" Every character in Major\Minor displays some form of moral ambiguity, and their overall complexity is what keeps them and their intertwining stories intriguing."
Anthropomorphic animals have elicited strong emotions in people all throughout history. They have been feared (e.g. the Minotaur in Greek mythology), revered (e.g. Egyptian deities like Bastet) and everything in between. In more modern times, characters like Bugs Bunny and Miss Piggy fill children and adults alike with laughter. College mascots like the University of Florida's Albert and Alberta Gator pump up crowds into whooping frenzies at sporting events, and school alumni identify themselves as gators for life. Nekomimi (Japanese cat-girls) are divisive figures that people either fetishize or revile, sometimes for the same reasons. In short, that whole "feared, revered, and everything else in between" sentiment holds true for anthropomorphic animals and their constituent subcultures today as much as it did in ancient times.
I bring this up because preconceptions about anthropomorphic animals could factor into your receptivity to Tall Tail Studios' debut game Major\Minor: an anime-inspired visual novel featuring a full cast of funky anthropomorphic animal characters. I was not totally sure what to expect from the game, but it definitely grew on me. One reason that it did was how it sidesteps some of my expectations. For example, although the characters run the gamut from rabbits to dragons, they all seem to coexist in an interspecies melting pot. Sure, there is enmity between some, but that's due to opposing morals, values, worldviews, etc. and not species related. This dynamic stuck with me because the game's narrative themes sidestep the cliché of interspecies prejudice.
You play from the perspective of an anonymous protagonist with an unspecified gender (until you choose it in Chapter 2), who is one of two winners of an energy drink sponsored contest to accompany an international pop star on his Japanese tour. That, in and of itself, could make for an engaging story with tons of hijinks and misadventures (I used to play bass in touring rock bands and have plenty of stories to tell), but Major\Minor has other plans. The plot veers left and thrusts you down a figurative rabbit hole involving a series of mysterious murders, a parallel world in political turmoil, and a mystical stranger who seems to connect you to both worlds via some supernatural limbo plane called The Ark.
The story is a slow burn and takes a good 3-4 chapters (out of 10 total) to really open up, so patience is well rewarded. As the story hits its stride, the twists become more sinister, the characters flesh out more, and the tribulations facing the protagonist become more gripping, provided you're willing to suspend your disbelief, embrace the chaos, and just go along for the ride.
Major\Minor's biggest impact lies in its characters. Throughout my play time, I was always curious to see what type of character I would encounter next. The characters did not always have likable personalities or kosher motives to their actions, and I can see players being turned off by several characters who might initially rub them the wrong way. For me, though, that initial wince only piques my curiosity as to how s/he can grow and develop from there. I've read many novels where a character I initially dislike becomes a favorite toward the end, and that happened with Major\Minor as well. Every character in Major\Minor displays some form of moral ambiguity, and their overall complexity is what keeps them and their intertwining stories intriguing. Another favorable narrative choice is that the perspective occasionally shifts from first-person to omniscient, allowing players glimpses of what's going on outside of the protagonist's point of view.
The story is quite text heavy and features a lot of exposition, which is typical of the visual novel genre. It's quite challenging to incorporate necessary exposition into dialogue scripting, and even the most acclaimed visual novels fall into the "info dump" trap. Major\Minor's scripting makes a valiant effort in keeping its text generally free of grammar and syntax errors, but it has its share of expository info dumping, and dialogue sometimes reads in a stilted fashion. Admittedly, that actually works well for those characters who exhibit some variety of social awkwardness, such as Jade— a limo driver still learning to interpret the nuances of sarcastic wit and more casual social cues.
The gameplay is bread-and-butter "Choose Your Own Adventure" gameplay. The narrative does not offer a laundry list of choices, but each one holds weight. Even the most seemingly mundane choices have ripple effects felt later on. Middle and late game choices become incredibly tense. The main goal is to simply figure out the truth behind what is going on and how the disparate events of parallel worlds, inexplicable serial murders, and an international pop star's Japanese tour connect. Major\Minor has a regular and true ending, each with its own variations depending on the choices made throughout. The true ending is gleaned from triggering many flags throughout the myriad story paths. If you don't get the true ending the first time, the flags you previously triggered for it are saved for subsequent playthroughs. I actually preferred the regular ending to the far lengthier true ending, but the true ending is worth the effort. And though the game's progression doesn't change too dramatically in subsequent playthroughs, some of the more subtle exposition made greater sense the second time around.
It should be noted that saving can only be done at interval prompts throughout the game, so it is highly recommended that players keep multiple save files so they can try out different branches. I missed the ability to save any time I wanted, because I couldn't just save and quit whenever I needed to step away from my computer. I also did not like that I couldn't rewind missed dialogue or automatically fast-forward over previously seen dialogue during subsequent playthroughs. Such features are standard in visual novels, so their omission here is noticeable.
The detailed character art by PawziClawzi is quite colorful, with a creative array of different animal variants. I like that, for the most part, characters wear appropriate garb. Sure, there are some fanservicey characters in slinky outfits, but they usually make contextual sense, like the maid café hostess. There are exceptions, like the brazenly attired spy, but what's an anime-style game without someone uncharacteristically flashy like that? Although I appreciated every character's vivid colors and bold design choices, some of the more daring artistic accoutrements may not appeal to those who prefer more subdued stylings.
My caveat with the character art is that I would have liked for more of the portraits to have multiple facial expressions to add weight to the more emotional pieces of dialogue. Almost all the character portraits are static, save for a scant few with multiple portraits depicting different emotions. This felt disconcerting when, say, this guy named Kila was shell-shocked by an alarming event, yet his portrait held that same goofy smirk as when I first met him. I also would have liked to see original backgrounds to complement the original character art. The backgrounds are photos (usually stock photos) under a filter or two to make them look surreal, and that felt like an easy out in contrast to the vivid character art.
The soundtrack consists of melodious main themes by Fox Amoore, stirring music from RPGMaker-exclusive music packs by composer Murray Atkinson (many composers have RPGM-exclusive music packs available for purchase, including Hiroki Kikuta of Seiken Densetsu fame), and some cool vocal songs heard during the epilogue and end credits. I would often take pause just to listen to some of the music. If I had to level any criticism against the music, it's that some pieces overpower their scenes, particularly those that sound like adventurous JRPG tunes. This is no slight against the quality of the music or scenario writing, but merely some imbalance in their pairings. Think of it like pairing wine with food. The wine and the food may each be very good on their own, but not be very complementary together.
I must say, I enjoyed Major\Minor far more than I thought I would. The game is an undoubtedly acquired taste and I can see some players potentially getting turned off before even completing the first couple of chapters. The game's pacing is deliberate and characters aren't immediately likable, but if you can get past that, the game definitely opens up and blooms. For those who have enough open-mindedness, patience, and suspension of disbelief to give Major\Minor a chance, hopefully the game will grow on you as it did on me.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.