By Leah McDonald / June 23rd, 2022
|Title||Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei|
|Developer||Idea Factory, Red|
|Publisher||Idea Factory International|
|Release Date||June 28, 2022|
|Genre||Otome Visual Novel|
I’ve always been a sucker for historical fantasy and imaginative retellings of classic tales. I also love samurai. So when I had the opportunity to review Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei, I jumped at the chance. Two of my favorite things smashed together? As an otome? Sign me up! But did this gender-bending tale of Genji vs Heike live up to my expectations? Let’s find out, shall we?
Our tale takes place following the Heiji Rebellion of 1159, during which the Heike routed the Genji and took control of Kyoto. Fifteen years have passed, and the youngest “son” of Minamoto Yoshitomo, Shanao (better known as Yoshitsune), lives in Kurama Temple outside Kyoto, training day and night with childhood friend Shungen, waiting for the chance to restore the Genji name and defeat the Heike, whose rule has terrorized the capitol and surrounding region. Only, because this is an otome, Shanao is in fact the youngest daughter of the famed general, and no one can know that she’s actually a girl. One day while out with Shungen, the two are waylaid by Heike soldiers, including Taira Noritsune, nephew of Taira Kiyomori, leader of the Heike. Noritsune challenges Shanao to see who can take down the warrior monk Musashibo Benkei, who’s been stealing swords from Heike samurai in the streets of Kyoto. I’ll leave you to find out where the story goes from there, but in terms of opening hooks, it’s pretty effective.
Also effective were Shanao’s love interests – both in their writing and character design, which were all absolutely impeccable eye candy. Shungen is a quiet, intelligent and protective friend; Noritsune is brash and hot-headed, but also honest and sincere; Benkei is a mountain of a man and famed warrior, but also a puppy dog at heart. The remaining two are Taira Tomomori, son of Kiyomori; and Minamoto Yoritomo, Shanao’s half-brother. Tomomori is a slimy, seedy, calculating creep who I absolutely loved until I actually got to do his route; and Yoritomo is the cold, silent-type with a hidden soft side. When it comes to taste, Birushana has a character type for almost everyone, which made the game eminently replayable to see how vastly different each route ended up being. While every route shares multiple story beats, there are a bunch of twists and turns depending on which choices you make. It was fun seeing how a scene played out differently each time I replayed the game.
Speaking of choices, here’s how the “Love Catch” system works: Whenever you make a choice, a different-colored flower will bloom on your screen. Each color corresponds to a specific love interest – yellow for Shungen, red for Noritsune, green for Benkei, blue for Tomomori, and purple for Yoritomo. Flowers will either open a little or a lot, depending on how deeply your love interest resonates with that choice. It’s a neat little system that shows you in real-time how you’re progressing, and coupled with the game’s generous save system, you can easily tweak your runs toward specific characters with little trouble. The “Love Catch” system also works in tandem with Shanao’s stat system to determine what ending you get. I never actually got a bad ending or an “If” ending, but those are entirely possible.
Idea Factory suggests playing the game through with Noritsune first, then Shungen, Benkei, Yoritomo, and finally Tomomori. Because each of these routes explains more of the story, it’s the natural progression to understanding this tale in full. I did not follow this path – I actually started out with every intention to do so, but decided early on I’d rather just see where my natural choices lead me. They lead me to Benkei, as it happens, and he ended up being my favorite route of them all. I did end up going back and playing through all the routes as suggested, though. As I mentioned above, I was actually really looking forward to Tomomori’s route, because I like morally-questionable antagonists, but his playthrough ended up removing that questionability in ways I found undermined what I liked about him to begin with. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) obviously, but it was one of the bigger disappointments I had with a game I otherwise had trouble putting down.
The other major issue I had with Birushana were the numerous grammatical errors. These ranged from simple punctuation errors – like incorrect comma usage or lack of periods at the end of sentences – to missing words, truncated sentences, mixed up pronouns, random tense changes, and even misspelling character’s names (I specifically caught Shigehira misspelled as Shigehara). In one instance, the characters were discussing the Song Dynasty in China, and the very next text box called them the So. It wasn’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the game, because I sincerely enjoyed how campy, melodramatic, and heartfelt the story ended up being, but it was definitely a frustrating distraction. I can forgive typos here and there, but this felt particularly sloppy and unprofessional, especially in a title that completely revolves around reading. The text is the game, and I expect a bit more care given to a product of this type.
The game’s dictionary was also a mixed bag. I loved the idea of it, because it gave a lot of context to a complicated situation with a lot of moving parts and people. I was especially appreciative of the names and locations, since I am only passingly familiar with the Genpei War, and having modern geographic markers for ancient cities and regions, grounded where this story takes place. Keeping track of who was related to who would have been a headache without this resource. On the other hand, the dictionary also suffered from the above issues regarding a lack of proofreading. At least two entries were duplicates; sometimes the wrong term was used in the wrong context; and there were some terms I just couldn’t understand being included, like “destiny.” Again, these issues weren’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the game, but it did leave me questioning how these mistakes made it into the final product.
Not a mixed bag in the least was the sound design and music, both of which are phenomenal. There are a lot of sword fights in Birushana, and every time weapons clashed it was so, so satisfactory. The music was also varied and catchy, from soft, quiet and contemplative pieces to hard-hitting battle themes that mixed traditional instruments with rock. I cannot complain at all about the music, it was so good. The voice acting was also absolutely on point, with a star-studded cast for the main characters. The only character in the game who isn’t voiced is Shanao herself, letting the player really immerse themselves in her role. I loved the voices so much. Fantastic work.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei. The characters were charming, well-acted, and gorgeous; I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and experiencing an alternate version of the Genpei War made for a really exciting scenario; and the sound design was completely on point. Unfortunately, the game also suffered from some glaring grammatical issues that cannot be ignored. If you’re a fan of samurai or historical drama, Birushana is worth checking out, but that recommendation comes with a massive caveat thanks to what I found as less-than-professional proofreading. In the end, your tolerance for grammatical errors is YMMV, and for me they weren’t enough to take me out of the game entirely, but for others it might be a bridge too far.
Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei is available on the Nintendo Switch June 28, 2022, for $49.99 USD.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Birushana: Rising Flower of GenpeiIdea FactoryIdea Factory InternationalIFIOtomeotome visual novelREDReviewsSamurai