By Paul Kainoa Vigil / May 13th, 2015
Nippon Ichi Software is a company that produces or publishes titles that are generally niche, but the company still manages some moderately popular franchises to their name. Disgaea saw its fifth release earlier this year. However, NIS is also responsible for other franchises, and the one I’m most interested in for the purpose of this article is the Hayarigami franchise. It’s a series of horror-themed visual novels, and it’s more than a decade old. And yet, not a single entry has left Japan!
This, to me, is profoundly unfortunate and disappointing. While visual novels abound in Japan and horror games seem to come and go, the particular combination of horror visual novel produced for mass consumption isn’t well represented outside of franchises like When They Cry and Corpse Party. Fortunately, in August of last year, NIS released Shin Hayarigami for the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 in Japan, which itself is something of a revival for the franchise as it had been a while since the previous entry. Shin Hayarigami presents an excellent opportunity for the franchise to make its first debut outside of Japan. The franchise’s games are self-contained — while there are numbered entries it is not necessary to play a previous game to have critical knowledge for another title. Having not played or had any access to the game, I’ll try to spread to others what the game is about and what I find exciting about it.
The plot of Shin Hayarigami revolves around a police force investigating the serial killer known as the “Blind Man.” The main protagonist in the game is Saki Houjou, a woman who is spirited, capable, and good-hearted. She’s a newly graduated police officer and is attuned to the psychological aspect of investigating, specializing in knowledge of the “Liar’s Art” which can help her when dealing with wily persons of interest. Another important character is Sojiro Sekimoto, a university professor who’s been arrested on suspicion of murder. A dedicated pursuer of urban myths, he claims that something is awry with a local Japanese village, and is placed in police custody to assist investigations until the truth behind his conviction, whether he is guilty or innocent, is more concretely ascertained. These two are generally the vantage point characters, and you’ll be dealing with the rest of the game’s cast through their eyes.
To start, the Hayarigami franchise is a visual novel game that blends horror and adventure in a bundle of mysteries. In Shin Hayarigami, the player is tasked with solving the mystery of the “Blind Man”, and to that end players are presented with an unfolding story of intrigue in traditional visual novel format. Along the way, players will on occasion be prompted to make choices that can affect how the scenario unfolds to varying degrees. Even still, players start with a finite “Courage Meter”: some choices will require the player to give up a certain amount of courage to make a particular decision. At times the Meter will be replenished, but not in a way that can necessarily always be planned for. And don’t make the mistake of assuming the Courageous choice will always lead to something favorable…
Another core element of Shin Hayarigami are the Logic sections. Periodically throughout the game scenario, the standard visual novel gameplay will be interrupted and players will be taken to a map of sorts, arranging persons of interest and connecting them by seemingly arbitrary categories and relationship lines. Players will be tasked with properly identifying the connecting relationships or specifying the name of important figures that may have caused an important event. Any number of blanks will be littered across the map, and players must fill in as much as they can. Each blank is essentially a multiple choice question with one best answer. Not all blanks need to be “answered” to attempt to have your map scored, and one can score with varying grades, but it’s often in your best interest to do as well as possible. A remarkably bad performance can yield remarkably bad consequences.
New to the Hayarigami franchise are the “Liar’s Art” sections. They are introduced as a tool in Saki’s investigation kit that give her the opportunity to put some pressure on a person of interest, hopefully to glean some truth. Like the Logic sections, they don’t necessarily arrive at any regular interval and are designed to serve the plot. Liar’s Art segments are basically a round of timed interrogations, where players have to consistently give the appropriate answer. The “opponent’s” reception to your answer is indicated by a gauge on the right. However, much like the Logic sections, you generally want to be closer to the truth at the end of the Liar’s Art questioning. One would think though that unlike a Logic section, perhaps the point of attack and the desired conclusion in Liar’s Art isn’t necessarily meant to be so straightforward — is the truth always the desired outcome?
Thankfully, since the game can be quite text heavy and Logic breaks are unpredictable, the game does come with a memo of sorts that allows the player to keep track of certain details they want placed on a Logic map. In addition, progressing through the game and the different story branches that result from selecting dialogue options will reward the player with additions to their memo compendium, offering background on select story events.
If players manage to complete the Blind Man scenario, more scenarios await! The Blind Man story functions as the central plot theme, but revisiting the scenario and making certain choices will yield new story paths. The game offers eight scenarios in total, each dealing with a great, imminent danger and a crisis to manage. At the story’s core, certain key features of each character will remain fixed (like for example, the identity of the Blind Man) but the additional scenarios will offer greater insight into other characters’ functionally similar to an “alternate dimension” telling through each of the different campaigns.
The game offers dozens of endings, some of them relatively minor and involving slight deviations in gameplay decisions, but yielding a large amount of potential endings nonetheless. In addition, upon reaching certain endings, playthroughs are also sometimes rewarded with a grade, which is important for unlocking special content outside of the game’s story.
Shin Hayarigami was designed to explore the sensation of fear, and NIS hoped to create these sensations and manipulate the player in such a way that most anyone could relate to and experience this vulnerability. The preview site that NIS created for the game is still up. Though it is in Japanese, it might be worth checking out and clicking around — maybe you’ll find something fun. I’ve also attached one of the game’s promotional movies, uploaded through PlayStation Japan’s YouTube account. You can check it out below.
It’s a game that I feel should be experienced by many, myself obviously included. Honestly, one genre of media that I almost always avoid is the horror genre, because there’s a tendency for the movies to be either ridiculous or to involve jump scares, and I have a hard time with extremely agitating and unpredictable situations that might happen in some movies, as opposed to suspenseful or more psychological types of horror. A slightly more action-oriented horror game like Fatal Frame would be “Literally The Worst” for me, to the point that “I Can’t Even”. And I’m not talking about games that occasionally feature creepy segments or aesthetics, like Devil May Cry or Castlevania games, the ruins in Mega Man Legends, or the Shadow Temple scenario in Ocarina of Time. I also have an especially hard time with the supernatural. I’m not spiritual or believe in much anything that’s supernatural to begin with, and so for me horror situations involving those ideas can be difficult to cope with because I reflexively end up trying to destroy what I’m seeing in my mind, so that I can validate its unreality. But whatever ends up coming from this game, I’ll be sure to take it on if it gets localized.
If you are at all interested in the game, I STRONGLY suggest not going to YouTube or Google and searching for any content related to the Hayarigami franchise. There are mysteries in the game to be solved after all, and plot details to unearth.
DON’T DO IT.
If you are not at all interested in the game, re-read my writeup until you are convinced. Thanks!
horror visual novelNippon Ichi SoftwarePlayStation 3PlayStation Vita