Visual novel review: Saya no Uta

Title: Saya no Uta
Genre: Drama
Company: Nitroplus
Platform: PC
Release Date: Dec 26 2003

Synopsis: After surviving a serious car accident, medical student Sakisaka Fuminori undergoes brain surgery and comes to perceive the world in a whole new way. To him, what was once everyday objects have become twisted and malformed. Normal people look like their skin has been carved off and their innards ripped outwards. The scenery looks like it has been spray painted with organs and muscle tissue, and the food and smells Fuminori once enjoyed become physically repulsive. With nothing else to live for, Fuminori tries to kill himself… until he meets a mysterious girl named Saya who is the only beautiful thing in his mental hell.

The Highlights
Story: Compelling and suspenseful, though a few moments require some suspension of disbelief.
Music: Unsettling, sometimes vile, but works well with the scenes.
“Gameplay”: You decide exactly two events in the entire game (and how fast the text scrolls).
Ending: All three are equally memorable and interesting.

Murder, rape, cannibalism and gratuitous hardcore sex; Saya no Uta is a shocking and repulsive piece of mental sodomy that overwhelms your senses with twisted imagery and a cacophony of squeals and distorted shouts. Now before you write this off as some sort of sick Japanese torture porn with a lolicon fetish, know that the game has an incredible story to accompany its more neurotic aspects. Saya no Uta is an extreme horror/mystery with a solid story and it knows how to manipulate its heavy atmosphere to create an unforgettable experience.

Much of the strength of the game is derived from the juxtaposition of the game’s disturbing psychological assault to the seemingly pure and angelic Saya. Unlike most visual novels, Saya no Uta does not meander around a school setting, letting players familiarize with the characters and the world. It throws the player headlong into the protagonist’s madness. So long as you do not chicken out and choose the censored version at the beginning of the game, any part of the story told by the main protagonist Funimori will be miserable to watch. The backgrounds are dark and dank; there are guts and organs everywhere; and the soundtrack is like a deaf sadist playing with a chalkboard. By the time Saya comes around, her cute “welcome home” line will sound like a crystal bell rung by a Goddess.

In many ways, the game reads more like Lovecraft stories than a standard visual novel. Though certainly a large step below those masterpieces, the story here creates an atmosphere that is nearly as cryptic and foreboding, which is high praise for any work of any medium. It engrosses the players, engages them with the narrative and rips straight into their gut at the right moment. The game may only around 5 to 7 hours in length for full completion, but it literally only pauses twice to let players decide an event that determines which one of three ending they get (so be sure to save whenever the game asks you for input). Save one major contrivance in the plot, the visual novel is well written, atmospheric and engrossing.

Though there is little criticism on the amount of violence and the explicit imagery, it’s often been said that all the hardcore sex is unnecessary. Considering that a significant portion of the still images are just devoted to sex, I am somewhat inclined to agree; however, I believe around half of the scenes are needed since it gives a glimpse into the psyche of the titular Saya and the devolution of Funimori’s human conditioning. Despite her innocent appearance, Saya is assertive, voracious and sadistic. She is true evil in a cute package. As for Funimori, he is a medical student and thus he is smart, logical and has a firm grasp on the notion of morality; however, due to his insanity, humans have become so repulsive to him so he has no qualms about slaughtering them like livestock.

The production values aren’t that great but the game creates something incredible from what little it has. the visuals are well done with some freakish depictions of organs, veins and various other human parts. The game’s music is glottal, synth heavy and, in general, unsettling. Many of the songs work well as standalone pieces and are absolutely incredible in the game. Though rendered in low quality, the music still enriches the atmosphere making it truly palpable. The talented Itou Kanako (infamous for “Kanashimi no Mukou e” from School Days) also presents some strong vocal pieces to make Saya no Uta an incredibly strong audio experience.

In the past, one of our reviewers argued that visual novels shouldn’t exist as medium since it is decidedly inferior to both books and film and something in-between is unnecessary. I believe this work is the exception that proves that visual novels do have a place. Due to its solid story, this game can work as novel, and due to its thick atmosphere, this game can work as a film; however, I believe that Saya no Uta works best as a visual novel and what a damn fine one it is.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

11 Responses to “Visual novel review: Saya no Uta”

  1. Was this supposed to go here?

  2. Add this to my long list of visual novels I must read. It’s a list that unfortunately moves like a glacier, and the next cab off the rank of Narcissu 2nd Side.

    In the past, one of our reviewers argued that visual novels shouldn’t exist as medium since it is decidedly inferior to both books and film and something in-between is unnecessary.

    Just to clarify, you’re talking about Tamashii, right. I can see where he’s coming from, but there are things you can do with perception in visual novels that are either very difficult or impossible to do with other mediums. Visual novels which manipulate perception are the ones which I tend to be most impressed by.

    Yeah, sure, why not. There’s no place for visual novel reviews on the front page, and the main intention for the blog was as a place to put stuff that didn’t go on the main page. We’ve had visual novel reviews here in the past, and I have no problem with putting them here into the future, because we simply don’t write them often enough to justify setting up a new section for them on the front page.

  3. Works for me.

  4. @SK: Yeah, I’m talking about Tamashii.

    The issue with perception is kind of odd with Saya no Uta. Unlike most VNs, you do not feel like you’re the protagonist. The game constantly shifts point of view and is usually one step behind the protagonist, so the story is told in more of a classical fashion than a typical VN.However, no book can adequately describe the images and sounds in the game, and no movie can capture the vivid detail of the text.

  5. first, you write in a excellent way.
    well, I was just curious about this “saya no uta thing” (there are some songs from this visual-novel on youtube, and I agree with you, some of them are really cool tracks.) and thanks to your review I know now what I’ll be facing if I decide to buy this someday. (I don’t really thing I will, but however…)
    thank you for such a well done review <3

  6. Well, I’d say we already have an example of the unique potential of the VN in Ever 17. Trying to imagine how it would work as a film makes my head hurt, and turning it into book form would also fail pretty badly. As for Saya, I liked it very much, and I don’t know what else I can say besides that.

  7. I couldn’t be more in disagreement with the comment that visual novels shouldn’t exist as a medium. What other format simultaneously allows knowing how other characters react to the protagonist’s death, knowing what happens to the story when the protagonist gives in to a certain impulse that isn’t entirely relevant to the linear story, what other medium allows the player to explore the world of the fictional piece by exploring possibilities outside the linear conclusion. Books, film, and visual novels all have something very different to give those who enjoy them and comparing them, while a necessary project in appealing their worth, is ultimately as ineffective and stupid as comparing different genres within one medium.

  8. […] Visual novel review: Saya no Uta » Behind The Nihon ReviewVisual novel review: Saya no Uta. By Shadowmage on May 18th, 2010. Title: Saya no Uta Genre: Drama Company: Nitroplus Platform: PC Release Date: Dec 26 2003 … […]

  9. Visual novels are inferior to books and movies? Dont make me laugh. It’s exact opposite

  10. It would be nice if you could put the “major contrivance in the plot” in spoiler tags or something. I have no idea what you mean by it.

  11. A bit late but… I have to say that having read visual novels, light novels, manga, novels, and having even seen series and movies…

    Anyone that thinks one is far superior or inferior as a whole is biased.

    Each medium has their own advantages, many of which the other mediums do not have.

    My personal preference is the original work simply because usually it captures more of the intended story and is often paced closest to the way the creator intended. This can be just about any medium. There are movies that come first as well as novels that come first.

    With Saya no Uta as an example, a novel would not have had the same feeling, the imagery, the sound, even the flow of the text-by which I mean the feeling you get from how the text appears. A movie would not have been able to capture all the details that really bring Saya no Uta to ‘life’.

    My personal stance is that sometimes things that push our moral boundaries are necessary to tell a story. Let us face it, in the event of disaster, not everyone is going to be some valiant hero and save others. You’ll have the people murdering people, r***ing people, etc. (and possibly people doing both examples in that order). If the story is meant to try to stay true to the darker side of society, then perhaps such things need to be shown. However, that doesn’t mean that there needs to be a focus either.

    I think Saya no Uta did the adult thing fairly well all things considered. There was plenty and it may have been many of the images (do consider in though that some images were re-used many times while the ‘scenes’ tend to just use the images once or twice) but for the most part ‘it’ was used to advance the plot.

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