Long ago I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon some really gorgeous character designs. I immediately started drawing them. They were from a game called Amnesia, but I had little hope of playing it as it was Japanese only. I read route summaries and became a big fan of the game despite not having played it, and then it was announced for an English release! I was ecstatic. Needless to say, the game didn't disappoint. Ukyo is still my husbando.
MC not talking didn't bother me at all, it fit in with the amnesia theme and she does talk in the sequels. It gave room for Orion to exist and I found him a good addition to the game, making it feel quite unique. The overarching mystery of the game was well-executed, although you don't really learn much if anything in routes other than the final one. I liked the difference in tone between different routes and how the game was not afraid to get a bit dark, though in my opinion not to the degree that it got edgy. Toma is awful and we don't speak about him, but other than that I liked all the boys. I found the differences in relationships between characters per route really interesting, and I really loved most of the side-characters, especially Rika in Ukyo's route.
English language VNs
The difference between Western-original and Japanese-original visual novels is often in the amount of choices and the degree to which the narrative branches. Cinders has an immense amount of customisability between different playthroughs. Though it makes a single playthrough feel quite short, it invites you to play over and over again. I think the price point for the game is a bit high, but can definitely recommend getting it when it's on sale.
The game's weakest point is probably its love interests, none of whom are very fleshed out, but that's not really what the game is about so I can overlook it. It's much more interesting to influence Cinders' relationship with her family and to decide how she will alter her fate. I'm an unapologetic weeaboo so the art style isn't my cup of tea, but nonetheless the backgrounds are beautiful and the game looks very polished.
Of all the free otome games released in the West, this one comes closest to feeling like a commercial Japanese release. The artwork is simply stunning, especially the backgrounds. There's the typical Japanese structure where routes reveal a little bit of the mystery at a time and some routes have to be played first to unlock others. The story was quite gripping and I found almost all of the love interests likable, save Rumpel. Fritz was my favourite route, primarily because I love tragic stories and tragic boys (see: my two favourite boys Ukyo and Shiraishi)
Another thing I really liked about this release is the main character Lucette, who is so different from the usual otome heroines we see and really resonated with me. I've seen some who dislike her until she becomes kinder, but no, give me bitchy heroines every day. While all the boys were likable, none of them really became my best boy, but the overall quality of the game was enough to make this a very enjoyable read.
One day I'll flesh this out, but for now here's everything I've played plus a tiny opinion blurb.
a2 ~a due~
decent but not particularly memorable
difficult but fairly good from what i recall
After School Affairs (mobile)
another mobile game. the guy i picked was pretty nice.
too tryhard, didn't grab me
Alloys over Flowers
decent, simple nanoreno otome
normally a singular love interest puts me off games but this game is so good, the writing is excellent and the story is interesting even without the romance component
Always Remember Me
the one, the only, my love
Analogue: A Hate Story
trying too hard to be deep, it was just okay
Angelic Orbs - Broken Memories
pretty much all i remember is the fact that i played this
the writing wasn't captivating, even though by all means i should've enjoyed the game
Bad Apple Wars
quite disappointing but at least 1 of the boys was good
Because We're Here
i love it, it's great. if you like history and/or tragedy you must play this.
ah, this was adorable. only sad part is it's too short. lovely character designs, and being able to pair everyone with everyone is so refreshing.
Ben and the Devil
actually amazing for a free OELVN, on par with some Japanese releases
i expected more of it, being a commercial project. i still did enjoy it but it could've been more in-depth.
Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~
really good commercial VN
Collar x Malice
absolute favourite commercial VN next to Amnesia
Cooked with Love
very fun nanoreno entry
decent for a free game but the writing can drag in places
Cute Demon Crashers
high production values, pretty good
i recall having played it, i don't think it was awful
enjoyable plot, would recommend, one of my first commercial VNs
the routes were quite disjointed from each other, which i didn't really care for. most of the routes also weren't very romantic in my opinion, so i ended up having a mediocre opinion of it even though a lot of work obviously went into it.
Digital: A Love Story
solid, unique presentation
Doki Doki Literature Club
it was bad
don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story
enjoyable ride, should play at least once, high level of polish
Doppelganger: Dawn of the Inverted Soul
surprisingly fun, there's a thousand endings and all of them are worth getting
really short, okay
liked the amount of choices but they also made it annoying to replay because there was no easy way to skip. the art style isn't really my thing and most of the boys weren't my type but it's a good game that i would recommend wholeheartedly for a free release.
Enchanted in the Moonlight (mobile)
on par for a mobile game, eh
i barely recall this, i don't think it was very good
this was really enjoyable! a great nanoreno entry.
Froot Basket Valentine
it was okay? wouldn't really recommend it
one of my first and one of my favourites, though its appearance hasn't aged well
i think it was okay
Go! Magical Boy
i think it was okay
interesting, well-written commercial VN
it was pretty mediocre
it's really good okay
something about it just isn't satisfying
interesting in concept, decent but not gripping
Home for the Heart
the writing was boring and the characters uninteresting
it's a ride, but i can't recommend it
it's just about at the threshold of what i want out of a commercial game to not be disappointed. cute enough, but not too much depth.
Ikemen Revolution (mobile)
one of the few f2p mobile games i've bothered with. better than most.
Ishara: Bane of the Seas
pretty decent from what i recall
very polished, pretty good
it was okay, too much purple prose, kind of boring
Kissed by the Baddest Bidder (mobile)
about what you'd expect from a mobile game, eh
i... liked it at the time
Knife of the Traitor
good nanoreno entry, interesting worldbuilding
Lads in Distress
high level of polish, writing could use some work but enjoyable enough
Lake of Voices
really good and complete-feeling story. nice worldbuilding.
someone's first project, it was eh
Learning in Love
cute little game, good writing
Legend of Piper Girl
Line of Heroes
i remember this being quite good, too bad the creator never made anything again
Long Live The Queen
more of a statraiser than a VN, but a fun one (and i don't like statraisers)
Loren The Amazon Princess
very fun, would recommend
Magical Otoge Ciel
simple, cute, fun, recommended
Memoirs of an Angel
only a demo got released but it was really interesting, i've been waiting for a real release ever since (that was 2010...)
it's a tiny game, but it's fun
quite fun, worth a try
My Magical Divorce Bureau
short but fun
Mystic Messenger (mobile)
tried it and didn't like it. the plot was weird and uninteresting, none of the characters stood out and the format of the game is very unattractive to me because i don't want to miss out on anything but also can't dedicate my whole day to a game.
pretty eh, though others seem to disagree
Norn9: Var Commons
pretty awful for a Japanese commercial release, the translation makes me cry
One Leaf Clover
Ori, Ochi, Onoe
played this like 10 years ago and i don't recall much but i don't think it was great
fun for a bit, but how do you get a single good ending at all?
Our Private Homeroom (mobile)
you know what to expect from a mobile game, if you like teacher and student stories then you'll like this
(P)lanets - the life of normalcy has ended
even my 13-year-old self could recognise how bad the writing was
decent horror game
the reviews told me it was bad but i refused to listen. i should have listened. not worth the money.
bland, mediocre writing at best, no real interesting characters
PQRS the Game
another one i barely remember, but i think i liked it
Princess Debut (DS)
i honestly love this game
Princess of Ruin
i was hyped for this but it honestly kind of sucked, what happened VenusEclipse?
a lot worse than it seems at first glance
kinetic, not very memorable
enjoyable, high level of polish, good for beginners
Reflections on the River
enjoyable nanoreno project
simple but with really good writing
i only very vaguely remember this, i think it was okay
pretty fun, if at times too lengthy and verbose (the beginning is hard to get through)
surprisingly well-written. good nanoreno entry.
i remember waiting for the release of this game for so long! it was quite good, i like the band theme and it's something i would easily recommend as far as free games go. after playing through 2 routes on story mode i felt a bit too burnt out to really enjoy open mode. the main character is the opposite of the typical japanese doormat MC but in my opinion takes it a bit too far to the other side. i found her abrasive character annoying a fair amount of the time.
Romance is Dead
this was really good, i don't even like BxB and i loved it
this game was absolutely awful
i liked parts of it but overall it was quite mediocre. Lack of romance and lack of ending variety really disappointed me.
good writing, nice worldbuilding
Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem
it's not even done and i've done about 20 playthroughs. what can i say, it's amazing.
Shall We Date? Magic Sword + (mobile)
probably even a little below par for a mobile game
Shall we date? Ninja Love (mobile)
F2P kills my soul but back when i still had the patience for it i enjoyed this
play this if you're nostalgic for when you were 13 and obsessed with fall out boy
Summer Found Me
relatively short, enjoyable enough
Sweet Fuse: At Your Side
interesting commercial VN with unusual characters, recommended
it was okay, but i don't like this type of PC VN
That Cheap and Sacred Thing
kinetic but really good
The Blind Griffin
quite enjoyable, though none of the characters really resonated with me
The Confines of The Crown
pretty good, not outstanding
interesting? frankly, can't remember much
The Empty Orchestra
not memorable, boring
The Flower Shop: Winter in Fairbrook
very average, nothing really stood out negatively or positively
The Lady's Choice
bland writing, no character really stood out to me
okay nanoreno project
The Thirteenth Year
i definitely played this and i have no clue what i thought of it
i think this was surprisingly decent
enjoyable but strange, things happen in the plot but the pacing is off and it doesn't feel like you're in it, setting and characters seem like someone's OC world reappropriated to fit into a VN instead of created for one and i appreciate it but it also makes the story disjointed and hard to follow. the story also seems like it's not about the romance at all but something much grander. the romance itself was a little lacklustre? tentative recommend
couldn't really get into it
War of Prayers (mobile)
pretty decent for a mobile game, got a lil attached to the guy whose route i was on
What's Your Name?
interesting and novel
really well-written if basic, got me interested in more of ebihime's VNs
good writing, bit on the short side and could do with a bit more depth. i felt the potential of the setting and story weren't fully explored.
decent art, not memorable
one of the first ever Japanese otome titles to be translated, this was really good!