Title: Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi
Release date: 6-28-13
The eroge market is saturated with titles of every genre: love triangles are resolved, or the forces of evil are vanquished, but these stories always remain linear and neatly within the confines of the fictional world, contained within the boundaries of the two-dimensional. The audience exists solely as an observer, and though they are granted some freedom to choose between love interests and which endings to achieve, they can never interfere in the characters’ lives without using the protagonist’s viewpoint.
On a superficial level, Nitro+’s latest offering appears to follow the traditional pure love formula, wherein an average protagonist gains a number of admirers, and must choose between each girl. Yet although it may seem predictable, there is one factor that sets it apart from so many others: it is constantly referencing itself as an eroge. It’s not simply another ordinary romance, but instead a clever mystery which addresses its own self-awareness with utmost seriousness, rather than for the purpose of a humorous non-sequitur.
Shinichi is an average student who has never been acknowledged for anything in his life. In stark contrast, his childhood friend Miyuki is widely considered perfect, and in order to keep her reputation, she refuses to acknowledge his presence in public. Feeling inferior and discouraged as their friendship begins to suffer, Shinichi begins to grow closer to his classmate, Aoi. Rather than fading into the background as he does, she gains attention for her odd behavior and no regard for social conduct. With Shinichi’s persuasion, Miyuki reluctantly agrees to begin a friendship with Aoi, and her strict sense of discipline begins to soften as the three grow closer.
However, Aoi has disturbing insight about her true nature―that is, that she is just a fictional character. To the concern of her friends, she is convinced that her world is just a game, and spends much of her time on the school roof, persistently attempting to contact what she calls the “god” of their world through her cell phone. Things go from intriguing to unnerving when it’s implied the “god” Aoi refers to is none other than us, the audience.
The metaphysical aspect plays a large part in the plot, as Aoi makes use of eroge clichés and often acts as if she has read the script of her own story, stating that the plot can’t progress without the proper choices being made, and acknowledging herself as a winnable heroine. Here, the reader is not just an impartial third party, but actively involved in the progression of their lives, shown from the interactive keypad of a cell phone which one must manually dial, in order for the protagonist to retrieve a call at the beginning of the trial.
Each heroine embodies a different extreme: Miyuki is normality, while Aoi is abnormality. Yet even this is not constant, as it’s revealed that there cannot be only good ends, but a number of horrific bad ends as well. The trial sets up the basic character concepts, but it’s wanting to see how the girls are changed by our decisions which makes it addictive. This is the first time I have ever seen an eroge turn us, the readers, into a character in our own right, and it’s an impressively ambitious choice for the writers.
The sleek, minimalist interface is coupled with wispy pencil lines and soft pastel colors, making it unlike the polished, but often generic presentation of other modern eroge. The music is atmospheric enough, although rather ordinary, but it’s neither of these presentational extras which are the most attractive aspects of the game.
It’s the vast potential in each of the heroines, whether their characterization will develop for better or for worse, and our crucial part in it all which makes Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi a title with such promise and originality―one can only hope for a pure love ending, rather than a brutal bad end, but the odds are it won’t be so simple.
Unpopular and unremarkable in every way, Shinichi is a young man with low self-esteem, resentful for his own lack of noticeable qualities, while those around him either ascend to popularity or fall to infamy. Although refusing to believe her wild claims, he takes pity on Aoi and treats her with kindness, while his relationship with Miyuki may turn into more than just platonic friendship.
As an idol of the academy, Miyuki is blessed with both beauty and charm, adored by boys and girls alike, and skilled in every subject, whether academic or athletic. Her popularity is beyond compare, but her reputation as the perfect student is not quite the truth. In secret, Miyuki strives for normality with fierce and unwavering persistence, rejecting everything which is not considered socially acceptable―including Aoi.
While Miyuki has come from exceptional circumstances, Aoi is instead burdened with terrible misfortune: both socially inept and friendless, her troubled family life has rendered her virtually homeless, with no place to truly belong. Her wide vocabulary of otaku terms makes her seem, at first, to be simply a product of modern times and pop culture. However, her bizarre behavior, including imitating the actions of a game heroine she strongly bears resemblance to, have led to suspicions that she is severely mentally unbalanced, being unable to tell apart reality from fiction. Emotionally disconnected from the world around her, Aoi scarcely shows any feeling beyond her perpetually dazed state of naïvety.