Kupo Writes! Game Awards 2023 Day 2!!

Welcome, kupo~!! Here are the awards for Day 2 of the Kupo Writes! Game awards. Find out the moments that touched us throughout 2023!!

My Anime Boyfriend Can't Be This Cute Award - Our Life: Beginnings and Always by GB Patch Games

Presented by Mog Knight

Now, this next visual novel did not come out this year. But I've been meaning to read it for the longest time. With the latest DLC coming out and with a Steam Deck in hand, I thought maybe it would be time to try it out. I'm glad I did, as the hopeless romantic in me sparked with joy as I ventured through life with my childhood friend turned boyfriend.

As a fan of romance in visual novels for many many years, this entire premise is a unique one for a genre like this. There's been slice-of-life VN's before, childhood friend stories before, and stories that take you through years of life before. But what sets "Our Life" apart is both the high amount of customization/choices combined with taking all those elements mentioned before and just being extremely solid with it all. As a VN system, although it may just be simple flags of programming, characters remember choices through years and big chapters to where it is used to memorable effect. Not just remember a simple choice like my favorite food I chose so many hours ago, but also remember how I treated some characters. There's care in the details and what this VN sets out to make, and it does it so well.

The other aspect about what made this a memorable read and experience this year was the fact that it feels like the characters are growing up with you. The VN is split up into big life periods, from adolescence to pre-teen to teen and all the way up to pre-adulthood. Each life periods has a bunch of little vignettes or stories that you can go through them all or pick ones that seem interesting to you. But as you move on in life, people change and grow, people move away, people come back and you wonder "wait, is that him after all these years?". It's a fun neat feeling, a unique one also given that the story beats are not forced or that long. Much like all your choices, you can pick and choose what you want to experience.

Finally, the big point of this VN. The lovely jade-haired, emerald-eyed, sun-kissed skin of a lad - Cove. Your shy, anime boyfriend who you lead into love for the first time. When you first meet him as your summer neighbor with his recently-divorced dad, he was cold, distant, and upset that he had to be there for the summer. But he warmed up to you, even if it took a while. And as the years went on, you become closer and closer. (You can also go one and date the other boys too, I guesssss but they don't hold a candle to my boy. Maybe Baxter though. But he's kind of a jerk). As a romance lover, I love the romance scenes - very cutely written and can both show off how dorky he is but also how serious he can or wants to be. And with the amount of choices and customizability, you can tailor things to your head canon. Perhaps you don't mind him being kissy and affectionate. Perhaps you want to just keep it at hand holding for now. Perhaps you just enjoy his company without being so physical. No matter the case, Cove will be understanding.

I guess the big reason I wanted to highlight this game specifically is that it does something unique as a visual novel to where I want to take inspiration from it. Making a VN like this with this level of customizability and this level of systems is not an easy task. I do have a criticism where at times it feels like there's too much choice to where it kind of bogs down the narrative flow and makes one wonder how it truly affects anything. Much like making a Subway sandwich in a new way for the very first time with ingredients you have not tried before. Does this sandwich make cohesive sense? Do I really want olives in here? Is this the right choice of bread for this meat? Perhaps I'm thinking too much about the inside of the sandwich. Perhaps the real sandwich are the friends we made along the way.

But in any case, I enjoyed my time with "Our Life" and my time with Cove. One of the most lighthearted things I read this year. I'm looking forward to their next "Our Life" project coming out in the future.

Train Enthusiast Choice Award - Last Train Home by Ashborne Games

Presented by Andy

Last Train Home is a great combination of two different games in one. It is a real-time tactics game similar to XCOM and Jagged Alliance and a resource management game. It was developed by Czech-based studios Ashborne Games and released on November 28, 2023. The story of Last Train Home takes place after the October Revolution, the Russian Empire has withdrawn from the First World War as it faces a civil war between the Russian Provisional Government loyalists, the faction that superseded the removal of Russian Empire’s Tsarist autocratic ruling, known in history and this game as the Whites; and the Bolsheviks, the Reds, that is working to seize power from the Provisional Government and unite the remnants of the Empire under Communist leadership. While already starting at an incredibly interesting moment in history, the game focuses on a third faction: The Czechoslovak Legion, a volunteer expeditionary force that fought on the Eastern Front against the Central Powers in exchange for independent sovereignty.

The plot lays itself incredibly straightforward. Your legion, aboard an armored train, must journey from outside of Moscow, on the western edge of Russia all the way to Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, a journey of nearly 8000km or 5000 miles. You must scavenge, craft, or trade every piece of food, fuel, medicine and ammunition you need, and you have to maintain a crew that needs to eat, sleep, and get pretty depressed when the journey’s outlook goes from bad to worse.


The game has two main gameplay modes: traveling and combat. Traveling takes place in an overworld map with stations, villages, and other points of interest scattered across your route eastward. You can stop the train at any time to send out hunting parties to forests or scavenging parties to abandoned villages to find supplies. The name of the game here is time, it takes time for parties on foot to travel and it will take time for them to scavenge, in that meantime you can make decisions to upgrade and repair your train or use that time for crew members to rest or craft items. Meanwhile, as time ticks on, the threat of the enemy knowing where you are and their chance to sabotage your journey grows higher.

My favourite part of this mode comes from random events that can occur on your journey home. The one that really cemented how much I would enjoy this game was a discussion between three of the crew on the difference between murder and killing on the battlefield, on whether there was a moral difference between the two. While the discussion itself was not particularly deep, it added a lot of nuance to the characters that are onboard your train, while most traits may seem innocuous, some really pay out over the course of the game.

The second gameplay mode often stems from enemies trying to stop your train's progression or from friendly forces requesting your help in key battles that are along your way. Battles early on really demand some forethought in how you’re going to be engaging with the enemy. Your troops aren’t that much tougher than your opponents, so you really have to take the two major advantages you have to you: Proper planning and the element of surprise. Most engagements play out like this: you have to capture a hill, so you have your squad sneak around on all sides to try to box the enemy in and hit them fast so you can maximize the element of surprise and cause maximum damage, and you make sure to hit them hard, so that whatever remains has to fight a losing battle where you have the superior numbers and an advantageous positioning. This at least is how I imagine most people would play this game, and I did too until I made a game-changing discovery. Spoilers for Gameplay: About halfway through my journey I discovered that at a certain level, the Scout Class learns a Skill known as Critical Shot, which after a short delay to aim will instantly one-shot any regular enemy in the game, and within 2-3 will destroy almost 95% of armored units. So I did what was most logical, I trained a bulk of my combat units to become Scouts and now played most missions with a hunting part of 4 to 5 insta-kill units that just walked directly into most engagements and just headshotted anything that stood in their way.

Poor guys won't know what hit them.

Kinda Spoilers from here on out, you’ve been warned.

A major theme that Last Train home really reiterates to the player is that this train, the one you are commanding, is the last hope for any stranded Czechoslovak soldiers to return home. I took this responsibility very seriously, the core of my group, the original sixteen-ish crew were above all else going to make it home, so I set up a rule to maximize their probability of survival, we would pick up whoever else we could, but we maxed out at 24 people. I had to make some tough calls, some people were to be left behind, and I just wasn’t prepared for how many that would be. It did leave me feeling not great about leaving them behind.

Well, maybe I didn't feel bad for all of them.

In one particular case, one of my soldiers contracted tuberculosis, and I was not about to endanger my crew for the sake of a newcomer, I was bound by my duties to the others to make sure to minimize the risk of others getting sick or worse dying a death that could have been avoided.

Sorry friend, rules are rules. Good luck.

In the end, Last Train Home is a solidly made game that showcases a particular part of history that isn’t portrayed as often as others are. I think the game gets a little long in the tooth personally, I clocked around 70 hours to completion, which includes taking all of the decisions to take the shorter route, the engagements really take up most of that time mostly due to the size of the maps, generously sized to entire countrysides dotted with small villages, industrial complexes or entire sections of city. The resource management and the combat can be trivialized with some forethought and min-maxing if you’re inclined to do so, there was some pretty funny dissonance, where characters in cutscenes would lament the lack of food and fuel, meanwhile in the game the storage cars would be filled to the brim with coal, food, and my endlessly disturbing amount of stimulants (that I used to sell station to station to fund the journey home). But I wholly enjoyed the experience outside of some small technical hiccups and a tired game loop as battles get longer toward the end.

Last Word: I would imagine the legend would have gone crazy for this Pat Metheny Group tune:

Reaping and Sowing Award - Endless Monday: Dreams and Deadlines by hcnone

Presented by Mog Knight

I tend to wear all the aesthetics I like on my sleeve - pixel/aliasing computer art, cute anime girls/boys, unique stories, and narratives. The list goes on and on. So imagine the surprise when one of my favorite artists released their very first VN game based on the OCs and comics that I have been seeing for years.

Day 1. Bought it. Read it. Finished all the endings (thank you guide-makers).

Boy, did a lot of it hit like a truck. It's a fun read, don't get me wrong. But, at least for me, as a person who likes to create things for fun, a person who has to work, a person with procrastination problems that stem from anxiety, a person who knows how it is to be unemployed for a long stretch of time, a person that fears disappointing others, and a person who has a hard time confronting hard truths - it's such a compelling read.

Endless Monday is about Penny, an artist and designer tasked with creating advertisements for a project she knows nothing about and all the information about it is very vague. A typical happening the the world of corporate where higher-ups do not give much notice or care towards the creatives and artists that are "below them". Penny's department is a team of two including herself, and your lead, Ms. Whiskey, is set to do a presentation on this project come Monday morning.

It is Saturday.

You do not have anything done.

You had three weeks, perhaps even a month to do this project.

You did not do it.

And now you must pay the price.

You must battle your hallucinations. Battle sleep deprivation. Battle your distractions. Battle your phone. Hell, even battle aliens. Or else you'll be fired. Forced to find a new career path. Find a new life.

This visual novel goes on many twists and turns, but still stays grounded to ideas and issues that are both relatable and current to the going-ons of today. The idea of computers and artificial intelligence taking over the creative sector, the idea of corporate burnout, the idea of working for a company you do not truly believe in especially if they go against what you think is right, all among other things like depression, anxiety, procrastination - finding media that does all these things in a balanced way is rare but "Endless Monday" does it very well. It's cute, funny, and all too real.

At the end of the day, habits are hard to break. I feel for Skye who left her job to pursue her cooking show passion but is in that time funk following her unemployment where your routine is suddenly gone and you lose sense of time by staying in bed. I feel for Penny who, like with what I'm doing now, finds or crafts excuses to put the most crucial task in front of her away until the last minute. I feel for Ms. Whiskey who wants her coworker/protégé to succeed and be self-sufficient but it feels like a losing battle. I wish for them all the best. Even Hana.

But not Blythe. Heck her. Heck her and her smug grin.

4 Colors and a Dream Award - Enjoy the Diner by Gekkan Shicchitai/Studio Dragonet

Presented by Mog Knight

You know what I said earlier about how I wear all the aesthetics I like on my sleeves? Mog will look at screenshots of this game and say "hell yeah". With "Enjoy the Diner" in particular, I came for the 4-bit art style, stayed for the compelling characters and mystery-solving adventures of this diner trapped in time and space, and left confused yet mind-blown of how everything wrapped up. Definitely a memorable read for this year, and a great experience.

I enjoyed the slow-paced and almost mundane conversations with all the diner guests, and although you kind of know something is wrong is afoot it doesn't play its hand out until toward the very end. After you get there, it wraps up with a nice epilogue for most all the characters - a bit of their backstory too. For a two or three hour read, it's something I recommend if not for all the small talk between characters from different time periods or motivations, then for the twist of what the weird purgatory diner actually is.

What really got me hooked and left that lasting impression is the idea of finding comfort in your loneliness. With endless time sitting alone in a booth at a diner that only serves free refills of soda you have never heard of before, striking up a conversation does not seem too bad. Throughout the game, you pick up little topics that you can ask the four customers of the diner, ranging from mundane topics to ones that really pique their interest. After all, what else are you going to do?

Spot the difference!

As you start progressing, more of the truth of this diner world comes out. Something something aliens, something something observing humans, something something protecting someone goes horribly wrong, something something exile, something something primordial soup that gives you back your memories. It's all very strange. I probably need to reread it once more to fully get it. But it is quite a ride.

And remember. Everyone loves the soda fountain. The soda fountain loves you too!

Ace (Mecha) Combat Award - Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon by FromSoft

Presented by Andy

I want to start this discussion by stating that I would not describe myself as a mecha fan, my favourite Gundam series was Mobile Suit Gundam G, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of anything else. Further, this is moreso supported by not having played many mecha/giant robot-based video games either. My most formative experience was playing but not completing Front Mission 1 & 3 a few years ago, and bouncing off Armored Core 4 and For Answer much more recently. What I am familiar with though, is the majority of FromSoftware’s Soulslike releases since Demon Souls (and King’s Field IV ( shout out to Remap Radio’s playthrough))

Armored Core 6 was developed by FromSoftware and released on August 25th, 2023, to incredible popularity, and I was riding along with it. Hearing about the new Armored Core game from big fans that I follow, specifically Austin Walker, Renata Price, and Castle Super Beast. Hearing that it was playing closer with game design that was championed by FromSoft’s previous work in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice made the game from the “Will Probably Purchase Eventually” to the “Will Purchase Day of”.

This trailer cut by Austin Walker may or not have played a significant role in my decision to purchase the game.

So I think to myself about what made Armored Core 6, just hit differently previous mecha-centered titles? I think I can really pin it down to the sense of speed that comes inherited from past games and a sense of control and response that I feel comes distinctly from playing other FromSoft Titles like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. When I was playing AC4, there was definitely a layer of clunkiness that, at least compared to other contemporaries, was a product of that era of game development, not necessarily a flaw but an inherent trait that was common. There was definitely now a new direction of that design philosophy, a purposeful connectedness that those controls have been revised and adapted and changed for this iteration of the series. One of the great things that this title has retained is the amount of distinct strategies that are allowed for. Initially, I was a big fan of the twin SMGs that you start with and later was more or less forced to adapt to the enemies at hand (looking at you pre-patch Balteus). I mostly found myself exploiting ACS mechanics and so gladly relied on the “cheap” but incredibly satisfying combination of the twin Zimmerman shotguns and dual Songbird grenade launchers. I have no shame, I had fun.

He gonna find out.

Visually speaking, the game is gorgeous. What I found the most striking was the intentional decision to present the majority of the dialogue in static cutscenes, much like radio codexes or briefings in other games. I’m really fond of this because you have to draw a lot of character from the voice acting alone, which this game does masterfully. Some of my favourite characters include Carla and G1 Michigan as well as a certain trainee pilot and a doomed Vesper.

Found out.

Overall, Armored Core 6 is another homerun. I’m happy to see that the audience for this series is still bright and vibrant and the entry has sold well enough to hopefully garner a new entry in the near future.

In the meantime, stay frosty and see you planetside, tourist.

Most Anticipated Part 2 Award/Visual Novel of the Year - Twofold by Salty Salty Studios

Presented by Mog Knight

There's a lot I can say, a lot I want to say about this visual novel. I'm still working on a bigger piece on it that hopefully will see the light of day. But for now, I will say that Twofold is in my top 10 of visual novels I have played, ever since I played my first one around 2008. Perhaps it's just recency bias. Perhaps it's because I've been waiting for this VN ever since an April Fools teaser involving an alternate reality where a confession has gone wrong and one reveals that they are both androids. In fact, the first-ever act 1 demo was my GOTY of 2014, though it also might have been biased because that was the year I entered community college, much like the setting for this VN.

A lot has changed since that demo aptly titled "Work-in-Progress". And because I loved the demo so much, I always kept in touch with the development of this project and their blog that they had. It was fun reading their updates whether they had a lot to say or a little. But I remember the moment they updated Caprice's design removing her top hat. I fell to my knees, cursing at the sky. It was for the better, I know. But change is hard sometimes, much like for the characters in Twofold.

Change, motherhood/sisterhood, grief, dealing with the unknown, trying your best to pick up the pieces but feeling it's not enough, wanting space and time away from others but not knowing how to vocalize it, and just dealing with a situation for the first time while lacking that wisdom or emotional awareness which leads to a kind of frustration from within. All topics found in a visual novel where you just need tutoring to pass a class and make sure you don't flunk college. The trope of falling in love with your teacher is real, but you being the nice person you are, have the resolve to help your lady friend through supporting them as best as you can.

I appreciate that Olive, the main character (who is also non-binary and this VN approaches that well which is sooo cool), is an outsider to their problems/family and they understand it too - so they act as an emotional support and a kind of reflection to either Caprice or Millie. While some may view it as passiveness, Olive truly is honest and supportive but still maintains their own personality, one that is a perfect foil to show the real meat of this VN: the internal struggle of Millie's approach to her grief.

Do not get me wrong, I really like Caprice's route as it's one of a standard VN romance, a bit of slice-of-life camaraderie with her art club crew, and a bit of understanding a cool mother-daughter relationship. Her drama point is a powerful one too, but at the end of the day it still stems from her best childhood friend Millie. When you get to Millie's route, it is such a roller coaster. I do not want to say too much because it will be big spoilers, but I do recommend that if you read this VN (and you will read it, right?), do Caprice's route first then Millie. Two stories that once you have the context of one, you then realize what the other one was going through all this time.

I will close off this segment by saying this: the epilogue stories are one of the most emotional ones I have ever read, one where I was pretty much teary-eyed at the end. You basically meet the character they only mentioned throughout the entire VN. It's all voice-acted (the voice acting is amazing all throughout btw, some amazing direction and VA work), and the big climax reveal is so heart-wrenching. But it feels real, and it's a subject that doesn't get covered in VNs that I've read. Things like the single-parent experience of raising a child, things like household drama that doesn't get talked about but is heavily implied, things like the stability and support needed to raise a child in the first place and where they get it from.

The uniqueness of Twofold should not be understated, from the setting to the unique paper-craft art style to the topics covered and the way all the characters are written to help keep everything moving to even the vibes of the BGM. Twofold is seriously one of the best things I've read and experienced this year. Of all years. And I've read a lot of media, and read a lot of VNs. But this one truly stuck with me. 10 hours of my life, combined with the 10 years of waiting for the completed project to come out.

It was well worth the wait. Shoutouts to the past and present crew of Salty Salty Studios. Thank you for this experience, and for sharing your character's stories.

[As a treat, here's the ringtone I've been using since 2014 - Caprice's old ringtone]

Thanks for reading Day 2!! Come back tomorrow for more awards!!

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