ナツメグ – Natsumegu
Released: Feb 23, 2007
The games from NekonekoSoft were the ones that convinced me to become more diligent in my Japanese studies, as well as start playing Visual Novels in genera, not to mention every so slowly developing my skills at translation. So, I was quite happy to hear that some of the core members of NNS decided to get together again to create their a new company, Cotton-soft.
And while they don’t intend to simply recreate NNS, they do keep a certain amount of NNS spirit, perhaps most importantly, they keep certain amount of rapport with their fan base, a sort of “we treat you well, and you’ll treat us well in kind” spirit that’s very hard to create out of thin air. Where they’ll wind up in the future, no one knows, but, at the least, they’re off to a good start with Natsumegu.
The core premise of Natsumegu is simple. Atsushi, the main character, along with Miri, and Shigeo, have over the years formed a close group together with Yukako in their tiny school in the middle of Tokyo. However, due to family reasons, Yukako will be moving into the Kansai area at the start of the fall semester. The school, which has only a handful of students in it, is also going to merge with a larger school at the beginning of fall, so for everyone involved, it is a time of great change.
So, because of all this, everyone is a bit depressed, so Atsushi comes up with a plan to start a club, a club to create fun happy memories together.
From reading this general overview of the premise, one thing nabbed my attention. For better or worse, I really like stories where the characters know that something inevitable is going to happen. In that watching how their characters grow and deal with that knowledge, if done right, is very interesting to me. I suppose I’m a sucker for such existential dilemmas. But anyways, Natsumegu had the perfect backdrop for this preference of mine.
The main heroine of the story. Talented, really sweet and kind to everyone, and in general a good girl all around. In fact, she’s such a gentle goody-goody, she’s the most invisible character of all the girls, a fact joked about a number of times in Cotton’s 4-koma and various promotional materials. However, once in awhile, you see that glimpses underneath that gentle exterior is a girl that could been more powerful and amazing, if only she weren’t so nice.
Hotori is short, very short, so short she’s crossed out her height on her character information picture on Cotton’s page. She’s naturally the clumsy type and can’t cook for her life. However, she makes up for it in sheer cuteness power, energy, and love of cleaning. In fact, when it comes to cleaning, her personality takes a sharp turn.
Miri’s the other close friend of the group that the club starts around. In general she’s the sporty angry tsundere type girl. She tends to have violent moments, but mostly directed (justly) at Shigeo. If it weren’t for her, Shigeo wouldn’t get nearly as much punishment as he deserves. Incidentally, she is quite amazing drunk.
The winner of the first character popularity contest, She’s the oldest of the bunch, and acts like the big-sister most of the time. She really loves hugging, squeezing, and generally crushing people to her massive chest, to which everyone (especially Celes) can only think of as torturous punishment. As a character, she probably has the most stage presence in the game, and being voiced by Maki Izumi is a big plus.
A half-blooded girl who transfers in. She’s also a tsundere girl, and a sheltered ojou-sama to boot. Her natural prettiness overcomes Madoka and so she’s often being hugged to death. Her main feature, is that she finds bad puns hilarious, and will constantly try to make new ones up. The worse the pun, the louder she’ll laugh. Incidentally, Celes won the second popularity vote, in a close battle with Madoka, and so we’ll probably see more of her in the future, yay.
The main character, he’s not particularly interesting in many aspects. Spent most of his childhood moving from city to city, lives with his mother near Yukako. Neither hatefully indecisive, nor particularly memorable, a pretty average character as they go. Come to think of it, he’s almost as boring as Yukako.
The “token male friend” of the group. What Atsushi lacks in personality Shigeo makes up for out of sheer bold perversion. He’ll carry around loads of adult videos in his bag, hits on every last female he comes across in the game, constantly says the most outrageous things, and in general is a walking harassment suit waiting to happen. And yet, somehow, maybe because he’s so over the top, he’s fun to watch. Everyone is thankful to Miri for smacking him whenever the situation calls for it. And so as not to totally trash his character, once in a very long while, he’ll actually show a more serious side, and on average, is a good guy.
Natsumegu’s system is slightly interesting in that the story is split into 3 major parts.
The first part is the prologue/character introduction sequence, and is skippable once you finish the game once. After that, is the part where you get to pick what everyone will do that week. This part is interesting because you are presented with 3 cards to click on, which are randomly presented to you. These cards initially have “?” on them, but when you complete one from previous runs, a short summary will replace the “?“. Later, as you clear more cards, you’re allowed to shuffle the cards to get a new set to choose from
When you click on any of the cards, you’ll go into that event for the week, where you’ll have the usual choices and such. In total, over 2 months, you get to pick 12 cards. Even after your first play through, there are a few more cards to clear, so the game has a bit of replay value, but card-wise only enough to do 2 full runs of the game before you’ve seen all the major events.
Afterwards, depending on who you’ve spent the most time with or whatever during those 12 events, you enter a girl’s specific story. For the most part these stories are unbranched stories of a fair length. Cotton seems to have inherited NNS’s general avoidance of bad and/or multiple endings for the most part. Overall I like it that way.
Overall, I liked Natsumegu. The general feeling for the first 2/3rds of the game is downright hilarious, and doesn’t particularly bog down in depression over the inevitable parting in the future. Bright comedy overflows every situation, sometimes taking on weird turns. There was one big reference to the movie Spaceballs in one of them of all things. The characters are quite strong ones, especially Madoka and Celes, and dare I say Shigeo.
The individual stories of each girl somewhat vary in quality. Because I’m avoiding spoilers I can’t say too much. But each is a bit bittersweet in its own way, sometimes silly at moments but no real disappointments or huge surprises…
Except, one of them, my favorite one, happens to touch on that theme I mentioned up top. Just that story alone made the whole game worth it for me. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Kio Nachi did that scenario (as well as another), he seems to have a knack for building a story that smacks me in the face when he tries.
As Cotton’s first work, you can feel that they haven’t quite hit their stride yet. But they’re still up there in terms of story quality. It looks like they will be making games of various genres as time goes on, and I’m happily awaiting pre-order goodie announcements for their second work, a serious, darker piece, Reconquista.