Tsukiakari Lunch is an oddball game that, despite the fact that I was in a particularly miserable state when I originally played it, I couldn't help but fall in love with. I was playing it in thirty minute snatches in between some of the hardest work I've ever done, and it took me almost two weeks (that's a long time for me) to finish it. Because of the way I played it, I've always felt that I didn't really do it justice, so I have wanted to go back and play this for years. I recommend it to people, but I couldn't really say I had a clear memory of all that went on it.
This game's structure is setup so that you first see the prologue (without going to the menu screen) and once you are done with the prologue, you go to the menu screen and start the main game. When the main game starts, you are immediately asked to pick one of the four heroines. The individual paths then proceed from there (and are of a pretty good length, though not as long as a chuunige path) to one of two endings (a bad ending or a normal/good ending).
This story is based in Hoshikage Gakuen, a mysterious school where it is always night and during the two hours of 'Lunchtime', a creepy period where color seems leeched from the world, shadows attack and individuals called 'Witches' seek to devour anyone else they find. The protagonist of this story, Shiki Haruhiko, is a wannabe teacher who wakes up with Fuyu, one of the heroines, sticking a gun in his face (what looks to be a Mauser C96). The situation that proceeds from there eventually leads to him meeting the four heroines... and finding out that one of the ways to leave the school and return to their various worlds is for someone to grant their wishes... with the catch that none of them remember those wishes (so remembering the wish is part of the journey). The nature of these wishes is such that they could not, under any circumstances, be granted in the worlds from which they came.
Fuyu- Fuyu is the first heroine the protagonist meets. She is an emotionless girl with an extensive knowledge of fighting, survival, and killing who always acts in a rational way and displays (and for the most part, feels) no emotion. Like all the girls in this game except for Aki, she lacks common reference points with the others, because her world is one that has been at war for so long that they are down to children and young women... and nobody else. It is so bad that she seems to honestly have no idea of the causes of the war or why anyone is fighting, save for survival.
Aki- The second heroine (and the one unlocked after all the others). Aki is a quiet, kind-hearted girl who tends to keep her emotions bound up inside. She is the most 'normal' of the girls on the surface, and she can generally be depended on to give good advice at the right times. She is probably from a world similar to that of Haruhiko, because she understands his perspective well and naturally enough (they share reference points). However, this is not certain, because she has no memories, including her name (Aki being the name Haruhiko gives her).
Natsuno- The third girl to arrive, a bundle of curiosity and smiles from a world where technology has advanced to the point where people are overseen by their computers, kept locked into a virtual space from birth to death, without any interaction with one another. She is a genius, capable of creating machines to do just about anything in minimal amounts of time, and she is curious about everything, especially other people. Because she has never had any real contact with others, her innocence is sometimes jarring on matters of interpersonal communication.
Avrill- A young princess from a world where humans wield swords and magic desperately to fend off hordes of monsters that plague their lives every day. She is definitely a leader type, with a tendency to forge ahead and take control of situations. However, she is rarely without a smile on her face, and she can be depended on to tease Haruhiko constantly. Above all the others, her personality is the most mature, most likely because she has, unlike Natsuno, experienced the dark sides of the world, and, unlike Fuyu, understands the emotions and feelings of others.
Nishino- The individual responsible for summoning Haruhiko, an ever-smiling witch who loves nothing more than toying with others and watching their reactions. Like all witches, she loses her ability to think rationally and is driven by the desire to devour non-Witches during Lunchtime, but most of the time, she is actually fairly helpful. She is an alchemist and doll-user.
Kitayama- The resident witch of the infirmary, a handsome male witch with a tendency to sit around just putting his life into his research. He is a sorcerer type (magical attacks and the like). He is very wise... but like all the other witches, he too loses his rationality at Lunchtime and is driven by the desire to devour others.
Azuma- A cold-eyed witch who wanders the halls of Hoshikage at random, searching for quiet places to be alone. While she is apparently close to Nishono, her reactions even to her tend to be very kuudere-ish. She really does resent interruptions and having people chat her up, and she likes even less other people asking her for help.
Minami- A kind-hearted witch who ends up serving as Haruhiko's assistant homeroom teacher. Her gentle manner and inability to handle sexual jokes hide a surprisingly sharp mind. She warns the most strongly of the witches about running if they meet her during Lunchtime, and she can be made to blush easily by Haruhiko's stare or oddly suave words (since he never talks that way to anyone else).
Fuyu's path begins with the protagonist, Haruhiko, gradually gaining understanding of her as an individual, pulling out the emotions she cut away to allow herself to survive. Fuyu's transformation from what amounts to a living doll to a warm-hearted and deeply loving (almost motherly) woman is one of my favorite parts of this game, even aside from the reasonably good battle scenes. This path is highly emotional, in part because her wish is so basic that in any sane world it would have been possible to grant without being dragged into Hoshikage Gakuen. I spent the last thirty minutes solid crying.
This is becoming almost a theme for this VN, but I spent most of the last part of this VN in or on the verge of tears. Seeing Natsuno evolve from a true innocent into someone who understands at least something of how actions have consequences was interesting... and the relationship between her and the protagonist is gentle and beautiful. Sadly, I can't go into details, because that would spoil the path... but it ends on a somewhat bittersweet note (the bad ending is sort of sexy).
Avril's path, while having a some dramatic moments at the beginning, is mostly a gentle one. Like the previous two paths, this path was about the heroine's personal growth and her achieving a personal salvation that wasn't possible on her own world, a world plagued by endless hordes of monsters. Like Natsuno's path, the road to the ending is full of love, joy, and salvation... even for the witches. The ending, true to form, is bittersweet. I also recommend that people play this path third, regardless of the order you played Natsuno and Fuyu's paths, because the after scene is too revealing about what lies behind the scenes of the stage they are acting upon.
Of course, Aki's path is the final path, revealing everything that lies behind the curtain (as opposed to merely hinting or giving you bits and pieces, like the others). You find out what precisely the 'witches' are and the how and why of Hoshikage Gakuen's existence and purpose. However, like all the others, it begins with opening the heroine's heart to the protagonist... but in the process, you also learn about the hidden aspects of Shiki Haruhiko's own presence in the school. This path has a happy ending, and it also shows ending parts for the other three heroines that tell you what happened to them 'afterward', leaving you satisfied as to their fates.
As I always thought, I definitely underestimated this VN due to my situation at the time I originally read it in 2013 (I already updated my rating of it on vndb). Though I knew most of the important details (remembered them), I still laughed, cried, and enjoyed the process of figuring out the school with them. One thing that I didn't mention above is the degree to which the paths reveal individual witches' fundamental humanity, which periodically switches to the monstrous shell they wear during 'Lunchtime'. I should note that the Bad Endings for Natsuno and Aki are worth watching, simply because the endings are in the best tradition of such endings.
Overall, I can honestly state this game is a kamige. It has everything, good music, good visuals, an excellent plot, near-perfect pacing, and great characters. The stylistic choices in the writing at certain points were a true work of art, and I can honestly recommend this game to anyone who wants a good cry.