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2016-01-19

Dahlia Review


Title: Dahlia
Original title: Dahlia-ダーリア-
Release date: 2014-08-17
English/French release date: 2015-07-02
Developer: Cosmillica
English publisher: Kinkan édition

"Dahlia" is a strange beast all around. First of all, it was released by an indie Japanese company, then it was localised into English by an obscure French company and lastly it was released only in the physical form and sold only in conventions. It's no surprise that the game is impossible to come across in a legal manner, and the only way I could experience it was the same way as the rest of the Internet.

Frankly, after playing the game I can say that releasing the game in such a limited way makes sense. The English/French publisher probably realised how shitty the game was and wanted to expose as few people to this filth as possible. Admirable, really, but hard to accomplish in this day and age. Let's take a look at this turdie and examine the reasons that make this game such an unbearable experience.
Looks more like a scaffold than an auction block.
The central premise of this VN is cliché as hell, but shows some promise. The year is 1894. The family of our protagonist Emilie La Fontaine loses its wealth to an insurance scam, than mommy and daddy La Fontaine go missing during a highway robbery and finally our protagonist is accosted by a pimp and sold in an auction. Goddammit, girl! It's obvious that Emilie was written to be fate's punching bag and it would be okay if it was just the premise, but this unequal boxing match continues throughout the whole story.

Eventually Emilie passes into the possession of lady Yvonne, who runs a peculiar brothel, though I use the word in the loosest sense possible. To be truthful, the whole premise of a yuri romance in a Parisian brothel, which initially attracted me to the story, is a lie or at least an exaggeration. The developers weren't brave enough to make it an actual brothel, probably because they thought that it will repel potential players. Rather, the girls in Yvonne's house are not prostitutes - they are shunamites, and their job is to sleep with the clients... literally. Yeah, I was as caught of guard as you probably are. All the shunamites are required to be virgins and lots of wealthy men come to sleep with them without actually doing anything else. I don't know if that is the most brilliant or the most absurd idea ever, but it is definitely one of those extremes.
The whole cast fits on one screen.
We come to know that there is currently one other shunamite in Yvonne's house (I'm not calling it a brothel) - Dahlia. She is a beautiful pale-skinned and white-haired girl with a petulant and moody attitude. Emilie and Dahlia quickly become friends and eventually lovers. Yay, we finally reached yuri love! The angels are singing hosannas and devils are building world peace. 10/10. What else do you want? Erm... not so fast.

After some time passes it becomes clear to the readers (though Emilie is completely oblivious) that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. First of all, the relationship between Emilie and Dahlia is unhealthily one-sided. Dahlia never goes outside and spends her days sleeping or brooding, while Emilie has complete freedom of movement... but chooses not to exercise it. Yvonne even tries to coax Emilie to go outside, but she refuses, arguing that it would make Dahlia unhappy if she did something that Dahlia was unable to do. Emilie quickly takes a position of Dahlia's doormat, with her whole world basically evolving around her. Not only is this behaviour particularly unhealthy, but it is pretty obvious that Yvonne and Dahlia have some secrets that they are willing to do anything to hide.
The men are so unimportant, they are just anatomically incorrect shadows.
I have mentioned that I think this VN showed some promise and I have to reiterate that. By this point of the novel I was intrigued and clicking my mouse like crazy, because the plot managed to pique my curiosity. I already had a theory about the mystery of the Yvonne's brothel (which was proven mostly right) and, knowing how short the game is, I wanted to see how it all plays out. Sadly "Dahlia" is one of those games where characters completely and utterly kill the game and any redeeming value it might have had. I'm speaking about Emilie in particular.

There has never been a fictional character I wanted to punch in the face as badly as Emilie. If there is an illustrated Thesaurus somewhere out there in the multiverse, then Emilie's portrait is surely included by the term "Hetare" as a textbook example. Emilie not only embodies the definition of useless, she is also the character with the lowest self-esteem I have seen in a long time. Sure, her life have been kinda crappy lately, which gives birth to certain PTSD-like issues. Usually, over the course of the game the character would get better as part of their growth; Emilie gets worse.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
Jesus, Emilie's self-flagellation becomes so nerve grinding that I devised an imaginary whack-a-mole game. Every time Emilie said something depreciating herself I imagined punching her straight into her mug. I don't think she survived ten minutes.
Greedy thing, ain't ya?
Moreover, the central mystery of the game, while kind of obvious, also isn't properly explained. In the end, I'm still confused as fuck. The worst aspect of the explanation is that it frequently contradicts itself, and additional details get tacked on and not properly integrated. The developers thought they are being clever by intentionally obscuring Dahlia's true nature, but in the end, the word "pretentious" is a more satisfying description.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
The game raises so many questions, but answers none and leaves an ashy feeling in your mouth (pun fully intended).

Might be, some of the problems stem from the translation. It's glaringly obvious that the game was translated by non-English speakers. All, the typos and grammar mistakes notwithstanding, many of the sentences are stiff and structured in a way no native English speaker would ever do. Don't get me wrong, the translation is not really bad and I didn't see any particularly atrocious errors, but it still reads stilted and I'm wondering if something important was lost, especially regarding the explanation of the mystery. Not to mention, that sentences very frequently getting split between the screens, which makes reading a really weird experience, especially if we include voice acting into consideration. It doesn't help that the game uses an atrocious font, where all the separate letters appear like they are encased in a box. It takes some time getting used to and still looks ugly.
The girls are so horny, they don't even bother losing their clothes.
Talking about ugly, "Dahlia" is definitely a low budget doujin with a most simplistic look. Backgrounds are either filtered photographs or the most basic undetailed drawings with equally simplistic sprites. There are very few CGs and most of them are H-scenes, which are still mosaic censored despite this being an official release. Sure, the H-scenes are cute looking, but they are also simple enough that you can barely call them arousing. There are also some completely unnecessary rape scenes, which didn't fit the atmosphere of the game and left me confused, as they came out of nowhere just for the shock value.

Surprisingly, the game is fully voiced, with even the most minor roles having voiced lines. "Cosmillica" didn't skim money in that department. Additionally, there is an ending song performed in French by Fuuka Mariwo. I don't know how correct her language is, but from what I have seen on her website, she is an actual French speaker. The developers have tried to do everything in order to convince us that the game is set in 19th century Paris, going so far as to give us a short history lesson on Paris Commune and the "Bloody Week". They don't completely succeed, but I have to give points for trying.
Self portrait of a doormat.
I find it a good thing that "Dahlia" is a kinetic novel of only about three hours in length. It would have been unbearable if it were any longer. As it was, the game is a disappointing effort with a halfway interesting premise, but probably the worst lead in VN history... and I did play "Chaos;Head". Try it at the peril of your own sanity, but I suggest imbibing a huge amount of alcohol before proceeding... it's safer that way.

Before playing the game, I had big hopes for another "Cosmillica" game "Atom Grrrl!", which is supposed to be localised into English by "Sekai Project" and includes interracial yuri sex (*nom nom*), but after reading "Dahlia" my expectations went down the drain. It's really a shame...

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Official English/French publisher site
Purchase the game at Kawa-Soft store

Final Verdict: 29 %

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