Communication is a fundamental part of storytelling or a lack of it for some, but that’s a point for a different intro. This is why all characters typically speak the same language even if the story considers them to be a foreigner. Y’know, so a plot can actually get underway. But, generally speaking, if they don’t speak the same language, you’ve got a different story to tell. One I didn’t expect to be told in a visual novel format of all things.
Developed by Nekoday, Christmas Tina: The Ephemeral Views of Winter tells the story of two youths who come to the densely populated Tokyo in 1988, the last year of the Showa era, from very different backgrounds. Jing, a Chinese boy, has come because he failed his university entrance exams and wants to save up money to try again, and Kanna, a Japanese countryside girl with a leg injury, needs to make money to send home to pay for her younger sister’s heart surgery. They both end up acquiring a job as a part of some real estate prospecting.
They are paid a very small wage to stay at an old run-down train station. It’d be a cinch to get supplies to live there with lots of people, but there is a catch. Jing doesn’t know any Japanese, and Kanna doesn’t know any Chinese.
In this tale, you’ll switch between the viewpoints of both characters as they work at their respective goals and have many, many communication breakdowns. Now some people might look at “communication breakdowns” and think that’s a bit cringy and say, “they could just sit down and overcome these problems.”
The careful construction of these characters, alongside the literal language barrier, is exceptional and will practically prevent that from messing with any sense of logical reasoning one might have. Especially due to the large amounts of dubbing done in both Chinese and Japanese. The setting of 1988 Harajuku is a helpful historical context period, just far back enough to limit various resources to the characters, but relatable to a younger audience in the current time.
Before you even get that far, the first thing that will catch anyone’s eye is the game’s presentation. This isn’t a standard title that displays character portraits in front of backgrounds. Instead, the prologue stories that introduce the leads to us follow the series of events that led to their respective journeys to Tokyo, using specially created and stylistic sepia graphics. They’re low in overall detail, but put all of it where it counts for a strong and emotional opening.
The rest of the game goes far beyond that. By utilizing layers, crops, transparency, pans, and minimal animation, Christmas Tina displays its scenes with a level of dynamicness usually reserved to fully animated titles. It makes the experience incredibly immersive.
And this isn’t to compensate for lower quality or heavily stylized art by any means because there is a lot of art. The backgrounds are wonderful and highly detailed, so they can be zoomed into at any point. The same goes for the characters who also have tons of poses and expressions, in addition to the high quality art. The soundtrack of the game is also very good, using an array of pieces to make sure the player doesn’t just start predicting things based upon the music.
The narrative is broken up into roughly 30 chapters, each relatively short for a total playtime of around 10 hours. The game autosaves after each, adding them to the chapter select as you go. There are few options outside the basic volume sliders, but there aren’t many you’d really need or want for a title like this.
Christmas Tina isn’t exactly a waifu game of any kind (Although there is an optional beach episode if you’re interested in swimsuits like Azario is). Overall, it features next to nothing in the way of romance. You can see this cemented by the actions of the leads with supporting cast that help serve to throw the stones that ripple the title’s plot. And they make for compelling characters in their own right. There is a bit of ship fuel between the leads if you like that though. I mean, I’ll take it; it’s cute.
Christmas Tina: The Ephemeral Views of Winter is a fantastic adventure that makes the most of the visual novel medium to tell a compelling narrative about some fascinating characters. It’s an introspective story where our duo will need to confront themselves if they want a chance at confronting each other. It made me cry, it made me laugh, and it made me want to listen to Michael Jackson songs for some reason. If there’s any visual novel I absolutely want to reread from this year when I get the chance, this is on the top of the list.
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