Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Have you ever dreamed of living in a luxurious house with a well tailored butler and several beautiful men swooning at your feet, desperately vying for your attention, and being able to come at your every beck and call? Well, look no further because this dating sim game has just that scenario.
Buckle up ladies and gents, because this one is going to be a wild roller coaster of uncontrollable events between you and four other eligible bachelors.
Our story begins with Hibari Todo, a 16-year old heiress who is just trying to focus on her education. While attending her all girls school she is suddenly surrounded by four strange, handsome young men who all ask for her hand in marriage. Confused she heads to the main family estate only to be informed by her grandfather that it is time for her to pick a suitable husband to aid her in becoming the family’s head. One problem… each of her suitors comes with some unfortunate baggage. Marriage fraud, gambling addict, kept man, and a walking talking debt machine? What was her grandfather thinking? To rub salt on that open wound, she has to move into a house and live with all four of them. Angry and hurt, Hibari does everything she can to ignore these four boisterous fellows with all her might, and yet, they still seem to worm their way into her caged heart. Will romance bloom or will Hibari make each and every one of them realize that they are just wasting her time?
Meet Your Future Husbands
Wanna get to know a bit about your, possible, future husband? Well here’s a taste of what you (and Hibari) have to look forward to:
- Ichiya Mitsumori who is a 26 year old with dark blue hair. A romantic who’ll cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner. With his charming Romeo personality you might fall for his constant shows of affection, but let’s not forget his attempt at marriage fraud and continuous false hallucinations that you and he are already madly in love.
- Taiga Isurugi who is a 23 year old, pink haired, free-spirited individual with an attitude. His bluntness might throw you off, but he speaks from the heart. Try not to wear your heart on your sleeve or you’ll activate his mischievous side. He loves nothing more then teasing, gambling, and his motor bike, but if you ask nicely he might give you a ride.
- Shion Mayuzumi who is a 22 year old, half-Japanese half-French blond, with a love for beautiful things. His well-mannered upbringing may seem genuine, but let’s not forget his multiple admirers from around the globe. He’ll always complement you on your beauty, but whether it’s just based on looks or from the heart is hard to say when he seems to always hide behind his fake smile.
- Nayuta Yagami who is a 20 year old, light blue haired, puppy dog kind of guy who’ll do just about anything you ask of him. Sometimes being too nice can be a bit overbearing, and with his gullible nature it’s no surprise he finds himself swimming in debt. With the amount of energy he has it’s surprising he doesn’t put it towards something more productive. For someone who doesn’t hesitate to take orders, maybe you can convince him to pay off some of those loans?
Choices, Choices, Choices
This wouldn’t be an Otome game without making your own decisions. As the protagonist, it is your job to choose how certain scenes unfold. The choices you make, when prompted to do so, will result in future outcomes. A nice little saving grace, and I mean saving, is the ability to make a save slot before making a big decision. If you find that your choices didn’t get the reaction you were hoping for, then you can reload your last save and choose the other option(s). Each previous choice you have chosen will be highlighted in blue, just in case you’d like to return later and view the other possible options.
I’ve played many Otome games, but I have to say this is the first time I’ve come across a visual novel with a storyboard function that allows you to choose which path to work on. As you play through the story the game will play each event like a set of episodes.
Once an episode is finished, you’ll be in intermission mode on a board that charts out the different events. Each event has a colour coded meaning. Black squares are events that are not yet available to access. Green ones are events that are available to play through. White squares are shown to have two different meanings. One is to show that you’ve gone through the event already, while others will have a lock over the square, indicating that it will only become accessible once certain conditions have been met. It’s a nice little display that keeps you up to date on your progress. Another added detail is the special event icon. These small rectangular blocks will be visible on certain events, hinting that you may come across a special CG moment if you play your cards right.
Alongside the event board are two other features that become available later on in the game. One being the WHIS (the equivalent to your text messages) and RABI (your robotic pet rabbit).
Your WHIS is your phone and the messages you receive from other characters throughout the game. You’ll be notified on any incoming message via an exclamation mark over the phone. These small messages are nice little banters between you, your friends, and your suitors. At times you may be able to pick certain ways to reply with a toggling option when it is available, making certain conversations different. It doesn’t add any romance points towards your suitors, but it is a fun little way to pick at them.
As for RABI, he is your personal robo-pet companion that has the ability to walk around the house and record footage. Unbeknownst to your bachelors, they only believe that he was a gift from your dear friend. Sneaky, sneaky of us. You can choose where to place him around the house in the hope that you’ll catch a brief moment between the other men that live in the house. You may find out secrets or weaknesses they wish to keep hidden from you.
My Knight in Shining Armor
As I mentioned before, your story progression is tracked through the story board. However, the game will throw in bachelor arcs for you to enjoy. These event arcs are specific to each of the individual suitors, which you can choose from.
Each bachelor has a level specific arc, each beginning with level 1. The game will prompt you to explore each bachelor character arc at least once, clearing the first level, most likely to give you an in-depth experience of how each guy acts when you are having a one-on-one moment with them. Once you’ve played through everyone’s Level 1 chapters you’ll be free to focus on who your heart desires.
After selecting a suitor, you’ll play through their character act. While playing through the events you’ll be face to face with choices that’ll either rack up Romance Points or Logic Points. If you choose the answer that’s more towards your love interest they will slowly level up during the arc. Pick logic over intimacy and Hibari will level up. At the end of the character arc, which will be shaped in a knight’s piece from a chess board, depending on which choice you made and who levelled up higher you’ll perform a ‘Barricade Battle’, a short little skit that will play out the result of your choices. Once the battle is finished you’ll be rewarded with your chosen ending.
A Soundtrack Full of Twist and Turns
For most Otome games the soundtrack is usually nothing fancy. Just the right amount of mood music to set the scene. However with Variable Barricade I find myself lifting an eyebrow at the choice of score pieces that play throughout the story. Is it bad? Not necessarily, but at points I find the music to be a bit… animated? Sporadic? Goofy? It’s like I’m going from listening to a nice serene piano piece to suddenly being thrown into a circus, or going from a warm homecoming string piece to a 1990’s, old school 18-bit rumble. I’m not saying they can’t have a bit of silly moment music to set said silly moment in action, but almost every piece comes off as discombobulated. It’s a bit… different than most Otome games I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. At least the romantic scenes are, well, romantically accurate in terms of setting the right tone of music.
And They all Lived Happily Ever After?
To conclude, Variable Barricade was a nice twist to a usually predictable Otome game. It chose to pace out the story in a way that gave you more control. Your potential husbands are tasteful and quirky, making each moment you spend with them a nice surprise. The music does have some questionable tracks, but still gets the job done. Overall, this visual novel continued to peak my curiosity, making it hard to set down. I’m giving this game an 8.5 out of 10. Now, if you’ll excuse my rudeness I have a couple of match making friends I have to deal with.Score: 8.5 / 10