Introductions for this game (character, story) are here.
The theme of the story is “Sanzen sekai no shigarami wo koete, nushi to jiyuu ga mitemitai” (I wish to cross the bondages of three thousand worlds and be free with you my loved one) which plays on the original song penned by Takasugi Shinsaku: “Sanzen sekai no karasu wo koroshi, nushi to asane ga shitemitai” (I wish to kill the crows of three thousand worlds and try sleeping past morning with you”. The courtesans who were trapped in their brothels, either by debt or having been sold by their parents or relatives never had interactions with their guests past that one night, so even if someone they loved bought them for a night, they were unable to spent any more time with them, and this song became a popular ‘lovesong’ for the courtesans of that time.
After playing the game, I also noticed the clever play on Hyakki Yagyou (The legend of the head of the spirits leading the demons in a procession across the human world) and a similar theme turned up in Hakuren’s route.
I was extremely excited for this game, since I love Wafuu and the art looked quite pretty. The biggest thing that caught me however, was the fact that the writers wrote Daisy 3’s Otome no Heihou which turned out to be really good (I heard), so I bought the Animate Limited Edition and here’s the spread: (is this what they call an unboxing? lol)
Top left is the Animate drama CD pack, Top right the limited edition, preorder bonus and Animate CD, which means I have 4 drama CDs and a pretty box to keep them in.
This is what’s in the limited edition box itself, with the game disc, CD and a booklet including short stories and character design sketches:
Animate set also came with bromides and I’m wondering how much I had to pay for this set of junk paper. At least stickers would be useful!!!!
I enjoyed the interactions between the characters, so I’m glad to get lots of Drama CDs, but I would’ve been happier if they voiced Izumo as well, since when she’s in work mode she uses Kuruwa Kotoba (a variety that geisha and courtesans use) and I love it since no other heroine has ever ‘spoken’ like that in a game.
On to the actual review.
What I think about the game overall:
I’m conflicted because I really liked the entire atmosphere (music, BG art, overall story) of the game, but one particular route was really bad. (I’ll get to that later; read it and be amused if you don’t intend to play this game) Another thing that made me less happy with the game was the horrible fact that the character avatars were not cleaned up properly as in here: (click to enlarge)
The art is also quite irregular… Ryuuji looks really old in some CGs and young in his Avatars, and some of the CGs have really weird faces. The CGs look different from the Cover art as well. I wish they would do something about this…
#2 Another minus point is how there are also choices for you to fill the bar of Izumo’s Oiran skills, such as how you would act when an unreasonable customer comes, or what is important to a courtesan, and depending on the choice you make, you either fill the bar or you don’t.
The thing is, I chose all the wrong choices on purpose to see what would happen: would Izumo not be able to become an Oiran and be dropped into the low-class courtesan houses? Answer: NO. No damn thing happens. The story goes on even if her Courtesan level is zero. So what was the point of this anyway? Maybe for some extra fun to teach you about what courtesans had to think, since selling a night’s worth of “love” was their job.
#3 My other complaint is how short the game is, with 3 chapters for the common route and 4 chapters for each character except Mizuki, the hidden route which only had 2 chapters. I mean, the writers are good so where’s the volume of the story?! There should really have been more interaction between Izumo and the other characters like Hakuren and Ryuuji, in order for her to trust them to bring her out of Takamagahara. But I was satisfied with the love between the characters which was not much, but believable enough.
The other thing I felt lacking would be the lack of variety for music. There were only 14 songs, a mix of wafuu, perhaps jazz and other kinds of dramatic music played with distinctly Japanese instruments which I felt expressed Takamagahara well, since it stands between the demon realm and the human realm. There were however no character themes and when I compare it to Hanasaku Manimani which had 30+ BGMs, it is very much lacking in volume. The OP and ED songs were good too!
#4 Ridiculous costumes and an onmiscient(?) narrator
The costumes were just bad. Apart from Izumo who wears a miniskirt mixed with a sci-fi skirt cape, Yukinari has the whole length of his body exposed(that ass can be seen soon) for his uniform and an equally weird stomach exposing, cape+reptile sleeve shirt for his informal wear. It’s just way too weird. Everyone twitting on the official page had something to say about it. There’s also the word “Rival” used as seen in the above picture, and while I was initially on the rage about how Wafuu is already destroyed by this, this ‘omniscient narrator’ came up again throughout the story explaning situations by looking at things from neither Izumo nor the guy’s POV, which I felt was a refreshing thing to do for an Otoge, and I didn’t hate it.
One thing I was wondering about was why no one commented on her eyes, not even Ryuuji who is more sick than lovesick itself. Izumo herself doesn’t ever question why she has two eyes of different colours.
The overall story however, was touching even though there weren’t many surprises. There were actually Bad ends where Izumo became a prostitute and I was surprised because I thought Otomate would mask it up. It was a big saving point for the game! There were a few big surprises, completely unexpected ones, but you already know that ‘something’ is wrong and you would be reading to find out what is actually the reason. In other words the story is not unpredictable, but the strong sadness and situations that are unable to be overturned simply makes you want to read on. The most important thing is the writers managed to escape me rolling my eyes at Izumo’s suggestion of becoming a courtesan without having bodily services by having a realistic view of how the brothel viewed her as a nobody, and not worth any promises. And as I mentioned the routes were all great, except for 1. Maybe 1.5.
Taking into consideration the above, I rate this game a 3.5 stars, but still very much recommend it for people who like sad stories and can look past the above! The language is not difficult for a Wafuu game, most likely because it’s fantasy Wafuu with no historical characters or background involved.
As touch-friendly as Senjou no Waltz. (Code:Realize’s non-touch friendly and no screen transparency system was a big dislike for me) You’re able to dim the text screen and the opening screen was pretty with system voices by all the playable characters, and in “Ashitato” you are able to start from the end chapter and go straight to the bad end without having to replay the entire thing. (again, similar to Senjou’s Chronicle system)
Recommended play order: Ryuuji-Yukinari-Hakuren-Tokikage-Shinonome(opens after 1 round)-Mizuki(hidden route)
You definitely have to start with Ryuuji to start the game off with a bang, because his story is the only one which doesn’t reveal anything about Izumo’s identity, and because you just have to play the climax of his story first– it sets the stage so well!
—————- Spoilers ahead, read if you don’t intend to play the game —————–
Common Route Summary:
The story starts with a grand Oiran Dochuu (courtesans walking on high geta with every step in an ‘8’) of Kushina Daiyuu,(Izumo’s mentor) and we are prompted that it’s a few years before the actual story, since Izumo is still a Kamuro (before shinzou, before actual courtesan).
We see then Izumo as a Furisode Shinzou interacting with Mizuki and her two childhood friends and practising Koto, but getting bullied by other courtesan fledglings because of her promising future as a high-class courtesan but lack of interest in practices and her continuous attempts to escape, which results in her getting punished in a really torturous way.
She also meets Ryuuji when he comes to sell accessories to the courtesans and Hakuren who saves her from a demon. Shinonome appears out of nowhere and teases her, promising he’ll come to see her again. Her mentor Kushina Daiyuu then tells Izumo that she loves a man, and Izumo seeing how it’s better to be free with the one you love, plots to give Kushina’s love letter to the man and they happily leave the brothel after her lover redeems her. Izumo then realises that the only way she can be free is to aim to be a famous courtesan and wait for someone to redeem her to the human realm.
Izumo starts working hard and decides to tell the owner of the brothel that she does not want to have toku-iri (s.e.x) even after she becomes a courtesan and the owner agrees on condition that she continues to work hard and be faithful in attending practices and behaving. A festival soon comes and depending on the person whom Izumo thought about when her best friend ToshiHa (a geisha in training) asks about, there is a REALLY short episode of them going to the festival together. A short while after that, ToshiHa is killed when she tried to escape from Takamagahara with her lover. Adding to that she finds out that the owner of the brothel lied to her and will make her give her mizuage (day when men bid for the courtesan/geisha’s virginity and have s.e.x. for the first time) soon. Izumo also overhears that no one is allowed to redeem her out of Takamagahara and it branches into character routes.
(Short but interesting prologue don’t you think? I like it that Izumo is thrown into despair and despite us knowing something is going to happen to save her, Izumo’s situation is definitely something new.)
——————- Character Routes ——————
Ryuuji is such a cutie! While I kept thinking that he shouldn’t bother with a commonplace courtesan-to-be and find himself a good wife elsewhere, Ryuuji’s sincerity that made him suffer to bring Izumo out of Takamagahara was a great story. The above CG is where he shows Izumo a scroll of ships carrying goods on the sea, which she had naturally not seen before.
The above scenes was really sad, as Izumo who was found out to have been eavesdropping on how she was to be forced into toku-iri was thrown into the “display” for low-class courtesans. Seeing that, Ryuuji who promised her a few days before to redeem her from the brothel came across her sitting there liked an animal in the cage. He was swept away by the crowd and Izumo, humiliated and feeling even worse after being seen by Ryuuji is about to give up 0n her freedom, but Ryuuji the man promises her again and tells her to trust him.
Ryuuji goes around collecting money and trying to borrow from his relatives, and having even Shinonome bring him money, but the owner of the brothel marks up Izumo’s price and Ryuuji runs away with Izumo during the very day she is supposed to be sold to another man. A huge fire was raging in the whole of Takamagahara and using the commotion, they escape successfully.
They hide in a small house and Izumo learns to cook and sleep with him in a small futon, where Ryuuji shows his righteous side by continuing to call her ‘Izumo-San’ and telling her there’s no way he is calm when she’s around, but everything will have to wait until he rebuilds his business and marries her, since he sold both his business and his house to try to redeem her.
Not long after, Ryuuji alone is captured by the Secret Squad while Izumo was out to the market. He is framed of setting fire to Takamagahara even though they can’t find any evidence of Izumo living there, and part of the money that he gave to the owner of the brothel was found to be counterfeit and later turned to dust.(Shinonome framed poor Ryuuji) Tokikage comes to warn her to escape but Izumo decides to go back for Ryuuji.
Beaten to a terrible state and extremely weak, (I was feeling all sad here) Ryuuji keeps telling Izumo to leave and as Tokikage ushers her away, Ryuuji, determined to die, kisses her for a while. Izumo doesn’t tell him she will find ways to save him and leaves. The two childhood friends then plot to save him and in the final scene where Ryuuji is about to be beheaded, another large fire occurs again and she rushes to him. They manage to leave Takamagahara as it burns down with Mizuki telling her to fare well.
Izumo wonders about her childhood friends as she is now married to Ryuuji and helps him build up his business again. They are a happy, legendary couple who escaped successfully from Takamagahara and Izumo tells him to use her as a brand to sell his items, but Ryuuji promises her he will never use her like the brothel did.
Gawd, what a terrible route despite the expectations…… probably because there were a few overlaps with Ryuuji and because I couldn’t fathom an ounce of affection between the two, But his bad end was pretty fantastic. I have no idea how she came to like Yukinari since there were never any scenes of affection between them, though it is quite obvious that Yukinari is hiding and holding in his feelings very well. Yukinari is an onmyouji who deals with errant ayakashi in Takamagahara so he uses a variety of spells.
He has a fire as well on the day Izumo is to be sold, and after saving Izumo who fainted due to the smoke, she asks Yukinari to let her escape. Despite him always talking about following the rules in Takamagahara (for protecting her), he gives in to her begging and lets her go with a warning that she will regret. But Mizuki on realising that he let her go alone, sacrifices himself(again) to cover Yukinari’s escape. Chasing after Izumo, they run to the human realm where the scenario writing starts getting really shitty like this:
He doesn’t care that she’s in her Oiran garb and ABSOLUTELY standing out in the town and he brings her to buy sandals despite knowing they have pursuers at hand. Sometime later Izumo is seen wearing her normal kimono again, which she would not have been wearing underneath all that Oiran garb. They decide to hide in an old house which is revealed to be the house where Yukinari’s father used to hide. His father was also a member of the squad in Takamagahara, and Izumo’s parents were killed by Yukinari’s father when they tried to escape from Takamagahara. Izumo’s mother was an Oiran and her father an ayakashi.
Izumo then tells Yukinari she is sorry for making him bottle up everything and they stay in the house for a while with scenes of them returning a lost boy to his mother and him falling asleep on Izumo’s shoulder. The good part though, comes when the Squad surrounds the house and Yukinari is captured. Izumo decides to go back to save him, as in Ryuuji’s route and Yukinari who has given up on everything sees Izumo in the crowd.
Tokikage saves him by pretending to hate Yukinari and releases his ropes, and the place burns down again, with the 3 friends escaping successfully. They kiss on the road and speak of what they should do now with their freedom.
Yukinari’s bad end happens with Tokikage failing to free Yukinari, and Izumo pleads to let him go. The owner of the brothel, seeing that Mizuki died in the first fire, tells Yukinari to be the next ‘Hitobashira’ to chain Izumo to Takamagahara and this scene sees Yukinari putting a coat on the naked Izumo after her customer leaves… They can’t love each together and yet they chain each other to this horrible world, since if Izumo tries to escape, Yukinari will be killed, or Yukinari who holds the key to Izumo’s seal will suffer and die before he even steps out. Izumo can only continue to live her life as a prostitute since no one is allowed to redeem her….. Great tragic end.
If you thought of playing this route first, stop and turn back. Hakuren should totally be saved for after Yukinari since they hate each other’s guts and Hakuren’s route will turn back the disappointment you faced in Yuki’s route.
He is seductive and interesting, despite me not liking Sakurai Takahiro very much, and he comforts Izumo when ToshiHa dies, or repeatedly assures her that he will grant her wish to leave Takamagahara. Unfortunately, Ayakashi and humans are not allowed to have s.e.x so the owner of the brothel refuses to allow him to take Izumo away, even though Hakuren promises that they will have no contact. This happens because the owner has seen through Hakuren’s ulterior motive, and turns them both away, with Izumo locked up in a room until the day of her Oiran Dochuu.
But as she is about to reach her first customer’s place on the return road, Hakuren, who brings a trail of demons with him (known as Hundred Demon Night Procession) comes to kidnap Izumo and takes her to the ayakashi world.
He shields her from preying ayakashi as he tells her she has a ‘power’ dormant within her, and on the way to his mansion, (he is the head of his clan) they encounter other demons preying on her. As if we didn’t already know, Hakuren reveals his true motive of wanting the Kusanagi Treasure within her. It initially belonged to his clan and anyone who has it rules the demon world, but her father stole it to save her mom who was dying while being pregnant with Izumo. (Yeah the curse of ayakashi and humans having sexy time will wait for 9 months for the child to be born, how nice. ( ｀ー´)) As Izumo confesses her love as says she won’t mind being used by him, Hakuren kisses her but doesn’t say anything else.
After escaping their hiding place with Hakuren’s half-brother’s help, Izumo sees the sunrise for the first time and is touched by Hakuren’s decision to wait for her to appreciate her freedom. In the meantime Izumo keeps having dizzy spells due to the side effect of being away from her ‘key’ in takamagahara and Hakuren decides to return to break the spell. Hakuren’s half-brother and the rest of the clan however, plot to kill Izumo quickly and frames her for trying to run away on her own.
Depending on a good end or bad, Hakuren either becomes a Yandere and kills his clan and Izumo after taking the Kusanagi treasure out of her or they manage to return to Takamagahara and see Mizuki sacrifice himself for her again. They live in the ayakashi world and see the heads of different clans coming to greet them, and both lead another Hyakki Yagyou under a sea of stars.
This route was bats boring. Yukinari’s was badly written but interesting, and Tokikage’s, whom the writers claim to have the most sugar level drove me to putting it on auto while I watched anime. (lol) It’s just done-to-death scenarios and I really didn’t like his route. Pity.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is finding out that he is a half-demon like Izumo, and they keep getting betrayed by every Tom Dick and Harry they encounter because his relatives hate him and his mother, and the ayakashi would very much like to make a meal of Izumo. But one person in the ayakashi world saves them and guess who?! His mother who abandoned him as a child and felt guilty ever since. Wow we totally did not expect that, did we? How interesting! She dies though, and Tokikage revenges her.
They go back to TH(takamagahara) to try to find out how to undo Izumo’s seal and either Tokikage dies and Izumo becomes a prostitute and even does her job well, or they escape with Yuki’s help and happily ever after.
No one knows what he’s thinking, though we get a hint of him having a hate for TH. He kidnaps Izumo before she even gets to prepare for her Oiran Dochuu and they escape to the ayakashi world together.
While being together, he blows hot and cold, even attempting to kill her in the brothel during the fire and reveals he is her half-brother. I was pretty shocked because I thought the one who was going to be her brother would be Mizuki, since they look so similar.
But well, we all know something is going to disprove his theory, and Yukinari chases after them only to tell them they are actually cousins from the paternal side. Congratulations, you can now love each other. Shinonome tries to come to terms with his life and accepts Izumo’s existence as his close kin. He still doesn’t show affection openly and is actually a pain in the S but he is pretty cute when he goes Tsuntsun.
They decide to return to TH as with all other routes and Shinonome asks her if she has determination to become a serious criminal if they were to be caught. They go back the path of where the human and ayakashi realm meet, and Shinonome wonders why a path like this would exist when Ayakashi and humans cannot love. Izumo then answers that whatever the reason, this path is the reason they have a connection.
Upon reaching TH, Mizuki provokes Shinonome into giving him a fatal wound and the sweet angel once again sacrifices himself. In the other routes she never saw Mizuki die before her so this scene was pretty heavy and sad. Izumo keeps whining about how Shinonome is hurting other people by setting fire again to TH and he shouts at her to remember how their parents also sacrificed much to give them life, and they already promised to have determination to do the same.
They begin living together again and Shinonome brings her to a river and while she thinks he’s trying to cheer her up, he tells her that this river also curses two people who love each other if they part ways, and tells her she is chained to him forever.
I thought what the heck, what an indirect proposal, but it suits him very well.
Izumo is 17 and Mizuki maybe 14, so he never thought he would get a chance with Izumo. Despite them looking really similar, there’s no connection between them, how misleading.
It’s really hard to write out how nice and short his route is because like I mentioned, the writing is good (not for Yuki) so you would have to play it to feel it. He tries to run with Izumo on the day she is to be bought but he starts feeling pain once he reaches the door, because a curse is placed on him that seals the power of the Kusanagi Treasure in Izumo. The dumb treasure also fuels TH and Mizuki allows himself to be killed so she will be free, but Izumo uses the power of the treasure to revive. I saw that coming. Sigh.
And happily ever after. No kiss scene but he gives her a flower.
Before playing this game I’d always thought how beautiful an Oiran Dochuu was, but now I see that it’s a terrible mock-bridal procession whereby the woman involved is telling the whole world she is now going to have her virginity taken and defiled for the rest of her life….. It’s sick.
This game left me with a real sense of the life of courtesans and while there were various problems, (as all Otomate games do) I’d have to say it goes into the ‘normal’ category for me. But with 4 drama CDs to listen to, it might add some spice to the main game itself. It’s a story that makes me appreciate my freedom anyway, and realise that there’s so much more to do as a human than sit here and play games and write reviews (but it doesn’t mean I’m going to change my lifestyle :p).
Now onwards to Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly! (Kokuchou no psychedelica) Escape the creepy mansion and shooting game, here I come!!!!