The fun thing about the visual novel medium is that since it is not beholden to the normal rules of “gameplay”, it is free to go off in some seriously bizarre and creative directions. And there are few titles more creative from the relatively early days of the medium than the 1995 project from C’s Ware, Amy’s Fantasies — also known as Amy to Yobanaide (“Don’t call me Amy”) — probably one of the strangest visual novels out there.
In Amy’s Fantasies, you take on the role of Emi, a high school girl with some impressively enormous hair and a raging ladyboner for her stepbrother Tomomi. As is often the case in mid-’90s visual novels, Emi and Tomomi have been left to fend for themselves; Emi’s mother died shortly after giving birth to her, the whereabouts of Tomomi’s mother is unclear, and their shared father has passed away.
You might notice something quite unusual about that description: this is an eroge where you play the main heroine rather than a male protagonist. Or rather, given Emi’s predilection for addressing the player directly and her awareness that she’s in a game — at one point she refuses to masturbate because the background music isn’t right — this is an eroge where we get dragged along by the main heroine whether we like it or not!
Initially, the story seems to be a bit of silly slice of life, as Emi goes about her business at school, habitually daydreaming rather than paying attention to anything she’s supposed to be focusing on. As you might expect, those daydreams often involve Tomomi, but it becomes increasingly clear throughout the game that Emi is one of the most monstrously unreliable narrators you’ll ever come into contact with.
And as such, by the end of the game you’ll find yourself questioning exactly how much of the story as a whole really transpired, and how much was just a fantasy.
Herein lies the genius of Amy’s Fantasies. By establishing Emi as an unreliable narrator right from the outset, the story is free to head off in some unexpected directions — and to do some rather unconventional things with its structure, too. Probably the most interesting of these is the fact that the game adopts a three-episode structure, with each acting as both a self-contained story and an advancement of Amy’s attempts to explore and express her love for her brother.
This might not sound especially unusual in itself, but the big twist here is that all three episodes feature the same “virtual cast members” playing different characters each time — with the exception of Emi, who remains in her role as protagonist.
There’s even a brief “Next time on Amy’s Fantasies” segment at the end of each episode in which the cast members, stepping out of character, all discuss who they’re going to be playing and what they’re going to be doing in the next part of the narrative; everyone is in on the “joke”, if indeed it is a joke, and as such that casts a rather peculiar light on everything you see unfold.
Amy’s Fantasies hails from that early era of eroge that wasn’t afraid to get a bit extreme at times, you see. While there’s nothing as outright unpleasant as the bloody or scat scenes seen in Ring-Out!! for example, there are still a fair few bondage scenes that go pretty hard over the course of the narrative as a whole, as well as a few erotic encounters where questions of consent are… murky at best, to put it politely.
While some of these scenes are genuinely shocking and can produce a wince or two out of the audience at times, you’re also likely to be quite conscious of the fact that some — or all — of what you’re seeing is not actually happening.
The game is called Amy’s Fantasies, after all, so there’s an argument to be made that even the more extreme things that end up going down are simply our heroine exploring her darker side and pondering how she might react if she were put in various positions.
You’ll notice it’s called Amy’s Fantasies and not Emi’s Fantasies, too; the marketing material describes this as Emi having a “different personality” inside herself called Amy who “cares mostly about one thing: to make real her wildest sexual fantasies”. The game itself actually doesn’t dwell on this side of things much — or rather, it doesn’t spell it out explicitly; instead, it leaves the reader with a few clues along the way which you’re left to interpret for yourself and draw your own conclusions from.
For example, throughout the first episode of the game, which mostly unfolds as a relatively straightforward high school slice of life story (with the exception of a pretty rough sex scene towards its conclusion) Emi is referred to by her real name.
In the second episode, set in a hospital, Emi is constantly correcting other characters who keep calling her “Amy” by mistake. And in the third episode, where she works as a maid for an abusive family as she attempts to conduct an undercover investigation, she deliberately calls herself “Amy” as an alias.
We can interpret this in a few different ways. We can look upon her increased willingness to use the name “Amy” as her slipping deeper into her fantasies and being further from reality. We can look upon her use of the name “Amy” as an attempt to dissociate what she believes to be her “real” personality Emi from a side of herself she is ashamed of. Or we can take it more literally, and interpret it as Emi simply becoming increasingly exhausted with correcting people and just running with what people think she’s called by the end of the whole thing.
Regardless of the interpretation we take, there are a lot of questions to ask oneself over the course of the complete runtime of Amy’s Fantasies. Perhaps most notably: who exactly are all the other people in the cast?
They’re initially presented as people who are just part of Emi’s daily life at school, but we’re almost immediately given the suggestion that something isn’t quite right the first time the supposed school nurse Sumire shows up looking like a young child wearing swirly nerd glasses and expressing her emotions by holding up cards with hand-drawn eyes on them in front of her face.
The relationships between these secondary characters shift over the course of the story, too; the game’s introduction sequence sees the purple-haired Hitomi being “punished” by an unknown woman, yet later in the same episode we see her acting in the “mistress” role instead.
Everything in the game feels like it’s conspiring to confuse you with its strange, dream-like nature — and as a result by the time the whole thing comes to its surprisingly dramatic and satisfying conclusion, you’re left with the distinct feeling that you’ve enjoyed yourself, but that if anyone asked you to explain what just happened you’d probably be left at something of a loss.
That’s no bad thing, though; Amy’s Fantasies is clearly a story that has been composed with some care, but also a desire to fondly parody both the tropes commonly seen in stories like this, and indeed some of the conventions that were already being established in the then-fledgling visual novel medium.
To give an example of the latter, like many other mid-’90s visual novels, Amy’s Fantasies adopts some of the trappings of adventure games to provide the illusion of interactivity, despite the fact that the narrative is completely linear and only has one possible ending.
In most cases, getting to the next scene involves clicking on all the options until they are exhausted, at which point Emi will do something that moves things on. But on one particularly memorable occasion, Emi is trying and failing to get to sleep, and clicking the “Think” option too many times causes her to get unnecessarily aroused. At this point the “Think” option is replaced with “Masturbate”; sometimes a girl’s just gotta clear her head, you know?
In fact, as we’ve previously noted, the whole fact that in Amy’s Fantasies you’re playing an eroge as the main heroine rather than a (possibly self-insert) male protagonist is a complete subversion of the expectations of the medium, even back in 1995. Emi is very much her own character with her own way of doing things, and despite the fact that we’re technically “in control” of her by picking from various options, she certainly doesn’t hesitate to tell you in no uncertain terms when she thinks you’re doing something wrong.
The game commits to the “bit”, and that’s why it works so well. The writing throughout the game is genuinely amusing, Emi is a protagonist with some genuine and often surprising personality about her — the scene where she farts nervously in the middle of an important conversation is a delightful highlight in this regard — and the fact the whole experience is drenched with a dream-like sense of surrealism makes it all incredibly memorable — and well worth revisiting at a later date to see if you draw any different conclusions!
As a somewhat elderly visual novel, don’t count on being able to get an original copy of Amy’s Fantasies running on modern machines. Thankfully, the clever people at The Asenheim Project have a Web-based version for you to enjoy right here!
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