Some times, the best things are those you don’t see coming. Prior to last week, I didn’t even know this game existed. Despite the fact that my reviews of visual novels tend to gain the most views, I haven’t found myself as familiar with the genre as some other visual novel fans. And honestly I have to ask, HOW is something as brilliant as this game not more popular? I get that it has only just now been released in the US, but you’d think that word of mouth would travel beyond language barriers.
Simply put, I have not been this floored by a game since I played Euphoria, and this game may be even better than it. Let that sink in… I wrote a thesis length essay on Euphoria… I was expecting to never find another work of fiction in any genre that blew my mind the same way. I don’t even know where to begin. Even though you obviously won’t see this piece until I complete it, right now I don’t even know how I’m going to. I just can’t think of the words to adequately describe my feelings towards this game, and describing my feelings towards games is my fucking job!
I think it’s safe to say that most of us play games to be entertained, but what differs is the way that most of us expect that to happen. While most will likely just play games for the social element or to kill time, there are others who look for something deeper. It would be hard to deny that I’m one of those people, and I’d imagine fully well that most people who read my work feel the same way. What other reason would you all have of putting up with my weird shit?
Perhaps what draws so many of us to these games is the ability to experience a world different to our own. I often sunk myself into games due to an inability to fit in socially. There’s comfort in the idea that you can explore a virtual world where you don’t have the risk of losing everything. In video games, the worst you will experience is getting set back a couple of hours because you forgot to save.
On the other hand, Life is like a staircase. You just gotta keep climbing. Otherwise, if you start to overthink it, you’ll have trouble taking the next step. There are no branching paths. No point in regretting the actions you didn’t take. They say life is a series of choices, but that’s nonsense cooked up by the old and bitter. Yesterday leads to today, and today leads to tomorrow. One step at a time. What lies ahead? You won’t know until you get there.
I regret to say that I did not write that last paragraph myself. It is instead the opening text of YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story. Otherwise know as Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi, or simply as Totono. YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story was originally released in Japan back in 2013, and was just released in English earlier this month. YOU and ME and HER comes to us from Nitroplus, the same developer that brought us games such as Saya no Uta, Steins;Gate, and Sonicomi: Communication with Sonico.
For the most part, you can generally tell a game will be kinda fucked up in some way if the Nitroplus is visible on it, similarly to how one can tell that a game will have anime tiddies and cryptic ending requirements if an Idea Factory logo is present, or that a game will be a micro-transaction infested shit pile if it has an Electronic Arts logo on it. Granted the only Nirtroplus games I have played are Saya no Uta and YOU and ME and HER so I’m mostly going off of other people’s testimony, but I can say that Nitroplus titles have been consistently amazing.
I suppose I’m going to have to stop stalling and actually talk about the game now, but I’m rather conflicted in just how much I should reveal. YOU and ME and HER is one of those games that is best experienced completely blind, and considering that these types of games normally get spoiled into oblivion the moment they become popular, it feels like I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to be covering one of these before that happens.
My current predicament is deciding just how much I should go into. The best way to experience this game is the same way I did; knowing absolutely nothing about it. Some people already know about this game because of a rather infamous late game scene, but that was not the case for me. I instead decided to play this game because a Jast USA rep asked if I would be interested in covering it. This was different from the previous Jast USA title I covered because I was contacted via this site’s email address as opposed to the email address on Jast USA’s press list.
I decided that not being a trashy incest nukige and looking remotely interesting would be enough of a reason to check this game. The game seemed like a fairly competent looking romance visual novel, and I didn’t even expect there to be sex scenes going in. I suppose It goes without saying that this visual novel completely subverted my expectations, but this now makes things difficult for me in that simply saying that YOU and ME and HER is not just a standard love story can be interpreted as a spoiler in and of itself.
There are a few reasons why I feel it is necessary to make note of this game’s true nature despite the fact that it may break immersion for some new players. The first of these reasons is because there has been some discussion on the difference between “subversion” and “false advertising” when it comes to narrative tropes. Some have argued that the difference is “it’s subversion when you think it’s good and false advertising when you think it’s bad,” and I can’t really think of a better explanation than that. The problem is that this makes it entirely subjective whether or not it is ethical for a game to sell itself on being one thing, only to reveal that it’s something else after you already paid for it.
My own taste is fairly eclectic, so I was quite impressed by how the transition from heart warming love story to psychological meta horror was delivered, but I don’t think someone who only liked one of those genres would say the same thing. The other reason I feel the need to make this known is because I consider it important to warn readers about any disturbing or potentially triggering content in this game, and lord knows there’s a lot of shit that fits the bill. Anyway, here is the delayed content warning for this game.
CW: Murder, genital mutilation, kidnapping, violence, drugging, rape, domestic abuse, animal abuse, emotional abuse, and suicide, in addition to subtext alluding to incest, scatology, bestiality, and pedophilia. While the content in this game isn’t quite as extreme as Euphoria, Starless, or Saya no Uta, it’s still beyond what most of us are used to, so serious discretion is advised.
So we have a game that starts out like a typical romantic visual novel, only to sweep the rug out from under the player and transition into full on psychological meta horror later on. I’m sure that someone of you may have noticed that this sounds an awful lot like the premise of Doki Doki Literature Club. I can confirm that the two are very similar in premise, but there is a serious difference in the execution.
Doki Doki Literature Club’s first act was made intentionally boring so as to mislead the player into thinking it’s a standard visual novel. This has naturally resulted in a fair amount of criticisms from fans of visual novels that DDLC wasn’t so much a tribute to the genre as it was a mockery. After all, it often seems as if the people that had the highest praises for it were people who didn’t even play visual novels to begin with and assume that all visual novels are harem anime in VN form.
Playing through YOU and ME and HER has actually lowered my opinion on Doki Doki Literature Club overall since it not only used the same premise four years earlier, but it handled the concept infinitely better in every conceivable way. In contrast to DDLC’s boring and generic first act, I was prepared to write a glowing review of YOU and ME and HER even before I knew its big twist.
Not only did I love every character in this game, but the romance aspects had genuine emotion, tension, and depth to it. I not only loved Aoi and Miyuki’s character, but I also quite enjoyed the protagonist Shinichi for once, as someone who wasn’t a complete idiot and who actually cared about his partners. There were a few slight flaws in the initial story such as the fact that I can’t even remember if the game passed the Bechtel test, or the nagging feeling that a lot of drama could have been spared if the three just formed a polycule, but when the game’s big twist occurs, it suddenly makes sense why these two “flaws” are a thing.
If I have to be honest, there was once point where the game started to really grate on my nerves, and it was the few hours leading up to the game’s big twist. Particularly it had to do with a plotline based around suspicions that one of the two love interests is cheating on the MC with someone else. I already detest love triangle narratives not only because everything would be solved if it wasn’t for writer enforced toxic monogamy, but also because I’ve never seen a story about cheating that wasn’t lowest common denominator Maury Povich tier garbage.
A running theme of the game is jealousy, possessiveness, and overall paranoia when it comes to your partner, so it’s not as bad with the hindsight of knowing how it all turns out, but it nonetheless is unpleasant to read through and it made me think this game was going in a bad direction for a few hours.
The game’s second act was quite messy in general, and the vast majority of criticisms I had with this game occur in this section. In addition to the aforementioned cheating subplot, it is also the point in the game where they start ramping up the sex scenes, and the sex scenes in this game are very… not good.
Given how many eroge I play where I rag on how poorly written sex scenes are, I have suspected for a while that I simply have overly high standards, but I tried asking a few of my friends what they of the quality of writing. Not only did they all agree with, but one of them even said that there’s no way the writer has actually had sex if he thinks this is how you write sex scenes. Of course I just know there’s probably going to be some anti-feminist fuckboy who thinks I hate it when men jack off, when I really just think they have garbage taste in erotica and need to learn how to make a woman cum for once.
Honestly I find that I need to hold back at times like this, because I get awfully tempted to go on angry feminist rants about how men are so shit at writing erotica because they only ever think of sex in terms of how much damage they can cause. What other reason would there be such an emphasis on pain in these scenes? And I don’t even mean “pain” as in a fetish way, I mean in the way that Shinichi sticks his meat stick inside Miyuki’s… Chrysanthemum Gate, and how the text is about how tight it is and how it hurts so much, but it feels SO GOOD when her vagina is bleeding.
One last gripe I have with this portion of the game is that one of the characters is a crossdresser canon wise, but comes across as if they were written by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cross dresser and a trans woman. The reveal that this character is a man occurs through the following dialogue. The character’s name has been blurred out because I want to at least avoid explicit spoilers and keep things somewhat vague.
For once I don’t even know if this dialogue was meant to imply that “this character has penis so they’re a guy even though they identify themselves as female and use a female name” because of the reference to “Haru wa akebono.” I tried looking up the significance of this phrase, and it apparently relates to a Japanese poem, but I could not find anything on what it means or how it relates to this game. There is one possible interpretation of the character’s name being a pun based on that line (which makes a lot more sense in context where you know the character’s name), but if that is the case, then it is still an awkward localization choice.
But the more concerning aspect is that this character is supposedly just a crossdresser, but the game keeps dropping hints that they are trans, which makes it all the more uncomfortable given the fact that the game insists on referring to them with he/him pronouns. This is likely the case of this game’s writer not thinking through implications and going “trans, crossdresser, same difference,” and being trans myself, this just makes the part of the game that it occurs in all the more awkward. But it gets worse.
What makes this even worse is that this character is at the forefront of the obnoxious love triangle plot, and a certain ending will have Shinichi walk in on one of his love interests having sex with them, and it will result in Shinichi physically assaulting the possibly trans character so severely that he breaks his hands while doing so. Because the last thing this godawful plot line needed was a thinly veiled trans panic depiction.
It is games like these that make me inch more towards the “cis people should never write about trans or gender bending characters ever” position, because no matter how good they are at writing stories otherwise, they always fuck shit like this up horribly, and I’m getting sick of having otherwise great games ruined for me by their writer’s ignorance. While I have certainly seen worse in this regard, this was still something that ultimately detracted from my enjoyment of the game and is something for other trans people to be aware of.
So it has been established that the first act was amazing, and the second act started out amazing and turned into a complete dumpster fire towards the end. That just leaves the third act, and all I can say is HOLY SHIT!!!!
To avoid explicit spoilers, I will just say that this is where the game starts to get unnerving. Okay technically, the final stretch of the second act is where that happens, and let me just say that it was one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever felt in my life. The final act of YOU and ME and HER was so intense that I played it for close to four hours straight until 5AM, and then spent the rest of that day obsessively trying to find out the answer to a puzzle that anyone who has already played the game will instantly know what I’m referring to. By the way, 52194054, you’ll thank me later.
To bring up the Doki Doki Literature Club comparisons again, I will just say that this game’s third act reaches levels that Team Salvato could only ever dream of reaching. While I stand by saying that Sayori’s death was one of the most shocking and fucked up moments in gaming, I still felt disappointed in that it was never able to follow it up, and the game actively declined in scariness after that point.
YOU and ME and HER’s final act though, it was flat out fucked up. The game never goes as far as to depict violent actions on screen, but I still game away from it with some of the same emotions as when I first witnessed Euphoria’s nightmare inducing introduction. And despite all that, the story still ends on a touching note and effectively makes the player rethink their entire view on video games.
YOU and ME and HER has broken barriers in story telling that I did not even know existed. It’s not just an amazing visual novel, it’s not just one of the best love stories AND the best horror stories of all time, but it’s simply one of the most impressive works to come out of this industry at any time.
It’s just, wow! I rarely, if ever find myself as impressed by a game as I am by YOU and ME and HER. If anything, it’s TOO impressive! A lot of people were genuinely shocked by Doki Doki Literature Club’s content, and I won’t say it didn’t get to me at least a little. But I sometimes worry too much about if something like YOU and ME and HER can freak someone out too much. While it doesn’t have the same borderline illegal fetish shit as Euphoria does that make you feel like you need to take sixty showers after, I found that it still managed to leave me just as short of breath as it did. And believe me, I mean that literally!
Not only was I out of breath following the complete of this game, I’m out of breath even thinking about that final act. I still am not used to the idea that reading some text while listening to music over still images can make me feel like I just sky dived off of Mount Everest!
And it is because of this, that I’m actually hesitant to recommend this game. I’ve gone through most of your typical flaws earlier, but the biggest obstacle this game has to mainstream recognition is that it doesn’t fit into a neat little box. It’s not just an eroge, it’s not just a romance, it’s not just a horror game, but somehow everything about it feels real despite the normally incompatible elements.
I ended my review of Euphoria by saying that it’s a game most comparable to that of life itself, and I feel that applies to YOU and ME and HER as well. It can’t just be given an arbitrary numerical rating or a blanket “recommendation.” Good and bad, this game is much like life itself. You just gotta keep climbing. Otherwise, if you start to overthink it, you’ll have trouble taking the next step. There are no branching paths. No point in regretting the actions you didn’t take. They say life is a series of choices, but that’s nonsense cooked up by the old and bitter. Yesterday leads to today, and today leads to tomorrow. One step at a time. What lies ahead? You won’t know until you get there.
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