Since it’s the holiday break and Steam is doing their annual winter sale, I decided I needed to burn through some of my PC backlog before I was allowed to buy anymore PC games. So first I decided to hit the visual novel Dies Irae ~Amantes Amentes~. I picked it up during my phase of interest in visual novels earlier this year as it had high reviews and was tagged as being story rich and hey it was free. Somehow I overlooked at the time that the free version only includes the “common” route, and that to actually get any ending of the game would be $20 ($40 to get all four possible ones).
The game is summarized thusly:
May 1, 1945- Germany.On the eve of Berlin’s collapse, a group of men and women carried out a certain ritual. To them, suffering defeat in the war meant nothing. If anything, the countless lives lost in the battle served as a catalyst to their sacrificial ceremony. Whether or not their attempt bore fruit ― not a soul knows. Following the war, they faded from sight, mind, and eventually into the realm of myth.
61 years later ― Japan, 2006.
Ren Fujii, a young man attending high school in Suwahara City, finds his friendship with his old buddy Shirou Yusa shatter to pieces following a certain incident, ending in a vicious fight that sees Ren hospitalized for two months.
The season shifts from autumn to winter ― to the dawning weeks of December, with Christmas on the horizon. Having lost his best friend, Ren leaves the hospital with the intention to rebuild his new life without Shirou.
But even that plan soon falls apart. Irrationality that defies the realm of common sense begins to assault and devour the city. Abnormalities soon seek to destroy everything Ren holds dear before his eyes with overwhelming violence.
He must change, even if it means crossing the boundary between the ordinary and the extraordinary. His desires are hardly anything grand. All he wants is to return to those days of old. Back to those days filled with simple, everyday joy.
The battle with the Longinus Dreizehn Orden. A continuation of that war full of madness, carnage, and maledictions. What future awaits Ren at the end of his road…?
The game opens with a very long prologue, roughly an hour or so with huge walls of text throughout, laying in the past events in Germany. The only way I got the basic idea that it was supposed to be a ritual though was from the synopsis because the prologue otherwise makes very little sense and come across as very pro-Nazi Germany, which was a bit off-putting.
I stopped playing after the prologue because it was so long and disinteresting, but decided to try again the next day to at least give it another chance. With the game properly started, it jumps to Ren Fujii, who has his fight with his best friend Shirou, spends two months in the hospital, and is now on his way out. Initially this whole bit feels like a typical high school romance visual novel, complete with the first two girls being introduced: the childhood best friend and the unusual senpai.
I think it was around Chapter 2 when we started getting any actual connection between these very disparate story elements, with a serial killer on the lose Suwahara, and hints (to the reader) that the Orden is back and has some connection to all the killings as does Ren somehow, who keeps having nightmares that relate to the way the killings happen.
The story of Dies Irae is complicated and, at times, downright convoluted. There is a blending of past and present, with German and Latin thrown in, random philosophizing, and monologues popping in that are hard to follow, but seem to vaguely relate to the main story of Ren and what’s happening in the town. Trying to explain the plot would almost require a whiteboard to keep track of the various threads and the 3-4 full names almost every character has and is referred to by seemingly at random (seriously, pick one and stick with it!).
Despite the difficulty in following it, I got enough of the basics that at least the common thread remained compelling enough for me to finish the it, clocking in at just over eleven hours of reading (and I’m a fairly fast reader). I was highly annoyed to have put that much time in it and then get the message that it was the end of the free one, and for the rest go buy the DLCs. I’m not a fan of incomplete games and as I mentioned earlier, had I realized it was that way, I never would have tried it to begin with.
Visual wise, the imagery was well done, though all static images as far as I can recall other than the opening movie. Even the fight scenes include huge chunks of text with just a few key graphics to illustrate them. In some ways it was like reading a color light novel, or a sparsely illustrated manga, which was surprising considering the reviews praising its fight scenes.
The text seemed to be translated well, though there were a few sentences that didn’t quite read correctly or had typos. Apparently the original was written in high-level Japanese, which made translation trickier than usual. Given the mix of languages and apparent references to Faust, Nietzche, and the like, it is also unsurprising that it can be difficult to follow much less comprehend some of the monologues that pop out, particularly from what appeared to be Mercurious.
Overall, it is a very overwritten and highly complicated plot, yet Ren was an interesting enough protagonist, the villains were twisted but seemed to have their own reasons for doing things, and the twists shocking enough that it kept me reading. And while I still am not totally sure on some of the overarching plot points, it made me curious enough to google it after I was done to see what more was in store storywise.
Still, what I could glean did not make me want to plop down $40 to read through the 50-60 hours of story left. I was surprised it has as few low reviews as it did on Steam, though I noticed even many of the good reviews note it didn’t pick up for them until they were into the second or third route. Indeed, many note the first recommended route, Kasumi’s, is weak and only worth playing to get the backstory needed for the remaining routes. I don’t have time to waste waiting for THAT long for the story to get better and start gelling more, nor am I fan of the whole “play all the routes to get the real ending” type game. I prefer each route stand alone.
So all in all, Dies Irae was not a game for me. It killed some time and kept me reading, but it wasn’t good enough to make me want to buy the rest of it or to invest as much time reading it as I would a full-length RPG. I did debate watching the anime, but apparently it changes so much and doesn’t do the “true” route, that it would really not enhance the story at all.