Title: Higurashi: When They Cry - Chapter 8: Matsuribayashi
Developer: 07th Expansion
Release Date: May 14th, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Visual Novel
Some games simply can’t be put into a box. One that comes to mind is the Higurashi series, which can be described as a psychological horror sound novel slice-of-life utsuge. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it’s the genre-tags that I’d use to describe everything this series offers.
Higurashi is a series of Visual Novels first made popular in the West by the late 2000s anime adaptation, Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (lit. When The Evening Cicadas Cry). The story follows a teenager named Keiichi Maebara who just moved to a small rural village of Hinamizawa. Things begin to go downhill as hints of occult murder and a massive conspiracy emerge, leading to tragedy as the “Curse of Oyashiro-Sama” threatens to strike for the 5th year in a row. And then, it repeats in a new and tragic way for the next arc.
Interestingly compared to most visual novels, Higurashi has no choices or branching paths, and instead, you play eight linear stories in sequence, from Onikakushi to Matsuribayashi. It’s almost comparable to traditional VN routes, but the progress through each volume is linear.
I’m sure if you’re watching this review, you’re probably an established fan already. So I only mention this background on the off-chance you’re not. Reviewing the finale of this game is impossible without discussing an awful lot of spoilers. Though I won’t be discussing any specific details of the finale, it’s recommended you’ve played up to Chapter 7 of Higurashi before reading further. If you’re tuning out now, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this final chapter.
Now, on to Matsuribayashi.
Oftentimes, when I read Ryukishi07’s work, I find my enjoyment goes in a cycle of “this is fine” to “this is a slog” to “this is the best scene I’ve read,” in that order. With Matsuribayashi, he almost seems to capitalize on this, using deliberate pacing through 50 mini-scenes known as Fragments to help emphasize the slow monotony of all the hopeless attempts to escape June 1983.
In that way, the structure of the entire episode follows the expected story beats. The beginning consists of the main foe’s backstory, followed by a deliberately slow section that sets up all of the perfect conditions for this entry’s version of June 1983. It reinforces pretty much every reveal and piece of information the story has given us throughout the previous seven chapters. Then the game pushes you face-first into a very long and very high energy finale that kept me on the edge of my seat.
Some people might be turned off by how perfectly everything goes for the heroes, although I doubt it. I think there are three major reasons as to why this high energy romp works. For one, you’ve played through seven chapters to get to this point, repeating the same events over and over, and each time beforehand, something has gone horrifically and catastrophically wrong.
Making your way through fragments within this chapter alone helps the resolution feel earned. You’ve worked hard for this moment, (hopefully) theorizing over the course of seven chapters about whatever the truth may be. With even the game itself asking if you’ve survived the events thus far, it’s only fair that this long and arduous tragedy deals you a happy ending in the end. It’s felt like a hundred plus years in the making.
The story also ends up being in line with the overall tone of the series. Despite me calling Hirugashi: When They Cry a psychological horror game, that was only the beginning. Back when the story and the cast were still shrouded in mystery, and you had no idea what information you could trust or what actions you could take. With no more information to find, and all the facts have come to light, Higurashi is a story about the power of friendship and looking out for each other. Albeit, one with a touch more murder than others.
And the story doesn’t pull its happy ending out of its ass either. Just because these are kids without superpowers doesn’t mean they can’t fight when they need to. Every tool that the heroes use has been something set up in previous arcs in this fifty-hour plus journey, whether you realized it or not. Satoko’s traps, Mion and Shion’s training during the dam protests, Keiichi’s batting swing and skill as a speaker, Rika knowing a miracle can occur if everyone believes, Dr. Irie’s protectiveness of Satoko, Akasaka’s determination. Every single little thing throughout this tale is made use of in this finale.
Even the fact that members of Mion’s club are initiated with a card game of Old Man with a marked deck becomes a powerful metaphor. As far back as Chapter 1 – Onikakushi, the details of this story matter. Everything comes together perfectly for this ending, but all those pieces felt established, felt earned, felt like it slotted into place exactly where it was meant to be. Impressive for a story written by one person.
Speaking of the game coming from one person, Matsuribayashi’s presentation is charmingly rough around the edges. The backgrounds are filtered photos of real locations, and the sprites aren’t very conventional for a visual novel. But it really does grow on you and reminds you that for the first few chapters, Ryukishi07 was working alone.
But as time went on, the author was able to get more people on-board the project, to the point that the final episode plays a vocal theme over the credits. Alongside the last four chapters having the author’s notes at the end, it becomes almost comforting to know that while the production value was very indie, it was most certainly made with love. With various credited people coming together, a miracle really can happen.
Higurashi: When They Cry – Chapter 8: Matsuribayashi takes everything that has happened in the series and packages it all together for a satisfying conclusion. The story’s pacing is predictable, but it all amounts to a memorable finale that I won’t soon forget. I’m glad to see a series retain its high level of storytelling consistently through each chapter and not falter in this final stretch.
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