[Game review] Geten no Hana

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Classic Japanese history, like how the textbooks tell it! Fujibayashi Hotaru, a shinobi from Iga, is employed by Akechi Mitsuhide to keep a lookout for enemies at Azuchi Castle where his lord Oda Nobunaga resides. To facilitate Hotaru’s movements as she gathers intelligence, Mitsuhide has Hotaru pose as Kikyou, his younger sister hailing from Sakamoto Castle coming to visit him for the month. What kinds of plots will she discover?

This post covers the Vita port (a two in one package that has the original game and the sequel) of the first game, Geten no Hana. I thought of doing one giant post that covers both the first and the second game since the Vita port bundles them together, but I couldn’t think of how I would organise it…speaking of which, it’s been a while since I wrote a full-fledged post for an otome game. I had a four month backlog of pictures on my Vita. I blanked out way too hard after Taisho X Alice and ROOT REXX…games which I really should get back to again…

Developer: KOEI / Ruby Party
Genre: Love adventure (otome game)
Official site: Here
Type: Commercial (6800yen)
Platform: PS Vita
Language: Japanese

Starting off with graphics, as per usual. Backgrounds! The game really lends itself to feeling very alive at parts, partly thanks to them adding small animations to to the backgrounds. At the lake, the water sparkles and you can see birds flying past in the sky. It’s a nice touch that helps to make the backgrounds feel more alive rather than if they were just static. Speaking of which, some of the CGs have brief animated introductions, which also helps to make a scene feel more dynamic. The character sprites are animated as well (blinking eyes, moving mouths).

save

System. The game is very efficient in how it works – you’re only allotted a set amount of saves, but you’re able to assign what type of saves they can be – a normal save, a quick save (Q symbol), or locking your files (lock symbol) so they can’t be overwritten. They also indicate the newest saves you made (new 1 – new 5), so you don’t have to grope around for where you last left off! The skip button built in skips to unread text/next choice by default, so it makes multiple playthroughs a breeze. If you feel like rereading a scene, all of the completed scenes (be it story-related or character-related) are saved in a gallery, so you can just play them from there rather than replaying the entire game to that point.

Gameplay elements! The general gameplay of Geten no Hana works like this – Mitsuhide assigns Hotaru a mission to complete within several days, and within those days Hotaru can juggle her mission in between visiting the other characters and building up bonds. The premise has Hotaru building up bonds with the other characters to potentially learn of any new information she can report to Mitsuhide for his own strategic purposes, which lends itself to the mechanic where Hotaru can gift flowers or pick from a variety of topics to converse with said character. Flowers are obtained by going for training, which involves playing a mini-game (more on this later).

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Conversation topics

The characters will always appreciate a flower (some types more than the others), but the conversation topics are where it gets fun. Depending on the question Hotaru chooses to ask, she can either raise or lower affection, or even end up inducing suspicion, which is the last thing she wants when she’s supposed to be keeping a low profile.

I really like how it’s implemented – it also acts a way to learn more about the characters, and the greatly varying reactions to how the same questions are asked between characters is interesting. For example, most of the characters raise an eyebrow when Hotaru brings up the topic of weapons, but will usually indulge her when she asks about more mundane things like hobbies and whatnot. (Also, if you notice, all the characters have an assigned image flower – it displays on the left side of the frame during their events. A small detail, but it adds a nice touch.)

It’s also a neat way to gauge how the characters feel about each other at a given time – at the very beginning when Hotaru is still a distant acquaintance, everyone gives fairly polite greetings, but gradually become friendlier over time as affection increases. (In the case of suspicion, this can also sometimes deteriorate to disdain.) In the later chapters where Hotaru is conflicted about her mission and needs time to herself, she actually excuses herself from the characters’ chambers rather than settling into a casual conversation.

Another option that pops up during conversation topics only at night is to attempt “seducing” the character, where if Hotaru succeeds she can greatly raise affection with the targeted character, but failure will end up inducing suspicion instead. If you didn’t know what the word yuuwaku meant before in Japanese, you definitely will remember it after playing this game!

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Affection – As per course for an otome game. Raise affection, get closer, ???, profit!

Suspicion – Determines how quickly you get bad ended, i.e. getting kicked out of the castle and prematurely ending Hotaru’s mission. It is also a stat you have to raise together with affection if you’re gunning for the Vita-exclusive dark endings (Tsumi no Hana/Flower of Sin).

The dark endings are implemented in a pretty neat way because they can only trigger when you have the required affection and suspicion levels. Just getting killed or booted out without any attachment is too easy, and you already have the regular suspicion endings for those! Mitsuhide even says this in his one: “Dying to make up for your mistake is too simple”. They do follow the same structure (Hotaru gets manipulated by a technique that causes her to take action against Azuchi), but they all end up in very different ways.

But anyway, back on topic – I wouldn’t exactly call this game a stat-raiser, since ultimately the only stat you’re raising is affection through choices and gifts which is already a staple of a usual otome game. The game more of adds a “choose your own adventure” spin on it rather than being a straight visual novel – choosing who to visit, choosing what events to activate, so on, so forth. (You can also test your multi-tasking skills to see how many character events you can activate within the given timeframe.) In a meta sense, this is pretty neat in that it helps you feel that Hotaru is very actively engaged in her duties, unless you choose to have her chill in her room the whole day.

The only tedious thing is that you’ll probably become very good friends with the quick-save/quick-load shortcuts if you’re aiming for certain conversation topics or success/failure with the seduce options, but otherwise, I’d say the game is pretty easy without a guide. The game also gives you tips about how to trigger events with the selected character of your choice, so it’s not very difficult to follow.

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Transformations. This is a mechanic that’s sometimes required for story progress – you can’t just enter the training grounds or the castle maids’ chamber as a princess undisguised, and have to blend in. This can also lead to pretty funny scenes where Hotaru has to quickly escape from a location and you can pick a jizo statue, and Hotaru thinks to herself “why did I transform into this…I can’t actually move…” and lead to some premature bad endings. It’s not difficult to pick a “correct” transformation, since you can save on the selection screen and always reload if failure occurs.

Back to the mini-games. It’s relatively simple in that all you have to do is to execute the button commands the mini-game prompts you to within the time limit, and starts up whenever Hotaru engages in a fight or is on the hunt for flowers. In the event you fail, the game very generously gives you the option to retry it. If you find this feature tiresome, there’s an option to skip them entirely and choose between victory/loss as long as you’ve cleared it once, barring the mini-games for the flower hunting. Pretty nice quality-of-life additions!

Regarding routes: Since the game has you decide Hotaru’s actions, the choice of route is pretty much in your own hands. You have to actively raise affection in order to activate character scenes within a certain timeframe, so you’ll have to set your sights on someone rather than leave it up all to fate. You can still play to the very end in the event you don’t pursue someone, though – the game has it own default endings that play out in that scenario.

The game follows a main story route spanning six chapters that intertwines with whatever character route you choose to take, if you’re on one of them. Thanks to that, I feel that the amount of content on each side helps to balance each other out, though probably not as much on a second playthrough when you’re able to skip through common scenes. You do, however, get to enjoy a different buildup towards the conclusion either way, which is always something I enjoy seeing in games of this type. In terms of route order, all the routes are relatively character-focused so there isn’t any real case of overlapping spoilers. Pursue what your heart desires!

The opening song! Very soothing. For the endings, the game plays character songs sung by the voice actors depending on whose route you’ve cleared, which was cool.

Anyway, enough with my babbling about the system, and on to the actual game! There are some game screencaps below with very loose translations, but none of them directly spoil the content of the story.

Character routes, in the order I played them:

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Akechi Mitsuhide (CV: Nojima Kenji) – Bird metaphors, the route. Also that one guy you may know from a certain historical event that even the PV for the Vita port (warning for spoilers and endgame CGs) references it. Moving on, Mitsuhide is Hotaru’s employer, who also takes on the role as her older brother to facilitate her ease of movement within the castle grounds. I had to remind myself that this is not actually an incest route after getting too used to them addressing each other as brother and sister. It’s almost funny how Mitsuhide has to treat Hotaru with a degree of friendliness in public, while in private it’s “Listen To Your Orders Or You Will Disappear”.

Most of this route is Mitsuhide generally maintaining a “shut up, don’t ask questions, and follow your orders” approach towards Hotaru, which she usually tends to butt heads with him over. I guess I can understand how it all shakes out when it comes to employer-employee relations, but Mitsuhide, please. At one point there’s even a whole back-to-forth about Hotaru holding back on saying something, Mitsuhide asking her to say it, and then saying that her initial judgement about holding back was correct so why did she say it, and Hotaru can be all “you just told me to”. (Even more iconic: “I apologise.” “Yeah, you should be sorry.”)

Hotaru is a great go-getter and takes the initiative to try asking Mitsuhide about his reasons for serving Nobunaga in public in one scene (along with subtly digging reasons for her employment), where they’re still assuming the roles of “Extremely Close Siblings”, so he can’t rebuff her easily like he usually does. Unfortunately, they also happen to have a plate of manjuus in front of them, so he does what any good brother would and shoves one in her mouth under the pretext of feeding her. I am still very sad the game did not give me an event to make up for this that had Hotaru shoving a manjuu in Mitsuhide’s mouth instead. (This is also a throwback to Collar X Malice for me, where Takeru’s route would be greatly improved if Ichika got to stuff a doughnut in his mouth at least once.) The game does at least knock him out with a cold at one point, so that was good.

Honestly, the funniest part of this route is if you already know your history, because the game does a great way of playing with your expectations. I’d even say the actual twist of the game isn’t Mitsuhide (supposedly) betraying Nobunaga, but rather him staying completely loyal to him all the way through! Hotaru has to put up with so much. “To fool your enemies, you must first fool your allies.” “W…what kind of employer is this…” I did like how the route culminated into both of them having a mutual trust for each other…Hotaru was amazing in the finale where after she gets captured when plans go awry, she immediately improvises by naming the true culprit as her master.

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Hashiba Hideyoshi (CV: Morikubo Showtaro) – The resident flirt who homes in on Hotaru almost immediately with classic pick up lines like “CAN YOU FEEL MY HEART BEATING FOR YOU”, which immediately made me go “alright, time to get this route out of the way as soon as possible”. Thankfully, Hotaru greatly improved every interaction with him, which made playing his scenes more fun. His route took a pretty interesting angle in that he finds out about Hotaru’s identity early on, so how some of the interactions changed was pretty neat.

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Hotaru: Lord Hideyoshi…
– Please devote yourself to your work.
– Please devote yourself to your work.
– Please devote yourself to your work.

The game really knows how to have fun with its choices. One of the conversation topics where Hotaru can ask about close friends has Hideyoshi predictably answering with “YOU, OF COURSE”, to which Hotaru completely deadpans and goes “Cool, thank you, so what’s your actual answer?”. I think it’s thanks to that Hideyoshi did grow on me eventually, though he just happens to be a character type I’m not very fond of. There are also other great interactions where they’re on a boat together, and Hotaru, suspecting that Hideyoshi is faking sleep, says that she’s going to kill him, and Hideyoshi responds with yeah, go ahead.

Actually, I was jokingly going “Die” half of the times I had to voluntarily trigger an event with Hideyoshi, so it was half-hilarious and half-!? when Hideyoshi actually gets stabbed by Hotaru in one of the endings. Be careful for what you wish for, everyone! (You actually learn later on that it is not serious, but guys, please stop opting for the most mentally traumatising options when trying to get someone to reconsider what they’re doing.)

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Momoji Naomitsu (CV: Nobuyuki Hiyama)Hotaru’s mentor and a parental figure to her, which unfortunately made this another one of the routes that fell into the “alright, let’s get this out of the way as soon as possible heap” for me. I feel similarly with this route as Izuki’s one in Binary Star, except that this one felt more weird to me since the familial connection is much stronger here. He is basically the poster boy for a shinobi – Cool, Calculated, Devoted To Your Master, Think Only Of Your Mission.

A lot of the route is Hotaru reminiscing about her shared past with Momoji, since he effectively became her caretaker after both her parents kicked it. This is reinforced by the fact that Momoji also keeps addressing her as a kid or saying that she hasn’t changed as an adult in the present-day interactions. (This was also him trying to rebuff her advances because of the whole You Know, but because this is an otome game, persistence wins the day.)

I think I probably enjoy him more as a supporting character (as in a parental figure Hotaru can look to) than as a romanceable one. I did enjoy what a go-getter Hotaru is at the end of the route, though, when she catches him after he’s about to ninja his way out. It was overall a pretty weird experience for me because I enjoy Hotaru a lot and support her in her pursuits (and at the same time was like, does this route really have to be a thing), but at least it’s past me now.

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Tokugawa Ieyasu (CV: Ono Kensho) – “I am extremely sorry for existing”, the route. The game’s resident Disney Princess (TM), where Ieyasu’s very being exudes shoujo sparkles and brings all the animals towards him. Very soft and fluffy like a properly beaten egg white, 100% would recommend. Ieyasu is rather withdrawn after having a bad experience with women in the past, which trained his legs into running off at the speed of light the moment he encounters one.

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How this affects the interactions with Hotaru is interesting – at low affection, where Ieyasu is still uneasy with her presence but puts up with it due to Nobunaga pushing him to, he tends to mumble his way through the small talk topics without really answering her questions. It was pretty neat to see how he gradually opens up to answering the same topics when Hotaru gets on closer terms with him. (This also applies to the other characters in terms of them opening up with more conversation when Hotaru is closer to them, but it especially stands out in Ieyasu’s case.)

Ieyasu takes to wild animals more easily than he does with people, in which even his retainers are all “Lord Ieyasu, please play around more with women rather than birds for the sake of the clan”. The amusing twist here is that Hotaru is the very animal he sometimes “confides” in, like when she disguises as a bird to keep watch and flies over to him. (I did joke about this at one point: Is this route about Hotaru finding true love with Ieyasu as a bird? Scientists find out.) The best part is that in one ending, when Ieyasu muses about the bird he’s seen and hopes it’s doing well, Hotaru confesses that it’s her which leads to him going “oh my god…everything I said…”

I really enjoyed the finale – it’s kind of funny to see Ieyasu “forcefully” putting his opinion across and immediately apologising for it after because that’s just how he is as a person. Do your best, Ieyasu, I’m rooting for you. The part in Honnoji where Hotaru demands he puts her down, and he refuses, saying “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for myself, as someone who doesn’t want to lose you!” after she jumps in to protect him getting injured in the process was very good. Thank you, Ruby Party.

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Mori Ranmaru (CV: Shimazaki Nobunaga) – Nobunaga’s page, 100% devoted to his work and half of the time is yelling “LORD NOBUNAGA, YOU MUST BE CAREFUL”. (It does make me wonder if the voice actor thought anything of yelling his own name multiple times.) Tends to make a lot of scandalised yelling, which was very enjoyable. Has the cutest blushing sprite.

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Ranmaru: Are you really Lord Mitsuhide’s sister? The both of you aren’t very alike…

(Also, that subtle dig at Mitsuhide.) Even Nobunaga plays a wingman to Ranmaru as he can be overly serious about his work like Hotaru, where he’s all “Yeah, yeah, I get your feelings for each other, how about the both of you get to it and hug or something”. Ranmaru’s route was very unexpectedly cute and I thoroughly enjoyed all the interactions he had with Hotaru, as they slowly grow closer and both of them are both equally “??? WHAT ARE FEELINGS”. There’s a fun scene where a shop owner recommends a variety of hairpins for Hotaru and Ranmaru interjects going YOU UNDERSTAND NOTHING, SOMETHING LIKE THIS FITS HER BETTER.

Both him and Hotaru feel like they’re on similar wavelengths, so I really enjoyed their interactions! I also like how they encourage each other as they go along, mutual friendship (for as long as it stays one, anyway) and respect is always A+.

Tsumi no Hana: THE ENDING THAT FINALLY DELIVERED THE STABBING I WAS LOOKING FOR. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket, Ranmaru suffers, Hotaru suffers, in the midst of the suffering there are still Feelings afloat, and everything in a culmination of despair ends with said Feelings and someone getting stabbed. …I have no idea how to really summarise this route because the lead-up towards it is something best processed firsthand, but anyway, I enjoyed this the most out of all the dark endings. It was aligned to more of what I expected out of them…like, I kept thinking Hotaru would stab someone or the other way round, and while the ones from the previous characters were also WOAH THERE (I was half-asleep while playing Mitsuhide’s but I definitely woke up halfway through), this was pretty much the peak for me.

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Oda Nobuyuki (CV: Okamoto Hiroshi) – Nobunaga’s younger brother, who is usually nothing less than a perfect gentleman. Nobuyuki is kind of a weird route to me because while I genuinely think he is an interesting character, it was hard for me to really get into his story because of how it’s set up. By the time you get to his route (it requires having played through the game at least once), you already know that he’s the one after Nobunaga’s head, so there isn’t really any “mystery” in how he behaves (like how he comments to Hotaru that she shouldn’t only be looking at someone’s “good side”), since you already know by then that he’s a little off. I think his story might have worked more effectively if you don’t already know what he’s up to. I guess it can also work conversely where you can get a better idea of his actions knowing the endgame context, but not so much for me. I do think it did a good job in showing how his outlook and mindset evolved over time when going into his backstory, even if I didn’t really get into it.

I guess I knew what to expect in a way after having finished some of the other endings, even though his route is a more personal look into it? I think it’s maybe because he’s the main antagonist that you kind of expect a confrontation and all that, while the other characters were more of wildcards in whatever role they ended up playing in Honnoji. Also, the other weird issue I had with this route was the way it ended – NOBUYUKI MIGHT BE DEAD, CUE SUDDENLY VERY UPBEAT CHARACTER SONG CREDITS, and then epilogue oh he’s all good. I MEAN, I’M GLAD FOR YOUR HAPPY ENDINGS, BUT THAT WAS VERY JARRING. “IS HE DEAD? WHAT?” was pretty much my entire thought when the credits were playing. That aside, I did like what themes the route focused on – “it’s okay to express your sadness”, when Hotaru first finds him crying by himself in the field of flowers.

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Oda Nobunaga (CV: Matsukaze Masaya) – I wonder if there’s any series out there set in the Sengoku Era that doesn’t mention Nobunaga…Nobuyuki’s older brother, who pretty much does what he wants. Very excited at the prospect that someone might actually come challenge him for his head, and pretty much has YOLO as his life motto. “A human life is but fifty years!”

I really like how “what is your dream” was used in the beginning scene when he asks it to Hotaru posing as Kikyou, and at the very end, where Honnoji is in flames and he asks again to Hotaru, “so, before I go (to hell), what is your dream?”. It was a really nice callback, to which Hotaru responds that it is to protect everyone’s dreams of uniting the land and for Nobunaga to live AND PROCEEDS TO TRANSFORM INTO A GIANT PHOENIX TO FLY HIM OUT OF HONNOJI BECAUSE SHE CAN. Hotaru is great.

I really enjoyed the game a lot, and the fact that there was an ending where Hotaru achieves her goals on her own terms and is respected as the Shield of Azuchi won a lot of points with me. I am glad that everyone out there respects Hotaru and that she gets to live her life the way she wants to. (But I guess that in a somewhat funny sense you can only unlock the final ending when you’re done with all the other guys’ endings, so you do have to be a conqueror of hearts before this happens. I do like that this is the ending that gives everything an air of finality rather than any of the individual guys’ routes, though.)

This also makes me think about how otome games usually structure stories/endings around the guys (like how people usually say they’re doing so-and-so character route), since romance with them is the endgame. (And in the case of not targeting any guy, you either die or get a bad ending. Fun times.) I guess that’s why endings that actually centre on the protagonist themselves and put the romance aside (like in the Psychedelica games as well) always feel kind of surprising to me.

Hotaru is such a fun protagonist! There are a lot of scenes where she really sticks out to me, like in Nobunaga’s ending where she’s like I WILL PROTECT EVERYONE’S DREAM, and then proceeds to transform into a giant phoenix to escort Nobunaga out from Honnoji being reduced into flames. I enjoyed the game immensely for her interactions with everyone, and all the characters have good chemistry with each other. I really loved it a lot for the themes it had in mind with dreams and aiming for them.

I’d say that this is actually a relatively easy series to get into – there’s a manga available that a group has very kindly scanlated and is available if you search it online. If you’re able to, I’d recommend getting the physical copies of the manga – Kumada Yuka’s art is an absolute treat. I’m really glad I managed to stumble upon them while in Japan…the manga selection there is really huge.

p.txt

ALSO, THIS PAGE. “After that, I played the game. Thank you for all the handsome men. As expected from a dating sim directed at women.” (Kumada Yuka’s blog in question that got cut off from the page is here.) It feels like the author themselves also had fun with the series with all the extras they add in.

The Koei wiki had someone who very generously contributed summaries of the routes on the character pages. It’s a helpful reference if you need context for a scene and don’t fully understand what’s happening. (Note that the summaries are based on the original PSP games so the extra content in the Vita port like the dark endings aren’t covered.)

…This sure went on a tangent, but anyway! This post feels kind of awkwardly written to me after four whole months of no proper practice, but I have to start somewhere again, so out it goes. I hope I at least got across that I enjoyed playing this game and I’ll miss it. Maybe I’ll come back to this in the future and revise it…but in the meantime, I can finally move on to focus on writing up on the Yumeakari sequel.

In the future, I really should take a break in between playing games so I can mull over it longer rather than just blazing ahead…I think it’ll probably help me think about it in a deeper context, as well.

I also wrote up a post that covers all the art books the game has over here. Kuku Hayate has such a good style.

2 thoughts on “[Game review] Geten no Hana

  1. ROFL At your simile for Tokugawa. Since you mention his affinity with birds here, I wonder if that intentionally came out of that famous fable about three leaders’ responses to a chirping cuckoo. Tokugawa is the moral because he responds, “I’ll wait until the bird wants to stop singing.” ホトトギスの恩返しはディズニー姫属性かぁ

    You made it sound really fun. I’mma tuck this title away for reference. Thanks for the review!

    Like

    1. I kept thinking of this page (https://i.imgur.com/O8TmwCA.jpg) from the manga when trying to write an introductory paragraph for him. The most fuwafuwa. I REMEMBER SEEING THAT POEM AROUND BUT NEVER DREW THAT CONNECTION. ディズニー姫属性最強だー

      That would be pretty neat if it did! It’s fun seeing how different series have their own takes on the same historical figures depending on what anecdotes they draw from. I believe the PSN store has a demo up if you’re interested in checking it out, but regions, tch. Thank you for reading, too! I’m glad it can come across that way. \o/

      Like

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