Visual novels are a very interesting, and uncommon, genre of games. They are more popular in Japan, but lately this genre has been seeing more movement in other parts of the world. Unfortunately a lot of Japanese visual novels are porn fests at best, and disturbing fetish stories at worst. So there is certainly room for visual novels that break out of that mold and actually try to tell a good and captivating story. This is the case for Higurashi When They Cry.
|Just a story about a peaceful village in Japan, right?|
Higurashi When They Cry is a series of fourteen small psychological horror visual novels. It has been around for some time now, but only just recently had an official release in America. At this moment only the first novel is available, and it is unknown when and if the second one will be released. The first novel focuses on a young teenage boy named Keichi Maebara as he and his family move to a small village in Japan known as Hinamizawa. There, Keichi meets a group of girls (and quickly befriends them). While at first the story may seem like one big happy go lucky tale about a group of students going through the trials and tribulations of life while taking part in a rather intense game club. However, this all gradually goes to hell in a hand basket when Keichi begins to uncover a dark secret within the village itself. From there things only take a turn for the worst as Keichi tries to unravel the mystery behind a series of death that occur once a year during the Cotton Drifting Festival.
|...right? Well at least it is for the first hour or so, then it becomes a nightmare.|
Player interaction varies in visual novels, and in the case of Higurashi, the only thing the player does is click or press enter to advance the text. You never make any choices, and the ending will always be the same. As a result, visual novels have a very niche market given how little gameplay there is. Higurashi makes up for this weakness by being well written and combining that with sound effects and music to help add life to the story. As a result, there are times when Higurashi is absolutely terrifying. It doesn't rely on cheap jump scares like most western horror does, and instead uses the unknown and ordinary to create an intense and terrifying situation as the story progresses. Unlike many visual novels that use big CG art scenes to tell parts of the story, Higurashi relies on text and character portraits alone.
There isn't enough good psychological horror out there in video games, and I can only hope that someday there will be more games like Higurashi When They Cry that tell an interesting story while doing a better job scaring the player than most western horror could ever hope to accomplish. It may not be for everyone, but players patient enough to sit through a 5 to 8 hour visual novel like Higurashi When They Cry will be in for one well polished and terrifying experience.
RBFB Rating: A