Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
What is the first thing that attracts you to a video game? Is it the flashy in-game graphics? Is it the art style of the character designs? Is it the music? Although I think the visual elements are what first pique our interests in a particular video game, it was the music that really made me interested in Suigetsu ~Lost Heart~ (or, if you prefer, Suigetsu ~Mayoi Gokoro~). After hearing the beautiful shimmering melody during the movie clip on the game’s official site, I was interested. After hearing, and reviewing, the OST for the game I was even more interested. Although the music is my favorite part of the game, the other parts that make up Suigetsu are no slouches either.
The word Suigetsu translates to “water month” and the dominant image I got from the opening cinema was shimmering water on a moonlit night. The opening vocal theme, whose music was composed by Sho Ase, and the opening cinema it accompanies capture the mood and feel of the game very well. To me, that “shimmering water on a moonlit night” theme is what inspires most of the sonic textures and instrumental choices in Kenichi Okuma’s synth-based soundtrack for the in-game music. There are fairly typical cheerful daytime themes, but the most interesting parts of the game happen at night, so the more interesting music is played during those night scenes, during dramatic moments, and during times when the hero experiences disorientation. The music complements the visual and story elements of the game very well and the music itself is solid enough to stand on its own without the context of the game to back it up.
Music is not the only element of sound. The game has full voice acting where every character except the hero speaks his or her lines. The voice acting is quite good, and though the characters fall into archetypes, the voice actors portray those archetypes really well. It did not feel as if the actors were just going through the motions playing a standard archetype they had probably played time and time again. They actually put some soul into their roles and made the archetypes seem deeper and more interesting than normal. The sound effects were not very good, though. They were often too loud and sounded fake and processed.
The storyline begins with the main character, Toya, lying in a hospital room completely disoriented. He has been in a terrible accident and is suffering from amnesia and having mysterious nightmares. He is not alone, because there are a group of women in his life who are determined to help him recover his lost memories. Each girl’s individual personality and unique circumstances under which she knows Toya bring back different memories and different aspects of his personality. Each girl seems to peel back a different layer of the onion that is Toya’s psyche, and you’ll feel like you only get the full picture once you get the good endings with everyone. The characters all subscribe to classic love adventure archetypes, but it’s how each archetype brings out a different side in Toya that makes them more interesting than usual. This device made me want to get to know all the characters, and they were all interesting. As can be expected, if you find yourself on one girl’s path, others will get shafted in the development department. There are even some characters whom you’ll never even meet unless you make certain choices.
Suigetsu’s character driven story is quite complex and full of human drama. It is not a fun, cheerful, “kawaii” love adventure. Yes, there are cheerful characters and fun moments, but the game as a whole has a more serious tone with slightly more mature content than other love adventures I’ve played. Relationships are less one-dimensional, more complex, and the major “characters confess their love and kiss” scene does not predict the outcome. For example, I got a scenario where Toya and one girl shared a passionate kiss on the beach but instead of getting a good ending with her, I got the bad ending with one of the other girls. Some characters have an awareness of their own sexuality. Some girls are also not afraid to fight for Toya’s affections. In general, things are never quite what they seem in Suigetsu and there is often a LOT more than meets the eye. That aforementioned beach scene was not one I expected to get. Although Suigetsu is a more mature themed love adventure than, say, Memories Off, there’s nothing in it that will raise eyebrows. To use movie ratings, where Memories Off is a PG game, Suigetsu is more PG-13.
This game has multiple endings, good and bad, depending on the choices made. And let me tell you, it’s all too easy to get a bad ending, and even some of the good endings aren’t all smiles and gumdrops. The game, which encompasses 2 GD-ROMs, is one of the longest love adventure I’ve ever played. Depending on whose path you’re following and whether you’re on track for a good or bad ending, the game can take anywhere from 15 to 20 hours for one playthrough. The shortest playthrough won’t even get you to disc 2 and will earn you the worst of the bad endings where Toya ends up alone. The game is paced somewhat slowly, so you definitely need patience to get through it. Your patience will be rewarded though, because once the story sucks you in, it keeps you in. Though the premise of the story does not seem that uncommon, the way it is told and unfolded is quite well done.
With most of, if not all of, the Japanese love adventures I’ve reviewed, I have mentioned that because of my limited Japanese reading skills, I miss out on a lot of the storylines. My experience with the genre can usually allow me to follow along and possibly predict outcomes and scenarios, but it did not with Suigetsu. This game’s storyline was surprisingly complex, took quite a few twists and turns, and often threw me for a loop. If I said solid knowledge of kanji, grammar, vocabulary, and Japanese wordplay, along with the basic kana were required to get the most out of love adventures, that goes double for Suigetsu. The game has an insane amount of text and though I enjoyed what bits and pieces I was able to understand in the storyline, I would have gotten much more out of it and enjoyed the complexities more were my Japanese reading skills up to par.
The gameplay is pretty much like any other love adventure: read insane amounts of text, look at the pretty pictures, and make decisions once choices are presented to you. Many love adventures have a lot of “fluff” choices that don’t really impact the storyline one way or another, but all the choices in Suigetsu are pretty crucial. One interesting thing is that sometimes in the text, words in red will appear that are triggers for Toya’s memory. Whether you choose to highlight them or not can impact the storyline as well as the choices. It’s possible to save any time you want and fast forward through previously viewed scenarios during subsequent playthroughs. Any choice you’ve already made is visually grayed out but still selectable. There is also a very extensive game options menu where you can tweak things. My only issue with the interface is that the text is small. Whether it’s in the menus or in the dialogue/in-game text, the small font makes things difficult to read. I already have enough trouble reading small font text in English language video games, so reading small font kanji text in a Japanese video game was not fun.
The game also has a very cool omake mode with all the trimmings, such as galleries and a clear list; however, the best part is the plethora of downloadable saves (over 100) for other KID love adventures on Dreamcast like Never7, the Memories Off games, Close To, My Merry May and more. Some saves are “key files” that have all the omake goodies in the games unlocked and other saves include append scenario files: extra, and often fan made, scenarios for the games that were available for download on KID’s website way back when.
The graphics follow the genre standard of location backdrops behind 2D character portraits. There are also the more involved still screens to show important cutscene events. The colors used in the character art are softer, more pastel styled hues. Character designs are nice, if somewhat generic and lacking in detail. However, some of the texturing is nice, particularly that of that characters’ hair. Characters’ eyes and mouths move whilst talking, thus making them appear less stiff. I also like that instead of just one portrait showing a girl blushing, there are two for each girl; one where she’s blushing mildly and one where she’s blushing heavily. This is a very nice attention to detail, especially since girls blushing is something every love adventure has. The backdrops are nothing revolutionary, but get the job done. The indoor backdrops have lots of sundry details and the outdoor backdrops use great lighting effects depending on the time of day.
Suigetsu is an excellent love adventure with awesome music, solid voice acting, a great storyline with great characters, and visuals that are easy on the eyes. However, it is a game that I consider a “grower” meaning that it’s not going to draw you in right away (i.e. within the first half hour), but if you give it time and a fair chance (meaning stick with it for the first five hours or so), it will grow on you and show you just how good it really is. When I first tried the game, I thought it was boring, but once I decided to give the game a fair shot and spend some time getting through the beginning segments, it really grew on me and kept getting better and better. My only regret is that I cannot read and understand Japanese well enough to enjoy the game to its fullest extent. However, if you enjoy the love adventure genre, have excellent Japanese reading skills, and are a patient reader, then I wholeheartedly recommend Suigetsu ~Lost Heart~ for your Dreamcast or PlayStation 2.