Release Date: February 24, 2022 (North America)
Publishers: Aksys Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
A member of a prestigious family and heir to a fortune, Hibari learns that her eccentric grandfather is determined to find her a husband. He arranges to house her in a luxurious villa along with four handsome, hand-picked bachelors and her private butler. As her suitors try to win her hand by any means necessary, Hibari endures endless everyday trials and temptations.
Has her grandpa chosen poorly, or could there be more to these fellows than first meets the eye?
Through all of this, Hibari has two important goals: frighten off each of these marriage candidates, and absolutely refuse to fall in love.
ART AND MUSIC
One of the main highlights of Variable Barricade that may have caught everyone’s eyes at first glance is its incredible art. All the game CGs were mesmerizing. I could cry! We have none other than the illustrator Kageroo Usuba to thank for making VariBari’s CG artwork such a glorious spectacle. Their previous works in the otome department include the titles; Will O’ Wisp, Reine des Fleurs and Wand of Fortune. While Kageroo worked on VariBari’s CGs, the artist, Kiichi, was responsible for the game’s chibi illustrations.
Fun Fact: Kageroo Usuba is also the artist behind the new upcoming Otomate title in Japan, Radiant Tale.
Variable Barricade’s soundtrack was also pretty fun, and it matched the game’s comedic tone, which I can appreciate. The character themes weren’t that memorable to me, except for Ichiya’s sax solo tune, which always made me chuckle whenever it played in the BG (listen to the sample below!).😏 The team behind VariBari’s BGM were composers; Kenji Kaneko (who also did Hakuoki Reimeiroku’s BGM) and Mari (from QuinRose). Mari was the previous lead composer for the (otome game) company QuinRose, who transferred to Idea Factory Co. when the former closed down.
You can purchase the soundtrack bundle of Variable Barricade exclusively at Aksys Game’s online store. This includes the physical game, the game’s soundtrack, and the VB’s character cards set. Quantities are, limited for this bundle, so make sure to grab ’em while supplies last!
I’d like to point out how amazing the cast of voice actors are in Variable Barricade. This line-up was one of the game’s major highlights for me.
Saki Fujita “Hibari Tojo” – Hatsune Miku (Hatsune Miku: Project Diva), Ymir (Attack on Titan), Seiko Kimura (Danganropa 3), Ruri Hijiribe (Durarara!!), Basho (Senran Kagura Peach Ball)
Kosuke Toriumi “Ichiya Mitsumori” – Mikazuki Munechika (Touken Ranbu), Saito Hajime (Hakuoki), Poyo-Poyo (Period Cube), Shuu (Diabolik Lovers), Kagiha (Psychedelica BB), Rei Mikuni (CollarxMalice), Chojiro (Nightshade), Cecil (Utapri)
Nobuhiko Okamoto “Taiga Isuguri” – Yang (Piofiore), Hansel (Code Realize), Manabu Souda (CollarxMalice), Hiroya (Period Cube), Shin Ah (Akatsuki no Yona), Iris (Iris School of Wizardry – Vinculum Hearts)
Hiro Shimono “Nayuta Yagami” – Kuroyuki (Nightshade), Senri (NORN9), Satoshi Mochida (Corpse Party), Shou (Utapri), Garaiya (Shinobi Koi), King (ALICE=ALICE), Ray Blackwell (IkeRev)
Kenji Nojima “Shion Mayuzumi” – Akagi Kazuyuki (TMGS 2), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon Eternal), Chiyo (Shinigami to Shoujo), Nobuchika Ginoza (PSYCHO-PASS), Odoriko (Dot-Kareshi)
Atsushi Tamaru “Kasuga“ – Ichigo Hitofuri (Touken Ranbu), Tsukioka Tsumugi (A3!), Kohei Natsume (Kitty Love), Semi Tokitaka (Dairoku), Azul Ashengrotto (Twisted Wonderland)
Takuya Sato “Kazu” – Shokudairkiri Mitsutada (Touken Ranbu), Toya Masamune (Norn9), Takatoo Tasuku (A3!), Kuga Genjuro (Kimi wa Yukima), Shuri (Angelique Luminarise), Sassa Nozumo (TMGS 4)
The only route that’s locked in the game is the “True End”, which is more of Hibari’s story. The romance routes of all four bachelors can be played at the start. I think it’s safe to kick-off the game with either Nayuta or Shion, followed by Taiga, then Ichiya last, since his story had the most spoilers. If you’re concerned about having the best ‘story-flow’ of the game, my suggested play order is Nayuta → Shion → Taiga → Ichiya → True End.
- golden retreiver
- 👠feet kink himbo 💪
Also known as the ‘walking debt generator’, Nayuta is too innocent to a fault that he can easily be coaxed and deceived into doing things such as making big purchases for all the wrong reasons. He has a very cheerful persona and has the strength of twenty men. He tries to be as helpful as possible to others but sometimes goes a bit overboard.
I was recommended to play Nayuta first since his route was the most upbeat and cheery among all the LIs. And I’m glad I started the game with him! Nayuta is a golden retriever trapped in a himbo’s body. He literally acts as your pet dog (with some odd kinks), and it’s the most hilarious thing ever! You’d think he’d be the genki sunshine boy (from the common route) through and through, but step into his story (pun intended), and you’ll see a different side of him. What I liked most about Nayuta’s route was; just when you’re expecting it to head to the cliché happy ending, you get hit with a very flamboyant twist. I did not see that ending coming, but heck, I loved every bit of it!
I thought Nayuta and Hibari’s innocent romance was cute. Too cute, in fact! And I found their couple-back-and-forths quite amusing, to say the least. Despite their drama that dragged on for so long, I admittedly liked how their relationship unfolded and thought it was accurate for Nayuta’s personality. Kudos to Hiro Shimono’s impeccable acting that made Nayuta’s character an absolute delight!
- ト-s 👁️👄👁️
Also known as the elegant “kept man” of Hibari’s four suitors. Shion is a very calm and patient bachelor who is fully aware of his angelic looks that can mesmerize the rest of the world. He’s mightily content with living his life freely as long as he’s loved and needed by his current partner. He is, however, very indifferent, not to mention frightfully cold, towards those who exist outside his bubble. Shion is also cunningly perceptive and he remains cryptic when expressing his feelings.
Shion’s story became quite a surprise to me. Judging from his attitude in the common route, you can probably tell this man already had some inexplicable semblance surrounding him, and you’re not wrong! Shion is one complex character, and his personality may raise red flags for some. However, I just wanna say how much I’ve shamelessly enjoyed this weird do-s ride of a route! (laughs) 🙈 I thought it was brilliant how his story kept me on edge and kept my eyes wide open, for that matter. 👀 The chapter “Speechless” had me clutching my pearls, honey! Perhaps my only gripe in Shion’s story was that I couldn’t care for the side character Ru, and I wish Shion’s relationship with his family was expounded more.🤷
Shion and Hibari’s romance was actually, believe it or not, very pragmatic. The way Shion handled Hibari’s indifference regarding his unemployed status was very straight to the point. I loved that he did not beat around the bush with her and even made her backpedal her opinion of him. As much as I love heroines being coddled and doted on by their LIs, I love a devil’s advocate situation where they get a taste of their own medicine and learn from it.
- gambling addict with the biggest heart
- he likes big breasts and he cannot lie…🍈🍈
Taiga is a free-spirited bachelor who does things his way however he wants it. He’s rough around the edges and will not mince his words. He will tell you his unbiased opinion on things straight to your face. He’s spent most of his grown-up life traveling overseas and trying out different casinos all over the world. Despite his rough, unvarnished exterior, however, lies a softer, vulnerable side, he’s afraid to admit.
Taiga was thee man of the hour! Not only was he effortlessly cool on every facet imaginable; he also possesses this genuine kindness towards others. It’s honestly hard not to like him right off the bat. He merely acts as the cool oniichan in the pack and is the most level-headed among Hibari’s suitors, which was another trait I adored about Taiga. He’s also the character that I can relate to the most on a personal level. His inner struggles were realistically on point, and I applaud the writers for writing him, (and his flaws) as it is.
Hibari and Taiga’s dynamic was perhaps one of my favorites in the game. Because of their contrasting personalities, their banters became a hoot to watch. Their relationship transitioning from being friendly comrades to something romantic felt very natural. And I love seeing Hibari crushing on Taiga hard!🥰 Despite Taiga’s simple, almost anticlimactic love ending, I thought this was one solid route that’ll no doubt become a favorite to many.
- cooking husbando
- textbook flirt
Ichiya is the flirty, romance-obsessed bachelor who prides himself on his sophisticated cooking skills. He is every girl’s dream boyfriend, and he acts like one too. Pretty much, he’s the complete package! While he appears to be the archetypal perfect partner almost every woman can wish for, he can be completely dense when it comes to reading Hibari’s feelings and thought process. Thus, juxtaposes his casanova confidence.
Not gonna lie, there’s just something about Ichiya’s quirkiness that tickled my fancy! (cackles) 🙈 His cheesiness was on another level, but they felt so right that instead of cringing on his overbearing mushy lines, I couldn’t help but grin happily instead!😆 This route, I have to say, caught me off guard with its unconventional approach to the “flirty” archetype. I was not expecting his story to go down how it did, and that’s what made it so good and satisfying (to me). There was also a role reversal at play here, where, unlike the previous three bachelors, trying to break in Hibari’s barricade, it is only in this route where the heroine breaks in the LI’s walls. Now, what exactly do I mean by this? Play his story and you will find out!🤭 Ichiya’s story explores so much on his raw emotions, vulnerability and how it connected to the heroine. It was soo good that I stayed up til 3AM just to finish his route! I have no regrets!
My gushing aside, I just wanted to put it out there that Ichiya and Hibari had a nine year age gap (Ichiya 26, and Hibari 17), and while this doesn’t bother me at all, I know some folks get easily squicked out on (fictional character’s) age gaps. This route also brought a few elements that might trigger highly sensitive individuals, so just be warry of it on your playthrough. On a side note, Kosuke Toriumi, as great and talented as he already is, really knocked this role out of the park! I have no words!😭💙
Seiyuu Fun Fact: (For those interested) I think it’s important to note that originally, Ichiya’s role was assigned to Yuichiro Umehara. This was back in 2018 when Variable Barricade was still in its production stage for the PSVita. Due to Umehara’s health condition, where he had to take a long hiatus from work, Idea Factory Japan, had to replace him with Toriumi instead. To me, this just about worked to the game’s advantage because I thought Toriumi did a stellar job portraying Ichiya. I really wouldn’t have him in any other way. Toriumi was perfect for the role! Not to say Umehara won’t do the character justice himself. But it’ll probably just have a different feel to it? (me thinks). That said, can you imagine if Ichiya sounded like Canus Espada?😳
Get ready for some truth bombs cause here they come! 👀
The “True End” of Variable Barricade, has more to do with Hibari’s story and the Tojo family. No, there isn’t any secret LI or secret romance route, if that’s what you’re curious about. Ngl, this one took a very awkward turn, and all I could say was… w h y this? 😬
It didn’t help that the big reveals on the previous routes were all dumped together in this one big pile of weird mess. This last route felt crammed with all the revelations tossed one after another. That said, the pacing felt kinda off, for at least the first half of it. Not only that but what a way to ruin a really good character! 🙃
Click for SpoilersBIG YIKES! Look, I didn’t have any problems with the “siscon” trope on this route, but I felt very disappointed that they made Kasuga disturbingly unhinged, and borderline creepy. Because he was such a good side character through and through, it was hard to see him become this manipulative, whacko unbudgingly trying to control Hibari’s life.😔
Thankfully, they played up the story with lots of comedic scenes to cover up the seemingly awkward atmosphere. So this, I can at least appreciate. Plus, the chibi illustrations were adorable.
- my precious daughter! 😤
First of all, I wanted to say, how ecstatic I was to learn that Hibari was going to be a voiced heroine, and by Saki Fujita, no less!😱 I thought she did outstanding as Hibari! I also read the cast commentaries for Variable Barricade, where Fujita mentioned; if she were to choose an LI to marry in VariBari, she’d probably choose Nayuta, ‘so long as she’s able to train him properly…’ (cackles). She’s hilarious as heck!😂
Variable Barricade was Hibari’s story. I think it’s wonderful how the game thematically focused on how each love interest tried to break the barricades the heroine herself created around her. She starts off very picky on who to let in on her good side, but, in the long run, showed how she can adapt and learn from her mistakes for the sake of finding love. It was very nice to see Hibari grow and develop beautifully in different ways depending on which route you’re playing.
I personally enjoyed her as a protagonist. She may look like this venerable ojousan upfront, but she’s pretty much just a regular high school girl who’s clumsy, naive, and wears her heart on her sleeve. I also thought it was interesting that she clearly becomes a different person on each route, which makes sense since each LI possesses something she doesn’t. In Nayuta’s route, she learned how to take the first initiative in a relationship. In Shion’s route, she learned how to forgive and that it’s okay to be carefree and indulge in something she loves. In Taiga’s route, she learned how to challenge herself into being more honest & expressive of her true feelings, and in Ichiya’s route, she learned how to be someone’s emotional support. She starts very flawed from the jump but it was honestly endearing to see her grow as a person and learn from her mistakes.
SYSTEM AND LOCALIZATION
A couple of interactive features Variable Barricade has to offer during your gameplay were the: flowchart a.k.a. ‘barricade board’, WHIS, RABI, and the barricade battle scenes. The flowchart lets you track all of the chapters in the game. After clearing certain chapters in the common route, a character’s level 1 board opens, and you’re free to jump in and play their ‘common story episode’ before going into their respective routes.
RABI (Hibari’s bunny robot with a hidden cam) records all the shenanigans happening at home, featuring the four suitors and Kasuga when Hibari is not around. WHIS the app is a means for the characters to send text messages to each other, and the barricade battles are cutscenes that play after reaching the final chapter of each level board. It takes a minute to get used to navigating through the flowchart, though I’m pretty sure you’ll get used to it eventually. I’m in love with the barricade battles and the chibi animations were so fun to watch.
As for Variable Barricade’s localization, I thought it was pretty good. Typos were infrequent and the comedic tone added to the characters’ lines made my experience more enjoyable. There were a few line breaks that appeared from time to time, especially on Ichiya’s route, but it wasn’t anything bothersome that prevented me from having a total blast!
My overall playtime for Variable Barricade was around 50-60 hours, give or take. I found the common route longer than I expected, and it took me three days to clear everything (RABI scenes included) before I started playing the individual routes. As for the LI routes, it took me around 4-5 hours to finish each one of them.
The dev team behind Variable Barricade includes staff from fan-favorite otome games like; Code Realize, Collar x Malice, and Cafe Enchanté. So I pretty much went into the game expecting a promising ride, and I’m glad it delivered accordingly. While VariBari leans more into the slice-of-life genre, it didn’t feel mundane or boring to me at all, and there was always something uniquely entertaining to look forward to in each route. Perhaps my only gripe was the “true end”, which completely soured my mood due to how awkward it made me feel.😩 Though I have to admit, there were still some aspects to it that I enjoyed, so I don’t think it was entirely bad all-around.╮(￣ω￣;)╭
Hibari, as the protagonist, was no doubt excellent, but what helped flesh out her character more were her interactions with her bossy bffs Tsumugi and Noa. I always looked forward to the scenes where the three would huddle up together and discuss (read: interrogate) Hibari’s love life. While Tsumugi tries to push her fangirl fantasy on what ideal relationships should be (according to the mangas she reads lol), Noa is there to give a more straightforward advice and bluntly lays out what Hibari tries to deny. Tbh, Hibari could not have wished for better friends!♥️
I thought most of the side characters were great too. Kojiro is a top-tier dilf, will 100% date him!😤 Takamune is an adorable tsundere grandpa, and Kazu was the unfortunate undateable side character that I’ll forever remain salty about. You just can’t cast Takuya Sato as this hot, eligible & capable bachelor, and not give him a route. You just can’t!😤 That aside, I enjoyed all the romance routes, and each love interest, as flawed as they are, had their own interesting stories to tell. I thought Taiga would end up as my oshi, but Ichiya pretty much stole the #1 spot after that rollercoaster of a route!🤯
As expected from Nao Kojima, the found-family trope in Variable Barricade was impeccably top-notch. I loved the guys’ i-gotchur-back bro-bondings so much! Their bickering was golden, and seeing Hibari and Kasuga blend in with the four trouble makers was the icing on the cake.
Do I recommend this game? YES.
Variable Barricade offers a very fun, fluid, and endearing narrative that’ll scratch every otome gamer’s rom-com itch. Definitely get this game if you want to experience a light-hearted yet engaging story, amped-up with some really hilarious romantic shenanigans. With its adorable cast of characters, beautiful art, and top-tier voice acting, I have no doubt this game will become a staple title for otome lovers in the west. I absolutely enjoyed this game, and would 100% replay it again!