View RSS Feed

Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

What actually is When They Cry?

Rate this Entry
Quote Originally Posted by Psychotic View Post
Quote Originally Posted by Formalhaut View Post
What actually is When They Cry?
In all seriousness I would like Karifean's answer. There was a thread a few months ago where both he and Ultima Shadow praised it as a fantastic experience and so I was curious and looked it up on Steam but didn't quite get it - are there others in the series you need to experience first, or? I saw someone had done a LP on YouTube and thought about watching it wasn't sure if it was the right thing.
It seems that across the several different rants I gave about why When They Cry is amazing, I've failed at the most basic and most important step of all - explaining what the hell I'm even talking about. So let's take this from the top.

I'll do my best to answer these questions:
What is When They Cry?
How, and in what order, do I read them?
What are they about?
Why should I read them?
I'm still not fully convinced. How do I whet my appetite?

What is When They Cry?

When They Cry is the name of a series of visual novels with just two entries: Higurashi When They Cry and Umineko When They Cry. Also known by their original Japanese titles, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Umineko no Naku Koro ni. A third entry in the series is entering development this year, which makes this just about the best possible time to get into the series.

How, and in what order, do I read them?

Both Higurashi and Umineko can be bought on Steam.

First things first, I need to make one thing absolutely clear: Umineko is a standalone work. It can be read without prior knowledge of Higurashi just fine.

That being said, Higurashi and Umineko share a large amount of similarities one another, starting with the structure. Higurashi and Umineko are each made up of 8 episodes, which are to be read in sequential order. The stories are linear; while other visual novels or adventure games will allow you to affect the story directly, neither Higurashi nor Umineko will let you do that in any meaningful capacity. Due to this, they are often considered to be closer to actual novels than games, which is a fair judgment to make as far as I'm concerned. Still, Higurashi and especially Umineko still make great use of their medium through usage of graphics, menus, sound effects and - oh my god - the music, which you would not have in a conventional novel. You couldn't read them in book format and have the same experience.

What are they about?

Simply put, both Higurashi and Umineko are mystery stories. You start off with a relatively peaceful situation then something goes wrong and it's up to you, the reader, to figure out what exactly happened, who is responsible for it, and why they did it. However, in When They Cry, a twist is added to the usual formula.

Now this technically qualifies as a setting twist, but since it's something so fundamental to both series I recommend anyone who doesn't explicitly want to go into both series completely blind (and is already completely convinced to give them a try) to keep reading to have an understanding of what the stories are even about:

(SPOILER)I already mentioned before that Higurashi and Umineko are made up of 8 episodes each. That's because they are repeating mysteries. At the end of every episode, the story is concluded. At the start of the next episode we return back to the starting point and the story unfolds in a different way, exploring what might have alternatively happened if things had gone slightly differently. Through these repetitions the reader gets to see more and more sides to all the characters and gets new clues to figuring out what's actually going on.

In Higurashi, the repetitive nature of the story is not addressed by the story itself until later on. In Umineko however it's part of the setting, and on top of the repeating tragedy there's the story of characters who 'watch' the story repeat over and over again, on a higher plane of existence, and have debates about it. It's very meta and very enjoyable :P

Why should I read them?

Higurashi and Umineko are both very time-consuming endeavors. But they are passion projects and quite ambitious in their scale and themes they tackle. If you want something you can still lose yourself in and have debates about with other fans even months or years after you finish it, look no further. There's just one thing to keep in mind: due to their time-consuming nature, Higurashi and Umineko are not well-suited to readers who just want to sit back and take their mind off other things for a while. Starting them does take a certain commitment and they do have their ups and downs along the way. However, if you *are* willing to invest your time and effort into them, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Both novels tackle relatively similar issues and themes, although as a general rule of thumb, Umineko tackles them in a more nuanced and ambitious way than Higurashi. I won't go into much detail to avoid spoilers, but themes of abuse, trust, "truth" and paranoia come up quite a few times, and both stories handle them in delicate, respectful ways.

Umineko also gets pretty meta at times, bringing up questions of what mystery and fantasy even are, how consensus can overwrite the 'real' truth, and what the relationship between an author and a reader might be like.

Which do I recommend reading? Well Higurashi is closer to something you'd see in anime culture in general. It has a lot of tropes you'll recognize. However, it still holds up to this day and is certainly a story worth experiencing. It also has a very "lovable" cast, and if you are already intent on reading the *entire* When They Cry series, you should probably start with Higurashi.

Umineko on the other hand is good if you want something truly unique. A large percentage of its primary cast consists of adults, and they get fleshed out as characters very well over the course of the story. It's entertaining to follow, it gives you a lot to think about and it's just ultimately a damn good story with a cast of characters you may not end up "loving" so much but appreciating how well-written they all are.

I'm still not fully convinced. How do I whet my appetite?

You can start by listening to some of the Umineko OST. If you're anything like me, you probably love having great OSTs in your games, and Umineko has an absolutely stellar one. I wish I could say the same for Higurashi, but it used royalty-free music for its first half (cut them some slack, it was basically an indie-game nobody knew at that point) and only got decently good music for its second half. If you want to listen to really good soundtracks though, Umineko's your best friend.

If you want an impression of the stories but you absolutely don't want to invest that kind of time into them, you can also look into the anime version of Higurashi, and the manga versions of both Higurashi and Umineko. They are decent enough and while I would always recommend the visual novel over them, they may be a good way to get an idea of what you're getting into. Do not bother looking into the anime version of Umineko. For your own sake.

If the graphics or lack of voice acting are turning you off, you can find patches for different (more high-quality) art and voice acting on the Steam forums. I know a lot of people aren't the biggest fans of the original or the Steam sprites of these games, so it's important to keep in mind that an alternative does exist.

Finally, there's one thing to keep in mind due to When They Cry's episodic nature: it's perfect to be read together with a group of people. Since there's new clues and mysteries to figure out with every new episode, with multiple people reading simultaneously you can all share your observations, bounce ideas off one another and get a deeper understanding of what's going on. The effect of this was at its peak when the games were new and every new episode took half a year to release, but events like the Tea Parties over on aim to recapture that feeling, with everyone reading the next episode in the same general timeframe and discussing it with other newcomers before continuing. It's pretty awesome.

In the end of course I cannot guarantee that Higurashi and Umineko will live up to my hype, but since they are a great story and my favorite story of all time respectively, I think I can be forgiven for insisting on their worth so much.

So then, what do you think, everyone?


  1. Formalhaut's Avatar
    It's a very good write-up! I'll have to give these a go when I have a chance to immerse myself in something!
  2. Psychotic's Avatar
    Thank you!