The Charming Empire Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2014
PUBLISHER: OperaHouse, Dramatic Create & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Windows/iOS/Android (Japanese) & Steam (English)

What initially captured my attention about ‘The Charming Empire’ was the beautiful art and interesting premise for the storyline. For a Dogenzaka Lab title, it seemed to have significantly improved in comparison to their previous games. I was pleased to see factors such as better translations, art and voice acting had been addressed. However, I was still very apprehensive of the game because of my past experiences with their titles.

I have only played their most popular game release which was the Men of Yoshiwara series: Kikuya & Ohgiya. Although I enjoyed them, they still had many glaring issues such as poor writing/translations, lack of voice acting and terribly looped soundtracks. I haven’t played any of their other games due to the poor reception they received.

I decided to try this game out in spite of my concerns, as I did like the art and improvements I could see at first glance. They also had some fairly prolific voice actors in their cast line up such as Kakihara Tetsuya and Tsuda Kenjirou which inevitably convinced me to purchase it.

Storyline ★★

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-The Story-

Our heroine, Amane Kosaka, was living a simple yet happy life in the countryside until one day she was suddenly taken away to live in the empire, summoned by her brother Soshi Amazaki — the current ruler. Though she was unaware of the underlying circumstances, she finds herself brought to this lively and palpable central city.

Living in the immaculate royal palace, our heroine comes to learn that the empire might not be as joyful as it seems.
Her brother is no longer the gentle man she once knew…
A corrupt organization secretly runs things behind the scenes…
The heroine’s fate guides her down the path of love. (Steam Summary

To the dismay of the heroine, she is whisked away to the capital of the empire against her wishes and for the most part confined to her room during the duration of her stay. She is subjected to many tutors on varying subjects such as history, etiquette and dance lessons in order to prepare for her debut into high society. Amane Kousaka becomes very lonely, as her brother is incredibly cold to her and completely withdrawn within his office. He immediately states upon her arrival that they can no longer have the sibling relationship they once shared from childhood.

To the heroine who has spent majority of her life within the peaceful countryside amongst her loving grandparents, the empire is a strange and lonely place. The servants do not wish to engage in conversation or friendship despite her continual attempts, and she longs to explore the city outside the castle walls. However, she soon comes to realise that the people of the city have become restless and dissatisfied with Soshi Amazaki’s dictatorship.

The citizens view him as a heartless tyrant, and the disparity between the rich and poor continues to grow larger day by day. Fires and violent outbreaks begin to appear in different areas across the city, and rumours of a rebellion to overtake the throne begin to spread amongst the people. Can Amane restore peace to the city she once loved? Has her brother truly changed from the kind man she once knew him to be? What are the secrets behind the political conspiracy kept hidden from her? Will she even find love despite the grim circumstances?

Although the game had a very interesting premise, the writing and execution heavily suffers due to it originally being a mobile game. The prologue is extremely short and abrupt, and you’re immediately thrust into the empire under orders from your brother. The sentences are short and condensed in order to fit into the text boxes that were meant for a small mobile screen.

The story is fairly fast paced and you’re barely able to form any attachments with most of the bachelors, before it moves onto the overarching storyline regarding the political unrest and rebellion occurring across the city. I felt the explanations and different perspectives on the linear storyline could have been fleshed out much better, and many of the endings and conclusions were solved far too easily.

It hints within all the routes that Soshi’s actions aren’t truly what they seem to be at face value, and he meets his demise before you can fully discover the truth in most of the stories (aside from Kagemitsu).

As a result storyline wise, many of them felt lacking and it was clear the routes were mainly used as a build up for Soshi’s story since that finally reveals the truth and the explanation behind it all. The plot is fairly repetitive due to it following a similar linear sequence of events that eventually leads to the different endings with each bachelor. What I do commend about the writing is that the translations have definitely improved in comparison to previous Dogenzaka Lab games.

There weren’t many typos or errors at all, which was good to see they had addressed one of their major criticisms in the past. However, the storyline of ‘The Charming Empire ‘ really wasn’t anything memorable. As it was originally a mobile game, the routes are very short. At a relaxed reading pace, each route took around 1.5hrs-2hrs to complete and the total game time would be anywhere between 10-15hrs overall.

If you’re expecting an immersive and detailed plot similar to Nightshade (which was released during the same month) then this really isn’t the game for you. Considering the total time it took to complete the entire game, you really can’t expect major character development or a complex storyline to fit within that time frame. It is at best a light and cute read that isn’t particularly memorable, but enjoyable to play nonetheless. Although the game definitely had some really cute character moments here and there, it really wasn’t enough to compensate for the subpar plot execution.

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

I personally recommend playing the game in order of: Yoshimine Kei → Koichiro Sera → Tanba Toki → Togawa Kagemitsu → Amazaki Soshi due to spoilers and the storyline flowed best in this sequence. Although you can switch up between the characters, Amazaki Soshi should definitely be played last otherwise the storyline loses it’s impact. I have a complete walkthrough of the game here.

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YOSHIMINE KEI: Kei is the heroine’s private tutor, and a captive former prince of the empire. He is essentially a prisoner of war, although he has been fortunate enough to not have been placed in the dungeons. Kei resides within the castle itself, and spends his days reading or in the castle gardens. He bears extreme hatred and resentment towards Amazaki Soshi, as he destroyed his beloved home and took away everything he once held dear. Kei’s family, the former King and Queen of Yako were murdered under false claims of breaking their peace treaty with the empire.

As a result, he is hostile towards the heroine due to her relationship with Soshi and distrusts the people within the empire. However, the protagonist finds herself wanting to know more about Kei; as although he is rude and brusque, he is an exceptional teacher and carries himself with nobility and grace due to his upbringing. He shows glimpses of kindness towards her, and is the only person she can regard as a friend within the castle. Kei’s company alleviates the loneliness she feels due to Soshi, and as they grow closer she comes to discover that Kei is easily embarrassed.

Although I picked Kei first as I liked his character design best, I did not expect to enjoy his route as much as I did. His relationship with the heroine was just too cute, and Kei is definitely a tsundere through and through. His moments of shyness and embarrassment towards the heroine’s obliviousness really grew on me as I progressed with his storyline. I felt the writing was best showcased within Kei’s route, as the pacing and descriptions of their interactions with one another were quite well written.

He developed significantly over the course of his route, and it was nice seeing his slow transition from complete distrust of the heroine to opening up to her about his past, fears and true feelings. I also felt the heroine was really proactive in getting to know Kei, and their feelings developed quite mutually.

The gift of the ‘Water Moon’ from Kei was just so cute, and was definitely a pivotal point of their relationship. I really liked the CGs for Kei’s route, and felt that they were definitely the best overall in the game. His route was very light-hearted, sweet and had plenty of cute moments together with the heroine. His route can be read as a stand alone separate from the others, as it doesn’t really delve too much into the overarching plot.

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KOICHIRO SERA: The heroine’s unsociable bodyguard who has been assigned to protect her during her stay within the castle. Despite her continual attempts at conversing and offers of friendship, Sera rebukes her as he views they are not apart of his job description. This does little to deter Amane, as he is the closest person to someone she regards as a friend. Although he is admired for his skill in combat, his very own soldiers at the castle view him difficult to work with; which greatly saddens Amane.

As the protagonist gets to know Sera better, she realises that his brusque mannerisms contradict the kindness and consideration of his actions. However, she soon becomes suspicious of his underlying intentions due to overhearing his conversations with others in regards to plans for the empire.

Sera’s route begins to delve more into the overarching plot of the rebellion, and there is less focus on their relationship development in comparison to Kei’s route. It is revealed that many of the castle workers are secretly rebels that were allowed access into the grounds through Sera’s authorisation. The heroine is shocked by this realisation out of fear for Soshi’s safety and Sera’s actions are akin to treason.

Sera is forceful and adamant that it is a necessary evil to destroy and kill Soshi, for the sake of invoking change within their now corrupt city. He presses onto Amane that she must accept her birthright, and ascend to her rightful place on the throne. This serves as the main source of conflict within the route, as the protagonist laments that Sera only protected her due to her integral position rather than his own personal desire.

I didn’t enjoy Sera’s route as much due to the sudden incorporation of the overarching plot that really disjointed the overall storyline pacing. The route initially begins with the two slowly opening up to one another, and the development of their relationship. However, upon the revelation of Sera’s plans for the rebellion and his intention to have Amane ascend the throne; all that prior development goes out the window.

Sera abruptly changes into a completely different person, and becomes forceful in his approach towards Amane. He disregards her concerns on the responsibilities of overtaking the throne, and her lack of political knowledge to rule a country. He is insistent that it is the only solution to their problems, without taking into consideration the protagonist’s feelings at all. It just felt like such a major step back from all their progression thus far, and they completely rushed the transition into the overarching storyline.

As a result, I couldn’t help but question the legitimacy of his feelings towards her and he is all too easily forgiven when she eventually concedes to taking over the throne. Although I do like how in his route Amane proves she is capable of becoming a hard-working and caring leader for her people, their overall relationship pacing felt too disjointed and lacked a lot of necessary development.

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TANBA TOKI: Toki is a flirtatious cafe owner, who rescues the heroine from a pick pocket on her first adventure into the city. He is incredibly popular amongst women due to his handsome looks and charisma. Toki is beloved by the customers who visit his popular cafe, which serves many western styled teas and confectionary. The heroine quickly becomes infatuated by his kind demeanour, the lively atmosphere of the cafe and his signature baumkuchen.

She begins to secretly use the hidden passageway underneath the castle to visit him everyday in the city, despite the risks of getting caught. Soshi immediately notices this and grants her permission to visit the city in the afternoons until sunset, after her studies conclude for the day. Amane is delighted by this, as it is the first semblance of kindness he has shown her since her arrival (and from the two routes so far).

Toki’s route is interesting because it is the only storyline that mainly takes place within the city, rather than in the castle grounds. It is clear from the beginning that there is more to Toki than his kind demeanour, although the heroine wholeheartedly believes in his sweet words. They share some very cute moments together initially, with Toki claiming that she is very precious and dear to him; different from all the previous girls he has been with.

He expresses that he genuinely means the things he says to her, and the heroine quickly falls in love with him. However after an outbreak of arson within the city, upon the heroine’s usual visitation to the cafe; Toki is incredibly cold to her. He rebuffs her attempts at reconciliation and offers for help with the injured. He states that a person of her status could never begin to understand the suffering of the poor, and her very presence within his cafe invokes resentment from the people.

He dismisses her completely, and insists that it would be best if she does not return as they are from two completely different worlds. Realising the futility of her actions, the heroine regretfully leaves. As the days pass, she is unable to forget her feelings for Toki and resolves to see him one last time before her wedding. However, she is captured in the secret passageway and imprisoned within the cafe hideout.

She comes to the realisation that the cafe was in fact a meeting place for the rebels, and Toki was the forerunner in leading the people. Toki visits the heroine and claims that he had only befriended her due to her status and money; and it is only through her actions that he was able to make it this far with his plans. His feelings for her had never been genuine, and she had been a pawn within the rebellion. Many of his strange actions up until that point now all make sense, and the heroine is left feeling bitter and betrayed.

Toki’s route suffers from the same underlying problem as Sera’s, where the transition into the overarching storyline was far too sudden and disjointed. Rather than feeling shocked at the betrayal, it was more so confusing and didn’t make much sense. Toki went from claiming how precious the heroine was to him, to treating her as a tool the next moment. It was like they rendered all previous relationship development between the two as obsolete, and the drama was forcefully incorporated just for the ‘shock’ factor.

Amane is quick to blame herself for the incident and is far too understanding of Toki’s behaviour, despite the treatment she has received. She is a helpless victim in the overarching political turmoil, and condemned by Toki for deeds she did not commit. She has shown Toki nothing but genuine kindness throughout his route, and he holds her responsible for the suffering of the people; despite only recently coming to the empire.

And then because she loves him and due to the few moments of kindness he had shown her; he is quickly forgiven and they end up happily together. I just could not view their relationship as genuine considering the events that occurred and found it incredibly unrealistic. I especially disliked the abrupt transitions of Toki’s feelings. It alternated between being smitten with the heroine, to resenting her with every fibre of his being, and then suddenly completely in love with her again.

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TOGAWA KAGEMITSU: Kagemitsu is the childhood friend of both Amane and Soshi Amazaki, the current ruler of the empire. He is his right hand man and trusted adviser, and shares idyllic memories with the two siblings from their lives in the countryside. As children, Amane had always loved Kagemitsu and wished to stay with the two of them forever. Initially she does not recognise Kagemitsu upon their first meeting, as she had not seen him for many years. She is surprised by his newfound maturity, and is overjoyed to have a companion within the lonely castle grounds.

After witnessing her being bullied by her personal tutor, Kagemitsu angrily stands up for Amane and replaces her. His lessons prove to be both effective and enjoyable, and Amane rapidly learns about the history and culture of the empire. She soon looks forward to their afternoons together drinking tea and strolling through the gardens, reminiscing of the happier times they once shared together as a trio in their youth.

Kagemitsu’s story is very much so connected to Soshi’s route, and significantly builds on the overarching storyline. I recommend playing his route prior to Soshi’s, as it offers a lot more information and further delves into the main plot. I genuinely felt the explanation within his route was much more clearly explained, in comparison to Soshi’s reveal about the empire and the nature of the rebellion. As a result, I felt that his character purpose was more so as an extension that led into Soshi’s route; rather than his own stand alone story.

The romance really took a backseat in Kagemitsu’s route, and there really wasn’t much character development on his part at all. He was the same kind, childhood friend that Amane had always remembered, and doesn’t really deviate from that character role.

As the two had always shared mutual feelings towards one another, there really wasn’t much relationship to develop as the foundations were already there. Although there were some romantic moments between the two, his route was rather disappointing and not at all memorable as a stand alone story.

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AMAZAKI SOSHI: Soshi is the protagonist’s older brother, and the current reigning King of the Empire. Amane is dismayed by his abrupt request to remove her from the countryside, and she becomes exceptionally lonely during her stay. He is initially cold to her, and rectifies that it is impossible for them to share the same sibling relationship they once had. This does little to deter the protagonist, as she continually attempts to socialise with Soshi and creates opportunities to spend more time with him.

However, over the duration of her stay she begins to hears of rumours of a rebellion as well as the people’s disillusionment with Soshi’s dictatorship. They view him to be a heartless tyrant who cares nothing for his people, and leaves the poor to fend for themselves; despite the constant outbreaks of arson and violence.

The heroine finds herself unable to distinguish the truth from lies, and begins to lose faith in Soshi. Although she genuinely wants to believe he is the same Soshi from her memories, his actions of constantly pushing her away and leaving her in the dark do little to reassure her concerns.

The threats continue to increase, and the possibility of Soshi’s position being overthrown becomes more and more likely as the days pass by. Amane decides that she must take action and discover the truth, both for the people and herself.

One of my main qualms about Soshi’s relationship with Amane is that it’s described rather inconsistently over all the routes. In some stories, it says that they are half siblings, whereas others emphasise how forbidden their relationship is; implying that they’re completely related by blood. Then in Sera’s route, their family tree demonstrates that Soshi isn’t apart of the hierarchy at all. It’s only properly confirmed in Kagemitsu’s route that they’re indeed not related by blood, and Soshi was adopted into the family at a young age.

I was very confused, as I wanted to know if the nature of their relationship was truly incestuous. Although there are incest undertones as they do view one another as siblings and grew up in a familial relationship, it’s technically not truly ‘incest’ because they are not blood related. This definitely made it a lot easier to accept their relationship, because I personally do not feel comfortable with family romances. This ambiguity lies in the fault of the translations, and really should have been clarified considering his relationship with Amane plays an integral role within the overarching story.

I quite enjoyed Soshi’s route, as it definitely filled in all the missing elements that was prevalent within everyone else’s story. He is the ‘canon route’ of the game, and I highly recommend that you do NOT play his story first. Playing his story first completely ruins the concept of the game and storyline, and he honestly should not have been available to play. His story should have been unlocked only through the completion of everyone else’s routes. Without the build up of the other stories, his route doesn’t make much sense nor does it have the same impact.

It was frustrating for the majority of his route as he constantly pushes the heroine away from him, and acts coldly towards her on purpose. However, it was nice seeing him slowly open up to her and eventually unable to control his forbidden feelings. Everything he has done has been for the sake of the heroine and her happiness, and it explains why he easily concedes the throne in all the other routes and supports her no matter which guy she chooses.

I quite like the twist of his dual-identity and the nature behind the true leader of the rebellion, as it added a subtle complexity to the plot that I wasn’t expecting. His story is one of redemption, forgiveness and acceptance that his past mistakes with the empire do not condemn him for the rest of his life. Soshi’s route is rather tragic in comparison to the others, and I felt the writing and storyline could have been executed much better.

The revelation behind the twist and overarching plot was delved upon much better in Kagemitsu’s route, which doesn’t make much sense as it should have had the most wholesome explanation and conclusion in Soshi’s story.

However, I did like that the protagonist took a more proactive role within his route. I was really shocked at her attempted assassination, as although it was understandable; there was absolutely no build up towards it at all. It definitely could have been developed much better, and was an interesting facet of the route that fell short of its potential. Their relationship development felt the most fitting out of all the characters, as his presence is prevalent within all the routes and he is the reason as to why all the events in the story occur.

Design ★★★★

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I was actually genuinely impressed by the art and it is without a doubt the highlight of the game. I did not expect to see such clean and crisp character designs that were relatively consistent with the CGs. Although the bachelors in some CGs looked a little different in comparison to their character sprites, the small differences were honestly negligible. I really liked the heroine’s character design in The Charming Empire, and I genuinely felt she looked better than the bachelors in many of the CGs.

I did not expect so many CGs to be incorporated for a relatively short game, and that was a definite plus as the art was really lovely. I was more so impressed as the artist Mitsuya Fuji is relatively unknown and to my knowledge hasn’t illustrated for any other game titles. Their most notable work would probably be the Drama CD series for Rejet ‘Midnight Jiang Shi’ and you can watch the PV for it here.

The only downside to the art of the game were the obvious digital paintings for the backgrounds. They clearly used real life images/photographs and digitally edited them, in order to cut the costs of producing their own backgrounds. Although this is commonly seen in mobile games, it definitely doesn’t transition well onto a steam port. The character sprites looked noticeably distinct against the background, and distracted from the artwork. It looked pixellated and out of place in many of the images, which really took away from the overall feel and impression of the game.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

The voice acting was another aspect that attracted me to the game, and it did not disappoint. It was nice to see Dogenzaka Lab finally incorporating voice acting into their games, in order to compete with the recent otome steam releases. One of the advertised highlights of ‘The Charming Empire’ was their feature of prolific voice actors for many of the characters. It definitely helped the game out a lot because without them bringing the characters to life, the storyline would have been even more monotonous and two-dimensional than it already was.

The voice actors really emulated their personalities perfectly, and I was impressed by the great audio quality. I really enjoyed Kei’s voice actor surprisingly enough, as I felt he really captured his adorable tsundere moments. The music on the other hand, was quite typical of an original mobile port and suffered from blatantly looped tracks. It wasn’t bad by any means, but there was also nothing good about it either.

I found myself turning down the music after the first twenty minutes of playing because the looping was so distracting. Although the BGMs are definitely an improvement from previous Dogenzaka Lab games, they incorporated so little tracks that it became incredibly repetitive to listen to by the end of the first playthrough. It was quite disappointing that the music definitely dragged down and hindered the great voice acting.

What I do commend is that they’ve definitely improved and addressed some aspects of the game that weren’t in their previous titles, such as incorporating sound effects. The game is also fully voiced, so even all the side characters have voices of their own (not including the MC, which is standard for otome titles).

True to their word, many of the characters are voiced by famous voice actors that have done previous work on some very popular otome games. As I mentioned earlier, I recognised Kakihara Tetsuya and Tsuda Kenjiro instantly from the trailer and they definitely convinced me to purchase the game.

  • Yoshimine Kei | VA: Masuda Toshiki増田 俊樹 |
    Taisho x Alice series as Kaguya, Marginal #4 series as Kirihara Atom, Haikyu!! as Chikara Ennoshita
  • Koichiro Sera | VA: Eguchi Takuya | 江口 拓也 |
    Taisho x Alice series as Gretel, Collar x Malice as Hoshino Kazuki, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy as Sonosuke Izayoi
  • Kagemitsu Togawa | VA: Toyonaga Toshiyuki | 豊永 利行 |
    Marginal #4 series as Makishima Shy, Yuri!!! On Ice as Yuuri Katsuki
  • Tanba Toki | VA: Kakihara Tetsuya | 柿原 徹也 |
    Amnesia series as Shin, Code: Realize series as Viktor Frankenstein, Kenka Banchou Otome as Mirako Yuuta
  • Amazaki Soshi | VA: Tsuda Kenjirou | 津田 健次郎 |
    Yu-Gi-Oh series as Seto Kaiba, Hakuoki series as Chikage Kazama, Nightshade as Hanzo Hattori

System ★★★

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The system design and UI is quite nice for a mobile port title. It incorporates all the basic functions such as save/load slots, CG Gallery, skip, text speed etc. I would have preferred the save slots to be listed individually, rather than new slots appearing after every save. It was quite inconvenient to constantly scroll down to reload old saves, and felt rather clunky. I also disliked how even though I set the text skip to ‘already read’, this setting reseted every time I played a new route or re-opened the game.

The voice lists were a nice touch, although they weren’t anything impressive as the lines were very short for each character. I didn’t really expect too much out of the UI, as it was a mobile port. The character select and prologue options are reminiscent of a mobile game, as you would purchase their individual route and lock yourself into their story. If possible, I would have liked a scene recollection option for the CGs and a ‘jump’ button to skip to the next decision.

It would have been very helpful in replays of the route for the normal ending. I did like how fast the text skipping was, as it made replays much faster than usual in comparison to other games.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, I had really mixed feelings about the game. If you’re looking for a light-hearted and short read, with beautiful art and great voice acting then this is the title for you. The overarching plot is relatively simple, with a greater focus on the cute character moments and relationship development for the bulk of the game. It has a lot of CGs with every character, in spite of the short length. I can overlook a lot of the shortcomings of the game, if I consider the fact that it was originally a mobile port.

Although it can be considered quite pricey for the amount of game time you’re getting, it is still significantly cheaper than purchasing individual mobile routes and side stories. It also includes full voice acting, which is something rarely seen in mobile games. On that note, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing the game at full price considering the other titles in the steam store for the same price point; but with significantly more playtime. For example: Amnesia Memories, Nightshade and Nameless ~The one thing you must recall~ to name a few.

In spite of my criticisms of the game, I still found it enjoyable to play and read. It was a nice breather from the content-heavy and darker themed titles that I have been playing recently. Although it wasn’t by any means memorable, it still had some really cute moments here and there; coupled with the great art and solid voice acting. I surprisingly enjoyed Kei’s route, as the refreshing innocence of the two characters were really endearing over the course of the story.

However, if you’re looking for a game of immersive substance that is really worth your money in terms of content; then I would not recommend The Charming Empire. The routes mainly revolved around the same repetitive storyline that was prevalent in all the stories, with varying perspectives. Despite how similar and connected the stories were to one another, the bachelors made little to no appearances in the other character routes. This was very disappointing considering the game length, and it made it difficult to develop meaningful attachments towards the characters.

Although ‘The Charming Empire’ wasn’t without it’s faults, it was definitely a huge improvement overall from previous Dogenzaka Lab games and a good sign for better releases in future.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

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