Lien ～終わらない君の唄～ is a relatively obscure eroge created by Purple Software in the year of our Lord 2000, and written by one 荒川 工 (Arakawa Takumi). I first came in contact with this title by way of some exceptionally hilarious screenshots fellow 紳士 hayate135 shared with me some months back. My interest was immediately piqued by the Tanaka Romeo brand humor and what appeared to be some very snappy writing; in a much welcome deviation from the norm, I was not let down on either front. After doing some research I was surprised to find an utter lack of information on what I feel is a game certainly worth reading, albeit one that hasn’t aged so well on the technical side of things.
Our story begins with Shirou, the protagonist, regaining consciousness in the physical world as a ghost after meeting his end in the form of a speeding car barreling through a crosswalk 49 days prior. He heads to the home he resided in while alive, resulting in a heartfelt 漢の再会 with his legendary father and a few moments later with his “stepmother”… of sorts. He’s reunited with his childhood friend Akira the next morning who will be looking after him for his stay here in the material world. As expected, she drags him to school and thus we have the foundation for the game.
The story revolves mainly around the humorous adventures of Shirou living the everyday life of a high school student… except as a ghost. Truth be told, not much has changed since his death. He continues going to school and fooling around with his admittedly strange best friend, being woken up in the mornings by Akira, furthering romantic interests, and dealing with his guitar virtuoso/spiritual guru father. All the usual tropes present in this type of galge are here but with a rather unique spin.
Lien’s greatest strength is Arakawa’s top tier humor and his command over the writing itself. Nearly every scene is enjoyable on some level and a pleasure to read on a click by click basis; the tempo of the text is superb, never meandering too long in the quagmire of unnecessary detail or falling into redundancy. I had a smile on my face for most of the game and found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. There’s an array of multi-language puns and silly wordplay throughout, including an unusually high number of references to western music and film making the text a blast to read.
Characters are full of personality and the interactions between them remain crisp from beginning to end, never a dull moment. I was especially fond of Wakaba’s feeble attempts at tsukkomi, what a cutie. After the first route I found that things were beginning to feel somewhat disconnected due to the nature of the system being less than optimal, but this kind of thing comes with the territory. The new content itself is all of the same high caliber I had come to expect. To put it bluntly, the humor, dialogue, and writing is so entertaining that it’s no stretch to say this game is worth reading purely for those elements even if the rest of this review does not strike a chord at all – it’s just that much fun.
It is a net positive that the focus is on humor, because the actual drama in Lien could use some work. I don’t feel that Arakawa is particularly good at expressing drama in the traditional way, this leads to some scenes that feel rather ‘off’. Fortunately the worst of this is isolated in a section of Akira’s route and the rest of the game doesn’t ever reach that level of awkwardness. More often than not, scenes which would normally be taken seriously are treated humorously or otherwise left entirely to the show-and-not-tell method; this style is far more suited to Arakawa’s particular strengths in my opinion. It’s worth noting this use of comedy stays firmly within the boundaries of a good time and avoids crossing the line into distastefulness.
Normally, a story like this would focus on a bunch of terribly sad and overly dramatic scenes involving Shirou and the people around him coming to terms with the fact that he’s gone. Normally, a story like this would spend hours examining the circumstances of his death and perhaps even introducing some fantasy elements to somehow bring our beloved protagonist back to the world of the living. While there are some surprising reveals involving the circumstances of his death, the odd twist of fate that allowed him to return as a ghost, what the title actually means, and some hopeful epilogues, these are certainly not the focus and Lien is just not that kind of game.
Shirou is dead. The ending to this story has already been decided before it ever begins. It’s generally understood by the entire cast, including Shirou himself, that he’s simply going to disappear at some point and that’s that. The game does not spend any time trying to circumvent the inevitable and instead opts to focus on the 仮初めの日常 Shirou is left with post-mortem. He gets up and goes to school everyday although he will never graduate. He wakes up and eats breakfast with his family every morning even though he doesn’t actually require sustenance. He forms relationships with people despite the harsh reality that they are fundamentally incapable of lasting for any significant period of time. Maybe this is just reading too deep into things, but for me this aspect inspired plenty of thought on what constitutes meaningful interaction between people and why it is we do the things that we do. How would that differ were we in Shirou’s position with all of the usual motivations gone? Anyway, the futility (for lack of a better word) inherent in all of this is never really addressed in game and it’s not something I fully realized until after finishing. The cast simply goes about things as if they were normal up until it becomes clear Shirou is on his way out.
Of course, the nature of this story itself requires a viewpoint on death. I feel the tone of the game and the ending scenes themselves are the most indicative of the statement it’s trying to make. For both of the routes I was able to finish, the final scene ends in a smile. There aren’t any long drawn out goodbyes nor are there any hamfisted attempts at tearjerking, it’s just a natural progression of events for the relationships and scenario in each route. In some ways this feels like a complete betrayal of what one would expect, but the characters truly behave in a way befitting of Lien’s universe. This is not to say the scenes themselves hold no emotional impact, they’re just handled in such a way that the reader doesn’t notice the impact of what happened until looking back in retrospect.
What came through loud and clear for me is that we cannot dwell on what time we may or may not have left. What’s important is how we affect the people around us and what we do with the here and now, regardless of what circumstances we’re able to influence this realm under. Everything else is secondary at best.
Lien made me laugh, made me shed one single solitary tear (ぼくは男の中の男ですし。。。), and made me reexamine my outlook on the concept of death. I’m not sure that everyone will find this to be as rewarding of an experience as I did, but overall it’s something I feel very comfortable recommending to anyone who’s interested in what it has to offer and is willing to accept the challenge that is dealing with its incredibly dated system.
Note that I mentioned I was only able to complete two routes. This is not for lack of trying, the system Lien uses truly is irredeemably bad. I’m honestly willing to overlook a lot when it comes to eroge from around the turn of the century. Shit happens. In this case however, the fact of the matter is that Lien was simply never meant to run on modern Windows and I’m not so sure it was exactly cutting edge software back when it came out, either. I didn’t mind having to manually install the game by copypasting files and searching for the necessary registry values on Japanese blogs reminiscent of late 90s geocities pages, in fact it was kind of fun. I soldiered through left click being the only way to advance text, a buggy map system, inability to save outside of specific scenes, the buttons on the interface being mislabeled (who knew that crossed out picture of a ghost actually meant save!), skip being hidden as some kind of cruel joke, voice files failing to initialize from time to time, and sprite appearances fucking up constantly. But for all my endurance, the final blow came after completing Akira and Wakaba’s endings. A flag failed to trigger for Yuzu’s route rendering it unobtainable and halfway into Minamo’s my game finally crashed for good. The two routes that were accessible are clearly the main heroines for the game so I am thankful for that, but I was still disappointed. If anyone out there plays this game and manages to get into Yuzu and Minamo’s routes, do let me know how they are!