You may be familiar with Higurashi When They Cry, or Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (ひぐらしのなく頃に), from the anime series produced by Studio Deen. But did you know this fantastic murder mystery anime is adapted from a series of visual novels? These visual novels are much richer than the anime, in terms of content and complexity in exploring issues like child abuse, politics, and mental health. Here’s why you should give the Higurashi visual novels a go.
Higurashi: An Overview
The Higurashi When They Cry visual novels were first released in the early 2000s. Fast forward to today, and we have the anime adaptation and the full visual novel series in all their glory.
Although originally released in Japanese, the visual novels have since been fully localized in English and can be purchased on Steam. As mentioned earlier, these visual novels are much better than the anime adaptation, as they fully delve into the complex puzzles and themes that make Higurashi so brilliant. As such, even if you’ve already watched the anime, the Higurashi visual novels are still well worth your time.
The Higurashi visual novels aren’t like many other visual novels you see online. That’s because, instead of having multiple endings, Higurashi stays linear the entire time. The choices you make don’t necessarily impact the story. In fact, there is little to no input you can make as the player.
As a result, Higurashi feels more like reading a visual book than anything else. It has everything other visual novels have like character drawings, sound effects, backgrounds, and music. However, that distinct feature of a butterfly effect based on player choices is absent.
The only player-based choice that impacts the story you see in Higurashi exists in Chapter 8. However, other than that, you won’t find anything that significantly changes anything. Nevertheless, it’s still a very intriguing read for fans of the horror/psychological mystery genre.
One of the most distinct parts of Higurashi is undoubtedly the presentation. For fans of old classic anime art styles, Higurashi might feel right at home. However, any modern-day reader might feel put off immediately because of the jarring and outdated art.
That is, in large part, thanks to the visual novel’s age. It’s been years since Higurashi was created and released. Hence, it’s not surprising that the presentation feels a bit dated and unpolished. However, it’s still pretty impressive considering the masterful storyline.
Moreover, it’s equally admirable that the creator, Ryukishi7, was responsible for everything within the visual novel. That includes the story, music, visuals, and everything in between. In that sense, it’s a pretty impressive feat for one person to accomplish.
However, that isn’t to say that Ryukishi7 produced everything on his own. For example, the Answer Arcs’ original soundtrack was created by Dai. Before Dai, Ryukishi7 simply opted to use license-free music they found on the internet.
On the other hand, the art style has also recently received an update from the original Higurashi character portraits. The originals are still available online. However, there’s also a modern version you can switch to in case the original art isn’t your cup of tea.
Just keep in mind that many fans regard the originals as more expressive compared to the modern updates. Hence, you might want to bear with the original art to grasp the story’s original mood. Nonetheless, the updates are available if you just can’t take reading Higurashi using the original portraits.
The Higurashi Story: Hinamizawa & the Watanagashi Festival
Higurashi: When They Cry is most famous for its story. If you don’t wish to be spoilt, skip this section entirely to the end of the article.
Like the anime, Higurashi is set in a fictional Japanese rural town called Hinamizawa. It transports you back in time to the summer of June 1983. Higurashi starts by introducing the main character Keiichi Maebara who’s only recently moved into the town.
Like most rural towns, Hinamizawa appears to be peaceful and idyllic. Keiichi joins a club with friends to play games, having winners and losers, punishments, and all—typical 14-year-old stuff.
The novel starts like this in the first few chapters and remains more slice-of-life than horror/mystery.
However, things aren’t exactly what they seem from an outsider’s perspective. You see, Hinamizawa might seem peaceful, but strange things have been happening as of late. For the last four years, people have been dying or disappearing after the annual Watanagashi Festival. Watanagashi is a thanksgiving and celebration festival of the town’s guardian deity, Oyashiro-sama.
Now that Keiichi is in town, it will be the fifth year since these bizarre incidents started. However, what will happen to him, his friends, and the townspeople as this curse continues? This is where Higurashi’s main story starts and where the tension, mystery, and suspense all begin.
The Psychological Horror Begins
At this point, Higurashi owes its renown to Ryukishi’s writing skills. That’s because the author so cleverly establishes mood and a chilling atmosphere — all with a few words. Of course, the free sound effects also play a part in pushing things further.
By Chapter 3, you’ll find the previous two chapters’ quirks are resolved and the pacing starts to pick up. It’s at this point that Higurashi truly leans into the horror/mystery genre. Moreover, it’s also at this point where Higurashi seriously and unabashedly talks about serious themes. That includes everything Ryukishi7 seeks to tackle, including isolation, loneliness, and even child abuse. Later on, you’ll even find topics like discrimination and mental illness blatantly come up.
These topics aren’t easy to swallow, so many authors graze over them or mention them lightheartedly. Not so with Higurashi. Ryukishi weaves them into the story and bravely anchors the plotline within these themes. It’s even uncomfortable to read at some points but necessary to convey Ryukishi’s message. They’re real — depressingly so — that you would even feel the characters’ emotions despite the shabby presentation.
A story like this might seem surprising to read, especially if you suspect it stems from an author’s past experiences. If so, you’d be right in assuming that Ryukishi has some experience with these topics. Ryukishi was a civil servant for a time. However, that brief period left a mark on his life because of these same issues he witnessed himself.
Hope Amidst the Horror
It wouldn’t be surprising if Higurashi ended on a dark note with tragedy at every end in each chapter. However, Ryukishi chose a more unexpected path in writing Higurashi’s ending and structural theme. That’s because he chose to add hope to his story despite the odds against a happy outcome.
For each event that seems like a tragedy, Ryushiki inserts a heartwarming scene that leaves you with hope more than despair. In the end, despite being part of the horror/mystery genre, Higurashi embraces a more hopeful tone. It’s a story of hope and communication amidst all of the difficulty and horrors that plague humanity.
Perhaps that is why Higurashi is critically acclaimed among popular visual novels. It has a lot of heart with equally compelling tension and intrigue woven into the story. Despite the shabby presentation, it masterfully accomplishes what Ryukishi seeks out to do.
Higurashi’s Structure & Themes
Like other visual novels, Higurashi is divided into many parts and chapters. Story arcs and settings are established in the first four chapters, with many questions and mysteries posed for the readers. These are commonly called the “Question Arcs” and can almost stand alone without the other chapters.
The latter half of Higurashi deals with the resolution and the answers to the previously posed questions and established plot points. They are (aptly) named the “Answer Arcs” and have an equal number of chapters (four) as the previous arcs.
However, it seems like powering through chapters 1 to 8 isn’t the best way to give justice to Higurashi. That’s because the best reading experience comes from solving the puzzles and mysteries yourself. The novel itself nudges you toward questions like whether the curse is fake, whether the character truly died, etc.
You might not get to actively participate in terms of decision-making. However, Higurashi encourages participation on the reader’s part simply through investigation, as many great mystery novels do. Hence, it’s perfectly normal if you’d want to jot down clues and ideas you have on a piece of paper.
Of course, along with this engaging structure, Higurashi perfectly captures its central themes throughout the novel. Being a horror/psychological mystery visual novel, Higurashi is unafraid to dabble into darker and more depressing storylines.
In fact, some readers might find the story a little too difficult to swallow. Others might even drop Higurashi mid-way because of some scenes that are difficult to accept. Even the author Ryukishi07 knows this and understands the repercussions of their story decisions. Whether you continue with the story is entirely up to you. However, we do understand that because of these themes, not everyone might enjoy Higurashi as much as the fans do.
While the Higurashi visual novel feels unrefined in terms of production, it’s still very charming overall. The story is captivating, especially if you immerse yourself in its world of mystery and horror. That’s probably why it’s unsurprising that the Higurashi series has critical acclaim. Moreover, it’s also the wonderful story that’s responsible for making the anime adaptation a hit.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the Higurashi visual novel is completely perfect. It’s well known that the presentation isn’t the most polished out there in the realm of visual novels. However, they’re clear, vivid, and compelling enough to get their point across. Moreover, it’s exactly the imperfection in the details that make Higurashi feel relatable and genuine.
In addition, amidst the horror and isolation within Higurashi, there’s also a glimmer of hope that shines through. Ryukishi07 certainly had a point they wanted to make for the audience. However, they never truly gave up hope despite the chilling and horrific narrative.
For these reasons, Higurashi has seen great success and has met great reception after its release. Most people that read the visual novel will give it a 9 to 10 out of a 10-star rating. It’s certainly one of the best visual novels in the horror/mystery genre. Moreover, it’s also a classic that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss out on despite its unpolished presentation.
A Game Worth Your Time
Higurashi is a visual novel that deals with isolation, horror, mental health, and so much more. Despite not having player-based choices that determine different endings, it still stands out in terms of the overall experience. Yes, it would be a stretch to call it a “game” to play like other visual novels. However, the experience itself and the storyline are what you’re in for, and they certainly won’t disappoint. Moreover, the art style, while basic and lacking, exudes a charm that captures the story perfectly.
The series itself is a staple in the horror/psychological mystery genre among visual novels. It’s a classic that every fan of the genre and medium should read. However, you might feel a little shaken, especially in some of the more depressing and shocking scenes. Even so, reading through to the end won’t disappoint you.