Higurashi series Review

Titles: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (in English as Higurashi: When They Cry)
            Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai (in English as Higurashi: When They Cry Kai)
            Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei
Release dates: The 4th arc in 2004-08-13 (2009-12-15 in English)
                          The 8th arc in 2006-08-13 (2010-07-15 in English)
                          Rei in 2006-12-31 (2009-03-27 Saikoroshi arc in English)
Developer: 07th Expansion
English publisher: MangaGamer (Saikoroshi translated by some dude at Animesuki forums)


What do you think, when you hear the word "horror"? Stephen King, Clive Barker, H. P. Lovecraft, "Dragon's Balls"? I say: "Screw them" (Lovecraft literally if I ever get to reviewing Saya no Uta or Demonbane). After playing Higurashi I can say that I can't remember the last time I have read such intense and chilling piece of work.
So, what is Higurashi..? A series of visual/kinetic/sound (however you may call them) novels set in a (semi) fictional Japanese town of Hinamizawa.

A Tale of Dead Cicadas

Please do not deplore yourself.
Even if the world does not forgive, I will forgive you.

Please do not deplore yourself.
Even if you do not forgive the world, I will forgive you.

So please tell me.
What will it take for you, to forgive me?

-Frederica Bernkastel

Every chapter in Higurashi series starts with a poem and I will start so too. This particular poem appears at the beginning of the Onikakushi chapter (it might not be the exact wording in the MangaGamer's version as I took the translation from the Animesuki site). Actually, the poems are meaningful in their own way and the more you play, the clearer it becomes that they foretell the events in that particular chapter. The game is structured by the chapters and there are 8 of them (not counting Rei). The first 4 chapters or the question arcs form the first game, and the latter four or the answer arcs - the second game (Kai).

So, our alter ego and the protagonist of this story is a guy by the name of Maebara Keiichi. He has recently transferred into the small village of Hinamizawa (population xxxx and quickly dwindling or at least will start soon >:-)). Five years ago a cult worshipping the dark god Sammael... wait, the wrong game. So, five years ago the village went to "war" against the government that wanted to submerge the site while building a dam. Hinamizawa prevailed and the construction of the dam was postponed indefinitely (which is to say, someone probably put a wakizashi to the minister's of construction balls and gently asked to stop this nonsense. Dam, what a silly thought...).

Keiichi, being a likable guy quickly makes friends, which is a clear improvement over his previous school. He especially becomes tight with a clique of four girls: Houjou Satoko, Sonozaki Mion, Furude Rika and Ryuugu Rena. Harem love comedy ensues... you wish. The start of the game is very lighthearted: Keiichi and the girls play games and just generally fool around. But quickly everything is thrown into disarray. Keiichi learns of a strange malady that's been plaguing Hinamizawa for four years already since the dam project was stopped - on the night of the local Watanagashi festival one person dies and one disappears. Superstitious people in the village (which basically includes everyone) believe that this is a curse of Oyashiro-sama, who's a locally revered guardian god. Oyashiro-sama punishes those that wish evil unto the village or its inhabitants.

Against his own will Keiichi starts digging deeper into the strange happenings and everything goes to hell. Villagers, including his friends start acting odd towards K. Soon he starts to suspect that members of the clique he has joined hide dark secrets behind their cheerful facades.

The novel employs a unique storytelling device, where at the end of each chapter the story resets and we are given another glimpse to the mystery and different events that might have taken place. Each of the four chapters in the first game successfully builds upon the previous one, increasing the tension and deepening the atmosphere. And there is atmosphere in spades. From the minimalistic art to the emotional soundtrack that fits here like a key into a well oiled lock, this game is supposed to grab you by the spinal cord and keep you in a chair taut like a string. I think art here is a real success. The backgrounds are blurred photos, providing a certain grounding in reality, while colourful, almost comical sprites create a certain dissonance and a sense of "wrongness" which is amplified by the dark story. Every of the four chapters in the first game focuses on a different person in Keiichi's group of friends - Rena, Mion and Satoko in that order. The fourth chapter is different, that it is set five years ago and focuses on Rika with Keiichi relinquishing the role of the protagonist to Akasaka - a special police agent.

For maximum enjoyment, do not wander into the game expecting to solve a mystery by the end. This is only a first part of the duology and it serves as a base for the mystery. More and more questions are presented to you in every chapter, but to know the truth you will have to read Kai. And you know what? It's part of the fun - speculating about the true nature of the mystery of Hinamizawa and Oyashiro-sama's curse, trying to guess what will happen next and proven wrong again and again.

There is no erotic content in this visual novel as it is creepy enough without it. Adding it would be going overboard. MangaGamer markets Higurashi as an all-ages game, however that description should be applied only loosely. It is as children friendly as a stage adaptation of Clive Barker's Hellraiser performed by real cenobites with you somehow ending up in a spotlight.

Of Sixes and Ones

The natural continuation of the story is it's sequel (chapters five to eight), named Kai. And I tell you what - it's very different in mood to the first part, but definitely equal in quality. This is the part where we start deconstructing the mystery and penetrating the dissembling that covers the creepy village of Hinamizawa like fog. Ryukishi07, the writer of Higurashi, obviously saw that as the mystery gets dissolved, its horror aspects will diminish. So, instead of trying to keep the horror atmosphere he emphasized mystery and detective work and slowly toned the horror down, which ended being a great decision.

I have already said, that later chapters build flawlessly on the previous ones and that is especially evident here. Kai is made of answer arcs to the previous chapters and, for example playing Tsumihoroboshi, makes Onikakushi so much more poignant and dare I say frightening though on a completely different level. The thing of note is that Keiichi is not a protagonist of the story anymore. Rather we see the story from many different POWs, with Rika steadily becoming the main storyteller. The game of sixes and ones is on. When all the sixes align on the board the game ends...

Higurashi has qualities of a mindscrew, but it provides a nice and shiny screwdriver and by the end of the game all mysteries are explained and you are not left wondering and bewildered like with other games (Remember11, I'm looking at you!). Bonus points for the fact that the story and mystery itself are believable and I totally bought the explanation. These, who have played/read/watched enough Japanese material know, that this is a sort of miracle, considering how Japanese love their bogus science and magic and their explanations usually do not make sense (and if you are asking what is  bogus magic, you have obviously not consumed enough Japanese materials).

Note of warning: though Kai steadily leaves horror behind and is more or less pure mystery, its fifth chapter (Maekashi) alone has two of the most horrifying scenes in the whole series ;-)

The Hardest Choice

So, if the story of Higurashi is over, what in the nine hells is Rei? Rei consists of three short stories (in comparison with four long ones in previous installments): two of them are pure comedy and are not translated. The last story - Saikoroshi - serves as a sort of epilogue to the Higurashi saga. It's not a mandatory reading, but still very nice.

Unlike the previous games, Saikoroshi is not horror or mystery, but pure drama. Furude Rika is again the storyteller of this chapter and this time she is facing her hardest choice yet. No more game of sixes and ones - this is one or zero, all or nothing, one candy or two candies... What will Rika do? Unlike Kai, the end of Saikoroshi presents us with a mindscrew - did the events depicted therein really happened or not... Who can say... It your destiny to procrastinate and contemplate.


Maebara Keiichi. Do you know what the Hall of Badass is? No? So, do you know about the Hall of Valhalla? You are nodding? Then know, that slain heroes in Valhalla serve as sissy bitches to the members of the Hall of Badass and Kaiichi is one of those being served. Seriously, he is one of the most awesome and likable protagonists I have ever encountered in a visual novel. He is currently my third favourite VN protagonist after Kurosu Taichi and Amagi Kojirou. K is proactive, funny and charming. He is also known as the Master of Words.

Keiichi is proficient in the art of oratory and can bend anyone with ears to his will. He can talk about any random subject for hours without getting tired and keep his listeners interested. Those who have submitted to his control call him K (as you noticed me calling him).

Ryuugu Rena. A girl who recently returned to the village of Hinamizawa after being away for a long time. Her real name is Reina, but she insists everyone calls her Rena. She often goes to the abandoned trash site to "look for treasure" and adores cute things. Actually, her cute mode is a look to behold (Omochikaeri!). In reality Rena is obfuscating stupidity and is probably the sharpest knife in the group. She is also a religious fanatic with a devoted belief in Oyashiro-sama.

Sonozaki Mion. The oldest of the group of Five Evils. Her family is very influential and basically controls not only the village of Hinamizawa, but also an adjacent region. She often leads after class games where the winner gets it all and the loser is cruelly punished. Mion is a tomboy and refers to herself as Uncle Mion.

Furude Rika. The cutest character in a bunch. Her theme words "Mi" and "Nipaa" became memes of their own right. Her late father was a priest of the village and Rika herself acts as a miko (though probably not officially subordinated). Despite her young age, Rika is extremely revered in the village and many people consider her to be the incarnation of Oyashiro-sama. That claim is given support by the precognitive powers demonstrated by her.

Houjou Satoko. Probably the youngest in the group. Satoko is a Master of Traps and often prepares them for Keiichi. For example, thumbstacks on a doorknob or a bucket of water just around the corner. She is both a resident prankster and a crybaby. Her relationship with K can be described as both of them riling each other. Satoko is living together with Rika after a tragic death of her parents.


Higurashi is a damn good game and jokes about Hellraiser notwithstanding, the best way to describe it would be: "A game co-written by Clive Barker and William Golding while having one beer too many in Twin Peaks".

07th Expansion later created a spiritual successor Umineko no Naku Koro ni. I can't know if it's better plot wise as I haven't read it. However, I don't believe anything can surpass the characterisation present in Higurashi.

Time played: F-ing long. The whole duology probably took around 100 hours to complete. Saikoroshi is short and can be finished in about 4 hours.


Note, that due to copyright problems and limitations of the engine, MangaGamer removed some of the music tracks, sounds and minigames in the Higurashi duology.
The fan patches to reinsert music and sounds from the original exist.
The patch to insert the backgrounds and character sprites from a PS2 adaptation also exists, but I vastly prefer PC version graphics as I think that cleaned and redrawn PS2 version takes away from the atmosphere.

Links of Interest
Visual Novel Database links for Higurashi, Kai and Rei.
Buy the download version of the first game from MangaGamer or Desura.
Buy the physical version of the first game from MangaGamer, Jlist, Play-asia, Archonia, Rightstuf, ShopAnimeDVD.
Buy the download version of the second game from MangaGame
Buy the physical version of the second game from MangaGamer, Jlist, Play-asia or Archonia, Rightstuf, ShopAnimeDVD.
Download the first chapter Onikakushi for free.
Buy Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei from AmiAmi, Mandarake.
Download the fan-patch for Saikoroshi chapter of Rei.

Final score: Higurashi: When They Cry - 93%
             Higurashi: When They Cry Kai - 93%
             Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei (Saikoroshi chapter) - 86%


  1. izmosmolnar1/6/11 22:14

    Just passing by and figured I note about that typo: it's Amagi Kojirou/Kojiroh.

  2. Thanks, izmo. Typed that from memory.

  3. Ihateanimenow18/10/12 21:31

    I hate how the anime spoiled me. What a shitty adaptation.

    Someone should have told me to keep the hell away from it, but no. Everyone said it was great because they haven't fucking read the original novels.

    Aaaaaaagh, I wish I could forget everything...

  4. Anonymous6/11/12 14:39

    My friends keep saying that I should shut up about these crappy shit-graphic novels and that the Anime is awesome. But oh no, they don't know, they have no idea...

    1. And Deen addaptation has such great graphics...*sarcasm* Oh yes, they have no idea.

  5. Thanks for your detailed review, nice job. I played these games after the anime series, so I already knew a lot of things, but it was still freaking awesome.

  6. Furude Rika is really the cutest character in the series!