Game Review: Ame no Marginal

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This review was originally posted to Steam.

July 8th, 2015

Ame no Marginal game splash image, showing the game title and a young white-haired anime girl looking distraught and hugging her own knees, in front of a grandiose empty bus stop in a gray landscape

Rain. It's more than just a phenomenon that exists in our world. Going back to the very cradle of humankind, the rain has been our companion wherever we have gone. Sometimes it has been appreciated, other times tolerated, but never has it really been friend or foe, just always a companion. If you've ever wandered the streets during a downpour, fallen asleep to the pattering of the droplets, or smelled the sticky and humid air after a summer thunderstorm, you know that we humans get rain. We understand it on a level where not much else can compare. It's no wonder then, that a story about a world that has nothing but rain and an endless amount of time does not take long to bloom. What is life without death, what is yearning without salvation? Can rain wash away sin just like dirt?

Ame no Marginal -Rain Marginal- is a short visual novel by stage-nana (written by Tomo Kataoka) and published by Sekai Project. It's about an empty parallel world of perpetual rain where there is no hunger, no suffering and no death, just emptiness all around you and the feeling of water drizzling onto your skin no matter where you go.

Although there are no choice-based story branches like in many bigger visual novels, it is not a kinetic novel in the strict sense either. It follows two story branches in parallel, and you as the reader decide which one of two chapters to follow first until the threads intertwine again near the end. In typical stage-nana fashion, the visual presentation is dominated by negative space, black areas fill large parts of the screen and create a sense of distance, as if you are looking at a world through a window instead of being there. The backgrounds are often forlorn, even in scenes that have people in them you don't always see any on screen. The soundtrack is heavily dominated by the piano, but most tracks have some background instruments as well. It is probably one that works best in sync with the VN rather than enjoyed on its own, but its quality and ambiance is good enough that you may find yourself eager to listen to it again later to remember the experience. Japanese voice acting is available and enabled by default.

The story starts with the main character, who grapples with his feelings of directionlessness in an uncaring society before mysteriously being transported into the nameless world of infinite rain. He meets a young girl (who introduces herself as Rin) claiming to have been the sole inhabitant of this timeless world for uncounted years. The two carefully start getting to know each other, but both realize that the other is keeping important thoughts for themselves. Some long-held secrets get washed ashore, others seem to fade away like chalk in the rain. The reader gets to experience how the two of them live their days of frozen time, while in another story thread the girl's past is revealed bit by bit. Could the timeless world of rain be a punishment enacted by the gods? Or is it actually more of a blessing, a second chance? Or is it simply an uncaring piece of secluded space, not concerned at all with human morals or suffering, a secret part of the world that always has been and always will be? Or is it true that everything that exists must – at some point, ultimately, eventually – come to an end?

This is a story about humans. (I guess if I were to be pedantic, it is mostly a story about one human. But you'll see that as you go through it.) If you want to really read it, you will need a certain degree of empathy, a willingness to hear someone's thoughts and make them your own. It connects to things that exist in most of us, depending on how deep you are willing to dig. It's not flashy or glamorous, it won't have you on the edge of your seat. But if you've ever wondered about your place in the universe, about fate and higher orders, about whether you mean something to this world, then Ame no Marginal has something for you. Not answers, of course, but an invitation for a walk. The rain may be slightly uncomfortable at first, but you quickly get used to it.

Depending on how fast you read, Ame no Marginal will most likely take you between two and five hours. I would recommend reading it in one go. If you already liked Kataoka's previous work Narcissu, I'd say there's a good chance that this somewhat more fantastical take on the search for meaning may speak to you as well. As a matter of fact, this game includes a full copy of Narcissu (plus an exclusive bonus scene) that's unlocked after your first full playthrough. Some aspects of the story would probably have benefitted from a bit more attention, but all in all it comes together as a harmonious whole that I would rank rather highly among the current VN catalogue on Steam.


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