The Charming Empire Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2014
PUBLISHER: OperaHouse, Dramatic Create & Dogenzaka Lab
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Windows/iOS/Android (Japanese) & Steam (English)
GAME LINK: The Charming Empire – Steam [DIGITAL]

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

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

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

Storyline ★★

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-The Story-

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

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

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 Amane Kousaka becomes very lonely, as her brother is incredibly cold to her and completely withdrawn within his office.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

System ★★★

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 3/5


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Written By Cherry

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The Charming Empire Walkthrough

If you would like to see my general review of the game, you can read it here.

I personally recommend to play the characters in the following order.

YOSHIMINE KEI

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  • Prisoner?
  • I’ll do my best
  • Tell the truth
  • Why can’t you go, too?
  • That’s not true
  • Deny it
  • Stay a little longer
  • Yeah
  • Romance novels
  • Apologize
  • Relax
  • I’m not sure about this
  • Okay
  • Original story → From the Beginning → Choose all the Opposite Answers → Normal End

KOICHIRO SERA

9

  • No, but…
  • Try again
  • Leave
  • I just want to walk around
  • Are the houses okay?
  • State what I think
  • Leave the room
  • Did you used to train here?
  • Ask Sera
  • Keep holding hands
  • Say no
  • Um…
  • I’ll think about it
  • Talk
  • Why are you doing this?
  • Tell the truth
  • Stop him
  • Sacrifices are ridiculous
  • Original story → From the Beginning →  Choose all the Opposite Answers → Normal End

TANBA TOKI

18

  • Apologize
  • Continue forward
  • Thank you
  • You bought it for me?
  • Play along
  • Accept
  • What’s our relationship?
  • Can I really go with you?
  • I’m important to you?
  • Push the man aside
  • Don’t say that…
  • Peek through a closer window
  • Think positive
  • You’re letting me go?
  • Do you like quieter girls?
  • Ask the guards for help
  • Save my brother
  • Original story → From the Beginning → Choose all the Opposite Answers → Normal End

TOGAWA KAGEMITSU 

13

  • The future
  • A sugar candy
  • This is all new to me…
  • I’ve never seen this design
  • I was spacing out
  • I’m happy
  • I want to do something
  • Forward
  • That’s embarassing
  • Hold his hand
  • No
  • I trusted you
  • Are you serious?
  • Ask about the promise
  • You do deserve it
  • Original story → From the Beginning → Choose all the Opposite Answers → Normal End

AMAZAKI SOSHI

15

  • Just pick one
  • Yes
  • Stay in your room
  • I don’t
  • I think he’s kind
  • Tell someone
  • It’s not going well…
  • Go to Soshi’s room
  • Go with Soshi’s choice
  • Turn the corner
  • I just can’t
  • I wanted to go with you
  • Original story → From the Beginning → Choose all the Opposite Answers → Normal End

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Do you enjoy reading the content of my website? Would you like to help support me in keeping the website up and running, as well as being able to devote more time to reviews and walkthroughs?

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

NEWS: The Charming Empire Release Announcement


For more information, check out the steam store page.


Recently, Dogenzaka Lab announced two new games to be localised in english on steam: The Charming Empire and Campus Nightlife. This is super exciting, cause as I mentioned before in my anticipated english visual novel releases for 2017; this year will indeed be very stacked in terms of english localisations! It is great and promising news for Visual Novel fans in the western world, as more and more publishers/companies are recognising that there is a viable target market and fans of the genre. With the newfound momentum we’re seeing in 2017, I won’t be surprised at all if 2018 turns out to be even better.

Of course, that is still a while away and as fans we’ll just have to continue keeping our fingers crossed! I will be covering The Charming Empire out of the two games, since from the premise I found it to be more interesting out of the two. If you would like more information about Campus Nightlife, you can read about it on the steam store page.

Initial Impressions

From first impressions alone, The Charming Empire has some pretty impressive art for a game originally on the mobile platform. Truly, the mobile platform has come so far in improving the past couple of years. I’m sure that it’ll look even better on the PC screen, judging from the screenshot previews that they’ve shown of the game so far. I can already see that Dogenzaka Lab have addressed some of the shortcomings I mentioned from reviewing their two previous (and most popular) releases for mobile and steam: Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya and Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya.

Other than the clear art improvements, they’ve finally decided to incorporate voice acting in their ports! As I mentioned in my criticisms of their previous games, the recent steam release visual novels have all included full voice acting. In order to compete with the rapidly growing and competitive market, having non-voiced games really isn’t going to cut it anymore. Not only that, but some of these games are fully voiced and significantly lower in terms of price threshold. Voice acting just adds so much to a game, and can turn poor/average writing into an engaging story due to the expressions of the VAs.

Overall, in terms of first impressions it is quite positive and I am personally looking forward to the game’s release.

Storyline

-The Story-

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

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

The story seems interesting enough, and I do like that it is a more traditional and historical setting rather than one set in Modern Japan. Dogenzaka Lab’s Men of Yoshiwara series is their most popular and successful for a reason, as they definitely do much better with the concept in comparison to their other game genres. However, I’m still slightly apprehensive of the game’s writing due to past experiences with the company’s titles. They’re not exactly known for their stellar writing, interesting protagonists or bachelor personalities.

Their previous games have been riddled with poor writing, and littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. It’s as though it was translated by someone unfamiliar with the english language, and judging from the game script it honestly felt like the final copy wasn’t properly proofread at all. However, as it is a newer release by the company I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now and I sincerely hope that the writing is much better this time around.

Character Introductions

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Toki Tanba  |  丹葉桐己  |  CV: Tetsuya Kakihara  |  柿原徹也

The flirtatious cafe owner

Toki owns a cafe in the city that serves tea and various confections. He is particularly kind to women and loved by all of his customers. But behind that kind smile, however…

“Sorry for the wait. This here is the pride of the cafe, our signature baumkuchen.”

Oh my, it’s the VA for Shin from Amnesia: Memories and Viktor Frankenstein from Code Realize: ~Guardian of Rebirth~. I knew his voice sounded familiar the moment I heard it! He seems to be one of the two the main bachelors judging from the art and trailer released so far. I find it quite amusing that in this game he plays a flirtatious character, whereas his previous roles in the above two very popular otome games were the complete opposite.

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Kei Yoshimine  |  吉峯螢  |  CV: Toshiki Masuda  |  増田俊樹

The captive former prince

Kei is the heroine’s private tutor.
The prince of a fallen country, he is now a captive of the empire.
Perhaps because of those circumstances, he treats the heroine harshly.

“My name is Kei Yoshimine. Starting today I’ll be teaching you foreign language and dance. Any questions?”

Kei seems like your typical major-closet tsundere; where he’s cold to you initially but becomes increasingly embarrassed and shy as he develops feelings for the heroine. I do really like his character design, as I have a soft spot for dark-haired male leads.

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Koichiro Sera  |  世良皇一朗  |  CV: Takuya Eguchi  |  江口拓也

The reticent bodyguard

Sera is the heroine’s unsociable bodyguard.
Not a minute goes buy where Sera isn’t devoted to his duties, and he also has a stubborn side.
He bares distrust towards Lord Soji’s dictatorship.

“Stay close to me.”

The same VA as Sonosuke Izayoi from the Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Ironically they both play a similar character role in both that anime and this game.

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Kagemitsu Togawa  |  渡川景光  |  CV: Toshiyuki Toyonaga  |  豊永利行

The mild-mannered aide

Kagemitsu is Lord Soji’s right hand man.
He is a childhood friend of both our heroine and Soji.
Kagemitsu worries about the future under Lord Soji’s dictatorship.

“You’re so kind…just how I remember you.”

The role of the kind childhood friend who usually is very supportive of the heroine and her endeavours in every route despite also being in love with her. I’ve learnt to distrust this type of character trope as recently, companies have enjoyed placing dark twists on their character to make their inherently bland stories more interesting. Although I don’t think that is the case in this game, you never know until you actually play through his story route.

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Soji Amazaki  |  天崎奏嗣  |  CV: Kenjiro Tsuda  |  津田健次郎

The aloof lord

Soji holds the most powerful seat in all the empire.
Only trusting himself, he rejects the opinions of others as he continues his dictatorship agenda — breeding animosity amongst the people.
He’s a cold man who sees even his own sister as a political tool.

“I see you’ve arrived safely. From now forth, you’ll be living here.”

The moment I heard that voice, I knew exactly who it was before even checking the name. It’s the same VA for Seto Kaiba from the Yu-Gi-Oh series, and of course Chikage Kazama from the Hakuoki series. The VA for Chikage Kazama is my all-time favourite performance for a male character out of any otome game that I’ve played. Now that I know he’ll be voice acting in this game, I am a lot more hyped and excited than I was initially. With Chikage Kazama’s voice, I can imagine exactly what character and role Soji will play in this game.

Final Thoughts

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The Charming Empire is actually looking very promising now that I’ve looked over all the information that they’ve released so far. They definitely stepped up their budget and voice acting, with their two main characters being voiced by very popular and prominent VAs. I’m looking forward to playing Toki and Soji’s routes the most as not only are they voiced by some of my favourite VAs, they’re also the main characters of the game. Generally speaking, the main bachelors/poster men do have the better routes, greater screen time and more prominent roles in the overarching storyline.

I am especially interested in Soji as I am admittedly biased and love that he’s essentially emulating Chikage Kazama’s voice V2 in this game. But, I am also intrigued by his character as I do like his design best out of all the bachelors. He is the reason as to why the MC was brought to the palace capital in the first place, leading into the events of the game. You can just tell that he has a significant role within the storyline, due to his actions in the premise and his clearly questionable hidden agendas concerning the protagonist.

The art in the game is gorgeous and I do love the designs for all the characters. Normally I usually do have several characters I lean towards more than others and the rest I play to complete the game. For ‘The Charming Empire’ I am looking forward to playing all of them. The game looks to be very solid if the writing has improved from Dogenzaka Lab’s previous games and I sincerely hope that they incorporated better music. Mobile platform games are always prone to thirty second generic tracks that loop horrendously, and it would be a shame considering the prominent VA cast and beautiful art.

I am looking forward to playing this game, and I definitely think it should be a game to look out for as an otome fan!


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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