I haven’t gone through Refrain yet so forgive me if I miss anything that might seem obvious to those who did. Same goes for whether I’ve misinterpreted anything, seeing as I went through this just last night and couldn’t get enough sleep because of it.
My biggest beef by far was honestly with Kyousuke, and I mean that not as a complaint towards the writing in any way at all, but as a complaint towards him and him alone. Yeah, he’s set up as a like-it-or-not-I’m-right antagonist, with the whole route feeling like a boss fight against him, and yeah, he’s indeed supposed to be right - why wouldn’t he be? Rin needs to grow. She’s an integral part of the group, the same way Riki is, but while I don’t think such groups ever need to outright come to an end, they will change as life goes on. All friendships do, whether 1-on-1 or group ones, even lifelong ones. It doesn’t mean the group has to end, not in the slightest. That change cannot occur if people are unwilling to move on, to grow and be able to deal with life’s curveballs on your own. Rin and Riki fit that description, and we know that from a very early point.
But therein lies my problem. Kyousuke knows that, but he goes too far. All throughout, he gives off this ominous, unshakable feeling of being a dark God of sorts (is he one? as I haven’t gone through Refrain yet, I don’t yet know), unsurprising given that he’s the leader and effective guardian of the group, the one who makes everything possible. He knows the secret of the world and Riki doesn’t. I don’t think he’s changed as a person from the other routes at all - it’s just that, with the focus being on Riki and Rin, this fateful clash was naturally going to happen. But while Riki’s primary standout point is his empathy, he’s got something else going for him: determination, which he eclipses Kyousuke in. But that’s not the worst part - it’s the fact that he tries to use abandonment as a tactic to help his sister mature, but seemingly fails to account for the possibility of her not being able to take it. Between that and still giving her a bit of a lifeline by letting her contact Riki (and Komari, but without her phone working she’s effectively out of the picture), I want to blame him for polar opposite things - being too extreme, yet also not going far enough. And that, to me, is his weakness, as is his failure to account for the fact that there would be repercussions from Rin and Riki for his decisions, and that Riki in particular would overpower him in that regard.
I wouldn’t be so harsh on him normally - after all, he’s merely a year older, right? He himself is still young. Barring anything that I don’t yet know about, I can’t expect him to be omnipotent. He can make a lot of things possible, and even without knowing anything about Refrain I get the feeling that everything’s been orchestrated in a way that makes him indeed seem like more than just a person, but above else he’s still merely the leader and guardian of the group. And any leader can completely lose control in the right circumstances.
…but I know what that abandonment feels like. I imposed it on myself a few years back. It’s… dark. To this day, I see those years as being the absolute worst of my life, years that have worsened me as a person even though they were supposed to make me better and stronger, because I was not ready for that sort of abandonment at all. What I ultimately learned from that was not how to truly live a wholly independent and fulfilling life, but rather that there is nothing to learn from giving someone an overly difficult challenge - even if they get past it, it’ll never feel like it was because of their own efforts, and they’ll only feel resentment towards whoever gave them the challenge in the first place (perhaps even life itself) instead of being proud of themselves for being able to triumph in difficult circumstances through what they’ve learned.
Rin strongly reminds me of that. Yes, she needs to grow, but Kyousuke effectively thrust her into the fire head-first and told her “good luck! oh, here’s a fan in case you need it”, which makes no sense to me when Rin solved Lennon’s previous assignments not on her own, but with the others, whether it was the entire group in the cafeteria scene, or just with Riki in the lovesickness one. She never was truly alone, and it feels like Kyousuke failed to fully realize that. And his response to being called out on that by Riki, who quite rightly could no longer tolerate Rin literally crying over it? Cheating in the 2v2 game, as if to say “no, you have the determination, but I am right because I am right”. No, Kyousuke, you’re not wrong. You’re just a failure of a guardian - a bad parent of sorts. And as great of a person as he might be, that single mistake he made makes him despicable, because unlike with Riki and Rin, I expected better of him, and I even strongly feel like the narrative supports this by indirectly making you want to have this feeling in the back of your head. That’s why, even knowing that he was making a mistake, I sided with Riki on this all throughout. When fairness is thrown out the window, it’s hard not to want to take action. Rin really did feel like she was completely abandoned, and I blame Kyousuke for it, not her or Riki for lashing out at it. Riki merely gambled and lost. Kyousuke’s failure was calculated, and I find that unforgivable.
There’s a lot more that I want to say about the route, from the “”“romance”"" (it’s not and it doesn’t pretend to be - it’s two young best friends wanting to do something that seems mature just 'cause, and I’ve seen that a lot in kids over the years) to Kengo being on Riki’s side (don’t tell me whether I’m right or wrong (spoiler just in case), but the grave visit is going to come into play, right? the 2v2 setup feels a lot like Kyousuke and Masato have developed a certain something that Riki and Kengo have not, and I feel that Kengo will find his answer once we revisit his graveyard visit) and Riki still not knowing the secret of the world. I want to give those a bit more thought first before I dive into them though, especially considering that final scene and the ending. I may even need to go through Rin2 again after Refrain. So far, however, it’s unexpectedly my favorite route. It’s an inescapable bad ending that leads into the true meat of the game. You don’t see that very often in writing in general, and its execution and the way it makes me think and feel about the events in it makes it eclipse any of the “completed” routes of the other girls in my eyes, even the emotional powerhouse that is Haruka’s route. Hell, I should probably write about that one in its relevant thread at some point too…
(One final big shoutout to 何も起こらなかった世界. Jesus Christ, that tune will never stop scaring me now.)