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