“On a lonely Christmas Eve, a man and a woman are trapped in an elevator. As the darkness threatens to engulf them, how will their relationship develop…?”
Kurayami is a Romance/Horror Thriller PC-98 Visual Novel made by the now defunct and obscure “Melody”, slightly more known for creating the Assault Suits Valken clone “Night Slave” (which is now a cult classic due to reviews on several websites)
The PC-98, once an obscure platform, exploded in popularity along with the Touhou franchise once knowledge of its origins was spread. Sadly, the “narrative” that has formed around the content of the PC98 games is as follows: “The PC98 has a handful of good games, but is mostly filled with bad pr0n adventure games.” Games such as Falcom’s PC98 offerings (such as the roots of the popular Legend of Heroes series) are lauded, while vast amounts of games are already written off before anyone even had the opportunity to play them.
Well, over at this blog, I always find it pointless to write about things that are already popular and well-regarded. Is there really a point in websites and articles telling you that Mario is a great platformer? It’s far more interesting to look at obscure and niche things and showcase them. Then maybe one day the PC98 will finally gain the reputation of being “that platform with fantastic pr0n adventure games” that it finally deserves.
The premise of the game is pretty simple: two people are trapped in an elevator. They proceed to learn about each other in the course of awaiting rescue, but with hopes of survival slim, will the revelations of their lives and past lead them to anguish, despair and destruction, or will they choose to strength their bonds of friendship and love instead?
Despite the rather unambitious nature of the game, Kurayami manages to use the limitations of the PC98 very well. The music is suitably moody, creepy or joyful as required, and the writing and sound effects combine in a way in order to create an extremely unnerving mood for a psychological thriller. And yet, the game also manages to be rather heartwarming at times. Juggling two completely separate moods effectively with nothing but chiptunes, text and a still image is quite the accomplishment for a videogame, if you ask me.
The decision to focus solely on a small-scale and original concept is a rather interesting decision, as 5 months later, the famous classic Japanese Adventure game Yu-No: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world was released.
Yu-No features a gigantic game world to explore for its time, along with puzzles to solve and was a very long game that could last for more than 50 hours. Kurayami, on the other hand, lasts around 20-30 minutes on a playthrough (although searching for the “true” or “happy” ending would take significantly longer), which seems almost laughable to consumers back in the day.
But perhaps the creators of Kurayami was, in a way, ahead of their time. The emphasis on “bigger”, “more” and other feature creep has hurt many games over the years and it is only now that indie developers are showing up to create smaller, but extremely tight and focused experiences. In this regards, one could argue that games like Kurayami are the forefather to modern “artsy” story-telling games such as The Stanley Parable, only 15 years before their time..
However, for those who require much more play time in their games, Kurayami does throw the players some curveballs. While the player is led to believe that there is only one scenario, the first time you complete the game with the “Happy” ending, two more characters and their respective scenarios are unlocked…
And after you beat those? Even more scenarios are unlocked… and this time, things get almost meta. In these new scenarios, characters and art assets are “reused” but the context around them are entirely changed.
Character dynamics are different and even the tropes of the story are played with: Perhaps in one scenario, the characters make a heroic escape from the elevator through the emergency hatches a.l.a an action movie, but in others attempting such action is foolish, leading to tragedy. Or maybe in one scenario the heroine may be a complete stranger to the player character, while in another they were his childhood friend or long-estranged ex-girlfriend. Perhaps instead of a romance story, it is a Twilight-Zone like story of a man who is reunited with the spirit of his dead daughter through chance, freeing him from his guilt of not saving her life many years in the past.
And the surprising thing is how well it works out where you can believe that the girl in glasses may be named and look the same in 3 seperate stories, but end up being different characters due to many other factors such as the plot and backstory.
(Interestingly, all of the main heroines in the game are named “Mari”, albeit written in different forms (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji). Minor characters in their backstories also always draw from a pool of common names, such as “Sanae” and “Shuuichi”)
It almost reads as a commentary on the accusation that the VN genre is “stale” and “unoriginal”, especially in modern times where the belief is that the story setting of VNs that take place in “high school” seem to have over-saturated the market. But despite the fact that assets are recycled, as it turns out, it’s how you handle what you have that can lead to many possible permutations of what people think as just a singular concept.
Of course, perhaps all of this is just baseless analysis. It could entirely be possible that the company just had an extremely small budget/resources and had to make do with what they had. Still, “Death of The Author” and all that: they did manage to turn out something interesting and that’s what really matters.
PC-98 images of this game are commonly floating through the web, but to my knowledge, I believe most of them are bad rips or corrupt dumps that always crash at certain points (and good luck trying to find an actual PC98 diskette in this day and age!). A Windows version exists with “upgraded” CD DA music tracks, but it’s even rarer, though the game seems to be available on several Japanese virtual software services. As usual, I do prefer the PC-98 aesthetics though!
If you can somehow land a copy of the game though, prepare yourself for an interesting, experimental story-telling experience.