Lamune is the new dank sensation hitting up ev-er-y nation!
One of my favorite things about visual novels is the sheer breadth and diversity the genre can offer, as they can support narratives that would not fit with more conventional video game genres and serve as a relatively low-cost platform for creators who might otherwise lack the resources to bring their aspirations to fruition. There is so much creativity and ambition seen throughout the genre that I often find myself impulsively picking out titles I know little about, as you never know what gems you’ll find in the underbrush. And few gems shine quite as brightly as Lamunation.
Lamunation! -international- Review
Developer: White Powder
Publisher: Love Lab, Inc.
Lamunation is a comedy visual novel that quite openly and brazenly fancies itself as being something a touch different and more extreme than its categorical contemporaries. One that takes the usual anime-style shenanigans you can expect from the subgenre, distills it, and proceeds to crank it from the usual maximum of 10 all the way to 69 using the power of eclectic references to American and Japanese pop culture, and memes. Lots of memes.
It’s something that immediately caught my eye considering how brazen the store page and the scenario writer’s social media account is with this game’s memery, and as somebody with a pretty trashy and eclectic sense of humor, I was preparing for a game that was either brazenly hilarious or oppressively loathsome in its irksome attempts at humor. Thankfully, Lamunation provides the former.
It delivers a story that boasts relentless energy, excessive absurdity, and a charismatic cast that culminates in this surreal joyous blend where one cannot reasonably predict what any given episode will take the cast, what they’ll say next, and what baffling references will come out of their mouths. As it can be anything from a sporadic reminiscence of the halcyon days of the disco-filled bubble years to an impromptu diatribe about the sexual dynamics of Thomas the Tank Engine characters.
It strikes a careful balance that is held together through the sharp back and forward of the dialogue, creative applications of typical slice of life antics, passionate performances from the voice actors, and rock-solid English script. The localization here manages to seamlessly integrate what I’m sure must have been a nightmare of cultural callbacks, linguistic gags, and jokes that simply do not translate into something where I genuinely could not tell where the translation ended and the localization began given how consistent and deliberate the script here is. If anything, the casual and natural flow of the dialog helps make the proceedings feel more akin to an original English production than a Japanese one.
As a writer, there is a lot to admire and respect here, not just how it incorporates references, but how it handles humor, comedic timing, and dialogue writing in general, but I should probably explain what Lamunation is actually about… and it’s not much. Set in the beautiful seaside paradise of Saint Aria, Lamunation is about a gaggle of university students enjoying their summer break by getting mixed up in an assorted array of antics. The first half of each character’s route is a series of gags and humorous situations that only begin to focus on a significant plot point after the main characters create a world-famous meme that they use to launch their business ventures. From there, the story bunkers down, sexy times ensue with the selected heroine, and a more character-driven story is told. However, all of this serves as more of a base for additional shenanigans and tomfoolery from the cast of characters, whose clashing personalities and rambunctiousness are arguably the true highlights of this game.
Said characters consist of the protagonist Luna, a simple and innocent boy who the game brands as an airhead, but really comes across as more of a big kid ignorant to the perverted, embracing joy wherever and whenever possible, and spending his downtime basking in the endless summer days in his personal jacuzzi with his favorite rubber duckie. He is joined in this string of preposterous antics by his childhood friend Lamune, a lover, manufacturer, and addict of the classic Japanese soft drink lamune (a play on ramune) who serves as the cool yet fragile friend who is often a prime target for teasing by the rest of the cast. His loving twin sister, Corona, whose initially demure and considerate disposition as a little sister steadily cracks as the story goes on and her love for Luna becomes all the more obvious. Along with the other set of twins consisting of the bubbly, lovey-dovey, ditzy, and inexplicably intelligent Iris and her younger yet more mature sister, the proficient, cold, and reserved Rayla.
While superficial in these descriptions, the cast does a lot to endear itself to the player through their banter, bickering, and the absurd actions they undergo throughout the story, allowing the player to feel as if they truly get to know them on a deeper level once everything comes to an end. They’re a gaggle of kinky masochists who can take a dump truck to the face and ain’t afraid of no terrorists, but what truly makes this cast special is the particular bond they share. They squabble, they physically or emotionally prod each other, and they get on each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day, they’re all still exceptionally close to each other in a way that goes to blur the lines between your traditional romance, friendship, and even family.
Everybody knows each other, everybody loves each other, and everybody wants to have sex with everybody else… even Luna after he loses his innocence the old fashion way and joins the DTF 24/7 club shortly thereafter. It is a progressive sort of openness that you typically do not see in Japanese visual novels, where relationships tend to be more reserved and delicate. And even discarding how much of a divergence this is for its genre, it’s still as refreshing as an icy bottle of lamune on a hot summer’s day to see a game so openly and casually introduce the idea of a polyamorous harem wad without sacrificing the personalities of the characters.
It is a thoughtful little nugget that very well could have been included by accident but is one of several things that helped endear me to this game more than it would be if it were content with simply being a maelstrom of goofs and memes. And it is not the only one, as the setting itself seems to have been given a comparable level of thought and consideration as the main cast.
Saint Aria is a prosperous city where economic growth, a beautiful climate, and a sense of community have culminated to create something comforting welcoming, and evocative of a distinctively Japanese sense of idealism. It is a setting that resonates with a serene saccharine of vivacious youthful indulgence that is common in most long-running Japanese media about the development and joys of young adulthood. And by taking this idea to its logical extreme, Lamunation manages to create a comforting and inviting world that is borderline utopian in its presentation.
This is not only seen in the glistening white buildings, blue skies, and bluer ocean, but also the construction of the city. The economy is doing swimmingly, businesses are routinely finding success, and education is interwoven with vocational training to ensure that graduates have the skills and experience needed to succeed in the working world. All of which is due not to the policies pushed forward by a governing body, but rather the conglomerate who controls Saint Aria, RMC. An almost altruistic company that wishes to create as pleasant a place as possible for its residences and plentiful tourists, not for the sake of profit, but rather communal good and happiness. While the finite details are left hazy, what’s there does a lot to endear the player to this world and make the game feel more well-rounded than it otherwise would have been.
That being said, for as entertaining the conversations and as endearing the cast, Lamunation does have a significant problem in its approach to telling its episodic story. Following a brief prologue that introduces the characters, setting, and tone one can expect, the game branches off into three routes, each divided into 10 or 11 episodes, which the player is expected to navigate using this screen:
This screen allows the player to begin episodes 1-5 of a character’s route by clicking on 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, or 100%, which represent episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 respectively. Clicking on the characters’ faces brings the player to episode 6 in that character’s route, and from the get-go, the player can view any episode for any character, with no unlock criteria… or indication that an episode has been viewed. To exasperate matters, even though the game displays itself openly from the get-go and encourages the player to choose their favoritest waifu(s), the flow and structure of the game is designed around a set order. Which I think is Lamune, then the twins, then Corona…but I’m not sure if that is correct, or even the most optimal way to play, considering how certain details about the world of Saint Aria are locked behind the beginnings of other characters’ routes.
It’s an unfortunate structure that makes it easy for players to miss content, view it in a disadvantageous order by selecting the ‘true ending’ at the end of Corona’s route as their first ending, and miss out on details, such as magic being a thing in this world, until the very end. It does not ruin the game by any stretch, but it does make the experience a touch less punctual and impactful as it would have been with a more clear intended route of progression. It is one of two things I really wish were changed or improved in this game, with the other being the aspects of its presentation.
The flowy character sprites evoke an effervescent summer vibe that is reflected in the idyllic backdrops of Saint Aria. The designs, while a bit too fixated on school girl trappings for a game about 20-something university students, house a lot of personality both in their attire and stance. The voice acting is shockingly good for what I assume to be a budget production, with the cast clearly reveling in the nonsense they are being paid to say. The pumping EDM background furthers the youthful indulgence of the setting and premise but does not drown out the voice acting like most energetic scores thanks to the customizable voice highlight setting.
It is certainly a very attractive game, but it falters in three basic areas that seem to often be understated when it comes to visual novels. Despite having originally released in 2016, the native resolution of Lamunation is 720p, and the assets the game utilizes are often not high quality enough to support even that resolution, as it is not uncommon to see fragmentation in videos or aliasing on zoomed-in character sprites. The dialogue box is not very opaque, which can make the font hard to read as the thin font used can blend in with certain backdrops. And the UI is needlessly fragmented between the upper right and bottom center of the screen.
While it does bear a few flaws in the fine details, the core and crux of Lamunation is still something utterly splendid, with the energy of its script, the charisma of its cast, and its tolerance for random referential nonsense all culminating into a jovial experience that left me brimming with happiness from beginning to end.
Header image comes from @KRMN_69, the Scenario writer for Lamunation.