This is a new one for me. So far, every visual novel I have reviewed has stuck to the familiar anime aesthetics. Even those few games developed by non-Japanese teams kept the anime look & feel. S.H.E.L.T.E.R. on the other hand is a Western visual novel with a very different artstyle indeed. Can we even call it a visual novel then? Should we call it an interactive comic instead? Let’s take this one question at a time.
So… just like how Tuition Academia was a not-so-subtle hentai parody on My Hero Academia, S.H.E.L.T.E.R. is basically Fallout 4 with porn. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where you managed to survive nuclear armageddon thanks to an underground
That is until problems begin to arise. Somebody must venture outside to retrieve critical supplies, which is unfortunately going to have to be you. After all, it’s just you, the womenfolk, and one aging scientist down there. Thus you boldly set out into the unknown. To rediscover a destroyed world, rescue your people, and—if you’re lucky—find somebody to put your nob into.
The reason why I named Fallout 4 in particular is because S.H.E.L.T.E.R. has ambitions towards being a management sim as well. Your actions quickly end up getting you involved with a local settlement desperate for help. You pick up little missions, gather resources, and invest those resources back into the community. It’s novel, but it does lead to some glaring issues for a visual novel.
Rather than a linear narrative, each day is basically the same. You wake up, eat in the shelter, and can then go out to do some activities that slowly push the story forward. Night falls, you go back home, and repeat again the next day. Since there are so few unique events, you might as well skip text until something comes up that requires your attention. For a game with romantic aspirations, fast forwarding through 80% of your interactions is not ideal.
The characters you meet on your journey are… okay. For the people down in the shelter you can choose whether they are family or random friends. This choice has no further impact on their breed-ability but does influence how awkward things get at the dinner table. Once outside you have an opportunity to meet other survivors in various states of sanity and irradiation.
While aesthetically varied, characters tend to only be as deep as a puddle. The people you share a vault with require at least a few steps before you can bareback them. The first people you meet in the settlement require a few conversations at minimum. Then you get to the second half of the game and everybody is either seduced by the first conversation, or you can instantly turn around after meeting them and get your romance option.
The game effectively gives up on being involved. Not just in the romance department, but also in everything that follows. All the investments and grinding is frontloaded at the start. Once you get past the initial hiccup, characters will start handing you anything you need for free—eliminating currency as a factor outside of settlement upgrades.
Those quests I mentioned are similarly piss easy. It’s cute that the first mission you get has you go out looking for a water filter, but unlike Fallout you end up getting it in seconds. The game simply doesn’t have the mechanisms to give its objectives more depth. You have to find something, you press the “find something” button, and there ya go. Quest complete. There is also no real time pressure and, oftentimes, no risk of failing. It makes the wasteland setting feel far too tame.
This extends all the way to the ending. There is one critical moment where you can “lose” the game, which is signposted very obviously and can be instantly reverted. You then get a final objective required to beat the game. This was so shockingly easy that I ended up wasting half an hour trying to figure out what to do next. There was no “next”. I could just try the final battle again right away and win effortlessly.
Is the hentai good though? I find that hard to judge.
The artstyle is plainly not to my liking, though I cede that the character designs are pretty damn cool. Each character has bunch of different scenes, some of which only become available as a result of a chain of decisions on your part. For example, if you chose to romance Kira in the vault AND ingratiated yourself to sheriff Elin AND did the side-quest to get Kira anti-radiation medicine AND then make a series of specific dialogue choices, you get a special scene that isn’t accessible any other way.
The most prominent choice in S.H.E.L.T.E.R. is that you can choose to either romance or corrupt any girl you meet. Romance entails all the lovey-dovey goodness you’d expect, whereas corruption sends you down a more abusive, dominating path. You can switch this up between girls; it’s not a one time choice or anything. And, yes, corruption and romance both have entirely different sets of erotic scenes each.
While the characters aren’t deep, I did revisit a few to see both story paths out curiosity and I respect the effort that went into making so many different scenes. I just wish that same amount of drive extended to the management gameplay. S.H.E.L.T.E.R. feels like it wanted to be more. Like it wanted to actually have some intricate decision-making and resource gathering, but time, money, or ambition just ran out at some point.
The result is a game that feels incomplete. Unfulfilled, to be more precise. It has a lot of promise and big ideas, but eventually settles for just being an above-average eroge. Its artstyle gives it a unique appeal, though it is quite expensive for a game with 4 hours of content.
At the very least, it’s not as bad as the actual Fallout 4.