Bai Qu (VNDB|Steam), also known as 百曲 or Hundreds of Melodies, tells the story of one tragic and magical summer in the life of Chinese college student Wei Qiuwu. While visiting his father in the hospital, Qiuwu befriends another patient there—a young girl named Li Jiayun with a talent for music. He soon finds himself tagging along on adventures around the city of Nanjing with Jiayun, her energetic friend He Jia, and a variety of other eccentric characters. But as the summer draws to a close, Jiayun’s deteriorating health begins to cast a shadow over the newly formed group of friends.
I had been looking forward to this visual novel ever since reading developer Magenta Factory’s previous shorter release, Shan Gui, which mostly stuck with me because of its relaxing atmosphere. So I was happy to see that from the very beginning of Bai Qu, some excellent music and ambient sound choices added to the same kind of immersive experience. The game is also full of realistic and detailed background art that really brings the various locations Qiuwu visits to life. Both VNs really made me want to visit China and see some of the breathtaking landscapes that inspired the artists for myself!
Bai Qu also includes some beautiful CG art, especially at the most intense moments of the story. Its gallery contains a total of 102 unique CGs, which is especially impressive for an indie VN. However, I was a bit put off by the suggestive framing of some of those CGs, as well as by the impractical outfits on some sprites. Readers who enjoy a bit of that kind of fanservice in their VNs might have no problem with it, but there are a lot of panty shots and extremely tight shirts that I think would be more at home in a raunchy eroge than in this contemplative tale about friendship and illness, and I found that my distaste for that artistic choice sometimes took away from the story’s emotional resonance.
Another thing that might bother some readers is the English translation, which could definitely have used another editing pass. It’s not unreadable by any means, but the grammar and diction often sounded a bit odd and unnatural to me. And while somewhat strangely worded sentences might not take away too much from some other genres, I think that this is an especially big problem for Bai Qu considering how much of the narrative is slice of life. The everyday dynamics of the different characters’ relationships are a lot less fun to observe when everyone talks in similarly stilted ways instead of having a variety of unique voices. But I imagine that it’s a lot better in the original Chinese, so I would recommend this VN more whole-heartedly to anyone who’s able to read the untranslated version.
Overall, while I had some issues with Bai Qu, I’m still glad I read it. The stunning art in many scenes largely overshadowed the art I found needlessly provocative in others, and I almost always felt immersed enough in the atmosphere of the story to forgive some awkwardness in the dialogue. I urge anyone who thinks they might enjoy Bai Qu to give it a chance, especially considering that conflicts over the distribution rights of Shan Gui have caused a lot of trouble for Magenta Factory. I hope that more people will support them so that they can overcome the setbacks they’ve had to deal with, and make their future projects even better.