13 Sentinels

Game Info

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Review

Leading up to the release date of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, I saw a lot of enthusiasm for it online from Vanillaware fans. I’m not one of them – I played maybe 10 or 15 minutes of Dragon’s Crown, and haven’t tried any of their other titles. However, the idea of an adventure game with mecha intrigued me, and I made sure to pick 13 Sentinels up day one.

(Or visual novel with mecha. I don’t want to start an argument about genres here! I know Japan doesn’t draw a distinction between the two like the West does. But given the lack of narration, I’m going to stick with the “adventure game” term.)

The game is a hybrid of two separate modes – Destruction, a real-time strategy game, and Remembrance, an adventure game. (There’s a third mode in the menu, Analysis, but it’s effectively an in-game encyclopedia.) The player is forced to go back and forth between the two modes; progress in Remembrance is gated on progress in Destruction, and vis-versa.

Remembrance is definitely the starring role here. The game has a large main cast – thirteen high school students in 1985, pilots of giant mecha called Sentinels. How 1985 got the technology for the Sentinels is explained, but that mystery only scratches the surface of what’s going on. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk too much about the story without spoilers. But when the box calls it a “sci-fi mystery epic”, they aren’t overstating the scope of the story.

The gameplay in Remembrance is on the light side for an adventure game. There’s no pixel hunts; the only inventory you have is your Thought Cloud, a list of phrases that you’ve encountered through the story that are important. You can choose where to go, who to talk to, and what words from the Thought Cloud you need to use with them; but there’s always one right choice to continue the story, it doesn’t really have any branching.

The other gameplay mode, Destruction, is a real-time-with-pause strategy game. That is, while events occur in real time, once you select a unit the battlefield is put on hold until you finish giving them their orders. You’re only able to bring along about half of your units, so based on the enemy unit types the game warns you about, you need to select the best mix of units to bring along.

I played through the first 75% of the Destruction mode on the Normal difficulty level, before lowering it to Casual once enemy healing units were introduced. The game doesn’t punish you in any way for selecting the lower difficulty – nothing in-game is hidden that I could find, and all the trophies could still be unlocked.

I don’t know how much depth Destruction has, especially on lower difficulty levels; towards the end, with my upgraded units, I was pretty well able to steamroll the CPU. But that didn’t stop it from being fun – there’s something about repeatedly sending Super Large Missiles into enemy hordes that I find pleasing.

This is not a quick game – it took me a touch over 40 hours to complete the main story and all the unlockables, with some post-finale Destruction levels still untouched. I would guess probably two-thirds of that was in Remembrance, and the remainder in Destruction, but that’s just a guess.

Summary

Destruction alone might have made for an okay game, but Remembrance elevates 13 Sentinels to greatness. I can’t recommend this epic story highly enough. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for everybody.

Adachi and Shimamura, Vol. 2

Book Info

Adachi and Shimamura, Vol. 2
Adachi and Shimamura, Vol. 2
  • Format: light novel
  • Author: Hitoma Iruma
  • Illustrator: Non
  • Translator: Molly Lee
  • Publisher: Seven Seas

Review

It’s been several months since I read volume 1 of this series, so apologies in advance for anything I’m not remembering correctly.

Volume 2 of Adachi and Shimamura shows us Adachi trying to come to terms with being in love with Shimamura, while Shimamura continues to be blissfully ignorant.

Yashiro the alien astronaut takes a back seat this time around, only making a few cameo appearances in interludes. The focus of this volume is a Christmas outing. After Adachi invites Shimamura out, they each go shopping for a present for the other (each accompanied by one of Shimamura’s other friends from the first volume – serious Hino with Adachi, and offbeat Nagafuji with Shimamura), before we get to the outing itself. There’s no interruption from Yashiro this time; it’s just the two title characters, spending Christmas together.

Is it a date? Depends on who you ask.

The book is tough to read, in a good way; Adachi’s social awkwardness comes through very well on the page, and I very much empathize with her. She knows what she wants out of her relationship with Shimamura, but she has problems getting her feelings across. Shimamura, meanwhile, seems almost deliberately clueless of Adachi’s feelings – and when she asks Adachi outright, Adachi can’t bring herself to admit what she wants.

The series continues to feel more realistic than the other romance light novels I’ve read so far. No forceful intervention from a teacher, no uber-rich neighbor, no socialite training the protagonist for unclear reasons… just one ordinary girl trying to get across what the other one means to her, and too often failing.

Summary

If you didn’t like the first volume, this book isn’t going to change your mind. But I like seeing Adachi try to work her way through her feelings in a way that I never could, even without the same-gender complication. I want to see where this goes… and I hope neither Adachi nor Shimamura gets hurt along the way. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Who Says Warriors Can’t Be Babes? Volume 1

Book Info

Who Says Warriors Can't Be Babes? Volume 1
Who Says Warriors Can’t Be Babes? Volume 1

Review

The premise for Who Says Warriors Can’t Be Babes is remarkably simple: the main character, an incredibly strong warrior (known simply as “Warrior Woman”), joins the party of a hero who rescued her as a child. That led to her crushing on him, and doing everything she can to get strong, join his party, and win his hand. Unfortunately, she’s too good of a warrior, and the hero isn’t able to see past that and to her feminine side.

This isn’t the first manga with a similar premise – Tomo-chan is a Girl! immediately springs to mind. But where Tomo-chan was a relationship story masquerading as a four-panel gag comedy, Warriors seems to want to be a four-panel gag comedy using a more normal page layout. There’s not a lot of depth to these characters – we don’t even know any of their names, just their character classes.

Unfortunately, Warriors probably works better in its original magazine incarnation than in volume form. By the end of the tenth chapter in the volume, the repetition was starting to wear. Warrior Woman tries to attract the Hero’s eye; things go overboard; she fails in her goal. There’s no added depth to the relationship as things go on, nor do we see anything from the other character’s points of view to know how they see her.

But while I didn’t think the story lived up to its potential, the art is fantastic. We get a wide variety of facial expressions and reaction shots, giving us variety in the art even when the plot doesn’t. I also liked the lettering; I’m a sucker for a good pixel-based font, even if it’s not actually a game-like setting.

One additional note, the first chapter is significantly lewder than the rest of the volume. While some sexualized outfits show up later in the book, nothing approaches that chapter plot-wise; even the bonus chapter is tamer.

Summary

Who Says Warriors Can’t Be Babes? is an interesting idea but the execution didn’t pique my interest enough to keep me reading the series. ⭐⭐⭐

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 2

Book Info

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 2
The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 2
  • Format: light novel
  • Author: Meguru Seto
  • Illustrator: Takehana Note
  • Translator: T. Emerson
  • Adaptation: Cae Hawksmoor
  • Publisher: Seven Seas

Review

Volume two of The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter doesn’t change much from the first volume. The overall story for this volume is the first set of exams at the Hero Academy. To pass them with a high enough score to skip summer school, Noir and Emma will need to turn in 100,000 points worth of monster loot – which means slaying a dragon. But before they can do that, they need to get strong enough to take one on.

It may be just me, but it felt like the second volume toned down the lasciviousness. Noir still indulges in physical interactions with his harem women for the sake of building up his LP, but – outside of one of the bonus chapters – it felt much more perfunctory this time around; it happened but wasn’t as detailed as I remember from the first volume.

There’s not much to note in character growth in this volume. Noir and Emma’s stat numbers go up, but they don’t really learn anything new. Noir continues to put his Get Creative ability and its cohort to good use, coming up with solutions unique to each set of enemies that he faces.

Summary

Hidden Dungeon volume 2 is just as much a quick read as the first volume. While the characters are relatively static so far, as long as the Get Creative logic puzzles keep coming I’m happy to keep reading. ⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for fans of the series.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 1

Book Info

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 1
The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter, Vol. 1
  • Format: light novel
  • Author: Meguru Seto
  • Illustrator: Takehana Note
  • Translator: T. Emerson
  • Adaptation: Cae Hawksmoor
  • Publisher: Seven Seas

Review

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter‘s premise is two-fold. The first half is right there in the title – there’s a hidden dungeon, that only protagonist Noir Stardia can enter. The second half cranks the power fantasy up to 11: he has the near-unique ability to create, edit, and bestow magical skills on people and things, provided he has sufficient LP. And LP are earned from indulging his base desires.

This is not an 18+ novel, so said desires don’t go too far. Good food, hugs, kissing… nothing that requires removing or going under clothing. However, this is still probably enough to lose much of the reading audience. (The definition of LP is not given that I noticed, but I suspect it stands for “lust points”.)

The setting is a typical fantasy-world-with-a-stats-system. Noir is a member of an adventurer’s guild, as well as attending an academy for would-be heroes. In morning he attends classes with his childhood friend, Emma Brightness; in the afternoon they go on guild quests for money and rank points.

Being a fantasy light novel, Noir can’t help but acquire a harem on his adventures. He starts with Emma, but gains other members through his adventures in the book, including the guild receptionist. (And of course his little sister wants in too.)

The story arc of the first volume is about getting into the Hero Academy, and introducing his harem fellow students, as well as an elf healer who wil join him on his future quests. So far there’s not much of an overall plot to the series, beyond Noir’s classroom and adventuring life.

The unique selling point to the series isn’t the Hidden Dungeon itself; it’s Noir’s skill creation and editing abilities. He can’t just win with power; he needs to “Get Creative” in order to succeed against his foes. The limitation on requiring LP helps keep this focuses, meaning we should continue to see unique (cheap) solutions to conflicts rather than Noir just making himself overpowered.

Summary

If there’s such a thing as “wholesome ecchi”, then Hidden Dungeon is it. The setting is cliché but I liked the characters, and Noir’s editing skills keep things interesting. This is not highbrow literature in the slightest; but I thought it was a quick, enjoyable read. ⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for harem fans.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 1

Book Info

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 1
  • Format: light novel
  • Author: Inori
  • Illustrator: Hanagata
  • Translator: Jenn Yamazaki
  • Adaptation: Nibideta Sen
  • Publisher: Seven Seas

Review

Resurrection into otome games has become a hot genre recently. Most of these have the protagonist reborn as the villainess of a game they’re familiar with, trying to avoid the canonical bad end in their future. As you might be able to figure out from the title, I’m in Love with the Villainess turns things on their head. Our protagonist was reborn as the game’s commoner heroine Rae Taylor. But she still wants to avoid the bad end for the villainess, noble Claire François – so that Rae can pursue Claire romantically!

From the start, it’s made clear that Rae doesn’t really expect Claire to reciprocate. A lesbian in her original life in Japan. she had a crush on Claire from playing the game. But Rae knows what’s coming – the game is called Revolution, with everything that implies – and she wants to make sure that, no matter what happens, Claire survives and is happy, even if that means she ends up with someone other than Rae.

That doesn’t stop Rae from, ten seconds after waking up in the game world, professing her love for Claire.

And getting promptly shot down.

And enjoying it.

Rae’s masochistic tendencies are a source of comedy throughout the work. I have to admit that if I were Claire, I’d probably find Rae obnoxious. The way Rae inveigles her way into Claire’s life and employment as her maid is little short of stalking. But the problematic implications of Rae’s actions are hidden behind the comedy.

The first volume is spent introducing us to the main cast, the Academy shared between commoners and nobles that they attend, and the tension between commoners and nobles in the world. We see the tension briefly spark a flame, but nothing like the promised Revolution. In the narration, Rae uses her knowledge of the game to foreshadow that there are worse things to come in the future for our characters, promising that the series’ narrative thrust won’t give out anytime soon.

Summary

I’m in Love with the Villainess is a delightful twist on the otome villainess stories that we’ve seen in English. I don’t know if I could call it a romance novel yet, as the relationship is clearly one-sided. The novel manages to give the greater fantasy world just as much play as the romance, expanding its appeal to a wider audience. Hopefully we’ll see that continue as the series goes on. ⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for everybody.

Heroine for Hire, Volume 1

Book Info

Heroine for Hire, Volume 1
Heroine for Hire, Volume 1

Review

Heroine for Hire has an interesting premise – Shuko Kodakamine, after accidentally injuring her fellow student Masaki Serizawa by reflex, is asked by him to be come his bodyguard. He wants Shuko to protect him from himself, and his tendency to get himself in trouble when flirting with other girls at school.

Shuko is reluctant to take him up on the job offer, but after spending some more time with Masaki, is convinced to do so. Unfortunately, after setting up that premise, the remainder of the first volume doesn’t live up to its promise. The next two chapters comprising the rest of the book are a more straight-forward romance between the two main characters. The bodyguard job is more of a setup than something we see carried through the events of the book.

Summary

I enjoyed the book, but I would have liked to see less romance and more of their school life and Shuko’s bodyguarding efforts. But I like the relationship between the characters, so I’ll give it at least one more volume. ⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for romance fans.

Roll Over and Die: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with My Love and Cursed Sword! Vol. 1

Book Info

Roll Over and Die: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with My Love and Cursed Sword! Vol. 1
Roll Over and Die: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with My Love and Cursed Sword! Vol. 1

Review

As an unashamed fan of both fantasy and yuri, Roll Over and Die is squarely in my wheelhouse.

The novel manages to be an interesting mix of adhering to and rejecting fantasy light novel clichés. It starts off stereotypically: There’s a party of heroes, including sixteen-year-old protagonist Flum Apricot, who are setting out to save the world from the demon lord. The world features RPG-like stats and “save points” for teleportation. The protagonist is part of the party because prophecy demands it. Our first clue that something is different is when the protagonist turns out to be completely powerless: all her stats are zero. The second clue is when, at the end of the first chapter, her party gets rid of her by selling her into slavery.

This sets the tone for the rest of the book – this is very definitely a dark title. Slavery, of course, is its own common cliché in fantasy light novels. However, since this is not an isekai, the protagonist can be forgiven for accepting it as a normal part of the world. Fortunately, Flum is able to break herself out of slavery after picking up the eponymous cursed sword. Her captor expects it to kill her; instead, it ends up boosting her stats, to where she can free herself and another survivor, Milkit.

Milkit has been a slave her whole life; she thinks solely in terms of pleasing her master. She’s at a loss when given a chance to go free. Recognizing this, Flum decides to make herself Milkit’s new master, with the hope of being able to wean her into a more self-sufficient mindset.

Complicating this is the fact that Flum has fallen in love with Milkit. (Or perhaps just fallen in lust? The meeting-to-relationship timeframe is very quick, but perhaps not unusual for someone her age.) As you would expect from the master/slave relationship, and their short time together, their romantic relationship is hardly healthy. Fortunately Flum recognizes that, but whether they can make it healthy is yet to be seen. (Or indeed if she even wants to…)

Once together, the author again takes refuge in cliché by making Flum an adventurer in order to be able to provide for the pair. The back half of the book is focused on Flum’s second quest, and some unfortunate events that happen during it. There’s some interesting worldbuilding here, although going into detail risks spoiling the reader. Probably the best way to summarize it is that while the present doesn’t have anything worth detailing, I’m intrigued by some of the backstory and look forward to finding out more in future volumes.

Towards the end of the book, Flum encounters “ruins” that seem to be made from what would be futuristic technology to us. There’s no explanation for where they came from, or why there’s old documents there that mention Flum. There’s a visual novel series with a similar aesthetic that had an interesting backstory to explain them; I look forward to seeing where this goes in future volumes of the series.

Summary

The author says in the afterword that the book is “meant for a pretty niche audience”. I think the audience is a bit wider than they suggest; I don’t think you need to be a yuri or horror fan to enjoy the book. But the (dark) fantasy clichés are prevalent enough that if you’re not a fantasy fan already you’ll probably find it hard to get through. There’s not much romance, and what’s there is decidedly not fluffy. But I enjoyed it, and will continue reading the series. ⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for fantasy fans.

*squawk*

Hello. I found that in the COVID lockdown, I haven’t been reading nearly as many light novels/manga as I could when I was able to leave the house. So I’m starting this review blog so I have a focus for getting through my backlog. There will be a heavy focus on Japanese media – light novels, manga, and games – but expect some Western SF&F to creep into the mix as well.