By now, it should be pretty evident that I really enjoy visual novels, and I think I can boil down the reason why to a single point. Visual novels allow for a level of versatility in storytelling greater than any genre of game and have the ability to explore more bizarre or outlandish premises. Partially due to how they do not need to be built around any specific gameplay style, but also because they are an accessible medium for developers without much programming skills. A point that Panzermadels encapsulates quite well.
Panzermadels: Tank Dating Simulator Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac
The story centers around Erwin, an American soldier who, for reasons never addressed, is sent to the English speaking nation of Japan to attend a Tank School. Much to his surprise though, instead of learning how to operate tanks, he is sent to a school with a group of teenage school girls who claim to be tanks, girls he gradually forms friendships with, which inevitably entering a romantic relationship with one of them, what with this being a dating sim and all.
From that description alone, it should be no surprise that this is an off-kilter parody of the dating sim genre, inspired by what was likely a joke of a premise that the creators went all in on, with the aim to create a story more centered around comedy than anything else. This is made evident just by taking a look at the cast of five datable tank girls. The tomboyish American M4 Sherman, the Soviet tsundere T-34, the Soviet yandere IS-2, the upbeat Japanophile German Panzer IV, and her more reserved sister Maus. All of whom fall into the category of some sort of anime trope that is both taken to an extreme, and given a more self-aware interpretation by people who are clearly familiar with these types of character and how they would be viewed by a western audience.
The characters are also given, shall I say, socio-political outlooks that correspond with their nation of Origin and the WWII era. Meaning they are all at least fairly patriotic of their respective nations, with the Soviet tank girls talking poorly of capitalism, the German tank girls expressing a degree of deniability and paranoia about certain… suspicious past circumstances, and the American tank girl adapting a casual yet rude disposition. It really ties things together and everything the characters say that draws back to history seem to have been fact checked or researched in advance, granting the game and characters a greater degree of depth and legitimacy.
In case it is not obvious by now, I quite like these characters and the act of getting to know them by going through their routes was pleasantly enjoyable, though the game is a bit, let’s say, lacking in other aspects. The main story primarily centers around the gaggle of anime tank girls going through various school activities at the behest of their one and only teacher, Gunnery Lieutenant Hartmann, who is an unequivocal parody of the commanding officer from Full Metal Jacket, the game basically says as much, mixed in with a perverted old man. While these scenes and the sequence of events throughout them are enjoyable to go through, the structure of these scenes is a bit too vague.
Everything is based around school events, with the characters going to the beach, a hot springs, and eventually holding a festival at the very end, without much attention being placed on the school aspect. To the point where I do not know what these people are actually trying to learn. There’s apparently talk about how to make Zweiback at one point, which is a German biscuit of sorts, but I could not pick up on anything more finite than that. I get how they are mimicking how most school centered anime and manga do not actually focus on learning, but those also do not take place in a tank school where the entire school can simply shut down in order to hold a bake sale or car wash. Actually, why is there even a car wash sequence? That just seems really out of place.
The story also chooses to end itself in a particularly bizarre way, regardless of the route the player pursues. At the end of the game, Erwin is put on trial for desertion, and is primed to be executed, even though that does not really make sense. From there, Erwin could either be executed in an unceremonious sequence, or the tank girl he had sex with the night beforehand will come and save him, allowing him to fight a war with the “Plane Girls” where he dies inside a tank. Or alternatively, the yandere tank will blow him up before the trial.
I do not know why all of these ending result in Erwin dying, but they do, which really does discourage replaying through this admittedly short game. Although, even if the game had unique and varied endings, and a less linearly constructed main story, I still doubt that I would have gone through every ending due to one little factor. The game’s engine.
This is the first game I have encountered that uses the TyranoBuilder visual novel maker, an engine designed to give people inexperienced with programming the ability to create their own visual novels, but if Panzemadels is any indication, then TyranoBuilder is incredibly limited. There no way to exclusively skip already seen text, no auto mode, only 5 save slots, no way to change text speed, no way to rebalance audio, a fade effect applied to every transition, no way to skip past transitions, and so forth. All of which go against the sort of things I have grown to expect after playing through games made in more sophisticated engines, such as Ren’py, and make the process of going through the game multiple times a slog.
I actually thought that would be the worst part, but I think there is also a problem with the skip feature in this game. There were multiple instances where my skipping through scenes manages to darken the backgrounds in such a way that they would remain dark, or just plain old black in one case, unless I reloaded an earlier save. I do not know how, why, or what exactly caused this to happen, but it makes me really hesitant to ever touch a visual novel made in this engine again.
It is also worth noting that the general presentation capabilities of the engine are also lacking, as Panzermadels lacks much in the way of transitions or visual effects, instead mostly relying on fades for every transition, including the change of a character’s expression. Beyond that, the characters are fairly well drawn and designed, drawing upon anime tropes to inform the design sensibilities, while the backgrounds mostly consist of modified photos, a go-to cost saving measure for games like this. It ultimately looks fine, albeit a little plain, but considering the low budget I am sure this game had, likely just some savings from the writers and the $4,000 raised via Kickstarter, it is more than sufficient.
Panzermadels is an enjoyable novelty, yet its choice of engine and linear story prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending it. It is an commendable, interesting, and above all else humorous little game, but signs of its low budget, use of a limited engine, and a possible lack of experience from its developers limits what could have been a great game to simply being a good one. Still, its premise alone may warrant a look for some, and I am quite curious what the developers could do if given more resources.