As a fan of Higurashi When They Cry, owning all the available installments on Steam, I was glad that MangaGamer brought in another 07th Expansion work. Umineko When They Cry (Question Arc), like its predecessor, is a nonstop thriller with text guaranteed to keep flowing as readers anticipate the next gripping development. The series is near perfect with an awe-inspiring narrative coupled with an amazing soundtrack, combined perfectly in a visual novel medium.
Unlike Higurashi that roots itself with Japanese traditions, Umineko presents a more western approach on the occult. Taking place in 1986 at the private island Rokkenjima, the series follows mainly Battler Ushiromiya as he attends his family’s annual conference for the first time in six years. Right from the beginning, however, a menacing atmosphere is masked underneath the outwardly cheerful moods of the Ushiromiya family as the second generation siblings fight against one another behind closed doors for a piece of their dying father’s inheritance.
Family head Kinzo Ushiromiya is said to possess ten tons of gold in which his children greedily covet. But in order to be deemed “worthy” of that wealth, a riddle involving the Golden Witch Beatrice must be solved. While the adults are still debating whether or not the gold is a myth, a mysterious letter addressed by the said Beatrice arrives, jump-starting the game towards an entirely different direction. Soon after, brutal murders take place in which the remaining survivors ask whether it was one of the original 18 inhabitants of that island that is the culprit or whether an outsider is committing these atrocities. Or perhaps it was the Golden Witch Beatrice after all? Battler and the rest must reach the truth as well as solve the riddle before they themselves become meat to be slaughtered.
The Question Arc is split into four episodes with the first serving as an introduction to the Umineko universe as well as being most portrayed as a survivor horror compared to the other episodes. The next three installments more or less use the general events of the first episode as a case study but develop differently from one another. In fact, every episode is so vastly unique, every approach of every circumstance yield the thrill of seeing them all unfold. Although there are no choices to choose from in this game, the mysteries are so well-presented that it allows readers to come up with their own deductions based on the evidence at hand and see eventually whether they have accurately solved them.
But not only is the story well-developed, the characters are too. Umineko delves deeply into each and every character, giving them each distinct personalities and a sense of realism. Every episode may portray these characters differently, giving the readers various perspectives on them. As the story further unfolds, a hated character may become more likeable and vice versa.
Umineko’s soundtrack also is nothing but breathtaking. Ranging from the soothing piano melodies to the nerve-wracking electronic beats, not only does this game have one of the best narratives for a visual novel, but also one of the best soundtracks. Almost every piece is distinctive, memorable, and instill the perfect atmosphere for every occasion.
As for the UI, readers have the ability to switch between the original Japanese and Witch Hunt’s English translations. Readers are also able to switch between the original sprites by Ryukishi07 and sprites originally from the pachinko game. What is lacking are assets from the PlayStation 3 version of Umineko such as voiced lines. Nonetheless, the lack of these assets do not worsen the game, though it cannot be denied that they can further enhance this masterpiece. The worst part of the game is not the actual story or presentation, but rather a convenience issue. Unfortunately, the controls button on the main menu does not allow readers to configure the game based on their needs, but instead just list a number of hotkeys for those configurations. There is also no instant text speed option for the quick readers. Nonetheless, all that are very minor issues that do not greatly impact the overall integrity of the treasure that is Umineko.
This title was reviewed using a PC (Steam) review copy provided by MangaGamer. The game can be bought at their website and on Steam.
Overall, Umineko When They Cry (Question Arc) is nothing short of a masterpiece. To put in other words, a chef-d'œuvre among visual novels. The story, characters, and music blend perfectly together to create this flawless work. If I had to nitpick, the inconvenience on parts of the UI would be my biggest gripe.
This is a series recommended not only to visual novel fans, but also those eager for a great mystery and story. Umineko is a work that transcends it's medium and is a work nearly everyone should experience.