Editor’s note: This review is based upon the original version of the game — before the patch that removed some of the content. We also took pity on 44KPanda so the suffering wasn’t in vain.
If you ever wondered how well PC culture could mix with the pornography industry, you most likely came to the conclusion that it would not mix well. Despite this, I have always believed that you never know until you try. Ladykiller in a Bind has tried, and the results are as expected.
When I began Ladykiller in a Bind, I had a surprising amount of optimism. It was supposed to have bondage, this cool social manipulation game, and “lots of sex.” When you first boot it up, you are presented with an expertly designed UI. There is no music on the title screen, which is odd, but it’s visually appealing. The in-game interface is no less pleasing on the eyes, and by the time you’re in game, the genuinely pleasant soundtrack kicks in. By this point, I was impressed, and I was expecting something truly amazing. What I got was talking and drinking and lots of cringing. From what I understand a lot people were requesting a review for Ladykiller in a Bind, so without further ado, let’s get right into this.
Easy there, Big Boss. You’re not wearing your eye patch.
You like that last picture? If so, Ladykiller in a Bind might just be the visual novel for you. For the rest of us, we want something a bit more substantial. For something which claims to be a romantic comedy, the story is rather lacking in jokes. Come to think of it, it’s also lacking in story. Now there are some other nice things, like interesting characters and enjoyable conversations, but I’ll come back to that in due time.
Let’s start with a quick overview of the story. You’re trapped on a boat and forced to disguise yourself as your brother because your motorcycle got taken away — WOW. It’s as if Charles Dickens himself, handcrafted this narrative — when he was six-years-old. Like I said, the plot of this story is nonexistent. You get plot during the introduction, “You’re trapped on this cruise ship and must pretend you’re me,” and you get a conclusion at the very end, “You needed to take my place was because of certain reasons.” That’s it. The actions and events that take place during the story have no impact on the conclusion, because they have zero relation to one another. The majority of the story in Lady Killer in a Bind, is a bunch of separate sketches. The only cohesive theme that binds them together is the “manipulation game.” Spoilers; getting the most votes has almost no impact on the story — your brother just says, “good job.”
You’re given instructions on how the voting game works via animated, flashing, seizure-inducing text.
Ladykiller in a Bind has two different endings. To further highlight the un-importance of your in-game actions, the ending you receive is decided based on a single choice you make at the very end. Alternatively, there are multiple epilogues you can unlock which come after the story ends. The one you get relates to a combination of whether you won the voting game and which choice you made at the very end. The story is also sprinkled with bits of anti-capitalist/pro-Marxist rhetoric. Those who have been wanting more politics in their porn have had their prayers answered. If you unlock Epilogue C, you get this.
Enjoy the game, comrade.
Okay, the plot is virtually absent, but a “romantic comedy” should have jokes, right? The best joke Ladykiller in a Bind has is in the way it handles consent. Ironically, this is the one time they were trying to be serious. Consent comes up in two different ways. It’s either used as a weapon “you consented to this, so you can’t stop me,” or it’s illustrated as this cringe-inducing back and forth debate, where the characters sound like they are drawing up a contract. In the latter case, the characters will do everything short of getting signatures in blood, just to verify they have consent. The worst part is that they ask consent every step of the way, completely interrupting the flow of what should be a “romantic” encounter. Here is an example of how ridiculous it gets.
This kind of pillow talk makes women tingle.
Conversely, Ladykiller in a Bind uses consent in a way that can be described as nothing less than sleazy, underhanded coercion, AKA date rape. There are times when the Hacker clearly expresses discomfort in what the main character, the Beast, is trying to do to her. When the Beast isn’t preaching morals to someone else, things like “consent” no longer matter. Instead, she uses manipulative speech to pressure her partner into continuing. Now, I’m not saying you can’t have rape and sleaziness in a hentai game, but for a game that’s been conflated as a lesson in “proper consent,” I find this logic extremely hypocritical. [EDIT] I originally wrote “marketed as a lesson in ‘proper consent’.” I was referring to the way it is being covered in the media, not the manner in which the game was being marketed by Love Conquers All Games. “Marketed” has been changed to “conflated” to better convey my point. [/EDIT]
This is the biggest problem with Ladykiller in a Bind. The developer makes stupid claims about the promotion of proper consent, but they fill the game with many situations which are far from consensual. Even as the player character, you are given the option to take advantage of a drunk girl. If this is really supposed to be teaching me consent, as if I didn’t already understand it, shouldn’t there be repercussions for doing things which are clearly violating consent? Again, I don’t care what you put in your game, but don’t signal your virtuous claims, while failing to follow through with them.
Take notes, kids. If she says,”it’s not a big deal,” then she’s not drunk.
Alright, getting back to the jokes, Ladykiller in a Bind doesn’t know what jokes are. The writers think that doing a thing that another game did is a joke. They think that making a nerdy pop cultural reference is a joke. There are constant references to Twitter, Tumblr, Final Fantasy and even fucking Pokémon, just to name a few. What’s worse, these “jokes” were all delivered in the same exact manner. Someone would make a cultural reference, someone else would be confused by it, someone would awkwardly explain the reference. Considering most of the people who play this game would be very familiar with all of those references — it was cringy at best, insulting at worst.
Let me take a tiny break from beating on Ladykiller in a Bind. There was actually a bit of goodness in this otherwise burning building of a game — the characters. Ladykiller in a Bind‘s cast was not just good, it was quite excellent. Even though I didn’t like all of their attitudes, everyone of them felt like a real person. They had actual depth, motivations, and personality. I loved one of the characters so much, that I still wish I could rescue her from this visual nightmare.
She’s a classic tsundere. You only get to kiss her, nothing more.
It’s a damn good thing that the characters and dialogue are written well because, frankly, they are all this game has. As I mentioned before, this story plays out as disjointed set pieces that have almost no relevance to one another. Each event involves you talking to people while getting drunk. You learn about the cast, as your character sips a whiskey and soda. Seriously though, whose idea was it to base a game on drinking and listening to gossip?
Now, during your time on the cruise, you have to remain in disguise. You do this by maintaining your suspicion level. Most of the choices that come up during dialogue are pretty useless. They will slightly alter the phrasing or flow of the dialogue, but things ultimately play out the same way. Perhaps this is how fate works. Since all paths lead to the same goal, there is literally no reason to do anything except avoid suspicion and gain votes — and I already mentioned how important votes are. While these conversations are some of the most entertaining and believable dialogues I have experienced in a VN, they are not enough to hold the experience up on their own. Though, what about the sex?
These people have turned consent into a meme.
Yes, we are back to bashing Ladykiller in a Bind. I am willing to wager that the person who wrote the majority of the sexy time dialogue was not the same person who wrote the casual conversations. You see, the sex scenes are possibly the worst part of the game. Some parts were alright, but the sex segments are mostly watered down, excessive, back-and-forth banter. The problem is, the sex scenes last forever. One of them can clock in at just under 30 minutes. They are incredibly monotonous and feel more like a 25 minute discussion on kissing than real sex. They really focus on the novel part of visual novel. There is relatively little change in the visuals, as more and more dialogue floods the screen.
Someone, please buy these people a thesaurus.
Part of the reason the sex scenes drag on for so long, aside from the regurgitating lines about consent, is because of the how long it takes for the dialogue and pictures to transition. There is a one to three second long delay between each line of text. After 10 hours of playing, that tiny delay becomes extremely grating on the nerves. When style inhibits enjoy-ability, you’ve messed up.
Speaking of “messing up,” LadyKiller in a Bind makes so many dumb mistakes. For one, you can make custom names for the characters. Sounds great. The only problem is that there is no character limit. As you saw in one of the past screenshots, you can make names so long that they go right outside the readable area. You can argue this is the player’s fault, but I will argue that the developer should put in the time to prevent such a bug.
Looks perfect folks! This game is ready to ship!
Another thing that Ladykiller in a Bind has is a “color blind mode.” This mode adds patterns behind the choice text to make it more visible — I guess. To be honest, I don’t see this being of any benefit to a person with color blindness. In any case, this feature just creates a new bug. Some of the choices will be barely visible, when they display as white text on a white background.
Also, since Ladykiller in a Bind is a visual novel, there’s no shortage of grammatical errors. If I want to be really nitpicky, there is no punctuation mark to separate the names form the dialogue. It just runs together. With the writers’ propensity for typing in all caps, this made reading the dialogue just a little bit more of a mess. These things are so easily avoided, that it comes off as a lack of caring. For a title that’s asking $30 for 10-12 hours, I expect a professional level of polish.
Let me also not forget that one staple of hentai games: a gallery mode. The mode which allows you to go back and review the images or animations you’ve unlocked — it doesn’t exist here. If you really wanted to revisit a scene or an image, you’re expected to replay until you get to that part. In a Ren’Py game, that’s unforgivable.
“IF” you wanted to go back and see the art.
Lastly, I need to discuss the two biggest elephants in the room: the art style and the politics. First, I find the character designs for most of the women to be atrocious. Those god damned jaw lines are overbearing. The girl with teal hair looks like Dolph Lundgren in a wig. She’s called “the Swimmer,” but she looks more like a steroid-using wrestler. She’s supposedly the hottest girl in school, but every time someone said that, I involuntarily shuddered. Also, don’t get me started on that Justin Bieber-looking photographer chick. I have to ask, what the hell happened to the original artwork?
Original art style
Finally, the politics and preaching. I already touched on the promotion of Marxist crap, but now I’m talking about the social politics. If you’re not a fan of things that a feminist or self-proclaimed social justice warrior would preach, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of Ladykiller in a Bind for that alone. Now, aside from the fact that this game is focused on consent, there really isn’t that much preaching. That’s not to say it isn’t there. It definitely is. In fact, just when you start to enjoy a conversation, something gets said to remind you of the developer’s political leanings. Whether they discuss how it’s not fair that most women shave, or that straight men should not talk about lesbian issues, or just decide to bring up the patriarchy, the SJW flavor is a constant.
I’m not so sure that’s the line I would use if I was about to be raped.
Probably the worst thing about the preaching is that it all comes from the Beast. The Beast, who I named “MEMES,” struts around acting as the self-appointed moral police. The fact that she herself has questionable morals, and is a giant, fucking idiot, presents a lack of self-awareness that can generally be associated with moral busybodies. Her being a complete buffoon is not just an opinion either. She takes pride in her dumbfounding ignorance, and shuns anyone who attempts to enlighten her. Witnessing her dawn that dismissive, smug expression and talk down to all of those around her just made me want to slap her. She may be a well-defined character, but I find her detestable and can’t empathize with her.
While the Beast adopts her brother’s condescending tone to maintain the disguise, in these instances, she isn’t acting.
In a nutshell, Ladykiller in a Bind is what happens when too many ideas compete for the focus of attention. I would actually recommend this to a writer, as an example of good character development and dialogue. As far as recommendations go, that’s it. There is nothing else that this game does well enough for me to say it’s worth your time. I don’t like the character art, the story is an absolute joke, and the political stuff is just unnecessary. The fact that one side of a socio-political war is represented without anyone even mentioning counterpoints is frustrating to say the least.
On another note, there is just so much cringe in this game, that it might be worth a play just to make fun of the awful jokes. If you do decide to pick it up, I advise you wait for a sale and not pay the $30 asking price. It’s available on Steam and Humble Store, and in addition to PC, it’s also available on Mac and Linux.