Student Transfer Scenario Review:
Under the Skin by Kisara
Build Released: 5/18/22
Length: 7.8 Hours
Played using Student Transfer Version 6.1
The following is a review of a fan-made Scenario for the visual novel Student Transfer. For more information about Student Transfer, please consult my dedicated Student Transfer page or the official Student Transfer website.
I covered Kisara’s previous Scenario, Curiosity, back in August of last year and walked away with something of a lukewarm impression. Saying that “Curiosity is a fine Scenario, but I’m walking away from it with a resounding feeling that ‘something more could have been done here.’” Anyway, Kisara said that my review helped her improve a lot, and requested that I review her
second third Scenario, Under the Skin after the most recent 5/18/22 update. Also, as a reminder, if you ask me to review something, chances are that I’ll get around to it… eventually.
Under the Skin Scenario opens with 18-year-old high schooler Ben having made a daring escape from a frost-bound castle, only to be startled by the intruder alarm and splash oodles of bizarre chemicals over his person. In classic silver age logic, this does not inflect him with burns, rashes, or death, but instead transforms him into a slime boy! Or to be more descriptive, into a gelatinous parasite that needs to burrow itself into a host to survive, possessing the host in the process.
While this could represent an opportunity for goopy chaos a la Slime-ka shita Boku to Nottori Gokugoku Nyotaika Taiken by InuCream, that’s not the case here. Ben is the noble sort who does not want to indulge in his inhuman powers as much as he wants to just try to regain a degree of normalcy. But in this pursuit, he winds up getting waist-deep in matters demonic, magical, and tragic, as is to be expected of a story in the same universe as Curiosity.
Jumping right to the point, is this story good? Well, yes, for the most part. The characters are generally likable, if a bit too agreeable in certain routes. The powers are ultimately used well and run the gamut, with Ben being able to fully possess, subconsciously influence, or share control with his host. The lore is both detailed and solid enough to make the story feel like a part of a larger universe, which it is, but loose enough to not be overbearing. Moments of tragedy and conflict are interjected well, having a lot of emotion and impact behind them. And when the story wants to be, it can be a comfortable and cozy girl-filled adventure.
As for the other end of that ‘for the most part,’ I originally tried taking more of a broad approach with my criticism, discussing things in generalities. Though, I think the best way to articulate my critiques is to throw brevity in the garbage, where it belongs, and go into detail for every route.
The first route I played saw Ben attempting to infiltrate the castle-based organization, only to get caught, tortured for days, and ultimately escape thanks to the aid of a demon who aligns herself with Ben. Afterward, with no life to return to himself, Ben befriends the few ‘good people’ he snuffed out at the castle, and begins rebuilding their lives. By which I mean he possesses them, possesses people with monetary and magical power, and forms what can best be described as a hivemind.
The route has good moments of tension and drama populating its early portions, but once Ben escapes from the castle, the conflict of the story becomes a lot more ambiguous. Instead of introducing a new threat or greater goal, Ben starts pursuing sub-objectives. Such as making sure everyone is happy with this arrangement, that his demon friend, Maia, doesn’t get into any trouble, and he even starts working for a guardian of Tina Koya.
As a whole, I would say that I like the moment-to-moment scenes in this route. Kisara does a good job of presenting and diffusing these micro-conflicts. The story doles out a steady amount of lore and new characters to give the impression that stuff is happening. And while a bit too ‘agreeable’ at times, the girls Ben brings under his friendly feathers are ultimately likable. Though, I do not get what the point of this route really is. I mean, other than reinforcing the value of goodness, bonds, and showing a… social power fantasy, I guess you would call it? A story where great power brings people together to work toward a unified goal and make the world a better place. Except I don’t think that’s all there is to this route, and its true intentions remain opaque to me.
The next strata of routes focus on Ben escaping away from the castle and going into hiding by spreading his viscous juices across multiple bodies in order to avoid capture and/or death. Thematically, these routes focus on Ben’s remorse for his actions, how he hates how he needs to rob people of their autonomy in order to survive. While also being compelled to be as good a person as possible while residing within these bodies, even if it means making his hosts do things they only subconsciously want to do. This is best demonstrated with the relationship Ben forms with Sayaka, whose relationships he helps mend, despite Sayaka’s understandable distaste for Ben and his habit of robbing her of all autonomy. An intriguing relationship dynamic for any character to have with someone as outwardly haughty and hostile as Sayaka.
However, where I feel these routes falter is not with any specific event, but rather how Kisara decided to spread this idea across three different branches. One that digs into the relationship between Sayaka and the Morgan family, which is still shrouded in mystery in the base game. And two that focus on Ben possessing strangers in order to have some sort of backup, and neither of them are expanded beyond showing Ben’s first night under their skin.
This attempt at variety instead makes the Scenario feel as if it is repeating the same ideas, showing the same concepts in slightly remixed ways… And it’s all kind of pointless based on what happens to the castle in other routes. The drama is all well and good, and while I can gather where the Sayaka branch is going, the other two are big blurs to me, only held up by the quality of their writing and audiovisual presentation. Piano music and sad CGs go a long way.
Next is a stub that involves Ben sharing the body of his childhood friend and obvious girlfriend-to-be, Sophie, as he does not want to involve anyone else in this mess. I consider shared body shenanigans like this to be an underutilized angle in TSF, probably because it’s harder to express visually. And while not much happens in the snippet available, it does a good job of establishing the dynamic of these two as both friends and lovers, hinting at what is to come. Personally, I’m hoping for a long-haul style situation between these two, but that might just be my repressed love of physical/mental fusion kicking in.
The biggest and most expensive route is easily the Airi route, which is technically split off of three permutations, most of which follow the same prolonged base. Things begin with Ben possessing the student council president, Airi, who has a history of bullying Sophie. While in her body, Ben begins viewing her more dismissively, viewing her body as a vessel for him to claim as his own. Though, as he intakes more of her memories, he develops a stronger sense of guilt over using her, leading him to share her body with her. Which would have been a great opportunity for him to let her take the lead and become a passenger who only occasionally takes the wheel… Except he does not learn that he can do that until later on.
While Ben tries to be the most gentlemanly parasite he can, he discovers that Airi’s mother, Margaret, is a skilled witch who is not too pleased about Ben possessing her daughter. While this would normally lead to Ben being in hot milk, Margaret instead forms an alliance with the muck boy. From there… The story does a lot of stuff spread across multiple routes that generally tackle the same things, but in slightly different and remixed ways. There is a lot of talking, explaining, and discussions to be had, with the specific conflicts changing depending on the branch. Though, while a lot of things are said, and a lot of stuff happens, it rarely feels like anything is being achieved.
I don’t quite understand what any of these three routes are building for narratively or thematically, and when combined with how much content is repeated between them, all the events just sort of meld together when I think back on them. That might be my fault for playing them back-to-back in a single evening, but how else am I supposed to play them?
Throughout all of these routes, I kept going back to two criticisms. One micro-level and one macro-level. The micro-level criticism stems from how… narrow the tone of the story can be, with most scenes falling into one of three buckets: conflict, remorse, and kindness. Scenes where some demon or magic related mishap occurs, harming the characters or robbing them of something. Instances where characters mourn the loss of someone/something or bemoan their actions. And situations where the characters act as good and pleasant people who work together for a mutual benefit. With the latter being the most common, by far.
While the macro-level criticism has more to do with the narrative trajectory. To be blunt, Under the Skin often felt like it was written without any clear conclusion in mind or outline in place. I generally could not grasp where the routes were going or clearly picture what an ending would be. The way the story is told gave me the impression that Kisara was
spitting ish straight off the dome coming up with this stuff off the top of her head.
Now, everything here ultimately works, it has plenty of good scenes and great moments. Yet, this lack of structure, reiteration of the same or similar concepts, and lack of finality to… anything in its novel-length duration, made it hard for me to gel with this story as much as I wanted to. I never felt like I fully got what it was going for. Which, bizarrely, is a problem I didn’t have with Curiosity.
Still, even if I do not quite get it, it’s clear that a lot of time and work went into this Scenario, and that shows with its presentation. Most of the time, it’s pretty lowkey, moving the characters about conservatively as they chat in a room, flickering between expressions. Nothing too impressive, but it doesn’t need to be anything more.
However, Kisara knows when to put additional effort into the visuals. This is demonstrated with the handful of battle scenes that see characters flutter about, develop injuries reflected on their sprites, and incorporate a few effects that help sell the scene a lot better. Especially the snow effect, which I thought was wildly impressive for a Scenario like this. Doing some digging though, it turns out that’s actually just a barely used Christmas-related effect buried within the base game’s code… huh. Still, good on Kisara on using the tools available to her.
Under the Skin also makes heavy use of custom sprites. Most of these were created or edited by other community members, but it nevertheless gives the Scenario a greater sense of being its own thing separate and iterating upon the base game of Student Transfer. Which is also reflected in the scattering of custom songs, adding to the emotion and tone of the applied scene, while staying in line with the existing soundtrack.
To provide a summary for those who just scrolled to the end, which is probably the case for at least some readers, Under the Skin is a bothersome Scenario for me to review. Whenever I review something, I try to ask myself what its aims or goals are, and with Under the Skin, I feel like there is something I am missing here. What’s there is still enjoyable, featuring a nice blend of uncommon transformation exploration, engaging world-building, peaks of tragic conflict, and pleasant ‘hanging-outing’ with a cast of likable ladies. But it has a habit of repeating the same notes, and its true aims remain vague and murky to me, even after seeing everything it had to offer.
The phrase, ‘it’s good, but I’m not sure what it is trying to be exactly’ is probably the most succinct way I can describe my thoughts. Which, in turn, makes it hard for me to offer a clean recommendation. While I’m sure that this Scenario can/will eventually shape into something impressive, in its current state, the lack of finality or ‘obvious direction’ left me longing for something more.
In addition to reviewing this Scenario, I also prepared a flowchart. Please let me know if there are any errors.