Guest Review: Taisho x Alice Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

That’s right, it’s time once again for me to sell some more Steam cards to Russian money launderers and play some more PC otome games!  I had bought this game as usual during one of the regular Steam sales…and didn’t realize that the next Taisho Alice game had come out recently as well.  So next time that one is also available for like seven cents I’ll also pick it up, but for now it’s just Cinderella and Little (Big?) Red Riding Hood.  This one’ll be shorter than usual since it’s only covering two routes out of full game, and again as usual I’ll include spoilers because this game came out like 5 years ago.

Now first things first, I will again point out that this is only a portion of the game so for anyone that’s playing just this one there’s very obvious plot threads that will clearly be picked up in other routes.  The biggest one of course is “what’s the deal with katakana Alice” (the existence of a Yurika Arisu presupposes the existence of a Yaoika Alice, of course) or “why does Yurika not have any memories?” or most importantly “why does Yurika keep talking like a fansub circa 2006?”  Keeping that in mind, I’m engaging with just what’s in this specific game, meaning just Cinderella and Red Riding Hood and not any more “overarching” parts of the game and story.

The Steam guide I used to grab everything had the Red Riding Hood route first, but I was told that this was the WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! play order so instead I did Cinderella’s route first.  Cinderella is well, a fuckboy.  Come to think of it, in retrospect I’m surprised that the game did not explicitly refer to him as such since that’s totally the kind of thing that Verdelish would use in her translations.  Yep, that’s right, this means that this game has a real translation and not one of those stilted “I…what…how…he…even at a time like this!” translations or one of those “mass naked child events” machine translations.  This is also EXTREMELY IMPORTANT since everyone in this game gets quite spicy with their dialogue and the constant zingers that they sling at each other, so most of the fun of the game would get lost if they half-assed the translation.

NOW THAT SAID, I do need to draw everyone’s attention to a gigantic howler of a translation error: (CW: argh blimey)

THIS IS NOT OKAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! “Innit” does NOT mean “isn’t it”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  “Innit” is British for “desu”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaanyway, moving along.  These are kinda-sorta genderswapped, kinda-sorta “modern”, kinda-sorta “dark” (moreso probably in the other games, based on how the Steam page for the next one has a warning on it but this one doesn’t) takes on fairy tales.  Now frequently that combination often gets me running for the exits because CRINGE AHOY! (sexxxay contemporary twist rawrrrrrr!), but here fortunately “genderswapped” doesn’t mean “extremely pedantic and obvious messaging that we’ve heard a zillion times about how princesses waiting in a castle are sexist”, “modern” doesn’t mean “my self-insert”, and “dark” doesn’t mean “my self-insert is the meat in the prince sandwich.”  Similarly, I normally get my hackles up at the concept of “Japan doing fairy tales” because let’s face it, how many times have we seen them do the absolute thinnest possible connection to whatever the source material?  (My favorite example here is stuff like those Quin Rose Alice games where it’s like yeah, uh of course they go to Japanese matsuris and stuff in Wonderland, yeahhhhhhhhhhhh.)  I gave the game the benefit of the doubt though, since it gave me the hints that they were doing it more like slowly unrolling the story and the character’s backgrounds.

this must be why steam kept asking me to verify my age on the store page

I would make an observation like “hmm, his name is Cinderella, but is he Cinderella or is this more like ‘the Cinderella route?'”  When I think of the fairy tale of Cinderella, I think about the mousy girl that is forced by her wicked stepmother and uncaring stepsisters to spend all day slaving away at chores and being given only the barest level of sustenance.  I don’t, on the other hand, think about a flippant and vain playboy.  But then you can think about it a little more like what if really it’s Yurika that’s the Cinderella, since what she’s doing is a lot closer to what fairy tale Cinderella does?  Of course, you go through the game and eventually it unfolds itself to you and you see that ah-ha, Cinderella is actually currently in the “illusion of being wealthy to impress the prince” part of the fairy tale, and then when the loan sharks show up to repossess everything now he’s into the “leaves the glass slipper behind at the ball part.”  So instead of the typical Japanese “wtf does any of this have to do with the original story you just took some random character designs off the slush pile and assigned them at random”, you get to notice”oh I see, that’s why they worked in this element of the story.”

The other important thing to note here is that as I alluded to above, Yurika actually gets to have some fun with this rather than falling into the typical visual novel “protagonist that is actually just a combination of a camera and narrator.”  Now the routes are very much the guys’ routes rather than something like each being an element of the heroine’s story, but fortunately she still gets to have fun during them.  This is of course what lets the routes be like “nufufu I have this bishie wrapped around finger” rather than the incredibly played out “Bitch-chan it’s 4pm, time for your blow up doll session!” (Yes dear…)  Or to put it another way, it’s much more like a screwball comedy sort of game than the kind of slapstick or YELLING INCREASINGLY LOUDER kind of comedy that you often see in visual novels.

my man here going, as they say, “the full kakashi”

Now with the Red Riding Hood route (NOTE: not to be confused with that R-18 Akazukin game where she has a gigantic butt and a completely different face in every CG) I maybe gave the game a little too much leeway.  Let’s think about what the story of Little Red Riding Hood is made up of.  She goes to grandma’s house to deliver her something (varying depending on which slight cultural differences between versions), then when she gets there she doesn’t realize that the Big Bad Wolf is impersonating grandma.  What does this revolve around?  That’s right: Little Red Riding Hood being incredibly dumb and gullible.  So as the story progresses I think “wait…it can’t be this simple, can it?  Like obviously Woolfe would be the wolf, I mean ffs it’s right there in his name!”  But welp, of course it is!  He is, after all, Red Riding Hood so the most thoroughly transparent of ploys are enough to hoodwink him.

So instead, with his route the central element that you want to see unfold is more about “why is he such a freaking weirdo?”  Truth be told I don’t quiiiiiiiiiiiiiite follow exactly from point A to point B with some of his personality.  I get his “I’m an uwu smol bean and nobody wubs me because I’m a naughty wolf that didn’t help his fwiend and lied to gwama” but the AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH NOSEBLEED part didn’t reallllllllllllllly feel like it followed in the same way?  The best explanation I can come up with is “dude is super guilty and self-loathing…and you KNOW it’s gonna manifest in THAT way as well”, but I’m not sure if the game itself really supports that justification or if I’m trying to headcanon that into being.  Hopefully for him the combination of a heroine that wants the D but also is completely onboard with the filthiest of pornos will deprogram him.

Final Thoughts: I was expected to say that Red Riding Hood was the best boy, mainly because it was fun to constantly troll him.  I cannot agree with this assessment.  You see, while it is fun to troll, both routes revolving around trolling their namesake boys.  Therefore we need a tiebreaker, and this comes in the form of how Cinderella’s route also involves how he also tries to counter-troll her.  As I enjoy when women are degraded by being leered at while wearing skimpy fetish outfits and being called airheaded bimbos more than when men are bamboozled, it is an easy choice for me to select him.