Maidens of a Hollow Dream (PC) Review

By Gabriel Jones 02.04.2018

Review for Maidens of a Hollow Dream on PC

Far in the future, centuries of nuclear war and rampant pollution have resulted in the near-extinction of mankind. In fact, every last man has died. In order to preserve their species, women have resorted to in vitro fertilisation. Due to the apparent lack of sperm donations, reproduction is heavily-regulated by the Senate. This series of catastrophes led to the rise of Academy States. Tsukishirio Academy, considered to be the largest of them all, has engaged in numerous conflicts in order to strengthen its hold on what remains of planet Earth. Its art club, which is actually just a classroom where members go to read manga all day, is in danger of being shut down. In order to protect their club, Romi and Manamo have declared war on the Student Council. Oh, and one last thing… In lieu of trousers, skirts, or even underwear, everyone in this academy wears a maebari. When it comes to shmup storylines, few can match the absurdity of Maidens of a Hollow Dream.

Before going any further, it's prudent to explain what a "maebari" is. A maebari is a loincloth designed to cover the naughty bits, and absolutely nothing else. For the readers out there that haven't already gotten the hint, Maidens of a Hollow Dream can hardly be considered "safe for work." Despite appearances, this STG shouldn't be underestimated. Much like any other danmaku, there's a sizeable learning curve to overcome, not to mention hundreds upon thousands of bullets to dodge.

Over the course of four stages of horizontally-scrolling action, Romi and Manamo team up and brave scores of rival students and their pets. It seems that after the apocalypse, nature had reclaimed many of the abandoned cities, and animals have grown to unusual sizes. Anyway, the stages include both a mid-boss and an end-boss, as well a mechanic that does not often appear in bullet-hells: walls. Unlike most games in the genre, walls don't kill when the gals collide with them. Due to the auto-scrolling, it is possible to get trapped and crushed, however. It's in these instances that the player must switch to either one of the other heroines to safely pass. Yes, while directly controlling Romi, they are also indirectly controlling Manamo, and vice-versa.

Screenshot for Maidens of a Hollow Dream on PC

The purpose of this tag team is that Romi, hot-blooded as she is, is all about doing immense damage with her powerful magic. Manamo, however, isn't as powerful and has an awkward personality; somehow this translates to her taking the support role. It's a strange relationship to be sure, but also one worth respecting, as it's critical to both survival and attaining high scores. For one, both ladies have their own health meter, but if either of them is exhausted, then the game is over. At first, it seems like a good idea to switch control to whoever has more health, as only the leader can take damage. The problem with that strategy is that without Romi, the player can't defeat enemies quickly enough. Without Manamo, they can't take advantage of the numerous sub-systems that lead to incredible scores. Both students have to be put at risk, because in the long run, it's the only way to win.

Essentially, the scoring system is the result of combining a handful of basic mechanics. Genre veterans are already familiar with the basics of bullet-cancelling, shot-types, and multipliers. This game just happens to use those ideas its own little spin. Manamo's job is to use her spreadshot, which is done by tapping the fire button, on enemies that accost the duo. This causes an alchemy aura to appear around the enemy. After the player is satisfied with the size of the aura, then they switch to Romi to finish the enemy off. Now, here's where it gets interesting. When a foe is defeated, any bullets caught in their aura are immediately converted into gems. These gems fill the special weapon gauge, which has a maximum of three levels. When activated, this weapon destroys enemies with righteous fury, while doling out massive amounts of bonus points.

Screenshot for Maidens of a Hollow Dream on PC

There's a lot of depth to mastering this system. To start with, the rate at which an aura increases in size depends on how close Manamo is to the enemy. Also, level three special weapons should be prioritised above all else, because they carry a hefty 32x multiplier. Achieving certain milestones in the score results in level-ups, which raise the heroines' maximum hit points. Bosses tend to have a lot of minions and body parts to destroy. They are all capable of generating auras, so that's multiple opportunities for cancelling bullets and obtaining gems. Over the course of multiple play-throughs, skilled players will develop the knowledge and timing necessary to achieve the best possible scores. It's really superb how everything comes together.

Of course, success is heavily dependent on not screwing up. The player has to be aware of where both heroines are at any given moment. There's nothing worse than switching characters, only to immediately collide with a bullet. The claustrophobic level-designs don't leave a lot of room, either. If someone isn't playing aggressively, they are going to get left behind or be overwhelmed. Taking damage clears the immediate area of bullets, which also has the side effect of ruining a potential gem reward. Boss battles are timed, and there's nothing more humiliating than allowing them to escape. At least there aren't any cheap hits. Whenever an enemy is about to fire, there's a distinct visual cue. This is handy for timing bullet-cancels or getting the heck out of the way.

Screenshot for Maidens of a Hollow Dream on PC

From the outset, there are two modes available to players. Normal mode is unique in that it introduces a number of RPG elements. Enemies drop coins when they are defeated, which can then be used to purchase various upgrades at the shop, such as more powerful weapons or more health. The catch is that for every item equipped, the score is penalised. Ultimately, it's worth obtaining the upgrades, because after the final boss is defeated, Romi and Manamo will enter the second loop. It's like the saying goes: second verse, harder than the first. At this point, revenge-bullets become a factor. This is the enemy's way of giving the middle finger when they are beaten, by firing off a few bullets. Expect those middle fingers to pile up during the more heated encounters. The rival students also take a lot more punishment than before. This is one aspect of the second loop that is the most annoying to overcome. Without better weaponry, fights drag on for an inordinate amount of time, and that really hurts the pacing. There's also a third loop, which is designed to inflict even more pain.

For everyone out there that doesn't find RPG features all that appealing, there's the oddly-named Very Hard mode. This is the more traditional and pure arcade experience. Naturally, one's skill and knowledge are all that can save them from a game over; no grinding allowed. The difficulty is in one way more manageable than on normal mode. Since there aren't any scoring penalties, level-ups are much more frequent. The other modes, Score-Attack and MHN, are unlocked by purchasing them at the shop. Score-Attack is great for practicing individual stages, while MHN is the Super Hard mode. The online leaderboards and option to save replays are also really pleasing inclusions.

Screenshot for Maidens of a Hollow Dream on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Ridiculous setting aside, Maidens of a Hollow Dream is really impressive. Every aspect blends together quite nicely, giving players a unique twist on the standard shmup formula. Managing two characters at once is difficult, at first, but learning the intricacies really pays off. It's always a treat to see those massive "32X" bonuses while obliterating everything in sight. Both Normal and Very Hard modes can appeal to players of all skill levels. The RPG aspects don't bury the game, but instead complement it by offering new challenges that counteract the improved arsenal. It takes a talented developer to not only create something unique, but actually make it compelling and fun to play. This game succeeds in every respect.

Developer

Akiragoya

Publisher

Henteko Doujin

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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