Review: Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei

23 Jun 2022

The last time I wrote a review for an otome game, I couldn’t help but point out how childish the genre’s usual tropes felt from the perspective of an older player. The satisfaction I craved from that particular story never came because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t the intended audience. This never felt like an issue during my playthrough of Idea Factory’s new otomate, Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei.

Idea Factory teamed up with Red Entertainment to bring us this title which is set to release on June 28, 2022, for the Nintendo Switch.

A Flower in Bloom

Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’s story is an otome version of a real historical event known as the Heiji Rebellion. Our heroine, Shanao, or as she is later called Yoshitsune Minamoto (you can change her first name to your liking but the last name remains the same), is one of the few living heirs to a clan of samurai known as the Genji. She was brought to Kurama Temple as a child after her father’s defeat at the hands of Heike clan, and now lives there in peace with the monks and her childhood friend Shungen.

One day while training in the mountains, Shanao comes across some bandits who are intent on fighting her, and through this incident encounters a man named Noritsune Taira, who happens to be the nephew of the very man who killed her father. Noritsune tricks Shanao into making a bet with him, and because of the series of events that unfold during her attempt to beat him, she is forced to run from the only life she’s ever known.

The story has some familiar tropes, like the fact that Shanao has lived her life disguised as a man. Although I’m not sure why this is even a thing as it’s implied that anyone who sees her figures out pretty easily that she is a woman due to her slender frame and pretty face.

Still, tropey or not, the story is fun to read through. Shanao shines in her role as a protagonist. She has a strong personality, is good in combat, and doesn’t really fall into the typical damsel in distress role. It was actually very refreshing to play a game from the perspective of a female protagonist who can make things happen for herself, and because you have some say in the way she develops (your choices dictate how her stats grow), it almost makes her feel like a true extension of the player.

The romance options also play a role in adding some flair to an otherwise tired tale. Shungen (the childhood friend), Yoritomo (the “brother” figure), Tomomori (the sadist), Noritsune (the man with a chip on his shoulder), and Benkei (the older man who also happens to be an idiot) play their roles to perfection without ever feeling tired or boring. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they each have distinct personalities and aren’t afraid to express themselves in a way that suits them. Their loyalty and interest in Shanao is immediate because that’s typically how otome games work, but the progression of their feelings feels real the more they get to know her and fall in love.

My first playthrough was Shungen’s route and I have to say that I love the way his childhood friend role wasn’t overplayed or tedious. He respected Shanao as a person and differed to her, and his romantic feelings for her were gradual in nature rather than overbearing from the start. His route also had a pretty interesting twist that I only caught onto about midway through the playthrough. I wasn’t expecting it at first and it lit a fire in me to play the other routes and find out more about Shanao’s backstory.

My only gripe is that there are times when Birushana feels like it doesn’t have a clear grasp on whether the historical backstory is a prop and the romance the star, or if they’re supposed to be on equal footing. For example, there were some chapters that moved the story along at breakneck speed, while others solely focused on advancing Shanao’s relationship with her love interest. It felt weird to spend a whole month traveling the countryside and flirting with Shungen when supposedly the Heike needed to be stopped and I was the key. It isn’t a huge deal as eventually the story found its way to where it needed to be, but it was something that popped into my head when I reflected on how I was progressing along.

Perhaps this is my bias speaking, but I LOVE these types of period otome games because of their rich historical context and cultural references, so I couldn’t help but really enjoy everything that was thrown at me story-wise. The cool thing is that you are just as hard-pressed to focus on what’s happening in the story as you are to get to know its characters. In fact, Shanao’s origins are slowly revealed as you play through each route, so there is a reason to romance each love interest, and honestly I really liked the twist and turns the story took with it. Especially when it came to some of the supernatural aspects of Shanao’s abilities. 

On the gameplay front, Birushana’s follows the standard visual novel format. There are three different dialogue choices to pick from and whatever you end up choosing impacts who you grow closer to. There are some additional things to consider when making choices, but they aren’t that significant. For example, Shanao’s stats are determined by the replies you choose. One decision can impact her strength level, while another impacts her kindness. It didn’t feel like this mechanic made a HUGE difference in how the story panned out, but there are some subtle differences in dialogue based on how you develop her. 

Aside from that, the other features are pretty cookie cutter. There is a glossary to educate you on unfamiliar terms, a flowchart to let you know what route or story chapter you’re on, and you are able to skip back and forth between the present conversation (which felt kind of like a cheat because it lets you undo your choices if you don’t like the results, which makes sense for a replay but this can be done on your first playthrough as well).

While the gameplay itself isn’t super groundbreaking, the game has a ton of replayability. The five routes are pretty long, and if that’s not enough, you are able to unlock side episodes featuring Birushana’s attractive side characters. All I can say is, I will be making it my life’s mission to convince Idea Factory to implement a full Shigehira Taira route.

The only minor issue I had with the gameplay is that I found myself in unwanted routes a few times. The game veers off at the beginning into two separate paths, and depending on what you choose to do, some romance options become unavailable. There is a feature that is meant to tell you which options affect each guy but it can be easy to miss because turning this on has to be done manually in the settings. It wasn’t a huge deal once I realized what was happening, but I did have to restart a few times after becoming trapped in Benkei’s route over and over.

Food for thought: Idea Factory has a suggested route order. I didn’t follow it but it may be worth doing so if you want the full story to make sense.

Love at First Sight

As far as otome games go, Birushana’s visuals hold up well. It’s pretty to look at and is filled with unique character designs and dynamic portraits. The settings did get re-used quite a bit and combat was in the form of flashing lights with a dark background, but I was always pleased when I unlocked a new scene with a love interest as the artwork was beautiful.

The background music on the other hand felt pretty one-note, with the exception of the intro and outro songs. This criticism does not apply to the game’s voice acting which I actually quite enjoyed. It was Japanese only but there was a good assortment of VAs and I felt like everyone’s voice fit them properly. 

Overall, I was satisfied with what this game had to offer visually and audibly, but unfortunately, it did not escape the curse of grammatical errors that seem to plague these sorts of games.

Timeless Classic

What I liked the most about Birushana is that there wasn’t much I needed to look past to enjoy my playthrough. It has plenty of the cheesy romance I want out of a dating sim, but with a story that feels like it could really happen. Each character helped bring the environment to life, a trait that extended to the protagonist as well. 

It’s funny because writing this review made me think back to the old days when in order to play good otome games you had to put up with rough fan translations or tiny iOS screens. This realization only solidifies how great it is to have titles like this grace the Switch. 

All in all, playing Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei was a real treat. It has its moments where the story can feel like it’s dragging, as well as a few grammatical errors here and there, but if like me you have aged out of cutesy, under-developed romance games and prefer more mature themes and realistic (albeit still animeish) characters, I recommend you pick this up.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Idea Factory International for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.