One of only two games written by Kazutaka, the writer of the somewhat comically-named Doushite Daite Kurenai no!? Onna no Ko Datte Yaritai no! (incidentally, despite the title, the aforementioned game is not a nukige, which is in itself humorous, lol). It is also the game that gave substance to Ensemble's quest to define itself as a specialist company in trap protagonist and ojousama-ge. Ironically, it is also the flat-out best SOL game the company has ever made, which makes it somewhat sad for me that Kazutaka faded out after this game was released. I can say right out that the only reason I still try Ensemble games is because of the experience I had with this one.
One of the parts anyone who first plays this game will notice is that the protagonist is voiced. More than that, 'Mizuki' is voiced by a female VA that was able to put a hint of androgyny into the voice, giving you the impression that it was quite natural that most people mistake him for a girl. Another part of this game that is obviously noticeable from the start is that the writer has really done his research into the art field. 'Mizuki' has an extremely wide and deep knowledge of all forms of art and their care, and this serves as one of his (actually, it is easier to think of him as a girl with a penis, lol) charm points for the reader, along with his obvious love of housework.
One part that makes it easy to regard this game's path as being far more in-depth than the norm for an SOL-focused game is the way the choices are handled. Essentially, before you exit the prologue, you will have already chosen your heroine, since all choices are concentrated in a very short period of time at the beginning of the game. By choosing to essentially get the choices 'out of the way', the writer manages to avoid one of the most common pitfalls of VNs in general... breaking engrossment in the game by inserting choices into every important scene. This game essentially ignores the lie of player agency (Clephas: Player agency in a VN, pfft), which is definitely a positive in this case. This allows the protagonist's and the heroines' personalities and actions to become clear to the reader (and there is no doubt that you are a reader with this VN) without the interference of random choices or the need to keep which heroine you want to go for in the back of your mind constantly.
Rena is the game's obvious main heroine. She is the daughter of the town's owner and permanent mayor (literally, their business bought the town in which the game is based). She is also an art dealer from a family of art dealers. It is tempting, at first glance, to call her a tsundere... but for once, this archetypical characterization fails. Rena is very straightforward in how she expresses her feelings, having a policy of expressing her emotions openly regardless of what they are. She is also very mature in the sense that she has a solid grasp on what her responsibilities are to those around her, coming from her upbringing as the successor of a family of primary art dealers (art dealers that primarily 'raise' artists and sell their works as opposed to buying artists' works that already have an established market value).
I say she is the main heroine, and indeed, her path is one of the few paths where the protagonist is forced to confront his own issues head on. For better or worse, in most of the paths, Shin/Mizuki manages to avoid directly confronting his past and his own weakness, making this path an obvious favorite for me. That said, this was the first path I played originally, so I couldn't help but play this one first again.
Chiharu is my yome! lol Seriously, if you were to ask me which heroine (as opposed to 'which girl' since Akie is my favorite girl... I love haraguro characters) touched my heartstrings (and my libido) the most, it would be Chiharu. Chiharu is the single-minded but kind-hearted bodyguard that serves Rena. She is very serious and kind-hearted, but it often shows in odd ways, because she is somewhat socially awkward. Her reactions are also driven by her early upbringing and profession, the former of which was strict and the latter of which is professional security.
Chiharu's dere is... frighteningly powerful. Oh, this can be said of all the heroines, really, but Chiharu is a very loving soul. I love Chiharu's path for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that she is, at heart, someone who just wants someone who can accept her from the bottom of their hearts, flaws, disabilities, and all. This very human worry is what turned Chiharu from a two-dimensional character to a person in my mind.
Chiharu "But ghosts are dead! Ghosts aren't alive! If they aren't alive, you can't kill them! You can't kill the dead with a katana! I'm scared!"
Akie "No, but you can cut the TV. Please refrain from damaging dorm property."
Shizuku is an art auctioneer and the daughter of the head of the Karasuma Group, a company that specializes in the resale of art. She and Rena are on bad terms, not the least because their places in the art industry make it inevitable. To most people, she is a sharp-tongued (dokuzetsu) but elegant-looking girl who dominates her surroundings by her very presence. In private, she is an intensely loving and passionate woman who will do absolutely anything and everything for the person she loves. However, she has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions (something that can be said of the other two heroines above as well, though not of Yuki and Anastasia), especially when it comes to Shin.
Tbh, this is the most frustrating of the routes to speak of, because so much of her profile is spoilers for the other routes. Let's just say there are some seriously hilarious antics that occur partly because of Shii-cha- *coughs* ahem, Shizuku's tendency to jump to conclusions, her willingness to do anything for the people she loves, and Rena's inevitable reactions, lol.
This path is primarily hilarious, but it also gets into the more intimate elements of Shin's 'why' in a way that even Rena's path doesn't. Tbh, if I were to put a recommended route order up, it would be Rena>Shizuku>Chiharu>Yuki>Anastasia. My reasoning for this is because this game actually benefits from experiencing it in an order that could be seen as 'main to sub' instead of 'sub to main' as I would normally recommend. All the paths are good in their own ways, but the knowledge from Rena and Shizuku's paths enhance the experience of the other three paths to a rather large degree. Moreover, playing Anastasia's path without having played Rena's would make it somewhat confusing, and I'm pretty sure some important points would be missed by first-timers.
For now, I'm going to stop, because I need to take a rest from SOL for a few days, but I'll finish this one up soon.