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MangaGamer just sent out an email that says Higurashi Chapter 2: Watanagashi will be available for preorder “this” month. Since there are only 8 days left in this month, it must be sometime soon. With this exciting news, I thought I should review the first chapter of Higurashi for those who have not played it yet.
Gameplay: 1/10: Higurashi is a kinetic novel. This means that unlike other types of visual novels, there are absolutely no choices which you, the player, makes through the game. Click and read, Click and read, Click and read… One story, one end, one “path” — That’s it. It’s little more, than a story with some pictures and a soundtrack.
Does that mean it’s bad? Not necessarily. People like to read. What people don’t like, is when they buy a GAME and discover only later that it has no “Gameplay”. So I want to preface my review by making it clear what it is, and what it is not. If you’re still cool with a game in which you absolutely, do not, interact, at all, ever, then read on to learn what Higurashi has to offer.
Concept: 10/10 Higurashi is a murder mystery. It spans multiple “episodes” (14 of them to be exact). I’ve read that each episode is about 10 hours long; but I must read slow because I think it took me about 23 hours to complete the first “chapter”. Your mileage may vary. Even with a conservative estimate of 10 hours, to read the entire thing, all 14 chapters, it’d take a minimum of 140 hours. That’s a LOT of bang for your buck.
Unlike most games in this genre – there is no “season pass” – so there’s no good way to save money if you’re wanting all 14 episodes (although I did pick up Chapter 1 in an awesome bundle from indiegala – I’m hooked now though and will not be waiting for a discount or bundle before ordering Chapter 2. I have GOT to see how it all ends – I refuse to watch the anime until I’ve completed all 14 chapters of the game to avoid any spoilers.) Also, Manga Gamer, being a very small company, is doing it’s best to translate the games as quickly as possible, and are releasing them one by one upon completion. Chapter 1 was released in May of this year…. I hope they are able to release chapters more quickly than this… It’s been almost 6 months now since Chapter 1’s release. And Chapter 2 STILL doesn’t have a definite release date, just that they are taking “preorders”. If they continue with 2 chapter releases per year, it will take 7 years to get all of them released. Perhaps this project was too large for Manga Gamer, or perhaps they should have just purchased the translation rights from one of the many fan translations that were already done for this game.
Graphics: 8/10 However, Manga Gamer is also doing a lot of good with this game. It’s one of the first times I’ve ever seen an English release get HUGE improvements and upgrades over the Japanese version!!! We can make Japanese non-english speaking gamers totally jealous with our beautiful new sprites. When I first saw this feature, I had assumed that Manga Gamer was giving us the option of using the original (horrible) sprites from the PC Japanese version (which they are keeping as an option in Manga Gamer’s release too) OR I THOUGHT that they were giving us the option to select the much improved Playstation sprites from the Japanese version — BUT that is NOT the case!! Manga Gamer Went ALL OUT and developed BRAND NEW artwork for the English release. Sadly, they left the original Japanese PC version background art… The playstation Japanese version has REALLY nice background art — BUT their character sprites are no where near as nice as the ones Manga Gamer contracted for this release. Having these HIGHLY improved sprites makes me feel really special. For ONCE we get something in a port that is a HUGE big deal, and huge upgrade over what Japan has. That makes me feel like Manga Gamer really appreciates their customers and wants to do their best with this project.
See the sprites here below. Look at the level of detail in shading and better proportions. This makes the sprites much cuter than either of the Japanese versions. P.S. Click To Enlarge :).
Translation Quality: 10/10 In fact, also from a writing standpoint, the translation was very good. I can’t recall really almost ANY typos (though I’m sure there must have been a few) Compared to my most recently completed play through a similar style game (Amnesia Memories which is FULL of typos and inconsistencies) the translation of Manga Gamer’s version of Higurashi is REALLY high — I appreciate that, because it helps to immerse in the story
Music: 10/10 Sound wise, the music and especially the sound effects and atmospheric sounds REALLY stand out and add to the mystery and horror aspects of this game. Actually, I read before that Higurashi is what they call a Sound Novel instead of a Visual Novel, Higurashi relies on the soundtrack more than its artwork (especially when you look at the really amateur artwork from the original PC version).However, both the original PC version and the Manga Gamer release do not have any voice acting at all. The Playstation version had full voice acting and if you’re feeling brave, there are tutorials online to patch your game to have voice acting – Would have been nice if Manga Gamer either could have bought the rights to that version’s soundtrack and incorporated it, or cast an English dub cast for the game — I don’t particularly like English dubs, but It would have been another concession on Manga Gamer’s part towards pleasing their fans.
Story: 8/10 I don’t want to ruin anything for people who have not yet played Chapter One Onikakushi – but this game is very very very slowwww starting out — BUT… it rewards you if you put up with all of that by starting to REALLY pick up more horror/suspense/mystery themes towards the last 4-5 hours of the game. PRIOR to that, it’s very very light-hearted, slice of life, fluffy, happy…. When shit starts to go down though, that dark contrast against the MAJORITY of the first chapter being so innocent and pure, really stands out, and it is that contrast that becomes the real “heart and soul” of the first chapter.
Higurashi also leaves you to draw your own conclusions about wtf is going on – and I don’t know if it ever really explains things fully or if it leaves it up to you a la similar murder mysteries such as gone girl which end with an open ending. Since I’ve only played the first chapter I can’t be sure. Is it the occult? Is the town cursed? Do they hate outsiders? Is it all a coincidence? Is everyone just crazy? lol.
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Characters: 8/10 The characters are all highly likeable which makes it even more alarming that one (or more) of them could be capable of murder – especially on such a high brutality scale, in such a way, that they enjoy murder, enjoy watching their victims suffer – pretty creepy when these are just CHILDREN. But well, creepy children are a staple of horror films too; such as exorcist, ringu, grudge, children of the corn, etc. Children are kinda creepy with their small frame and large eyes and sometimes strange movements or gestures etc which I guess is why there are so many horror movies and books which focus on the whole creepy kid thing. But children are also pure, innocent, adorable, etc. And Higurashi does a perfect job of showing that, despite being murderers, the children are otherwise, perfectly normal little kids, who like to play tag, hide and seek, and go to school.
For awhile, it looks like there will be some romance options (well not that you the player have any choice anyways), but then the game decides to take a VERY different approach. If you don’t dig visual novels because they’re all sappy happy slice of life romance anime etc — Well you might just like Higurashi… BUT keep in mind what I said, the MAJORITY of the first chapter IS VERY MUCH like most any other novel, light, happy, innocent, slice of life, boring, slow, REAL slow in fact. — But it REALLY takes a dramatic turn that makes it unlike pretty much any other english visual novel on the market today. — And I hear the following chapters are even more bizarre and darker and that the first was merely a prologue/introduction. So fasten your seatbelts – you’re in for quite a ride.
The emotional impact of Higurashi was high, not only a sense of sadness, but perhaps more over, a feeling of isolation and desperation, a feeling of fear. It really gets creepy. It presents more questions than it solves and makes you the player think and reflect back on the story.
Overall: 55/70 79% C+ “Good Game For Girls”
Note: if you don’t count the lack of gameplay against the game, it then becomes 54/60 or a 90% 🙂 So if you don’t mind the Kinetic Novel genre, this is probably one of the best, if not the, best, kinetic novels to play. – I personally don’t like Kinetic Novels, but I am hooked on Higurashi!