Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani Review

Whilst many gamers are aware of the visual novel genre, fewer recognise the sub-genres which make up the range of experiences available within it. The majority of those we see in the west fall within the Bishoujo genre – aimed at a male demographic and usually with a male protag and female relationship options – and often come with Eroge (18+) content. However, there are so many others; it’s a fascinating topic with subcategories dedicated to most sexual orientations and interests. The nuance required to write effectively enough to ensure that your man-love visual novel is for a straight female audience instead of a gay male one baffles me, but I digress! Recently more and more of these categories have been travelling westward, and when I saw that Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani was a Otome game (aimed at straight female audiences, with female protag and male love interests) I was interested to learn how it varied from other, similar games and tales.

As you’d expect from a VN, Dairoku is primarily a story-led experience. Due to this, I won’t be expanding too much on late-game events, but I’ll mention introductory details about certain key characters and the premise as a whole. You play as a young woman called Shino Akitsu; a job candidate for a government office role. Quickly, however, it is revealed that she is able to see spirits (Ayakashi,) and is recruited into a secret government agency responsible for keeping peace in the spirit-realm, Sakuratani. The Sixth Division train and induct Shino into the organisation and she then goes about working with a variety of other agents and spirits… and that’s about all I can say without spoiling anything. There are a number of notable characters, with some being romanceable and others simply being there for the ride. Two of my favourite side characters were Kouya; Shino’s tabby retainer who speaks little, but wisely, and Shuten; whose overall design is absolutely excellent. I was less impressed with the love interests. Each hails from a different race or group within Sakuratani, but despite this most felt generic as an option. The one I’d most like to have a drink with would probably be your co-worker, Semi, but whilst his personality was endearing from the start he’s the least interesting option. When there’s a demon, a fox-man, a snake-boy and whatever Hira is, going for the Human feels almost pedestrian. There are a couple of interesting routes; fox-boy Shiratsuki (voiced by FFVII’s Takahiro Sakurai) was interesting to romance, as was the oni Akuroou, but some (Hira) weren’t as compelling and felt a little like a let down considering the interesting concept.

The writing itself isn’t half bad! I’ve played a lot of VN’s over the last few years and I have to say that there feels like a decent amount of substance to what is said. Often, I struggle to pay attention to long written sections, but the quality of the writing and plot kept me going. It’s not the best story I’ve read – and if you’re not a Japanese speaker, you’ll be doing a lot of reading – but it’s compelling enough to keep you coming back despite the lack of an overarching plot. It’s a slice-of-life game, and whilst routes start off slow most pay off by the end. Unfortunately, I did have two big issues with the writing overall. Firstly, some of the localisation is just flat out bad, with literal translations popping up more than I’d have hoped to see. It’s disappointing and suggests that bringing it westwards was an afterthought/rush-job. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, localisation needs to be done properly or not at all. Did the industry learn nothing from “all your base are belong to us”? Good localisation takes the meaning and intention of a line and writes it in a way relevant to the new region, and unfortunately, this just hasn’t been done properly. My other gripe is related, as the whole game seems to rely too heavily on Japanese vocabulary, even after localisation. To understand the game you’ll need to know a lot of terminology already; youkai, zashikiwarashi, nurikabe etc. There is a small in-game glossary that opens up as you encounter certain terms, but it simply isn’t extensive enough and left be having to google certain terms on my phone. Either use non-specific terms or include all of them in your glossary, come on!

To help you navigate through the writing, the game provides you with optional visual clues as to how your relationship with a certain character is progressing and a full flow chart so that it’s easy to go back and try new things. Both are welcome additions that I feel should be in any modern visual novel.

The visual style is really fun and quirky, with a dark yet colourful aesthetic throughout. It’s well done, clean and visually appealing, with some amazing character designs really helping to invigorate the world. I would have perhaps liked more dynamic animation and more detailed background art, but it’s still a beautiful game regardless.

The score is excellent, with varied and dynamically interesting music and sound throughout. Each track and incidental noise feels deliberate, which is a rare thing to find in gaming of late. The action is punctuated by the sound, which adds a lot of depth. The voice acting is also excellent from what I can tell, with strong expression and reactions throughout. Some performances are better than others, obviously, and it’s disappointing (if expected) that English voice acting wasn’t added for this release.

Clocking in at 30-40 hours for completionists wanting to see everything, Agents of Sakuratani is a substantial game and definitely worth a look at if you enjoy different types of visual novel. It isn’t the greatest game of all time, but it eschews the more serious tone of many adult visual novels and instead comes across as a relaxing, unique experience. I’d definitely give it a look if you like a bit of supernatural romance.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Developer: Otomate

Publisher: Aksys Games

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

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