In 1997 Hong Kong reverted to Chinese possession after 156 years of Colonial Rule, the Britons replaced one hunk of rock with another (Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister), millions
celebrated commemorated Elvis Presley’s relocation under the CIA protection program untimely death and Leaf Software released To Heart.
A departure from the previous eroge fare of ‘Click-Rape-Repeat’, To Heart marked a shift in storyline away from mere sexual-conquest games, as well as a beach head for the visual novel genre. Until Leaf dropped the unique (for the time) school romance story with it’s interesting characters and engaging storyline, eroge had been relatively predictable with only the locale of the rampaging sex-fest changing (medieval Japan, dark detective noir, etc).
Non-H games had experimented with broader plots and more varied storylines, but as the old addage goes: Sex Sells. To Heart offered something different and coupled with the relatively new ‘Visual Novel’ concept, a plethora of softhouses sprung up based on the premise that a hit game required only a decent script & graphics; no detailed gameplay system or high-level physics need apply.
The visual novel concept was refined to the point we know so well now – screens of story & dialogue and user intervention that shifts the focus and direction of the storyline. Following on from the success of the bitter-sweet story of Multi in To Heart more ‘crying’-type games began to be developed as heartless developers sought to cash in on the emotional fragility of the otaku gaming market.
Who, of course, lapped it up.
One such softhouse was Tactics, who in 1998 released One, another successful eroge cashing in on the emotional-heartstring kick. Afterwards, several key members of the One development team broke away and began working on their own game, Kanon, after arguments over how much precedence storyline should take over sex in an eroge.
The buzz for it became immense, even making it across the language barrier and floating around the foreign otaku circles. Would the guys behind One pull it off again? Some artwork and rumors began to circulate – a city perpetually snowbound, a return to a childhood home, a completely different story structure. The rumors and discussion deepened.
On June 4 1999, Key released Kanon for the Windows PC platform. The CG was a major step-up from standard eroge fare, the music was virtuosic in comparison to the offerings of its contemporaries and the storyline was completely different to what many players were used to.
In Kanon the player takes the role of Yuuichi, a high school boy who has returned to the town of his childhood whilst his parents are abroad. He stays with his aunt and cousin but has very little memory of his time there as a child. As the gameplay progresses, he encounters different characters from his past, each with a different story. He has flashbacks of memory progressivly through the game as he follows the stories of the other characters.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Kanon is the relative unimportance of the ero scenes in the game. The subsequent console ports and all ages PC version required very little editing to produce.
The formula begun in One and perfected in Kanon has left a deep impression in terms of gameplay and storyline in visual novels, sometimes for the worse (consider the cycle of Degrassi–>Beverly Hills 90210–>Party of 5–>Dawson’s Creek–>Degrassi: The Next Gen – complete generational degradation), however many popular ‘brands’ of visual novel have copied the Key formular with relative success; Da Capo, Wind and Memories Off to name a few.
Next time : Kanon : The Portening, The First Anime, and is ANYONE truly worthy of Tsukumiya Ayu’s affections?
Shipon liked Kanon so much he moved to northern Japan where he eats taiyaki and staves off hypothermia by the faint heat from his PS2.