Alright! I recently got into reading visual novels again, and while I wait for the impending demise of this website, I thought about paying homage to it before it goes away for good by using it for what it was originally intended to be for --- visual novels! Because I'm too lazy to look up the appropriate threads to place my thoughts about specific games, this will be their resting place. What better way to start off a blog dedicated to memories with a game placing emphasis on them in the subconscious plane?
I'll warn you before you continue: The blog is full of my ramblings, so I'm gonna stop paying heed to what's a spoiler and what's not. It's not a review, so don't read it if you don't want to get spoiled! If you're fine with that, be my guest.
Start of Rambling
Da Capo. To be honest, I thought the name was pretty funny because I could only visualize one thing from it.
While I may have missed the mark, I at least got the type of thing the title is right. It's referring to a musical term where one repeats the piece from the beginning until the first symbol that functions as the sort of end of that repetition. While I was skeptical of how the term would come into play in the game due to how I perceive some titles to have been chosen just because they sound cool (I'm looking at you, Fate/Stay Night), I was pleased to have encountered the concept in almost every route the game had. To better remember whatever I read, my thoughts will be focusing on each route and the emerging themes in them, and how the concept of "Da Capo" seems to have applied to them overall. But first, I'll think about the common route.
Time Taken: 2 - 3 hours
Common route felt like a real dating sim. You have around 10 days to guess your way throughout the places to meet and trigger flags with the different heroines of the game, with the changing of the illustration of the 'calendar' as your guide to whether you're approaching the route you want or not. I tried to actually guess my way through the game blindly at first, but after one route and four failed attempts to get into any other one, I gave up. It's pretty hellish guessing where you can meet the people. After a few attempts though, you kinda get a feel of where they have the highest chance of being based on their personalities, so if you're a guy who hates walkthroughs, don't give up. Just a few more graduations with your best friend Suginami, and you'll be able to grab the girl of your dreams.
Dialogue was full of quirky fun. My favorite characters by the end of the common route were probably Moe and Suginami with how absurd the kind of situations you find yourself with them are. Miharu comes close to them because of how downright stupid she is. Nothing too special with the dialogue though. Plenty of content here that reminds me of high school life, but that's the majority of Japanese media out there. If anything, it was at least entertaining enough to keep me awake in the wee hours of the night.
Now, since the common route was short and filled with SoL content, I'll be moving on from that to the meat of the rambling: the heroine routes. I'll discuss them according to the order in which I think they should be played, based on the kind of content they had.
Time Taken: 2 - 3 hours
Sakura's your obnoxiously annoying imouto-type character, more so than your actual little sister in this game. Combined with her childish aesthetic and speech pattern that makes you go nuts in the head, she's the perfect example of why you sometimes want to just close your machine and get out of the house to get fresh air. While I thought that her mannerisms were pretty damn annoying (as is with a lot of characters that try to be over-the-top cute), I ended up liking how she was made because of its significance to who she is as a character in the game.
While she's innocent and downright mischievous in the majority of the game, you get glimpses of what lies under her facade every now and then. This is particularly obvious whenever the fantastical aspects of the game, such as the dreams and the never-fading cherry blossoms, are of particular importance to the route. In her own route, you directly experience the consequences of the magical cherry blossom tree, as well as the significance of the encounters in Jun'ichi's childhood. Sakura stops being just your annoying little sister, starting to show her fangs as one of your love interests.
The gap between the innocent Sakura and the Sakura that harbors malicious feelings gives me satisfaction because of the realization of how they played me like a fool all throughout the common route. While it's obvious that she has magical roots in her bloodline (as well as Jun'ichi's), you don't really get to see the significance of those roots until you're faced with the dangers that accompany the magic they possess. Through the image of cherry blossoms, the magical underpinnings of the game finally come out, and you're faced with a situation where the heroine is actually the source of the different misfortunes that happen throughout the route, especially poignant in Nemu's case.
What I find most interesting in the route, besides the information dump, is the conflict within Sakura's character. The gap is there, yes, but it didn't come from a desire to create that gap, in which case it would have been placed to hide something. The gap is there because of the responsibility that Sakura bears, and with it, the suffering it entails for her and for the people around her. What needs to be done in order to stop it is to end the source, that is, to end the miracle of dreams --- to free Sakura from the burden of helping people reach their own dreams. It serves as a wake up call for the people of the island, and a form of liberation from the suffering Sakura.
To be honest, the concept of magic here is pretty shaky. But I get that not knowing the entirety of how the magic works is exactly what makes it so magical in the first place. This encounter with the magical is exactly what I believe to be the best start to the experience with the game, because the death of the cherry blossom tree proves to be significant in the different routes that follow.
Time Taken: 2 - 3 hours
Nemu is the trademark capable imouto character who puts up a reliable facade when with other people, only revealing her weaknesses to her beloved big brother. She also has the added bonus of being a stepsister, so hurrah to those who are into that. If there's any one of the heroines who's the most believable love interest for the protagonist, it has to be Nemu. Along with Sakura, she's one of the heroines with the longest association with Jun'ichi, so it makes sense to have her as a love interest with the time given to them to nurture their budding feelings for one another.
I thought Sakura's route was hard to understand because of how it talks about things in such a subtle way, but Nemu's was somehow able to make everything even harder to understand. Her sickness was kind of explained in the prior route, but goddamn, they suddenly make it into an internal struggle for Nemu when I already have the culprit in my mind as Sakura. It makes Sakura look worse than ever, even going as far as getting rid of Nemu's memories just to try and lessen the effects that the magic has on her.
To be honest, the whole struggle with Nemu had a lot of emotions going on for her route, and it really enriches the experience. You finally find true love with your stepsister, then she encounters a potentially terminal illness that you have no idea what to do with. Sakura enters, tries to ruin your relationship with Nemu, but love is stronger than everything. I thought it was pretty nice, to the point that I found myself in tears during her last scenario before the epilogue. The feeling of dreaming about the goodbye, and it finally happening in real life to the two of them, was so overwhelming that the sadness you feel for their situation just pours out.
...Then they decide to step on your feelings by ending it in the way they did. Nemu's alright. I mean, it should be obvious for the readers that the death of the cherry blossom tree means the survival of Nemu, but after being faced with stakes as high as that prior to the epilogue, I can't help but feel that they discarded what they've built up for the past 9 pages of scenario in favor of a happy end with Nemu. If the aftereffects or any explanation was at least shown to justify the end, it would have been okay. But they just thrust it at you, as if they wanted to say 'sike' as you were reading it. It really took me out of her route, and it really downplays the whole experience. Frankly, it was pretty disappointing.
Time Taken: 1.5 - 2 hours
Kotori's the typical 'most famous girl in the school that falls in love with you for some reason'. She's the type of heroine that swoons because someone finally treated her like she was a normal person, because every other man out there is a beast that seeks romance with her. Her route is probably the most romantic out of all of them, but also the least believable in my opinion. In a laughable span of 10 days, Kotori and Jun'ichi develop feelings for one another, which finally comes into fruition after another week. A relationship that only took 17 days to start. Pretty damn amazing, with the lack of high stakes and all.
Why is her route romantic? Well, it's full of scenes where they tease and flirt with each other! Compared to the others, Jun'ichi actually sees Kotori as a proper love interest from the start, which is probably why it felt so romantic compared to the rest. It actually made me embarrassed with myself while reading through it, pushing me to a point where I almost developed type 2 diabetes. I'd like to continue on with how embarrassingly sweet it was, but it's a topic not worth rambling about.
Main conflict in her route was how she's unable to understand other people, and in return, unable to let other people understand her. By now, it's obvious that the game loves overturning the stereotypes it lays out for its heroines by associating the stereotypes with a sort of facade to deal with their inner struggles. For Kotori's case, I was not able to see it coming from a mile away. It comes in and suddenly slaps me in the face because of how casually Kotori mentions it after the end of the matter. With how dissociated I was with her struggle prior to the death of the cherry tree, I ended up feeling that her conflict was kind of shallow and lacking substance, being justified with the use of a special power that I would never have guessed she had. Would have loved to been more exposed to the inner workings of her conflict, especially outside that of dreams.
Time Taken: 1.5 - 2 hours
Your standard dojikko. I found her very cute in the common route, and she did not disappoint in her route as well. The gap in her character this time was not exactly a gap, but an underlying reason behind her being a dojikko --- a deep-seated trauma from her past. Moe tries to hide this behind a general face of clumsiness and airheadedness, literally sleeping her problems away.
I felt like her route had the most potential. You have the ingenious idea of making dojikko not just a stupid trait, but a sort of coping mechanism to deal with the loss of a beloved one in the past. Then you go and end it in like one scene. The deep-seated trauma is warded off with the words "Live happily for him" or something like that. Amazing. If it was that easy to deal with depression and trauma, then therapists would probably be raking in money with the least effort. Or we wouldn't even need them in the first place.
While I understand that it's the early 2000s and the awareness that comes with these kinds of conflicts is not as fleshed out as it is in our current time, it's still disappointing to see one of those with the most impact being easily solved through mere words. If it was that easy, Moe wouldn't have needed sleeping pills. It honestly makes everyone around her goddamn useless, especially considering she's part of a family that manages a damn hospital.
Time Taken: 1 hour
I don't get it. It's so out of place in the game.
Nisekoi, but worse.
Time Taken: 1 - 1.5 hours
Probably my best girl. I love Miharu so damn much. And I loved her damn route. It's everything I wanted from Nemu's route. The ending is exactly what I was looking for in Nemu's --- one that did not disregard the main conflict of the route. The build up ultimately leads to an end that is full of emotion; a satisfying conclusion to their short love story. I cried myself to sleep reading this route. It's so damn good. And the epilogue? My god! I cannot begin to imagine the pangs of pain the heart of Jun'ichi might feel seeing a stark reminder of the love story that ended as quickly as it began. Incredible.
There's only one picture that can encompass the entirety of this route's glory.
However, as much as I loved the route and its conclusion, I still had qualms with it. First qualm focuses on the event that triggers the route --- Miharu's accident. I can't believe Jun'ichi doesn't even mention feelings of remorse for the way things transpired. She fell from a tree, and you were in a perfect position to prevent it, had you not left her to her own devices. While not directly culpable for it, it's kinda hard to imagine thoughts about 'what could have been' not surfacing every now and then. Second would probably be about the memory of their past, which led to the unearthing of the time capsule. While it is an emotionally-packed scene, I can't help but to wonder where that places the real Miharu. The feelings between the two might be real, but the promise that the real one and Jun'ichi made as kids seem to have been trampled on, and that just doesn't seem right with me. In a setting where you're trying to act as a substitute for the real one while they're out of commission, directly interfering with one of their most intimate memories kinda feels like a strike to me, because of the implications it has on the prior relationship the real Miharu and Jun'ichi had.
Time Taken: 1.5 - 2 hours
It was weird, but nonetheless enjoyable. Not much to say here, because it's mostly a feel-good route. You have a catgirl, and you know she was originally a cat but you still fall in love with her. Nice. The most notable thing about her route is probably the loneliness that surrounds it near the end of the scenarios, before the epilogue. Honestly, felt a lot similar to what Miharu's route was, with how abrupt the love story ends. The difference between the epilogue of this route and Nemu's is that the epilogue is properly substantiated, grounded with enough reason (even though it's magical) to be at least a bit believable. It doesn't discard the build up of the conflict prior to it, rather, adds to its significance with the kind of character Misaki is.
That sex scene was hella unnecessary though.
So what made me like the game so much, despite all my qualms about the routes? Well, I think it's how they were able to tie in the title with the main themes of the game, such that they become more meaningful when put against one another. Da Capo, like I mentioned earlier, is essentially a repeat of the beginning, until a point where the end comes. After the end, a new segment of the music begins. This beginning at the end is the main paralleling idea behind the routes of the game (yes, even the disaster that is Mako's). Each route focuses on a particular dream, and these dreams, by the end of the route, mostly end with the death of the cherry blossom tree around May. With its end, the dream the characters live end, and a new reality begins. This idea was especially poignant in Miharu's and Yoriko's routes, where the dream with them literally ends because of how fantastical their existence is in the first place. The others also followed this pattern, with Sakura and the tree, Nemu and her illness, Kotori and her ability to read people's minds, Moe and her repeating dream, and lastly, Mako and the fake relationship (lol).
With a game following its structure so faithfully, the experience of playing it becomes ever more meaningful because of what you can draw out from the content that it gives you. The little things you encounter in the SoL scenes become ever more meaningful with the theme of dreams and their end lingering behind your mind as your read them. Even the common route itself follows the same pattern, with the focus on graduation and the things that end with it. But as the characters say, with the end, new things begin, and it's exactly that kind of association it has with the majority of its elements that made it such a fun read. The subtleties and symbols that it shows become ever more beautiful, similar to how the cherry blossoms bloom in such an elegant manner, culminating in a shower of fleeting emotions that are rich in their passing.
Da Capo is far from being perfect, but it's an enjoyable experience. Fresh from the outside, Da Capo is a great VN to start with given its quirky cast, its reputation, and the way it plays with its overarching thematic elements. While full of fantastical stuff, it also doesn't fail to deliver in the romance aspect, although there are some that are quite questionable in their initiation. I'd recommend people starting out to pick it up, such that they may be better acquainted with the type of games that would follow should they decide to read more.