Conclusion/tl;dr up top
Narcissu, being a kinetic novel, is not for everyone, but those who don't mind a "game" based primarily on reading or who are already fans of visual novels as a genre will be rewarded with a great story that will make you think and might just make you feel. Plus, hey, it's free, so it's hard not to recommend.
The nitty gritty
Narcissu is a kinetic novel released by the doujin circle Stage-Nana in Japan and published here on Steam by Sekai Project. The story rotates around young people from the 7th Floor (the hospice ward). That is, people whose death has been decided. Without saying much as to the plot, I feel like the novel eloquently covers some heavy subjects: What are the things one has to do before dying? Faced with an unavoidable demise, how might people react to take back independence lost and march vibrantly toward their final act? How does one smile at the end, and how do those left behind smile after?
GameplayFor people who have experience with visual/kinetic novels, this section is probably unnecessary, but for the unintiated:
A visual novel generally works like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book with graphics, music, and sometimes voices. The "player", usually in the guise of the protagonist, makes choices throughout the story that affect the plot. However, Narcissu 1st & 2nd are Kinetic Novels, so they have no choices and very little player interaction aside from a click or press of the enter key to advance the text (though autoplay is actually the default setting for Narcissu Side 2nd, and the author mentions in the notes that he himself sees it more like a movie). Personally, I'd describe it as a long minimalist cutscene with save, load, and backlog options. The game itself is much closer to a novel or a reading experience than a game, and this, no doubt will be what turns a lot of people off from Narcissu, if not the genre as a whole.
Answering common questionsLength?
Narcissu was about a 3 to 4 hour read for me. Narcissu Side 2nd (the included prequel) was 5 to 6 hours. Understandably, it might be a lot of reading for some, but both games are neatly divided into chapters, and the save feature works like a bookmark that you can use at any time.Order?
Narcissu was released in 2005, and Narcissu Side 2nd was released in 2007, both are included in this release, and I read them in the release order. However, Narcissu Side 2nd is actually a prequel to the events of the original Narcissu, and in the notes for Narcissu Side 2nd, the author suggests reading them in chronological order.Replay Value?
That probably depends on the player. The original Narcissu was kind of an experiment in minimalist storytelling for Stage-Nana, so it was released in both voiced and unvoiced versions, as the author wanted to see how the voices changed people's impression of the work, and subsequently Narcissu Side 2nd is presented similarly. An interesting mirror of that for this release is that two different translations are included: one made with the intent to localize the novel smoothly into English, and one made with the intent to replicate the phrasing of the original as faithfully as possible and paint a mental picture close to what the original author intended. Though I'm writing this review after just one reading, I can see how this approach would add replay value, and I intend to revisit Narcissu after it stews on me a bit.Why is this free?
Narcissu is a doujin (or fanmade/amatuer) work and was released for free in Japan. When Sekai-Project announced this Steam release, they said that in the spirit of the original release, Narcissu on Steam would be "As free as Steam would let it be," so here we are. With that said, don't take the lack of a price as a reflection of quality, because, quite frankly, there's no rule stating that professionals can't do doujin works. The music and voices are especially standout in this release, and a few of the voice actresses have both anime and game roles to their credit.
Well, I put it at the top for a reason...
This is an excellent release that feels like a labor of love on the part of the author. To me, it stands as a great experiment in minimalist storytelling (especially in the original Narcissu, where I found myself endeared to the characters even with next to no background given about them). Though the novel (and the genre) may not be for everyone, if this feels like your kind of thing, and you have the time to give to reading a great story, I can't not recommend it.