Title: Ame no Marginal
Publisher: Sekai Project
A review copy was provided for the purposes of review.
Visual novels as a medium come in several distinct flavors. First there are the epic, sprawling sorts with word counts that put even the Lord of the Rings trilogy to shame, as seen in works such as Umineko or Tsukihime. Whose collective length are both longer than the entirety of the before mentioned fantasy book series. Just as every book cannot be Lord of the Rings, every visual novel cannot be Clannad or Higurashi either, and in such a niche exists visual novels that span only a few hours of reading time that tend to tell low-key stories with few characters and more direct thematic elements. It is in this space that titles such as Gen Urobuchi’s excellent horror visual novel Song of Saya and today’s subject, the Stage-nana produced Ame no Marginal exist.
Plot and Writing
Perhaps better termed a visual short story then a novel, Ame no Marginal tells the story in two parts that are unlocked two at a time as the player advances through the story.
The first of these is that of a man who has become fed up with the adult world of waking up, going to work, coming home, and doing the same thing over and over until he finally died. Thinking of no other way out he eventually finds solace in suicide before coming to a mysterious extra floor on the elevator that he intended to take to the roof of his workplace, where he had planned to end his life finally. Upon exiting on the eight of seven floors, he finds himself in a rain-soaked world that consists entirely of a seemingly endless stone floor, a rushing river, and a modern bus stop. This strange world is inhabited solely by small and energetic girl named Rin who accompanies are nameless protagonist as she stays for several nights in the rain and tries to sort out his life while playing with his new companion.
The other half of Ame no Marginal’s plot involves the tale of a young woman from a thousand years in the past who, along with her sister, served as priestesses of a nameless god. Tasked with the duty of atoning for an unknown sin by remaining silent for 333 years, 33 days, 33 minutes, and 33 seconds, the elder of the two sisters ruminates on her fate before succumbing to death, and thus passing her burden of sin upon her little sister. Not wishing to deal with such a curse, the younger sister then runs away from her home at a small shrine and eventually finds herself in the same rainy world as the game’s protagonist. From here we learn more about this young girl, her place in the rain, and how she fits into the plot told in the visual novel’s other half.
While both stories are told well, and the writing here is often effective enough to coax the reader into shedding a tear or two on occasion, its plot is revealed on a small-scale that never really reaches much further than the expenses of its world of endless rain and discarded memories. This is the sort of tale in which no character, save for Rin herself, is every referred to by name, which leaves them more a ciphers for the author’s message then fully fledged people in their own right. But, as I mentioned previously, Ame no Marginal is more like a short story than a novel in that its plot is written to make a point, and cause the reader to think and reflect, rather than just to tell a rousing story. And that message, so far as I can tell, is one that shows through the visual novel’s protagonists that sometimes it is necessary to stand back, take some time for yourself, and reflect on life, its burdens, your obligations, and everything that goes with living in the real world.
While Ame no Marginal may not tell the best story, the one does give us is nevertheless emotionally moving at times and reflective of thoughts and feelings most of us have had or one time or another. In this respect, it is a game worth playing despite its short run time of about eight hours or so.
Art and Presentation
There are typically two types of presentation in visual novels, the most prevalent is to have one or more characters’ sprites on-screen at once while their dialogue appears on-screen in a box that is typically located near the bottom of the window. The second, which is best known for its use in most of 07th Expansion’s work as well as a few other big name titles such as Fate/Stay Night, eschews text boxes all together and instead overlays dialogue and narration on top of the sprites and background. Interestingly enough, Ame no Marginal takes a different route entirely and instead letterbox its visual elements and places text near the top of the lower half of said box. Allows for a nearly seamless transition between scenes, as dialog never flashes across visual elements, and there is no actual text box to obscure elements either. In addition, unlike many games which break the flow of action to switch between ordinary backgrounds and sprites to more detailed CGs, special scenes illustrated in more detail than most, Ame no Marginal instead has these sort of scenes simply appear in the same place as its normal scenes. This seamless flow is a welcome change of pace from the norm of most visual novels, and often allows for the use of CGs as a means of advancing the plot, rather than a special treat only reserves for particularly important events.
The problem with this choice of a visual interface is that there is only a handful of actual sprites for the games four different characters. For example, the male protagonist only appears in a single picture walking beside Rin in the rain. While the priestess of the game’s second route is never actually shown in full until near the story’s end. This sort of detachment means the reader spends far too much time staring at empty rain-soaked concrete and a single bus stop across the novel’s short length. This isn’t a huge issue, but a better variety of visuals, especially for a novel this short, would have been welcome.
The character art in Ame no Marginal is nothing particularly special. While Rin is cute, and her personality decently fleshed out, the art representing her is a bit odd-looking. Her face often bends at odd angles to a degree that it often seems as her cheeks are constantly being pinched by an invisible force, and her expressions can sometimes best be described as “dopy” looking. As Rin is the only character is consistently seen in full, these flaws in her art are especially noticeable and sometimes detract from interactions with her, as her strange expressions sometimes overpower the impact of her dialogue and actions. This problem is isolated to Rin in particular; however, as the rest of the novel’s cast is rarely illustrated in full, thus the visual problems afflicting her simply never come up in their cases.
Better implemented are Ame n Marginal’s backgrounds, which are simple, well illustrated and fittingly empty in a way that serves to reinforce the melancholy mood that permeates every part of a novel. This is a good thing to, as you’ll be looking at them often, as there are really only three locations in the entire novel; the protagonists modern-day place of work, the rain-soaked world, and the heroine’s Shinto shrine. As in the case of its character sprites, Ame no Marginal’s backgrounds serve their purpose well but are so lacking in variety that they sometimes become a bore.
Music and Sound
Ame no Marginal’s music is best described as “melancholic.” Every tune here serves to reflect the quiet despair that backs the novel’s story and does so with a variety of downbeat violin and piano pieces that often make the listener feel just a little depressed. While by no means truly memorable, like everything about this novel, the music in Ame no Marginal serves to reinforce the underlying depression that can come from trying to find your way in life. At one point, the game’s heroine remarks that while she doesn’t want to die, she doesn’t feel like living either. This turn of phrase is a good way of framing Ame no Marginal in general. From its story, to characters, and even music, it is all about forming a carefully knit picture of a point in life where a person can lose their way and is simply unable to find a way back, sending them into a sea of despair. Thus the music here serves this point well, you will feel sad just listening to it. That, however, seems to be the point.
This visual novel also features a bit of voice acting, but voiced lines, in general, are reserved entirely for Rin and a secondary character whose presence is a bit of a spoiler. While the voice acting is competent enough, Rin’s bouncy, overtly cute way of speaking is no different than the sort of high-pitched warbling you can hear in any run of the mill anime. Thus, I honestly feel that the voice acting here does little to enhance the experience, and I often found myself rapidly tapping through Rin’s dialog just to get her to stop talking. Perhaps if her character had been older and given a voice to match, I would have been kinder. But, as thing stand, this is a title in which voice acting adds very little to the overall experience.
Ame no Marginal is a story with a point, and it serves this point well by giving the reader something to think about long after its run time has come to an end. However, the price of telling such a pointed story is that the plot itself has to serve that point as well. As a result, no character here really has a personality beyond their broadly defied character traits, and the dualistic nature of our protagonist and heroine serve only to reinforce Ame no Marginal’s underlying themes. So, in all, this is a title worthy of its price of entry if you are looking for a tale that will make you sit, think, and reflect on your own life. If you want a truly great story with vibrant characters, well-defined arcs, and other such trappings, I would say that it would be best to look elsewhere.
For all of these reasons, I give Ame no Marginal a 7/10.
Ame no Marginal is now available on Steam.
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