on Dec 10 by Shadocchi
Both Narcissu games recently made the Steam Greenlight cut after enormous success for a visual novel and will be distributed to millions of potential readers over the platform. The new release promises to update the translation of both games, but as it will be a while until we see it grace Steam’s store, I will be taking a look at Side 2nd in its current state.
Narcissu Side 2nd returns with the familiar letterbox visual style to explore Setsumi’s mid-teenage years. Before her admittance to the seventh floor ward, Setsumi meets an older woman called Himeko, a terminal patient at the hospital. In contrast to Setsumi’s quiet nature, Himeko is upbeat and talkative, and two become unlikely friends. As Setsumi continues to visit the older woman each day, more about Himeko’s past and current outlook are discovered, revealing the events of Narcissu and Side 2nd to be quite extensively linked.
As with the first game, Side 2nd takes pride in establishing routine. Though in contrast to Narcissu’s everything-is-depressing development, Side 2nd has a more complicated emotion to it, with the focus character presenting herself as secretive yet upbeat. Rather than the acceptance of death and a refusal to die at the hospital, Side 2nd takes on themes of belief and explores how the past has influenced Himeko (the focus character) over time. There’s a sense that Satsuko (the narrator for most part) has more of a role than the nameless male protagonist in Narcissu as her presence triggers development rather than become a stepping stone in a long-established plan.
The inclusion of a more upbeat character reflects in the game’s soundtrack, with the slow, sad music in Narcissu receiving some much needed contrast tracks to even out the overall tone. The soundtrack is an entirely pleasant, non-intrusive background to each chapter. On the art side, however, nothing much is different, and character art remains at a minimal while the text accompanies some well-detailed but really small background art. Curiously, there are a lot less event graphics in this game, but it may be due to the art style rendering the oldest character to look no more than 12.
What I stumble on in Side 2nd is that while Himeko’s distressing past affects her outlook to the degree that some of her dying wishes repeat the memories she obsesses over, the game retcons Satsuko into something of a blank state, bound to repeat almost everything Himeko ever did. Himeko herself isn’t too better off, going so far as to reject eating broccoli in reference to or in consequence of her spoiler-related past, but in a lot of ways she also retains parts that give her personality. Himeko retains her keen interest in cars, memorises a map just because, and pushes away people close to her as her own answer to her condition, despite knowing how it feels on the other side. Her past adds to her struggles instead of becoming them, but this is not the case for Setsumi. When considering both games, the references to Setsumi’s quirks in the first Narcissu – such as learning various car features – are so frequent and of so much importance in Side 2nd that it seems like her character becomes a personality-less shadow in the future, completely wrapped in her summer with the first person to call her a friend in a while. If this is her answer to the early death she has been sentenced with, I’m not sure, but the feeling that a lot has been taken away from Setsumi to be given to Himeko still remains.
Regardless of my qualms with Narcissu Side 2nd, it’s a prequel that maintains the quality of the first game and presents a longer, more complicated but equally interesting story that still no doubt ends in tears. If you are a fan of the first game, let’s be honest, you’ve probably already played this. If you’ve been meaning to give Narcissu a try for the past eight years though, I’d recommend playing through Side 2nd first.
Narcissu -Side 2nd- is currently available for Windows, Mac and Linux bundled with the first Narcissu game via Neechin. Both games are tentatively expected to be available on Steam for free in early 2014.