficient, just, and effective investigations and functions by criminal justice agencies.⁴⁶ If we work with the numbers for 1985, when Japan's population was 120.8 million, that means there was only one rape victim for every 67,000 citizens. In the United States that same year, 88,670 forcible rapes were reported, or one per 2,680 citizens. That Japan could have, per capita, only 4% the number of rapes as the United States should raise eyebrows, particularly when so much sexually explicit material caters to sexually violent proclivities.
It is difficult to outline the situation for rape victims in 1985, but we can look at the situation in other years to see how Japan's still low numbers do not add up. A 2000 survey by the Gender Quality Bureau founds 48.7% of women over the age of 20 had at least one experience of being groped.⁴⁷ Similar surveys in 2001, 2003, and 2004 found a wide range of between 28.4% and 70% of young women being victim to chikan incidents.⁴⁸ By all accounts, chikan constitutes sexual assault even according to the Japanese Criminal Code, but a mere two to three thousand chikan are arrested annually. Immediately we see a phenomenal discrepancy between the number of incidents, and the number of reports/arrests; chikan is such an epidemic in Japan that women only trains have been operating in Tokyo since 1912. Such settings were not exclusively to limit the incidents of sexual misconduct - there was belief that women were unsuited to crowded commuter trains - but it was informed by it nonetheless as their rise in prominence came after the newspaper Yomiuri reported on chikan incidents.⁴⁹
Sexual violence too has been tremendously underreported according to the Japanese government's own statistics. Around 2015, over 95% of such incidents were not reported to the police, in so small part due to the culture of shame around rape in Japan, typically placing blame on victims rather than their rapists.⁵⁰ In a period before 2017's reform of Article 177, rape was also difficult to prove and only constituted violent, force vaginal penetration by a man's penis. Oral or anal rape, or forced penetration with implements thus didn't constitute rape, making it more difficult to report and to see justice served. Returning to 177 and Genji Monogatari, there remains a popular misconception that rape is part of the courting act, that it is a flattery, that it is not rape if a woman 'enjoys' it; Kotoe was in effect seducing Hideo rather than Hideo enacting a sexual violence upon Kotoe. Even when rape victims do try to seek help, they are subjected to ridicule, trauma, and apathy. By way of example, when Carrie Jane Fisher, an Australian woman, was raped in 2002, she was brought back to the scene of her rape, questioned relentlessly by male officers, and denied the opportunity to go to a hospital as rape victims did not constitute urgent patients.⁵¹ Following her gangrape in 2000 Mika Kobayashi sought from and provided support to other rape victims, finding that only 1% of them had made a report to the police.⁵² When Shiori Ito was raped in 2015, the Japanese legal system undermined and ignored her, unable to get information on where to get a rape kit without going through a preliminary in-person interview. Police discouraged her from filing a report, she was told her career would be in jeopardy, she was told she didn't act like a victim, she was discouraged from pursuing legal action, she was forced to recreate the scene of her rape and the act of the rape itself while investigators photographed her.⁵³ In the wake of Ito's story, a 2017 survey by Japan's central government found one in thirteen women said they had been raped at some point in their lives.⁵⁴
Make it make sense, make it add up
It is my sincere hope that I have demonstrated that Japan's widespread plethora of rape-centric sexually explicit materials do not, in fact, represent a release valve for societal frustration, and do not explain a 'shockingly low rape rate.' The prevalence of 'disgraceful' works seems to have no direct causal effect on rape rates at all, and certainly not to the extent that advocates for Japan's pornographic leniency would have us believe.
It is currently 4:06PM, Saturday, November 26th, 2022. The sun's already going down. I feel hollow. Over 7,000 words and I don't have a conclusion. I thought my research would give me an answer to the prevalence of rape media in Japan that was more nuanced than that people enjoy it. It didn't.
I was paralysed by fear of what talking about 177 would entail. How can I talk about a culture that isn't my own and impose upon it my own morals and ideals? The answer is that I can't without coming across as aggressively neutral, and so I'll put aside that hang-up for a moment. This is off the cuff so forgive the brain dump.
I don't personally have a problem with rape playing a central role in works of fiction. So long as it is not overly glorified, I consider it akin to any other fetishistic representation of depravity in explicit material. I don't think it should be readily available with the same openness as, say, PornHub's frontpage content, but prohibiting its circulation and creation only breeds an atmosphere of want. We want what we can't have. When I read that 177 had caused a controversy, I thought it would be substantial with wide-reaching effects towards an ethical betterment of Japanese society. Rape itself is bad. Rape is deplorable. Rape should not be enacted on anyone. The carefree attitude the Japanese government and Japanese society had (and largely still have) towards rape and rape victims is appalling. Not only does it perpetuate the same patriarchal notions of male dominance over women, but it reinforces the stifling of progress for and by anyone who is not a cishet-male. Call me an SJW if you'd like, if it means not being on the side which is defending rape, I'll wear the label with pride. It isn't that I want Japan to be more like the Western world. Far from it. It is that I want women, queer people, and minorities to be afforded the same opportunities, the same privileges as men have. It is that I don't want my heart to ache when I read some unrepentant weeaboo defending rape or lolicon or guro as evidence of an 'enlightened culture'. What I want more than anything is for people to consider the cultural contexts of that which they consume. I want people to understand this being considered okay, that not looking at these works critically is itself abhorrent and ignorant. I want people to be able to live their lives without fear.
I want there to not be hurt in this world.
Is that so wrong?
1. "List of controversial video games," Wikimedia Foundation, last modified November 14, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_controversial_video_games.
2. Ibid.
3. "Tags & traits," The Visual Novel Database, accessed November 26, 2022, https://vndb.org/d10.
4. Ibid.
5. Kaori Shoji and International Herald Tribune, “Setouchi Jakucho Takes Japan Back 1,000 Years,” The New York Times (The New York Times, January 23, 1999), https://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/23/style/IHT-setouchi-jakucho-takes-japan-back-1000-years.html.
6. Royall Tyler, "Marriage, Rank and Rape in The Tale of Genji," Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 7 (March 2002): note 2.
7. Macadamia Soft, 177 Manual, 1986, https://archive.org/details/177_manual/page/n6/mode/2up.
8. Ibid.
9. Japan, Penal Code: Act No. 45 of April 24, 1907, Tokyo: Ministry of Justice, https://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/en/laws/view/1960.
10. Only after doing this transcription did I find someone else had already done so here: https://g16.hatenablog.com/entry/2021/08/03/095735.
11. Macadamia Soft, 177 Manual.
12. See PC-6001活用研究 プログラミングの基礎からマシン語の応用まで (Dempa Shimbunsha: 1983).
13. John Szczepaniak, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers (United States: Hardcore Gaming 101, 2014).
14. "『ドンファン』 概要," エロゲ調査報告書, accessed November 26, 2022, http://erogereport.blog.jp/archives/1301698.html.
15. Szczepaniak, The Untold History.
16. Ibid, note 282; "『マカダム』 概要, エロゲ調査報告書, accessed November 26, 2022, http://erogereport.blog.jp/archives/1301712.html.
17. Jérémie Pelletier-Gagnon and Martin Picard, “Beyond Rapelay: Self-Regulation in the Japanese Erotic Video Game Industry,” in Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games, ed. Matthew Wysocki and Evan W. Lauteria (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 30-31.
18. "『マカダム』 概要," エロゲ調査報告書.
19. Ibid.; "Macadam 二人愛戯 (マカダム)," Macadam 二人愛戯 (マカダム) - 1985年発売 (美少女ゲーム マイヒストリー, January 11, 2022), https://bishojoghist.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-271.html; "『卍(まんじ)』 概要," エロゲ調査報告書, accessed November 26, 2022, http://erogereport.blog.jp/archives/1301696.html.
20. Szczepaniak, The Untold History.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
24. Japan National Diet, "First Meeting of the 107th Members' Committee of the Balance of Account of the National Diet [第107回国会 衆議院 決算委員会 第1号 昭和61年10月21日]," Kokkaikaigisen kesna shisutemu, October 21, 1986, transcript, no. 169.
25. Ibid., no. 169-171.
26. Pelletier-Gagnon and Picard, "Beyond Rapelay," 32.
27. Japan National Diet, "First Meeting," no. 173.
28. Pelletier-Gagnon and Picard, "Beyond Rapelay," 32.
29. Szczepaniak, The Untold History.
30. Ibid.
31. Kaoru Nagayama, Patrick W. Galbraith, and Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto, Erotic Comics in Japan: An Introduction to Eromanga (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021), 169.
32. Anne Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics,and Censorship in Japan (S.l.: Routledge, 2019), 54.
33. See Lawrence Ward Beer, Freedom of Expression in Japan: A Study in Comparative Law, Politics, and Society (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 1984).
34. Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, 54-55.
35. Kusamori Shinichi, "Mizu no Ranpi," Juristo 25: 235.
36. Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, 59. See Nagisa Oshima, "Bunka.Sei.Seiji," Juristo 5401: 39.
37. Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, 59.
38. Sharon Kinsella, Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society (Routledge, 2015), 14.
39. Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, 62, 64-65.
40. Anonymous, "Racy comics a labeled lot now in Japan," Sunday Honolulu Star Bulletin and Advertiser, March 31, 1991, E-7.
41. Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, 150-151.
42. Anonymous, "Racy comics," E-7; Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama, “Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan,” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22, no. 1 (1999): pp. 1-22, https://doi.org/10.1016/s0160-2527(98)00035-1, 6-7.
43. Diamond and Uchiyama, "Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan," 9.
44. Ibid., 11.
45. Ibid., 12.
46. Minoru Shikita, Crime and Criminal Policy in Japan from 1926 to 1988: Analysis and Evaluation of the Showa Era (Tokyo: Japan Criminal Policy Society, 1990), 353.
47. Gender Equality Bureau, Danjo-kan ni okeru boryoku ni kansuru chosa, 2000.
48. Mitsutoshi Horii and Adam Burgess, “Constructing Sexual Risk: ‘Chikan’, Collapsing Male Authority and the Emergence of Women-Only Train Carriages in Japan,” Health, Risk & Society 14, no. 1 (2012): pp. 41-55, https://doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2011.641523, 42.
49. Ibid.
50. Teppei Kasai, “Japan's Not-so-Secret Shame,” Sexual Assault | Al Jazeera (Al Jazeera, July 29, 2018), https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2018/7/29/japans-not-so-secret-shame/.
51. Karryn Cartelle, "Victims finally learning to speak out against Japan's outdated rape laws," (Japan Today, April 21, 2008), https://japantoday.com/category/features/lifestyle/victims-are-finally-learning-to-speak-out-against-japan%25e2%2580%2599s-outdated-rape-laws.
52. National Police Agency, "Notes of crime victims," Fiscal Year 2009: Measures for Crime Victims, 26-28.
53. Julia Hollingsworth and Junko Ogura, “Japanese #MeToo Symbol Wins Civil Court Case Two Years after She Accused a Prominent Journalist of Raping Her | CNN Business,” CNN (Cable News Network, December 18, 2019), https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/18/media/japan-shiori-ito-legal-intl-hnk/index.html.
54. Ibid.

Too committed to its narrative to be a personality quiz that actually reflects reality, and too committed to its personality quiz aesthetic to be a narrative that actually says something substantial. Maybe I'm just stunted but I got literally nothing out of this.

what if we made lovely planet floaty and ugly and every 5 minutes we make you stop playing to read the worst dialogue youve ever read in your entire life? the f button became my new best friend around the third chapter.
play lovely planet and then tab out every 5 minutes to read a better vn to get a better experience than this hogwash

Some really weird consensus with people who like this writing is that it's akin to a 2000's anime? I gotta say I don't remember people in s-CRY-ed talking like a Twitter thread about anime character PNGs imposed over popular text posts but whatever floats your boat, just don't try convincing me that it's good. I was more attached to the F key than to any of the Neons.
Game looks and sounds fantastic though!! The aesthetic is the actual part that feels dragged out of the early 2000's, what with the whole "sleek edginess" aspect of it, especially the mission intro screens. The gameplay is very fine-tuned for what it is, although it would help if it was a bit less floaty in places. Not nearly as gimmicky as it comes off at first and could probably do with a level editor somewhere down the line. Big fan of everything here other than when the characters are talking!!

Neon White is a tragic would-be masterpiece held back by its unrelenting irony-poisoned rejection of anything genuine or friendly, along with completely wrecking its initially excellent mechanical design the second it tries to ramp up the difficulty.
In a first person movement based game, the difficulty and reward comes from the depth of that movement itself, in mastering it and squeezing out everything those mechanics allow. The execution barrier on something like a surf map in Counter-Strike or simply competently playing a match of Quake is a large part of what gives those their richness. A high skill floor does not necessarily mean a high ceiling will come with it, but it's certainly much more likely and works out in these cases. Neon White tries to simplify the kind of satisfaction one gets from mastery of movement to something every player can enjoy, and at first that works. For the first few missions, the easy mode versions of surfing, sticky jumping, and other classic movement options make for compelling levels where it is genuinely fun to compete with your friends and improve. Soon, though, the mechanics lose their luster as you realize how little there is to them. Regardless of angle, all explosions will send you directly up where you want them to, and everything is generally placed in such an easy to clear manner that it becomes mindless. There is simply nowhere to go, and improvement consists mostly of cutting corners and performing actions more smoothly.
This doesn't last forever, though, and eventually Neon White wants to make clearing levels more difficult. At first you cheer, until you realize how they do that. Their basic movement options are so devoid of depth that they just gave up on getting anything else out of them, and instead just layer mechanic on mechanic, hide enemies all over the place, and ask you to route that out. So as you progress, you spend more and more time looking around for what you need and planning things out so that by the time you're doing actual runs and shaving off time, you just want to move on to something else. One might say that this issue mirrors actual speedrunning, where the fast path and how to complete all objectives while going down it is often not clear. That's certainly true, but routing and then grinding out a level in a speed game usually comes after playing casually and genuinely enjoying the space without trying to move through it fast. Getting familiar with the space is then a natural process during casual playthroughs, but you can't do that there. There is nothing else to these levels other than speedrunning. No storytelling or puzzle solving or anything else that makes us love games. There's no hook.
In that way, it ends up feeling a lot like 2D Sonic: utterly joyless restriction of movement makes it so that to actually have any fun, you first need to play through a level several times and get good. Getting through is not hard, but it sure is tedious. The fun comes after the grind and the game doesn't even make an attempt at hooking you in to get you to that point.
The less said about the narrative, the better. Awful anime dub-tier voice acting drags down characters already so utterly insufferable and internet-poisoned with the most mean-spirited "SIMP POGGERS GURO XD" bullshit you've ever seen. If you find anything cute or fun, it will soon be torn down and stomped on.
Can we undo the Danganronpafication and Personafication of anything weeby? Weebs deserve better.

Navigating Sonic Adventure’s legacy is difficult; it’s simultaneously a landmark title within console gaming and unquestionably the Dreamcast’s killer app while also featuring a wealth of discordant gameplay elements and many difficult-to-stomach aspects. As one of the first true AAA games, its legacy looms as large as contemporaries Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid while struggling to achieve the same average quality throughout. Its inconsistencies have good merit thanks to being rooted in first-of-its-kind 3D traversal elements and a sense of locomotive freedom that few games would manage to touch in its wake. Weighing both its content in the absolute sense versus the context it arrived in is paramount to understanding its importance.
Sonic Adventure itself started in tech demos on Saturn hardware under the direction of the series' veteran programmer Yuji Naka. To my amusement, I must say that Naka's infamously abrasive personality rears its head often during this time period. Who else could start a development group called Sonic Team that not only refused to make a Sonic game for years in favor of new IPs but also sabotaged the actual American Sonic development team until their dissolution at the end of the Saturn years? Regardless, Naka and his team finally got to work on an initial NiGHTS-derivative engine that became a part of the Sonic Jam compilation, and afterwards they transitioned to a higher-tech engine developed in tandem with the burgeoning Dural/Katana project that eventually became the Dreamcast. While not a launch title for the system in Japan – which is unfortunate considering how tepid their starting lineup was – the game did make a holiday release date for 1998 in a slightly less-than-finished state, and it would arrive stateside a year later during the legendary 9/9/99 western Dreamcast launch. It still stands as the best-selling Dreamcast game at 2.5 million copies sold; not bad at all for a system that only sold a little over 9 million units to begin with.
It would be negligent to say that Sega had a difficult time adjusting to 3D gaming; in fact, Sega's arcade output at the start of the 3D era is without question the most impressive of any developer at the time. The company had developed important early works in the racing genre (Daytona USA, Sega Rally Championship), the first 3D fighter (Virtua Fighter), and a multitude of smooth polygonal experiences in other genres (Virtual-On, House of the Dead, Dynamite Cop). However, adjusting to the conventions of console 3D gaming was a different issue altogether. The Genesis and Saturn were both arcade-port powerhouses in their own right, and much of their console-exclusive output up to that point had not strayed far from those design elements. While Sega was perfecting spectacle platformers such as Shinobi, Sonic, and Castle of Illusion, Nintendo was laying the groundwork for their exploration-focused 3D work with games like Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Link to the Past, and Super Metroid. The latter style proved to have better staying power with the growing trend towards longer experiences and more approachable gameplay; a reality that hit Sega hard when their arcade-focused Saturn bombed in America. Sega truly had some of the best game developers in the world working for them, but how could they translate their frenetic, short-and-sweet design to a more fully-fleshed game? Sonic Adventure at its core is an answer to this question, and viewing it through this lens makes some of its more unwieldy design choices seem rational in a trail-blazing era for 3D gameplay.

Sonic Adventure is a lean 11 platforming levels, all tightly choreographed for breakneck speed and glamorous setpieces. On first boot you start as Sonic, firstly in a brief fight against primordial antagonist Chaos and then in the first true stage Emerald Coast. Without question this strongly sets the tone and design language of the rest of the game: heavily-scripted events such as the whale chase, dashes across sweeping pathways that swirl around the screen, creative use of verticality, and a wide variety of obstacles. The graphical fidelity can also not go unmentioned; at the time this would've been possibly the best looking game you could play outside of the arcades. Even playing the game today hooked up with VGA cables it still looks incredibly crisp. No more blurry N64 textures or twitchy PSX polygons: this was the future of console graphics.
Of course, little imperfections in the engine pop out quickly. The physics and collision are obviously patchy and struggle to keep Sonic in check when actions the game doesn’t expect occur, such as holding incorrect directions during some tight turns or spin dashing in the middle of loop-de-loops. Later stages with more varied terrain make Sonic’s character judder and certain edges will catch him, stopping him in his tracks. Indeed, the optimization model of 3D Sonic is an odd one: memorization of specific physics interactions on given terrain features serves as the major hurdle when shaving off seconds from best times. Rather than explicit obstacles in the environment being the main hurdle, knowing how to work within the limitations and quirks of the engine yields the best results. This may be one of the particular reasons a lot of players dislike these games, and to be fair it bucks convention on how games provide challenge within story-driven works such as this. Generally obstacles to the player are driven by the scenario, such as engaging enemies explained through the narrative or avoiding setting-specific hazards such as sand pits or missile turrets. Sonic Adventure features all of these and more of course, but the nature of the high speed and often unintuitive character-environment interactions destroys the immersion. In essence it’s the difference between “I need to jump over this enemy and then run to the left around the spikes” and “I need to hold the left stick at this specific angle to avoid flying through a wall or getting stuck in a spot on the ground.” If you derive more enjoyment from the play optimization than the immersion, this may not matter much to you. It’s difficult for me to put a valuation on this conceptually given that so many people will react to this style of play differently; for me it feels fucking sweet when it works and frustrating as hell when it doesn’t.
In this entry in particular I can excuse some of the bugginess for simply being a little messy on the first outing. Sonic himself handles remarkably well in this iteration compared to even SA2 or Heroes; he has the exact right amount of twitchiness without being unable to make precise movements, and he stops on a dime unlike some of his slippier later outings. His spin dash from the original games can now be fired off instantly, allowing the player to maintain or regain speed with little effort. This alone makes his handling here my favorite in the pre-boost era precisely because it’s a straight-up free boost, and it frankly feels more organic with the light charging it has rather than just utilizing a limited resource. The biggest addition to his arsenal is unquestionably the homing attack, which gives Sonic the ability to dash forward in midair towards an enemy or object when the jump button is pressed. This particular tool truly actualized this series thanks to the flexibility it offers in the trickier platforming sections, as well as keeping combat from killing Sonic's momentum. Without the extra layer of control the homing attack offers in how it tightly couples Sonic to interactables and allows for reaction-based aerial maneuvering, I’m not sure how any of these level designs would have been feasible.
No single level takes much longer than five minutes to complete, so to increase the runtime of Sonic's slice of the game you spend a significant amount of time navigating hub worlds to open up each level. For new players this is likely the first truly noxious part of the game, and for experienced players this is likely trivially tedious. The story is fully linear and requires you to navigate to the right location to trigger the next event, thought occasionally it necessitates locating a particular power-up or plot key. I found this endlessly confusing as a child, though thankfully the developers included a hint system with no penalties that does an okay job of pointing you in the right direction.
Every actual level is pure gold. The zone system from the originals quietly reemerges here as both a transition point for your Dreamcast to loudly load the next area and a shift in theme, music, and visuals. Consider Windy Valley, where a tornado terrorizes an idyllic countryside scene Sonic is moving through before he is eventually sucked up into it. Forced to ascend the storm to escape, he finally breaks the vortex to rush through a dreamy, calm sky. Each of these levels varies its environments and narrates Sonic’s journey in their own subtle way, from Speed Highway’s nighttime police chase giving way to a yawning sunbreak, or Red Mountain’s craggy exterior descending into an active volcano. Compared to its collectathon contemporaries, which mainly preferred to compartmentalize different modes of play in different regions, this game instead chooses to thrust you into new events every few minutes with very little repetition, giving the levels an organic flow that heightens the sense of speed. There are snowboarding sections, switch puzzles, bumper car races, haunted ruins, and so many more spectacular moments in store. I would go as far as to say this is probably my favorite 3D Sonic experience in the whole series.
Connecting all of this is the story, which never moves forward in any meaningful way beyond Dr. Eggman repeatedly powering up Chaos with the Chaos Emeralds from previous games. Every one you collect as a goal for a level inevitably gets taken from you during a cutscene with no player input. Sonic and Tails get soundly trumped over and over again by anticlimatically taking a thud across the head or tripping and letting the emerald fly from their hands, often after supposedly defeating a form of Chaos or another boss. Even defeating Eggman takes two attempts of flying up to his gigantic Egg Carrier fortress to do it right (both of these flight sequences feature a neat Panzer Dragoon-esque rail shooter segment as a distraction). They are without a doubt some of the most useless protagonists in a game of this time.
Finally, after a climatic battle with Eggman, Sonic succeeds in stopping Chaos from being unleashed onto the world and returns to the main hub, Station Square, for some well-deserved R&R. At this point, if you have been playing as Sonic exclusively, you have probably clocked around 2 hours on the game. Credits roll. This is for all intents and purposes the end of the game, or at least the “novel” content contained within it. Thus begs the question: how did Sonic Team fill out the rest of the game? I have already extensively covered how Sonic Team successfully translated spectacle platformer concepts to 3D, but how did they synthesize this with the dominant content-stuffed design strategies of the time?
Over the course of the game you unlock a total of six playable characters as you encounter them in story sequences. Each character has a Rashomon-style perspective on the story with a unique playstyle and progression through the levels you have already played. The ultimate key to stretching out this rather short game that Sonic Team settled on was repurposing elements of Sonic’s stages to create new campaigns staring each of his companions. Frankly, I find this a perfectly adequate solution that strategically reuses assets to give the game a fresh veneer each time you play through it. However, the execution leaves so much to be desired that it unfortunately hinders the quality of the overall product. Sonic Adventure has an excellent Sonic game enclosed within the bloat of a much more middling product.
The Tails and Knuckles campaigns tend to be most peoples' runner-up favorite behind Sonic due to their more conventional gameplay. Tails' campaign thematically focuses on an arc that sees his independence blossom and his self-conception flourish as more than just Sonic's partner (or at least this is gestured towards in his unique cutscenes). His gameplay focuses on racing opponents through Sonic's levels (usually against Sonic himself) while taking advantage of his flight abilities. Knuckles, on the other hand, seeks to find pieces from the shattered Master Emerald throughout open-roam segments of each level. This “collect all X items” design was smartly cribbed from the successful 3D platformers before it, though to speed things up the developers included a nifty radar that gives a warm-cold measurement of your distance from each of the three shards in each stage.
Tails’ campaign is passable at best but overall lacks much of the panache and originality of Sonic’s levels. The level designers rather conspicuously leave giant flight boost contraptions littered throughout carbon copies of segments from Sonic's levels, which feels telegraphed to the point of boredom. The segment played tends to be just a single zone, meaning that an overall Tails level can take less than 90 seconds to beat, and the paucity of alternate paths within these sections compared to their original versions unfortunately increases their linearity. To make matters worse, Tails spends much of the story alongside Sonic, which means that you must rewatch many of the same cutscenes and fight multiple identical bosses. Even the aforementioned rail shooter sections must be played again with absolutely no modification. The only truly unique segments are one of the snowboarding segments and a forgettable final boss in a game already chock-full of forgettable bosses. These factors combine to make Tails' campaign seem like a lesser retread of Sonic' campaign.
The Knuckles campaign is the most well-realized of all of the non-Sonic campaigns thanks to the aforementioned ease of the item-search concept. He retains his unique moves from his earlier appearances such as the ability to climb any wall and glide endlessly, both of which do an excellent job letting the player explore in all directions with significant verticality. These bear the weight of allowing the player to meander through and recontextualize areas they had previously traversed at the blink of an eye. However, it's hard not to compare the design of his levels here to his later Sonic Adventure 2 environments, which featured much more intricate and memorable locales (though with plenty of issues of their own). His levels here simply expand upon Sonic’s segments, and even with randomized shard locations no one should have trouble finding each piece within a few minutes time for each stage. Thankfully he does have a significant amount of bespoke rooms that give his areas some individuality. He has a single unique boss (the bouncy Chaos 2), yet he also has to fight two bosses that you have already fought in other campaigns. One of these bosses, Chaos 4, is present in Tails' campaign as well, meaning you fight it three times overall with absolutely no change in difficulty or strategy. Overall, I've found his campaign never fully capitalizes on its potential while still potentially being the best of the non-Sonic bunch.
The other three campaigns make up the more experimental side of the game, though with results just as mixed as the previously mentioned characters. Amy reappears from Sonic CD, effectively cementing her as a main cast member for many games afterwards. Her gameplay focuses on light puzzle and stalker elements as she attempts to escape from Eggman's robot ZERO. E-102 Gamma appears initially as one of Eggman's robot henchmen and later a defector, with a shoot-em-up gameplay style that would later reappear in Sonic Adventure 2. Finally, and most infamously, Big the Cat debuts for a brief fishing campaign focused on rescuing his emerald-mutated friend Froggy. These three are all interesting attempts at trying to spice up gameplay for the preexisting levels, stretching the variety to a point where no other 3D Sonic would try to go.
Out of all six main stories, Amy's three-level long story seems the slightest even with the interesting ideas it contains. While the ZERO chase mechanic consistently drives the action forward, the gameplay in this section feels rather plodding thanks to Amy’s poor acceleration. She feels sluggish when running from a stop and especially when walking up slopes. Her saving grace is her Piko Piko Hammer, which not only serves as her weapon of choice but gives her a nifty bit of momentum when used in the air, as well as allowing her to vault when running at her top speed. This meandering pace may have been a deliberate design choice to keep Amy from having too much of a leg up on the robot trailing her, as ZERO isn't remotely hard to escape from due to the scripted nature of its appearances and its heavily-telegraphed attacks. In a few places barrels that you can hide in are available, but using them is frankly a waste of time and comes across as an afterthought. Each level has a puzzle or two to solve while playing keep away with ZERO as well, which fit the nice adventure game niches such as “use the funhouse mirrors to detect where ground exists” or “put each cube in its color-coded slot.” With just some touch-ups to the controls, this campaign could have felt more playable, if still not enthralling. It would also significantly help if her iteration of Hot Shelter wasn’t three times longer than either of her other stages. Her story leaves very little to speak about as well, with Amy attempting to escort a Flicky carrying a Chaos Emerald back to its parents.
Gamma draws the aforementioned lock-on gun feature from Panzer Dragoon and attaches it to a steadily-dropping timer that you can only boost by killing enemies. An upgrade later in the game adds a hover as well, making his movement surprisingly versatile combined with his smooth gliding speed. While this is a great concept, the actual levels are extremely short with generous timers that render the whole time attack mechanic pointless. However, Gamma's final level Hot Shelter shines through as a premier moment for the game as a whole. This level has an actual threat of failure from time-over due to a length on par with one of Sonic's levels, and shows off a great sequence where Gamma hops between two parallel trains blasting shooting galleries of robots. Constant targets appear in view from badniks to bombs to door latches, and various small environment puzzles such as changing the rotation of a large gear to use as a staircase pepper the hectic proceedings. Even though the shooting is simplistic, there's a real sense of carnage with the sheer volume of enemies and destructible environments. A full game in this style could have been a great turn-of-the-millennium new IP for Sega (Gunvalkyrie is vaguely similar), and it's a shame that it only reappeared in Sonic Adventure 2 with longer, duller stages. Gamma's story also has the most depth to it out of any of the non-Sonic stories, with many unique cutscenes detailing Gamma's training and eventual decision to destroy each robot in its line to free the animal inside. With some more meat on its bones, this could have been easily the second-best portion of the game other than the main Sonic story.
It's worth bringing up the usual Sonic Adventure cutscene criticisms at this point. This game has the pretense of having a serious story but suffers from the usual late-'90s laughable acting and stiff translation you'll find in lesser games of the era, leading the actual plot to become muddled. There's no real cinematic quality to the cutscenes thanks to the lack of camera movement and lifeless framing, and the staid dialogue makes watching each one a chore. The Dreamcast original offers no skip feature as well, and since multiple cutscenes must be watched repeatedly between the separate stories, waiting for them to end becomes a strain. At the very least the over-expressive character animation is pretty funny to watch for a few minutes.
This leaves us with Big's story. The brunt of the game here is fishing directly cribbed from Sega Bass Fishing, where one must cast their rod, manually reel in their lure, successfully hook a fish, and then play the line while reeling it in without exerting too much tension. In each level the only objective is to catch Froggy, Big's mutated companion, and with a little practice you can complete each in under a minute, though other fish can be caught as well to contribute to an overall weight total. The core elements are here, and thanks to a smattering of secret fishing holes and no timer this can become a relaxing diversion to the main game. Unfortunately the game relays much less information about its mechanics than its source material, and it is unfortunately unintuitive without the on-screen prompts and frequent fisher vocalizations of SBF. I'm not sure that this campaign really warrants the intense negativity it receives on its core gameplay alone. However, outside of these mechanics the campaign amplifies all of the issues mentioned up to this point: irrelevant cutscenes, extremely short stages, and a heavy focus on hub exploration. On repeat plays I’ve found this story in particular more enjoyable when tuning out these extraneous elements, but I’m reluctant to pretend like a fresh player wouldn’t encounter significant roadblocks to thriving in this fishing engine until they learn the ropes.
All of these stories are wrapped up in sequences where each story member inexplicably travels to the past and witnesses scenes from an Aztec-inspired Echidna kingdom where Chaos hails from. The game’s hint and info system (represented by a floating orange ball floating through the hub and levels) is actually the spirit of the chieftain's daughter, who befriends Chaos because he protects these creatures named Chao that reside with the Chaos Emeralds. Each character gets a unique slice of these past events to witness and their events are completely out of order, with Sonic witnessing the final destruction of the village with no context given. The ambition is certainly there and piecing together the plot from these gives a little more weight to playing each of the separate stories, but the way they are woven into each cast members’ personal story feels patchwork and often not reflected upon in any meaningful way by the characters.
Speaking of the Chao, these creatures are included as an optional virtual pet feature via a “Chao Garden” placed in each hub area. These draw from the A-Life system the dream inhabitants used in NiGHTS, a background mechanic so unintrusive it would not be surprising if you missed it completely. Each Chao you raise can be given small animals found in each level to boost their stats for races against computer-controlled Chao, and they can also be transferred to the Dreamcast's VMU memory cards as a Tamogatchi-style pet. This is a rather feature-rich part of the game if you're into that sort of thing. Having spent dozens of hours as a child in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle's further-developed Chao Gardens, I really have never spent any time raising Chao in this game, but my exposure to it indicates it has many identical features and a similar incentive to grind for stat boosts by playing and replaying levels.
I've levied plenty of criticism over the course of the review so far, but playing this on a Dreamcast over the last couple years after many years on the inferior Gamecube port has given me a bittersweet appreciation for just how ambitious Sonic Team went with this title. Regardless of all of the padding I've brought up, the main campaign is easily in the 10-hour range, which is no small feat for a game of this era. Each character has three separate goals for each stage as well, encouraging at least three playthroughs of every level with each character in the game. The strict targets in the time attack missions in particular provide a skill objective for dedicated players. Big's missions specifically flesh out his stages into a full-fledged fishing game with weight goals to hit and a variety of fish to catch. Completing each goal scores you one of 130 emblems in the game’s gesture towards the trappings of a collectathon, and further emblems can be found throughout the game’s world and for small side tasks. Unfortunately, there’s no bonus to be received for collecting all of these besides self-satisfaction.
Along with the impressive amount of content, the graphics are rendered particularly gorgeously. The hub environments and varied levels showcase what the Dreamcast could do with first-party hands on the wheel, particularly with the tasteful lighting engine unique to only the original release. Chaos itself has a translucent, amorphous quality to its body that mutates constantly in each fight as a superb effect. Many settings in the game also feature plenty of little touches, such as NPC storylines in the hub worlds that progress along with the player and a scripted day-night cycle that alters the ambiance. Eggman's Egg Carrier is rendered in impressive detail even though you barely spend any time in it outside of Gamma's story. There's even a small Angel Island from Sonic 3 for you to visit with a broken Master Emerald. These continuity nods also appear with many of the enemies, whom draw from actual Genesis-era Sonic baddies in some cases. It’s evident that Sonic Team aimed to make Sonic Adventure a visual showpiece for the console and exert what true AAA graphics could look like in the shift to the sixth generation.
This small point on the Genesis-era callbacks indicates to me that Sonic Adventure was really a transitional game from the mischievously fantastical style of the originals to the tween-culture-focused sequel and beyond. More often than Sonic Adventure 2 does this game feel like it tries to summon the cheery emotional range and tightly-wound level design of its forebears. The only thing preventing the team from concocting a full extension of the classics is the need to provide what a consumer expected in terms of late-90s game length. What you're left with is a tightly-designed core game that was inflated to be a sprawling introduction to the Dreamcast in all of its sloppy aims, visionary design choices, and awkward attempts to extrapolate Sega’s arcade-centric design philosophy to the home. Even the final battle against Perfect Chaos, unlocked only after every other characters' story has been completed, throws a new angle into the mix with a controllable Super Sonic. This battle feels unfortunately undercooked as Sonic responds poorly to precise movements and requires a specific velocity in order to actually damage Chaos, which causes precious time to be wasted repeating certain sections. In many ways this fight is the microcosm of the experience as a whole: visually stunning, immaculate in the wide variety of moods it summons for its child audience, but compromised in key areas that make actually attempting to engage with the game difficult.
The amount of features in this game are staggering compared to many games of that era, and it would be hard for me to cover any more of them without making this review way too long to read. This game even had some of the earliest DLC through Sega's internet service, with seasonal events changing the hub worlds and adding small missions with extra content. In many ways, Sonic Adventure provides an expansive sampler to the many flavors of Sega. Their flamboyant blue-sky visual stylings, eclectic mix of design chops, and furious attempts to center jolts of pure gameplay excellence over long-form sagas all are exhibited here. Open references to their other IPs and winking nods to their extensive legacy abound. Perhaps more than solely existing as the Dreamcast’s calling card, this game crystallizes the Sega aesthetic as it existed before their dying days. The question of flash-in-the-pan gameplay versus extended content funnel serves as the dichotomy hindering their success all the way back to this point. It is only fitting, then, that Yakuza would eventually usurp the blue hedgehog as Sega’s tour de force property, as it welds the melting pot of different engines and wild array of moods into the decades-long epic the company needed to draw dedicated fans into.
I must also touch upon the music from this game, as it is possibly the best soundtrack in the whole franchise. Legendary Sega composer Jun Senoue really broke out with this game, and his playfully melodic guitar leads define much of the feeling and attitude of this era of Sonic games. Unlike some of his later soundtracks, this game features a broad range of instrumentation that blend nicely with the FM synth sound of the original classics. Orchestral, industrial, lounge, jungle, and hip-hop all collide with Senoue's guitar to create the most consistently interesting soundtrack in the series. As mentioned prior, each level features multiple internal acts that change the backing track while maintaining the motif, a feat that modern Sonic games should take note of. Some characters even get unique themes for stages, including the yawning slide guitar for Big's version of emerald coast. I love his Fish Caught! theme that leans into angular sputtering synths reminiscent of Takenobu Mitsuyoshi's work on Virtua Fighter. Elsewhere the sounds presage dance-punk, such as the much-loved Speed Highway theme, which veers into jungle without missing a beat. Venture into the Mystic Ruins and experience tumbling and jilted rhythms overlayed with washy pan flute and indecipherable praises, or drop into Casinopolis and its Latin Jazz-tinged Vegas revue. I could continue on and on like this (the soundtrack is insanely long) but rest assured that every new concept, every stage transition, every mood, vibe, and affect are all captured here in their full glory, showcasing the genius of a studio already well-acquainted with CD-quality audio and lovingly orchestrated soundtracks.

Much like the game itself, there’s many discordant threads running through this piece, so I’ll try to summarize my main design takeaways from Sonic Adventure into some key points.
First: Sonic Adventure benefits greatly from its permissive yet simple toolkits per character. Each character has a well-defined set of ways to traverse space and deal with obstacles that overlap in key ways without becoming samey.
Second: Sonic Adventure thrives when it is presenting new content and shocking the player visually. Its design patterns reward delighting the average player and delivering totally new obstacles instead of iterating on older ones. I would argue that it requires this for success even more than its peers, which featured slower paced levels, frequent backtracking, incentives for exploration, and toolkits based around these facets. Sonic Adventure’s toolkits are not built for this outside of Knuckles, who most closely resembles the playstyle of the game’s contemporaries.
Third: Sonic Adventure struggles to stretch out its systems in meaningful ways beyond simply switching the script up entirely. This creates a highly uneven experience exacerbated by the game’s rough physics/collision and unequal attention to each member of its cast.
Fourth: Sonic Adventure attempts to create new experiences across its many playable characters but suffers from the choice to repeat parts of the game without alteration (or with small edits) across its campaigns. These repeated sections are often the weakest parts of the game: cutscenes, hub exploration, and bosses. The overabundance of these elements have caused me personally to dislike this game quite a bit in the past. Replaying stages from the Trial menu absent of these external factors has given me a greater appreciation for the game’s particular gameplay stylings; the extra padding around these levels is unfortunately a detractor from the experience.
Fifth: Despite these criticisms, Sonic Adventure encapsulates much of Sega’s charm and design at a time when they were making a last stand in industry based on the talent of their creators alone. Its ambition and scope took the company in very different directions than similar studios; emphasizing the head-rush of exhilarating spectacle rather than more inquisitive exploration-based outings in the collectathon subgenre. Finally, their emphasis on speed and player expression in 3D environments cemented the Sonic series as providing satisfying tactile experiences unavailable in virtually any other series.

Actual masterpiece shit. Much like last year's Unmetal, a microstudio throwback game has swooped in and stolen my heart right before GOTY season. This is a beautiful, gloriously-realized survival horror experience that pays homage to and even improves upon its all-time classic predecessors while still being incredibly unique all the same.
There is so much to love here, it's like a game tailor-made for me - where to even begin? The gorgeous artistic design? The enigmatic, surreal, heartbreaking storyline? The best horror game puzzles I've solved in countless years? The way it plays with perspective and genre expectations? I wish the inventory limit was bigger, because that is absolutely going to be a sticking point for many people, but the occasional tedium barely even fazed me. I finished my first playthrough, then went right back in on the hardest difficulty to see the secret ending and get the rest of the achievements. I never do that.
After years of games promising to be the "new Silent Hill" and seeing Konami pimp out the SH2 remake to Bloober Team of all people, I'd grown jaded... but no more. This is the new Silent Hill. The spirit of our favorite games will always live on in the hearts and minds of dedicated indie developers.

I recently got a 3060ti and decided the perfect game to stress test this sucker was Signalis, a game that looks like it clawed its way out of a Playstation. Plus, uh, it never hurts to get really fucking depressed right before Thanksgiving.
I'm not going to write a lengthy review on its themes or its story, because frankly I'm not sure I can untangle it all. There's some excellent write-ups on this site already that really dig in to what Signalis means and what it has to say about identity, the loss of self, and the pain of losing others. It tells its story in a way that is intentionally confusing, always keeping you questioning who is who, what your motivation is, where you're even at, and when in time you're currently existing. There's a lot of great stuff going on with its narrative and I think it's best enjoyed without understanding anything more specific than what I just laid out, but I probably couldn't dissect it with any more accuracy than that if I tied.
As a game, Signalis is survival horror in the most old school way possible, with limited resources that need to be managed, and scant few inventory slots with which to do so. Enemies cannot be properly killed, only incapacitated for a period of time, almost like REmake's Crimson Heads, though without the added aggression on resurrection. Signalis uses respawning enemies to force the player to consider who to put down and who to spare. A tight corridor you often travel might be better to clear out than a wide open room where enemies can be safely juked, but you also have to consider that corridor will become dangerous again if you don't hustle. Enemies also patrol on set patterns regardless of whether or not you're in a room, which is at times problematic given their predilection to group near doorways, leading to some cheap shots; but the idea is certainly there, and it does nevertheless add to the tension when enemies aren't stationed in a way that's predictable.
Puzzle design is mostly good with a few clunky ones hampering the experience. On the one hand you have things like the Magpie frequency puzzle, on the other you have the pump room puzzle which is so bad they just write the solution down next to the pump station. The game bounces around between Resident Evil and Silent Hill in terms of how difficult these are to solve, though the vast majority are very engaging, and the story is woven in with progression in a way that feel quite seamless. Every problem you have to solve carries some narrative weight, it tells you more about the place you're in and the people who used to live there, so even the few that are mechanically iffy still have something there to draw you in.
One area where my criticisms aren't metered with praise is the controls. The targeting system is just not good, and it doesn't feel like it's by design. It frequently fails to target enemies you've got a clear shot at, and attempting to line up accurate shots in a crowd is a pain given its propensity to target whoever the hell it deems worthy of getting blasted, whether they're who you wanted to unload into or not. Going through doors can also be troublesome, as it sometimes just doesn't seem to register inputs. This isn't too much of a problem unless you're being chased by an enemy, in which case i just want the door to open please open they're coming for me oh god why is their head a leg open up please god please
But really, control problems and a few dodgy puzzles are absolutely not enough to take away from how good Signalis is. Every single survival horror game to resonate with me this much is at least two decades old at this point. That's not to say I don't like modern survival horror, but good god, I haven't played anything "modern" that feels so clued in to the design ethos of the genre's earlier days like Signalis.
A lot of this game is going to stick with me. Its story, its puzzles, its atmosphere... The game's art style is just gorgeous, I adore the way it mixes aliased graphics with pre-rendered elements. A few locations (such as Nowhere, the highlight of the whole game for me) seem to be clearly inspired by Silent Hill, while others reminded me of Myst in ways I'm not sure were really intentional, but impactful nonetheless. It's been a long time since I felt a modern game was made just for me, appealing to everything I love about not just the survival horror genre, but horror in general, with a presentation that is also so tuned in to what I like that it almost makes me a bit paranoid, like I'm being spied on. Like someone is in my head.
God damn. Go play Signalis.