Rating – R18
Developer – Minori
Translator – No Name Losers (Unofficial and Official)
Length – 30-50 Hours
PPD Experienced – No
I feel like I’ve been disagreeing with others a lot lately. While it could just be me, this review isn’t going to do anything to assuage that feeling. Ef – A Fairy Tale of the Two is technically made up of two separate visual novels: The First Tale and The Latter Tale. However the plot is split up into five main stories that are meant to be played in sequence, meaning that treating the two as stand-alone Visual Novels would be silly. I cannot deny that there were parts of Ef that I really enjoyed, but the vast majority of it left me rather bored; an outcome I really wasn’t expecting after having read others’ opinions.
Normally I like to start off with some sort of overview of a Visual Novel’s plot, but there’s really not much to tell here. Ef begins with two people of unknown acquaintance meeting (supposedly after a long time) in a church on Christmas. The two share stories about the lives they’ve influenced over the years since last seeing each other, and that’s pretty much it. Each portion of the Visual Novel has a brand new main male character from whose viewpoint you experience the story, as well as an (arguably) new love interest. The plot focuses on the relationship between the two, which is fine and even expected, but the routes felt a little light on anything that might be called excitement. There were plenty of points where I was convinced that shit was about to hit the fan which then went on to bypass the potential conflict completely. In fact, the number of times this happened was truly astounding, like the developers were deliberately picking the most bland outcomes possible just to spite me. I felt that a number of opportunities to spice up the story had been missed, which made me a little sad because the experience could have been that much better with their inclusion.
On top of that, because 5 different main characters share screen time, the time you spend in each chapter of the story doesn’t really allow you to connect with the characters involved in each one. Sure, characters show up multiple times, but outside of their own chapter their presence is incredibly minimal. Despite each chapter more or less having its own discrete conclusion, this lack of attachment actually has a pretty big impact towards the end of the game. As far as I can tell Minori did a really good job with the overall ending, revealing links between the tales that, while being obvious almost immediately, were still pretty cool. I was able to appreciate the quality of the ending, but because I hadn’t connected with the characters earlier I wasn’t able to enjoy it to the degree others may have. Still, the ending did get to me a little, so I imagine that if you cared about the characters it would have been really powerful.
Despite the lacklustre plot the characters are done pretty well, with each having a distinct and relatively interesting personality, which is even more impressive when you consider the size of the cast and number of chapters. I’m sure that if more had actually happened in each route I could have come to care about many of the characters, but as I’ve already said that just didn’t happen. Of the five chapters, the first two were rather bland (though the second was worse than the first), with the third easily being the best of the lot, though it wasn’t quite good enough for me to recommend the game for just that chapter alone. Conversely, the fourth was easily the worst (and we’ll come to why in a moment), while the fifth skirted the borders between good and average. I think the third and fourth chapters are worth talking about, while the others have pretty much been covered by what I’ve already said.
The third chapter actually had substance; it went beyond the norm, had conflict (if only a little) and there was resolution at the end (sort of). It could have been a good story all on its own in my opinion. The writers obviously have some vague idea of what makes a good story, so I can’t help but wonder what went wrong with the other routes. The fourth chapter was just weird; a relationship between someone who is (roughly) 30 and a 15 year old? What? I just can’t even imagine what the developers were thinking when they decided that that was a good idea. What makes it even stranger is that none of the other characters seem to care, other than one off-handed comment that their relationship is illegal, which is never followed up. The whole way through I couldn’t help but feel that the main character was a real creep (which was in no way alleviated by his actions), meaning that there was no possible way to enjoy that whole chapter. Maybe you’ll say I’m shallow for holding that viewpoint, but there is no way you can trust a 15 year old saying they love someone after only knowing them for a week, and any adult that encourages such a relationship is incredibly irresponsible. I feel like I’ve gone off topic >.<
If the plot is average, and the characters were good, then Ef’s visual aspects are superb. Simply put, Ef looks wonderful. There are a huge number of CGs used throughout the stories and they all look great. To go along with the art itself, the characters actually move their mouths in time with the audio; I’ve seen that sort of feature before, but in Ef you can clearly see each syllable of each word as it is said. In the same vein, I’ve found characters’ blinking to be a little off-putting in other novels, but Ef’s characters do it naturally and it even adds to the reading experience. As far as the audio goes the voice acting is good, though the BGM is only on the good end of unremarkable.
Summary – Ef is a Visual Novel that has been awarded top scores up and down the internet; people seem to love it. However, while I acknowledge that the production quality is absolutely top-notch (perhaps even unmatched), the story is lacking in a number of ways. It could not ever be called bad, but in my opinion it fails to evoke a sense of enjoyment worthy of the ratings given to it by others. In the end though, despite not being one of the greatest Visual Novels I’ve ever read, it’s probably worth picking up (especially when you consider that most of the other reviews online disagree with my own).
OVERALL SCORE: 7/10 – Enjoyable
I guess I’m on the other side of the fence with this one. I actually haven’t had time for the second half yet, but I’ve watched the anime so I have a general idea of what happens.
Ef is artsy and I do think that is a lot of the appeal, but I personally loved the characters and their stories. The weird romance between the 15 year old and the 30 year old is probably the hardest to take, but I guess the fact that it was entirely her going after him made it all easier to swallow, at least in the anime. I don’t necessarily agree with the morals, but I did think it was interesting. Actually I could probably say that about most of the fiction of I like… >_>
In many ways this is the VN that got me to pay attention to visual novels. The anime made me think they might be cool, and I think the first half of Ef is also the first VN I actually bought. If I had one major complaint it would be that Ef is pretty close to a kinect novel. The choices are few and far apart and you aren’t really an active part of the story.
Interestingly enough, I preferred the first season of the anime over The First Tale. While the showy animation techniques got on my nerves I thought that the story was told in a much better way.
I think I mentioned that I did actually like the characters; I just didn’t feel connected to them because the story never interested me all that much and I was whisked away to another chapter before too long. I was close to enjoying Ef but only really liked Chihiro’s chapter.
I usually don’t mind odd relationships (I mean, brother/sister ones pop up pretty often), but the age gap in Ef rubbed me the wrong way…or maybe it was just that no one seemed to care.
I don’t mind if a visual novel is kinetic or choice-filled, so that wasn’t a feature that bothered me. The choose-your-own path thing isn’t a huge draw for me; I see it as more of a method for splitting the story into different routes. As long as the story is interesting i’m happy, and I felt that there just wasn’t much going for Ef.
The story is about art I guess, much the same way as Sakurasou. It’s done in a more abstract way though so I can’t really blame you too much for not liking it. I did personally.
My favorite part of the story is also Chihiro’s route, followed by Yuuko.(the ghost, I think that was her name) There isn’t really a story in Ef I don’t like, but those are the two I really fell in love with when I watched the anime. I actually didn’t like Miyako the first time I watched the anime, but I found myself more capable of understanding her character when I read the VN… probably because I was trying to be understanding, but none the less I did.
I can totally understand why someone wouldn’t like the melancholic storytelling of Ef, I have to be in the right mindset to enjoy it myself. I’m not sure I understand your complaint with the length though, I’ve always thought Ef is pretty long even for a visual novel, but I was also invested in the characters before I even started the visual novel.
On another note Shin Onuma directed Ef’s anime. It’s pretty much the first big thing to his name I think. He is one of my favorite directors and I won’t be too surprised if I wind up thinking Chihiro’s or Yuuko’s route were better in the anime.
I have a soft spot for stories that question the intrinsic values and morals we have grown up with and take for granted. That probably added a lot to my love for the series. Nothing is ever exactly what it seems.
I guess i’m more straight-forward when it comes to what I like. I’ve never been one for themes or the deeper workings of storytelling; for me it’s more about the surface experience. In the same way you can understand why I didn’t like Ef, I can see reasons one might have enjoyed it more than I did. Your favorite two routes are also my own favorites, though.
I have no complaints about how long Ef as a whole is, I just felt like it swapped between characters quite quickly. Like…how i’d feel more attached to a character i’d been reading about for the whole novel than for only a part of it (assuming high quality of both characters). It’s been a long time since I played Ef so I apologize for being so vague about it >.<
The only other series i've seen that's been directed by Shin Onuma was Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, which I quite enjoyed. I think he did a very good job of adapting Ef into an anime but at the same time feel that he went overboard with showy animation techniques that distracted from the story itself. I think Miyako and Chihiro's routes were done better in the anime, while Yuuko's route was done better in the visual novel. I didn't enjoy either of Mizuki's appearances XD
If you want more Shin Onuma stuff my favorite anime of his(aside from Ef) are Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and Kokoro Connect. Kokoro Connect in particular is pretty awesome. They both have some deeper themes, but they also have a lot of what I think you are referring to as surface level stuff. Lots of comedy and drama that doesn’t involve anything super creepy so it’s easy to invest in. Baka and Test is actually something I’ve been meaning to watch. I didn’t like the first episode way back when, but I’ve seen enough since then to think I would probably like it.(Jel at Glorioblog is also a pretty big fan of BakaTest)
Somehow we got on the topic of preachy anime a few weeks ago and everyone at glorioblog just flatly told me that my opinion on anime ruined by being preachy didn’t count because I like preachy anime. I tried to retort at first, but it’s probably true… I don’t need deep meaningful moments from my anime, but I do appreciate them. Anything that can make me think is appreciated really.
Kokoro Connect is already on my “to watch” list but i’ll have to take a look at Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. While I enjoyed Baka to Test I can very easily see why other people might not, so you’re not alone if you decide it’s not for you in the end.
I can also appreciate deeper aspects of anime but they have to entertain me first. Part of it’s just because i’m lazy though…thinking is hard =P
My favorite routes were Chihiro’s and Yuuko’s too. I guess in a specific list, it would goes like this:
Chihiro > Yuuko > Mizuki > Miyako > Kei
Needless to say, the beginning parts of the VN was a bit tough for me too^^” Especially during the first two chapters – ones I liked least, though having a good conclusion for both kinda makes it easier. Nonetheless though, it was smooth sailing from the third chapter onwards. I like the story and the characters, I wasn’t really expecting anything exciting to happen, if not, I find them relaxing, paired up with an incredibly set of soothing soundtracks, it was just so atmospheric. Ef’s soundtracks is awesome btw, and from the VN OSTs, ef’s really high on my VN OST favorite list (fyi, I’m a sucker for violins).
Indeed the visuals are superb too. Something I think you didn’t mention, I also like the tidbits of various other animations present throughout the VN – for example, when the story reaches a point where you were walking besides someone, it will animate the other character walking in a sideway view. I also facepalmed when even the H-scenes were so high quality, they aren’t just static images, the characters in the H-scenes will also move about, just like a gif. Though I find them not really relevant to the plot, maybe with the exception of Mizuki’s route. Was there an option to toggle the H-scenes? It was a long time since I last played it as well, and I kinda forgot, lol.
Also, not sure for you, but I also find a certain fondness for when seemingly disjointed elements joined with each other. Such is the case of ef I believe, when a supporting character was only briefly mentioned, that very character will suddenly have a whole new route dedicated to her. I don’t know, I guess I just has that odd sense of fulfillment when I find different elements interconnecting with each other.
My list would probably go:
Chihiro > Yuuko > Miyako > Kei > Mizuki
I’m also a sucker for violins but for some reason Ef’s soundtrack didn’t stick with me. I can only vaguely remember some of the BGM because I recently watched the anime >.< However, it was definitely not bad; I just didn't taken notice of it at the time (probably because I was too busy trying to decide if I liked the story or not…that aspect often overshadows others for me).
I didn't mention the additional animations, though I probably should have. The only other VN i've seen that in is Muv-Luv actually, though the H-Scenes weren't animated =P I don't believe there's an option to turn off those scenes.
I also love when different storyline threads join together. In Ef's case I think it was just that the individual threads didn't resonate with me, so when they came together I wasn't too fussed either. However, as I say in the review, the ending is done very well and if I had felt connected to the characters I probably would have really enjoyed it.
ef is in a special place for me. I think it was the first full-length VN I finished. I absolutely agree that minori’s visuals were unmatched for the time. They still probably are, though from what I’ve heard, their later works have declined in story-telling quality.
I can understand why most of you have Chihiro/Renji and Yuuko/ as your favorite routes (routes being a misnomer since they involve different couples and are all canon). They are the most conventionally “dramatic,” with a plot set up for tearjerking tragedy, and a bittersweet but optimistic ending. Definitely the easiest to get emotionally involved in. However, I cannot think any less of the other routes. One of my favorite things about ef is that the situations and types of romances among the five couples in ef are so varying and different from each other. For example, the type of story in Kei/Kyousuke is hardly ever explored. Kei lost Hiro to Miyako in their love triangle. Kyousuke is “that” side character, the noisier, more eccentric and pervy male friend of the original protagonist (Hiro). Where else will you read about the rejected girl’s afterstory, about the perspective of the male best friend, and about the story of them getting together. It is a rare thing, and I treasure it.
I will agree that, while not being my cup of tea, Ef deals with stories that you really won’t find elsewhere. Each story is special in its own way and I can appreciate that. You’re also right in noting that my favorite routes were the most dramatic ones, which is indeed probably why I liked them.
Still, i’m glad to hear that you did enjoy Ef, and i’m glad that other people have enjoyed it. I certainly don’t regret playing it myself.
Hello, interesting review, Silvachief. Can I ask you about what’s the overall ending to Ef as a whole. I mean, we know that all the heroines (except Yuuko) are now in relationships with their love interests, but aren’t their problems still there? Hell, Yuuko’s love interest is all alone since Yuuko herself is already dead? However, he’s now beginning to move on from her death, correct? Hope to hear from you soon.
I apologise for not being able to give a more in-depth answer, but it’s been over four years since I actually played Ef.
The ending is indeed bittersweet as Yuuko is definitely no longer alive. You’re correct in saying that the ending for Yu is that he is able to start moving on.
From memory (and I could be wrong) the only heroine with ongoing problems would be Chihiro given her memory deficits.
Ef is one visual novel where I found the anime to be more compelling, at least for the first half. The anime hits more emotional highs and lows than the visual and is generally faster paced.
Huh, that’s true. Even though Yuuko is dead, Yu himself was able to say his proper farewells to her before she moved onto the afterlife. He is then able to move on to the future, possibly may be finding another love interest?
Doesn’t Kuze still have medical issues as well? Do you think that the anime did the second half better than the VN?
I was trying to remember Kuze’s situation after his story while I was writing that last comment but simply couldn’t recall. A quick google tells me he successfully underwent an operation but was still likely to die young.
For a full review of how I felt the anime stacked up against the VN, there’s this review: https://thegeekclinic.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/anime-mini-review-ef-a-tale-of-memories-a-tale-of-melodies/
To summarise, however, I thought the second half of the anime wasn’t very good at all and glossed over a lot of important content.
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So, I have a dumb question. Every once and a while, an “A” pops up during conversation in the lower part of the screen. Does this mean there’s an interactive event? Is it autosaving? Pressing “A” doesn’t seem to do anything…
While I can’t say I know for sure, my guess is that it’s autosaving. It wasn’t anything you need to worry about while reading, in any case =) I finished the novel without doing anything about it.