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Review: Blackish House Side Z (PC Otoge)

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Or how I like to call it, The Orphaned Boys Edition.
(no really, I'm not joking, that's the title this game should've been given)


TITLE: ブラッキッシュハウス Side Z (Blackish House Side Z)
DEVELOPER: honeybee black
RELEASE DATE: 28th April 2017
RATING: All ages
GENRES & THEMES: Modern day Japan; Same roof; Showbiz; Music; Acting; High school setting; Osananajimi hero
PLATFORM: PC

Language the game was played in for this review:
Japanese

Amano Hina possess no 'self'. However, through acting she is able to become someone else and find inner peace. She balances her work as an actress with her studies, living a relatively peaceful life with her childhood friends and flatmates Nayuta and Haruma... That is, until she and nine other celebs get called in by her agency, SeiGetsu Production, and are labelled as problematic. Be it their attitude or their personalities, the ten talented stars here gathered may have the looks needed for the trade, but they also have something that is hindering their work in the showbiz, and the agency has decided to terminate their contracts.
Luckily or unluckily for them, there is a way to save their careers: it involves all of them living in a run-down mansion for half a year, cooperate with one another, and successfully produce a musical performance on Christmas day. Should they fail the agency will make sure they can never be a part of the showbiz again. The task seems straightforward enough, but will these ten drastically peculiar individuals —a mix of actors, dancers, seiyuu, idols and models— really be able to put aside their differences, join hands and create a musical together? And should they succeed, what is it that they'll gain at the end of it all?
So because this is the second part to a game I've already reviewed I'll be skipping the music, artwork, and system & gameplay sections, seeing as my thoughts on those haven't really changed from my previous review. That said, let's get this party started!



Story & Writing


Ahoy my ikemen- and bishonen-thirsty pirates! It's time to finally let the sails unfold and set sail on the SS. Tragic Bois Ensemble. We're heading straight for the icebergs, so hold on tight and don't let goooOOOooooo!!!
Alright mateys, I'm going to keep all spoilers from both SideA and Z away from this review post in case any of you lovelies out there want captain this ship of doom yourselves one day, but just a word of warning: though SideZ is perfectly playable before SideA, I sincerely recommend you play SideA first. There's a few reasons for this, but the game is laid out in such a way that playing in this order assures the most satisfying experience, and there are things that go down in SideA that build up the intrigue that you're going to want to know before starting SideZ.
However! SideZ is not an 'extension' to SideA; there are slight changes in the overall atmosphere of the game. To begin with, the way the story starts is entirely different and the common route is way shorter. This was an extremely pleasant surprise, because it sets SideZ aside as it's own game and gives SideA players something to look forward to in part 2 of the saga. I really liked that the characters address the strangeness of their situation —why set them up like this when there are other quicker ways to fix their messed up personalities?— and that Haruma was actually selected to join the program, as opposed to willingly joining himself. It helped make sense out of the more senseless aspects of SideA.
One of the things that I like most about the Blackish House games, that thankfully has also travelled on to SideZ, is that each route comes with a unique set of side characters that make in appearance and spin a new story. It really helps build the BH universe, and gives the player something to look forward to in each route, so props to that!! (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑
However... though I was looking forward to this game more than Christmas, I regret to inform I did not enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped I would. Before you start throwing vegetables onto the stage, hear me out. There was one seemingly small but very obvious difference in SideZ that didn't sit too well with me: Hina's personality. Hina is portrayed in the beginning of SideA as an 'empty' person. She has no 'self,' no 'personality,' no 'aspirations.' Thus acting is a form of escapism for her, because she can become someone else entirely through it. SideA sees her break through this empty shell until she finds a strong passion for her job.
Hina in SideZ is... different. The core elements are still there: she still lacks a strong will, but rather than feeling like an empty, expressionless person, she's a shy, introverted girl that's happy to do as she's been told. Her dependence on Haruma is much more evident in SideZ, which is understandable, seeing as he's SideZ's "true route," but come onnnn... I missed the assertive Hina from SideA. :'(
But to be honest, that's not the main reason I didn't enjoy SideZ as much as SideA. Sure, I felt that Z-Hina was more willing than A-Hina to let herself be tossed around and be used by the heroes to overcome their demons, but I guess in essence you could say the game just didn't live up to my explosive expectations.

As with SideA there's no ~absolute~ playing order, but I've arranged it so that the routes build up towards Haruma's route, as whether you like it or not Haruma tends to steal the spotlight:

Sera → Nayuta → Noa ↠ Haruma

I initially thought Nayuta and Haruma's route would be the ones to be played side by side, but it turns out they have little to do with each other, and Noa's route is very fucking long and has a very convincing air of finality, so I recommend playing him last of the non-Harma routes. Truth be told you can play Nayuta's and Sera's routes in whatever order you want.


The Character Routes

Akune Sera 阿久根 セラ

CV: Aoi Shouta(蒼井 翔太)

Akune Sera is a very popular idol, and Spark Locus's centre. He's handsome and an extremely talented singer and dancer... but unfortunately his real persona is completely different from the one he shows on stage. The truth is Sera is very moody and has a tendency to boss people around. Though the effort he puts into his work is admirable, he's extremely easy to irritate. In his route, Hina and Sera strike a deal to teach each other the arts of their trades when Hina gets chosen to star in a musical, and Sera in a TV drama.
Sera's route...... was a challenge for me, in many ways. It's not that it was completely devoid of good things, but I admit I found a good fraction of it extremely annoying. To begin with, it crossed a line I don't think any otoge should cross. I won't spoil the game, but I'll warn that halfway through the route Sera does something pretty shitty to Hina. Did it manage to make amends for it? Yes, the route strives to save the romance from the shithole it gets thrown into, and yes, I guess at the end of the day all's well that ends well, but there's no washing away the bitter taste left behind.
And if only that were it. Oh, if only... The worse part is Sera spends 9/10's of his route being an absolute dick. Like, even after Hina helps him overcome his trust issues once, he still acts like a right dick around her. For a huge fucking chunk of the route.


Okay, so, there were a few scenes after they finally manage to clean up all the shit in Sera's life that did make my heart go kyun-kyun, but ultimately there was too much no-go content in this route for me to really enjoy it.

PS. What I found most hilarious about the route is that Haruma gets practically erased from it, like, his sprite doesn't even pop up at all. There's this ridiculous Christmas party scene near the end where it becomes so obvious that Haruma's the only character being left out of the narration even though he's physically there it's hard not to laugh. I had to order an oxygen tank because I cOULDn't BReATHE.


Yuuki Nayuta 結城 那由多

CV: Kimura Ryouhei (木村 良平)

This boy's purity level is over 9000...
Pure boy Nayuta the ridiculously talented dancer is, together with Haruma, Hina's childhood friend and "family." The three of them grew up together in the same orphanage, and have always lived supporting and encouraging one another. To Hina, though they may not be connected by blood, Nayuta is no different from a baby brother.
In his route, Hina jumps in to give the extremely introverted Nayuta a few pushes when he finds himself shying away from interacting with the rest of the housemates. Likewise, Nayuta helps Hina overcome her doubts about acting and encourages her to move forwards in her career. The struggle comes when their feelings for each other overcome the boundaries of filial love, but neither can find the courage to break the sister-brother relationship they have shared all these years...
As with Sera's route, Nayuta's route was another complicated ride for me, but for entirely different reasons. I suggest you wear your sunglasses when playing through, because this boy is so pure he is blinding. Honest to God, after all the shit the Blackish House series has dumped on me a hero so purely clean is almost sinful. (how dare you?!). However, that has nothing to do with why the route didn't land with me. Don't get me wrong; it's not that it's badly written or anything like that. In fact, when side characters started getting in the way of Hina and Nayuta getting together I started grumping at my laptop screen like an angry chipmunk, so it's safe to say a certain level of investment did happen. But... I never truly got into the route. Nayuta is just— not husbando material for me. Hina spends the better half of his route treating him like and thinking of him as a younger brother, and it became impossible for me to dissociate that cute must-be-protected image from him and ship her with him.
I had also assumed Nayuta's route would be closely related to Haruma's route, but it turned out not to be, so perhaps that fed into my disappointment. Honestly, the best part of his route is that Gou, Sera, and Madoka include him into their group of stupid brainless dorks. (UGH I live for those scenes.)

PS. btw though this boi has a surprisingly ANGSTY ™ backstory, his bad endings are the only ones in SideZ where nobody gets murdered or gutted or all the other messed up shit this game thought it was appropriate to throw into the bad endings... (WHAT EVEN)


Arimura Noa 有村 乃亜

CV: Hirose Yuuya (広瀬 裕也)

Protect this precious cinnamon roll, please. Pray for him.
Arimura Noa is Hina's senpai at school, and a renowned actor. Soft and playful in his ways, Noa is sexy and the number one on every girls' "want to bang" list. In his route, Hina begins to tighten her relationship with Noa when she is cast to co-star in a film with him. She slowly starts unravelling his very tragic past, and discovers he has a health condition that might end up robbing him of his life.
Noa's route is an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, and the single most sweetest route of the game. It plays masterfully with your feelings: one moment it'll be giving you a blissful scene where everything is perfect, and the next it'll shove you mercilessly down a pit of despair. I loved Noa's route — it's a slow-burn romance that blooms naturally, and it tastes of cotton candy and innocence. It's so ridiculously pure my heart was melting. I thought we'd be getting a good-boy-turns-cold-when-heroin-confesses-her-love route, something along the lines of Madoka's route in SideA, but holy guacamole, it twisted and turned in completely unexpected ways.
BUT. But. (there's always a but, and you know it.) The thing with Noa's route is that it's emotionally exhausting to the extreme. Come on, ladies; the boy has a heart disease — it doesn't take rocket science to figure out where the drama is going to well up from, or where the bad endings will be heading. In fact, you can't escape the bad endings: you're forced to crash into one in your first play-through of the route, which, actually, works out well and helped build up towards the happy ending I was determined to give this story by the second time I ran through his route (Just let my baby be happy, that's all I want *sobs*). I took the bait and drank Noa's route to the last drop and then leaked it back out through my eyes (whoever said tears? This is sweat, sweat!), but just as I thought 'OK this has to be the climax' there'd be another scene, and then another, and another, and then the endings dragged on, and on, and on —even the bad ones!— with one change in point of view, and then a flashforward, and then a flashback and then and then and then blargh!!
It's not that they milked the route, don't get me wrong. Everything that was addressed needed to be addressed. It's just that there are so many dramatic string ends in Noa's route that when it has to tie them all off, they all feel like the zenith of the story... which just really exhausted me, because I can't be climbing emotional mountains all day.
That said: Noa's route is definitely worth it. The angst, the misery, the pain; it good. It real good. You'll like the suffering.



Ousaka Haruma 桜坂 悠翔

CV: Terashima Takuma (寺島 拓篤)

Step aside peeps; make way for Tragic Boi™, he needs space to breathe.
Haruma is the second of Hina's childhood friends, and the person Hina always turns to when she's feeling insecure. Ever since they were children, Haruma has always been the one to take care of both Nayuta and Hina as if he were their older brother. When he was young he was a highly praised child actor, but an accident that left his leg permanently injured quickly ended his career in the showbiz. Throughout the games Haruma's personality "issue" is teased, but never revealed... until you play his route. (tun tun tuuuuuuuun)
Aaaahhhh Haruma, Haruma, Haruma... what to do with you, my boi Haruma? Where to begin with my thoughts on everything that is you? In Haruma's route Hina slowly begins to grow both as a person and as an actress when she spends a summer working as Rei's assistant, shocking Tragic Boi™ and prompting him to get very jelly.
Though here were a lot of adorable Haruma jelly-bean moments, as much as it pains me to say this, I actually found his route disappointing. I didn't get the feeling Hina was well and truly in love with him, and by the end of it I was just clicking mindlessly through the dialogues hoping it would end soon. Perhaps SideA had raised my expectations too high, perhaps I had been too convinced that it would be SideZ's redemption route (I kept telling myself, "even if the rest of SideZ's routes aren't so good at least I'll still have Haruma!"); but regardless of the reason behind my disappointment, the truth is this route wasn't the bomb of awesomeness I thought it would be. ┐( ̄ー ̄)┌
How to explain this without spoiling? The ~cause~ of Haruma's problem didn't really match the level of distress the alarms in the game kept insisting we would hit, or the assumptions he made that lead to his life being so miserable. It's hard to explain without spoiling, but I feel that someone backstage was sitting there thinking "We need to make this fucker's route a James Bond end-of-the-film mega explosion guys," so they stuffed in the most intense personality issue they could think of and used all the TNT they had to make the route explosive in all sorts of ways, except... the explosions were badly timed, some explanations didn't make sense, and in the end Haruma's character wasn't as engaging as I hoped he would be. Instead of creating a nice neat and smooth puzzle it felt like someone had tried to smash all the pieces together and force the picture to come through. That's what the long climax of Haruma's route felt like.
I also guessed very early on in the game what his "issue" was. It's not that it was obvious or evident (plus that bad ending that in SideA that felt like it teased it? It actually teases nothing), but it was the ONE SCENARIO that this fucked up game was lacking, so by process of elimination at one point I made a wild guess about him that ended up being right.


The Voice Acting

I wasn't going to add a voice acting section because I already commented on what I liked in my SideA review, but holy fuck, there's this character called Sakino in Noa's route that sent shivers down my spine, so congratulations to 尾崎 真実 for her portrayal! (How even do you read that name? Ozaki Kokoro? Makoto? Sanami? I'll just call her Ozaki Truth.) ((hahaha look at me I'm so funny.))
Also, huge props to Haruma's voice actor, Terashima Takuma, for his work in SideZ!!


Conclusions

And so this long journey of romancing bad boys has come to an end! As a whole the Blackish House series goes down as possibly one of my favourite otoges in recent history. Honeybee has really outdone themselves with these characters and scenario, and there are a lot of things to praise in these games. Unfortunately I can't help but find myself a bit disappointed with SideZ... The only route that really got to me was Noa's route, and Haruma's route wasn't as intense as I expected it to be. I guess it's the price we have to pay for getting all the major revelations thrown at us in Rei's route in SideA, but I was hoping Harma's route would be more along the challenging lines of Tougo's route, and met with disappointment when it turned out not to be so disturbing or clever.
Ultimately, my preferred routes from least like to most are: Nayuta → Sera → Haruma Noa. I didn't like Sera as a character, but I'll admit his route was at least a bit more engaging than Nayuta's.  As a whole my favourite routes in the series were:
  1. Rei
  2. Noa
  3. Tougo
(lol I'm such a notice-me-senpai sucker, the senpai trio stole my heart)
To be honest I didn't like Tougo's route as a romance route, but as I mentioned in my SideA review it was a batshit crazy route with a lot of emotional ups-and-downs that really worked on me. Madoka follows close behind.

The Good

  • All the good things from SideA still remain.
  • New common route content that makes the game just as exciting to play as SideZ.
  • New side characters for all the routes.
  • All mysteries explained.
  • Effective finale that will squeeze your heart with nostalgia :')
  • Shit-ton of extra content other than the Special Stage section that gets unblocked after you complete the game.

The Bad

  • Disappointing resolution to the game's mystery
  • As with SideA, protagonist's default name doesn't get called, nor does she have a voice (ρ゚∩゚)
  • Less assertive protagonist.
  • BLACKISH HOUSE IS OVER, NOOOOOOOO *sobs herself into oblivion*

Once again, just dropping this in here, there is a lot of rape threat and actual rape in this game (even if it just fades to black and doesn't show us anything), especially in the bad endings. Heads up to those who would rather avoid this sort of content.

SideZ FINAL VERDICT!

‘Tis good stuff, methinks

I know I sounded very harsh during this review, but there's still a lot of good in SideZ.


Look at my pretty baby. Isn't she absolutely adorable?



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