This game has been on my radar for quite some time after I saw it compared to Higurashi and Umineko. I mean, those are two of the most beloved visual novels ever made and, although I haven’t played Umineko, I am a huge fan of Higurashi. I’ve been burning through a bunch of visual novels lately, so I figured it was about time to check this one out.
Engaging mystery storytelling. For what appears to be the developer’s only work, I was surprised with the quality of the writing here. It’s a mystery story full of twists and turns, but it’s written in a very tight manner. You’ll go from one mystery to the next, slowly building up to this bigger thing, but the story never really loses focus. It’s well-paced, has a small cast of well-written characters with interesting backstories and motivations, and manages to do all of this without really straying from its one central setting: that of Shironagasu Island.
It’s a small island, but there’s a lot to unpack behind it, and the game does a good job slowly unraveling it all while keeping the story engaging. This is partly due to the shorter length at around eight or so hours, but even then, it’s a game that I was able to power through simply because I wanted to learn what happened next. It isn’t without its issues here (and I will discuss them later), but for what appears to be the dev’s only work, it’s some solid stuff.
Great use of atmosphere. A large reason why the mystery storytelling works so well is that it has an equally mysterious atmosphere to match. I mean, this is a game set on a remote island with a mansion that almost looks like a prison, so that just kinda comes with the territory. However, the devs added a lot to really emphasize this aspect of the game, including the constant storms weaved into the story, the small cast each with their own mysteries, and even the color choices used in the backgrounds and characters.
But really, the main thing here is that there’s this constant feeling of dread while you’re playing. You know there’s something darker going on, but you can’t quite figure it out until much later and the game’s constant sprinkling of little clues that add to this mystery just really bring out that feeling. This is where it reminded me of Higurashi – and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Nice localization. For those of you that don’t know, Return to Shironagasu Island was actually released back in March. It launched with Japanese, Chinese, and limited English support. I say limited because it technically had an English language option, but it was not proofread and appeared to be machine translated. Of course, that’s an absolute no-go as far as translation quality is concerned, so it wasn’t until this November that I finally played the game after it got its full English release.
Now that I’ve played through it all, I gotta give the translators some props here. It no longer reads as a machine translation and I don’t even remember running into a single typo or grammar issue of any kind (I’m the guy that screenshots the game when I do, but I ended with zero of these screenshots). The lines are structured nicely, the text flows well, and the language used was a great match for the setting without feeling forced or unnatural. If anything, the devs have my respect for actually coming back and fixing the translation instead of just abandoning it like a lot of others in the medium.
Last third of the story. While I did enjoy the first 70% or so of the game, it does start to falter a bit as it reaches its ending. Whereas most of the game is very tightly written with events leading logically into one another, the ending felt more like a rapid-fire sequence of plot elements that the writer wanted to include but lacked the time to properly implement into the story. I don’t want to say that it becomes too ambitious for its own good, as they at least alluded to some of these developments earlier in the story, but they are dropped on the player at such a rate that they kinda lose their impact.
To put it in simpler terms, for most of the game, when something major was revealed, I would be all “wow, that’s a cool twist”. The last third or so, it was more like “okay, I guess that’s a thing now”. Rinse and repeat until you get the ending. Now, the ending itself isn’t that bad – rather, it does a decent job cleaning things up – but the events leading up to it definitely could have been thought out better.
Annoying detective sequences. Shironagasu Island is not just a straightforward VN with no gameplay, it has some light adventure game elements in that there are scenes where you can click on the environment to discover clues. These are pretty standard fare for adventure games, but I didn’t quite like their implementation here. That is because, every time they pop up, you are forced to click on each and every single interactive object in the room before proceeding.
That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that most of the objects have nothing to do with the story and you oftentimes have to click on them multiple times in varying orders to finish the sequence. You can’t just spam click on them until you run out of text to read, you have to find the other object that triggers the next set of text for a completely different object. These sequences aren’t even that rare either, they’re actually pretty common. What could have been a neat mechanic though just comes off as filler.
Return to Shironagasu Island is a short, yet well-told mystery VN full of twists and turns, good character writing, and some excellent use of atmosphere. It does kinda lose itself towards the end though – staining an otherwise excellent overall mystery – but it’s a solid effort from what appears to be the first game from the dev and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
Quote: Return to Shironagasu Island may lose itself towards the end, but it’s an overall short, yet well-told mystery VN full of twists and turns and some nice character writing.
You can buy Return to Shironagasu Island on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.