One genre of video games that the Western community is not well acquainted with is that of visual novels. Very popular in Japan, visual novels ride the border between interactive and non-interactive art, between video games and movies or books. Unlike most video games, visual novels feature little action or even moving graphics, relying mostly on still images, text, and a handful of choices the player can make to deliver an interactive experience. Unfortunately, these characteristics are probably the reason for visual novels' lack of presence in the West (though I'm quite biased on this matter, I would say most Americans lack the ability to engage thoughtfully with text that is a prerequisite to enjoying these particular games).
Another genre missing in the West, and which is often misunderstood, is that of eroges, which short of erotic games. True to their name, these games contain sex scenes. However, many eroges are also visual novels, and in fact graphic depictions of sex are often much less important to the plot, so much so that many such visual novels get family-safe versions, with only the sex scenes cut out.
Kara no Shoujo, which translates into The Girl of the Shell, is an erotic visual novel made by Innocent Gray back in 2008. It has recently been released in English, a rare gem for the English community to enjoy. To roughly summarize the plot, in Kara no Shoujo the player follows the story of a detective, Tokisaki Reiji in Tokyo who investigates a series of murders and a strange, seemingly unrelated request from a girl, Kuchiki Toko, to find her true self. Depending on the player's choices, Reiji uncovers many secrets about the numerous characters and their relationships to almost every other character.
The game does not hesitate in its delivery, forcing the player and the player character to face everything in its full. The many murders are described in gruesome detail, and if the player isn't careful—and I wasn't the first time I played it—the protagonist will also meet a gruesome end, even before the plot matures. By the end, many persons will have died, and despite the player's best efforts, at least eight persons will die in the game's present, three of which are involved characters which the player can court. These are simply out of the player's and the protagonist's power to prevent; Kara no Shoujo forces Reiji to come to terms with his wife's death in the past and his students' deaths in the present and his powerlessness to save them, and forces the player to think about any tragedies he or she may regret being unable to prevent.
Like most visual novels, Kara no Shoujo has multiple endings. Though it may sound tedious to play through a mostly non-interactive game, making different choices to see different endings, it is necessary if the player want to know all the secrets the game's characters have. A good half or so of the characters are related to each other in a meaningful way, and the player won't be able to explore the secrets every character is hiding in one playthrough. Nor will the player be able to piece together exactly how, when, and why everything happened, either. Furthermore, there is no perfect path of progression; each forces the player to make sacrifices. The player will have to decide what is really important, and that may not be what the game tells him or her is important: in only one ending in the game does the female lead and main love interest, Toko, survive, with all her limbs missing (she is kidnapped in others and not found, though it is very likely she dies in those endings), and that is not the ending the game considers the True End. In the True End, the player uncovers the secrets—all of the secrets—behind Toko's past, along the way uncovering secrets about his own past and the pasts of a few others as well.
Why is bringing these secrets to light more important than saving Toko's life? Kara no Shoujo tells the player the answer all throughout the game; even the title and the titular work of art is subtly whispering the answer: Kara no Shoujo, the Girl of the Shell, a painting of a girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kuchiki Toko, trapped in a cracked eggshell; the serial murderers, all mentally unstable, fixated on women in their lives and the tragic events that involved them; the protagonist, the player character, trapped by his past and his wife's death; Kuchiki Toko, burdened with her unusual and dangerous combination of diseases and the uneasiness surrounding her family and her past. All of these scream of the torments of self-imprisonment and the desire for an uncertain freedom. If the player chooses well, he will talk to many of the characters one final time, after the conclusion of everything, and he will be offered a chance to look at the painting Toko leaves behind, the painting she had been working on, slowly, gradually, through the progression of the story, and which she completed with the help of the player character. Uncovering the painting, he encounters a simple, yet inexplicably moving, image of a little blue bird, fluttering upwards, free from its white eggshell.