Find Fun in Fear
It’s probably the right time of year to talk about horror games. After all, we’re publishing this review on the “most terrifying” day of the year, Halloween. There’s a reason so many people love this holiday: a lot of people really enjoy a good scare. Many enjoy the thrill or the adrenaline rush of being truly terrified.
So, of course, we have turned it into a form of entertainment. Since the dawn of time, I’m sure, people have been telling each other scary stories. Using fiction to try and elicit those feelings of terror that people oh so much enjoy. Those stories developed into horror movies, a monster of a film genre. In more modern times, we now have the horror video game.
When it comes to video games, the genre is often specifically called Survival Horror, as most games in the genre have you actively trying to endure various frights. Horror games are a relatively recent genre compared to others; despite some early entries such as Sweet Home in the late 80s, the genre didn’t really come into its own until (according to many) the release of the original Resident Evil in the mid-90s.
While I wouldn’t say they’re as numerous and rabidly popular as horror movies, horror games are a relatively popular genre that subsists to this day. Today, we are here to look at one such entry in the genre. One that comes in the form of a visual novel. Yup, after discussing them in a number of feature pieces, we’re finally going to review a visual novel.
Sound of Drop -fall into poison- was released for Western audiences on October 30th, 2015, just in time for Halloween. Originally developed by AiueoKompany, this version is a remaster of doujin (indie) game Shizuku no Oto. This remaster has been published by Sekai Project and released for PC on Steam.
As a quick note: with this being a pure visual novel, we will be skipping the normal “gameplay” section of the review.
Sound of Drop revolves around the story of middle-schooler Mayumi Nakanobe, a quiet and somewhat antisocial young girl with a bit of a tragic past. She has exactly one person she can really call a friend: the bubbly and outgoing Himeno Tamagawa.
While talking during lunch one day, Himeno makes mention of a popular rumor amongst kids of their age: the local Manten Aquarium is haunted. Several little stories are mentioned in the rumors. Fish with human faces swim about, the water in the tanks turns to blood during the full moon, and that people who manage to see the closed-off Deep-Sea Fish exhibit vanish. The rumors, particularly the last one, hit home with Mayumi, as five years earlier, her little sister Mari vanished during a family visit to the aquarium.
With a great amount of pleading and the promise of ice cream, Himeno manages to get Mayumi to join her in a visit to the aquarium. Of course, as a horror story, things begin to take a turn for the bad. After a series of varyingly-horrific events, Mayumi has to investigate the aquarium, find out the truth behind these rumors, and discover the mystery behind her little sister’s disappearance.
With such an interesting, if occasionally cliche, setup, it becomes disappointing to know that the game is on the extreme short end. My playthrough of Sound of Drop took about four hours, and that includes hitting about half of the bad endings and a few of the good endings. With such a short runtime, the game feels like it is trying to do too much.
One of the major flaws in the game is in its secondary characters. Outside of Mayumi and Himeno, we are introduced to about three other players in the story. While it doesn’t sound like many, the development for these characters ranges from adequate to non-existant. While I don’t want to name names so as to avoid spoilers, there is one character that I believe could be plucked from the story and nothing would change. Said character shows up, is introduced, goes crazy, and falls off the face of the Earth. This feels like a straight-up waste.
The other weakness would be how sudden plot points are introduced. Very few of the major moments in Sound of Drop have even the slightest allusions to them earlier in the story, and it can make some of the twists feel weak and forced. The short runtime probably contributes greatly to this, as there isn’t much time to properly develop some of the story.
This is disappointing as, despite the occasionally wacky premise (PEOPLE ARE DYING FROM FISH-RELATED INJURIES HERE!), there are many parts of the story that had me drawn in and enthralled. Some of the early moments, where Mayumi is separated from all of the other characters, offer the best story and character exploration in the game, especially with Mayumi lost in her own thoughts. The descriptiveness of some of the early environments is excellent as well.
As with many violent or horror-themed visual novels, one of the big selling points is the large number of bad endings you can see. Sound of Drop boasts 27 bad endings. Having experienced a majority of them, their writing quality ranges from “somewhat disturbing” to “forced in to get the number higher.”
Speaking of disturbing, despite the game warning of “graphic and disturbing content” upon loading, Sound of Drop doesn’t come across to me as all that graphic. There are a few scenes with blood (occasionally a significant amount of it) here and there, and some of the descriptions of deaths can be gruesome. However, with the marketing, I came in expecting Corpse Party levels of genuinely unsettling, and left a bit disappointed.
To end here on a positive note, upon completion of the main story, a prologue chapter of sorts unlocks, providing development for one of the main secondary characters. In the case of this character, it actually manages to fix some of my complaints about development…despite introducing another character who is even less developed.
Bask in the Glow
The first I heard of this game was earlier this week, when Sekai Project retweeted this image from AiueoKompany’s Twitter page. My first thought was “this looks beautiful” followed by “why I haven’t I heard of this?” Following this, I reached out to Sekai Project and began researching the game.
Luckily, despite all the negatives I threw at the game in the last section, the graphical presentation of Sound of Drop does not disappoint. Keeping in mind that, even as a remaster, this was originally a doujin release, the character designs and backgrounds are excellent. I guess that having less characters means that AiueoKompany was able to spend more time on the designs of who they had. Unfortunately, a lack of poses in the designs and some occasionally awkward expressions drags it down a little, but not enough to discount my personal praises.
Many of the environment designs are excellent as well. Two in particular that stand out in my memory are the jellyfish tank exhibit early in the game and the nightclub/concert hall in the post-game prologue. Some environments are naturally mundane (you will do quite a bit of exploring through offices and maintenance corridors), but the areas where major setpieces take place look great.
Lastly, being a visual novel, I have to mention the CGs. As a quick aside: when it comes to visual novels, CGs (standing for computer graphics, from what I understand) are used to refer to special art scenes outside of the typical background-and-character-sprite. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why they’re referred to by that name, as all the graphics are computer generated…but it’s the term that’s used, so we’ll go with it.
Anyways, the CGs in Sound of Drop look just as great at the rest of the game, and actually quite better when it comes to the character design. Less awkward expressions and more emotion gets conveyed in these scenes, and they definitely add to the more weighty parts of the story.
The background music in Sound of Drop is, to put it simply, all over the place. Some tracks, especially the vocal tracks played during the opening sequence and the end credits, are excellent and set the mood well. Others…not so much. It’s not too often that I’ll remember bad tracks. Heck, in most cases, I’ll end up outright ignoring bad tracks and forgetting about them when the time comes to write a review. But one track…oh man, one track just sticks in my mind.
It only plays once, as far as I’ve noticed,when the character Kanji is introduced. Once it begins, you’re presented with what sounds like low-quality MIDI record-scratching noises. Following that is also a compressed-MIDI-sounding bouncy poppy medley for a few seconds, before we repeat again. Between each part, we get what sounds like an adult pretending to be a little kid yelling YEAH. Truly a fitting song to introduce a character.
Outside of that, though, the soundtrack ranges from decent to great! Pieces during pivotal moments carry the emotion of the scene well, standard background tracks convey tone without overtaking a scene…exactly what one would want from a complimentary soundtrack. It doesn’t standout as something I’d listen to outside of the game, but within the confines of Sound of Drop, the song selection works.
As a quick final note, Sound of Drop does not contain any voice work, Japanese or otherwise.
A Botched Kill
Overall, Sound of Drop has an unfortunately disappointing story held up by surprisingly great presentation. The themes presented are entertaining, and many of the plot points have potential to be a part of something great, but the short runtime of the story proves to be quite a hindrance.
If a bit more time was spent in setting up plotlines and providing a bit more detail, this game could have had a much stronger story. It would be even better if the secondary characters were given more screen time and development. Hell, in some cases, if we went the other direction and just removed a few of them, more time would be opened up to develop the story.
Sound of Drop appears to be a bit too ambitious for its limitations. In the end, I would say it is worth a read if you can find it on sale and want something quick and not too deep. At the very least, check it out for its graphical and musical presentation…
…minus the YEAH track.
~ Final Score: 6/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sekai Project for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.