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Review: Tsumikui ~Sen no Noroi, Sen no Inori~ (PC Otoge)

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Gosh, what's wrong with me? Two all-ages in a row? I need me some R-18 soon...

Read my spoiler talk here!

TITLE: 罪喰い ~千の呪い、千の祈り~ (Tsumikui ~Sen no Noroi, Sen no Inori~)
DEVELOPER: Operetta
RELEASE DATE: 19th of August 2016
RATING: All ages
GENRES & THEMES: Modern day Japan; High school setting; Reincarnation; Fantasy; Oji-san hero
PLATFORM: PC

Language the game was played in for this review:
Japanese

Anzaki Kaoru lost her parents when she was young, but she's never let this fact bring her down. She spends her days cheerfully with her classmates, the twins Souta and Motoko, and goes home to a loving adoptive father. Kaoru's fate shifts drastically, however, when a strange power awakens within her. Ren, the silver-haired boy that comes to her rescue, reveals that Kaoru is the reincarnation of the powerful princess of an ancient race known as the kami'ki, who's name was Sera. Because Sera committed a terrible crime against humanity, she was punished by having to reincarnate over and over, a cycle that will only be broken when she devours 1,000 "sinners". Kaoru must now continue this task, but the burden of Sera's previous lives, of which she holds no memories, may prove heavier than she imagined... 


The Story & Writing

A cast of ikemen in Heian clothes, what could possible sound more appealing??? (well, a cast of ikemen in Heian clothes or no clothes at all surrounded by cake would also be pretty neat, but you get my point).
This game's backstory gets pretty effing complicated, but the basics are (without spoiling too much):
The kami'ki (上樹の者) are magical people somewhat akin to gods. They are divided into two clans, the Kami-ha and Ukigumo. They're not exactly the best of pals, but they decide to put aside their differences and join Morihito of the Ukigumo clan and Princess Sera of the Kami-ha in marriage in order to become besties again. But Princess Sera fucks up bad by killing a bunch of humans, so the Ukigomo head, Lord Byakuya (Morihito's daddy), puts a curse on her: she will not be able to take back her powers until she devours 1,000 sinners. Ta-dah, thus the name of the game: Sin Eater ~A thousand Sins, a Thousand Prayers~.
Blah blah blah, shit happens, now all the kami'ki are cursed and nobody lives past 50, so an oji-san named Sen'ya, of a new clan called the Kuga, hates Morihito's daddy for what he did, and wants to kill Sera to stop the reincarnation cycle foreverrrrrr.
Cue dramatic guitar strum.

Tsumikui is quite the interesting game writing wise. First of all, there's a lot of inner monologues. Like, a lot of them. I'm still trying to decide whether this is good or bad. Reading through Kaoru's train of thought really helps build her character, which is one of the greatest things about this game: the fact that it has such a solid protagonist. Kaoru's an excellent heroin the likes I rarely come across in the otome world, and I'd like to kiss her pretty face. I loved how wilful and bent on survival she was. (๑♡⌓♡๑)
At the same time, however, the inner monologues cause the beginning of the game to drag on and on for quite a while. Scenes you expect to be short turn out to be bible long, because you have to plough trough Kaoru's thoughts first. It's not exactly a bad thing, but sometimes you get these big ass chunks of text amidst a fight scene, and by the time you've finished her monologue the sense of urgency in the fight has been lost (bye bye~). It's actually the reason why I took a huge break from the game — the common route is just so effing long!! Sometimes I'd space out halfway through a narration, lose sight of where the conversation was going and had to rely on the log function to re-read segments.
Nonetheless, there is much to praise about Tsumikui. Once you get used to all the wordiness for show it sometimes slips in you realise the game actually does a pretty darn good job at explaining the kami'ki backstory. It feeds it to you slowly and steadily, which helps you digest and understand it. I thought I'd get lost with all these curses and clan names, but it's all pretty cleverly explained. Props to the writers for that!

What I especially liked about this game's writing is that it introduced a lot of controversial points. For example, Kaoru struggles throughout most of the game with the fact that she has to "devour" people to keep on living. It's true she only "feeds" on criminals, but the action still disturbs her. I also really enjoyed how they took her relationships with the heroes to second base (wee-hee!) and how they carefully crafted the kami'ki world. You can tell a lot of care was put into the writing. There are a lot of details that aren't particularly important that make brief appearances in one route, but get expanded on in others. They never affect the story as a whole and some could argue they're unnecessary, but it gives the story a solid feeling that I was very grateful for. All in all, both story and writing were brilliant!

There's a total of five different routes in the game, all with characters linked to Kaoru's fate as "Princess Sera". Touji's route doesn't get unblocked until after you've completed Shio's route, and you can only play Ren's route until you've played all other four routes. My recommended playing order is as follows:

Shio → Touji → Morihito → Souta ↠ Ren
Subroutes; Enforced order

You can play Souta's route before Morihito's without a problem if you want, especially because Morihito's best end hooks nicely onto Ren's route, but because Souta's and Morihito's routes have a lot of common content whichever you choose play in second place may feel a lot less authentic? Your pick.


The Character Routes


Kuga Shio 陸 至央

CV: Tachibana Shinnosuke (立花 慎之介)

Kuga Shio is none other than Sen'ya's son, the head of the Kuga clan that wishes to rid the world of Sera forever. Despite being known as The Knight of Twilight (黄昏の騎士) and viewed dreamily buy every girl Kaoru's age, Shio is actually rotten to the core and twisted as hell. His one and only purpose in life is to kill Sera.
OH YEAH A HATE TO LOVE ROUTE BABY, OF COURSE I'D PLAY YOU FIRST, COME TO MAMA.

I swear to God these two adorkable muffins are the cutest couple on Earth - this route made me all giddy inside. I was playing whilst on a long distance train ride and I was smiling so stupidly at the screen I actually covered my face with my hair to spare the entire car from seeing the creeper grin I had plastered on my face. Good God, this route was so full of doki doki, and it was both everything I wanted and at the same time completely unexpected.
I thought I'd be down for a "bad boy is enlightened by good girl and and has a change of heart" type route, but it sort of turned out a bit like Romeo and Juliet(?), minus the double suicide ending. Tsumikui surprised my by going with an entirely different approach. In this route, Kaoru finds herself strangely attracted to Shio because he's the only one who sees her as who she is, not as Sera, and Shio turns out not to be a "real" bad guy... just another victim in Sen'ya's messed up plan. I guess it's technically not a hate→love route since Shio doesn't really hate Kaoru, he just wants to kill her(?) (I know that sounds like nonsense but trust me when I say it makes sense). I'd say I'm disappointed they decided to make Shio a good guy rather than a bad guy who goes through a change of heart, but honestly I loved the route so much I have no complaints. Their romance is just so effing sweet, I can't. (*’∀’人)♥
Additional Shio's ending has a very definite air of finality to it, and I think it's probably the strongest route in the game. The epilogue was a bit odd and too happy-go-lucky for my taste, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

PS: The fact that he has the same voice actor as Madoka from Balckish House, the game I played before Tsumikui, really caught me by surprise...


Kuga Touji 陸 任史

CV: Takemoto Eiji (竹本 英史)
Branches off: Shio's route.

Kuga Touji is Shio's butler, and the man Shio's considers to be his real father. Likewise, Touji thinks of Shio as his own son, and loves him deeply, following him wherever he goes and always prioritising Shio's safety over all.
......................................... I hated this route. I hated it. I ran from it until it caught up with me and cornered me.
Okay, hear me out. First of all, let's come out clean: I'm not a fan of oyaji-san routes. Like, big no no. I'm okay-ish when they pop up in historical games because modern society values don't apply, but modern-day settings make the situation pretty uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I'm open minded and will recognise a good love story where there is one. And to a point, to a certain point, I will admit Touji's route manages to sell the romance between him and Kaoru decently enough.
Except Touji's involvement in Shio's route made it creepy as fuck. The problem isn't Touji route content — it was pretty standard in that sense: the Kuga and Kamiki make a truce, so Touji and Kagerou (a cute cat-like boy) are sent to act as "Sera's" bodyguards in order to make sure she successfully devours 1,000 sinners. The problem, ladies and gents, was the way Touji's character was portrayed. You see, Touji goes full-out protective daddy in Shio's route, not just with Shio himself but with Kaoru, too. It was so incredibly disturbing to see a character that had acted in such fatherly fashion towards Kaoru suddenly be treated as her romantic interest. It just didn't sit well with me, and I kid you not, I cringed throughout his entire route. Heck, I took breaks from the game. Looong loooooooong breaks.
Me, throughout the entire route.

Okay, enough with the harsh judging: despite me hating the romance, Touji's route actually falls within the better routes of the game story-wise. It's the only route that has an ending that isn't really a happy one. And for that, I give it a good old pat in the back, because bittersweet endings are always a lot more memorable. Though to be honest, the absolute best part of the route is the mini side-story Kagerou gets. I shit you not, I almost cried in the ending that sweet baby got.


Kamiki Morihito 上樹 守人

CV: Ono Yuuki (小野 友樹)

Kamiki Morihito is the head of the Kamiki house, and the reincarnation of Sera's beloved. He has been patiently waiting over a thousand years for Sera to devour 1,000 sinners so that he may marry her. Morihito is an overly protective man who's love for Sera runs incredibly deep, and unfortunately only views Kaoru as Sera's reincarnation.
I was a bit sceptical about whether I'd come to like Morihito because of the bad guy role he takes up in Shio's route, but I ended up quite liking the guy. He's so awkward and straightforward it's hard not to find him cute after a while, he's just one big teddy-bear.
HOWEVER. I can't really say I found his route exciting. See, most of Morihito's route is spent trying to get him to understand Kaoru ≠ Sera —which was a rather painfully slow battle, yet one worth fighting— but that's pretty much all there is to the route. It was charming to see them train and study together like true nakama, but there really wasn't anything in Morihito's route that made me squeal and throw my knickers in the air (boo-hoo). I wouldn't say Morihito's route is bad per-say, but it's incredibly underwhelming when juxtaposed with Shio's. These two routes inevitably compete with one another in the same category, and unfortunately compared to the ups and downs you go through in Shio's route, Morihito's route progressed a little bit too smoothly and came off as bland. His bad ending didn't move me, either. Heck, even the climax of the story was awfully boring and sloppy. The fight with the last boss (Sen'ya oji-san) was just sort of like, "aaaaaaand we're done, yippee!" (seriously though, what the hell?)
All in all, I was quite disappointed in Morihito's route. The romance was sweet and all, but I was hoping it would be equally as exciting as Shio's. It was nice to see Morihito finally accept Kaoru for who she was and stop calling her Sera (something he persistently does throughout all the other routes, which was really annoying), but I guess the reason the route didn't come off as ground-breaking was because, ultimately, Kaoru isn't defying fate in any way but hooking up with this guy. She's still ending up with the same guy her self from a thousand years ago fell for, and other than defeating Sen'ya, there's no real struggle in this route.


Tai Souta 田井 蒼太

CV: Enoki Jun'ya (榎木 淳弥)
Branches off: Morihito's route.

Souta is Kaoru's best friend, classmate, and the dictionary definition of a bishonen. He and his twin angelic sister, Motoko, are a killer handsome combo, and care very much about Kaoru. Souta is very obviously head over heals in love with Kaoru, but she's too dense (like, astronomically dense) to notice his feelings.
Souta's route was... disappointing. When character designs & backstory got released, Souta was actually the character I was most interested in. It's a pity his route was handled so carelessly :(
Souta's route feels like a consolation prize. Unlike Touji's route, that happens by paying more attention to him than to Shio, Souta's route happens when you simply pick the wrong options in Morihito's route. It pops out of nowhere, despite Souta not having much to do with the first half of Morihito's route. I see why it's a subroute to his, but the transition felt pretty awkward.
Heck, the fact that it had so much shared content with Morihito's route didn't help, either. The climax to the story (i.e. the fight with the last boss, Sen'ya oji-san) is also extremely similar. I didn't like Touji's route, but bro, at the very least it was nicely crafted and distinctly different from Shio's route. Ultimately, there's nothing interesting in Souta's route beyond the surprising revelation we get halfway. It was sweet watching Kaoru model for Souta so that he could draw her, but overall I found Souta's route incredibly boring. ┐( ̄ヮ ̄)┌


Nagami Ren (永海 連)

CV: Akabane Kenji (赤羽根 健治)

Nagami Ren is Sera's retainer, and the only one who can help her reincarnations in devouring 1,000 sinners. He has supported Sera for over a thousand years, and cares deeply about Kaoru. He however clearly despises Morihito, and wants Kaoru to lead as normal a life as possible.
Ren is a very... complicated character. He fades in and out of the picture in all other routes without so much as a warning, but here and there the story would drop in hints that there's more to his story with Sera than what he's let on. His route pays particular attention to what happened in Kaoru's immediately previous life as Sera, and the reason why she has no memories of being "Sera" overall.
I enjoyed Ren's route a lot! This cinnsinamon roll deserves to be happy, okay? It wasn't as crazy doki-doki romantic as I desperately wanted it to be, but it delivered. Finding out more about Kaoru's past as Sera was incredibly exciting, as was finally hearing more about Ren and his life as "Renki". You can definitely argue his backstory with Sera makes him the endgame hero.
What I found especially interesting about Ren's route is that it actually managed to keep all characters appealing. You know how sometimes when a certain route has to be played last it's because its sort of the true route, and sometimes the contents invalidate the other romances? For example, by turning the other heroes into the bad guys? I was convinced this was what would happen in the end, but it actually kept everyone on the good side.... which was surprising, because I was so dead sure Morihito would end up the bad guy. I was a bit disappointed, because I'm a sucker for games with "true routes" that put a nice neat end to a game, but it was pleasant to see that all the other routes were still valid.
Nonetheless, Ren's happy ending is possibly the best of all, simply because everyone in it is happy. So I guess to a certain extent it is the true route of the game? I don't know, you decide.


The Voice Acting

Nothing in particular to comment about the voice acting. I enjoyed the cast, and was grateful to find that every character with a line in the game was voiced, regardless of whether they were important or not. Special props to Uchida Mami (内田 愛美) for her work as Kaoru, because she really brought out her character. I'm pretty sure she also voiced Sera? But I can't find her name down anywhere... anyway, if she did, awesome job on that too, because both characters were distinctly different.


The Artwork

ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. I loved the artwork for this game! Props to you, Amatsu Nagi, for your awesome work with the sprites and CGs. I'm going to keep an eye out on you!! An the CGs are partly animated! Nothing too elaborate: hair that flows a bit, eyelids that flutter, sparkly cool effects added to simulate the magic in the game... still, it was a beautiful plus. They were incredibly pleasing, and I have close to no complaints. If anything I'd say I wished Touji's sprite looked more like his CG self, because lord, he looks so stern and old in his sprite mode, but so handsomely youthful in the CGs.


The Music

Fantastic soundtrack, but I think this game had a very short playlist overall? Or perhaps that's just the impression I got because of how long some of these pieces were played in the background... I liked pretty much all of them, but I got tired of the entire score by the time I finished the game. I didn't particularly care for the opening and ending songs, but there was this one particular piece that played during happy moments that I loved, and I really regret that the system didn't have a function to listen to the tracks individually ლ(。-﹏-。 ლ)


The System & Gameplay

Beautiful interface that looks exactly like the official webpage. I loved their choice of colours, and it was pretty easy to navigate through. The only thing I would say was missing is a dictionary of terms, sor of like what Ken ga Kimi or a dozen other otome games had. It would've been extremely useful to keep track of all the kami'ki terminology, but seeing as it's not too overwhelming (unlike all the terminology in Yoshiwara Higanbana) I'll forgive it. Plus the game made up for it by adding a mysteries section, with a brief explanation of the "mysteries" that you'd uncovered about the events in Kaoru's previous lives as Sera throughout the routes. I thought that was extremely helpful, so I guess that other than not being able to freely listen to the music, I really have no complaints.


Conclusions

Tsumikui has been an awfully interesting ride. It's been a long time since I play a game with anything magical in it (the last one being Ayakashi Gohan), and it took me a while to get a hang of the story. None the less, despite my initial dissatisfaction with the game, I ended up enjoying what Tsumikui had to offer. I was hoping it would place higher up in my rankings, but it was still one hell of a game. My favourite character in the game was Ren, but my favourite routes, from least to most, were: SoutaToujiMorihitoRenShio. I didn't like Touji's character, but his route was definitely more interesting that Souta's. I'd say Ren and Shio tied in first place because both routes were brilliant, but Shio's route had me going batshit crazy as fuck, asdfghjkl (°◡°♡).:。 Probably because out of all the heroes he's the only one who doesn't have anything to do with Kaoru's previous life as Sera and that was refreshing? (I don't count Touji because *shivers* ew).

The Good:

  • Protagonist with a voice!!
  • Protagonist's default name gets called!!!
  • Protagonist with a personality that acts as one more character in the story!!!!! (praise the lord)
  • Very carefully crafted fantasy setting that slowly but surely comes together.
  • Gorgeous drawings.
  • Partly animated CGs that look amazing.

The Bad:

  • Slow beginning; the story takes quite a bit to pick up and really become interesting.
  • A lot of Kaoru inner monologues that can sometimes feel like wordiness for show.
  • Quite the complex story, so those who play VNs relying on translators might find it hard to follow.
  • OJI-SAN ROUTE, UNGH.


FINAL VERDICT!

‘Tis good stuff, methinks

I didn't enjoy the game as much as I thought I would, but Tsumikui still delivered.
I definitely have to write up a spoiler talk to organise all the resolved mysteries and make sense out of them...

Ungh, these two are so frikin' perfect...

Posted on: 20/11/2016



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4 comments:

  1. This was so entertaining to read! lol I wish I could play it, the artwork is beautiful!

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  2. If the otome or otoge has the protagonist voiced , is in my top list regardles if its good or bad.

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    1. I feel you sister; it just gives them more character.

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  3. OOOOO had my eye on this for some time. Glad to know it's not a bad game and I sure agree with you on the whole oji-sans....
    I'm so glad Kaoru is an awesome protagonist. What I was confused about though is why reincarnation is a bad thing? It seems like a good thing since you live over and over. Haha maybe it was explained more in the game but that didn't sound like a punishment to me :P

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