I wanted to post this with my Tadoku 2011, Round 3 Halftime Report, but I hadn’t finished the game yet, so I branched it off into a separate post.
Rewrite was a unique experience for me. If you count each episode of Umineko as separate games, Rewrite is probably the longest single text I have read in any language. It took me just short of a month to complete (June 27 – July 20), spending upwards of ten hours every day reading. This shows I’m obviously not at a fluent reading level (or speed), but it certainly shows progress.
As a story, Rewrite has a lot of ups and downs. Because of how long it is, and how much variation there tended to be in my opinions of the routes, I needed a place to organize my thoughts, as I was going. And from that spawned this review.
In writing this, I avoided spoilers as much as possible, so some things might sound a little oblique, but I hope I get my points across.
Note: Rewrite has a number of distinct sections, most aptly called routes–a familiar device in the visual novel world. In this case, the routes vary in quality pretty drastically, and, for this reason, I’m dividing my review into sections corresponding to each of the game’s routes.
Common Route: 1 / 10
What a waste of time. Scenes drag on two to three times as long as they should. It’s badly paced, with no real sense of direction or purpose. The route presents itself as a collection of “enjoyable” scenes in lives of our characters, but it becomes repetitive, dull, and uninteresting very quickly. There is no trace of character development, even to a minor degree–presumably because they wanted to save the heroines’ development for their own respective routes. What little “foreshadowing” or “setup” they do for the real story is spread so far and so thin, it’s easy to forget there’s even anything remotely interesting about this game. For what it’s worth: Rewrite is NOT a slice-of-life story about a bunch of high-school kids. The common route may make you try to think that, but it’s just a red herring–and a bad one at that. It’s the stuff that comes later that really matters.
To be quite honest, it’s a miracle I made it through the common route in the first place, for how much I disliked it. But the other routes more than made up for the couple days of misery I spent drudging through this trash.
If you plan to play this game, use this guide (minor structural spoilers) and skip often and without prejudice, until probably Nov. 6 or a little after. You won’t miss a thing.
The routes are presented in the order I read them. To be clear: there are scenes contained within the game’s “common route,” outside the heroines’ routes, which are specific to a particular heroine. For example, much of 静流’s development occurs outside her route, in the “common route,” in scenes which only appear after you’ve been locked on to her route. For the purposes of this review, I am considering these scenes as part of the individual heroines’ routes and not part of the common route, as they’re not really “common” between all the heroines. It’s a nit-picky structural distinction, but it allows me to bash the hell out of the common route without getting caught up by some genuinely good heroine-specific development.
小鳥 Route: 7.5 / 10
There are some pacing troubles, which lead to some weirdness in how the story unfolds, and the character development is weak compared to some of the other routes. On the other hand, this route does provide some invaluable insight into the protagonist’s character which becomes hugely important later. Emotional scenes are fairly genuine and realistic, and the final scene was touching, despite being somewhat out-of-the-blue.
It’s hard to really get a feel for the scale of the story in this route, so I don’t really have much to say. It’s interesting, but so much happens off-screen that it’s sort of like being on the moon and watching the end of the world. In the end, it does affect you, but you’re so detached you don’t really feel involved.
But, you’ve got to start somewhere, and 瑚太朗’s development makes it the most suitable candidate. It’s not absolutely necessary you have this information to enjoy the other heroines’ routes, but it clarifies several mysteries which crop up and are impossible to solve with only the information available in a given route.
ちはや Route: 9 / 10
At first, I wasn’t too excited about going through ちはや’s route. In the common route, at least, 小鳥 was (slightly) more interesting of a character, and I’ve never really been a fan of the “I hate everything about you” love-interest archetype. Throw in her shadow/stalker/brother 咲夜, who annoyed the ever loving hell out of me, and I was shooting low from the get-go.
I was pleasantly surprised with what I got. ちはや ended up being my second favorite heroine, and 咲夜 turned into something rather likable, and even admirable.
The character development is better than in 小鳥’s route, and it actually feels like events are connected in a logical, meaningful way here. The pacing issues are pretty much gone, and the emotional impact is through the roof. It’s kind of a shame that a lot of elements present in this route are ignored for the true route, though. Some of the scenes near the end of this route would have made a great base for some deeper conflict later on in the true route.
The relationship on this route, for the most part, felt natural and believable. I wouldn’t even have anything to complain about, on this front, except for a really stupid scene right at the end, which sort of spoiled it for me.
ルチア Route: 10 / 10
How many different ways can I say “perfect” without the word losing its meaning? This route blew me away in more ways than I can describe. I could tell we were off to a good start, working my way through the new scenes on the common route, when we completely diverged from the usual sequence of events. The catalyst for the other four heroines’ routes is a single incident, which pretty much comes out of nowhere, and actually had me laughing at how out-of-place it felt on the common route. But ルチア’s route foregoes all that and moves in a completely different direction, while still staying true to the setting. As a result, the ルチア route progresses much more naturally than the other routes, which gives it that much more impact.
There is almost no doubt in my mind that 竜騎士07 wrote this route, if only because he has a distinct “style” of punctuation–one I don’t think any other author has. There are some telltale R07 elements here as well: a deep, engaging mystery, with some elements of horror; tragedy, and lots of it; frequent perspective changes; extensive, believable character development; and a climax so over-the-top you can’t help but love it.
For these exact same reasons, some people will probably hate this route. But everything really clicked for me here, where something always felt off in the other routes. We manage to flow smoothly from the (far too) peaceful common route into the real meat of the story, rather than being thrown in headfirst. We get a much better sense of ルチア’s character, and why she behaves the way she does, than we do of the other heroines.
The pacing is pretty much perfect. The relationship between ルチア and 瑚太朗 is leaps and bounds above the relationships in other routes. It is, without question, the most believable, the most genuine, and the most emotionally engaging relationship portrayed in this game. I try not to be one of those creepy オタク-types, but if ルチア were a real person, I would probably fall for her in a heartbeat. That’s how genuine her character is.
And the final scenes were that much more poignant for it. I tend to be fairly sensitive to emotional scenes in media. All the heroines’ routes, even the ones I didn’t really like, managed to at least dampen my eyes. I cried, wholeheartedly and without shame, at the end of this route.
For a supposed 泣きゲー, and someone weak to those sorts of things, that’s actually kind of disappointing.
朱音 Route: 5 / 10
This route suffers from almost all the same problems as the common route. There’s actually a story to be told here, and one which could have been good at the hands of a better writer, so I have to give it some points for that.
The pacing is awful. Scenes drag much longer than necessary, and the author seems to think showing the same thing four or five times in a row somehow makes it funnier or more interesting–a problem with the common route as well.
朱音’s route relies on large time skips to “develop” the characters’ relationships behind the scenes, and saves us the trouble of actually getting to know anyone. 朱音 warms up to 瑚太朗–in a romantic way–within the first few scenes of the route, despite showing no considerable signs of such anywhere in the common route. After the time skip, they’ve essentially completed the courtship stage, and we just have to accept they love the hell out of each other, without any textual reason.
A good portion of the problem with this route, though, is the lack of character development. We get a little bit of insight into 朱音’s past, and what it is that brought her to this point in her life, but the development is severely lacking compared to other heroines. It’s hard to sympathize with her decisions because we just don’t know enough. And, with respect to the events of the route, 朱音 is the heroine who needed the most development to justify everything that happens. Instead, she gets the least.
There’s no real sense that any given event leads to any of the following events. It’s more just a collection of scenes tossed together atop an artificial conflict. Despite having the same setting and basic premise as other routes, this one falls flat.
Another big flaw with the 朱音 route is it assumes knowledge only present in other routes. 瑚太朗 knows things about himself and the world which were explained in other routes, but never came up in this one. It’s a huge continuity issue, which isn’t present in the other routes, and prevents the story from standing on its own two feet.
静流 Route: 8.5 / 10
This route changes up the general structure of things, which is a huge breath of fresh air. In an interesting turn, there’s actually some nice character development leading up to the route, choosing not to wait until things start happening. The beginning of the route offers a good sense of mystery, but the solution is too easy (deus ex machina ahoy). Unfortunately, the relationship progresses way too quickly and doesn’t feel sincere.
This route is much shorter than the other heroines’ routes. It took me about half as long to complete as the others (a day and a half, as compared to three days). This works both for and against it. On the one hand, there’s no real wasted time. It’s fast-paced and interesting, with just enough comic relief to keep things from spiraling out of control. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like there isn’t enough there to really justify what happens.
However, the final scene really ties things together, and the sheer emotional power of it was almost (but not quite) enough for me to give the route a free pass on the deus ex machina and light-speed romance.
There are a number of 竜騎士07’s trademarks present along this route (roses, canned mackerel (albeit of a different type–サバ vs サンマ (maybe too much of a stretch?)), and a character with a pretty miserable past), but the writing style doesn’t scream R07 to me, like it did in ルチア’s route. If I had to guess (based on a number of things), I would say this was written by the same person who wrote the ちはや route.
According to this (minor structural spoilers), that is correct, and it was 都乃河勇人 at the helm this route. I haven’t read anything else by either 田中ロミオ or 都乃河勇人, so I can’t corroborate that for sure, but it matches my guess.
True Route (Part 1): 9.5 / 10
The “true route,” in a sense, is divided into two major parts. I’ve chosen not to include their actual names, to avoid spoiling anything.
The first part of the true route is stunning. The prose is crisp, succinct, and lyrical. The scene it paints is haunting and beautiful, almost transcendental. Serene. A dramatic but welcome change from the writing style up to this point. The story unfolds slowly, though the pacing is perfect. It’s simple and powerful, existential, and an excellent lead-in to the finale.
Some of the things which happen might be a little hard to swallow, without an open mind. But if you’ve made it this far, that’s probably not going to be an issue.
It’s actually kind of difficult for me to believe this is the same author as the 小鳥 and 朱音 routes–my two least favorite heroines. Thematically, and taking into account some of the developments in this part and the second part, it makes sense. But the difference in writing quality is a bit too drastic.
True Route (Part 2):
9 / 10 → 9.5 / 10
You know all that character development we were missing in the common route and some of the heroine routes? Well, here it is. (Some of it, at least.)
After all this time, the protagonist, 瑚太朗, finally gets a voice (for longer than just the first scene!). And the game switches from ADV mode (like in the common route screenshot) to NVL mode (right). The changes in presentation are unusual, but an understandable, and even praiseworthy, stylistic decision, considering what happened in the story leading up to this route.
To be quite honest, it’s kind of hard to talk about this route without spoiling anything, but I will say it does a good job tying things together. The second half is paced lightning-fast, and it makes things a little hard to follow at times, but it doesn’t really detract from the experience. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, which sort of soured things for me a little bit. Working my way up to this point, I was sort of expecting something slightly bigger than what I got. Which is an unusual thing to think, considering just how huge the story’s scale actually is. The first part of the true route, and the first half of the second part sort of set itself up for an epic finale, along the lines of ダンガンロンパ or Steins;Gate’s true route, but doesn’t really deliver on that level. I guess I was hoping there would be a Part 3 to this route, mirroring Part 1, to bookend everything. (I’m sorry this is so vague! Trying really hard to not spoil anything.)
Which isn’t to say it’s bad–not at all. It’s a very good finale, and I accept that I probably built up my expectations too much. Not everything can be ダンガンロンパ.
The music is excellent. There is lots of variety in the tracks, and the music always feels appropriate for any given scene. The art is somewhat inconsistent–especially the CG. Some CG are gorgeous, and some just don’t fit the overall art style for the game, seeming out of place and dragging you out of the experience.
But my biggest complaint has to be with the backgrounds. There are maybe a third as many as there really needs to be. One primary “forest” BG, a couple “around town” BGs, etc. Of course, they have their day/evening/night variations, but it’s really just one image. This sticks out like a sore thumb when you’re reading a scene set in the forest which lasts upwards of two hours (at my pace, at least). Scene transition from the forest BG… back to the forest BG. Over and over and over again. There’s nowhere near enough variety, and despite text implying progression, it doesn’t do much to help the sense of movement.
Additionally, it’s pretty much a waste of time to try to associate locations with BGs, because everyone has the same “view from the front yard” BG. So, if that one pops up, you could be in one of fifteen different places across town–there’s no real way to tell until it says so in the text. This is made even worse by the fact that it seems the BGs were based on real locations.
The variety of backgrounds–and specific use for each image–is one thing I really appreciated about the other games I’ve played. うみねこのなく頃に and Steins;Gate both made excellent use of their backgrounds, allowing you to associate specific locations with specific images, and never spending too long on the exact same image.
Another problem this leads to is some scenes are presented without a background at all. Just a black or white screen and text. Many of the more emotional scenes (especially near the end of the ちはや route) would have benefited from a one-time-use background to fill out the scene, but we’re not given that.
From a technical standpoint, the Siglus Engine provides a wonderful experience, by far the best I’ve gotten out of a visual novel. There is a wide variety of visual effects, a plethora of options for customization, and all without crashes or slowdown. This is also the only game I have ever played that can transition to and from full-screen in the blink of an eye, without any visual artifacts or delay.
8.5 / 10 → 9 / 10
The thing which strikes me the most about Rewrite, looking at it as a whole, is it seems like the three authors didn’t really collaborate enough. There are some minor contradictions and some major contradictions that crop up when you try to consider all the routes as part of the same universe. I can accept some variation between routes as a natural result of the different decisions made to get there, but some things are a bit too much.
For example: there are fundamental differences in the settings of the 静流 and 朱音 routes, which would in no way be affected by the decisions of an asshole high-schooler trying to build a harem. Roughly the same sequence of events brings about an entirely different conclusion, without any real reason why.
The scenario, as a whole, would have benefited from the three authors sitting down together around a table and discussing, in detail, the effects of various actions fundamental to the setting. As it stands, it seems more like 田中ロミオ, 竜騎士07, and 都乃河勇人 each had different ideas about how the world worked, and they just sort of ran with it. R07, fortunately, veered far enough off the beaten path that his interpretation didn’t conflict with anything else, but the other two certainly had some issues. As a result, Rewrite is lacking that feeling of consistency which could have really spiked the story’s overall impact.
Despite some inconsistency in the quality of the routes, there is a lot to enjoy about Rewrite. It was a slightly rough build-up to a highly rewarding conclusion, but all in all, it was a good read–one I wouldn’t be afraid to recommend.
Suggested route order: 小鳥 → ちはや → ルチア → 静流 → 朱音
I only suggest 朱音 come last because of the continuity issues I described previously. On the other hand, you might want to switch 静流 and 朱音 and read them in the same order I did, if only so you can move into the true route on a good note, rather than a bad one.
Edit (7/28): In reflecting on the game over the past few days, I made a couple realizations (none of which I can mention here, without being spoilery) which have prompted me to revise my True Route (Part 2) and Overall scores, increasing them both by half a point.
Desire to Translate: 7 / 10
As a learner of Japanese, and someone interested in possibly getting into translation (if programming video games doesn’t work out), I’m frequently hit with a strong desire to translate whatever I’m reading and share it with my English-speaking friends. The frequency of these urges, and their strength, is a pretty good indicator of how much I’m enjoying something–beyond just the things I can express in a review like this. For example, if you know me and my good buddy Burritolinguist, the two of us would pretty much drop everything we were doing for the chance to translate ダンガンロンパ. It is so good, I want everyone to have the chance to experience that.
Rewrite is complicated in that regard. The excessively long common route–which is nothing but a red herring–and the rather weak 朱音 route are somewhat off-putting to me, but ルチア’s route and the true route are nothing short of works of genius that I would love to get my hands on. (Though, admittedly, I say this having zero experience as a translator, so who knows if there aren’t some other issues that would stand in my way.)