YURUKILL: THE CALUMNIATION GAMES
Yurukill The Calumniation Games is developed by Izanagi Games who had also published World's End Club in Japan. They also published Death Come True, a game that I referenced during my first impressions of The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story. While I praised the return of the FMV genre at the time, Yurukill is entirely different from the previous works of IzanagiGames. I'd even go so far as to say it's one-of-a-kind. On the surface, it's an adventure visual novel-style game but upon diving deeper, it's actually a shoot-em-up.
I don't mean "shoot-em-up" as "plastered on as an afterthought," but rather the shoot-em-up sections were developed by G.Rev, the team responsible for the Senko no Ronde series among other arcade shmups. The story of Yurukill centers around a group of convicts known as Prisoners on their way to a solitary island known as Yurukill. The first protagonist, Sengoku Shunju, is accused of an arson attack involving the murder of twenty-one residents. Having awoken in a jail cell, he is told by an overly-bubbly host named Binko that they are held here to participate in various games on the island. Whoever makes it to the end will have their sentence pardoned.
There's another side to this however as each Prisoner is paired with an Executor, a "partner" whose job is to monitor the behavior of the Prisoners. There are five teams, each with a Prisoner and Executor pairing (with the exception of one) and each pairing is significant as well as their given team names. In the case of Sengoku, he is paired with a teenage girl named Rina who is incredibly distant and cold towards him. It's later revealed that each Executioner is paired with a Prisoner who has some relation to their crimes, making Rina a victim of Sengoku's crime.
While Yurukill is advertised as a shmup/visual novel hybrid, it's more "visual novel" than "shmup" in the same way Digimon Survive was more visual novel than RPG. Each chapter is separated by a specific case focusing on each team and is separated into "phases." Using Chapter 1 as an example, the attraction that Sengoku and Rina are tasked with is called "Fire House," a recreation of the day Rina lost her parents and when Sengoku was arrested.
There are several floors guarded by a robot who will request something. Each request is based on Rina's psyche and certain items that are found, including a newspaper and a diary, are all related to the arson crime. The game turns into a point-and-click first-person puzzle where the player will need to solve several riddles to succeed. Most of the puzzles are math-based, such as separating formulas in two chests to an even amount.
Others are logically based, including one example where Sengoku has to find the difference between a bottle filled with poison and one filled with a clue. The only thing to go by is the description of the puzzle which says "Live as a prisoner or die by poison," followed by each bottle having either a ◎ or a ○. Obviously, drinking the bottle with poison in it will cause Sengoku to die a slow painful death in which Rina opts to put him out of his misery and executes him.
BAD END #1
The solution to the problem was something I caught on immediately but was unsure if it was a silly one or a valid solution. The keywords, 'Prisoner' and 'Poison' correlate to the ○ and ◎ labels respectively. The former, 'Prisoner,' has only one circle while "Poison" has two. Therefore, drinking the bottle with a single o means you continue to live as a prisoner.
There are several puzzles that relate to the theme of the chapter at hand, including one where the player needs to open the door to an elevator by creating a "magic square" on a 3x3 grid. The mortifying thing about this puzzle is that each integer on the 3x3 grid represents a casualty of death caused by the arson explosion. Any moment of feeling good about successfully clearing this puzzle is nullified once the player realizes this fact.
As the player solves puzzles, the player will encounter a section called Maji-Kill Mode. As Rina struggles to discern truth from fiction, she will snap and force Sengoku to "confess" to his crimes. As an executor, she has the right to pass judgment on Sengoku and decide whether to kill him or spare him. At this point, her finger is on the trigger and Sengoku must answer the following questions successfully or else it'll be instant death. The trick to passing these sections is to play honestly about how the main character should act. Anything that sounds patronizing or a confession is an instant Game Over.
Finally, at the end of the chapter comes the main draw of the game, the shmup section. In this section, you go 1 on 1 with the executioner themselves, fighting across several mini-stages with basic enemy patterns. The main boss of each stage is a different variant of the executioner in relation to their psyche levels. Rina, already determined that Sengoku is the killer, already begins unstable but the more Sengoku fights back, the more deranged she becomes.
The gameplay here is very simple compared to most shmups. On normal difficulty, the game gives you enough chances as answering questions correctly will net the player with bonus lives. As the player attacks enemies, they will build a gauge that, once full, does a massive amount of damage. If the meter is 20% or higher, then the next hit that would kill the player would absorb the attack as well as give a moment of invulnerability. In later difficulties, the patterns become intense, but Yurukill always had an emphasis on story over the "shmup genre."
So, wrapping up my first impressions after finishing the first chapter I was very invested in this crime mystery thriller. The scenario writer, Homura Kawamoto, also worked on Kakegurui, an intense anime about gambling that doesn't shy away from pushing the needle when it needs to. I felt some of the same energy present here, especially when it came to Rina's emotions parallel to Yumeko. I was also impressed that, for now anyway, Sengoku and Rina's beef is settled. At the very least, Rina's displaced anger is now towards whoever was the one who killed her parents. If other chapters follow this same theme, it'll be fun to see how each wrongly convicted criminal worms their way out of their predicament in Yurukill: The Calumniation Files.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Files is available on the Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC.