Disclaimer: Developer Gosatsu Visual Novels has sponsored a review key via our Curator Connect to Fuwanovel. Thanks for all the support.
SHINRAI – Broken Beyond Despair is a 2016 murder mystery visual novel with puzzle elements developed by Gosatsu Visual Novels using Ren’py and published through Ratalaika Games. Since its release, it has been ported to modern-day consoles and has garnered a bit of a following, an uncommon yet welcome result for an indie title.
In a genre filled with heavy-hitting, long-playtime titles like Danganronpa and Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors that require you to remember a lot of information over dozens of hours of gameplay to really get the full effect, I was actually excited to play something a bit easier to digest. I also didn’t want to spoil myself, so I went into the game entirely blind. And it’s a good thing I did. Let me tell you why.
Or, if you’d like, check out my interview with Gospel, one of the authors!
Warning: This review contains spoilers about a rather significant theme in the game.
On October 30, 2010, a group of ten friends gathers at a secluded mountain resort to spend the night of All Hallows’ Eve together. However… What was originally intended to be a fun little Halloween party quickly turns into an actual night of horrors. When one of the attendees is found dead, fear and uncertainty spread among the group as the friends realize they are trapped with a murderer. As they try to unveil the identity of the killer, they slowly begin to learn to what atrocities despair can drive a human being… once its trust has been broken. (from the Official Website)
The story begins innocent enough. We assume the role of 14-year-old Raiko Shinpuku on her way to a backwoods resort to attend a party being hosted by Rie Miyamoto. As in most murder mysteries, we are then introduced to nearly the entire cast of characters in quick succession—friends, enemies, couples, a pretty traditional high school friend group. And then… the lights go out!
What starts as a prank by Rie grows into something beyond her control as the power actually does go out. But a quick jaunt to fix that issue results in the lights coming back on and… somebody stabbed to death on the floor and another person hanging from the ceiling. Oh, well then! Through a series of deductions and conversations (which result in bad endings if your intuition is off!), combined with flashbacks and a very real-world commentary on stalkers and stalking behavior, by process of elimination, we start to piece together what really happened here.
Every tiny detail in the game was impressively planned out so that, by the time you have that “Aha!” moment, you’re really in the thick of things. However, to reach the true ending and save one of the potential victims, you have to play through the other bad endings. Once you’ve hit that ending, there are some bonus scenes and an art gallery that open up.
Raiko Shinpuku is the main protagonist of the game. She is an emotionally repressed teenager who lacks the ability to establish meaningful relationships with her peers; despite this, she appears to have a good number of acquaintances and even gets invited to a party (wow!). I admire her character development from a grumpy pessimist to a more open-minded realist. You can almost feel those changes firsthand as you compare her versions from the start of the game and the end of it.
Nobara Akadori is the best friend of the main protagonist. She and Raiko have been friends since childhood. Nobara is the cliché “childhood friend” who somehow ends up being best girl by just being cute all the time. Seriously, Omochikaeri. Her character has a laid-back personality, but despite being overall very cool about everything, she is scared of the supernatural. She’s gullible and doesn’t know how to say “no”, so it’s easy for others to take advantage of her.
Rie Miyamoto is the host of the party. She’s impulsive, lively, chaotic, forgetful, and causes a lot of trouble to the people around her. Ironically, she just wants those around her to have a good time. Despite looking like a tomboy, she is obsessed with boys and romance. She values her friends more than anything, and she puts a lot of trust in them. It was hard for her to come to terms with the fact that one of her friends was a killer. She’d rather go delusional than accept that fact.
Runa Hikari is Rie’s best friend and her platonic soulmate. She’s the yin to Rie’s yang. Because of her personality, many believe her to be a daughter of a noble and wealthy household. In reality, however, her family is rather poor. Runa is a natural caregiver, so much so that her and Rie’s relationship can be described as that of a mother and a daughter. She is easy to trust everyone, as we can see from her relationship with Hiro. One day, Runa twisted her ankle in a bicycle accident, and Hiro carried her to the infirmary. Such a simple and humane act makes her fall head over hills for him.
Mika Tamashii is a epitome of childishness and seems to have nothing but mischief on her mind. She enjoys pranking people for the sake of seeing their reactions. It’s some sort of family tradition, scaring each other with outright disturbing shenanigans. If she manages to scare more people than her dad ever has, he’d buy her… ice cream? Talk about motivation. She isn’t explored much as a character other than being the ultimate prankster, which I think is a missed opportunity.
Momoko Mori became one of the most popular girls at school after holding a concert showing off her talents with the guitar. She is introverted and shy, and she can’t take compliments because of that. She comes out of her shell somewhat when she’s around people she knows or when she’s on the stage. If only she could be in the world she creates with her music all the time…
Kamen Eiga is Momoko’s best friend and the vice president of the Drama Club. She is very honest and doesn’t hold back when it comes to stating her opinion, and when she says something, she truly means it. Anything else about her character will end up spoiling a rather small but interesting detail, which I’d like for you to unravel yourself (*￣▽￣)b.
I hate this guy. Kudos to the development team on making someone so absolutely detestable.
Hiro Shiratake is Momoko’s show-off boyfriend who’s only interested in her popularity. Needless to say, he’s self-centered and arrogant, but he at least manages to excel both at school and on the soccer team. He might hate smartasses, but he’s a jackass in his own right.
Kotoba Gaikoku is the pervert of the class that will let everyone in on his dirty fantasies. Oh, and he constantly hits on everyone. The only thing we get to know about this guy other than his perverted tendencies is that he spends his free time learning languages – Spanish, German, and French, which honestly he’s probably doing so he can flirt with even more people. He’s Taiko’s best friend, and he wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case.
Taiko Kikai is Rie’s love interest as well as her classmate. He’s very talented when it comes to music and has even joined the Music Club. He’s rather dense when it comes to taking hints, so poor Rie doesn’t have much luck in trying to seduce him. He is analytical and tries to be objective; nothing matters more than truth and justice to him. But even his judgment can be clouded by emotions.
This visual novel is substantial 150,000 words in length, which is justified by the presence of five different possible endings – four of them being bad endings, and one true end.
To reach each of these endings, players must actively engage with the game through two main mechanics for collecting evidence:
For example, in order to collect evidence you just have to click on the objects and read the text that follows. In case of them being important clues, the evidence will automatically be added to your notebook. What text you’ll get may differ depending on the specific sequential order you interact with them. There is no way to miss any of the evidence, as Raiko will hit you with a ‘Hmm. I think there might still be more for me to discover here, so I should probably take another thorough look around before leaving’. This is a great failsave for less thorough investigators.
On the upper edge of the game’s UI there are some symbols that offer others interaction, some of which are:
- A magnifying glass: this tool allows you to change your position within the room by revealing the entire scene. It’s a navigational aid, helping you explore the environment more thoroughly.
- A text bubble: This feature enables you to temporarily return to the reading section of the game, providing you with an opportunity to check on other aspects of the story. It serves as a way review the narrative for further investigation.
- The notebook: It serves as a repository for your in-game entries and notes.
- A settings menu: Here you can change something in the middle of the game in case you want to.
- The tick mark: This option lets you conclude the investigation early.
Upon completing the game, players are presented with their accumulated detective score, which depends on how effectively they presented the evidence. The higher your score, the better your rank, emphasizing the importance of detective skills and decision-making. It also offers replayability for people seeking to max out the score.
The artwork is SHINRAI complements the game exceptionally well. It stands out thanks to its vibrant colors and the unique styles of each character and doesn’t fall into the normal, generic anime style that many indie develops tend to adopt. It’s definitely an appreciated and refreshing aspect.
The soundtrack also definitely has some tracks that stick with you even after finishing the game while still not being overbearing. That’s a difficult balance to achieve, and SHINRAI has those tracks in spades. Fun fact: The melodies were written by Gospel’s (one of the authors) father. That’s just awesome to me.
There are also some fun little elements. Take for example the little bat that appears on the upper corner of every textbox that reflects the emotion of the character speaking:
You should absolutely give this visual novel a go, especially if you’re into murder mysteries and want to curl up in a scary ball for a weekend. Not only did it surprise me by skillfully weaving together its various elements to create an immersive and unforgettable journey, but it left me wanting more of that universe. Maybe we’ll get to revisit these characters again in a calmer setting? I suppose only time will tell.