There’s nothing guaranteed when it comes to AXL titles. They don’t even got a “hit or miss” statistics. Koisuru Otome to Shugo no Tate was their first big hit but it also may be their last. Ever since, their games fall between “ok” or “meh”. For instance, their previous release had likeable characters but it tried to pitch a story around the theme of racism and it missed the point entirely! This new game, on the other hand, is all about youkais – those mystical creatures from Japanese folklore, and there aren’t many ways to go wrong with this, since it deals with fictional elements. Now, they just need some charismatic characters, or at least some who aren’t annoying. That’s can’t be so hard, right?
Story & Characters
Asama Yukiya becomes able to see youkais after getting lost in the woods and receiving powers from the entity known only as “The master” (insert “Manos: The Hands of Fate” joke here). He made a promise to use this gift for the sake of those weird creatures and since then, he tries to help them with whatever he can.To aid him with this task comes Shouji, a very loud and obnoxious raccoon who annoys the shit out of everyone and rarely comes to be useful. The protagonist usually call him “Ponta”.When Yukiya gets transferred to his uncle’s house, he reunites with his cute cousin Asama Anna whose affection points towards the boy are already at maximum since the beginning of the story.Right at his first day at the new school, his head ends between the breasts of the class president Kiriyu Midori because LOVE-COMEDY!This unfortunate episode draws the attention of Housen Tsumugi, an eccentric girl who claims to be an exorcist and convinces Yukiya to go through a session in order to get rid of the “evil spirit” responsible for those recent unfortunate events (A.K.A. Shouji). The problem is: Even though Tsumugi is a heir to the very respected local shrine, she has no spiritual powers whatsoever, and the way how she approached Yukiya was just her being chuunibyou about the problem. Nevertheless, Yukiya was still happy that someone wanted to talk with him after the class incident, and since she formally apologized for what happened, they became good friends.In proper time, as Yukiya keeps helping Youkais around, he is able to clean his good name and even make some friends at school. But this wasn’t bound to last for long, since a suspicious and sexy Youkai Hunter named Ashiya Haruka came into town.To make things even more complicated, Amahara Minagi – one of Yukiya’s classmates – is the spitting image of “The Master”. She also has mysterious powers and is fighting to protect the forest from a redevelopment project. Yukiya obviously couldn’t leave her alone. Thus, the plot thickens.
If you watch anime or read manga often, you will immediately see the similarities between this game and the excellent “Natsume Yuujinchou”. You have a boy who wants to help Youkais (or “ayakashi”, if you will) and gets himself involved in all kinds of problems because of it. It’s a nice concept to work with and you can have all kinds of crazy situations, as long as you have the skills to write interesting stories, which isn’t the case here! The cases Yukiya has to solve usually fall under two categories: “A Human helped me and I want to pay him back” or “The Forest where we Youkai live is in danger and we need help”. Naturally, it gets old real quick!Talking about similarities with other titles. Later, It gets revealed that Tsumugi not only has her own spiritual powers, but she is actually a super genius. However, her parents forfeited their own lives in order to seal a dangerous fox demon who almost destroyed the whole town inside their daughter’s body. By doing this ultimate sacrifice her parents became heroes, but now Tsumugi has a hard time channeling the great spiritual powers inside her because of the demon fox that gets in the way…YES, SHE IS NARUTO! This is such a shameless rip-off!Talking about shameless: Along the way, Yukiya meets with another person willing to help Youkais, a guy who often gets treated like a delinquent because of his blonde hair, muscular body and angry face, but in fact, he is a very kind a naïve guy who loves anything that’s cute. At first, the heroes find out he’s involved with something dangerous but they were too scared and they ran away before they could talk about this with him. However, once the misunderstand gets fixed, he becomes friends with the group and starts to respect the protagonist, even calling him “Senpai” and even wants to call him “Aniki”. He also changes the way he talks by adding a “Su” at the end of his lines like he’s a Prinny or something! They even learn his hobby is to make cute dolls and HE’S FUCKING KANJI!Leaving all those “homages” aside, most of the characters are likeable and don’t behave in obvious ways. Like how Midori doesn’t punch Yukiya on the face after their little accident and most of his classmates and his family actually praise his boldness instead of treating him with disgust, which would be the case for most galges.However, the game doesn’t go without some lazy writing to it as well. For example: Anna’s father always goes nuts whenever someone tries to get closer to his lovely daughter, but he can’t do anything against his wife, who is the true boss in the house and is very liberal about this. Guess what happens often during Anna’s route? Now guess how many times this same events happens during said route? And finally: How many times do you think this type of event happens in other Visual Novels? Yeah…Just too many times to count!Some other major problem is how unecessary some of the heroines feel. Like Anna. Her whole route revolves around her becoming a local TV idol, which has very little to do with the Youkai theme. Midori’s problem is about how simple her character is. She is so boring that her personality and actions get two huge changes during her route. First she becomes a cat girl (and of course, she says Nyah at the end of her setences) and later she starts talking with Kuruwakotoba, which is a old Japanese dialect. Can’t she just keep being herself while still being fun? I guess not, then…
Senomoto Hisashi is back to grant his beautiful drawings to this new AXL game once again. Different from most Eroge artists who just draw a bunch of big-breasted teenagers and lolis, Hisashi offers a good variety of characters, including even an adult woman in the harem and there are no lolis to be found. Breast sizes are not even included on the character profiles, which means that boobs are not a defining characteristic for his heroines (although, “falling heads on someone’s oppais” is an important plot point).Unfortunately, there’s something that got very clear in this game: Hisashi has no talent when it comes to monster designs. His youkais suck balls! The writer even tries to come up with an excuse for why they look like toys by saying that this appearance is thanks to “The Master” sealing their powers. It doesn’t work. Every single route has a scene where all the characters see those Youkais for the first time and they always get really disappointed for how lame they look.You can’t convince the player when you can’t even convince the characters in your own story. To make matters worse, they don’t even look particularly cute or creative. It’s literally the first design that comes to mind when imagining Youkais. The real problem comes when you need to take those little pests seriously, which is “all the rest of the game going past the prologue”. No can do!
AXL got a decent team of voice actors to work in this game, which is usually the case for this company. Aoyama Yukari is also back as always, she has two characters in all of AXL titles: a cold beauty or an energetic girl, and her hair is either blue or blonde. I bet she is already friends with the high-ups at AXL!However, All Youkais got an absurdly annoying voice! Most of them are old men with manly voices who are trying really hard to sound cute, the result is awful and it makes EVEN MORE difficult to take those little guys seriously!Other problem I have has more to do with the script rather than the voice work itself, because the characters need to be constantly screaming really loud to the point it gets annoying, specially in the case of Pseudo-Kanji’s voice!
AXL is all about tradition, so PELVISMUSIC inc. is back to handle the music, which is a bit sad because I don’t feel anything special about their compositions. At least it’s not annoying…it’s a bit boring, though!
Hello, kids! Today we learned that the writer Hasegawa Ai loves Natsume Yuujinchou, Naruto and Persona 4 very much. Well, she got good taste (except for about half of Naruto). It’s a shame that most of those elements and characters “borrowed” from those other series are not nearly as compelling as the originals. In the end, it was kinda boring for me because I couldn’t find anything to look forward on each new playthrough, but it didn’t piss me off so I don’t think it’s a bad game, overall. At least, it makes you itch to try those other titles that inspired the writer so much, and that’s great! I specially recommend Natsume Yuujinchou, since it’s very similar to this game, but I find it better in every single aspect, except when it comes to the “Ero” department. Being a Shoujo Manga, Natsume Yuujinchou got none of that! So if you’re looking for some “H”, Ayakashi Contract is the better choice!