Monday, October 17, 2016

Illusion reaches out to English fans with Steam trial of VR Kanojo

Rapelay developer Illusion boldly promotes its upcoming virtual reality sex simulator VR Kanojo with a Steam Greenlight for the non-adult trial version.

Official English trailer

Seven years after the Rapelay scandal rocked the Western world (Wikipedia, CNN) and poisoned eroge localization efforts for years to come ("For sale in Japan only": A Japanese developer's perspective on the eroge embargo), 3D sex simulator maker Illusion is reaching out to English fans with their first dedicated virtual reality title, VR Kanojo (literally "Virtual Reality Girlfriend").


This announcement is significant on multiple levels, as indicated by the nearly 1 million views on the YouTube trailer in less than a week.
  1. Illusion, with its cult following of English modders, is finally recognizing the demand for its unique brand of highly-customizable 3D sex simulators in the West.  More announcements could soon follow.
  2. This will be one of the first (if not THE first) "hentai" games designed specifically for virtual reality, with compatibility for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets.
  3. Rapelay developer Illusion is boldly promoting its sex simulator on Steam Greenlight with a non-adult trial and feeding off the inevitable media frenzy.
Point 3 may be unintentional.  Illusion registered the game on Steam Greenlight under its own title (VRKanojo's Workshop) rather than its brand name, and did the same with the official site.  They're likely trying to distance themselves from the Rapelay connection.  Unfortunately for them, it's inescapable, and marketing a 3D sex sim on Steam Greenlight is guaranteed to generate controversy.  And indeed, it has already attracted the beady gaze of Kotaku and Destructoid, as well as more neutral sites like Anime News Network.

Illusion further discussed its plans for VR Kanojo in an interview with Japanese-language gaming site Automaton. The full 18+ version is slated for release on 2/28/17.

Description and preliminary thoughts

VR Kanojo's premise is that the player is visiting the bedroom of young girl Sakura Yuhi (likely in high school) to tutor her.  You rapidly grow close to her and she becomes your girlfriend, with all the sexual benefits that entails.  Based on available information, the entire game appears to take place in Sakura's bedroom (minus a brief prologue perhaps?).

Like its spiritual predecessor Real Kanojo (Getchu), VR Kanojo's main value will likely be as a sex sim, with limited dialogue, no real gameplay, and no plot beyond the initial premise.  I regard many of Illusion's titles as glorified tech demos rather than games, and I don't expect this one to buck the trend.

The English translation is uneven.  For most of the trailer it's close to native-level, other than a few lines of narrative that seem off.  However, the story premise as described on the official site is flagrant Engrish, likely translated by a native Japanese speaker with no experience in English writing.  The final translation will likely be lower quality than a typical fan translation, but still understandable.

But can VR Kanojo attain commercial success?

Unfortunately, despite the explosive media attention that is surely the envy of English eroge publishers, VR Kanojo is more than likely doomed to failure.  The VR-only platform requirement is going to extremely limit their audience for this particular title.  As of June 2016, the install base (registered users on Steam) for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive combined is around 150k units.  As it turns out, only extreme early adopters are willing to pay the $700 or so for the headsets, much less the extra $300 or more for the necessary GPU/hardware upgrade.  And only a very small subset of those would even be interested in a hentai game, much less one of Illusion's simple sex sims.  I doubt this title will do well in either Japan or overseas, at least while VR adoption is low.  In a Venn diagram, the overlap between eroge fans and early VR adopters is probably minimal; eroge fans tend to have less capable hardware than your typical gamer since the majority of eroge have very low system requirements.  This is basically a demographic paradox: their primary audience won't have the hardware to play their game, and the few who DO have the hardware are unlikely to be interested.

That Illusion has finally taken an interest in the English market is great news.  However, this is a terrible product to test market demand for their games.  It's almost doomed to fail due to a low install base coupled with a niche product.

  • Like this article?  Follow me on Twitter to show your support for me and stay up to date on important developments in the eroge scene.
  • Interested in 3D eroge?  Check out my Sangoku Musou review.
  • Interested in visual novels with animated ero and an immersive story to go along with it?  Check out School Days and Shiny Days.

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