At long last, I have completed Dal Segno.
I shall share my own impressions first, then reread and adress some of the comments earlier in this topic.
My overall impression of the game is 70% disappointment and 30% pleasant surprises. Note that disappointment is directly connected to expectations. If all you want is a game of having fun with cute girls, there is nothing to complain about and you should be hitting that “buy” button right now. The art is beautiful, the characters are likeable and the carefree everyday scenes are well-written.
But if you, like me, have picked up D.S. because it’s somewhat of a successor to the Da Capo Series, or if you wish to enjoy an engaging plot and consistent writing, you’re probably in for some frustration. And even this statement is somewhat misleading, which is why I’ll go into detail later.
That is not to say, however, that the game is not worth your time and money. I definitely think you should give it a try. Despite the many unexpected inconsistencies in the overall quality, I have very much enjoyed this VN. No regrets.
So, what exactly is the problem? It’s the writing, but not in a way that the common complaint of “not as good as the Da Capo series” may suggest. For example, you will notice early on that there is a lot of time-skipping. What the author describes is not a life, but a series of its fragments and that what reading through this game feels like. You get a scene with girl 1, then a scene with side character 1. If you’re lucky, you may get a scene with girl 2 and then it’s already the next day. Reading through this feels really choppy. Sometimes, you’ll only get an average of 1-2 scenes per day. I think I only got used to this by the time I was on my 4th route.
But the most important problem with the writing is that every time a mystery is involved, its presentation and explanation is horrible. I remember @machelmore saying that the protagonist (Atsuya) is really bad at explaining stuff. But putting it that way implies that there’s still a chance of the author deliberately making it that way. However, the problem is more fundamental than that. The author himself is just really really bad with Mystery in a weird way. There IS foreshadowing and the story does drop hints concerning the oncoming conflict. But they are laid out in a way that makes it really hard for the reader to connect the dots. And even when the conflict is nearing resolution, you get all the puzzle pieces laid out before you and the protag explains the situation, it may still not make sense. This is problematic because the main conflict is also the peak of a route’s emotional delivery. And when you get there, you can tell this is all very emotional, but you’re still confused about why and how this is happening, thus you`re not enjoying it as much as you’re supposed to.
Another complaint of mine, albeit one more related to personal preference, is that I think D.S. mostly makes the wrong choices when it comes to which elements of the Da Capo series to include and which not to.
First of all, the common route is straightforward and you only make the bare minimum of choices. No setting your alarm clock to choose one out of three morning events for the day, no listening to the radio or making phone calls in the evening, no choosing which place to go and which character to meet at a given time of the day. That means the common route has zero replayability. To get onto a different route, you’ll only have 2 new scenes to watch. That’s it. It’s a shame, because I really liked those parts of Da Capo, because they made it feel more like a game, added replayability and depth to the common route, the characters and the setting.
On the other hand, they’re including some familiar elements that I think should’ve been changed up rather than copied from Da Capo. Dal Segno is taking place on a special island, the common route ends with a christmas party that includes a beauty pageant.
The protagonist has a little sister that belongs to the same strict and scary type as the Da Capo’s Nemu, Yume and Himeno. While I think Circus is really good with those types of characters, why do it over and over again? Well, the imouto this time is not a heroine, so it’s only a minor complaint.
Then we have the wingman Yamato, who’s basically a clone of D.C. II and III Suginami’s and, as hinted in the story a student of one. Then again, this “Suginami” is an actual wingman and way more involved, which made my initial annoyance turn into appreciation. In the end, I do consider a reliable wingman “Suginami” an upgrade.
Phew. So much text and I haven’t even gotten to the routes… I shall continue this at a later time.
Onto the heroine routes. I played them in the following order:
Hazuki -> Himari -> Noeri -> Io -> the rest
I started with Hazuki because she seemed like the most bland heroine at first and her story seemed predictable too, though she did get more depth through her two common route scenes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t enjoying the first half of her route. It felt like a chore. Maybe because I still didn’t get used to the time-skipping scene structure or maybe I just wasn’t invested in Hazuki as a character despite my initial impression of her having improved a lot.
The first pleasant surprise was, very surprisingly, the H-scenes. Though the first one still happened a bit too soon for my taste, they didn’t feel unnatural or tacked on like most H-scenes I’ve seen. They were very much part of the story and did contribute to the character development of both participants. And most of all, it was taken seriously. Because upon noticing they did not have protection on their first attempt, they decided to stop and call it a day. That added a lot of respect points to the writer and the protag. Most eroge don’t bother with realism there.
It got really interesting when the conflict began… but also very confusing. The overall plot was great, don’t get me wrong. It was actually more deep, emotional and complicated than what I had expected from D.S. And it had defied my predictions. But it felt like I have never fully understood what had happened prior to the resolution, which impaired my enjoyment. Sometimes, Atsuya could see the number, sometimes he couldn’t. The girl at night was giving different answers concerning her identity on different days. So did she sometimes come as a projection and sometimes with her mind taken over? Nowhere else did the Island’s system do something like that. In the first place, the system’s capabilities seem to go far beyond what should be possible with just science… And yet, the protag did arrive at all the correct answers. Weird.
Overall evaluation: Great ideas, poor execution.
Having finally gotten through Hazuki’s route, I needed something more enjoyable and consistent and I knew exactly where to find it: Himari’s route.
How did I know? Because Himari bears a considerable resemblance to Da Capo I and II heroines of the Shirakawa family, (Kotori and Nanaka) in both looks and behavior. I associate the following traits with a Shirakawa heroine: Red-ish long hair, blue eyes, outstanding looks that are repeatedly pointed out in-game, Sociable and nice personality, quick to fall for the protagonist, main conflict related to both her love and her main-plot-related special power.
While these traits make the routes of Shirakawa routes somewhat predictable, both the girls and their stories always boast a consistent, above average quality. I usually put them pretty high up on my favorites lists, Himari being my #2 in this game.
Having gotten my hopes up, I dove into the route and got just about what I had expected… mostly. The chemistry between the protagonist and Himari was absolutely perfect. Their dialogues are enjoyable and Himari’s voice is outstandingly pleasant. I enjoyed the carefree everyday scenes a lot.
Now, to be perfectly fair, this part wasn’t even all that different from Hazuki’s route, yet the difference in my enjoyment was like night and day. My investment in Himari must’ve been a big part of it, but I still think there must be some kind of difference in quality that I can’t quite put a finger on.
There is something I want to complain about, though: I often got the impression that Himari’s talking hat, Iris, had been completely forgotten. It was clear as day that she would be a very relevant part of Himari’s personality, backstory and plot. So why was she barely ever brought up and almost never joined the conversations? And even before that, during the common route, how the heck did Atsuya just up and accept the existence of a talking hat without even questioning it? Sure, we are in the Da Capo universe where magic is a thing, but that’s supposed to be a secret. And now that I’m already complaining, I felt a discrepancy between Himari’s personality and the fact that she’s supposed to be bad with people. Because she got along with sprited characters pretty smoothly. Even with excentrics like Io, whom others were unsure how to approach.
The H-scenes in this route, too, were a valuable contribution. They felt natural, as they were showing a pair of lovers trying to take their relationship to the next stage. And once again, Atsuya shows off his trademark thoughtfullness by stopping midway through upon realising his girl wasn’t comfortable.
Again, although there’s been foreshadowing, the plot, as always had taken a pretty sharp turn when things got serious. And once again, the confusion began. The protagonist had the problem figured out step by step, yet the reader got left behind. Where do I even start?
In the common route, Ame said she can’t explain why Atsuya could see the happiness numbers. Or help him getting rid of them. Yet now, it’s blatantly stated that the necklace is the cause of it and Atsuya doesn’t even comment on that.
After seeing the numbers, Himari developed the ability to influence them. This is a complete mess in many ways. First of all, it’s a magical ability that’s magically connected to Himari’s magical hat, Iris, and not at all connected to the system that produces the numbers. A conclusion that the protagonist easily arrives at. Secondly… are the concepts of “happiness” and “luck” expressed with the same word in Japanese? I know they are in German, but it’s still weird to treat these two things as one and the same like the game does. When Himari increases Atsuya’s happiness, he somehow gets lucky and wins lotteries.
In the end, we get a dramatic farewell from Iris, although the game didn’t give her enough screen time previously to make clear just how important she was to Himari in an emotional way - and most importantly - getting the reader emotionally attached to Iris. There’s a deep message of going out there, growing up and facing one’s fears. But its impact is once again obscured by how confusing it was to get to this point.
Overall evaluation: Great heroine, good romance, confusing resolution.
Since I wanted to save the best for last, I had to get into the route of my least favorite heroine next: Noeri.
I don’t even have all that much to say about this route, since I think it can be easily summed up with the following quote:
“I’m so stupid… ahahaha…”
Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, Noeri always failed to comprehend why Atsuya got annoyed by her behavior right at the very first step. Or did she never even try? Her own obession with her cousin had confused her over what kind of relationship she actually wanted to have with him. While being adamant about being his imouto, she also really wanted to get into his pants, which, sadly, is all the H-scenes amounted to. But it didn’t stop there. While her fear of losing Atsuya in case of a failed romance is understandable to me, the notion of crippling herself and making him the central and only thing in her inner universe is not. Maybe it would’ve been if she was a yandere or a similarly obsessed kind of character. She desired to be more than a lover and had arrived at the conclusion that “sister” is the position needed for that, but isn’t trying to be THE sister pretty inconsiderate to both Atsuya and his real sister Mei whom she seemed to get along with just fine?
To be fair, the interactions with Noeri were usually pretty funny. I also admire her courage in confessing her love in front of the entire school with a mic in hand. Her desire to be taken seriously is understandable, considering how obviously she had displayed her love. And visually, I find her “gal” look rather appealing. But, not gonna lie, I’m pretty biased here.
Another thing on the positive side is that the delivery of the main conflict was simpler and not as confusing as in the previous two routes.
Overall evaluation: I don’t like the girl, but there’s less confusion.
Finally, it was time to get on the route I’ve been looking forward to the entire time. Io is not just a tropey chuuni character or a teenager going through a phase. She’s not just weird for the sake of being funny.
Early on in her route, it has been made clear that this is what she is and how she lives her life. Rather than acting out a role, she puts a tremendous amount of effort into being exactly what she wants to be - by sewing her extravagant clothes herself, forgoing comfort and practicality for the sake of style and consistency - and never breaking character unless explicitly asked to. And I fully agree with Atsuya - that this makes her life exceedingly more colorful, interesting and exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed her elegant manner of speech and her frequent use of metaphors.
In terms of creating a heroine, everything about Io has been done right. Props for that. And did I mention that she’s super cute??
What impressed me the most in this route was not something grand and dramatical. It was Io’s reaction to her loss in the beauty pageant. “The demons are always defeated, one way or another. The hero has absolute, infallible power.” It displays a maturity one might not expect of a funnily dressed short girl. She did not construct a persona which, within her setting, is the best, greatest, or strongest. Even in her own world, there will be people she will inevitably lose to. Not only chuuni kids, but also many successful otaku authors could learn a thing or two from her.
And in the end, what she aimed to win the most were not the hearts of hundreds of potential followers in the audience, but that of a single boy right in front of her, which she spectacularly succeeded at.
Despite what her small frame may suggest, Io was always in the lead, always had the initiative. She decided to take part in the beauty pageant without being asked and she kept promoting Atsuya, thus establishing their relationship. All of their activities were decided by her. Io always got her thoughts across while also remaining mysterious enough to not let Atsuya be 100% sure. Atsuya, on the other hand, did not behave like the considerate gentleman he was in Himari’s and Hazuki’s routes, turning instead into a lecherous horndog whose shenanigans Io had reacted to with angelic patience and a generous amount of trust. On the other hand, when he did try to be helpful, he was a bit too pushy.
One of the big complaints I have about this route is directed to the translator. While I think Io’s everyday scenes have been translated just fine (I mean, I’m not good enough to say for sure, but her speech flowed well and made sense, which surely wasn’t an easy feat considering the vocabulary she used), I think the translation had messed up where it mattered most.
The first mistranslation concerns Io’s persona. She calls herself “Maou no musume”, meaning “Demon Lord’s daughter”. But it was translated as “Daughter of Darkness” instead. This is vital for her character and backstory, showcasing that her father is a very important existence to her and her identity.
The second one is the final title she had given Atsuya to signify their special relationship: “Zadusevnyj Drug”. It’s too obscure to realize the romance of the moment and literally nobody knows what it means. “Drug” makes little sense, as he’s supposed to be a companion, a peson to always remain by her side, not something to consume. “Zadusevnyj” sounded pretty Russian, but when I tried reading it (it’s tricky due to different alphabets), the translation that first popped up in my mind was “the strangled one”. It turned out to be russian after all (thanks, google), originating from one of Pushkin’s countless works. I didn’t do much research beyond that, but from what I can tell, “zadusevnyj”, literally translated, means something like “beyond soul.” In my opinion, rather than making sure the word remains something Atsuya would be confused over, it would’ve been better to make the word not more obscure but more understandable to the reader instead. I believe the point here is that Io desired a deeper relationship than that of a mere couple.
EDIT: I only just realized that “drug” was most likely not referring to the english word that means “intoxicating substance”, but the russian word for “friend”. “Zadusevnyj Drug” therefore means “Friend beyond soul”, to which “Soul friend” is a close approximation, a term that Atsuya used at some point in the game without indicating that he had done some research on Io’s formulation. Like… are you serious, Mr. Translator??? Not only do you use terms from other languages nobody is familiar with, but also one that invites misunderstandings badly enough to even confuse native speakers??
My last complaint considering the translation is a minor one, but still… when Io took out her tablet on the beach instead of frolicking in the water, Atsuya commented it with “you’re such a millenial”. This strongly reminds me of the bickering between two generations in a certain country, which I would very much prefer to be kept the hell out of my games, thank you very much.
Now for the main conflict. Again, most of the necessary info was given beforehand, I’d say even more so than in the other routes, but I wouldn’t call that foreshadowing. The big trouble still happened too suddenly and the most important piece of information was not presented well enough: namely how important Io’s father was to her. As a result, the fact that she was about to die just to cling to his memory had come as a total surprise. And yet, despite that being the case, rescuing her - that is, convincing her to live and move on - had proven to be surprisingly easy. Atsuya just scooped her up after a short talk, without even having to fight a boss enemy.
Overall evaluation: Subjectively best girl, great character concept, another finale impaired by confusion.
Main route and the rest
I’m writing way too much, but I’ve long missed my chance to stop, so the only way left is forward.
- I will once again praise Yamato for being such a great wingman. He’s always there when you need him and he gets shit done. Perfect qualifications. What I never understood, however, is how the heck he got so attached to Atsuya. Was it love on first sight? Our protagonist, on the other hand, never really did anything for Yamato, did he? In fact he didn’t even seem to regard Yamato as an actual friend in the common route.
- Remember how I have compared Himari to heroines of Da Capo’s Kotori and Nanaka? This is too random to even be called speculation, but since Himari is an orphan, there is a non-zero chance of her actually being related to a Shirakawa, right?
This is probably the right moment to talk about the common route bad ending, which the steam guide refers to as “secret route”. The part of thinking about Yamato is kinda funny, but expected. The unexpected part is that you end up meeting not him but the otherwise uninvolved imouto Mei. And this is something I like a lot about Dal Segno: they aren’t stingy with the sprites and CGs. They allowed Mei to make an actual appearance like a full-fledged side character despite her otherwise only being a voice on the phone. Heck, have you seen the CG menu? You can view alllll the sprites there, too, and there’s A LOT of them!
Alright, what do we know so far?
The happiness numbers Atsuya can see are deceptive. Sometimes, they are correct, but other times, they may rise even though the person in question is actually in real trouble. Because happiness is a comlicated thing and not quantifiable.
The paradise System is super powerful and super scary. It monitors the entire island and everyone on it 24/7 and it can even measure brain waves. It allows certain individuals, chosen by its caretaker Ame, to wield a part of its power in form of a wish. It’s capable of messing with one’s memories, trapping people in their dreams, therefore putting them in a coma and endangering their lives, and it can even awaken an alternative personality that takes control of the body to, say, get a young girl to the brink of getting deflowered while she thinks it’s all a dream.
In the center of all that is Ame, whose visual design is perfect, by the way. She was created by one Professor Amakase - a name you should be familiar with from the Da Capo series - the creator of android girls goes by the same name, so we can safely assume this one belongs to the same family of inventors.
Ame’s route is the story of a non-human girl with human emotions who eventually even falls in love. It’s by no means a new idea, but nonetheless a deep and solid topic. Unfortunately, Ame is to pay for this experience with her life, which again, is not new, but a pretty damn good story material. Rather than trying to prevent the tragedy by denying their feelings and separating (like what other girls tried in their routes), Atsuya and Ame decide to maintain their relationship.
And it’s a beautiful relationship indeed, because they cannot touch. A connection that is purely emotional. Which leads me to the thing that completely ruined it for me: the goddamn H-scene!! See, this is why I hate 99% of those! Because they are disruptive to the scenario and the mood, making uncharacteristic things happen. Sure, let’s break apart this beautiful concept because this is an eroge and every girl must have H-scenes. ARGH!
But apart from that, I really don’t have any complaints about this route. There is no mismanaged mystery, the romance is great, the girl is cute, the story is wonderful and emotional (although It didn’t really feel all that intense it for some reason), the deep concept of “happiness”, which is central to this very game, is explored, the overall setting is part of the plot and the ending is bitter-bitter-sweet.
Overall evaluation: The highlight of the game, as it should be.
This is where we find the very meaning of this visual novel. Or for some players: the answer to “Why did Ame have to die?” A new caretaker of the paradise takes Ame’s place. While she looks a lot like her, she also seems much more mature and she implements the things that her predecessor has learned. For example, the happiness numbers are no more - because as we have learned, those numbers are not reliable.
So what exactly does this mean? It means we have moved on. Not to something completely new, but we have made progress, we have learned something. This is the difference between Dal Segno and Da Capo.
According to my brief research, “Da Capo Al Fine” is a command in music scores which means to start from the beginning of the song and play it up to the part that says “fine”. The concept of the Da Capo games is perpetual repetition. Repetition around a certain constant. It’s a circle of sorts. If you’ve read through the Da Capo series, you know what I mean.
“Dal Segno” is similar. But unlike “Da Capo”, you don’t restart the music piece from the very beginning, but from a certain designated point. In other words, we don’t start from zero. That’s why the character in the middle of it all, Ame, had been succeeded by a different one.
Props for that concept that compares the two series and allows us to appreciate them more.
In the end, while the inconsistencies in quality do waste some of the game’s potential, the good things outweigh the bad. While it’s not on the same level as Da Capo, I expect this series to keep approaching it. And if they get to iron out the problematic parts, we may just be in for something amazing when D.S. III is realeased.
Final thoughts: Good. Not on the level of Da Capo, but good. No matter how much I complain, this is definitely a worhtwhile experience.
Alright, now all that’s left to do is to adress the other posts…