Friday, October 16, 2015

[Review] Venus Blood Gaia: Taking Strategy Eroge to the Next Level


Venus Blood Gaia is a turn-based strategy erogame with deep gameplay, a surprisingly engaging story, and a healthy serving of tentacle ero and corruption.


This is a SFW mirror of the original article on LewdGamer.


Raising the bar for gameplay eroge


I recently previewed rogue-like defeat-rape RPG Kagura Douchuuki, which only days ago was Greenlit for censorship. In my preview I deemed Debonosu a third-tier gameplay eroge developer, and that raised eyebrows. If games like Kagura Douchuuki are merely "third-tier", what kind of title would get my enthusiastic stamp of approval? This review will answer that question.

Some would claim that copious amounts of ero and a worthwhile story cannot coexist. Others insist that visual novel developers dabble in gameplay at the expense of the story. Surely then a game with copious ero, a gameplay focus, and huge amounts of text would be a train wreck that would fail miserably in all areas? I'm here to tell you that they're wrong, and here is a little-known game that proves it.

Introducing Venus Blood Gaia


Venus Blood Gaia (VNDBofficial website) is the second-most recent entry in a series of turn-based strategy games from DualTail, a subsidiary of Ninetail (known for its Machina Chronicle series). The Venus Blood series combines immersive gameplay with prolific amounts of ero focused on tentacles and corruption. With each iteration comes a brand new epic storyline, new elements added to an increasingly deep and complex gameplay system, and a wonderful new cast of female heroines to defile and bend to your will. The protagonists are typically wily tacticians who win battles against far more powerful foes through careful planning and occasionally outright ruthlessness. These aren't your typical "you can do anything with the power of friendship" storylines. Most games feature a Law and a Chaos route which determines whether the hero's ultimate goal is peaceful coexistence or merciless domination, and Venus Blood Gaia is no exception.

Gaia's features include dungeon building, ~280 different unique units to breed/employ with ~100 different customizable skills and traits, epic boss battles with up to 36 units in play, 12 winnable heroines with 5-10 H-scenes each, and a dual route storyline: Law (harmony) vs. Chaos (conquest).

Venus Blood Gaia demo movie

Story


Premise: The theocratic Granreid Empire is trying to unite the continent under its banner. Their next target is the small city-state Energeia ruled by the protagonist, Teofrand, an Ether researcher. The Empire sends the Dragon Priestess Milia to subjugate the heretic nation, which has eschewed religion in the name of science. Can Teofrand beat back the superior might of the Empire with clever tactics and Ether-based technologies, or will he finally meet his end by the blade of his former friend, tasked with silencing his heresy once and for all?

Much of the game is spent hopping from region to region collecting allies while confronting the problem of the moment, whether it be Granreid aggression, the plots of a masked rival, or Godbeasts gone berserk. The storyline is surprisingly good for a game with so much sexual content, good enough that you could take out the gameplay and the ero, and it would still be an interesting read. Venus Blood Gaia's story doesn't match up to monoliths like Eushully's Ikusa Megami series, but the narrative manages to keep players engaged and wanting to know what happens next, while setting up each successive battle. While the scenario is a bit formulaic at times (every chapter boils down to two dungeon defenses followed by one offensive raid into an enemy dungeon), the situations and execution are varied enough that the experience never feels repetitive. Each character has a developed backstory and her own reasons for joining Teofrand's cause (and putting up with Teofrand's sexual deviancy). Teofrand himself has deeply personal reasons for founding city-state Energeia and rebelling against the Granreid Empire. Milia's connection to Teofrand runs especially deep, and watching their relationship unfold through flashbacks and progress through the scenario provides one of the game's more compelling story hooks.

Milia (foreground) and Teofrand's flying fortress city Energeia (background).

System


The gameplay of Gaia is similar to Venus Blood Abyss: as Teofrand you breed soldiers to defend your labyrinth from invading enemies. The labyrinth is customizable with a variety of rooms that generate resources, damage enemies, and buff your soldiers. This labyrinth is progressively developed over the course of the game; 3 floors are available at the start, with 3 more floors unlocked via construction level upgrades. Resources include gold for building rooms, ether for creating custom seeds to unlock new units, and food and magic for creating and deploying units. Units gain XP and can synergize in a variety of ways when arranged in a party; arranging units together to form cohesive teams is a core element of battle strategy. Troops are bred by combining seeds gained from defeating enemies, which can be combined in various ways to yield different troop types with custom abilities. Bred soldiers can be further customized with unique abilities by spending additional seeds. Troops can also be equipped with two pieces of equipment each for an added layer of customization.

Unique characters (heroines) are acquired as the story progresses; they can be upgraded by completing optional events. Many of the H-scenes are optional, and are obtained by training the heroines. "Call" points are spent building friendship to unlock events or training for H-scenes, each with its own gameplay incentives; splitting points results in half effectiveness. Furthermore, call point allocation forces the player to choose between building affection with the heroines (affects the ending) and Law or Chaos points (unlocks additional unit types and affects route choice), encouraging the player to choose a favorite heroine.  Based on the tally of Law and Chaos points, the story splits into two main routes in the last chapter.

Difficulty in the Venus Blood games is chosen at the start of each playthrough. The difficulty setting influences chapter clear rewards and item drops; higher difficulties give better rewards. Chapter clear rewards also scale with the number of turns required to clear the chapter objectives—faster chapter clears yield better rewards, spurring ambitious players to eliminate enemies quickly and efficiently, but allowing leeway for more casual players to get by with makeshift strategies. Easy mode has an option to auto-win battles, effectively circumventing most of the gameplay for those who prefer to focus on the story or ero. Like most gameplay eroge, increased difficulty does not unlock additional routes or events.
There is a new game+ feature which allows the player to inherit units, level, items, equipment, and a large sum of money.

Combat


Gameplay video

The gameplay in Venus Blood Gaia and Abyss incorporates dungeon building and luring enemies into traps/troops ala Dungeon Keeper. It's a strategy game with RPG elements. Six units comprise a regiment, and up to three regiments can participate in a single battle for a given side, for a total of 36 possible units in a single encounter. Once per turn the player can initiate an attack with 1-3 regiments, culminating in a manual battle where the player can designate an enemy to target and use strategy skills (if an enemy general is present, they can respond with strategy skills as well). Once this battle is resolved, invading regiments move automatically and engage in encounter battles with defending regiments, which are resolved automatically.

Dungeon screen: Defending against invaders

Combat plays out similar to Sengoku Rance overland battles, though much of the combat is automated (they're essentially stat battles). The combat is quite deep with a variety of modifiers that can give your troops an edge. Certain unit types have an inherent advantage over other unit types: for example, lancer units do increased damage vs. swordsman. The most powerful modifiers are formation and racial bonuses, which can buff multiple units at once. Many units excel in fighting particular racial types, giving them a huge bonus to damage against that particular type, which can come in handy against difficult bosses with very high defense ratings and punishing counter attacks. Heroine units are quite strong, but their main use is they can use strategy skills (consumes Force gauge) which can turn the tide of battle.

Combat screen: 3 regiments engage the Godbeast Quetzalcoatl

The Venus Blood games are nowhere near as hard as Sengoku Rance, though Gaia cranks up the difficulty a notch compared to earlier entries; some of the bosses in Normal difficulty can be quite punishing if you don't have strong units.

The Call Screen


Heroine interaction (calls) generates optional events that influence route choice and character endings. The calls come in two types: friendship and sexual training. The former unlocks events that eventually lead to one-time heroine stat upgrades. The latter unlocks H-scenes that eventually lead to powerful unit unlocks. Both types of calls unlock events that can generate Law/Chaos points, influencing route choice and unlocking units. The focus of the (mostly optional) H-scenes is corruption of heroines that you've captured, molding them into breeding machines (though practically speaking the influence on gameplay is small). Combat does not influence the H-scenes, which mostly unlock through sexual training. For the squeamish, display of sexual training events can actually be completely disabled, which is a forward-looking system innovation that could broaden the game's appeal.

Call screen showing 99 Chaos and Law points, Milia with a favorability rating of 3, a bonding rating of 56, and a sexual training rating of 75

One gripe I have with this system is that the ever-growing roster of heroines leads to an increasing number of event unlocks at the start of each successive chapter. Towards the end of the game the player ends up hammered with multiple optional H-scenes for all 6-8 heroines at the same time, which tends to screw with the pacing. This pitfall, together with a much simple combat system, actually caused me to drop Venus Blood Empire near the end of the game.

Ero


(See the LewdGamer version for visuals)

The ero in Venus Blood Gaia revolves around the breeding system. Teofrand is a biologist who specializes in creating Ether-based life forms using organic matter harvested from defeated adversaries. He processes this matter into seeds, which he implants into suitable female hosts and fertilizes in various innovative ways. Different hosts have affinities for different seed types, and sexual pleasure during conception increases the potency of the offspring. Therefore sexual training is both a hobby and an area of intense academic interest for Teofrand—and he is nothing if not devoted to his research.

Each heroine has a more or less mandatory defloration scene where Teofrand compels them to take part in his research and enlists them as breeders for his army of super soldiers. This makes many of the scenes technically rape, but the actual situations are more nuanced. Subsequent scenes are optional. While the heroines are not thrilled with this role (at least initially), they don't threaten to mutiny either. They treat Teofrand's experiments as a necessary evil, and they tolerate his lecherous nature as the price to pay for working with him.

Corruption and tentacle impregnation are the main themes of the sex scenes. Each heroine's sexual training sequence forms a self-contained storyline showing their increasing acceptance of Teofrand, his experiments, and their own sexuality. For some heroines, completing some or all of this storyline is necessary to achieve their individual endings. While the focus is tentacles and corruption, the situations are varied and imaginative as Teofand strives to guide the heroines to ever-higher heights of sexual pleasure.

In all 12 heroines can be sexed using the breeding system, with 85 H-scenes and 690 HCG, for a truly momentous amount of ero to unlock and experience. More HCG samples, along with a full list of characters, can be found on the Getchu shop page.

Overall evaluation


VNDB: 7.84/10.0 (34 votes)
EGS: 80/100 (158 votes)

Venus Blood Gaia is one of those game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The story adds more depth to the ero, as both the story scenes and H-scenes are fairly well written. The gameplay engages the player in the story. The gameplay in the newer games (i.e., Abyss and later) stands alone; you could strip out the ero and much of the story and it would still be fun to play. Likewise the story could stand alone, and even the ero-scenes alone could be cobbled together to form a decent-sized nukige with their self-contained plots. Yet the sum of all these together is what makes Venus Blood Gaia an outstanding title, and the different parts synergize to create an immensely fun tentacle ero strategy game with a story that keeps the player guessing.

Granreid general Ashe and her former subordinate Milia duel to the death

Titi is Teofrand's one and only soft spot

Venus Blood Gaia is loaded with content and is highly replayable. One playthrough could easily take 50 hours or more, and the new game+ feature along with two late-branching routes and individual endings with each heroine give players incentive to keep coming back for more. New seeds open up with successive clears, unlocking extremely powerful units that can be used to challenge increasingly harder difficulty modes. These higher difficulty modes in turn unlock increasingly rarer and more powerful item tiers, allowing the player to outfit his troops with awe-inspiring artifact-level equipment imbued with god-tier skills and abilities. A final exhibition battle with multiple super-bosses awaits the truly intrepid who manage to clear the hardest difficulty level.

Final thoughts


Venus Blood Gaia is one of those little-known gems that people tend to overlook. Everyone's heard of Eushully and Alicesoft, but I think it's time DualTail had some time in the spotlight. DualTail's Venus Blood series keeps getting better and better, and with Gaia they've hit a home run that can appeal to fans of gameplay eroge, tentacle ero, and chuuni drama alike.

I leave readers with the following words of wisdom.

Tentacles are a tool: neither good nor evil. Tentacles don't rape people. People do. And sometimes monsters.

Pros:

- Engaging main storyline that doesn't rely on saving the world through the power of friendship.
- Optional event-based storylines for each heroine, one focusing on friendship/romance, and the other focused on sexual corruption
- Deep turn-based strategy gameplay that combines dungeon defense, RPG-like unit progression and customization, resource management.
- Loaded with content that will keep players busy for 50+ hours for a single playthrough, with a high degree of replay value.


Cons:

- Barrage of optional sex scenes in late-game interferes with the pacing.
- Heavy focus on coerced sex may be a turn-off for some (and a delight for others).
- Currently only in Japanese.


Bottomline:

Venus Blood Gaia is a shining example of how story, gameplay, and ero can come together to create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

4 comments:

  1. Hi, sanahtlig. Great review. I realy hope that mangagamer or jastusa will pick this or others games from series to translate. I downloaded this game after hearing first time about it from this blog. And its a disaster to play it, when you only understand only 20% function of the game. I hope you will continue to do amazing work like this one in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! This review took a long time to write. As you discovered the gameplay is quite complex. Each game in the series builds on elements introduced earlier in previous entries, and even those who know Japanese have commented that the learning curve can be steep.

    Give Aselia the Eternal, Yumina the Ethereal, and Seinarukana a shot if you want to see more games like this. Also let JAST USA know that you're interested in titles like this.
    https://connect.jastusa.com/support/discussions/topics/5000025205

    I approached JAST about getting in touch with Ninetail, and JAST seemed receptive, so if fans so show interest games like this in English are a possibility.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Will do! I suppose you arent visiting mangagamer anymore? After they forums is back online i would like to link your review there and prach a bit, if you dont mind that is

      Delete
    2. Feel free to link the review wherever you'd like. MangaGamer has that partnership with AliceSoft so it's possible they're interested in games like this.

      Delete

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