|July 12th, 2018
|Eroge Visual Novel
Content Warning: Hapymaher is an Eroge Visual Novel that is Adults Only. The review is potentially NSFW, although efforts are taken to avoid that as much as possible. But all links leading back to the official website are 18+ only. The adult sexual situations in the game are mostly vanilla in nature, but there is a route featuring incest and a really young looking (lolita) romantic character option. As such, your mileage may vary on the appropriateness of the content.
Writing a review for Hapymaher, the latest Eroge Visual Novel published by MangaGamer, represents a pretty sharp change from my most recent review. It was a full on Visual Novel, without any gameplay elements, and as such was much easier than Evenicle to complete. However, it is also much more difficult to score this title. The largest reason for that is that the experience was a bit all over the place, featuring sequences that were great, and other sequences that are much more difficult to enjoy. Overall the experience ended up being a positive one, and my score will certainly reflect that, but there are quite a few reservations I still have about recommending this title to everyone, even after I’ve unlocked all the scenes and CGs. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just… complicated.
Complicated is not always a bad thing, especially when it comes to storytelling. Most of my favorite authors, such as Joyce, Shakespeare, Mann, and Dostoyevsky, are often considered to be very complex in their writing style. I would not put this writing up there with those greats, nor should any modern authors always have to be compared to the greatest of all time. But I will say that they go out of their way in this story to obfuscate what is really going on. As such, your mileage will really vary on the quality of writing. Personally I like complicated writing when it is used to apply a greater meaning than what can be fit within a single line, when it is used to create double meanings and allegory. However, in this story the confusion is because so many of the characters are deliberately misleading, and many things are said without reference. Add on to the fact that pretty much everyone is an unreliable narrator, and you have the potential for a mess. Thankfully most of the blanks are filled in once you have seen everything in the game, but that is quite a ways down the road. Within each individual route, you will be left with a great many questions by the end. The best thing about the unreliable narrator style is that the inspirational framework of this story, Alice in Wonderland features that theme as well. So while it does not always work the best, you can see why they chose this Western tale to draw inspiration from.
According to dream researcher Beverly D’Urso:
Even though the term “lucid” means clear, lucid dreaming is more than just having a clear dream. To have a lucid dream you must know that it’s a dream while you’re dreaming. That’s it. It doesn’t require that you can control anything in your dream, though control is what beginning lucid dreamers often aim at. People get attracted to lucid dreaming because they want to be able to do things they could never do in waking reality, for example, taste fire or fly to the sun. More and more experienced lucid dreamers are realizing the benefits of lucid dreaming. You can use it to explore the boundaries of your own agency and the limits of the universe.
Lucid dreaming, and the concept of what is dreams and what is real, plays the largest part in this story. Once again, they don’t always stick the landing with the writing quality, but it does make for a fascinating premise. While more than 55% of people report having had a lucid dream in their lifetime, I’m one of the smaller 23% who has them very frequently. And much like the main character, Tohru, I usually do remember my dreams and especially the lucid ones, until I choose to forget them. As such, that portion of the narrative was very appealing to me. And in that small way, I was able to connect with the protagonist. Unfortunately, that was virtually the only way.
Looking at Tohru in the best possible light, I can say that he is somewhat of a referendum on the Beta Male protagonists that frequent Japanese media. Unfortunately, he is a referendum on that by being an extreme example of that trope. He is, of course, given several reasons for being that way that can cause some sympathy for his plight. But I think that some of that is lost in the cultural differences. I suspect that many other male Western readers of this visual novel will find him a bit insufferable. As a result, you may find yourself asking many times, “How is it that this guy has a harem of beautiful and capable women surrounding him?” In the end, there are not too many justifications given for that, other than the classic “similar individuals licking each others wounds” trope. But thankfully if you do reach the True Ending (Alice Ending #2), he has grown enough that I was able to like him. But that was after about 95% of the story was already done. I don’t want to be too negative about it, though, because ideally you do want character growth in your story. I just happen to prefer protagonists who are more likable and want them to grow before the absolute last moment.
While there is a harem of girls, there is no actual “Harem Route” in the game. You do actually have to choose who Tohru is going to romance, or no one if you want a bad ending. Like everything else about the game, the decision style is serviceable but not great. Most of the time you will have a good idea of what path a decision is going to lead you down. There are a few exceptions to this, especially when it comes to the True Ending where a decision that was always wrong before only becomes right after you have been through the first Alice route. Another aspect that is a little strange is that you have to keep on selecting that same girl multiple times throughout the game. It’s never a one decision thing. As a result save states are your friend if you are confused as to which selection leads to which girl.
You will have the choice to romance your pseudo sister Saki, your real sister Maia, your Club President Yayoi, the Principle’s niece Keiko, or Alice. With the exception of Maia, there are 4 hentai scenes for every route, but with Saki you have to go into the menu to view her final scene separately, which is a little strange. For Maia there are only 2 hentai scenes, however she does hijack a scene with Alice. Also Alice does have a bonus scene featuring someone else that you cannot individually romance. But that is not the only way her route is different from everyone else. In general each of the routes is well written and each of the girls is well realized. But I wouldn’t exactly consider any of them, other than Alice herself, to be super memorable. Certainly the gothic lolita look of Maia is appealing, but her story is rather perfunctory for some extreme narrative reasons. Unfortunately one thing that hampers their individuality is that so much of the content is repeated with each route. Saki, Maia, and Alice #1 routes are extremely tied together, and so is Yayoi with Keiko. So once you have seen the one, you have seen most of the other. That’s not a horrible thing, but it is something to be aware of when there are other titles like The Fruit of Grisaia out there where each route is extremely different.
Given the tenor of this review so far, you might be surprised that I scored this game pretty well. And a lot of that has to do with the True Ending route. I appreciate that I saved that ending until last, but I also received some hints during my first route (the Saki route) that there was a lot more than meets the eye to both Maia and Alice. However, that almost backfired as well. During a decision that makes sense in the narrative, but is frustrating in practice, you have to go through the Alice route once and receive a very abrupt and unsatisfying end before you have to go back through the story once again, with some very small differences (and one different route selection) throughout most of the story until you get to continue past the point where your game was ended. There are three reasons this changed my overall view of the game. The first is that her story ended up being the best, and she ended up being the most personally appealing girl. The second change is that Tohru actually had some real character growth that was much more profound than the previous stories. And the last reason is that it filled in some very unsatisfying gaps with the rest of the stories, especially when it comes to your sister, Maia. As a result, it bumped up my score by about 0.5 or 1.0 stars. Another interesting thing the True Ending did was form a meta-narrative around the player who is actually viewing all the previous stories. Which is a nice little touch.
One thing I particularly enjoy in Visual Novels is when they use comedy to provide a relief valve from some very serious subject matter. I especially like it when they use some good Chibi style art to convey the comedy. And this game does that very well. Not all of the comedy works well in this game, particularly when it points out how pathetic the main character is. But the deformed sequences did always work for me, and the designs were always super cute. I don’t think that I would like an entire Visual Novel that was just Chibi art. But when it’s used well, like in Hapymaher, it improves the overall experience for me. And particularly when it came to the Christmas antics in this story. Sometimes the events are just so ridiculous that this super deformed art is really the best way to convey it to the reader.
You might think that the art in this game is fantastic due to the screenshots that I have been selecting for this review. But that is done to highlight the best aspects of the art. Not all of the character designs are quite as well done, especially when it comes to their normal interactions. When they make serious effort, like the above CG, you can really see the talent and design shine. But when characters are just having a normal conversation there were definitely some corners cut. The art is never bad, it’s just inconsistent, much like the writing. And I do want to specify that it’s the actual story writing that I consider inconsistent, not the translating. MangaGamer did a good job with the localization, as always (with only a couple spelling/grammar errors). Also the voice acting was pretty good, both in the normal sequence of the story and also in the hentai scenes. The last inconsistency I will mention is the music. There are a couple songs that I really like, but other songs seemed a bit boring and were repeated way too much. 34 songs isn’t too bad (you know how many there are by the Music Gallery), but that list can seem small when they are repeated so often through several playthroughs.
Even if my complaints are varied and valid, that should not detract too much from the overall experience. Which is why I said this was such a difficult game to put a score on. The lows are pretty low, but the highs make up for them. As such, I couldn’t give this game much more than what I am scoring it, but I could see where people might end up liking it much more or much less than I did. Your first route should take you around 15 hours to finish, which is a good chunk of story. If you skip all the previously read text, you are looking at another 3-5 hours extra of story, depending on the character. As such, overall I would estimate my time spent on the game to be around 30 hours, which is certainly worth the $44.95 asking price. That is, if the story sounds appealing to you. If you enjoy Alice in Wonderland, that could be a draw. But much more than that connection is the relation between what is a dream and what is a reality, and if that philosophical question interests you, then this Visual Novel might be just what you are looking for.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher