First of all, let me quickly say that Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi (“Totono” from now on) is one of those VNs that you must experience on your own, without the use of any online guides. Besides, it’s not exactly the sort of game that you can simply read a plot summary of and call it a day – it’s an extremely personal journey, more so than you might initially expect. Totono addresses no one in particular and every VN lover at the same time: it reaches out to the world beyond the monitor, grabs you by the collar and raises questions that you, as a VN reader, might have considered in the past, but deemed too absurd to take seriously.
JP title: 君と彼女と彼女の恋
I have to add, though – this is probably not a VN that will have the same effect on everyone. Now, I know that could be said of almost anything, but Totono attempts to build upon not only your preconceived notions about playing visual novels, but how you personally experience the medium. Some will no doubt find it ridiculous, others a wasted potential with not much of a story to tell. However, if you are fascinated by the meta aspect of the game and don’t find it abnormal to be able to feel sympathy towards, or even grow fond of a fictional character -much like in the case of any good book or movie- then you’re in for one unique rollercoaster ride.
I believe I’ve already given an outline of the initial premise in my post about the trial version, but let’s recap: the story concerns high schooler Susuki Shinichi, his tsundere childhood friend, Sone Miyuki, and the mysterious Mukou Aoi, who firmly believes that reality is merely a game, and constantly uses VN terminology to refer to events around her. She also holds a strange cellphone that according to her, can reach God and therefore influence -or “update”, to use her wording- the world. So, the game basically tells the story of them and some of their friends, but not exactly in a way you’d expect.
Looking back on Nitro+ and the way they marketed this game -especially that one particular trailer-, I was wondering whether or not that was a misstep. In the grand scheme of things, showing *that* image (you know which one) of one of the heroines does not really concern the actual message of the title, and is therefore not a colossal spoiler. However, it set certain expectations, and I believe this ended up working as a double edged sword. It works because the game will have you on edge. You know something’s going to happen sooner or later, but you won’t know when or how. Totono suddenly becomes a trainwreck just waiting to happen, and tension is built without the game having to do anything to achieve it.
On the other hand, had I not known this in advance, its shock value would’ve been amplified at least tenfold, as the game up to that point only leaks tiny droplets of hints, small pieces of foreshadowing for the player to pick up on. Had they marketed this as a simple love story, that one event would have had a somewhat different impact on me, I think. That is not to say that the scene did not work – it was the single most chilling part of the story, but I was slightly annoyed by the fact that Nitro robbed me of the joy of surprise.
I believe my introductory paragraph made it evident that I quite enjoyed this title. Why, though? That’s… an interesting question, but in order not to spoil too much, I won’t be able to go into details at all. Needless to say, if Full Metal Daemon Muramasa was the cruel, but eye-opening deconstruction of the “hero” ideal, then Totono has to be a similar take on the visual novel genre, or more specifically, the multi-heroine dating sim.
I’ve said before that the game is very personal. The first half of it is more or less standard, but in the later half, it suddenly becomes an introspective journey, a metaphorical slap in the face that forces you to do a bit of self-reflection. I’m not sure if this will work on each reader the same way, so I can see it receiving some mixed reactions from players. For me, though, it is where the game truly shined – it was delightfully meta, and in the end, sufficiently thought-provoking as well, making me re-evaluate aspects of the visual novel genre that I didn’t give too much thought to before; aspects that most of us are either oblivious of, or just casually dismiss and sweep under the rug of “this is just a game”.
All the above is why I’d like to stress that a suspension of disbelief, as well as a certain amount of open-mindedness, is necessary to be able to enjoy Totono to its fullest, regardless of whether or not you personally agree with what the game presents to you.
I do have some negatives to list, though. The game’s length (generally said to be around 15 hours) is sadly also one of its weaknesses, as I feel this doesn’t quite allow enough time for the main characters to be fleshed out to the extent they ideally should be. Of course, they are by no means blank slates, but I had a feeling that a bit more characterization would’ve been nice, maybe some more childhood flashbacks here and there – seeing a bit more of the two main heroines in particular would have helped make the later half more impactful (than it already was). There’s also one more scene in particular that I feel could’ve been done in a different way… or at the very least, it shouldn’t have gone on for 10 minutes straight. I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself by saying the game is too short and then complaining about a drawn-out scene, but… well, if you play the game, you’ll understand.
As for that dreaded three-letter aspect of the VN… well, it’s there, but at the same time, it’s not. In the end I think it’s safe even for those that hate this sort of thing. Once you understand why it happens, you’ll see. That’s really all I can say without giving away certain plot details, but trust me, it’s not that bad.
In closing, while I still maintain that the game will elicit varying reactions from the VN crowd, in my mind it ended up being everything I hoped it would be, although in completely unexpected ways. I thought it’d be A, but it turned out to be an equally awesome B, with hints of A here and there. It was a unique experience that I will not forget anytime soon, and it made me look at the visual novel genre in an entirely different light. With that said, I highly recommend you go into this not knowing what to expect, because it will greatly affect your enjoyment of the story.
Totono was meta beyond belief (to the point of making me feel like the game was reading my mind), terrifying when it needed to be (again, because it was basically reading my mind), but ultimately, as a love story should be, emotional – the “pure love” label is quite fitting indeed. What I’m trying to say is that I felt extremely satisfied upon completing this and watching the credits roll — but that was merely the conclusion of my personal journey with the game. Still, for me, Nitro once again delivered, and looking back on the final few hours, I feel that the title couldn’t be any more appropriate – this truly was, in its strictest sense, a tale of the love between You, Her and Her.