This is a condensed version of the full article which can be found on my Main Blog Here.
The English release of Hello Lady is a game in a strange situation. Being a translation of the Complete Edition, it is effectively three games tied into one which leads to some interest quirks. I knew that I would have to play the game since I enjoyed one of the developers previous works, Coμ. Coμ was a flawed but entertaining game and it is with these expectations I when into Hello Lady. What I got was an extremely compelling but uneven experience and here I will endeavour to explain the causes and strengths I encountered.
In this analysis I will cover my broader thoughts on Hello Lady which could not be included in the review since they contain spoilers for most of the plot. As such I advise you to read my original review before continuing onward if you just want to know whether you should play the game.
The Fires of Love and Revenge – Route Analysis
-Common Route -
Hello Lady’s Common Route is on the longer side and as such has to keep things engaging through a variety of events. There are your standard slice of life sections, which do a good job at establishing the characters, a mock superpower battle, for a little bit of action, and a sizeable dose of tension between the character's motivations. The majority of the Common Route is nothing terribly special with it leaning into established genre ideas as its backbone. However, what makes it stand out is how it ends. The curtain is pulled back and the player gets to see the true extent of Narita’s desire for revenge and how far he is willing to go. It is almost theatrical in how it frames Narita’s act with a specially made replica gun and perfectly timed entrance in order to inflict the greatest amount of fear in his target. Narita is the lead actor in a tragedy fuelled by hate and we have front row seats for this disaster.
-Akahito Tamao -
This is a route which opens and ends strongly but has a meandering middle. The inciting incident of Narita discovering Tamao is a spy acts as a great source of tension with the two teaming up to plan an infiltration of the secret lab while not trusting each other. However, this conflict goes out of the window once Narita confesses his love for Tamao and the narrative never quite recovers from this loss. Shifting the focus onto the romance between the two might seem like a sound choice in theory, but they are meant to be getting ready for a life or death situation and seem to lack any sense of danger. The interactions between the two are cute and do a good job at selling their budding relationship while setting up for the gut punch later on. Tamao’s route regains focus in the final stretch with a heart wrenching battle of wills between Tamao and Narita over Narita’s desire for revenge and it is a high point of the story which saves it from the dip in the middle.
Tamao and Sorako are the two initially available routes and share some similar problems. As mentioned in my review, the game cannot know which of them you will choice first and as a result there is a lot of repeated information in each which can kill the pacing of whichever one you choose second. On top of this issue there is the feeling that these two routes only have one route’s worth of new information in them and can feel empty at times as a result. Tamao’s route covers the secret lab and Sorako’s route covers Narita’s past, but neither cover their topics in much depth since the major revelation are being kept for later in the game.
-Katsuragi Sorako -
Sorako’s route is a much more even experience than Tamao’s even if it never reaches the same highs as that route. Having Sorako act as a constant remainder to Narita of the past and how it was not all as bad as he wants to remember it being. Coupling this with Sorako’s generally more positive disposition, makes her an excellent foil to him with her both supporting his actions and undermining them in the same breath. The overall character arc for Sorako is a strong and familiar one with her gradually gain the confidence to make her wishes a reality and make Narita see her for who she is rather than his memory of her.
It is just a shame then that this route is plagued by questionable choices which add nothing to the route. The choice to have Sorako be a cross-dresser is an easy example to use of this problem. There is precisely one scene in which this aspect of Sorako is explored and it only gets a few lines dedicated to what has been a repeated and obvious visual part of her identity. Nothing else is done with it, Sorako never behaves like a male, it never effects how anyone treats her and even her own family (the very people she is trying to impress by doing this) never bring it up. It is almost to the point that it seems as if Sorako may have original been written as a male character but was changed later in development and the cross-dressing is a remnant of that process. This would explain why it is not brought to our attention much since a male dressing as a male is not something you would draw attention to. Overall, it is just a strange clash between how visible this trait is and how little it actually matters.
-Takazaki Eru -
With Eru’s route, the overarching narrative picks up and we get lots of information to help understand what is going on. Watching the interactions between Eru and Narita is the highlight of this route since Eru’s no nonsense attitude contrasts wonderfully with Narita’s tendency for flamboyance and they bounce off each other well. Of the routes from the original game, this is the strongest with an excellent flow to it. We get an opening which sells the start of romance between Narita and Eru with two coming naturally together as they bond over their common interests while Eru slowly opens up about her past and develops beyond the idea she is a doll. Throughout this there is always a sense that Eru is hiding something which adds a nice tension to affairs.
The final part of Eru’s route has some of the best and worse aspects of the original game. It becomes very clear that Saku is not in her right mind any more as it is revealed she is responsible for the murders of people with powers. This creates a situation where Eru’s loyalty is tested and she turns on Narita, but comes around after Narita pushes through Eru’s power. Having this conflict between hero and heroine is a strong way to finalise their relationship and it is the highest point of this route and plays off what has been established between the two throughout the narrative. It is after this point which the greater issues with Hello Lady start to rear their heads. Saku’s dropping of any illusion that she is not the antagonist here and going to town on the school set her up nicely as a threat and makes you question which Saku is the real one, this one or the one we knew before. This is an interesting direction to go in but runs into the problem of having to hold back a lot of information about Saku and any revelations about her powers until her own route. As such the confrontation with Saku is incredibly underwhelming, Narita attempts to attack Saku only once and when this fails simply lets Eru use her power to win in an anticlimactic manner.
Eru’s power is systematic of the strange ability design at play throughout Hello Lady. The ability to influence the mental state of another person to the point that attempting to harm Eru cause the person to attack themselves sounds like a cool idea in theory, but in practice is highly incompatible with the action focused nature of the narrative. It appears the developers were aware of this problem as there are only two proper fights involving Eru, the one just mentioned above vs. Saku and on in the final route. Both consist of two people standing opposite each other making noises as they have an invisible mental battle. This does not exactly make for compelling viewing especially for the confrontation with Saku since it is meant to conclude Eru’s character arc and is an underwhelming note to end the route on.
-Otonashi Saku -
Oh boy, here we are at the finale of the original game and the route with the most missed potential and strangest twists. It has a lot of ground to cover in terms of plot points and for the most part it is well paced with a good build up of the relationship between Narita and Saku while giving the final nail in the coffin for the legitimacy of Narita’s revenge. The cracks only start to show once we reach the finale were Saku’s lack of flaws reaches it apex with her being effectively absolved of any wrong doing with regards to her evil self, which makes her hard to empathise with especially in contrast to the mentally anguished Narita. Evil Saku is barely utilised throughout the route's duration with this part of Saku only surfacing on a few occasions and even then only for a moment. It really feels as if the developers did not want to have this part of Saku effect the players impression of her in any negative way. This is furthered by the revelation that this part of Saku was not really her succumbing to Onslaught Syndrome and was in fact her being possessed by Ruri and used like a puppet to commit those murders. This puts Saku in the clear for being responsible for those deaths since there is no way she can be expected to fight against a mind control she had no idea was even happening. Honestly this is a lot of missed potential and in a later section I will expand on this in more detail.
Next we come to fight between Kurofune and Narita which the entire game has been building up to and is completely undermined by Saku’s presence. The fight has to constantly stop and start so that Saku and Kurofune can debate their actions and explain their motives. This completely kills the pacing of the fight with Narita barely being involved in a scene which should be the climax of his character arc and revenge. To put Narita in the background of his own fight and instead favour Saku, who has far less investment in this fight and does not actually throw a single punch, is a strange choice and leads to this fight feeling somewhat like a damp cloth to end things on.
Of course this is not really the end as our eleventh hour villain takes the stage. Ruri is very poorly set up and is basically a cardboard cut out evil who is just there to be defeated. However, this section has some redeeming features which elevate it above the Kurofune fight. It nicely acts as the final blow to Narita’s motivations as the source of his desire for revenge is still alive and was not the person what he believed her to be. On top of this, the fight against Ruri is suitably climatic with everyone pitching in to overcome her and her own powers being excellent for a final antagonist. At this point it is worth bringing up the elephant in the room, Saku’s power. It turns out she has the ability to negate anyone else’s abilities and can take them from the person if she wants to. This ability is so absurdly powerful in the context of Hello Lady given how prominent those with powers are in the narrative. Saku is basically invincible if she chooses to actually use her powers which for the most part she does not so the plot can happen and seemly for no other good reason. It is a shame Ruri’s fight is finished because of Saku’s Deus Ex Machina power but I suppose Saku had to be involved somehow.
Thus ends the routes contain in the original game. Quite a mixed bag with just as many excellent moments as strange narrative choices. If this were the entirety of Hello Lady I would not remember the game so kindly. However, it is not the end and what comes afterwards goes a long way to filling the holes in the original game.
-Kabutoyama Mitori -
When I realised one of the two New Division routes belong to Mitori, I cannot say I was very interested in it. In the original game Mitori is a character who’s death, at the end of the common route, acts as an inciting incident to break the status quo and introduce a new layer of mystery to the game. There was not much else to her and as such my expectations were low for her route, but little did I know she would become my favourite character and her route would stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Mitori’s slow decline as she struggles against the Onslaught Syndrome as it is eating away at her is everything I had hoped for when Evil Saku was introduced. Witnessing this decline from both her internal point of view and from Narita’s makes for a compelling narrative as both have to grapple with this problem in their own ways, all the while being on the run from the school who are doing everything in their power to kill Mitori. The way this decline is contrasted with the growing relationship between Mitori and Narita, even in the face of this inevitable demise, works to heighten the tension and make their bond a beacon of light in this dark time. The whole experience plays out as any good tragedy should, we know how this is going to end and no matter how hard the characters struggle they cannot escape the ending. It is precisely this fight against the inevitable which makes their efforts beautifully futile and you cannot help but cheer them on. When Mitori’s end does come it is with one of the best fights in the game between herself and Narita and perfectly encapsulates their relationship while still being a climatic showdown. Few visual novels do this kind of tragedy and it was a pleasant surprise to find an example of it in Hello Lady.
-Hishia Mori -
This is a route characterised by its tendency to meander. It spends the majority of its play time dumping flashbacks and information about Hishia and Narita’s past. Most of this knowledge we could either already infer from what is known or adds nothing of value. This is a shame as the actually relationship between the two is a sweet romance focused around how the pair have a similar traumatic past and find solace in one another. If it were not for the poor pacing for the majority of the route this would have been one of the better example in the game of how to handle romance.
However, there is one part of this route which makes it worth playing through all the dry backstory, and this is the fight against Kurofune. Here we can see what the fight in Saku’s route should have looked like and how you do a climatic fight where the heroine contributes without overshadowing the main conflict. Let’s pick apart why this works and Saku’s does not. Firstly, Kurofune is established as a threat by demonstrating his strength directly against Hishia and Narita, rather than being constantly interrupted, which allows for a greater catharsis when he is defeated. Second, character growth is naturally tied into the procession of the fight with it coinciding with the resolution of the main relationship. Finally, Hishia contributes to the fight in a way which makes sense for her character while not taking the limelight way from Narita who is the person with the greater investment in this fight. It also helps that Kurofune is given an expanded suite of moves to make the longer fight feel fresh throughout. This fight is one of the best in Hello Lady and it amazes me that it is consigned to a fandisc route.
-Superior Entelecheia -
Hello Lady’s grand finale route is juggling differing priorities. It is at once an explosive conclusion for the story and characters as well as a remedy for the issues of the original game’s narrative. Despite being pulled in these two directions it does an excellent job making sure neither overshadows the other and ends up as a suitable send off from the whole game.
When it comes to being a conclusion to Hello Lady, this route knows it has to up things to eleven to keep the player engaged to the very end. It achieves this by giving all the characters enhanced versions of their powers to increase the spectacle of the fights and having all the major conflicts in the prior routes come to a head at the same time. This might sound like it would be overwhelming but in practice there is a strong flow to events in part due to it using a lot of elements the player is already familiar with, ensuring they will not become lost in the non-stop action.
This route’s second objective is to fix issues with the original game and the two most prominent examples of this are Saku and Ruri. Saku gets the smaller enhancement with greater emphasis being placed on her fear of being left behind by those she loves and more general weaknesses to counteract the damage done by her own route making her too perfect. Overall the game is successful in crafting a more compelling personality for Saku, but there is still the lingering harm done by her own route which is difficult to undo. Ruri on the other hand is given the majority of the spotlight since she essentially had no personality before this route as anything other than a throwaway villain. Her transformation from generic bad guy to empathetic heroine is this route’s greatest success and the main appeal of playing it. By placing her in contrast to the rest of the cast and playing her off against Narita, the player gets a nuanced look at what motivates her and how despite everything she might say that she is as human as the rest of the cast. Having her be forced to question her world view also adds a lot to her character and we get to see her struggle to come to terms with what is happening around her. It also wonderfully expands Nartia by acting as a chance for him to be a real family member now that the mask has dropped and the resulting interactions create just the right balance of tension and feeling.
Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts – Overarching Thoughts
-Three Game Chimera -
As a merger of three games there is some inevitable strangeness in how the whole package is put together. Going from the cohesiveness of the original game to selecting the next route from the main menu rather than from your own choices is quite a jarring shift. It bring a certain awareness of the fact this a game to the forefront of the player’s mind and this is one thing most games strive to avoid wherever possible. While this is not the end of the world for Hello Lady, it is disappointing that there was no attempt to merge these detached routes into the original game. This would have certainly required some additional effort on the developer’s part, but the benefits for immersion into this wonderful narrative and the coherence it would have provided would have been well worth it.
-Saku’s Missed Potential -
When Evil Saku was introduced in Eru’s route I was immediately intrigued by the twist that a previously beacon of moral purity has a darker side to them. This is initially presented as Onslaught Syndrome but the player is clued into the fact it is not this because of how the sympoms of Onslaught Syndrome do not exactly match what is happening to Saku. She is too in control and too human. However, this potential dies as you enter Saku’s route with it being pushed into the background and ultimately revealed to be a case of possession by Ruri and not anything related to Saku’s character.
This is the single biggest missed opportunity in Hello Lady, especially given how many of Saku’s plot points and character traits would play well into a darker self and her overall arc. So join me as I engage in a thought experiment (read as Fanfiction) about how this could have been handled better.
Saku’s character arc can be broadly split into two parts, her fear of being left behind. born from her friend’s death, and her struggles to reconcile the idea of being noble with the realities of an unfair world. Her struggles with her friend’s death are the fertile breeding ground for the construction of another personality to deal with the issues Saku does not want to face. Multiple personalities as a part of having powers already has a precedent with Sorako so this would not be out of left field. This new Dark Saku would be assertive, ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to deal with threats and in particular problematic people with powers, everything the original is not or does not want to admit to being.
The focus on those with powers would stem from the established fact that the person who killed her friend was someone with powers who managed to get away with what they were doing for a long time and was not somebody the normal authorities could handle. So Dark Saku’s answer is to kill these people to prevent them from causing harm since nobody else is willing or able to do it. Saku would have some awareness of what is happening to her but not remember the events when she is Dark Saku (as in the actual game) and also cannot quite bring herself to fully reject her other self’s methods. It is also easy to justify why Dark Saku would have killed Eru’s Owner given how he treated Eru as a thing rather than a person and thus would be unacceptable to Saku’s values. Saku would also feel responsible for Eru since she would be aware of being involved in Eru’s current state and as such she would take Eru under her wing even if she is not comfortable with Eru’s attachment to her.
Quite a lot of ground has been covered in this analysis but I hope that it was insightful as to the many strengths and flaws of Hello Lady. It should be obvious now this game is far from perfect with odd pacing issues, problematic choices of superpowers and general missed potential. However, it should be equally clear that it shines brightly with emotive character arcs, outstanding action scenes and an understanding of how to get the most out of each moment. Never has a visual novel made me so conflicted about if I think it is good or not throughout its entire length and swinging wildly backwards and forwards on which side of the divide I sit on. So ends my brief journey into madness and I will now try not to think about Hello Lady for a while, it has occupied too much of my mind.