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Deep charming characters, great dialog and full body animation !

  • Irog
  • 04/24/2020 10:14 PM
  • 721 views
Sweet Middleground 3 is a visual novel centered around the romance between Antigone and Vincent. While they help each other for a science exposition, the events force them to investigate the disappearance of Vincent's keys.

This game is part of a series of 3 games but you don't need to have played the previous ones to enjoy this one. In fact, this is the first game of the series I played and it went smoothly. The designer made sure you, the player, get the key information while not overloading you with back story and exposition dumps. For example, in the last minute before exiting Vincent's apartment, you read detailed phone call instructions on how to get to Antigone's. Then she points your attention to a map hanged next to the exit door. That map shows the town buildings with clear labels so any new player gets all the necessary navigation information to be familiar with the town; just like both characters who lived here for quite a while. All that "info for the player" has meaning in the story: the phone call involves a character unfamiliar with Antigone's place and she talks about the map out of nostalgia. Giving all the navigation information in the last minute before you're free to explore makes sure anyone, even people with a short attention span, will get to the correct place. Carpet color at the apartment entrances reinforce the other navigation aids. They are a few flashback scenes in the game but unfortunately they show images that disappear quickly without pressing any key so I didn't have enough time to read the dialog or look a them carefully.

The core of this game is of course it's very well written story, great dialog, deep charming characters and full body animation for the main characters. Facial expression combined with body language strongly conveys the emotional state of the characters and makes the scenes very dynamic. You'll see proper arm gestures, shoulder position changes, hair movement, hugs... Being a bit curious about how it was done, I looked into the game files and it contains a lot of unique drawings for all the poses, with a lot of variations for each character mood. I now understand why, in-game, the characters joked about wearing the same shirt the second day: drawing all poses is a lot of work. In the game, the unimportant characters are simple walking black and white shadows. The great sound tracks reflects the character feelings very well and the environment noises creates an immersive holistic world. This shows that the developer spent most of his efforts polishing the game core. And this wise choice really payed off.

Gameplaywise, you'll solve a few "push the clock" or "push people out of the way" puzzles. Those puzzles were added after the design of the rooms was completed. This means they have the complexity of real world every day "puzzle". They're not too easy, nor artificially difficult. They reinforce the fact that you live in a believable world. The same goes when getting groceries, it's not overly simplified (talking once to the shopkeeper and immediately receiving all the groceries on your list would feel gamey). The investigations of the night events will have you look for clues and discuss them with your detective partner. I like how this part ties investigation elements and character feelings. My favorite part is cooking a meal while analyzing clues (quite frankly I've never played that in a game).

I played the game in Linux Wine and it works great: fluid full screen animation, no bug, no crash. Making the download file a zip archive would be more convenient that a Windows unzip executable. I played the whole game in one sitting and really enjoyed it. I was able to plan the most enjoyable session for the game thanks to the very accurate estimated playtime on its game page.

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Holy shit, I'm happy to have read that. It's a surprise too, I had no idea it was coming.

Seems my shenanigans to make the game playable without having played the previous ones worked, because you describe my exact intentions. You're right about my puzzle planning intentions as well. Special thanks for talking about the soundtrack, I don't get that often; but I read the whole thing with a biiig smile, really. I'm grateful for your commitment, and glad for your enjoyment. Thanks~

As for the zip file thing, is it possible? I simply used VX Ace's built-in export.
I'm glad you found my review useful. I like to share my player feedback and my analysis of games. I tend to dig deep to find why a game experience was good or bad, especially if it can help fellow designers.

Your Maker of choice can probably export your game as a zip archive. I can't help on RM features because I've never used any RPG Maker: I build my games from a programming language.

BUT... you can make the zip file yourself after you installed 7-Zip ( https://www.7-zip.org/ ):
1) put the .exe produced by VX Ace in an empty folder
2) right click the .exe, select "7-Zip" > "Extract files..." > click "OK".
7-Zip will create a folder containing all the files your game needs to run (you can, and should, check by playing your game from that folder).
3) Right click the newly created folder and select "7-Zip" > "Add to archive...".
4) Select "zip" as Archive format and "Ultra" as Compression level (to get the best compression) and click OK.
Sounds easy enough, it's just changing folders of sort... Alright, I'll try that next time.
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