Developer – Success
Translator – Shijima
Length – 10-30 Hours
[Note: This review only covers the first three routes of Aoishiro.]
It’s not all that often that I choose to drop visual novels. Previously it’s only been the absolutely terrible titles that I couldn’t stand, as I’ve had the time to push through more average productions in order to give them a full review. As the portion of my day I can devote to visual novels gets shorter and shorter, however, I’m going to have to be a little more picky and Aoishiro is the start of this. It’s not shockingly bad or anything, but after three routes I simply couldn’t see it going anywhere interesting; I was beginning to feel like reading it was a chore. This is probably one of the more subjective opinions I’ve had on a visual novel though, so the bottom line of this review won’t be as clear as some others.
Nothing says “Summer Training Camp” like a trip to a Buddhist temple, right? For Seijou Girls’ Academy’s kendo club, that’s exactly where they’ll be spending the summer. Osanai Shouko is the captain of the club, and as soon as they arrive she can’t help but feel like something’s not quite right. In an area with a rich history of mythical Japanese beings and the clans that defended against them she may find more than she expected at the start of the camp. Tangled up in memories of the past that seem just out of reach, tradition shrouded in mystery and the occasional terrifying beast, Shouko’s time in Urashima is anything but normal.
Aoishiro is one of the only visual novels I’ve felt has been negatively impacted by its translation. The choice has been made to leave a number of words relating to Japanese mythology untranslated, leaving readers who aren’t familiar with the topic in the dark about the significance of some of the characters and their actions. For some of the scenes I couldn’t tell whether I was missing something significant or whether the writing itself was poor. What is certain is that the novel has some issues when it comes to its pacing. Even the people who love the visual novel admit that too much time is spent on some of the more slice-of-life-y portions of the story. When you consider that the characters involved in those aspects and the characters who are important to the actual storyline are completely different, it becomes a major issue. While the final chapters of the routes I played definitely improved on their predecessors’ level of entertainment, they seemed rushed by comparison which impacted on their ability to leave lasting impressions.
While each route’s climax may have been better than what had led up to it, they all had the same formula, albeit with slightly different features. The protagonist and the heroine of the hour go to X and get in a fight with Y and then stop Z, where Y varies but X and Z are constant. As noted, there’s a little variation each time which serves to keep things fresh, though none of the routes escaped that same formula and all of them rehash information you had already been given. It was because I couldn’t see any real change in sight that I ending up dropping the visual novel. Additionally, the final route I read tried to introduce a completely new character as if it were someone we had already met and knew well, which was a little odd. Some of my opinion of Aoishiro undoubtedly boils down to the fact that I’m just not super interested in the setting. That is to say that while I don’t dislike it, I’m not exactly hunting down every related piece of literature I can find. Because this is one visual novel where the setting is a major influence on dialogue between characters and story direction, it meant that some of the scenes that were meant to hold readers’ attention didn’t really do the trick for me. I’m sure that anyone who was into Japanese mythology and tradition (and I mean really into it) would find more enjoyment in the story than I did.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a disconnect between the characters used during slice of life portions and characters used during story portions of each chapter (with one exception). It’s an interesting feature that I’m a little on the fence about. On the one hand, it allows for a greater emphasis to be put on just how different Shouko’s experiences in the story portions are to the norm, but on the other it splits up the VN’s time between two sets of characters, making it hard for any one set to connect with the reader. Adding to that problem is the fact that the story heroines only have a major role in their particular chapter, so you don’t get to see them much outside of it. One bit of praise I have to give Aoishiro, which it owes to that formula I wasn’t too happy about earlier, is that seeing how the stances of other characters change based on which heroine’s route you’re on was interesting. Enemies in one chapter might be allies in the next and vice-versa. If I had to comment on the quality of the characters overall, I’d have to say that they’re decently done without any of them being truly memorable.
Strangely enough, this is where I get to lay on the compliments. I really enjoyed Aoishiro’s art – the sheer number of sprites, backgrounds and CGs was staggering and the quality of each one was superb. Even though I had decided to stop reading the story I couldn’t stop myself from looking up the CGs I’d missed out on to see what they were going to show me next. It may not be extreme high definition, or even as flashy as newer visual novels, but every piece is aesthetically pleasing and that’s impressive. Similarly, the BGM is reasonably varied and very good at fitting the mood of whichever scene it was included in. The voice acting is good as usual but none of it really stands out.
Summary – Aoishiro is not a bad visual novel, I just couldn’t see it getting any better after three routes and it wasn’t exactly fantastic. There are some problems with pacing and translation that make the story less than it would otherwise be and the skewed slice of life : supernatural fantasy ratio doesn’t help because of its effect on the time you spend with each character. Having said that, the art used is a major asset and a reason to be interested in Aoishiro in and of itself, and I’m sure that someone who was really into Japanese mythology and similar subjects would get more out of the visual novel than I did. If you read the description on VNDB and like what you see, you should give Aoishiro a go. Otherwise it’s probably not worth your time.
Score: 6/10 – Average