I have to admit that it’s a great time to be an otome fan. I remember when the only source of otome games available in the west were either fan-translated ports or very questionable-looking games on sites like Newgrounds. We now get new otome releases almost every year, and as a long-time player of dating simulators, seeing the popularity increase in the genre brings me a lot of joy. Especially when we are able to experience the evolution of these games as they go from simply falling for pretty boys to telling full-on engaging narratives that have us at the edge of our seats.
This is the sort of experience I expected from Bu$stafellows, a new otome game developed by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Extend Inc and published by PQube. However, I’m not quite sure it delivered in the way I hoped.
Bustafellows is set to release on July 30, 2021, for the Nintendo Switch, Android, Microsoft Windows, and iOS. The Nintendo Switch version was played for this review.
The story of Bustafellows revolves around a young journalist named Teuta Bridges. She writes articles for a newspaper in her city (New Sieg) that center around different topics, among them local events and celebrity news. It is her job that brings her face to face with a man named Limbo, whose death she witnesses after chasing after him in the streets of New Sieg to ask for an interview. Now, we are told early on in the game (in the opening scene actually) that Teuta has the power to go back in time, and it is during Limbo’s death that we learn more about this mysterious power.
As it turns out, Teuta’s time-traveling powers have a lot of stipulations. For instance, she doesn’t time travel as herself but rather gets put in a random body and she also doesn’t get to choose the specific time she goes back to. Still, through the use of this power, she is able to keep Limbo from dying.
Because of her claims that she saved his life, and also due to the fact she possesses knowledge she shouldn’t, Limbo becomes suspicious of Teuta and through a stroke of luck ends up “encouraging” her to move in with him and a group of men called fixers. These five men are the game’s romantic options, and I have to admit one of the many obstacles keeping me from enjoying my playthrough.
We’ll start with Limbo. He’s a hotshot lawyer who people call crooked because he can get anyone off of any crime whether they did it or not. He has a childish personality and loves food, but of course, has a mean side if you get on his nerves. He is the leader of the fixers.
Next up is Shu, Limbo’s partner most of the time, and a hitman. He’s the typical stoic guy who smokes way too much and for some reason always has a gun pointed at someone before they can ever notice. His role as a fixer is to kill people. No shock there.
Mozu is the third choice. An animal-loving coroner who happens to love talking to corpses but isn’t very outwardly expressive. He is skilled at forging documents and providing corpses.
Still, I’d take him over our next guy, Helvetica. The self-proclaimed pretty boy (the game shoves this narrative down your throat) and number one rater of women. His first introduction to Teuta was him letting her know he found her to be a 63/100. A compliment since he rarely rates women over 60 apparently. Helvetica’s specialty is disguises. He can even perfectly voice a woman. A true talent.
Last but not least we have Scarecrow. He claims to be the boss of the underworld but looks more like he’d fit in a high school anime. He is the game’s comedic relief, although being funny isn’t one of his actual talents. He is a renowned hacker though and can forge fake IDs.
Together the group takes on jobs that they deem worth their time, whether it’s for the sake of justice or money is up to them to decide.
If I’m being honest, I see what Bustafellows was going for. These men lead dangerous lives, and their outlook matches up to what Teuta herself seems to want, so it’s a great recipe for an intriguing romantic adventure if you only look at the game from a surface-level perspective. However, the way the story is structured and some very glaring character flaws make it fall rather short for me.
For starters, it’s very hard to root for these characters when their definition of justice changes with their personal interests. I often found myself perplexed as to how Teuta managed to bounce from having firm beliefs to excusing behavior she had previously expressed disdain for without any real justification.
To not end this part of the review on a negative note, I will say that Bustafellows’ story does have some good points. There are some aspects of it that are exciting. For example, each chapter is episodic and has the crew taking down different criminals. This makes it hard to get bored since the mystery is refreshed each chapter, and offers some different perspectives for each of the characters.
The story is also revealed in parts, so there is a high replayability factor. In fact, if you want to uncover the mystery of Teuta’s past with her brother (his death is a driving force for her decision to join the fixers) as well as get to the actual meat of the romance, you will need to play the game through multiple times.
Triple-Sided Love Story
Bu$stafellows’ gameplay is pretty standard for a visual novel. It consists of reading the text and making choices in response to questions or situations. The formula is kept fresh through the requirement that the reader uses their observation skills, as some of the questions center around what you saw in the background of a scene or what a character said to you.
Being vigilant is especially important because it’s useful for Teuta’s time travel moments, whether it’s while she’s in another body or while she is herself.
There isn’t much more to say about Bustafellows’ gameplay besides that, but I did want to use this section to talk about how Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Extend Inc decided to structure their new release and what expectations to have when trying it out.
Bustafellows is divided into three parts: Side A, Side B, and then the final playthrough which addresses more of the story’s main questions that get presented but not solved in Side A. It is impossible to only play the initial route and get a full sense of the story. The romantic bits don’t even really kick in until the epilogues presented in Side B. So if you’re playing for the men and want the bulk of the romantic scenes the game has to offer, play, play, and play some more!
I don’t mind the need for replaying the game as it does a good job of keeping everything fresh, but it did sometimes feel like a lot of hoops to jump through to get to what the genre promises: love.
On the bright side, there is a memorabilia system that works as an achievement board for the stuff you unlock, which can add extra replayability value if you’re into that.
Eye Candy in More Ways Than One
Bustafellows is a good-looking game, and that may be its one saving grace. The characters are stylish, the cutscenes are stylish, and the background and music fit the environment very well. I was always excited for new visuals and enjoyed the life added to the character portraits in the form of a wink or a smile.
However, despite looking good, the game is not free of localization flaws and even some sound issues. For example, there are quite a bit of misspelled or missing words as you make your way through the dialogue. It’s not constant or super glaring but I noticed it happening throughout the game enough to annoy me. This is further compounded by the fact that the game is only voiced in Japanese, so sometimes a scene will start with you hearing the character speak but either the text box for what they’re saying is late or doesn’t appear at all, making it so that you miss the introductory dialogue of a particular conversation.
Perhaps I’m unnecessarily harsh about this, but I feel like if you aren’t going to offer dual-audio in a game, the least you can do is polish the translation as much as possible to coincide with the original voice-acting.
If this isn’t obvious by now, I was not a fan of Bustafellows. I have been playing otome games for a long time, so perhaps I have just aged out of the typical character tropes and bland dialogue that plague most of the modern releases. Still, I wanted to like it and admit that for fans of the genre, this game is definitely a diamond amongst the common rough that we get on a yearly (almost monthly if you count mobile games) basis.
It’s gorgeous to look at and has an exciting story with high replayability, even if it does take a while to get to the romantic bits. If you don’t mind flawed characters (including the heroine) and want to delve deeper into a narrative that explores just how far people are willing to go for their version of justice, then I suggest giving this a try.
The glitches with text and voice-acting are pretty minor, but if you’re like me and this is a pet peeve, it might take a toll on you eventually. If you don’t care, then you’ll have an even better time.
Overall, the characters were not for me this time around, but I did enjoy getting to try out Bu$stafellows and look forward to more future releases from this studio.
Review copy provided by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Extend Inc for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.