"I'm not invested enough in these characters and plotlines to even want to play Yousei or any other future installments."
Jisei and Kansei are two doujin (fan made) visual novels by Sakevisual. Jisei came out in 2010, Kansei came out in 2011, and a third installment called Yousei came out this year. Jisei and Kansei are now available as a two-game bundle from MangaGamer but Yousei still needs to be bought separately directly from Sakevisual. The games comprise a murder mystery series featuring teenage protagonists with eerie mind powers. It's a common trope and, unfortunately, Jisei and Kansei don't color outside the lines of that trope to really stand out.
The protagonist (nameless in Jisei, named Kangai in Kansei) has an uneasy relationship with death. When someone nearby has died, he starts feeling nauseous and has stomach convulsions. Once he's touched the dead body, he vicariously experiences their final moments. No matter how many times he experiences death, Kangai still has trouble coping with the emotional toll it takes on him.
Jisei and Kansei each chronicle a day in the life of Kangai. Jisei begins with a murder in the ladies' restroom of a neighborhood coffee shop and Kansei begins with Kangai uneasily falling in with a bunch of other young people like him, who have mysterious mind powers complementary to his, as they investigate a corporate bigwig. Both stories are straightforward murder mysteries with fairly obvious culprits and a few untold character secrets sprinkled about for good measure. Were Kangai and his new allies part of a government conspiracy gone wrong? How do these people know so much about him when he's only known them for two days? What happened to Kangai's younger sister that he's so insistent on running away from his past?
Sadly, these questions are never fully answered or even answered at all. A few scattered pieces can be uncovered here and there, but the games eschew the past in favor of prioritizing the present murder mysteries that have befallen them. It felt like the games threw me into the middle of a story without knowledge of the beginning.
The characters all fell into one of two traps: they were either very tight-lipped or they said a lot without saying anything at all. Therefore, they came across as shallow rather than mysterious and I couldn't care less about them and their plights. Maybe Yousei sheds additional light surrounding these meddling kids and the police detective tasked with keeping them in line, but I'm not invested enough in these characters and plotlines to even want to play Yousei or any other future installments.
Despite these issues, there is one shining point that saved the characters from being wholly forgettable: the excellent voice acting. The tones of the characters' voices, the actors' inflections, and how they deliver their lines are fantastic and uplift the game a surprising amount. If there was no voice acting, Jisei and Kansei would be flatter than a pancake and blander than watery plain oatmeal. I would love to see this fresh crop of voice talent in bigger name and higher budget video games rather than the usual crop of anime voice actors I've heard a million times already.
Music and graphics get the job done and nothing more. The fairly minimalistic compositions add the appropriate atmosphere to each scenario, but will definitely not stick with you once the games are finished. In terms of graphics, the games look fine for homebrewed games, but don't quite have the professional level refinement that other indie developers have been able to achieve. Sure, the art direction and art style are noticeably improved from Jisei to Kansei, but there are nicer looking Ren'Py games out there. The character designs are appealing to look at, but are certainly not the most original. As with the characters, the backdrops look fine, but the color palette is too bright and the locales too sanitized for grisly murder mysteries. At least the overall look of the game is cohesive and there is no jarring interplay between characters, backdrops, and cutscenes.
The gameplay is pretty standard for a visual novel of this type. Follow a storyline and make decisions toward one of two or three semi-branching pathways. There are a few instances where you can point and click on backgrounds to glean information, as in a traditional adventure game, and thankfully there is no minute pixel hunting or complicated inventory menus. It is important to save often, because one wrong move could lead to one of the sudden and unpredictable "Game Over" endings. In addition, once you've gathered all the evidence and can announce the killer, one false answer in your deduction and it's Game Over as well.
Jisei and Kansei are available as a package bundle from MangaGamer for about 20 Euro or a little over $25.00. Sure, this is less than paying $15.00 a pop directly from Sakevisual, but I still think the asking price is steep for what I get. I could maybe justify the asking price if the bundle included Yousei as well, but that would still average out to about $8.00 and change per episode, which isn't cheap. Considering that 100% completion of both Jisei and Kansei can be achieved in about a day and that superior episodic adventures like Telltale's The Walking Dead only cost about $5.00 per episode, the content of the Jisei/Kansei bundle does not justify the cost.