Seeing as how I reviewed chapter 3 of Higurashi a mere 2 weeks ago, I don’t really have much of an introduction for this review. I said a large number of great things about it, and was excited to see how the fourth chapter in this series played out. So I’m going to cut all pretenses and jump right in.
Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 4 – Himatsubushi Review
Developer: 07th Expansion
Before beginning this review, I should address something. In my prior reviews of the Higurashi titles, I have stated that they follow the same basic format. As I have learned by playing through the fourth installment, and by looking over the premises to later chapters, that is not necessarily the case. It would be more accurate to say that Higurashi is the story of Hinamizawa, a mysterious remote Japanese village with dark origins that also serves as a den for supernatural and suspicious activity that is gradually revealed throughout the games, which all begin with a far more innocent and fun vibe than the dark and more dismal tone they can adopt near the end.
Himatsubushi functions as a prequel to the entire series, set during the Hinamizawa dam incident mentioned in the prior games. The story itself follows a young police officer by the name of Mamoru Akasaka as he travels to Hinamizawa in order to investigate the kidnapping of a politician’s grandson. During which he naturally begins to learn more about this town before the conflict is invariably resolved, as anybody who played the first three games knows that there were no murders in Hinamizawa until a year after this game is set.
This is very much the core problem with Himatsubushi, as the player effectively knows what is going to happen with a level of certainty from the very beginning. Anybody who played through the three prior entries will be familiar with the Hinamizawa dam incident and know what ultimately happened. The characters of Mamoru and his partner, officer Ooishi are never in any danger, as the prologue explicitly mentions them surviving this incident. Because of this, the story is unable to capture many of the strengths of the prior titles, and feels underwhelming as a result.
There is little in way of paranoia or suspense to be found throughout the story, with even the usually suspense driven game featured in the story being alarmingly routine. The prevailing mysteries of the series are largely unmentioned, and little else is added to the mound that has formed over the first four games. While horror elements are borderline nonexistent in this story, with the closest thing being how Rika Furude, the residential miko, shrine maiden, and overgirl for this series, can be a little creepy when she’s not being adorable.
That being said, the story of Himatsubushi is completely functional and as well crafted as the other Higurashi titles. There are a share of memorable moments, the ending was unique, dark, and enjoyable, and the game feels like a largely different experience than anything else that came before it. The story is ultimately a nifty little divergent, and even with my expectations set high after the excellent third chapter of this series, I still had quite a fun time with it. I mean, the worst thing I could say about it is how the shifts in perspective are unnecessary, and jarring considering how the main story of past three games followed the perspective of a singular character.
Seeing as how I’m basically out of things to talk about, I may as well recycle what I said about the presentation of the last game. Using the original art assets, characters are represented using bizarre looking illustrations that capture their general design and a lot of personality in them, but their unnatural proportions and weird coloring makes them odd to look like on their own, and contrast when placed against the backgrounds, which consist entirely for blurred photos. While I can see why some people would enjoy this look, I am not one of them. Also, despite the story taking place years earlier, the game uses the same sprites for Rika and Mion. Which just makes this whole thing all the weirder. Mion’s suppose to be 12 but she still has the breasts of an adult woman. Also, a gun.
I personally don’t care for this presentation, or the updated sprites included in the MangaGamer release, and prefer to play these games using the 07th mod. It effectively turns this PC version of Higurashi into the more recent Playstation 3 release, which features a widescreen resolution, new sprites, new backgrounds, CG artwork for specific scenes, and full voice acting for every character. It’s Japanese voice over, obviously, but the actors are able to bring the characters to life with each line, and help increase the emotional energy behind dialog. The mod for Tatarigoroshi is not perfect, as there were sections of the game where the voice acting simply did not play, but I felt that it enhanced my experience, and recommend it as the best way to experience the Higurashi games.
As for the soundtrack, despite being referred to as a sound novel by the creators, the first four games in the Higurashi series use non-licensed free music tracks for its score. This is not too surprising considering how the development budget for this game was basically nothing, but the tracks included in this game possess varying levels of quality. Some are catchy and fun songs that I could endure hearing for several loops, some are nice and atmospheric, some are frankly bizarre given the setting, and some are just not very good. Though, that’s only the original release, and there’s about three other soundtracks for the first four games alone.
Due to its nature as a prequel and the lack of many of the core strengths I would attribute to the series Himatsubushi is a solid, if underwhelming little side story. Its very name is that of the time killing or time wasting arc, and in a certain respect, that’s all Himatsubushi is. A title made to satiate fans while development of Meakashi, the fifth chapter, was taking longer than initially expected. I still found the game quite enjoyable in spite of that, but it is a largely unnecessary chapter in this series, and can be overlooked as far as I am aware.