I enjoy anime and manga. I enjoy video games. I enjoy football. I enjoy critiquing and reading and writing. You know what else I enjoy? Indie adult visual novels. Not just visual novels in general, as those tend to bore me within an hour or so, but visual novels developed by aspiring game developers, with a pepper of sex to add to the appeal. You know how the saying goes: “Come for the H scenes, stay for the charmingly-inadequate or otherwise feel-good attempt at an immersive story and likable characters.” Is that really a saying at all? Or did I just make that up? One thing’s for sure, I didn’t make up the enjoyment I had playing the games available from these two fledgling visual novelists.
And as a precautionary statement, I will not be displaying said H scenes in this post.
I’ll begin with Marble Syrup, as I discovered them first a few months back. The games they have available right now are Crusoe Had It Easy, where you play as a young man stranded on a deserted island with his “hot” cousin (Marble Syrup isn’t opposed to playing with incestual storylines) and Re: Maid, a story of a young guy’s days in college. It has little to do with maids, actually. The premises may sound a bit dull, but what they make up for in unoriginal starting points is the sleekness of its design. Marble Syrup has some really good looking games. The environments are tender in their tone, the characters models transition smoothly and move just enough to evoke a feeling of realness; everything about their games feel calculated and specific. It’s hard to even consider them an indie studio, with a team so small. Their games exhibit glorious appeal through aestheticism alone. Look at the girl up there, to the left. Isn’t she adorable? She’s absolutely adorable.
However, the biggest complaint I have with Marble Syrup’s games is their writing. It’s not to the extent that their characters are unrealistic or the pacing is too poignant in either degree of speed, but I feel there are points where characters act out of their character to have sex with the player. One example of this is with Erika, the shy character in Re: Maid. She is, as I stated, shy. It’s harder for the player to have her open up to you. She’s quiet and calm, if not a little flirty when tipsy. Should the player almost outright ignore her until a certain point near the end of the game, all they would need to do is trigger a final flag in order to have sex with her. No emotional connection attached. You will achieve her ending by triggering one event, should the player manage to get there. I managed to unlock her ending by complete accident my second run through the game, and I was appalled by how abrupt it was. Not only did it make the ending feel silly seeing as I hardly interacted with her, but it tainted the image of the shy, unconfident girl that the game painted her to be. I understand that sex is the selling point here, but when trying to tell a story that allows the player to care about the people they’re having sex with, it’s a bit of a black eye.
In terms of character writing, I feel Marble Syrup does a decent enough job to hold the otherwise stagnant story steady. However, I feel their sole and shining star is the aforementioned Erika, who suffers from a lackluster ending. She effortlessly trandscends the shy, timid character into a relatable story of introverted growth. I was immediately attracted to her story more than anything, though I might have a bias based on my own innate introversion. The other romanceable character of Re: Maid, Hana, has some nice spunk, but doesn’t really have any flaws, making her seem less of a person and more of a 2D sex target. Sophie, the hot cousin from Crusoe Had It Easy, also suffers from an overall lack of personality, but at least she has some vulnerabilities to her character. Then again, that game is much shorter in total content than Re: Maid, so I can forgive it a little more for that.
Crusoe Had It Easy was the game I played first, and while I didn’t think much of it at the time, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how impressive the game was when compared to other indie visual novels/dating sims I’ve played. I don’t recall the exact date, but it was sometime before summer. Maybe around the end of April. I was immediately intrigued by both the title and the accompanying thumbnail. The intro screen and the set-up of the game felt immediately accessible and easy to handle. Everything was perfectly assigned and the options made the game all the more my speed. While I wasn’t too keen on the character interaction by the end, I ended up playing the game multiple times to satisfy my curiosity… what? I was genuinely curious about the different type of endings. Don’t look at me like that.
Marble Syrup’s replayability is another giant plus for their games. They incorporate many different endings to a single game to keep the “branchiness” of the paths open and flexible. To make this easier, they have an option where dialogue can be completely skipped unless dialogue the player has never read comes up. This is incredibly nice, as it allows the player to know that when they’re skipping dialogue, they aren’t missing any content they’ve never come across, further allowing quick runs through the game when the player just wants different endings. However, there is a slight negative to these multiple ending pathways. Marble Syrup games rely on a lot of trial and error, as some paths are only open to people willing to act outlandish in general or outright bizarre. There are some endings that need very, very specific inputs from players in order to even open up the path, which can be frustrating for people who want all the endings, but always get stuck at certain points. It’s at this point where the games start to feel incredibly grating. You messed up on one decision? Better skip dialogue and make sure, or start all over again because you’re fucked. Not literally.
I think Re: Maid, when compared to Crusoe Had It Easy, is better in terms of quality of artwork, overall immersive story, and enjoyability. One can tell that the creators had fun with Re: Maid, setting up endings that feature the player choosing to be gay (or so I’ve heard) or having the entire city be bombed, randomly. One of the casualties of said bombing is actually a cartoon-ish depiction of the writer of the game, according to the Creators’ Commentary. Good relationship the two must have. The only thing I have against it are the characters, one of whom is too perfect and the other ruined by satisfying the goal of sex. While Crusoe Had It Easy was nothing innovative with its story or characters, it never felt like things happened simply for the sake of sex or out of nowhere. For that, I can appreciate what was shown despite the small sample size. It’s decent, if not a little lacking, while Re: Maid feels rushed in its ending execution. But despite everything, Marble Syrup games can always guarantee one thing: perfected weeb design. Lovely looking anime-esque characters, like taken straight out of a big production studio, grace the roster of these games. It’s almost enough to forget about all other faults the games have. Almost.
I think I’ve waited long enough to say, but when one thinks indie adult visual novels, they expect H scenes. They expect sex. Do Marble Syrup games provide good H scenes? Yes and no. The sex in Marble Syrup games are not animated. Everything about the games are simply pictures, moved around to a degree by special effects, but nothing is ever actually animated. The pictures are top-notch, and at times better than the non-H scenes, but the most the game does to simulate the act of sex is adding thrust noises and shaking the camera to emulate impact. If you’re into that, these are the games for you. If not, don’t expect anything more. Personally, I enjoy the pictures, and appreciate the effort put into the, er, simulation, but it could definitely be more with more work. Though perhaps that would ruin the flow of the game, randomly going from slightly-moving pictures to fully-animated cutscenes. Whatever the case, for people who appreciate simplicity and making the most of their imagination, Marble Syrup’s sex scenes will definitely hold you over. Guaranteed.
I think it’s at least worth noting that Marble Syrup was caught up in some controversy some time ago. Apparently, the creator had stolen character models from an old maid visual novel to put into Re: Maid and took credit for said character models. As their popularity grew, people began to recognize the characters from the old game and called him out on it, causing a shitstorm of bad press and, uh, bad publicity(?) on reddit. (I don’t use reddit. I’m not sure how it works.) The creator has since apologized (extensively) to fans and the creator of the game old maid game, and the Creators’ Commentary mode on Re: Maid gives very specific detail about the ordeal of the event. I think the creator has good intentions, especially for one so willing to make himself look bad and own up to their mistakes, that I’d be willing to overlook it. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s really that big a deal, but I can understand art theft’s importance. Use this information as you will.
All in all, had I any financial security, I’d definitely support Marble Syrup. Their games aren’t by any means perfect, with work typically needed in the character department, but their artwork is among the best I’ve seen from indie titles, and their games are fun to read along with (no voiceovers, just text). The effort they put into their games is easy to see, and it has a great amount of charm to it. Their love of visual novels is prevalent, and above everything, I appreciate Marble Syrup for doing what they love and providing for those who love it with them.
Which leaves Paper Waifu, another up and coming studio specifying in adult visual novels. This group is a little more fresh out of water, having only one game released which isn’t actually completed yet. It’s in the alpha stages, with continuous updates being provided as they come along. Thus far, their one and only game, The Ramen Prince, is their main priority. After all, it was released only a few months ago, in June.
The Ramen Prince doesn’t have too much content to it as of now, with only one and a half routes to go down. One and a half? Yes. One girl’s route is completely done, while another girl’s route is still in development. But for what it’s shown me, it’s definitely worth checking out. With Marble Syrup, their games always look great, but lack a tad in all other regards. Paper Waifu, based on only two and a half total hours of game time from one game, beats Marble Syrup in all regards except for art and animation. In a weird twist of fate, The Ramen Prince provides all the narrative energy and character likability that Marble Syrup wishes it could provide, while also looking like a high school student’s first attempt at a game. I can’t say the storyline for The Ramen Prince is anything Emmy-worthy, but it takes the cake for being incredibly entertaining and mature. Albeit over the top, the types of stories being told thus far in this game are far more interesting than “Boy goes to college and fucks chicks.” It feels almost like a full-time drama, without a lot of the cheesy twists and turns of standard soap operas. The characters help this story along by being vibrant and ripe with potential. They feel like real people. They feel like people I would meet in real life. All of this and more makes The Ramen Prince a genuine joy to play through.
The only real downfall is the art. It’s not too appealing. It’s not all that sexy. It’s passable based on standard human make-up, but it blends a weird color palette with characters that look drawn by anime studios from the mid-80’s. I don’t mind some characters, but others look just not good. The eyes are too Shoujo. The shadowing isn’t stark enough. It feels too much like… paper. The designs are okay, specifically for Ren, the maid, but otherwise it’s forgettable. This goes double for the sex scenes.
I’ll say this first: I believe Mie, the ninja character, came after Sango, the original route available with the game’s release. Mie’s sex scene (aside from some light groping) is far better animated than any of Sango’s sex scenes. I wrote the opening sentence because I believe they had some time to put more effort into Mie’s sex scene. While better, I’d still hesitate to call the sequence “good.” It has smoother animation than any of Sango’s scenes and feels more real (by way of the positioning of characters). If I may be blunt though, Mie’s tits are weird. The other sex scenes available exclusively for Sango are all really bad. The drawings are oddly proportioned and there’s even an animated, suspended penis going in and out of her holes. I wouldn’t call it repulsive, but I was certainly not in the mood to, err, satisfy myself. For those only looking for that kind of amusement, The Ramen Prince is not going to be your calling card. It’s a game that relies on character relationships and an immersive story to hold you over.
Sexy or not, Paper Waifu seems to be perfectly capable of creating a game that is well worth a person’s time. If one were to believe in that garbage about sex being better with love, it will definitely make up for the otherwise unsatisfying display of artistic quality. It did so for me. Sango’s story is a breath of fresh air, and Mie’s is off to a good start, while Mie herself is proving to be a very likable character. Once again, had I any financial funds to spend, Paper Waifu would be a studio I whole-heartedly support, despite the lack of overall criteria.
Both of these studios have a lot to offer, and I’m excited to see any upcoming projects both Marble Syrup and Paper Waifu have to offer. Based on their Patreon page, Marble Syrup is hard at work with a few projects, while Paper Waifu still needs to complete their first game. Until that time, I can go back to Crusoe Had It Easy and try and unlock all the endings. I don’t seem to be very affectionate towards that game, for whatever reason.