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Published July 28, 2013

Read Part 2 and Part 3 here!

So, for roughly two years now an English Visual Novel I have been openly interested in is Cyanide Tea’s Break Chance Memento. The group spent most of 2012 getting the harmony of their collective efforts in tune and after two strong showings, BCM stayed high on my radar. In the past few weeks, a new demo covering about two chapters of the game was released and it is good. So good that I had to talk about it…I just didn’t realize I’d be talking about it quite this much.

So what was once going to be just a quick blurb advising you to at least check out the demo regardless of your feelings of its genre is now an epic three part look at what Break Chance Memento is shaping out to be! All of this is pretty much my first impressions and reflections of those impressions…and somehow it will be the longest feature on this very site. Weird. Anyway, the first two parts will cover my impressions of the characters and the scenes that best showed their potential and the third part will cover the themes of the game and I will discuss what could either make or break this one: the time travel mechanic.

I will warn you in advance: this has pretty much gotten as long as it has because I dive pretty deep on this one. A lot of this will be my own theories but it’s all based on what happens in-game. If you want a short version, here it is: it’s good. The two chapters really get you invested in the story without giving a great deal away and, like many a good demo, leaves you with more questions than answers. If you have not done so, this feature will involve some spoilers from that demo so feel free to go and play it, then come back here alright? For everyone else, let’s start with the main cast and, what better place to start than with a certain long-haired twat?

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SHUUKI AMAMIYA

Ah Shuuki. If I had a podcast when you were first introduced, your creators would’ve had me fed to rabid cats by now.  I think it’s safe to say that in the long lineage of video game protagonists (yes ‘video game’…as in consoles as well) there isn’t another ‘hero’ like this guy. Being as nice about this as I possibly can, regardless of what you think of his fashion sense or -2 waistline, when you boil it down to brass tacks Shuuki is a cynical, egotistical, snarky, lazy, manipulative, brazen slut…and we’re going to walk in his shoes for the demo!

…Yay?

As harsh as that description of his character is, there is really no getting around it. The story doesn’t just acknowledge Shuuki’s flaws; they put them on a neon sign and dare you to ignore them. This is obvious when the game starts with Shuuki waking up naked in a love hotel after having sex his boyfriend. So, that essentially leaves us with two ways to look at the boldness in which Shuuki is portrayed; especially in the early moments of the demo.  The first is that his behavior is justifiable by his family’s shattered past and his bad reputation are all just his way of coming to terms with his situation in life. This is a valid possibility which would essentially make him a classic flawed protagonist whose is long overdue for personal growth. This is probably the most sympathetic rationale for his character and, ironically, the one I think is least likely. See, the story would have to sympathize with him first for this to work and it doesn’t until nearly two hours in. Hell, if it wanted Shuuki to be sympathetic, our introduction to him wouldn’t have been of him naked in a love hotel.

The second option is that Shuuki’s character is a challenge to the reader to accept Shuuki as is and find common ground with someone whose behavior and outlook on life is what some rabid fundamentalist reading this (or writing this) would consider morally bankrupt. And while this may shift once the final version of BCM is released, this is the interpretation I’m leaning towards the most. Why? Well…and I can’t believe after curb-stomping the little twit into the ground for the past year that I’m saying this…God help me…and for lack of a better explanation…after playing through the demo (I hate you so, soooo much Lore) Shuuki is kind of hot.

Excuse me while I cry in a shower and try to get myself clean after typing that…BUT I can explain!

The simple truth is that both men and women of every sexual stripe tend to chase after people like Shuuki because there is a certain attractiveness that comes from laughing at the cultural status quo and living life on pure Id. We’ve all met these types of people and, for better or worse, have been attracted to them on a pure base level. Without a solid sympathy card to play, we need something to latch onto and that something is what we see everyday of our lives. We may not like it (and we DON’T) but it’s easier to come to terms with than one imagines. Shuuki’s kinda hot and because we all are aware of someone like that, who cruises through life strictly on their appeal, we can now overcome the challenge of his character and better place his role in the overall story.

This is vital because the story isn’t really about Shuuki’s issues. He’s a player in a much larger game that he barely understands, so realistically speaking sympathy for him is useless. However understanding his pathology and just WHY he gets away with his crap can help us figure out his character for the long run which means admitting basic truths to get to the deeper truth. This is a recent trend in designing characters as both Booker Dewitt from Bioshock Infinite and Raylon Givens from Justified give us every reason NOT to like them. Both are thugs with badges who are often only a bullet away from being criminals themselves. And coming to terms with that allow us to see the story for what it is rather than what we would want for them. Same goes for Shuuki.

So what good qualities does the pompous ass have to justify such a statement?

One of Shuuki’s best scenes is well into the game when he is given an opportunity to save the life of his older brother Masaharu who was brutally murdered about halfway through. Through the scene not only does he show the courage to do whatever it takes to save him but also shows a sense of self-preservation which gives us a greater range of what type of protagonist he is. He, like most protagonists, doesn’t exactly run into trouble with a plan. But once he’s in the middle of it, he’s quick on his feet and doesn’t needlessly endanger himself or others in getting the job done. So not the brightest bulb, but he can think his way out of whatever he gets himself into.

Also during the time travel sequence when he crosses paths with Masaharu again he breaks down in the second most emotional scene in the demo (the first is coming up). I don’t think this is done out of a sense of realization because up to that point, Shuuki obviously cared deeply about his brothers. It was a cathartic moment if anything and directly after that he shows a willingness to bend a bit more in his relationship with Masaharu. This goes back to that whole ‘hot’ thing: essentially while Shuuki does grow, he doesn’t change fundamentally to do it.

See? That made perfect sense! And you thought that whole ‘he’s kind of hot’ thing would be weird…

Overall, there is much more here than what I originally thought there would be. Shuuki isn’t the most complex character I’ve run across in EVNs, but he may be the most human and three dimensional which opens a lot of doors when it comes to his family and romantic relationships. Speaking of family, it’s about time I revealed who the game REALLY wants you to feel sorry for.

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NATSUME AMAMIYA

Poor, poor Natsume.

I think it’s impossible to walk away from the demo without sympathizing with the guy’s situation in life and BCM pulls no punches when it comes to him. Technically the oldest, Natsume is presented in public as wasted potential. He sleeps through his classes, ignores his future and is perfectly happy to spend his time cooking for his brothers without any concern for his own state. Why?

The brilliance of Natsume’s character is that he’s less of a black sheep and more of a sacrificial lamb. It is revealed during the game that the only girl of the Amamiya clan died in an accident while Natsume was supposed to be watching her. While vague, it seems that there was little that could have actually been done to save her, but how exactly do you explain that to grieving parents who have three more kids to raise? Pain and grief makes you do strange things and, in their pain, Mr. and Mrs. Amamiya ignore the well-being of their remaining children…leaving the job to Natsume.

It’s cruel. There really isn’t any other way to say it. But Natsume bears it all to keep the family together, even if it’s in a state of melancholy, which says a great deal about the type of person he is. The scene that illustrates this best is the one that pretty much everyone who’s played the demo will take to their grave and that is right after Masaharu is brutally murdered. Shuuki comes home to find his mother, completely hysterical, pounding on Natsume’s chest and blaming him for Masaharu’s death. What makes this scene so difficult to sit through is the look on Natsume’s face.

Auro-Cyanide, who I have already said is one of my favorite artists, hits all the rights notes here as Natsume’s looks like he wants to break down, run away and kill himself all at the same time without ever changing his expression. And considering all that has happened in his life, it is real possibility that Natsume’s got suicidal tendencies…which means his brothers are the only thing keeping him alive. Wow. I think I managed to depress myself.

That doesn’t mean that Natsume’s a completely depressing character. Most of the demo’s dramatic moments come from him, but at the same time a lot of the comedy comes from him. Since he doesn’t have the snark of Shuuki or the rigidness of Masaharu, Natsume is somehow both a dramatic foil and a source of comic relief throughout the demo which is much appreciated. It also leads to some of the best moments in the game when you’re not trying to dig Lorelei’s fist out of your soul.

This is seen in a scene where Shuuki convinces Natsume’s boss at a bakery to let them shill samples of cake outside of the store and Shuuki decides that’s the perfect time to act as a Host…as in ‘Host Club’ host. I would love to deny this, but the entire scene was hilarious. Shuuki dials everything up to 11 and it’s just damn funny. And it gets better when Natsume gets in on the act. Let’s just say that his moves were clearly passed down the Armstrong line for generations. Well done sir.

The best part about Natsume as comic relief is that it’s easy to put him into situations where you don’t have to know anything that happened, but his reactions are enough to drive the scene (coughYukinaricough). Considering everything he brings on every front, it’s safe to say that even in the demo, Natsume is the most fully realized, and therefore realistic, character in the game. He’s not someone you want to be, but at the same time if you were given similar terrible circumstance, he’s who you’d hope you could be…hopefully.

When the Time Traveler arrives, he reveals that Natsume is responsible for the technology that is the key of the entire game. While it shows that he is indeed just wasted potential currently and not just an idiot, it also hints at a darker side. The obvious rationale is that there is a time line that Masaharu’s death was permanent and Natsume became obsessed shortly after with fixing his family, or rather repairing the damage he may feel he did by not being a good enough brother. It is clear that he’s not in the best mental condition, but if he has technology he feels can be the magic wand to fix everything what lengths will he go to in order to see it all through.

On that thought, what lines has future Natsaru already crossed just to get the time travel device working? Let’s quicken the pace before we end up in a seriously deranged place. I’ll talk a bit more about the time travel side of the story in Part III.

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MASAHARU AMAMIYA

Finally rounding out the family is Masaharu AKA Mr. Normal. Unlike some people who WILL NOT BE MENTIONED, I liked Masaharu for reasons other than his body (you sick, sick people you). Masa’s probably the only one of the three here that you can form a direct connection from the past to the present. He’s also the only one in the family who had a healthy reaction to the passing of his sister. He is considered by many as a know-it-all and, as a wise Turian once said, someone who could beat you with the stick up his ass.

He’s also the first on-screen murder victim of the game…interesting. But this isn’t going to be a theory post.

What I like about Masa is what I hinted to earlier: of his family he has the healthiest reaction to his sister’s death. It’s obvious he cared about her, but at the same time he’s learned to manage the pain and focus it into other areas of life. He excels in everything he puts his attention on whether it’s basketball or academics because he is dead set on living the best life he possibly can in his sister’s memory. That is freakin’ awesome and while we get very little of him in the demo as the focus is on Shuuki, if there was an ideal character among the brothers it’s definitely Masaharu.

And this is not conjecture because during a scene where he and Shuuki have to clean up, he pretty much lays it all out just as I explain myself. That isn’t to say he has no problems. Again, he’s the one with the stick up his ass. But compared to SOME PEOPLE, that isn’t the worst position in the world to be in.

Then he gets axed.

I wish I could be more in-depth about Masaharu because I really like the character but he is as straightforward is it comes. The only real question about him lingers around his gruesome demise. Crucifixion is a very, very public way to off someone and it can be seen in a few different ways. The Ancient Romans saw it as a way to publicize how badass they were and warn any foreigners visiting their territory not to screw with them. The Christians see it as, well, the key of Salvation itself. Now, what does crucifixion mean for the purposes of this story? Well, the best explanation I can think of is that someone wanted to traumatize Shuuki.

Thinking on it logically, if the job was just to get rid of Masa it could’ve been accomplished without such a flash death. However, by doing it so publically there was no way Shuuki would walk away without a bit of trauma. And this can work in two ways. Either someone wanted Shuuki to be too afraid to ever come back to that moment in time in fear of what happened to Masaharu OR it could’ve also have been done to make him open to any, and I mean ANY method of saving Masa from his fate…hmmm…

Though I do hope in the full game Masaharu gets more screen time. The kid deserves it.

In Part II I’ll go over the supporting cast: which are Chiaki and Yukinari…with a special nod to DORM MOM!

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