Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- Review

See you in Hell ~♥

Released: April 4, 2024
Available on: Switch
Genre: Otome Visual Novel
Developer: Otomate
Publisher: Aksys Games
Review code provided by developers

My first otome game for 2024! This one was one that won me over just with its opening and then later looked at the premise and thought it was interesting. I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since the localization was announced, counting down the days until the release date, and it’s finally here! So, now the question is, how was it?

Since I like talking, be warned this review will contain slight spoilers. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the reveals to myself.

Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- does have some interesting lore that is needed to understand the game’s world. The lore is based around Buddhism, which has a prominent and real presence, and does honestly make the location the game primarily takes place in pretty interesting. Doing a quick rundown before we go into the game, there are six realms, but we only need to concern ourselves with three. There’s the Human Realm, which is self-explanatory; Heaven or the Heavenly Realm where celestial beings and those that were virtuous reside; and Hell or Hell Realm which is where the deceased get their deeds examined and those that sinned get tortured to atone for them. The Hell Realm is divided into many, many, different hells and sub-hells by the crimes people have committed. Each section of Hell has their own torture and while they all sound terrible, it gets worse the more sins you committed and how severe it was. Not to mention how long your sentence can be. Those that are sent to Hell to be tortured are called Prisoners and those that administer the punishments are Hell Guardians. Prisoners generally mumei, or disappear and reincarnate, before their sentence is up, but there are some that hang on due to their lingering attachments being strong. However, those that genuinely atoned and repented for their sins can become Model Prisoners which allows them to receive a pardon and be able to visit and work in the Human Realm as long as they keep up with their good behavior.

There are a two more details that I couldn’t find a good place to fit them in. Hell Guardians can torture Prisoners thanks to Sanzu River’s healing properties, however a soul wears down just a little every time they’re brought back from death, or near death, until it mumei. Also, the Human Realm, Heavenly Realm, and Hell Realm are connected in some way. The Hell Realm has an entrance (or entrances as you’ll find out) in the Human Realm, those in the Heavenly Realm can visit the Human Realm and Hell Realm, and the Heavenly Realm can interact with the Hell Realm using thread. This thread that Heaven sends down is known as Spider’s Thread and plays a very important role. If you’re able to wrap yourself in it and arrive in the Heavenly Realm without a crowd causing it to disappear, all your sins will be absolved and you’ll be seen as innocent. Not many are able to escape this way, since the Spider’s Thread disappears easily, but it does seem the best bet is to be personally saved by a celestial.

Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- follows a young woman who died long ago and lives in Hell. You can rename her, but I’ll refer her by Rin Enma as it’s her canon name. Rin isn’t a normal resident, however, as she’s a transient. Transients are basically those that lose their memories when they die and thus have a pure soul when they arrive at Sanzu River. Usually, transient souls disappear and get reincarnated in the Heavenly Realm, but King Enma, the ruler of the Hell Realm, adopted her instead. He just wanted to see how raising a daughter would be like and Rin came at a perfect time. King Enma ended up becoming a dotting father who loves Rin so much he’ll severely punish anyone that dares to upset or harass her and even gives pardons to a whole section of Hell if they happen to help stop someone that has been harassing her or if Rin makes him especially happy. Heck, you can confess your feelings to her and King Enma might punish you just for that. Not to mention the other six kings love Rin so much half of them want to marry her. She has very powerful connections, but alas these Prisoners are idiots.

Anyway, ever since King Enma took Rin in she has been grateful. As she spent more time in Hell and developed into the person she is today, she decided to repay King Enma’s kindness by becoming a Hell Guardian. She even just wants to stay in the Hell Realm as she doesn’t find any reason to go to the Human Realm even though it could help bring back memories. When the game starts, Rin just completed her training and exams, which she aced all of them and came out as a valedictorian. As she’s waiting to hear where she’ll be stationed at, she hangs out with her friend Oshichi, a Model Prisoner who is a hopeless romantic hoping to see the man she fell in love with when she was alive and works at her favorite cafe, and Tamao, a cat who has been devoted to Rin ever since she saved him from some nasty Prisoners when he first arrived in Hell and also just became a new Hell Guardian.

Oh, and did I mention that Rin absolutely hates men? Yeah, it’s not surprising 99% of men she ran into in Hell were terrible. Her only good interaction with a man, the mystical 1%, was Goemon literally right before everything went down as he kept her from accidentally falling into the Sanzu River. He even offered to carry her across like the sweetheart he is, but Rin understandably assumes he had more devious intentions.

Of course, everything can’t go as perfect as our little protagonist wants it to as Hell suddenly goes into lockdown. Rin doesn’t find out until the next day that multiple Prisoners managed to escape. A Spider’s Thread was mysteriously lowered without notice, allowing them to escape without it disappearing on them, and it’s speculated that Shinobikuni, a former Prisoner who also escaped using the thread years ago, was involved and now hosting them in her temple. It’s also suspected that something else is at play, like Shinobikuni having a hidden, devious objective that she doesn’t want to be ruined by Hell or Heaven. King Enma is mad and he wants them captured and punished, but this is going to be a bit more complicated. The Escapees not only were already removed from Hell’s registry and considered innocent, but it seems it also took away the block King Enma had on their Desires (power that’s manifested by strong emotions and is different from person to person). King Enma is entrusting this mission to Rin, but considering the situation he’s also sending four Prisoners along with her. These four Prisoners are from the hells that house the most atrocious humans, but they have proved their tenacity by being in Hell the longest without their souls showing wear, gaining King Enma’s trust, and having Desires of their own. Rin, wanting to make her Hell Papa proud, agrees to take on the mission despite her reservations about it. Tamao is even allowed to go with her.

Unfortunately, once Rin and the Prisoners are in the Human Realm they go mask off. Just like how Rin hates men, these Prisoners hate women and don’t take Rin’s authority seriously. Their tone does change when Rin uses a helpful feature that the handy dandy handcuffs they have to wear has. As you go through the Common Route, you’ll spend most of the time in the Human Realm at Asakusa Special Ward where you’ll learn more about the Prisoners, see Rin slowly bond with them and vice versa, learn more about this game’s universe, and watch as Rin slowly loosens up and interact with other characters. They also soon find out that the speculations made on Shinobikuni and her Escapee crew are correct as they not only run into them, but learn their plan involves a pardoning app that promises to absolve sins if you complete daily missions or donate money. What effects will this have if humans take the app seriously? You also learn about Rin’s Desire, which will play a big part in their success and a segway into their routes. If they want any chance in completing their goal, they need to bond and learn to trust one another.

I liked the Common Route here. The length is decently long and it does a great job in introducing you to the world, the characters, the conflicts, and making it believable that Rin and the Prisoners would fall in love. It was a good choice in giving readers time to get used to the game’s universe as I know I certainly was a bit confused in the beginning (and I’m sure not being familiar with Buddhism didn’t help). Plus, I liked learning about the historical figures, mythology, and legends that this game was inspired by and based their characters on through the game and quick Google searches I did for moments I couldn’t just roll with it. I wasn’t expecting Buddhism to be the foundation in Tengoku Struggle -Strayside-‘s world, but I enjoyed how it was implemented (though I’m still confused on why characters sometimes refer to Sanzu River as Mitsuse River). I also thought the conflict with Shinobikuni was interesting as you have an almost untouchable antagonist group and a pardon app that can embolden people that believe it. Not to mention that it introduces mini-conflicts that are personally connected to each Prisoner.

I didn’t know whether or not the conflict will be resolved before the LI routes, but I ended up enjoying how it was ultimately handled. A man-hating protagonist and woman-hating men being forced to work and live together is an interesting dynamic, but since this is an otome game you need to make it believable that they’ll eventually fall in love. The story does progress, but the game puts the most focus on the relationships between the characters. You learn about them as Rin has to be around them and they grow on you like they grow on Rin. It becomes clear that the hate of the other gender on both sides is more of a facade on the Prisoner side and not being used to being around them on Rin’s side. The banter they all have was great as well and so funny. It’s so great seeing each side do something the other didn’t expect and you can see them think “well, I guess they’re not that bad”. The build-up to the upcoming romance is very believable and it helps that interactions and events are enjoyable to read though. Plus, it’s a nice bonus that it also ends up progressing the story since their bond with each other is a factor in whether they’ll succeed or fail.

Oh, and I also loved the side characters Rin gets to interact with in both the Common Route and the LI Routes. Rin’s dynamic with everyone is great and the characters are so enjoyable to talk to and learn more about. Like Mukkan the naive angel who Rin is surprisingly gentle with; the lovable and hopeless romantic Oshichi who cheers on Rin finding a lover so they can talk about boys; The protective and loyal Tamao who will chomp off your privates if you dare hurt his chief; King Enma the eccentric ruler and loving father that has hilarious interactions with Rin and the Prisoners; and Nono the “corporate slave” who is so cool, collected, and has a way with words. The interactions and dynamics everyone has are great and while I loved the LIs, I also loved it when we got to see the side characters again as their personalities are so enjoyable.

Talking about characters, I loved Rin Enma as a protagonist. I know how hated amnesia characters/arcs are, but Rin’s amnesia is handled in a refreshing way. And by refreshing, I mean it’s barely referenced. Rin has no memory of her previous life, but she’s content with never regaining them as she likes her life in the Hell Realm. She doesn’t even want to go to the Human Realm even though there’s a chance her memories can come back (which does in the form of being nostalgic for certain things). Nonetheless, Rin has grown to be quite an intelligent, serious, strong, and hardworking lady who wields a whip. She can be harsh as any Hell Guardian, but at the same time she can be anxious, gentle, accommodating, stubborn, and fun. Unlike what you’d think, Rin will also take responsibility if something is her fault and she actually has some girly interests like painting her nails and looking cute. Once you get into the routes, it’s really cute seeing her be clueless about romance, being in denial about her feelings, slowly come into terms with being in love, and show off her horny side. Rin Enma was a delight to be in the head of.

It’s pretty weird that there are no choices in the common route, but this is an otome game that gives you a selection screen instead of having it be decided by accumulated affection points. There are five love interests (or LIs) available, four Hell Prisoners and one human, and each route has a bad and good ending. Three routes are unlocked from the beginning with two being locked until you complete the good endings for the others.

Well, it’s time for our regularly scheduled look into the love interest routes! There was no particular recommendation order so I pretty much chose the Li route I was going to go down based on what I felt like at the time. As always, I’ll be talking about them in the order I did them in.

Kikunosuke Uga

I ended up playing Kikunosuke Uga’s route first. I don’t have a particular reason other than I found him being able to change into a wolf cute. Before we get into it, I’m just going to say outright that I’m shortening Kikunosuke’s name to just Kiku. The other prisoners call him that, it’s cute, and it would be pretty weird if he’s the only LI I call by his last name. Kiku died when he was 17 and his sin was stealing as he was known as master thief Benten Kozo when he was alive. The Desire he manifested also allows him to turn into a wolf (whether fully or only parts of him), camouflage himself, and have heightened senses. Though, his ears have a habit of popping out when he’s surprised or excited and he can involuntarily turn into a wolf when he’s exhausted or relaxed due to staying in the onsen for too long. As Rin gets to know him more, you learn how he is a big eater and he’s basically a pro gamer. He isn’t a morning person at all and can be a bit lazy, but he’s determined, a bit rash, kind, honest, and can be protective to those he loves. You also learn that he won’t quit on those he comes to care for, he finds stealing from the weak disgraceful, and a part of him likes the thought of someone supporting him. He also convinces Rin to wear nail polish and as someone who paints her own nails all the time, I approve.

Once we go down Kiku’s route, the focus gets turned to him and his personal connection that he has with this mission. It turns out that his little sister, Azamin (or Azami), is affiliated with Shinobikuni’s group. Kiku always held on to the assumption that Azami was in the Heavenly Realm so you can imagine the shock when he encounters Azami the Model Prisoner turned traitor. Azami is a ball of sunshine and cuteness, but she willingly plays a part in helping promote Shinobikuni’s pardoning app as she’s a popular idol. However, something seemed to have happened as Azami hates Kiku and won’t even acknowledge him, but she wants to be friends with Rin and hang out with her. Not only will Rin get closer to Kiku and learn his backstory as the route progresses, but she’ll also develop a friendship with Azami and learn her backstory, try to mend the relationship between the siblings, and try to convince Azami to go back to Hell.

Kiku turned out to be a good route to start on. This has a lot of cute moments and I loved the dynamic these two had. It also turned out to be the route with the least involvement of some of the other side plots and foreshadowing for the locked routes. It was so cute how Kiku managed to get Rin to not be as proper as she usually is, help her learn how to play his favorite game, encourage Rin to get cute things, and how he let her use his body wash so they can smell the same. Not to mention how funny it was when Rin got jealous at other girls fangirling over him. I also loved Azami and her friendship with Rin. Sure she (funnily) ignores Kiku and she is the enemy, but she’s honestly a great friend. I liked both endings here too, the good ending was adorable on the Rin-Kiku side and I love how Azami was able to find a light in the darkness in the form of her friendship with Rin, mending her relationship with Kiku, and having a possible future love interest herself. The bad ending stunned me, I was not expecting those events, and I honestly liked it with how Azami was implemented despite how bittersweet it was.

Also, I found it really funny how Shinobikuni and her crew were forgotten in the good ending. Kiku, and in turn Rin, was focused on Azami and once they were able to bring her back they went straight into being all lovey-dovey and having some naughty times.

Sharaku Toushuusai

Sharaku Toushuusai is up next and he was the character I was pretty neutral on during the Common Route. Sharaku died at 18 and his sin included perverse acts and murder. You don’t really get to know much about his past during the Common Route, but you do learn that he was a popular Ukiyo-e artist shrouded in mystery, as Sharaku isn’t his real name, and he actually knew Asaemon when he was alive. How? Asaemon executed him. His Desire lets him shoot a freezing laser from his body, which he usually does with finger guns. Sharaku is the more blunt one of the group who often can be harsh, but he’s kind of like the mother figure of the group at the same time. He is very much into cleanliness, buys the best of the best supplies and appliances, and he will stab you if you dare leave a mess. He’ll still clean it, but you only get that one warning. Other than that, he surprisingly pays attention to those around him, loves to tease others, is a big flirt, has a tendency to hide what he’s truly feeling, won’t sugarcoat his words, and can be thoughtful of others. Sharaku will also sometimes roll dice to determine what he should do, which is an interesting quirk of his.

Sharaku’s route starts out rough. He is the more sexual one of the group and when he heard that they need to increase their bond, he went straight to trying to get in Rin’s skirt. To Sharaku, having fun under the sheets would be the quickest way to get along and raise their bond so he can get stronger. He at least wants her first time to be pleasurable and catered to her, but this does end up having Rin feeling like she’s to blame for their bond not growing in the beginning. Luckily, Sharaku does back down and starts to increase their bond by building trust between them and hanging out. Although, it’s almost like he’s trying to push Rin away while at the same time showing how gentle and thoughtful he is. Anyway, his route puts a focus on his previous beef with Asaemon. Sharaku wanted to get strong fast so he can get revenge on Asaemon for killing him. He is so eager he even tries before he’s at full strength, which puts them in a bad spot. Shinobikuni also gets to be more active in this route as we see her Desire in action and what her hidden goal possibly is.

I was not ready for how horny Sharaku was. It was a bit annoying with how pushy he was in the beginning, but there are a lot of cute and genuine moments that did end up winning me over. They struggled, but it only made it sweeter when they did eventually get closer as he lets himself be vulnerable with her and as they learn more about each other. They even have a cute date, which Rin was so embarrassed and bashful. There was also a pattern with people being able to just look at Rin and tell she yearns for love or is in love and it was pretty funny how embarrassed she gets over that. We even get moments where he’s a bit possessive of Rin and get jealous when other men flirts with Rin (which she is so oblivious to). May seem like a red flag, but it helps that Rin is also possessive as she gets jealous when Sharaku gets hit on. Other than that, I did like the surprise of learning more about Asaemon and Shinobikuni, seeing some foreshadowing to what will be revealed in the locked routes, and the good ending was sweet in its own horny way.

The bad ending, though, is just crazy. Not so much crazy in what happens, but with how Sharaku just had to be weird and do something that had me going “WTF Sharaku”. I mean, it makes perfect sense to why he does it, but still.

Yona Murakami

Next up, and last on the unlocked routes, is Yona Murakami! While I have seen people soft recommend doing Sharaku third, I wanted to do Yona third instead. I can’t lie, I loved how his personality played with the others’ and I had to leave his tsundere ass for last haha. Yona died when he was 23 with his sin being murder and his Desire lets him instantly reload any weapon that uses ammo. He was a part of the Murakami Pirates when he was alive and you actually learn he was a samurai as well. Yona is the hotheaded one of the group and starts out being the most antagonistic Prisoner. He is actually also the last one to be antagonistic and the others go “dude, be nice to her”. Granted he’s pretty much like that towards his fellow Prisoners, which made for an interesting dynamic that made me love him. Despite this, you do learn that Yona secretly loves being praised, does care about the others, gets flustered easily, sometimes has some dumb moments that is either funny or is a much needed “fuck around and find out” moment for him as he is pretty arrogant, doesn’t like being looked down on, and pretty much hides his feelings behind insults (though it doesn’t really work). He also does have a tendency to give up once he loses since he doesn’t want his pride to be hurt again.

As you go into Yona’s route, the first thing Rin sees is him walking around in the living room half naked, prompting Goemon make the living room a clothing-required space (which is rich coming from him and his default outfit haha). This route has Rin basically trying to break through Yona’s tough exterior so she can see his sweet, loving side. Of course, it won’t be that easy or happen immediately, but you will see moments where it does peak out from how he reacts to Rin praising him to how he makes it up to Rin after a “fuck around and find out” moment. Rin, and you in turn, even learn when he means or don’t mean his mean remarks. There are so many moments where I smiled when he says something mean since I knew he didn’t mean it. Yona: All bark, no bite. Other than that, Yona’s route pulls a fast one as it first makes you think it’ll focus on Asaemon before pulling it to Okuni and Sansaburo. Okuni is actually pretty famous among the women population in Hell as she was one of the few women who was carried across Sanzu River by the man she loved. You even learn that Sansaburo died earlier than she did and he still waited for her. Okuni pretty much befriends Rin, with Sansaburo gaining respect and then adoration for her. The connection that Yona has with these two lovebirds isn’t apparent at first, but you do learn that they were alive around the same time, may have dueled before, and they actually did grow up and live by the same code. They’re also the characters living in the past due to what happened in their past and are old fashioned due to it (though I didn’t find Yona that old fashioned). Rin helps through being a mediator since Yona does do some pretty stupid things and by being supportive.

I left Yona as the last unlocked route and I was not disappointed. His route even turned out to be my favorite out of these initial three. I guess I have a soft spot for characters like Yona where they secretly yearn for love and affection; as well as learn they aren’t as mean as their words seem and you can just laugh or swoon since you know what they truly meant. Not to mention how many sweet moments Yona has (which isn’t only contained in his route), how thoughtful he can be, and how cute he is all throughout the route. I also think another reason why this was my favorite route was because of Okuni and Sansaburo. Your relationship with Yona clearly mirrors Okuni and Sansaburo’s relationship and you get to see how cute they are. It made me wish they weren’t on opposite sides so they can hang out more and go on double dates (and my headcanon is that they go on double dates regularly). I also loved how other characters were shipping them together and even helping them get together (with Sharaku being the funniest) and how Tamao and King Enma went through this prospect (which made for funny moments). Not to mention Rin being surprisingly confrontational in this route, making for some more great, funny moments. Basically, the route is almost all made up of moments that are great in one way or another. The only aspect I didn’t like was Shin as he was so annoying in this route, but he does play a part in Yona’s growth and a window into understanding Yona so I guess I forgive Shin.

Okuni-Sansaburo and Rin-Yona are just a pair of lovebirds and I love them for it. It’s even more evident since Yona’s bad ending is the only one that isn’t bittersweet. It’s sweet with a dash of tragedy and hopefulness.


Jack is the first locked route and he’s the only human love interest. He’s also the only LI that doesn’t live with Rin and he’s an enigma as he doesn’t show up that much and he talks in a cryptic way (which Sharaku hilariously calls him an idiot for). All you know before his route is that he’s a popular singer-songwriter who hosts a program broadcast called JxSignal, for some reason is part of Shinobikuni’s crew as he promotes her pardoning app alongside Azami, and is hanging around a well that’s said to be haunted (but in reality is an entrance to Hell that has been blocked off). He’s also one of those artsy types that try to sound smart and poetic, but a lot of people just ignore it or see him like an idiot. What a strange man.

Since Jack barely shows up in the Common Route and in the previous Li routes, you can guess that here we’ll be learning more about him. The route starts with the Prisoner gang totally not enjoying each other’s company and some speculation on Rin’s life when she was alive before Jack comes in with his stream. We learn how he was scouted and that he’s single, actually single, as he finds it sad how you’ll either have to leave your love behind or be left behind. After some promotion on the pardon app, we also learn that he almost killed someone and has been feeling guilty ever since so that’s why he’s been promoting the app. This doesn’t convince the Prisoner crew though, as there is clearly more to it. Rin and Jack do run into each other again at the well and since Jack doesn’t seem to know who she is, Rin decides to use him to get information. However, it soon gets revealed that Jack does know who Rin is and is using her for information. Not for Shinobikuni, but for his own personal reason that you’ll uncover through his route. And, well, Jack isn’t above getting Rin to fall in love with him to achieve his personal goal. The Prisoners are not happy campers as they see right through Jack and how easy Rin is to win over. At the same time, this route also puts a focus on Ichise (the actor that Shinobikuni healed), what he got up to, and what his whole deal is.

I didn’t really know what to expect in Jack’s route, but this was the route I’m the most neutral on. I did like the events that happened, and I did like the banter Jack got with the other LIs towards and at the end of his route, but I just didn’t like the romance between him and Rin. The relationship starts out as a lie and it just left me second guessing him. It also is so much more obvious how easy Rin is won over and how easily infatuation sidetracks her from her mission. I didn’t like Jack manipulating Rin, just tossing her away when he got all he wanted before wanting her back again when she talks more about Hell and her amnesia, and the affect he had on Rin when he made her sad. Maybe it would have been better if Jack was the sole focus of his route or if we had more time with him, but I still can’t stop myself from side-eyeing him as I’m not completely convinced he’s still not using her. Basically, the romance here felt forced.  Also, his endings felt like it dragged on and on saying the same thing over and over and I was thinking “Okay I get it, can we move on now?”. Other than that, I did really love how the Prisoners reacted and were both jealous and protective over Rin. I also did like the reveals about Jack and loved Nono (that’s all I’m going to say on the Nono front even though I want to gush about him).

I did like the idea of having a LI that’s on the other side of the conflict and it did make for a good change of pace, but I guess it just didn’t meet my expectations. The reveals that weren’t directly tied to Jack were already revealed (or alluded to) in the previous routes and to show what happened to Ichise, who I honestly didn’t really care about. Okay, that sounds harsh, but he’s not someone I would have centered the B-plot on (heck Ichise isn’t even a featured character on the game’s official website). I guess I was expecting to learn more about Ikari’s deal since he’s been built up over the course of the game and Jack’s route seemed like the perfect time to reveal it since Jack is the only one connected to Ikari that has a LI route. Anyway, while Jack is on the bottom of my route rankings, I would still say his route was enjoyable and did have a lot of good moments (bar the ending scenes being dragged out). It’s one of those routes where nothing would probably change if you took it out, but all the interactions that happen makes it worthwhile.

Also, can I just talk about the Bad Ending in Jack’s Route? It comes so out of left field that Ichise is in love with Rin and that Rin agrees to marry him to save Jack. I understand it’s supposed to mirror Jack falling in love with Rin’s kindness, but you barely interact with him and he gives no hints about his crush. I feel it would have been better if it was just for Rin to join Shinobikuni’s side to save him and have her mumei after a couple years.

Goemon Ishikawa

Last, but not least, is best boy Goemon Ishikawa! This game does not hide the fact that Goemon is the true route as it’s revealed in the first few seconds of the game. It’s also hinted at throughout the Common Route and the other LI routes, which makes me feel so bad for him as he watched Rin fall in love with someone else. Goemon died when he was 28 and he was a legendary thief that gave to the poor. Goemon’s sins consists of basically all of them and he was put in the worst part of Hell where the worst of the worst goes. However, you wouldn’t suspect this with his personality and how he acts. His Desire is that he’s able to generate electricity, but he can only release it using a medium (like the giant metal rod he brings out in Jack’s and his route). Rin’s impression of him is conflicting at first as he’s a gentleman when she first encounters him, but he acts like the other Prisoners when they first arrive in the Human Realm. However, it soon becomes apparent that it was just an act he was doing in front of the other Prisoners as he subtly encourages and secretly helps her. He’s the only one who’s on her side from the beginning to the end. I also got the vibe that he was the leader out of all the other Prisoners with how effective his “I’m not mad, just disappointed”-esque lines are…and how much you see him reign in the others as they do follow him. Goemon won me over really quickly as he’s the ideal love interest and his actions scream that he’s lovesick and would treat her right. It also kind of seems like Rin subconsciously remembers him as she trusts him so much he basically is her confidant and she takes his advice/guidance to heart.

After spending the whole game being given bits and pieces of Goemon’s feelings and backstory, as well as hints to what Rin’s backstory is, we finally are able to uncover it in this route! Not right away of course, but as it gets revealed as they hang around each other more. And as Goemon tries to drop subtle hints as he doesn’t want to push her or cause her any unnecessary stress. We also get to see the true goal that Shinobikuni had with her pardon app plan, and the role some key side characters had, as it slowly ramps up during the course of the route. We also finally get a resolution on Oshichi and her search for her past lover after wondering who it was for all this time. It acts as the B-plot, as the conflict simmers in the background, and it mirrors what Goemon and Rin are going through.

Goemon’s route was absolutely my favorite. As always, I really know how to pick LIs as Goemon was my pick for my favorite when I was just looking at everyone’s character art and when I was getting to know everyone during the Common Route. Goemon is the ultimate dream guy I swear. I was gushing all throughout his route as Goemon and Rin were hanging out more and it was obvious how much he loved her. It was also so heartbreaking finally learning about when they were alive, their fates, and thinking about how he must have felt in all the other routes as he saw Rin fall in love with another person. The ending was also amazing and sweet. All in all, Goemon’s route was a great end to the game as all the pieces come together to make an excellent and wonderful route.

This also has a misunderstanding arc which was used surprisingly well and leads to some funny moments. I didn’t find myself annoyed at it, like how I am with other stories that uses this plot device, but very amused as I try to tell Rin through the screen. And laugh when Goemon finally snaps and tells her since Rin is so dense. There were also some reveals that were absolutely crazy and I still can’t believe them as I end my friendship with certain characters. I feel so betrayed.

My route rankings:
Goemon > Yona > Kikunosuke > Sharaku > Jack

This is probably obvious, but I ended up enjoying all the routes here. It may not seem like it, but I had my own set of worries and I even almost didn’t pick this up, but man am I glad I did. For one, I’m not someone that enjoys reading fluff, or filler, unless it advances the story in some way or it’s enjoyable to read. Luckily, it’s both here and I had nothing to worry about as I had a good, fun time reading through the story. It was honestly pretty clever to have their success tied to their bond and trust between one another as it does make all the time they’re hanging out progress towards their goal. The overarching conflict of Shinobikuni and her Escapee crew does advance slowly, but I’d say the relationship between Rin and the Prisoners were just as important. The dynamic and banter everyone had was so enjoyable as well, especially when it was between Rin and the Prisoners. You can really tell that they came to care for one another and a lot of the banter was so fun to read through and contributed to a lot of funny moments.

In addition, I really liked how the sins the Prisoners and Escapees committed were handled. You go in just like Rin having a black and white outlook, but you soon realize they all fall in a gray area. I came to really appreciate this as I played as it gave nuance to their past and gave them more depth (especially for the villains since you barely see them).

Before Strayside came out, I was worried about the whole “LIs hate women” aspect, especially with what I heard from those that played it in Japanese and how the writer’s previous title, Olympia Soiree, was like (as I have yet to play it). Rest assured, it does seem like it was toned down when it was localized. In terms of the Li’s attitudes, while they do say some hurtful things, they do get better as you get past the opening chapters and they get to know each other. Like I said previously, it does seem like the characters don’t really hate the other gender and was just looking for someone to prove them wrong. Anything that was sexual, from jokes and threats to events that actually happened to the characters, was only implied. There were only three moments where it was explicit, with the game outright saying it, and they were all in Goemon’s route. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be and I’m glad it wasn’t barred from being localized due to how explicit people said it was in Japanese.

There are a lot of cool details and extras that Stayside has! For one, the survey (or Report as the UI calls it) changes as you progress through the LI’s route. I didn’t notice this until the middle of my second route, but the bond percentage and the answers changes after certain chapters. This was a pretty cool detail. You can customize the game’s title screen too by changing the background, the character that’s featured, and their outfit. There are some backgrounds and outfits that they do need to appear in the game before you get it as an option. The bad and good endings also have a little extra something voiced by and from the LI’s perspective, which I liked as well (and reminded me of Virche Evermore’s special addition when you get the high affection endings). Lastly, there are also more scenes for you to play through if you want some more LI goodness. These extra scenes, or Memories, get unlocked as you play through the game and read the database items. These range from memoirs where the character listed on the memory is just talking to give us more insight on them and scenes with either just an LI and Rin (that seems to take place after their ending) or scenes with the characters interacting that would have thrown off the game’s pacing if it was included in the main game.

In terms of negatives, I do only have a few. I would have thought Rin would have taken a bit more time to come around on hating men, but at least Tamao does take a while for his views on the Prisoners to change. Jack’s bad ending was the only ending I didn’t like. Also, there’s an aspect that happens in Jack’s route, concerning Ichise, that just gets unexplained and doesn’t show up in Goemon’s route which has me so confused on why it happened. I was surprised that a bad ending didn’t involve Shinobikuni using her Desire on Rin too (or that she just didn’t try). Lastly, I really wished that the miscellaneous artwork for things like food or items had a section in the game’s gallery. Most of the miscellaneous artwork goes by so fast and they were so pretty, but I was disappointed that I had to take a screenshot to really be able to admire them and the details that went into them.

The translation for Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- was overall great, but I did feel I noticed more mistakes here than in any other localized Otomate otome game. There were a few sentences that were worded a bit weirdly, there were a couple words that were misspelled, a sentence or two that felt like it was missing a word, and there was one moment where the coding that inputs the name you used for Rin didn’t work as intended.

To (finally) close this review out, the art, music, and voice acting was on point as always. I loved the art style, loved the design of all the characters, and the locations and artwork for miscellaneous things were so beautiful. There were some CGs that were meh, but most of them are great. The music was pretty good as well, with the opening theme and the bad ending theme being my favorites. I feel a bit bad that every time I got a bad ending I was just jamming and totally not dancing in my seat. Lastly, the voice acting was fantastic. Everyone really fit their role and gave more life and personality than they would have had. Right as Shinobikuni speaks you can tell how she was able enchant people, it made moments better like when they’re bashful, tripping over their words, or over excited; and Nono’s voice.


Overall, Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- was a wonderful otome visual novel that I’m so glad was able to be localized. I really enjoyed my time with this game and I’m so glad I played despite my reservations about what I heard. The lore was interesting and approachable as someone that’s not religious; I enjoyed the storyline; all the characters were wonderful and I loved talking to them; all the routes were enjoyable; I loved all the fluff and banter and how natural the romance came; and I enjoyed the nuance and themes this game had. The writing style did take a while to get used to, as I’m used to more detailed text description on what’s happening in contrast to Strayside where it uses character portrait movement and sound/visual effects and some details are told to you after it’s mentioned, but after a while I did get used to it. I also really liked the artwork, music, and voice acting which helped elevate this game even more. Also, this game has Nono (aka Ono no Takamura).

While there are some cons, like aspects of Jack’s route and the LIs starting out hostile, I would definitely recommend Tengoku Struggle -Strayside- for anyone looking for an otome VN that’s mainly a lighthearted, slice-of-life, type game that dives into some serious and dark moments. Though, if you’d want the plot to be more forefront, not okay with being threatened by the LIs, and can’t deal with sexual assault being referenced/implied, this might not be for you.


♡ ♡ ♡ A witch that goes for anything that peaks her interest no matter the genre. Currently obsessed with the Persona series and trying to make a dent in my backlog. ♡ ♡ ♡

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