It’s somewhat of a travesty that, despite having written a lot about my involvement in the localization of Flowers, I hadn’t yet got around to reviewing it. So, at last, here are my thoughts on the Japanese version of the game. (I’ve kept it spoiler-free, although there is some mention of the route structure.)
Title: Flowers -Le Volume sur Printemps-
Developer: Innocent Grey
Publisher: JAST USA (English version)
Playtime: 20 hours
Buy Flowers -Le Volume sur Printemps- here on Steam (English version).
Note: This review is for the Japanese version of the game, so there is no commentary on the translation or anything else specific to the English language release.
First things first, Flowers is a slow game, although I certainly don’t say that as a bad thing. While there are mystery elements, it’s mostly a drama with a touch of romance, following the story of shy Suoh Shirahane as she navigates a new school and learns to make friends and open her damaged heart.
While Flowers is very different to Innocent Grey’s previous works in terms of content, some of the school scenes in Kara no Shoujo 2 strike me almost as a precursor to the schoolgirl relationships we see here. (If I’m being completely honest, I would love it if the final installment of Flowers went completely off the rails into murderville, but that’s because I’m a twisted person who loves a dark and gruesome plot twist).
The most apt way I can think of to describe Flowers is as a coming-of-age story. Like with other stories of adolescence, minor things become all-encompassing, there’s an element of almost surrealism as the boundaries between fantasy and reality still aren’t one hundred per cent defined, and personal relationships and inner change are at the fore. It also touches on certain topics you could call “teen issues” such as parental pressure and abuse, body images, and so on. At points it can even get a bit philosophical with some discussion of religion, but it’s nothing too deep or heavy.
One thing I really liked about this game was its approach to sexuality. This is classed as a yuri or shoujo ai game, meaning that it deals with romance between women, but instead of everything being sunshine and roses, it also touches on the inner struggles that can come with discovering your attraction to the same sex.
The boarding school setting is one I like, as it offers a legitimate excuse for not having parents around. The isolation is important to the story, too. However, sometimes I felt like the story wanted to be set about 50 years in the past, and it was sometimes jarring to hear references to modern pop culture and the like when these girls are living a life fairly far removed from most teens these days.
Flowers keeps the deduction scenes found in Kara no Shoujo, although it’s a pared down version here, and the mysteries are not what I would call particularly engaging. In the deduction scenes you’re required to solve the mystery in order to progress with the story; failing leads to an immediate bad end. Unfortunately these parts can be quite frustrating as there’s not much handed out in the way of clues, which can result in a time-consuming trial and error approach (unless you have a handy guide, like the one I posted here on Steam ^_~). As well as the deduction scenes, there are plenty of choices to be made in each chapter, which keeps things engaging for the player, although ultimately there are only two distinct routes with one of them being the “true” end that the next game picks up after.
Moving onto the characters, I loved Suoh as a protagonist. She’s constantly anxious and unsure of herself, yet we get to see her genuine, witty personality shining through in her inner thoughts, and later in her conversations with her new friends. She loves books and movies, which I’m sure many fans of VNs can relate to, and throws in little references here and there that are fun to pick up on. Stuttering, nervous protagonists can be annoying, but with Suoh we’re offered an insight into her thought processes and why she is how she is which makes us empathize with her, and by the end you really get a sense that she’s grown and blossomed through her experiences.
Rikka and Mayuri are the next biggest characters in Spring, as they are both assigned as Suoh’s Amitie partners via the Academy’s “buddy system” that matches students together. Now I don’t want to spoil anything about the plot, but this is where the yuri part of the game comes into play. That’s all I’ll say for now, other than that I didn’t particularly like Rikka, but Mayuri is a darling and I love her. I could write a lot more about the subtleties and motivations of the characters and how well imagined they are, but I think this is enough for a basic review!
The three main girls are surrounded by a supporting cast of characters who will have their turns in the spotlight in later games in the series. I never really warmed to the Sasaki twins, but found the snarky Erika hilarious. I wasn’t too keen on Nerine, although she is undeniably gorgeous, while Yuzuriha is fabulous. Also, there is not a single man to be seen. Whether you see that as a positive or a negative aspect will be down to personal taste, but it definitely makes sense within the context of the setting.
The art is of course gorgeous, going for a soft, watercolor look in both CGs and sprites.The only gripe I have is that I wish the backgrounds were a little more detailed. The voice acting for all characters is superb, with no over-the-top performances or grating voices, and the music is unobtrusive but lovely. It’s a seriously gorgeous and well put together game, with everything working in tandem to evoke a soft and subdued mood without wandering too much into the melancholy.
You really can’t deny how pretty the game looks, but the story and themes of Flowers are where some readers may feel let down if they go into it expecting action and sexy times. However, for me this is where the game shone, and if you’re in the mood to enjoy a mature, nuanced, slow-paced tale then look no further than this beautiful visual novel.