Video Game Recommendations
These are based on my extremely specific niche tastes.
Creepy Summertime Mystery VNs
World End Syndrome
PS4, Nintendo Switch
This game has a free demo which is essentially the prologue of the game - however, it does incorporate a lot of the gameplay elements and isn't necessarily just an introductory story. For a demo, it's quite long and honestly slogs at certain points. However, I found the narrative intriguing enough to purchase the full game, and I'm glad I did.
World End Syndrome is primarily a branching-path visual novel with dating sim elements - the story path you get is based on which activities and dialogue choices the player chooses, and you will eventually unlock more options as you experience the different endings. The worst part of this game is the, frankly, monotonous task of choosing what to do each day, especially because the repetitive nature of the game requires that you experience many scenes over and over again. This is common in most VNs, but it can be mitigated if the game is short or if there's not too many choice options one after the other, which actually allows for the proper use of the skip/fast forward option. However, the sheer length of this particular game combined with the constant bombardment of choices the player must constantly make cause this game to feel just as long each run through, despite any text skipping options.
Aside from those monotonous elements of gameplay, however, this game is a wonderful example of how the visual novel format can be used to enhance a mystery.
The story begins with the protagonist moving to the seaside town of Mihate, where he eventually joins his school's "mystery club." This club is filled with the rest of the story's main cast, meaning there's one dude who's like, your bro, and the others are all potential love interests that the protagonist can (and must, if the player wants the "true" ending) pursue for the different story endings.
The characters themselves aren't anything your average anime fan isn't familiar with; there's the contradictory tsundere, the haughty rich young lady, the stoic quiet girl, the awkward and nervous nerd, and that's just your schoolmates. However, these tropes don't necessarily make them unenjoyable; for dating sim VNs, it's good to have certain constants and because I expected cliches, whenever a character broke away from the archetype and showed more depth than expected, the impact was much stronger.
The best parts of this game are, happily, what I consider the most important parts of this kind of story: the atmosphere and the mystery itself. The town of Mihate has a peculiar belief: every 100 years, the dead, referred to as "Yomibito" return to life, seeking revenge on the living. It just so happens that the summer this game takes place is the 100th year since the last Yomibito event - and several mysterious deaths have coincidentally occurred. The mystery club tries their hand at solving this mystery, only to get more deeply intertwined than any of them thought possible.
The game takes places in summer, and the simultaneous feelings of both the holiday-based indolence as well as the oppressiveness of the on-going investigation are well-portrayed through visuals, audio and narration. The visuals in particular are stunning, but you have to understand that most of the VNs I play are console & handheld-based Otome Games - I have no idea what games with large budgets are actually like (lmao) but I imagine that this is one of them. The backgrounds are dynamic and brightly-colored, with constant small animations such as from wind or moving objects. The character sprites also had a lot of care put into them; the characters not only have a variety of expressions and poses, but will even sometimes show a profile view (!!!) instead of facing the player directly. You can see that I'm starved for this kind of stuff lol.
I thought the character designs were pretty good as well. I liked the art style and while certain aspects of... anatomy... were rather exaggerated, it's nothing I didn't expect coming into a visual novel where it's assumed that the player is thirsting for some T&A. All the characters looked very distinctive from each other, and it was easy to keep track of them, something that is not always the case with large casts. Yes, this is about Clannad.
I don't really want to say anything else about the story, suffice to say that even though there were some plot points I saw coming, there were several others I got wrong and some that completely blindsided me, which is what ultimately made this game such a delight. If you are prepared to slog through the repetitive choices and can deal with the dating-sim elements (including the character designs as well as several ecchi scenes and CGs), I absolutely recommend this game for anyone looking for a good supernatural mystery.