The shepherd did it.
Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai is a 2013 game by August. It got an all ages fandisc later that year (not illustrated by Bekkankou), Houkago Shippo Days, and has another one announced, Dreaming Sheep.
Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – a good librarian like a good shepherd
When he was young, Kakei Kyoutarou wanted to read all the magic books in the world, but they were all in the magic library. Someone told him that to get there, he must be kind to everyone and bring happiness to their hearts. He received a bookmark, which was his entrance ticket to the magic library.
One day while heading to school, he received a text from the ‘shepherd’ (hitsujikai) telling him that his fate was going to change. He had a vision of an accident at the tram station and helped prevent any injuries by calling away a nearby girl. That girl, Tsugumi, later came to the Library Club room, which he was a member of, to thank him and also to ask for his help to make Shiomi Academy more fun. It seemed that she had also received a text from the shepherd, who is rumored to appear before people who try their best to grant their wishes. One by one, other students also join their group with the shepherd’s guidance.[from Micchi’s blog]
This is the second August game I played after yoakena, and it shares many of that game’s strong and weak points, so I’d be frequently comparing both, since evidently I can’t judge a game by exclusively by its own merits.
So, similar to yoakena, what we have here is a fantastical setting that barely sees any use outside the true route (that may be an August trademark). And in this case is even worse than yoakena, since that “barely” should be an “at all”. However, one key difference between both is that here this setting keeps mostly in the background until the true route, which works better than being presented and then just forgotten; and in any case it has a better compatibility with the generic school setting, which makes the conventionality of the heroine routes less jarring.
Also, and maybe more important, daitosho is all around better. Starting by the system itself; it’s quite customizable and functional, and as a whole this feels like a very modern game. Graphically is quite pretty, and with numerous effects and little visual jokes and speech balloons and the such it’s also visually rich. Also, numerous low and generally weird angles make this a more fanservice heavy game than some of its August’s predecessors.
The heroine cast is a love (and Kanasuke is the best, I accept no objections). And the games takes its time to present them and have them join the Library Club. Not a long time by any means, but at least it’s not that all the heroines just spontaneously appear around the protagonist. The characters are all pretty fun, and have great interactions; with the protagonist, and between themselves. The “let’s form a club” concept may be a little tired nowadays, but it’s true that it creates a setting when all the characters are together, giving thus some integrity to the cast and to the scenario (which may be the reason the concept keeps getting used). And the main character himself is quite interesting, having as much, or even more, growth as the heroines.
The common trunk centers on the formation and rise in popularity of the Library Club. Unlike yoakena, where in the trunk it seemed like nothing was actually happening, here we have funny moments, some character development, and some semblance of plot, finishing with a big festival. (All this also make it a long trunk.) Then there are the individual routes, at first only for the four members of the Library Club (and three subheroines). These routes are good (though never outstanding), if a little standard. The shepherd setting has no relevance at all for them, but as heroine routes they hit the right marks. The romantic developments feel natural, they don’t drag (much), and the drama is not heavy-handed, and is actually a resolution of problems the characters already showed in the trunk, instead of an answer to outside problems that conveniently happened. And in any case the drama component is not very heavy; because the problems are not so heavy, and because they get solved sensibly enough (mostly). Consistence issues between the routes are once again a problem, though not nearly as bad as in yoakena, and in any case mostly ignorable. Three of these four main routes can also branch into the subheroines routes, which are not so good; a shorter length, and these characters having had barely any screentime in the trunk, make for a rushed romance.
After finishing any route you can enter the “true route”, the one that exploits the whole shepherd thingie; Kakei didn’t developed feelings for anyone in the trunk, and in this situation enters this story that’s more like a second trunk. A certain problem mobilizes the Libray Club in full, and there are answers for the questions about the nature of the shepherds, and about Kakei’s past. It also becomes more like a harem story, the Library Club girls all fighting for Kakei’s affection. This route can then develop into either a route for the fifth heroine, or into a more neutral one that then branches into alternate endings for the other main heroines (who thus have two endings). Seeing the development of this fifth heroine is satisfying; the other four endings not so much, being little more than slight variations of the same ending (which is also the same as the remaining girl one), with some romance threw in. Even if it had been made clear the girls had already fallen for Kakei, the romance it’s just too sudden.
So. You shouldn’t come here if you are exclusively interested in the shepherd setting. However, its school chara-ge part delivers, and is more than decent; it’s never mindblowing, but it’s consistently fun, and never gets really bad. And though the true route has a few problems (I find that having alternate endings for the heroines diminishes their original ones) it’s still a fun read, and a good use of the setting, and having all the characters work together make for a satisfying grand ending, even if I’m not much of a fan of the idea of true routes.
More on that. I don’t like very much the idea of final true routes where all answers are, and that solve everything for everyone; in multiple routes stories, what this tends to mean is that all the previous routes become irrelevant (time loop games, and in general settings where there are in-universe justifications for these true routes, are exceptions), and in any case it feels cheap; of course it easier to explain everything at once, but it’s more interesting having the clues and hints across all the game. In the end it depends a great deal of the particular execution; here it’s… not too bad. It does build up from the routes (each heroine development in their routes is implied to still have somehow happened in the true route), and though the game as a whole may suffer a bit from not fully exploiting the shepherd concept, at least it never works against it, and the individual parts are good enough that they don’t feel a waste of time even after everything is over.
In contrast, yoakena had a much more interesting setting (or at least, the Moon Kingdom, the great war than decimated the civilization, and the lost technology aspects were all things that particularly struck my fancy) -even if it required a great deal of suspension of disbelief for some key points-, and as such it not being used struck as a bigger loss. Its true route is a continuation of Feena route rather than a different one that ties everything together (maybe also because there wasn’t anything to tie), so it’s not so much a true route as simply that a certain heroine has a bigger story; and so while it doesn’t clash with the rest of the game, it doesn’t benefit from it either (the rest of cast having a very limited role doesn’t help), making a big disconnect even bigger. But this is something I’ve seen too in other August games. It seems like they want to make both a cool plot and a cute moe-ge, but don’t really manage to make both things mix well.
Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai ~Houkago Shippo Days~
A very short side story (a few of hours at most) that’s fun enough for what it tries to be. Regrettably, the cast of the original have only minor cameos if they appear at all; luckily both heroines are cute enough. The progression from osananajimi to lover is a bit sudden, and the drama content is low; both problems stemming from the length (or lack of it). It’s not all bad though; this is certainly as pretty as its main game, and the characters are decent. This doesn’t really has high points, but neither low ones. And given the limited presence of the characters of the main game this doesn’t really add anything to it. But it’s not like it isn’t enjoyable at all; if you have a few hours to waste you can do much worse. If you want to see a bit more of the Shiomi Academy then by all means try it.