I am always a bit hesitant to start visual novels. I don’t mind some sex in my story telling and I know that the way the Japanese PC game market works is that the conventional wisdom is that you have to throw in some sex to get people to play. I just want to play something with more story than sex and the sex should not make me throw up in my mouth a little. I was interested in Kara no Shojo because it is a historical murder mystery set is post WWII Japan. The question in my mind was is this murder mystery with some sex thrown in for flavor or a sex game with some murder mystery for an air of legitimacy. So when the demo came out I was curious to test the game out to see how much of an impression I could get.
Reiji Tokisaka is a Private Investigator who is investigating a series of brutal serial killings of young women as a consultant for the police. To crack the case Reiji goes undercover as a teacher at a the Ouba Girls Academy where two of the girls disappeared from. At the same time a student at the school named Kuchiki Toko asks that Reiji to take the puzzling case of finding her true self. Who is killing these girls? Are these murders related to the death of Reiji’s fiance years ago? How does Kuchiki Toko’s missing self tie it all together?
To MangaGamer’s credit they give 5 and a half chapters play so you get a good feel of what it is like. The game is somewhat in the middle of the plot vs sex divide but there is a strong enough narrative that is perfectly acceptable to play this for the plot. For one thing you actually have to play detective. You get a notebook that keeps track of what you have learned about the cases you are working on. You often have to use that information to decide who to talk to, what leads to follow, what to focus on at crime scenes, or what information to research. From what I have read about the game there are many endings some of which depend on making the right investigative decisions during the game. So you can’t be asleep at the wheel to get the good endings or the true ending. The mystery itself seems intriguing and ties in with the Divine Comedy so it seem to have some degree of substance to it as well.
In what I played there was only one sex scene although apparently I could have gotten another one had I hunted around for it. It seemed a bit gratuitous but there was nothing objectionable about the scene and it was consensual. It did seem like the scene could have been removed and flow of the story would have been unharmed so I wonder if they ever had console adaptations in mind with this title. I can clearly see several other girls who you are surely going to sleep with (it is centered around serial killings at a Catholic girl’s school) so there are clearly going to be more sex scenes in the future. So while there is a strong narrative you have to be willing to put up (or conversely just enjoy) with several sex scenes to play this game. On the flip side of the controversy coin the gore is present but much more graphic in the descriptions than in the visual. There are mutilated bodies and some sinister events narrated but while the graphics are bloody they don’t go into any amount of detail I could not handle. The text descriptions are far more gruesome but I am oddly more comfortable with that.
As someone who has mostly played doujin visual novels I have to say that Kara no Shojo has a professional feel. There is a distinctly classy vibe to the audio and the visuals. The graphics are fairly elegant and have a soft warmth to them. Most of the characters have realistic features so almost all the girls have black hair which given the art style can making figuring out who is who a bit of a challenge at first. I got used it quickly and most of the girl stand out due to personality if nothing else. The music set the mood well and is well composed. It is very atmospheric and gentle. Not as great as the Umineko soundtrack but what is.
A quick note. This game is actually a one story in a series of games by Innocent Grey. As far as I could tell this is a stand alone story and no previous knowledge of the earlier games in the series was needed to play this game. Shugo and Kazuna from Cartagra are minor characters but they are more there as a nudge and a wink to anyone who played the previous games.
Overall I have to say I was reasonably impressed. It is something I look forward to picking up when it comes out to see if it lives up to my initial expectations. My overall verdict would depend on how well the mystery plays out but that is only something I can judge with the completed game.