Shikkoku no Sharnoth -What a Beautiful Tomorrow- Fullvoice ReBORN Review

Title: Shikkoku no Sharnoth -What a Beautiful Tomorrow- Fullvoice ReBORN
Original title: 漆黒のシャルノス -What a beautiful tomorrow- Fullvoice ReBORN
Alias: Sharnoth of the Deepest Black Fullvoice ReBORN
Release date: 2008-11-21 (2011-12-22 Fullvoice ReBORN Edition)
English release date: 2011-09-05 (2012-11-20 Fullvoice ReBORN Edition)
Developer: Liar-soft
English publisher: Amaterasu Translations (as a fan-patch of both Regular and Fullvoice ReBORN Edition)

Previously I have played and reviewed Liar-Soft’s “Sekien no Inganock”, which was a strange, beautiful and altogether memorable piece of work. Now it’s time to take a closer look at its sequel/spin-off/sister game thingy called “Shikkoku no Sharnoth” where secret societies, British government, supernatural forces and one clueless girl clash over the right for the new dawn to come.

Just like its predecessor, Sharnoth is a VN written in a true novel style by one of the very few female writers working in the industry – Hikari Sakurai. The “game” eschews typical tropes associated with the genre and flows in a linear focused way with lots of characters, multiple points of view and… no romance whatsoever. Yes, you read that right! Even the previous entry in the series had some romantic inclinations between Gii and Ati, and Kerkan and Ruaha. In this game Sakurai tells the story that has no place or time for such feelings.
Sleeping Beauty.
SnS is set in the same world as SnI, but changes the location from Kadath to British Empire. The main protagonist of the story is a shy and modest girl and an aspiring novelist by the name of Mary Clarissa Christie who spends her days attending the Royal College and fooling with her two friends Charlotte Brontë and Angelica Derleth (no really, I’m not making those names up). At the same time London is awash with rumors regarding strange Metacreatures that appear at night and kill people. Mary puts no faith in such nonsense, at least until one of them attacks her, and her friend Charlotte falls into a deep coma for no discernible reason. Eager to do anything to wake her friend up, Mary tries to contact the famed detective Sherlock Holmes and apparently succeeds, but the man she thought to be Mr. Holmes eventually proves to be an impostor going by an initial M, though later he reveals his name as Professor James Moriarty. M bullies Mary into a deal with a devil – Metacreatures are attracted to her and thus she will serve as bait, so that Moriarty can kill them. Once all five of them currently operating in London are vanquished, Charlotte will supposedly wake up.
No sexual tension whatsoever.
As you can see from the description, “Shikkoku no Sharnoth” has many of the same themes prevalent in SnI – such as the appearance of strange creatures and the protagonist being somehow related to them. Moreover, let’s not forget that both games fall squarely into the steampunk subgenre which is even more pronounced in this VN. Steam engines and curious machines belch clouds of smoke that hide the sky and the soot covers everything to the point that people always have to walk with parasols as not to get covered in it. Lung diseases are very common and no one in the current generation has ever seen the sky. While the absence of sky was more metaphysical in nature in “Sekien no Inganock”, in SnS it’s mostly technological revolution related. And the technological revolution is a bit more advanced that it is usual to see in Victorian steampunk settings – for example, mobile phones exist and the Buckingham Palace houses a supercomputer, but it is still firmly set in the first years of the 20th century.

Additionally, it would be a crime not to mention Howard Phillips Lovecraft influence. “Sekien no Inganock” used his seminal work “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” and to a lesser degree “The Silver Key” as the basis – “Shikkoku no Sharnoth” is likewise using “The Black Tome of Alsophocus” by Martin S. Warnes to build the setting; and “TBToA” is itself based on an unfinished HPL fragment titled “The Book” and actually incorporates “The Book” in its entirety as the prologue of the story. However, there is barely any connection betwixt SnS and TBToA other than the name Sharnoth (which was a planet at the edge of the universe in the "Tome") as the story mostly dealt with an overtly curious protagonist being possessed by Nyarlathotep. Oh, and did I mention that both “The Black Tome” and Howard Phillips appear in universe with our favourite horror writer being engaged to Angelica Derleth (head assplodes)?
A creepy little girl is a staple in Japanese horror.
In SnI I found the characters to be quite shallow, but the setting so strongly wrought that you could basically consider the city of Inganock to be the main character. SnS is a complete subversion – its strength lies in varied and humanly flawed characters, but I found the setting itself to be quite weak and not up to par with that of the predecessor game. We can hardly comprehend the scope and shape of this fictional London with only a few locations getting a clearer picture. The city is underrepresented, but the wide picture is even more flawed – we know nothing about the state of the world in general and the British Empire specifically. Hell, there is so much talk of Kadath, but the author never deigns to point out where it is. At the very least, the epilogue webnovel clears it up by stating that you reach Kadath upon crossing the "Gate" in the North sea. It’s sort of a saving grace that the personages populating this world are so vivid.

We are introduced to a lot of historical and fictional people, with the protagonist of this novel being one Mary Clarissa Christie, better known to the general populace as Agatha Christie. Yes, this is one of those utterly rare visual novels that has a female for a protagonist while not being an otoge. Of course, SnS doesn’t strive for any kind of historical accuracy, because otherwise I would be obliged to mention, that Mary’s real surname was Miller and Christie belonged to her first husband. In the novel, though, she is a young lady renting a room at Mrs. Hudson’s and unsuccessfully trying to become a writer. Her marking feature is one eye that suddenly changed colour some years ago and is, apparently, of exceptional interest to Metacreatures.
Victorian ladies.
Mary is shy and demure and can loosen up and talk normally only to her two friends Charlotte and Angelica (who is incidentally based on August Derleth – Lovecraft’s successor who adopted his Mythos after the former’s death). Angelica Derleth in the game is portrayed as a genki loli ojou-sama who, for all her hotheadedness, is a loyal and fierce friend of Mary’s. Mary herself is a very flawed protagonist – she is indecisive, fickle, prone to self-blaming and way too distrustful of her own inner strength. Natheless, she is very loyal to her friends and her wish to help Charlotte (or Charlie as she calls her) propels the whole plot in motion. I have to own that I didn’t actually like Mary that much and her constant whining grated on my teeth, but on the other hand she is probably the most realistic portrayal of an average human caught in extraordinary circumstances that I have ever seen in visual novels. Moreover, her voice actress does a marvelous job at creating a fully fleshed persona for Agatha with easily flowing inner monologues and stuttering, choppy dialogues that reflect her mild sociophobia and a possible speech disorder. Incidentally such a portrayal verges on Fridge Brilliance as real life Agatha Christie suffered from dysgraphia. While that condition has more to do with writing than speech, it anchors this outlandish tale a bit more closely to reality.

The second most important person of the game is obviously the enigmatic M. He presents himself as an agent of "West India Company" a.k.a. "Society" – the most notorious and secretive criminal organization in the world. Forced into an unlikely alliance Mary attracts the Metacreatures in the alternate dimension of Sharnoth and then M kills them. He appears to be cold and calculating, with little regard to Mary’s well being other than her ability to fulfill the contract. He doesn’t tell Mary anything about the situation and she has to draw conjectures from little scraps that he or his servant Colonel Moran feed her. Nonetheless, one might say that SnS is really M’s story and Mary is just a pawn he chose to play his games. The game doesn’t tell much about M’s origin other thean his fake alias of James Moriarty, however any Lovecraft fan will immediately be able to tell you his real identity. He is constantly referred to as the black man, the black king of Sharnoth and the crawling darkness; add to it his marvelous tentacular transformations and it should get every warning bell ringing at maximum volume. After all letters M and N stand so well together…
Pre-asskicking monologue.
The story structure itself is quite similar to that of SnI, but much more aggravating. There are ten chapters in total with the first eight dedicated to, what I would call, “a monster of the week”. Every Metacreature gets a two chapter treatment and the chapters themselves are oddly disconnected. Basically, a monster comes, gets defeated and cue a calm before storm while waiting for the next one. The storytelling is wildly uneven and incoherent and while there are substantial portions dedicated to character development, the plot itself feels like a puzzle game with missing pieces. Despite how bizarre it was, “Sekien no Inganock” developed a fully coherent storyline by the sixth chapter and constantly presented us with new relevant information, so it was never hard to follow the plot. "Sharnoth” crams all the explanations and expositions into the last chapter and ultimately leaves many plot threads hanging. We will probably never find out what was the agenda of Heinz Heger and Germanenorden, who was Funnel, what was the purpose of Elly and many more, thus making the game a mishmash of interesting but ultimately unexplained ideas. The constant repetitions do not help either.
A comfortable day.
The previous game also had plenty of repetition – after all it was written in rhyme (as was this one, probably), but it never got annoying and was kept to a minimum. “Sharnoth” ups the repetition to eleven and despite some alterations, frequently reappearing scenes of mindscrewery didn’t endear me to the practice. There is one overwhelmingly positive aspect though – alternate POWs. SnI had those as well, but the main storytelling was confined to Gii and Kia – here almost every major and minor character gets so many POW scenes, that “Sharnoth” sometimes looks like “A Song of Ice and Fire: The Visual Novel” (grimdark setting included).

Just like "Inganock", "Sharnoth" has a translated webnovel "The Ashen Funeral of Nyhargo" and it serves as an epilogue to the game clarifying the fate of some of the characters. The protagonists of this short story are Mary and Monica - a detective from Pinkerton agency. At the end of the VN Mary got a letter from M with only one phrase from "The Count of Monte-Cristo" referring to the very last sentence of the novel: "Wait and hope". The webnovel starts with her receiving another one stating his whereabouts - Serranian. So, Mary goes to Kadath in hopes of meeting M and gets entangled in the Illuminati plot, while detective Monica investigates the Illuminati activities. "Nyhargo" is a nice addition to the game, but it annoyingly introduces a Bolivian army ending that to my knowledge was never resolved.
That mask just creeps me out.
Strangely, despite all the intrinsic conspiracies, magnificent bastard characters and Outer Gods, "Sharnoth" doesn't really have a clear villain, or rather there is a minor villain for every chapter, and I'm not certain if this is for the better of worse. Sure, the game has a Big Bad in Baron Münchhausen, but his greatest evil dead was being responsible for the vast majority of repetitions in the text. It's my personal opinion that the greatest evil that has to be defeated in this VN is a human nature. After all, it's the human uncertainties and the desire to prevent undesirable outcomes further away in the future incited them to seek a perpetual stagnation and kickstarted the plot. In the end, that is the main theme of the game - a natural human aversion to taking risks and seeking to freeze-frame the present in order to deny the uncertain tomorrow. It's a good thing that our protagonist doesn't fall for such a skewed ideal.
In dire circumstances remember your friends.
I feel that it is time to mention the gameplay aspects of this "novel". "Inganock" tantalized us with a puzzle minigame that I kinda appreciated. SnS strikes us with a running minigame where Mary has to escape the Metacreatures. Guess what - it's super annoying. During the game, the Metacreatures and the beings called "black fairies" pursue you. You have to find and retrieve four "screams" from the host in the primary part and the secondary one requires you to bring them to a designated spot. In the first part the creatures constantly flank you and if caught you will die and restart with an increased number of steps available to you. Sometimes the cards might appear in the field and give you either an advantage or disadvantage. Some cards are timed, but I encountered only three of them throughout the whole game. The second part is much easier, but unless you manage to trap a certain number of fairies in the Xs, you won't unlock bonus "making of" material in the Extras. Of course, you can decide to skip the minigames altogether when starting the VN for the first time, but you will miss some plot.

This being a "Liar-soft" production it's obvious that it has an awesome art. Unconventional, yes, but oh so pleasing to the eye. The presentation of the backgrounds is quite simple, but the acting characters get such a detalization and so many expressions that they come across as real persons. On the other hand, I initially really disliked the music. I don't know why, but I did. Eventually it grew on to me, but I still consider the soundtrack of "Inganock" to be better. Additionally, this Fullvoice Edition has voices for all the characters (even the most minor ones) and the seiyuu do a beautiful job. At the very least Mary's and M's voice actors do and they basically carry the whole novel on their shoulders. There are more changes in the Fullvoice version than just this and you can read a short article about that on Amaterasu blog.
One-sided love affair.
"Sharnoth" barely can classify as an eroge, but there still is some nudity, though all the scenes are completely softcore and actually relevant to the plot to a certain extent. It would be almost no reason to go out of my way to mention ero content if not for one unusual reason - the main character never actually has sex within the story unless one counts the Lotus-Eater Machine scene near the end.

In the end, I appreciated "Shikkoku no Sharnoth" and would laud it for it's strong characterization and appealing audio-visual aspects, but confusing, jumbled and frankly weak plot leaves something to be desired. Still, it's a good visual novel and it does many things right, so there is no reason not to play it.

P.S. A very interesting aspect of the English translation is that it uses British English and I don't know any other VNs that do that. It's certainly a unique situation.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site / Page for ReBORN version
Get a digital ReBORN edition at: DLsite or Net-Ride.
Search for a physical version of the original release at: Mandarake.
Search for a physical release of the ReBORN release at: Mandarake.
Get English patches for Regular and ReBORN versions at Amaterasu Translations
Read SnS webnovels
Recommended reading: The Book, The Black Tome of Alsophocus, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Le Comte De Monte-Cristo.

Final Verdict: 70%


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