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Where are you, Conor?

  • calunio
  • 09/19/2011 03:07 AM

a. There's a tradition in writing reviews that do not spoil important aspects of the game, and the price paid is that they usually avoid commenting on what's more interesting and relevant about it. I wish reviews would have more freedom to discuss important aspects of games. Thus, I may carelessly spoil a lot here.

b. One of the trickiest things about writing reviews is translating the impression a game provokes into words. Is to accurately detect those aspects of game design that make us like, dislike, or get weirded out by the game. I just want to acknowledge that, but I'll to my best to decipher this game here.

So... I'm scared of girls.

This is a game about a crossdresser who has died and gets thrown in a surreal limbo to reminisce his life. It is an entry to RMN's Summer Games - Theme: Surrealism. It is also heavily inspired on Yume Nikki, but still much too different to be considered a clone.

I'm scared of girls is basically an exploration game. Gameplay consists of walking through strange, sometimes randomly-generated, surreal maps, fighting generic monsters and having short textual flashbacks about your former life. As weird as this game may look, it is refreshingly pretty straightforward. Game dynamics can be synthesized as:

. Start by the TV monitor.
. Walk, explore.
. Fight blue monsters.
. Find red gems.
. Get a flashback text.
. Go back to TV monitor.

There are about 15 red gems to find, and this cycle will repeat until you reach the last part of the game.

Walk, explore
Though you may initially have this impression, maps in this game are not really mazy. There are three entrances from the initial map, and each of them leads to a set path, which may branch a little. This branching may get you lost, but only until you get used to exploring, which shouldn't take long. There are some areas that can be accessed from many places, and the "wasn't I here before?" feeling may also make you feel lost. Thankfully maps are small, walking speed is fine, battles are mostly avoidable, graphics are interesting and music is pleasing, so you should be fine.
It does get trickier once you've found most of the red gems, and there are only one or two left. Not knowing where they are may be frustrating, since there is so much area to cover. There are also quite a bit pointless empty maps. I mean, they aren't really pointless because they look interesting, but some areas in the game look different enough to make you think they're special places, but in reality there's nothing to them.

Fight blue monsters
Battles in this game are quite horrible, but at the same time I'm not sure I would take them off. Monsters are all blue shapes with red eyes, and all of them (with very few exceptions) will die in one hit. You hit them by touching them from the sides (no need to press buttons). If you touch them from up or down, you get hit. Even if you touch them from the sides, there's a chance you will get hit. So there's a huge luck factor in battles, no matter how agile you are, you'll get hit often. Getting hit decreases your HP. On most areas, finding hearts to recover your HP is easy enough. There are no items (kinda), no stats, no leveling up. The only reason to kill monsters is to clear the way, and you have to kill at least one monster each map to open the path to the next room. Overall battles are not really the strong point of this game, but they're easy enough, and taking them off would probably make the game more boring. Cause it would just be walking.
I'll admit, one trick I used a lot was saving, attacking and enemy, and loading if I got hurt... especially on the ending bits, when my character HP was low. Saving anywhere was definitely a wise design choice.

Find red gems - flashbacks
You will find red gems in some maps. When you touch them, you're transported to a shrine with a red cord. When you cut the red cord, there's a text-only flashback of the main character's former life. Lamb (that's his name!) is a young kid who likes to dress as a girl. He's got quite a complicated life. The flashbacks don't come in chronological order, but it doesn't make much difference. They're usually understandable (as opposed to nonsensical), and they constitute the most important flavor of the game to me. The crosdresser thoughts are very believable. Lamb describes her past in a pretty cool, almost emotionless tone, but still in a very intimate way. Even if only described in short text bits, Lamb is presented as a very interesting character.

Go back to TV monitor
Whenever you get a flashback, you're sent to the very beginning of the game. That's annoying. But you'll get used to it, and it will help you not getting lost.

Graphically, this game is very interesting. The style is very unique, and though most objects don't make sense, the game's visual setting is quite solid and consistent. Though every area in the game is functionally identical, you always feel like you're navigating in something grand, in a world that stands on its own, in a world worth exploring. That's one of the game's strong points.

Music in I'm Scared of Girls is also wonderful. There are not many different tunes, but they're nice, fitting and catchy. Same for sound effects.

There are a few bugs in this game, nothing major.

For a while, I was in love with this game. Charming character in a charming world within friendly game mechanics. I fell out of love immediately after I finished it. Like after flirting a girl for too long, the sex is disappointing. The game has some quite serious flaws. And here they are:

There are things in the game that look pointless, but in reality they lost their point because there was no time to make a point in them. Yes, deadline etc, etc. For example, Lamb can change her outfit to a gray mode, a prisoner mode, or a princess mode. Visually interesting. Functionally pointless. There are also many maps that stand out to the rest of the game, like the torture room. But they're just dead-ends. Also, there's a store in the game that sells you stuff. You even collect money during the game. But as far as I can tell, all items are useless.

Superficial symbolism
Though the world of I'm Scared of Girls is indeed surreal and trippy, there's no clear (or maybe even remote) connection between what's there and Lamb's personality. Lamb is boy who thinks of himself as a girl and has acceptance issues. You will know that by cutting red cords. But the maps, the monsters, the TV references and the objects in the game don't really reflect any of that. They're just weird. Or maybe I'm just missing something, which is very likely.

Dull ending
Once you reach the final red cord, you get to the ending area. In there, you'll fight tougher monsters. I mean, REALLY tougher. Having used the save/load trick many many times, I'm not sure what happens if I die. Hopefully not a do-over, because these final areas are incredibly difficult. In the last map, there are 4 TV monitors which you have to kill to finish the game. Each of them will tell you something that I'm not really sure what to make of. And then, fin. Climax building with no climax, no sorts of story conclusion, no closures, only a progression of harder battles.

Still, I'm very impressed by this game. Despite said incompletion issues, it looks polished, well thought-out, and clever. It's a fresh concept presented in an appealing and easing way. I got a strong sense of immersion all the time. But the enchantment was broken by an ending so misplaced that it seemed like it was made from someone else other than the game's creator.

I'm scared of Girls x Yume Nikki

Hard not to compare. But I'll give victory to this game, because:
. Lamb is more interesting than Madotsuki. YM's character never talks, she just walks and dreams. Her dreams are so varied that you never really know who she is (other than crazy). Lamb is more solid, more human, just better.
. Stronger sense of progression. I played YM for about 1h, and I never felt like I was getting anywhere.
. Battles. Yes. Even bad battles are better than just walking, especially when they're not frustrating.

Final Words
This game was bound to become a favorite. I was already planning on writing to some indie game blogs saying "check this out". More than a good RPG Maker game, this is a good game, a game I found myself wanting to play more, not just because I was a judge to the contest. But all the excitement faded away when I finished it. To be honest, it's not like it made it a worse game. In my mind, I somehow erased the last parts of it and kept its development, the sense of intriguing and curiosity. As if I took its whole body and chopped off its ugly member. It looks better to me this way, but it will never stop bleeding.


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Wow! What a nice review!
Thanks Calunio!

I felt like I owe some sort of commentary about some of the negative elements in the game, with the exception of the battle system.
I'll admit that the time constraints became almost too gripping to think straight because I wanted something done desperately- so many, many things in the game was cut and otherwise obliterated. Fragments of course still exist.
This does include the ending, actually lack of one, which embarrassingly enough I actually forgot about until the day before the contest ended- so I just put a credits roll in and hoped for the best. So perhaps in a way, the game just stopped. And when it comes to a stop so abruptly after such a dramatic and hard situation, it leaves a gapping expansive yearning for true completion and resolution. Actually, it was just a douche move.
One thing said in the comments for this game comes to mind regarding the ending:'I got the impression that I did something wrong.'
When additional fixes for this are being made, I'll be taking into consideration the battle system, additional elements, and the lack of a proper ending.
I think you should definitely release another version of this game fixing some things, but just be very careful about not fixing what doesn't need to be fixed. For one, I wouldn't change the combat (really, I wouldn't). Just add a proper ending and make some use for those visual modes (gray, prisoner, etc.). Too much accessorizing may make it unrecognizable.

Btw, I really liked this game.
Hm, you have a good point there!
I'll work on putting together a expanded patch for this game working along those lines.
I just replayed the game... played the newer version, that is.
My memory about the first I played may fail a little, but here are my impressions:

It was much more coherent. I didn't get lost at all, I knew which monster I had to beat in order to progress (usually the onle singled out), doing and taking damage had visual indicators, outfits made a difference (though it's still not clear which).

The story felt different at points, but you said you didn't change anything, so I'll believe.

I noticed a big difference with the ending. Well, it felt more like an actual ending, but I didn't really get it. That was Conor, I guess? I also noticed you removed the ending parts from the previous version (like battling Conor). That was a strange choice, but I guess you know what you're doing.

So, what else have you been working on?

By the way, it's so strange that there is no other review for this game.
Thanks for replaying the game by the way!
Hope the improvements were improvements, but if not there is still the old version- it's a different experience but that's why it's up here with the new one.
Endings: I try to figure out how I'd make it at certain points, so since i worked on it with a couple of months or a one to rest I sort of just came to it with different feelings.

I've actually been working on several projects, mostly adventure games similar to this one but nothing finished or concrete like this one. I do however have a few other finished games that I might try to upload here and see what happens.

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