Tag Archives: Denpasoft

Ne no Kami: Inspiration and Intent

With visual novels having a lot more in common with conventional, non-interactive fiction than many other types of video games, it’s eminently possible for individual authors to give their work a clear sense of artistic identity and authorial voice.

Such is the case with Ne no Kami and Sacrament of the Zodiac, the work of Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji and writer Fenrir Vier, who have made a great deal of effort to ensure that their work — and the world they’ve created — are internally consistent and true to their original visions.

In other words, unlike larger-scale projects developed by huge organisations, many members of whom have contrasting and conflicting priorities in development, the small team behind Ne no Kami was able to focus on giving their work a clear sense of artistic integrity rather than thinking of it as a “product” first, a creative work second.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick Fenrir Vier’s brain about the creative process behind the development of such a piece of work.

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Ne no Kami: The Extended Universe – Sacrament of the Zodiac

Due to the fact that they are often rather substantial, ambitious undertakings, in many cases with multiple narrative routes, visual novels are often treated as “standalone” affairs. As such, it’s relatively rare to come across multiple works set in the same narrative universe.

There are exceptions, of course: the Grisaia series, which we covered last month, presently comprises three very long visual novels, with the series set to continue further later this year with Phantom Trigger, which unfolds after the conclusion of Yuuji’s adventure. And this month’s Cover Game, Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, also falls into this category, with protagonist Len’s story unfolding across two games, the second of which is yet to be released.

Ne no Kami doesn’t stop there, though. At the very outset of the game, we’re introduced to two young women named Hitsuji and Arissa, the former of whom is a friend of protagonist Len. We don’t see them again for the duration of Ne no Kami’s narrative because they’re not directly relevant to Len’s story, though there are a couple of occasions where Len comes across things in her new life that remind her of her friend.

It is possible for us to find out more about these two mysterious young women, though, through the visual novel Sacrament of the Zodiac: The Confused Sheep and the Tamed Wolf, a title that unfolds in the same narrative universe as Ne no Kami, but which has a very different focus indeed.

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Ne no Kami: Love, Innocence and Ayakashi

The narrative of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto has a number of different threads, all of which intertwine with one another to create a rather compelling whole.

We have the very personal story of the protagonist Len, as she attempts to come to terms with a new world that is vastly different from everything she has ever known. We have the story of humanity’s hidden struggle to protect the world against horrors that most people will never know about. And we have the story of lifelong feelings of love that, although based on a misunderstanding, have grown into something genuine that transcends traditional societal norms.

There’s a lot going on, in other words — even though the work as a whole is a single-route kinetic novel with no choices for the player to make. In many ways, though, that’s an entirely appropriate structure for the story Ne no Kami is trying to tell: more than anything else, it’s a tale of being swept along by fate, seemingly unable to deviate from the plan the Universe has for you despite your best efforts to find alternative solutions.

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Ne no Kami: Exploring Shinto Myths and Legends

One of the best things about the visual novel medium is its ability — and willingness — to tackle things that are outside the normal remit of “video games” as a whole.

In the case of Ne no Kami: The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto, a visual novel from small, independent Japanese circle Kuro Irodoru Yomiji, there’s a certain degree of “crossover” in terms of subject matter. We have the sort of “plucky young heroes tackle otherworldly horrors” angle that we’re most used to seeing from more conventional video games, but at the same time we also have some sensitively handled exploration of romantic relationships, disparate cultures colliding and young people trying to find their place in the world.

Of particular note is Ne no Kami’s exploration of traditional Japanese and Shinto mythology, an angle which it takes great pain to point out is only its author’s interpretation rather than “fact”. But this doesn’t make it in any way “invalid”, of course; mythology, by its very nature, doesn’t have any “factual” basis in the first place, and has only survived so long by being reinterpreted and passed on across thousands of years.

Before we investigate the game’s story in detail, then, it behooves us to have a general understanding of the mythology on which it is based.

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Grisaia: Yuuji – The Boy Who Was Broken

The Grisaia series may explore its five main heroines in considerable depth over its duration and various routes, but ultimately, the central character to the overall narrative is protagonist Kazami Yuuji.

Yuuji is one of the most distinctive, memorable and unusual visual novel protagonists in the entire medium. Through The Fruit of Grisaia’s exploration of him over the course of the five heroines’ routes, we learn a few details about him and his mysterious past. If you had come to the series completely blind, this would have the effect of gradually shifting your expectations: what might initially appear to be a relatively conventional high school-themed ren’ai (romance) visual novel slowly reveals itself to be much, much more complicated than you might expect.

And then you come to The Labyrinth of Grisaia, whose “Grand Route”, also known as The Cocoon of Caprice, finally gives us some concrete answers about who Yuuji is, why he is the way he is and the circumstances that brought him to Mihama Academy in the first place.

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Grisaia: Amane – The Girl Who Learned to Say Thank You

The Fruit of Grisaia doesn’t really have a “true” route or “true” ending as such, since the important plot threads are scattered across all the different girls’ stories.

But if there’s one path that stands out as being of particular importance to the overall backstory of the series, it’s that of Suou Amane. Not only does her route give us some insight into protagonist Yuuji’s mysterious past, which doesn’t get explored in detail until The Labyrinth of Grisaia’s Grand Route, it also introduces us to an important secondary character that, throughout all the other stories, is only hinted at.

Consequently, Amane’s route in The Fruit of Grisaia is a good one to save until last, since it provides a good means of wrapping up that game’s story and a pleasing sense of “closure” to the experience. It also provides some important context for The Labyrinth of Grisaia’s main plotline and an exploration of, for my money, one of the series’ most interesting characters.

Oh, and it’s also worth noting, perhaps more than any of the other characters, exploring Amane’s character particularly benefits from playing the 18+ version of the series, for reasons that will become apparent.

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Grisaia: Sachi and the Maid’s Burden

When we first meet Komine Sachi in The Fruit of Grisaia, she’s introduced almost as a caricature: she plays the role of “the perfect maid” to everyone else at Mihama Academy, right down to wearing a maid outfit when she’s not in school uniform.

But it doesn’t take a great deal of perceptiveness to notice her behaviour isn’t what you’d particularly call “normal”.

Specifically, it’s apparent pretty much from the outset that Sachi’s unusually compliant nature and tendency to take things literally is something out of the ordinary. Protagonist Yuuji isn’t quite sure what the exact problem is to begin with, but it gradually becomes clear to him as he starts to spend more time with her.

“She resembles me,” he says at one point. “Organising her life around diligently following orders, she never allows herself to doubt them, let alone defy those who make use of her. And almost as an extension of that, her ‘private’ activities are little more than the bare minimum routines of daily existence. Looking at Sachi, I’ve been seeing myself… and the discomfort I felt was a reflection of my uncertainty about my own way of life.”

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