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Crescendo, by Digital Objects. It's an H-Game, and for the purpose of this review, I played the English translation published by G-Collections.

It's a typical dating-sim game, where you're presented with a story, and then a list of choices of how you want the plot to progress. Perversion-wise, this game is pretty mild. The dirtiest act involved in anal sex, and it only happens with one particular girl. Otherwise it's only vaginal or oral sex, and it's possible to reach the end of the story without having sex at all. There's no threesomes or anything like that; you can get with at most one girl, and it's also possible to not get with anyone at all. This game isn't pornography; it's erotica.

You play as Ryo Sasaki, and the game starts five days before your highschool graduation ceremony. Most of the story unfolds via flashbacks of events between you and your friends from previous years. The story was actually very interesting and complex, featuring love hexagons. Depending on which choices you make, your character will recall a different set of flashbacks, and so I had to play through the game 11 times, trying all sorts of different options, to uncover what happened these last few years, and even now I'm not sure I figured it all out.

One of the story arcs, for example, involves Kaho Nagira, Tomonori Sugimura and Kyoko Ashihara. The literary arts club wasn't doing too well, and they needed to find some new members or else it would close down. Kaho knew that Ryo had a crush on her, so she asked Him to join, and he did. Kaho actually had a crush on the president of the club, Suzuki, and really had no interest in Ryo at all. Actually, Kaho thought Ryo was a jerk, as did most of the rest of school, because of his loner personality. At the end of every school year, the literary club hosts a party where the senior students are congratulated on graduating, and a new president is chosen for the next year. Ryo could sense that Kaho liked Suzuki, and gave Kaho advice on a gift to purchase for him. Kaho never got the courage to reveal to Suzuki how she felt, and it was announced at the graduation party that Suzuki had a new girlfriend, and would start a new life with her in college. Kaho was heartbroken, but Ryo was there to comfort her. That's when Kaho started to have feelings for Ryo. The next year, Kaho was president of the club, and hosted a booth for recruiting new members at the beginning of the year. Tomonori, Ryo's best friend, came over to the booth to look for Ryo, and met Kaho. He instantly fell in love with her. Later, he asked Ryo to ask Kaho out for him. Ryo did this, and Kaho asked "Do you want me to go out with Tomo?" to which Ryo replied "Yes, he's my best friend, and a really good guy." She was sad that it seemed Ryo didn't care for her anymore, and accepted going out with Tomo. Meanwhile Kyoko, Kaho's friend, has started falling in love with Ryo. She confesses this to Kaho, and Kaho gives her advice, including pushing her to ask Ryo out, even though Kyoko is just a freshman, and Ryo is a senior now. She tells Kyoko that she was in a similar situation, and she regrets never having told the person she loved her true feelings. Tomonori can sense there's something going on between Kaho and Ryo. He confronts her about this, and she admits that it's true. Tomonori then encourages her to reveal her feelings to Ryo. Maybe I'm not used to reading romance novels, so I don't know how complex these things can get, but this plot already seems pretty messy to me. This is just one path through the game, the one of Kaho. The other 10 times I played through it, I uncovered other relationships going on. At the end of this review, I'll add Ryo's sister, Ayame's story. And that'll be only two. I'm omitting Kyoko, Yuka, Kaori and Miyu's stories, each of which are just as complex as these first two. Also note that I've significantly left out many important, but non-crucial details, in these summaries. If you actually play the game, you'll see the story is even more complex than what I've presented here.

What's interesting about the presentation of the story is that sometimes you'll see the exact same flashback of the same situation, but in different contexts, and it changes the meaning of the words spoken, and the emotions involved. For example, there's that flashback when Ryo is telling Kaho that Tomonori likes her, and Ryo is asking Kaho to go out with Tomo, because Tomo is too shy to ask himself. When this flashback is presented from Kaho's point of view, we find out that Kaho's actually in love with Ryo, and now she feels that Ryo doesn't love her back, because he wants her to go out with Tomo instead. When this flashback is presented from Tomo's point of view, we find out that Tomo sensed a connection between Kaho and Ryo, but he wanted Kaho for himself, so he knew that the best way to end the relationship was to get Ryo to ask for him. If he had asked directly, he knew Kaho would refuse and hold out for Ryo. Part of the nature of this is that characters will occasionally make comments, and the first time you hear them, you think they're idle chitchat or completely insignificant, but when you see a certain flashback, you find out that the comment had very significant, deeper meanings. The various story arcs are very well designed, and interleaved seamlessly. The fact that the story is so complex may also be seen as a downside, as it's sometimes very hard to figure out what order the events in the flashback were supposed to occur. However, I think this is better than the alternative, typically seen in hollywood movies, where the plot is spelled out for you repeatedly in case you're too stupid to figure it out.

Unfortunately, my first impression of this game was rather poor, because of the writing style. I don't know what the Japanese version is like, but the English version sounds like the author is trying too hard to slide metaphors in to make the text seem more literary. Other times, it sounds like there were translation-difficulties, because the expressions used just sound so odd.

"You liar." Kaho's words, however, gently entwined around Ryo's throat. "You're kind."
A second or so, Everything suddenly stops except the midly flowing air. The two become pillars of salt.
"Don't say it!!" Her face entreats him.
The whole building was filled with noise a few minutes ago, but it's empty now. Cold conrete sucks up the remains of people's existence.

There was also the music, which was quite annoying at first. It consists almost entirely of piano-solo songs, like The Entertainer, and other pieces by Scott Joplin. There's a reason for this, but it isn't revealed until very, very late into the game (i.e. only the 10th or 11th time I played through), and when you don't realize why, the music just sounds poorly chosen, as if the producers of the game were trying to go for public domain music because they were cheap. They also play the same song during every sex scene, and the sex scenes being relatively boring and drawn out, made me associate unpleasant emotions with that music.

Most of the voice acting was very good. When a character was hysterical due to overwhelming emotion, it really sounded like it. The exception to that, unfortunately, is the character Yuka Otowa (played by Izumi Yazawa). When she gets hysterical, it just sounds like the voice actor is speaking more loudly, rather than actually losing her mind.

The game is very flattering to the lead male character. Even leaving aside that it's a dating sim, and so all the important female characters in the game are in love with him, he's portrayed as being a tough guy who can win fights even when outnumbered, and as a relatively smart guy, who is only doing poorly in school due to laziness, rather than stupidity. He's also said to be alone, because people are scared to talk to him, rather than because they think he's a loser. I'd prefer to imagine hot girls don't talk to me because they're scared of me too! Occasionally, I felt the flattering went over the top. Here's what Kaho says to Ryo, when she finally confesses her love.

"Even if you treat me like a sex toy, I can live with it. You don't even need to love me, as long as you let me love you. No matter how embarrassing, immoral, or indecent it gets... I'll do it for you if you ask me to. You can make me your slave, or even kill me if you want to. Because it's you."

The art grew on me over time. I didn't like it at first; I felt the facial features of the girls were too sharp (maybe elfine). However, after the 2nd or 3rd time through, I stopped noticing this. I think it was the plot that got me to overlook the drawing style. The characters are all very likeable, even the male ones. It's very rare to find an H-Game where you don't despise the male characters are cliche caricatures. You can really feel like Tomonori is your best friend, and Suzuki is a great, really smart, guy. When speaking with Suzuki, the way he goes on about literature, he's obviously very knowledgeable, and I really did feel like I was talking to someone who is my senior (even though in real life, I'm a university graduate, and Suzuki is a highschool graduate). Similarly, on my date with the school nurse, it really felt like I was with an older women, because my character Ryo was so awkward in the fancy restaurant we were at, ordering a whiskey for an apperitif, for example.

Because it is so story oriented, I think the game would have been more enjoyable if it were in the form of an anime. I just wanted to sit back and watch the story unfold, but because it was a game, I had to keep clicking on my mouse, and replay scenes I've already seen to try the alternative options to see what would happen if I had chosen something else instead. If you keep in mind that this is more like a novel than a game, then if you don't mind sentimental, romantic stuff, then I think you'll like this game a lot. 8.7/10.

Here's Ayame's story.

Ryo's biological mom left her family to marry Ryo's biological father. The father died 3 months before Ryo was born of stroke, from working too hard. Ryo's biological mom begged her family to take her back, because she was not doing well and had no money. Her family would only take her back, so she placed Ryo up for adoption.

Ryo's adoptive father is a distant relative of his biological father. Ryo moved into a family with a new father, mother and sister, who was maybe 5 to 8 years older than Ryo. The sister's name is Ayame.

They keep the fact that Ryo is adopted a secret. His biological mother figures that as long as Ryo is happy, she should not enter into his life. Ryo's adoptive parents told his biological mom what was going on in his life.

One night, Ryo finds out that he was adopted, and he becomes furious. He feels like everyone was lying to him the whole time. He gets into an argument with his sister, and ends up raping her. His adoptive parents catch him. His sister still loves Ryo, and tried to protect him when the adoptive father started hitting Ryo, claiming that she had seduced him. The next day they drive to meet up with his biological mother to talk about it. On the drive there, they get into a car accident and die.

Ryo reads a prepared speech for the funeral, but it all seems unreal to him. The facts that he's reading in the speech are new information to him; how his adoptive parents met, and things like that. He feels like the death is his fault. They got into the car because of his actions, and the father probably was not in the proper state of mind for driving because of his actions.

Meanwhile, Ryo's biological mother runs away from her family again, once she got healthy, but had trouble finding a job. She ended up working in nightclubs. When she heard about the death of Ryo's adoptive parents, she wanted to attend the funeral, but she was worried about the drama it would cause with the other relatives there. After the funeral, she called Ryo's sister and asked to have Ryo live with her, but Ayame refused. Ayame wanted to keep living with her brother.

Ayame drops out of university to get a job and support the two. As Ryo approaches his highschool graduation, three years after his parents death, the two get into a fight, an Ryo gets in contact with his biological mom for the first time, and agrees to meet her at a dinner. Ryo had assumed that his mom was a selfish bitch who had deserted him, and had gone mostly as a threat to Ayame of leaving her. That's when he learns about his mother's and his own past. The mother has since remarried, and she says her husband is willing to accept Ryo into the family. He has runs a business and hopes that Ryo will succeed him in the business. She is willing to let the sister move in with them too, and help support her through school. His mother also asks what it was the parents wanted to talk to her about, the day of the accident. Ryo lies, and says he doesn't know.

When he gets home, Ryo doesn't want to leave his sister, and he knows she won't accept moving in with his mom. The tension is still there, and the rape is brought back up. Ryo apologizes for it for the first time, and he's willing to accept anything, a beating or death, rather than being driven out of the house as if nothing had happened. His sister starts crying, and when he approaches her, she runs away, out of the house, into the streets at night.

Later, Kaori, Ayame's friend from university, brings Ayame back home, and she's drunk. Ryo carries her to her room, and this is the first time he's entered her room since the rape. When he carries her there, he sees an envelope on the desk, addressed to him. He reads the letter inside.

Dear Ryo,

By the time you read this letter, you must have made up your mind and move to your mom's place. I hope I won't behavel ike a hcild, but I'm not confident. I think I will cry. I'm writing this to you now because I'm sure I'll be too sad to talk to you normally.... When you leave our house.

I was happy being with you. I'm glad we've continued to live otgether, even after our parents died. I was happy to welcome you home. I was happy to hear you call me 'sister'. I feel very thankful to you for your support. I might have given you some hard time by working and raising you at the same time, but I tried my best. If you weren't satisfied, please forgive me for being good-for-nothing.

I have to apologize to you. I'm sorry I called you silly when you gave me the present. To be honest, I was so happy that I wanted to cry. Thank you so much. I will always treasure it.

I'm sure I'll miss you. But I believe you've made the best choice for all of us. Your mom, you and myself. I'll be left alone, but don't worry. I'll be fine because I have memories spent with you and our parents. So... please don't worry about me and be happy.

I wasn't sure if I should write this, but I decided ot be honest with you. I couldn't live with you anymore. I don't think it's good for both of us to continue living together. So if you have decided to go to your mom's place, I think you've made the right decision. Please don't worry about me and start your new life. I won't be able to be next to you, but I'll always be praying for your happiness. That's the only thing I'll be able to do for you. Ryo, I think about the time we were togehter as I write this letter. Since you first came to our house... so many things have happened, but I'm glad I had you as my little brother. You might worry about the fact that we're not blood related, but you've always been my little brother. As a big sister, I love you the most in the world. I'm sure I do. However... I started to feel too painful living with you. I'm afraid of being crushed by the dirty thoughts I have in my mind. I can't keep being with you, being frightened all the time.

I'm weak.

I failed to be your sister, I guess. I was a bad sister. Because... I'm going to tell you something I've withheld for a long time. Please burn this letter as soon as you finish reading it.

Ryo, I (the letter ends here, with tear drops)

What Ayame wanted to say, we find out, is that she loves Ryo as more than just a brother. Ayame's parents wanted to tell Ryo that he was adopted, thinking he was old enough when he reached middle school. Ayame stopped them, however, because she wanted to be his sister forever. She was afraid that if Ryo found out he wasn't really Ayame's brother, he would stop hanging out with her. Her fears were reinforced when Ryo was too embarrassed to walk home with Ayame after school, in front of his friends. The night of the rape, Ayame blamed herself. She was bigger than Ryo, and she could have stopped him, or called out to Mom or Dad, but she let him have sex with her, because she thought it would make him stay. She blames herself for the incident, and she blames herself for her parent's deaths. That's why she was so resolved to taking care of Ryo.

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