Aoi Tori is Purple Soft's latest project, a VN based in a girls' school in the mountains, where the protagonist, a priest (I'm assuming Episcopalian/Anglican for various reasons), goes to school as an exception, as he cannot live outside of the school without being taken by demons.
Ritsu, the protagonist, possesses the power to take others' negative emotions, thus enhancing their feelings of happiness and joy, and this power works best when he has sex with them. Now, given that he is a young man, you'd think from this description that he was going around finding girls that were in trouble and 'saving' them that way... given eroge culture. However, if anything, it is the reverse... girls that are desperate to escape their personal reality come to him, seeking the happiness he can give, and he has reduced himself to something like an automatic mechanism for giving them what they want. To be blunt, his point of view seems very close to that of a lifelong prostitute, save for the miraculous ability he possesses... moreover, a prostitute who didn't choose the work (his first experiences were all oneshota, apparently).
One day, his monotonous days of sex and quiet prayer (it sounds odd, but outside of school, that is pretty much what it was like), a century-old vampire named Mary Harker appears before him, having intruded into his home behind the chapel, and he lets her stay out of kindness. At the same time, a voice (referred to as the 'demon on the phone') tells him over the phone that he has a rather dark fate awaiting him and his power isn't what he thinks it is.
This night is closely followed by a number of meetings and reunions... a devout girl with a self-destructive streak a mile wide (Akari), the young teacher who stole his virginity (Risa), and the twin sister he never knew he had (Sayo). In addition, you have Mikako, who is Risa's sister and Ritsu's only friend... and who is a genius as well as a pragmatist. Overall, it is an interesting cast of characters, even for a Purple Soft game.
I'm going to be blunt, the part that will put off at least some of you is the sheer amount of sex in the first part of the VN. The game begins with two h-scenes, neither of which involves affection or love, and, while this is a good intro into Ritsu's situation, it also will probably drive the romantics amongst you a bit crazy, judging by my previous experiences. So... if you can't stand a protagonist who doesn't bother refusing sex from women and is used to having sex with girls he doesn't know, you probably won't like this game.
That said, there are relatively few similar h-scenes after this, probably in order to keep you from getting too swallowed up by his attitude toward sexual activity.
Ritsu is a rather strange young man, even setting aside his destined role as the Prince of Darkness (Mary's term for it). As the demon on the phone puts it, 'You are a madman who can only be satisfied by saving others.' That fits him perfectly, and that part of his personality never really goes away. He is fundamentally a giver, above all other things. Even if he can be convinced by the heroines to be selfish in the now, when things come to a climax, he always falls back on that nature. He is also a natural S and a hedonist (though he is not conscious of this most of the time), and he doesn't have it in him to become paranoid or maintain his anger for long. That said, once he decides on the result he wants, he will literally do anything to achieve it.
Mary Harker, in any other game, would be the true heroine. I don't mean to be mean about Akari... she is creepy has hell sometimes, despite her apparent normality (you'll see what I mean if you actually read the first two h-scenes), but if I began this game without a walkthrough or seeing the cover of the game package, I probably would have assumed she was the true heroine. The reason is very simple... she is the catalyst that sparks the game's engine at the beginning, and, given eroge custom, that heroine usually is the true one.
Now, her personality... Mary is probably the most cheerful and normal vampire I've seen outside of a 'nerfed' vampire setting (this one isn't, since just a bite is enough to turn someone and she takes injuries from her own prayers and the sun). Nonetheless, she has lived a century, and that has had various effects on her psyche, though the biggest one is a growing awareness that maintaining her humanity and human persona is becoming harder and harder. It is only because of Ritsu that she is able to have some kind of a hope for the future, and she is pretty dependent on him during the story. Despite that, she is also sort-of an oneesan character outside of her own path. She does have a lot of experience under her belt, and her attitude toward him at some times skirts the motherly.
Her own path is... a clash of two people destined to live in darkness, her and Ritsu. They are both people who don't understand romantic love at the beginning, so seeing them change is somewhat amusing, but the bigger issue is that their natures press down on them, making a happy romance difficult. Overall, it was a highly emotional experience that I enjoyed thoroughly. I do wish - as I almost always do - that she had a nice long epilogue after story, but I have resigned myself to not receiving what I wish for most of the time, when it comes to that.
Akasabi Risa and Akasabi Mikako
Akasabi Risa was the protagonist's first sexual partner. Like all the girls who had sex with him in the past, she was seeking escape from reality by having him give her happiness, but she, unlike the others, was actually in love with him from the beginning. Risa is a consummate actress, hiding her true intentions behind her feelings, a technique she apparently developed in the years she was away from Risa. She is also essentially a 'giver' type, willingly giving everything for those she cares about.
Mikako is a pretty unusual character. If it weren't for her fondness for Ritsu and her love for Risa, I would be tempted to call her an emotionless sociopath, based on her surface actions. I called her a pragmatist above, but this isn't despite her emotional reactions... it is her natural state of being. Pragmatism is usually a product of socialization and rationality being prioritized over emotion. However, in Mikako's case, she is able to (and does so automatically) completely analyze and render meaningless her emotions before they reach the surface. Her love for Risa is pretty much the only exception, and it is that emotion that renders her as almost human (her fondness for Ritsu exists because she loves Risa and Risa loves him).
Now, the demon on the phone takes on a rather more direct role in this story than in Mary's, where he/she is merely speaking to the characters. In fact, the demon's interference is what brings this path's conflict to the surface, and overall, it made this path more interesting than it otherwise would have been. To be blunt, without the demon's 'help', it is highly unlikely that Risa, Mikako, and Ritsu would get together, based on the revelations in this path. There are a number of reasons, but the biggest one lies with the fact that Ritsu quite simply doesn't have strong emotions toward his sexual partners normally (once he actually loves them, it is different)... not even remnant lust.
Kurosaki Sayo is Ritsu's twin, separated from him at birth. She is a cynical, emotionally twisted young girl whose only love is Ritsu (though she does have affection for others based on whether they make Ritsu happy or not) and whose hobby is toying with him and Mary. She appears on the scene shortly after Mary's arrival, guided by the demon on the phone. She is also a part of the demons' plans for him, and that plan is the center of her path.
This path is an utsuge-style path... don't expect a happy ending. There is a good reason why Sayo was given to a different orphanage by their mother, and that reason becomes apparent fairly early after Ritsu chooses her. I enjoyed this path and it has some really good cathartic moments... but I honestly thought they were a bit excessively obvious in foreshadowing this one.
Afterwards (read this if you don't mind a bit of spoilers)
Remember, this is a spoiler.
After each of the paths, there is a period where the demon and the true heroine - Akari - are conversing in the darkness about the events that occurred previously. Akari comments and thinks from a human perspective on what just happened, making suggestions, and the demon reveals its own thoughts on what happened. In this way, they are linking the other paths to the final, Akari path.
As techniques go, it is interesting, and I felt the need to mention it before Akari's path because of how it leads into it.
Akari is... the girl whose outer personality and inner desires are most in conflict. Akari is a devout Christian (Ritsu's assessment), kind-hearted, gentle, and takes pleasure in giving of herself to others. However, she is also strongly driven to seek out danger, corruption, and self-destruction in every way, shape, and form. As one of the milder examples... she is afraid of heights but she willingly participates in the school swim club's high dive competition. A more extreme version is the one you run into at the beginning, in the first scene, where, after watching her friend have sex with Ritsu, she is drawn to him and has sex with him as well.
Akari's path is... interesting. Actually, the beginning of the path is slow, because the story refrains from going to the extremes you saw in the common route and the other paths. However, that slow build up is a near-perfect lead into the solid drama leading up to the ending. There is actually very little I can say about this path without spoiling it, but I can say that I liked the ending. I cried numerous times throughout the path, and the ending itself satisfied me completely, a rare event in and of itself.
One thing I should note is that there is a distinct Chrono Clock reference in this path, which startled me a bit. It was actually a stronger link than the mention of the kotodama-users early in the common route. For those who are interested, I'll respond in a PM, but I'm unwilling to spoil this. I did laugh though. I'm unsure if this is an affectation or not, but it is interesting.
If you think about it, it also gives you a clue as to why they made Mary and Chronos look so similar, other than identical art styles.
I'm seriously tempted to scream 'kamige!!!' to the sky... but in retrospect, they game does have some distinct flaws. The main one of these is the somewhat haphazard approach to the beginning of Risa's path (it felt kind of like they were shoving things along a little too forcefully in that one). However, even so this is one of the better games that have come out this year, and, in its own way, keeps the Purple Soft fantasy nakige tradition started with Mirai Nostalgia alive and kicking. Where Chrono Clock fizzled and Amatsutsumi committed the sin of using the ladder-style progression system, this game manages to both satisfy and feel like it treats the non-true heroines well.