JP title: 殻ノ少女
(This is a spoiler-free review)
You can also check out my review of the sequel, Kara no Shoujo 2
So a couple of days ago I finished reading a visual novel called Kara no Shoujo (殻ノ少女 or “The Girl in the Shell”). It was released back in 2008, and got an English translation in 2011. To give you a general idea, it’s a murder mystery visual novel, with detective protagonist Tokisaka Reiji trying to track down a mysterious serial killer who’s mutilating high school girls and leaving their dismembered corpses out in the open. Furthermore, Reiji is also tormented by his own past and constant desire for revenge, as his own lover and fiance was brutally murdered 6 years before by a killer he ultimately was unable to capture.
So anyway, here’s my review of it. I know it’s old, but I personally haven’t even heard of this game until a few days ago, so I think it might be worth the effort to give this little gem a bit more attention here on the blog.
(As usual in Japanese games, Engrish seems to be unavoidable. The text is supposed to say “I want you to search for me – the real me / my true self.” at 1:45 in the video.)
One thing I should note right away is that Kara no Shoujo is more along the lines of the Phoenix Wright games – in other words, it has slightly more gameplay than your average VN, and is not merely a reading experience. You actually have to go around searching for clues, examining crime scenes and come up with solutions and possible suspects on your own. Failure to do so will obviously result in Bad Ends (which I strongly recommend seeing, since they’re kinda awesome). This makes it highly immersive for those who like these sort of things.
Worry not, though – for those of you that want to merely enjoy the story without that extra stress, there are always walkthroughs out there. I’m saying that because I don’t want to discourage you from reading Kara no Shoujo – if you don’t want the gameplay, I recommend Googling for a full guide and just enjoying the story.
Story / music / artwork
I don’t think I’m exaggerating here when I say that the plot is one of the most important aspect of any visual novel. First of all – this game is dark. But I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you’re into murder mysteries, you’re gonna love this – it’s extremely atmospheric / immersive, and it’s guaranteed you’ll keep on reading just to find out what happens next, unable to quit the game, wanting to play for a few more minutes before going to bed just to unfold another layer of the mystery. And then it’s suddenly 3AM in the morning. So yeah, this game seriously messed up my sleep schedule. Much like any good book. There’s a relatively large cast of characters, many mysteries and angles to consider, clues to collect and things to figure out. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The game is of medium length according to VNDB, and I agree – it is by no means a gargantuan undertaking like, say, Muramasa or Fate/Stay Night, but it is not especially short, either. I’m a fast reader of English, and even for me it took several days to devour it all, including all the Bad Ends and the True route. And I followed a guide. For those who go into this blind, playtime and replay value is gonna be even higher.
Speaking of atmosphere… in an interesting twist by the devs, when someone gets murdered, the narration is given from the killer’s viewpoint, making the entire thing that much more bone-chilling. It is a genuinely tense experience – you’ll dread the coming of said murder scenes (and they *will* be coming), or feel relief upon finding this and that character safe and unharmed.
The game often tugs at the heartstrings, especially some of the endings – I doubt this comes as a big surprise, but this is a strongly bittersweet tale from start to finish, which will be intensified if you can be immersed enough to start to genuinely care about some of the characters (in particular I’ve come to really like the main heroine by the end). And honestly, I think that’s a good thing: for me personally, stories that deal with tragedy are the most memorable, and Kara no Shoujo delivers in that regard.
The emotional aspect of the game is even further enhanced by the beautiful, and oftentimes genuinely moving soundtrack, some of which have become instant favorites of mine the moment I heard them. It’s really, really good, and some of the pieces that play during the more emotional scenes (the endings in particular) are sure to make certain readers shed tears. Even after finishing the VN, I find myself going back to the soundtrack, which easily stands on its own even without any association to the game — I honestly cannot praise it enough.
The artwork, I felt, was decent. There’s not much to say about it, other than that I’ve seen much, much worse, but I’ve also seen better. Certain bits are actually very pretty, though (mostly the ones I posted here between paragraphs). So all in all, no complaints on this front.
The not-so-good bits
And this is where I need to mention some negatives. The game unfortunately suffers from “the mystery is more interesting than the actual solution” syndrome. When you’re still in the dark, you’ll constantly want to press on and find out the truth behind certain events. I won’t lie, I haven’t been this hooked on a game in ages, I could barely force myself to stop reading. Halfway through the game I was dead set on coming to the blog and giving it a glowing review and a “GO AND PLAY THIS ASAP” recommendation.
That… changed a little since I’ve finished. Don’t get me wrong, it is by no means a bad story at all. Hell no. However, certain things are somewhat predictable, and in all honesty the game doesn’t throw any huge twists at you that would completely blow your mind (if you want that, I’d recommend 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). I mean, there are surprises, but nothing that would make your jaw drop. While the ending was emotional, it is also somewhat lackluster – the identity of the murderer is not a huge, earth-shattering revelation and does not really take the reader by surprise (in my opinion), and the backstory for the murders isn’t super amazing, either. It’s just… okay.
The other big negative is the porn scenes. Most of them completely break the mood and take you right out of the game. Some of them make little sense and serve no purpose other than pleasing those who want to fap instead of enjoying a good mystery plot. Not to mention the protagonist is supposed to be a guy who’s still tormented by the death of his fiance 6 years later, yet he goes around banging high school girls in his off time. I cannot emphasize enough how much I felt the porn was unneeded in this. I pretty much just pretended they didn’t happen.
A few words about the gore / violence
Now for something a bit different. I don’t consider this a negative, but I wanna talk about it nonetheless. I’ve already said that this is a rather brutal murder mystery, and I wasn’t lying. This game has gore. And not just off-screen gore like in Muramasa – the game actually shows you the victims as all the horrible and cruel things are being done to them, accompanied by descriptive narration and nasty sound effects. So prepare yourself for that, both emotionally and physically (with a vomit bag). Due to said murders, the game can be pretty depressing. The gore itself is not shockingly gruesome or graphic (I mean, yeah, it’s brutal, but I’ve seen worse), so don’t worry too much, but… yeah, if you *absolutely* cannot handle that sort of thing, I thought I’d give a fair warning. In fact, there’s one murder scene in particular that haunts me to this day.
One more thing to note is that a sequel, Kara no Shoujo 2, has actually been released recently, continuing two years after the conclusion of the first game. It’s only available in Japanese at the time of writing this review. Oh and there’s also an anime adaptation of the first game, apparently. I haven’t seen it, though, so I can’t really comment on it.
Go play it! I don’t know how much a recommendation means from a guy who hasn’t read too many VNs compared to others, but I still had a blast reading through KnS. There’s also a sequel, at the moment only available in Japanese.
In conclusion – while not perfect, I’d say Kara no Shoujo is going to be worth your time if you decide to plunge into its world. It’s not without flaws, but on the whole, it’s still a highly atmospheric detective tale with a great main heroine and a sufficiently mature, bittersweet tone; a game I will fondly remember in years to come. Given its moderate length, it does not overstay its welcome, so I can only recommend it.