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, 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.

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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Visual Novel Theatre: Narcissu

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Narcissu has been on my list forever, and I just haven’t wanted to experience it.  Which is an oddity for me.  I love fiction, I enjoy visual novels, and I enjoy thought-provoking works, all of which, by reputation at least, Narcissu fits.  But I didn’t want to read it.  I didn’t want to deal with this.  I know the subject matter it covers, and it’s not something I’ve historically done well with.  Sure, you might look down on me for it, for letting myself get so cowed by such a simple, universal subject.  You might call me names, like wuss, and coward, and gorgeous.  And I might deserve them.  Especially that last one.  But the topic at the core of Narcissu is one that I’ve not handled well over the course of my life, one that regularly cuts through the cold, chiseled, manly outer shell into the tender emotional heart underneath.

Narcissu is about dying.  Slowly, inevitably, dying.

Narcissu’s reputation ensured I was interested, but its subject ensured I needed to be in the right mindset for it.  And so it remained in limbo for a long, long while, until now.  I’m coming off of one of the worst months I’ve had the displeasure of living through, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s all it took to finally tip the scales and get me to do this thing.

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Narcissu is a Japanese-based visual novel written by Tomo Kataoka, an experienced visual novel creator whose works have almost never left Japan so you’d really have almost no reason to know who he is outside of this entry.  It comes in two parts, both of which we’ll be covering here: Narcissu and Narcissu Side 2nd, of which each tells a self-contained but related story and both of which have been given officially endorsed fan translations.  It’s available for free on Steam here or for regular download here for those who would rather not have DRM in their freeware, fan-translated, absolutely-no-strings-attached visual novel.

Both entries in Narcissu largely start from the same place.  You’re behind the eyes of a young Japanese person who’s been struggling their entire life with an unnamed terminal circulatory disease, probably Dramatitus or something like that.  The opening lines of the novel tie your protagonist pretty firmly with the local hospital, where they become particularly well-acquainted with the 7th floor, the hospice, the end-of-life care center.  Your protagonist makes friends, of a sort, with one of the residents there, and become acquainted to the rules of that place.  Namely, once you’re admitted there, there’s no getting better, and though you may recover enough to go home for a while, you will eventually be readmitted to the hospice, and you will not live long enough to make it to a fourth stay.  Together, you journey, with your friend dealing with the issues they’re facing near the end of their life.

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Narcissu, that is, the first part of this duology, puts you in the shoes of a nameless, featureless, faceless young man who is admitted to the 7th floor hospice after losing your lifetime battle with your illness.  There, you meet Setsumi, a quiet, reserved girl just a bit older than you.  Over the course of weeks, you get to know each other.  Eventually, your condition stabilizes enough that you’re released to your home, but rather than heading back to spend time with your family, on a whim you steal your dad’s car and escape with Setsumi.  You’ve got no real plan, and while Setsumi has ideas, she’s so closed-off that she’s really not forthcoming with them.  You travel simply for the sake of travelling for a while, stealing what you need as you go, before you work out enough hints from Setsumi to get together a goal.  After you figure out what she really wants, you and Setsumi begin searching Japan for a flower, the narcissus, or daffodil, that gives this visual novel its name.

Side 2nd is a prequel, taking place around seven years before the first part.  You spend most of the time in Setsumi’s head, before she found herself consigned to the seventh floor hospice and was just a long-term outpatient.  Her family is just now shifting and changing their life to accommodate her illness and unique needs, and are absolutely ecstatic when she makes a friend.  The catch?  That friend is Himeko, a resident of the seventh floor hospice.  Himeko, who has by all outward appearances cast of everything, faith, family, friends, from her old life, pretty much takes the shy, quiet Setsumi under her wing.  Setsumi begins visiting daily, at Himeko’s request, and Himeko starts taking the younger girl on small outings as she checks off a list of the ten things she wants to do before she dies.

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Both sides of Narcissu are very much an experiment in using minimalism as part of the visual novel craft.  This is most obviously apparent through the presentation.  Visuals are limited to pretty basic backgrounds, and you barely see your characters at all, while the music is simple and understated, and the game limits itself to using 1-3 lines of text at a time.  This extends to the plot itself, as you get barely any characterization, and events follow a pretty simple structure and progression.  Each game only has two main characters, maintains few moving parts, and has little in the way of big splash screens or special effects.  The second game opens up a bit, incorporating a few side characters, having two intertwined plotlines, and featuring a notable animation and songs, but even so, compared to other visual novels, it’s a pretty bare bones tale.  By word of the author, this is all very deliberate, both to evoke imagination in the reader to fill in the gaps and to play with the medium a bit.

It is very easy to do minimalism poorly.  When you’re creating an experience without a lot in it, well, sometimes it can be hard to fit all the pieces together.  Minimalism lays your story bare, and to be successful, you need to have something to shine through.  Hard to put together when you’re trying to use as little content as possible.  And Narcissu does have some missteps I implementing its minimalism, mostly in the first part, as the author seems a lot more comfortable with the form in the second.  But the minimalism does allow the work’s themes to shine through, in such a beautiful way.  I was never engaged by the story, nor was I really entertained, but the theming was so powerful, because of that minimalism, and that’s what truly stuck with me.  These tales work on a high, concept-level more than anything else, are more as a whole story than as the sum of its events.  More than anything else, the first part of Narcissu is a tale of finally taking control after a lifetime without it, of facing inevitability, of death and suicide, of disregarding the structures of society when it has nothing for you.  And the beauty of Narcissu Side 2nd is almost entirely in its treatment of themes.  The story is self-contained, but in no way separate from the first game, and the connections are largely through its themes.  The themes in Side 2nd serve as a counterpart to those in the first part.  Where the first part is about looking ahead and finding nothing, the second part is about finding solace in re-living the past.  Where the first deals with coming to an end, the second deals with cycles.  Where the first covers the progression into hopeless situations, the second is about faith in adversity.  The theming in Side 2nd is such that, though the plot itself may be fully experienced enjoyed on its own, you will never get a complete picture without also going through the first part.  In fact, it’s one of the few works that retroactively makes its predecessor better, and it does so entirely through its treatment of themes.  The themes in both parts of Narcissu are so powerful, and come through so clearly, that I fear I’m not a skilled enough writer to properly discuss them in this review.

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And so, moving on.  I was worried this was going to be a depressing work.  It wasn’t.  Not for me, at least.  Others on the internet have reported different experiences.  I never connected with the characters to quite emphasize with the crappy situations they were going through.  Going by the author’s notes, this was by design.  I did, however, find it very thought-provoking.  I had finished it up shortly before heading to sleep, and it had kept me up in my hotel bed for hours, thinking through the content it provided.  Which is a truly strong showing for a work as minimal as this.

You have to be willing to read into it to get anything out of it, though.  This isn’t a story you can really enjoy casually.  In his notes, Kataoka had mentioned he was trying to create a work that was really subject to the whole Death of the Author deal, where it’s all about the reader filling in the gaps and interpreting the story as makes sense to them, individually.  I think he may have gone a little too far that direction, particularly in the first part, where it can start to feel less open to interpretation and more clueless and deliberately obtuse.  Some odd writing on the part of either the authors or the translators doesn’t help either.  However, there is enough there that if you’re willing to work at it, you’ll probably be able to draw something meaningful out of this work.  I certainly did.

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Visual Novel Theatre-Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius

sunrider title screen

I’ve got a real soft spot in my heart for those works that are made not because someone’s trying to make a profit, not because someone wants to get a name for themselves, but simply because someone decides that this is a thing that needs to exist. The urge to just create is a powerful, beautiful thing, and some of the best works of art out there are just these kinds of projects, those that exist for no other reason than to fulfill someone’s passion. In fact, I believe that’s one of the greatest things about the internet, that it makes it so easy for creators to just produce and get their works to an audience, with no worries about the costs of publishing, marketing, or anything else that normally goes into most of the creative works we all enjoy. The freeware creators are incredibly valuable.

There is one big flaw with creators, though. They’re people, too. And that means they need to eat, take shelter, and bungee jump over active volcanoes just as much as regular people like you and me. And for that, they need money. And money changes things. I’ve seen that so many times, through my background in both working with nonprofits and as a small business consultant. Nonprofit projects where everyone regularly stretches every dollar involved as far as possible will suddenly get a lot more convoluted when people find there’s the possibility of getting paid, and artists trying to turn their craft into a business quickly find out how much they need to change their approach to their art. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make a living out of your work, but the pursuit of compensation does necessitate a different way of creating, and oftentimes your work will be quite a bit different than it would have been had you just done it for nothing other than the need to create. It’s not necessarily a worse situation, just a different one, and we’ve been seeing plenty of it lately with the rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Patreon.

And I think that’s a large part of the reason why I like Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius so much. This is a work that has money behind it. And yet, even though they got money involved, this is very much an obvious labor of love. Love in Space, Sunrider’s creators, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over $44,000, almost fifteen times their original goal. Nobody’s going to get rich off that, but that’s still more than enough, with proper management, to get a small, limited, indie game out into the world with a tidy profit trailing it. With Sunrider, though, the production values, the amount of content created, the amount of just plain work that’s so, so apparent in the finished product is so high that I will never believe that Sunrider’s turning a profit. All the crowdfunder money and more is accounted for in the completed work. The visual novel has professional quality voice actors, sound design, art, and more, to the point that the amount of money they’ve collected through the crowdfunder could never cover all this alone. It’s obvious that the team behind Love in Space are volunteering at least some of their own time and resources to the project, yet even so, this project is still completely freeware. They’re creating it simply because they want this to be a world in which Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius exists. Just the amount of integrity and passion going into Sunrider makes the work notable. The fact that it actually delivers are long, enjoyable experience for the pricetag of completely, no strings, no expectations, free only makes it more so.

Sunrider asaga screenshot

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is a combination visual novel/turn-based strategy game, currently in open beta available on Steam. Basically, you’ve got turn-based strategy battles, with the visual novel format telling the story in between. Or maybe it’s visual novel story segments with turn-based strategy battles in between. Whatever. The game uses both of them and keeps them at about equal importance, so you can’t say it’s a ‘turn-based strategy game with visual novel elements’ or however the reviewers would phrase it these days.

In keeping with Love in Space’s moniker, Sunrider is a good old fashion space warfare tale with a bit of a romance bent. You are Captain Kayto Shields, the suspiciously silver-haired commander of the warship Sunrider, the pride of the planet Cera’s military. Unfortunately, said military doesn’t get to bask in it’s magnificence long, as that organization, along with the planet’s government and a good chunk of it’s people, simply stops existing shortly after the Sunrider’s first taste of real combat with the nefarious PACT. And so, you are left with one of the most powerful military vessels in the galaxy, absolutely no chain of command or oversight, an unlimited amount of ammunition, and a real grudge against the PACT fleet and all their explodable, squishy, bullet-magnet spacecraft. What do you do?

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