Indietail – Best Friend Forever

I’m not exactly a dog person. I always thought that I’m not fit and active enough for dogs and hence I never considered if I wanted to have a dog. Obviously, with how the market is, it would be hard to find a flat or anything that would be dog-friendly and alas, I’ll have to rely on other media to maybe live that experience of owning a dog and taking care of it. One of these mediums is Best Friend Forever, an attempt to mix the genre of dating sims and management-types.

Developer: Starcolt
Publisher: Alliance
Release Date: August 27th, 2020
Genre: Dating Sim, Visual Novel, Management
Reviewed on: PC
Available for: PC, Switch
Copy was provided by publisher.

After having worked at a big corporation and after some other experiences, you, the protagonist, decide to move to Rainbow Bay. Rainbow Bay is the dog-friendliest place in the world (?) and essentially, the to-go city for everyone who’s searching for a cute little doggo and potentially even happiness, success and other good things. At least, that’s what the city means to our main character.

Early on, you’re prompted to type in your pronouns, blood type, Zodiac, and name before you’re getting unleashed into this short Visual Novel where you adopt a dog, take care of it, and where you try to find love… or something like that. On top of that, you also get to meet a vast cast of different characters that are all quite special in their own ways! Awoo!

From the get-go, I noticed that this game is quite different. We had some weird questions that we needed to answer for our Woofr profile, at the beginning. It’s a Visual Novel after all that is all about your little bowwow. You spend a lot of time picking up and throwing away your dog’s faeces or petting it or training it. Yes, you heard right: You can pet the doggo. It’s an interesting mix and I kind of like that about this title:

You get to date all kinds of characters and you get to min-max your dog’s training schedule to pass the dog school’s exam! Hell yeah!

While getting to know the characters, you stumble across different events and you have to decide where the conversation goes. Picking one of the options available to you usually results in people liking or disliking you – but you can also chicken out and go for a neutral approach that is somewhat boring, I guess.

And the game spans around 15 weeks that you have to spend training your tail-wagger. To do that, you plan your days with them by either going to encounters with the different people or by participating in Pawspirational Events (that have a chance of raising certain stats) or by participating in randomly-appearing Dog Events.

These Dog Events range from your furbaby getting scared to it leashing out a bit or to it pooing on the floor… usually, you have to either move your mouse cursor in certain motions or comfort it by petting it – and these events tend to award you with experience for the different stats:
Manners, Smartness, Trust, Sociability, and Fitness.

Apart from that you also have the training schedules that you can set for them where you essentially can choose to work on two different stats at the same time by IE going for a walk, cuddling, playing, and many other options. Afterwards, you need to take care of your good boy’s (or girl’s!) needs (see above) by feeding or tending to your mutt… Generally, all of this is quite fun at first but later it feels somewhat… pointless?

The story is light-hearted and short. It took me 2.5 hours to get through the game for the first time and to play through Astrid’s romance route. There are a whole bunch of other options that I could take or romantic partners that I could ask out next time, so there is some replayability to it, as well… but the flea circuit isn’t really involved in this. Your doggo is just there in the corner to brighten up and lighten up the game at times… and the management-aspects that are required to pass the exam at the end exist… but they do not really involve your pupper too much. You plan out events and sometimes people comment on your furry friend’s behaviour but effectively, it’s just there to be petted. As far as the exam goes… at the beginning I got mostly silver and gold medals and as time went on, I noticed it going down to bronze medals…

Regardless of that, I got my passing grade, which I found somewhat weird. I get that the Academy is only there to determine whether or not it’s alright for you to own a dog and I get that it is a very light-hearted game but it seems odd to me to just pass it like that. I would have loved more of a challenge or maybe an extension period and supplementary classes instead where you make up for the missing training, maybe get to know a nice dog coach that you can fall in woof with, and unlock more dialogue options. It would have been quite nice… and while I don’t know if you can fail the Academy, I don’t really wanna try it out as I don’t want to my pupper to be taken away from me. On top of that, it would be interesting to see what happens if you neglect your pawl’s needs… but I can’t let my little bowwow starve or get ignored just like that… Some horrible human out there will probably have tried it out… so uh… check there?

I didn’t notice the dog pooping less indoors when the manners stat got up, for instance, so that’s something that I would have liked a lot: Actually seeing the results of the training.

Your little fuzzball (She was called “Titan” in my case!) essentially just provides you with a minigame of sorts that to pass the time for a bit or to stretch out the game, which was somewhat disappointing… And I loved the idea at first and everything but midway through the game, your dog is just there while the focus switches to the other characters, which I found quite bothersome. It’s “best friend forever” but suddenly, it’s more of a dating sim – your dog is secondary. Or rather it feels like it’s not about the dog anymore, which I found actually rather add… tending to your dog becomes a chore while obnoxious people step more into the foreground. (I really don’t like Sascha at all… can we kick him? Like out of the city? Just push him off the edge of the world?)

Another issue that I was facing was that I had a hard time dealing with the writing at the beginning. The game is at times mocking the whole hipster culture or ridiculing it to the point where I thought that it’s not taking itself seriously – and yet, there are characters that talk about their actual fears and their actual problems… and some of the joking and obnoxious characters (the secretary and your neighbour, for instance) just end up breaking that feeling of intimacy that you had with your partner. You talk about problems and in the next instance, you get to talk to Sasha again, which is just painful at best.

I couldn’t really handle some of the writing at the beginning due to the in-your-face-hipster-ness. It was a bit too much for my cup of tea but I guess some people could enjoy that.

Towards the mid-game, it was acceptable and tolerable. I had fun with some of the references and stuff… and your relationship moves relatively fast forward, which is quite interesting as well.

And at last, I reached the end and it just didn’t feel alright or finished yet. I would have loved to continue past the 15 weeks but instead, we see the “what happened to these characters later?” trope before the credits roll. Quite annoying. And again, the dog gets less important later on despite it filling in a key role in the game.

But while that was a bit bad, I guess, I really enjoyed the game overall. It was fun, it was cute. It conveyed a message of sorts that you don’t buy a dog but rather adopt it since it’s very close to you. It’s like a family member of sorts, you could say – not your property or anything like that.
On top of that, the game is really inclusive as it not only lets you chose your character model and pronounce but it also enables all relationships to you whenever you want them and while your sexuality never gets asked for, it is made really well in a way that your past partners, as an example, get named with “they/them” to allow any kind of interpretation.

So, what can I say about Best Friend Forever… it mixes two things that are somewhat different and is hence quite innovative, in my opinion, but it fails to convey the importance of your Woover as it doesn’t give it more credit or more special scenes. Instead, it’s just about you training it while you’re doing stuff with your love encounter. I would have loved to see more CGs of the Barksy to make things, right… in fact… CGs and a CG gallery are features that are missing completely! Especially, considering that you’re a photographer in the game…

The inclusive aspects, however, are really well-made, the soundtrack is alright, the characters all are somewhat quirky but feature a lot of nice traits and conversation options, and overall, it is a well-crafted game, in my opinion, even when the management aspects fell somewhat short. The short length of the game makes it possible to play through different routes and try out different things in several relaxed sessions. And yes, you can, of course, pet the pupper. Hence, this must be a great game.

I’d recommend this game to people that want to play a wholesome, cosy and rather short visual novel that has dogs in it. I wouldn’t recommend this to management fans as those would not be happy with this title. If you’re a cat person like me… it might take you a while to fall in love with your four-legged new family member… but once you get there, it’s super lovely. Despite some issues, I had fun, though, so I’m definitely recommending Best Friend Forever to anyone who’s looking for a short but lovely experience.

Cheers!

Indietail – Milky Way Prince: The Vampire Star

Remember that one time where you had that magical moment where you first fell in love with someone? When the stars aligned and everything seemed perfect? When you told yourself: “This is it.”

I remember that one time where the clouds broke up and the sun was shining after this rainy day. When I spotted her, sitting next to me, doodling in her notebook. As the professor was talking about something boring, I couldn’t help myself but get caught in her countenance. It was such an average moment with nothing special to it – but I couldn’t help myself dreaming of a common future or something that connected us, even if we were strangers. I had similar moments in the past. Love at first sight. A distinct connection that you feel to people you hardly know. Fate. Destiny. Magic. Whatever, you want to call it.

Developer: Eyeguys, Lorenzo Redaelli
Publisher: Santa Ragione
Genre: Visual Novel, Indie, Dark Romance, Anime
Release Date: August 13th, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC - coming soon to Switch, PS4 and XBOX One!
Copy received from the devs.

In today’s review, we’re talking about Milky Way Prince – The Vampire Star, a partially autobiographical dark-romance visual novel about Sune and Nuki, two young men whose passionate love affair collided with their inner demons. It’s a game about intimacy, idealization and abusive relationships. Hence, there’s a trigger warning.

We play as Nuki, a young man with a fascination for stars, who is being somewhat melancholic during the last days of summer. His obsession with stars goes as far as owning a pet starfish and gazing stars at the horizon and the ceiling of his room. One day, something crazy happens and after following a shooting star, he gets to meet and falls in love with Sune, another young man who seems to be upset about something. We want to know more about the two characters. We want to discover what’s up with Sune. We want to know if it works out. I really had my fingers crossed for the two of them… but some things are not meant to be, right? Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes, your issues get into the way. Your past haunts you while you’re sabotaging your luck.

The game’s constantly enigmatic, drawing you in, wanting you to cheer for the two unfortunate souls… but then you get rejected or accepted, based on your choices and senses. You want to help Sune and you want Nuki to be happy but in certain key moments, you just end up feeling the weight of your words and the way that you can harm others. It’s not that simple.

You can’t just help someone. Even if you want to be there for them, you can cause them more pain by doing so. Get caught in the moment and make one mistake, suddenly you’re feeling down in the slumps again as you give yourself the fault for the unfortunate outcome… And then you do it again or do better and it’s just a rollercoaster of emotions. It can work out! You can make it work! Or can you? I’m not sure.

And when you think that everything is alright, nothing is. Sometimes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong but there are always (at least) two people in a relationship. There are two sides to an argument, right?

While playing the game, I constantly saw myself in the characters. Getting eager, reading too much into certain feelings, feeling the passion, being up in the clouds and wanting to feel more… and then you’re down in the slumps again. Past abusive relationships that I had made me feel just like that. I see it. I see certain patterns and I get reminded of what I did wrong, even if it’s not about me. It’s about Nuki and Sune. It’s about the past experiences of Lorenzo Redaelli, the developer of the game. It’s about intimacy and idealization. It’s about mental health and problems. It’s about passion and struggle. Love and pain.

The game follows these kinds of patterns. You have moments where you enjoy yourself with Sune or where you are talking to yourself, thinking about things, and reflecting on a lot of stuff. But there are also choices. You can change the outcome. It doesn’t have to end badly. It doesn’t have to end well. You decide. And that’s something that surprised me. Your actions, your words, they reveal secrets and information. No playthrough is like the other, and I loved that about this game.

And when Nuki is with Suni… when they love each other, you’re able to use this special and innovative mechanic where you chose different senses to influence the sex, the love, the passion. Find out something new. Bring light into the darkness… or add more shadows to it? Control what happens, without it being too graphic. I liked that idea and the different outcomes are really interesting. I’m not sure if I’ve seen something like that in other games before!

On top of that, the game’s presentation is just amazing. Very abstract and ominous. At times quiet, at times loud. The game’s original, space-y, baroque electropop soundtrack is amazing and truly adds a lot to your experience… but it also lets you reflect on things at times. When you’re alone, all by yourself… Just you by yourself, the game’s quiet. You look at your phone, at the ceiling, at your mirror, and the game’s quiet. Silence is important. I highly enjoyed that aspect.

And then there’s the colours and the art style. Abstract. Minimalistic. At times just magical. The neon colours and all the different tones of red… they just add a lot to it. Sometimes it’s brighter and sometimes darker. Usually quite fitting to your feelings and your inner world. At times you see very interesting metaphors and images, although I don’t want to spoil it too much either, right now. In the end, my experience got enhanced by this and I highly enjoyed it, especially because of this art style that is so different from other games.

I guess the only issue that I had with the game was that it, at times, was too abstract for me. There have been some similes and images that I didn’t get… I also wasn’t able to tell when something was real and when something wasn’t. At times, I was wondering if it’s just a daydream or some sort of metaphor that Nuki uses to solve the problems he has. At times, I was confused… while at other times, I wasn’t sure which interpretation and which theory would be the most accurate.

Sometimes, I also had an issue with how Sune would react to things that Nuki said. You chose some of the dialogue options but sometimes the results or the reactions of Sune would be unexpected and it made me feel helpless. This is both an issue and a feature, in my opinion, as in real situations these kinds of things happen as well. You don’t get the expected results from a conversation. You cannot completely understand everyone. It doesn’t work like that. So, at times, I felt as if the choices were worded differently from the intention that I thought they would convey… which was an issue at one or two instances… but at the same time, it adds a bit of realism to the experience.

In the end, I couldn’t really talk too much about the game’s story itself but more about its topics and what I liked about it. It was somewhat hard to not spoil anything but I think I did a good job here… especially since there is so much that I didn’t talk about at all!

My first experience with this game was awesome and I still have goosebumps even while thinking back at it. I highly recommend this game… but I’m not sure if it’s for everyone. There are certain triggers in there. If you can’t deal with heavier topics like mental health issues, abusive relationships, borderline personality disorder, and the like, I wouldn’t recommend this to you. Otherwise, it’s a great experience that is definitely worth checking out!

The different endings and plot lines, the small secrets and the different choices really add a lot of replay value to the game, and even after you’re done with one ending or a lot of them, you’ve still got a ton of room for theory crafting, analysis, and speculation, so the game doesn’t end when you’re done with it, which is interesting and one of the many reasons as to why I’m recommending this.

Cheers!

Indietail – Necrobarista

At last year’s GamesCom I interviewed Ngoc Vu, the lead artist from Route 59, who at the time worked on Necrobarista. Now that the game is out I got a key for review purposes and, well,…

TLDR: I love it. It’s a great game. Why? Find out here!

Developer: Route 59
Publisher: Route 59, Coconut Island Games
Genres: Supernatural, 3D, Story Rich, Visual Novel
Release Date: July 22nd, 2020
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC - but PS4 and Switch are planned soon as well!
Copy was provided by the Devs.

Necrobarista is about time. Time to move on – or time to stay. Somewhere in a backstreet of Melbourne, there’s a Café where both the alive and the healthy come to. When you pass away, you have 24 hours to stay in that Café, have a drink and then move on… and Necrobarista tells a story about the owners of that Café and the people that come there. It’s a story about the ethics of Necromancy, hipster coffee, and letting go.

Strap on for a haunting and innovative experience and a haunting, yet cosy, time!

Meet Maddy, Chay, Ashley, and Ned – as well as a bunch of other characters! Get to know them! Listen to them and have a cosy time. I really liked the characters as all of them had a certain depth to them (without spoiling too much here). There’re all kinds of characters in all kinds of shapes and colours, so there’s some degree of inclusiveness here with representation for all kinds of people, which is something that I really fancy.

Necrobarista has a certain cosy slice-of-life-ness to it that I really enjoyed while playing. On top of that, though, it also has some intense moments here and there as well as some rather emotional moments. Think about it: It’s your last day on earth. I’ll just leave that there and you can think about it all you want, get emotional or shrug it off. Whatever you feel like. The story leaves a lot of room for interpretation and analysis, which is something that I personally really enjoyed doing. At some plot points, it made me feel down a bit but other plot points felt really nice and wholesome in a way. And while overall cosy, it gets intense later on as well.

What’s interesting is that you don’t spectate the story from the lens of one character that looks at all the characters interacting with only them, like in a lot of other visual novels, but rather you get different perspectives and points of view. You get to see the characters from the POV of one character or from above or the camera moves around a bit, panning while you read the text. There are no text boxes on the bottom side of the screen. Instead, you see them floating near the characters. You always know who’s talking but they are always somewhere else, making the game feel more whole and organic. It’s lovely.

A lot of these feelings are conveyed through the colours and the soundtrack. Necrobarista’s soundtrack has been composed by Kevin Penkin who’s known for making the soundtrack of Under The Dog, Made in Abyss, and The Rising of the Shield Hero. I’d put Necrobarista’s soundtrack on the same level as Made in Abyss. I love it to bits. It’s cosy and joyful, endearing and amusing but it also can be intense and mystic, enigmatic and threatening. That – combined with the lo-fi style that uses not only gorgeous images and colours but also some slight animations here and there – makes this just a wonderful experience.

And while I would have loved this game to branch out into choices and a story with different kinds of stories that you can explore over time, it really is not that kind of game.

It’s linear but still quite rich. I love the story and the aesthetic. The characters are great. The soundtrack underlines the plot points and brings the best out of everything. Again, I can’t praise Kevin Penkin enough but after what he did in Made in Abyss, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack for this game turned out so great. It sticks to your head and you notice a “sound” that you ultimately recognize as “Necrobarista-like” – or at least that’s what I feel like when I hear those tunes somewhere else now.

The story is linear but doesn’t need the branches. Of course, there is still some degree regarding choices.

For instance, you get to pick words that you’ve heard from different people at the end of every chapter. These words get associated with different meanings and subjects or people depending on the context and the character that said them. When you pick them, you then gain memory fragments from different categories. You then can use these fragments in the Café while walking around before continuing the story. You use them to unlock side stories or “memories” (essentially extra lore) that you can read on to learn more about the characters.

You click on “Blood” and get a fragment for “Magic” as it was mentioned in that context. You click on “Weather” and get a fragment for “Melbourne” as they were talking about a storm brewing. You click on “Minor Demon” and get a fragment for “Lore” as it’s part of the world that those exist… and “bowl of peas” belongs to “Food” as Ned loves them. Use these different fragments up for some nice and short stories in between chapters and collect more to unlock more stories. At some point, you’ll get through the main story but you can always load previous chapters and load previous save states, so it shouldn’t be a problem to unlock all of them, especially as you can view what you need and what you have already in the “memories” section of the pause menu.

I liked this feature. It creates a bit of replayability which is quite nice overall.

And you also get to explore the space a bit to unlock more short stories. Visit the basement or the bar, the Café’s upper area or the outside area. Look at different objects.

Enjoy the view. Take some pretty screenshots! I did, too! A lot of them!

But seriously. It’s a great game. I guess this is not a game for you if you’re not into reading or if you don’t like Visual Novels or anime or stories revolving around life and death… or if you feel like there’s not enough action in this game… but that’s your loss then. I highly recommend this game. I didn’t find any issues with it. The story, presentation, the characters, the gameplay, and the score were just great if not even superb and I loved it.

Necrobarista just came out on Steam! Check it out or wishlist it! Highly recommend it!

I’m glad that I saw it at last year’s GamesCom. I’m glad that I did that interview. I’m glad that I started this blog. Next week, the blog turns a year old and if it wasn’t for the blog I wouldn’t have been able to write about all kinds of topics and about these kinds of games. I love it. I hope you’re enjoying the blog posts, too. Until then.

Cheers!