People who are looking for a little romance in their virtual lives were able to celebrate quite a landmark in February 2018. D3 Publisher released the first otome game on the Nintendo Switch. The system has its own version of The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya. It may not be the most elaborate game out there, but it feels like a stepping stone and proof that this console could be a good fit for similar titles. This basic title lays a foundation, one that fans of such games may want to consider while they wait for other companies to foster new relationships.
The Men of Yoshiwara line is one of the few more mature otome series available in English right now. The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya follows a young woman in an alternate reality where men on one island become courtesans, while the women manage more respectable careers. Our heroine works for a shipping business and comes into some money after helping a courtesan and his love escape his debts and elope. She decides to use these funds to visit a courtesan for the first time herself. This brings her to Kikuya, one of the particular houses. There, she can find love with Kikuya’s manager, Iroha, her former childhood friend who works in Yoshiwara, Hayabusa, or one of Kikuya’s four courtesans: Kagerou, Kagura, Takao or Tokiwa.
Given that the plotline does involve courtesans, things get more heated in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya; I was pleasantly surprised to see storylines do not revolve around the physical and instead have actual character development in addition to occasional mature elements in each route.
Given that the plotline does involve courtesans, things get more heated in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya; I was pleasantly surprised to see storylines do not revolve around the physical and instead have actual character development in addition to occasional mature elements in each route. The heroine is a bit naive at times, falling way too fast for men who entertain women for a living, but she does experience actual character development. Some of the men themselves also have some depth to them, though the nature of this visual novel means it does not linger over these moments and give readers the opportunity to appreciate them.
The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya is a visual novel, which means you read along and make choices that determine how strong the bond is between you and your chosen courtesan. This works well enough, with three dialogue options available every time a branch comes up. It is lacking an element many similar titles offer. When you choose an answer, there is no audio or visual notification letting you know how well the response was received. Instead, you need to check in the menu to see if the percentage level has risen to determine if you have chosen wisely. There is a quick save and load feature, which makes it easy to go back and pick the “right” answer, But it would have been nice if that common, quality of life element had been present.
As you go along, your goal is to make these men fall in love with you and unlock event scenes where you get a better look at them and their world. The character designs in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya are very nicely done. Each bachelor looks unique, and the CGs from the Vita adaptation are present. Where the game really shines is in clothing design. Since all of the men are courtesans, each one has elaborate kimonos. These look great both in the portraits and in the event images, and there are an assortment to earn and collect for each character as you play.
Unfortunately, the men of The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya are only to be seen and not heard. There is no voice acting in the game. This may disappoint some, as past visual novels from D3 Publisher, like Storm Lover, have had fantastic casts. On the plus side, it is not like they were in a prior localized version and removed. The mobile and PC versions also do not have voice acting. (The Japanese Vita version does.) It is just something to be advised of before buying, since that is a feature that can matter to some fans.
The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya began its life as a mobile game, and it shows.
One thing to note is that this adaptation is lacking an element from the mobile version. In some games with visual novel elements, like a few of the titles made by Compile Heart, you will see breathing and blinking character portraits. The initial incarnation of The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya had this element, and the Switch version does not. While some may be disappointed at the missing feature, I think the lack of it allows players the option to focus more on the art. I found that element distracting in the original adaptation, and here we can better appreciate the character designs without watching sometimes stilted or unnatural animations.
The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya began its life as a mobile game, and it shows. The story is divided up into routes, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. This means when you pick a storyline, you are locked into that one particular bachelor’s tale and do not need to worry about juggling them to ensure you stay on the path to one of his endings. However, the story is also divided up into multiple, bite-sized chapters. This can get a bit distracting, as a segment will probably only last about fifteen minutes. To keep having such breaks while you are reading breaks the immersion.
On the plus side, The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya follows other mobile-to-Switch trends. You get the full game for a set price, rather than having a product broken up into pieces and sold in smaller chunks. This means you have all six bachelors and their supplemental stories in one place. (Kenji, the PlayStation Vita version’s exclusive bachelor is absent.) It is cheaper than both the mobile and PC versions, which also contain all of the same content, which means it is one of the more affordable means of acquiring the game.
There are times when The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya may feel a little rudimentary. After all, it has no voice acting and the mobile structure remains in place. But, it is giving people the full experience, complete with side stories, all six bachelors and some of the Vita version’s content. If you look at it as a first step for the genre on an entirely new system, it is a good way for otomes to find their footing. It is a well known story with a lot of fans, one that is more mature for those who have grown up with titles like Hakuoki and are looking for slightly more mature content that is not totally smutty, and runs well on the system.