Monday, December 31, 2018

Persona 3 and Its Spin-Offs

I've been playing Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and it's been giving me thoughts about how Persona 3 fits among the rest of the Persona games and why it didn't get the same kinds of spin-offs that its successors did.

Persona 3 was the first of the modern Persona games, popularizing the high school sim/RPG hybrid model the games have been using ever since. It's also the most daring of them, as I think Atlus felt free to make it different both from its predecessors and its successors. Once they realized they were on to something, and they ended up playing things safer with later installments.

Being in the middle of the current five game series, Persona 3 has the darkness of the previous games, but laid the groundwork for the more optimistic games to follow. Though 3, 4, and 5 are often grouped together as the modern Persona games due to featuring the same game design, thematically Persona 3 doesn't fit. For one thing it had the gall to kill off its protagonist, and there is a playable pseudo-sequel called "The Answer" in Persona 3 FES that is largely about the rest of the cast coming to terms with grief over his loss. That's heavy stuff for a JRPG.

It didn't limit the death tally to the protagonist either, also killing off another party member, Shinjiro, not by any supernatural enemies, but simply other humans.

One of the taglines of the game is "Memento mori" (Remember you will die). Characters summon their personas by pointing evokers designed to look like guns at their heads and pulling the trigger. The trauma of performing the mock suicide is what makes the evoker work.

And it's not just that Persona 3 is darker than its successors. It also felt free to be strange. The modern Persona games tend to have at least one non-human party member, but Persona 3 had two, and neither of them were a sort of shadow creature. Instead we have an android designed to fight Shadows, and a dog. Not a special talking dog, but just a regular shiba inu in every way other than the fact it can summon its own persona.

Since Persona 3 was an overhaul of the series from the previous installments, it didn't have much to lose. It could afford to be edgy and weird, both in regards to what previous Persona games were like (the high school sim element proved to be a big hit) and what future games became (it retained a lot of darkness the parent Shin Megami Tensei series is known for).

But being unique also made the game unwieldy when it comes to spin-offs. It has the largest playable cast of the modern Persona games (though it's less noticeable because of Shinjiro's death two-thirds of the way through and the fact Koromaru is a dog) and because they killed the protagonist, this meant he was unable to return for spin-offs in the same way that the P4 protagonist could return again and again with the canonized name of Yu Narukami.

Persona 4 Arena was pretty neat in that it added older versions of Persona 3's Akihiko, Mitsuru, and Aigis as playable characters. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax took it a step forward and added Junpei, Yukari, and Ken to the roster, making all of the Persona 3 cast playable except for the dog, the dead people, and Fuuka (who has had a non-combat role). I remember when they did this, I wondered if someone at Atlus was kicking themselves (or someone else) for having the P3 protagonist sacrifice himself, ending his marketability. A grudge match, or even a dream match, between Persona protagonists would have been fun.

Eventually the two of them to meet through Persona Q, an Etrian Odyssey style cross-over that brought them both to a sort of pocket dimension that was not tied to a particular time and place, so we got to pull both teams from the middle of their story. It was fun and rather goofy seeing the characters interact with each other, and the game permitted the player to choose which team to play as, allowing those who wanted to play as the P3 cast to remain with them the entire way through.

And then the Persona 4 life cycle ended. Anticipation moved on to Persona 5, which had a longer development cycle than I suspect Atlus would have liked. P3 and P4 both managed to release ahead of their in-game calendars, even in the US with translation delays, but Persona 5 came out in 2017 in Japan and 2018 in the US. From the in-game calendar and references to the P4 cast, P5 clearly takes place in 2016. If Atlus had kept to the ahead-of-the-game-calendar release they were probably originally shooting for a 2015 release.

After Persona 5's release, people suspected the spin-offs would continue as a way to fill the void between new Persona games, and they did, starting with a dancing game to follow up after Persona 4: Dancing All Night. But what I didn't expect, was that it would be partnered with a new Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight.

I'm pretty sure Persona 3 would not be getting a spin-off title now if not for Persona 5, but I'll take it. I suspect since Atlus was already working on Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, most of the groundwork needed for Dancing in Moonlight was already done. They would still need to change the music tracks, create the character models, and write/record a new script, but the game engine was already there and it probably wasn't terribly difficult to retain the key staff for both games.

The result is beautiful.

We've never had high res models of the Persona 3 cast and they're fantastically realized. Most of the US voice cast returns (Fuuka and Ken use their Persona 4 Arena VAs rather than the original cast).

The story, such as there is, is pure fluff. Everyone is in a dream state pulled from some point in time prior to the final battle, except for Elizabeth, who is clearly existing in a future after Persona 5 since she is aware of both the P3 protagonist's fate and that her younger sister has a guest of her own.

This adds an element of tragedy to an otherwise happy game about cutting loose in a dream to relieve stress (and if you remember the later parts of Persona 3 it gets really dismal for everyone). The characters frequently talk about what they're going to do in better times, once it's all over, including how they want the protagonist to continue to be involved in their lives, which we know isn't going to happen.

Everyone feels uncharacteristically crazy about dancing, but aside from that, they're much the old friends I first met years ago. The lyrics to the opening song (which appear to be written by an American employee at Atlus, since her name appears elsewhere in the credits in another position) bank heavily on the nostalgia and what it was like for the P3 protagonist and the player to leave their friends behind and then join them again for a night of dancing.

There's still Persona Q2 on the horizon for cross-over material, and realistically that's probably all we're going to get of the P3 cast unless there is a P5 fighting game that's willing to age them even further. (I'm a little doubtful about that, but would still be okay with it.)

But I suspect that will be it for Persona 3 spin-off material, which is too bad. It paved the way forward, but for whatever reason it didn't catch on quite as much as its successors.

Monday, December 17, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 8: Hanate Yatsukami

This is my final installment in my plot discussion of 7'scarlet (and full of spoilers, if you haven't guessed!). If you missed the previous entries, you can catch up on the previous routes with this tag here. They'll also be listed on my RPG/VN Talk tab along with all the other games I've covered some time after today.

Like Yuzuki's route, Hanate's is selected immediately after starting a new game. Unlike Yuzuki's, Hanate's route isn't a full-fledged route. Yuzuki's might come off a little short because he has no common route, but Hanate's features minimal choices and is almost half flashback, serving primarily to answer the story's lingering questions. While the rest of the game does a fine job building out the cast and giving Ichiko a bit of romance to go with her quest, ultimately she came to Okunezato to look for her brother and this is the only route in which she finds him.

As with Yuzuki's route, Hanate's begins with a prologue. This makes it clear that he's been held captive by the Murakumo family for the past year (and obviously Yuzuki was never informed) and during that time he hasn't told them anything about who he is or how he knew about the valley with the Violacias. However, he reacts for the first time when the Ensepulchers watching him go over the latest list of hotel guests (no doubt provided by Yuzuki so his family can look for potential revenants among them). One of the Ensepulchers calls out Ichiko's name to her companion and lets him know it's the same name as a girl who went missing twelve years ago and was never found. And Hanate freaks out about the fact that Ichiko is coming here.

Ichiko's POV starts on the third day just before the festival when she typically goes out with one of the guys. But this time instead of meeting one of them or being asked to look after a bedridden Yuzuki, she decides she'll just stay in. She remembers seeing someone in the lobby that morning (on the common route) who was reading a newspaper, and the man didn't appear to be a hotel guest. Yuki then gives her an unsigned letter in her brother's handwriting that was found after the man left. It asks her to come alone to the shrine on the other side of the mountain tunnel and not to trust anyone.

Much like on Hino's route, she goes out with him to the tunnel on the fourth day, the two of them see that it's dark, and Hino suggests they come back later with a flashlight. But this time she tells Hino to go on ahead and lies, saying that she's going to do some shopping before returning to the hotel.

Being that Tsukuyomi is after her (as he's been on all routes), he attacks her when she goes by herself up the tunnel, but in short order she's rescued by none other but her long missing brother! Which is really odd. He shows up so easily after having been missing all this time that it doesn't feel right.

After taking her to the old shrine featured in the climax of Hino's route, we sit down with Hanate for an extremely long info dump. It's seriously long; maybe 40-50% of the text in his route and only occasionally broken up by more detailed flashbacks. This is why I would have gladly sacrificed Toa's true route if it meant turning Hanate's route into a real story. There's only so much grayscale monologuing a person can take before a person feels like fast forwarding and it doesn't matter if every line is being voiced by veteran voice actor Hikaru Midorikawa given how intentionally deadpan his narration is.

In a nutshell, Hanate is the first revenant to ever have woken in the valley of Violacias and he's a bit different from the others. He's effectively immortal. So long as the flowers exist so will he, but if they suffer, so will he. But being immortal has been a drag, and he's rather angry about it. (It's implied he's Ninigi from the legend of Iwanagahime and was cursed for spurning her).

Over the centuries he's been watching revenants rise up and for entertainment he would follow them into town and watch the cat and mouse game between them and the Enselpulchers. Because of the circumstances of his curse, Hanate's presence is accepted by the town and he's able to manipulate their memories by his ongoing proximity to them. He's been a samurai, a farmer, and in the most relevant flashback, a delivery man. Thus no one ever questions why he never ages or how he belongs, though he is still wary of drawing the attention of the Ensepulchers. His memory manipulation is clearly not instant, and he doesn't have special combat abilities just because he's a revenant (as shown by the fact he still got caught before the prologue).

While trailing one particular revenant, Hanate discovered her preparing to attack a little girl (Ichiko, during her previous visit to Okunezato). Revenants are able to instantly recognize certain people as "ambrosia," those possessing such pure souls that if the revenant eats them they will never hunger again and become immortal like Hanate. Hanate wasn't sure why, but he decided he needed to protect this one particular girl and intervened.

As he continued watching over her during her stay, Hanate realized that her presence was cause more scarlet Violacias to bloom (the scarlet ones being the ones that herald the rising of a new revenant). Revenants were constantly going after her. After she nearly gets killed again, Hanate has enough and essentially kidnaps her to get her out of town.

Since she was just visiting family friends (Hino's family) while her parents were overseas, he takes her back home and through his memory manipulation eventually convinces Ichiko and her parents that he's her brother and their eldest son. Not wanting her to remember what happened, Hanate wiped out Ichiko's memory of ever visiting Okunezato as well as most of her past.

He hit a bit of a snag though when Hino's family moved into town during Ichiko's middle school years, but he eventually wiped out Hino's memories too, which is why Hino no longer recalls having lived in Okunezato, which is a hell of an intrusive memory wipe, and I'll get to how replaying Hino's route is a different experience knowing this after I finish with Hanate.

A year prior to the start of the game, Hanate sensed a disturbance among the flowers, which is why he left. He suspected it was possible he would never come back. Knowing Ichiko is a revenant magnet, and that some of them could (and probably have) escaped Okunezato at one point or another he made the now adult Hino promise to protect her. Considering how fanatically devoted Hanate is to protecting Ichiko, that he entrusts her to Hino and is satisfied that he will protect her in his stead, speaks a lot about Hino's own devotion.

Despite the truth coming out, Ichiko doesn't view Hanate any differently and insists that he is still her brother, but then the way the narration describes her hugging her brother is decidedly not sisterly. There's a little too much body pressing for that, and Hanate's storytelling makes it clear that he hasn't viewed Ichiko as a sister but as a potential romantic partner ever since she hit puberty.

And being an immortal revenant who really only cares about protecting this one girl, Hanate tells her that they're leaving their old lives and running away to where Tsukuyomi and no other revenants can find them. Since Tsukuyomi knows who she is, he'll be able to hunt her down at home, so their only option is to go off grid entirely. Though Ichiko doesn't like the idea of leaving her parents and Hino behind, she agrees, because she likes Hanate just that much.

This would make a poor ending though, so before they get far, Ichiko convinces Hanate to take her to the valley of the Violacias, because she can hear them calling to her. Apparently only revenants can normally smell them, which explains numerous instances on different routes where she smells flowers and other characters don't. Because she is "ambrosia" she can smell them as well.

Tsukuyomi catches up to them there and Hanate realizes there is another way to save Ichiko from the fate of always being chased by revenants, and that's if all the flowers die so there are no revenants left, including himself. But he fails to get the flowers burning before he ends up grappling with Tsukuyomi, which leaves Ichiko as the only one with hands free to burn the flowers.

At that point, when I was given the choice to light a match or not, I was thrilled. The player would get the chance to end it all and Ichiko would be saving herself. But it's a false choice. Even if the player selects lighting a match, Ichiko still can't bring herself to kill her brother and spends a lot of time wailing about how she can't do it.

Conveniently, Hino shows up at just that point and convinces Ichiko to toss him the matches and he lights the valley on fire. Tsukuyomi dissolves first, and though it's not clear how Hino knows about anything on this route, he kindly walks away so Ichiko can be with her brother in his final moments. And it's probably a good thing he walks away since Ichiko full-mouth kisses Hanate in farewell. Since she says she still thinks of him as her brother that's just… gross, and implies she's always been romantically attracted to him.

In the epilogue, Ichiko has forgotten about Hanate, as he said she would when the flowers burned, but she can tell that something is missing in her life. But the nice thing is that the game implies she will move on. College is restarting after summer break and she's going to meet up with Hino. She says good-bye to an empty house and pauses for just a moment when she thinks she hears someone say good-bye in return. After she leaves the camera pans to a single violet flower growing outside, and astute players will remember that when Sosuke was a kid and discovered the valley of Violacias, he took one flower (roots intact) with him and gave it to Ichiko who re-planted it when she got home. So a small part of her brother is still around.

Now, there's a lot of unpack here, which is why it would have been nice if Hanate had been a proper route. This felt like the plot was shoving everything in because it had to provide the answers it had been withholding the entire game. Hanate's lengthy flashback about his ennui and meeting Ichiko should have either been truncated or blown out and the player doesn't get to make any choices because Ichiko is so wrapped up in doing exactly what her brother says.

The fact the story resolved as easily as it did on a physical (rather than emotional) level was shocking. I can understand why Hanate did not consider burning up the flowers as an early solution to save Ichiko. His nature is not altruistic. But why did the vigilance committee never try burning the flowers themselves?

Hanate's story makes it clear that the Ensepulchers only discovered the valley for the first time after he left, but once they did, what stopped them from burning the source of the revenants? It would be different if the Ensepulchers didn't know the flowers were the cause, making the valley simply the revenants' wake up spot, but they clearly do, making this an incredibly large gap in reasoning.

Moving on to Hino, I'd mentioned before that his route has an additional layer of context after playing the final route of the game, and I think it's worth the replay because Ichiko and Hino are the only two characters in the cast who know Hanate and they talk about him during their search. When they recall the kind of person he was, and how he was always looking after Ichiko, it takes on an extra layer of meaning now that we know Hanate and that his looking after her wasn't the love of an ordinary older sibling.

We already knew that her brother was hard on Hino and made the unreasonable comment that if Hino wanted to stay around her, he needed to be stronger if he was going to be capable of protecting her from people like the serial killer. But the thing is, Hino's route places that story ten years ago, which is after Hanate kidnapped her from Okunezato and before Hino and Ichiko reunited in middle school.

That means it never happened. The entire memory is fictitious and was likely implanted by Hanate to give Hino a bar to strive for. Hino wants to replace Hanate as the man in Ichiko's life, and Hanate seems to be largely okay with that if Hino can meet that bar. The memory has Ichiko at a serial killer's mercy, but Hino can't bring himself to shoot the gun and save her. Before all is lost, Hanate appears, takes the gun, and smoothly kills the serial killer himself, giving Hino a memory of what level of protection Hanate expects from him. (Unfortunately, he also gives Hino PTSD over guns along with this.)

This adds a layer of tragedy to Hino's route once you realize that he has essentially been built up by Hanate to be his replacement, to the point Hino willingly dies to protect Ichiko in his Normal Ending. Also his fitness training, the things he does to hopefully be of use protecting Ichiko, stem from the serial killer incident.

From Hanate's perspective, this was probably a way to make use of a childhood friend who wouldn't go away, and the serial killer was a good stand-in for the level of danger a revenant would be without actually telling Hino that the undead might be coming for his crush. But for Hino, his life has been defined by an incident that never actually happened.

Also, on rereading Hino's storyline, there are a couple instances of the Tsuchinoko delivery truck showing up, which is the company her brother pretended to work for. It shows up for a a brief moment in Hino's Good Ending and only drives off when Hino and Ichiko finally confess they love each other. Originally it comes off as a funny way to break up the romance (because Hino gets super excited over things like cute company mascots), but knowing Hanate's story it could be interpreted as that was Hanate leaving, realizing that he didn't need to come back into Ichiko's life.

It's also clear that Hanate is the one who stabs Tsukuyomi on Hino's route (the scent Tsukuyomi uses to describe his attack matches with Ichiko's description of Hanate), which is otherwise unresolved.

That takes care of where Hanate was and what he was doing on Hino's route. What's not clear is why he doesn't appear on Isora and Toa's routes. The reason Hanate reveals himself is to protect Ichiko from revenants. I can't see him trusting Toa (who is a revenant himself) and it's unclear whether Tsukuyomi is successfully killed on that route. Tsukuyomi definitely wasn't properly exterminated on Isora's.

At least with Sosuke and Yuzuki's routes Tsukuyomi dies or will presumably die soon (since he ends the game in Ensepulcher custody on Sosuke's), and that might be enough for Hanate. But at the end of it all, it doesn't feel like Hanate himself or his route was particularly well thought out or implemented, which is a shame because the backstory itself is quite interesting.

Monday, December 10, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 7: "True" Route

I admit, going in, I was not entirely sure why Toa's route had to be the true one. While we certainly were left hanging on a number of things regarding him (the voice that called out to him in the dark, why the Ensepulchers thought he was a revenant, why it would be "too late" if he held his concert at a later date, and him leaving town early on Sosuke's route), he himself did not feel that mysterious and his story ends in as satisfying a manner as anyone else's.

As far as learning the truth about anything, his route is wedged in between the intro scenarios of Hino and Isora, and the heavily lore-filled episodes of Sosuke and Yuzuki, but in tone it felt a lot closer to Hino and Isora's. Revenants are still a local legend, though some people clearly believe they're real, but we don't end up confronting one by name in the Normal and Good Endings. Also, his route is the one that touches the least on Ichiko's brother as she doesn't do any investigation in favor of hanging out with Toa.

And on that front we don't get many more answers, but Toa's true route clearly knows it's our primary cast's last hurrah, and does an admirable job of bringing everyone together.

It picks up right after the cat masked killer is apprehended in Toa's route, but things play out a little differently in that the policeman, Yasu, accuses the killer by name, making it clear that it's Tsukuyomi. However, before he can dragged away by the vigilance committee, Tsukuyomi drops a bombshell in that he's not the only revenant in the Fuurinkan Hotel.

Back at the hotel, Toa is patched up by Sosuke, just like in the regular version of Toa's route, but everyone also meets in the cafe to discuss Tsukuyomi's final words and the fact he claims to not to have killed Sosuke's father since he only kills women.

Other facts come out that make it clear that certain events on other routes happened even though this story is mostly following Toa's route. For instance, it doesn't surprise other characters to know that Sosuke's father was killed, whereas the second victim's identity was never revealed on Toa's route. And more comically, the optional scene where Ichiko walks in on Hino in the men's bath is referred to as something that happened earlier in their stay.

Yuzuki also appears for this get-together, unlike the one in Sosuke's route. As before, not everyone quite believes there are revenants, but they do acknowledge that someone killed Shinryu Tatehira so they go around the group with most people having alibis that can be corroborated in one way or another, except Yua, one of the hotel employees. She was supposed to meet a friend to go to the festival with, but they cancelled so she doesn't have an alibi, and she's indignant that this automatically makes her a suspect.

The group is sympathetic, but Yuzuki blocks everyone from leaving, because there is an easy way to tell whether or not someone's a revenant. At first it sounds like he means the mark that Sosuke had previously brought up on Toa's route. Each time a revenant kills someone they're supposed to get a mark on their back, and Toa didn't have one, therefore he couldn't be a revenant. But Yuzuki says there's a simpler way than having everyone strip down (and to be honest, his way is pretty effective).

He proposes setting everyone on fire. The wording is awful of course, because this is Yuzuki, but the ritual to exterminate a revenant is simply to sprinkle them with salt and light them up. And it doesn't need to be a lot of fire. Tsukuyomi burns up in Yuzuki's route from a single match.

Interestingly, Yuzuki does not suggest bringing out the salt (probably because he's only interested in identifying the revenant and not killing them if he doesn't have to) and he says that they'll use Isora's lighter and each person will put the flame up to their body for a few seconds. Just enough for the skin to turn red. But before they begin, Yuki asks one last time for the revenant to identify themselves before people start giving themselves minor burns, which reveals a surprise when someone responds.

I thought it was going to be Toa. (They have nice reaction shots from members of the cast so you have time to think about it) Given that he was already suspected of being a revenant and this is his true route, it made the most sense, but it was Yua, and the game does a credible job of raising the possibility that Yua could be another revenant. She's the only character without an alibi for the night of Shinryu's death and she admits pushing him off the cliff behind the shrine.

But things don't quite add up and Yuzuki, getting fed up with her inconsistencies and that she's probably covering for someone, decides to one-up his burn suggestion, rolls up his sleeves, and gets out a knife. I thought he was going to cut Yua to test her regeneration, and certainly the rest of the cast reacts to that possibility, but instead he stabs his own arm since revenants react to the sight of blood.

(I can't believe how much I liked Yuzuki in this scene. His behavior is expected on his own route, but he's super hardcore on Toa's true route, which makes him look freakin' crazy to everyone else. I was reading all his actions with a stupid grin on my face.)

This reveals Toa as the revenant and Yua is an ordinary human. We quickly find out that she's his sister, which is why she was covering for him, and that Toa is another peaceful revenant whose one remaining wish to perform his first solo concert in his hometown. (Yua did kill Shinryu though. She was only covering for him being a revenant.) It's been difficult for Toa, but by being close to Ichiko he has managed to stave off his hunger pains as a revenant (for reasons we learn later), and learning that adds a little more meaning to all the recharges he asks for when he hugs or kisses her on his regular route. It's not just for affection, but she's what is literally keeping him going.

All this sets up for a surprisingly optimistic ending to a game about people who come back from the dead. Everyone at the hotel, guests and employees alike, decide to do what they can to make sure the concert goes off (since, remember, it gets cancelled on every other route in the game).

This isn't as hard for everyone to buy into as it sounds, since it turns out at that all the hotel employees and remaining guests are fellow Supernatural Club members (save Karasuma who is conspicuously absent in this scene) and Yuzuki has made it his new life's mission to help revenants peacefully pass on.

Thus we have all the major cast members working together to convince Toa's manager to not cancel the concert, to get Toa to the venue without being captured by the Ensepulchers, and ultimately make his first and final performance as a solo artist.

This also means that the true ending of the game is bittersweet. Even though Toa was reunited with his childhood friend, Ichiko, they have to part since he has no time left. It is a beautifully rendered passing, with Toa dissolving on stage after he finishes his performance, but I wish there had been a little more after that.

His sister Yua got stabbed in the gut trying to protect him in the final minutes before his performance and refused to have an ambulance called because she didn't want her brother's concert to be shut down for a medical emergency. She says she can hold on since he's only doing one song, and then… the game just cuts to black after Toa's done. The game doesn't devote a single sentence to her fate. Or anyone else's for that matter.

Also oddly, though "true" appears in the route name, it is literally just the True Route specifically for Toa and not the final route of the game. It wraps up who killed Shinryu Tatehira and who the last revenant is (as well as explaining some common route weirdness with Yua's behavior and some of the Toa route exclusive mysteries).

We don't learn anything more about Ichiko's brother though, but completing Toa's true route unlocks the final route, which is Hanate's.

As a final note on Toa though, his True Ending breaks continuity with his Good Ending, where he and Ichiko say good-bye when she needs to head home after the cancelled concert. They promise to meet up again, but obviously this can't happen since Toa is a revenant existing on borrowed time. So if one replays his Good Ending after unlocking his True Ending, there is an additional scene after she gets home in which she receives a letter of apology from Toa, who explains his predicament and that by the time she receives his message he'll already be gone. He thanks her though and says that he thinks he came back to meet her again, implying that he won't revive another time.

Though I didn't dislike this route because the primary cast got to reunite and everyone's backstories were no longer hidden, it's very clearly a fanservice send-off and doesn't really add anything to the overall story. The scarlet Violacia tease at the end of Yuzuki's route has nothing to do with Toa's true route.

In fact, if the game had made it so Tsukuyomi killed Shinryu instead and made the vigilance committee's suspicion of Toa a legitimate mistake (with reasons to see how that could have happened) it would be possible to cut this route with minimal losses, and it might have allowed for a stronger game.

The reason I make this suggestion is because Hanate's route isn't well put together and suffers from either a lack of planning, a lack of budget, or both. Though it's not the full cast party send-off Toa's true route is, I would have gladly dumped the fanservice it if meant making Hanate's story a full blown, proper route. We'll get to why next week!

Monday, December 3, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 6: Yuzuki Murakumo

As I suspected it might, Thanksgiving weekend was jumbled enough that I forgot to set this to go up during my Sunday. If you missed the previous installments of my 7'scarlet series, you can catch up on the previous routes with this tag here. This week I'm covering Yuzuki, who probably has my favorite route from a character standpoint, if not a plot one.

Yuzuki's route doesn't begin like everyone else's in that you don't start with the common route. After you make your name selection, you're asked where you want to start and have to specifically select Yuzuki's route. After an expanded version of the prologue, it drops you right in on Day 3 of Ichiko's stay, which is the day of the festival.

But let's talk about the prologue first. In the baseline prologue to the common route, we see an unnamed woman feeling through the forest from pursuers in the middle of the night. Her hands are bloody. She ends up in town and runs up to a payphone only to discover she has no money to use it. Off-camera, a man catches up with her. He cruelly mocks her about her situation, comparing her need for coins with that given to the dead for passage to the underworld. He suggests that she would probably want to beg for her life, except that she doesn't have one to begin with.

After a playthrough or two, it's pretty obvious from the voice that the man is Yuzuki Murakumo and she is likely a revenant. We don't see the outcome of their conversation, but it's implied he kills her.

Yuzuki's route opens with the same scene, with the woman running through the forest, but then it expands once we get to the town. Though it ends in the same place, gaps in their previous conversation are filled. The revenant gives Yuzuki her name, Tsuzuri, even though he doesn't want to hear it, and she explains that all she wants to do it give her husband a phone call, then she will voluntarily expire without ever having taken a life. When Yuzuki doesn't budge she takes pity on him, saying that he must have never been loved or loved anyone in return. Then we get a cynical monologue from him before it's again implied that he kills her.

Once in Ichiko's POV, she's cleaning Yuzuki's office as part of her job to cover her room and board. That's when she discovers that the second door in his office is unlocked. As she quickly finds out, it doesn't lead to more of the hotel, but rather to his personal living quarters (which despite being called a detached house is very much attached so far as I can tell). Being an intensely private person, it doesn't take long for Yuzuki to kick her out, but according to Yuki, their accidental meeting must have gone well if he didn't get flat out angry with her.

Due to his ornery personality, the game pretty much has to conspire to find ways to make Ichiko come into contact with Yuzuki, as he is not part of the Supernatural Club. On other routes it often comes up that Yuzuki likely has the answers she's searching for, but that he probably won't tell her. Oddly enough, searching for those answers isn't why she ends up spending time with him.

It's a rather cliche trick, but basically Yuzuki gets sick, and because Yuki is so busy trying to get the concert ready at the middle school, he gives Ichiko the rice porridge Isora made and asks her to deliver it to Yuzuki in his place. This kicks off her staying overnight with him while he's feverish and bedridden. It does the job, and it's fun seeing her order him around and not put up with his crap (because, hey, he's sick and this is for his own good), but a part of me still wishes for something more original.

Having established that familiarity, she feels less anxious about dropping in on him, but that results in her getting kidnapped by someone who assumes she's his girlfriend. It's through this incident that she gets caught up in his and his family's business and the truth of the revenants and the Ensepulchers comes out.

One of the non-club side characters staying at the hotel is Chikage Karasuma, and it's clear from other routes that he's been investigating the town. It turns out that he's the revenant Tsuzuri's bereaved husband, and he kidnaps Ichiko to lure out Yuzuki, to get his revenge for Tsuzuri dying yet another time.

This leads to a replaying of the prologue scene past the previous ending, and we discover that not only did Yuzuki not kill her, but he gave her the change she needed to make the call to Chikage and say her last words to her husband. He also tried to hide her from the other Ensepulchers, so she could peacefully expire once her time was up, but he ultimately failed. She was killed and he was expelled from the group for not doing his job.

Meeting Tsuzuri changed Yuzuki and as a result he no longer sees eye to eye with his traditionalist father. Yuzuki's realized that revenants come back because they have something they need to do before they can let go, and if allowed to do that they no longer have to stay around and they would have no reason to rise again. He would like to send them back voluntarily rather than arbitrarily exterminating every revenant that comes along like his family has been doing for hundreds of years.

Admittedly, given his antisocial personality, there is something hilarious about the idea of Yuzuki giving post-mortem therapy to a revenant that can't let go of the life it left behind.

Once Yuzuki's purpose comes out, he and Ichiko begin a budding relationship, and he helps her look for her brother, like most of the other love interests. But the fun thing about Yuzuki is that because of who he is, he can pretty easily get the town's lone policeman to spill his guts and reveal that Ichiko's brother moved around town exactly like he knew where everything was, even though he was a stranger. Her brother even found the valley where the Violacias grow.

What's interesting about Yuzuki's route (and we see shades of it in Sosuke's) is that because he's a Murakumo, the other characters tend to assume he and his family are in lockstep about what they do. After all, Yuzuki is the only son and heir of the patriarch, and he's got an irritable personality that hates being questioned. Common sense says he's gotta be neck deep in everything.

On their respective routes, Isora warns Ichiko repeatedly against trusting Yuzuki, and Toa remembers Yuzuki from when the Murakumos used a questionable excuse to close his family's hotel. (Amusingly, Isora keeps up his warnings in the first half of Yuzuki's route. He's really got a lot of Murakumo hate.) But Kyouji Murakumo's opinion of Yuzuki is that he's worthless, he's setting himself up to be revenant fodder, and Kyouji bitterly complains about not having done a better job of raising his son. Tellingly, Yuzuki doesn't know everything, even before his falling out with his father, because Kyouji still wasn't satisfied with him as a heir.

Yuzuki and Ichiko have incredibly good chemistry with each other. While she's pretty passive on some routes, Yuzuki's grumpiness gets to her, and she gives just about as much as she gets. His route has the most assertive version of Ichiko as she has no problem calling out his dad for not seeing how much thought Yuzuki has put into the revenants. And to hilariously cap off their argument, she's the one who tells Yuzuki that they're leaving now (he listens), and she calls Kyouji "Father" as if she and Yuzuki were married before bowing and walking out.

Unsurprisingly, the route caps off with Tsukuyomi making another attempt on Ichiko's life, but she's saved by the timely arrival of Yuzuki and Sosuke, who plans on becoming a new kind of Ensepulcher under Yuzuki's direction. The two of them tag-teaming Tsukuyomi was pretty fun, because this is the first time any of the love interests actually catch the bad guy on their own. And because Tsukuyomi came back to life out of a lingering desire to kill, they plan to do the traditional extermination with him (since obviously the reason he came back is not one they want to fulfill).

But Tsukuyomi breaks free and stabs Yuzuki. He ends up dying anyway, thanks to the timely arrival of Karasuma, who sees this as repaying his debt to Yuzuki for letting him hear his wife's last words, and from there the Normal vs Good Ending split is determined by whether or not Yuzuki survives. In the Normal Ending he succumbs to his injury, and tragically (to hide the secret of what really happened), his death is written off as an accident rather than that he was trying to protect Ichiko.

In the Good Ending, he recovers and we get the closest thing to a marriage proposal. Yuzuki talks about how as humans live they accumulate more and more holes in their hearts as life and losses take their toll. He thanks Ichiko for filling the hole in his heart and offers to do the same for her. Though all the routes feature Ichiko falling in love within the span of a week and a half (give or take), I think Yuzuki's is the only one where it's clear that it's a "rest of our lives" arrangement. Normally I would be like "pfft" you guys have only known each other for a few days, but Ichiko and Yuzuki played off each other so well in the second half of his route that I couldn't help shipping it.

I wish we got a little more about their future plans in Yuzuki's epilogue though, since obviously his father still runs the town and Yuzuki is still on the outs. Unlike Sosuke, who learns the truth about his father's life and death, and comes to terms with what he wants for his own future, Yuzuki already knows what he wants to do. His character development, expulsion from the Ensepulchers, and falling out of his father's graces is backstory. The only development is really that Yuzuki is finally pushed hard enough that he outright rebels and refuses to obey his father even if it means getting disowned. His wish to help the revenants remains a nascent dream.

Since he's the only love interest who does not arrive from out of town, leaving this whole damn mess behind is not an option for him, and Ichiko says she wants to stay and help, which would have a lot of fallout given what we eventually learn about her. (This route is totally ripe for a fandisk that will probably never happen thanks to the true route, but that's getting ahead of myself.)

After playing all five love interests, we're still not done, because obviously we don't have all the answers yet. After the credits roll for Yuzuki's Good Ending, we given one half of a conversation of a phone call in which one of the Ensepulchers reports that Tsukuyomi was blamed for the death of Ichiko's brother, as instructed, but that he was not the revenant who killed Shinryu Tatehira, Sosuke's father. The Ensepulcher than agrees to keep watch for the other revenant for as long as a scarlet Violocia exists.

This is the first time the scarlet Violocia is mentioned, though we know the regular purple ones are the "corpse flowers" that call the dead back to life. And after this scene, starting a new game unlocks Toa's true route, which I'll cover next week!

Monday, November 19, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 5: Sosuke Tatehira

Sosuke was my fourth route in 7'scarlet, and I really enjoyed it because it has an extremely good blend of mystery, awkward romance, and personal stories. Of all the routes, his is probably the best written and the most balanced. It featuring a self-contained story, addressing sub-plots for both Ichiko and Sosuke, and wrapping them all up by the end with few outstanding questions. Outside of the hidden final route, we actually learn more on Sosuke's route than any other, even Yuzuki's.

Like Isora and Toa, Sosuke is actually from Okunezato and left it to go to an out of town high school after he had a falling out with his father. He has a substantial backstory, but what's really nice about it is that it dovetails with Ichiko's investigation regarding her brother, so it never feels out of place unlike Isora and Toa's. The two of them working together to learn about the revenants and the truth about Okunezato feels like a natural outcome, even though they don't quite get the answers they're hoping for.

I will get one annoying thing out of the way first though. Generally the game behaves more or less like there is a set schedule of events that happen unless the player does something to change it. That's why someone always dies on the fourth day regardless of the route and Toa's concert always gets cancelled.

Characters' actions, and what they know, shouldn't change much between routes.

So I found it incredibly disconcerting that Sosuke's place in the story felt off. In Toa's route he clearly knows the true purpose of the vigilance committee as well as how to identify revenants. He also calls them the Ensepulchers, which is the real, private name of their group. Finally, the vigilance committee trusts him, just enough, to let Toa go on his word alone.

However, on his own route, Sosuke is still trying to reconcile the existence of revenants with what science tells him should be real. He doesn't know about the true purpose of the vigilance committee (though it's possible he suspects), and he definitely doesn't know the full story of the revenants, including how to identify them.

Despite that, he still knows more than most people. He saw what might have been a newly formed revenant when he was twelve and once he buys into the other parts of the legend, he's quick to adjust to the fact it was his father's job to capture and exterminate revenants. (It was witnessing this without context that caused the falling out in the first place, because he thought his dad was dragging people off in the middle of the night and murdering them.)

The nice thing about Sosuke's route is that it makes the murders incredibly personal. He's come back to his hometown after being away for years, but loses the opportunity to reconcile with his father when his father is discovered as the second body on the fourth day. Finding out the truth behind why his father died is what drives him to unearth the town's secrets, giving both him and Ichiko reason to investigate the mysterious flowers, the revenants, and what the vigilance committee is really up to.

And we get answers!

We learn that most of the townspeople are ignorant of the revenants save as legends, we get confirmation that the revenants are recently deceased townfolk, and that revenants appear once a year after the rainy season. It's the job of the Ensepulchers to hunt down and exterminate the revenants, but unfortunately they look and behave just like real people so there's no easy way to identify them until they try to kill someone. This year is unusual in that the revenants (referred to in plural) seem unusually aggressive and their victims thus far have been members of the vigilance committee.

Even though they can't tell a revenant on sight, the committee seems to have some way of detecting them as Kyouji Murakumo, the head of the Murakumo family, is aware that there is a revenant stalking Ichiko. In fact, he invites both Sasuke and Ichiko to join the Ensepulchers, seeing that they've both lost family to the revenants. Though we don't know exactly what happened to Ichiko's brother, we learn that last year there was evidence that the revenants had killed someone, but all the townspeople were accounted for and the committee found a journal in the forbidden part of the mountains with her brother's handwriting.

We also get his name for the first time, Hanate, which feels a little odd to have finally gotten on my fourth route. I had assumed his name would either have had some significance based on prior knowledge, or he'd just continue to go nameless.

Kyouji Murakumo also refers to something from Hino's route, in that Ichiko attracts those like the revenants (though it comes as a shock to her, since she obviously doesn't remember her previous serial killer encounter) and says that she must have noticed before. Unfortunately she doesn't inquire further about it. It really feels like she should have, but I guess the writers wanted to save it for the final route.

The climax of the route is a lot of fun though. After surviving an attack by the revenant (in the dark, so she couldn't see his face), Ichiko and Sosuke agree to work with the Ensepulchers and they attend the last night of the Supernatural Club get-together, which includes everyone at the hotel except for Yuzuki. Because the revenant is fixated on Ichiko, she's there to act as bait. They know the revenant must be someone in the hotel due to the fact she was attacked inside after it had been locked down in the wake of three murders, so the revenant should be at the gathering.

With a little prompting and an unexpected visit from the town's only policeman, even the people who aren't fully on board with the revenant legend get dragged into the world's most uncomfortable game of Werewolf as they try to deflect suspicion and explain why they can't be the killer.

Identifying the killer is completely supported by the in-game narrative, nothing is hidden from the player, which makes it extra fun that Ichiko gets to be the one to point them out.

As the hotel guest Karasuma says, everyone is suspicious, and everyone has something they're hiding, so it's a little hard to notice the one specific clue that greatly weakens the killer's alibi, but in additional to that clue, there's enough circumstantial evidence from earlier in the story that Tsukuyomi, one of the other non-club hotel guests, knows things that he really shouldn't, specifically about Ichiko. And once his alibi is weakened, his attempt to cover that weakness up just makes his entire excuse collapse by even more stuff brought up earlier in Sosuke's route.

Though we don't see Tsukuyomi don the cat mask seen in the other routes, after he's detained by the vigilance committee they find the mask in his room. However, he does not confess to being the one who killed Sosuke's father. On the other hand he doesn't outright deny it either.

I'm a little disappointed that we don't get a resolution for who killed Sosuke's father on his route, though the vigilance committee itself considers it a closed case. Ichiko fares a bit better in that she gets a probable explanation for happened to her brother, but the proof is not definitive and his body hasn't been found. Worse, the game leaves us with the implication that if Tsukuyomi wasn't the one who killed Sosuke's father, that means there's another revenant running around, and wouldn't that mean she's still not entirely safe?

Still, it's enough for a happy ending, and in his Good Ending Sosuke takes her to the valley of the Violacias, which is a rather odd choice since those are supposed to be the flowers that revive the dead, but I suppose she's still looking for closure regarding her brother and that's the only place she has left.

Considering Sosuke's not the last route, I wasn't surprised that we don't get answers to everything, but I found his personal story to be engaging and when I finished I thought his route might well be my favorite of the game. And intellectually, I think it ought to be and that his route is the best written as its own stand alone piece, but it turns that Yuzuki's route gives it a good run for the money.

Assuming I'm not distracted over the Thanksgiving weekend, Yuzuki's route will go up next week!

Monday, November 12, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 4: Toa Kushinada

Continuing my playthrough of all the routes in 7'scarlet, I liked Toa's more than I thought I would, even though Ichiko spends the least amount of time looking for her brother due to being head over heels fascinated with her new love interest. Toa is initially presented as a shy and introverted man with nerdy hobbies. He's a clutz, but a very kind person, and on Hino and Isora's routes he's a pretty one note character, though the game drops some hints that he's probably the "civilian" identity of a huge pop star that goes by a stage name.

One of the side events on all routes is a concert being held at the local middle school by A-TO, one of the country's biggest music stars. It's a bit of a mystery why he would want to perform at a school out in the middle of nowhere, but the school is happy to have him. Given that A-TO is a ridiculously simply anagram of Toa, it wasn't hard to figure out the two are the same person, but we don't see A-TO until Toa's own route, because he's that good at hiding his other identity. As Toa, he dresses in a padded kimono that hides his figure, slouches, wears glasses, and his shaggy hair falls over his face. As A-TO he stands up straight, dresses fashionably, drops the glasses, and his hair is brushed back.

The early part of Toa's route is mostly cute stuff as Ichiko repeatedly bumps into him at bad times and eventually realizes that the shabby-looking guy who loves cats is actually a celebrity. We also get his backstory about how he grew up in Okunezato, how he created the Okune Panda mascot, and how his family's business was eventually shut down by the Murakumo family.

But despite that, the middle section of the plot doesn't feel that much different from Isora's. Most of the fourth afternoon/evening is even recycled from Isora's storyline with Hino having extra work, Sosuke missing the evening meeting, and Yuki suggesting that the group break up.

I didn't like the reduced focus on Ichiko's story much. Though I related to Toa a lot (especially how he takes off his glasses before going on stage so he can't see the audience), it bothered me that Ichiko put off the reason she came to the town in the first place because she couldn't get him out of her head. Also, Hino drops off really badly in this one, and this time there's far less of an excuse for Ichiko not to touch base with him. I know he's not the designated love interest on this route, but they're still friends who came to this town together and I feel like the other hotel staff show up more often than he does.

The last third of Toa's route is really intriguing though. It's not that it comes together as part of his story (in fact you could cut a lot of it and it wouldn't change anything), but it advances the overarching story of the town that cuts across all playthroughs. Even though most people say the local legend about the revenants is just a story, the town's vigilance committee certainly believes in it, and suspects Toa of being one.

It could have ended badly, but Sosuke intervenes and convinces them to let Toa go. Then Toa and Ichiko go back to dealing with celebrity issues (almost) as if nothing had happened. But this was a massive tease for Sosuke's role in the story and made me heavily anticipate going through his route. Obviously he's involved--deeply--with what's going on if the notoriously fanatical vigilance committee will listen to him.

And the route wraps up with the now customary attack by a man in a cat mask.

The game does something odd here, with having a cat being clearly attracted to the killer, when Toa is the only character who we know of who constantly has cats flocking to him. And I was shocked it took me so long to realize that on top of that, the killer is wearing a cat mask. I thought they might be one and the same.

But then Toa appears and defends Ichiko just like Hino and Isora did on their routes before him. I can't help wondering why the cat attraction was included and if it was a dropped plot thread, because after finishing the final route, this appears to be nothing more than a red herring with no additional significance. In most games something like this wouldn't matter, but given that 7'scarlet is a mystery, players are likely to expect a meaning behind any unusual event and in this case there isn't one.

After the cat mask killer is dealt with, Toa's route then resolves with the usual happily ever after and he and Ichiko decide that they'll try to make their relationship work, even though his job as a singer has him traveling and performing a lot. Oddly, his Normal and Good endings are almost identical, but if the player gets his Good Ending, there is one additional piece of information revealed.

Toa is also a childhood friend of Ichiko, which is the pattern I mentioned in Isora's blog entry and why I was glad that I had played Hino first. Given that Sosuke is clearly tied to the town as well and that Yuzuki is the local hotel owner, it wasn't a stretch to assume that all of the love interests are Ichiko's childhood friends (though it turns out that's not entirely true). This made Hino feel less and less remarkable the further I went in.

Needless to say, after the vigilance committee scene, I was looking forward to playing Sosuke's route next, and especially jamming over to Yuzuki's, since multiple characters on prior routes suspect he knows everything.

Monday, November 5, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 3: Isora Amari

I'm glad I played Isora's route second, because his history is the start of a pattern that I only noticed once I got to Toa's route, and once that happened, Hino started to feel a little less special even though his route is otherwise pretty solid.

Isora is the chef at the Fuurin Cafe attached to the hotel Ichiko and Hino are staying at. He's also a member of the Okunezato Supernatural Club. Initially he appears to be another outsider because he says he came to the hotel to work for the summer (he goes to school in another town), but he later reveals on his route that he was born in Okunezato and had lived here until he was in middle school. Since he is a second year high school student he hasn't been away that long and he's still attuned to how the town works. In fact, he tells Ichiko that he could be a lot of help in finding her brother precisely because the town won't open up to outsiders, but as a local he won't have that problem.

Not that he turns out to be a whole lot of help in that regard. It seems Ichiko's brother kept away from the main thoroughfares and while people vaguely remember a disappearing incident, they don't remember her brother in particular.

Going into Isora's route I was worried about Hino getting arbitrarily ignored by Ichiko just because he's no longer the main love interest, which would be terribly rude considering he was the one who convinced her to come out here in the first place (and they're still friends even without the romance), but the game handles the reduction in his presence well. At first he simply has an extra afternoon of work at the hotel (where he's helping out to pay for his half of the stay), then he gets sick in what she fears is an act of food poisoning intended to kill him, and in the final leg of the plot he's just not able to be present since only Isora knows her location.

As for Isora himself… I didn't like his route much. At first it was because he didn't feel very much like a high school student to me. He felt just as mature as the rest of the cast and has no issue approaching and confidently flirting with a girl at least two years older than him. And though his route ramps up the sensation of danger every bit as much as Hino's does, it doesn't feel entirely fair because it conflates multiple potential dangers with the intention of making the player think they're related (and thus things are getting progressively worse) when in fact they're not.

On the second day of Ichiko and Hino's trip, a body turns up. This happens before route lock so the player gets this scene on every playthrough. The town's lone policeman doesn't know if it was an accident (someone fell down the mountain) or murder, so while it puts a damper on things, no one freaks out over it.

The fourth day of the trip is after the route split and so far on both Hino and Isora's routes, that's when the second body turns up after having fallen down the mountain. That's when people start getting concerned, though there is once again no proof whether it was an accident or a murder. So Yuki suggests that the Supernatural Club cease their activities until they really know what's going on. Hino convinces him to back down, at least until the police report comes in, but Isora completely flips out and even nudges Yuki (as another local) to agree with him that the town is dangerous.

It's a chilling scene, especially when Isora makes a declaration that he will protect Ichiko forever, no matter what it takes. Normally that kind of declaration is made a warm and thrilling moment for the player with romantic music that shows how much the male lead has come to feel for the protagonist, but instead we get the spooky music that plays when someone is relating a creepy story. Isora's declaration is not meant to comfort the player, and I couldn't help wondering: What does he know?

The game continues to build up suspicion against Isora. He serves some tarts to Hino, who ends up sick in the hospital the next day, and the cat Hino fed an extra tart to ends up dead. Isora is upset that people would suspect him, but he was acting strangely, and he knew Ichiko hates strawberries so she never would have eaten the tarts if Hino had offered one to her.

Then Yuki gets kidnapped. He goes to the general store to pick up supplies for the hotel, but never arrives. Naturally everyone's alarmed and Ichiko takes a chance to go looking for him, which results in her getting stabbed in the leg by a mysterious assailant in the old part of town.

When she wakes up, she finds herself in an unknown location with no windows or clocks, so she can't tell the time, but there is a bathroom and a bed. Isora is with her, having bandaged her wound, and tells her she will have to stay here until things die down outside. At first it doesn't seem too bad, but Isora is not forthcoming with what exactly is going on, and it becomes apparent that even though he says he's told everyone else that she's safe, no one ever comes to visit, something that Ichiko knows Hino would do given the chance.

Isora's creepy comments continue to pile up. It's clear that he's really getting off on looking after her and comments that if her hands had been injured instead of her leg he would be happy feeding her. To be fair, he quickly backpedals from it, realizing that he's being creepy, but it still came out. Ichiko comes to the realization that it's entirely possible that Isora attacked her specifically to put her in this situation where she's locked away from her friends and is forced to rely on him. (Yes, he locks the door from the outside when he goes, so she can't leave without him.)

If questioned about whether he really told everyone about what he's doing with her, he admits that he didn't, because he can't let anyone know about her location. He doesn't know who he can't trust at the hotel, but he quickly goes overboard and makes it clear that he won't let her leave, as he frames it for her own safety.

I was getting flashbacks to Toma from Amnesia, though thankfully Isora is not as yandere as him. But it's pretty clear that he was designed to appeal to that kind of audience. If you like messed up guys who will do anything to protect their beloved, even if it means disregarding their wishes, Isora is a tamer introduction to that character type.

And to be fair, when the cat-masked villain finally does show up, Isora beats the ever loving crap out of him. It's nice when yandere works for you rather than against you.

In the Normal Ending she thanks Isora and goes on with her life, but in the Good Ending she tells Isora that she still likes him, and wants to be with him even when he admits that he might end up locking her up again if he feels it's warranted.

Oh well.

The weird thing is that a lot of this could of been avoided if Isora had been upfront with Ichiko about why he was holding her captive in an unknown location (like he thinks the killer is at the hotel). He could have given her a clock and a calendar so she could keep track of time. He could have passed notes between her and Hino so they could each be reassured that the other was safe. He also could have like… not lied to her about why he found her so quickly after she was attacked.

But that would have taken away from the yandere and made him a more reasonable person.

Also, having played Hino's route, I knew Isora was not behind the accidents and probably not behind Yuki's kidnapping either, so he was probably a "good" guy aside from his terrible sense of protecting Ichiko.

The worst thing for me was actually Yuki's kidnapping, which ended up not tieing into anything. The only reason it "needs" to happen is to force Ichiko out of the hotel so she can later get attacked by the man in the cat mask, but the two events are completely unrelated.

The Murakumo family "kidnapped" Yuki in order to talk to him. Yuzuki Murakumo is the hotel owner, and Yuki is his employee. Yes, it's weird that the owner's family would want to talk to one of Yuzuki's employees, but Yuki was never in any danger. It's just nobody knew about the arrangement because it was something done at the last minute and they sent a car to pick him up.

Though we get the reason for this "kidnapping" in another route, it's made abundantly clear in general that the Murakumo family controls this town from the shadows, but they have no direct involvement in Isora's story aside from this incident. Even Yuzuki, as the hotel owner, barely shows after route lock.

At this point I feel like Isora's route is rather skippable, as there aren't any deep plot revelations, but it's still mandatory since everyone needs to be played through for the true ending. It makes me wonder if he was written or conceived last, out of a need to have a fifth love interest to promote, since he has the least involvement with anything.

Now that both intro routes are out of the way, Toa Kushinana is up next week.

Monday, October 29, 2018

VN Talk: 7'scarlet - Part 2: Hino Kagutsuchi

Hino and Isora are the first two romance options and Hino has a bit of an edge since he's Ichiko's childhood friend and the one who kicks off the story when he suggests they both go to Okunezato. He notices she's been depressed ever since her brother disappeared a year ago and figured she might feel better if she had to chance to investigate the place where he was last seen.

Admittedly, having Hino made the two route restriction at the start more palatable because he is unlikely to offend. He already knows Ichiko, he's supportive of her, and is an all around nice guy. If there's any reason to dislike him, it might be because he's a little too vanilla and all the qualities that make him a good default pick aren't remarkable enough to make him stand out on his own.

I picked him first because I figured he was a safe bet, and Isora ticked me off by trying to get too friendly too fast.

Hino's route is also the best introduction to the game as nearly every member of the cast makes an appearance and sticks around long enough to make an impression. His story lays out a lot of the mysteries around Ichiko and her inability to remember her past, which, though apparent on other routes, don't get nearly as much attention as they do here.

Much of the early portion of the game, prior to route lock, is hanging out with Hino as the two of them check into the hotel and get the lay of the land. Though the other love interests also make brief appearances shortly after they arrive in Okunezato, Hino is the only character who is not a stranger, and the route lock happens when Ichiko decides who to go to the local festival with.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hino's route is mostly about Ichiko, because his life revolves around her. Even though he has an incredibly hard time admitting his feelings, it's pretty clear to everyone else (except Ichiko herself) that he's has a thing for her. He wants to look after her, for her to be able to rely on him, and takes it really poorly when he fails to live up to the ideal protector he wants to be.

That's not to say that he's going around getting into fights to defend her honor, but he really wants to look out for her after having failed to do so in their childhood. As kids he convinced her to come in a "haunted house" with him only for the two of them to get caught by a serial killer. He could have pulled the trigger on a gun to save her, but Hino found himself unable to do it, and it was Ichiko's brother who showed up and grabbed the gun to shoot the guy.

The serial killer backstory feels over the top, but at this stage of my playthrough I wasn't sure if there was or was not any supernatural element to the story and I felt like there might be more to it (and there is). After the haunted house episode, Ichiko's brother warned Hino that she would attract others like that serial killer, and if Hino wanted to remain by her he would need to be able to protect her. Since then, Hino has been living in her brother's shadow, feeling like he needs to work hard to make himself worthy.

And the guy works. He goes running every morning and he's fit because he wants to be of use to her at that one moment when she needs it the most.

Also of interest is that Ichiko doesn't remember much of the serial killer event, just fuzzy details, so the game reveals it by having Hino tell it to her, and she does not take it entirely at face value, even though it's Hino giving her the story. Nothing comes of it on this route, but from the flashback memories we get at the end of the route, it's clear that both Hino and Ichiko have been to Okunezato before and Hino never reveals this. Though, to be fair, if something has been eating away at Ichiko's memory, it may well have eaten a bit of his too. (And as it turns out, this is true for both of them, and I'll get into that when I talk about the final route of the game.)

Even if Hino is keeping things from her, out of consideration or some other reason, he is still completely supportive of her. When she has a weird dream about another shrine when Okunezato supposedly only has one, he doesn't make light of her. He goes all over town with her to find it. There's only one point when he suggests she drops her quest to find her brother, and that's when it becomes increasingly clear that there is something dangerous happening in town.

If there's anything that particularly bothered me about Hino's route it's the ending. Hino's big hang-up is his failure to protect Ichiko when they were kids. Specifically, that he was unable to pull the trigger on a gun. The memory is so traumatic for him that he can't even handle carnival guns to shoot for a prize.

So of course his moment of redemption comes after Ichiko receives a creepy letter telling her to come alone in the middle of the night to a forbidden area in the mountains around town, otherwise her brother is going to die. Hino follows her there where she's confronted with a large man in a cat mask, and when Hino tries to save the day, the mysterious figure presents him with nearly the same scenario as years before. He tosses out a gun that lands by Ichiko and tells them to shoot him if they don't want him to kill her.

Hino asks Ichiko to throw him the gun and he'll shoot while the villain basically taunts Hino's sense of masculinity if he lets Ichiko shoot for him. Me being me, I'd rather Ichiko make the shot herself, and she does in the Normal Ending, but for the Good Ending she tosses the gun to Hino and he shoots. But the gun isn't loaded and a third party ends up taking out the bad guy by falling off a cliff with him. (Sadly, in the Normal Ending Hino is the one who grabs the guy and bodily pulls him over the cliff.)

While I understand that narratively Hino needed to face his demons, I would rather the gun had been tossed to him directly, rather than have the pointless back and forth between Ichiko and Hino about whether or not to give him the gun. Then it would also mirror the situation from the past instead of just being a facsimile.

We don't find out who the cat-masked man is, but to be honest, given the game's semi-linear route progression and that the story is about solving a mystery, I wasn't as bothered not knowing who he was. We get a lot of clues and questions raised, and I figured I'd learn more on the next route.

As for the ending, it's happy enough. Though Ichiko never learns exactly what happened to her brother, she comes to terms with his loss and moves on together with Hino.

I suspect that from a game design perspective that Hino's route was laid out first as there are a number of Easter eggs to be found that will only make sense after completing the hidden, final route, and most of them are exclusive to his route. After finishing the final route I knew I would want to replay Hino's and I wasn't disappointed by a second run, but I'll cover those perspectives when I get to the final part of this series.

Isora's up next week!