It’s been two years since I last read an eroge. The last one was ItsuSora. I tried Totono, but I quickly got bored out of my wits and opened up all its CG 回想 so I could fap to something. ItsuSora set the bar high, probably way too high for me to be satisfied with what 90 percent of the eroge industry puts out every month. But this review is not about ItsuSora. I can’t review something based on two-year old memories and experiences. So I will instead talk about something that paralleled, if not slightly exceeded, that standard bar that I set long ago: Asairo.
Really though, for a game to compel me to write :something: again, it must be quite a work.
I’ll get this out of the way now before my post is reduced to Shumon fanboying: I admire Shumon a lot as a writer. No shit, I’d literally want to make a shrine dedicated to him and maintain it every day. This will be less of a technical review and more of my personal insight and opinion on the “elements of the game”, for the lack of better wording. This will be a long post (by my standards), and if you want a tl;dr, I’m sorry but I’d kindly ask you to either go read it now or go kill yourself. This work is too layered to summarize that way. But if you wish to read the opinions I’ve formed, do so.
Asairo is a painting with words, and of words. People might be turned away by “words” alone. Indeed, there are a lot of words, but calling it a “painting” is not an exaggeration. I don’t even consider it a game, and I try to minimize my use of the word “game”. I would call it an expression of themes. I would call it “art”, which is kind of cyclical because one of its themes is art. It is art expressing an essence of art, yet has meaning. It isn’t a perfect “art form”, yet it is something that conveys a multitude of expression, if that makes sense. Do I go and explain the relevance of each theme as an individual element? No, I will not, and I cannot. This is ultimately an expression of friendship, of love, and much more than that. I would lose more words to needless effort if I tried.
But in this case, how do I provide concrete proof to found my opinion? I maintain my thesis, “Asairo is a painting with words, and of words.” Is a painting defined by how each element shines individually? No, although some may think otherwise. Each element overlaps into another, and each successive overlap creates new detail. Shumon’s storytelling and effective use of wordplay enable him to achieve the same effect. His drama, comedy, and triumph allow him to create the atmosphere that the story deems necessary. His hints to the story enable the active reader to think and make his own evaluation, while still leaving the reader wide-eyed regardless of the validity of his conclusion. I was sure elated at the conclusion to the theme of “playing house”, even if my own evaluations to the hints were somewhat off. One might argue that every good eroge strives to achieve the same depth, the same system of overlapping concepts, and I agree with such arguments. But to get to the level of being considered a “painting” requires something more. Not merely more elements, but more interactions of these elements. Asairo leaves me no obvious openings, no dangling loose threads, no nothing. It is a closed work, and any further additions will be just a bonus. Even Shumon’s use of the “past”, which is honestly the only thing I might find tiresome from his works, melds with the elements and eventually reaches a conclusion that sticks to the core concepts of Asairo. In this aspect, it is a novel and a work of art.
Asairo is character-centric, with the unfolding plot being neither a crutch nor a hindrance (although some may contest either view). Sasamaru’s growth is one cornerstone of the character development in Asairo, and it’s a development seen through and through. Every named character develops as the story goes, and while I have my favorites for specific categories (Harutsuge for姉御, Norika for照れ姉ちゃん), I cannot pick a real favorite. But if I were to think about it, the most developed characters are Sasamaru and Waka. Maybe it’s the long but important dialogues between them, but I honestly believe they had the most seen development, with ones derived from their own thought processes. For those guys saying it’s a Hiyo-ge, I understand Hiyo’s importance with regards to Sasamaru’s development, and vice-versa, along with Waka’s. But I do feel that Waka has more weight as a character, which is surprising considering how she only has significant appearances in the climax scenes. Don’t get me wrong though, I love how everyone turned out, even Kiyo (I hated Kiyo but now she’s cute).
With the two long ones out of the way, let me now discuss the format. I thought to myself, “What if this were a novel? A light novel at least.” I soon realized the error of my thoughts as I listened to Hiyo’s theme multiple times and fell in love with it. If this were a novel, setting up the atmosphere would be difficult. Allowing it to be a light novel would only lessen the burden slightly, as while the illustrations aren’t perfect, the sprites are really expressive, along with the cut-ins. I was close to crying when I saw Waka’s painting, which I doubt would be seen well in only novel format. What would really take away the feeling of Asairo if it were in the format of paper would be the music. Sure, the BGMs are not something to laud, but they do a damn good job of making me feel what is to be felt. I previously mentioned that I don’t consider Asairo a game, yet I cannot help but acknowledge my conclusion that Asairo cannot fit, as it is, into anything but the visual novel format.
If you came here looking for porn, I’ll give you that weird ero-rhythm game that Moogy linked once. There are three ero-scenes in Asairo: one is fucking hilarious, one is important enough to set the development for the later parts of the story, and one is pure love. So please, don’t come looking for it here. They’re better off experienced, as this whole work is.
Before I close, there’s this one thing bugging me, and that is “Will I say the same (as most of the above) for ItsuSora?” I do not want to compare them, and not for the fact that they’re both Shumon works. Rather, as I stated before, I do not want to review something that’s been sitting idle in my head for two years, much less compare it with something I have fresh in my head. I told @___add that while ItsuSora has heavy focus on impact, Asairo has heavy focus on flow. I stand by the latter right now, but I cannot acknowledge the former just yet. So for those guys who thought I might make an ItsuSora review, I’m sorry but I blame the crash-and-burn effect of nine cups of concentrated black coffee during those fun yet painful December nights reading ItsuSora. No, I will not review it anytime soon.
With that off my chest, I can finally close this rambling post. Asairo is the most solid work (in the calmer category) I’ve seen yet, and it is definitely worth learning Japanese for. No kidding, you can make reading Asairo your first goal after learning Japanese and it’ll be worth your days. In my opinion, it’s not hard to read at all, and saying it’s only a few notches down ItsuSora’s difficulty level is a bit harsh of an assessment, but each person has their level. So yeah, go read it. If you already have a competent grasp of Japanese reading then go fucking read it. No regrets.
(Now it’s either I go on a two-year break again or I start reading Dies irae for real this time)