Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android
Genre: Visual Novel
Reviewed by: Soniram
You can ask any visual novel player, either NSFW or otherwise, about what they want to have in a game that isn't kinetic, and you're going to get a lot of the same answers. Keeping all the specific genre, art, or tags aside, they're going to answer they want a game where the choices make an actual difference and include alternate endings.
IT IS QUANTIFIABLE, IDENTIFIABLE, AND GIVES US A MEASURE OF CONTROL
This is called the player agency, and it's really one of the driving forces in playing video games of all kinds. From FPS to RPG to VN, games give us players the feel like our actions have consequences. Whether for good or ill, when we decide to do something, there's a direct response. It is quantifiable, identifiable, and gives us a measure of control. Do we charge up the hill to fight the minotaur alone, or do we try to hide and use our swift bow to launch arrows at the beast? Action. Consequence.
There's plenty of games in the adult visual novel genre that deliver on this. One of the most famous I can mention is Acting Lessons. If you've played it, you know what I'm talking about. Are you looking for something similar, where there are real, tangible consequences and differing paths for your actions and decisions? Yes? You really should check out Maid Mansion. It's a completed project that had a lot of different devs working on it under the head developer, Crazy Cactus.
I'm really, really going to try to stay away from spoilers on this, save for just the setup. Your grandfather, a decorated war hero and ultra-stern entrepreneur has just died, and he's left you his mansion and second business to run. The mansion has some maids living in it and they're going to stay and help you with maintaining the house and, well, this is an adult visual novel. Infer what you want to. The story they cooked together mixes drama and suspense with a side of action and a measure of dom/sub lewdness to satisfy most any soul.
And that's it. That's all I'm going to say about what is in the story because it's more important to say what Crazy Cactus and the team have done with the story. Some games will throw gobs of backstory at you while others leave it all unwritten and unsaid. Maid Mansion walks the tight line between the two, giving some backstory but without being hard-handed. That's impressive. The characters in the game are all well thought out and interesting without being over-the-top caricatures you'll often see in other adult games.
You know what's even more impressive? This game has over twenty different endings. I'm not lying. You want a game where your choices matter and change the course of the game, and make it interesting every time you click on 'Start'? Play this. One simple different choice can careen your story off into a completely new direction. Maid Mansion doesn't just stop there, though. Certain information, backstory, and scenes change depending on your choices, as well. You're not going to get everything in one or two playthroughs. Not even three. I've played five times already and I know I haven't come close to learning all there is about the history, the characters, or what is really going on.
One time I nearly facepalmed through the whole thing at how wacky it was. Another I felt my heart torn out and stamped flat on the ground in a way I haven't since Acting Lessons. From a storytelling and structure standpoint, the development team responsible for this created a masterpiece of a visual novel. Well-fucking-done.
The art is tasteful, appropriate, and beautiful. Standard background and sprite machinations are really helped by the skills of the artists Shunkaku and Runderoo. The composers, Belgerum and Mellownightz, create an incredible atmosphere to go along with the artists and the characters designed by Hakei, Bonkiru, and CrDev. Why am I naming all the developers? Because they absolutely deserve the recognition.
I'M REMINDED OF THE BOOKS I READ WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, FLIPPING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN PAGES
So with all this praise, I'm doling out, why isn't Maid Mansion usually included with the mega-smash hits in the adult visual novel genre? I have some theories. It is not a very long game. A player new to the game can get through their first playthrough within a few hours. While I haven't played through every ending, there are limitations in things that could happen because of the length of the game. There are some of the maids, for example, that seem to be complete side-characters without any true bearing in the game.
Additionally, the player-named main character feels rather one-dimensional when it comes to intimacy with the women in the story; it is all about domination and being able to order the women around. Through my various playthroughs, I've only found one scene where he was rather tender with one of the women. Lastly, when compared to the most well-known and praised adult visual novel games, it doesn't delve into sex very much.
However, there are some things to keep in mind. First, for a game to be able to last 20+ hours of game time, cater to many different kinks, have dozens of different sexual encounters, AND use the masterful storytelling structure Maid Mansion has, including having over 20 different endings, it would have to be a fucking massive project. It would take a small development team years to put together something like that, especially using 2d graphics.
Second, and more important, Crazy Cactus and his team didn't set out to make a game that was perfect for me. They set out to make a game that was perfect for them. Like any good developer group, they knew what they were aiming for and kept the project within their determined scope. Any shade I have to say about the game is bordering on petty selfishness.
This isn't an adult visual novel -- not the way most people see it. This is a true "Choose Your Own Adventure" that happens to have some sex in it. I'm reminded of the books I read when I was younger, flipping back and forth between pages to see what happened. Many developers have claimed to have a true "CYOA" structure. Maid Mansion is the first one I've played that truly, absolutely, amazingly felt like it.
Do yourself a favor. Play this.
[STORY]: A little short, but goddamn it's good. 19/22.
[VISUALS]: Very nice artwork for 2d, though characters are a bit cookie-cutter. 17/22.
[GAMEPLAY]: Choices that matter. Replayability. I haven't seen better. 20/22.
[ADULT CONTENT]: If it lacks anything, it's this. 15/22.
[SONIRAM LIKEY?]: Not my personal favorite, but it's damned good. 10/12.
[VERDICT]: If you like good story and replayability, this is a must-play.