Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2015
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Apple iOS/Android/Steam (English)

After playing through Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, I realised that its popularity allowed the production of a sequel within the same universe of Yoshiwara but using different characters. I was curious about the game, mainly to see whether the game creators addressed the glaringly obvious issues and much needed improvements of the predecessor.

At first glance, the artist had improved significantly in comparison to their debut work. The art looked a lot cleaner, and the character designs were more appealing and less generic. I was excited to play the game as the Yoshiwara universe made for an interesting premise already in the original game, and I preferred the design of the bachelors a lot more in the sequel.

The story also takes upon a different direction with an affluent heroine driven by duty to enter the Pleasure District, rather than the cliche naive, kind-hearted, Cinderella type protagonist who meets the bachelors via fate.

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

Deep in the center of an island lies the Yoshiwara pleasure district. Never does its beauty, nor bustling activity, wane in the slightest.

Full of doubt and wonder, which courtesan will you have chosen by the end of a seemingly endless night? (Steam Summary

If you’ve played the predecessor, you will already be very familiar with the Yoshiwara universe and storyline. If you haven’t played the first game, then the setting is based on an island where men are rarely ever born. If a family is ever cursed with the birth of a son, they will eventually be forced to be sold to Yoshiwara, the Pleasure District.

This is for the sake of the island, people and it’s culture, for it is the only method of attaining love (even if it is through the means of one night of deception) or bearing a child. Being a courtesan in Yoshiwara is akin to slavery, as the courtesans are unable to leave the district and their only method of freedom is paying off their debt or being bought by a customer.

Paying off their debt is a feat possible only with the earnings and status of a top courtesan which many aspire to become but never reach. Having one’s freedom bought, only to be inevitably sold to a rich family is merely trading one’s masters and home for another. Even if a courtesan were to find freedom, it would be difficult to survive without a stable source of income, and their talents are rendered obsolete in the world outside of Yoshiwara.

In comparison to the first game where our heroine stumbles into the Pleasure District by coincidence, and certain events occur allowing a pauper to access the top gentlemen (only the rich could ever dream of producing the income needed to spend a night with the best in Yoshiwara); in Ohgiya you play as an affluent protagonist who bears the responsibility of visiting Yoshiwara in order to produce an heir to continue her family business and name.

In all the storylines, she is torn within her inner conflict of desiring the true love she has read about in her studies and novels, and what she must do in order to not disappoint her mother.

She has been raised with love and dutiful care, carrying herself with the poise, dignity and intellect as expected of someone with great lineage. The visitations prove to cause the heroine immense duress, as she is unable to properly respond to the affections of the courtesans and being surrounded by unfamiliar men where she must engage in a purely physical relationship. In turn, all the courtesans of Ohgiya vy for the protagonist’s endearment for reasons such as status for their own career, fame, fortune or perhaps… something more?

The protagonist of Ohgiya has been met with mixed reception in the many reviews I sampled, but I personally thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and definitely view her as an upgrade to Kikuya. In comparison to Kikuya, where the protagonist is clumsy, naive and innocent to the workings of the world and men; the heroine in Ohgiya is headstrong, intelligent, stays true to her convictions and isn’t so easily swayed by the charms of the courtesans.

Her actions were refreshing; and her source of conflict throughout the routes understandable. Although she knows where her inevitable familial duty lies, and does not wish to disappoint her hard-working mother, she remains cold and apprehensive of the bachelors as she stays true to her own beliefs and sense of self respect.

It is only when she truly falls in love with the courtesans after getting to knowing their own pasts and hardships, does she fully open herself up to them and consummates their relationship. There is actual understandable and noticeable relationship progression, as the characters become closer to one another.

However, I do agree with the notion of other reviews that the heroine’s personality is rather inconsistent in some routes. For example: in Takigawa and Gakuto’s route the protagonist is extremely cold in her approach and refuses to fall in love with them whatsoever; being the top ranked courtesan means they’re extremely skilful in having women fall for their whims and could easily be toying with her feelings. In Asagiri, Utsusumi and Ageha’s routes however although she is on-guard, she is much more reciprocal to their affections.

Although it’s a little confronting to play initially, I feel it’s understandable as the heroine changes in accordance to the bachelor’s personality. Courtesans such as Takigawa and Gakuto are infamous for their trysts with women, and very persistent in their approach to courting the protagonist. The heroine is only more defensive in order to protect herself from getting hurt, and because she is unsure as to how to respond to attention she has never received before.

All the routes differed greatly from one another, another factor that they improved from Kikuya. All the men have different situations or issues that they must overcome in their past, and their struggles in Ohgiya which the protagonist learns about and inevitably falls in love with.

The writing was significantly better than Kikuya as well, the sentence flow and structure had greatly improved, as well as the translation. I’m not sure whether it’s simply because they hired a translator with a better grasp of the english language or whether the original writer had changed/improved from the predecessor but I’m assuming it to be both due to the notable improvements.

The sexual content is as prevalent as the first game (text only — no NSFW images) in terms of description, so that is something to be aware of. Due to the improved writing, I felt the interactions between characters to be more heartwarming and romantic. The climaxes of all the routes were well done, and each of the story’s conclusions brought about a sense of satisfaction at their completion.

Each route is around the same length of 3 hours as the original game despite having less chapters (10 in comparison to 13 total for each bachelor); each chapter is a lot lengthier in terms of content. The game is a lot cheaper than Kikuya at $15.99 compared to $29.99, due to the fact that it does not include the many sub-story scenarios with each of the courtesans. It only comes with the sequel and date scenario for each bachelor, as well as one route less (Kikuya had 6 bachelor stories, Ohgiya has 5). However, I find it to be a much better purchase than Kikuya at full retail price.

Character Development ★★★

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

As I mentioned earlier, the character development improved vastly from Kikuya. There’s actual slow and notable progression in the interactions between characters, and genuine conflict that draws them closer together in understanding and developing their relationship. Each bachelor has their own past and reason for ending up in Ohgiya, which the heroine eventually comes to discover from her visitations. It is these events that coax the protagonist to open up about herself, and realise that their feelings for her are not empty proclamations and her heart can be trusted in their hands.

She is a skilled tailor and business woman in her own right beneath her mother’s tutelage; quickly rising to the problems that occur and doing everything in her power to help the man she loves. One thing that I would’ve liked and many would agree on is a route for Musashi. I personally am very intrigued on his past with the heroine, and his clear underlying feelings and devotion towards her. It would be a refreshing difference from courting someone from the Pleasure District, versus someone the protagonist has known her whole life as a member of her household.

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TAKIGAWA: Takigawa is what I consider to be the canon route of the game, and the most well written out of the bachelors. The protagonist is very apprehensive and hostile initially to him, due to his reputation as the top courtesan of Ohgiya.  She chooses him at Musashi and her mother’s recommendation, due to his experience and status. He is skilled at what he does, although Takao his ultimate rival from Kikuya (the first game) claims that he has “never fallen in love before”, and thus the love he sells is no match for him.

In spite of the main character’s consistent refusal towards his advances, and cruel remarks – he is nothing short of passionate towards the heroine. He openly expresses his desire and sincerity for her time and time again – stopping at nothing to convince her that he is genuine in his feelings towards her. We soon discover that beneath his arrogant facade, is a lonely and traumatic past involving the dark secrets and baggage that comes with reaching the status of top courtesan.

What I liked about the route was that through the heroine’s influence, he was able to confront the demons of his past and turn his life around for the better. It is through each other that they are both able to grow as characters, a slow progression that is evident throughout the story. I consider the route canon due to him being the only bachelor with past history with the protagonist – Takigawa had always been in love with her since childhood, and the game revisits this through a series of flashbacks.

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GAKUTO: The second most popular courtesan at Ohgiya after Takigawa, and considered the most handsome in terms of appearances by the women of the island. He is rougher and brusque in comparison to the other bachelors, and shrouded in a veil of mystery – never allowing any women to truly come close to him. However, he has his rare moments of gentleness especially to Utsusemi and Ageha that reveal his kind nature, taking the two beneath his wing and tutelage like genuine blood brothers. He considers the heroine interesting at first meeting, and chooses to continue courting her.

As the two grow closer, the protagonist discovers the source of his inner turmoil and torment – that he is an avenger, whose sole life purpose is to seek revenge upon the woman who caused the death of his best friend. His traumatic past forms the crux of his character; and there’s significantly more to him than meets the eye.

His love for the heroine is exceptionally passionate bordering on violent, but ultimately not enough to swerve him from his path of revenge. His route is a lot darker in comparison to the others, but very dynamic as the readers are pulled into the back and forth tide of his indecision between choosing the heroine and revenge.

What I disliked about his route was for majority of it Gakuto was so hell-bent on his revenge, that it seemed as though no matter how hard the heroine tried nothing would get through to him. It felt as though no matter how strongly he claimed he felt about the protagonist, it would never be enough to quench his thirst. So then it brings forth the question: is he truly genuine about the heroine? How can he continue to hurt someone he supposedly cares about, time and time again?

My favourite moment of his route was in Chapter 8, when the heroine threatens to leave him as a last resort to saving him from the path of revenge – and the once proud, unemotional Gakuto completely breaks down and begs the heroine to stay with him. It was a heart-wrenching and touching moment that stood out to me throughout all the routes, and how much he had truly grown as a character.

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ASAGIRI: Asagiri is the most passionate out of all the bachelors, and the most sexually explicit route. He differs from the rest of the men, due to his softer and more seductive demeanour when handling women. Rather than viewing Yoshiwara as a cage he can never escape from, he willingly remains there as he is content with his life as a courtesan. I felt the writing of the dynamic between Asagiri and the heroine were particularly well written in his route, and the sheer ardour and yearning they have for one another is reflected as such.

One thing I disliked was despite his supposed love for the protagonist, upon her breaching the topic of purchasing his freedom for a future together – he vehemently denies her, and becomes angry at her for “denying his way of life”. I found this to be a sudden contrast to the actions he had shown prior, since if he truly loved her wouldn’t he want to always be with her freely? Rather than only within the confinements of Yoshiwara with only very little time together?

Then, when the protagonist finally visits him again after some space for one another, he just magically changes his mind about his previous sentiments? It felt like an all too convenient series of events that didn’t match up with the character’s actions at all.

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UTSUSEMI: Cheerful, friendly and easily approachable; Utsusemi always wears a cheeky smile on his face. Despite his outward mannerisms that Gakuto always chastises as inappropriate for a courtesan, he is the third most popular at Ohgiya. He is humbled by the heroine’s choice for him as her selected courtesan, as he believes he is no match for Takigawa or Gakuto. In his route, it truly explores the deep friendship between him, Gakuto and Ageha.

Although his path started off very sweet in his patient progression with the protagonist, I found it the most disjointed out of all the routes and difficult to follow. When the heroine doesn’t visit Ohgiya after some time, Utsusemi suddenly has a personality change where he roughly forces himself onto her. I found it to be very abrupt, unwarranted and there was no justification for it.

Also, I could not understand his reasoning for forcing Ageha to take on his identity as his family’s lost son in the mainland, even if it was for the sake of “Ageha’s happiness”. It is not something for Utsusemi to decide, and for someone whom he supposedly is doing for his sake — Ageha was anything but happy, and clearly extremely distraught by the events. Utsusemi then goes on to implore the protagonist to “let him use her as the reason for him to stay here”.

This comes off as very selfish to me, since they’re essentially sacrificing Ageha for the sake of their own happiness, rather than actually doing it for Ageha. Utsusemi to me, never felt truly happy with his choice in the end and only comes off as regretful for his decision.  Although his route started off well, it had very poor execution and story flow.

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AGEHA: The equivalent of Kagerou from Kikuya, Ageha is an apprentice-in-training soon to become a fully fledged courtesan once he completes his deflowering ceremony. He directly serves underneath Gakuto and Utsusemi, whom he deeply respects and admires. Ageha is extremely pure by nature due to his lack of experience with women, and has been sheltered by the other courtesans all his life.

Despite his appearance and mannerisms, he is the same age as the protagonist. If you’re looking for a pure love with plenty of crying from both parties, and many overly sweet moments then this is the route you’re after. He is an ideal match for the heroine, as she feels his honest nature can be trusted compared to the deceitful nature of experienced courtesans. It is a very pure love story, with both parties going to great lengths in order to be with one another.

His route didn’t stand out to me as much as the others, since I felt their love didn’t have as strong of a foundation as the other courtesans and his character changed very little over the course of the story. It also had too much crying for my taste, and petty misunderstandings. The events that led to the climax of his story were also far too convenient and all of a sudden they’re able to be together. It didn’t truly feel like they had fought to be together, nor the fruits of their labor had come to fruition at all, which was disappointing.

Design ★★★★

Similar to Kikuya, the major selling point of the game is the beautiful art, backgrounds and sprites. I felt that the body proportions were improved in comparison to the first game, such as the hand structure which I criticised in Kikuya. The background art especially improved, and I did not mind that some were reused as the resolution was increased to match the new art style. The line art and colour illustration was significantly cleaner, and there was less of a disparity between the character sprite and CG.

The character clothing and hairstyles were drawn with more attentiveness, and I loved the kimonos of the courtesans in Ohgiya a lot more than the original. I found them to be drawn a little bulky at times, but I suppose it’s to demonstrate the traditional style of the kimonos they’re wearing (as Kikuya is meant to be a ‘modernised brothel’). I especially loved the new protagonist’s character design, and hair. Overall, I felt the quality of illustration was maintained and improved in all of the CGs.

One of my main criticisms would be the use of the old character sprites from Kikuya, as the characters from the original game do make cameo appearances in Ohgiya. Due to the improvements and different art style between the predecessor and sequel, it is blatantly obvious when the character sprites are side by side. It feels as though they clearly do not belong in the same game, and I find that to be poor production value.

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Music and Voice Acting ★★

Although the music tracks have improved in Ohgiya compared to Kikuya, it still suffers the same glaringly obvious issues as the predecessor. They used only a handful of 30s looping tracks that became repetitive over the course of the game, and the loops were very choppy and poorly done. You can hear the exact section of the song where it loops back to the beginning. The songs did better suit the mood of the game, and were more mellow and pleasing on the ears to listen to in comparison to Kikuya. However, they really weren’t anything special to write home about and there was no voice acting in any of the platform ports.

System ★★★

As the game initially was also a mobile platform port, the UI wasn’t particularly impressive or attentive to detail. The controls and ease of use felt rather clunky on the steam version, and not completely smooth for the user. However, it is an improvement over the hot purple/pink colour scheme of Kikuya, using rich tones of gold and red.

It more or less features the same basic functions as the original, with character introductions, access to gallery, backlog and the same six load/save files which honestly is not enough for a game of this length. At the very least what they did change is when you open full screen mode in Ohgiya, it does not turn completely pixellated and has good resolution; an issue that really should not have been in Kikuya at all.

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Conclusion

Overall, Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya is a good game and I enjoyed it a lot more than its predecessor, Kikuya. It has a stronger cast line up of bachelors, each with distinct personalities and better written storylines. There are plenty of noteworthy moments in all the bachelor stories, even though the author was unable to hold the momentum all the way to the end of the routes such as Utsusemi and Ageha.

Although the writing has improved vastly to Kikuya, as a standalone title it is still quite poor and could use a lot of improvement. There is still a fair amount of grammatical errors, typos, and sentence cut offs that are noticeable in all the stories. However, it is easier to overlook than the amount that I found in Kikuya.

Although the stories had better cohesion, build up and development; some of the lead up events to the happy end felt very abrupt, forced or sudden. Convenient plot devices would occur to wrap the story outcome into a sudden happy ending. It disrupted the flow of the story, and although the ends are satisfying in terms of the characters ending up together; it could have been executed much better. The happy endings honestly felt tacked on, without too much connection to the events that happened prior, especially for the normal ends. It felt like a backtrack to all the bachelor’s actions in the route.

I thoroughly enjoyed Takigawa and Gakuto’s route, and they definitely fulfilled my expectations as the two main bachelors and poster-men of the game. I find that $15.99 USD is a fair price for the game, despite the lack of sub-stories. You would expect to complete the game in about 10-20 hrs of gameplay, and with the art and improved content you’re receiving it is a decent purchase (not to mention it does go on sale on steam once in a while). That being said, I do recommend purchasing the game on sale as it’s not rare that this occurs, and just more bang for your buck right?

I am fairly satisfied as the game has improved a lot as a later title of Dogenzaka Lab, addressed a lot of the shortcomings in Kikuya and will continue to improve in future. My main qualm with their games is to invest in better translations, improved UI for cross platform ports, and to perhaps incorporate voice acting. Many of the Visual Novels released and to-be-released on steam are all very popular and highly praised games from initial release, and it is rare for them not to have voice acting. If Dogenzaka Lab hopes to compete with them, then it would be a major step forward in improving their games.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

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