Tsukihime is a classic in the VN community, Eastern or Western. It sold quite a lot of copies when it first came out at Comiket 59. In the West, it happened to be one of the first fan translated titles (certainly the first extremely famous one). In addition, it was Type-Moon’s claim to fame, helping them go commercial when they released Fate/stay night (reviewed here). However, as you’ve probably already noticed with my reviews, whenever I talk about a title’s popularity, I usually have problems with it. And I certainly do this time around. Still, is it a good read in the end? Yes it is, but like many games, it certainly hasn’t aged well at all.
Tsukihime’s story covers a wide variety of supernatural elements, such as vampires (IT CAME BEFORE TWILIGHT, GUYS!), demon blood, zombies, etc. What’s good about the story? It deals with themes well due to the setting. Themes such as loneliness, family obligations, research and morality, and immortality are all handled pretty well. What’s bad about it? Like Fate/stay night after it, Tsukihime suffers from pacing and exposition problems. If you’ve read the previous review, you can expect the same sort of problems. Luckily for Tsukihime, the pacing is a lot better, and the exposition isn’t as poorly placed (of course, one route serves to be the exception). Tsukihime happens to be more bearable than Fate/stay night. However, while the story is solid, it’s not too thematic or multilayered. Additionally, the second batch of routes doesn’t really connect to the first batch of routes, and the game doesn’t do anything to really connect them. It’s really a shame too since the VN makes each route seem like separate events rather than something that leads to a mindblowing true route. While that is fine, it can feel awkward.
Art is… pretty dated. And you can tell. Sprites and backgrounds don’t mesh well at all, as it looks like some amateur pulled them out of photoshop. Sprites are very simple and bland as well. Backgrounds take the Umineko approach, except I can count the number of filters they probably used with one hand. Or less. CGs are a bit better, but are also quite as simple and bland as the sprites. Overall, the graphics are forgettable. Music is also pretty bland. There’s only ten tracks, and many of them are pretty annoying and are often used improperly. Type-Moon knew this very well, as the game is silent VERY often. There aren’t even any sound effects.
Presentation is dated. The lack of CGs, music, sound effects, and general effects in general, certainly doesn’t add too much in terms of visual or audio presentation. What it does have is a strong narrative to make up for the lack of other types of presentation. It often has to read like a regular novel because it can’t use any effects. Hell fight scenes are almost 100% narrated. However, the narrative has some hiccups. Pacing and exposition issues notwithstanding, the narrative often uses a ton of repetition and gibberish, which often serve only to mindscrew; they don’t often fit in to the grand scheme of things, and when they seldomly do, they’re very overdone. Fortunately, the narrative is otherwise strong, as it’s the one thing that holds attention. And it does a damn good job.
For my comments on the adult material in this novel, see my review of Fate/stay night, as Nasu certainly hasn’t gotten better between writing the two. In short though, they can be hilarious, but most of the time, they’re just bad.
The characters are actually done well, except the protagonist. Each heroine is characterized and developed rather well. Though one of them is rather polarizing, you come to care for each of the other heroines when you see them dealing with their demons. Unfortunately, the protagonist is a self-insert for the player, as he has little to no personality of his own. He has the ideal traits of a “regular guy,” he barely develops (if even at all) on any of the routes, and he really just makes you feel like you’re there. Granted immersion is cool and all but not in a story-heavy novel. The heroines here are the main strength; their plights are probably the novel’s main appeal, and it’s no mystery why.