Kaori After Story is an original English language visual novel produced by PixelFade Studio and first released in December 2018. It is a sequel to PixelFade Studio’s first visual novel, ACE Academy, which I reviewed in June 2022. I concluded my ACE Academy review with the promise that I would review Kaori After Story in t December. Today, I fulfill that promise – although for reasons I explain below, I will write this review a bit differently than I have written most of my visual novel reviews.

Title screen for Kaori After Story.
Title screen for Kaori After Story.

From the outset, I note that there is absolutely no reason to play Kaori After Story if you have not already played ACE Academy and, more specifically, if you did not complete Kaori Itami’s route therein (note, this is one of either 5 or 6 routes – depending on whether you are inclined to parse two routes that share an ending – in ACE Academy). Kaori After Story does not add much to ACE Academy, but it would make little sense without having played through Kaori’s full path in the original.

Because of the nature of Kaori After Story, as I write this review I am keeping in mind people have completed Kaori’s route in ACE Academy If you do not fall within that description, I recommend at least starting with my ACE Academy review and seeing if that game interests you. Even if one were to purchase ACE Academy, I would recommend playing through it, and specifically plaything Kaori’s path, before deciding whether to purchase Kaori After Story. My review, which will be free of significant spoilers like all of my visual novel reviews, may assist in your decision.

However, before you leave (if you are not yet in the class of candidate buyers for Kaori After Story), I will very briefly introduce ACE Academy and explain how Kaori After Story follows from it.

A brief re-introduction of ACE Academy

ACE Academy is an English-language Japanese-inspired visual novel produced by PixelFade Studios and first released in 2016. The player protagonist takes the role of an American college student studying to be a mech pilot at a college in a futuristic version of Japan. While it features an overarching plot related to the protagonist’s late father’s mysterious research and the school’s mech tournaments, the main focus and attraction of ACE Academy is its social aspect.

Kaori Itami in a parking lot in ACE Academy.
A scene featuring Kaori in ACE Academy (note this is the first game, not After Story, where you will see that Kaori received a make-over).

The player in ACE Academy makes many choices about who to spend time with throughout the game. Most of these choices focus on six classmates. First, there are the protagonist’s three pilot teammates: Kaori Itami, Mayu Akemi, and the designated bro-character, Shou Shinjirou. Also present is Yuuna Misaki, who helps the team in a support role, and Valerie Belle, who becomes the team mechanic. The protagonist’s younger sister Nikki is also an option in some cases, although she is a comparatively minor character compared to the main character’s classmates in the grand scheme of things.

Based on the player’s choices, he will end up on the romantic path of one of the five women I noted or on a friend path with Shou (the Shou path has a Nikki variation as well – fortunately not a troubled one). In the end, the robots and the overarching story take a backseat to the protagonist finding (or not finding!) a girlfriend.

None of the paths in ACE Academy are treated as canonical in the game. However, I noted in my prior review that Kaori’s character and path received obvious care from the developers – such that one could deduce she was PixelFade Studio’s favorite character. Kaori After Story is a continuation of the Kaori path in ACE Academy. This is why the latter game only makes sense if you have completed that specific plot line in the parent game.

A note on how I played ACE Academy

I had purchased both ACE Academy and Kaori After Story on sale a bit before I played either. Since I already had Kaori After Story and could infer what its structure was, I ended up saving the Kaori route for last in ACE Academy (she comes off as unpleasant in some of her early scenes – so I suspect many would put her path off for non-strategic reasons). In the end, I did think that Kaori had the best route, followed closely by Valerie.

Kaori After Story Details

TitleKaori After Story
Dev/PublisherPixelFade Studio
EngineUnity
ReleaseDecember 3, 2018 (Windows/MacOS); March 5, 2019 (Android); May 19, 2020 (iOS)
StoreSteam; Google Play; App Store
Official WebsitePage at PixelFade Studio
Visual Novel DatabaseVNDB Page

Where to buy and technical notes

Kaori After Story is officially available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS:

(Note that this article has no affiliate links and I have no financial interest in whether you buy Kaori After Story.)

The base price for Kaori After Story is $9.99 on Steam and $5 on Google Play Store and the App Store. I purchased it when it was on sale on Steam for $2.49.

Unlike ACE Academy, which was available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS, there is no native Linux version of Kaori After Story. However, I played the Windows version without any issue on top of WINE. I did notice very small black borders at the edge of the window in windowed mode (you will see in some of my screenshots), but I am not sure if this was particular to running it on Linux or if it also exists in the native Windows version.

(I believe that the lack of Linux version has something do with the fact that Kaori After Story was not built in Ren’Py like its parent game, but I can’t be 100% sure that this is the reason.)

Note that I do not have the Android or iOS versions of Kaori After Story. From having played the computer version, I will say that the novel does not have any interactive elements beyond selection choices, so I see no obvious reason why the mobile experience should be anything less than the computer experience save for being on a small screen. However, those considering the mobile version may want to do their own research to see if there are any issues or limitations.

Steam game is DRM-free

While Kaori After Story differs from ACE Academy in lacking a native Linux version, it shares one positive trait with its predecessor: It is DRM-free.

I explained in a previous article that while most games purchased on Steam require Steam to be running in the background during game-play, some do not. I tested Kaori After Story and confirmed that it launches without Steam running.

Configuring Kaori After Story in Linux to use Lutris's WINE runner so it can launch without Steam running in the background.
I used Lutris, a very useful graphical tool for managing games on Linux. Here are the steps I used: (1) Install Kaori After Story on Steam; (2) Point Lutris to the Kaori After Story executable; (3) Change the runner from Steam to WINE; (4) Launch Kaori After Story. Note that you can also copy Kaori After Story outside of the Steam folder in your home directory and run it somewhere else (e.g., when I first played it in the summer, I copied the game’s directory into my ~/[user]/Games directory and launched it from there.

While I was a bit disappointed to see that it does not have a native Linux version, I credit PixelFade Studio for continuing to make its Steam releases DRM-free.

General overview of Kaori After Story

The Kaori route, like all of the other routes in ACE Academy, ends in the middle of things with the protagonist having just made a big decision with respect to the story’s overarching, ultimately unresolved plot. Kaori After Story picks up a few months later. Will we learn what followed from the player protagonist’s big choice? Well, let us turn to PixelFade Studio’s official description of the game on Steam:

Following Kaori’s ending in ACE Academy, your now girlfriend has invited you to spend Christmas and New Years with her family. Your trip takes you to the countryside of Isokaze, where her parents and twin sisters are surprised to see that Kaori has brought a boy home! From meeting the parents, enjoying winter activities and spending intimate time with Kaori to learn more about her and her past, it will be a holiday to remember!

PixelFade Studio description of Kaori After Story on Steam

This description is accurate. It more or less covers the entirety of Kaori After Story. While there is no doubt that it is a close follow-up to Kaori’s route in ACE Academy, Kaori After Story really is just about spending a week with girlfriend Kaori and her family for Christmas and New Years. There are many references to their school life at ACE Academy, but none to the main, unfinished plot.

Section-by-section review

Having introduced Kaori After Story, I will now review it piece-by-piece.

Preface: What is a tsundere?

I will use the term tsundere often to describe Kaori. This is because Kaori was written to be a archetypal tsundere and almost all of the jokes involving her play off her being a tsundere. Now, if you took the time to read through ACE Academy, thus making yourself a candidate to consider Kaori After Story, you most likely know what a tsundere is. However, for the uninitiated, TV Tropes provides a very detailed explanation of the term:

The Japanese term tsundere refers to an outwardly violent character who “runs hot and cold”, alternating between two distinct moods: tsuntsun (aloof or irritable) and deredere (lovestruck).

This description is good as a general matter. Kaori does not have violent tendencies like some tsundere characters, but she definitely runs hot and cold. However, while some of her early tsun moments in ACE Academy came off as anti-social, she is much mellower in the sequel, as she was in her own route in the former game. Moreover, her agitation in After Story, especially in the first half, is sometimes justified.

For those of you who may be interested in seeing a tsundere-ish character in a Japanese game that (A) I have reviewed and (B) is free, I direct you to my review of Red Shift for a good case in Mikoto (she is not “lovestruck,” however, but she does run hot and cold).

Content non-warnings

In light of the fact that there are many adult visual novels (including on Steam these days) and Kaori After Story is an after story focusing on a relationship, I figured that a content note was in order – especially since the Steam description of Kaori After Story does use the word intimate.

Like ACE Academy, Kaori After Story is not an adult game and has nothing approximating adult content. In fact, readers will find that despite the fact that the protagonist and Kaori are both college-aged adults, their level of romantic intimacy and their tendency to quickly succumb to embarrassment is often reminiscent of bashful high school (if not middle school) anime characters. There are reminders that the characters are adults – notably one scene with alcohol consumption, the constant jokes by Kaori’s mother and sisters, and some of the choice options provided to the player, but the fare is still light.

The App Store gives Kaori After Story a 12+ rating and Google Play Store gives it a T for Teen score from the ESRB. I concur with both ratings. The game has plenty of dialogue innuendo and a couple of Kaori fan service-y CGs that are a bit beyond ACE Academy (but I would argue less than the bonus episode of another visual novel that I reviewed, Return to Shironagasu Island), but the content falls well short of requiring an M for Mature (17+) rating. Also note that Kaorit After Story, like ACE Academy before it, is not a censored, the only version is the version available on Steam, Google Play, and the App Store.

Estimated play time

I first played Kaori After Story for fun a bit before I published my ACE Academy review (i.e., I did not constantly stop to take screenshots). I recall that one play-through plus a few trying different choices took me somewhere in the neighborhood of two to two-and-one-half hours. As of the writing of this review, Visual Novel Database has a 2 hour and 50 minute estimate based on seven votes. It is quite a bit shorter than ACE Academy (about 20 hours to complete 100%) and a bit shorter than completing a single route in ACE Academy without skipping through previously-read text. If you play for 100% completion, your time may vary slightly depending on how well you place save markers.

Structure and mechanics

Kaori After Story, like its predecessor, contains a significant number of choices – the player will never go too long without being asked to choose something or other. The choices do have an effect on the course of events, but the overall structure is less complicated than ACE Academy.

Player in Kaori After Story asked to choose between drinking or not drinking with Kaori's family.

Choices in Kaori After Story will always affect the text that immediately follows. In some cases, choices may cause the player to view one scene instead of another scene. One of the key cases early in the game involves the player choosing what to buy Kaori for Christmas. There are quite a few options and the player’s choice affects what happens on Christmas morning.

However, the effect of all of the choices is fairly limited. For example, there is a wide variance in the dialogue on Christmas morning (as well as on potential CG scenes) depending on what gift the player buys for Kaori. But after that scene is over, the game continues in the same way regardless of what the player had chosen. The same is true for other choices which cause the player to see different scenes but that do not affect the story’s progression. Kaori After Story handles this logically , and I did not notice anything particularly awkward while trying out different choices.

Some choices are played for laughs.

The choices in Kaori After Story are thus a bit less meaningful than the choices in ACE Academy. ACE Academy keeps track of choices in an invisible way, with the result that the player ultimately ends up having the opportunity to choose the path of the girl (or Shou-the-bro) with whom Kaori spends the most time with (Kaori’s route in ACE Academy requires a couple of correct choice in the middle, making it marginally more complicated). Conversely, Kaori After Story does not have a similar points system, visible or invisible.

While I have some qualms with some of the choices (see my story review section further down), some of the choices provided good comedy. One of the game’s best sequences involves the player character engaging with an otome (girl’s dating sim) visual novel recommended by Kaori.

Kaori After Story has two endings, but its endings are in some way a mirror image of how ACE Academy’s endings also work. ACE Academy ultimately always ends in the same way, but with the player having a different confidant. Kaori After Story always ends in the same place, but what happens in that place depends on a single important choice close to the end of the game. Lest one think that the choice is dramatic however, it is more a question of whether the player wants to make clear to Kaori how much he cares for her.

Aesthetics

Kaori After Story received a significant overhaul in its appearance from ACE Academy. The backgrounds are similar, but there’s one big difference –

Kaori Itami complaining that something is not a big deal early in Kaori After Story.
I disagree with Ms. Itami here — it’s a big deal.

We now have a 3D, animated Kaori. So long, Kaori’s former 2D sprite. Now you can see Kaori strike all of her tsundere poses in 3D.

Kaori Itami makes fun of the player for bringing too much luggage for their vacation in Kaori After Story.
Kaori is often nonplussed.

Technically speaking, Kaori uses Live2D technology. She does come to life with her newly animate design.

Kaori comes with three outfits – outdoor, indoor day, and sleep-ware. All three are simple, but well-designed enough and suit her character. I suppose it would have been good to give her at least a second indoor non-sleep-ware outfit considering the fact that the game takes place over the course of a week, but that is a minor quibble.

The main benefit that Kaori receives from her new Live2D form is in her expressions. In ACE Academy, Kaori and all of the characters were depicted with static portraits. We only saw their expressions through their facial expressions and static poses. Here, we can see Kaori ball up her fists in frustration, look started and embarrassed when her mother and sisters tease her, and look nonplussed when you choose to have the player character say something stupid.

Kaori mortified at something her sister said in Kaori After Story.
We will address the portrait in the corner of the screen shortly.

I used those examples to drive home the point that Kaori is still very much a tsundere.

But those aside, Kaori has some gentle expressions as well – after all, you cannot be tsundere without the dere. She does smile in her softer points when the protagonist says something kind or chivalrous (and when her mother and sister are not there to offer their running commentary on it).

Kaori reporting that Valerie told her to do something in Kaori After Story.
This is one of the few references to an ACE Academy character, and it is an ominous reference if you have played ACE Academy.

I have two minor complaints with Kaori’s design.

Firstly, although there are numerous instances where the game describes her as blushing, she does not visibly blush. When you are using a fully animated model, this creates a bit of a disconnect between the text and – which does reduce the effect of scenes where we are told that she is blushing.

I preface my second complaint by noting that Kaori After Story appears to be only the second game that I have played using Live2D (Fire Emblem Fates did? I don’t remember that… I suppose it had to be for the cut-scenes). I was aware that one of the more well-known Live2D games, NEKOPARA, is known for giving players the option to configure some of the anatomical physics of the cat girl maid characters. Live2D, like many technologies, can be used responsibly (for making games amenable to review on a family website) or irresponsibly. There is a big middle ground between ignoring the full suite of Live2D anatomical physics possibilities and carefully fine-tuning the options menu for tweaking cat girl maid physics (note: I am not sure if NEKOPARA features actual cat girl maids or if they are just wearing cat ears – I will go through the rest of my life ignorant of the truth).

Now, let it be said that Kaori After Story does not include physics adjustment options, and physics are not a selling point of the game.

Kaori After Story options menu.
Present: Skip text functionality, full screen, message speed, and volume. Not present: Kaori bounce adjustment meter. (Aside: This is a gorgeous options menu — one of the best that I have seen in terms of visual design. Beautifully done by PixelFade Studio.)

But, while I do not recall having noticed an excess of physics when I played in the first instance on my television, I did find the physics to be out of place when playing on the computer. When I checked again on my television and did notice this – perhaps it was less noticeable when I first played because I was sitting far away from the display – but I am not entirely sure why it stood out more when I ran through it again for screenshots at my computer). The excess of physics was perhaps most glaring while Kaori was wearing a coat – this is not how physics works guys. Let us say for sake of argument that Kaori After Story set the physics level for its heroine at 3 points out of 10 – that is to say, it is not overwhelming, but it is too much – especially given the nature of this game, a nature which is very different from certain other Live2D projects. As you can see in the screenshots I included in the article (and her original portrait in ACE Academy in my review of that novel (see above in this article as well)), Kaori is a normally-proportioned young lady when attired in regular, every-day clothing. Her Live2D model’s most dramatic movements involve her gesticulating annoyance or exasperation. She does not do or wear anything to prompt the physics. Assuming my fair estimate that the physics were configured to three out of ten, PixelFade would have done better to set it to one or zero – certainly zero when she is wearing a coat. The proverbial tagline of one of the best visual novels I have reviewed here at The New Leaf Journal, May Sky, was “more than strangers, less than friends.” Let us adapt that to the 2DLive physics of Kaori After Story: “More than enough, less than absurd.”

With my two complaints aside, the Live2D was used generally effectively and Kaori was given enough expressions and gesticulations to take advantage of it. Considering that this is a Kaori fan project from her creators, having a fully animate Kaori is a meaningful upgrade from the static Kaori of ACE Academy –although it could have done a bit more with less.

Kaori’s technical upgrade comes with a trade-off for everyone else.

Naomi speaking in Kaori After Story.

The rest of the small cast are reduced to 2D head sprites next to the text box at the bottom of the screen.

Kaori Itami talking with her father in Kaori After Story.
The difference between Kaori and her family is stark.

On the whole, the trade works to Kaori After Story’s benefit. Her family members are not particularly important, nor are the side characters. So, if one were one forced to choose, the Kaori upgrade is more significant than rendering the full cast with full ACE Academy portraits.

The backgrounds in Kaori After Story are very detailed — and a definite step up from ACE Academy. Because I took my screenshots from early in the game (this is due in part to the fact that I did not take any when I played through the whole thing in the summer), you are only seeing a small sample of the backgrounds in this review. While the variety is not over-whelming, each background was handled by care and designed in a way to accommodate Kaori.

Kaori After Story also features a decent number of CG scenes. Collecting all of the CG scenes is the main way of achieving 100% completion (contrast with ACE Academy where 100% completing would be all of the endings and all of the CG scenes). It is not possible to collect all of the CG scenes playing through the game once — a few turn on different choices. As I noted in the content section, there are three CG scenes that are overtly drawn for fan service purposes. They are more fan service-y than anything in ACE Academy, but they do not rise beyond T-for-Teen rated content (or what one may come across while walking down the sidewalk in New York City).

First CG scene in Kaori After Story featuring Kaori sitting on a train.
The first CG scene in Kaori After Story. It is a bit more sentimental than what is to come in the early stages of the novel.

I have very little to say about the background music in Kaori After Story. It is fine, it generically suits what is happening, but you will be unlikely to remember any of it after closing the game. While ACE Academy did not have a brilliant musical score, I could, in that case, point out a few backgrounds tracks that I appreciated. The music is merely a pleasant-enough afterthought in this case.

Like ACE Academy, Kaori After Story is almost fully voice-acted. Even a couple of unnamed characters have voices, not to mention Kaori’s family. The only character without a voice is the protagonist player.

Of course, the main voice is that of the red-headed heroine, this merits the most comprehensive analysis. I had some issues with Kaori’s voice acting in ACE Academy, notably that she yells her lines too much, especially early in the game – and it makes her unappealing as a character until the mid-way point. Kaori’s yelling is toned down in After Story, just as it was on her route proper in ACE Academy. With that being said, my appraisal of her performance, delivered again by Ms. Sydney Poniewaz, remains a bit mixed.

Kaori’s neutral voice is solid – for example when she is having a normal conversation or even when she is dryly unimpressed with the protagonist saying something weird. She becomes a bit mixed in my assessment when stretched beyond her normal voice. In a significant plus, Kaori’s sweet voice is pretty good – it is a bit deeper and softer than her normal voice, expresses emotion without overplaying it. Kaori’s irritated voice and shrieks of embarrassment sometimes miss the mark – they are often too pitchy or exaggerated, even granting that Kaori is a quintessential tsundere (note: see definition of tsundere). Her signature “stop being weird!” – while sometimes justified – sounds just a little bit off.

The rest of the voices are also mixed. I concur with a review published at VNs Now that Mr. Will Benzel did a fine job playing Kaori’s father. Kaori’s mother and sisters, who spend much of their screen time poking fun at Kaori, are a bit difficult to tell apart.

Plot, story, and characters

ACE Academy tie-ins

Kaori After Story expressly takes place during Kaori’s and the protagonist’s winter break from ACE Academy. Moreover, the subject of GEARs (their mechs) do come up – as I noted before, it is clearly set after the ending of Kaori’s route in the first game.

However, even having gone in knowing that Kaori After Story is PixelFade’s love-letter to its favorite character from its first completed game, I was surprised by how little it calls back to ACE Academy. The only ACE Academy characters who appear at all are the protagonist’s family (sister, aunt, and uncle) in a prologue scene wherein he tells them he is spending Christmas and New Years with Kaori, and Shou via a phone call.

Nikki, the player's little sister, in the first scene of Kaori After Story.
The opening scene of the game is the only scene in which any characters from ACE Academy other than Kaori are pictured. Note that Nikki, the protagonist’s little sister, always has the protagonist’s surname (for obvious reasons). For purpose of this review, I used the main character’s default name (Tristan Spade) which gives Nikki “Spade” as her surname.

None of the other three ACE Academy girls appear, although there are a couple of references (“a couple” is intended to be accurate, not figurative).

More significantly, there is no reference at all to the protagonist’s choice at the end of ACE Academy or any events that may have followed from it – the main plot of the original went from being an afterthought to something not thought of at all.

Plot and character review

Whereas ACE Academy started with big ambitions and ultimately scrapped many of its ideas by the conclusion, Kaori After Story is a simple game with a simple story.

Spend Christmas and New Years with your girlfriend and her family (granted, note that the latter parts are just the player and Kaori).

At its best, Kaori After Story gives Kaori fans what they would be looking for – tender and humorous moments featuring the heroine. Despite her being placed in a constant state of embarrassment by her mother and sisters – something Kaori was clearly prepared for going in – it is clear that she genuinely wants the protagonist to meet her family, as over-the-top as they can be (exempting her mellow, caring father) and to ensure that the protagonist has a good time with her. It does hit some of its softer moments well.

However, Kaori After Story stumbles at times in executing its simple goals. Firstly, the teasing Kaori receives from her mother and sisters about having a boyfriend, including their excessive innuendo, is too much. It was one thing when they cracked a few jokes when Kaori brought the player home without telling them she had a boyfriend (to be fair – it is not hard to see why she put that conversation off), but note that Kaori and the player arrive on December 23. The jokes continue unabated through Christmas day– in fact they arguably become even more persistent. Now, to be sure, Kaori’s family does love her, but they never give her and the protagonist the chance to settle in and have a genuine family holiday. (Note Kaori’s father is totally exempted from these shenanigans.)

Kaori is embarrassed as her mother talks to her in Kaori After Story.
Let it be said that Kaori’s reaction is not caused by her mother inviting her in.

It does not take much to make Kaori get flustered – they go overboard.

However, I will note that the game tones down the its tendency to see how mortified Kaori’s family can make her in its second half. Without going into too many particulars, Kaori has plans to spend some time alone with the player away from her family in various winter-themed activities. The story definitely improves when Kaori has some time to breathe and be herself without preparing for the next absurd thing that will come from the mouth of her mother or sisters. It is in these scenes, in conjunction with one scene with Kaori’s father, that Kaori After Story does actually deliver on its promise of fleshing out Kaori’s character. Kaori explains her perspective and the experiences that caused her to be abrasive at times (something she is aware of) in a more comprehensive way than she did in ACE Academy. While Kaori’s route in ACE Academy does a good amount to humanize her after a rough start, the latter half of Kaori After Story takes it a step further.

Having gone from praise to criticism to praise, we return to criticism. My next critique has to do with some of the choices – most of which ultimately only change dialogue rather than entire scenes. Part of ACE Academy’s charm is that, although choices havelimited meaning, there is enough variety to play the game with a distinct personality. There is always a straight-man choice, often a stupid choice, and sometimes an overtly flirty choice. Save for the more prominent romance element in ACE Academy, it employs a similar approach to that used in the classic Persona JRPGs, namely Persona 4, to which ACE Academy pays express homage (which is one of my favorite games of all time). Kaori After Story is the same – the protagonist generally has the option of being normal, being an idiot, or saying something to join Kaori’s mother and sisters in trying to make her flustered. However, there is a category of choices that should not be in Kaori After Story – the bad boyfriend choices.

Kaori asks the protagonist what he thinks of her snowman in Kaori After Story.
This is an early, albeit minor (compared to later cases) example.

It is possible to play through Kaori After Story being a bad boyfriend. (I would characterize the bad boyfriend choices as generally being cold or dismissive of Kaori’s efforts rather than overtly hostile.) These options often exist as alternatives to the normal, affectionate, teasing, and “I’m going to be dumb for laughs” options. But why are they there? Recall that I noted that in the end, no matter what you do, Kaori After Story will end in the same place with a slight variation coming from a single (obvious) late-game choice.

Including bad boyfriend choices would make some sense if there was a consequence – for example, what if they actually changed the final ending or caused a bad end? But it makes no sense for there to be a number of choices that involve the player being cold to Kaori only to always save the player from said coldness and proceed as if he said anything else. After completing a normal play-through, I tested some of the bad choices to see if they affected anything (I was not entirely sure about the game’s structure yet). In general, the protagonist will acknowledge in his head that he should not have said X, Y, or Z, but the game (sometimes the protagonist himself), always saves the situation before returning to the same story line that would have come about had the protagonist said anything else.

Thus, I must ask – why do the bad boyfriend choices exist? What is the point? I see it as adding choices for the sake of adding choices. It is clear that PixelFade Studios did not actually expect people to make the cold choices (I again note that Kaori After Story is clearly, by its own terms, a game for ACE Academy players who like Kaori’s character). Moreover, the game expeditiously nullifies what would be the logical cloud that these choices would have on Kaori’s mood. They add noting to the game and their existence is distracting. I recently played and reviewed a 2001 parody visual novel called Plain Song Christmas Special (see my review) which used these types of choices as a joke. It was funny there precisely because Plain Song Christmas Special was aware of the joke. It is jarring when a game plays the trope straight.

I am all for choices, even in a visual novel such as this one that ultimately ends in the same place regardless of all but one choice, but choices should be well-conceived. ACE Academy got the formula right with its insignificant choices better than its side-project sequel.

Goals and extras

Kaori After Story has a CG menu and it is not technically possible to unlock all of the CGs on a single play-through. Fortunately, it comes with a large number of save slots and skip mode, so it is easy to see everything Kaori After Story has to offer.

Conclusion and recommendations

Before going into particulars, I will note from the outside that Kaori After Story is way overpriced on Steam at its normal price of $10. It does regularly go on sale for as low as $2.50 – I would recommend buying at 75% off if you are inclined to read through it, but I suppose that 50% would be fair as well for a very passionate Kaori fan.

Kaori After Story is a visual novel for a subset of people who played through ACE Academy. I can confidently say that three things must be true to consider reading it for pleasure:

  1. You played ACE Academy
  2. You specifically completed the Kaori route of ACE Academy
  3. You liked the Kaori route of ACE Academy and think that it would be fun to see a game devoted entirely to dating Kaori and learning more about her character
  4. You will not be annoyed by the fact that it resolves absolutely noting from ACE Academy other than what some may view as a lack of spending a winter vacation with Kaori and her family

If points 1-4 describe you, then you cannot go wrong with picking up Kaori After Story on sale and talking a couple of hours to read through it. For what it is and its limited ambitions, it is a solid effort that brings Kaori to life in a way that people who like her character and the game’s universe can appreciate. With that being said, After Story explains, rather than re-defines, Kaori’s character. If one played through her arc in ACE Academy and did not conclude with a positive impression of her character, After Story would be unlikely to change the reader’s mind. Thus, After Story may be for some, but not all, of the people who played through ACE Academy.

For my part, I had purchased Kaori After Story in a package-deal with ACE Academy (see why I purchased ACE Academy), so I was always going to play it after completing the first game (especially after I decided to write a review of the first – which was not my plan going in). As one can gather from my review – my final impressions are mixed. I do think that in the end – especially in the second half – the game shows the care that the team had for Kaori and it does an effective job of adding to her character and explaining her personality and behavior, especially some of her social unpleasantness early in ACE Academy. However, the degree to which her family teases her in the first half of the game makes it a chore to read through at times, especially in light of the fact that it is the some variation of the same joke over and over. One starts to feel a bit bad for Kaori – which I do not think was the intention. Kaori’s character design and model were good decisions on the whole, but there were issues I noted with the implementation.

As I noted both in this review and in my original ACE Academy review, I think that Kaori is ultimately a solid character – especially given that she is the written with heavy reference to an archetype. Because I generally think she is a good character, I appreciated some of the ways they developed her character and allowed her to tell her own story in the second half, having had to navigate some tediousness to get there. In the end, however, it is certainly not a must-read, even for people who read and enjoy the base ACE Academy, which was a fun effort despite its flaws and partially unfinished final state.

Do note that if you give Kaori After Story a read, it is best read around Christmas and New Years – I first played it in the summer and it just did not feel quite in line with the season.