This week on Playing Text is Deus Machina Demonbane: a Lovecraftian visual novel.
This week's game is intended for an adult audience only. If you are 18+ you can buy the game from JASTUSA and Jlist, available both as a digital download and a physical release.
Released in 2003 (2011 in North America) by Nitro+, Deus Machina Demonbane is an eroge (short for erotic game) with the sort of plot you'd only see coming out of Japan.
You play as Daijuuji Kurou, a down on his luck PI working in the city of Arkham. He's so down on his luck he goes to a local church where the local sister, Leica, feeds and lectures him in equal measure. Kurou is soon approached by Ruri Hadou of the Hadou group - the absurdly wealthy and powerful company that runs the city - to find her a Grimoire.
As luck would have it, a grimoire falls from the sky and basically right into his lap in the form of a human girl. After some shenanigans he finds out that she is Al Azif, personification of the Necronomicon: the most powerful grimoire ever made. Very quickly Kurou learns that a powerful evil has begun to move and Al Azif has chosen him to join her in fighting against it. With her magic power and the giant mech Demonbane, Kurou must overcome many obstacles in order to stop the world from being torn apart.
So where is the Lovecraft, you ask? Well, the game doesn't lay on any of it immediately it starts to seep in bit by bit until everything is absolutely saturated with it; from Shoggoths to Innsmouth, there's a whole bunch of creepy stuff in here. Really, the story of this game is pretty wild; who would've thought to pair up cute girls, giant robot and Lovecraft?
Unfortunately the game is a bit all over the place tonally; it feels like a somewhat light-hearted fantasy/scifi anime with giant robots and goofy misunderstandings but then it will rapidly change to a horror atmosphere and then back again. This kind of whiplash definitely has the potential to frustrate players who wanted one or the other.
For me I found the light-hearted bits alright but my interests were really piqued during the creepy sequences. The first moment that really creeped me out was a few chapters in when (Spoilers) one of the evil sorcerors attempts to force himself on one of the main characters and it turns out that he's an animated, rotting corpse. It quickly turns into tentacle erotica where the tentacles are intestines and an absolutely horrendous, skinless penis. (End Spoilers)
Unfortunately, I felt the plot was missing a lot of these creepy moments and was often far too light. Way more Lovecraft and less ~kawaii~ catgirls please. That said I certainly didn't dislike the game - I'd play it again - it just could have been so much more.
Moving on to the characters in the story, Demonbane is interesting in that it boasts a small group of main characters and not a lot of women to get "endings" with. Many games that feature characters you can get with at the end have rather large casts with numerous scenarios being a bit of a stretch (ie: the one who never speaks to you is interested? really?) Demonbane avoids this by having a very small pool of eligible love interests, making this aspect of the game feel much more organic story-wise.
Also because of this paring down, much of the cast gets a lot of character development. While characters have certain traits common to anime (Al Azif is very much a tsundere), they become more fleshed out during the story. Al Azif is probably the character who receives the most character development by far and is one of the more enjoyable heroines I've seen in this genre. She's adorable and spunky on one end and a magical killing machine on the other.
The art in the game is very unique, even strange at times. Characters look like they are wearing clothing made of flowing latex and their assets are usually quite visible. The strangeness carries over into the erotic sections of the game; the male characters have the most absurdly large penises I have seen in a long time and the game sometimes uses the "invisidick," which is where the penis is almost invisible in the drawing.
Between that and the creepy moments, this one isn't terribly effective for sexual purposes except for certain spots. It feels like the game uses most of the sexual elements to create a certain mood, whether it's feeling creeped out or happy. Speaking of the creepy moods, this game does indeed feature rape and near-rape situations so while these scenes do not make up a majority of the sex in the game, they are present.
I also can't forget to mention the music in the game. While there aren't tons of tracks, the ones that exist are pretty awesome and fit the situations so well, whether that be creepy as hell, a rousing fanfare or something rather goofy. There were a few times where I tried to play the game without any sound and I just couldn't do it; the music, sound effects and voice acting are integral pieces of the whole here.
Apparently the English translation was done by a fan group and then used by JASTUSA so there are a few little bugs and some typos. However, none of these issues really do much to the experience and the quality of translation itself is very high. Having suffered through some absolutely terrible translations it is always a relief to get one with actual literacy.
While it didn't really meet my expectations, the premise of the game was popular enough to spawn a sequel, an anime and a series of novels. If you don't mind the tonal shifts and aren't looking for a super creepy game, give this one a whirl.
Would you be interested in playing Deus Machina Demonbane? Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!