NaNoRenO 2020 Highlights, Pt 3: Romance VNs (Non-otome Edition)

Written by Plk_Lesiak

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Hello there and welcome to the third and final part of my NaNoRenO 2020 highlights! While in the first two posts I focused, respectively, on otome and horror VNs, this last batch of recommendations will be about other romance stories submitted to the event. I have to admit upfront that this is likely the least exciting list of the three, with no game standing out to me in a similar way as Enamoured Risks did among otome entries or Eislyn’s Apocalypse did among horror ones. However, there’s still a bunch of solid and interesting titles in this category, my favourite being probably Café in the Clouds, with its lovely visuals and memorable dreamworld sequences. Also, the jam has something to offer for fans of all typical romantic configurations, with BxG, BL and Yuri couples strongly represented.

                 As always, all the games I’m writing about are completely free to download, and clicking their titles below will get you straight to their Itch.io pages. Also, I’ve skipped projects that were submitted to the event but proved low quality or did not offer a complete experience (meaning I exclude all demos and prototypes by default). So, please join me as I wrap up this insane, months-long project of thoroughly covering the biggest NaNoRenO in history – hopefully, you’ll find something interesting among my recommendations.

Love Rewind: A Magical Time Travel Romance (BxG/BxB)

Love Rewind is a short romance story with one male and one female love interest, themed around regret and desire to change the past. Yuki, the protagonist and young mage-in-training, loses everything in a futile attempt at saving his terminally ill mother. Broken by this failure and the destroyed relationship with his fiancée Quinn, he isolates himself from the world – an empty, depressing existence that would likely last for the rest of his life if not for the appearance of a spirit, taking form of a cat. This powerful creature forces on him an opportunity to relive and change the events that led him to ruin, and regain the love he lost – or maybe forge a different path altogether…

                  This VN, while a bit rushed and lacking the proper buildup particularly for the BxB arc (Quinn’s route at least have the background of protagonist’s relationship from the original timeline), has a few things going for it. Yuki is a decent protagonist, whose desperation and pain are easy to emphasize with, and the core story has all the satisfaction inherent to plots where you avert a looming disaster. The love interests simply don’t have enough time to develop as characters and truly shine, but they work well enough as incentives for the protagonist to not repeat his past mistakes. The end result is not a great romance VN, but a nice short story in its own right – and one that looks and sounds very solid for a game jam entry.

Final Rating: Recommended

Weekend Fever (BxG)

Weekend Fever is a minimalistic, but emotional story about a writer struggling with burnout, unable to create stories or even find the passion for the line of work switched to after his endeavours as an author died down. While on a short business trip to his hometown, his mind filled with a mix of nostalgia and discouragement from his current circumstances, he meets a stranger – a woman who inexplicably rekindles his passion for writing…

                While the core plot of this VN might not sound very inspired, its value lies in the atmosphere it creates and psychological depth of the main character. Passages of his unfinished book are mixed with rather excellent descriptions of his emotional distress and obsessive drive to create that shows up immediately after he finds inspiration. The visuals and sound are simple, but the colour pallet and distortion effects used in backgrounds create a surreal effect, adding to the slightly detached, nostalgic feel of the narrative. The romance is basic, but full of emotional impact thanks to the fact how connected it is to protagonist’s struggles – all this makes for a satisfying short story, worth experiencing regardless of whether you’re looking for romantic content.

Final Rating: Recommended

Flour Hour (BxB)

Flour Hour is a well-though-out BL romance story weighted down by one massive issue – its prose. The English script is not only full of errors and awkward phrasing typical for non-native writers, but also uses Japanese honorifics in a particularly pointless way, making the whole thing feel like a poor fan translation. Which is a shame, because the underlying story has quite a lot of merit. The main intrigue features Yuki, an owner of a bakery created in place of his grandmother’s flower shop, being approached by a lawyer with claims of massive debt his business owns to a powerful corporation. The desperate struggle to save the titular Flour Hour coincides with a reappearance of Souma, a former boyfriend Yuki never really got over, and increasingly suspicious behaviour from his sole employee, Izumi.

                Flour Hour’s drama and intrigue prove surprisingly in-depth when you get further into the story. While some developments are pretty silly and the choice system maybe a bit too unforgiving, the characters offered more nuance and development than I expected. Souma was probably the most interesting in this regard, as his abrasive and borderline-abusive behaviour becomes much easier to understand when he finally opens to Yuki about his feelings and his experiences after they broke up. At the same time, the story is simply hard to get into with the clunky writing, strangely-stylized visuals and poor-quality CGs. If you can look past those issues, however, the VN might be worth reading not just from the perspective of BL fans – to me, its core plot and the way romance was handled felt very universal.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

Demon Kiss (BxB)

Demon Kiss is quite likely the best-looking and most polished game on today’s list, featuring a really cute BxB romantic plot between a socially-anxious computer technician, Felix, and Trisetar, a demon noble that accidentally kidnaps him to hell. Shocked by the human’s strange attitude and non-fearful reaction to his presence, the demon gradually lowers his defences as the two are stuck together for a few months (time necessary to recreate the spell for travelling to the human world).

                Despite the pleasing art and generally fun, lighthearted storyline the game is not without some issues, the main being its pacing. There is an overarching plot connected to Trisetar’s initial appearance in the human world, but it’s basic at best and generally stays in the background of the developing romantic tension… Which also doesn’t develop as much as it probably should. With no bad endings or really tense moments, the story has a pleasant flow to it, but fails to get the reader engaged other than on a very superficial level. As the result, I would only truly recommend reading this one to dedicated BL fans – while the humour and the final plot twist are fun enough even for an average reader, the main focus is the fluffy BxB love story that should mostly satisfy people who are explicitly after that kind of content.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

At First Sight (BxB)

At First Sight is an unusual story utilizing a very interesting concept – in a world where everyone has a destined soulmate with whom they spend their whole life, the protagonist, Grimes, approaches his forties without finding one. When Dreams – a rare form of premonition happening to the Unsouled and hinting at the identity of their future partner or the circumstances they’ll meet under – start appearing to him every night, he’s more terrified of the uncertainty of following the visions and possible disappointment than he is encouraged. And when he finally decides to act on his premonitions, what he finds is detached from his expectations way more than he ever feared…

                At First Sight is technically a BL game and gay romance is present in it in some ways, but above all, it’s a story putting various romance clichés on their head. Grimes is an unpleasant and frustrated person, and in the world where everyone receives a happy ending by default, he ends up with something that even in the best possible interpretation can hardly be called a love story. His reactions are often nasty, even beyond what is justified by his depressing position, making his a relatively unlikeable protagonist. However, the way the game explores the idea of soulmates, and the strange situations and tensions it creates in its world is genuinely interesting – for that element alone At First Sight might be worth investing around 30 minutes necessary to complete it.

Final Rating: Recommended

Kill the prince!? (BxB)

Kill the Prince!? is a tiny story about a thief hired to assassinate a prince kidnapped by a rival kingdom and forced to marry their princess. Cute and very humouristic, the game gradually reveals the connection between the protagonist and his target, while also delivering amusing dialogue, a cast of exaggerated characters and silly puzzles centered around switching disguises.

                The game’s art is in decent part composed of simple lineart or rough sketches and the whole experience is very brief (20-25 minutes to fully read through), but it has enough charm and wit to justify its existence. The love story in it is also lovely to the point where even someone like me, who usually struggles to get into BL games, genuinely enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a short, fun distraction rather than a deep story, this one is definitely worth it.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

Café in The Clouds (GxG)

Café in the Clouds is a short yuri VN with point-and-click adventure game elements. It tells a story of two women running a very unusual café in a modern-fantasy setting. Outside of simply serving food and coffee, they possess magical powers that enable them to enter their client’s dreams and help them deal with nightmares, or even deep-rooted problems disturbing their nightly rest. The game’s plot focuses mostly on one such case – a client that visits the café (or rather passes out at the entrance) to ask for help with their severe insomnia.

                The romantic elements in this VN come in the form of relationship between the owners of the café, Remerie and Somnia. The interactions and banter between them are very cute and a near-constant feature of the brief story, accentuated by pleasant, pastel-painting-style visuals. Other than that, the player has to deal with a few simple puzzles (and a single unnecessarily cryptic one at the very end) to navigate the client’s dream and find a way to clear out the issues preventing them from resting at nights. The game also teases a larger story, connected to the couple’s mentor and original owner of the café – a story I would be quite interested in reading, considering what a genuinely nice experience Café in the Clouds proved to be.

Final Rating: Highly Recommended

Tender Feelings Like Water (GxG)

Tender Feelings Like Water is a short, supernatural love story about a water spirit that gains a sense of self and after long years, maybe centuries of loneliness falls in love with an unsuspecting human girl. Disguising themselves as another woman, the spirit starts interacting with the mysterious “girl in red”, wary to not reveal their true identity – not just due to possibility of scaring her away, but also because the river, the personification of which they are, took away a lot from both the girl and her village in general…

              As simple as this VN was (also when it comes to the visuals and the soundtrack, which are both not unpleasant, but basic), I couldn’t help but enjoy its nostalgic storytelling and emotional conclusions (there are two endings, similar to each other, but different in subtle and meaningful ways). It’s a yuri romance in a very loose understanding of the term, but should satisfy most fans of the genre with its climate and interesting dynamic between the main characters – and maybe other readers too, if they adjust their expectations properly.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

In Peaceful Days (GxG)

In Peaceful Days is a Fire Emblem: Three Houses fan fiction VN expanding on the Empire route and Edelgard romance (with female Byleth). It focuses on a rare day off, when both the protagonist and the Empress have some time to spend together, away from political intrigues and military conflicts. Byleth sets to prepare a perfect evening, interacting with other characters from the source game and visiting important locations within Garreg Mach.

                A short, cute piece of (non-sexual) fanservice, this VN has enough visual polish and humour to satisfy the fans of the original, but even for someone like me, who never played Three Houses and only did short research to know the context of the story, it was pretty fun to read.  It also has the advantage over many projects of this kind that it’s not going outside of the canon with its main pairing and character interactions, but elaborates on one of the possible endings of Three Houses in a believable way. Recommended primarily for Byleth/Edelgard fans, but not necessarily just for them.

Final Rating: Cautiously Recommended

Honourable Mention:

Full Service Shop (GxG/Non-Binary)

Full Service Shop is less a romance story and more a lesbian/non-binary erotic game using its sci-fi setting to create a number of really interesting, softcore scenarios for the player to go through. It features a nameable protagonist in the late 21st century, where advanced cybernetic implants are widely available. This includes the ability to enhance or replace one’s genitals and our main character is on their way to such a procedure, choosing a small, peculiar workshop – the titular Full Service Shop. There they’ll be able to not only choose their new implant (which changes how the scenes play out in minor ways) but also one of the four technicians who will not only install the new implant but give them a thorough “test drive”.

                As trashy as this premise might sound, it’s handled in a quite interesting way, with each technician offering a unique backstory and sex scene, the latter ranging from short and vanilla to complex and kinky. Visuals are tame, majority of the time stopping at partial nudity, so most of the work is done by the genuinely high-quality writing. The stories revealed in the conversations with the technicians and the erotic content itself utilize the futuristic setting, for example by discussing digitalizing the human mind and spicing things up by manipulation of neural implants, providing the much-needed variety when compared to your typical erotic VN. The one complaint I have about the game is arguably a major one – with average visuals and choices that don’t add too much to the experience (apart from initial choices of implant and technician, they mostly can just cut the scenes short), to the point the whole package would work just as well, or maybe even better as a short story. Still, if you’re looking for an unusual, wholesome erotic VN to read, this issue hardly makes it less of a valid choice.

Final Rating: Recommended

And this is all for today’s list and, by extension, my coverage of the NaNoRenO 2020. The non-otome romances that showed up this year mostly failed to truly impress me, but games like Cafe in the Cloud still managed to provide fun experiences while a few other proved memorable by escaping the usual tropes and story structures. There are also a few slice-of-life titles that I might add to this post as further honourable mentions – the enormousness of this year’s event makes my work of covering it constantly feel incomplete, but for the most part, it’s done. I hope you enjoyed what I provided here and will consider giving a chance to VNs I’ve recommended – I’ll do my best to repeat this process next year with NaNoRenO 2021 and this fall with Yuri Game Jam 2020. But for now, thank you very much for your time and I hope to see you again!

About the author

Plk_Lesiak

Fuwanovel's resident EVN fanboy. Formerly the author of the (most likely) only blog about non-Japanese visual novels, EVN Chronicles.

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