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2020-01-25

Depraved Awakening Review

Title: Depraved Awakening
Release date: 2018-11-24
Developer & publisher: Philly Games

When you go exploring the dark and seedy underworld of Patreon-funded visual novels, you more keenly than ever start appreciating the Sturgeon's Law. The wast majority of these VNs range from terribad to merely mediocre in quality, with a few good ones with potential hidden here and there. Finding an excellent VN on Patreon is, well, not impossible, but certainly hard enough. I won't be dragging my assessment of Philly Games' visual novel "Depraved Awakening" until the end of the review - rather I will tell you straight away: It's one of the best, if not the best original English language visual novel I have ever had the pleasure of playing. So, here's them apples.

While upon starting the game you get a chance to name your protagonist, his default name is so badass, that I feel it should constitute a crime to change it. In fact, I'm baffled by the emerging trend of allowing the player to name the protagonist. As I never self-insert myself into the protagonist's shoes, I find the concept distracting, as it creates a notion that I'm not watching exploits of a real person. Rather the renameability reminds me that the protagonist is only a construct we are controlling, which hinders my immersion. At least I can get over it if the developer gives us a chance to use an non-generic default name, as is the case with "Depraved Awakening". So, let's introduce you all to Jake Spade, a private eye extraordinaire, or maybe the phrasing "private dick" would be more appropriate, taking into account that we are playing an eroge :-)
I thought the game is set in America. *confused*
Philly quite obviously has taken his inspiration from various hard-boiled noir fiction, in order to plot out his visual novel. And just like many classical film noir works we start our journey with a... visit to a hooker? Okay, I'll be straight with you here, I was expecting a visit from a femme fatale to Jake's office, but I'll take what I'm given. After all, as I have already mentioned, this is an eroge, so starting it with a bang seems vaguely appropriate ;-)

Those players who like some plot with their "bang" shouldn't feel discouraged though, this is not just a throwaway scene to satisfy our base ID. The aforementioned hooker soon becomes one of the central characters in the game and this was a nice introduction scene for such an important character, wrapped into a hot and sweaty package. "Depraved Awakening" (DA) is much more then just a porn game, as it has a very well fleshed out detective story with interesting, likeable and well-rounded characters.
There is nothing to do but drink, after you had to scrape your husband of the pavement...
Okay, let me try introducing the game again. This visual novel doesn't start with a bang - it really starts with a splat. Jake Spade has just finished a case where he had beyond a shadow of doubt proven that a wealthy Wall Street broker Richard Mason's wife is cheating on him. After informing the unlucky husband of the affair, he now only needs to collect the paycheck and wait for a new case to drop into his lap. Mr. Richard Mason has different ideas, though, as he returns to his apartment on the 25th floor of a skyscraper and promptly defenestrates himself, leaving both literal and figurative mess behind.

As Jake starts digging into his client's private life, he realizes that many details are simply not adding up. Especially, because Richard's wife Stella claims that she and her husband had an open relationship, hence it didn't make sense for him to be spying on her activities. As this claim is corroborated by other sources, Jake gets an inkling that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and someone might just have helped late Mr. Mason on his downward flight.
Carli knows what every man wants to hear.
On your search for the truth you might get your wick wet with various characters, including the erstwhile Mrs. Mason, but in truth there are four main heroines, whose routes you can follow. The first and probably my favourite is Carli, who is a high-class escort Jake visited in the beginning. Carli is sensual and alluring, and frequently pretends to be Irish, as she is aware her fake accent works as a turn-on for some of her clients. It soon becomes clear that Carli was a friend of the Mason family, and she hires Jake to investigate the events surrounding Richard's death. What has started as a professional relationship soon becomes something more, as Jake becomes more and more bound by Carli's charms.

The second heroine is Jake's ex-wife's daughter Judy. She is currently slumming with Jake, while looking for a job. Judy is a sweet and caring girl with an endearing streak of naivety. However, don't get fooled! Once she tastes the forbidden fruit, it will be her favourite dish for years to come! In other words, Judy is probably the one that blossoms the most sexually and really becomes an adorable pervert as the time goes on.
Judy really changes her attire by the end of the game.
The inclusion of Judy was kinda predictable, as Patreon crowd just gobbles up incest content. I believe the early build of the game, created before incest was banned by the Patreon platform, had Judy as an actual Jake's daughter, but later the character was rewritten so thoroughly, there is not even a trace of the blood relationship remaining. There is actually an unofficial incest patch, but frankly I really wouldn't use it for this game. Judy works so well as someone who isn't actually related to Jake, that changing that seems like a blasphemy. Additionally, the said patch changes many of the conditions and flags for various scenes, which will result in a completely different playing experience, so if you do want to check it out, I would suggest only doing so on a second playthrough.
No comments.
The third heroine is Christina, who is a freckled redhead... I think that is all I need to tell you, because these are the most important attributes that elevate her above pretty much everyone else. Okay, I jest (not really ;-)), but Christina is probably my second most favourite heroine. She is a perverted masseuse at a spa, who becomes very good friends with Judy and Jake upon their introduction. Nominally Christina is working for the bad guys in the beginning, but she is just a pawn and not an actual player, not to mention she doesn't have a mean bone in her body. Christina is really pervy and promiscuous, and she has a boat-load of daddy issues, but she dreams big, and would like to become a writer in the future.

The fourth and last heroine is Mi-do Young - a Korean housewife living next door to Masons. She is a shy and timid woman stuck in a loveless marriage to a man, who treats her like a chattel. Mi-do is the unluckiest of heroines, as the game constantly heaps shit onto her, and it's your duty as a gallant knight to rescue her from her dreary existence. Show her actual genuine affection, and not only will you see her smile, but you will also get a loyal submissive toy. Yes, you read it right. Mi-do has a submissive streak a mile wide, and she is a perfect choice if you desire some affectionate BDSM as a side dish.
White-haired Asians... I now have a new fetish.
What makes DA really special as a visual novel, is that the developer hasn't crafted a safe story. The drawback of a Patreon model is that you have to please the audience, because if you try to deviate from the norm, you soon experience the arrival of the horde of dothraki screamers complaining "wheres ma harem? wheres ma incest? 1/10 unsubscribe". That's why many creators keep to the safe stations of storytelling. On the other hand, Philly doesn't let such silliness get in the way of storytelling. In his game people get hurt, because, guess what, when you play with fire, you get burned. Not many developers would have balls to kill off a potential love interest halfway through the game, so I appreciated that Jake does appear to be playing for high stakes and there is a real sense of danger.

The visual novel doesn't only lean on crime fiction tropes and pretty girls to carry it forward, but also liberally employs action set pieces to move forward. There are explosions, gunfights and car chases throughout the game, as the game of cat and mouse between our hero and the enemy force evolves into an outright war for supremacy. What's more, Philly doesn't forget to sprinkle a liberal dose of humour on top of this cake. Not everything in this game is dark and broody, and some well timed comedy alleviates the pressure. For example, I laughed out loud at a brutal meta joke, where a protagonist of a generic incestual nukige gets unceremoniously offed by the bad guys as a side scene.
Some people have the most fun while redecorating.
However, sadly there is one area, where the game truly falters, and that is the antagonists. "Depraved Awakening" has the dumbest motherfucking villains I have ever seen in a visual novel!!! Period!!! It's really frustrating, that such a well written visual novel skimped on convincing and menacing baddies. What were they even thinking!? What was their grand plan!? Okay, let me calm down and sort my thoughts. So, while the villains in the game are a shadowy organization, we can separate three main individuals Jake interacts with. Those would be the Big Bad (let's keep him a mystery), his underling Kira and the assassin Dragon.

Let's dissect their general plan; mild spoilers will follow. As they notice Jake investigating Richard's death, the villains decide to corrupt him to their side, as it would raise the least amount of question. Sounds reasonable so far, especially taking into account the applied phlebotinum they can use for this purpose. So, what do they do next? They just give Jake Spade a taste of perversion in a form of novel aphrodisiac and think that it would be enough to corrupt him? Why? I know it's said that the devil gives you exactly what you want and lets you find your own way to hell with it, but the last time I checked, none of the villains had horns or a tail!
You could have been one of the main heroines :-(
If you expect for the corruption to work, you have to guide the victim down the path. And Kira was in an ideal position to do that. Instead of being rescued from a purse snatcher, she should have pretended to be "rescued" from the organization Jake was investigating. She could have insinuated into Jake's life by pretending to be scared for her life and asking to stay with him and Judy. That would have allowed her to work on them both and you could have had meaningful choices, where you listen to Kira's advice and go down the dark path or you resist.

There was one promising scene with Kira and another girl in a club, but it wasn't exploited further. Kira's ominous remarks implied she would use this event against Jake, but that never happens. What a missed opportunity! And it could have worked even without Kira staying with Jake. She could have been inviting Jake frequently to the club and give him various tastes of perversion, but, once again, nothing happens.
Solving marital problems through application of rough sex.
And thus, because of the undervaluated villains, there isn't even a proper dark path for Jake. There are two endings, where Jake gives in to the dark side, but they are pretty abrupt and deeply unsatisfying. I imagine, Kira would have been a great fifth heroine, if only she had been expanded further. Jake could have joined her, toppled the Big Bad and ruled by her side, or he could have joined the Big Bad, with the game showing how you corrupt all the other heroines and rule over your own personal harem. Sadly, the current evil endings are kinda a letdown.

As far as the gameplay goes, DA is a pure visual novel, but the routes are very complex and convoluted. There are so many different triggers that affect different scenarios, that I have no idea how many times I went through the game while writing a walkthrough. Your first playthrough will take you about six hours, and the follow-up playthroughs will depend on your using a walkthrough or not. A blind 100% run will most definitely take you well over 10 hours, while you might beat the game within that time frame with a guide.
A sideways staring contest.
There are three different stats in the game that are raised and lowered, based on certain choices. Score and Lust are visible stats and affect how the heroines interact with you and the world. Score is the general affection they feel for you, while Lust is their willingness to get kinky. For example, have a low Lust, and you will miss a potential threesome :-) The third stat Depravity is invisible and affects the protagonist. Theoretically it's supposed to express how corrupted Jake is and there are some alternative sex scenes for high and low Depravity Jake, but there are no drawbacks to having this stat at high. I did all my heroine routes on high Depravity and later mopped some leftover scenes in a final "scene collection" run. In fact, low Depravity locks out at least one ending, while high stat opens every possible ending.

"Depraved Awakening" is another visual novel that uses pre-rendered 3D for its graphical presentation. How good pre-rendered graphics look, highly depends on the power of the machine that does the rendering. Low power rigs produce grainy, dark material, while the most powerful computers on the market can produce photorealistic scenes. While DA doesn't yet reach the goal of photorealism, it is one of the better looking pre-rendered VNs on the market. In fact, you can notice a certain progression in quality, as the early scenes in the game are sometimes still wonky, but later scenes are very well done from a technical side.
You can encounter interesting situations while breaking and entering.
It's not only the renders themselves, but also the animations that are really impressive in this game. Many developers cram animations into their games simply because it's popular, without even making sure that they look good. And they are frequently not good - the sexual animations in many VNs look like someone is trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. "Depraved Awakening' is yet another surprise in this field, as the animations, albeit simple, are very fluid and natural looking, and probably some of the best I have seen in a long time.

And while animations are impressive, the sex scenes themselves have something that I haven't seen in any visual novel before. Namely, due to the multiple choices presented while you are making a two-backed beast with your love (or lust) interest, it's possible to end the sex scene in multiple different ways. In many scenes it's actually impossible to explore all the choices in one go (and my walkthrough casts the light on that), and the scenes frequently have two or even three varied endings. this greatly increases the value of the H-content itself, as many people will feel obliged to replay the sex scenes multiple times, in order to see different variations.
Now, girl, didn't you know you are not allowed to use that kind of language in this day and age anymore?
The game itself is available on Patreon and Steam, though according to the developer, he did minor alterations for eight CGs for a Steam release, though he has never elaborated what kind of changes those were. Still, if you are inclined to try the game, Patreon would probably be a better choice. And the developer is currently working on a new project, named "City of Broken Dreamers". I have tried an early build of that game, and saying that I have been impressed, would be saying nothing. Not only are the renders so far advanced from from what we have seen in DA, that I would, without exaggeration, call them photorealistic, but the game also includes many fully animated cutscenes. And just like DA was paying a homage to noir crime fiction, so CoBD seems to take inspiration from "Shadowrun".

So, what is my verdict regarding "Depraved Awakening"? It's a fantastic game - a rare treat for those who will look beyond the fact that it's a 3D rendered visual novel funded on Patreon. It might be slightly marred by an unimaginative opposing force, but it's a mere trifle in comparison to everything else it can offer and I can fully recommend it to everyone.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Developer's Patreon
Buy the game on Steam
Walkthrough (written by me)
Unofficial incest patch

Final Verdict: 86%

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