Spiral is the latest game from Navel, the company responsible for Shuffle and Tsuriotsu. This is also based in the same world as Shuffle, albeit a generation later (which is suitable, seeing as it has been almost a generation since the original Shuffle was released). For those who aren't aware of this fact, the original writer of Shuffle, Agobarrier, died a back in 2016, and it is perhaps inevitable that the world he created would end up looking a lot different once someone else took over completely...
Now, I have a single complaint to get off my chest before I start my assessment of this game... in a setting where part of the attraction is the multiple races involved, why did they choose to create a situation where all the heroines are human? Seriously, I honestly think this was a poor choice, even with the protagonist being of the divine race.
The story begins with Crom, a divine race intelligence agent who previously specialized in the capture of inter-world criminals and the investigation of interworld criminal organizations, being forced to give up his long-desired vacation in order to infiltrate a human-only school in order to investigate the area in advance of a princess's attendance of a local school. Crom is one of those protagonists who can do everything but sees that as being perfectly normal, so he stands out whether he likes it or not, and he can pass for a girl easily (though he is rarely a trap in-game).
Since this was written by a writer that I personally consider to be a fourth-class charage writer (Takeuchi Jun)... I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at how it turned out. His primary works were all Da Capo related, which pretty much says everything, since Da Capo is a series that manages to make magic eminently boring.
The common route involves him settling in at the school, and it ends just before the culture festival, which is the turning point where the heroine paths split off completely. I'd say it 'gets the job done' of introducing the characters and making the heroines attractive to the reader... but in my mind that just means that a lot more effort could have gone into developing the character relationships and building up the characters' personalities. While there was no sense that it was being hurried along, I couldn't help but feel that things were kept intentionally at the surface level during the common route, even moreso than in the usual charage.
I picked Rose first because she was the person least touched by the issues at the school, having transferred in at the same time as Crom. Rose is very much a 'borderless' person, having no prejudices... at all. She lives in the moment, but she isn't a hedonist. She simply finds the world and people around her to be fun and enjoys them as they are rather than pushing her expectations on others.
I can honestly say her path felt rushed and forced, which disappointed me deeply. While there is drama, it is quickly resolved and the rest is mostly ichaicha. None of Crom's personal issues are really touched upon (despite a massive amount of hints at their existence during the prologue and common route), and it felt like they deliberately avoided adding any real depth to this path, which I found disappointing.
Ibarako was my second choice because I have a soft spot for misanthropes (being one myself). Ibarako is an extreme misanthrope, but, because of the existence of the divine and demon realms and their peoples, she managed to avoid becoming a nihilist, happily. When she is first encountered, it is quite obvious she is just counting down the days until she can leave the human realm... Despite her negativity, she is essentially a good person... she just really, really dislikes people.
Her path is pretty much straight ichaicha with a side of learning about her personal issues, why she came to hate humans, and some emotional drama that lasts all of ten minutes before it is over. The romance is mildly cute and traditional... but the writer's lack of creativity is evident here. While there is a tear-jerk screen, it is brief, poorly-written, and conveniently resolved without real conflict. As such, I can call this a failed route despite my fondness for Ibarako as a whole.
It needs to be said, but this writer just committed the cardinal sin of this kind of game... he made one heroine's path so much better than the rest that there is no comparison. Sango is a generally helpful, kind-hearted girl who generally takes up a leadership position whenever possible. She is also the daughter of the school's administrator. However, she has one issue that becomes apparent early on... she's something of a racist. She is aware of this quality and dislikes it about herself, but because of the way she was raised, she struggles with it.
This path is the most complex of the three I played so far (I'm writing these up as I finish the paths). The drama is complex and multilayered, and some of Crom's issues come to light (finally, thank god) in this path, though they are not resolved by any means (meaning I'm still irritated at the writer). What bothers me most about this is that there is no reason all the paths couldn't have had this level of drama, since each of the heroines had their own issues to deal with and Crom's own position should have inevitably created some troubles. Since this isn't a locked true path, there really isn't any justification for the wide gap in path quality here...
... why is it that the least interesting heroines in this game got the better paths? Mizuki is your standard-issue genki airhead heroine, with a side of an obsession with magic.
Her path is a bit below Sango's and a bit above the other two in terms of quality, and it is probably the most 'Shuffle-like' path in the game, in the sense that I could see such a heroine popping up in Shuffle. That said, the drama is as 'convenient' as it was in Ibarako's and Rose's path, and in that sense, I found myself left a bit irritated once more. It also has the weakest epilogue of the four paths..
This game needed to include at least one other heroine (preferably a devil or deity heroine) and deal more intimately with Crom's issues. I say this because perhaps the most immediately startling of Crom's issues doesn't surface in the heroines' views even once in all the four paths, which is a HUGE negative, considering it is one of Crom's most interesting parts. In addition, even Sango's path leaves you with more questions than answers, though it will probably end up being the canon path for whatever sequel they are planning (as they obviously are)... or at least the general flow of events will.
This game was rather obviously - and this is a horrible practice - set up to be followed quickly (probably before the end of this year) with the announcement of a sequel or fandisc. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it was in development before this VN was released... poor overworked Navel staff, lol.
For a Shuffle fan, this game is a major disappointment, and, even for a fan of Navel in general, this game probably won't make it to the top of their list unless they only play the Sango path and don't want anything to do with the other heroines. While this game tries to deal with some interesting issues that might theoretically be born of the situation of three worlds with humanoid races that can interbreed coming in close contact, it does so in a way that is haphazard and not quite believable. As such, it actually falls short of Shuffle even in this sense, since Shuffle and its after stories and add-ons actually dealt with a number of such issues on its own in a way that was believable within the deliberately comically-presented setting at the time.
For me, it felt like the generally positive silliness of Shuffle was lost when they made this game, due to the weak attempt to tackle serious issues such as racism and misanthropy. Shuffle had a lot of serious points that were actually somewhat dark in retrospect, but because of the general atmosphere of the game, my actual impression of the game and its various attachments and fandiscs is one of a light but interesting comedy SOL VN with traces of nakige.
To be blunt, their choice of writer is probably the biggest problem with this game. His comedy is weak, his SOL is archetypical, and he over-favored one heroine in a game that doesn't clearly present a central heroine. I really hope that any sequel or fandisc is written by someone with a higher level of skill at this kind of thing...
Edit: I gave this game a 7 on vndb, but, if it weren't for the quality of Sango's path, I would have given it a 4 or a 5, which is an extremely, extremely low rating for me. I was really tempted to just give it a six, since I hate how the writer treated the Rose and Ibarako paths (to be honest, I could have done without Mizuki entirely), but if this game were a kinetic novel with just Sango, I would have probably gave it an eight.