The School Days series is back--buggier and more gruesome than ever.
Makoto Itou is often vilified as the worst VN protagonist ever. These people clearly haven't played Cross Days.
Cross Days is a retelling of the events of School Days from the perspective of Yuuki Ashikaga, a boy in the same year as Makoto Itou, the protagonist of School Days. Yuuki is childhood friends with Hikari Kuroda and a member of the library club, and his older sister Chie belongs to the basketball club. Good-natured but indecisive, he often puts the needs of others before his own because he can't muster the courage to say "no". His sister introduces him to Roka Kitsuregawa, whom he quickly develops a crush on. Roka likes him too but misunderstands his relationship with Hikari. Roka tells Yuuki she's going out with Makoto to make Yuuki jealous. Kotonoha, who frequents the library, tells Yuuki she's Makoto's girlfriend, yet Makoto's classmates say he's going out with Sekai. Swept up in romantic intrigue, Yuuki has to figure out how to convince Roka that he's serious about her while getting her to give up on Makoto.
|Yuuki Ashikaga, protagonist of Cross Days|
|Roka Kitsuregawa, the main heroine|
|Chie Ashikaga, Yuuki's older sister|
|Kotonoha Katsura, Makoto's girlfriend|
|Hikari Kuroda, Yuuki's childhood friend|
|Sekai Saionji, Makoto's other girlfriend (?!)|
Much of the plot of Cross Days revolves around romantic misunderstandings, often reinforced and propagated by gossip. Yuuki and Roka are the main couple, while Makoto and Kotonoha are the secondary couple. The way these relationships play out forms the crux of the plot. The story begins with Makoto in a relationship with Sekai, following the route in School Days where Makoto pairs up with Sekai almost from the start. Sekai herself is a minor character.
Unlike School Days's Makoto, the plot of Cross Days doesn't revolve around the protagonist Yuuki, and this is a core weakness. Yuuki is very much swept up in the events occurring around him, and he is unable to directly solve the problems he's confronted with. Instead, his influence is indirect--he influences other actors who have the power to change events, such as Makoto. Cross Days is as much about the various characters surrounding Yuuki as it is about Yuuki himself, and as a result the experience ends up feeling rather fragmented. Much of the game is spent viewing events from an "outside" perspective other than Yuuki's, really reinforcing the feeling that this isn't Yuuki's story. As a player, I felt alienated by the arbitrary perspective shifts that often had no direct relation to the events surrounding Yuuki.
This leads to one of the game's main issues: the hopelessly convoluted scenario. The triggers for the various branches in the game's plot are cryptic and difficult to comprehend even in retrospect, much less when you're encountering them for the first time. As a player, you end up feeling very much like Yuuki--lost and fumbling about at random as situations spin out of control in often ludicrous fashion. This is in contrast to School Days, where there was usually a clear connection between Makoto's choices and downstream consequences. The choices in this game left me befuddled, and I ended up using a walkthrough after wandering aimlessly through the scenario a few times and haphazardly hitting the major routes. In some cases, the flow diagram in-game isn't even accurate (i.e., flowing one-way from left to right)--instead you can end up on a route that retraces to an earlier branch point. The scenario was patched to fix some of the divergence issues, but this actually makes the problem even worse because it breaks the earlier fan-made guides. I was unable to get most of the endings in the boys' love route because I couldn't figure out the proper sequence of choices even after trying several different guides.
Bugs and crashes
The game has many of the same problems as School Days. It crashes/hangs frequently, especially if you scene skip in a scene with a choice. The problem is more acute in Cross Days because there's no "skip to the next choice" feature as there was in School Days HQ. Like School Days, the scenario consists of many puzzle pieces intended to fit together in many different configurations--but not all the configurations tell a cohesive story. Certain paths detour around scenes that are necessary for explaining/instigating downstream events.
Despite all the problems, Cross Days captivated me for several days straight. I literally did nothing in my free time except play this game. Roka makes a great main heroine, and her jealousy is positively adorable. Her push-pull relationship with Yuuki is a highlight of the game. I was disappointed however that there was no opportunity to pair up Yuuki with Kotonoha. The setting has incredible detail that emerges when you explore all the different routes, conveying the sense of a truly living world. You end up missing much of the backstory if you only play through to one or two endings. The animation is engaging, with visual cues used to convey information layered on top of the dialogue. There isn't much fluff dialogue that serves no purpose in the story.
Cross Days features a total of 22 endings (8 are in the BL route, which I haven't fully explored). The endings I saw were all distinct. There's some distinct routes that diverge midway, such as the ones focusing on BL and Ai Yamagata. The actual divergence has nothing to do with these themes however. Sadly many of the endings have no epilogue (especially the ones ending in H-scenes), so there's a nagging lack of closure. Reflecting the overall feel of Cross Days, many of the endings are "bad ends" for Yuuki and Roka.
Cross Days is a rare interactive movie VN with a highly dynamic scenario that evolves based on your choices. If that's your cup of tea, there's hardly any alternatives to the School Days series. If you liked School Days, you should give Cross Days a try--but realize that the experience is different. Cross Days was clearly intended to be experienced after School Days, so don't make this your first sampling of the series. If you didn't like School Days, you probably won't like Cross Days, as it sports one of the weakest protagonists I've come across in a VN, and makes Makoto look like Rance by comparison.
Score: 7/10 (including -1 penalty for crashes and freezes)
Recommended for: Fans of the series who have already played School Days and Shiny Days and are hungering for more.
I played this title in Japanese. If you're interested in seeing Cross Days in English, support JAST USA's English releases of School Days HQ and Shiny Days and let JAST know you're interested in Cross Days on their new official forums.