Utawarerumono (game)

Genre: Epic Drama, Adventure, Romance, Action, Hentai
Medium: Visual novel, Strategy
Format: PC
Rating: 18

A man is found unconscious and wounded in the forest, and is nursed back to health by villagers, including Tuskur and her granddaughter Elulu. He has no memory of who he is, and is given the name of Hakuoro by Tuskur, but he does have leadership, knowledge and a strategic mind. From leading the villagers to rise up against the oppression, he becomes first the leader of a rebellion, then emperor of the country which he has to defend from those who would take advantage of its weakened state. But still, the question of his lost past continues to haunt him.

We’ve talked repeatedly about the curiously Japanese phenomenon of porn with a good story, and given high scores and glowing reviews to anime adaptations of hentai games – with the hentai removed. Curiosity as to how this works led me to try the game version of one of my favourite anime – see Minotaur’s review. The game hasn’t been published in English, but there’s a disk image and an English patch on Chris’ servers. If you can get an image of the PS2 version of the game (which had the hentai removed), you can add voices to it.

The first thing to get used to is the medium of the ‘visual novel’, which consists of a single picture of a character on screen, and some words scrolling past at the bottom. And nothing else. Each character has only a couple of pictures, for their primary emotions, and you see each one a lot. It underlines the fact that the medium is above all cheap: like manga, the barrier to publication is low, so there’s more scope for the marketplace to pick its favourites. I haven’t played many visual novels before, so it took me some getting used to – but once I did, just like a novel or a manga, the medium seems less important than the story.

And what surprised me is that the story is all there. Every twist of the plot, every turn of a battle is the same as the anime, with only a few little changes here and there. Not only that, but the characters are fully developed: their personality, back story, development through the story and relationships, as well as the details of their appearance, clothes and facial expressions. The cheap medium led me to expect a cheap version of the story, but not so. The plot is predetermined, however – you don’t need to make the right choices to get to the ending. Characters die when the story says they do, so you can’t screw up.

But there’s a second game style mixed in: an isometric turn-based strategy game, in which you control up to a dozen or so characters fighting for an objective in each battle. You also control their stats and levelling, which will matter as the tougher opponents turn up. Each character is different – the archers have a longer range, Touka moves more quickly, Elulu heals, etc. It’s not enough to carry the game alone, nor is it exceptionally difficult – or wasn’t on the easy setting – but it’s enough of a hurdle to make you feel involved and keep the talking from getting boring.w

The other question on my mind was the hentai scenes – how they would affect the story, and whether they would undermine the characters. I was pleased to see that they don’t. They’re a very small part of the game, mostly clustered toward the end, and carefully scripted. Each of the girls is a fully developed character by the time their scene arrives, and the story does its best to make them happen in the right way for that character. I think at least some of them could have been included in the anime if they’d wished to. Also, the nature of the visual novel is in effect: with only a picture or two for the scene, they instead have to use words to tell most of the story. Thus there is far more imagined than shown, and the scenes can be more personal and emotive.

I can’t speak for the vast sea of hentai visual novels out there, but this is a good title that manages to strike a careful balance between story, gameplay and hentai. At some point I’ll play it again on a harder mode.