I'll warn you guys right now, this is about as good as the art will get.
The “Naku Koro ni,” or the “When They Cry” series, done by Ryukishi07 of the group 07th Expansion, is famous for Higurashi, which not only provided horror in a medium so devoid of it but also had a very engaging mystery. Umineko no Naku Koro ni, however, is less of a horror and more of a traditional closed circle mystery/detective story. At times, it runs very well with the conventions of the mystery genre, and at other times it radically changes how the genre works. It’s a murder mystery with so many elements that seemingly would never work but actually do.
The story involves a closed circle murder mystery, where 18 people are stuck on an island for two days and have to not only survive the entire time but try to reason out the grisly string of murders. The story acts as regular detective fiction, where characters learn about and try to solve closed rooms and such. There are also a number of logic debates which not only lead to the solutions but are also very entertaining as well. In addition, there are a few other mysteries that, while not seemingly directly connected to the murders at first, also get a lot of focus. It’s a multi-layered mystery that not only entertains you but also inspires you to think. At the same time, the story introduces a few fantastical elements in the form of witches. “But Greg, if there are magical elements, why do they need to solve the mysteries? They could just say ‘a witch did it!'” And that plays into the story very well. Discussions about the murders don’t happen traditionally, but they instead double up as battles between mystery and witches: did human hands carry out the murders, or did a witch do it all? These discussions manage to keep your interest but also ask you to think and try to solve things for yourself. However, at times the story’s pacing can vary greatly; there are scenes that drag on for far too long. Additionally, the mysteries are never overtly solved in Umineko; instead, all the answers are presented in the sequel. While it’s understandable given how it was published, it still detracts from Umineko a bit, as it ends on a rather large cliffhanger, despite showing where it’s headed next. Even so, nearly all the mysteries can be solved; there are enough hints scattered throughout the entire read that can help you solve many of the mysteries.
You'll be seeing this portrait. A lot. It is also the only other decent art you'll see.
You may see me ragging on the art quite often. That’s because the normal art is… pretty bad. Now, that’s not to say there’s anything extremely wrong with it. It’s just that… it seems like the characters all look like caricatures, which are very simply and blandly drawn. Now I’m not much of an artist, but at one point, I tried to get fellow Moar Powah writer pluffei to read it, and she instantly shut down the idea solely due to the art. And by instantly, I mean in less than a second after seeing it. Hands also tend to look ridiculously stupid. Background art is done by taking photos and sending them through a Photoshop meatgrinder and having them come out looking very stylistic. There also aren’t many CGs. In fact, there’s only one. However, despite all these flaws, the art is actually rather endearing. While looking ridiculously stupid, character expressions are actually very well done and perfectly represent what each character is feeling. On a side note, Umineko is an amazing source of trollfaces. Once you start reading, you’ll start to accept it more and more. I know I did.
This is what the art normally looks like. And what the hands look like, at best.
The music in Umineko is… phenomenal. It really is quite excellent. Not only does the background music fit right into the scenes in which they play, but also, the individual songs are quite amazing standalone. It’s hard for me to elaborate on how great the soundtrack is, but many of the songs are positively entrancing. Rather than take my word for it, just listen to one of the songs (it’s not even anywhere near some of the best ones):
Presentation-wise, the narrative can be……….. rather………. annoying. Yes, those ellipses were intentional, and you’ll be seeing them very damned often when reading. Additionally, you may find that a decent amount of the script doesn’t read too well. In addition, as I’ve said before, many scenes drag on too long; this becomes especially apparent when you’re reading happy scenes, as they can be rather slow. Nothing happens in the first few hours or so. While I did mention this earlier, both the plot and the narrative determine Umineko’s pacing. With that said, the narrative actually manages to get a few things right. Ryukishi07 is a master of hiding very important clues in seemingly very unimportant scenes. It’s an amazing way of making you reread the whole thing, as you’ll be glued to the text, picking up clues that slipped by you during your playthrough. Additionally, Umineko can be very scary at times. And it’s not the type of SHOCK! scares that people so sadly love to use and abuse nowadays. No, Umineko is perfectly capable of creating very chilling atmosphere. While much of it is due to the sound, the narrative is very much capable of giving you goosebumps. It’s one of the only VNs that I can say is legitimately scary.
Just some of the atmosphere building content. Notice the ellipses.
As for the characters, there’s way too damned many of them, so I won’t bother to list them. However, many of them have character depth, mystery, and emotion. It’s quite a feat considering the extremely large cast. Additionally, the characters are what drive the mysteries; character intricacies and relations create the mysteries, and character interactions solve the mysteries. In fact, many of the characters are different from what’s immediately apparent. Character depth is quite stunning in this regard. Overall, much of the cast is endearing, and it’s hard to not find a character that you’ll root and cry for.
A bland narrative at times makes for an occasional chore of a read, and pacing problems are noticeable. However, the game expertly hides clues and hints everywhere, making sure readers keep their wits sharp, looking for clues. The expert use of creepy atmosphere to scare players also works very well.
An excellent murder mystery that takes traditional elements and normally unfitting ones and combines them into a unique, very engaging read. A few hiccups here and there do nothing to mar the plot's excellence.
Large cast of characters that manage to be endearing, and have depth to them. Characters driving the mystery make sure that they don't get left behind by the plot.
Poorly done, probably the biggest hurdle in starting to read Umineko. However, the art amazingly tends to grow on readers after some time.
An enchanting soundtrack that is nothing short of amazing. Not only are all the songs amazing by themselves, but each and every one of them fit Umineko's various moods perfectly.
An unorthodox combination of themes creates a mystery that is not only highly enjoyable, but also calls for the readers to think and theorize. While pacing and narrative problems can make the read slow at times, Umineko is very much a must read.