Venus Blood Frontier Gameplay Trial – Rough Around the Edges

Having finally gotten around to playing the VBF trial, specifically the Uncensored Gameplay Trial, I thought I’d share my impressions. As someone who has been following this project for a couple months, I was really excited to check out the new, polished demo, after rumors that the previous ADV trial was simply not up to standards. Ever since then, Ninetail has openly engaged with the community and attentively listened to our feedback, so it is my hope that this review can once again lead them into the right direction or simply provide precious feedback. It is also my hope that this article will encourage others to try out the trial themselves.

Summary

Fun, engaging and complex gameplay that could benefit from an interface upgrade and improved tutorial. Translation is overall decent, with a couple glaring issues that are a cause for concern. Overall, the demo is certainly polished in comparison with the first one, but it’s still rough around the edges. The advice I’d give Ninetail is that they must be more proactive in engaging with their audience, or else they risk losing the enthusiasm of their fans – as well as failing to capture potential new ones. You can download the VBF Gameplay Trial here.

Note: The Tutorial has an estimated reading time of about 90 minutes. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice that much time just to play the demo, or simply have no interest in tackling the higher difficulties, I would recommend checking out Ninetail’s video tutorial and the Beginner’s Gameplay Guide posted on the J-List blog. The video covers some of the basics, but the article goes over some of the most important gameplay mechanics.

Tutorial

The Tutorial menu is hidden under the Extras and can be easy to miss.
There is a lack of division by complexity, and the excessive amount of sections would definitely scare away most people.
Please take a look at Sahuagin's unit description on the top right corner. "Heals more damage the more HP he has" - Sahuagin doesn't have a special skill that allows him to do this. In fact, all units of the game deal more damage the more HP they have because HP is included as a variable in the damage formula. On the top left corner, the meaning of "Curve" (which defines the unit's max level and rarity of medallions that be used on them) and "Cost" (the amount of Gold necessary for each HP healed) aren't explained in the Tutorial either.
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Being aware of the game’s complexity and difficulty, I bravely took on the challenge of a Hard Mode clear of the first chapter. Thus, I thought it to be wise to start out with the game’s tutorial.  To be fair, it would’ve been really easy to miss it (Image #1) and it’s a lot more common to have a tutorial in the game itself. At the very least, something more interactive to ease up on taking in all the new information. I can only imagine people finally reaching the gameplay portion of the game, only to find themselves completely clueless about what to do.

So, reading the tutorial took me roughly 90 minutes. It was very informative even though there were a few gameplay mechanics I didn’t quite understand. At times I found the explanation to be long-winded and I can see how it could turn off new users. While it is the first Venus Blood in the West, this tutorial was originally written for an audience that was already familiar with the Venus Blood franchise and its gameplay system, so the excessive amount of information isn’t exactly user-friendly and is not necessarily adapted to beginners. In fact, there were gameplay mechanics that weren’t touched upon, for that very reason (Image #3).

There’s also the fact that most of this information is most likely not very useful for those who intend to play in Easy or Normal mode, but there’s no distinction in the Tutorial section itself (Image #2). Say, making a division such as Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. In summary, know your audience. Perhaps a simplified, interactive tutorial could be introduced as a stretch goal.

Other people have complained that the tutorial is tedious and not very convenient or easy to access (please scroll down for the replies). It’s important for Ninetail to collect this type of feedback and make the necessary adjustments. There could be a more interactive tutorial, a tutorial mission or the ability to access it during the main game.

In Japanese, it is literally "Jewel icon". No ambiguity.
Once again, the Japanese script is clear to the point.
Arguably a more friendly format for a tutorial. However for what it does, Cover is a more intuitive skill name.
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There are short sentences that could be grouped into a paragraph and sometimes there are weird interjections (Image #4, #5) that feel quite out of place in a professional release. It would be worrisome if the Tutorial didn’t get an editing/QC pass. I’d also add that some of the skill names aren’t exactly intuitive. It’s much simpler in the Japanese version of the game where you have suffixes and prefixes that clearly indicate the skill’s power and the number of targets, but some of the translated names don’t convey that as well. For example, “Epidemic” would be a much better replacement for “Virus”, the AoE version of “Poison”. Or “Cover” in place of “Protect” (Image #6).

ADV

Accompany Loki Muspellzheimr, the ostracized underdog who competes with his fellow heirs for the position of Demon Emperor, as he destroys every single obstacle in his path, using whatever means necessary. Making the best use of his wits and cunning, Loki is not your typical blank-slate protagonist. He’s the type to always have an ace or two up his sleeve, fighting against all odds. I was particularly fond of his interactions with Tilca, the first obstacle on Loki’s path of conquest.

Here "pit" doesn't mean a hole on the ground, but "an area reserved or enclosed for a specific activity". I asked a Native English speaker friend of mine and even they weren't aware of the word pit's alternate meaning.
I would prefer for the characters to be introduced by the order they are presented in, such as "Starting from the left, their names were Fenrir, Hel and Jorm". However, it easy to tell who is who later on, so I wouldn't necessarily call it a mistake.
Sudden switch to the first-person narrative.
Despite the typo, this line could essentially be rewritten.
This line refers to Loki's father. I would replace "summarily" with "promptly" or a similar word, but the biggest issue is that I'm not really understanding what each pronoun refers to. If Loki's father was already dead, then it would be impossible for his retainers to turn his back on him. So, did they turn their backs on Loki?
Missing a word: "...going according to plan".
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Sadly, there is still a good number of awkward lines, typos and missing words (Images #1-6), but the problem would be that most of them are located in the first 20-30 minutes of the game. Overcomplicated words are randomly thrown in like curveballs, forcing me to look up their meaning when they could be replaced for much more common and simpler to understand synonyms. Awkward lines stick out like sore thumbs and give me a headache as I have to read them multiple times to understand them.

Taking into account the other issues, I simply can’t understand how these mistakes escaped the eyes of an editor. However, in all fairness, while it is possible for us regular users to compare the text with the original script for translation accuracy, there is no telling how much editing work went into this, especially keeping in mind the pitiful state that the original ADV demo was in. Either way, a QC or a beta tester would’ve been very handy in detecting these type of mistakes.

As for the translation quality, I would say it’s decent, but I don’t wish to compare every single line with the original script. However, there is one scene that is noticeably better than the others, and that is Tilca’s H-scene, the very last scene of the game. Despite not having found many issues with the later ADV portions of the game, this scene is a world’s difference from anything that came before it and honestly, it would make sense if this was the one scene that was translated by Arunaru. In addition, I felt as if the game ended rather abruptly. There is no “cliffhanger” that leaves me excited or hooks me into looking forward to the next chapter.

An issue that I’d point out is how the romanization of the name Tiruka (ティルカ) into Tilca loses the Norse Mythology reference to Týr, the Norse God of War. It was pointed out somewhere by the translator himself that Tilca was an early localization mistake, but it was never corrected. It could be that the name Tilca is used in the Kickstarter and the demo because the OP movie was already made with this name and Ninetail value consistency. Either way, my suggestion would be “Tyrca“.

In addition, there is also Riguretto (リグレット) which references Rig, another name for Heimdallr, the watchman of the Gods. While Rigret might look slightly strange at first, it would be preferable to preserve the reference in place of having the player confuse the character’s name with the noun “regret”.

I would also point out how Einherjar, the name used for the fallen warriors who are brought to Valhalla by valkyrie, is preserved as the name for the enemy units but exists as “heroic spirits” (translated literally from the Japanese) in the ADV section. The term “Nibelung” doesn’t belong here either, as it is a German word, thus having no place in a Norse setting. The more correct term would be “Niflung”, but this also ignores the fact that Niflung isn’t a sword to begin with.  These are issues with the original writing, as these terms were correctly translated, to a certain extent.

It was only until a later date that I realized that the “heroic spirits” summoned by Tilca in the ADV section were the same Einherjar that assisted her in combat, creating a sense disconnect between the ADV and the gameplay. Loki’s final scheme to defeat the “heroic spirits” also makes more sense when one realizes that they are Einherjar, a physical manifestation of the spirits who fell in the battlefield.

A curious note would be that Einherjar are not, in fact, part of Tyr’s army but Odin’s. Instead, VBF’s Odin is assisted by reskinned “Einherjar”-esque units named Valfodr. Valfodr is another name for Odin, which literally means “father of the slain” – because Odin is the master of the Einherjar. It is likely that these names were used merely because they sounded cool, without any respect for what was being referenced. Neither Valfodr nor Einherjar are mentioned in the script, simply being referred to as “heroic spirits”, and not only does this naming strategy not make sense but they shouldn’t be able to be summoned by Tilca in the first place. But that’s outside of the scope of this trial’s review.

Therefore, it is my hope that the translation can rid the game of these type of inconsistencies, as this would give me the idea that the original scenario writer and the person who chose the name of the units were two completely different people, or they simply didn’t care for what they were referring. The least that can be done is to not mix up German and Old Norse mythology, considering this is a Norse mythology setting.

Considering that Arunaru will be the final translator for the game, it is very possible that the names can be changed to a form that properly respects both the mythological references and the game’s very setting if he wills it so, as long Loki’s demon army don’t suddenly turn into tacos.

Researching the multitude of references is a time-consuming processes, but quality suffers when sacrifices are made for the sake of speed or for the sake of reaching a wider audience. Even then, compared to the Japanese audience, the Western one is more in touch with Norse mythology, be it due to cultural reasons, the long-running series of Marvel comics and movies series, and recent video games (such as God of War) that are loosely based in those settings.

Overall, the ADV portion was alright, with a few glaring issues.

Gameplay

The gameplay section was what I was most excited about, and it certainly delivered. Hard mode is very difficult but the gameplay is fun and addictive. I spent several hours customizing units, cooking up my strategies and overall having a blast with the game. Analyzing the enemy, the terrain racial advantages, planning the best way to proceed – Venus Blood Frontier was way more fun than I was expecting it to be and I can’t wait to play the next stages.

I was forced to make extensive use of the handy skill description manual that came with the game’s download, although it’d be nice to have something similar for Medallion bonuses. But it would be preferable if we were able to check a skill’s description upon hovering over the skill name. However, I’d like to mention that some of the skill descriptions are wrong, such as “Treasure Hunt”. This leads to another issue as even if the non-ADV text was edited, translation and factual errors might remain.

One of the issues that I’d like to point out is how the Battle Result Screen was cut out. According to the unofficial VBF wiki, my Hard mode playthrough would grant me only C-Rank, much to my disappointment. Being able to share scores and ranks through screenshots would lead to a more active and organic discussion of the gameplay.

I had never clicked on "Raid" because I had no idea what it would do. Basically, "Sortie" features a player-controlled battle, followed by Skirmish battles from the divisions in the Attack formation. "Raid" doesn't have any extra special effect such as "raiding an enemy's encampment". All that it does is force every division (the one currently selected plus the ones in Attack formation) into a Skirmish battle.
The description for Healing Formation is convoluted and confusing. This is one of the reasons why the UI translation must definitely be checked by an editor.
First encountered this when I accidentally pressed Esc. Perhaps "Quit the game?" or "Would you like to quit the game?" would be better.
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There are a few issues with the UI translation (Images #1-3). While certainly not on the level of NISA, it is to be expected that the interface translation for a complex game such as Venus Blood Frontier would go through extensive editing, but I fear it might’ve not been the case. There are also a few unit descriptions that are technically wrong (please refer to the Tutorial’s third screenshot once again), and they make me wonder how creative was the translation. However, they are often helpful in discerning what kind of situation the unit would be useful in.

Technical

On the technical side, a memory leak issue was detected very early on and was swiftly resolved by Ninetail. In place of that, a new memory leak issue (at least on my end) arose. I had an increase of 10MB for every battle turn that passed, eventually having my game crash upon reaching 2GB of memory allocation.

The “skip extra scenes” feature which is supposed to be used to skip H-scenes, does not only skip the H-scene but also the whole scenario near it. In the prologue, this not only skips the H-scene with Fena but also the whole scene of Loki acquiring his family heirloom. If someone were to play the 18+ version of the game and for some reason wanted to skip the H-scenes, they would also be missing vital plot information.

Venus Blood Hypno polishes Frontier’s interface in every single way – you can hover over the skill names for a quick description of what they do, and the medallion bonuses are displayed in a clear and easy to understand fashion, depriving you of any need for guesswork. While they might not be the easiest features to implement, it is a known fact that localization companies have gone to the extent of reprogramming games into completely new engines.

Ero – Tilca’s interrogation

As it took me several hours to clear the game’s first chapter in Hard Mode, this was probably one of my most hard-earned H-scenes. I would say that this is one of the most important scenes of the trial, as it is part of Loki’s turning point – throwing out his past, overcoming himself and making the steel-hearted decision to fulfill his ambitions by whatever means necessary.

As mentioned before, it would be no surprise if this was the one scene that Arunaru translated as it reads considerably better than the previous H-scene with Loki’s maid Fena. His experience working with Beat Blades Haruka‘s many H-scenes will be vital in tackling the numerous dark H-scenes of Venus Blood Frontier.

Final word

The issue that I have with Ch. 1 is that this might very well be the final Ch. 1 that we get. If the Kickstarter succeeds, we’ll be having Arunaru on board, but nowhere was it said that this portion of the game would be rewritten (re-translated, re-edited, etc.). The demo isn’t representative of the final work and that worries me, since it kind of struggles at the introductory portion of the game. It would be really sad if people were put off by those initial awkward lines and gave up on reading the demo, or ragequit on the game simply because they missed the tutorial or because they don’t wish to invest 90 minutes of their time for 1-2 hours of gameplay.

I’m also not very impressed with the PR, both from how the recent backer rewards were conveyed on the one of the updates and how random messages of support or information in Japanese are retweeted but important coverage of the game is not (sanah’s article, Arunaru’s article, Zero’s youtube video to name a few). The update regarding the new backer rewards wasn’t self-explanatory and it simply redirects the user to the FAQ. In fact, regular users do a much better job at conveying this message. In contrast, there was a considerably better crafted update later on, both in terms of its writing and content. Could this be an issue of not enough autonomy being given to the staff responsible for Ninetail’s PR?

On that note, Ninetail has hardly engaged with their community, up to this point only having sent generic messages of thanks upon reaching certain milestones. Meanwhile, fan-made polls which look to investigate information that Ninetail should actually be interested in gain much more traction. This display of apathy and lack of proactivity might lead me to think that Ninetail believe that they’re rather reliant on luck or are looking to rest on their laurels. JAST has been trying to cover some holes in media coverage, both with Arunaru’s previously mentioned article and recently, Tyr’s review of the Gameplay Trial, including a Beginner’s Gameplay Guide. However, despite how many days have passed, the stretch goals have yet to be revealed. What’s the reason for this delay?

I hope that these obstacles can be surpassed as I really look forward to the day when I’ll be able to fully play this game in English, however, this very article might mark the end of my involvement with the campaign. To the others who haven’t yet, I would really recommend trying out the trial. If reading the tutorial is too much for you, I would recommend checking out Ninetail’s video tutorial which goes over some of the basics, and reading the Beginner’s Gameplay Guide posted on the J-List blog which goes more in-depth about some of the most important points to watch out for.

As always, I’m most grateful for your time and I’d appreciate any kind of comments and/or feedback. Thank you for reading.

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