Developer: Frontwing, blank-note
Price: $34,99 USD
Release Date: December 9th, 2016
I went into the game completely blind. The game’s description vaguely hints at sci-fi but otherwise I expected nothing. I was in for a huge surprise. Himawari is a fantastic tale about humanity and science, woven bit by bit from the perspective of several different protagonists.
The game is split into three parts. The boy’s protagonist’s scenario in the year 2050, the girl’s scenario set in 2048, and the several supplemental short stories unlocked after completing the main game. The game’s plot is a continuity of events that stretch many decades, with each scenario narrating critical events in its timeline. Although Youichi and Aqua are the protagonists of the two main segments, this is not the tale of any single person, but rather a larger overarching story involving many different people, each living in their own time and subject to their own circumstances, unaware of their role in the grand scale of events.
The main event in Himawari, and the turning point of all major character’s life stories, is presented immediately upon starting the game. The unfortunate accident of a space plane and death of 514 passengers, the worst loss of life in that universe’s history of space development. Youichi is the sole survivor of the crash and has no memories of his life prior to the crash. Skip two years after, Youichi and his closest friend witness the crash of a capsule, carrying within it a young girl, also without memories. Both are all but convinced that she is an alien.
Although this is explained within the first 5 minutes into the game, it is about halfway through the events in the story. Upon completing the first route, the reader will explore events from two years ago, during the weeks leading up to the fateful accident.
It is very common for sci-fi and fantasy games to occasionally perform “infodumps”-that is, rather long segments during which several key elements of a game’s universe are explained-as a tool for world-building their stories. In Himawari, this does not happen. Although the narrative might take short breaks to explain plot devices, it does so without interrupting the momentum of currently ongoing events.
Despite Himawari’s fragmented narrative, the underlying plot is not the force that moves the story along. In fact, no character in the game is completely aware of the full extent of events. Aqua and Youichi both are shackled by the events of their respective pasts, but their motivations throughout the game have always more to do with their current circumstances.
Himawari plays as a classic visual novel, with branching paths and routes for each of the heroines. Game configuration allows for sound/voice controls and text speed/skip settings. Gameplay order is Aries’ 2050 route first, Aqua’s 2048 route second, and the rest of the routes in any order. Upon finishing the main game, a prequel to Asuka’s story and two short scenarios are unlocked, shining light into events not mentioned during the story. Furthermore, for every ending unlocked(even Bad Endings), a handful of short segments involving Aoi are unlocked, called Tips.
All extension scenarios and short stories combined with the main game amount to about 40 hours or reading.
There are a total of 75 songs played throughout the game. It’s an amount several times bigger compared to Visual Novels of similar length. Himawari’s sound track does not impress merely by quantity, but also by quality. At least a dozen of the tracks are good enough to become memorable.
Originally a doujin game, the localized version of Himawari is a remastered version of the original. Below is a comparison between the original game’s art versus the remaster.
Although the revamped sprites and backgrounds are objectively better compared to the originals, Himawari retains a doujin-like appearance, with very simplistic designs and and lines. Intentional or not, it is a central component of the game’s atmosphere.
Because of the fragmented nature of the game, it’s very easy for the player to miss or forget a critical plot point. Furthermore, Himawari does not insult the player’s reading comprehension by explicitly correlating events. The author went out of his way to compose the story in a manner which allows him to drop important bits of information without interrupting the game’s momentum. This intended subtlety is likely to leave behind a few readers that aren’t paying attention to the game. Himawari would have largely benefited from having something akin to a player’s diary or any type of tool that sums up important details in the story up to that point.
I went into this expecting nothing, but instead was presented with a work that has the makings of a master piece. It fell just short of such, by failing to present a proper conclusion. Perhaps because I placed greater interest in the plot and less on the character’s individual growth. Reading and comprehending each of the character’s motivations and dreams, and how they ended up after pursuing their goals, was the single best aspect of Himawari. In particular, I was very strongly drawn to the figure of Akira and his relentless pursuit of his goals. The first two scenarios do an excellent job of painting him as a villain and opposer, while the latter parts of the game flesh out his humanity and struggles.
While not exactly a game I would recommend to someone who’s never played a Visual Novel, Himawari is definitely one of the finest games I’ve played to date. It quickly catches the reader’s interest and moves between ordinary life events and the extraordinary with a narrative mastery that doesn’t betray the change. Expect yourself to binge play for long session, unable to put it down.