How I Review EVNs
I'm not sure how 'gaming journalists' go about reviewing a game, but for me it usually consists of two playthroughs at minimum. I do this so I can gage first off just how much I enjoyed playing it (more on that later) and secondly so my critique won't be clouded by the emotions brought on by playing a new game for the first time. Before my critique begins I make a list of the parameters I judge by, make my notes and score each parameter on a five point scale. While each parameters has its own positives and negatives, I do weigh each of them differently which also effects the Final Score because visual novels aren't completely in sync with atypical console games this type of review is usually used for.
I find it pretty practical and best of all, I can show you those parameters as I define them. To break it down a bit more, I'll also be including actual notes from my most recent review - Analogue: A Hate story.
So, let's start where all reviews start:
Story - 35%
This one should be pretty obvious. Story is vital in a visual novel because, well, it's partially a novel. Yeah, I said partially but more on that later. For me to rate a Story highly, I look for some strain of uniqueness or originality. I really look for what the writers do to make there work stand out instead of just Otome Game #347,000,000,000. If the Story is still good but familiar, a VN can still get a pretty high score. But just like in everyday life, what stands out is what's different.
I rarely give 1s and 2s because, for the most part, hard work comes through and I can appreciate that if nothing else. But when I do the writing is boring, the characters are hollow or the entire project suffers from lazy direction. At that point, I as a reviewer am obligated to point out the problems in the title so that if the writer or artist decides to try again they'll know what to work on. At least, I would hope it points out things that people are willing to work on. So far, even in the bad reviews, I've seen writers and developers take some of my critique and use it. Hopefully everyone can find something to use here.
From JP's Notes: Analogue has a lot going for it. The family drama is very interesting and engaging. The characters are all well thought out and aren't solidly on one side of the moral line. Really enjoyed the Mute character: seems a bit more like a modern woman even with her reprogramming. Hyun-ae deconstructs Killer AI trope: gotta be a GLADOS joke in there somewhere. A little depressing though - definitely not the happiest set of endings. 5.
Presentation - 35%
For those just coming in, it's easy to think that when I say 'Presentation' I mean 'Artwork'. For the record, I would like to say that I don't. If I rated VNs based on the designs of characters and art alone, then everyone would have a problem. Why? Well, for the most part, English visual novels are all visually inspired by the same source: Japanese manga and animation. In my opinion there are only three artists currently active that uses that particular style and makes it unique and noteworthy: Auro-Cyanide, Doomfest and Deji-Chan. Which means unless you have one of those three on your team, there is a 99.99999999999999999999% chance that your VN will look exactly like every other English visual novel ever made.
That doesn't mean that art doesn't play a factor but that's all it is: a factor of the overall Presentation. Presentation is everything added to a VN to help convey the story: that's art, music, etc. Under this particular parameter, everyone can get a high presentation score as long as your presentation aptly tells your story. So, let's say the high bar for Presentation is Katawa Shoujo and the Jisei series. Between them, they could probably produce an animated series and there are plenty of VNs that do much less and can get the same Presentation score as them.
It's all in the production folks. The reason this is weighed just as much as the Story is because if the visuals in a Visual Novel doesn't matter then I shouldn't have to devote time to downloading and playing it. Just print it out or put it in a blog and my mind will create the Presentation. Ultimately, if you care it will come through. If not, then you shouldn't be surprised by how you get ranked here.
From JP's Notes: Very sterile look. It feels like a hospital when you're not talking to one of the AIs. Takes the loneliness theme to 11. Art is all good: familiar but good. Music is outstanding; need to look up traditional Korean music to see if it was mixed in. Sounds like it was but should probably check and make sure. 5.
Gameplay - 20%
From many of the comments I get, it is obvious that many people do not understand what game play is. Because it is often used to describe how well a First Person Shooter simulates a warzone or the puzzle mechanics in a Valve game, I suppose it can be confusing as to how it relates to a medium that in certain cases requires no direct story interaction from the player. To answer your questions, Gameplay is the technical aspect of any visual novel. How well does it load? What is my level of functionality inside of the VN? If I am given choices, how well does the mechanic for those choices work? And at the most basic level, can I stop the game without having to start over?
With visual novels the technical aspect matters because, just like with Presentation before it, if it doesn't matter to the writer then I can just read it instead of suffering through a broken program. A few bugs are understandable and can be fixed, but if you're doing a VN the absolute least you can do (in my book) is make sure that it works well.
From JP's Notes: Master Control side of the game is incredible. It'll probably throw anyone who's never dealt with DOS, but its easy to understand when you get started. Midgame event is fun for what it is. Everything else works very well: no bugs or glitches to report. 5.
Replay Value - 10%
This goes directly to the first playthrough. This is very, very simple: how much fun did I have playing this visual novel? It's has very little weight against the other parameters but its the one that most accurately gauges my emotional reaction to a VN. Ironically the other parameters come into play the most here because if the Story's boring, the Presentation is bad and the Gameplay is busted, I probably won't want to play the VN again.
From JP's Notes: Had a great afternoon playing this one. Will definitely pick it up again. 5.
Scale la Review
There are a million ways to rate any game: going from a 100 point system to a old-school, K-12 Letter system. Originally, I used a five point scale that was pretty simple all thing considered. However, as more and more EVNs came out I needed a more precise way to measure the good and the bad. THEREFORE, we have upgraded to a ten point scale!
So, what does that mean? Well let's break it down;
10 - Excellent!
9 - Great
8 - Good
7 - Decent
6 - Above Average
5 - Average
4 - Below Average
3 - Bad
2 - Awful
1 - Fail