It has been a long journey so see the conclusion of Umineko no Naku Koro ni. The story started in 2007 and finally concluded with 8 visual novels being released over the course of 4 years with over a dozen extra side stories being release up until the last Comic Market in December. It was a fun journey along the way that allowed me to try and figure out what was real, what was fantasy, and where the truth lied on Rokkenjima in October of 1986. When I finished Requiem of the Golden Witch I was filled with a mixture of hope and dread. The penultimate game was amazingly powerful so that I was hopeful that the end of the series would be just a great but at the same time I was worried that it could not live up to the expectations it had set.
So when Twilight of the Golden Witch came out to some rather negative reviews it was hard to tell if this was part of the normal cycle of Umineko reactions or if it was a horrible ending. The problem was when a new Umineko game came out there was always a flood of spoilers. When everything was sorted out due to fake spoilers and mistranslations there was invariably a negative reaction that the story had gone down the drain. But usually when the translation patch came out most everyone saw the story in whole new light when they actual read the story. But this time that negative feeling did not seem to go away. Many people (including myself) seemed rather frustrated with the ending as provided by the spoilers for a lack of answers. But now that I have finally played the game and seen the ending through I am going to give my spoiler filled thoughts on the ending and the series as a whole. This is a mixture of catharsis and celebration for a pretty wild ride. If you were curious for a simple spoiler free review then it is simply that I do not regret playing this series.
Even if you utterly despise the vagueness of vital parts of the ending you have to admit there are some great moments in Twilight of the Golden Witch. Anything involving Lambdadelta is just a wonderful mixture of thrilling and charming. She earns her 3rd place in the final chapter popularity poll with this chapter. Bernkastel and Erika Furudo prove themselves to be the unrepentant villains of the story and do their job well. There is also a good deal of meta commentary on mysteries and mystery fans. It has always been present in the series (and in Ryukishi07’s writing in general) but it is full display in this chapter. The goats attacking the island is hardly a subtle meta commentary on the fandom. Your mileage will vary on how much you think it is a clever jab at the reader and how much it is a bitter rant. Perhaps it is yet another case of, “Without love, the truth cannot be seen.”
It is also a powerful send off to the Ushiromiya family. They were all a mixture of horrible traits that had a human core at their center. It reminds me of that deleted scene from High Fidelity about the Top 5 Worst things you have done. Taken out of context the top 5 worst things anyone has ever done makes them seem like a monster. And in a way this final chapter reminds us that we have seen everyone involved with Rokkenjima at their worst as well as their best. But in the end while they have some major sins on their hands they were all just human. OK. Some of them came off a bit worse than others. It is hard to really find fault with too much that Hideyoshi or Jessica did in contrast Kinzo commits some unforgivable sins even compared to the rest of the family. Their crimes cannot be excused but perhaps they can be forgiven.
The most controversial part is the ending itself and what few things it does address and what it keeps a mystery. To say we get no answers is clearly a lie. On the other hand there are some major questions that go unanswered. As for the little mysteries we are given all the tools to solve them. To figure out who killed whom in the first 6 chapters we are given five important pieces of information. The most obvious pieces are the red text. While it is often deliberately misleading it is the first place to start looking. The second is that Beatrice, Shannon, and Kanon are all the same person but can be “killed” when their personality is killed. The fact that they are all the same person playing different roles makes many of the mysteries disappear. The third is Willard H. Wright black sword fight with Bernkastel. There are plenty of hints on how all the tricks were done through that. The fourth is Bernkastel’s purple truth puzzle game. It gives clear rules on how to use the fantasy and mystery sections to figure out what is going on. How the things we see in mystery scenes are the truth we need to examine when solving mysteries and how to figure out when characters are lying. The final clue is the Our Confession booklet from Umineko no Naku Koro ni Hane. It is pretty much a walk through of a mystery so you can see how they are done if the other clues were not clear enough.
The problem is there is no answer sheet. At no point does Ryukishi07 give the reader a simple breakdown of how everything was done in case you get stuck. This lets people write countless FAQs that use the rules to figure out how things were done but unless the author gives his definitive word you will always have people arguing the details back and forth. While this replicates some of the experience of the Witch Hunters in the game it will possibly always be a point of contention just the same. As Ryukishi07 himself said in Higurashi When They Cry Kai there is always something vaguely annoying about puzzle books that don’t give you the answers. I am not exactly sure why he broke his own rule in this case.
The biggest point of contention will always be that we never really know what happened on October 5th of 1986. We know that the only survivors were Battler and Eva. But how everyone else exactly died is a mystery. Thematically that is part of the story. It ends with Rokkenjima being a sealed mystery. If we consider Ange the true protagonist of the series than the whole story is about her learning both how to move on and let things go. Therefore sealing the mystery away is a vital step for her. While this makes thematic sense for her it does not make the blow of never truly know what happened to the player any less harsh. I know many a player just feels like there never was an answer and the conclusion and what we got was to cover up to this fact. Ambiguous answers are inherently controversial.
In the end this article was actually therapeutic. It has helped me work through a good deal of my conflicted emotions on the series. I went into Umineko with a good deal of anticipation due to my love of Higurashi. Each episode played only ramped up the expectations. So the bitterness I initially felt with the conclusion was equally harsh. It was almost like a betrayal. But after actually playing the conclusion and sorting out my feelings in this post I feel better about the whole experience. As I stated before my enjoyment of the first seven games could never be taken away by the eighth. They were just too much fun. But Twilight of the Golden Witch determined my overall feelings for the series as a whole. In the end while I did not agree with how Ryukishi07 played everything out I am glad that I experienced this story. In reflection many of the pieces of the ending were telegraphed from the start but part of me did not want to believe them. But perhaps the way things ended were for the best. We were never going to get a super happy Higurashi ending. I could have done with some more conclusive answers but that is the mystery of Rokkenjima. If nothing else the positive feelings outweighed my reservations about the conclusion and the bittersweet ending. If it can do that than it did its job. I close the lid on this cat box for now and hope that one day I may open it again get the same enjoyment and perhaps some new insights in the future.