Yume Miru Kusuri: A Drug That Makes You Dream review
Is This What Dreams Are Made Of?
Yume Miru Kusuri: A Drug That Makes You Dream is a visual novel. Yes, it's one of those visual novels. The genre seems pretty popular in Japan, although less so elsewhere. Still, companies such as Peach Princess work hard to translate and publish some of these titles to those of us who wouldn't have a clue what they said otherwise. I was initially a bit worried that this wouldn't appeal to me, especially since I'd never heard to the developer before and the title itself was not one I'd heard about. Having finally ploughed through all the main routes of the novel I have come to one conclusion. Visual novels are awesome when done right, and YMK is a perfect example of how to do one.
A lot of effort has gone into the visual presentation of the title (pretty important for a visual novel). Everything kicks off with a wonderful opening intro that makes use of the in-novel CG scenes, backgrounds and half-body character art to form a single whole. The way it is put together and the motion really works, and the opener song 'Goodbye to the World' is such a wonderful song filled with what I would describe as a mystical energy that suits things perfectly.
Character designs seem to be spot on too, especially with each of the three main girls settling in different areas. Aeka displays an air of innocence and caring with such cute features. Mizuki seems to be the more mature member of the trio, with more refined features and a posture to match. Nekoko is the oddball that looks as crazy and mischievous as she looks. All the major starts come with a variety of poses and expressions to match up with what is happening onscreen. It's potentially a little awkward to get used to, especially when you're more used to animated scenes, but it works pretty well.
CG scenes, both for depicting certain events and for the backgrounds used at other times, are wonderfully drawn. They add an extra layer of depth for fleshing out key sequences, such as a shopping trip with Aeka or Nekoko's raiding of the storage area. A key attraction in novels such as these is often unlocking the CGs, and it's easy to see why. As a hentai title it's worth noting that even the hentai CGs are well done too. It could have been easy to overdo the sexual content in these, but Ruf have wisely kept these subtle and thus a lot more effective for it.
Backgrounds give us various locations for the novel's events to occur in, ranging from the school to the shop to a park. The application of colour and shading changes to depict time change is nice too, even though this doesn't extend to the characters who appear to emit their own mysterious shades indepedent of the time of day. It seems that 'action' effects for generally more limited. There's a few around, like action lines and darknesses used for stuff like punching and the like, but these are surprisingly rare.
The music overall does a pretty decent job. Goodbye to the World is an excellent opening song that truely captivates, and manages to be the kind of song you'd happily put on your MP3 player or similar listening device. By comparison the rest of the OST lacks impact. It's still good but a lot more subtle, though perhaps that is a good thing as it works to complement the scenes rather than taking center stage. The choices work nicely, with a mix of calming melodies, hyperactive tunes and more.
Voice acting is used extensively throughout the novel, with only the player's character lacking a voice (mostly likely to allow people to immerse themselves deeper). It's all in Japanese though, so I guess translation budgets don't extend to hiring new voice actors to redo all the speech. It's a great performance put on though, with sweet changes in emotional tone and pitch to work well. Some of it does sound a bit wooden when it comes out, but altogether it helps to enhance the experience.
So, a visual novel is a story where you get greeted with decision points throughout, and these choices will determine what outcomes will occur. This also means there are three main paths through the story, with each one focusing on a different girl. Each route is a mix of common events (that occur in all routes but may be influenced by decision points during the action) and exclusive events (which tend to focus on the girl of that route and won't appear in other routes).
At first I couldn't help but thinking how boring the story was. YMK gets off to a really bad start with a terrible opening setup. It goes on about some dream sequence that makes no sense and doesn't ever go anywhere meaningful with it. Upon waking up you literally crash into Aeka, and the conversation that follows is an awkward one for instory characters and readers alike. Nevertheless, I decided to press on, and I'm glad I did.
When I started I decided to aim for Aeka's route first. Aeka is a bully victim of the school your character attends and I felt more for her than the other two. The choices in the game were quite obvious so getting onto her route was managed first time. It did make seeing specific events easy enough, but it also removed a sense of mystery when it was obvious what would happen. Typically, most decisions tend to revolve around 'do you help a girl or not' questions, and obviously helping is going to score you some plus points for that girl.
Initially Aeka is portrayed simply as a regular bully victim. It's a shame what is happening, but as far as others are concerned (including our protagonist) it's none of their concern. Once Kouhei starts to get more involved with her though a lot more is revealed and the extent might be worth calling shocking. It's not just simple things but outright torment the girl suffers. It's a good example of how things are not as simple as they seem and that turning a blind eye is not always the way to go.
Generally the level of things in this route is unrealistic but throughout I could not help but feel for the poor girl. She always tried to remain cheerful even when the world at best ignored her, but the scenes when she opens up to Kouhei, and a few shocking scenes that I won't spoil here where events take more drastic tones, really work to flesh out her character and story. By the end I was really rooting for the lass, and eager to see her tormenters get what they deserved.
The choice of villains worked very nicely in this route too. Kyoka is quite the bitch, and the way she uses her public image combined with just how nasty she can get really places her as a menacing figure. Her boyfriend is a bit laughable in his appearance and manner of speech but his role as the violent tough-guy works nicely in this. The final resolution I got on her route (with making all the right choices) gives a lot of satisfaction as well. It's a wonderfully happy ending to a tale that is filled with emotional darkness.
Aeka's sex scenes are handled well too. Initially when her first scene came along it seemed like it was too early for it, but later on I understood just how she was feeling and what would drive her to that (although Kouhei was clearly a pervert for taking up the offer so willingly). Later scenes made a lot more sense without waiting for an explanation and there is a gentleness between the two that works.
After that I decided to aim for Mizuki's route. It seems that Mizuki's initial story lacks the impact Aeka's did. She comes across as a manipulative girl seemingly burdened with the work as the student council president but prone to getting others to do her work for her. I wouldn't put her on the same level as Kyoka, but this does not make her likeable, and at worst too shallow to care about.
Her early sex scenes also come off as somewhat forced. Kouhei seems to waver between coerced and rapist, partly because it seems Mizuki herself can't decide what she wants to do and flips between tempting him in and trying to push him away. It's also kinda funny that she seems to put sex on the same level as cake in terms of rewards. All that really put a dent in the sequences and made it like they were sex scenes for the sake of having them in rather than trying to incorporate them into the story in a reasonable manner.
Thankfully the story picks up later on, so I did genuinely enjoyed the story. Mizuki's essentially leading a self-destructive lifestyle because of the way she feels about her own life, and the story dives into some deeper concepts that are just as dark (and perhaps a little more believable) as Aeka's story. The struggle against these dark aspects makes for a very interesting tale, with a wonderful final resolution (providing you made all the right choices).
The later portion does seem to still suffer from some pointless forced sex scenes, but at least some of them not only make sense but help add to the experience. Without giving too much away, the part where Kouhei heads to school on a Sunday to help Mizuki at the School Council leads to a rather interesting sexual encounter, but not quite how you would expect.
Finally there is Nekoko's route. This story starts out looking like an all out comedy routine. Nekoko herself is full of energy and prances about almost in her own world doing whatever she wants, much to the dismay of Kouhei who gets dragged into trouble just by being associated with her. Like the other routes this story has to get going first before things start to get interesting.
While the tale starts off in humour it later changes to a darker tale not far removed from the tones set by the other stories. Nekoko's search for the fairyland seems more like an attempt to escape from reality as the story progresses, and her use of drugs becomes a major factor as her addiction becomes apparent. It's moving how Kouhei struggles to get her to stop, and the resulting consequences have some meaning to them. The twist in this tale also came out of nowhere, so bonus points for managing that.
Ultimately though, I feel that this is the weakest of the three routes. While there are indeed some touching moments and a level of depth, it seems to take longer for this tale to get going than any of the others and I really can't say I felt for the girl to the same level of degree that I did for Aeka and Mizuki until nearer the end of the tale. Equally, many of her sex scenes do not work out well. Aside from the last sex sequence that occurs near the end it seemed too forced and the execution could use with some work. There is also the concept of this route having notably less decision points than the other two. Regardless of it being the weakest I did find myself satisfied with the conclusion so it was worth going through.
The novel also sprinkles a fair share of humour into all three routes. It's well executed and mostly thanks to two supporting characters.
Aya is your sister, although since you were adopted you are not related by blood. What inserts the humour here is the interaction between you and her, as Kouhei often teases the girl whenever he gets the chance. The situations are laughable, which works quite nicely to lift the mood. There are a couple of scenes with her that are unnecessary and don't really work so well, perhaps aiming to appeal to the loli interested audience but not really working regardless.
Then there is Kouhei's senior working colleague, who aside from being gay and making moves on Kouhei also manages to break the fourth wall with his references to hentai games. After pushing one on the protagonist it leads to an amusing scene where Kouhei unwillingly ends up getting deeply interesting in it. The remarks referring to classic H game aspects such as CG unlocking and decision points was an excellent touch.
The novel allows you to view any CG image you have unlocked through the CG menu. The event mode lists the events you have gone through and to skip straight to them to view them again. The music menu lets you listen to any of the music tracks used in the novel as they are unlocked during play. These extras are open from the start, with content being added as you reach them during the novel.
Configuration options are plentiful. You can adjust the music volume, as well as indepedently alter the volume of male voices, female voices and sound effects. You also have other things like switching between fullscreen and window view modes, using software or your system mouse cursors and setting skip options. You are given a large amount of save slots too, so you can easily save at many different points in the novel.
Progression through the story is handled well enough too. Click the mouse or hit enter to move through the text. You can use the auto option to have text move on automatically too. The skip option helps to zoom past sections, either stopped manually or it automatically stops at decision points. It can even be set up to skip only sequences you've gone through already, making it simpler to aim for an alternate route. The tab key gives you a clear view of the current background (including character images present), which is a nice touch. Menu options are accessed either via the onscreen menu or right clicking, depending on what option you want. You can use the history option to recap on previous text too, complete with the option to rehear voice samples.
One thing to note is that there are some notable spelling mistakes made during the story (such as if instead of is, or letters mixed around). It's not terrible to damage anything, and there is a patch out for it, but it's a shame that these are there to begin with.
The beginning of the novel is a little iffy but with a bit of time the stories here develop into truely engaging tales. This title is definitely for mature audiences, and not just for the sexual content but also for the dark themes involved, but it does possess a tremendous amount of depth with a smooth progression to each conclusion. As far as visual novels go this is an excellent example of how they can be done.
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