Cash Rules Everything Around Me! Gotta get the money! Dolla dolla bills y’all!
Note: I reviewed Version 0.0.3 of Palladium in June 2022.
Palladium is yet another up-and-coming TSF/TG visual novel that recently fell into my radar, and seeing as how reviewing TSF visual novels is kinda my thing, I naturally threw it on my review list, due both to its subject matter, and the developer behind it. Palladium is developed by none other than C.R.E.A.M., a writer who fans of Student Transfer might be familiar with as the creator of the Scenarios Expect the Unexpected, Never, and Empyrée. I previously reviewed his work in Parts 3, 6, and 7 of my series covering Student Transfer Scenarios, where I offered his work both heavy praise and focused criticisms. Nevertheless, I found him to be one of the more remarkable creators in the ST community, as he has a lot of narrative ambition, creative aspirations, and the passion needed to bring his ideas to life.
So naturally, you can imagine my delight when I learned that C.R.E.A.M. had begun work on his own visual novel, giving him a platform he has full control over, and characters of his own creation. As of posting this review, only Version 0.0.1 is available, which only contains a single route and features no choices. While this makes the offerings of Palladium a touch limited, it should be enough to facilitate a full review. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Palladium Version 0.0.1 Review
Palladium follows Vince Haskins, a high school student who enjoys spending time with his friends, mother, and little sis, while trying to lead a life with minimal fuss or frustration. At least until he finds a shiny doodad in a junkyard besides the local cat café. A device known as the STX, which has the ability to transform people, switch bodies, transfer minds, issue mental commands, and also tap into parallel worlds in order to rewrite reality, in case you thought this thing wasn’t overpowered enough.
With this new device in hand, the sky’s the limit for our protagonist, and the game opens up into sprawling options of potential choices. Or at least that would be the case if not for how this initial release features no choices, as the writer does not want to tease players with routes that may never be made. Which I respect, and it means I’m not on flowchart duty for this game… yet!
Anyways, this is all a fairly expected premise considering its inspiration. And while I would dock Palladium points for how Vince just so happens to find the STX in some random heap of trash that he is drawn to because he sees something shiny, I think this is a solid start overall.
A lot of characters are introduced, but their core personalities are diverse and fairly easy to grasp. Character relationships and backgrounds are presented well, though there is some room for improvement as characters grow more defined. The game overall does a good job of presenting the player with potential character-focused routes they can pursue once the game enters its first decision nexus. And I like how it establishes everything we really need to know about Vince from the outset.
While he’s not the juiciest crayon in the carton and gives off a more rugged first impression, he’s a pretty chill guy with a solid moral center. He’s not a blank slate, misanthropic horndog, or somebody with no common sense. And I think that makes him a far more interesting protagonist, simply because his character needs to stay true to a set of core values even as he encounters bizarre situation after bizarre situation.
However, the current release only sees one of these bizarre situations play out, as Vince decides to show the STX to the quiet and introverted experiment-loving girl always seen wearing a lab coat, Camelia D’Amarante. If that name, or her sprite, seem familiar, that’s because she was previously used in the Student Transfer Scenario Empyrée. Much like in that Scenario, she’s timid to a fault, often loses herself in her passions, and is gosh darn adorable.
The route in question sees the two swapping bodies to live each other’s lives for a day as a way to test the device. A day in each other’s bodies inevitably brings these two strangers closer, causes them to grow from strangers to friends, and as they continue to use this device, their bonds only grow. All of which, unsurprisingly, leads to some minor quarrels, a few misunderstandings, a predictably lovey-dovey conclusion, and the type of shenanigans that are only possible if you have a bathtub that isn’t made for children and dwarves.
Even though it’s nothing too out of the ordinary for a body swap story, I still found this route to be a fun and chill time. It has enough to succeed as a full love story, enough TF funsies to keep the transformation fans stimulated, and while I think it could have maybe used a day between kissy time and wet wiles, it’s the sort of story that should probably be the foundation for a game of this sort. Nothing too outlandish, a bit vanilla, but a good route nevertheless.
That being said, there is one part of this route that just… confused me. During the first day where Camelia and Vince swap bodies, they also decide to use another function of the STX so they can better impersonate each other. Which makes sense, as they don’t know each other’s quirks and schedules. However, they do not simply copy their memories like characters could in something like Student Transfer. Instead, they need to transfer parts of their minds.
After this exchange is made, Vince has Camelia’s interests, personality, and knowledge regarding academic subjects and languages. However, he does not have her memories, still identifies himself as Vince, but also does not seem to remember key parts of his life, like the names of his friends and family. It’s an odd and poorly explained mental transformation that, looking back on the instructions, does not appear to match the description of the device.
After swapping bodies with Camelia, Vince used the Extraction & Insertion feature, which is described in the device instructions as “Downloads someone’s mind to upload it to someone else, leaving the original body empty. Note: you can use the other features even on an empty body. Use headphones to use this feature.” To me, that indicates the device only fully transfers a “mind” between bodies, and cannot transfer specific information. But what exactly does “mind” mean in this context? And how is a mind transfer supposed to be different than a body swap in the first place? They’re functionally the same thing.
I think this might be an issue of terminology or just a poor explanation, which I can understand considering the writer’s background. If the language selection at the start of the game isn’t enough to tip you off, C.R.E.A.M. is a native French speaker, and while he has plenty of experience writing stories in English, his grasp on the language is still far from perfect. Awkward phrasing, incorrect tense, questionable word choice, and grammatical mistakes litter the script of Palladium, much like they do with his other works.
From an objective standpoint, the writing is pretty bad. However, after reading so much of his work, I have come to appreciate the nuances of a C.R.E.A.M. script. The vast majority of lines and interactions are understandable, the storylines are ultimately easy to follow, and between the jumbled Engrish, there are plenty of lines that have some weight or impact behind them thanks to C.R.E.A.M.’s word choice. It’s definitely not for everyone, and would greatly benefit from the insight of a native speaker or more sophisticated editing method, but I think there’s something to his writing. Also, I cannot speak to the quality of the French script, since I’m an uncultured swine who forgot every language she tried to learn, but it’s probably way better.
Beyond that, and the aforementioned iffy explanation of how the STX works, my only other criticisms are fairly minor in comparison. To give one excessively detailed example that I should cut, but don’t want to, there is a running subplot about how Vince’s sister, Paige, does not particularly enjoy going to school. She excels in her classes almost effortlessly, and often finds herself bored at school because of this. She would rather stay at home all day and play video games, but Vince keeps her on the straight and narrow by walking her to school every day and routinely giving her words of encouragement.
During the latter half of the Camelia route, Camelia offers Paige a personal anecdote about how she always loved math and sciences from a young age, and devoted her free time to learn more about the subjects. However, because she was doing so much independent studying, she was unable to invest the time needed to play a “collector game” and do the necessary grinding and dailies. So she decided to create a macro that auto-played quests for her.
The problem with this anecdote is that Paige hears this and is suddenly inspired to pay more attention in school, despite the fact that… literally nothing Camelia said should inspire this reaction. Camelia basically says that ‘you should keep studying and reviewing the material you cover in class so you remember it, so it is easier for you to learn more advanced concepts.’ Except that isn’t Paige’s issue. Her issue is that she is not being sufficiently engaged in class and is a level beyond her peers. Telling her to review during class and study more advanced subjects on her own time is… the truest waste of her time possible.
From a storytelling and character development perspective, what Camelia should have explained is that thanks to school, AP classes, honors programs, and extracurriculars, she learned how to program, modify software, and even make her own games. Which is something Paige is presumably quite interested in, and exactly the sort of thing that exceptional students like Paige should be doing at school. Taking advanced classes and learning valuable skills while other students are still learning the basics. Students like Paige and Camelia are literally the reason why most schools offer honors or AP classes. So students with a knack for or love of learning can learn more and learn faster.
To clarify, these are all fairly small criticisms that I am explaining in detail so it is easier to comprehend what my issues are with them, and highlight potential fixes. Because I know C.R.E.A.M. is going to read this. Beyond these minor quibbles, I think the story is quite good, and the same is true for its overall presentation. Which, unsurprisingly, carries over a lot from Student Transfer.
Character sprites and backgrounds are lifted from other visual novels, but they are used quite well in the game itself. Character sprites have been edited to give the students matching uniforms. The game remains a cut above your typical visual novel in regards to character expressions and general animations, as they jitter and jive about to accentuate the energy and movement of various scenes. And C.R.E.A.M. ups the visual flair with the introduction of… I guess you would call the expression symbols?
Sweatdrops appear around character’s faces when they’re unnerved, cross-popping veins show up when characters are frustrated, and so forth and so on. It’s taking the visual identity of a manga/anime game and rolling with it harder than a lot of other visual novels, and quite simply, I really like them. They are small flourishes that go to emphasize character emotions and make the game more visually stimulating than it would be without these effects, and the majority of them are fleeting and monetary, which prevents them from feeling overused or excessive.
This, combined with a lone, yet wonderful, custom CG depicting Vince and Camelia, really go to demonstrate C.R.E.A.M.’s dedication to the visual end of this visual novel, and my only real criticism with his execution is his choice in resolution. While Student Transfer and Press-Switch are both cursed to remain low-res for the rest of their days due to various reasons, C.R.E.A.M. started work on this new visual novel sometime in 2020 and decided to keep things locked at 1280 by 720.
The obvious reason why he did this is because he borrowed art assets from Japanese visual novels that were designed around a 720p resolution. But considering how he put in the effort to edit and alter sprites for a sizable chunk of the cast, I don’t think it would have been that much more work for him to upscale the assets he was working with to 1080p using an AI upscaler tool. True, it would be annoying to do that for every expression, background, outfit, and sprite, but if you are going to the trouble of making and customizing assets for your own game, I don’t think this is an unreasonable amount of work.
Actually, I know it isn’t an unreasonable amount of work. Just download Waifu2x, treat your GPU like you’re mining for crypto, and queue up all the art assets. Admittedly, it would be a pain in the ass for C.R.E.A.M. to do this now, after he already built the foundation of the game. But to all you aspiring Press-Switch-like developers out there, remember this. Remember that you can upscale anything and make your VN look fine as hell!
Moving onto the audio, Palladium’s current soundtrack is carried over from Never and Empyrée. Meaning that it is a scattering of chill lo-fi beats with the occasional excerpt from a 90s rap song. It jives with the protagonist, informs the game’s personality, and while I would appreciate a few more tracks, I enjoyed mellowing out to the game’s score and letting it wash over me as I eased my way through it across two weekend nights. Though, I once again need to look at C.R.E.A.M. and ask, “Yo, where the Wu-Tang at?”
When your pen name is a reference to a Wu-Tang track, you really owe it to yourself to include a little bit of Wu-Tang in whatever it is that you do. Just look up some lo-fi Wu-Tang remixes with minimal lyrics— I know they’re out there— or just use the instrumentals from a Wu-Tang album. It can be one of their studio albums, it can be a solo album by one of their members— anything to get more Wu-Tang up in this ish.
Also, pro-tip, don’t reference songs when making a freeware visual novel. Actually use the song. I don’t necessarily think that Pas l’temps pour les regrets by Lunatic is the best song for a scene where a guy in a girl’s body is taking a bubble bath, but if that’s your vision, make it so! Manifest your dreams into reality!
Tangents aside, I think Palladium sets a great foundation for its creator to build upon, while offering a complete and enjoyable experience. It’s definitely rough, more akin to raw ore than anything cleaned or refined, but even if the game’s life ended with this first release… I’d still recommend it. Its characters are enjoyable, it tells a standard body swap story well, and through a mixture of a clunky yet soulful script and lo-fi beats, the game manages to capture a unique tone and vibe that… I honestly can’t get enough of.