Overview – developed by Idea Factory and RED Entertainment with publishing handled by Idea Factory International, Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei is an Otome Visual Novel set in Heian period Japan. Experience a story filled with intriguing characters, where each choice made can lead the protagonist Shanao down a route that could lead to happiness or even tragedy. This title is available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, with a link to the game at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Idea Factory International for providing the copy of Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story (taken from the official website for this title). I will also be using some vague terms in order to prevent spoilers for this release, as I want players to experience the narrative of Birushana for themselves.
Story – Fifteen years after the Heiji Rebellion, the Heike clan has reached the height of its power, while the Genji clan remains devastated by defeat. Hidden deep within the mountains of Kurama lives Shanao, the youngest surviving male heir to the Genji name. However, Shanao harbors a deep secret known by very few. The youngest heir to the Genji name is no man.
Gameplay – Birushana follows the traditional Visual Novel experience for the most part, with the experience playing out exclusively in narrative form. The characters that are involved in a scene will appear on screen, their dialogue voice acted and text appearing below them. The protagonist Shanao is silent throughout the experience, likely to provide the ability for the player/reader to put themselves into the position of the heroine.
During the course of the story, there are dialogue choices that the player will be presented with. These options have an impact on the way that the narrative plays out, guided by a system called Love Catch (which can be disabled in the settings). Depending on the choices made, the flowers that appear on screen will open, indicating the level of affection that each of the lead male characters feels towards Shanao. The boarder of the screen will also change color, showing a change to three character abilities.
Each of the lead characters that Shanao encounters has their own route, which is initiated through the dialogue choices that are made during the story. As each choice is made, the compatibility that the protagonist has with a lead, as well as her abilities will influence the way that some events play out. These factors combine together to lead to one of several potential endings for that route, which include both good and bad endings at the climax of a narrative arc.
Upon completing a route in Birushana, an option called an “IF Ending” may become available to the player, providing a new route to experience with a sub character. These scenarios are separate from the rest of the game, acting as side stories for players to complete once all other routes have been completed. In order to track the progress of a route, the compatibility with a lead and Shanao’s abilities, the player can use the Information screen to see what each value is currently at.
There is also a flowchart which shows the progress through the various storylines, with branches for each of the chapters that diverge from a plot thread. In the flowchart menu, players can return to previous points in the story and replay chapters when the route is cleared. There is also a dictionary that gives explanations for the different terms used in the dialogue, providing background information on the historical setting for the story.
Players can also save and load the game freely, with a total of 100 save slots allowing the ability to save whenever a decision is to be made. This allows the player to try out all the different options and narrative threads when they wish, giving greater flexibility and experimentation with decision making. Last is the Album, which has a gallery for unlocked images, videos, music and dictionary terms that can be viewed from the main title menu of the game.
Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – being a visual novel the controls for this release are streamlined and easy to use, with both controller and touch screen capabilities depending on the way the switch is being used. When in handheld mode, there is touch screen support with dialogue history, quick save/load and the menu to be accessed via swiping the screen. Advancing the story, accessing the dictionary and selecting menu/dialogue options are all accomplished by tapping the screen.
Presentation – visually, Birushana is stunning with attractive character designs for Shanao and the Male leads, as well as attention to the time period that the story takes place in. The background for each scene that takes place adds additional depth to the experience, with a lot of attention to fine details of each location featured. There are some minor issues with the text/dialogue on screen, with words ending up going too far to the edge or occasional typos, but they don’t ruin the experience.
The sound design for this release really knocks it up a notch, with an excellent soundtrack that conveys the impact of each scene well. There is excellent use of soft piano in scenes designed to be emotional, along with strong use of brass and string instruments during tense scenes. The voice work for this release is Japanese only, with each role having a good voice that fits the look of the character. The talent featured in this release includes Jun Fukuyama (persona series), Kengo Kawanishi (Food Wars) and Soma Saito (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure).
Final Thoughts –while I’m not usually one for visual novels on their own, often preferring the narrative style part of a greater whole, like the JRPG franchises Death end re;Quest and Mary Skelter. But, with that being said I found myself getting really invested in the narrative that played out. Each of the lead characters are fleshed out and the supporting cast has depth to it, along with the protagonist Shanao not feeling one dimensional in her silent portrayal.
I can easily recommend this release to anyone that is a fan of Visual Novels, as well as those who enjoy the Otome genre. There is a lot of content on offer, with each of the main routes taking several hours to complete and multiple endings to experience. This is a complete package, however there were a few hiccups that did slow the experience down, like the time it takes to skip read parts and occasional typos. But these are minor inconveniences.
In the end, I give Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei a final score of 4.5/5. This Visual Novel set in the Heian period of Japanese history is filled with intriguing and deep characters, plot threads that readers can get invested in and multiple character routes to get stuck into. If you want to check this title out for yourself, a link to the release will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)