600,000 words in, and this train just keeps on rolling…
For those unaware, Student Transfer is an obscure community developed visual novel centering around, TG, body swapping, mind control, transformation, possession, and more that was itself inspired by a similar visual novel by the name of Press-Switch. Since its original release, this title has continued to grow from a small and admirable effort into something far greater. Given how I’ve been reviewing this game regularly since it first came out, and said reviews are some of the most popular posts on this quaint little blog of mine, it’s become customary for me to review each subsequent release… and also create flowcharts for them, because somebody’s gotta do it. The game is available for free and can be downloaded here.
Student Transfer Version 4.2 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, Android
Developer/Publisher: The Student Transfer Dev Team
Disclaimer: A close friend of mine is a former member of the Student Transfer development team, and I am friends with a former lead member.
Student Transfer is a large scale choose your own adventure style visual novel that follows John Davis, a fairly unremarkable highschool student whose ordinary life becomes extraordinary on one fateful night when he either receives an incredibly powerful alien remote as a consolation gift after being probed by some aliens, or an ancient spell book written by his ancestors. From that initial decision, the game opens up into a sprawling web of storylines, routes, and choices that wildly alter the story, along with an expansive and colorful cast of characters to interact with. Thereby setting the stage for a plethora of stories centered primarily around TG, body swapping, mind control, transformation, possession, and more.
Over the years since the game’s initial 1.0 release back in 2015, it has expanded wildly, with a plethora of writers joining the dev team in order to bring their own storylines to life, ultimately resulting in the current rendition of the game being long enough to put a lot of full-length visual novels to shame, boasting a 600,000 word count. This is due to the game’s open nature as a collaborative project that has seen many writers joining and leaving the development team over the years.
This has led to what I find to be the core competency of Student Transfer, the breadth and diversity of the content available. It is clear that every writer is genre savvy enough to know how to compose compelling stories that deal with this subject matter, and what they have come up with since this project’s inception is rather impressive. They managed to create a series of unique and memorable storylines that are interesting and impressive in their own right, but the part that really makes them special is how they all manage to exist within the same universe while encompassing so many concepts and tones.
This can be attributed to a lot of brainstorming and refining, but also the effort of the editorial staff, as despite a few minor oddities or simplistic approaches taken with certain characters, who are generally kept fairly simple in order to avoid complications. Yet despite this, the subsequent routes these characters are featured in go to add characterization where there was none before, developing them and delving into their background in order to make each route, along with what could loosely be dubbed the common route, all the more enjoyable. This even applies to John who, despite being designed in order to fit the mold of a nondescript visual novel protagonist, and to a lesser extent a lackadaisical self-insert for the core audience to relate to, does undergo changes in response to the wild antics he is thrust into because of his new gifts.
Plus, the bar of quality present throughout the writers is generally high enough to prevent this collaborative approach from being a detriment, and the writers themselves do strike me as being particularly genre savvy, and are able to weave interesting and engaging narratives with the tools provided to them, all encompassing a wide spectrum of concepts and tones in a manner that prevents the game from becoming dull when jumping from route to route. Which is also something of a negative, as it is clear when a new writer takes the helm for a route, as the style changes, but never in a way that is jarring, just a way that makes it feel as if another voice is chiming in with a story about these established characters.
Really, my only general quibbles with the game are how it does have quite a bit of sexual content in it, content that is appropriately placed and character-driven mind you, this may be a turn-off for some people, bizarrely. The fact that even after all this time certain characters still lack a dedicated route, let alone a proper appearance. Along with the matter of navigating throughout this expansive adventure, let alone finding everything it has to offer. Which is a problem that (not to toot my own horn) I more or less rectified by creating flowcharts for each version of the game. A process that is the cause for quite a bit of frustration, but over the years I have come to enjoy the thrill of solving puzzles like this, and digging through python code to figure out how the hell some of these routes work.
Moving onto the presentation, Student Transfer is a hodgepodge of assets (sprites, backgrounds, and CGs) borrowed from a variety of visual novels (mostly eroge) that do not always mesh well when placed side by side. This is a practical move considering the costs that come with making high quality 2D art assets, and rather the developers have made them their own, going so far as to edit character sprites to give most students a universal uniform, while having a surprisingly robust amount of tools that aid in the game’s overall presentation.
The way characters express themselves, how they move across the screen, how they comically tumble or shake about when doing a dance, and the general slick user interface. It’s all several cuts above the standard expectations for a visual novel’s presentation, and delivers a more visually engaging experience as a result. I mean, this game does some things I didn’t even realize you could do in the medium of visual novels due to how tame most of their presentations are. From characters bobbing around a background as they move throughout it, flip up to the ceiling, jump to reveal their lack of legs, or have an honest to goodness pillow fight, it’s all some next level stuff that I wish more visual novels would pursue. Oh, and the music’s pretty good despite being a collection of vaguely familiar sounding royalty-free tracks.
That about covers my general thoughts on the game, but seeing as how these reviews are more iterative than anything else, I should probably give my thoughts on the routes that were updated in Version 4.
Monitor: As the main route of this update, the Monitor route follows John unintentionally sharing his alien doohickey, and its immense power with the residential perfectionist and Student Council president Yui, who proceeds believes that with great power comes with great responsibility, and astronomical power comes with the responsibility to perfect things as much as possible. Seeing the hijinks that ensue as John tries to temper Yui while growing closer to her makes for a riveting display that is peppered with characterization and character development aplenty for both Yui and many members of the supporting cast, in addition to some exploration of the ramifications that come from unchecked mind alterations.
However, the route is a bit long winded, being divided into several distinct sections that begin rather mangable, but after the variables are set in stone around day 4, the game begins indulging in lengthy (and very entertaining) diatrives that keep going and going until people start getting hurt, and things split into a creative bad end and a “gold” end that made me feel like the writer could continue writing this route… forever, basically, as their ideas kept pouring out. Mild tedium aside, the situations are interesting, the character dynamics are entertaining, and the entire route is one that enriches the game as a whole. Good show lentil86 and your-name-here.
Antics: From the perspective of the person who needs to chart out these routes, I really dislike the Antics route. It’s filled with intersecting paths, variables that alter what scenes play, and is generally hard to follow. The writer of the path, Vuanaunt, has personally told me that he went insane with this route, and…. They did. As a route itself, it centers around John sharing his newfound magic powers with his friends while hanging out, and the repercussions that follow. Previously it was one of my least favorite routes due to how the first full day of the route feels incredibly humdrum, involves a lot of goofing around, and feels a bit drawn out for a route that is clearly meant to be played through several times.
However, this update offers a wide variety of expanded scenes, and I absolutely loved some of the concepts the writer brought to the table. From the path where John creates an artificial consciousness based on his own interpretation of one of his friends who leads him down a road of mischief and hijinks. The completely missable option that allows John to out two queen bee bullies in Tina Koya High as lesbians through a series of backwash powered body swaps in order to extract some petty revenge. Or the ending where John is decides to be boring and gets punished for it by the powers that be. It’s some genuinely great stuff.
Sayaka/Mistaken: I’m quite fond of the concept of identity death, of being able to shatter one’s sense of self and rebuild it as something that would horrify or disgust their past self, effectively turning someone into a completely different person. It’s an idea that was previously explored in the Mina route, but this time John needs to fend off his mental desires as they urge him to act like the pompous alpha bitch he was transformed into.
Now, the route was off to a strong start in v3.0, offering a lot of insights into Sayaka as a person while placing John in a vicarious disparaging position. But this update honestly left me a bit unsure as to where this route is going, as it quickly divulged into a potential solution to this issue before John started going on about how Metal Gear Solid 2 is the best game of all-time, relating the events from the end of the game to the French Revolution. While I adore this sort of referential absurdity, it really threw me for a loop. Heck, even after having a nice week long buffer between playing this path and finishing this review, I’m still unsure how I should feel about this path given how abruptly it stops. Also, the writer for this route, CaptainCaption, left the project last year, but rejoined it after this post was originally published, so… yeah, I’m still indecisive about this route at the moment.
Rachel: In a game so centered around student-student interactions (which is kind of expected given the name Student Transfer), the routes centering around adults have a particular allure to them, but even beyond that, there is still quite a bit to like about the Rachel route. It is a series of linearly constructed magical shenanigans that depict an awkward unlikely duo gradually getting to know each other in something a bit more nuanced than a student-teacher relationship, all before reaching my favorite part of any story involving immense powers the likes of which society is not equipped to handle. Crimes! Though, things unfortunately reach a pending state right as crime time truly begins, and the fairly reserved series of magical shenanigans can billow into something a bit more dire. I admittedly have no real clue where this story could go from here, but I’m sure that lentil86 and jcjace45 will think of something.
Cornstuck: In the realm of choose-your-own-adventure storytelling, fragrantly idiotic decisions are a near-necessity, and I do not think there is a better example of this than John thinking about how important his choices here are before immediately deciding to screw around with hostile school divas several times before eventually being caught in the act. From here, one thing leads to another, John loses the alien doohickey of ultimate power, and winds up being tethered to Sayaka’s lackey, Cornelia, via mind control. A bit of an odd concept, but one that does lead to both a series of amusing antics as the two try to deal with this situation, and undergo a bit of relationship development over the intervening hours.
While the route itself is enjoyable, and I am curious as to how things will progress going forward, what really strikes me as remarkable about Cornstuck is the contrast between John’s relationship with Cornelia as detailed in the Sayaka and Monitor routes. She goes from being a person deeply engaged in a mutually beneficial codependent parasitic relationship, a mere body that John grows to appreciate after residing in it for half a day, to a yappy and aggressive young woman who needs to be tempered and leveled with before some degree of semi-friendly civility can blossom between the two.
While deviating character dynamics and relationships are nothing new for decision-heavy narrative-driven games, this is a far less subtle and more nuanced approach than any contemporaries that come to mind. It admittedly is likely something of an afterthought for the developers, but there is a very real novelty to seeing characters in different perspectives, and goes to cumulatively give this game more depth. Also, that bit where Alex Hawkins allows a fight to slide because it took place outside of school property and after school? Yeah, that’s not how it works in real life. I know from experience. But minor quibbles aside, keep it up RegrettiAndMeatballs.
MemSwap: I have something of a soft spot for Mother/Son body swaps, and it’s a wonder why I have not explored the concept in earnest yet. But in the times I toyed with the idea I have often gravitated towards stories that alter the two parties’ identities during the swap, causing them to gradually act like one another, in order to better understand their family members while their fragile identities are reshaped and reconfigured as time goes on. So you can imagine how much I enjoy a route depicting John and his mother Sandra switching bodies, transferring memories, and gradually becoming more comfortable in their new lives and bodies than their former ones.
The dynamics offered by the remote along with the specific relationship between John and Sandra help to elevate this route into something very distinct, with changes coming in discernable chunks in order to make the changes in their own identities more pronounced. Yet for as enjoyable as the process is, I personally am not big on the idea of a transfer of cumulative knowledge when the option to copy it remains viable, and so much of the incidental conflicts seen throughout this story could be averted if the two just copied all their memories outright instead of doing this one-way cherry picked song and dance.
Now, there is some effort made to discredit the quality memory copying throughout this route, but due to how it was presented in prior routes, I’m pretty sure that this is just Sanrda’s way of spicing things up to make this insightful journey more interesting, even though the spice she’s using has an uncanny resemblance to gunpower. Minor gripes aside, I am quite excited to see the spectrum of ways the story could conclude, but I am hoping that one of the endings depicts a sort of “best of both worlds” scenario where the two swap regularly and live a sort of shared dual identity, being able to live both lives freely and indulge in the variety available to them… or maybe I’m just projecting as a writer and hoping that Luckysquid has a similar thought process to mine.
Maria Mania: The idea of downloading knowledge directly into somebody’s mind is a science fiction concept that has existed for decades now, and while it is a very enticing and theoretically possible concept, one significant problem that could come from such an innovation would be people using that technology to fill people’s heads with false facts, misinformation, or knowledge that can go to dramatically change how they behave as people. And John, being something of a clutz, just so happens to do that in one obscure offshoot of a route, where he, in trying to give a 14-year-old the romantic and sexual knowledge of a promiscuous 18-year-old, winds up making every woman in school acutely aware of many ways in which they can snag themselves a boyfriend and shag him real nice-like.
It’s a bit of an odd route in the context of the rest of the game, focusing on a singular and difficult to undo transformation that mostly leads to romantic hijinks and drama as John is thrust into an awkward love triangle. Unfortunately, beyond the set-up there really is not a whole lot else completed at the moment, but the route looks to offer a very character driven offshoot that admittedly downplays the whole transformation angle, and goes to further show the variety of what exactly is possible with this game. Keep it up Iwana, and keep up those sprite edits too.
Cheer: At this point in Student Transfer’s life, I sort of assumed that the character roster was finalized aside from more incidental characters and the cast that has been gradually fostered throughout fan-created scenarios. But then the Cheerleader route chooses to forgo the focus on Sayaka or Cornelia and instead introduces Sadie-Lynn Kobayashi. A southern-belle type character whose peachy and playful personality only lead to a snippet of content featuring a fairly standard body swap between strangers, but with a very casual and comfortable bend to it that serves as a nice and somewhat uplifting route in comparison to the more dire straits featured elsewhere in the game. Her interactions with John and the conflicting yet complementary nature of their personalities seem to be a very effective setup for future storytelling, which I hope Goopy will continue developing as time goes on.
Maid Swap: The inclusion of the characters Cassie and Elizabeth was something I always interpreted as being the result of some form of character bloat from early on in development, but every placeholder option is an opportunity for a writer to throw their own ideas into the ring, and that’s just what choripan did. What they came up with is a path primarily centered in exploring character dynamics so far, beginning with John acting as a monitor to his sister’s bodily displaced friends, before stumbling into the messy predicament he made. While the story itself does not branch out much beyond the initial starting point, it still has a series of pleasant back and forwards between its three central characters, and sets up a conceptually interesting route where John needs to pretend to be somebody who he has no real connection to. Which, at the very least, adds further variety to the game.
Murder: In addition to all of these new routes, Version 4 also closed off the Murder route, the first fully complete route in Student Transfer. While I have personally come around on the route despite being a bit put off by it, and to a lesser extent the entire game, back when I played v1.4, I have come around to appreciate the tonal fluidity it offers, the shift between morose and mortifying story beats to wacky anime-style shenanigans helped establish a much needed tone for Student Transfer. But I do understand the sentiment expressed by jcjace45, one of the project leads, in how it relegates a character into being a rape victim, and positions Jack Mallory as something of a one-note character, as represented by how he is rarely used outside of that route and as a regular annoyance for John. But for historical purposes, I would like to see the route preserved in some form going forward. Especially since, according to the game’s files, they removed this glorious line.
While I focused on highlighting the writers and their efforts, I want to clarify that I think the entire development team has done a great job with the game as is, and I’m naturally looking forward to what they bring to the table next year. Oh, and if I misappropriated anybody’s work, please let me know. I just assumed that the primary author would be the one who added the most content according to the project’s GitLab page. Which is coincidentally a great way to see progress being made on the game and possibly spoil yourself on routes that may or may not appear in the game. But before Version 5 drops, I should probably take a look at some of this game’s fan-created scenarios… now, how many can there possibly be— over 60? Oh my.
Edit: It turns out that CaptainCaption’s departure was only temporary and they are still involved with the project. Apologies for jumping the gun, but that’s what it said in the GitLab.
As always, here are the updated Student Transfer 4.X flowcharts, updated 6/13/2019: