Fashionably late, but expectedly great!
Student Transfer Version 5.0 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, Android
Developer/Publisher: The Student Transfer Development Team
Student Transfer is a community developed freeware visual novel that centers around TSF/TG/gender bending, body swapping, mind control, transformation, possession, and more. The title began its development back in 2015, where it was imagined as a sort of successor to Press-Switch, a visual novel that covers the same general subject matter. In the ensuing five years, Student Transfer has grown and iterated upon itself dramatically, with the latest release of Version 5 featuring over 860,000 words of content.
The game itself follows John Davis, a fairly unremarkable high school student whose ordinary life becomes extraordinary one fateful night when he either receives an incredibly powerful alien remote as a consolation gift after being probed by some aliens or receives an ancient spellbook written by his ancestors. From this initial decision, the game opens up into a sprawling web of routes featuring an expansive cast of colorful characters with a structure more comparable to a choose-your-own-adventure interactive story than a more traditional visual novel. This is probably best represented by how messy and confusing navigation in the game can be, to the point where I have taken it upon myself to map out its myriad routes and paths in a semi-coherent manner available at the bottom of this review.
Because the game is so big and expansive, it is not feasible for me to talk about everything in a single review, but the core competencies of Student Transfer can be seen throughout pretty much every route. By being a collaborative title, Student Transfer invites writers to bring their own unique voices and spins on the world, characters, and subject matter of Student Transfer, giving the title more breadth, diversity, and content overall than it would have if it only had a single creative lead. From jovial lighthearted romps to dismal situations where one’s life and identity are shattered before their very eyes, the variety of the content allows it to remain interesting even after so many iterations and expansions, and with plenty of unexplored avenues and underutilized characters, that doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.
By being part of a focused team, the developers are able to check over and edit each other’s work to keep the universe and game overall consistent, while sharing their skills and technical knowledge. This is especially impressive given how poorer managed collaborative writing-based efforts like this tend to be a free-for-all of quality, but for a project with so many current and former dev members and a cast of over 80 characters, I am continuously impressed by how consistent everything manages to be. Admittedly, you can often spot a stylistic shift when a route brings in another writer, but the general quality of this game’s writing is high enough that it’s never jarring or detracting.
And by being a title aimed at a niche group of enthusiasts, it has access to people who know how to use the subject matter to tell a good story. This is something of a rarity, as the majority of writing on TSF and related subject matter is often cheaply constructed for erotic thrills, but has plenty of room and potential for greater narrative exploration. Which is precisely what the developers do here. Taking the subject matter seriously and using it as a tool to craft quality character-driven narratives that only delve into the sexual end of things for the sake of adding to the story overall… for the most part.
This is all true for the dev team, and their efforts are visible throughout every route of Student Transfer, but the title is also more than just what is seen in the base game. As Student Transfer doubles as both a robust visual novel and a platform for fan-created Scenarios. Stories disconnected from the base game that uses the same engine, assets, and often universe. I actually began reviewing these Scenarios back in 2019, and after going through over 40 of them, I can safely say that they run the gamut in regards to quality, but there are plenty of gems to be found in these fan-works. With some being on-par with the routes featured in the base game. They do a lot to extend the life of Student Transfer and keep the project relevant even during the long lulls between full version updates.
However, writing is merely one area where Student Transfer triumphs, as it is also one of the most impressive looking visual novels I have ever played. The title is assembled using assets borrowed from other visual novels, primarily those from the developer Candysoft, and while this does lead to some stylistic discrepancies, the dev team has really made these assets their own over the past few years. Custom outfits, CG edits, and a dedication to the overall presentational quality. The way characters express themselves, how they move across the screen, how they comically tilt, tumble, and shake about when doing a dance, and the fact that the ‘camera’ can swoop in, out, and across from the background. It makes the presentations of most other visual novels seem needlessly stilted in comparison and has led to some of the most impressive presentational feats I have seen in a visual novel outside of the Muv-Luv series.
That covers my thoughts on the game in general, but what makes each new release special is naturally the bevy of new routes and extensions introduced with each update. And considering this update saw the introduction of about 250,000 words of new stuff, there is a lot to go over.
Serving as the most substantial addition of this update, the MaidenSwap route follows John after he decides to toy around with his alien-made device of divine power by switching around the wealthy college-aged Cassie and her personal maid Elizabeth, two friends of John’s sister, Holly. A seemingly innocuous action that turns harmful after the two accidentally damage their relationship with Holly and, in trying to mend the situation, John reveals the device to the duo, and winds up stuck in Cassie’s body for the evening.
But plans to swap back don’t go as intended, forcing both John and Cassie to impersonate each other for the day. Lies are spun, confusion runs rampant, and both John and Cassie struggle to gel with the minutiae of another person, while also trying to mend things over with Holly. It is the exact style of antics that I have learned to expect and admire from the more developed routes of Student Transfer, except MaidenSwap’s particular approach easily makes it one of my favorite routes in the entire game, and for two core reasons.
One is the relationships between John, Cassie, Elizabeth, and Holly. In the majority of Student Transfer routes, the intertwining relationships tend to be very direct between two people, John and another person, but here the story is working from multiple angles. John wants to make right with Holly as he is inadvertently responsible for her breakdown and wants to make things right with Cassie and Elizabeth, two people who, despite being strangers to him at first, he comes to develop strong bonds with over the span of the route.
Cassie wants to help out her best friend Holly and while she is begrudgingly thrown into this situation at first and confides in Elizabeth, she learns to trust John as they spent more time with and as each other. Elizabeth is literally paid to clean up Cassie’s messes in all their forms, but she still is a loyal friend to her and does what she can to bring her joy, which includes maintaining relationships with Holly. This puts John in a strange relationship with her, as he is the root cause of Cassie’s sorrow… but also much of her happiness. As such, it is up to the player’s choices to determine just how fondly she looks upon John, whether she trusts him or would rather be rid of him at the end of the route.
Meanwhile, Holly serves as the initial driving force for this storyline, as all other characters want to restore her happiness and improve their troubled relationships with her, which includes maintaining a degree of secrecy about the alien remote, as that would only complicate her already muddled mental state. In doing so, they help Holly with her interpersonal issues, bring them to light, and give her the confidence to both open up to her loved ones and embrace her true self. All of which is far more character development and general characterization than she had been granted in any route before this.
The dynamics of this relationship square lay the groundwork for a great character-driven story, but where this story would ordinarily end, it received a sudden yet appreciated extension. Granting the player more time to see these characters grow and develop over time, hang out with them as they go through their lives, and see them cope with the long-term repercussions of their actions in a way that these types of stories seldom do. All before reaching a series of endings that range from the most uproariously jovial of outcomes to dismal conclusions where the characters are rendered shells of their former selves. Crippled by the power of an all-too-easily misused doohickey, and unable to reclaim what was lost.
It’s the exact type of depth I like to see from Student Transfer, a fine example of using its subject matter, and is all the more impressive when looking into the history of the lead writer of this route, ChoripanKiller, or Chori. Who, like most of the writing staff currently involved in the project, began as a Scenario writer. And since his humble origins with The Festival he has grown considerably as a writer, honing his English skills and pursuing more ambitious and detailed narratives, all of which gloriously culminates in the MaidenSwap route.
Serving as the only dedicated family route in the current release, the MemSwap route follows John after he offers the alien remote to his mother, Sandra, allowing her to take a break from the stress and mundanity of her life and enjoy the carefree life of a teenage boy. But in order to facilitate such a life swap, even temporarily, memories need to be exchanged for the pair to at least resemble some facet of their old lives. Something that could technically be done with a simple copy of all relevant memories, but Sandra decides that full-on and periodic memory transfers would be a more thorough way of going about things. Thus leading to a days-long series of events where the two try to lead each other’s life, swapping about memories, and gradually becoming more comfortable in their new lives, almost distressingly so.
Her’s becomes mine, mine becomes his, and most every facet that used to define John as John is steadily replaced as the need comes up, with bits and fragments becoming so scattered that it becomes difficult to quantify who is more John and who is more Sandra. All of which sounds like it would be the basis for a story about a greater identity crisis, but no. John and Sandra both remain consensual about all of these swaps and proceed to revel in the uniqueness of their new lives and ease into their roles joyfully as the route fixates on a lot of minutiae of both of their lives and how warped one’s mind could get if entire vague swarths of memories could be transferred with the click of a button. It is a deep dive on a hyper-specific concept that is fleshed out to its full potential and is peppered with amusing anecdotes and awkward interactions as the characters flip flop between their lives and begin viewing the world from a different perspective.
Unfortunately, the dev team and this route’s lead writer, luckysquid, was unable to finish the placeholder riddled-skeleton they have laid out for the final days of this route, causing it to unceremoniously peter out right around the end of the sixth day. Which, while a bit upsetting, simply means this route was too girthy and ambitious to be contained in this update, and will likely be the showcase route whenever Version 6 comes out.
Beyond the lack of a conclusion, my only real criticism with this route is… its premise. How it is based on memory swapping rather than memory sharing and copying. Which could be used to mold John and Sandra into more well-rounded individuals able to view situations and people from two unique perspectives, as opposed to mostly switching around their identities and general personas bit by bit. I get that this is the overall point of the story, for the transformation to be gradual, uneven, awkward, and overall extreme as the characters begin to resemble each other in both body and mind. And I like what luckysquid is doing with this route. But I really like it when characters gain the memories of others and allow them to ferment and gestate together. Leading to an additive mental transformation where the person at the end is more intelligent, skilled, thoughtful, or otherwise better than they were before.
Due to his perversion, persistence, and general oafishness, I am a bit surprised that John’s best friend Kiyoshi is so sparsely used in Student Transfer as, beyond the closed-off Murder route from Version 1.0, he hasn’t truly had a route to call his own. At least until now, where the Popular Possession stub was dusted off and given a significant expansion that sees John share his newfound magical prowess with Kiyoshi, who, being the classically-styled anime supporting character he is, decides to possess the hottest body he can think of, which happens to be Sayaka Sato.
What was originally meant to be a one-off stint quickly extends and escalates as Kiyoshi decides to stay in Sayaka’s body under the pretense of learning more about her in order to improve his comically inept romantic pursuits. And as John repeatedly fails to convince Kiyoshi to return to his old life by making use of his magical powers, things start to get complicated..
As previously explored in the Mina route, possession in Student Transfer allows one to peer into the memories of the possessed, but in doing so the possessor risks losing their identity, as they become confused as to just who they are due to the conflicting memories. It’s actually one of the more interesting spins this game has on established TSF conventions, and here it is explored from a different angle. With Kiyoshi becoming so obsessed with understanding Sayaka that he steadily begins to lose himself in the process. This presents a challenge to John, as he needs to reclaim his best friend and restore Sayaka’s life, but he too is subjected to the adverse effects of these possessions as he hops from body to body in an attempt to thwart Kiyoshi.
Who he possesses and whose memories he delves into affects John’s views on this situation and most especially Sayaka, with one outcome leading him developing feelings for the queen bee, and another seeing him remain steadfast. All of which is presented across a route that closes in on itself after these unique possession scenes and, despite covering the same events, does lead to very different outcomes in a move that uses the interlocking variables of Student Transfer well and in an unobtrusive way. It not only gives the route two different flavors, and easily warrants two playthroughs, but these choices will inevitably lead to unique conclusions whenever the lead writer, Narg, carries this route to its expected conclusion.
While Sayaka has remained a consistent presence in Student Transfer since its inception, she has primarily served more as an ancillary or antagonistic role in previous routes. From being the callous holder of the alien-made doohickey in the CornStuck route to being the source of John’s internal torment due to unwanted mental alterations in the Mistaken route. Meanwhile, the brand new Magic Sayaka sees John as he accidentally uses an untested spell on Sayaka. Transformation hi-jinks and horror ensue, awkwardness brews, and after a traumatic experience, John is effectively indebted to Sayaka and the two form up an unexpected alliance.
An alliance with a shaky foundation due to the clashing personalities of the two, with Sayaka wanting to remain the dominant one due to her learned pride and entitlement, and the pair struggling to find a way to use John’s magic to their mutual benefit. Once they do so, things naturally don’t go as planned, with the two dashing throughout Tina Koya to put their plan into motion… only to regret the results the instant they appear. Mistakes are made, impersonations go as poorly as one might expect, and a clear tension builds between the two as Sayaka is forced out of her narrowly defined comfort zone, and complications are left to brew as the story eases into the end of its fifth day.
Overall, I found a lot to like about this route. The uneasy relationship and interactions between John and Sayaka keep the story compelling just in regards to their back and forward. Sayaka herself is presented in a different light that makes her character feel like a more well-rounded person. And the implementation of unique transformations and associated sprites further illustrates the presentational ambition of the development team as a whole, as they scrounge for the ideal sprites or kitbash them together into something impressively polished.
Allison is one of those characters who has been fluttering in the background of Student Transfer for quite some time, having relatively few traits or lines to call her own, not being the central figure in any route, and getting far more play in fan-created Scenarios. In an effort to correct this, one of the many untapped offshoots of the magic route was finally developed into Allison’s debut route as it were. Which expectedly kicks off as John foolishly decides to start spouting spells from his dandy old tome while at school, and incidentally catches the attention of Allison.
Not wanting to be a memory-wiping dastard, John decides to let Allison in on his secret, accepts her as his assistant, and proceeds to rush into another magical experiment. Which goes about as well as one would expect, with John and Allison possessing each other’s bodies and being unable to get out. All because a certain somebody couldn’t read the damn book enough to know what he was doing.
Overall, I consider this route to be very standard, mostly due to how formulaic its structure feels next to so many other Student Transfer routes and Scenarios. Impulsive use of power leads to a predicament where identities are impersonated, perspectives are gained, and awkward situations are avoided or embraced. That’s not to say what’s there is bad, as I think the lead writer, Aly Raines, did a good job with the character dynamics, back and forward, and in reconciling Allie’s perceived non-canon personality with something a touch more interesting. It’s just that this was a fairly standard opening of a route that has room to grow in a more unique direction with subsequent additions.
The Cheer route, as introduced in Version 4, served as the introduction of Sadie-Lynn Kobiyahshi, a southern-belle type who takes to John after she catches him toying around with the remote before the two wind up spending the night in each other’s bodies. It was a pleasant beginning that paired John against a distinct and cheery personality not seen before, and this update brought with it a full expansion of the day after their swap, showing John as he reconciles his newfound ‘interest’ in Sadie with his friends before Saide invites John out on a date together, for them to further their relationship.
It is a very straightforward addition with no new choices or major revelations, but out of all the additions this update brought, this is the one I feel the most… mixed about. Mostly due to what actually happens during the date between John and Sadie, which sees them go to a karaoke place to hang out, sing, and swap their bodies about.
Starting from the top, a body swap karaoke scene is a wonderful idea conceptually, as it gives the swapped a chance to come to terms with the differences of using a different set of vocal cords, lungs, and hearing the voice of a different octave leave their throat. The choice of music can be used to vicariously add something to the characters. While the use of lyrics can do the same for the tone, events, or overall theme of the story. However, it is quite difficult to write a good karaoke scene in general (I’ve tried several times in the past) as it is something defined by vocal performance. And without vocals, you really need to push another angle to get the scene to work. Which, by my metrics, isn’t the case here.
The descriptions are not as thorough, heady, or insightful to support the scene on a writing front. The changing music in-game is only a loose approximation of the songs being sung in-universe. And the lack of any lyrics, whether they be real, modified, or made up entirely, robs the scene of an angle that could have done a lot to better establish the relationship between John and Sadie. Instead, the scene comes and goes before the relationship shoved to the next level. First with a playful first kiss and then, literally 21 lines later, with a blowjob.
Yeah, it’s as jarring and unnecessary as it sounds, taking the wholesome and playful relationship between these two and making things overtly sexual… for no real reason as far as I can tell. It’s entirely possible that the lead writer of this route, Goopy, has a good reason to take the story in a different direction and to play with the pre-established assumptions about Sadie. But in its current form, it reads like a sex scene pulled straight out of an erotic comic. …Actually, that’s not fair. A sex scene pulled straight out of a bad erotic comic.
The Natsumi, or NatSwap, route is one of those dead ends that has been fluttering about since the release of Version 2.0, which saw Natsumi take hold of John’s life after he so generously allowed her to borrow his body, before being slammed with a thorough memory reworking. This addition follows John through his first day as Natsumi, with no access to the remote and a working intellect comparable to Natsumi herself while he remains woefully unaware of what kind of trouble she’s getting into with his body.
It’s definitely one of the more novel premises laid out in the base skeleton of Student Transfer and it’s execution is pretty much what I would have wanted and expected. It establishes Natsumi’s friends, illustrates the light dread found with a hopefully temporary loss of intelligence and identity, and gives John plenty of opportunities to resist his newfound childish impulses or try and fight the system while inspiring worry within those around them. It sows a slew of seeds for expansion and could blossom into a variable-rich route with enough iteration, but that remains to be seen, as the current release is more of an introduction than anything else. A good introduction that adds a previously unseen layer to the world and cast of Student Transfer by shifting the focus to an elementary school and framing things from the perspective of a young child. But it is an introduction I have two issues with.
Firstly, there are too many dramatic pauses laced throughout the dialogue for them to be impactful, and they last an annoyingly long amount of time. Pauses like this should typically be optimized for those with a faster reading speed and used sparingly so they remain impactful. But even with my subpar reading speed, I found myself mashing my Enter key until each line of dialogue was fully populated.
Secondly, it is unclear how old Natsumi is supposed to be, which makes it harder to get a feel for her character and her relationships with others. Natsumi’s mother offers to dress her in the mornings, reads her a bedtime story to her every night, and Natsumi herself has a habit of talking to stuffed animals. All of which implies that she is around kindergarten age. However, she is also learning multiplication in school, which is typically not introduced until the end of second grade or the start of third grade. A child’s age, even if it by a few years, can dramatically affect their intelligence, privileges, and how others see them. And while it might not be important in most stories or where the child is a background character, it is definitely worth clarifying in a story where the protagonist is forced to live the life of a child.
Antics – Rita Morph Path:
As somebody who makes flowcharts for this game, I have come to dread whenever I hear that the Antics route is getting an update, as it is this profoundly intricate plate of variable-rich navigational spaghetti that I had to break my own loosely defined style guide in order to map in a pseudo-pleasant manner. Thankfully, this update was more on the minor end of things, adding what could generously be called an hour of additional content to the path where, after scrying on and masturbating as Tori and subsequently bombing his test, John heads up to the roof where he encounters Tori and decides to mess with her by transforming into her pink-haired rival, Rita. …Yeah, it’s a wonder I even managed to map all this out in a semi-coherent manner.
Anyways, after getting his lights punched out and getting a “concussion” from a punch to the jaw that likely would not affect his brain, John is left with little choice but to stay as Rita for the following day, unable to transform back to normal due to his mana reserves. Which gives him little more to do than dawdle around town, toy with Tori’s not-so-secret preference for women, and wholesomely explore his body for funsies. It is a pretty chill and laid back extension, all things considered, seeing John going with the flow, not being too concerned about the repercussions of the world around him, and trying to make the best out of an awkward situation without anything really spiraling out of control. Well, more than it already had.
Unfortunately, the end of the day and meeting with a certain friend wasn’t edited or completed within the Version 5 deadline. Meaning that the tension between John, Tori, and another character (who I know about because I skimmed over the rough drafts, like the dirty girl I am) will need to wait until Version 6. Assuming it is actually included and not just abandoned like the long-forgotten Vanessa route, stub-sized Circe girlfriend route, and Magic Mom route.
Following its humble beginnings in Version 1, Student Transfer has continued to impress me more and more with each passing release. What started as an ambitious but clunky project has grown and developed into a genuine dream game for me, and the fact that it has persisted for so long and brought with it so many quality stories both in and out of the base game is nothing short of amazing to me. It is the gift that keeps on giving, and I am continuously grateful for those who have picked up where many of the original developers left off, allowing the project to continue strong whereas most would have shriveled up and burned over the span of a few years.
As is my customary duty as the designated “Flowchart Girl” for Student Transfer, here are the flowcharts for Version 5.0 and subsequent Version 5.X releases. Please notify me if you find any mistakes or errors.
Student Transfer is available to download via the official Student Transfer website.
For more information about the title, please check my dedicated Student Transfer page.