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This is not a review. It is my initial thoughts on the very beginning of a game/sound novel, as I go through it. Higurashi, in the version I’m playing/reading, on Steam, is not yet complete, and I’ve never experienced the original sound novel before. Furthermore, do to time constraints, I have not finished the first chapter, but I think I got far enough in to understand the core of the game, and wanted to get something up before being away over the weekend. With that…

Higurashi When They Cry is a sound novel (similar to visual novel but with an emphasis on audio direction; not an audiobook) written by Ryukishi07, and developed by 07th Expansion. It tells the stories of Hinamizawa village, a place whose history intertwines demons and humans. In recent years, every summer around the, time of the Cotton Drifting festival, people die. Is it Oyashiro-sama’s curse, or something else?

For more information on the game, Higurashi in general, or sound novels, check the Googles. Here, I’m not going to cover the story or characters, I’m just going to look at how it plays out as a sound novel. I talk enough about the little details of Higurashi stories other places. With that, today on The Anime Harvest, Higurashi When They Cry – Chapter 1: Onikakushi.

While I may not be especially cynical, or British, we’re still going to start with the configuration options. They’re actually pretty extensive for a VN. Things like “text box transparency” and “Auto hide user interface” are included, but the resolution options are still limited. On the highest option short of fullscreen, I still find it awkwardly small. I feel like this should be experienced larger, no distractions from the rest of the desktop. While I generally don’t like full screen, none of the other options are good enough.Config

The fact that this is a sound novel comes through immediately, as the title screen is met by the sounds of cicadas, presumably higurashi, crying, and it sets the atmosphere. As the game starts, text comes across with the sound effect of something swinging, and hitting something soft. At first this seems like just the effect used with this text, but then it starts to come out of sync; someone is hitting something, or chopping someone.

After the brief intro, the user interface comes up in the bottom right corner. Aside from the basics (save, load, menu, and skip options), it includes a log which has about two scenes worth of the most recent text. This could be useful for making notes to figure out the mystery, but it doesn’t have any way to bookmark certain parts, and it doesn’t have a large enough backlog.

At this same time, the second audio loop, after the cicadas, comes on, and it’s surprisingly short. Too short; about ten seconds. The inner-monologue of text is talking about someone apologising repeatedly, and I wish I understood Japanese well enough to tell if that is in the background noise here, because that would actually justify it. The incessant loop would feel more like a person repeating, “I’m sorry” over and over, which I think is what it’s going for. But to my English ear, it doesn’t work.

As we go on, the short audio loops continue. The worst part about them is that they fade in and out before looping, rather than just looping slightly over each other for continuous sound. It makes the short loops so much more obvious then they need to be. Thankfully, a couple screens later, it does start doing this, and it sounds much better. Again, I will partially defend the short loops while they were there and symbolic of looping nature of the story.

As the first bit of music, and the soundtrack isn’t half bad, kicks in, we get into the story proper. Immediately one benefit of the sound novel that the anime and manga didn’t have becomes apparent. We are very privy to Keichi’s thoughts, and with that we learn more about his mother and father in a couple lines than I’ve gathered from the both the anime and manga. It is pretty exposition heavy, and more tell than show, but that’s a VN for you.

Finally, we meet our first instance of character interaction, and suddenly it becomes clear, this doesn’t use the standard VN text system. Until now, everything has just be text on screen, with everything slightly darkened, the same way other visual novels (eg, Katawa Shoujo) do monologues. But now ever Rena’s dialogue is the same way; there are no text boxes. To get rid of the darkened background, just turn “text box transparency” in the option all the way to the left. This still means that the text goes over actual characters’ faces.Text placement

Another thing about the text and character images, anytime a character’s expression changes, all on-screen text disappears for a second. It’s a small thing, but another reason I’d prefer the text be relegated into standard boxes.

As for the art, it’s pretty good. At least, the updated art, and I applaud Kurosaki, the artist, for them. Mion’s bust has never looked so good XD

The game also has the original sprits for purists, through the difference between them is pretty dramatic.

Higurashi steam updated art

Updated

Higurashi steam

Original

Well, that’s all I have for tonight. I hope to finish the VN while away over the weekend, and if there’s anything worth adding, I’ll leave some update notes at the end of this article. Until then,

Don’t Lose Your Way.

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