I cried for hours after playing this.
Saya No Uta is the acclaimed adult horror visual novel, written by award-winning author Urobuchi Gen. It was published in Japan in 2003. JAST USA commercialized the game to English-speakers fully localized in 2013.
Saya No Uta is a horrifying story of blossoming love. On one hand it´s a tender love story between two misplaced beings without a place in the world. But it´s also much, much more than that.
The story is of Sakisaka Fuminori, a medical student in his twenties. He was in a car accident that killed his parents. By luck alone, Fuminori survived, but his brain was damaged. An experimental neurosurgery saved his life, but left him reeling from a terrible condition: His world becomes a hellscape where pig guts litter the streets, the air smells of rot, and people look like monsters.
Fuminori forces himself to go to school to fake normalcy, telling neither his friends nor his doctor of his condition. Outside of school, he holes himself up in his parents´ now empty house, avoiding human contact as much as he can. There, he lives together with a lone girl named Saya.
Saya is the sole being left in his existence that Fuminori sees as human. At first, it´s as if she´s a ghost, an elaborate illusion crafted by Fuminorí´s damaged mind. Saya is young, beautiful, so warm and loving that she seems to exist solely to fill the hole in Fuminori´s soul. The sex they have is passionate, and it´s hard to question the deep emotional and physical bond between them.
The plot follows the search for a man called doctor Ogai. Saya calls herself the daughter of Doctor Ogai, and Fuminori promises to find this man, so Saya may learn of her mysterious past. Amidst this search, disturbing hints of Ogai´s research are uncovered, and these truths bring to question everything known about Saya and the world at large.
Fuminori is not the only one searching for doctor Ogai. People close to Fuminori begin questioning his odd behavior, and they try desperately to learn why their friend has become a hermit.
People die in Saya No Uta, and they die brutally. You often don´t even see what kills them, or how, but from in-game sounds, descriptive storytelling, and the reactions of the characters, disgustingly vivid pictures are painted into your mind. It´s masterfully gut-wrenching. The innocence of young love clashes with this brutality, yet mellowing down the emotional impact of neither.
The visuals and music add much depth to the emotional story, and there´s plenty of both. Most tracks are not particularly complex, though they do deliver the atmosphere. The soundtrack´s sorrowful themes are the most memorable and melodic ones, and they´re nice to hum or whistle. The title theme ”Sabbath” is particularly haunting in its tranquil melancholy.
The imagery is abundant, though much of it consists of realistic paintings of areas that I suspect to be originally photographs. This is certainly a shortcut, but gladly it doesn´t clash with the aesthetics of the rest of the visuals. Some of these areas, often the ones with buildings in them, are shown in two versions: The normal world and the maddening hellscape seen by Fuminori. The sprites are well-drawn and emotive, but some of the event images featuring characters look inconsistent.
Final note: Saya No Uta is not some run-of-mill romantic story with occasional monsters and porn. The horror is psychological; it comes from the many undeniable observations it makes about the universe, about people, and how little control any of us have over life, love, and death.
Good: The writing reaches for the zenith of literary brilliance. Emotional impact aside, the subtle intelligence and depth of the story are a shock to the brain.
Bad: Inconsistencies in some of the art. Linear, few choices.
Translation: Brilliant. The text is the main actor on this stage. The prose outperforms the rest of the entourage.
Recommendation: Play this game, no matter how you procure it.