Realistic love triangle drama with a very rage-inducing protagonist and some heroines who hardly qualify as stellar humans. I’ve heard of people wanting to punch the screen at certain points in the game, and I’d probably agree if not for the fact that I was playing the PS3 port and therefore could not reach the TV screen.
The PS3 port is Cero D and basically employs a fade-to-black right before they get down to business.
The game is basically divided into three parts: Introductory Chapter –> Closing Chapter –> Coda. IC and CC were released separately, and Coda comes with CC.
Introductory Chapter takes place during Kitahara Haruki‘s final year at the Houjou University’s affiliate high school, where he is looking for members to help out with his best friend’s light music club, which is scheduled to perform at the quickly approaching cultural festival and the majority of the members ditched. He manages to recruit the school’s most popular girl, Ogiso Setsuna, and his antisocial classmate, Touma Kazusa, into the club, and they spend their days practicing like mad for their upcoming live concert. The friendship the three of them form eventually turns into a love triangle that ends terribly for everyone, to say the least. The story is linear here, but playing through IC again gives extra scenes that were withheld from you the first time around so that the player’s understanding of the situations is roughly equivalent to Haruki’s.
Closing Chapter begins three years after IC, where Haruki is attending Houjou University. He has been traumatized by the events in IC, and has been avoiding Setsuna and intimate human contact in general. Piling as much work onto himself as possible, Haruki tries to avoid thinking about the events of three years ago and instead interacts mainly with people who he believes are as far away from his trauma as possible. However, certain circumstances in his part-time jobs force him to reopen his old wounds that he tried to forget, and face that which he has tried to run away from all this time. CC is where the routes for the side heroines are at, giving Haruki to pursue a romance with girls who aren’t involved with the drama in IC. They’re pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and not even mandatory to unlock the final segment of the story, but they do provide some interesting details and are long enough to have some entertaining drama. My favorite of the CC routes is Chiaki’s which provides some delicious suffering.
Coda is the grand finale of White Album, unlocked after Setsuna’s route in Closing Chapter. It is the conclusion to the love triangle involving Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa that started way back in IC. All in all, the whole of White Album 2 takes Haruki and his close friends from the last year of high school to his first year in the working society, making this a rather damn long relationship drama. Haruki only gets to choose between Setsuna and Kazusa here, but there’s an “unfaithful” route which is exactly what it sounds like, and actually provides the best drama and entertaining character breakdowns precisely because Haruki chooses the “wrong” path. It also has an extra episode in the PS3 version dedicated to it.
If I had to sum up White Album 2, it’d be about romances between terrible people. Haruki is a horrible guy and he knows it, and most of the heroines house critical flaws that bring pain and suffering to those close to them. However, the writing works well because despite being rage-inducing, the characters are also very human and relatable because of the less-than-stellar things they do. The main trio, in particular, are a degree of complexity higher than what I normally expect from fiction, and there is a great deal of detail put into constructing the characters’ mental and emotional states, and every unexpected action is backed by a properly explained motive.
All in all, there are plenty of dramatic twists and situations where the reader is given more information than Haruki and you can only rage as you helplessly watch events unfold. These characters will hide and lie and generally do everything but calmly explain everything to one another.
Kitahara Haruki is the protagonist of the story. He has always been a hard-working overachiever who gets top grades in school and is relied on by everyone around him, even when he is no longer the class representative. Always thorough and willing to take responsibility, his attitude towards work makes him adored by authority and warmly welcomed by society. No matter how many people initially see him as that persistent guy who continuously forces his ideals (particularly in terms of ethics) on others and just won’t shut up, they eventually turn to rely on him when the situation gets serious.
Alas, it is Haruki’s thoroughness and strong sense of responsibility that brings him to his downfall when it comes to relationships. He cannot ignore anyone, lacks the courage to make decisions that directly hurt others yet eventually ends up causing pain to all parties, and often remains indecisive until the very end. His awareness of ethics makes him a man who is crushed by his conscience due to the difference between what is perceived is right and what he ends up doing. While he’s a decent guy when things proceed down the correct path, he has more than enough pathetic moments. Have fun watching yourself rage at him.
One of the main heroines is Ogiso Setsuna, the beloved idol of the school. She is beautiful and friendly when approached, yet places a wall between herself and others so she has no close friends. However, she is this way precisely because she was consecutively voted as the pretties girl in the school, and her classmates all expect her to be a fashionable, wealthy young lady. In contrast to the rest of the school which is full of middle-high class families, Setsuna is actually a homely girl from a commoner class family, and refrains from hanging out with others in order to work at a part-time job. Once she befriends Haruki, she is revealed to be a normal girl who is very close with her family and also somewhat playful.
Setsuna is actually the most complicated character in the story, and her character is difficult to fully grasp until the end. Despite appearing sweet to absolutely everyone, Setsuna is strangely selfish, and is actually very insecure and calculating deep down, great at placing small lies here and there to get others to do what she wants. However, when things do backfire, she goes through a whole lot of suffering for it, and despite it being so, she is great at acting strong in front of Haruki and putting up fronts in general. The writing insists, at multiple points in the story, that Setsuna is the most angelic, wonderful girl can ever get, and sometimes I feel like I can buy that despite some of the things she does. After all, she does have to put up with Haruki. Meanwhile, he is made out to be a complete monster for choosing another girl over her, and gets severely punished for it in some cases. She loves Haruki, but won’t accept him when he is half-assed or lying to himself. She wants to be with him, but adamantly refuses to give up the rest of her world for him, and strives for only the absolute best situation. At the end I still don’t know whether I love or hate her, but I can respect her motives and point of view.
The other main heroine is Touma Kazusa, Haruki’s antisocial classmate who skips class as often as a delinquent and is on unfriendly terms with just about everybody. She is actually the daughter of a famous pianist, and a musical genius who dropped out of Houjou’s music division. She is particularly annoyed with Haruki, who has been persistently pestering her for the past half year. However, once Haruki befriends her, she is an invaluable ally for the cultural festival, and is also an amaenbou who really is helpless at everything but music. When it comes to music though, her passion and confidence is unrivaled.
I find that Haruki and Kazusa have the best interactions, so I rooted for Kazusa since the beginning (plus, the long black hair + tsundere is an archetype that I’ve begun to really like). However, her character development turns out to be optimal in the unfaithful route’s extra episode (and maybe Setsuna’s route), and it is pretty obvious that not having Haruki by her side to tend to her every need makes her a more functional person. Her major problem is that she has absolutely no interest in anything but piano, and is therefore absolutely horrid at socializing and fitting in with the rest of society. While that sort of mysterious lone wolf attitude looks cool to a select few people (i.e. me) when you’re in high school, the overly narrow view of the world is easily broken and quickly gets you nowhere in life. The game does a good job of insisting that.
In university, Haruki meets three side heroines that aren’t very relevant once he graduates, but they do have some interesting routes and connect him back to the incidents in IC in strange ways.
Izumi Chiaki is a lazy girl who shares the same lectures as Haruki and always sticks close to him. She is a constantly slacking problem student who Haruki can’t help but look after. She’s a woman who doesn’t act like one, and a friendly girl who doesn’t seem to be caught up in any drama and has no relation to the events in IC. To Haruki who doesn’t trust himself with women and has been largely avoiding contact with them, Chiaki is like a miraculous distraction that also lets him use his persistently lecturing side as he pleases, but is also surprisingly intuitive. Such a convenient and harmless character sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Sugiura Koharu is a girl in her final year at Houjou’s affiliate high school, and approaches Haruki because he rejected her best friend’s confession and said friend is now depressed. Responsible, persistent, and having a strong sense of justice, Koharu is very similar to the IC version of Haruki. Needless to say, Haruki is extremely annoyed by the exact copy of his past self, and Koharu refuses to back down unless he explains absolutely everything to her. Her route basically taught me that high school students are a bunch of little shits who like to gang up on people, I’m glad that portion of my life is over. The ending to her route felt really facepalm-worthy.
Kazaoka Mari is Haruki’s boss at his part-time job at a magazine publisher. She’s a strict boss who works everyone like mad, but is actually kind and caring. She likes Haruki because of his capability at work, but sees that he is just overloading himself with work in a self-destructive way. Although she is a competent member of the working society and good at socializing, her passion and confidence in work along with the tough exterior but cute interior is, for Haruki, somewhat reminiscent of Kazusa. I’d say she is the closest to a good, logical human out of the game’s heroines, but her awkwardness at love combined with Haruki’s indecisiveness more than makes up for that with rage.
The three side heroines have routes that provide some interesting insight and fun drama, particularly Chiaki’s which has some delicious suffering. They’re not really necessary to the central love triangle and you can have a satisfying experience skipping their routes, but I liked the side heroines so their routes added to the game for me.
As expected of a high-profile company’s PS3 port, the character portraits have subtle animations that make things more lively. However, there are a lot of off-model CGs. The PS3 version fixes the worst CGs in Introductory Chapter, but there are still enough below average CGs with strange proportions to notice. The regular standing portraits look better than most of the CGs, but even then they are not that nicely-drawn once you get over the novelty of them being animated (which you won’t even have to if you aren’t playing the PS3 version). Several nice CGs do exist, but there are more than enough that have some sort of problem, especially coming from a renowned company.
Music mostly consists of piano tracks, and has a high number of vocal songs. Overall it sounds pretty nice, and Todokanai Koi is the best song. Generally speaking, the music here is probably something that most people will have no trouble liking. There’s also loads of sound effects, and I’m not very particular about voice acting so everyone sounds acceptable.
A dramatic romance full of flawed but relatable characters and a realistic atmosphere with lots of suffering relationships. There is always the theme of snow covering up one’s sins which feels like it is overused at times, and you will eventually learn to become friends with betrayal. The characters are well-written with understandable motives and development, and WA2 is overall a quality game with a few hiccups in pacing here and there. There are plenty of brilliant and perhaps rage-inducing moments to make up for some of the drops in pacing, which I feel happens the most in Coda.
I don’t even normally care for intense relationship drama, but White Album 2 provided enough interesting characters for me to become absorbed into the story like I never had before with this kind of setting.