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Strawberry Vinegar (PC) artwork

Strawberry Vinegar (PC) review

"Sweet but simple reflection on good grub and confusing emotions."

Strawberry Vinegar is the sort of game you play when you want something to cheer you up, I have decided. It's not particularly great at telling an otherwise compelling or complex story, and it doesn't last all that long, but it's a terrific mood booster and that counts for something.

The idea is that you are a 9-year-old Japanese girl named Rie. You have a stay-at-home dad who seems more like a mom, and your mother is an actress who reads the newspaper at the breakfast table for a few minutes before scampering off to work. Perhaps inevitably, you have grown up as a loner, and your life is mundane to the extreme.

Strawberry Vinegar (PC) image

There wouldn't be much of a game, naturally, if some of that weren't about to change. And of course, there's no way anything can ever be the same again once a strange girl suddenly appears in your home and starts scarfing down some delicious cookies you just baked. She claims she is a demon from Hell, here to reap your soul, but maybe she'll let you live if you overlook her theft of those baked goods and keep the supply coming.

Strawberry Vinegar is a visual novel, which used to be an uncommon thing here in North America. Previous games I've played in the genre were hentai titles, where the goal was typically to bed as many anime girls as possible. Some of those games would reach beyond their perverted primary purpose and actually try to tell a meaningful story, and I always meant to get around to playing one that was ready to eschew the focus on "honey pots." Now, I can finally say that I have.

There's no nudity in Strawberry Vinegar, and there are sex scenes, and even any references to getting freaky are kept innocent and sweet. Instead, this story explores emotion. Specifically, it looks at the feelings Rie develops for Licia, the irresistibly cute ambassador from Hell (not the town in Norway). What is friendship? What is love? Can an elementary school girl understand any of it?

Strawberry Vinegar (PC) image

That actually brings me to my biggest problem with the game, which is that Rie doesn't actually seem like any 9-year-old you're likely to have ever known. Her vocabulary is varied, and her outlook on life shows surprising maturity and exhibits more introspection than even seems possible for someone her age. Ebi-Hime, a developer that has apparently produced several games within the visual novel genre, has created a heroine who seems more like someone in her early 20s than she does a girl who hasn't even reached middle school age, and that's difficult to overlook because it slaps you in the face with almost each new line of dialogue.

The other characters, at least, are mostly credible despite coming off as predictably silly. The parents' role reversal is handled nicely, and Licia, a charming young lass with horns and a tail, is one of the most believable members of the cast despite her fantastic origins. The impact she has on the family she has invaded is fun to watch as the story unfolds.

I especially liked the lovely artwork. There aren't a lot of unique environments, but the ones that are provided do look very nice. Character portraits are also very good, and expressions change subtly to match the dialogue. I noted at the start of the review that Strawberry Vinegar can cheer a person up, and a lot of that is due not only to the sugary sweet dialogue, but the vibrant artwork that accompanies it. There's also a catchy soundtrack, consisting almost entirely of upbeat songs that got my foot tapping on more than one occasion. I appreciate that the game doesn't feel the need to get complicated, to push for profundity that lies beyond its grasp. The simple experience that results is all about life and love... and food.

Strawberry Vinegar (PC) image

It's no coincidence that Licia's grand entrance involves food. The demon loves the stuff, and it remains a primary focus in virtually every scene that follows. The game is a visual novel, but it doesn't actually offer you a lot of choices along the way. Around half of them pertain to food. For instance, you might have to choose between buying a crepe or going home to make pancakes. Your choice determines what detailed description of food--and accompanying illustration--you'll be treated to next.

That's actually my other main issue with Strawberry Vinegar: there aren't enough choices, and they don't do much to impact the story. If you make a bad decision, you'll get a premature ending, but usually there's no way to anticipate the events that will follow a particular response ahead of time. That means you have choices that lead to a quick game over sequence--in which case you can play through and skip scenes to get back to where you were in just a moment--or to a slightly different culinary treat over which to drool. Do not play this one when you are hungry.

Since Strawberry Vinegar tells a very basic and brief tale, without a lot of diversions that tackle anything deeper, it has no chance of standing proud among the genre's very best and most interesting titles. It's sugary fluff, pure and simple. In spite of that, however, I'm glad I played through it and I suspect that other players will find similar enjoyment in watching Rie's life change as she gets to know the unlikely intruder.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 24, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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