First things first. What is love? Can we really define it? Is it something tangible? Probably not, but in occasions it punches people in the guts so hard it almost feels like it was. There must be something else to it. Something more than meets the eye. Something we can’t really understand wholly, in the sense and literal meaning of the word, and that may be seen as just another part of human nature. By some, nothing but the path to a mating ritual. It influences us, either as a father or mother, as a brother or sister, and it can define how we will be for a certain period of time, or even our whole life, at that. It can become intoxicating, a medicine for the afflicted heart, a necessity, nourishment for a wounded soul, an escape for those looking for refuge, or nothing at all. Our precious nothing. Love certainly comes in many forms and shapes, however, it is the human being who shapes it and embodies it. Thus, love takes a worldly shape – a human shape – ergo it transcends us, shapes us, or even rules over us.
This seems a bit contradictory, right? There’s a catch. We tend to think we are the ones who shape love, but it’s actually quite the opposite. We become slaves of love without even realizing it. Love doesn’t need us, we need love. Love is not after us, we are after love. We crave it. We sink into it, and sometimes that only leads us to our own demise, but we don’t care, or we pretend we don’t care. In this case, the human being has their own methods to control that, and deal with it, but it’s not always ready to face the consequences of it.
Now, this may be a little far-fetched way of seeing love, I know. Personally speaking, love hasn’t had that much relevance in my life – save from that love coming from my family – and I don’t think it will ever have it. But hey, that’s just me speaking at this moment; you never know that the tomorrow will bring for you, and my words just may come back to bite me in the ass in, who knows – a year, two months, ten years, or hell, even tomorrow (I wish). You just keep doing whatever gets you through the day? Keep pursuing your motivations? Keep working? Keep studying? Keep on… living? That’s what life is supposed to be about, or at least, what these pre-ingrained societal values have told us. Seems too complicated, right? In fact it is, not something to rack your brains about. In my opinion, life is great, it lets us experience many different things, but it’s not something to take THAT seriously. We’re in this rock for just what, 70, 80 years and then straight into a coffin, urn or what have you. Love just happens to appear in between that margin of time, and it’s a mere fragment of the many great things in life.
Tasuku and Yuumi. The incarnation of 片想い.
Indeed, those were a few topics that crossed my mind as I was reading Koidewanaku, or Koinaku, for short. To my good luck, I happened to read Gunjou before, a game penned by the same writer, and that I loved for how it explored certain subjects, but more than anything, how it managed to approach interpersonal relationships on such a realistic level. It gave me an idea of what to expect when I started reading this, but it was in vain, since it betrayed my expectations, but in a good sense. You see, leaving the drama factor aside, this game could probably be a roller-coaster for those with photography/filming as either a hobby or profession, but, unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those. There are conversations ranging between 20 and 30 minutes with characters (usually Tasuku, Norifumi or Ryousuke) talking about types of cameras, how to shoot a scene, or what lens ought to be used, the natural lightning on the spot they’re filming, and so on and so forth. Pure photography/filming jargon here. I won’t deny it, though. It was enlightening on certain level to get to know more about that field, and how photography and filming go hand in hand to craft art, but it got really tedious at times, at least for me. It’s not boring by any means, no. Text is just truly dense. Besides that, after reading this game, I was able to confirm that Hayakari truly likes to write detailed psychological descriptions. Fortunately enough, game includes an encyclopedia detailing all the terms, filming techniques, brands, etc. that may go over your head when they are mentioned, and there’s a bit of foreword in main menu from the maker, but you will have to unlock it as you complete the routes. It’s an extra content of sorts.
Norifumi and Konoka paying a visit to Tasuku at his part-time job.
Another thing I’d like to make clear right off the bat is that this game takes some guts to read. It’s loquacious, long, and mentally tiring. After a couple-of-hours session you may feel drawn out, and may even reconsider the prospect of going back to it. Conversations are comparable to those of real life; verbose and long, some may be trite and of no importance, and other may carry such weight that will be etched into people’s minds forever.
This is something I can’t praise enough. Some characters may be on screen and you’re like: “What the fuck is this guy babbling about?,” “Get your shit together already,” and what not. It can get to be truly infuriating and may even make you want run off from the monitor. But guess what? I believe, this is not a negative aspect, but actually the total opposite. I love stories that make an emotional wreck of me, that make me want to tear my hair (heart?) out, and that’s exactly what this game did to me. I’d even dare to say this is Hayakari’s best work to date yet.
Its system is based on a couple of choices on the first hours of reading; from there onward, you’ll enter a different route based on “what you felt” during those moments, and ultimately, what you chose. More than routes, though, I’d say it’s different development with different endings. Don’t worry about this, as the game starts off slow, and let me tell you – it stays like that for the rest of the game. Hayakari decides to leisurely, but surely present the whole cast to you, which works on the story’s favour as you can actually develop sympathy, affection or even disgust for one of them, or all of those altogether if you may. At the beginning it might seem like some characters play no important role, but I’d say this is not true.
They add weight to later stages of the game, and give a different flavour to the scenes they appear in. Who knows, you might like Mitsuki, who despite being flatter than a pancake, can be really cute and comprehensive, but don’t be deceived by this, as she can get to be bossy enough to be the dominant part in her relationship with Kouichi. Or Rie (Norifumi’s elder sister), who looks graceful and exudes an aura of elegance when practising “Way of Tea”. Ryousuke and her little sister with an apparently untreatable disease; she’s both adorable and irksome (this may be an understatement; yeah, it actually is) at the same time. Konoka is as cheerful and modest as cheeky and playful, and probably the less I-want-to-say-a-thing-or-two-to-her/him-in-person character.
Yuumi and Mitsuki frolicking.
My point is, characters’ personalities are there, they can be felt. You can palpate them even. They feel like actual people struggling with their own mundane issues and instability, just like any other person, which makes the setting all the more difficult to deal with. All the more heavy. For people who prefer to plunge into a world of fantasy, this may not be the ideal game at all, but for those who prefer a real, consistent albeit exasperating plot, and join characters as they travel through it, then I can’t recommend it to them enough. You will take on Norifumi and Yuumi’s perspectives mostly, and every now and then other characters as well. This is another aspect that made this game memorable, or at least for me. You can get a peek into characters’ minds and see how they feel about themselves, or their peers, and connects the setting in a way where you can’t really take sides. Really. It was just impossible.
Now, let’s talk about Norifumi and Yuumi. Something happened between them, something that changed their relationship on certain Valentine Day, until, few years later, Tasuku decided to shoot a film, and invited Yuumi over, whom had entered the modelling world. She’s a beauty by wordly standards, and that’s something that pisses Norifumi off royally. He despises the fact that she’s got leeway in the world just because she’s pretty. “Why does this fucking woman, whom I probably love (or hate) has it this easy?” A compressed thought crossing Norifumi’s mind when he thinks of her. They all three are childhood friends, along with Rie and Yuumi’s little brother, Taito. That is, until Taito died due to a disease of origin still unknown to Norifumi to this day.
Norifumi didn’t visit Taito on his deathbed, and that’s an event that haunts him even now. Both Norifumi and Yuumi re-conciliate, or more than re-conciliating, they endure each other’s presence, due to Tasuku’s film, and begin to film it along with their ostensibly friends as winter break draws closer with each passing day, until it fatefully arrives. Tasuku and others are not exactly pivotal characters, but they’re not secondary ones either. As I mentioned earlier, all characters have a certain role to carry out, and it’s the way the game locates them throughout it that gives you that sense of reality. Along with a kick to your scrotum, I may add.
Norifumi harbours a mess of feelings of unknown nature toward Yuumi. The guy doesn’t know if it’s either love, a mild disgust, a mix of both, or he’s suffering from an overproduction of testosterone. And he can’t come to terms with either himself or Yuumi, but deeps inside he knows he feels something for her. You just want to tell him to grow a fucking pair, be honest about how he feels, and what he actually wants to do.
But for him that’s easier said than done, and more so when you’ve got a pair of lovebirds with a severe case of inferiority complex. Seriously, there’s a h-scene where Yuumi gets mad at Norifumi for giving her cunninglingus, because she thought her vagina wouldn’t be good enough for someone like him. Their apparent affection for each other seems to be both toxic and sincere at same time, which is a fucking maelstrom of emotions, if you ask me.
Look at these guys, all in high spirits… But not for long.
In conclusion, I can say this was a pretty unique game, genuinely exasperating but truly rewarding; more so when you reach the TRUE route, which I won’t spoil you much about by just saying the following: it’s almost as if Hakayari decided to reward you for your journey up to that point. A merciful guy, at that. This is a rare instance where even if I wanted to write pages about it, I don’t think I’d evoke how it made me feel. Phrase やってみればわかるさ is indeed fitting for this case. If you feel determined enough to give it a fair chance, and have about 50-60 hours to spare, then I invite you to do so, because this is a work – I believe – that’s open to interpretations, which makes it even more interesting (but not any less painful). Seldom as it may seem, a game that made me laugh, almost tear my hair out (yup, more than once), and even shed one or two tears, but all in all, it was a good experience and once again reaffirms to me why I got into this niche medium in the first place.
P.S. Konoka best girl. Also, be sure not to judge Sekiya-senpai early on. He’s a pretty cool middle-aged guy.