Dies Irae Review

THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS

Dies Irae is a very interesting case of a visual novel that I just don’t know whether to give a positive or negative review.

Mercurius: “Wallow in Filth. Purity is but an illusion – discard it, and all doors shalt be open to thee. No matter the era, a singular choice may shift the cosmos, shaking the world to its very foundations. You will learn and achieve nothing while bound by the chains of seclusion.”

Overall, despite having completed it, I still don’t know what to think of it. I think my main contention is that Fuji Ren is one of the absolute worst characters I’ve ever seen. His motivations are inconsistent, incoherent with his inner monologues, and it becomes downright annoying when he just has “generic anime protagonist quote” as a response while never expressing any point within his inner monologues. As an example, he brings up Theresia’s background and how the concept of self-sacrifice in Christianity could be used to brainwash her into accepting memento mori in a very fatalistic way. This is an interesting observation, but all Ren actually says is essentially “Don’t give-up senpai!” in a very generic anime dialogue. It just doesn’t feel like there was any connection between his inner thoughts and his speech. A fellow visual novel player informed me that the entirety of the character’s point was to show the negative qualities of the standard hero archetype. As of yet, I can’t find any fault with that claim, but I still feel like the visual novel made a bad decision because the narrative would have been more interesting with Fuji Ren having more fleshed out dialogue with the rest of the cast. It feels like the generic anime dialogue is meant to be presented as subtext for something deeper, but I feel the message falls flat and often becomes an incoherent ramble because Fuji Ren’s thoughts and actions don’t always correlate well.

By contrast, this is actually never an issue for any of the side events and side character fights. I enjoyed the Marie route the most because it had one of the most phenomenal fight scenes between Kei and Samiel. I loved how the narrative showed us a total contrast between where Kei ended-up in her own route (a fairly generic storyline to be honest) and showcase one of the most brutal and devastating story arcs that I’ve ever seen a character go through in Marie’s route. She lost any chance to save her brother, realized too late that Beatrice was always there trying to protect her (unlike in her own route, where Beatrice saves her in the nick of time and is conveniently freed by Fuji Ren from the trapped collection of souls within Tubal Cain), has her sword shattered and is forced to use her family’s curse to survive, and is at the precipice of losing her life and becoming a mindless abomination as the next Tubal CainĀ and she still chose to fight despite the overwhelming power of the enemy forces.. She’s lost all her hopes and dreams, everything she wished to get back is forever gone, and her own freedom is now barred from her – yet she still chooses to fight. Kei’s story progression in Marie’s Route is so much more heartbreaking and interesting than in her own route. She became my favorite character ironically because of Marie’s route. Samiel’s words about war show just how cruel it really is, while Kei’s response is absolutely amazing. I loved that part. Shirou and Ellie vs Schrieber was also amazing but less philosophical in it’s underpinnings.

Part of my criticism has to do with Ren’s final fight in the Marie Route feeling just right in how over the top it is, it felt like there were set boundaries of what was and wasn’t achievable in a god-like state. But, the Rea route… it just became incoherent. The fight wasn’t even really a fight, it was people roaring final attacks or some strange phenomena happening when Ren also joined the fight, and I felt like it lost all coherence. I was trying to keep-up with the random deus ex machina at the end. My chief argument for this portion of the story is that it’s as if the battle could have had anything occur when you start shooting cosmic stars and summoning anti-matter.

I enjoyed the Kei route chapter 13, Marie Route chapter 13, and Rea Route Chapters 1-11. The “true” ending felt like it made the entire journey pointless though and I know they’re trying to say even the supposed bad guys in a war are human too… but when you have people saying how hot the Gestapo leader is while only mentioning the Holocaust in passing, I have to say I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I guess the Truth ending is more complete, but I couldn’t help but feel genuine disgust. Yeah, okay, Nazis were human beings too – they still supported policies that resulted in the mass genocide of their own people and others outside the country. I’m not going to pass that off as some background noise and I genuinely don’t know how to feel about the message of this game, or possibly it’s unintended message. I’m not going to sympathize with people who want other people dead for being a certain ethnicity. I found the part with them hanging out at the pub and speaking of how good looking the Gestapo leader was to be really unsettling. I liked the Marie and Kei endings, the Kasumi route is hilarious in how much she ruins everyone’s lives due to her ignorance. The Rea route endings I just flat out didn’t like because of the ridiculous Nazi humanizing and the fact that the ending means nothing really mattered. I really don’t like “time warp” endings like that and it’s always for the sake of celebrating middle class lifestyles as “normal”, which I find ridiculous. Moreover, Marie could rewrite the timeline… and still let the Holocaust happen? Like what? I don’t even get what they were trying to achieve or what the message was in the true ending of the Rea route.

That’s my take on it. I don’t even know what to give it as a score. Partly due to the fact that I don’t know whether to call Mercurius brilliant writing or a convenient deus ex machina to explain away potential plot holes.

G-Senjou no Maou: A Captivating Narrative turned into an Incoherent Mess

This Review Contains Massive Spoilers

This might sound like some angry, stupid rant and I totally apologize. I just want to let it be known that I enjoyed this visual novel so much that I didn’t sleep for a whole day just to complete chapter 3-4. I played it non-stop because I was totally loving it. Completely captivating plot, wonderfully written characters, and amazing music… and then that stupid plot twist at the end of chapter 4 happened. And, I feel as if the game took a giant hammer and smashed my heart into little bite-sized pieces. Playing this game was like enjoying the first 7 Harry Potter books, only for the ending to turn into 50 Shades of Grey – essentially a fanfic parody of a terrible novel series. Most people say that the other paths make plot holes, but looking through it objectively, I’d say the true route is the plot hole ridden route and I will explain why below.

This story has completely disappointed me. I don’t know who the heck thought it was a good idea to introduce the generic evil brother twist, but it completely ruined the entire game.

Some points in it’s favor before I begin bashing the hell out of it, in the hopes of showing that I’m not trying to just be offensive or anything like that. I’ll give this game props for having a narrative that subtly points out the propensity of using children for acts of despicable human violence. It seems to be an underappreciated and obscure theme. When Maou talks about the use of car bombs from Northern Ireland and ten year-olds using guns in the Middle East, the author seems to be bashing the use of children in violence for terrorist purposes, and pointing out to the realistic nature of using children for the purposes of human violence.

That being said, this plot completely fails because of the evil brother twist. The saddest part? The plot was perfectly fine before then.

First problem: It’s beyond suspension of disbelief to believe that Kyouhei could fake his own death in a terrorist subway bombing in Great Britain, one that evidently made world news, just because they couldn’t find the body only to be hiding in Northern Ireland becoming a terrorist and then skip to the Middle East to learn more terrorist activities. From bombmaking in Northern Ireland to handling weapons in the Middle East, to gun smuggling in Russia. How was he not on the CIA’s hit list? Everything he did had to have left a trail. We live in an age where US Spy blimps can record the exact phrase people in Afghanistan make when they’re writing down on a piece of paper using pencils. It’s beyond disbelief to think he’d even be able to get back into Japan, or that he wasn’t noted to be the only young Japanese guy part of Northern Ireland and the ME’s terrorist cells, or that there was no eye witness or DNA evidence when he was learning and testing his skills. It’s beyond ridiculous to believe that he was “very careful” to avoid everything. Furthermore, how the hell could Haru be chasing after him? So apparently, this guy evaded the secret service agencies of Great Britain, the US, and whatever alliances the US has with various ME countries, but Haru was tailing him? This is incoherent.

Maou’s goal is to free his father; this goal becomes completely incoherent. Kyousuke and Kyouhei’s father is dead. The Psychologist mentions him having been executed in one of his talks with Kyousuke when admonishing Kyousuke for defending his father’s actions.

Now, a friend of mine who loves the game argued that “freeing” may have been freeing his father’s name from shame and that his goal was simply revenge. That’s consistent with killing Gonzou, but why didn’t he also just wire transfer money to Kyousuke and their sick mother, when Kyouhei is evidently so extremely OP that he can evade investigation and leaving any trails from the US, Britain, and Russia? He can keep everything off his tracks and play mindgames with Haru, but he can’t steal money to pay off his family debt – despite avoiding being on the radar of US spy drones, the CIA, the equivalent of Britain’s security forces, and agencies throughout the Middle East and Russia? Yet again, incoherent. If he could accomplish this with simply being careful, why not force Gonzou and the others into a massive debt or trick those organizations into thinking the Japanese Yakuza were a higher threat and needed to be taken down?

Back to the father, Kyousuke supposedly only met him once when seeing him in jail, but if he suicided after killing four people, then how did Kyousuke meet him once when his father was in jail? And also, why would Kyouhei’s goal be to free him, if he committed suicide? Yet again, incoherence.

Gonzou’s actions become incoherent too. Why let a sniper shoot him after evading a car bombing in the previous chapter? Why even say Kyousuke had psycho-amnesia? Perhaps, it could be argued, to put a red-herring on the twist, but that part comes off as pointless and nonsensical because of the generic evil brother twist.

Worsening this is that the distinction between the organizations fall into incoherence after Gonzou’s death. Gonzou is the boss of Azai and leading the Souwa Alliance, an amalgamation of different Yakuza groups working together out of necessity because police have largely put a stop to Yakuza crime over the past several years. However, after Gonzou’s death, the writing claims that Gonzou is the leader of Sannou, which loses all sense of narrative coherence.

Sannou is the corporation that they’re making backdoor deals with to maintain economic hegemony in Kyousuke’s city. In fact, the narrative made this clear since Sannou was trying to push for Makiko in the chapter 3 arc of the Skating tournaments, but the Azai group was heavily backing Azai Kanon – their interests didn’t align on that. Saying Gonzou – a city mob boss – is a CEO of Sannou loses all narrative coherence because he could have just asked Makiko to step down and that would be that.

Kyousuke’s character loses coherence too. The previous night, when heartbroken over his mother’s tragic death, and thinking over how shitty his life has been; Haru reveals her deep love and Kyousuke shouts at her and seriously threatens to rape her, if he sees her again because she’s the daughter of the man who ruined his father, mother, and his life and chose that time to apologize to his dead sister.

Now, if he felt this way, and was repressing his mind from thinking about Usami Haru being the daughter of Usami Yoshinatri – the man who ruined his family, then why did he suddenly decide on the next day – as the Yakuza are chasing after him to kill him – that she’s his woman and that he’ll protect her, no matter what?

I… What was that? He’s on high-stress, threatening to kill people, and going mad with the idea of being Maou – presumably losing all his sanity. But then, after Gonzou dies and the Azai group think it’s Kyousuke, suddenly Kyousuke decides that he actually loves Haru and will protect her… the day after threatening to rape her, if he ever saw her again?

The plot hole isn’t any of the other routes. The plot hole is the true route. Maou not being Kyousuke makes no narrative sense. Maou’s petty actions have more consistency, if he’s Kyousuke and bound to the Souwa alliance and trying to make a name for himself in Sannou.

Keep in mind, Kyousuke killing Gonzou would have made far more sense since he’d been mentally tortured by that man and living as a puppet under him for several years. Moreover, his madness driving him to hate and kill Haru… seemed to be exactly where the narrative was leading with the flashbacks. The twin brother twist just ruins that even further. Especially since Kyousuke’s disappearance spells stop making any sense altogether throughout the story.

The most bizarre thing about all this, is that the story feels perfectly consistent, complete, and *coherent* before the twin brother revelation. Which leads me to believe that – considering the off-line of raping Haru – the game was definitely suppose to end at the choking scene.

Purely a guess, but it seems like Haru probably had 3 distinctive “bad”, “normal”, and “good” paths for that scene before the awful twin brother twist. Bad ending was probably Kyousuke giving into his madness as Maou and either raping or killing Haru after choking her to unconsciousness. Good ending may have been some bittersweet chance at reconciliation before the Yakuza stormed the place and killed them both, and the ‘true’ was probably them both making amends, getting the hell out of there, and the happy ending of the epilogue with their 8 year old daughter. The reason I say that is, despite all the hardships each of the previous 4 story arcs go through, the theme of the game is about love conquering all. Tsubaki hugs her brother and apologizes because he has no concept of her sudden spite towards him, Kanon loves Kyousuke deeply but can never grow to understand him because they have to keep out of each other’s affairs and that prevents any true intimate relationship from forming but Kyousuke’s doing it out of a sense of family love just as much as his obligation to Gonzou but Kanon will never understand, Mizuha breaks down in tears because she always feels powerless to help the sister that has suffered so much and truly does love her – causing Tokita to have her own emotional breakdown because she loves her sister just as much but society keeps pulling them apart, and finally, Kyousuke loses the only remaining hope he had left of having a happy life with the mother who has suffered mental torture and has been taking it out on Haru through mindgames as a way of getting back at the world. Finally, he just snaps and his Maou personality takes over – the promise of being with each other as kids can either be seen as childish sentiment, meaningless, or something they decide to stake their hope on despite the bad blood and they elope together. Their love conquering the bad blood between them and the societal circumstances around them creating grudges beyond their control.

Side note: Haru’s submissive nature to Kyousuke – despite how guarded she was – was hinted at with Yuki Tokita. Tokita declares herself a sadist, Haru says she learned to follow her orders as friends, Tokita would play with her sexually, Haru calls Tokita her only real friend, and Tokita insists she’s the only one who can please Haru sexually. Haru and Tokita were into S&M, I don’t even mean that as a joke. They really were. Haru taking her clothes off to please Kyousuke… oddly enough fits the narrative because she’s heavily into being sexually submissive but embarrassed about others knowing. When it’s just her and Kyousuke on New Years, she does nothing but giggle and laugh at Kyousuke insulting her because she’s being sexually aroused by his insults. …Yeah.

That’s just my thoughts on it. The plot literally loses all coherence thanks to that terrible plot twist and I’m honestly disappointed. I don’t know what else to say. I really loved this visual novel up until that twist literally ruined every single thing about the game. It’s really a shame because I loved the mindgames between Maou and Haru and really felt this was the perfect Maou versus Hero rivalry and romantic love affair before that horribly atrocious plot twist ruined the coherence of the entire plot. The side characters were also absolutely wonderful. The emotional turmoil between the circumstances related to Tokita and Mizuha even made me cry a little by the end of their character arc. The realism of Tsubaki’s situation with her brother and Kyousuke assessing his own apathy towards life were genuinely great moments. Haru is also surprisingly one of the best female leads in a story. Her sense of justice, her fearlessness, and her rational outlook to assess and defeat Maou’s logic games make a very compelling narrative. Her emotional turmoil towards Kyousuke possibly being Maou made for a compelling narrative since it was already established that she didn’t have a good assessment of her emotions and tried to bury her feelings by focusing solely on her goal of revenge against her mother’s murderer. I would have given this visual novel a 10 out of 10 but regrettably, I can only give it a 5/10 and I feel like that’s stretching it. One horribly stupid plot twist really can ruin an otherwise great story.

5/10 Visual Novel.

A good visual novel, but unfortunately one egregious twist ruined it from being a truly amazing story.