Circus Reviews - Harmonia
I might be an odd duck among visual novel fans, because while I've heard of Key, I haven't played most of their biggest works like Clannad, Rewrite, and Little Busters. The only ones I've played before now were Kanon and Planetarian. From what I've heard about Key's works in general, they're stuffed full of feelings and tragedy and are good at eliciting strong emotions out of people, and from the limited amount of their works I've played, I agree with that assessment. So since I generally enjoy works like that (and since I can't afford Clannad), I picked up the delayed but much anticipated Harmonia.
Harmonia follows a robot boy who wakes up alone in an abandoned facility to discover that the world seems to have ended while he slept. After walking for days and exhausting his energy, he collapses near a town and is found by Shiona, an eccentric but kind-hearted girl who lives alone in the church. Since the boy does not remember having any kind of name, Shiona names him Rei. Rei decides to stick around, in the hopes that he can fulfill his purpose by learning emotions and becoming useful to someone, and as the days go by, he starts to have a positive effect on the small town.
Rei, the narrator, doesn't have any emotions when he first wakes up, although the type of robot he is should have been programmed with them. He has a desire to understand feelings so that he can be useful to others, and this motivates most of his actions in the early part of the visual novel. It's hard to relate to a narrator who doesn't understand emotions well, but the writing does its job; Rei's struggles with emotion are well-articulated. Shiona also defies the stereotype she appears to be at first; she is kind-hearted and religious and sweet, but she also displays real flaws, specifically jealousy of Rei's budding friendship with another town resident. Some of the actions she takes to that effect are kind of scary, to be honest. But they also seem like things a real person might do.
There are other characters in town, but the only ones you really interact with are shop owner Madd and mysterious young girl Tipi. Your relationship with the latter, in fact, fuels the aforementioned conflict with Shiona, and adds a relatable element to the story rather than just keeping it about Rei's idealistic desire to help people.
The music and artwork remain on par with the rest of Key's works, excelling at what they do if not doing anything particularly different. The story feels a bit smaller and less epic than some, but is no less poignant, particularly towards the end when the reveals start piling up. If you're a frequent reader of Key's works, or even if you've just heard about them, you'll probably be expecting a terribly sad ending filled with feels. Without wishing to spoil, you will get exactly that, but not necessarily in the way you expect.
Of the Key works I'm familiar with, this most seems to parallel Planetarian, especially once you begin gathering more details of the setting. It has a similar post-apocalyptic setting, and it also examines the relationships between humans and robots, though it goes into more detail than Planetarian did. It is a bit shorter, but it isn't bogged down with any sort of filler; everything that needs to be there for the story to work is there.
Overall, the only real complaint I have is one that I don't feel is much of a complaint at all: while Harmonia certainly plays to all of Key's strengths, it also doesn't do much different than any of them. But Key has a strong lock on their formula, and if you enjoyed Key's other works, I feel like you'll probably enjoy this one too. It's a beautiful and emotional tale, and packs a punch that is familiar but no less heartwrenching.
Harmonia is available on Steam.
Final verdict: While it continues to play to the company's strengths with little variation, Harmonia remains a heartfelt and emotional story that takes the reader and their tears on a wild ride.
Harmonia is developed and published by Key Visual Arts. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.