Ef: The First Tale
Ef: The First Tale is a story of heartbreak, memories and romance. It is also a tale of memories and finding your path in life. The tale opens with Yuuko Amamiya, a mysterious woman, telling a story to a man in church. Yuuko has been waiting for the man for a long time and the story is about a group of students that she crossed paths with.
The first story is about the reclusive manga artist, Hiro Hirono. After a chance encounter with Yuuko at the church, and then a run-in with a girl named Miyako, Hiro’s world is turned upside down. He is already struggling to balance his job as an artist with school and not doing a very good job of it. Hiro finds the free spirited Miyako to be a nuisance initially, but gradually starts to fall for her advances. This happens much to the dismay of his childhood friend, Kei Shindou, who is secretly harboring feelings for Hiro. The whole love triangle is viewed with bemusement by Kyousuke Tsustumi, a friend of Hiro who finds himself drawn into the tale as well.
Ef is set in the fictional town of Otowa, where the characters attend Otowa Collegiate. The town experienced a devastating earthquake that destroyed nearly everything, but the locals rebuild everything in a European style. This makes for a very unique and beautiful setting which is brought to life by the detailed backgrounds.
The game is a visual novel, so the focus is very much on the story. This means that the events are pretty much set in stone and, although you are given a limited amount of choices, you can’t really alter the course of the tale. Fortunately, the story is very good and the translation done so well that I soon forgot about the lack of interaction and just concentrated on the tale that was unfolding. While the plot might sound like a typical slice of life drama, the interesting characters and scenarios really draw you in. The personality of each character has been captured really well and this is one of those games where you end up caring about each of the characters.
They all have flaws that make them human, but over the course of the game they actually experience growth, which makes them much more relatable than the typical protagonists for the genre. Another interesting aspect is that you actually view the events of the game through the eyes of all the main characters, so you get to experience what they are thinking and feeling. This not only keeps things fresh, but gives you a better understanding about what is going on and why the characters react in certain ways.
What I really loved about Ef is that it is more “realistic” than typical visual novels where the blank faced protagonist is pursued by a harem of girls. The way that the relationships develop between the characters seem natural and the way that they fall in love is quite sweet. This is not to say that unrealistic things don’t happen, the game does have some very mysterious elements, but overall the story is one of hope and growth. Ef is a game for adults, so there are sex scenes, but these occur very late in the game and is quite tame compared to some other titles. The original mosaics have been reduced, but not removed, but honestly this does not detract from the game at all. The way that characters still have to face challenges and deal with setbacks after they have fallen in love is a nice touch, and shows that happy endings require hard work and sacrifice.
Although most of the scenes are static, small touches such as animated mouths and characters with blinking eyes add some life to the images. The game also uses a lot of CG instead of just sprites, which not only looks beautiful but gives the game a very polished look. The resolution is unfortunately capped at 800×600, but there are some settings to toggle to improve the stretching on widescreen monitors. The game features the original Japanese voice acting, but you can toggle individual voices on and off depending on your preferences. There is some profanity but it is pretty mild and never feels gratuitous. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing and the 28 tracks featured in the game rank as some of the best that I have heard in a visual novel to date. The way that the music is woven into the storyline and characters is excellent and perfectly conveys the mood of the game.
Ef is also a much longer game than what I expected as it features two separate, yet related stories. Halfway through the game I thought that the tale was over, only to discover that another chapter, just as long as the first, was starting! Thankfully, both stories are filled with humor and interesting scenarios so I never felt bored. As this is the “first tale” of a two part series, not all secrets are revealed and I can’t wait to see what follows in Ef: The Latter Tale. If you can appreciate a good story and don’t mind a lot of reading then this is simply one of the best visual novels available and comes highly recommended.
- Required CPU: Celeron 566MHz
- Required Memory: (XP) 256MB (Vista/7) 512MB
- Required Resolution: 800×600
- Required Colors: 16bit colors
- Sounds: DirectSound
- Required Graphics: VRAM 32MB
- Required HDD Free Space: 4GB
- DirectX: DirectX 9.0c
- Recommended CPU: Pentium 4 or equivalent Celeron
- Recommended Memory: (XP) 512MB or greater (Vista/7) 1GB
- Recommended Resolution: 1024×768
- Recommended Colors: 32bit colors
- Recommended Graphics: VRAM 128MB
- Recommended HDD Free Space: 5GB