Allow me to introduce you to Narcissu, produced by Stage Nana (here, let’s translate some of that). There are three visual novels (two being free to play): the Narcissu (the original), Narcissu Side 2nd, and Narcissu 3rd – Die Dritte Welt. (And yes, the story does reference narcissus (daffodils) ). I read through the first two (the third is in Japanese-only, so I couldn’t read it even if I had it) and found it very thought-provoking. I will give you a brief summary of the games without giving any spoilers (unless I have no other info), and then I will give you my detailed reviews.
The story revolves around a character named Yuu Atou, a college-age student (about 21), and a reclusive girl named Setsumi Sakura (age 22). The story is told from the first-person perspective of Atou. The two of them are both sick to the point where they are going to die (there is no known cure for their diseases), and thus they have been confined to the 7th floor of a Catholic hospital, the hospice, where they sit around doing nothing exciting. The boy insists they take off, and opportunity falls in his lap.
Before you download it, I recommend checking out the download for Side 2nd, since it includes both.
Narcissu Side 2nd
Setsumi returns, but this time, the story is chronologically-earlier than the original. A former-Catholic girl named Himeko, who for a time volunteered at a hospital, ends up meeting Setsumi. Like the first visual novel, the story carries on with the two gallivanting off to various distant places in spite of sickness.
Narcissu 3rd -Die Dritte Welt-
It’s for Play Station Portable ONLY (in the package game Narcissu ~Moshi mo ashita ga aru nara~ (ナルキッソス～もしも明日があるなら / Narcissosu – If there was a tomorrow), which includes all three novels), and it’s a commercial game (i.e. it costs money). Most I found: There are four stories in the novel, all of which revolve around the issue of life and death. One has a medieval setting and revolves around a princess (which, I’m told, is the only story the original writer, Tomo Kataoka, wrote himself). Characters and settings for at least one other story are borrowed from the original games: The Stage Nana website indicates that the setting will be the original Catholic hospital from the first and second novels, and I’ve read that the story explains the time before the hospice was created. From the character list, it looks as though Setsumi and Chihiro returned though not as main characters.
I played through the original Narcissus first. I’m glad I read it that way – Side 2nd is better in both story and presentation. The first novel is long, and by that I don’t mean text-wise (it’s only four chapters) – I mean it’s dragged out. Not much is really going on. The writer keeps things realistic in that there is no secret source of healing or some new medical technology the characters must find to save themselves. There appears to be no hope period. There isn’t anything to do, hence the characters are seeking something. That’s the ultimate goal – to just get it all over with. But even that goal isn’t existent, or rather, obvious, until the very end. In as much as it lacked direction (Don’t misunderstand me: I appreciated the realism), the little things added up. For instance, how does Setsumi know so much about vehicles (and contrary to other bloggers, it’s not because she’s fascinated with cars)? Why does she have so much money saved up? Why does she want to visit the beach? Questions like these are all answered in Side 2nd. Spoiler: We learn that all of these things are simply ideas inherited from Himeko. Hence, the first story laid the groundwork for the second, chronologically-earlier story.
The story of the second novel is different from the first in a few respects. First, the story isn’t solely centered on Setsumi all the time. It was nice actually being able to see things from Himeko’s point of view concerning her own life. The time given to Himeko as well as her relevance in the story makes the story seem more like it was written about two people, each with their own separate story and each just as significant. Both are the central protagonists, both have their own story, and yet both interact with each other on a very frequent basis. The plot of the second novel develops better than the first: it actually has a direction. Himeko has a list of things that she wants to accomplish, and the mystery as to what those are adds some intrigue to her activities. The presentation of Himeko’s background also adds some variance to the story and is important, given that it shows her lack of faith and helps explain why she no longer refers to herself as Catholic (though she continues to believe in God). Concerning Setsumi, her silent nature is highlighted. Plus, she isn’t portrayed as the reclusive, paranoid character we get in the first novel. Rather, she is simply quiet and polite. Her politeness is not habit, but it isn’t accompanied by the normal cheer typically associated with politeness. Another aspect is that, as Himeko points out, it is hypocritical (note the fries).
Completing both stories in the Side 2nd program reveals tan epilogue and full credits. Rightly so – you wouldn’t understand the epilogue unless you had read both. It was… short, and somewhat rewarding. I wish they would have finished the Himeko story (even though it was implied), but I guess it’s less emotionally straining leaving the ending like this. Note that since the epilogue was created after both stories were made, they didn’t make the same mistake of assuming that walking out with a smile is somehow happy in light of inevitable end.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciated the objectivity in both stories (original and Side 2nd). Let me explain: In the end, I don’t feel a bias towards or against anyone – they are as they are and they believe what they believe. The characters, while I didn’t think of them as real, call for sympathy given their circumstances. They didn’t do anything beyond common human responses. While I don’t agree with Himeko and eventually Setsumi did, I do understand realize that many people see things way and don’t have reason to believe otherwise. Hence, within their own frame of mind, they were justified in doing what they did. As for Yuu Atou, he acted out of the desperateness of his situation. I wasn’t in favor of him escaping from the consequences of his actions, but neither did I condemn him. I was disappointed that he stole things, but it was all in the passing of the moment. Being on the run isn’t justification for acting like a fool, but it is realistic to act like a fool when on the run.
As an oddity, Yuu Atou never actually introduces himself. Furthermore, none of the characters really indicate their age. The hints at age occur when Chihiro mentions she went to college and she addresses Himeko as being older. An occasional picture of a character might be shown, but anime-style characters have that funny way of making it difficult to tell what age they are. The images we see of Setsumi seem to indicate she is very young in both the original and Side 2nd novels. She is in the latter since it’s chronologically earlier. However, it seems to me that the story could just as easily have been told if she had hardly aged.
A note should be made about the medical field. The author didn’t do as good a job as he could have about making the world of the hospice realistic. Instead, his primary concern was with story, so the truth about hospitals was neglected to a considerable extent. Care and life in the hospices isn’t as bad as the author made it out to be (Read what a med student says about it., esp. section 3 and 4.3).
The original is gloomy. The music sets the atmosphere of sadness that you can’t escape from until the road trip begins and the characters are considering nothing more than their final destination. Considering that nothing much really happens, all you have to think about is what they characters think about, all the while listening to a couple of different tunes that are borderline depressing. If this is what morbid feels like, it’s rather melancholy. What’s more melancholy is the ending. After you’ve listened to what I consider to be the most pleasant tune of the novel on the ride up (Route 1) you face the sadness of death. Then, as though the ending were satisfactory, the song is played again as the credits role! (And now the song is depressing to me!) Who’s idea was that? Well, originally, the story was not intended to be a tearjerker, but it turned out that way. The production crew decided to change things up for the second novel since it was supposed to simply focus on the issues. Sometimes human sympathy has a way of out maneuvering expectations.
Side 2nd is beautifully presented in both visuals and music. There is even an in-game animation featuring music by eufonius (the song “Narcissu“). Pineapple Tree by Barbarian on the Groove, a pleasant melody with a fitting title, is my personal favorite, though its sound can be interpreted as having a slightly melancholy aura, i.e. it’s both happy and yet hinting at sadness – the latter attribute standing out based on the context of the story itself: the characters’ personal situations. For the writing style: I liked how it wasn’t a third-person nor a first-person narrative. Instead, you had to glean information about the characters and the setting just by listening to the conversations. It’s a kind of second-person perspective that neither puts you in the world nor distances you from it, which is awesome – you’re engaged in a story, per se, but it isn’t something you can just walk away from.
Definitely give it a try. Read Side 2nd after the original for two reasons: 1) So that you end on a happier or less depressing note. 2) So that you get to see the mystery of the back story unfold.
Estimated time of completion: At an enjoyable pace, it took me a long evening to complete the original. The second, which is also 3 to 4 times longer, took two evenings at least but more than twice the time. I’m a slow reader, but that didn’t seem to matter as much considering that I used the voiced-option and the fact that the auto-typed text dictates the speed of reading while enjoying the audio.
Frankly, I rather enjoyed the read. It was very thought-provoking. It was a long-drawn out experience, and it didn’t help that I read it during the only hours I had time each day: between midnight and four in the morning. Take my advice and get some sleep, but if you happen to have a slot for time open between 10 and midnight, let me just say, the cinematic and emotional aura of stories like this is always enhanced at night. Trust me on that.
An Aside: Commentary from a religious perspective:
One thing that is thought-provoking is Himeko’s rejection of her Catholic faith based on her young-friend’s abandonment by her parents. It brings up the age-old question of why a good God would permit evil. I’m not going to go into that right now, but let me say that it does make me want to visit and offer these people some hope. I’m reminded of the words Jesus spoke. He said in the coming days, the Son of Man will divide the sheep from the goats. To those who pleased Him, He’ll say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world… for I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me.” And the righteous will ask, “…When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” He will respond, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:31-40) God wants His followers to care for people, especially the sick and those without hope.