Please note that though there is no profanity or physical violence, this game received its rating due to its subject matter, so player (and parental) discretion is advised.
Hima and Piti Yindee's Janie's Sketchbook is the follow-up to 2010's Grace's Diary, and although both visual novel games were made for the Jennifer Ann's Group to raise awareness about teen dating violence, they deal with two very different perspectives. This time around, you're playing as Janie, who's baffled and frustrated as to why her boyfriend, Mike, decided he needed a break from her recently. Her friend Trina tells her she needs to calm down and think things through clearly, maybe try another perspective, but Janie just doesn't understand what could have happened. It might hurt and be a little uncomfortable, but Janie is going to have to take a long, hard look at her relationship, and herself, if she wants to get past this.
Click around to explore her small apartment and trigger memories associated with certain objects. Watch the scene that plays out, and then help Janie decide how she should interpret the event by clicking on the appropriate choice, but be careful. Janie has difficulty seeing both sides of things, and you may need to lead her to other conclusions by having her experience other memories first. You can always choose not to decide right away, and you can go back to that memory whenever you wish by clicking on the memo tab. It's rare for a game (or any piece of media) to tackle the subject of abuse, and it's even rarer for it to do so by putting the female in the place of the abuser. Reminding us that abuse can not only happen to men, but happen without landing a blow, is smart, and the gorgeous, expressive artwork brings the story and characters to life.
The downside is that Janie's Sketchbook is both a bit heavy-handed in handing down its moral with some stiff, awkward exchanges at the end, and Janie's mood swings are so drastic and over-the-top as to make her appear psychotic and in need of a psychological evaluation rather than be sympathetic. While it's good to teach people to recognise these patterns in themselves and others, it would have been better to do so in a way that illustrated you don't have to have Janie's full-on berserker unbalanced rage to still have an issue, as well as more clearly offering ways to cope with, understand, and get past it. On the gameplay side of things, the lack of direction means you can be left fumbling around and wondering what you have to do to trigger a choice that will allow Janie to have an epiphany for any given scenario. Still, the game's decision to tackle a sadly more often left examined angle of dating violence is to be celebrated, and Mike is an incredibly sympathetic guy. Janie's Sketchbook doesn't quite stick the landing, but it's a beautiful, thoughtful game whose decision to approach abuse from oft-ignored angles and victims should be applauded.