I’ve been finding myself absolutely enthralled by the Higurashi: When They Cry series of visual novels. I’ve been following the new, updated round of releases on Steam, picking up each new chapter pretty much as soon as it’s available. This is one of the best visual novel series I’ve read, and I’ve been completely wrapped up in the scope of the writing, the mystery that’s only started to be revealed, in the characters, in… well, basically everything else that’s been offered. I’ve gotten through the three parts of the updated release in this eight (at least) part story, and I am hungry for more. The updated releases thus far have all been of the ‘Question Arc’, part of the story that is deliberately vague about the mystery involved and leaves a whole lot up to interpretation. I’ve had my own impressions of what’s going on, but, as often is the case in stories like these, I’ve really found myself drawn online, to read up on what other people are picking up on as well. Get myself better informed on all the intricacies of the story and what other people are seeing in it.
Now usually, I live life on the edge. All sorts of edges. Including the cutting edge. So when it’s a series I’m already caught up on, that’s all good, everyone else has the same information as I do, they’re at the same stage of the story, and I don’t have to worry about spoilers. Learning plot twists and story future outside of the proper moment and context.
The thing is, Higurashi, or at least the original version of it, has been around for a while. The original came out in 2002, long before I developed into the sexy hunk of suave, debonair, and modest human being I am today, so that was so long ago it’s not even worth thinking about. The OG version was first released in English back in 2009. And before the updated release with all the new visuals and, you know, not sucky translation Manga-Gamer’s been coming out with in the modern day, the series has seen a lot of adaptations. Anime, manga, novels, a live action film, more than a few stuff that’s seen its way to the English shores. In any case, for people who’ve picked up on the series before this new release, the statute of limitations on spoilers is long past. And that’s gone so far it is very dangerous to try and learn anything about the series. I’ve been spoiled on some key developments just looking up some very basic questions
I want to read up some real analyses of a given chapter without being spoiled for anything beyond it. And that has proved very difficult.
So you know what? I’m not able to find something I want on the internet, so I’m going to make it myself.
With this series, I intend to go through my whole schlock narrative analysis deal for each of the updated Higurashi Hou releases being let out on Steam. A given entry will naturally be full of spoilers, but only for the chapter in question. As of the time of this writing, I’ve played up though the most recent release on Steam, the third chapter, Tatarigoroshi. As of the time in this writing, I’m still in the Question Arc, just before the story takes a big shift in focus and still at least one full game before they start presumably cluing us into what the blazes is actually going on there, so I think I’m in pretty good position to pull off a spoiler-free analysis.
I have a few goals out of doing this. The first is just to get a better understanding of the story myself. Getting my thoughts all good and organized for posting requires a lot of analysis and review of what I’ve worked up myself, and frankly, I’m enjoying this enough that I want to put the work in towards that additional understanding, and it’s complex enough to really foster that. The second goal is that girls might be watching. The third goal, well, maybe there’s someone out there going through the same thing I am, picking up the new releases of Higurashi as they come out and wanting to explore more but not willing to go through spoilers or pick up the poorly translated release. Maybe I’ll be able to help more than just myself with this.
In any case, it’s probably most apt to start by taking a look at just what Higurashi: When They Cry is.
I was lucky enough to get into Higurashi with mostly no idea of what it was all about. I jumped on just based on reputation alone. If you’ve got any inkling of getting into the series, I’d recommend you take that route, as it made the first Moment so much more powerful for me as the veil was ripped back, and I learned just what I had gotten into. But it’s completely fair to want to know at least a little about something before you drop money on it, even if this is one of those things where just knowing the genre changes the experience. It won’t seem like it at first, opting to start with a slice of life style of story-telling, but Higurashi is a psychological horror murder mystery. Perhaps a supernatural psychological horror murder mystery. It’s hard to say. There are plenty of supernatural elements alluded to, but they’re implemented in a very subtle way and there could easily be a mundane explanation for all the seemingly supernatural happenings taking place. In fact, that’s a question the characters themselves raise in an OOC moment at the end of the first chapter.
The story takes its time. That’s a major thing with this game, and one of the things that makes its storytelling so effective, that it’s willing to take time to deliver the experience, largely spending a lot more time in the introduction to make sure you’re in the proper frame going forward. Things get majorly screwed up in this world, you guys! And the story will take you there. But first, you’re going to spend a good long while with the characters, getting to know them in their average, day to day life. You spend a lot of time in exciting, event-filled normalcy, getting to know and care about these folks, before the entire world turns upside down and all your feelings for them get torqued to delicious effect.
The series we’re getting now, through Steam, is a release of the more recent Higurashi: When They Cry Hou, featuring new character art and a brand new translation. Good thing, too, because the original character art was pretty awful, and from what I’ve heard, the translation was too. The new models, while they do look like you’d expect being drawn by someone with a strong hentai influence, are at least good enough not to be distracting from the story, which you can’t quite claim for the OG sprites. They’re made specifically for the English release, too, so hey, we’re really getting something special, here. Each game in the series is a separate chapter, which, while they’re not self-contained, do at least tell a complete arc each. It’s a little complicated to explain without getting into spoiler territory, but why the central mystery carries on between games with little ends tied up, the actual events of the story do come to a complete, if deliberately unsatisfying, conclusion.
Higurashi is one of the series that coined the term ‘Sound Novel’. Which largely seems to refer to a visual novel whose visuals suck, so it places more emphasis on the writing and the audio to create its sense of life than it does visuals. Even with the vastly, vastly improved character sprites, that’s still the case here. That was what the original was built on, and it’d take a pretty huge overhaul to get the visuals complex enough that they’re adding more to the story. The effectiveness of it all is all up to interpretation, but you know what? It works pretty well for me. The writing is as strong as they come, and while the music might run a little long at points, it is pretty effective at instilling a good, simple mood.
Not going to talk about the plot just yet. We’ll be getting into that in the next entries. But for the time being, let’s take a look at who and where we’re working with.
For Geezer Zeus’s sake, do not search the name of this town. Google’s suggested search results will spoil so much for you.
Anyways, this is the town the story takes place in, and Hinamizawa is just as much a part of the story as any of the characters. It’s a small, rural town, just a few thousand people, with a really, really close and structured community. It’s so small, it doesn’t even have a proper school, the town just renting a few rooms with the ranger station and chucking all the grades in together there. Some strange things have been going on in Hinamizawa for a while, which we’ll be seeing a bit of over the course of the series. It’s close enough to the nearest city to take advantage of the amenities there, but is otherwise pretty insulated.
Hinamizawa is strongly, strongly based off of the real life town of Shirakawa, Gifu, to the point where plenty of the filtered images that make up the game’s backgrounds come straight from there.
This is the viewpoint character you start with. Get used to being behind his head. Unusually for visual novel viewpoint character, he’s actually got a strong personality. He can verbally throw down with the best of them, is always up for a good challenge, and although he’s plenty introspective, he’s very outgoing as well.
Keiichi’s the son of a famous artist, who newly moved the family to Hinamizawa for… reasons. In any case, Keiichi’s largely clueless about the town, everyone in it, and everything that’s going on. Makes him a good pov for the player.
He quickly makes a group of friends, in the school’s game club, a group constantly playing games with each other where anything goes and loser is subjected to some dire punishment.
One of the first friends Keiichi makes. Rena’s relatively new to Hinamizawa as well, moving in only a year before Keiichi. She’s got an obsession with all things ‘kyute’. As for what is ‘kyute’, your guess is as good as mine, but she’s spent plenty of times trying to take her kouhai home or digging around in the garbage dump for new trinkets and toys. She’s the most openly sweet and kind, and does her best to make the games you all play fair to those at an obvious disadvantage. She rarely obviously cheats, but never seems to lose games against all those who do, either.
No, I don’t know how you’re supposed to get breasts to do that.
Mion’s the class president and leader of the games club. She comes from a family that has a hell of a lot of connections all over the place. She’s wild, brash, and enthusiastic, and comes with a great love of life. Also the most merciless and devious member of the club. She’s usually the one who comes out on top. Constantly refers to herself as ‘this old man’. Probably for reasons. I don’t know.
You know, Satoko was my least favorite character, until I got to know her. On surface level, she plays every pissant bratty kid trope you’ve seen way too much of, developing a rivalry with Keiichi and seemingly always getting on top. She’s mischievous. That’s probably her strongest personality trait. A trap fanatic. Which makes her deadly at the games you play, as she knows well how to predict your behavior and adjust her tactics accordingly. She seems to focus more on just beating Keiichi than in actually winning the games.
The same age as Satoko, although she plays more on the sweet, loving child tropes. It’s at least partially an act. She’s as devious as they come, when it comes to the games. Plenty caring outside of that. She cheats a little more blatantly than Rena, although she’s a lot quieter about it than Mion and Satoko. She’s well revered in the village, and seems to get along well with pretty much everyone.
And that’s it for the surface level review. For the rest of it, well, you’ll have to play or follow along to find out.