Sometimes to solve a mystery one needs a change of perspective.
What They Say
It doesn’t contain the first four chapters of “Higurashi When They Cry”.
The chapters featured in this bundle are Chapter 5 “Meakashi”, Chapter 6 “Tsumihoroboshi”, Chapter 7 “Minagoroshi”, and Chapter 8 “Matsuribayashi”.
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 Kai 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 for this second set of arcs is much improved over the original set though now on occasion a word will be absent here or there. It doesn’t happen at the most critical points but it does cause a few issues during play. The text reads fairly well for the most part and has a rather natural flow to it.
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 second set of arcs adds a few background tracks so it doesn’t feel like the series isn’t evolving over the span of the games.
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 Staff Room 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)
The history of Hinamizawa is one that is rarely talked about or even known to the majority of the villagers but is deep in the flow of blood. The local deity Oyashiro is believed to have set rules far in their past regarding the mix of humans and demons and that his will still holds sway. While some of the implements of history have fallen into disrepair other parts of it are alive and well as someone or something seems intent on keeping the old legends alive. Now all of Hinamizawa’s secret will be laid bare-both those that people believe to be true and those so horrible no one would ever guess at them in anything other than their most paranoid or delusion moments.
In ancient Greek mythology the fates are three personifications of destiny whose decisions even the gods were subject to but in Higurashi Kai the questions will be asked “What is fate?” and is it possible that given a vast number of chances for something impossible to happen and can people band together and with all their will force a miracle that can in fact shatter fate. New situations will be discovered; the backgrounds of characters the player thought they knew will be challenged and perhaps even the presence of a god will finally explain the endless, repetitive months that players came to experience in Higurashi. There will be more pain and despair but there will also be a chance for the circle to be shattered. But a chance does not mean that it will be easy-maybe not even that it will be possible-to do what even the gods of old were incapable of seizing with all their legendary might.
The first chapter in this set is Meakashi. This chapter will give depth and provide explanation to the Watanagash chapter in the first Higurashi collection. This is the first regular setting of stories where Keiichi will be a player in the story but the narrator will change for at least a portion of the proceedings to grant new light to events. The story will show the trials that Shion Sonozaki will go through after she has been pushed out of the Sonozaki family and hidden away in a Catholic girl’s school for a year. The chapter begins with Shion escaping from the school she has come to think of as a prison and coming to live in the nearby town of Okinomiya with Kasai- a high ranking Yakuza member who is an old friend with Shion’s mother and trusted like a member of the family. Shion will need both Kasai’s help as well as her sister Mion in order to try to hide right under the nose of the head of the Sonozaki family.
Unlike previous stories this one begins before the fourth year Watanagashi Festival events and allows Satoshi Houjou to finally be introduced as a character rather than just being talked about in the past tense. He appears to try to save Shion (who he mistakes as Mion) but despite his failed efforts she grows attached to him. She starts to try to meet him as often as possible though she can’t enter Hinamizawa because of her status in the family though she does see him when he joins the baseball team as it practices in Okinomiya. From a distance she watches as the strain of dealing with his aunt and uncle and their bullying, trying to protect Satoko while also dealing with the strains of the village ostracization wear on him. She watches as his mental state deteriorates though he shares that he has the goal of buying a large bear for his sister for her birthday with her. Shion is at a loss when he vanishes after his aunt is killed and it is blamed on the curse of Oyashiro after he has had her promise to take care of Satoko if something happened to him. Shion does her best for almost a year to cope with the devastation in her life but when a small act of kindness doesn’t happen to Mion all bets are off. Now Shion will move in her attempts to find out what happened to Satoshi-and to meet out vengeance on those she believes took him from her. But is this really what Satoshi would have wanted? And what is the weight of a broken promise on a soul?
The second chapter is Tsumihoroboshi-hen which will give greater insight into the character of Rena Ryugu and her motivations and fears as the tragedies of Hinamizawa will place her on the center stage. This story starts by showing Reina in her life after her family left Hinamizawa and the events that lead to her parent’s divorce and her abandoning the “I” in her name for a fresh start. When her father-daughter relationship is challenged Rena will act out of a perhaps misguided sense of not wanting to lose her place but when a dark motivation for the new person who is coming into the space of the Ryuga’s current relationship comes to light what lengths will Rena go to protect her family this time? And when her friends discover those lengths will the bonds between them grow or will they slowly fray and break? With this new scenario insight will be provided into the Onikakushi-hen chapter and the small events that highlight doubts between friends and the terrible burden loneliness can create will take center stage. But perhaps a glimmer of hope will arrive as well-just because one person no longer trusts others does not mean others have to reciprocate that doubt.
The third story, Minagoroshi-hen, will be told in part with narrative from Rika Furude who is the youngest surviving member of one of the three main families. Throughout the series she has appeared as a mysterious girl who knows things she shouldn’t and acts older than her age. Some villagers believe she is the reincarnation of Oyashiro, though if that is true who is the odd girl Hanyū that only Rika can see but from time to time others can sense? The path Rika has been taking becomes clearer here as does the repetition of the summer of June 1983. Just when Rika is losing heart at the progression of certain events she discovers a miracle as Keiichi challenges everything she has come to believe in her continual summer. Even the appearance of the man whose appearance destroys every scenario he enters will not cause Keiichi and her friends to back down. Through his force of will Keiichi may change the village and possibly even fate itself. Though it may not be enough as the true architect of the June 1983 tragedies will be revealed and that person’s will may turn out to be stronger than the combined ability of Rika’s friends.
The final story in this set is Matsuribayashi-hen and it will be the last chance for a happy ending. The mastermind’s past of pain and their dream will be laid out to show where their force of will emanates from. The player will be given a chance to see things from a completely new perspective when presented with a linear puzzle where they have to place the pieces of events in the correct order to have all the events from before the dam fight to the present laid out. There will be no turning away as all the stories and tips gained will be shown and the player’s deductive reasoning will come to grips with the reality of the stories. Now that every piece of the past is in place and the last time for June 1983 will come around how events will end is in the hands of each of the characters that the story has focused on so far. Will all the actors in the story realize their roles and try hard enough to create a miracle and break the pattern or will fate be inescapable and prove indestructible in the end?
The completion of each chapter unlocks a staff room discussion where Ryukishi07 talks about various things from the chapter and does a bit of self examination on his story as well. It is fairly enjoyable as he gives some insights as to his thinking during the process but I missed the All Star Cast Review from the first set as I’d have loved to see how the characters reacted to certain events in the chapters.
Higurashi When They Cry Kai is a like a continuation of a mystery novel as each chapter presents more evidence as to the true nature of the events in Hinamizawa reveled like a magician showing how he does his tricks. Much like the magician though knowing how the trick was done can either leave one with an appreciation for the depth of the intricacies involved or feeling like some of the magic has now faded. In some ways it does reinforce that nothing is absolute if enough people are willing to work together to push back the dark . It is possible that not all of the revelations as to causes are to the players liking or fit the theory that has been built over the chapters but the parts all fit together fairly seamlessly in the end. Even if the final destination isn’t what you may have expected or wanted the journey is still one worth taking with some memorable characters and wonderful as well as frightening events to be found.
Higurashi when They Cry Kai is answer to every major question that the series posed. Like a brilliant detective story different clues of evidence have been strung through the stories and now this series of arcs will carefully reveal which were real and which were red herrings. While not every answer will necessarily be to the player’s satisfaction they are woven together in a fantastic way that highlights the strengths of the characters but also delivers a powerful message that while an individual may founder a strong group of motivated individuals can even challenge fate. Highly Recommended.