Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni is uncomfortable to say the least. It not only touches a few dark topics but fully submerges you in them. Whereas Higurashi and Umineko start sincerely enough and slowly spiral into a tale of deceit hatred and lies, Higanbana drops you right into the middle of its rotting detestable world.
Aside from a few references, this game has little in common with Ryukishi07’s other works. The game is divided into two nights, both sold as separate titles. Each of these nights take around 10 hours to play through and contain seven chapters, which are self-contained stories. Taking into account that each of the individual chapters roughly takes only around an hour, they never overstay their welcome. They get you right into the action with minimal setup time, keeping you engaged throughout the duration of the story. This makes them perfect bedtime stories, especially if you are the type of person to enjoy having nightmares.
The first story focuses on Marie who is a timid girl. As the target of bullies she seeks the help from her professor, but is soon subjugated to the sexual desires of this deranged man. Desperate to change her life, she encounters a school Youkai (a term for a variety of Japanese monsters) that promises Marie a position as new member of their school Youkai group. Suffice it to say that the events only go downhill from here. This is a perfect introduction to what you can expect from the rest of these stories. There is no shortage of gut-wrenching material including revenge, rape and murder. While nothing is actually shown, the descriptions are written well enough to allow your imagination to run wild.
Other stories include a bitter boy that stumbles upon a mysterious camera that can take photos of the dead, a rich girl that makes a pact with a demon in order to fulfill her dream of having the main role in the school play, and a bullied kid who seeks the help of a demon in the music room in order to change the other children into rabbits.
The stories in the second night are a lot easier to stomach, not giving that total feeling of dread found in the first night. It is still dark, but not discouraging as the first, since there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Almost all the stories have a moral to teach you. Their depressive tone makes them similar to the stories that parents tell their children to scare them into submission. It’s not to say all stories are heartless, some have a much lighter tone, but it is the stories that keep you awake at night that stay with you the longest.
One thing I love about Ryukashi07’s writing is the way he presents his characters. He lets you enter the mind of even the most deranged person, shows you their perspective and asks you if their cause is so wrong. You never truly understand a person until you see the world through their eyes. And it is in Higanbana were you shown that even the most just of causes result in the worst atrocities possible. The narrative often jumps from third person to first person, changing the viewpoint, which allows for a better understanding of the situations that arise.
The art style has improved a bit after so many games, but still expect elementary school level characters and filtered out backgrounds. The soundtrack is great as always, featuring an abundance of extremely creepy tunes that are bound to send shivers down your spine.
Just like Umineko no Naku Koro ni and Rose Guns Days the game is sold in its original Japanese format. However the translation group received permission from the developers so the English patch can be officially used with this release. Unfortunately there were quite a few spelling errors in the translation, however they don’t really take away from the whole experience.
Surprisingly the game Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni visual novel came after the same named manga, both made by Ryukishi07. Unfortunately in the manga everything is a mess. The pacing is very awkward, lacking the chemistry between the characters. The psychopathic professor from the first story, ends up feeling over the top instead of disturbing. Deep moments were watered down and instead replaced with graphic scenery. However not everything is a letdown. Some elements are better here – the fight scenes have a lot more impact and the artwork is lovely, giving the world a lot of depth. Still, the original manga is far from the definitive version.
Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni is nowhere near the masterpiece that Higurashi and Umineko were, lacking the depth seen in their multi-tierd writing. But Higanbana isn’t meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be experienced. Not everyone will be able to stomach the content here, making this game a niche among niche. Its episodic nature and genuinely disturbing subjects work to its advantage. Those that can make it past the dark and depressive tone of the game can find this novel refreshing and sure to keep you wide awake for weeks to come.
Thanks goes to MangaGamer for providing us a review copy of this game. Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni The First Night and The Second Night are available on MangaGamer’s website. Thanks to Spider Lily Translations you can download the translation from their official site. If you are still on the fence, download the first three chapters for free.