Before I begin, I just wanted to say that I've gotten some feedback lately that my "reviews" have been fairly ... Laid back and not too serious. This is completely true, and I've written this with that feedback in mind. This is a much more objective, serious review of a game that I've wanted to review for a while. Hope you enjoy reading it, and please keep giving me feedback that can help me improve, I do appriciate it.
By Dergonu, fuwanovel
Shuffle is a romance / fantasy visual novel originally released by Navel in 2003/2004. The game was later licensed and translated by Mangagamer, along with its two sequels Tick! Tack! and Really? Really! (You can buy the games here: (nsfw content on the game's page.)
In the game you play as Tsuchimi Rin, a fairly normal high school student. When Rin was younger he met two beautiful young girls by chance, and spent the day playing with them. It turns out though, that these fate encounters would later change Rin's life forever.
Shuffle offers 5 romantic routes as well as a common route, the story featuring elements of romance, drama, fantasy and comedy. (Note that a newer version of the game called Essence+ offers a whole roster of new characters and heroine routes not found in the original release, but this version is un-translated, and is not the version covered in this review.)
The main story takes place in a fantasy universe where two portals have opened in the human world. These portals connects our world to the world of the Gods and the Devils. Contrary to popular belief, Devils and Gods are not omnipotent almighty beings which hate one another, but instead they are fairly similar to us, and the two races live alongside each other in peace. The Devils and Gods do have magical powers, and certain features does make them look slightly different, the primary attribute being their long ears. In the game, we follow Tsuchimi Rin in his everyday life. It has been 10 years since the portals opened, and Gods, Devils and humans live alongside each other peacefully.
The overall look of the game is very nice for such an old novel. The art is pretty to look at, with nice sprites and colorful, well drawn backgrounds. The menu is detailed and easy to navigate, offering a great variety of settings to improve your experience. There is a date display in game, and choices will affect which heroine's route you enter. The choices are very plain and easy to understand, often literally containing the name of the characters to make it easy to choose the heroine route. In addition, the game has no bad endings, so playing it blindly with no walkthrough is risk free.
Once you enter a heroine route, a sprite of the heroine will be displayed during scene changes, so you know when you have entered a route. All these things taken into consideration, Shuffle is a very laid back and casual visual novel experience, but that in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The music in shuffle goes hand in hand with the other elements we have discussed so far. It's very light and very simple. Each one of the normal tracks played throughout the primary part of the common route and the start of the heroine routes are simple, light and cute. They offer simple instrumental music with slight variation that glide smoothly into the background.
The tracks unlocked later on during the final dramatic parts of the routes, feel like they are on a different level from the earlier ones. They do a better job of making the player feel engaged in the game, as they feature more detailed instrumental music which fits the setting very well.
The music tracks in the game are all enjoyable of course, and fit nicely with the feel of the game, but if more effort was put into making all the tracks like the last few ones, then it would allow for even greater immersion in the game, something that could possibly make the game better than it already is.
Still, every track is very comfortable to listen to and none of them are disruptive in any way.
Among the five heroine's routes, each story offers a fairly similar structure. It starts of very light, introducing one small piece of information casually that will later turn into a dramatic twist to the route. This small catalyst is easy enough to spot early on, and figuring out vaguely what is going to happen is fairly easy. That being said, the game still does a decent job at hiding exactly what it is that is going on. The primary part of the heroine's route will be about Rin and the girl falling in love, and developing their relationship. The game offers 2 H-Scenes for each character, with CG variations based off your choice in the route, and an epilogue which takes place after the events of the main route. As the story progresses, the catalyst which was introduced earlier will start to become more present in the story, and a big climax towards the end filled with drama will occur. This can remind you of a normal nakige build up, but the last dramatic part is so short and gets overpowered by the lightheartedness of the previous part of the game so strongly, that it can't be called a nakige at all.
The game re-uses a fair share of the same situations and conversations during the early part of the heroine routes. These only have certain new lines of dialogue, making the scene itself the same. This comes off as lazy, and gets old after the second route. At the very least, short new events should have occurred during these parts to make these scenes slightly more entertaining. This is luckily only the case for the beginning of the route, and the later parts are all completely unique to each heroine.
Sia's route is supposed to have two variations, but similar to the previous problem mentioned above, they simply re-use the scenes with tiny changes in the dialogue. The final experience is the same, and so it feels almost pointless to have these two variants, as they simply don't do anything majorly different from one another. It is not a good / bad end type of deal, but instead two sides of the same ending, with all the scenes identical, except for certain variations in dialogue and the character's behavior. This is a little bit of a shame, as Sia's route is very good. Had the two sides of the route been pulled off in a better way, this route would have been even better.
Primula, Asa and Sia's routes are the only ones that has "believable drama". The other two routes doesn't make you feel like what is happening is really a big deal at all. It is trivial drama that doesn't have any real impact compared to what happens in the routes mentioned above. This is not to say that the routes are bad because of this, but it does make the game feel a little inconsistent, as if the two routes which feel less impactful are played after the other three, then you won't really be that pleased with the end result. Actually, one of these routes has to be played before Primula's route is unlocked, so only one of the routes actually have that problem.
The endings in the routes also feel a little bit rushed. Once the drama is introduced, the player has almost no time to let it sink in and feel the effects of it, before it is resolved. This makes the novel lose some potential, as it doesn't feel like there is any "risk" to it at all. It's almost as if the game is saying that something bad could happen, but then it instantly corrects itself, saying don't worry, we wouldn't actually do this!
Still, with those factors in mind, the story in the game is still enjoyable. The actual core of the heroine routes does a good job of making the player care for the heroine and about what happens to her, and seeing as the game instantaneously lets you know that it is a very laid back, plain and casual experience, the slightly rushed endings and not overly dramatic parts are to be expected.
To sum up, Shuffle! is a very light and simple, yet effective visual novel. It does a good job of making the player care for its characters, as long as the player is willing to accept the game's light hearted and simple atmosphere.
The music and art in the game is well made, especially the art and backgrounds. Considering the age of the game, it is in fact quite pleasantly surprising to see such nice artwork in the game. The music could have had even more effort put into it though, as there is a clear difference in quality between a few of the tracks.
The routes are a little inconsistent, and offer parts which are essentially just copy pasted with slightly altered dialogue. This alongside the predictability of certain events, the game loses a bit of its potential.
+ Nice art, music and well made menu makes for an enjoyable experience.
+ The story is enjoyable overall, and does a good job of making the reader care for the heroines
- The drama in the later parts of the game ends far too fast, and are essentially pointless
- The game loses potential with the lack of variation in its re-used scenes, especially in Sia's route
Rating: These things taken into account, shuffle! gets a 7.8/10 rating