Kara no Shoujo Playtest: A Door Into Another Reality

By Laura . July 7, 2011 . 5:02pm

The year is 1956 in Japan. Reiji Tokisaka is an ordinary detective who is drawn into a gruesome series of murders. Or, more precisely, his former colleague detective volunteered him in his place, because these were “right up his alley.”

 

A girl is found, but she is missing her torso. Another, buried just below the dirt with her foot propped up and on fire. The one with her torso still intact has a broken black egg surgically implanted into her abdomen. Both are left in the open, modesty protected by only a single black cloth.

 

A gruesome story if I’ve ever seen one, but Kara no Shoujo isn’t simply about bringing a killer to justice. It’s about discovering the truth and learning to come to terms with the past. It’s about immersing yourself in the atmosphere of the game, which is dedicated to convincing you to care about the characters like Reiji does, wanting to save the missing like he does, and mourning the lost like he does. Kara no Shoujo thrives off of emotional responses, whether it’s uneasiness thanks to the creepy chapter titles or the joy of finally managing to save one of the many victims.

 

Kara no Shoujo is honest and blunt about everything. The art does not censor, and the narration does not shy away from the more macabre details. If there is a body with a broken neck, it will be drawn and described precisely as it is. The same goes for decapitations, broken limbs, missing limbs, or whatever other bodily harm you can think of. 

 

In contrast to the gruesome happenings, Kara no Shoujo’s artwork is beautiful; or perhaps I should say it brings about the feeling of another reality. The backgrounds are almost like a photograph in their amount of detail, yet the colors are almost like those in a painting. The overall feel of the art is kind of soft and demure, which gives all the more contrast to certain scenes.

 

And just after you’re done taking in the horrible image of red and death, you go to the “Character List” in Reiji’s notebook, and you see a smiling beautiful portrait of how they were when they were still alive.

 

But not everything is death and destruction in the world of post-war Japan. The game divides the dialogue scenes up with “intermissions” or “investigation periods.” A map of Tokyo is presented, and you choose to visit two of the available locations. There, you can interact with some of the characters and, occasionally, you’ll acquire a clue important to the case. Interestingly, I could relate to these locations even if Japan at the time is most definitely a foreign and unfamiliar setting for me. They have a sort of “old-fashioned” flavor to them, but it wasn’t ancient enough to isolate me from the game. Everything is slightly romantic, with everyone wearing yutakas and kimonos at home, but otherwise, there are still trains, cars, girl-only private academies with uniforms, cafés with maids…

 

The characters in Kara no Shoujo are certainly likeable, and I found myself vying for a certain route. Kyoko is the understanding owner of the café “Moon World,” Reiji’s favorite haunt, and is also childhood friends with him. Yukari is Reiji’s eccentric little sister — great with housework, but has an overwhelming fascination with bugs. And let’s not forget about Toko, the heroine of the story, the girl who “hires” Reiji to find her “true self”. Despite her frail appearance, she likes to tease Reiji about his faults, yet trusts him to get to the bottom of everything.

 

Thus far, this sounds just like any other game in the genre; you get to deepen your relationship with different girls, and if you’re dedicated enough, you could earn a “rewarding” scene with them. However, “routes” are defined very vaguely laid out in Kara no Shoujo. While you can try all you want, some people are destined to die, and others are put in danger thanks to Reiji’s more reckless actions.

 

Because of the ephemeral nature of the relationships you develop, the game isn’t about hooking up with some girl. Sometimes this was frustrating, because I would really love to save as many people as I can. Unfortunately, in this story, that’s just not possible, and, like Reiji, I could only bear with it and move on.

 

Ultimately, Kara no Shoujo is about a mystery waiting to be resolved, both on a physical and a spiritual level. This mystery not only involves the victims and Reiji and Toko, but also you as the player. Rather than just choosing random choices until you get a correct answer during Reiji’s “let’s review what we know thus far,” the game will actually pretend that you were correct, and Reiji will rationalize your answer.

 

This doesn’t mean that you were actually correctly, however. Perhaps you missed finding a clue while investigating the bodies, and Reiji moved on because he figured there was nothing more to find. Investigations in Kara no Shoujo are yours to conduct. Eventually, you’ll realize you don’t have the necessary pieces to solve the puzzle. Unfortunately, by this time, you’ll be on fast track to a bad ending without you realizing it until you’re actually there.

 

Not that the bad endings are something you want to avoid completely. It’s possible to discover new details that fill out the story through these, and some of the endings are entertaining (if your tastes tend towards horror).

 

To help you avoid these more disturbing endings, Reiji has a notebook that keeps tabs on all sorts of information. It updates frequently, every time you find something new, and is extremely extensive. The profiles contain every person you’ve met. The Investigation Memo shows everything that’s happened, day by day. The case-important facts are filed under the Evidence List. The notebook is like a Swiss army knife that is extremely helpful every time you forget a small detail, and the plot is just complicated and twisted enough to warrant any help you can get.

 

Kara no Shoujo is a game that makes you actively think and remember the details of the cases, which is one of the many ways it tries to pull you into its world. It’s also most definitely one of the more beautiful exhibits of art I’ve come across in the visual novel world, not only because of its artwork and music, but also because of the intricacies of its characterization and story.

 

Food for Thought:

Kara no Shoujo is actually directly related to another Innocent Grey game. The main character of Cartagra is one of the main supporting characters in Kara no Shoujo. Given Shugo Takashiro’s quirky, laidback manner, I think he’d be an interesting protagonist to play as. (For reference, the first time you see him, he’s lying “dead” on the living room table, covered in tomato juice.)


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  • Ereek

    I do believe you’ve convinced me to buy this.

    Damn you, backlog, you only get larger by the day.

    • Exkaiser

      Do you keep track of your backlog on Backloggery?

      I  feel the same way, though. I buy games every so often but almost never finish them.

      • Locklear93

         I find that I stop because I’m more interested in the characters and world than in winning the game, and I don’t want them to end when the game does, so when something else comes along, I have what I wanted from the first game, and it takes little to nothing to move on to another.  I always finish at least some routes of VNs, though.  Except Figures of Happiness; that was horrible.

        • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

          Mm, I can never bring myself to do that.  I always feel like I need to pay my respects to the game, to the characters, by finishing their journey to the end.  …It’s gotten me through some pretty bad games, that mentality.

          • Locklear93

            In my case, I’m not bringing myself to do anything.  To finish would be bringing myself to do something.  As long as the end credits don’t roll, the game’s not over, and I can return to those characters and that world any time I like.  A replay isn’t the same for me.  The only time I’ve felt compelled to finish to pay my respects to a character was Final Fantasy 7 (I admit it; I was WAY too fond of Aerith), and I was really propelled by a strong desire to thoroughly deadify that SOB Sephiroth. :P

          • Exkaiser

            Personally, when I beat FFVII, it was out of some twisted belief that beating it was just something RPG fans had to do (in hindsight, madness). I had zero investment in the characters or story of the game (Well, I did sympathize with Cid’s spacefaring woes, but that was a very short subplot), so I pretty much dragged myself through it.

          • Locklear93

            Aerith was really the only one that hooked me as a character, and I scarcely
            remember the plot. Outside of Aerith, I was playing it because I enjoyed
            the gameplay a lot. (No consoles for me until 1998, and JRPGs on PC at that
            time were basically non-existent. The PC version of FFVII was a godsend.)

    • PrinceHeir

      same2 :D

      too many games piling up at my cabinet O_O

  • Zero_Destiny

    From the demo I was overly impressed with this game. Very good from what little I played of it. Great coverage now I want it even more. Unfortunately my laptop is down getting repaired so I’ll have to wait. >_<

  • Aoshi00

    The art looks really beautiful, wonder what other games or anime has this artist illustrated for…  Would really want to play this one day if it’s ported to the 360 or something.. I would like to play it in Jpn if possible.. but not sure how to get it to work (couldn’t get the demo to work before).. and not many places sell Jpn PC games..  the violence scenes do sound very graphic though (even some scenes in Chaos Head is a bit much for me and it’s probably tame compared to this)…  One cool thing about VN is the almost photo realistic environment since they probably use a real photo as a reference, like how Obata Takeshi does for his manga..  If the game is this good alrdy, imagine w/ the original voices..  I know Steins;Gate wouldn’t be the same w/o it since the seiyuu cast was so exceptional. Being forced to see the chars you like die (in horrible ways too) sucks though, not for the faint of heart like me *.*..

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Look up Miki Sugina. :)

      • Aoshi00

        Cool… very nice art, not familiar w/ the other Innocent grey VNs she illustrated for though.. and cool pen name..   I like this art as much as Hakuouki’s, could just stare at them :)

        • Ladius

          So true, at first I was interested in Innocent Grey mainly because of the terrific artworks employed in their games :)

    • Locklear93

      If you consider yourself faint of heart, it really isn’t for you, as you said.  I’m enjoying it, but HOLY CRAP are some of the scenes and descriptions brutal.  I hit a bad end last time I played, and my own character’s condition before death was chilling–and then they made me watch what happened to another character. SO MUCH WINCING.

      • Aoshi00

        I know they said they want graphic death scenes to be a part of the story to have an emotional impact, but sometimes I feel it borderlines on snuff and masochistic I don’t have the stomach for it.. I guess this game is beautiful and disturbing at the same time which makes the difference all the more glaring (that’s why I never really got interested in Higurashi, cute anime girls w/ gruesome deaths)..  There were some very heavy and emotional scenes w/ not so good things happen to the chars in Steins;Gate too, but it wasn’t always about deaths and even if there were they weren’t described in gory details.. I guess it had more to work w/ because it dealt w/ time travel.. like Back to the Future..

        I like my murder mystery too, but from what you said I guess the violence might be a bit too much..  I’m not sure if it’s necessary or they just want to go all out to be shocking..  it would be cooler if the game doesn’t have too much sex or violence in it so more people could enjoy..

        • Locklear93

          I definitely don’t feel Kara no Shoujo borders on snuff at all.  That was a concern of mine, but that’s not how it’s been.  I’d say that the cruelty involved in the murders is rather mind boggling, and I did find myself wondering just what sort of person could write something so brutal, but at no point have I found violence that I felt detracted from the story.

          A piece of classic literature is referenced in Kara no Shoujo (I’m dancing around the name to avoid spoilers), and the grotesqueness of the killing that I’ve seen so far has largely been either for a specific, plot oriented reason, or was the killer mimicking punishments from that piece of literature.  It hasn’t been “Let’s see how horrifically gruesome we can make this for the sake of attention whoring!”

          The forensics and description of the murders is NOT pleasant reading.  It’s not meant to be, though, and I don’t feel that anything I’ve seen so far crossed the line from honest depiction of horrible brutality into gratuitous grossness for the sake of gratuitous grossness.

          As for it being cooler if it were cleaned up so more people could enjoy it… I don’t think I agree with that.  A big part of what Kara no Shoujo is is portrayal of a very, very disturbed mind.  They could probably tone it down some, sure, but if they cleaned it up enough to attract people who are avoiding it as it is, it really probably would lose something in the process.  In the end, it’s a horror story almost as much as a murder mystery, and horror just isn’t for everyone.

          • Exkaiser

            One thing I like about Kara no Shoujo is that it name-drops a lot of Japanese detective stories and other literature from the first half of the 1900s that you wouldn’t hear a lot about in the West. It’s kind of interesting to take a look into what everyone’s talking about.

            I do agree with most of your assessment, though I personally feel that the investigation segments involving the corpses aren’t particularly stomach-turning. The art for them is cool and calm, not shocking despite the brutality of the murders. An apt fit for the frame of mind of a detective investigating a crime scene. Well, maybe that’s just the homicide detective in me talking.

            And as you said, although watching the murders in action is much more grotesque, it’s never for the sake of being over-the-top gruesome.

          • Locklear93

            Consider the investigation/crime scene of the first murder that takes place after you start reading, the one based on the 20th canta of the piece of literature I’m not naming.  It was muted and subdued, but seeing the body in the state they’d described during the murder itself was still chilling to me.  I’ll concede though that it didn’t compare the the extremely detailed description of the murder/mutilation in progress.

            Also bear in mind that horror isn’t my thing (I’m making an exception for Kara no Shoujo), so I may have less tolerance than you, and that as I noted… somewhere, but not in my above post, it seems, I haven’t yet picked it up again since a bad end I got, in which the main character was unable to do anything but WATCH as one of the victims was, er… victimized.  THAT was horribly, horribly graphic, and it’s probably coloring my memories some.

          • Exkaiser

            @Locklear93:disqus I was stuck on the bad end you’re describing for a while when I first started off past where the demo leaves off… It’s definitely the most nerve-wracking scene in the game, much more gruesome than any of the other murder sequences by virtue of the protagonist being there in person to see it.

            As for the 20th canto investigation, I didn’t think that one was chilling at all, but, well, criminal justice education does stuff to you, man. If any of the corpse investigations unnerved me, it was the last one on the route to the not-bad endings. But, well, that was partly because I was afraid the murderer might return and get to work on poor old Reiji (they don’t).

          • Aoshi00

            Thanks for not spoiling for me :)  I’m not one for torturous deaths either, I can’t watch things like Saw or Hostel (still haven’t watched Human Centipede), I know this game is better of course… but if I have a chance to play this, like you I would make an exception and see if I could handle it :) sometimes I think the same thing, just what kind of sickos could imagine and write something like this.. must’ve done a lot of research.. speaking of gross death scenes, I remember Ethan Hawke holding the severed head of his mother in the elevator in Taking Lives (the one w/ Angelina Jolie) was pretty gross, but the shot was very quick.. and nothing like reading about it in here..

      • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

         Just from that description, I think I can tell which ending you got =P

        • Locklear93

          It HURT TO WATCH, SOOO MUCH.  *twitch* *cringe*

          • Exkaiser

            There, there. It’s just a bad end, it didn’t really happen.

  • Ladius

    This is surely one of the finest visual novels ever localized in English, not only is the investigative part refreshing and well integrated with the narrative but you really feel motivated because of the emotional bond you build with the numerous characters you get to know during the game. The post-war setting is also extremely interesting and adds to the game’s identity, I wish more fictional works would explore Japan’s history aside from periods such as Sengoku, Bakumatsu and the last decade.

    Surely, it isn’t for everyone because of the sexgore element (in the game’s defense, they aren’t out of place in the overall atmosphere), but I really hope it manage to sell well because after some hours with Kara no Shoujo Innocent Grey has skyrocketed in my personal visual novel developer ranking, and I’m already lusting for Cartagra and Caucasus.

  • http://twitter.com/InfinityAge11 InfinityAge11

    I would play this game if there was a way you could play it with all the hentai scenes taken out.
    Is there?

    • Ladius

      There isn’t, and an all-age edition would need a rework of many scenes since sex is a part of the overall experience, albeit sometimes it feels a bit forced. I know sex can be a major turn off in videogames, but I would suggest to try one of those titles since, aside from their fanservice, they have often great writing, art and soundracks (Kara no Shoujo is a prime example of this mix).

      Sadly so-called eroges (plot-centered games that happen to have sex scenes added, mainly to please the Japanese PC audience) often get confused with nukiges (games centered on sex, where plot plays a minor role), and many never give them a chance because of this.

    • Exkaiser

      No, but it’s pretty easy to skip over them when they occur.

  • Exkaiser

    Shugo’s the protagonist of Cartagra, huh?

    With his hair covering his entire face, I did get the feeling that he had a more classic eroge design than Reiji.

    I guess that makes a certain bad ending even worse if you’ve played Cartagra first- not that most of us will have done so.

    The game is fantastic, and anyone interested in VNs or bizarre murder mysteries should pick it up.

    • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

      Even though I’d read the summary for Cartagra and passed by his name, it didn’t actually hit until I looked at Shuugo and wonder “…why are his eyes covered?”

      • Exkaiser

        Argh, speaking of Cartagra and summaries, I just did a quick image search to see if there was any art of Shugo from it on google, and I ended up getting a summary that spoiled the big bad in the character descriptions.

        Why would you do thissss.

        Well, I suppose I’ll forget it by the time Cartagra gets translated, if it gets translated.

  • http://twitter.com/sakurairomemori Alphabet Soup

    Ah man, Mangagamer is definitely picking up some good VNs.  Curse you Mac computer that I love so much…sometimes…

    • Locklear93

      VNs aren’t typically very demanding on hardware.  It’s conceivable you could run it using Boot Camp or… Parallels?  I don’t really know what they’re called; I deplore Macs.  I just know that emulation is conceivable, if you can’t/won’t use Windows.

      • Exkaiser

        I use Boot Camp. It runs anything just as well as any similar hardware would.

        You shouldn’t hate Macs, though. They may be overpriced, but the hardware is really quite competent. OSX is up to taste, but again, Boot Camp.

        • Locklear93

          Overpriced is reason enough, but I REALLY don’t want to start a Mac vs. PC thing in a Kara no Shoujo article.  Suffice it to say that I have a number of reasons for my opinion, some rational and founded, and others purely and admittedly out of spite.  If I were given an Apple product–ANY Apple product, at best, I’d throw it out.

    • Exkaiser

      I played it just fine on my Macbook using Boot Camp.

  • Phlo

    The violence in this game creeps me out in the wrong way…it borders on the fetishistic at times, IMO. I like how it handles investigations, though.

  • lurkingsalt

    I’m currently going through it myself, 1 hour in and the art and music is top notch, can’t wait to really dig into it this weekend. Glad Siliconera is doing a play test, this game really deserves all the attention and can get. I’ve played my fair share of VNs but something like this that was intentionally developed for an adult audience (not just the sex) is what’s so great IMO about VNs.

    PS: Does the title theme song remind anyone else of Kingdom Hearts or is it just me? Youtube search “Azure Disc02 07 Kara no Shoujo” and let me know if I’m just imagining things.

    PS2: What people have said about the violence. It’s funny how words can conjure such ‘violence’ when we don’t really bat an eye at blowing up people/zombies in FPS.

    • Aoshi00

      I suppose depending on what context.. if it’s quirky and fun mindless violence like in Grind house flicks (like Nic Cage’s Drive Angry, drinking beer out of a dead guy’s skull, that’s brilliant :) then it doesn’t bother me at all.. but if it’s victims being subject to torture trying to escape from a demented killer like in the Saw movies, then I can’t watch.. killing zombies is just an adrenaline rush.. but this is supposed to have an emotional impact because you care a lot for the characters meeting their gruesome demise.. and of course text is very graphic.. I saw the movie American Psycho (I thought it was very stylish and funny in a morbid way) but don’t think I could stomach the book since people said it was much more graphic.

    • Exkaiser

      It doesn’t really remind me of Kingdom Hearts, but both do use somber pieces with a piano in a leading position, I guess.

      The piano KH’s Dearly Beloved is more of a secondary part, though, whereas the piano in Kara no Shoujo is the forefront of the piece with the other instruments very subtle in the background.

      tl;dr: I don’t think they’re very similar, I guess.

      EDIT: Bringing it up, though, has made me sit the game on the music gallery and let it loop indefinitely. It’s really quite a lovely theme.

      • lurkingsalt

        Did the same thing last night, had it looping for a good hour or so. Wish I hadn’t given up on the piano :(

  • http://twitter.com/ReSakiChan Saki

    W-wait wait…I remember hacving finished Cartagra’s Last Episode Sacrament a few days ago…S-so that’s how Kazuna looks in Kara no Shoujo? oh my…

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Have not read the article yet because I don’t want to spoil a single bit of this game for myself (will read as soon as I 100%) but I just wanted to make sure I said something.

    Kara no Shoujo is one of the most beautiful and amazing digital/gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I adore the artwork and narrative and it is without a doubt the best visual novel I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.

    I know I was a big naysayer of the game before due to the voices issue, but ignore what I said before. Please buy and support this game! I would love to see more Innocent Grey titles through MangaGamer!

  • Exciel

    Just beat it, was a very beautiful and captivating experience. Definitely looking forward to future Innocent Grey releases.

  • . .

    Laura, may I ask which character’s route that you were vying for? Just a hint would be fine, as I’ve already completed the game and gotten the true ending.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2WNP7FYA3VYJQKEYYV5GXH3K5Y yahoo-2WNP7FYA3VYJQKEYYV5GXH3K5Y

    The question is: do you have nightmares? I certainly do.   

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