Parfait

318

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Intro:

Parfait is a 2005 maid café romantic comedy from Giga. It’s written by Maruto Fumiaki, the scenario writer responsible for White Album 2 and Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo, among many other eroge.

Story: 8/10

Parfait concerns the efforts of its protagonist, Takamura Hitoshi, to revive a café (maybe not so much of a “maid” café as some of the purer maid cafés) that his late brother built for his (Hitoshi’s) pâtissière adopted-sister/sister-in-law—yeah, it’s complicated. The café, Famille, shut down six months prior to the opening of the game for reasons that are initially unclear.

The organization of Parfait’s story is very similar to that of another Giga-Maruto game: Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo. After the prologue the reader goes through a series of scene selections rather than traditional choices. The selected scenes are the vast bulk of the common route. At times there is only one scene to choose and even less often the game proceeds into a scene that isn’t selected at all. These mandatory scenes make up the sparse connective tissue of the narrative after the prologue, and they do a rather poor job of it. There is a definite sense of disjointedness and the common route seems to have little plot of its own, other than the vague direction of the characters trying to ensure Famille’s success. In a particularly grievous example of how this system fails, there is a love triangle (one of two in the game) that a reader wouldn’t even be aware of if they didn’t choose the right scenes, so you can end up on a route where suddenly one heroine is jealous of another heroine that the protagonist has hardly spoken to but who suddenly shoves themselves into the story as though they were there the whole time. It feels incredibly unnatural.

What the common route, through its bombardment of unconnected scenes, does manage to accomplish, however, is a strong sense of comraderie among the characters. Everyone is working hard to make Famille a success and they care about each other just as much. It’s a similar heartwarming atmosphere to the dorm in Konnyaku, the house in Kazokei, etc. etc. Though really these are a couple of the only examples of this dynamic I can think of in eroge, so I think it can definitely serve as a selling point for Parfait. The common route (and bits of the character routes) also sketches out the backstory of Famille and Hitoshi’s complicated family history, though much, including key details, is left opaque until clearing both the Ema and Rikako routes. But for some reason, despite the story fleshing out a backstory it feels kinda shallow.

Other elements of Parfait’s story are comedy, romance, and drama. None of these are done exceptionally well. With a few exceptions they’re quite average. Maruto is, as always, refreshing in his structuring of scenes and his upending of clichés, yet for all of that the comedy in this game is frustratingly cliché. Most of the jokes you have probably seen several times before. There isn’t much to say about the romance. It’s serviceable in most of the routes, sometimes less than. A real problem in this area is how short the routes are, with three ero scenes a piece taking up much of that precious time, so the romance doesn’t really have much time to develop.

The drama is both worse and better than the comedy-romance, depending on the route. For the most part this game seems allergic to drama. Again, the routes are short and don’t get much of a chance to develop a good route-specific drama (and the common route has no drama of its own). But even situations that would seem to necessitate drama, such as when Hitoshi begins dating the high schooler who works at his café and who he also tutors, are handled in such a way that the drama is skirted around or glossed over. The dramatic focus chosen for most of the routes is weak and uninteresting, even when the circumstances present opportunities for more compelling and natural conflict. These dramas are then resolved easily, without the drama reaching satisfactory development, so the end result is disappointing.

The two exceptions are the Ema and Rikako routes, which offer some great drama. Not quite first class, but just a step below and very welcome amidst the weak drama in the other four routes. These two heroines make up one of the game’s two love triangles, and the one where both girls have a history with Hitoshi so the stakes are higher and as such so is the drama. Some of the climactic scenes in these routes stand on equal footing with some of the good—but not best—dramatic scenes from White Album 2. But the pacing here is much better. These are the only good routes in the game.

Incidentally, if you frequent erogamescape you may have noticed this game is tagged as having a major twist. You may have, as I have, heard this elsewhere. Don’t believe the lies. Throughout the game there are several surprising twists and turns to the story—Maruto is, as always, good at throwing curve balls to betray reader expectations in the best way—but there is no singular game-changing twist. The twist people refer to as such is in fact one of the less impactful twists in the game even if it is presented as a key pivot in its route—and it is, but as a narrative turning point not a shocking revelation.

Characters: 7.5/10

There are few, if any, memorable characters in the cast, though they are all likable. To be fair, it is no small feat to have across-the-board likable characters. Some of the characters, such as the tsundere Rea, primarily get by on the graces of their archetype. Others, such as the deredere high schooler Asuka, have a distinct charm of their own. Even the initially annoying Yui—perhaps the most unique character, though not necessarily in a good way—finished her route with a net-positive impression, and she serves as a good supporting character in other scenes and routes. My favorite heroine was probably the impish Kasuri, despite her not usually being my “type.” Ema is, surprisingly, the worst character: a stereotypical older sister who manages to miss a lot of the natural charm and appeal of the character type. Rikako is, besides Yui, about the only unique character, but Rikako is more interesting and stands out for being an eroge heroine that is genuinely, deeply conflicted.

The protagonist Hitoshi is not a particularly strong character. While not exactly a blank slate, his personality is too amorphous to stand as a distinct character, though he begins to congeal into more of one during the key Ema-Rikako routes. The character he ends up becoming is noticeably different than his presentation at other points of the game, and this isn’t character development so much as it’s character inconsistency. There are a range of side characters, but these are inconsequential: they have little character of their own and only exist to pitch in a line or two here and there without contributing any real personality or to move the plot at certain moments. The exception is the manager of the rival café (Curio, in other words this game’s connection to its technical prequel Chocolat) who is consistently entertaining with his gross irresponsibility.

Sound: 7.5/10

The soundtrack for Parfait has a good atmosphere. The tracks are split pretty evenly between piano-and-string pieces and turn-of-the-century eroge synth. Though these two styles may seem disparate they come together nicely, probably because so many eroge have a similar mix. The overall sound is good, and there are plenty of strong individual tracks. Sadly, the soundtrack is not put to good use. As is so unfortunately common, the weakest songs are the ones that are used the most. The everyday tracks are among the worst and become annoying well before the end of this by no means lengthy game, and while there are a handful of great emotional pieces, the weakest emotional track is the one that’s used during most of the dramatic scenes.

The OP is another Giga Kotoko track, but it’s not as good as many of the others. While it shares many common elements with its better peers, it simply isn’t as interesting. There’s not as much energy and the hooks aren’t as sharp. It ends up feeling like a by-the-numbers copy. The ED doesn’t seem too special until you hear one of the piano versions and the strong melody isn’t so buried under the layers of synth. The vocal version similarly highlights the melody better—except it’s not in the game. Don’t ask me why but during the credits you only ever get the instrumental version, and not even one of the good piano ones.

The voice acting is average at best. Some roles—notably Ema—are below average. Otherwise, the seiyuu just aren’t as convincing as one would like, whether this comes in the form of too little or too much theatrics. Rikako’s ero voice acting deserves special mention: it sounds like a cat having sex.

Art: 8.5/10

The artist is the same as Maruto’s other Giga games, Nekonyan. I was disappointed by their art in Konnyaku after hearing so much praise. Surprisingly, in Parfait, which came out a year earlier, I found the art to be much better. There is a lot of fine detail within the overall gentle beauty of the art. To be sure, there is still some inconsistency, most often in the ero CGs, but the clear majority of the art is fantastic. Now I finally understand why people like Nekonyan. I will say that the game is short on non-ero CGs. Part of this is how much of the game is taken up by the 3 scenes per route, which all have three or more CGs, and also I suppose the fact that there aren’t that many dramatic moments that would really benefit from a dedicated visual depiction.

Ero: 7.5/10

Although having three ero scenes per route is a problem when the routes are so short and underdeveloped, at least the ero is good. Especially for a non-nukige. What makes the ero good is that things are just a touch lewder than your usual scenario-game sex. Not only that, the lewdness has just enough realism for there to be a visceral edge to the ero scenes. The situations also sometimes add a certain spice, whether immorality or something else, and again this is something you usually don’t find outside of nukige. In short, the sex feels more fun and less compulsory. Partly because it isn’t compulsory to have this much sex in such short routes when the focus is supposed to be the story. Oh well.

Overall: 78/100

Pros: Maruto’s writing; great art; consistently likable characters; great drama in two of the routes

Cons: Mediocre comedy; underdeveloped routes

Parfait is a solid romantic comedy, which is weird to write because it excels at neither romance nor comedy. It gets by mostly on Maruto’s magic narrative touch which can seemingly make anything enjoyable to read. If you’ve read anything by him you’re familiar with his characteristic style, a style which always gets me excited in the beginning of a game but as his overturning of medium norms becomes the norm over upwards of a dozen hours of play it no longer can in and of itself drive a game. Konnyaku kept things going with its comedy, and White Album 2 did it with its drama—and both had the benefit of good romance—but Parfait doesn’t really have anything to sustain you after you become accustomed to the Maruto magic. It has two good routes and four mediocre ones. As a Maruto romcom this one falls well below Konnyaku in my opinion, but it’s perhaps still worth playing if you’re a fan.

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