“We only get one shot at love.
One mistake and it’s all over.”
Video games carry an aura of experimentation that the consequences of life cannot provide. If you fail a mission, you have the choice to restart and try again like nothing ever happened. If you want to complete an objective as efficiently as possible, you can replay that scenario over and over again. If you have the urge to pillage an entire village and murder all the residents in a fit of God-like rage but not endure the moral repercussions of your actions? Just quick load your save file of Skyrim and we won’t talk about it. The choice to erase a played scenario and re-do it in the fashion a player wants to is one of the more alluring aspects of video games, and one of the reasons players can feel comfortable doing terrible things without second guessing the actions: it’s just a game, right? No one gets hurt in the long run.
Visual novels are a connoisseur of this allure of choice. Most novels will provide multiple endings, expected to be explored, reloaded, and experienced. These characters face a multitude of emotions: love, hate, jealousy, rage, disappointment, relief; all to be subsequently wiped for the player to play through the story once again. These range of emotions the characters inquire are deleted after each load, wiped clean to encounter once again for the very first time. But what if these characters knew of your actions? Knew how many times you reneged on promises made to see the other side of the coin? When the characters realized how selfish your actions really were?
YOU and ME and HER revolves around the high school lives of Susuki Shinichi, the main protagonist, his childhood friend, Sone Miyuki, and their mysterious classmate, Mukou Aoi. Aoi is often found on the school rooftop clutching a clam-shell phone trying to phone God at her self-proclaimed “center of the universe”. This stance has caused her to unceremoniously be the loner of the class. Shinichi sees her ways on the roof as he frequents there for class clean-up duties, and offers to extend a hand in friendship to a girl who looks in need of help, but is unsure how to ask.
Miyuki, on the other hand, boasts herself as the queen bee of the classroom, a perfect individual who can befriend all with her gentle demeanor, but keeps all who covet her past arm’s distance. She glides into each facet of life with determination and grace, a life built to be above others, to be the best she can be. Miyuki is seen as an unattainable goal to Shinichi, one that is nauseatingly pounded into submission throughout the first half of the game, and Shinichi actively keeps his distance from her, avoiding contact outside of school in order to make sure he stays romantically unavailable, lest someone of her caliber is seen with a loser as self-stated by himself.
The first half of Y&M&H carries on as your run-of-the-mill visual novel standard, though the inclusion of full Japanese audio is a welcoming touch. A near-insufferable protagonist downplaying obvious advances from a tsundere secondary, and your weirdly kinky friend, enter Akebono Yuutarou, who plays hit-or-miss comic relief as filler in between plot lines. The writing feels very one-tone and the only real stand out is Aoi, who during your first route feels oddly “4th wall” about her knowledge in regards to visual novels and the tropes around them. While Y&M&H does provide multiple endings to experience, the way the choices are presented feel catered to reach a specific ending for one of the two main female characters.
When you start digging into the other character’s route, the game almost feels like it’s pushing you away from it, to go back to what has been played and accomplished before, before you go against the enjoyable feeling of being wanted and seeing two souls finally intertwine. Talks of “breaking routes” and “only being the friend in this game” fill the route, subtly second guessing player actions, little breaks in the 4th wall with reminders to save your progress: actions that during any other novel may seem suspect.
When Y&M&H initially boots up, the game states that it contains mature themes including violence and language, and if you’re familiar with nitroplus‘ Saya no Uta, you know what is capable. After a very tame first act, the end of the second main route grips the proverbial E-brake and hits a loud, abrupt 180, putting the characters, scenes, and the overall state of the game on a wild turn down to the unknown.
While I won’t dive too far into what lies after because it really needs to be experienced firsthand, the amount of detail and craziness is an absolute godsend to the mediocrity of what laid before it. The writing is razor sharp, and the atmosphere is substantially tense. I commend nitroplus‘ added additions to the genre’s normally static exterior, but the tasks at hand for the protagonist can involve a lot of trial and error and are not presented very clearly, which will have you fumbling around to figure out your next move. One of the coolest pieces of Y&M&H will take you by surprise, since where your experiences with a visual novel are held specific to you, Y&M&H‘s choices and details of the story itself are also specific to you. Pay attention to the lives you play with.
Soon you reach the end of their journey: one filled with love, tears, jealousy, and many, many more emotions. Despite the world once seeming so one-dimensional, Y&M&H tosses and turns it in ways I haven’t seen in recent years. Never has a title made me question the morality in which players treat the characters whom set the stage since Spec Ops: The Line. Y&M&H pleads with you to stand firm with your choices, to understand the promises that were made throughout your playthrough, and to hold true the emotions felt.
For every coin, there are two sides: one must be called, and the choice must be kept.
So, which will you choose?
Reviewed on Steam.