Adventures in Visual Noveling: Kira⋆Kira


The oft overlooked (at least in the west) subsection of gaming know as "visual novels" are a curious lot.  Most western gamers would not consider these 'games' in the common sense, as the only gameplay they encapsulate are the occasional (and sometimes quite rare) pathing options put in front of you at key points in the story that allow you to give some direction as to where and how the tale will progress.  Outside of that, most of the experience relies on you reading through reams of text while being presented with (mostly) still artwork used to enhance the story driven experience.
 
I've played a number of these titles in the past, most of which for the PC, and they certainly are for a niche crowd.  An example of one you can currently find on consoles is Sakura Wars, which is mostly a visual novel with SRPG sections thrown in at the end of each chapter.  
 
A friend of mine, much more versed in these titles than myself, recently pushed me to play MangaGamer's release of Overdrive's Kira⋆Kira.
 
Kira⋆Kira  is about a group of four Japanese students who decide, after two of them attend a local concert, to form a punk rock band to perform at their school's upcoming culture festival.   From there the tale progresses on showing the bands rise to fame and the developing love between the male lead (you) and one of  your 3 female band-mates (which you will help decide through your actions in the game).
  

A Look at the Novel

 
As expected of the genre (not that it should necessarily be acceptable) all the characters in the story are tried and true anime and manga stereotypes.  There's the childhood friend, the sick (rich) girl who you want to protect, the ditsy-hyperactive-cheerful girl, and the dense male best friend.  All of these personalities flesh out as the visual novel progresses, but as often the case, at first they are indistinguishable from others of their trope in Japanese media. 
 
At this point I'm into the early stages of the second chapter or about 11 and a half hours in.  This is by no means a short experience.   I can tell that I'm not even near approaching the halfway mark and honestly, I've no clear idea on just how many more hours await me.  This is partially because this story feels significantly padded out.  There are scenes here that feel like they should have been half the duration they ultimately end up being.  It meanders on subjects, often to an unbearable point (one instance being an almost hour long painful discussion on what punk rock is), and progresses at a momentum so slow that I literally found myself fighting sleep through most of what I've played thus far.
 
None of this is helped by the near complete lack of dialog choices that maintain any sense of interactivity to this medium.  In the 11 hours I've played, at best, I think I've encountered all of 5 choices, only 2 of which actually felt like they brought any amount of impact to the direction of the story.  Compare this to the last visual novel I went through, Clannad, which featured frequent and tangible interaction points with which to engage the player and make them feel like they had a real hand in steering the fiction.  If even the illusion of choice popped up more often, I feel it would make the game considerably less sleep inducing.  To be fair, perhaps attempting a multiple hour session late at night is not the prime-time to be experiencing it.
 
Moments of genuine enjoyment still exist though, such as the running gag (and in particular the scene that introduces this gag) of the band members using expletives to come off as more 'punk.'  Hearing a quiet sickly girl casually say "Good morning.  It sure is a fuckin' nice day today." or the protagonist spurt out a "Hey, bitches." to his female bandmates, particularly when all of this dialog is in Japanese with the exception of all the "shits," fucks," and "bitches," can be pretty amusing.  I have a hard time believing that a western audience wouldn't get more out scenarios like this than the Japanese one it was made for.
 
Chie (the childhood friend) and Murakami (your sentimental big dumb friend) stand out of the roster as highlights.  They both quickly grown on you and felt the most developed up to the point I've reached, and I always find myself wanting more scenes with either one of them.  The others can be a mix of boring to annoying.   Kirari , the girl seemingly meant to be the lead female character, fills in the later far too perfectly.  She's played as some sort of overly excitable idiot savant whose dialog literally seems to be twice as loud as every other voice in the game.  She can be an exercise in frustration since she takes up quite a large amount of screen time.


Critiquing the Localization

 
I'm told it's no secret that MangaGamer is infamous for nothing short of the most amateur localization efforts coming out of a professional company, and it becomes apparent relatively quickly that they seem to go out of their way to earn this reputation.  Between numerous typos, misspellings, poor grammar, awkward phrasing, and complete fuck ups of celebrity names.  In one such case, the Sex Pistol's famed Johnny Rotten (real name,  John Lydon)  had his stage and real names mistranslated back into English as Johnny Lotten/John Lidon.  This is clearly due to the nature of translating words from Katakana (one of the Japanese syllabaries) into the English alphabet.  It is also a clear sign of a lack of even basic research and proofreading.
 
It reeks of a translator almost certainly with a native language other than English, which in and of itself is not inherently bad, but when they seemingly appear to be unable or unwilling to put the effort of having a native speaker go through and edit/proof the text, it makes for these glaring mistakes frequently appearing.
 
However, when MangaGamer isn't showing off these flaws, some of the dialog and narration can be rather well composed (like the aforementioned cursing scenes) .  You get the sense that with a little more work, and a copy editor or two, that they could considerably clean up their act.

 

Take the Stage?

 
I know people who swear by this game, but with some of the other titles I've sampled in this genre, I personally find it hard to recommend.  While I see myself continuing on this adventure, partly due to my completionist nature and partly due to the two characters I do want to see more of (Chie and Murakami), I find it hard to tell others interested in exploring visual novels to check this instead of a myriad of other much more quality titles out there. While I can imagine becoming more deeply involved with things as the game progresses, so far the vast majority of it has felt like a trudge through a mostly boring and mostly poorly localized graphic tale.
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