Back in September of last year, I reviewed a quirky little visual novel by the name of Panzermadels, a tank dating simulator that sought to parody and tribute the dating sim genre through a very western lense, that also contained a bit of a military theme. A year after that game’s release, the developers, DEVGRU-P released their second title, which took the form of a parody of the weeaboo wish fulfillment fantasy of Go! Go! Nippon. A game that I recently replayed for the sake of this review.
Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Stay! Stay! DPRK centers around an American soldier who is on vacation from active duty, and decides to spend his time away from war with his two Korean pen pals, a pair of sisters named Jeong and Eunji, only to discover that they are actually members of the North Korean military. Thereby placing the protagonist in one of the more prolific dictatorships in the world, and under constant surveillance from his two guides as he tries to make the most of this trip by visiting the various sights North Korea has to offer. All while hopefully being able to leave this country without staging an international incident.
As a direct parody of Go! Go! Nippon, one would expect DPRK to mirror and mock a lot of things featured in the original title, and that is certainly the case here. Some scenes are directly lifted and recontextualized, the very structure of the game, with three days of free travel followed by a brief trip, is copied over, and both the characterization and appearances of Jeong and Eunji are based around Makoto and Akira’s. However, despite having numerous direct ties to Nippon, the story remains feeling notably distinct, only occasionally unsubtly reminding the player about the connections, while the developers bounce off of the premise in order to deliver something more unique than I expected.
While Nippon functions as a base for the story to be built on top of, the rest of it feels like a spiritual successor to Panzermadels more than anything else, and as such, features the same things that made the developer’s prior title as enjoyable as it was. With well thought out characters who also lovingly mock familiar tropes, a script filled with a large number of endearing gags and jokes, and an undercurrent of politically themed oddness that this time is caused by the game’s North Korean setting. The developer does not shy away from how awful the nation is, highlighting lack of maintenance, resources, and the mandated deification of its corrupt leader among other things, but it also does not delve into the more dark and unsettling subject matter too much, instead using the setting as a jumping off point for various scenes and gags. Which is probably for the best.
The ensuing concoction of one part parody, one part gag visual novel and one part semi-political mockery is an enjoyable blend with a series of memorable moments peppered throughout its story, along with a few lines that left me repressing my laughter, but it does unfortunately share some of the structural drawbacks of its predecessor as well. Most notably in the form of transitional scenes where the writer seems to meander about, coming up with banter that may or may not fully work with the order of events chosen by the player, and often resulting in the characters falling asleep for long hours during lengthy car rides while on poorly maintained roads.
It ultimately culminates in a conversation where the characters comment on how they came down with a case of narcolepsy and another scene where the writer directly comments that they wrote enough to move onto the next scene. While smaller scenes like these can be difficult to make interesting, I know from experience, pointing out one’s bad habits and tendency to draw out minor scenes does not make for quality writing.
As for the endings, they all depict the protagonist’s attempts to escape from North Korea, and predictably, none of them are really a “good” ending, which makes sense given the subject matter at least. These endings are determined by which of the two girls that the protagonist pursues throughout the game as part of a romance subplot that mirrors and acknowledges the forced romance in Nippon, and feels more genuine due to how vibrant, open, and expressive the characters can be. Yet, the justification behind this romance, either intentionally or unintentionally, as I could not really tell, makes the entire cast seem either shallow or manipulative, even if that is understandable given how much of a hellhole North Korea is supposed to be, and how much people want to leave the nation. Still, it’s a lot more satisfying than the endings of Panzermadels.
Speaking of which, those who have read my Panzermadels review will recall that my biggest point of contention with the game was how its engine, TyranoBuilder, seemingly held the game back with its lack of capabilities that I had grown accustomed to from visual novels. Such as having more than 5 save slots and a skip function that was actually useful. For DPRK, the developers made the shift to the versatile Ren’py engine, and the final product feels far more polished as such. With a useful skip feature, high resolution assets, and an appealing user interface.
As for the rest of the presentation, the sprite work is well done, with the two girls having a wide array of emotions present in their sprites, the painterly backgrounds being surprisingly well illustrated, albeit a bit limited at times, and the CGs also being well drawn, yet unfortunately limited to only elven, four of which are reserved for the game’s endings. It is clearly limited by its small budget, as characters occasionally mention throughout the game, but the game uses its limited budget well enough to look far more polished and professional than the developer’s previous efforts.
In fact, that sentiment largely summarizes my thoughts on the game. Stay! Stay! DPRK is a greater effort than the developer’s humble beginnings, only potentially overshadowed by the fact that it is a direct parody of an admittedly fairly obscure visual novel, as opposed to a more broad parody of a game genre. All of the same endearing qualities that made Panzermadels a remarkable and humorous title are reprised here, but without the technical drawbacks.
Also, in case anybody is wondering, I do not think that it is necessary to play Go! Go! Nippon in order to enjoy this game. In fact, it might actually be a bit better if viewed as its own thing.