Saya no Uta is very notorious among visual novels, not only because it is Nitroplus’s most famous visual novel in the west (as well as UROBUCHI GEN’s most famous novel), but also because it is pretty much known as “Babby’s first grimdark VN.” And not without good reason. The story is very, very dark, far darker than anything I’ve covered yet. Saya no Uta also happens to be a favorite among many and is often highly recommended. Is it any good though? Yes it is. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a very solid read that somehow manages to endear and disgust at the same time.
I’m going to get this out of the way immediately: Saya no Uta has a great plot. The story is a thriller involving a man who has to deal with his very fucked up senses after an accident and subsequent brain surgery. The plot from there manages to do quite a lot in its small run. It’s very atmospheric, it very much reads like a Cthulu mythos work, it’s very thematic, it’s very suspenseful, and most interestingly, it creates a great juxtaposition between the ugly and the angelic. With all these, you’d think it’d be perfect. Weeeell no, not necessarily. While all this is very nice, I feel like Saya no Uta either does not go far enough with its ideas, or does not find a decent way to connect everything. For instance, much of the Cthulu style pops up when the perspective shifts to the other male character; the atmosphere before that all but disappears, and the tone changes considerably. While each part is otherwise very good, I feel like Saya no Uta is actually just a sum of its parts: it doesn’t do too much to tie every neat idea together, and as a result, it feels rather disjointed.
The art is, ironically, actually pretty pleasant to look at. While the character art style can be a bit weird, they’re easy on the eyes, and often get the job done well enough. Backgrounds are… rather interesting (I’ll get to that soon) and are actually quite detailed. Same goes for the CGs, which also happen to be very nice and clean too. Some CGs even happen to be very beautiful (like the last one). Overall, the art is pretty damned good. However, sound isn’t as great. While the music is really very mood fitting, it can also be very forgettable. That’s not to say music’s bad; it goes extremely well with the mood, but as standalone songs, they’re rather disturbing. So disturbing that you can’t really call them songs. Personally, I only remember one of the ending songs (which is absolutely fantastic). Voice acting is also good enough: nothing bad, but nothing outstanding, either.
On the presentation side of things, the narrative is actually quite normal. It reads smoothly and flows pretty well. I have nothing bad to say about it, but there’s also nothing remarkable about it (though I guess I could say that lack of any pacing issues whatsoever is something remarkable, but that’d just be me being cynical). However, one cool thing about it is that whenever you’re in the protagonist’s perspective, you experience everything the way the protagonist does in all its gory, filthy, disgusting glory. Walls are made of gore, people’s sprites are heavily changed to look monstrous, and sound effects/voice acting sounds extremely distorted. It’s nothing major, sure, but it’s a nice, appropriate touch which adds a good amount of immersion to the plot.
I should also point out there’s sex, and it’s quite disgusting, because of fridge logic, what’s on screen, and who you’re having sex with half the time. Fortunately, it’s not laughably bad like Nasu’s, but it’s disturbing.
The characters in Saya no Uta vary quite a bit. On one hand, you have the two main characters, both of whom are developed quite a bit. Even ignoring personal opinion on whether or not the main character got better or got worse (depending on your moral perspective), the fact that he develops very believably is very impressive. The main heroine, too, goes through similar amounts of development. The relationship between the two is also quite strong and dynamic. Unfortunately, the other characters are not developed at all. In fact, they seem mostly uninteresting, often only serving to be a moral standard for which the audience can judge the protagonist. While you think it would be cool to get a glimpse of the protagonist from a different perspective, and in doing so, look at everything from different moral grounds, it leads to conflicting feelings. While that might sound like a good thing , the novel tries to take the moral ground for most of the second half. Picking a side isn’t wrong, but since the novel made the protagonist seem sympathetic in the first half, it feels rather weird. The other characters are none too interesting either. Fortunately, each ending takes the character development so far and wraps it up rather nicely. Still, despite the flaws in the secondary cast, the protagonist and the heroine are fantastic characters, and the interactions between the two of them are very much worth reading.