By William Haderlie / December 20th, 2016
|Title||Highschool Romance Magi Trials|
|Age Rating||General Audiences|
The original Highschool Romance was released almost exactly a year before this one. It was by our own Benny, and while he wasn’t among its most ardent fans, there were things about it that he liked. I have not played the first game but as I definitely trust Benny’s taste on the relative quality, chances are that I would have felt similar. But when their new release came out, I was the one that had the time and opportunity to review it. Really the only comparison I can make between the two from an outside perspective is in the quality of the art, and immediately the sequel stands out from its predecessor in that department.
Other than the upgraded quality of the art, the most noticeable change going into the sequel is that it is no longer set in anything resembling a modern high school. This world is more like a classical fantasy setting, and the school has much more in common with Hogwarts. But to even get admitted to this school as a freshman, you have to perform well enough in a contest of magic against a Magi or Mage professor. In this world, those words are gender specific; a Magi is a female Mage. For some strange reasons Sorcerer is not gender specified to Sorceress, though. But that gender specification becomes of immediate concern because the first thing you see of the protagonist, Shaun,is him trying to perform a complex spell and it backfires, turning him into a girl. So this is a gender bending story in the long history of other visual novels such as X-Change(18+ NSFW link here).
The first game is a cross-dressing style story, so it makes a lot of sense that for their next chapter they would do a gender switch story. At first it may seem like they introduced magic to this world merely to give a realistic reason why there would be gender bending. But thankfully they don’t just stop there with the writing, and the school has a simple but decently thought out structure and purpose. Most of the comedy comes from the fact that it’s a boy stuck in a girl’s body, but only about half of the story comes from that situation. The other half comes from a young adult struggling to make it as a Mage/Magi and fulfill his long held dream at overwhelming odds. He was trying to use that illicit magic because he does not consider himself up to the task.
Magi Shira is probably the most important other character in the story. She is the instructor that does your initiation trial and decides to take you under her wing to give instruction before you do another initiation. As such, she is the route Shaun/Sophie is given to enter into the school and fulfill his dream. Shira is not all that she seems, though, and she can either become a good person to have on Sophie’s side, or things can change in a much different direction. But I won’t spoil any particular plot twists. There are 8 different endings, and most of them feature a particular large plot twist involving Magi Shira.
Charlie is really the only other major character in the story. Halfway through, you can both summon a demon named Eri but she’s not nearly as much a part of the story as Shira and Charlie. Charlie is your fellow initiate under Magi Shira’s care. You are both waiting for your next (and last) opportunity to take the entrance exam. As such, there is the normal tension between helping each other study and also having a friendly rivalry. Charlie comes off as a bit mean at first, but if you play the decisions right you can expose a soft underbelly.
The demon Eri brings up my largest complaint about this game. It immediately becomes apparent to Sophie, after she is summoned, that Eri is a succubus. While it does provide some temporary comedy that she is continually shut down in her advances towards the other two girls, that gets a little old and she feels like a one note joke that lasts too long. The major complaint that I have about this game is that they set up all these adult situations and then they absolutely do not pay them off. The gender exchange trope has been tried and tested in manga and visual novels already, but the most lewd thing you’ll have Shaun say about it is that he likes his new rack. There is no experimentation or masturbation or anything approaching that. And why even have your demon be a succubus if you are not going to use her for anything sexual? Everything about this story screams an Adult Eroge, but they made an All Ages Visual Novel and it feels incomplete and unnecessary. Not every Visual Novel needs to have adult content, even though I prefer when they do, but this feels like a half step and possibly even a story that tempts you in and doesn’t deliver the goods.
That being said, this title isn’t some sort of cynical cash grab by the developers. There is some heart in the story and it’s generally well told. Even with the 8 different endings this is a very short visual novel, and a typical run through the story will only take about an hour. There is no voice acting so you can read it at your own pace, so for some it may take them a little longer to go through the story. Even more apparent than the story is the level of detail that they put into the artwork for this game. It is still not up to the standard of a Japanese developed Visual Novel, but this is definitely one of the better looking Western Visual Novels that I’ve ever experienced. And from everything that I have seen from the first release, it looks like a lot of resources and effort were put into improving that aspect of the game. The music is pretty good, but there are really only about 4 different tracks so it lacks some variety. The story is well written, but I didn’t play the first title so I have no scale to measure whether it’s improved from the new game.
The game was fun and well written, but its brevity and the tease over any adult content made it fairly unmemorable to me. That being said, the title is only $9.99 on Steam and that makes for a very low barrier of entry. I really applaud the developer for setting a reasonable price for the product. Even if the game is short and somewhat unsatisfying, the company is making strides towards improving this series. Honestly, if they would have dropped the pretense and made this game an Eroge, they might have gotten a full 1.0 better score from me. It just always felt so incomplete to set up these pretenses and then never pay them off. So I hope that the game does enough business to fund them for their next project. Any positive growth in the Western Visual Novel market is a highly desirable thing in the eyes of this reviewer.
Review Copy Provided By The Developer
Dharker StudioHighschool RomanceHighschool Romance Magi TrialsPCSteamvisual novel