Like Calves to the Stylish Slaughter

September 11th, 2021

Yes, this is a game with a character named "Porno."

I've not mentioned any Japanese games for a while, what with translation not being… a thing… but I have played a few, and with my disgust for Fena and the weekend's offerings this season in general having reached a fever pitch last week, I can spend the last couple weekends rambling aimlessly about some of the recent ones I've prodded at. First up is Alicesoft's Dohna Dohna – Let's Do Bad Together from November of last year. Yes, I'm counting that as recent, and no, I don't have a firm grip on why it's named after a Yiddish folk song about killing cattle, but I have my suspicions. 

Right away, you'll notice the ridiculously impressive artistic style. It's definitely aiming to mimic Persona, and does a rather impressive job of accomplishing that through gorgeous sprite work and vibrant animations. It is a ridiculously good looking game that like Persona, tries to make even menu navigation dynamic and fun. That alone goes a very, very long way to soothing over all the other rough edges in the game. And there are many. A particularly unfortunate one is that there are so few flavors of enemies, including bosses, but the game is fairly short too, so they don't have room to totally run out their welcome.

     

A lot less care went into the gameplay though. The basic mechanic of combat is that every skill has a specific and limited range. For example, a skill with a range of 1 can only be used if the character is in the front position, and can only target the enemy in the front position. A range of 2 means they can target enemy slot 1 from party slot 2, or enemy 2 from party 1. What this means in practice is that the overwhelming majority of your interaction with the combat is shuffling party members around every single turn to be in the right position. There are no basic attacks. You cannot defend or pass. Which also leads to the weirdest work around. If you do want to just throw away a turn, you need to open the item menu and use an item you have infinite of… which is listed as x99, but never decreases. Why you wouldn't just make that a dedicated button is beyond me. Buffs and debuffs do exist, but since they're tied to specific characters/skills, not a whole lot of actual strategy is involved anywhere. If not for the visuals, the combat would be an absolute chore.

The flow of the game isn't complex either. Each day you get to hang out with someone that provides stat bonuses or unlocks skills/scenes with them, earn money (I'll get to that later), or go to a dungeon. There's a token shop too, with both consumable and permanent upgrades, but the only character equippables are a limited set of unique badges that provide some minor passive bonus. Each chapter, you're given some objective (eg Earn $3,000) which will unlock a dungeon, but there's no overall time limit (though the occasional bad end type deal for plot purposes for dallying at specific points). You can unlock NG+ bonuses through various achievements, but like a lot of Alicesoft games, the requirements for seeing various scenes tend to be obscure and arcane, forcing the following of a guide and still usually requiring a half dozen or more playthroughs to see it all.

  

Which leads us to the dungeons. They're all linear tree maps. You move from one node to the next until you're defeated or reach an exit, with spots blocked off until certain plot ot item things. Nodes have various things like treasures, or larger mobs, but nothing particularly interesting or notable for an RPG. Which, again, like the combat, means that there aren't really any meaningful decisions to make along the way. You're pretty much just hitting forward and going through identical series of rote battles. The ones where all you're doing is shifting your party members around. And you'll have to do all of these boring dungeons multiple times to to accomplish the arbitrary objective given for each chapter to continue the story, or just to grind for money, levels, items, or… well, let's tackle the elephant in the room.

The perceptive among you will notice that I've steered clear of talking about the story of the game or the characters so far. I'll be blunt. It's a game about human trafficking. You are a human trafficker. You go into 'dungeons' like the local mall specifically to find teenage girls to kidnap. Its central thesis is "Yo, grabbing random women, pumping them full of drugs, and selling them against their will to men until they're completely broken inside is super duper awesome!" There's a whole sim side of the game where you manage your slaves' stats and try to farm good traits like "Virgin" or "Married." It's the only way to earn money and the reason you do literally anything at all. This is why despite Alicesoft's strong ties to MangaGamer and other localization successes, I cannot see it being officially localized. Even without getting into the politics of how trafficking is the new cudgel the moral majority uses to attack sex industries, a game that is full throated glorification and celebration of it would be… radioactive, shall we say?

I don't think it had to be like this either. Make it forcing them into a job like data entry or Amazon warehouse worker, or game development, and bam, that's societal satire! Cutting satire! And you can still do the whole thing where they become progressively more damaged and broken inside until they're an empty husk, not to mention still have them be raped by their bosses if you really want to, because lord knows that would still be accurate satire. But we didn't choose that path, which like all the isekai slave harem apologia really gives the impression that it has no problem with slavery. The problem is that someone else is doing it instead of you. There's also something a little… offputting… about the mechanic where having sex makes women less desirable and dead inside. It feels weird for a game in the sex industry to have such clear and open antipathy towards sex workers. Especially when sex with you is the vehicle for powering up and unlockings skills.

Anyway, again, the visuals and the style can do a lot of heavy lifting, but the gameplay itself is grindy and not well-designed, even without getting into *waves arms* all the rest. If you've watched the skill exhibition above, you've seen the best that the game has to offer. It's sort of an interesting idea, but it's all flash, no depth or substance. A metric absolute buttload of flash, no doubt, and that may be enough to carry it in a sub-medium where the default is ultra-low budget. Mostly though, it makes me wish they'd make Daibanchou 2 with this kind of art style and care put into the animation. And all its asinine design decisions cleaned up and fixed too. But would it even be an Alicesoft game at that point?

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