Posted by: Leek | February 14, 2011

Eroge in Review: Kicking Horse Rhapsody

What? You say this constant stream of articles is suspicious? Actually it kind of is and there is a certain rhyme or reason to it. Technically, I was supposed to post a ton of articles around New Years and I made such bold claims on Twitter. The reality was, for one, I got sick. The second catch would be that after writing a host of articles, I refused to post any of them. So unless you really want to read more boring articles about boring anime then I’ll post it. But I’d rather leave such posts to people who are interested. And the other post I decided to turn into a Valentine’s Day related post. So in exchange I decided to move my schedule forward and write new posts to make up for the old ones and then ultimately do it all before Valentine’s Day. Cool story, right?

Anyhow, this time it’s a brand new type of article again. I guess the “review” part of the title isn’t really that accurate. In reality, I’m probably just going to talk about my chosen eroge. As far as critiquing each little detail of it? Probably not. I actually wanted to make a friendly reading for people who might not have played it. And for those who did, I guess you can see how I reacted to the game. So without further ado, the first part of my Valentine’s Day double feature.

Just who invented love anyway? That jerk.

For those not familiar, Kicking Horse Rhapsody (キッキングホース★ラプソディ) was an eroge released by ALcotHoneycomb (ALcotハニカム) near the end of November 2010. It was a budget eroge which basically means as a consumer you were paying about 3000 yen (very roughly $40) under regular price. If anybody is curious, the regular eroge would run you around $100 so a budget eroge is not necessarily cheap but it’s far from what you could be paying. Now I can’t say I ever play very many budget eroges. I don’t usually like most of them and many I touched were pretty big piles. So you can imagine the thrill I faced when my friends aid to give Kicking a try.

Kicking didn’t turn out to be just a surprise to me. No, it was more like winning a diamond in a UFO catcher. Regardless of it’s budget status, Kicking was easily different from my eroge experiences during the 2009 year. I mostly avoid eroges over the 2010 period because I had gotten a little jaded (the time hole being filled with Kamen Rider and Nico). But near the end of the year I figured that I would ask around and see if anything great had been released. A flock of hands pointed me in the direction of Kicking. Not only because of it’s supposed charm but the fact that I was told it would appeal very strongly to me.

Dramatization of what I looked like starting up Kicking the first day

To be honest, in Japanese it’s incredibly easy to describe most of Kicking Horse Rhapsody. It’s probably a part of the modern charm of the game. But first I should actually attempt to describe it for you as a reader. To put it frankly, Kicking is after the story of love. And no, I don’t mean that shallow depiction you’re going to see in about everything. No, I don’t mean some simple building relationship that ends with some guy confessing to a girl and then cuing the end credits. I mean actual love. And it’s not something that just covers one side. What is it that makes talking about it so uncomfortable? What is it like when all you know is from other’s experiences? How do different people treat love? And what do you do when you feel tempted to push a couple into oncoming traffic?

Kicking really gets down to oddly practical issues. From start to finish Kicking introduces you into a small set of characters. And, I mean small. The cast runs only six characters some of which you won’t even being seeing on a frequent basis. There’s your standard and ever so fabulous main character who has no real love experience aside from his personal beliefs. There’s your two friends and co-workers that embody the story of a close female friendship. Your ever lazy boss who, aside from causing trouble, seems to be hiding a lot of personal intentions and knowledge about love. Your workaholic best friend who does his best to support your endeavors with a carefree attitude. And last is the female spark for the entire game who’s personal philosophies of love begin to turn everything upside down.

From this cast alone, I’m sure I know what you’re thinking. It sounds pretty ridden with stereotypes. And maybe there was something of stereotypical behavior from the Kicking Horse cast. I guess I never really clashed with it just because the way you interact with them wasn’t the stereotypical scheme. Relationships were carefully monitored and you were always seeing people in a different light and element. It was easy to hate a character at one point but you’d quickly about face as soon as you saw them the next day doing something completely different.

A friend one day is an enemy the next…or even just an hour later.

I guess I should address some actual game related issues of Kicking. I won’t lie to you, the game is short and it feels really short. For the experienced eroge player it’ll probably even feel short for a budget game. There are only really three routes to see in the game and the main game is far from long. Not to mention the game even creates an automatic save for when you activate a route. So it’s not hard to simply trigger all the routes and then use the game’s built in option to start one up right from where it begins. Despite being a bit odd to include in the game, it was somewhat useful. It’s akin to being able to skip intro days…but more like the whole game. Oddly enough I always create saves for the start of character routes so it is nice that I can have those free…three save slots.

So doing a little math you see that there’s an obvious problem with only three routes. There are four girls in the game…so…you guessed it. For those of you who might really want to see a route for one of them may find yourself thoroughly shafted. I won’t spoil anything but nonetheless it’s a loss for everyone because all the girls are really that lovable. The worst part isn’t just a missing route though. There’s a fairly strong bias as to which characters the writers were more fond towards. The numbers look something like this:

Character A >>>>>>>>>>>>> Character B >>>>> Character C

So as you can see there is an obvious “true end” here taking the form of one character. So tough luck if you don’t like them but I’d think you criminal if you didn’t after all is said and done. It is a shame though because there is a lot of capability in both the other two routes. It’s probably the main reason to rank Kicking down by most standards just because you’ll feel a bit ripped off. Not in the sense of the entirety of the game but nobody likes seeing characters getting shafted. And we’ve seen it so many times…

Best of all, Kicking doesn’t try to purposely weigh you down with depression. Each character does have their own little back stories but it’s never meant to be the main focus. And that’s probably just another reason why I liked it. I think a lot of games have that habit of wanting to fill story route with long hoops that make you take pity on a character. Not like it’s a bad thing but you can only deal with it so much of the year. And Kicking lets you escape from that for the sake of pure love shenanigans. In fact there are those back stories but I feel like Kicking resolves them right at the beginning of most routes. So they’re only real purpose is to help understand why the character behaves a certain way in your budding relationship.

You see what you’re missing? You must want to play now.

As for some other points, eroge players might notice that Manack was the key composer behind all the music. I have to admit I wasn’t really partial towards it when I first turned the game on but it’s something that really grows on you. No, it’s nothing overly dramatic or anything to write home about but it is a cute soundtrack. The sound fits the often goofy personality of everything pretty well and it was pretty much right up Manack’s alley.

And then you get to the voicing. OH, the voicing. My first joke with the series was that ALcotHoneycomb had blown all their money to hire Tomoe Tamiya (if you know the name then you know it). And at first, I was really against hearing her voice. I honestly am not her biggest fan but it’s no doubt that she’s good at what she does. And yes, she made me fall in love with her character in Kicking. Tomoe voiced with a charm but nothing that wasn’t met by most of the other characters.

From the others girls to your best friend, the entire cast did a great job of capturing their characters. In all honesty I was amazed that it felt like Tomoe (despite her vast amounts of experience) felt just on par with everybody else. And this most definitely added to Kicking’s charm. It’s hard to say that there is any game that is horribly voiced but I could probably pull out a few good examples. But as far as Kicking goes, everybody carried their weight and did their job. And the amount of expression put into certain lines just made them all the funnier.

In case you’re curious, I guess I can discuss the actual ero part of the eroge, huh? I can’t call myself an expert but it is there and it does exist. To be honest, I felt like it made up about 50% of Character C’s route (probably why it felt so short). Just the same they’re not shoddily done and they’re probably better then many I’ve seen in high budget eroges. The other part is that they actually work. They’re not just thrown into random scenes to make it an eroge but they do make sense for once. So again Kicking is on point not in terms of quantity but most certainly with respect to quality.

So this game won’t make complete sense to future generations, who cares?

Kicking really does represent something of the modern eroge though. And by that I mean those eroges that are definitely contemporary with the time. There are jokes in Kicking or even just the style might not easily carry over by generation. That’s not to say that it’s bad by any means either and contemporary eroges like this are always some of the ones I enjoy the most. As much as I like those games that anybody can enjoy there are those that are fun just because they capture a good bit of what life is actually like.

I think, in general, Kicking covers love in a way that kind of strikes a bit at Japan’s current generation. It’s what made the scenario money and most players recognized what the game was after in an instant. There is a certain depiction of love in the generation and while it won’t be starting a love revolution it was worth a bit of good laugh and thinking time.

Something about the McDonald’s parody in Kicking was a bit more recognizable. It probably wasn’t just a standard laugh at the McDonald’s reference. It was more like, where you would be seeing some sort of family restaurant or the like, you had McDonald’s. Oddly enough it works since I’ve been far more exposed to more people talking about McDonald’s then other places. Never did I think I’d be seeing McDonald’s the new hangout in my eroges but it was definitely something that wasn’t new to me. It was oddly something of the, “We’re not going to lie about our generation.” sort of vibe that really got me. There’s that bit of honesty that kind of made it both funny and charming.

And I could go on forever with how oddly contemporary the game is. The coupon clipping, the day to day conversations, you name it. Kicking had that modern charm that I think made me really enjoy it. I could bore you with every long detail to be honest.

I have plenty to say about Kicking and it’s a game I’m not afraid to stand behind. I enjoyed it and I’d recommend the game to about any audience. If you’re looking for something different, fun, and contemporary it’s by far the best choice I could give you. It’s short and it’s a nice break from maybe the conventional things you’re used to seeing. It’s a game that’ll make you grin from ear to ear for sure and if you don’t fall in love with the cast I’d be really surprised.

I’m pretty sure the game spoiled me a bit but I think it gave me the drive to tough out more eroges in the coming year. Especially with Rewrite just a few months away.

So with that, just remember: “People who get in the way of love deserve to get kicked to death by a horse.”

At least…that’s what some offbeat game taught me.

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