Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18] Review

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Release Date: 2016
Publisher: MangaGamer & Kalmia8
Platforms Available: Windows (Japanese & English) & Steam (English)
Game Link: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18][Digital Copy]
Official Site: MangaGamer

This was a very exciting localisation from MangaGamer as R18+ otome games rarely ever see any traction for english releases. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head that are available in english, outside of Les Fleursword. However, the translation quality for this was terrible so I do not recommend trying it out.

Despite a lot of the controversies surrounding body image and the male treatment of the MC in this game, I still really enjoyed playing it. I’ll elaborate more on why I feel this way in the ‘storyline’ section of my review. I received a review copy from MangaGamer to try out and write my thoughts on the game.

For the title image I used for this review I wasn’t able to find any pictures that didn’t have tags such as ‘announcement/release date/demo’ plastered all over it. So after some photoshopping, I managed to recreate the above image that is similar to what is seen on the official website. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, and that is why there’s a small watermark on the image.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

Ema Tachibana is a tall, gloomy and unsociable girl with a bad case of resting bitch-face. With all that working against her, she’s never really had any friends. At school, everyone’s too scared to approach her.

But Ema herself is quite content with that state of affairs. In fact, she was all set to spend the rest of her time until graduation invisible as ever…

That is, until two men turned her life upside down!

“It’s you… I’ve finally found you! You are, without a doubt, MY MUSE!”

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

“Listen up, twerp! You’re no good the way you are now. But even you have some potential to shine… I’ll just have to polish you up!”

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

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

But Ema has other ideas.

“Yeah, well… Who asked you?!” (Offical Website Summary)

To summarise Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome in a few words: it is whacky, ridiculous, extremely exaggerated, and downright hilarious. It’s a romantic school life comedy with a very light-hearted storyline that explores the transformation of a regular high school girl. As a protagonist, she is down-to-earth, blunt, straightforward and quite relatable in several aspects to a lot of people. For example: her love of food, sleeping and her struggles with socialising with her classmates.

It is upon meeting the two male bachelors that her life is essentially turned upside down and changed forever. Now this is where there has been a lot of mixed reception and controversy amongst players, in regards to their treatment of the protagonist in transforming her into a model.

This game has the running theme of very exaggerated gags, notable satire, and it’s almost a parody in itself. There are many moments throughout Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome where the characters break the fourth wall or poke fun at stereotypical otome game tropes.

As a result, the characters use very extreme methods in essentially forcing the heroine to obey to their whims and model for Miki’s clothes. Black humour is prevalent throughout the game where they constantly body shame the heroine, insult and belittle her, and threaten and make fun of her. For some people, the message it sends to young and impressionable girls and the sense of humour trespasses the boundaries of acceptability.

If you’re not a fan of this type of humour, then I don’t recommend playing the game as it can become very uncomfortable for you. However, for me personally I was still able to enjoy the game because I can see the direction the writers decided to take with it. Because of how ridiculous and whacky everything is, it’s very easy to distinguish that at the end of the day — Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is a game, rather than a direct reflection of real life.

It’s definitely not something to be taken seriously or literally, and if you have a dark sense of humour; this game is comedy gold. I honestly cracked up too many times to count at the character’s crazy antics throughout the game, because of how bizarre and unexpected all the events were. The game has 10 + gag endings for a reason, and it was actually really enjoyable reading all of them. Normally I find ending collection a very tedious aspect in Visual Novels, but this was not the case for this game.

I really must praise the translations for Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome, as the game would have nowhere near been as hilarious without it. It is very good in terms of phrasing and adhering the jokes to a western audience, and a lot of it actually sounded better in english than the original language. It is obvious a lot of effort and work has been put into the translations, which really made the game so much more enjoyable to play.

That being said, I also had a lot of criticisms for the overall storyline of the game. If you’re comparing this to other otome games as a whole, then the plot was very lacklustre. There’s nothing particularly unique that makes it stand out from other school life romantic comedies. The storyline is simple, straightforward and without any twists or unexpected developments.

The game is relatively short, and would take an average of 10-15hrs to fully clear the game. As a result, the character routes didn’t feel properly fleshed out and ended rather abruptly. Although the epilogues definitely helped to conclude and tie up the loose ends of the story, I still felt quite dissatisfied as the romance between the characters were undeniably rushed.

If you’re expecting an immersive or detailed storyline with heavy plot, then Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is not the game for you. It’s meant to be one of those titles that you mindlessly read when you don’t have a lot of time to play or want something fun and lively that requires little to no emotional investment.

The comedy and translations were the main factors that really carried the game, and I personally really enjoyed it despite its notable flaws and shortcomings. This is also considered a ‘low-budget’ title from Kalmia8, and it explains why there were so many clear shortcuts taken in the production of the game.

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

Overall, I really enjoyed the character’s relationship dynamic as a trio; probably more so than the seperate romantic pairings themselves. They have such interesting and very extreme personalities that creates both hilarious conflict and whacky scenarios throughout the story. I felt that the bachelors could be played in any order, and it’s up to your own discretion who you would like to complete first. I have a completed walkthrough of the game here.

I felt Miki’s route was a lot more romantic and fluffy whereas Saito’s route was more developed in terms of Ema’s character and feelings. Although both are meant to represent ‘masochists’ and ‘sadists’ respectively, I felt neither were very extreme in those departments at all. The H-Scenes are very tame and typical of an R-18 game, so if you’re concerned as a first-time player encroaching upon the genre; I feel it won’t really dissuade your enjoyment of the game overall.

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EMA TACHIBANA: As a heroine, Ema is quite likeable and relatable as your average high school girl suffering from standard teenage angst. She is snarky, sarcastic and straight-forward, and she is refreshingly different from the usual otome game heroines you normally see. Although it is arguable as to how much she develops over the course of the storyline due to the length and events of the game, I still felt that she did notably progress as a character.

In comparison to the beginning of the story where she had no motivations for herself or any semblance of friendship with others; through the influence of the two male bachelors, she finally is able to break out of her shell. She is able to experience so many new things, discover different sides of herself that she never once thought possible and forge everlasting friendships.

Considering she initially believed that she would quietly finish high school and forever live a meaningless existence without others; this is quite a drastic change of character and evidence of her ‘successful’ makeover.

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SAITO SHINJOU: Saito plays the role of a ‘sadistic tyrant’ whom Ema desperately tries to escape from initially. He is bossy, blunt, rude and stops at nothing when he has his eyes set on achieving a goal. Saito is the main driving force behind successfully recruiting Ema into their plans for stardom as Team-X. Despite his callous and cruel demeanour, it is shown that he cares deeply for both Miki and Ema. He places all his efforts and funding from his part-time job into their group production, out of genuine belief for their talents.

Although I know Saito’s character has received very mixed reception, I found that in terms of relationship and character dynamic; he suited Ema much more than Miki. Ema’s feelings for Saito are very apparent in his route, and she spends a notable portion of the storyline deciphering exactly what these newfound emotions for him mean. She becomes conflicted by the dilemma of winning Saito’s affections, and experiences all the ups and downs of experiencing her first love.

Saito on the other hand, I felt he really understood Ema’s character from all the time that he had spent on ‘reproducing’ her. Although he uses very questionable methods at times in order for her to obey his whims, if it wasn’t for his forcefulness Ema would have never agreed to their plans to begin with. Saito really pushes her to better herself, motivates her to reach her potential and is surprisingly considerate in his own way.

For example: the butler cafe chapter was comedy gold, and really helped to build Ema’s confidence and character. If it wasn’t for Saito, I genuinely feel that Ema would have never have developed so much as a protagonist. She transformed from a girl without any motivation or ambition, to someone who would chase after what she wants and embrace the spotlight.

What really detracted from Saito’s route was that until the very end, their relationship was never truly made ‘official’ and left completely open-ended. It was really disappointing, considering how forward Ema had become in their relationship with her own feelings. Saito never once tells her he loves her, and it raises questions on how genuine his emotions for Ema really are. It just felt really lack-lustre in the romance department, and even their first time together was very disjointed and abrupt.

I remember reading the events leading up to the scene, and thinking ‘there’s no way it happens just like that, right?’ And then it unfolded exactly how I dreaded it to. Not only that, but despite their feelings being made clear to one another; Saito renders the meaningful connection they had obsolete by pretending nothing ever happened between them. Although Saito was the better fit for Ema in terms of personality, there were many notable issues in the pacing of his route and the development of their relationship.

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MIKI HIRAIZUMI: Miki plays the role of a ‘masochistic diva’ who is overjoyed upon finding Ema, as she is the long-desired muse that he has sought after for his fashion designs. He is a rather quirky and emotional character, and creates daring fashion statements that takes Japan by storm. To Ema’s dismay initially, his strange behaviour and mannerisms is due to his childhood upbringing in America.

Miki is extremely passionate about his designs, and reveres Ema as an untouchable goddess for most of the story. He believes that his desires would ruin their fixed relationship as creator and muse, and render him unable to continue pursuing his dreams. As a result, he plays second fiddle to Saito and holds back his feelings for most of the story.

With Miki, I felt he made up for a lot of the issues I had with Saito’s route in terms of romance. He is very pure and straight-forward in expressing his feelings for Ema, and how much she means to him. Their love felt a lot more mutual overall and his route had a much more wholesome and satisfying conclusion.

However, their relationship lacked a lot of chemistry as I felt Saito’s personality better suited Ema’s passivity. He also played a much larger role in her successful transformation, which is an aspect that I felt Miki would have been unable to do alone.

Ema never saw Miki in a romantic light until he essentially forces himself on her, and it felt like she just ‘went with the flow of things’ rather than genuinely liking Miki himself. It doesn’t exactly help that you can branch onto Miki’s route from one decision point, despite choosing all of Saito’s options either. It just seemed very one-sided on Ema’s end, even though she does eventually return Miki’s feelings.

It never fully delves into what she loves about Miki, and Ema doesn’t disagree with becoming his girlfriend solely due to them sleeping together. Despite never showing prior interest or feelings for him, she rapidly ‘falls in love’ with Miki after the event and wants to become a model for the sake of his dreams. It was such a sudden change of persona and as a result, Ema’s feelings just weren’t as believable as what Miki felt for her.

Design ★★★

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The design and artwork in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was decent for an R18 Otome Game. The colours are very bright, lively and fun and the characters/CGs had crisp line work. I enjoyed a lot of the very exaggerated character expressions, as they’re obviously more overemphasised for the comedic effect. However, I did notice a general discrepancy between the quality of Saito’s art versus Miki’s.

In general, I felt the artist did significantly better with Miki’s CGs and facial expressions. For Saito, I immediately noticed many of his features were disproportionate to the rest of his body/face. In some of his CGs, he looked noticeably different from the art quality seen in his character sprite. Although I became accustomed to the differences over the course of the game, it is still an obvious discrepancy that was difficult to overlook initially.

Another aspect I found odd was that for some of the kissing scenes, the CG did not shift from the still image and the character’s lips would be on the other’s nose. It definitely distracted from the intimacy of the moment, as it looked out of place and was noticeable in several instances throughout the game.

If you’re playing the R18 version, then the H-Scenes overall were decently drawn. One of the major problems with R18 games are the body proportions as well as the unrealistic positioning of the characters. Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome didn’t really suffer too much from either of these problems, which was nice to see. However, the H-CGs weren’t anything outstanding or amazing and they were the typical scenes I expected to see in an R18 game.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

One of the aspects that immediately stood out to me from Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was the catchy and hilarious opening theme. It really captures the humorous and quirky tones of the game, and piques your interest from first glance. Unfortunately, as FLML is a low-budget title from Kalmia8; this really showed in terms of the music and track selections.

There were only a handful of BGMs that became noticeably repetitive over the course of the game. I felt that they didn’t contribute much to help set the tone or the themes of the game, and were akin to BGMs that only existed to fill the silence. The looping of a few tracks were quite prevalent, although it wasn’t so jarring as to distract from the game itself.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the voice acting in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome. The voice actors played the role of their ‘S’ and ‘M’ characters perfectly, and did a great job in capturing the hilarity and ridiculousness of the game. The heroine’s VA really encapsulated the extent of her character’s social awkwardness, which created a great dynamic with the two male leads.

Although a lot of players weren’t fond of her garbled ‘GAAAAAH’ and piercing screams, I personally found it amusing and it suited the hilarious moments in the game. There were also many comments in other reviews expressing their dislike of her voice and reactions during the H-Scenes. Unfortunately, this is an example of the cultural divide between east and west in the portrayals of women. If you’ve played other R18+ Eroge before, then this is definitely the norm that is prevalent in majority of the titles.

  • Saito Shinjou | VA: Yotsuya Cider | 四ツ谷 サイダー |
    Brothers Conflict as Asahina Masaomi, OZMAFIA!! as Kyrie, and Ayakashi Gohan as Serigano Manatsu.
  • Miki Hiraizumi | VA: Kuroi Isamu | 黒井 勇 |
    Ken ga Kimi as Tsuzumi Hougen and Sidekicks! as Shishiba.

System ★★★

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The system in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was quite bubbly and cute in terms of design. I definitely recognised the ‘fashion’, ‘makeover’ and ‘transformation’ motifs throughout the theme with the checker patterns. It’s very crisp, easy to navigate and use; however it is quite minimalistic and bare-bones in terms of extra unlock-able content. Although the user interface had a nice design and theme, it isn’t one of those systems that left a particularly lasting impression in comparison to other Visual Novels that I have seen.

It incorporates all the basic functions such as save, load, CG Gallery, and Ending List, etc. I particularly liked how the game auto saves for you after every option, which prevents issues such as forgetting to save, or the game accidentally crashing. The voice collection was a nice bonus, as it enabled you to save certain voice snippets that you enjoyed without having to replay the scene itself. It also has the coveted ‘skip to next decision’ function that helped a lot with obtaining all twenty endings of the game.

One disappointing aspect was that the game on release still had many notable bugs that were prevalent in both the steam and MangaGamer version. Many users experienced glitches that prevented them from unlocking the ‘threesome’ route, and as a result of multiple other glitches were unable to fully clear the game. Such noticeable errors should not be in a final release copy, but I was impressed with how MangaGamer handled it.

They were very quick in resolving the issues and pushing out patches to both platforms. This only affected those who purchased the game within the first week or so, and these glitches will not affect any new players to Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, despite some mixed reception around ‘body shaming/body image issues’ and the treatment of the MC; I still really enjoyed Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome. Unfortunately if these are issues that you feel very strongly about, then I do not recommend playing the game as it is a prevalent theme throughout FLML.

As FLML is a budget title, it’s not one of those games that you pick up expecting an elaborate storyline or an extensive amount of playtime. It’s a title you pick up if you’re looking for something fun and easy to read that doesn’t require a huge investment of time to play.

Although the dark humour, satire and gags isn’t for everyone; I personally found it hilarious and thoroughly enjoyed unlocking all the endings in the game. In terms of storyline, Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome isn’t anything particularly noteworthy and it doesn’t deviate from your classic high school romantic comedy tropes. However, it is a clear-cut example of how important translation quality is to a game, as the comedy would not have been so well expressed without it.

It made a significant difference to my overall enjoyment of the game, and the perception of the characters. It’s fairly tame in terms of R18 content, and it’s one of the few english localised titles that is pretty safe to start off with for first-time players encroaching the genre.

I would love to see more R18 otome localisations from MangaGamer, and hopefully with the positive reception of FLML it would encourage more releases in the future. The title I would love to see the most is ‘Yoshiwara Higanbana‘ by Maria Crown. The language in this is very difficult for beginners, and unfortunately not many are able to enjoy or play it. The storyline is amazing and it’s one of the few mature otome games of actual substance that does not solely revolve around the sexual content.

Thank you again to MangaGamer for the collaboration, and the games that I intend to review next are Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and Bad Apple Wars!

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

 

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Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome Walkthrough

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Official Website: MangaGamer
GAME LINK: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18][Digital Copy]
If you would like to read a full review of the game, you can read it here.

* Remember to save often, and where I have indicated! Following this walkthrough will lead to 100% Completion. If you’re stuck, feel free to ask questions! *

Saito Shinjou

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  • [SAVE 1] I’m so sleepy…
  • Just push him away
  • Two can play at that game!
  • Stop thinking about it and go back to sleep
  • Run
  • [SAVE 2] Maybe just for a bit
  • RUN
  • Continue to hold back
  • [SAVE 3] If you pass the test, I’ll wear your clothes
  • [SAVE 4] I think the filming location is the problem
  • [SAVE 5] Ask Miki-san anyway
  • [SAVE 6] Call and yell at them
  • [SAVE 7] I’ll leave it to you, Saito-san…
  • [SAVE 8] Anything, you say?
  • [SAVE 9] Take Saito-san’s side
    ⇒ ED17 ‘Walking With Saito’ (Good Ending)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 2 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 1 ‘The Big Debut’ (Get CG)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 2 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 2 ‘Unfashioning Little Mr. Sadist’
    (Get CG)

Miki Hiraizumi

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  • I’m so sleepy…
  • Stop thinking of him as human
  • Suit yourself, asshat!
  • Get up anyway
  • Fight
  • Maybe just for a bit
  • Stepping on him FEELS SO GOOD!
  • If you pass the test, I’ll wear your clothes
  • I think the clothes could be better
  • Call and yell at them
  • [SAVE 12] Miki-san, make me a normie!
  • The date scenes?
  • Take Miki-san’s side
    ⇒ ED15 ‘Scandalous Muse’ (Good Ending)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 1 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 1 ‘The Pouting Prince’ (Get CG)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 1 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 2 ‘Crouching Moron Hidden Genius’
    (Get CG)

Ending List

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Ugh. Nope. I’m going back to sleep.
    ⇒ ED01 ‘That’s What I Get For Going Back To Bed’
  • [LOAD SAVE 2] The answer is still no
    ⇒ ED02 ‘Joining The Empire’
  • [LOAD SAVE 3] If you pass the test, I’ll do any one thing you ask
    ⇒ ED03 ‘And So Miki’s Summer School Continues’
  • [LOAD SAVE 4] I don’t think it’s either
    ⇒ ED04 ‘Where I Belong’
  • [LOAD SAVE 4] I think the clothes could be better
    • Run
      ⇒ ED05 ‘Alone Again’
  • [LOAD SAVE 5] Nah, raw’s fine
    ⇒ ED06 ‘DO NOT DO THIS IN REAL LIFE!’
  • [LOAD SAVE 6] Eat my feelings
    ⇒ ED07 ‘Not So-Little-Miss Lonesome’
  • [LOAD SAVE 7] Will you be my servants?
    ⇒ ED08 ‘Everyone Has Their Limits’
  • [LOAD SAVE 8] Meh, who needs men?
    ⇒ ED10 ‘Height-Defying Popularity’
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Take Miki-san’s side
    ⇒ ED12 ‘Invest Wisely’ (Advice from Kalmia8)
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Give a vague answer to avoid conflict
    ⇒ ED13 ‘I’m a Celebrity’
  • [LOAD SAVE 7] Miki-san, make me a normie!
    • [SAVE 10] Forget it, let’s just make our own!
      ⇒ ED09 ‘0/10 Do Not Recommend’
  • [LOAD SAVE 10] The date scenes?
    • [SAVE 11] Take Miki-san’s side
      ⇒ ED14 ‘(Ab)Normal Lovers’ (Miki Normal Ending)
  • [LOAD SAVE 11] Take Saito-san’s side
    ⇒ ED11 ‘She’s Right Behind You’
  • [LOAD SAVE 12] I’ll leave it to you, Saito-san…
    • Anything, you say?
    • Take Saito-san’s side
      ⇒ ED16 ‘Please Keep Saito In Your Prayers’ (Saito Normal Ending)
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Option unlocks after completing both Saito and Miki’s Good Ending
    • Think it over carefully
  • [SAVE 13] Do I really even ‘like’ them?
    ⇒ ED20 ‘Fantasy Bromance’
  • [LOAD SAVE 13] I should organize my thoughts
    • [SAVE 14] No chance in hell
      ⇒ ED19 ‘Team X’ (Get CG)
  • [LOAD SAVE 14] Maybe it’s… actually good…?
    • [SAVE 15] Ask Miki
      ⇒ ED18 ‘I Will Never Go Back’ (‘Miki! I Choose You’ CG)
  • [LOAD SAVE 15] Ask Saito
    ⇒ ED18 ‘I Will Never Go Back’ (‘Saito! I Choose You’ CG)
    ⇒ Obtain 100% Completion CG

Differences between the Original Hakuoki series and Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds

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When they initially announced a Hakuoki remake of the original series, the first questions that came to my mind were: what exactly were the differences going to be between the two? Does the advertised ‘new and improved content’ hold true to the actual gameplay? Is it worth spending essentially double the price, for only Chapter 1-5 of the original game? How enjoyable are the new characters and routes in terms of quality and writing, in comparison to the original cast?

Personally, I was on the fence prior to playing the game myself. I have played the original Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms on PSP and Stories of the Shinsengumi on PS3 several times over. As such, I am very familiar with the series and even I was skeptical on exactly how much ‘new content’ there would be in the remake.

Hopefully this post is useful for those like me who have previously owned Hakuoki, or new players that are not keen on spending money for only ‘Part 1’ of a game. If you’d like to read an in-depth review on the game itself rather than only the differences with the original game, you can read my ‘Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds [Limited Edition]’ Review.

1. NEW CHARACTERS

Aside from the original Hakuoki cast, there are an additional three new characters: Iba Hachiro, Sakamoto Ryouma and Souma Kazue.

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Iba is your kind-hearted, honest, trustworthy and noble childhood friend who has loved you since you were children. He holds his past memories with you in high regard, and everything he has striven for in life has been for your sake. He is currently stationed in Kyoto, due to his promotion as a vassal to the Shogun.

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Sakamoto is flirtatious, charismatic and a man who believes that life is meant to be used for greater ambitions and for the good of the country. A quaint and peaceful life ignorant of the workings of the world has never been the one for him. He is something akin to a traveler, and sides with the domain that proves most profitable for his plans. Because of this, he creates many enemies due to his lack of loyalty to a single side.

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Lastly, Souma is a new recruit to the Shinsengumi and is a bright-eyed and hardworking page for Kondou. He abandoned his noble upbringing to pursue the Shinsengumi, as he believes they are the true embodiment of what it means to be a Samurai. You are assigned as his mentor due to your experience as Hijikata’s page, and you take him beneath your tutelage to learn the workings of the Shinsengumi. As a result, you naturally find yourself spending majority of your time with him.

I fairly enjoyed playing the new character routes, as it was refreshing to see something new from the Hakuoki series that had not been included before. However in saying that, I did not like them anywhere as much as the original cast. Although I am slightly biased due to prior attachment with the original characters, the new trio were just not as memorable or well-written in terms of storyline.

As the new characters are not directly apart of the Shinsengumi, their routes felt very lack-lustre in terms of emotional impact and did not leave lasting impressions. The amount of screen-time they received was also much less (other than Souma) as the heroine did not see them on a daily basis within the compound. Whilst the routes were enjoyable and had good aspects here and there, they didn’t have a profound contribution to the overarching storyline.

I would have still enjoyed Hakuoki just as much with or without their inclusion. If I had the choice between playing three new character routes OR having more content with the original cast; it’s essentially a no-brainer.

2. NEW ROUTES

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The side Shinsengumi characters from the original game now have their own routes. They are: Nagakura Shinpachi, Sanan Keisuke and Yamazaki Susumu. As I mentioned in my review, despite them now  being romance-able characters; their routes left much to be desired in both execution and length. It didn’t feel like they transitioned from being side characters and were integrated into the main cast at all.

Majority of the moments with the characters are already present in the main storyline, so there’s very little ‘new content’ with them when playing through their seperate routes. The moments between them and Chizuru are brief, short and although very adorable; they cannot compare to the amount of screen time that the main cast of Shinsengumi characters are given.

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Shinpachi’s route is very platonic, and there’s very little romantic interactions between the two throughout the story. Sanan’s route was by far the weakest out of all the characters, as his personality essentially remains the same as the main storyline. Even if you become ‘closer’ to him, he does not stray from his ambitions and urgency for Chizuru to become a blood sacrifice for the sake of the Furies/his research. It felt like all the time spent with him, and his fleeting moments of kindness were a false facade. In the end, he still completely disregards Chizuru’s feelings on the matter.

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I really enjoyed Yamazaki’s route out of the trio, and his interactions with Chizuru were just so heart-warming. The pacing and noticeable growth of their friendship transitioning into love was just really well done. Unfortunately, his story falls short of its greater potential due to how little writing is dedicated to fully developing the route. There is just such a noticeable discrepancy between the original character cast and the new additional character routes. It’s really disappointing to see how they undeniably have the shorter end of the stick on almost all aspects of the storyline.

3. KAZAMA HAS A LONGER ROUTE

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Considering Kazama is one of my favourite characters from the original game, this was honestly the aspect that interested me the most about the remake. His route can barely be classified as one in the original Hakuoki, so I was genuinely curious as to how much ‘longer’ his story would be and the amount of writing that would be dedicated to it. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with his route in the remake.

It had so much more content than what I was initially expecting, as well as CGs. Rather than the fleeting enigma he is in the original game, there’s so many more opportunities for interaction between him and Chizuru. You definitely get to see more glimpses of his true character in the remake, and have a better understanding of his personality. I also liked how in the remake it touched more so upon Chizuru’s demon heritage; as that was something sorely lacking in the original Hakuoki in all the routes.

As a result, his relationship and feelings for Chizuru is much more palpable and she isn’t quite so dismissive of his haughty demeanour as the original game. With the additional content, his route length almost rivals one of the bachelors from the main cast.

4. SIGNIFICANTLY MORE ART

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On top of having CGs to accomodate all the new characters and routes, they have incorporated many CGs seen from Zuisouroku as well as new never-before seen artwork for the original cast. The sheer amount of CGs you can unlock in total is definitely one of the highlights of the game, as there is just so much content to get through. The art is really lovely, and overall an improved version from the original game. The amount of new artwork alone is more than enough reason to play Kyoto Winds over the predecessor titles.

5. MORE WRITING AND CONTENT

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Although a lot of the new content are re-used scenes from Zuisouroku, there are also plenty of moments exclusive to the Hakuoki remake. Rather than having them as a standalone segment, the scenes are now integrated into the main storyline for greater cohesion and better character development. One of the major complaints about Hakuoki has always been the severe lack of romance with the bachelors prior to the branch into their character routes. With the new scenes, it helped balance the heavy content from the storyline to the light-hearted and fluffy romance with the characters.

The writing overall has improved a lot from the original, and there’s just so much more description invested into painting the storyline. There is significantly more writing dedicated to Chizuru’s thoughts and feelings throughout the game, which created a stronger attachment to her as a protagonist. Part one alone took me 25-30hrs to play, in comparison to the original completed game which took me 40hrs to finish all the routes. With Part two, the remake has around 15-20hrs more playtime.

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The downside of having such a long game is that by the fifth or sixth play through, it does get extremely tedious. You’re essentially reading over the same events of the common route 11 times over, if you intend to clear all the content and characters. Personally, I struggled with completing the game and it took me a month to get the Platinum trophy.

However, despite how repetitive the game became; it is worth the price in terms of the amount of playtime/replayability you’re receiving. Although it is only the first half of the storyline, 25-30hrs is the average playtime you normally see in most full length Visual Novels.

6. NEW OST

Majority of the original soundtrack has been replaced by all new songs, with some exceptions on the main themes of the original game. I felt the old soundtrack was a lot more mellow and suited the darker tones of the game. The new soundtrack is much more lively and light-hearted; incorporating new dynamic battle music that definitely increases the intensity of the fights throughout the game.

I have heard mixed feelings on the old versus new OST, and I think it’s essentially just a matter of preference. With the new tone of writing and special effects (which I talk more about in the next section), I personally think the new soundtrack suits the remake much more than the predecessor. However, in terms of emotional moments then the old OST was more befitting in complementing the scenes.

7. CHARACTER ANIMATIONS AND SPECIAL EFFECTS

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Although the character animations such as blinking eyes, mouth/hair movement and breathing were included in the PS3 version; it was nowhere near as smooth or as refined as Kyoto Winds. It definitely made the game much more interactive and enjoyable to play, with the new and improved artwork. One aspect I noticed instantly were the new special effects used throughout the remake. Effects such as blood splattering on the screen, the sword slicing animations, story transitions and camera panning during the battle scenes really improved the overall feel of the game.

I really liked how the sprites now properly overlay and overlap over one another during the battle scenes, as it added that touch of ‘realism’ to it. They also included effects such as floating cherry blossom petals between the chapters, and falling snow.

8. ALL NEW SYSTEM AND UI 

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Lastly, the system was a very noteworthy aspect that was significantly improved in the remake. It felt very smooth to navigate, and incorporated a lovely theme design. The text box dialogue was much clearer and easier to read in comparison to the original Hakuoki, and just the overall look was a great improvement to its predecessor. Despite how different the UI seems to appear, it doesn’t incorporate anything new that was not already in the previous games of the series. The encyclopaedia, romance levels, and ‘love increase’ indicators are prevalent in all the Hakuoki titles.

However, the new redesign definitely helped to improve the overall game itself and felt like a more refined version of the previous system UI.

[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!

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

The Charming Empire Walkthrough

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

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

YOSHIMINE KEI

8

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

KOICHIRO SERA

9

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

TANBA TOKI

18

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

TOGAWA KAGEMITSU 

13

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

AMAZAKI SOSHI

15

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

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

Nightshade: Chojiro Momochi Walkthrough

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If you would like to read the full review of the game, you can read it here.

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character

Common Route

Chapter 1

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

Chapter 2

  • All right (*Chojiro) 
  • Goro-san
  • Keep quiet (*Gekkamaru)
  • Fushimi castle, Main gate
  • That’s a relief
  • Try to resist
  • Stand up for Brother Chojiro (*Chojiro)

Chapter 3

  • Residential District
  • That’s not true (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 4

  • No option

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

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

Chapter 6

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

Chapter 7

  • I wanted to stay with him (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 8

  • Attack (*Chojiro)

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • Hug him (*Chojiro) 

Chapter 11

  • You’re right (*Chojiro) 

Bad Ending

Chapter 6

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

Chapter 7

  • I want to apologize to him

Chapter 8

  • Watch his movements

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • Stroke his head

Chapter 11

  • You’re wrong

Nightshade: Gekkamaru Walkthrough

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If you would like to read the full review of the game, you can read it here.

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character

Common Route

Chapter 1

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

Chapter 2

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

Chapter 3

  • Fushimi castle, Main gate
  • Don’t worry (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 4

  • No option

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

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

Chapter 6

  • No option 

Chapter 7

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

Chapter 8

  • No excuses (*Gekkamaru)

Chapter 9 

  • Hold his hand (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 10 

  • Well… (*Gekkamaru) 

Chapter 11

  • Don’t resist (*Gekkamaru) 

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

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

Chapter 6

  • No option

Chapter 7

  • I’ll eat as much as I can

Chapter 8

  • I understand

Chapter 9 

  • Pat his futon

Chapter 10 

  • It’s nothing

Chapter 11

  • Resist

Nightshade: Kuroyuki Walkthrough

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If you would like to read the full review of the game, you can read it here.

* indicates affection point raise with that specific character

Common Route

Chapter 1

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

Chapter 2

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

Chapter 3

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

Chapter 4

  • It was a coincidence
  • But…

Character Route

Good Ending

Chapter 5

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

Chapter 6

  • No option 

Chapter 7

  • Of course not (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 8

  • Go outside (*Kuroyuki)

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • All right (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 11

  • I don’t know (*Kuroyuki) 

Chapter 12

  • No option

Chapter 13

  • No option

Bad Ending

Chapter 5

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

Chapter 6

  • No option

Chapter 7

  • I was just amazed

Chapter 8

  • Wait

Chapter 9 

  • No option

Chapter 10 

  • I’ll fight with you

Chapter 11

  • He’s not

Chapter 12

  • No option

Chapter 13

  • No option