Well this game was a long ride! Considering my disappointment with BWS (a favourite in the otome fandom), I was hesitant in setting my expectations too high with StS (another acclaimed otoge). And what a pleasant surprise.
I’ll be going over very brief summaries of each chapter (well more like highlight my fave key moments). I’ve also included translated lines/scenes I found most memorable (pls correct me if I made a mistake oops). Sprinkled in between, I’ll discuss some of my thoughts/interpretations, as well as questions because I need clarification lol. To be honest, I’m not really sure what this post can be called, but you could say it’s a mix of the above?
Also huge credit to eirrir for translating the first half of the game, bless you for such an incredible feat ♡ But yes, StS hit me with these philosophical lines right from the get-go, so I loved the game from beginning to end – with some slow pacing issues aside (among others, the school life parts got REALLY DRAGGY…). But anyways, I’m just gonna dive right in:
Chapter 0: Introduction
- Opens with mini prologue about the Girl and the Death Reaper
- Tooya recites story of the Caged Bird to his sister, Sayo
- We meet Sayo’s best friend Kaho and learn about her regular routine (……)
- Sayo loves to read in the library; and she also clearly has Hinase senpai’s attention
- Sayo meets the amnesiac Death Reaper in front of the clock tower (who she later names Ao due to his clear, blue eyes resembling the sky) – LOVED this scene
- A woman suddenly faints near them (Tomoe) and interrupts this mesmerizing moment (lol sorry) and they all eventually go to the hospital
Chapter 1: The Caged Bird
- Chapter revolves around Tomoe – a woman missing one year of her memories
- Ao and Sayo go on an outing and eventually visit a flower field. Here, they make a promise to find the most beautiful word in the world.
- Turns out, Tomoe was in a relationship with her teacher and felt betrayed by him since he didn’t arrive at their meeting spot (clock tower) to elope
Ao (to Tomoe): “Your story is not going to continue. It didn’t end because the man died. It was over the moment you decided to not believe in him” DAMN
- The chapter ends with the gang finding out that Tomoe doesn’t have a sister – we find out in the extra scenes that the lady posing as her (creepy) sister was actually her lover’s fiance who wants her own story to continue
Chapter 2: Yumemirusekai (World Within a Dream)
- This chapter surrounds the quest of Louis who wants to find Tooya, the author of the book Louis claims to be the real-life main character of
- I loved this story as it was very relateable (not only for me, but universally too)
- I think all of us could relate to Louis in wanting to feel special in the world, yet feeling weighed down by the insignificance of our lives in the grand scheme
- Of course, it makes sense that we’re the main characters of our own lives (and this is something that Louis understands too), but at the same, it was just really easy to identify with Louis. It’s hard to put into words and the ambiguity of Louis’ fight in this highlighted that really well
Chapter 3: I am a Cat
- Main focus is on Natsume and his stuffed cat plush (whose funny yankee-like spirit achieves freedom due to his worries over Natsume, but eventually happily realizes that his presence alone is enough for his owner)
- On a side note, I found this particular scene hilarious:
Kirishima after being dragged outside (upset): “Why am I here?”
Hinase: “A philosophical question?”
- Tbh I was irritated with Natsume’s hatred towards Sayo solely because she was the daughter of the man who ruined his family. Of course I understand where he’s coming from… but it was unreasonable regardless (it sort of reminded me of that one MxG confrontation scene in Fata Morgana – something that G said; now that’s reasonable). Well it’s ok bc Natsume warmed up & I ship him with Kaho LOL
Chapter 4: The Liar Thief & [His] Princess
- This fake prince who spouts lies khaksdjfksdf (he’s my bias ahem)
- Hinase goes on a date with Sayo, which ends with his love confession
- Sayo agrees to go out with him (though she’s not sure if she actually loves him)
- THEN THEY SLEEP TOGETHER!? WHEN DID THIS DEVELOPMENT HAPPEN…..???
- Turns out Hinase is actually a con artist and was a fake look-alike for two years fooling everyone (YEA I WAS SHOOK). This is largely due to the fact that his rude grandmother pushes/forces her grandson to become her ideal version of him (aka perfect) – making Hinase’s farce easier to pull off
- LOVED the fairytale story that corresponded with Hinase’s route: Basically instead of the prince saving the princess from the tower – it was the thief/criminal that stole her heart and saved her
- It’s hard to tell where his truths end and his lies begin – SUCH AN ENIGMA. I still get the feeling that he loves Sayo as his one & only princess (as ambiguous as it seems)
- I also feel really bad for the real Hinase and sympathize with his identity crisis (but fake Hinase stole me away too OTL)
- In a little epilogue at the end of Chapter 4, it shows Sayo and Hinase’s first meeting. Sayo asks Hinase to call her Sayo instead of princess. He responds:
I can’t do that since a man like me doesn’t have the right to call you by your name ;_;
- This is why he calls her ojou throughout the game… and adds more resonance to when he does start calling her Sayo near the end
Chapter 5: A Thousand & One Nights of Sakura
- So from here on out, we start off with Hinase’s rejection (ouch)
- Btw I don’t think they ever explained how Kirishima knew about Hinase’s rejection? Unless I somehow missed that
- Anyways, the reveal behind fake Hinase is done via Sayo catching on that Hinase has a taste impairment. The real Hinase likes sweets, but the fake one can’t taste anything
- And to top it all off, there was that line his female accomplice tells Sayo from the shadows:
That skilled con artist was driven mad by your beauty
- AHEM SO this chapter mainly revolves around childhood friends, Chiyo & Nanaki
Chiyo (to Sayo): You shouldn’t do that, otherwise it’d be the father’s negligence.
Kirishima: WHO’S THE FATHER!?
- This route didn’t tug at my heart nor make me cry.. .which is strange because it had the right setup to do so. I still thought their story was pretty sweet though.
- I know Kirishima’s character is serious and pragmatic, but I still wish there was more angst on his part during the moment where he could no longer see Chiyo as well as during Chiyo’s departure
- But anyways, Chiyo’s actually the cosmos flower that blooms in autumn. Chiyo always desired the sakura which blooms in spring.
- These two flowers/seasons could never meet, but then he was able to meet Sayo. He likens Sayo to the same sakura (aww) in terms of beauty, what he feels for her and what she represents.
- Nanaki gets a happy ending with kids (lucky guy). Whereas Chiyo’s end suggests he was reincarnated and able to meet Sayo again.
Chapter 6 & Black (Tooya)
- So Tooya is very devoted to Sayo: “You’re my everything”
Tooya: You’ll be the one that leaves first. I’m yours, but you aren’t mine.
- We witness Sayo’s backstory via the snow white theme, with Sayo’s step-mother’s name being Shirayuki who realizes she’s actually the witch
- Sayo and Tooya hide inside the clock tower together and eventually consummate their love (oh la la)
- Turns out Tooya is actually the shinigami (coinciding with the idea that he’s an illusion of Sayo’s) – I’m so upset I was accidentally spoiled about this twist >_<
- The CGs of Tooya as a shinigami are enchanting then his shinigami sprite was uhh ;; Anyways, Sayo and Shinigami Tooya make the promise of finding the most beautiful word in the world. So Tooya stays by her side instead of taking her life
Tooya: Even if my everything is simply a reflection, I just want you to believe that this love is real
- Sayo dies in Tooya’s arms after they swear their eternal love to each other
- Sayo wakes up in some place (Where is this?? The afterlife?) and happily reunites with Tooya so they can be together forever with no end this time – In retrospect (after the atogaki), I guess Sayo really dies in this ending and was never set free from her delusion
Chapter 6 & White (Ao)
- Before I dive into Chapter 6, wanted to include that the first time Ao smiles in the game is when Sayo cries and he comments on how her tears are like rain due to how it started and halted suddenly.
Ao (to Sayo): You are not alone. I’m here. (I really love this line too)
- SO back to Ao’s route: During Hinase’s confrontation, Sayo holds onto a confused Ao’s sleeve because she’s worried. What I loved was that in a follow up scene after Hinase leaves (with Sayo being given the clock tower key), Ao tells her to hold onto his clothes so she can relax (aww)
- There’s another scene where Sayo is at the harbor crying because Hinase is gone:
- Ao (with a rare smile): Sayo, it’s raining. Why is it? Somehow you look dazzling.
- When Sayo and Tooya are at the park, Ao is being followed by two kids who keep calling him a hero LOL
Child: Hey play with us mister
Ao: I have to read -_-
Child: My sister has books~
Ao: In that case, okay (so precious)
- When Nanaki discusses Sayo with Ao in the bookstore – Ao says all these powerful lines about how he’s the end of a chapter, the finale, the end of everything.
- So apparently Tooya and Ao met each other before the start of the game. But after Ao makes his intentions known about wanting to be the only Shinigami by killing Sayo (who essentially tethers this “illusion”), they “fight”. This results in Tooya erasing Ao’s memories. As fate would have it though, Sayo and Ao are still drawn to each other
Tooya tells Sayo: “I didn’t think Ao would be the person you’d fall in love with. It would have been all right if you chose a different man. Or if you forgot anything that had to do with Shinigamies and lived a normal life”
Sayo: “Does that mean you would just disappear then?”
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IN ALL THE OTHER ROUTES FML (but in retrospect hmm)
- Nanaki makes an interesting point about how the world that both him and Sayo can see resembles the virtual image reflected by a mirror. Despite seeming so real, it’s still an illusion.
THEN COMES THE MOST HEARTBREAKING SCENE OF THE GAME (I DIDN’T CRY THE WHOLE TIME UNTIL THIS MOMENT)
So Sayo tells Tooya that she loves Ao and is crushed that she’s betraying him.
Tooya (with a sad smile): It’s not betrayal. After all, we’re siblings and I’ll have to leave. Even though I don’t want to give my cute little sister to another guy and even though it’s unbearable, it’s for your happiness.
Sayo: Even if I say nothing, you understand what I’m thinking?
Tooya: That’s right, isn’t that natural? After all, I’m your older brother. Two Shinigamis aren’t needed.
Tooya: You are the only daughter of the Toono family. You did not have an older brother.
Sayo: Yes, you weren’t anywhere. It was all a fantasy.
Tooya: That’s right, I’m an illusion of yours.
Sayo: The person named Toona Tooya…. From the very start… did not exist.
Tooya: So there is no need to grieve. Because there is nothing more meaningless than shedding tears for a person who did not exist.
Sayo: That day… I was lying…. On that day… I did not see a Shinigami.
Sayo: My Shinigami is just one person. It is not you.
*Sayo choking back her sobs*
Tooya: “I will save Ao. I love Ao. Are those words of yours a lie?” (repeating what she said a little while before.. to give her the final push in denying his very being)
*Sayo shakes her head no*
Tooya: Now then, say it… Sayo (in his most gentle voice)
Sayo: Goodbye my illusion (it’s written “illusion”, but she voices “Tooya Niisan”)
Tooya disappears… as if nothing had existed from the very beginning
- When Sayo goes to Ao, she says he can kill her… but Ao isn’t able to and cries.
- Ao’s reasons for wanting to become a shinigami were unsympathetic to say the least, but anyways, Sayo dies in his arms
- After being confused at his tears, he eventually realizes that he loves her
- BTW, the two actually had a fateful encounter as kids with Sayo leaving the StS book with Ao – acting as the precursor to Ao’s journey
- Turns out Sayo actually survives, which made me go ehhh that’s too contrived… BUT the afterword cleared that up nicely (she wasn’t really physically ill)
- Ao’s real name is Iliya/Iriya, but he still prefers being called Ao. He’s more expressive now and makes a promise with Sayo to continue their journey happily and forever
- So according to StS, the most beautiful word in the world is the “name of your beloved” …which makes sense. But I guess I’m not completely satisfied with that. Then again, I don’t know what else they could have gone with… Honestly, I think “story” would have fit the story (heh) more ;;
Ao: Sayo, more than anything else, I love you
Atogaki/Afterword & Special Scenes
- This is what truly saved the game for me and definitely skyrocketed my rating
- Fushimachi = “Toono Tooya” aka the writer of this story; who also wanted Sayo to break free from her unstable state of mind
- Nanaki = reader of the story… he was never written to be part of the story
- This is why he’s the only StS character who was able to view all the events from an objective point of view. He was never originally a member of the Kirishima family and can’t remember anything before entering that family when he was a kid either… (but how’d he get “inside” this story in the first place.. who/what is he??)
- I always felt that Sayo may have been mentally unstable, but to think that even her own physical respiratory illness was something she simply believed to have (in her case, illness starts with the mind)
- I found that relating myth Fushimachi mentions to be really interesting – about the criminal who died having believed that the falling drops he heard was his blood (when it was just water)
- This puts a different spin on Tooya too. So I don’t feel as bad for Tooya now, especially since he really was just a figment of her imagination (but hmm)
- From what I understand, Hinase also knew that Sayo was mentally unstable :O
- One of the reasons why Hinase didn’t leave right away and instead waited two years was because he made a bet with himself… if Sayo lets go of her delusions by falling in love with him, he’ll be able to break her “magic spell”. He wanted to slowly set Sayo free from the cage of her own making (because he didn’t want to break her).
- And if she didn’t fall in love with him, then he’ll still leave her the clock tower key to access the Shinigami to Shoujo book so she can be set free. But since his ruse was cut short, he had to do it right before he escaped instead of slowly (like he planned).
- This is further evident from the discussions with his accomplice (who is a guy disguised as that high school girl)… this sweet and cunning liar did love his princess
- Beautiful words that the Shinigami and the Girl decide aren’t the most beautiful word and/or what a story is:
- Chapter 0: “Beginning”
- Chapter 1: “Continue”
- Chapter 2: “World”
- Chapter 3: “Freedom”
- Chapter 4: “Lie”
- Chapter 5: “Yearning”
- Mirror Chapter: “Past”
- Black Chapter: “Illusion”
- White Chapter: “End”…. but Nanaki corrects Fushimashi by saying that as long as someone is reading the story, the story will never end (so it comes back full circle)
This is neither a story of tragedy nor a story of comedy. It is a beautiful story of illusions.
- The characters were all interesting, though it was hard to sympathize with some of them at times (Sayo in particular – but now I can sorta see why). It was also hard to see how certain characters fell in love with Sayo.
- Order of my faves from most to least (loved them all though) is: Hinase > Ao >= Tooya > Kirishima > Chiyo
- To be honest, I’m not sure what to think of Tooya. Yes I love him as a character, but through a realist POV after you find out everything, he is just an ideal created by Sayo’s delusions. But at the same time, Ao/Fushimachi/Nanaki could all see him too. AH IDK
- I get how Nanaki could see him because he’s the reader. As for Fushimachi, did he just pretend to talk to “Tooya”, playing along with Sayo’s delusion? I still don’t get how Ao was able to see him though.
- The art wasn’t the greatest, but still decent
- The music had some nice tracks (though I wish more of them were like the OP song)
- Voice acting was really good – such a breath of fresh air to not recognize voice actors. It makes the characters own their voices more? Idk I just really liked how they didn’t choose as commonly used seiyuus.
- Overall, I’ll give StS 8.5/10 on vndb especially because of how everything came together in the afterword. As someone who prioritizes writing above all else, the story was a really neat take for an otoge. So despite the slow pacing at points, I definitely enjoyed my time with this VN!
On a side note, I can’t seem to unlock Ao and Hinase’s special scenes and it’s driving me crazy after I ran through the whole game twice (with no dice). I read a summary of their scenes so I do know what happens. But I WILL get it to work so I can actually see those scenes for myself…. soon. EDIT: JOKES, I’m an idiot. Figured it out and will update once I’ve gotten them all ;;