Circus Reviews - Strawberry Vinegar
Having fixed the previously mentioned, mildly frustrating debit card issues, I immediately went to Steam and bought this game. As you may recall, I don't generally do excessively cute games, but every now and then one manages to draw me in and I make an exception, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet being the last time this happened. I've been watching for this game's release for a little while now, and was quite excited to dive into a game that, at first glance, appears to have quite a lot of cuteness and food porn. Which is always fun. Strawberry Vinegar stars nine-year-old Rie Sakuraba, a girl who is both more intelligent and more cynical than most others her age. She leads a relatively solitary existence, preferring not to bother herself with other people. Her world gets thrown out of balance when she walks into her kitchen one day and finds a young demon girl eating a tray of freshly baked cookies. The demon girl, Licia, threatens Rie, saying that if she isn't fed at least one delicious thing every day, Rie's soul will be forfeit.
Our protagonist, Rie, is an odd one among visual novel characters. She actively pushes people away, isn't afraid to tear down her father's occasional emotional outbursts, and looks to such works as The Communist Manifesto to explain the actions of others. She kind of grows on you, though. And she serves as a great contrast to Licia, who is silly and ditzy and loudmouthed but ultimately innocent and well-meaning. It's a far better pair than Rie's parents, Kazuki and Yukine, who have a rather disturbing relationship that, quite frankly, worries me. Kazuki cooks and cleans and takes the majority of responsibility for Rie's care, and Yukine cheerfully abuses him every chance she gets. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be cute or what, but it throws up a ton of red flags for me. Granted, it does get better; there's a scene with Yukine later wherein she elaborates on how she and Kazuki met and fell in love, and it gives Yukine some humanization that she desperately needed earlier in the story. The writing is quite good. Perhaps sometimes a bit too wordy for a nine-year-old, but then again, it is repeatedly established that Rie is smarter than the average nine-year-old, so it's not completely out of place. The artwork really shines here, particularly in the CGs. SillySelly has done work on a few of ebi-hime's visual novels now, but I feel her best work is here. There are lots of CGs of food and few CGs of people, and more food porn abounds here than in the Game of Thrones books. And it's pretty sweet.
There are six endings, ranging from you screwing things up royally to you and Licia becoming best friends forever (or maybe something more...?). There are some light yuri elements, but it remains age appropriate for the very young main characters involved. All in all, it's a good addition to ebi-hime's portfolio, with a sweet story and a charming lead couple. My only major issue, as mentioned before, is Yukine's character and her treatment of Kazuki, but that does end up being addressed (if only in one path). Even so, it's a strong VN, and very possibly the one with the most food porn. Which, again, is always fun.
Strawberry Vinegar is available on Steam or itch.io. Final verdict: A troubling mother character aside, Strawberry Vinegar is just as sticky sweet as it looks, and a bunch of charming moments with the two leads combined with a genuinely heartfelt story make this worth a read. Strawberry Vinegar is developed by ebi-hime and published by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.