So, it’s been about a year since I last touched the Higurashi series with chapter 2, even longer since I reviewed chapter 1, and I really don’t have much of an excuse for that. While the second installment did not captivate me like the first, it was never my intention to give up on the series after I more or less stated that I intended on exploring this series of visual novels in its entirety. The series simply slipped my mind for several months, and only recently did I so much as purchase the currently released chapters. So without further ado, Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 3 – Tatarigoroshi.
Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 3 – Tatarigoroshi Review
Developer: 07th Expansion
For those unfamiliar with the series, Higurashi centers Keiichi, Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika, a group of youths enjoying the summer days of their carefree lives in the rural village of Hinamizawa. Days they spend refining their bonds with club activities that turn basic and mundane games into intense battles of wit and attrition, mixed in with various anime style shenanigans. But the joyous and silly antics of these activities come to an end after a warm and cozy introduction around the time of Watanagashi, the local cotton drifting festival. Something sinister occurs, and the genre flips from what could be called a slice of life into a psychological and supernatural horror fueled mystery. All of which is presented as a linear visual novel that follows a chronologically separate scenario with each release.
This is certainly true for Tatarigoroshi, which wastes little time getting started. The introduction jumps straight to the point with the five main characters enjoying a lunch together before entering a battle to prove who can make the best bento box for the day. Only to proceed with a similarly exaggerated and silly circumstances including, but not limited to, baseball, perverted lusting after frivolous sweets, and eating big hot meats, for what felt like just enough time before the bad things finally begin.
Once they do, the story takes an unexpected turn by focusing on a horror I doubt anybody expected this series to explore. Child abuse. This dark shift culminates in a very different story than what came before it, yet contains the same level of care and quality that made me decide to review this entire series in the first place. For one, the story does not skip around the details of the abuse or ever try to brush it aside as some other stories would out of fear of delving into such upsetting material. The backstory is thoroughly explained, and makes mention of the psychosis and trauma that may have been developed with such abuse, symptoms of the abuse are very apparent throughout the story, and the cast of main characters all react to this abuse as they should.
It makes for a captivating story on its own, and contrasts the happy-go-lucky summer days of the first few hours marvelously, but that’s not the ultimate end point of the story. Following an incredibly tense and thrilling sequence, the story takes another shift, this time returning to the psychological horror roots of the first game. This final stretch has everyone around Keiichi, the main character, questioning his sanity while he questions the sanity of the world around him, leaving the player to examine both sides and determine where the lines lie while things escalate to new heights. Or new lows depending on the situation.
For as good as the story is, there is one element about it that I truly appreciate. How it is written under the pretense that the player is familiar with the first two games in the series. This means that many settings, characters, and past events are casually mentioned as not to interrupt the story’s flow, or irritate the player as they go through a lengthy explanation of something they already know. This is the true for most things, excluding the ultimate fate of Satoshi, a character introduced in the first chapter whose ultimate fate was, as far as I can recall, made pretty clear. While there are multiple reasons for Keiichi to be thinking of Satoshi, his regular pontification about the fate of this character quickly becomes irritating.
For as much as I can praise the story, it does have three notable shortcomings that, oddly enough, are outliers in elements that I really enjoy about the game. The story is written under the expectation that players are familiar with the characters, setting, and backstory mentioned in the first two chapters, which in turn allows for the story to reach new and interesting places faster. However, that treatment is strangely not given to the character of Satoshi, whose ultimate fate was clearly stated in the first chapter, but is regularly pontificated about by Keiichi. It makes sense for Keiichi to think about them, but his regular wondering on Satoshi’s disappearance to grew tiring over time.
I also enjoy the open ended nature to the mysteries surrounding Higurashi, which leave the player with a lot more questions than answers. Well, at least for the first four games, which are even named the question arc. However, one of the biggest mysteries of the game concerns the ambiguous fate of a very important character. Despite having one of the most involved roles in the entire story, the question of whether they so much as lived or died is never really touched upon, and this lack of clarity cheapened the otherwise excellent conclusion, as this plot sinkhole is never addressed.
Then there is the relationship between Keiichi and Satoko. Much of the game is built around building, developing, and expanding what has been previously established as a friendship between the two into a sort of loving platonic bond. This shift is sensible, their interactions together are pleasant, and the bond they share together does feel like a pure form of affection. However, it is difficult to not look at this relationship and see an undercurrent of a little sister complex. With Keiichi coming across as a bit too protective and loving of Satoko at some points, and having a burning desire to become her “Nii-Nii”.
Minor hang ups aside, the story managed to be a vastly enjoyable affair that had me plowing through the final few hours with ferocity as I tried to discover just what was going on and what turn the story would take next. It certainly shows the skill behind the writer of the series, but he is unfortunately not very talented when it comes to the presentation. Characters are represented using bizarre looking illustrations that capture their general design and a lot of personality in them, but their unnatural proportions and weird coloring makes them odd to look like on their own, and contrast when placed against the backgrounds, which consist entirely for blurred photos. While I can see why some people would enjoy this look, I am not one of them.
I personally don’t care for this presentation, or the updated sprites included in the official release, and prefer to play these games using the 07th mod. It effectively turns this PC version of Higurashi into the more recent Playstation 3 release, which features a widescreen resolution, new sprites, new backgrounds, CG artwork for specific scenes, and full voice acting for every character. It’s Japanese voice over, obviously, but the actors are able to bring the characters to life with each line, and help increase the emotional energy behind dialog. The mod for Tatarigoroshi is not perfect, as there were sections of the game where the voice acting simply did not play, but I felt that it enhanced my experience, and recommend it as the best way to experience the Higurashi games.
As for the soundtrack, despite being referred to as a sound novel by the creators, the first four games in the Higurashi series use non-licensed free music tracks for its score. This is not too surprising considering how the development budget for this game was basically nothing, but the tracks included in this game possess varying levels of quality. Some are catchy and fun songs that I could endure hearing for several loops, some are nice and atmospheric, some are frankly bizarre given the setting, and some are just not very good. Though, that’s only the original release, and there’s about three other soundtracks for the first four games alone.
Following the frankly underwhelming second chapter of the series, Tatarigoroshi managed to capture everything that made me originally decide to explore this series, while offering something new to the table and very much building off of what came before it. It’s eerie, gripping, and manages to create a setting where the cooking shenanigans, emotional breakdowns, and stalking somebody in the woods don’t feel incongruous to one another. It easily renewed my interest and faith in this series, and I’m quite eager to see how the first half of the story ends with Himatsubushi.