This Review is Intended to be Read by Mature Audiences Only
The material reviewed has extremely objectionable content. Sexual violence, gore, psychological horror, and lolis are involved. This is not for the faint of heart.
Coming into this visual novel for the first time, I had already heard a lot of praise and general plot spoilers. Usually, this is a good recipe for a story to let me down. But that was not the case with Saya no Uta. I personally believe that even if the major plot points and twists are spoiled, the best media will still make you feel strongly as and after you’ve experienced it yourself. Part of this is the quality of the atmospheric horror and elements that stay scary even after you’ve seen them before. That’s not to say there isn’t shock value; just that there is a deeper layer that sticks to you after the shock wears off.
The story is extremely Lovecraftian, much like Gen Urobuchi’s other works. However, Saya itself feels like the darkest out of all of them, by far. Part of this is because there really is no “Good” ending in the traditional sense. The game totals 2 choices and that result in 3 possible endings. I like the way the endings were presented since the traditional narrative structure in a visual novel tends to be sorted into ‘good’, ‘neutral’, and ‘bad’. But Saya no Uta didn’t restrict itself to these labels. Instead, each ending is just a difference scenario of a single starting point.
The amazing thing about the writing is how it makes you sympathize with Saya and Fuminori. Sure, they’re definitely the villains in this story, but they’re also genuinely in love. The things they do are for their love and their position as the last people in the world that will accept each other as they are, given their unique circumstances. This is where the deconstructive elements of the story show up. Everyone’s told about how someone would ‘do anything’ for the one they love, and there are many stories chronicling the tale of the hero who deals with unimaginable trials to save or reunite with the love of their life. But those stories either have the hero as a clearly “heroic” character or clearly painted as an “antihero” type. The sympathetic light that Saya and Fuminori are painted with is something unique to the story of Saya no Uta, and one of the things that help it to stand out so well.
I’d be neglecting a significant portion of the visual novel if I didn’t talk about the sex. Unlike a nukige, the sex isn’t gratuitous and isn’t supposed to be arousing either. It’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. Whether it’s involving a loli, actual non-consent, or a mind-broken slave, there’s never a healthy sexual situation in the game. These situations hilight how far the characters have gone down the moral scale and are also used as catalysts to get other characters to ask (because outright killing a character before they’re ready to ‘exit stage’ would be a poor narrative choice).
Something that could be seen as a weakness in writing is the depth of the characters. While Fuminori, Saya, and Ryoko (who is a total badass, might I add) were elaborated on, it seemed the other characters were assigned roles that forced them into being catalysts for the events in the series. They had personalities to justify their actions, but no fleshed out backstories. I personally don’t think this was an issue since the visual novel was really more of a story about Saya and Fuminori, but it might be interpreted as a problem by some.
The art is very cleanly done and looks like it was done in ‘digital paint’. The palette is subdued and filled with neutral or unnatural colors, and overall has a gloomy mood to it. Some of the backgrounds (the gore in particular) were made using 3D graphics, and this difference in mediums can feel strange. But overall, it’s not a significant problem since they were well produced. The CGs are very attractive, and there’s a fairly large amount of them scattered through the game (especially considering the play length).
The atmosphere of dissonance is further enforced by the beautiful soundtrack. For the tense situations, there are angsty, grungy, and slow guitar pieces. In calmer songs, it doesn’t even feel truly calm. A creepy synth in the background, notes that feel more random than in their proper place, and the occasional industrial-sounding noise build the atmosphere. The most intense song comes without warning at the climax of the story and is only used once with an intense guitar as the focal point.
Music that involves perspectives other than the main ‘protagonists’ is no more cheerful. It’s slow, plodding, and still has an overall feeling of gloom and paranoia. After all, no one’s dealing with nightmare visions, but they also don’t have any idea as to what the hell is going on. The prettiest song at the “best” ending is without dissonance. But, at the same time, it’s the worst possible case for humanity.
A soundtrack like this makes me feel the game was maximizing the usage of the medium it was built in, and is one of the key reasons I will re-read even after having run through it fully a few times before.
(It’s things like this that keep me from telling IRL friends about this blog, haha.)