The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi-Wild Mass Theorizing

So after all that, we come around to the big question.  What exactly is going on in Higurashi?  The first chapter, Onikakushi, has no answers.  But it does have some fuel for speculation.  And you know what?  In the latest chapter released, the developers straight up ask you to spend some time on the speculation.  So let’s do that.

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Now, there’s two main questions the game leaves hanging.  Why, and HowWhy does the town hate Keiichi?  Why do his friends keep turning evil and trying to kill him?  Why do people get murdered there?  And How all of that?

Let’s explore this.  I do want to say, I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers here, and limit things to content as presented in this chapter.  But, honestly, some of these conclusions are informed by what’s been presented in the other question arcs, and really, I’m not going to be able to get around that.

Anyways, let’s go into some random guesses as to what all makes things work in this story.  I’m not entirely convinced in all of these, in fact, some of them I’m pretty sure the story will never even consider.  But they’re all taking up some mental real estate.  And you know what, before we get into the meat of it, let’s get one thing out of the way.

Natural vs. Supernatural

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Right, so I said earlier we could just brush this question off.  And really, we can.  But I figure, this chapter makes something of a deal of it, so we may as well address it.  In brief.  Because that’s all this question deserves.

Are the weird happenings in this game the acts of men?  Are the consistent murders a series of copycat killers?  Are the villagers getting organized to expulse any outsider they consider a threat to their operations?  Is there some sort of conspiracy going on among the major families to maintain the village in just the way they want by force if necessary?  Or is it the act of otherworldly beings?  Is Oyashiro-sama real and working to purge the village?  Are there truly demons among the villagers?

Again, this is a question this chapter tries to raise, and definitely the one it wants you speculating on, but I don’t think it’s very material to the story.  Some being is making murder, whether it’s a human or a spirit doesn’t make much difference in the end.  And really, this chapter doesn’t give you anything to base it off of.  The idea of the supernatural is raised, but if you take Keiichi’s fractured sanity into account, you don’t see anything concrete as to how it’s acting.  Unless that fractured sanity is how it’s acting.  But even that could be the drug they allude to.  They don’t give you enough either way to foster good speculation on that. 20160709181328_1.jpg

For what it’s worth, given the direction the story’s been going, even in this chapter, I’m of the opinion that there’s at least some supernatural element there.  The people are definitely involved in it, at least as far as covering it up goes, but there is some magic involved either in the actual execution of the murder/disappearances, or in the organizing people to do such.  I just don’t think the lead they’ve given and the way the following chapters progress will make much sense if there’s something beyond human running behind it.  But it’s not completely supernatural, because this is a character-driven story, and all that actual characters are human.  If you take the humans out of it, then you’ve wasted at least the early chapters.  So some mix of human and supernatural is where it’s at.  If it’s not, I will refund you the price of reading this blog post.  What do you have to lose?

The Theorizing

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Visual Novel Theatre: Everlasting Summer

Hey, you remember when those degenerates at 4chan decided to make a visual novel, and how they were supposed to make something horrible and shameful and a blight on society but they threw a big curveball at us by actually making something really meaningful?  What if Katawa Shoujo wasn’t just a one off?  What if that exact same thing happened again?  And while we’re playing with our fun little vision, let’s imagine that everyone was wearing giant furry hats while they were doing it.

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And that brings us to Everlasting Summer.  No, it’s not a 4chan game.  Rather, this one came from the minds at… well, whatever they have going on at IIchan, a Russian imageboard.  Now, I don’t know anything about IIchan.  I got out of the whole chan culture around the time the edgelord thirteen year olds started flooding it.  Which, really, aside from the somewhat shared origins, Everlasting Summer doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with Katawa Shoujo that isn’t absolutely standard for the form, so let’s let the comparisons drop there.

So, Everlasting Summer is a romance story that you can turn into a sorta-eroge assuming you hang around all the right (or very wrong) places on the internet.  It’s Russian.  Very Russian.  It does its best to not be inaccessibly Russian, and does a very good job of that, but yeah, it’s Russian.  Be prepared for that.  Also, full of references to Russian imageboard memes that are guaranteed to fly right over your head.  It first seems a slightly oppressive dark paranormal mystery, then turns into a light fluffy romance with somewhat malevolent overtones, then, when you know where to look, those overtones start taking over and the mystery comes way to the fore, then the story just kind of peters out without going anywhere at the end.  Oops, spoilers.  I did find it to be a pretty enjoyable ride up until then though.  Also spoilers.  Sorry if you were hoping to whiteknuckle things all the way to the end of this rollercoaster of a review.

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Everlasting Summer places you in the surprisingly roomy pants of Semyon, an anime obsessed shut-in who spends his life on imageboards and who hasn’t had a meaningful interaction with another human being in years.  I am struggling so much not to ‘accidentally’ confuse him with one of the many other people I know who fits the description. Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – The Club

The Club

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So let’s go ahead and start getting in on the people our poor, tragic Keiichi has been hanging out with.  The people he loves.  The people who turned his life into spiders.  The people who ended up killing him.  Because, get this, in a character driven story, the characters end up being a little bit important.  And when your lead character is largely a cypher, the supporting cast end up picking up all that personality weight.  So let’s take a look at these people, who they are, and what they’re doing in the story.  Now’s a good time to put your overthinking cap on, by the way.  I certainly am.

Rika and Satoko

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Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first.  I do want to say, it is clear that Rika and Satoko are both very important to the overall plot.  There’s enough going on with them in this chapter alone that it’s obvious that we’re going to be seeing a lot, lot more of them in the arcs to come.

That said, although the both of them are around for a lot of Onikakushi, they’re not present for all the big moments, and they don’t really do a lot.  They’re not active characters, the plot does not turn on them.  At least, not yet.  Or maybe not in front of the curtains.  Yeah, it’s that kind of story.

Both Rika and Satoko are members of the big name families of the village.  Both of their families fell on the “wrong” side of the dam incident, Rika’s for not protesting it hard enough, Satoko’s for being in support of it.  Both have family members who were killed/onikakushi’d in the yearly incidents.  Multiple times, for Satoko.  And both of them live together, alone.  No parents, no caretakers, just the two of them.  Alone.  Rika gets some respect from the rest of the village, due to being their resident shrine maiden, and coming from a family strongly connected with their faith.  Satoko, we don’t really get an idea of what everyone thinks of her.  Well, except for Mion.  We’ll get into that in a bit.

In fact, let’s get into that right now!  Mion is competitive.  And you’ve got a club built around playing games against each other.  It stands to reason she’s going to be butting heads.  With everyone else, it seems just a good bit of friendly smacktalk.  It seems to cross the line a bit when she’s up against Satoko, though.  Could just be Satoko’s nature.  She’s definitely one to take the playfight a little too far.  But even so, Mion seems a little more ready to poke at Satoko’s vulnerabilities than she does to others.  And remember that her family was a supporter of the dam project while, according to Ooishi, Mion herself was on the other side of that fight.  Starts to make those barbs seem more a veiled blade.

It’s really, really strange nobody pays much attention to Satoko this story.  Her family gets called up all the time.  Her brother, Satoshi, in particular.  Keiichi even gets a bit obsessed with him.  Yet, even as Keiichi finds himself walking in her brother’s footsteps, he never bothers to talk to her about him.

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And as for Rika… we know she’s a bit devious.  She’s good at knowing things, and not letting on that she knows these things.  She shows that in the games, where she plays up her childlike appearance to manipulate people and lull her opponents into an unfounded sense of security.  In truth, she’s very analytic, and good at sussing things out, but she keeps that hidden.

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So where is she at with this story?  I’m going to do that thing where I read a lot into a single scene, but you recall when Keiichi took up Satoko’s brother’s bat, and started training with it as a weapon?  Rena freaked out.  Mion had a lot of trouble with that.  Rika noticed it, even as he was trying to hide it, and all she did was warn him not to lose the bat.  She wanted to make sure he kept it with him.  And earlier on, she was particularly concerned about Keiichi’s health.

Does that mean that she’s on his side, and wanted him to have it to defend himself?  Does it mean she knew what would happen to Rena and Mion in the end, and wanted to set him on that path?  Given that nature of this story, I think we can safely discard the idea that she knew nothing about the happenings and only wanted to Keiichi to be careful with the cherished bat.

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The Higurashi Notes: Onikakushi-Keiichi’s Sanity and Ooishi’s Behaviour

All right, so now that we’ve taken a look at the happenings in our last post, let’s go back and try to work out… you know, what actually happened.  Onikakushi drops a whole lot of questions.   No answers.  But if you know where to look, there might be a few hints.  So, what do you say we start with the biggest question?

How much is actually real?

Yeah, yeah, Onikakushi runs really heavily on the “Is it magic? Is it mundane?” question, to the point it has the characters arguing about it OOC at the end.  But you know, that question is nowhere near as interesting to me as this one.  Stuff happened in this plot.  A lot of stuff happened in this plot.  But, did all the stuff that happened actually happen?

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At its core, Onikakushi is a story about Keiichi’s descent into paranoia.  You see him going from being a normal kid, run into a conspiracy so far beyond him that starts targeting him for even knowing about it, and in defense, Keiichi starts backing into the corner and pulling out the claws.  Starts smashing up nothing, thinking enemies are all around him.  But, maybe it goes beyond justifiable paranoia.  Maybe Keiichi starts experiencing things that are not actually there.

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It’s interesting to me how much Keiichi does that seems to serve no other purpose than to make his house a portrait of madness at the end.  The entry way of his home is all smashed up.  Mashed garbage strewn all over the room.  A hastily scrawled note asking “Was there a needle?” on the fridge.  The brief, hand-written memoirs of a crazed child stuck with tape behind his clock.  The kind of home that would make you think its owner escaped from the asylum if you came across it in any crime drama.  Of course, all of these were in response to something Keiichi was reacting to, and you see all the context for that, but take a look at that from outside Keiichi’s head for a bit.  He smashes up his house by swinging at something invisible and intangible.  He has a relatively calm phone conversation with Ooishi, then mention of the needle causes him to take a break and throw garbage all over his house, before he returns to the calm-ish conversation.  Keiichi knows what it all looks like.  That’s why he’s so very careful about what he puts in his dead drop note, and why it ends up being way too vague to be useful, outside of the bits that get torn out before the police find it.

But how far back does Keiichi’s altered perception go?  Let’s start from the end, and take a look at some contradictions between what we’re shown and what we know.

So first, the police report at the end.  Right off the bat, it states, and states conclusively, that Keiichi had called Rena and Mion over to his house before he beat them to death.  Now, it doesn’t list any of the evidence for that claim, but logically, the police would be able to look into phone records in regards to what calls were made.  At least, I’m going to assume they could.  I don’t know ‘bout that 1983.  So we can figure that it’s more than just an assumption that Keiichi called them out.  Thing is, if you recall from the events we saw, when Keiichi woke up in his house before he killed his friends, Rena was already there.  Sure, she called Mion from Keiichi’s house, but there’d be no reason for Rena to be called over.  Unless, either the ‘Director’ she called share’s Rena’s number, or Keiichi had in fact called her over, and just wasn’t cognizant of it.

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Keiichi died in exactly the same way as Tomitake did earlier.  That’s exactly what Mion was threatening, saying he’d be injected with the same drug.  But there’s two problems with this.  The first, going by what we saw, Keiichi was never injected with the drug.  He blacked out just before he did, came to with his friends dead, then recalled that he had knocked them away before he was injected.  Possibly, this is recreating memories after the fact, but otherwise, he should never have been impacted by the drug at all.  The second notable thing is that Keiichi started following in Tomitake’s footsteps long before the drug ever came up.  The big moment is when he smashed up his front entryway, striking at the presence he detected but couldn’t see.  Ooishi had notice that Tomitake had been found with a two-by-four that had impacted several things, but had no blood, skin, or biologic materials found on it.  He smashed up a guardrail, but had no sign of actually hitting anyone else with it.  Mayhaps he had been finding a presence that couldn’t be seen or touched, himself. Continue reading

The Higurashi Notes, Chapter 1: Onikakushi – Plot Rundown

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Look at this!  Isn’t this amazing!  I said I was going to do a thing.  Which, ok sure, that happens.  But then!  But then I actually did it!  How often does that happen in your life?!

In any case, here’s the first part of typing waaaaaaaaaaaay too many words talking about Higurashi.  If you missed our intro post, here’s the deal.  I’ve been playing these visual novels.  I’ve been wanting to talk about them.  To analyze them.  To dissect them.  So that’s what we’ll be doing today, over the first chapter of the series, Onikakushi.  We’re going full on for spoilers for that chapter, but we’ll be keeping things safe for all the other chapters.  We’re free on discussing chapter one, whatever we need to there, but we won’t be brushing on anything else.  Might be literally the only place on the internet to do that.

Do I need any further ado?  I think that’s enough ado.  Let’s get into the do.

So, today, we’re mostly going to be following along with the plot.  Summarizing things for those who are just joining us or could use a bit of a refresher before we jump right into the deep end.  We’ll be dropping some bits of analysis on the way, but it’ll be the next post where we really get into things.  So hey, if you’re interested in this stuff, why don’t you follow along?  If not, go ahead and wait for next time.  Do whatever works for you.  Ain’t required reading here.  But, chances are, it will make your life better.  So much better.  In fact, I’m pretty confident about that.

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The Higurashi Notes-Introduction

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hinamizawa

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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.

Keiichi Maebara

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.

Rena Ryuugu

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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.

Mion Sonozaki

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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.

Satoko Houjou

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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.

Rika Furude

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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.

The Manly Guide to the Lady’s Choice

I’m going to be shameless today.  Well, more shameless than usual.  Yes, even more shameless than my standard practice of filling every reasonable opportunity with a treatise on how good I look.  Which is very, incredibly good, by the way.  Seriously, just check me out.

Okay, and now try your very best to put that out of your mind for the moment, because I have something else to talk about, and I don’t want you getting distracted.  A very close personal friend of mine is an independent game developer.  She recently came out with a new release.  The Lady’s Choice.  It’s a regency romance otome visual novel, which I never realized was a genre until she started work on this game.  Anyways, I played it, and you should too.  After all, if I enjoyed it, and my heart is already a stone-cold hunk of bitterness forged by way too many late-night Linkin Park sessions, someone with a more “healthy” personality will probably find it quite enthralling.  And it’s free, pay what you want or nothing at all.  Find it here.

Thing is, the game, as previously mentioned, an otome.  Literally translates into ‘games for girls’.  So I, being the manliest warbeast ever to bless this Earth, am obviously not in the target demographic.  You might not be either.  So I thought I’d do us all a favor, and take the opportunity while I’m shilling to present the man’s man’s man’s perspective on The Lady’s Choice.

So let’s run down our crew.

The Lady

Yeah, here’s our lead.  The game has a default name for her, but you’ve got no obligation to stick to that, and can name her whatever badass name you wish.  Anyways, she gets called back to her homeland from the country due to some happenings with her family, and finds herself immersed in the world of the society once more.  Has to deal with all the social gatherings of a bunch of people whose primary focuses in life are counting all their money, being posh, and finding a socio-politically advantageous mate.  She’s a strong, independent woman and don’t need none of that, but given that this is a romance game, winds up finding herself a little someone to call her own anyways.

Arabella

So, Arabella’s your main homegirl, and the Obi-Wan all over your quest to find love.  She’s been part of the society for quite some time, and has done it all already, so she knows the lay of the land.  Knows who’s the jerks, who’s the hunks, who’s the bad boys you just can’t be seen with, who’s the types to hold a grudge.  Whatever you do, whoever’s feathers you ruffle, she’s got your back.

Lord Stanton

So here’s Lord Stanton.  Lord Stanton’s the man.  Nobody else likes him, but they don’t know what they’re missing.  You see that cane there?  It’s not for walking. It’s not for looking cool.  No, that’s a drubbing cane.  See, Stanton’s walking on the dark side of town, and he needs that cane to deliver these drubbings to all the bad boys and girls.  Every time you’re walking around, running into some guy who just desperately needs a drubbing?  Bam, Stanton’s there.  He’s the classic shadowed hero on top of that, too.  Dude with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, set up in a society that just assumes he’s always on the dark side.  And he bears that all.  Dude knows he’s righteous, he doesn’t need to worry about what everyone else thinks.

Guy Blake

So here’s the guy, Guy.  Guy Blake is a member of the military in an era where only the well-born get enlisted, in spite of coming from a pretty poor background.  He does this by being straight up harder than everyone else.  He works harder, fights harder, lives harder, that’s all how he do.  The only thing he doesn’t do harder than everyone else is put up with the stupid jerks at the Society.  Until they push him too far.  Then he’s putting them in their place in the most proper way possible.  Probably the realest character on cast.  Aside from you, of course.

Mr. Amesbury

Here’s Mr. Amesbury.  We don’t know much about Mr. Amesbury.  He shows up in the first party you go to, but doesn’t get his own route.  People might say that’s because this was a NanoReno game, and time was at a premium, but I think it’s more that he just got busy right after that party.  Very busy.  After all, you didn’t hear of England getting invaded by the horde that year, did you?

That’s the Lady’s Choice!  Find it here!

Visual Novel Theatre: Ristorante Amore

Hey there, hey there.  So, recently, your main man Aether played yet another visual novel marketed primarily towards girls who like all that touchy-feely romance stuff.  You know what that means!  Time for yet another Visual Novel Theatre.

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So, our offering up today is the freeware novel Ristorante Amore from developer duo Cyanide Tea.  As you might guess from the title, it’s a love story.  I mean, really, pretty much everything is a love story at its core, right?  James Bond is almost always about him saving their girls as much as him saving England, Final Fantasy X wrapped up its world-saving plot in a big ol’ fantasy love story, Dark Souls was at its heart a tale all about how much I love hating myself.  This one’s just a little more up front about it than most.  It’s also really up front about screwing with my screencap capabilities.  We’re going to have to see just how far I can get by shamelessly ripping things off the internet.

Jumping right into it, the most notable thing about Ristorante Amore is the big twist at the end of the first act.  Which, in all honesty, the concept behind the twist is pretty neat.  You start the novel, and right away, you’re going through an utterly standard, blatantly clichéd romance story, the type that’s in like everyone’s first romance VN ever.  You progress through the story pretty quickly, then get to the end of the complete arc, and BAM!  Everything you thought you knew was wrong, time for the real story.   Kind of impossible to get into the real story without talking about that twist.  So, I’ll give you one chance.  If you’re going to be interested in Ristorante Amore at all, if there’s even the slightest chance you’re going to want to play it after reading this and you care about spoilers, go ahead and download it now and spend about 15 minutes getting through the prologue, and come back so you can have your precious little fresh experience.

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The Responsibility for Spoilers

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I’ve been playing/reading my way through the re-release of Higurashi: When They Cry, one of the big names in the visual novel field, for the first time.  Now, here’s something that’s a total experience.  It’s deep, layered, and twisty enough that even just the very act of knowing what genre it actually is changes the experience you have with the story.  If you know anything about the novel other than “It’s good and you should try it,” you’re experience is already impure.  The story is that complicated.

So, I got to the end of what’s currently available in English on the re-release.  The first two entries in the Higurashi series.  And they took me through a trip.  Such a trip, that I was wanting to go online and explore them further.  Figure out what other people have going on.  And that led me to a problem.

See, the re-release, the one with the actual good translation, better art (and don’t you even), and overall improved presentation is being doled out bit by oh-too-small bit as the translation is finished, while the overall series has been out in other releases and mediums for a decade now.  And I was far from the first person to feel the need to go online and talk about things.

So, I was spoiled.  I was actively trying to avoid spoilers, and I was spoiled nonetheless.  I know big reveals that already change the way I looked at what’s been going on in the story, and are going to keep me from arriving at the conclusions the authors are hoping to lead me to before throwing the table down the stairs.  I know some space where things are more than what they appear, and how.  And I knew of some surprise characters well before they actually arrived.

I was angry, at first.  Most places have spoiler policies for just this sort of thing, and for very good reason, and yet I so easily wandered into spoilers, completely by accident.  I was looking to settle and enhance my experience, yet I ended up ruining parts of it.  And if this were not the kind of story it was, that’d be totally valid.

In most instances, it’s just the basic level of respect to mark your spoilers, to help people avoid them and make sure they get the experience they want.  Here, though, well, this has been out for a long while, and accessible in a variety of formats.  And although that’s not an excuse on its own, as people are picking up new works all the times, I didn’t start looking until after I already knew what kind of story this was, how complex, twisty, and easily spoiled, and that I only had part of the same picture as everyone else.  And it wasn’t like these were being posted on Twitter, Facebook, or another uncontrolled forum like that.  I was actively going out and looking for material.  It is one thing to be throwing unmarked spoilers out there when they’re completely unavoidable, but Higurashi is the type of work that it’s really impossible to have any sort of meaningful discussion about without spoilers.  Really, that was all on me.  It was my responsibility to avoid the spoilers.  Marking and hiding spoilers is a lofty goal, and one should always be respectful enough to do that when possible, but when it’s not, the discussion can’t make way for it.

People need to be able to talk about the works they go through, to help themselves elevate and better appreciate them, getting something more out of it than just their first watch.  Conversations need to happen.  And when it’s impossible to talk about something without bringing up spoilers, well, it still needs to happen.  As long as those who come first are doing what they can to protect the experiences of those who find a story later, the due diligence really falls to the spoilees to ensure their experience.  The conversation needs to happen regardless, and it can’t wait for everyone to reach the same level.

Visual Novel Theatre-Fantasia: Realm of Thanos

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Fantasia: Realm of Thanos.  Here’s a visual novel that owns some really odd online real estate.  Most of the visual novel market, as least as far as I’ve seen, doesn’t pay much mind to it, but on certain segments, certain forums?  People are absolutely fanatical for it.  There’s something that draws people there.  What is it, exactly?  Is it that it really emphasizes its anime-style bad boys, and that’s just what all these people are into?  Is it that the main character’s situation, being a stranger in a world completely foreign to them, strongly resonates with today’s disaffected youth?  Does being pushed to enter the world of romance and finding all your options to be total jerks and losers feel so familiar to so many people?  In our special, exploratory edition of Visual Novel Theatre, I pack my best shorts, make myself a sandwich, and head deep into the bushes of Fantasia to find out.

In Fantasia: Realm of Thanos, you’re behind the wheel of Hammercles Von Chunkmeier, or whatever weak name you decided to give your main character instead, a 15 year old girl whose parents died in a plane crash and who apparently has literally no one else involved in her life at all.   So, you’re going through your hard knock life, doing whatever things it is that 15 year old girls do, when all of a sudden some random woman shows up, and tells you that there’s another world out there and it’s going to be destroyed unless you go out and get some loving from a guy whose life sucks as much as yours does.  Of course, you agree to that right away, because this wouldn’t be much of a story without it.  So off you’re whisked to the land of Fantasia, to go all big pimpin with four messed up mammajammas in the hopes that one of them will love you enough to produce a magic key that will save the land from the invading realm of Thanos somehow.  I don’t even know.  I think the author lost a little steam there.  Anyways, that’s the gist of it.  New world, gotta save it by getting some guy with a screwed up life to love you.

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Fantasia ROT is a homegrown effort by AzureXTwilight, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of thought into it.  Well, into certain parts of it at least.  There’s fifteen endings, plenty of branching paths, and a lot of character intertwining.  I do want to lead with this.  Whatever I may say about the rest of the visual novel, that’s something that always stands.  It feels like I’ve been given a little peek into an imaginary world that the author’s been spending a lot of time in, and that’s a really special thing.  It reminds me a lot of all my own imaginary worlds, stories, and people that just never made it out of my head.  That’s something that’s just so great out of all these amateur and indie releases we’re seeing now in the information age, that is lets people share these experiences that would normally be locked away, so valuable to one person yet invisible to all else, and that is truly on great display here.

That said, I didn’t like it.

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