A creation which has spread like wildfire, this beautifully made game starts as an upbeat, happy, and colourful visual novel, in which the player writes and reads poetry, whilst being surrounded by four beautiful high school girls. Sounds great, right?
Wrong. The reason this game has received such (well-deserved) hype, is due to the fact that this is not at all what the game is really like. Although at first glance it seems like a lovely, casual dating game, it is in fact a psychological thriller, determined to make you question everything you know about gaming, whilst sending suitable chills down your spine. Let me assure you that when this game says it’s not for the “easily disturbed” it means it.
The power of this game relies on the idea of the player being unaware of such a dramatic change. Due to its popularity, most people are of course aware that ‘something’ happens, and even if you’re not, the warning of “This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed” at the beginning of the game gives you some kind of clue – especially as it’s stated two or three times.
Knowing this change exists, however, does nothing to prepare you for what actually happens. I myself was aware that ‘something’ happened, and heard suggestions of the ‘game becoming self-aware’ and the ‘deleting of characters’ but no more than this, and even this was said without certainty. I therefore endeavoured to play the game and see for myself exactly what happened. (But don’t worry, I’ll try to keep this article spoiler free so that you too can enjoy the game in all its glory!)
“the twist absolutely comes as a dramatic, shocking event…”
The power of the game relies on putting the player at ease, or at least getting them accustomed to the innocent beginning of the game. So how does the game begin? Well, to put it simply, the first act of the game consists of you, the player, joining a Literature Club at the insistence of your childhood friend Sayori. There, you meet three more “incredibly cute” girls, all of whom conform to a typical stereotype: Yuri (the quiet, mysterious one), Natsuki (the short, angry one) and Monika (the out-of-your-league class president).
The rest of the first act then proceeds with the player and girls exchanging a poem each day. Each of the three girls you’re able to pursue (Sayori, Yuri, and Natsuki) are presented as preferring different types of poems, with relevant key vocab. Between each day therefore, the player must choose 20 words from a given list, and this will determine which of the three girls the player interacts with most frequently.
This rather simple style and innocent nature of the game continues for the entirety of what is ‘the first act’, which is roughly one to two hours of gameplay, and therefore comfortably puts the player at ease. This then ensures that the twist absolutely comes as a dramatic, shocking event which, even if you’d predicted the event itself (as I had), will still completely throw you off by its presentation and the effects surrounding it. The (until then) upbeat music is silenced, the colourful pictures become straight darkness, and the scene itself, when it is revealed in all its glory, is visually astounding, and fantastic.
“I don’t scare easy, but there were certainly moments in this game which unsettled me”
As stated, I’ll not allude to what the actual event is so as to avoid any spoilers, but it is brilliant in how it changes the story from its upbeat beginnings into a terrifically horrifying experience. From here onwards, the game slowly continues to evolve from its upbeat self into its true psychological thriller and does a fantastic job at making the player increasingly uncomfortable.
I’d like to think I don’t scare easy, but there were certainly moments in this game which unsettled me, I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone who is easily upset, or even mildly put-off by psychological horror. If you’re not sure if this applies to you, there are plenty of trigger lists provided on the internet, but they do provide massive spoilers about the game’s contents. If you feel as though you might be disturbed (specifically in regard to issues surrounding depression and anxiety) it’s probably best to give this game a miss.
However, if you truly think you can handle it, this is absolutely a game to try. Not only is it free on Steam, but this is a game which requires players to take actions which are not present in your typical game. There are also multiple routes to go through, and multiple secrets – all in all, there is a lot more to this game that you would ever discover on a single playthrough.
“it is beautifully crafted, and is ultimately an amazing experience”
So, if this sounds like your kind of game, give it a go! Not only is it well-written (there are some hilarious lines throughout, some brilliant fourth-wall breaks, and excellent foreshadowing), but it also contains fantastic music, is beautifully crafted, and is ultimately an amazing experience for anyone interested in this genre. I definitely enjoyed it, and I hope you do too!
Also, fun tip: for the more tech savvy of you, keep an eye on the game files as you play, you might notice a few… changes.