…Well, Keiichi Maebara really didn’t have a choice in the matter as the move to this small town in the middle of seemly nowhere was because of his father’s work. At the beginning of the game, we are introduced to his friend, Rena Ryugu, who has been picking him up from his house to walk to school with him.
In the past couple of months, Keiichi had been participating in “club activities” after school with Rena, as well as Mion Sonozaki, Satoko Houjou, and Rika Furude. Mion is the class representative as well as club founder. Satoko is the prankster with childish tendencies, and Rika is the town’s shrine maiden and insightful third party in most arguments.
This is awesome, right Keiichi? We are all having lots of fun, right? Music is upbeat, cute, and exciting as we are all playing these club games! Oh cool, there is this awesome game where Rika pretends to be in a room with poison! Oh, Rena wants to go treasure hunting in the local abandoned dam construction site to retrieve some weird statue-
Wait, what’s this newspaper clipping here-
And suddenly, the music stops. The sound effects become tense. As the reader is thrown a pebble in the simple utopia country setting, we become curious about the back-story of this town. Why are Keiichi’s friends suddenly not answering his questions? What is this rumor going around about a curse and people disappearing? Why is there a police officer questioning Keiichi’s friends and their involvement in these rumors?
Welcome to Hinamizawa.
The biggest update for this visual novel is the sprite artwork. Not only have the characters become more bearable to look at compared to the original game released over 10 years ago, the changes in expressions are subtle and highly effective to the gameplay. There are no voices for the female characters, but the script dialogue is unique enough that readers become accustomed to each distinct persona.
Background settings also help identify where the reader is at certain time with smooth-scrolling from one place to the next as needed.
As we progress through the story, we hear a small variety of scores in the background. During fun moments, we have an upbeat tone, which can quickly pause for a second to alert the reader to pay attention to important plot points. The music changes to become more and more unsettling to fit the changing plot and keeps the reader actively engaged.
Sound effects are also placed well, sometimes almost as jump scares. Since there are no CG cut scenes, the music and sound become the placeholders for the tense moments.
The story of Higurashi is well-known to the older generation, popularized by the anime that first came out in 2006. (If your anime friends at the time did not make you sit down and watch this anime, if only to see your reaction after the 3rd episode, you have not been trolled enough.) The script flows well, giving the reader minimal and very concise descriptions of certain things to focus on. As more cracks are revealed in the quaint town, previous narration is called into question. For fans of this game/anime, the foreshadowing is well-hidden in casual conversations that become enjoyably ironic when noticed. As a first-time player, you become a detective trying to solve a mystery murder that becomes more and more confusing-
And then it’s over. Because, of course, this is only chapter one.
It was a rather short ride, wasn’t it? It’s alright, there a lot of extra background snippets unlocked as the story progressed, so you can read up on those. Here, Rena has even come by your house with groceries to make you a delicious dinner!