To start this I have to add a disclaimer to it, I don’t play a lot of Visual Novels. I feel I might have played about three in my whole life including this one and one of those was Hatoful Boyfriend (Don’t Judge me it was good 😃). Going into this I like to think I didn’t have any preconceptions about it and the genre. Nightshade is a tell of the legendary Shinobi (those are Ninjas to you and I) and follows the trials one Shinobi village as it comes to terms with life in a post Sengoku period Japan. Yet another game I didn’t see a lot for prior to release but felt it was worth a shot anyway. It was fairly pricey on Steam too at £26.99 outside of the sale price (forgive me if this is the usual cost I’m very uneducated on it 😝) but I thought to myself I’d get in there. expanding my game tastes and all that jazz and to be honest I was getting really tired of the stream of games I’ve got for review. Not bad games just lacking in diversity.
I can only surmise from this game that the primary focus for these games is their story. It being a novel after all, so I had lofty expectations for this game at the start. After all story as the driving force can only really work when the story is top notch stuff. The story follows the life and adventures of Enju Ueno the 16 year old daughter of the Koga village leader Kando. Enju is the prodigal child whose birth brought about peace between the Iga and Koga Shinobi clans after a war destroyed the Iga and they were forced to be taken in. the game establishes all this early on so the details and the world are pretty thickly laid on from the start, the game proceeds to weave through several interconnected plot points of mystery, murder, action and love as you live the life of the young Shinobi on her quest to prove herself worthy of her village and her title. The games writing for its story for me (for the most part) was done really well. Conversations are all informative and progress the story, build the world and give insight into characters. I especially liked the voice acting although it was all in Japanese and while I don’t particularly mind this my novice Japanese resulted in not really getting the spoken tone of some conversations. The game does have a written English text which for the most part is wonderful. A few spelling mistakes and grammar issues but I always see those in translated games so it’s not really a critical fault for me. As you weave through the games narrative you’ll encounter very well written scenes and even some very well done subtle moments that lead into bigger things later on. If I could say anything thought the reveal for Goemon was so visible. It really took away from the moment for me and the way in which he’s revealed felt very weak for a character that goes on to be very interesting and likable! To coincide with the main narrative of the game there are also some romanceable characters in the game. These take the form of five other shinobi you encounter throughout the adventure. Romance isn’t usually my thing in a game and with the setting it had chosen it worried me in the menu to see relationships as a reviewable aspect. At the start of nightshade I was busy preparing myself for some real tenchu styled ninja story. Dark knights of the shadow jumping through the night as they spy and assassinate and to be honest I didn’t really see how a relationship would fit into that. After finishing the game though I felt really good about it. The way the romances are handled and written into the story made it feel very natural and in some cases added an extra degree of emotion to already tense scenes 😃! The overall ending for the romance option that I did chose (I’ve only beaten the game once at this time) also played quite heavily into the end of the games core campaign which I really went for as it gave the feeling that all those choices that I had been making throughout the game regarding him really did have impact and in a game where your choices really are supposed to alter the narrative it was an enjoying thing to see play out. Overall the story is well written aside from a few moments I didn’t really feel for, its well-paced, has plenty of depth and character building and ends in a way that I rather enjoyed. The end was a total shock though. I didn’t see the final twist coming and it took me right off guard!
The biggest drawback for me in this game and by extension visual novels as a whole is the distinct lack of anything you can really call gameplay… now I get that it’s just how these games work but after 6 hours of reading it started to get a little. Dry. The writing wasn’t faltering but I like to be involved in the story in a big way. Don’t get me wrong. The game does afford you plenty of chances to make decisions that have great impact on the game. Your romance options I believe have a large effect on the grand finale of this tale but outside of decision making there isn’t really a lot for me to do and that starts to affect how I feel playing the game overall. Core practice of a video game is that a poor game can be carried if you’re enjoying yourself and at moments in this I just wasn’t. not because of the story but because I felt like I could have been directly involved outside the decision making process. Again, this is probably the way these games are meant to be and I do apologise that it sounds like whiney complaining but it’s just how I feel and that is kind of the point after all 😃.
Another major focus for this game is its artwork. This was a really important thing for me as I loved the games artwork. Characters were very detailed and even had animations for blinking and speaking which I hadn’t seen in the few visual novels that I had played. At first I thought that the Artwork had been water coloured but the more I looked at it the more I saw it was just the effect. Characters are the only thing that get any really detailed artwork in the game. Environments do get some good work done for them but you spend more time focusing on the characters than the scenery with exception to a few places. Characters have all been designed with a wide variety of artwork to convey various emotions and responses that they have throughout the story and right from the off the level of effort put into these characters is apparent. Gekkamaru for example has some really good clothing design and the. If anything, negative can be said about the artwork id have to say the animations for speaking are a little bit iffy. They don’t really work as well as they should and it could have been improved by just not having those animations at all. The biggest drawback for me in terms of the artwork though is the distinct lack of it in some scenes. Specifically, the combat related scenes. Aside from a few the main battles are all handled off screen. You see the shinobi in their stances with their weapons and you get some great play by play narrative but you don’t ever really see any of it and when you have battles raging like the ones this game has it gets a bit frustrating that you can’t see any of it. It takes away from the immersion I felt for the game. Now I know there are reasons for this to be this way. The animation budget could have been vastly damaged by it. The time for development would have been longer and the violence may have put some people off the game but for me I feel a longer dev time and maybe some more money spent would have really added to the game for me. Being able to see the battles play out alongside the already great narration for action scenes could have really elevated this game for me. The games musical score is alright too I guess. It’s nothing adventurous or standout for me but it does what it needs to and it does it well in a lot of scenes. The audio work is best noticed in the voice acting which really gave the game a high degree of emotion and heart!
Overall Nightshade is a good game that just has issues stopping it from being a great game for me. As a whole its artwork, musical score and voice acting all meld really well with the story but the lack of any real artwork for action heavy scenes, the mouth animations and the way the romance option I had picked influenced an end to the story that I felt wasn’t all that amazing (Brother Chojiro is a great character but his romance and story end just seem way too cheese filled and out of tone to the rest of the game). The story is still pretty good with that twist near the end of the game being one that I totally didn’t see coming. It’s a game I will endeavour to play again and follow the other paths but It’s not a game im in a rush to play again.