Developer – 07th Expansion (Ryukishi07)
Translator – Mangagamer
Length – Chapters 1-4 – 30-50 Hours
Chapters 5-8 – 50+ Hours
Version Played – PS2 Sprites & BGM Patch, Original Mangagamer Translation
Let me start off by saying that Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is generally viewed in a very positive way, and I can see why so many people have enjoyed it. For me, however, Higurashi is made up of some very good ideas, some very good scenes and, unfortunately, a large number of tedious connecting pieces that drag the whole experience down. Though it may not be as bad as some other, newer visual novels, I can’t quite find it in myself to recommend it.
Maebara Keiichi has just moved to Hinamizawa, a village of about 2000 that’s a far cry from the big city he’s used too. While he quickly makes new friends and finds himself part of a tight-knit and exciting afterschool club, he soon begins to suspect that there’s something not quite right about his new home. The series of deaths occurring each year might have tipped him off. Or perhaps it was Hinamizawa’s dark past of human sacrifice. Or maybe…just maybe…it was the ominous presence he can’t quite see out of the corner of his eye, the extra footstep he hears every time he stops, and the looks of his classmates that aren’t quite sane…
Higurashi has some really good moments. There were times I felt worried and apprehensive, times I felt thrilled and triumphant, and times I felt downright freaked out. For a number of scenes the writing, despite Mangagamer’s best efforts, is pretty decent. The problem for me begins with the chapter format in which Higurashi is presented. A short section at the start of each chapter to introduce new characters and plot points would have been fine but information and thought processes from earlier chapters are repeated so often that the gap between “Holy crap, what’s going on?!” sections is simply too big to keep you interested and wanting more. The reiteration isn’t just limited to the starts of chapters either; repetitive inner monologues abound as if the game expects us to forget what’s happening after every scene. In addition to this the vast majority of each chapter’s content is basic slice of life stuff which always has the same formula; there’s nothing new to keep things fresh and make those portions special.
Since I’m on the topic of genre, it’s worth noting that Higurashi doesn’t really seem to know which one it belongs to. There’s a smattering of horror (which is rather quickly put to rest), a little thriller, quite a bit of slice of life…and beyond that there’s the mystery it tries so very hard to be. A good mystery shares all of the information its reader/viewer needs to figure things out over time via clues and hints that may seem insignificant at first, gradually drawing the reader towards a conclusion yet always staying just one step ahead. In comparison, Higurashi leads you around by the nose, excitedly pointing you at misleading clues before revealing the not-so-obvious truth all at once via information dumps of text. While I will admit that the degree to which some of the events and character motivations are intricately interwoven is impressive, the manner in which they and the mysterious revelations are delivered is simply underwhelming; there was never an “Oh! So that’s what happened!” moment, if you will.
As a final few notes on the story itself, a number of chapters focus on side characters, which I felt drew my focus away from the main plot and served as yet another interruption from what I was really interested in, and one chapter in particular begins telling one story and then appears to switch tack completely before suddenly ending without concluding either of the storylines it had been following. I guess the points I want to make here are that not all of the chapters contribute positively to the story as a whole, and not all of the chapters are satisfying in their own right, which feel like real weaknesses to me. Though I’m usually willing to look past a visual novel’s weaker sections because of how amazing its final reveal and ending are, in Higurashi’s case the slog to get to the finish simply isn’t worthwhile.
For once I actually have a few comments to make on technical aspects. Higurashi’s OST absolutely blew me away. Even when I wasn’t enjoying the story I was able to appreciate how well the background music was able to convey the feeling of the scene in question. Would I listen to the music on its own? Maybe not, but if I did hear it again I’m sure it would bring back memories and that’s exactly what a good OST should do. The other aspect I have to praise Higurashi for is its creative use of text color. There’s one particular chapter where a character undergoes a fairly dramatic personality change and as this occurs the text used for her thoughts gradually darkens. It’s subtle, but small things like that are what allow visual novels to differentiate themselves.
Now for the technical aspects I took issue with. Whatever others may say, I really can’t stand Higurashi’s original sprites. I’m not usually a stickler for graphics but I sincerely believe I would not have finished Higurashi without a graphics patch. The backgrounds, in comparison, are fine. They’re mostly altered pictures of real scenery and I felt that they meshed well with Higurashi’s overall feel. The problem with them (and I’ll admit, this may be a patching issue), was that the current background often clashed with text descriptions. When characters were on the run and looking for help there were cars obviously present in the background shown, and the lighting would randomly change between day, dusk and night, sometimes in the middle of conversations. It’s not a big deal but it does have an impact on any immersive feeling Higurashi might have been trying to build.
Summary – Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a well-known and loved story for many people. Unfortunately it’s another one of those visual novels with multiple 10/10 votes on VNDB that I just haven’t enjoyed. It’s an example of what you get when you take an interesting concept and decent writing and do a poor job of splitting them up into episodic form. The excitement and compelling narrative are there but they get bogged down in layers of repetition and fluff, resulting in a stop-and-start experience that isn’t quite sure which genre it belongs to. Chances are you’ll like it, especially if you’ve disagreed with me in the past, but it’s not a visual novel I could recommend in good conscience.
Score: 6/10 – Average