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Hoshizora no Memoria Review – Shining Amongst The Sea Of Stars


Pallas_Raven

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This is a condensed version of the full review which can be found on my Main Blog Here.

 

Genre – Slice of Life, Romance    Play Time – 50 hours    Developer – FAVORITE    Steam    VNDB

 

A Boy And His Shinigami

 

If the plot of Hoshizora no Memoria were described to you in its most abstract and literal form then you might be forgiven for thinking of it as another run of the mill slice of life/ romance visual novel. In many ways that opinion is not entirely wrong, but what sets Hoshizora apart from its peers is how it uses its execution of plot elements to elevate the material. It is the poster child of how a distinctive and continuos theming and iconography have a profound effect on the reception of a work. For Hoshizora this manifests as its love for stars and the cosmos and this can be felt from how they influence the fates of the cast to the constant stream of star related images showcased over the course of the game. This pillar being so strong allows the game to maintain an audience despite the rather uneven use of its supernatural elements and ineffective employment of its characters. Let’s dive into the sea of stars and find out if this one trick is really enough to hold up an entire game.

 

Revealed Under Moonlight – Narrative and Themes

 

From a narrative perspective the biggest success of Hoshizora is the way it ties the emotionally resonant character routes the genre is known for with the ever present majesty of the cosmos. How this effect is achieve is cleverly varied over the course of the game and the only constant and stable reminder is the activities of the Astronomy club. Here the cast regularly find wonder and solace in the stars above as they look up at them and remember how they came together over this shared passion. Individually the character’s conflicts somehow relate to the cosmos, whether that be directly through their nature as a magical creature, as it is with Mare, or merely an extension of a more grounded struggle such as the construction of a planetarium. This provides a feeling of continuity to what are, for the most part, disconnected personal conflicts and it allows the game to circumvent the impression of being several stories stitched together that many other titles in the genre suffer from since it can present a recognisable set of ideas to the player. Once establish in their mind a route can use it as a short hand for the themes which have become associate with it and spend less time repeating old ideas and instead focusing on what makes the route unique without completely losing the player with the shift. There is a subtle balancing act going on throughout since the risk in this approach is the feeling of repetition it might cause in the player so it has be kept just behind the main meat for the route.

 

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Helping along the cosmos motif is the gradual build up to the final route. Initially this is through quiet hints to the past of our protagonist and the mystery surrounding Mare, but they escalate into new additions to the common route showing glimpses of what is to come. Keeping the player engaged is the key reason for this gradual approach to the final route rather than simply unlocking it once a set of conditions have been met. In doing this Hoshizora can build this finale as a culmination of the themes and ideas of the work as a whole and make the player excited to find out the truth about all of the supernatural elements which have been rearing their heads over the play time. By sprinking in additional cosmos related ideas it can tie this escalation back into the ongoing character narratives. The only issue with this method is how the pay off for Mare is lacking with her only being given a short time to tie up her character’s loose ends. Such an omission does create a hole within the narrative which leaves the player with the feeling of something being missing from the experience. The fan disc, Eternal Heart, does rectify the mistake through an expanded route for Mare, but it was something that should have been in the base game in the first place leaving a sour taste in the mouth.

 

Fallen Stars – Characters

 

Behind the cosmic theming is a central cast of characters who act to keep the story firmly in the realm of the relatable. Core to their appeal is the lively way they bounce off each other and highlight their personalities in a manner that is both natural and endearing. No dynamic between two characters is the same as one between any other in order to keep things memorable and prevent the game's extensive reliance on their conversations to support the narrative from growing repetitive. Take the relationship between the protagonist, You, and his little sister, Chinami, they have an obvious familial closeness in the way they throw playful insults around but genuinely care about what the other has to say. Compare this to how You gets along with his neighbour, Aoi, with their initially chilly interactions giving way to a somewhat awkward acceptance and the contrast and variety of cast relationships could not be clearer. When a heroine becomes the focus of the narrative upon entering their route the strong foundations provided through these interaction and slowly more texture is added to the dynamic in order to help sell the transition from their current relationship into a more romantic one. It also works well to supplement the central conflict by offering a convincing reason for the actions of the characters involved and why the player should care about the outcomes.

 

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It is a shame then that Hoshizora inconsistently uses its cast beyond the focal characters of a route. There is a tendency to fixate on a few cast members to the point at which you could be forgiven for forgetting there where ever any other people in the world. Even when it makes sense for characters to be active in events, they are only brought in for the bare minium amount of time before being shoved off stage. There appear to be a fear that any character intruding upon the romance will cause the player to lose interest in the main driving force of the route and turn their attention to the intruding character. However, the result is a feeling of the story being disconnected from everything which came before and somewhat uneven. The secondary cast fair even worse as the game treats them like simple plot devices dropping them in and out whenever it likes and giving them no chance to develop a sense of humanity. Having intimacy be so important to the functioning of the central narrative makes these choices to omit the very builders of that feeling, and use of them in an almost mechanical fashion, an odd one due to the obvious damage it causes to a players immersion.

 

Painted In The Glittering Cosmos – Visuals, Audio and Technical

 

Just as the cosmos and stars motif is the core of the narrative presentation so too is it for the visual side of Hoshizora. At every possible opportunity the game showcases the darkened sky and the lights that inhabit it and this covers all kinds of scenes from quiet contemplation to dramatic confrontations. Beyond the time of day, the motif extends to objects and environments such as the planetarium or Mare’s crescent moon scythe in order to make sure the idea of the cosmos is omnipresent. What this results in an immediately identifiable set of imagery that is recognisable even when taken in isolation, it gives the game a consistent tone whenever it is on screen and helps set the player’s expectations for what to is about to happen in a scene. This is important in a title so invested in emotional resonance in order to maintain long term interest, since being able to invoke specific feelings lends the narrative a lot more freedom to shape events knowing it can always rely on the motif to tie things together. It also helps draw people into the game in the first place as it presents a strong artistic direction to capture the attention of a someone looking for a visual novel to play and maintain that hold with the sense wonder it embodies.

 

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Favorite have always had an understanding of the power controlling the camera has on a scene and they bring it out in Hoshizora to brilliant effect. Through making the backgrounds appear out of focus, attention is drawn to the character portraits as they are still clear and it ensure the player will not miss any subtle changes in their emotion. Providing a much needed intimacy is also key to its strength with it lending a feeling of nothing else existing in the world but the two of you. A liberal use of the zoom function can be found supporting this as the game move in and out of objects or people in order to provide a sense of kinetic movement and make it feel as if what is being presented is truly the point of view of the protagonist. There is more general sense of motion throughout Hoshizora through the use of transitions that support this idea of immediacy which aims to enhance the power of emotional moments by bring them closer to the player.

 

Conclusion

 

As you look up in wonder at the star tonight remember the power this feeling has and consider how deftly Hoshizora no Memoria pushes on that emotional button to create engagement. This motif runs through everything from the words on screen to visuals and audio in order to create a thematic and continuous experience no matter where the player looks. Supporting the game’s identity is a strong overarching narrative pull and lovable characters who struggle to achieve their dreams. Even if it does have some issues of lacking proper pay off and understanding of how to use it characters. The result is a good core package elevated through the use of an immediately recognisable motif.

 

 

Verdict –  The poster child for the power of consistent imagery and theming and how they can elevate what would otherwise be just another title in its genre. 

 

Pros -

 

+ A strong cosmic and stars motif permeates everything and gives it a distinct identity.

 

+ Overarching narrative is well built up and provides a sense of intrigue and forward momentum.

 

+ Character dynamics are varied and used to great effect in emotional moments.

 

+ Has a visual and audio design that makes it immediately recognisable with clean camera tricks.

 

Cons - 

 

- Supernatural elements are used inconsistently and often rub up against the grounded parts of the narrative.

 

- Cast is often underutilised and drop in and out of the story in a jarring way.

 

- The pay off for the finale is a mixed bag with Mare getting less time than she deserved given her importance.

 

 

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