THE GAME IS SUPER NSFW. THE IMAGES/VIDEOS IN THIS REVIEW ARE SAFE FOR WORK
Note: School Days HQ is the official English port of the original School Days ero-VN.
Double Note: The game being reviewed is most definitely not for children. Or work. Seriously. Don't do it.
Remember high school? How there was always that one guy who always had all the ladies around him? How he was always bumbling, and kind of an idiot, and how you couldn't quite figure out why he was so popular? That's Makoto Itou, the protagonist of School Days HQ.
One day he sees a girl on the train to school, and subsequently falls for her. Now, this being set in Japan, there's always something silly going around the high school; some silly rumor, or charm, or trick to get the girl/guy you want to fall for you. This time around, it's a cellphone picture. If you take a picture of the one you like and keep it as your phone's background for three weeks without letting anyone else see it, you'll wind up with them.
So, our hero tries this charm, and he succeeds in not letting anyone see it… for a few hours. The girl who sits beside him, Sekai Saionji, steals his phone and looks at her and offers her help in getting the girl, named Kotonoha Katsura, and Makoto together.
Does this sound familiar? You may have watched the anime adaptation, which was also titled School Days. If you haven't, it's a perfectly normal high school romance anime with perfectly normal relationships and nothing bad at all happens. It's also available on Crunchyroll , so if you've got about 6 hours to kill, you should check it out if you haven't seen it. It's mildly NSFW, but still deals with the same stuff as the game. You've been warned.
Now push comes to shove, and it turns out that Kotonoha agrees with the prospect of going out with Makoto… except for all that physical relationship stuff. She's absurdly shy (for reasons integral to the plot), and physical advances scare her off. Makoto turns to Sekai for advice every time there's a problem, and eventually Sekai admits that she too, likes Makoto.
All of this brings us to the actual meat of this VN, where we make Makoto's choices for him and watch them play out. Now, seeing as this is a game by 0verflow (That's a number 0 in there instead of a capital O), a company famous for it's adult visual novels, there's a bunch of sex in here; 41 unique sex scenes, for those who wanted to know. And this version, School Days HQ, is uncensored for the Western audiences. All of this adds up to a very NSFW experience for those wishing to play the game.
The entire game plays out like an interactive anime, with periodic pauses in the story to allow the player to make a choice. The animated scenes themselves are usually of quite good quality, and are usually enjoyable to watch.
As mentioned above, this is a VN. So how can there be any gameplay, you might ask? Well, simply put, the gameplay is simply the player getting to choose what to at certain points. Now, I'm not super experienced in the visual novel genre (having only played Katawa Shoujo, the Ace Attorney series, and the Zero Escape series), but from what I've experienced, the player is always presented with the only decisions that the player can make. That's not really the case here. When presented with a choice, the player has a limited amount of time to pick a choice, or the player can intentionally let the invisible timer run out and not pick a choice at all. Not picking a choice usually presents a different outcome from whatever the player's other choices would have. This innovation makes for some solid gameplay which leaves the player guessing at every choice.
The plot of such a game with immensely varying timelines is always a hard thing to piece together as "good" or "bad". Honestly, the paths I went through to the endings were all good. Some of the endings had their missteps, but that's a thing I'll get to later. It hits upon a few cliches that anime based on modern times tend to use, like the beach/swimming pool episode, the school festival, the protagonist being indecisive between two (or more) women. But it doesn't always do these with the more comical undertones that most anime tends to use. This type of minor subversion of tropes is a refreshing change. Also, the overarching theme of "cheating hurts more people than you think" is handled really well here, too.
Without majorly spoiling the endings, most of them are good/neutral endings which seem satisfying enough, and some others are bad ends, which always involve someone dying in almost brutal ways. And this is a good thing.
Through no major fault of the crew over at 0verflow, there were times where the player is clearly meant to read a text displayed, but the displayed subtitles either are completely wrong or just don't show up. This is likely because there's just so much footage and subtitles for the game try to fit together (The game itself is 11 GBs, most of which is the video content). Additionally, the game will sometimes just screw up the scene displayed, trying to place two video scenes together without clearing the one that was supposed to go away. It's a minor thing, but it can get irritating.
Honestly, most of the scenes are here solely for the user's consumption. Almost every hentai cliche is here, except for the ones that don't make sense (read: there's no tentacle porn here). Whereas some/most of it is enjoyable to watch, there's a noticeable amount of scenes that could make players uncomfortable. The uncomfortable scenes I skipped through, using the game's script feature to go back and read anything I might have missed with regards to plot. In addition, the scenes themselves almost never add anything important to the plot themselves, meaning that the player could skip the scenes if they wanted.
Oh, and they're uncensored too.
...Writing this bit is tricky. I love the game. I love the plot. I don't always love the characters. In fact, I can almost say I despise Makoto. In several plot threads he just doesn't talk to the right people about what needs to be said, and it drives me insane. The worst part? The player sometimes doesn't have control (read: literally no choice to make) over when Makoto doesn't speak to the right people! In fact, it's not just Makoto. The main female leads also suffer from this, and the player doesn't even get to make choices for them either! If everyone could just sit down and talk without anybody yelling or making false accusations, I feel a lot of heartbreak and conflict would have been avoided. Despite all that though, I still like the game. It's still a good game, it just suffers (minorly) from having accurately written teenagers.
The game itself is quite long. I didn't ever wind up sitting through a single path in a single sitting, but I estimate it's about 6 hours from start to end on a single path, provided that the player doesn't skip or speed up any scenes they already have seen. Saving at multiple points throughout the game helps that a bit (to make sure you don't repeat yourself as often), but even then it's still a good few hours per path. I haven't found all the scenes (I finished at 60% complete with all endings), but even then I wound up taking about 30 hours (across 4 months or so) to reach all the actual endings.
I know I said that the endings were good above, but I left out a small tidbit: three endings which were the exact same thing, with different titles. They were each the result of different actions, but they always resolved the same way every single time. The first time I saw the ending, I was touched. It was good. The second time I saw it? I was meh about it. The last time? I skipped every single scene once I knew what was going on. If it didn't use different title cards for each ending, I would have sworn that I had wandered into the exact same ending and that my walkthrough was wrong or I had made a wrong choice.
The game is quite well made. After having seen the anime and getting completely emotionally wrecked by it, I wanted to play the game it was based on. A few months of on-and-off play later, I finally finished it and I wrote up the review. I can say that the game is most definitely worth trying to find and play, and that the game is very much a good one. It suffers a bit from overstaying it's welcome and characters that are sometimes written a bit too much like a teenager, but what you get from the game is quite unlike anything else that I've ever played. Take a ride on the super happy fun train*!
*SUPER HAPPY FUN TRAIN is the original name of one of the endings. The properly translated version is something completely different and is spoilerific. Also a significant portion of the game takes place in/near trains.