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)
GAME LINK: Nightshade – Steam [DIGITAL]

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 it didn’t leave too great of an impression. The announcement really 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. The date also 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 in the village of Koga. Due to her status as Kando Ueno’s daughter, Koga’s people are apprehensive 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. Above all else, she wishes to acquire the strength needed to protect what she holds dear with her own hands 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 a twisted 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 ‘true’ 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 once always admired, she must forsake her own sense of humanity.

Can she continue to follow the same path with the same conviction as she had in the past, because it was what a ‘true’ 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 as well as 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 that the characters possessed. It made the ninja aspect of the game feel a lot more authentic and added greater dimension to the Nightshade universe.

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 developed over the course of the story and as a result, led to stronger attachments to the characters. 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 for the general or common routes 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 were alternate events that led 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.

One of my disappointments with Nightshade was that Ieyasu Tokugawa was not an obtainable character. I felt was a huge waste of potential and use of his character design. Not to mention the fact that he had 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 has also shown glimpses of cunning and extreme coldness. This 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.

The game is quite lengthy, and would take around 30-40 hours to complete depending on your read speed. The game is well worth the cost to purchase, considering the amount of playtime and quality of the content you’re receiving.

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

My personal 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 that 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 being able to protect what she held dear.

In spite of his criticisms that her emotions made 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 picking up on Hanzo’s subtle cues. There was also their undeniable synergy and innate trust in battle, or being able to gradually converse with one another despite 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 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 time and time again by putting his life on the line to protect 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 first impressions. However, what makes him truly 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 finally confront her own father, who was 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 to 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 welcomed 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—an ever-pressing sadness permeates his character and a cold edge in his gaze 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. Initially, Kuroyuki really captured my interest as it was obvious that there was something really unhinged about his character and something dark surrounding his past eight years away from Koga. What I liked about his route was that 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—you can’t help but sympathise with the trauma that he has endured for years on end. 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 sanity 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 grounded 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 real. However, I did enjoy his bad ending because it actually felt befitting to the storyline and followed the 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 everything 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 rush 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—their 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 character development 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 the destruction of his village 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 getting to know his true 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 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. He 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 remained 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 was 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 the 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 like this 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

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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 as well as 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 I 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: 4/5


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Written By Cherry

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Nightshade: Chojiro Momochi Walkthrough

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Game Review: Nightshade/Hyakka Hyakurou Review

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character


Common Route

Chapter 1

  • I should thank Brother Chojiro (*Chojiro) 
  • I’m glad we get to work together 

Chapter 2

  • All right (*Chojiro) 
  • Goro-san
  • Keep quiet (*Gekkamaru)
  • Residential District
  • But just in case…
  • Try to resist
  • Stand up for Brother Chojiro (*Chojiro)

Chapter 3

  • [SAVE 1] Residential District
  • [SAVE 2] That’s not true (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 4

  • No option

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • [SAVE 3] I wonder how everyone is doing (*Chojiro)
  • Someone I truly respect (*Chojiro)

Chapter 7

  • I wanted to stay with him (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 8

  • Attack (*Chojiro)

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • Hug him (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 11

  • You’re right (*Chojiro) 

Bad Ending

Chapter 6

  • [LOAD SAVE 3] What’s going to happen to me?
  • Someone I aspire to be

Chapter 7

  • I want to apologize to him

Chapter 8

  • Watch his movements

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • Stroke his head

Chapter 11

  • You’re wrong

Memoirs

To unlock all memoirs, you must have chosen all options and read all the dialogue in the game.

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Bukemachi
  • [LOAD SAVE 2] I never thought you would think like that

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Written By Cherry

Nightshade: Gekkamaru Walkthrough

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Game Review: Nightshade/Hyakka Hyakurou Review

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character


Common Route

Chapter 1

  • I should talk to Gekkamaru (*Gekkamaru) 
  • I’m glad we get to work together

Chapter 2

  • You’re leaving me here?
  • Goro-san
  • Keep quiet (*Gekkamaru) 
  • Residential District
  • I know you weren’t (*Gekkamaru) 
  • Try to resist
  • Bow deeply in silence (*Hanzo)

Chapter 3

  • [SAVE 1] Fushimi castle, Main gate
  • [SAVE 2] Don’t worry (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 4

  • No option

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

  • [SAVE 3] You look very handsome (*Gekkamaru) 
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • No option 

Chapter 7

  • Of course. You’re a great cook (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 8

  • No excuses (*Gekkamaru)

Chapter 9 

  • Hold his hand (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 10 

  • Well… (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 11

  • Don’t resist (*Gekkamaru) 

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

  • [LOAD SAVE 3] Your movements are beautiful
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • No option

Chapter 7

  • I’ll eat as much as I can

Chapter 8

  • I understand

Chapter 9 

  • Pat his futon

Chapter 10 

  • It’s nothing

Chapter 11

  • Resist

Memoirs

To unlock all memoirs, you must have chosen all options and read all the dialogue in the game.

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Residential District
  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Bukemachi
  • [LOAD SAVE 2] You don’t have to apologize

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Written By Cherry

Nightshade: Kuroyuki Walkthrough

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Game Review: Nightshade/Hyakka Hyakurou Review

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character


Common Route

Chapter 1

  • I should make preparations
  • I’m so happy to see you after 8 years (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 2

  • You’re leaving me here?
  • Goro-san
  • Make an excuse for Kuroyuki (*Kuroyuki) 
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate
  • [SAVE 1] Were you really joking? (*Kuroyuki) 
  • Try to resist
  • Stand up for Brother Chojiro (*Chojiro)

Chapter 3

  • Residential District
  • [SAVE 2] Because you get lonely easily (*Kuroyuki) 
  • I can’t do that

Chapter 4

  • It was a coincidence
  • But…

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

  • [SAVE 3] Of course (*Kuroyuki) 
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • No option 

Chapter 7

  • Of course not (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 8

  • Go outside (*Kuroyuki)

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • All right (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 11

  • I don’t know (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 12

  • No option

Chapter 13

  • No option

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

  • [LOAD SAVE 3] Maybe
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • No option

Chapter 7

  • I was just amazed

Chapter 8

  • Wait

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • I’ll fight with you

Chapter 11

  • He’s not

Chapter 12

  • No option

Chapter 13

  • No option

Memoirs

To unlock all memoirs, you must have chosen all options and read all the dialogue in the game.

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] That’s a relief
  • [LOAD SAVE 2] Because you’re free

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Written By Cherry

Nightshade: Goemon Ishikawa Walkthrough

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Game Review: Nightshade/Hyakka Hyakurou Review

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character


Common Route

Chapter 1

  • I should make preparations
  • I’m glad we get to work together

Chapter 2

  • You’re leaving me here?
  • Goro (*Goemon)
  • Keep quiet (*Gekkamaru)
  • Main Street
  • I’ve never had such good dessert before (*Goemon)
  • Try to resist
  • Bow deeply in silence (*Hanzo)

Chapter 3

  • Bukemachi
  • All right (*Goemon) 

Chapter 4

  • I’m sorry (*Goemon) 
  • But…

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

  • [SAVE POINT] I’m fine here (*Goemon) 
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • I don’t think I can play a good wife (*Goemon) 

Chapter 7

  • I feel shy (*Goemon) 

Chapter 8

  • You’ll make a wonderful husband (*Goemon)
  • That doesn’t change the fact that it hurt (*Goemon)

Chapter 9 

  • You’re coming with me (*Goemon) 

Chapter 10 

  • Having you stroke my head (*Goemon) 

Chapter 11

  • I believe we’re destined (*Goemon) 

Chapter 12

  • Meet his eyes (*Goemon)

Chapter 13

  • Is it really a pain killer? (*Goemon)

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

  • [LOAD SAVE POINT] Let’s go to the dessert shop
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate

Chapter 6

  • I don’t think we’d be convincing

Chapter 7

  • Stop teasing me

Chapter 8

  • You’ll be a good father
  • Don’t force yourself to laugh

Chapter 9 

  • That’s unlike you

Chapter 10 

  • Sleeping in the same room as you

Chapter 11

  • I’ll be waiting

Chapter 12

  • Look away

Chapter 13

  • Is it poison?

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Written By Cherry

Nightshade: Hanzo Hattori Walkthrough

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Game Review: Nightshade/Hyakka Hyakurou Review

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character


Common Route

Chapter 1

  • I should make preparations
  • I’m glad we get to work together

Chapter 2

  • You’re leaving me here?
  • Goro-san
  • Keep quiet (*Gekkamaru)
  • Main Street
  • I’m sorry for how I behaved
  • Don’t resist (*Hanzo) 
  • Bow deeply in silence (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 3

  • Fushimi castle, Main Gate
  • [SAVE 1] I will do my best (*Hanzo) 
  • I can’t do that

Chapter 4

  • It was a coincidence (*Hanzo) 
  • Understood (*Hanzo) 

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

  • [SAVE 2] Is Lord Tokugawa receiving unexpected guests? (*Hanzo) 
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main Gate

Chapter 6

  • How do I fight him? (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 7

  • I should stay (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 8

  • How many are there? (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 9 

  • All right (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 10 

  • Thank you for saving me (*Hanzo) 

Chapter 11

  • I like it (*Hanzo) 

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

  • [LOAD SAVE 2] You’re very knowledgeable
  • Main Street
  • Residential District
  • Fushimi castle, Main Gate

Chapter 6

  • I can’t win…

Chapter 7

  • I should go

Chapter 8

  • What should I do?

Chapter 9 

  • I can’t…

Chapter 10 

  • I’m all right

Chapter 11

  • It suits you

Memoirs

To unlock all memoirs, you must have chosen all options and read all the dialogue in the game.

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Not at all

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Please consider supporting my work on Patreon, as every little bit helps me out so much every month with website hosting costs. I am forever grateful to all my readers and supporters!


Written By Cherry

Most Anticipated English Visual Novel Releases of 2017

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Ever wonder what other english releases are going to be released for the year of 2017? Do you want to know what games you should save up for? Are you looking for more games to add to your playlist and backlog? Here is my personal list of games that I am anticipating for 2017, and cannot wait for their release!

2017 is probably the best year so far that I’ve seen in terms of the amount of new titles picked up to be released in english.

1. Collar x Malice

-The Story-

“Who put this collar on me?”

The protagonist is a policewoman who works in Shinjuku, which had become a dangerous city after a series of brutal incidents popularly referred to as the “X-Day Incident”.

She had been busy working in her assigned area everyday in order to keep it safe. But one night, an unknown assailant attacked her and placed a collar built in with poison around her neck.

Amidst the chaos and right before the protagonist’s eyes were men with suspicious backgrounds. They’re all part of an organisation composed of former police officers and have taken it upon themselves to investigate the brutal cases.

Without knowing whether she should trust these men or not, she suddenly became the person who held the key to this massive case.

In order to remove the collar that places her at the edge of death and to liberate Shinjuku from the malice that binds it, she cooperates; beginning to investigate the incidents with the men.

Who holds her life in their hands?
Will Shinjuku ever return to its former glory?

(English translation from official website)

I love the premise, storyline, art, OST, and just everything about Collar x Malice! I am an absolute sucker for mystery x detective themed games. Not to mention the artist is Hanamura Mai (same artist for the Amnesia series) and Manyo as the composer (big fan of his soundtracks and work—composed for Amnesia and Kara no Shoujo series). I just knew the art was familiar when I first saw screenshots of the game. I am extremely excited about the game, and dearly hoping it will be a 2017 release.

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it here: Collar X Malice – PlayStation Vita

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Collar x Malice’ Review here.

2. Period Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~

-The Story-

With the help of your childhood friend, Hiroya, you decide to play the online RPG game “Arcadia” in order to look for clues as to the whereabouts of your missing older brother.

You are suddenly engulfed by a blinding light and lose conscious. When you wake up, you find that the scenery has changed into that of a video game fantasy world.

As you are overwhelmed by the sudden twist of events, you learn a terrible truth: to escape this deadly world, you must clear the game.

In this cruel world, you were selected to become the key to clearing the game – the holy sword. With this, you are the target of everyone!

(English translation from official website

The first out of the four otome titles localised by Aksys Games in 2017, the storyline definitely gives me Sword Art Online vibes. With beautiful art by the artist of Black Wolves Saga, this is quite an interesting fantasy otome with RPG elements. Period Cube actually comes out very soon, with an announced release date on the 28th of April next month!

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase the game here: Period Cube – PlayStation Vita

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Period Cube: ~Shackles of Amadeus~’ Review here.

3. Bad Apple Wars

-The Story-

Congratulations on your DEATH admission!
Welcome to NEVAEH Academy!!

The heroine, who was caught in an accident on the first day that she was to enter high school, suddenly found herself on the premises of an unknown school.

This was NEVAEH Academy, a school for those whose souls were left behind after death.

In this school if you were a good student who followed the rules then, upon GRADUATION, you would be able to return and RESUME YOUR LIFE.

The heroine, having been informed about her death from a suspicious man wearing a RABBIT HEAD and thinking that this was all a dream, followed him to the school entrance ceremony.

Suddenly, a piercing explosion echoed from over there.

What started at the sign of that noise was the school war between those who defy the school’s rules, the DELINQUENT TEAM BAD APPLES, and members of the DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE.

In the middle of that battle, the heroine meets a RED-HAIRED young man.

That young man faced her directly and asked a question.

“– Do you want to live?” (English translation from official website)

The premise reminds me so much of one of my favourite animes, Angel Beats. The art deviates from Idea Factory’s usual style, taking on a more comic-book themed approach (to match the concept that it is a different world, I suppose). Although it was a little strange to look at initially, the art grew on me the more I looked at it. The release date has still yet to be announced, but I do hope it stays with its 2017 expected release date.

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase the game here: Bad Apple Wars – PlayStation Vita.

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Bad Apple Wars’ Review here.

4. Code: Realize Future Blessings

The fandisc for Code: Realize, featuring after stories for the main cast and new routes for Herlock Sholmes and Finis.

If you haven’t read my review for Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ you should check it out! If you have, then you’ll know I absolutely loved the game and it is one of my all-time favourites. I am looking forward to the new routes with Herlock Sholmes and Finis, as I felt their stories weren’t quite fully delved upon in the original game. The art in the opening looks gorgeous, and of course who doesn’t want to have more stories to read with their favourite bachelor?

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it here –
Code: Realize Future Blessings – Play Station Vita | Limited Edition
Code: Realize Bouquet of Rainbows – Play Station 4 | Limited Edition

5. Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome 

-The Story-

Ema Tachibana is a tall, gloomy and unsociable girl with a bad case of resting bitch-face. With all that working against her, she’s never really had any friends. That didn’t really change when she started at a new school. Everyone kept their distance because they were scared of her.

But Ema herself was quite content with that state of affairs. She was all set to spend the rest of her time until graduation invisible as ever.

That is until two men turned her life upside down…

“I’ve finally found you. You are my… my one and only muse!”

Miki Hiraizumi—recently returned to Japan from abroad, he’s loved making clothes ever since he was a little kid. He has a strong desire to help make charming, unusual women shine. (Also a bit of a masochist.)

“Listen, you may be nothing but a little shrew right now, but even you have some potential to shine. I’ll just have to polish you up.”

And Saito Shinjou—he frequently finds himself bored because things have always come easy to him. He wants to find a way to do something so big, it’ll change the world. (He’s also a bit of a sadist.)

These two ambitious and attractive fellows decide to give Ema Tachibana a makeover!

“No… I’m not really interested…”

But Ema has other ideas. (English Official Website)

This is quite an interesting pick up by MangaGamer, as I feel R18+ otome game localisations are very few in comparison to bishoujo games. The summary looks hilarious, and the art is quite good! The VA (Yotsuya Cider) of Shinjou Saito is the same as Kyrie from OZMAFIA!!! Hopefully if the title sells well commercially, we will see more mature-themed otome games released in future.

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it here: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome R18+ Version.

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18]‘ Review here.

6. Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds

-The Story-

A remastered retelling of the beloved otome Hakuoki series that focuses on the story set in Kyoto. 

Hakuoki was first developed and released in 2008. New players, as well as players that have grown with the franchise, can discover the beauty and richness of its story with new, innovative features all presented on the Playstation Vita system. 

Never-before-seen episodes and character routes have been added to the original version of the game, introducing more romanceable targets, new minor characters, and plenty of new paths to seek for yourself!

Take a glimpse into the world of Hakuoki, as it was originally intended!

(English Official website

Although I’ve already written a post regarding my mixed feelings on another Hakuoki game, it is still a great title nonetheless for players new to the franchise. It’s essentially an all-in-one release, so if you haven’t gotten around to playing the series—now is the time to play it. It’s release date was announced only a few days ago, and the game is being released on May 16 (NA) and May 19 (EU) for the PSVita!

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it here: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds – PlayStation Vita

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds [Limited Edition]’ Review here.

UPDATE 3: Read my ‘Differences between the Original Hakuoki and Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds’ here.

7. Night Shade

-The Story-

Thanks to an age of constant war, the Iga and Kouga had independently achieved an expansion of their respective forces.

Both shinobi forces, owing to that long history of warring, shared an antagonistic relationship of mutual hatred towards one another. However, during the ninth year of the Tenshou era, the Iga forces fell into ruin due to the Tenshou Iga War started by Oda Nobunaga. The few Iga members that had survived were taken in by the Kouga forces.

Seventeen years later, the Sengoku period had ended and lasting peace came to the world.

Dreaming of performing shinobi duties, Ueno Enju (the protagonist), daughter of the Kouga forces’ leader, Ueno Kandou, had been training everyday.

After finally being selected to go on her first mission, a major incident occurs. It not only derails Enju’s fate, but the fate of the village as well…

(English translation from official website)

The storyline, art and theme reminds of the Hakuoki series. I really enjoy historical Visual Novels, and the art in Night Shade is gorgeous. Originally it was actually meant to be released December 15th, 2016 on steam but it got pushed back. I’m assuming it just wasn’t ready yet, and although it is unfortunate—it’s better to wait if it’s going to be a higher quality release. It’s in the steam-release queue with other Visual Novels within March-April release dates, so fingers crossed it will be released sometime soon in 2017!

What I’m looking forward to the most about the game is that Hattori Hanzo is voiced by the same VA as Chikage Kazama from Hakuoki. He is one of my all-time favourite VAs, and it’s ironic the character is named ‘Hanzo’ (after Overwatch, the name is forever ruined for me).

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it on steam here.

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Night Shade/Hyakka Hyakurou’ Review here.

8. Grisaia no Rakuen/The Eden of Grisaia

-The Story-

Our story picks up immediately after the events of Grisaia no Meikyuu, with Kazami Yuuji having been detained for suspected involvement with an international terrorist organization, lead by Heath Oslo, that has managed to enter Japan’s borders with a devastating new weapon of mass destruction in hand. Meanwhile, at Mihama Academy, the remaining students find themselves with time running out – due to financial issues, the school is set to close within the month. Over the past year, though, the girls of Mihama have finally begun to find their own legs, thanks to Yuuji’s involvement – are they really just going to bury their heads in the sand and let the world change around them? And are they really willing to let the man who changed their lives slip away without so much as trying to win him back? As the end of their time at Mihama Academy approaches, Amane, Makina, Sachi, Yumiko, and Michiru find themselves arriving at a single conclusion.

The final chapter in the Grisaia series, featuring Prologue De La Grisaia, a prologue set before Yuuji’s arrival at Mihama; Blanc Aile no Tane, the overarching story’s grand conclusion; a smorgasbord of bonus eroscenes; and an after story to the events of Blanc Aile no Tane. (Excerpt from VNDB

The Grisaia series is one of my all-time favourite visual novels, and it’s great to see that the series trilogy will come to an end in 2017. The Labyrinth of Grisaia (second in the series) was released in January this year. It has a to-be-expected release date of March 2017, and the uncut version sometime during the summer.

I personally am currently still finishing up the first game (The Fruits of Grisaia), and onto my last route which is Makina’s. But, I am taking my time as the series is incredibly long (my current playtime is 85hrs) and I might as well pace myself until the final game is released. No point finishing the games early then suffering the unbearable wait (laughs).

9. Nekopara Volume 3

-The Story-

What’s NEKOPARA? Why, it’s a cat paradise!

Minazuki Kashou, the son of a long line of Japanese confection makers moved out to open his own shop “La Soleil” as a patisserie.

But upon moving out, hidden amongst his things were two of the catgirls (“neko”), Chocola and Vanilla, that the family had been raising. When he tried to send them back, they begged and pleaded until he gave in and now they’ve opened La Soleil together.

With two nekos who really, REALLY love their master trying their very best and occasionally failing — a heartful comedy opens for business!

See the Sayori NEKO WORKs’ mascots Chocola and Vanilla like never before, moving, and in full voice on screen. And now with the E-mote System, the characters smoothly move on screen changing expression and poses in countless ways. (Steam Summary)

Initially I found this game a little weird, not going to lie. It is not for everyone, and I actually found out about it from internet memes (laughs). But, once you give it a try it’s actually a pretty good game and for a very cheap price! They often go on sale in bundles, which is when it’s best to grab them. The art and animation is really good and crisp, and it’s an all-around hilarious game. The cat girls really do grow on you as you play through the visual novel. This is the last in the trilogy, releasing the last two romanceable cat girls. It is set to be released on the 28th of April, 2017.

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it on steam here.

10. New Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

-The Story- 

The third Dangan Ronpa game which has been confirmed at the TGS 2015 to be released on both the PS Vita and PS4.

Like the title “New” implies, the game has a completely different storyline, characters and environment than the first three games (the “Hope’s Peak Academy” storyline ends with an anime series), with only the series’ mascot Monokuma returning. The game features a new killing game called the New Killing School Life. The new setting is called Gifted Inmates Academy or the Prison School for the Gifted. The Academy (and hotel) is in a garden surrounded by a cage. It’s implied that the story is set in the future.

The overall theme is mentioned to be “psycho cool”, unlike the “psycho pop” and “psycho tropical” themes of the first two games. The visual style will have a “cool adult-like image” and the Class Trials will have “high-speed reasoning action”. While the storyline and the sixteen new characters are different, the gameplay is similar to the earlier games, including exploration, talking with other characters and the Class Trials. It will have notable additions and improvements, though, like the possibility to use your own lies to defeat opponents during the trials. (Excerpt from VNDB

Did I save my ultimate bias and the best for last? Perhaps. This is my number one favourite visual novel of all-time indisputably. It has an amazing mix of storyline, plot twists, character cast, humour, cuteness and mystery; just everything I love in a game. When I first played the game, I had a phase of obsession for several long weeks/months (which never happens to me over a game, usually I just have a few days of bliss upon completing a game before getting over it). I’m a little sad that the Hope’s Peak Academy arc has ended, and I am very curious as to how they have decided to revamp the series in a brand new release with a completely new cast.

The Danganronpa series is a ‘whodunnit?’ mystery/detective Visual Novel, where you must discover the culprit of the killings and present your findings in a class trial. The stakes are essentially kill or be killed, and you’re faced with uncovering people whom you consider friends as potential murderers. However, it is not what you expect at all coming into the game with an incredibly immersive storyline and great gameplay. It’s one of those games where you just have to try it yourself to understand what it’s truly about. The descriptions will never do the game any justice.

I have heard mixed reception over the new game, but for the most part they were very positive. It has an announced release date on the 26th of September for NA and 29th of September for EU. What I am glad about is the steam port is being released at the same time as the PSVita/Playstation 4 platform. This is great considering for the predecessors, the steam release is usually a year later.

UPDATE: The game has now been released! Purchase it here:
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – PlayStation 4
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – PlayStation Vita | Limited Edition

UPDATE 2: Read my ‘Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’ Review here.

I hope that you all enjoyed my list, and found some new games to look forward to for 2017!


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Please consider supporting my work on Patreon, as every little bit helps me out so much every month with website hosting costs. I am forever grateful to all my readers and supporters!


Written By Cherry

Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2015
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Apple iOS/Android/Steam/Switch (Japanese & English)
GAME LINK: Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya – Steam [DIGITAL]

After playing through Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, I noticed that it had a sequel within the same universe of Yoshiwara with different characters. I was curious about the game, mainly to see whether the developers addressed the glaringly obvious issues and much needed improvements from the predecessor.

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

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

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★

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

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

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

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Music and Voice Acting ★★

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

System ★★★

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 3/5


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Written By Cherry

Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2014
PUBLISHER: D3 Publisher & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Apple iOS/Android/Steam/Switch (English), PS VITA (Japanese)
GAME LINK: Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya [DIGITAL]

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

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

I am aware that the game originally was released for the mobile platform. However, it was popular enough to warrant a steam release along with the sequel Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya (which I also reviewed). I was intrigued on how they decided to approach the steam port, in terms of graphics, improvements, art, UI etc. and was met with mixed reception.

Storyline ★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TOKIWA: Tokiwa has an air of arrogance and haughtiness in majority of the other routes, so to my surprise he was actually one of the gentlest courtesans in Kikuya. Tokiwa prior to his demotion to Takao’s attendant, was a rising courtesan within the district for his skills in dance, singing and unique foreign looks. In comparison to the other men of Yoshiwara, he originated from the mainland and was not originally born on the island itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall, the route is a lot fluffier than the others but I found myself again being disappointed yet again by the ending. He easily escapes jail with the help of the heroine’s mother, as the patrol guard had previously been in her debt and he is subsequently released. It then quickly skips to their wedding scene and ending. He also has less content in comparison to the other men, as he was the newest add-on route implemented into the game. Because of this, he does not appear at all in the other male routes. This greatly diminished his screen time and weakened the attachment you felt towards him as a character. Whilst the other bachelors had plenty of sub-stories, there weren’t any for Hayabusa.

Design ★★★

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

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

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Music and Voice Acting ★★

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

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

System ★★

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 2.5/5


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Written By Cherry