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I went into CROSS CHANNEL expecting an easy read full of the stupid shit I love in visual novels. It had everything I was wanting... for an hour or two. After that, it plunged headlong into some pretty disturbing and depressing territory and hardly ever looked back. But I kept going, and I was glad I did. CROSS CHANNEL is, for all intents and purposes, the only visual novel I've ever seen pull off a dramatic deconstructionary genre shift successfully, as opposed to something like the Muv-Luv series, which decided that waving the magic wands of faulty memories and alternate dimensions and then dropping textwalls of technobabble were good ideas, or what I've heard of School Days, where the dark stuff comes out of left field at the end.
And the reason CROSS CHANNEL works so well is that it's easy to believe that its characters would do the things they do given the premise, their backstories, and the actions themselves. No one really goes completely crazy at any point, even when it looks that way at first. Its a testament to the writing that this story can come up with such an interesting and valid justification for murder that I can still not only sympathize with the culprit after I learn their identity, but actually like them as a person.
And not only that, but it also puts quite the refreshing spin on tired old concepts. Our stereotypical pervert H game protagonist is actually keenly self aware of how fucked up he is, of how much he sounds like a rapist, and tries to push his friends away because of it. He's not looking for love, just reconcilliation with all his friends (putting an unusual amount of attention on his male friends, normally shoehorned in and out of this kind of game). The story made me feel sad not because of the characters' tragic pasts, but because it made me question whether there's any hope for them, given how they interact with each other.
Presentation-wise, the art has some nice, soft colours going for it, but isn't too noteworthy. The music, on the other hand, is spectacular, especially the pieces using the piano and the main theme in a capella. The emotion in those pieces is palpable.
CROSS CHANNEL isn't something you go through with a bowl of popcorn next to you. It's hard to read, but very rewarding, full of meaning and emotion. It's not the most entertaining visual novel I've ever read, but it is the best one.
Cross Channel might very well be the best visual novel ever written. The problem is that explaining why would require spoilers of massive proportions. So a word of warning that the following will ruin a lot of the twists in the interest of figuring out what makes this game so great.
Most visual novels follow a set path—a generic lead, weak-willed moeblobs, terrible writing and dramatic twists that occasionally border on the exploitative. In Cross Channel, the writing is pretty great, the twists make total sense and throw the story into stark relief and the moeblobs are all well-developed characters who would probably be better off without you. But what makes Cross Channel brilliant is its protaganist, Kurosu Taichi. Somewhere between a monster and a human, longing for human connection while at the same time capable of horrible acts, he might just be the best protaganist in any visual novel ever. Many visual novels work in the spaces between the protaganist and the player, but "controlling" Kurosu Taichi might stand as one of the most fascinating (and occasionally terrifying) experiences I've had in a video game. His decision at the end is horribly tragic, made even more so because even though it is probably what he and everyone else in the story needs it is almost certainly not what he wants. He might not be a good person, but he tried as hard as he could.
So yeah—it's not as famous as Ever17 or Fate/stay night, but Cross Channel remains superior (not to mention that the English patch has the option of cutting out much of the sexual content!) Visual novels certainly aren't literature, but of any game I've played Cross Channel might have come the closest.
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