Always remember, “there is also good in wrong.”
Palladium is a TSF/TG/Gender Bender visual novel that I previously checked out back in April 2021, where I covered its initial release. And seeing as how a year has passed, and two releases since then, I figured now’s as fine a time as any to give the game another whirl.
…Well, now is not the best time. That would have been a few days/weeks after the April 16, 2022 v0.0.3 update. Unfortunately, my TFGamesSite notifications got messed up, and I didn’t know the game was updated until early June.
Anyway, for those who are unfamiliar with the title, Palladium is the brainchild of none other than C.R.E.A.M. A writer who fans of Student Transfer Scenarios might be familiar with as the developer behind Expect the Unexpected, Never, and Empyrée. I previously reviewed his work in Parts 3, 6, and 7 of Student Transfer Scenario Reviews, where I offered his work both heavy praise and focused criticisms. Nevertheless, I found him to be one of the most 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, without further ado, let’s sit back, chill, and vibe with some Palladium.
Palladium follows Vince Haskins, a teenager who enjoys spending time with his friends, mother, and little sis, while trying to lead a life with minimal fuss or frustration. Yet right as he eases into his final year of high school, he happens across a shiny doodad in some rubbish by 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. Because this device simply wasn’t frighteningly powerful enough.
With this new device in hand, the sky’s the limit for our protagonist, and the game opens up. Though, being the passion project of one person who has only been working on the title for less than two years, it’s not quite at Press-Switch or Student Transfer levels. In its current form, Palladium has at least 15 hours of content spread across a total of four routes. The completed Camelia route from v0.0.1, a completed three-ending route centering around Eva Flores, Vince’s science teacher, and two routes where Vince loses possession of the remote. One where Vince must live the life of the rigid and disciplined Wendy Miles for the amusement of an enigmatic trickster. And another where he is a mere cog in a greater ploy that threatens to change the entire student body of Naya Walker High School.
Let’s start with the Camelia route (and recycle a few things from my original review). This route sees Vince present the STX to the timid, introverted, and adorable experiment-loving girl, Camelia D’Amarante. After some standard reservations about using it, the two, naturally, decide to test the device by swapping bodies for a day. A day that, thanks in part to some mental transfers, inevitably brings these two closer, causing them to grow from strangers to friends, and eventually lovers.
There are 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 (fantasy) dwarves. Along with a few miscellaneous transformations to break things up. It’s nothing too outlandish, a bit vanilla, but a good route nevertheless.
There are also some minor qualms that I slightly exaggerated in my prior review (because I was at a loss for things to say). During this playthrough though, I tried to adopt a less literal reading of the work and mostly went with the flow and intention, rather than the literal words. So things like a muffled description of how the device worked, and a bad pep talk, really did not bother me as much.
The Eva Flores route begins with Vince transforming himself into his newly hired science teacher in order to teach a class on her behalf. After some minor crisis averting, Vince transforms back to normal and is inclined to move past this good deed, while Eva insists that she do something for Vince. Thus leading him to body swap Eva and his gifted yet disillusioned little sister, Paige. A sensible swap that, as demonstrated throughout the day, pleases both parties… perhaps a bit too much.
As Vince tries to undo the swap and urges Paige to return to her old life, she decides to use the STX against him by swapping him into the body of her demure school chum, Juno. Doing so reunites Eva and Vince as they go about their lives as middle school girls, furthering their relationship, albeit in an unexpected way, while seeking out a way to get out of this mess… or not.
The middle section of the Eva route is peppered with choices where the player determines how much Vince fancies his life as a 14-year-old girl, giving way to three unique branches. A fairly straightforward concept… or at least it would be if not for how the game expects the player to understand the nuance between “…” and “..!” If you want to know what option does what, check my flowchart at the bottom of the post.
The max acceptance, or “acceptation,” branch sees Vince eagerly embrace his newfound femininity and the quartet of swapped persons deciding that they are, ultimately, happier this way. While a bit simple conceptually, it is a sweet story that presents body swapping as a source of good and joy, in addition to being an unconventional, yet cute, conclusion to the romance between Vince and Eva. I could comment on how this seems a bit out of character for Vince, but we don’t know what mental commands Paige placed on him, and mind control is the easiest excuse for someone acting out of character. And if it’s good enough for superhero comics, it’s good enough for Palladium.
The ‘wishy-washy’ branch sees Vince not fully embrace or reject his newly assigned life until, in an accident meant to help quell his unease, things take a turn that I would rather not spoil. Though, I will say that it nicely handles the subject of mental alterations, and shows both perspectives of the loss that comes with reckless use of reality-altering devices. I also appreciate the more ambiguous yet happy ending here as, when dealing with something like the STX, identity tends to become a messy thing as bodies are shuffled and minds are blended.
The zero acceptance branch, or the ‘true ending,’ sees Vince correct this bodily displacement after everyone enjoyed a nice little ‘holiday.’ Yet as he returns to his normal high school boy life, Vince cannot help but ruminate on his relationship with Eva. Prior to undoing this swap, Eva formed a strong relationship with Vince, confiding in him as she opened up her heart, sharing her traumatic past, and indirectly expressing her desire for affection. This makes it hard for them to maintain their distant professional relationship like before and, after several days of avoiding each other, Eva finally invites Vince to her apartment, where their relationship advances beyond that of just friends.
This could be seen as a problematic turn of events, given the student-teacher relationship of these two, but their interactions throughout this branch’s content do a great job of establishing them as… friends. They share common interests, their personalities mesh together well, and as they enjoy a night of beer, sushi, and the most amazing sounding monster movies, it’s hard to not want to see them get together. Which, as to be expected of C.R.E.A.M., a known romantic, is rendered in tender detail, going above and beyond the most natural endpoint in order to cement these two dorks as a couple.
The next two routes follow a branch where Vince loses the STX after he leaves his backpack in an empty classroom during lunch. It is a rather… strange contrivance that I could nitpick due to how something like this would not happen at an American school. Or how there should be security cameras outside the room, allowing Vince to narrow down who stole his OP doohickey. But this makes the plot go vroom, and that’s the important thing.
Anyway, the Wendy route sees Vince suddenly find himself planted into the heels of his school’s vice principal and English teacher, Wendy Miles. With no remote, guide, or allies to comfortably call upon, Vince has little choice but to fumble his way through this newfound life, learning as much as he can as quickly as possible.
By my personal estimate, I would say that the route is a little over a third complete, so there is a limit to what I can really talk about. But what’s there satisfied me with its handling of the ‘student trapped in an adult body’ subgenre, and its character writing in general, as I think this route is the best portrayal of Vince’s strengths and shortcomings.
Vince is a generally laid back fellow with a slightly too short temper, leading him to lash out against those who rub him the wrong way. Yet despite showing off such bravado, anger, and boasting such physical strength, he is not some muscly dork who will try to intimidate or beat his problems away. He is respectful, apologetic, genuinely wants to do good, and is a rather capable individual on top of that.
He picks up new skills quickly, learns how to use his newfound reputation and pre-existing knowledge to avoid drowning in this new life, and shows off some high level improvisational skills. He never seems especially ‘gifted,’ as he makes a lot of tiny mistakes, but he always tries to find a way to work his way around or out of a nasty situation. It is a level of determination that does a lot to endear me to his character and get me invested in his plight.
The Mass Swap route is… not a route where the remote goes haywire and swaps the entire school, a la the Mass Poss route from Press-Switch. Instead, it follows Vince as he gradually learns that a fellow student stole his remote and has been using it to ’correct’ the perceived issues across Naya Walker. Which they do by switching around the bodies of students… and mind controlling them if they dare to voice more than an iota of defiance.
Much like the Wendy route, this one shows off the craftier side of Vince, as a level of subterfuge and deception must be implemented if Vince wants to restore order, regain control of the remote, and get his body back. In addition, it is still very much in the beginning phases, with most of the duration being spent on laying the groundwork for a chaotic cluster of swaps and identifying the central characters. Still, what’s there is promising… barring two gripes I have with this route in its current form.
First, of the 27 characters in this game, only 4 of them are male, limiting the amount of TSF/TG content in the route, as most swaps are female-to-female. Which I personally find it to be less interesting than a male-to-female or female-to-male swap, especially when so many female body types are so similar. What can I say? I’m a TSF fan before a body swap fan.
Second, many of the characters featured in this route debut, or are given their only prominent role, in this route. This might not seem like a problem, but it makes it harder to grasp their personalities, names, and care about them in general. Burgeoning chaos like this is a careful balance, as you need a level of familiarity to make isolated swaps interesting, while enough volume to emphasize the scope of the situation. C.R.E.A.M. attempted something similar to great success in both the doll route in Never and the group 2 swap in Empyrée, both of which I praised. However, part of the reason why they worked is that they used pre-established characters that the audience was already familiar with… for the most part.
By now, you have almost certainly noticed the… particular writing style of C.R.E.A.M. based on the images included in this review. C.R.E.A.M. is not a native English speaker, and his technical writing skills are spotty, but 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 I consider the script to be very… soulful.
Though C.R.E.A.M. might lack the technical English skills, he still has a way with words, tries to make things sound poetic, and produces more than a handful of hard-hitting or emotionally rich lines. It’s definitely not for everyone, and would inarguably benefit from the insights of a native speaker or more sophisticated editing, but there is something to love about his writing. Also, the game is available in French, C.R.E.A.M.’s primary language, and the French script is probably way better.
Continuing this macro-level examination, if I had to compare Palladium to C.R.E.A.M.’s earlier works, I would say that this is far more… restrained. Something that I particularly loved about Never and Empyrée was the sheer variety and diversity of the storylines that C.R.E.A.M. pursued. Between isekai routes, sudden protagonist switches, idyllic demonic mind prisons, and characters fusing together, there were a lot of eccentricities, a lot of weirdness, and a lot of things to love.
With Palladium, it feels more like C.R.E.A.M. is holding back and trying to ‘move past’ some of his impulses with a more approach. Something more like the base game of Student Transfer and less like the Scenarios he made for the game. What’s here is a good exploration of TF themes and concepts, features a cast of solid likable characters, and an overall enjoyable experience. However, as a lover (and purveyor) of weird nonsense, I do wish that the game kicked it up a notch.
Speaking of moving things up notches, let’s shift over to the presentation. Much like its contemporaries, Palladium lifts character sprites and backgrounds from other visual novels. And while there is some dissonance between certain sprites as styles vary, C.R.E.A.M. has clearly put a good deal of work into making these sprites his own. Giving them matching uniforms, recoloring their hair, making extensive edits to Vince’s sprite, and bringing them to life through the magic of animation!
Characters frequently flip between expressions, jitter about when the scene calls for grander movements, and ultimately try to be visually engaging as the story goes on. It is all several cuts above a more standard visual novel, but what really gives Palladium a visual energy all its own are the expression symbols.
Sweat drops appear around character’s faces when they’re unnerved, cross-popping veins show up when characters are frustrated, jolts appear around a character’s face when they are surprised, light bulbs ping from atop their head, and so forth. It takes the visual cues common in manga and anime and uses them to accentuate the already detailed expressions of the characters and… I really like them.
They add a level of energy to conversations that keeps things engaging, fade away so quickly that they never feel too repetitive, and make the characters’ interactions easier to follow by introducing another dimension of expression. I could see someone getting a bit annoyed by these things if they prefer more subtle expressions, but I personally loved them. They’re like a super easy mode for reading emotions!
Next, we have the soundtrack. I have previously praised C.R.E.A.M.’s use of lo-fi hip-hop to establish mood and tone throughout his work, urging the reader to lean back and vibe with what this French fool is spittin’. While this is true here, the soundtrack suffers from a general lack of content. Only sixteen tracks are present in the game’s audio files, less than an hour’s worth of music, and most, if not all, of these tracks were featured in his previous works.
The problem here is that C.R.E.A.M. really should add more music to his works and stop relying on old favorites. After about 5 hours, I decided to substitute the game’s soundtrack with music that sorta fit the vibe I think C.R.E.A.M. was going for. Namely Ready To Die, Enter The 36 Chambers, The Infamous,
Total Lolification , The Low End Theory, Metaphorical Music, and Modal Soul. The basics, but I’m kind of a basic bitch when it comes to hip-hop. Also, I was promised and denied Wu-Tang instrumentals, so that’s a reduction of 10 points. Say goodbye to your Metacritic bonus! (That Ghost Face Killah instrumental used twice in the entire game counts, but I wanted instrumentals, as in more than one!)
Since its initial release, Palladium has been expanded far beyond its initial sliver into something grander, and I have to say that it lived up to whatever expectations I had when I checked out the game a year ago. It is a quality TSF visual novel written by someone well-versed in the subject matter, whose experience shines through in every route, and whose presentational prowess keeps the experience lively from start to finish. While I do have some misgivings that prevent me from declaring it C.R.E.A.M.’s best work, and his writing style limits the appeal, I still consider this a more than worthwhile title, and something I fully recommend to TSF fans.
In addition to reviewing this game, I also prepared a flowchart. Please let me know if there are any errors.