Harmonia Review -- Why Must I Cry?
Review copy provided by the publisher
Developer Key has gifted visual novel lovers 15 years of tear jerking and heart warming stories including Clannad, Rewrite, and Planetarian. Now, after a few delays, their newest visual novel Harmonia is available in the West on Steam. However, with slow pacing and a lackluster cast, this visual novel could end up shadowed by Key’s more notable releases.
Being a kinetic visual novel, Harmonia is a story that takes readers on a journey through a post-apocalyptic world. You play the game through the eyes of Phiroid—this world’s version of an humanoid android—whose only drive is make humans happy. After avoiding near death, you meet up with a girl name Shiona who thinks you are a human. She decides to help you and gives you the name Rei.
Key spends a lot of time developing these characters’ personalities and relationship with each other. However, their optimistic attitudes and nonchalant ways of going about their daily lives makes the first few chapters seem to drag on for longer than they should. It also feels out of place given the depressing setting.
The story introduces two additional cast members: a store owner named Madd who is (as his name would suggest) constantly yelling and pissed off at Rei and a young librarian name Tipi. There are other towns people as well, but they don’t feature an illustration or a voice, which would have been a nice inclusion instead of reading text against an empty background.
Key usually prides themselves on telling great stories even with the smallest of casts. In the case of Harmonia, they could have made the main cast a little smaller by removing Madd. His inclusion in the game comes off as unnecessary to the point where every interaction with the shop keeper is a waste of time.
The first half of the visual novel is a predictive marathon where Rei’s actions are pretty much painted on his forehead. However, the second half is where this story picks up and shifts into gear. Without spoiling the story, Harmonia becomes a thriller, making the visual novel extremely hard to put down. Every scene seems to throw a twist that pulls the reader in and forces you to follow.
Key is known for many beautiful illustrations. That being said, the post-apocalyptic world of Harmonia does their work no justice. A dusty grain effect is added over almost every background creating a brown mess. I know the effect Key was trying to accomplish here, but it makes the game boring when interacting with towns people and forcing the player to look at it for the entirety of the scene.
The saving grace for these dust filled empty scenes is the amazing music from composers Shinji Orito and Ryo Mizutsuki. They created a score that brought life to the portions that would have otherwise been a mindless read. However, when the music paired with the more heart warming interactions between characters, I couldn’t help but fill overwhelmed with emotion–basically, I cried.
The character illustrations and CGs are more in tune with Key’s past works. The bright colors and lively expressions the characters present are very well welcomed and make the story so much more enjoyable. Additionally, each main character is fully voiced in Japanese which is always a nice inclusion.
During my time with Harmonia my game crashed several times as I was changing different settings in the menu. This would have been incredibly annoying had I not saved beforehand, but also because Harmonia doesn’t feature a fast forward shortcut until after you complete the game.
For those new to visual novels, I feel like Harmonia could be a great entry into the genre. The text is simple to read and the plot is explained in a way that leaves the reader with little to nothing to be confused about.
Harmonia can be completed in 5 – 10 hours and offers readers a thrilling story of friendship and mystery. Sadly, after completing the game I was left with no incentive to replay it like I did with the developer’s past titles such as Planetarian.
With that said, Harmonia is wonderful, but suffers from a not so wonderful cast. The second half of the story does well in capturing the reader’s attention and offers a strong conclusion. Fans will appreciate Key’s newest story, but I’m left with wanting more.