CONTENT WARNINGS: The game contains explicit depictions of rape, gore/body horror, cannibalism, and sexual content involving Saya, who is initially implied to be underage. There is a censored version available on Steam, which (I believe) removes the visuals from the explicit scenes, but leaves in enough dialogue to follow what's happening. I'm playing the full uncensored version, so I don't know exactly what has been removed in the Steam version, but this is what I've heard.

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Saya no Uta is a Nitro+ visual novel written by Gen Urobuchi, released in 2003. Although the inclusion of explicit sex scenes makes it an eroge by definition, it's written and treated as a horror story from the onset. I stumbled upon a comment referencing it when I was reading reviews of sweet pool, another game by the same company, and I rapidly felt compelled to play it. The game is quite short; I played it over three days, and I think I finished it in around 6 hours.

The plot follows a medical student named Fuminori, whose parents are killed in a car accident that nearly kills him as well. He undergoes an experimental neurological surgery that saves his life, but leaves him with an untreatable and undocumented form of agnosia that causes him to view the world as a mass of rotten meat, including his food and other human beings. He is slowly able to adjust to having as close to a 'normal' life as possible, thanks to a girl named Saya, the only thing in the world that his brain doesn't as interpret montrously disgusting.

Above: an example of the 'real' world vs. Fuminori's perspective of a house. The left is completely normal, the right is entirely made of bulbous red meat and tendrils.

The game opens up without any mercy, showing us Fuminori's point of view of the world, with lumps of oozing flesh gurgling and hissing in his ears as he tries to stomach feeding himself rancid goo. In reality, he's having lunch with three of his college friends, who have no idea of his affliction or why his attitude has been so distant since his accident. Alternating between different characters' viewpoints allows us to see Fuminori's actions from both an internal and external perspective, which is quite an interesting and effective storytelling choice.

How Fuminori sees people; a vague fleshy lump, focusing on a 'mouth'. There are two other CGs like this, one focusing on an eye, and one with no features.

There are three possible endings to the game, with only two choices to be made along the way. The first ending serves as an early 'game over' of sorts, near the middle of the game. The other two endings depend on what you select when faced with the second choice.

I found the game very compelling. Most of the reviews I read beforehand were quite positive, either lauding the story in its entirety, or jokingly saying things like "this game is so good, don't ever play it tho". I felt a little sick right at the beginning of the game because I didn't expect the very first thing I saw to be Fuminori's perspective, but it throws you right in the deep end and it was a very effective choice to do so.

Right before you begin, the game asks if you would like to blur or dim the 'grotesque' images, which includes the games' fleshy backgrounds and some CGs (it doesn't censor the sex scenes though). I opted to play with the images blurred because I didn't know if they would bother me. Luckily, there are breaks from the imagery during other characters' perspectives. The backgrounds also stopped bothering me after a while, and there are only 3 CGs they rotate around for the close-ups on the meat creatures' faces, so there's less to be worried about than I thought, at least for me personally.

There are six NSFW scenes in the game, with three occurring in the 'main' route before the first choice and the rest occuring after. Four of the six scenes include assault. The graphic nature of the scenes felt unnecessary, with the assault being especially gratuitous. There are plenty of ways to show that a character is morally warped without resorting to using that as a plot device, especially since the game is perfectly fine using violence instead.

The sex scenes between Saya and Fuminori felt heavy-handed. They're pretty short and easy to skip past, but they didn't add a lot. I think making the scenes less overtly porn-y would really benefit the development of their relationship a lot more than the hentai scenes we get instead. Yes, I know it's a porn game by definition, but the writing in other areas is very intimate and nuanced, so it would have been nice to see that extend to the scenes where Saya and Fuminori are at their most vulnerable with each other.


NSFW Scene List
(Scenes in red contain assault or nonconsensual acts. Highlight to see spoilers for more information. When I played, I just turned the voices off during sex scenes and skimmed the text until they were over.)

1.) Occurs when Fuminori comes home to Saya for the first time. It happens quite suddenly, but is short.
2.) Occurs at Fuminori's house again. Starts with a line similar to "Saya tears my clothes off" or something like that.
3.) Occurs when Fuminori's neighbor encounters Saya and assaults her. It is shown twice, once when it happens, and once a few minutes later when Fuminori comes home. The second time it's shown, the neighbor appears as a flesh monster.

The following scenes occur if the game continues after the first choice.

4.) Occurs when (spoiler) [Tsukaba Yoh] goes to Fuminori's house and encounters Saya.
5.) Occurs after Saya and Fuminori take a bath together. (spoiler) [Saya and Fuminori both assault Yoh.] I would read all of the dialogue leading up to the actual event, then skip the scene itself when it starts.
6.) Occurs after Fuminori gets off the phone with Koji. (spoiler) [Yoh and Saya give Fuminori a blowjob.] The scene is short, with a bit of dialogue where Fuminori tries to figure out what to do about Koji. It's still nonconsensual, but not as graphic as the previous scenes.

There are no more sex scenes in either ending after this point.


The Endings
(spoilers, obviously; click here to skip)

The first ending I got was the one offered at the half-way point. I decided to do that one first so I didn't have to replay the game later. It was... quite empty. That's purposeful, though. Saya offers Fuminori the chance to (spoiler) [cure his condition, so that he can go back to seeing things the way he did before the accident.]. If he takes her up on her offer, that's exactly what happens. [Saya cures him. Fuminori opens his eyes to find his blood-stained home and his neighbor's body, but Saya is nowhere to be found. He is arrested for murder, then sent to a mental institution after psychological evaluation. Saya sneaks in just once to say goodbye. They communicate by texting on a cellphone slipped through the bars of his cell; she doesn't want to mar Fuminori's memories of her body and her voice. He accepts her decision. They don't say much, but they know that this happened because they weren't willing to trust each other completely, to give themselves up wholeheartedly to their love. Saya says goodbye, and Fuminori is content to wait for her if she ever decides to come back. He is comforted by the white walls of his room and is grateful to see such a color.]

This ending feels unsatisfying, but also very realistic. It's kind of heart-wrenching. Saya's offer is probably the most selfless act of any character in the game. She'll lose absolutely everything if Fuminori accepts. She undoubtedly loves Fuminori, more than she cares for her own desires. His happiness is her number one priority, even if that happiness doesn't involve her. By this point, you sort of feel like the very least the game could do is let these two be together. In a weird way, though, this is also the most hopeful ending in the game. [Since Fuminori and Saya's love is the catalyst for the end of the world, I guess them not being together could really be considered the "good" ending. At least they don't die in this ending, and there's a vague potential that they'll speak to one another again.]

When you reach the game's second choice, you have an option to make a phone call to either Fuminori or Ryoko. I went with the Ryoko route first. [Koji calls Ryoko and meets with her, learning more about Dr. Ogai's research and Saya's true nature, although he doesn't believe any of it. The two pair up to meet with Fuminori at his new hideout; Ryoko hides in the trunk so she can sneak in later.

Koji is 'ambushed' by Yoh, transformed into a meat monster, and he beats her to death. Fuminori attacks him with an axe. Saya attempts to break his neck, but is deterred by Ryoko. During the fight, Saya is frozen with a can of liquid nitrogen, and Ryoko takes aim at her with a shotgun. Fuminori cleaves Ryoko in half with his axe, but not before she fires the gun, shattering Saya into pieces. Koji watches as the very last bit of life drains from Fuminori's face. Fuminori smashes his face into the blade of his axe and kills himself. Saya barely manages to crawl her way over to him and touch his face before she, too, dies.

Later, Koji has a nightmare, the same nightmare he's had every night since that event. He suffers from hallucinations, now, a fact that Ryoko's ghost chides him for. Koji manages to get through it the same way that she did: keeping a gun with him for peace of mind, knowing that he's only one bullet away from ending it all once he can't cope anymore.

I... wow. The scene with Koji and Ryoko at the diner was one of my absolute favorites in the whole game. I have no idea why; there was just something so sickeningly real about the way Ryoko spoke and her perspective of the world, and Koji's robotic reactions, unable to understand somebody who's gone so far off the deep end. She regretted everything, but knew she had no choice but to keep going.

This ending was probably where I got the closest to crying. I didn't cry during the game, but I felt the tears well up here. The CG of Fuminori in the pure white background almost broke me. Even just thinking about it now has my eyes wet, actually. The single moment of serenity in that image and his empty expression [before he kills himself] is so powerful. He doesn't hesitate for even a second. There is nothing to think about. Saya is his everything.

The other option that grants the third (and probably 'true' ending) is to call Fuminori instead of Ryoko. [In this case, Koji doesn't have Ryoko to protect him when Saya attacks. Saya breaks his neck and begins feasting on Koji's flesh. She suddenly convulses and Fuminori panics, cradling her in his arms. She tells Fuminori that it's time; she didn't think it would happen so soon. She's going to give him her very last gift. Their children are about to be born.

Fuminori carries her outside, underneath the stars. And then she blooms. Ethereal flower pods burst from her back, unfurling and releasing their spores. Like a dandelion, Fuminori had given her the tiniest bit of love she had needed to spread her seeds.

Weeks later, Ryoko downs her last drops of booze. She finishes her last perusal of Dr. Ogai's notes, fully organized, detailing his theory of the organism's reproductive system. Saya should have birthed her children soon after she came into this world, but the wealth of human literature and emotion thrust upon her left her lost, unable to do so without anyone first showing her love. She became tainted by the notion of romance and could not fulfill her purpose.

Ryoko resigns herself and steps outside, where the city and the earth itself is slowly bubbling up with putrid meat. She is probably one of the few humans left on Earth, but it likely won't be for long. She never got a chance to meet this extraordinary 'Saya', but would have liked to, at least once. She wonders if her new body will still enjoy the taste of vodka like her old one did.

The visuals here are stunning. I almost think the entire game's payoff is in the two CGs of Saya in this ending. It's genuinely beautiful. It's horrible, but you just can't bring yourself to see it like that. Even [the meat dripping from buildings and traffic lights] is somehow beautiful. It's eerie and quiet and lonely. This has been Fuminori's entire life for months on end. Part of you is vindicated that he is no longer alone. The game is masterful at making the player care more about the happiness of two characters than anyone else in the world. The thought that [to Fuminori, who has suffered so heavily in such silence, the world is now a verdant garden bursting with life given to him by the one he loves] is so beautiful. You feel as if he deserves it. You want him to spend his days observing and experiencing every single thing. This ending is explicitly about Ryoko, but you don't even really care; at least, I didn't. My thoughts drifted to Fuminori the entire time Ryoko was talking, and I think that perfectly encapsulates the strength of this game's writing. Whereas the other ending made me want to cry out of actual sadness, this one makes me tear up just from the wealth of emotion behind it.


Overall Thoughts

I actually think I loved this game. It was executed extremely well, and the prose was fantastic. I finished it a few hours ago and thought it was very well done, but I'm still thinking about it a lot, and I think I'll be thinking about it a lot for the forseeable future. It definitely deserves the accolades that I've seen it receive in reviews so far.

The game's ability to build atmopshere is exemplary. In the latter half of the game, especially in the ending that occurs if you call Ryoko, I found myself vividly imagining the conversations and scenes as if they were fully animated and directed. The sound design was also extremely impressive. The most chilling bit of audio in the whole game for me was (spoiler) [Yoh's desperate screams of 'ithurtsithurtsithurts' as she clings to Koji before he kills her]. It happens in both endings, but I got shudders both times I heard it. That particular scene is an example of how masterful the pacing, audio design, and writing are; it was frantic and terrifying and awful to see.

After playing through the whole thing, I see no reason to play the uncensored version over the censored. None of the graphic scenes felt necessary. Although it actually IS important to the story that Fuminori and Saya have sex, and that we know the details of what they get up to, I see no reason that we have to actually watch them do it. The CGs of them nude in bed and in the bath together were tasteful and intimate, so I think just showing that much should be plenty. As long as the dialogue sets up (spoiler) [Saya's pregnancy] later in the game, the visuals don't matter.

As I mentioned before, I played with the 'blur grotesque images' setting on. I turned it off a few times out of curiosity, and kept it off during the last ending. A word of warning: I believe that the CGs in the gallery show the gore fully, even if you have the blurred setting on, so be aware of that. You should still be able to get the full effect of the game with images blurred. I checked out the 'dim images' setting for a moment, too; that one obscured too much for my personal taste, but I appreciate the different options more than I can say! Apparently the producer had the crew add the censorship option because the beta version made him too uncomfortable to play.

I'm extremely glad I played this game. I absolutely understand why people wouldn't want to; it's a tough sell, and absolutely not for everybody, but I feel enriched for having experienced it. I think it deserves it's title as a classic. If you're thinking about playing it, I hope you do so to the level of your comfort, and that it makes a lasting impression you as it did me.

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