Sunday, October 21, 2012

Games for Adults: Koihime Musou ~A Heart Throbbing, Maidenly Romance of the Three Kindoms~

Koihime Musou Review


            Almost four months since its release on February 28, 2011, I finally cleared Koihime Musou and I have to say I enjoyed every minute of the 50+ hours it took to see everything. Koihime Musou has had quite the road to release from the hype built around it due to its popular anime, to controversy over the removal of voices, to a couple of delays, it was with a mixture of relief and anticipation as those of us who bought this game installed it and began to play past where the demo left us off. I can tell you right now that it’s been worth the wait and well worth the price of admission.

Pros: Diverse and well written cast of characters, the Home Base events, good story, genuinely funny humor, interesting battle system, great artwork and music.

Cons: Battle system could have used some polish, replay value is hit or miss due to story linearity, story does sort of lag in the middle, some of the subheroines have surprisingly short arcs, it’s obvious what ending is canon.

WTF?!: 1) In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Diaochan/Chousen was said to be one of the world’s most beautiful women. Koihime Musou’s version on the other hand…


              2) Ren…so cute…must continue to feed…


            Koihime Musou's plot focuses on Kazuto Hongo, a modern day Japanese student who by chance comes across a man stealing an artifact from his school’s museum. Kazuto attempts to stop the thief, but their struggle causes the artifact, a mirror, to shatter and a strange light engulfs the both of them. Kazuto then wakes up to find himself in a strange land that resembles ancient China before he’s attacked by some bandits, but is saved by a warrior woman named Kan’u and her companion Chouhi. After the rescue, Kan’u tells him that she believes Kazuto to be the “Messenger of Heaven”, a prophesied hero that will end the wars plaguing their lands.

            Okay, concerning the story for this game, it’s good. It sets a pretty solid foundation in the beginning for the story to build on and later in final act of the game it does introduce an interesting concept to explain the existence of the game’s world. However, it’s not the story that’s the meat of this game, but rather the characters. In between each significant story event and the subsequent battles, you choose which of the heroines to interact with within a limit of two of the three main heroines Kan’u, Chouhi, and Shoukatsuryou and three of what will eventually be 12 choices of subheroines (technically since some heroines are grouped together). These base camp phases not only do a good job in establishing the relationship Kazuto forms with the heroines but they also provide good insight into the heroines characters as we learn their backstories, how the events of the main story have affected them, and quirks about their character. All these elements work very well not only in showing what the heroines are like off the battlefield (in which most of them are pretty badass) but also help in making them unique and memorable as characters, which is quite a feat considering this game has such a large cast of characters. For example, for the main heroines, Kan’u’s dedicated (almost workaholic) personality and how that leads to clashes with Kazuto and other members of the party and how well it’s played for both dramatic and comedic effect (though admittedly we see more of the latter). An example for the sub heroines would be Sousou, a character I didn’t think I was going to like that much when she was first introduced, but her base camp phases had some very interesting conversations between her and Kazuto many of them arising from their two drastically different viewpoints which surprisingly end up making for good chemistry between the two.

            It’s at this point that I need to point out something. Because of this strong characterization, Koihime Musou actually manages to go the harem route and make it work. Now I don’t say this lightly as in all the eroge that I’ve played up till now, only three others besides Koihime Musou have been able to do this. The main reason is because generally, eroge only use the harem part as an excuse to show ero scenes and don’t really go deeper than that. In Koihime Musou, it actually does try to go deeper and for the most part succeed. Heroines actually do get jealous of one another in regards to Kazuto’s affection and that is played well a few times for dramatic effect, particularly when the heroines are close to one another. Also not all of the heroines take an immediate liking to Kazuto, some are actually quite unhappy at him because he is essentially responsible for the fall of their country and quite a few base camp phases focus on them warming up to him as he tries to befriend them (even though one in particular has a pretty interesting vocabulary of insults for him).

To put it simply, Koihime Musou succeeds at being a harem romantic comedy in much the same way that Tenchi Muyo was able to succeed and remain more memorable as one than its countless clones. The heroines are all well written and memorable and the interactions that occur are just that much of a delight to see.

            Another area that Koihime Musou succeeds in is in how it manages to be make a good comedic take on the story it’s based on. If you’ve read Romance of the Three Kingdoms or played any of the video games based off of it, then you may appreciate some of the more subtle jokes in a game filled with over the top comedy. For example, considering Zhang Fei’s “spirited” nature from the original story it would kind of make sense for his alternate version to be a hyper active kid. For another example let’s take a look at Enshou in relation the original Yuan Shao. In this game Enshou is pretty much played for comedy in which her stupidity as a result of her views as a noble land her and her two followers, Bunshuu and Ganryou, into quite a bit of trouble. This comedic portrayal does make sense considering that in the original story Yuan Shao’s incompetence as a leader despite his coming from a powerful family background lead to his downfall. Not every character gets this treatment, such as this game’s version of Dong Zhuo who is portrayed as quite the opposite of the original (and if you ask me I quite like this cute innocent maid version of the infamous tyrant…play the game and you’ll understand!).

            Now as much as I can praise this game it does have its faults in the area of story. To begin with, the main story kind of slumps in the middle for two main reasons: first, this is where the story stops trying to follow the original story and starts to become more its own thing which in the long run isn’t bad but because it takes a while for this new story element to fully establish it makes for a bit of a weak start to a new story arc which leads me to the next reason, because of this weak point the base camp phases become the most interesting part and that sadly downgrades the story into both a “getting from point A to point B” phase made interesting mainly by the battles and a time limit of sorts that reminds you that you’d best choose wisely as to which heroines to visit during the home base phases as you only have a limited amount of phases until the game ends. This brings us to another potential flaw in this game, the replay value.

            The problem with the replay value is that because the story is linear, all you’re really doing is skipping through the story you’ve already read just to play the Home Base Phases you missed for the sub heroines and the third main heroine whose route you didn’t clear in the first playthrough, all so you can unlock the true ending. I recommend playing in bursts when you replay because as good as the BCPs are, it can get tedious after a while. Especially considering that a few of the sub heroines’ routes are surprisingly short and end rather abruptly without any real conclusion. Fortunately this only applies to pretty minor characters so I wouldn’t count it as too big a problem.

            The only other significant flaw that this game has are the endings for our three main heroines; they’re obviously fake endings. Basically the game is set up that once you clear all three of the main heroines’ endings it unlocks the true ending (sidenote: Though you don’t have to clear every HBP route I recommend clearing at least everyone but Chouryou and the twins to fully enjoy the ending storywise) that you get upon finishing the final battle and going to the final choices screen again and you get a new option. The problem is these three endings are so short that they just aren’t very strong conclusions by themselves. This is a problem that I’ve seen quite a bit with some VN games (eroge or all ages) in that there’s a true ending that’s unlocked after clearing the other heroines’ endings but said endings aren’t unsatisfying and are written to make it obvious that this isn’t the canon end. The reason I don’t like this is because some of these routes have good stories and a weak ending just doesn’t sit right with me. Bear in mind this doesn’t apply to games such as 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors where seeing these false endings is the key to solving a mystery to lead you to the true ending, this applies mainly to a romance themed game such as this because quite frankly you’ve become emotionally invested in the coupling between the MC and heroine and to be handed a weak ending kind of feels like a slap in the face. I will say that because of its immense story size, Koihime Musou doesn’t get too big a detraction by this flaw, at least compared to other games I’ve played, but still…

            Moving on to the battle system, it works like so: as your army fights the enemy army in a battle, you first decide which of the heroines will be your general and which will be your strategist before the battle begins and then move onto the fighting. You then decide what formation your troops will take before they attack which determines how effective the attack will be compared to the enemy’s formation. As you fight, an extra option called “Ougi” becomes available once its meter fills up and your chosen general can unleash some special move that has some affect on the battle from boosting your troops’ morale to doing damage to the enemy army. While the game isn’t difficult (in fact you get infinite continues if you lose and with each continue you get more troops than before), it at least manages to stay interesting with how each enemy faction you fight has its own attack patterns that you need to figure out as well as how to deal with their Ougi and whatever extra attack they may have. Also the late battles in the game do make you actually have to put in some effort to win. The only flaw in the battle system is that I do wish there was more to it like bonuses to your army if your chosen general or strategist has had a significant amount of home base phase events done or being able to include more than just your core party in the fights.
Presentation wise, I have to say Koihime Musou both looks and sounds good. The music does a very good job in setting the mood of the story. The artwork is nothing short of excellent; the backgrounds are well drawn and do a good job in showing the setting for the game, the characters are all well drawn in both the game’s CGs and during the scenes with just the character portraits (if you take a look at Chouhi during the scenes with her, her tiger hair piece changes expressions with her to match her mood).  Finally the voice acting is great, featuring a very large star studded cast that includes Norio Wakamoto, Hikaru Midorikawa, Miya Serizono, Miru, and Hokuto Minami. On a side note, the original english release sadly did not have voice acting since Baseson wasn't sure of how well it would do overseas and the licensing cost for all these actors was pretty high so the voces were removed until 2000 copies sold. Fortunately the fanbase was strong enough that not only were the voices returned but a physical release was also made available for purchase.
            As for the ero scenes, they’re good. They’re pretty much drawn well and some are actually quite amusing. They may be a bit overwhelming considering this game features 58 ero scenes. I don’t believe I need to say anymore.
In Conclusion:
Koihime Musou is an excellent game that has a story filled with very well written characters. The Home Base Phase events are some of the best written character interactions I’ve seen in a game (not quite as good as Bioware’s or Persona 4’s but still pretty close), the main story is interesting once it gets moving, and the gameplay is entertaining. Better replay value and a few fine tunes to the battle system would have been nice, but it isn’t a big detraction from what is an enjoyable (and long) game experience. Let's hope that this game sells well enough that we can get the spinoff/sequel Shin Koihime Musou.
Final Score: 8/10 Awesome
Recommendation: Buy it now.
A digital copy of the game can be bought here and a hard copy here.
            In regards to the anime (I’m referring to the first season), I’ll say that it’s good. It’s basically an alternate universe where there isn’t any Kazuto and is more a series of light hearted comedy episodes than anything else. While it has a good opening and closing, I have to admit the game’s is better.

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