Airis, by Ebullience Games
From time to time I review games here , and to a great extent this game fits within the confines of the sort of games it falls to my lot to play and review. In this case, before we review the game proper it is worthwhile to point out that this game is touted as an example of an otome game. For those who do not know, an otome game is one that is aimed at a female audience, and usually in the games a major element of the gameplay is setting up a romance between the main character and one or more characters. Although otome games are somewhat rare in comparison with other types of games, the concept is not entirely an unusual one. In playing this game I was reminded of the otome elements of one of my favorite games, Final Fantasy VII, where the decisions along the way influenced which character the main one (Cloud) would end up having a date with, and like that justly praised classic this game is nonbinary in that the choice of a romantic partner for the main character is not strictly male or female but involves other options as well.
The gameplay of this particular game is rather simple. In Airis, you play as Aliya, a young woman devoted to protecting her world Airis from various threats. Unfortunately, she finds herself losing consciousness frequently and forgetting what she was doing, which then leads her into intrigues involving her adorable and loyal bear, a handsome and mysterious stranger, and a fellow female warrior with blackouts. The gameplay itself is fairly simple and straightforward, a graphical novel with about 70 meaningful choices, but the sounds and graphics are beautiful and lush, and if the expressions are a bit over-the-top sometimes, this is certainly a worthy winner of the NaNoWriMo competition in that the graphic novel was written for that monthly competition I sometimes participate in. The story is a genuinely interesting one, and those who like entertaining games that involve meaningful decisions and fairly flexible dating options will find much to appreciate and enjoy here. This is admittedly not a genre I am all that familiar with but as I review plenty of books written for a female audience I suppose it is not too unexpected to review games directed at a similar audience of love-starved women.
That said, the game is worthy of at least some commentary and criticism. A great deal of the game’s praise, at least on the online community, is the way that the action of the gameplay goes out of its way to make its heroine the sort of person who can fall in love widely. The protagonist is a woman whose love and compassion and affection are not bounded by her own limitations but rather the fact that she can only do one thing at a time and the gameplay presents her with far more possibilities than can be pursued in a single runthrough. This forces a fair bit of repetition to those who want to see her explore other options. The other element of the game I found at least mildly frustrating was the fact that this game follows a recent trend I have noticed in making the player of the game feel bad–in this case, the game puts the blame on the player(s) for having caused the blackouts of the protagonist and others that forms so much of the driving force of the plot. I am not sure why this focus on making gamers feel bad while they play games is an aspect of so much of contemporary gaming, but it appears as if breaking the fourth wall and implicitly criticizing the player for their choice of entertainment is one of the more irksome and hypocritical aspects of contemporary game design. At least Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey had the sense and charity to defend female novel readers and in Persuasion defend women for having finally gotten the pen in their hand to tell their own stories and their own side of the story, a charity the makers of this game would have done well to emulate.
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