Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya Review

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RELEASE DATE
: 2014
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Apple iOS/Android/Steam (English), PSVITA (Japanese)

I recently picked up the game a few weeks back during Steam’s December/Winter Sale. It was 75% off the original price of $29.99USD, which is quite a good steal in my opinion. What initially attracted me was the lovely art, and its setting within ancient Japan/the Edo Period. I have a soft spot for the time period due to its depictions of ancient Japanese culture, and there are vast windows of opportunity for interesting storylines interwoven with the complexity of history. I especially adore characters adorning kimonos as they are always drawn so beautifully, as well as the intricate background arts to reflect the era.

The use and popularity of the genre within visual novels have increased immensely after Idea Factory’s now coveted poster game Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom made its huge splash with both its original debut in Japan and expansion to western culture through the licensing partnership with Akyss Games. Game companies are always seeking new target markets to appeal to, and whatever is popular clearly sells, right?

I was aware that the game originally was released for the mobile platform, but after its notable popularity it garnered enough of a following to warrant a steam release as well as it’s sequel – Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya (which I also reviewed). I was intrigued on how they decided to approach the steam port, in terms of graphics, improvements, art, UI etc. and was met with mixed reception.

Storyline ★★★

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– The Story –
A closed island where baby boys are not born…
A unique culture that is completely different from the mainland has been flourishing on the island. In the middle of the island, there is a district where men are gathered.
Some women just want children.
Others are looking for love.
Knowingly deceived by a lie, and deceived in return, all in a single night’s dream.
At the end, to whom is it that you will be talking of love? (Steam Summary)

You play as the daughter of a regular shipping agent, and have lived a relatively sheltered life on an island where men are rarely ever conceived. Any men who are born are cursed to being inevitably sold to Yoshiwara, in order to become a courtesan. As a result, the only choice for the women of the island to experience any semblance of love or to have children is to pay a visit to the district of Yoshiwara. It is a custom exclusive only to this unique island, where it has become an everyday occurrence when a woman comes of age to visit the pleasure district.

Yoshiwara despite its awe-inspiring beauty, is merely a fabricated dream. The male courtesans are enforced to something akin to slavery – they sell their body and love, but never their hearts. Our protagonist on an errand to Yoshiwara, stumbles across a courtesan and his lover attempting to escape to the mainland in order to be together. Assisting such a crime would be considered high treason, but the MC follows her heart and allows them to find a boat in order to escape. In return for her kindness, she is given a large sum of money and a kimono of great quality.

She continues on her errand with the package in hand, and is dragged into the depths of the pleasure district where she meets our bachelors and experiences emotions and events she never would have dreamed of or been possible without the blessing of the couple she rescued. What would become of our innocent heroine who has never experienced the darkness of the island, and will she fall into a world of deceit and fabricated dreams?

Although the premise was promising, it had very mediocre execution. The events were extremely predictable, with the heroine quickly falling to the beguiling charms of the gentlemen. The courtesans in turn fall for the protagonist without any proper build up or emotional connection, but merely on the premise that she is “cute and innocent”. The writing was littered with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and a lot of the phrases were worded quite strangely.

The flow of the writing was disjointed and clunky, and clearly translated by someone where english is not their first language. The stories tended to wrap up through very convenient methods without much explanation, and the heroine ended up with all the male courtesans through more or less the same ways (courtesan pays off debt or gets bought, they get married, the end).

For several different character routes, variety and variation is a must in the writing of the story. Overall, if you overlook the subpar writing and poor execution the story does have some good moments here and there of promise. There were a few scenes that definitely warmed my heart, in the climaxes of the story when the protagonist and the male bachelor confide in their love for one another and the culmination of their relationship. It does contain fairly descriptive sexual content compared to most otome games, so that is something to also keep in mind. Each route takes about 3hrs to complete (with the side stories, sequel and date scenario).

Character Development ★★★

! WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

In general, I found the character development to be very lacking in this game. Most of the bachelors hardly change throughout the story, and more or less remain the same. They’re a little softer in their approach to the heroine, and more open in confiding their love – but as a reader you’d expect something more than that after everything they have been through together.

The heroine especially, completely lacks character and is the equivalent to a doormat. She cries a lot, and for the most part essentially over nothing. She quickly falls for the guys, and is willing to throw everything on the line for them after only a few encounters which for the life of me I cannot begin to wrap my head around. I suppose her only good point is she doesn’t lack passion and is willing to protect at all costs what she holds dear. She is easy to read like an open book, very kindhearted and hardworking due to her sheltered upbringing.

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TAKAO: One of the most popular courtesans in all of Yoshiwara, he excels in charming women with his sweet words, alluring demeanour and charming nature. Due to this, he is extremely egocentric and approaches everything in a very confident manner. The heroine is bewitched by his looks at first glance, and quickly succumbs to him — visiting him at every opportunity, constantly waiting for him at Kikuya (the more popular a courtesan; the longer his list of customers he must attend to) and finds herself unable to focus when she is apart from him.

What I disliked about the route was that Takao remained the same from beginning to end, and his personality had very little development over the course of the story. His feelings for the heroine were also abrupt and sudden, and without much relationship build up.

I found Takao a lot more likeable in the other character routes, as he is prevalent in all their storylines. His story was also tied up in the most convenient plot device possible, and I disliked how they didn’t properly explore his relationship with his father further; despite their heartfelt reunion. It felt like it all happened so fast, and then it skipped to their wedding and then “the end”. It had so much potential to give Takao the depth he needed as a character, because ultimately his family was his reason for continuing to remain in Yoshiwara for so long. For the poster boy of the game, I expected a lot more from his route.

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KAGURA: I felt the pacing in Kagura’s route to be a lot better than Takao’s. The pacing was significantly slower in terms of romantic interactions (for Takao’s he is very forward from the get-go), but it made for a more meaningful relationship. Kagura is a very serious individual, and very different from the other courtesans. He wishes to be recognised for his abilities in swordsmanship and knowledge of western culture rather than his looks alone. He is hardworking, and not a man of many words.

As a result the heroine desires to know more about him and what he likes, and their interactions mainly consist of conversations in getting to know one another. I found the MC to be more endearing in this route, as she tries her best to get to know Kagura, his interests, and shows more attentiveness to him. My only criticism would be again, that his story ties up in the most convenient way possible before it quickly skips to their wedding and the ending of the story.

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KAGEROU: My personal favourite route of the game. He is Kagura’s attendant, and a courtesan-in-training soon to have his coming of age debut. As a result, he is unfamiliar with women and love and has a sharp-tongue when speaking. He is the same age as the heroine, and thus their relationship begins on a more even playing field. Both are able to open up to one another more, as their similar age makes conversing a lot easier.

The heroine is not intimidated by Kagerou (in comparison to the other bachelors) and is able to show a lot more of her true personality. They often engage in friendly, endearing banter and it is clear through their interactions with one another the continual shift in their relationship. Kagerou idolises Kagura and as a result it is rare for him to interact with anyone else. It is clear when Kagerou falls for the heroine, by asking her to accompany him on a date to the local festival.

His route was like a breath of fresh air, as he wasn’t stifled in confinement. Kagerou has yet to become a fully-fledged courtesan, and is still allowed outside of Yoshiwara to pursue his studies. He truly changes when falling in love with the heroine, and pushes everything aside when she falls ill; showing his immense love for her. I personally find their route to be the most canon, as they are able to consummate their love as one another’s firsts and with someone they truly love; something rare and unheard of in Yoshiwara.

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TOKIWA: He comes off as very rude and arrogant in majority of the other routes, so to my surprise he was actually one of the more gentle characters out of the courtesans. Tokiwa prior to his demotion to Takao’s attendant, was a rising courtesan within the district for his skills in dance, singing and unique foreign looks. In comparison to the other men of Yoshiwara, he originated from the mainland and was not originally born on the island itself.

He did not come onto the protagonist as strongly compared to his appearances in other routes, where he consistently attempted to seduce her and has a bad reputation for stealing other gentlemen’s clients (which is considered forbidden in Yoshiwara; as a client may only choose to remain with one courtesan once chosen).

I quite liked the pacing of their relationship, since I felt they developed quite mutually. He learns to accept himself for the things that he despises, due to the heroine’s love for him. I felt in this route the protagonist truly wanted to make him happy, and paved the path for him to achieving his dream as the most desired and top courtesan in Yoshiwara. My main criticism would be the story tied up through a very convenient series of events that enabled them to be together and ended in marriage.

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IROHA: The now retired-courtesan and current “ogre-like” manager of Kikuya, he is the main contribution to its success within Yoshiwara. He is always thinking of the business first and foremost, using whatever means necessary in ensuring it prospers as the most popular courtesan shop. His route is very different in comparison to the others, as he is no longer working as a courtesan. As such, he insists to the heroine that there is no need to pay for his services, as he is no longer a gentlemen of the night.

Although he is always employing tactics that would be most profitable for the store, it is clear in the other routes that he is not completely as heartless as his actions would infer. He clearly does care for the other courtesans very much, and wishes them happiness. Due to his position, he keeps a clear barrier between him and the heroine; refusing her wishes and advances for a more intimate relationship.

We soon learn that it is due to him holding a dark secret, and a strong sense of debt towards Kikuya. When he falls for the heroine, he becomes very passionate and extremely jealous; unlike his normally cool and collected self. I quite enjoyed his route, as the complication was different from the other courtesans. He is not bound to the store in the same manner, and their source of conflict results from his dark secret. I found his transformation a little overbearing however, since he went literally 180 degrees towards the heroine from dismissive to completely obsessed in an instant.

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HAYABUSA: The only courtesan with prior history with the heroine, and her dear childhood friend. Unlike the others who use their beguiling charms and physical attractiveness in earning customers, women are attracted to Hayabusa due to his hardworking and caring nature. He gets along with the other courtesans of Kikuya well, especially Takao in spite of Takao having stiff relations with the others due to his popularity as a courtesan and abrasive nature.

What I liked about this route was it was interwoven with flashbacks of their past, and the nostalgic nature of their conversations. It demonstrated how much they truly cared for one another, and how their feelings had not diminished despite the time they had spent apart. Hayabusa has always been in love with the heroine, and only thought of her; collecting her favourite candy in the hopes that if they were to be reunited, he would be able to offer them to her as a gift. I found that to be so adorable, and a testament of his longstanding love.

Overall, the route is a lot fluffier than the others but I found myself again being disappointed by the ending. He easily escapes jail with the help of the heroine’s mother as the patrol guard had previously been in her debt and he is subsequently released. It then quickly skips to their wedding scene and ending. He also has less content in comparison to the other men, as he was the newer add-on route implemented in the game (and thus, does not appear at all in the other male routes). Whilst the other characters have plenty of sub-stories, there aren’t any for Hayabusa I believe.

Design ★★★

One of the biggest selling points of the game is its great art, especially for something being originally for a mobile platform. It has a wide array of backgrounds, and the character designs with their unique kimonos are all drawn beautifully. I love the colour scheme and art style of the artist. If I were to be nitpicky, then I felt that the CGs of the game were of lower quality than the drawn character sprites. The line art just wasn’t as clean or crisp, and the artist clearly had trouble with certain expressions or hand gestures (something that is quite common in visual novels).

For example: in the two images below, in the first image with Iroha both of the character’s hands are very oddly proportioned. His hands are clutching her face like a vice, and larger than her head; whilst the heroine’s hands look akin to being fractured and claw-like. In the second image with Kagerou, what is clearly an attempt at looking seductive comes across as someone who looks completely different. It doesn’t look at all like his character sprite, and looks more like an evil expression in a bad ending route.

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Music and Voice Acting ★★

As it is a mobile platform game, the music wasn’t anything great. Most mobile platform visual novels often utilise only a handful of 30 second tracks that consistently loop over the course of the game. The looping in this game however, was done quite poorly and choppy. You can hear exactly when the sound loops for it stops abruptly and changes back to the beginning of the track. The songs chosen however, were suitable to the mood and scenes of the game.

As the steam was ported from the mobile version, there was no voice acting. This to me is quite disappointing, as for the PSVITA port it included voice acting from famous seiyuus from the Tokimeki Memorial series and I believe Takao is voiced by Morikubo Shoutarou who famously voices Okita Souji from Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, Impey Barbicane from Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth, Hanamura Yosuke from Persona 4 and Shikamaru Nara from Naruto.

System ★★

The system, user interface (UI) and overall graphic layout isn’t really anything to write home about. As it is a mobile port, it uses the exact same UI that you would see on your mobile phone. One major complaint I had was even though you have the option to play the game on windowed mode or full screen for steam, if you chose full screen; the game would become incredibly pixellated and unclear as it was not programmed for the larger resolution of a PC screen.

This shows incredible lack of foresight by the company, and is quite sloppy in my opinion. The textual interface is bland, and the glaring tones of pink and purple aren’t very appealing to look at. Six save slots is too little for a steam port, and the overall ease of use for the interface such as accessing the backlog/save file loads didn’t feel crisp at all.

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Conclusion

Overall, the game wasn’t too bad. Nothing outstanding to write home about, but not terrible either. It is Dogenzaka Lab’s most popular title for a reason, as the game did span multiple ports and a sequel using the same setting with different characters. It had some good moments here and there, and glimpses of greater potential that were not executed properly. One of my major qualms about the game was the poor writing and translations that are difficult to overlook for a $29.99USD game. I can think of numerous titles off the top of my head of the same price, but with infinitely better quality writing, plot, character and execution.

I also do not understand why Dogenzaka Lab did not import the PSVITA version to steam instead. It included professional voice acting, improved UI, graphics (cleaned/fixed the old CGs), new CGs, additional events and scenes. Hayabusa is not an included character to play, but they have a PSVITA exclusive bachelor called Itou Keiji for selection instead. Unfortunately, the PSVITA port is still in japanese without an english release so the only way to access the game is via purchasing it in the Japan PSN store.

I personally would not recommend purchasing the game for full price at all. In terms of price value however, then the steam version is significantly better than the mobile platform. Purchasing it via mobile means you pay-per-character, and all the extra content must be purchased individually as well. The steam version includes all character routes, sequel, date scenario and several sub-stories for each bachelor.

I would only recommend purchasing the game on sale, and it goes on sale once every couple of months from what I have observed. For the price of $7.50USD (75% off), it does offer a decent amount of gameplay that I feel is worthwhile. With around 3hr routes per character (including extra content), you would expect to complete the game in about 10-20hrs depending on your reading speed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kagerou’s route, and it was definitely my favourite of the game. If you can overlook the grammatical errors and typos in the game and are looking for a more steamier otome game with good art, then I recommend purchasing this one on sale. I look forward to playing the sequel Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya and seeing whether or not the developers have improved their shortcomings of the first title. I will be posting it up next, so look forward to reading it!

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Written By Cherry

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