What They Say:
Welcome to the world of “Umineko When They Cry” (When Seagulls Cry)
Welcome to the Rokkenjima of October 4, 1986.
You have been given a chance to catch a glimpse of the family conference held annually by the Ushiromiya family. The remaining life in the old family head who has built up a vast fortune is very slim. To his children, the greatest point of contention at this family conference is the distribution of his inheritance. Everyone desires all that money, no one relents, and no one believes. Who will gain the old head’s vast inheritance? Where is the 10 tons of gold that the old head is said to have hidden? Can the unnerving riddle of the epitaph which is said to point to the location of that gold be solved? In the midst of this, a suspicious letter is sent from one claiming to be a witch. The presence of a 19th person on this island, which should only have 18, begins to hang in the air. Brutal murders repeat, and unsolvable riddles are left at the scene. How many will die? How many will live? Or will everyone die? Is the culprit one of the 18, or not? Is the culprit a “human”, or a “witch”? Please, enjoy this isolated island, western mansion, mystery-suspense gadget of the good old days to the fullest.
First and foremost, Umineko: When They Cry boasts a well-rounded soundtrack. Most background music is standard fare for a visual novel, ranging from cutesy melodies to eery, unsettling noises. There aren’t a lot of standouts, but a few really shine, including its theme song. Blending together eery Latin opera with heartfelt, emotional Victorian-esque lyrics creates a very unique and Halloweenish vibe. In fact, it’d be accurate to say that Umineko is the perfect Halloween visual novel alongside its sister series, Higurashi. Unfortunately, Umineko is missing something that is a key component, and that is voiceover. There are currently no voices for any of the cast whatsoever, even including the original Japanese dub. Be it due to licensing, scheduling, or whatever it may be, it is a disappointing drawback for the game.
Thankfully, MangaGamer chose to use the updated character sprites for the entire cast. This means none of the strangely chubby cheeks, instead having an art style more akin to the anime adaptation. This update did not carry over to the rest of the graphics, unfortunately. Backgrounds and settings all seem to be exactly the same as the original Japanese version. The menus are outdated, with saving and loading both hidden underneath a few other layers of menus. Perhaps saddest of all, the game isn’t presented in full HD with no option to change the resolution in the menus at this time.
Content: (warning as some parts of this section may contain light spoilers)
Looking past the audiovisual drawbacks, there are still a lot of reasons for visual novel fans to enjoy Umineko. Set in a European-style mansion on a remote island, Umineko is essentially a survival mystery game. Don’t worry, I will definitely not spoil anything, but needless to say, Umineko is possibly the most thought-provoking and puzzling (in a good way) visual novel I’ve ever played. The game constantly challenges your thinking process, as you try to figure out if magic and witches could really be killing people or if it’s simply a human threat. Battler, the protagonist, is a perfect fit as he is doing the same as the player. His intelligence and unmatched perseverance make him a person you can root for to solve these murders and bring about some justice.
The rest of the cast is just as unique as Battler. From the future psycho-in-training Maria to the smart but surprisingly emotionally-driven George, Battler and his three cousins create a strong core cast. Outside of them, most of the parents and servants on the island fail to make as big as a splash as them, with the exception of a few parents whose personalities will truly get under your skin. The actual story itself plays out like a chess game, with each individual murder case being just a few turns in the overarching plot. Unfortunately, this is only chapters 1-4, also known as the Question Arc, saving the other 50% of the story for the next game. That said, it doesn’t feel as if you are robbed of your money or time, as the game still has a substantial amount of game time and it does end well, perfectly establishing all of the mysteries and questions that will be presumably answered in the sequel. The story does take a while to get going, building up the characters and scenario that they are in, but once it gets going, it doesn’t stop until the end credits. There are constantly twists and turns that will make you begin to question even your own sanity.
Umineko: When They Cry has already been released in the West in manga and anime adaptations, but this is the first time that it has been released in its original format in English. While the manga and anime streamline and shorten the experience, this visual novel is mystery at its finest. A strong cast and fascinating story will keep you guessing and wanting more until MangaGamer finally releases the Answer Arc.
This review was done with a review code of the game provided by MangaGamer. We are grateful for their support.