Higurashi When They Cry Hou – Chapter 1 Onikakushi is a sound novel focusing on teenage transfer student Keichi Maebara and his friends: Rena Ryuugu, Mion Sonozaki, Satoko Houjou, and Rika Furude, who are all girls of mixed ages and backgrounds. Originally, the game begins as a slice of life story with some romance and harem elements. Gradually, however, the atmosphere of the story changes to that of a murder mystery and then a tale of horror as Keichi uncovers many unsavory secrets of the small village of Hinamizawa. It’s a great experience that only gets better and more immersive as you progress through this nerve-wracking tale.
The 3 Hour Review
The opening is dark and enigmatic, with a person who seems to be the victim of a murder narrating his own death as his killer hacks into his body with a sound so sharp that it makes me flinch. This then fades to the protagonist, Keichi, awakening from a dream as he arrives in Hinamizawa, a small village that seems to be a different world from the big city he has returned from. He has been gone for a couple of days to attend a funeral.
This first hour sees the reader experiencing life through Keichi’s eyes as he fullfills mundane tasks such as eating breakfast, walking to school with his female classmates, avoiding traps from the class prankster, and eating lunch with the main cast of characters. Yet it is in these simple, everyday activities that we begin to see something darker hiding just under the surface. Keichi is just a little too mean when he teases Rena, and he is uncomfortably straightforward when it comes to bragging to Mion about how generous puberty has been to him. The author’s crude jokes make it clear that this is a teenage boy with sex and violence on the mind.
The new artwork for the character sprites is more refined and less cartoonish compared to the clumsy original character drawings of the 2002 version, which featured wobbly line work, grossly exaggerated features, and the halo effect so often found in cut and pasted Photoshop work. The art for the backgrounds is digital and heavily based on the haphazard energy and cloudy, rough texture of chalk pastels, with some shape and detail provided by the use of a technical pencil. As a result, the hazy, indistinct backgrounds wind up reinforcing the novel’s dreamlike qualities.
As a sound novel, the game audio is crucial to the experience. The music is cheerful and upbeat with at least three specific tracks that change according to the situation and setting. The loops are easily picked up if you listen carefully, but this did not detract too much from the experience. Also, a distinguishing feature of sound novels as opposed to visual novels is that sound effects are provided to add to the atmosphere. For example, Rena’s comedic punches slam into Keichi with a crisp crunch that will make anyone wince at the unfortunate victim.
Unlike other visual and sound novels, Higurashi does not provide branching paths or a “choose-your-own-adventure” play style. It is strictly a reading session with little to no decision-making from the player. However, there are selectable TIPS, which focus on information such as the girls’ backgrounds and the school. Then, as the murder mystery is introduced, these TIPS begin focusing on the facts of the murder case and feature news articles and interviews with experts.
Here the reader gets the first taste of the deception within the story.
Higurashi soon begins to transition moods after a playful schoolhouse club scene with Keichi and the girls. It is at this time that Tomitake, the wild bird photographer, is introduced along with the murder mystery. When asked about this killing, Rena and Mion refuse to acknowledge it happened. Here the reader gets the first taste of the deception that is so prevalent throughout the story, eventually undermining Keichi’s trust in his friends, parents, and the police.
While still light and carefree, the darkness present from the very beginning starts to surface more as Keichi researches the dismemberment killing. This is especially true in moments such as when Keichi helps Rena dig out a statue from the abandoned construction site and winds up accidentally chopping off its right arm, paralleling the murder.
The 6 Hour Review
At the Watanagashi Festival, club activities continue with a variety of contests featuring Keichi and the girls. These activities, like the games at the schoolhouse, serve to reinforce the slice of life feeling. Everyone is getting along and even the outsider Tomitake seems to fit in for once, joining as an honorary club member in a shooting contest.
However, this atmosphere doesn’t last as it soon becomes heavy and solemn. Rika, as the shrine maiden, presides over a ceremony where villagers bless themselves with cotton and toss the lumps into the river to carry away their bad energy. In addition, a meeting with Tomitake and a mysterious woman leads the reader to find out that there are strange deaths that occur on the day of the Watanagashi Festival every year since the dismemberment killing. All the victims are related either to the unwanted dam and its construction or the god of Hinamizawa, Oyashiro-sama.
The uncomfortable tone of the story continues the next day when Keichi is called to meet a with a stranger, eventually introduced as detective Ooishi. He informs Keichi that Tomitake has been killed under mysterious circumstances and the woman with him has disappeared. The unity Keichi feels with the community of Hinamizawa is showcased here as he suspiciously brushes off Ooishi’s inquiries and treats him as an intrusive outsider. But at the same time, Rena and Mion’s refusal to address the past murders feeds Keichi’s, and by proxy the reader’s, own suspicions that the girls are hiding too much. On top of this, Ooishi voices his suspicion of a village conspiracy with Mion and Rika involved in it.
The 9 hour Review
With new revelations, another mystery opens up and the distrust Keichi has for his friends begins to deepen further. As Keichi pretends to sleep at his desk, he overhears the conversion of the others on the recent disappearance of the nurse Miyo Tokano. The girls feel that she has been a victim of Onikakushi, or “demoned away”. Keichi also discovers a card from one of the club’s games with the name “Satoshi” on it. He eventually accuses Rena of keeping secrets to which she replies, in a scene made famous in the anime, that he is the one lying. As she says this, Rena’s appearance changes into a vicious expression with piercing demonic eyes. The terror of something so familiar altering itself into something so uncanny introduces a supernatural element to the story.
Further discussion with Ooishi-san reveals disturbing new information. Apparently the entire town of Hinamizawa was once called Ogres’ Abyss, a name that still applies to the apparently bottomless swamp near the town. The residents back then were known to cure people’s illnesses, but only in exchange for the life of another person who would then be eaten by the townsfolk. Interfering in the “demon’s hunt” by aiding the “prey” would cause a person trouble. It is this situation that Keichi finds himself in now, having been too friendly with the victim and the police. Mion, Satoko, and Rika are also involved somehow with the previous victims, either through conflict or direct relation. Rena had apparently been a resident in Hinamizawa before moving, suffering a nervous breakdown, and returning with the idea that Oyashiro-sama, the local deity, was watching her.
Here the paranoia of Keichi’s situation starts showing up in his daily life. He is naturally suspicious of people he regards as outsiders such as the police, but now his suspicions concerning his friends get even bigger. We begin to see the trust he has in the girls erode; the unity they had forged in their daily activities begins to dissolve. As a result, Keichi begins to feel alienated from his comrades, a particularly painful blow to his ego considering how hard he tried to create and maintain such friendships. On top of the current bloodshed, he now has a clearer understanding of the folklore of Hinamizawa and must reconcile this with the peaceful, small town he’s come to know.
The reader is pulled into Keichi’s mind, experiencing his fears and doubts with him.
The music here becomes slow and contemplative as more complex notions such as the religion and folklore of Hinamizawa and the strange deaths of the past are explored. Watchful readers will note that even the text scroll on screen slows and pauses in mimicry of the cadence of Keichi’s thoughts as he mulls over the situation. The overall effect pulls the reader into Keichi’s mind, experiencing his fears and doubts with him.
The 12 Hour Review
Higurashi ramps up the paranoia to even greater levels as Keichi’s friendships crumble and he begins to break down. Rena and Mion show up to give him a gift of mochi made by Mion’s grandmother and Rena herself. As he takes it, they ask him who was the old man he was eating lunch with. Keichi is puzzled and scared as they would have been at school while he was dining with Ooishi. Trying to convince himself that his suspicions are all in his head, he proceeds to eat the mochi. To his horror, it contains a sewing needle hidden inside. He throws the mochi against the wall and hides in his room, now convinced that he has made some powerful enemies both in his schoolmates and possibly the entire town.
Keichi’s internal monologues begin to ramble as he tries to balance the betrayal of his friends with the idea that this is all a misunderstanding. His obsession with the strange deaths threatens to become a full on bout of psychosis. He loses his senses of taste and smell, unable to enjoy the dinner his mother prepares for him. He can’t fully trust his friends and his parents may be in danger if he tells them what’s going on. And so, in a reversal of his previous convictions, he comes to consider Ooishi as his only ally. Even if the detective is really just using him as bait to draw out the murderers, Keichi promises not to die without a fight.
The music and sound effects of this section really reflect the intensity of the situation. Instead of the soothing relaxation a rainstorm usually brings, the downpour here is loud, violent, and hammers on the nerves. In a similar manner, the droning song of the titular higurashi (cicadas) is more prevalent and grating than earlier in the novel. Violin chords screech at sudden revelations, providing a classic sting to jump scares.
Loneliness and isolation are the key subjects in this part of the game. Even with the attempts at bodily harm, Keichi is still struggling to come to grips with what is happening around him. He is quickly becoming overwhelmed with the assaults on his emotions and beliefs. The happiness he found in his everyday life has become tainted and the support of family and friends is no longer available. Now Keichi is forced to rely on the justice system and the competence of a — hopefully — trustworthy police detective.
The 15 Hour Review
Without revealing too much of the game’s ending, it seems that nothing is really what it seems in this story. There is obviously a conspiracy among the villagers, but Oyashiro-sama also seems to be more than just a legend. In the end, it appears that Keichi may be the prey of both human perpetrators and a vengeful god.
In these final hours we see what began as a boyish curiosity transform into obsession, paranoia, and finally hysteria. Color either drains from the artwork or characters and backgrounds become highlighted in red. While there is some background music, it is frequently muted by dialog. More common is the droning of the higurashi, and even that slowly fades towards the end.
After the main game is over, the after party scenes become available. These are fun and casual moments, with jokes that break the fourth wall and a light discussion by all of the main characters about what they thought was behind the deaths: humans or a god’s curse. It’s not essential viewing, but I found it enjoyable and a good way to decompress from a very intense scenario.
Higurashi Chapter 1 – Onikakushi starts out slow, luring the reader into a false sense of security with a dream-like childhood full of fun and friends. It takes its time establishing a normal environment — what you would expect to encounter in a small village like Hinamizawa. People only seem bothered when their daily routines are upset, and school kids participate in lively games, before standardized testing sucked the life out youth. It’s the typical small town you’d see in a Stephen King novel or David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. And like those other works, there is something far more sinister lurking beneath the facade.
Although the ending to this game seems quite final, there are actually eight chapters in the original series for PC. I highly suggest checking out Higurashi Chapter 1 – Onikakushi as fans of the anime should still be able to appreciate the novel, and it makes a good first impression on anyone wanting to get into visual and sound novels as a whole. Just remember, in Hinamizawa everyone can hear you scream, but no one will do anything about it.