Little Busters was a breath of fresh air, instead of focusing on romance with the heroines, the themes are more about friendships and trust. Key, including some other visual novel studios, had been using their simple formula of nakige for quite a long period. While they are good, some begun saying that the formula is starting to get repetitive, so in that sense, Little Busters was really refreshing.
However, just when you thought Key had exhausted their options, out came Rewrite, which is probably one of their most unique visual novel they had ever made. The basic principles of nakige is still there, but overall, it feels totally different, which is obvious, considering the fact that Maeda Jun, the main scenario writer of Key had stepped down. In place, Tanaka Romeo became the main writer of Rewrite, in addition with some other authors.
Rewrite sets in the fictional place known as Kazamatsuri city, a place where afforestation is active. Although the city is just like any modern city, the place is filled with attractive greenery. The trees provide a beautiful ambiance in an otherwise, bustling environment, it is the ultimate balance. The city is also situated close to the forest, which hides a number of intriguing secrets as well.
The visual novel puts you in the shoe of Tennouji Kotarou, a carefree high school sophomore, and also the main protagonist of the visual novel. Like every other kids, he also had some teenage problems that caused him some level of loneliness. In his second year, aside from his only friend, Kanbe Kotori, who is also his childhood friend, and also his rival, Haruhiko Yoshino, he also befriended other people, the clean-freak class president Konohana Lucia, the new school transfer student, Ohtori Chihaya, the “witch” of the school, Senri Akane and last but not least Nakatsu Chizuru, who seem to always wears an eye patch. He reopened the inactive Occult Research Club, and gathered them together for their occult activities. Throughout his daily activities however, Kotarou experienced countless supernatural phenomena; for reasons unknown, mysterious happenings seem to occur around him a lot. As if a counter-measure to those, Kotarou himself is far from your typical Key lead as well, he has a power of his own, the ability to “rewrite” parts of his body, rebuilding his body with supernatural strength and speed in return.
The common route feels a bit too lengthy, but it serves as an ample introduction to the beautiful and expansive world of Rewrite. From the pretty sides of Rewrite like the man-made trees to the dark sides featuring bizarre supernatural occurrence, mysterious creatures, uncanny individuals; everything is also slowly build up, manifesting a very mysterious vibe. We learned that Kotarou isn’t exactly the most normal human, and we learned that the world of Rewrite isn’t exactly ordinary either. The alluring forests may seem dazzling at first, but once inside, the areas covered by the tall forest canopy caused a dark, depressing darkness over the surface. The forest gives off a feeling of loneliness, coldness, solitary and also, anxiety and even fear. Metaphorically, Rewrite’s settings is a reflection of the forest, it is not as it seems.
However, being Key, it does not forget to pinch in some comedic slice-of-life moments. While good however, Little Busters feels like it’s definitely stronger in humors, and what’s more, Little Buster has a much more vibrant character cast for their humors too. Basically, the whole common route in Rewrite had Kotarou and his Occult Research club running around investing on seemingly supernatural phenomena, only to find out that everything that happened is completely humanistic. Throughout the game, there are “mappie” segments, where players can explore around the place through scrolling around a map. Instead of going straightaway to the area where the story is progressed, moving around the place is a good way to feel immersed into the world of Rewrite some more, talking with neighbors or classmates, messing around with pet animals of other households, and luckily finding a porn mag out of nowhere; this is a reminiscence of Little Buster’s mini-games. Although while the idea of “mappie” is good, I still find Little Buster’s mini-games to be more fun. Furthermore, Rewrite’s gameplays (if scrolling around the map can even count as one..) feels too simplistic and “tacked on”, the mini-games in Rewrite isn’t implemented well enough as Little Buster did. All this contribute to the fact that Little Buster is definitely the stronger adversary in the comedic slice-of-life area.
Once the common route is starting to branch out into separate heroine’s route, you will probably be noticing the inconsistency. You will be surprised by the overall staff in the scenario departments. To those uninformed, the visual novel had Tanaka Romeo (Yume Miru Kusuri: A Drug That Makes You Dream and Cross Channel), Tonokawa Yuuto (he contributed to some routes of Little Busters) and Ryukishi07 (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Umineko no Naku Koro ni) on the scenario department. This caused a slight rift of disproportional condition when advancing through the routes. At times, the difference between the routes is a comfortable contrast, while at times, it feels too out-of-the-world. Kotori’s route feels too mediocre (it however, serves a very perfect introduction to all of Rewrite’s plot points, so I recommend playing this first for starters), Chihaya’s route suddenly became a shounen and Lucia’s route feels astonishingly creepy, in which I’m sure you know who’s the “culprit” behind such creepiness.
I feel that it would be better if Romeo write all the scenarios themselves, instead of sharing between authors. All the routes feel a bit too disjointed, as if they are different games. An honorable mention to Ryukishi07 however who contributed to Lucia’s route, which ended up better then I thought. Lucia’s character is exposed to tremendous depth, much more then most other heroines as well which is surprising, considering that I initially thought of her as more one-dimensional.
In the end however, Romeo contributed to more then half of the game’s scenarios, and in my opinion, the visual novel might even make it out fine if he alone tackled on all the routes. Sadly, I didn’t read much of Romeo’s other works, aside from Cross Channel. However, I’m well aware of his skills, and no doubt he did a fine job in Rewrite as well. Meticulous foreshadowing, poetic phrases and inspiring thought-provoking themes are some of the magic behind the writing. The visual novel feels like a darker version of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, exploring the concepts of humanity, society and evolution.
Likewise with Clannad and Little Busters, you need to finish all the main heroines routes to have access to the “true end” route. In Clannad’s case, it was After Story, in Little Buster’s case, it was Refrain, and Rewrite’s “true end” routes come in the form of Moon and Terra, the former being one huge prologue to the latter. When playing visual novels, I dislike it when I had to finish all the other routes to play the true end route, when that particular true end doesn’t even have much of an impact at all, feeling just like the rest of the normal routes: this is one issue I find with some other visual novels. However, for Key, they had always made great, emotional and epic true ends, and Rewrite is no exception. Moon is a route of revelations while Terra is a route of conclusions, both routes effectively tied up all the key elements of the story, and the execution behind the attempt is top-notch.
Rewrite’s artwork is certainly appealing. In a world of both greenery and modernization like Kazamatsuri city, the illustrations are the perfect reflection behind such scenery. The lush world of Rewrite is an embodiment of radiance and elegance, but it also empathized relaxation. Cunningly, the backdrops are at times deliberately colored in monotone aside from the usual vibrancy; the grey skies, the dark streets, they signify that something is wrong. This and the former is a skillful way of reflecting both the beautiful and dark sides of Kazamatsuri city.
Character designs however, I had a few pet peeve about them. Most of them look pretty good indeed, however, at times, Koutarou look like a scrawny, elementary school kid. The overall artwork for Rewrite is good no doubt, but some CGs look terribly awkward too, like this, which looks like a cheap art drawn from the oldies. At times, I also feel that the way the characters are drawn do not really complement well with the backgrounds, the mixture between them looks slightly unnatural. Those are just a few minor nitpicks however, overall, Rewrite is probably the most visually stunning piece of work by Key so far, the backdrops are just too beautiful, in fact, there is even a separate CG section for these backdrops for you to feast your eyes upon them!
In my opinion, music in Little Buster feels somewhere above average, and Rewrite is more musically superior. The great illustrations paired up with such music made Rewrite is great piece of art. The mellow intro tone as you opened up the title screen, with a picture of a “tree” with the heroines around it, is a comforting introduction to the visual novel. There a great number of musicians working on the tracks behind Rewrite, and this spawned a great variety of tracks. The mellow intro song by Maeda Jun himself is one example, and when the scene becomes a thrilling suspense, an oddly matching creepy song comes into play as well. Orito Shinji made some great contributions for some battle-hardened songs like “Eruptible” and “Retribution”. They even had luchi Maiko (To Aru Majutsu no Index) working on the majority of the tracks too. Interestingly, they also have a song titled “Philosophyz”, and Rewrite, being extremely philosophical in itself, I’m sure it’s no coincidence.
Rewrite tells a great, dark fairy tale. Story progressions underwent careful pacing and build-up, characters explorations are plentiful as well, in fact, much more then Little Busters, making the latter inferior in terms of seriousness and characterizations. Very beautiful illustrations and music, coupled with magnificent writing, create an almost ultimate form of art and literature. There may be flaws somewhere, but it is something easily overlooked in an overall, wonderful visual novel.