Swan Song Review

Title: Swan Song
Release date: 2005-07-29
English release date: 2010-06-22
Developer: FlyingShine
English publisher: Yandere Translations (as a fan-patch)

Everyone loves a good apocalyptic fic. You know - angels descending to Earth, Last Judgement trumpets blaring, lost souls begging for mercy, corpses littering the streets... A beautiful and heartwarming sight. And if an actual Apocalypse as per Revelation is not available, any other world-ending disaster will do - like a big mother' earthquake, for example. "Swan Song" is just such a pseudo-apocalyptic visual novel.

One of our protagonists, Amako Tsukasa, was enjoying a perfectly normal winter evening, when an unexpected earthquake levels down the town. Not giving into despair he starts looking for other survivors amidst the rubble. Soon he is joined by an autistic girl Aroe (seen on the cover) and, after encountering some other survivors, they all base themselves in an old church, which somehow survived the quake.
Aroe is positively glowing.
I said that Tsukasa is "one of our protagonists", and that is one of the key features of this VN that make it different from others. There is no character you can single out as a protagonist. The game constantly switches viewpoints between five people and never stays on one for any significant amount of time.

Amako Tsukasa is the one whose POV starts the game. He is a son of a famous composer and he was a decent musician himself a long time ago, but an auto accident crippled his right hand, thus making him unable to play well enough ever again. Tsukasa is probably the most passive VN protagonist I have seen in a long time. His segments make it look like he is just floating through life without motivation and his role in the game is that of an observer. He watches and comments, but rarely acts on anything. Despite that, he is probably my favourite person in this game (not that it says much), as he seems the most level headed and least likely to carry an idiot ball.
But I can play with you, babe.
Tanomura Shin is a happy go lucky guy with a cheerful and laid-back attitude. Despite, or maybe because of it, he never found a passion in life and whiled his days on a part-time job. His family owned a dojo and Tanomura is very capable with a sword, which comes in handy during the game. While I liked Tanomura's demeanour, he makes some really questionable decisions throughout the game, but it all might tie with his lack of passion. During the course of the game Tanomura becomes a couple with Hibari, which works pretty well as she herself has lots of passion to spare.

Kawase Hibari is a loud-mouthed tsundere, who always speaks her mind. She takes a real liking to mentally handicapped Aroe and becomes her caretaker. However, despite everything, she is not that well fleshed out and is portrayed pretty shallowly.
A rare moment of peace.
Sasaki Yuka is probably the least explored of the protagonists. She is a melancholy young woman who latches onto Tsukasa and they start an apparent love affair. One of the endings reveal that she is a pretty manipulative person, but it's hard to put that in context of the game, as she is just as passive as Tsukasa to her surroundings.

Kuwagata Takuma is a person who changes the most during the course of the game. He starts as a shy, socially-inept nerd with a crush on Yuka, but gains confidence as the time goes on. Or actually he doesn't... What he gains is a fake confidence, where he establishes himself as a strong and confident person, but it's all a card house. His demeanour is a sham, where Takuma has to keep deluding himself in his strength, because if he allows any doubt to creep into his mind he would have to accept that he is the same weak person just pretending to be something he is not. Takuma's self delusions spin out of control and fuel a part of the later plot developments.
Poor Christ. You were mutilated by Aroe.
Aroe does not have point-of-view segments dedicated to her, because it would take a really superb writer to get into a mind as alien as hers, but she is one of the main characters. Strangely, I see no real point for Aroe to be in this game at all. At first I though that she was supposed to represent untarnished innocence in a world gone mad, but if that was the authors idea, he completely failed. Aroe gives nothing to the plot, has no character development (unless you call regress a development) and her interactions with other people do not further the characterizations of those people. I fail to understand why she dominates the cover like that  - I can think of five more people who are more deserving of that honour.

Anyway, soon after making themselves at home in the church our survivors understand that this was not just a simple earthquake. Even if we discount a lake suddenly appearing in the middle of the town, there are many more ominous signs. Even though it's already spring, days are getting colder and darker, no radio signals can be received, no rescue teams are coming. With a dread the survivors start speculating that this was not a localized earthquake but a world-wide catastrophe. After hearing a church bell ringing across the lake, they set out in search of other people and find quite a lot of them holed in a local school.
Row, row, row your your boat.
At first the mood is hopeful, but human nature is a nasty business. After a few crimes occur, school gets more and more militaristic; vigilante corps is created for protection, but soon the said "protection" becomes just a terror machine directed both against the survivors at school and the outsiders. Situation becomes a powder keg, which goes off spectacularly once a doomsday cult located in a nearby shrine makes contact with the school. One of the very few things I liked about this game was how the author treated the conflict. It would have been so easy to demonize the cultists and make them the bad guys, but the author didn't choose that path. Both sides are more or less equally guilty here, but there is no clear villain (okay, there is one, but I treat him more as a victim rather than a villain), unless you consider the human nature as a villainous entity. The game strives to portray humans at their ugliest with all the veneer of civilization stripped away. Many horrible things happen and our protagonists serve as witnesses and archivists of those events.

It is all great and dandy, but sadly the formula doesn't work. For a post-apocalyptic tragedy it is just so fucking dull. "Swan Song" is an ultimate case of "the sum of all parts is lesser than any part taken separately".
What are you even talking about?
At first glance the plot sounds at least moderately interesting, but the writing is horrible. There are two main problems. Problem numero uno - nothing fucking happens. I talked about conflicts and bloodshed and tragedy, but all that takes only a few hours of game time. Everything else consists of people walking, people eating and farting too, probably. SS is the most boring VN I have ever read. It's a veritable snooze-fest and long drawn-out pseudo-philosophical discussions do not help either. Yes, problem numero secundo - characters tend to engage in hour long monologues about nothing. Maybe these monologues were supposed to express some great idea and make the author look really clever, but all I got was "more coffee or I'm gonna fall asleep".

The characters fare no better. There is no character growth and every person is the same at the end of the game as they were at the beginning, Kuwagata ironically being an exception. Moreover, the personage motivations make no sense; in this game if a character acts, it's because the author wants them to act that way, not because it's logical or understandable.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
Back to caveman mentality.
The game is structured differently from majority of other visual novels. There are only two endings, good and normal, plus some bad ends. You have to get normal ending first in order to unlock a good one. Sadly, the endings are not that great either. The normal ending is pretty depressing, but it fits the overall mood of the game. On the other hand, the good ending has sunshine and rainbows through the ass. Everything's suddenly okay and everyone's happy. It's surreal; not to mention that this ending drops a strange plot twist with no foreshadowing and for no apparent reason straight into our lap. I had trouble taking all this bullshit seriously, though I was glad the game finally ended and I could uninstall it.

Sure, the game has many positive points too. "Swan Song" is one of the best looking VNs I have ever played. The art is beautiful with a capital B. The backgrounds clearly manage to convey the scale of destruction after the quake, there is an enormous amount of CGs, which is understandable, since there are no character sprites. Characters are either incorporated into CGs or appear as talking heads over backgrounds. Mobile text box supplements the unusual looks of the game. It is stuck somewhere in between ADV and NVL modes and that works really well with the other assets.
That makes two of us.
It is also obvious that a large slice of budget went into dubbing the VN. Every spoken line for every character, even if they have only a few lines, is voiced. However, unlike with art, quality of voice acting is really uneven. The main six actors are really good, but some of the side characters are painful to listen to. They sound like random schmucks taken from a street with no ability to convincingly portray emotions.

Sex scenes are... pretty good. At first they might seem random, but it's important to remember that people in desperate situations seek for solace in every way they can. It's only understandable that random sex would happen when the emotions are running high.

In the end, I really disliked "Swan Song". The game had great art, dividing voice acting and the most boring nonsensical plot I have a misfortune of reading. I cannot in good conscience recommend it, unless you like reading long passages about nothing and immersing yourself in a plot that goes nowhere. 

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Buy a digital Japanese version of the game on DLsite
Buy a physical Japanese version of the game on Mandarake
Download the English patch
Swan Song walkthrough

Final Verdict: 48%


  1. I don't understand why many people favor this vn.
    It's look like the author tried to make the story and setting as epic as possible,but instead fall short dead into the cesspool of mediocre

  2. >Nothing happens in the story

    Wow what do want? Constant flash with no substance, Swan Song is perfectly paced and if its not your favorite you failed as a reader