Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sousei Kitan Aerials: Il Dort Dans le Grand Bleu

Eroge typically covers similar genres to other Japanese popular culture media (such as animation, manga and light novels,) although some genres happen to appear more rarely in certain media than others. Mecha is probably one for eroge as there are relatively few titles that fit. Hence any mecha eroge is automatically going to attract a certain degree of attention simply due to novelty factor - but it's a double-edged sword as the genre also attracts certain expectations that may or may not be met.

Sousei Kitan Aerials is a 2012 mecha eroge released by AkabeeSoft3. The sole scenario writer for the project was Inoue Keiji, who also wrote the scenarios for Elf's acclaimed Ashita no Yukinojou series and, more recently, Artemis Blue.

In the year 2040, a sudden increase in global temperatures caused the polar ice caps to melt, flooding Earth. With practically the entire planet, including all arable land submerged, humanity continues to eke out its survival on a giant floating arcology known as Aquapolis (actually 'AQUAPOLICE' in-game, but I'm pretty sure this was a mistake.)

If this wasn't enough, the remaining 100,000 surviving people on Earth have to contend with more and more frequent attacks by SPOOKs (Space Phantom Of Organic Killer-instinct;) massive space-faring insects keen on wiping out humanity.

Humanity's last line of defense, the ASDF (Aquapolis Self Defense Force) is stretched to its limit with little remaining in ammunition and missiles and with its fleet of irreplaceable fighter planes, AEW&C and aircraft carriers gradually shrinking.

Deep beneath the surface of the vast ocean, a girl sleeps; dreaming of the day when she can meet her Elemental Driver.

First of all, a note about the title: you could call it 'Sousei Kitan Aerial' or 'Sousei Kitan Aerials' and you'd be able to justify your choice either way. The only sensible way of reading the original title (アエリアル) and the name of the titular mech is 'Aerial'; however, this is also the way it is read in-game, where it is rendered 'Aerials'. Hence the reason I have adopted this title for the review. It doesn't really matter.

Sousei Kitan Aerials is a chapter-based eroge, although if you attempted to determine the modality by looking at walkthroughs etc. you might conclude instead that it was a route-based eroge. It is not, although at times it pretends to be. There is only one story and you can read one of three somewhat different variations on it with a different heroine. In practice, nothing much changes. There are eight chapters in all and the game is of considerable length- set aside 30 or so hours to clear it, depending on reading speed. All characters are voiced.

The story is largely centered around two characters- the protagonist, Tougou Shin, and his older brother, Tougou Shuu; although the latter is more prominent early on in the story and less prominent later on as the perspective focuses on Shin.

Tougou Shin is one of a number of students at Aquapolis' only school, which focuses on both academic and practical education, given the need to quickly introduce graduates as productive members of society. Students who pass a proficiency test train to become fighter pilots and join the ASDF while the other students receive education in other areas, such as agriculture.

Shuu is a celebrated pilot in the ASDF, struggling to repulse the waves of increasingly powerful SPOOKs with limited resources. Shin struggles to live up to the expectations people have in him and the pressure to become a skilled pilot because of his brother.

When Shin acquires the awesome power of the titular mech 'Aerials,' he is finally able to step up and protect humanity.

Aerials contains most of the stuff you'd expect from an eroge like this - typical easy-going slice-of-life stuff on the Aquapolis, fast-paced air combat against SPOOKs - and a fair bit of stuff you don't, like high-octane mindfuckery.

The latter is largely reserved for two chapters (4 and 6) that essentially amount to (although plenty of other stuff happens in chapter 6) the prolonged psychological torture of the protagonist and it pretty clearly leaves a mark.

Your mileage may vary on whether you think this stuff is necessary or not- I personally thought the stuff in chapter 4 was great but that the stuff in chapter 6 was just outright bizarre and didn't really fit.

I definitely thought the way Aerials solved the standard problem in works of this genre (of how, when you have a ridiculously powerful weapon/machine that can destroy anything, you still can create tension in the story) in a very plausible way.

While you basically always know that the story is going to have a happy ending, there is never any question that there are going to be losses along the way. The counter showing the number of surviving humans in the inter-chapter sequences illustrates this all too well.

The game even goes as far as killing off one of the main heroines (who has a route and everything) very early on to show you that it is serious. There is no way of avoiding this through choices.

Air combat is the main source of action in Aerials, mostly involving the ADSF in the early parts of the story and the titular mech in the later parts of the story, but with a bit of a mix of both throughout.

If you've played Light's Gunjyou no Sora wo Koete, the combat is pretty similar to that. Military jargon flows back and forth between the pilots and the AEW&C planes as they use missiles and bullets to take down SPOOKs.

This military jargon comprises most - but by no means all - of the gratituous English present in Sousei Kitan Aerials. Aerials probably contains the most English out of any non-English eroge, from the heavy presence of English nouns to whole English phrases.

There's numerous errors (like the aforementioned AQUAPOLICE) and the voice actors naturally mangle the phrases (with one exception- Ground Control NEPTUNE has excellent English language voice acting and I suspect the seiyuu might actually be a native speaker) but it somehow all works.

That said, if you're not keen on hearing massive amounts (some of these battles are quite long) of US Air Force lingo tossed around by Japanese speakers I suggest you find a different eroge to play.

You might also find fault with the writer's ridiculous overuse of exclamation marks, but that's just being picky.

As stated before, this is basically a one route story. My recommendation is to clear it once (probably either Risa or Miku's stories,) download a completed savedata and clear out the stuff you missed from the chapter select screen. The game is simply far too long otherwise, even with skipping enabled.

The heroine is chosen based on a number of choices in the first couple of chapters and this affects the rest of the game, albeit in a limited fashion compared to typical eroges. The plot progression, all of the battles etc. and the eventual outcome of the story is largely identical regardless of heroine, with the occasional divergent scenes, epilogues and some other stuff.

If you're thinking that this can't be particularly great for the typical heroine romance progression, you're absolutely right. The heroines get a pretty terrible treatment from this eroge. For a start, the main heroine does not have a route (although you could argue the entire story is her route, so it doesn't really matter) but the other heroines get treated even worse.

As mentioned before, one of them dies early on, acting as a strong emotional catalyst for the protagonist (eventually driving him to Aerials.) Another heroine isn't even a real 'winnable' heroine in the typical eroge sense (she does have an actual H scene, but it's not with the protagonist!)

My view is that this could probably have been consolidated into a choiceless title by making one character heroine for the first half and another character heroine for the second half, but the format they chose 'works', largely because of chapter 4. The protagonist essentially develops a personal link to the story's main antagonist, the SPOOK queen, which makes one of the near-final confrontations particularly striking.

Half of the game's H scenes are protagonist delusions. Of the remainder, half of them don't even involve the protagonist. Pretty understandable given how the story is constructed but not necessarily something a typical eroge fan will appreciate.

Now, you may or may not be aware that Sousei Kitan Aerial has been somewhat critically panned, especially compared to Inoue Keiji's previous works. This is largely due to flaws that have been described earlier in this review. It is very much up to the reader how important these are - for example, while a number of reviewers seem to have disliked the overuse of English, it may bother someone native (or skilled) in English a lot less.

To enumerate the game's sins:
  • Terrible treatment of heroines; arguably no-one gets a proper route
  • However you view the conclusion, it's a negative and pretty unfair ending for the main heroine
  • Overuse of English, sometimes quite bad English, especially in the combat scenes
  • Heavy copy-pasting in the combat scenes- you'll hear the same stock phrases said over and over, possibly hundreds of times
  • Inclusion of some seriously questionable elements (unappealing and unnecessary,) like the protagonist torture scenes in Chapter 6
 I also suspect the game might take more than a few cues from the animation Evangelion, although I haven't seen this listed as a criticism. The protagonist of Aerials has a far more appealing personality, though.

Despite these issues, there is still a great deal behind the story that is appealing. I personally found it to be a very well paced and appealing eroge that managed to plausibly up the stakes as the story progressed to keep the action thrilling. Most of the characters are excellent and overall it's just a very satisfying read.

Production values are high, even for an eroge released in 2012. The art is top-notch, the soundtrack is awesome and fitting and battles are filled with great visual effect work. You're never concerned that there isn't enough happening on-screen.

Sousei Kitan Aerials, despite being plagued by some somewhat dubious design decisions is overall a very well made and unique eroge. If you can get past the flaws, it's a very thrilling and satisfying eroge to play and I recommend that you at least try it out.

Overall Score: 86%


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