Review: YU-NO (Elf, 1996) (NSFW) 👎

Published 15 August 2022

Content warning for possibly unpleasant sexual subjects.

What Is This

“What on earth… happened to me…”

In 1996, Elf published the original PC-98 release of YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of This World, written by Kanno Hiroyuki, revolutionizing “visual novels.” Through its impressive scale and long playtime, YU-NO set expectations of scope and narrative complexity later titles would emulate, or so many sources allege. Mages published an HD remake of YU-NO in 2017, releasing it in English in 2019. This review, however, regards the extraordinary 2011 fan translation by TLWiki, though it is not a review of the translation itself (aside from one decision regarding the graphics). Not “merely” a translation of a lengthy script, the patch transforms the lackluster 2000 Windows port into a version of YU-NO perhaps more definitive than any other, including the full voice acting from and scenes then exclusive to the Sega Saturn release, the uncensored graphics and script of the PC-98 original, and high-quality versions of Umemoto Ryu’s enchanting FM soundtrack. Please take nothing I say to belittle TLWiki’s outstanding effort, one which seems to have vanished from the internet with the emergence of the Mages remake and its graphics bland as public domain stock photography.

Some writeups of YU-NO shower the multiple-award-winning title with cringing adoration as a moving masterpiece and one of the finest video games ever created. I sometimes wonder if I came from an alternate universe, much like happens in YU-NO, where the version of YU-NO I played is a different beast than the one, in a lengthy Hardcore Gaming 101 article, Audun Sorlie touts as “a true masterpiece” that “remains just as revolutionary as it did in 1996” “not soon to be forgotten or surpassed.” However, the evidence of other people’s gameplay footage, as well as the principle of uniformitarianism, assure me I played the same video game.

The thumbnail of one of my lost videos.

I prefer to avoid writing material as negative as what follows. However, on my Mackerel Phones YouTube channel, I have often referenced YU-NO, as in the Time Zone video whose ideas appeared in my head while recovering from YU-NO. So it would be valuable to explain these references. My let’s play of YU-NO and my largely comedic 2020 video “Who’s Afraid of Yu-no?” are no longer online. Their legacy is a community guidelines strike on my channel and me opting to delete several unrelated quality videos for fear of them possibly violating YouTube’s capricious content policies. The loss of this material has spurred me to return to YU-NO for this third and, I pray, final time in this review and the analytical essay I have also posted to mackerelphones.com. On this website where only I can decide how much nudity is acceptable, I will speak my piece on YU-NO more at length than in “Who’s Afraid of Yu-no?” After all these years, I will break the curse YU-NO cast on me. Some of my points may be nitpicks that I would forgive and not mention in another video game. But the worship of YU-NO, like an extreme masochist, pulls me aside to tell me I must be bloody and brutal. I have expended considerable time on this review and with the essay, so please share it with anyone you think may find it interesting.

To begin, I will address what almost no other YU-NO writeup or review (!) mentions. Here is some ad copy used for the 2017 remake from a post on noisypixel.net: “YU-NO tells the story of a love that awaits from beyond this world.” That love is a mysterious naked woman who appears in the Prologue, and Takuya’s true love and true, final sexual partner in the true ending. And she is his biological daughter.

Most of YU-NO serves as a setup for the final section, what I will call the Epilogue, a half-pedophiliac parent–child incest romance story. “A love that awaits you from beyond this world”—is whoever wrote that trolling? Prior to that point, YU-NO was sometimes pretty and, despite gratuitous rape, casual sexism, poor game design, and other problems hardly shocking for some porn adventure game from the ’90s, largely engaging. But the incestuous finale transforms YU-NO from an unfortunate product of its time into the worst trash I ever made the mistake of playing. When I seem to say anything positive about YU-NO below, please keep in mind this caveat.

Takuya making out with his daughter in the Prologue.
“Papa… You’re getting stiff…” Our hero, everybody!

As the credits rolled and I processed these tens of hours of my life, I felt the unhinged Epilogue had come out of nowhere. Sometimes people describe a story as “firing on all cylinders.” YU-NO’s ending fizzles out and dies on all cylinders, casting a pall over what came before. For endings never emerge from nothing. The Prologue opens with player character Arima Takuya remembering his own father considering him a sexual rival for his mother in his infancy (!) and concludes with Takuya making out with his daughter from the future (!). The player then embarks on a quest whose goal turns out to be having sex with their daughter whom the player raises from infancy in-game to really hammer home that, yes, this is your kid and you should really want to bone your kid. See this actual baby, your actual baby? the script seems to say—you better dream of pounding her pussy.

“Just look at these puffy cheeks. There just has to be something stuffed inside of there.” Her cheeks are quite clearly not puffy.

This epic-scale tale hailed as enthralling and beautiful ends with Takuya choosing to abandon the community, friends, and family the player has spent tens of hours getting invested in to instead spend the rest of his life alone at the beginning of time having sex with his vapid shrill-voiced mommy-child-wife with a child’s brain in an adult’s body who just so, so wants to sniff and fuck her dad. Her name? Yu-no.

YU-NO, then, may as well be entitled Fuck Your Daughter Quest. This is the ending, the point of YU-NO set out in the very title. That elf child on the cover is supposed to turn you on. Player self-insert Takuya is a pedophile, saying, over an image of full-frontal child nudity, “she started becoming well-fleshed in all the pivotal positions, making me unsure of where to rest my eyes. Even if it’s your own daughter, it’s still a naked girl running around in front of you. It’s hard to just shut down your instincts.”

The one screenshot I will censor. Every person who preaches about how great YU-NO is or dares defend Takuya has to answer for this shit.

I hope this isn’t what the reviewer on noisypixel.com meant when the praising the sugary-sweet raise-and-fuck-your-daughter ending route for “having a reasonably shocking twist” (I can think of only one other twist, the Ayumi spit-take I describe below in “The Worst Ending of All Time”). Retroactively, characters asking Takuya what his plans for the future might be or even showing him trust send a chill down one’s spine. When, in the Prologue, his stepmother Ayumi tells Takuya that her wish is “for [him] to walk wholeheartedly on the path [he chooses,]” this path is abandoning the rest of humanity to become his own daughter’s sexual partner. I am tempted to say a human writer, but out of respect for Kanno, I will say a good writer would craft this scenario as a visceral condemnation of Takuya. But, with sappy romantic music and sappier writing, YU-NO depicts this relationship as aspirational. This must be that “revolutionary” quality Sorlie refers to. I can’t think of anything else quite like it!

That Sorlie glosses over the story being about how incestuous love saves universe as YU-NO being “cerebral in the ways it challenges morals and logic” is laughable. Let us read some of that “cerebral” dialogue challenging conventional morality:

“Why can’t parent and child make love to each other?”
“T-that’s, well… hmm, I wonder why.”

Takuya concludes that because there are no laws against it in the parallel world he is in, parent–child incest is acceptable. Really makes you think. Dostoevsky got nothing on this ponderous philosophizing. Move over, Bataille—my notions of morality can never recover from such a thoroughgoing attack. /s

Overall, YU-NO is quite conservative politically and not even in a self-conscious enough way to coherently argue anything, except, as Takuya pretentiously huffs about in the Mio route, that whistleblowers exposing government corruption should not have their anonymity preserved. There is nothing “challenging” about it. Some might speak well of the writing’s unashamed attitude toward sex, but in literal porn, this is a moot point.

TAKUYA: “‘Freedom of expression’ is only reserved for those who sign with their real names, and can take responsibility for what they write.” This might be a joke since Kanno wrote under an alias!

YU-NO is not a good incest story. This scenario should elicit complicated emotions. Instead, there is no drama—for Kanno, the semi-pedophiliac fantasy is saccharine fluff. Up to this ending, with each click of the mouse, Takuya rambles at length about plant respiration, why office chairs have five legs, and of course every woman’s chest or thighs he sees. Yet somehow, after transgressing the ultimate taboo, Takuya only remarks he is glad Yu-no is finally asleep. Does Yu-no ask her father for sex out of irrational despair over her imminent (likely) death? Does Takuya regret it? In what way is the power dynamic between Takuya and his daughter influencing the situation? What do Takuya’s friends make of what happened? Do any of them suspect it? How about Eriko, who earlier seems annoyed Takuya implies he cannot trust himself to be alone with his daughter? None of this interests Kanno. There are no effects on the characters’ psychology. There is no interrogation of character motives or dynamics. How could there be? Takuya and Yu-no have no chemistry or rapport or tension. They are not characters who experience regret or doubt or development, beyond the latter’s hips and bust widening.

“It was a bit awkward to have your kid find out about what went on in the bedroom at night,” says Takuya while engaging in foreplay with his kid.

The airheaded Yu-no who looks like a bodacious babe and sounds and acts like a young child is an atrocious character but apparently such a point of pride for the creators that they named this “masterpiece” after her. If Kanno removed Yu-no’s obsession with fucking with her own father to the point of deliberately interrupting him and her mother having sex, there would be no Yu-no character left. Takuya is also so brainless despite his literal hours of babbling that there could never be much psychology to depict or explore. Somehow, Kanno cannot squeeze emotion out of a scenario more visceral than the highfalutin sci-fi universe collisions and time loop and ghostly possession of the finale that the incestuous deflowering kicks off. But of course there is no drama: in YU-NO, parent–child incest is straightforwardly sweet. What is there to feel complicated about? Instead of shocking or even sexy in a taboo fetish kind of way, this lovey-dovey incest is maudlin. To quote myself, YU-NO is like “a Lolita but tabooer, pulp sci-fi, and written much worse by an author who considers the relationship wholesome.” At least write your trash compellingly.

In addition to this review, I have also written “Reject Society, Embrace Incest: YU-NO, Virtual Sex with Your Own Daughter.” This more formal essay details my analysis of YU-NO. Given that people apparently cannot notice even what literally happens in YU-NO, I feel it is necessary to bum everyone out. Have fun. 😄

If you choose not to read my essay, please be aware that YU-NO may be creepier than this review lets on, that the more one considers it, the worse the implications become, and not in a good horror way.

Prologue: Before ADMS

YU-NO’s Prologue alone took me about four hours to complete. It uses a menu-based interface typical for Japanese adventure games of the time, much like earlier titles Kanno and Umemoto worked on, such as DESIRE. The gameplay is equally typical, with a single ending and no story-altering choices. The player navigates a menu to select every option repeatedly, while almost nothing happens, until a flag is triggered and the software allows the story to continue its glacial crawl.

Shake it, madam. Capital knockers.

In the Prologue, over the course of two days, the player becomes acquainted with Arima Takuya, a failing student at Sakaimachi Academy and terrifying sex offender, though Kanno (and Sorlie, for that matter) seems to believe this sundowning teenager is intelligent. In addition to his stunts like public stripping or having sex inside the school history lab, Takuya is so horny that his peers know him as “the walking libido.” Two months before the Prologue, Takuya’s heinous father, “the old bastard” Arima Koudai, a hypermasculine blowhard and academic historian, dies in a landslide. In response, to conceal his pain, Takuya withdraws from the kendo club and many of his previous relationships. Takuya’s ordinary goofy porn world life shatters when he receives a package. Not the porn he ordered (for this is porn world), it is a mysterious device called the Reflector and a letter from the allegedly dead Koudai telling Takuya to travel to Triangle Mountain, a local coastal landmark with undeciphered ancient inscriptions. There Takuya encounters, passed out on the ground, a naked woman—whom we do not yet know is Yu-no. Before he can get help, Yu-no sits up, makes out with her dad, and vanishes into thin air. I found this moment amusing, interesting, even, dare I say it, somewhat cute as a setup. If only I had known. Next Ryuuzouji, the headmaster of Sakaimachi Academy and former colleague of Koudai and a third researcher named Imagawa, holds Takuya up at gunpoint, demanding the Reflector. Then—a flash of white light transports Takuya three days back in time, and the logo appears in a highly stylish opening. One of the more elaborate porn setups I’ve heard of.

“Everything that has happened thus far has gone in accordance with Koudai Arima’s scheme… this includes that which you’ve come to possess.” Note Kanna is in the upper left.

Despite a hilarious amount of padding, particularly in the interminable dinner scene (let’s hear Takuya chewing some more to really sell that he is eating dinner), the Prologue excellently sets up all the main characters and driving mysteries of the story:

1. Who is the naked disappearing woman?
2. What is Triangle Mountain?
3. Where did the Reflector come from?
4. Why is Ryuuzouji prepared to kill over the Reflector?
5. Is Koudai alive, and if so, where is he?
6. Why did Koudai send Takuya the Reflector?

By feigning conventional, dull eroge gameplay and scenarios, YU-NO subverts expectations when it segues into an epic-scale sci-fi time travel thriller. Paralleling the explosion of Takuya’s former life, the Prologue’s harshly linear menu-based navigation, suggesting a game like Kanno’s earlier work, explodes into a whole world to explore with a point-and-click interface that allows the player to thoroughly examine every environment—and every woman’s body—for Takuya’s commentary.

So begins the “Auto Diverge Mapping System” (ADMS) section, purportedly mind-blowing in 1996. The ADMS segment constitutes the vast majority of YU-NO. My playthrough totaled more than eighty hours, and of these, the Prologue constituted about four and the Epilogue about ten. With more efficiency, YU-NO could probably be completed in more like fifty or sixty hours and even fewer if the player does not bother to listen to the voice acting. I will elaborate on the ADMS and how shallow it is in the “Auto Diverge Mapping System” segment below.

Gameplay and Presentation

Most sources classify YU-NO as a “visual novel.” But YU-NO is a completely different type of video game than the original “visual novel,” Shizuku, which came out earlier the same year. Nor is YU-NO what English-language writers usually identify as a “visual novel.” In reality, in the Prologue and Epilogue, YU-NO is a menu-based adventure game and, in the main ADMS section, a point-and-click open-world adventure game complete with an inventory system, occasional puzzles, and a sprawl of branching and interwoven story paths.

The player clicks on characters, objects, and the environment to engage in a variety of verbs.
Putting that point-and-click interface to good use?
A rare obvious branching story moment. Will Takuya give Ayumi the documents or wait to use them for other ends?
Takuya adds an item, the wooden sword, to his inventory.

YU-NO stands at an interesting spot partway between a standard adventure game and what “visual novel” has come to mean. With deeper choice and interactivity than most menu-based adventure games, YU-NO is in some ways less like a “visual novel” than Kanno’s earlier work like DESIRE. This suggests the incoherency with which critics and fans tend to apply the term “visual novel” to a variety of distinct genres.

😘

Many eroge feature different story routes based on different player choices. The design encourages the player to see every ending and so every girl naked. YU-NO takes this design path and may have helped codify it. The “romanceable” characters of the ADMS section—that is, the characters with sex scenes—are Arima Ayumi, Shimazu Mio, Hatano Kanna, Takeda Eriko, Ichijou Mitsuki, and Asakura Kaori. Of them, Ayumi, Mio, Kanna, and Mitsuki have their own distinct routes, each longer than most movies. Multiple routes feature Eriko prominently, her role most important in Kanna’s and Mitsuki’s. During the latter, she receives an H scene. Kaori is most involved in the Ayumi route and the Kanna route. The “Kaori route” that features her H scene functions more as a branch of the Kanna route to attain the Hypersense Stone from Geo Technics so that the good Kanna ending can be achieved, as opposed to the cohesive dramatic arc the other routes offer. Takuya also has sex with Kaori on the Ayumi route, but oddly enough, there is no porn scene. Each story route features a good and a bad ending and possible dead ends along the way that demand the timeline be restarted. After the true true ending—that is, after the semi-pedophiliac father–daughter incest arc—every route’s “true ending” is unlocked. This short scene follows a given route’s good ending and features Takuya, rather than restarting the time loop, enjoying a happily-ever-after with the player’s chosen partner.

In the ADMS section, the player explores these four overall story routes across parallel timelines. The events partially overlap and transpire during the same three days and nights, including the two days of the Prologue. What choices the player makes, usually meaning what locations the player happens to visit, affect which story route Takuya embarks on, but never intuitively. All of Takuya’s progress along a given timeline is charted automatically in a diagram the player can access at any time. I never found much meaning in its seemingly arbitrary bends and turns but appreciate the cosmological forces they imply.

The ADMS branching timeline diagram.

The branching story, inventory system, open-ended structure, and ability to explore the setting result in a feeling of greater freedom than the term “visual novel” connotes. Instead of a passive spectator watching PNGs spew text, I could inhabit Sakaimachi as I might the world of a platformer or RPG.

While mentioning positives, the pixel art is top-notch, evocative and often beautiful. The character designs by Nagaoka Yasuchika are a more mixed bag, all with a generic ’90s anime look, not bad but not interesting either. Relative to the 2017 remake designs, which are also generic for their own generation and look too young, the original art direction favors more robust anatomy: instead of needly noodle limbs, the women are somewhat meatier. All have considerable hips and busts except for Kanna and (most of the time) Mio, but by anime standards, their shapely figures are realistic—Eiken, thankfully, YU-NO is not.

Weird camera angles aim to show as much of the women’s bodies at the highest resolution the HUD allows, becoming visually interesting for more than sex appeal.

The characters’ resultant sense of weight and presence, the way light shines off hair and eyes and radiant skin, the warm colors, glinting glass, and lived-in detail of the environments ease the player into a luscious atmosphere. Illustrations even of characters sitting around often achieve a dreamy eroticism. The background art is gorgeous, the city at night romantic. And the background art is at times scary, as in the blackness and jagged rock of the Triangle Mountain caves. What jars is how often the artwork is at odds with the narrative, however uneven that narrative is, framing as erotic scenes that, in terms of the dialogue and action, are not erotic whatsoever. I will elaborate below in the “How Lewd!” section.

“H-how rude, I don’t weigh fifty kilograms.”
“Ahh… what a gentle kiss…”
Alluring downtown Sakaimachi. Takuya often refuses to walk to this area.
The town at twilight. Meiunji Park, Mio’s house, and Kanna’s apartment are visible.
A hotel room.
Takuya venturing into the desert in the Epilogue.

Aside from the goofy design of Kaori and occasional illustrations that are weird for reasons other than distracting or (particularly for the child Yu-no) distasteful eroticism, the character sprites suffer from a peculiar flaw: none of the men blink. Every woman’s sprite blinks, even in event CGs. The security guard at Geo Technics, an unnamed bit character, receives a blinking animation. Meanwhile, not a single man’s sprite, no matter how important he is to story, no matter how often he appears, ever blinks. Call Sakaimachi “Innsmouth” because it’s full of fish-men. Is this some weird bug of the translation patch?

By incorporating illustrations previously exclusive to the Sega Saturn release, the TLWiki translation introduces a new graphical flaw. The hackers opted to squish and stretch this artwork to fit within YU-NO’s attractive gray HUD, resulting in wonky character proportions and shoddy background details. While this method would not be optimal either, to preserve their intended proportions, the TLWiki team should have cropped these illustrations instead.

Squished!

This issue is most noticeable in the above artwork of Amanda lying beside the campfire, the moon egg-shaped and Amanda so long and thin one could snap her like a twig.

The strongest point of YU-NO is easily Ryu Umemoto’s incredible music. Some is pure magic, particularly combined with the evocative pixel art—at least when a goofier character or panty shot is not on screen. “Movement 2,” a kind of daytime overworld theme, reminds me a bit of Chrono Trigger, maybe for the bass. Somehow it sounds like how the sea breeze of Sakaimachi would feel, capturing the spirit of a journey beginning. YU-NO achieves moments of genuine wonder and beauty—finding the Hypersense Stone in Geotechnics (featuring the track “Rare Metal”), traveling through the woods to the well on Ryuuzouji’s estate, seeing Kanna waiting alone in the twilight—and Umemoto’s music and the soft light and softer eroticism of the pixel art bridge most of the distance to capturing this power.

Kaori looks upon the Hypersense Stone, intrigue over which fuels much of the plot.
On Ryuuzouji’s property.
“Well, you can’t really judge a girl from her appearance.” Takuya wonders if Kanna is waiting for one of her boyfriends.

Triangle Mountain would not feel half as awesome and tranquil without the solemn “Omen” and other associated tracks. The dreamy and bittersweet charm of their unmistakable respective musical themes still strikes me when I sometimes hum them, forcing me to recall Mio and Kanna. And despite how gross YU-NO gets, “Claire de Lune,” which plays during Takuya’s meetings with Eriko, Mio, and Kanna at the café Evening, may continue to stir memories of my impressions before I realized I had given YU-NO too much credit, fond memories of nighttime café chats involving history, cigarettes, and adventure—with big boobs and white panties too. The player can fiddle with a jukebox in Evening to hear different background music instead. Though I would prefer “Claire de Lune” trigger memories of Flower, Sun, and Rain.

MIO: “Well, below my waist, but above my thighs… hey, what are you trying to make me say!?” Some classy dialogue at Evening.

While the writing maintains a plodding tone, the music has range. Some tracks are funny, such as “!?” which plays, among other instances, in the scene when Takuya follows the old sex comedy trope of walking in on a girl while she is naked in the bathroom, except here the girl, Kanna, does not care at all and instead jokes:

“Is there something odd down there?”

The word that “!?” evokes is “hanky-panky.” There is also “FANKY TANG,” used in some goofy bonus content, including the Picross minigame “Erinrin’s Private Lesson” where victory means Eriko sitting on your face. With no shame do I admit I am vulgar enough to find this charming.

Picross in Erinrin’s Private Lesson.

Umemoto piles on the tension for the frightening moments too. Hidden within YU-NO is more than disgusting incest crap—there is also a thriller, at times an outright horror story, strongest on the Mitsuki and Mio routes. The oppressive journey into the tunnels beneath Triangle Mountain is a particular standout. In the darkness of the passageways, the sound of dripping water and sparing use of music, the player undertakes a point-and-click puzzle sequence involving using medals in stone gates. The etching of the devil on the floor is particularly creepy, the implied age of the technology Lovecraftian. The horror of the ancient corpses—their poses testament to the violence of their deaths—of Imagawa’s mummy, of the claustrophobic passageways black as those of Shadow Tower, and even the shocking death of Takuya’s best friend Yuuki and the subsequent high-octane encounter with the deadly ancient watchtower, possibly with Mitsuki there trying to gun Takuya down on Ryuuzouji’s behalf, would not achieve the tone without chilling tracks like “Fear” and “Manifestation.” How sad that Umemoto used his talent on this.

Before I forget, this being YU-NO the Disappointing, the oppressive journey into Triangle Mountain prominently involves deciphering an ancient numeric system and figuring out how to use a mechanism to open a door. The apparatus operates off—Picross.

Decipher the Dela Grante numerals in this fun game of Picross!

At the time, as I had never played Picross, the sophistication and complexity of the puzzle and the stressful music “Room” blew me away. Then I realized, and the single most standout sequence of YU-NO is defanged. Maybe these are the ruins Mario and Wario were exploring in the Game Boy Mario Picross games. Maybe the Dela Grante theocracy’s computers, instead of a password system, use Sudoku—no wonder Ayumi somehow knows how to use their Grandmother supercomputer in the Epilogue!

AAAHHH! Too close! Back off!

Auto Diverge Mapping System

More than any other single feature, the ADMS and corresponding time travel or universe-hopping mechanics described with an impressive degree of thoroughness, plausibility, and coherency seem to be what the nonces and incest apologists cite as the core of YU-NO’s brilliance. Let’s do what Kanno did not and think about it for a while.

In gameplay terms, the ADMS section follows the time-honored video game collection structure, for the player’s gameplay objective over these repeating three days is to recover the Reflector’s six missing jewels. Takuya begins with two. At the end of the three days, Takuya, often after some tragedy, finds himself warped back to the beginning of the cycle. The player preserves their entire inventory between each time hop. Majora’s Mask does it better.

At any time outside of dialogue, Takuya can deposit a jewel at his current position on the timeline on the ADMS diagram, a quick save the player can restore from any other point on any timeline. Returning to the quick save point returns the jewel to the Reflector interface in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. There are no true “game overs” in YU-NO. Even facing certain death, Takuya can use the Reflector to return to any jewel save or restart the timeline, which occurs after every “good ending” anyway. Each jewel can be reused an infinite number of times, but the limited number of jewels demands strategy that can only be developed from trial and error (or a walkthrough). Overcoming certain obstacles and puzzles requires jewel saves. Some are so unintuitive and random it is remarkable anyone figured out what to do—the worst is attaining the rope from Ryuuzouji’s storehouse, which Takuya always refuses to take except for at a certain arbitrary point on a timeline unconnected to the Mio route on which the rope is necessary. This is despite the rope always being there. Because each additional jewel permits an additional quick save, finding more jewels permits more freedom to explore the three days and uncover the histories and assorted melodrama affecting the people in Takuya’s life.

Ryuuzouji’s broken universe-hopping apparatus about to warp Takuya to another timeline in one possible “bad ending.”

The time travel in YU-NO is not time travel per se but hopping between parallel universes, as explained early on in a lengthy essay written by Koudai, Ryuuzouji, and Imagawa. According to this “lore,” after timeline-hopping, it is impossible, without the use of a device like the Reflector, to ever return to the same universe one traveled from, a haunting and intriguing idea. Could one become at home in a universe so similar to the universe one came from if aware of its alienness? Or would that universe be alien at all? Takuya very occasionally wonders if he can ethically have sex with people when he is not the Takuya they think he is and they are not the people he knew in his life up to that point. Not that this stops him. The ADMS technobabble, then, seems poised to serve as the skeleton for an astonishing time-travel and parallel universe plot. However, in effect, the ADMS is no such thing.

A small portion of the explanation of how the Reflector works.

Contrary to common claims, YU-NO is not really a time travel story. Only in the Epilogue, when the ADMS vanishes, is YU-NO a parallel world story. The ADMS is merely a context within which the player can see every woman’s route in a single story, rather than as mutually exclusive possibilities. Furthermore, Takuya retains no memory of each time loop, guaranteeing he can never learn anything and rendering the drama of each storyline narratively vacuous. For Takuya to loop through these three days and lose his memory each time suggests a true nightmare. Surely he is in the loop for centuries, ever clueless. The ability to move between universes raises many ethical and existential questions. Takuya witnesses Mitsuki’s tragic death, but is she really dead? Are there not an indefinite number of other, identical Mitsukis?

“In this world model, the prospect of conservation of mass is appended to the infinite multiplication model.”
“Upon migration, a copy (multiplication) of the present world is formed. Up until this point, it bears much similarity to theory (2).”
“However, along with this migration, the world that has the slimmest potential of existence – in other words, the least realistic world – is annihilated.”
“The cumulative amount of energy is preserved, and the mass of the parallel worlds is retained at a constant value…”

If the least probable timelines are annihilated as new timelines come into being, as Koudai, Ryuuzouji, and Imagawa’s research suggests, Takuya must be destroying whole universes. Presumably this more than cancels out whatever good there is Yu-no saving “his” universe (i.e. the universe of the Prologue). In the Epilogue, why does Takuya care that the Dela Grante dimension will collide with the one he came from? Why is this one’s destruction more significant than the unlikely universes that interdimensional travel apparently destroys in accordance with entropy? Why is it okay for Takuya to destroy universes flippantly and unintentionally? Or is he doing this at all? Is the theory wrong?

Apparently, each universe in the ADMS segment has its own Takuya. What happens to this Takuya when the player’s Takuya appears? At the end of the Kaori route, Ayumi speculates that, upon the restarting of the timeline, another, identical Takuya manifests to replace the player’s Takuya. In this case, using the Reflector to escape perilous situations dooms someone else, another interesting situation Kanno introduces to never address. Or is it dooming anyone? Isn’t the new Takuya who would appear also in the midst of his own adventure with the Reflector?

AYUMI: “So even if you move to a neighboring world, another Takuya-kun will take your place.”

The end of the Mio route features a display of situational awareness so shocking it was touching. Takuya admits, “I don’t know what happens exactly.” After the Reflector returns Takuya to the start of the time loop, the perspective lingers on Mio. Her dialogue makes unambiguous that Takuya has vanished, no new Takuya replacing him. What is going on?

TAKUYA: “I don’t know what happens exactly, either. But in any case, I will disappear from this place… apparently.”
MIO: “Arima-kun!! I hate these kind of jokes! Show yourself!”

Rather than a mystery to be solved, this fundamental piece of worldbuilding proves beneath consideration. YU-NO fails to grapple with Takuya’s powers or their existential implications, instead prioritizing clicking around for hours for irrelevant environmental observations, endless dirty jokes, Takuya drooling over breasts, repetition of lines about how Takuya is attracted to Ayumi even though she is his mother gosh darn it (let’s say this a hundredth time in case the player missed it), etc. Especially the repetition. Did I mention the script is redundant? Let me explain it this way: the script keeps repeating stuff. Repeating what? The same information. Who is repeating this? Takuya, mostly. Mostly what? I mean Takuya is the one who repeats most of the same information mostly, and is sure to draw it out, too, and add a sex joke. Kanno found nothing he could say with one line he preferred not to say with five. In writing the story, he also has horrendously misplaced priorities (aside from being a pedophile).

The ADMS is a more complicated version of the parallel storyline systems Kanno devised for earlier eroge, DESIRE and EVE: Burst Error. These feature two simultaneous plots, both starring a different character. Controlling this character instead of the other offers the player new perspectives on the underwhelming, gross, distended story (DESIRE also involves pedophilia directed at a blonde twelve-year-old who looks like Yu-no). After YU-NO, Kanno returned to this earlier, simpler model with the “Multitime Zapping System” of the 1998 Exodus Guilty, featuring three different related storylines in different time periods. Compared to these other titles, the ADMS adds more parallel storylines (at least four); narrative branching based on player choice, as opposed to a single route for a given character’s story; and relatively free movement between the distinct routes, instead of cordoning the routes off from each other. The time travel and parallel universe concepts are dressing. Under these clothes, the ADMS is an excuse to hop between different storylines, an excuse flashy enough to use in marketing. This is why Takuya retains no recollection of events between story routes but, when loading a jewel save, instantly regains full memory of what he would have been doing on that timeline: the parallel worlds are not a sincere exploration of the parallel worlds concept but just different stories happening over the same span of time, as Kanno was already accustomed to writing. The difference is that for YU-NO the stories happen to star someone who is supposed to be the same character, instead of each starring a unique character. In addition, the developers had a higher budget and were, evidently, hornier (in a gross instead of fun way, sadly).

The ADMS is an intriguing gameplay hook. Its primary function is to ensure the protagonist faces no consequences, ever, no matter what, so that the story barely matters. In a standard time loop story, the character experiencing the time loop learns more and changes over the course of the looping. But in YU-NO, no matter what happens, even Takuya cannot change. Mitsuki’s death means nothing, Yuuki’s death means nothing, Kanna’s death means nothing, Ayumi’s death means nothing—come to think of it, a lot of characters die. None of their deaths matter because the player can and will simply restart the timeline. After a few seconds of drama, Takuya gets over it. While there are not true game overs, these are game overs in effect—in this crass game over, Ayumi slits her wrists as a cheap way to tug at a player’s heartstrings, and in this one, Yuuki breaks his neck to shock the player into feeling sad for a few seconds as they wonder when the extraordinarily stupid Takuya will remember the Reflector.

In a bad ending to the Mio route, Kanna reminds Takuya he has the Reflector to escape this tomb where he will leave her.

In most video games, a game over is treated as a mistake in the story. Mario did not die. He survives. The player is the one who screwed up the story, so now they will try to play their role better this time. In YU-NO, however, all these events happen irrevocably, in the diagram the characters speak of as Vrinda’s Tree (as though it is a mystical force and not just a complicated tree diagram). These are parallel universes. By reaching good endings, Takuya is not saving any of his friends or lovers. Because he loses his memory, Takuya is not even, in his internal emotional perspective, avenging someone from a different universe. Yuuki or whoever else dies and stays dead. It is some other Yuuki the player might save, having abandoned another world to its tragedy. Similarly, Takuya’s romances are meaningless. The exception is his one true love, his daughter, since he loses the Reflector when he chooses her. Takuya can have sex with every woman yet cheat on none of them and feel authentic love for each one without any emotional complications. Takuya and his lover’s sappy or perhaps tissue-worthy expressions of devotion lend false gravity to what in truth can be only casual flings. For Takuya forgets them, leaving a bereaved girl he will never see again in another universe. In characteristic clueless fashion, Kanno fails to consider the chain of trauma and heartbreak that Takuya leaves in his wake. There is a Reflector, but there is no reflection.

In, for instance, Mega Man, running and shooting is fun for its own sake, not demanding deeper coherence. This action is the core of the video game, the narrative only a context for it. But in a narrative-focused video game like YU-NO, the lack of meaning is a flaw. A sci-fi story that does not engage with its sci-fi concepts fails as a sci-fi story. YU-NO manages vacuity despite the verbosity, its most lauded feature analogously hollow.

SLUUURP SLURP SLURP

Clicking on Everything at Random

Kanna shortly after the player has clicked all over her mostly naked body at random for a few minutes.

While the narrative is more involved and dramatic than King’s Quest V, YU-NO is still a ’90s adventure game with the unfortunate trial-and-error design that implies. Initially, the freedom and nonlinearity of the ADMS section feel liberatory. However, advancement through time requires the player to perform certain strict sequences of events, rarely with any logical connection between them. A deep aimlessness pervades the design. Rarely does YU-NO offer guidance on where to go or what to do. This would be acceptable if many opportunities for interactions and new moments presented themselves, but they do not. The result is that Takuya might have a conversation with Ayumi but then wander Sakaimachi for several real-life minutes for no reason until by random chance he stumbles into the next disconnected story event. Clicking at random is near-constant, and often I would visit every available location and still nothing would happen. Aside from the boredom and frustration, this gameplay also characterizes Takuya as a brainless klutz who has no idea what he is doing or where he is going.

Takuya’s characterization as a bumbling oaf as slow on the uptake as a sack of rocks is consistent through writing as well as gameplay. He constantly forgets basic information, such as how, on Kanna’s route, he leaves Kanna’s apartment to get antipyretics and instantly forgets what he is doing (his ADHD is more severe than mine). Takuya is also so slow on the uptake that it would be hilarious if the emotional stakes were not so high—or if the player checks out long before I did. To stick with the Kanna route for examples, when Takuya opens the door to Kanna’s apartment, he finds her passed out on the floor because the Hypersense Stone she depends on for survival is increasingly losing its charge. (She depends on this stone because she is part of the “Celestial race” of Dela Grante. So is Takuya, but he must have lucked out genetically.) Instead of letting the player help Kanna, the video game mandates that the player click around aimlessly for a while as Takuya wonders if this person who is in Kanna’s apartment and who has Kanna’s face, hair, and clothes is Kanna. Who else could she be? Takuya already knows she is ill and faints sometimes. Why prolong the scene like this?

TAKUYA: “Why is she lying on the floor in front of the entrance…?”

This sequence is not half as enraging or, in the depths of its stupidity, hilarious as later on, when Takuya watches Houjou hold Kanna up at knifepoint. Since this is the rare situation in which Takuya’s over-the-top-aggressive masculinity might be useful, the blowhard instead keeps repeating that he needs to get a sense of the situation while the player clicks around more or less at random for a few minutes. Yes, Takuya, the creepy guy you hate who is after Kanna’s necklace and you now know is working for an alien monster with brainwashing powers is holding Kanna up at knifepoint, demanding her necklace. Golly, what could be going on?

TAKUYA: “Wait… I still don’t have a grip on the situation!” So many ways to read the situation! Let’s see how this plays out.

I still do not know how YU-NO determines when these sequences end. It is not when the player reads every possible line of text. From repeating the scene when Kaori has Takuya search Ayumi’s office at the Geo Technics headquarters, I know it is also not when the player clicks on the correct spot. Likely it has to do with achieving a certain arbitrary number of clicks and/or clicking on certain objects (and/or feminine anatomy) in a specific and arbitrary order. Writing this in retrospect, I find the amount of wasted time funny, like a prank Elf pulled on me. But for the poor sod playing YU-NO, where the filler totals not minutes but hours, to call the gameplay and writing a snooze is an understatement. As I have mentioned in, among other places, my video about Idol Hakkenden and my review of SNATCHER, similar flag-hunting sequences are also, unfortunately, standard among Japanese adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s. Not an original design flaw, in YU-NO it simply occurs in a point-and-click interface instead of in menus. A “revolutionary” video game would have broken with this design tradition, not carried it on exactly.

Takuya finds a jewel sitting around Triangle Mountain.

Except for the one inside the clock in Koudai’s study, which the stylish introductory cutscene depicts Koudai hiding, none of the jewel locations make narrative sense. For example, in an inexplicable and hostile design choice, the player can only find a certain jewel by reading the same expository document in Takuya’s room twice. People complain about accidentally asking Kaepora Gaebora to repeat exposition in Ocarina of Time, but imagine if the only possible way to attain one of that video game’s Spiritual Stone MacGuffins was deliberately repeating this exposition and that at no point did the designer see fit to drop a hint. Antagonistic design was all too common in ’90s adventure games, albeit less so in Japan, but does YU-NO no favors.

Takuya, and hence the player, simply must hope they stumble across the jewels at random. Trial-and-erroring this much content might take well over a hundred hours, skipping through same three days’ worth of scenes over and over and over again to return to divergence points to see what might, maybe, make a difference this time. One particular divergence point involves choosing whether or not to return Mio’s notebook, even though there is no rational reason Takuya would not do so in this scene. Combined with certain unintuitive dead ends on several timelines and the mountain of fluff dialogue, exacerbated by the time loop structure’s mandated repetition of many of the same already frequently minor events again and again, a huge portion of the player’s time with YU-NO consists of filler. Witty or just bizarre descriptions of the environment and pervy remarks about women’s breasts might be amusing at first but wear out their welcome the tenth time the player clicks through them. Perhaps YU-NO lures players in using the sunk cost fallacy. The necessity that the player behave irrationally all the time and Takuya’s constant need to repeat information over and over to grasp obvious facts must be among those ways YU-NO cerebrally challenges logic that Sorlie refers to.

Harlan Ellison Interlude

At risk of someone pointing this out, I am aware these parallel world and time travel concepts may be loose derivations from the 1969 Harlan Ellison short story “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.” That is, as opposed to YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of This World.

In his story, Ellison introduces a concept of parallel universes existing in parallel timelines. He describes their positions relative to another plain of being, “the center,” with the word “crosswhen.” Kanno must have liked this idea. However, the “bound of this world” where Yu-no is born is not analogous to the “center” or “heart of the world” Ellison refers to. The bound in YU-NO refers to the edge of Dela Grante, a continent in space in a parallel universe that lacks the infinite cosmic importance of Ellison’s “heart of the world.”

Sayless sitting at the literal bound of this world.

According to Koudai and Eriko in YU-NO, “history” is not a chain of sequential events moving forward in time but rather a “flow of causality” stemming from the original cause, Takuya having sex with Yu-no (during a meeting with Ryuuzouji on the Miutski route, Kanno hilariously rejects the Big Bang theory out of hand—yeah, it’s not that, stupid, it’s Takuya cumming in his daughter). In “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” a cause (“insanity”) ripples through universes crosswhen the “center” backward and forward through time—“everywhere and everywhen”—in the form of “degenerate force-lines.” Causality transcends spacetime in Ellison’s fiction too.

This reference is cerebral, and there is nothing wrong with copying concepts. But I overstate the connection. I think “この世の果てで恋を唄う少女” are just words that sound cool in a title. Kanno derived them from a slightly relevant piece of fiction to score some big brain points.

Characters

TAKUYA: “You know what they say. When a girl says no, she actually means yes.” Way to undercut a selfless, heroic moment, Takuya.

Takuya is the worst kind of character, one loathsome but whom author does not consider loathsome, a clueless clownish sex pest obsessed with fucking his mom (a prominent aspect of his personality on every story route, not only his stepmom’s). His rare occasions of self-clarity may worsen the story because they imply Kanno chose not to do better. Comparing YU-NO’s hair-combed-over-his-eyes loser to other contemporary eroge protagonists, some may contend that Takuya is not a creeper but merely a weirdo. This argument is somewhat undermined by Takuya, while perving around his stepmom’s room, saying, “I’m such a creeper.”

“…I’m such a creeper.”

Granted, Takuya displays compassion and decency, showing tenderness to every potential partner except Kaori. He does not judge Kanna for sleeping with so many men (which would be heinous hypocrisy). He prevents Ayumi’s suicide through expressions of his love. Though he too is in pain, he treats Amanda’s wounds. Despite the excessive berth the other characters give the sex offender whose cognitive abilities suggest severe head trauma and despite how oblivious and useless he is, Takuya can be funny and in some ways is more respectful to women, if you can believe it, than other eroge protagonists of the time. He does not, for example, constantly say words like “bitch” or “slut,” though whether that reflects translation choices or the original script I do not know. His more positive moments do not come off as adding complexity to Takuya’s character, however, but instead just seem like inconsistent writing.

MITSUKI: “But you know, there are theories out there that say that true friendship can never grow between a man and a woman.”
TAKUYA: “That’s just a prejudiced view.”

Takuya fucks literally every named woman in the entire script, including both of his daughters, with the exceptions of Illia (who dies first), Ume (who is OLD so her body is YUCKY), and the women who are already dead (Kaytia, Imagawa, and Grantia). Guess Mitsuki is right that men and women cannot just be friends.

Many ’90s eroge protagonists straight-up rape women. When he strips her unconscious body after she faints from Toyotomi’s assault on the beach, Takuya does not rape Kanna. Though the game requires the player to click on her pussy a number of times. In fact, the player cannot rape anyone—Takuya at no point wants to be a rapist. High bar! That means everything is fine!!! Okay, sure, statutory rape—because the response to Takuya apologia is that Takuya is worse than a creeper: he is a man who chooses his daughter as his sexual partner.

I return your attention to this, ye who claim Takuya is not that bad. You know who you are.

Just as no defense of YU-NO can withstand scrutiny, no possible defense of Takuya’s character can withstand what literally happens. (Though were it not for Takuya fucking his daughter, I might consider him about on par with Brent Halligan.) YU-NO assumes the player will identify with a violent, tactless, sexist lecher who thinks naked children are hot—his naked child. Thanks for insulting me every step of the way, Kanno.

“She looks kinda down to me.” What gives you that impression, Takuya?

Among the rest of the cast are some sparks of genuine interest. Every character has strong, consistent characterization and motivation, and each is involved in much more drama and mortal peril than they initially appear. In the same way Yu-no initially seems to be an alluring and sexy mystery woman but turns out to be your kid who is also your wife, the whole cast of YU-NO, as Sorlie writes, “has more than one side to it.” In context, however, Sorlie is claiming that Takuya, despite “acting foolishly naive,” is an intelligent and complex character, so even this overall accurate observation about YU-NO is steeped in delusion.

ERIKO: “Hi… fancy meeting you here.”

Eriko is the only (named) female character in the ADMS section who never engages in penetrative sex with Takuya. More power to her. Instead, her H scene is mutual masturbation. A badass, wacky, and competent sexy dimensional traveler on a quest for revenge, Eriko is one of my favorite two characters in YU-NO. In their strange dynamic, Eriko is Takuya’s homeroom teacher and the school doctor who is supposed to encourage him to keep his grades up, whereas Takuya pervs on her nonstop, which Eriko constantly complains about but also seems to accept.

ERIKO: “The story might be the same, but not the process with which I arrived here. Long story short: attend your classes.”

Their rapport falls totally flat. I didn’t buy it for a second. The idea of a teacher and student interacting this way or, indeed, the idea of this chain-smoking woman in a fetishy outfit being a teacher or having any patience for Takuya is so ridiculous it becomes interesting. This must be what people call “so bad it’s good.” It is also another sign that YU-NO occurs in porn world, rather than the world of a good story that happens to include graphic sex scenes.

Amusingly, Eriko simply doing what Takuya never can and combing her bangs off her eyes renders her unrecognizable enough that the true identity of the sultrier persona she takes on to trail Ryuuzouji after dark is a plot twist when first encountered on—most story routes, or maybe all of them. However, almost all of Eriko’s sexual scenes disempower her, including on the Mitsuki route when Takuya finds Eriko stuck on the wall of Ryuuzouji’s estate and proceeds to sexually assault her with his hands and face; when Takuya watches her sleep and Eriko, still asleep, makes out with him; and when Takuya peeps on her while she changes. This leaves a sleazier aftertaste than Eriko’s skin-tight, sex worker-like latex getup.

ERIKO: “Which leaves below the desk or chair to search…”

Takuya informing Eriko that her strange outfit is fashionable is all it took for her to start dressing this way. Eriko, real name Eichli:kkwadrouu, bahaves so oddly because she secretly comes from a different universe, traveling to Sakaimachi on a mission from some sort of interdimensional police department to eliminate Ryuuzouji. Her bosses may be something like the Concord crosswhen from human reality in “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.”

Eriko looks even more badass in her otherworldly outfit.

The ADMS segment’s story routes coalesce around single big bad, Eriko’s nemesis: an alien monster that, stranded in Takuya’s universe, murders Koudai’s colleague Ryuuzouji and takes his place. This devil’s name is written as “****,” apparently to suggest some impossible Lovecraftian pronunciation. There is voice acting, though, in which his name is something like “Reijizouzi.” My references to “Ryuuzouji” refer to this demon, the only Ryuuzouji the player meets.

ERIKO: “You slipped up there, Headmaster… or should I say ****!”

With his physical strength, pistol (shocking in Japan), intellectual cunning, and body-stealing Niarb power, Ryuuozuji makes for a terrifying and intimidating villain, his presence accountable for most of the deliberate horror elements of the story, as opposed to the horror that Kanno wants the player to fall in love with their daughter. This alien is introduced not as a criminal mastermind but as a demon or animal in rumors about a “curse” and a wild beast that has been killing people. Ryuuzouji’s only motive is to gain free movement through different universes. To do this he aims to obtain the Reflector, in pursuit of which he also hires three goons, Kaori, Toyotomi, and Houjou, to gather info about the Reflector and Ayumi’s employer Geo Technics that, under the guise of carrying out a survey for beachfront construction, is attempting to excavate the Hypersense Stone that comes from Dela Grante, the same alien world as Takuya’s dimension-hopping device.

Ryuuzouji’s acts, including forcing Mitsuki to murder his mother, Ume, who has been feigning dementia to cryptically beg Takuya for help, are chilling. Ryuuzouji’s house, bereft of furniture and with a tapestry of the Dela Grante slave watchtower killing terrified onlookers, feels eerily inhuman. Finding the real Ryuuzouji’s deformed skeleton cemented in the wall of the storehouse after reading his agonized journal entries is a moment salient in my recollection since, many hours into my playthrough, after I had been dealing with Toyotomi, Kaori, and Houjou, it so altered my perception of the situation: no longer a matter of academic or corporate espionage, the stakes changed to involve mind-controlling alien monsters torturing people to death with psychic powers. (Stakes limited by the lack of consequences to any actions, as described above.)

ERIKO: “Yeah… and you know what? The remains consist solely of the skull and limbs.”

Infuriatingly, Takuya never quite puts together that Ryuuzouji is behind all the trouble in his life, including Koudai’s disappearance. Somehow Ryuuzouji holding him up at gunpoint in the Prologue is insufficient to rile Takuya’s suspicions. Watching Takuya tango with such a menacing villain enrages. To the bitter end, Takuya is never up to the task. He still trusts Ryuuzouji in the Epilogue, as I explain below in “The Worst Ending of All Time.” Luck and Eriko are all that keeps the world’s most useless man alive.

Toyotomi drives workers to their deaths.

Ryuuzouji’s minion Toyotomi, a foppish, backstabbing, cowardly, murderous rapist, may succeed in being the most loathsome worm in the cast, even though it is true he never has sex with his daughter. Toyotomi’s criminality may hit closer to home. A crooked and sexually abusive businessman is all too common, unlike psychic alien demons. The main antagonist of the Ayumi route, Toyotomi’s scheme to steal Hypersense Stone from Geo Technics involves forming an abusive relationship with his official boss Ayumi, illegally forcing laborers to work at night in dangerous conditions that kill multiple people (as Takuya witnesses firsthand on the Mio route), and hiring gangsters to attack Ayumi so that he can “rescue” her.

“We were just having a company meeting. Really.” Takuya’s status: cucked.

Another summary of the Ayumi route would be Toyotomi cucking Takuya over and over by having sex with his mom—only Takuya can have sex with his mom! In the happy Ayumi route ending, Takuya, after being slapped by Ayumi for interrupting Toyotomi while he is raping her, proves his accusations against this evil man via receiving a photo from Kaori through time travel and then intervenes in time to prevent Ayumi from slitting her wrists. Kaori meanwhile beating Toyotomi (possibly to death) with a pipe proves a great catharsis.

Toyotomi gloats about driving Ayumi to suicide.

Along with the sadistic torturer “Porky” who runs the slave camp in the Epilogue, Ryuuzouji and Toyotomi are the only truly “evil” characters. Houjou, the main antagonist on the Kanna route, is a fairly grounded depiction of a PI. Though far from sympathetic, Houjou is more sleazebag than fiend. His own truly evil deed, killing Kanna (at least in the bad ending), occurs only when Ryuuzouji completely seizes control of his mind.

HOUJOU: “We always meet at the hotel, after all. Well, she’s always managed to give me a great time, so I can’t really complain… hm?”

Kaori leads a double life as a popular reporter and criminal fixer, gathering intel on the various strange happenings in Sakaimachi. She might share information with Takuya but only to serve her own ends. Mirroring her two personas, Kaori’s main outfit is ludicrous, the purple pantsuit she wears in newscasts unbuttoned into a crop top out of which her bare breasts hang freely (!). As a seductive agent of Ryuuzouji, she commands one’s attention, not least because one of her introductory scenes in Meiunji Park has her breasts dangling and her rear in Takuya’s face.

I’ve heard of butting in, but this is ridiculous.

In comparison to Mio, Kanna, Mitsuki, and especially Ayumi, Kaori’s proactive ruthlessness, up to and including double-crossing the fearsome Ryuuzouji, is a welcome contrast to most of the other women’s more submissive femininity. Kaori also has a fat ass. Contributing to the complexity of Kaori’s role is that, on the Ayumi route, she is essential to helping Takuya by giving him dirt on Toyotomi. Yet on her own route she swindles him out of sex and, if the player lets her, the Hypersense Stone required to resuscitate Kanna. How Kaori avoids Ryuuzouji’s psychic brainwashing Niarb powers I am unsure. I would attribute this resilience to her psychological strength or something, since Eriko implies Niarb involves lulling the victim into a suggestive state, but Ryuuzouji also fails to brainwash Takuya on the Mitsuki route—perhaps Takuya does not have enough of a brain. A cunning, sarcastic liar with zero sappiness and a hell of a lot more competence and confidence than anyone else besides Eriko and Ryuuzouji, Kaori seems to belong in a different genre than most of the cast.

KAORI: “That’s a wild accusation. Both parties have differing goals. One wants the stone’s conservant generation formula, the other the stone itself.”

The characters of YU-NO overall receive sufficient development to rise above the typical archetypes many of them seem to embody in the (somewhat) deceptive Prologue. Eriko subverts her ostensive role as a goofy school nurse, as I described, and Kaori is not the reporter she might appear to be if she didn’t walk around almost topless.

Mio appears to be a tsundere ojou-sama rich girl whose crush on Takuya, despite his constant sexual harassment, he is too oblivious to perceive. But Mio is responding to the emotional trauma of walking in on Takuya having sex with a teacher (Mitsuki) in the school and her complicated feelings for both him and his friend Yuuki while attempting to lead an independent life despite her stifling and explosively angry Koudai-like father. With reckless daring, Mio runs away on an adventure to prove Koudai’s theories about the Celestial race (he learned a lot of the information from Takuya’s mother, Kaytia). Takuya and Yuuki search for Mio until she possibly dies alone, another victim of the caves beneath Triangle Mountain, or until, on her route, Takuya and her find an escape.

MIO: “The prevailing theory is that the twin rocks themselves are natural, but that the slate was chiseled out by man.” She means the rocks in front of Triangle Mountain. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Mitsuki appears to be an older teacher whom Takuya relies on for life advice. But she is actually his former sexual partner and now Ryuuzouji’s brainwashed slave piecing together clues about the real Ryuuzouji’s grizzly fate while tortured by the conflict between her own desires and this devil that increasingly controls her body to both sexually exploit her and use her as an assassin—one of the two major horror threads of the plot. That said, the scene in which Mitsuki and Takuya wax nostalgic about having sex in the school history lab cracks me up—ah, remember the sex crimes that should have got Mitsuki fired and arrested? Weren’t those the days? And Takuya can’t care too much about Mitsuki if, later on the same route, he can get off to Ryuuzouji raping her in the same room.

MITSUKI: “Takuya… Sensei knows. He knows everything about the internals of Sword Cape… ugh!”

Kanna appears to be a Rei-like emotionless new girl, bullied for her strangeness, whose timid quietness conceals a passion for environmentalism and a strange spirituality. Less of a subversion, since it is clear from the start, is that she has some strong connection to Takuya, watching his activities. But the bullies are correct that Kanna is a prostitute, and Kanna proves deeply sad, bold, and (most shockingly) has a bit of a sense of humor. Kanna is quiet because she is a friendless, depressed immortal who is about fifty years old and defends Triangle Mountain out of love for her deceased mother, Amanda, who came from Dela Grante like the mountain did and taught her a religious veneration for the Hypersense Stones beneath it whose energy she depends on to survive. Her tragic situation, pathological emulation of intimacy through sex, and flashes of weird humor make Kanna standout—as do her sense of style and long, dark hair. She is even the only of the different partners Takuya can pursue to not have a big bust and big hips, adding a small amount of body diversity.

“…It is nothing out of the ordinary. I am fine.” Her outfit is so cute!

The exception to Kanno’s playing with expectations are the major women of the Epilogue, Sayless (“Celes” in the remake) and Yu-no. These vacuous blobs pandering to Takuya’s incest obsessions are easily the worst characters. So naturally they are the characters the game wants the player to love most. Takuya is the third-worst character. Sala, a bit player in the Epilogue, might be the fourth worst if only because she is unnecessary and forgettable beyond her awful sex scene.

ERIKO: “Ahem. It should be obvious what I called you out here for. Your attendance record and credits.”

However, few among the cast are particularly appealing. Eriko, Kanna, and Kaori stand out for not being boring or evil. Granted, Kaori is probably evil, but evil in a fun Mine Fujiko way instead of a rapist, murderer, or torturer kind of way. (Mine Fujiko is only these things in some interpretations.) I remain unsure if Eriko and Kanna are genuinely likable or if they came off that way because of the other characters I spent hours around.

Ayumi, a demure pushover submissive and loyal to abusive man after abusive man, a situation the script considers negative when that abusive man is Toyotomi but true love if he is Koudai, is easily the worst of the main cast. Her story route involves a unique degree of rape and obnoxious melodrama framed around communication failures. Her incompetence at her job gets many people killed at the Geo Technics construction site, a crime the story seems to consider irrelevant because Ayumi would prefer the company not search for Hypersense Stone. That she is Takuya’s stepmother also lessens Ayumi’s appeal.

KOUDAI: “Ayumi is young, and pretty. She’s close to you in age, and she’s kind. She’s a wonderful woman indeed.”

However, I am willing to buy Ayumi and Takuya’s relationship. Because Koudai is a creep, Ayumi is closer to Takuya’s age than her husband’s. Koudai started his relationship with Ayumi while he was her professor (!). Since Ayumi and Takuya are both sexual young people who have not known each other that long, I would be willing to forgive the inclusion of this pairing or even consider it a clever way of catering to an incest kink without actually ruining the protagonist by having him engage in incest—were it not that this was all buildup for Takuya fucking his daughter. But even Ayumi has her moment when, at the end of the Kaori route, she reveals she is aware that Koudai is up to something and covers for her stepson while he uses the Reflector to escape the swarming guards.

“The ore is shrouded in mystery… no one knows why it was buried underneath Sakaimachi. No one except Koudai-san.”

Each character in the ADMS section, even Takuya’s lovable sidekick Yuuki, would be stronger and more interesting if allowed space to breathe in their own narratives without Takuya as an anchor around their necks. Eriko alone, the goofy undercover time cop (who rejects the label “time cop”) and teacher by day and sexy detective by night out to avenge her lover and stop the same bad guy as Takuya and, unlike Takuya, actually succeeding at stopping him, could support her own, much better story. She could star in a better erotic story, even—Eriko has her hair combed over her eyes like a true shitty eroge protagonist.

TAKUYA: “Well, that one stipulation about the thing being a four-legged nocturnal animal shortly become the most prominent.”

Eriko’s job is basically the premise of Double Cross. But the lack of a penis to penetrate each anime girl or a man to leer at her may undermine her true purpose: masturbation fuel in a sleazy porno. The presence of more likable characters results in YU-NO feeling even grosser, reminding me that I could be spending tens of hours with someone who is not Takuya. Conflicting with sincere investment in any character is that they can be accessed only through the window of Takuya.

Setting aside the unsavory Epilogue for now, there are no happy endings. This is not in itself a flaw—on the contrary. But in YU-NO it seems unintentional, a fruit of a hacky designer once again not thinking the scenario through. After completing the Epilogue, the player can return to any other route and see its “true ending,” as described in the “Gameplay and Presentation” section. Could these be other possible outcomes for the other Takuyas on the indefinite timelines?

“Please don’t poke my breasts with your chopsticks.” A still from the Kanna true ending.

For example, in the Kanna true ending, with a new Hypersense Stone to keep her alive and healthy, she and Takuya live together in her apartment, happy and horny, and pursue their careers. But they are still definitely doomed because the route to attain this ending confirms Ryuuzouji is still on the loose using his Niarb powers to steal people’s bodies, and Takuya still has the Reflector, which Ryuuzouji knows about. If it is up to Takuya to protect her, as opposed to Eriko, Ryuuzouji is definitely going to kill Kanna. Furthermore, if Takuya is there to save Kanna at the end of the third day, that means, because he was not around, that Mio dies alone in a cave, Ayumi has killed herself, Toyotomi has got away with his crimes, and Ryuuzouji has enslaved, raped, and possibly shot Mitsuki. 🤗 Happy ending! 🤗 If the player chooses any other one of the true endings, Takuya will not use the Reflector to steal the Hypersense Stone from Geo Technics, and so Kanna will die in Meiunji Park. Does he even notice all of his friends and family’s deaths? The Epilogue, in which Takuya forsakes society forever to impregnate his vapid daughter, seems to indicate that Ayumi, Mitsuki, Kanna, Mio, and possibly Yuuki all die because he is not there to save them.

Kanna’s true ending is not preferable anyway. She is decades older than her boyfriend and will outlive him. What a shame that this sweetheart’s broader role is to enforce Koudai’s will by keeping Takuya on the quest to fuck his daughter—and that, through time travel hijinx, she too is Takuya’s biological daughter! Yes, Takuya has sex with both of his children, though at the time neither he nor Kanna realize their relationship. What is weird is that no character notices that Kanna is conceived in a (weird and rather creepy) sex scene between Takuya and Amanda in the Epilogue. This detail is left open only for the player to observe. I suppose Kanno may have been going down a checklist of porn scenarios, one of which was “accidental incest.” Who cares what any of it “means”? What is this, a story? That people call outstanding and beautiful, you say?

Kanna’s mother, Amanda, is recognizable from her hairstyle and the manacle on her left arm.

Incidentally, not for a moment does the script interrogate Takuya’s hideous betrayal of Kanna, either. She is the only available partner who is aware of the Reflector. In her good ending, required to reach the Epilogue and finish YU-NO, Kanna, newly believing in the possibility of happiness in life, has Takuya promise to return to her once his journey ends.

KANNA: “Forever… and ever… when everything is over, please come back here.”
TAKUYA: “Heheh… I’ll find the old bastard and drag him out in front of you, Kanna-chan.”

This promise is impossible to keep. The player needs every jewel to activate the machine under Triangle Mountain and so cannot leave a jewel save with Kanna. Takuya, Kanno does not seem to notice, must abandon Kanna like Koudai abandons Ayumi—in effect abandon her to impregnate a woman, raise the daughter, and then choose that daughter as a sexual partner over Kanna. I guess Takuya has a preferred child. Yu-no even uses the same language of being together “forever and ever.”

How Lewd!

Rather than even mentioning that YU-NO is built around a semi-pedophiliac incest romance, many reviewers mistake the more important issue to be the leering camera. The strong male gaze, frequently using strange angles to incorporate as much skin as possible, generates an atmosphere of pervasive sleaze. Suggestive of Takuya’s own gaze, could this convey something about his character? It could, except that Kanno has nothing to say about Takuya.

TAKUYA: “I can barely resist a bust this nice… err, I mean.”

In a memorial to Umemoto, Sorlie claims that the composer and Kanno “were adamant that the intimacy between characters and depiction of such had a serious place in the video game industry, as they viewed it as a natural part of life and a tool which could be written to show motivation and character development.” The implication that the sexual content in YU-NO is naturalistic and true to life is not far removed from implying the average Brazzers video is naturalistic and true to life.

KOUDAI: “I can tell. It’s the kind of face a guy makes when he accidentally cums before penetration.”

In the YU-NO article, Sorlie also writes, “The topic of sex is used in moderation, and for the most part it is also used with taste and reason.” Granting that “taste and reason” is debatable, in YU-NO, nudity, sex jokes, and panty shots occur so constantly, so gratuitously, so without buildup or pretext, and sex is so central to the narrative, that this content is YU-NO. The opening ten minutes of the Prologue alone already contain bare breasts, weird incestuous stuff, a masturbation joke, a particularly graphic panty shot, Eriko’s nipples poking through her skin-tight latex fetish outfit, a conversation about panties, and dialogue options to talk about Eriko’s breasts, which are prominent in the artwork.

Still the opening of the Prologue.

Sexual content smothers YU-NO like cheese sauce fettuccine alfredo. On the subject of its tastefulness and realism, please recall this line from earlier in this very review: “That said, the scene in which Mitsuki and Takuya wax nostalgic about having sex in the school history lab cracks me up—ah, remember the sex crimes that should have got Mitsuki fired and arrested? Weren’t those the days? And Takuya can’t care too much about Mitsuki if, later on the same route, in the same room, he can get off to Ryuuzouji raping her.” While the dialogue in every scene is unique, the sex jokes, Takuya suggesting maybe he shouldn’t stare at his stepmom’s body, Takuya trying to get Mio to say “pussy,” and Takuya saying more or less “AWOOOGA look at THOSE honkers” grow similar enough to blur into repetition ad nauseam from the opening minute through to Takuya having the same thoughts and interactions with his daughter beginning when she is a baby. Wanting to fuck your daughter, yeah, that’s really a natural part of life we can all relate to, eh? You have to respect this degree of moderation. Kanno really restrained himself! /s

But why would YU-NO be restrained? It’s porn. To downplay this is embarrassing. There is nothing wrong with being an eroge per se, so let’s stop kidding ourselves. I do not deny that I appreciate seeing and interacting with women in various states of undress, even if most of the characters in this case do not appeal to me.

Ayumi is just about the least attractive woman I can imagine: a wretched bore and complete doormat, and the glasses and pink top and miniskirt are hideous on her. Yet I admit, from an illustration like the one above, even for Ayumi, part of my mind goes, “Whoa. 😳😳😳 Her butt. 😳” Some CGs feature excellent artwork of rear ends, specifically Kaori in the bushes at Meiunji park, Mio bent over while pulling on a skirt in her room, Eriko stuck on the wall (despite the narrative issues I mention with that scene), Eriko sitting on Takuya’s face after the Picross minigame, and when Takuya restrains the bather Sala. To quote a great poet, I like big butts and cannot lie.

While my earlier praise of the eroticism of much of the artwork holds true, even if the people involved in creating YU-NO had the humanity to nix the Oedipal obsessions of Fuck Your Daughter Quest, the constant lewdness results in a clumsy tone. It is more than sex scenes. There is no boundary between “erotic” content and otherwise non-sexual moments. The above scene my comments about Ayumi’s butt refer to has her on the phone talking about people dying and proposing the cancelation of the construction efforts. The “erotic” material is mostly filler but distracting filler crammed in to satisfy what feels like a mandatory sexual-content-per-hours-of-gameplay ratio. No matter the context, many, perhaps most, of the dozens of the CGs emphasize the women’s curves and bodies.

While Eriko is confronting Ryuuzouji in the dramatic conclusion of the Mitsuki route, the shot includes her cleavage and nipples prominently poking through her latex dress.

When Mitsuki is sitting on a grassy hill giving Takuya advice, the artwork emphasizes her breasts and long, gorgeous legs. Perhaps this is conducive to intimacy with her.

When a screaming, crazed Mitsuki, after being rescued bleeding from a car accident, has fallen fully under Ryuuzouji’s Niarb power and attacks Takuya with a box cutter, her wrinkly white panties are on full display. Perhaps pantsu are conducive to terror. Wait, hold on, no they’re not.

The panties really elevate the scene! /s

I like women’s butts as much as the next guy—and probably more. Even so, during the dramatic protest scene that acts as a major impetus for her suicide, I would have directed the artist to put the focus on Ayumi’s face and not her ass.

Same for when Houjou points a gun at Kanna.

Just as often as the eroticism appeals, it instead suggests the creators are too immature to not let their perviness derail the story. Granted, a lot of respected developers seem to have this problem.

A panty shot drinking game in YU-NO might kill you.

YU-NO overuses panty shots to the point of stripping them of all titillation (pun intended) and undermining many serious moments. Would Ayumi and Kaori’s televised news interview really feature both women’s panties on full display? Is the player to be involved in the interpersonal conflict between Mio and Kanna during their argument about the safety of studying Sword Cape, or is the player to be drooling over Kanna’s panties?

Alternatively, underwear exposure is comical (though that is obviously not the intent here), undermining the scene in an entirely different direction. The artists might at least have fun with the perpetual panty shots, using different underwear patterns for a hint of characterization, for instance. Instead, everyone but Mitsuki wears the plainest white underwear, and Mitsuki wears them half the time anyway. Even the panty shots of YU-NO are rarely engaging but only rote and uninspired, suggesting a lack of seriousness in both storytelling and in anime panty obsession.

The sex scenes are terrible, or perhaps generic, though if nothing else this PC-98 game isn’t nonstop rape. Most of the writing is of course standard porn material: “Ah, no…! Don’t cum inside!” “Ahh… Takuya-san, that feels good… ahhh…” There are more eyebrow-raising moments that may elicit laughter for sheer awfulness:

“Having sex in front of a child… pretty arousing, don’t you think?” 🤨

This particular line precedes what, aside from Takuya’s sex scene with Yu-no, is definitely the worst sex scene in the video game, when, for no reason, Takuya has rather painful-looking bondage sex with bit character Sala in front of his twelve-year-old daughter. Sala remarks what a good sex ed teacher Takuya is. Talk about sexual content used with taste and reason.

Some of the bad writing succeeds at accidental comedy for other reasons, like this gem from the Kanna sex scene: “My heart felt like it would explode just from looking at it. I mean, it was unmistakably _my_ dick that was currently stuffed into her mouth.”

In Kaori’s H scene, Takuya’s body is completely invisible from every angle. Seeing Kaori pressed up against a window as though Takuya is penetrating her doggy-style but with nobody actually behind her, I am forced to assume this is a performance art piece faking sex.

Takuya must be taking a break from sex to watch Kaori lean against the window in this odd position.

Or this classic from when Takuya has sex with Mitsuki against rough tree bark while trespassing on the murderous gun-toting Ryuuzouji’s estate, as one does (taste and reason):

“I scavenged through her black bush with my free hand. There it was. I flicked the stiff, blood-engorged protuberance with my finger.”

Ah, a “blood-engorged protuberance”—😍 hot! Is this the least appealing description of a clitoris ever written?

This last item of descriptive text, however, highlights another issue with the sex scenes: Mitsuki has no pubic hair. She has no clitoris. She has no labia or vagina or anus. Japan, of course, forbids the display of genitals in erotic material, forcing pornographers to get creative. YU-NO takes the worst possible method: all “private parts” are simply not drawn. Instead of a vulva, a woman has a smooth, sealed mons pubis. Takuya has no penis at all. When he receives a blow job, the woman’s mouth and hands suggestively grip at literal air.

Mystery of the missing penis. Porn, or an unflattering freeze frame of Ayumi reaching for something while talking?

However, the women have detailed nipples, creating an unsettling effect where the characters are halfway human rather than fully stylized dolls. At risk of revealing myself to be, let’s say, cultured, if YU-NO must contain this material, pixilation is a better method for preserving the sexual anatomy. Even suggestive scenery censors, while goofier and harder to pull off, could raise the level of titillation well above the oozing body horror mannequins that are YU-NO’s characters. At least scenery censors could be creative.

Takuya is a Ken doll.

Instead, the last shot of Takuya in YU-NO has him, naked beside his also naked daughter who is also his sexual partner, at an angle from which the player can clearly see he has no penis or testicles—nobody forced them to draw Takuya in this position, but I suppose, to really achieve the creator’s pure genius exhilarating artistic vision, every aspect of the ending had to be a piss take. Well, since he has no cock, perhaps this means Takuya “only” performed cunnilingus on Yu-no. What a relief. (It does not mean this. Takuya has doggy-style sex with his daughter.) Titillation lies in the possibility of seeing what is on the other side of Mitsuki’s thong. But there is nothing on the other side, so even visually these “erotic” moments are not hot but nakedly ridiculous (pun intended). YU-NO pulls off superior eroticism with characters sitting around fully clothed engaging in no sexual dialogue than when depicting foreplay and sex.

Most of the sex scenes are basically inoffensive and easily skipped through. A few stick out, erection-like, for reasons beyond repulsion. Kanna’s H scene revolves around a sexual fantasy I have not encountered elsewhere: the girl needs you to have sex with her to save her mental health by proving she can be truly loved instead of used or reviled. Takuya and Mio have sex because, trapped in a cave, despairing, and already having a crush on Takuya, Mio wants to lose her virginity before she dies. In the lighting, Mio seems corpselike. And it is odd that her bust and waist become markedly larger on her route than they appear in her normal sprites.

How Mio normally looks.
Mio is suddenly much “thicker” in her route, to make the cast of characters more boring through less variation of body types.

But the buildup to this scene, a time lapse of Takuya and Mio alone in the cave, at least establishes an emotional rawness before the corny conclusion.

Takuya and Mio fighting despair in the buildup to their sex scene.

Over the H scene with Kaori, Takuya does not ramble the typical cheesy erotica but recounts information the player already knows about Kaori as though we have forgotten what is going on (as Takuya is wont to do). Takuya concludes his clinical narration with the amazing, “Such were the thoughts going through my head as I blew my load deep into Kaori Asakura…”

Aside from, say, accidentally walking in his stepmom while she is in lingerie, Takuya undertakes pervy actions that derail the story, including sexually harassing random background characters. A notable one is the scene with Eriko on the wall, mentioned above. Strangely, one of the rare occasions a character is shaken with Takuya’s behavior is Eriko in another scene of Takuya sexually humiliating her: “to think you would overstep ethical boundaries like that…” Damn, Eriko, wait till you hear what this guy gets up to later. Kanno writes these moments as comedic, particularly horrific when, on the Ayumi route, Takuya attacks, misgenders, and uses a slur against a random trans woman. (I can confirm these lines are toned down in the Mages translation. Whether the Japanese text was altered I have no idea.)

TAKUYA: “What’s so fun about licking a tranny?” Please remember that Takuya hates trans people.

How can I take Takuya and Eriko’s dynamic seriously when apparently Takuya sexually assaulting her does not matter? Why do Takuya and Eriko seem not to care that Ryuuzouji is raping Mitsuki—why do they masturbate over it? Why does Takuya never face any reckoning for attacking random people?

Takuya takes advantage of Eriko to play with her ass. Some “hilarious” sexual assault screws up already ludicrous character dynamics. This scene is in the 2017 remake btw.

Particularly as regards Yu-no herself, the sexual fantasies presented in pure pornography are another matter, a point I elaborate on in the “Conclusion” below. But in what alleges to be telling a story, the narrative must be taken seriously. Brushing off Takuya’s sex crimes guts the integrity of the narrative and the game world. These artistic decisions, the unending “eroticism” regardless of context, indicate that the creepy and underwhelming sci-fi melodrama certain people worship is less of a priority than the player’s boner. YU-NO is not, as people like Sorlie seem to believe, a beautiful story that incidentally features graphic but tasteful sexual content. It is just lackluster porn glued to a lackluster (and long) story. Kurt Kalata has written that the reason YU-NO is beloved “has nothing to do with those elements,” i.e. what he deems “sleaziness,” but this “sleaziness” is YU-NO’s very soul. It is every other element of YU-NO that is surface-level. This is why a large quantity of the sexual content remains intact in the Mages remake, nude scenes simply adjusted such that the camera cuts off the forbidden body parts (I have heard whispers of the “nipple” only in legend). The vile conclusion reveals what I should have seen much sooner, that, worse than distracting or character-derailing, the nasty and sexist aspects of the presentation are not incidental but central to YU-NO because this is Fuck Your Daughter Quest. All of these quibbles are nonmaterial beside this core, overwhelming problem.

The Worst Ending of All Time

The Epilogue of YU-NO warrants special treatment. Sorlie calls it “one of the most exhilarating and incredible experiences you will ever have while playing a video game”—a scathing indictment of video games. I admit I was not so exhilarated with Takuya’s pet-like wife Sayless who looks identical to his mom or Takuya perving over his kid when she is twelve (!) or Takuya taking the side of the theocratic dictatorship that enslaves him and kills his wife or Takuya failing to save the day while other actually interesting characters (plus Yu-no) suffer and die to stop Ryuuzouji’s evil plot to destroy the universe. I guess that shows I am one of those “sensitive gamers” whom Sorlie cautions might be weirded out by the cerebral power of the badly plotted incest porn isekai. (To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand YU-NO…)

The Epilogue abandons the ADMS.

In gameplay, the roughly ten-hour Epilogue is a step backward, reducing navigation from point-and-click openness with branching story paths and occasional puzzles to what YU-NO is supposed to have outgrown: a harshly linear sequence of repetitious choice selections navigated by menu. Exhaust each menu option until Takuya decides to do something again.

The decline in writing is also severe. After the player gathers all seven jewels, following Koudai’s directions traps Takuya without the Reflector in a hostile, dying alien world whose inhabitants speak perfect Japanese (which Takuya notes as surprising). Until the Epilogue, YU-NO stays laser-focused on a small group of characters contained to Sakaimachi. Despite the grand scope and gestures at ponderous sci-fi concepts and ancient aliens conspiracy gibberish, the ADMS portion remains intimate as well, in nudity and sexual content, yes, but in characterization too, in the player’s attachment to the world.

“It’s an adult nogard!”

Then the Epilogue chucks every redeeming aspect of YU-NO’s writing and design into the incinerator to spin ten hours of goofy fantasy melodrama in a new setting, Dela Grante, with such memorable features as the lizard whose adult form happens to exactly look like a winged naked woman. Despite killing this critter, Kun-kun the nogard, in a weird scene that features prolonged rambling about the ethics of eating animals, Kanno restraints himself from having Takuya engage in bestiality. So props to Kanno for that one. You will be shocked to read that, by this point, I no longer experienced any identification with the player character—a bad sign for a video game.

“But man… Yu-no’s gotten quite… *glug*”
“Wait, no!”
“Why the hell does my own daughter’s nude body have me all excited?”

So let’s get our hands up in the guts of this thing. After activating a device under Triangle Mountain per Koudai’s will, Takuya is warped to Dela Grante, the land of the “Celestial race” Koudai believes revolutionized Japan at 400-year intervals (they somehow established the Tokugawa shogunate, I guess). There, in an Edenic grassland at the edge of a vast desert, Takuya meets a mute, creepily childlike psychic woman named Sayless who is physically identical to his mother. Then they meet a soldier, Illia, who slays a generic cartoonish monster that attacks Sayless. Illia dies—oh, how sad—so that Takuya and Sayless can move into her house, but no monster will ever appear again for the remainder of YU-NO. Takuya and Sayless have a kid, drum roll please—Yu-no! Almost as vapid as her daughter, Sayless is mute eye candy for the player’s presumed mommy complex—outside of a surprisingly boring sequence in which she almost dies in the desert before Takuya rescues her. Yes, Sayless is psychic, but she won’t bother you with her powers too often, so you won’t have to listen to her. Yu-no grows up rapidly. By the reckoning Takuya uses, and by Yu-no’s appearance, she is the equivalent of twelve when she is four years old. This is why I have referred to her has “twelve” above. Then soldiers arrive, call Sayless an infidel, and attempt to bring her back to the Imperial Capital that she fled to avoid dying in the rite of the priestess. Sayless kills herself. (Her role in the story is not “person” so much as “tragic uterus.”) Then the soldiers knock Takuya unconscious and leave.

Takuya and Sayless.
Look at that weird plant on the right.

Yu-no and her father venture into the alien Rafaelo desert to find the God Emperor who rules Dela Grante and avenge Sayless. Eventually, Takuya and Yu-no find a cemetery for the past priestesses, where imperial soldiers find them, abduct Yu-no (the shot is sure to emphasize this literal child’s ass), and send Takuya to a prison camp where he works in a quarry with other enslaved workers overseen by a sadistic official identified as “Chief” and, by Takuya, as “Porky.” Porky delivers an evil chuckle frequently, often multiple times per sentence, in case you didn’t notice the sadistic slave overseer and torturer with a scar over his face is the bad guy. Eventually, Takuya finds Yu-no’s pet, Kun-kun, rescuing the saccharine, tiny dragon from the enslaved laborers.

Takuya struggles to remember Triangle Mountain.
“Oh, it’s you, Porky.”

After prolonged torture—a rare effective scene—Takuya rescues a rebel leader named Amanda. Kun-kun grows up, metamorphosed into a busty naked anime girl with wings, and Takuya and Amanda ride her (not like that) to escape the slave camp as an earthquake kills Porky and all the other prisoners. There are earthquakes because the world is ending. Then Kun-kun dies, Takuya takes advantage of Amanda to impregnate her with his future lover Kanna, and the two reach the Imperial Capital where Takuya reunites with Eriko and the now taller, buxom, wide-hipped Yu-no. With a deeper voice, Yu-no speaks and acts like an adult.

Ryuuzouji reminding us maybe it is not wrong to have sex with your kids. This is how Takuya takes it, anyway.

Fleeing into the sewer to escape soldiers, Takuya somehow waltzes into an unguarded dungeon where Ryuuzouji is imprisoned. Takuya decides, hey, I might as well free Ryuuzouji from this prison anyone can just walk into. Then Takuya also just walks into the God Emperor’s castle, where he just walks into the God Emperor’s ritual lair and deactivates the God Emperor’s brainwashing device—and spends an interminable period of time babbling about how the computer in front of him is a computer. Freed from the God Emperor’s power, Yu-no reverts to being a child, at least psychologically and in her squeaky voice, as Takuya remarks multiple times (before fucking her). Some freedom, particularly as Yu-no exactly carries out the God Emperor’s will anyway. A real all-star cast is popping up, as though Kanno remembered the characters the story was about. For now Takuya reunites with the Ayumi from the Prologue, who, in a reveal so stupid it drives men to madness like a Lovecraft monster, turns out to be the God Emperor.

“Are you telling me the God Emperor was Ayumi-san all along!?” Cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme.

Takuya decides, yeah, I was enslaved and beaten and then tortured for days by your subordinate, Ayumi. Thanks, Mom. But Takuya gets over it, and Amanda also apparently gets over her years-long resistance to the brutal dictatorship since, eh, who cares. Despite being a spineless, ultra-submissive and indecisive coward whom powerful men trample over and over, Ayumi has somehow managed to overthrow the Ryuuzouji from the Prologue (!) by knowing how to use Grandmother, Dela Grante’s supercomputer (!). The big twist is that this computer is the actual god the theocracy worships, rather like in “The Return of the Archons.” Before the appearance of humans on Earth, a different civilization (whose people are clearly humans) used interdimensional travel to flee the “Tears of God,” probably a meteor shower. They built a new world and new sun in this other dimension, naming their new land mass Dela Grante after their leader, Grantia. With this intel, to kick off the finale, Takuya fucks his daughter already.

“I gently scooped a finger over it. Sap from her twitching private parts stuck to it like hot lava.” So do his daughter’s vaginal fluids melt his flesh in fiery agony or…?

Recall the major driving mysteries established in the Prologue:

1. Who is the naked disappearing woman?
2. What is Triangle Mountain?
3. Where did the Reflector come from?
4. Why is Ryuuzouji prepared to kill over the Reflector?
5. Is Koudai alive, and if so, where is he?
6. Why did Koudai send Takuya the Reflector?

The Epilogue and ADMS section answer most of the questions:

1. The daughter you fuck (I wonder how many players would drop YU-NO if they realized the opening is the hero snogging his daughter?)
2. Stone surrounding an automated lightning-generating machine called a Gazel Tower, now guarding a deposit of Dela Grante land and Hypersense Stone, that the Dela Grante theocracy used to kill prisoners who fled their slave camps
3. From the Dela Grante theocracy that worships technology built by the ancient universe-hopping scientists
4. The alien imposter Ryuuzouji wants to use the Reflector to move freely between universes to continue his nefarious deeds

The Epilogue does not answer mystery 5. Koudai never reappears. On every single route in the ADMS section, Takuya’s explicit mission statement—an initially fun scene that loses its impact the seventh time—is to find Koudai and punch him in the face, but then Takuya never does. In this goofy sci-fi incest porn, the lack of a resolution to the mystery does not seem meaningful—it seems like a slap in the face. With the addition of Koudai’s final message including him talking about having watched every single thing Takuya and Yu-no did and fully approving, it also makes me want to vomit.

“I’ve observed every little move that you and your daughter made.” You know he masturbated over it.

The answer to mystery 6. is convoluted: based on his research, Koudai needs Takuya to use the Reflector with a machine under Triangle Mountain, which is a part of Japan that used to be part of Dela Grante due to an impact 8000 years ago, so that Takuya can be warped to Dela Grante in the past to sire Yu-no so that she can complete the rite of the priestess so that the spirit of Grantia can possess her temporarily to somehow move the Dela Grante universe so that, instead of Dela Grante and Earth’s whole universes colliding and destroying each other in an event collision, the island of Dela Grante itself will physically fall onto Japan 8000 years ago (a disaster to rival the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction, a point Kanno skillfully ignores). Instead of allowing the protagonist to grow as a person—instead of explaining where Koudai is—instead of letting Takuya and the player finally, finally confront Koudai—the Epilogue instead focuses on out-of-nowhere fantasy worldbuilding, a naïve rugged individualist Edenic fantasy, and Takuya’s pedophiliac relationship with his Saltine-bland bimbo daughter. Then the Epilogue promptly resolves the mystery with a lengthy exposition dump and pew-pews the bad guy to death. Creating this fantastical scenario utterly divorced from the semi-realistic setting and cast the rest of the story cultivates, it is as if Kanno wanted to invent the least emotionally satisfying way to resolve the plot possible. I recall seeing a review on Steam that describes the Epilogue as ten hours of terrible fanfiction crammed onto the end of what had previously been an okay story. Exactly.

Blah blah blah blah (this illustration appears to come from the Sega Saturn port)
It is unfair that the artwork is so good. >_<

Naturally, Takuya fails to be a hero at every opportunity. He literally sides with the theocratic dictatorship that drives Sayless to suicide. Takuya also cluelessly frees Ryuuzouji from prison because, while the player is well aware Ryuuzouji is a serial killer with Niarb powers, Takuya, as explained in the “Auto Diverge Mapping System” section, is allergic to learning. Not only does Takuya decide the dictatorship’s propaganda, slavery, torture, and interning of dissidents and driving his wife to suicide are not so bad, when you really think about it, since as Ayumi assures him, the pure-hearted public cannot be controlled otherwise, and hey, being a murderous dictator is how you get shit done—not only does he have sex with his own daughter—but Takuya does not even save the day. He is not even the hero of this isekai incest porn fantasy. It is Yu-no, not her father, who sacrifices her body for the ghost (?) of Grantia to possess during the rite of the priestess to stop the universes from colliding (which the characters take seriously enough to assure me makes sense). It is Amanda who suffers whippings and mutilation and humiliation to fight the God Emperor—whom she rapidly forgives, apparently—and who, traumatized from her pain and grieving her sister, Takuya impregnates and then more or less forgets about after, for all he knows, Ryuuzouji kills her. And Takuya does not defeat Ryuuzouji.

Amanda, injured after torture. Takuya tends to her wounds in a scene of genuinely admirable behavior. Her wounds look oddly like body paint.

The fight against Ryuuzouji, the climax of the whole adventure, is another wearisome sequence of selecting menu options while Takuya does nothing. Instead, Eriko finally appears out of nowhere to blast Ryuuzouji with a deus ex machina super-powerful soul-destroying handgun. (At least Brent Halligan genuinely defeats his evil druids.) Ryuuzouji reveals his true form to be—drum roll—a cartoon skeleton ghost you might kill in Dragon Quest and then forget about. (Nagaoka did previously perform character design work for the 1992 Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken anime.) Then—pew, pew! Eriko finishes him off in two shots without a big fight, either physical or philosophical. Ryuuzouji is not genuinely defeated, of course, despite Eriko’s claim to the contrary. The player has already been shown, repeatedly, that an indefinite number of evil alien monsters exist on the indefinite number of timelines. But Kanno cannot be bothered with trifling details like the central premise of his story.

Behold, the evil power we have spent so many hours building up—a cartoon ghost! Ooooohhh! Spooky!

Takuya makes two contributions to the epic finale. The first is being foolish enough to free Ryuuzouji, thereby indirectly causing Ayumi’s death, Kanna’s painful life on Earth, and the rite to go as badly as it does. The second is impregnating Sayless with Yu-no—and of course being a depraved freak with the hots for his daughter. Koudai’s goal for Takuya is purely mechanistic: Takuya is there to beget Yu-no. The hero only matters whatsoever for his boner. Enthralling stuff. But it checks out that Takuya is good for one thing and one thing only. Kanno does not seem to recognize how debasing this is. Mixing in the obnoxious Yu-no, your (initially and maybe always?) underage daughter who flirts with you and tries to show you her panties and other such things that make me wonder if Kanno should have been out in society, and the reveal that the whole sixty or eighty hours or so have been building to fucking her—the reveal, I cannot emphasize enough, that the title is Fuck Your Daughter Quest—makes the Epilogue not only disappointing in terms of the emotional letdown but repulsive.

The longform parenthood subplot comes off differently when you know the point is that Takuya and his daughter start fucking. I guess Sorlie did say that “everything has more than one side to it.”

I felt ashamed that I had spoken positive words about YU-NO to friends and family, believing the story threads and promised character development would go somewhere besides incest and borderline ancient aliens conspiracy. Remembering those occasions, I still cringe. And my positive responses were already relatively tempered by the sleazy presentation. I would be humiliated to, with full knowledge, praise sappy incest porn as “exhilarating and incredible” and the height of art, much less in public. How people can lavish praise on YU-NO and live with themselves I choose not to dwell on. After all, some people are murderers, but they still sleep soundly at night.

Like Ayumi after the protesters pelt her with eggs outside of Geo Technics, I am the one with egg on my face: I let myself get invested in a trashy ’90s porn game and was left feeling stupid I had believed in it at all. There is no worse response art can elicit.

Conclusion

“By no means do you wear them on your head.”

In YU-NO is the potential for a superior story. Takuya resents Koudai for his abuse, neglect, and disrespect of women and despises the antagonists Houjou and Toyotomi in large part for their misogyny and, in the latter’s case, Koudai-like arrogance. In his own attitudes and actions, Takuya emulates his father, repeating the behavior that traumatized him. During a daytime visit to Meiunji Park, Kanna even succeeds at making Takuya, who becomes violently angry at her description of johns disrespecting her in exactly the same ways that Takuya disrespects her, recognize that he is part of the problem. But the story never addresses this behavior. Takuya does not even have an arc within the Kanna route.

KANNA: “All men say the same thing, don’t they.”
TAKUYA: “You mean there are perverted bastards that have said that to you?”
TAKUYA: “Oh, right. Me.”

When Takuya starts his own family, a different writer might allow him an opportunity to not repeat Koudai’s mistakes. In a different story, Koudai, instead of a godlike font of wisdom, might have turned out to be the God Emperor, expanding the family drama (and unsettling Freudian subtext) to the political conflict of the isekai world. The collapse of the Dela Grante slave camp Gazel Towers could retain the Freudian symbolism: the deflation of the God Emperor’s phallus. As Koudai abused Takuya, now as a paternalistic figure he uses the state apparatus to abuse a whole country, including Takuya’s wife and daughter, employing the justifications from his own mouth instead through Ayumi, his former student he preyed upon when he was a professor who, in the actual YU-NO, perfectly docile, delivers the forty-minute exposition dump reciting what she learned from her husband’s notes. Rather than accept the God Emperor’s arguments downplaying the brutality of the theocratic dictatorship that parallels Geo Technics’ abuse of the public in Sakaimachi, Takuya could reject his own negative attitudes and overcome his trauma to defeat his father both literally and metaphorically by becoming a better man. Instead, Takuya fucks his daughter.

Anyone who claims the script condemns or analyzes Takuya’s behavior, that Takuya is a complex figure who may show how people contain both good and bad, is drawing on their fantasy of what YU-NO is instead of drawing on YU-NO. Takuya gets away with everything; he never changes his behavior, except deciding not to resist sex with Yu-no because he learns that fucking your children is cool; only other characters ever pay for his mistakes, sometimes with their lives; every girl loves him and sometimes compliments his alleged good character despite his weird and unsettling behavior; and lusting after his own mother, stepmother, and biological daughter saves the universe, because it is what ultimately drives him to impregnate his mommy-lookalike Sayless with Yu-no, and then Yu-no explains that getting plowed by her dad is what gives her the strength to complete the rite of the priestess.

YU-NO ends with the nude parent–child sexual couple standing under a pun on “tree diagram.” Really makes you think. 🙄

At risk of a tangent, I wish to address a possible mischaracterization of one of my chief criticisms. A story depicting incest does not scandalize me. Nor does incest-themed fiction—I am “terminally online,” after all, and have watched several anime. In terms of a moment-to-moment description of its most lurid moments, YU-NO falls well short of the nastiest story I have encountered in video games or otherwise. Like, don’t condescend to me. I know what Euphoria is. But no other story in any medium has produced the degree of revulsion in me that YU-NO achieved—YU-NO, the first and only video game to make me physically ill multiple times (for reasons other than motion sickness). Perhaps, despite my bile and eye-rolling and, during my own playthrough, desperate reaching to justify carrying on or sympathizing with Takuya, that YU-NO leaves me nauseous, leaves my heart racing, is testament to its ability to, through music and artwork and how much the sheer tsunami of bullshit wears one down, invest players in its world. Pity that the investment is used for this.

Again. The title is Fuck Your Daughter Quest.

Rather than subject you to a catalogue of every depraved piece of media I can recall (such as the eroge with an eyeball slime monster in a little girl’s vagina that forces her to give an adult oral sex), let us hop to a single perhaps relevant example: the extreme incest fetish eroge Snow Daze, released by OutbreakGames in 2018. In Snow Daze, the player controls a young boy, Jason, trapped in a house with his mother and three sisters during a blizzard. Jason uses hypnosis to gradually brainwash his mother and three sisters to, depending on the ending, transform them into sex slaves and impregnate each. The game opens with an unserious disclaimer claiming the characters are “step-family” and adds that this is strictly a fantasy and to steer clear if the player is not into it. The scenarios in Snow Daze are less consensual and more extreme than anything in YU-NO. The summary suggests a particularly revolting horror story. However, Snow Daze is pure pornography, material existing only as masturbation fuel with no effort at characterization, plotting, art, and so on not subservient to the taboo fantasy its players are there to get off to.

Even when certain material seems strange or gross to me, I do not judge people for what sexual fantasies appeal to them. I also discourage no one from criticizing or despising Snow Daze. However, it would be strange to interpret extreme taboo smut as “serious.” From the brevity of the narrative and the depth (or shallowness) of the writing and presentation, the story and the characters of Snow Daze carry substantially less weight than those in something like YU-NO. Indeed, they are lighter than air. It is the difference between Sephiroth murdering an unnamed Shinra guard and Sephiroth murdering Aerith. In this way, some quickie taboo porn like Snow Daze is less egregious than YU-NO, the tens-of-hours-long “incest is wincest” half-assed time travel porn whose fans sing its praises like the titular infantile bimbo “chants” about wanting to be her father’s bride. (The day I wake up to discover gaming circles clamoring over Snow Daze as a beautiful, revolutionary masterpiece that inspired so much of their own work, my attitude toward Snow Daze as harmless filth may change somewhat.)

Had I had stopped even fifty hours in, or if the credits abruptly rolled the moment Takuya landed in Dela Grante, I would have an overall positive impression of YU-NO despite the warts. That slow transition from the Prologue to the Epilogue features a soothing atmosphere, scintillating music, gorgeous and softly erotic pixel art, moments of horror and tension, and lots of hot women and even more bare breasts (for each woman has two)—therein lies the appeal. Or so I would assume if reviewers praised the vibes instead of the story. Are such people just too embarrassed to admit they like porn? But not too embarrassed to admit to liking fucking their daughter?! I would like to understand how those who did complete the Epilogue could discuss (much less recommend) YU-NO without even mentioning that it’s the tale of how incest creates and saves the universe. So too do I wonder how someone could be emotionally invested in a story and not leave such an ending at least profoundly disappointed—Sorlie even claims that the “emotional depth of the characters” makes “the result of their fates all the more intense,” the deep, intense emotions of the fate of sugary-sweet half-lolicon parental incest.

“…I didn’t expect it to be this bad.”

Were the objectionable content and padding stripped out of YU-NO, the story would still not be a masterpiece. The story would be fine, on par with a minor, uneven anime. Scientists have experimentally proven this hypothesis with the 2019 YU-NO anime that does remove the incest and much of the sex (though, incredibly, adds a subplot involving homosexual rape). The anime is thoroughly adequate and nothing more, though its cheap, inferior art direction and pitiful attempts at reconstructing a few of the game CGs results in a worse moment-to-moment presentation that further undercuts the weak story. (Since the anime Takuya is not obsessed with fucking his mom, Kanno must be rolling in his grave.) Without the objectionable content and padding, the ADMS gameplay would be what it is: interesting as a concept but undercooked because hundreds of vulgar jokes are more important than addressing the premise of the sci-fi scenario, which is nothing but a pretense. There are a few stand-out moments scattered between hours of slog, such as the showdown with Ryuuzouji in the storehouse or the horror under Triangle Mountain, but even so this hypothetical YU-NO would be far from a revolutionary masterpiece. It would be, at most, what YU-NO probably is more than anything, a long adventure game with a memorable world-hopping gimmick. It would be influential, perhaps, for its production values and structural complexity. But the rest of what the actual YU-NO is drags this adventure from decent to supreme creep territory. And while it is true that pedophilia is as commonplace in old Japanese computer games as racism is in old(er) European literature, this no more means that I am going to excuse the mewling praise of YU-NO than Robinson Crusoe’s important place in the development of the English novel and sometimes impressive prose means I cannot recognize it as insulting white supremacist nonsense.

Critics and fans often mistake a long, detailed, and complicated story for a good one. Or, because video game culture seems more hermetic than the culture surrounding other media, critics and fans commit the perennial error of having little exposure to anything outside of video games and so, with a limited reference pool, mistake YU-NO for a good story. Perhaps some let the overblown hype carry them away, as I did, but, unlike me, simply quit at some point before the Epilogue, satisfied with the beautiful world and scary moments and all the panties.

Among 1990s Japanese computer game porn half-aimed at nonces, Kanno might be an above-average writer. YU-NO shares almost all of its writing and design problems with other PC-98 eroge. Finding an eroge with a few drops of intelligence in its script, as well as slightly less pedophilia and substantially less rape than many of its contemporaries, ’90s coomers might well have had more than their loads blown with YU-NO. This media diet also may explain why they loved reading about fucking their daughter. Forgive me if I consider this somewhat short of the standard for an outstanding true masterpiece not soon to be surpassed.

Whatever mojo one might extract from YU-NO comes through just as well in listening to Umemoto’s music, however intimately entangled it unfortunately is with the story, and looking at some of the moody and luscious pixel art. Whatever concepts one imagines based on these out of context will be superior to what they actually accompany. Even the lewd illustrations are more erotic without the script or narrative. Given the bloated writing, disappointing plot, frustrating and boring design, and overwhelming sleaze and gross semi-pedophiliac raise-and-fuck-your-kid weirdness, nobody except the most determined video game historians should waste their time with the overlong turgid hacky crass insensitive meandering point-and-click-everywhere-at-random-for-hours battle of attrition incest porn that is YU-NO. My warning, I know, might motivate some people to check what all the fuss is about, particularly as this review emphasizes relatively interesting portions. But having read this review, you cannot possibly have as bad a time with YU-NO as I did because you have an idea of what to expect—and you may not get genuinely invested in it. You will also probably play the Mages remake and be deprived even of good graphics to enjoy.

Depending on how one defines “badness,” YU-NO may not be the “worst” video game I ever played—after all, I played Potato Thriller. Is an incompetent and forgettable video game “worse” than a compelling video game with horrible messages? Is a mess from start to finish “worse” than art with signs of potential that then veers off a bridge? If YU-NO has been so influential, so unsurpassed among visual novels, then the integrity of the very format must be interrogated. Or it would if YU-NO was a visual novel. In a generous assessment, YU-NO is an embarrassment. A more forceful takeaway you can find in the conclusion of “Reject Society, Embrace Incest.”

There’s a Famicom-style YU-NO platformer starring the incest lolicon child DAMN IT

Ellison’s beast shouted love ironically. That “love” is the love of a power that would consign all other universes to suffering to benefit itself. This beast is the origin of “insanity,” by which Ellison seems to mean “evil,” an evil that afflicts humanity throughout history and wipes out human civilization in two nuclear wars. Perhaps the force-lines of Yu-no’s own madness still infect its medium and will also be our doom. Those who come into contact with Kanno’s work do seem to leave bewilderingly changed. If Yu-no chants about having sex with her father at the bound of this world, then I chant warnings to beware of the video game that bears this incestuous elf-child’s name.

YU-NO is on Switch btw. Please remember there is a Nintendo game about fucking your daughter.

Find me on Twitter and YouTube. Please read my analytical essay too.

Bye-bye 👋

“Now, rape me. I’m prepared for it.”