The Yuri Game Jam is a yearly event celebrating my favourite romantic setup in visual novels in all configurations imaginable. Each edition attracts both newcomer and experienced developers, flocking to share their work of various sizes and various states of completion, and while it’s not a purely VN-oriented event, in practice it was always dominated by those. From the early days of my interest in VNs as a medium, it held a very special place in my heart, spawning both celebrated classics, such as The Sad Story of Emmeline Burns, and dozens of overlooked, but lovely games I’ve mentioned in my past coverage and retrospectives.
At the same time, like most Itch.io events, Yuri Game Jam is fairly crowded and full of demos and prototypes that can be interesting only to the most dedicated yuri fanatics – for this reason, I once more took upon myself to search out complete VNs submitted to the event and assess them for all of you, making it easy to find out which games are truly worth your attention. As always, I’ll be skipping the in-development titles in my coverage, also because unfinished projects can very easily stay that way forever in the world of indie VNs. And if a game I’m writing about catches your attention, you can go straight to its Itch.io page by clicking its title – all Yuri Game Jam entries are free to download.
Yuri Game Jam 2019 was the smallest YGJ edition to date, with even fewer entries than the first event in 2015 and less than two-thirds of last year’s submissions, a drop from 60 games to just 39. It’s also pretty objectively the weakest one yet, with very few titles standing out and the overall production quality of the games being particularly low. Same applies to the length of the visual novel entries, as none of them was much longer than an hour. This is a sad thing to see, but also made my work a bit easier his year, with 9 complete projects to go through, all of them pretty short and straightforward. The highlights of the event were several sci-fi dramas, with Remeniscience Overwrite interestingly touching on topics of memory and communicational barriers, and Package Chat surprising the reader with its fresh ideas and uncompromising narration. My pick for the best game of the event, however, have to unquestionably go to Crescendo’s Café Bouvardie, which combined lovely art direction with a unique setting and greatly-written characters, turning out to be the most feature-complete and satisfying experience this time around. I still encourage you to read through the whole list though, as depending on your preferences, there might be more games worth your attention – so, let’s get started!
Npckc is an author of cute, small VNs about being different, and the prejudice and discrimination that comes with standing out from the “normal” society. Spring Leaves No Flowers is the third game of a trilogy focused on Haru, a young transgender woman living in Japan and her two friends, Manani and Erika. The first two entries in the series, One Night, Hot Springs and The Last day of Spring, mostly explored the exclusion and misunderstanding transgender people experience in everyday situations, by the example of a visit to hot springs. The third one switches things a bit, focusing on Manami and her struggle to understand her own feelings, after she discovered that she might also be different in the way she experiences relationships and her attraction to other people…
Those that are familiar with this author’s work, will know exactly what to expect – Spring Leaves No Flowers is minimalistic, straight-to-the-point and offers a believable glimpse at experiences connected to its subject matter, which this time is being asexual and/or aromantic. It avoids pandering or being overly moralistic, but simply shows typical situations members of sexual minorities find themselves in and different ways of coping with them – both negative and positive ones. If you’re looking to learn a bit about these issues, or they’re already part of your experience and you’re seeking a relatable story in a different cultural context, you should be satisfied with what you find here.
Final Rating: Recommended
If I had to pinpoint a leading theme in this year’s Yuri Game Jam, it would be games with no soundtrack (which is always kind of baffling, considering the amount of quality, royalty-free music available online). A Matter of Dosage is the first among the disturbingly-silent entries, telling the story of Eliza, a young woman who, because of her boyfriend’s indiscretion, becomes trapped as a guinea pig of a powerful medical corporation. As part of experiments that give people superhuman abilities, she has to find a way to regain her freedom and bring down the company that essentially robbed her of her life. And to do that, she has to recruit the help of other test subjects, none of whom really seem that interested in cooperating…
While this setup sounds pretty cool, everything else about this game… Just isn’t. I could probably look past the fact it’s short, or the not-very-appealing art, but the core writing is consistently weak and full of plotholes, which is much harder to ignore. While I was being bombarded with unusual romantic setups of the characters and the accompanying terminology, the intrigue stayed paper-thin and unconvincing all the way through. The twists were boring, character’s powers barely saw any real use and the conclusion, no matter what route I’ve chosen, always felt deeply anticlimactic. Some of the game’s core ideas, like the basic characteristics and backstories of the main characters, weren’t bad, but were put together in a way that never proved very enjoyable and never me truly care about what’s happening (also because the protagonist is simply unlikeable). In the end, I simply have no reason to recommend reading this VN – everything it attempted to do it did so mediocrely that there are no high points that’d make it worth your time.
Final Rating: Not Recommended
It’s definitely a bad habit to spoil a game’s story, and visual novel’s story in particular, as it’s usually the main point of the experience. However, I think I’m justified in this specific case. And Nothing Was Wrong is a very short VN about isolating oneself and being crippled by self-doubt – one that starts intriguing, but ends with a strange and disturbing suicide sequence which ultimately felt out of place and pointlessly depressing. While I was confused in the past by this particular author’s strange, borderline-trolling games, this one tackles a topic of transgender person destroying the bonds they build in the past and being crushed by loneliness due to their own insecurity – something that definitely happens in real life and can lead to similarly tragic consequences. Exactly for this reason, it should be handled with the utmost care and careful consideration of its possible consequences, and this game, despite apparently being inspired by author’s own struggles, did a poor job at warning the readers of its content, or properly building up to the drastic turn of events. While its minimalistic presentation and core writing are pretty interesting and solid, approach it only if you’re prepared to read something deeply depressing and strange.
Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended
Going back to silent VNs, Reminiscience Overwrite is maybe a particularly sad example of that problem, as everything else about it is very solid and the omission of proper background music hurts the consistently-positive impression I’ve got from it. The game features a (mostly blank-stale) female protagonist who is kidnapped by aliens and gets experimented on with some kind of memory-altering device. While trying to understand what’s going on and find her way out of captivity, she develops a peculiar bond with one of the alien scientists participating in the tests, gradually finding shared emotions and experiences between them – a connection that might prove to be her only chance of salvation.
While very brief, Reminiscience Overwrite’s story managed to present a few interesting themes and provide a satisfying payoff to its intrigue. Unlike in A Matter of Dosage, pretty much every scene and piece of information in it had meaning for the plot, while the story progression was tied to the slowly-removed language and cultural barrier between the protagonist and her captors. The art direction is also among the strongest ones in this year’s YGJ, with an aesthetic and consistent look, even though it’s not in any way spectacular. With a bit more content and polish, it could’ve been quite an exceptional VN, but even now it’s fully worth experiencing, particularly if you enjoy the mix of sci-fi and light romance.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
The Start of Something Amazing is the most by-the-numbers love story among the games on this list, featuring two childhood friends who finally recognize their feelings for each other during a sleepover. While it’s not the greatest VN of this type when it goes to art direction, it’s so full of wholesome warmth and chemistry between the heroines that it’s hard to truly dislike it. If I really had to seriously complain about something, it would be that it also fell victim to the no-soundtrack epidemy, openly asking the reader to run their own music in the background. It also, quite predictably, relies a lot on the typical “I can’t be in love with my best friend” clichés, with the protagonist being confused about things that seem absolutely obvious. In the end, however, it’s all done in a rather charming and enjoyable way. For those looking for traditional yuri wholesomeness, it’s worth giving a try.
Final Rating: Recommended
A Walk With a Cloud is a cute, short VN about Eddie, a birdgirl who can’t fly. While she’s stuck on the ground during the day of a sky festival, alone and sulking, she meets a strange figure – a cloudperson, visiting the world below for the first time. While they explore the local area together, they’ll discover an unlikely connection between them, along with pieces of history the cloudgirl’s family has with Eddie’s town. That is, only if Eddie decides to open up to the visitor and visit some places she’s not fully comfortable with… With the presentation stylized to look a bit like a child’s drawing, the game has a really cute and comforting atmosphere, tackling the fairly-typical Yuri Game Jam themes of being different and self-acceptance in a subtle manner. It’s not particularly groundbreaking in any of it, but just pleasant enough to justify giving an hour of your time to read through it.
Final Rating: Recommended
There’s a pretty popular dating sim template followed by many Yuri Game Jam VNs, one that involves a festival or event of sorts and a short amount of time to choose between a few heroines that could be invited to it, with selectable interactions along the way. A Latter For You basically took that framework and filled it only with the bare-minimum amount of content to create a comprehensible story. One portrayed in large part through rough sketches that are often genuinely hard to decipher and monster-girl theme the game pretty much does nothing with. While I don’t like to complain about such games, clearly made for fun and usually having its amusing moments, there’s simply not enough of either substance or eye candy in this one to make it worth picking up – while it’s ultimately inoffensive, I still recommend skipping it.
Final Rating: Not Recommended
One of the most interesting games of the jam, despite its technical simplicity and relative lack of polish, Package Chat is a sci-fi story about a girl stuck in a deeply-uncomfortable space journey from the dying Earth to a remote colony. Consciously trapped for months in a life-support pod, with only virtual reality to distract her from the misery of it and little motivation to interact with other people in the ship’s network, she can barely stand her situation. Breaking this depressing tedium, a crew member – one of the small team of people operating the ship and thus not stuck in the containers – starts talking to her… Opening with something that sounds like a very bad pickup line.
The awkward interactions between the two women give the opportunity to present the background of the perilous journey on an unfinished spaceship, forced by the deteriorating situation on Earth. At the same time, we learn some elements of the girls’ personal backstories. All of this is conveyed in a very crude, naturalistic style that doesn’t shy away from gross details of travelling through space as living cargo, crude comment from the characters… And a lot of swearing. It provides worldbuilding through the protagonist’s obviously-biased and cynical perspective, but offers enough details and original ideas to engross you in the game’s world. As a piece of interactive fiction, with no sprites or elaborate CGs, but just simple backgrounds and music, it’s not the most visually impressive game in this year’s YGJ, to say the least. However, it turned out to be one of the most through-provoking and most satisfying reads among them, and I recommend both checking it out and keeping a closer look at its author – which a debut like this, they might create something really spectacular in the future.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
My favourite game from this year’s Jam is an unusual one, with an imaginative story somewhere on the cross between fantasy and science fiction. It features an unnamed protagonist, a time-travelling agent living in the immortal dimension known as the End of Time. After finishing a mission and solving a time paradox she feels a “pull” – a warning sign indicating her next travel into past or future would likely kill her, which means the end of her career. Unexpectedly, she’s faced with an eternity of retirement in the End of Time, needing to find a new purpose and place for herself after completely devoting herself to her work. Looking for answers, she visits the titular Café Bouvardie, a place which is said to give respite to agents in her position. There, she meets the two owners of the café, Clementine and Lotus, who share their stories with her…
Café Bouvardie has a clear theme of finding one’s place in the world, with time travel and the unusual setting being, more or less, devices to ask some very universal questions. This, however, doesn’t mean that background isn’t worth attention – it introduces a lot of interesting questions and ideas, ones which I have a suspicion will be used by the game’s authors for other projects. And, honestly, it would be a waste not to do that, because the End of Time provides more or less unlimited possibilities, with its immortal characters from different ages, arcane machinery and the organisation fighting to keep the world’s history undisrupted. The game’s story is also quite enjoyable to follow, with Clementine and Lotus being instantly likeable and the conversation between them and the protagonist leaving a good impression. At times I had a feeling it tried a bit too hard to be profound, but it mostly works as a coming-of-age metaphor, with the quality of writing and presentation being enjoyable enough on their own – even if you don’t fully embrace its message, it shouldn’t spoil the experience for you. Also, the romantic angle is so light that the story is definitely not something directed only to yuri fans – I’m willing to recommend it to pretty much anyone and really, there’s no reason to not give it a chance.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
And this ends my summary of the Yuri Game Jam 2019 – a little underwhelming considering the really great titles I was discovering in its past editions, but still offering some worthwhile VNs to read through. I’m really interested whether this slowdown is a sign of things to come, with generally fewer hobbyist/freeware projects the visual novel scene, or just a one-time anomaly. While we’ll have to wait a while to find out, I’ll be looking forward to the chance to cover future events: make sure to look out for my NaNoRen0 and Yuri game Jam summaries next year. And for now, thank you for reading this one. Have a great weekend everyone!
Two full weeks after the end-of-December deadline two games arrived to change the gloomy picture I’ve described above, at least a little bit: the cheesy romance VN by the event veterans Team ANPIM, with a title too long to cite more than once, and my new “winner” of the YGJ 2019 – the stylish and intense short drama story by the name of Double Exposure. So, stay with me a little longer, while I explore what these Jam latecomers have to offer!
Team ANPIM does practically one thing – short, cheesy romance dramas that are purposefully embracing typical yuri tropes, but are also written and put together well enough to be genuinely satisfying – at least if this kind of fluff is your thing. Their newest game, with its light-novel-spoof title, is not any different and despite feeling a bit unpolished, not any less lovely than their previous work. It focuses on Hinata, a closeted lesbian high schooler maintaining a cold, aloof persona to keep people at distance and don’t get found out for her sexual orientation. One day, she slips up by checking out the most popular girl in class during a boring lesson and getting noticed by her. This leads to a somewhat unpredictable chain of events ending with a very predictable, but still charming, romantic resolution. The presentation is a bit stiff, with sprites being stuck in one position and having just a few expressions, while CGs are also very few, but the chemistry between the main girls and fun slice-of-life content are definitely there. Personally, I never get bored of this kind of awkward love stories and f/f kissing scenes, so if you’re like me, this is probably the best treat in Yuri Game Jam 2019.
Final Rating: Recommended
Double Exposure was a major surprise and nearly slipped past my attention due to its really late arrival. At the same time, it’s a game that I’d hate to see overlooked, as it’s simply the best story in this year’s Jam. The protagonist, Selena, is a young and accomplished fashion photographer, who doesn’t seem to care about anything outside of her job. Her attitude changes when a mysterious phenomenon from her past reoccurs – after having a session with a talented young model, Lizzie, she sees a mark on one of the photos. The mark, invisible to anyone but Selene, appeared once in the past and turned out to be a premonition of death for that person – a tragedy that traumatized Selene and made her into a career-obsessed recluse she is now. Deeply shocked and unsure on how to approach the situation, she ultimately decides to do everything in her power to not let the history repeat itself, particularly because she quickly starts to care about Lizzie as more than just random person in danger…
While Double Exposure is short and maybe even a bit rushed in the later portions of the story, there’s a lot to love about it. The mental strain and neurotic reactions of Selene are really well portrayed and while she might come out as unlikeable at first, the game quickly explains why she acts the way she does. Lizzie is nearly a polar opposite of her stiff, overly-professional personality and the interactions between them are really fun. On the other hand, with Selene progressively more on edge, believing Lizzie is in mortal danger without knowing the source of it, the tension gets very intense pretty fast. There’s only one choice in the game, with one option probably leading to a bad ending, but I honestly didn’t have the courage to check what it is, considering how invested I was in the story and how much I didn’t want to see a negative resolution to the plot. The presentation is another strong point, with really nice-looking sprites and consistent visual style – while there’s a near-lack of CGs that could make the story even more impactful, the assets that are there are still solid enough to carry the plot. For me it was a genuine gem among this year’s YGJ submissions – one that I hope won’t stay hidden, as it’s really worth checking out, and not just as a yuri game, but simply a great short story.
Final Rating: Highly Recommended
And with this update, my Yuri Game Jam 2019 coverage is truly over – any game appearing after this kind of forgo any reasonable right to be included. I’m, however, really happy this update happened, showing that there’s still a lot of potential in events like this – hopefully, the next one will prove satisfying without the need to wait for latecomers. Thank you for reading!