Aruru to Asobo!!
DR^2 Night Janki
Tears to Tiara
Tenshi no Inai 12-gatsu
To Heart 2
To Heart 2: XRATED
To Heart 2 ~Another Days~
Queen of Heart
Generic Disclaimer: Of course I wouldn’t know how the bishoujo games industry truly works, so some info below may be wrong or misinterpreted. This feature is from an outsider’s point of view, namely, my point of view.
Let me just say that it is this company’s fault that I’m at this status of bishoujo addiction syndrome.
Most probably, the very first bishoujo game that really caught my eye was To Heart. Having found a demo version of the game, I was really astounded by its visuals. Back then, all I knew about these once-called “hentai games” was these DOS games in 16 colors. Being able to play a better looking, more anime-like game brought me to visual heaven despite absolutely 0% knowledge of Japanese back then. After some time, someone gave me the full game, and heck I remember just mashing around with my keyboard picking up random choices in the hopes of finding a new cute girl CG everytime. Alas, I never got a good ending of course.
After tiring myself away from it, I was blanked out again in bishoujo stuff, until the anime version of To Heart came. Initially I really thought this was some H anime or something, because the seller just grouped it along with them. Well, what I found was really better than H. To Heart became a hall-of-famer in my anime list, and every now and then (despite my backlog), I still find time to rewatch this amazing anime. Everything went from there. Watching many bishoujo game based anime, searching the net for anything bishoujo-related, and then looking at other popular games from other companies, and even playing them for a bit, etc. Really, I blame this company… for my current bliss.
Leaf seemed to have started out with less prolific games like Filsnown (an RPG), and DR^2 (a mahjong game maybe). Then they ventured into the bishoujo game market, coining the term “visual novel” along the way. Shizuku (Leaf Visual Novel Vol. 1) and Kizuato (Leaf Visual Novel Vol. 2), seems to be quite the violent games. Shizuku is about denpa (electrical waves) poisoning people’s minds, while Kizuato delves on a murder mystery. They’re starting to gain popularity, but To Heart (Leaf Visual Novel Vol. 3) is really where they skyrocketed.
To Heart, by all means, is really just a set of simple high school love stories molded into a multi-branching game. It still remains a mystery to me why exactly did this game be one of the mighty powerhouses of the bishoujo game industry. Spawning everything from doujinshi to anime to even sequel and remake games, the influence remains even today. Was it because of the beautiful CG? The great stories? Or maybe it’s all because of HMX-12 Multi, one of the iconic characters of bishoujo gaming? In any case, To Heart is a classic.
Comic Party is arguably the second most popular game made by the company, this time focusing on doujinshi itself. For the non-Japanese like me, this was a bit more confusing to play, because you seem to have some bit of strategy/scheduling gameplay to do. Yup, the player is handling the doujinshi tasks while dating the girls.
Aside from these two, Leaf has a steady stream of prolific games in their sleeve, many of which I do not know yet. In line with this, they launched their alternate nickname or company Aquaplus to be the handler of animation projects, as well as console versions of their popular games. They have a LOT of revival projects of their old games. Shizuku and Kizuato had their Renewal versions, then after launching To Heart and Comic Party console versions, the two games got ported back to the PC as To Heart PSE and Comic Party DCE. And now they even have their upcoming PSP lineups (revivals again), including Comic Party Portable, Routes Portable and Kizuato Portable, aside from the PS2 port of Utawarerumono and the PC port of To Heart 2. Fans will empty their pockets yet again.
Doujin groups capitalized with their popularity, not only with straightforward doujinshi works based on Leaf games, but also doujin fighting games as well. The Queen of Heart series of fighting games were quite popular for a while.
Back to the games. Tenshi no Inai 12-gatsu was quite the beautiful, and sad, piece. It represents excellent art plus a sad dramatic theme that is a far cry from their popular “happy game” franchises. Just by the name alone (translated as December When There is no Angel), it gives me that depressing mood. Ouch. Oh, and the opening song to this one (“i hope so…” by Haruna Ikeda) is one of the most stylish and ‘different’ songs I have heard in a bishoujo game. That, or maybe I’m too tired of listening to I’ve Sound.
Another notable game was Utawarerumono. I haven’t seen the game yet, but it was generating some positive buzz around. Problem is that it seems to be a strategy game, and besides I don’t seem to like games of the medieval fantasy-genre. The recent release of Aruru to Asobo!! is a fandisk highlighting Aruru of Utawarerumono, but there are lots of minigames there based on many of Leaf’s other games.
To Heart 2 technically seems to be Leaf’s very first sequel. It is set some years after the first game, bearing the same places but not having the same characters. The gameplay is technically the same too, but seeing its popularity shows that even age-old formulas are still effective as long as they present a good story. While I don’t think any story or character would be as iconic as Multi, the game still has its moments.
Tears to Tiara is another new game which is an RPG of sorts. Again, I don’t like medieval and fantasy stuff, but it’s kinda popular right now.
I never bothered to look at Kusari too much, but reportedly this is a different Leaf production than the usual. This is a quite a violent game that has a LOT of H scenes.
To Heart 2: XRATED. Originally a PS2 game with no obscene material, Leaf has announced that they are working on a PC version, with the oh-so-obvious title showing what kind of game it is. And so new scenarios, characters, minigames, and H scenes will be added, with reportedly the same seiyuu (albeit working undercover in pseudonyms) voicing the characters.
Then comes To Heart 2 ~Another Days~, a further milking of the franchise. Unlike XRATED which only added more scenarios to the existing game, Another Days is a completely new game with all-new scenarios featuring other characters from the original. It was one of the best-selling games in 2008. I hope to play and feature this game someday.