8 / 10 Banzai!s
Translated as When the Seagulls Cry, Umineko No Naku Koro Ni isn’t exactly a game, any more than Plastic’s Linger in Shadows. Though still classified as a Japanese “visual novel,” the player does not make choices, such as in titles like To Heart 2 DX or L@ve Once: Mermaid’s Tears. Rather than obtaining a “good ending” and avoiding a “bad ending,” the player simply hits play and “watches” the story from beginning to end.
Developed by 07th Expansion, Umineko No Naku Koro Ni was first released on the PC in August of 2007 with its first of four episodes, “The Legend of the Golden Witch.” The episode was released during the Comic Market, and was reportedly sold out within thirty minutes. This earlier PC version was described as a “sound novel,” because there were no voice actors – only music and sound effects to establish mood. As the popularity of Umineko No Naku Koro Ni soared, it inspired a manga and anime adaptation, a series of novels, and even a fighting game. Then in 2010, Alchemist redeveloped and published the game for the Playstation 3, which included voice actors and new artwork which were more in sync to the anime.
The story takes place over the days of October 4th and 5th of 1986, on a secluded island called Rokkenjima located near the Izu peninsula of Japan, and owned by the head of a wealthy family, Kinzo Ushiromiya. Kinzo, who has locked himself in a room of his mansion, is dying, and so the other members of the Ushiromiya family meet at the island to discuss how to divide up Kinzo’s assets once he’s gone. Including the servants, there are 18 individuals on the island.
During a family meeting, the Ushiromiyas receive a letter from the mythical Golden Witch named Beatrice, who supposedly exists somewhere on the island. Beatrice had given Kinzo ten tons of gold to restart his financial legacy after the Ushiromiya family was nearly bankrupt following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. A portrait of Beatrice hangs in the dinning room bearing a strange epitaph and riddle. According to the letter, whoever solves her riddle will inherit both the gold and role of the head of the Ushiromiya family. But time is running out, because the 18 habitants of the mansion are being murdered one by one. To make matters worse, a typhoon has arrived, making escape from the island impossible.
The main character is Battler Ushiromiya, son of Kinzo’s second son Rudolf. Most of the first episode involves Battler attempting to stop the murders by figuring out who is behind them – refusing to believe the deaths are at the hand of a fabled witch’s magic. The following three episodes in Umineko No Naku Koro Ni replay certain moments on October 4th and 5th though with some variations, while Battler and Beatrice sit in a “limbo” watching the events unfold. For Battler to give up in his quest, is to admit that the murders could not have been executed without the witch’s magic.
What I Liked:
As I mentioned earlier, Umineko No Naku Koro Ni is not really a game, but merely a story (which happens to have trophies on the Playstation 3 version). There’s no shooting aliens, climbing and swinging on vines, piloting starships, or even making decisions. Simply load up each of the four, 15-hour episodes, and start reading until it’s over. So really, giving this game 8 / 10 Banzai!s means the story received 8 / 10 Banzai!s.
I enjoy a good story, whether it be in a game, a movie, a novel, or told from a friend, or even enemy (though I have very few of those). And I enjoyed the story of Umineko No Naku Koro Ni. In some ways, it was like a strange combination of the boardgame Clue and the TV series Lost. There is a mystery to be solved, and questions to be answered. The ultimate question is, of course: is one of the 18 individuals picking off the other Ushiromiya family members, or is it the witch Beatrice with her magic?
Despite not actually hitting any buttons or moving characters around in this “game,” the story is told in such a way as to invite the “players” to figure things out for themselves. If a certain family member was murdered in a certain room that was locked, who had the key? And where was that person during the time of death? To avoid any stretching, Beatrice occasionally states her dialogue in red, symbolizing an absolute truth. For example, The murderer came in through the door, to avoid both Battler and the “player” to start thinking someone had a jet-pack and soared in through the window to murder someone. This sets up the scenario in such a way that only logic can solve the riddle. If logic fails, then like Battler, the player is forced to accept that the murders could only have been executed with magic. In which case, the witch won.
While each of the four episodes retells the events during October 4th and 5th, the events are so different that the story never drags on. For one thing, different characters are murdered in different ways. Or the young female “deadly sins” arrive to commit their murders, or a member of the Ushiromiya family is given the witch’s powers. Each episode is different enough that they feel like completely separate stories. Though the end result is always the same: Will Battler figure out who is behind the murders, or will he have to accept it was Beatrice’s magic?
What I Didn’t Like:
There’s nothing I particularly disliked about Umineko No Naku Koro Ni, for as I said, this is more of a visual novel than a game, only without any choices to be made. perhaps my only disappointment – like the TV series Lost – was that the game’s end still left lingering questions which, to this day, I still ponder over. Though it’s not fair to say this is any fault of the game, as Umineko No Naku Koro Ni only contains four episodes.
There is a second game which I have not yet “played,” titled Umineko No Naku Koro Ni Chiru, which contains episodes five to eight that – I would hope – answer some questions left behind the previous game’s cliffhanger. Umineko No Naku Koro Ni Chiru is considered one of the rarest Playstation 3 titles here in Japan, though I was lucky enough to have found a copy at a used game shop – but paid a hefty price for it.
Umineko No Naku Koro Ni is not for everyone. For one thing, it’s all in Japanese. Supposedly, there are English versions of the PC version floating around the internet. But Alchemist never made an English version for the Playstation 3, and I seriously doubt they ever will.
But if your Japanese language skills are up to the task, I’d highly recommend it. Despite being a “game” in which you don’t do anything, it really forces you to think logically and test your analytical skills – all while enjoying an interesting story with colourful characters.