This is a VN frequently recommended to those who have just gotten used to playing untranslated VNs, a story-focused mystery VN focused on the village of Minagami, a small farming town in the mountains somewhere on the main island of Japan. I remember playing this back when it came out and enjoying it immensely... but since it was like the twentieth untranslated VN I'd played, I was still not quite to the point where I was able to grasp every single detail of the story. In addition, I was still devouring primarily chuunige at the time, so 'in-between' games like this one and Kurenai no Tsuki tended not to be very satisfying for me, lol. As such, while I remembered a lot of the big points of the story, I found a lot of details on my return to it that I didn't recall.
The protagonist, Kousuke, returns there after ten years away, visiting his cousin and aunt on a long summer vacation from college. At first, he primarily focuses on re-connecting with old friends and getting along with his shy younger cousin, Shouko. However, after he encounters a monster made of a rotting bear in the mountains, he begins to pursue the mysteries of the village he was born in.
This game has seven heroines in total, with four of them main heroines and three sub-heroines. The main heroines are Ginko (the mysterious silver-haired beauty), Shouko (the protagonist's shy younger cousin), Iroha (the successor to the local Shinto Shrine and the protagonist's osananajimi), and the protagonist's younger sister Sakuya. The three sub-heroines are Sachiko (Shouko's former best friend and a 'traditional' violent tsundere), Akane (a hired miko at the shrine who is slightly older than the protagonist), and Misato (a girl from the neighborhood who is a bit older than Kousuke and serves as the homeroom teacher for Shouko's and Sachiko's classes).
There are two paths for the heroine routes. One is the Left Route, containing Shouko's, Sakuya's, and Sachiko's routes. The Right route contains Ginko's, Iroha's, Akane's, and Misato's routes. The Right route is based off of you choosing to follow, then trust Ginko early on and changes the protagonist's relationship with her (and thus how he treats the mystery). The recommended path order is Ginko>Iroha>Akane>Misato>Shouko>Sachiko>Sakuya>True. If you just want to get the true ending, you should take this route: Ginko>Iroha ending 2>Shouko ending 2>Sakuya ending 2>True.
Ginko really is mysterious, with her spending most of the VN only revealing stuff about herself in scraps. Part of this is because in paths other than her own, there is no need for her to reveal herself, and part of it is pretty much habit and reflex, lol. She is lonely, kind-hearted, and somewhat impulsive. However, if needed she is quite capable of being ruthless.
Her path focuses on her secrets primarily, while also touching on what happened ten years before in general without going into details. To be clear, the rest of the VN is just too frustrating if you think of it without the information from this path (you'd probably hate Ginko in some of the other paths if you didn't see hers first). This doesn't reveal the whole of the secrets of what is going on, pretty much because Ginko herself only has bits and pieces of knowledge and a few theories. However, I found this to be a touching path in and of itself.
Shouko is a shy little girl (seriously, if this VN were ever localized, they'd probably have to completely erase her path or up her age by five years) who is deeply troubled by nightmares and gets chased by the monster in the prologue. Curious, impulsive, and as childish as she appears to be, she is also stubborn and focused when she needs to be. Both in her path and in the rest of the VN, she is someone to be protected by almost everyone, precisely because she acts on impulse at all the wrong times. Nonetheless, her path provides a valuable puzzle piece to the mystery that envelopes Minagami Village.
I'll be blunt, in that while the romance was sort of cute at first, I have no taste for loli... so this path was only of interest to me for the ending, which I remembered from way back at the beginning. I honestly don't like her as a heroine, but this game shares one of the primary qualities of the best VNs of the past... the heroine paths are greater than their heroines.
Sachiko's path focuses on more mundane family issues that sprout out from Shouko's path, ignoring the fantasy aspect of the story. As a result, it is fairly humorous and cute overall, without becoming dull or feeling like it was a waste of time. It does add something to the reader's viewpoint, because it is the only path in the VN that actually makes the protagonist's mother into a person rather than an archetypical 'deceased mother' figure.
Iroha is an active, ever-smiling miko who is also the protagonist's childhood friend. She is generally warm-hearted and forgiving of others' faults, willing to get along with just about anyone and devoted to the shrine at which she serves, if not the deity it enshrines. Her path focuses on the yamawaro (the monsters) and their nature, going into more detail than Ginko's path as to what they are and their behavior. Unlike Ginko's and Shouko's paths, this one doesn't have as much of a bittersweet edge, though some parts at the end of Ending 2 are worth crying over.
Sakuya is the protagonist's little sister (by around three years). She is cool-mannered, calm, and pretty much the only character other than Ginko that can keep up with Kousuke's teasing. She and the protagonist have an easy relationship that seems unnaturally close to those who know them. Her path is a preliminary to the true path (her second ending leads directly into the events of the true path, with the epilogue scene being the starting scene of the true path). However, it is primarily focused on the formation of their romantic relationship, which has the usual barriers you see in cases where the people around an incest couple have at least some common sense.
The Fragments are a set of four scenes that are accessible on the flowchart after the four main heroines' second endings that tell the story of the Tennyo from the point where she arrives in the village to the point where the curse of the yamawaro comes into being. While the beginning is sweet, the ending parts are pretty horrible (guro), and it puts a lot of what happens in Shouko's and Ginko's paths into perspective, helping you put together the pieces of the puzzle from the main heroine paths into a more complete picture.
The True Path (Sinsemilla)
This path finally confronts the core of the curse inflicted on Minagami Village, and there is some serious action in here. The actual length of this path is about half that of the heroine paths, but since it is basically an extension of Sakuya's path, that makes sense.
Honestly, even after all these years, I can't name more than three non-chuunige VNs that did as good a job at presenting a story as this game has done overall... though that doesn't necessarily mean this is one of the best ten VNs I've played. For one thing, It doesn't, despite the fantasy aspects, match my personal tastes. I don't really enjoy mysteries and this definitely is a mystery (a multi-path mystery that is only solved in the true path). In addition, presentation isn't the only factor I look at when judging the overall quality of a game. This is definitely a kamige... but that doesn't mean it is one I'm going to want to replay again anytime soon.
I can definitely recommend this to anyone who liked Kurenai no Tsuki, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, and any number of other VNs that combine this type of setting with a multi-part mystery/thriller setup. However, this isn't something I'd recommend for someone who just wants to sit back and enjoy the slice-of-life. For better or worse, the story is very tightly-focused, despite its immense length. For those who want extra slice-of-life, they should read the fragments that pop up occasionally on the flow chart as you read (alternate perspectives, optional scenes, etc).
I do have one huge complaint, though... (Don't read this unless you want to be spoiled about the ending)
I WARNED YOU!!!
I absolutely hate stories where the protagonist gives up his powers at the end... realistically, people just aren't that noble, no matter their experiences. While I could see him doing it later, the way he does it on the spot is pretty unreal. I mean... at least let it heal your wounds completely, dickhead!!!