Thanksgiving tasted like Turkey and cough syrup, so I started up this game…
A Visual Novel released by Success Corporation as recently as 2008, Aoi Shiro was translated by Wings of Yuri about two months ago. I was quite excited by this released as not only is the game rather new and thus reflects upon the current level of the Japanese Visual Novel industry, it is a completely Yuri Visual Novel — the only one of its type being translated as far as I know (and no H-scenes, which I’m glad about). Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to put aside enough time to play this until recently…
The game takes about thirty-some hours of total gameplay time. The story is interesting but not very strong, so the greatest enjoyment lay in the game’s artwork and presentation which are absolutely gorgeous.
Story : 24/40
Characters : 12/25
Artwork : 20/15
Music & Presentation: 14/15
Misc Impressions: 3/5
Aoi Shiro is about the Kendo club of a prestigious all-girls high-school going to a remote training camp — a monastery by the shores of a forbidden island with mythological ties. Not knowing that several of them have historical ties to these sacred grounds, the girls get themselves wrapped up in an ancient and lasting conflict, one with its root buried deep in the local folklore. Eight hundred years ago on the nearby island, an Oni king had been defeated and a terrible power was sealed away by the legendary Yasuhime-sama, but today actors have once again gathered on this stage to fight for the power of the Dragon King Palace.
Osanai Syouko (小山内 梢子) — Main Character
Nicknamed ‘Osa’, you play as the Captain of the Kendo team. Syouko is serious, hardworking, and somewhat shy — mostly since she’s always on the receiving end of jokes. Her behavior (and voice acting) is rather stiff, and there isn’t anything too outstanding about her traits except her courage and decisiveness. A good main character to drive the story forward, I guess.
Aizawa Yasumi (相沢 保美)
The first of the heroines is Yasumi. As the kendo club manager, Kasumi has a weak body — not quite sickly but extremely low stamina. But to make up for it, she’s a particularly hard worker and tries her best at everything, even if she has to strain herself for doing so. Yasumi also has legendary cooking skills — so good it moves all the girls into wishing they could marry her. She also reads a wide variety of books and is surprisingly knowledgeable about things.
I quickly started liking Yasumi thanks to her hard work and guts attitude and the fact her smiles are brightest when she’s helping others. The cute, frilly clothes also helped, not to mention the fact she’s absolutely adorable when she’s forcing out lines while being embarrassed. She also has a genuine crush on Syouko, as her jealous face during the other arcs is also quite cute.
The mysterious little girl that you find swept up by the seashore during the first night, Nami starts off with neither any memories nor a voice. But what she does have are bundles of cuteness: the soft expressions, the light nods, the curiously focused eyes and the dazed stares, not to mention the doll-like appearance accentuated by her elegantly beautiful kimono. Her child instincts also quickly attaches herself to Syouko and Yasumi. Given the way she showed up, it’s also pretty easy to figure out that she’s not an ordinary human. The developers realize this and doesn’t try to hide that information either… However, Nami’s alternate side personality is very poorly developed due to the relatively short timeframe you get with her and the lack of variation in scenes.
Oh gosh I think I melted— that was sooooo adorable!! ( >_< ) Definitely on a criminally cute level.
Kyan Migiwa (喜屋武 汀)
The athletic obviously-ninja girl whom comes to take a vacation in the same monastery as Syouko’s kendo club. Migiwa has a carefree, my-pace personality that likes to tease others. She’s curious about everything but also bluntly expresses her opinion whether or not it’s wanted. As Syouko puts it upon meeting her — Migiwa seem like the “hard to deal with” type — definitely applies to me as well. You find out very quickly that Migiwa seems to be working for some unknown organization and isn’t happy at all to be sharing her mission-residence with a group of uptown ojou-samas.
As much as I dislike her personality, Migiwa comes in somewhat handy in the story itself. She may not know much about Kendo, but she is a serious practitioner of martial arts, and is the first one to give the reader an understanding of what’s truly going on.
As soon as Syouko meets her, she recognizes Kaya for her long-lost Natsu-nee-san, her role model in Kendo whom she thought had died eight years ago. Much of the early game character development for Kaya comes from Syouko reminiscing about Natsu-nee, so it’s rather hard to gauge exactly what Kaya is like. In so far as I can tell, she’s the extremely serious and stiff type — enough to make Syouko look very adaptive and flexible by comparison. Her character is rather flat and one-tracked, which may fit the story but still makes her extremely boring to deal with. The only thing interesting to note about Natsu-nee is that she’s the national kendo champion. Going down her path mostly focuses on unraveling the history between Syou-chan and Natsu-nee from eight years ago.
Kohaku is a rather peculiar and amusing character. She’s short, dressing in noble’s clothes from Feudal Japan eras, and could be easily mistaken for a teenage boy. Her personality is on the serious yet sarcastic side, and her speech and mannerisms are both dignified and cryptic, at least until she gets agitated and loses her composure. I find Kohaku to be the most GAR of the characters, and in spite of the game’s genre, I seriously wished they made her character a male. Kohaku’s path gives insight not only to her and her
ancient history, but also some insight to Nami’s alternate self.
I fear both Kaya and Kohaku shows up too late to be properly developed as main characters. For one, non-serious/everyday scenes of these two are definitely in lacking…
Frankly, several of the non-pathed characters are probably better developed than Kaya and Kohaku. There’s two that certainly are in my current progress and is likely to remain that way…
Akita Momoko (秋田 百子) is of the hyperactive type. She’s energetic to the point of being hard to keep up, and she has a particularly broad range of facial expression that’s always amusing to look at. Personality wise she’s rather selfish and only seems to act when it benefits her. But overall, splendid comic relief character with a love of dangerous pranks and obsessive of “cattle mutilation”.
There’s also Sakurai Ayashiro (桜井 綾代) to counterbalance Momo-chan, nicknamed ‘Hime’. She’s the vice-captain of the team and the weak-willed Yamato Nadeshiko type; generic.
Clean, highly-detailed, refined, and beautiful. I have only good things to say about the artwork, which the production team certainly put a lot of effort in. The art style is cute and colorful, with a touch of sharpness, good enough to meet most people’s tastes in my opinion.
There are a LOT of scene/event CGs, undoubtedly the highest ratio I’ve seen in a translated visual novel thus far. Even the bus, which our characters were on for just several lines, was given a CG (rather than the normal sky/clouds background VNs tend to use). I was particularly surprised by the details that went into these event CGs — for example, what the characters are eating in the dining hall CGs actually match their descriptions, and the food changes between different meal scenes.
The sheer amounts of detail that went into the game’s presentation astounds me. First of all, the characters speak, as in animated mouths (which does requires some getting used to). The CG transitions are very polished, especially with the special effects and SFXs. The game routinely zooms in on different parts of scene/event CGs to emphasize the main character’s vision focus, and this isn’t just done as transitions as it is in most games either, but throughout each scene — you never have to look for the details, the game brings you to them.. The ambient background chatter was actually quite distinguishable and specifically fit to each scene.
The interface is absolutely gorgeous, with even the menus voiced by the main character. When skipping scenes, the game will enter all the text that should have happened up until then into the log — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lost at a decision-spot when I choose to skip scenes in Fate/stay night. The option of customizing save file categories with character icons is a real nice touch that makes organizing saves easier. There is also a flowchart to help track progress and analyze where you went wrong; as well as a glossary for all the terms.
The music is well-composed and accomodating. It’s not exceptionally good, but it did an excellent job of getting the mood across. The BGM pieces for scenes where the characters talked about the ancient folklore is especially fitting, using traditional instruments (e.g. erhu) and styles with a touch of modernization. I was surprised by this since very few composers bother making traditional music for scenes since they mostly have little or no experience with it. The inconsistent battle music however, is the OST’s main weakness.
Aoi shiro is really different from my expectations of a Visual Novel story, mainly as its plotline is resolved in just 4~5 days (or 2~3 for some of the bad endings). These few days are packed to the brim, but… the exposition was too slow and drawn out with all the folklore, but the main story was felt too rushed. There wasn’t really any time to get to know the characters before you have to select a plotline to proceed down, and all of the climatic moments felt like it came too quickly and without sufficient buildup — there weren’t many hints being dropped beforehand to steadily raise those anxiety/anticipation levels before the climaxes.
It doesn’t help when the action scenes themselves feel rushed. One thing is for sure — unlike the writer of Fate/stay night or even Princess Waltz, the author of Aoi Shiro has no talent in writing combat sequences. The combat maneuvers of the characters feel really basic, and the descriptions are definitely in lacking…
What makes all of this worse is the complete loss of tone consistency within Aoishiro’s storytelling. It’ll be serious, dramatic, put-your-life-on-the-line intense in one moment, then suddenly switch to an easygoing or even comedic scene in just seconds without even a proper transition.
For a game where the art and presentation was so well polished, the story certainly felt… clumsy… as if it were rushed out from the writer.
As far as my limited Japanese can tell, most of it seems relatively solid. Although what I don’t get is why the translators chose to purposely skip out certain words like Genki (spirited) or Tsubaki (camellia). I mean it’s not like they’re ambiguous. Most of this is rather harmless, although it starts to hurt during the folklore storytelling scenes when most of the definite articles and people’s titles are left completely untranslated…
I really wanted Syouko x Yasumi with Nami as their adoptive daughter end! But no… denied ;-;