Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Retro Goat Reviews- Shuffle! (The Visual Novel)

Shuffle! is a slice-of-life comedy visual novel, developed by Navel and published by MangaGamer. It’s a visual novel that’s mostly story-based, with little focus on the gameplay aspects. Keep in mind that while this review is appropriate for all ages, this game contains erotic content and is not intended for minors.
Story- 7/10
The story is pretty standard on the surface. You’re a normal guy who lives with his childhood friend, when a few new girls show up in your life. The variation is that not only is this a world where humans, Gods, and Devils all live in harmony together, the new girls are essentially the princesses of Heaven and Hell. While the premise is interesting, the game doesn’t pay too much detail to the setting. If it wasn’t for their physical traits signifying their race, you’d mostly forget that they’re not all normal people. There are some casual mentions of magic, but it’s rarely a plot point. It could have been interesting, but they preferred to focus on developing the characters. Ignoring the heroines for now, they do a decent job of giving each character their own likable personality. Each character has a variety of funny moments, and they manage to leave a memorable enough impact in their own right. The side-characters don’t have any character development, but they do a decent job of progressing the plot while keeping things humorous. The overall story can get heart wrenching at times, but it’s also really funny at times. It isn’t a black-and-white story that only appeals to a small amount of emotions, there’s definitely a decent bit of depth. Without spoiling anything, the story for each heroine will leave the player smiling at the end.
Characters- 8/10
The main heroines are, obviously, the focal point of the story. There are five heroines in total, and each has their own distinct personality. Their interactions with each other are really endearing and cute, and their interactions with the protagonist are adorable and romantic. While some heroines aren’t given as memorable story lines as others, they are all at least really likable. They’re all given decent length story modes to go through, and each story mode has a variety of emotions that they make the player feel. It’s easy to see each of the heroines charming points, though they don’t have many flaws to make them seem more realistic. While they’re all adorable and given decent enough back stories, their personalities do seem to be a bit two dimensional. That doesn’t take away from their likability, but it does leave room for improvement. For the most part though, the heroines are very cute and very sweet, and they’re great at being love interests for Shuffle!
Gameplay- 6/10
As previously stated, there isn’t a huge amount of focus on the gameplay aspects. It’s mostly used to put you on the path to your desired heroine, which is standard for visual novels. The biggest issue is how black-and-white the choices are. It spells out quite plainly which heroine you’re chasing after, which makes the game incredibly easy. While that’s fine for newcomers of the visual novel genre, it doesn’t offer a lot of variety to those that have played a larger number of visual novels in the past. The pacing for the story can also be a bit slow, and it can get repetitive to see a low amount of changes in the main story regardless of which route you’re in. It’s not necessarily bad, it can just get a bit boring when you’re playing through the game multiple times with little change until the second half of the story. The only other issue is the lack of a harem ending. While that’s normally fine, it’s heavily hinted at in this game as being a potential ending. All of the girls are fine with being a polygamous relationship with you, and polygamy being socially acceptable is even a recurring joke. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s lack of inclusion is somewhat disappointing. As for the length, Shuffle! isn’t the longest visual novel out there, but it’s also not the shortest. Each of the five routes take some time to get to the end of, but none of them are so long that they seem like they’re dragging on. The length of the game is appropriate for the amount of story it has. The gameplay isn’t the best you’ll find in a visual novel, but it’s far from unplayable. It’s simplistic and easy to get into, and it makes the story move along with a bit more ease.
Graphics- 6/10
As cute as the girls are, there is a very noticeable issue. They all have essentially the same face, and oftentimes the same body type. The only defining physical characteristics between the heroines is their hair and eye color. Even anatomically speaking, they look near identical. The face issue isn’t exclusive to the heroines either, every female in the game looks almost identical save for their hair and eyes. Thankfully the guys look different from the girls, and there is a more noticeable amount of variety in the appearances of the males. As for the CG, there is a decent amount of variety in the pictures. They rarely recycle the images, and they have enough variety per picture to keep the plot immersive. Each heroine has approximately twenty different unlockable CG scenes. With five heroines in the game to play through, they keep the CG fresh and unique for each girl. The art style isn’t all that bad, but it’s certainly not the most memorable and amazing ever put in a game.
Sounds- 8/10
The soundtrack for Shuffle! is definitely catchy and upbeat. It’s got a variety of lively tunes that will very easily get stuck in the player’s head for a long time. Again though, there’s a noticeable lack of variety in the games core songs. The most frequently repeated songs, the heroines theme songs, sound pretty similar to each other, and they’re also played constantly in comparison to the other songs on the track. While they sound fine and really are quite catchy, there was a number of decent songs on the soundtrack that aren’t played frequently at all. A lot of these songs are really nice and help set the mood for the scenes they appear, whether it be a cheery or depressing moment, and the overall soundtrack fits well with the tone Shuffle! tries to set. As for the voice acting, each character is really well done and helps make the games humor really shine. Even if you’re not fluent in Japanese, the proper emotion is very clear through the acting. The acting can make funny moments seem hysterical, and sweet moments extremely heartwarming. The music and voice acting for Shuffle! is definitely one of it’s higher points, even if the soundtrack can occasionally get repetitive. It’s all very nice, and really adds to the game’s charming nature.
Buy It?
If you’re a fan of goofy yet touching stories, Shuffle! is definitely something worth checking out. While it’s often lighthearted in nature, the story really does get pretty deep and engrossing at several points per character, and it’s definitely got an overall well done plot. Shuffle! may not be the type of game everyone can enjoy, but it’s definitely something that can be enjoyed by those who like touching and funny stories. The gameplay aspect may be on the non-existent side, but it doesn’t really take away from this games enjoyable nature. Like I said, Shuffle! may not be for everybody, but it’s one a lot of people should check out and see if they like it.
Overall, Shuffle! is a really cute and funny visual novel. While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely a good game. It can get repetitive at times, but it’s not often enough that it seriously takes away from this game’s enjoyable nature. The characters are sweet and funny, the story conveys a variety of emotions nicely, and it’s just an overall enjoyable game. Check it out if a funny story with likable characters sounds good to you.
Help support the publishers by legally purchasing the game. Visual Novels are frequently pirated, and that seriously hurts the sales. It’s always nice to show your support, and your support helps the publishers release more visual novels for you to enjoy. You can get the game from MangaGamer here.