playing this game really made me want to end my world

beautiful, wondorous, shallow, and futile.
Todd Howard's newest foray into vast planet-spanning stories evidently forgets that planets and stars are not the focal point of any story. They aren't living entities. They breathe life...yet it is the life itself that must be emphasized.
Starfield focuses too much on the stars, and too little on the people that inhabit them. The sidequests are vapid, the characters are generic and monotonous, the environments are sterile. Of course, as No Man's Sky shows, you don't need to have a conventional story to make a game imbuned with the richness of life and meaning, especially in a genre that exploits our idealized version of discovery and the unknown as much as space and science fiction. That being said, the ability to eschew conventionality only works with due intention, and Starfield indeed seems to attempt to embrace the paradigms of space operas that have come before at every corner. It isn't hollow because that's the point, it's hollow because (presumably) Microsoft wanted the game out the door as soon as possible.
And looking back at the concept of Starfield and its lofty ambitions, one wonders if it could have ever been even remotely good in the first place. The promises of Starfield were in its immense scale, not in the artistic ambition of the experiences that lie within. Perhaps, from that perspective, Starfield is a crowning achievement.
Unfortunately, for the thousands of planets and hundreds of unique storylines, there is not one worth exploring. Perhaps I was expecting too much from a Bethesda game. Silly me! How could I ever have thought a Bethesda game would push the medium in any substantial way? But what I was at least expecting was for Starfield to at least have a purpose. Anything more meaningful, more human, than pixels flashing on a screen while you kill unnamed evil pirate #4721 in a game with a morality system reminiscent of Bioshock's black-and-white little sisters.
Starfield does not even attempt to achieve that.


In American college applications, the theme of “ethnic food”, and the bonds that form between generations when cooking said “ethnic food”, is considered one of the most stereotypical college admissions essays around, overused to the point where it lost all meaning both in the eyes of students and admissions officers.
This was something that I was unfamiliar with before I started applying to US colleges. Growing up in a country with shockingly little diversity and where everyone drew inspiration from the same cultural cookbook (Japan), the concept of ethnic food was foreign and intriguing. As a result, when applying to colleges myself, I specifically explained in my essays about my country’s cuisine and how it connected with me and connected me to the bonds that demarcated my life.
So why am I talking about the overusage of writing about ethnic food in American college applications? Because Venba represents the culmination and the zenith of ethnic food writing, in any medium, for any purpose. It’s a devastating glimpse into the precipice of cultural collision, identity, and the balance between assimilation and submission. And it does this with a deft hand of literary seasoning, a fleur-de-sel of stylistic prose that never overpowers the clarity of the original vision. The food gameplay itself is charming, engaging and fun: an appetizer to the main course, some acidity to cleanse the palate and that cuts through the richness of the writing one digests.
(Review in progress, come back later for the full review! Just saving this review for now :>)

A Circle comes from the sky; it has happened before, but for mincemeat, only once.
It was too late; it was all a play. In the waters of the aspen's gaze, stood only the cars and NickEh30. One blooming with the joys of nature, exploding with the sprouts of yarrow and sage and hollyhock. And one decaying into the midst of time, painting the picturesque, lush-green tapestry into streaks of fiery desperation, each stroke a story of loss. The forest itself were just rows of bountiful green lines interspersed with thousands of angry red circles, their shape of which was not-so-quite circular. And after that--darkness. The Circle was coming. Pitch-black, perfect solitude, tinted with the glint of a lavender sky.
There was nothing NickEh30 could have done. Perhaps it was at the tender age of 14, when he first heard the words "I'm from the government and I'm here to help", deracinated from his motherland to fight for a fortnight in an exotic land. Perhaps perhaps perhaps. Or was it when he ran away from the gunfight so many days ago? Whatever. The Circle was coming. There was nothing he could do anyways, with only a rare Stone's Burst Assault Rifle and 70 pieces of wood. Not enough to build a trench for the night, or a pile of stairs to hide behind, or anything really. Not that he needed to, anyways: The Circle exterminated all. Perhaps. The only thing that remained were regrets of the past, of memories forgotten in ennui and longing.
Perhaps. In Tenebrae comes Strepitus. Look up at the sky--can't you see it? And as NickEh30 ducked from the sound of lightning derooting oak, he took a final coup d'oeil at the interior of his resting place.The Circle was coming. It was here, at the intersection between idyll and oblivion, passivity and desperation, that NickEh30 first saw the sign.
"Welcome to Loot Lake"

Innocent Gray is known for their amazing character writing, and KnS 3 shows an ascendant, confident Innocent Gray at the zenith of their ability, unsurpassed by anything they’ve done before or after. The prose is concentrated to a lethal potency, so sharp in its polemic critiques and so furious in its assassination of the familiar and the familial that every moment, every line, from the mundanity of nothing-talk to the most principal actions show the writers fully in control to the most granular level of their own creation. It’s literary theatre: the words are the actors, and us the audience.
Indeed, Innocent Gray knew they were cooking up a masterpiece, and that newly found self-confidence so dearly missing from their previous works is imbued and etched into the tapestry of this literary fabric to the point where the seams are beginning to burst. This is a title that defies structure, that defies form. It takes so many creative risks in an otherwise-stagnant genre that had this game been any worse, it likely would have been a disaster.
Luckily, this is Innocent Gray we are talking about. My only regret is the cliff of content warnings any in-depth conversation about this game entails, which prevents me from fully articulating my appreciation for some of the game’s most special moments. While for some, the liberal illustration of horrific events ||from WW2 Japanese war crimes to gore to rape|| borders on the voyeuristic, unlike other games in this genre that depict similarly horrific events ||cough cough Euphoria and Subahibi||, Kara no Shojo 3 treats these situations with such severity that they weigh down over the words — and your subconsciousness — dragging the rest of the narrative with it. These are serious events, not a shallow fix for poor characterization or an underexplained plot-point driver in the absence of a reasonable motivator or a dramatical set piece designed for a moment’s fleeting attention or a perverted and grotesque sex scene.
The writing is considerably more dense than before, and gives up a significant amount of the in-your-face shock for brutal, disquietting yet dazzling prose
there's nowhere near as many disturbing scenes as the first two. There's almost no ero/h-scenes at all. And yet, the game is far more emotionally sharp than any other in the series. This goes to speak of the quality of the characters Innocent Gray has built up for over a decade and the brilliance of their plot.
It's utterly horrifying, and yet, I am unable to let go.
Now, excuse me if I must. I have to get back to crying.

TW: depression, suicide, employee abuse, late-stage capitalism
“I personally think that being able to work 996 is a huge blessing”
- Jack Ma, Weibo, April 15, 2019
It’s 2 AM. Black eyelids and blacker coffee. The investor report is due tomorrow, and yet another group of college students has started a startup targeting your company’s market value. Unfortunately, they don’t intend on sleeping, so you pull another can of Red Bull from the employee breakroom fridge. After all, no intelligence can leapfrog four more hours of code. Perhaps, if I…
“Could you help me forecast upcoming B2B sales trends for Q2?”
Get back to work.
On December 29, 2020, at 1:30 AM, a commodity trader surnamed Zhang collapsed in the street while walking back home with her colleagues. Rushed to the hospital, she was pronounced dead approximately half an hour later. She was 23. Zhang’s death marked the second overwork-related death in a month for Pinduoduo, the unicorn commerce platform startup worth more than $170 billion (and the owner of Temu, the popular Western shopping app), and sparked widespread outrage among Chinese netizens, leading to a government investigation and a user boycott that dropped Pinduoduo’s market cap by 6.1% in a single day. The CEO pledged to do better, the users who boycotted Pinduoduo reinstalled the app, and Zhang’s death was forgotten.
Two weeks after Zhang died, a Pinduoduo engineer in the app infrastructure department asked for leave early and traveled home. On the afternoon of January 9th, 2021, he leaped to his death from the window of his apartment building. News reports later surfaced that employees in his division were made to work 300 hours a month, with many of those hours without pay.
A few days later, a whistleblower named Wang Taixu filmed a video of a colleague collapsing and being taken into an ambulance after working overtime at Pinduoduo’s offices, and was promptly fired. In response, he published a Bilibili exposal that confirmed not just 300 but 380 hours of work a month, as well as various poor working conditions such as having 8 bathrooms for 1000 employees (in response, the administrators put up signs requesting employees to “hurry up”), forcing employees to work during Lunar New Year, forcing employees to work overtime to make up for hours lost if sick, and fluctuating salaries and bonuses seemingly on a whim’s notice.
The three deaths, as well as Wang’s exposal, solidified Pinduoduo as the face of the infamous “996” system, which stands for workdays from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week, with companies often requiring employees to work unpaid overtime past the 996 system itself. Popularized by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, 996 – or even worse – is virtually universal among Chinese startups and behemoths alike in the fast-moving Chinese technology sector, where investor expectations are high, potential profits are higher, and where competitors will do anything to undercut their competition. Indeed, Pinduoduo reached its ascendency by undercutting countless other 团购 or group-buying companies, achieved through intentionally selling at a loss and bleeding investor dollars until its competition could not afford to keep up. Furthermore, Pinduoduo prided itself on having more features and integration than any of the competition, from native compatibility with uber-popular WeChat and QQ to fully-streamlined supply chains with multiple fallback suppliers to custom-designed AI meant to help shoppers.
In hindsight, the notion that a startup could fully build such a streamlined and efficient platform, perhaps more so than even Amazon, while simultaneously expanding to all of China, Singapore, and Southeast Asia in the span of two years without brutal working conditions was foolish. But what choice did Pinduoduo have? It was competing with dozens of other startups, all aiming for the same piece of the pie, and all with similarly horrid working conditions. Had Pinduoduo implemented humane working conditions, it would simply dissolve in the sea of failed startups, in which case another company with terrible labor practices would have dominated the market segment. After all, at the end of the day employees are simply just a resource, and like any other resource, the goal is to get maximum value at a minimum cost. Pinduoduo, like all the other startups it was competing against, was just another cog in the machine of China’s emerging information economy, a gladiator forced to fight while the spectators of venture capitalists cheered on.
A Blessing for the Herd, developed by ex-developers from Tencent and Netease (two companies notorious for their 996 practices), was created as a response to the Pinduoduo situation and depicts the daily working lives of dozens of employees at a small ecommerce startup. This is not a new concept, and multiple games have already tackled the 996 system in-depth before, such as the aptly named game “996me”. Yet, where A Blessing for the Herd diverges from the herd – and where it shines brightest – is in its brilliantly-written characters, as well as its focus on the societal structure and economic incentives that makes 996 not only possible, but often necessary to a startup’s survival.
Instead of playing as an employee, you play as the CEO of the company, tasked with managing dozens of employees, each with their own struggles and aspirations, as you try to claw your company’s way towards profitability, fight back against competitors trying to do the same thing, and fulfill the impossible expectations of the investors who loaned you money. Playing as the CEO naturally gives the game more depth in both gameplay and narrative, as it enables choices you make to have ramifications not only on you, but on everyone that surrounds you, as well as changing the goal of the game from simply meeting a deadline to reaching “success” for the company, a far more abstract and seemingly-impossible affair.
Your main goal as CEO is to ensure maximum worker productivity while growing the company and staying within the monthly allotted funding given by your investors. Worker productivity can be increased through two main methods: upgrades to your workplace, such as break rooms or yoga studios, or overtime. The former option improves the mental and physical stability of your workers while simultaneously improving productivity, but depletes a significant amount of your already-limited funding, when you still need to spend money on marketing and salaries and rent. The latter option is free and gives a bigger productivity boost than more break rooms, but depletes mental and physical health, which gradually depletes their maximum productivity in the long run, while also increasing the chance of employee sudden death, leaving the company, or suicide. Yet, in the face of almost-impossible investor expectations, you quickly learn that overtime is basically essential to avoid your company immediately drowning in a sea of red numbers. Therefore, to make sure that your company doesn’t fail without killing all your employees, a careful balance must be struck.
The narrative centers on six key employees: Lin Tong and Gao Qi, the two leaders of the R&D division, Luo Xin and Zhao Nan, the two leaders of the Product Development division, and Fan Ruichao, the marketing head. Each employee, including you (a dog), are represented by and depicted as an animal, with the only characters in the game depicted as humans being the investors, which illustrates their power over you and your startup’s replaceability in the Chinese economy. For instance, Fan is extremely aggressive in his marketing efforts, often recruiting new users using unscrupulous and sometimes-illegal practices to boost user figures, an important metric for investors. As such, he is depicted as a boar, due to the boar’s status in Chinese culture as being aggressive and confident. Each of the six key employees represents one of the main demographics of people in the tech industry, from the meek yet talented worker who keeps their head down to the ambitious employee willing to do anything to get a promotion.
Ever since I’ve learned Chinese a few months ago, this game has been one of the top things on my backlog. Ever since releasing in 2019, it has been regarded in China as a cult classic, and by many Chinese netizens as one of China’s finest indies, something made more impressive by China emerging as one of the most vibrant and bold indie scenes in the world. On TapTap, a popular Chinese mobile app store for gaming, A Blessing for the Herd was ranked as the #1 highest rated game for two years in a row. From reading the synopsis, it was immediately evident that this game had unquestionable potential, and I was extremely curious where it took its unique ideas. While I have never experienced the 996 system myself or seen it in person, in Japan the idea of dedicating long hours towards a company is seen as normal, and my dad clocked in early every morning and clocked out when the sky was black, doing god-knows-what at the small chemical company in Shizuoka-shi where he received his monthly paycheck. When I was growing up, the concept of studying hard to ace the common test to get into a good university, in order to join a company upon graduating – putting in overtime regularly – and climbing up the corporate ladder was seen as normal, and was instilled in me from an early age. Of course, this game covered the startup boom in China especially among technology companies, which I was interested in as it was so radically different compared to the Japanese system I was used to, yet at the same time, so many elements were the same, from the corporate hierarchies to the emphasis on company loyalty to the characters involved. It was “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics”, perhaps. As such, I walked in expecting a decent story critiquing the 996 system, but nothing really more than that.
What I didn’t expect was a story that exposed the absurdity and inequality of China’s childhood rat races and the Gaokao exam, or a story that lamented Chinese people forgetting their own ancient wisdom and culture to worship at the altar of consumerism and their blind admiration of the West. or a swiftian story that picked apart the bureaucracy of different Chinese agencies and their artificial inefficiency, or a story that explored China’s massive (and growing) rural-urban divide and how long-entrenched societal systems like the Hukou household registration system exacerbates that divide. In other games focusing on Chinese corporate culture, these societal issues would be brushed aside or ignored entirely, perhaps included as a two-sentence quip in a twenty-hour game. Not here, though. A Blessing for the Herd is a game that isn’t content to point its sharp pen at the 996 work system, or even the corporate structures that enable it. No, it’s a game that is smart enough to know that corporate culture ultimately is largely derived from societal norms and values, and that one cannot fully address the injustices in companies without taking a glance at the society that enabled it. While relatively brief in size, these ventures into the tears in Chinese society in the midst of rapid modernization are packed with detail and emotion, complementing the main story perfectly while never detracting from the tightly-paced writing. Indeed, many of the game’s most brilliant moments come from these asides, these dazzling introspections into Chinese society as a whole.
That’s high praise, especially when the main story itself is so good. As stated earlier, the main story essentially functions as six intertwined character studies, with the company and its success being the common thread that links each character story together. Given the lifelessness of the corporation and the lack of a preset main plot, one would assume that the progression of said character stories would largely be dependent on player agency. Yet, while this game gives the illusion of player agency through the way gameplay is perfectly intertwined with story, because the player fundamentally has very little agency on changing the end result of the gameplay, the progression and ending of the story is hence inevitable. After all, regardless of what you do or how you optimize, you will always lose at least 10 million RMB a month (which, according to the developers, is by design), with hanging on and optimizing your gameplay only a temporary gauze in the hemorrhage of investor funds, often by no fault of your own. This is what leads to the tragic but beautifully inevitable ending of the game (no, it’s not the company going bankrupt), which not only ties up the fate of the company but the fate of all of the characters in a shocking yet sensible manner.
Indeed, let’s talk about said characters, shall we? While all of the characters in this game get luscious development and are very well-written, I would like to shine a spotlight on a few of my favorite characters that had a particular impact on me.
Luo Xin has been described by the developers as the “real daughter” of the game in subsequent interviews, and it’s easy to see why: she gets more screen time than any other character, and she has the most tragic story in the entire game. The developers, in their reflection, note that when the Chinese internet bubble started, product manager was among the most desired jobs in all of China, as people dreamed of creating unique projects that could change the world. Yet, this subsequently led to a surplus of product managers in the market, and when combined with the bursting of several bubbles in the Chinese technology sector, led to the vast majority of product managers quitting the technology sector or migrating to more in-demand jobs. As a result, the remaining product managers are often driven by passion more than anything, due to the low pay, long hours, and constant struggles of the profession – leading to the occupation having some of the highest depression rates of any job in China. Product managers need to have constant communication, arguments, and quarrels with all sectors of the company, often acting as a mediator in negotiating between different divisions from designers to programmers to the accounting department. Yet, even after all that, the vast majority of projects proposed are ultimately rejected, leading to what the developers themselves term as the feeling that “all efforts are illusory”. Luo Xin perfectly reflects this ideal of a person whose passion drives them to the point of insanity, and whose quest to create the “timeless product” eventually leads to her depression and suicide. Her descent into madness, partially spurred by your actions as the CEO, is one of the most important events that happens in the game, and illustrates the human impact of 996, as well as the effects when creative passion is exploited for monetary gain. And in a medium that has often struggled to portray mental health, with many games ranging from DDLC to Milk Outside a Bag of Milk often ending up romanticizing and smoothing-out mental illness into some voyeuristic aesthetic to be slapped on top like an ableist Band-Aid in lieu of actual substance or depth, Luo Xin’s progression is raw and ugly – much like actual mental health struggles. It’s heartbreaking, really, to see her creative dreams descend into nightmares. From the start, it is evident that Luo Xin represents the story of someone working at Muccy Games, given both the background of the developers and that such a highly personal and specific story cannot be formed from consciousness but instead experience. To whoever the owner and creator of this story is, I hope you find inner peace.
Gao Qi, represents to me, both the Chinese idealization of women in the workplace and the end result of it. Her character is constantly depicted as innocent, docile, and pure, sometimes with a slight sexualization bent, which fits her persona as a sheep. Yet, by the end of the story, she is a completely different person than when she began, due to the countless examples of harassment (and worse) that she experiences. She becomes more mature, wary, and guarded; she fights back and demonstrates her independence in the face of a culture and society not designed for her. Perhaps the closest analogue I can make is Tess from Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: two characters once pure but drastically changed in the face of cultural norms and societal misogyny – and yes, the two are similar in more ways than one (think strawberries). Gao Qi’s story most represents the developers’ anger at not just Chinese corporate culture, but long-entrenched social norms as well, and the perspective that one cannot truly understand the former without understanding the latter. While Gao Qi’s story isn’t the first time I’ve seen a critique about the lack of agency, domesticity, and objectification of women in traditional (and modern) Chinese culture, or even the first time I’ve seen a story where a woman is forced to get an abortion to secure a promotion at her workplace, for her story to be told in a way that takes such full usage of the video game medium’s strength and to be told this eloquently is a delight.
As someone who migrated to America by myself a year ago, at the age of 15 and a half, I deeply connected to Lin Tong’s story for personal reasons. The idea of being an immigrant in a new land, the unfamiliarity and sense of starting over that it entails…these are all universal experiences, unconstrained by demarcation lines or the passing of time. The way that her story is outlined and the way it progresses has actually reminded me a lot of my own story, which has led to an introspection and reflection on my own life – after all, nobody in this game has a happy ending. Perhaps it is a normal occurrence, or a fate to be avoided? In all likelihood, it is both. Either way, the fact that my current life nearly perfectly matches up with the early sections of Lin Tong’s story terrifies me, and I should probably spend more time connecting with my family now that I think about it. Ah well, I’ll do it tomorrow…
Before concluding this review, I’d like to touch on the game’s status as a mobile, free-to-play app. This, for good reason, probably raises concern to a lot of you – after all, Chinese free-to-play mobile apps have a reputation of being either gacha games or ad-infested shovelware. Luckily, I’m happy to report that this game is neither of those. There are no ads during the game, besides a few optional ads you can watch to gain some in-game money (which, again, is useless because you will always end up returning a negative profit at the end of the month). There are no gacha elements either. The developers themselves have stated that they actually lost money developing this game compared to operating expenses (office rent, etc.), and that the decision to put this game on mobile for free was mainly to get a wide playerbase and attract brand loyalty for their future projects, forsaking any money to be made in exchange for publicity and recognition. This, hilariously, reflects the startups depicted in the game itself, who care only about growth and expansion and a bigger user base over profitability. Either way, it seems to have worked, given that I’ll just about buy anything Muccy Games releases next, regardless of price or platform.
Had A Blessing for the Herd been simply a game about the experiences of workers in the 996 system, the sheer quality of its writing and characters alone would have made it a landmark in Chinese indie gaming – the fact that it accomplishes all that while also hiding a viciously-laced satire about Chinese corporate culture and the materialistic bent of modern Chinese society makes it nothing short of unbelievable, all while weaving its game mechanics into the tapestry of the story in a way so seamless that ludology and narratology seems to melt and blend into one. This is a work that is very distinctly and proudly modern Chinese, which is something so rare and refreshing in an environment where so many Chinese indies are trying to be something they aren’t, focusing on settings like Ancient China or anime instead of drawing inspiration from the China that surrounds them every day. In contrast, A Blessing for the Herd embraces its Chinese heritage, drawing from the experiences of the developers’ own lives and the current state of China, resulting in a game unapologetic in its dedication to its own creative vision and overflowing with passion and heart. Rather than being a “996 game” or a “corporate game” or a “management game”, A Blessing for the Herd, more than any other game I’ve played, represents the quintessential Chinese picturesque of the modern era. For a group of game developers who used to work on cash-grab gacha games to create such an indispensable work as their first independent project is extraordinary, and I cannot temper myself for the next Muccy Games release.
I end this review with an excerpt from the developer’s reflection on the game itself.
“Sometimes I am also quite puzzled: Your XX Group and XX Company have almost a monopoly position in the industry, why do you need employees to work overtime continuously? Are you that busy? How much money can you make for the company? If you still need employees to work overtime like this, aren't you monopolizing it for nothing?”
This, for all the game’s success delving into the logistical and practical and societal reasons companies use 996, is the one question it is too afraid to ask: the moral reasons for China’s corporate culture. After all, there are no words to be said, no answers to be found. Perhaps the most harrowing takeaway from A Blessing for the Herd is that there is no alternate ending. There is no solution. 996 is embedded in Chinese companies large and small because it can’t be removed.
And so, the cycle continues. Get another Red Bull from the fridge; it’s going to be a long night.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (Nearly Flawless)
Second Playthrough Rating: 4.5/5 (Nearly Flawless)

The fact that the same people who made Sumire, which had a story that I quite adore, also wrote this mess is baffling, especially considering project nimbus comes AFTER sumire. Did they somehow regress in literary skill? Because this story is trope-filled, cringey (I hate using that word), and nonsensical from start to finsih. Every character felt like some anime cardboard replacable cutout with no development and no defining or unique characteristics, to the point where I couldn't even remember their names half the time and the names were on the screen!
Of course, nobody plays mecha games for combat, which is why a game like Daemon x Machina recieved praise despite the story being universally panned as horribly-written and the stuff of generic anime light novels, much like this story. Yet, while the combat here is fine -- it's certainly passable -- it does not stand out at all.
I got it on sale for a grand total of one dollar and fifty cents, so it's hard to really complain about many details when I've been treated to worse experience by games that had 1000x the budget, 100x the developers, and 10x the price on Steam. After all, at the end of the day, this thing costs less than a medium size McDonalds fries even with no discount, and I genuinely did get some enjoyment out of it. It's too bad that enjoyment was so sparse across the runtime of this game that looking back, I don't know if it was worth it in the end.
Overall Rating: 1.5/5 (Horrendous)

Beckett is the first visual novel i've ever read where the characters (intentionally) don't matter.
It's important to take a step back and realize just how momentous that statement is. The idea of characters not mattering might sound initially like a bad thing -- after all, wouldn't badly-written characters make for a badly written story? And you're right, most of the time, due to the typical focus of visual novels. The vast majority of visual novels, from Subahibi to Steins;Gate, Flowers to Fata Morgana, are character studies. The writing revolves around a group of characters, most if not all attention is dedicated towards the development and experiences of said characters, and progression of the visual novel is measured by the change in the characters, their lives, and their behaviors.
And to be fair, there's nothing wrong with that. Linear, character-driven stories are great, especially if executed well. Indeed, three of those stories sit in my current top 5.
Yet, it is because of the prevalence of the character-driven, linear narrative in visual novels that something like Beckett stands out. Drawing inspirations from Kafka, Lynch, Burroughs, the Dadaist art movement, the Theatre of the Absurd, and...well, Samuel Beckett, you delve into the perspective of the eponymous main character, an investigator who has been forced to take on a case in search of a missing son. Except, you quickly learn the son is not the point of this game -- in fact, he barely gets mentioned at all. Nor is Beckett himself all that important, as he really only acts as a vessel, a pair of eyes to look at material, space, and time.
No, the true focus of this "visual novel", and where the majority of the writing goes, is to the world. And what an utterly unique, horrifying, bizarre, fascinating, and imaginative world it is! A giant fly covering half the computer screen, standing upon a grainy wooden table with one wing tucked under a copy of airport kiosk genre-fiction. A large, pearl-white toilet with the seat half open, interspersed with snippets of old New York Times front covers and a Polaroid picture of a medication bottle tipped over, and which on top rests a collection of seashells darkened and arranged to resemble spilt blood. Old clips of public-domain movies, cut-up and directed to compose a cacophony of sounds and textures, where every word is a rhythm and Beckett, poor Beckett, the miserable and unwilling conductor. Beckett oozes with stylistic fleur-de-sel that seasons every single inch of the computer screen, and its Dada-inspired aesthetic vision is so striking that, in spite of the prevalence of an entire category of indie, 90's-inspired multimedia video games (as well as multimedia video games from the 90's themselves), Beckett never feels derivative. Playing Beckett feels like walking into a time capsule to 1920's Brooklyn or Berlin, where the modernist movement was in full swing at underground venues, coffee shops, artist collectives, and major museums. Even the music and sound design, something I rarely mention in my reviews (not least because I have terrible music taste), is wholly unique and atypical, like using Rite of Spring when everyone else uses Beethoven. Yeah, none of the characters might have any development at all, and the motivations and perspectives of said characters might be excessively vague, but when the world itself is this realized and well-developed, does it really matter?
It doesn't. It really doesn't. And it's a great thing that it doesn't, because the writing decidedly sophomoric. Most of the time, when I critique writing in visual novels, it is usually over purple prose that goes very much in-depth, and which ends up feeling awful to actually read and analyze despite being narratively and thematically interesting. Beckett has the opposite issue. The developers seemed to focus on tone and texture over actual depth and focus, resulting in very pretty and flowy sentences that in the end don't mean anything. And while it nails the literary style of its inspirations, even going so far as to be the only game in recent memory to use Burrough's "cut-up" technique as an integral part of the overall narrative, it fundamentally misses what makes its inspirations such enduring classics in the first place. The brilliance of Naked Lunch isn't in the cut-up technique -- the cut-up technique is unique, but it's not what makes Naked Lunch such a seminal work. The brilliance of Waiting for Godot isn't in the setpieces or the "anti-narrative" narrative style it employs, striking as they are. The brilliance of David Lynch films isn't in the surreal cinematography, although that's where the term Lynchian comes from. Beckett, however, thinks so. Beckett misinterprets the surface-level novelties of its inspirations as their literary heartbeats, resulting in paragraphs sometimes antithetical to the works they were derived from. Beckett has plenty of literary gimmicks and party tricks, yet beneath that shiny facade lies a narrative as shallow, superficial, and decaying as the world that Beckett is trying to critique.
I would be remiss if I didn't briefly talk about the voice acting before closing this review, consisting mainly of two characters: air-polluted throat-threat-cough Beckett, and the silent entropy of the world. Both enact stellar performances: Bronchitis Beckett's unique voice and sound -- and yes, cough -- perfectly matches the tone and vision of the story and the world, while the world itself and its unending, unnatural silence aside from the occasional flip of a page or splatter of a crawling beetle revels in the artificiality and mundanity of it all.
Beckett, at its heart, is an artistic experiment, of the sort that we rarely see in modern gaming. It's unconventional, ambitious, earnest, and fiercely creative. Of course, artistic experiments don't always work out, and while the amazing moments in Beckett shine. there are many glaring mistakes -- particularly in its writing -- that makes it extremely hard to recommend as an actual game, especially to anyone not deeply concerned with games as a work of art. Yet, it is in these uneven, rough, and sometimes failed artistic experiments, from [domestic] to _______ to Gravity Bone to A God Who Lives In Your Head to Beckett, that gaming as an artform can progress.
I would never envision myself playing Beckett more than once, but frankly, I don't need to. Like the taste of Marmite, Beckett is a radically unique and different experience to anything out there, and whether you love it or you hate it, it's unforgettable.
Beckett is you. Beckett is I. Beckett is cut-up nightmare, massacre of emotion, the individual against society, entropy of life, inevitability of death, the mundane as art, a readymade Duchamp-esque sense of stillness juxtaposed against the distorted English on the paper machine. Beckett is humanity at its most surreal, its most miserable, its most Kafkaesque, its most orderly, and its most nightmarish.
Beckett is us.
We are Beckett, and lest we forget, we repeat.
Overall Rating: ?/5 (Unrateable)
Note: as much as I would love to write a modernist, self-referential abstract review modeled on the writing style of the game itself, I figured since there's already plenty (and probably plenty more to come) of those on this very review page (and no comprehensive and detailed review of the game itself), it would be better for people interested but not committed to Beckett for me to write a semi-long-form "normal" analysis instead. I'll write one of those funny abstract reviews later.

This review contains spoilers

SPOILER FREE REVIEW: not gonna go much into detail regarding actual events, but there's plenty of info online and even in this review section lol
Rex might just be the worst-developed character in any video game I've ever played. I've played games with characters that had more nonsensical developments, but they at least had development of some kind. Rex's development, on the other hand, is paper thin and lilliputian in nature.
I am not even going to go into the moral quagmire of...the entire fucking game. Plenty of people have dissected and analyzed the absolute and utter disgustingness that is the implementation of Blades into this story, the very-obvious veneer of sexism that it entails, and the frankly-creepy implications it has on the world and the characters. Plenty of people have already criticized the inclusion of Poppi, which is meant to be a joke, as being sexist and insensitive and in very poor taste. Those people have played the game in greater depth than me, and are generally better than me at writing reviews. Many of those people are here on this very website, in this very review section, and I highly recommend you read their analysis.
What I will say is that, in a character-driven narrative, if your characters are so under-developed and flat that they make the term "one-dimensional" sound like excessive praise, you have utterly failed as a narrative. When your gameplay is so barren-boned and tedious that you'll develop carpal tunnel before having a single enjoyable combat encounter, you have failed as gameplay. When your world is so empty and littered with trash mobs designed to waste your time with no incentive for exploration or discovery to the point where it would make Genshin Impact and Assassin's Creed look like good game design, you have utterly failed at environmental storytelling and game design. When the overarching story of your narrative also has excessive plot holes that continuously get worse, especially after you try to tie the game to Xenoblade 1...then you become a David Cage game.
Indeed, the more I think about it, the more it dawns on me: this is exactly like a David Cage JRPG: bad combat, terribly bad story, and horrendously bad characters, all with questionable morals and extremely questionable objectification and treatment of women. Except it's worse because David Cage games go on sale often, can be modded to be funny, and don't include gacha mechanics out of the box. I've seen countless praise of Xenoblade 3, but I've been betrayed by this game so much that I'm not sure my soul and mind can handle another iteration of this. On the bright side, Xenoblade 3 will undoubtedly impress me in a twisted sense, because after the mess that this game is, my expectations for this series as a whole has dropped below the Mariana Trench.
Overall Rating: 1/5 (Dumpster Fire)

This review contains spoilers

its slightly below average I guess
TW: rape, mutilation, violence, porn, bullying, table
honestly, subahibi in of itself should be a trigger warning
Again, please go read kakerasky's full review of DDLC, a game that I also hate and a game that shares many striking similarities with subahibi.
Wonderful Everyday: Down the Rabbit-Hole, or Subahibi as it is commonly referred to, is the single costliest game I have ever purchased. Not only is it 30 dollars, or the equivalent of four hours of minimum-wage work in the United States, but it also is responsible for the destruction of a 20 dollar logitech keyboard I bought from walmart, two chopsticks, and a ceramic mug. More importantly, it also was directly responsible for me accidentally breaking a small clay figurine I made in 1st grade, something so dear to my heart that when I moved to America from Japan I wrapped it in paper and stored it in the front pouch of my backpack. And that's not even counting the monetary costs of the four pills of my grandmother's high blood pressure medication I ate while playing this game, which looking back was a terrible idea both for my own health and my grandmother's, but was a choice I decided to pursue given just how much stress and anxiety this game was causing me.
Why? Well, it is garbage, trash, rubbish, and refuse. It is an extraordinarily banal work with zero artistic value, where philosophical depth extends down to the collective value of three litcharts summary pages and a sparknotes prep book, and where an underaged girl being raped or having her limb cut off is considered an acceptable subsitute for any sort of character development in the classical sense. Bullying is not character development, rape is not character development, gore is not character development, and fucking a table is not fucking character development. I am known for heavily emphasizing an unified creative vision. And, in a swiftian sense of irony, this game has one of the strongest creative visions I've ever seen. In that, I mean that it represents a creative vision of someone unfit to live in a civilized society, and Japanese prosecutors should probably take note. SCA-DI's creative vision is less of a vision and more of a blindness, a darkness that spreads across the whole novel, and a plague on the visual novel genre.
Given that this is a visual novel, it is only sensible to start off by critiquing the writing quality. After all, a visual novel with poor writing is automatically a poor visual novel. And in terms of subahibi, the writing quality is disgustingly awful, to the point where it is actually incredible how consistently terrible it is. It's unsensible, unstable, and unfocused purple prose that is astoundingly massive in its own sense of self-importance and lilliputian in its actual depth. In fact, I almost have a fleeting suspicion it was intentionally written to be bad, because there is almost no way a 50-hour work of fiction can be this goddamn bad for the entire fifty hours. Even David Cage games have their moments of midness, a break away from the dumpster bin, DDLC and euphoria have genuine emotional moments, and Banban is sometimes funny. Many of the 0.5 star games I rate are middlemarket mobile shovelware created for the sole reason of exploiting underaged Timmy and his mom's credit card, which makes them obviously bad games, but at least they have zero effort put into them. This game has effort put into it, is 30 fucking bucks, and yet somehow is consistently worse than all of the games that I listed above.
My favorite games overwhelmingly tend to skew towards the depressing and miserable, and I highly covet what I call the "beauty of misery" found in VNs like Fata Morgana, games like Pathologic, and books like Jude the Obscure. And I'm not someone who is averse to the weird and sometimes disgusting: I love books like Naked Lunch. Yet, unlike Novologic games or Thomas Hardy novels, the greatest misery I experienced from this game was my own misery in questioning the life choices that lead up to me buying, downloading, and playing this game. Indeed, this game holds the onerous distinction of being the first (and likely last) game where I purposefully wished that all the main characters would just die, not because they were written to attract a negative perception, but because I just wanted the game to end quicker.
I rarely come across games with zero redeeming qualities. Subahibi is the epitome of a game that fits that bill. Shock porn for the sake of shock porn, with zero emotional weight placed behind the situation and treated with an air of levity that does not suit the context. Actual porn for the sake of actual porn, inserted in the middle of the narrative with no cohesion or substance or even simply a purpose behind said porn, other than maybe to sell more copies by targeting a demographic completely at odds with the game's stated intent of creating a deeply interwoven psychological character drama tackling questions of fate, existence, confronting reality, and living happily. Purple and inelegant prose that creaks and stutters across the page with heavy-handed themes and uneven rhythms all masquerading as faux-philosophical depth. Incomprehensive and flat characters with negative development and even worse motivations, where erratic behaviors are justified as "oh, that's just how he is" and where the community is still to this day debating the merits of several character actions in the game, because they're written so vaguely and with so little depth that piecing together your own retelling of the events that happen unironically gives you a better narrative than the game's official explanation. An overarching plotline so confusing and muddy that it seems to completely detach and run away from itself multiple times in the first half alone, and let's not even get started about Jabberwocky 1 and 2 and the swiss cheese of plot holes they poke into the narrative fabric of the overall story. Even the music and the art, things that visual novels typically excel at, range from terrible at worst to painfully average at best.
Oh yeah, and the ending of "life is worth confronting, life is worth living, be happy" is such a copout, damn.
There is nothing in subahibi that has been explored, and explored better, in other games. If you want fetish eroge bordering on the insane, Nitroplus games gives you the same demented fap while also having beautiful narratives that makes you both cry and feel shameful for that nut you just the same time. If you want vanilla eroge, Innocent Grey and Laplacian are two studios pumping out genre-bending and absurdly well-written visual novels that will change your perspective and worldview: in particular, both Cyanotype Daydream and the entire Flowers saga sit in my current top 5. And if you just want a good story to read in the company breakroom without getting weird looks from your colleagues and manager, there's Umineko, Fata Morgana, and a whole slew of quality visual novels to bide your lunch break with. Or, you know, you could play ten quality indie game in the time it takes to finish this "thing" (I shudder to call it an actual game), of whom at least eight would have far greater philosophical depth without having to namedrop whatever philosopher names SCA-DI found interesting in the five minutes of researching Wikipedia articles during the writing of this game, because clearly he didn't actually read any of Wittgenstein's works.
Unless you are in the very small category of people who has the exact same fetishes that SCA-DI apparently has, or you are in the very small category of people who want to sound pretentious on internet visual novel forums by quoting random philosophical quotes out of your ass without truly understanding what they mean (instead of reading the actual philosophical treatises they come from, which would take far less time than the 50 hours it takes to read this piece of shit disgrace to the Japanese language), there is simply no reason to play this game. Malware has more value on my desktop screen compared to this literary smallpox. SCA-DI is an absolute hack, and excuse me if you must, but I need to go play a good indie game to wash my eyes from this cancerous filth.
Damn it, I'm mad again. Fuck you SCA-DI, and fuck you subahibi, for making me this mad. Don't you realize how much high blood pressure medication costs these days?
Overall Rating: 0.5/5 (Stay Away At All Costs)
* I would give this a 0/5 if backloggd let me, for being the single most unpleasant experience in any medium I have had the misfortune of experiencing in recent memory.

that was peak kino what the fuck
I gues I could say damn again...

TW: war crimes
The Invisible Guardian tries to sympathize with both the Chinese and Japanese side of WW2 in a way that makes both sides look foolish. and, perhaps, that is the point. Yet, it's important for a game this overtly political tio take a side. As a Japanese person, I went into this expecting a searing (and deserved) critique of Japanese atrocities during WW2, or a polemic introspection at China's own actions during wartime...and left with none of those. It's a take-four jumble bag of half-baked ideas, interesting characters ruined by nonsensical development and poor execution, and a FMV visual novel format that feels simultaneously antiquated and too modern. With unstable, purple prose excessive yet lilliputian, and a plot that seems to be unsure of itself at all times, The Invisible Guardian limpers its way to its disastrously-written finish line worse off than it started, and it didn't start well.
There are far better games about the Sino-Japanese war with actually believable characters, a well-written plotline with emotional depth, and an aura of maturity that actually gives gravity to the sensitive nature of the topics covered, all with one-tenth of the attention this game got in the Asia region upon release. From both Chinese developers and Japanese developers. Covering a topic as raw and sensitive, even to this day, as the Sino-Japanese War requires extensive gracefulness and creative clarity, and there was dialogue and conversations to be had about many of the themes touched upon in this game, especially when it came to the idea of Japanese forgiveness and whether that is even possible, as well as the commonalities between the two sides and the lack of humanity both sides displayed towards each other, something that is rarely touched upon in video games covering this topic. Yet, on account of the xianxia-levels of writing on display here, any dialogue to be had here is completely and perfectly eradicated.
Oh yeah, did I mention this was supposed to be some grand spy thriller about some quadruple agent? Yet, like all other facets of this game, the spy thriller part is completely butchered by the loose and unclarified writing on display. Zero mystique, zero intensity, zero "thrill" in the thriller part. The idea of multiple factions: the communists, nationalists, seperatists, the Japanese, etc. all vying for power and you having the ability to betray all of them is certainly interesting, if not wholly original. Unfortunately it is just an idea, and a good idea is nothing without good interpretation, imagination, and elaboration. This game fails on all of those fronts to the fullest extent a game can fail, and it is honestly baffling how a game like this can be so well-recieved in China, Japan, and even by the few Western game journalists who have played it.
This game will likely never be translated or ported out of China and Japan, and that is a marvelous thing. Because, to be honest, it should have never been written in Chinese and translated to Japanese in the first place. It is, without mincing words, a full affront to the senses, simultaneously offensive to the practicum of art as it is to the Chinese -- or, for that matter, the human -- sense of morality. Perhaps I am missing something crucial, in fact, probably I am missing something crucial. But, unless I eventually replay it and change my mind, this game in my books is an absolute failure and a shame to the smaller, far-better Chinese indie games it stole the spotlight from, the time of the players who play this, and most importantly, the memories of the victims of that disasturous and brutal war.
Instead of giving attention to this, there's plenty of brilliantly-written Chinese visual novels that deserve all the attention in the world. The Chinese visual novel scene is highly imaginative and bursting with talent; unfortunately, it's hidden behind filth like this.
Overall Rating: 0.5/5 (Stay Away At All Costs)

Kentucky Route Zero is one of those games that most know about, many put in their backlogs...yet few attempt to play and even fewer complete.
There's a very good reason for this: KRZ gets closer to a book than any game I have ever played, including visual novels. In fact, strip away the tiny amount of interactivity and you're left with one of the best 21st century magical realist novels written this side of Latin America. And while that might sound like a good thing -- after all, books are far more respected in society than video games -- its stature as more befitting a novel than a walking simulator actually works against it in multiple ways.
First (and most obviously) of all, it's long. Extraordinarily, sometimes excessively long. And this isn't just talking about the length of the game's story, but the way the story is presented. One of the benefits video games and visual novels have over traiditional mediums of fiction is their ability to break apart larger sections of plot into bite-size pieces that are far easier to digest. KRZ, on the other hand, does not do that. Aside from Disco Elysium and indie arthouse games (which KRZ should honestly be categorized as) like [domestic], I don't think I have ever seen a game with paragraphs as wordly and fleshed out as KRZ. And not only that: they're dense. There are no wasted words in KRZ, no filler sentences, no overlong paragraphs. Every word is both an action and an imperative. Every word carries its own weight, an emotional and literary baggage that weighs down on your consciousness at all times. This makes for absurdly good fiction, as KRZ often is, but it also makes KRZ extremely difficult to read in long sessions. Personally, I could only read KRZ for an hour or two at a time before having to take a break for a couple of days, just to digest and comprehend the words I had prior seen, as well as to give my poor brain a break.
Furthermore, like any good magical realist novel, there are many characters. So many characters, in fact to the point where if this was any other game it would be almost impossible to keep track of them all. Luckily, like any good magical realist novel, each character is given the proper time and exposition to develop them into flesh-and-bone humans instead of words on a page, and the amount of love and attention that went into writing and developing each character simply cannot be overstated. Even with how developed each character is, it's still a struggle, though, that remains present throughout the game. This, again, is something common in novels, especially modernist novels, yet exceedingly rare in games. In most games, the character that gets the most you. You play as the main character, and everyone else revolves around you. As such, even if there are hundreds or even thousands of characters, because those characters aren't you or the people that are close to you, they don't matter past a passing reference or a short cutscene or a fetch quest. In Kentucky Route Zero, you are not the main character, or any sort of important character at all. You are a vessel for their stories; your legacy is to carry their history. As such, to understand even the main story, you have to understand far, far more people -- and by extension, the qualities and experiences of said people -- than you normally would with any other game.
Yet, even given the strength of the overall game's story, I cannot say the same for the main plot. This is odd, given that the side stories are brilliant and beautiful and executed perfectly. Indeed, the game is at its strongest when it is just unfolding the narratives of the people you're around, and revealing their pasts. Meanwhile, Conway's not nearly as good, and in fact is the weakest story in the entire game. Every time I was reading through Conway's own mission of the antiques company, I was biding my time until the side stories showed up back again, because that is where the real meat of the game lies.
Before closing this review, I'd like to touch upon the episodic format and gameplay. Gameplay is simple point-and-click. As I stated earlier, it's crude. Yet, it has just the right amount of interaction and gets the job done. The episodic format is handled perfectly, and the style is consistently even.
In conclusion, Kentucky Route Zero is an absurdly-focused, fiercely creative tour de force that is executed with utmost grace and stylistic flair. Its unapologetic complexity and neverending length naturally makes it a divisive game, and many might (with good intention) view the game as being flowerly, dull, and pretentious. This is somewhat fair, especially since much of the genius behind the game's wriitng can only be revealed after careful observation, or in my case, a second playthrough (I found it dull and monotonous the first time through). Yet, pushing through Kentucky Route Zero and truly getting to know the dozens of dazzlingly-written characters reveals one of the most hilarious, heartbreaking, poignant, satirical, and ultimately unforgettable experiences you will ever encounter in this medium. As I stated in the beginning of the review, Kentucky Route Zero isn't just one of the best stories in gaming, but the best 21st century work of fiction in the magical realism genre published outside of Latin America. The developers struck a Faustian bargain to bring us this game, and we, as gamers, all collectively benefit.
But, in finality, a word of advice: to understand the magic behind this game, you need to committ. You need to understand, to listen, to put in the time and the effort. In Kentucky Route Zero, you're not talking to walking encylopedias or fetch quest robots. You're talking to humans. Remember that.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (Near Flawless)

One of my favorite games of all time is a free, virtually-unknown game called "A God Who Lives In Your Head". It takes five minutes, yet has seared a permanent place in my cranium for months. In the five minutes that I interacted with it, I was inudated with more meaning and artistry than the dozens of hours I spend on the average AAA game.
Why do I mention that game? Well, you should play it first of all. Second of all, it's extremely reminescent of my opinions on this game. Cover Me In Leaves is double the length of A God Who Lives In Your Head, clocking in at just over ten minutes, yet it is just as if not more meaningful than the former, along with 99% of all games out there. Every second, you are inudated with countless layers of symbolism, staining every single pixel of the computer screen.
In those ten minutes, you explore themes of sexuality, small-town America, depression, fear, loneliness, inevitability, and the tedium of life. And unlike most games, this isn't some passing reference, a one-sentence line of text in a thirty-hour game. No, you explore it deeply. Deeply and thoroughly, sometimes to the point of discomfort. Which is what the game wants you to experience. Because for these ten minutes, you are no longer "you", no, you are the main character of the story. So let the world Elliot created determine your fate. Accept your entropy. And remember, at the end of it all, you are ultimately here to get your first tattoo.
Overall Rating: 4/5 (Masterpiece)