I seem to be jumping back and forth between genres quite a bit recently, don’t I? Well, I hope this marks my return to writing about visual novels.
Rewrite is Key’s most recent visual novel, and it’s a rather noteworthy one. While I’d like to say “It’s Key, you know what to expect,” you really don’t know what to expect. Rewrite marks the first project where Key’s lead scenario writer, Jun Maeda, does not resume his position. Instead, Key brought in two outside writers, Romeo Tanaka of Cross Channel fame, and Ryukishi07 of Umineko no Naku Koro ni fame, in addition to Little Busters! scenario writer, Yuuto Tanakawa. I’d love to comment on where that leaves Key’s narrative strength, but that’s beyond the scope of these impressions.
And what impressions! As I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, it’s hard to know what to expect with Rewrite. Sure, it has many of the familiar Key trappings, scenarios, and structure, but it really seems to be more indicative of Romeo Tanaka and Ryukishi’s strengths, rather than another Key work.
Rewrite seems to be structured similar to previous Key entries like Clannad or Little Busters! Rewrite has a pretty long common route, with shorter character routes, and a couple of true routes. I’m only about halfway through the common route (for the first time), so I don’t have anything to say about any of the character routes, much less the true ones. Even so, the common route is distinct enough for me to come up with my impressions already.
The common route focuses on Koutaro Tennouji and his day-to-day life in the green city of Kazamatsuri. While it happens to be mostly comedy, like common routes in other Key works, Rewrite’s comedy is pretty damned out there, at best. At worst, I can say it’s pretty incoherent. At one point, Koutaro tried his damned hardest to interpret Jaws’ title and give it a more meaningful name for the Japanese audience. This went on for a good five minutes or so, and one of the heroines was constantly asking what the hell was going on. I would’ve found it funny, but I felt more like the heroine in that scene than the main character. I’d also love to comment on the effects of reader agency, but that’s also another topic for another time.
That’s not to say Rewrite isn’t funny. It seems Rewrite is pretty hilarious often enough. One such moment was the “epic battle” between Koutaro and the idiot male friend, which soon leads to a non sequitur showing their actual fight (something pretty pathetic otherwise). My mileage may vary, of course, but ultimately, much of the comedy doesn’t seem to be very cohesive. Jokes and amusing scenarios often have very little rhyme or reason to them, which is rather prevalent in the scenario I outlined above.
Of course, the obvious answer to this is that the common route was not penned by the Key guy, as it doesn’t fit their usual style. It’s also not Ryukishi’s style, either, as his comedy is usually much more lighthearted. That would leave Romeo Tanaka. I must admit, I’m not very familiar with Romeo Tanaka’s works. I’ve played a little bit of Cross Channel, but I haven’t made much progress in it. My analysis of the comedy may be a little off, as there may be some greater context sprinkled throughout the entire plot. Nonetheless, it’s still radically different from the usual Key style.
And that’s just the humor. The common route has its fair share of suspense, anyway. Now, I’m not sure if Romeo Tanaka wrote these elements, or if Ryukishi flexed his suspense muscles once again, but those bits are not only well-written, but also well executed. I mentioned the lack of cohesion earlier, and how I felt warps some of the comedy, but that lack of cohesion turns into a sort of uneasy juxtaposition when it comes to the suspense. More than anything, this juxtaposition lends credence to the feeling that something (or maybe everything) is wrong, which in turn makes events much more suspenseful.
On the technical side of things, the art is a mix of good and bad. While the character art seems okay (at least, better than Clannad’s), I’m not a real fan of it. The sprites can look really stupid from time to time, are weirdly proportioned, and suffer from a bad case of sameface. The background art’s a lot better, thanks in part to how lively and vibrant everything looks. Color was used very well in Rewrite, and it shows. The greens especially, Rewrite has some deep greens. Meanwhile, the sound’s pretty great. Then again, it’s Key, so I wasn’t expecting anything different.
Again, I haven’t gotten far in the common route, but so far, Rewrite’s a lot more disjointed than your standard Key visual novel. I like how it enhances the suspense and overall unease, but it makes the humor rather hit-or-miss. Will it still work in the future? I don’t know. It ultimately depends not only on the strengths of the three writers, but on their cohesion, too. If they collaborate well, then I can see Rewrite turning into something great, perhaps far greater than anything else Key has ever produced. At the same time, this is also a very standard setup for incredibly spectacular failures (see Chaos;Head). Still, I remain hopeful.