Higurashi is a murder mystery game described as a "sound novel" by 07th Expansion. A sound novel is similar to a visual novel in that the gameplay requires relatively little player interaction as most of the game is composed of text dialogues. The original release contained no voice acting for the characters. While a visual novel's basis would be the visual aspect, as the name suggests, a sound novel's basis takes more care in producing an atmosphere via the music, sound effects, and the story itself.
The game utilizes intermissions where the player can obtain several TIPS. These TIPS allow the player to read various supplementary information that may or may not be useful in solving the mystery. For example, one of the TIPS can be as simple as "this is a small village; children who go to this school are combined into one classroom regardless of what grade or year they are in." On the other hand, they can provide valuable hints, such as being able to read the excerpts of the newspaper articles regarding the murders that occurred in Hinamizawa. At the beginning of each of the story arcs, a cryptic poem by someone known as Frederica Bernkastel is read; these reveal some of what is going to happen in the following arc.
The PlayStation 2 port Matsuri differs from the original game series in that it includes full voice acting, redrawn CGs, and integration of the question arcs starring Keiichi into a single branching storyline. Matsuri includes the first seven PC arcs (Matsuribayashi-hen is excluded) and three original final arcs—Taraimawashi-hen, Tsukiotoshi-hen and Miotsukushi-hen. After the original seven arcs are cleared, the first two final arcs become available. Furthermore, when these two final arcs are cleared, the epilogue, Miotsukushi-hen, is unlocked.