Kawarazakike no Ichizoku 2 is an eroge originally released by elf in 2003, and rereleased in 2009 with added animation and side stories. It is written by Dotenmeikai and longtime elf writer Hiruta Masato (who may in fact be the same person).
Yuuma is traveling with his girlfriend Anna to visit her adoptive grandfather Nawatsuna at his isolated mansion to celebrate his birthday. Little does he know that he is about to become embroiled in a plot by Nawatsuna that includes, among other goals, the curing of his erectile dysfunction. This requires rape, lots of rape.
There are two main sources of conflict in Kawarazakike 2’s story. The first is the more physical and plot-based conflict of Yuuma being trapped on Nawatsuna’s estate and within his scheme of somewhat ambiguous aims. But Yuuma is not only trapped in space, but in time as well, as this is a timeloop game. The existence of the loop isn’t a spoiler as the game begins looping within an hour or so. The loop here is somewhat different from the many other timeloops in eroge in that it is ambiguous, both in its origin and in its nature (it takes awhile for the reader to get a sense of how the looping is organized). This is pretty cool, and is bolstered by the game’s unique flowchart system that allows the reader to see how scenes are laid out and where they currently stand in the sprawling timeline of the story. The visualization of the plotline like this really brings home how time itself has become part of Yuuma’s prison.
Unfortunately despite these novel techniques the actual plot is pretty basic. Yuuma hangs out in the mansion for awhile, eventually realizes shit is going down, and is then mostly ineffectual as everyone, including himself, is raped and/or killed. And because this is a loop game this process is repeated over and over, depending on how many bad ends you get. A lot of tension is removed when you realize that, at least for a few iterations, everyone is going to meet some variety of terrible fate. Given that this story is based largely in the suspense of Yuuma’s position within the psychotic occurrences at the mansion, the blunting of the suspense through repetition and predictability is much to the story’s detriment (additionally the flowchart can at times spoil how the story is going to proceed). To the story’s credit there are a few genuinely surprising or shocking moments. These are generally small surprises, but the game’s reservation in presenting shocks is to its benefit, since they feel like things someone might really do if they were cruel or psychotic enough, rather than the kind of unrealistic over-the-top gore etc. that so often characterizes these kinds of stories. Another appealing aspect of the story is the atmosphere of the mansion: the writers develop the sense of mystery well and the flowchart contributes to this as well by teasing scenes and the possibility of new developments or hidden horrors.
The other main conflict in the story is the human drama piece centered around the relationship between Yuuma and Anna. Nawatsuna doesn’t approve of the relationship, and would much rather see Anna with his adopted son Tomoki. Tomoki is for his part in love with Anna, and has known her since childhood. So Yuuma’s relationship with Anna is under threat, or at least he feels it is. The problem is that Anna is so obscenely devoted to Yuuma that it’s hard for the reader to take Yuuma’s fears seriously when it seems clear Anna would never leave him or allow them to be separated in any way. What emerges instead over the course of the story is Yuuma’s insecurity in his relationship with Anna, which is exacerbated by the relationship’s chaste and nearly platonic nature. Although this is a legitimately interesting and under-explored kind of relational conflict the story doesn’t do enough to expand on this theme or call it to the reader’s attention. I could see many readers overlooking it almost entirely. Similarly there are some parallels between Nawatsuna and Yuuma, such as the former’s physical impotence with the latter’s inability to take his relationship into the physical realm, which are not given the attention they should probably receive. Hints of themes of chastity and sexuality within relationships and shame associated with sex permeate the story but are largely buried.
The final route manages to remedy many of the problems on both fronts of the plot. Since you can tell from the flowchart that this is the last loop, and since Yuuma is at this point finally aware of the loop, it actually feels like playing for keeps this time, and thus there is actual tension regarding what will happen to the characters, a palpable difference from earlier in the game. The relational conflict also receives the kind of attention it deserved all along, as Yuuma grows and actually starts to gain some self-awareness around his insecurities and what he needs to do to make his relationship better. The very end of the game drops the biggest surprises in the story, though everything is too ambiguous, subtle, and confusing to feel like clear, major twists. However, as the story throughout is diffuse in its deploying of plot and character information this ambiguity works. Although some readers will be dissatisfied by the ending it feels like the most fitting end the game could have.
The characters in Kawarazakike 2 are phenomenal. They are nearly all unique, nuanced, and well-developed, and what’s more have their own conflicting motivations and histories that inform those motivations. To break down some of the pros and cons of individual characters:
Yuuma, the protagonist, is mostly unremarkable personality-wise. His main appeal comes in his development over the course of the story, as he loops through events repeatedly. Otherwise he is your regular nice-but-horny eroge protagonist, but growth is such an important yet often disregarded part of a protagonist that Yuuma’s is very much welcome.
Anna is pretty much the ideal girlfriend. She is devoted and trusting, but also a strong woman even outside of her relationship with Yuuma. The main problem is that she is too perfect. However her perfection only rarely feels overbearing, and she isn’t entirely without flaws (her attitude toward sex) so this is a minor issue.
The maids Suzune and Mika are the best eroge maid duo since Tsukihime’s Hisui and Kohaku. They represent the two contrasting ideal maid archetypes, with Suzune the shy and docile maid and Mika the cold and stern maid. I love both of them, and I don’t even particularly care about maids. The butler Inagaki is the kind of threatening, overwhelming presence that makes for a good villain, but the reader is also exposed to other sides of his personality, such as during a few scenes where he waxes philosophic with Yuuma. Although these characters are all servants at the mansion they each have their own agendas and their own reasons for helping Nawatsuna, or not.
Tomoki is one of the lesser developed characters, largely because his appearances in the story almost always set him in opposition to Yuuma, where he plays the role of a pompous dickhead. In occasional scenes, especially toward the end, the reader sees more of his personality, though he’s still pretty much a jackass.
Maki is Tomoki’s little sister and while initially seen as the most annoying kind of imouto-type character she is perhaps the best example of how the game gradually presents a very well-rounded picture of its characters over the course of the story.
Surprisingly, the main villain Nawatsuna is probably the least developed character. He is essentially just a crazy old guy. There is a little more complexity to his character than that but not much. His subordinates are the better, more compelling villains in this story. I suppose in terms of undeveloped characters there is also Natsuko, a woman who visits the estate because her boyfriend wants to photograph it, who is a major player during some sections of the story but seemed to be added solely for ero scenes.
One unfortunate aspect of Kawarazakike 2 is that it doesn’t have character routes. There are so many great heroines here that it feels like such a waste that all of them except Anna are effectively supporting characters. There aren’t character “arcs” either. Instead the game presents character details in key scenes scattered throughout the story, or else in small interactions in seemingly much less important scenes. While this approach is admirable in its naturalness, I still find myself wishing for routes for these girls. It would’ve helped add some variation to the plot as well.
About the best thing I can say about the music in this game is that it fits the setting and atmosphere. Because most of the songs, despite matching the elegance of the mansion or the tension of the suspense or the diabolic nature of Nawatsuna’s machinations, just aren’t very good. Even the obligatory orgel track, fittingly titled Orgel, isn’t anything special. There also aren’t enough tracks. As seems to always be the case, the two good tracks only play once each: one in the final scene and the other during the credits.
On the other hand the voice acting is stunning, for every single character. Well, maybe not as much for Natsuko since there isn’t as much potential with her character, but for every other character the voice acting is an integral contributor to the characterization. Each character has such unique and consistent intonations and speech styles that I can clearly recall all of them, and clearly relate them to the character as a whole. The cast of characters in Kawarazakike 2 is very memorable and their voices are a large part of that.
This game must’ve had top of the line production values back in 2003, because even today it amazes visually. The quality of the art is superb, especially the attention given to textures such as cloth and skin. The style is appreciably old school but detailed, though perhaps older art was generally more detailed than what we usually see today. Characters even have different faces: when was the last time you saw that in an eroge? In addition to the quality of the art the number of CGs is simply staggering. I was continually impressed by how often, and how well, CGs are implemented. elf doesn’t disappoint with the fanservice CGs either: there are plenty of panty shots and other kinds of fanservice and these CGs tend to be where one really notices the textural detail in the art.
The updated version of the game has elf animation. There’s a reason why it’s advertised as “elf animation,” because elf have been the industry leaders for animation for years now. This is one of their earlier animated games, second after Biniku no Kaori I believe, so the animation isn’t quite as refined but is still great. The game also has a number of short 3D animated clips, which although superfluous kinda do contribute to the overall presentation of the game.
My main, big complaint about the visuals in Kawarazakike 2 is the resolution. It’s fucking 640×480, even in the rerelease. This is simply brutal on a modern 1920×1080 screen. It’s made worse by the text, which is small and stylized unlike the generally big and blocky text of other old eroge. In 2003 some eroge were already coming out in 800×600 (for example the clearly lower budget Ashita Deatta Shoujo) so it’s disappointing that elf chose a lower resolution when they obviously put so much effort into making the game look amazing. It’s even more disappointing, one might even say unforgiveable, that the 2009 rerelease is the same resolution.
The ero in this game is very satisfying. Although most of the scenes are rape or at least coerced there is a variety of situations presented, and just about all of them are sexually intriguing. Unexpectedly, for me anyways, most of the raping is done by Yuuma (himself forced or otherwise) so despite all the NTR baiting in the story there aren’t that many NTR scenes: about half of Anna’s scenes, and none of the other heroines’. Thankfully despite much of the promotional imagery for the game being drawn from Nawatsuna’s torture room the BDSM element is fairly reserved. I’m not into bondage at all and only one or two scenes were too S&M for me. There is perhaps an overemphasis on making the heroines feel ashamed or embarrassed, but that’s such a common thing in eroge and even more so in rape eroge. There is only one romantic ero scene in the entire game, but it’s almost poetically rendered. More romantic, not to mention realistic, than any sex in romance eroge, and in fact too romantic for me to even fap to, especially considering the context in which it occurs.
Pros: Amazing characters, art, and voice acting; good ero
Cons: Plot is mostly unremarkable; mediocre music
Kawarazakike no Ichizoku 2 is very much what I expected from it: a predecessor to Dotenmeikai’s later games with elf. It’s about as good as any of them. Although the characters themselves are amazing, you can tell that Dotenmeikai was still developing the realistic interpersonal relationships that are the hallmark of his later works. Outside of aspects of Anna and Yuuma’s relationship, which only receive sufficient attention at the end of the game, the relationships are a little too anime-esque. Plotwise it is also similar to his other games in that it presents interesting ideas in the premise that are mostly lost in the execution in favor of focus on the characters and their relationships.
In full disclosure, I played this game wrong. I played it as one would a regular eroge: reloading saves when hitting a bad end or when wanting to explore other branches or collect other scenes. Don’t do this. Apparently there was a warning about this in the manual (who the hell reads manuals anymore?) but you aren’t supposed to load any saves until you’ve gone completely through the game once. The game’s system automatically handles looping, flags, bad ends, etc., and will get you to the end of the game in a timely manner if you let it do its thing. Loading different saves can break the flags and I ended up seeing nearly every single scene in the first two paths before getting to the third and final one. This creates a shitload of repetition that fucks up the pacing of the story. However, after surveying reviews on egs there’s a lot of repetition anyways, so I kept that complaint in my formal review, though I’ve downplayed it compared to the long rant I was preparing to give. On the other hand a twitter user reported not experiencing any repetition so maybe it depends on how many bad ends you end up hitting.