Wishes in Pen: Chrysanthemums in August is an upcoming English visual novel/otome game by Lunaniere (a subsidiary of Afterthought Studios with experienced members) with assistance from Sekai Project (a visual novel publishing company). Currently they are holding a crowdfunding campaign on kickstarter to help bring this project to life on PC, Mac and mobile devices.
I was asked to review the demo that is available at itch.io as well as on their kickstarter campaign. I’ll be reviewing the Windows demo, version 1.5.0 so if there’s any complaints or bugs they might mostly be linked to that version. This review will kind of act like some form of feedback and thoughts for the team as well as helping spread awareness of it, just to be clear.
The story follows the heroine (you can choose her name and her appearance between 3 heroine designs) who works as a fashion designer. She ends up in Kyoto for business purposes and after having been chewed out by her boss she starts to question her purpose in life.
In order to relieve stress, she decides to go bar-hopping with her close friend Chie where she spies a mysterious bar that seems to beckon her. In the bar they meet a handsome but peculiar bartender who asks the heroine if she wanted to live another life after she spills all her worries to him (drunkenly).
After having too much to drink she passes out and the next day she finds herself in 19th Century Japan where Kyoto is the capital and the Shogunate are planning their uprising against Emperor Meiji.
Due to a misunderstanding the heroine is taken in by Emperor Meiji and his men under the assumption that she is a “seer” that ‘predicted’ a battle that has not occurred yet. Hoping that if she plays along she can find a way to go back to her time, she tries to keep up the facade of a seer…
Overall I enjoyed playing the demo. It was easy to read where I didn’t stop reading because of weird story inconsistencies or strange character motivations, a problem I would come upon with a couple of visual novels.
The character having a bit of knowledge about history but not too much of a history buff helps the story as well as the reader who may not know a lot about Japanese history. I also found it a bit funny how some of her knowledge stems from a video game she played called “Historuoki”, which I’m guessing is a reference to Hakuouki 😆 I think I wrote something in my Sengoku Night Blood review how it would’ve been more fun if the heroine was a history buff so she was given something interesting to do within the story of Sengoku Night Blood rather than being a doormat/bloodbank, so it’s nice to see in this game (even though its a demo right now) that the plot turns upside down because of the heroine’s knowledge of the future and I think its neat. A lot of time-slip otome games usually don’t touch on the fact that the heroine is from the future and could use her future knowledge as something that may affect the story or her interactions, they just make her assimilate to the century she is in as soon as possible lol.
I really like the heroine because she seems relatable and realistic in a way that she’s struggling with the most common problem some (if not most) people face when they become an adult: finding meaning or purpose in your life as well as worrying whether or not you’re being the best you can be. This is something I’m struggling with too and it’s something interesting to see explored. Though I can see this being more of a thing someone would experience when in a office cubicle job, but having her being in a job that requires creativity works well too. A lot of artists can be in slumps or have permanent blocks and that’s a struggle too.
Despite having the demo focusing only on the prologue it felt like it was suffice for being a common route where at the end of the demo you can have where your guy routes. It was a good amount of introduction of plot and characters and it didn’t seem to drag on for too long.
They say the end product will be 40 hours of length, which might be trouble for me because I’m a slow reader with a short attention span but I think others may like this kind of length. There’s also going to be multiple endings per guy (2-3 endings each) which is aight, kinda makes worry a bit for the writer having to write all variants and for the programmer to make sure every choice works perfectly but hopefully they can handle it.
By the end of the day I had fun with the demo. I find myself chuckling a couple of times and it was just a good read. I’d like to read more of it and see how things go from where the demo left off.
Another thing that helped made this demo so enjoyable were the graphics. The backgrounds are gorgeous, I love the use of blue shades (I’m a sucker for the color blue) and look like they’re at a professional level. The character designs aren’t too stylised and kind of reminds me of Ikemen Sengoku or some other art style that I just can’t put my finger on but it’s nagging at the back of my mind like I should know what it reminds me of. Also I got my eyes on Bartender-kun 👀 If he has a sprite he’s bound to be important.
The UI/GUI needs a little bit more polishing up. Though this is a demo so maybe it’s not final, but there are a few UI/GUI stuff that are leftover from Ren’py’s default UI which is ok, no need to worry about that now. The one thing I worry about is the mobile UI may be hard to tap on especially with small screen mobile devices.
The characters being animated (through Live2D I’d imagine) is good, its nice to see everyone moving, blinking and breathing The animated backgrounds are a nice touch, however there is a detriment to having these animations in the game. I’m sorry if I’m going to rip this apart or anything but with some of the animated backgrounds particularly with the shrine during tanabata you can notice some video compression artefacts going on with the background which is a bit of a shame when the still version of the backgrounds are very beautiful.
Left: Animated Background (screenshot) | Right: Still Background
This is more notable on bigger screens but when you’re on mobile you probably won’t notice the compression. There is also a problem where parts of the background, particularly the lines of objects would look like they’re vibrating or something when they’re meant to be static.
Another problem I happened upon is when there are 4 video/animated things are on screen my game would crash or close by itself. It seems like if I have 3 animated character sprites and animated background is turned on it would close on me, I’m not sure if this is because of my computer (which I just got months ago) or if its Ren’py not being able to handle that much amount of videos/animations on screen or something. My low end mobile phone seems to lag when animation is turned on too. This crash also happens if the animated background is turned off but the heroine sprite animation is turned on, here’s an example situation where my game crashed: heroine is animated and there are 2 animated guys on screen. Then a 3rd animated guy comes on screen and the seconds he appears the game closes on me. I tried this again but having the heroine animation turned off and it worked well. So the max amount of videos/animations on screen is 3 at once, if a 4th one appears then the game would freeze then crash on me. Again, this might be just my machine but if this happened to others then maybe it’s Ren’py or something. The game wasn’t lagging for me when on my computer when there were 3 animated things on screen so it makes me curious about whats going on 🤔
Either way I prefer having the heroine a static sprite because I can see her expressions better, because sometimes with the animation turned on I only see a glimpse of her expression and then she goes back to neutral so it kinda looks weird depending on the situation.
Music is nice, it’s not too distracting and it’s not too bland. It can set the mood perfectly and easy to listen to so I don’t really have any complaints about it.
Here are a few suggestions for the team (if they’re reading this :lol:). I’m sorry if I sound demanding or anything.
■ There needs to be a “Return to Title/Main Menu” button when the reader is in the visual novel part. I usually find myself using the return to main menu button to check which CGs I unlocked and/or go to chapter selection if the game had one
■ I’m not sure if there is an auto button in the textbox menu, there’s an auto slider but I have no idea how to trigger auto (I found this the hard way when I wanted to eat lunch while reading the visual novel haha). If there’s a hotkey to activate it or something it would help if there was either a readme file or diagram in the game for keyboard shortcuts
■ Speaking of shortcuts, the Esc key opens up the save menu. I kept finding myself pressing the Esc key for either a return to main menu or to escape widescreen mode
■ It might help if the mobile version has its own UI, for example have a menu button in the top right corner and by pressing that you can open up larger icons of options, skip, auto, save/load etc that overlays the screen so its easier to tap on them (but its up to you)
■ With the animated backgrounds, it might help preserve the quality of the backgrounds by having the non animated parts to be one whole background (excluding the parts that should be animated) and then have the animated parts either layered above or below the still background depending on the situation. For example if you have a moving sky you could have the everything but the sky as a still image and then the sky as a video file that is layered below the still background which will have transparency where the sky should be… if that makes sense, so if the animated parts were a video file the compression won’t affect the whole background… though I don’t know for sure if this would work better or if this technique is already being used in the game.
■ It would be nice to have an option to toggle off other character animations for those who have low end mobile devices or low end computers/laptops
■ This isn’t something urgent or anything but it feels like the character sprites need to be moved up just a bit considering how much space/real estate there is above the characters, but either way it’s not a game breaker thing
■ For the kickstarter it would help to show a draft or a rough of what the keychain pledge reward would look like, because I’m not sure if the keychain would be a full body character sprite or a cute chibi SD character so it’d be helpful for people to visualise what bonus rewards they’re getting
I’d like to play a full version of this game but that may not be possible if the crowdfunding isn’t successful 😂 Some of the routes seem promising, especially Koji the stoic that’s secretly a softie and Haru the cute bab. I’d like to see more of Toranosuke’s cocky attitude and snide remarks, but I’d also like to see how he reacts to heroine further into the route, like would he be more soft or just tease her playfully because I’m weak to either one lol. Also Bartender-kun 😩 I’m hoping he’s a secret character or something.
The game doesn’t have voice acting or I hope they don’t plan for voice acting because sometimes my ears can’t stand hearing amateur voice acting (I’m sorry).
If you’re interested in checking out the demo you can download it yourself, I’ll post the link for their itch.io page again.
So far they’ve raised about $5,177 (Singapore dollars) out of $16,500 goal with about 24 days to go. If you’re financially stable or have some money to spare and would like to support, a lot can go a long way. Thankfully the conversion rate of Singapore dollars and Australian dollars is almost 1:1 so I’m thinking of helping out. Just keep in mind that crowdfunding can be a bit risky, but if you feel like you can take a risk without having regrets then go ahead. Here’s the kickstarter link once again if you can’t be bothered scrolling back up to the start of the post.
Anyway, that’s about it. Thank you for reading!