Sturgeon’s Law dictates; “Nothing is always absolutely so” or, in layman’s terms; 90% of everything is crap. Almost anyone with any experience in any medium, regardless of their taste, will tell you that this is an accurate statement and visual novels are no exception. However, even amongst the constant, never-ceasing tides of mediocrity and blatant cash grabs, occasionally you will experience something so brilliant, regardless of the medium, that allows you to once again have hope for the future of the industry and fills you with the bitter-sweet feeling that you will never again be able to enjoy this experience this for the first time.
Rewrite is one of these experiences. It’s just that good.
Some of you who know of my massive appreciation for Key may be inclined to take this with a grain of salt and I do not blame you. I’m not entirely in a position to rule out that bias plays no role in that statement, however, just because I am a fan of Key does not mean I am not able to give criticism where criticism is deserved. Clannad’s art was at best, sub-par and at worst dreadful, but at least it was an improvement on Kanon and Air. Planetarian’s shift in narrative structure was too quick and rushed. Little Busters! rehashed too much old text within it’s repetitive and bland common route. That isn’t to say I don’t love each and every one of those visual novels, but those flaws very much exist. And yet, Rewrite seems to improve on all of these past mistakes. Unlike Clannad, Rewrite is visually stunning. Unlike Planetarian, the narrative shift is foreshadowed and built up to, yet still comes at us out of the left field, much like in Planetarian. Though it has a common route like Little Busters! does, the common route has enough changes each time around to keep the experience engaging and re-reading old text is less of a chore simply due to how far more enjoyable it is. Rewrite is very much the accumulation of experience gained by over ten years of Key history, but how does it actually compare when held under the scrutiny of comparison to Key’s past visual novels. In this blogger’s opinion? Very well. It’s not quite as good as Clannad, but it certainly does stand head and shoulders above any other Key visual novel to date.
Rewrite tells the story of Tennouji Kotarou, who’s probably the most fleshed out and developed Key protagonist since Tomoya from Clannad. Indeed, Kotarou shares a lot of similarities with Tomoya. Kotarou only has one person he can call a friend, his childhood friend Kanbe Kotori, and is dissatisfied with his life. In order to “make more memories” and improve the quality of his life, Kotarou decides to resurrect the now defunct occult club at his high school so he can make more friends and explore the numerous mystical rumours around the progressive city of Kazamatsuri that catch his interest, namely the existence of UMAs (unidentified mysterious animals), which are animals that have little likeness to known animals that are rumoured to exist in Kazamatsuri’s forest. However, the existence of the occult club, Kotarou’s inquisitive nature and a secret of his own that he harbours causes him to get caught up in events that far exceed even his imagination.
Rewrite follows a similar route structure to Little Busters! that came before it. It has a common route and decisions made in the common route put the reader on one of the heroine routes. Once the heroine routes are completed, additional routes are then unlocked which allows the reader to continue the story. A common criticism levelled at Key visual novels, especially Air and Little Busters!, is their focus on the destination as opposed to the journey, with everything in the visual novel leading up to a single route or even a single scene. Rewrite follows a similar method of building up but does it a little differently than Little Busters! Unlike Little Busters!, Rewrite actually manages to make every heroine route and even the common route itself engaging and relevant to the final story and every element contributes to the final story. And while the heroine routes have sub plots and plot holes left unresolved only to be finally explored in the final route, each heroine route still stands tall and can be seen as separate from the other routes, as an independent story of its own. While they ultimately contribute to the visual novel as a whole, every heroine route still functions as its own standalone story, instead of in previous Key VNs where routes are entirely irrelevant to the final route or exist only to prop up the final route. Rewrite gives us the best of both worlds and through this, Rewrite’s climax functions as a climax should; the peak of the story as opposed to goal of the story. Rewrite gives us a journey and a destination.
Rewrite is unique from other Key visual novels by not having Maeda Jun as head writer. Instead, this time Tanaka Romeo takes the helm. Tanaka’s previous works include Yume Miru Kusuri, Kana Imouto and Cross†Channel (you can see my previous review for Cross†Channel here). Tanaka Romeo brings his renowned clever dialogue to the routes he writes, with fantastic wordplay and dialogue battles ever present and constantly enjoyable. The other authors on the project are Ryukishi07, author of Higurashi and Umineko, and Tonokawa Yuto. Of these three authors, only Tonokawa has worked on a Key project before Rewrite, which was Little Busters! Tonokawa, who contributed, in my opinion, the two worst routes in Little Busters!, has improved immensely contributing two heroine routes Rewrite, both of which are fantastic. If Tonokawa was able to improve so much in only a few short years, with this being only the second project he has worked on, he is certainly a name to look out for in the coming years.
Despite three authors, two of which had nothing to do with Key before Rewrite and one who had only worked a little on a previous Key visual novel, Rewrite still very much feels like a Key experience. Key veterans Orito Shinji, Maeda Jun and Hinoue Itaru are all involved with Rewrite, the first two working on Rewrite’s beautiful score and the latter as art director, her first time in the role for a Key visual novel since Clannad. Rewrite also has a fantastic voice cast, with big names like Saito Chiwa, Hanazawa Kana and Kitamura Eri all voicing heroines. Morita Masakazu and Konishi Katsuyuki also join the cast. All the elements in Rewrite, from the score to the art to the writing, blend masterfully together to create a consistent theme and a beautiful experience.
If something had told me, after reading Clannad, that Hinoue Itaru would not only become a fantastic artist, but be the art director on one of the most beautiful visual novels I had ever read, I would’ve called them insane. I was sceptical to hear that Hinoue Itaru, not Na-Ga, would be art director on Rewrite but my misgivings were entirely unfounded. Rewrite is gorgeous. There’s really no other way to describe it. It is utterly beautiful. It is easily the best looking Key visual novel to date and one of the most beautiful visual novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Hinoue Itaru’s faces are still a little too wide and the eyes are still a little too off; but these are very, very slight misgivings on what is otherwise a beautiful visual novel. My only major gripe about the art is there just simply isn’t enough of it. There are times when a CG would be utterly perfect but isn’t present and the scene feels lesser because of it. There are also several characters who, despite being fully voice acted, completely lack a sprite. A couple of these voice-acted, sprite lacking characters even appear in a CG or two occasionally, which makes their lack of a sprite seem incredulous in addition to being lazy.
Something that shocked me about Rewrite, especially in comparison to other Key visual novels, is the sheer scope of the story. Rewrite does a lot differently than other Key visual novels, and the consequences of some actions throughout the routes can be quite dire. Though I can’t say how exactly in risk of spoiling it, you will know it when you see it. Rewrite does come across as awfully preachy at times. During the heroine routes, regardless of which route you are on, Kotarou’s intentions, beliefs and convictions remain consistent throughout, though this is somewhat mitigated in later routes. Rewrite is also very preachy with its environmental message. This won’t bother some people but I found it a little heavy handed and tiresome and was glad when later in the visual novel things began to change.
The biggest issue I had with Rewrite was the simplicity and sometimes complete lack of choice. While choices are very much present in the common route, none of them are difficult and it isn’t hard to avoid bad ends and get onto the heroine route of choice. Within the heroine routes and latter routes, choices are far less common, with thousands of lines of text between choices or sometimes being devoid of choices entirely. That’s not to say linearity in a visual novel is a bad thing, but if you’re going to have choices present, making them so scarce and easy feels lazy. When choices do appear, bad ends happen almost immediately if you pick the wrong choice and will then happily send you back to the last wrong choice you made. Though this is later explored and the final route subverts this approach in a very clever way, it still feels lazy when you’re actually going through it, removing any element of difficulty in route progression. Obtaining all the CGs will not pose any difficulty. In fact, the only thing that may cause some reader’s issue is unlocking the oppai ending, which is certainly worth uncovering obscure local mysteries and hunting through the Mappie segments to unlock.
Speaking of the Mappie segments scattered throughout the common route, I cannot decide how I feel about this unique feature. Mappie segments show a map of an area on Kotarou’s phone with points of interest the reader can click on view dialogue. Often these points of interest will be hidden, which means the reader must search for them. While at times entertaining and enjoyable and at times are used very effectively to blend with the narrative, they can also be equally frustrating and some readers will skip them altogether, missing out on a lot of content.
Rewrite is quite a long visual novel and does require a large time investment but it is very much worth every minute. The slice of life scenes in the common route are funny and enjoyable and do a fantastic job of fleshing out the characters and building up to the heroine routes. The character’s are all likeable and the action scenes are exhilarating. Rewrite carries strong emotional impact and at times will have you laughing your head off or making your heart race with adrenaline or causing you to cry your heart out. It has enough Key in it to satisfy the Key fans out there but it’s different enough to give those who’d normally shy away from reading Key an excuse to try it and enjoy it. Rewrite is definitely not to be missed by any visual novel fan.