[Visual Novel Review]: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (+ Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai)

Higurashi1

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…

Higurashi2 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.

Higurashi3

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.

Higurashi

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

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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7 Responses to [Visual Novel Review]: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (+ Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai)

  1. Yirba says:

    information and thought processes from earlier chapters are repeated so often

    Some elements are repeated throughout the series, but each time, things are a little different and you learn something new. Also, the amount of repeated content is kept to a minimum, so I personally didn’t find it boring at all.

    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.

    Higurashi is a mixture of different genres. Higurashi isn’t a strict horror or mystery story. Those aren’t its main aspects. And that’s what makes this story special. Higurashi’s core theme is friendship. The horror and mystery merely drive the story to deliver that theme.

    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.

    Higurashi gives you all the clues you need to solve the mystery by the end of the first four chapters. You need to use logic to piece these clues together and find the answer. And yes, there are some red herrings, too. But that’s what makes this mystery so fun. You need to figure out what’s relevant and what’s not. Higurashi won’t hold you by the hand like some mysteries do. You do need to actively search for the answer. If not, then of course it won’t be satisfying when you’re shown the solution.

    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

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. All the chapters are about the main characters. Yes, there are side characters, but they merely serve to drive the story forwards.

    Higurashi’s original sprites are not good.

    I personally loves the original sprites. Most people I know who actually give them a chance get used to them and end up preferring them to the PS2 sprites which, let’s be honest, are somewhat generic. If you really can’t stand the original sprites, then MangaGamer will be releasing a version of the game later this year with completely new, professionally drawn sprites, alongside a brand new translation.

    • Silvachief says:

      [Spoilers for Higurashi]

      Thanks for commenting! It looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree on a lot of these points, but i’ll try to discuss them as best I can. As i’ve said, a lot of people -do- love Higurashi, so I respect where you’re coming from.

      While playing Higurashi I found the repeated information to be really noticeable. It seemed like every chapter rehashed information on things like Hinamizawa’s past, and it wasn’t truncated to a great degree. Each character who found out about it had their own thoughts on the matter and they weren’t particularly unique. I guess on its own that wouldn’t be a terrible thing but when added to the fact I was already chafing to get back to new, non-slice-of-life plot, it only served to extend the period in which I wasn’t enjoying what I was reading.

      The point I was trying to make with that sentence was that, in my opinion, Higurashi delves into all of those genres without really nailing any one of them (including the slice of life or friendship aspect). While you’re correct in saying that Higurashi isn’t a horror story, it gives the impression early on that it is one before shifting tone and more or less forgetting about that aspect. Knowing that Ryukishi07 drastically changed his plans for Umineko’s plot, I can’t help but wonder if something similar happened with Higurashi. Of course, i’m willing to admit here that my perspective may just be a matter of preference. I enjoyed the end of chapter one with its horror feel, and didn’t particularly enjoy the more relaxed feel of the chapters that followed it, which meant that I was repeatedly disappointed when it didn’t show up again (or was a relatively small portion of the story, at least).

      I can’t agree that the mystery component works the way you say it does. You can certainly work out small things like Takano being suspicious, Mion and Shion switching or Rika knowing far more than she lets on, but others like Takano’s motivation (which requires half a chapter to explore, if I remember correctly), the existence of random parasites that don’t exist in reality and the presence of a benevolent deity that sacrificed herself for the good of the village simply aren’t conclusions you can reach from what you’re presented with (unless you’ve got an imagination in line with Ryukishi07’s and a whole lot of luck), ignoring for the moment that many facts and events are intentionally misrepresented. Having said that, I wouldn’t have found that to be an issue if Higurashi hadn’t constantly challenged you to solve the “mystery” it had set before you. If it had simply been a story to be followed, it would have been fine.

      That comment was referring to things like taking entire chapters of story to go over things like Shion’s introduction (who was really a side character compared to the rest of the cast) and Takano’s backstory. What I mean is that the reader is drawn away from characters they care about in favor of characters they have little to no emotional investment in. While it’s undeniable that the information in those sequences is important, they distract from the main story and serve as major roadblocks in Higurashi’s pacing.

      You’ve got me on this one. It’s entirely a personal preference and i’ve talked to at least one other person that prefers the original sprites; i’ve edited the review to reflect this. I wholeheartedly support Mangagamer’s decision to offer both releases.

      • Yirba says:

        Thanks for your reply.

        I suppose that although I really enjoyed Higurashi, there are some aspects which other people may not enjoy, and I can completely understand that.

        As for the mystery, I continue to argue that there are enough clues present in the first four chapters to solve the mystery. It does take multiple readings to see the significance of the clues, and it does help if you discuss ideas with other players. The official 07th Expansion bulletin boards were pretty instrumental in that respect. By working together, piecing clues together, the community was able to solve the largest mysteries in the story.

        As for the focus on side characters… I’d say those two characters are pretty central to the plot, but I get what you mean. Even so, I personally liked those sections. They provide something a little different from the bulk of the story, a new perspective, and a change of pace.

        Those are just my personal thoughts of course though, and I do understand why not everyone would agree with them.

  2. Lazarinth says:

    I agree, the overall plot of Higurashi was pretty good but the format in which it was told was very much Slice-of-Life, Mystery, Character Development, Something Horrific, Repeat x9.

    What I would have preferred was 1 story where each horrific thing from the other timelines was remembered by Rika in flashbacks throughout this life time and each time she saw a place or character the triggered it, at the same time giving them the illusion that they are happening right then and her not fully knowing why until she realizes at the end that she had lived all this things before. That and the fact that she has another life after dying near the end of the story would be the twist.

    This would not only cut down on the massive length of the story but make the story itself more interesting all the way through and cut out all of the repeated slice of live parts.

    • Silvachief says:

      As much as I think another approach to the story would improve the experience overall, I think that the method you’ve outlined would prevent proper exploration of some of the more complex ideas hidden within the story. Things like characters gradually building on what their alternate selves experienced (with all of the colorful friendship themes that go along with that) to gradually gain the ability to overcome the fate before them. It would also mean that “weird” Rika wouldn’t really make an appearance and we would only be able to see things from Rika’s perspective (since she isn’t privy to events she’s not involved in).

      I think you’re on the right track though. Anything to bridge the gaps between more exciting events would improve Higurashi overall – it just needs to have some of its excess fluff trimmed. Not that I have a firm idea on how they would do that. While I really like the idea of the twist being that she gets another chance, i’m not sure how that would work with Higurashi’s original configuration, which is a shame.

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