Genre: Action, Visual Novel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
BUSTAFELLOWS is a game that’s been hugely anticipated in the otome game circles for some time now – it’s the latest offering from PQube, an action noir with a big sense of style. It also features some of the voice talents of the Japanese seiyuu industries’ pros: Kenn (Yu-Gi-Oh GX‘s Jaden), Jun Fukuyama (Code Geass’s Lelouch) and Hiroyuki Yoshino (Hakuouki’s Heisuke), making this an all star lineup. The game follows freelance journalist, Teuta who has an interesting talent – she can jump back in time, into another person’s body, in an effort to change the course of the future. After seeing famous (or rather, infamous) lawyer, Limbo get shot right in front of her eyes on the street, she uses this talent to save him and ultimately ends up getting embroiled into a group of unusual men who call themselves ‘The Fixers.’ Led by a shady underground boss, the Fixers work behind the scenes to bring down corruption in the city and make a tidy profit in the process.
Sounds exciting, right? The game itself is very much more of an action thriller then the more romance focused fare which other otome games tend to feature. There’s lots of set pieces, sound effects and cut ins which makes the game feel like you’re watching an action movie. Teuta herself is an interesting protagonist and differentiates herself from many other otome heroines by being not only voiced, but also having her own history, motivations and clear personality traits. Whilst as the player you still get to make some decisions throughout to effect events, none of this really makes it feel like you’re altering her personality at all. Her power does run the risk of having a deus-ex-machina effect however, given that she can easily just rewind and alter the course of events but it also falls in line with how you play the game – after all visual novel players often create multiple loads and saves in order to jump back and pick different choices. The supernatural element is a bit of an odd addition, given how realistic everything else is put across in the game world.
The rest of the cast are diverse and interesting but at least for the first half of the game, come across as rather two-dimensional, falling into typical otome love interest tropes. Personally, I wasn’t really that drawn to any of them initially despite the voice actors doing a great job in bringing them to life. Their writing and interactions just felt a little bland and I wasn’t really left wanting to get to know them more in depth. The side characters actually fare better in this respect with Teuta’s two friends and other acquaintances somehow managing to be more memorable. It’s a little bit style over substance, which does make the game suffer somewhat in it’s intro. The first chapter does a decent job of introducing the cast of characters and their individual roles, whilst providing a stand alone story. This hints that the game itself will be more of a slow burn in terms of an overarching storyline but there are definitely some mysteries that look likely to be explored more fully as the game progresses, such as the origin of Teuta’s powers and the reason behind her brother’s untimely death years earlier.
Where this game really excels is it’s production values – the art and audio are exceptional although there is a tendency to forget to include subtitles for certain parts of the game, which leaves the player confused when a bunch of Japanese dialogue happens with no explanation (turns out you can view the translation in the log, but it’s confusing they forgot to add in the in game subtitles). Another thing to note is that the ‘skip’ function is painfully slow, though thankfully there is another option in the menu that will allow you to just skip to the next choice. The soundtrack is very jazzy, in keeping with the action noir feel of the game’s story and the menus are done up like a high tech computer, making you feel like you’re a spy or investigator, putting all the details together. It’s a nice touch and having the progress bar on the home screen, is a good motivator for continuing to play as there’s an easy visual reminder of how much has been discovered. A nice touch is that it even shows your console time on the home screen, like on a regular computer (though not the location which defaults to the in game location of USA).
Each chapter of the game is split up like episodes of a tv show with a little preview trailer in between of what is to come which again makes you feel like you’re watching a series rather than playing a game. Interestingly there are very few completely static screens in the game – the character sprites often blink and move their mouths to their dialogue, and some of the backgrounds even have flashing lights, moving signs and such which really give the world a sense of life. It’s something I’ve only seen rarely done in visual novels and almost never in an otome game. Some choices are timed also, which adds an element of pressure to them and makes you really feel like you’re making important decisions, adding to the tension in the game.
Overall, BUSTAFELLOWS does a lot of things very well but ultimately it suffers a little in terms of real substance. The game is a fun time though and if you like stories with a lot of action, crime themes and cool characters then definitely one to check out. I personally didn’t really click with the cast of characters in this game, likely as a result of this ‘style over substance’ approach but I certainly was never bored playing it and the various mysteries the game presented left me wanting to continue and discover the truth.
Bustafellows is an action-packed ride with lots of twists and turns (and a bit of romance).