(Spoilers…? Not explicitly but don’t read if you’re currently playing the game)
Having played (and enjoyed) Kokuchou no Psychedelica, Haitaka was on my radar but not a priority since my plate is loaded (I finished like 1 game from September when I bought 4, this game not included). I ended up playing this sooner than expected since I read some Amazon reviews complaining about linear plot, lack of romance/糖度, and even a post talking about the game having loads of landmine elements in the context of the console otome game market. I mean normally those things are supposed to deter one away, but story-heavy and linear are actually very appealing elements to me when it comes to a novel game so my interest was piqued.
Unlike Kokuchou where the main cast was stuck in a gothic mansion full of monsters and had a constant sense of suspense, Haitaka is actually really slow until chapter 3-4 where Things Happen (and then it’s basically non-stop). The protagonist is a rather unusual type for an otome game, being a girl who has pretended to be a guy for all her life. The game takes place in a town of eternal winter that has ceased outward communication in recent years. The town is divided into the Wolf and Hawk factions (fuck if I remember how to say their legit names when the game doesn’t give me furigana constantly), who are always at odds with each other. The towns people all believe that their life sucks because of the Witch, and are basically ready to go on a witch hunt if you tell them someone’s a witch.
The protagonist, Jed, was born with an eye that becomes red when she gets emotional. Red eyes are the signs of a witch, so she was made to live her life as a boy to cast suspicion away. She’s actually quite convincing as a dude, given her use of language and male pronouns. Her voice actress provides a pretty legit voice for a crossdressing girl, and Jed’s voice remains deep to the point of not fitting her appearance when she dresses up as a (a guy dressing up as a) cute girl later on. She also carries around a sword and gets some pretty good moments (basically solos the final boss fight), and generally has the courage and 行動力 to be convincing to the reader that she’s been raised as a dude in an isolated (and obviously not progressive) town. There’s some scene where she gets robbed by 3 dudes in a back alley and instead of having one of the heroes save her like I expected, she just gets beaten up and goes home.
The game maintains a very serious tone overall, much like Kokuchou. There are some fun scenes that use the crossdressing element very well (Jed makes the main guy’s tsundere imouto fall for her), but after the (long and tedious) chapter 2 it’s mostly non-stop plot. The fun events are fun though, Jed makes people of both genders gay for her. The flow chart is basically a straight line until the last two chapters. The butterfly shooting minigame is gone, but this time you have to go around a map at certain points and pick locations to read scenes. There’s no limit to how many scenes you can read so I just read everything that’s available, which resulted in some major tempo-killing in chapter 2 (where nearly all the map segments are).
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought put into the map segments since you can read some scenes that the game assumes you haven’t seen later in the plot — for example, in one of the map scenes Lavan and Levi show Jed their rings, but later on the plot acts like she doesn’t know about them. Most of the scenes are good at being standalone so it doesn’t bother me that much, but that one in particular stood out.
After chapter 2 the plot is basically non-stop. It’s serious and can be dark and bloody like some of the reviews warn, but I find them to be overstatements since I probably see worse on a regular basis. If anything, the darker scenes are still on the tame side and a lot of the dark elements are quite “safe.” I do find the CG composition to be really good — you have some really dynamic shots and CGs are used in appropriate key scenes. I’ve played a lot of recent games that favor bust shots so it’s nice to have some actual movement going on.
Of the two, Kokuchou definitely had the more engaging mysteries and better buildup, but it started losing steam when I had to wait for it to unravel its mysteries. Haitaka’s mysteries aren’t as interesting and some of the reveals didn’t have enough buildup to have much of an impact, but it has some strong individual scenes. Jed is a pretty cool protagonist, but I can’t say I got too absorbed into the world of the game. They could have delved deeper into the conflicts but they didn’t. The “real” setting of the game is also left vague like Kokuchou so I guess the whole point is to keep the background as a concept rather than a concrete component, though I do want a third game that continues to explore it.
The end result is a story that’s relatively interesting as I’m reading it, but most of the concepts and plot points stopped short of being something special when I’m judging in the context of general novelge. The background concepts are cool and the atmosphere is nice but at the end of the day it feels like there are many spots where the writers could have gone further. It’s an entertaining read but the key scenes could have used more “power.” Then again there’s a plot that moves along at a brisk pace (chapter 2 aside) and stuff constantly happening without dwelling on a single issue for too long so I can see people liking this approach better than the usual VN.
The linear nature of the story means that it also pushes the protagonist towards one particular guy over the others — that being Lugus. His actual “route” (or should I say branch) sucks but he’s at the spotlight of the true ending. He also has his romantic flags going off in the common route, to the point where he gets a kiss scene early on and the heroine ends up getting jealous (to the point of doing some 取り返しのつかない thing out of jealousy) when he’s hugging his imouto. The route branches are really short, maybe like 10% the length (or less) of the common route, so I can see people who really like one of the other guys being disappointed.
Oh and as for the “capturable” characters, it was pretty surprising how…daring they were with that aspect. I suppose this is what some people saw as 地雷, but after seeing too many modern eroge playing their heroines safe to the point where side characters have better dialogue, I welcome this kind of lack of restraint on 攻略対象. The main three guys are relatively normal, until you get to Levi’s reveal. It’s handled weirdly since his actions are excused by a certain outside factor that makes people lose control of their desires, and the story doesn’t make him atone for what he did except in his ending. Speaking of said outside factor, it was used a lot less than I expected. Lugus gets the true ending (sort of) and Lavan has probably the most “normal” romance end so Levi ends up being the most shafted guy, which sucks because I quite liked him even after the reveal. As for the other people with endings, one of them is essentially a dad (with, well, special circumstances) and the game basically doesn’t give a shit about that (good character btw). There’s also a guy who pops up late and has a branch near the end but also another branch early on that can only be reached after clearing the other characters. The ending segment to that branch is probably the last thing the player will see in the game, and provides some rather open-ended stuff that could lead into an ambitious third game. It would have been cool if they expanded on that, but the game ended before it could so it ends up as a vague and confusing way to finish off the story. The guy’s still a mystery even after two of his routes.
Most of the endings, aside from the true ending, provide a transient feeling that’s quite fitting for the winter atmosphere. The characters are finding a small bit of happiness in what is essentially a sinking ship, so they don’t have the satisfaction like the real ends in Kokuchou. The true ending could honestly have been longer and thrown the other characters a bone or two, but it opts for more explicitly linking the game to Kokuchou. I was happy with the Kokuchou links throughout the game in the form of Elrick and his rabbit, but the connection in the ending just felt way too forced and unnecessary. If they really wanted to make that explicit link to Kokuchou they should’ve spent more time developing it instead of just throwing it in in the ending. At this point I’d rather them spend more time giving this game’s own characters a more satisfying conclusion in the true end.
Comparing the two, Kokuchou is definitely a more focused story and satisfying read but strangely enough I still enjoyed Haitaka. Jed made appreciate it a bit more than I would have — not that Beniyuri isn’t cute, but Jed is a refreshing lead and one of the few times where I actually felt the 燃え in scenes involving the protagonist in an otome game. It helps that the game is linear and keeps moving along so there isn’t time for you to get bored while reading once you’ve made it through chapter 2 and its maps. It really should have gone on for longer though, and spend more time exploring the stuff it hurriedly threw at the player. I’m interested in what the team has up in sleeve for a third game (if they make a third game).