I did one out of the three routes in the game and decided to write something about it, since it’s unlikely that I’ll go back for the others.
The official genre is “Women and Money Simulation,” which is more or less spot-on with the exception that you don’t really do any simulation with the “women” part outside of the first month since you have to pick a girl early on and stick with her for the rest of the game. You’re an unnamed blacksmith fated to die in exactly one year due to an incurable disease. Since you’re going to die soon, why not just use the time you have left to play around and be irresponsible with your life? …Or so an agent of the 嬢郭 (Red Light District-like place) says, introducing you to three beautiful ladies who work there.
The general flow of the game is gather materials —> make & sell weapons —> earn money —> spend money to see girl of your choice. Since you have to pick a heroine and stick with her for the rest of the game, you can’t go for more than one of them in one playthrough. Even though you have more than enough time to woo two heroines at once. You don’t even get to see the heroines you didn’t choose, past the first month.
Seeing the heroines cost money, and this is where your job comes in. You make weapons and accessories, sell them, and get money. You also need to fulfill requests from people in town in order to increase your fame so that you can rank up and get recipes for better weapons. Unfortunately, watching any event (including the quest ones) takes up a day, which means you spent a day promising a little boy that you”ll find him a rock when making 7 swords takes the same amount of time.
Speaking of making weapons, for a game about a blacksmith, the item-crafting is possibly one of the dullest and most repetitive I’ve seen. There isn’t any depth to it like in the Atelier games; you literally just choose what you can make from a list. They could have added stuff like imbuing your weapons with various stat-changing properties or elements, but they didn’t. You can strengthen your weapons via a repetitive mini-game that doesn’t depend on your stats,, and if you figure out the trick to it, you can make some really strong weapons early on. Depending on your score in the mini-game, you can upgrade your weapon to a “True” or “Extreme” version, the latter of which giving it a massive boost in stats (I’m talking about tripling-or-quadrupling-the-attack-power levels of boost) and makes it worth a lot more when sold. Once you figure out how to play the mini-game, you can consistently do well in it, making the money-earning part of the game a joke.
The dungeons are barebones and one floor long each. I suppose this is a good thing, because walking in the dungeons will make time pass. Battles are standard turn-based, except that you’ve got a morale bar for the whole party rather than individual HP bars. So it’s like a global HP bar that is the sum of each party member’s morale stat. If you die, you die together. Walking and mining also eats away at your morale, so if you’re not careful, you can die without fighting. Not that you actually die, as you just get forced back to town.
Seeing as how you’re a blacksmith on your deathbed, you don’t do any actual fighting. Instead, you hire up to 3 bodyguards to do it for you, which costs money (not a lot). They also don’t have visible levels, but they gain skills and increase their stats as their affection for you increases. Their affection can increase from events, walking/mining, and defeating foes. There’s some kind of scaling involved, so you generally can’t level up their affection unless you’re in the most difficult dungeon available.
You have 365 days to woo your heroine, but I managed to clear it with 160 days remaining. At that point I had nothing left to do in the game, having crafted the strongest weapons and defeated all bosses. You’re not tight on time at all. You have to visit the heroine within 10 days of your last visit, and after the last meeting, you have until your death to fulfill the final requirement. If you fail to visit her on time three times, you get a solo bad ending regardless of remaining time. If you manage to raise a bodyguard’s affection enough, you can get her ending in place of the solo one, but I didn’t manage to do it in time.
The game has three heroines: the clumsy newcomer Kiyohana, the childish-looking but money-loving Asaka, and the beautiful but terribly unenthusiastic Yuugiri. The heroine I picked was the latter (I was interested in Asaka as well and was planning to save her for another playthrough, but got bored of the game before I could manage). Yuugiri is a beautiful young woman whose looks carried her up the ranks in the 嬢郭, but she shows such cynicism and disinterest in her job that none of her customers come back for her (except for you). From first glance, you recognize her as the daughter of your deceased master who taught you your blacksmith skills and died after you defeated him. Wanting to find out why your once-lively childhood friend is stuck in such a place, you continue visiting her while keeping your identity a secret.
The story stays in a serious tone, but popping up occasionally are lewd mini-games (which aren’t that lewd, after Criminal Girls and Monster Monpiece) where you have to touch the Vita screen. It’s pretty much expected, considering the game’s setting, but they pop up at awkward times. For example, there’s a scene where you accidentally reveal your identity and Yuugiri gets angry at you for playing around in the Red Light District all the time instead of putting her father’s skills to serious use. She pushes you down in a fit of rage, and that’s where the touching mini-game occurs. Not exactly a situation where you can properly enjoy a lewd mini-game, y’know? Outside of that, interactions are just reading through text, without even an affection or gifting system that are the staples of love simulations.
Regarding the game as an overall package, it had some okay ideas and concept, but ended up being half-baked in almost every direction. It also doesn’t take long to clear it, and while I wouldn’t complain about the amount of content in it if it was a budget-priced release, it’s a fully-priced Vita game that looks lower-budget than Criminal Girls without the excuse of being an upscaled PSP game. Even the lewd mini-game is just stills with the occasionally voice when you touch the screen. It’s less lewd than the punishment mini-games in CG since those at least had animations and constant lewd voices. The concept of the setting was really neat too, with the game being set in a sleepless city in the Edo era where outlaws gather, with a bit of Japanese fantasy mixed in. Too bad that most of it was poorly realized due to the length and the budget, with the coolest thing being a background still image. I really wouldn’t mind a proper RPG with a decent budget set in a fantastical ancient Japan.
NIS seems to be not doing too great recently, but I hope Disgaea 5 brings them back onto their feet. Their games don’t look too high budget in the first place, but they usually have fun gameplay and loads of content. I miss ZHP….