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Aoishiro

Aoishiro_cover_PC Not being a fan of Japanese visual novels, or visual novels at all for that matter, upon initially hearing about Aoishiro, I was at least to say most unenthusiastic to play the game. But I decided to give Aoishiro a shot regardless of my negative bias towards this genre, with a tad little hope in the back of my mind that this game will be enjoyable to play. Using the unofficial English translation patch (so that I could understand it) I tried it out and wow, was I surprised…

Developer: Success Corporation
Publisher:
Hal
Genre: Visual Novel
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Windows PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 5 2008 (PS2)(JP), November 21 2008 (PC)(JP)
Rating: C (CERO) [15+]

Aoishiro takes place in  the modern era, but both the real and a fantasy world, and is a direct sequel to PlayStation 2 exclusive Akai Ito. The game follows the characters belonging the Seijou Girls Academy’s Kendo Club, a female only rich girl’s academy, where one day they take a field training trip for summer camp training near an island, Urashima, in the southern portion of Japan. That island, however, holds dreaded and untold mysteries, which is where the fantasy side of this game comes in. The girls arrive at the time of a festival, which honours the God that is worshipped by the people of Urashima, it celebrates the Onitaiji and ensures another year of health for the people. The girls are here-by informed that a stormy weather, which occurs 100% each time this festival begins, will occur in just a few days time. Upon arriving, the heroine has regular déjà vu moments involving water, white and red petals from flowers and vaguely remember following a child through some forest.

You play as ‘Captain’ Osanai Syouko, the co-leader of the large group, beside the historically educated senior, Aoi-sensei. As I’m talking about character relationships right now, I’ll talk about two of this game’s most fine and memorable elements; its character development and narration. Being a visual novel the game is naturally text-based and there is alot of dialogue and banter between each of the characters, though not mindless school girl banter (there is some of that still, as this game deals with the personal lives of these girls, more on that soon), but the dialogue is rich with knowledge and gratification of real Japanese history, law and religion, as prime examples. It’s nice to play a game and be educated at the same time as having fun. Immediately after seeing each main character for the first few times, usually it’s when they exit the coach at the start, by their characteristics alone you can gather how their basic role will play in the story. This isn’t stereotyping, but rather more of a visual guide to help the player determine who is who without the use of names and to assign your own perception from their looks to their talk. But it is their personality traits that sets them apart from one another, and how it’s developed overtime throughout the game via relationships with each other and, in general, how they perceive the world around them. However, interesting characters won’t keep you interested unless there’s good pace, narrative and an interesting component to keep you on your toes.

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The characters are colourful and always express an emotion they are currently feeling, rather than looking like a blank barbie doll.

This is where the story-telling itself comes in, it’s more than just text floating below a sprite with generic music to keep you attached, but rather, the game reaches out to you and connects you and makes you a part of this game’s world. It does this through, for example, synchronising and adapting the mood of the music to situation that is happening, there are also songs specifically made per girl, which really highlights their place in Aoishiro. There is also a clever use and timing of sound effects, which add some humour and it’s nice to have a fully-voiced cast, which can be optionally turned off per person should you not like their voices. Another funny, but more intriguing part of the game, is the mindless banter that the more open characters will have, I view it as more of a realism and immersion prospect, the pointless discussions between school girls that needs to be dealt with to get it off their backs. I feel that this actually fits within the game though because it would feel very alien to play an entire game with school girls and not once being involved in aimless arguments and having a purely intelligent-based conversation; this also contributes to some humour in the game. Another point I would like to quickly mention and that I like about the art direction, is that non-important characters have their facial features left blank. Their eyes, nose and mouth are not present, but their hair is, this serves as a visual indicator as to who you should be directing your attention to and it’s an added touch to the game that I appreciate.

Adding on to the story aspect, this will be a game that will keep you occupied for hours and hours on end since there are a total of fifty-six different endings, which are directly affected by the player choices. On occassional interval, you will be presented with choices, so it’s important to pay attention to the dialogue (and was no problem for me because I am hooked like a fish to bait in this game). Granted, not every single choice you make will ultimately affect your ending, some are made purely for fun and added diversity, but most will lead onto new scenes opening up (that usually involve character backstory) and also adds to the invisible Affection Point system. Although not acknowledged, there is a relationship system in this game where your choices, and your choices alone, actually affect the way said characters feel the way about you and even each other. Of course, character realtionships will affect the ending you will receive alongside the other choices that you make. Another aspect is that there is no beating around the bush in Aoishiro, if you make a choice and cock-up, you’ll have to quick load or deal with it and with fifty-six endings you could be playing the game for a few minutes or a few hours. Having said this, there is no “true” path to take in this game, unless you create that goal for yourself.

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More than just a hint of love; there are reasons behind the romance that you can uncover if you make the right choices.

Now for something more visually appealing, I’ll talk about the art and themes within the game. One of my favourite types of settings for games and TV media is the current modern era and I also love the realistic tone to them but with the added fantasy to it, it adds layers of mystery – and even horror if presented right – to the already existing foundation. There is a slow and much-hinted-at steering from the safe real world to the mysteries of the Urashima island being uncovered and how the characters are tied-in to it, such as the hotspring medical healer Migiwa-San. As previously said the choices you make will determine outcomes, like how much, if any, of the mysteries will be uncovered and what extra characters you will meet. Continuing about choice and outcome, you may choose to pursue the choice of girl you prefer, if you want, as it’s not mandatory, and this will also effect your ending and how much information is revealed for that specific girl. You can also unlock Seals, which will unlock the Happy endings for each main character and are achieved by unlocking the other endings for that character. So multiple playthroughs are required if you are a 100% completioner, but it’s well worth working towards because there is a tun of content and goodies to unlock beside the core game. Being a yuri game with a female lead it does mean leading onto lesbian content, but you don’t have to pursue one character, you may choose to pursue another girl later so there is always that option there for you, and it makes a nice change from playing as a guy who goes around tubbing every girl he sees because he’s some perverted maniac. In Aoishiro, relationships are dealt with formerly and have taste to them, there is no sex to be had, but instead the focus is on love and care towards the girls rather than lust and abusing. There are some explicit scenes but it’s displayed tastefully and within reason, it makes you feel like you’ve earned the right to see it. And finally, I felt attached to these characters the more I got to know them, being unfamiliar with Japanese names, I jotted down their names for easy reference so I could become related to how the game works as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, after discovering your first ending in the main game you will unlock the Treasure Box, which can be accessed from the main menu as the bottom-most choice, which contains data consisting of Album, Flow Chart, Encyclopedia, Ending Viewer and a Gaiden (Extra Stories). All straight-forward, the Album gives you access to each character’s scenes within in the game and customly set their character music to a choice of your own. The Flow Chart, a handy feature, tracks and shows your progress with the entire story via a top-down chain-link flowchart, showing you where you have missed out on opportunities for further choices and ending. The Encyclopedia, although entirely and unfortunately in Japanese, allows you to view all the lore and important information you’ve collected thus far and the Ending Viewer is self-explanatory. The Gaiden mode, on the other hand, gives you side stories to play through with new characters. Yeah, there is plenty of content for you to play with, it’s always nice to see the developers go that extra step and give you access to features like these. There is also a mini-game to be played but I never got the time to unlock it, but apparently involves a combat system in it.

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There are scenes that inter-connect between the major scenes and are always pleasurable to view.

Overall, I felt myself going back to reload save games I made to maximise the possibilities to achieve all endings and see all dialogue sequences to squeeze as much juice and content out of the game as much as I could and I enjoyed every minute of Aoishiro. Its setting, character progression, deep conversations and realism factor mixed with the blending of fantasy instantly hooked me. The only complaint I can give this game is that sometimes the dialogue drags on, I just wanted to see what would happen next, but I also felt the need to listen to every bit of talk so that I wouldn’t miss anthing important and interesting. The dinner time scenes are the best example of this, several minutes are spent describing the food the girls eat, and Momoko-Chan spends a long time explaining the dishes she cooked and the reason why she did. Other than this minor gripe, this is one of the most addicting, beautiful, loving, immersing game I’ve ever played, the writing is well-written, the game is presented appropriately and confidently, it’s clear what the game wants to be and sticks to it, this is a game that story-driver junkies will adore.

Aoishiro was finished on multiple endings, a few Normal, a couple of Happy and alot of Bad endings were uncovered in this playthrough, though shall not be named due to possible spoilerous information. For those who regard score as an important factor to a review, Aoishiro receives a 10/10. Aoishiro is a unique visual novel with strong personalities to keep you hooked and with its fantasy element intertwining with the reality of the normal world; upkeeps the excitement level for things to come. Any fan of Japanese culture should check this title out, or if you’re looking to burn time with a well-presented story, and especially for those who enjoy J-style storytelling.

Guru Meditation is a regular author for GamingAdvance. You may contact Guru Meditation through the email address: gurumeditation@gamingadvance.com.

Marco Prinzi

5 / 5 stars