Umineko no Naku Koro ni (Umineko When they Cry) is a visual sound novel by Ryukishi07. It is the third game and second story in his “When they Cry” series following the wildly successful Higurashi which released in 2002.
The story is about the wealthy Ushiromiya family who have come to their family-owned island of Rokkenjima for their yearly family conference. The patriarch of the Ushiromiya family, Kinzo is of failing health and has not much time left, and the question of the inheritance of his empire is the topic that his children will be arguing over during this weekend. There is also a legend on the island that Kinzo has a second fortune’s worth in gold bars hidden somewhere on the island. This gold was given to Kinzo by a witch that haunts Rokkenjima as its hidden true ruler, and anyone that can find this gold will inherit the gold and become the new Ushiromiya family head. During the conference a typhoon strikes the island cutting it off from the world, a series of gruesome murders occur, and a person claiming to be the golden witch appears. It is up to the player to parse out what is real versus what is fantasy and solve the mysteries of Kinzo’s hidden fortune, the legend of the golden witch, and who is the mastermind behind these murders.
Being a visual sound novel, the game mechanics are limited to pressing a button the advance the text, and navigating menus to read character profiles and clues. There are a few scenes where the player will have to make choices using the controls. Don’t let the lack of interactivity fool you, the true game play comes from the challenge that is issued to the player to solve the murder mystery by pouring over the information and hints that the game provides throughout its narrative and constructing logical theories that explain how the murders were carried out and for what reason. The player is helped along through providing rules and frameworks for the player to work within when approaching a mystery. The enthralling story and well-written characters make the challenge of attempting to solve the mysteries a fun experience.
The graphics in Umineko are relatively simple with many of the backgrounds made from photos that Ryukishi took of various locations and modified to fit them within the spooky setting of story. The characters are depicted in a signature style that is hand-drawn by Ryukishi. Since Ryukishi is not an artist by trade, or training, this art is simplistic but full of character and charm, through some may find the unrefined and non-professional artwork off-putting. Players are able to choose between the original art and updated art styles that display the characters in a more traditional professional visual novel art-style. The visuals in the game do an excellent job at setting the scene within the story, the character sprites are expressive and fun and bring the characters to life as their vivid emotions play throughout the story. The gore in the game is subtle and combined with the amazing writing and sound design create a perfect sense of dread and intrigue.
The sound design in stellar in this game. The ambient noises enhance the feeling of being isolated on this island full of nature where no humans are supposed to exist outside of the Ushiromiya family in their mansion. There are several memorable musical pieces used throughout the game that highlight the emotional natures of the scenes in which they occur. Use of winding organs highlight the refinement and dignity of the Ushiromiya family, they are also used to reflect the darkness that lurks within the family and the ominous and deadly legend of the golden witch that permeates the island. The sound effects are unsettling from creepy laughs to shattering glass, gunshots, and the unsettlingly distinct death sound that will stick with you well after you stop playing this game.
The writing and story-telling in this game are top-notch. The characters are vibrant and realistic, each one is fully realized and three-dimensional. This helps to make the player interested in learning more about these characters and uncovering their secrets as the story unfolds. Throughout the story the player will encounter dark themes and deep moral and philosophical questions that inspire thought beyond solving the mysteries at hand. Because there is so little game play through interaction, the game does an excellent job of making up for it through the writing. During the story the player will encounter several riddles and logic puzzles, each of them contributing to the larger mystery of the murders taking place on the island. There are plenty of humorous and memorable moments that ensure that no player will leave the experience empty-handed.
Overall this game is a great experience. This will be especially enjoyable for lovers of the murder mysteries from the golden are of detective fiction, as well as those that are fans of the modern mystery genre. If you enjoy visual novels that tell a compelling story with a cast of fully-realized characters this will be right up your alley. This game is monstrous task with a full play-through of all 8 chapters lasting around 60-70+ hours. There may be some areas where the action of the story may seem to slow down or reiterate known points but thankfully these moments are few and far between and the majority of your time exploring this story will be on the edge of your seat as you try to untangle this winding mystery. This game is highly recommended for fans of visual novels, mystery stories, and fans of good writing in general.