Despite a rather lackluster first impression due to a less-than-interesting first route, Dies Irae completely won me over by Marie’s route and then even some more in Rea’s. Chuuni world perspectives and plot development either make me cringe (like Chihaya’s route in Rewrite) or fire me up and get me to bend my suspension of disbelief, but Dies Irae is the game that made me dump said suspension of disbelief along with whatever dislikes of shounen manga cliches out the window, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the ridiculous powerlevels and fight scenes without thinking of the restrictions of pre-established real life logic and the points of views of ordinary, mature, functional members of modern society.
The story was set in stone way back at the end of World War II in Berlin, Germany. In the warring city engulfed in flames, a crazily powerful group that looks as ominous as it does occult (read: very) seems to be carrying out a wide-scale ritual. They are the Black Round Table, preparing for something that will be carried out far into the future. Fast forward to modern-day Japan, where Fujii Ren lives the life of an ordinary high school student. He wishes to stop time so that his daily life of normalcy and predictability would remain so, but he gets into a serious physical brawl with his best friend Shiro. Two months later, when he is finally released from the hospital, Shiro is nowhere to be found and Ren starts having nightmares involving a blonde girl in a world of twilight, and a guillotine. Meanwhile, murders happen in the real world in his very city, and the Black Round Table aren’t exactly subtle in their arrival. Ren wants nothing to do with the abnormal, but the only way for him return to his peaceful days is to accept the guillotine and fight.
The plot and its development are chuuni to the extreme, and not very out of the ordinary. In fact, it plays straight most of the tropes you’d expect it to, and employs the use of various elements that consumers of genre should be very familiar with. The appeal is in the writing, setting, and characters, and nobody is more aware of that than the script itself, which acknowledges and fully embraces its cliches. The fight scenes and powerlevels are ridiculously broken from the standpoint of, well, anyone, and are extremely flashy. The majority of the characters have interesting and fleshed-out backstories, and motives that undeniably make sense yet, by all means, are foolish from the standpoint of an ordinary person. The setting is highly detailed and captivating (unless you are allergic to chuuni), and fit the story very well.
The writing makes a good use of prose, and does a great job of drawing you into the world of the story. Those who prefer concise and to-the-point narratives would probably dislike it though, because the text gets very wordy at times. Despite Ren being the protagonist, the game often switches POV’s and a large amount of the story is told in third-person narrative. There are four routes, with an enforced route order, because each route builds upon the information revealed in the previous one, while raising more questions to be answered in later routes. With that said, the first route doesn’t exactly make for a stellar first impression, and I would say that it’s the third route where the story really gets compelling. However, when things get moving, the story gets really good due to all the previous infodumping gettiing you familiar with the setting.
Fujii Ren – The (voiced) protagonist of the story. He is a high school student who wants his daily life of absolute normalcy to continue forever. He’s not exactly a social butterfly, but he appreciates the predictable and unchanging days spent with his few friends. His desire is for time to stop so he can enjoy his daily life forever, and he sticks by his admittedly immature and adolescence-reeking wish even in the face of danger. Also, he has a girlish face that appeals to certain girls who like to tease him.
Ayase Kasumi – Ren’s tomboyish and naggy childhood friend, and the heroine of the first route. She has the worst route, no debate, and is also my least favorite heroine because I dislike naggy childhood friends. Described to be like the sun, she is essentially the symbol of Ren’s beloved normalcy, and her route revolves around what happens when Ren refuses to distance himself from his previous life. None of the awesome happens, the ending isn’t satisfying, and the route is basically only relevant due to some infodumps. I didn’t like how the text insists that everyone likes Kasumi for her ability to face forward honesty, because she is the least interesting character to me, and her traits aren’t shown very well. She is barely present in most of the other routes.
Sakurai Kei – A serious, straight-laced girl in the Black Round Table, and also the heroine of the second route. Her route is better than Kasumi’s but doesn’t have enough momentum to give the story the full swing. It does reveal a lot of important plot points, though, and introduces one of my favorite side characters. Being the serious type and initially starting on the enemy side, Kei is, of course, a tsundere. I like her relationship with Ren the best, because they make a tsundere bakappuru, and is very different compared to the romance with other heroines, both in terms of interaction and Ren’s attitude. She is also my favorite heroine, and it’s not just because I like sword-wielding girls and battle heroines. Honest! Kei is presented as the most flawed of all the heroines; she isn’t very powerful or experienced compared to others in the Black Round Table, has a tendency to act before thinking, and is stubborn, narrow-minded, lacks flexibility, and is driven by a foolish desire. However, in the routes where she does get character development and adequate screentime, she is shown to have a burning soul and stands back up no matter how many times she is knocked down.
Marie – The girl Ren meets in the world of twilight, and the personification of the guillotine he sees. She is the heroine of the third route, and is very important to the overall plot. Initially she is pure, innocent, and oblivious to the ways of the human world and emotions. It makes for some funny conversations. Later on she develops the ability to understand human emotions, and grows to become kind and strong. Being the second favorite of the main heroines, Marie is adorable, but also stands up for Ren when others try to hurt him. Her route is where the plot really gets good, and it has great chuuni fights combined with the ideal turn of events where friendship and love persevere and a satisfying ending. Many characters get their shining moments in this route.
Himuro Rea – A strange senpai from school who keeps a poker face and monotone at all times, and seems to have an infinite amount of sandwiches. She is the heroine of the fourth and final route, and is also crucial to the plot. I’m rather apathetic to her character and her relationship with Ren feels rather dry. Her route, though, is really good, and also greatly differs in plot development from previous routes, shedding light on many characters that got the short end of the stick before and revealing final truths. It managed to make me like several characters that I was previously apathetic to, and completely breaks the damage counter in terms of powerlevels, leading up to a ridiculously awesome final fight. She has two endings: a rather open-ended one, and a more complete one that is incredibly satisfying and provides us with some slice-of-life scenes that are infinitely more awesome than the ones presented in the beginning.
Dies Irae contains loads of side characters, and is one of those games where I end up liking the non-obtainable characters better than the main heroines on average. My final favorite character ranking ended up being Kei > Rusalka > Beatrice > Marie. It helps that a good chunk of the routes aren’t about the heroines themselves, lending time to the more interesting characters.
The production values are high, with a lot of CGs, cut-ins, special effects and animated segments (reserved for stuff like flashy magic circles and power-ups). The character designs are appealing, the cel-shaded look is fitting and well-done. CGs look great for the most part, although there are some drops in quality and strange proportions, particularly in the beginning. Some of the standing character portraits are also rough around the edges.
Awesome, grandiose battle OST is where it’s at. They do an excellent job of getting your blood pumping. Some of the more sentimental tracks are not bad as well, but the battle music is truly the best. I can’t get enough of it.
Well, I sure loved Dies Irae. It fit with my tastes perfectly. Although it takes a while to truly start up (a long while, to be honest, considering the length of the game), it does a great job of immersing you in the world before hand. I’m the type who can easily forgive a bad start if the story ends on a high note, and indeed it did. Highly recommended for anyone looking for chuuni or even just some action. I’d say there are merits in the characters and themes even if chuuni isn’t necessarily your thing, provided you are not completely allergic to it. Masada’s writing completely won me over, and to think that in anything other than VNs, I’m the type who prefers concise and to-the-point narratives…
I’ve got the CS version of Kajiri Kamui Kagura pre-ordered. And I’ll probably buy Senshinkan when it comes out. Thanks Masada, I totally needed to empty my wallet.