Even better than the first game. The characters don't make much use of their talents though, so those are mainly there for flavour and could probably be better used as plot devices. That said, it had more satisfying explorations of the characters' backstories and personalities as a whole, and was way more hype when approaching the endgame. The characters are also more memorable, really.
Playing on mean difficulty and experiencing the ramp-up in annoyance during hangman's gambits and logic dives was both satisfying and distressing.
There were a few stylistic changes which made the game feel less like a comic book brought to life and more like a normal VN, which isn't bad in itself... but it doesn't quite have the same feel as the first game.
Danganronpa: Trigger-Happy Havoc - 10
For how similar the premise is to 999, it sure beats the crap out of it. Most of the choices are just there for immersion, so it's quite a linear story for a visual novel, but then you could say that a normal story is just as linear, so it doesn't actually detract from the work at all. I think that the despair vs hope theme is a little overwhelming given the lack of logical basis for the occurrence of 'the tragedy', and some characters were just there for the ride, but other aspects are incredibly well-executed.
For example, the mysteries - while extremely easy to solve when answers are presented in multiple-choice form - were well-integrated into the interactive games and did require some measure of deduction on 'mean' difficulty, at the same time being much less frustrating than in other detective games like KnS and 999. The ability to move throughout the school is also a great idea rooted in the video game genre, and is a mechanic significantly underrepresented in other VNs. The music is well-placed and Sakura Ogami is the best girl.
When you combine this story with the rest of the franchise, I have no doubt that the sum total is a masterpiece. Granted that some aspects, such as the background of 'the ultimate soldier', could likely have been integrated seamlessly into the final product as well.
Nevertheless, this VN has a lot of flavour, a lot more than other VNs - just based on the timing of the music, the interactive games and the visuals. It's one heck of an experience.
999 - 7
It's a game. Chemistry and philosophy - how fun! The various plot elements, while still evoking a bit of thought - such as how they provided a valid, negative-proof model for the existence of the intangible soul, probably weren't unified well enough into a coherent whole. In the end it felt too much like a game, and I never really had a sensation of actual danger. Rather like Ever17 in that respect.
The root of the problem probably lay in the cast; the characters weren't distinct or memorable enough, especially given that as the MC's controller you're literally forced to do everything yourself while everyone else is practically incompetent. You can give them as unique designs and names as you want, but side characters with forgettable personalities and actions may as well be part of the background.
Yeah, let's actually just call them background characters, since all they did was provide hints and background information whenever you screwed up.
If there was one thing this story achieved... well, it did make me yell through the screen at an incompetent main character.
Perhaps this needs to be viewed as a sequel.
G-Senjou no Maou - 7
Too many red herrings - it got to the point where the alternative was absurd enough that it must be true, yet the characters always jumped on the simplest possible deductions first. I really appreciated how the MC steeled his resolve in the true route and went full alpha, but among other things, both the post-mortem familial reconciliation and the budding romance came across as spontaneous developments with no decent foreshadowing.
Maou certainly managed to make an impression, but ultimately failed to become a relatable character due to his actions in the epilogue where he pretty much just showed up to play spoiler like a third-rate antagonist. Indeed, in terms of the cat and mouse game he was holding... well, while the atmosphere was impressive, the tricks themselves were really rather transparent. Some, such as with the bomb at the arena, were pointless as far as I could tell. Is there a need to start a fire in the east to attack the west, if nobody's guarding the west anyway?
I admit that I was tricked into believing certain things about Maou's identity which turned out to be untrue. However, there was such a lack of logical basis for his true identity that he might as well have turned out to be from the future, or an alien, or a secret admirer, and everything would've made as much sense. That the MC had a brother was brought up in only a single scene, practically as a footnote, before the reveal.
For all the emphasis on classical music, it definitely wasn't used to its full potential as a motif. The OST was mostly adaptations/arrangements (I particularly enjoy 'A bad joke'/'Sabre Dance'), however, in terms of plot relevance there was a concert which literally bombed, 'Flight of the Valkyries' used during ice skating, and a single violin note played by the heroine.
Still, 'the devil on g-string' is an accurate title. An invisible and soundless demon resting on your shoulder, twisting just one note and ruining an otherwise perfect symphony. The convoluted chords birth twisted notes, orchestrating chaos in the present.
Muv-Luv Alternative - 9
Vast gulfs in VN experiences do exist - and it's no wonder that the gap between first and second place is so huge. What generates the void after finishing a story like this? In essence, a little piece of your soul dies together with each character.
My soul is fully depleted.
The direction in the VN was intriguing - action scenes were portrayed almost entirely through animations rather than with detailed descriptions like those one would see in F/SN. Personally, I prefer a written style, but I'm sure that the production quality didn't hurt MLA's ratings.
That said, oftentimes it felt like tragedy for the sake of tragedy. Edgy feels are fine in moderation, but when aliens just become a plot device to kill off characters in weird and wonderful ways, it becomes quite a problem for immersion, and thereby suspension of disbelief.
The ending was also a rather cheap attempt at closure. I understand that war heroes aren't always celebrated and what not; I understand that the MC's character development came at the detriment of any conceivable normal life. However, anybody can write an ending like that. It would've been nice to relate particle superposition to the MC's mental state, and have the memories converge over time. Not one person prefers the naive MC to his alternative.
Regardless, it was definitely an experience seeing that the MC, rather than being some generic Gary Stu due to his abilities, was still forced to overcome trials, re-evaluate himself, and lose several important things. Character growth is definitely one of the defining characteristics which makes this one of the best stories I've ever completed.
Muv-Luv - 6
Ever17 - 8
Closure, closure, closure. Honestly, the amount of closure this VN brings stops me from considering a re-read - because while the first few routes introduce questions, the last one answers them. Once you know the answers, it becomes difficult to enjoy being trapped in an underwater facility playing tag for even ten more minutes.
I definitely felt that the time-travel plot was well-represented, perhaps even more so than in Steins;Gate, though I would argue that they didn't actually resolve the paradox in the end. Well, whatever - it's a fourth-dimensional entity exerting agency, so who knows.
I wish there had been more animated CGs, since the onrushing wall of water near the beginning brought possibly the only real rush in the entire VN. In terms of atmosphere, I think that had there been more of an emphasis on survival rather than playing, it probably would've been more impressive - and that might be why 999 tends to outrank it in the wider community.
Kara no Shoujo - 9
A classy detective mystery written by somebody with more than a few issues, but enjoyable all the same. I couldn't save them, but they lived in my thoughts (as amputees and black eggs) for a considerable time afterwards.
The soundtrack is perfection and a permanent addition to all my playlists, thank you based MANYO. Rather than character development or plot, it might be even be atmosphere which drives this story to the top. Thematically, Touko is also one of the best-designed characters I've ever seen, those vocal chords on a face like that...
The mystery is strong and unpredictable, if only because the reader is given so few clues - and the madness which flits intermittently throughout the story gives the impression that the serial killings are less like murders and more like natural disasters.
Inevitably, the reader begins to search for the killer not for the sake of story progression or curiosity, but out of desire for a happy ending. Can I avert this tragedy? Is it really possible to read this story with an uninvested heart?
To both, the answer is 'no'.
Fate/Hollow Ataraxia - 7
Are you kidding me?
Where's my Ilya route?
Honestly, the way that I can choose to go spend a day with her at her castle is the best, even if it doesn't actually incite any progression. The whole thing felt like a script from Take-Moon, i.e. well-crafted slice of life. However, I wasn't left with any strong impression regarding the ongoing conflict... maybe I simply sat through too many slice of life scenes to the point where the action became part of the background?
It was a pleasant surprise when I found out that the story involved the redemption of the tainted being in the Holy Grail, though.
Give these people a happy ending, geez.
Fate/Stay Night - 8
Saya no Uta - 9
The first VN I tried was inevitably my favourite for a long time. I admit - prior to this, I didn't think very highly of VNs, assuming them to be a somewhat outdated storytelling medium and affiliated with the stereotypical otaku image. However, the fact that this story remained on my mind for so long serves to showcase one of the medium's defining characteristics: natural, unforced character development.
Making the audience sympathize with a villain is not unheard of in today's stories. However, creating a villain that the audience cheers for, without actually making them a likeable character, is a different matter. Then, making the audience cheer for something which is undoubtedly evil?
No - is that cruelty and sadism not simply born of an innocent ignorance, like the cruelty of a child?
Can something be called evil if it acts simply for the propagation of its species - like we do?
Are we sure that we're not simply flesh-eating monsters who see one another as normal humans?
Are these questions really edgy enough yet?
The second standout element is probably the atmosphere. The art is as crisp and intriguing as it is unnerving and cthulhuian. The soundtrack is used to great effect, mirroring not just the characters' mental states, but even the reader's as the latter becomes better-acquainted with the characters. Walls of meat may haunt my dreams, but I feel at peace.
There are many stories which use morality well, yet fail to actively provoke thought. This one succeeds, and it does so in every ending.