Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani
Not Your Girlfriend's Otome, But It Should Be
This is made clear from the beginning's menu navigation as well as its general opening. We've covered three different 'otome' games and with Dairoku Agents of Sakuratani being the fourth, it's easy to understand what "makes" one. As addressed in every single Otomate first take to date, here's a quick primer on what an 'otome game' is. Generally, it's a romance visual novel that features a woman protagonist among her potential suitors. While some are cliche "lovey-dovey" games, Dairoku managed to surprise me.
Perhaps the best comparison to this game would be one we looked at previously, Cupid Parasite. In Cupid, the protagonist was the titular goddess herself, tasked with having five hapless suitors find love. Dairoku takes itself a bit more seriously, with the concept of romance not being in the forefront but rather adventure and duty. Shino Akitsu is the newest hire of a special "ghost-detective" organization, sent to a parallel world where demons and humans "co-exist." Something is troubling Sakuratani and it's up to Shino and her allies to figure out the source all the while proving her usefulness.
Romance May Not Be Front And Center But It's Evident
Compared to most heroines, Shino is comparable to protagonists from adventure titles of this nature. She's bound to her duty as a detective, curious about the new world around her. She's also keen to keep details about herself in secret even though it's revealed that she has a rough time keeping a poker face.
This is most evident in her relationship with her boss, Semi, who sees her potential but sees through her bluffs. Usually, this is at the expense of Shino, who in turn argues with him for his teasing. When it comes to a "partner-in-crime," Seta is the one person to fit that role. That's not to say there are other people of interest at play, as Sakuratani plays hosts to many races of demons. There are humans who work closely as partners to Shino. There are also oni and kitsune among the few to make themselves known towards Shino.
Dairoku Has Some Gameplay Elements - A Rarity In Otome Games
Their fascination with humans and the human world is almost whimsical as a group of demons are known for collecting video games. For a game set in this time period, references to Oda Nobunaga are expected and included despite him going by a different name. Not all is well and there are times where Shino must call to action. This introduces an actual gameplay mechanic which is rare for an Otomate game, much less an otome genre title. It's not revolutionary or reinventing the wheel, but there's a twist to the classic "select an option for dialogue."
Occasionally, Shino will be tasked to defuse a situation by battling the demons, or ayakashi, on occasion. How these scenes play out are as follows. The player will be required to press buttons in order as fast as possible, with an adequate completion time determined by a grade. The game states depending on the grade received, the game's ending is the result. This means slower players who constantly mess up the mini-game may get a worse ending comparative to ones who are quick with their reflexes.
A Romance Visual Novel That Doesn't Emphasize Romance?
By the end of the preview, I was thoroughly impressed. As I had mentioned in the Piofiore visual novel preview, I am a sucker for cheap and cheesy romance, especially when it's obvious. Dairoku deserves mention as it's subdued, used more as a companion quality than the driving force behind Shino's story. I was more interested in the ayakashi, Sakuratani, and the world-building it provided.
The story wasn't exclusively about Shino but rather how she plays a piece in the overarching story. Of all the Otomate and otome visual novels I've played, this was the one that captured my interest the most. With such an interesting introduction to Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani, the game can only go south. However, I feel like the journey would be worth it and I'd like to remain optimistic should I continue the adventures of Shino and company.
Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is available on the Switch.