Review – Amazing Grace – What Color is Your Attribute
If there’s one thing that Japan does in the most interesting way, it’s intermingling Christian symbols and ideology with whatever the hell else they have lying around. It takes only a small amount of searching to find the original crosses for the cult members of Earthbound, or the numerous Book of Revelations adjacent demons in Shin Megami Tensei. When you don’t necessarily hold something as untouchable, you can really get creative with what’s an arguably fascinating facet of human writing. This is none more evident than in the Christmas/Renaissance/Post Apocalyptic/Time Traveling dating sim that is Amazing Grace – What Color is your Attribute?
All jokes about Japanese games having impossibly long names aside, Amazing Grace is a fascinating little title that somehow had a Playstation 4 release back in the day, and now is getting a proper English translation and Steam release. Coming from Cabbage Soft and Shiravune, Amazing Grace stars Shuu, a young man who awakens in a village with little to no memory of his own past. Over the course of a four hour introduction, we learn that Shuu is in a European-styled town that’s devoid of some but not all technology (phones no, thumbprint scanners yes). Everyone thinks the world outside the town was destroyed a hundred years ago, and that they alone house all the art that survived the apocalypse.
This mystery unto itself would be strange enough to compel you forward, but Amazing Grace isn’t here to deliver just a “decent” visual novel. Quickly, Shuu befriends, well, everyone, and ingratiates himself into society. Soon, he and another girl, Yune, have an odd happening that involves a Christmas tree, some transforming apples, and several Garden of Eden analogies. We then learn that the town is going to burn to the ground on Christmas Day, prompting an explosion of strangeness as Shuu and Yune begin to manipulate time through several odd mediums (paintings are somehow involved) to try and prevent a horrible future from destroying this quaint hamlet. Also, Shuu is unable to keep it in his pants during these processions, so do with that what you will.
Let me just start by saying Amazing Grace – What Color is your Attribute is going to lean heavily on Christmas, so if that’s not your thing then you need to shop elsewhere. There’s plenty of discussion on Advent, the festivities, Santa, Bad Santa (which is Black Santa in Japanese but they wisely changed the name in subtitles), and a smattering of Christmas music. You’ll hear other music too, but Christmas music always wraps itself back into play. You have been warned.
When it comes to playing as a visual novel, Amazing Grace is a title that’s driven by fan service first and by actual plot second. This isn’t something where the romantic attempts of Shuu are distracting from the gameplay: far from it. If you proceed forward and choose wisely (also known as choosing the very obvious, non-romantic choices), you’ll never even encounter anything more than a little flirtation and a couple of uncomfortable art scenes with a fellow student. The plot is straightforward at least in terms of delivery, if not entirely understanding.
No, what I mean to say is that Amazing Grace is very nearly a kinetic novel when you subtract the relationship aspects. There is very little in terms of gameplay for choices that aren’t directly tied to trying to bed someone, and that is a little disappointing. I like being able to get bad endings and finding out I made a mistake, preferably the hard way. Still, after a few choice encounters, it became clear that it was more important to not overly complicate how information was being absorbed by making it obtuse or difficult.
I say this as Amazing Grace has a truly remarkable set of reveals the further you get into the game. While it initially played as something very basic – young man loses his memory and gets taken in by well endowed classmates – it very quickly challenged the bounds of expectations, thrusting you into a tale of altered states, differing realities and the concepts of God itself. Interweaving the clues found in different art throughout the game with the sermons of Sister Lili, there is a massive Pandora’s Box of information to behold that takes you on one reveal after another as you head towards an uncertain future.
In fact, there’s this entire concept that lies underneath that I wish we had been able to see more of because it is fascinating. As we move backwards and forwards in time, we get glimpses not only of the grand architecture of what’s happening, but also nuggets of purposeful misdirection to keep you on your toes. There are moments where you’ll be certain you understand – lost technology, grand conspiracy, M. Night Shyamalan ’s The Village – and then the overall ending is even stranger. If Amazing Grace wasn’t dead set on being a dating sim with almost nothing else to it, readers would find themselves entranced into a wonderfully complex concept that could have had at least six different endings.
Instead, because the relationships are the target, you’re left with more of a focus on whom you encounter and less what you’re encountering. One of four students – Yune, Kotoha, Kirie and Sakuya – could potentially be your destiny, although you could potentially change your mind at any time. How these relationships go hinges entirely on the setup and you following very obvious execution. The art gallery that appears before the start of a new reality has direct influence on the happenings of your playthrough: investigate the right artwork before engaging with the girl to alter how the chapter will unfold and what will happen.
As a modern dating simulation/visual novel, Amazing Grace hits some good notes with the different characters you can potentially romance. Kirie is a delightful bit of havoc, obsessed with the creation of film and action movies, but also in sincerity and struggling to express her feelings. Kotoha is artistic and mature, and is perhaps the most evenly balanced of the quartet when it comes to understanding what’s happening. Yune, being at the center of it all, is cheerful with a bit of fanaticism behind her mission: getting her to a place of comfort for actual dating takes some trial and error. Lastly, Sakuya is incredibly sweet and flirtatious, and her character arc is easily the most confusing and complicated out of all of them. If you’re hoping for some straightforward communication, it simply isn’t going to happen here.
The closer you get to discovering the secrets of what happened at St. Aria Academy and the shocking revelations, it honestly gets really engrossing to realize everything that happened in order for the time loop to exist and continue, and what, ultimately, needs to be done if you choose to see the story through to the end. The distraction, though, can throw you off keeping up with the plot because Shuu is a very self indulgent main character. While he isn’t nearly as misogynistic as other protagonists (see also: Cross Channel, NEKOPARA), he is still very much a teenage boy, but actually talks about the physical appearances of everyone less than some. But because we have to run everything through him, we get a lot of inner dialogue, a lot of overly long “shocking” reactions and, worst of all, the flashbacks.
Pacing is an ongoing issue throughout all routes because it feels like fluff and filler. While I understand the need for flashbacks, needing to constantly relive scenes that sometimes happened just a few minutes ago gets tedious and just inflates the playthrough time. As these flashbacks count as new scenes, you can’t fast forward through them without running the risk of skipping new dialogue, so there are multiple times where you just sit around, watching f4gq7replay a conversation that he had with Youji or Sister Lili or someone else that is obviously relevant but also completely unnecessary. I appreciate it, but no thank you.
At this point, we must address the elephant in the room: the potential for sex scenes. Amazing Grace was written as an erotic game in the first place, and the developers have made a patch available for those wishing for the “full” experience. Without going into details, I can say that playing through without the eroge components is fully functional, and is mostly unchanged. Some decisions, like love confession, serve only to steer the endings and will not activate additional scenes or dialogue. There is also an interaction where a character is nude for a portrait, and that is censored. I know we’re going with “better safe than sorry,” but I was disappointed for an entire character moment to be removed because breasts were bared.
As odd a journey as it was, I sincerely enjoyed my time with Amazing Grace – What Color Is Your Attribute. It was quite a feat to craft such an intensely dark plot without ever going fully dark itself. Any talk of arson, kidnapping, or murder happened bloodlessly, without the need to showcase the horrors that befell someone (looking at you, Higurashi). It’s cute, sweet and full of moments of absolute humanistic connection while also intermingling chaos, amusement and serious questions regarding the evolution of society. Visual novel fans of Yu-No or Steins;GATE should at least consider this title before dismissing it entirely. It’s well acted, has a fantastic story and made me care, cry and smile. There’s little more you can ask from a game.
Absolutely gorgeous character avatars and displays. Adorable and beautiful portraits help keep the player compelled, and the backdrops, while rather simplified, craft the ideal environment for both the story and the engagement.
Painting choice and order is the lynchpin of most game routes and results. Otherwise, it’s literally a matter of “do I want to end the game with this girl or not” that dictates whether the ending is neigh to arrive.
Fantastic voicework from all characters, particularly the voices of the minor characters (Sister Lili, Rinka, Jack). Some small points off from needing to circle back to Christmas standards time after time.
An unbelievably compelling story that’s only tripped up by the main character trying to find love instead of figuring out how time travel, Christian mythology and Santa Claus all interact with each other.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Amazing Grace – What Color Is Your Attribute is available now on PC, or PS4 and PS5 (Japan only).
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Amazing Grace – What Color Is Your Attribute was provided by the publisher.