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H-Games: Eros and Thanatos

Written By mista sense on Monday, May 7, 2007 | 5:16 AM

Last month, I examined the concept of "salvation rape" as a common convention of Hentai games. The image and idea of a doe-eyed young lady welling with tears at the joy of her rebirth following largely non-consensual sex might be titillating to some, but through the lens of reality, it's largely ridiculous.

How, then, does a Hentai game come to be bestowed with gravitas? The fundamentals of human life are sex and death; all Hentai games feature the first, and as for the second, it's not uncommon in H-Games either-- though I'll save Fatal Relations and Chain for later reviews, they're good examples of how treatment of mortality in H-Games is usually as laughable as the suspension of disbelief required to justify screwing your girlfriend's underage sister and her mother in the same visit.

Not so with Kana: Little Sister, well-ensconced as an all-time favorite for many H-gamers. You're hit with the death before the love as you're introduced to Kana as your chronically ill little sister, plagued with a lifetime of what seems to be kidney disease, and an uncertain future. The game spans the remaining time you have with your little sister, to reconcile your initial immature (and refreshingly realistic) hatred and jealousy with the possibility of a loss that might occur any day. As her beloved and idealized elder brother, it's up to you how Kana will spend the last of her life, and what sort of relationship you'll have.

Heavy stuff, and piquant, too-- it's a little bit throat-catching, actually, even tear-worthy; though I haven't played every H-game in existence, I'm fairly certain there are few, if any, that can evoke actual human emotion. It would be a good game even without sex, which, when dealing with such poignant concepts-- the lifelike vulnerability of your ill little sister, the burden of a family who may soon lose its innocent-- seems just a little bit twisted, actually. But it is an H-game, and nobody plays those merely for a stirring emotional story, no matter how well-rendered.

And incest itself is fairly tame as taboo goes in this context; additionally, the game handles poor little Kana with a minimum of vulgarity, and, even more surprisingly, an absence of disassociation from the sibling role (most H-games that feature sibling sex relegate the brother-sister dynamic implausibly to an afterthought, as if your sister were simply any hot girl). It's also possible to play through the non-linear story keeping sexualization of Kana to a minimum; most of the gratuitous sex scenes are the territory of Yumi, the conventionally slutty "girlfriend" character.

The game hangs primarily on tragedy as a convention; of six possible endings, Kana survives in only one of them. What makes the tragedy of Kana: Little Sister actually believable is the dignity with which all the characters are treated throughout. Not that it pulls any punches-- those who squirm at sibling love will most certainly be creeped-- except for the eventual revelation that Kana, being adopted, is not a blood relation (a move that seems uncharacteristically limp-wristed, as if the writers were backing off their own brave creation).

Is it the conventional sex game? Perhaps not; sex is almost an assist to the emotional connection, rather than being at the forefront of the game mechanics. It could be argued, though, that in this way Kana: Little Sister is more effective as an H-game than an endless barrage of celluloid clickfests stuffed with implausible and silly dialogue and "character development." Not because of the sex or the death, but because of the fashion in which they're treated. It's all about the how.

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