A work that mixes moe, mystery, comedy, science fiction, and tragedy at just the right amounts to deliver the ultimate visual novel experience.
Release: 2016 (FrontWing)
Writers: G.O. (Himawari)
Karen – 4/5
Sara – 4/5
Rinne – 5/5
Winter – 5/5
Midsummer – ???/5
Japanese difficulty: Medium
English: Not Available
Ratings: VNDB (8.78); EGS (8.43)
In the long years of obsessive reading and gaming I have developed a certain ability to see connections between works I plunge through. Everyone is inspired by someone, and — consciously or unconsciously — tends to recycle the same ideas in the same fashion more than they’d care to admit. It’s honestly tough luck once you end up exhausting the limited pool of novelty and end up having to justify that something is mind-blowing or original because you’ve seen that kind of twist only three times before; or having to rationalize that you are enjoying something merely because it doesn’t immediately put you to sleep.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is called foreknowledge, and the only way to escape it is to assemble a Legion of Einherjar and destroy the world… or read something written by G.O.
I believe true novelty lies neither in presentation, where you recycle the same ideas dressed in new hats ala Fata Morgana (which is nonetheless a great game in its own right), nor in unique gimmicks when you only use them to lead back to the same beaten path ala Sumaga and the rest of Shimokura spawn (which I still really appreciate for at least trying to be different). In the end, nothing can beat the real thing.
For all novelty is ultimately in the soul of the work — one’s ability to use the same materials as everyone else in a way so thoroughly genuine no one can ever aspire to replicate it. And that is what Island is. Apart from the superficial, there is nothing that gave me a similar feel to it other than Himawari.
G.O. is an unparalleled genius at blending comedy, tragedy, mystery, and moe together. In hard science fiction, it’s pretty much an unwritten rule that characters only serve to advance the plot and deliver upon you the clever mind-blowing mysteries — not even Haru Made Kururu escapes this pitfall. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule that romantic tragedies are all about making you feel close to their characters and then bombarding you with feels caused by more or less random plot devices. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule that moe visual novels have to be all about braindead characters cracking dumb jokes and looking cute doing it.
Well, G.O. says fuck that, and combines all that together without somehow making any of those seemingly incompatible parts overshadow or hinder each other. Island is both one of the funniest visual novels I’ve ever read, and the one that made me collapse in tears in I don’t know how many years. It’s at the same time one of the most fascinating hard sci-fi mysteries (some science is so advanced I myself only knew of it from my days of working in the lab) and most romantic fairy tales I’ve ever experienced. And don’t even get me started on how moe Rinne is.
On a superficial level, it feels a lot like what you’d get if you combined YU-NO with Umineko (and actually finished them properly) — they share a lot of similar themes, especially in the sense of the latter how Island never feeds you straight answers and makes you work to figure out what the hell is up, all the while mocking you with never-ending red herrings. G.O. is obviously very well-read (you can find references to writers such as Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Douglas Adams in his works) and familiar with the expectations of mystery readers.
And that is why he plays with them like an instrument, seemingly trudging right into cliche on the surface, while inconspicuously foreshadowing something completely opposite in what look like redundant passages. Heck, most of the real hints to the mystery are conveyed through jokes, and usually the dumber they are, the more profound secret they hide.
“Hey, I’m ok with girls from 13 to 37.”
Haha, too bad all heroines in this are 17, then. …Hm?
It’s truly one of the most convoluted and epic stories I’d ever gone through. It messes with your mind to the point you completely lose track of who the hell the heroine of the game is supposed to be, or whether time travel even exists. And it’s a game about time traveling! It’s no coincidence that Rinne and Setsuna seem to never be on the same page in anything romantic related, and that one of the very first bad ends is to live happily ever after.
The more you figure out about the story, the more disturbing it gets — to an extent I began wondering whether the reason all of the most shocking mysteries were hidden like in some sort of a puzzle was because they wouldn’t have been able to release the game had they tried to play them straight.
Which brings me to the ending that is probably the only part I have mixed feelings about in regards to Island (other than the lack of ero scenes, whyyy G.O. whyyyyy). It gave me the impression that G.O. was so unwilling to play into any sort of known trope, be it as something as basic as a good or a bad ending — or explain anything that’s apparently “obvious” for that matter — he downright sacrificed half of catharsis only to avoid the beaten path, diving down into an almost infinite complexity by plunging both the start and the end of the story right into Schrödinger’s box but not before hinting to the contrarian presence of Akashic records in his universe, effectively turning the whole thing into one giant puzzle with not enough pieces to get a definitive answer but enough to get twenty indefinite ones.
In other words, when you have all those pent up emotions in you and are pumped to either cry the tears of joy or despair, you end up crying in utter confusion in the end instead. It literally took me about ten hours of backtracking and brain-storming to piece the whole thing to the point it satisfied me. But as fun as it was, with all those emotions inside me, at that point I really only wanted to see a straight and simple cathartic end without being sent to second-guess everything, including my own tears (honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if anime went further and even that ending turned out to be a red herring).
Incidentally, I ended up arriving to similar conclusions as this guy (super spoilers), except I felt there might be another semi-fairy tale side to 煤紋病 pertaining to incest (we already know G.O. tends to mix romance with science).
Phew, I haven’t spent so long thinking about the game after finishing it since Umineko. I don’t doubt we’ll soon be seeing all sorts of insane conspiracy theories about it. The best one I’ve heard so far is that Setsuna is actually Kuon’s and Mayor’s son from 2016 (the implications of that are so insane I almost want it to be true xD).
Island is so far only the fourth game since 2010 that I can think of as possessing the qualities to constitute a “kamige”, the others being Sakura no Uta, While Album 2, and Aiyoku no Eustia. And while I admit Sakura no Uta is probably the most profound of the group, Island is sure the one I had the most fun with.
I think, the wider are your interests, the more you will like it, because everything in Island, you know, stacks. You like moe? That’s one stack. You like romance? That’s two. You like comedy? That’s three. You like science? That’s four. You like drama and tragedy? That’s five. You like good prose? That’s six. You like puzzles? That’s seven. And so on. Basically, it makes it a perfect game for someone like myself, a completely indiscriminate omnivore (I don’t hate moege, I only hate bad games :P).
That being said, G.O. has a very unique way of telling his stories, and while it clicks with me perfectly, there will doubtless be people who can’t stomach his style — some of Himawari’s most romantic and memorable moments come in the form of a middle aged man constantly sexually harassing a fourteen year old girl, and Island’s protagonist is made from the same mold, not to mention the latter’s Umineko-like approach to red herring storytelling and an open ending that will leave those not paying attention behind.
It’s almost funny how Island can be enjoyed either on superficial level by not overthinking things too much, or as an incredible puzzle which is oddly reminiscent of solving schrödinger equations — but then if you go at it half-heartedly armed with nothing but common sense arithmetic, you will only end up lost and frustrated in the current of obtuse information. In that sense, it’s definitely not a game for everyone — striking both the low and the high ends on the entertainment brow spectrum, but completely missing the middle.
All I need now is for G.O. to write a game in a historical setting and have moe girls quote Wittgenstein every dozen or so lines, and I’ll have everything I like in one bag.
|Relatively simple, but flowing and effective prose||A few romanticized fairytale concepts might turn off some hard sci-fi aficionados|
|Attractive character designs||Tends to favor plot and surprises over character depth and romance|
|Beautiful backgrounds||Protagonist is usually too clueless to make a conscious impact on the plot|
|A great amount of CGs||A relatively open ending favors novelty and mystery over proper catharsis|
|Effective OST that sports quite a few memorable songs||No ero scenes 😦|
|Fantastic voice-acting, even by JP standards|
|Extremely likable, memorable, and relatively profound characters|
|Well-written, perfectly paced dialogue|
|Fantastic comedy (might be the funniest VN I’ve read)|
|Enthralling plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat with its never-ending twists|
|An epic story with lots of adventure, mystery, romance, and tragedy|
|Intelligent approach to storytelling that forces you to figure out things yourself|
|An incredibly novel take on “time-traveling”|
|Grounded in legit hard science fiction|
|Thought provoking on the brittleness of human relationships and love|
|An ultimate work of escapism blending everything what’s best of VNs|