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Higurashi: When They Cry Game Review
By John Rose
December 22, 2010
Higurashi: When They Cry
When the higurashi cry their song of lament is a requiem for innocence.
What They Say
This is Higurashi When They Cry, a serial murder themed sound novel that doesn't offer you any choices, but does offer you the opportunity to search for the truth yourself. Will you fear? Will you become engrossed? Will you face the challenge? Only you can decide how to enjoy the story.
As the player, you will be able to unravel the mystery surrounding the events in the game as the scenarios unfold. You can ponder on the nature of the mystery by yourself when you're on the train, you can discuss it with your friends, you can search for clues on the Internet or you can even file complaints on the circle's website. The choice is yours.
The benefit to a visual novel is that the game makers can use some animation to make characters and sometimes events so that not all of the work in describing a situation needs to come from text. As with many visual novels Higurashi When They Cry uses background pictures that have been filtered to give them a softer look (and also hide some of the real locations or people who maybe in the picture. Given that the creators describes this title as a sound novel there is little animation for the characters and they are more static 2D characters that look like paper dolls. The characters are not very realistic looking and are designed in a rather simplistic fashion which actually works nicely to help give a cute feel to the characters though the exception is that the characters hands are abnormally large and distorted. The characters generally wear the same outfits throughout the stories though there are a few changes of outfits that take place in some of the stories. There are also a number of poses and facial expressions that get used often though the stories though they are switched up often enough and done well enough to convey the emotions that correspond with the events in the novel.
The text is a bit of a hit or miss thing though and is the biggest miss on the release. While the vast majority of the translation works well there are a number of spelling and grammatical errors that pop up in the story that could really have used a once over with an editor to fix. It feels at times like the text was translated in a stiff way-perhaps by someone to whom English is a second language as the usage doesn’t match well with more conventional speech. For the most part the errors aren’t frequent nor are they present to a point where the story is lost but there are two points where the text provides some confusion as to what is going on in regards to the flow of the novel. Thankfully neither one of the occurrences is at a climactic point and the vast bulk of the novel is rather well done.
There are a handful of tracks used in this title and they are mostly synthesizer based and they get repeated a great number of times throughout the novel. Some of the backgrounds include a calm piece, a more up tempo dramatic track, a suspenseful track and a track that is used to make the horror parts help to cause the hairs on people’s necks stand up. None of the tracks are spectacular but they are more than adequate to provide a backdrop to help deepen the mood the text and visuals are working to create. The cries of cicadas are also an often present effect and from time to time some others-like the sound of hands or an object being swung-appear as well.
The material reviewed was provided as a download so there is no packaging to review.
The menus to this release are a basic but mostly intuitive affair. The main menu starts with black blocks that contain the selection on a main screen set against the background of a picture of the village from the game. The options are Start, continue, configure, extra and exit. Start does that for the game and takes you to a screen where the various game chapters are displayed though subsequent chapters are initially locked until the previous chapter is finished. The configure screen allows the user to customize sound level, effect level, text speed, the right click option and text skip as well as the game window size. The extra screen gives you the option to look at the All Cast Review when unlocked, look at tips acquired and play previous chapters that have been completed. On the game screen itself there are quick buttons in the lower right hand side to either do a quick save or quick load, return to the menu, skip text, auto text so you don’t have to right click and log. Log is useful as it contains the entirety of text from the game so if you miss a point or wish to review something you can though you have to search through as there is no quick search in the log. The save menu allows you to save at almost any point (minus a very few points that are short in length) and has space for three quick saves and one hundred regular save which also have the ability to either display the current line of text or that you can create a name for.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Much like America has its independent comic scene so does Japan, though in Japan it extends past just independent comics to other venues such as games and they gather at massive conventions to promote their work. Into this environment one creator only known as Ryukishi07 created a software title with his group 07thExpansion that has multiplied far beyond just the small circles in which many of these groups operate. The title has become a big enough smash to have crossed over into other territory with an anime series, a manga series, a pair of live action movies as well as novels and games on the Playstation 2 and DS in addition to two sequel PC games.
The rural town of Hinamizawa is located in a valley in a remote part of Japan. It is a small town where most of the residents have grown up there and the entire town knows each other’s names and faces. The narrator of the first three stories has been interjected into this tranquil setting as Keiichi Maebara’s father has relocated his family here to assist him in creating his art. Keiichi makes friends with four of the girls (Rena Ryugu, Mion Sonozaki, Satoko Houjou and Rika Furude) who also attend the one room classroom in the town and joins their game club. As laid back as the girls seem at times, game time is serious business where high penalty stakes await the loser of these games. It is a quiet little area where Keiichi and his friends seem to be able to just take the tranquil days with ease other than that which they put on themselves.
The tranquility is an illusion however as the village Hinamizawa has a shadowy past that lurks just below the surface and that rises from those depths on the night of the Watanagashi (cotton drifting) Festival where they pay tribute to the local deity Oyashiro. As the stories unfold Keiichi learns of the sordid details of the town’s lore and the secrets that lie within-and often he learns that the secrets wish to remain that way and that curiosity caries a deadly price in the village.
Five years ago the Japanese government attempted to build a dam and submerge the town only to discover that the town was capable of rallying against them. While the residents won some of the means will be shown and a curse that for the last four years on the night of the festival has claimed one life and the disappearance of another person will stalk the residents of the village like a predator. For the first three chapter the reader will be taken through three different events from the eyes of Keiichi and see both how the past victims are tied to his friends and how the current ones maybe as well. Questions will be asked as the reader is presented clues to try to piece together if the horrors are the work of man playing on the legend of the curse or a vengeful god punishing those who pry to deeply into areas that are forbidden.
The opening scenario is called Onikakushi. This story will set much of the background for the other stories and help establish characters and a number of back story elements to the lore. The story opens with the sound of a heavy object being swung and making contact with a softer object. The cry of the higurashi (cicada) is the only other sound to be heard. The text that scrolls past speaks of someone feeling betrayed and love lost. The story then gives us a look at Keiichi’s life and the rather ideal time he spends with his friends one June in 1983. The story turns however when a prefectural policeman shows up and gets Keiichi wondering why he hasn’t heard some of the stories of what goes on surrounding Watanagashi and the mysterious deaths and disappearances linked to it. Suddenly Keiichi will find his friends acting odd and that the further he digs into events the more danger he may be placing himself in.
Watanagash introduces us to the group as they compete in one of their club activities in a toy store that is owned by one of Mion’s relatives. Mion excuses herself to go do some work and a short time Keiichi runs into a girl who looks exactly like Mion but declares she is actually be Shion-twin sister to Mion. Keiichi assumes that Mion is trying to hide behind a fake persona due to her wearing a rather revealing outfit and acting differently from Mion’s usual antics. When Shion appears she teaches Keiichi a lesson about Hinamizawa and its residents and how strongly they stick together. But will Keiichi find that that resolute bond is part of the village’s history or that it actually is part of a deeper secret at whose heart lays the Sonozaki clan and their place in the village? With Watanagashi approaching Keiichi makes a fateful decision in regard to a forbidden area in Hinamizawa and his curiosity that may place those he holds dear in the gravest of danger. If a simple act of kindness can change the world, what will be the consequences if that act fails to happen?
Tatarigoroshi opens with a murder that places someone who should not be in Hinamizawa back into the village. The effect this change will have on Keiichi due to the new nature of his almost brotherly feelings to Satoko and the conflict this will place on him and his friends is enormous. With Satoko in peril will Keiichi connect with her brother who vanished a year before or will the night of Watanagashi bring a new form of terror previously unseen to this mysterious village?
The final chapter Himatsubushi brings a new twist to the stories as the reader is introduced to Mamoru Akasaka as a new protagonist and a new scenario is opened up-that of the mysterious time of the dam protest 5 years prior to the events of the previous stories. As Akasaka is a Tokyo police investigator sent to Hinamizawa to discover if a crime in Tokyo is connected with the dam protest he will discover just how deep the tendrils in the village run and will face challenges to his life and danger to his family. He will also meet an unusual girl who wins his heart but also has the ability to scare him to death with her predictions. This young girl’s name is Rika Furude and her knowledge of the future seems supernatural.
A special unlockable section that appears after each chapter is called “All Star Cast Review” where the main characters show up and discuss the just completed chapter as if they are actors and go over events and give their own hypothesis as to what is going on and who maybe behind it. It is a cute little tongue in cheek way for the creators to have some fun with the characters they created and adds a tone of levity to stories that can use them.
Higurashi When They Cry is described as a sound novel more than a visual novel since there is no path divergence and the reader follows the story in only a semi-active role. This really doesn’t hurt this series as even in a less than active role the reader is presented with some mysteries that they are then invited to try to figure out themselves from the clues in the story and also from “tips” provided during chapter breaks. In that respect Higurashi When They Cry is like a horror-mystery novel where sound is used to deepen moments and even the simple character designs can be used to help lure the reader into a false sense of security to help deepen the impact when the story takes its twists. The idea of three separate stories using the same characters really pays off as a familiarity with the characters forms allowing for more connection with them but also more room to be shocked when someone acts in a totally unexpected manner.
There was also a touch of controversy to this release as a few parts found in the Japanese version have been removed- a mini game, some background music, a music room and staff room extra as the independent nature of the game allowed the creators to use some material or refer to things that are under copyright and that Manga Gamer was unable to acquire and that needed to be removed in order for this release to be made possible. Having not played the version that had these parts the effect isn’t really noticeable and it doesn’t detract from the final product for those who don’t know what was removed.
Higurashi When They Cry is a fantastic example of what artwork and sound-even if more adequate than really special-can do to add to an intriguing concept. That the art and sound actually start to blend and increase the overall product is a testament to the factors that went into creating this game and the how the pieces are combined to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. While it suffers a little from the translation issues Higurashi When They Cry is an incredible example of what masterful storytelling and interesting characters can become when assembled ingeniously and can overcome some of the individual weakness certain elements bring to the table. Highly Recommended.
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