Rewrite (Visual Novel) Review — What Did I Just Read?

Welp, finally got to looking at this…thing.

What’s this, you may ask? Mr. Flawfinder is reviewing a visual novel? Perhaps Rick Santorum has learned to be accepting of gays and all the world’s economic problems have been solved. Except those of you who’ve been reading me in my neophyte days would know that I was making my way through Rewrite sometime ago with the intention of reviewing it because I had heard it was a weird standout amongst Key’s output along with the fact that it featured a team-up of three two prolific VN writers and that one guy that nobody cares about: Romeo Tanaka, Yuto Tonokawa, and Ryukishi07. I had no choice but to interpret that as a challenge, but whilst I did finish the agonizingly long game, before I could think of reviewing it, a bunch of hardcore fans got on my case for minor things like misspelling Romero’s name and I ended up never writing anything about it. I’m all for publicity and hatred, but there are some lines you shouldn’t cross and I wasn’t experienced enough to deal with death threats from people who knew my address.

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Years later though, nobody cares what I think anymore as long as I highlight stuff, if they even care about that. Also, whilst he never name-dropped me, there was something about Frog’s post regarding his experience with a Key-related thing that was daring me to do the same, that smarmy Aussie. So I’m just going to look at Rewrite the same way I look at pretty much everything I review. Loads of sarcasm, references, and complete ignorance of how visual novels work and why that Katawa Shoujo thing is apparently the equivalent of having sex with a double-D supermodel.

Having said that, please explain to me why so many visual novels take so f*cking long to get to the point? I know there’s a difference between VN culture and JRPG culture, but a little more mixing of the normal parts with the fantastical parts would go a ways in making your writing easier to swallow, guys who write this shit. Instead, most visual novel writing (and a lot of bad JRPGs for that matter) like to keep the two separated by a river full of pirahnas with the normal part being used as buildup/contrast for the more fantastical part, and whilst that can sometimes work (see Planetes), more often that not it feels like the former is just filling up time with stand-up comedy in order to increase demand for an act that might not deliver. And I’ve yet to see a visual novel writer with the comedic genius of Dave Chappelle.

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But I digress. The game is about this young doofus named Kotarou, who’s basically every shonen protagonist ever except with the fighting ability of an ostrich with its legs cut off. Strange things are happening in the city he lives in, and in order to investigate said things, he forms a club consisting of him and five girls from his school. Another thing I prefer about JRPG culture to the VN one by the way: more gender diversity. I mean you could have at least thrown in a girl with buck teeth into the mix you know. Sure it probably wouldn’t have melded well with those big eyes, but it can’t be any freakier than the fairies in this game.

The story takes a bit of an X/1999 approach when during a forest excursion, a huge T-rex attacks the group and forces the girls to reveal their true identities. Two of them belong to a group called Gaia, a bunch of demon summoners who are basically the Dragons of Earth in that they want to destroy humanity and start over in some alternate dimension they created. Two of them belong to Guardian, a bunch of super humans who are basically the Dragons of Heaven if they weren’t above killing a little girl to save humanity. One of them is your standard neutral Miyazaki environmental-loving heroine if she couldn’t fight worth shit. And one of them is actually a sixth ranger voiced by Hana Kanazawa, where any description I give would be kind of spoiler-ish even by my standards.

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Yes, it turns out that Rewrite is a bit of an environmentalist story right down to the city suffering from over-forestation and the Earth itself having run out of energy to support humanity Interstellar-style, with a bit of Higurashi-like time-looping involved as Kotarou sides with a girl depending on your previous choices. And no matter what you do, said choice always leads to humanity’s destruction, causing him to loop back to the very start so that he can try his hand with another girl. Which is cool in theory I guess, but then a lot of things look cool in theory, like that itinerary you always make before you take your family across the country, only for it to be rendered useless because half the locations are unexpectedly closed because of a revolution brewing nearby.

Remember when I said in the beginning of this post that this game was written by three different writers? Boy does it show, because the game changes genres and Kotarou’s personality depending on which girl you’re going for to the point that Dave Mitchell would be confused how they all relate together. I’m all for variety, but one of the girl’s routes is literally a shonen action story that’s more about her summoned partner than it is about her and she doesn’t even cry in it. That’s breaking the melodrama rules, man. My personal favorite was when you side with Akane, and Kotarou turns into a serious-minded personal bodyguard with his own suit and everything. That route became very Nolan-esque in its preachiness to the point of painful hilarity before someone massacres 99% of all humanity on Earth and follows it up with the clumsiest attempt at post-apocalyptic political philosophy I’ve ever seen. It would have been more beneficial if they just skipped the trial and beheaded the perpetrator.

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The entire point of these routes, beyond giving the girls sad personal stories related to the world ending of course, is to understand the motivations of each faction involved in this secret war along with establishing how hopeless their actions are because trying to save an Earth that has depleted all of its energy is like trying to revive a dead person with alchemy or any other method imaginable. And as is usually the case for most VN routes, some of them feel phoned-in and not really important to the story at all besides introducing concepts that will be inevitably be rendered meaningless by a future plot point, but still made it in because the author thought it’d be really cool to have. There’s a little bit of crossover depending on which girl you’re associating with, but for the most part, the writing has to contrive reasons so that they don’t interfere with each other, despite the fact that some of these girls work for the same side and were really close to each other prior to the shift. And when they do meet each other, it’s usually so that they can try to kick the shit out of each other like I’m watching…no, reading Soul Calibur.

And that’s another thing that annoyed me about Rewrite’s format by the way. It can be incredibly violent at times, but you can’t really see the action beyond words and the occasional effects/stills. It’s like reading a comic book if the same panel took up ten pages with minor alterations. Also, the violence can get a little over-the-top in the descriptions, like it was written by some Shonen Jump fan who takes what rappers sing about way too literally. Now it’s been a while since I’ve played this game so my memory of the actual dialogue isn’t all that great, but when you dedicate paragraphs to explaining the logistics behind a little girl shooting machine guns on the back of a motorcycle despite the fact that they show the image and all whilst doing so, it almost makes me feel like I’m watching a football game in slow-motion with the commentator trying to fill in the dead space with as many details as he can spot.

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Mind you, they’re a step up compared to the details put in the comedic moments, which are telegraphed so hard that any impact is lost. And speaking of those, Ryukishi07? It’s not 2006 anymore. Quit having characters tease each other by forcing them to dress up in eroge cospaly. And quit having entire cities wiped out by poison gas because a female couldn’t control her emotions.

I haven’t said if Rewrite’s story is actually good as of yet, pacing and dialogue issues aside, and that’s honestly because I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a mess of epic proportions, but it also comes together in some pretty damn fun ways. The way everything concludes is cool, if a bit anticlimactic. The fact that there aren’t any easy answers in regards to saving the Earth is done in a deliciously dark way. The fact that these typical-looking Itaru Hinoe designed moeblobs are actually government agents who are capable of killing people is cute, even if the appeal wears off after a while. But I’ve also learned from experience (cough Parasyte cough) that what looks cool in a medium you’re not all that big on kinda sucks when it’s in a medium that’s more your style. And to top it off, some of the drama is over-the-top, some of the ideas are over-the-top, and the attempts to raise the stakes can be clumsy to the point that dropping Jun Maeda’s trustworthy out-of-nowhere bus onto everyone from the sky would have been less abrupt.

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Nevertheless, it was interesting to go through despite taking an awfully long time to do so solely for seeing how writers who specialize in different backgrounds of logic (Tanaka), moe (Tonokawa), and horror (Ryukishi07) mixed with each other, and apparently the writing team thought the same, because they’re apparently teaming up again for Ryukishi07’s own company, 07th expansion regarding a Wonderland-style horror game. Let’s just hope none of them are fans of Tim Burton’s interpretation of that mythology. Years later, and the Fudderwacken still won’t leave my mind.

9 responses to “Rewrite (Visual Novel) Review — What Did I Just Read?

  1. Heh. My friends have been telling me to play Rewrite for ages, but they’re also the same people who wanted me to play Grisaia, so idk…

    For some reason, I expected this review to be more negative, but it’s surprisingly even-handed. Still, is it worth it to sit through so many hours of setup just to get to the potentially interesting stuff? Perhaps visual novel fandom can be partially explained by the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

  2. “Years later, and the Fudderwacken still won’t leave my mind.”

    It is not meant to. It is meant to haunt your dreams and flash before your horrified eyes right up until the moment you die.

    • Part of that sentence was a joke. Part of it was the fact that there’s not much difference between time-looping and what actually happened.

  3. So I finally played this and thought it was okay. It was good to see Key do something different for once. However what annoyed me was that there was so much meaningless dialogue that had nothing to do with the plot (most of them were just bad jokes). I’ve noticed this trend in most VN’s I’ve read and there have only been a handful where all the dialogue is necessary and relevant.

    • Yeah I’ll never understand why Japan loves those dialogue heavy games so much. Or dialogue heavy stuff in general, as Hideo Kojima has proven to us with his career.