“If you want something to change, you have to make that change happen yourself.”
The following is a review of a fan-made Scenario for the visual novel Student Transfer. For more information about Student Transfer, please consult my dedicated Student Transfer page or the official Student Transfer website.
Set in a remixed rendition of regular continuity, Spirit Hymn follows an asocial version of John. A version who has failed to form any meaningful relationships with his peers, lacks prospects for the future, and has been wallowing in a state of depression for a good while. At least before the plot-triggering doohickey comes into play in the form of a mysterious black book that, after some translation, John uses to absentmindedly cast a spell. A spell that predictably turns him into a girl and conveniently erases his history at Tina Koya High, allowing him to attend classes as a transfer student. Thus presenting John with the opportunity to form new connections with others, while unencumbered by his teenage boy awkwardness.
What ensues is a common route that splits off into three branches where the player can choose to form a connection with Yui, Vanessa, or Rita, and all of them follow the same general structure. John slides into a relationship with these girls using his ‘eclectic introvert knowledge,’ starts eating lunch with them, enjoys sharing an afternoon with them, and develops something within the spectrum of a solid friendship and a more romantic relationship. All of which is given a dip downward or upward by a universal event that occurs during day 11. An event that coincidentally ends John’s joyride as Jane, sending him back in time to use his newfound knowledge to form more meaningful relationships… Which are never written in detail, because TripleCeeK wanted to end the story there, I guess.
Or in more direct words, Spirit Hymn is pretty much three flavors of the same general story. While this could work to form a more cohesive tale that benefits from three different perspectives, the Scenario does not really do that, and instead suffers from a lack of variety. These routes admittedly offer different concepts and ideas, but these ideas are sadly ever explored as deeply as they could be. Such as the changes Sandra and Holly underwent as part of John’s reality warp.
With all this in mind, it is easy to reach the conclusion that, while Spirit Hymn has unique aspirations, there simply is not enough detailed story content to make the Scenario feel truly whole or complete. Now, TripleCeeK said these three paths were more of an introduction and has claimed that a true route is going to be present in a future update. Though, that’s not a good excuse. When you are writing a 5 hour long story with three full endings, you kind of lose the ability to argue that things are just getting started. It’s akin to a creator pulling ‘the game gets good 12 hours in’ argument to sell the game that they’re making. It just begs the question of, if that is your vision, why didn’t you make this ‘introduction’ shorter?
While this lack of detail or depth left me wanting for more, I still ultimately enjoyed what Spirit Hymn provided, and think that it does quite a few things right.
The story has its own tone and vibe that’s remarkably different from most other Student Transfer Scenarios, and part of that can be seen in how it handles its subject matter. While John ultimately is turned into a girl by the magical book, the story is never really about his transformation. Instead, the transformation is mostly used as a way for John to more easily facilitate a fresh start and more quickly form friendships with female students. This means that, beyond buying shampoo in the Yui route, there are few scenes of John fumbling with feminine matters. He goes on no erotic excursions. He has acquired muscle memory to help him with this transformation. And while he accepts his new body and life rather quickly, he never addresses issues pertaining to his gender identity.
These could all be seen as negatives to those who wanted yet another ‘turned into a girl’ escapade, but I’d rather see creators use Student Transfer as a platform to tell whatever stories they so desire. Even if they only involve a few, if any, transformation elements.
In playing a bit loose with continuity, TripleCeeK reimagined John as a more thoughtful and introspective character. Someone who is well-read and tries to unconsciously position himself as an intellectual, going on diatribes as he couples with his reality changes and the delicate relationships he forges. Though, he never stops feeling like the 18-year-old he is. His reactions are on the more dramatic side, his ‘real life experience’ is clearly limited, and he never has much control over his own life. It all goes to make him feel like a realized character, and a protagonist whom I enjoyed following throughout this Scenario.
Though, much of the reason why I enjoyed this rendition of John has to do with the script prepared by TripleCeek. While the first day or two has some of that ‘first draft of chapter one awkwardness,’ Spirit Hymn steadily finds its own voice, which is balanced between casual character-driven dialogue. Descriptive analysis from the protagonist. And some genuinely lovely ‘white text on black screen’ sections where TripleCeek really flexes their writing muscles and tries to make the story into something more poetic.
Shifting to the presentation, Spirit Hymn offers a fair amount of customized assets. They added loads of new backgrounds to flesh out its remixed world, and all but one of them neatly mesh with the assets used from the base game. Including the ‘adventure game object inserts’ that I’ve always had this weird fondness for. There’s an ominous introduction video that does a nice job of setting the scene for… a story far darker and more painful than the one seen here. While the newly added songs in the soundtrack do an excellent job of enhancing the emotion of key scenes with their subdued tones, melancholic melodies, and ability to evoke a sense of uneasiness.
It is clear that TripleCeeK went further than most when it comes to the presentation, though I still got some major ‘sound novel’ vibes from Spirit Hymn. Animations and character placement are kept pretty conservative, there are many scenes with no on-screen characters, and there are a relatively high number of black screen ‘novel narration’ sections present here. This could be seen as an area to improve, though personally I quite like the minimal approach of sound novels, as it evokes a different, more somber, mood than something more lively or visually robust.
In summation, Spirit Hymn is an enjoyable Scenario that has not quite hit its stride yet narratively. It has a distinct mood that sets it apart from its contemporaries and definitely has enough ideas to make at least one compelling story. Unfortunately, it spends too much of its duration rehashing the same story concept in three different ways, while never taking things as far as it could.
…Also, despite promising identity death, horror, and occult with the tags, pretty much none of those things are in this build of Spirit Hymn. There is also no true ‘spirit hymn,’ as John neither gets involved with spirits nor are there any hymns. …Huh.