Have you watched Maria-sama ga Miteru? Mid-2000s anime, extremely highly rated on AnimeNewsNetwork, less so on MyAnimeList. I watched it a couple years ago because of the high ANN ratings, and it’s since become my favorite anime. Like most things people put at that level, I have a lot of complex reasons for liking it, and as it turns out, many of the things that I appreciated about it are also applicable to Flowers. So if, like me, you’re a fan of melodrama, a fan of rich characterization and complex social interactions, a fan of worlds where there are no people with ill intent, but nonetheless people often come to be at odds because of the surprisingly potent emotional distress occasionally induced by ordinary high school life for mid-teen girls at a Japanese Catholic all-girls high school, then Flowers is likely worth your time. I dearly hope to see English releases of the sequels, and I’ll be chomping at the bit to read them, mostly just to see more of the characters I liked in this one (especially Autumn, the characters I want are in Autumn, please guys, bring us both Summer and Autumn… ahem).
Anyway, let me try to dig in a bit further, starting with story: Flowers’ story is an episodic melodrama and a coming-of-age story. It focuses on building a cast of characters who find themselves occasionally in conflict with each other, forcing them to resolve their own resulting interpersonal drama. Like I mentioned before, one thing I really appreciated was the lack of malevolent people: some people are more mischievous than others, for sure, but nobody ever acts with ill intent, and conflicts are resolved through coming to mutual understanding or overcoming personal weaknesses with the aid of close friends, not by finding the bad guy and beating him into submission. If that sounds boring to you, then this game probably isn’t going to be fun for you. But if you appreciate a good melodrama, and you prefer for all the characters to be likable, this is a great experience.
The story is not without its share of cliché. It really only bothered me in the prologue chapter, when the protagonist happens across one main character, literally stumbles into her embrace, gets flustered, runs away, happens across the other main character, and once again literally stumbles into her embrace. I was rolling my eyes and expecting the worst after seeing that so early in the game, but fortunately that level of cliché didn’t repeat. And while there was a fair bit of it sitting around, for the most part, I actually found Flowers to be a breath of fresh air, having played a lot of bishoujo games recently.
One final point on the story: the “true ending” for this game leads into the next one in the series. This story fully resolves everything it brings up prior to the very last chapter, but the last chapter of the true ending does some pretty heavy setup for the next game. I think it’s perfectly fine to read this as a standalone VN, but if you’re the sort of person who hates to read any kind of partial story, maybe wait for more of them to come out. There are already promising signs for an upcoming Summer release.
Moving on to characters, they are by and large solid, although the cast is fairly small. There are nine characters with sprites and voice acting, including the protagonist. Sometimes, these characters do things that readers will find frustrating, or unlikable. This, in my opinion, is part of what makes them good characters: I at least found those frustrating moments pretty believable, and typically they added depth. You have to remember that the characters are mostly emotional kids in their mid-teens: they’re going to occasionally do stupid things. And as I mentioned earlier, they’re never acting out of malice: they’re just emotional people in a cloistered environment. A little drama is bound to come out. I also appreciated the subtle characterization in speech: there are clear differences in the way certain characters speak, reflecting their personalities, but it isn’t overdone at all.
The setting is both typical and atypical: yes, it’s a Japanese high school, but an all-girls Catholic boarding school puts it outside the norm in a number of ways which the VN capitalizes on. It’s an excuse for nice little touches, like the prettier-than-usual classroom with nice wood desks, or prominent backgrounds like a flower-filled greenhouse and a chapel. And it’s an excuse for different spins on familiar events: yes, there’s a school festival, and we do see people working away on their presentations, but the highlight of it is a hymn with piano accompaniment; sure, there’s a gym class where the characters run around in skimpier clothing, but it’s a ballet class; yeah, club activities are a big focus, but the protagonist spends most of her club time tending the library.
In terms of game mechanics, Flowers has a couple. The mystery angle especially took me by surprise. Failing any part of solving a mystery results in an immediate bad end. Ultimately, although it did get me to engage a bit more in the game and pay more attention to details while reading, I didn’t really care for it, especially after the first one was a pretty harsh introduction to the mechanic, requiring me to make a ton of guesses before lucking into the right answers. Later ones were not so bad, though, both because they were actually easier to solve and because I was paying more attention. Outside the mystery segments, choices are very frequent, and mostly serve to determine whether you land on the true ending, another bad ending (which is short but pretty rough), or the third ending. I found the choice system also a little frustrating. There’s immediate feedback, once you know what to look for, but the high percentage of “right” answers you need to reach the true ending means the game really does encourage either save scumming or using a guide, neither of which I enjoy.
The art style is both pretty and unique. Sprites especially are a little more realistic in terms of colors and character proportions, especially eye size, than the prototypical VN style, but still bright and somehow ethereal. There are a lot of gorgeous stills in the CG gallery, but as I was flipping through it while writing this review, the one that most caught my eye was a detailed still life of a chocolate cake, and I thought, why not.
I think the soundtrack is nothing short of wonderful, and it complements the game excellently. I enjoyed it enough that, after I’d spent just a handful of minutes reading the prologue and moved into the first chapter, I wrote a note to myself saying “possibly the best VN soundtrack I’ve ever heard” and ordered the OST (it arrived a couple days ago; I love it). The best description I have for most of the music is “chamber music”. It’s mostly intimate and refined tracks, anchored by a guitar or a piano, usually with string accompaniment. It also has some gorgeous solo piano songs, and an occasional departure like the cheerful bossa nova “Afternoon Tea” or the mood-setting “Twilight”, which sounds like it’s straight out of a horror movie. I’ve seen occasional complaints that the soundtrack is short, though at least some of those complaints were about the demo. I personally had no issues with music repetition, but I’ll admit that I have a high tolerance for repetition of music, so I’m not the best judge of that. I will point out that the OST has just over an hour of BGM — seems pretty good for a game of this length.
A brief note about fanservice and H: there’s some fanservice, and there’s no H. By VN standards, the fanservice is pretty tame. This game’s Steam release is not age-gated, unlike, for instance, Kindred Spirits. In general, what is here often feels appropriate to the tone of the game: the game isn’t being shy about showing the physical aspects of a relationship, nor is it using the aforementioned fanservicey CGs solely to pander. For instance, the most notable of them is used to accentuate the protagonist’s confusion, excitement, and discomfort with the scene around her.
The characters in the game are in general quite innocent, but nascently sexual and highly self-conscious, and this complex mix is reflected well in the CGs. That said, there’s no question that a fair amount of the fanservice is nothing more than that. For better or worse, depending on who you ask, the game does pander to a certain prurient interest, if not to anywhere near the extent of a typical bishoujo game.
And, given all the noise about the demo, I can’t leave without talking about the translation. I’m pleased to say that, in my (nowadays usually rather judgmental opinion), the translation in the official release is fine. I can’t read Japanese, and I wouldn’t sit with the scripts side-by-side and judge it even if I could, but the script flows well and is consistent, which are as sure a sign as you can find of a good translation short of doing that. I should point out, though, that it seems the image translations didn’t get the same attention the script did; some of the image text is borderline Engrish. The worst offender is the text that appears every time I start up the game, now that I cleared the true ending: “Transient friends with Amitié”. Yes, I can also nitpick on a few things in the script, especially QC. Unfortunately, unlike most official VN releases these days,
Flowers apparently didn’t get a good proofing. I can harp on examples (the worst are when a line is copy-pasted twice, instead of the actual second line appearing; happens a couple times), but the bottom line is there are definitely more proofing errors in this script than a typical professional release of its size, and it’s a bit off-putting when reading. But, really, that is a far smaller and less-impactful problem than hypothetical bigger problems, like mistranslation or really awkward speech. I only detected one substantial problem in those categories: a completely literally translated pun between wolf (“okami”) and O Lord (“O kami”) which was gibberish in English. Other than that, yeah, an awkward phrase popped up infrequently here or there, but nothing worth mentioning. So, all told, I think this was a well-above-average release on the translating/editing front; it’s a shame the QC let things slip a little.
So, should you play Flowers -Le volume sur printemps-? Let me bring it back to Maria-sama ga Miteru for a minute: this VN is not at that level. And, frankly, I was a little disappointed by that. I was hoping for something a little nobler, maybe? The VN’s incessant use of fanservice ends up making it a fair bit more tawdry than I expected, without going full-on into the realm of H scenes and whatnot. That said, once I got used to those quirks, I did enjoy it for what it is, and so ultimately, whether you should play it depends on what you want from the game, and especially from the story. I don’t think romance is its strong point, to be honest. The mystery elements may be appealing, though they weren’t my cup of tea, but if that’s what you’re looking for, they’re likely too few and far between to carry the game. What you’re left with, the bulk of the story, is a sequence of episodic melodramas featuring a well-rounded but relatively small cast of characters who grow, both as individuals and in relationships, as the story progresses. Backing that story is an excellent soundtrack, and gorgeous art in a unique style. And a fair bit of fanservice. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then I think you’ll enjoy it. I did.