- While reading Kizuato (1996) my mindset was largely focused on viewing the game through the lens of the future, to see what it does different from games now and how the jump was made from "adventure game" to "visual novel", and indeed as far as I'm aware the three Leaf releases "Shizuku", "Kizuato", and "To Heart" literally created the term Visual Novel.
- With that in mind, the first thing thing to look at is the system. How's it work? It's radically different from modern VNs for sure. There are but 3 saves, and they're not for you to savescum (i.e. take a save at a choice and then reload after). You're intended to beat the whole game on a single save file. There's two buttons that you use to navigate the game's choice tree, rather than through saving and loading: "proceed to next choice" and "go back a choice". In fact, when you load a save, it prompts you whether you want to continue from when you saved, or from the beginning of the game (on the same save file). This, to me, makes Kizuato feel like a novel in an adventure game's skin. There's many choices, and you navigate those chocies like an ADV... only, there's a novel in between each choice. A visual novel.
- In comparison, modern VNs seem to have completely discarded their ADV roots, as I'm sure anyone who's read one is aware. Choices are less of you taking an "adventure" through a game and more of you either picking a girl to deito or impacting the narrative. What I mean by "impacting the narrative" is, in Kizuato is like a web you navigate, whereas many modern VNs I've played are more like a tree with choices determining branches which has a different feel. Kizuato has 16 endings and 4 heroines, so while choices do indeed branch onto different endings, those are mainly the last few in each route, the bulk of the game maintains the adventure feel.
- Speaking of routes, each one is really short, only a couple hours long even including bad ends. The main game has a relaxed pace as you get eased into the setting, but once you get into routes it's pretty much non-stop exposition and progress until you hit the end. I have *never* read a game with less padding than this. In fact, it's so compact I get the feeling many people will be dissatisfied with the lack of romantic exposition and "slice of life". However, what's there is pretty nice so I myself enjoyed it without being too bothered by the brevity - it was a welcome change from many bloated moege I've read, even.
- But enough meta talk. What about the story and writing itself? Well, the elephant in the room is naturally Tsukihime (I imagine everyone who would want to read Kizuato has already read Tsukihime, so I'll talk about that first). Even though I read Tsukihime four entire years ago, the parallels between the two were obvious, and it's true that Tsukihime takes heavily after some aspects of Kizuato's story. They both involve a protagonist returning to an old home, bearing a scar of the past and a hazy memory. They both dream of murders. Dual personalities lurk within, leaving agency ambiguous. Despite that, Kizuato and Tsukihime end up taking very different directions, particularly the "near side" routes of Tsukihime being completely their own thing. The "far side" routes are more comparable, but nevertheless the differences in writing, character, and other miscellaneous bits make them fairly different experiences despite their significant similarities. I'll have to re-read Tsukihime to provide more detail, but for now I can safely saying Tsukihime didn't steal Kizuato's plot to launch itself to unjust fame.
- With that out of the way, I can talk about Kizuato's plot itself. To be frank, it's pretty shallow. There's nothing particulary striking about the plot, it's just competently done, and that's what saves it. The whole game is very competently written. The dialogue is fun and enjoyable to read, the narration isn't obnoxiously intrusive, the protagonist (while very "faceless") is an alright dude. The plot moves at a fast pace, so it's easy to get into the story even though it's not the greatest, and the inclusion of adult events such as rape and murder keeps it interesting with the shock factor. It does get points for taking itself seriously and succeeding in conveying a serious atmosphere - many times games try to carry themselves seriously and fall flat out their face, but Kizuato does a damn good job of being serious and getting itself to be taken seriously. Kizuato's plot is competent, serious, and I liked it.
- However... I can only say that about the first 2/3 of the game. The common route introduces the setting and focuses on the mystery and drama surrounding the protagonist and his family in the modern day. The first two routes you do (route order is locked) completely solves the mystery, with a bonus non-heroine route providing more perspective. All of that is well done. The other two heroine routes, however, are completely dedicated to providing backstory. From a pacing perspective, the climax is in the 2nd route and then you spend 2 routes learning more about the world. The backstory, while a little interesting, wasn't nearly as engaging as the rest of the game, so I spent the last couple hours fairly bored. It would have been much better if they had integrated the backstory into the main game so it could all have come together instead of being completely delineated and stuffed in at the end. That said, I'm really quite fond of the note the game ends on, and it was only possible thanks to all the backstory, so though I think of the final two routes as the weakest part of the game, I don't resent their inclusion.
- Kizuato has pretty good characters too. They're moe and I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with them in the story (even though 3 of the 4 girls completely disappear in routes that aren't theirs). For a game with such little padding, the characters really shined, and despite largely being archetypal I still enjoyed their fairly natural dialogue and actions. That said, this is coming from an incorrigible moebuta, so beware. Special shoutout to Hatsune, the risou imouto.
- A brief word on art. I played the 1996 edition, and despite being almost two decades old the sprites still looked pretty good to me. Whenever I felt one was a needed, a CG was used, so visually the game was engaging. Though I prefer the 1996 sprites and aesthetics, the second remake's CGs (especially H) do look a lot better but not enough for me to be too concerned. In fact, I find many of the CGs in the 1996 version to be extremely pretty and am genuinely impressed to see how well drawn many of them were.
- In conclusion... Kizuato, it's good. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it to anyone but it's not something I would warn anyone off playing. I'm glad I played it, I had a good time and I feel like I understand visual novels in general better because of it.
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