Developer: Red Panda Games
Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Release Date: January 25, 2013
So, last year I reviewed a little commercial title called The Host Holic by Red Panda Games. With it being reviewed just after the switch to a 10 point review scale, it has the distinction of the lowest scoring review I’ve done so far with 2 out of 10. Yup, Train of Afterlife is better than Holic by far.
The main issue I took with the VN is that it took a bland concept, made an average romance VN with it THEN made it worse by including a child rape ‘plot twist’ without giving it anything close to a resolution. Hell, some people who liked the VN wanted a version where you could join in with the child rapist. To be clear, not everyone who liked Holic wanted to fondle little boys, but when the creator of the VN says ‘it might be a future option’, it’s more than one.
However, I consider myself a fair reviewer. I can be tough, but I try to be fair. During my review of Holic I said outright not to judge Red Panda Games by this one title. Surely there was something good that could be offered here or would be if they were given time, right? Well, time was given and Red Panda has released a new EVN: Nowhere Safe. Hold onto your butts folks: this is going to get rough.
The minute you begin, you find out that the main character Kimiko: an agoraphobic that has been shut in her house for the past five years. This is the plywood that will hold up this story as we journey with Kimiko through the broken parts of her psyche as she searches for love while avoiding a potential threat.
First off, let me be a good member of the EVN community and give out some a basic genre tip: KNOW something about the genre you list your project under. As a fan of fiction as a whole and thrillers in particular, there is nothing more annoying than being told you’re getting one genre only to have the product nowhere close. Since this has happened twice now with a supposed ‘psychological thriller’, let me show you what a psychological thriller is supposed to be:
I’m sure someone assumed this was going to be something gory or violent...especially considering the source. No, that’s not what thrillers are about. Psychological Thrillers are, at their core, a battle of wills. It’s a mental war over a physical one and it wears on the characters as well on the audience over time in a good way. The conflict is sublime; something you tumble through your mind throughout. This means not only do you have to approach it in an intelligent way; you have to anticipate that your audience will do the same. You’re doing your story right in this genre if you can get the reader to wonder how you would act if you were in the same position because more often than not psychological thrillers are the realistic branch of fiction.
That said this is nowhere near being a psychological thriller…or even cohesive fiction. I suppose the writer felt it qualified because it dabbles in psychology and there’s something scary (it isn’t) lurking around the edges. But the psychology is kindergarten level at best: relying on copy-and-paste work form various textbooks (or realistically speaking Wikipedia). I would say what type of genre Nowhere Safe, but it’s hard to pin down and it leaves in its wake a mess of genres it attempts to be and fails at completely.
What do I mean by this? Well let’s start with the completely unlikable Kimiko. Her supposed agoraphobia didn’t manifest itself until five years prior to the events of the VN where she held a normal job until she screwed over what was most likely a decent man for a quick pay day. Before that she had a long-standing grudge with her Mother who may or may not have been bipolar, but from the dialogue just appears to have been a bit overbearing. She also has issues with her only friend Aya who joked about a bad haircut she got while she was in high school…though she’s still her friend well after high school. All of this combined nonsense is, at best, a bad day for Bella Swan NOT the underlying causes of a real and crippling psychological issue.
Speaking of which, Kimiko has no problem opening the door to her house, letting people in, holding a full conversation with strangers or forming relationships…you know all of the issues actual agoraphobics have? But this is a fictional story so why be realistic? (Yes that will be addressed at the end) Throughout not only are we supposed to tolerate the intolerable way Kimiko treats everyone around her, but the VN also wants us to reward her. This is a tragic character in Nowhere Safe and you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat waiting for her breakthrough when she leaves the cocoon of her home and become the butterfly she really is on the inside. She deserves to be free so can you help her get the good life she's earned?
There is nothing sympathetic about a brat, which is what she is, that lies to ruin someone's life, blows the money she got from the lie, considers her parents selfish for not bailing her stupid ass out and demands her friend concede to her needs while getting mad at them for daring to want to do more in life than be a crutch for her. There is nothing redeemable about Kimiko and yet we have to continue to follow her on the crap that seems to happen to her on a day to day basis.
And a lot of crap happens to her on a day to day basis. Things seem to just happen without buildup and often times with explanation with bits of flashbacks that only cement what an insufferable little girl Kimiko is. By the time you get a grasp of what the plot is trying to be, you get slapped in the face with a glut of exposition on the various mental illnesses Nowhere Safe shoehorns in the place of actual character development. Like in Holic there are wisps of potential here that could be an average story in the hands of someone who knows what the Hell they’re doing. But since this isn’t the case, the game simply stumbles along until you get to a point where you just don’t care anymore.
To try and save itself, there is a romance subplot and a stalker subplot. Behind the romance subplot is Kento: your standard issue perfect male lead that has been manipulated into trying to get with Kimiko. There’s nothing offensive on that end, but like Holic it’s so bland and predictable I spoil absolutely nothing in saying that they get married by the end. Yup, first game in what is supposed to be a series and the two romantic leads get married…off-screen no less.
A bit more offensive is the stalker subplot which is so ridiculously sprinkled on the top of this mess that I laughed at it before I realized it was trying to be serious…then it just got sad. The ‘stalker’ appears in a full robe and hood in broad daylight to threaten Kimiko for no apparent reason other than the plot says so. Everything surrounding this storyline can only be considered a massive plothole as his very existence in the VN cannot be explained outside of ‘the plot demands it’. Even the female psychologist is sucked into the vortex as her role is so contradictory you will not be able to stop your head from slamming into the nearest solid object. I can sum up everything wrong with this character in a half of a sentence: anyone who does what she does in the course of the VN would be in jail. And the attempted ‘stinger’ ending to build interest in other chapters of this series only proves how ridiculous the entire stalker angle is and you will only be able to shake your head at the total ineptitude that you just witnessed.
I wish I could say something positive here, but there isn’t anything positive to say. I have never experienced fiction in any medium that so perfectly captures the phrase ‘Bullshit’ as this does. When the best thing you have going for your VN is that the romance is forgettable, you’ve got problems with telling a story. Just…wow.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The Presentation is jarring. This is mostly due to the fact that the sprites are not original, but the brightly colored, anime style twits you’ve probably seen used in a dozen free VNs before. There is something just odd and a little questionable about using copyright-free art in a commercial title and really, I’m slowly turning to the opinion that if you intended to sell an EVN, you need to put out the cash for original sprites and backgrounds. It just doesn’t feel right otherwise.
Outside of that it’s hardly inspiring and nothing carries the mood the plot is trying to convey. Also, Nowhere Safe is basically an online flash game but the worst kind of flash game. There are no menus, no controls and no way to stop anything once you’ve started. According to Red Panda, even if you download the title there are no changes to make it more player-friendly. And on top of that, the handful of choices you're given has zero to do with the outcome of the game. If it wasn't so empty, I'd almost say it was a taunt to the player. That behind the scenes the writer is laughing at the player's attempts to actually get something worthwhile out of this mess.
So it handles like crap, looks like crap and reads like crap.
Oh the rainbows and woodland creatures that spring from my shell of a heart over this VN…
Are you kidding me?
Finally I want to talk about the reaction to the VN: not the reaction of the reader, but the reaction of the creator. Doing my homework on this one I found the creator to be defensive of their work which is mostly understandable. It’s human nature to defend what you’ve created, but instead of trying to explain just what the Hell they were thinking, the minds of Red Panda Games has more or less waived their hands over the entire thing by proclaiming any criticism of the plot as ‘odd’ since it’s a ‘fictional’ story and it shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
I rarely do this, but to Red Panda Games make up your damn mind. That is why I’ve coined this game Bullshit: The Visual Novel because that’s what you’re trying to pass off here. You want to be taken seriously as a visual novel writer, but you want the comfort of, ‘It’s just make-believe! Don’t take it seriously!’ just in case people like me run into your VN. Look, if you don’t mind people not taking you’re work seriously, stick with over-the-top cartoon hijinks instead of trying to delve into the human mind…or actual drama….or anything requiring a cohesive plot. If you DO want what you do to be taken seriously, then accept the fact that what you’ve done so far sucks. Wait, you’re saying you have an audience of people who likes what you do? Well so does Michael Bay, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a schlock artist.
Either get better or accept that you make crap. One way or the other I have experienced your efforts twice and I can make a decent judgment call now. This doesn't reach the level of repulsion that The Host Holic does, but remove that one thing and Holic is below average. This is not. The fact that there is any sort of price tag on this is insulting, the story is awful, the gameplay is non-existent, the presentation is a joke, it fails at every single thing it tries to do, it is hands down the worst EVN I have ever played, I hope it burns in Hell and I owe Zeiva Inc. and Studio Sprinkles an apology for thinking that what they did even came close to this.
Good luck Red Panda. I won’t be around to see if you learn anything from this train wreck.
- The Story is simply bad
- Characters are either bland and forgettable or you'll hate them
- Presentation doesn't match the tone
- Gameplay is broken at the absolute best