As a gamer, it took me a long time to get around to playing any visual novels. With the assumption that all visual novels were redundant dating sims, I avoided playing any until it was suggested I play Doki Doki Literature Club. After this, I realised that these games can be an excellent way to deliver a horrifying, impactful story… as well as be a dating sim – the conclusion serving as an incisive meta-commentary on the genre stereotypes. Since then, I have opened my mind to a lot of visual novels, but one that has always stood out to me is Saya no Uta, or The Song of Saya, which accomplishes every need of mine from interactive horror literature.
Saya no Uta is a Lovecraftian-inspired horror visual novel with adult elements (depending on what version you have), written by Gen Urobuch, and originally released in 2003 by Nitroplus who has worked with many different companies to help create some of the most well-known visual novels in the market (e.g. Steins;Gate and the Fate series). Nitroplus is known for tackling darker themes in their games such as reanimation of the dead, r*pe, murder, and cannibalism – the extreme nature is embraced as morals are disregarded for unrestrained shock value. Saya no Uta was released officially in 2019 for the West with all scenes having twice the resolution as before, a more competent translation, and appropriate localisation – a refinement to an already sound product only offered by fans privately before.
*Caution, some spoilers ahead*
The plot revolves around Fuminori Sakisaka, a medical student who was the victim of a car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. His life was saved by a largely untested, experimental brain surgery that predictably has unexpected, adverse effects. Awaking from a coma with an exaggerated form of agnosia, he perceives the world differently as a biological mass of blood and guts where humans speak in distortion as grotesque monsters. Unable to come to terms with his surroundings, Fuminori contemplates suicide until he is visited during the night by Saya. To his surprise, Saya’s appearance is that of a normal person, standing out in the literal hellscape of Fuminori’s world and a relief from the nightmarish transformation he’s awoken into.
For a visual novel, Saya no Uta is quite short in length. With only three endings, the story may be completed in approximately 10 hours. The length of the story, however, doesn’t diminish the impact or enjoyment – it is an immaculately atmospheric work that’s a rare success of cosmic horror. Due to this, the game may be a perfect entry point into the world of visual novels as a conduit for horror.
The Design of Saya no Uta is beautifully morbid, with everyday scenes replaced with a Euclid masses of flesh, bile and bone, challenging any true perception of the world and how easy it could be to either damage, even manipulate, one’s own view into a reality so horrifying to be alien from the ordinary one we all know.
The artistic choice to not fully show the monstrous character designs was a smart one, leaving the reader to imagine their own ideas of the Lovecraftian terrors and it adheres to the premise of a schizophrenic reality where nothing is certain.
Saya no Uta’s horror is truly Lovecraftian in nature, building an incredible, atmospheric tension that keeps on building until a violent (canonical) ending, using its disturbing imagery of Fuminori’s warped perception very well to showcase his understandable descent into madness. The game features graphic themes such as murder, cannibalism and in certain versions (I have only played the uncensored version), scenes of rape – users sensitive to such extreme tropes should be cautious. The rape scenes, although, very uncomfortable to sit through as incredibly graphic and fully voiced, are easily among the most horrifying scenes of the visual novel, enhancing the plot as serious consequences of the terror unfolding.
I personally enjoyed the game. It has strong characters with interesting character development and the brutality is more disturbing as it takes its toll on the character’s sanity as their mind declines to reflect the inchoate world. The ruthlessness of the story is relentless and continues to the explosive ending of the visual novel. Similar to a Lovecraftian story, there is no normality to return to for the characters and they have to continue their lives forever changed by their ordeal – it could be described as nihilistic.
I would recommend this visual novel to anyone that enjoys disturbing media, has a strong stomach, and has a love for all cosmic horror.
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Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.