DonateAtelier Series GuideGet InvolvedRyzaAtelier RyzaAtelier Ryza 2DuskAtelier Escha & LogyAtelier ShallieArlandAtelier TotoriBlue ReflectionBlue ReflectionSecond LightImmature StatusAtelier FirisAtelier LuluaNights of Azure 2

The Deep Dive: Blue Reflection Second Light

Curry

Being the weirdo that runs a Gust fansite, you might think I just adore every single Gust game. That's not quite right. I do generally enjoy their games, wouldn't have stuck around since 2007 otherwise, but I'd frankly say Gust flirts with mediocrity quite a bit.

Blue Reflection Second Light is the stroke of brilliance that keeps me coming back.

Spoilers ahead. For a spoiler free review, see here. This exists for personal catharsis, not sure what the audience for that is but gosh do I ever love this game.

Combat

In many regards, the combat felt like a repurposed Ryza system (and it looks like a repurposed Atelier under the hood on top of that), though it has its own identity. It's ATB, much like Ryza, but manages to not feel overwhelming to try and control all three characters because they either auto attack or they wait for your input. In place of wait time you have ether, and in place of a shared tactics level you have gears on each character.

To explain it further, as time goes on you charge ether, up to 5000. Attacks will cost from 1000 to 5000 ether each time. What determines how much ether you can charge is your gear level; as your gear rises, your attacks change (modifying themselves, some disappear, others appear at high gear). Gear rises to level 5. Early in the game you start battles at gear 1, but you can raise this to 4 later on to give you a significant early battle advantage. The magical girl transformation happens at gear 3… however, I turned that animation off at some point because it simply happens too much.

As you attack more and more, you build up a combo, and thus an associated damage multiplier. This helps fights – even bosses – end pretty quickly, but a number of enemies will try to reset your counter. You can just prevent this with a couple skills.

You get three characters as fighters and a support character that has a number of generally not super useful effects at certain intervals, as well as the ability to toss items and swap with one of your battling characters. For a while this will be your primary way to revive characters, though you lose so much offensive momentum from revival that it feels really bad.

Overall the combat is pretty solid, if on the easy side, but I do have one significant complaint. During boss fights, you might get thrown into this one vs. one (infight) mode. On paper it sounds pretty cool. You get a faster paced timeline and your attack, buff, dodge, and counter timing all matter a lot. In practice, it happens infrequently enough that it feels awkward every time it pops up, and counterattack timing in particular is difficult. By NG+ I was stomping in this mode, it just takes more practice than the game throws at you in a single run, and some bosses are still difficult to counter.

Okay, seriously, who balanced this crap?

Ao is pretty generically good as a fighter, even gaining the ability to give enemies weaknesses, and for a long time she has a unique gimmick in that she prevents your combo from getting reset. Until Hiori comes along, this makes it hard to remove her from the party, as the combos are very important to overall damage output. Aside from this, she’s probably the best support character in the game, and I’ll go over that briefly later.

Hinako has one gimmick: she likes to add +1 to the combo through a variety of means. You would think this makes her super good, but you're probably better off going for someone like Kokoro or Hiori that have high attack instead, and just ditching Hinako. Her damage type is just slash until a higher gear; her lack of options makes it hard to use her when this is resisted. No utility, not a great damage type, Hinako wasn’t given enough love, but one of her strongest attacks is treated like she’s a massive balance problem, rather than just being underwhelming. If she had combo building during infights she might be worth having over others. Edit: Whoops, her buff does exactly that. Have not reevaluated her compared to Hiori on that basis though.

Kokoro's gimmick is that she has high attack, no defense, and the ability to inflict ailments and do damage based on number of ailments. And like many others, can give some weaknesses. Early on she's your best attacker, but she gets outclassed. Her ailments are decent, as slow in particular is powerful against enemies, so at no point is she ever a bad addition, just a bit squish. I’m curious about what her ailment stacking does for her damage, but haven’t dug that far into it.

Rena early on feels pretty useless, as she has high defense, less attack, and is supposedly a healer (her heal sucks). Surprise! Her gimmick is actually inflicting knockdown on the enemy, and at the fifth gear she gets a guaranteed knockdown, which is completely insane. When you knock a boss down, you can trigger the infights yourself, which means you can build for infight damage and get crazy numbers. Or you can just wait it out and hammer the boss after the infight shields die. Rena is the most busted character once you get Uta, bar none.

Shiho has the busted ability to restore ether to anyone. This means she effectively fuels a second set of attacks from Hiori or Kokoro until her gear gets high enough that this skill goes away (I suggest the fragment that locks her at gear 3). She's also an excellent healer for HP, ailments, even knockdown, with a damage type that synergizes well with Hiori. Her strong heal means pretty much anyone is going to use her, unless they actually make enough healing items.

Remember how Kokoro had high attack and no defense? Hiori has higher attack and can also take a hit. She outclasses Kokoro with zero drawbacks. On top of this, she can give enemies two weaknesses and she can protect the combo, which makes Ao replaceable. She’s got a similar problem to Shiho that she’s better at Gear 3, as she loses some of her more special kit at higher levels, but she’s still strong either way. Build her for infight damage alongside Rena being built for fast gear 5 and watch things get deleted.

In terms of support, Ao is probably better than the others as she enhances weakness damage, but there’s a significant problem with the implementation of the support system in general. Each support character gets four skills, you can set the two you like best. Supports are cycle based. Basically, they have their own timelines and require you to wait for them to cycle 2 to 7 times for particular skills. On top of this, the higher end skills have unreasonable, niche requirements, and generally they might also only trigger 60% of the time when you meet them. Let’s take Hinako’s 7 cycle skill; it increases combo count on all attacks for 15 seconds, and it has a 75% chance of activating if the combo count is below 10. So it’s useless at later phases of the fight (which is when you expect to see 7 cycle skills) when you might actually need it? The shorter cycle ones trigger more often, sometimes even 100% of the time, but the system really just needs reworking. It’s not reliable and sometimes unusable.

Ether

Behold, balance!

Oh, did you think I was done talking balance since I ran out of characters? The game isn’t balanced around the idea of ether recovery very well.

Take the busted Rena setup. You need to start battle in gear 4, then do a single attack to get to gear 5 (this is a hard rule; there is no way around this). After that, she can wait for 3000 ether and hit Maelstrom. So for this, you need to build her initial ether “recovery” speed to get to 250. This isn’t super obvious, but the primary thing that helps this is the facility that you can build that’s a prerequisite to getting Uta; the Sunflower Bed.

The Sunflower Bed seemingly has a drawback. I’m not sure the localizers understood the ether speed mechanics, so it’s translated in a kinda wonky way. It says the initial e/s goes up by 50 (this is abso-fucking-lutely insane and pushes you a full gear up on its own) and reduces ether “acceleration” by 7. This is the only point where “acceleration” is even mentioned, but what it’s saying is that using skills give you 7 less ether (this can go negative) than they would have before. There are a number of positive ether fragments that make this number pathetic. On top of this you can use the Train Platform. It increases attack and ether recovery speed on skill use (by 15, which completely erases the -7 you just got), with a “drawback” of getting less defense. This is no drawback; you just never get hit.

How does this tie into Maelstrom? It normally gives -50 ether on use. Due to the way the system works, this means she should go down to gear 4 after using it, and the Sunflower Bed makes it gear 3 instead. But this drawback can be completely erased with the right setup; Maelstrom can be a +0 ether attack that does not reduce gear ever.

Second Light has a number of interesting ideas for combat, it just isn’t fully baked. The designers realized that making skills disappear at gear 5 would make you want to lock in at gear 3 to permanently keep them, and made a fragment to do just that. There are a number of little touches like that, kind of a shame the game isn’t fully polished.

The little things

It’s really not lost on me how the game is an overall improvement on the original. It was a tiny game with a pretty plain battle system and a lot of characters I don’t really remember that well… and lots of fanservice. I can tolerate fanservice, but I’m not a fan. If I become enamored with a character’s looks, it will be with clothes on. Paring down the constant fanservice moments to a couple swimsuit segments was much appreciated.

Where'd the epic battles go?

The first game, for all its faults, did do one thing really well – the bosses were cool. They'd swoop down on the school, have super unique designs, and they had their own gimmicks and a massive scale. And then Hinako's buddies would bounce tennis balls at them because why the heck not?! Second Light doesn't have this feeling at all. The bosses are all rather plain, and only the final one hits an epic sense that the original consistently delivered on. That being said, infight was a cool idea and the special attacks are fun.

Gust, learn your lesson for once

Why in the everloving fuck is hard a NG+ difficulty? Stop doing that, Gust! It wasn't good when Shallie introduced it, and it's not good now. If I want to die horribly, let me. Besides, the game is overall too easy (as many Gust games are), so it would have been nice to feel offensive pressure coming off enemies, especially later in the game when I started using optimal strats.

Exploration

This game had some actual effort put in; the environments are varied and suit their story purpose well. The exploration gimmicks were a tad much; they were clearly inspired by Ryza, but watching animations play out is often just not satisfying unless they are lightning quick. I felt this way for NOA2 as well. There were also animations that made me question life. Like okay Kokoro and Hiori are both swole and pick up giant pillars but why is Ao crawling underneath them?! A number of areas being blocked off until you max out their relationship was just weird; a lot of these had no particular rewards for being there. I’m also not that fond of the exploration items that made me go back for little item recipes and some new gatherable items. Rather, I do generally like this sort of feature in a game, but it needs to be more substantial than a tiny patch of grass.

Quality of life

For as much as walking slowly during dates drove me nuts, you did get a good warp system, including directly to the date destination. The overall quality of life is just not bad; you can initiate dates and requests from your phone, and for the requests you have to turn in, the girls are always displayed on the map.

Items

I have no idea why they made the sand drop rate so trash. Item crafting is rather important to building facilities; which are both stat enhancements and date locations. You need a lot of sand, and they just don’t like dropping the early, most used types enough. Warm Sand is actual pain to get for much of the game.

As for the usable items, there are some that are probably worth using if you don’t keep Shiho around, but I always kept Shiho around and thus made a few revives for my first run and that’s about it.

Localization

Finally, I need to talk about localization. Obviously as a person that does not understand anything above baby level Japanese I am not the best person for this job, but there are things that merit comment. The first is the probable ratings board dodge in trying to say these obvious high school girls are college students. I don’t know what you’re trying to avoid, but you aren’t fooling anyone. The second is that they make some localize-y choices that they really don’t need to make. One that a lot of people will pick up on is when Ao talks about being a chuuni; this is translated to goth. If it was a one off line it might be okay like that, but she goes on to explain a number of extremely chuuni things she did. Another consistent one is translating light novel to YA (young adult) novel. I suppose that is the English equivalent of what she reads, but light novels are understood by the greater weeb audience rather well.

By far the biggest problem with localization, however, is the inconsistencies in names. They could not decide whether to keep the English approach (first names for all!) or the Japanese approach (first or last name depending on relationship) and there’s an incredibly awkward, incorrect mix of both. You might see a last name and a first name in a single sentence, where they were both last names in the dialogue. It doesn’t bother me greatly to change everything to first names. However, when they do this, Japanese media inevitably has a keigo dance where they’re all “why are you so stiff use my first name” and it doesn’t make sense in English because they’re already pretty informal. Without a dub, I just don’t see a point in trying to localize it overly strongly; keep the more formal forms of address in there. Whatever you do, make the choice consistent.

Further minus points to not understanding the ether mechanics and using confusing, inconsistent wording. Though, overall, it seemed fine to me.

The faces

Hats off to the faces. They are so incredibly expressive and cute. Look forward to Sophie 2 if this is what they're cooking up.

Writing

While I would call the story good, the game truly shines in its cast. This is really the bread and butter of the game, and it’s so good. You can go on a variety of dates with the girls, 15 per girl in fact. It’s honestly too much, as it slows story progress a ton (the slow walking and variety of tangents around school sure don’t help), but it’s so enjoyable to go through them all with your favorites that I can’t hold it against the game too much.

Plot

You play as Ao, who was just having a normal day, dropped her phone, and suddenly she’s in another world with a weird text telling her to be reborn. She’s greeted by three girls; none of them remember anything. Strangely, Ao hasn’t forgotten anything. Soon after meeting, they unlock Heartscapes – mental worlds.

The plot doesn’t do a bad job of drip feeding you information. Heartscapes appear because of conversations the girls have, which invoke some memories for them. At the Heartscapes, they get most of their memories back. The memories of one girl lead to the next, and the plot slowly unravels through each girl. You start with Kokoro, who basically knows nothing interesting about the outside world, but she has a connection to the next girl, Shiho, who drags in Hinako, where the real plot stuff starts to come out. She defeated the Overseer of the world, a Sephira, that was trying to merge all of humanity into one. She also gets Yuzu (who helped her defeat the Overseer) to stop hiding and stealing all the food by promising to save her sister Lime. Yuzu doesn’t remember much at this point, but she distrusts Ao.

The repercussions of Hinako’s actions are seen in Rena’s memories, where you learn about the ash disease that was killing tons of people, and how Yuki was suffering from it. They very naively think there might be a cure because Yuki seems healthy, but there are a number of small nods to her being unwell, which is an appreciated detail.

Instead of dragging out Yuki’s memories next, Shiho pulls another buddy out of the void. Kirara has the ability to hear the future from the world system, which she refers to as the Divine. Likely because of this ability, she and Shiho belonged to an organization that wished to resurrect the gods, which would stop the disease that was killing off humanity.

The Hirahara sisters get summoned rather quickly, and have a pretty short plot compared to the others. They simply mention being part of an organization called AASA, which Kokoro and Rena were also part of. It had Reflectors protect people’s emotions and researched the disease. This is more of a greater worldbuilding effort. I don’t mind small plugs for the mobile game, but it’s sad the game won’t get translated. They basically exist to summon Uta. And you try to go through her memories – but she proves unstable and about breaks the world apart, so they hold off.

At this point they force the issue with Yuki. Between her personal connection to Rena and all of the talking they’ve done, she should have had her Heartscape appear by now. Did nothing they’ve done resonate with her? Deep down, she was trying hard to not remember. Her memories get dragged to the surface – surprise, she’s dead! The disease killed her, but she suddenly woke up and was made to be part of the world system as its spy. This allows it to send antiviruses to kill all the girls.

Most of the girls having their memories back stabilizes the world enough that they wake up Lime from her deep sleep and finally learn the nature of the Oasis world they are currently in. To be clear, the short of Yuzu and Lime is that they have extra special powers and are directly responsible for turning a lot of girls into Reflectors.

The world outside is already gone (fun!), and Oasis was created by the sisters as the last resort. The world not having an Overseer was basically regarded as a glitch and the world system was trying to reformat. They gathered as many people as they could and created it through all their emotions. They weren’t entirely successful; due to the emotional energy involved, it was too difficult to keep all the girls in one piece, so they were ‘broken’ and lost their memories (which themselves are tied to emotional power). As the girls gain more memories – emotions – the world stabilizes, allowing Yuzu and Lime to both regain their memories. But this doesn’t help them with fixing the world outside; it just buys them time. Could all of this had even higher impact? Maybe. The ladies do realize their friends are all dead, but I suppose it just doesn’t them the same way directly seeing it would.

Increasingly, Ao gets a sense that her world isn’t the same as the world these girls come from. There is no world ending disease, just peace. Were her memories manipulated, or is there something else to it? Yuzu and Lime confirm that something is off – there is nobody named Hoshizaki Ao in their world. They go to her Heartscape to see if anything is strange. It’s a completely normal world – everyday Japan from Ao’s memories of going to school. A stark difference from the other, more exaggerated and symbolic Heartscapes. There aren’t even demons in there, which are formed from their worries. All of the memories shown are recent ones of her new friends, much to her embarrassment. But there is a strange building in the background. While Ao doesn’t recognize it, things in her Heartscape must be things she’s been exposed to. Somewhere inside her, Uta knows what it is – and they risk going to her Heartscape again to uncover it.

Uta, being an antagonist to her core in previous days, attained the power of the Sephira and attempted to use it to remake the world as she pleased. To do this, she needed the device that created the world, Origin, which is tied to the world system. It’s unclear how she got godly power and why she failed, I believe these holes are deliberate for the mobile game to fill. Ao realizes that if they can access Origin themselves, they can simply restore the world as it was. Good girl, Ao.

Conveniently, they exploit the world system’s connection to Yuki to send their unified feelings beam to the device. These feelings hit a snag; everyone has fears and doubts that get caught up along the way. They enter Origin to untangle these doubts. One by one, the girls ‘leave’ the group chat on their phones as they are ready to move on, but there’s one notable person that never leaves: Ao.

On a first run, you get to the end of the system and she faces her own doubts. In talking with her doubts, it is revealed that she came into contact with the world system and became a part of it, and that she is from the future of the restored world that everyone is trying to create. She’ll lose everything she gained if she goes through with creating the world, meaning that her doubts are pretty significant and pretty much clogging the whole thing pretty hard. She’s encouraged to end everything to escape her fate, but Ao doesn’t care what happens to her to give her friends a future.

After defeating the demon that protects the system, Oasis breaks apart after one last day with whichever girl you like best. The ending shows that girl walking down Ao’s neighborhood, where Ao briefly appears and disappears. The very last scene is Ao’s doubts, or the part of her that’s connected to the world system, sending a text to the next loop of Ao – be reborn, starting a time loop.

On a subsequent run, you can see instead of one of Ao’s doubts talking to her, it’s more than ten, and they have a bit more to say. She’s been stuck in this time loop for a while, and I got a greater weight out of this scene than the last. They again insist the way out of the loop is to just end everything, yet they challenge her to overcome the laws of the world with her emotions. If you get any girl to the max relationship level, their bond pulls her out of the loop, and she appears properly in the ending without sending a new ‘be reborn’ text. One view I have is that the past loops are Ao being unable to completely overcome her fears, which build and build over time as the loop repeats. It’s also possible that she was shackled to the Origin system, and only a true bond could break her free and let her reunite with her friends. It’s a bit vague, which gives you some room for interpretation. I rather like this aspect.

Blue Reflection is fond of forgetting everything at the end. It was rather touching for Hinako, as she wished early to remember Yuzu and Lime at the end and accomplished just that, forgetting everything else. Second Light follows up on this in a similar manner. Couldn’t say how much the cast remembers each other or even Ao; a vague bond remains. Forgetting everything except the most important thing is probably not my favorite ending gimmick after seeing it multiple times, but I do enjoy the story for what it is quite a bit. It’s not like it hits the most unique bits, but it’s competently handled throughout.

Cast

I actually glossed over a lot, as a lot of Second Light is character driven, and the girls definitely deliver. Someone will probably be to your taste, and there’s a lot of amusing stuff even from the girls who are not your thing.

Returning characters

I’ll just start with the returning characters, of which there are a whopping six. You’d think this means you need Blue Reflection and Ray knowledge to understand, but you truly do not.

From the original game are Hinako, Yuzu, and Lime. Yuzu and Lime aren’t as focused on as the other characters – you cannot take them out on dates and they don’t have nearly as many scenes. They are there for plot reasons, which is acceptable. They had a similar role in Ray as well, handing out rings and being in trouble with whatever the villains were up. The best moment was when Yuzu, who was distant and more formal, suddenly remembered Hinako to call her Hina-chan, and completely flipped her personality to be more personable. The more reserved Lime being the one behind the peppy ‘bot’ that sort of answered questions in group chat was also quite amusing.

Hinako was a joy in her own game, and was a joy in the new. She’s still more than a bit lost, as a talented ballerina who suffered a career ending injury. She is no less ballet brained than she used to be, and is still lost trying to find her way in a life without it, but her interactions with Yuzu and Lime gave her a sense of what normal meant, and brightened her outlook. Because of her previous hyperfocus, she isn’t what you’d call hip, but she tries her best to interact with her friends normally, whatever normally even means. Her arc is struggling with what normal is before realizing she doesn’t need to try, what a dork. She’s also precious when Yuzu and Lime remember her. If you know the first game her story isn’t surprising at all.

From Ray, we have the sisters, Hiori and Mio, as well as my trash girl antagonist Uta. Of all the things Ray gives context to, Uta is probably the most important. Hiori and Mio act as sweet sisters in Second Light, even sharing a Heartscape due to their closeness. Or so you think, but the truth is more complicated.

Hiori is a very sweet, gullible girl. Cloying, even, and she knows it. A lot of Ao’s interactions with her are telling her a bunch of BS to see how she reacts, and she never learns her lesson. Super wholesome girl though, she just wants everyone to be happy and laugh with her.

Mio is the older sister who stepped up after their mother left. She’s great at taking care of people as a result, but she’s more than a bit Hiori focused. You get the sense that something happened between them before the events of the game – Ray gets into that. The short is, Mio also vanishes on Hiori, trying to make the world better in her own boneheaded way, Hiori stops her.

One thing that really stands out about Mio is that she’s part of the scrub squad; she doesn’t fight. And it felt weird coming off Ray. But it actually makes sense when she finally explains it – Hiori is sharing her fragment with her, as Mio destroyed her own. The Heartscape they share is based in Hiori’s memories, rather than both of their memories. This is the reason she is overly concerned about Hiori. She has a deep sense of guilt and can’t forgive herself, though Hiori forgave her long ago like the cinnamon roll she is.

Mio is also a good chunk of the reason Hiori is so gullible; when Hiori was at her worst, Mio was the one to fill her brain with positive nonsense, like their dad being a superhero and Santa.

One thing I really dislike about the sisters’ plotline is the resolution with the mother. She was an overwhelmed single mother who thought herself a burden on her children, then stepped out for cigarette-- I mean light bulbs and never came back. Then they play it off as if she actually did it because she loved them so much. Miss me with that shit, trash mother, trash plotline.

My favorite thing about Mio is just how weak Ao is to her. Some gay things happen between them and Mio is not afraid to engage. She’s one of a few that actually gets Ao back. It gives me life.

Finally, there is Uta, my trash girl. There is not a single good thing about Uta in the anime, as she only believes in pain – for herself and others. She’s completely fucked up. And Second Light does make this clear – many people in the cast are disturbed she’s around and don’t want to restore her memories. Without her memories, she acts like a completely different person – the psycho that loves pain is gone, and all that’s left is a girl that can’t understand the emotions of others.

Uta's Heartscape is explored in two parts, as even she is a bit freaked by the side of her that wants pain. I find it both weird and understandable that they didn’t bring her trashy side back. Uta’s just really interesting to me in general. Her interactions with Ao are just her trying to understand why Ao likes things, and Ao also coming to understand her in a variety of ways. Of course Uta wouldn’t like fiction if she can’t understand how the characters are feeling, and of course Uta doesn’t like feeling like she should like certain activities. I don’t mind this new Uta so much. But the trashy side absolutely exists. It’s hard to write around, as original Uta would rather die than get along. I would have liked to have seen more of my trash girl, but all you really see is when she ‘merges’ with the new one, and she starts yelling at herself. I guess she yells at Hiori as well, but Hiori just kills her with kindness in response. (Seriously, Hiori had the nicest “I’ll never forgive you” speech I ever heard.) Wanting trash girl back to some real extent is probably not the most common opinion, as Uta was not the most liked character in the anime. We’ll just say they didn’t adequately write that side of her out.

Through her Heartscape, however, I did feel quite sorry for both her grandma and Uta herself. She was failed by a lot of people. The Heartscape shows that, in some way, her grandma did matter to her. It’s a complicated relationship. Uta cannot understand liking things, she cannot understand how other people feel, she only sometimes dislikes things. The only time she ever felt alive is when she got attacked by a slasher, kicking off her pain fetish. Uta’s grandma, unlike most, tried very hard to engage with her, and made the mistaken assumption that she liked sunflowers. Thus, she grew tons of sunflowers, despite Uta not ever visiting. Uta showed up at her home soon after she died and was moved by the flowers, which caused her mixed feelings she couldn’t comprehend. She struggles with it until the very end of her arc, where she just adds holding Ao’s hand to her list of things that confound her. Ao is also quite weak to Uta, blushing a lot and having generally cute reactions so a couple of the silly things she does.

Her arc, flawed or not, is interesting. She’s not a redeemed antagonist, but they try pretty hard to make her more understandable. Still, where the heck is my trash heap? She probably hits a bit different without Ray context.

In terms of being a member of ‘team scrub’, the people who can’t fight, I would suppose it’s because she can’t get much emotional energy at all in her current state. It’s not really explained.

New characters

There are a lot of girls to talk about, but I’m going to push Yuki and Rena to the side for later. Rena is, however, my favorite and it isn’t even close. For now, they are two of the three girls you see at the beginning of the game. Yuki’s enthusiasm gives energy to everyone else, and Rena is a more strict type that keeps everything together.

The third you see at the beginning is Kokoro, who introduces you to the Heartscapes you go to in the first place. She was bullied as a child, taking it to the level of making a secret hideout to get away from the bullies. That was quickly destroyed, but someone stood up for her – the next party member, Shiho. This strongly affected her, as she began to be a less of a pushover, hoping to emulate Shiho by helping people in need and allowing herself to rely on others. She really stresses over this, so the unsatisfying conclusion to her arc is showing how she began to allow herself to do that – she asked the bullies for help, not knowing what else to try, and they awkwardly did. She really hates confrontation, and that’s fine, but getting along with the bullies like that feels a bit sour. Honestly, Kokoro doesn’t leave the strongest impact on me. She likes eating, I guess? It all goes to her boobs. Is anyone else distracted by that ridiculous hourglass figure of hers?

Shiho’s story is a direct consequence of her actions in Kokoro’s – she beat up those bullies, and both she and her dad faced repercussions for it. Her dad lost her job and opened a cafe, which filled her with guilt. Instead of asking to be taken to ballet practice, she punished herself by always helping at the family cafe. Despite being so helpful to Kokoro, she doesn’t know how to help herself – and this is where Hinako comes in to give her a push. They bond over ballet and Hinako, who seems like the coolest person in the world, literally takes her on a train to nowhere. The temporary escape was fun, but they realize it’s rather pointless to do that. Shiho is pretty concerned with staying on a ‘path’, but the little train ride shows that she can get off it easily if she thinks it’s a mistake later.

Shiho decides to face her father and her guilt properly; when she finally asks about what her parents thought about opening the cafe, unsurprisingly, it was a longtime dream of theirs and she had nothing to worry about. She is, normally, a massive food nerd; despite forcing herself into helping at the cafe, she did like it and the culinary arts in general. She also likes being extremely normal, and that’s more or less how I’d describe her. Top tier housewife material though, would recommend. Her blush is radiant when Ao actually manages to get a reaction.

If there’s one bond I wish the game would explore more, it’s that between Shiho and Kokoro. There’s a one off scene where they say they should catch up, but they never do. Meanwhile, Shiho is seen interacting with Kirara a bit. They are more recent friends, so it does make sense. Kokoro is just so early she feels left behind later on, which is funny for the character Ray went out of its way to name drop once. I suppose more with Hiori would have been fine as well, on that note.

Kirara, initially, was treated as a weird girl since she heard the voices of the Divine, but at some point her father noticed she was telling the truth and used her for political gain. She was pressured into lying for her father, but did the right thing for her friend, and was punished for it by not being allowed to see her again. A fairly sad story, but she’s proud of herself. She struggles with her connection to the Divine; since coming to Oasis, she can’t hear them at all, and attempts to fill that void herself by predicting things. She’s often wrong, but she realizes she can choose to do good things without its help, and accepts herself as having agency without that power.

Not gonna lie, hearing spiritual voices is not my thing, it’s a detracting element for me. But Kirara does have some points of endearment; she’s one of the few that’s willing to engage with Ao on the flirty stuff, and her interests are downright bizarre. She’s a turbo dork. Also, she is a member of ‘team scrub’, as she is associated with all these events due to her connection with the Divine.

The protagonist herself: Ao

Ao is not what I’d call a particularly complex character, but she’s completely adorable. She’s really crafted in a way that most people should find in some way relatable. Her given backstory is that she wants to feel special; she just has an ordinary life. Her interests are probably relatable to whoever plays the game – she’s an anime, manga, and light novel consuming dork. She’s got a cute, bubbly personality but is also a fantastic avatar for the player’s desires. Or at least she was for mine!

There were a number of dialogue options that were also just dumb things that popped in my head. I’m not used to my game protagonist being a mind reader. Sometimes they showed me something better too. You can choose contradicting ‘facts’ for small things, but there are many core things about her that remain consistent, and she’ll fess up to lying when it’s really untrue.

As before, at the center of her own arc is the desire to be special. She really latches onto Hinako because of this, as Hinako is uniquely talented at ballet. It doesn’t really matter what it is to Ao, the fact that Hinako is special allows her to place her on a pedestal. Hinako quickly calls her out on this, asking to just be a normal friend.

By the same token, she feels at ease around Shiho as a fellow normal person. But Shiho’s perspective on that stuns her; she wants to be normal, and likes that about herself. It makes Ao think she doesn’t need that special factor in her life after all, and when Shiho wavers on this point, Ao is the one to set her straight.

As you’d expect in a game that’s basically about friendship, Ao is always looking out for everyone. Someone’s awake at night? Ao follows and has a nice little chat with her. This attitude gets her appointed as leader, and though she doesn’t feel worthy, she takes that position very seriously. When things go horribly wrong with Uta’s Heartscape (Ao realized much earlier that there were warning signs), she beats herself up hard. As for being special – she just lets it go. What really matters to her, cheesy as it may be, are her friends. For her, this is a well deserved arc. She sacrifices a lot for the happiness of her friends, and it takes a lot of loops to her to see payoff.

She’s also a lazy lil’ shit that tries to get away with not doing any cleaning, sneaks food when she shouldn’t, and I am here for it. Her room, when briefly shown, was a mess, and she’s a fellow Gust fan if you look at the merch closely. Love all the little details the game throws out.

It’s actually gay

I might be a bisexual woman, but I'll be clear, I do prefer women by quite a margin. This basically means I'm in a constant state of being yuri starved. It's horrible. I don't accept things like Klaudia's crush on Ryza. I don't accept Firis' obliviousness to Il's crush. Open acknowledgment of the gay as gay is very important, and bait just doesn't cut it.

And I'll admit, I thought Second Light was going to pull that on me. But it didn't.

There are really two things to talk about in regards to how utterly gay it is. The first is Ao herself, and the second is the literal canon lesbian couple.

Ao the cute gay dork

“But wait she makes a couple of references to guys so she must be bi!” I am aware, but Blue Reflection is a no boys allowed zone.

In terms of the great yuribait question, they play it loose with Ao.

It is a fact that Ao flirts with women. A lot. They flirt back. Sometimes. They get embarrassed and often recognize the flirts for what they are. The game does ultimately dip into friendship for all these girls, but it's pretty clear: Ao constantly thinks they're cute, a number of them think Ao is cute, and they make a point of talking about this a lot depending on your choices. I would say this edges it out of bait, but if you were hoping for something explicit with the protagonist then I suppose you’ll be disappointed.

By flirt, what do I mean? You can cuddle in bed. You can get uncomfortably close. You can blow in cute girls' ears. You can offer your lap as a pillow. You can hold all the hands like the godless heathen you are. You can turn so many conversations flirty it's unreal. And then you can get your flirting turned around on you by a couple of the girls. Usually Mio, who definitely won't lose a game of gay chicken. I love how weak Ao is to her. I love how weak Ao is to Uta’s existence. I love how many blushes Ao gets out of the girls.

Having Ao voice every dumb thought in my head is actually just amazing. Whenever I think of something dumb, fun, and flirty, Ao is a step ahead of me with a dialogue option. Through Ao, I flirted with all the girls in pretty much all the ways I hoped to. Ao is a cute dork that will do the dorky things herself. The great gay avatar I needed in my life.

Hinako is probably the least willing to go along with the flirting, which is consistent with her writing in the first game. I actually quite appreciate they didn’t step all over what they established her to be. I’m also happy they did not repeat the mistakes that they made with Shihori; a character who had a crush on Hinako.

Wait there's a CANON couple?

Early on I latched onto Rena. She’s always so fed up with the team’s silly antics and is never afraid to show it. She's generally rather sincere and strict. Despite being one of the starting characters, her memories are reserved for midway into the game. Her memories quickly show she knew the ever cheery Yuki previously. It starts as a pretty normal meeting by the sea, but the framing shifts to something vaguely romantic when Rena talks about rejecting a boy. The boy got pretty angry at her because she didn’t let him down easy, just honestly saying she didn’t like him. Yuki notes that people want to be lied to. This theme holds up through their interactions; Rena is overly honest, and Yuki firmly believes in good and bad lies. Yuki acts as a pretty normal friend in their interactions, but Rena notices that she never really shares her true feelings, and begins to want to know the real Yuki.

This ends in a promise to go stargazing, and a confession. A confession! I was overjoyed. A genuine show of love by a woman, toward another woman. It doesn't happen nearly enough, I tell you, and I really can’t express how much it means to me to see it.

The result isn’t so sweet. Yuki claims she needs time to figure out her answer and ghosts the poor girl, not even reading her messages after that point. Rena’s a very determined girl so she goes looking, and eventually finds that Yuki left a note with a nurse at the nearby hospital saying to forget her, she’ll find someone else that loves her. Rena is actually relieved, realizing she wasn’t hated after hearing this, and goes on to try and cure Yuki from ash disease herself. Her research wasn’t fruitful, and too late for Yuki anyway, though she didn’t know that at the time. It actually comes out later that she ran herself ragged trying to research it, regarding everyone who wasn’t killing themselves over research as not taking it seriously enough, and she found herself unable to accept any help they offered. She felt rather foolish when she looked back on this.

Yuki’s side to the story is put off for quite a long time, as she first holds plot important information in her memories, and second just doesn’t want to remember her past because she’s already dead. For this time, Rena’s not entirely sure how to feel around Yuki, but they mostly seem to interact as normal, which I always found interesting. Rena just shifts from using her last name to first name.

This Heartscape tells a much less sweet story. So much that Yuki actually runs away the instant her Heartscape appears, and tells everyone to not go any further in it at multiple points. It leads off by showing Yuki in a sterile, lifeless hospital with an incurable disease. She has a nurse telling her that she’ll get through it, and she grumpily calls her a liar, but Yuki quickly replaces her grumpy truth with a happy facade. She's determined to live it up as long as she can, and keeps this facade to those around her; it’s basically the only thing keeping her going. Under these rough circumstances, she meets Rena. It’s clear she’s important to her, as her Heartscape changes to mirror Rena’s later two areas. Maybe it makes the game a smidge more budget feeling, but I really liked it.

When Rena sees the change from the hospital to the beach they met at, she starts gushing on how she saw Yuki at first; sociable, laughed a lot, a good listener. Yuki’s first thoughts about Rena were that she had long legs. Er, that she has a lot, and isn’t sick, but complains and reacts with anger a lot regardless. Yeah, I’ll make a mountain out of that long legs molehill, what are you gonna do about it? I thought it was a bit funny. The game briefly seems like it’ll pull the “I actually hated you” card, but it doesn’t. On top of being sick, Yuki had some undisclosed prior disease, as the doctor made a reference to her weak immune system, so the way she regarded Rena’s problems makes a lot of sense. Little by little, Rena grew on her, until she rightfully pointed out that Yuki never says what she’s thinking. Yuki was stunned by this; Rena went straight for her weakness. She was pretty mixed on Rena wanting to know her true self; torn between pleasure and agony over it. Despite her constant facade, she felt that Rena actually knew her fairly well just from pointing that out.

At this point, it was time for her to move to a new facility for further treatment. The fact that she was dying made it pretty hard to pursue a relationship, and she wasn’t sure what to do. I obviously can’t say I approve of her ghosting the poor girl, but in the context of her character it makes sense. She couldn’t handle seeing Rena sad at all, so she lied to escape it, thinking it was her best chance at happiness. But she realized that Rena might come looking, and left a note with her nurse – who she apparently talked to about Rena all the time – instead of telling her anything properly.

This is where Yuki actually drops the fact that she’s already dead on everyone, and in the background her heart rate monitor sound goes to zero which was a nice touch. Rena says "Don't you dare underestimate my love!" at this and it’s adorable so I died.

As Yuki finally goes over being made a spy for the world system, she tries pretty hard to play herself up as the villain, but Rena’s having none of that shit, asking if she’s tired of pretending. YOU GET HER RENA. Yuki insists it’s the truth until Rena breaks her by insisting she would lie to protect those she cares about. Understandably, Yuki wants them save themselves by removing the spy, but gives in, rejoining the group as usual.

Tall and smol. Don't tell Yuki I called her smol though.

When I said the later two areas of her Heartscape matched Rena’s, this is significant. Yuki never went stargazing, so the last area was influenced by what she saw in Rena’s Heartscape. Ao is the one to interrupt their lovers’ quarrel and point this out. Good girl. Finally, after all her lying, Yuki asks for help out of her predicament and confesses back to Rena.

Their events together after that point are so cute and sweet I died. I'm actually dead. I wish other girls got this sort of treatment.

For instance, they got into a relationship but they don’t know what to do or say, and awkwardly stumble through it. Or they ask Ao for advice at a couple points, which leads to really cute scenes no matter what choices you pick. It’s especially great when Rena lies to Yuki at one point; the smug ass smile she gets after that tease makes Yuki wonder when she learned to do that.

Their theme of lies and honesty extends to the point that they’re concerned about hurting each other with their natural tendencies. I find it rather well handled, and think them believable characters in that respect, and it’s a cute case of opposites attract. I like that they never condemn Yuki’s lies or Rena’s inability to smooth things over.

Their dynamic in general is also rather funny. Yuki is a mischievous girl that wants to throw paint around the school, and Rena absolutely does not want to deal with the mess her antics will bring. Rena is halfway to team mom, and Yuki is probably the least mature of the lot. Yuki has definitely ran away from Rena after being caught plotting before.

On my second run, I really began to notice exactly how much they were in frame together, interacting, even before Rena's Heartscape. They started all this pretty early. It was also interesting that the one to suggest the telescope that got Rena's Heartscape to pop up was in fact Yuki. The little details were fun to pick up!

No wait I actually need to talk about Rena more

Sorry I baited you, I’m talking about myself.

If my high school self was a fictional character, there’s no way I’d think she was cute, right? She was a butt. I go back and forth between ‘she’s practically a different person’ and ‘maybe we’re not so different’. In this context, I gotta go with the latter. Begrudgingly. Embarrassingly.

I don’t strongly relate to a ton of fictional characters. For Gust games, there’s basically Lotte in a rather depressing way. Rena was a surprise. I liked her as the voice of ‘I don’t get paid enough for this shit’, but the more she talked the more I found myself thinking I was, and am, the same way.

On the more surface level things, I was fairly studious. Not the sort of studious that would study at a deserted island, but I did pretty well and took things seriously. I even had an astronomy kick back in middle school. And I do have a ferocious independent streak; it’s what fuels this very site. I have difficulty trusting people who are not my girlfriend with my precious data, and I have good reason for that.

More than anything else: Rena is every bit the embarrassed dweeb that I am. My face melts when I talk about it; when I talked about it with my girlfriend, I was very glad to have a screen between us. Why am I like this? When I was in HS, it was immensely difficult for me to talk about my interests. There were two reasons for this; the first is that my friend group simply could not relate, and the second is that I just couldn’t, even to very supporting people. My interests were weird and weeb, that’s illegal.

I’ve gotten over the confessing that I like weeb culture thing years ago, but I’m not over the confessing that I dream up and consume fanfiction phase. Ugh. My silly fandom engaging side is there and she’s embarrassed. I wrote up a bunch of notes to write this post, and I’m kind of protective of it like it’s a diary even though 90% of it is a very plain account of what happened in the game… because it has a few genuine comments about what I think. Then I published most of them online like a dork anyway. Like Rena, I’m not that good at lying but being genuine is also difficult at times. I was expecting cute girls, not genuine personal connections!

Congrats to Rena to realizing girls are cute at a much younger age than I did. Smart girl.

A new favorite

Second Light is, without a doubt, one of my favorite games. I find it really funny that it wound up in this position, because at the time of release I wasn’t particularly enthused and had my attention taken by another game. A good chunk of that is my own fault; Gust games are more 'work' than 'fun' since this site was created. It won me over through its sheer gay charm and overall good writing. Ao and Rena are really standout characters for me, and pretty much the full cast is charming in their own way. I’m absolutely hoping for more like this; I’m pretty convinced the Blue Reflection name is dead as heck after the anime failed, but Gust’s non-Atelier projects are usually pretty interesting to me.

Comments