Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 1 – Onikakushi Review

2015-08-18_00016Higurashi: When They Cry is a series of visual novels originally released at Comiket in 2002, and since then have received fourteen Sound Novels, a 38 volume manga series, a total of fifty anime episodes and OVAs, 21 light novels, two live action films, and more.  Following a particularly poor translation of the eight main titles of this series, MangaGamer decided that while they are porting over quality visual novels and eroge, they could tackle this beast with their workforce.  Oh, but they could not secure the assets from the recently released PS3 version for this PC release.  But, somebody made a mod so you may install the backgrounds, sprites, and Japanese voiceover in order to help enhance the experience.  You can find out how to install the mod in the Steam Community Guides for this title.

Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 1 – Onikakushi Review
Platform: PC
Developer: 07th Expansion
Publisher: MangaGamer

Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 1 – Onikakushi centers around Keiichi, a recent transfer student to the quaint little rural village of Hinamizawa, and ends up uncovering a series of mysteries surrounding his new home.  Things naturally escalade from the opening scene of dismemberment into a paranoid escape and later then into a conclusion that resolves very little, and only helps to raise more questions and basically ask if the player would like to continue on this journey of mystery, murder, mental trauma, miscellaneous horror, and dumb anime-style shenanigans, because contrast is the key to impact.  2015-08-15_00022

As such, things do begin innocently after the cold open, engrossing the player into the Hinamizawa and getting to know both Keiichi and his friends Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika.  As they go about their carefree early summer days playing games and pulling pranks with one another, due to A, boredom, and B, the fact that school is ultimately a joke at Hinamizawa.  It’s actually pretty engaging as even the most basic and common sorts of games like tag and Old Maid are treated like the most dramatic even in their lives, where victory is the only goal.  Plus, the writing regularly made me laugh, when it was really all an attempt at establishing a tone the title could then twist come a little before the halfway point.  Keiichi learns the truth of the town’s past, and a string of murders over the past few years, and a wave of paranoia consumes him with distrust, conspiracies, ghosts, and violence all acting as common themes for what is ultimately a ten hour prologue…  The title is literally referred to, in game, as a prologue to the series.2015-08-18_00026

Okay, so for me to agree to go along for this ride, surely there must be something appealing about Higurashi?  Well, yes.  First off the writing, pacing, and story structure are all quality.  The characters, while a bit tropey from what is shown, do have personalities that I enjoyed uncovering, and what you ultimately learn about all of them, mostly Rena and Mion, makes them all the more intriguing.  Plus there is enough ambiguity in how the story is told for the player to be constantly wondering where exactly the story is heading, and how exactly things will turn out.  It may be a tad generic at places with its most base premise of a creepy rural town with weird customs that lead to murder and horror especially, but the bulk of the game is distinct and interesting enough to warrant a look.2015-08-05_00007

Although, the fact I called Higurashi a game there may rub some people the wrong way.  As I said in the introduction, Higurashi is a series of sound novels, which are visual novels by people who cannot draw that focus less on the visual aspects in favor of an audio and text based experience.  However, this title is also a kinetic novel, meaning a visual novel without any real player input aside from hitting the button for the next line of dialog, much like Planetarian, which I reviewed back in 2014.  While you could debate about whether or not it fits into one’s definition as a game, or just an audio and visual based computer novel, Higurashi is sold as a video game, and I am calling it as such.  2015-08-08_00026

Whatever medium it’s developers would like to classify this title as, it does not change the fact that I found a few things to be very miss about the world that has been built by, from what I could gather, two people.  Keiichi supposedly moved to Hinamizawa less than a month prior to the events of the game, which is a minor details in the end, but it makes the whole betrayal theme the title has going for it come across as a bit disingenuous, as there is no reason why it could not have been, say, three months, or about any period of time under a year.  The school system of Hinamizawa involves taking thirty kids of all ages and placing them in a single classroom together, with one teacher.  The justification for this is how an old school building broke down years ago, and they now need to stay in the nature center, but this all ends up striking me more as a justification for lolis than anything else, when I know there are better ways that insertion could be handled.  Hinamizawa in general strikes me as a location the writers wanted the player to feel comfortable with, but throughout my time with the first chapter of this series, I felt my connection was loose at best, and it would be worse if not for the proper backdrops not included with the official release.2015-08-05_00009

On that note, I hate going out and saying that somebody is a flat out bad artist, but the original sprites in Higurashi are embarrassing things that somehow managed to be overlooked by its earlier fans.  The proportions are wrong, hands look terrible, and even the coloring looks inapproriate with its very bright palette for the characters.  They also never looked quite right when placed in front of a blurred photo backdrop, and it makes sense why the developer chose to place the text over these sprites.  The updated ones, the ones included in the official release, are done by a company by the name of Alchemist, and I really do not care much for the sprites either, as they contrast the personality placed in the original sprites by looking a bit manufactured, even if I prefer the characters’ designs over those in the modded version with PS3 sprites.  Or in less confusing terms, there’s something for everybody, and no art style is wholly bad, as I could see people defending the original sprites for very valid reasons.2015-08-17_00019

Although, the idea of defending the lack of voicework present in the official release does strike me as less fitting, as these are voice actors who have repreised these characters for years, and do a good job at bringing them to life in this title that prioritizes sound over visuals.  It adds another layer to the atmosphere created by the soundtrack or lack thereof depending on the scene, which in itself is a quality set of songs, but they are ultimately not very lengthy tracks that have a tendency to both repeat themselves and appear in the same type of scenes very regularly, which could potentially make them become more than a little annoying.  I mean, I’m pretty sure there’s one track in this game that is just five notes long.2015-08-20_00005

But if I may consolidate all of that information into a far more punctual summary of my thoughts.  Higurashi is a very appealing and interesting visual novel about paranoia, betrayal, mystery, and death, which I would easily recommend.  There is very much a reason why this game garnered such a dedicated and large following, and its mix of shenanigans and easily digestible horror make it something that I am patiently awaiting to see more of.  Whether or not I’ll regret this decision come… 2020 at this rate, I can not say from this initial outing, but Onikakushi has left me optimistic.2015-08-21_00038

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