Archive for the 'visual novels' Category

Umineko no Naku Koro ni: And Then There Were 18<X<19

I cannot tell whether it is more awesome when Battler points or Phoenix Wright points, but accusative pointing is AWESOME and happens a lot.

I cannot tell whether it is more awesome when Battler points or Phoenix Wright points, but accusative pointing is AWESOME and happens a lot.

This front page is for general thoughts about Umineko no Naku Koro ni with as little spoilers as I can withhold, designed for those who have not played the game yet, waiting for the anime, are on the fence about it, or otherwise interested parties. Page 2 is my crackpot “theory” (more random observations and thoughts) of what’s going on and will be heavily littered with spoilers up through episode 3 of the game. So don’t go there unless you’re ready for it, okay? Beatrice might get mad.

Over the past couple of months, I have (very slowly, I will admit, to the chagrin of both myself and friends encouraging me to play more near-constantly) played through the first three episodes/arcs of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, which is probably more of a personal achievement than it might seem. I love books, and I liked the immersive feel of Umineko’s “sound novel” format, but I would still rather have a physical book than press “enter” a lot, so I chalk up the fact that I was able to overcome that to Umineko‘s rather gripping nature once things start to enter full swing. And lots of free time to allow me to space it out so that I can stave off carpal-tunnel and repetitive-motion injuries until at least after this post.

At this point I would imagine that most interested parties are by now at least passingly familiar with Umineko‘s locked-island mystery setup, although viewing it simply as a locked-island mystery would prove to be the first red herring in a long, long string of red herrings. Umineko is less about who is doing the Rokkenjima island murders so much as what is going on inside the whole Umineko-verse–in other words, rather than being a story about a mystery, the mystery is the story itself. The “whodunit” question is still integral, mind, but given the world-reset nature of the Umineko narrative the question “whodunit” shifts its focus, methodology, and implications away from the traditional understanding of the term. The central mystery revolves around puzzling out the nature of the ceremony Kinzo invokes and Beatrice carries out, and then its desired results, rather than who, specifically, is killing whom at any given point in time. “Whodunit” becomes a means to the end, rather than the end itself.

That end is proving, to a witch, that witches don’t exist. And if this sounds mind-melting already, then you should either go forth unto the breach or run away screaming, depending on how much you enjoy the feeling of your mind melting, because it only gets worse from there on out. For the path to that proof is paved with twisty logic, bizarre paradoxes, a desire to not suspect one’s own relations, and the Dread Inequality 18<X<19. Oh, and graphic, wanton slaughter. It is Ryukishi07, after all.

When you see this, prepare for your death by uu~uu~

When you see this, prepare for your death by uu~uu~

To that end, the repeating nature of Umineko serves as its strongest asset: the 18 trapped on Rokkenjima are a complex bunch, and nearly all of them have an issue that could potentially affect the outcome of Kinzo’s fate roulette. They range from the four cousins Battler, Jessica, George, and Maria, who together compromise a more palatably friendly bunch than their parents and their spouses who are eternally at everyone else’s throats (hint hint), and the servants who generally require coaxing to have personalities unbefitting of furniture. Well, okay, except maybe for Maria when she goes evil, but it took me approximately 3.86 seconds to have Maria melt my heart with askew (and pointless) crown, oversized (and pointless) purse, and framing every single one of her lines with the (pointless) interjection “uu~uu~.” It very closely resembled a perfectly executed Hokuto Hyakuretsuken of cute, rendering me helpless against anything thrown at me regarding Maria.

Each episode/arc chooses to focus on different sets of characters and different interpretations of central themes. The delightful Higurashi method of storytelling, with the character development spread across different story arcs with different progressions of the same events, is in full force here. Each arc brings with it new light on old questions and dregs up more questions as an encore, with the interesting result that each of the episodes/arcs thus far upend and scatter any theories one concocted from the previous arcs, leaving the reader much more in endless confusion and consternation than the Higurashi anime seemed to. In terms of Our Protagonist Battler’s favored style of “chessboard thinking,” the chessboard that is Umineko not only gets turned around, but also knocked over, upended, thrown across the room, jumped upon, ripped to shreds, and set on fire. Repeatedly.

In other words, I’m not entirely certain that a combined sleuthing team of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Frank and Joe Hardy, Nancy Drew, Those Meddling Kids and Their Dog, and Encyclopedia Brown (feel free to replace and/or add your favorite fictional sleuths here) would be properly equipped to deal with Rokkenjima. But I’d pay good money to watch them try.

Umineko bears more than a passing resemblance to NisioisiN’s Zaregoto, where the appeal lay less in the mystery than in the characters (which, in the first book, seemed roughly as developed as they were in Umineko episode 1, i.e. not very much) and in the psychological effects of having no idea what was truth, what was not, and who to trust, and having the rug yanked out from under you when you think you have it. I would argue at this point that Umineko is better, but that’s unfair since I’ve read more of it than Zaregoto. Not that it matters much, as I’m a sucker for both, and may very well be a red herring.

It is devilishly (ha) difficult to describe Umineko for the uninitiated, as specifics confound and confuse more than they elaborate–in part because those who have played it have already had their minds broken by it, reducing them to gibbering fools and incompetents, and I am certainly no exception–and I’m not even fully caught up yet! And this thing is going to go on for at least four more episodes over the next two years!

What madness have I gotten myself into it? It’s useless, it’s useless, it’s all useless!

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CLANNAD, Kanon, and Key’s Nontraditionalism

Just finished up CLANNAD episode 5–Nonaka Ai is totally awesome–and it got me thinking on how “non-traditional” it is, especially compared to something like Kanon.

Kanon, of course, is a classic of the dating sim/eroge versions of visual novels, but, as far as I’m aware, Kanon was the first game that could be properly called a “visual novel” in the sense that it focused more on story than other, similar games (although Sakura Wars came first, it was more of a tradtional game than a visual novel), and certainly the first to have such a tragic story.

What I find interesting about Kanon (here referring to the 2006 version) over other eroge adaptations is that it doesn’t quite feel like a dating game. I mean, Yuuichi does spend and awful lot of time talking to the various girls, but the impression I got was that he was less trying to get into their pants and more trying to help them. This, of course, leads me to believe that the sex scenes in the original Kanon visual novel were tacked on as a kind of afterthought to better be able to market the game to a more receptive audience; one who wouldn’t buy a game for the PC featuring a lot of pretty girls if they couldn’t have SEX with them. That’s the way Kanon always seemed to me, less an eroge than a visual novel with porn in it.

So fast forward to CLANNAD, which began as an all-ages Key game. The anime (and, I presume, the game) feels as different from Kanon as I imagine Kanon (the game) felt from other games at the time. With the porn removed, Key is left able to tell a story without having to insert romantic undertones to justify the sex (or resort to rape, for that matter). And so, what we get is even less of a “harem”/dating sim story than Kanon was–although we’re only getting started on Fuko’s arc, it honestly feels like Tomoya is helping Fuka because he wants to, not because he’s trying to date her. The only possible romantic storyline I see in CLANNAD is between Tomoya and Nagisa. And this really impresses me–for a genre as cluttered as the visual novel/eroge scene is, for a company like Key, who has success and popularity on their side, to take a bold stand and ditch the porn is an admirable thing. I can only hope companies like TYPE MOON follow suit. Not because I have some kind of moral objection to sex and porn–I most certainly do not–but because it just interests me what kinds of stories could be told in this format could be told if the focus on sex was removed. We see steps toward that in CLANNAD and TYPE MOON’s games, but, honestly, I’d love to see a game come out that actually is a visual novel. I think that’d be a great step to take it–turn what essentially started out as cheap titillation for bored PC owners into a new style of storytelling itself. We’ve gotten mostly there, I think, so it’s probably just a matter of time until we get people taking risks in the industry.

This post turned into less about CLANNAD and more about me blathering on, so I will conclude with cute and very much relieved Fuko:

It’s Futarou, actually, but a.f.k. saves the day again with another brilliant joke-conversion. Would you want to be called Fubob? Thought not.

Oh, and if any of you who know more about visual novels than me (which isn’t a hard feat to accomplish) and bring to my attention just how wrong I am, then I will most certainly give you a high-five, Fuko-style.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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June 2023