Review by jen_darknight
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 sisters 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 girlsits completely animated. Not just that, but its not exactly the sort of game that youd want to play if youre 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 youre 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 (hes cute, but certainly not hothow 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 shes done to help you and then she kisses you and says This is enoughgood 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.
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 doesnt 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 youre 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. Its like theres 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, its still very well done.
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 wayand I even found myself feeling sorry for him at times.
The only two characters I found myself disliking were Hikari (one of Sekais friends) and Taisuke (Makotos best friend), though I wont give away why I feel this wayjust play through the game for yourself. Youll see.
The first thing I should mention is that the game is completely animatedit 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 dont really notice, until they reuse the same still-shots over and over again. For certain scenes (such as when youre eating with Kotonoha on the roof or when youre talking to Sekai in the classroom), itll have this distant still framed shot for a short period of time (usually about thirty seconds to a minute). I wouldnt have as much of a problem with it if it didnt 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 dont 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, its sometimes graining to watch them. Most of the time, the animation is beautiful and well-animated but there are other times, like when theres an extreme closeup of the characters 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. Its hard to notice, but there are scenes where they rehash the same animations in various situations (especially Sekais 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 pathsit 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 doesnt look shabby or badly-done. Even though the scenes are repeated, they dont mar the experience and theyre 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.
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 Momois Let me Love You, which is downright obnoxious) and opening and ending themes. The most notable songs in the soundtrack are Minami Kiribayashis Anata ga Inai (an ending theme to one of the episodes) and Kanako Itous 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. Makotos acting is downright atrocious, and sounds like hes doing an inverted Choir practice in his throat everytime he speaks This wouldnt be so bad if you didnt 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. Im not going to spoil the storyline to explain it, but they pull off their characters very wellso well that Im almost afraid to see the anime since theyre both played by different people.
Fortunately, thougheven 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.
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 Dreamcastits 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 youre 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 Sekais 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 its a great add-on, and its 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 its 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 Sekais side the moment the save file loaded up. This puzzled me since by this point of the episode, there werent 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 againbecause you cant 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 endingwell, 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, its 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 dont miss any important words because the characters talking too fast or a character talking too quietly. Its not a flaw, its 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 females 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. Ive never seen anything like that in an H-game, so that puzzled me a bit. Its a bit amusing, and definitely new, and for some, this will probably be a welcome addition to the gameespecially if you have people sleeping over who might hear and you dont have headphones (for silent mode), or if you really dont 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 youll 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 wont 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 youve already seen certain scenes. I could do without the devotion bar glitch though.
With a good story, fully-animated gameplay, beautiful H-scenes, 21 endings, and great music, this game is one of those H-games that youll 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-gamers collection, especially with the step forward this game made with its full-video.
Youll also need a wide knowledge of Japanese to understand the story, and to truly appreciate whats happening in the game, though its 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, Id call this a classic.
Now if youll excuse me, I have to go and play through Kotonohas story again
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: School Days (JP, 04/28/05)
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