Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Supernatural
Release Date: July 11, 2011
It’s been just about a year since Jisei was released by SakeVisual to both acclaim and criticism. It was one of the first English Visual Novels I ever played and, despite my few issues, I gave it a Eight out of Ten. Now SakeVisual has released Kansai and once again you are dropped into the shoes of our unnamed detective blessed with suck.
Despite the year in between the release of both games, it’s only been twenty-four hours since the murder of Sara Blackmoore. Our hero is currently slumming it with the twins from the last game, Naoki and Aki Mizutani, who also have abilities similar to his own. They are all summoned by William Auten, the billionaire owner of Auten Engineering from the last game, to give an account of what happened and who Sara might have been trying to sell her information to. When they arrive at his high-tech mansion, the reclusive industrialist is soon found dead and you are thrust into a new investigation that quickly develops into SakeVisual’s finest game to date.
Let’s get this one out of the way early: the story is fantastic. This is not light fair by any stretch of the imagination as the colorful art and vivid characters masks a heavy narrative for about maybe a good three minutes. Kansai’s world is a grey one which is best described by one character's off-hand remark, ‘sometimes you can do good things with bad intentions.’ I won't be getting too deep into the story because I don't want to spoil too much, which is surprisingly easy to do, but as the VN progresses you'll not only be treated to the history of Auten's previously mentioned government contacts (as well as how that ties into our lead character's abilities) as well as a few personal secrets the others are holding onto. It is a fascinating tale that deserves your full attention.
At the heart of this story is, as mentioned before, William Auten. Judging only from my own point-of-view, great parallels can be drawn between Auten and real-life figures such as Howard Hughes and J. Robert Oppenheimer AKA the Father of the Nuclear Bomb. There are also eerie similarities between Auten and Mr. Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: as far as both characters act as ciphers for others needs and ideas of evil throughout the story. While in the game Auten’s rise and violent death was told in a condensed fashion, I would love to see the character’s story told in full down the road.
Auten could also possibly directly tie into the lives of your new allies…if you can call them that. Naoki and Aki’s past is revealed a bit more in this game along with ‘Kangai’s’ AKA Lee AKA the Unnamed Detective who plays the Marlowe to Auten’s Kurtz (and yes I believe that metaphor is appropriate). Through the game you’re presented with more of his story and while we aren’t presented with much, it is enough for you to want him to keep certain things quiet: even from you. Clearly though this kid was, at one point, on the side of the angels. The same cannot be said for Aki and her brother. While not getting too deeply into spoilers let me just say that I am impressed how they both served as a mirror for the little bit of Kan’s own history we get to see: albeit a distorted reflection.
Then there’s Li Mei who is a mystery in and of herself. Throughout the game our detective has one big question about this ghostly child and, in one ending at least; it will be answered in a stunningly effective way. But even with that knowledge I find myself in a position with her that I was with Kan at the end of Jisei. And I hate to say that because I really liked the character but the bittersweet feeling of only knowing so much is prevalent.
Just remember, Aki doesn’t lie. She just tells misleading truths.
With Auten’s death come four new characters who perfectly reflect the life Auten’s built for himself: shallow and cold. Liam Auten; his nephew and a degenerate lost in his own arrogance. Kevin: an IT geek who was headhunted by Auten himself after college to run his security systems. Melissa Klein: who I personally found myself liking by the end of the game but not necessarily because she’s a good person. And finally there’s Sophia Millerson: Auten’s personal assistant who and probably the only actual professional anything in this game.
Combined with Detective Gurski returning to provide some balance and a beginner's knowledge of Chinese mythology, the stories of all of these characters mix and weave into a perfect combination.
Uh huh...Whatever helps you sleep at night, kid.
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
The original crew of Jisei all return for the sequel and they packed a few new tricks up their sleeves. The character art has undergone an upgrade and all of the characters stand-out cleanly and perfectly reflect their own unique personalities. I wish the same could be said about the background art though, which seems to be a mixture of real life photography and CG art. When it comes together, it all looks really good but when it doesn’t, it’s painfully obvious.
I can’t in good conscious talk about the presentation of this game and how voice acting blends into it. Clearly this is where Ayu’s day job comes in handy as she knows exactly what to bring out of the vocal cast and, if I may just make a personal observation here, how exactly did she get R. Bruce Elliot to do this? For those of you who don’t know who that is, other than the voice of William Auten, let me help you out: Basque Grand and Doctor Knocs.
Yeah. How did she do that? (Editor's Note: Turns out she's a friend of R. Bruce Elliot...and now I am forever jealous.)
Outside of Mr. Elliot’s performance the original casts all make an appearance as well and have all stepped up to the plate. The standout new performances are definitely all females: Li Mei, Aki, Sophia and Melissa. The four brought that little bit extra that led to some actual empathy towards them in the end, which I approve of. Liam’s total douchebaggery is done well and there wasn’t a moment in this game where I wasn’t personally hoping for a ‘Punch Him’ option just to shut him up. Kevin also felt natural, like someone you could talk to even if you don’t see them all the time. The originals all hang with the new kids as well as Naoki still seems like he’s five seconds away from fainting which is awesome and Gurski is still as tightly wound as ever. Big kudos goes to the voice talent who, under great direction, really made the voice acting worthwhile.
The music is also top notch and perfectly fits the tone of each scene of the story. While the Openings just aren't my style of music and I will not critique them because of it, all of the background sets have a great feeling to them and are worth listening to on their own.
It would be easy to consider this a murder mystery, but that’s not exactly true. Kansei is split off into three different directions and each path has its own unique game mechanics, revelations and endings. To that effect, the game is more of a puzzle reflecting the player rather than about solving a murder. Of course, you have that option and there is a murderer to be found by the end of the game. But to fully get what this game is trying to do, you have to accept that you’ve been dealt a million pieces and asked complete the puzzle: ultimately removing the goal of obtaining ‘justice’ and moving you away from the direct center of the attention of the game so that you can work.
The Trust mechanic from Jisei makes a return here as well, but has been expanded on. In the last game, your best bet was not to lie to anyone, while here you are better served trying to figure out who you can keep in the dark and who you can trust. More than one character becomes unavailable if you give them a piece of your mind, while others will not trust you at all if you aren’t straightforward with them. Once that happens, they take a vital piece of the story with them that will otherwise leave a gaping hole. It is a delicate dance that fully realizes the potential from Jisei but also leaves room for further expansion in later entries.
Also you are presented with two new gameplay mechanics: Naoki and Li Mei. These two characters are the only help you will get along your investigation, but you will only be able to tap onto one of their abilities depending on the route you take during the game. The choice between Naoki and Li Mei is made for you through the early exploration and decisions you make at the beginning of the game, so just like with the Trust mechanic you are best served not rushing through and putting a bit of thought into your actions.
Added to Kansei as well is Exploration as everything in the mansion can be looked into: in fact it’s recommend. Auten’s secrets are intertwined in his self-made prison so examining a bit of everything will only help you put this increasingly sinister portrait together.
Aki is not impressed m'am. Not impressed at all.
This is where things get tricky. With my current schedule and taking all possible paths needed to complete the story I maxed this one out at around seven hours. While I personally applaud the decision to make the game as it was made, I will also concede that not everyone plays games like I do. One extreme will most likely grind out choices until they figure everything out which I feel takes the fun out of the entire experience and the other extreme will turn Kansei off and be satisfied with one ending rather than complete its actual objectives.
What I’m trying to say here is that this is not a game for everyone. I’m recommending it with a warning to the gamers I know and I feel that speaks to everything that’s great about this game and also its biggest weak point. Your experience is ultimately decided on by you and whether or not you play it again is strictly defined by your first experience playing through it. If you grind it out or stop with one ending, you’re more than likely not to play it again. However, if you adopt Zen-like patience (see what I did there?) then you, like me, will find yourself playing it again with a little less panic and a lot more intrigue.
As long as this game review is I’ve barely scratched the surface. As rich as Jisei was and as deep as it could pull you, Kansei is deeper and richer to the point where there is little fat to trim. With my few notes aside, this is the reason why I got into visual novels in the first place. This is great storytelling wrapped in an engaging world that keeps you invested through good acting. Even with the above warning, I cannot think of anyone I’m not recommending this game to.
As much as Jisei was a testament to hard work and talent, Kansei is a victory for constantly striving for the best. Congratulations SakeVisual: this one is something special.
+ Easily one of the strongest EVN stories you'll read
+ Voice Acting ties together a great visual Presentation
- The overall play through is still relatively short