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Random VN: Komorebi no Nostalgica

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Clephas

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Yes, it is another Takaya Aya game... to be specific, his joint work with Morisaki Ryouto (known for his sci-fi bent and work with Applique).  This work is also considered to be one of his penultimate masterpieces, which is ironic, since the company he created got bought out almost immediately after this game was released, hahaha.  

Anyway, Komorebi no Nostalgica was one of two contenders for my VN of the Year 2013 and lost out to Hapymaher.  However, given how Hapymaher has proven somewhat difficult to replay (the Christmas arc puts me to sleep every time), and the way I find new things in Komorebi every time I replay it, I'm going to go ahead and say that that decision was probably a mistake, lol.  Komorebi is a meticulously-written game, with so much attention to detail on the part of Takaya and Morisaki that it is literally impossible to pick up everything on one playthrough... and more importantly, it has a strangely powerful emotional impact that can't help but make you reflective on the issues it brings up.

The setting of Komorebi no Nostalgica is based in the twenty-fifth century, long after the changing climate sank wide swathes of the world's land beneath the oceans and fifty years after a humanoid AI rebellion that resulted in what amounts to a negotiated draw (mostly because the AIs didn't want to wipe out humanity).  The AIs in question are self-aware machines that possess human looks and emulate human emotions using a quantum processor and a unique set of self-developing algorithms.  They are called the Metosera and live alongside humans in a larger society that coexists with human society while they dwell in 'Arks', large towers in the major cities that take on the maintenance and 'procreation' of their race.  The government is now a world government, mostly because the nations that existed before the war were utterly dependent on Humanoids for most forms of manufacturing and manual labor and couldn't continue to exist on their own.  

This VN focuses on a group of friends that discover an extremely high-spec pre-war Humanoid hidden in the walls of their school building, and the discoveries they make as they rebuild Cinema (the Humanoid in question) and learn from her.

Cinema is not a heroine, but she is undeniably the centerpiece of the story.  The mysterious 'Store Manager' that customized her (to the extreme) and his intentions become central issues in several paths, and her unique aspects come into play in others.  However, the universal aspect is that her presence sparks a number of issues that were dormant to rise to the surface during the course of the paths.  

Main Characters

Shimazu Shouta is the protagonist, a guy who loves retro machines and is great at repairing old hardware and jury-rigging solutions to mechanical problems.  By default, he is the homemaker of the family, since the two women living with him (his stepmother Kagari and his adoptive sister Akira) are both programming geniuses incapable of taking care of themselves.  What stands out in regards to his character is his adaptability and his acceptance of the way the world is.  This is important because it is what makes him an excellent partner for Fluorite in her path and gives the perfect perspective on Cinema.

Shimazu Akira is Shouta's adoptive little sister, a natural-born hacker with a neural implant and way too much talent for her own good.  Unfortunately, her impulsiveness and intolerance of 'inelegant' solutions to programming problems lead to constant trouble, since she has no impulse control.  She is utterly dependent on her brother, to the same extent as her mother, without the wisdom of years to stabilize her.

Fluorite Alvega is a Metosera who has spent most of her formative years with the 'group of friends', making her somewhat unusual for her kind, who usually end up spending more time with their own than with humans.  While she has the Metosera tendency to think in straight lines and constantly analyze the world around her, she is more self-reflective and tolerant of the flaws and foibles of humans than many, who tend to be overly straight-laced.  

Kaja Fruhling is the daughter of two of Kagari's (Shouta's stepmother's) coworkers and was born in Germany.  She is an easygoing girl who shares Shouta's love of motorcycles and scuba diving, and she is generally easy to get along with.  While has some tomboyish aspects, she is surprisingly perceptive and compassionate beneath the surface.  She is an all-around athlete who often gets recruited by the athletic clubs for help, but she isn't interested in joining any of them permanently.

Sawatari Itsuki is a sharp-tongued young woman who is the most reserved and bookish in a group that is full of straightforward people.  Of the group, she is the most 'balanced' in terms of talent, being a general prodigy (as opposed to one-point monsters like Seijuurou/male-Momoka, Flow/humanoid AI, or Akira/genius hacker).  She is bookish and tends to get put in positions of responsibility, but this is mostly because she has a surprisingly forceful personality that is at odds with her appearance.  She is also feared because of her tendency to wield 'correctness' as a weapon while being perfectly willing to ignore it if it is inconvenient to her personally.  

Cinema is the Humanoid uncovered in the school's secret room.  Last active the year the Two Years War began, she was designed by someone even Akira describes as a 'genius'.  She displays reactions that can only be described as 'emotional' and 'alive' in a fashion even the Metosera have difficulty managing, and certain aspects of her design indicate an extremely unusual design philosophy.  However, she is undeniably too low-spec to gain sentience in the same way the Metosera did... so the question is just how is it that she leaves such a non-mechanical impression on those who see her...?

Samon Seijuurou is the last member of the 'group of friends', a muscleheaded martial artist who is infamous for knocking the classroom door off its rails as he runs in just before the bell.  At one point in the past, he wanted to become the strongest fighter in the city and went around picking fights with delinquents from other schools, but he eventually ran out of people to challenge.  He is very simple-minded and straightforward and disinclined to question things.  He has a good heart, but his inability to understand subtlety often trips him up (not to mention that he is an idiot and an open pervert).

Important Side Characters

Shimazu Kagari- Akira's birth mother and Shouta's stepmother.  A genius programmer who is utterly incapable of taking care of herself (a quality her daughter shares).  She has a very childlike manner and tastes, but she is in actuality very intelligent and mature (if in an odd way) beneath that appearance.  Her attitude toward parenting is very much a 'wait and see while taking everything in' approach, and this has resulted in her daughter becoming a hacking wild child (who is essentially good natured) whereas Shouta became a mature homemaker despite his natural tendencies.

Samon Munenori Seijuurou's grandfather and the master of the dojo that Seijuurou, Shouta, and Kaya attend.  He is a veteran of the Two Years War and one of the few veterans who managed to get past his resentment of what amounts to humanity's defeat by their creations (it was only a draw because the Metosera avoided killing humans directly, though some died due to complications later or because they helped the Metosera).  

Celes is Fluorite's 'mother' and the Elder of the New Capital's Ark, the home of the city's/region's Metosera.  She is a veteran of the Two Years War and one of the first Metosera to obtain sentience.  She has a gentle manner and is deeply compassionate, and her attitude toward Fluorite and her friends resembles that of a gentle grandmother, as she merely laughs off the antics and trouble they got into in the Ark as kids.  She sees Fluorite's oddities, born of her mixed socialization, as a source of hope for the future of her race, and she treasures the relationships that her 'daughter' has formed.  

Fluorite Path

If you want the joy of discovering the details of the setting for yourself, do not open the spoiler box.  I'm essentially getting extremely nerdy in the paragraphs in the spoiler box, so if you want my usual completely spoiler-free commentary, just ignore it.  I considered just leaving it in the open, but I concluded that some people would not want to be spoiled about the setting to this degree.

Spoiler

 

One word I found interesting in this path relating to the psychological development of young Metosera was 未分化 (undifferentiated/unspecialized) in regards to emotional categories.  In Fluorite's own words she says that her frustration and embarrassment have yet to be differentiated, using that word above.  It might be a bit nerdy to go off on a tangent before describing the path, but I found this to be a great example of the writers' attention to detail.  Apparently, young Metosera obtain a social understanding of their own emotions by subjectively differentiating them from larger emotional categories as they develop.  In the case of Flow, because Metosera don't have any culture of embarrassing one another (or one-upsmanship) this emotion was never differentiated inside her from the larger category that also contains her emotions of frustration.  

I note that this is important to understanding the Metosera because this is a product of the fact that they occurred naturally as a result of the advancement of their hardware and self-evolutionary algorithms, rather than intentionally through human-induced deep learning.  This also shows the sheer scale of the setting Takaya and Morisaki created for this game, since this kind of detail is scattered throughout the story. 

Now, I should note that Flow has a huge 'gap-moe' thing going in her path.  Flow has almost no emotions as intense as her feelings toward Shouta, so her reactions are often outside her ability to predict, which results in some fairly hilarious situations.  There is also a distinct culture gap, since Metosera culture tends to affirm all forms of emotion as a positive thing in the process of the individual's evolution toward greater sentience, whereas humans tend to have differing reactions to their emotions and situations.

 

As I say above in the spoiler box, Flow has a rather stunning gap-moe thing going in her route, with her normally calm, almost flat manner showing serious cracks when she is around Shouta (hints of this can be seen in her reactions to Cinema in the common route as well).  The early part of this route is very telling about both Flow personally and the Metosera as a whole, revealing a great deal about how they think (analyzed partially by Shouta himself, who has spent most of his life around Flow as a friend).  The latter half is fairly action-focused, with Cinema's issues taking center stage (really, in all the paths this happens), and it is very strongly focused on the legacy of the Two Years War.  The climax of the path would have anyone in tears, and I honestly found my heart breaking each of the four times I played this game and this path in particular.  The box below has a very general setting spoiler involved with this path.

Spoiler

In particular, this path deals with the Human Supremacists, which are absolute believers in the right of human dominance.

Itsuki Path

First I'll say that the romance in this path is fairly conventional.  Itsuki and Shouta have known one another for a long time, and they already care about one another, so there is a lot less of a hurdle for Shouta in getting together with her than with Flow, where he had a moral dilemma born of him worrying about how he affected Flow.  As such, I won't comment on the romance any further, since it is little more than a device to help the story along in this path.

There is an excellent fight scene (by non-chuunige standards) toward the end of this path, and that is something to look forward to for action fans.  However, the true spotlight of this path is

Spoiler

on the aesthetic algorithm theory that went into Cinema's design.  Essentially, it was the basis for a program that allows Cinema to leave generalities as generalities rather than responding to questions about non-concrete subjects with precise calculations, a function that even the Metosera don't possess.  This is part of the reason that Cinema appears so 'alive' within the story (or at least the setting), and I found the ideas behind it fascinating.

Yep, that was me geeking out again.

Essentially, this path contrasts the Metosera's evolution with Cinema's once again.  This is one of the primary themes of the game, and Itsuki's path provides another point to build things up for the reader.

Also, the epilogue to this path is as good as Flow's if in a different way.  

Kaja Path

One thing that is interesting about replaying VNs is that you realize the reasons why you forget things and remember others.  All of the heroines in Komorebi no Nostalgica are extremely close to the protagonist, and all the ones other than Akira can be considered 'osananajimi' (childhood friend) characters.  However, Kaja fits the most perfectly into the osananajimi template, especially in the romantic elements of her path.

Kaja's role with Shouta is as the 'friend he doesn't really see as a woman', a trope that gets pulled out a bit too often in VNs for my taste (it isn't so bad when they aren't heroines, but when they are heroines, the romance is usually wince-worthy at best).  Because of this, it is no surprise that I avoided this path on future playthroughs, despite the insights it provides on Cinema.   I should note that this path is one of those where there is a massive wall of text between the actual love confession and them becoming lovers (meaning the 'worrying about this and that' period is that long).  

Unlike the previous two paths, this path doesn't have a major action scene, though it does have some drama.  While this is a much better path than charage equivalents of the same trope, I still hate that trope, lol.  The epilogue, like the previous two, is a 'several years later, after graduation' epilogue, which is always nice, since it is great to know how things turn out for the characters central to the path.

Akira Path

If Komorebi was based on D&D rules, Akira would have an intelligence stat of 40 and a wisdom stat of 5.  To be blunt, Akira is something of a spoiled brat whose talent, mother's social position, and Shouta's tendency to spoil her have shielded her from most of the sticks and stones that would have hit someone like her.  Her hacking ability is extremely high (helped by her uncontrollable curiosity and disinterest in restraining herself), but she tends to outright forget common sense in any number of situations.

One thing that stands out about the romantic part of this path (other than Shouta over-thinking things, as usual) is Kagari is a great mom, despite being incapable of cooking, cleaning, or doing the laundry (Shouta does all these things, lol).  Her tendency to see through Shouta and the others is present in all the paths, but it is particularly in the open in this one.

Let's just say that this path has less of a philosophical bent than Flow's or Itsuki's and less of a romance/SOL focused bent than Kaja's.  This path's drama is mostly focused around the search for 'Tenchou's' identity and fate after he concealed Cinema.  While there is some action, the actual stakes involved are far less than in Flow or Itsuki's path.  

Last Episode

Last Episode is a chapter unlocked by completing all four heroine paths.  It is very revealing about how and why 'Tenchou' vanished from the public world, and it also provides a conclusion to the story as a whole.  Certain aspects of this chapter change based on which heroine you choose at the very first part of the chapter, as this determines which heroine is your canon heroine, lol.  Of course, I always choose Flow... if there is a choice between human and non-human, I will always choose non-human.

There are some seriously teary moments in this episode... particularly 

Spoiler

when you find out how young Kouichirou/Tenchou died, leaving his son, Shouta's father, behind.  

To be blunt, this chapter is really about Cinema and the final purpose for which she was created.  If you, like me, have come to love Cinema by this point, you will probably break down in happy tears.  

Extra

There really isn't anything to the extra chapter (accessed using the usual Takaya Aya code nkmr).  It's basically a short joke skit written for people who have finished at least one of the paths.

Conclusion

A few stylistic comments first.  Each chapter of this game has an episodic preview that hints at a key aspect of the next chapter.  It is done using the second opening song and credits, and I thought it was worth noting, because while it hints at what comes next, it does so without spoiling things.  It is also notable that the second opening song is just as beautiful as the first one (in retrospect, the music in Komorebi is top-tier, but Hapymaher's god-tier BGMs are so beyond the pale that comparing them at the time couldn't help but be a win for Purple Soft's flagship game).  

Komorebi no Nostalgica is one of a very small number of VNs that is 'complete' in every conceivable way.  For better or worse, most VNs leave an opening for fandiscs, sequels, or dlc.  However, Komorebi ties off all the loose ends and provides the answers any sane reader having experienced this story would want to know.  Moreover, it does so in a manner that is not detrimental to any of the four heroines or their paths, which is, in itself, an incredibly unusual thing (essentially providing a true path that applies to all the heroines).  

Komorebi no Nostalgica also touches on a wide range of philosophical and ethical topics, in particular relating to AI and information technology in general.  That this was done without compromising the emotional aspects of the story at all is a tribute to the genius of the writers.

 

Final Comments

If I have any advice for someone playing this game, is that the magic (not the devil) is in the details.  This is a game that rewards people who actually take the time to think about or look up things they don't quite understand from what they are reading, and both Takaya and Morisaki rather obviously created this as a work of love and art, not just business.  There is food for both the intellect and the heart in almost every (non-H) scene, and the characters, especially the main ones, are all well-written and brought to life well in the course of the story, which is in and of itself both touching and food for thought.

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I'm actually reading it right now. Just entered Kaja's route. I didn't know which order to go with, so just went with the order the choices give Kaja > Itsuki > Flow > Akira (also the order in which they appear at the end of the OP).

But looking at what you said, it might be better to have Akira before Itsuki if I want the most emotional last? Or continue with this order as Akira's route is about Tenchou and it continues in Last episode, so better read them one after the other?

Anyway, I'm doing other stuff on the side so i'm slower than usual, but I'm liking it so far. A shame Shouta is only partially voiced, though.

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1 hour ago, Riku said:

I'm actually reading it right now. Just entered Kaja's route. I didn't know which order to go with, so just went with the order the choices give Kaja > Itsuki > Flow > Akira (also the order in which they appear at the end of the OP).

But looking at what you said, it might be better to have Akira before Itsuki if I want the most emotional last? Or continue with this order as Akira's route is about Tenchou and it continues in Last episode, so better read them one after the other?

Anyway, I'm doing other stuff on the side so i'm slower than usual, but I'm liking it so far. A shame Shouta is only partially voiced, though.

Do it in whatever order you please... though, to be honest, Kaja route's version of the common route makes me feel like I'm tormenting Flow, since you have to make so many choices that disappoint her.

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