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2012-07-01

Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru Review

Title: Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru (うみねこのなく頃に散)
Alias: When the Seagulls Cry: Breakdown
Release date: 2010-12-31 (2011-12-17 in English)
Developer: 07th Expansion
English publisher: Witch Hunt (as a fan-patch)

"Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru" is the second half of Ryuukishi07's "When the Seagulls Cry" saga and contains the four remaining chapters that finish the tale. Well, I'll concede that there are two more fandiscs for this specific tale - as I said in my review of the first game, Ryuukishi07 just loves making money out of additional material. Still, I cannot fault him for monopolizing of the doujin scene. He is a very prolific writer that does his own art too. In a short period of time he did "Umineko", finished "Higanbana" and started onto "Rose Guns Days" and I barely managed to follow his progress. It's time to rectify my sloppiness and finish the Seagull tale that I started last year already.

In my previous review I mentioned that the first Umineko game was in the 6th place by popularity on VNDB. By the writing of this review it slipped to 9th and the Chiru chapters are staying in 23rd place. That coincides with the general opinion on the net that the second game is worse than the first. I managed to avoid the spoilers and will dive right into this VN without knowing the reason for the lower rating. I only hope it won't suck very badly :-) Inevitable spoilers for the first game might appear here, thus read the review at your own risk if you haven't finished it.

End of the Golden Witch

The fifth chapter of the tale starts on a subdued note. The most boisterous and aggressive character has been defeated at the end of the fourth episode and has by now slipped into catatonic state. Of course I'm talking about the Golden Witch Beatrice - the alchemist of the Ushiromiya family. The unresponsive state of Beatrice also leads to the deterioration of the Golden Land that becomes soaked in the neverending rain and the only inhabitants remaining are Beatrice, her teacher Virgilia, demon butler Ronove and the higher plane version of Battler - the protagonist of the three previous games (and maybe a part of fourth).
The fall of the Golden Witch.
Of course as the almighty Farrokh Bulsara said "The Show Must Go On". With Beatrice unavailable as the Game Master, Lambdadelta and Bernkastel - Expies respectively of Miyoko and Rika of Higurashi fame - decide to stage their own game. Not only that, but Battler is unavailable as a protagonist either, as pridefully he decides not to participate in a game not led by Beato. I won't deny that the new game masters have great chemistry together, but still they cannot compare to Beatrice both in terms of likability and the grand designs. After all, Beatrice doesn't cary the name of the Endless Witch for nothing.

It's an interesting fact that for a long time I thought that Lambdadelta is an Expy of Satoko, because of her lolified state and because of the pumpkin designs on the dress. Apparently I failed to realize that ΛΔ stands for 30 and 4 respectively as the Greek numerals, just like Miyoko does.

The introduced changes create a chapter that is unlike any of the previous ones and I believe that the name "Dungeons & Dragons of the Witches" would apply here better than any other. After all, every single character on the game board this time is controlled by the two aforementioned witches and even Battler and Beatrice that appear on the lower place of existence are actually just string controlled marionettes. That actually creates one of the biggest problems for me. As I have mentioned in the review of the first game, my favourite characters at the time were Beatrice and Maria. In this chapter Maria is one of the first humans to be snuffed (not really a spoiler as her death is pronounced almost at the very beginning) and Beatrice has a very subdued presence. On the chessboard she is controlled by Lambdadelta and on the higher plane she is in coma. But what about Battler you wonder? He is also someone's puppet in the game and the higher plane Battler is not a participant this time, but just an observer, which leaves us with no interesting characters to root for. Even Ronove, Virgilia and the Seven Sisters appear only in episodic fashion and do not influence the plot in a significant way.
The most apt description of the new player.
To rectify that Ryuukishi07 introduces an additional character as the almost protagonist (like we don't have enough characters already; Higurashi managed to do the whole eight chapters with the same ten persons). That completely new character is named Furudo Erika... Wait, doesn't this remind you of anything? Yes, it does. She is an alter ego of the witch Bernkastel that she lowers to the chessboard and thus for this game she is playing two characters: herself and Erika. I would be all for it if I could root for her, but Erika is an especially unpleasant person. She is conceited, vain and proud and looks at everyone else from above. Moreover, she lacks any dignity and when things do not get her way, starts throwing temper tantrums, despite supposedly being a great detective.

Another major character is Natsuhi Ushiromiya, who just like Eva and Ange previously centers the events of the game around herself. However, unlike those two, her pitiful choice to live in her own fantasies didn't endear me to her and I had no invested interest in any character.
Masters of this game. Creeepy...
The fifth chapter also differs strongly from the previous ones in the perfect blending of fantasy and reality. Previously, despite all the crazy shit happening in the Rokkenjima Island, there was some distinction between the higher plane and the chessboard. The distinction has been completely removed as the events on both planes interweave and confuse me even further. The aforementioned comparison with D&D is not completely out of place here as the interwoven segments reminded me of a LARP fan movie "The Gamers: Dorkness Rising" as we are shown both the actions of the players and the game pieces with no distinction. I had a problem following, which plane of existance the events of the game are happening on at any moment. I liked to have both worlds at least marginally separated and such blending as appears in this chapter is not to my taste. It makes me feel like Ryuukishi is making the shit up as he goes along.

However I would forgive both the lack of memorable characters and the unwholesome blend of fantasy and mystery if not for the biggest flaw of this chapter - it is simply boring. Now, let me tell you, there were instances in the first four episodes that didn't sit that well with me, but I couldn't say that I was ever bored. Chapter 5, on the other hand, feels just bloated with exposition and long-winded infodumps. Characters appear to just stand around and chat about the same fucking thing forever. Is Grandfather dead? Who is the culprit? These questions are asked again and again, and despite knowing from "Alliance" that Lord Goldsmith has been dead for a long time, this chapter still tries to maintain the illusion of his existence, even to the point that characters that know about his real status forget themselves.
We have long since needed a witch hunter.
Previously the author introduced "Devil's Proof" and "Hempel's Raven" to present a foothold for the argument to happen on an even ground. In this chapter it seems that Ryuukishi07 just wants to beat us over the head with Knox's Decalogue over and over again with no reason at all. He even installs Dlanor A. Knox (anagram for Ronald, who didn't get it) into the story as the bodily representation of the Decalogue, making her the head Inquisitor and the witch huntress, which is kinda brilliant as Ronald was a real life clergyman. Ironically, despite drilling us with Knox's rules endlessly, Ryuukishi does everything in his power not to mention the 5th rule: "There should be no Chinaman in the story". :-D Even the list of rules displayed in the game removes that particular one (despite the true meaning of the rule being that the members of racial minorities should not help or hinder the detective for no apparent reason). Honestly, I even started to miss Devil's Proof and Hempel's Raven of the previous stories that barely make any appearance here. Those new rules also seriously limit the scope for reasoning as they automatically reject many of the Blue Truths that were available prior to this.

All in all, at the end I felt that this one long ass fucking chapter was just an extended prologue leading into... what. Maybe that Tea Party, or even ???? that is unlocked after finishing the chapter and the Party. Because I tell you - that is were the meat and bones of the story are. ???? finally feels like a proper chapter with all the exciting things we remember from earlier. In the end, my unhumble opinion is, that chapter 5 could have lost half of its weight without losing the integrity of the story, however ???? gives us hope for the great things to come, and I'm very excited for the next chapter.

Dawn of the Golden Witch

An apt name for the sixth chapter, though I suppose "Resurrection of the Golden Witch" would be even more precise. In contrast to the previous chapters that were sort of separate from each other, this one feel like a direct continuation of the 5th one, which led me to be even more firm in my belief that 5th chapter was just an extended glorified prologue.

Lambdadelta steps aside for the moment and a new Master takes the game board. He's a competent Master and one that fixes some of my complaints from the previous episode. I felt that one of the drawbacks of the 5th chapter was the mixing of higher plane figures with the pawns on the board. The 6th episode once again separates those two world and makes them distinct. In such a way we can compare happenings betwixt them and create reasonings out of these events. Not that there is much to reason. Despite in-game Ryuukishi07's insinuations that the riddle can be solved, all my theories regarding Rokkenjima up to this point have been crumbling to golden dust one after another.
Riddle: Find a man.
If an existing confusion wasn't enough, Ryuukishi07 screws with our minds even more by introducing some additional characters o_O. In addition to the returning ones from the previous chapters we are given one more witch that is a dead ringer for Hanyuu (she is even called Auau as a nickname!) and two more demons. I won't talk about the witch, but the demons bring even more confusion or just plain mischief with them. Furfur and Zepar look like bishoujos in extravagant dresses, but their description clearly states, that they are of opposite genders. That means, it's a t-trap!!! I don't know about you, but I personally decided to view Zepar as a male in order to save myself some headache. The demons themselves are not very useful and their involvement in the story is superficial at best (or very important, but we will not find that out until the next chapter), but at least Ryuukishi does his research on demonology and picks the appropriate names from "The Lesser Key of Solomon"

6th episode brings what can be called three main plotlines to the game board. First of all it's the romantic involvement of cousins Jessica and George with Kanon and Shannon respectively. I always felt, that this romance thread was grossly underrepresented in the game and the previous tries to delve into that were pretty shallow. While I don't think that we can call this plotline completed, this chapter sheds some more light on these characters and their inner feelings. Actually, love is probably the main theme of this episode. "Without love it cannot be seen" is mentioned constantly, which actually means that in order to solve the mystery we have to delve not into "who" or "who", but "why" did it. In other words, the heart of the criminal is the main thing we have to learn to understand in order to reach the truth.
Didn't know that either of them could be so poetic.
The second plotline and the most forward one would be the intellectual duel between Battler and Erika over a closed room that is supposedly impossible to explain. That is a bona fide Xanatos Speed Chess between those two characters. The battle is engaging and really involving even though we can't help but feel that we know how it will end, considering the very beginning of the chapter starts in medias res just after the battle and we are shown the result just before the actual fight. I am not so sure it was the best artistic decision. A few words about one of the duelists - Erika. In the previous episode she was but a piece used by her Master Bernkastel. In this game she has been elevated to the position of a witch and has become one of the central persons of the mystery. She is a ruthless and relentless opponent for Battler, but she just cannot reach the level of Beatrice, who had something that Erika simply lacks.
Wrong choice of words...
With that we come to the flesh and blood of the chapter, that is the quest towards self realisation for the Golden Witch. Beatrice still hasn't returned to the game. Instead she is searching for herself, both literally and metaphysically and this is what I consider the best part. This quest or journey has overall the best scenes and Beatrice herself quickly returned to the top as my absolutely favourite character in the story after her short absence in the previous game. I think that at the end she learned much about herself and the very game that she is destined to play and I eagerly await her larger involvement.

Strangely, almost all the members of the Ushiromiya family, with the exceptions of George and Jessica, have only superficial roles in this episode. But I don't mind, as the majority of the action was happening outside of the game board and the murder mysteries themselves were of almost no importance here. The chapter was very different, but I liked the direction it has taken. I hope the next one will not disappoint me too.

Requiem of the Golden Witch

O...key... let me sort my feelings for a moment. This chapter, that is supposed to be an explanatory chapter, is the biggest mindscrew yet and if that wasn't enough it differs the most from anything we have seen up until now. In spite or maybe because of this I felt engrossed in it.
There is no "too eccentric" where women are involved.
The biggest change that is obvious from the get go is that both Battler and Beatrice are almost completely absent from the game. But maybe that is how it should be - after all, this is no more a game but a confession. We finally learn the identity of a killer here... or do we?

The protagonist this time is a new! character Willard H. Wright - a head inquisitor from SSVD, a rival agency to the one Dlanor works for. In real life Willar Huntington Wright was an art critic and an author of mystery fiction under a pseudonym of S.S. Van Dine. Under this pseudonym he created "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" and they play not a small part in the game. While Ryuukishi keeps on introducing new rules to his games, unlike Knox's Decalogue, which was annoying to no end, Van Dine's rules are actually employed in moderation. Moreover, such things are really interesting (at least to me) and I keep on Googling or Wiki-ing things that attract my attention.
You sure have reasons to have regrets.
The chapter happens in an extremely confined space - the Ushiromiya chapel and the first half of it is composed of Kinzo's confession. here we first learn everything about Kinzo's relationship with Beatrice and the origin of gold. It's a very interesting tale, especially as it happens more than 40 years before the events of the fated night. The greatest sin of Lord Ushiromiya is revealed and his greatest regret that has been tormenting him for almost twenty years

The second, longer, part of the tale is devoted to the confession of the murderer. Here we are introduced to Clair vaux Bernardus. She is not a new character of a person, but just a pupet created by Bernakastel to confess the crimes, without revealing the actual form of the murderer (though it is painfully clear who the narrator speaking through Clair's lips is). Bernard of Clairvaux was the last of Dante's guides after Virgilius (in this case Virgilia) and Beatrice. Thus it means, that Clair reveals the last bits of information needed to solve the Rokkenjima Serial Murder Case. Actually, the characters themselves state that by episode 4 enough information was revealed to solve it... which is an obvious lie as only now, during the confesion, we get the data that gives us a crutch to try and crack the mysteries. And even now I don't think I can do that.
Clair confesses her sins.
The tea party after the 7th episode is almost an episode of it's own. It's a direct answer arc to chapter three and basically reveals how Eva survived the massacre. However that answers only the third chapter, where Eva survives. So what about the confession that we have just received?
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
Oh, well...I'll just read the eight episode and maybe Ryuukishi07 will deign to reveal some answers.

At least one thing was revealed with certainty during the confession (love and kisses Lambdadelta) - the epitaph was solved and every step toward the solution was shown. I have to say, that I don't see how any reader could have solved it without additional help. Though I have to confess, that I guessed the true meaning of "sweetfish river" long ago, although that was a baseless guess.

Twilight of the Golden Witch

The last chapter for one of the longest visual novel works available in English. For the conclusion of the saga, Ryuukishi07 took liberties with some experimental narrative decisions, that he uses here for the first time. Unlike all of his previous works, "Twilight" has some interactive moments that create an illusion that our heroes can finally influence their fate and not just be pulled by the strings of Moirai. Actually, there are only two possible endings for the "Seagulls" saga and it is determined by your very last choice, but there are some additional interactive moments, like various puzzles, that, while not influencing any changes in the narrative, are still nice additions.
An interactive game of murder.
One of the largest interactive moments is a sort of "chapter within a chapter", where a murder happens on a completely separate and unadorned chessboard. Here a reader can crosscheck various statements and finally solve the murder specially designed for this chapter. How real are the events in the interactive game is anyone's guess, but I honestly think that such an even has been long overdue. The reader should have had an ability to guess alongside Battler since the 5th chapter - it would have made a search for the truth more involving.

One of my complaints about "Twilight" is that it's such an inconclusive chapter. I have waited for a long time to be told how the murders in the first four episodes were accomplished, but Ryuukishi doesn't deign to reveal that. At best we get some obscure reasoning by Will in the previous chapter, but I'm far from satisfied by that. The true nature of the culprit is not revealed unless we take Clair's confession to the letter and even then some of the statements produced by Will contradict her being the only murderer.
How can a six year old understand that?
However my biggest complaint is the presence of Forgeries. Introduced in the "Alliance" they completely changed the premise of the chapters.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
It also doesn't help, that I wanted to strangle the protagonist of "Twilight" for being a dumbass. It seems that the author wanted to add some character development, but it doesn't work as intended and the Heel Face Turn of the said protagonist is less than convincing. On the other hand, there were lots of things that I liked in this chapter. The whole second part was a badass battle against the overwhelming odds and all the characters (everyone from every chapter reappears here) get their moments to shine.
Clean up with extreme prejudise.
Reflecting on my time playing the first four episodes, I cannot help but laugh how I hated Lambdadelta and liked Bernkastel. Since the fifth chapter my preferences got reversed and by the time "Twilight" rolled by I loved Lady 34. She gets so many epic moments here. Actually both witches do, but Bern is a person that is easy to hate.

Overall impressions

In the review of the first game I said how all the characters felt like larger than life theatrical pieces. In the review of the second game I might have to retract my words, because despite the theatergoing being an important plot point, all the personages matured and I am happy to have been here spectating and able to witness their growth. Even the witches that previously provided an over the top performance are more serious in the core arcs.

What I love and have always loved about "Umineko" series are the sound and the graphics. It's really appropriate that Ryuukishi07 calls his works "Sound novels". There are a shitload of tunes and all of them are masterfully composed. Sadly "Happy Maria" is not sung in core arcs (only the instrumental version is present), but there are many new tracks to please the ears.

Ryuukishi art is always the matter of debate, but I personally love it. There just is something charming about it. I have already mentioned in my first review that I absolutely adore the expressions on his "paper doll" faces. Sadly he won't do all of the art for his new game "Rose Guns Days" himself, but rather will outsource some of it.

For all of his abilities Ryuukishi is not a very good writer or rather he is a writer that seriuosly lacks a competent editor. His scripts are full of filler material, overbloated expositions, boring repetitions and other literary misdemeanors that should be killed with a red sword - editor's pen. Moreover, he is a better horror writer than a mystery one and that is clear while comparing "Higurashi" and "Umineko" tales.
Witches are leaving to wreck chaos in a different fragment.
Still, in the end "Umineko no Naku Koro ni" saga is a game/book/experience that will stay long with the reader after he finished it and that is its biggest strength. "Umineko Chiru" might be worse than the first game and it has many questionable plot decisions, but it is memorable and that alone will allow me to give it a bit larger vote than it is actually worth.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Witch Hunt English translation group site
Buy the package edition at : Mandarake or Rakuten.
Buy the download edition at Hobibox (note that regional restrictions apply), Gameliner or MangaGamer.

Final Verdict: 80%

5 comments:

  1. really awesome review man some where not happy with ending of the series but overall this is something that sticks with to this day.

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  2. the only thing I want to add is that there is three possible endings for the game. This depends on if you collect all the medals or not..

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    1. From what I know, if you get all the medals (and I got them all), the only thing that changes is that you get an additional scene with Rudolf and Kyrie talking about Battler. Internets also claim that there are only two endings.

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    2. well it depends on the choices as well, if you choose trick with out all the medals then ange doesn't ride off with erika.. she kills herself after killing the other two.

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    3. Ah, didn't know that. Thanks for clarification.

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