This is a special feature here on the site where potential EVN developers come to me with their ware and I dig through it like a vulture digs through a baby deer flattened by a F-150. Either it'll sink or swim and if it swims know that doesn't mean it's a full review, but it is worth your attention and potentially investment if it is in the middle of a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. So, before we beginning, better stock up on some good old Coca-Cola. Trust me, you'll want the caffeine...LET'S GET STARTED!
She's the Devil I tells ya.
Anyway the girl dubbed Kenna (no not the amazing musician) immediately becomes the most important being EVAR because she is a human unlike the other races inhabiting the floating isles. The floating isles themselves are actually a university for the magically adept from around this world to hone their craft. Now, from a creative standpoint this leaves you with two very different starting points for a branching plot. The first would spend a great deal of time trying to explain what the Hell happened to wipe mankind off the face of this Earth. It would require introducing elements and characters slowly to set up the fact that while Kenna amnesiac, she's used to seeing people not incubi and monkey men. It slow but has a bigger reward as it puts a direct emphasis on what was billed to be the center of the story: the memories of the last known human being in existence.
And the fact that I just talked about it means that path wasn't used.
I'm not going to sugar coat this in any way: I didn't like the demo. For me, it's not what they didn't do that irks me: oh no. That's forgivable. And there isn't really anything in it that I find mind-numbingly offensive to rage at. My issues with Jacob's Island are on a genetic level that gives it an identity crisis I can't recommend. And it also marries two things that should never be married in fiction: boredom and preaching. I'm sure the makers of Jacob's Island won't like me very much after hearing that, but trust me guys: this is for your own good.
So, what do I mean by 'preaching and boredom'? I'll crack the 'preaching' walnut when I'm ready to, so shall we start with 'boredom'?
Kenna's advertised character is that of an amnesiac trying to reclaim her lost memories. 'Amnesia' can only cover so many things and here it covers a very particular thing. I'll touch on that whole 'amnesia' bit in a minute, but let's be clear that Kenna's amnesia doesn't affect her personality or her intelligence so it isn't really 'amnesia'. She already is who she 'is'; which leaves little actual room for discovery in the character sense. This shoots the intended goals of this game, the search for her memories, square in the face...while still in its infancy.
So without that aspect, we're really just supposed to kind of be in awe of how cool she is to tie together...other scenes. I promise I'm getting to it but there is a large chunk of the demo devoted to her magical training and the world this thing is taking place in and that only matters because she's this story's Sue. See, not only is she the last human, but she also has the potential to be the most powerful mage IN DA WOOOORLD! And she's just so sassy and confident, wouldn't you be tripping over yourself for some time with her just like everything else in this world with a pulse?
A: She's not 'sassy and confident', she's a brat. B: No.
To the best of my knowledge, Kenna is the closest in visual novels to a Mary Sue, which has to be some sort of accomplishment. It isn't just the fact that the story and cast revolve in her orbit, but her entire approach to her existence is dictate by whims. And I know there's been a recent movement to 'reclaim' that particular trope, but before you do consider the fact that ANY character that is so powerful they blow themselves up, is left with fatal (note: FATAL) third degree burns over the majority of their body and SURVIVES WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A SINGE...I'm going to say the trope is apt. So, being a shade away from perfect, her reaction to any given situation is 'meh'. And if you can survive DEATH ITSELF, there really aren't any stakes you can add to the game to bring in dramatic tension.
So yeah, when you strip away what the story wants us to enjoy about her, Kenna's actually pretty boring as a protagonist. This translates over to the rest of the cast who fills a particular trope and little else. Fun fact about your humble narrator: I'm actually a very big history nerd. I started studying war at a very young age and I actually get this goofy smile on my face when you start talking about the systems different cultures use to govern themselves. Do you realize what you have to do to make the mechanisms of royal succession and the tangled web of treaties boring to me? Well have it come from a bunch of characters who can talk about it from the safety of their magical Utopian University in the sky. That'll do it pretty quick. There's no weight behind the words: no evidence that their different experiences are anything but a script the cast is supposed to read from to fill some kind of depth quota which makes said histories, in the grand scheme of things, pointless.
Think I'm joking? Let's go with Kurt. Technically is name is Zex, but I called him Kurt the entire time so it just stuck with me. It doesn't help that he takes nothing seriously and is blue, but that's digging too deep into past fandoms. Anyway, apparently before his time at Utopia U, Kurt was the alpha male of his tribe: a feral group of lycanthropes who had no talent in the arcane arts except for him. In order to survive he killed his Mother who killed his Father after conceiving him and maintained his reign through a mix of sexual dominance (the EVN muddles the fact that 'sexual conquest' in the animal kingdom is quite literal) and frequent violence until he was discovered by another mage and taken to the island.
And how has his blood-soaked history affected him? Not a single freakin' bit. Until the minute he tells Kenna this, you would think he spent his entire life in the lap of freakin' luxury. And I suppose an argument can be made that after so much darkness in his life, Kurt would want to take a lighter look on things. But the fact that his experiences play no factor in his character other than to give him a backstory would be odd...if it wasn't the norm.
THAT brings me to the 'preaching' bit of this walnut. One character being completely different than their personal history suggest they would be is an anomaly. It's weird but it can be explained. But all of them? I was honestly baffled at this during the playthrough and couldn't fully wrap my mind at why this particular direction was taking if the potential of the cast, the world and the STATED THEMATIC GOALS of this story weren't going to be explored in the demo. That, to me, seemed like the main selling point if you have a goal bigger than $100. But that was ignored and considering the fact that the team also makes clear that romance isn't the goal either, you have to kind of wonder what the actual theme of this sucker really is. Of course, I soon answered my own questions and actually read the entire post the Jacob's Island team put on Kickstarter. Everything was made clear right around this point:
"We also wanted to present a world where relationships are more akin to what you see in modern society (or perhaps even in the near future). There are openly gay individuals, sexuality is not expected to be binary, and women certainly aren't expected to only marry a man and raise children. That is not to say the option does not exist, it is merely no longer the immediate expectation. "
I bet you see where this is going now, don't you? And I'm not going to spend any time on potential Arkh Project jokes or how this particular motivation in game making is rather pointless...mainly because I'm saving it for my 'Mitsumata is Dead' post in another day or two. So, short version; Aesops are crap to read. There are elements of a good story here, but despite what you may have heard it is just elements. The only thing you can really take away is not only how the creators feel about alternate lifestyles and sexual liberation once you realize the characters only actually exist to either bang each other or try to bang Kenna and Kenna only exists to be a 'strong female protagonist'...without actually being any of the above. Is there something wrong with that? No. Does that make for a good story? No.
Other than that I have little to say about the art and music. The music is nice and the art has potential. The character sprites have a stiff to them that only experience can fix but for the most part they are distinctive. Some, like Kenna and Peter, should not be seen close up though. Their facial expressions are the stuff of Scream Yourself Awake nightmares, especially Kenna's sarcastic/sardonic expression. I know what they were going for: 'sassy'. But that's not how it came out...not at all.
The background art is also a mixed bag and presents the game with its strongest and weakest feature. Taken on its own the background visuals are stunning, even unfinished. But put two or three sprites on the screen and it begins to look rough and everything begins to clash. I'm not saying chuck it, I am saying that a lot of care needs to be taken here. It can all be harmonious in the final version as long as the sprites are made with a similar color palette to their surroundings. From that point everything works together instead of making me want to poke out my eyes in agony.
So, class! What did we learn today? That Jacob's Island can be a decent project. It is severely flawed right now thanks to its narrative focus being in the wrong place, but the fun of a demo is that flaws can be pointed out by those who don't have any other investment in in that than. And speaking of investments, should you give to the Jacob's Island Kickstarter? To put it nicely? No. Hold the money and wait for news of any future demos that will address one of these issues before putting up any cash:
- Stronger focus on what the game actually says it plans to focus on: Kenna's past. This means rethinking the character of Kenna and her actions in the demo that wipes out any interests in the amnesia storyline before you even start it...and don't put her into situation she can't logically survive. MAGIC doesn't equal DEUS EX MACHINA.
- This is the horniest EVN I've played so far: demo or otherwise. I originally was going to ignore this but all the talk about sexuality reminded me of it. To give you some idea of what that means, I've actually played EVNs with sex scenes and it didn't have the amount of teenage hormone dripping off it like this did. Give everyone something (ANYTHING) other to talk about than magic, backstory or sex and maybe something more interesting will develop from them.
- If these side characters are going to have a past make it clear from the get go, not something mentioned in passing to add 'depth'.
So those are my thoughts on the Jacob's Island demo. And if you're upset by my comments, just remember - YOU ASKED FOR IT! JP3: OUT!