About one year ago, I reviewed Student Transfer version 1.4. It quickly became one of my my popular posts of all time, seeing as how the post talked about a very obscure and niche game that was pretty much only talked about in its own forums and online message boards. When combined with the fact that I really enjoyed my time with the game, it’s only natural that I would revisit this visual novel centering around transformations, body swapping, mind control, possession, and more. But first, a bit of backstory.
Student Transfer was extensively developed by fans of a similar visual novel by the name of Press-Switch. After that game went over a year without receiving a proper update, the fans got together and decided that they would make their own visual novel focusing on body swapping and whatnot. Thus, the collaborative effort that is Student Transfer was born, and since its original release in November of 2015, it has continued to grow both in regards to its scope and content. The game is available for download here.
Student Transfer 2.0 Review
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Android
Developers: The TFGamesSite community
Disclosure: I have spoken to the developers of Student Transfer on multiple occasions, befriended a lead developer, and am in a romantic relationship with one of the writers.
Moving on, Student Transfer centers around a milktoast protagonist by the name of John, a highschool student whose ordinary life becomes extraordinary upon receiving a spellbook that is bound to his blood or an alien remote that he was given as a thank you present for being anally probed by extraterrestrials. From this initial decision, the game opens up a sprawling web of options to the player to explore, and a downright massive cast of characters to interact with. Thus setting the stage for a series of stories dealing with body swapping, mind control, sex transformations, and oh so much more.
These stories, or rather, routes, are actually remarkably varied in regards to both their content and their tone. Some of these routes are lighthearted and goofy. Some are very grounded and involve a more diligent examination of another person’s life. Some are very dark and upsetting, dealing with the more frightening aspects of mental control as John is unable to behave like himself due to limitations imposed on him by the device. Some of them deal with high stakes that, while a little coincidental, make for a compelling and intriguing narrative that I was regularly eager to see how it would play out. Oh, and a few are slightly erotic but, but those parts you can just be skimmed through if you don’t care for that sort of thing.
The breadth of content here and diversity on display shows one of the core benefits of being a collaborative project, as it allows people to bring different ideas to the table. While this can lead to some sections diverging in tone quite dramatically, such as the route that has John and a friend of his hunt for a ghost in the girls’ locker room, which ends with them confronting a body stealing rapist and murderer, things never felt inconsistent of muddled as the stories played out. Besides, with subject matter like body swapping and mind control, it is remarkably easy to shift from a silly adventure with friends to a morbid identity crisis that has the characters question the very nature of themselves.
The writers are clearly genre savvy enough to know how to compose compelling stories that deal with this very subject matter, and take things a step further by having these stories focus on unique situations between the characters who are treated like, well, characters. While they start out as easily identifiable archetypes, the routes featuring them offer more complexity to given characters than what one would initially assume, and some routes offer genuine character development. Every completed storyline has some sort of arc that characters undergo and follow, and many of the unfinished ones still after palpable changes in characters as they grow and learn along with this device.
Even John, who I pick on for being a boring protagonist inspired by the blank slate protagonists seen in a deluge of Japanese visual novels, shows enough displayed personality to feel as if a cohesive character. He is lackadaisical towards a lot of things, namely schoolwork, but is capable of introspective thinking, has a moderately diverse vernacular, and becomes a far more capable person once he has something to make his life more interesting. He is able to rise to the occasion with good ideas and is a far more compelling character than the introduction makes him out to be.
As for the writing itself, it naturally varies from route to route. While the editors clearly made an effort to keep the general style of writing consistent, it is clear that different people work on different routes, and minor differences with people’s style, wording, and vernacular are evident. The actual quality of the writing also varies between authors, with some writers being notably better than others, but the bar of entry and quality standards for this project are high enough to prevent that from being a problem. However, there is a bit of a problem regarding typos or just oddly worded sentences. The sort of thing that should be caught and flagged while undergoing an editing process, but I’m guessing the 2016 release deadline may have led to a few oversights.
Now that my positive thoughts on the game have been established, onto some of the lesser aspects. For all the variety that is offered by the many, many routes in this game, the actual structure and organization of them leaves something to be desired. There really isn’t any in-game way to determine that routes have been seen, exist, have been missed, or where route begin to diverge. This is made all the more confusing by the prevalence of choices in the game that mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Sure, they deviate a scene and sprinkle in some additional dialog as time goes on, but this attempt at offering player freedom is just unnecessary. This isn’t a role playing game where the player is suppose to treat the main character as an avatar, nor is this the sort of game meant to only be played once. This is a game whose content is meant to be explored thoroughly, and the developers do not make it as easy as it should.
While there is a scene select function in the game, it’s only partially functional in this build, and is far less helpful than, say a Zero Escape-esque flowchart that allows the player to jump back to different decisions made throughout the game. Well, somebody actually went to the trouble of putting together a detailed flowchart of every choice in Student Transfer 2.0… but I thought it was bad, so I made a better one, which you can find at the end of this post.
However, having an out of game flowchart still isn’t the best way to handle things, and I hope that the developers will consider adding some sort of in-game flowchart. I would also appreciate it if they included some sort of character glossary. I already mentioned how the cast of this game is so big that some characters are not even implemented, and with a cast that I would guess to include 50 students, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who.
This is exasperated by the naming conventions employed here. A lot of characters’ names begin with the same letter, such as John’s three friends, Kiyoshi, Katrina, and Kyoko, some names sound glaringly similar to each other like Connie and Carrie, and some are so common they’re forgettable. Oh, and remember that this is a game centered around body swapping, which only makes the game of who’s who all the more confusing.
Those two features are my only major qualms here, but there are numerous problems and shortcomings that probably should be addressed. The skip feature lags behind depending on character animations, if you classify moving a character sprite along the screen as animation. I found two sections where some dialog was misplaced. I found a progression blocking bug that resulted in the game crashing. Some words are misused, or come across as misappropriate given who is using them. Certain sections from the 1.0 release could stand to be glossed over and edited. Also, the erotic scenes feature repetitive usage of the p-word.
Ah yes, the erotic scenes. In case you could not tell from the inconsistent designs for the character sprites, Student Transfer uses assets ripped from various pornographic Japanese visual novels, H-Games, eroge, whatever you want to call them. That being said, the sexual content of the game is not very high, barring a few scenes, but there is a fair amount of female frontal nudity, which is also the only form of nudity in the game. I would prefer there to be zero nudity, but whatever, it’s not that big of a deal.
As for what this creative decision means for the part of the game that aren’t trying to be sexy, the decision to take assets from multiple different games from multiple different publishers is a sensible one in theory. Unfortunately the art style, shading, and designs sensibility is not consistent from character to character, and unlike Press-Switch, the character sprites are a bit lacking in regards to their expressions and poses. This can make the presentation a bit jarring and underwhelming, but considering this is a free community developed visual novel, I think this actually was the best possible option.
While I do have a fair share of petty complaints, Student Transfer actually impressed me quite a lot with its 2.0 release. It can be a captivating and engaging visual novel that regularly kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering where each developed route I uncovered would lead me. The writers clearly understand the appeal of the subject matter, how to tell compelling stories with it, and even manage to make enjoyable character as well. They put a lot of hard work and autism into this game about mind control, body swaps, and sex transformations, and goldarn, it shows.