The New Year is just a few days away, so why not take a look today at another appropriately-themed VN? Ebi-hime is probably best known for both yuri romances and horror VNs, but in reality created a huge variety of slice-of-life and mystery titles, both borrowing from different formulas and simultaneously breaking their rules, ultimately escaping any kind of easy classification. Games like Empty Horizons or Asphyxia are clearly identified with common labels such as “otome” or “yuri”, but they pretty much never cater to the reader’s expectations taken from reading other visual novels within those genres.
There are also certain elements extremely common for ebi’s work, regardless of topics or conventions she’s trying to tackle. Deeply flawed, painfully realistic characters, extensive internal monologues of the protagonists and a nostalgic aura are almost constant elements of her writing, making most of her stories fairly easily recognizable and differentiating them from the typical Western-produced VNs. Ebi’s latest release, A Winter’s Daydream, while at first glance might look like a silly comedy, can be accurately described in only one way. It’s an ebi-hime VN through and through: slow-paced, introspective and handling serious, existential topics despite any humorous elements and the wacky premise. And, as you can easily expect from this particular author, it does all those things in a thoroughly satisfying way.
The protagonist’s interactions with his bratty sister are a bit off-putting initially, but they are the source of actual stakes within the story
A Winter’s Daydream doesn’t try to hide its main gimmick in any way, being advertised explicitly as a game where protagonist’s grandmother turns into a young girl. However, the supernatural elements and the comedy related to them are far from being its main point. It focuses on the story of Yuu, a university freshman studying in Tokyo, coming back to his remote hometown in Hokkaido for New Year’s break. There, he has to confront with the awful relationship he has with his younger sister and his regrets about spending little time with his recently-diseased grandfather. In part to escape from further confrontations with his sibling, and also to make up for his previous negligence in building a relationship with his grandparents, he decides to visit his grandmother, living lonely in an even more remote village. There, while spending an evening together, they spot a falling star and the wishes they make sets them on a joint “adventure”, but with different stakes for each of them – for Yuu repairing his strained family relations, and for his grandmother making peace with losing her most beloved person and the old age that burdens her more and more with every passing month.
As you can easily deduce, there’s actually not that much space for comedy in this core premise – while the interactions between Yuu and his grandmother after her transformation include some humour, most of the time the VN consist of fairly sober slice-of-life moments, serious discussions about existential topics and nostalgic talk of the past. Protagonist’s interactions with his sister can even get seriously unpleasant – at first, the intense drama feels arguably out-of-place, but it is this conflict and Yuu’s ambition of overcoming it that makes the whole intrigue truly meaningful. Also, even the characters themselves anticipate the supernatural phenomena they encounter to last for a very limited amount of time, and treat them as an impulse to find some closure and comfort (ex. grandmother having the opportunity to visit the shrine she wouldn’t be able to reach in her aged form and say her final goodbye to her husband), rather than life-changing events of any sort. Even at its most “irrational”, A Winter’s Daydream is quite a realistic and serious game with an actual message, and one that never forgets that it strives to communicate something meaningful.
The main “twist” of the story might feel strangely underplayed, but the supernatural elements are not the goal here, but simply the means of discussing some universal topics
The game does not have a striking artstyle like some of the other VNs by ebi, but is still very pretty and consistent in quality. Considering the minimalistic nature of the story, it didn’t need too many assets in the first place, but those present are all simply nice to look at (even though occasionally the CGs feel slightly flat and low on detail, at least when compared with the quality of the spritework). The visual details important for the story, like the family resemblance between the main characters or the similarities between the old and young version of the protagonist's grandmother are also done well enough to give the story a genuine feeling. The music consists of standard VN ambient tracks, but is also pleasant enough to properly complement the writing and art, both in the more lighthearted and serious moments.
In the end, A Winter’s Daydream is a very solid VN that, thanks to its universal subject matter, should be satisfying to anyone interested in this kind of tame, slice-of-life stories. It offers just the right amounts of humour, drama and fluff, all presented with the impressive quality characteristic of ebi-hime’s games. And if you’re looking for this kind of relaxed, casual experience, there are really few better ones you can get for the humble price of $6 – I recommend giving it a chance wholeheartedly.
Final Score: 3,5/5
+ Pleasant visuals
+ Well-written characters
+ Meaningful despite the silly premise
- Ultimately predictable plot
Buy A Winter's Daydream on Steam or Itch.io