It’s time for the next tier of games – and you do not realise how tricky it was to pick those up! I moved a lot of titles to the next level when I realised how their gameplay could affect the gaming experience A LOT. And by a lot, I mean that apart from proper Japanese language levels some of them are going to require some good gaming skills as well (and a lot of nerve in some cases).
However, we’re on intermediate tier now and that means higher language difficulty, but a person on N3 level should be able to deal with these without major problems. Some games in this list include other game genre elements which make the gameplay more complicated. I’ve also chosen games the plot of which is simply more complex or uses specific vocabulary because of its setting (e.g. in Code Realize you encounter tons of technical vocabulary because it’s set in steampunk England. Also, a few characters are quite passionate about science or technology and that fact impacts your ability to understand what they’re talking about and what’s actually going on).
Well, it’s time to dig into this level’s recommended titles!
Japanese title: Code:Realize ～創世の姫君～
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Genre: visual novel, otome, steampunk
No. of games: 3
Limited edition: Yes
CERO: C (B for the sequel)
Anime: Yes (1 season, 13 eps)
Drama CDs: Yes, multiple
English version: Yes (all 3 games)
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/code-realize/
Synopsis: Cardia lives day to day isolated from the world in a restricted, abandoned mansion in order to fulfil her promise to her father. Her body carries a deadly poison that rots or melts anything that her skin touches – causing the locals to call her “monster” so her father told her to stay away from people and falling in love, but he suddenly disappears. One day, her quiet solitude is interrupted when the Royal Guards break in to capture her. That’s when she meets the chivalrous thief Arsène Lupin who helps her break free from the Royal Guards. Cardia then finds herself on a journey with Lupin to locate her father. (source: wikipedia)
My comment: Code Realize games got really popular which resulted in the creation of 3 games in the series as well as the anime version of the first game coming out soon after. There’s a great reason for all that – the game’s just marvellous. Apart from clear, steampunk setting, an awesome cast featuring some of the most famous male seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) as well as amazing soundtrack which only adds up to the whole setting, Code Realize offers a solid story with an interesting twist in terms of well-known characters like Sherlock Holmes, Arsene Lupin, Frankenstein or Van Helsing.
Now, after I’ve written this very commercial-like sum up of Code Realize’s greatest features, I can tell you more about it from the linguistic (and Japanese-learning) standpoint. Even if you’re a fan of steampunk (I’m personally not, but I picked up this game anyway), if I were you, I’d refrain from buying this title for your first game of intermediate tier of visual novels. Despite simple gameplay which only requires making a correct choice of you here and there (like almost all visual novels do, especially otome games), the world of the game as well as the language used are not entirely easy to understand. I mean, the dialogues between the parties and the narration are relatively easy to understand – the kanji use is quite natural, meaning if you’ve just started N3 level, you’d find this game problematic. For a person who’s completed N3 level, you’ll recognise most kanji thus making it easier to play the game.
However, it’s the technology behind all the plot that can confuse you and require that dictionary being on constant standby. If you’ve ever read or watched a story set in a steampunk world, you’re very much aware of how much the technology influences the plot and how much it is talked through and mentioned. Code Realize isn’t any different from other stories of this particular setting. So, yes, you can expect times when the dictionary use will be heavy, but most time you’ll do fine – if you’re either already on N3 level or have completed it, that is.
The general plot is quite simple and gets you hooked quite easily, the characters are just gorgeous and I personally had a problem choosing my favourite guy. Even if you’re not into any of them, their personal stories are so well-written, you just want to find out about it all – which isn’t a common thing, actually. It’s very rare and something to clap on if the creators made you play all the routes available instead of picking “the one and only” and focusing on him. Just bear in mind that if you’re fond of Lupin, his story won’t get unlocked until you’ve completed the other 4 guys’ routes. That’s when you’re able to start a new game in Lupin’ route.
One more advantage is the graphics which is something to be stared at, including the backgrounds. I just drooled over them most times. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but it fits the overall story and setting quite nicely, so it’s quite easy to get involved in the story and the characters’ peril.
Oh, and the last and, in my opinion, the most important thing – Cardia just rocks. She’s a very strong very independent lead female, very different from your typical otome game protagonist which needs constant protection from the bad guys or life itself. Cardia isn’t like that. Yes, there are times when Lupin and the gang need to save her last minute, but she can think, she can plan and she can execute. She also isn’t a harmless womanly woman, but due to her powers, she can do serious damage and turn the tides in dangerous situations which is something I LOVE of female protagonists. I LOVE when they AREN’T a damsel in distress all the time. It’s also a delight to watch how she grows to live among other people and to trust them, despite her upbringing sank in seclusion. Consequently, Cardia is one of those things that make the story and this game itself great. Definitely try this one, but maybe save it for the upper spectrum of intermediate level. If you’ve just entered it, I’d recommend trying some other games presented in this list.
Japanese title: 7’scarlet
Platform: Playstation Vita
Genre: visual novel, otome, mystery
No. of games: 1
Limited edition: Yes
Drama CDs: No
English version: Yes
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/7scarlet/
Synopsis: The game follows Ichiko Hanamaki, a college student whose brother has disappeared in the town of Okunezato a year prior to the start of the game. She and her childhood friend Hino Kagutsuchi find a website discussing mysteries surrounding the town, which will host an offline meetup in the town during the summer; Ichiko and Hino go there to investigate Ichiko’s brother’s disappearance. (source: wikipedia)
My comment: My honest thoughts of this game? Mixed. I mean I loved the trailer when it first came out. It looked so aesthetically pleasing that I preordered it immediately. The plot also sounded intriguing – finally some mystery being released! Did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no. I kind of got what I was expecting, but was not fully satisfied.
For instance, the mystery around the protagonist’s brother’s disappearance is quite good and to reveal all secret you must play all the guys’ routes with the inn owner at the end – similarly to Code Realize, his route gets unlocked after you finished the rest of the male cast. On the other hand, the romantic aspect of this game lacks and one route is just terrifying rather than being romantic. I know some girls are into yandere (a Japanese term for a person who is initially very loving and gentle to someone (or at least innocent) before their devotion becomes destructive in nature, often through violence and/or brutality. Source: Animanga Wiki) stuff, but I’m not, so one route was very off-putting and I even put the game itself away. However, my usual curiosity got the best of me and I just had to find out what is the mystery of this small town our protagonist and her childhood friend are visiting.
But bear in mind that if you’re looking for a detective mystery, you won’t find it here. Code Realize would be a better choice in that regard as it involves a conspiracy. In 7’scarlet you’re going to find a small-town mystery, people being wary of outsiders, pretending the protagonist’s brother had never arrived and not letting them find out secrets of their town. This was just the kind of story I was looking for – and it didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t an amazing story, but a good one. Actually, if you’re looking for something LESS heavy in romance and plot mechanisms characteristic for an otome game, 7’scarlet might be just for you. As it was also released in English, you can easily check whether you understood all the tangles between every character, the town and the protagonist’s brother as well as the finale.
There isn’t much to say about the language. I’d definitely put it above Shinobi Koi Utsutsu presented further below, but it wasn’t something an N3 level student wouldn’t handle. Sure, the story is rich in small details that end up mattering later or connections between people and places, but it can be dealt with a little dictionary time. Or simple immersion in the story. Honestly, I even took some notes on the aforementioned connections so that I wouldn’t lose track of those small but important details and that also helped a lot. Not to mention the fact that in this game you sometimes get to choose what things you’re buying and having certain objects in your inventory directs the plot in a certain way. As a result, it is advisable to write down those choices as well (or simply use the walkthrough if you’re struggling to enter a particular route). Also, be careful of bad endings. There are quite a few moments when you can lose all your progress because of a decision you’d made a few minutes earlier, so save as often as you can and keep several saves (that’s actually a tip true for all the games you’re playing, not only visual novels).
Japanese title: √Letter (ルートレター)
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch
Genre: visual novel, mystery adventure, point-and-click
No. of games: 2 (but “Last Answer” is an enhanced edition of the original game with additional endings and a live action mode)
Limited edition: Yes
Drama CDs: No
English version: Yes
Game’s website: http://www.r-letter.com/
Synopsis: Root Letter is set in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where the protagonist arrives in search of Fumino Aya, a pen pal friend from high school who had disappeared for 15 years. After he finds a letter dedicated to him from her that was never sent, he sets out to interrogate her classmates as he wonders if everything Aya had told him had been a lie. (source: wikipedia)
My comment: Wow! Finally a game which isn’t an otome one! Although it does feature a romance. However, in Root Letter you’re a guy who has set on a journey to find an old pen pal – a girl – who you used to exchange letters with 15 years before. You’re curious to find out what happened to Aya, especially that her last letter states that she has killed someone.
The game contains several cool features that made me binge-play it over several days. Yes, DAYS – the story is long, but very linear, so as long as you keep saves in proper moments, you can replay the game to get all the endings (and trust me – it’s so worth getting all the solutions why Aya disappeared – one of them is so absurd I laugh about it till this day) without wasting much time. What’s more, I gotta admit that this game made me laugh so hard occasionally – specifically, there’s this one character, a pervy old guy that suddenly appears in the most inappropriate moments (especially when you’re having a bath in hot springs) which brings a welcomed comic relief to this very much a sad story.
Also, contrary to typical otome games, you don’t pick any “guys” or other characters around which the plot then revolves. Instead, in Root Letter, your goal is to discover what happened to Aya and there are several explanations (i.e. endings; both bad and happy) about what happened.
Throughout the game, you reread the letters you got from Aya and try to remember what you wrote back. This is where the game mechanics get very interesting – since you and Aya were penpals 15 years before, you struggle to remember what your response was. As a result, during the game, you get to choose what you responded with and that choice influences the game’s outcome – a typical “choose 1 option” visual novel mechanic, but in a very creative format. Here’s where I can give you a tip – save as you’re about to make a choice about your answer to Aya’s letter. That’s where the routes split, resulting in different endings.
Another part of the game is pure INTERROGATION. If you’ve ever played an Ace Attorney game, then you’re quite familiar with a concept of cross-examination where you get to interrogate the witness about the case and you can present various evidence to them if needed. A similar idea is used in Root Letter – you get to question the game’s characters and can show them some objects you’ve gathered while snooping around Aya’s hometown. Based on your talk and the objects you can make people tell you things they hide or which are relevant to the story. As a result, you walk quite much around the town and visit different places relevant to Aya’s life, obtaining more and more information on her story.
An interesting thing about this game is its enhanced edition. The story in that edition is very much the same, but if you’re not a fan of anime graphics, you can trigger a “live-action” mode which will feature actors instead of drawn characters. The clips were also remade with the actors’ play. Music was great since the very beginning – it isn’t memorable, but nicely fits all the scenes – the scenery of a small town, the intensity of questioning the characters as well as a certain nostalgic vibe during flashbacks.
If we were to talk about the language used, it’s quite simple. As long as you remember places’ names, you’re fine (fortunately you move from spot to spot by choosing your destination on a map). The plot is not super complex, either. What may prove to be a bit of a challenge is the interrogation, though. During its climax, you’re faced with some timed responses you need to make. At first, you may have trouble with reading them, because they’re swapping so fast, but you can always save the game before questioning somebody and reload it if you fail. It’s such a minor difficulty, though, that I decided to put it in this game tier. The story and other game mechanics, after all, are totally of intermediate level.
SHINOBI KOI UTSUTSU
Japanese title: 忍び、恋うつつ
Platform: Playstation Portable, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4
Genre: visual novel, otome, ninja
No. of games: 2
Limited edition: Yes (and twin edition with both games too)
Drama CDs: Yes
English version: No
Game’s website: http://www.otomate.jp/nin_koi/banka/
Synopsis: Katagiri Kae, whose aim is to become a ninja, meets a vice-president of Sanada High School in a tea house she works at. He asks her if she would enrol in the school. In order to do that, it is necessary to transfer to the ninja training centre first and achieve good results in the midterm exam – only then Kae will become an actual student of the school and start preparing to become a full-fledged ninja. Wanting to make her dreams come true, Kae agrees to the vice’s proposal. However, on her very first day, she activates an unusual ninja technique allowing her to captivate men. Will Kae become a real ninja or will her secret technique blow in her face?
My comment: I’m so sentimental when it comes to this game. To tell the truth, it was the first otome game I’d actually finished! Well, partially. It was the first otome game I’d finished a route in (although I was close to doing that before when playing Norn 9 back in 2013 – I was just 1 chapter away from the end, unaware at the time!). That says something since I hadn’t even completed my N4 studies when I started playing Shinobi Koi Utsutsu. As an old Naruto fan, I just had to pick a ninja otome game. If you’re in the same boat, feeling too old for Naruto (if that’s even possible), but would like to try something centred more on romance than overpowered fights (though battle scenes and ninja work is still present in this game!). Similarly to Code Realize, the graphics are heavily ninja-inspired (that even includes the loading symbol) as well as the soundtrack. The background music is a nice mix of modern and ninja era music. If you’ve ever watched Naruto, you know what I’m talking about – when the scene gets intense, that nice heavier beat kicks in, making the scene more exciting while most of the time you can hear traditional Japanese instruments as a part of a track.
Language-wise I’d say that this game is perfect for N3 level. It includes a lot of kanji you learn on that level. For others, you’d quickly learn to recognise them. I’ve also noticed a lot of grammar points discussed at N3 in the dialogues and narration of the game. So, if you’re mid-N3, you’ll play this game with ease and certain comfort of staying away from the dictionary. Early N3 is also possible, but with more frequent dictionary checks. As I’ve mentioned, I had played this game as an N4 student and had actually completed it (it took me around 2 weeks to finish one route, though).
What’s also great about the language is the fact that despite the plot being set in ninja times, the language used both by the characters and in the narration is very much modern. Some characters use several words or figures of speech characteristic for those times (like 我 [われ] or でござる), but that’s it. You don’t have to worry about old Japanese present at all, which only serves as this game’s advantage – you get to enjoy a different type of story without struggling to understand what is being said.
The plot isn’t anything great, it revolves around ninja school life, meaning training, missions and battering with other students (especially that other kunoichi – female ninja – are jealous of the protagonist’s power), very much like in a typical high school setting. Of course, at some point in the game, you get to choose one of the guys (here as your training partner) and later end up developing romantic feelings for each other.
However, Shinobi Koi Utsutsu features a lot of well-known seiyuu – especially because in the enhanced version for Playstation Vita, you get 4 more potential romance targets than the original 6 in the first version of the game, which was released on PSP. It means more male seiyuu to listen to and fall in love with. It also makes this game a good value for money – you get 10 routes to play and each route is of standard length (meaning a few hours per each character and if you’re stopping for dictionary searches or translation, that adds up to even longer playtime).
If you’re a fan of ninja stories, there’s one more otome game I can prompt you to play and that’s Nightshade (Japanese: 百花百狼). I haven’t played it myself, so I can’t speak for its language level, but it was released in English on Steam (PC) and based on my friends’ experience with this title, I can definitely tell it’s an awesome play and I’m interested in checking it out myself. In Japanese, it’s available on Playstation Vita.
ZETTAI KAIKYUU GAKUEN ~EDEN WITH ROSES AND PHANTASM~
Japanese title: 絶対階級学園～Eden with roses and phantasm～
Platform: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: visual novel, otome
No. of games: 1
Limited edition: No
Drama CDs: Yes, a few
English version: No
Game’s website: https://www.prot.co.jp/psv/kaikyu/index.html
Synopsis: The protagonist, Fujieda Neri, lives in the poor district within the “Ring Area”, which surrounds the Tokyo Bay. She lives a modest, yet peaceful lifestyle. However, one day, her father, her only family, suddenly disappears.
“Go to Kaikyuu Academy.” – That was all what was written on the mysterious letter left behind by him.
The private Kaikyuu Academy… A prestigious boarding school attended by sons and daughters from privileged families, founded upon the goal of educating them well in order to give them the tools to support future Japan.
Following the letter left by her father, Neri transferrs into Kaikyuu Academy, a school where celebrities gather. It is extremely luxurious, however, being grounded upon a social caste system, the academy is dominated by “social class discrimination”.
At the very top of the social hierarchy is the “Queen”. Endowed with incredible political influence, she rules over the students. Superior to everyone else but the Queen are the chosen elites belonging to the privileged class, “The Roses in Full Bloom”. The commoner class, in which most of the students belong in, is called “The Nameless Honeybees”.
And then there are “The Ignored Stones”… Even though they’re fellow students, those in The Ignored Stones are regarded as having the same rights as a servant – they’re usually oppressed and enslaved. Finally, there is “The Resistance”, which is an organisation composed of students who oppose the social hierarchy system and wish to demolish it.
In a society far more disparate than she had ever imagined, Neri finds “love”, and gradually, a certain “truth” about the academy surfaces. What is this “truth?” and how is it connected to her father’s mysterious disappearance? (source: the game’s website)