So, here are my initial impressions of the trial version of Cosmic Cute’s upcoming visual novel, Gleam Garden no Shoujo. Or as I like to call it, “X-(Wo)Men: The Visual Novel”. This will also be a rough summary of the demo’s plot, so spoilers will be included. In any case, for a mere trial version, this one ended up being pretty damn long.
I honestly don’t know much about this developer, aside from the fact that their previous game, Lovesick Puppies, seems like something I personally wouldn’t have an interest in. You must be wondering why I even tried their new game, then. Well, while Gleam Garden no Shoujo does seem to deal with a fair amount of harem shenanigans as well, it does so by mixing it with a number of serious, darker elements, as screenshots will soon show. In fact, maintaining the balance of comic relief and serious moments seems to be handled fairly well, if the trial version is anything to go by.
GGnS takes place in the present day, with the exception that certain individuals, overcome by their inner demons (past traumas, fears, desires), manifest a power called Gleam (basically magic) and thus become Witches. Initially, Witches are unable to freely control their powers and thus were the cause of tragedies all around the world, indiscriminately hurting those around them. For such a reason, Witches are treated with prejudice, looked down upon, and feared by the general public. Some even partake in witch hunts.
Due to the danger they pose to the world, Witches are exiled from society and are forced to live in a rehabilitation facility called “Garden”, where they spend their daily lives as students, partaking daily in harsh training to be able to suppress their Gleam of their own free will. It is also revealed that until Witches can control their Gleam on their own accord, they have to take suppressor drugs to prevent their powers from running amok. Once they are able to properly gain full control of their powers, they are allowed to graduate and re-enter society to use said powers for the good of mankind.
So this is where the story starts, with our protagonist, friendly neighborhood nice guy and hopeless pervert, Touji (on the right), being transferred to this Garden in order to act as the supervisor to a fine assortment of harem archetypes – Sakurako, the feisty tsundere, Chitose, the energetic airhead, Shirayuki, the huggable gothic loli and Yuma, the timid and introverted closet-fujoshi. We also have the kind-hearted but drunkard principal with a huge rack (seriously, what is up with these ridiculous character designs), and of course, the princess. Touji’s previous place of employment was at an organization called the Collectors, who mercilessly hunt down and capture Witches – it is revealed that he has some history with Witches due to her sister being hospitalized by one of them or something.
First order of business for Touji is to handle the case of the #1 problem child, Sakurako. As it turns out she wants to have nothing to do with the Garden – in fact, she is actually in the process of jumping out a window and landing boob-first into Touji’s face (see above). Thankfully, disaster is averted as our hero, the gallant stud, steps backwards and lets the poor girl rocket into the ground.
So later, Touji actually confronts her by revealing the suppression tool given to all Garden Supervisors – a handy-dandy electroshock thingamajig that responds to the mandatory earpiece installed on every Witch at the Garden, in case their powers go out of control and they need to be taken down quickly. He proceeds to taser the shit out of Sakurako and eventually reveals that her Gleam manifested out of her repressed hatred towards her father, who pressured her into taking over his martial arts dojo.
Despite being severely wounded by Sakurako’s power (unleashed due to all the tasing), he manages to overcome her and explain that this was all for her sake. It also turns out the two of them are childhood friends, and the originally bossy Sakurako begins to show her dere side.
So basically Touji gets acquainted with all the other Witches under his supervision. Hijinks ensue.
Things take a dark turn when the narration switches to Ryouhei, Touji’s ex-colleague at the Collectors. He captures a Witch who apparently killed a man that was severely abusing her (possibly sexually as well). It is revealed that she did so in self-defense, but Ryouhei doesn’t quite give a shit and treats Witches as abnormal mutants. He steps on her face and tortures the whimpering woman until the other Collectors arrive to take her back to HQ – but not before gangraping her (with Ryouhei’s permission). So it is established that Ryouhei is a douche, with me strongly suspecting that he and Touji, having warmed up to his Witch harem, will eventually end up as enemies. This whole bit was extremely hard to read and made me very uncomfortable, I’ll admit.
Things don’t stop here, as Touji takes a visit to the Garden’s Research Facility, where human experiments are performed on Witches that are too far gone (somewhat disturbing imagery, so click at your own risk). The game tells us that Witches, after a year or two, develop an immunity to the suppressor drug – therefore, their quest to overcome their own powers is a race against the clock. Those Witches that are unable to do this are taken to the Research Facility and used as material for experiments, eventually turning into soulless vegetables (heartlessly called “junk” by the scientist). Touji is disgusted, but the chief scientist tells him that the results of their human experiments also helped develop the initial suppressor drug, as well as the special taser that manages to tame Witches, so in his eyes, it’s all for the greater good.
As it later turns out, Chitose is at her limit – she’s been at the garden for months, but has been neglecting her daily training and thus still needs to rely on the drug to suppress her Gleam. She secretly takes extra doses of it in order to hide the fact that she’s slowly developing an immunity.
This becomes apparent after she causes a major accident at the cafeteria with her Gleam going out of control. Her power is one that controls good fortune – however, the moment she boosts her own luck, someone else around her is cursed to be unlucky as compensation. Touji is basically given an ultimatum – force to girl to overcome her Gleam in one day, otherwise off she goes to the Research Facility to be eventually lobotomized.
Chitose seems to have given up hope herself and is actually okay with being taken to the Facility, much to Touji’s surprise. So he proposes a game of rock-paper-scissors to her, 10 rounds in a row. If he even gets one win, he wins – otherwise, Chitose can do as she wants. Basically an impossible task, considering she can control luck and easily get 10 wins in a row. So this is where Touji shows that he possesses balls the size of Mount Everest. Every single time he loses a round, he breaks one of his own fingers. Chitose freaks out, but he urges her to continue nonetheless.
After the third, fourth and fifth broken finger, she breaks down in tears and begs him to stop. The voice actress did a fantastic job here, by the way, as her pleas were pretty painful to listen to. Along with the beautiful background music, this was easily the most intense and emotional scene in the demo.
So as you would expect, Chitose eventually does manage to suppress her Gleam due to the extremeness of Touji’s method, forcing her to get her act together, and our hero gets away with only ruining one of his hands. Needless to say, she is now infatuated with the protag because he went to such lengths in order to save her. She later proceeds to sneak into his room at night to wash his back as a way of showing her gratitude.
One final twist before the demo ends is the sighting of a pink-haired bunny girl who apparently looks exactly like Touji’s hospitalized sister, Natsumi (click here for the full image). Well, except for the fluffy ears, I guess.
So what did I think of all that? Well… pretty okay, I guess. Initially set up as a generic magical girl harem sort of deal, GGnS quickly surprises the reader by showing glimpses of the darker side of its world, making me expect a lot more serious scenes/drama in the full game. The graphics are all quite pretty and colorful, my only major complaint being the ridiculous chest sizes. I usually don’t complain about such things, but this time it’s unrealistic to the point of being laughable. The soundtrack is good, some tracks exceptionally so. I would urge anyone to listen to the track that plays during the rock-paper-scissors bit, it’s not just the best song in this demo, but a really good piece on its own as well. The comedy/drama balance seems to be pretty okay and the heroines are all likable with their individual quirks.
And yet, while overall it was a fun read (despite being archetypes, the heroines and their interactions with the protag are entertaining), I suspect that this will not end up being a must-play masterpiece of a VN. While the rock-paper-scissors scene was great, it was probably the only stand-out moment – nothing else really crossed that invisible line that separates “just okay” from “wow”. I have a feeling that this will be a fun, yet ultimately forgettable read that most people will have moderate/lukewarm reactions to. I would love to be proven wrong, though. I suppose we’ll find out at the end of the month, as Gleam Garden no Shoujo is set to be released on the 26th of July.