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?

I have no idea how to start reviews, bless. wait, no--

This game is very smartly written, and I was very surprised by that. The localization team did an amazing job, and Ame feels very much like a real person, someone you'd know online, for better or for worse. Because of this, it can emotionally affect you pretty strongly. Whether this enhances your experience or makes it too much to bear depends on the person, and I feel like that should be taken into account.

Needy Streamer's writing as well as its execution - god, the execution and visual/audio effects blew me away at times - were very cool - I was very impressed by how the game implemented its visual and UI elements, and the sound design made it feel aptly melancholy, hopeless, or even scary at times. It treats the game window as a playground, twisting and breaking it constantly. The soundtrack during normal gameplay feels fittingly frantic; hysterically cheery, and distortion/effects does wonders for the atmosphere without making it feel excessive to the point of cheesiness.

I was worried going into it that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it - that its portrayal of a "menhera girl" would be offensive and/or disconnected enough that it would leave a bad taste in my mouth, regardless of how good the other elements were. And I have to say, I was... pleasantly surprised. I agree with other reviews here - Ame's writing (as well as the random denizens of the internet) is at times painfully real, especially if you've experienced this kind of behavior from someone firsthand (hi!), and she's never demonized or sanitized for her mental illness, coping methods, or the ways she exhibits it. I feel like this is largely because there's no actual response to it. You're simply observing Ame, and never comment on her ill behaviors. The only other feedback is from her fans/haters online - and they don't see the half of it. It's just presented to you, with no framing or remark on how you're meant to view it.

Despite all this, though... actually playing through the game can be... tedious at best, a trudge at worst.

The game encourages you to replay it, having 22 different endings, many of which are impossible to achieve in the same playthrough as others, and a tracker for which ones you've gotten - but actually going back through and getting them is... just not fun, for the most part. Some of them are cool and intriguing, but most of them are just not worth sitting through mind-numbingly clicking through things you've seen 5 times already for an hour.

The gameplay loop is simultaneously long and unique and achingly repetitive, made worse by the fact you're stalled further by having to arbitrarily click a random button to reply to Ame's DMs in-between every single action. The game includes a skip button for the stream cutscene and minigame, but this doesn't help this feeling much in the long-run. The requirements for each ending are specific, and require an incredible amount of trial and error to get right with how each stat interacts with each other and the sheer amount of possible "game over"s. It gets to a point where it's just headache-inducing instead of fun trying to figure out and then execute the "perfect" formula. Because the game intrigued me, I wanted to see every ending, but having done so, I can't say it felt worth it. This may be more fun to others, but it was enough of a damper on my experience I feel it's worth mentioning and explaining.

Getting the secret ending myself made it feel so much more impactful, so I'm glad I got that and the 1M subs endings, but depending on the person you may have a better time going through your own playthrough at your own pace, and when you feel like you're satisfied, just watching a video of the rest of the endings.

All in all, though... It's a very solid experience, if you can stomach it. I'm not generally affected by these things, so I feel like I'm not a good judge here - I was only really struck in a less-than-good way by a few scenes around suicide. It's definitely not for everyone, and I can see how there are people who won't understand it at a more intimate level and come away with it with thoughts that make me not want to come near them with a 10 foot pole, so make of that what you will. But I'd say it's worth it if you know your own limits and especially if you're familiar, in some way or another, with the elements at play in the narrative - I really feel like it's just not the same game if you haven't been in the shoes of at least one person here.

Also, more specific/less obvious trigger warnings, if anyone's curious, these do contain SPOILERS if you care:
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Suicide (both in Ame constantly talking about/threatening it, and that in multiple endings she goes through with it. No graphic imagery, but still very disturbing scenes)
drug abuse that varies in intensity based on player input
self harm (both Ame talking about it and a forced scene at 80+ stress where she makes you cut her wrists in a simplistic pixel block, non-graphic but still disturbing)
child abuse (a possible conversation can occur where Ame mentions her parents almost forced her into sex work)
Online bullying (The INTERNET OVERDOSE ending is just brutal in too many ways to list, honestly. There's also a fair bit of targeted misogyny directed at Ame.)
Paranoia (Ame has delusions of people and secret societies watching her and surveilling her at all times, and intense paranoia over being doxxed and stalked/found at home)
Toxic relationships (Ame... is not good to you. Depending on your choices, you can be equally bad or downright abusive to her. Ame frequently talks about how she'd kill herself if you don't love her, etc.)
There's definitely more, but these are some things I wish were made more clear I can think of off the top of my head.

I desperately wish Kishida Mel could stop thinking with his dick for 5 seconds.

i truly love x7 for what it was meant to be regardless of what it ended up actually being, and the fact it attempted to be something more. i wonder sometimes if this game could've been fully realized had it not come at such an awkward time, especially for the series' first 3d entry. i guess in other words i love the idea of x7. despite its many many faults, it was attempting to do something the series sorely needed - change. axl represents this in a way, in both a meta and in-universe sense. he's a breath of fresh air, meant to breathe new life into the world in the form of renewed purpose and into the series in the form of taking things a different direction. if nothing else, x7 was a learning experience for future games, and, y'know, eggs and omelettes and all.

also i think x7 explores some interesting concepts within the world itself. red alert being vigilantes presents an interesting contrast to the maverick hunters and posits some new ideas about the world's society. axl has to essentially mercy kill his only allies/found family, even, due to the virus that has plagued the series from the beginning. i think it's an interesting idea that i'm surprised wasn't addressed at such length earlier on in the series, but i wish both the game itself and fans would touch on it more; or touch on the game in general (i think what it represents from a broader, meta standpoint is interesting) rather than repeatedly kick the infinitely obvious dead horse of a fact that this game is not, from a functional standpoint, good. there's so much that could be said about it that it feels like no one really does. i'm not really eloquent or knowledgable enough to lay it all out, but man, i still think it could've been so much more, and this is an interesting game to dissect, if you spend some time with the guts of it. there's so much that's almost there, almost gets it...

it's never getting reworked though so whatever. axl is cute

i wish this game had a little more time to bake. it's not bad by any means, and i had a lot of fun with it, but it's just a little disappointing that it feels so close to something, but never quite reaches it. i found that after i finished the main story, i didn't really open the game again afterwards, because i didn't really feel compelled to. i felt like i had seen pretty much everything the game had to offer me. (and i hadn't even been married, because i realized far too late the "only one romance chance per heart lv" thing and by that point i was at a high enough heart lv it was just tiring to try and get to the next just so i could reload and try again however many times.) it lacked what it was about rf4 that kept me coming back to it, over and over for years on different playthroughs, making it my most played 3ds game.

however. However. like i said, it's not bad by any means. i found myself extremely grateful for some improvements, and very disappointed by others. in other words, this feels like a title that has the seemingly natural clunky-ness of a series' first foray into 3d (despite not technically being so.) while i may be disappointed, i don't dislike it whatsoever, and i actually found myself very hopeful for what rf6 may look like - if it ever comes. i feel that this game provided much-needed experience, and that, hopefully, the lessons learned will transfer over into a much more refined game in the future.

why'd they lock important story/character development elements behind marriage :(

I have more thoughts, but they boil down to that RF4 is the perfect Harvest Moon type game for me. The combination of RPG elements and story with the farming elements scratches an itch that Harvest Moon titles and Stardew Valley couldn't, and kept me consistently coming back to the original 3DS version for years, keeping it at my most played game on that console for all those years too, haha.

I think the way each "side" plays into each other in almost, though not entirely, inseparable ways but you can still mostly focus on whatever side is most fun to you is great. I find both very fun, and they both keep me pursuing each other. They just play together very nicely. The gameplay in all respects just feels nice, and the writing is surprisingly touching at points, although nothing groundbreaking overall. Still, it's very lovable, carried by its charming cast, and with a few striking and clever moments.

I do wish the graphics had been upgraded for Special, though, instead of what just seems like the original low-res textures having been put through an AI upscaler..? Legit it looks like someone just slapped everything through Waifu2x and it's not very good. Easily ignorable, but not good. The original low-poly character models look great in HD, though.

And yeah, the only things different between Special and the original 3DS version are 1. MANY more save files, which is great, 2. Newlywed mode, 3. certain story triggers are no longer random, which is INCREDIBLY welcome. Which means if you already have the 3DS version, Special isn't a huge step-up. Decide for yourself if it's worth it in that case, but if you haven't tried the game yet, I'd absolutely recommend it.

This review contains spoilers

I couldn't stop thinking about this game for weeks after first playing it. Everyone's already talked about its impeccable atmosphere and horror, and I agree with all of it and can't word it as well as others, so I wanna talk about the story aspects that have haunted me.

It has such... a like.. see its atmosphere would feel utterly hopeless in normal circumstances, I feel like, right? But it's not, somehow. At least not to me. Maybe that's because of the hope that underlines so many parts of it - but the thing about that hope is that it's false. And the thing about that, is that.. It's not presented to you like it is. It's simply presented to you as hope. It's up to you, the player, not the protagonist, to figure out that it's false. And I think that sort of deal with perception is really skillfully done.

I keep thinking about how interesting it is that you're playing a doomed protagonist. From the start you are infected and you know deep down from observing your surroundings that there is no getting out of that. You are doomed. Your only options are to die either a man or a beast - as much as you are able to control this, anyway.
Ex: you may know this, but you still witness the protagonist hoping and hoping to go home. You move him forward for the sake of that goal of going home. And you're never told this - but you know - What's waiting for him, if he does get home? He's already infected. That's not his home anymore. (you know this of many inhabitants, like the musician, and yet..)

I think the true ending encapsulates this very well... I like that the ending variation has nothing to do with the choices you made along the way. It has to do, rather, with whether or not you, the player, can see through the illusion of a happy ending. The epilogue is a mind trick on both you and the protagonist. It would make sense narratively speaking, after all-- this is the end. It's what you've been working for all this time. This is how stories go, you toiled and bled and now you're finally there; the happy ending. But you know. You know something's not right.

It's about whether or not you're willing to accept that. For the protagonist as well, I think ... And I think there lies the fact that keeps it all from being utterly hopeless - if you can bring yourself to accept that your story has no happy ending, you can put an end to all the suffering and horrors you endured so that no one else has to suffer the same bad end you did. And that, in itself .. feels more like hope.. It wasn't all pointless. It wasn't all suffering for the sake of suffering. It wasn't fair, but you can put a stop to that injustice, even if you can't see the fruits of your labor yourself...

I'm also a big fan of the environmental storytelling. I love things being left to you to put together like this, how many things you're given all the pieces for but aren't pointed out to you directly by the narration or protagonist or anything - like being shown how the Being creates mushroom copies of its inhabitants, and then seeing later the trader's belongings all mirroring yours and bearing that same sticky, bleached, warped appearance, and so many things about his existence and presence clicking into place within your own head from this quiet, optional presentation to you - so many things are presented to you like this, and it feels more like uncovering a mystery than cryptic weirdness without a meaning, which I really enjoy.

...Also, I liked that the easy mode made it so even a dumbass like me who sucks at video games could play it through to the end, but still retained its fear factor and difficulty. I think this was the best horror experience I've had in recent memory, maybe ever.

(also also, I really like the Being's behavior being so much like a giant mushroom taken to an extreme, in multiple forms. It's really cool to realize in hindsight and then see how that shows throughout everything.)

Playing this after already finishing the sequel is probably the worst thing I could've done for my experience playing this, as it made it impossible not to notice the countless things that were vastly improved upon and by extension their weaknesses here - but at least it made me appreciate Second Light more.

That being said, for all its many flaws, I think this game has the most incredible-feeling boss battles of anything I've ever played. Jesus christ. I hadn't felt like this since Koloktos in Skyward Sword a decade ago.