Taking a brief look at Yurukill: The Calumniation Games will probably make most visual novel fans think it’s trying to latch onto the same mojo that Zero Escape and Danganronpa games are so loved for. And that knee-jerk reaction is dead on. From the premise, style, and general gameflow, it’s abundantly clear where this game’s inspirations lie. And while it doesn’t do anything that reaches either of those lofty bars, this is a strong game that’s enjoyable to see through to the end. Plus, it has its own wrinkles that make it worth a look for genre stalwarts.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games concerns a group of prisoners who all claim to be falsely accused. After being transferred onto a ship, they arrive at Yurukill Land to take part in a game. It’s not a Nonary Game. There are 11 of them, and they’re all divided into five groups, each with prisoners and executioners. But there’s a surprise. The executioners are the victims of crimes supposedly perpetrated by the prisoners. The prisoners all have collars around their necks, and the executioners can choose to kill them at any time with a press of a button. In case you’re wondering, the Japanese word for “to forgive” is “yurusu.” Therefore, yurukill, forgive or kill. It’s an admittedly fun premise that feels different enough to work.
The plotting here is solid and the characterization is decent, even if the characters mostly fit into anime tropes and often default to repetitive catchphrases and noises. A couple of the characters are downright annoying, specifically kimono-clad Binko, who constantly does grating voices and randomly inserts “bin-bin” into most of her sentences. And then there’s idol superfan Oka, who laughs like a One Piece character and loves to clear his throat in a specific way. Regardless, the voice acting is superb. Yurukill: The Calumniation Games has a top-tier cast with actors like Saori Hayami, Takuya Eguchi, Tomokazu Sugita, and Akari Kitou doing wonderful jobs.
It’s time to light the lights
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games follows a specific formula as the game progresses. There are seven chapters, and each one takes the prisoners and executioners into “attractions” that are often based on the crimes they’re involved in. These attractions are all akin to the escape rooms in the Zero Escape games. You’ll click through the environment to find items and puzzles in order to progress. But the level of interactivity and detail here isn’t even close to what Zero Escape offered. Puzzles are generally extremely easy, and the gameplay here is very much on rails.
The first four chapters see you going along with four of the game’s prisoner/executioner groups. At the end of each attraction, you’ll need to do a trial where you attempt to convince the executioner not to kill the prisoner. These are like much shorter, simpler versions of the trials in the Danganronpa games. Only, the answers you choose here don’t seem to make any difference, as I never lost one of these. But perhaps I was just lucky. Regardless, if you’re looking for detailed puzzle gameplay or trials, this game won’t really scratch those itches.
But there’s an entirely different itch that it’ll scratch, one which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a visual novel-type game before. Zero Escape, obviously, is a trilogy of visual novels that are also puzzle games. Yurukill: The Calumniation Games, is part visual novel and, astoundingly, part danmaku bullet hell shooter. This sounds like something that couldn’t possibly work. Hell, it shouldn’t work. Somehow, someway, though, it absolutely does. Each of the game’s seven chapters has its own shmup section developed by G.rev, a company staffed by experienced danmaku talent. And it shows.
A hail of bullets
The shmup sections all follow the same formula. Each prisoner has their own mech with unique stats and attachment options. Due to this, they all feel quite different from each other. You start out with just five lives but correctly answering a series of five questions pertaining to the case you just learned about in the previous attraction earns you three lives.
Get them all right and you’ll start the section with 20. That sounds like a whole lot, and it can be, but you can screw up and find yourself in hot water all the same. Thankfully, enemies drop items that fill a gauge. You can hoard this until 100% to use a super, but if you get hit it depletes to zero. If the gauge is at least 20% full, you won’t lose a life, which definitely makes the game more lenient.
The shmup sections all have three rounds bookended by boss fights, but there’s more to it than that. At three points during the boss battles, you have to answer questions. The first two have you present evidence like in Danganronpa, or the Ace Attorney games that Danganronpa shamelessly borrowed the mechanic from. You’ll need to answer these correctly to progress. Get one wrong and you’ll lose three lives before having to do it again. Some of these questions don’t give you enough information to answer them, and sometimes they’re meant to trick you, which is irksome. Overall, they’re mostly pretty straightforward.
The last showdown
Finally, you have to answer five more questions before delivering the coup de grace against your foe. In most chapters, this takes the form of convincing executioners not to kill prisoners. It’s surprisingly effective and does a lot to heighten the drama of the proceedings. It doesn’t hurt that the shmup gameplay is pretty great. The controls are highly precise, and the hitboxes and gamefeel are exactly what you’d want out of a good shoot ’em up. Once you unlock a chapter, you can play score attack versions of these levels. They’re good enough that shmup fans will want to do just that.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games doesn’t break much new ground as a visual novel. It is an enjoyable title, though. The story didn’t exactly have me riveted, but I was interested enough to want to see how it ended, even though the twists and turns can feel a bit too familiar. Coupled with a few hours of shmup goodness, there’s plenty to see here that makes the game well worth playing. It took me about 19 hours to get through. And, if you’re keen on trying it out, you can download the demo that lets you play the first four hours for free. It also helps that every single line of dialogue is fully voiced, which really sells the presentation alongside the excellent character designs and colorful portraits. I am glad I don’t have to hear any more bin puns for now, though.