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Review: Chou no Doku, Hana no Kusari (PC R-18 Otoge)

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I decided to open up this blog with one of the best R-18 otome games I’ve ever played. 

This post includes one slightly suggestive image, but other than that it's SFW! Worry not. No nipples, bananas or bunnys to see here.

TITLE: 蝶の毒 華の鎖 (Chou no Doku Hana no Kusari)
DEVELOPER: Aromarie
RELEASE DATE: 27th May 2011
RATING: +18
GENRES&THEMES: Otome Game; Past Japan; Taisho Era; Incest; Butler hero; Rich suitor; Osananajimi hero, Half-Japanese hero; Murder; Nobility
PLATFORM: PC

The story revolves around Yuriko Nomiya, the daughter of a noble family in the Taisho period (1912—1926). That said, her family isn’t particularly rich. Her spoilt mother has spent so much money that they now have a very big debt to pay back. Her gentle father did nothing to stop it, and now he wants to make sure Yuriko doesn’t have to suffer any longer. On the night of her coming of age birthday, a magnificent party is set up with the purpose of finding her a good, rich husband. But, alas! Some rouges attack, aiming to kill all nobility involved in politics, and her father is unjustly murdered.
In an attempt to solve the mystery behind this murder and the bellflowers found at the scene, Yuriko will unveil the dark secrets her family has been keeping, and will realise the people she though she knew so well are not what they seem. With someone trying to destroy everything she has, what is to become of Yuriko and her household?



The Story&Writing

I shall not deny that this story seems to have come straight out of a chick-flick Asian drama (or any drama, really). All you need is the sexy, rich, selfish asshole who wants to marry the heroin and ta-da! OH WAIT HE’S IN HERE TOO WON’T YOU LOOK AT THAT HAHAHAHAHAHA.
I wasn't particularly impressed with ChouHana summary when I first read it, but God am I glad I picked this one up. Despite it’s cliché setting, that seems to have set its mind on ticking off a bucket list of otoge tropes, this stuff is actually good!! I don't know if it's just that I hadn't played an otoge in a very long time, but I enjoyed the shit out of this little golden egg. As much as it sounds cliché, it I was surprised to find it actually wasn't so much so. The idea is that it isn’t just the romance, but the mystery behind the tragedy that befalls on Yuriko’s family that’s gripping. And man, it was jaw-dropping at some points. I went into this game not knowing much more than the summary I just gave you, and was very shocked to learn the different truths behind the characters and the overall truth behind her father’s murder. I was more than worth my time, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing it again. Bless this game.
I was particularly impressed with Yuriko as the main heroin, because she's not completely useless and could stand on her own two feet. Her life is practically falling apart and she doesn't just sit there staring at the clouds above: she gets her shit together and decides she's going to do everything she can to get to the bottom of this mystery. You go gurl!!  (๑•̀ㅂ•́)و✧
The game is written in 3rd person narrative perspective, which took a while to get used to, seeing as most VNs are written in 1st person, but eventually I felt it was a fresh detail and added to the novel’s charm. I really enjoyed the detailed writing, though because it's an epoch drama it has hefty amount of old words that are either out of use or unusual. Most of them have furigana, but it might be a tricky narration to get through if you're starting with the language or if you rely only on translators to play VNs. The style was very classy, adding to the setting's atmosphere. I also really liked that the heroin’s default name, Yuriko, was called out if you selected it as her name.

There’s no enforced playing order, but you have to play Shiba’s, Hideo’s, Mizuhito’s and Fujita’s routes before the normal route can be unblocked, and once you’ve completed the normal route Majima’s route gets unblocked. My recommended playing order is:

Hideo -> Shiba -> Fujita -> Mizuhito -> Normal Route -> Majima

The Characters


Shiba Junichi 斯波 純一

CV: Masayuki Katou

Please welcome onto stage the scumbag Shiba Junichi.
Shiba is the rich as fuck business man that saves our MC oujou-san at her birthday party from getting her brain split into two by one of the rouges. He’s a cheeky bastard and always gets his way with women, though of course, the only woman he’s really ever loved is Yuriko (obviously, duh, I thought we had settled the cliché bucket list had been fully ticked off). He’s forcible and does whatever he wants to do, losing his temper very easily when things don’t go the way he wants them to. He offers to pay off the debt Yuriko’s household has accumulated, but in exchange Yuriko must marry him…
What to say about this guy? His route was like skipping up a beautiful mountain and then falling off a cliff: It was a straight drop into pitch black darkness. The great majority of the route is about Shiba trying to win Yuriko over with his pompous attitude and Yuriko rejecting his approaches because she absolutely hates him. Not that this is enough to stop him, of course. Shiba’s cheekiness was great—he’s a very fun character. I loved how he just went ahead and announced Yuriko was his fiancé when she hadn't even agreed to their marriage, and to a certain extent I enjoyed his forcefulness. But then he loses his temper, and then he almost rapes her, and then it wasn't as much fun anymore. I didn't buy the whole hate-to-love transition. It just felt forced. You’re telling me that after what he did you fell for him? I'm not buying that, sorry. Excuse me waiter, my story is missing a big chunk in the middle where the guy does nice things and gets forgiven. Where did that go???? 
I’ll give the writing team a few star stickers for the writing though, because when Shiba lost his temper suddenly he was terrifying, like it should’ve been. It honesty shocked me when he did and I found myself very disturbed by the scene. Props to that.
I ended up enjoying his bad endings the most. They were awesome. I’m sorry, but that’s the only way his character made any sense to me. They’re not nice, obviously, but they honestly fit him better.I didn’t feel sorry for him or for Yuriko in them, I just enjoyed watching everyone suffer. I regret nothing.

Ozaki Hideo 尾崎 秀雄

CV: Junji Majima

My God was Hideo adorable. Please, these two together were so sweet I awwwwed and daaaaawwwed throughout their whole route.
Ozaki Hideo is a soldier and Yuriko’s childhood friend, who’s been in love with her from God knows when (the cliché bucket liiiiiiiiiiiiist). Their households have been very close for a long time, so naturally they often played together as children. However, he has become very cold towards her as of recently, mainly because Yuriko’s mother looks down on his family, which is part of the ‘new nobility’ which has risen to power through effort alone.
I wasn’t too fond of Hideo’s character design before playing the game - I’m not too into megane characters. Contrary to my expectations, this turned out to be one of my favourite routes. It's a real treat, incredibly satisfying. Friendly affection turns to love and they slowly warm up to each other, boy did my heart ached during this route. The writers were very smooth with this one, it was a big change from Shiba's route. They just fall in love naturally, their interaction felt less strained than relationships in other routes, and Hideo’s the only one that feels as though he saw Yuriko as an equal. Plus one of the bad endings had me in tears (yes I’d like 3 rolls of extra strung duct tape to stick my heart back together). 
Let me add that the climax of the plot, that is, the revelation of who is responsible for the series of disasters that have befallen Yuriko, was one of the best ones. Loved it; I actually tensed up. I wish I had played Hideo’s route first so that I could've found out in his route rather than in Shiba’s route.
All in all, I was a happy bunny playing his route.

Fujita Hitoshi 藤田 均

CV: Hiroki Yasumoto

Fujita is the household’s steward. His father was British, and his skin pale as fuck his mysterious eyes and tall figure seem quite frightening to Yuriko. Fujita is a very polite man who isn’t very expressive. He loves sweets and is always carrying some on him. He is very attached to the Nomiyas, as he feels in debt to them, and wishes to serve them forever. Yuriko doesn’t know much about Fujita, but after the death of her parents he becomes her new source of hope. The main struggle during his route is that Fujita can’t get over the fact that Yuriko is nobility, and he is just a servant.
What to say about his route? Well, I can’t really decide whether I enjoyed it or disliked it. Fujita was a bit too polite and uptight for my liking, though I really enjoyed how Yuriko was the one that had to drive their relationship he was too much of a coward to make a move on her. He’s sweet, loving and caring, but his personality didn’t pull me in too much. However what was most off-putting was his age. Fujita is old enough to be Yuriko’s father… he has literally been working for her family since she was tiny. Yuriko might be of legal age, but that doesn't change the fact that he's twice her age. Twice. her. age.
I did, however, like how throughout the game and in all other routes Fujita is Yuriko's one and only certain ally, and it was very sweet to watch that develop into a more profound sentiment. Other than his weird ass masochistic ending (boy was that ending wild...), he was a good character to play. He also has this one bad ending that has absolutely nothing to do with him that goes off on a completely different tangent that I absolutely loved. I need a whole new game out of that ending, and I need it urgently.

Mizuhito 瑞人

CV: Daisuke Hirakawa

Oh my goodness. I wanted to pull my hairs out throughout this route ლ(ಠ益ಠლ
Mizuhito is Yuriko’s older brother (kinda not really related) who speaks SO quietly I had to lower the volume of the BG music to fucking hear him… he looks drugged half the time and his passive way of speaking and talking made the inner serial killer I have in me want to strangle him to death. Have some vitamins hun, you need them.
Mizuhito is an artist and a poet—he is a sensitive guy. He wanted to study painting abroad but his parents wouldn’t allow him and he had to give up his dream. Ever since then, Mizuhito has enjoyed the company of the women that walk the re-light district, and Yuriko feels he is a lost cause. Mizuhito doesn’t give a shit about their family reputation, and he dotes on Yuriko so much that sometimes it’s rather creepy, especially during the other routes. Needless to say, he’s never seen Yuriko as a sister.
There was something about Mizuhito that just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t have a problem with incest routes (they can be great if pulled off correctly, if!), and to begin with this technically isn’t one. But it’s just—… his character. I couldn’t stand it. Every time he talked it gave me the creeps. He was just so passive, he sounded like he’d pass out any moment. Their relationship kind of just ‘happens’ awkwardly, and he still refers to her as his ‘cute little sister’, which was weird seeing as he’s supposedly always seen her as a woman.
I didn’t really like his character, but his route was alright I guess, objectively speaking. His good ending is actually my favourite—the whole climax of the story (meaning, who’s behind the series of misfortunes the Nomiyas have gone through) was spectacular. I enjoyed it a lot, so props to that.
Overall, however, I found him very creepy...

Majima 真島

CV: Takashi Kondou

Majima’s route drove me nuts. Nuts in the sense that I couldn’t get enough of him and wanted to kiss the computer screen several times.
Majima is the sweet, lovely gardener that’s been working for a while for Yuriko’s household. He’s a lady killer, though he’s not really interested in women at the moment. Yuriko’s been crushing on him for a while already—she loves his gentleness and how he smells of flowers. We don’t know much about him other than that he’s in his twenties.
Majima is quite a difficult character to review, as he is the game’s OTP and the character you can only play once you’ve completed all other routes + the normal route where you end up forever alone with no darling—hence his whole route is a spoiler. He doesn’t have what you’d say a perfect ending—the ‘happy’ ending he has involves Yuriko not really knowing the truth about him (BUT IT WAS AWESOME), and his bad endings end, well, quite very badly (BUT THEY WERE AWESOME TOO)
Yes: I am very biased for Majima. No: I am not ashamed to admit it. Playing all other routes was worth it to get this golden egg. Unngh my kokoro aches. Their love scenes were magnificent and god I ship them so hard. I loved Majima’s character, too. His dark side heavily contrasted with his usual attitude, but you can see where and how the two merge together.
Majima is perfection.

Amami Kyouko 天海 鏡子

CV: Masako Katsuki

Amami Kyouko is someone who pretty much helps the story advance in a lot of occasions and is an essential figure when it comes to deciphering the mystery behind the tragedy. She’s really just an extra character, but shedoes get a yuri ending in one of the bad routes, soooo…
Kyouko is Yuriko’s mother’s childhood friend, and the rich daughter of a very famous merchant family that sells liquor. She loves cute things and absolutely adores Yuriko. She’s basically the main reason why Yuriko’s mother spent so much money and was livin' la vida loca—spending time with someone so rich must’ve made her want the same things.
I loved Kyouko, but I found her yuri ending very creepy. Overall I felt slightly disappointed seeing as I was expecting her to have a greater part in the mystery as a whole, especially since every character warns Yuriko not to get too involved with her. I’m not really sure where to place this lady, she confuses me. I love her, but that ending makes me shiver...

The Voice Acting

Special mention to Majima’s CV, Takashi Kondou, because his voice acting was TOP-NOTCH and his sex scenes where the most believable. You’re a cool guy Kondou—I shall remember thy name. The rest of the mains would pretty much scream a few seconds into the scene and it just didn’t work for me.
Props to Masayuki Katou too, Shiba’s CV, because my god he sounded very natural. He was cheeky, his laugh seemed genuine, and when he suddenly got angry it was scary as fuck and very surprising. It really felt like I was dealing with someone with anger issues. H scenes aside, everything else voiced by him was incredibly believable.
May I also mention Masako Katsuki, who voiced Kyouko. She was great. I loved her character, and it’s mainly because Katsuki’s voice acting was just so good. Her fufufus and hahahas and cheeky talk, full of jokes and hidden meanings, were just so perfectly executed I wished she had a bigger role to play in the storyline. Katsuki successfully managed to portray Kyouko as a dignified, clever and strategic woman that knows how to pull the rights strings to get people to dance for her.
Those three would be my special mentions. The rest of the actors did a spectacular job too, it all felt very real, but these three were particularly stunning. Props to the whole team. Awesome work. Pity the protagonist doesn't have a voice... I always find voiceless MCs lacking. 

The H scenes

Every character has 2 H scenes in their Happy routes (one during the route, and one that happens after the epilogue) and at least one H scene in one of their bad ending (EXCEPT MAJIMA. STUPID DECENT IDIOT). The game wasn’t drowned in sex, which was awesome. Sex is cool, but this game has a plot to carry out; a story; a mystery. 
The great majority of the CGs are angled so that you can’t really see anything, which is typical in otoges (I don’t know what makes them think we don’t want to see more bananas), and Yuriko’s boobs were proportional and of a size that made sense, thank you very much. The one thing I shall complain about is... The men’s nipples. Because they have none. And ladies, I don’t know about you, but I like my men with nipples. I found this very distracting. What problem does Japan have with men and nipples? I fail to understand.
The H scenes where generally very good, I especially loved everything to do with Majima (GOD DAMN IT WHY DID HE ONLY HAVE TWO H SCENES). Most bad endings just turn the interaction between the datable character and Yuriko quite repulsive (obsessive, possessive, you chose the word). Some had Yuriko falling into depravity and ending up as a sort of prostitute, which was very fit as part of the series of misfortunes that befall on her family. More often than not R-18 Otome games tend to just head into the forest world of rape for no reason, ruining perfectly likeable characters for no justifiable reason. So congratulations Chou no Doku, for not ruining any characters for me.

The Artwork

The arwork in this game is holy. It was the main reason why I checked out this game in the first place. Illustrations and character designs are by the very talented Amano Chigiri, and I shall build a temple in her honour and pray that she illustrates more otoges, because her artwork makes my world go round. She’s a shoujo manga writer and light novel illustrator, and I can’t wait to get my paws on some of her works now that I know about her. Instant. fan.
Plus the men are sexy. Very sexy. Mizuhito’s sprite looked nothing like how he appeared in the CGs, though. And Majima is just a godly creature. Bless his beautiful face (ノ・ェ・)ノ
My only complaint towards the artwork is Yuriko's hair: sometimes her hairdo made her head look like a balloon. And there was this one CG with Shiba where it looked like she had no face, which was disturbingly creepy. Aside from this, I have no complaints. 


The Music

The music was pretty good. It has this very classy feeling to it, though there were one or two very annoying tracks (as there always is in every VN score). However the vast majority of the OST was great, and I actually listened to some of the pieces afterwards. Some of the slow, more melancholic pieces are lovely. They had me in tears at some points where I wasn’t even expecting to feel anything for the characters. Music is important, kids!
All in all, wonderful score. It took me a bit to get used to it, but it was great. I also loved the opening and ending themes, they were so stunningly beautiful. I keep listening to them—they’re wonderful.
Hana kaori, namida horobi~ *skips away singing*

System & Gameplay

For those who don’t understand kanji it’s going to be a nightmare to navigate through the game. Since the game is set in the Taishou era all the options are in kanji (as it usually is in historical VNs), but it’s nothing you can’t easily figure out through trial-and-error.
The dialogue box had a simple design, and everything was pretty straightforward. Simple system. Easy to navigate through. Good for stupid people like me. My only complaint is that in  made annoying CLICKCLICK sounds when you hovered your mouse over the options, but it's nothing you can't get over.

Conclusions

I was very, very, very impressed by this game. I think it's pretty clear how much I enjoyed it by now, so I'll just go ahead and do a quick highlight of what I liked and didn't like:

The Good:

  • The beautiful artwork.
  • The amazing storyline.
  • Characters don’t get ruined (too much) after bad endings.
  • The heroin isn't excessively plain, and playing as her isn't a pain in the neck
  • Majima
  • Majima
  • Majima
  • Did I mention Majima?

The Bad:

  • Includes a lot of historical and cultural references - might be a bit confusing for those not too familiar with Japan.
  • The protagonist doesn’t have a voice...
  • Majima didn’t have enough H scenes
  • Majima didn’t have enough badass time
  • There wasn’t enough Majima in this game.


FINAL VERDICT!

BANANAS


PLAY IT. NAO.
Really, I’m not kidding. I can’t even begin to explain how pleased I was with this game. Absolutely loved it.

Look at them, they're just so shippable...



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3 comments:

  1. So enjoyed reading your reviews! Majima, Majima, Majima! XD Just a beginner in learning Japanese, I might give up early on, but I really wanna try playing these games! Thank you for the fun read of your reviews! Super enjoyed them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Naww thank you!! I wrote this review such a long time ago - looking through it now brings back all the feels.... MAJIMAAAA *sobs*

      Delete
  2. Thanks a lot about review! The CG is so beautiful. I wanna play this game because of the art and the Taisho area but I can't play the game although I've installed it :(

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