CERO Z. The ultimate edge of the Japanese video games rating system, the one that separates what can be sold and what cannot. Usually used for realistic violence as in Call of Duty or other western shooters, it is rarely applied to domestic software. Stricter than our French PEGI18, it is impossible to buy such a game without proving your age. For example, you cannot purchase Iwai Hime Matsuri from the Japanese Playstation Store with a prepaid card, you must register a Japanese credit card! Then the question is more pressing than ever : what the hell is in this game ?
Within the first minutes, Nippon Ichi Software’s game makes the subject very clear : it starts by mentioning a suicide. From the very strart, the game features some hypnotic writing capable of immersing the player in the story and a make him share the psychological condition of the characters. Struck by this first scene, you’re later introduced to the courageous protagonist Suzumu and his classmates. Toe, a silent girl always holding a Japanese doll, is one of them. It is said that the doll is cursed, and Toe with it. The truth behind that is the point of this adventure.
Iwai Hime Matsuri is strictly a visual novel : the only thing you do is reading, there is no choice, branch of scenario or interactivity. The trophies (all gold, thanks for the jackpot!) also happen to all have “… chapter read“ in the description. Reviewing such a title is therefore in-between literature and cinema review, but the game gathers qualities from both.
Iwai Hime Matsuri is a game constantly wandering between dream and reality. Most of the time, the narrative happens in some hallucination seen by the the five girls close to Suzumu. It is so confusing that in the first half of the game, it is nearly impossible to find out what really happened and what is fictitious. But that’s actually what is great about NIS’s game, because the atmosphere is darker than dark and the suspense thrilling. The great soundtrack, full of harrowing or mysterious themes, is a perfect fit to throw yourself in the story, try to distinguish the truth in the character stories. There is something really hooking about the psychological evolution of the characters that can only deeply strike the reader.
The last point to be developed (to answer the question left in the introduction) is that Iwai Hime Matsuri is gruesome, in both what it tells or shows. For example, chapter 2 features a rape scene very slightly disguised in order to make it less obvious that it’s a sex scene (I remind you that this title originally comes from DMM.com). That wasn’t the only hard scene : horrible bullying, agony, mutilation… the game is rife with unbearable story parts. There’s also that reccuring misshapen character, not precisely identified to keep the mystery deep, which reminds Kafka’s Metamorphosis with the exact same icy feeling. The last chapter reaches a level of cruelty very close to hentaï and goes far beyond what you’d expect to find in a console game. For consenting (and interested) users ONLY.
With Iwai Hime Matsuri, the brilliant novelist Ryukishi07 invites us to wander between dream and harsh reality in a fascinating visual novel, despite its uneven pace. It’s not very easy to judge a game made of only text and images, but Nippon Ichi Software’s game mixes suspense, gruesome pictures and breathtaking scenes so well that I do think it’s a great pick in the genre.