Dharker Studios is a curious little visual novel publisher with a messy background that I originally considered breaking down in detail. But the gist of it is that through dubious beginnings as AJTilley.com, the developer and publisher has gotten themselves involved in a lot of crowdfunding fiascos, and has become infamous for producing largely unremarkable visual novels with erotic elements, to the point where they were actually the first developer to release a completely uncensored adult game on Steam. Though that’s not why I’m covering this little title. I’m covering it because it’s yet another TG visual novel.
Highschool Possession Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Max, Linux
Publisher: Dharker Studios
Highschool Possession centers around a nondescript male meant to function as a self insert, named Hikaru, a lackadaisical youth drifting through life, with his days only brightened by his two idols/friends, the popular and studious Akiko and the shy and athletic Kasumi. However, his monotonous existence soon takes the turn for the extraordinary as he begins waking up in the bodies of Akiko and Kasumi, alternating between the two while discovering that their seemingly idealistic lives are not quite what they seem to be, and takes responsibility to better them.
That itself is certainly not the most typical or outlandish sort of premises to use as the basis for a possession story, and actually has the potential to offer something a bit more nuanced and focused on the differences in other people’s everyday lives, but that is not really the case. Instead, Highschool Possession is something of a spartan experience, over and done with entirely in under 3 hours, which are spread across main routes for Akiko and Kasumi along with two easy to avoid bad ends that really are not worth pursuing.
In this run time, the title does explore the idea of being in a different body, living as somebody with a different life situation, and the subjects of bullying and depression fueled by a sexually abusive relationship. Yet the story never takes the time to meaningfully explore these concepts, hitting a few key notes before pettering off to the next sequence without ever really going into much detail on one subject. Well, with the exception of the sex and masturbation scenes that are censored by default in the Steam version of this game, but can be enabled by changing a false into a true. These scenes do go on for quite a while, but they’re surprisingly barren with regards to any and all erotic thrills.
It is all functional, but the writing and storytelling comes across as something devised by a freelancer attempting to hit a set word count within a specific deadline based off of concepts that were provided to them, rather than ideas they themselves devised. Actually, based on 5 minutes of research about the game based on the credits, I’m pretty sure that is exactly what happened. There are ultimately some unique ideas here, but despite the title and supposed focus, the game does not dabble much into the fantasy inherent to scenarios wherein a male character possesses a pair of attractive teenage girls.
This is particularly apparent in the endings, which all have Hikaru forget about his time possessing Akiko and Kasumi, never so much as attempting to explain or justify his ability to possess others. I mean, possession is half the title and a major part of the basic premise, so the very idea of downplaying the this concept as time goes on before completely dismissing it is just bizarre to me. Also, the word “possession” is never even used in the game’s script, and instead they call it switching bodies, which is a completely different thing, and not the phenomena seen here.
Though, the story has nothing on the presentation, as for a game from a visual novel publisher, it borders on laughable. Let’s start with the font. Rather than choosing the standard black on white or white on black, the decision was made to use a mostly transparent text box with sky blue font with a white outline that also happened to be so small that it is difficult to read in the default windowed mode. It was actually so bad that I sought out a guide to replace the font with something larger and more visually appealing, but even then it’s hardly easy on the eyes. I mean, I’m sure that this issue could have been fixed with 5 lines of python code, a public domain font, and by changing the text to white with a black highlight, as is customary for subtitles. But I guess the developers instead needed to work on a gaudy UI that manages to be even less appealing than the sky blue text. Oh, and, when Hikaru, the protagonist, speaks, his name does not show up in the text box, further going against the norm established by just about every visual novel ever.
As for the rest of the assets, the characters are drawn in this western approximation of an anime art style that attempts to use shading to make the characters look more realistic, but with their massive eyes and the linework used for their bodies, it creates an almost uncanny image. The CGs carry over the same general problems, and look rather wonky at points, with strange poses, proportions, or penises that magically appear from a featureless crotch, because I guess one of the characters has a retractable donger or something. All of which is overlaid onto backgrounds whose creator was actually left uncredited. Because of this I am not entirely sure if they were commissioned from an anonymous source, originate from a public domain archive, or even if they were borrowed from another visual novel entirely.
They’re bland enough for any of those theories to work, but they are also a bit too plentiful for me to think that they were all commissioned entirely for this game, which only has 4 character sprites and about a dozen unique CGs to go around. Oh, and as for the music, it comes from “Various Artists”, is competent yet unremarkable, and there are no artists detailed in the .ogg files themselves, so I’m pretty sure they went uncredited entirely.
The best thing that I can say about Highschool Possession is that it is functional and somewhat competent. It is not complete wet hot street trash like Glory of the Self-Styled Diehard Girl, but it is also an incredibly limited and at times bizarrely focused visual novel that fails to deliver much to just about any audience. Just about every aspect of the game is underwhelming or perplexing in some level, and it amounts to a title that I honestly struggle to see much value in.
Hopefully Dharker’s other TG game will be better… but it’ll probably crap too.