[DEMO] Phantom Ban Detective Agency Review

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PROJECT: Kickstarter Page
DEMO LINK: Download here

The game developers @ObentoMori reached out to me on twitter a while back to check out their upcoming Visual Novel. After skimming over their kick starter campaign, it quickly piqued my interest as I am an absolute sucker for detective/mystery Visual Novels. Although the campaign has already been successfully funded, you can still continue to donate via paypal to help support the team. You can do so from the above link, as well as view more information about the project/game itself.

The demo is fairly short (10-20minutes long) and this will mostly be my first impressions on the game and what I would like to see in the finished version!

Storyline

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– The Story-
In Phantom Ban Detective Agency you play as Riley Weir, a high school student at North Milton High. Alongside fellow student Dameon Hunt, self proclaimed “Phantom expunger extraordinaire,” she finds herself wrapped up in strange occurrences caused by mysterious beings called “Phantoms.” Together they join forces to solve the strange phenomena caused by the Phantoms and restore peace and order to North Milton.
(Kick Starter Page)

The premise is quite interesting, with the concept of ESPers and ‘Phantoms’ that creates mysterious phenomena for the protagonist to solve. It has a lot of potential in the development of the storyline, as there is just so many possibilities for the writers to work with. I’m excited to see how the mystery will pan out in the completed game. As it is a demo, I’m hoping that in the full game the introduction will be a lot more fleshed out and not so rushed like it’s current state.

You’re immediately thrust into the universe of the game, with little to no prior build up. You are barely able to acquaint yourself with the character cast before the first phantom case already appears. Whilst it was a good showcase of the surprisingly good graphics and effects of the game, it was not so good of an impression on the storyline.

You are also then given a list of suspects, in which you have only met one out of all the potential culprits. In a mystery detective Visual Novel, it is extremely important to introduce the whole cast of characters and to acquaint the players with the potential suspects beforehand. It creates good tension, forges a more memorable connection to the characters, keeps the audience questioning on who is the most suspicious and we’re constantly on a look out for potential ‘clues’ when interacting with them.

It only makes the betrayal all the more impactful later when the player finally realises who was behind the crime. This is a very crucial element of detective/mystery Visual Novels that I definitely hope to see in the final game.

Character Development

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Although you’re only introduced to four characters so far in the demo, I quite enjoy their personalities from what I’ve seen so far. Riley seems to be quite a snarky, confident and strong-minded heroine which is what I definitely like to see in a female detective protagonist. Dameon (Riley’s ‘Detective Partner’) is great, and I love the interesting and fun dynamic between the two. Dameon is flamboyant and overly confident in his skills as a ‘Phantom expunger extraordinaire’, which clearly unnerves Riley.

Already from first impressions the two cannot stand one another and it will be interesting to see how they slowly become closer over the course of the story. As you can potentially romance the characters, I’d like to see the entire dateable cast and how this will affect the story endings. How would love affect the solving of a case, if the culprit/target is who Riley has feelings for? What personalities/tropes will these other characters fulfil?

Design

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This was actually the aspect I was most impressed with the game. I really like the art style for the character sprites, I think it’s just so lively, fun and quirky. It really suits the theme of the game. I especially enjoyed Dameon’s choice of expressions, which I think were a very nice touch to his character. Some of the sprite poses could be cleaned up as they were slightly disproportionate in a few, which I’m sure will be refined for the final release.

The background art is especially gorgeous, and I was very surprised with the quality of it. The commissioned artist (Xand) did such an amazing job with it, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the art for the other locations in the game.

Music and Voice Acting

I quite liked the opening trailer for the game, as it had the notable ‘detective/mystery’ vibe going on that definitely caught my eye. In terms of the music for the demo thus far, then the tracks were decent. They suited the ‘mystery’ theme and scenes of the game, but I wouldn’t say that there were any that stood out so far. The looping at the end of the tracks were very noticeable, and should definitely be adjusted for the final version.

In terms of voice acting, then I am unsure if the completed game will be voiced.

System

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The system is fairly simple in design, and everything is very straight forward. It is clear cut, easy to read and navigate. If anything, I definitely would’ve liked to see a more detective-orientated user interface (UI). There are just so many ways to improve the system, in order to immerse the player into the role of a detective.

I’m very curious as to how many mechanics the game will include as part of the mystery/detective theme of the game. For example: a notepad/record of clues accumulated so far? Hint system? How do you ‘clear’ a case? Do you have to select and put forward the correct evidence, in order to out the suspect? How will you go about doing this? How many maps will there be? To what extent are these maps/rooms ‘interactive’?  Will items in the room be selectable?

As there is a foreseeable plan of 4-5 cases to clock the game, I’d definitely like to see increasing difficulty as the player advances through the storyline. Usually in most mystery games, with each subsequent case they tend to introduce new ‘mechanics’ that are applicable to the next stage. This keeps the gameplay refreshing and retains player interest. I look forward to seeing how the creators decide to approach arguably the most important aspect in a detective/mystery Visual Novel!

Conclusion

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From what I have seen so far, I actually quite liked Phantom Ban Detective Agency. It has a lot of potential to be a solid game, and I’m fairly impressed with what I’ve seen so far for an indie visual novel team. The storyline is interesting, and I enjoy the ‘phantom’ concept. The writing could be improved for the final version with some proof reading, as the sentence structure had some overly-long phrases and grammatical errors in the demo.

The characters, artwork and backgrounds are great and I’m looking forward to seeing the case-solving mechanics of the game. I think for an updated demo the best place to end the game would be after the first case. This would properly showcase the game’s main storyline, pique player interest and demonstrate the mystery-solving elements and mechanics. To me personally, the system UI and how interactive a game is in how you’re able to solve the case is the most important aspect of a detective/mystery visual novel.

I was impressed with the game animations so far such as the map transitions, phantom movement and just the small effects such as water droplets that really add to the overall feel of the visual novel. The music is decent, with some slight tweaking in terms of smoother track looping. I’ll be following the progress on this game, in anticipation for it’s expected 2018 release. I definitely recommend checking it out and giving the demo a go, as well as  supporting the creators via the kickstarter paypal link if you enjoyed it so far!

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Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds [Limited Edition] Review

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RELEASE DATE: May 6 (NA) & May 9 (EU)
PUBLISHER: Idea Factory & Otomate
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: PS Vita (Japanese & English) & Steam (To Be Released)
GAME LINK: Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Regular Edition]
STORE LINKS: Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Limited Edition][NA]
Hakuoki Kyoto Winds – PS Vita [Limited Edition][EU]
Official Site: Idea Factory International

I have been excited about Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds for quite a while now! Although the series is a little outdated in comparison to all the new otome game releases in the past couple of years, I’ve always had a soft spot for it as being one of the first otomes I ever played. It has always remained a solid ‘staple’ of the english otome game releases thus far, and it essentially is the title that really caught the attention of localisation companies. It proved that there was indeed a target market for the niche genre within the western community.

When Idea Factory International reached out to me for a collaboration, I was ecstatic! Although I initially didn’t plan on playing the remake as I played both the original Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on PSP and Stories of the Shinsengumi on PS3; I was still curious as to how they were going to approach a revamp for the series. The important aspect to remember is that Kyoto Winds ONLY includes Chapter 1-5 of the original game.

The second part has yet to be officially announced, and you’re only receiving the first half of the original storyline before it branches into the seperate bachelor routes. Although I initially wasn’t a fan of splitting the game into two halves, after playing through it I can understand why they made the decision. Hakuoki to begin with has always been a very text/content heavy game, with great emphasis on the overarching historical timeline of events. As they have refined and added a lot of additional dialogue/writing to the original game, the beginning chapters are significantly longer and offer many more hours of gameplay.

There are also an additional 5 bachelor routes in comparison to the original 7, as well as new event CGs. Due to the sheer amount of selectable bachelors each having their own routes, marketing and writing-wise it made the most sense to split the game into two. I was surprisingly quite impressed with the new additions to the game, and enjoyed playing the remake despite already being very familiar with the series.

Impressions on the Limited Edition

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I was actually really surprised by how large the box for the Limited Edition was when it arrived in the mail. The box is really well made and sturdy; featuring lovely cover art for the game. Normally I don’t like to keep game packaging, but the one for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was just too lovely to throw out (laughs). I really liked how snugly all the items fit inside the box, and it was designed very well. It features an exclusive bento box, furoshiki, official soundtrack disk, hard cover art book and of course a physical version of the game.

The bento box is made out of bamboo, and was nicer than I expected. It definitely made a lovely match with the large furoshiki, which features art of all the bachelors from the game. However, I personally think the bento box is more suitable as a display piece or as an accessory container than as an actual bento box for use. My favourite aspect of the LE was definitely the hardcover art book, as it included a lot of CG art from the game as well as detailed character profiles and insights into the overarching storyline.

It provided a lot of extra information on the bachelors, and draft artwork leading up to their final designs. Overall, it’s a solid LE and definitely a step up from the previous LE’s for the Hakuoki series. I recommend purchasing it if you love exclusive well-made display items and are a huge fan of Hakuoki! Purchasing the LE definitely shows support for the series, and would lead to better LE’s in future. Other than that, then I wouldn’t say the LE is an absolute must have. The game is still very enjoyable with or without the extra content.

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

Japan’s Edo Period was drawing to a close.

The shogunate, who’d held power in the country for more than 200 years, found itself challenged by the imperial court, and by several domains who had chaffed under shogunal rule.

In the midst of this political unrest, an organization rose to prominence: The Shinsengumi. Originally formed to protect the streets of Kyoto from masterless samurai, they came to represent the last, tragic bastion of the honor-bound samurai culture that had defined much of Japan’s history.

A young woman by the name of Chizuru comes to Kyoto in search of her missing father, and soon encounters danger and the Shinsengumi in quick succession. When it becomes clear the Shinsengumi are also searching for her father, Chizuru is put under their protection.

But odd things are afoot in Kyoto—possibly even supernatural things. Can Chizuru navigate this maze of mortal danger and political intrigue? Amidst so much misery and death, can she find romance?
(Official Website Summary)

The website summary actually encompasses the story outline very well, so I won’t delve into it further here. The Hakuoki series has always been well-known for its interesting premise and powerfully interwoven storyline with Japan’s historical period of social unrest and change. It incorporates key elements such as fantasy, love, friendship and betrayal to create an immersive and memorable storyline. The world of Hakuoki is thoroughly fleshed out and demonstrates impressive world building, as the historical events propels both the storyline forward and the development of the characters.

They’re caught in between the cross-fire of a political war that acts as the catalyst for change and the beginning of a new era. A battle that would only imminently end in defeat, and inflict unimaginable death, despair and suffering as there is never a true victor in the aftermaths of war. The characters are on the losing faction, and are forced to question their own beliefs and morality as their organisation once built upon camaraderie and unwavering trust slowly corrupts from within.

They come to the daunting realisation that with the changing world, there is no longer a place for samurai. Their resolute beliefs on what constituted as an honourable warrior were now considered remnants of the past, and wars were no longer won through sheer will or one’s skill in battle. For these men who lived and died by their blades, their once unshakeable beliefs had wavered and their very existences are rendered meaningless.

It is the answering of these existentialist concepts tied in with significant character development over the course of the plot, that makes the storyline of the Hakuoki series so memorable. The writing in the remake Kyoto Winds is quite impressive, and refines the storytelling from the original game. There is just so much more description and attention to the finer details of the story, that is noticeable right from the very beginning.

The additional narration also gives Chizuru so much more personality, and provides the audience with a better understanding of her thought processes towards her own circumstances and the other characters in the game. As the first half is mainly dedicated to the historical events leading into the main complication of the storyline, it can be quite stale at times and very lengthy to read. If you’re not a fan of long introductions, slow storyline pacing and a greater focus on the plot rather than the romances between the characters; then Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds may not be the game for you.

As the first half of the remake only covers Chapter 1-5, it ends just before the common route branches into the character paths in the original. This is the section of the storyline where they lose the battle at the Fushimi Magistrate, and depending on the route; the heroine Chizuru becomes separated from the Shinsengumi and attempts to rejoin them at Edo along with the chosen bachelor.

Although the cliff hanger definitely builds hype for part two of the game, it was quite disappointing as the storyline after the character branch is where Hakuoki truly shines. One of the advertised aspects of the remake is the ‘new content’ they added to the game for all the bachelors, along with new dateable characters. If you’ve only ever played the original PSP or DS version, then you’ll definitely enjoy the remake as all the content will be completely new to you.

However, if you’ve already played the PS3 version then you’ll realise that half the new content is actually from the translated fandisk (Zuisouroku). This was the ‘Memories of Love’ portion in Stories of the Shinsengumi, which unlocked after finishing all the bachelor routes. Rather than keeping it as an ‘extra’ standalone fan service segment, they actually incorporated the fan disk moments into the overarching storyline itself. This was quite effective, as the events in Zuisouroku did follow the linear events of the main plot.

It made the storyline and characters much more immersive and likeable; as there was a greater balance between the plot and romance aspects of the game. It provided greater insight into the bachelor’s feelings and thoughts, and they’re not quite so dismissive and emotionless towards Chizuru in comparison to the original game. However, I was still rather disappointed as I thought when they claimed it’d be all ‘new and never before seen’ content for the game, it meant that they wouldn’t be reusing old scenes and labelling it as ‘longer bachelor routes’.

The other half of the content however, did keep to their promise and included new scenes and CGs. It took 3-4 hrs to complete my first play through, and around 2-3hrs for every bachelor afterwards. I did all 3 endings for every character, which totalled to approximately 25-30hrs of play time.

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

As the first part of the game only covers Chapter 1-5, I will only be discussing the character development that I’ve seen so far and giving a run down on their personalities. The second half will contain more detailed thoughts, as the branches into the character routes is where we see their relationship with the protagonist truly blossom.

There is no particular route order for Kyoto Winds, as all the stories progress in the same linear fashion by following the chronological historical events. If anything, I would recommend the main Shinsengumi characters first in any order (Hijikata, Okita, Saito, and Harada), followed by Chikage Kazama. The remaining characters should be played after, leaving the three new bachelors for last (Iba, Sakamoto and Souma).

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HIJIKATA TOSHIZO: The acting leader of the Shinsengumi, and regarded as the ‘demon commander’ amongst his men. He is a force to be reckoned with both on and off the battlefield, and has little tolerance for lack of discipline. Hijikata strongly believes that war is not won through mere skill alone, but through perseverance and sheer willpower.

He is one of the most dedicated to the Shinsengumi, as all the lives of his men rest upon his shoulders. He has led them to victory time and time again, showcasing his skills as a master tactician. To Hijikata and Kondou, the Shinsengumi is a representation of the dreams they once shared in their youth: that even regular and poor men without noble upbringing such as themselves, could become revered and honourable samurai.

Despite his cold exterior, Chizuru soon realises that he is much kinder and more considerate than what he usually shows to others. He is one of the few members who rectifies Chizuru as apart of the Shinsengumi, assuaging her fears of being a burden to her newfound second family. Hijikata admires her tenacity and wholehearted dedication to the Shinsengumi, respecting that she is an invaluable member he does not wish to part with.

He abides by her wishes whenever possible to assign her tasks around the headquarters, even though it is inefficient and counterproductive from a strategic standpoint. Hijikata is truly a man of his word, exhausting nothing less than his best efforts to protecting Chizuru. He strongly believes that an honourable samurai must always keep their promises, and to go against such code of conduct is akin to throwing away his pride as a warrior.

With the extra scenes and dialogue in Kyoto Winds, I really enjoyed Hijikata’s route so far. It’s not the gruelling read I remember from the original, as Hijikata’s route is the longest and the only one where you see to the final end of the Shinsengumi. As a result, the romance and relationship development really takes a backseat to the historical recounts and the activities of the Shinsengumi.

The additional moments with Hijikata made him a lot more relatable as a character. It was the little interactions and small acts of kindness that he showed to Chizuru which revealed his true feelings towards her. In the original, it felt like Chizuru was always second to the Shinsengumi. In the remake, despite Hijikata being bound by his duties as the leader of the Shinsengumi; he still does everything in his power to accomodate to Chizuru’s needs and feelings as much as possible.

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OKITA SOUJI: One of the most feared and renowned swordsmen of the Shinsengumi, there are very few men who live to tell the tale after facing Okita on the battlefield. His skills and finesse with the blade are unparalleled, and unlike most men who waver in the face of bloodshed and death; Okita has very little reservations towards such sentiments. His sole life purpose is to act as a sword and a living weapon for the Shinsengumi: any enemy of Kondou’s is also an enemy of Okita’s. He completely disregards his own sake and livelihood for his beliefs, and it is this reckless abandon that makes him such a formidable warrior.

His relationship with Chizuru has an extremely rocky start from the very beginning, and he coldly asserts that if she were to ever impede the goals of the Shinsengumi; he would not hesitate to kill her. It is a running motif between the two, as Chizuru is perplexed by how Okita can always utter such frightening words with such a gentle voice and smile on his face. In stark contradiction to his cruel promises however, Okita saves Chizuru at every opportunity and does not hesitate to protect her at the cost of his own body. It is this complexity that forms the crux of Okita’s character, and the complete contrast between his words and actions.

Okita has always been one of my favourite characters from the original, as well as one of the more popular bachelors with reason. Unfortunately his constant switch between hot and cold is frustrating for the majority of his route, as well as his one-track mindset and his complete dedication to Kondou. However, he makes an interesting character that you cannot help but become drawn to over the course of the storyline. Morikubo Shoutarou does such an amazing job voicing Okita, and perfectly captures both his inner anguish and playful personality. He delivers his lines so smoothly and it really is a delight to listen to.

Another reason contributing to his character popularity is due to the more notable romance in his route in comparison to the other bachelors. As he quickly becomes incapacitated and rendered bedridden due to illness, he has many more opportunities to be ‘alone’ with Chizuru. In the remake, the romantic interactions and tensions between the two are even more palpable. There’s just so much more integral character moments between the two that leads to the development of their relationship. It is one of the routes where their romantic feelings for one another become very apparent (especially on Chizuru’s end) from very early on in the story.

Despite Okita’s complex nature, Chizuru shows surprising insight into his true feelings and thoughts; understanding him on such a personal level that it unhinges him. Despite his cold detachment from others, he finds himself wavering in the face of her unabashed honesty and wholehearted efforts to become closer to him. Unsure of how to respond to her affectionate sentiments and his own growing feelings that impede his life’s purpose as a sword that serves Kondou; Okita constantly pushes her away, unable to admit what she truly means to him.

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SAITO HAJIME: Unlike the previous two members of the Shinsengumi, Saito is more so dedicated to the art of swordsmanship rather than the organisation itself. He has devoted his entire life to honing his skills as a warrior, and views sentiments such as camaraderie to be unnecessary on the battlefield. He respects and admires Hijikata’s leadership, as he views that he is the embodiment of an honourable samurai and a commander worth following. The Shinsengumi to Saito is akin to a sanctuary: it was the only place he could truly practice his skills as a warrior, due to the fact that he was left-handed.

All the dojos he attended rejected him, as wielding a sword with one’s left hand was considered the incorrect stance for prestigious samurai and disgraceful practice. However, Hijikata and Kondou wholeheartedly welcomed and accepted him, after witnessing his superior skill. As a result, it is with the Shinsengumi that Saito truly feels a sense of belonging as they shared the same views on what constituted as a true warrior and samurai.

Although Saito is a man of very few words, in the moments he does speak to Chizuru he is very kind and tender. Unlike the others, he always takes the time to answer her questions and is very patient when speaking to her. I really loved Saito’s route in the remake, since it really brought out all the cute nuances of his character that was absent in the original. In the original, Saito continually justifies that he only protects Chizuru out of duty and because he was ‘ordered’ to. With all the additional dialogue and character moments however, it is clear that Saito feels much more for Chizuru than what he leads on.

Saito truly has the best embarrassed and ‘blushing’ moments with Chizuru, as he is always at a complete loss for words with her unexpected forwardness. To Chizuru’s confusion, he is just so shy and she wonders what could be the cause for his strange behaviour. Although the snow bunny scene is a rehash from Zuisouroku/Memories of Love, it is still one of my favourite moments between the two. It is just such a heartwarming scene, that really showcases how adorable their relationship is with one another.

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KAZAMA CHIKAGE: The prestigious head of the demon clan in the west, Kazama proves to be a force to be reckoned with over the course of the storyline. He directly opposes the Shinsengumi, as he sides with the the enemy faction that desires the collapse of the Shogunate. Due to his status as a demon and pure lineage, he is extremely powerful and possesses strength, speed and skill far beyond the scopes of human abilities. Kazama takes immense pride in his position, and resents mankind with every fibre in his being due to the suffering that demons have endured in the past at the hands of human greed.

As a result of these instilled beliefs, he is condescending, arrogant and spiteful. He truly believes that there are no humans worthy of his respect and that there is no such thing as true samurai or warriors. Upon discovering that Chizuru is a pure-blooded female demon, Kazama begins to pursue her relentlessly due to his duties as clan head. Female demons are extremely rare, and their population is scarce; copulating two pure-blooded demons would in no doubt produce an even more powerful offspring that would be beneficial for the future of their race.

Although Kazama is insufferable and a thorn in the side of the Shinsengumi in all the routes, he is without a doubt my favourite character in the game. My main source of interest in the remake was that Idea Factory finally addressed the unanimous fan request for Kazama to have a proper character route. In the original, his story can barely be classified as a ‘dateable bachelor’ as it ends so abruptly, and there’s hardly any moments of genuine interaction between the two. I definitely wanted to see exactly how much more content he would have, and how they would address his storyline.

To my surprise, I was very pleased with how it turned out. What I liked about his story and character is how different he is in comparison to the other bachelors. He really brings out the fire in Chizuru’s personality, as although she is very passive with the other characters; she turns into a complete tsundere regarding Kazama. She is vehement and adamant in opposing his views on humans, and completely refuses his advances at every opportunity. This greatly amuses Kazama, as he is thoroughly content in entertaining her whims and certain that she would inevitably become his.

I really liked the relationship dynamic between the two, and Kazama’s infuriating arrogance really made for very humorous dialogue and character moments. Out of all the bachelors, I always felt that Kazama suited the heroine the most as he truly brings out the best in her. He forces her to admit the things she doesn’t dare usually voice, and he addresses the truth behind her past, family and demon lineage. Although this was hardly delved upon in the original, they definitely touched on it a lot more in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds which I really liked.

With the additional character moments with Kazama, it really showcased that he isn’t truly a heartless demon and is much more considerate than he initially appears (at least regarding Chizuru). There is genuine and notable development between the two, as Chizuru slowly comes to realise his surprising kindness and thoughtfulness towards her feelings. In his own way, he respects her desire to stay with the Shinsengumi and concedes that they may be different from other humans. To me, in the remake it definitely showed in Kazama’s actions how much more he cared about Chizuru than his words would imply.

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HARADA SANOSUKE: One of the kinder captains of the Shinsengumi towards Chizuru, Harada is extremely popular amongst women due to his handsome looks and thoughtfulness. He is surprisingly perceptive regarding the emotions of women, and very considerate of Chizuru’s circumstances in all the routes. Unlike the other captains who live and die by their blades, Harada desires a peaceful life outside of the battlefield. As the organisation slowly corrupts from within, Harada is forced to question what he truly wishes to do with his life. What was once built from mutual camaraderie and men who shared the same beliefs, had now been tainted by the inevitabilities of war and human greed.

Out of all the bachelors, Harada is without a doubt the most romantic route. His story is much more light-hearted in comparison to the other character paths, as he is not as deeply invested in the Shinsengumi itself. With the remake, he shares even sweeter moments with Chizuru that only serve to further justify his status as ‘best husband material’. There really isn’t anything too melodramatic about his route in Kyoto Winds, as the relationship between Chizuru and Harada develops the most naturally in comparison to the other bachelors.

He is a gentleman through and through, always places her needs before his own and notices things about Chizuru that the others do not. It was very enjoyable and refreshing to have a story that didn’t revolve so much around the angst and conflict that pervades majority of the characters.

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HEISUKE TODOU: The youngest Captain of the Shinsengumi, Heisuke is extremely close with both Harada and Shinpachi.  The three are rarely ever seen apart, and regularly drink together at Shimabara. In spite of his age and youthful looks, he is exceptionally skilled with the sword and certainly earned his position as a division Captain. Although he initially joined the group due to his strong beliefs in camaraderie and friendship, he quickly becomes disillusioned with the Shinsengumi.

In comparison to the others who are wholeheartedly dedicated to the Shinsengumi, Heisuke is unsettled by the corruption within the organisation and the grand scheme of the war. He considers things that the others do not, such as what political stance would be best for Japan itself. His route delves further into his reasons for joining the Guardians of the Tomb, and his wavering beliefs on what is the right path to take.

I felt that out of all the characters, he was the most realistic and surprisingly insightful in his views on the Shogunate and overarching war. Rather than a one-dimensional perspective solely focused on what it means to be a warrior, he has the forethought to decide for himself what he truly believes in; even if that means separating from the people he cared about. As Heisuke and Chizuru are around the same age, they quickly become close and fall into a comfortable relationship with one another.

I was surprised by Heisuke’s forwardness in the remake, as unlike the others; he is quick to realise what he is truly fighting for and whom he wishes to protect with his life. This was a welcome and very refreshing change that I really liked. One major complaint I had about Heisuke’s route was the complete lack of CGs of him with Chizuru. Almost all of them were sole portraits of himself, and I felt that he really got the short end of the stick in the art department which was rather disappointing to see.

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NAGAKURA SHINPACHI: Another formidable Shinsengumi Captain and the loyal right-hand man of Harada. The two are rarely ever seen apart, and they share a closely-knit friendship as a trio with Heisuke. Shinpachi is exceptionally cheerful, bright and a source of comic relief amongst the men. Unlike the others with poor upbringing, he was born into a prestigious house of samurai. However, he abandoned his family home to be a lordless ronin as the stifling life of a retainer did not suit his free-spirited nature.

He is one of the few main characters who did not have an individual route in the original game, and I was very curious as to how they would approach it. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed. His route is extremely platonic in comparison to the other bachelors, and felt very lacking in terms of romance and CGs. He constantly asserts that he views Chizuru as a younger sister whom he must protect, and nothing more.

Despite being apart of the main cast, his story felt like an add-on or a side route at best. Even by the end of Shinpachi’s story, I couldn’t bring myself to view him as a ‘romantic interest’, due to the complete lack of emotional development. I felt very little writing was invested in actually getting to know Shinpachi as a character, and his past prior to the Shinsengumi. In comparison to the other bachelors, I dislike how the decision to become a fury was essentially forced upon him by another.

This creates a sense of guilt that tarnishes his once-pure relationship with Chizuru, and was an outcome that Shinpachi would have never willingly wanted for himself. In comparison to the others who knowingly accepted the fate of a fury for the sake of their own pride and the ability to protect what they hold dear, Shinpachi protects Chizuru due to the oath he made with Inoue. It only furthers the whole ‘platonic sibling relationship’ dynamic that pervades his entire route.

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SANAN KEISUKE: The Colonel of the Shinsengumi, and regarded as a high-ranking officer within the organisation; even above the Captains themselves. He has a strong stake in the order of operations and works closely with both Kondou and Hijikata. Although initially beloved by the troops for his kind and gentle demeanour, he quickly becomes jaded and hostile after he receives a critical injury that renders him unable to wield a sword.

To a warrior, such an injury is considered even worse than death. He becomes increasingly dangerous and unhinged as he laments in his worthlessness, and the change in the eyes of the troops who once revered him. He eventually succumbs to the Water of Life and pays the price with his own mortality to once again wield a sword. Sanan is prevalent in all the routes and plays a significant role in the overarching storyline, due to his deep involvement and research in the Furies.

I had always disliked Sanan’s character from the original game, as he is more or less akin to a fallen hero turned villain. I was surprised that he would be a dateable bachelor in the remake, and I was curious as to how they would flesh out his story. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed by what could barely classify as a ‘romance route’. Although you come to understand Sanan’s motives and innermost thoughts, there is very little interaction between the two that can be considered as a ‘potential love interest’.

Their relationship is more so akin to a father gently scolding a petulant child. Other than a few scenes with Sanan where he reverts to his once gentle and kind self, the bulk of his content is apart of the main storyline that is present in all the bachelor routes. As a result, in terms of new content it was very lacklustre and left much to be desired. I also found it strange how even if you become closer to Sanan in his route, he is very much still obsessed with the notion of improving the furies and using Chizuru as a means to do so.

He completely disregards her feelings and emotions on the matter, and still forcibly uses guilt to coerce her into the notion that it is all for the sake of the Shinsengumi. The scene where he enters her room and attempts to cut her for a sample of her own blood (until forcibly stopped by the other Captains) still occurs in his route.

It is very difficult to see Sanan as a love interest, when he shows such disregard and callousness towards Chizuru’s wellbeing. I genuinely felt that having Sanan as a dateable character added very little to the overall storyline, other than revealing some more information about the Furies.

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YAMAZAKI SUSUMU: Part of the ‘Watch’ division of the Shinsengumi, Yamazaki is mainly involved in stealth missions and reconnaissance rather than on the front lines of battle. He holds Hijikata in high esteem as a skilled commander who cares for his men, and devotes himself wholeheartedly to him. Yamazaki is serious, dedicated and prioritises the success of a mission above all else. I always liked Yamazaki’s character from the original game, and I was very excited to play his route in the remake.

Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed his character story and how his relationship with Chizuru developed. Yamazaki is just so adorably shy and reserved, and his serious nature prevents him from expressing his true feelings. It was quite amusing to see how all the other characters slowly became aware of their relationship, whilst Yamazaki remained completely oblivious.

It was so sweet when he revealed how he came to fall in love with Chizuru: that he was always watching her from afar, and it was from these moments that he truly came to realise her innocent and honest nature. It is because of this that he cannot stand to see her hurt, and feels powerless to protect her as she has become someone irreplaceable to him. Unlike the other warriors who possess the strength to fight, Yamazaki is constantly forced to watch as his comrades perish in war.

Chizuru in turn assuages that in his own way, he is fighting his hardest in order to prevent more casualties from occurring. He is a vital part of the Shinsengumi, even though his strength does not lie within his ability to wield a sword. Chizuru is able to understand him in a way that others cannot, despite his quiet and withdrawn nature.

The two just complement one another so well, and it’s the little things that really endeared him as a character to me throughout his route. If anything, I wish there was more writing dedicated to fleshing out his story. I felt it was so short in comparison to the screen time the other bachelor routes had.

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IBA HACHIRO: A childhood friend of both the protagonist and the Shinsengumi, Iba is popular amongst the men due to their youthful memories of learning swordsmanship with one another. He has been promoted to the position of vassal for the Shogun, and inherited his prestigious family dojo during their time apart. As a result, he wields a blade with superior finesse and skill. However, it is clear that unlike the Shinsengumi; he has never tarnished his sword with the life of another.

Soft-spoken, handsome, gentle and charming, Chizuru is unsure initially as to how to respond to his forward affection. She slowly falls in love with his kind nature, and becomes frustrated that she cannot seem to remember the fond childhood memories that Iba holds dear. Iba on the other hand, dedicated his entire life to swordsmanship in order to gain the strength needed to protect the girl he loved in the past.

I had little expectation going into this route as Iba is a new character, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Although the whole childhood friend trope isn’t by any means groundbreaking to the otome genre, I felt that the writing and dynamic between the characters were done well. It is very difficult to dislike Iba, as he is very forward, honest and genuinely cares for Chizuru’s wellbeing above his own.

I found the ‘ancient demonic arm’ aspect of his route to be quite interesting, and not what I anticipated at all. The premise was not seen in any of the previous games, so it was nice to see something completely new to the Hakuoki series. However, I felt it was integrated quite poorly and had some glaring loop holes such as how it even attached to his own arm in the first place. In one scene it was completely separate from his own body, and in the next it had magically fused with him.

You would think that the writers would address such a crucial development in his route, and I was left very confused at how it was left unexplained. Despite the lacklustre incorporation into the storyline, it was still a welcome change and refreshing angle to his character route. In the original Hakuoki, barely any of the stories ever truly expanded on the ‘demon universe’ fantasy aspect of the plot. It’s quite disappointing, as there is just so much of Chizuru’s own background and past that is left unexplored.

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SAKAMOTO RYOUMA:  A ronin from the Tosa domain, Sakamoto is a man of mystery and proposes radical concepts far beyond the scope of his time era. He strongly believes in working for the sake of Japan’s future as a whole, rather than living a simple and meaningless life as a vassal. He quickly becomes a target and creates many enemies, due to his weaponry dealings with various domains and his lack of allegiance to a single side in the war.

He immediately becomes interested in Chizuru from first glance, and attempts to become closer to her at every opportunity. To her dismay, he is very flirtatious, suave, charismatic and handsome; often leaving her extremely flustered and confused as to what the underlying meaning behind his actions are. I found their relationship dynamic very interesting and refreshing, as it was very different from all the other bachelors. His route also offered a lot more context to the overarching war, and different perspectives on why important events occurred.

I found the whole ‘letter writing’ asoect of their relationship to be very cute, and it definitely showed the development of their feelings for one another. It built up anticipation for the readers, wondering when the pair would next be able to meet. However, one aspect of the route that I found quite lacklustre was Sakamoto’s reasons for falling in love with Chizuru. Unlike the others, he is intrigued by her from the very beginning and without much given reason.

Their relationship develops very rapidly, and I couldn’t help but question his motives throughout the route. Just why was he going so far for essentially a stranger? What was compelling him to do all these things for Chizuru? Does he have a hidden agenda? The address of his initial feelings was never answered even until the very end of his story, and it definitely made the romance progression feel much weaker in comparison to the other routes.

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SOUMA KAZUE: Souma is a bright-eyed warrior, who abandons his former family upbringing in order to follow the ideals of the Shinsengumi. Souma truly believes that the Shinsengumi embody what it means to be a Samurai. He is initially appointed as Kondou’s page, and works beneath Chizuru who acts as his mentor throughout the story. He quickly learns and attends to the chores within the compound, as well as sword training underneath the other Captains.

As a result, the pair spend majority of their time with one another and become fast friends. Although his skill with the sword pales in comparison to the Shinsengumi Captains, Souma is determined to attain true strength and works hard each and everyday. Out of the new characters, Souma’s route was the one I did last as he had very little presence in all the bachelor stories and he did not pique my interest at all.

As Iba and Sakamoto’s routes were quite promising, I went into Souma’s path with high expectations. However, I was once again disappointed as it suffered from the same glaring issues as Shinpachi’s and Sanan’s routes. It had very little romance throughout the entire story, and I considered it platonic at best. For the bulk of his story, he does not even realise Chizuru is a girl; which made for some very comical moments that I did enjoy.

But as a result, the romance naturally suffered due to his lack of awareness of her true gender. I felt that Souma’s route was underwhelming and stale in comparison to the other bachelors, as very little events of substance actually occurs. His route also doesn’t reveal or contribute anything noteworthy to the overarching storyline. The only redeeming quality of his route was that his character is voiced by Yūki Kaji. I’m hoping his route picks up in the second half, as that is where I’m expecting the actual romance to occur.

Design ★★★★

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The beautiful art for the Hakuoki series has always been one of the highlights of the game. The bachelors are just all so well designed, and very distinguishable from one another. The background art has also notably improved in the remake, looking much more refined and crisp on the PS Vita screen. They also incorporated many new backdrops that were not in the original game.

As I mentioned earlier, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds included many more CGs for all the bachelors than I expected considering it is only the first half of the game. It included both CGs found in the fan disk and new CGs exclusive to the remake. Although Idea Factory decided to design new characters to entice returning players to the remake, I personally didn’t find myself as attached to their designs in comparison to the original cast.

To my knowledge, the original artist for the series Kazuki Yone is no longer affiliated with the company; and the new characters and CGs were illustrated by an unknown artist. It is clear that they attempted to emulate as closely as possible the original art style, with the new bachelors and CGs. Although most of the new CGs are quite well drawn and lovely, in several of them I noticed the expressions of the characters were particularly different in comparison to the original artwork.

It definitely seemed quite stiff, and not so smoothly drawn when placed side by side with Kazuki Yone’s illustrations. I will never understand the decision behind removing her from the series, as I felt her unique artistic touch to the original characters is incomparable. It’s just so distinct, and really brought the characters to life. The new character designs although attractive, were nowhere near as memorable and well designed in comparison to the original cast.

Considering how ridiculously popular the Hakuoki series is, you would think that they would wish to maintain the main selling point of the game which is the artwork. If you’re new to the series then the differences will not be as apparent, but as I am very familiar with the game I instantly noticed the artistic changes. It’s very disappointing, and leaves me apprehensive for future artwork in the Hakuoki series.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

The music and voice acting is another aspect of the Hakuoki series that contributed to its immense success. One thing I didn’t expect from the remake was a completely revamped soundtrack, in comparison to the original game. The bgm tracks have significantly improved, especially for the battle and combat scenes. They suited the theme and motifs of the game perfectly, and were very effective in setting the mood of the story.

As additional dialogue and scenes were added to the remake, I also found the voice acting had improved from the original game. The new dialogue showcased more of the bachelor’s personalities, and enabled the voice actors to be so much more expressive in demonstrating their character’s feelings and inner conflict. The voice acting cast for the Hakuoki series has always impressed me, and it features a prolific and experienced line up of seiyuus. They emulated all the characters in the game immaculately and really brought their personalities to life.

The standout performances to me were definitely Miki Shin’ichirou (Hijikata Toshizo), Tsuda Kenjirou (Kazama Chikage) and Morikubo Shoutarou (Okita Souji). Hakuoki was the series that really made me a fan of Tsuda Kenjirou’s voice acting, as I felt his interpretation of Kazama’s voice and character was even greater than anything I could have imagined. His voice is just so rich, and distinguishable. He perfectly captures Kazama’s resentment towards humans, and his unwavering arrogance that Demons are superior in all aspects over mankind.

  • Hijikata Toshizo | VA: Miki Shin’ichirou | 三木 眞一郎 |
    Black Wolves Saga series as Nesso Galland, Pokemon series as James, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood as Roy Mustang
  • Okita Souji | VA: Morikubo Shoutarou | 森久保 祥太郎 |
    Code: Realize series as Impey Barbicane, Persona series as Hanamura Yosuke, and Naruto series as Shikamaru Nara
  • Hajime Saito | VA: Toriumi Kousuke | 鳥海 浩輔|
    Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Poyo-poyo/Shiki Hanamiya, Danganronpa series as Ishimaru Kiyotaka, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Shuu, Nightshade as Momochi Choujirou, and Naruto series as Inuzuka Kiba
  • Kazama Chikage | VA: Tsuda Kenjirou | 津田 健次郎 |
    Nightshade as Hattori Hanzo, and The Charming Empire as Amazaki Soshi
  • Iba Hachiro | VA: Miyano Mamoru | 宮野 真守 |
    Ouran High School Host Club as Tamaki Suou, Steins Gate series as Okabe Rintarou, Death Note as Light Yagami, Vampire Knight series as Zero Kiryu and Kingdom Hearts series as Riku
  • Souma Kazue | VA: Yūki Kaji | 梶 裕貴 |
    Black Wolves Saga series as Rath Vogart, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Kanato, Code: Realize series as Finis, Collar x Malice as Okazaki Kei, Norn 9 series as Yuiga Kakeru, Accel World as Haruyuki Arita, Attack on Titan as Eren Yeager, Final Fantasy series as Hope and Ao Haru Ride as Kou Mabuchi

System ★★★★

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The system overhaul and overall UI improvements were quite impressive in the remake. They completely renewed the text dialogue appearance, as well as the system navigation options. It incorporated a significantly better design than the original game, and felt very smooth to use. It included all the basic functions such as CG Gallery, Music List, Scene Recollection, and skip options.

I definitely would’ve really liked a ‘jump’ button included in the game, as the common route reused so many scenes and it was very time consuming to skip through for all 11 bachelors. The ‘Record of Service’ was extremely useful in the completion of the game, and unlocked after finishing a bachelor route. It enables the player to select exactly which chapter they would like to start the next play through on, as well as adjusting the bachelor’s affection level to access the different endings.

The encyclopaedia was very helpful in understanding the historical terminology and timeline, and I liked how they also added a side image of the character when providing information in regards to them. They also included effects such as floating cherry blossoms in between chapter transitions, and falling snow during the winter which were very nice extras to see.

Similar to the PS3 version, they again incorporated sprite animations such as moving lips, blinking eyes etc. However, I felt it looked much smoother in comparison to the original, as the animations were rather stiff on the PS3. There was also an on-screen butterfly effect which hovered over a particular bachelor, if you increased affection points with them after a decision.

I felt that out of all the new features, the ‘Warrior Record’ could’ve been designed much better. I was initially so confused as to what the purpose for it was, until I realised it indicated the current bachelor’s level of affection. I felt it was quite inconvenient to use, as you had to individually scroll through every bachelor to find the one you were after. Also, the percentage indicator was so small and it was why I couldn’t decipher what it’s function was to begin with at all.

The aspect I was most impressed with were all the new character animations and effects during the battle scenes. It’s significantly more interactive in comparison to the original, and actually included effects like blood being smeared across the screen, and improved blade animations. The transitions between the images were much smoother, and the overlaying of the character sprites felt more ‘authentic’ to an actual battle scene.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds was definitely a better remake than I had initially expected. The writing is noticeably more detailed, which created a significantly more immersive storyline and multi-dimensional characters. The overall art improvements and complete music overhaul was also a great plus to the game. However, I did have some notable criticisms with the remake.

By the fifth and sixth play through, it definitely became extremely tedious going over the same common route so many times over. As someone who is very familiar with the series and played it on multiple ports, I did struggle with completing the game. Although it was very enjoyable playing the better written characters and routes, the new additional bachelors felt rather bland in comparison. Despite Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds offering a lot of new content, it became extremely text heavy as a result.

If you’re not a fan of long introductions, slow storyline pacing and a greater focus on the plot rather than the romances between the characters; then Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds may not be the game for you.

Not only that, but as it is ‘Part One’ to the series; it’s essentially a constant rinse and repeat of the story introduction, the same historical events and political unrest within Japan before any of the actual romance happens. Although it would be more enjoyable for new players to the series, it would still become noticeably tedious in the later play throughs.

The new characters were a lot better than I initially thought, but they were nowhere near as memorable and likeable as the original cast. I definitely would have preferred more content with the original characters, rather than having that screen time split with the new bachelors. For example: Shinpachi, Yamazaki and Sanan can barely be classified as ‘new routes’ and they definitely felt like side characters despite being apart of the main cast.

On the upside, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds offers a lot of replayability and content to read as it took me a long time to finish the game. Eleven dateable characters is by far the most I’ve seen out of all the otome games I have played. There is plenty of beautiful art with every bachelor, despite some characters receiving more than others.

As I mentioned earlier, although there is definitely new never before seen content in the remake, not all of it is ‘completely new’. For example: a lot of the ‘romance scenes’ with the bachelors are reused from the fan disk (Zuisouroku) and Stories of the Shinsengumi. Rather than being a standalone segment of the game, it is integrated into the storyline itself for more seamless and cohesive storytelling. This is rather misleading advertisement for returning players to the series, and a little disappointing. However, if you have never played the aforementioned fan disk or PS3 version; then this would not affect your enjoyment of the game at all.

Initially, I was stuck between 3.5/5 or a 4/5 rating due to how repetitive the game became in the later play throughs. However, after factoring aspects such as the art, music, voice acting, system, and improved writing; it definitely bumped it up to a 4/5. You can definitely see a lot of significant revamps and improvements in the remake, in comparison to the original Hakuoki title. I still enjoyed it despite being very familiar with the story and characters already. I have high hopes for the second half of the remake, as this is where the storyline really picks up. It actually diverges into the individual character routes, and where the true romance and character development happens.

Again, thank you to Idea Factory International for reaching out to me for the opportunity and I’ll definitely be posting up more reviews soon!

Overall Rating: 4/5

Written By Cherry

Our Two Bedroom Story Character Review: Tsumugu Kido

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I decided to pick up a new Voltage Inc. character to try as I haven’t played a mobile game in a while and they were currently having their massive yearly sale. Although the sale has now ended, their yearly sale is the best time to try out their games since the prices re slashed on so many stories from 25%-75% off. If you’re not a fan of buying individual routes, I suggest waiting for these sales to occur before purchasing them.

After browsing the /r/otomegames reddit for some recommendations, I decided on Tsumugu Kido from ‘Our Two Bedroom Story’. I’ve played this title a long time ago when it first came out, and purchased the main story and sequel of ‘Minato Okouchi’ and ‘Kaoru Kirishima’ in the past.

It’s one of their more popular games that spawned a sequel title and I can understand why. Although the premise is rather bland and a rehash of the ‘forced living arrangements’ trope, the heroine is very refreshing and dedicated to her job. I believe back then it was one of their first games that introduced a very different protagonist in comparison to their older titles. The whole ‘step-sibling’ concept was incorporated rather poorly for most of the routes however, and clearly it’s only purpose was to serve as a reason for the couple to live together.

Despite this, I still feel that ‘Our Two Bedroom Story’ is one of their better titles and I did enjoy it back then when I first played it. What interested me about Kido was the literal ‘dual-personality’ aspect and how he actually had two different character sprites. This was quite different in comparison to previous Voltage Inc. routes and I was interested to see exactly how his route would play out.

Prologue Summary

The heroine temporarily moves into her new step-father’s home, only to find that it has already been occupied by a dishevelled, blunt and stingy man by the name of Kido. Speaking with a prominent kansai-dialect, he demands the heroine leave his home as he is the rightful owner of the place. Despite her protests, he childishly asserts that as he has already moved in first; she essentially has no say or claim in the matter. The protagonist has already moved all her things from her previous home, and the current circumstances renders her homeless.

She finally adheres to his living arrangement requirements, and agrees to pay rent for the next month until she is able to find another place. Although she is appalled by Kido’s love for money and unreasonable demands, she concedes that the current situation is far more desirable and less financially straining in comparison to living in a hotel.

The next day at work, she is excited that her efforts at the company had been recognised and her transfer request had finally been accepted. The heroine has been moved to the Seasonelle Department, which is the company section that every employee dreams of entering. It encompasses a group of the most elite journalists and news reporters within the company, working together in a high dynamic and fast-paced work environment.

To her surprise, she is not the only new worker entering the department. Another man by the name of Tsumugu Kido attends the same introductory meeting and the heroine is in awe of his skill and experience. He immediately leaves a lasting impression with his refreshing ideas for Seasonelle, despite it conflicting with the ace of the department Minato. He is unafraid to voice his daring ideas and handles himself with undisputed confidence.

Unlike the inexperienced heroine who struggles with all the new information at the meeting, Kido was head-hunted from another company due to his vast portfolio of publications and talent. She finds herself noticing the subtle similarities between Kido her co-worker, and the rude and dishevelled Kido at home.

She rules it as a coincidence that they share the same name as she is unable to bridge the disconnect between the two completely different personalities. Where the Kido at home is blunt, extremely rude and stingy; the Kido at work is full of gentle smiles, encouraging words and approaches his work with absolute efficiency. Unlike the shabby appearances of the Kido she knows, her new co-worker is exceptionally tidy, proper and emulates the ideal image of an elite businessman.

The heroine is immediately placed on a project with Kido as her support and she is determined to publish something worthwhile. In spite of the article being assigned to her, Kido quickly takes over the project and leaves little to nothing for the heroine to do. She is dismayed by the turn of events as although Kido’s methods are not wrong and far more efficient than anything she could potentially do; it was an article entrusted to her, to complete by her own efforts.

She is determined to prove her worth and at home that night, she begins to research new articles and content that even Kido himself did not include in his drafts. The Kido at home is surprised by her efforts, and asks her why she is trying so hard for a futile cause. She answers that she recognises her weaknesses, which fuels her desire to learn and improve herself to earn the recognition of her co-worker.

Afterwards, the Kido at work concedes to her wishes after seeing the content she produces and allows her to have a more active role in writing the article alongside him. Her relationship with both Kido’s continues to grow, and she finds herself slowly accepting the newfound company of her housemate. She begins to cook for the household in return for a reduction on rent and discovers that they share the same sense of humour.

They enjoy idyllic days together and fall into a comfortable routine of sharing dinner and watching comedy skits afterwards. Although they engage in their fair share of friendly banter, the heroine finds herself enjoying their conversations and her opinion of him gradually improving. However, she finds herself suspicious about the true nature of his work as she had never seen him dressed for it nor leave the house prior to her.

One night, she notices he had fallen asleep with the window open in his room. Despite his warnings for her to never enter his room, she worries that he may catch a cold overnight. She asserts that there would be no harm in sneaking in to close it, before taking her leave. However, she quickly becomes entranced by his sleeping face illuminated by the moonlight and is surprised at how unexpectedly handsome he is. Contrary to his usual dishevelled appearance, he had distinctly beautiful features that she never noticed before beneath his large frames.

To her shock, he briefly opens his eyes and she realises that the face staring back at her is none other than Tsumugu Kido; the prim, proper perfectionist she sees everyday at work.

Character Development

Admittedly, after playing through Tsumugu Kido’s route his character is not for everyone. Due to the complete disconnect between his two personalities at home and at work, it’s difficult to decipher which of the two represents his true feelings towards the heroine. One moment he’s incredibly rude and condescending to her, whereas the next moment he showers her with kindness and gentle words. It’s consistently hot and cold with Tsumugu Kido, and you’re completely at the mercy of his whims for the majority of the story.

It really raised questions as readers on the genuineness of his feelings and actions towards the heroine, due to the incongruity between his two personalities. To me the highlight of the route was actually the protagonist herself, and her refreshing approach in responding to Kido’s difficult personality. She is headstrong, resilient and determined in proving her worth to Kido despite the obstacles she has to overcome. She successfully earns his respect and recognition of her abilities at work over the progression of the story.

This is quite a feat in itself as Kido is well-known for his solitude at work and his ambitions to rise to the top of the company, without the assistance of others. He is arrogant and prideful in his abilities, to which no one can refute due to the quality of work that he produces. On top of that, he is remarkably handsome and considered the current most eligible bachelor at the company.

Kido finds himself equally perplexed by the heroine and becomes increasingly resistant to her attempts at getting closer to him. No matter how rudely he acts towards her and pushes her away, she remains kind and accepting of his true personality. She is the only one he feels the most comfortable around and feels no need to hide his less than desirable traits from her. Instead of being offended by his tirade of insults, she deflects it with ease and constantly has snarky and witty comebacks of her own.

Rather than stepping down and being intimidated by his actions, the heroine isn’t afraid to speak her mind and stand up to him. I actually found myself laughing out loud at so many of their interactions with one another and it was really refreshing and different in comparison to the usual character dynamics seen in the standard Voltage Inc. routes. It was so satisfying to see Kido’s reluctant acceptance of her as his equal, and gradually opening up to one another due to their surprisingly similar personality traits and interests.

There is notable character and relationship development throughout his route which was crucial to the good pacing of his story. When the heroine decides to enact a cooking strike due to Kido’s actions, we begin to see the change in his character and his clear shift in emotions towards the heroine. It was really sweet to finally see glimpses of Kido’s true self, and the subtle kindness within his actions rather than his words.

When the protagonist finally discovers the truth behind his past, it finally closes the disconnect between Kido’s two personalities and how he came to be the person he was in the present. His suffering, hard work and perseverance to finally achieve his current place in life is admirable and he is understandably jaded due to his experiences. I liked the focus and writing dedicated to the explanation of his past, as it was quite thorough and was a crucial aspect that revealed the complexities beneath his character.

He gradually falls deeper in love with the heroine and how she truly sees him as a person rather than for his monetary assets. This is the pivotal moment where we finally see Tsumugu Kido’s true self and emotions and it felt so satisfying to read. It was like all the heroine’s difficulties in overcoming his difficult personality and finally coming to truly understand him were worthwhile in the end.

Although his character personality and story may not be for everyone, I still really enjoyed his route and was surprised by how much I liked it in the end. It is quite difficult to get into initially because of how utterly abrasive and rude Kido is in comparison to the other Voltage characters I’ve played that encompassed a similar character trope. As Kido quite literally has a ‘dual personality and identity’ in every sense of the word, I felt his character and route were a direct reflection of this.

His personality is very extreme in both ends of the spectrum and swings wildly back and forth between the two. His emotions and actions constantly contradict one another which serves to both confuse and infuriate the heroine, as she is unable to distinguish his true feelings. The banter and light-hearted moments between the two serves to ease the tension and I was really impressed by how snarky and witty the heroine was, in responding to Kido’s antics.

I felt like she was definitely one of the best renditions of the MC in ‘Our Two Bedroom Story’. Although in the other routes she also exhibits determination and passion for her work, considering how infuriating Kido was at times; it also brought out the fire in her own personality.

Despite Kido being a new character to the game, he surprisingly has a lot of content already implemented due to his unexpected popularity. His route is a whirlwind of emotions from beginning to end, and has a very rocky and tumultuous start with his relationship to the MC. However, I do recommend giving his route a try as the conclusion to his story and the development of his character was well worth the read in the end.

Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2016
PUBLISHER: Idea Factory & Aksys Games
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: PS Vita (Japanese & English)
GAME LINK: Period Cube: Shackles of Amadeus – PS Vita [Physical]
Period Cube: Shackles of Amadeus – PS Vita [Digital Code]

I was very excited to play Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as it is my first collaboration title with Aksys Games. I was provided with a copy of the game to review in light of its April 28th, 2017 release. I had been anticipating Period: Cube since Aksys Games’ announcement last year of licensing four otome titles in 2017, which I covered in my ‘Most Anticipated English Visual Novels of 2017‘ post. To my delight, the next out of the four to be released is Collar x Malice which was the one I had been looking forward to the most. You can pre-order the game from Amazon here, for the official release date of July 28, 2017!

What initially attracted me to Period: Cube was the incorporation of RPG elements, and an MMORPG as the basis for the universe setting. As I have played many MMORPGs since childhood, this brought about a wave of nostalgia for me. I was interested to see how they decided to approach the RPG gameplay and how much of it would be balanced with the visual novel aspect of the game.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story- 

Searching for clues about your missing brother, you and your childhood friend Hiroya begin playing an online RPG called “Arcadia.”

You’re suddenly enveloped in a flash of light, and awaken to find yourself in a mysterious fantasy world. You discover you’ve been sent inside of the game, and learn that the only way out is to complete it. In a deadly world on the verge of collapse, you become the “Almighty,” the key to clearing Arcadia, and the secret weapon everyone is after.

You and your companions undertake a perilous journey, where love grows as the world falls apart. (Official Website

The website summary actually encompasses the story outline very well, so I won’t delve into it further here. Period: Cube has a very interesting premise that is reminiscent of the highly popular light novel and anime adaptation, Sword Art Online. It immediately appeals to fans of the MMORPG genre and the creators definitely showed their attentiveness to the finer details throughout the story. I loved all the little nuances and references, and they were extremely nostalgic as I’ve played RPGs since childhood.

If you’ve never played RPGs before, then the encyclopaedia entries are very detailed and explain everything concisely. The universe of Period: Cube demonstrated elaborate world-building and were highly reminiscent of aspects you’d find directly from a cohesive RPG title. The immersive overarching storyline really captures your interest and encourages playing all the routes in order to reveal the ‘complete truth’.

However, the plot had many integral issues in terms of storyline explanations and the development of character routes. There were many times throughout the game where I had to re-read many revelations in order to fully understand exactly what had happened, how the events occurred and why. This is a sign of flawed writing and pacing, as the crucial foundations of the storyline were not very concrete or coherent.

It had an interesting premise and collection of unique ideas that weren’t executed to the fullest potential. Many of the strange phenomenons in the game that transitioned into the real world were never properly fleshed out and left me in a state of confusion. I just had so many questions remaining, despite completing all the routes.

How were the players consistently pulled back into the game, despite not being logged in physically? How did this occur regardless of their location? How were the character’s data and minds inputted into the system to begin with? All they did was create a character, and for some reason in a flash of bright light they were sucked into the game. The whole concept of the ‘Period: Cube’ was poorly explained and evident in all the routes, since some characters converted into data could magically return after dying whilst others could not.

Period: Cube was also very difficult to play without a walkthrough and they really should not have used the combat selections as integral choices for the character routes. Although they seemingly didn’t appear to have any significance, they actually did. I was shocked when after thoughtlessly choosing several options, I ended up on a character route after an extremely short prologue and first chapter.

I was also on the completely wrong route and had to replay it several times through trial and error. If you’re expecting Period: Cube to incorporate substantial RPG elements, or have gameplay akin to the Fire Emblem series; then this game really isn’t for you. It is still a visual novel through and through, and only utilises the concepts of an RPG to further the storyline. The ‘combat system’ is extremely basic, and coded as decisions in the game; rather than having any substantial value.

That being said, I still really enjoyed reading the overall storyline of Period: Cube. It was unique, interesting and would appeal more to people who are familiar with RPGs. You can see just how many references are placed throughout the game, and relate to them as an RPG player. The translation was also quite good, with only very marginal typos from all the routes. Some phrasing of words could’ve been better, and there were some sentence cut offs from the original meaning in Japanese. However, they were negligible for the most part.

I would have preferred the prologue and common route to be longer, as you’re not even introduced to all the characters before being locked into their route prior to meeting them. You’re thrust into the game universe all too quickly, without proper build up and introductions. Each route took around 3-4hrs to complete depending on your read speed, which totals to around 30hrs of gameplay.

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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KAZUHA: As a protagonist, Kazuha elicited very mixed feelings within me. It felt as though every single bachelor fell in love with her at first sight, and their only reason for loving her was because of how ‘cute’, ‘innocent’ and ‘kind’ she was. Not to mention she looks exceptionally young in comparison to the rest of the cast, and age sixteen at most. Although she does develop as a character, it did not feel very satisfying nor was it a substantial change. She is able to stand by her convictions and beliefs by the end of the game for the sake of all the remaining players; and return to the real world.

Kazuha is determined and unwavering in her views of justice and the integral goodness that every person possesses, no matter how many terrible experiences are inflicted upon her throughout the course of the story. It is from finally coming to terms with her own strength, that she is able to call upon the powers of the Almighty. However, this blind trust is also her greatest flaw; she is constantly manipulated by others seeking personal gain and dragged around by all the bachelors fighting for her affection throughout the game.

I felt there was just so much more that could’ve been done with her character, considering all the RPG elements they incorporated into Period: Cube. As the game storyline revolves around an RPG universe, I would have really liked to see the heroine have some progression stat wise. At best, she would be level 5 by the end of the game. It honestly felt pathetic that she barely advanced any levels, when all the other characters were at least five times higher.

Realistically in any MMORPG, she should have never made it past a day in Arcadia without speed levelling and increasing her stats. Not only that, but her combat consists of mainly ‘buffing’ or ‘de-buffing’ allies and enemies from the backline. All the characters then proceed to praise her as if she was a godsend and no one else could’ve done the exact same thing. It felt like such a cop out that her level was pretty much negligible, and just because she’s the protagonist and ‘coincidentally’ the Almighty; she had the ability to one hit kill extremely powerful mobs.

It is because of her almighty status, that she receives constant protection and saved by the bachelors time and time again throughout the game. You would think that in a life or death situation, she would be more proactive to ensure her own survival. Thousands of people have died in the game, and yet Kazuha avoids hundreds of warranted deaths because she is the protagonist. Ironically, the only times when Kazuha is truly assertive in what she wants and wishes to do is in the bad endings of the game.

It was really disappointing to see how much great potential she had to develop as a character with the overarching storyline and universe, and none of these concepts were utilised at all.

I recommend playing the character routes in the following order: Radius → Astrum→ Demento → Zain → Libera → Hiroya→ Poyo-poyo due to storyline spoilers and flow of events. Poyo-poyo can only be unlocked upon the completion of Astrum, Libera and Hiroya’s routes. I have the completed walkthroughs for the game here.

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RADIUS: Renowned as a solo player who never forms parties with others, he is the strongest player of the demon faction. Radius is a powerful fencer, who owns the ‘Infernal Shadow’s Edge’ which is part of the Trinity of Swords required to clear the Ark; the final dungeon within Arcadia. Radius saves Kazuha when she separates from Hiroya and is attacked by enemies. He trades her his most prized Shadow’s Edge to regenerate her health, and Kazuha narrowly avoids death upon completion of the mission.

They temporarily return to the real world, and the two coincidentally meet one another at the hospital. He is cold, blunt and aloof and wishes to have nothing to do with the heroine. He sharply rejects her attempts at friendship and camaraderie, asserting that he works alone. The heroine is confused by the disconnect between his cold words and kind actions, as in spite of his uncaring demeanour; he had saved her life countless of times. She soon comes to discover the reasons behind his distrust towards others, and the suffering he has endured in the past.

Radius is extremely similar to Kirito from Sword Art Online, and jaded by the exact same experiences. He suffers from survivor’s guilt, after his entire party and close friends are killed on a quest expedition for the Shadow’s Edge. Radius is burdened by their final words, and believes himself to be a coward for abandoning his comrades. He views himself undeserving of the life given to him, and yet lacks the courage to face death. This confliction forms the crux of his character, and the inner dilemma that causes him to distance himself from others.

As a result, he finds Kazuha’s complete acceptance of her precarious situation bewildering; and becomes angered on her behalf. Radius views it to be extremely unfair, how she was unknowingly thrust into a life or death situation because of her honourable intentions to save her brother. Now she is being hunted by all of Arcadia, due to her status as a powerful ‘tool’ and disregarded completely as a human being.

Radius admires her inner strength and perseverance; qualities which he sorely lacks in spite of his physical prowess. As Radius spends more time with Kazuha, he comes to fall in love with these aspects of her personality and confides in her his dark past and inner torment. It is through his experiences with her that he is able to come to terms with his anguish, and relinquish the burdens he has carried for so long.

Radius’ route was initially quite irritating to play, due to his constant refusals of the heroine and his cold assertions for her to stay away from him. At every opportunity, he would assume she was stalking him and disrespecting his wishes of wanting to be left alone. He is very fickle in his emotions, and continually switches between resenting the heroine completely; to saving her every time she is in trouble.

However, as a character he develops significantly over the course of the storyline and has some great romantic moments with the protagonist. He becomes very soft towards the heroine when he falls in love with her, and priorities her wellbeing above all else. He is no longer afraid to die or face the future, if it is for her sake. Radius even bows his head to the guild Forte, and uncharacteristically begs them to party with him to save Kazuha.

He had the best CGs and romantic scenes with the protagonist in the game, and was unexpectedly passionate when in love. He also spent the most time with her in the real world in comparison to the other characters, which was reflective in his CGs. Radius’ route was overall the most well-rounded in Period: Cube, as it properly developed his character and relationship with Kazuha over the course of the story.

There was slow, notable progression and I could understand his reasons for falling in love with Kazuha. She had always looked at him as the person he truly was, rather than exterior appearances, fame or fortune. She is able to accept him within his darkest moments, no matter how many times he pushed her away and did not allow his cold rejections to faze her. Her own perseverance and selflessness for others inspires Radius to overcome his own personal demons and accept that it was not too late to atone for his past mistakes.

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ASTRUM: The famous guild leader for the dungeon speed-runners Clarius, and representative of the Angel Faction. Unlike the demon faction, the angels are organised and possess guild roles; enacting proper chain of commands and efficiently battle dungeons together. Although highly respected and revered for his immense strength and tactical game knowledge, Astrum is also well known as an avid role-player within Arcadia. Despite it being a game, Astrum’s mannerisms and flowery dialogue are extremely exaggerated and reflective of his in-game character role.

He is the owner of the ‘Divine Blade of Light’ which is the other piece of the Trinity of Swords required to clear the Ark. Astrum falls in love with Kazuha at first sight due to her beauty and status as the ‘Almighty Amadeus’ and lovingly refers to her by that title throughout the game. He rescues her and Hiroya in the woods, and welcomes them to the Celestial Palace.

However, his actions incur the wrath and jealousy of the other angels; as they view him treating Kazuha favourably despite being unable to use the powers of the Almighty. Hiroya’s presence as a demon is also unheard of, and the atmosphere becomes tense as they continually put off expeditions to the Ark; despite the impending Jaws of Death threatening to consume Arcadia.

I had very mixed feelings about Astrum’s route initially. I was intrigued by his appearance in Radius’ story as his direct counterpart and complete opposite in personality. I didn’t mind his roleplaying and found it hilarious, as it was in line with the RPG elements of the game. It added a lot more comic relief and a light-hearted tone to Astrum’s route. His character is also a reference to RPG players in real life, as many do actually enjoy roleplaying and I’m sure every RPG enthusiast has done it at least once before.

However, I found his overly affectionate feelings towards Kazuha difficult to believe and understand. He essentially falls in love with her at first sight without any proper build up or development. Astrum completely favours her over everyone else, despite the questions and anger directed at his complete disregard for his own position. As a leader, it was unfair that he showered her with special treatment without any proper justification or explanation.

Because of this, for the bulk of his route in spite of the kindness he showed to Kazuha; his feelings felt rather shallow and disingenuous. It felt as though his only reasoning as to why he had special sentiments towards her was due to her status as the Almighty, and because of how ‘cute’ and ‘kind’ she was. However, upon meeting his real life persona Asou Tohru… needless to say, I instantly fell in love with his character.

Sakurai Takahiro did such an amazing job with voicing Tohru’s persona, and perfectly captured his awkward social tendencies and mannerisms of speaking. He truly brought his character to life, and it always amazes me how he is able to play so many diverse personalities. Although I was initially confronted by his sudden rejection of the heroine upon meeting her in real life, it was explained quite well afterwards.

It revealed Tohru’s insecurities and his lack of self-esteem, as he was afraid that Kazuha had become disillusioned by how ‘uncool’ he was in the real world. A stark contrast to the confident and powerful leader of the Angels as Astrum, Tohru in real life is teased by his peers for his lack of social skills and constantly compared to Kazuha’s older brother, Shiki Hanamiya. No matter how hard he tried, his efforts remained unrecognised and forever labelled as second place.

This creates a major inferiority complex within Tohru, and he uses Arcadia as an escape from the real world. At least in the game universe, he could emulate the character that he aspired to be. I was really disappointed that they didn’t delve more into this backstory with Shiki, since it formed such a major crux to Tohru’s character and personality. It is through Kazuha’s belief in his abilities as his real life persona, that gives him the confidence to finally best Shiki.

She asserts that there are only things that Asou Tohru can do, that no one else can replicate. I found the long-running gag of Shiki completely disregarding Tohru’s presence hilarious, considering Tohru’s entire world revolved around being second place to him. Although I absolutely loved Tohru’s character, his relationship and feelings towards Kazuha at the beginning lacked a lot of foundational development and proper progression.

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DEMENTO: The notorious PK’er (Player Killer) who appears throughout all the character routes. Demento has the status of ‘Fallen’ which is branded on his chest as a symbol of killing other players throughout Arcadia. He captures Kazuha an innumerable number of times in Period: Cube and forces her to use the powers of the Almighty, at the cost of her own safety and life. He wishes to to see what would happen when a player affiliated with neither the angel or demon factions clears the Ark, and whether the whole world’s balance would be destroyed by his actions.

He was once apart of the guild Clarius and completed many dungeons in the same party as Astrum. However, he one day kills a Demon and experiences an unforgettable thrill that begins his downward spiral into corruption. Astrum overlooks the incident as Arcadia does encourage the killing of other faction players and Demento has yet to be branded. He becomes addicted to replicating the sensation and begins mindlessly killing all players of both factions. As a result, he is eventually banished from the guild.

It explained why Demento was so powerful despite his poor weaponry and levels. Players with the ‘fallen’ status are punished for their actions, reset their level upon killing and are unable to equip any items other than the basic default gear. As he regularly played with Astrum, it can be assumed he was fairly high level prior to his branding. Astrum forever lamented his decision and wondered if there was more he could’ve done to prevent Demento’s demise.

I had a lot of issues with Demento’s route and character overall. Regardless of his actions being committed in the game world, he still enacted irreversible murder without remorse. Thousands of people died from Idiopathic Coma in the real world because of his cheap thrill and he showed complete disregard for Kazuha in all the routes. He uses her for his own selfish means of entertainment, and I could not even fathom as to how Kazuha developed feelings for him at all.

This was exacerbated by the fact that his route is only three chapters long and branched directly from Astrum’s route. It then led to the question of: Astrum treated you with nothing but kindness, and yet for some reason you were compelled to fall in love with the guy who kidnapped and threatened to kill you? There was just so little time and writing developed to his character that I’m unsure as to why he was incorporated at all.

It became almost irritating and predictable at how without fail in every single story, he would appear sooner or later for no other reason than to cause unnecessary drama and create anguish by murdering other players. It was never truly justified as to why he killed players in Arcadia either, other than it giving him the sensation of truly being alive and some satisfaction in his monotonous daily life.

Why did he not feel alive to begin with? What were the reasons as to why he lacked so much purpose? If he had no reason for living, why did he pray for life every time he killed someone else? How can he wish for himself to live, when he killed others without thinking by the hundreds? His route was just so painfully ironic, it was almost laughable at how essentially nothing was explained about his character, past and reasoning.

In his good ending he suffers from amnesia and as a result, his crimes are ‘erased’ from his memory and enables him to have a bittersweet happy ending with Kazuha. To me, this was quite a cop out as countless people still died because of his actions but he is essentially cleansed of sin and responsibility. After all, even though the murder can never be trialled in the real world; the knowledge of his actions would burden him until the end of his lifetime. If not for his amnesia, he never would have been able to attain happiness.

Although he did have some cute moments with the heroine and one of the only few characters who had a proper kiss CG, I simply could not overlook his actions and poor writing for his story. His contribution to the overall storyline was minimal and regardless of whether or not he was in Period: Cube; it would not have altered the events of the plot at all.

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ZAIN: An NPC (non playable character) within the world of Arcadia, he usually resides in Adventurer Town to guide new players with tutorial information and provides quests to complete. Unlike other NPCs, he receives a reprogramming and orders to protect Kazuha. This gives birth to human-like tendencies, and a lapse in memory in regards to his original purpose and origins as an NPC. As Zain is originally not human, he experiences many difficulties in understanding human emotions and customs.

Zain is incredibly kind to Kazuha and very helpful in assisting her when she becomes separated from Hiroya. He quickly becomes extremely attached to her, as he experiences so many new things and powerful emotions with Kazuha. His feelings transcend into obsession, as he becomes consumed with unhealthy thoughts of possession and expecting Kazuha to mirror his own feelings. This angers his creator and causes immense confusion within Zain, as he become unsure of his own identity and sense of self.

Again, I had a lot of problems with Zain’s route. His overall storyline was extremely confusing for the most part and filled with many convenient plot holes that were never truly explained or fully delved upon. I could understand that Zain experienced a lot of turmoil due to his conflicting desires, the interference of his creator/the voices within his mind, and his lack of understanding with the nature of humans. However, a lot of his actions and key scenes with Kazuha were very disturbing and manipulative.

The scene where he forcefully attempts to merge himself with Kazuha, in order for them ‘to share the same feelings’ made me so uncomfortable reading. He was quite literally physically and mentally violating her, and forcing his own emotions and thoughts on her; something which he knew more than anyone else was mentally debilitating and extremely painful. His feelings towards Kazuha to me were very selfish, and entirely based on inciting guilt.

Kazuha would always feel guilty imagining how lonely Zain would be without her, and how she could never go anywhere without him because of how worried he would be waiting alone. It was just an unhealthy relationship from start to finish and due to Kazuha’s ‘kind nature’ she could never seperate from him for very long. It was also sad how the only method he could transcend from NPC to the real world with Kazuha, was through the death of Demento.

The concept of their minds merging was explained very poorly and all too coincidental for the events of the story to occur. Essentially in order to for them to be together, it required the death of someone else. Again, his route honestly didn’t really contribute to the story nor his character and I would have preferred much longer stories with the others who actually played a role in the overarching plot. It felt like he was implemented just for the sake of having another character and Zain’s route directly tied into Shiki’s story. It felt like it was two routes dedicated to Shiki, rather than a stand alone route for Zain.

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LIBERA: A nekama (person who portrays the opposite gender online) who uses his cute appearance and deceptively feminine mannerisms to attract the attention of countless males in Arcadia. He is surprisingly popular and amasses many friends with his outgoing and talkative nature. They regularly invite him on missions and gift him with rare items and gold, asserting that they’ll protect him on their quests.

Despite playing the game since beta, he is fairly low level and prefers to stay within town to socialise rather than accompanying parties on missions. He is also quite mischievous and haughty, often stealing other player’s gold and selling gifted items for his own benefit. Unlike the other characters in Period: Cube, Libera does not wish to clear the ark and desires to remain in the game world. He prioritises his own safety above all else, and fears death with every fibre of his being.

I found it pretty hilarious how throughout the game, everyone more or less doesn’t notice that Libera is a guy in real life despite how obvious it is from his voice. For the most part, I didn’t really feel the ‘romance’ aspect from Libera’s route. His initial feelings towards Kazuha and kindness are all fabricated, and he expresses vehemently that he only ever desired to use her for his own sake or to pawn off to a high-level player.

He views her as a prized asset that is beneficial for his own survival in Arcadia. Despite his cold words, when Kazuha is in trouble; he always manages to be there at the right moments to save her. Although he claims to prioritise his own life above all else, he constantly places himself at risk in order to protect Kazuha. This encourages the heroine to truly get to know Libera, and what warped his perception on the world.

His story is rather tragic, and explains Natsu’s contribution into the overarching storyline. He has been plagued by illness and a weak body since birth, rendering him to a sick bed at the hospital. As a result, he is unable to properly attend school and make friends; unknowing of which day would be his last.

His beloved elder brother Natsu is what holds their family together, and is admired and deeply respected by Libera. He is talented, handsome and intelligent; and decided to create Arcadia for Libera’s sake as the only thing he could play at the hospital were video games. The notion of transcending death and eradicating illness also enticed Natsu, as it would be the cure to his brother’s health issues.

It made sense as to why Libera preferred the social aspect of Arcadia, due to what he lacked in his life. He feared death because he knew better than anyone else what it was like to face each day, knowing it could be his last. In Arcadia, the options were limitless on what he could do in comparison to the monotonous life he lived in the real world. With Natsu’s accident, it shattered their family apart and he comes to believe that he should’ve taken his brother’s place.

Although he contributed immensely to the overarching storyline, the romance aspect of his route left much to be desired due to his age, and the rocky beginnings of their relationship. Not only that, but he created a female character which prevented him from truly expressing his feelings towards Kazuha for the bulk of the game. The romance honestly felt rather forced, and it was more befitting as a platonic route. I actually preferred a route with Natsu instead of Libera, since I felt they actually had chemistry in every story in Period: Cube.

It was really disappointing that the story was told from Libera’s perspective instead, even though it would’ve made so much more sense if Natsu was the selectable character. He had such an important impact on the creation of Arcadia and the overarching storyline, and I was genuinely surprised in how they decided to approach his backstory. The closest thing we got to a Natsu route was Libera’s good ending CG, where he essentially grows up to look exactly like Natsu (laughs).

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HIROYA: Kazuha and Shiki’s beloved childhood friend, and neighbour since they were little children. He has long admired Shiki due to his intelligence, strength and fortitude when it came to Kazuha, and aspired to be more like him for her sake. Hiroya is traumatised by Kazuha’s accident that left her prone to fainting and she experiences many lapses in memory as a result. He views it to be entirely his fault, due to his thoughtless actions as a child that inadvertently led to the accident.

He vows to become stronger and wholeheartedly dedicates himself to becoming a better man capable of protecting Kazuha. He reluctantly allows Kazuha to join him in Arcadia due to her heartfelt request to find her brother, which leads to the events of the storyline. The story branches when Kazuha either chooses to separate from him in Minta Woods upon an ambush, or decides to remain by his side.

I honestly felt really bad for Hiroya in all of the routes, because he essentially plays second fiddle to every single bachelor despite him being there for Kazuha from the very beginning. He accepts her choice no matter the circumstances in the end and supports her completely in her decisions. Hiroya only desires her happiness and everything he does is for her sake.

Although he makes a lot of Kazuha’s decisions on her behalf, he always tries to keep her best interests at heart. This is also an issue with his route, as he does not allow for Kazuha to decide for herself what she wishes to do and develop the confidence to voice her own beliefs. In Radius’ route, he completely dispels her concerns and tunnel visions on prioritising her own safety at the cost of her own wishes.

His route is very cute, fluffy and had a predictable romance because the feelings were always there to begin with. It is obvious no matter which route how much he cares for Kazuha and his feelings are as blatant as ever. Because of this predictability however, I didn’t feel as much attachment to him as a character. As the poster-boy of the game I did expect a greater focus on the romance with the heroine, and his contribution to the overall storyline.

There were really no surprises in his route, and follows the standard events and typical interactions reminiscent of the childhood friend trope. I did like his unhindered dedication and determination to improve himself in regards to the heroine, as it demonstrated out of all the bachelors that he truly was in love with Kazuha and it was understandable as to why.

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SHIKI: Normally I wouldn’t reveal the identity of this character (which I haven’t in my walkthroughs) but Aksys Games already spoiled it on their official game website. I do spoiler tag my character development section, as I personally find I cannot delve into my complete thoughts on a character, without revealing major events of their story. If you haven’t played the game in it’s entirety yet, I highly suggest not reading this character section.

Shiki is the elder brother of Kazuha, and the reason as to why all the events in the story occur. He created Arcadia in the pursuit of an eternal utopia, where humans transcend the possibility of death and illness. This is due to Kazuha’s accident from childhood, that instills fear within him that human lives are not indestructible and can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Young Kazuha asks Shiki to promise and fulfil her wish of living in a world without pain, and a world where they could be together forever.

This drives Shiki to grant her desire and he is able to access the Akashic Records; which is the embodiment of all knowledge within the universe, from the beginning of time. It provides him with the answers to create the world that Kazuha is seeking. However, due to her lapses in memory she soon forgets many of the moments they shared together and their promise.

Only Shiki alone remembers their promise, and this is why Kazuha found his actions so unfathomable throughout the entire story. It is due to this unworldly knowledge that enables Shiki to create technology far beyond the realms of human capabilities, and essentially achieve the level of a God.

It also explained as to why no matter how much Tohru tried, he could not surpass Shiki’s intellect and why he topped the university despite never studying. Due to his obsession with the notion of granting Kazuha’s wish, he disregards all other factors and obstacles impeding his success. He becomes warped by his fear of Kazuha eventually forgetting him or dying, and willingly sacrifices dozens of lives to ensure her wish comes true.

His feelings for Kazuha are on a completely different magnitude, and despite him knowing his actions were morally wrong; he was too far gone to stop. He is filled with regrets, self-loathing and ironically watches every other bachelor end up with Kazuha in all the other routes. I honestly found it difficult to believe that he was not Kazuha’s genuine sibling, due to their interactions and similarity in appearance throughout the game. Despite the constant assertions that they were not related, I found myself highly skeptical of it.

As a romantic interest, he was exceptionally creepy in his nighttime expenditures whilst Kazuha was sleeping and I inwardly cringed at many of their moments together. However, I felt his story definitely answered the many questions that were left open-ended in the other routes. It offered a plausible and holistic conclusion that tied up all the loose ends of the storyline, and was a satisfying read considering all the other routes never addressed Shiki’s conflict and reasoning for his actions.

He is left as an amnesiac and confined to the hospital in all the other stories, which really built the drama and anticipation for his route. His good ending made a lot of sense, as realistically he could never experience happiness otherwise. His stained hands and lonely years devoted in solitude to Kazuha’s selfish wish was irreversible and had completely twisted his personality. Turning back time was very befitting of the theme of the game, and enabled Kazuha the newfound confidence to relive her life without the impairments of her physique from the accident.

It returned the lively childhood and close relationship she had lost with both Shiki and Hiroya. It also provided Kazuha with the decisiveness to affirm her own feelings and stance when it came to her brother. In the new timeline, Shiki does not impose his emotions and desires on Kazuha, and is respectful of her decisions. She chooses of her own accord to be with him, and is finally able to truly fall in love with Shiki this time round.

What I liked about his route and all the other stories was that Kazuha never deludes herself into thinking she loves him, and genuinely reveres their relationship as platonic. It is only in the new timeline does she fall in love with his true personality. Although Shiki is cold-hearted and borderline insane in all the routes, I could sympathise with his character and reasoning. The bad ending itself was quite interesting, as it demonstrated rather literally how repetitive a utopia without death would be.

The characters relive the same day over and over, and although there is no pain or suffering; there is also no ‘true happiness’. It rectified the recurring motif and theme of the game, that life is a gift to be cherished in both the good and bad times despite the short life span of humans.

Design ★★★★

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This was one of the aspects that captured my interest from first impressions, and was definitely one of the highlights of the game. I loved how many MMORPG elements they incorporated into the design and artwork. For example: the outfits reflecting the class/race for each of the bachelors and even the side characters had very memorable and distinct costumes.

One of the notable elements of Period: Cube was that the main bachelors each had a different sprite for their real life appearances, and how they looked in game. As a player it was exciting to anticipate when you would eventually meet them in the real world and how they differed from their in-game personas.

The unique weaponry was also a very nice touch, as well as the additional ‘glow’ effects on special ability activations. The backgrounds were so incredibly gorgeous, and they really brought the game to life. It was reminiscent of the maps and dungeons typical to an RPG, and Kuroyuki’s art style definitely suited the theme of the game.

I felt that Period: Cube really brought out the full potential of the OLED PS Vita screen, and definitely showcased the impressive and crisp graphics. There were plenty of CGs for every bachelor, although I found that Kuroyuki (the artist for the Black Wolves Saga series) had a noticeable trend of drawing awkward half-kiss expressions on the characters in Period: Cube. As I have played her previous works before and quite liked her unique artwork, this was rather surprising to see.

It was disappointing as it felt like some characters definitely had better kiss scenes than others, and was a downgrade to previously released titles with art by Kuroyuki. In terms of consistency between the CGs and character sprites, then the game did fairly well. I really loved how many unique monster designs they incorporated into Period: Cube, and the definitive attentiveness to the RPG aspects were great to see.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

For me personally, this was without a doubt the standout aspect and highlight of the game. I was amazed at how phenomenal the OST was, and loved all the tracks immensely. I was really impressed with the battle BGMs, especially “Battle Finale” since it honestly felt like something that would come out of a high-quality RPG game. Rarely do I ever hear a game OST and instantly feel the need to listen to the soundtrack on repeat.

The piano tracks were so lovely, and really inspired the pianist in me to actually try and learn them myself. The voice acting was fantastic as well, encompassing a highly prolific and famous cast line up. Even the side characters had very memorable voices, such as Jocus being voiced by Morikubo Shōtarō. They did such a great job at emulating the character personalities, and really built a strong level of attachment to all of them by the end of the game.

I personally felt Sakurai Takahiro (Astrum) especially, as well as Okamoto Nobuhiko (Hiroya) and Maeno Tomoaki (Radius) had notable performances in Period: Cube. As I already mentioned earlier, Sakurai truly captured how endearing Astrum’s character and personal conflictions were. I found myself laughing out loud, and feeling all sorts of emotions when reading and listening to his character’s dialogue. It’s amazing to see how well he can personify so many different character personalities, and my last game I played was him voicing Mejojo von Garibaldi from Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare —.

This actually gave me a lot of mixed feelings, because if you’ve played the BWS series you’ll understand exactly what kind of character Mejojo was. It’s just a testament to his skill as a voice actor, to be able to reproduce and play any type of character trope. It was also nice seeing Maeno again from Code: Realize as Lupin, and he perfectly expressed Radius’ transition from cold to loving towards Kazuha.

  • Astrum | VA: Sakurai Takahiro | 櫻井 孝宏 |
    Danganronpa series as Kuwata Leon, Black wolves Saga series as Mejojo von Garibaldi, Grisaia series as Kazama Yuuji, Naruto Shipuuden as Sasori, Final Fantasy series as Cloud Strife, Anohana as Atsumu Matsuyuki, and Psycho-pass as Shogo Makushima.
  • Hiroya | VA: Okamoto Nobuhiko |岡本 信彦 |
    Black Wolves Saga series as Pearl, Maid Sama! as Takumi Usui, Haikyu!! as Yuu Nishinoya, and Gekkan-Shojo Nozaki-kun as Mikoto ‘Mikorin’ Mikoshiba
  • Libera | VA: Hanae Natsuki | 花江 夏樹 |
    Taisho x Alice series as Ookami, Your Lie in April as Kosei Arima, Tokyo Ghoul series as Ken Kaneki, and Aldnoah Zero as Inaho Kaizuka
  • Shiki | VA: Toriumi Kousuke | 鳥海 浩輔 |
    Hakuoki series as Saito Hajime, Naruto series as Inuzuka Kiba, Danganronpa series as Kiyotaka Ishimaru and Nightshade as Momochi Chojiro
  • Radius | VA: Maeno Tomoaki | 前野 智昭 |
    Code: Realize series as Arséne Lupin, Taisho x Alice series as Akazukin, and Kenka Banchou Otome as Onaigashima Houou
  • Zain | VA: Hirakawa Daisuke | 平川 大輔 |
    Code: Realize series as Count Saint-Germain, School Days series as Itou Makoto, Hiiro no Kakera as Oomi Suguru, Taisho x Alice as Cinderella and Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Raito

System ★★★★★

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The system was another fantastic aspect of Period: Cube and definitely matched up to the music and voice acting. I loved the system user interface (UI) and design, and it felt very crisp and smooth to navigate. The attentiveness to the detail reflective of an RPG were consistent throughout the game and followed the thematic motifs of Period: Cube. It really left a strong and lasting impression, especially if you’ve previously played RPGs and can relate to the references much better.

It provided statistic pages for all the characters, displaying their items/gear, class information and love affection towards the heroine. Depending on the events of the story, the HP Gauge of the character actually does change and I found myself checking on it periodically throughout the game.

The system incorporated great battle animations such as character sprite transitions upon using abilities, monster kills, spells, glowing weapons, affection increase etc. It definitely brought the RPG game elements to life, and I really liked the map movement of the game which reflected the time of day.

This is also shown on the game’s loading screen, which had three different landscapes based on morning, afternoon or night. Period: Cube had all the basic functions of a visual novel such as CG Gallery, scene recollection, music list, and save/load slots. I liked the extra unlocked character profiles of the bachelor’s real life personas upon completion of their route, and the bonus ‘his perspective’ segment that had a bit of fan-service dialogue.

However, I do wish these were a little longer in length and came with a CG as it’s technically the ‘after-epilogue’ endings of the routes. The skip speed was very fast and the jump button was a life saver considering how vague the options of this game were at times. This definitely helped so much when writing my walkthrough and manoeuvring through the game routes.

As Period: Cube is still purely a Visual Novel, the combat system was extremely basic; however, it was nice that the creators tried to incorporate it into the game. I personally didn’t think that they should’ve used the combat select options as important route deciders, as it made the game unnecessarily more difficult than it should have been.

The encyclopaedia is very useful and a helpful feature for players who have never played an RPG before and ensures that the game is enjoyable for a wider audience. However, for players accustomed to the RPG elements then the definitions were very basic and common knowledge. I also really liked the blinking, mouth and hair movements of the game, since it showed up really nicely with the PS Vita graphics.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, Period: Cube is a good game. With the stellar game design, system, voice acting and music; it definitely made it a worthwhile title to try and support english game localisations. It had gorgeous visuals on the PS Vita screen, and far better music and voice acting than I would have ever anticipated. It had an awesome opening and is sung by Joelle, who has contributed the vocals to other games such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Bravely Default.

It incorporated a notable amount of gameplay, CG art and many character routes to choose from. Although the storyline left much to be desired in its execution, it still had an interesting premise and captivating elements in all the routes. It really needed more cohesive explanations to some of the glaring plot holes in several of the character stories. The incorporation of the protagonist Kazuha with the combat system was also quite poor, and I was really disappointed by how minimally it impacted the storyline.

I honestly preferred less dateable characters overall, and more writing time devoted into fleshing out the bachelors that had significant contribution to the overarching plot. Personalities such as Zain, Demento and Libera were nice to have, but not necessary to the overall storyline. With or without their involvement, it didn’t significantly alter the key events in Period: Cube nor would I have sorely missed their presence.

I preferred more writing focus and character development on Radius, Astrum, Hiroya, and Shiki as well as replacing Libera with Natsu. To me, that would have offered a more memorable connection and attachment to the characters; as well as better explanations on the overarching plot. Rather than dedicating screen time to new character stories that were half-done anyways, they could have addressed the many prevalent plot-holes.

Although they incorporated a lot of cute character and relationship moments with all the bachelors, it wasn’t really enough to overlook the subpar plot explanations. I honestly felt stronger attachments to the side characters of the game, which is an indicator to how two-dimensional some of the bachelors really were. The highlight of Period: Cube was definitely the impressive world-building, music, voice acting, and UI design; and to me that was what really swung the game from a 3.5/5 to a 4/5 rating.

I do recommend giving the game a try, as I did enjoy the storyline and immersive graphics on the PS Vita. I particularly enjoyed Radius’ route and Tohru’s character, who were definitely the standouts from the game. Thank you again to Aksys Games for the collaboration, and I’m definitely looking forward to their next otome slated release of Collar x Malice on July 28th, 2017!

Overall Rating: 4/5

Written By Cherry

The Charming Empire Review

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

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

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

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

Storyline ★★

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-The Story-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

System ★★★

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

Nightshade / Hyakka Hyakurou Review

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

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

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

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

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

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

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

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

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

System ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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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 and a solid selectable bachelor cast. Normally I don’t tend to like all the characters of a game, but in Nightshade there definitely wasn’t anyone I disliked. Every character has their clear strengths and weaknesses, and grow on you throughout the course of the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Written By Cherry

Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Review

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

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

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

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

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

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

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

(Excerpt from VNDB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★★

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

System ★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 4/5

Written By Cherry

Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Character Review: Mejojo Von Garibaldi

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

For a general review of the game, you can read it here.

MEJOJO VON GARIBALDI: Mejojo is first-in-line to be King and the older twin of Auger. He is exceptionally cruel, twisted, cunning and stops at nothing when he has something he wants. No one can deny however that these are the traits needed to be a fearsome King and the strength of a Ruler that the country needs.

He suffers from a tragic past that completely unhinged his mental state, and distorted his purpose for living. He must enact revenge for the sake of his mother, and become King in order to return tenfold the pain he experienced his whole entire life. He and Auger are the illegitimate children of the current King, and as a result are treated as the constant thorn in his side.

They’re fortunate enough to be able to remain in the castle, after pleas from their mother not to have them executed. However, they’re the source of constant gossip and treated like nuisances residing in the castle. In order to gain their Father’s attention and approval, they devote themselves wholeheartedly to their study and swordsmanship. Their efforts eventually begin to bear fruit, garnering rumours that they’re more fit to be King than the eldest prince and legal son of their father, Julian.

This earns the animosity of their step-mother and current reigning Queen, Rayleigh. Their birth mother with the status of a mere concubine, is treated as lower than a servant and suffers cruelly beneath Rayleigh’s taunts. Despite their efforts for their mother’s sake, the King never turns their way for he truly loves Rayleigh and his birth son Julian. Rayleigh in order to secure her son’s place, begins assassination attempts on the twin’s lives such as poisoning and hiring assassins to murder them in their sleep.

Mejojo nearly dies from poisoning, and despite Auger’s pleas to Rayleigh to allow them one Royal Doctor to help him; she commands them all to attend to Julian as he is ‘ill’. In reality, they are all playing with Julian in the courtyard and she forbids Julian from asking questions about the twin’s condition. Their birth mother laments on her worthlessness as a concubine, unable to do anything for her sons due to her lower status.

‘If only I was loved more by the King’ she thinks, but concedes to the fact that for a woman like her to remain in the castle is a miracle in itself. From that day forth, the twins enclose themselves in their own world because no one can be trusted otherwise. The only people they have are each other and their mother.

One day, she suggests to play a game of strength with the twins. To prove their strength, they tie a rope around a large bookcase that their mother wishes to move, but is unable to do so herself. They pull with all their strength, enough to move the bookcase to where she desired. At her lack of response, the twins call out to her uncertainly; only to see their world collapse before their very eyes.

Their mother had claimed it was a game; but in reality she had tied the rope around her neck and with their strength they had hung her. Unable to bear living anymore but without the courage to end her own life; she stains her own beloved sons’ hands.

Irreversibly it warps them completely and revealed their mother’s true nature at the very end: her bitter hatred, resentment and sense of worthlessness. However, she lacked the strength and will to enact revenge; and instead projects this desire onto her sons. From this event, it foreshadows the unveiling of history to come.

Rayleigh’s deeds soon come to light, causing her imprisonment and with great reluctance the King dethrones Julian as the first Prince. Rayleigh unable to bear with the loss and shame, eventually commits suicide in the dungeons. The twins imprison Julian in the Castle Garden as its caretaker, in order to decimate his chances of reclaiming the throne.

After all, how can one be King without any followers or knowledge of their existence? Out of spite and jealousy for Julian’s noble birth and as the recipient of their father’s love; they destroy his mental state, leaving him completely crippled and reduced to a barely functioning toy. Mejojo is soon betrothed to Elvira Galland, having reached the appropriate age for marriage.

However, the engagement is in name only as they both hold no romantic sentiments towards one another and share a platonic relationship as childhood friends. Elvira soon falls in love with Arles, Captain of the Royal Guard and titled the ‘Knight of Salvation’ for saving the King’s life and considered his right hand man. Elvira convinces Arles that Mejojo would agree to her proposal in marrying Arles instead; as they had never been in love to begin with.

Arles is reluctant, but trusts in Elvira’s judgement. Their plans for marriage goes off without a hitch, receiving both Mejojo and the King’s blessings. However, misfortune strikes as Arles suddenly begins to contract the symptoms of Zodiva. Unable to bear with the suffering and to ensure Elvira’s safety; he decides to break off the engagement and leave Weblin. However, he cannot bear to leave without seeing her one last time and commits his fatal error.

The Zodiva is in its advanced stages, and in close proximity with the woman he loves; he succumbs to blood lust and attacks her like a ravenous beast. He inflicts countless wounds on her body, leaving her near the brink of death. Arles is disgusted with himself, as he had committed such a heinous act to the one he was meant to protect and loved the most. Mejojo walks in onto the brutal scene, and rejoices for he finally has been given the opportunity to dispose of Arles for good.

Even without Julian in the picture, Mejojo and Auger never received their father’s love or affection. He is even more so distant to them, as they left him no choice but to expel his son and lose his legal wife in the process. Their father only ever spent time with Arles and discussed things with him personally; something which he had never done with the twins. Arles was so beloved by the people, that many viewed he could even potentially become King. Even for Mejojo’s engagement, the King agreed to it wholeheartedly because it was at the request of his beloved Arles; rather than denying it for the sake of his son.

As Mejojo reveals his utmost hatred for Arles and prepares to enact the finishing blow, Arles accepts his fate. He has been reduced to nothing more than a beast in human form, and deserves to die for what he has done; at the very least then no one else would come to harm from his thirst. However, rather than the fatal wound being inflicted upon him; Elvira takes the mortal blow and dies in his place. Mejojo laughs hysterically, claiming it was a befitting end for her as she died belonging to him.

After all, it was better for her to die than ever become Arles’ possession. Even though he felt no love for her, she had meant to be his wife and so she had been rightfully his to begin with. She was meant to love him, and no one else. Hearing Mejojo’s twisted reasoning despite slaying Elvira with his own hands, Arles vows his revenge. Before he escapes he leaves an irreparable scar on Mejojo’s face that completely unhinges him.

With that scar, he will be faced with the constant reminder that Arles had bested him and taken what had rightfully belonged to him. His lifelong burning hatred is set into motion, as Mejojo swears to eradicate all remaining existences of the wolves from the face of Weblin. Then, and only then would Mejojo finally be satisfied with Arles’ death and defeat by his own hand.

I summarised Mejojo’s complete past because I felt it was too integral to the overarching storyline that connects all the characters together. His story essentially forms the crux of BWS, and his actions have irreversibly changed and destroyed their lives. As a result, his route is what I recommend playing first as it explains the entire story and puts everything into perspective. For example: what exactly happened and why the events of history turned out the way they did.

That being said, I had extremely mixed feelings about Mejojo from the beginning until the very end. I was conflicted between resentment and disgust at his character for what he has done to the heroine and countless innocent people. Yet at the same time, I found his actions perfectly understandable and could really empathise with his internal agony.

Because after everything he has been through, can you really say his path for vengeance and redemption is completely unjustified? All Mejojo had ever yearned for was his father’s love and recognition for his talents and achievements; something which he has been denied his entire life.

Rather, his efforts bear no fruit as Julian is first-in-line for the crown in spite of Mejojo’s clear superiority and traumatically loses his mother due to his father’s actions. To add salt to injury, the woman he’s betrothed to then to falls in love with another; and Mejojo yet again doesn’t receive the love he innately craves. He is talented, intelligent, handsome and a man of power and status — yet, why is he never anyone’s first preference or choice?

I’m sure that was what the writer was aiming for in the conceptualisation of his character and story; he plays the role of the anti-hero that constantly wavers the emotions of the reader, and is never meant to be defined as simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

He is completely and utterly insane, and yet has such clarity and intellect in plotting the destruction of the wolves. After all, their terrorist plot was the result of ten years worth of devotion and planning for the events to unfold. It’s what makes his character even more unbelievably demented; because he knows exactly what he wants and would willingly die for its fruition. At the same time, can you really say he’s crazy when he has never been more clear on his life’s purpose?

The torture he inflicted upon Fiona was really painful to read, since it just felt so undeserved. She was used as his outlet for all the pent up anger and frustration he had been consumed by in his lifetime, and a representation of the woman who had chosen Arles over him. The cruelest aspect of it all was that he didn’t see Fiona for who she was or even as a human being; she was just an item that by right, had to belong to him and no one else.

In his good endings where we get a glimpse of his true self prior to the insanity was actually quite surprising and touching. Perhaps, if Mejojo’s circumstances weren’t so tragic; he would’ve remained the kind-hearted, patient and loving cat he truly was. After all, he still accomplished the desired outcome Fiona had wanted for the country of Weblin; restoring it to its former glory, ridding it of Zodiva and beloved by his people as their King. Although the wolves were exterminated in the process, when did good things throughout history ever happen without any sacrifices or consequences?

Despite his wrongdoings, after everything Mejojo has experienced in this lifetime he deserved some semblance of happiness. As a result, I felt his ending with Fiona was quite befitting because she is the foil to his character; he is someone stained by evil and corruption, whereas she is the epitome of human goodness.

I thoroughly enjoyed his storyline as I felt it was by far the best written out of all the characters. His route was a rollercoaster of emotions and the sheer complexity of how it was all revealed in the end was fantastic. Despite my mixed feelings about his character, I could still justify his actions within the shades of grey and that is a testament to how well written Mejojo’s route is.

However, I was fairly disappointed that until the very end, we never did know whether or not he truly loved Fiona. Did he love her only out of possession? If she wasn’t his, would he still love her? Or would he show glimmers of insanity again? Is she merely a replacement for Elvira, or does he truly love her as Fiona? There were just so many questions regarding Mejojo’s capacity for love, and they left it open ended until the very end.

Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Character Review: Auger Von Garibaldi

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

For a general review of the game, you can read it here.

AUGER VON GARIBALDI: Auger is the younger twin brother of Mejojo, and unfathomably devoted and loyal to him. He is his most trusted confident ever since the death of their mother, and the only other person in the world that could ever understand Mejojo as they both experienced the same events that irreversibly changed them. However, Auger is very different in personality to Mejojo.

Where Mejojo is serious, extremely jealous and single-minded, Auger is always light-hearted, sarcastic and a trickster by nature. He is the self-proclaimed sole Royal Musician and Jester. Auger is always looking for methods to entertain himself or make his beloved brother smile. So long as his brother is happy, Auger willingly plays the role of the ‘lesser’ sibling and lets Mejojo claim the throne and spotlight.

Mejojo takes all the credit for becoming King of Weblin and eradicating the wolves, despite their plot being a joint effort. I went into Auger’s route very curious about his character, since I found him to be more interesting than Mejojo himself. He has a certain unstable and insane darkness about him, where you can never guess what he is going to do next.

Auger is extremely unpredictable and volatile to the point where no one can ever truly know what he is thinking. Mejojo on the other hand, is straight forward and easy to understand because all his actions are for the sake of revenge. But what does Auger have to gain from this?

Why does he willingly play second fiddle to his brother? Why does he have no wishes for grandeur, or something greater when it’s a natural desire for people to have? Surely, he must have an ulterior motive to lurking beneath his brother’s shadow. Auger has in many events demonstrated even greater cunning, insanity and cruelty than Mejojo himself. He is more than capable of overtaking and betraying his older brother, yet why is he satisfied with being inferior?

Auger’s path is strange in the sense that it’s completely different in regards to Fiona. Mejojo who is now partially blind from Arles’ final attack, has been driven to the brink of insanity by his own reflection. Mirrored in his eyes everyday is a reminder that although he had won the battle against Arles, he had inevitably lost the war.

With Arles’ death he has no outlet to channel his anger and hatred; and thus has resorted to senselessly beating Fiona at every opportunity instead. However, it does little to alleviate his mood as it continually worsens by the day. Although Auger initially spectates gleefully, as the never ending cruelty and torture on Fiona increases; he eventually pleads with Mejojo to cease with the lashings. Soon after, it becomes their daily routine for Auger to attend to her wounds with healing ointment once Mejojo finishes his torture sessions.

Auger’s kindness is the only thing keeping Fiona sane in the dungeon, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to hold onto her mental state in the face of endless cruelty. Mejojo eventually stumbles upon them, and turns on Auger accusing him of betrayal. He had disposed of all obstacles already, and yet why was Fiona still not fully his? Well… he still had one obstacle left that was standing right before him, after all. Perhaps then, Fiona would finally belong to him.

Auger is devastated by this revelation, and denies his accusations by claiming he had done everything for his brother’s sake; they only had each other, and he would never betray his trust. However, Mejojo is past the point of no return and wields his rapier with the intent to kill. Auger has no choice but to defend himself; culminating in an epic battle of swordsmanship. Auger eventually proves victorious, and to his horror inflicted a mortal wound on his precious brother Mejojo.

Auger breaks down, crying about how they had finally achieved what Mejojo had always wanted and yet; why was he still unhappy? Why had it all come down to this? A few days later, Auger is crowned King and Fiona is returned to the Castle Garden. Although she can never forgive Auger for taking away her family and her innocence, she decides she can stay by his side in changing Weblin for the better. Although she is saddened that she is once again kept in confinement, Auger assures her that it is because he did not want to appear weak in front of others and seen visibly doting on her.

He is affectionate, gentle and kind to Fiona; the complete opposite of what we’ve seen of his character until now. Auger expresses his love and how he had always desired her, as they then passionately kiss. The game ends with the feeling of Auger’s tail brushing against Fiona’s neck, as the credits roll. Just before the credits finish, we hear Auger saying in a malicious voice ‘Idioooooooooot!’

That voice is actually the thing of nightmares. Needless to say I was horrified because I wasn’t exactly sure what to feel. For the sake of my own feelings towards the game, I’m just going to turn a blind eye to the twisted implications of his good ending. I’d like to think that he did in fact have a change of heart towards Fiona and truly loved her, and that they had a happy ending together. His route was creepy enough in the sense that he went from endlessly torturing Fiona in every story, to overly affectionate and kind in his route, and then implying at the end that it had all been a lie?

In his bad ending, he kills Mejojo of his own accord claiming that he cannot bear the empty shell that he has become, and there is no point of existing if he is no longer ‘entertaining’. A year later, he stabs Fiona after she gives birth to the twins’ child; saying she has fulfilled her purpose to him and that he had finally ‘learnt to love her’. I felt that Auger’s story was very lacking in comparison to Mejojo’s, which doesn’t make sense considering he’s just as significant of a character as they’re two halves of a whole.

As the game is based on the cat’s side of the story, I was really disappointed. They left so many questions unanswered, and so much potential for an amazing storyline unaddressed. Was it truly his grand scheme to have Mejojo do all the dirty work to become King, and then take it all from him in the end whilst his guard was down? To play the role of the dark horse and commit the ultimate betrayal in this political game of cat and mouse?

Is that why he willingly stayed second and inferior to Mejojo all his life? Did he ever truly love Fiona, or was it all a lie? Or perhaps, that was the only twisted way he was capable of showing love? Did he even love his own brother, Mejojo? Is that really all there is to his character? That his life motto is: ‘if something is no longer entertaining, then he would dispose of it?’

I felt that there was just so much more to his character beneath the surface, and the author just left it all hanging in the end without any explanation. The ambiguity was really dissatisfying as it felt so lacking in comparison to Mejojo’s route. It’s a shame considering Auger had a much more interesting concept to his character.

Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Character Review: Julian

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

For a general review of the game, you can read it here.

JULIAN: Julian is the disinherited first prince of Weblin, and current caretaker of the Castle Gardens. He is assigned to serve Fiona, and act as her companion during her arrest for witchcraft. Julian is very kind, gentle-natured and exceptionally soft to Fiona; and the two naturally become affectionate to one another.

During her stay, Julian is her only solace from the loneliness and she is the first person he has been able to speak to in years. He is refined, polite and carries an air of nobility; leading Fiona to question early on whether his status really was of a mere servant. Little does she know however, that he is in fact broken beyond repair by the hands of Mejojo and Auger and his residence in the Garden is akin to house arrest.

During their escape beneath the sewers which Julian had suggested, they are ambushed by Auger and the CCK. It is to their shocking realisation that it had all been a set up between Julian and Auger, with Auger commanding Julian to lead them there or face ‘punishment’. Julian reverts to a child-like catatonic state where he degrades himself to less than trash and revels in Auger’s praise. It was a really disturbing scene to witness because Julian is just such a sweet and lovely character, and then just seeing his personality take a 180 degree turn to something completely different.

His good ending is by far my favourite ending in the game. It just felt so satisfying to read, and it was truly a breather after sitting through both Mejojo and Auger’s routes which is just never ending despair. I felt out of all the characters Julian truly belonged with Fiona and complemented her best. It is through the heroine that Julian regains his true sense of self, and is able to overcome Auger’s tyranny. She brings out the best in him, and they continually lean on one other for support.

They’re the only two people who can understand the other’s circumstances, as Julian has been confined within the garden all his life and the heroine within the tower. As a result, they both lack the skills required to live in the outside world and continually question their self-worth as when the need calls for it; they have no choice but to depend on others.

In the good end when they’ve escaped Weblin and settled down with their new lives, Julian expresses his desire to improve himself for the better and for Fiona to see him as a man; because he wishes to become the type of person who can protect and look after her. It’s just so cute because of their similar circumstances, that they’re able to face the same conflict together and develop as characters. They share so many heartwarming moments together, and definitely have the cutest CGs in the game.

My main criticism for his route is the true ending. Although I have no qualms that they’re the ‘canon couple’ of the game, I definitely felt the conclusion was lack-lustre in many aspects. Julian is finally able to enact his revenge on Mejojo and Auger, catching them off guard for the first time in a decade.

Their calculations regarding him prove to be incorrect, as they believed a broken toy could never develop a mind of its own. He ironically poisons their tea, immobilising them with the assistance of Marquis Galland; Fiona’s relative and father of Elvira. He supports Julian’s reinstatement as the true crowned Prince, and thanks him from the bottom of his heart for finally informing him of the truth behind his daughter’s death.

A few days later, the heroine is eagerly awaiting Julian’s return in the Castle Gardens from his daily duties as Weblin’s new king. However, she notices that he is taking unusually long that day. When he arrives and begins to pour tea, Fiona sees visible blood on his sleeve.

She recalls the rumour she heard from the maids that although the dungeons have now been sealed to public access, the servants claim that they can still hear moans and cries for help at night. Although Mejojo and Auger have been taken away, Fiona herself is unsure of their current whereabouts.

From her experiences throughout the story, she decides that some things are better left unknown; and turns a blind eye to it in order to maintain her current happiness. I always found it strange that Julian’s character was altogether too calm and accepting of his circumstances.

He had every right to be angry, because he suffered just as much as Mejojo and Auger themselves. He lost his mother to suicide, his only remaining family resented and tortured him, and his father disowned him as crowned Prince. This had been the only thing binding them together in a familial relationship.

He suffers helplessly as Fiona is tortured for the sake of breaking him once again. It’s implied that it affected Julian a lot more than it appeared, as he finally puts an end to their reign and inflicts upon them the endless torture he and hundreds of others had suffered. However, I personally wanted to see his anger for myself or just any kind of emotion. He was just so impassive and emotionless to it all, and the writer really wanted to paint him as purely ‘kind and gentle’ to the very end.

It made him weak dimensionally as a character, due to his lack of desires and reactions to anything. After reading through the twins’ story, it’s also difficult to accept their fate in the dungeons. Did they truly deserve it? To some extent yes, but fully? I wouldn’t think so. It brings forth the question in the end on Julian’s own morality: by inflicting upon them what they had done to him, does that really make him any better of a person? Is he truly as gentle and as kind as the author makes him out to be?

As it was the true end, and Julian does not have a route in Last Hope (which I’m appalled about, because every other side character gets one in the game) I really wished to see an ending set in the future rather than only several days later. It would’ve shown us a glimpse of whether or not Julian developed as a character over the years, and whether he had grown into the role of serving as a good and noble King.

Would Fiona have been happy in her future with him? Was turning a blind eye to the torture a mistake? Did he end up reverting to corruption and becoming as twisted as the twins themselves? Would they have had children? What would they have looked like? Considering some of the characters had a futuristic ending, I really don’t understand why Julian doesn’t have one because he is meant to be the canon ending. It would have made a significantly better and fulfilling, holistic conclusion to the game.