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Review of Symphonic Rain

SubjectSymphonic Rain
Symphonic Rain
ByVote: 7immaculate on 2021-03-07 last updated on 2021-03-08
ReviewIf asked to summarize my feelings on this game in a single word, I think I'd describe it as an especially "well-realized" work. That is to say, it's a game which attempt a fairly narrow conceit but largely manage to achieve the entirety of its artistic vision. I found it to be a fairly unique and neat experience, one which has some cool ideas and some remarkably internally consistent and deliberate execution, but unfortunately not something I found extremely special.

To be sure, the game certainly has a lot of strengths. Something which should be super self-evident from the very first minute is surely the game's phenomenally atmospheric and evocative setting: the milieu of Piova, City of Rain whose soothing, pattering, rainy backdrop centrally defines the entirety of the game. These atmospherics combined with the game's understated magic realism imbues the entire work with a very unique and profound sense of setting, perhaps one that doesn't initially compare favourably with the high-concept intrigue or wickedly cool premises of other stories, yet one which just slowly but thoroughly seeps into your bones as you spend time with this game and remains as its most memorable quality long after setting it down. The music of Symphonic Rain is also quite strong and similarly contributes greatly to its atmosphere, albeit being fairly uneven and limited. There aren't nearly enough BGM tracks and some like the character themes really get overused, but most of the tracks are generally quite memorable and high quality. The large collection of vocal songs is also quite nice, and the lyrics are especially meaningful in supporting the narrative - something I personally found very compelling.

The game is also very interesting from a structural perspective. It initially features a set of three routes for the three heroines Fal, Lise, and Torta, but also contains an extremely revelatory true route upon completing the heroine routes. Contrary to its rather unassuming appearance, this game actually features a great deal of intrigue and "plot twists" which severely recontextualizes previously read events. I was aware of the existence of these surprises and twists prior to reading this game, but didn't have any knowledge of their contents, and I wasn't let down in this regard despite having quite high expectations! I think rather than being especially "mind-blowing" or "shocking", the game does a great job with how deliberate its storytelling is; how much integrity its overall narrative manages to preserve. That is to say, the storytelling twists in the second half certainly recontextualizes a lot of things, but in a way that feels perfectly internally consistent, one that leaves the reader entirely satisfied with how much sense everything makes. Rather than feeling like everything was designed purely for the sake of a "gotcha!" moment without any real substance, its revelations genuinely enhance the story by calibrating and then unmaking your expectations in very deliberately crafted ways - super neat stuff.

Symphonic Rain is not without significant fault either, however. Some are of a "technical" nature which I don't especially think should be held against the work, but did still considerably harm my enjoyment. There are two releases of this game which features two different English translations, however, I found that neither was especially great after alternately reading through different routes on both. The fan-translation reads in a very characteristically "amateurish" stilted and stiff manner, whereas the official translation features more accuracy errors, worse song translations, and noticeably declines in quality throughout the text. Neither TL is so egregiously bad as to render the game unreadable, but I found them to both be fairly middling works that could certainly have been significantly better. The system of the game is also extremely lacking; while the official release does feature some improvements such as a higher widescreen resolution and revamped HD graphics, it is still woefully archaic for a game published in 2017. Both systems are lacking even in basic rudimentary features such as the ability to replay voiced lines, jump backwards in the backlog, or offering any way to skip the music minigame short of completely exiting the program. On top of that, the sound quality is remarkably poor especially for such an aurally-focused work, with the voiced lines frequently sounding low-quality and scratchy. None of this is something that should be especially deal-breaking by any means, but just slightly disappointing.

In terms of the game's storytelling, the issue I found most striking, something I'm rather surprised more people don't seeming have an issue with, is just that most of it is awfully dull and unengaging. I think that this is absolutely a game which is much better to have recollective memories of having played, rather than experiential memories of playing, simply because large parts of the latter are just awfully dull in a bad way. Moreover, I don't think the issue is with the commonly scapegoated issue of "pacing" per se, the game is pretty appropriately paced all things considered. Rather, I think I would describe the game's issues as (1) a lack of animating force driving the story along and (2) a lack of emotional valence in its important moments.

For the former problem, I feel like there is just nothing to keep the reader closely tethered to and engaged with the story. Many games use spirited comedy or dynamic character interactions for example, to ensure that moment-to-moment, the text is still really kinetic and enjoyable to read. Perhaps Symphonic Rain isn't this type of work, and prefers to be a lot more grounded and serious, but such works still demand something in its place. While it does notionally fill this void with grounded "slice of life", I'd describe a considerable amount of such scenes as feeling lacking in purposefulness - absent a sense of sharp storytelling intent behind them and not succeeding in furthering characterization, mood, or otherwise feeling meaningful. This is something I felt was especially problematic in the heroine routes, with all of them with perhaps the exception of Torta's suffering from a distinct lack of "buildup", of that classic pyramid-shaped narrative structure that involves a gradual rising action preceding the climax. Instead, the actual "conflict" in each route felt rather haphazardly introduced rather late into the story and not permitted to linger for nearly long enough before being quickly resolved. However, despite this, I would still say that I quite enjoyed some of the characters the work has to offer. I ended up really liking both Fal and Torta at least, who both have fairly nuanced, contradictory motivations and compelling characterization. They are both nice portraits of persuasively flawed characters, and I really liked how contradictory and selfish and manipulative both of them can occasionally be. Al Fine especially does a lot of interesting work in further fleshing this out. However, it must be admitted that both Lise and Fal's characters and routes feels entirely ancillary to the overall story and don't meaningfully contribute very much to the narrative.

Chris, the protagonist, is a particularly interesting case. he is firmly depicted as being fairly bland and non-committal, like a leaf blown about by the whims of the wind, but there is a sense that this is a very deliberate and meaningful piece of characterization. Indeed, there is a very reasonable argument that the "dullness" of the storytelling is an intentional device intended to really concretizes the ennui and bleakness of the MC's condition: one of a sense of displacement and a lack of animating drive or passion about much of anything. However, this doesn't really change the fact that reading from the perspective of such a character is just not especially pleasurable or engaging. Moreover, for all of the depressive drudgery and lack of affect the MC emanates, we actually don't get very much insight into his interiority and an intimate understanding of his motivations. I feel like I can understand Fal or Torta's feelings and motivations much better for instance, despite having spent so much more time with Chris. There certainly are stories featuring extremely compelling and vivid characterizations of characters like Chris, but I feel like this relies on a much richer and intimate portrait of their interiority which Symphonic Rain never delivered. I do recognize that it is extraordinarily difficult to write such a character well, and I suppose that it's fair to say that the game did a workmanlike job at it, but I feel like this aspect could've been a lot stronger.

For my second issue, I feel like the moments of heightened tension and affect that the text tries to create just felt rather impotent. Scenes that seemed like they really should stir up your emotions and make you feel something - those moments that literally have you digging your nails into your armrest, the moments where you genuinely forget to breathe because you're so captivated by the text, those just categorically sort of failed to land. I'm not quite sure what the cause is - I think the lack of range in the OST and the limited CG work perhaps plays a part, but I think most of the culpability necessarily belongs with the writing and to a lesser extent, the translation. It's entirely possible that the original JP script was a lot stronger - but I feel like while there were significant issues with both TLs, even a "perfect" translation could only do so much. It's not that the writing itself is bad or anything either - there are some genuinely beautiful lines of prose that do actually come across in the TL, but I feel like the writing specifically doesn't do so a great job of delivering on a strong emotional valence in its critical moments. Certain happenings felt awfully rushed and like they could have lingered for much longer to be much more impactful, while many scenes could have benefitted from more narration that gives insight into the characters' thoughts. It's likely ultimately impossible to precisely diagnose the specific cause, except to say that compared to many other works that go for very similar ideas and executions, I feel like Symphonic Rain doesn't deliver them quite as well.

All in all, I really, really wanted to like this game a ton. Its genre of methodical, low-stakes slice of life and grounded, character-driven romance drama couldn't be more within my strike zone. And yet, I'm left with a admiring, clinical appreciation for what it tries to do, but no real strong feelings for the game. The sort of game I can happily claim is "good" and generally recommend, but would raise an eyebrow if it placed among someone's all-time favourites.

Originally posted on Reddit WAYR.

Comments

#1 by m0lnarr
2021-11-14 at 16:53
< report >Extremely well-written review! I just finished Symphonic Rain a few minutes ago, and everything I couldn't put into words, you managed to. It's flawed, yet a beautiful story.

I'm not sure if taking more than 20+hrs for something interesting to happen can be forgiven, but overlooking the early routes and their weird endings, the main story is really good (if a little too simple in terms of writing). Also, the al fine twist was *chef's kiss*.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but I really am not disappointed in the slightest. Symphonic Rain was a good time, and I'm glad I read it.
#2 by animenger
2021-11-14 at 18:33
< report >At first I was kind of ready to disagree quietly and move on when I saw the score of this review but then I skimmed through it a bit and one point interested me. Your thought that this story is better recollected than it is read in real time is 100% correct. I gave this VN like a solid 8 when I first finished it. "Pretty good!" was all I had to say about it. However, I realized like 4 months later that I still couldn't get it out of my head and finally was like "Actually? Absolute masterpiece. 10/10" so there's certainly something to what you've said in my opinion.