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Visual Novel / Lessons in Love

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Lessons in Love, sometimes abbreviated in online communities as LiL, is an adult visual novel developed and published by DJNOSTYLE, AKA Selebus, an American independent writer and voice actor. The game was initially released on March 17, 2020, and development is still ongoing, with updates containing new story content released bimonthly. It is categorized as a denpa visual novel, a genre known for confusing and shocking the reader through paranoid fantasies and distorted world views, but also contains more conventional drama and comedy.

The story follows a protagonist of mysterious origin who, after seemingly committed suicide, awakens in the body of a teacher living in Kumon-mi, a fictional city located in modern-day Japan. Known only as Sensei, he learns that conscription for a "space-war" has eliminated the bulk of the city's male presence, leaving him, exempt from military service by his pedagogical obligations, as one of the only men around.

Sensei, who, over time, reveals himself to be a cynical, selfish, and apathetic man, goes on to develop relationships with his students, learning of their individual traumas and struggles. At the same time, he works to retrace his steps and discover the true nature of the strange world he's been thrust into; religion becomes a particularly prominent theme as this mystery is explored.

Gameplay consists of choosing locations to visit throughout each day, triggering events with various girls and increasing their "affection levels," unlocking further events. Choices within events often hold huge consequences, locking off certain events and heavily altering others; these choices manifest themselves both as dialogue options, and as the very order in which events are played. Occasionally, various types of puzzles are presented to the player, requiring specific options to be selected and/or specific text fields to be entered. "Happy Events," or fever-dream-like moments of horror, are generally unlocked through hidden options or particular sequences of actions, and give cryptic exposition in regard to the game's mysterious central plot.

The game is developed in the Ren'Py engine.

[Lessons in Love] contains examples of:

  • Appearance Angst:
    • A-Cup Angst: Ami, Miku and Molly all deal with pronounced cases of this, often paired with some amount of Height Angst due to the girl's vertical challenges. However, this trope is invariably played for laughs.
    • Weight Woe: Futaba, decidedly not played for laughs.

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The vast majority of the game's female cast finds themselves, in one way or another, attracted to Sensei. This is in spite of, or perhaps even because of, his exhaustive list of awful qualities. He's self-centered, sex-obsessed, and pretty much unwilling to change. Many characters ignore Sensei's prominent "bad-boy" side in favor of the few good things he does, making him a particularly lucky Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

  • Alliterative Name: Every character in the game has one of these. This often leads to members of one family sharing very similar names. Consider the Tsukioka family, made up of Tsubasa, Tsukasa, and Touka.

  • Alternate Reality Game: Elements of this are present in the form of @AreYouHappyHere, a Twitter account which posts enigmatic and disturbing messages relating to the game. Fans of the game have also correlated a certain in-game image of a tree to a real-world album cover - though that's a deep and vague rabbit hole.
    • There is a Soundcloud account of the same name that has posted 2 cryptic songs over the course of 3 years.

  • Arc Words: Numerous and various - ranging from the subtle (the numbers 23 and 7), to the unabashedly blatant (the phrases "Praise be." and "Everything is connected," among others). Pay attention, and you'll find that these motifs pop up absolutely EVERYWHERE, from deeply involved internal monologues to otherwise innocuous character banter, and serve to subtly call into question the nature of what is happening, or what is being said. Some are conspicuous in their relationship to other aspects of the story, referencing other events (Happy and otherwise) in the game, while others initially seem completely opaque, with no explanation.

  • Art Shift: Happy events often feature what has been referred to as "MS Paint Horror," involving mouse-drawn scribbles and text in plain fonts evocative of low-end image-editing software. Actual photographs also make their way into these horrifyingly nonsensical moments.
    • In the event "Everything is Connected", the games forego the usual 3D models for 2D sprites as it features Saki, from Selebus's previous project Nothing is Beautiful.

  • And I Must Scream:
    • Maya seems to be trapped in an endless time loop in which she must repeatedly endure watching the man she once loved engage with a harem of other girls; she is unable to show her affection for him herself, or even fill him in on the most important details, lest he suffer from sudden and overbearing hallucinations and migraines.
    • Before the first reset, Sensei finds himself in an eerily quiet Kumon-mi devoid of any other human being. While he eventually escapes with the help of both Maya and God himself, the situation does, for a moment, evoke feelings of being eternally trapped in that purgatory.
    • A similar case to the above in There is Nothing, where the player is trapped in a dark and distorted version of Sensei's bedroom. Once again, they do eventually manage to escape by connecting themselves to a mysterious third party via a computer, but leaving seems unlikely for a moment, and the terrifying (and perhaps enraging) thought of being trapped in that room forever surely crosses one's mind.

  • Animesque: While the developer is American, the game borrows heavily from Japanese visual novel and anime conventions, both in its art style and its themes. It does, however, contrast this with references to Western culture, such as through Ayane's emphatic love for the song "Despacito."

  • Anti-Frustration Features: Like in most RenPy-based games, quality-of-life features are present, including the ability to rapidly skip through text, view (or even rewind to) previously-seen text, hide the UI to better view a scene, etc. A little less ubiquitous is the event replay system, which allows players to replay any story moment, as far back as the game's very beginning, at any time they'd like. This becomes extremely useful when information from previous events must be recalled to solve a puzzle, and can also be abused to see how events would've played out had you made different choices.

  • Art-Style Dissonance: The game's cell-shaded anime art style is often a canvas for horrifying sights, such as floating, disembodied limbs, or an actual crucifixion.

  • Beneath the Mask: Since her introduction, Nodoka appeared to be very eccentric, sexually charged, and exceptionally smart. But still normal. However, her lack of empathy and sociopathic tendencies are revealed when she Steals Yumi's clothes while she is showering after swim club, and invites sensei over to the locker room. From here Yumi either leaves naked or is forced to pleasure herself in front of them, and when she cannot continue, she is forced to watch Nodoka.. do stuff to sensei.

  • BullyHunter : When Nodoka joins the class, she quickly picks up on Yumi's bullying of Futaba and decides to do something about it. It's a darker than normal depiction of the trope though, as the eventual action she takes both comes after Yumi has apologized to Futaba and begun attempting to change and is significantly more sadistic than anything Yumi's done.

  • Bungled Suicide: Makoto's suicide attempt in the event "Bluejay" and her failure due to the world altering itself drives her even further into depression.

  • Catchphrase: Wakana comes out of the gate with hers ("I want to fucking die."), while Maya develops hers organically over time ("You're disgusting.") and ("I'm a normal teenage girl.").

  • Chuunibyou: Molly, according to both Rin and Molly herself, and by proxy according to the game itself.

  • Deconstruction: In this case, of romance visual novels in general. A convention of dating sims and the like is for the protagonist to be bland and a little mean, yet find romance regardless. Lessons in Love takes this to the extreme with an apathetic protagonist who holds little interest in anything other than sex, yet is obsessed over by several women. It also puts the spotlight on the tragic emotional consequences of such a man being at the center of a harem; realistically, that kind of thing would never go well, like they do in stories based on wish-fulfillment.

  • Deer in the Headlights: Io's introduction to class devolves into a traumatizing case of this.

  • Delinquents: Yumi skips school, harasses strangers in the city streets, and is an expert on shoplifting tactics, making her the quintessential delinquent. Her mother, Yuki, followed in similar footsteps, a gang member and drug addict.

  • Dissonant Serenity: The sweet bubblegum pop that plays during ‘‘Scary Room’’.

  • Divine Intervention: Yasu seems to be a vessel for the god Callous., A god who can control the time, weather, manipulate matter, teleport people, etc. Two events have great examples. During the second beach trip Yasu, during one of her normal religious rants, the time goes from noon to evening when she announces it. During one of Yasu's chapter 3 events, Sensei is able to resist her tempting him for (presumably angelic) sex. Callous gets mad at him not giving in, and teleports them to another room to do the deed.

  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: While Ami often presents herself as sweet, caring, and adorable, she later expresses a near-homicidal level of possessiveness over Sensei. Not to mention her twisted appearances in various Happy events, one of which features her locking Maya outside of her dorm room to be alone with Sensei.

  • Fan Disservice:
    • Sensei, being incredibly stoic and non-emotional, has a tendency to ruin potentially titillating scenes with matter-of-fact comments.
    • Kirin is thrilled to lose her virginity, but it turns out to be a painful and robotic sexual exchange that sends her plummeting back into feelings of emptiness and inferority.

  • Fantastic Catholicism: Core to the plot is the game's fictional religious systems, which are reminiscent of, but wildly twisted in comparison to Christian beliefs. A trinity of three gods, Callous, Calm, and Concerned, work behind the scenes to act as regulators of the world. Their motivations are generally left to speculation, but we learn that Nozomu, a "Horny/Callous Ball of Light," has an insatiable lust; juicy details on its use of omnipotence to sate these desires are explored in an alternate take on the creation story.

  • Foil: Several pairs of girls fall under this category.
    • Yumi is a hardened, antisocial delinquent, yet her roommate and only true friend is Chika, a charismatic, outgoing girly-girl who works at a fancy clothing shop.
    • Ayane is a wild class-clown with no shame for her eccentric personality - and even less shame when it comes to her romantic interest in Sensei. This is contrasted against Sana, the timid, reserved girl who shares a dorm with her.
    • Makoto, through her passionate commitment to her studies, has secured a spot as the class president, and has the second-highest grades in all of Kumon-mi. Miku, her dormmate, leans more toward the athletic side, and struggles heavily with anything academic.
    • Ami's sweet, bubbly nature, as well as her obsessive and obvious interest in Sensei, is contrasted against the stoic nature of Maya, her best friend who loves philosophy and seemingly can't stand the two's teacher.
    • Surprisingly, Io, a radically antisocial and anxiety-ridden girl who holds a deep resentment against women in general, finds a close and near-exclusive friend in Uta, a bouncy, flamboyant girl who gets along excellently with her peers.
    • Otoha stands out as one of the most...normal girls in Sensei's class, with no obvious eccentric qualities, no deep personal struggles, and no romantic interest in her teacher. She rooms, however, with Nodoka, a perverted girl who constantly tells others of her sexual fantasies in an oddly eloquent manner; she's certainly one of the most outwardly bizarre characters.
    • Sensei himself is often a stark contrast against those he spends time with. He's lust-driven, apathetic, stoic, bored, and not particularly talkative; a relatively strong foil to most anime character archetypes.

  • Foreshadowing:
    • Near the beginning of the game, Ami mentions that some of the girls have "cutting problems." This refers to both Yumi's habit of cutting class, and Rin's reliance on self-harm.
    • Rin can sometimes be seen staring at Chika in the dorm hallway, and her interest is instantly piqued whenever the latter girl is mentioned. It turns out she's had a crush on her for years, and is additionally worried about Sensei making a move before she can.
    • One of Ayane's many sexual fantasies involving Sensei is to be watched by others as they share an intimate moment; Kirin traumatizingly grants this wish when she walks in on the two and forces her way into the encounter.
    • Makoto frequently jokes about suicide and depression. This culminates in an actual suicide attempt, followed by a depressive state incredibly unlike her normal self.
    • Molly is noticeably touchy-feely with Rin; she even gropes her during the class beach trip, and forces her way into a kiss with her in a game of spin-the-bottle. It's later revealed that Molly is totally head-over-heels for her when Sensei walks in on her...erotically enjoying a picture of her crush in a bikini.
    • Molly Gets drunk at a Halloween party and speaks about being drunk, vulnerable, and easy to take advantage of. A year later.. You can infer what happens.

  • {{Four Eyes, Zero Soul}} : Nodoka is not above blackmailing the other girls for reasons that range from "protecting a friend" to an attempt at forcing a sexual favor with Sensei.

  • Gamer Chick: Molly, and she's sure to let you know it. Rin and Sana are also fans of video games, and a huge group of the girls gather regularly to play Dungeons & Dragons.

  • Girl Next Door Turned Superstar: Niki's career is an attempt to invoke this. It fails, because Sensei has both lost all memory of ever knowing her and utterly failed to notice her presence on TV, the radio, billboards, etc.

  • Good Bad Girl: Maki, who is in an open marriage, and could admittedly live without sex, but enjoys it and so sees no reason not to indulge.

  • Gyaru Girl: Chika through and through, to the point that it's even lampshaded by other characters in an attempt to tease her. Subverted in that her living conditions are less than glamorous.

  • Hidden Depths: A continual and often unpleasantly surprising theme of the story; every character, without exception, is more than they seem.

  • Innocent Innuendo: Sana and Tsuneyo's dialogue both brim with unintentional innuendos due to their respectively reserved and sheltered natures. Sana's conversational faults in particular are egregious enough to result in the game's first Nosebleed.

  • Inside a Computer System: A popular theory to explain the "USERS" which connect into Sensei's body, the frequent Ominous Visual Glitch's, and the barefaced contrivances of the game's world; the game may take place in a simulation, perhaps designed to ensure Sensei's happiness, or alternatively Maya's suffering.

  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sensei is very willing to prioritize his lustful desires over the comfort and emotional wellbeing of others; his laziness also tends to manifest itself through rudeness as he leaves those who need his help in the dust. But at the same time, he acts as a much-needed support for Rin, helps Futaba improve her self-esteem, teaches Sana to branch out socially, does his best to pull Yumi out of poverty, and more.

  • Letter Motif: The letter T has an event named after itself, and seems to represent something sinister, or at least negative, in Sensei's past.

  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: While many members of the cast could fit into this role, Uta most fully fulfills the trope, being outgoing, relentlessly positive, and willingly flirtatious. Subverted, as she is still her own person, and isn't going to go out of her way to do anything special for Sensei - not unless she's being paid to do it at the Maid Cafe.
  • Meta Fiction:
    • At times, terms which stem from the culture of Japanese anime that may be unfamiliar to Western readers are used; in these cases, (seemingly) non-diagetic "weeb-notes" are relayed to the player to fill them in on the definition.
    • At one point, correctly and very particularly aligning two in-game stats unlocks a secret scene in which several of the girls break character for a meta-discussion on the topic of overly-completionist visual novel players.

  • No Social Skills: Tsuneyo, who's sheltered upbringing has led her to be comically unprepared for most social interactions that don't involve noodles.

  • Not Good with Rejection: Rin to a T when she is rejected by her long-time crush, Chika.

  • Occidental Otaku: Molly's pride for her Irish heritage is matched by her obsession with the culture of Japan.

  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sensei of course but a number of other characters, the most notable ones being the mysterious girl appearing in various events such as the revamped Room with Clock or Scientific Research, which is nicknamed "Daisy" by the community.

  • Ojou: Touka is a prime example of that, Tsubasa probably used to be one as well and Tsukasa will become one. Yumi is the daughter of a yakuza chief and is viewed as a yakuza princess, going so far as to be refered by "Ojou" by her bodyguards.

  • Parody Commercial: Molly's iconic ad for Raid Shadow Legends.

  • Pornomancer: Sensei, who begins his adventure with several girls already throwing themselves at him, and goes on to attain the affection of several more with minimal effort.

  • Porn with Plot: Particularly applicable in the early parts of the game, in which gratuitous and fan-service ridden scenes are balanced with the supernatural central plot, as well as the horrifying traumas many of the girls go through. As the story progresses, things lean further and further toward plot rather than porn, with sex remaining a major theme but serving purposes far outside of arousing the reader. Titillating scenes become less frequent, and when they do happen, they almost always contain emotional or comedic subtext, or even lean into Fan Disservice.

  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: What causes Tsuneyo to threaten Sensei with her sword when she confronts him after founding Molly drunk and covered with semen.

  • Really Gets Around: Sensei. Can be subverted, as you're given the choice to reject many of the characters in the game, irreversibly closing out their route.

  • Running Gag:
    • Several of the character's quirks and speaking mannerisms are played for laughs, such as Tsuneyo's surprised "Ah-" upon hearing her first name name spoken aloud, or Karin's debilitating inability to speak with men. Subverted in that neither of these escape their moments of being deconstructed.
    • The school janitorial staff is continually mentioned to suffer from accidental death by student shenanigans.

  • Self-Harm: Rin uses this as a coping mechanism during her depressive episodes.

  • Shrinking Violet: Futaba, Sana and Io all demonstrate this to varying degrees. Futaba's case is the most mild, manifesting as an inability to stand up for herself and a penchant to seek solace in solitude and reading. Sana and Io are more extreme, demonstrating inability and unwillingness respectively to socialize and make friends.

  • Sitting on the Roof: Several encounters with girls occur on the rooftop of Kumon-mi High; it's where he first meets Tsuneyo, and also finds Yumi in need of help with her studies. Maya and Sensei are also surrounded by a beautiful view of ethereal lights when they reset the world from the school rooftop, and, while hanging out on the rooftop with Sensei, Makoto jumps off of it in a suicide attempt.

  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Played mostly for comedy as Sensei finds himself able to understand and even speak to the second floor's resident bird Noodles, as well as Kaori's many chickens. Kaori's chicken, John seems to be a vessel for one of the three gods of the novel, but also has his own personality. Before a reset, John runs back to the chicken coop in the city where he came from and begins monologuing about mortality. By the end he can no longer communicate with Sensei. The vessel stuff is similar to Yasu.

  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: Used fairly often to emphasize sudden moments of terror or dissonance, shocking dialogue, irrevocably awful incidents, and very occasionally a joke or two.

  • Suddenly Voiced: The game features no voice acting for any of its characters whatsoever, which makes the sudden introduction of audible speech during certain hallucinations and Happy Events fantastically jarring and discomforting.

  • The Stoic: Maya and Tsuneyo, though Maya's lack of emotion is informed by and is primarily directed at Sensei, while Tsuneyo's is more universal.

  • Token Religious Teammate: Maya initially fulfills this role, being a devout Shrine Maiden who speaks frequently of philosophy. However, she is eventually usurped in terms of commitment to religion by Yasu, who seems concerned with nothing but her faith, constantly preaching to others and praying whether the situation is appropriate or not.
    • By the end of Chapter 2, Ami is also revealed to believe in "God", although it is unsure it is actually the same God that Yasu is devoting herself to.

  • Tomboy: Miku, Yumi, and Yuki all have very notably masculine personalities; Io to a slightly lesser extent, and Karin more in terms of her interests than her demeanor.

  • Trademark Favourite Food:
    • Maya and Tsuneyo are obsessed with watermelons and Ramen noodles respectively.
    • Sana and Niki, while being far from obsessed, are associated with spaghetti and a "Sausage Fest" dish respectively.

  • Trapped in Another World: Sensei's exact situation. Much of the surrounding context, like how he got here or why he's here or if it is in fact the situation at all, remains unknown.

  • Trauma Button:
    • Ami has been very heavily affected by the death of her parents. Her reactions to the topic range from awkward discomfort to a supernatural, game-wide devolution into denpa-style horror. Subverted when she herself brings up the topic, calling Sensei "daddy" during a sexual encounter, then apparently forgetting she'd done so seconds later.
    • Ayane's heavy attachment to Sensei leads her to be deeply invested in maintaining secrecy of their sexual relationship, so much so that an incident where Kirin discovers them having sex elicits mindbreaking amounts of fear over the idea that their relationship could be over. Kirin's callous enjoyment of Ayane's plight cements the trauma in Ayane's brain more than it perhaps otherwise would have, and Ayane isn't entirely the same from then on.
    • Haruka struggles heavily with the absence of her husband. The option to start a sexual relationship with Sensei to satisfy her long-neglected needs soothes her in some ways - but dig too deep into the immorality of her actions, and her emotional state tends to enter a downward spiral.
    • Loud, sudden noises cause Miku to experience devastating panic attacks; this is hinted to be linked to past trauma.
    • Following a frightening supernatural encounter, Sana is instantly terrified by Yasu's presence.
    • Yumi is quite bothered by any mention of her mother, who she sees as a worthless, uncaring drug addict - compare the two of them, and she's sure to fall into a passionate rage.
    • At the near beginning of the game, Yumi confronts you about seeing you with Makoto in the park. This conversation eventually ends up with the option to either "Pry" or "Leave Her Alone" If you choose Pry, Sensei ends up forcing Yumi to kiss him. Upon going this route, you get lots of extra dialogue about how uncomfortable and scared she is of you from then on.

  • Tsundere: Maya, Yumi, and Niki could all fall under this umbrella. Maya lampshades the trope at one point, denying her own tsundere nature under the pretense that that role in the cast is already filled (probably referring to Yumi).

  • Vague Age: The ages of most of the in-game characters are never mentioned; this goes as far as diagetic censorship when the character's ages are spoken aloud, played for comedy (and/or perhaps something more supernatural).