A curious case of loss, euphoria, and untapped potential
The following is a review of a fan-made Scenario for the visual novel Student Transfer. For more information about Student Transfer, please consult my dedicated Student Transfer page or the official Student Transfer website.
Curiosity serves as an expansion of the Yui Possession route from the base game where, a week after the route begins, John decides to dig through his spellbook and tries his hand at summoning Circe. Except Kisara’s version of Circe is a touch different and, instead of congratulating her summoner for substituting ingredients, she locks John’s spirit out of his body. After some wandering, John is discovered by a witch who makes use of his disembodied spirit by having him serve as a pawn in her battle against demonkind by possessing a lesser demon known as Ayano.
In doing so, John learns that the demons in Tina Koya are not bad people, and rushes into an encounter involving the witch and another lesser demon. An encounter that, depending on the player’s decisions, can go one of a few ways. Ranging from an overwhelmingly positive friendship-victory to an emotionally disastrous bloodbath.
To me, this is the single biggest strength of Curiosity. As it is a single Scenario that doubles as both a story about John going on a jovial and identity-affirming quest where they make a spectrum of new friends. And a story about someone struggling to reconcile with the fact that they killed good people, lost their body, and caused pain for all those around them. All because of something as trite and simple as their curiosity.
Conceptually, Curiosity has a lot going for it, and overall I would say the Scenario does a satisfactory job of delivering on what it’s trying to do. It successfully carves out its own little niche with its own interpretations of Student Transfer characters. It adds to the cast with some new ones. And it delivers with a completely functional story that has its own share of quality moments that run a (slightly limited) spectrum of emotions. All while successfully offering something distinct. Though, I also think that it only does a satisfactory job. What exactly do I mean by that? Well… let’s just take a look at the three main branches of this Scenario.
The bad endings follow John as they are the sole survivor and deal with both the guilt of murder and physical/mental transformation they underwent during the battle. However, even as the story hammers home just how broken up John is over their mistakes, I do not feel that Curiosity fully explores this subject matter. While it gets its knees mucky, it never truly digs into the sense of misery and wretchedness that comes with ending the lives of good people or the feeling of alienation that comes with assuming another life. Instead, the Scenario tries to end things on more of an uplifting note, which I don’t think was the best move creatively.
The Circe Ex Machina route follows an outcome where the battle ends in shades of crimson and, in a fit of desperation, John does something reckless that pays off for all parties. After explaining the minutiae of what happened, the story shifts into a prolonged falling action that, in theory, should be something I adore in TSF media: A prolonged post-transformation look into the characters as they acclimate to their new lives. In execution, however, things simultaneously feel dragged out and under-developed.
Several character threads are spun but never sewn, despite being some of the most interesting elements of this route. In trying to be a detailed look, the route goes in some odd directions, like when John decides to switch bodies with Yui two days after getting a new permanent body, which is just… bizarre. And the route as a whole is overwhelmingly positive and happy, and aside from a single hair of conflict between two surviving characters, everybody gets along splendidly. While I appreciate uplifting endings, this just comes across as saccharine and far too simple, paving over any potential conflict to offer something happy.
The same issue appears in the as-of-yet-incomplete good routes, where John collaborates with Ayano from the get-go. After some initial hostility and confusion, all the characters get together, realize that everyone else is ‘good’ or ‘nice,’ and suddenly there is no true external or internal conflict for the characters to overcome anymore. Instead, the story becomes about characters getting to know each other, John getting to know themself, and characters organizing their new life situations now that everything is hunky-dory. I understand what Kisara is trying to do here, and this positivity can be truly delectable if one is in the right mindset for it. However, there needs to be some problem for the characters to overcome or thoughtful exploration to be performed for this route to remain all that interesting.
As for the actual writing, Kisara is yet another ESL writer, and her grasp on the English language is quite solid beyond a scattering of typos and the occasional odd phrasing. It’s definitely a good effort, but I found it a bit lacking when it came to the dialogue. While most of it is fully functional, there are a significant number of lines that I found to be flat, stilted, or limited in character. It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to open up the script files and try my hand at punching up the lines into something a bit better.
The same general criticism also applies to the presentation. While Curiosity does a fair bit with its tonally appropriate music choices, custom sprites, and use of effects, it is also not particularly ambitious. Character positions tend to go back to the same five baked-in placements across the screen, expressions do not always change when they should, and more could be done to make the conversations more visually stimulating. Though I also get why Kisara might have wanted to focus on her story above the presentation, as you need to be a particular kind of person to have the patience of abstractly assembling something like this with code and then going back to spruce things up after one reaches a point where it is ‘good enough.’
That covers my general thoughts on this Scenario, though I would be remiss if I did not discuss Stephanie. A young transgender woman at Tina Koya who Ayano befriends, supports, and urges to come out to the school as a whole. Her story is sweet and wholesome, she is an overwhelmingly positive character, but… she’s not a particularly good character.
All we really know about Stephanie is that she is trans, she is harassed for it by a phobic jerkass, she cares deeply for Ayano, and she is a “good person.” It is far from impressive character writing and as the story is concerned, Stephanie’s role is closer to that of a thing. Something that motivates Ayano to reach out to humans, stirs discontent within another, and sparks the second initiating conflict of the story. She actually reminds me a lot of Terra Flare, a character from my 2015 novel, Verde’s Doohickey. Both serve as sweet and positive child trans characters, but neither have a greater purpose in the story beyond motivating more important characters to do something.
To summarize the criticism I have been making throughout this entire review, I think Curiosity is a fine scenario, but I’m walking away from it with a resounding feeling that ‘something more could have been done here.’ Certain characters could have been given more room to express themselves. Its darker themes are not explored as much as they could be. And the entire thing could have used a bit more punching up or polish to make its finer moments all the more impactful.
I feel kind of bad ending this review on such a downer note like that, as I enjoyed the effort Kisara made here. But as a reviewer, I always try to be direct, honest, and judge things up to a similar standard, regardless of their origin.
In addition to reviewing this Scenario, I also prepared a flowchart. Please let me know if there are any errors.