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.