Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Visual Novel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Otomate’s latest otome visual novel is a supernatural romance, centred around ayakashi – often known in Japanese folklore as mystical creatures such as oni, kitsune and yuki-onna. Our protagonist, Shino Akitsu, is a young woman who ends up working for a secret government organisation known as the ayakashimori, monitoring and helping these ayakashi with their problems. To do this, she joins a team of other ayakashimori headed by the troublesome Tokitsugu Semi, and moves to the realm of the Sakuratani which is peopled by these ayakashi.
It’s an intriguing premise, and promises to delve into a lot of mythical lore and explore dark themes. The game only really delivers on the first promise however – I certainly learnt a lot about Japanese ayakashi during the coarse of my playthrough but the general tone of the game was much more slice of life and comedy I felt, over serious storytelling. Whilst the character routes themselves did delve into darker topics as Akitsu got to know the various bachelors, the storyline itself kept firmly light-hearted. It’s a shame because whilst the visual novel was a fun read, it didn’t really portray itself as such through the marketing.
The game’s visuals are definitely one of it’s strong points with interesting character designs that look more sketchy in style like a manga, rather then the more polished designs we’ve been seeing of late in otome games. The initial menu screen is very atmospheric, with falling leaves of cherry blossom trees (which transitions to other areas in the game as you progress), and gorgeous music. The controls themselves are very smooth and there are some nice additions to the gameplay such as being able to choose what font you’d like the text to display in. Also handy for those people who like to keep track of what part of the story they’re in, the game updates in the top right corner whenever you enter into a new chapter or scene; although admittedly some of these frustratingly spoiler what will happen next. Once in the game proper, the colour palette is actually quite muted – generally in many tones of purple for the scenery and even the character designs favour a more subdued mix of shades. It’s in keeping perhaps with the world presented but I did find that it led to a more washed out look for the game.
The characters were something of a mixed bag for me – I thought the protagonist was very likable, especially given how she didn’t take the crap that her superior often gave her and in general was quite level headed when dealing with the various bachelors. I never felt like I knew her too well however, and part of that likely stems from how quickly the player is thrust into the world of Sakuratani – the story glosses completely over her background and her training before entering the world which would have been a great time to get to know her and learn alongside her. This was an issue I found throughout the game – time would pass in strange ways and it was often hard to work out exactly how long events were happening for. Sometimes a bunch of things would appear to happen all in one day and then it would suddenly skip forward a few days. There was an interesting mechanic of being able to pick on the map where you wanted Akitsu to go to next which determines your eventual route path, and whilst I liked how simple this was laid out, it often felt very disjointed when visiting the same place over and over like you would most likely be doing for a specific route.
I chose to go with the recommended initial route with Shiraktsuki who was an easy pick for me given that he was one of the few characters who actually was nice towards the protagonist – many of the ayakashi take on leadership roles within the Sakuratani and their different racial groups, and two of these were openly hostile to Akitsu from the get-go which didn’t really warm me to them. Akuroo, the oni, was one of the only other bachelors who intrigued me and in general I just didn’t find the other bachelors to be very appealing. One of the things I did appreciate however was the variety of endings on offer for each route – as well as the typical bad and good end, it was split three ways in this game. You could either end up in a Romance ending, a Broken Love ending (this game’s version of a bad end), or a Friendship ending which was a nice touch. There’s a small minigame too, meant to develop Akitsu’s skills, which takes the form of a battle but it’s very simple and only really necessary for one route in the game. At eight chapters, the game is a decent length but after the common route ends at Chapter Four, the game rapidly increases in pacing for the romantic section, which was a bit of shame as this was the part I was really looking forward to. Whilst I enjoyed the romantic route, (and the broken end was genuinely quite sad), I just wish it had been a bit longer so it didn’t feel so rushed.
Whilst the aesthetic and production of this game is absolutely gorgeous, overall I found this game to be lacking in regards to it’s main story and most of the love interest didn’t compel me enough to learn more about them. A fun game, but not one that I expect to remember a whole lot going forward, which is a shame as Dairoku has a lot of great ideas which could have been explored.
Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani
A light atmospheric read, Dairoku is a sweet romantic narrative with some cool worldbuilding.