First, it's time for one of those dreaded "my apologies I haven't been posting" posts. The last quarter of the fiscal year is an extremely busy time in my profession (translation), and I've had a couple personal crises on top of it. The upshot has been massive neglect of any project or obligation that hasn't been related to either. I have people I've needed to contact back for months (believe me, that sounds even worse to me when I type it); I have one big Lunar project on which I haven't wholly kept my end of the bargain; the last update on the Clock Tower novel translation was before Christmas; the Angelique Luminarise website has massive updates unotuched by my precious commentary; and I noted that the most recent backup of my main site on was part of an initiative to save "rapidly dying" websites. It's not that I haven't made progress on my various projects; it's just getting to the finish line on each. My sincere apologies to anyone I've slighted here.

Before all the above descended, I had a second go with Zakuro no Aji, whose plot drastically changes between runthroughs - which ends up making the above bitchin' ukiyo-e triptych strangely relevant to this post. Let's find out why, shall we?

The story starts much as the first time: Domon, magazine office, earthquake, blackout. Some extra options pop up during the opening choices for how Domon interacts with his colleagues, which, of course, I took. (In the very scant information on the English-language internet for this game, I've seen it asserted that these choices alone determine what scenario you play, and I while I *think,* but am not sure, you have to take the new choices to trigger a new scenario during a replay on a file where the previous ones have been cleared, those choices will not appear unless you've indeed cleared the preceding scenario(s). Unlike what's falsely being claimed, you can't just choose any scenario straight from the jump; you have to go through the zombie tale first, and only then will you be able to access the second story I'm detailing here. The only point of which I'm unsure is if taking the new choices triggers the new scenario, or if replaying on a cleared file automatically loads the next scenario in line, and the new choices are just that, new dialogue choices, with no greater implications for the story.)

"I flashed a vague smile at Asafuji and moved to Yuko-sempai's desk. I handed over the manuscript I'd brought."

"Just then..."
Also, I found that troublesome snes9x transparency setting, so please enjoy Domon and Yuko's blue silhouettes this time around.

Anyhow, during the second quake, the hero will again black out after getting hit with concrete. When he comes to, though, two things will be different. First, he'll have been out for a considerably longer period of time: in the zombie story, I believe it was like a handful of minutes, whereas here, it's three-and-a-half hours. (Tada is already down to some 133t hacking by the time he awakes.) Secondly, unlike the first scenario, TASHIRO IS PRESENT. TASHIRO IS PRESENT. Instead, it's Katsumata who went out to scope the building (apparently also on a delayed schedule).

Also, Machi, an office temp with a crush on Katsumata who spent most of the zombie scenario on her back with an injury, is up and about this time around, which will turn out to be very important.

Katsumata will come back in what seems to be short order - then again, Domon's been out for longer, so it seems that so has Katsumata. In any event, Katsumata is uncharacteristically shaken and unnerved: "this is a horrible place."

"An eerie hush fell over the room."

He relates the tale of his search, noting that he tried the fourth floor but found it deserted; then he tried the third but found the foreign investment group there locked. He headed for the second but heard something behind him; he turned around to find a door to an unused room slightly ajar with steam pouring out from beneath it. He opens it to find...a living room, with a family of four seated around it.

"He looked back and saw that the door to the unused room was ajar."
While from this scenario, the images themselves are not new; they appeared in the zombie tale as well.

"And there he was!!" says Katsumata, voice breaking. Katsumata shakily relates that when he was in high school, captain of the karate team, he accidentally killed a new member of the squad: during some grueling sparring, Katsumata accidentally ruptured one of his organs with a particularly tough blow, whereupon the said unfortunate spewed a large amount of blood from his mouth and died. It was this boy's family seated around the table, Katsumata said. "And they turned toward me - they all turned toward me - and they laughed. They were laughing. And blood came gushing out of their mouths..." Katsumata was then overwhelmed by a horrible feeling; he turned and ran from the room, down the stairs.

Albeit unnerved, he's still Katsumata, though, so instead of immediately turning tail back to the office, he saw out the rest of his search. He investigated the first floor to find it destroyed, the main entrance caved in - though he did through the debris see the cave system from the zombie ending. He mentions that he thinks that they could do something about the rubble, though, if they got a team of two or three people together to move it. Katsumata mentions that he also tried to go to the roof but found it blocked in, like in the first route.

Meanwhile, Tada has hacked into the network. (I chose for the protag to be a bit more disoriented this time after the accident; I don't know if that moved us ahead in the timetable, or whether that's a story-locked thing.) He's using the fiberoptic cable the investment group in the building uses for data to call for help to the outside world.

"'The phone lines are out, so I thought this might not work, but...'"

He gets an immediate answer: inside the office, the phone rings. This gives the group pause, as the phones were out before. Tashiro picks it up, and it's...the Japan Self-Defense Forces. They've come to save everyone! Our heroes are ecstatic: will the rangers come? Maybe they'll send a helicopter! Or a fighter jet! Apparently, the building sinking is news all over Japan, and they've decided to send a rescue squad (and a TV crew) within a couple hours. ("That would be great publicity for the magazine!" the editor Gomikawa says.) They'll be clearing out the roof entrance, which is, as before, currently inundated with debris.

The only one who's not ecstatic is Tada. He's checked the communication records from the fire department, and there's nothing about any rescue plan. In fact, there's nothing past 10:15 last night, when the first earthquake struck. Tashiro angrily rebuffs this: he heard the rescue services on the line, and he knows they're coming. He storms out of the room as a result of this disagreement.

"Just as soon as Yashiro left, I tried picking up the receiver."

You can at this point have Domon pick up the phone line, be dumbstruck and stare at the phone (Domon has a lot more "zone out and be useless" options than other sound novel protags), or panic and run after Tashiro. I chose to pick up the phone. Domon hears a dial tone - but before he can dial a number, a voice on the other end responds: "Hello, Sci-Fi Monthly." Everyone's been watching, but Domon, slack-jawed, has no response. Yuko takes the receiver herself to listen, but after a bit, starts responding to a seemingly different message: "Katsuhiko, where are you now? I'm so lonely..." Katsuhiko, Domon remembers, is an aspiring author Yuko used to date. They split a year ago - Domon doesn't know the details - but Yuko's still crushed about it. Asafuji tells Yuko to snap out of it, grabs the receiver, and, after putting it to her own ear, slams it down.

Gomikawa then explains to Domon that Katsuhiko is dead - drowned. Um, hence the break-up. The phone rings again. No one touches it for a long time, but Domon finally picks it up. It's a boy's voice this time: "I'm coming up now, OK?" It then is silent. Domon imagines it's not the rescue squad, since they'd be coming down. Something about the phrase, though, ticks Domon's memory, but he can't quite remember what.

Then it hits him: he first heard it from a boy named Kagawa from his middle school. An outcast, everyone picked on him, including Domon. One time, though, Kagawa came to his house when Domon was upstairs in his room studying for an exam. Domon didn't particularly want to bother with him, but Kagawa persisted in trying to make a social call. Domon heard Kagawa talking to his mother but refused to answer his mom's calls. He then heard Kagawa's voice call to him from downstairs: "I'm coming up now, OK?"

Domon doesn't remember what he said to Kagawa, but the next morning, he heard at school that Domon had hanged himself. His body had been found around 7 the previous evening - even though he came by Domon's house at 8.

After mulling over the incident, Domon at last remembers that he said nothing in response to Kagawa's words - because, despite his announcement, Kagawa never came up. His mom announced his presence; Kagawa called upstairs to Domon - but...and there Domon's memory completely fails.

Yuko will shake Domon out of it and ask what's wrong. He can either say "it's nothing," hit on her and say she looks cute when she's worried, or confess about the call. I chose 3 - but Domon will refuse to follow up, because Yuko didn't know Kagawa and the story would therefore just be confusing for her (????). (I would think the natural demurral there would be Domon not wanting Yuko to see him in a bad light.)

The door will then suddenly open. Tashiro? No - Kagawa, his neck at an unnatural angle, blood flowing from his neck in a pattern reminiscent of the fiber with which he hanged himself. Kagawa starts lurching toward Domon...

"--Hey, it's just about time for the JSDF to get here." It is Tashiro, actually; Kagawa was just an illusion. Despite Katsumata's earlier search turning up nothing but ghosts, there's a big crowd in the corridor - the people from the other offices. Our groups wordlessly joins them, and Domon remarks to himself that "climbing the stairway silently beneath the emergency lights in the dim corridor, they looked like an assemblage of the dead."

Everyone heads for the door to the roof. They can see a light through the door's frosted glass (that, er, is not present in the image of the door - the glass, I mean). Suddenly the light turns brighter, and a voice booms out: "Is everyone all right?" (At the prospect of rescue, Domon can make one of three vows, that he gets out, he's going to a) go somewhere with Yuko, b) visit Kagawa's grave, or c) turn this experience into a novel. I chose 2, though it doesn't seem to affect anything.) There's the sound of digging through the sand...and then silence. For one minute. Two minutes...

"We finally reached the top of the stairs, which terminated in a landing jutting out onto the roof - where a lone door separated us from the roof's expanse. The door was set with frosted glass, through which a faint light shone."
Sorry for the resolution; missed getting a larger pic for this.

Domon can mutter "what's going on?", look around dopily at everyone, or ask if it's all over. I chose 1. At his question, the light goes out. The group tries the door - and it finds opens effortlessly, to...nothingness. No rescue squad, no steam shovels to scoop away the sand and debris...just a lonely roof, and cold blackness. They call out; no response.

In a haze, everyone saunters back downstairs, when Domon remembers: the people from the other offices. They weren't there. They were phantoms - like the rescue workers. Everyone just sits in an uncomprehending stupor for an hour. Except for two people: Tada, who didn't even leave his computer to go to the roof, and Machi, who seems to be sifting through the papers scattered on the floor, looking for something.

Domon can check either Machi or Tada, or try to talk to Yuko. I vacillated here a great deal, as I thought that checking in with Yuko after events was only honorable - but Tada had the last lead, so I ultimately went with him. No avail, though; Tada won't even answer. The game will then railroad me to the option I didn't consider: Machi. She hands Domon a copy of a book called The Psychic Topology of Tokyo and talks about the discovery of caverns underneath the Nakai Union Building during its construction. A search party went down into the caves but didn't come out, so, in a Coffin Rock situation, another search party went in looking for them; of the five members of the latter party, three met a bloody demise - most probably at each other's hands, further investigation revealed - while the other two went insane. (The fate of the first party is unrevealed.) The remaining pair of searchers would only utter a single word: "Masakado!"

"'They could repeat only one word: 'Masakado!''"

Domon can just repeat the name dopily, take the ever-tempting opportunity to say "masaka!", or ask if it's Taira no Masakado, which...well, oh, man. Regarded by some as the first samurai, he led a rebellion against the government and was venerated as a local demigod after his murder - and that's where it starts. Some credit him for setting in motion, in a very long view of history, cultural currents that eventually led to the effective deposal of the emperor in favor of the establishment of the shogunate and the relocation of the capital to the then-tiny fishing village where Masakado's head post-decapitation is said to have come to rest - the first of an extremely, extremely long string of supernatural events surrounding the man's severed head and its burial place that apparently is still continuing. His daughter, depicted looking rad as hell in the above ukiyo-e, was claimed to be a sorceress in her own right, operating out of her dad's former base; the famous ukiyo-e headlining this post, in what is probably an exaggerated event but who knows, shown her summoning what appears to be the inspiration for Creaking Skull from Castlevania. So there's a lot going on in the lives of this man and his family. Obviously, we're going for 3.

After all that, however, Machi says she doesn't think Masakado is involved, as his resting place and former home are elsewhere, but come on. We need this in a game. Machi insists, though, that the search team must have heard another word.

Just then, Tada announces that he's found something that he thinks will save them. You have the option of going to his desk or talking with Machi about Masakado (the person) some more. I started to go to Tada, as I thought that the game was signaling that Masakado (the person) was a dead end and that the true meaning of the "Masakado" phrase was for us to figure out...but then I said "screw it" and tried to follow the Masakado lead. Only the game wouldn't let me and redirected me to Tada's desk anyway. (I think that Zakuro no Aji might be going for a partial Otogirisou with having limited true branching (like that bad end in the basement lab last run) but no real wrong answers for the most part, but it's forgetting that while you couldn't prematurely end your run in Otogirisou, your choices did affect where the narrative went and brought you to genuinely different scenarios or scenes. With Zakuro, there are right and wrong paths, and if you pick a wrong path - which we didn't really see in the zombie route, as the wrong paths there are blatantly signposted - the game near-instantly says "no, we're not doing that" and just shunts you back to the path it wants.)

Tada says he's found the company that designed and constructed the building - Takano Architecture, the firm on the second floor that was in on the Zakuro incident previously. He's also discovered, through accessing the firm's 3D maps of the place (in the mid-'90s?), that there appears to be some sort of unspecified hall-like structure - a cavern? - between the second and third floors.

This cave, like the zombie tale cave, has two main branches, with one of the branches having a little offshoot to a little different cave along the way. In a seemingly meaningless choice, you can have Domon look more closely, suddenly turn around, or tell Tada to follow the extra branch. I realize I should have told Domon to turn around here, even though there was no prompting for it (maybe it would trigger a ghost encounter?), but I had him ask Tada to follow the offshoot. Tada can't, though; apparently, the map's cut off. The hacker voices the possibility, though, that it could lead to the outside world.

Just then, everyone notices that Gomikawa is missing. Tashiro says he imagines he tried going to the roof. Everyone, for some reason, decides not to care about this (????), and Asafuji urges everyone to go and try the tunnel to see if it leads to an escape. Machi is uncharacteristically sharp about caution needing to be taken with this being a psychic danger hot zone and all. "'Careful'?! How do you suppose we be 'careful'!?" Katsumata snaps. Machi replies: "First, we must all act as one. No acting alone. If something inexplicable happens, we have to stay calm and keep telling ourselves, 'It's only an illusion.' That's all I can say at the moment."

That's Machi and her "thick glasses" on the right. She's actually talking about Masakado here from earlier in the conversation. Pretend that she just finished the speech above.

Just then - again - the temperature in the room drops, and part of the ceiling begins to glow. Something wrapped in mist appears, seeming to take a human form. Domon can ignore it and head for the doorway, stare at it, or recite, "It's only an illusion." I chose 3 - as I imagined 1 wouldn't work, and as taking individual action was also warned against, I reasoned that Domon might as well set a baseline for group behavior - but it didn't work, and Domon can't disbelieve his eyes. The thing disappears, though (your choices...don't matter), and the group moves as one out into the hall.

But, um - someone else is also in the hall - dozens of spirits, some clad in samurai armor, all staring at the group. Michi follows Domon and begins moving her fingers in complex motions - which Domon recognizes as the kuji-kiri of Mikkyou Buddhism (or pages from wannabe ninjas you might find on the web). "They can no longer see us," Michi announces. "Come on, let's go." Domon pauses briefly to marvel at what kind of woman he's dealing with. (We don't learn how Machi came across this knowledge, actually, at least not in this branch.)

The group goes past the door where Katsumata saw his vision; it's locked, with an unknown substance around it. Suddenly, Yuko falls to her knees and starts screaming; her clothes are being ripped as if being cut by blades, marked with growing stains of blood. You can run to Yuko, ask Machi to re-up her kuji-kiri, or just stare. I opted for 2, remembering Katsumata, but Machi says she doesn't have the time to do it. Domon will then opt for 1 anyway, feeling a blade across his own back as he gathers Yuko in his arms. Machi begins doing the kuji-kiri again unbidden (???), telling Domon to leave. They see spirits on their way down to the second floor, but they ignore them.

The group tries to make their way from a second-floor window to the tunnels when they're greeted happily by the maintenance man. Tashiro suddenly (finally) remembers Gomikawa and exclaims that they can't leave him behind. Yuko is decisively against going back inside. The maintenance man, however, claims to have seen Gomikawa: he was muttering something and went into the dreaded left tunnel. He also claims that it appeared as if Gomikawa couldn't see anything. It occurs to Domon that it looks as if the tunnels had been blocked by rubble until the earthquake. He asks Tada which tunnel led outside; Tada replies that he doesn't know. Tashiro makes a move toward the left tunnel, volunteering to check it out and telling everyone else to wait here.

You can either go with Tashiro or wait there with Yuko; there's no option to say screw it, we're going into the right tunnel. The first option is more fleshed out, and "stay away from the obvious next plot point" rarely pays dividends, so, against all wisdom, I had Domon volunteer to go in with Tashiro. Again, though, it's NG; Tashiro will insist on taking this on himself and order Domon to stay with Yuko. Yuko will shakily thank Domon for protecting her before, and Domon will take the time to note that Yuko is almost naked on the upper half of her body. Not the time, buddy. She confesses that before the attack, she saw Katsuhiko again, but the instant she remembered it was an illusion, he turned into an armored hell-warrior.

"I suddenly realized that Yuko was standing by my side. 'Thanks...for before...' Yuko said haltingly in a faltering voice. I kept quiet, simply staring at her."

But then: "I wish you'd helped me...then I wouldn't have died..." Yuko's voice has turned into Kagawa's, and the wound on Domon's back begins to burn.

Domon, however, is able to tell himself it's an illusion and asks Yuko out on a date once they escape. "OK," Yuko - and not Kagawa - replies. "Once my paycheck comes in."

Meanwhile, Asafuji notes that Tashiro's been in the cave for 20 minutes. Choices for Domon's reply: "Shall we go look?" "Maybe someone should go look?" or "Maybe we should wait a little longer?" Again, no right-path choice. 1's the only real option here; when Domon volunteers, Machi insists on coming along, stating, obviously, that the cause of events must be in that tunnel. They make it a little way in before Machi's flashlight illuminates Tashiro, who points to Gomikawa; he's on his back, eyes half-open, motionless.

"'Tashiro, pull yourself together. What happened?'"

All right, I'm going to be honest here: I don't really understand the next portion of the story. I don't think I'm missing any screens, or that I'm mistranslating anything - I just don't understand it. So I'm going to post the developments verbatim.

Beyond Gomikawa's corpse, we saw something: a hazy figure...
Machi turned the emergency lantern upon it.
The figure sat cross-legged in armor, with something like a toriboushi helmet upon its head.
Nearly nothing remained of its face but bone; its jaw gaped, as if in the midst of an attempt to speak.
"I saw it all..." A sound more like a howl than a human voice escaped Tashiro's throat. "This cavern is the source of the curse...the source of the grudge."
The moment Tashiro had entered this cave and discovered Gomikawa's body, something unspun itself upon his mind. A will, a consciousness - less words than a lament.
An array of chipped plates lay set before the armored warrior, white masses upon them.
"They were food. He bound his own flesh, set the plates before him. And so he starved to death." Starved, while food lay still within his reach. A miserable end.
"Mr. Gomikawa was born in Kyoto, wasn't he?" Machi asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Y, yeah," Tashiro replied. "He was always proud of being born right in the heart of Kyoto."
"Yoshikado..." Machi murmured. "Taira no Yoshikado. That's who this is. Masakado's younger brother."
After Masakado's death, his daughter Takiyasha-hime and Yoshikado waged a war of revenge against the capital. Yoshikado died in its course - so they said. But this wasn't established fact. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Yoshikado could have survived...made it to what was now Tokyo, and buried his brother's head.

Now, before we get into any questions regarding the present narrative: Taira no Yoshikado is is Masakado's son, not his younger brother. Japanese Wikipedia lists a slew of brothers for Masakado, none of whom are named "Yoshikado"; the only younger brother of note in a cursory search seems to be Taira no Masahira, who counseled Masakado against the whole crowning-himself-the-new-emperor thing.

Furthermore, the historical Taira no Yoshikado is discussed more in legend than in historical deeds, becoming a sort of yokai like his sister. There is a fictionalized account, allegedly by the poet & author Santo Kyoden and retold for the internet here, that indeed positions Takiyasha and Yoshikado as the two successors to their father's rebellion. Going from a more historical perspective, however, the game's Yoshikado seems to fit better Taira no Masakuni, another of Masakado's sons who seemingly made more of an honest effort, in history, to declare himself emperor after his father and actually waged war to that effect. To complicate matters even further, there is apparently a school of thought that Masakuni might have been the famed spiritualist Abe no Seimei, whom you might know from Kuon and many other supernaturally-themed video games set in Japan. (I'm going to be honest here: I'm a professional translator, but Japanese military history is not my strong suit, and the strong conflagration of history and legend in this story, not to mention the internet's less-than-stellar sourcing, is not helping matters.)

Here's a picture of Takiyasha looking awesome just to break things up.

A question, then, before we move on to more immediate narrative issues: did the devs fudge elements of Yoshikado's identity because they didn't want to risk Taira vengeance from beyond the grave, like that bank near Masakado's grave in that Guardian article I linked that gave him an account in an attempt at appeasement? If so, I have to wonder then why they focused on Yoshikado but didn't futz around with identifying Masakado, to whom many more contemporary incidents of supernatural malevolence have been ascribed. Unless it's a case like Dracula, where the fictional figure is so widely used and so far from the historical inspiration that it's too general to be considered a slander or tempting fate. That didn't seem to be the case with Masakado in those incidents in the article, though.

Back to current goings-on: I suppose we're meant to take that Yoshikado was the source of the curse and that Gomikawa was killed because he hailed from the old capital, Masakado's mortal nemesis. However: Why did Yoshikado kill himself? Why would he bear a grudge after that? How did he put plates of food he couldn't subsequently reach in front of himself after being bound? This plot would make more sense if his enemies killed Yoshikado in this manner, but the text clearly states that "sono yarou wa jibun no nikutai o shibaritsukete". I hope there's not some ridiculously elementary translation mistake I'm overlooking here, which probably means there is. I don't know. ...I don't know.

Anyhow: Machi, Tashiro, and Domon leave the tunnel, tell the others what's happened, and everyone (plus the maintenance man) takes off down the right tunnel, walking for nearly an hour. Finally, they hear what seems to be a stream...and the tunnel splits in two. They can't tell from which entrance the water is coming. The maintenance man starts to lead everyone down the left...and, instead of a choice, you just follow. Domon notes that the maintenance man's form at times seems hazy, shimmering like smoke on occasion, but he brushes this off as fatigue.

At last, the group makes it to the denouement riverbank - only to notice that the maintenance man is now gone. The group ponders this, then decides that if they were beset by malevolent ghosts, it isn't out of line to conclude that they may have been saved by a benevolent one. The story ends at a suggestion from Asafuji:

"The sky gradually lightened. Our night of terror was over - and we had gained, perhaps, irrefutable proof of a world of the dead. The last word on the subject came from Asafuji: 'Hey, how about starting an occult magazine?'"

Inexplicable explanation for Gomikawa's death notwithstanding, I thought this path was more successful than the zombie tale; the meat of the story starts happening almost immediately, and there's at least some tension to the choices, as the right option isn't always clear. It does betray the limitations of the game, though, in how the "wrong" choices you'll certainly make just shunt you back on the "right" path, and the "let's solve this" portion of the proceedings after the group learns the nature of the threat is again truncated.

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