Juniper’s Knot is a rather unique piece of work. It’s sad to need to say that’s a good thing.
My adventures in procrastinating led me to reddit’s visual novels board earlier today, and the top news item was that an OELVN called Juniper’s Knot got an iOS release. I saw this game a month ago and muttered something to myself about how it had respectable art but was an OELVN, and was therefore unworthy to sit among elite recreational musings that included quality entertainment like eroge and reddit. I decided today to get off my high ass and launch a review series called OELVNs are Suffering to check out these original English visual novels, none of which I have ever experienced myself. I chose to pick a short game, a nice-looking game, and so I got something from this year’s NaNoReNo visual novel writing festival.
I was glad that Juniper’s Knot was the first thing I decided to read. But because I set out to review this game, I have to be thorough and give you some background information.
Juniper’s Knot is one of those projects that have dozens of people on quality control and few core staff members. With writing by Terrance “Swifdemon” Smith, editing by Jeremy “Dani” Miller, core art by Saimon “Doomfest” Ma, and music by Kristen “CombatPlayer” Jensen, Juniper’s Knot was composed by members of the Dischan development studio, which at the time of writing this article, is busy working on Cradle Song.
CombatPlayer is a Danish music artist that you can find on YouTube, deviantart, and Dischan. He has a single album out called Combat’s Sweet Music, which features songs from Dischan’s upcoming OELVN Cradle Song mixed with original songs. The genres on disc are eclectic as the listing, featuring ambient, rock, and trance tracks mushed together in one collection. I wouldn’t play them all in a row, but my favorite of them all right now is the trance track “Untenable,” as I can see it making it onto internet stations like Groove Salad. As far as listening music goes, CombatPlayer is definitely unappreciated.
Doomfest has been around for a few years, most notably making his name doing some work and fanart for Katawa Shoujo, doing commissions on deviantart, and giving a try at making an OELVN of his own. He seems to also know his way around a DSLR camera, and you can see a lot of his sketches and photographs on his blog full of imagery. As a DSLR owner, I envy his lighting setup.
I couldn’t find any info on anyone else. Argh!
There are many things that I can compliment in Juniper’s Knot, but in the spirit of this review series, I will start by ripping things apart.
A grammar error in the first sentence. Shame on your editors and library of testers, Dischan! You’ve performed as stereotypically as I expected going into this by being shoddy, irresponsible, and rushed. My preconceptions of OELVNs stood strong in the face of your error. You’d be happy to know that almost everything that you’ve done after the first few pages, however, was totally unexpected and rather commendable. Almost.
Throughout the story, the phrasing and sentence structure come off as a little odd and awkward. I suspect it’s the editor’s doing rather than the writer’s, but nonetheless amateur writing again proves to be mediocre writing. In eroge too, you get some quality writers that work for Nitroplus and Liarsoft, medicore writers work for ALcot and GIGA (their moe-centric games), and love-hate writers like Nasu for Type-Moon. As such, I will for the rest of the review ignore the weird blips that pop up, except for one thing that’s more to do with composition than grammar.
One thing that we readers have to deal with in Juniper’s Knot is the fact that the writing is rather old and English. Not as English as the Quartett translation, but English enough that people are pissing their trousers and calling out horsefeathers in a not so pāx scaena that has much passio. With time you eventually figure out why these people choose such strange vocabulary; this story is set in a fictional Western locale on the eve of the industrial revolution with one character being from the distant past. The terminology, I’m guessing, is used to introduce the setting by dropping old terms and phrases here and there, but what bothers me about that is that it challenged my suspension of disbelief by just slapping these terms down and telling the reader to figure it all out. Sure the setting of a ruined stone church is a big hint too, but being left out in the dark and cold with no idea of what might be going on gives a feeling of uneasiness to some readers, including me.
I hate to use Cormac McCarthy as an example, but in All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy doesn’t start off having characters speak Texan English and Mexican Spanish right off the bat — the text slowly breaks in a description of the surroundings as well as dropping some big context clues before people speak. On the flip side, though, some people hate the fact that visual novels all too frequently concentrate on visuals in the novel when we can.. see it. As an author, your job is probably to balance the two and deal with it!
But some things that the writer and editor, Swifdemon and Dani, did spectacularly correctly include the story and the pacing. As this is the first OELVN in ages that I haven’t been repulsed by, I might’ve set the bar so low that I could be wrong in saying that the story and most things about it were great for the length. Putting my qualms aside about writing style (which is so subjective that there’s no point in discussing it), the only thing that I didn’t like about the pacing was the first “surprise” of the game. It seemed to be rather sudden and unexplained shock, with the issue of explanation being shoved aside for ten minutes as the story continued.
Once I got used to the concept that there might be another surprise of this nature, I ate up the last and final time it happened. The stream of consciousness dealt feeling after feeling about it all, giving us a more thorough look at what one of the characters really thought. It might be an easy way to move the plot a couple hundred yards, sure, but the music and execution did great all the while.
And then we switched characters.
It was fitting that the other character was more shallow and more honest with himself, as the reader would have just gotten through with vetting a really dense one. There’s really not much literary to comment on besides the multiple rising actions and the denouement, and I was pretty impressed with execution of the former. When you set out to review something and take notes, you remember when you stop taking notes and just read to find out what might happen. The suspense in the climaxes throughout the second part of Juniper’s Knot was a bit much for my feeble critiquing mind, since you were privy to what both characters might do, but the entire time you have no idea what they would do.
It’s things like that that turn neutral impressions into good impressions.
There are two non-literary things that impressed me about Jupiter’s Knot: the art/assets and the background music. I was expecting some half-assed twist on Japaneezu eroge art like Sequence or don’t take it(ry, but I got something neat and unique enough that you could probably look past a few minor flaws. The basics like color schemes, CG variety, sprite variety, and consistency were all accounted for in this visual novel; everything seemed anatomically correct to boot! The concept art shows the effort that went into composing assets for this game, and the watercolor-esque digital coloring adds to the softness of the story’s atmosphere. Although Doomfest’s art alone of Juniper’s Knot might not be a reason to go out and play the thing, you’ll certainly appreciate the it if you’re not appalled by originality.
The bonus guest art is so-so. I’m biased towards gebyy-terar because of how stupid the concept is.
And then there’s the menus. As you would know if you read my Walkure Romanze trial review, I’m a sucker for animated things that fly places and do things. The fact that the menus are more original than commercial eroge and even some published video games on consoles is a great boon to the game, and their experiement into a sort of original layout more certainly paid off. Hat’s off to whoever designed it.
But enough about fagging over the art and more about fagging over the music. I don’t know enough about music to comment on anything besides the fits to the game’s different moods and the variety of it all, but my favorite track is most definitely the dramatic track of choice titled “Bleeding.” The gentle, tinkling start and then HEAVY SHIT GOING DOWN RIGHT NOW is a pretty useful effect to have in a piece of music.
Writers like to be deep and thoughtful, and so by and large most stories have morals to them that are both intentional and interpreted. The difference doesn’t matter much, and there really isn’t anything to do with interpreted morals of the story but to agree or disagree while the author possibly confirms some and refutes others, so unlike the rest of my points, this is going to just be a list. Plus I just wrote about 1,300 words about an OELVN and I really don’t feel like arguing.
Bigger spoilers are blacked out accordingly.
- Even the most stoic-looking people are probably actually shitting themselves with nervousness
- Everyone gets lonely, no matter how hard and independent they might want to be.
- Trust your instincts. Unless you know that your instincts are really bad.
- Persecution of homosexuals when the persecutors do something pretty bad themselves (i.e. beating and raping Fiend’s lover for being lesbian) (probably not)
End of Suffering
I think that Juniper’s Knot is a rather good example of how an OELVN should work or at least start out. In the grand scheme of literature, however, this of course is not a masterpiece and the creators know it themselves. I rated it a 6/10 on VNDB t0 scale it with my other votes. Considering that this was made in a single month for NaNoReNo 2012 and has a great amount of class, the Dischan team deserves many kudos for Juniper’s Knot.
And maybe, just maybe, they deserve some money too.
This review of Juniper’s Knot is one in a series of Original English Visual Novel (OELVN) reviews by TinFoil. These reviews aim to be rather thorough and more useful in argumentation than most opinions about these sometimes terrible things, as well as providing some concise feedback to the authors and staff involved in production. If you would like to suggest a review of something and have a pretty okay reason for me to suffer through it, drop me a line at tinfoil＠tindabox.net and I’ll check it out!