Script-wise, Higurashi won’t be winning any awards for its writing. I can’t vouch for the original Japanese text, but MangaGamer’s translation has an odd, stilted quality about it; as if it was localized and edited by somebody whose first language wasn’t English. It’s not a terrible translation, but there’s a number of awkward sentences and typos to be found. There’s also a number of of anachronistic references to anime and video game franchises, such as Street Fighter and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and they predictably tend to fall flat as they’re sloppy and not very amusing.
There appears to be a number of aspects to the story that may have been lost in translation. For example, Keiichi narrates that the character Detective Ooishi is crass and vulgar, but Ooishi comes across as polite, concerned and focused in all of his dialogue. There are many ways to say things in Japanese that indicate dialect and personality, and many of these things do not have an English equivalent, so it’s easy to imagine some of these things being difficult to localize effectively. Still, the end result feels sterile. Outside of a scene late in the story in which the detective ogles a waitress, not much evidence is presented to support Keiichi’s assessment of Ooishi as sleazy.
There’s also some misconceptions and mistakes to be found in the narrative itself. Notably, Higurashi equates dysautonomia, a condition that is the physical breakdown of the nervous system, with a nervous breakdown, two things that have nothing in common. It’s kind of an embarrassing mistake which could have easily been avoided with five minutes of additional research.
That said, Ryukishi07 excels at building suspense, and MangaGamer did a good job at bringing this across. The ways in which the murders are described are genuinely disquieting, and there’s a certain level of primal fear permeating the scenes in which Keiichi’s paranoia starts to get the better of him.
The suspense is heightened effectively by the music design, which features some uncomfortable instrumentation during the story’s more disturbing scenes. Higurashi also effectively uses absence of music when appropriate. However, for a piece that labels itself as a Sound Novel, the sound itself tends to be inconsistent. Occasionally we’ll hear sounds as they happen in the story; a door shutting, a doorbell ringing, somebody being punched etc. But more often than not, sounds are described but not heard. It’s a little bit of a bummer.