Miko gakkou monogatari: Sanae episode Review—Benny Hill Would Approve
Although I am a big fan of JRPGs, I’ve never really been into anime or manga. Still, I have a love of interactive fiction, so I’ve always found visual novels from Japan fascinating. Unfortunately, they rarely get translated into English, and when they do, they aren’t cheap. So I was very much looking forward to this reasonably priced visual novel, Miko gakkou monogatari: Sanae episode from Xinoro. Which for simplicity’s sake, I will call “Sanae episode.”
Sanae episode isn’t really what is generally meant by the term “visual novel,” but a more literal interpretation. Rather than being a Choose Your Own Adventure-style game, where you are presented with choices from time to time which branch the story and lead to multiple endings, you simply read Sanae episode linearly. Also, rather than being one long story, it’s five short stories.
The name translates to something like “shrine maiden’s school story: Sanae episode,” which describes the game remarkably well. The story is set in a magical version of Japan, at a small secluded school for shrine maidens (more like a college than a high school), and each episode revolves around Sanae, the girl with dark hair and glasses. She has two friends, a purple-haired girl named “Yuu” and a blonde-haired girl named “Kaede,” who also tries to grope Sanae a lot.
Yes, most of the humor is derived from Sanae being rather shapely and breasts being groped. On the one hand, I can’t say I’m shocked at this, since a lot of visual novels from Japan tend to be somewhat risque, but I am a little surprised Sony allowed it. Not much groping is actually shown, and if I can believe Wikipedia, shrine maidens are college-age girls, but still, it’s not something you often see.
The five stories are about 5-8 minutes each to read. There’s no deep plot to them, not much in the way of conflict, just absurd situations. There are many guest characters, who only show up for one story. Many of these are yokai, or youkai (as spelled in the game), which are sort of like nature spirits, who often have an animal and a human form.
Perhaps the puzzling thing about Sanae episode is that there is a surprising depth to the world, yet that depth really isn’t utilized at all. Characters appear, then disappear after a small bit. The first three stories are also pretty funny, but the last one falls prey to a common pitfall—adding an obnoxious young boy whom the creators think is hilarious, but in reality is just annoying. So it kind of ends on a sour note, I thought.
The art in Sanae episode is really wonderful. Not only is the art itself well done, you have a lot of different poses and expressions. It’s not like that other visual novel I played (and onmode-ky reviewed), where the whole thing took place in a Waffle House and the two girls were mirror images of each other.
What’s more, it’s fully voiced in Japanese. At least, I think it’s fully voiced. Since I don’t understand it, I can’t tell if they are actually speaking the lines in Japanese or saying the same thing over and over (like in The Sims).
Miko gakkou monogatari: Sanae episode is one of those games that is hard to rate. I mean, it’s not even a game, but a series of stories. As stories go, they are silly, juvenile, and rather pointless. And yet, they are charming, funny (in a crude sort of way), and well done. I laughed several times. It’s perhaps somewhat expensive for its short length (maybe 30-40 minutes to go through all of it), but the production values are excellent.