The original Kara no Shojo was one of the most violent and psychologically disturbing games I have ever played. And while the second is also full of brutal murder and complex mysteries, it never quite reaches the soul-crushing despair of the first.
[This review spoils much of the original Kara No Shojo. For a non-spoiler look at that game, check out our review.]
Taking place at the end of 1957 (nearly two years after the first game), Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode once again follows Detective Tokisaka Reiji on the trail of a brutal murderer. When we last saw Reiji, he was a broken man. After finally bringing his fiancé's murderer to justice, not only were his new lover's arms and legs taken from her in a life-saving surgery, but she was subsequently kidnapped by a serial killer obsessed with her resemblance to a woman in a famous work of art.
Because of this, the Reiji of Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is once again trapped in the past — merely going through the motions of life while waiting for the clue that will see him reunited with his love. That doesn't mean, however, he isn't still damn good at his job.
A new serial killer has been killing women in Tokyo, crucifying them and placing clay fetuses inside their stomachs. The original suspect in these crimes, a man named Masaki, tries to kill himself soon after Reiji clears him of suspicion — only for his life to be saved thanks to a chance encounter with Reiji's sister Yukari. Taking pity on the man, Reiji hires Masaki as an assistant — even as it becomes clear that even if Masaki is innocent of the murders, his secret past is at the center of them.
Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is much more Masaki's story than it is Reiji's. Only a scant few minutes of the game are spent furthering the overall plot started in the first Kara no Shojo — and these are largely confined to the game's difficult to get "True Ending." The other 30 or so hours of the game are spent on Masaki's story — or in flashback.
The first 5 hours of Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode takes place in rural pre-World War II Japan and sets up the mystery that spans decades. It follows a group of teens in a town that worships a vengeful god known to kill heretics in a particularly brutal fashion. Over the course of the game, we re-meet all these characters years later and see how the events of so long ago shaped their lives.
In Japanese, Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode actually shares the title of the original phonetically. However, the meaning changes due to different Chinese characters being used. The original is 殻ノ少女, "The Girl in the Shell." The second is 虚ノ少女, "The Imaginary Girl" or "The Empty Girl." Both meanings are important to the story.
The first of these empty/imaginary girls is Satsuki. She shows up in the flashback portions of the game and is a "guest" of the shrine in the aforementioned small isolated town. The teens suspect her of being the Miko — a child of heaven and a vessel for their god. But we soon see that her life is one of loneliness, with a mirror her only companion.
The second empty/imaginary girl of the story is Yukiko, the new girl at Yukari's school. She seems normal enough — though shy and socially awkward — except that she is haunted by dreams where she murders herself in horrible ways. She wants nothing more than to make new friends — a role that Yukari gladly accepts.
Over the course of the game, you follow these five viewpoint characters: Reiji, Masaki, Satsuki, Yukiko, and Yukari — though only Reiji and Masaki do investigations or make plot-effecting choices.
Beyond the murders, Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is thematically about the relationships between parents and children. All the characters in the story have atypical (or perhaps all-too-typical) relationships with their families. Reiji and Yukari's parents are long dead. In their absence, it is Yukari who has been the "mum" of the relationship, despite Reiji being 20 years older and the breadwinner of the family. Several of the other characters are orphans as well — some having loving foster parents and others practically abandoned.
Masaki's story largely deals with the expectations his parents and grandparents have for him — and how they will do practically anything to browbeat him into fulfilling the role they have chosen for him. But as we come to see, his lack of control over his life is nothing compared to what the empty/imaginary girls have had to deal with.
And on top of all this, many of the adult characters in the story are also parents — with parent/child relationships that are equally complex.
Like many visual novels, Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is basically a choose-your-own-adventure novel with visuals and voice acting. Sometimes, the choice is as simple as where to go next. Other times, you'll be forced to solve a puzzle by choosing the correct clue at the appropriate time. Often, you'll be asked to pick your next destination — and while many times the scene that plays out seems trivial, what you learn in it may be vital for avoiding one of the numerous bad endings.
While it is great that Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode offers so much interactivity in how the story unfolds, its biggest downfall is that this plethora of choices plays fast and loose with logical causality. For example, Masaki inviting Yukari along on a case should have no bearing on the murderer's next target — as the murderer chooses the target long before their conversation takes place and thus has no possible way of knowing Masaki and Yukari even talked. However, the target does change based on this choice.
With moments like this, the game becomes one of trial and error rather than one of logic. While sometimes you can take information learned in bad endings to nudge yourself back onto the path to the normal ending, other times you cannot. Because of this, it may honestly be better to play this one with a walkthrough handy. Without one, you may never be able to figure out what you did wrong that led to your terrible demise.
For all the good character work and thematic exploration of Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode, the big mysteries are relatively easy to solve. Before the first flashback was over, I was able to figure out not only the murderer's identity in that scene but also the murderer's identity in the present.
Lesser mysteries, like certain characters' hidden identities are likewise easy to deduce with a few minutes' thought. Even the game's final grand "True Ending" twist is apparent if you keep the prologue in mind throughout the game. I will say, though, it was a great feeling to have my theories validated after watching the story twist and turn for several dozen hours.
Your first time though the game, it is impossible to get the True Ending — or any of the good ones. However, once you reach the normal ending of the game, you can start it over and try for them. What's cool about the second time through the game is how much is different — and that's in addition to the different choices you make.
The original gigantic flashback receives an overhaul, highlighting the specifics of that mystery by tweaking just a single word. Beyond that, numerous scenes are added to the game — either extending pivotal themes or giving us glimpses into the various villains' minds. There are even more than a few extra choices — some of which show key scenes from other characters' points of view that lead toward the True Ending. Of course, the other new choices the second time through lead to something very different — hardcore porn.
Many Japanese-made visual novels for PC have porn scenes and Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is no exception. In your first playthrough, you are guaranteed to run into three of them — and no, there is no way to skip them the first time other than clicking as fast as you can for several minutes while listening to abbreviated moaning. Your second playthrough adds a fourth mandatory scene and several optional ones.
Of course, even if there was no pornographic content in Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode, it would still be only suitable for adults. This game is filled with graphic murder scenes and loads of psychological abuse. There is also a lot of incest (both implied and realised) in this game — and I mean a lot.
Yet, as brutal as Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode can be at times, compared to the first game, it seems absolutely tame.
The original Kara no Shojo was filled with a potent sense of dread as one by one the characters you cared about were killed in horrible ways — and trying to prevent their deaths only got you killed alongside them.
In the second game, the body count of characters you know and care about is much lower. Moreover, it never feels quite as personal — mainly because this is Masaki's story more than Reiji's. In fact, even the normal ending is relatively happy (if still a bit tragic) — and the good ones even more so.
Of course, then there is the True Ending which basically fills the game's despair quotient all on its own.
Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode is a gripping visual novel filled with memorable characters and a good — if somewhat predictable — murder mystery set in a time before cells phones, the internet, and DNA testing. As a sequel, it's a bit odd — spending little of its time dealing with the threads left dangling at the end of the first game and instead focusing on a new and unrelated mystery. However, if you're up for another detective story of brutal murders in post-war Tokyo, you likely won't be disappointed.
Kara no Shojo - The Second Episode was released on PC on 30 October 2015, and can be purchased from MangaGamer's official website [NSFW].