Nemurenu Hitsuji to Kodoku na Ookami - first impressions
Warning: this post contains screenshots and (very) minor spoilers from the trial version. If you completely don't want to spoil yourself, or haven't played the trial yet, I'd highly advise to postpone reading until you finish the game first.
If you did not yet stumble upon one of those TIME TO LEARN JAPANESE reminders, you have a damn good reason to finally consider studying moon runes.
Title: 眠れぬ羊と孤独な狼－A Tale of Love, and Cutthroat－ (trial ver.)
(eng. Sleepless Sheep and Lonesome Wolf - A Tale of Love, and Cutthroat / Yourou for short)
Genre: Psychological thriller
Rating: AO/18+ as f*ck
I always had a mixed opinion about ClockUp and their games. It's one of those studios, you will either love or hate with a profound passion and one that's going to be blocked by many game news outlets, websites and forums. Gods forbid you from even talking about their games, unless you're a member of some obscure corner of the internet (like this one) or a member of the perverted sect, known as filthy eroge players. Why? Because their blockbuster games are not only addictive, but often delve into topics, that are - to be blunt - plain repulsive and/or very uncomfortable for most average people to tackle. When they aren't working on their next serious game, they typically tend to churn out low budget porn games, that borderline on rape and mind corruption, with occasional gems in-between (yes, I am looking at you, Zwei Vorter). Joyful, right?
Yourou is their latest addition to that wonderful lineup, best described as a "thrilling crime tale". In comparison to their previous games, Tatsuya dropped fantasy based concepts in favor of a more down-to-earth setting. Yourou seems to focus more broadly on the environment itself, rather than portraying the lives of single characters or a particular group. In that manner, main characters play more of a central role, rather than just being forced into hero/heroine roles. This makes the whole game feel more akin to an actual digital story, rather than a classic visual novel, where everything is told mostly from protagonist's perspective. In all honesty, this was a perfect choice, as the world presented within becomes much more colourful, playing an important role itself, instead of being just a backdrop for the characters to play on.
Heavy filtered, neon-like photographic backgrounds with an added touch of grunge stylistics remind of the reality within - coarse, twisted and brutal, yet insanely vivid. It's a world of prostitutes, carnal pleasures, yakuza and bustling nightlife.
Yourou tells a tale of Takeo - a young man, living in your typical, run-of-the-mill love hotel in Kabukicho district, commonly known as the biggest entertainment zone of Tokyo, Japan. Takeo suffers from chronic insomnia, which turned his whole life upside down. His life is filled with nearly endless days that span across the weeks, while he earns his living as a janitor, cleaning up after guests. We quickly learn of his problems. His daily job is nothing but a cover for his true rason d'etre. In order to survive his disability, Takeo takes upon the offer of one of the leading gang's Bosses and works as an assassin during the nights; killing is the only way he can actually experience sleep.
For both Takeo and Azami - back then still complete strangers, this was ought to be a night like any other. Little did they knew, the following events will make their paths cross again.
This changes, after he meets Azami - a mysterious girl, he spots one day upon leaving to work, as usual. A pretty, young call girl, en-route to her client. Takeo didn't put much thought into it, until the next day his group discovers a dead body in the same exact room, she was supposedly to meet up; A pretty gruesome discovery too boot. upon finding out the man was actually an important member of the neighbourhooding group, Takeo's boss - Mamoru - orders him to find the culprit at all costs and bring her alive to prevent a potential gang war. At this point, Takeo couldn't care less about that, since he already had a reason of his own. Until now, Takeo considered himself a killer sheep - because he only killed upon a direct order. The sole fact of another killer like him, capable to bring down and gut a man of this size, regardless of consequences - an indicator of free will - makes Takeo boil with anger. For him, the mysterious girl becomes an actual wolf, which directly puts his life on the line. Unable to rest in peace, he vouches to find the girl himself at all costs and bloody murder her, so he can finally get a good night's sleep.
Takeo's personal investigation takes him across the streets of Kabukicho. Soon, he discovers the girl he chased after sports nearly inhuman strength and reflexes far beyond his own capabilities; he's forced to run for his own life. As it turns out, this was just the beginning of a wild road, that will inevitably bring an end to his current, peaceful existence.
The trial version covers exactly, what could be considered a prologue to the whole story. It's incredibly well paced, drawing you into a vividly painted image of Kabukicho's underworld - back alleys, host clubs, brothels and many of it's criminal groups, fighting for supremacy in this world filled to the brim with human dreams and desires. I was honestly surprised with the amount of detail, that went into every single aspect of the game. Tatsuya is well known for his prose, that often shifts more into psychological side of things and Yourou uses it surprisingly well to create a colourful cast of characters teeming with life. It's one of those rare stories, that make you feel emotionally invested with heroes of the story and you'll often find yourself cheering for them, even though you know they aren't necessarily good people. In fact, the world of Yourou is painted with grey and greyer shades, while it's characters aren't some superfluous paper dolls, but plain people with their own dreams and goals. This is especially prevalent for both Takeo and Azami, as they aren't guided by some invisible hand, but act entirely based on their own assumptions, choices and more than often - emotions - which in turn makes for some really interesting situations. Things don't "just happen"; if they happen, they do happen for a reason.
Each criminal group within the story is given a proper introduction, without sparing any details. This kind of intricate world-building greatly enriches the game and makes you emotionally invested with characters, no matter who they are.
Nemurenu Hitsuji to Kodoku na Ookami convinces me there are still studios capable of creating original, adult-oriented, purely story driven experiences, instead of this uninspired trash relying on commonly found otaku tropes. I have high expectations of this game and - of course - can't wait for the release. No matter if you're a fan of ClockUp, or someone who's looking for a more mature story - one without highly-pitched animu gals, fawning over protag's virtually infinite manhood - Yourou might be what you're looking for.
As of now, Yourou is scheduled for release on 22th of December. I couldn't ask for a better Christmas present.
PS. Azami is a fantastic heroine. Read the game and you'll understand why
I wouldn't be surprised, if she turns out to be a werewolf... but this is probably not >>>that<<< kind of a story, right?