Shintaroudon of Sokomushi Village
Cried: it hurts it hurts
The small crab asked what hurts
The evil weasle Fuu no Shin
Cut my throat and now I cannot spreak
That is why I am crying it hurts
Byuubyuubyuu no Zanburabun
Byuubyuubyuu no Zanburabun
"Night of the Kamaitachi 2 - The Warabe Uta of Prison Island"
So I did keep myself to my restraint of not buying new Japanese novels this month. But games? Games are something totally different! Even if it is a Japanese sound novel. Yes, that was the closest thing I could find to a novel that was not an actual novel.
I've already made clear that I absolutely loved Kamaitachi no Yoru, a mystery sound novel penned by Abiko Takemaru. The basic scenario, a locked room murder in the ski-lodge Spuhl (no idea whether I'm spelling that right) in a snow storm, was not particularly original, but the fact that the story developed according to the player's choices, the fact that the story featured multiple endings was really fun. If you were good, you could actually prevent more murders from happening in Spuhl, while the story would end in a paranoia horror-ending if the player was unable to solve the case as time progressed. It was definitely one of the best games I played last year.
When all of his guests (almost all of the cast of the first game and some persons involved with the production of a planned sequel to the game) have arrived at the island, they are told by the old servant Kiyo that Abiko Takemaru himself has not arrived at the island yet. They are also told about the origins of Moon Crescent Island: it used to be called Prison Island, property of the wealthy Kishizaru clan (which made a fortune with spinning factories during the Japanese industrial revolution). The Moon Crescent Mansion was actually a prison built to keep their workers under control, which explains the curious architecture of the building, like the fact that practically no rooms have windows. Genre-savvy people among the cast naturally understand that bad things are going to happen here and they decide to leave the island, but they are told that that is impossible. That night happens to be 'the Night of the Kamaitachi", which refers to a tremendously heavy storm that rages over the island once every 50 years. This is related to a belief that the island is haunted by the Sickle Weasle demon Fuu no Shin, who also appears in a local warabe uta ('nursery rhyme'-esque songs). Our cast is not able to leave the island that night and the mansion even gets locked up completely to prevent rain and wind from coming in. And then, in the early hours of the following day, a loud scream travels through the mansion. When they find out where the scream originated from, they find game producer Shintarou with his throat cut open in a locked room. Just like the first verse of the warebe uta. There are five verses.
The game-system is still the same, so I refer to my review of Kamaitachi no Yoru for more details on that. Short story: this is a novel (accompanied by background pictures and music), where you occasionally have to make choices (which may lead to bad endings etc.). It is up to the player to pick out the right choices to get to the good ending. Technically and contents-wise, this is a more=better version of Kamaitachi no Yoru. The first game was released on the Super Famicom (and later on the PlayStation), while the second game was released for the PlayStation 2 (and PSP), so graphically, there is quite a change, most prominently visible in the use of actually CG models for the characters and sporadic use of cut-scenes. I have to admit that this took a bit away from the creepy ambiance of the original game though, as the notion of motion, of characters and the camera actually moving, adds a sense of life, of safety to the game (which is not really needed for detective). The more=better philosophy is also carried over to the amount of unique ending sequences in this game, which number over a hundred! I've seen three: the good ending and two radically different bad endings (one with the protagonist Tooru getting a seizure because his love-interest Mari found someone else...).
I actually haven't completed the game yet, but I did finish the Warabe Uta Hen ("Warabe Uta Chapter"), the main story/mystery of the game (the game features several scenarios, some are humorous takes on the main story, some go towards science-fiction, etc.). With murders following a nursery rhyme pattern on an island formally called Prison Island, it is obvious that this is a reference to Yokomizo Seishi's Gokumontou. The mystery of whodunnit is not very hard to solve if you are genre-savvy, as Abiko mostly reuses familar patterns and tropes in this story (though it definitely helps if you have played the first game). Which might sound a bit disappointing, but the trick used for the first murder, a locked room murder, is really good and also fantastically hinted at. It is definitely the highlight of the whole story and even though it is still early in the year, I think this will rank among the best I will read this year. The overall atmosphere of the first game was better (though it is still good here), but this trick really makes it hard to decide which story was better.
The setting of Moon Crescent Island and the Moon Crescent Mansion is also fantastic. The mansion is definitely presented as expected from a yakata-mono (mansion-story), which both creepy descriptions and background pictures presenting a claustrophobic image of the former prison. The mansion is really terrifying, with swords sticking out of ponds preventing prisoners from jumping out of the windows and sickles hanging from the roofs to ward of the evil weasle demon. This is a location you will remember even long after clearing this game. Especially if you try out the other scenarios: I've just finished the Sokomushi Village Chapter, which is a horror science-fiction take on the main story, but IT IS CREEPY. The island is creeheepy~
I am not sure whether I should be disappointed or glad I arrived at the solution relatively fast. Yes, that means my deductions were right, but there were a couple of places I definitely screwed up, but I wasn't punished for that (game-wise). It seems like that the first Kamaitachi no Yoru was harder, with more difficult choices to make with fewer retry options. In this game, you could retry some of the (finger-pointing) segments and they even presented the major clues in a systematic way near the end of the story, making it a lot easier to solve the case.You couldn't even prevent murders from happening like in the first game, which makes this a much more linear experience.
Overall, the main storyline of Kamaitachi no Yoru 2 is awesome though. It's a great closed circle detective featuring a great locked room murder trick and it's interactive too! And now to play the other scenarios and to find the remaining 100 ending scenes...
Original Japanese title(s): 『かまいたちの夜２ 監獄島のわらべ唄』