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MAMIYA Review: Emotional Emancipation

Not everyone gets a happy ending. What if you could change that? MAMIYA is a viciously dark visual novel that radiates the anxiously despairing situations of four young men. Originally a doujin, the story has since been developed into a fully fledged, commercial game.

Film director Bong Joon Ho once said that a saying that stuck with him early in his life was “The most personal is the most creative.” This quote, supposedly, was stated by fellow film director Martin Scorsese. Adhering to this mindset will inevitably give rise to those that wish to push boundaries. I have no prior knowledge of the history of developer Kenkou Land, only that MAMIYA originally existed as a doujin visual novel (according to Visual Novel Database). Though it wouldn’t surprise me if they, too, took Scorsese’s words to heart with their work.

Should one look at the synopsis for this game on its Steam page, they won’t find too much. Only a short snippet about four men dealing with deeply rooted traumas. This vagueness may not inspire much confidence, but the narrative has a tendency to surprise and fester. And it is these twisting qualities that will either encourage or deter one from treading onward. It insists that it’s just about the lives of four men facing hardships, and that is true… on the surface. That is just what MAMIYA wants: to lull you in with as little as possible.

MAMIYA is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.

This review will contain some minor general story spoilers.

Story – Deep Dark Depths

Beginning MAMIYA is an incredibly disorienting matter. Players will likely find themselves at a loss the first time around, being faced with a bombardment of choices that seemingly have no sense to them. All they know is that someone named Natsume has died, and four interesting figures attend his funeral. A moody introduction to what is ultimately a very captivatingly sinister narrative.

One’s seating arrangement is serious business, as it will determine the story flow and which character will be focused on. I did not know this starting it up initially, so I blindly picked random things based on intuition. The way the game takes note of this is, as stated previously, unclear to beginners, though repeated playthroughs (as is crucial) provide valuable hindsight. Essentially, don’t let the opening deter you from continuing; its shaky preface is (probably) intentional.

General Writing

Angst. Many understand the meaning of this word, though those with prevalent internet experience may leer at it with a hint of irony. Even I, early in my life, saw the broodiness of one’s emotional darkness to be unappreciable at best and hilarious at worst. Here, it is the primary weapon of interest, as the already vague synopsis makes abundantly clear. MAMIYA is not a pleasant, family-friendly stroll through merriment, even if some scenes do convey it well enough. Their aim is to make one sympathize at heart, and maybe even revel in the psychological torture these characters go through.

Thank you for clearing that up.

Thank you for clearing that up.

That established, I did come out of this… “impacted.” It’s somewhat difficult to say if there were any particular portion that really stood out aside from the eternal pit of negative emotions, writing-wise. To summarize the events vaguely, one will go through the lives of each of the four main characters and come to understand their traumas. Let me make it abundantly clear that their traumas do not go undercooked whatsoever. Psychologically, all of these characters are fragile, if not already on some trek to meet a doomed end. Some are more obvious, others may end up surprising.

Perhaps as a testament to my youth, various situations did come off as somewhat over-the-top. Generally, this came in the form of characters’ environments, which seemed, at times, unusually cruel. Not to dismiss the validity of the situations present—they certainly happen, only the degree shown here makes it blatantly clear that it’s for the effect of an emotionally-enveloping story. Like the game doing little to hide the proverbial “FEEL BAD FOR ME” sign from glowing over the characters’ heads, in bright neon letters.

Asking “What If?”

This aspect of MAMIYA is what most intrigued me, and this section will be where most minor spoilers will persist. At some point in the narrative, a new character will arrive that ends up being the prominent figure of the story. Through their ambition, the story takes on a new direction, which aims to escape the aspect of overwhelming darkness. And it is from them that a wrinkle of perspective ultimately arises, making for a clever use of narrative befuddlement.

Potty mouth, mister!

Potty mouth, mister!

Circling back to the “internet” topic, my history also consisted to some degree of reading (ironically funny) fanfiction. A common feature to these types of stories is the use of an “OC” (original character), which acts as a sort of omniscient being for the author to flaunt their knowledge of the story’s parent media. A “self-insert” or “Mary Sue/Gary Stu,” if you will. These characters tend to illicit a sort of self-indulgency that can heavily deter people from taking stories seriously. Whether through blatant favoritism based on importance to a plot or being the savior to every character’s eye, it’s something of a spectacle to behold.

What does the previous paragraph have to do with anything? Well, this game kind of incorporates that same energy. Only instead of veering the path into conflict-less gobbledygook, it subverts it unto itself. At a certain point, the story ends up getting much bigger than just “Four dudes have a mental breakdown.” Via the aforementioned new character and further exploration of supernatural elements, the perspective evolves into something more. And this sudden alteration remains, to me, the highlight of the game’s writing prowess.

Characters

What is a visual novel if not for its characters? The cast of MAMIYA is certainly an interesting one, complete with characters just unhinged enough for you to believe they’ll snap at any moment. Consisting of all (varyingly) young men within a given area, their stories inevitably overlap to some degree, making use of delightful interaction.

It wasn't the last time.

It wasn’t the last time.

However, one’s interest in these characters may be somewhat deterred by the circumstances surrounding them. A variety of sides are showcased for each character, whether driven to by psychotic torture or respite from it. Any expectation of “normalcy” should be disregarded. Whatever normal characteristics are provided come in the form of their inner desires. To be loved, to be accepted, to be remembered—standard things to desire in one’s life. Are these characters only a reflection of their environments, or do their environments symbolize who they truly are? The story muddies this constantly.

Overall, I liked most characters—some more outside of their respective paths. Although, I came out of the game not very fond of Suou, the most inquisitive and talkative of the four, for reasons I won’t express. The rest, including new characters introduced later on, kind of blend into an enjoyable experience of discovery that I attribute to the game’s writing. Whether or not this is due to said characters or how they fit into the overall plot is another issue. In a struggle for priority, the narrative and characters are often at odds with one another. Perhaps that’s simply more of what’s intriguing about the whole thing.

Gameplay – Visual Novel Things

Visual novels are fun in that you get all the enjoyment out of reading, only with (occasionally) moving pictures. The downside, should you consider it one, is that the extent of gameplay comes down to clicking a button. Riveting, fast-paced action such as pressing the “Enter” key several thousands of times to progress dialogue. To add some spice to it, it may even throw in the occasional choice for one to incorporate their mouse with!

The context is that they're speaking of Ryou's little sister.

The context is that they’re speaking of Ryou’s little sister.

Jokes aside, MAMIYA is a generally kinetic visual novel, meaning it’s straightforward and choices don’t branch off into things. I say “generally” because outside of choosing which character to focus on and very sporadic choices to affect the ending outcome, it’s basically text. Technically, given it has multiple endings, it’s not kinetic, though the relative lack of choices overall makes it barely non-kinetic. Otherwise, it’s a visual novel. You’re progressing story by clicking a button.

One thing I will note under this section is a minor, but noteworthy complaint about its performance. Given the nature of the game, one will restart often, and occasionally that will mean swimming through a lot of text. The “Skip” feature is, compared to other visual novels I’ve played, rather slow. My theory is that it tries to load the constant image/character animations in real time, as skipping text on a solid black/white screen does go rather quickly. But this slow skipping feature ended up being something of a pain when trying to get to certain points in the story. Always be sure to save!

Graphics & Audio – And the Moodiness Returns

Artistically speaking, MAMIYA has the precision to look professional while also jagged enough to keep that “doujin” spirit. Matching the tone, many of the CGs present end up having a wistful, decrepit quality to them that evokes the visceral atmosphere of the game. Though it’s not all dark and broody. Many scenes and artwork is rather comical, and occasionally silly in its interpretation of character interaction. One of my favorite CGs in the game consists of a large group of characters searching for something, with a few characters obviously lamenting being involved.

Taking shots.

Taking shots.

There’s a good distinction of edginess mixed with humor and wonderment. Some art looks a little less impressive than others, though overall the quality remains well above average. Perfectly encapsulates the wild nature of the narrative and characters.

Audio, on the other hand, ends up being more impactful for me—both positively and negatively. To start off nicely, I really enjoy the soundtrack to this title. Sometimes standard, there are some instances where music with actual lyrics begins to play, generally during dramatic moments. These ended up being more effective, particularly with emphasizing the mood of the situation. Sometimes cool, sometimes sweet, and generally somber, there’s a nice variety of tracks, lyrics or not, that add to the story.

Its implementation of sound effects, though, feel a little clunky. Generally too loud and occasionally don’t even match the actions they’re intending to provide audio to. The most blatant are running footsteps, which sound like someone scraping a carpeted floor with a large brush. If anything took me out of the experience, it were these cacophonous effects. Even if the volume can be adjusted, the strange assignment of various sounds add a little oddity to everything.

MAMIYA was reviewed on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by Fruitbat Factory.

Summary
If it's darkness you want, it's darkness you get. Angsty and emotionally turbulent, MAMIYA is a layered story of dealing with the complexity of the mind. While not entirely free of the stereotypes people attribute to these "edgy" narratives, there is a notable intellect to the way it progresses and alters the direction. If it were a little cleaner on the technical side and more level in its portrayal of sympathetic circumstances, this would be a game well worth remembering. In its current state, it's still a very entertaining, and impactful, tale of people.
Good
  • Nice use of narrative subversion
  • Characters are generally likable and earnest
  • Soundtrack is very immersive
  • Art style is appropriately moody
Bad
  • Occasionally over-the-top with its anxiety
  • Sound effect implementation is dubious
  • Skip feature could be faster
7.5
Good

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