あしたの雪之丞 – Fall and Rise

There was once a boy. Handsome, tall, of average figure, accompanied by a downcast look. Inky dark hair, and a countenance seemingly calm, withstanding all trouble and hardships. However, though stoic and reserved, he had a hole right in the center of his chest, becoming deeper and ever so slightly painful. It was consuming him, tormenting him, and ultimately, it defeated him. That hole was called failure. After this fall, he tried to stand up. He mustered all the strength he could, and tried to walk. That very fist step was important, for that step alone would define if he either fell again, or if he would advance. Furthermore, his chest still hurt from his past defeat, and his feet were weighty, for they were tied to shackles. This shackles were his past. Past itself is not what had tormented him, but the deeds he had committed. Finally, the boy was capable to continue walking, now all his concentration focused solely on finding absolution.

But – “Absolution from what?,” he asked to himself in a subdued voice, but the answer didn’t make its appearance. Not just yet. Both his mind and heart were drowned in a mass of cloudy, unfathomable emotions. He couldn’t deduce by himself what he had set out to find, or rather, running away from, because a human being is blind when it lives in negation. After some time walking in that dry, pitiful state, the boy realized something. He had got rid of his shackles, or so he thought, for the excessive distance he had walked had pounded ruthlessly his senses and morale. He felt like he was walking in a desert plagued with nothing but solitude, which used to soothe him in his sleep every once in a while. He felt secure that way. In a cage of solitude. But one night, a fear beyond his compression swooped down on him and he saw something, or better said, something appeared.

In was in that moment. In that moment, a muse appeared right before him. One of exquisite whiteness, with a countenance exuding both tenderness and fortitude, but also brimming with fragility. He was taken aback, but didn’t express it neither visually or verbally. For the boy had tried to reach heaven, but no matter how hard he tried, no matter how painstakingly he stretched his arms, it was futile. Therefore, that heavenly creature’s suddenly apparition deprived him of his thoughts for a second, but after coming to his senses, then he asked the creature – “I ask of you. What am I trying to redeem myself from?,” he let out those tear-choked words. The muse only smiled softly, took the boy’s hand, and whispered something inaudible to the boy’s ear, as if answering to his inquire. But the next moment, they plunged into a world of azure blue, and of bright, exceedingly white-ish light. It was not the sky, but somewhere resembling it.

As they were levitating, the muse said unto the boy – “When you dream nightly, you always see a garden of the unloving kind. You don’t see through pristine glass, but rather through an opaque layer of regret. You need to stop thinking in gray and start thinking in green. This is not something you’re obliged to do by yourself, as my appearance is proof of this. Hearken to me.”

The boy didn’t quite comprehend the meaning of the muse’s words, until she said: “Thus, let me share the load. Let me support you in your journey for absolution.” The boy was stupefied. Not because of the muse’s proposal, but because he was afraid of dragging that creature into his plane, into a space usually offset by an exhausted sky.

The muse insisted – “Are you that afraid of travelling with someone? Is solitude your sole haven?” But the boy remained silent, only nodding. After a few seconds, the boy realized they were reaching a space similar to an horizon. To his curiousness, it was not due to the sun’s light, but he could actually feel warm deep inside. The hole on his chest was gone. The muse said no more as a curve formed in her lips, seemingly resembling a mild smile, for she was able to feel the boy’s warm through touch. And how not, since she knew that within her arms, the boy had already found absolution, even if he wasn’t aware of this. “Absolution comes by faith, and forgiveness. So forgive yourself.” Those were the words the boy couldn’t hear the first time she whispered them, for the boy had already found his answer.

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Pardon that introductory visual-like writing. Truth be told, I needed something different after reading something such as Koinaku, and this title had been in my backlog for some years now, so decided it was time to tackle it once and for all. A game from the now defunct élf, creator of memorable games such as ultra-known YU-NO, Isaku, and a few more before it turned to the nukige direction on its last years of activity. This is the first time I read a work from this writer, but I must say it left an impression on me for how fresh and vivid, yet touching it came off his writing, despite  MC’s somber thoughts and self-mocking attitude at the beginning.

Keiji Inoue (井上啓二) executed some things in a pretty interesting way, but I must also admit his ability lacked in other areas. I won’t really comment much on the flaws the game contains, as it would tone down the joy of having read it. I tend to like comedy and slice of life, some though-out drama here and there, but If I had to say, Ashita no Yujinojou definitely excelled in those three departments, therefore it hooked me up within the twenty minutes or so of reading. Despite having the generous quantity, no less, of 35 possible endings, some of these are generally quick to get at, and others not so much and took up a considerably part of my time, but it was fun nonetheless. It contains sports as well, but the game barely scratches that area’s surface so don’t pay mind to that either if you’re not really into them. In addition, it also contains an amazing heroine such as Serina. She’s pretty relatable, and I liked her the minute she appeared on-screen. I can definitely see other people liking her as well, for a number of reasons I’ll present to you in brief.

Story begins in a evocative, and in a sense, quaint way, taking you head first into a brief period from the perspective of Serina as she walks the streets apparently at an hour not fit for a mistress like her. She encounters a boy observing Kashima Academy, where she is currently enrolled. The boy turns around, and both exchange glances. Serina inquiries the boy (Yukinojou), but he ignores her and goes on his way. In those very first scenes I quickly realized I’d like Serina’s personality, and the role she’d consequently carry out. It was that fast. After that encounter, she is unfortunately assaulted by some hoodlums, and you can guess who (kind of) rescued her. That moment is where it all began, both for Yukinojou, and the possible heroines to romance. You pass unto his perspective after that and so the ride begins. The game contains a bit of an interactive part as well, the usual elf’s treatment. Top notch VA and a wide selection of CG’s should be noted too. On the down side, its soundtrack is not precisely sundry, as some tracks repeat in numerous occurrences, but once the story kicks in, you may not pay mind to that too much.

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You start your first day of school accompanied by Serina, who instantly recognizes you the moment you step into school, and it’s like this how you get to know the rest of characters. Teppei and Tatsuya, Serina’s chilhoodfriends who make for an entertaining combo. Personally, I liked Teppei more, whereas Tatsuya behaves like a cynic dick every once in a while for reasons I’ll get further into in brief, too. There’s Yuki, whose kind and understanding personality made things a bit easier for MC. Then Sanae, whose sympathetic and friendly attitude make her a person easy to talk with. Conversations with her were really pleasing. Sugizaki is a cold, upright student, who serves as the class’s president, which only serves as a facade to hide a more intimate side of her. To finish, there’s Masaru and his little sister, Shouko. (I must be cursed to play two games in a row with terrible imoutou characters).

Those two are the origin of Yujinojou’s suffering, and the main reason why he moved to a different city, leaving everything behind. Yukinojou, Masaru and Shouko, all tree used to be childhood friends, too, until an accident happened some months prior. Both Masaru and Yukinojou used to practice boxing, they breathed, ate, and lived for it. Yukinojou even made it to the nationals. Had he won there, his pass to University was pretty much granted, and who knows, maybe his life as well. But as luck would have it, things don’t always go as smoothly as one’d want them to, for life is not precisely merciful. They kept training together, despite Shouko’s warning of not doing so because of the consequences that would possibly arise from it. For her, seeing both her brother, and the guy she had got fond of beating each other to a pulp was the same as ripping her heart out herself. And then, it happened during a training session. One punch badly located from Yukinojou, and Masaru entered a coma.

Brain damage with possible incurable after-effects.

Of all people, Yujinojou was the least who expected that to happen, and how not, since his ability was inferior to Masaru even for someone good in boxing as him. The accident made it to the press, it subsequently created a fuss even involving his family, and Shouko told him she would never forgive him. Yukinojou blamed himself, and found refuge in his loneliness from agony, all this leading up to him moving to Kashima.

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Teppei (left) and Tatsuya v.2 after “some” drinks.

At first, the premise seemed to be of the gloomy, melancholic type due to MC’s ultra stoic, silent personality. But everything seemed to change the moment he met with Serina – and later on with other heroines – and as you make progress throughout the game you can get to see how his true self starts to flesh out. Other heroines added their own charm to the pot too, but none made an impression as striking as Serina did. There are various types, though, ranging from loli to even a teacher (hint). Keiji’s text with its rapid-fire like sentences during dialogue, and his simple yet clear and concise writing add up to the game’s general atmosphere. It felt kind of raw at places too, which made the conversations more enjoyable on a humoristic aspect. I, for one, enjoyed Serina’s thoroughly obtained knowledge both about Kanji as well as her wondrous commandment of the English language. She also loves SF and acquiring random knowledge, so expect interesting lectures from her. I know I’ve been mentioning her quite a few times, but she’s just a landmark in the heroines’ realm, at least for me.

While she may be bossy and authoritarian, she is also never afraid to speak up her mind. Unequivocal to the core, but knows when to say “Hey, I’m sorry. I fucked up.” and refers to herself as a 自分勝手な女 when this happens. She’s pretty aware of that. As you get to know her, you learn that she’s every bit as fragile and delicate, as bouncy and zestful, and after realizing this, Yujinojou finally comprehends why she’s got a vast number of people around her. For example, Tatsuya is head over heels about her since they were little, being that the main reason of his hostile attitude towards Yujinojou. However, nothing is perfect and her ending did feel a little rushed up. I’d have liked to see more of her myself, but I suppose Keiji had to leave room for other heroines as well, being Sanae and Sugizaki, personally, the most compelling of them all after Serina. Sugizaki is probably the most common type of them among characters in eroge tropes. Both top and president of the class, excellent grades, has an eyes for the arts, good in sports (swimming) and even made it to the national ranking.

Not to mention she’s beautiful and has an aura of elegance surrounding her. As these aspects of her started to unveil, I honestly didn’t expect much from a character whose personality can even be called generic within the medium, and much less when paired with a MC like Yukinojou. But it’s here when Keiji’s writing and general atmosphere changed that, and as she experiences changes the more you get intimate with her, so does Yujinojou and seeing that progress made her route worth the time invested. Yujinojou hardly laughs, talks or even makes the least of motions when with other people, so the moment he let out a natural laugh in the spur of the moment, it was a pretty cathartic and liberating moment. He even said, “Well, I’m human. I do laugh every once in a while just like any other person.” So seeing those two gradually changing was enlivening. Sanae’s route is more relaxed and easy-going. She likes hip-hop and dreams of going to New York one day, walking through Central Park and even performing a street dance there. Like MC, she also lives by herself, and that little detail alone brings those together, besides the fact that she seemed to have an affinity with him the moment they met.

Those were the most relevant routes of the game for me, though there are plenty of other endings where you don’t wind up with anyone, but still get a happy or bad ending, depending on what places you decided to visit or the choices you made. The system is usually managed by a couple of choices that indicate where you’re heading next. At the end of the school day, you can either choose to go home, or stick around for a while longer within the school’s installations. After that, yet another set of choices is presented to you, indicating what place in specific you want to visit. Within the school, you can choose among the multiple floors, gymnasium, courtyard for the next place you want spend some time at. Similarly, but not with as set of choices as wide, for the city. Normally, you’ll notice when you enter a certain route, as you start spending more time with a heroine of your liking. Like I mentioned before, there are endings where you don’t wind up with anyone – or Yukinojou in the same state – but don’t be discouraged by that. All the little endings are more like tiny fragments of information that add up to the overarching story, and once you’ve reached certain point the story forks towards certain path, but still using the game’s core – Yujinojou’s past – as a pillar. Sure enough, it took me sometime to get the last 15 or so endings, and had to fiddle with the game around the city/school and try out  different options, but that was pretty entertaining in itself. Most of the game was charged either with (good) humor, touching moments and slice-of-life scenes every now and then. In the end, you witness both a before and after. The fall and rise of a human being. How to forgive, or forgive yourself. How to stand up after tumbling, no matter how injured you may be. That’s what this cast of heroines – specially Serina – ultimately taught to Yukinojou.

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Another last point worth mentioning is this game never let up. In this sense, what I mean is you won’t have much trouble getting into it, or finding enough motivation to read it. Speaking from experience, I was a bit down from the past game I read, and this game practically reinvigorated me with its quirky, swift, and hilarious atmosphere. Keiji did a good work on that front. I just had to boot it up, and the game did the rest. While doing so, it reminded me how simple can an idea be and how, depending on how it is executed, it can either take off, or sink. This game’s idea is simple, yet effective and emotive. As constant consumers of this developing medium, we usually tend to posses a certain level of expectation towards the quality of these games. How though-out, coherent, compelling the scenario is. Writer’s prose and all the minute details of it. If it has an interesting soundtrack or not. How diverse, pleasing-to-the-eye and how the CG’s are put to use, and what not. So, as I was reading this little game, it reaffirmed me how fun and entertaining this hobby is, and that is the most important, and must not be forgotten.

How simple is that we call “fun,” always within our reach, yet with the inevitable passage of time, it gets more and more coated in layers of ideals of what “true” fun entails. In what a good game is, in what good art entails. Is there even an answer to that? Honestly, I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that the joy of things can be found in its simplest of forms. I’m getting a bit off-topic here, but to finish, letting aside the game’s message, that’s what it ultimately taught me. At least to me. I know you, folks reading, have seen the word “experience” quite a few times around the blog, but they truly are, and in pretty diverse ways. We feel different every time we read a different game, the atmosphere changes, the soundtrack, the text, the message it intends to convey, if there’s any at all, and how it ties all those elements together like instruments of an orchestra to result in a symphony, or game in this case. We bathe ourselves in these experiences, and whether they’re bad, good, regular or whatever adjective you want to put before them, at the end, we learn something from them, they help us in our journey for experiences, seeking for that “ultimate” one. They’re never less, always more.

I hope this humble post managed to raise even the tiniest speck of interest in you about this game, and if it didn’t, at least made for an entertaining read. The journey continues.

 

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あしたの雪之丞 – Fall and Rise

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