Ayumu is a guy that just wants to take it easy. He’s the adopted son of a body guard who put him through intense training as a kid, so for a change of pace now that he’s at the boarding school Jinbu Academy, he does his best to relax and do as little work as possible, just barely passing. His closest friend is a girl named Yumina, who is similar in that she also doesn’t know her parents, though she grew up at an orphanage. But she’s also Ayumu’s opposite in many ways, in that she puts in tremendous effort, but still doesn’t manage to pass.
Due to a series of circumstances, including those involving Ayumu, it seems that she’ll be forced to repeat a year, with absolutely nothing in the rules that gets her out of it. Desperate to get around that, she runs around school asking anyone she can for help, ultimately coming upon Kirara, a small (though it would be dangerous to call her that) and somewhat sadistic girl, who is also the head and sole member of the debate club. She says that there’s a single way for Yumina to avoid having to repeat a year. If nothing in the rules allow it, she must simply change the rules, by participating in the upcoming election and becoming student council president. Yumina, being easily led on, quickly agrees and Ayumu also joins. And later on a mysterious, strange, and food obsessed girl names Ai transfers to the school and also joins.
The complete debate club works hard on their election versus the varying other clubs in the school. However, it’s important to note that the election at Jinbu academy is very different from other elections, involving a tournament style elimination structure, and being centered around debate battles that involve Ethereal technology, which works kind of like holograms. And even beyond the issues with dealing with the various competitors they must face in the election, there also seems to be something mysterious happening behind the scenes at Jinbu Academy that seems far bigger than the election itself.
Yumina the Ethereal is primarily a visual novel though it does have a good amount of game play in the form of combat during debate battles and otherwise. The game play is a turn based RPG with combat during the main story as well as in a fantasy themed dungeon crawler portion called the Ordacle that exists pretty much completely separate from the main story and has a storyline that can only be told across three playthroughs. The combat is decent at best, having some unique mechanics, but not really much depth, in that there are a lot of abilities, but there isn’t a lot of variation among them. The battles can also feel very slow, even when sped up, but for the most part are paced well enough with the main story that this never becomes an issue. The Ordacle itself, was very annoying at first, because doing side quests in the Ordacle is completely and utterly annoying. Thankfully, I quickly discovered its possible to ignore them all and do your best to avoid combat in dungeons and still be perfectly fine in terms of being properly leveled. That made combat much more bearable. I would like to note that there were some elements that were incredibly annoying such as essentially being required to have certain abilities, mainly chain stasis and hydroblaster, at the right levels for certain bosses without any prior warning, wherein if you haven’t gotten the abilities yet it may require reloading a much older save. I would also like to note that an extra combat type is added about half way through that adds a good amount of diversity to the combat, which did help a good amount in preventing it from feeling repetitive, though it still ended up doing so somewhat. So all in all the game play wasn’t particularly great, but it was good enough for what it was in keeping the player involved and at the minimum wasn’t a hindrance.
The structure of the visual novel portion is centered primarily around choosing what events to do, in that you are able to do two events a day, one morning and one evening, with a limit on the number of days. These events often chain together, and hence the order they are performed in needs to be carefully considered. These VN portions can ultimately give you abilities to use during combat, but they are also the primary means of telling the story. I felt that this structure was somewhat lacking, in that it was somewhat hard to follow and quite easy to do events in such a way that it feels out of order. This was especially true if you take the Ordacle related events into account. The game is also divided into two portions, the first of which takes place at Jinbu Academy and goes through the election, and that sets the stage for the next phase, which takes place in space. Jinbu Academy is also where you choose which route you end up on in the second half, with the choices being Yumina, Kirara, and Ai. The academy portion was pretty laid back, very slice of life feeling, though there were some obvious things that were bizarre with a major mystery lurking in the background. The space portion was far more intense and exciting, being at a whole other level than the election portion. However, to go through the various routes, its necessary to go back and forth between them, which I felt was pretty awkward, though the true ending did wrap things up nicely.
The routes, in terms of my playing order, which in hindsight I think is the best order:
Kirara’s route was interesting. She’s a very interesting girl being somewhat sadistic but also gentle, though her route was also somewhat depressing. Her character design I wasn’t too fond of, and though at first I really liked her personality, to be honest that decreased a bit as the story went on . The backstory on how Galeorn became someone she despised was interesting and one of the most important plot points for her, but how she didn’t get revenge at all in the end was somewhat unsatisfying, though I can understand the point they were making about moving on. I was worried they were going to sort of end it on a cliff hanger, but they fully developed the ending with the flash forward ten years later and it was great to see everyone doing well. Her ED was also great, though it wasn’t really unique to her. Also, how she was suddenly in a relationship was really random.
Ai’s routes plot seems to take the base story from Kirara’s route, and extend it, exposing a whole host of other characters and taking things further, such that the overall lore of the universe comes together much better. The plot itself from a character development point of view was also more interesting than Kirara’s, with a plot oriented around whether she should be her own person or to continue on the goals that were given to her when she was young, which ultimately amount to chasing after her sister. The ending was where the majority of the story was told, which resulted in it proceeding very differently from what I expected, but in terms of structure it makes sense, and ultimately it came to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Her ED was decent and fit her pretty well.
Yumina’s route is the route that takes things the furthest, in terms of lore and plot. It builds upon everything introduces in the other routes, and adds quite a bit more. It also has a lot of unique moments, such as going through everyone else’s perspectives for certain events. Yumina is also someone who I didn’t like much at first, but as her character was developed she quickly became my favorite character. She’s an airhead that pretty much derives power from her airheadedness while also being kind and overtly selfless, but learning to be selfish. Her route came to the most solid conclusion of the three, which was also quite satisfying. I should also note that this route has the most music, which was great, and her ED is both good and fitting.
The conclusion route, thats unlocked upon finishing all other routes and finishing the Ordacle, was a solid way to wrap up everything bringing everything from school and space together in one epic finale. Though not exactly, it pretty much picks up near the ending of Yumina’s route, but goes in a different direction. There’s a focus on having a lot more depth to it, that primarily manifests itself in existentialist concepts being discussed when arguing with Barais, and although that in itself was rather weak and didn’t make much sense, feeling very awkwardly put together, the emotional aspects surrounding it were reasonably strong. The ending was interesting in that it doesn’t quite end for the main characters, even though a lengthy conclusion is given for the side characters. That the story is very much still going is kind of awkward in that it clearly hasn’t reached a conclusion yet, but the characters seem perfectly happy and it allows them to stay together, which was especially nice to see in the journal, but they’re still drifting outside the universe. Ultimately, it’s a rather strange feeling to be completely done with the whole novel like that. It doesn’t feel like it’s completely over, and it makes me kind of miss them and want to know what they get up to afterwards.
As for some overall comments, the music was fantastic, which makes sense as it was a core story portion. The art was decent though not exceptional, across sprites and CGs. The character designs were decent as well. The voices were fine, though it was weird to only have Ayumu voiced in some scenes.
A VN with passable game play that has a major genre shift that somehow works pretty well.
It’s disappointed the fandisc will never happen.
Also I’m surprised they translated all the info of each skill and item. That must have taken forever and was completely pointless as few would read it. I’d rather they have just saved the time and money.
Also, it’s really hard to find good images of this game to use for the header.