If you were to ask me which is the prettiest yuri visual novel I know, I'd definitely reply with the Flowers series. Aesthetically speaking, it's really hard to top this. The game knows this and it starts with the sentence “Please forget your troubles and enjoy this beautiful yuri world.”
Flowers is a four-part series exploring the lives of some students at a Christian all-girls boarding school (your usual clichéd setting in many yuri stories).
Up so far, only the first two titles have been localized into English, and the third one has a tentative release plan set by the end of the year.
The protagonist of the first title is Suoh Shirahane, a timid girl who suffers from social anxiety. She has been homeschooled up until now and because of this she never had a proper friend. Suoh is an extremely shy protagonist, lover of books and movies, and tries to do her best to make everyone happy. She decided to join Saint Angraecum Academy because she hopes to fulfill her most important wish, that is to have friends. As a matter of fact, this particular school is known for its Amitié program in which the students are paired up and are expected to live together and help one another throughout the school years.
It all heavily reminds me of Maria-sama ga Miteru.
It's thanks to the Amitié system that she has the opportunity to become friends with her roommates: Mayuri Kohsaka, a social but hard-working girl that Suoh admires since their first meeting, and Rikka Hanabishi, the serious and responsible girl who becomes class president.
Obviously, this being a yuri title, Suoh may end up in a relationship with either of the two. The game features an indicator (thanks to the use of different colours and a budding lily) that shows whether the choice you picked may be helpful in advancing towards your preferred route.
Unfortunately, only one of the two routes is canon and is considered to be the true end. It's from this (I daresay also, open) ending that the story continues in the following games. The other girl's route is an additional alternative non-canon ending, and it's only unlocked after completing the true end.
Despite being able to relate to Suoh's social struggles, I can say that personally I didn't care much for her in the end as I should have with her being the main character and that is a pity. In this regard, I ended up liking much more the protagonist of Été—the following title.
Though, I did end up liking a lot this coming-of-age story and its approach to sexuality. The game is all ages and does not objectify women, unlike other stuff in this genre. The fan service is kept to such a minimum it does not even seem to exist.
The story manages to tastefully deal with romance between women and the struggles they could have but only up to a certain point. I'm under the impression that the latter titles may be less lighthearted on this topic.
The visual novel consists of a slice-of-life story with episodic chapters. Some of them have mysteries that the protagonist will have to solve to be able to advance further in the story. It may be impossible to deduct the solution for many of them as a Western reader, may it be because of the reader's lack of knowledge of the translation of certain book titles into Japanese, or because of inconsistencies between the solution and what has been said earlier in the plot: this time probably due to the writer's lack of knowledge of foreign cultures. Just make sure to save at every ‘investigation segment’ so that you won't get a game over because of these silly issues.
The art by Sugina Miki is beautiful, the colours used are so soft, there are tons of CGs where great attention was put into details. I feel sad having to choose which screenshots to share in this review!! However, I don't know why but I was less of a fan of the text box. The Steam version may also have trouble installing the proper font for English language, so make sure you actually got it before starting the game!
The soundtrack mostly consists of piano and violin classical music. The opening video is so pretty I feel blessed to live in such a time; I shared it in the screenshots tab. The songs are very calming and I liked them, but I read that many got annoyed by their repetitiveness.
The volume of the Japanese voice acting is a little inconsistent between the characters, especially with Suoh's quiet voice being drowned out by the music. Thankfully, their volume can be individually adjusted in the settings.
Now, the only thing left to talk about is the translation... the weak point of this localization. Dammit JAST USA, you had ONE job. People were expecting MangaGamer to get this series since they published the developer's (Innocent Grey) other titles, so when it turned out that it was JAST USA that licensed this it was pretty surprising.
Unfortunately at first, they didn't pay justice to this title at all. The first demo they prepared was such a trainwreck full of mistranslations, mistakes and typos; it caused such a ruckus! And thankfully that it did, because in the end Meru (the translator) ended up working on fixing this. She couldn't do a new translation from scratch but only fixing what they already got, so the translation is still not perfect but passing. There is still a fair amount of typos in the text, especially in the last part. It's like an editor didn't even check this. During this reread I found the very same typos I noticed three years ago that I had pointed out to the publisher, but it looks like nobody from JAST could even spare the time to release a patch to fix them. It's a little disheartening, this title does not deserve this.
Even sadder than that, this localized version does not even come with the original Japanese text for those who know it, so you have to make do with this English translation.
I'm hoping that when all four games will be translated, they will be able to properly fix the text once and for all.