We’ve all been there at some point in our adult lives. After leaving home to work or study, that first time coming back for the holidays can be a weird mix of emotions. At first, you’re happy to be back home and to see your family for the first time in months. Then you have your first family meal together, have the mandatorily required argument and realise why you were happy to have left in the first place.
Then comes the part of your trip where you visit your ageing Grandmother – just in case you don’t get another chance – and, of course, wake up to find out she’s transformed into a beautiful teenage girl.
Wait, hang on. What?
Well, that’s the experience Yuu, the protagonist of the visual novel A Winter’s Daydream has, anyway.
Returning home from 8 months at University in Tokyo to the tiny town he once called home, it doesn’t take long for the fractious relationship he has with his younger sister, Otoko (though she prefers to be called Otome) to drive him back out of the house. Yuu decides to spend a couple of days visiting his Grandmother in an even more remote village, just in case he doesn’t get the chance to again.
Once there, Yuu’s guilt over never really knowing his recently deceased Grandfather as a person drives him to try to get to know his Grandmother, Umeko, better. She tells him forgotten stories of his childhood, stories of his father’s youth and the story of how she met her husband, Yukinari.
Eventually, the two see a shooting star in the night sky and make a wish. Yuu wishes for a better relationship with his sister, but it’s Umeko’s wish that takes over the rest of the story.
The next morning, Yuu awakes to find a beautiful young girl in his Grandmother’s kitchen, cooking breakfast. As it turns out, Umeko’s wish for a chance to return to her youth came true. While his Grandmother’s sudden transformation understandably throws him for a loop, Umeko takes it in her stride. Not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, she makes plans to revisit the shrine where she met Yuu’s Grandfather to put her Cinderella fairy tale to the ultimate test.
You might have noticed that so far, there’s been no mention of the gameplay in this game review. That’s because there is none. This is as basic a visual novel as they come. There’s no branching dialogue, no decisions to make, no input at all really beyond pressing ‘A’ to go to the next line of text. Even that part is optional – stick it into autoplay and let it run out its 3-hour story if you want.
Fortunately, there is something to the story itself. It’s hard not to relate to Yuu’s experiences with his family – at least up to the point of his Grandmother’s transformation. As much as we love them, families can be hard work. Siblings even more so. Meanwhile, Yuu’s reflection that he never really considered his Grandparents as human beings – rather than just his boring Grandparents in their boring house in their boring village that he’d have to visit every summer – is perhaps something most of us barely get the chance to realise as adults before, as with his Grandfather, they’re gone forever.
Also thankfully, although the story delights in making Yuu squirm at the fact the rest of the world sees his day out with his Grandmother as a date between himself and a young, attractive girl, incest is pretty strictly off the table here.
Instead, Yuu gets his wish to be able to get to know his Grandmother as an actual person. While certain lines of dialogue wouldn’t necessarily seem out of place as set up lines for a cheap porno sex scene, the exchanges are, on the whole, pretty innocent. Change the context from an anime-inspired visual novel into, say, a Christmas Hollywood movie, and it’d be a Freaky-Friday style family-friendly comedy.
However, the writing itself is somewhat excessive and florid. At one point, Yuu spends several lines simply naming stars like a Wikipedia page… and then does it again not long after. There’s definitely a feeling of literary padding at play, perhaps to help justify the game’s £5 cost by not breezing through it in a single hour.
Although, some of this excess isn’t so bad. I did appreciate a scene in which Yuu’s sister, teasing him for putting on weight while at Uni, refers to him as a “Pikachu from the first games with the round, chubby belly! Or maybe Snorlax would be more accurate… ?”. But then, I am a simple man.
The game’s music and art are meanwhile pretty much just functional. It’s well made – it’s just not exactly exciting. The music does at least serve as inoffensive background noise, but it’s nothing you’ll be humming later on. There’s a decent enough variety of locations and backdrops, but more than a few scenes are just text over a static background. The scene with the “shooting star” doesn’t even animate a single streaking light across its starry background to illustrate it.
Also, for whatever reason, Yuu’s parents do not have character designs – so only his sister, Otome, ever appears on-screen at home, regardless of who is speaking.
There are certainly elements throughout that could be better, but it’s hard to hold it against the small, independent team behind the game. There are a few amateurish moments, such as the text appearing beyond the gradiented space for it and thus being unreadable, but on the whole they do a good job of putting their story together. It’s just a pity there isn’t any kind of interaction with it.
While I can’t honestly say that this kind of ‘game’ is my thing, I did enjoy the overall story. It’s a weird, but ultimately charming tale. So long as you know what you’re getting into as a very simple visual novel, a fiver seems a tolerable price of entry for what you get.
Xbox One review copy supplied by the publisher.
A Winter's Daydream
A super simple visual novel, rather than a game, the entertaining story is let down somewhat by the writing itself.
- The central story idea is entertaining
- There isn't any squicky Grandmother/Grandson stuff...
- The writing feels unnecessarily padded
- A fairly limited amount of characters and locations
- Absolutely no gameplay or interactivity at all
Value for money