Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.1 Onikakushi may just be the best start to a story that any episodic game could wish for. In just around ten hours, that excellent visual novel manages to hook players with a storyline that starts out as just another harmless “slice of life” tale before everything spirals out of control. For those who had never experienced the storyline before, either via the anime, manga or previous game iterations, it is a tremendously exciting mystery to watch unravel. For those who had played the chapter before in English, it also provided a much-needed improvement to the original translation.
But where does that leave us with Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.2 Watanagashi? If you played Ch.1 Onikakushi through to completion then, well, it doesn’t seem like there’s much room for the tale to continue. Those who haven’t finished the first game should stop reading now, as events will be referenced which completely spoil the original chapter. Unlike some games, you really do need to keep up with each chapter to understand what goes on from here on out.
At the end of Ch.1 – Onikakushi, we were left with ample questions and a protagonist now completely unable to continue the search for answers due to clawing out his own throat. So how does Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch2. Watanagashi resolve this trouble? Simple. Instead of suddenly swapping to a different narrator, we’re brought back into the small town of Hinamizawa as if nothing ever happened. Again, we are placed into Kei-chan’s shoes as he has spends his days enjoying time with Mion, Rena, Rika, and Satoko. Their game-playing club still persists in full force, everyone who died in the previous chapter is still alive, and it almost seems like things will turn out differently this time. Unlike the first chapter, we’re not really given an introduction to characters or how Keiichi came to be there. After all, we’re all aware of the plot setup which was given in Onikakushi. What may be unclear for some players is when Watanagashi actually takes place since it starts off with a bubbly, happy-go-lucky scene instead of something completely terrifying.
Basically, these chapters set up alternate realities all rooted within Hinamizawa. Many aspects, such as the characters and their personalities, hold true throughout. However, there are many other aspects which differ between them. Not only that, but we’re also given distinctly different conclusions to the tale each time. Make no mistake — it doesn’t appear there is any happy ending available to fans. If you came back expecting more terrifying things to occur then you’re most certainly going to receive them in Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.2 Watanagashi. Just expect a lot of red herrings during a playthrough. These rely on players being aware of the events from the first game to trigger terror in the current chapter, which is another reason folks should continue to play each episode.
The other big reason is because each chapter reveals more and more insight into each character, the town’s history, and other aspects of this increasingly convoluted tale. Even now, with another “conclusion”, it still is hard to know with certainty exactly what occurs on the night of the Watanagashi, the town’s yearly festival. What is the nature of these ritual deaths and disappearances? Are they mystical in nature as the townsfolk believe or is someone behind them? Is there something else at play that still hasn’t even been hinted to? By the end of Watanagashi we still don’t have those answers, but that’s part of the fun of Higurashi. It is a gigantic mystery that is ever so slowly going to be revealed to players through two more “Hou” chapters – Tatarigoroshi and Himatsubushi – and then answered by the four Kai chapters.
A playthrough of Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.2 Watanagashi should last about as long as it took folks for the first chapter. That means somewhere around 8 – 15 hours depending in your reading speed. As with the first episode, this visual novel also plays through in a kinetic fashion, meaning you’re never presented with even a single choice. While this may be an annoyance to fans who have come to expect choices from visual novels, it makes sense when you consider the Higurashi series in its main storyline entirety. There is a very specific story and mystery that 07th Expansion wanted to set up. By introducing choices, it would have likely added far more complexity to an already twisting narrative. Thankfully, the single storyline presented is excellent in its ability to slowly increase dread and keep readers hooked the entire way through. The only issue with Watanagashi? It may simply be that the pacing feels a little too tame when compared to Onikakushi for the majority of its playtime.
This latest release is about the same in visual and audio quality as the previous chapter. The sprites remain in their updated form and the original, less professional sprites are still left as an optional choice. Much of the music is the same as before, but that’s to be expected from doujin releases. That original level of quality also carries over to backdrops which are primarily real photographs with filters applied over them. The only time it stands out in a negative way is when we’re treated to scenes with actual people in them. They look weird when contrasted to the obvious anime sprites talking over the backdrop. Of course, the game is also restricted to full screen formats and includes absolutely no voice acting. There are few typos to mention, but there were at least a couple which I noticed while reading which should be addressed by MangaGamer soon.
If any of these aspects annoy you, then you’ll be pleased to know that the fan community is already hard at work patching this newest release of Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.2 – Watanagashi. As with the first chapter, folks have already put together a patch to swap out sprites with their PS3 iterations, as well as offer widescreen support. What’s still in the works? Voice acting appears to be the last aspect being finalized. There is no harm in patching a visual novel on Steam, just as long as you ensure you grab the patch from a reputable place. There’s nothing of the storyline lost by playing it as it currently stands, in full screen with updated sprites and no voices. Of course, some fans prefer to have the “ideal” experience and may want to wait until a complete patch is available.
As far as thrillers are concerned, few video games make it anywhere near the skillful story weaving present within the Higurashi series. Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Ch.2 Watanagashi is yet another look into the Watanagashi mystery and makes us want to know even more. Not only that, but it provides even more aspects to consider as the associated deaths and disappearances now appear to have quite the different resolution. What is “real” between each of these storylines — what are they trying to reveal to players? The answers still aren’t apparent yet and that’s exactly what compels fans to read and re-read each tale. The wait for Ch.3 will be a tough one, but well worth it to get yet another look at the mysteries revolving around Hinamizawa.