Okay, so here we are, another Masada VN to review in the sunny month of Masada May. Yeah, I just made that up.
Opening (Akebono no Hikari):
JP title: 神咒神威神楽
This review (at the moment) will only talk about the original, 18+ release; there are five extra chapters added to the all-ages version (subtitled Akebono no Hikari) which I might check out later, but for now, we shall discuss the original.
The first thing to know about the game (which is basically considered an open secret at this point) is the fact that it’s very much related to Dies irae and generally speaking the 神座 / Shinza series. I’m not going to explain how and why, because that’s part of the fun of reading KKK, but needless to say, if you’re even slightly considering reading this without having first finished Dies, well…
Don’t do it.
Much of my enjoyment of KKK stemmed from the fact that I had already read Dies and could understand what was going on here and there, what was being referenced, and why some of the events of KKK are kinda holy shit inducing. For those not familiar with Dies, though, a lot of stuff in KKK will not have the same impact (including some of the best moments in the game), or you’ll just be plain confused as to wtf is going on and why you should even care. At least that’s the feeling I got.
Anyway, the story starts off in a country that looks an awful lot like feudal Japan, but not quite. Following a failed crusade to exterminate the vile demons of the eastern lands whose existence threatens the land of men, we’re now at a point (300 years after that failed crusade) where plans for another eastern expedition are put into motion. The game starts off with various warriors participating in a tournament to decide who would lead the armies of the expedition, and I don’t reveal too big of a secret when I say that our heroes will be part of the military forces traveling east to defeat said demons. Although this, in itself, is the basic premise, it’s also merely the tip of the iceberg, as you will soon find out.
The VN operates with a structure involving multiple protagonists — eight in total, making up four fixed couples. So no “routes” in the traditional sense, but rather four different parallel stories dealing with each couple: which scenes you get depend on which choices you make throughout the game, and it’s all pretty straightforward, but you need to watch all four to get the true/grand ending, so yeah. The world felt pretty interesting, the fact that certain characters had superpowers because of their inner 歪み (negative energies / distortion originating from the eastern continent) was also cool, especially the terrifying 禍憑き / magatsuki, which invokes misfortune/disaster upon others as compensation for protecting the person who would have come under harm.
Similarly, starting off the game with introducing the predicament and inner conflict of Koga Rindou, one of the heroines, served to further pique my curiosity. She lives in a world ruled by selfishness — everyone lives to fulfill their own desires, and only that; true compassion for others is unheard of. Rindou feels herself an outsider in a world that fails to cherish bonds and thus accuses others of being empty and lacking a soul — in fact, she herself is considered almost a madwoman for still believing in such concepts.
So, the point I’m making is that KKK really grabbed my attention the moment I started it due to its sort-of-exotic setting, as opposed to, say, Dies, which starts out with high school stuff (excluding the prologue, I guess). Oh, and by the way: the art is incredibly good and definitely adds to the unique quality of the game, especially the lines / bits that look like brush-strokes. But I’m guessing the screenshots speak for themselves.
And I suppose this leads me into my next point. You may remember that I placed heavy emphasis on how the characters were the true stars of the show in Dies — they were sufficiently fleshed out, distinct and unforgettable. Here, things went a bit differently for me. Sure, I still like the characters (I’ll talk about them later), but what really made KKK an enjoyable experience for me was the world and its history and circumstances — and more importantly, connections with Dies irae. Once the first big “shocking encounter” of the eastern expedition is concluded, you’ll want to figure out what the hell just happened and why it happened, and it was my prior knowledge of Dies that pushed me forward and made me want to untangle the mystery — it’s the main hook of the game for a while, so to speak. Aaand, well… the answers aren’t as comforting as you might think! In fact, the game is actually pretty dark, and when the truth of what really happened is revealed, it might come as a bit of a shock, provided — like I said — you’re already familiar with Dies.
So, a few words about the characters.
Kyougetsu Sakuya and Keishirou would be the brother-sister pair who are both part of the feared Kyougetsu clan. An enjoyable duo, due to Keishirou’s rough personality and Sakuya’s contrastively ladylike, yet mischievous dual nature and soothing, borderline erotic voice that is a joy to listen to. Don’t even deny it, guys, you know you love the way she says 兄様. Their scenes (particularly Keishirou’s fight against Tenma Sukuna) reiterate some solid themes, and Keishirou’s own development as a character is actually quite nice considering how much he changes. Their route, however, was probably the one I enjoyed the least, despite its outcome being quite significant plot-wise.
Next up is Kujou Shiori and Mibu Soujirou, and boy oh boy, where do I even begin with this pair. Well, I guess I should start by saying they’re my personal favorites from the main couples. Soujirou’s sole desire to be the finest swordsman in the whole world and sheer batshit insane obsession with cutting FUCKING EVERYTHING in his way was pretty darn cool. Which is even funnier because you’d think he’s gonna be *that* guy who’s gentle and meek and refers to himself as boku (he does) and is voiced by a female VA (he is)… and then you give this guy a sword and an opponent and may God have mercy on that poor soul.
Shiori’s the strong female protagonist with a cool, laid-back attitude and cheerful personality, and so on. The multi-faceted nature of her personality is actually the whole point of her story arc, as she eludes a fixed definition (for ex. “she’s like this and this”) and wants to be, well… everything. The best possible version of herself, basically. Either way, the duo’s interactions are quite entertaining, and they also happen to be responsible for one of the absolute coolest (and most romantic!) fight scenes in this entire thing at the end of their route. It’s a crystallization of the desires of both characters and stands as one of the high points of the VN, imo. They also get extra points for having a hilarious H-scene.
Mikado Ryuusui and Madara Yakou are a pair I didn’t really care for, even if their route is actually really interesting from the perspective of the plot, because it delves deep into the history of the world with some interesting info, and actually contains a large and brutal revelation regarding a major mystery that sort of makes one go “did that really just happen”. And Ryuusui losing her shit when being called a チンチクリン is kinda amusing, I guess. Yakou’s familiars/attendants/whatevers, Teirei and Niko are also present; I didn’t care for Teirei, but I *love* Niko, for the sheer fact that despite looking like the token cutesy pet / animal character, she’s actually the snarkiest motherfucker around. So yeah, she’s great.
The “main” pair is Sakagami Habaki and Koga Rindou Suzuka, and while Rindou is pretty wonderful for her cool lines and cute moments and KIZUNA-POWER, I actually… didn’t really care for Habaki all that much, haha. He has some hilarious and hilariously perverted lines here and there, but overall, I wasn’t really feeling him.
So yeah, the cast is a bit of a mixed bag, and overall the game severely lacks a commanding presence like Reinhard or an irresistible enigma like Mercurius. No one *really* stands out as this bastion of badassery. Well, except for maybe one person, so let’s actually talk about her: the grand prize of best character in the whole VN goes to… Mikado Ryuumei, the one and only. I mean, holy shit she’s great. The unfortunate part is that explaining why she’s great would be spoiling the entire thing, so… just take my word for it. She definitely has her crowning moment of awesome, you’ll understand it when it happens — remember when I said how certain moments will not have the same impact without Dies? This is one of those moments.
As for the story, I did enjoy it for having the sheer balls to do what it did with the Shinza universe. The pacing is better than in Dies, making the story flow much more smoothly due to its shorter length and less downtime, with fight scenes that aren’t exhaustingly long, either. Speaking of fight scenes, while the final battle is no Reinhard / Mercurius, it’s still pretty nice (with plenty of fanservice), amplified by the fact that the coolest song on the soundtrack plays during the entire thing. It’s the only time this song is heard throughout the game, which makes it that much better, haha. The ending was sort of okay-ish (the final confrontation was over very quickly), and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it until a certain last-minute surprise revelation at the end (for those in the know, I’m talking about what’s revealed at the end of Sakuya’s letter), which made me feel a touch more satisfied. Maybe that extra ending in the all-ages release is what I’ll need!
Anyway, what did I think of this? Well, obviously I liked it just fine, despite a lesser amount of grand moments and not as many brilliant characters and quotable lines. I enjoyed the more medieval / exotic and less modern / highschool setting, with a start that instantly grabbed my attention, that is, Rindou’s first big speech and the whole “let’s go and lead this crusade against the uncharted east” scenario. I guess it was sort of a breath of fresh air compared to other, more stereotypical premises. So overall, I can very much recommend it to fans of Dies irae and the Shinza universe in general; hopefully you’ll find some of the developments introduced in this game as interesting as I did.