Nightshade / Hyakka Hyakurou Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2016
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher, Lantern Rooms & Red Entertainment Co.
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Windows/PSVita (Japanese) & Steam (English)

I was anticipating the release of Nightshade even before it’s initial english release date of December 15, 2016. You can imagine my complete disappointment when I checked on the original release day and realised that it had been pushed back for an unforeseeable amount of time. I was initially put off by it as the official announcement for the release date delay was posted a week later on steam.

I felt it was extremely last minute decision-making, and didn’t leave too great of an impression as the announcement should have been out at least a week prior to the release date. However, I felt that the wait would also be more worthwhile if the end product was of better quality.

I was very surprised when they decided to announce at the beginning of April that the new release date would be April 12th. I had expected that they would have announced it much earlier prior to the upcoming release rather than only less than two weeks before, in order to build greater hype.

Needless to say I was pleased since I would have the time to play and review the game over the Easter break, and the date just so happened to be after all my mid-semester exams. Although the game definitely lived up to its stunning visuals and popularity, I wouldn’t say it was one of my all-time favourite titles.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

During the Sengoku Period the two main factions of ninja clans, Iga and Kōga, warred against each other for decades.
In the year 1593, Nobunaga Oda started the Tenshō Iga war, decimating most of the Iga ninjas in the process.
The very few that survived were absorbed into the Kōga clan, despite their past rivalries.
 
After 17 years the Sengoku Period finally came to an end, and Japan was unified.
 
Enju (Protagonist), daughter of Kandō Ueno, the Head of the Kōga clan, spends her days training diligently in hope of becoming a full-fledged ninja like her peers.
 
At long last she is assigned to her first mission, but finds herself caught in a dark conspiracy――. (Steam Summary

The protagonist Enju is the sheltered princess of Koga and a symbol of unity between the two clans of Iga and Koga. She has been protected and raised with immense love, whilst enjoying her idyllic and peaceful days amongst her childhood friends and the village of Koga. Due to her integral status as Kando Ueno’s daughter, Koga’s people are apprehensive to the concept of Enju pursuing the path of a Shinobi as it would inevitably endanger her own life.

This only serves to fuel Enju’s passion and desire to become a fully-fledged ninja, and join the ranks of her companions in order to have the strength to protect what she holds dear and finally receive the approval of her father. Elated at the prospect of finally accompanying her friends on a mission to Kyo, Enju leaves Koga bright-eyed and determined to prove the fruits of her labour and results of her training.

Little does Enju know that what initially appeared as a promising start to a new future, would turn into a horrific tragedy. She is used as an unknowing pawn within an overarching political conspiracy, and has no choice but to partake in the game in order to survive. With the whole world against her and forsaken by her own village, Enju experiences the cruel reality that she had been shielded away from her whole life.

Her once unshakeable beliefs on what constitutes as a ‘proper’ Shinobi have now wavered in the face of her own morals and values. Enju comes to the painful realisation that in order to become the Shinobi she had always admired, the price she must pay is the sacrifice of her own humanity.

Can she continue to follow the same path with the same conviction as she had in the past, because it was what a Shinobi should do? Or would her human desire to live lead to the destruction of her own village and everything she held dear?

The universe of Nightshade is an immersive world of ninja and samurai based on a real historical time period soon after the end of the Sengoku Era. The storyline is refreshing, unique and captures your interest immediately from first impressions. It is apparent that the writers spent a lot of time crafting the background to the storyline, as it is very detailed and imaginative. The time invested into the writing of the storyline really paid off as it is one of the highlights of the game and I greatly enjoyed reading the unfolding plot.

It really does keep you on the edge of your seat, as you’re continually wondering what will happen next. The conflict between the ninja clans within the overarching political war created a very complex plot, that delves into thematic concepts such as adventure, self-discovery, self-worth, familial loyalty, love and betrayal. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for many of the routes, and the descriptions of the emotional turmoils of the characters and their inner struggles were very well written.

I also liked all the ninjutsu they tried to incorporate and introduce into the game, as it definitely made the storyline more exciting to see the unique abilities the characters possess. It made the ninja aspect of the game feel a lot more authentic, and added greater dimension to Nightshade.

I especially liked the moral address on what it means to be a Shinobi for many of the characters, as their sense of duty is conflicted by their own morality and beliefs. It created multi-faceted personalities that were more realistic and established stronger attachments to the characters by the end of the story. However, in spite of how much promise the storyline of Nightshade had; it definitely did fail to deliver in various key areas.

As the storyline was linear, the main plot and source of conflict is prevalent in all of the character routes. The common route is the same for all characters, as well as the game branch. Although I don’t mind linear storylines at least for the general or common route of visual novels, I definitely prefer non-linear for the character paths as it creates more interesting and unique storylines. Due to this aspect, progressing through the routes became rapidly very stale as its the same repetitive storyline for all the characters.

Although there are alternate events that lead to different endings with all the bachelors, the routes were not entirely separate from one another. They all built from the same premise, and the core development of Enju becoming a fugitive and abandoned by Koga is universal in all the routes. The game did incorporate some interesting character pasts and twists, but it wasn’t enough to fully disconnect the story routes from one another.

My main criticism for Nightshade is that Ieyasu Tokugawa is unfortunately not an obtainable character, which I felt was a huge waste of potential and character design. Not to mention he has such a lovely seiyuu (voice actor) as well. Including Ieyasu would have created a significantly more refreshing and multi-dimensional storyline, in comparison to the current cast of bachelors. This is due to their similarity as all being Shinobi, which really narrowed the possibilities of what they could do for Enju within the storyline.

As ninja, they all lacked the political power to fully save Enju as they’re unable to remove her status as a wanted criminal nor declare her innocence. As Ieyasu is a lord within the Council of Elders, it would have created a unique path with a different perspective to the current storyline. Due to his status, there were just so many more possibilities on how the plot could have developed and I was really disappointed with the missed opportunity.

Having more diversity with the bachelor roles would have imminently strengthened the storyline, and it’s a shame that Ieyasu’s character wasn’t delved upon further. He really piqued my interest as he is such an integral character in all the storylines, and had so much undiscovered complexity to his personality. Although he initially appears kind and gentle-natured, he also has shown glimpses of cunning and extreme coldness; which is inevitable as someone does not rise to the top of the hierarchy without committing any acts of questionable morality.

Overall, although I did really enjoy Nightshade’s storyline I felt it had so much untapped potential to become an amazing story. The linear format for the character routes really inhibited the story development, and by the third playthrough I had essentially seen everything the plot had to offer.

Many of the events that invoked suspense and surprise from the initial playthroughs, had become predictable and stale due to the repetitive nature of the linear storyline. I also would have liked epilogue endings for the characters with a bonus CG, as it would have created a more wholesome conclusion to the character routes.

Character Development ★★★★

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

I personally played the routes in the following sequence of characters, however my recommended order after finishing the game is: Goemon → Hanzo → Kuroyuki → Gekkamaru → Chojiro. To me, the story development made the most sense in this order and the trio from Koga had a greater amount of spoilers. If you need the walkthrough for the game, I have a completed one here.

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HANZO HATTORI: The most loyal disciple of Ieyasu Tokugawa, and head of the Tokugawa clan. He is widely considered as the most powerful shinobi the world has ever known, and his very name draws fear and awe from both allies and enemies. Hanzo is undefeated in battle and unparalleled in both strength and skill. He is a man of few words, and is a model example of how a shinobi should be. His only focus is on the completion of his objective, and views failure as akin to death due to his strong sense of principle.

He has never known of a life outside the battlefield, and lives for no other sake than to be a shinobi. Hanzo has no fear of death, despite facing it everyday of his life. He views factors such as emotions and trust as a liability to a shinobi; as it affects their better judgement and compromises the success of a mission.

However, he is honest and unexpectedly more kind and gentle than his looks perceive; facets that Enju eventually comes to realise and falls deeply in love with. Initially, she admires him from afar due to his representation of the shinobi she had always wanted to become — the model of strength, skill and the ability to protect others.

In spite of his criticisms that her emotions make her unfit to be a shinobi, he does not undermine her weaknesses nor her desire to improve. He constantly provides her with honest advice, praises her strengths and encourages her own personal growth.

I picked Hanzo first because I found his character personality the most interesting out of all the bachelors, and because he’s voiced by Tsuda Kenjiro (same VA as Chikage Kazama from the Hakuoki series). I’m a huge fan of his voice acting due to his unique and powerful voice, and he did not disappoint at all in Nightshade. I thought Hanzo would have a side character plot initially due to his lack of connection to the rest of the group and I’ve never been more glad to be completely wrong.

I immensely enjoyed his route and he is by far my favourite character in the game. The little things he did for Enju and their gradual development as characters through the small gestures really grew on me throughout his story. For example: things like being able to read the other’s small changes in expressions and Hanzo’s cues. Aspects like their synergy and innate trust in battle, and being able to gradually converse with one another in spite of Hanzo’s curt nature of speaking.

The recurring motif where Enju confesses that the moment she fell in love with him was when she first saw his smile, and his continual response that ‘nothing compares to the beauty of your smile’ was honestly so sweet. It seemed almost natural for them to fall in love due to their close proximity for three months, and despite his denials that it was all for the sake of his orders; he was still undoubtedly Enju’s saviour, her light in the dark and her guide.

I felt what Hanzo was able to do for the heroine was something that none of the other bachelors were able to do. He respects her enough to give her advice, but never the final answer. He abides by her wishes and supports her in a way that only he knows how; a way that was different from everyone else. Hanzo enables her to find her own strength, and make her own decisions on what path she should take.

He is kind, gentle and honest; someone she can trust wholeheartedly and has proven this by putting his life on the line countless of times to save her. Although Hanzo has cut down endless lives with his blade, upon meeting Enju and falling in love with her; his blade wavers for the first time in his life. Through falling in love with Enju, he begins to question his own sense of morality and how killing her friends would affect her; because he loves her and does not wish to erase her smile.

It’s a very pure kind of love that is mutual from both parties. For Hanzo, then he respects her skill, work ethic and dedication from his first impressions. However, what makes him fall in love with her is how inherently different she is from him. She has innate strength, something which he lacks — the strength to break free of the customs and ‘rules’ that upholds shinobi and their society.

Enju is able to be her own person, and carve her own path based on her own beliefs, rather than succumbing to what is expected of her. Despite always beating herself up, she puts in the hard work and is determined to improve herself. By the end of the game, Enju displays that she has even surpassed the strongest ninja clan of Tokugawa in her abilities. Enju reminds Hanzo of the parts of himself he didn’t think he possessed anymore, and that is what makes him irrational.

I felt Hanzo really enabled Enju to be the best version of herself she could possibly be. She was able to confront her own father; the source of her lack of self-efficacy and low self-esteem. Through Hanzo, she was able to finally believe in herself and have the courage to face the things she never could in the past. I also really liked how in his route we find out about the truth behind her mother’s death, and it gives Enju the necessary closure she needed and answers the question she had always wanted to know.

It gives her peace knowing that she had in fact, been deeply loved and not been abandoned by her mother. Although her hands become stained in his route, I felt it was necessary for the development of her character in order to mature and grow.

Even her childhood friends upon meeting her again, comment that she has become even more beautiful than before; but she is no longer the Enju they had known. I really liked how in Hanzo’s route, the growth of their characters and development of feelings were both mutual. You could just see the subtle changes in their interactions and decisions over the course of the story.

I felt their ending was so befitting and sweet, and they honestly had all the best moments together. I finished his route feeling very satisfied, however I would have really liked an epilogue of their marriage life since it felt like a more wholesome conclusion to their story.

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GOEMON ISHIKAWA: Widely considered the most renowned thief within Japanese history, and a direct mirror to ‘Robin Hood’. Goemon steals from the corrupt and rich families within Kyo, and gifts his bounties to the poor. He is the reason as to why the Koga ninja are hired and sent to Kyo by the Minister, and as a result setting the events of the story in motion. Goemon is notorious for his MO of sending notices prior to his robberies, and has evaded all attempts at capture from the special police task force.

Due to the honourable nature of his actions towards the citizens, it is initially difficult for the Koga ninjas to gather information on the high profile thief. However, we soon learn that his successes are largely due to his past status as an immensely skilled ninja; a ninja that even Hanzo himself respects and has trouble dealing with.

I found it really ironic how throughout the whole entire common route, Enju was seeking information from the very man she was meant to capture. It is clear from the get go that there was more to ‘Goro’ (his alias) than what he led on, and his beguiling charms and flirtatious nature really keeps you interested and reeled in to his character.

He is a highly skilled ninja, master thief, extremely popular amongst women, charismatic, quick-witted and possesses a handsome face. Goemon essentially has the whole package down pat, and has the type of personality that is really difficult to dislike. His route was the complete opposite of Hanzo’s, and a welcome change in tone. It was a lot more light hearted due to his joking nature, and continual attempts at making moves on the heroine.

Normally I’m not as much of a fan of flirtatious characters, but I was really interested in finding out the true face of Goemon Ishikawa — the man beneath the mask, and what really happened to him in the past that led to his life of thievery. I really liked how in his route they delved upon the Hanzo, Chojiro and Goemon trio and their past as ex-Iga ninjas who trained together as brothers from a young age.

What I liked about Goemon’s route was due to his pacifist ways, he chooses not to kill others and opts to flee rather than engage in combat. This essentially preserves the heroine’s innocence, and her hands do not have to be stained by death. Through Goemon’s manipulation of the events to occur, she also does not have to face her fellow comrades from Koga as they now have the same objective for her protection and return. To me, this was the highlight of Goemon’s route and what really made their relationship so endearing.

You can just see the lengths that Goemon goes to in order to protect the heroine both emotionally and physically, as well as showcasing his admirable skills as a master tactician. Everything he does considers the heroine’s feelings and happiness. In spite of the linear storyline and similar plot in all the character routes, Goemon’s wit and cunning to devise daring strategies in order to save the heroine kept the story refreshing.

I really liked the twist on his character upon the realisation that he was the ex-leader of the now fallen Fuma clan. It just made so much sense as to why he was so highly-skilled and his distaste of Hideyoshi. It echoes his feelings at the beginning of the route, when he expressed he had lost everything in the past and why he now chooses a peaceful life outside of the battlefield. It was a surprising revelation that added an extra dimension to his story, and I felt he had a really great finale to his route.

The whole ‘betrayal’ plot was really well done, and he almost had me there for a second but I just knew something wasn’t quite right about it considering his actions until that point. Midorikawa Hikaru did such a great job voicing Goemon, as his voice was just so soothing to listen to and his personality was spot on.

I really liked the light-hearted theme of Goemon’s story, and definitely enjoyed his route. My only criticism would be that due to his protection of Enju, she didn’t develop quite as much as a character in comparison to Hanzo’s route.

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KUROYUKI: Enju’s beloved childhood friend, and the youngest amongst the Koga shinobi group. He left Koga eight years ago on an unknown mission under the orders of Koga’s Leader, and appears during their journey to Kyo. Enju is extremely happy with his return, as in her eyes he is the same Kuroyuki that left Koga all those years ago. However, it is clear during their early interactions that he is not the exact same Kuroyuki she once knew; as an ever-pressing sadness permeates his character and a coldness in his eyes that Enju does not see.

His route is a lot darker than the previous two, and focuses more so on the ninja-aspect of the game and the overarching storyline. Kuroyuki really captured my interest initially as it was obvious that there was something really unhinged about his character, and the darkness surrounding his eight years away from Koga. What I liked about his route was it finally revealed the conspiracy behind Hideyoshi’s killer in Hanzo and Goemon’s route, and the master puppeteer orchestrating the murder.

I did not expect the twist in regards to his forbidden ninjutsu from Kaga, and his horrific experiences during his time in training. His story is really tragic, emotional and heartfelt; and you can’t help but sympathise for the trauma he has had to endure. I did like how in his route they utilised different aspects of the ninja universe, to craft a more intricate and multi-faceted storyline.

However, due to the dark nature of his past it encroaches upon his current relationship with Enju and warps it into an unhealthy obsession. Although the game does try to justify their love for one another as being genuine, to me it really came off as severe Stockholm Syndrome. Enju continually reasons that the Kuroyuki she sees before her is the Kuroyuki she had cared for in the past, when the reality is he’s now a completely different person.

In order to master his dojutsu (eye illusion technique), he sacrificed his mentality and memories due to the parasitic nature of the skill. Jaded by his experiences in Kaga his only remaining memory is of Enju, which keeps him sane and connected to reality. His life is the equivalent to a never-ending nightmare, and his hands have been stained by the bodies of countless corpses. As a result, I could not help but question the legitimacy of their feelings for one another.

I felt Enju regressed significantly as a character, as she completely loses sight of her original objectives and desires; instead only caring about Kuroyuki and nothing else. Even her own friends are dismayed by the unhealthy changes, pleading with her to snap out of the trance that he has emotionally manipulated her into. Enju is fixed on the notion that they only have each other, and that without him life is no longer worth living.

Kuroyuki has no qualms about kidnapping Enju over and over, and lied in order to keep her by his side initially. Although he does realise the errors of his ways later in the storyline, and wishes for Enju’s happiness; I still could not bring myself to view their relationship as truly genuine. However, I did enjoy his bad ending because it actually felt befitting to the storyline and tragic theme of his route.

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GEKKAMARU: Gekkamaru is Enju’s assigned bodyguard from childhood, and they share a relationship akin to master and servant. To Enju’s dismay, he is extremely overprotective and constantly teased as a result of his excessive doting. However, his loyalty is unmatched and views Enju as greater than his pledge to Koga itself. He would willingly throw away his village and everyone else for her sake.

Gekkamaru is notorious for constantly shadowing Enju, often following her and keeping vigilant watch of any potentially dangerous endeavours she may partake in. Although he is initially skeptical of her first mission assignment to Kyo, Enju reasons that it is her duty as a Shinobi of Koga. She expresses her desire to become comrades of equal status to one another, rather than their current established relationship of master and servant.

When Enju is convicted of murder, Gekkamaru is the first to rise to her aid and without a second thought; disregards his orders from Koga. Thus, begins their journey as fugitives and a different twist on the previously seen game between the Council of Five Elders. Although I did enjoy the surprising developments in Gekkamaru’s story, I felt that the relationship development between the two really took a backseat to the tragedy.

It was just so much bloodshed and death one after another to the point of being almost overwhelming. After the second character death, it became a predictable chain of loss, mourning and needless bloodshed. There wasn’t really much ‘relationship’ to develop, as I felt the feelings were always there to begin with; and the only inhibition had been their status as master and servant. Once that aspect was out of the picture, it felt natural for them to realise their feelings for one another had developed into romantic love a very long time ago.

They had some really good moments together as well as so many great CGs. I definitely praise the writing for it, since they really knew how to play on your heartstrings. The poetic comparison of their relationship to the moon and the heavens was really lovely, and truly a befitting description of what they were to one another.

I also liked the twist and explanation for his overprotective nature as a ninjutsu placed on him by Kagari, Enju’s mother. It was a unique aspect to his storyline, and showcased yet another facet of how evil Kando was and the complexity of the political conspiracy. However, I felt Gekkamaru’s route was overall lacking because he didn’t really develop much as a character over the course of the story. Not to mention that although the spell aspect was interesting, it also served as a question to whether or not Gekkamaru’s loyalty and feelings could be considered truly genuine.

What you see from him in all the other stories is essentially what you get in his route. There isn’t any sort of hidden agenda, darkness or extra dimension to his character. He is the epitome of the ‘childhood friend and sworn protector’ trope, and doesn’t steer outside that role at all. With their close proximity on their journey and no longer bound by rules of custom, the relationship development between Enju and Gekkamaru didn’t come as a surprise at all. Rather, it felt expected for it to occur eventually. As a result, I found his story route a lot weaker in terms of plot in comparison to the others.

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CHOJIRO MOMOCHI: Koga’s greatest shinobi and a veteran on the battlefield, Chojiro is someone whom Enju deeply respects and has admired since childhood. Due to his outstanding skill and experience, Chojiro acts as a mentor and older brother figure to the Koga ninja. Their skills and fearsome reputation are largely due to his efforts, as although he is critical as their teacher; his opinions are hardly ever wrong. He is a man of very few words, and the type of shinobi that Enju has always aspired to be.

They share a familial relationship as cousins, as Enju’s mother is also Chojiro’s aunt. Originating in Iga, Chojiro has lived a life of unbearable loss and suffering; witnessing his village’s destruction and the deaths of everyone he held dear at a very young age. As a result, he is extremely jaded and wholeheartedly devotes himself to his mission; because that is how a shinobi should be.

Chojiro has always completed his orders without question, and completely discarded any semblance of weakness on the battlefield. However, after spending more time with Chojiro and truly getting to know his real self; it reveals to Enju a very tragic revelation. In spite of his cold exterior, Chojiro is the one who is suffering the most and no longer able to express his sadness due to the years of suppression.

He is afraid to hold anything dear to him, because he knows he will inevitably lose it; like sand slipping through his fingertips. He is afraid to deviate from the objective of his missions, because he does not wish to lose his home a second time. He is afraid to love another, as the nature of how a Shinobi should be does not allow for him to possess such sentiments.

Chojiro is unimaginably scarred and has closed his heart to others, because he has experienced so much loss that it has consumed his entire being. He turns a blind eye to the pain and suffering he feels; because it has become a natural part of his life. Chojiro’s route is incredibly sad and tragic, and I really do commend the writing for it.

Although it followed the same linear branch as Gekkamaru’s route, I felt the storyline was executed much better in Chojiro’s route and significantly more meaningful. Rather than being aware of the nature of the game, the characters are fighting to the death for the sake of their own village and families. The stakes are much higher, and they had fully resolved themselves to kill; in order to protect what they held dear.

It made their deaths so much more traumatic and impactful upon the revelation that they had all been used as tools for a petty game. I felt the romantic development between Chojiro and Enju in his route was quite disjointed and seemed out of place within the story. There was just so much death, despair and loss happening that it didn’t truly feel right for their feelings to develop in such a setting.

For most of the story Chojiro is conflicted between his duty as a Shinobi and his own desires; and only realises how dear Enju is to him after experiencing the loss of all his disciples and dearest friends. To me, it felt more befitting for their relationship to have stayed platonic as Chojiro was more akin to a broken man; grasping for the only remaining person he had left.

Another factor that I liked about Chojiro’s route is that he’s voiced by Toriumi Kosuke, who is the same VA as Saito Hajime from the Hakuoki series. It’s really ironic because the voice for Chojiro sounds exactly the same as the one for Saito, and they both play the same character trope of the tragic hero bound by duty.

It honestly felt like Saito V2 for most of his story, and I was thinking to myself constantly ‘I already suffered enough in Hakuoki, why must I experience the exact same ordeal again?’ He did a great job capturing Chojiro’s inner turmoil, suffering and character personality, although I didn’t expect any less after his performance as Saito in Hakuoki. I did really like the powerful writing for Chojiro’s storyline and his bad ending was truly befitting of his character route and the tragedy that encompassed it.

Design ★★★★★

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The art, character designs and backgrounds were by far the highlight and selling point of the game. I was actually very surprised by the sheer number of character sprites that the game incorporated, and the backgrounds were so gorgeous. They honestly looked akin to a water colour painting and suited the time period of the game very well.

I really liked all the character designs, and how they had both regular outfits and ninja battle gear. Even many of the side characters had their own unique sprites, and I particularly liked Ieyasu Tokugawa’s outfit design as well as Enju’s. She has a very different and refreshing look for a visual novel heroine, and her colour motif for her ninja outfit was lovely.

I liked how every character had their own distinct ninja weaponry that really suited their battle style and personality. The battle stances and poses were especially well done for the characters. They even incorporated unique ninja uniforms to distinguish the clans from one another, which I really liked. You could tell the developers paid a lot of attention to the minute details that really contributed to the overall feel of a game.

If there was anything to criticise about the artist’s illustrations it would be that the body poses and hands in some CGs were slightly out of proportion in some images in comparison to others. I did feel that the CGs were of slightly lesser quality than the character sprite illustrations. For example: in some CGs the hands/fingers were definitely a little too large, or in some side profile images they really over accentuated the length of the bachelor’s neck and adam’s apple.

However, these are very small details that can be easily overlooked and Teita is also the artist for the Norn9 series by Idea Factory. I really did enjoy the amount of detail and forethought the developers placed into the art and design of the game.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

Another highlight of Nightshade was the stellar music and voice acting. I really liked the OST of Nightshade, as it was very soothing to the ears and a joy to listen to. I particularly liked the battle theme music, since I felt it perfectly suited the scenes and added much more dynamic to the action. The opening and ending OSTs were also really good, as well as the softer instrumental tracks.

They incorporated very prolific and well-known voice actors that definitely brought out the personalities within the characters and emulated their roles very well. Needless to say I expected nothing less than stellar, and they undoubtedly delivered to my expectations. Many of the voice actors are the same as the characters from the Hakuoki series, so if you’re familiar with the game you’ll instantly recognise them in Nightshade.

  • Momochi Chojiro | VA: Toriumi Kosuke | 鳥海 浩輔 |
    Inuzuka Kiba from Naruto series, and Saito Hajime from Hakuoki series.
  • Hattori Hanzo | VA: Tsuda Kenjiro | 津田 健次郎 |
    Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh series, and Chikage Kazama from Hakuoki series.
  • Ishikawa Goemon | VA: Midorikawa Hikaru | 緑川 光 | 
    Lancer in Fate/Zero, Yoh Tomoe from Starry Sky series, Marth from Fire Emblem series, and Sakamoto in Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto.
  • Tokugawa Ieyasu | VA: Miyata Koki | 宮田 幸季 | 
    Ukyo from Amnesia series, and Chihiro Fujisaki from Danganronpa series,

System ★★★

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The system design and user interface was decent in Nightshade. It included all the basic functions such as save slots, skip, quick load/save, rewind and CG Gallery. I would have liked to see a ‘jump’ button included which skips to the next decision point and saves the time skipping all the scenes in between. This would have been really helpful replaying the common route, as it was very repetitive between the five characters due to the linear storyline.

The UI was nicely designed and incorporated some really nice extra animations to the game such as leaves falling, cherry blossom petals and rain. A flower animation also appeared on screen hovering over a specific bachelor when you earned affection points with them. The game also included a ‘memories’ tab which allowed you to replay chapters from character routes, and unlocked two bonus events (without CG) upon completion of their story. However, I would have liked to see a scene recollection included as well rather than having to replay the entire chapter to view specific scenes.

What I really do praise about Nightshade was the clean fighting animations and overlaying of the sprites during combat scenes. It definitely made the game a lot more immersive and enjoyable to play, as although the effects were simple; they were very effective. I also liked how you could actually choose specific character voices for the system dialogue and it was a really nice touch to the game.

On the first day of release for all users there had been prominent visual text spacing issues where the words were all clustered together. Although it was still readable, it was very taxing over a prolonged period of time. The developers did fix the issue after a couple of hours which was very prompt of them. However, for a title that was delayed 4-5months after the original release date you really do not expect for bugs to still occur for a final release copy.

I would’ve preferred a clearer text font choice for the game, and I had troubles initially adjusting the text speed. Sometimes if you don’t click the correct spot, it sets the speed to 99% rather than 100% which does not make the text appear all at once. It took a little fiddling around with to correct, however it really shouldn’t be an issue to begin with. As a result, the UI did feel clunky to use as a whole.

Conclusion

Capture17

In conclusion, Nightshade is a solid game and definitely one of the better english otome releases currently on the market. If you enjoyed Hakuoki, I highly recommend Nightshade as the two games are very similar in many respects and I’m sure Nightshade was heavily inspired by it. Although Nightshade has it’s own fair share of suffering and tragedy, it overall was nowhere near as dark and painful as Hakuoki. It definitely had many more light-hearted moments and genuinely happy endings, rather than the bittersweet conclusions that the Hakuoki character routes had.

The main highlight and selling point of Nightshade is the beautiful artwork, stellar voice acting and solid music. The game is very well designed and incorporates numerous character sprites, unique ninja outfits and weaponry and a solid selectable bachelor cast. Normally I don’t tend to like all the characters of a game, but in Nightshade there definitely wasn’t anyone I disliked. Every character has their clear strengths and weaknesses, and grow on you throughout the course of the game.

Nightshade had a lot of potential to go from a good game to an amazing one, and unfortunately it was lacking in one too many aspects within the writing. Although it is one of games I really enjoyed playing, it unfortunately wasn’t one of my all-time favourites.

Although Enju is a lovely protagonist who exhibits varying degrees of character development throughout the routes, it felt lacking in comparison to the potential shown in Hanzo’s story. It made the overall impact and writing within the other routes a lot weaker, as they did not fully flesh out Enju’s character as well as it did in Hanzo’s route.

The linear storyline and lack of character role diversity really took away from the overall feel of the game. It definitely lost its momentum and surprise factor by around the third playthrough, as it essentially only followed one of two linear game branches that both revolved around the same concept. As the characters were all ninjas, they were powerless in the overarching political turmoil and unable to truly save Enju.

Because of this, it really disappointed me that Ieyasu Tokugawa wasn’t an obtainable character. There was so much untapped potential for both diversifying the storyline, and character development due to his powerful position within the council. It would have even made sense to me as ‘the true ending/canon route’ to the game, as he would have been able to do what the other bachelors were unable to; which was prove Enju’s innocence and clear her status as a criminal.

The system also had many issues on the first day of release such as text font clarity and some users reporting that they were unable to play the game. This definitely impacted my score for the game’s system, as these are issues you don’t expect to occur after a 4-5month release date delay. The issues have now been fixed, so future players do not need to worry about potential bugs occurring and impeding their enjoyment of the game.

Overall, I really enjoyed Nightshade and do recommend it if you’re a fan of otome and historical storylines. The captivating character cast, beautiful art, clean fighting animations, and voice acting are more than enough to thoroughly enjoy the game. Although the storyline of Nightshade was good, it had so much untapped potential and opportunities to fully flesh out the universe and delve further into the plot. It was extremely disappointing that they weren’t utilised at all, and to me that was the downfall of Nightshade.

If these aspects had been addressed, Nightshade would’ve easily scored much higher. Hopefully more great titles continue to be released in english, and as fans we should continue to purchase the games to show our support. This helps encourage developers reaching out to the western market for localisation.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Written By Cherry

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11 thoughts on “Nightshade / Hyakka Hyakurou Review

  1. Pingback: The Charming Empire Review | Visual Novel Reviews

  2. When I first started reading your review , the plot reminded me of Basiliks anime ;D I didn’t want to read whole review because I do not want to spoil myself, but for parts I read it really seems interesting! It’s voiced by really great voice actors, so that’s a definite plus 🙂 When it comes to d3publisher, I either really like the game (like Man of Yoshiwara) or really dislike it( like Pub encounter, so much wasted potential) ; I will probably feel strongly about this game too, regardless whether I like it or not xD

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nightshade does have a lot of similarities to other anime/manga that involve ninjas as it uses a lot of historical references/characters as the basis for the story. I enjoyed the Men of Yoshiwara series as well, although overall the game had many aspects to improve. Prior to Nightshade, I would’ve said the Men of Yoshiwara series is the best otome title that D3 Publisher has released. Nightshade is not sexually explicit at all in comparison to other D3 Publisher games, and it’s fairly tame in terms of romantic interactions.

      I’m sure you’ll find Nightshade enjoyable, as the art, music, and voice acting is a huge step above all the D3 Publisher games so far. The storyline could have been improved, but the characters are all really interesting and carry the game! My favourite character is Hanzo (by far), followed by Goemon. I recommend playing it in order of Goemon → Hanzo → Kuroyuki → Gekkamaru → Chojiro when you get around to playing Nightshade 🙂

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  3. Hi! I just discovered your website, and I want to say–I absolutely love your reviews! They’re so beautifully detailed, and manage to perfectly articulate what is lovable and dislikable about each game. 🙂

    I was surprised when I found I share your exact opinions on what I like and don’t like about each route too (both here and in Code:Realize)! I’d say that Nightshade is at its best when it’s creating either 1) beautiful character development, 2) cool historical world-building, or 3) exciting combat scenes. It’s no surprise, then, that the Hanzo and Goemon routes carry this game IMO (especially the former). I agree that Hanzo and Goemon are like opposites of each other both in personality and in their routes, so they make wonderful counterpoints.

    As for your concerns about the overall plot… For me, the repetitive nature of the basic premise was tolerable in the Kuroyuki/Goemon/Hanzo branch since the stories did diverge, and the Goemon/Hanzo routes especially were very character-focused instead of story-focused. However, I agree the repetition definitely hurt the plot branch with Gekkamaru’s and Choujirou’s routes. The tragedy was suspenseful the first time around, but whichever route gets played second between the two will get the short end of the stick. Toyotomi’s game reveal in particular was brutal and fit the themes of the story, but IMO it was way too unrealistic and broke any immersion more than the crazy ninjutsu 😛

    Still, I will say I disagree that Tokugawa could be a viable love interest in the current state of the game. The overarching theme of Nightshade is what it takes to live the life of a shinobi, to be one of those briefly blooming flowers. All five of the current love interests may take a different approach to what makes Enju’s life worth living, but they are all unified around that central idea. Enju herself doesn’t need closure for the impersonal squabbling politics or even how she was wrongly accused. Instead, she learns to live for herself and the ones she truly cares about, no longer weighed down by the opinions of people who don’t matter to her. That’s why I feel that even the endings with Enju remaining on the run, such as Hanzo’s and Choujirou’s, still managed to be fulfilling.

    Basically, a route with Tokugawa would definitely offer a fresh perspective on the story, but I would therefore fear for how drastically different that perspective would be. I’d worry that Enju’s character arc might be lost, especially since she and Tokugawa have basically nothing in common as far as I can see? (Also I find it funny since historically Tokugawa would have been 55 years ago at the time of Nightshade’s story… he definitely doesn’t look his age :P) But still if the writing and character development are the same quality as Hanzo’s route, I’d never hold the idea back.

    Personally, if there’s anything I absolutely want out of the Nightshade world… I’d want a prequel story centered around Goemon’s days as Fuma Koutarou, working for the Hojo clan years before the main story. Ahhh the juicy drama and bloodshed when Tokugawa, a former friend of the Hojos, joined with Toyotomi and ended up taking over the Hojo lands himself… Heck one of the hidden memoirs confirms that Goemon/Koutarou and Hanzo had a pretty big rivalry back in those days. I really loved those bits of worldbuilding in Hanzo’s and Goemon’s routes, so I’d love that expanded on.

    I will agree that Hanzo’s route spoiled me me on Enju’s character development compared to the other routes, especially since I played it first. They really do bring out the very best of each other 🙂 The great quality of Hanzo’s route alone was almost enough for the full price of this game in terms of the enjoyment I got out of it, to the point where I’m already off to replay it again haha.

    All in all, thank you for your wonderful review! Your otome reviews are probably the best I’ve ever read, unmatched in how deeply you dig into the meat and potatoes of each game. I’ll definitely keep watch for your future writings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the incredibly kind words, I’m so flattered by your comment! I was actually really surprised when I saw the notification and was met with a massive wall of text. It’s these kind of comments that really make my day and encourage me to keep writing and producing content 🙂

      Yes, I definitely agree! I played Gekkamaru’s route before Choujiro’s, and by the time I played Choujiro’s story; the repetition was clear from the very beginning. I just knew one way or another everyone’s lives would end in tragedy, so it really took away from the impact of the story. Toyotomi’s game felt very forced in their routes and incorporated into the plot for no other purpose than to induce despair within the readers. I liked the explanation in Kuroyuki’s route and by extension Goemon/Hanzo’s stories much better, as it actually made more sense.

      That’s a really good point you brought up. Thematically, Tokugawa definitely feels out of place in the current state of the game and storyline. What really intrigued me about his character was actually his role within Hanzo’s route, and when he cut down one of his men in order to protect both Hanzo and Enju. It raised a lot of questions on the true nature of his character, and what was underneath his seemingly gentle demeanour.

      Seeing as how he was so prevalent in all the routes (especially Hanzo’s) a lot of people expected him to also have a route of his own. Although Enju has no relation or connection to the political squabbles that she had been unfortunately involved in, I couldn’t help but wonder how the story would have turned out if that had been solved.

      Would she have been able to freely return to Koga, lead the clan and be together amongst her friends? Would she finally have found the true peace she always desired? Would it have lead to a more holistic conclusion to the storyline of Nightshade?

      In all the current character routes, even in the circumstances where her friends from Koga are alive and well; she is unable to be with them because of her status as a criminal. I guess what I wanted from the game was a true ending/canon route that deviated from the linear route thus far, a story branch that offered a wholesome conclusion to the universe of Nightshade. Tokugawa seemed like a good candidate for it due to his positional power to shift the events of the storyline, so long as it was written well.

      If it wasn’t executed properly, then as you mentioned it would definitely take away from the theme of the game and feel very out of place.

      Yes, that sounds like a great idea for a fandisk/prequel story of the game as all the characters just seemed to have so much more to their personal stories and past, prior to the current events of Nightshade. It was another aspect that I wished had been delved upon more, as the strong character personalities were one of the highlights of the game. I also wished that their extra bonus stories came with CGs 😥

      I remember when I finished Hanzo’s route the first thought that came to mind was: Did I just inadvertently play the best guy in the game? If so, I’ve ruined Nightshade for myself as I already have my bias 😥 As a result, all the other routes felt subpar as Hanzo’s story would be the ‘ideal’ standard of what the other routes could have been.

      Although Nightshade wasn’t one of my all-time favourite otome games overall, Hanzo’s route definitely is one of my favourite characters and routes that I’ve played. I wholeheartedly agree to that sentiment where Hanzo’s route really made Nightshade and I’m already considering to replay it myself hahaha. Thank you again for the lovely comment!

      Like

    • Oh, I also forgot to mention but if you haven’t read them already the developers released short stories of each character on steam in the ‘news’ section of Nightshade. They’re titled ‘Present from ___’ respectively, and it just offers some first person insight on what the bachelors are thinking. I thought it was really cute 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Nightshade: Gekkamaru Walkthrough | Visual Novel Reviews

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