Remember how I said last time that I thought I’d be done with Kanuchi soon and that Kasuga’s route would be relatively drama-free? Yeeeahhh, I kinda underestimated Idea Factory’s readiness to ruin a good story. Kasuga x Aki really seemed like a match made in heaven to me. The ordinary blacksmith girl and the ordinary royal bodyguard, just two normal people falling in love in a normal kind of way. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about Kasuga actually being a time-traveling zombie from 14 years in the future, for starters?
It all went downhill from that reveal, and I won’t bore you with all the details of how he and Shin (who is actually a time-traveling murder-arsonist-matricide-patricide) came to Aki’s time, how Kasuga turned into a zombie/immortal and all the struggles they go through. The story does makes sense, more or less. I was just utterly blown away by the suddenness and unbelievability of such a turn of events. There was no indication of any such secret until the minute I got locked into Kasuga’s route.
(And it’s not just sudden, but it actually contradicts some earlier parts of the story. For one thing, if Shin really was the son of nobles, how could he burn down the house, kill his parents, go on the lam for a few years and then up and join the palace guard a few years later without changing his name or anything else about himself and have absolutely no one suspect a thing? But we’ll be here all day if I start picking the story apart, so I’ll give it a rest here.)
I’m really cursing my luck, though, because if Kasuga’s route hadn’t been so bad, I would have been really happy by now. Kanuchi was pretty close to my ideal otome game. It had great art, an interesting story, snappy dialogue, actual gameplay (blacksmithing, no less!), sidequests galore, slice-of-life bits, great music, great characters. You name it, it had it. That’s why I’m cursing my luck, because maybe if I’d chosen a different guy and gotten a less WTH route, I might still be singing the game’s praises even now. Or maybe I’m overestimating !F’s writers now. Maybe every route has its fair share of nonsensical twists, and I’m just wasting my time. I have an older save that I could use to get at least two other endings, but I’ve already lost the will to play this and any other otome game for a while.
Everything about Kanuchi is close to excellent except the story. And the protagonist. And Kasuga’s route. The character designs do take a tiny bit of getting used to, and at an average of 30 hours for just the first playthrough, I can’t imagine replaying it too often. Apart from that, I loved just about everything. Art, voice, music, dialogue, alchemy, everything.
As a bonus, the relationship-building system is also easy to work with. You can tell right away from the sound effect whether you picked the right answer choice or not, and you can go to the status screen at any time to see exactly how many affection points your clever reply netted you. I keep saying I “accidentally” got Ouba’s route, but that only happened because I got careless and didn’t pay attention. There’ll be no nasty surprises unless you deliberately leave yourself open.
Leaving the details of the story aside, the writing itself is really good as well. No single scene drags on too long. Most of the text is straight-forward, easy to follow dialogue. The slice-of-life scenes were just as interesting as the story events, but I did think there was a little too much repetition in the name of character establishment. For one thing, there were way too many scenes of our love interests getting drunk at Chinaki’s bar and showing up on Aki’s doorstep to harass her, too many scenes of Aki and/or Kayana getting thrown into jail and sprung out, etc.
Apart from the protagonist Aki, most of the cast was great as well. Even the crazy, murderous king Hitohira did a great job of pissing me off just as he was supposed to. They’re very well-balanced characters. No one is flat out mean and nasty to our heroine, even when they’re threatening her or throwing her into jail. At the same time no one thinks she’s the most wonderful thing since sliced bread, even on their individual routes (though I can only speak for Kasuga here). They have their own plans and their own agendas that aren’t necessarily all about her. They’re characters in their own right. Apart from Takami and Shin and now Kasuga, I could have dated any of them. Even Hitohira.
Aki, though, completely lets the side down. “Dumb” and “otome game protagonist” are virtually synonymous these days, but the sad thing about Aki is that she didn’t start out that way. In the beginning she was an ordinary, hardworking village girl who was unlucky enough to get dragged into all kinds of shenanigans after being possessed by a dead queen. On the first disk you even feel sorry for her because people keep barging in looking for Kayana and all but falling in love with Kayana when it’s Aki’s body that’s being used without permission. Then in the second disk they finally come apart, and Aki’s suppressed stupidity comes to the fore. For example:
(Optional. Read only if you like being pissed off)
– She’s a hypocrite. She’s a blacksmith who profits immensely from the war between the two countries. What does she think all those weapons are being used for? Heck, she even has conversations like:
Assassin: I need a knife in a hurry.
Aki: Are you going to kill someone?
Assassin: No duh, what do you think?
Aki: Cool, that’ll be 3000g. Pick it up Wednesday.
I’m not even making that up. But instead of shutting up and enjoying her ill-gotten gains, she also waxes all moral and conscience-stricken about the war, going into hysterics over the tiniest little tiff between two people. “You two shouldn’t be fighting! Fighting is bad!” she whines, right after sharpening and polishing their swords for them. And no, I’m not making that up either.
Question: For 200 points, what’s the dumbest thing a hostage could do in that situation?
Answer: “Burst into a council meeting of all her kidnappers? Because it ‘just wouldn’t feel right’ to leave without saying goodbye?”
*checks answer sheet* Why yes, that is the correct answer. Congratulations, Aki! I bet her village is really missing their idiot.
– She’s very stupid. So at one point the Yasuna guys take her hostage (she’s already a hostage, they just take her hostager) in order to force Kayana to fight for them. The good guys come up with a plan to rescue her, which goes off without a hitch. Once Shin, Aki and Kasuga are safely away from the battlefield, which way should they go? Back to their native land, i.e. safe territory? Or back into the same enemy city she was just rescued from because she ‘just didn’t feel right’ leaving like that? No more points for guessing the right answer.
– Her stupidity continues all the way to the ending. Kasuga and Shin hold off a very desperate and dangerous Hitohira. Aki is been left behind for her own safety. Aki dashes to the battlefield regardless. Aki gets herself taken hostage, forcing Shin and Kasuga to let Hitohira go. Hitohira lets Aki go. But he stabs her to death first. Hurray! This is the right decision, because Aki’s stupidity is clearly terminal. She comes back to life eventually (at the expense of another character’s life) but I had facepalmed my way to such a headache by that point that I didn’t have the energy to be annoyed.
And that’s just a sampling of her dumbest moments. Her stupidity aside, the game also suffered from the lack of answers and closure for quite a number of plot points. Not just minor stuff either. The vitally important storyline involving Kayana, her resurrection and her revenge quest – i.e. THE WHOLE POINT OF THE ENTIRE GAME – are all completely ignored on Kasuga’s route. No, it’s worse than that: they actually leave us on a cliffhanger. Kayana finally confronts her ancient betrayer, their epic battle begins, the scene cuts away… and never returns to show the conclusion. For all we know, they’re still fighting today.
Another equally important and equally unfinished point is the ‘kanuchi’ plotline. Aki was supposed to become someone’s dedicated blacksmith and bond with them. She spends a considerable amount of time agonizing over who to chose, but then the whole issue is dropped completely. It’s probably picked up again in the after-story, but seeing as I fast-forwarded through that because I was thoroughly bored, I have no idea how that worked out. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t as big a deal as it was made out to be, and there was no point even having that concept in the game world in the first place, much less putting it in the title.
Rounding up, tl;dr, the first 80% of Kanuchi is highly enjoyable, Aki’s stupidity aside. Maybe, just maybe, it’s might be good 100% of the way through if you choose the right guy. At the very least you would probably get more story if you chose someone important like Kugami, or Sanato. Based on my personal experience in this playthrough, however, Idea Factory did great in the common parts of the game and completely messed up the individual routes. Therefore if you’re playing this game for the romance or for the story, tough luck.
For my part, while I’m disappointed at how badly things ended up, I had a blast synthesizing over 150 different recipes and a great time following along with the story until it all fell to pieces. Kasuga route was horrible, but until it’s proved that the other routes are similarly terrible, all I can do is dock Idea Factory a few points for stupidity (what’s -1000 minus 20?) and move on with my life with the good memories I made.
Now then, what to play next? I’m giving the PSP a break. I won’t have the Wii for a while. So on the console front, I think I’ll finish up last year’s schedule by playing more Arc the Lad, and on the handheld front, hmm. I’ll give Soma Bringer another try. Oh yeah, and there’s the Territoire demo to test. All right, time’s a-wasting!