by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
Investigating the Supernatural
Japanese visual novels have always been a little bit niche in the west, but it seems the genre has found a nice home for itself on Steam. With the title Magical Eyes: Red is for Anguish the game might seem like very, very niche, but as far as visual novels go, it might be a good starting place for people interested, but unsure of the genre. A story surrounded in mystery, Red is for Anguish takes a great concept, the supernatural, and walks the player, or should I say reader, through different tales of spiritual detectives.
The first story is a gripping one. A store owner is attacked in his shop and loses his arm. When asked about it, the man claims he was attacked by an ordinary, yet creepy, doll. Baffled, the police call in the only people equipped to deal with this kind of attack; the Disobeyers. The Disobeyers are a group of paranormal investigators, who also have a few super powers; imagine the Avengers crossed with the Ghostbusters. Though much less charming and interesting than either of those two groups, they lurk about Japan investigating all the spooky happenings.
With minimal gameplay, visual novels have to keep you hooked with their narrative. Red is for Anguish certainly is interesting, as it takes you through numerous investigations of what they call Variants, which are emotions, feelings or trauma of the dead, manifested in the physical form; basically ghosts. Red is for Anguish has an ensemble of not particularly interesting characters, but you'll mostly be playing the game through two character's perspectives; Yuu, a Disobeyer and supernatural detective and Chiharu, a girl who's really into Yuu. Yuu is a neat, but somewhat flat character, while Chiharu acts as a way to introduce these concepts to the reader, as well as a love interest for Yuu.
Most of your time will be spent following the various spiritual mysteries that the Disobeyers investigate, along with a few overarching stories throughout, and for the most part they're pretty interesting. Red is for Anguish has a slow start, but once the ball gets rolling, the narrative can be pretty gripping. Occasionally, the mysteries will be interrupted by another character's individual stories, but other than those, the pacing is pretty solid. Throughout each investigation you'll be hit with Reasoning Mode; a quiz that asks the player some questions about "what is known," or the information that's been gathered on this supernatural crime so far. It's a good way to keep the player engaged, and makes sense within the narrative.
As Impressive as an Anime
Probably the best aspect about Magical Eyes: Red is for Anguish is the art. The 2D sprites are great, which unfortunately makes the much less impressive 3D backgrounds more noticeable. Every now and then, after a chapter ends or at the beginning of a new one, a high quality animated outro or intro will play. The animation quality is incredibly high, and coupled with some outstanding music, they became the highlight of my playthrough.
Like I just said, the soundtrack is fantastic and well-done. There's an appropriate number of songs for each mood in the narrative. Sound design was all around excellent. Sound effects that played during dramatic moments really added to the suspenseful tone at the time. The voice-acting was well-performed overall, but sometimes the delivery was a little peculiar and took me out of it.
Characters With as Much Depth as Ghosts
Easily the most glaring issue with Red is For Anguish are the characters. They're all pretty flat and lack any real depth; most of the character development is minimal and basic. Chihara is not a very compelling character at all. After the first investigation, she feels like she's there to be a love interest. It's not helped by her character being exactly how one would expect a character to be written in a Japanese visual novel; infatuated with the main character, Yuu. Other than that, there are a couple of weird translation quirks, with characters sometimes speaking a little strangely or acting inappropriately for the tone. However, I found these moments to be enjoyable in a campy way, but others might be annoyed by the errors.
The other problem with Magical Eyes is its length: the game only lasted a little under 6 hours for me. I consider that a bit short for its price-point, especially with the minimal replay value within the story. Not only that, but Magical Eyes: Red is for Anguish is only the first chapter in the series. I wouldnĺt have a huge problem with this, except for the fact that instead of a small sequel hook, some story aspects are left unresolved in order for them to carry over into the sequel.
A Great First Step in Visual Novels
Overall, Red is for Anguish is a great visual novel. The narrative is strong and very interesting, with a tone that keeps the reader just a little bit on edge. The animation is slick, and the music is some of the best I've heard in the genre. The characters and the length, regrettably, serve as a handicap to an otherwise interesting and enjoyable visual novel. If you're a veteran visual novel player, or otherwise curious about the niche genre, you might want to check it out.
Gripping narrative, Amazing animation and soundtrack.
Flat, boring characters, Short length with minimal replay value.