Song of Saya

Happy Halloween! I decided to post something fitting for the occasion. I won’t spoil anything either!

In a world where nothing but his own perception is changed, Fuminori struggles in a living hell, with only a single beacon of hope – the mysterious girl Saya. But will she alone be able to keep him grounded in sanity?

This visual novel is not remotely safe for work/children. There is gruesome imagery, sex, violence (sexual and otherwise), and foul language aplenty. This post itself will include some of the general imagery from the VN, but for the sake of the children the included screenshots (excluding the first) have taken advantage of the VN’s censoring options. You should be able to get an idea of why it’s been censored without needing to see the full extent of it.

Following a car accident that claims the lives of his family, Sakisaka Fuminori is only kept alive by experimental brain surgery. While he survives to live another day, all of his senses are distorted as a result of the surgery, and the world around him is transformed into a Lovecraftian nightmare – everything looks like it has been reconstructed with entrails and gore, and his other senses soon fall in line. Friends he had known for years are replaced by masses of repugnant flesh, their voices nauseating and inhuman. Nothing in the world, save for himself, appears as it had before.

Screenshot 2014-10-08 00

During his recuperation in the hospital, Fuminori soon sees something that seems like the only respite of a living hell – Saya, a girl who appears completely human in a world of inexplicable horror.

In many ways, this visual novel is a unique experience. The story is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in any medium for horror, the visuals and sound work together to create an oppressive atmosphere, and it successfully delivers the full package in a relatively short amount of time. This visual novel is the perfect horror experience.

Immediately after pressing start at the main menu, the sound will hit you like a brick wall – the soundtrack and distorted voices set the story’s atmosphere right away. Add in the very first CG (see screenshot above), and you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting in to. This is not pleasing to the eyes – the visuals range from bland to revolting, but it’s absolutely perfect in the context of the story. The soundtrack is similarly appropriate from beginning to end – of particular note are the two ending themes, Slippers of Glass and Saya no Uta.

Screenshot 2014-10-17 01

Visually, while many of the character sprites and realistic backgrounds are not particularly well-drawn, the visceral visual style of Fuminori’s perspective is perfect for the story, both in showing how he sees the world and unsettling the reader through the sheer brunt of the gore in the world around him. The stark contrast between background art for Fuminori’s point of view versus everyone else’s is a huge part of what makes the visual work. Whereas the world’s actual appearance looks like photographs that have simply been filtered and recolored in Photoshop, everything that Fuminori sees is highly detailed and clear, and these clear images he sees are the ones that are far more disturbing and unnatural.

The VN has censoring options for the more objectionable background CGs (but none for the sex scenes, ironically enough), but they are not worth using. Since the twisted visuals are so integral to the atmosphere and story, veiling them causes more harm than good, hindering a huge portion of what the VN has going for it.

Screenshot 2014-10-14 22.42.37
This is what one background looks like with both the blur and dim options checked. Don’t do this.

One of my biggest issues with the story, even though I didn’t even notice it the first time I read through this a year ago, is that the narration can be a bit goofy. It alternates between Fuminori’s first-person perspective and a casual third-person omniscient narrator, with the former being far more natural. Whenever the focus of the story shifts to another character – which it commonly does – the switch to the awkward third-person point of view is quite jarring. I’m not sure if this is the result of the translation or how it would have sounded in Japanese, but it’s distracting and stilted.

The story itself is interesting, opening with a simple yet effective premise, and then expanding into something far more complicated. The focus is split between Fuminori as spends time with Saya and tries to cope with his cognitive dilemma, and then Fuminori’s friends, specifically Kouji, as they try to understand what changed Fuminori so drastically since his accident.

There are three endings, and while there isn’t a clear bad/good/true split like in many other visual novels, they are all very different in their results. I could argue about one of them being the “true” ending based upon everything leading up to it and a very different outcome, but they all work well on their own. Experiencing all three is a must though, both for a better understanding of the entire story and to see the results of the choices.

This visual novel is not the kind you “enjoy,” per se. The story is dark and violent, the atmosphere is oppressive, and there are no rays of sunshine to be found. However, it is definitely worth reading. In a time when “horror” seems to be overridden by jumpscare-infested attempts to frighten people, something like this is an extremely welcome change that raises the bar for the genre, even if it is already ten years old.

Screenshot 2014-10-17 00.33.23

+ Audio and visuals that set up the atmosphere immediately and carry it through to the end
+ Three distinct endings
+ An interesting and unsettling story
+ Supernatural/sci-fi/horror done right

± Awkward third-person narration
± Much of the art is lackluster

– Censoring options are detrimental
− About $20 for a pretty short story

Read time – About five hours total for all three endings.

Price – The visual novel can be bought directly from Righstuf for 20 USD (physical) or JAST USA for 25 USD (digital or physical). However, for a five hour story, the price is pretty steep.

Recommendation – If you like horror for the atmosphere, story, and tension more than scares, this is exactly what you need. Make sure you read it late at night with headphones on for the full experience.

Screenshot 2014-10-30 21.38
This is a “clean” version of one of the CGs. The original is far better.

Not that it matters much, but the “Games” category is now “Games and Visual Novels.”

2 thoughts on “Song of Saya

    1. Yeah, they fall in this weird gap between books and games, so it’s hard to justify shelling out a lot of money for a short story. You could always use “other means” though.

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