Visual novels are definitely catching good wind in their sails here in the West, thanks especially to the Ace Attorney series and the Zero Escape titles. But these only scratch the surface of the medium.
Most visual novels claim romance as their primary genre, and today Twinfinite reviews the honest-to-goodness straight-from-Japan officially localized and licensed ef – the latter tale, translated and published by MangaGamer (site NSFW), which tells the stories of three couples and their hardships.
the latter tale is the direct sequel to ef – the first tale but can be enjoyed on its own without missing too much as it primarily deals with brand new characters in brand new settings.
Which is not to say that the first tale isn’t worth playing (reading?) – far from it. What is important to remember, however, is that both games have drastically different tones. Delivering its themes in a much grittier manner, the latter tale is not to be taken lightly.
ef – the latter tale is a standard visual novel in its design. It consists of a series of chapters throughout which a few choices are presented to the player. Unlike most VN’s the latter tale’s “branching narrative” for which the medium is so famous only consists of a few “bad ends” to distract from the “true” ending to the story.
And this story is a real heart-breaker. Set in an alternate world in the town Otowa, the latter tale is told from a variety of perspectives focusing on a few different protagonists. The first, Renji, encounters a strange eyepatch-wearing girl (not a pirate) who can’t remember anything more than thirteen hours old. Another, Kuze, returns from studying abroad as a musician due to a terminal illness.
The last, Yu (no pun intended), tells his story from memory about himself and his lover, Yuki, the two of which are the “narrators” of the stories as well as meddlers in each one. Each story handles a number of heavy topics – terminal illness, mental health issues, sexual and child abuse, and the list goes on.
The characters are depicted as humanly as possible. Again unlike most visual novels, the latter tale includes a huge amount of artwork and animations to make the world seem as alive as possible. Characters blink, move about their environments, and interact with one another; a far cry from the standard “sprite over background” and a departure from the standard similar to the dynamic feel of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.
Taking the art style alone, the quality is A+. While many characters fall victim to the “big-eyes” syndrome found in modern-day anime characters, the style itself is refreshing and crisp. The town in which the story takes place feels like a real town somewhere yet at the same time fantastical and surreal.
It cannot be forgotten that this is an 18+ visual novel. The explicit depictions of child abuse and language would probably be enough, but this game does include sexual content. While not gratuitous, it is explicit.
With a vibrant setting and fully-realized characters, this one’s a story to remember… when it’s over. Compared to its predecessor, the latter tale is much longer and can take a great deal of time to get through based on reading speed. There’s a lot of story here to experience, and it’s all well done, but it can at times seem to be dragging things on just a bit too much. Overall, ef – the latter tale tells a good, tear-jerking tragedy.