One Last Crane Review – Disease, Friendship, Love

    Title: One Last Crane
    Developer: Blissful Work's
    Release Date: July 4, 2022
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Sekai Project
    Genre: Visual Novel

There is a solemn tale to be told for those whose days are numbers. However, one’s last journey isn’t always filled with grief, and there’s a chance to make one final connection. One Last Crane follows this theme. Initially funded on Kickstarter in 2018, developed by Blissful Works, and published by Sekai Project in 2022, One Last Crane has been a title that has been years coming. While the story focuses on a relatively grounded, slice-of-life setting, a foreboding sense of melancholy is interwoven into the story, making the relatable setting more engaging.

One Last Crane focuses on Yuuki Murakami, an average boy whose life takes a significant turn for the worse when his worsening physical condition is diagnosed as a brain tumor. To find treatment, Yuuki must leave his hometown for the United States and, in the process, leaves behind his childhood friend, Saki Nishimura. With Saki distraught, Yuuki promises to one day revisit Saki.

The game proceeds to fast-forward five years, in which we find Yuuki making his long-awaited return with his step-sister, Mary Murakami, to reconnect with Saki. Unfortunately, however, Yuuki’s time is limited, as no amount of treatment in the United States has cured his condition, and to make matters worse, Saki is nowhere to be found.

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After a few days of investigation, Yuuki discovers that Saki’s disappearance is shrouded in cryptic stories. Yet, despite the disheartening conditions, Yuuki remains optimistic and goes on to rediscover his childhood town and befriend new characters while attending a nearby high school.

Making no progress in discovering the whereabouts of Saki, Yuuki turns to his newly-made friends to search for Saki. However, a revelation is soon made by Yuuki while he searches for Saki—there’s a beautiful and unapproachable girl with the appearance of Saki Nishimura who attends his school, but she declares herself to be Asuka Fujimoto. Despite denying all accusations of being Saki, Yuuki believes that Asuka will lead Yuuki to the truth behind the disappearance of his childhood friend.

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With the premise established, the focus on a realistic setting shines the most within the story. This becomes apparent from how every character is designed, as each character sports believably-designed hair and standard fashion. There’s no extraordinary background for the case, and while most of the supporting characters have somewhat formulaic personalities, they don’t act in a way that causes detriment to their overall character or the overall story and often have moments where they display relatable emotions and responses.

Despite the realistic setting, there are some inconsistencies and omissions concerning the story’s premise, such as Yuuki’s relative freedom of action despite undergoing extensive brain tumor treatment. However, these circumstances need to be omitted for the premise to play out; these are minor plot details that can be dismissed for the sake of the scenario.

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As for the gameplay itself, One Last Crane is the standard visual novel affair. The game is entirely composed of text and dialogue choices, which directly affect the three available routes, all focused on one of the main female leads. However, some routes and decisions are not entirely fleshed out.

For instance, one of the routes does not contain an epilogue. It immediately jumps to the title screen, while two others have an epilogue and credit scene. To trigger a route, you must spend most of your time with one of the girls. However, I found that if you trigger an equal amount of flags for a pair of the girls, you’ll abruptly be sent to the title screen mid-story.

I presume this is a “bad ending,” though the dialogue right before the ending doesn’t differ from any of the main routes. While it’s likely challenging to attain a balance of flags on your first playthrough, on the off-chance that you do succeed at this, the reader may be in for a jarring conclusion to the story.

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One Last Crane totals around 6 to 15 hours long, which depends on the number of routes played, and the amount of dialogue read. However, the settings and features you would expect from a modern visual novel are all present. In terms of CGs, there are a total of 24 unique ones, and additionally, the Extras menu comes with the ability to view alternate facial features. While the CGs are not the most visually involved, they are well-composed and work very well with the story beats.

However, I found that the sprites appeared somewhat inconsistent when conveying certain emotions, which causes tonal discrepancies. As for the soundtrack, One Last Crane presents undeniably fitting tracks but don’t leave much of an impression. All tracks come from a royalty-free source; while they aren’t bad, they aren’t memorable.

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The protagonist Yuuki Murakami is an eloquently uninteresting character. He’s a young man faced with the fear and anxiety of looming death, but at the same time, his reactions remain calm and collected. There’s not a lot of theatrics going on with his inner turmoil at first, and quite frankly, sometimes you’ll forget he even has a brain tumor, as he keeps his condition an absolute secret among his friends.

His acceptance of his condition makes his responses to the physical and mental trauma induced by the tumor even more surprising, as you feel the sense of whiplash from stark tonal shifts. I enjoyed this aspect of his characterization, though the sympathy I felt for Yuuki’s condition began to wane farther into the story.

As stated, there are three routes you can trigger that shift the story into your standard dating affair. First, there is the aforementioned friend of Yuuki, the step-sister, and the mystery girl, all of which is one of the heroines Yuuki can haphazardly romance with.

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Chihiro Nagata happens upon Yuuki and Mary after they move into their new home, which was set up by their parents overseas. Chihiro introduces herself as the neighbor and quickly displays her tomboy-ish personality. However, she’s very forthcoming verbally and is not afraid to express her mind.

In-game, she’s described as manly and often compares herself to Yuuki’s physically feeble appearance, unaware of his condition. Despite all this, Chihiro is known to be a popular girl at school and is also Asuka’s only friend. While this route felt relatively complete and didn’t interfere with any characterization, I felt the drama within the route was contrived. I felt the drama overtook the few story aspects I enjoyed.

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As for the younger step-sister Mary Murakami, she acts as Yuuki’s caretaker and is often used to show off Yuuki’s familial consideration, which is often played for gags but is reciprocated nonetheless. I found Mary’s route to be the most awkwardly composed of the three, as the issues presented are likely unrelatable to most readers for obvious reasons. Additionally, some elements feel rushed in comparison to the slice-of-life aspects of the route.

Finally, there’s the poster girl of the game, Asuka Fujimoto. With her introduction, she immediately establishes herself as cold to Yuuki, which is played off as a response to Yuuki’s out-of-the-blue accusation. She often presents herself as standoff-ish, and every character within the story finds it challenging to communicate with her.

This further deepens the mystery behind the true cause of Saki’s disappearance, though readers are likely to develop theories as soon as Asuka’s existence is introduced. As expected, Asuka’s route felt the most complete and offered the most characterization for Yuuki out of all of the routes. The drama within this route made more sense with the overarching story than in the other routes, and I found that many of the characters were more agreeable.

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These characters play a more significant role, as perspective will occasionally shift characters, typically when Yuuki is incapacitated. However, as all of these characters fall into standard archetypes, my interest in them was generally low at their introduction, as they are initially only active in response to Yuuki’s actions.

While the cast wasn’t poorly written, they are visually and verbally bland, though the characterization begins to pick up once more romance elements are introduced. However, the romance introduced new elements that I felt created scenarios where the story was trying to achieve too much where it wasn’t needed. The overcomplications drowned out a lot of interesting plot details that the story built in the general portion of the story’s route.

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One Last Crane presents itself as a somewhat grounded slice-of-life drama but finds trouble gaining traction within the slice-of-life elements. Despite this, the methods of the unfolding mystery behind Saki still engaged me and are what maintained my interest. However, I didn’t feel like the story had an outstanding payoff regarding the mystery.

A significant shift in the overall mystery occurs, and the story becomes focused on romance. Many interesting elements were dropped or completely nullified in favor of new plot elements. I felt that the characters’ dialogue was trying to elicit sympathy from the reader as a last-ditch effort to make the characters more enjoyable, which I found entirely unneeded.

The culmination of all these elements led to an ending that left me both confused and disappointed, and I only found myself enjoying Asuka’s conclusion of the three routes available. One Last Crane is a mediocre read for anyone interested in a mix of heartbreak and slice-of-life, though there are enjoyable parts sprinkled throughout the story. If the idea of a boy with recurring health issues romancing a girl interests you, One Last Crane may be a decent pick to put on your backlog.

Score:
6/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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