Through determination, luck, and New Game Plus, the truth shall be revealed, and a miracle shall save us all… or not.
Higurashi: When They Cry Hou Chapter 7 – Minagoroshi Review
Developer: 07th Expansion
For those unfamiliar with the series, Higurashi centers around Hinamizawa, a mysterious remote Japanese village with dark origins that also serves as a den for supernatural and suspicious activity that is gradually revealed and expanded upon as the series goes on. With each game offering a unique scenario that features the same general events and characters, but with plots, concepts, and protagonists shift unique to each installment. All of this has made for a rousing and prolonged mystery that has seen both countless questions raised, and comparatively few answers up until we finally reach Minagoroshi, which seeks to clarify, explain, and develop most of the plot points, patterns, and minutiae that was seen throughout the series.
As such, I am going to openly spoil events from prior games in this review, as I cannot this entry in detail without referencing major plot twists from prior titles. The first of which is that the adorable Rika Furude is a magically gifted individual with the ability to travel to other worlds, namely every prior Scenario seen throughout Higurashi, from Onikakushi to Tsumihoroboshi, and possibly even dozens more. All of which consisted of murders happening around the summer festival of Watanagashi, and a person close to her developing a dangerous level of superstition that leads them to pick up a weapon and go on a murder spree.
It was a process that left Rika wallowing in a sea of despair, seemingly doomed to repeat the same horrors until she simply stopped her prolonged existence… but then Tsumihoroboshi happened, and she was given the hope needed for her to try and pursue the happy ending she had been denied. This plot point alone has a lot of potential, and goes a long way to develop Rika as a character, showing a sense of duality as she goes from the bubbly loli whose catchphrase includes a star in it, into someone dejected, tired, and numb to the world around her, finding everything and everyone to become samey as she is subjected to the same antics and expected to react the same way. It is a great execution of a character who would have had to live through the same life and hardships for such a long amount of time, while being consistently unable to break away from her destiny due to her stature as a young girl with a societal role to fulfill.
Yet the internalized struggles of Rika are only one component of Minagoroshi, which also happens to be a reprisal of Tatarigoroshi, the one where Satoko is abused by her uncle, and is pushed to her emotional limit, while Keiichi decides to fix the problem the only way he can… with a bat. However, if there is any message to draw from Higurashi as a whole, it’s probably that murder is bad and that friendship is wonderful, both of which are well known by the main cast, in this fortunate reality, allowing them to pursue this injustice in a more diplomatic manner that has the genre of the series shift from a supernatural psychological thriller into a more political affair.
That might sound strange considering the past of the series, but as the club activity seen in earlier chapters of Higurashi will illustrate, the developers have something of a knack for taking the most mundane of activities and instilling them with a sense of severity and purpose that is often overblown, yet remains thoroughly entertaining. That same energy, determination, and drive is channeled and repurposed here, in what amounts to a prolonged attempt at convincing an overly passive and hesitant governing body to take action and protect a well developed child character from a transparently dire situation that the player, presumably, knows all too well.
It all builds upon itself to such heights and extremes and is almost inspiring considering the sheer conviction expressed by the characters, who relentlessly pursue their goals, and refuse to accept any compromises… while still being honest law-abiding citizens. It allows Keiichi as a character to reach the end of something of a loose arc for him throughout the series, rising up from this everyman who becomes inundated with such paranoia that he destroys every facet of his life, into somebody who is frequently compared to a politician given his ability to convince and rally up the masses to pursue his idea of justice. Which honestly is something that everybody should be able to get behind, as there are few things as universally derided as child abuse.
Yet not being content with simply displaying these two compelling interwoven story threads, Minagoroshi also provides answers to the biggest questions pertaining to this series, and answers the question of how these tragedies happened, what Hinamizawa Syndrome actually is, and why were certain deaths so commonplace throughout every iteration of Higurashi. The ultimate answer is one that realistically could not have pleased everybody after the story had been going on for so long, and while I think some of the superfluous justifications focus too much on post-war politics, it nevertheless is a reasonable, sensible, and effective way to tie things together. All of which mingles and culminates in a thrilling climax that precedes a conclusion that would ordinarily be something of a downer, yet is punctuated with the same hope and optimism that makes this series so endearing, ending this installment on an open yet immensely satisfying note.
However, it is not rid of any and all points of criticism, and there were a handful of gripes I had with the proceedings. Rika’s backstory is a bit on the vague side, insisting that there is a very real and limited timeline to her life, yet she seldom ever expands on them or her thought process over the decades she’s existed. It is regularly mentioned through the middle portion of this chapter that Keiichi is going to host an auction on Watanagashi, only for said auction to never be shown or referenced afterwards, which came across as needless teasing. And I still find it hard to like Shion as a character after the events of Meakashi, especially after she’s taken up the role as Satoko’s big sister, which is wrong on so many levels.
Moving on, as has been established in prior reviews, Higurashi is technically known as a sound novel, which is basically a visual novel with a lighter emphasis on the visuals, as the original release of the game consisted of expressive yet amateurishly drawn sprites for the main characters, blurred photo backdrops, and a lot of black screens. Alternate sprites were made available for the western releases by MangaGamer, but I personally do not care much for the glossy look many of these sprites have, and the more exaggerated features some of them.
Personally, I prefer to play these games using the 07th Mod, a tool that effectively turns the PC version of Higurashi into the more recent Japanese-exclusive Playstation 3 and Switch releases, featuring HD assets, new anime-esque sprites, new backgrounds, CG artwork for specific scenes, and full voice acting for every character. It’s Japanese voice acting, obviously, but the experienced voice cast is able to bring the cast to life with each line, and it does a lot to improve the overall atmosphere.
Since its inception, the mod has undergone numerous changes and improvements, with the more recent releases going so far as to introduce lip syncing and a new visual perspective that is akin to a more traditional visual novel. A presentation option that can easily be toggled in-game, but the implementation isn’t perfect, and while it works great for dialog scenes, I prefer the original sound novel style presentation for scenes containing lengthy expositions or monologues. Also, I’m still a bit upset that the mod still can only switch between the new MangaGamer art and art from the PS3 version. Sure, the original art was objectively not very well drawn, it had a lot of character to it, and I always thought it was neat seeing these characters plumped up into cute little potato people.
Through its highs and relative lows, the Higurashi series has found numerous ways to impress me over the years, and Minagoroshi provided me with so much assurance that it wasn’t all going to be sullied by some last minute decision that makes the journey and ensuing mystery a less fulfilling one than it ought to be. Between its character growth, revelations, and the culmination of the drive and passion that has helped define the characters of this series since its inception, it continues to meet the high standards set by its predecessors, and leaves me eager to see how every remaining strand is gathered up, tied together, and presented. For the ending is in sight… but it probably won’t be available until the summer of 2020.