Aster is a 2007 nakige from Rusk.
Aster is mostly a standard school romance-drama. The story follows the formula of getting to know the girl, falling in love with her, being struck by tragic drama, and overcoming that drama to be together forever. Standard stuff. Aster is somewhat unique in that rather than routes it has what are better referred to as “stories” since they don’t branch from a single beginning but are instead separate with each girl’s story starring a different protagonist. After reading through the first of such stories you are able to select from the others on the title screen.
Each story in Aster has a different set up for its romance, some of which are atypical for an eroge. Saya’s route is a typical childhood friend romance but I feel it’s the strongest romantically (and not just because of my love of childhood friends). It has a surprising amount of ichaicha for this type of game and the ichaicha is surprisingly cute and sweet. Miyuki’s route is about how she and the protagonist pretty much both already like each other but need support and encouragement from their friends to actually get together. It’s a shitty premise that isn’t executed well enough to escape being shitty. In Hina’s route the protagonist is already together with the heroine. They aren’t just dating, they’re already engaged. The romance in her route was satisfying but not outstanding. There isn’t any real romance in Haruna’s route and the love is instead platonic or more accurately familial. Who the fuck wants that in an eroge? It also feels very artificial. Luckily her after story addresses this, but it still sucks. Similarly Saki’s route doesn’t have any real romance until her after story and even then the romance is mediocre.
In this type of story once the protagonist and heroine get close enough drama hits like a car crashing into a high school girl trying to save a young child who is about to be run over by said car. And so it is in Aster. The quality of the drama varies quite a bit between the routes. In the main story (formed by Saya’s route, Saki’s route, Saki’s after story, and the true end) the drama is really quite good with some touching and powerful scenes. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s a very good execution of a nakige plot. In what I consider the side routes (Miyuki, Hina, and Haruna) the drama is noticeably weaker. When the drama shows up it doesn’t hit with much intensity, never gets you to really care, and resolves too easily and too quickly. The plot in these routes isn’t bad but it’s not fulfilling.
A third component common in nakige is comedy, but Aster is significantly lighter on the humor than many of its peers. Most of the routes only have a standard level of comic relief (actually below-average for eroge). The jokes are good enough for comic relief but didn’t make me laugh out loud. Hina’s route is exceptionally funny, mostly because of the protagonist. Although it might have lost some of its humor when I realized the protagonist was actually that dense and not just pretending to be dense in order to mess with Hina.
I want to talk a little bit more about Aster’s non-standard structure since it gave rise to some of my larger complaints with the story. So the way it works is you must first play Saya’s route. Then you unlock three other routes (Miyuki, Hina, and Haruka) each with a different protagonist but with some connections to the first route that will become clear as you play them. After clearing those three routes you unlock Saki’s route. After clearing her route you unlock four after stories, one for every girl but Saya. After clearing those you unlock the true end.
As you might be able to tell, the organization of the story is needlessly convoluted. It leads to some significant problems in pacing. For example, Saya’s route ends in a cliffhanger that isn’t picked up again until Saki’s route. Also the after stories are pretty long, all four adding up to be longer than any single route. They all add important things to the plot, and tie up loose ends in their respective stories, but it feels awkward to go through more plot and drama after already seeing the climax of the story and even an epilogue (the after stories also have their own epilogues, by the way). I feel that stuff should have just been worked into the routes themselves. Also since there isn’t a common route unifying the different stories each one has to spend time devoted to the daily life buildup that you would normally only have to read through once, though luckily the sections individually are shorter than the common routes in eroge of comparable length.
The heroines in Aster, when taken as a whole, are the type that are good while you’re playing the eroge but don’t leave any lasting memories or affection after you finish. Saya is an exception for me personally, since an osananajimi voiced by Maki Izumi is so directly in my strike zone it isn’t even funny. Her twin sister Saki, a genki and slightly tsun girl, is good too, though obviously not as much to my liking. Hina feels like a tsundere who is never actually tsuntsun, if that makes any sense, which makes for a likeable heroine. A character like Haruna would normally be much too ojou for me but I still like her, maybe because of how she says dame. Miyuki is the least remarkable of the girls but she manages to not be annoying as fuck like shy girls like her often are.
There are four protagonists in Aster. They all share some traits, like being relatively reticent and shy, but they’re still easily distinguished from each other. Mutsuki is a typical girlish boy who uses boku. Kyouji is dense as fuck, to the point of ridiculous shit like not knowing that sex makes babies. Masato is probably the most normal, least shy, of the bunch. Hiro… I suppose I can only differentiate Hiro by saying he doesn’t have any of the traits I listed for the other protagonists. My favorite protagonist was Kyouji because his personality added a lot of humor to the game, although he was way too dense at times. He’s also a fan of shimapan, making him a gentleman of most refined taste.
Aster has a relatively extensive cast of side characters. Some of them appear in multiple stories while others only appear in one. I’d mostly describe the side characters as functional, although there are some that I like. For example I really like Nao (the office manager or something for a cafe that plays a role in many of the stories), mostly for her speech style, to the point where I wish she had a route (unlike many people I rarely cry over side characters not getting routes).
Aster’s soundtrack maintains consistently high quality but none of the tracks are memorable, outside of the instrumental arranges of the OP and ED. Speaking of the OP and the ED, they’re both awesome. Both have catchy but emotional melodies. They share more stylistic similarities than probably any other OP/ED pair I’ve heard, which creates a cool dynamic and unity.
The voice acting in Aster is great. I already mentioned that Maki Izumi voices the osananajimi. Her twin sister is voiced by Aoyama Yukari, who also voices Nao. I was also impressed by Haruna’s seiyuu when I saw that she voices three very different characters in the game.
I like the way lighting is handled in Aster’s CGs. I also like the color scheme, which is mostly black with some whites and reds. The uniforms look classy too. I dislike the casual outfits for most of the characters, which are ugly and break the color palette I just praised. Oh, and the artist needs to learn how to draw hands. They’re way too big in the CGs and during one climactic emotional scene I had to avert my eyes from the CG because of the girl’s freakishly large hands.
Aster’s ero is average for a game of its kind. Which means it isn’t particularly good. Aster makes things worse by having the scenes go on for far too long. More of something bad makes it worse. I guess the writers were trying to make up for having only one scene per girl, and for having most of them only come up at the very end of the after stories. But really guys, you should have just stopped.
Pros: Plot of the main story; music; voice acting
Cons: Plot of the side routes; pacing
The main storyline in Aster is worth playing if you like nakige. The other three stories are not that good but they aren’t so bad as to be unenjoyable to read. And even they have their moments. Nevertheless I feel the overall experience would have been stronger without them.
I chose to read Aster because I heard it was really depressing and dramatic. I was expecting some serious melodramatic shit that would make me feel like shit. I was disappointed on that front. Overall Aster is less dramatic and less emotional than a lot of nakige, especially the good ones. I think I know what leads people to call this depressing and an utsuge, but I feel they’re overemphasizing and overreacting to a couple points in the story. Anyways, that was just an aside to serve as a warning for anyone who might want to play Aster for the same reasons I did.