This review contains spoilers
I have a lot to say, sorry—this one’s been absolutely haunting me.
I think this game is best if you are 100% aware of what you're getting into before you play it. It's easy enough that it's basically a glorified visual novel, and since its story's focus is very much on the characters and very concerned with giving you plenty of time to get to know and love them, as well as the value of our ordinary, boring day-to-day lives, the game's pace is very leisurely, and is enjoyed best played slowly or at your own pace. In other words: if you're going into this expecting an action-packed JRPG, you're likely going to be disappointed. (There's a reason this took me 2 months and nearly 83 hours to finish one playthrough.)
That isn't to say the combat is bad, though. I actually found it really fun—it was just that the game doesn't let you play on a higher difficulty than Normal until NG+, and the Normal difficulty is so easy it becomes pretty much mindless by the second half of the game. However, on the chances I did get to really dive into the combat, I had a lot of fun with it—but I'm also just a sucker for JRPGs and real-time turn-based combat, apparently. I agree that it would've been nice if at least Hard difficulty were available from the start, so that more experienced players would be able to complete the side content and actually experience the game's combat without just melting through every enemy it threw at you. (Seriously, even the final boss was laughably unintimidating due to how effortlessly it went down...)
However, I don't think it's easiness is necessarily a bad thing, considering the fact that it is, again, basically a glorified visual novel. Given the already slow pace, I feel like I might've grown frustrated with it if I'd gotten stuck on a particularly hard boss or something and so couldn't progress the story, or at least not until I'd grinded 5 more levels or something. Having to do so may well have made the game less leisurely fun, and more of a drag far past its welcome, so I honestly think it's probably a good thing that it can be pretty brainlessly easy, so that you can easily move from one story beat to the next if that's all you want to do.
(Also, if you’re playing on PC—for the love of god use a controller. It’s not unbearable with keyboard and mouse, but it’s clunky and you can always feel it. It’s clearly made with a controller in mind, although the keyboard controls are fine, and not nearly as vexing as the original Blue Reflection’s.)
Also, as a brief aside, I think the fanservice is negligible and very easily ignored. It's certainly present, but barely noticeable—and that's only if you're actively looking for it. Although there are a few unavoidable skeevy things, like the absolute Camera Angles on Shiho's Reflector outfit, a couple scenes where they're bathing in swimsuits, and more Absolute Camera Angles in combat, particularly 1on1 battles. The game goes to painstaking lengths to prevent you from upskirting the girls as well, which is a breath of fresh air after the original Blue Reflection, wherein Hinako's skirt went flying if you bumped her a little too hard. Everything else, you basically have to actively seek out, or have a sharp eye on the lookout for the tiniest glimpse of. This is all to say: if you're worried about excessive fanservice ruining your experience, I wouldn't sweat it.
An edited-in additional aside: some people call this game yuribait. I would really have to disagree. You can interpret it as such, sure, and I can see how it'd be an easy conclusion to come to, considering it can be kind of hard to tell whether the "I love you"s exchanged between Ao and your girl of choice on dates are intended to be romantic or not... But considering also the canon and explicitly romantic relationship between two of the girls, I highly doubt this was something intended to be taken solely platonically. Second Light explores and heavily emphasizes the importance of love—of all kinds, platonic, familial, and romantic alike. That being said, this is absolutely a yuri game. The extent to which it'll be for you honestly kind of depends on how far you're willing to go for a particular girl, concerning T. LV and dates.
The soundtrack is obviously gorgeous, and I think combined with the breathtaking visuals, I can only describe this game's experience as captivating. There are certain moments I wish I could experience for the first time again. Namely, when you first enter Kokoro's Heartscape. I adore "peaceful post-apocalypse" visuals and environments, so it felt like this game was made for me. I fell in love the second I first saw that place. (And I feel like mentioning, I had no idea what I was in for. I literally just saw a screenshot of the game, thought it looked pretty, and downloaded it on a whim to see what kind of game it was. I feel like going into this as blind as can be really doubled the effect it had on me in this respect.)
I adored the surreal, beautiful yet eerie feeling of the OST, in combination with the dilapidated surroundings making it feel like somewhere lost to time, somewhere I wasn't supposed to be in—which felt very fitting for what is a manifestation of someone's forgotten, very personal memories. It feels like an intrusion, like we're not supposed to be seeing these private, personal moments, like unearthing something from a long time ago. The atmosphere of every Heartscape is absolutely incredible, and I often found myself slowing down or entirely to a halt just so I could wander them and stare in wonder. I think where the environment and OST 1-2-punch combo hit me hardest like this was in Rena, Uta, and Ao's Heartscapes.
And now I have to get a little personal, because how could I not, with a game like this?
Uta's story hit me like a freight train, personally. As soon as she was introduced properly, behaving completely differently having lost her memories, and hints being dropped that "something in her past" must've made her the way they remembered her, I knew I was in for a sucker punch. And, god, was I right.
I have amnesia, so I can't remember the majority of my life. According to my family, I underwent a complete personality change after the event that gave me it as well. So, naturally, I immediately had a soft spot for Uta. The implication that she turned out the way she did because of a traumatic event also immediately had me hooked onto her. I also just love characters like her, what can I say? I think girls should get to go batshit. You show me a gesugao character, I'm sold instantly.
I'll admit I got a little worried when they started talking about Uta's "old" and "new" self, but I really like where they ended up going with it. I'm glad to see the emphasis on the fact that these aren't two separate people—they're both Uta, and only together can they make up who she is today. It also resonates with me, considering that the person I was before my amnesia feels like an entirely different person, even though I know that's still "me."
Yuki also hit me particularly hard, as I'm also chronically ill, and saw myself in how she felt about hospitals and her condition in general, the spitefulness but insistence upon forced smiles and "good lies." The sterile atmosphere of the hospital along with the maze-like, identical rooms and hallways, and the quiet but never-quite-silence of a hospital in the ost, left such a strong impression. I love her to death, and I'm so, so glad she and Rena got to have an explicit, happy romance together. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see real, genuine, romantic "I love you"s exchanged between girls, and not just endless "will they, won't they"s. (I adore Rena, too, by the way. She's everything to me.)
I guess this brings me to a point, that... I think Second Light does an excellent job of making its characters feel incredibly human. There's obviously an overly idealistic tinge to it—the girls are all best friends no matter what, even if they don't get along at first or occasionally, and the world needs to be saved with the power of friendship, after all—but it doesn't feel unrealistic. For the most part, all of the girls have extremely grounded, real issues, all of which I'd imagine many players can see themselves in.
The game spends a very long time simply establishing its cast and getting you accustomed to them, letting you get to know them and become their friends, grow attached to them along with Ao, without ever really letting you in on much of the plot. And I think this does it many favors—it does so very well, and you come to love every one of the girls, not just a select few you attach to as your favorites. I felt like the love Ao had for her friends, and the love I had for them, were one and the same. I wanted them to be happy so badly by the end, aha. I felt incredibly choked up in the final chapter, watching her fight so hard for a future for her loved ones that she knew she couldn't be a part of. In any other game, this may not fly so well, but I think it works here due to the game's heavy emphasis on the characters and their relationships to and love for each other.
I also think it handles the topic of memories, the loss of them, and the relationships those two things can have to your identity and life, and so on, very well. Which is always something I look out for with media involving amnesia—so often in fiction it's used as a fantastical plot device, to the point where some people don't even seem to realize it's a reality. (I've had people joke with me, "what are you, an anime protagonist now?" when I mention my amnesia, because their very first thought was that I must be joking, since that doesn't actually happen to real people, that only happens in fiction.) So it’s very refreshing to see it handled naturally, with a sincere consideration, even despite the fantastical circumstances.
This game has been haunting me ever since I first picked it up, and in the best way. It’s the kind of thing that stays on my mind for weeks afterwards, that I have dreams about and infects my inspirations for other works. I’m very, very glad I came upon it by complete random happenstance, and I got to experience it. Just, now I know I’m going to forever be seeking something to fill the hole in my heart this’ll leave for similar games… Now’s as good a time as ever to finish the first game, huh?
or, tl;dr: what if sayonara ponytail's discography was a game?
Reviewed on Sep 28, 2022