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2011-12-01

Rise & Fall Review

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Title: Rise & Fall
Release date: 2011-11-05 (Chapter 1)
Developer: POPloids
Publisher: POPloids

For a change let's review an OELVN here or at least the first chapter of one, as "Rise & Fall" is an ongoing project and only the first chapter of this kinetic novel has been released. By creators' own admission the game has been highly influenced by "07th Expansion" and the game bears an undeniable similarity to Umineko series. At the same time it a sort of fan-fiction, as the majority of the characters are taken from UTAU (not that I know or care what that is; something to do with vocaloids). Not knowing a lick about UTAU didn't hinder my experience with the game in the least.

Chapter 1

The game starts at a prestigious Redwood Academy for people talented in various arts, like singing, dancing, painting... Previously the academy admitted only the very rich folk, but now only the talent is required to get in. Something is not right this year though - a fire that claims five lives starts in an abandoned storage room and investigation proves that it was an arson. In order to find the culprit and uphold the peace, an eccentric and mysterious headmaster Tatari hires two investigators.
A nice way to start new school year.
In an unusual way for visual novels, the story is fully presented in third person and there is no first person perspective. There are quite a lot of different POWs we see the events through, but mainly we engage a delinquent Kaen Shujoteki as our protagonist (at least for this first chapter). Another person, who has quite a lot of scenes dedicated to her is Lucy (yes, just Lucy). Kaen becomes convinced, that headmaster himself is the murderer (never trust a man? named Tatari) and starts to investigate the killings. However, Kaen has a history of violence and mental instability and thus becomes a prime suspect on everyone's shit list as the body count keeps going up.

The story bears an uncanny resemblance to Ryuukishi07's works. It's presented in the same way: calm beginning and the introduction of characters which is slowly submerged into creeping uneasiness, horror and paranoia. The writing also tries to emulate his style and includes many descriptive passages. While the game is more coherent than Umineko in its characterization of events and we are more prone to believe our characters, by the end of the first chapter, we still know nothing about the nature of the crimes committed, who did that and why. The beginning of the school years is quite calm and tranquil even after the first murders happen, but halfway into the game the paranoia of many characters soars up and we get frozen to the chair with excitement. What R&F has in spades is the atmosphere. You DO feel like you are reading a murder mystery and can almost feel the time slipping through your fingers as the murderer is still not caught. Sure, I found the start a bit slow and the subsequent events might have been moving a bit too fast, but story was definitely impressive and I could forgive it its flaws. It's a shame that some technical aspects I will mention later didn't live to the expectations.

VN is also quite long with makers proclaiming it to be about 6 hours long and I would say, that is about right. The game also keeps a notebook, where we see character portraits with their characterizations. Upon their death, portraits get grayed out with short descriptions of how they kicked the bucket (does that remind you of anything).

My complaints about the story are not very extensive:
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

The character list is pretty big and it would be counterproductive to list them all, thus I will only mention a few (again).

Kaen Shujoteki is a delinquent-ish persona and a loner that has distanced himself from other students at the academy. A few years prior he started a huge fire in the academy and should have been expelled, so he immediately becomes a prime suspect after the first killing. He is a hotblooded person, who likes to act before thinking and so creates problems for himself and for others.

Lucy is a new student at the academy, who befriends Kaen, despite others warning her about it. She likes to play little miss detective and quickly gets pulled into Kaen's "expose headmaster as the murderer" schemes.
It's a man... no, it's a woman... no, it's The Headmaster.
Headmaster Tatari is an enigma and even after finishing the chapter I'm not sure I understand him at all. His gender is a mystery even to his closest aides, so from now on I will call Tatari "he" as to avoid confusion. He is eccentric to boot and has a very low opinion about everyone but himself. He shows little sadness or remorse about the murders and seems to care only about the reputation of the school and the money involved. Tatari's emotionlessness is a main reason Kaen believes him to be a perpetrator.

October Greyson is a rookie detective hired to solve the murders. And... let's start complaining. Is he a private dick or a police officer. His presentation lets us to believe that he is a private investigator, but he openly carries a gun (I believe a civil person can not have an "open carry" license) and once restrains himself from hitting a person as not to be accused of police brutality. If he is a dick, then where is the real police? If he is an officer, where is his partner as I do not believe a police detective can work alone?

V or Violetta is Lucy's sister and a spy that comes to investigate Tatari, but later switches to investigating murders. First of all, why and for what does she come to spy on Tatari? That is never revealed and IMHO is a very important point. I hope that we find out the reason in the subsequent chapters and if some one dares to say that it's irrelevant, a kitty will die somewhere in the wide world. Another negative point is her alignment. What agency does V belong to? I initially assumed that to be CIA or NSA, but lo and behold - at the end she is revealed as an FBI agent. *facepalm* Federal agents are not spies, they are policemen! They do not ninja on the rooftops in tight catsuits and that is exactly what V is doing... *double facepalm*
A very colourful cast.
And what's up with 80% of the cast being Japanese. I mean, I suppose Redwood is in the States. I know, that these are borrowed characters, but please provide a rational explanation if you are doing something like that. Another strange thing is a minor character that is obviously not human which was even noted in the notebook. She appears for five minutes and then is never seen again and no one comments about her, you know, being a zombie. I got the impression that the presence of the supernatural is not a known fact to the public in this game. So, WTF?

The graphical aspect is impressively good. The backgrounds use the same blurry photo technique as Higu and Umi, but they are in much higher quality and resolution. The sprites are well done and if there were any shortcomings in details, I managed to overlook them. What I didn't manage to overlook though were the expressions. The sprites are expressive, I cannot say otherwise. On the other hand, their expressions are wildly overexaggerated and many a time do not match the situation at hand. The characters look crazed or angry when they are supposed to be surprised or saddened. It's like the artist has never looked into the mirror and never seen real human expressions. Moreover, the expression change is way too slow and should be quickened for a more fluid experience. The CGs are the most impressive part of the game. They are few and far between, but are so well done, that they wouldn't look out of place in a high budget Japanese production.
You wished for a third eye, miss?
The sound tries to emulate Umineko, but doesn't reach the same heights. There are a few great tunes, but largely I do not remember much in the music department. Sound effects are again used in dissonance with what is portrayed. There are lots of fighting, kicking and punching sounds used where they absolutely do not belong and make the situations that are quite mild look violent. A very bad decision and one that frequently breaks the mood. Also those sound effects are used too often. Guys, good things come in low quantities. Use the sounds sparingly to enhance the experience.

And then my biggest complaint about this chapter: shaking screen. You know how sometimes in Umineko and Higurashi the special effects are used during fights and similar situations, where the text rolls quickly and the flashing lights appear on the screen and it kind of shakes. The creators of R&F used a reaaally shaking screen to emulate that and while it is a nice gimmick, it's used way too frequently. So frequently in fact, that I just wanted to punch the screen every five minutes. You aren't making "Cloverfield: Da shitty VN edition"! Cut it out! While I don't say to remove it completely, but lower its frequency to at least to once per half an hour instead of once every two minutes. Geez, who's the genius who thought this was a good idea.

The story itself was well written, however I noticed lots of typos, missing words, broken sentence structures and weird editing choices. More editors and quality checkers should help the cause. Moreover, there is a small bug, that is more prevalent in the beginning and disappears completely in the second half of the chapter: namely, sometimes when lines disappear while the change occurs on screen, they don't appear again and I have to use a "roll-back" to try to read again before they vanish.
The gathering of fatalists.
All in all, "Rise & Fall: Chapter 1" is a very solid western foray into murder mystery genre and an enjoyable read that is also completely free. I just hope that the other chapters will come along nicely as these projects tend to die easily as it happened to a few that released some chapters and disappeared without finishing the product. This is supposed to be a four chapter story and I hope we will see it to the completion.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

Links of Interest
Visual Novel Database
Waybacked official site at Deviantart
Lemma Soft thread
Ren'Ai Archive

Final Verdict: 78%

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