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So going into this, I was thinking it was likely the best VN I'd ever read. Fantastic artwork, certainly the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a visual novel, thoroughly intricate plot, etc. It far, far exceeded my expectations for a typical eroge, though to be honest, it could barely be called that. This story is almost pure detective/yakuza drama with a bishoujo game coating, and it blended all together so well, it drowned out all the little complaints I had (the near relentless fourth wall humour during the less intense scenes was not appreciated). They even managed to perspective shift to third person quite often and play it off as if it was the most natural thing in the world, somehow.
...and then chapter five happened. In what is likely the worst plot twist I've ever seen, the story pulled a Stranger Behind The Mask, removing much of the moral ambiguity of a major character, ignoring much of the implicating evidence that character had gotten without explaining why any of it was a red herring (making the story seem like a string of Contrived Coincidences as well as contradicting the evidence in other routes, making me believe the writers weren't doing a good job with comparing notes), and then proceeding to exposition dump the backstory of our stranger for an extensive period of time just to try and make us care. Granted, the stranger was namedropped before and there was some (very) minor foreshadowing that the suspected character wasn't the true villain, but that doesn't excuse all the problems that arose from it. To make matters worse, the protagonists spend the rest of chapter five running aimlessly around a city and accomplishing very little while the villain enacts his schemes without hinderance. And then the epilogue slaps on a Cruel Twist Ending, because hey, why the hell not? The writers probably thought it was "pathos" or something. If there was something good to say about the epilogue, it gave closure to the villain.
Somehow, though, it wasn't enough to dampen the experience. I still think this is a wonderful VN with 4 very long, downright excellent chapters, 2 decent side routes, and one really good side route. 7 good chapters out of 8 is an 88%, almost an A. Just pretend that last one doesn't exist and you'll have one hell of a story on your hands. If only chapter 4 didn't leave you hanging...
Seriously? I rate this game as highly as I do almost entirely on the strength of the ending.
Yes, there were a whole lot of red herrings implicating that character, and in realistic terms the revelation was highly improbable, but in terms of genre convention it was quite foreseeable. I personally predicted the twist in the first chapter.
The main characters have only limited success in opposing the villain in the final chapter, but it's not as if they accomplished much of note in the earlier chapters either. It was only in the final chapter that the story gained actual emotional intensity with respect to characters I cared about.
I happen to be biased against first person viewpoint characters who edge into Villain Protagonist territory (third person protagonists can be evil as all get out, but I have much stricter standards for relating to an "I".) So the fact that I got particularly little enjoyment out of the first arc is largely my own idiosyncracy. But out of all the people I've discussed the game with, I've never before encountered someone who thought that the final arc was weaker than the earlier ones.
Personally, I'm a fan of happy endings, and I have much higher standards for sad or bittersweet ones in order for them to earn by approval, but I consider this game to have the best final ending of any VN I've played. Yes, there's a cruel twist near the end, but it's foreshadowed, gives a great opportunity to highlight the character development of the cast, and sets up the final scene for a level of emotional impact that I don't think they could have achieved without the heavy dose of tragedy.
Before I read chapter five, I too thought the idea of having the protagonist be the villain was entirely too simple and easy a conclusion to come to given the nature of the work, but at the same time, I really wanted it to end up that way since it'd add so many levels of complexity and interesting angles they could pursue. The closing of Chapter Four had me in a tizzy thinking they might actually go that far for once until my hopes were unceremoniously dashed. Especially when they reveal that the killer was actually some guy we've never met, have no connection to, couldn't have guessed, and now have to sit through about half an hour of exposition that tells us what we need to know, desperately trying to link him to the main cast. They do a decent job with the flashbacks to the death of Haru's mother, but really, those should have come far earlier. And they showed us absolutely nothing that linked him to the protagonist, just "They used to play video games together and stuff."
And as far as the rest of chapter five goes, they certainly did up the scale... at the cost of any sort of tension when it came to the villain's plans. While the protagonists may not have been able to stop the villain in the previous chapters (and even that's debateable, given how at least one person saw through the scheme in chapter three and they completely stopped him in chapter four, if by proxy) I thought they had a real shot at it. They were actually doing things, collecting evidence, coming to conclusions about the villains next move, attempting to stop him, reacting when their actions failed or didn't fail, etc. Very little of that happened in chapter five since they really couldn't do anything. As a result what was going to happen was almost a foregone conclusion, so reading it felt like waiting it for it to end more than actually being invested in the scheming like I was with the earlier chapters.
As far as the "emotional impact" goes, I personally cared a lot more about our main two when they suspected each other of being criminal masterminds and their relationship was one of cautious co-investigators. They felt a lot more interesting to me that way. But that's just me. And because of that, that may be why I didn't care so much for the Epilogue either, even though I saw it coming a thousand miles away. It's a lot harder to care about the tragedy when you don't care about the characters. And yeah, I did think that them revisiting all the characters from prior chapters was a nice touch, but when almost all of them got a chapter or two to themselves anyways, highlighting their development felt a bit superfluous.
Anyway, that's just like, my opinion man. This was still a great read. After all, if only 7 out of eight lotto tickets are winners, you're still set for life.
Totally agree. I've been wondering why finishing this one made me feel so dissatisfied and that sums it up perfectly. I feel like they wasted alot of potentially incredible plot possibilities: Usami being in love with her nemesis and the murderer of her mother being the obvious one. It was also interesting that Maou didn't seem as evil as he was made out to be, after all in Ch2 he treats Hiroaki kindly and delivers on his promise to return him, in Ch3 he doesn't actually kill or harm anyone innocent, instead going after the unambiguously evil Gonzou, and in Ch4 the hostage crisis seems only intended to harm a textbook Asshole Victim. And after the violin scene with Haru's crazy eyes, I was entertaining a theory that he was a manufactured persona of Haru herself, who desperately needed to find a villain to blame for her mother's murder.
Then suddenly chapter 5 rolls around and he casually slaughters hostages and directly causes the destruction of a large part of a city and the deaths of countless civilians; a far cry from the almost neurotically cautious, shadowy, playful villain of the previous chapters. Even more annoyingly, his ultimate plan had basically nothing to do with anything that had been presented in the story so far and rendered irrelevant the efforts of the protagonists before and after the reveal. And of course, the Diabolus ex Machina epilogue that made me feel like shit after becoming emotionally invested in the characters.
Kyousuke takes the Idiot Ball in a chokehold and conveniently forgets that the man that he killed had recently held an entire city hostage, had proven himself to be a cold-blooded murderer, and possessed years of military training. Not to mention the fact that Haru had watched him kill her mother, which certainly would have played in her favor had she gone to court for manslaughter. If he had told the truth, not only would Haru have been cleared of all charges, they both would have looked like heroes in the eyes of the media, and even though he would've faced sanctions for illegally possessing a weapon, he sure as hell wouldn't have served 8 years. All-in-all the whole thing felt like a cheap way out for the writers, like they got tired of writing thoughtful, small scale mystery and just decided to go for the big, stupid finale and emotional cheap shots. Lame. I still enjoyed it overall, but those last couple of hours took alot out of it for me.
I don't agree that it was necessarily bad for the reveal to be that a different person was Maou. I also think that with the way the story was presented that the intention never was to have Maou be Kyousuke. However, they did save a ridiculous amount of information for after the reveal in chapter five when it would have been nicer if it was set up more properly.
The Epilogue in the Haru ending is absolutely ridiculous though. Maou's "final plan" is completely reliant on dumb luck and it's a huge Diabolus Ex Machina that he avoided being killed in Kyousuke's apartment and managed to have one of Haru and Kyousuke kill him in public after he was unarmed. Kyousuke grabs the hell out of the idiot ball by coming up with a story that makes him seem the most at fault when the true story would probably have made both of them look better, just to keep Haru's name clear. The fact that he's able to get away with this considering the evidence makes it an even bigger Diabolus Ex Machina.
Apparently some people didn't like the twist but I liked it a lot. You know what would have made it incoherent? That Kyosuke was Maou all along, making all those phone calls and physical encounters with a variety of smart characters, yet none of them was able to recognize that he's actually Maou. That would be the biggest nonsense out there. It makes a ton of sense how they didn't think he was Maou most of the time: Because he actually isn't! I kept wondering throughout the playthrough how such an identity concealment would be possible at all. I also kept thinking that such a degree of split personality and amnesia surely is just way too extreme and unconvincing, even by drama standards. I'm quite glad that they actually managed to resolve these with the final plot twist.
Also you have to understand that this work is at its core a rather conservative and traditional Japanese TV affair. If somebody kills other people in such a play, they'll always have to be punished for it. If Kyosuke were Maou, there'd literally be no way for him to escape a purely bad ending at all, which is apparently not where the story was heading. If you want a morally ambiguous and deeply conflicted protagonist with blood on his hands, you can see pretty much from the beginning that this is not going to be such a type of story. Try Soukou Akki Muramasa instead, for example.
Though of course, the way the author has been deliberately trying to mislead the readers has been a bit too heavy-handed, this I agree with. Even if he didn't deliberately place so many red herrings, the player would still already naturally think that Kyosuke is Maou.
Also I agree that the fact Kyosuke is not Maou does make the other endings a bit weird and unconvincing. I guess you can somehow treat the relationship between Maou and Kyosuke like that between Yuki and Mizuha. But still, it might have been a bit too easy for Maou to just give up altogether, just because Kyosuke settled into a happy life.
Alternatively, you can simply view it as "Maou already failed in some other way in those other endings, even without being caught by Kyosuke and Haru", which still is a kind of possible. Gonzou is not that easy to kill, after all.
@Byuusetsu I don't have problems with those turns of events at the end. If you really scrutinize Maou's various outrageous plans, then that was definitely not the most likely one to fail... And the conversation between the police and Kyosuke has explained it pretty well why Haru couldn't be exonerated if they told the true version of the events. Somebody even heard Haru shout "Die!". Also, they also mentioned how even the slightest conviction on Haru would have tainted her reputation greatly, in the Japanese society.
I think it's just that the writer believed that Kyosuke really needs to have some payback for his various delinquent deeds, as is the tradition in such a conservative story. Maou himself also said so... So I don't see that ending as being unreasonable, not to mention "ridiculous".
The one thing I think is a kind of overly dramatic is how Kyosuke didn't know he has a daughter for 8 years... I mean even if he proactively rejected all outside communication, Haru could at least send him some letters that he had to at least open. Unless he was always immediately throwing the letters away...
In all I think the twist's pros much outweigh its cons. It raised my rating from 8 to 9, quite high for a relatively traditional story. Well played.
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