If you’re anything like me, before even starting Yurukill: The Calumniation Games, you have a question…
Calumniation (noun): a false or defamatory statement
If nothing else, Yurkill: The Calumniation Game certainly has a unique premise. The game is a mystery, visual novel that has shoot ‘em up, puzzle, and trial game elements.
Being part Ikaruga, part Phoenix Wright, part Professor Layton, and part Agatha Christie is a lot to handle. Yurukill puts in a valiant effort, but, ultimately, falls short of the sum of its parts.
***This section has light spoilers***
The story of Yurukill is one of the best parts of the game, because it sends the player on a mysterious, unpredictable rollercoaster of emotions.
Ten years ago, Sengoku was accused of arson. Since then, he has been, in prison, serving a life sentence for a whopping 21 murders…murders that he claims he didn’t commit. The stakes are high as Sengoku fights his way through the Calumniation Games. The winner of the game gets set free. The losers of the game die.
The story starts with Sengoku waking up on a cruise ship that’s on its way to Yurukill Land. He finds out that the ship is full of people. Half of the passengers have been accused of murder and are referred to as “prisoners.” The other half of the passengers hold some sort of grudge and are called “executioners.”
The story progresses through chapters in which the player gets to learn about each prisoner/executioner pair. They learn what the crime was, why the prisoner claims their innocence, and what pain is haunting the executioner.
Like the best “whodunits,” the game has a fun cast of characters who all bring something different to the table. The characters are all likable, but all have some sort of darkness beneath the surface. They leave the player constantly asking themselves: “Are they as innocent as they say?” and “Who is the real bad guy of the pair?” The player also spends most of the game asking themselves about the overarching plot: “Who is behind the Calumniation Games?” and “Why are they doing this?”
There’s a lot to be said about the gameplay of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games because there are an impressive number of facets to it. Some sections work very well and some fall short.
The Mysterious Visual Novel
As I said, the story is probably the best part of the game. The dialogue is long-winded at points, but the narrative works. If you’re into “whodunits” and murder-mysteries, this is a fun one!
The Escape Rooms
At some point during each visual novel section, the characters will encounter some sort of obstacle that prohibits them from moving forward. At this point, the game initiates an escape room sequence where the player must search rooms, solve puzzles, and answer questions.
I’m not sure if it was purposeful or if it was because the developer wasn’t confident in their puzzles, but these sequences are incredibly easy. Most of the time, tapping around the screen solves the problem.
Sometimes the puzzles, while still easy, could be annoying. For example, there were a few times where the game gave a certain riddle, but wouldn’t let me look back at it while solving the puzzle, so I had to just hope I remembered the wording correctly. Other times, the game would ask a question and give multiple options for how to proceed, but the dialogue was unclear or I disagreed with the answer that they wanted me to give. In those cases, the game just repeated the prompt until I chose the answer or path that they wanted.
The Trial Games (Maji-Kill)
Another aspect of the visual novel was the Maji-Kill. These sequences were actually quite exhilarating. Towards the end of each visual novel section, the executioner interrogated the prisoner. With the guillotine hanging ominously in the background and death looming ever closer, the stakes always felt high.
The Shoot ‘Em Ups
After each visual novel section, the executioner and the prisoner are forced to duke it out in flying mechs. Before the sections start, the player is treated to a sequence where the mech is powering up and flying through its home base. During these sections, the people running the games ask questions about the case that the player had just worked through. These sections are fun because the player earns lives for having good attention to detail.
Finally, the player gets to the best part of the game: the action. The shooting is fun, fast-paced, and (because there’s a story connected to it) feels meaningful. Mix this with a great soundtrack and we have a lot of fun on our hands.
In between each round, the prisoner and the executioner play LITERAL Mind Games. These sections are visual representations of the executioner having a change of heart. There are mind walls, prejudice synapses, mind mazes. It’s great.
My only complaint about the Shoot ‘Em up sections is that there are too few of them. Luckily, after beating the game, you can go back and replay any section, with any character (who all have different abilities), on any difficulty. There are even online leaderboards!
While the story is full of interesting concepts and cool characters, some of the writing is difficult to get through. There are a few different reasons for this.
One reason is that the story is full of anime tropes. There is some weird sexualization, some insinuate of incest, and some middle aged men getting uncomfortably close to high school girls. I watch a lot of anime, but I never seem to be able to acclimate to this aspect of the genre.
The second reason is that the characters talk during the shmup sequences, but since most American players don’t speak Japanese, they have to choose between watching the enemy bullets or reading the dialogue.
For a visual novel, Yurukill: The Calumniation Games struggled a concerning amount. There was a lot of stuttering and freezing when switching between scenes or conversations. Additionally, pulling up menus and dialogue records took several seconds of loading.
Surprisingly, the shoot ‘em sections were the smoothest part of the game (even though it had the most going on). However, I did have a shoot ‘em up section crash on me once. It crashed as I beat the final boss and forced me to replay the entire 20ish minute sequence over again.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games has its ups and downs, but the story is compelling and the shooting is fun. If those two genres speak to you, you’ll find value in this game.
Thanks to NIS America for the review code! You can buy this ambitious game here on the Nintendo eShop.