Of the “classics” one is expected to play in order to consider themselves a “real visual novel fan,” one that is often mentioned to this day is Ever17: Out of Infinity. It’s easy to see why; aside from the fact it was one of the first “real” visual novels to be released in English, it’s also an extremely captivating story. A group of people trapped in an amusement park, fear of a very real risk of death hanging over them, and an intriguing mystery with a touch of the supernatural.
…which is also a description that can fit many visual novel and VN-adjacent games that have become popular in the west. The Zero Escape and Danganronpa series land squarely here, although with their own unique twists. The Science Adventure series (e.g. Steins;Gate) and AI: The Somnium Files less so, focusing more on the “mystery” side of the coin.
It’s these core tenets that developer Trinitite Team appear to be following with their visual novel, The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass. After being successfully KickStarted in October 2020, the full game was just released on May 6th, 2021 for PC via Steam. While we are still working on a full review, we wanted to give our impressions on the portion we were able to read through so far.
The Sekimeiya follows Atsuki Hakutoki, a young man just kind of living his life in a small town. The story begins with Atsuki and his childhood friend, Shiroya, attending an event run by the town’s local rich family, the Ashiyas. Gem collectors who have turned their home into a museum, the Ashiya family has been pumping up the reveal of a unique and impressive gemstone they have obtained: the eponymous Sekimeiya.
Moments from their turn to see this gemstone, Atsuki and Shiroya are knocked out by smoke that suddenly pours into the room they’re in. When they awake, they find themselves trapped in the Ashiya building, along with a handful of other townspeople and building employees. Informed that they will be stuck in the building for at least twelve hours, Atsuki and the others begin trying to work out who attacked the building, if they were after the Sekimeiya…and figuring out other mysterious events that begin occurring.
It’s an intriguing setup, if somewhat odd (why are so many teenagers and 20-somethings so interested in seeing a fancy rock in the first place?). The pieces are here for a good story, even if many of them are seemingly cribbed from other “mystery thriller” visual novels. Hell, one of the mysteries presented early is the fact that there’s a completely inaccessible floor in the Ashiya building that may hold the key to everything happening, which took me right back to the aforementioned Ever17.
The issue, though, is the writing. Visual Novels are, to be extremely reductionist, basically books. The prose is incredibly important. If a player is expected to spend the next 30-50 hours reading a work of writing, they need to get some kind of enjoyment out of it. The Sekimeiya, though, has prose as dry as a school textbook.
The Sekimeiya, at least in the portions I have played so far, fails the “show don’t tell” test that visual novels should naturally have an advantage in over traditional text, being that they are an interactive visual medium. The first five hours of the game is mostly just a series of long, dry, and often unprompted by the story infodumps. The game hardly takes the time to characterize its cast before letting them go on multi-paragraph-long diatribes concerning what they think about whatever just happened recently. Found an empty suitcase in a hallway? Time for ten paragraphs of speculating how it got there.
Speaking of the cast, even after the six-to-seven hours of playtime experienced so far, I can barely tell you anything about them. The game hardly bothers to characterize most of the cast aside from their name and job and…well, that’s about it. It took nearly three hours of reading time to even get presented a bit of background on Atsuki…the main character. Suffering the most is the character of Akaro, a big dude who has to this point done absolutely nothing in the story, and seems to only exist to be “the character that’s allowed to say the word ‘fuck’ a lot.”
What hurts more is that The Sekimeiya is a mystery story that doesn’t seem to trust its audience to figure out the mystery. Any time a new twist or development happens, the game spends the next fifteen minutes having the characters spout all of their thoughts on it, while Atsuki monologues internally on the current direction of the mystery. It spells everything out to the player, without letting them think on their own.
This goes directly against one of the main features of the game: the ability to peruse and search previous dialogue and take your own notes about what’s going on. There’s an entire function here that lets the player try and figure out the mysteries presented. Unfortunately, the dialogue itself won’t let the player do it.
Now, as I mentioned, I’ve only gotten through about seven hours of the story so far, of an expected 25-30 for a fast reader. The game absolutely still has a chance to open up and develop its characters more, or let the player become more involved in the mystery. The fact that it hasn’t nearly a third of the way into its expected runtime, though, has me worried. Also, I don’t expect anything to be able to save the dry and rambling prose it’s built on.
I’ll still give The Sekimeiya the opportunity to change my mind, though. I’ve played many visual novels with dull and dry initial stories that open up wonderfully in the end. Perhaps this game can pull it off. Only time will tell.
Stay tuned for our full review of The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass!
Review copy provided by Trinitite Team for PC. Screenshots taken by writer.