Release Date: June 28, 2022 (North America)
Developers: Otomate, Red Entertainment
Publishers: Idea Factory International
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Fifteen years after the Heiji Rebellion, the Heike clan has reached the height of its power, while the Genji clan remains devastated by defeat. Hidden deep within the mountains of Kurama lives Shanao, the youngest surviving male heir to the Genji name. However, Shanao harbors a deep secret known by very few.
The youngest heir to the Genji name is no man.
Her adventure leads her to find new cherished relationships, as well as something deeper than the feud between the rivaling clans.
ART AND MUSIC
Renowned animator/illustrator Koji Haneda was in charge of Birushana’s character design. If you watch a lot of anime, you’re probably familiar with a couple of his well-known projects as an Animation Director, citing a few examples like Persona 5 The Animation, Food Wars, Hakuoki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, Hiiro no Kakera, Initial D, Utapri Revolutions and so much more.
The soundtrack for Birushana was nothing short of impressive either. I was shook when I heard 歌い手 (cover artist sensation) Amatsuki, performed the game’s OP and ED theme.😍 Not only that, but he also voiced one of the side characters in the game (Takatsuna). WHAT A TREAT!😱 My favorite track would have to be the ED theme [花鳥諷詠], which Amatsuki composed himself along with Takuya Watanabe.
Birushana’s BGMs were pretty good too. The battle tracks were awesome! The game credits composers; Ryo Kurata and Tomoaki Oga for its musical scores. This title’s official soundtrack along with an Audio Drama CD will be included when you purchase Birushana’s Limited Edtion copy at IFI’s online store.
One of the many stand-out features of Birushana was its top-notch voice acting from a very talented seiyuu line-up. Special shout-out to AMATSUKI, who was an absolute delight playing as Takatsuna. I believe this was his first role voicing an otome game character, and I really thought he did a marvelous job!
Kengo Kawanishi as “Noritsune“ – Rosho Tsutsujimori (Hypnosis Mic), Nansen Ichimonji (Touken Ranbu), Gen Asagiri (Dr. Stone), Munakata (Hiiro no Kakera), Harumi Makino (Lover Pretend)
Yuichiro Umehara as “Benkei” – Canus Espada (Café Enchanté), Demento (Period Cube), Shingen Takeda (IkeSen), Sage (Nekopara Catboys Paradise), Rain (Shiro to Kuro no Alice), Paschalia (Radiant Tale), Oochidori (Touken Ranbu)
Soma Saito as “Shungen” – Mineo (CollarxMalice), Levi (Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk), Tsurumaru (Touken Ranbu), Yumeno Gentaro (Hypnosis Mic), Takuma (Kitty Love), Yves, (Shuuen no Virche)
Makoto Furukawa as “Yoritomo“ – Lugus (Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk), Allan Melville (Cupid Parasite), Crius Castlerock (even if Tempest), Adage (Steam Prison), Ookurikara (Touken Ranbu), Kazuma Kamikubo (Lover Pretend)
Jun Fukuyama as “Tomomori“ – Vyn Richter (Tears of Themis), Mozu (BUSTFELLOWS), Ito Keita (Gakuen Heaven), Rin (Togainu no Chi), Aido (Vampire Knight), Tokiwa Etsuya (Dairoku)
Takashi Kondo as “Tsugunobu” – Kogistunemaru (Touken Ranbu), Shiba (EPHEMERAL), Subaru (Diabolik Lovers), Miki Saburo (Hakuoki), Kuro Usagi (ALICE=ALICE), Majima Yoshiki (Chou no Doku)
Katsuyuki Konishi as “Tadanobu“ – Avido Crudele (Code Realize), Tetsuya Niwa (Gakuen Heaven), Keisuke Yamanami (Bakumatsu Renka Shinsengumi), Reiji (Diabolik Lovers), Xeno Gerald (MidCin)
Ryota Osaka as “Shigehira“ – Shuu (Dairoku), Suzukake (Ken ga Kimi), Shishiou (Touken Ranbu), Hisui Hoshikawa (Nil Admirari), Kai (Princess Closet), Brian (Angelique Retour)
CHARACTERS AND ROUTES
Birushana’s story/plot is very linear, so all the routes pretty much go through the same segment of events, except with varying scenarios. Noritsune, Benkei, and Shungen’s routes are available from the start while Yoritomo and Tomomori’s are locked until you finish one of the previous three. The developers of the game recommend this playing order: Noritsune → Benkei → Shungen → Yoritomo → Tomomori.
I played in the same order and thought it was perfect when it came down to building up some reveals about the heroine, Shanao. I also thought Shungen’s route was a good intro to Yoritomo’s story; hence the reason why he’s advised to play before the latter. If you want to play the game while slowly unveiling ‘spoilery details’ surrounding Birushana’s plot, I strongly suggest following the order above.
- enemies to lovers
- gay for Shanao
Noritsune is the nephew of Taira no Kiyomori (leader of the Heike) and is Tomomori’s cousin. Unlike the other lords of the Heike, who live in extravagance due to their clan’s prosperity, Noritsune is only focused on getting better as a samurai. He’s a very good tactician and is known as the best general of the Taira clan. He is hostile towards Shanao and has an odd fixation on wanting to always surpass him.
Noritsune’s was the best route to start the game with as his story fairly introduces you to the game’s warring atmosphere between the Minamoto and the Taira clans. I also felt that Noritsune carried his own route, and his events went forward without relying too much on other characters. It was enjoyable to see him very focused on his one ultimate goal, and that is to have a one-on-one duel with Shanao, which he effectively made sure to achieve despite the odds and hurdles. His character development was the most believable out of all the cast, and I loved he remained very consistent with his resolve and objectives even after knowing that Shanao was in fact, a woman.
What stood out to me was Noritsune and Shanao’s really good dynamic and chemistry on this route. It started with this intense rivalry between the two trying to outmatch each other in battle, developing into mutual amity and respect, which in turn brought their relationship to something significantly special in the end. It was very romantic, to say the least! What’s so good about Noritsune as a love interest, was that he views and treats Shanao as equals. He values her as someone worth fighting for as well as fighting alongside with. It was also very clear that Noritsune loved and adored Shanao regardless of her gender and that, to me, was honestly beautiful. Their relationship had me choking back tears!🥺 Also, props to my fav. seiyuu Kengo Kawanishi for knocking this role out of the park!
- papa bear, monk himbo energy 🧸
Benkei is a warrior monk who used to live at a Temple in Mt. Hiei. Due to a conflict involving him and the Heike, he was exiled from his home, and since then, he has been challenging Heike samurais in Kyoto in an attempt to steal their swords (this is paying homage to the actual Benkei who collected 999 swords in Kyoto). After getting defeated by Shanao during an incident at the Gojo bridge, he pledges his life to become one of her vassals.
Benkei is the sound of reason among Shanao’s retainers. He’s very dependable and loyal to the bone. I love how they played up the gentle-giant trope in his story, which was pretty much one of the reasons why I was so smitten with him during the common route. He’s a very compassionate, kind-hearted character, and his unwavering dedication to Shanao, was worthy of praise.
Unfortunately, as a love interest, he didn’t shine as much compared to the other cast, which was a darn shame because Benkei was such a delightful character per se. I felt like the writers did him dirty when they showcased too much “Tomomori content” here – it got me quite distracted a few times, to be honest (laughs).😅 I did like Shanao and Benkei’s very wholesome relationship, and I thought they had some really cute moments together. One of his bad endings involved non-con (with other characters). Ngl, that bad ending became a guilty pleasure of mine (cackles) so… take this as you will.
- childhood friend
- not a shota
Shungen is the child of Minamoto no Shigenari, one of Shanao’s father’s retainers. Shortly after his birth, his father was defeated during the Heiji Rebellion along with the rest of the Minamoto clan. Shungen was brought to Kurama Temple at the same time as Shanao thereafter. And both were raised by Lord Kakunichi. Because he and the heroine grew up together at an early age, Shungen knows that Shanao is a woman.
Shungen’s character was someone I never cared for during the game’s initial premise, but after playing his route, I was immensely surprised by how much I’d enjoyed his story. It has also been a while since I’ve heard Soma Saito voicing an LI, so perhaps I’m just biased?🤔 A couple of things that really worked for me here, were Shanao and Shungen’s codependency with each other (it reminded me a little bit of Kuroyuki and Enju’s relationship in Nightshade). This was also the only route where Shungen gets to shine as a character (as well as a love interest). The foreshadowing in his story was brilliant, and I enjoyed how it led up to a very satisfying reveal at the end. It didn’t feel shoehorned, which is always a plus!
As for their romance, it’s the very typical ‘childhood-friend-budding-into-lovers’ relationship. If you enjoy this trope, you’ll certainly enjoy Shanao and Shungen’s dynamic here. I have to say, Shungen confessing his feelings to Shanao and choosing to be with her above all else was one of my favorite moments in the game. It was a genuine act of desperation and it hit hard (and good). It was very apparent to me how much he really cared for her. Although one could argue that his possessiveness can be borderline yandere-ish (which wasn’t the case for me… but feel free to interpret this however you like?).┐(‘～`;)┌
- aniue route
Yoritomo was fourteen years old when his father (the previous leader of the Genji clan) was killed along with his brothers during the Heiji Rebellion. While being held captive in Kyoto, Yoritomo’s life was spared by Kiyomori’s (leader of the Taira clan) stepmother, Lady Ikenozeni. Instead of receiving the death penalty, he was exiled to Izu Province where he lived under the surveillance of the Heike for many years.
I thought this route was the most action-packed in the game. The battle scenes in Yoritomo’s story were definitely a favorite of mine, and I love that Shanao was just a roaring thunder here! It was intense, and I loved it.😱 This was also probably the route, with the most angsty scenes. 😢
In the olden tales of the Heian Period, most literary pieces would describe Yoshitsune as someone who’s always raring to support and serve his older brother Yoritomo during the Genpei War, and I loved how they incorporated that same personification of both characters here.
Yoritomo’s very closed-off, stoic personality stems from growing up isolated and living his life under the watchful eyes of the Taira clan. You can’t really get a read on him, nor does he wear his emotions under his sleeve. As a man of a few words, it was so refreshing to see him opening up slowly to Shanao.🥺 I also find it really cute when the heroine muses about her feelings for her aniue (big bro). I thought their relationship development was quite good! And Yes, I am aware that they are siblings (laughs).🤭 All I can say is… I’m normally someone who gets creeped out with brocon relationships in otome games, but I can assure you, this one is an exception.
- if villain bad, why s e x y? 🥵
Tomomori is the son of Taira no Kiyomori (leader of the Heike clan). He sports an unbothered attitude most of the time, but whenever he feels like it, he can also become an excellent military commander who can effectively annihilate his enemies on the battlefield. Tomomori lives a very hedonistic life. He’s an elusive, selfish character who doesn’t seem to care about anything that doesn’t pique his interest.
Here we are, finally! The last boss of Birushana. Tomomori was the most suspicious character from the get-go. We see him chasing Shanao everywhere (in the common route) spewing some ludicrous lines of wanting to take her as his wife, lusting on Shanao’s crying face, and saying how she should come to him because she is “one of them”. Just what is this man on about? 😳 And why is he so obsessed with the heroine? What secret does his route hold? (queue in twilight zone music) ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ
At one point, he kind of reminded me of Kazama (Hakuoki), where he’s so adamant about branding Chizuru as his wife. It’s the same thing with Tomomori, only with added sexual tension.😳 I find it interesting how he’s so fixated on wanting to see Shanao cry and break. It was morbidly sexy in ways I can’t explain.
This route also took a weird turn. Unlike previous routes, where the stories mainly focused on the warring aspects of the two clans. Tomomori’s story focused heavily on the fantasy elements surrounding the plot. Admittedly, there were some inconsistencies regarding the ‘big revelations’ in this route, on top of a colossal amount of plot holes here and there. But for some reason, they didn’t bother me in the slightest because I was enjoying the ride so much.🤣
Where Tomomori’s character gets really interesting is when he starts paying more attention to the heroine. At first, his drive was to see Shanao in tears, but after spending some time with her, he made a complete 180 and aims to see her smiling face instead. I also loved how Shanao and Tomomori have developed this peculiar attachment for each other, and while his route was horny on main, their relationship seemingly developed into a wholesome one.🤯 Yep, this route was wild, but it was so good, I couldn’t put it down.😂
SHANAO/YOSHITSUNE (Main Heroine)
Born as the child of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, she was entrusted to Lord Kakunichi of Kurama Temple and was raised as a man in the hopes that she’d one day raise an army, defeat the Heike, and bring prosperity to the Genji clan once again. While she was taught to always carry the name of the Genji behind her back, what Shanao really wants is to live a peaceful life in the mountains, detached from any kind of conflict.
Shanao is such a fierce warring heroine, and I honestly wish she had a voice actor because wow, I’d give anything to hear her battle cries first-hand. In my head, she sports Mutsumi Tamura’s voice (Jed in Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk). (ᵘᆸᵘ)
I think what works fairly well in Birushana as far as having a badass fighting protagonist was that Shanao was very much engaged in the plotline (I mean, she’s Minamoto no Yoshitsune, after all). She does not fade into the background, nor doesn’t feel like she’s there as an onlooker during pivotal events. She’s an MC that makes the story happen, as well as moves the story forward. Another point worth noting is that not only was Shanao physically strong but also mentally and emotionally sound. She is very receptive to all the circumstances surrounding her, and she can quickly adapt to any situations thrown her way. For someone her age, I thought this was pretty impressive.
What’s remarkable about this title is that it caters to the player’s need and want for romantic fluff with side characters that are mostly sidestepped in otome games. Ahh, if only all otome games were like this!😭 Prior to the Japanese release, I was already one hundred percent on board with the character Tsugunobu, only to find out that he won’t have a stand-alone route until the fandisc. It’s why I was exceptionally thankful that the IF Endings exist to feed me some Tsugunobu crumbs.😩
Each route, except Noritsune’s, will unlock a side character’s “IF Ending”. You can check out the guides I’ve made to see which route unlocks certain side characters. My favorite “IF” was Tsugunobu hands down! No one can ever top Takashi Kondo’s gentlemanly voice in my book (cackles).😁
SYSTEM AND LOCALIZATION
Birushana offers a couple of integrated features that make your gameplay smooth and manageable. The flowchart helps you track which route or ending you’ve attained. It also lets you navigate and replay various storylines and character routes easily.
There’s also the “love catch” system, which will indicate if the choices you’ve made are the right ones when aiming for certain endings. During the common route, five (color-coded) flowers will appear every time you select a choice. A fully-opened flower indicates you’ve selected the best answer that’ll win you more points to the LI you want to romance. Each flower corresponds to a certain love interest. Yellow=Shungen, Red Orange=Noritsune, Pink=Yoritomo, Blue=Tomomori and Green=Benkei. There’s also the information screen that’ll allow you to check the relationship status with each character, in addition to viewing the heroine’s present aptitude.
As for the system itself, there were some noticeable lags in the game, especially during the fight scenes. The sluggish transitions sometimes will cause the screen to fade to black awkwardly during battle scenarios. The overall system is rather slow too, and skip-reading some chapters can take as long as thirty minutes tops. Thank goodness there’s a “Skip to the next choice, unread section”, which became a saving grace towards unlocking all of the endings.
The localization was also pretty decent. I’ve only spotted a few typos throughout the game. On another note, I did notice a few structure/pronoun mistakes. For example, there was one scene where Tsugunobu’s voiced line was saying “Tadanobu (his brother) is lovesick”. But the English subs translated it to “I was lovesick” instead. These mistakes were very infrequent though, and definitely not immersion-breaking or anything of the sort.
It took me around 60-65 hours to complete Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei. This includes clearing all possible scenarios including the “IF Endings” and unlocking all dictionary entries. The common route for Birushana is exceptionally short (from Chapters 1-3), and it won’t take you that long to enter a specific route. It took me maybe 4-5 hours to clear one route to completion.
As for the story, I really enjoyed it! Sure, there were some minor inconsistencies with the plot (esp. on Tomomori’s route). The game definitely wasn’t perfect, but overall, it really worked for me.
First of all, the Heian Period’s Genpei War was one of the most interesting, not to mention intense, civil wars in Japanese History. Hence, it’s been adapted countless times, in different forms of media, including otome games. To be frank, this isn’t the first otome game I’ve played that’s centered on the Genpei War. I picked up one of Mirai’s Hoshi no Oujo games during an otome sale last December and was really surprised by how similar its story was to Birushana. In Hoshi no Oujo (宇宙意識に目覚めた義経), the heroine disguises herself as a man in place of her late brother “Shanao” and hopes to defeat the Heike and restore the Genji clan. So yeah, in terms of notion and concept, I wouldn’t say Birushana’s was very ‘original’. But that’s not to say that this game did not hold its own merits.
Someone once quoted that Birushana is the ‘spiritual successor of Nightshade‘, and I agree. The structure of the premise for both games was pretty similar. No surprise there, since both titles were directed by Red Entertainment’s, Ito Ai. Both games also carry similar content warnings such as incest, age gap, and SA on bad ends, so just be mindful of them if any of these squicks you. Keep in mind this game is also tagged as “historical fantasy”, and while it heavily referenced a lot of characters and events during Japan’s Heian period, you shouldn’t expect it to be book-accurate. In fact, the writers took major liberties and went WILD with their interpretations with this one. Still and all, I do appreciate them incorporating some of the famously known tales/fiction from the Genpei War into this game. Citing a few were the intense battle of the Kurikara pass and Ichinotani, the kindness of Hidehira Fujiwara, and how Emperor Go Shirakawa was a deceptive, sly mofo.🤣 If you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll definitely get a kick out of these little thrown-in easter eggs.
Where Birushana excels the most was introducing its very likable main cast of characters (sub-characters included), which in my opinion, was probably the strongest aspect of this title. This game really enabled my ‘box-pusher‘ tendencies because I just loved all of the cast! The game also lets you witness different perspectives from different characters during the war. Each LI has varying motivations that dont just fall flat, and all of them form a special bond with the heroine, one that’s very distinct from the other.
The romance in Birushana was also very refined in the sense that it was not shoved onto the back burner. So even if you’re not into historical fiction, I believe you can still enjoy this title due to that aspect alone. As for the love interests, they were all so good, but if I had to pick a favorite route, it would be a toss-up between Tomomori and Noritsune. Though my actual favorite character in the game would have to be Tsugunobu, no contest! Followed by Shigehira, second.🤣🔥 I can’t wait to get a hold of the fandisc and finally romance these two!😭
Do I recommend this game? YES.
Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei is an otome game for historical fantasy lovers. If you’re someone who enjoys fiction centered on Japanese historical figures and events, Birushana is the perfect game to pick up and immerse yourself in. This title has now joined my otome hall of fame shelves, and best believe, I will be collecting merch for it!😤 I’ve evidently enjoyed this game fully, and I believe you will too, so long as you can overlook some of its minor plot holes. If you’re looking for an otome game that showcases a strong resilient protagonist and some flavorful samurai lords from the Heian era to fall in love with, you should definitely play this game!