ef – the first tale Review

ef - the first tale Featured

ef - the first tale Boxart

Developer: minori
Publisher: MangaGamer & No Name Losers
Platform: PC – MangaGamer*

High school is a tough time for anyone. Not only are you studying like mad to pass classes, you’re also worried about the ever-approaching future. Then there’s the whole issue of romance… Fall for a classmate, realize they don’t love you back, or maybe it all works out. In ef – the first tale, players are presented with perhaps the most honest depiction of love, and all the trouble that comes with it, seen in a visual novel.

ef - the first tale Screenshot 1

Before moving on, let’s go over what exactly a visual novel is. If you already know then simply skip past this paragraph. As the name implies, visual novels are heavily story focused games. They feature tons of text accompanied by (usually) still images. Players progress through the story and interactivity comes in via choices. At specified times, you get to decide where the story goes next. Think of it a bit like Choose Your Own Adventure books, although visual novels tend to be more nuanced. Sometimes, visual novels are also considered dating sims – where you get to romance a character of your choice. That is not the case with ef – the first tale.

Visually, there was much more work done with this title than most. Scenes are still primarily static images, but with animated effects such as blinking eyes, moving mouths, and the like on every scene. This makes the game feel much more like watching an anime than looking at still pictures. The art quality is also high and there are still a good deal of CG-style scenes. Overall, the art is impressive and a good middle ground between standard static visual novels and fully animated ones, such as School Days.

Even if you’re familiar with visual novels, ef may very well throw you for a loop. This is because the story progression is not just seen through one character’s eyes. Instead, we are treated to the perspective of every main character, both male and female. It’s an intriguing method of storytelling that helps the plot fully realize its potential. Enough of that though, let’s get to discussing the story already!

ef - the first tale Screenshot 2

It all begins with a mysterious woman named Yuuko. Dressed in nun-like attire and standing in a church on Christmas Eve, someone she has been waiting on for years finally arrives. As she speaks to him, she begins to retell the story of a group of students whose paths crossed with hers while she waited. Each has their own lived experiences. Hiro is who we meet first and he’s got a little secret. Alongside going to school, he is also employed as a shojo manga artist. Because of his fears of how others will perceive him, he keeps his job a secret.

Hiro is your typical student – sometimes lazy, sometimes silly. He has a longtime friend named Kei and the two practically regard each other as siblings. Well, maybe that’s more on Hiro’s end. Kei seems to have stronger feelings for the guy but of course she can’t tell him! Perhaps she would just be content imagining the prospect of romancing him… That is, until another student shows up who is about to draw all of Hiro’s attention.

Miyako is, at first, your stereotypical manic pixie dream girl. Because of this, ef at first seems like your typical high school-focused visual novel. But that all changes once the multiple perspectives come into play. We don’t just see Miyako acting bubbly around others, we also see and hear her thoughts when she is all alone. Her perception of events is sometimes showcased and from that the player realizes she is just as “real” as any of the other characters. She feels joy, confusion, and even guilt over events that transpire. Of course, the same holds true for Kei as well, particularly in the second chapter. One of Hiro’s friends, Kyousuke, also ends up taking the limelight after being comedic relief for a while.

ef - the first tale Featured

One of the most striking things about ef – the first tale is that it tells a very specific story. Yes, there are times you can choose to veer from the prescribed storyline, but you’ll be treated to a bad end for it. The story is mostly set in stone and as such it’s able to do some great things. When playing as Hiro, you don’t get to choose whether you go with your old friend Kei or the new, exciting Miyako. Unlike most visual novels, the romances actually feel reciprocated between both parties rather than a simple game of choosing the right responses a few times. It really does seem like characters are in love. Even tough times are included in the plot, as real love is never perfect.

When most visual novels would end with one romance formed, ef continues onward. The second half focuses on the woman who did not make it on the “winning” end of the love triangle. We get to feel and understand her pain, as she discusses it to herself and with a friend. Despite her heart being broken, she isn’t a weak character either. We also see her strength in being able to recognize heartache as painful, but that life indeed goes on. These segments are perhaps even more interesting than the first. Never before have I seen a visual novel provide a happy ending, only to show how that happy ending hurt another character dearly.

With such an unique method of storytelling, there’s a lot of time required to build characters up. My playthrough took a little under twenty hours with the game auto progressing text at a fairly fast pace. In this time you definitely get to know each character, their quirks, wants, and dislikes. Each becomes someone who you want to follow and see what occurs in their lives. As per the drama, it’s hard to not want to know how everything plays out in the end! Of course, this is only half the story. Although we see how four characters have their lives changed one year, they aren’t the only ones. ef – the latter tale focuses on another group of people, most of whom were background characters in the first game.

ef - the first tale Screenshot 3

The overall experience is fantastic. That’s not to say everything about ef is perfection. As is common with the genre, there are at least a few occasions where the male audience is pandered to in particular. These would be a couple panty shot scenes as well as how erotic scenes are framed, with focus heavily on the women. All things considered, it’s far less of an issue than most visual novels present. In particular, the sex scenes seemed mostly tasteful because of how both characters felt present in them. Thanks to heavy character development, it felt like more than just a performance for the viewer. All in all, there are only a few scenes of this nature over the entire game.

If you’ve wanted to play a visual novel that actually cares about all the characters (not just the lead dude) then ef – the first tale is one that deserves your attention. Not only does it have attractive art and music, but the style of storytelling presented is a great change of pace. I just wish there could have been even more focus on the changing perspectives. Perhaps it would have been hard to do without muddling important story events. All things considered, this is definitely one of the better examples of the visual novel genre out there. That means both new and existing visual novel fans should give ef – the first tale a chance!

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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