Title: School Days HQ (スクールデイズ)
Publisher (English): JAST USA
Localizers: Sekai Project
Genre: Drama, Harem
Audio: Japanese Dub
Screen Dimension: 16:9, 4:3 / Windowed and Full Screen Modes
Cost: $39.95 (Standard or Download Edition) | $59.95 (Collector’s Edition)
Review Conditions: Download Edition
Special Thanks: JAST USA for providing me with a copy of this title to review
In School Days you take the role of Makoto, a student at Sakakino Academy. Like any young man you have your eye on the girls around you with thoughts of more than just friendship, and when your classmate Sekai offers to introduce you to that cute girl you see on the train every morning, you can’t say no. Her name is Kotonoha, and she’s everything you could ask for in a girlfriend, but when you’re about to go on your first date and turn to Sekai to thank her for her matchmaking efforts, she takes her payment in the form of a kiss. Could it be that she has feelings for you too?
I would like to begin this review by stating that this game is an 18+ Eroge and should not be viewed or purchased by minors. It does contain strong sexual references and scenes which were absent from the original anime release of the series. As with most visual novel releases in English, School Days HQ is uncensored without any mosaic. As always, this game is being reviewed on its plot development apart from its eroge content.
Back in 2005, the visual novel studio 0verflow released School Days to the Japanese market and was met with considerable success – strong sales, spin-off sequels “Summer Days” and “Cross Days” and even an anime series which became well known for its Bad End and “Nice Boat”. In 2010 the company released School Days HQ, which is the version I am reviewing now and is a remaster of the original game featuring new scenes, new endings and a few edits along the way (Making this release a bit more friendly for English localization than the original seemingly). Drama and Romance elements in this series are strong, and as not a big fan of generic romantic storylines I began playing in search of a storyline that would show me something new for the genre and delivered both emotion and attachment to the characters. Does School Days HQ fulfill my requirements? Read on to find out!
As with any visual novel, to me the most important element of the game is its storyline. I am undecided about my opinion to it, with some strong points but also some points that failed to win me over. The storyline follows main male protagonist Makoto who takes interest in one of the games two female leads Kotonoha Katsura. So what does he do? He ends up drawing the attention of fellow desk-buddy Sekai Saionji to help him establish a relationship with the supposed girl of his dreams. Spread over six chapters and numerous different routes, you can seek out a relationship with either of the girls (or jump between them) leading to one of twenty-one endings in the game – some being Good Ends featuring happy relationships with one of the female cast (or a harem end), some being neutral ends and others being bad ends in comparison to that of the anime.
The game heavily relies on your selections throughout the game which will lead you through several different “routes”, each containing a different timeline of events and endings which can get rather complex to follow in the later chapters without a proper walkthrough. The storyline itself is pretty enjoyable and gives you a lot of wriggle room for future playthroughs and I found the storyline quite often tried to build up emotion in the player to convince them to try taking a route they might not otherwise take if they wanted to go down one girls route. It is however a more casual read and is not riddled with complex plotline like other visual novels like “Deus Machina Demonbane” and would be up to your own individual preference somewhat in terms of storyline.
As I mentioned above the game comes equipped with approximately 21 different endings of different “moods” from Good to Bad. When I went into this game I was expecting to get one of the more famous Bad Ends that this series has been known for…. however (Without using a walkthrough for the purpose of this review) it seemed to be much more frequent to end up with average or good endings than bloody ones, even in playthroughs that I purposefully tailored to go down one of them. Aside from these, most of them typically end with Makoto ending up with one of the two girls with the other one being either understanding or depressed over the decision. Depending on the route you follow, you can also end up in shorter runs with some of the games side characters. This did highlight a certain problem with pacing as for example with secondary character Setsuna Kiyoura, Makoto had very little to do with her until it came to optionally following her path.
While the storyline is not perfect and some of the routes and dialogue seemed a bit inconsistent with your choices throughout the game, you do get great replay value with many additional storylines that require you to backtrack, interesting female leads – and even encouraged someone like me who is not necessarily a big fan of the genre to play through the title multiple times. Unfortunately while some of the secondary characters do have additional routes, I didn’t feel that they were developed enough in or out of those routes to make them unique and interesting characters.
If you were to compare a visual novel to a “Choose your own adventure Novel”…. you would have to compare “School Days HQ” to a “Choose your own adventure Film”. School Days HQ features similar systems to most visual novels such as the option to choose dialogue, backtrack through dialogue and so forth… however instead of using character portraits and background artwork – most of the visual novel is fully animated and is like you are watching an extended anime episode which yourself in control. It is a great way of setting itself out from the pack and the design quality itself was pretty good, with solid character emotions and character designs alongside nice background detail. However where the design was lacking was with the animation, with most scenes featuring one or two characters just talking to themselves and only the occasional scene embracing this feature to its fullest.
The game does come with a moderate number of sex scenes which as mentioned above were completely uncensored. These scenes also remained fully animated and were of decent quality. As with most uncensored titles nowadays, while the female “parts” were well designed, the male “parts” lacked much in terms of detail.
Music / Voice Acting
Between each chapter you are provided with an opening sequence, evidently to give you the impression the release is split up into different episodes, and there are a number of different sequences which will play depending on what route you are following. While performed in a couple of different ways, the core song “Still I Love You” is an enjoyable song that goes well with the associated animations. Away from the opening sequences, there is a nice selection of musical tracks included in this release however they are repeatedly used in some points and would have benefited from a greater number of them.
For those who have watched the anime release, you will be either glad or disappointed to know that the game mostly features a different voice cast. The voice acting in this release is overall above average, and especially when it comes to Sekai and Kotonoha, really do capture the emotion and moods of the characters. The game also features the ability to skip through scenes entirely, or speed up the dialogue to a certain point if you do not mind the characters sounding like chipmunks up to the point you want (2x 4x 16x 32x speeds).
School Days HQ is an 18+ eroge visual novel and does therefore contain animated sexual content. For the most part you will get a couple of sex scenes per route if that and are generally your normal run of the mill kind. Some of these do lead on to future plotlines, development of another side of a characters personality and awkward moments between other love interests so they are not always added for the purpose of being added. In one particular scene there is reference to potential non-consensual sex between one of the female leads and another male character. To me however, eroge scenes played only a minor role in the storyline (At least the routes I followed) and such scenes can be rushed through if preferred.
The English release when originally released suffered a couple of bugs including opening sequences not appearing between chapters and some scenes not showing the animation and only a black screen. A patch has since been issued for this and my playthroughs were issue free. The game offers you the ability to replay any eroge cutscene you have previously viewed, however does not allow you to view individual scenes again. The game does however allow you to backtrack through a specific save file to replay or alter specific scenes in each chapter. It is not possible however in this regard to jump between routes due to the system keeping tally of your relationships with each girl through a meter at the top of the screen. The game also features a backlog to re-view previous text and there is no issues with this for the translated text.
There is one big issue with this release however and that is with the screen sizes. The aspect ratio for the game window is 16:9, and if you prefer you can increase it to 4:3 which essentially just adds a black border around the 16:9 window. While you can full-screen the window you cannot resize it in any shape or form and is fairly small.
Oh… and they seem to have translated and left in the SOMCON options for those of you who have the device and want that extra bit of hands-free pleasure.
School Days is a interestingly designed visual novel which I enjoyed play-testing and covering. While there are some aspects of the storyline which I can’t say I liked – the occasional mis-direction of the storyline, the under-developed secondary characters and the frustrating male lead… it somewhat makes up for these downfalls with a multi-directional plot, interesting female leads and if you manage to unlock them some surprising conclusions to the game. In the end however, this releases value really depends on ones individual preferences but if you enjoyed the anime series or alternatively… are a fan of slice-of-life dramas with multiple females pining over the character you control… this might be up your alley.
Storyline/Character Development: B
Music and Voice Acting: B
Adult Content: Yes
Personal Opinion: B
Final Score: B