Ah, high school: tests, cute teachers, culture festivals, crushes, maniacal students, and terrifyingly infatuated students. Er, wait. That's not the high school we remember. That sounds more like the goings-on at Sakakino Academy of School Days fame, where love triangles, debauchery, and psychotic ex-lovers are only a few of the lovely happenings between our hero (?) Makoto and the rest of the colorful, vengeful cast. JAST'S cult classic dating sim returns with School Days HQ, an English localization of the 0verflow-spearheaded drama/harem visual novel in all its eroge glory. Is it worth buckling in for the long, confusing road ahead? In a word, absolutely.
School Days HQ
Publisher: JAST USA
Released June 28, 2012
Makoto, like many high school students, takes the train to Sakakino Academy eaach day. Every morning he's entranced by a beautiful girl who's also commuting via train, but he hasn't the courage to find out who she is. Enter classmate Sekai, who kindly offers to introduce Makoto to his dream girl. Kotonoha, as it turns out the girl is named, seems to be absolutely perfect for Makoto. But after all of Sekai's efforts in trying to get these two lovebirds together come to fruition, she's looking for "payment" from Makoto in the form of a kiss. And like we all know, nothing ever stops in harem eroge with a kiss. Like the anime series and spinoffs, School Days HQ very quickly spirals into something much deeper and sinister, if you choose to play it that way.
Makoto has twenty-one varied endings to pursue, most of them surrounding either female lead, Sekai Saionji and Katsura Kotonoha, and a smattering of side paths as well. Canon endings obviously surround Kotonoha and Sekai, so most of the main routes are spent aiming to get closer to one or both of them -- remember, there are optional harem endings to go for as well, if you're more of an anime Makoto fan, as we all know he got around in that series enough to have angered every single woman at the academy. There's a decidedly different dynamic to the game, however, perhaps stemming mainly from the fact that any bad decisions made come frm you, rather than the Scumbag Makoto anime vets are probably used to.
For players looking for the gruesome endings it seemed the anime foreshadowed the visual novel incorporating they're available in abundance, but aren't necessarily reached easily: while playing through several different routes even deliberately attempting to get caught up in a horrible ending, at the last second my paths seemed to veer off into brighter territory -- at least for one characters. Sekai and Kotonoha's paths are robust with plenty of romance, drama, and intrigue to keep you coming back for additional helpings, even if you think you know hor your particular story is going to unfold.
This gorgeous remastered edition of the original 2010 release comes packing fluid, full animation that feels much more like watching an episode of the anime series than playing a visual novel, only you're in control. In fact, each chapter is accompanied by its own specific opening that mirrors that of sitting and marathoning the anime series -- in this and the fully-animated, fully voiced scenes, School Days HQ can be likened more to an interactive anime film. It's a huge departure from the norm for sure, so if you're looking to settle in for some Hakuoki-styled play, you might consider looking elsewhere.
But in all honesty, why would you? This is a beautiful, excellently-crafted tale that touches on themes ranging from mildly uncomfortable to overtly romantic to completely insane, and it's all presented in a slick, easy-to-follow format that quite frankly more eroge should consider adopting, as it lends a much more overall engaging feel to its characters and setpieces than simple static images and text accompaniments. And even though the original voice actors did not return to lend their talents to Kotonoha and Sekai as well as the rest of the staff, the replacements do a fantastic job in bringing the characters to life, and the included songs are excellent as well.
School Days HQ is a classic that has only improved with its additional content, updated graphics, and its English release, which boasts a relatable script and convincing dialogue. Even if you only scout out the special edition paired with a Kotonoha mousepad and Makoto keychain, take a few days out of your schedule to play through and appreciate the zaniness that is School Days HQ, and then maybe revisit the anime for good measure.
9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)