After the second love, third love, and fourth love (not counting the things that were forgotten or lost), here it comes the second novel.
Second Novel ~Kanojo no Natsu, 15fun no Kioku~ is a Nippon Ichi 2010 PSP game written by Fukazawa Yutaka.
“Do you know this story?” Ayano starts telling a story. The scene is high school and characters named Ayano and Yuichi appear…. Naoya and Ayano trace back their high school life through her story. In the summer of the second grade, Naoya lost two important things. One is Yuichi, his close friend. He fell down from the top of the school building and lost his life…. Also, Ayano, whom Naoya loved, fell down from the top of the school building as if following Yuichi. Five years later…. Ayano can remember things only for fifteen minutes. She still doesn’t know why she fell down. The story Ayano tells is about her high school life. By knowing the fact, he might be able to find the truth behind Yuichi’s death and Ayano’s behavior….[from vndb]
Second Novel is in many aspects very similar to the other Fukazawa’s games, in themes and plot; if there’s a major difference is that this one is much more polished (as is par for the course for a game that has 3 years instead of over a decade). The main difference however is that here we have since the beginning two stories, one nested in the other (unlike the parallel scenarios of Shoin): the “real” one, with present Naoya and Ayano, and Yuichi dead (and a few more characters), and the “made up” one, with katakana Ayano and Yuichi, and Sakura, whose nature in the real world is one of the mysteries of the game.
Fukazawa’s games usually had some kind of frame that gave sense to the story, and discovering that frame was the main mystery; here we already have the frame since the start, and the main mystery is how the real world and Ayano’s story are connected, and this gives Second Novel a different dynamic from the previous games.
Or rather, the main mystery is what exactly happened five years ago, when Yuichi and Ayano fell down from the school rooftop, and it seems that helping Ayano make her story can shed light on that incident.
Because is not only listening (well, reading) that story. Given that Ayano can only remember things for 15 minutes, she can’t keep telling her story for long, and she’s not really conscious of it in the first place (it’s unclear where the story comes from). So Ayano tells her story one scene at the time, and Naoya helps her write down a summary of it in a card; and then, checking the summary and other cards with important information (like the characters, or items) Ayano thinks up the following scene. You as the player have to select each card from the pool when asked, and this gives Second Novel some semblance of gameplay; and it does feel like you are actively participating in the creation of the story.
These mysteries are intriguing, and there are some neat twists along the way. Or maybe just at the end. For a long while, what keeps one reading this is the belief that there will be some interesting revelations, because, in what is probably the main flaw of this game, the stories (both of them) are not particularly amusing by themselves. In the main story the characters talk about the story, wonder about the mysteries, and go around apologizing. Profusely. For everything. There’s also personal dramas, from the present and also from the past, as Naoya reminisces about their school days, though again it takes a while for those plotlines to go somewhere.
Ayano’s story is slightly more interesting, but only slightly so. The common format is AYANO meeting Sakura, getting involved in some paranormal incident (kokkuri, a mystery about the stairs to the rooftop, etc.), and then being saved from the brink of death by her crush YUICHI and getting closer to him in the process. Or sometimes is AYANO who saves YUICHI. Or nobody is saved; there’s a fair amount of bad ends (which you need to read to get the necessary cards). It does get more varied as the game progresses, but still the main interest resides more in its connection with the real world, or in the connections, and differences, between the branches, than in its own merits (which may be one of the reasons Second Novel doesn’t follow the format of the other Fukazawa’s games; other reason may be that there’s a lot to be said in the main story).
Enveloping everything it’s a heavy melancholic atmosphere. I mentioned above the personal dramas. In, say, Aiyouku no Eustia, there’s tragedy when untold tens of thousands die, and everything is going to hell; here the tragedy is more down to earth, but in spite of that (or maybe because of that) it hits closer home. Some people lost a lot, or everything; and it could have been helped, and the main character knows it. So when Naoya remembers the past it gets kind of heavy. But the characters eventually face the problems, and it does end in a high note.
As you progress through the game, you also unlock several short novels unrelated to the main story (though sharing topics and themes), by different writers/illustrators. The Setoguchi Ren’ya’s one is the best, and also the most depressing one. Ichikawa Tamaki’s one is only slightly less depressing, though it does feel like the protagonist gained something from the whole deal (which couldn’t be said about the previous novel). Tanaka Romeo’s one has an even heavier atmosphere but then ends with everything just short of rainbows and unicorns, which makes for a weird experience; there was also a perception theme that doesn’t really go anywhere. Uminekozawa Meron’s one reads like a bad horror movie, with lots of issues left unexplained. Though it’s not so different from any single of Ayano’s story branches, so in a way it fits. Motonaga Masaki’s one is the longest by far (about as long as the other four combined), extremely verbose, and the ending may be rage inducing. As a whole, they don’t really add much to the game, though the first two ones do help making a heavy atmosphere even heavier. Though maybe excepting the fourth they aren’t bad either, so you may as well read them.
So. As a whole, it’s an interesting, intriguing game; that the stories take a long time to become interesting by themselves leaves this short of being truly great. But as a mystery it works; and in the end both the mysteries and the personal issues get solved in a satisfying way. People who liked the other Fukazawa games should like this. People searching for conventional romance may not; though love is one of the main themes, this doesn’t develop like a conventional romance, and the final result may be disappointing, if only because it’s not really clear.
And a final comment about the metafiction component is worth. It’s present since the beginning, thanks to the story creation part, but (again, in the usual Fukazawa style) also takes the opposite direction at the end. Like totono, it acknowledges that the reader is part of the story, but the final message is if anything the opposite: “now that you read this story, it’s yours; you can do whatever you want with it”. Which is something you may apply to everything.