“How this story came into existence is a bit strange. Last year, I was browsing through random visual novels on the visual novel database…when I stumbled across the ‘grandmother/grandson incest’ tag. I thought it was funny that this specific, niche fetish had its own tag at all, so I looked through some of the relevant VNDB entries to see what these VNs looked like.”
Now that’s an introduction you don’t want to see before a game.
This preamble from A Winter’s Daydream’s developer and designer, ebi-hime (one of the most prolific visual novel designers out there, with games like Blackberry Honey and Strawberry Vinegar under their belt) not only made us do a double-take, but put us on edge throughout A Winter’s Daydream. As much as we fondly remember our grandparents, we don’t remember them in quite that way, and we were waiting for the handbrake turn into fetishism. Luckily, the handbrake turn never came.
Instead, A Winter’s Daydream is a small, fairy-tale-like visual novel that is as pure and innocent as the driven snow. It sits somewhere between Cinderella and Back to the Future, and is about as racy as the latter when it comes to inter-family shenanigans.
It tells the story of Yuu (there’s a Two Ronnies sketch right there), a student returning to their hometown after eight months at university in Tokyo. They’ve acclimatised a little too well to the big city, as they carry a small dish of resentment for being forced to return home for the New Year.
Events start at home, where mum and dad are eager to see Yuu, but his brattish sister Utoko is less eager. She harbours an old grudge and a big ball of envy that Yuu is the urbanised brother while she is left at home, watching girl bands on the telly. She is spiteful, makes spiky asides at any opportunity, and generally pushes all of Yuu’s buttons like they were a pocket calculator.
Yuu’s eager to get away, so he hops on a bus to visit his nan, Umeko, in an even smaller hamlet, well off the beaten track. She’s an adorable old lady who dotes on him, even though he’s reserved and would rather sit and read a book. As they settle in for the evening, a shooting star passes, and they each make a wish. He wishes to be closer to his sister; she wishes for something unsaid. They then pop to bed (their own beds, sheesh) and sleep till the new day.
When they wake up, a transformation has taken place. Umeko has become – and this is within the first hour and on all the marketing materials, so we hope we’re not spoiling this for you – a nineteen-year-old version of herself. She’s only moderately surprised but he’s full-on gobsmacked, as most of us would be. And so ensues a day of Umeko enjoying her reclaimed youth, eating cakes, buying dresses and visiting the shrine of her late husband, in the hope that he might see her in a flashy kimono and sporting teenage good looks.
But there’s an edge of tragedy and bittersweetness to this tale, as Umeko is convinced that this transformation won’t last long. Will she actually see her husband? There’s a growing sense that A Winter’s Daydream will have a low-key end.
This is less a visual novel and more a novella. Even if you’re something of a slow reader, you will be done in an hour and a half. Perhaps more worrying for the prospective reader, it is also completely choiceless. There is not one branch or divergence within A Winter’s Daydream, which will be a dealbreaker for those of you who like to actually press buttons on their gamepad. Surprisingly, it’s also feature-free. There is no ability to skip or automate the text (admittedly, this becomes less of an issue when a novel is as linear as this), and no save function either. The autosave is pretty decent, though, so you will have to trust that ebi-hime has your back.
In story terms, it’s up to ebi-hime’s usual quality. There’s not a typo in sight, and everything has been translated perfectly. It’s well-written and flows nicely, which is more unusual than you might think, having reviewed a large proportion of visual novels on the Xbox.
But that doesn’t mean that A Winter’s Daydream doesn’t grate. Outside of Umeko, the characters are a whiny bunch. Utoko is just as irritating as Yuu believes her to be, always on the attack and extremely materialistic. When Yuu wishes to like her more, we sighed at the prospect of having to spend more time with her. That said, Yuu isn’t much better. He’s a downbeat, mopey little lad, and when his grandma Umeko is having the time of her life, he tends to follow along and groan a bit. It’s like Cinderella, if Cinderella had a sarcastic best buddy who kept trying to poop the party.
He also has the strange (and, considering the intro, slightly daunting) habit of reflecting on the prettiness of his relatives. His sister is mean, but she is really pretty. Shucks, he keeps forgetting how pretty she is. And Yuu keeps doing confused double-takes at how well his grandma has brushed up. There’s clearly something knotty and repressed deep in Yuu.
As A Winter’s Daydream rolled to an end after ninety minutes, we nodded and said, yep, it certainly did what it intended to do. It’s a compact visual novel that follows the arc of its single idea, and then ends in precisely the fashion you would expect it to end. Inbetween, there are precisely zero choices, and a couple of characters surface who you’d rather didn’t bother. Ultimately, A Winter’s Daydream is harmless, short and non-interactive, and – like a daydream – we will completely forget about it by this time next week.
You can buy A Winter’s Daydream from the Xbox Store