A few months ago, I played through Ashina: The Red Witch, an adventure game that served as a prequel to the already existing game My Big Sister. The Spirited Away-inspired game followed a young girl as she and her sister ventured off into a world of Shinto mythology and try to escape the clutches of demons, witches, and wraiths to reach home again.
I will be frank, the story of Ashina: The Red Witch fell very flat for me. It seemed like the writer just didn’t put much thought into what the story would thematically mean at the end of the day, because the lesson it put forth was that being selfless and loving will, over and over, result in punishment. The only way to survive is to become selfish, cold, and cut off from those around you.
I saw that My Big Sister was being remastered with some new story content and thought perhaps it’d tie the whole story together in a way that made more sense. Sadly, it invalidated the story of both games even more to the point that I truly don’t think the writer even knew what they were trying to say.
My Big Sister Remastered does look excellent, and most of my praise goes towards the visuals. As with Ashina, the character and world design is outstanding. The pixel artwork is immaculate, and it at once feels like a real world you’re stepping into. I could almost feel myself on those dark streets as the spirits feasted on ramen and chatted about the town.
Each character you meet is immediately recognizable, distinct, and brimming with personality. The music is perfectly tuned to really make you feel like you’re inside a Studio Ghibli movie. At only three hours long, it’s a wonderful world to get lost in on a cold evening with the lights turned off.
The gameplay, as with Ashina, is mostly reading through dialogue, walking around to find items, and bringing those items to NPCs. It is largely a series of fetch quests, but they do take you around the world in a carefully measured way. If you’re not into narrative adventure games, stop reading. I don’t think My Big Sister is going to offer you much. But it is well paced and the map is well designed to inspire exploration and awe.
This is unfortunately where my praise ends. As My Big Sister is a very, very narrative heavy game, most of the weight falls on the story to make an enjoyable experience. And although the characters were mostly very pleasant and memorable, the sad fact is that this is one of the worst written narrative games I’ve ever played. And it’s not just the endings, it’s the super inconsistent writing all through out. I kept thinking “Oh, the ending might make this thing that seems like stupid nonsense make sense.” None of the endings ever did.
Again, the writer doesn’t seem to understand that when themes are presented they need to be supported by the actions of a character. If your story claims over and over that “love will defeat darkness” and you have a character act selflessly, tear apart space and time for her sister, and end up punished for it… you didn’t understand your own story.
My Big Sister not only disservices its own already-choppy story with its insane variety of endings (which I’ll get to in a moment), it actually invalidates the entire story of Ashina: The Red Witch in one ending to the degree that the narrative in the prequel never meant anything either. The wide variety of endings is usually something I look forward to in a game, but without spoilers I think the reason it was so poorly executed here is that these endings are not alternate endings. Each one can only take place in a different reality, to the point that they are mutually exclusive.
The best I can say is that Ending A couldn’t have come from the same game as Ending B because Ending B invalidates lots and lots of events from Ending A. That’s not offering alternate endings; it’s having a bunch of ideas and being unable to settle on one. The tone of the writing is so thematically dissonant in the endings from the game itself, not to mention the fact that thematically it just doesn’t result in an actual story. The most basic elements of story building are mashed together in a way that not only doesn’t make sense, it’s kind of upsetting. And in a way, that’s a compliment, because I only was upset because I liked and cared about these characters.
The “true ending” of My Big Sister Remastered is probably the strangest of all, and although it’s meant to be happy it just raises more questions. When leaving a story on a cliffhanger ending of “what really happened?”, you shouldn’t be circling the drain between “it was all a dream,” “it wasn’t a dream and the girl is a demon,” “it might be a dream but it became real for no reason,” etc. So my question after seeing all the endings is… did any of the events in either game actually even happen? And if they didn’t, what the hell did I spend 10 hours doing?
Overall, while the art and world and music are top notch, I can’t really recommend this very narrative heavy game because the story is just a disaster of thematic and tonal clashing at every turn. If this was another kind of game with a heavier combat element or something else to carry the weight, it’d be a different story, but My Big Sister is a narrative. If you are content to just vibe with it for a few hours and let the story be of no consequence, maybe you’ll find a way to enjoy it.
Nirav reviewed My Big Sister: Remastered on PC with a key provided by the publisher. It is also available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4/5.