Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Supernatural
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Technically this is my first review of 2013 and if you haven’t played either Jisei or Kansei you are an idiot and quite possibly condemned to wear an itchy sweater for all of eternity. Luckily, I’ve got your back with a little required reading before you start reading this one.
And yes, this is absolutely required. You won’t understand a damn thing about this review unless read go through the following:
With that said, Yousei has been just over a year in the making. Expectations from fans and critics couldn’t be any higher and now the question is not only can it live up to the hype, but also is this the start of a good year for the SakeVisual clan? There is only one way to find out. Let’s dive into the review.
In the Jisei universe it’s been about a week since the previous installment. Since then our hero Alex AKA Kangai has been working from the clues he found at the Auten Estate: namely trying to find Auten’s business partner Shen Guan. This has led our intrepid detective to the University of Edgewater where the professor who oversaw the Guan-Auten partnership, a Dr. Johansson , is still teaching. With nowhere else to go, Kan and the others head to the university where their biggest emotional trial awaits them.
And I am not even close to kidding about the ‘emotional’ part. In the Jisei pentalogy, this particular chapter was inevitable. This is because, as I hammered repeatedly in the Yousei Top 3, the group barely knew each other. The Mizutanis had absolutely no reason to put Kan’s safety over each other’s. On the flip side, Kan had little reason to trust them or Li Mei or Gurski or, really, anyone. As for Li Mei…oh look butterflies. Sorry, distracted. Anyway, as for Gurski being the by-the-book type, his relationship to you and the others was set in stone relatively early so in the grand scheme of character development, where does that leave us?
To be kind, their relationships where centered on the fact that they were, basically, freaks of nature that happened to have dead bodies drop around them. Hack story tellers, though, would be happy with that because the focus would be their reaction to the murders rather than their relationships with one another. Fortunately for us, Ayu Sakata isn’t a hack story teller and immediately ties her characters to the rack. And while I could talk about what each character goes through en-masse, it would be much more fun to lay the corpses out and dissect CSI style, don’t you agree?
Probably the most important relationship and one that gets a heavy amount of focus is the relationship between Aki and Kangai. These two damn near stole the entire game and have the closest thing to a complete story arc as they both butt heads…no that’s too nice. They both nearly split their necks trying to smash the others faces in relatively early on because of events really outside of Kan’s control. And through that, we learn just how similar the two are when it comes to…basically everything. They both see their roles in life very much the same way: relatively ordinary people related to extraordinary people. They will both protect that which they care for and woe unto you if you are anywhere near that loved one when something bad happens. Although while Kangai’s abilities aren’t pleasant, at least it isn’t the Power of Heart…seriously what kind of lame power is that?
Yeah that joke isn’t going to die. Unfortunately, I doubt I can get Aki’s VA to do the Ma’Ti bit from Nostalgia Critic.
However, their expressions of love and concern are toxic. On Kangai’s half, the fact that he failed in his ‘older sibling’ role led to self-exile and near complete emotional detachment from the rest of society. It literally takes what he tried to separate himself from, his family, to bring him back home to deal with the mess he left behind. On Aki’s side, her willingness to completely shoulder the burden of her brother keeps him from learning how to deal with the stark, malicious side of life. Blessed with Suck or not, Naoki’s hasn’t grown much since the two became grifters. He exists in a stunted psychological and emotional state and Aki only has herself to blame for Naoki’s lack of maturity.
So, in that perfect way that can only come from two well-written characters, Aki and Kangai need each other. (Okay, here and ONLY HERE you may take me out of context)Kangai needs Aki in order to learn to open back up to his own humanity and learn to live after the death in his family. Aki needs Kangai in order to learn how to be more than a shield for Naoki and that will let Naoki mature. You can literally see this arc begin to form the bare minimum of a foundation back in Kansei, but this is where the foundation begins and the two begin deepen. Their interactions are, hands down, the best and it’s only held back by an issue…that will be discussed soon.
Second to that is the relationship between Kangai and Li Mei. Most people who paid attention to the storyline of Kansei have already figured out what her role in the Rebuilding of Kangai is. She is the surrogate little sister: a healthy, positive relationship is a sea of broken, destructive ones. She needs him to play the role of the older brother because it does them both good as it forces both of them to come to term with their roles in life outside of what they are to one another.
No one really talks about why these kids exist and, again in the hands of a hack, ‘freaks of nature’ would’ve been acceptable. But the simple truth is that none of them have a long, peaceful life to look forward to; hard as that will be for some fans of the series to stomach. But they were all created and all being controlled for a particular purpose and it’s up to them to make that purpose a good thing. It’s a heavy and stark theme made very simple with the scene in Li Mei and the lab rabbits. Yes I know how it looked, but on the grand scheme of things it related to all of them.
Through these two we get a better feel of the protagonist Alex and frankly the more you learn about this guy, the harder it is not to like him. Everything he does has a meaning and a backstory and it is all brilliantly connected together. In fact, the careful reader will be able to connect every game in the series so far together if they pay well enough attention. In the mix are also the interactions with Gurski and Naoki, but their interactions really only amplify the previous two relationships and the interactions that take place in them. Yousei’s themes are self-evident and it is confident in taking the reader on an emotional journey that isn’t often experienced in the medium. Overall the characters all have great writing attached to them and the entire Jisei series is better and more understandable because of what they go through here.
Unfortunately, this is where Yousei is a double-edged sword.
There is no nice way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: on a certain mental level, Yousei has elements that make me hate visual novels. Why? Because the medium encourages multiple endings even when the game doesn’t need them. I know just about everyone in the EVN community would’ve screamed bloody murder if Yousei had only one ending, but, Yousei only needed one ending: the True ending.
Okay I can hear more than one person saying, ‘You’re wrong!’ No I’m not, because every ending had something that could be used in the canon storyline just fine without taking away from the overall game…except for the death ending. That one was kind of permanent. But the perfect example of my point is the ending involving Naoki and Aki. Their path leads to a dark, mature but also very necessary ending. It’s an ending important to all four involved in the group as well as Miko and it is not canon.
Why not? Why couldn’t we have gotten that scene in canon? I played through the Twins Path and after getting slightly emotional with the ending, I promptly got upset because it didn’t matter. None of what you learn through the entire third act of that path matters because none of what happens is canon. So great: an 80/20 theory is confirmed. That’s nice, but did it have to come at such a high cost? Not only do we get that great character moment, but we finally get a solid explanation as to why Auten, Guan and Johansson went on a path that has cost so many lives: including their own…mostly.
I hope they’ll learn the series of truths that came out in that part eventually. But with two chapters left and plenty of other plot threads that need to be connected in that time, these were two that could’ve been stitched up and done with. I just can’t understand why it wasn’t. However, that lack of understand doesn’t mitigate the critique considering where that decision led.
Yousei is one of the longest games SakeVisual has released and while I applaud getting more content, there is a bit of an extended scene between the second and third acts where you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. Why? Well, go back through this review and see what’s missing so far in talking about the story. In all of the great character moments and dialogue and excellent depths, you tend to forget that there is a MURDERER running around that you have to find.
Ironically, the murder mystery in this chapter of the Jisei Murder Mystery series is the weakest part of the VN. In the past I have been forgiving of Kansei not being the perfect murder mystery, because there was more meat on the bone than just the murder mystery. Here? It is vitally important to know exactly why the good doctor was pushed in front of a bell that subsequently ripped him in half, but the urgency to find it never seems to manifest until you get to the end. That question is clearly answered in the non-canon ending and not so clearly addressed in the others, but by the overall damage is done.
Speaking of the new characters, this plotting decision has an unfortunate ripple effect on the new characters introduced. Juniper, Nathan, David, Sean and Aaron all have their own usefulness in the game but it isn’t to address the mystery end of it. The core of the mystery comes down to a process of elimination where you’re trying to disprove everyone’s alibi rather than follow up on the reason you originally searched out the doctor, but even then those stories either continue to hammer the overall emotional themes or prove relatively useless in answering the underlying question of, ‘What was he working on that got him killed?’
Aaron being a dumbass and moving from a college he WANTED to be in because he’s in looooove may warm the cockles of some in the audience, but it doesn’t answer underlying question. The love quadrangle between Juniper, David, Sean and Chance (yes she’s back) will hold your attention for about five seconds before someone tries to sell you on the importance of the relationship and that’s when your friend the Superego goes, ‘Wait, aren’t you a suspect in a murder? Shouldn’t you be giving me better information on the departed than this?’
With the exception of Chance, they’re there to make sure you’re getting the real story that’s being told: a story only slightly associated with said death. From my small stool on the sidelines, this would’ve been solved easily if there were less endings because then some of the endings would’ve become plot points that would’ve brought a closure to the emotional story at least for now while deepening up the murder investigation; only now with the full understanding of the fascinating mystical component that is beginning to overtake the series as a whole.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad. The mystery end is kept alive solely by the writing that goes into Chance: the barista who knows far more than she lets on. As the only villain of the series to get any screen time, Chance’s role in this one is important as she has to keep up appearances while trying to get what she wants out of Kan and the others. It manages to tie together the final act and a few endings where she is featured and kept me from walking away from Yousei with a bad impression.
To be clear, I fully respect the terrific writing young Miss Sakata has done on this project. Overall the story is great and 90% of it should be commended. But I couldn’t shake the feeling at that point between the second and third acts where I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and something better could’ve been put there. The simple truth is that it isn’t a balanced story. This problem didn’t exist in Kansei because we got the overall plot with the emotional, character stuff which led to a great overall experience. That balance is gone here and unless what Kan and the other go through completely sweep you off your feet, you’ll notice it.
Couldn't you have just...you know...brought the food to her?
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
Deji’s made a deal with the Devil.
That’s all I can come up with. The woman has made a deal with the Devil to get better as she goes. The artwork for the character models is, again, fantastic. Ms. Garcia work has upgraded again and not only do the cast look more mature, they also are much more detailed. This helps with the emotional impact as their expression reflect what the story is getting across. This carries over into the CG work that ranges from awesome to gruesome to just…damn. And those who have played it know what the ‘Damn’ part is.
The 3D background models are a bit better but even with the color palate of the character sprites muted it can still be a bit rough depending on the location. The labs and dorms are decent, but I dare you to try and look at the reflection pool along the main thoroughfare and not get an eye cramp. Hopefully the third time will be the charm with the backgrounds, but for now it’s passable. The soundtrack, however, is one of the better ones in the series. Due to some technical issues, the opening sequence wasn’t available in game. But the background music throughout was excellently handled.
Do I really have to get into the voice acting? It’s freakin’ Ayu Sakata. She and her boyfriend are professional voice actors. What do you think I’m going to say? They sucked? Fine: they sucked. I just lied, but for those that just wanted to hear that for some reason, I hope you’re happy. Overall the voice acting is fantastic and both Ayu and Micah particularly shine as they’re the ones that have to make the emotional story connect with the audience. Outside of them Chance’s actress gets to truly shine here as she has to go from innocent and bubbly to menacing in 30 seconds flat. It’s going to be fun to hear her make the full transition in the next chapter and go full villain.
And Gurski...Gurski. Of the original VAs, I was always hardest on Gurski’s. Finally, the role seems to have grown on him because it was one of the better acting jobs in the title. Everything had a more natural flow to it and I actually believed Gurski was some type of cop: keywords ‘some type’. Even the emotional scenes involving him are delivered well so just a special shout out to Chris Niosi for delivering a bro-worthy version of the Black Dog. Yes, Miko is now ‘The Black Dog’…the nickname’s apt.
Also shout out to the Harvard-Packard guy. I think I’ve had him on a Tech Support once and I was wise enough to enter the drawing. Some may laugh, but that gift card came in handy.
The others are also commendable and deliver their roles well. My only really sticking point is that I can’t quite place Juniper’s accent. I know from her character it’s a Spanish dialect, but it sometimes seems to dip into an Irish one. There’s a story there about a region of either Spain or Chile that she’s supposed to be from that going over my head, but I’m going to figure it out one day!
Finally this brings us to Gameplay. The User Interface has been given an overhaul for the better and now includes a Quick Save/Load feature that can be useful to those who just want to bookmark where they are and pick it up later without digging through four hundred save files. Also, a mobile phone acts as essentially the Help button to keep you on track along with your Notebook. This has some comedic value to it, but is ultimately just to ensure you don't get lost when you get back to the investigation. The Examination mechanic, though, has been dialed back hard. It’s used so little that by the time you actually have to use it, it’ll shock you that you’re supposed to use it. This may be the last time it’s used, which sucks because it could’ve gone in an interesting direction but, que sera.
So, who ordered the asswhooping?
Yousei clocks in at about 12 hours making it the longest SakeVisual game to date, I believe. Barring the portion of the game I was talking about, Yousei is a fully-engrossing experience that will keep you wondering what twist is coming next. And while I wish it was planned differently, the good thing about the multiple endings is that you will enjoying each play through without getting a sense of mindless repetition. There is a lot of value to be had here so the $15 asking price is well-deserved.
Despite my critique, Yousei is still one of the strongest EVN you’re going to play this year and more than worth the asking price. If you’re looking for one in the series to turn you on to the larger story, well then buy Kansei first. But as I said before this is a story that needed to be told. Yousei will be the bridge that connects the entire series. It’s a bold effort, just not a flawless one. You will connect with these characters in a way that few connect with fictional characters these days…save Twilight for some reason. I hope in future installments, the balance issue with be fixed for guys like me who enjoys the massive web being spun, but Yousei is more than worth the wait.
Purchase Yousei on all fine computing products here!
+ Excellent Mature and Emotional Storyline
+ Top Notch Presentation and Voice Acting
- The 'Murder Mystery' Element is Lacking
- The Exploration mechanic is becoming Irrelevant