Today we’re proud to present another Tester’s Corner for Cartagra from wavedash!
I’m not a big fan of horror or gore; never have been, and probably never will. So I was a bit apprehensive going into Cartagra. The closest thing to horror I’ve seen in a visual novel would probably be Chaos;Head (excuse me, ChäoS;HEAd) and Saya no Uta. As an aside, this means that I have not (yet) played Kara no Shoujo.
I was quite relieved to find that Cartagra is probably best classified as a mystery thriller. At the same time, I was also highly disturbed by the gore that *was* present, particularly when said gore involves eyes. Just thinking about it makes me squeamish. Damn you, Innocent Grey.
Anyway, Cartagra is a fantastic visual novel. The story is magnificent, both in premise and in execution. Because of this, I will avoid any remotely detrimental spoilers. The plot revolves around events that occur and factions that come to power in 1950’s urban Japan. Serial killings, bizarre cannibalism, and mysterious cultists are just a few elements introduced early in the game. Everything is connected, and I mean *everything*. There’s a fine line between plot twist and ass pull, and Cartagra walks it gracefully. Our protagonist Shugo, a former police detective, is hired to find a runaway girl, but finds himself more and more involved in the Ueno serial killings as he seeks to untangle the mess of connections.
Here, I’ll introduce some of the people affected by the Ueno serial killings. This is just a fraction of the many characters in Cartagra, mostly just the ones whom I find worth talking about in a spoiler-free setting.
Rin is a prostitute who works at the Yukishiro, the brothel at which Shugo lives. Despite her profession, she’s quite interested in Shugo, and makes a hobby of playfully teasing him. However, the unwritten rules of the red-light district dictate that guests who rent rooms in brothels are not to involve themselves with the prostitutes who work there.
Hatsune is one of Rin’s coworkers. However, while Rin serves men, Hatsune serves meals. She is a prostitute-in-training, currently working as a servant or maid of sorts for the Yukishiro. Although she is equally attached to Shugo, her personality could not be further from Rin’s. Hatsune is a gentle angel of love and purity and hope and cute.
The proprietress of the Yukishiro is Madame Ujaku, a former prostitute turned manager. Though she has no children of her own, she sees her employees as her daughters, and makes sure to take care of them, perhaps empathizing with their troubles from personal experience.
Ujaku’s seiyuu Kaori Okuda, real name Dodo Asako, is one of the Two Great Voices of Cartagra (or TGVoC, I’m sure it’ll catch on). She is perhaps “best” known for minor roles in Baldr Sky and Ikusa Megami Zero; without a doubt a crying shame, because her work as Madame Ujaku is top-notch. Kaori Okuda conveys Ujaku’s emotions extremely passionately. Whether it’s solemn reminiscing, blazing fury, or wistful love, she can do it all. But above all, Kaori Okuda’s usual gentle, soothing tone draws a sharp contrast to Madame Ujaku’s power and appearance, revealing her true personality: a nurturing mother.
Shugo’s little sister Nana also plays a vital role in the events that transpire in Ueno. Nana seems to aspire to become a detective like her brother. Her intellect, curiosity, and boldness prove to be both invaluable to Shugo’s investigation and dangerous to herself and those close to her. The full extent of that danger is explored her route.
Toji is an acquaintance of Shugo’s from back when he was a police detective. Toji has access to a wide information network due to her position as a high-ranking official in an underground yakuza-like organization known as the Hand of Death, one-armedness notwithstanding. She is normally cool-headed and blunt, but has a soft spot for her new friend, Kazuna.
At the center of the tragedies that take place in Cartagra is the main heroine, our dear Kazuna. An aspiring stage actress, she assists Shugo in his search for her missing sister Yura. Kazuna is a kindhearted, outgoing girl, though she isn’t the sharpest blade in the knife drawer. But what she lacks in wits, she more than makes up for in enthusiasm and determination. She also provides comic relief, much needed in a game as heavy as Cartagra.
Kazuna also happens to be the second half of the Two Great Voices of Cartagra. She is credited as Yuzuki Akishiro; her real name is Yasuda Mio. She is probably best known for voicing Tsukuba You in Nitro+’s Saya no Uta. Yuzuki Akishiro’s voice as Kazuna is the epitome of liveliness. I don’t mean that just in the “genki” way. I also mean that Kazuna feels very *alive*. In terms of just intonation, she sounds similar to Touyama Nao (namely Haruna from Kantai Collection). But Yuzuki Akishiro trumps Touyama Nao in one particular department: being delightfully emotive, a perfect fit the hyperactive actress.
Cartagra has one main, true ending. Branching off from this route will yield an alternate ending; I hesitate to call them “bad” endings because not only does that imply that there are endings that could be considered “good” in a traditional sense, but also because there is variation in “goodness” and “badness” among those endings. These alternate routes will reveal bits and pieces of the whole mystery and/or depict Shugo in a romantic (or… less than romantic) relationship. The alternate endings are no doubt weaker than the true ending, but if you take Cartagra as a whole, it’s certainly worth playing through them. They aren’t terribly long, anyway.
On a technical level, MangaGamer’s localization of Cartagra is nothing short of fantastic. The translation is excellent, as you’ll hopefully agree from these screenshots and the demo. The translators who worked on Cartagra not only have a firm grasp of Japanese, but also English, making the game enjoyable to read not just for its story, but also its prose. In addition, the game is not constrained to using monospaced fonts, as most fan translations are, making the text much easier on the eyes.
Please trust me when I say that this only covers the tip of the iceberg. In retrospect, this isn’t a great review, because there’s so many things that I can’t tell someone who presumably has not played Cartagra, but hopefully will.
Just kidding! The true mastermind behind the serial killings is—