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Update 1: Out Of the Frying Pan
So, title screen. From here you can start a new game, load a game, watch the opening and any ending credits you've unlocked, view the CG gallery, replay scenes and read the encyclopedia entries you've unlocked. Let's start a new game.
We're given a choice to rename the protagonist. Her family name is fixed, however. We'll just leave it at the default.
This is the fourth game in a row I've done with characters based on real people. I'm sensing a pattern here.
Music: Sun-Dappled Afternoon
As Chizwhiz helpfully narrates, the game starts in the then-capital city of Japan.
It was awfully impressive, there was no denying it. Even the simple hellos between people passing in the street seemed warm and friendly. They nodded and smiled to one another almost as if they were family, not strangers about on errands.
There was something else as well. Something that made the city feel strangely cold. Almost as though there was a great invisible wall, shutting out anyone who wandered in from the country.
It wasn't particularly comfortable, I had to admit.
"...No. No, that's all in my head."
I had walked quite some distance to reach Kyoto, and it occured to me that my mind and body were both very tired. Even so, tiredness was no reason for me to stand about feeling sorry for myself. I couldn't afford to, after all.
"Um, excuse me!"
With new - albeit forced - resolve, I tried to stop a passerby.
"I'm sorry, but I seem to be a bit lost, could you...?"
One time wipe later...
I was lost again, but in a different way. I sighed, and found myself looking up at the darkening sky. The sun was beginning to set. The people I'd spoken to hadn't been unkind, and they'd given me the directions I'd needed, but...
"Couldn't he have chosen a better time to leave the city?"
Apart from my father, there was only one other person in the city who I could rely on: Dr. Matsumoto. Dr. Matsumoto was a doctor in service to the shogunate. I had never met him myself, but my father put a great deal of trust in the man. He had told me that if I should run into any trouble during his absence, I was to contact Dr. Matsumoto. Unfortunately...
Dr. Matsumoto was apparently out of town on business, and would not return for some time.
"Was I too hasty? Perhaps I should have waited..."
By now, you've probably noticed that Chizulu has the unfortunate habit of talking out loud to herself. Only child?
True, it is rather rude to visit unannounced, which was why I had sent a letter ahead of me. Of course, if he'd been gone for very long, then he had almost certainly not read my letter. Perhaps, I thought, I should have waited for a reply before traveling alone to a city I'd never even seen.
No. I knew I could not have waited any longer.
Music: What Remains
Flashback time! You can tell because the text box changed and everything got really dark.
"Is something wrong, Father?"
He paused for a moment, and looked at me.
"I... It seems I must go to the city of Kyoto for a time."
He had been leaving the house often then, sometimes for days at a time.
"How long will you be gone?"
"...I'm afraid I can't say. A month, perhaps. Maybe two."
There was no hiding my disappointment. Nonetheless, I wasn't a child anymore. I couldn't beg him not to go, or some other foolishness. Yes, I'd be lonely, but... I was much more worried for him.
"Please Father, be careful. They say that the city of Kyoto is dangerous."
He only smiled and nodded.
"You needn't fret. I will be sure to send you letters as often as I am able, so that you will have no need to worry."
"...Okay. You promise?"
A new letter arrived every day, and I scarcely had the time to respond before another would arrive. He told me that he worried about me, home all by myself.
Then the letters stopped. A whole month passed, with no word from my father, and I began to worry.
Music: The Flickering Torch
They say Kyoto is full of ronin. It is not a safe place. Usually, a samurai is paid by their house, but...
Ronin with no house to report to often rob people in order to make ends meet. They're nothing more than violent criminals who hide behind the image of the samurai. Such is the state of the city of Kyoto: The city of ronin. Small wonder, then, that I worried for my father's safety. My mind would concoct horrible possibilities and I inevitably found myself depressed and tense.
"Hmm... First, I suppose I need to find a place to stay."
Lost in thought, I hadn't noticed that night had already fallen. If I was honest with myself, I hadn't the first idea how long it might take to find my father. I'd taken some money with me, but it wasn't much. Enough to last me a month, I hoped, if I used it wisely. If I could find Father in that time, so much the better. If not, hopefully Dr. Matsumoto would return before my funds ran out. Should I be unable to find either of them, then it seemed I would be forced to return home.
Don't worry, Chizam, you're a protagonist. Something will happen to keep you in Kyoto, or otherwise it'd be an awful short game.
"Well, at any rate... I should try to be as frugal as possible..."
And so I lengthened my stride and set off down the street. Fortunately for me, men's clothing was much more conducive to such a pace than my usual dress would have been. I'd decided early on that Kyoto was far too dangerous for a girl from the country to explore alone, and that it would be wise for me to dress like a man - or at least a boy. My disguise, such as it was, had proven successful, and I'd made it all the way to Kyoto unmolested.
Perhaps that success had gone to my head, and let me think a girl dressed as a boy could explore Kyoto as she pleased. But Kyoto is not a safe place. I should have remembered that. Instead I had somehow convinced myself that whatever dangers the city hid didn't apply to me.
I was about to discover otherwise.
Music: Creatures of the Night
I spun around. In the street in front of me were three men. Ronin.
"Can I help you...?"
I did my best to keep my voice calm as I reached in what I felt was a nonchalant way for my kodachi. My father had made me take lessons in self-defense. I'd kept with them, and actually done rather well. My skill was enough to defend against most attacks. Then again...
Perhaps it was my confidence in my skill that had put me in this situation in the first place. I'd messed up and let my guard down. My fault. There was a chance I could take them on and win, but... There were three of them, and one of me.
Jiro: "Pretty nice blade you got there, kid."
Only then did I realize they were far more interested in my sword than they were in me.
Saburo: "Looks like a bit much for a pup like this one, am I right?"
Ichiro: "Give it here, okay? We'll use it to defend our country."
The sword wasn't just some blade I'd picked up: It had been passed down through my family for generations. There was no way I could give it to the ronin. Unfortunately, I had a feeling they wouldn't understand.
In such a situation, the best decision was undoubtedly...
"Feet, don't fail me now!"
Jiro: "Hey! Get back here, you little bastard!"
I felt like I'd been running for quite a while, but I could still hear the ronin behind me, cursing loudly. I ducked into an alley and flattened myself against the wall.
Someone had left a couple sheets of wood leaning against one of the houses. It was a perfect spot to hide. With luck, I thought as I knelt down to shuffle under them, this will get me out of this mess...
Something was wrong. I'd expected to hear the ronin yelling to each other, looking for me, but...
Seconds turned into minutes, and I heard nothing. I was about to sneak out and have a look, when--
Music: A Tightened Rope
...They began to scream.
My plan to investigate was immediately halted. Remaining silent and hidden was clearly more important. Still...
Jiro: "Damn you!"
Saburo: "What is this?! Why won't you die?! Damnit! We gotta get out of here!"
It was then that true fear began to set in. There was something out there, something very, very dangerous. Something quite possibly lethal. The possibilities were... Well, my imagination conjured up no shortage of gruesome theories.
Even so, I could feel that itch of curiosity... I wanted to know what was out there.
...Had this person saved me?
But no sooner had it appeared, that hope was dashed.
Oh, sweet, merciful Christ, that laugh...
I could hear the ronin beg for his life as he stumbled back. The person in the blue coat said nothing, just stepped forward, his sword raised.
The blade fell through the air, more like a butcher's cleaver than a sword: No technique, no skill. Just death. The scream turned suddenly wet, caught, and disappeared like air leaving a half-empty bellows. My eyes went wide. I had just watched a murder.
Whatever strength adrenaline had given me was suddenly gone. My legs gave way, and I crumpled to the ground. My eyes had gone so wide I thought they might never close.
The ronin had died with the first blow, but as I watched, the blades kept falling, carving deep lines into the corpse. The soft slip of a blade through flesh; the crack as it struck bone; the silent creep of blood across ground. I felt nothing from them but madness. Their only desire was raw, animal violence. Whatever they were, it wasn't human.
I could feel my throat closing up. I couldn't breathe.
A warm, dark smell brushed against my face... It took me a moment to recognize the coppery tang of blood. An icy bolt of fear ran down my spine, crawling its way out into my limbs and freezing me in place. I was terrified. What was I going to do...? What could I do?
"...You have to run, Chizuru."
I forced my jaw open and drew a ragged breath. This was the only chance I'd get. I had to--
But my body, still numb with fear, was less than responsive. I lurched sideways, into the wood stacked against the building. With a rough clatter, it collapsed.
Oh, shit. Shitshitshitshitshit. SHIT.
The creatures turned, their blue coats drenched in blood. Hideous grins split their inhuman faces, and they shook with animal excitement at finding fresh prey to slaughter.
I had to run.
I couldn't die yet.
...But my legs refused to move.
That hideous, cackling laughter began again. I was going to die. My body was frozen with terror. I couldn't even scream. This was it. This was the end.
I watched them raise their bloody swords, the moon glinting off the metal.
Bile began to rise in my throat, but before disgust took hold I heard a voice...
Music: Creatures of the Night
Beautiful men! ...Beautiful men...wearing the same uniforms as the monsters. ...FUCK.
The words suggested disappoinment, but the voice sounded...happy.
"And here I was, planning to take care of them all on my own. Couldn't you have picked another day to work so fast, Saito?"
As he spoke, the strange man smiled, almost as if he were enjoying himself.
"I only did my job. Unlike you, I take no pleasure in battle."
"Well that's not a very nice thing to say."
"...You don't even bother to deny it."
The man called Saito sighed with the air of a long-suffering companion, and looked over at me.
I think this is a mis-translation here. They aren't supposed to realize yet that Chisario isn't a boy. Oh, and the guy on the left is the one speaking.
His tone was light, but his words confirmed my fears. I had left the frying pan, yes, but I was now in the fire.
"Perhaps. That decision is not ours to make."
Then...there was someone in charge of these two? Their conversation seemed to suggest they were part of an organization of some sort. As I thought about it, I remembered hearing stories of a group of men with blue coats...
I swallowed hard.
The moonlight shone off his smooth, dark hair. For reasons I couldn't fathom, in that moment the light on his hair made me think of fluttery flower petals... Almost as if the cherry trees were blooming out of season.
Chizuru, honey? The man has a sword at your throat, and you're thinking about how pretty his HAIR is?
"Luck is not your friend tonight."
His voice was cold and quiet, like a blade of ice. Blue-white moonlight lit his slender face and shone from the blade he held pointed at my chest. But it wasn't the sword that made my breath catch in my throat.
It was his eyes.
They were fierce and hard, but somewhere behind them I could catch a glimpse of...something else. There could be no doubt that he was prepared to kill me, and yet he looked troubled. Not kindness, but perhaps...mercy?
"Run, and I will kill you. Do you understand?"
I nodded. There was no doubt he'd meant every word he said. He stared at me for a moment, then grimaced, and with a sigh put his sword away.
I was too surprised to stop myself from speaking, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn't the only one.
"What? Wait, Hijikata, are you sure about this? This kid saw...well, everything. That can't be good."
As he spoke to the man he'd called Hijikata, his eyes narrowed. The man called Hijikata frowned back at him.
"Shut up. If you keep that up, you know what we're going to have to do."
... I wasn't quite sure what they meant, but it was clear enough that what I'd seen was something they wanted to keep hidden. Still, the more they said, the more I understood, despite the fact that none of us wanted such a thing.
"I really think it's gonna come back to bite us in the ass if we let this kid go."
The way he looked at me made me feel as if he'd read my mind.
... ...Perhaps it would be best if I didn't think too hard about things I wasn't supposed to think about.
"So we should just kill people so they don't bother us later? No. I'll decide what we're going to do with this kid when we get back."
The man they'd called Saito spoke with quiet confidence. He glanced around, possibly looking for other witnesses. Then he looked down at the creature he'd killed, almost as though he'd forgotten the whole ordeal.
"If they have this sort of reaction to blood, then they don't seem like they'll be very practical."
"...Damn. I didn't think they'd gotten this bad."
He peered down at the corpse, his face an emotionless mask. When he looked back up at his companions, however, his eyes narrowed.
It's working out so well, for you, too.
"What?! Come on, you can't be serious... You don't think our blues are a bit of a give-away already?"
He was right... Even I had heard stories about a gang of cruel men in blue coats who cut people down in the streets. But--
"No...no. Don't think. Ignore them."
I did my best to be stern with myself, but it came out sounding more pleading than commanding. My mind swirled with thoughts and worries. I was being drawn into their world...
...A world where there is nothing strange in carrying on a normal conversation in the dead of night, with corpses for company.
"What shall we do with the bodies, then? There doesn't seem to be any physical signs, but..."
Hijikata thought for a moment before he spoke.
"Just take their blues. Yamazaki can deal with the rest."
"As you wish."
"Another man cut down in the street, huh? Doing a great job, aren't we?"
He gave a derisive bark of laughter.
"So long as we keep our mouths shut I don't think that anyone will connect us with this."
He looked directly at me when he spoke, and I got the distinct feeling that his words weren't for his companions.
Yes, sir! Shutting up, sir!
It was common for people to be murdered in Kyotot. It was a dangerous city, after all. I knew that. of course...
But to see it happen? That was something else entirely. If deathwas such an easy thing in Kyoto, I thought, then the city itself must surely be mad.
Gah! Don't sneak up on me like that!
I didn't realize immediately that he was speaking to me. When I did, my eyes went wide.
"What do you mean, you saved me...?"
... Well, he did have a point. Despite their threats, they had saved my life.
I stood up as steadily as I could manage, brushed some of the dirt off my clothes, and bowed.
"Um... Thank you very much. I apologize for not thanking you earlier. I was... There was so much going on. I was a little confused."
I glanced up at them, tentatively.
Hijikata looked as though he'd taken a bite of something sour.
"I-I know it seems weird to...say that... But he told me I should say thanks, so I--"
I looked up. Saito and Hijikata were both looking pointedly at anything but me, and the third man was shaking with laughter.
"Ha! Oh man... Well, my apologies. I certainly did tell you to, didn't I?"
He broke out in laughter again, so much so that he was forced to wipe a few tears from his eyes as he straightened up.
"Thank you for helping me..."
Not quite sure what else to do, I bowed again.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Okita?"
"Commander, I understand your concerns, but we must move."
Whatever mirth I might have inspired gone, the man called Saito spoke with quiet urgency. Hijikata nodded. The man who called himself Okita grabbed hold of my wrist, gave me a smile, and began to lead me down the street.
If I ran, I would die. Quickly, at least, but still. Even if I did as I was told, my life was in the hands of these strange men. I set my jaw and stood up straight as I could. My eyes met those of Saito as he looked up from the bloodstained coat.
"It would be best if you prepared for the worst. I doubt this will end well for you."
His words were like a dagger in my stomach. What was going to happen to me? Was I...was I going to die?
As we walked through the cold Kyoto night, I felt horror begin to crawl its way up my spine once again. The cause of my horror wasn't the gruesome end that almost certainly awaited me, but something else entirely.
Perhaps, I thought, this is what it is like to go mad.
To quote Philip K. Dick, "It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane."