2005’s School Days — or, to be more accurate, its 2010 remake School Days HQ — remains one of my favourite visual novels of all time… except there’s an argument to be made that it’s less a “visual novel” and more an “interactive anime”. Regardless of what it actually is, it’s a great experience — and definitely considerably better than the rather notorious anime adaptation, nice boats and all.
School Days HQ specifically is noteworthy for another reason, too; its 2012 localisation through JAST USA marked the first commercial release of Sekai Project, a group that was originally established to produce an unofficial translation of School Days. That “unofficial” translation subsequently became the official one — and now, 14 years after being established, Sekai Project is one of the most prolific localisers of Japanese visual novels on the scene.
But back to School Days. In School Days, we follow the story of Makoto Itou, a young man who has taken an interest in the quiet young beauty Kotonoha Katsura, whom he sees every day on the train to school. He conspires with his spunky classmate Sekai Saionji — who, naturally, is actually carrying a massive flaming torch for Makoto herself, even though she’d never admit that — to try and get together with this dream girl of his. And, depending on your choices, chaos may or may not ensue.
And I really mean that; School Days is noteworthy for having one of the most complicated branching structures of any narrative-based game I’ve ever seen. And it’s not just based on your immediate choices; since every choice you make (or refuse to make, since choices are timed) affects the “balance” between Makoto’s feelings towards Kotonoha and/or Sekai, you might find that seemingly innocuous choices early in the game lead to horrific tragedy later — or you might find that different routes lead to the same conclusion but with a very different context.
Don’t believe me when I say it’s complicated? Here’s a route diagram.
Yes, School Days is a game that rewards exploration. Not in the sense of being able to actually physically explore a world — your sole interaction with the game is when the anime sequences freeze and you’re given a choice to make — but rather through experimenting with the narrative. If you make a little change to Makoto’s attitude at the outset of the story, how severe an impact does that have on what comes later? What do the colours mean on that route map? Do the distinct “branches” have a specific meaning? And is that lonely ending sitting on the far right the “true” ending or what?
To answer those questions in turn: very severe; they indicate distinct “stories” that you’ll find yourself exploring; yes they certainly do; and… well, I’ll leave that for you to find out for yourself. You might not like what you find.
The different branches seen on the route map are especially noteworthy, since as time goes on it becomes increasingly clear that Kotonoha and Sekai are not the only players in this potential tragedy. In fact, several of the routes head off in wildly unexpected directions, pretty much abandoning the original premise in favour of something completely different — at least one even changes the opening movie of each of the game’s discrete “episodes” to highlight that you’re in new territory now.
And this is really interesting, because it provides the opportunity to explore these characters in a massive amount of detail. In fact, you absolutely will not get a full understanding of each character simply by following their “best” route; Kotonoha in particular is an immensely complicated character, but this side of things only becomes apparent if you see how she behaves when you don’t pursue her.
If you simply make the “best Kotonoha choices”, you’ll end up with a pretty predictable love story in which everything resolves neatly. That may well be what you want from the experience — but the real joy in School Days comes from seeing how many things can possibly go wrong in the situation that the initial scenario establishes.
Attempting to balance both Kotonoha and Sekai perfectly leads to its own difficulties — as does trying to brush both of them off. And in some instances, characters who play incredibly important roles in some routes simply fade into the background or disappear altogether in others. It’s fascinating — and must have been an absolute nightmare to write.
From a lewd perspective, School Days has plenty of erotic scenes over the course of the narrative, many of which end up being quite uncomfortable given the context in which they occur and the sense of emotional engagement you’ll likely be feeling towards at least some of the characters. The game isn’t really “NTR” as such, but there are certainly routes where there are significant elements of cheating and going behind one another’s back.
To put it another way, since this is very much a narrative-centric eroge in which the erotic scenes form part of the narrative, it’s rather curious that developer 0verflow made the decision to make the game compatible with a hands-free masturbation device known as the SOM. This is a mechanical beast available in both (NSFW links ahead) “male” and “female” versions where, during the erotic scenes, you can position yourself accordingly and, well, there’s no other way to say this: you let the game fuck you.
To be honest, I feel like this would probably break the flow of the story somewhat if you did it in context — but like most eroge, School Days HQ allows you to watch just the erotic scenes in isolation if you so desire, so presumably this… compatibility is designed for such situations. If this sounds appealing in the slightest, bear in mind that the SOM devices range from about $300 to $500, so they will likely be the most expensive wank you’ve ever had. Regrettably, I cannot speak from experience as to whether or not it is worth the outlay, so to speak.
Whether or not you choose to wire your genitalia up to a robotic device during gameplay, School Days is a fascinating game, and an excellent example of how eroge are far more than just “porn”. Uncovering all the possible scenes and pathways through the game will likely take you a considerable amount of time — even with the helpful skip and scene select functions — but the joy of discovery as you find out exactly what you can put these characters through over the course of the narrative will keep you coming back for more time after time.
And not a nice boat in sight. Nope… “that scene” is there in all its glory. Enjoy the constant fear of whether or not you’re going to end up there!
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