Saturday, October 27, 2012

Playable Import Games for Adults Halloween: Tsukihime

Tsukihime Review

            Well, it’s time for another new type of review, where I essentially look at games not licensed for English release but fans have made a patch that will translate all the text into English. For our first game of this type and second in our Halloween 2011 reviews we’re taking a look at the classic game that started quite possibly the biggest of eroge fandoms and made the company Type Moon, and its writer and co-founder Kinoko Nasu, a legend among eroge game companies, Tsukihime. Released in Japan on August 11, 2000, Tsukihime gained quite the cult following in the west as a result of its immense popularity in Japan and anime adaptation and six years later, even after the game had gone out of print, a fan made English patch was made (followed a few years later by one in Spanish and Vietnamese) opening the door for new fans of the game and its two fan disks ( Plus Disc and Kagetsu Toya which we’ll get to another time) almost coinciding with the growth of the fighting game semi sequels, the Melty Blood series (also coincidentally this year also happens to be the year of Type Moon’s tenth anniversary as an official company). This game is considered a quintessential experience for those entering the VN community and many don’t consider you a true vet of the genre until you’ve experienced it and Fate/Stay Night (another game we’ll get to in the future), and it’s also the standard by which many measure new additions to the dark supernatural genre. I’ll come right out and say that Tsukihime is, for the most part, truly deserving of its fame and praise in how it tells a series of stories so good the 30-50 hours it takes to complete this game are barely noticeable. Now let me explain why…

Pros: Excellent story, well written and memorable characters, diverse plot, game still looks good after 11 years, excellent music.

Cons: The ero scenes, game is out of print, “isn’t it sad, Sacchin?”

WTF?!: When the hell is that remake finally going to come out?

            In Tsukihime, you play as Shiki Tohno, a pretty much normal seeming bespectacled youth attending school with his circle of friends. There is something different about Shiki though as he sees a series of lines known as “death lines”, which are the lines by which things break when they eventually die. In order to live a normal life, Shiki received a pair of glasses that blocks the sight of these lines as long as he wears them from a wandering sorceress he befriended as a child. His otherwise normal life changes after he’s called back to live with his younger sister, Akiha, now the head of the Tohno family after the death of their father, the man who banished Shiki to a branch of the family eight years prior after he was injured in an accident he can’t even remember. However, that proves to be only the tip of the iceberg, as an encounter with a mysterious blonde haired girl will lead him down a mysterious and dangerous road that will have him encounter some of the most renowned and feared members of the undead.

            Tsukihime does a lot right in telling its story, having each heroine’s route be its own unique tale (though Arcueid and Ciel’s routes are fairly close) that each has something new to reveal, be it about Shiki, one of the heroines, or a plot twist. There’s also an interesting way the routes are sorted according to the moon with Arcueid and Ciel’s routes falling under the “Near Side” routes and Akiha, Hisui, and Kohaku’s routes falling under the “Far Side” routes as they reveal more background information concerning Shiki and the Tohno family, Only through playing through each heroine’s route will you learn everything, and I have to say that never does this feel like a chore. The characters that feature prominently in each scenario are all likable, have interesting personalities and backstory. A good example would be with our main character, Shiki himself, who I have to say would be among my top five favorite main characters out of all the VNs I’ve ever played. Aside from being likable and downright awesome when the situation calls for it, one of the things I like about Shiki is how believably normal he is despite his power and the situations he finds himself in over the course of the games routes. All of his responses to this do feel like how a normal person would react and his down to earth viewpoints do make for interesting interactions with the heroines such as Arcueid’s almost child like regard of the modern world which she has only basic knowledge of and how these lead to scenes between them that can be funny, interesting, and even cute at times with how it contributes to the growth of their relationship. This normalcy about him also helps in making Shiki a pretty awesome character in two ways: first, it makes the scenes where he has to fight using his power all the more interesting because despite the ability at the start he’s still vulnerable especially when the fight doesn’t go as planned and he has to learn to improvise in some way as the only aspect that could guarantee him a victory can’t be relied upon completely. Secondly, the normal aspect also makes for a firm base to build up from concerning Shiki’s character as the story goes on and we see how his powers tie not only into his backstory, but also affect his viewpoints, and even give him an interesting connection the main villain of the game considering how both of them have a supernatural connection of sorts relating to death and their differing regards to it are almost reminiscent of story elements from the Harry Potter series, especially those of the connection between Harry and Voldemort. I should point out that these similarities are more theme based than anything else since these two series could not be more different in several other aspects; a good example would be that in Tsukihime there is this one scene in Ciel’s Good Ending between Shiki and Roa that reminds me of that train station scene in the near end of “Deathly Hallows”. While these two scenes are very different in terms of what happens in them, the overall feel of them is similar. I recommend playing the game yourself and you’ll see since I don’t want to spoil anything and I don’t want to ramble too much (and considering a friend of mine who also loves Type Moon’s stuff and I talked about these similarities for hours imagine how long that would make this review). My final point concerning Shiki is this: as a result of all these character aspects, his likability, believability, awesomeness, and character depth Shiki Tohno has managed to become one of, if not the most, memorable of eroge protagonists and may in fact be the closest that this genre may have to the equivalent of Tenchi Masaki…except Shiki is much more awesome (the Muyo’s not there for nothing, lol--- ducks to avoid rotten fruit and vegetable barrage from fellow Tenchi fans).
            Anyway there is one more aspect of Tsukihime’s story that I like and that’s the setting for this game. Now this is different from my reason for liking the setting of Edelweiss and Da Capo due to the fact that the setting is essentially in a city and world that really doesn’t seem all that different from ours. Kinoko Nasu really did a good job not only in presenting the setting in a way that it feels normal, but also in balancing the contrast between the normalcy and the supernatural once the latter is revealed. The two are kept separate from one another at first by the obvious day and night difference, considering vampires only come out at night, but as the game goes on you start to see that the two start to have moments where they cross over and in the case of Akiha, Hisui, and Kohaku’s routes end up blending together in a way. I do realize that the Type Moon universe has gotten more complex over the years with all the new additions, which has essentially made the hidden supernatural aspect of the world now greatly overshadowing the normal world (which I admit isn’t really a bad thing), so what I’m saying just applies to this game itself.

            Here’s how the heroine routes rank in my opinion (click here for character profiles):

1)      Tie between Arcueid and Ciel

2)      Akiha

3)      Kohaku

4)      Hisui

Now the reason Arcueid and Ciel tie for first place in my book is for a few reasons, for starters I find that out of all the heroines Arcueid and Ciel form the most memorable relationships with Shiki. As I said before with Arcueid, her only basic knowledge of the modern world makes for some very interesting interactions between her and Shiki and it actually really helps in building up their relationship as the route progresses. In Ciel’s case, it’s the dual nature of her lifestyle and how it figures in with Shiki’s day to day life that makes it interesting to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this route. I will admit that Ciel’s route has an overall better story than Arcueid’s with it having more reveals and in my opinion, the best portrayal of Roa as the game’s main villain, however I still like these routes equally because of how well they go together storywise. A lot of the good story elements of Ciel’s route are best appreciated after playing Arcueid’s making the two lead into each other really well; it’s almost like how if you asked me what my favorite movie of  the Friday the 13th series was it would be a tie between the first and second movies for that exact reason. My final reason is simply because I really like both characters; they’re both awesome in their own way when it comes to being badass, their backstories are well crafted and interesting, their quirks are genuinely appealing, and I have to admit their rivalry over Shiki is quite amusing. I know that last part is pretty much a cliché amongst anime these days, but Nasu did a really good job in presenting these two characters in that area of romantic comedy. It’s actually very funny in future installments to see just how these two can irritate one another so much. I’d confidently say that if Shiki is the eroge equivalent of Tenchi then Arcueid and Ciel are Ryoko and Ayeka.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten the other heroines, though. Akiha’s route is certainly a very good one too. For one it makes an excellent start to the “Far Side” routes being quite different from Arcueid and Ciel’s, the relationship she has with Shiki is interesting to see develop and has touching moments, also her power is probably the most interesting of the heroines’; the main aspect that keeps it from tying with Arcueid and Ciel’s routes is that the true ending leaves you with a pretty big unanswered question and the way it’s later resolved in the Kagetsu Toya FD is a bit vague. Hisui’s route is quite possibly the darkest of the routes and I have so say its story shows how well Nasu is able to set an atmosphere about his stories and in this case it evokes a very convincing air of confusion around Shiki that makes for an interesting mystery around the story. What puts the route at the bottom though is that it feels more like a setup to Kohaku’s route, which comes off as truer than hers due to some major story aspects first presented her route. I can’t say much about Kohaku’s route without spoiling things, but I will say that it does a very good job in utilizing plot elements from Akiha and Hisui’s routes to tell its own story with a pretty satisfying resolution. Perhaps the only reason Akiha’s route wins out is because in the many spinoffs that follow, Kohaku ends up being given the role of a comic relief character with very little follow up or regard to the plot of her route. Now don’t get the wrong idea, in those she makes a very hilarious character, but considering how dramatic her route turned out to be…

Perhaps the only real flaw this game’s plot has in my book is the lack of a route for sub heroine Satsuki Yumizuka, as her relation towards Shiki and a role she ends up having in one of the routes is more than enough grounds for her to have one. There really isn’t any mystery as to why she doesn’t have on though, originally there were plans to give her a route, in fact in the Plus Disc there’s a little extra that explains it, but the route never made it due to time constraints. This has resulted in Satsuki becoming a bit of a joke character somewhat similar to Asagi from the Disgaea series, giving rise to the famous meme “Isn’t it sad, Sacchin?” in relation to her not being a true heroine. She has gotten quite a fanbase though, enough that it seems to have been confirmed that she’ll have a route in the planned remake of the game. The joke seems to be on poor Sacchin still though as that remake was announced back in 2008, but aside from that and a few rumors there does not seem to be any indication that much, if any, work has been done on it. Also the next planned game for the Type Moon universe, Mahou Tsukai no Yoru, also announced in 2008, was planned to be released in 2009 and came out im April 2012.

In the area of presentation, this game is truly remarkable as it still looks good after 11 years. The artwork, be it for the CG or character portraits, has this hand drawn feel about it that gives it a classy sort of charm. The music has got to be one of the best scores I have ever heard in a VN game as not only does each piece set the mood for their respective scenes perfectly, but it also seems to match perfectly with the writing, helping to make so much of this game’s story even more memorable and it makes for a shining example of how one can present a great story without voice acting. I can guarantee you’ll remember at least one of these tracks after experiencing this game; for me it’s “Ever After” and the third track (only a few tracks were given names), the former because of how well it fits in the big dramatic scenes its used for as well as how it doubles as the song for the game menu and how well it fits with the image of the game and the latter because of how well it captures the regular day atmosphere of the scenes in which Shiki’s basically going around the town.

As for the ero scenes…they suck. No, I’m not kidding they are not very good scenes at all, be it for the artwork or writing. Amongst Type Moon fans, it’s freely admitted that Kinoko Nasu, talented writer as he is, probably couldn’t write a good ero scene to save his life. There’s a reason Mirror Moon’s translation patch offers the option to remove the ero scenes.

On a side note, the only other real flaw is that the game is out of print and importing an actual copy is going to be pretty expensive. Why this classic has remained out of print, I have no idea, and no it’s not because of the remake, the game was out of print way before that. Fortunately, this game is easy to find and download or you could always youtube it (if you do so, go in the order of Arcueid, Ciel, Akiha, Hisui, and Kohaku)

In Conclusion:

            Tsukihime is a classic of the eroge genre that has managed live on in significance even after ten years. Its fantastic story, memorable characters, and memorable soundtrack make this a game you must experience. While I admit it would be perfect if it had a Sacchin route and better ero scenes, this is still a game that should not be missed considering how rare games with this kind of staying power are. If you want to see just how good a dark eroge can be, want a good story, or just want to know what the story that started the Melty Blood series is all about, then Tsukihime is a must play.

Final Score: 9/10 Must Own

Author Recommendation: Legendary

            Now I know some fans are waiting for me to give my thoughts on the Tsukihime anime, a series so reviled by fans of the game they deny its existence. Well, if you haven’t read my Da Capo 2 review, I’ll say it again: I kinda like the anime series. Now don’t get the wrong idea (and please put down your torches, rocks and rotten fruits and veggies for a moment), this adaptation is far from perfect, there’s a lot missing or changed from the original game and I can understand why it’s disliked for that. For me however, I have to say that if I hadn’t seen that anime I may not have even heard of Tsukihime for a while as it told enough of the game’s story to catch my interest. Also the animation’s very good, the opening for the series is excellent in terms of imagery and music, and the dubbing for it is so spot on those are the voices I actually imagine when reading anything Tsukihime related. If you haven’t played the game then it may be worth checking out.

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