An introduction to the promisingly dark tale of Club Suicide

Club Suicide banner

Club Suicide released in October of 2020, and is a doujin visual novel labelled as an “anti-otome”. Its delicate subject matter and potentially triggering material grabbed my attention with just one look at it, and it really breaks and challenges the conventions of the otome genre as something new and refreshing.

While it may follow a typical otome-style structure of having a female main character and routes that focus on male leads, Club Suicide is, at heart, an introspective experience intended to be explored by anyone and everyone. It’s all about exploring and presenting the mental lows a person can face, and how one might be able to overcome such human fears. But that brief explanation doesn’t really do Club Suicide justice; this is a truly brilliant piece of work that deserves exploring in depth.

Let’s instead take our sweet, sweet time with it and give in the in-depth scrutiny and analysis it deserves. Since its Japanese release two years ago, Club Suicide has been getting noticed by western fans; it appeared in MangaGamer’s licensing survey results in 2021 at 8th place, and rose to 6th position in the 2022 results. The developer’s upcoming new game Inga Ouhou: Murderous Plaza also looks just as promising, but that’s a tale for another day.

Sadly we haven’t yet heard anything concrete about an official localisation of Club Suicide despite there clearly being interest — but as of the time of writing, there have been a couple of partial fan translations, which will allow us to start exploring the game by purchasing a copy and applying these patches.

Fine, I admit it; my excitement to learn anything and everything about Club Suicide led me to finally give in and buy a copy, simply because I’m so impatient to experience it. Due to the lack of official translation and the fact the fan translations are only partial, it’ll be something we’ll have to come back to here and there in the near or distant future. But there’s certainly enough to talk about for an article or two already — so let’s kick off with a general overview of the story and its overall game design.

Do not read any further or play Club Suicide if you are susceptible to delicate subject matters (specifically depression, gore, suicide and death). Please consider your mental health first and foremost!

Initial information

Club Suicide
The main characters (excluding the far right character who is a cast addition in the upcoming Unabridged version)

Right now, you can pick up the Japanese version of Club Suicide over on DLsite for ¥1100 — that equates to about £6 or so. Reddit user KabedonUdon released a partial translation patch last year for the common route and Eba’s route. So for now, we’ll be discussing these sections of the game in this piece, and hopefully in due time, we can delve even deeper into this product.

The game itself is developed by a circle named MORPATH, and is almost entirely the work of one individual: Leiji Uesugi. They are responsible for multiple factors of the game’s creation, including scenario writing, character designs, art, directing, music composition, and vocals — on that latter note, its opening is unforgettable. There is so much passion and good intention put into this creation, and it’s well worth exploring just to marvel at Uesugi’s many talents and hard work.

Uesugi’s writing is cleverly authentic, deep and nuanced; their musical compositions leave lasting impressions with haunting sounds and their own raw, emotional vocal delivery; and the splendidly subtle yet heartfelt sense of character growth in each of the cast members makes you easily care, feel for and learn something from all of them.

The game is partially voiced, with many scenes having all their lines fully voiced, while other sections remain completely silent — likely due to budget constraints. This is something that may well be improved with the “Unabridged” release of the game on December 24, 2022 — this new, updated version of Club Suicide will also feature a new male cast member named Tsuzuri Azayomi.

Club Suicide is labelled as an “anti-otome” because it’s not structured around romancing the “love interests”. Instead, it’s about supporting the boys, hopefully in a way that makes them see their self-worth and reconsider going through with their planned suicides.

Of all of the boys, Shiki is arguably the most typical in terms of otome love interests, in that he’s obviously the most romantic and a flirt; his route looks set to be about his desire to experience a romantic relationship, but I’m sure that despite that, it will have plenty of its own darkness.

The other routes, meanwhile, encompass different kinds of love, with various relationships being established and explored in each rather than focusing entirely on romance. In other words, in Club Suicide you can expect to see a wide variety of Classical definitions of love, including agape (unconditional love), storge (familial love), philia (platonic love) and philautia (self-love).

This is not something otomes have really done before, with the typical “dark” moments in most otomes stemming from inherently toxic pairings between the main character and a particular love interest. Club Suicide rather exists to tell a story more relatable and grander in themes and realism than pretty much anything we’ve seen in the genre before. It respects the themes it’s based around, and shows its characters with considerable depth and understanding; each is wildly different in order to showcase various means of how society and their individually led lives have shaped their mental state.

For example, quite often the characters’ reasoning behind contemplating death is not down to mental illness, but instead environmental, biological, societal and interpersonal factors. Club Suicide makes us see that contemplating suicide can affect anyone and everyone — and this is especially apparent in Eba’s route, which makes up part of the current fan translation. Bear that in mind for next time.

Thoughts on UI and System

After having spent about seven hours on the game in its partially translated form, I’m in a position to talk a bit about how the game is structured and presented, even if I can’t explore all of the narrative just yet.

Each of the five routes has four endings: three bad, one good. The average runtime of each one is about five hours, but you need multiple playthroughs to discover less obvious paths if you’re brave enough to go in search of two of the bad endings.

Fast-forwarding is implemented a bit strangely here, since you hold down the Ctrl key to skip text — and it skips all text, making spotting previously unseen dialogue a bit tricky if you’re not paying close attention.

Precious Eba

While we can forgive a certain amount of jankiness on the grounds that this is Uesugi’s debut, the conventions and expectations of visual novels are pretty well established at this point, and thus a few design choices are a bit questionable.

The main menu only ever shows two options, for example — “New Game” and “Continue”. Despite there being 20 endings to discover, lots of stunning, atmospheric background music tracks to hear and a variety of gorgeous CGs, there are no gallery, scene replay or jukebox features here.

This is a real pity, as such things are expectations for visual novel fans at this point — but I can put aside these minor grievances given the sheer quality of the main product itself. Its production is exquisite, hammering home its tone and subject matter at every opportunity. It’s also entirely possible that we’ll see some improved functionality in the upcoming Unabridged version.

One nice thing I will mention is that there is a lovely change in the main menu screen’s visual imagery depending on which route you last cleared. An illustration of each boy takes over the screen; obviously in my own run, Eba’s illustration appeared.

While the sprite work is detailed and varied, featuring plenty of different facial expressions and dialogue tones, the dialogues leave a little to be desired; they’re your usual low-budget airbrushed, unfocused backdrops so often seen in doujin and indie visual novels. That may well be an intentional design choice; it’s just not my favourite from a personal perspective.

On a final note, its music is undeniably a highlight, despite it having some deliberate limitations. It consists mostly of piano pieces, and every single one elevates the significance of the most emotionally fuelled scenes. Chaotic piano pieces filled with distortion create a penetrating sound of uncomfortable desperation when the group discusses their suicide plans, and the sorrowful yet hopeful piano versions of the vocal tracks highlight the emotions of the route’s good finale.

My main takeaway from Club Suicide so far is its writing, characters, and overall aesthetic; you can expect overwhelming praise on these from hereon out. So be prepared for next time when we dive deep into both the common route, and Eba’s route in its entirety. Let’s put on a brave face and give the game the attention it deserves; we’re all in this together!

Now how about that official localisation, MangaGamer, hmm?

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