What is it?
Higurashi is a series of independently produced visual novel games, which have since been adapted to several other media, including an excellent anime series. It takes place in the summer of 1983, in a small town called Hinamizawa. When the government wanted to build a dam that would destroy the town, it bitterly divided the people between those who wanted to preserve it and those who wanted to take the government’s money. Every year since the end of the Dam War, there have been murders on the night of the town’s Watanagashi festival.
A teenaged boy named Keiichi Maebara has just moved to Hinamizawa, and he becomes friends with Mion, Rena, Satoko, and Rika, four girls who have a club where they play games, usually with dares over embarrassing costumes. The story unfolds through a series of alternate versions and re-tellings, which gradually reveal more and more of the town’s dirty secrets, and the kids wacky hijinks are often juxtaposed with horror and brutality.
Geneon was releasing the anime in the US, but then they sort of closed down all of their North American operations completely, so the license is kind of in limbo. There are fansubs out there, but they’re hard to find at the moment.
Why’s It Awesome?
SPOILER ALERT. All through the first season, Hirugashi keeps you guessing as to what is actually happening, and the audience can only wonder whether it’s really something supernatural at the heart of all this, or something else. At the end of the first season Keiichi remembers himself brutally murdering Shion and Rena, and doing so pulls him back from the brink of disaster. We also learn why little Rika switches between her bubbly little girl persona and a much more mature self. She has endured nearly a century of reliving the same life over and over. In the final story arc, she uses the knowledge gained from so many lives to rally her friends together to thwart the sinister forces threatening Hinamizawa and move on to a brighter future together.
Although Higurashi is situated in otaku culture, it is anything but typical, and it defies cliches at every turn. Amongst other things, it is willing to deal with social and government issues. Even in mainstream culture, Japanese entertainment always seems reticent to depict for example a courtroom scene, but Higurashi features a protest outside the local child welfare office. The characters, from busty Mion to Lolita Rika (who won the 2007 Saimoe Tournament), have a definite moe aspect to them, but they live in a realistic world and problems such as Satoko suffering domestic violence at the hands of her uncle, are not easy to solve. Unraveling a government conspiracy that could (and in many worlds does) destroy the town is the ultimate test.
There are many possible ways to approach gaming Higurashi. You could stick close to the original, or use the general premise with different characters, or even in a different place entirely. Higurashi is ultimately about the townspeople’s relationship with a unique virus that could redefine how we understand human behavior. it meshes well with a Japanese town with its own cult-like variation of Shinto and run by powerful yakuza families, but it’s not hard to imagine an insular town in the deep south with its own sinister variation of Christianity.
Sorcerer is probably the existing game that would fit best. With a little tweaking, the virus/curse that afflicts everyone in Hinamizawa could be defined in terms of a Demon, with Humanity loss representing the spiral of paranoia, insanity, and death that results from its full activation.
The fact that it uses multiple realities to reveal the mystery raises all kinds of interesting possibilities, regardless of what system one uses. For a shorter campaign or a one-shot the GM might give the players index cards with scraps of memories from the other worlds. Rika is the main one doing this remembering, but the others get occasional vague impressions, especially towards the end of the story. This would require lots of preparation by the GM, but it would be the best choice in terms of maintaining immersion.
On the other hand, especially if you want the mystery to be undecided at the start, it could be neat to do a troupe-style campaign where the players take turns being GM and inventing story arcs, which could be either new or examine an earlier one from a different point of view.
Next Week: Metal Wolf Chaos