So I know it hasn’t been long at all, but here I return with another mecha visual novel, Demonbane! Now I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that most of you only know Demonbane through powerlevel discussions (if at all). “OMG, Demonbane is the most powerful thing ever made!” “It can beat anything in half a second without even moving a joint!” etc. And I can’t deny any of this. The franchise has some seriously overpowered things. But guess what? That’s not what makes Demonbane great. What truly makes it great is that it’s a wacky, over the top adventure reminiscent of super robot shows of old complete with an interesting (and thematic!) plot and great character interactions.
The plot of Demonbane is literally that of an old super robot show. You, the main character, team up with a girl in order to fend off the evil organization’s horde of evil mecha. Not appealing? The trick is in the execution. What I didn’t mention is that Demonbane is also set in the Cthulu mythos. So you have a bunch of wacky super robot slapstick comedy sections with Shoggoths and stuff. That doesn’t make sense? Well it actually manages to work out. I have to give the writer credit: he managed to turn the extremely serious Cthulu Mythos into a fun little universe that at the same time doesn’t lose any of its edge.
In fact, the Cthulu mythos doesn’t just appear in a few references here and there; no, Demonbane is so seeped in the Cthulu Mythos that it can legitimately call itself a Cthulu Mythos work. For instance, most of the story takes place in the city of Arkham in Massachusetts (though for all intents and purposes, it might as well be a combination of 1930’s Chicago/New York and Tokyo with magic and magiteck and other various things running around). Additionally, one chapter takes place in Innsmouth. You know, the place with the Deep Ones and Hydra and Dagon and stuff. In fact, I’m not sure how coincidental this is, but that one chapter of Demonbane reminds me of the plot of the 2005 videogame Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth quite a bit (or at the very least, some of the plot progression).
At any rate, despite being a wacky story, the game has quite a few moments of VERY chilling suspense: I found myself at the edge of my seat quite often. In general, the amount of mood whiplash is astounding, the mood whiplash itself actually being very well used. So how well is the actual plot? Well, let’s just say it uses another one of the infamous… VN mechanics (though not really through the narrative), but it manages to deal with the emotions and repercussions behind said mechanic quite well. One important theme in Demonbane is the concept of fate: more importantly, how do people deal with being fated for something. It comes off quite well, as this theme alone manages to flesh out some characters quite well. My only real complaint with the plot are the fights. Now, don’t get me wrong, I usually love VN fights. However, they’re just much too much in Demonbane. Fights in Demonbane last LONG periods of time: hell, I believe some of the fights last more than an hour of straight reading. For some people, that can get really ridiculous. Still, despite the really long and really ridiculous fights, Demonbane’s plot is solid.
Character designs are really smooth and appealing, and mechanical designs are really well done, despite being in CG for the larger models (but somehow, they still work, even if they’re a bit disorientating). Backgrounds are nice and detailed, and CGs are also pretty great (there are tons of them too!). Overall, the art is pretty good. Sound is also great. The OST is excellent, as there are a number of stylish jazz pieces that perfectly capture the essence of Arkham, in addition to off the walls wacky music that fit scenes so well, bone chilling music that is so eerie, it doesn’t need all the suspense to creep listeners out, and awesome, blood pumping battle music. Not only does it fit all the game’s various moods, it’s an outstanding OST to listen to all on its own. Voice acting is also quite great, or rather, would be if it wasn’t used so sparingly. After the first chapter, which has full voice acting, voice acting is seldom used (it only shows up in the very important scenes and the sex scenes: I know what they’re implying, yes). Still though, sound is definitely one of Demonbane’s very strong points.
Now I can’t say there’s anything special going on with the presentation. Demonbane employs a few animated videos for its special effects, but it blows all of them near the very beginning, so after about chapter four, you won’t see more than one or two later. In terms of narrative, it’s done well, but nothing earth-shattering. I found there’s a very great amount of attention paid to detail in the translation, as they (seemingly) captured the heart of many of the Cthulu Mythos phrases (such as “I’a Dagon! I’a Hydra! I’a Y’ha-nthlei!” etc.) Additionally, I found that the novel is surprisingly paced very well, as there aren’t really any long stretches of exposition or anything. Aside from these elements, Demonbane’s narrative presents nothing more than a straight-up read, but a fun read, nonetheless.
One thing I should point out is that Demonbane’s sex scenes are really, really weird (and they also drag on like the fight scenes). Though this is nothing strange for a visual novel and even for the Cthulu Mythos (as it’s one of the only American universes that has lots and lots of tentacles), be warned for when you start reading, as I don’t want you coming back to me and complaining when a personified spider god gives the main character head.
The characters vary in quality quite a bit. I don’t want to break it down too much, but while the main character is a hero of justice (who happens to be worthless at times), his constant internal struggles against the concept of fate really flesh him out as a character: he gives a really good analysis into the “fated to be a hero” role. The main villain works similarly. The main heroine is a bold, blunt, and headstrong grimoire that takes the form of a little girls. She too has her own internal struggles about being used as a weapon. They’re all done rather well. Besides on these points though, I feel like the rest of the characters aren’t as fleshed out. Some receive moderate degrees of characterization, some don’t get much or any at all, and even some of the characters who receive fleshing out aren’t necessarily relatable. Despite this, the entire cast is insane, lovable, and endearing enough to wring out quite a lot of empathy from the reader.
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