Disclaimer: As part of Steam's Curator Connect program, the reviewer received a steam code from the developer for the purpose of writing a review for the game.
Back in 2019, on a day where I found myself devoid of the need to do anything meaningful, I thought back on the humble number of VNs I’d read over the past seven years. While retaining fond memories of most of them, I quickly realized that the feelings I had for them were mostly “general” in their breadth as opposed to “specific”; what I’d grown to love about them was quickly becoming vaguer the more years pass by. It’s not exactly a cause of great concern, and it’s probably an experience that everyone goes through. But at that moment in time, that version of myself could not accept letting go of what made those experiences special. So, I started a sort of catalogue that detailed my thoughts about aspects of what I’d read—an album, if you will.
When I made that catalogue (or thread, as Twitter users would call it), there wasn’t really any particular reason for it. I didn’t want to turn it into something serious, nor did I know what I wanted to make of it in the first place. But one thing was glaringly real to me: the feeling of losing my memories and the emptiness that came with it. It’s the loneliness of knowing that nothing really stays if you don’t make the effort to keep it with you.
This experience, of course, isn’t unique to me. Everyone experiences some form of loneliness at particular points in their life. Similar to how I made an album for myself, how do others cope with that familiar feeling of being left behind?
Originally released in 2010 for the PS3 console, WHITE ALBUM: Memories like Falling Snow is an all-ages remake of AQUAPLUS‘s 1998 game of the same name. It features higher-definition artwork, fully voiced lines for the main and side characters, additional scenarios, and an extra route to round out the release. On August 4, 2023, it was finally made available to both English and Chinese-speaking audiences by Shiravune on Steam and Johren.
WHITE ALBUM: Memories like Falling Snow is also the predecessor of the well-received visual novel WHITE ALBUM 2. Although being part of the same series, their stories are not related to each other. They share the same in-game universe, however, and the series has an anime adaptation as well.
WHITE ALBUM‘s story revolves around a college student named Fujii Touya, your average run-of-the-mill guy who just so happens to be in a relationship with the up-and-rising idol Morikawa Yuki. Under the guidance of world-renowned musical genius Ogata Eiji, Yuki rises to fame with her charm and talent and is at the cusp of becoming her generation’s next brightest star. Her popularity does not come without any sacrifices, however, as her time with Touya quickly diminishes into none. Caught between wanting to support Yuki as she chases her dream and the deafening roars of his own insecurities, Touya needs to consider his feelings on the matter. With memories of their time together getting harder to recall, will he stay loyal to Yuki and watch over her journey, or will he seek comfort in the arms of someone else?
The VN plays like your standard dating simulator—you need to advance the story within a specific timeframe by interacting with different characters on a day-to-day basis. At the start of a day, you’re directed to a minimap that contains the available characters in each area for that specific date. The available characters on any given day usually stays constant across different playthroughs as long as that particular option isn’t influenced by flags that trigger route-specific events. Of course, there are also in-game events that will always happen regardless of the route you’re trying to enter. What changes is who you experience that event with.
After choosing a character, you’re directed to a screen that lists conversation topics you can select from. Clicking a topic increases Touya’s proficiency in conversations related to it, further unlocking other options that are gated behind proficiency levels. Conversation topics can also be locked behind route-specific events, conversation topics with the character or with others that serve as prerequisites, or specific areas that are simply appropriate for it. There’s nothing really in-game that helps you determine what you need to unlock them though, so clearing all possible dialogue involves a lot of trial and error (or the use of a guide).
Aside from conversation topics, there’s also the possibility of choices appearing within route-specific events. These choices usually spur the story on toward a particular direction or help you get off a route you’re not planning to take at that particular point in time. You’ll know you’re getting affection points if you choose an option and it returns a quick sound effect accompanied by animated snowflakes in the text box.
The game encourages grinding these as part of its replayability value. It’s incredibly difficult or downright impossible to read all possible dialogues with a character in just one playthrough. Thankfully, the game indicates which choices you’ve taken in the past by marking them with a bookmark. This way, you don’t have to keep repeating choices you might have forgotten about as you grind missing scenarios. There are, however, hidden events that only happen if you fulfill certain conditions, so watch out for those.
On the topic of scenarios, in-game events usually have a variation or two depending on what choices you make to trigger it. The game considers these variations as different scenarios, so for completionists (like me) who want to leave no rock unturned in terms of content, we’ll have to pay a lot of attention to figure out what allows Event A to happen instead of Event B.
These game mechanics are creative and fun, adding depth to your immersion as the main character Touya, but they also tend to detract from the value of the individual character routes because of how character revelations become optional.
As a side note, the controls in general feel a little bit sluggish. Maybe because it was made originally for the console, the loading time between screens and navigation through the game’s options are a lot slower compared to VNs originally released for the PC. The default controls for it on the keyboard are super awkward as well, though I appreciate how it emulates the compact style of a controller. With all of these factors combined, I think you’re actually better off just getting your controller from the shelf.
Personally, I thought that WHITE ALBUM‘s art was pretty fitting for a remake of a game from 1998. Kawata Hisashi‘s art, which is noticeably more polished compared to the original, is still able to invoke feelings of nostalgia because it stayed true to reflecting the game’s setting. Looking at it, you just know that it’s a game that your uncles would have played in their time if it was available to them. Add to that the incredibly animated Live2D sprites and you have a game that looks good while preserving the retro vibe the original had.
The music didn’t feel out of place for most of the scenes. Even without looking at the OST list, readers will recognize specific tracks as being associated with specific heroines, which speaks volumes about their uniqueness. For example, I identify Yuki’s track as one full of warmth, while Mana’s is a lighthearted, jumpy kind of tune that reminds me of youth. If I had to choose my favorite track, it would probably be Winter Vacation because of how happy it is.
Additionally, the game features a couple of songs sung by Suara, which is always a treat if you’re familiar with other AQUAPLUS titles. Hirano Aya and Mizuki Nana also sing the insert songs for their respective heroines.
WHITE ALBUM‘s remake has a total of seven heroines that Touya can pursue romantically. Each heroine has their own version of in-game events such as the school festival, the sick visit, the Christmas event, the New Year’s event, and the Valentine’s event. There’s an ending for each heroine, as well as a normal ending for those who fail to end up with any of the possible love interests, bringing the total to eight.
As a reader, I believe that a large portion of what makes a heroine memorable in a VN is their character development. For a game with multiple endings, this development is usually present within their routes. To give a better idea of what makes each heroine unique, I’ll be evaluating them alongside their route to determine whether their character was given justice or not. To preserve the train of thought, I’ll be introducing them in the order that I played their routes in.
One of the cover girls for the game, Morikawa Yuki is undoubtedly one of the more fleshed-out heroines that the player can choose from. A rising star that happened to be discovered by one of the most well-known artists of their time, Yuki is the girl that finds herself caught between the blurring lines of what her previous life was and what her dreams beckon her to become. As the heroine who has an established romantic relationship with the MC, Yuki is your token girlfriend who, despite being meek and clumsy, continues to give her all to pursue her dreams. She is affectionate, clingy, wanting for attention, while also absent most of the time due to her busybody schedule that demands most if not all of what she can offer. And yet you can’t help wanting to support her in her endeavors because of how incredibly she shines on stage.
Because of these traits and her consequences, her route is a story that continuously plays with your expectations from your relationship with her. What can you give as her lover? What can you demand from her given your relationship? Do you even have a place in her continuously expanding world? Yuki’s route is one that has the MC continuously grapple with themes of self-worth, distance, and walls. With your lover being the shining star that she is, how do you, a guy that screams normal, reconcile your loneliness with the desire to not hold her back? How do you begin to cope with the feeling that she’s reaching a place that you can’t get to? A world that you can’t even take a step in? Do you even have the right to take that step in the first place?
Overall, I feel like the route delivered the issue well enough for the reader to comprehend the gravity of the situation at hand. It lets the insecurities the characters feel crawl under your skin for you to get to know on a personal level. The perceived loneliness and powerlessness eats away at you as you read more into what Yuki feels and needs, and what you can give to satisfy that. It’s a succinct yet meaningful look at what it takes to have your partner chase the limelight.
There is, however, one particular part about the route that stood out awkwardly for me.
At the end, we get hit with the strongest sucker punch yet: Yuki’s encounter with Eiji’s feelings, and the implicit betrayal that happens as a result of it. This is probably the strongest scene that the reader expects to happen at some point, yet its delivery is hindered by a stunted development.
You’re given one day in-game to process what it means and what it implies for you, for Yuki, and for her professional relationship with a person in authority who desires her romantically. This in itself isn’t automatically a problem, but when the conflict is resolved with a sorry and a night of reaffirmation and never brought up again with any of the parties involved, it makes that particular plot point shallow, as if it is there only to spur the story toward its final stages. Perhaps even a small confrontation would have been nice to acknowledge the power dynamics and the breach of trust that happened during that particular scene, but the reader is given none of it. It feels like my heart sunk for the two for no particular reason.
Of course, even though I want a happy relationship for Yuki and Touya, it’s a given that for the VN to be finished, the reader needs to cheat on Yuki. Cue in Yayoi, the heroine that represents the ugliness that rears its head amidst loneliness. Yayoi is the stone-faced do-what-is-necessary manager that serves as one of the main obstacles to your immediate happiness with Yuki. She is a woman of few words, giving hints of disinterestedness to most of your efforts to approach her. Perhaps an accurate word to describe her would be unnaturally robotic. Yet despite this assessment, she makes clear what her dream is and what she’s willing to give in order to achieve it.
Because of her role as a character, most of the entry to Yayoi’s route intersects with events that unfold in Yuki’s. However, instead of focusing solely on Yuki, the route introduces the weakness associated with loneliness and the difficulty of resisting temptation. What sacrifices need to be made to ensure Yuki’s success? How do lovers develop independent of each other as individuals? And how strong can someone be in the face of these tribulations? Yayoi’s route paints an interesting portrait of what can manifest in times of weakness, of the truth that can be forged from piles of lies. It tests the limit of the words that we use to deceive others (and ourselves) and forces us to acknowledge the truth that is created as a consequence.
I liked the subtlety that the route expressed these complicated feelings with. As vague as most of the interactions were between Touya and Yayoi, what they wanted and their powerlessness to get what they wanted were ever so clear. Seeking comfort in each other’s solitude, the route peeks into what it takes to wish for happiness despite your own lack of it. To seek what is real while pursuing a necessary lie.
The third route I decided to take featured Mana, the youngest girl that Touya can pursue a romance with. Mana is your young, bratty, insult-flinging, arm-swinging, overly conscious, flat-as-a-board tsundere heroine that uses both convenient logic and her black belt in kicking creeps to force you to do her bidding. She basically comes off as an insufferable kid who has a hard time getting along with anyone due to her attitude. However, as most tsundere heroines do, she hides a loving demeanor under her thorns. She’s quick to say sorry, sensitive about the mistakes she makes, and will do her best to make up to those she wrongs.
Her route is one of the sweeter ones, focusing on weekly tutoring sessions that help grow your relationship with her together. There’s lots of fooling around, name calling, and laughs to accompany the reader as they navigate through a budding relationship. However, as you get to know more about who she is, you face her issues of self-worth that stem from a lack of parental presence in her life, a school that doesn’t take kindly to her despite her academic excellence, and friends that cannot give her the comfort she seeks. Without anyone to turn to, Mana decides to grow up as fast as possible.
The route puts Touya in a position where he cannot do anything about these issues, so he ends up making the most of what he can from their limited interactions instead. But time does not wait, it forces everyone to continue forward knowing that some things will have to end. This is why I found the route bittersweet. While it is, perhaps, the relationship that’s most innocent and sweet in its origin (and progression), it’s something that cannot continue as it is. Mana’s relationship with Touya cannot bear fruit in a way that will satisfy all of them because it never fully addresses the issues that Mana has, and the VN knows this. So what we get at the end is a sort of conservative climax scene, one that acknowledges the consequences of their experiences yet puts off its resolution in the future.
What I thought was super cruel though was the fact that Mana was still related to Yuki! You eventually realize that Mana is Yuki’s cousin, which of course makes the entire ending make sense, but god does it sting watching relatives realizing how their significant other betrayed them.
Misaki is the neighborhood’s kind, onee-san character that looks out for everyone who’s part of a particular friend group. Shy and lacking self-esteem, she’s the type of girl who’d blame herself for the bad things that happen. She, however, also has the initiative to step up to keep her friends away from harm. In a way, you could call her someone who’s dependable and feels like a ray of sunshine whenever she’s present. But because of that same kindness, she is cowardly when her actions can hurt the people around her.
Misaki’s route is one of cheating. Early on in her story, Touya finds himself longing for Misaki in the absence of Yuki, and Misaki reciprocates it. Hence, the next few weeks (or months) are days full of confusion, hesitance, and self-derision knowing what it will take for them to stop lying to themselves. The readers are thrown around in a series of attempts to hide what they know is real, a long game of running away from what needs to be done. Acknowledging their faults, they take responsibility for the sadness, the tears, and the relationships they’ll rend to make true their own.
Reading through the route was heart wrenching. In contrast to the other routes, the last two months of this story were incredibly lonely. When conflict arises in a relationship, it’s ideal that everyone leaves happy, but it’s rare that it actually happens that way. The route shows how dirty it can get when those relationships are compromised by people’s actions. Every time we choose to be with someone, we take that someone away from another person. In the same manner, every time we’re chosen, someone loses their chance to be with us. Misaki’s story makes it apparent for the reader, so as to avoid the fault of being “too nice.”
Haruka is White Album‘s childhood friend heroine. Treated almost like a brother, she’s one of the people who have been constantly there throughout Touya’s life. She’s athletic, spontaneous, and easy to get along with, yet it feels as if she’s always never truly present in her entirety. She’s a heroine who naturally has what’s needed to succeed in whatever she wants to do, yet she exudes apathy and a lack of drive. You’ll find yourself interested in trying to figure out what goes on in her mind.
Haruka’s route is interesting because it deals with loss, or more specifically, the feeling of being left behind. The VN goes out of its way to give you hints of this grief, but it leaves it to you to figure out what Haruka is thinking about or feeling, and by extension, where Touya places himself in all of it. Rediscovery, nostalgia, and moving on are key themes for her route that are highlighted throughout its length and serves as a kind of parallel to Yuki and Touya’s relationship. Somber in what it explores, it’s a pretty “quiet” route compared to the others in terms of its drama.
I feel like the route, in all its subtlety, was unsatisfying in its execution. While I’m all for alternative depictions of grief and moving on, it feels as if the majority of the route had me reading about a relationship that would have been if not for issues they experienced along the way. Not that love can’t bloom in nostalgia, but it feels like a waste to have used the majority of the route rekindling that bond they’ve had. It put the central issue of Haruka’s character too far into the backburner, making the entire thing feel like an afterthought. Comparing it to Misaki, whose route also had a sizeable amount of emptiness, I didn’t feel like Haruka’s ending was a good payoff to what happens in the four months that pass.
Yuki’s friendly rival Rina is the much-needed veteran idol heroine of White Album. Rina is a girl who’s usually seen as confident, dependable, and excellent in literally everything she’s able to do. From idol activities to personal preferences, even Touya perceives Rina as an exquisite doll made for the singular purpose of being on stage. Under the spotlight, she shines like no other, and so eyes are always on her. Not to her detriment of course, as she seems to brush off the pressure that normally comes from being in a position like hers. In short, she’s a person you’ll normally never see beyond the corners of the television screen because her existence in itself is almost dream-like. Yet ironically, it seems as if Rina only really craves what’s considered normal for everyone else…
Rina’s route presents struggles that originate from living an idol life similar to Yuki’s. However, instead of dwelling on the compromises necessary to maintain a relationship, it delves into what kind of sacrifices she needs to make herself. Perfection, excellence, an eternal smile, and limitless stamina—top idol Rina cannot show weakness in any form because she is an ideal person, yet as a girl named Rina, there’s only so much she can endure as herself. The route discusses her frustrations, anxieties, and longing for what seems to be always within our reach as part of the masses. Between her idol self and the Rina that longs to try out part-time jobs, the route is a kind of contrast to Yuki’s in terms of its direction. It welcomes you to lay witness to the loneliness that lies at the peak that every person adores.
The route pokes at the readers’ own kindness and innocence: How many excuses can you make about helping someone out before acknowledging your budding feelings hidden behind efforts to convince yourself otherwise? It explores feelings that make you feel secure in Yuki’s route and turns it over its head by presenting a dilemma originating from your interactions with Rina. While the route starts off introducing the possibility of Eiji cucking you early on compared to Yuki’s, it uses the feelings of anxiety you might have empathizing with Touya to mask the hidden agenda Rina has. I think it’s pretty well done as a plot point, hiding Rina’s struggles related to her brother and Yuki behind the danger of brewing unfaithfulness makes an interesting diversion of the reader’s attention. And then the ultimate irony of it all manifests by Christmas when you find yourself as part of the cheating party instead. So all these feelings of you trusting Yuki, of being wary of Eiji—none of that matters at the end because Touya and Rina make the conscious decision to compromise Touya’s relationship with Yuki instead. It ends up being quite a cathartic emulsion of guilt and sadness when the reader realizes that Touya and Rina are the fulcrum that destroys that romance with Yuki, all the while feeling relief that they can finally pursue comfort in each other’s arms. That’s pretty rad, a double whammy guilt trip that’s bittersweet in its end.
Sayoko is a new character introduced in the remake version of White Album. She serves as a third heroine idol that rounds up the game’s themes that are relevant to the entertainment industry. While definitely having what it takes in the looks department to be an idol, you’ll find Sayoko pretty down-to-earth with the kind of aura and presence she exudes. She’s prideful, stubborn, selfish, and strong-willed—characteristics that are essential for shining in the spotlight. And yet, getting to know her exposes how reliant she is on others, how anxious and nervous she can get under pressure, and how she views herself compared to the rising star Yuki and top idol Rina. In short, Sayoko’s the girl that has the makings of a star encumbered by what it takes to become one.
She’s a heroine you unlock after finishing the game the first time, only really being present as a potential love interest if you pursue her stubbornly.
Her route is interestingly relatable to the reader. While its struggles are reflected in the other girls’ routes as well, the way it’s painted throughout Sayoko’s story and how she goes about it as the heroine is endearingly normal. Frustrations, slips of the tongue, and irrational tendencies to become unreasonable are all things people go through when they’re bothered by something. This is true for Sayoko as well, and she repeatedly does it throughout her route. Being an idol or singer is something that people normally can’t relate to, and yet with how she goes about it in this route, it seems as if the world of entertainment isn’t so far a world as we make it out to be. Hence, Sayoko’s route is a return to our world. It greatly humanizes who she is, bringing her existence down to the reader’s level. And yet she retains that incredible brilliance that makes her a star in the first place. Despite all the tears and snot you see her shed, you end up not being able to take your eyes away from her because of how brilliant she looks in the spotlight.
I enjoyed the route immensely, but I feel that its focus on Sayoko’s character ultimately took away from what would have been a satisfying end for it as a route. While Touya did mention it at some point near the end, it feels dissonant to have one of the main themes of the game become irrelevant at the end of the route: Touya’s betrayal of Yuki. Are we supposed to just gather from the other routes we read the kind of conclusion we’re heading toward given a similar situation? It devalues Touya’s initial struggles with the setting and takes away from the weight of the decision he makes throughout Sayoko’s route.
I loved Sayoko as a heroine, so it’s a shame to see her ending done dirty like this. Perhaps it’s a result of it being a route added after the game’s initial development? Regardless, it does damage to what could have been a route enjoyed to the fullest. Not to mention that it completely defeats the point of a particular scene involving buttons on Touya’s coat. Literally what is the point if we just ignore the source of its conflict by the end?
Yuki > Rina > Misaki > Haruka > Mana > Yayoi > Sayoko
Sayoko > Mana > Rina > Yuki > Misaki > Haruka > Yayoi
WHITE ALBUM, at its core, is a story that revolves around different forms of loneliness and the love that can arise from them. Loneliness creeps into a person’s life without any warning, and the VN’s scenarios show the reader the danger of being swallowed whole by it. Throughout the story, you are exposed to the different kinds of struggles each heroine is going through amidst Touya’s own, and it’s in sharing these troubles that love ultimately blooms for them. This love manifests in different forms—romantic, opportunistic, fleeting, impossible, indulgent, and countless others. Yet despite these many forms, all of these expressions of love are ways in which a person finds comfort in another, making us feel as if we aren’t truly alone. And who can really blame them for seeking what they believe they want? Perhaps the song singing about two less lonely people in the world lends truth to the experience of finding that specific comfort in another.
WHITE ALBUM is a commendable effort to express the intricacies of love built on the comfort we find amidst each other’s loneliness. It requires a little bit of emotional investment and empathy for readers to truly appreciate what it has to offer. As far as themes go, they’re pretty solid as far as individual routes are concerned. Some issues are pretty sensitive though, so I implore readers who are interested in trying it to suspend their immediate opinion on each characters’ actions and try to understand how they come to their decisions.
Despite its brave attempt to tackle its themes on loneliness, I found the dating sim aspect of it taking away a chunk of my enjoyment from each route. While there is fun to be had in exploring each possible interaction and event that can come from the choices we make, ultimately, the possibility of missing particular plot points important to the characterization of a character subtracts from the depth of the VN’s story.
And with that, my final score is as follows:
Story (Routes): 6.5/10
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Personal Rating: 7/10