White Album 2 is a love triangle eroge from Leaf, bearing no direct relation to the first White Album save a few references. The Introductory Chapter was released in 2010 and the Closing Chapter was released in 2011. The writer is the famed Maruto Fumiaki.
The first part of White Album 2 concerns the protagonist Haruki’s attempts to put together a band for his light music club before their scheduled performance at the school festival. He eventually recruits two girls: Setsuna and Kazusa. The first half of the story is pretty standard school life, with Maruto’s signature touch breathing some freshness into things. The second half, which takes place after the school festival, focuses on the love triangle between Haruki and the two girls. The drama gets really intense in certain scenes, while still feeling remarkably honest and real. Drama at the end is excellent. You get the sense that this is ramping you up for the serious shit to come in Closing Chapter.
Unfortunately Closing Chapter fails to follow through on the framework laid by Introductory Chapter. First major mistake: Kazusa is nowhere to be found. Yeah, lets totally remove one corner of the love triangle in a love triangle story by having one of the two main heroines completely absent. Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? Anyways, now Haruki and Setsuna are in college and wounds from their time in high school remain unhealed. They’re both trying to repair things and regain a closeness that was destroyed by the end of the previous chapter, but for some reason it’s just not working. Complicating things are a few new heroines who in classic eroge fashion enter Haruki’s life and present themselves as viable romantic options. These three girls all have routes, as does Setsuna. Obviously there is no Kazusa route, but this is such bullshit it bears mentioning. The drama in the common route is decent enough, but not as good as later scenes of IC, but I figured it was just building up to the serious, shit-hitting-the-fan drama of the actual routes.
Nope. The drama in the routes is consistently underwhelming. What you mostly get is romantic development, ichaicha, and ero, which are all unremarkable if well-written. And though I like all those things I’m playing this particular game for the drama. There are also plenty of pointless, prolonged daily life scenes, which are all the more frustrating when you feel that there really should be something actually happening. Each route manages a few good drama scenes, some of which approach IC’s drama in terms of quality, but the overall experience is disappointing. The overall concepts for the drama in each route are well thought out, particularly in how even the routes of the side characters examine Haruki’s relationship with Kazusa and Setsuna from new angles while still being about the route’s heroine, but the execution just doesn’t do the ideas justice. Even Setsuna’s route fails in the drama department, but I told myself again that this was probably just build-up for the next chapter.
That’s right: the Closing Chapter isn’t actually the end. A coda is a concluding musical section that is formally distinct from the main structure. And so it is with White Album 2’s Coda. Two years after Setsuna’s CC route Haruki and Setsuna are in a stable happy relationship, when Kazusa comes back into their lives. You’d think this is the dramatic climax of the story, and it is, after a sort. It’s the closest thing White Album 2 has to a dramatic climax. Despite the initial hook of Kazusa being back in town to fuck shit up, the common route of Coda is like CC in its lack of good drama save for a very select number of scenes. Same applies even for Setsuna’s Coda route. Luckily with Kazusa’s routes (she has two to make up for her absence in CC, though it’s not really enough to make up for it) we finally start to see some of the expected drama play out, and things end on a high note, relatively speaking, if you finish wish Kazusa True. Which you should, despite some sources like the walkthrough I used recommending doing Setsuna last. Kazusa True is clearly meant to be the last route you read.
More general thoughts:
The elephant in the room whenever I think about or try to talk about White Album 2 is the overwhelming length. The combined script of all three parts reaches near 4 MB, making it one of the very longest eroge. It took me months to finish all of White Album 2, partially because I didn’t have much time to spend on it, partially because sometimes even when I had time for it I didn’t want to play it (particularly the further I got into it and the more tired of its tediousness I became), and partially because it’s just extremely long. Unfortunately it really shouldn’t be so long, there’s simply not enough material to justify it, and the pacing suffers greatly for it.
In Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo Maruto wasn’t afraid to defy the eroge expectation to narrate every single day regardless how much useless text that resulted in: instead he skipped days or weeks or even months and the story never suffered from it, quite the contrary. Introductory Chapter follows this format too, for the most part, and proceeds at a refreshing, brisk pace. But Closing Chapter and Coda narrate just about every day over the course of a few months each and you can sense that Maruto was struggling to find stuff to fill each day, hence the rehashing of so much material. And the stuff he does skip over is still described at length in verbose “paraphrasing” or is covered directly anyways in a flashback.
Speaking of the flashbacks: they are incessant. Some amount of flashbacks is okay, particularly in a long game with a couple multi-year timeskips, but WA2 goes too far. Especially when most of the flashbacks refer back to shit that happened just the day before, some refer to events that same day, or even just a few moments earlier.
Other grumblings about pacing: You don’t need multiple lines of introspection after each line of dialogue, especially when you’ve got long diatribes of introspection independent of any dialogue. Partially because of this every scene goes on for longer than it should. Often the story will make you think a scene is over, will even start to black out, but then it keeps going on and will sometimes psyche you out with a fake blackout one or two more times. Conversations go on in circles and retread topics already covered in previous conversations.
I’ve referenced the mediocre drama already but I should talk about it more in depth I think, so that I’m backing up my assertions. The general problem is that the drama lacks intensity. Occasionally there are developments that really hook you, in fact there are a lot of very good dramatic hooks that impel you to read on to see how they develop and resolve, but these nearly always end up playing out in the most disappointingly unexciting ways. The first couple of times this happens I thought it was neat how Maruto subverted my expectations by having potentially disastrous situations resolve themselves without incident, but when it becomes the norm for any potential dramatic events to fizzle out without conflict it becomes really frustrating. The general flow of drama in White Album 2, and in fact the story in general, proceeds thus: something dramatic happens→Haruki spends a few days thinking about it and what it means for his relationships, talking to other people about it and what it means for his relationships, and thinking while talking→for whatever reason the drama is painlessly resolved. That’s not good drama. The only routes with decent drama are, not surprisingly, the Kazusa Coda routes where it’s not feasible to sidestep drama altogether, what with Haruki somehow having to transition from being with Setsuna to being with Kazusa. Even then it doesn’t stop Maruto from getting up to his old tricks again in one particularly rage-inducing example in Kazusa True.
What makes the drama in White Album 2 all the more frustrating is how it informs the atmosphere of the game. There is a constant air of drama palpable throughout story, even in the ichaicha and ero scenes, and it’s all the same low-level, half-baked dramatic tone I just ranted about. This makes the game literally monotonous, which doesn’t help its already existing pacing problems. You’re just trudging through this weak drama for hours on end.
There’s hardly even any real humor in the game. There’s some standard comedic relief that you’d find in any story and isn’t actually funny but is just put in there to mix things up, and there’s a few scenes that I assume are supposed to be funny since the obligatory slapstick song is playing, but none of it is genuinely funny. The only exception is some of the scenes with Haruki and his womanizing friend Takeya. The main problem with the humor is that Haruki is a terrible tsukkomi. Instead of short, sharp remarks when someone around him does something stupid he usually goes into long logical diatribes about why what they did was wrong.
Which brings me to another problem with White Album 2. Haruki’s interactions with other characters, which not surprisingly make up the majority of dialogue, invariably become arguments. Usually about minor details too, since Haruki is such a quibbler. If reading 4 MB of people bickering about petty shit is your idea of a good time, then White Album 2 is just the game for you. Again, this is part of what plays into the game’s pacing problems. A really unfortunate problem here is that even most of the scenes that are supposed to be emotional become arguments, with Haruki going into his reason-based “sermons” and the other party getting sucked into things. Emotional events are by definition not logical, and so forcing them into the rigid confines of a debate usually saps them of any ability to move the reader.
One good thing about the story is that it’s written by Maruto Fumiaki, who’s got a really nice writing style. He’s as eloquent as ever here, and it’s a testament to his power of expression that he can describe the same thing in so many different ways and have it read nicely every time. Over the course of such a long story the effect of the writing does diminish however, as you start to pick up on the tricks he uses and his normally refreshing writing and storytelling loses its freshness.
Kitahara Haruki: The protagonist is stubborn, perfectionist, rule-bound, quibbling, preachy, meddling, and has an overinflated sense of responsibility, among many other undesirable anal-retentive, Type A personality traits. Understandably many readers hate him, but I found him to be a highly interesting protagonist and I gotta admit I liked the guy, though whether I’d want to be friends with him in real life I’m not so sure. Some people also call him hetare, but that’s objectively untrue since Haruki is capable and proactive. There are times when he is lost or hesitates, but that’s because he’s stuck in a really fucking complicated situation that would cause anyone to hesitate. It was a brilliant idea to stick such a responsible, black-and-white thinker into such a messy love triangle because of how it forces him to react, reflect, and grow. It’s like they set up an experiment they knew would have interesting and entertaining results.
Ogiso Setsuna: A bitch, basically. On the surface she’s personable and cheerful but really she’s clingy, needy, manipulative, and stubborn. But it’s more complicated than just this two-layer personality, more complicated than I could briefly describe. It’d take an essay or a psych evalutation. In fact Setsuna is among the very most complicated eroge characters I’ve ever seen, and could serve as good fictional representation of borderline personality traits. She’s also the heroine I hate more than any other heroine in any eroge. I think even Maruto realized Setsuna is a pretty unpleasant character, because he spends quite a lot of time directly telling the reader how good of a person and sweet of a girl she is, or having other characters talk about how good she is.
Touma Kazusa: Like Setsuna has a multilayered personality. With Kazusa she appears cold, aloof, and unpersonable, a lone wolf basically, but she’s really lonely in her self-imposed isolation. She’s also needy, but for some reason her neediness seems more honest than Setsuna’s and is thus more sympathetic. With Kazusa it seems more about dedication than selfishness. Kazusa isn’t as complicated of a character, and is the least complex of the three main characters, but in comparison to characters in other eroge she is still very well-developed. And she’s way more likeable than Setsuna.
This trio, the love triangle, makes up the core of White Album 2’s cast. They are three of the most complicated and, relatively speaking, realistic characters I’ve seen in eroge. They aren’t always likable, they’re all flawed humans to varying degrees, and they’re in a shitty situation that would bring out the worst in anyone.
In comparison to these three the rest of the characters seem rather unimportant, even the heroines in CC, which all have long routes devoted to them. In the larger picture, i.e. Coda, they really literally are unimportant. These other heroines, Chiaki the carefree irresponsible college student, Koharu the “mini Haruki” high schooler, and Haruki’s OL boss Mari, would all shine if they were in a regular eroge, but they pale in comparison to the main three characters. One thing I’d like to mention about them though is that I like how some of them were similar to other characters: Mari is a lot like Kazusa and Koharu is a lot like Haruki, and other characters notice this and mention it. It makes the cast feel a lot more real, since in real life the people around you aren’t all so uniquely distinct that they each fit into their own archetype boxes, like the different heroines in other eroge. We have similarities and personality traits that overlap. Even Setsuna and Kazusa have some similarities, which I already mentioned.
The supporting cast is made up of Setsuna and Kazusa’s families, a couple of Haruki and Setsuna’s friends, and some mostly route-specific characters. They’re mostly pretty uncompelling and many of the route-specific characters are very one-dimensional (and often times used for gags that aren’t funny). This, combined with the fact that the CC heroines aren’t as good as the love triangle, is what keeps me from giving White Album 2 a perfect 10 in this area. The side character I really liked is Takeya, who seems like a generic friend character in IC, becomes a pretty cool guy in CC, and grows into a full character in Coda.
White Album 2 has a wonderful, extensive soundtrack. Too bad you spend over 90% of the game listening to the same three or four songs. Actually after going through the music mode there’s a few more than that, but they sound so much like the other few that it’s hard to differentiate. And either way the effect is the same: it amplifies the tediousness of the experience of reading through White Album 2. In fact the repetitive soundtrack is a major player in establishing said tedium, I feel.
The songs that you’ll rarely hear are all quite good, of course. As are the many vocal tracks (I think each route has a unique ED, plus all the insert songs) and background songs that don’t appear in the music mode (instrumental acoustic versions of vocal tracks, classical piano pieces, etc.). There’s a lot of good music here, as befits a music-themed game, and it’s regrettable that poor use of it results in an unpleasant listening experience.
The seiyuu do great with the tough job of acting out more nuanced than usual characters. Sometimes the voice acting in emotional scenes can get a little silly and over-the-top though. White Album 2 has a voiced protagonist, which caused a thousand (okay, maybe closer to a hundred) Western eroge players to instantly suck its dick. I’m more noncommittal. Having Haruki voiced is certainly nice in the emotional scenes but it also means you have to hear his moans during the ero scenes, and his moans are pretty disgusting and ridiculous.
There’s a weird overuse of sound effects in this game. The worst offenders here are probably the sound effects for pouring tea and the characters sipping tea. I really don’t need to hear that. I think Leaf just thought having sound effects for everything possible would create a more “high production value” experience.
The art is an embarrassment for a high-profile eroge from one of the oldest, largest companies in the business. This is especially true in the Introductory Chapter, where we learn that the artist does not know human anatomy and especially struggles with hands. For Closing Chapter Leaf was smart enough to get some additional artists to help out the poor guy, which results in bad art with some art that is occasionally good. The varying quality is almost as unpleasant as the outright bad art of IC, especially since the style also varies and in some CGs the heroines don’t even look like themselves. Speaking of CGs, there are not nearly enough for a game this length. It even seems to have fewer than a modern average-length game, closer to the number in an older average-length game. For some reason Leaf thought it was a good idea to have a whole slideshow of new CGs during the credits of Setsuna’s Coda route instead of using them in areas where they were much more needed.
The tea-pouring finds it’s visual analogue in panning backgrounds. I get using them occasionally in special scenes, but they go way overboard in their use which makes them no longer special.
Most of the ero isn’t really fapworthy. It’s got the type of writing that tries too hard to be sensual and sentimental and as a result doesn’t arouse. People (men, at least) need simple, brutal descriptions of the blunt physical act that is fucking, not abstract bullshit about “accepting,” “holding,” and “guiding her to her summit.” To the ero’s credit a few of the situations, almost exactly one per heroine, are hot enough to make the scene worth fapping. I’ll also applaud White Album 2 for having ero that is consistently relevant and in fact necessary to the plot, or at least character relationships. You’ll miss out if you skip the sex scenes altogether so just skim the girly sex descriptions and read the pertinent lines.
Pros: Main three characters are among the very most complex and human in eroge; very good music with ample vocal tracks; some powerful and heartrending drama; Maruto’s writing
Cons: Terrible, terrible pacing; the good music is underused, instead you get shit; most of the drama is weak and half-baked; poor production values for a “high production value” eroge; Fuck Setsuna
Once again I find myself at odds with popular opinion. You can probably sense that I am conflicted and ambivalent about White Album 2. Or maybe it just seemed like I hated it. I certainly don’t think it’s one of the best eroge ever. It could’ve been close. The overall premise had lots of potential, and there are brilliant moments here and there. I think the script inflation in the industry killed it. If the bloated script was trimmed down this could’ve been compressed into an average- or slightly-above-average-length eroge and it’d be just the best moments without the mediocrity that makes up most of the scenario and bogs things down. It’s also possible that this wasn’t the right type of game for Maruto. His tendency to subvert tropes didn’t work so well in a dramatic love-triangle game, where playing things straight would’ve been a better choice. And maybe Maruto can’t do the melodramatic stuff. Konnyaku had understated drama too, but it worked given the setting, unlike White Album 2’s soap opera premise. Hell, I would’ve read 4 MB of well-written soap opera, stuff like those few brilliantly intense moments scattered throughout this game. I would’ve loved it. It was what I was expecting all along. Sadly this game did not live up to my expectations.
And yes, I recognize the irony of writing a long, boring review to bitch about an eroge being long and boring.