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!

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