Yurukill: The Calumniation Games Review (PS5)
Available on: PS4/PS5/Switch/Steam
Genre: Visual Novel + Bullet Hell Shmup
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
I don’t know what I’d do if I ever come into a situation where I’m falsely accused of something and in turn falsely imprisoned. Especially when the evidence that would prove it wasn’t me suddenly disappears. Funnily enough, I’m reading a webcomic about someone that got falsely accused right now.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is essentially about a couple of people that were falsely accused and imprisoned getting the chance to prove themselves innocent, but it’s not going to be as easy as it seems. Our protagonist, a man named Sengoku Shunju, was accused of blowing up an apartment complex that killed 21 people. For 10 years he has said he was innocent, and he was delivering a package, was given a drink which he highly suspects were spiked, and fell asleep in his truck. Of course, no one lived in the apartment he delivered to, and that drink was not found. Until, that is, he wakes up somewhere completely different.
Sengoku wakes up behind bars on a boat and he finds out that four others are as well. After causing some commotion and talking with another prisoner named Futa, a woman with a fox mask appears. Introducing herself as Binko and forever holding a quiet coyote, she tells everyone that they have a chance at their names being cleared. All they have to do is participate in Yurukill Land, survive, and end up as the winner. Each Prisoner will go through their own attraction, or Yurukill Game, and little do they know, it’s based on the crime they were accused of. Each Prisoner is also paired with an Executioner who can more or less just watch from the sidelines with the power of killing their Prisoner just a press away. If the Executioner’s Prisoner happens to win, the Executioner will also get whatever they wish within reason.
Oh and did I mention that the Executioners are the Prisoner’s victims? Not only do they have a chance at getting whatever they wish, but they get to confront the people that caused so much grief for them. It’s a win-win situation for them.
Everyone is divided into teams and set to go to their individual Yurukill Game before going against each other later on. Sengoku is paired with a teenage girl named Rina under Team Mass Murderers, twins Futa and Raita are with Kagura as the Death Dealing Duo, the Crafty Killers are Gentoku and the shy Izane, tthe pop star Hanaka is paired with her number one fan Keiichi as the Sly Stalkers, and the detective duo Allan and Kristina are the last minute additions as the Peeping Toms. After boarding the train, everyone is dropped off at their Yurukill Game to face whatever it may hold.
You might be asking, well how are we going to learn about the other teams and what got them into this situation if the focus is on Sengoku? Well, the first couple chapters actually switch perspectives between the teams. Letting you get to know everyone and what they faced with no problem. You get to learn who these characters are, with you usually taking the perspective of the Prisoner, what the crime the Prisoners are accused of, and being able to see the dynamics and how they clash due to their differing personalities and this situation as a whole. There are a couple twists here as well which I really liked, as they play more into the characters trying to hide themselves until they can’t. I can’t even pick my favorite as they were done pretty well and fell in line with their character and the hints you get as you talk with them more. You can say I really enjoyed the characters and the interactions between them.
The only characters I didn’t enjoy as much were the Peeping Toms, Allan and Kristina. They are the only ones that don’t have their own attraction due to being a last minute addition, which I don’t know if it hampered them or not, and being quite annoying. That’s on purpose, but I almost suspected their characters to go into a different direction than they did. Like acting as dumb and annoying as they did to be undercover. Kristina does have that undertone of being the smarter one and the brains behind the duo under all her annoying aspects though.
It seems I spent a bit too long on the story aspect (to be fair this is a visual novel), so let’s get into gameplay. With each team, you’ll go into their personal Yurukill Game. Each attraction is made up of three challenges (or levels?) where you have to appease the Gatekeeper, a robot that is dressed up to look like someone, so the next door will open. The Gatekeeper will say something related to what it wants and it’s up to the Prisoner (aka you) to find it. This has you investigating the room(s) you have access to and finding the needed information or items needed to continue or at least solve the puzzle holding what you need. The puzzles here are pretty easy, but I have to say that some are tricky. Ranging from arrange the colors the correct way to learning what a magic square is to solve the puzzle to deciphering a riddle so you know what you need to do.
Towards the end of the attraction, the Executioner will put the Prisoner in something called Maji-kill Time where the Executioner is close to killing the Prisoner right then and there. The only way you can keep the Prisoner alive is by answering the Executioner’s question with the right dialogue choice. I don’t know how I feel about Maji-kill Time as it kind of felt unnecessary. Not character wise, as I do think it’s important that the Executioners confront the Prisoners in some way like this, but I suppose how it’s set up. It felt as though you couldn’t fail until the last question and I actually tested this out with the Sly Stalkers so this is at least true for them. I also didn’t get the Urge to Kill meter since it raises no matter if you answer correctly, and it doesn’t really do anything but reaffirm that the Executioner is willing to kill the Prisoner right then and there. Maji-kill Time was one of the weaker aspects on the visual novel half of Yurukill for me even taking into account how much it helps the characters development out.
Of course, Yurukill has a second half that you’ll engage with. Each chapter ends with you diving into the bullet hell shoot ‘em up (or shmup as I’ll refer to it from now on) half of the game. The Prisoner and the Executioner are put into brain reality or BR, which is basically VR except it interfaces with your brain. Both are connected and this allows the Executor another way to decide whether or not the Prisoner is to be trusted about being falsely accused. This includes going through three levels fighting enemies and trying to not fully die by piloting your aircraft (or Yurukill Fighter). The number of lives you have through this section depends on how many answers you get correct on the quiz that’s all about the alleged crime.
To be honest, I don’t really play bullet hell shmups, so I’m not the best person to ask if this aspect is good. As you’re going through the level, various enemies will come out to attack you with projectiles that you need to dodge and shoot back to to destroy them. I do believe this does a good job with how the bullets are laid out and the hitbox of your aircraft and the bullets, but I do feel sometimes there were a bit too many bullets on the screen to realistically dodge (granted, this can be pointed to me not playing this genre anyway).
Depending on the Prisoner, the Yurukill Fighter is different both in how it looks, how it attacks, and how fast it is. Like Sengoku feels like an average fighter that focuses on focus fire while Futa is fast and you can freely arrange the firing modules (which everyone has) in any direction so you can even hit enemies without being under them. Each one also has differed “charged” attacks which contrary to the name aren’t charged but more helps lock in your firing modules and narrowing your projectiles. They all also have a different outburst attack (they all have the same outburst bomb), which fills up as you attack enemies and becomes available at 20%. Your outburst gauge also acts as your health bar (at least at Normal and Easy difficulty) so you do get a second chance if you get hit. If you get hit with less than 20%, you lose one life.
The Executioners act as the bosses here, with them appearing at the end of each level with their own unique aircraft. The Executioners are pretty hard, having their unique attack patterns, even unique enemies or projectiles depending on who you’re fighting, and do not hold back to all. The most I’ve died was against them (and it’s usually at their last fight against me). The first two times you defeat them, you are actually taken to their prejudice synapse that visually shows their mind (yes you’re literally changing their mind here). Here, you get to break down their subconscious distrust and doubt about you by providing evidence. With the last time having you go through their Mind Maze, correctly assembling sentences about the situation, to get to the core of their mind so they can see the truth.
There are difficulty settings here and you can change it to be easier if needed. I played the whole game on normal and while there were sections where I just died over and over, I did at least have a bit of fun here. I could have lowered the difficulty, which I thought about doing, but I kind of liked the challenge coming from this area of the game.
I personally don’t like bullet hell shmups, so I knew and am in the group that could do without this aspect, but I do like how it’s framed within the story. It also does kind of wave away the doubts of how the Executors could trust the Prisoners so quickly. You don’t have to make sure to add scenes of the Prisoner struggling to get the Executioner to trust them if you literally changed their mind. I am also pretty happy that you’ll encounter different enemy types depending on the chapter stage you’re on and the music is really good during these sequences.
With the bullet hell shmup aspect, there is some replayability there. There is a Score Attack Mode included within the game and the stages unlock as you progress through the chapter. After you finish the main story, or maybe you just want to play one of the stages again, you’ll be able to play that stage with any (unlocked) Prisoner. Not only letting you play with a ship that otherwise wasn’t originally available, but if you want to play a specific shmup stage you don’t have to save right before (unless you want the story and do the prejudice synapses and mind mazes). You will also be able to choose the difficulty, which also dictates how many lives you start out with instead of the quiz during the main story. There is also a leaderboard, so you can go up against other players if you want to.
Aside from everything, there are two things that I wished Yurukill had throughout the game. One is the save system being like how it is in most other visual novels. When you manually save, instead of putting you back to where you saved you’re put back at the beginning of the scene. Which is annoying especially when you learn you were close to the end of the scene. There isn’t a reason to save unless you want to get to that scene again later as the autosave will likely happen (there was only one place I noticed that it didn’t). The other thing is not having a skip read option. I can forgive how the save system is if there was a skip read option as at least then you can skip the lines you already read.
While I may not be a fan of bullet hell shmups, I did enjoy playing and reading through Yurukill: The Calumniation Games. Apart from the Peeping Toms, I enjoyed learning about these characters, seeing how they interacted together, and ultimately if they were really falsely accused of and how their Executioner played into it (as well as who the actual culprit is). I also did like the puzzles here, despite how a lot of them are pretty easy to figure out. Though, I do wish the teams interacted with each other more and that the Peeping Toms weren’t as annoying as they are. As well as having the save system be how it usually is in other games and there being a skip read text option.
I was also pretty bad at the bullet hell shmup half of the game, and well I don’t usually enjoy the genre anyway, but I didn’t mind it much. Plus I did like how it tied into the story.
Luckily, if you’re not too sure about Yurukill, whether that be if you’d enjoy how it’s written or if you’d like (or tolerate) the bullet hell shmups stages, there is a demo that you can try out.