I know ef – a fairy tale of the two has gotten an anime adaptation, probably several manga adaptations, and a light novel adaptation. However, I’ve just finished the original visual novel, and am basing all my knowledge of the series off that. Yes, the visual novel! I’ve read them for a while, and hope to review some more in the future. Now ef was originally split into two parts, The First Tale, and The Latter Tale. I’ve played both parts so I’ll be covering both parts. The first half, The First Tale, was released on December 22, 2006, whereas The Latter Tale was released on May 30, 2008. The games were released by the developer minori, and were quite a hit. In fact, ef has been licensed for release outside Japan by the company MangaGamer, so it’ll be nice to see that in the future.
The game is split into 2 parts, but those parts are further split into different story lines. Each story line follows a different male character as they, well, meet a girl and fall in love. It’s not quite that simple of course, but that’s the heart of the matter. Not counting prologues and intermissions and whatnot, there are a total of 5 stories in ef. All of the characters are, through one way or another, interconnected, so while the perspective shifts and new characters may appear, there are always some older familiar faces left so you don’t feel too lost. Anywho, the plot for each story is, like I said, a love story. The genre is drama and romance, so there’s going to be a lot of that. I’m not going to run down the plot of each story, but I will say that each and every story is quite well done and easy to follow. The stories aren’t all that complicated, but if you’re a fan of the drama and heavy emotions and all that stuff you’ll really enjoy this.
For a visual novel like this, though, the characters are quite important. All of the story arcs are character driven, and generally involve and resolve in some sort of personal growth for the two characters involved. One thing I did enjoy was that each set of characters were fairly distinct, as you moved through the story. All of the protagonists were their own people with their own issues and weaknesses and likes and dislikes, and their female counterparts were likewise. Of course the characters came in variable degrees of likeability and personal preference is all over the place when it comes to best story or anything, but I felt as if the stories in The Latter Tale were better than the ones in The First Tale. In general, the motivations and drama behind the characters in The First Tale were a little contrived and didn’t feel as important, whereas The Latter Tale kind of hit you with some rough drama and some great moments all around.
The two central characters to ef are Amamiya Yuuko, and Himura Yuu. They’re present in the prologue and in all the intermissions, and even appear in the main story arcs as a sort of older mentor or guiding character to help the protagonists find their way through some rough times. Near the end of the game you learn of their story, which is intensely satisfying. One of the most enjoyable parts of ef was how each story was connected. Of course there are some overlapping characters, so there are minor connections here and there. However, there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing themes and story lines coming full circle, which ef really delivers on near the end. The meaning of the title becomes clear, and the whole story almost becomes one of fate. Certain things were set in motion a long time ago, and so events play out according past decisions. That may seem like there isn’t free will, and maybe there isn’t, but the stories that result from the decisions made by Amamiya Yuuko and Himura Yuu in their youth resound around the entire game, and when you finally draw that connection it’s a kind of “aha!” moment that’s quite enjoyable.
The music in this game is quite good. The sound track to the game is done by tenmon, who has done excellent work in the past (for titles such as Five Centimeters per Second or The Place Promised in our Early Days). Of course, if you see tenmon, you’ll generally find Makoto Shinkai not too far away. And that’s true here, too. Makoto Shinkai handled the game’s opening animation, and the gorgeous scenery and use of sunlight are pretty characteristic of his design. Back to the music however, it’s filled with a lot of soft piano tracks. If you like that kind of music you’ll really enjoy the music that tenmon has to offer in ef. It’s quite characteristic of his work, and handles the whimsical and dramatic moments quite well.
The art and design of the game is the one thing I didn’t really enjoy. The backgrounds and setting was actually quite good, and I definitely enjoyed that. And there’s a ton of CGs throughout the game which is really cool. However, there’s this huge disconnect between the male and female character designs that is almost jarring. It turns out that they were handed off to different companies for character designs, so the male characters look incredibly different from the female ones (besides obvious differences of course). Luckily, I suppose, you don’t see the male faces as much since you’re going to be playing as them, but I definitely question the decision to split up character designers. And one last pet peeve of mine would be the school uniforms, which I thought were kind of ugly. I don’t have much basis for that, but I’ve seen a lot of different school uniforms in my day, and these are among the least attractive… Not that they’re meant to be attractive or anything.
– For a character driven story, the characters are by and large fairly enjoyable
– The music is quite good, though there’s arguably not that much variety
– I love love love the way the story wraps around and comes full circle at the end. Incredibly done.
– In general, the stories in The First Tale seem weaker than the stories in The Latter Tale
– Whoever decided to split up male and female character design to two different studios made an awful decision
– … I don’t like the school uniforms.
Male character design: 2C Galore
Female character design: Naru Nanao
Script: Mikage & Yuu Kagami
Release Date: December 22, 2006 for The First Tale, and May 30, 2008 for The Latter Tale