Isaku Renewal

vndberogamescape

Intro:

Isaku is a point-and-click adventure eroge by elf, originally released in 1995 and rereleased as Isaku Renewel in 1999 with added voices and new art. The game is written my Hiruta Masato, one of elf’s main writers who also wrote Kawarazakike no Ichizoku 2 with Doten Meikai, and this being my first pure Hiruta Masato eroge it convinced me of the theory that Doten Meikai was simply a different pen name for the same writer.

Story: 6.5/10

High school student Kenta receives a love letter asking him to come to the top floor of the old abandoned school building. When he shows up he becomes trapped there with some of his classmates and his homeroom teacher. It soon becomes clear that the culprit behind their confinement is Isaku, the janitor who has been connected with a number of perverted incidents at the school. Isaku has rigged a number of puzzles on each floor of the building that the trapped students (really, just Kenta) must solve to obtain the keys to unlock the doors leading down to the next floor, but as they are doing this Isaku tries to kidnap and rape the girls.

That’s pretty much the plot of the game. It’s pretty basic, but it’s enjoyable, and there are a few elements that spice things up and make it more interesting. First of all, before Kenta gets trapped in the school there is a somewhat substantial school life intro, which surprisingly is fun to read despite those types of intros usually just feeling like a drag you have to go through to get to the action. There are also several mysteries going on at the school, including why Isaku has managed to escape being fired, secrets several of the characters seem to be harboring, and a female student who was murdered the previous year (the student being the younger sister of Miyuki, one of the classmates trapped with Kenta.) Not to mention the mystery of why Isaku is doing all of this, outside of just a love of raping.

The actual execution of these mysteries is ultimately competent but unremarkable. The element of mystery gives a few hooks to pull you along as you go through the points and clicks of the gameplay, but the ultimate outcomes are not particularly surprising and only passably intriguing. The same can be said of the drama, which occurs both because of the characters being trapped in a life-or-death situation and because of their secrets and connections to the game’s mysteries. What’s there is solid but it feels underdeveloped.

I feel that the mystery and drama are good but not great, and given this is a gameplay eroge I think they’re more than acceptable. The one issue I take with the game, story-wise, is a lack of pretty much any real suspense. One would think being trapped in a school with a crazy janitor trying to rape your friends, and do who knows what else, would create feelings of suspense and tension, but it doesn’t really. Notably, you rarely actually come face to face with Isaku so he doesn’t feel like a threat to you/Kenta. Initially you will shit your pants every time you run into someone in the dark halls of the school building, but once you realize it’s never going to be Isaku himself this feeling abates. And when he grabs one of your classmates they just disappear, which while maybe creepy the first time doesn’t lead to much urgency. You basically go about your task exploring and solving puzzles, and sometimes people disappear if you do something wrong, and there’s little sense of danger.

Gameplay: 6/10

As mentioned, Isaku is a point and click adventure game. You walk around the 3D halls of the school and search the different rooms, finding items that allow you to solve rudimentary puzzles to get the key for each floor. While it’s fun in concept, and the story seems set up to promote the gameplay, it’s a little too basic. You essentially click around until you find items, in the cases where the items aren’t obvious (they often are), use those items to get other items, and so on until you get the item you need to solve the puzzle to get the key. Only on rare occasions do puzzles require more than one item. And the puzzles are virtually always obvious. The game even gives you hints for some of these obvious puzzles. The plus side to this is you don’t have to worry about that familiar hell of being stuck in a point and click game. Except for one part that I wasn’t able to figure out without a guide, and genuinely feel would be hard for most people. While I’m not quite sure how to describe what makes a point and click adventure game “good,” I do know that the joy I had running through the halls and plugging items into the spots where they would give me new items died down considerably toward the end of the game when the simplicity of the tasks started to make them feel more like chores.

Plus, the flavor text, legitimately one of my favorite parts of these types of games, isn’t very flavorful at all. Hiruta Masato is a good writer but it seems like he wasn’t even trying to make the descriptions interesting or funny (when he tries to be interesting or funny he succeeds.) And there is a lot of flavor text. Every single room has a different description for the same boarded up windows and fluorescent lights, etc. You also get unique comments from the characters when you try to give them different items, even though there’s only one time in the entire game where you’re supposed to give someone an item. And the descriptions you get when you look at different parts of the character sprites change throughout the game.

What’s more difficult than solving the puzzles is making sure Isaku doesn’t capture any of your classmates, which generally comes down to being in the right place at the right time, and I think a couple of the choices can make a difference too. Since even losing one person will lock you into a bad end, it might be challenging to get one of the two good endings on your first playthrough. But it should be easy to get them on you second playthrough once you realize how the game is set up and when the characters are going to potentially be kidnapped.

Characters: 8/10

Isaku demonstrates that ability sometimes found in older eroge, anime, and manga to quickly and deftly sketch out quality characters. Yes, part of this is that they generally fall under familiar stereotypes, but the writer also skillfully slips in unique traits and nuances to flesh them out enough to not feel like total caricatures, even when many of the characters get somewhat limited attention. Of the characters with less screentime, some of them are fairly annoying (like the childish Rika or the haughty Munemitsu), others are likable (tomboyish Mio), and the homeroom teacher Takashima-sensei is unremarkable and one of the more stereotypical characters. Akemi stands out among the non-heroines as the most well-developed, interesting, and, at least to me, likable. I was sad that she wasn’t a full heroine. Kenta’s friend Jinpachi is another character that receives significant depth and development.

There are only two heroines who get endings, surprisingly and sadly. They also get much more focus than the other girls. Kotomi is the more stereotypical and uninteresting of the two. It doesn’t help that I don’t like “perfect, unattainable beauty” cliché. How can anyone? Miyuki, on the other hand, is one of the best heroines I’ve seen in awhile. I didn’t even like her at first, but as you see more of her and as she develops during the story she absolutely nails that combination of admirable and lovable that the best eroge heroines all share. While loosely fitting under the tsundere umbrella she’s much more than that and much more nuanced than that, but you still get to see that satisfying process of a cold-hearted girl open up to and fall for the protagonist. Well, satisfying when done right, and here it absolutely is. I was practically heartbroken to see her secretly heartbroken when I accidentally ended up with Kotomi’s ending, all the time thinking I was on track for Miyuki’s because she goes through most of that development regardless of which end you get.

During the school life intro Kenta is that uncommon type of thoroughly enjoyable, realistic “average high school boy” protagonist. Which is so much better than the bland eroge “average high school boy protagonist.” He’s funny and appropriately perverted for a teenaged boy. Oddly his personality takes a backseat once he gets trapped in the school and as a result he stops contributing much to the game as a character. Some of it still comes out when you have opportunities to “investigate” the girls’ bodies or look up their skirts. Better flavor text would’ve been a great way to maintain his personality as an enjoyable part of the game.

The antagonist Isaku is somewhat disappointing, primarily because you see so little of him. Most of his screentime is in the ero scenes, so if you manage to avoid having too many girls kidnapped or don’t find their tapes (I’ll explain later) you’ll hardly see Isaku and won’t get much of a sense of his character. Not really what you expect when the game is named after him. After seeing a majority of the ero scenes, which you basically have to go out of your way to do, not to mention doom yourself to a bad end, Isaku becomes more defined. He’s the delectably evil scoundrel you probably expected if you’re familiar with the game or the writer. Not as delectable as some of the writer’s other villains/anti-heroes, and completely unsympathetic. But he’s fun, and it’s a shame the game’s system means most players probably won’t see much of him on their first playthrough(s).

Another criticism I have about the characters is that many of them will go “crazy” at some point in the story, depending on events. This process is abrupt, basically a switch that changes their entire personality to a single-note hysteria, or despondency, or etc. It’s very shallow character development.

Sound: 7.5/10

Isaku only has a handful of songs total. You’ll spend 90% of the game listening to one track. I’m not exaggerating at all. During almost all of your time spent in the school building you’ll be listening to the same song, with a different song that plays during rape scenes and one for the rare danger scene. The other songs play so rarely that I had to look them up on Youtube (there isn’t a music mode in the game) to even remember them. In doing so I realized there are actually a dozen tracks, and those other ones are actually generally quite good, but I feel like many of them only play once or twice. Like the track that can probably be considered the “title theme”: it’s good but it only plays during the transition from the prologue to the main game, not on the actual title screen. The soundtrack I found on Youtube is for the PC-98 version, and it actually sounds better than the Renewal version I played; the instrumentation in Renewal is just a bit cheap-sounding so I prefer the bleeps and bloops.

The game makes pretty good use of sound effects, which is welcome for this type of eroge. The sound effects themselves are a little dated though. Silence isn’t used much, even though it would help break up the monotony of the limited soundtrack and add to the atmosphere, and even though elf would go on to use silence expertly in later games.

The voice acting added in Renewal is great nearly across the board. One or two roles stand out as weaker than the others ( e.g. Mio) but everyone else does a fantastic job. The voices alone make Renewal the better choice despite it actually having inferior music and even art in my opinion.

Art: 8/10

The line art between the two versions of the game is the same, and is excellent particularly if you enjoy 90’s anime-style art. The coloring is what was “upgraded” for Renewal and it’s inconsistent. Sometimes good, sometimes terrible, but usually mediocre. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any way to play Renewal not fullscreen, which doesn’t help the art by blowing it up and making it look jaggy; it does look significantly better in screenshots where the 640×480 resolution isn’t stretched across my entire screen, which is a shame. Even then, I would prefer the dithering of the PC-98 version to the renewed coloring, though it helps narrow the gap.

The overall number of CGs is probably low (though not for its time) but the skillful overall use of visuals means you don’t notice it. Most of the CGs are either in the ero scenes or fan service. There are a lot of panty shots, every female character gets one, which is fun. Eroge, particularly newer ones, tend to overlook the possibility of fanservice, instead thinking porn is enough. Only unfortunate thing with Isaku is that a lot of the panty-shots aren’t attractive. Kenta will be thinking about how a girl has a nice butt…and yet the drawn butt in front of you doesn’t look very nice. Sad. There’s slight touches of animation throughout the art, like blinking eyes on sprites, blinking or twinkling eyes in CGs, etc. The ero CGs also have animation. The whole image isn’t fully animated like later in elf games, it’ll just be a section of the picture like the breasts being groped, but it’s real animation rather than AfterEffects pseudo-animation. It’s a minor but cool addition.

Ero: 7.5/10

Isaku has much less ero than I expected. I thought it was going to be a nukige but I wouldn’t consider it one. Each girl only gets one sex scene, which you only see if the girl is kidnapped by Isaku and you later find the video tape he leaves, usually hidden, for you. My first playthrough I only saw one ero scene. As you can guess from the conditions for seeing the scenes, they all involve Isaku raping the girl in question. They all have BDSM themes but not too heavy, mostly just the girls being tied up in various ways. There’s decent variety across the different scenes too and they aren’t boring or one-note. In short, they’re well conceptualized and executed. They aren’t really my fetishes though. One would think there would be NTR flavor to these scenes where Kenta is watching Isaku rape his female classmates, some of whom are friends of his, one who has feelings for him, and even one he has feelings for. But they don’t feel like netorare at all. This is mainly because Kenta has no reactions or thoughts while he’s watching the tapes. The narration in the sex scenes is just a straight description of what’s happening, no internal monologue from Kenta. He just has a few short lines of thoughts after the scene ends. Not only is this a missed opportunity to highlight the NTR dynamic (which, granted, didn’t seem to be the aim of the writer), more importantly it just feels unnatural for Kenta to have so little reaction to watching the girls raped.

Overall: 73/100

Pros: Good characters including one awesome heroine and a fairly unique antagonist; great voice acting; good art and ero; basic but enjoyable plot; basic but enjoyable point-and-click gameplay

Cons: Repetitive music; no suspense; huge missed NTR opportunity; not enough Isaku

It’s not surprising that Isaku is considered a classic 90’s eroge. It’s well-rounded, doing almost everything well and with no significant drawbacks, other than having to listen to that one song for hours. At the same time, there isn’t much it truly excels at. Other than Miyuki being a fucking great heroine. Isaku’s solid and fun to play, but the story and gameplay could’ve been more deeply developed. To this day it remains a fairly unique concept, with a few eroge taking cues from it, but the one I’ve played (Kusari) being much worse. So it’s a classic in the sense that it’s a unique, memorable, and enjoyable older eroge that I think is a must-play for people interested in 90’s eroge, but I wouldn’t consider it a classic in the connotation of “masterpiece.”

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