Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kaleidoscope Dating Sim 2

Author: Bomee, Mayuiki and Kyo
Availability: Free, Online/Browser
Format: Dating Sim
Genre: Supernatural / Dream World
Rating: PG
My Scores: (Writing: 2.5, Art: 5, Gameplay: 2.5) out of 5

Found at OR


In Kaleidoscope Dating Sim 2, a gender-flipped sequel to Kaleidoscope Dating Sim, you are Soffie.  Once fond of singing, you became mute at the age of five and thus started retreating into a dream-world in your head.  One day, a fortune-teller gave you a magic potion.  You drank it, and now you've found yourself in the dream world!  You have 30 days to find a soul-mate here. If you succeed, you'll return to reality with your voice back.  If you fail, you'll become a dream soul and be trapped here forever.



I wasn't too sure what score to give this at first.  On the one hand, I certainly can't accuse the writing of being too sparse on details.  Also, the characters are sufficiently different from each other in terms of personalities and "voice", which is important in a dating sim.  You'd be able to tell Gabe from Cero even if you couldn't see who was talking.  (Fun fact: Cero, winnable here, is also the protagonist of the prequel to this game).

The plot itself is a bit baroque, but whether this is a good thing or a bad thing may simply be a matter of taste.  There are a lot of different elements cobbled together, both in the intro and, to a lesser extent, in the love-interests' story-lines.  To someone like me, it can seem a bit overly much.  Unlike Winter Dance Sim Date, though, these odd bits aren't merely blurted and forgotten; they get brought up again in dialogue, and overall, it's hard to point out anything as completely irrelevant.  If anything, I'd say this game tries to cram a novel's worth of plot and characterization into something the size of a short story, and the result is that bits are sticking out every which way.  Of course, this style may have as many fans as it does detractors, and I've graded according to my own personal taste.


The art in this game is amazing!  There's something very life-like about the characters.  The expressions are subtle and nuanced, and there's a bit of animation that breathes further life into them with blinking and facial twitches.  Also, the backgrounds are nice, and the music is gentle and ambient.


Mini-games again.  Urgh.  At first, I though "Oh, good!  All the mini-games have been neatly swept into a corner so I don't have to bother with them."  Well, that is not true.  Unlike many dating sims with currency involved, there is no job mechanism in Kaleidoscope 2.  The closest you can get is picking mushrooms in the forest to sell, but you are only allowed to do so once per day.  This means that you will have to play the mini-games.

And you will have to play the mini-games, because this game puts a really high emphasis on buying presents. In order to get the best ending for a character, you have to buy ALL of the types of presents that they like.  Each character has, I think, five gifts that you'll need to purchase for them, and the shop has about eighteen items to choose from.  While a couple of items can be intuited (I was able to figure out who would have a need for spray-paint, and it's a fair assumption that the articles of women's clothing are for one character in particular), the rest are found by trial and error (or by looking up a useful walkthrough on DeviantArt).  As with Re: Allistair, it's a bit frustrating in that you need to buy certain items but are not given enough clues on what to buy.  It'd be nice if there were hints dropped in dialogue or something.

Also, I am not a fan of the soul doors.  In most dating sims that I've seen, you're given a choice of locations to visit, and generally, there's one person who is always at that location.  Usually, these locations are "dressed up" somehow: it's the person's home, or their workplace, or a place they visit often.  It's woven into the story.  In Kaleidoscope 2, however, the notion of "Go Here to Visit X" is completely reduced to just that.  "Okay," the game says, "Do you want the person behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3?"  For all the details that went into the intro, this whole bit with the doors just seems too bald.

So why did I not give the gameplay a 1?  Because for all its mini-gaming faults, this is actually a very well-balanced dating sim.  The 30 day time-limit is neither overly long nor overly short for all the things you have to do. This also seems to be the first dating sim I've played where the dialog, gifts and dating all matter.  You do need the gifts in order to get the best ending, but in order to reach any kind of ending with the characters at all, you have to build up the relationship enough to be able to choose them.  You can't just spam one interaction until the game ends.  Also, if you're fond of the mini-games, it's fairly easy to win enough money to try the spaghetti-at-the-wall method of gift-buying; so that balances out, too.  It's just a shame, then, that I really do not like having to play stupid mini-games.


This game is interesting.  It's very well-balanced, but could probably benefit from a job activity that isn't limited to one turn per day.  The story, in my opinion, tries to do too much at once, but some may actually find this a plus.  The art is definitely the best component of the whole game, and I give it a standing ovation.

So what do you think?  Is this game a sweet dream or a nightmare?  Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pytho’s Mask

Author: Emily Short
Availability: Free / Download
Format: Text Game (Interactive Fiction)
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Rating: Everyone
My Scores: (Writing: 4, Gameplay: 3) out of 5

Found at or


In Pytho’s Mask, you are Soteria, an agent of the secret Order of the Phoenix.  A mysterious masked man has invited you to the royal celebration of a comet that appears once every hundred years.  Your orders are to use this opportunity to investigate a possible threat to the king, which may have something to do with the comet...


Pytho’s Mask is a text game.  Although the more popular term for this genre is apparently “Interactive Fiction", I personally prefer to stick with “Text Games”:  arguably, most of these games are interactive works of fiction.  The main difference is that while most of these games have graphics and clickable items and whatnot, text/IF games deal primarily with, well, text.  The narrator gives you a description of where you are and what’s going on, and you type what you want to do in response.  True, some may have illustrations; but it’s like the difference between a book with pictures and a comic book.  Anyway, since Pytho’s Mask is all text with no pictures whatsoever, the Art score is absent for this review.

I like the writing in this game.  The plot is interesting, the mystery is well-clued without being too obvious, and the strange setting is beautifully detailed.  While some details can seem confusing at first, one quickly and easily gets a feel for this fantastic alternate-Earth.  Better still, the story and setting seem to “bleed off the page”, as it were;  hints of old stories and personal dramas creep in, giving the feeling that there’s more in the distance.  The characters are nicely distinct with strong personalities, requiring only a couple of sentences to establish just what sort of people they are.  And yet, there is more to each of them than meets the eye, for this game is all about hidden facets and dualities.  Also, I like that the main character is a bit like a Renaissance noble-woman version of Batman: Soteria doesn’t just idly solve mysteries as a way to pass the time between harpsichord lessons; she is a highly-trained agent whose job it is to kick butt.

The gameplay, on the other hand, I consider to be middling: not very good, not very bad.  One of the problems text games face is that they are highly vulnerable to “What Am I Supposed To Do Here?!” and its cousin, “What Am I Supposed To Type?!”.  Pytho’s Mask does a fairly good job of prodding you in the direction of the plot.  Admittedly, there are moments where you feel the game putting you on rails, but this is balanced out with times where you get to wander and explore at your leisure.  As for typing, there are blessedly few commands that you will actually need, although first figuring out how to phrase some things was a bit of a hiccup for me.

>Read Guide To Spotting Conspirators
What do you want to read that in?
> ???

Bear in mind, this is usually the fault of the tools used to make the game more than the author him/herself.  I currently recommend TADs, as it has a decent system for handling and creating actions, and it doesn’t ask me what I want to read things in.

One bug that’s more likely to be on the author’s shoulders, though, is the tendency to try to pick up a given book in the library only to later find yourself holding a completely different one.

On the shelves, you notice The King In Yellow.
>Read King In Yellow
(First taking The King In Yellow) It details how to roll out the dough, and what ingredients to use for sauce.
You are carrying a copy of How To Make Pizza.

Fortunately, things like that do not make up the majority of the game.  If anything, you spend most of the game talking to other characters.  The conversation system is introduced very early on, and it’s actually an NPC who initiates your first conversation.

Conversations are mostly handled in dialogue trees.  You first address a character by typing “Talk To (Character)", and then you’re given a choice of things to actually say.  You choose by simply selecting A, B, C, etc.  This helps make conversations easier to navigate, as it solves the “What Am I Supposed To Type?!” problem.  I discovered by accident, though, that you can also introduce different topics by typing “T (ThingYouWannaTalkAbout)”.  It took me a while to figure out what T was supposed to stand for (Talk About?  Tell About?); then I stumbled across a help section that said T was short for Topic.  “Topic Prince”?  Weird.

On that note, some of these characters have unusual names.  While that’s par for the course in fantasy, it brings up the problem of actually being able to remember said names.

>Ask Minister About Venetia
>The Hussy Hanging All Over The Prince

As it happens, though, the aforementioned Help section -- which I found so late in the game, that it’s embarrassing -- disclosed that, at any time, I could have typed “P” and been given a handy list of all the characters I’d met so far.  Why, oh why, did it not occur to me to type “HELP” sooner?  It could’ve saved me so much headache.

The last minor complaint I’ll bring up is that it’s a bit tricky to keep track of where the exits are.  Some text games have a built-in compass that tells you which directions you can go at any given time:

You are in a dungeon.  Exits are North, South, and Dennis.  
 Exits: North, South, Dennis
>Go North
You come to a room with an inadequately written description. 
 Exits: South, West

The version of Pytho’s Mask which I played (on Frotz) has no such function that I could detect.  Exits were only mentioned as the room was being described (“to the west is a door, and you see a...”), and room descriptions only appeared automatically when you first visit a room.  This means that if you go back to a room you’ve already been to before, you’ll have to explicitly type “Look” (or just “L”) to see where you can go from there.  (Or, of course, you can try going in a direction that doesn’t exist there, and thus be told “You can’t go that way.  You can only go North, South, or Dennis.”)  It’s a minor-to-moderate inconvenience, but it doesn’t make the game unplayable.

There are multiple endings to be had in this game, and at least two different men you can end up with.  Several of the endings fork from the same point.  Basically, toward the end of the game, you have to switch one item with another, and what you switch it with will determine the outcome (And let’s just say you really want to have a grip on who’s who at this point).  Of course, merely figuring out whodunnit isn’t enough to ensure everybody goes home safe and happy...

Pytho’s Mask is a fantastic intrigue flavored with romance and a little action.  It has its share of hiccups, but nothing so debilitating that you can’t finish the game.  “HELP” is your friend, and will save you from much woe.  On the whole, it’s worth checking out.

The Fortune Teller holds up a card.  On one side is an image of a reader agreeing with everything that the girl with the blog has just said.  On the obverse is an image of a reader shaking their head, tossing the blogger out of a convenient window, and going off to start their own blog, a better one, that will have blackjack and hookers.