Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rewrite

Expectations are a funny thing. When something is announced so far in advance of its actual release date, you get a lot of time to anticipate what it will be like. The slow trickle of details only serves to further excite your curiosity and your mind automatically starts to fill in the gaps of the information you don't have. You end up imagining, in some detail, what the game will be like before it's even been released. Afterwards, the actual game is released and of course it's not what you imagined. It's funny what expectations can do to your impressions of a game.


Rewrite is a 2011 all-ages adventure and visual novel by Key. The art and original concept are by Hinoue Itaru while the game was written by Tanaka Romeo (of Cross Channel and Saihate no IMA fame,) Ryukishi07 (of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Umineko no Naku Koro ni fame) and Tonokawa Yuuto (of Little Busters!... err, well, he worked on it anyway.) It's Key's longest work, so if you couldn't get through Clannad or Little Busters!...

The protagonist of the story, Tennouji Koutarou lives in the ecologically conscientious and sustainable city of Kazamatsuri. After accepting a part-time job at a local newspaper, he is plagued by mysterious paranormal phenomena during the night. Koutarou seeks out the director of his school's occult club, the mysterious 'witch' Senri Akane. Akane agrees to help him, conditional on him entering the occult club. During the investigations he and the occult club conduct, Koutarou starts to uncover hints that all may not be as it seems in the lush city of Kazamatsuri.


Rewrite is a story based largely around themes of ecology, causality and eschatology; the first of which at least is relatively unusual in the medium; and consists of a main 'trunk', five heroine routes and two chapters that finalise the story. The game has, as is mentioned earlier, three different writers (two of which are famous for games they've written solo) and I do not know exactly how the work was broken up apart from the routes and final chapter – my assumption is that everyone had a hand in the game trunk and it's certainly long enough and varied enough to support the work of multiple writers, but this is only estimation.

The trunk of the game carries most if not all of the game's slice of life, a good portion of the game's character development and most of the humour, along with a fair bit of foreshadowing for the routes to come. Rewrite adopts the fairly standard Key setup of a lighthearted trunk and more serious character routes. Nearly all of the interaction occurs in the trunk, which takes the place of standard choice selection screens and Mappy events, which are simple mouse-based exploration sections that you interact with through the protagonist's smartphone GPS app. The trunk is also punctuated by quests; many of which are acquired through the Mappy events; and range from rather silly side stories to interesting (and foreboding) globs of plot. The trunk branches off at roughly the same point regardless of the route you're on (with one exception, all of the routes branch off from the same event) although some of the stories do start a bit earlier on in the route. Depending on reading speed you'll probably be on the trunk for 8 hours or so before getting on to your first route (either Kotori's, Chihaya's or Luchia's) though it's generally quite a bit quicker on subsequent routes due to the fact that you can skip portions you've already seen.


On to the routes, in the order I cleared them (apart from needing to finish Kotori's route before you can start Shizuru's and needing to finish Chihaya's route before you can start Akane's, you can clear the routes in any order.) First up, Kotori's route, written by Tanaka Romeo. Now, this is an interesting route and probably a good one to start with. It doesn't reveal a great deal about Rewrite's story (unlike the other routes) although it does pass you a number of clues, it's more about the characters of Koutarou and Kotori. Probably the route with the most emotion behind it (although it's a pretty close contest between a few of the routes,) if you're a fan of the nakige, you're sure to love Kotori's route.

Next, Chihaya's route, written by Tonokawa Yuuto. I think this is probably my least favourite route in Rewrite, although it is still quite an enjoyable read and certainly not one you're likely to snore through. People who enjoy a bit of action are in for a treat with this route as it has more fight scenes than any other route in Rewrite and I don't believe the action ever slows down for a considerable length of time. This is the first route that really started to reveal Rewrite's ultimate story, although the storytelling only gets what time it can steal from between the bountiful combat scenes.


Up third came Shizuru's route, also written by Tonokawa Yuuto. While Tonokawa is easily the least notable of the three writers, he certainly pulled his weight on this route. After Luchia's route this is probably the route with the best character development for the heroine and it is probably the most balanced route in Rewrite, with equal attention on character development, emotion and story development, as it manages to cram considerably more story than Chihaya's route did. This route is also the one with arguably the saddest ending so if you love utsuge this should be your first port of call.

Fourth, Luchia's route, written by Ryukishi07. Actually, it bears surprisingly few indications of Ryukishi's trademark style and almost none at all after the first few hours. It's a great route, though, and easily my personal favourite. You get to see another slice of the story Chihaya's route provided, just to destroy any illusions you had of one side being the good guys and the other side being the bad guys. While this route contains the fewest fight scenes out of all of the routes, the fight scene it does include is easily the prettiest and most entertaining. This story is very capable of being creepy when it wants to be creepy, sad when it wants to be sad and heart-pounding when it wants to be heart-pounding. Just great stuff.


Fifth, Akane's route, written by Tanaka Romeo. This route is interesting as it is probably closest thematically to the last two chapters than any of the other routes. It also contains the most storytelling, although this has the side effect of making the route somewhat dull in comparison to the others as the amount of exposition is quite heavy. It's also the most serious character route and an extremely sharp departure from the game's trunk and even the other routes, making it a good choice to finish last. The ending is beautiful and very well written, although possibly not quite as awesome as Kotori's.

Following completion of the five character routes, the Moon chapter opens up and is available from the title menu. This chapter, as well as the final one, was written by Tanaka Romeo. Perhaps different to the unlockable 'after' chapters in most games, this one has the unusual characteristic of following on from all five character routes instead of just one. How it achieves this is something I won't spoil in this review – in any case, it works excellently. Moon is a 'revelation' chapter that essentially summarises the story and opens up the path to its conclusion. While this isn't something that appears in every visual novel, fans of Tanaka Romeo's works will definitely have seen it before. It's not a long chapter, especially compared to the routes and to the chapter that comes after it but it is entertaining and almost dizzying in how it synthesises the plot threads presented in the character routes into a cohesive story. After it completed, the final chapter, Terra, opens up and becomes available from the title menu.


Terra is Rewrite's denouement and carries a markedly different presentation style to the rest of the game. First of all, during Terra the protagonist is voiced, despite the fact that he is silent for the rest of the game (with the exception of the exposition scenes at the start of the game and at the start of Moon.) The other obvious clear change is the movement from a standard AVG (adventure game) interface with the text box at the bottom of the screen to a more prosaic NVL (novel) interface with a screen-covering text presentation layer. This is also associated with a heavy reduction in the amount of onscreen effects, characters and unique CGs. While Terra is as long as any of the routes (which means 6-8 hours, in effect) it contains far less visual splendour and adopts a far more serious mood – it's an even more dour scenario than Akane's route was.

Terra contains plenty of choices just like the trunk does – the main difference being that the few choices you actually do get to make yourself largely have no effect on the outcome. It's difficult to really rank it alongside the routes as it's the end of the story and is pretty much a necessary part of Rewrite. Whether Terra is a satisfying conclusion to the game and something that managed to fulfill its obligation to wrap up all the threads created in the dizzying amount of setup time the chapter was given (that being the trunk and all the routes, or roughly 40 hours of reading) is left up to the reader to decide. I'm not entirely sure it was, personally.


All in all, Rewrite is a very solid game. I don't think it's missing anything in particular – in a lot of story-centric games you're often left wanting after the end of the routes, since they often seem to end a bit quickly. This is not the case in Rewrite – in fact, it feels unusually complete. Of course, it's not perfect and there are certainly problems.

First of all, the trunk – the idyllic, slice of life portion of the game, the 'calm before the storm', so to speak, to set the scene for the more serious routes. Like the routes, the trunk is long and herein lies the problem: it might be too long. The aforementioned quests do take up a considerable amount of the trunk's script and there's a few hours of them to go through. I can't help but feel that the writers missed out on a good opportunity to do some much-needed foreshadowing and exposition here, rather than making the readers read something that ultimately doesn't matter.

This 'making the readers read something that ultimately doesn't matter' issue also comes into play near the end. While it is difficult to explain how without spoilers, portions of Terra make me question the necessity or value of the protagonist's involvement in some scenes with respect to bringing about the necessary results foreshadowed in Moon.


The routes and the Moon chapter of Rewrite all play a part in setting up a really good story and positioning Terra to tie up all the remaining threads and present a satisfying and thrilling conclusion to the story and I am not sure Terra managed this. The problem is that Terra isn't really all that exciting; especially compared to some of the character routes; and it doesn't offer much in the way of moments that shock, startle or surprise the reader. It's also not nearly as strong on the emotional front and the end result is a story that, borrowing the words of T. S. Eliot, ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

I don't know exactly how I would, excuse the pun, rewrite the last chapter of Rewrite, but I think a rewrite could make Rewrite something exceptional. On the other hand, it might just be a matter of expectations conjuring up an image of a hypothetical game that could never exist in reality, something it would be utterly unfair to compare Rewrite to. Nonetheless, in the end I am a little bit disappointed and I don't think this was entirely my fault.


Now, with all the analysis of the story, this review has barely even mentioned any of the other aspects of the game. The art is good. Yes, it's Hinoue Itaru and yes, some of the poses do look a little odd, but on the whole it's eye candy all the way. This is helped by generous use of very nice overlay effects – among the best I've seen in visual novels (and they do complement the battle scenes very effectively to save Itaru drawing a heap of combat CG) although they also jump the system requirements up a fair bit – and plenty of great backgrounds. The music is good, though not amazing; and I'm a little disappointed the instrumental version of Rewrite (the song) didn't get its volume pumped up a bit more and used in more battles, because the instrumental version makes for a great song in its own right. The game system is pretty excellent stuff and I can't fault the presentation at all. The Mappy stuff was novel and enjoyable enough in its own right, even if it did get a bit old having to go through the same scenes in the trunk when trying to get onto each subsequent route.

So, there you have it, a pretty good, solid game and a proud addition to the Key lineup. Just with a few problems.

Overall Score: 90%

19 comments:

  1. I'm not really interested in Rewrite but I think you deserve a comment (Wall of text is hard work!)

    -Insert comment-

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review. I personally found Terra satisfying, but I share the sentiment about the common route being too long - it was awful, even with skipping.

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