For obvious reasons, VN vets rarely get up their hopes for games by new VN companies. Generally speaking, most of them are charage or nukige, and those that aren't usually flop on their faces. So, it should come as no surprise that the people I chatted with about this game generally didn't have any hopes for it.
However, that is probably because they didn't take a look at the team of scenario writers. The first one, Gihara, was the writer for Tenka Gomen, Shin Koihime Eiyuutan, Shin Koihime Musou Kakumei (responsible for the rewrite), Harvest Overray, and Girls Be Ambitious (something of a cult classic for Japanese fanboys of a certain stripe). Nissy was involved with Hanasaki Work Spring and Gin'iro Haruka. Finally, Toishi Hiroki was involved with Sakura, Sakimashita and Floral Flowlove.
By most standards, that is about as solid a team as you can find for any single VN, even if it is essentially a combat sports charage in the same vein as Unionism Quartet and Shirogane Spirits. So, after having done a bit of research on the game and its story, I picked it for my second game this month.
Happily, I wasn't disappointed by the results.
Oh, by any standard, this game doesn't even approach Aoi Tori for raw quality of storytelling or music. It also has as much lost potential as any other fantasy charage that put effort into creating a complex setting (inevitably, they never go far enough). The protagonist is a little too similar to some others I've encountered, such as the one from Walkure Romanze or Aokana, in that he starts out as a self-pitying loser and spends the entire game in a supporting role.
That said, for what it is (a combat sports charage), it is nice and fun. The protagonist, Touki, is a swordsmith who makes spiritual blades combined with mechanical parts called 'Origami' who has lost his ability to make them, leaving him with a bunch of wasted talent and people wondering why he is wasting it (sound familiar?). The combat sport in the game - called Jindou - is basically one-on-one ritualistic duels between wielders of these mechanized spirit blades (the blades grant the user increased physical abilities based on their ability to draw their power out), and three of the four heroines are competitors (two of them newbies, one the highest-rank veteran, a setup that is traditional to the sub-genre). The last one is a fellow maker of Origami, an American arms dealer's daughter named Freesia.
The protagonist does manage to get past the big personal issue in the common route, so there is no 'diversion' onto another path in life as is common in many VNs with a similar protagonist (in other words, ignoring the protagonist's scars and leaving him as a loser). This is a huge plus, as this type of character goes... but it is shortly after that event that the paths split.
Shion is the protagonist's kouhai, a girl who was going to give up the sword because, due to her high ability to draw out spiritual energy, keeps breaking Origami... and on top of that, she is excessively kind, making it difficult for her to consider hurting others, despite her choice of a future profession. Despite her kind-heartedness, she is a power-fighter, breaking opponents with smashing blows and enduring attacks to lash out at the right moment rather than using technique or speed to overwhelm them.
Her path is... interesting. It has the protagonist going farther into confronting his personal issues and past than in the common route, and as a result a rather nasty chain of events occurs that leads into the story's drama after the competition. On a whole, that made this an interesting path... but I was left feeling a bit bored with the rather predictable ending bits. This path could have done with a more bittersweet note in the ending, despite this being essentially a charage (thus requiring good endings).
Tsubaki is the school champion and a member of the Suzakuin Family... a family that symbolizes the ultimate swordsman in their sport, because they do everything themselves, from training and fighting to management and the making of the Origami. Tsubaki considers herself to be like an older sister to Touki, whom she lived with for three months as a child when she was learning how to make Origami. Her style is efficient, defined by refined technique, foresight, research, and a cold drive to win. As a result, she tends to let enemies come to her then destroy them with counter-attacks.
Her path forces her to confront her own limitations and break the boundaries set by her family, and most of the drama comes from Touki helping her stand on her own feet and realize there is something beyond her training and family's expectations for her to live for. It was a good path, overall... but it completely ignores the issues lurking in the background that erupted in Shion's path, so it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
Freesia is the daughter of the CEO of a major arms-maker in America. Upon meeting Miyako (Tsubaki's older sister) she became obsessed with Jindou and eventually discovered a talent for making Origami. She is at the school as a special student, exempted from class because of her high scores and her father's connections. Early in the story, she becomes obsessed with becoming Touki's student. She is very aggressive and straightforward, never bothering to conceal her feelings about anything. She is a perfect example of the fine line between a genius and an idiot (or a madwoman), as some of her Origami are... strange (when she made a light saber, I had to rofl).
Anyway, her path is about the way of the craftsman, and it is kind of interesting... However, I feel that they approached it all wrong. First, during the climactic face-off in her path, the results are sort of disappointing. The fight itself is nice, but it feels too much like 'oh, she is the heroine, so lets let her have her way!' Moreover, I am honestly confused that they chose that as the climax, since there is relatively little emotional buildup immediately before. As such, I had to rate this path the lowest of the three I've written about so far, by several levels.
Saya is Touki's childhood friend (though he doesn't remember her at first), a brilliant swordswoman who, at first, has no idea of how to use an Origami. Her attitude toward Touki is very much that of a close friend, rather than a deredere heroine, which is unusual for this kind of setup. In addition, she is the 'true' heroine, though if you want to unlock her without playing the other paths, you can do so through the extras menu. As a fighter, she is a speed type, quite simply the fastest of all the heroines by several levels. In addition, she is also highly skilled, though perhaps a few levels below Tsubaki due to her inexperience with Jindou.
Saya's path is the 'true path' of this game, and the game treats it as such. The storytelling has even more depth than Shion's path, and it delves far deeper into the past - both Touki's and that of his bloodline. The fights in this path are several levels better than in the previous paths, at least partly because some of them are 'real' (you'll see what I mean if you read this). In addition, several characters whose true desires and intentions never came into the open in the other paths come into play in this path, thus making it... your standard true path, lol.
Like a lot of 'true path' games, this game neglects the non-true heroines to an extent and places far too much emphasis on the true path. However, as a whole, the game is a fun read. The three non-true heroine paths read like charage paths, whereas the true one is almost a chuunige there at the end. As a whole, the game is a bit higher in quality than Shirogane Spirits or Unionism Quartet, because it manages to feel 'real' at times (something neither of those games manages, because they never escape the 'combat sport' aspect of their stories). In the end, it was a decent VN, and in another month would have been a decent candidate for the VN of the Month.