Ontological mysteries are the genre that most commonly throws a wrench into a standard mystery plot. Depending on how the mystery is arranged, there may or may not be someone “behind” the situation to begin with. Whether or not a person trapped within the closed circle is responsible for mysterious ongoings can be very much up for debate.
Video games can take this to their own degree, as the player will be challenged to solve the case themselves instead of just having events play out. This aspect is found in several of my other favorite games, like the When They Cry titles (Higurashi and Umineko) or Remember11. Indie developers Trinite Team have decided to try their hands at their own title in the same vein.
The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass stars a group of people attending an exhibition in a Japanese prospecting town. This exhibition is being put on by the large Ashiya family, showcasing the mysterious Sekimeiya. Scarce details have been delivered, and adding in the importance of the family behind the event, led to an air of mystery that upped the hype immensely. The people came in droves to find out what it was, but on that fateful Thursday, morning chaos ensued.
Fearing an attack from Xyn, a group of extremely professional thieves, some over-the-top, and frankly unsafe security measures were put in place for the Ashiya to stop the thieves in their tracks. When a ton of smoke suddenly makes its appearance, the measures are set off, leaving a group of people trapped in the building. What could go wrong?
Your first point-of-view character is a recent high school graduate named Atsuki, who is attending the exhibition with his close friend, Shiroya. They’re attending the exhibition to take their mind off recent events, but that idea has quite thoroughly blown up in their faces.
Well, for starters, someone shows up dead, and the Sekimeiya turns out to be able to transport people through time, right in the middle of some heated arguments over who the killer is. And it only gets more chaotic from there, leaving your job, as the player, is to figure out what the hell is going on.
The premise is quite hard to describe, and I want to be as spoiler-free as possible, but rest assured that the sheer number of irregularities in this ontological mystery is through the roof.
To help you stay on top of the mystery, The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass presents you with some of the best menu functions in the entire medium. This title saves the transcript as you read it to a “search” menu, allowing you to scroll and read through what you’ve seen without having to rely on extra saves.
As you’d expect from “Search,” you can search through the entire script for You can jump back to any previous point at any time too, or jump over to its respective section in the “Note” menu. In this menu, you can make and compile notes about the events of the game as you play, and it also provides you with a quick summary of the cast’s movements that you’ve seen as they occur.
The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass presents its story in the classic novel (or NVL) mode trappings with nothing gracing the screen besides text and character sprites. The portraits are fantastic, and I love the style. The CGs are overall really good, some are absolutely stellar, and you can watch me set one as my background once I rip it from the game. Still, a couple of them have a strange perspective that makes the picture just feel weird.
You can use the very aesthetic-looking menus to alter this text, such as color code it per character, applying identifying marks in front of people’s lines, or increasing the size of the outline of the text to make it more readable to some people. However, no matter how I played with the settings, it was a bit difficult to read.
Typically in this mode, the text doesn’t always cover the entire screen before moving on, and there’s a decent amount of space between the screen and portraits. This means you’ll be easily able to notice portrait changes as the text moves on
In The Sekimeiya, there is little headroom, and faces will start to be covered a few lines into each screen, only emptying once the screen is full. I’m sure this is done for simplicity’s sake, programming all the main script-related functions, but it becomes harder to read the text or the expressions on the character portraits.
Not being able to read the character’s portraits at a glance is a contributing factor to the title’s major negative. There is a substantial lack of characterization within the cast. Even after completing the game, there are only a few cast members I actually care about.
The beginning is extremely rough; it focuses on setting up the mystery. So much so, that the premise and the cast are completely forgotten about. The narration for the first two chapters is largely dry, which makes the mystery setup even more tiresome.
Atsuki going on what feels like a half-hour theory-crafting session early on about a character’s watch comes off more paranoid than smart, and with him essentially unseen at this point didn’t help sell me on him. I did eventually warm up to him about 60% of the way through the game, and I was calling him “dollar-store Junpei” endearingly. He has some serious Junpei Zero Escape vibes, alright.
There’s a severe lack of any slice-of-life elements that flesh out the cast, which is sad because the ones that do exist works so well. In fact, there’s one frankly massive slice of life segment revolving around a single character, and it’s one of the most interesting sections of the game. But that’s about it. An early death is supposed to impact Atsuki, but the lack of scenes with that character and the action behind the narration leads the scene to have the weight of “The death impacted him a lot,” and the story moves on.
One particular character has many scenes that would really hit well if you had any reason to be emotionally invested in them, and you are rarely given that opportunity. While it wouldn’t change the flaws with the opening, there was ample opportunity to fix that in chapter 2, which is instead shafted in favor of a twist revealed that chapter that really impacts only the player.
We’re rarely ever given details about characters that aren’t intrinsically tied to the plot, making it much harder to care about them. This is a detriment, but it does also lead to some mind-blowing stuff during the narrative. Plot points appear to be a carefully planned machine made up of many, many minute working parts, which are impressive despite the weak cast.
When the story really gets going, finally hooking me late chapter 2, it gets going. The story begs you to solve it, and when you get to the end and start putting things together, it’s some wild fun. The game even presents this in an optional quiz that turns a large part of the ending into an interactive exposition dump.
This sounds kind of weird, but it is gratifying as it challenges you to solve the mysteries yourselves, which finally allowed me to make some extensive use of the “search” and “notes” menus I had been pretty much ignored until this point. Tiny dismissive details would come back and sock me in the face with earth-shattering revelations. And let me tell you, I was having an absolute blast then.
The soundtrack really helps here. This title’s largely licensed soundtrack has many good EDM tracks great for theorizing to, and it strengthens parts of the weaker chapters with climactic songs or melodies that set a strong tone. Throw that soundtrack in a playlist and call it “EDM beats to solve murders to.” That last part of the game is straight fire because of the soundtrack.
The Sekimeiya: Spun Glass is a mixed bag of a visual novel. The early chapters and a weak cast weigh on the experience, but it builds upon that with a strong narrative direction and presentation. It all comes together to provide a decent mystery that really finds its footing after the opening chapters.