Saya no Uta
Well, given how all I’ve been covering this Halloween have been imported eroge and the sadly limited amount of horror themed eroge available in English, this review was probably to be expected. Seeing as how mediocre Insai no Shima was it just wouldn’t do to end this year’s Halloween on a low note and so for that we’ll be taking a look at Nitro+’s classic horror romance eroge, released by JAST USA on May 6, 2013, Saya no Uta.
Pros: Overall excellent horror story, characters are interesting, good artwork, great voice acting, excellent music.
Cons: A couple pacing issues.
WTF?!: From Fuminori’s perspective, every weapon looks like the Soul Edge.
Saya no Uta tells the story of Fuminori Sakisaka, an unfortunate young man who is the only survivor of a car crash that claims the lives of his parents. Yet that is the least Fuminori has lost as the injuries he suffered were so severe one of the treatments he had to undergo was brain surgery and the aftermath has left him with a warped view of the world around him. To Fuminori his surroundings appear to be mounds of twisted flesh, people appear as completely repulsive monsters, and everything that he can touch or taste comes across as equally disgusting. It’s so bad that Fuminori can’t even stand to interact with those who he once considered his closest friends. What keeps Fuminori going though is a mysterious girl he met and befriended while at the hospital named Saya, the only one who appears human to him now. It’s through Saya that Fuminori now has the companionship he needs, but questions remain. Who is Saya’s father and why is he missing? And just who or what is Saya?
I have to say in all my years of playing visual novels I have yet to encounter one as dark, disturbing, creepy, and somehow beautiful as Saya no Uta. If you ever wanted to see if a serious romance and horror (especially the kind reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos( could be blended, then this could very well be worth a look. I know that sounds ridiculous if not impossible, but trust me when I say the game succeeds to being an interesting romance and a good horror story.
Regarding the romance, note how I call it interesting because that’s really the best way to describe our central pair of Fuminori and Saya. The writer, Gen Urobuchi (who some of you may know as the writer for Fate/Zero and Puella Madoka Magica), does a good job in establishing these two as a couple by showing how not only are they together just because of Fuminori’s condition but also because of how they complete each other. You get a good feel of how they’re two people alone in the world under extraordinary circumstances and they give each other the companionship they both desperately need. This is also supported by their interactions that do a good job in making it believable that these two genuinely care for each other. All of these things are not only good elements, but also very necessary…to show that there is no atrocity or depravity too horrible for these two to commit all so they can remain together.
This is where the romance leads into one of the major parts of the horror aspect of the story. At a certain point in the story Fuminori has to choose between staying together with Saya or have his senses returned to normal. Choosing the former, which is the canon choice (the other choice leads to a premature, but still well written in its own way, ending), leads the pair down a path where they go to all manner of lengths to insure they remain together and happy. When I say “all manner of lengths” I really mean it as the murder of even a possible threat to their happiness is the least of what they’re willing to and do. These two go to very disturbing lengths for each other’s sake with very little regard for who they harm in the process (and boy does one character get the worst of it) and yet somehow you can’t entirely hate them because the story does a good job presenting why they’re doing these things and they do make sense from their point of view. It also helps that this pair is able to command your attention from there as the story kind of gives the Fuminori and Saya a larger than life air in their crusade for their happiness together; they’re almost like an Eldritch Bonnie and Clyde.
Of course the horror element of this game isn’t just composed of the disturbing; at times it can evoke a good scary atmosphere. All of these moments involve the mystery behind Saya and her missing father, and they all serve to evoke that sense of foreboding in investigating something that one would probably be better off not. These range from minor moments such as descriptions of how what went on in the hospital while Saya was secretly living there which serve to build up the mystery behind her (even if it is pretty easy to figure out) to strong moments of fear of what the dark conceals such as when Yoh investigates Fuminori’s house. That’s one scene that’ll have you at least mentally shouting at the screen “Don’t go into the house, you fool!!”
As for the characters (click here for profiles) they’re all well written, even though Fuminori and Saya get the focus, and you get a feel for their situations when you play from their POV. As a result you do care enough about the other characters besides our two mains that you do feel bad when bad stuff happens to them, which also helps on the horror front. Aside from the aforementioned scene with Yoh, the best example can be seen in Koji, who depending on perspective can be considered a hero or a villain. You really feel for this guy as he gets drawn into the mystery surrounding Saya without even knowing about her and when that mystery takes him down a path of vengeance you may even end up rooting for him. Even a character like Ryoko, whose main involvement isn’t until late in the story manages to leave a good impression.
If there are any flaws to this game’s story I’d say, and this is nitpicking mind you, that there are a couple of pacing issues. Mainly I think a few story elements could have been looked at a little longer such as maybe a little more of either Fuminori or Saya interacting with the world outside or maybe a little more screen time for Ryoko. I’ll admit that maybe once or twice it seems the game may be trying a little too hard to be disturbing, but that’s really just because maybe the events happen a little too close together. Then again one other good thing about Saya no Uta is its short length (it'll take you 5-10 hours to complete) means no filler and I wouldn’t want to risk ruining that.
In the area of presentation Saya no Uta does phenomenally. The artwork is good even though it doesn’t have the polish a lot of VNs typically have. I’d say that works to the game’s advantage in a couple ways: first, it gives everything a good hand drawn feel that actually helps in giving the characters a little extra in their expressions and posture than if they had been your typical anime artwork, and second, when it comes to the more horrific or supernatural looking artwork the artist succeeds not only in creating imagery meant to be strange and horrifying but also in somehow managing to put in an element of beauty to some of the images that doesn’t stand out. The music track for this game is also excellent with each track capturing and conveying the right mood for their respective scenes perfectly, be it the searching feeling you get from “Seek”, the lurking feeling from “Scare Shadow”, or the chaotic yet badass feeling fight music of “Savage”. Yet perhaps out of all the tunes, the most memorable to me is the theme song titled “Saya no Uta” as it really succeeds in bringing about the right feel for the third ending, evoking a mixture or triumph, soothing, and mourning. Equally amazing is the voice acting; every character is perfectly voiced, but the standout performances are without a doubt that of Hikaru Midorikawa as Fuminori, followed close behind by Yasunori Matsumoto as Koji. And to any otakus from my generation who recognize both names from The Slayers, enjoy watching Zelgadiss and Gourry kill each other.
As for the ero scenes…well, I’m not entirely sure what to say about the ero scenes. They’re not meant to get a rise out of you as their purpose is to disturb and/or horrify. Even the more innocent seeming scenes have a pretty disturbing context to them once you’re aware of certain plot elements, not to mention the music that plays during those scenes give you a feeling that something isn’t quite right with what’s happening.
Saya no Uta is an excellent horror eroge and certainly one of the best of the few horror visual novels officially available in English. I will warn you that this game is not a happy story and can get downright disturbing, but if you can take that then you can enjoy a horror story that has good characters, suspense abound, and two main endings that will both leave quite the impression on you. I highly recommend this to you, especially considering you can get it at Rightstuf for about twenty bucks, so price shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Final Score: 8/10 Awesome
Author Recommendation: Buy it now.
And before anyone asks, no I haven’t read the infamously bad comic book adaptation. The copies are rare and I’m not really interested in scouring the internet for scans.
So with that this year’s Halloween reviews have come to an end. Hope you all enjoyed the string of reviews I posted and hopefully at least one of those reviews has gotten you interested in trying out one of them. A Happy Halloween to you all and I hope we get to do this again next year.