Review – Yurukill: The Calumniation Games
When I first saw a trailer for Yurukill: The Calumniation Games, I was intrigued. It reminded me of Danganronpa, thanks to the atmosphere it was trying to convey. The aesthetic had me glued. Upon seeing the title, my hopes were raised as I assumed murder was on the menu. Then, subsequent marketing did nothing to quell those inferences, and so, it was full steam ahead. I have countless fond memories of playing these sorts of adventures. My plate was full of games to cover, though, and I begrudgingly had to move on. It escaped my radar altogether in the following days until I saw something. Hidden amongst the dialogue is what resembled an arcade Shoot’em Up. My curiosities only continued as screenshots of what looked like characters in a cockpit flooded my inbox. Alright, NIS America, you’ve caught my attention with this weird amalgamation – can you capitalize on it?
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games has an enthralling concept that hooked me immediately. It begins relatively simply; a 29-year-old named Sengoku is locked in a cell, convicted of murder. Throughout the decade he spends behind bars, he maintains innocence – his only desire is to clear his name. As the proverbial monkey paw curls, a chance presents itself. He and many others must participate in a deadly contest of wits and grit for freedom. So far, it’s a pretty textbook setting, but what makes it unique is the inclusion of innocents. Civilians pair up with prisoners, and if they emerge victorious, they earn an unconditional wish. As a bonus, they’re immune to the dangers ahead. What’s more, they take on the role of Executioner – a single button press injects a lethal poison into their partner. Cooperation is crucial, but revelations dampen any hopes of working together.
This journey is unlike other anime romps under the killing game umbrella. It’s a different breed, tackling the premise with less of a funny bone and striving to tap into more of a serious tone. That isn’t to say that it’s devoid of quirkiness, though. Amidst the weighty plotline, there’s a pair implemented that masquerades as a comedy duo. Their antics are the palette cleanser between the intense truths. One nonchalantly tries to solve all the puzzles, while the other blindly follows behind. Smiles stretched across my face, but they never evolved into uncontrolled laughter. Ordinarily, that contributes to a dismal experience but not here. The appeal of the mystery gripped me with no signs of letting loose. I was hungry to see how pivotal story points would resolve. It had my undying focus, but not everything was pristine, with the characters hurting ever so slightly.
Okay, it’s not as terrible as you may assume because, as a whole, they all have distinct personalities. The only caveat is they fall under stereotypes, although they’re played off well. There’s the bad boy with a soft side, the pompous yet psychotic prim and proper male, a pop star and her number one fan, plus so many more. The dynamic everyone shares is attractive, but it lacks development. I can’t shake the feeling that most are aching to break through but are shackled by a straightforward script. There is a snippet or two of perversion but rest assured, it isn’t widespread. My problem lies in how little it explores backstories. It’s surface-level musings, making it a struggle to invest in these individuals. There’s not an ounce of empathy for their turmoil – I didn’t care. That disconnect hurts the overall immersion, which is imperative for visual novels to nail.
Another facet of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games that I adore is the willingness to dive into dark topics. The exploration into the theme of murder is a given, but there’s also an underlining venture into trauma. It adequately portrays the effects that specific types can have on someone. It nonchalantly brings up subject matter such as mass slaughter, physical assault, or stalker situations, too. For those wondering, it never dips into grotesque details. It isn’t as upsetting as it could be and that, right there, bums me out. I can’t help but think the absence chains it down from being genuinely demented, hindering its potential – blood, agony, and the vivid artistry of the literary persuasion are sorely missed. Still, the narrative manages to pull off what’s ultimately most important; it pushes me to go forward. The secrets it hides left me wondering, but it’s not perfect.
The vast majority of puzzles are excellently built, offering brain-crunching conundrums. The difficulty between them varies, ranging from painfully easy to moderately complex. Then there are those clues that surprised even me once the answer was uncovered. It was a reach in logic, eliciting a bewildered look from me. It assumes players know ludicrous details like blood splatter trajectory. Perhaps there’s a hint I missed, but during my initial confrontation with this snafu, it caused a Game Over. Something else that had me mystified is Yurukill: The Calumniation Games doesn’t recognize ambidextrous people. I’m one, so when it inquired about a dominant hand, I was lost. There’s also a handful of obtuse leads mixed into the explanations. On occasion, they’re downright horrid, bordering on cryptic. Even with that beneficial hint mechanic, a blind shot in the dark was taken once or twice.
In defence of a fleshed-out cast being nonexistent, it’s simpler to remember past conversations. Hell, I’m prolific for my atrocious memory, and even I had zero issues. It’s just as well because before transitioning into a Shoot ’em Up, there’s a questionnaire. It’s vital to concentrate on every word said during the Visual Novel parts, no matter how frivolous it seems, as every question that’s correctly answered grants lives. In a genre that demands rapid and precise movement inside a bullet hell smattering of projectiles, trust me, you want it. It was like threading the needle through the slimmest of openings, and even when I’d succeed, I couldn’t believe I had done it – it has the thinnest margin for error. This ideology is a double-edged sword, however, because while it may engross you into the narrative, by doing so, it also aids you in noticing the tiny hiccups, thus hurting immersion.
The gameplay in the Visual Novel section isn’t very complicated and doesn’t sport any fancy gimmicks. Much like in titles such as Phoenix Wright, you investigate whichever room you’re inside. A fantastic quality of life inclusion is the ridicule only reacts to the clues key to advance proceedings. There’s never pointless drivel, but in that same vein, it would have been nice to see interactions between partners. I have repeatedly regurgitated this, but they need heft.
All in all, Yurukill: The Calumniation Games does a superb job marrying genres into a seamless courtship. I adore that the Shoot’em Up parts aren’t haphazardly inserted. They embody a giant metaphor that centres around the inner turmoil of the Executioners. It made jumping between playstyles much less jarring than I initially thought. Above all else, the ease of solving puzzles creates this smooth flow to the finish without choppiness.
The art isn’t the standardized look of having big eyes, reminding me more of the style found in horror anime. With that in mind, it’s a missed opportunity not to tap into explicit content. Much like their personalities, characters range from stand-out to cookie-cutter designs. The colour palette hones in on delivering darker tones, but when it does embrace a traditionally brighter one, it blackens it down a shade or two. Performance is an anomaly. During the first cutscene, there’s evident jitteriness within the boat’s spotlights. I’m not positive if perhaps lighting effects are to blame, but it, thankfully, doesn’t affect other avenues of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games. Buttons are responsive, and when indulging in the Shoot ’em Up gameplay, movement is always fluent. There is an ever-so-slight freeze after a boss fight; however, it lasts for about half a second, if that. All in all, very solid.
In my notes, I wrote, and I quote, “God damn, the sheer intensity within the voice acting is beyond mint”. That sentiment is still valid, despite having written it only a few minutes into my 20+ hours of playing. A couple is partially better than others, but the overall package shouldn’t be scoffed at and dismissed. The inflections and cadences were well-done. It wasn’t an arduous task to discern the distress in their words when they spoke. Hell, it almost sounded as if the actors and actresses were going through a personal battle with demons of their own. Sadly, there isn’t a dub to be found. Any uncultured swine, like myself, won’t be eating tonight. The Japanese voices do a bang-up job, however, perfectly emoting their reaction to various incidents. And for whatever reason, I’m charmed by the sporadic English dialect. The pronunciation has such vigour and energy behind it.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is an ideal example of a murder mystery that isn’t innovative but has a compelling story. It may lack flesh on its bones, but the skeleton is sturdy. Despite some predictable plot beats, an equal amount subverts expectations by throwing in a slight twist. There’s a truckload of untapped potential here. Even now, I can’t help but fantasize about what could have been if all bets were off and the writes accepted gratuity. The talent for creating something brutal and exciting is in place. Why there’s such a reluctance to go full throttle is, ironically, a mystery in itself. It’s a journey blatantly geared towards teenagers and mature audiences. Regardless, the core question of if Sengoku had actually been framed tickled my curiosity. The complete package is a fun romp, but my recommendation is to purchase it when it has a minor discount.
I enjoy the character art but feel the environments are rather bland. There’s not much variation or inspiration to them.
Nothing here is different to other titles in the genre. The reason gameplay scores so highly is because it’s inoffensive.
The music is ultimately forgettable. The only thing that salvages it is the excellent voice acting.
I was unaware of this fact about myself but I think I’m a huge fan of the Shoot’em Up genre. Weaving through the infinite number of bullets was always fun. It was a rush of dopamine.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is available now on PS4, PS5 and Switch.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.
A copy of Yurukill: The Calumniation Games was provided by the publisher.