Manna for our Malices is a game I’ve been working on for a year and a half. As it approaches completion, I would like to document all the things I’m trying to do with this game, so that I can have a more objective post-mortem later once it’s been released and gotten responses from new players.
There are a lot of ideas I’m trying to work with thematically, and there are a lot of character development things I’m trying to do that seem clever at the moment but are probably actually dumb or opaque, and no doubt I will have failed along some dimensions. Documenting my goals publically like this will keep me honest.
The VN meta-game:
VN players often save-scum in order to get different endings. Functionally, this means that they use information from ‘future’ or ‘alternative present’ events in the game to make decisions.
Many VNs take advantage of this by having new arcs that are unlocked once you have reached certain endings. For instance, Fate/Stay Night’s 3 arcs must be played in order (and the first arc acts mostly as an introduction to the universe, laying the lore & plot foundations for later arcs); in Sharin no Kuni and Everlasting Summer, the plot proper is revealed only in an ending that is unlocked by achieving all other canon endings. This kind of thing has also started happening outside of VNs — notably in Japanese RPGs like Nier.
I’m trying to go a step further and bring the meta-game habit of save-scumming into the plot (as a narrative device proper) and into the game (as a core mechanic). To do this, I am making it so that most actions are only unlocked by previous experience with a (nearly always fatal) event: exposure to new scenes is deadly but provides information necessary to imagine new solutions to the puzzles presented. Plot-wise, this means that our protagonist is living through many deaths.
Additionally, the VN player has a double-role in a typical VN: the player is role-playing as the protagonist, who does not have access to extrahistorical information, but is also acting the part of a player, strategizing based on history of ‘future’ events. I have mirrored this distinction in my protagonist: after the non-interactive first arc, her body is possessed by the soul of a future self who has memory of all of the arcs, but this soul must share the body with another soul with no such knowledge.
The time loop mechanic is in service of establishing a theme of forteanism. It is only because the protagonist can repeat the past that she can look more closely & notice the strangeness underneath the surface of her everyday life, but that strangeness has always been there.
While many strange things are occurring in the town, the implication should not be that this is a remarkably strange town, but that every time and every place, if observed carefully, would reveal strangeness.
Because of the time loop, the protagonist is the only person (including all conspirators) to be capable of being privy to all the events mentioned in the game — and it is implied that there are other events she cannot learn much about, despite her unique situation.
Likewise, the personalities & behaviors of the characters are driven by hidden histories and pressures. The protagonist is able to unravel some of these, driven by her need to investigate the situation she is in and made possible by that situation, but the implication should be that everyone is subject to an invisible rich inner life and a network of social pressures that those not capable of time travel cannot fully understand.
By taking place in an all-girls school, I have a good excuse for all major characters to be girls, & for male characters to have only tangential or background roles. While there are male antagonists, they are either minor (like Taro) or do not appear directly in the story.
Additionally, Ai is asexual & several other characters are canonically interested in girls. This is not foregrounded or treated as unusual.
Ai is well-meaning but generally oblivious. She has a tendency to focus on particular things.
Her behavior is generally socially unacceptable, because she has modeled it on the behavior of delinquent characters in 70s manga, without fully understanding the context that informed those tropes. Even as an otaku, she is out of step with the times.
She didn’t recognize what was going on in her own town until an event re-cast it in terms she was familiar with from fiction, at which point she was able to engage with her real life as obsessively as she does with old manga.
Nevertheless, she’s dedicated to her friends & wants to help people in need (once she notices their situation). This makes her valuable to her friends.
Her elevation of Koneko’s moe-appeal is a running gag, because (to a greater extent than most otaku) she doesn’t realize that openly idolizing a real person in the same way as one would a fictional character is strange. Those around her interpret this as sexual attraction, and Ai has a hard time articulating that this is a mistake because she doesn’t realize that she’s asexual (and she doesn’t really have a deep grasp of what it’s like to be sexually attracted to someone).
Aoi is a kind of de-constructed genki girl archetype. Like the trope implies, she is ditzy, quirky, energetic, and affectionate. These are genuine traits, but they have their historical basis in trauma.
She is ditzy & quirky as a side effect of brain damage and attempts to treat it.
She is affectionate because of a kind of imposter syndrome, because as a replacement of the ‘original’, she feels like it’s her responsibility to act the part by doubling down on who she understood her ‘original’ to be. Her understanding of this person is almost definitely flawed — limited and maybe even false — which makes her a simulacrum, but a genuine one: her performance of an exaggerated version of a misunderstood lie about a dead girl is her true self.
Her family’s unique position (as the most important people at the university research lab whose military contracts bring commerce to the town & by extension the town’s syndicate) gives her power that she doesn’t really understand or recognize.
A gifted eldest child, her abilities made people less strict with her, and she ultimately fell into a state where she is more oblivious to social pressures (to attend school, perform femininity & sexuality in certain ways, maintain a clean living space, live up to the expectations of her parents & recognize their needs) than her sisters or even Ai.
The middle child, she is almost as gifted as Shironeko & feels doubly bound by duty as though to make up for her elder sister. She is an overachiever in academics and in music. She also tries to protect her younger sister by taking on responsibilities on her behalf. All of this pressure manifests in a casually caustic and sadistic personality — she is a blunt cynic — but this sadism doesn’t extend to actually wanting to hurt people. Instead, she just takes out the pressure she feels on other people using her sharp tongue.
The youngest of the Fujinomiya sisters, she is gifted athletically moreso than academically. Like Kuroneko, she is driven by a strong sense of duty and responsibility, and like Kuroneko, this drives her to compensate for her family’s problems in secret.
Unlike her sisters, she is quiet and passive. She has some social anxiety, which makes her predicament more difficult for her than it might have been for her sisters.
She prides herself on her ability to accumulate and retrieve information. This ability doesn’t help her connect with people. She has friction with Ai over her crush on Aoi: for Aoi, Ai is the only one she sees, and this is obvious to Mimi.
Umeji Misa was originally going to be a part of MfoM, but her arc overlapped substantially with other arcs. Instead, I have mentioned her in several places but her story will not be told in this game. (If this game is sufficiently successful, I will make a sequel focusing on her story.)
Like Kuroneko, she is involved with a cult, but she is a true believer & the cult is a scam. She is a true believer because, like Koneko, she has telepathic contact with aliens. However, these are the Other aliens that Koneko has contact with, rather than the aryan Space Brothers this cult venerates. While this cult has a presence in Yomiyama, and while its great collapse coincides with the May Eve ritual, Ai is not involved in or aware of her story, nor is she involved in or aware of Ai’s.