Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2011
PUBLISHER: Rejet & Idea Factory & Otomate
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Windows (English Fan Translation) & PSVita (Japanese)

I originally played Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — in japanese a few years ago, and decided to play it again with the recently released english patch on VNR. If you would like to play the game with the english translation, then you must own a copy of the game (via purchasing it) and you can download the set up instructions for the english translation here. Major props to the people who released the 100% translation, because translating visual novels are tough. Especially the ones with historical jargon/lingo that even the japanese dictionaries sometimes don’t have definitions for.

What drew me in was the beautiful art and promising storyline, as well as the title’s popularity in Japan. I had read plenty of reviews that praised the immersive plot, captivating character cast and dark themes. As a warning if you’re planning to play this game, it does incorporate very dark themes, mature content and violence. Although it’s not sexually explicit (no NSFW images), it does have vague sexual descriptions in some of the routes and depicts blood and torture. If you’re not a fan of these aspects, then I don’t recommend playing the game.

Although I was initially very apprehensive of the pure insanity from the characters in the game, I actually ended up enjoying Black Wolves Saga very much. I would love to see a localisation of Black Wolves Saga — Weiβ und Schwarz — which was recently released in 2017 in Japan. It is the PSVita port that includes both Bloody Nightmare and Last Hope in one package. Last Hope is the more light-hearted version of Bloody Nightmare, and focuses more on the wolves rather than the cat’s side of the story.

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

The protagonist, Fiona lived in a secluded tower due to her fragile health. There is turmoil in the country and a severe disease outbreak known as Zodiva or “Mad Wolf Disease”. Mejojo was interested in Fiona due to her upbringing and wanted to take her as his bride, but Fiona’s father refused. There are now rumours in town saying Fiona is a witch- Mejojo and Auger uses this to their advantage and arrest her, so that they can “observe” her while she lives in the castle. Eventually, Fiona’s half-brother (Nesso) and butler (Zara) rescue her and they escape together.

The emphasis of the story is on a dark/historical/political fantasy where humans, wolves, cats and other animals are being ruled by two very crafty feline tyrants. Due to various oppressions the cat twins faced in their childhood including assassination attempts, they learned how to survive and gain power- but they were also driven towards insanity. There is nothing they won’t do to get what they want.

(Excerpt from VNDB)

To sum up Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — in a single sentence: every character is to some extent absolutely insane and it’s a modernised visual novel version of the book ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell. Majority of people will have heard of this novel, since it is a recommended study text in early high school. If you’re familiar with the novel, it actually gives you a better understanding of BWS and a more insightful analysis into the complexity of the overarching story line.

The plot focuses on the long-term political struggle within the country of Weblin, and the darkness that stains its history. Once upon a time, the country had been been ruled peacefully by the co-existence of both cats and wolves at the top of the hierarchy. However, one day the to-be-crowned prince cat is stabbed by a wolf; thus throwing the political balance into chaos. The wolf is labelled a traitor and banished from the land; leading to the cat’s supreme reign. Zodiva (Mad Wolf Disease) soon inflicts its plague upon the country, resulting in countless deaths of its people.

The wolves are blamed as the carriers and procreators of the disease, and the King implements a rule supporting ‘Wolf Hunting’. This leads to the complete eradication of the wolves to near extinction, and they’re forced into hiding for their own safety. Years into the future, the disease is still at large without a cure and people live in constant fear and hatred for the wolves.

Our protagonist Fiona is the equivalent of a modern Rapunzel due to her birth status as a Lobeira. It is an uncommon condition, and only once in a blue moon would a human be born as one. Lobeira tend to die young due to their weak physical condition and are very susceptible to illness. Even minor symptoms such as a common cold can mean death for a Lobeira.

Fiona has been locked within the secluded tower all her life, in order to prevent her from contracting illness. It is due to this upbringing that she has lived until the age of sixteen. Fiona has been spoilt and waited upon ever since she was born by her loving half-brother Nesso, doting father, servant Zara and her two dogs: Pearl and Ritchie. Fiona longs for the beauty of the world beyond her prison, and has no concept of reality outside of what she has been told or read about in books.

Mejojo and Auger (main focus of the game) are the two white cat princes that regularly visit Fiona, seeking her hand in marriage. They are met with constant rejection, due to her family’s concern that her life cannot be sustained outside of the tower. The cats are frustrated by this recurring answer, and concoct a devious plan. They begin to spread rumours that a witch residing in the tower is responsible for spreading Zodiva and commanding the wolves. The townspeople stricken by fear and distrust through years of brainwashing by the cats, leap at the first opportunity for blame.

Fiona is branded a criminal, and taken hostage in the Royal Castle to the despair of her family. In order to prove her innocence and appease the town’s people; it is decided by King Garibaldi VI (Mejojo and Auger’s father) that she must remain at the castle for the time being. If the disease remains without her interference, then she will be free to return home. He assures that her stay will be comfortable, as she is the daughter of his beloved friend and ally.

Fiona is deeply troubled by the circumstances, as it was not how she imagined her first experience of the outside world to be. Little does she know, she’ll soon wish that she had never left the comforts of her tower and seen the cruelty that reality has to offer.

I absolutely loved the depiction of the political struggle in the game. Every character just had so many layers and dimension to their story and personality. They all contributed significantly in creating a diverse and complex plot. It’s a tale where there really is no black or white; it’s all just shades of grey. It’s up to you as a reader to decipher the truth from the lies, and which faction you’ll eventually side with. No faction in this game is truly justifiable in their actions, and every single character has some extent of darkness to them; some significantly more than others.

There’s the cat’s story, the wolves’ story, the human’s story, the truth, the lies, and finally the truth you decide is the right path to take. I really liked how interwoven the plot was, where every character played such a crucial role in influencing the other’s past one way or another. Not only that, but this past is then a direct reflection of how the characters currently are in the present.

Everything just links to one another and the puzzle pieces of the storyline fit together perfectly. I don’t think any summary could ever do this storyline justice, and it’s just one of those games where you have to play it for yourself in order to truly appreciate the beauty of it.

As a reader, I found myself so conflicted because once you find out the truth; your mind simply is unable to comprehend the distinction between good and evil anymore. It is this multi-faceted nature of the plot that makes it so well written. Everyone has justifiable reasons for committing the sins and actions that they’ve done, and when you put yourself in their shoes the only question that comes to mind is: wouldn’t I have done the same?

Although the game is bloody, violent and incorporates very dark themes; I liked that it was actually realistic. This is what happened during the era of political and power struggles for the throne. If you’re not strong enough to stand up to it; then you’re not fit for the crown and will inevitably be eliminated by your competitors.

However, there were still some faults about the game that I felt could definitely be improved on. Even though it was nice having eight bachelors to choose from and each having their own story, it caused strains in fitting every character equally into the allocated time frame of the visual novel.

With the more characters you incorporate into a game, it’s to be expected that some stories will be much weaker than others. In Bloody Nightmare, it essentially focuses everything on the cat’s side of the story. Despite the wolves’ playing such an integral role in the plot, I felt their routes were extremely lacking and left much to be desired.

I suppose it’s because they decided to leave most of their content to be explored in Black Wolves Saga: — Last Hope — as that covers the wolves’ side of the story. Even if that was the case, I was still shocked when their stories just ended so abruptly with little to no development at all. Even if the bulk of the story is in the alternative game, I still expected at least some satisfaction with their endings. Instead, I was just left with the feeling of ‘wait…. that was it? It actually ended then and there?’

Because of the linear storytelling, the game has one main route that is reflected in all the stories. Your choices with the factions and raising the character’s affection changes small events here and there, which eventually culminates to the different endings of the story. The game seems deceptively content-heavy at first, until you realise from the second playthrough onwards that you’re actually sitting there skipping through the main route majority of the time. It felt as though I was spending more time skipping than actually playing the game.

The story really only differentiates near the ending branch, where you finally decide on your chosen faction. Until then, the story is more or less exactly the same due to the linear format. The first playthrough takes around 10-15hrs to complete, and finishing all the other endings would total to about 20-30hrs of game time.

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

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Normally characters like Fiona would definitely irritate me, with her complete powerlessness and tendency to cry at every single scenario. In Fiona’s situation however, it was understandable and essentially she’s just as much of a victim as anyone else; if not more so. Her life is a series of extremely unfortunate events: her birth as a lobeira, her mother’s death as a result, and simply because of her similarity to another woman — she becomes the poor target of Mejojo.

Fiona’s circumstances only gives her the option to depend on someone else in order to survive. It’s not like she wished to be born different than everyone else, and it becomes a source of self-loathing and extreme lack of self-efficacy for Fiona.

Even though Fiona makes some incredibly stupid decisions throughout the game, as a reader you can’t help but understand her logical reasoning. It’s because she’s been so sheltered and never exposed to any semblance of evil; her perception on reality is completely untarnished and pure.

She genuinely believes in the goodness of others, and the potential for change. What she doesn’t realise though is normally this could be the case but the people she’s dealing with are too far gone to the point of utter insanity. Their darkness isn’t something that can be mended or healed; it’s something that has defined their entire lives.

Without it, they would no longer have any meaning or purpose. It’s the cruel realism that permeates the theme of the game; people don’t just magically change over time, no matter how hard you try or wish for it. She gets reduced to a mere lifeless doll; the unwilling reciprocal of Mejojo and Auger’s twisted desires. She is objectified, and broken in every sense of the word.

However, I felt the traumatic experiences were in the end necessary to developing Fiona’s character. If she had never faced reality, she would have never have had the courage or maturity to make her own decisions on what path she should take and distinguish between right and wrong. In spite of the suffering she endured, it is from these horrific experiences that she is able to display true strength.

She still has the capacity to believe in justice and righteousness; and fight for peace for a country that condemned her existence as a witch. It is this goodness that at least serves as some light at the end of the tunnel in the good endings of the routes. Fiona is essentially the foil of BWS; there has to be some balance between good and evil, or the story would just be an endless cycle of bloodshed without any chances of stopping. It’s saddening due to the nature of the story that all of Fiona’s endings are bittersweet; there is no such thing as ‘true happiness’ or ‘happily ever after’ in Black Wolves Saga.

Normally I would not have split the character reviews from the main game review, but in BWS the character routes were simply too extensive and each with significant contributions to the storyline. Rather than including a massive wall of text in the main post or cutting down the content and losing important aspects of the overarching storyline; I decided to simply break it down into separate sections. You can click on the separate links below to read my review on each character and their development.

The reviews are best read sequentially in the following order, and it is also my recommend play order for the game.

Design ★★★★★

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Although the game’s art, colouring and design did put me off initially, it really does grow on you overtime. It’s gorgeous in its own unique way, and really stands out in comparison to other games. The illustration really suits the ‘fantasy’ aspect of the game, and it’s one that is memorable and easily recognisable the moment you see it. Especially for the CGs depicting bloodshed and torture, it effectively makes the image significantly more eerie and darker in tone. The artist perfectly captures the evident insanity in the character’s expressions, which really enhances the atmosphere of the game.

I was surprised by the sheer amount of CGs the game incorporated, as it does accommodate for all 8 bachelors along with many ‘general route’ images. I do love all the character designs, and I really have no qualms about the art in the game.

Kuroyuki is also the artist for the upcoming Idea Factory localisation releasing this April 28th, Period x Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~. I cover the game in my post for the most anticipated english Visual Novel releases for 2017.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

To me, this was honestly without a doubt the highlight of the game. It has one of the best and one of my favourite openings of any otome game. The animations and transitions are just so clean and smooth; not to mention it’s actually sung by one of the characters of the game, Rath Vogart (VA: Kaji Yuki | 梶 裕貴). The background music suited the theme of the game, however I wouldn’t say there were any outstanding tracks that stood out to me. Auger casually whipping out his violin solos, in order to provide ‘befitting entertainment’ for certain moments in the story was quite a nice touch to his character.

The voice acting line up in Black Wolves Saga was just all-around phenomenal. Although it does have a lot of evil laughter, battle cries, and screams of despair that you will be sick of hearing by the end of the game; it just showcases the talents and prowess of the voice actors.

They perfectly emulate their personalities and capture the sheer insanity and angst of all the characters as well their despair, pain, anxiety and fears. It just enriches the atmosphere and tone of the game, and captivates your immediate interest. To no surprise, Black Wolves Saga incorporates a voice acting line up of exceptionally famous and veteran seiyuus.

  • Mejojo Von Garibaldi | VA: Sakurai Takahiro |櫻井 孝宏|
    Sasori in Naruto Shippuuden, Atsumu Matsuyuki in Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Shogo Makushima in Psycho-Pass, Leon Kuwata from Danganronpa series, Yuji Kazami from The Fruit of Grisaia series and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy series.
  • Auger Von Garibaldi | VA: Yoshino Hiroyuki |吉野 裕行|
    Heisuke Todo from Hakuoki series)
  • Julian | VA: Hosoya Yoshimasa | 細谷 佳正 |
    Kazuichi Soda from Danganronpa series, The Avatar & Male Morgan from Fire Emblem: Awakening
  • Arles V. Felnoir | VA: Morikawa Toshiyuki | 森川 智之 |
    Kyosuke Munakata in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy, Minato Namikaze in Naruto Shippuuden and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy series and Kingdom Hearts II. 
  • Rath Vogart | VA: Kaji Yuki | 梶 裕貴 |
    Haruyuki Arita in Accel World, Kanato Sakamaki from Diabolik Lovers series, Speed-o’-Sound Sonic in One Punch Man, Phoenix Wright in Ace Attorney (anime)Hope Estheim in Final Fantasy series, Takumi from Fire Emblem series and Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan.
  • Guillan Guinor | VA: Taniyama Kisho | 谷山 紀章 |
    Ikki from Amnesia series
  • Nesso Galland | VA: Miki Shin’ichiro | 三木 眞一郎 |
    James from Pokemon series, Roy Mustang from Full Metal Alchemist series, and Hijikata Toshizo from Hakuoki series.
  • Zara Skeens | VA: Ishida Akira | 石田 彰 |
    Gaara from Naruto series, Kent from Amnesia series, and Byakuya Togami from Danganronpa series

I was genuinely shocked when researching the voice acting cast line up, because literally every character seiyuu was extremely prominent and famous. It then made perfect sense as to why the voice acting was so phenomenal from every character, despite incorporating 8 different bachelors to choose from. This is one of the most stacked line ups of talent I’ve seen from any otome or visual novel.

System ★★★★

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The system and UI in Black Wolves Saga was pretty decent, and incorporated a lot of extra cute bonus options with the bachelors. The design suited the theme of the game, including all the basic options such as save slots, CG gallery, and scene recollection. I do wish they organised the scene recollection better however, as I never ended up using it.

Due to the sheer amount of scenes the game possesses, the pages amassed to something like 100-200+ pages. As a result, no one would be bothered to even use the function, as it simply takes far too long in getting to the scene you wish to replay. You had to individually select through the pages one by one, which just goes to show very little foresight by the creators.

Icons appear on the screen when you make a critical choice, and the image differs depending on which faction you choose. It was quite a nice feature, as it helped you know if you were on the right track or not in the outcome of the story. In the game, you needed to balance both faction choices and affection with your chosen character, which they provided love point gauges for. The encyclopaedia was especially useful, as the game does incorporate a lot of its own unique history and terms; which is all explained in detail here.

My favourite and fan-service aspect they added was the ‘grooming’ option. As the characters are mainly animals, it was a cute feature to have. You use your mouse to interact with different parts of the bachelor’s bodies (yes, including down there) and raising their affection if you touch the places they like. There is also a decrease in affection in places that they dislike. It’s coupled with adorable dialogue such as ‘touch me more, it feels really good!’ or ‘where do you think you’re touching?!’

The extra lines in the volumes weren’t anything too interesting, and I wasn’t sure what it’s purpose was other than to fill up space in the bonus options.

Conclusion

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Black Wolves Saga is a fantastic game, and I personally highly recommend it if you’re not adverse to mature/dark themes, blood shed and torture. It incorporates an amazing linear storyline, complex and captivating characters, beautiful art, solid music and a very stacked line up of voice actors. It delves upon issues such as the evil and corruption prevalent within political struggles, and a universe painted in the shades of grey. It invokes questions on the boundaries of morality, the distinction between good and evil, and how every choice you make has dire consequences.

Although Fiona makes decisions for the sake of peace and the good of others; she is constantly faced with the brunt of reality that sometimes people cannot change; no matter how much you wish for it. It is not the world she had imagined it to be, and is forced against her own will to mature in order to survive. There is no truly good person in the game, and yet you can still empathise with their reasoning and justification even after seeing their innate darkness. This is what makes multi-faceted and memorable characters, and is a testament to how good the writing of the story is.

However, the game is not without it’s faults. Due to the nature of the themes within the game, it is difficult at times to read the suffering that the heroine endures time and time again. As such, it may not appeal to a broad and general audience. Although it incorporates 8 different bachelor stories to choose from, as I expected the author definitely had issues condensing so many routes into the allocated time frame of the visual novel. It focuses mainly on the cat’s side of the story, and in comparison the other character routes seem poorly developed, lacked proper substance and had dissatisfying endings.

As such, it compels the reader to also pick up Black Wolves Saga: — Last Hope — as that covers the wolves’ side of the story. I personally believe that Black Wolves Saga — Weiβ und Schwarz — should be localised, as it was a recent platform release on the PSVita in 2017. Rather than the original separated PSP version, it incorporates both games in one pack; allowing you to enjoy the game in its entirety and increased resolution of the PSVita. If there’s enough fan interest in the series, I can foresee it being localised due to its immense popularity thus far.

From the localisation polls in the past couple of years, Black Wolves Saga has continually placed near the top of the list. As such, I do believe it has a good chance of an eventual english release so long as fans remain interested in playing the game. Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — is refreshing, different and definitely one of my all time favourite otome games.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Written By Cherry

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