This has been a long time coming for this review, as I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around what just happened in this game. I have nothing but high acclaim for it as it literally blew my mind, and has made it to one of my favorite VN novels.
To start, you play as the main protagonist Keiichi Maebara who has moved to Hinamizawa, a small countryside village that’s starkly different from his regular city life. He states that he has moved there because of his father and that he is settling with his new life. He’s made a good amount of friends in the area, and life seems to be going smoothly for him, and that he is coming to love the country more and more.
However, things start to take a slightly strange turn when you meet a photographer who happens to be taking pictures around a recycling site you happen to go to with a Rena. He speaks about a brutal homicide that occurred a few years ago but is unable to speak more on it when you get interrupted by Rena. It’s from this encounter onwards that the daily life that you’ve come to know as a peaceful one, turns sinister.
THE MAIN CAST
Satoko Hojo is a young and extremely sadistic child who takes nothing but pleasure from seeing the main character writhe in pain from one of her demonic traps. Throughout the entire game, she is more of a pain in the ass than an actual cutey patootie that you want to dote on. They state she does these things for attention, but… Placing thumbtacks on the door handle, inkblots that could potentially stab me in the gut, and putting tripping wire for me so that I can fall face first into sharp objects…? No thanks, you’re not a child, you’re a demon unworthy of my friendship. Shoo~!
No, but in seriousness, she is a main character of the entire series, and while I have my issues with her and her behavior. What is pointed out in the game is that she acts the way she does because Keiichi reminds her of her missing older brother…
Mion Sonozaki is the oldest out of the group of friends and the leader of the crew, she comes off as lazy and a bit of a pervert. She mentions often that she is an old man with delinquent thoughts throughout the game, her comments are pretty lewd but entertaining. She is an avid fan of western card games like UNO and Old Maid, usually buying games from a store in the next town. Mion is also the heiress to one of the oldest family clans of the Hinamizawa area and is also a key character to keep an eye on.
While Mion is a great friend, she also has her own secrets that she hides in the game. It’s okay to get close, but remember, keep your enemies closer.
Rena Hyuga is the most prolific character of this entire series, as whenever you google Higurashi, her picture is probably one of the first CGs to pop up. Rena is a cute deredere type of character who has a wicked right hook when she gets psyched up about cute looking things. She is the best chef out of the crew and happens to pretend that she is innocent to avoid controversial conversations.
She has a tendency to want to take cute people home, so, please be advised if a child goes missing in Hinamizawa, go to Rena’s house first. She is another main character of the game, and like Mion, it is best to wary of her as well…
Lastly, Rika Furude is the sweet but manipulative child of the bunch. Don’t let her cute and innocent guiles fool you, she is sincerely a wolf in sheep’s clothing and will not hesitate to put you in a disgruntling position. She is the shrine priestess of the Hinamizawa province, and it is stated she lives with Satoko at the shrine grounds.
Rika is a mysterious character, but it’s important to know she is possibly the true main character of the game even if it’s not blasted out there for the reader to know. What we find out is Rika’s family is no longer around, but she is one of the key links to the tragic Hinamizawa Homicide Incident.
I’m going to try and keep the game spoiler-free, but that’s not a definite guarantee as this game is a completely static VN. For those of you who aren’t familiar with types of VN novels or Otome games, please check out my blog post about them, here! The beginning of the game points to the immediate dark foreshadowing of things to come when you first agree to ‘enjoy‘ the story. The beginning opens with the telltale sounds of something ominous-sounding with Keiichi’s thoughts narrating over the bizarre blacked out screen.
It was difficult to consume what the MC was trying to put forth as the sounds in the background perilously unnerved me, until the screen faded from red to black after another resounding splatter echoed in my ears. It was almost surreal with how quickly the novel moved from intense and mortifying, to a relaxed and calm atmosphere. Sorta.
The progression of the story continues onward as we assimilate to Keiichi’s life in Hinamizawa and how he has an almost unremarkable summer there. The small town of Hinamizawa reminds me of the cozy and quaint towns I’ve managed to travel to in the past, where everyone knows everybody and there’s plenty of mom and pop shops to explore. Of course, if you’re looking for game stores and a shopping mall, you’d have to go into the next town by bike or train.
However, most of your day traveling back and forth between the town to the city takes quite some time, and causes the day to fast forward quickly when those moments do occur in the game.
It was pretty intriguing how this game slowly lulls the reader into an expectation of just a normal high schooler trying to adjust to his new life in the country. Keiichi and the gang surely make the VN feel extremely relaxed as if you’re watching a romance and slice of life type of ordeal happen on screen. As we go from those horrific pranks that Satoko plays to sharing a meal with Rena and the gang for lunch, it’s hard to believe that this VN was hiding a more disturbing plot.
I feel that the creators did the game justice by allowing the readers to escape into a world where nothing seems off, even with the dark foreshadowing at the beginning. It makes you believe that whatever the opening had hinted, could have been something like a flue, to throw off the reader so that we would feel sheepish at the final chapter of the VN itself.
As everything felt wholesome and cozy as we pass through the first quarter of summer without too many issues, except when we lose a card game against Mion. The game makes a subtle but suspenseful shift after chapter 4 when you go with Rena to an area where people practically throw their garbage or recycles into. At first glance, you don’t really care about the items that lay in the area, I mean, why should we? Right?
That is until you meet Tomitake, a photographer who isn’t from Hinamizawa himself, but he comes every year for the Wataganishi Festival, and something else… To investigate the Hinamizawa disappearances that occur every year after the festival.
He further piqued our interest by talking about a homicidal incident that occurred a few years back before Keiichi arrived in the town. The fact that the event revolved around the Oyashiro Curse that seemed to be enveloping the sleepy village. While we do try to get more information about this occurrence, Rena happens to appear and the conversation abruptly ends. Which leaves Keiichi feeling a bit miffed about the whole matter.
What was even more questionable was the behavior that Rena began to push forward after you inquire with her about the homicide. She is quick to brush it off, and become indifferent about your line of questioning to anything that is related to the event all those years ago. She makes it clear that she has no knowledge of what happened as she wasn’t there when it occurred. However, due to the way she was quick to shut down any further discussion on regards to the incident made Keiichi even more suspicious, and determined to uncover the mystery that the town was hiding.
After playing through this game and seeing the unimaginable horror lying beneath its cloak of innocence, I’m completely amazed with how this VN turns its reader inside out with just words and visual cues alone. The uncertainty that gradually builds as you work alongside Keiichi to understand the secret surrounding the homicidal incident, and the curse of Oyashiro pulls you deeper into the pits of ultimate despair. I felt my mental state go up and out the window after finishing the chapters, and reading the official end of the first book in the series.
The more the player dives into the book, the more you start to see the obscure colors of the shadow take form in the characters you once believed are honest people. It was intense, scary, and psychologically a big mind-fuck to my overall senses considering I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did. It’s also relatively hard to face the fact that you do get attached to a lot of the characters, except Satoko, I couldn’t care less about her and her antics.
Higurashi is a fully story-rich VN that relies heavily on the tones and subtle inflections in the words of the characters and their actions. It masterfully combines concrete imagery and story building in a fine balance to captivate the player, and languidly introduce us into the world of Higurashi. With the beginning intentionally being created to be a slow burn for the reader, it helped us as the reader to understand our Keiichi’s thoughts and actions through the story.
That hard work of keeping us enthralled at a steady pace does pay off as once we hit chapter 4, we are suddenly shifted into seeing the evils that have been looming at the wings of the game. Our pleasant and sweet companions begin to change, but we, also as the reader and MC of the whole VN, start to shift our mentality as well. This drives the story to make us consider if our narrator is even a reliable source of information, as his mind starts to crumble after the Watanagashi Festival, which further drives the story plot to unravel quickly.
07th Expansion is beyond innovative when it comes to creating a world of fiction that will casually swallow a player whole, and leave us feeling confused, horrified, and undeniably addicted to wanting to find out what exactly is going on in Hinamizawa. There were definite moments of “okay that’s cute” and “I want to participate in this festival!”
However, the sinister realization of everything that was occurring under our noses as Keiichi sought out the truth of the Oyashiro Curse, the Homicide of Hinamizawa, and the disappearance of Satoko’s brother. You become just as crazed with him as things deliberately spiral out of control with the ending leaving you more confused than giving any closure.
This is only the beginning of the series, and while I’ve completed the Higurashi: Onikakushi chapter, I’m still left with more questions than answers. Is what Keiichi seeing the truth? Is Hinamizawa even real? What exactly happened to Satoko’s brother and Rika’s family? Why is Mion’s family hiding ? What exactly does Rena play in all this? So many questions to be answered, but not enough chapters in the first segment to answer them.
Overall, I’m looking forward to the next chapter of Higurashi: Watanagashi and if we get any closer to understanding what is happening with this small town.
Until next time, thanks for reading, and see you on the gaming side~!