Review by TheSAMMIES
Where were you when Earth was destroyed?
Warning! Swan Song is technically a hentai game. It has scenes of characters having sex with each other, but theyre very brief. Most of the game is about trying to survive during a global catastrophe, but there are a few sex scenes in there. If you dont want to play games with sex in them of if you are too young to play, then you might have to skip this game.
I went into Swan Song with some pretty high expectations. The concept of a visual novel that takes place during the end of the world interested me and the fact that one of the main characters was mentally handicapped and handled in a realistic way only added to this. Make no mistake, Swan Song has some good writing, but it also has a few flaws that hold it back. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in visual novels with the warning that the main character is boring.
I played using an English translation patch. I didnt have the patience to play through this thing is Japanese. The translation patch is nice, but I couldve done without the overuse of honorifics. I can understand character relationships myself. I dont need broken English shoving it in my face every paragraph. I feel like the translation is treating me like an idiot when it uses honorifics like that.
Story- The world is ending. There was a huge earthquake that occurred on Christmas Eve and it killed millions. The world is turned on its head. Police men, the guys who uphold order, turn into savages. Criminals show their good side and help out in times of crisis. Death comes for the good, the bad, and everyone in between. Earth could be on its last days.
You play as Tsukasa, quite possibly the least interesting character in a group of friends that joins together in this time of crisis. Tsukasa is a depressed musician with daddy issues and secretly mutilated himself because hes a deep brooding character with no personality. He gets a girlfriend during Earths destruction named Yuka. The problem is that theres another guy who likes Yuka, a nerd named Takuma. Takuma is the kind of guy who plays MMOs all day and watches porn all night. He also complains that girls never talk to him even though he make no effort to talk to them. Takuma has no social skills, tries to be a nice guy, and gets into anxiety attacks. Hes an unlikable loser that has a very interesting character transformation later in the story, which makes him maybe a little more interesting than Tsukasa, but not by much.
Of course, Tsukasas brooding and Takumas social anxiety during the apocalypse is only half the story. You also have to spend the game with Aroe, a mentally handicapped character straight out of an Oscar winning movie script. Shes meant to be cute, innocent, and endearing because of how she views the world. Shes the topless girl on the games box, by the way and yeah, she does get a sex scene.
Okay, so the character in Swan Song kind of blow, but at least the general scenario is pretty good. You get to see the full gamut of humanity under dire circumstances. Hope is given to hopeless. Children are killed. Shelter is given to people without homes. People get raped and eaten. Some people give their lives to save others. People rise, people fall, and you get to see great acts of depravity and great acts of kindness. Its a story for the philosopher in all of us. Swan Song handles this content pretty well and in a mature way, but then itll undercut itself with a comic relief scene. Nothing to break your immersion like a scene of Aroe taking off all of her clothes and running through the snow for no reason other than shes disabled, so she can do stupid things for no reason.
When it comes down to it, Swan Songs story is crippled by its protagonist. I know Tsukasa was meant to be boring so that you could theoretically project yourself into him. A lot main characters do that. Its just that I would rather have an interesting main character. Tsukasa doesnt do crap throughout the whole game and when he does, its only because someone made him to do it. He doesnt drive the story, the story and the other characters drive him. He doesnt have to work to do anything. His friends accomplish the majority of what he needs to do thats important. He never has to do anything to try to win Yuka. She just sort of falls on his dong and the sex scenes begin. Hes just not a satisfying character to play as because hes just so inactive. Dark and brooding doesnt have to mean I do nothing!, as there are some well-written angsty characters out there. Tsukasa just isnt one of them.
You get a few other characters and play from their points to view too. The games at its best during these segments. Thats when you get to see characters who are far more developed and in some cases, proactive than Tsukasa. If Swan Song locked you into Tsukasa and never let you change perspectives, this would be far less enjoyable.
Presentation- Swan Song is a beautiful and depressing game. It also has barely any music. You will play a large amount of this game in silence, which can make the boring parts of the game really, really boring. If you can get through those though, there are some beautiful tracks that highlight just how good the games audio is (at least when it exists). Swan Song also has full voice acting, but I turned it off. A couple of the voices started to bug me.
The big thing that Swan Song gets right is the graphics. A good amount of the CG is beautiful shots of Earths destruction. You get to see cities flooded, houses destroyed, people frozen in ice, gory messes that used to be people I could go on about how beautiful Swan Song makes something as dire as the end of the world look, but it really nailed it.
Character sprites are also handled in a unique way. Theyre boxes with the characters faces in them that appear floating over the background. They look stylized and give Swan Song a very comic book like feel to it. It adds a lot of flair to the game and really helps keep your interest during those painfully long silent portions.
Gameplay- Remember how I complained that Tsukasa does nothing for large stretches of the game? Thats actually a gameplay mechanic! Swan Song offers only a handful of choices. Making the wrong one will usually lead to a game over. Even then, its pretty easy to figure out which choice is correct because the game will spell it out for you a few paragraphs before. The characters will actually tell you what choice to make, which really gives off the feel that you arent actually thinking for yourself.
There are two routes in Swan Song and the second route has to be unlocked. The game is structured linear and only has two real endings. I was disappointed a bit because a lot of why I like visual novels is getting all the endings and making choices to affect the narrative. You dont actually affect the narrative in this game, though. Youre like Tsukasa, putting forth minimal effort to do anything only to get rewarded with a good ending on your second playthrough.
Some people like to complain that various visual novels have you playing as a jerk or an idiot. The thing is, doing jerkish or idiotic things is far more interesting than doing nothing at all. Id rather play as a jerk or an idiot than a statue and thats pretty much what Tsukasa is. He doesnt move much.
It might sound like I totally hate Swan Song, but I dont. I love sad stories and I loved what this game was going for. It might not be perfect, and I might have a lot of things I dont like about it, but overall, my experience with Swan Song was pretty positive. Dont let the 7/10 scare you off. Its a very good game that I just happened to have a few gripes with.
Cool Fact- The games title is a reference to Franz Schubert, a composer who wrote a lot of religious classical music. Tsukasa himself also has a few things in common with musicians from Schuberts time, including the self-mutilation aspect.
Also Try- Do you like depressing games? I sure do! For visual novels, try Giniro and Kana Little Sister. Those two have powerful, moving stories and in Giniros case, is absolutely beautiful. If you want a more traditional depressing game, try Nier and To The Moon.
Product Release: Swan Song (Reprint) (JP, 07/31/08)
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