Review by jen_darknight

Reviewed: 12/03/07

A huge step forward in the world of H-games.

I remember hearing about School Days a month ago, when I had seen a couple songs from the series on my sister’s hard drive, and decided to see just what series these songs (“Kioku no Umi” and “Look at Me” were the two songs I had found) were from. I had expected a cutesy high school romance like To Heart…

Wow. Was I wrong.

School Days is an interactive H-game (or “Hentai Game”) by the company Overflow, which stands out from the crowd of other H-games from the simple fact that the game has no letterboxes whatsoever. Yes, boys and girls—it’s completely animated. Not just that, but it’s not exactly the sort of game that you’d want to play if you’re into adorable fluff and sweet cuteness, as though you can go through parts of the game and have adorable endings and romantic moments, etc…where the game really shines (and almost forces you to take part in) is the insane, almost over-the-top drama that is included herein. Over-the-top drama that, if you play a certain way, can lead one of the heroines or the main character dying a violent, gruesome death, if you’re not careful (endings which, might I add, the game is the most known for).

The story starts like this:

You play as Itou Makoto, the most indecisive, somehow sexually desirable (he’s cute, but certainly not ‘hot’—how the women go for him is beyond me ><) male main character I have seen in an anime or a game. Like ever. You ride the train to school everyday, and you watch a beautiful young woman from the class next to yours: Katsura Kotonoha. At the train station, you manage to snap a picture of her with your phone…which proved to be bad news, when the girl who sits next to you, Saionji Sekai, gets ahold of it. Then she hatches up a plan to get you and Kotonoha together, despite her growing feelings for him. After various events, she finally succeeds into getting you two together…and while waiting at the train station for Kotonoha, you ask Sekai how you can repay her for all she’s done to help you…and then she kisses you and says “This is enough—good luck on your date!” and runs on the train crying.

And then after that, the real story can unfold and begin.

And now, with this said, I can go into the meat of this review.

Story: 8/10

Though this game is no Kanon, or Air (H-games which are well known for their amazing stories, both coincidentally made by the same company), School Days has a story that makes you want to keep playing through the seven ‘episodes’ that make up the course of the game. No matter which girl you pick, or which direction you go in, the story keeps itself interesting, and doesn’t seem to have a downtime. There are scenes that genuinely made me cheer, and others that made me squeal at my keyboard…and others that made me grumble with irritation at the characters (particularly Makoto). It feels like you’re watching an anime series, only you can control the characters and influence the way the story goes.

The problem with this though, is I felt that at times the drama was a bit over the top, and though this is an H-game, the H-content sort of took away from the actual plot. It’s like there’s a bunch of story and then…hey look! There they are, going at it again! And then the way some of the H-scenes were put into the game seemed sort of out of character. I would have liked to see this game remade, with more story and less H-content, as though a good deal of the story, depending on how you play, does center around who Makoto gets with and who he ends up ‘dating’ and so on and so forth, the main story itself could have been done a bit better. Though all-in-all, it’s still very well done.

Characters: 10/10

As with any H-game, characters are very important…and let me say that the character designs are not only beautiful, but most of the characters I find extremely likeable. Kotonoha I found adorable (and all different levels of awesome in one of the most infamous endings in the game), Sekai I found cute and funny…every character is at least developed to a degree, which makes all the characters you find in the game feel ‘human’ in some sense or another. Like Kotonoha has a fear of men, or Sekai feels the need to help you in your love life because she loves you and wants you to be happy (that sort of selflessness I find admirable, even in a video game character). Even Makoto, who I wanted to strangle through a good bit of the game, was likeable in his own way—and I even found myself feeling sorry for him at times.

The only two characters I found myself disliking were Hikari (one of Sekai’s friends) and Taisuke (Makoto’s ‘best friend’), though I won’t give away why I feel this way—just play through the game for yourself. You’ll see.

Visuals: 8/10

The first thing I should mention is that the game is completely animated—it plays out almost like an anime, with an opening and ending theme for each ‘episode’. On first glance, it even has TV-quality animation, along with gorgeous character designs and vivid colors. The game is very vibrant and pretty. “THIS is the next generation of H-games,” I thought to myself, seeing the game for the first time.

Well. I had thought that until it got to the still images, the repeated sequences, and the close-up shots. At first, you don’t really notice, until they reuse the same still-shots over and over again. For certain scenes (such as when you’re eating with Kotonoha on the roof or when you’re talking to Sekai in the classroom), it’ll have this distant still framed shot for a short period of time (usually about thirty seconds to a minute). I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it if it didn’t not only look pixellated, but also be blatantly still-shot. Like talking with Kotonoha on the roof is forgivable, but having a still-shot in the classroom while talking to Sekai, with students around (and using the same still-framed shot multiple times throughout the episode) is almost laziness. Luckily they don’t do this too often, as this would get tiring fast, and start to sap the appeal from the animated sequences.

Though with the close-up shots, it’s sometimes graining to watch them. Most of the time, the animation is beautiful and well-animated…but there are other times, like when there’s an extreme closeup of the character’s face (like a very close side-shot, or just a shot of their eyes, for instance), where the graphics are very pixellated. You get used to it after a while, though there are some shots that are so grainy it made me wonder if I was playing this on the Sega CD rather than on a computer. It bothers me that they put so much effort in most of the scenes (especially the H-scenes…those are nothing short of gorgeous), and yet they still made the closer shots pixellated and hard on the eyes. Not to nitpick, but on these ultra-close up scenes, sometimes the mouths looked like they were drawn on MSPaint.

And the repeating sequences. It’s hard to notice, but there are scenes where they rehash the same animations in various situations (especially Sekai’s ‘devious expression’ and the ‘talking on the phone’ sequences, among others), which for the most part is fine since this is a fully-animated computer game with more than 23 endings and many many paths—it would take up too much memory (the game is already a whopping 15.4 GB install as it is!) to redraw and redo every animation, and at least it doesn’t look shabby or badly-done. Even though the scenes are repeated, they don’t mar the experience and they’re not low-quality. Just repetitive.

Overall, the game is gorgeous, and for being one of, if not the first, of its kind, it looks amazing.

Sound: 7/10

Music-wise, this game is great. With good instrumentals that suit the moods of the scenes, as well as well-done ‘insert songs’ (the only real exception is Haruka Momoi’s “Let me Love You”, which is downright obnoxious) and ‘opening’ and ‘ending’ themes. The most notable songs in the ‘soundtrack’ are Minami Kiribayashi’s “Anata ga Inai” (an ending theme to one of the ‘episodes’) and Kanako Itou’s “Kanashimi wo Mukou he” (which plays when you get a ‘bad ending’). Even CooRie, who is known for doing various opening themes for other anime series (such as World of Narue), does one of the ending themes.

Unfortunately, unlike the music of the game, the voice acting falls flat in some areas. Makoto’s acting is downright atrocious, and sounds like he’s doing an inverted Choir practice in his throat everytime he speaks…This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to hear him through the entire game. Sometimes his acting is decent, but…

Setsuna, another character in the game, also suffers from below-par acting, as does Taisuke and Hikari. The best actresses in the game are by far the actresses playing Kotonoha and Sekai. I’m not going to spoil the storyline to explain it, but they pull off their characters very well—so well that I’m almost afraid to see the anime since they’re both played by different people.

Fortunately, though—even with the acting being below-par with several characters, it is never so bad that you want to turn the game on mute, and the sound is doable.

Playability: 7/10

Ah, now to the meat of the game. The closest I can compare the gameplay to is the Dancing Blade series on the Playstation and Dreamcast—it’s like an interactive movie, and at certain intervals you can make choices that determine how the storyline is going to go. On the top of your screen you have a pause button (great if you’re going to go to dinner or something of that nature) as well as varied speeds of viewing (for those of you who have played the game before). There is also a ‘relationship bar’ on the top of the screen. On one side, it has Sekai’s name, and the other, it has Kotonoha. Depending on your decisions, the line on the bar will either go closer to Kotonoha or to Sekai, which determines your ‘faithfulness’ or ‘devotion’ to either girl. And at the end of each ‘episode’, the game calculates your total ‘love’ or ‘devotion’ to either girl, judging from the decisions you make in either episode.

Now note, I really like the ‘faithfulness’ bar. I think it’s a great add-on, and it’s even better that you can access your options and save at anytime during the game (without the options actually interrupting the visual of the game, which is shown in widescreen format). My only problem is that it’s sort of fickle. Not so much fickle in the way that it has a random result for a decision you make…but that it glitches sometimes. Like I was on episode 3, and I was totally faithful to Kotonoha through the entire game. But then I decided I wanted to try something different (the bar was on neutral at the time, as it was the last time I saved the game), so I loaded my save file…only to find that my bar was down really far on Sekai’s side the moment the save file loaded up. This puzzled me since by this point of the episode, there weren’t any choices that you could make yet (the bar goes to ‘neutral’ at the start of each episode), and because of this ‘glitch’, I had to restart my game all over again—because you can’t restart at the beginning of the episode, because your choices in previous episodes determines what happens in the current episode. This really bothered me, and I found it rather irritating to have a part of the game that randomly glitched on you for no good reason, only for you to start your game over (especially if you were like me and going towards the Kotonoha ending—well, one of the 7 Kotonoha endings).

Because the choices you make is the only writing on the bottom of the screen, this game has no subtitles. On one hand, it’s great for those who just want to watch the game and not be distracted by the words unless they have to be, but on the other hand, I like to be able to follow along with what the characters are saying with subtitles so I don’t miss any important words because the character’s talking too fast or a character talking too quietly. It’s not a flaw, it’s just something I would have liked to have seen added into the gameplay.

Something I found strange with this game though, are two of the special ‘options’ you can toggle on and off during the course of the game: “Man Breath” and “Silent Mode”. The “Man breath” option allows you to only hear the female’s voice during the H-scenes (so far as I can gather), while “Silent Mode” allows you to turn the sound on the H-scenes off, while leaving the rest of the sound in the game going on as normal. I’ve never seen anything like that in an H-game, so that puzzled me a bit. It’s a bit amusing, and definitely new, and for some, this will probably be a welcome addition to the game—especially if you have people sleeping over who might hear and you don’t have headphones (for silent mode), or if you really don’t want to hear those ugly smelly men anyway (Man Breath “off”).

Replay Value: 10/10

With 21 endings (7 for Kotonoha, 5 for Sekai, 3 for the sub-heroines, 3 bad endings, 2 harem endings, and 1 ending ‘variation’), this game is one that you’ll be playing for a long time. And all the endings differ from each other (and if you so wish, you can watch them again later in the ‘replay’ mode), so it won’t be like seeing the same ending over and over again with slightly altered dialogue.

This will definitely be taking up a good portion of your time.

Despite flaws in the game, the gameplay is solid, and it is really nice to be able to pause the story so you can go get a sandwich or something when needed, or fast-forward if you’ve already seen certain scenes. I could do without the ‘devotion bar’ glitch though.

Overall: 7/10

With a good story, fully-animated gameplay, beautiful H-scenes, 21 endings, and great music, this game is one of those H-games that you’ll be playing many many times, just to see everything (even if you already have!). And despite its flaws, this makes a great addition to any H-gamer’s collection, especially with the step forward this game made with its full-video.

You’ll also need a wide knowledge of Japanese to understand the story, and to truly appreciate what’s happening in the game, though it’s also perfectly playable to the non-Japanese speaker who just wants to randomly click choices and see the H-scenes…though they might not get the same enjoyment out of it.

For story and characters alone, I’d call this a classic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and play through Kotonoha’s story again…

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: School Days (JP, 04/28/05)

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