The Sekimeiya First Impressions
I started The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass and am quite happy to be trying out some OELVNs. Embarrassingly, I haven't read many except for the massive success stories: Doki Doki Literature Club and Katawa Shoujo.
I'm rather big on mystery stories, so what drew me to the visual novel was the reviews on VNDB and some of the game features, which I will discuss shortly.
Damn, *this* is ren'py?
The Sekimeiya gets a gold star (along with titles such as Fatal Twelve) for being a ren'py game that doesn't feel like a ren'py game. I think ren'py suffers from the "Unity" problem where the defaults are excellent, Yet once you know what to look for, anything using the defaults feels incredibly lazy and cookie-cutter. The Sekimeiya boasts an excellent UI that has me forget that I'm running a shit-ton of python code.... until I encounter performance hiccups. Unfortunately, I encounter them often.
Damn. This *is* ren'py
The game tends to freeze when displaying longer strings of text during that signature letter-by-letter animation you've come to expect from any adventure game. While the issue is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, I can't understand why I would have such an annoying performance issue. I've begun to believe that it's my fault. I am running Linux and while the game does have a native version I don't expect game developers to test those versions, even if I wish they did. I'm sure the game runs flawlessly on Windows. Though, you won't see me running that on my laptop any time soon.
Wait, why isn't *every* Mystery VN doing this?
"The Sekimeiya"'s notes and backlog screens help to create the atmosphere of a good mystery and encourage excitement and intrigue within the player.
The first feature is the Notes UI. The Notes UI is a page that distills the game events into bullet-point summaries from the protagonist's perspective. Alongside what the game provides you, it dedicates the right half of the screen to a user-editable input field where you're encouraged to jot down notes using a selection of standard editing tools. I love this and have made extensive use of it already in the 4 hours I have played thus far. However, there are some rather unacceptable issues. It's trivially easy to misalign the blinking cursor, making editing already-written text complete guesswork since your cursor's true position is always a few characters off from where the UI says it is. It's easy to work around (just don't mess up) but like, you shouldn't have to?
The second stand-out feature is the backlog, which is the best backlog I've seen in any game I've played and (if you'll excuse my boldness) maybe even in any adventure game period. This jam-packed backlog is
- NOT empty when you load a save (why some VNs do this I will never know),
- Searchable, and
These features make a lot of sense to me in the context of a mystery visual novel. I think it contributes to the game atmosphere by suggesting that the exact phrasing and word choice characters use (and who says them) will be vital. It invites you to be hyper-vigilant when reading dialogue and makes the otherwise rather tedious process of double-checking wording dead-easy.
There's also a map. I don't have much to say other than "yeah, it's cool you can see where you're coming from as well". Maybe they'll use it for something interesting? Currently, it's just a map which to be fair, does help considerably with my understanding.
The Sekimeiya deserves praise for the Notes and Backlog. They're both game-play elements that contribute massively to my enjoyment when playing the game. I love writing down everything I find peculiar and I've already run into a situation where I was done in by not noticing the exact wording a character used
I mean, it's Anime I guess
The Sekimeiya has pretty "anime" art, which is nice. A rather picky loser like me who thought twice about playing Raging Loop due to it's art-style had no problem with "The Sekimeiya". I don't think I've encountered anything too spectacular yet though that could very well change.
A Fitting Soundtrack
The soundtrack is fine I guess? It works well given what type of game it is, but few tracks stand out to me (though I don't expect there to be anything spectacular given I haven't played that much yet). I wonder if the game does anything interesting with sound effects like footsteps. I'm too scared to play the game with headphones, however, so I don't think I'll ever be able to give a proper perspective on this specific part of the game.
The Storytelling and Mystery thus far
The Sekimeiya is dense. Many reviews mention this, though I probably haven't reached anything the game would truly consider dense. The Sekimeiya effortlessly invites me into an inquisitive mood. As a result, I find myself analyzing a lot of what is said. I can feel the info-dumps that I will experience shortly and I hope that they are handled well, though they tend not to be.
The authors of "The Sekimeiya" are familiar with the genre. Thus, I feel the need to spend time analyzing over what is said. While there are common mystery tropes, it is clear that the authors are acutely aware of that. There is always new information to analyze because the pace of the game is decently fast. From what I've played, there is little downtime. The quietest moments have been the protagonist's internal monologue. In this internal monologue, the protagonist expertly analyzes the situation around him and theory-crafts. Other characters do the same, though we only hear the thoughts they choose to voice.
The mystery the characters are theorizing about is interesting. So far it has several layers, all of which I think are all interesting in their own right. Many of the reviews on VNDB claim that there are no plot holes which if true, would be an impressive feat, though I'm not quite sure to what degree of pedantry the game is subject. I eagerly await the opportunity to form my own opinion on the mystery the game presents.
In summary, I'm content with how the story is progressing thus far. From what I have seen thus far, I am content and have very few complaints. I'm hopeful that the quality is consistent or better throughout the rest of the story.
A Decent Cast
From what I've played, the cast is pretty good. Unfortunately, I'm too early in the game to say anything concrete about the cast. It is worth mentioning that a character who feels similar to some popular characters from other mystery VNs exists, but it's clear he serves a purpose. I think it's much more important what they do from here on out with everyone in the cast.
The cast is "subdued". "Subdued" is a word that accurately describes a couple of aspects of "The Sekimeiya". I find it easy to label the art, soundtrack and characters as "subdued", though such a label should not imply boredom or a lack of inspiration. It's important to remember that "The Sekimeiya" features the "Mind Screw" tag on VNDB. This is no typical mystery.
The cast is refreshingly competent. At times they're certainly better at keeping track of what's going on than me, and I have a Map, a transcript of all dialogue, and extensive notes. It's not "unrealistic" either. I think what's clear is that characters have agency, and think for themselves. It's been quite nice since during discussions a lot of progress is made.
I began to play The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass, which is a mystery OELVN from earlier this year. While I had some performance issues, the game surprised me with its backlog and note-taking systems. The soundtrack and art style, while pleasant, wasn't anything to write home about but the story and the mystery it explores have been fun. The characters, while subdued show a surprising amount of agency and cunning, which makes the conversations incredibly fun and I feel as if I'm always being challenged (which isn't that surprising since I'm not that good at mysteries anyways).
I've been enjoying The Sekimeiya from what I've played. I'm a scaredy-cat so It'll probably take me a while to get through I'm deathly afraid of the protagonist being accused so the two times I've seen him use the Sekimeiya thus far have involved me saving and quitting playing for the day lol, but if it keeps it up It'll absolutely be a game I think will be worth recommending en-masse. I'm very interested in the names of good OELVNs getting out there.