Carnival / カーニバル

Foreword: I've still to find medium to large english translated VN without evaluation so current review has nothing to do with it. The review object is VN Carnival made by FlyingShine in 2004, the very same developer who made the best VN ever Cross † Channel in 2003 and the worst screwup in VN history Swan Song in 2005. So where did things go wrong? Why the perfectly reasonable work led to Swan Song where one totally unreasonable decision totally overthrown the sense of reality and then second even more foolish decision killed the story and the game leaving only anger at heroes at the closing lines? I hoped to find the ultimate answer to that question in this midterm work Carnival and I actually found it. Carnival is closer to Swan Song as it is story-based with little to none charage elements, there is a big main plot line with only side character routes and bad ends. Because of this reason it's very difficult to speak about it without spoilers. On one hand, very few readers would take on this virtually unknown and forgotten work, but on the other hand Carnival is plot-based and somewhat mysterious work that's not going to bring any fulfillment if you know the plot twists and with mystery revealed from the start. So I'm making two parts of this review - first spoiler-free and then after red attention sign spoiler-heavy one.

Title: Carnival

Original Title: カーニバル

Developer: FlyingShine

Release Date: 2004-05-14

Summary:After being arrested for the murder of a fellow student, the protagonist escapes from custody when the police car he's in has an accident. Knowing he will one day be caught again, he decides to spend what little time he has in freedom to try and return a handkerchief.

VNDB Link:

Game Type: Mind Screw Utsuge (but with no Nakige part!)

Story Length: Medium (10 Hours)

Complete Story Clearing Difficulty: Easy

Comments of Difficulty: There is basically one route and if u make a wrong decision you'll very soon get to side-character short route or bad end.

Character Design Rating: 8/10

Story Rating: 7/10

Protagonist Rating: 7/10

Game Quality: High

Overall Rating: 7/10

Rating Comments: I ultimately liked the story and the characters even though it's basicly only Risa and protagonist story (but it's not a love story... more like s special relationship of childhood friends). But there is also very dense Izumi character who knew both the heroes before the events started to unwind. Protagonists starts quite as ordinary but as mystery shows up we get a firm grip first on his past and then on his condition and eventually gets a very solid character figure. So why is the rating lower if the listed parts are so low? It's more my personal viewpoint that 8-10 I can only put if i recommend the game to everyone, but 7 means that I can only recommend the game if reader fulfills some criteria. In this case the limitation points are that the game is an utsuge (depressive game), that it includes slight gore and that 2/3 of the game is frustrating to the point of calling it a trash game with only the last third story setting all things to its places, getting mystery uncovered and wrapping it all up to a satisfying but only semi-happy end.

Structure: There are three "Stories" named "1. Carnival", "2. Monte-Cristo" and "3. Traumerei". The story with big omissions is told in first story and it takes over half of game time. Second story is very short and it's the one with the most hate, guro, violence. It's being told from a different perspective than a first one and such radical difference in protagonist behavior really made me mad. But then comes a third story which is told from yet another perspective - surprisingly - from the perspective of main heroine Risa. In this part the former protagonist Manabu lines get fully voiced! This also gets to be the true route with true end.

Story: It was most important for me to see the reason behind every character move and watch through the developments that lead to those actions to see if it resembles Swan Song. And the first party was the most confusing one. First we're shown how Manabu runs from the police car while holding the named handkerchief, then we shift to early childhood - to mother bothersome relationship - to first meeting Risa - to school life - to accident - to police station interrogation - then meeting Risa at Carnival as they had promissed each other - invitation of Risa to hide in her house for the time being.

Despite what image might suggest, it's main purpose is to show the bruise on the side and uncover its mystery later on

While logic-wise everything was ok up to this point, quite a few vague points showed up. It was later explained that Manabu was actually got by the police after the accident, then he was interrogated and then while he was transported further car got into a crash and he managed to escape. Accident part was the most vague with Manabu being bullied on rooftop by Amy and another guy, Risa coming to rooftop to prevent further hurting Manabu, she was grabbed by the guy and the next thing Manabu remembers is he staying with knife over that guy's dead body and Risa lying several steps away. But that's still ok. What was actually not ok is that after Manabu was covered in Risa house he went out to Summer carnival, occasionally seen Amy there, then just in cold blood came to her while threatening with the knife right (with his inner monologue only to say "Oh, Amy is here - Lucky!")  in the middle of festival, led her to a corner, raped her, led to Risa house (!), tied and locked her up in the cellar while raping her again. That was already hell of insane situation contradicting everything done before that by quiet and calm Manabu, but on top of that Risa did not seem to protest or report on him while knowing Amy was tied in her own house... Somehow Amy was absent the next time with her ropes cut but looking at next stories she only seems to be locked up and the 2nd floor room to suffer more... Some policewoman stops by the house, notices Manabu and wants to arrest him... just to be assaulted, disarmed and violated by her own gun and ending up tied up in the very same cellar... Thankfully all the other violations and rapes are parts of bad endings and dont really fill up the main plot, but that was already TOO much to handle. After you finish Risa plot line you can go for 2nd story and now hold yourself. It's the same story, but much shorter, with much more omissions. During this story we get to know that Manabu violated Risa long before the rooftop accident and even dared to blame her for not being virgin (that actually turned out an important part in the story), that at rooftop incident he just cut the guy in cold blood with his hand-knife and then raped Risa while spilling that guy's guts over her body, we get to know that Amy got to being beaten to half-dead state and the 2nd floor of Risa house and then violated. Very weird, very depressing stuff.

My exact reaction during the second story

But believe me or not, this is not a trash game. The behaviors of both Manabu and Risa have a solid base to cover, have reasons and a vast past ground basis. The final true route story manages to set everything at its places while having zero ero scenes (apart of maybe couple one second flashbacks to previous ones) and being very cheerful slice-of-life drama with lots of heartwarming dialogues and CGs for a good half of it and good paced mystery reveal for the 2nd part of it. I felt that fist two parts can't be really called spoilers since they only set up scene and wind up emotions, but really do not uncover anything. And In order to rationalize my high ratings of the game I'll add spoiler-full description of part 3 in the end of the review.

Characters summary: There are H-scenes with as many as 6 heroines, but there are endings for only two heroines and i'm actually going to consider 3 heroines who have essential part in the story while the others can be safely omitted.

Welcome our race grey horse!

Kimura Manabu  is the protagonist of story 1 and 2. He is both unsocial and friendly, calm and reserved and violent, well-read and bashful. That's our grey horse and I liked this character. He's got his principles and even his darkest actions had some reason behind. Prior to 3rd story i'd rate him as 1 or zero and after part 3 it's a solid 9. Guess why.

Let this handkerchief be your lucky charm

Kujou Risa is main heroine of the game and protagonist of 3rd story. Kind and genle, she values friendship and strives to ease pain of her friends even if she gets hurt herself in the process. She is not the smartest person (whenever she's asked to decide on smth she tends to say "Manabu is smart so whatever he says goes fine") , but very sincere and empathetic. Whatever can be seen as her dark side (like assisting in keep Amy tied and beaten in custody) gets a proper explanation and it's up to u to accept it or not.

Manabu (and me) was too interested in that black stripe to get the reason of bullying

From bully... to victim

Amy Shimamura is not really a major heroine but she's sort of essential to the story. Her main part is going from bully (no real idea what that bullying was about apart of saying that Manabu was the lowest man not deserving existence, maybe she already witnessed smth by that point) to a victim. She's really cool and attractive and thus have the most number of H-scenes (7 while even the main heroine Risa only got 5).

Despite what this scene might imply, Izumi is the only heroine who never got raped

Watarai Izumi is the most reasonable and intelligent heroine. She spends most of her time in library and she is very attentive to both Risa and Manabu since those are her friends. She's there when she's needed and she's the only one who can reason with Manabu on equal grounds (i believe that it's due to the fact that she's never betrayed him). She's the only heroine to get her own ending apart of main heroine Risa and her ending was fun and very nice. That's my favorite character since i can like only intelligent, keen, reasonable heroines. It does not mean that she does not have a skeleton in the closet - like she has arms and wrists cuts and she claims that it helped he to feel others pain better.

Sexual Content: Much

Affection for the Characters: Moderate

CG Score: 10/10.
CG are good and plentiful for just a 10-hour game. Not as bland as Cross Channel, but not as refined as Swan Song. Faces are very original and, though lacking appeal sometimes, they reflect emotions perfectly and you get to like them a lot.

H-scenes: What i actually liked about HCG is that there were 1-2 hcg per scene only and without multiple copies with rolled or closed eyes etc. It's no way a nukige so no need for it. Scenes were quite short and were designed more to feel empathy that to arouse desire. The voicing of H-scenes was sometimes too quiet, too monotonous or too apathetic, but some scenes rocked with full-sentence line comments instead of single vowels.

Sound Score: 7/10. Music was to my taste with many danger themes, nice 8-bit arrangement tracks. Sometimes tracks started to sound too loud, but that's hardly even a complaint.

Addictiveness: Moderate.

Conclusion: Carnival starts as mystery, goes on like a dark utsuge but turns out to be a great story with enough cheerful moments and enough of themes to reflect on. If you like plot-driven games without superficial elements, but with likable serious characters and able to tolerate some light guro and great drama, then you'll enjoy the game like me to the fullest. But if u expect a rape nukige or can't overcome yourself to get to 3rd story or can't stand the drama, best not even start.

- Great story, great drama
- Slice-of-life with no superstitions or magic of fantasy or sci-fi or any other weirdness
- Very solid visuals
- Dark utsuge
- Lots of drama with some of it being harsh
- Mind Screw story

That's Festival


after all!

 So the so many times hinted mystery is quite simple: Manabu has split personality - the angry Manabu is actually Takeshi-kun. So the first story was mostly Manabu story, the second story was Takeshi story and in the third story protagonist is changed to Risa and we get to hear both Manabu and Takeshi voices which differ a lot! That's the most genius reason behind not getting protagonist voiced! So it was Takeshi to protect Manabu from his mother hits, it was Takeshi to eventually kill his mother (which was considered an accident). It was Takeshi who raped Risa at school during the joint session before this whole story even started. And he was angry at Risa feeling she betrayed him with other boys since she was not a virgin at that time and kicked her hard - that's where that bruise on the side came from. And Manabu was really anxious to know what might be the source of the bruise. Third story shows us quite elaborately that it was Risa's father who loved his daughter so much that once just pulled his stick before the child. It was Takeshi at rooftop to kill the bully and so on and so forth. Story tells us that Takesi takes over in the pitch moments which is almost all the time leaving poor Manabu occasional small talk. So Izumi greatness comes from the fact that she was able to melt and reason with Takeshi having them run together by train. Risa in true route on the other hand tried to do everything to make Takeshi forgive her because she had such strong special feelings for Manabu. Thus she tended the prisoned Amy wounds and got her food, but refused to let her free from the cellar where so much torture persisted. Still the 3rd story told by Risa perspective has lots of such a-ha moments that makes us reconsider the opinion of original first story action. In the end Risa just said that she got tired and tried to jump from the cliff. Here Takeshi stopped her and then agreed to forever flee from Manabu body forever. The end. Pretty stupid? Ri-ight, suicide saves the world is not really the morale i hoped to pull off. But here it is. So it looks like Swan Song in that 2/3 of the game goes one direction and another third goes hopsey-dopsey. Both are dark utsuge with lots of rape. Not too much in common, actually. Still, I got my answers. Anyway, Carnival was much better than Swan Song or rather Swan Song was so bad that i'd rate it for 2 or 3.

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Anonymous said...

god please go over swan song, I love that eroge so I would like to see the point that turned you sour on it

kivandopulus said...

Many details have already slipped from my memory by now, but my greatest complaint with SS is how illogical heroes actions are. Things go smoothly then BAM horrible decision out of blue - still heroes manage to recover - BAM another horrible illogical decision - everyone dead. Compared to that developers filled Carnival with same illogical decisions, but actually managed to explain them true route or Epilogue. Well, maybe I just needed explanation and some kind of happy end. There are still other sour looks on SS like

Ricky Nguyen said...

So, the true ending was crap? It just ends with Takeshi leaving Manabu's body? What happened to the policewoman? What about Amy, the bully? What happened to Manabu and Risa? Izumi?

kivandopulus said...

Carnival is not a too coherent game that gives all the answers. As far as I remember policewoman just escapes at some point and it's not clear who helped her (probably Izumi). Don't think Amy showed up anymore after her unlucky meeting with Takeshi at the festival. Izumi got her own happy ending with heroes diving in piles of money, so in Risa's route she only visited the house like three times overall and then did not show up. My memory is kind of blank on whether there was something else after failed suicide and love confession scene. Probably there was nothing that would describe heroes' future. I aspire to to make a video playthrough some day, but I'm moving strictly chronologically without exceptions and only started 1999 while the game is 2004 and thus an eternity away.

Ricky Nguyen said...

So, we don't actually know what happens to Amy after her unlucky meeting with Takeshi at the festival? Not one word about what happened to Amy? So, what does Izumi's ending entail? You said that her ending is happy with the heroes diving in piles of money. Can you clarify that? Of course, Risa's route is the True and canon route of the story.

kivandopulus said...

As far as I remember, Amy was not mentioned afterwards. She's well and alive, but that's it. Izumi ending is is quite short. She just grabs Manabu and goes with him on a car travel away from this crime and police hell with the game ending showing them on a bed throwing around piles of money in a hotel room. And somewhat I don't remember the money source... it's been just one and a half year ago, but memory is already fuzzy.

Ricky Nguyen said...

Wow, Izumi's route is basically nothing special. Also, lack of explanation on what's going on here. Money in hotel room? Doesn't make sense here. Thoughts?

kivandopulus said...

Money in hotel room is memorable because of two CG and
There is another scene after that with Izumi and Manabu sitting on a slope with Manabu tireless soul finally finding peace in Izumi company.

Ricky Nguyen said...

I see, so Manabu finally finds peace in Izumi's company. Of course, Izumi's route is a side route, it's the not the true, canon route. Even Izumi stops appearing after awhile, strangely enough.

Wait, what happens in the True Route? Isn't Risa's route the True Route? I forgot how that went and played out, other than Risa confessing her love to Manabu and stopping him from committing suicide, where the game then ends on a weird note. I believe Carnival has problems to it, such as pointless characters and the weird ending to the True Route. Hope to hear from you soon.

kivandopulus said...

Only Risa has a big route, so her route is the main one by default. It was actually Risa who got tired of Takeshi behavior and it was Risa who tried to jump off the cliff. Takeshi stopped her from jumping. So Takeshi actually admitted his bad behavior from constant pretenses towards Risa - to sympathizing with her and understanding her troubles. This third story is full of child memories of Risa and Takeshi and has a bright mood. The ending is just Risa and Takeshi in good relations fleeing together somewhere

Ricky Nguyen said...

Really? That's the true ending for Risa? Just her and Manabu/Takeshi fleeing together to somewhere (after he stopped her from jumping off the cliff), going down the stairs? That's it, nothing more? Disappointed as hell, wouldn't you agree? There's no epilogue from what you're saying here to show what their future will be.

Wonder where Isumi is while all this is happening? Hope to hear from you soon.

kivandopulus said...

Game is more about concept than heroines, so I'm not upset with this ending. The problem is that none of heroines is really attractive enough, and protagonist only projects negative emotions. As the concept is revealed to the fullest, actors are cast off for redundancy. Can't remember where Izumi is at this time, only that the whole chapter is devoted to childhood memories, so there's no place for other persons.

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