Punch, Punch, (Don't) Fall In Love?
From humble beginnings with Piofiore in what was once a genre I heard others gush about, I've had my fill of otome for months now. Generally speaking, the stories involve young women who are either oblivious to love or are too headstrong in their goals to consider worthy of it. Some sought to break the monotony of this angle by putting an action spin on it like Dairoku. Nevertheless, each heroine have been rather routine or familiar up to this point. Variable Barricade rocks the boat in many ways, but it does what many VN's fail to do. Give the heroine a personality.
Coming fresh off the heels of my extensive dissection of Cupid Parasite (something I'm not even close to finished yet), Variable Barricade is everything opposite of the former. The heroine this time centers around Hibari Tojo, the young heir of a wealthy and prestigious family who is set up by her grandfather to get married. He does so by picking four of the dumbest most incompatible suitors in all of Japan, which does nothing but cause Hibari distress. This is because Hibari wants nothing to do with love and considering her living situation it's hard to blame her...
Hibari Tojo - Future Matriarch Of The Tojo Clan
Seeing the names "Tojo Family" and the predicament Hibari is in, you'd be forgiven to think this is a Yakuza spin-off. It's not, it has zero relation to anything involving RGG Studio and their IPs. If gramps ends up having involvement with the yakuza, it would be purely coincidental if not hilarious. Regardless, Hibari is an honest student at an all-girls academy whose only best friend is a girl named Tsubaki. Having lived a sheltered life, she doesn't have experience with boys except for her faithful butler Kasuga.
This all change when, on the first day of school, Hibari is ambushed by four different guys all holding out a rose. They all ask of her the same thing -- her hand in marriage. Now, naturally for this to occur to anyone, the proper response would be to freak out or call for their caretaker. This is also the first choice that the player makes, ranging from calling for help, ignoring them, or even taking one of the roses. I called for help and help arrived only to throw me from the pot and into the fire.
The Only Future Is Marriage, Apparently
Shortly after, she is taken to see her grandfather, the head of the Tojo Clan---Family. He lectures her for a while about the importance of her finding a suitor and states that he narrowed it down to these four for her sake. Apparently, after years of trying to find someone for her, Hibari's grandfather decided to pull a stunt and embarrass her in front of the entire school. Hibari wishes to take things at her own pace and wants to live out her youth before deciding to marry but gramps is having none of this.
While I can understand the importance of finding a suitor, especially from a wealthy prestigious
not yakuza family, I felt a bit uncomfortable with this scene. For once, her grandfather was coming a bit too hard on her, even using her best friend as an example who has already found a fiancee. It felt as if no one was taking into consideration of her thoughts on the matter. All that mattered, was marriage to keep the family alive. But this is only the tip of the iceberg...
It's Just Like 'Parasite House' Except Unwanted!
Eventually, Hibari is taken to a small "vacation house" after being told that her belongings were to be moved there. Upon entry, she sees the four men who threw themselves at her at school but in a more casual setting. After introducing themselves to her, the one question she has is how over-familiar they are with each other. Apparently, the four guys were living together and were being coached by Kasuga, the one butler who she confides in. Putting two-and-two together, she realizes that him leaving her for the Summer matched up the date of his arrival. Alas, he was in on the gambit as well, which forces her not to trust anyone.
So marks the beginning of her time with the four gentlemen and her personal butler, as she gets to know each of them individually. It was here that I stopped for the sake of the game's preview. Looking at the main website and seeing the occupations for each of her suitors, however, makes me really wish I understood what her grandfather was thinking. Even the butler shows regret in moving behind her back as he tells her that he was under gramps orders. If he squealed, he would be fired, thus removed from Hibari's life. So this is why the sheltered life sucks.
The Heroine Is Given A Voice, Which Helps The Story A Lot
In previous Otomate games, the heroine has dialogue but it's not spoken. I didn't mention it in my Cupid Parasite digests because it didn't affect my experience too much. To hear the heroine actually speak helps a lot with the immersion while also allowing myself as the player to hear her emotion. She's not just a self-insert for the player this time, she's one of the cast members in this love story as well. Certain dialogue would become more intense just from hearing her VA's delivery than simply letting the mind wander.
Hibari is a young woman who doesn't just know what love is, she doesn't want to know. There's no rhyme or reason for it. She just simply wants to live her life without thinking about conforming to a male's desires. It leaves a lot for the player as they can, hopefully, decide to fulfill her wishes. Or, maybe she will let down her walls and find out that love isn't too bad? It feels more realistic than "Being a love counselor at a successful agency." For its down-to-earth approach, I'll focus more on Variable Barricade in a more fleshed-out review in the future.
I guess I really have become the designated "Otome enjoyer." Huh.
Variable Barricade is now available on the Nintendo Switch.