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Japanator Doesn't Recommend: Soul Link

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Soul Link is one of the worst visual novels I've had the misfortune to play.

It exemplifies the worst attributes of the genre, and has few, if any traits of actual merit. It is a sad example of why so few gamers outside Japan even consider these types of games "games", and the reason why its players have been forced to use the very term "visual novel".

I shudder to think that a potential fan might stumble into this title as their first visual novel, or their first H-game, or their first game at all, because for what it is, it risks turning someone off playing games entirely.

If you care to read more of my reasoning, by all means scroll on. If you don't, keep in mind that I encourage you to avoid contact with Soul Link at all costs.

Soul Link (PC)
Developer: Navel
Publisher: MangaGamer

The good news, first. The inimitable Norio Wakamoto, also known as Legend of the Galactic Heroes' Reuenthal or Code Geass' Charles di Britannia, plays a sarcastic butler, and even phoning it in as he does here, he sounds pretty good.

Also, the game is relatively small in size (under 900mb), can be played from a USB stick, and did not crash my computer even once. It did not physically injure me either, so that's a plus. It managed to score an anime and manga adaptation, which would probably be less degrading to watch/read, since at least one would not have to waste energy clicking to advance dialogue. 

As for the rest of it? ugh.

The premise: Shuhei Aizawa is a young, talented soldier and protagonist sent up to the Aries space station for his first assignment. He meets up with his friends, younger brother (a junior cadet), and instructor, just before the space station is hijacked by terrorists from the Jararacas group. Using courage, guile and tactical skill, he bands together the small gang of rookie soldiers to partially repel the invaders and keep them from taking over the station entire. As the terrorists' plot goes awry and a mysterious virus is unleashed on board, Shuhei discovers that there's more to this attack than meets the eye...

The reality of this potentially gripping narrative is an hours-long slog through pointless dialogue and circular character interaction. While Shuhei proves a refreshing for being a visual novel protagonist that isn't a soulless avatar or pathetic slab of meat, the characters around him refuse to develop into even two-dimensional archetypes, contributing little to the plot besides either whining or existing as passive sounding boards for boring, needless technical exposition. Shuhei takes the lead in nearly every situation, but the people following him may as well be cardboard cutouts.

This might be the hint that the game isn't really about this all-too-perfect ubermensch of a male lead, but Soul Link drags on this would-be prologue for far too long. Players are forced to spend so much time in Shuhei's shoes that they become convinced that he is the actual hero of this story.

Worse still it's Shuhei's portion of the game that is the most irritating part to play through. Shuhei's part of the story basically boils down to his heroic defense of the station. The execution of that defense, however, exists largely as the process of choosing locations on a map to trigger events in a certain, highly specific order, to avoid one of twenty-three fatal endings.

Soul Link assumes a player's familiarity with the worst habits of veteran H-game fans, specifically the hardcore ones who absolutely have to collect every single piece of event scenario, and sadly forgets that not everyone remembers to keep track of every single decision made during a twenty-step process, all the while making those decisions with little to no feedback as to whether the path is the one "correct" path. I was eventually forced to use a guide just to pass this portion of the game, and it is just the first chapter.

To make matters worse, the game takes an abrupt about-face just as its plot descends into a mire of half-baked sci-fi horror pablum, switching off to the "true" protagonist, who is Shuhei's brother Ryota.

Unfortunately, for the last few hours of scrolling text, Ryota has proven to be the least appealing sort of H-game lead, a pathetic sack of mewling weakness. It's telling that most of the character interaction in this portion of the game consists of cast members praising the courage and skill of the (new) lead's brother.

At this point the game somehow remembers it's supposed to have romance in it and starts dusting the character cutouts with blush and squeaky expressions of restrained affection, but by this time the player has grown to wish Ryota dead or stopped caring about anyone involved in this farce.

In the end, Soul Link offers nothing of value. As a visual novel, its writing is worth less than the font it blinks onscreen in. One can't even blame MangaGamer's serviceable-but-unremarkable localization for the waste of text and time in boilerplate, disinterested narration.

It has even less to offer in terms of erotic content. Apparently concerned with being a "proper" sci-fi action/mystery/travesty, its sex scenes are inserted with the skill and subtlety of a preschooler attempting to drive a bent paperclip through a two-by-four using a sledgehammer. 

Soul Link is neither a passable story or a worthwhile sex game. Do not buy it, or even risk scrolling over its product information page at MangaGamer. Also, try not to blame them for inflicting this upon the English-speaking world. They are just publishers, and in a spare, niche-within-niche scene, it must have been tough to secure licenses for something more interesting at the time.

1 -- Epic Fail (1s are the lowest of the low. There is no potential, no skill, no depth and no talent. These games have nothing to offer the world, and will die lonely and forgotten.)

 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 


 



Filed under... #Ero Week #Japanator Recommends #top stories #Video games

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