[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media. Hentai gaming, fantasy fanfics, twisted psychology and notes from the dark side—we'll expose, discuss and enjoy the delicious underbelly of our beloved gaming universe.]

-As we’ve discussed before, the click-through, plot-branched story game is the most common format in the genre; you could almost think of many H-games more as interactive novels than games. Verbose and prosaic, it almost seems counter-intuitive to make the player sit through all that story, when one would assume that what they really want is to get to the “good stuff.”

Designers of these games seem to be aware of this, and so the plot devices that most normally appear tend to be cheap and easy shortcuts; the games need characters on the verge of revelation, with sex as the catalyst to catharsis. In so drawing them, designers kill two birds with one stone—they don’t have to make players wait too long, and they can draw depth of emotion in the story (or at least, so endeavor) at the same time.

As a result, the “troubled teen” is a conventional archetype. These novella-like H-games regularly feature young girls with emotional problems or deep-seated issues. Sensibly, from the standpoint of creating an erotic game, they’re prone to dangerous, impulsive or inexplicable behavior—like having wild relations with a boy they hardly know, conveniently enough. Sometimes, the girl characters are outright mentally unstable, straddling the line between salvation and madness.

You, of course, are the one who must rescue them. Indeed, should you reject their advances, the fragile things’ very lives could be on your hands.

In Yume Miru Kusuri (Peach Princess, 2006), you’re a high school boy (who, like all of the other game characters, is implausibly “20 years old”) navigating the complex nature of the feminine through relationships with girls in class. The setting is strongly established—the art, done by the fantastic Kiyotaka Haimura, is exceptional, and as an appreciated deviation from the usual harsh synthesizer headache, the music is rather nice, too. Plenty of sunsets over cityscapes and schoolrooms washed in watercolor, and the characters look refreshingly lovely, too.

The school-focused environment is a familiar H-game setting. Often, this is a logical matter of near-fetishism—young babes, pleated skirts and sexual curiosity, of course—but Yume Miru Kusuri’s unique in that it takes a step outside the two-dimensional, to make the entire high school experience pivotal to the story.

-Also unusual about Yume Miru Kusuri is the fact that, to achieve positive endings, you essentially have to choose one girl relatively early in the game to take the journey with. This is a pleasantly uncommon departure from the usual buffet-style storyline; Yume Miru Kusuri actually features three distinct plot threads surrounding each of the story’s leading ladies. While there is a significant expository portion in the game during which Kouhei, the protagonist, has the opportunity to familiarize himself to some extent with each one, the game will actually end without so much as a credit roll if you don’t eventually start demonstrating a preference.

Distinct characterization, beautiful, nostalgic art, and high school relationships with gravely troubled girls in a story especially prosaic even for its genre—the setting’s ripe for an afterschool special, in both the ironic and literal senses of the term.

The three females of the game are each compelling and strange from Kouhei’s initial distance from them, capturing the filter of mystery through which teenage boys view all beautiful girls. Eventually, Kouhei’s involvement with whichever one the player’s choices indicate becomes inextricable, and he gets closer to the demons driving them.

-Mizuki Kirimiya is the beautiful, regal student council President, admired from afar by many students. When Kouhei’s singled out by Kirimiya to help out with the student council’s workload, however, he gradually comes to learn that perhaps her admirable façade is exactly that—an untruth, a cover for deep insecurity and downright dangerous manipulative behavior. Then, there’s Aeka Shiraki, a fragile little thing who’s picked on in class, but never stops smiling—even when Kouhei comes to know just how severe the abuse she endures really is, coupled with the instability of her home life, and the gravity those emotional wounds bring to bear on the girl’s well-being. Finally, the bizarre “Cat Sidhe Nekoko,” a strange girl who eats out of the garbage and believes she’s a fairy. Is she a mental patient, a drug addict, or is it actually possible she’s the displaced denizen of an imaginary world?

Though the game isn’t exactly sparing in the sex scenes despite the bulky, involved story, what’s most unusual is the encouragement of monogamy and the relationship that sexual interaction with these girls actually maintains to the protagonist’s emotional involvement with them. It doesn’t attempt to be a straight-up love story, like many games do—and somehow seems less superficial for that fact. These characters all have serious problems, and the game doesn’t trivialize that.

-If played with the optimal choices, each girl will have the opportunity to learn about herself and reverse her beeline for tragedy, through Kouhei’s love and support—and, of course, through the miraculous healing power of sex with him. After all, Yume Miru Kusuri may be somewhat unconventional, but it’s still an H-game. But at the same time, the game doesn’t take the common but deprecating step of endowing your protagonist—generally an ordinary line-drawing of a horny guy—with some kind of undeserved omnipotence. Kouhei’s an H-game hero with a conscience and a spirit, as he wrestles with the ways in which his involvement with these girls might affect his relationship to his peer group and his place in a family he’s never quite felt he belonged.

In that way, Yume Miru Kusuri is a journey of growth both for Kouhei and his female partner, tapping into age-appropriate pain and fears. Age-appropriate, but often unusually severe—expect Kouhei to end up in the hospital more than once. Still, despite raging hormones (which are actually an occasional source of conflict for Kouhei) and plenty of gratuitous CG too salve them, the game actually manages to pull off a one-girl, emotionally grounded story and treat it with a measure of respect. Y’know—kind of like a real relationship.

Monogamy and emotional connection—in an H-game? Who’d have thought?

[Special thanks to JList for providing us the game for review in this column—you can download a playable demo or purchase Yume Miru Kusuri at their site, as well as check out additional art, sound files, wallpaper and a movie of the game.]

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Destructoid, Paste, and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]