Probably my favorite otome game since Code Realize. There were no particular routes I disliked, only some that fell a little flat, and at least two that I really enjoyed!
General gameplay tips for those who don’t want to know anything about the game:
- Chapter 5 is the beginning of a specific route. You’ll continue with whoever you got the most points with.
- I don’t normally recommend an order for routes, but here I would recommend playing Hanzo and Goemon after the other routes.
So I think this is the first otome game I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed since Code Realize. Norn9 had shortcomings, Period Cube definitely had shortcomings, and I was starting to wonder if maybe I had just grown tired of the clichés in the genre. Apparently that’s not necessarily true because I found very little to complain about in Nightshade. Also, lack of abuse is ALWAYS a plus, and moments where consent was actually asked for (!!!) were really awesome.
You as the main character are a 16-year-old female shinobi named Enju. You are the daughter of the chief of the village you live in, and thus are very loved by the villagers. However, you have yet to be sent out on shinobi missions despite your training, and you have longed to join the shinobi out in the field so that you can prove your worth. This story begins when you are finally assigned to your first mission.
The mission actually goes well, but what happens afterwards is unexpected, and you find yourself on the run for a murder you did not commit! At this point, the paths begin to diverge, and there are a total of five different routes to take.
Gekkamaru is the main character’s loyal servant and bodyguard. He’s absolutely willing to go above and beyond in order to protect and serve her, oftentimes becoming so overprotective that the other characters will make side comments about how predictable and tiring he is. He seems to be completely oblivious to how he might be inconveniencing the main character, but he’s gentle and warm like a clingy puppy.
Initially, Gekkamaru and the main character act very much like servant and master. The main character doesn’t really seem to even think very much of him, despite how much he agonizes over protecting her. At times she seems to find him somewhat annoying, but she ultimately appreciates him as well and tries to talk him into seeing her as an equal. Although, it made me question why she waited 16 years to finally say that to him (lol).
Gekkamaru’s route I think is canon, as he seems to be the most featured on the cover art. It also progresses pretty naturally from being master and servant to becoming lovers, largely due to the situation of events. However, the entire relationship is almost like opening a jar of molasses and eating it spoonful by spoonful–too sweet! There were a number of times I made a face because the writing was so sugary. Also, I was really tired of hearing Gekkamaru say “Enju-sama” by the end of the route. The good parts to him were that he is extremely gentle and warm, so there weren’t any moments that I felt like he was manipulative or abusive at all. I also really liked his yellow eyes :).
Kuroyuki is the younger brother of Gekkamaru. Personality-wise, he’s a bit of a prankster, it’s generally hard to tell if he’s being sincere or not, and he’s got quite the mischievous smile. He and the protagonist fed from the same nursing mother when they were children, and they used to be really close while growing up. However, Kuroyuki was sent away on a mission when he was 8 years old and spent the last 8 years away from Koga. He finally reunites with the group at the beginning of the story.
When I first started his route, I thought he might be the sort of shota but not quite shota route in the game. As I got further along, it seemed that he was the overly possessive type, but not quite yandere, and they do explain why he is obsessive. Overall, they did a pretty good job of writing his story in such a way that would make you feel uneasy, but also sympathetic for Kuroyuki as well. I think the tension was a nice contrast to the moments that were sweet, and the route was well-balanced.
My favorite part of Kuroyuki’s route was the story–I thought that his route had the more interesting storyline with a number of reveal moments. While Kuroyuki wasn’t perfect, I think his imperfections made him interesting as a character. Unfortunately, I think his chemistry with the main character didn’t feel really natural like in some of the other routes, bordering on manipulative at times. Occasionally I’ll find characters in otome games that I really like in all the routes other than as the main love interest, and Kuroyuki falls into that category. I prefer the intermittent flirty moments he has with the main character in the other routes over the obsessive emotions he displays in his actual route.
Chojiro is older than the main group of characters, and they mostly call him “Cho-nii” or older brother in some way. He is a relatively cold and quiet character, abiding strictly by the shinobi code and completing missions as a flawless shinobi. He acts as the leader of the group as he is the shinobi with the most experience.
I guess Chojiro fits the onii-san archetype in this game. He is cold but he does secretly dote on the main character in his route. As you progress, you see that his emotions are conflicting with his desire to be the perfect shinobi. He is generally a man of few words, and you don’t actually spend a lot of the route in conversation with him. The story in his route on the other hand is pretty tragic and engaging, making the romance seem to take a back seat to the rest of what was going on.
In my opinion, Chojiro’s story came out kind of flat. He played his role and there weren’t really any surprises–it’s another classic shoujo story of the cold male character whose frozen heart was melted by the main character. I don’t really have much to say about it. Next!
Hattori Hanzo is based on the historical Hattori Hanzo, a ninja who saved Tokugawa Ieyasu and then served him (based on his Wikipedia). In game, he is similarly in service to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hanzo is known as the best shinobi to ever exist, and the main characters are often in awe of his skills. He is also emotionless and battle-hardened–an overall exemplary shinobi.
Hanzo is cold and emotionless from the start, but he begins to build respect for you as you demonstrate your willingness to improve and your dedication as a shinobi. At the beginning, he strictly interacts with the main character only when necessary. As they continue to travel together, he becomes gentler and even begins to train the main character, thus improving her abilities as a shinobi. Eventually they build a mutual respect for each other and romance ensues.
In my opinion, the best part of Hanzo’s route was Enju. Rather than being helpless and protected like she is in the other routes, Enju wants to and does improve on her abilities as a shinobi in this route. I was a little surprised to find out how old he is (old enough to be her father)–and I’ll omit some additional details here that I thought made it a little weird. I thought his voice actor (Kenjiro Tsuda) did a pretty amazing job with this character, which a very deep voice that was stoic at times, gentle at other times, and passionate when appropriate. I can only imagine how hoarse his throat must have felt after voicing all the lines (lol). Overall, I enjoyed his route and the gradual progression of the romance.
Goemon, as his name suggests, is based on the actual Ishikawa Goemon, which is awesome because I love when history or folk tales are built into a story. When you initially meet him, he comes off as flirtatious and introduces himself as a libertine (lol). He is not part of the main group of characters and acts independently in all the other routes.
In Goemon’s route, he helps you escape and travels with you simply because he enjoys your company. There are many funny moments, especially when Gekkamaru’s overprotectiveness comes into play, and the route is overall pretty lighthearted with no deaths! You can see how his initially womanizing demeanor changes into one of affection through the course of the story. I also like how he is the clever one out of the prospective guys.
I loved pretty much everything about this route, but I particularly loved the scene when he acted to his Goemon character and shared stolen gold to the masses alongside the main character. Ishikawa Goemon was already a character I was interested in playing an otome game with after learning about him in Persona 5. Also, Midorikawa Hikaru is literally my favorite male voice actor, and I’ve missed hearing him in all sorts of anime these days, so this route was particularly pleasing to me just to be able to hear his voice again T_T. This was certainly the most uplifting route, with plenty to laugh at and very few things to be sad about. I nearly thought they were going to throw in a tragic plot twist, but it looks like they skipped the opportunity (which I was pleased about). He and the main character go pretty well together as a couple, and he encourages her to stay strong, which is a super plus. Overall a very satisfying route!
I wish Ennosuke, Kyara, and Ieyasu were also routes. Honestly, it seemed like lost opportunities developing those relationships at the beginning and then not creating routes out of them. I originally at least thought Ennosuke would be a route and then found out he wouldn’t be, although I guess I see why he’s not. I thought Kyara and the main character had great chemistry if there was the potential to develop a same-sex route. I also thought Ieyasu would have been a great, complicated route to develop. But alas, none T_T.
I didn’t really like what seemed to be the main storyline in most of the routes. Kuroyuki’s storyline was the one where the main storyline really differed from the rest of the routes, and I liked it better. It wouldn’t have worked in the other routes, though, so that’s understandable. The overall feel sort of reminded me of Hakuoki, and I’m sure similarities are drawn between the two.
Ranking the routes, I would say Goemon > Hanzo > Kuroyuki > Chojiro > Gekkamaru, although there were luckily no routes in this game that I outright disliked. I am happy that there were no unnecessary abusive relationships in the game. I was also super happy to see a couple times where the characters asked if they could kiss the main character before doing so (consent is awesome)! There were a lot of funny moments and warm happy moments. Overall I really enjoyed this one :).