Higurashi: When They Cry Hou Chapter 8 – Matsuribayashi Review

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Higurashi When They Cry Hou Chapter 8 – Matsuribayashi Review
Platform: PC
Developer: 07th Expansion
Publisher: MangaGamer

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 revealed and expanded upon as the series goes on. Each game, or rather chapter, offers 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 many of those questions answered, but with this final installment in the main series and eighth chapter, Matsuribayashi, it is finally time for those questions to be answered and for the true ending to be achieved. 

The chapter opens with some background into the mastermind revealed during the climax of Chapter 7, Minagoroshi, showing their history, how they came to be such a cruel individual, and what has led them to commit such grandiose tragedies in other world lines. It is a reprisal of the darker end of things, being a story of abuse, loss, and disgrace as the antagonist is broken and reborn as a spiteful individual, showing both the cruelties capable of the world and how damaged it can make a person in the end. However, it also doubles as a justification for the events of Higurashi overall, and in explaining how certain things happened, the script dives deeply into the political side of things. 

What the story offers here is fascinating in the sense that it shows possible flaws with the Japanese government, or at least the one employed in the 1970s, but I personally struggled to become invested in it. As somebody who never really studied or became invested in Japanese history, most of the subtext and references here went over my head, and despite the best efforts from the writer, I found myself zoning out as I was regaled with details of the cliquish nationalistic power struggles. It does make the story feel more grounded and real by proxy, yes, but it is clearly not written for a foreign audience in mind.

This all serves as the prologue, however, and before the story can resume proper and we can begin following Keiichi and company in June 1983, things come to a halt. The game breaks away from its foundation as a kinetic visual novel and instead asks players to go through a collection of 50 fragments— short stories that shed light on previously unseen or unmentioned events in Hinamizawa over the preceding years— which allow players to get answers to many lingering questions or curiosities while the story sets the stage for the ultimate finale.

I like this approach in theory, as it allows players to fill in the gaps bit by bit and become actively involved in solving the underlying mystery, as players can only unlock stories by meeting certain prerequisites mentioned when hovering over each fragment. However, the fragments are not laid out in the most sensible manner, the prerequisite hints are vague if not confusing, and it is entirely possible, if not likely, for players to view these segments out of their intended order, which can make it more difficult to digest the plentiful information this fragment section offers. 

It all works… and it would work just as well, if not better, if these fragments were presented as scenes one after another, denoted with a fragment number and title. Yes, something would be lost with the loss of interactivity, but considering this is the sole instance of something like this in the entire series, I don’t think it would be that big of a loss.

Once the player finally solves the mystery and gains all the information they need to understand the great Hinamizawa mystery, the story then proceeds to go into what I would describe as “true ending mode”. Where the established cast is quick to recognize their situation and confer with one another about how to gather allies, overcome the mastermind, and prevent widespread death and destruction. 

After all the hardships the cast went through, it is riveting to see them do everything right, to see this band of oddballs and weirdos join forces and embark on a cunning plan that makes use of their foreshadowed skills and connections. However, by being an ultimately triumphant conclusion, and feeling like one from the outset, there is a certain lack of… punchiness to be found in the proceedings. 

For as riveting, ridiculous, and rewarding as the final half of this story is, it is a 10-hour-long segment where the player’s expectations are met without any major surprises, twists, or turns. Everything goes as it should, minor complications are introduced for the sake of situational tension, but the good guys win, the bad guy loses, and all is well within the village, with no eleventh-hour twist to speak of. It is a jovial and happy ending that I delighted in, but for a series so predicated on mystery and one that is so good at sparking suspicion and intrigue, it feels like something is missing.

There are no loose ends, no character who was left by the wayside, and nowhere else where I want the story to go after this enthralling saga, but there was still a happy melancholic feeling that wafted over me as I went through the final scene, writer post-mortem, and final TIPS. Perhaps it was just fatigue from how long it took for me to personally conclude this journey, which lasted me over 5 years, and well over 100 hours of reading time.

To jump from the story to the presentation, as has been established in prior reviews, Higurashi is technically known as a sound novel, which is typically described as a visual novel with a lighter emphasis on the visuals, and a stronger emphasis on auditory atmosphere. But in more realistic terms, based on the likes of prior Higurashi games and 428: Shibuya Scramble, it would be more accurate to say that they are visual novels with non-traditional presentations.  Overlaying backgrounds and characters with text that fills the whole screen and uses the visuals as a background element to the prominently displayed text and the persistent audio.  

And in Higurashi’s case, I can only imagine this approach was taken because of the limited visual fidelity of the original release. Where the game’s presentation was made of expressive yet amateurishly drawn sprites for the main characters, blurred photo backdrops drowned in Photoshop filters, and a lot of black screens. Because of the niche, yet very real, appeal of this presentation, subsequent releases have replaced the original art assets, with this official English MangaGamer release simply switching out the character sprites for the main characters with their own newly created ones. Which I don’t really care for due to how glossy and doll-like they all look.

Personally, I prefer to play these games using the 07th Mod, a tool that effectively turns the modern PC version of Higurashi into the more recent Japanese-exclusive Playstation 3 and Switch releases, featuring HD assets, new anime-styled 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.

The 07th Mod also boosts the title’s shoebox resolution up to 1440p, featuring lip-syncing, the ability to switch between different art styles with a keystroke, and even includes a traditional ‘adventure’ visual novel mode. It’s everything this official western release should be, but MangaGamer didn’t or couldn’t pay the licensing fees, so instead these excellent experience boosting bells and whistles are locked behind a fairly easy-to-install mod that has come quite a long way since its humble inception.

As a review of the final chapter of an 8-part series, there really isn’t much I can say that I haven’t already said. But I will say this. Through the dashing highs and the frustrating lows, the Higurashi series is one that ultimately delivers on a compelling story with loveable characters, and it’s definitely up there in the pantheon of excellent visual novel series. It is something I would recommend anyone to get into if they have a stomach for the horrific and dark, and if they enjoy a story that veers between a psychological thriller and a slice of life story filled with flamboyant schoolboy nonsense.

Now, I say that like this is the true end of the series, when in actuality there are a total of 24 chapters, or rather arcs, in the Higurashi saga. Some that MangaGamer promises to localize eventually, some that fans have taken upon themselves to translate. Though personally, I am content with where the series is as of this ending and am not particularly interested in whatever these supplemental chapters can add. But I will definitely return to the world of When They Cry once my visual novel backlog is cleaned up and I feel like committing myself to a 1.1 million word epic.

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