Redemption for Jessika is the second game from the team of Tlaero and Mortze, and is billed as a continuation of the storyline that was begun in their first game, Dreaming with Elsa.
What this means in practice is that both games have very similar plots. The PC is a man whose job brings him into contact with the girl of his dreams (figuratively this time). Said girl has a problem (in this case guilt over a riot she may or may not have caused) that she overcomes with the encouragement of the PC. She also has magic powers of some kind, which are pretty much ignored until the climax of the game.
I felt that certain aspects of this plot were handled better in Redemption for Jessika than they were in its predecessor. For example, the fact that Jess's problems have a concrete cause and are consistently portrayed makes them much more believable. She does stop being a guilt-ridden alcoholic awfully quickly (she's not even hungover the next morning, despite what Sarah says), but the PC still has to help her overcome her anxiety about performing. Because of all this groundwork, the fact that the plot resolves itself without any input from the PC or the player didn't bother me that much (not as much as the ending only happening due to blind chance, that is) because it's still clear that Jessika's redemption wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the PC.
Marc, the PC in question, seems to suffer from low self-esteem. He describes himself as a middle-aged court scribe, or "boring court guy". The latter is only one of many self-deprecating (or outright disparaging) comments he makes about himself during the game. He's also weirdly deferential to both Sarah and Jess, showering them with compliments and referring to them by their stage names (even in his head) until they explicitly give him permission to use their real names. This emphasises his obsession with Jessika and her band, but because we never learn anything about Marc's personal life it also makes it seem as though he only exists in relation to them.
We do learn more about Jess, who is the story's de facto protagonist. As mentioned, she's the lead singer of Mayhem and a successful musician. An implausibly successful musician in fact, given that she can somehow afford a refurbished warehouse apartment with its own private recording studio despite Mayhem being a local band that's only played 23 concerts. She shares that apartment with Sarah, who she's known since at least sixth grade. Until recently she also had a boyfriend, but we've no idea why they were together (the little description Charles gets makes him sound like someone you'd be glad not to be in a relationship with). He dumped Jess out of the blue, kicking off the events of the game and conveniently making her available for Marc to date.
The first of those dates is a low-key moonlight walk along the canal, and is mainly focused on talking about Jess and her issues. The second sees them (briefly) attend a concert, and is basically setup for the sex scene that happens immediately afterwards. Neither date spends much time trying to establish a meaningful relationship between the two principals. Without that development I found it difficult to believe that Marc and Jess were going to live happily ever after. At the beginning of the game, Marc's feelings for Jess are explicitly described as infatuation and they never seem to progress beyond this. He's always the obsessed fan who can't quite believe that *the* Jessika is interested in a mere mortal like him. It doesn't help that the game contains echoes of both Coffee for Keisha ("rocker chick" and the focus on music generally) and Getting to Know Christine (Marc trying to 'keep up' with Jess, and the disparity in their jobs), as both of those games placed the PC in a similarly subservient role.
I'm not certain what Jess sees in Marc either. Yes, she's at a point in her life where the unconditional support he offers is very attractive, but that's not going to be true forever (and she has plenty of friends who could provide the same thing). Not to mention that Marc's constant stream of compliments quickly becomes meaningless (and wearying) through repetition. The fact that Marc is 'immune' to Jess's powers (for reasons that are never explained) is supposed to be his unique selling point, as she can thus be certain that his feelings are genuine. However, if you think about it, that doesn't make a lot of sense. After all, it's not like the people she inadvertently caused to riot stayed angry, or were angry at her. Also, Marc is literally not unique, as the very next scene establishes Sarah as someone else who loves Jess irrespective of her powers. At best Marc's immunity gives him an 'in', but it's hardly enough to sustain a long-term relationship. He and Jess do share an interest in music, but it's coloured by Marc's overall obsession with Jessika (and his consequent inferiority to her) and is no marriage of true minds. That said, they're still more compatible than Sarah and Sylvia, given that Sylvia isn't interested enough in her girlfriend's life to remember the name of her band or her roommate.
One thing you can say of Marc and Jess's relationship (and the game in general) is that the sex is good. The scene where Jess performs a striptease for Marc and then treats him to a blowjob is my personal favourite due to the presence of branching, which is otherwise rare in this game. Their 'ride' in the elevator is a close second due to the way it was built up, both via their previous trips in the elevator and the rising tempo of their date. The bonus scene smacked too much of wish fulfilment (two characters ignore their orientation) for me to treat it as 'canon', but it was still fun. I also enjoyed the consolation scene between Marc and Chloe. Although a bit too long, it provides a much more sympathetic portrait of Chloe than she received in Dreaming with Elsa, as well as belatedly giving her a motivation (although not a very good one). However, it did bug me that the narration repeatedly describes things that the PC explicitly can't see. The threesome with Gary and Cynthia was another fun scene, but in my opinion it suffered from Marc only being physically involved.
The one scene I disliked was the very first, where Marc watches Sarah and Sylvia. It's perhaps the archetypal Tlaero scene in terms of her attitude to player agency, in that the PC's role is to passively watch as other people do things. He does get the opportunity to act, but the successful path is to just sit there and do nothing. I also didn't appreciate Sarah's attitude towards both Sylvia and the PC. Sylvia is clearly reluctant to 'perform' for Marc, not least because of the complications it could create since they work together. Despite this, Sarah ignores her feelings and pressures her into it (she does end up loving it, but this is porn). Sarah shows even less consideration for Marc, treating him like a mere prop in her fantasy. The static POV reinforces the fact that the player is separated from the action, as well as making the scene less visually interesting.
Although Mortze's graphics improve the sex scenes (and the game) overall, I didn't think they were quite as good as they were in either Dreaming with Elsa or his own game, Pandora. As I've already alluded to, there was more static POV than I would have liked. More importantly, I wasn't a huge fan of most of the character designs. Jess seems to have a chronically goofy expression on her face, even when she's not drunk, which I think is a function of the size of her eyes and mouth. Sylvia has a similar problem, which results in her frequently looking anxious. Meanwhile, Sarah seems to be physically incapable of smiling. I know that's part of her character, but even when she's supposedly giving Marc a genuine smile the best she can manage is the expression of someone who's just wet themselves. Finally, shots of an obviously European city (Bruges to be exact) are used as the background for the town scenes, despite all the other available evidence suggesting that the game is set in an English-speaking country (probably America). To be fair, the same backgrounds were used in Dreaming with Elsa, but it's far more noticeable here and didn't do wonders for my suspension of disbelief.
Unfortunately, my suspension of disbelief had already suffered significant collateral damage from all the times the fourth wall was broken. For example, there's a poster advertising Meeting Keeley in the bar, Marc references Getting to Know Christine in conversation (and Jess recognises the reference), Jess has a photo taken by a famous photographer (Mortze) on her wall, and Marc visits The Shark's Lagoon on his work computer (which seems like a good way to get fired). Given the generally serious tone of this game they seemed out of place, and I found the self-congratulatory tone grating.
Less annoying, but still just as immersion breaking, were the asides required to explain the various technical innovations that were added Redemption for Jessika. These include the panorama effect used when Marc first visits Jess's apartment, and the increased use of the mouse during the final sex scene between them. It's impressive that it was possible to implement this kind of functionality, but it didn't add anything to my enjoyment of the game.
One plus is that Marc doesn't suffer from the split personality that afflicted Jason and Sam (from Dreaming with Elsa and Coffee for Keisha respectively). The gameplay mechanics in those games forced the player to choose between two extremes of behaviour for the PC if they wanted to succeed. You couldn't be sometimes sweet and sometimes flirtatious because Elsa/Keisha weren't interested in a man with more than one dimension. Redemption for Jessika takes almost the exact opposite approach by dividing the point-scoring options into seven different categories and linking success to not focusing on one type of response to the exclusion of the others. This gives the player greater flexibility in how they play Marc, but it does create some new problems of its own. For example, what is the difference between 'nice' and 'sweet'? How do you know if Marc is being 'empathic' or just 'supportive'? Getting an even mix of the different types of response is required for the bonus scene, but I don't see how the player is expected to achieve that unless they cheat (as I certainly did).
However, I think the bigger problem is that most of the point-scoring options are now compliments, as opposed to the PC actually doing something or making a decision. Thus, in order to be successful, Marc has to spend the game licking the metaphorical ass of any female character that comes within range, which doesn't exactly make him seem like a strong character (especially when combined with his fondness for self-deprecation). Additionally, in the vast majority of cases, choosing one option over another has no visible effect on the game. One of the few exceptions is the PC deciding to go looking for a book to replace the one Charles stole from Jess, which in terms of points is the most important single action in the game. Even so, in the context of the story it's nothing more than a nice gesture. After Marc gives the book to Jess it's never mentioned again. You don't even discover why Charles stole the book, or why he then decided to sell it to Elsa (although a cynic might suggest that the reason for the latter was so that Elsa could have a cameo in this game).
For better or for worse Redemption for Jessika is a Tlaero game. What I mean by that is that Tlaero is an author with certain strengths (storytelling, overall polish) and weaknesses (player agency, dialogue). Over the course of her career she's established a set of elements (themes, character types, etc) that she likes to use for her games, and she seldom strays far from that. This means that if you've played any of her previous games you'll already have a good idea of whether or not you'll enjoy this one.
Given the objective quality of Tlaero's games, I don't doubt that a lot of people will enjoy Redemption for Jessika. Personally, I think that in some respects it's a better game than Dreaming with Elsa, but having played that game (and possessing a modicum of genre savvy) I found Redemption for Jessika to be far too predictable to get much enjoyment from the story. On top of that, Marc wasn't someone I was interested in being as a player. That left the sex scenes to carry the game, and happily they did that well enough for me to give Redemption for Jessika a passing grade.
Redemption for Jessika can be downloaded here.
A walkthrough can be found here.