Posted on 25 Mar 2017 by L Coulsen

School of Talent: SUZU-ROUTE

The Defence

Developer: MyDearest
Publisher: MyDearest
Genre: Adventure, Casual, Indie
Platform: Mac, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 23 Feb 2017

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD equivalent
RAM: 4 GB
HDD: 3 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Visual Novels are not, typically, the kind of thing you would expect one of our Judges to be talking about. Hell, even in Japan, where they arguably have the largest reach and most prominent level of social acceptance, they are still most firmly rooted in the niche category. Outside, in the rest of the world, they’re pretty much permanently branded with the NAG (Not A Game) moniker. But every now and then, I get a hankering for one, so today we’re taking a look at School of Talent: SUZU-ROUTE.

The Trial

Even at a glance, it’s obvious that School of Talent is very much a passion project by a small, unknown indie studio sailing on a hope and a prayer. Costing less than your typical DVD, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one going in expecting something with a lot of heart, but lacking the budget to really pull off anything particularly grandiose. Not outside of the story anyway.

And I would not be the only one to be completely and utterly wrong. Whilst the art is not something you might consider much beyond competent, coming in at about an average rating as far as production quality. It is certainly not lacking in personality, charm, or most surprisingly, variety. There are a good dozen major characters, and about as many minor ones, all with their own portraits and personalities. Significantly more than most Visual Novels even at the highest end of the budget spectrum, and hell, more than a lot of big name releases for that matter.

Well, we're off to a good start.

There are even a few little, unique flairs beyond the overall art direction that helps make the game stand out from the crowd. Simple quirk like having characters move around, stand at different distances from the camera and occasionally pan across the length of them. One instance, in particular, when one character pulled another from the room, was animated with their respective character art sticking together and sliding sideways off the screen. It’s hardly ground-breaking, but the little things like that really helped add character to the overall experience.

There were even some characters who are fully voiced, some original music and the odd incidental sound thrown in to add to the mood. The former and latter of which are still oddly missing from many a Visual Novel, much to their detriment. The voice performances are solid, and the music is never out of place, though none of it really stands out either. Which is fine, since it’s not really intended to do anything more than add a dash of life to a scene, without ever taking over.

The writing, which will ever and always be the backbone of any narrative, is where School of Talent really excels however. And a good thing too, considering this is essentially little more than eight hours of reading, with some pretty pictures in the background. You kinda’ need some good scripting to keep you engaged. The overall story is about the player character, Kotaro Sakurai, attempting to win the affection of Suzu Yuki.

It's...so...beautiful...

It takes place in a school where all the students have Talents. Supernatural abilities such as making bamboo grow instantly from the ground, controlling water, making ramen and…making all the girls in the area have a “wardrobe malfunction” so you can peek at their underwear. There’s not too much of that, ecchi, as the Japanese call it. But it is still, most certainly, coming from a Japanese cultural perspective, so there are moments. But each time it happens there’s a sense of self-referential irony which was really refreshing, and really took the edge off for a more conservative, Western audience. Some people will still be all bent out of shape about it, but that’s their problem. Both my wife and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.

Our main character, however, has no Talent, and only entered the school through winning a random lottery draw. Whilst the love interest is the school’s star pupil, and head of the opposing (rich kid) dorm. So you can imagine that achieving his goal of getting into her pants isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Spoiler (not like the title gives it away) he gets the girl. Though there are several others, along the way, one can assume will become romanceable options as MyDearest continue to win readers over with their not insignificant talents…or even Talents.

The Verdict

School of Talent really surprised me. I went in expecting a story with a lot of heart, a lot of charm, but likely held back by a lack of monetary resources. And though the latter is certainly true, you’d be hard pushed to really point out anything that gave away the low budget. Production values are consistently high, and aside from some occasional moments of questionable grammar, and the odd line that has yet to be translated, there’s really nothing the game does wrong. It’s very charming, surprisingly deep and consistently really, really funny.

Case Review

  • Animation: Though it may not seem like much, animation in Visual Novels is still quite rare, and can really add character like it does here.

  • Art Design: Every character is unique and immediately identifiable.

  • Writing: Amid the cookie cutter romance, there’s some rather deep commentary on social status and prejudice.

  • Ecchi: Some people are just prudish I guess.

  • Engrish: Really, the only complaint to be had is that some of the translation is a bit, and I do mean a tiny bit, stilted.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
Full of charm, high quality art and far more bang for your buck than you'd expect.

Evidence

  • Launcher Settings: For those unfamiliar with Visual Novels, it's literally a digital picture book. There isn't really any need for graphical options, and thus thje game has none other than a resolution option. However, there are fields for key bindings in the launcher, but they actually don't do anything. Basically, if you have a device more powerful than a watermelon, it's pretty much going to run on it.
  • In Game Options: There are several languages to choose from, as well as the usual audio sliders one would expect. The only settings of any real note are those around the mechanics of a Visual Novel, which allow you to choose between manually clicking for the next line of dialogue, or having it scroll automatically, which other options for the text speed and such.
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