Circus Reviews - Sound of Drop - fall into poison -
I heard of this game when it was first released on Steam and thought it sounded interesting, but didn't end up getting it on launch. Then some time went by and the Steam Autumn sale happened, and this game popped up again. And since I can't afford to buy/review Clannad like I had originally planned to, because commissioning artists and paying bills both take up my paycheck at the moment, I decided to pick this up while it was on sale just to have something new in my life. Sound of Drop is about a middle school girl named Mayumi Nakanobe and her best friend Himeno Tamagawa, who go to Manten Aquarium one day to investigate the morbid rumors surrounding the place, including those of girls disappearing after visiting a certain exhibit. While there, Mayumi impossibly catches a glimpse of her little sister Mari, who disappeared in the aquarium five years ago and was never seen again. Mayumi tries to chase her down but loses sight of her, and when she tries to turn back, she realizes that something about the aquarium has changed...
The main characters, Mayumi and Himeno, feel realistically human and flawed, and their friendship remains compelling and relevant even when the game starts to focus more on other characters and subplots. Aside from the previously mentioned Mari, there's also an aquarium employee named Kenji who offers you assistance inside and outside of the aquarium, a cold and cynical girl named Sayo who also seeks to solve the aquarium's mysteries, and a mysterious and methodical woman named Rieko. They all get varying development on the different paths, and no single path will tell you everything you need to know about them.
The game has a whopping 31 endings, four true endings and 27 bad endings. All of the bad endings are quick game overs from a wrong choice, and they mostly come about because you tell Mayumi to make a really stupid decision, like blatantly ignoring someone standing right there with the correct answer. The game has a helpful warning system, though: if the choices are red, then one or more of them will lead to an immediate bad ending, but if they're blue, you can pick any option. It might be strange of me, but there was at least one scene where I enjoyed the contrast between the glaring red choices and the smiling, oblivious face of a character sprite. Slightly more jarring is the cute chibis in the bad ending screens. They don't really fit thematically into a horror game, although they are nonetheless very well drawn.
The Steam version has the paths sort of split into two groups. When you first start the game, you can get most of the bad endings but only two of the true endings. Once you get one of them, starting a new game will include a new opening scene with Sayo and a girl she knows called Miku, and this also opens a new choice that will lead to a different set of true and bad endings down the line. However, the relevant choice and the new opening scene have absolutely no connection to each other, making the whole ordeal feel a bit forced. The choice in question is calling someone by their name, a name which you learn earlier, but if you haven't seen that opening scene on this playthrough, you aren't allowed to select the correct option and are forced to give a wrong answer and thus get a bad ending. I've seen route locking used successfully in games before (The Royal Trap is the best immediate example I can think of), but here it feels far too unnatural.
All those technical flaws aside, though, the story itself is quite captivating and the mystery of what happened to Mari is an intriguing and heartbreaking one to solve. One of the true endings does feel like the golden ending despite not being labeled as such, but all of them are touching and feel like natural directions for the story to go. The artwork looks beautiful and the soundtrack is the best I've heard on a visual novel in a while. The flaws are there, but they don't detract too much from an ultimately excellent addition to the market of translated visual novels.
Sound of Drop - fall into poison - is available on Steam.
Final verdict: The decision-making process can feel contrived due to a number of technical issues with how some of the choices work, but this is easily balanced by strong characters and a truly compelling story.
Sound of Drop - fall into poison - is developed by aiueo Company and published in English by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.