Inexplicably waking up in a hospital bed after a deadly accident, Tohno Shiki discovers a mysterious power manifesting in his sight. Black lines scrawl across everything he sees, and tracing a blade through these lines allows him to dissect anything on Earth into pieces. With the assistance and guidance of a friendly young woman he meets in a verdant field of green, he learns to respect this terrible power and only use it as an absolute last resort.
After his recovery, Shiki was exiled by his father and denied his birthright as patriarch to the Tohno clan. For eight years he lived a modest, happy life with a foster family until he suddenly receives a letter from his sister. The father that turned his back on him has passed away, and Shiki’s sister, Akiha, has become the head of what remains of the clan. By her will, she revokes Shiki’s exile and wishes for him to return to his true home. Feeling that he has become a burden to his foster family, and wishing to reunite with the sibling he was forced to abandon all those years ago, Shiki resolves to finally come back to his old mansion.
Unbeknownst to the young high schooler, this reunion will involve more than just his sister. An undying evil has begun prowling the streets at night, a force that will drag Shiki through a bloody journey and force him to face his own demons, and discover his connection to what’s happening in his old hometown.
Arcueid Brunestud, ancient vampire princess, is understandably dismayed by your lack of taste.
Type-Moon (then known as a doujin circle) released Tsukihime, an eroge visual novel, in December of 2000. Unlike most visual novels, which condenses the text into a neat box at the bottom of the screen, Tsukihime utilizes the entire screen laying out the text of the story, and often in creative ways. Written in the first person and starring an introspective protagonist who is fraught with angst, the style suitably fits the general theme of the story, with Shiki’s thoughts taking precedence over his surroundings. The muted, monochromatic backgrounds also lend to the dream-like tone of the game, with the small details of the world being lost in the foggy haze of the protagonist’s mind.
Dark secrets lie beneath the veneer of normalcy and peace of Tsukihime; the mundanity of the game’s beginning betrays the blood-soaked madness that’s in store. As Shiki becomes enveloped within the mystery surrounding his home, his path will become intertwined with those of five different potential love-interests, with each having her own pivotal role to play in the events that unfold. Among them includes the likes of Arcueid Brunestud, the titular “moon princess” and chief heroine of the game; Tohno Akiha, Shiki’s tsundere sibling who hides a caring heart under an icy exterior; Ciel, a friendly foreign exchange student with a dubious background; and Hisui and Kohaku, twin maids who aid Shiki in readjusting to his life back home.
Tohno Akiha, Shiki’s frosty sister and matriarch of the Tohno Clan.
Unlike most erotic visual novels, Tsukihime foregoes flagrant fan service for a much more reserved and conservative approach to romance. Characters are usually fully covered in long dresses that leave everything to the imagination, and relationships are built gradually with very little overt flirtation involved. Sex scenes are generally affectionate and caring affairs and are portrayed as moments of intense and genuine love rather than spurts or raunchy lust. Weirdly enough, I found the general modesty and vanilla romance of Tsukihime to be rather refreshing amidst a drove of cookie-cutter sexathons that most eroge carry themselves as.
However, there are times where the game’s emphasis on “plot before porn” makes for naughty moments that feel out of place and awkward. Occasionally, the plot would give an excuse to fuck that’s so cheesy, one might think it came out of a hentai doujin. Considering how seriously the story takes itself up until those points, it can feel pretty off-putting to suddenly have the evil force that Shiki’s fighting give him an insatiable erection that must be “healed” using “ancient church rituals”. That being said, it seems that the creators were aware of how strange some of the sex scenes were when compared to the rest of the story, and a non-adult version of the game was produced some time after the original.
Hisui and Kohaku, the two lovely maids who attend to the Tohno family’s every need.
What is most captivating about Tsukihime is its unorthodox prose and use of screen space to illustrate its story. The first-person narration is extremely well done, effectively simulating the thoughts of a boy who frequently slips into fits of insanity. As his thoughts become fractured, so too do the sentences on the screen, distorting and warping his words as his mind devours itself from the inside out. The generally quaint tone of the game contrasts sharply with the terrifying dread of its darker moments, and there persists a sense of queer unease throughout the story. Likewise, the colorful personalities of the characters are a nice reprieve from the horrors lurking in the shadows, and you may find yourself just as relieved to be in their presence as Shiki is.
Arcueid Brunestud is arguably the leading lady and main heroine of Tsukihime. After a chance encounter on the street, the fates of Shiki and Arcueid intertwine as they team up to fight the “Dead Apostles” that are haunting Shiki’s town. Largely ignorant of the world around her, Arcueid is a curious case of juggling opposing personalities: when it comes to fighting the undead, she is deathly serious and more than a little intimidating, but when it comes to interacting with Shiki, she’s aloof and friendly, possessing the affectionate personality of a doting kitten. Ciel, Shiki’s senpai, shares similar traits with Arcueid in regards to her character. Without spoiling too much, there’s more than a couple of secrets hidden behind her bespectacled smile, but her bubbly charm is certainly captivating in its own right.
Akiha, by extreme contrast, is a refined and strict individual who prefers to chew Shiki’s ear off than show him any warm feelings. Initially abrasive and prickly, she gradually comes around to expressing her true feelings for her dear brother in a rather touching character arc. Hisui and Kohaku, as an intriguing dynamic, act as two sides of the same coin. It’s recommended to explore their routes last, as the gut-wrenching tales that binds them together acts as a sort of wrap-up of every other route in the game.
Shiki is usually a pretty nice guy, but sometimes he can get a little ahead of himself.
The story can be a little slow-going from the start, with not a whole happening to grab your attention. Tsukihime is very much a visual novel that likes to take its time, which can make for some rather boring stretches of dry internal monologue. Fortunately, there is an auto-skip feature that allows you to completely jump past chapters of the story that you have already seen, which makes hunting down the alternate routes easy and hassle-free. While the concept of having a protagonist who intermittently goes insane is refreshing, it can lead to a bit of confusion as to what exactly is affecting Shiki’s mind. That answer can vary quite a bit depending on the route, so readers will need to pay careful attention to what is going on to keep themselves from getting lost.
Despite being more than a decade old, I found Tsukihime to be a welcome change of pace compared to most smutty visual novels. Putting the story before the sex made the rare moments of love much more impactful and rewarding than they would be otherwise – even if some of the excuses to have sex were laughably stupid. Overall, I found the story engaging enough to grip my attention for the 30 or so hours it took for me to complete every single route, and the characters therein lovely enough to chase after each step of the way.
And the music is pretty good too, even if it’s a little simplistic and sounds a tad artificial.