DRAMAtical Murder: A BL classic, and a long-awaited English release

 DRAMAtical Murder: A BL classic, and a long-awaited English release

DRAMAtical Murder is one of the most infamous Boys’ Love (BL) series. And while it’s yet to come out in English we’ve already had plenty to explore about it.

In the past I have discussed BL games you should check out — DRAMAtical Murder missed out on inclusion in this list since it wasn’t out in English at the time. We’ve also seen my favourite boys from the genre, in which one of DRAMAtical Murder’s love interests did appear, because he is simply divine and deserves all the love. It will be obvious who later.

While DRAMAtical Murder is most certainly not my favourite title of Nitroplus’ subsidiary BL-centric label, Nitro+Chiral (that award goes to sweet pool which I will talk about another day), DRAMAtical Murder has been considered one of the most well-regarded and popular BL titles ever since its original release in 2012.

Let’s get into why, as I attempt to convince you to add this title to your Steam wishlist in time for its release — because you should not shaft the title just due to its BL tag alone, even though that admittedly tends to cater to a fairly niche audience.

As a psychological drama set in a vibrant, steampunk setting, the title has incredibly crisp and polished production, an unforgettable soundtrack and deep characters worthy of more attention.

This article is spoiler-free; however, please be aware that there will be mentions of abuse, sexual coercion, and manipulation in both the article and the game itself.

DRAMAtical Murder

On initial view

Let’s not beat around the bush. DRAMAtical Murder’s visuals and music are what originally brought attention to the title in the west around its original time of release in Japan.

Whether it was on Tumblr, Pinterest or some obscure nook of the World Wide Web, you could count on there being a fujoshi readily rubbing their hands together in anticipation of getting their sweaty fingertips on the tasty dish that is DRAMAtical Murder back in 2012. And I was no different.

While the character designs of it was already eye-grabbing alone, the sci-fi theme in both its colourful art and its story setting links splendidly with its captivating and memorable electronic soundtrack. It struck me as a recipe for success right off the bat.

Of course some of its highlights include SCAPEGOAT’s theme songs, from the insanely catchy opening “Ai Catch“, to the final credit song of “Only finally there is the free end“. This electropop duo never miss a beat with their music — and this is the case even outside of their DRAMAtical Murder tracks, so check out their other works. Combine this excellent music with high quality CGs, passionate voice acting (yes, from the emotional scenes to the love making) and a polished UI system, the impressive production values of the title are immediately and constantly evident, and they deserve praise.

Not only has the IP become increasingly popular over time, with a theatrical adaption of the first game appearing in 2019, but it proved to be even quicker in making waves in the west. The attention the title received was so substantial that an unofficial translation was completed and released within a year of it dropping in Japan, solidifying the following the game received in the West as early as 2013.

Come 2021, we finally have been graced with the official release of it thanks to JAST USA, and what better way to celebrate this than by gushing enough about it to hopefully increase its attention?

A product more than its BL tag

The plots of Nitroplus’ games are always a high point, and this is no different with DRAMAtical Murder.

Set in the fictional island of Midorijima in a futuristic Japan, Aoba Seragaki lives in the Old Residential District, segregated along with the island’s original residents after the powerful and wealthy Toue Konzern took control of the island and created the resort of Platinum Jail.

Aoba lives the simple life working in a parts store called Junk Shop Mediocrity, until a chance encounter has him dragged into the cyber arena world of Rhyme — which is, of course, linked to mysterious disappearances and turf wars in his district. What secrets are to be discovered in the seemingly shiny and upmarket Utopia above, and what does Aoba have to do with this? His journey will undoubtedly lead him into danger and, of course, unforgettable bad ends.

Let’s start with that vibrant cast of characters. The cast has clearly had a lot of thought put into their conception, as every single character has their own profile, relevance to the story and a unique personality. When you consider that even the supporting cast has seen such consideration, it should be clear that the main cast are something truly special.

From Aoba’s strong-willed and confident granny Tae to the troublesome but lovable gang leader Mizuki — who rightfully receives his own route in the fandisc — the characters of the title are all highlights all on their own. It’s especially lovely that the amount of interaction and scenes between the love interests with Aoba was also taken into consideration to flesh out the dynamics of their relationships and make the main characters as three-dimensional as possible.

Speaking of the love interests, their personal background, interests and relationship with Aoba are fully realised in each route, with plenty of hints to the bigger revelations of the true route being teased if can stop crying long enough to catch all the intriguing juxtapositions and clues.

While a lengthy enough title as a one-off experience for its full run of around 30 hours, the foreshadowing within each route that hints to other revelations, the mastermind’s plan and the overall relevance of Aoba’s identity make DRAMAtical Murder as a whole worth a second playthrough to spot and appreciate the attention to detail.

DRAMAtical Murder

Not only do the bad endings deliver on some truly shocking horror factors, the unique songs for each ending reinforce the lasting effect the bad endings have on us.

From Kanako Itou’s haunting vocals in Clear’s bad ending “Immer Sie“, which will almost certainly leave you completely broken, to VERTUEUX’s “Sandy Weeds” — a song that truly captures the “sound” of Mink’s character — and “Feel your noise“, a song with English lyrics that projects to almost every single player how Noiz’s mental state is at the end of his route… each ending theme has been produced and used with maximum effect.

The artwork throughout DRAMAtical Murder is impressive. CGs depict unusual angles and body proportions are impressively drawn (unlike a few visual novels that come to mind such as Amnesia and 7’scarlet), while the sprites are varied, expressive and feature complex character designs. The level of detail can even be seen in the backgrounds, with plenty being worthy of becoming your desktop wallpaper.

For a BL title, the sexual material of the game has been shaped to encompass and complement the story, which always comes first. The erotic material is actually quite short and “vanilla”, feeling rather rewarding due to the emotional investment that leads up to it. Explicit sexual content is either omitted if unnecessary to the story, or implemented to advance Aoba’s relationship with the love interest.

For example, the very best sex scene is with Clear due to the emotional stakes unique to his situation. It’s yet another example of a game using sex for emotional value and necessity for the story, an aspect very important and well-known with the popular Grisaia series.

DRAMAtical Murder even challenges the “seme/uke” dynamic that runs rampant in a majority of BL material, as while Aoba is submissive to his partners, the situation often requires it to be so — and drama CDs confirm certain characters would happily switch with him, with Noiz in the hospital scene being a good example. And as a confident, assertive and bisexual main character, Aoba is an overall relatable, sincere and sympathetic protagonist — unless paired with a certain someone. Let’s get into that next!

Philosophically intriguing and narratively poignant: route recommendation order and thoughts

The common route familiarises us with the characters, world and overarching plot. How dark this title gets can be seen at this early stage, however, as love interest Mink coerces an attempted gang rape of Aoba.

It may not be anything new for a BL title — especially one from Nitro+Chiral — to be so violent, which can be seen as a bit of a problem in itself. But the majority of the pairings do have very good portrayals of consent and love, unlike many other BL titles. Additionally, the game overall is not as disturbing or sad as the superior sweet pool, as the good endings all grant a happy ending to all of its love interests.

But have the tissues at the ready for the bad endings, where gore, sexual coercion and emotional manipulation run rampant before you can 100% complete the title.

DRAMAtical Murder

Since I have now done my duty and warned you about the harsh material of the title, I will get into its love interests now.

Koujaku is the recommended first route to play, and despite his highly attractive design, he gets the short end of the stick with the least compelling route. His route sets up the major appeal of the game overall however, with the previously mentioned bad endings Nitroplus are known for. They make DRAMAtical Murder all the more memorable, and with the completed Koujaku route, you’ll be rushing to see everyone else’s story.

Koujaku is the token childhood friend route, with the majority of the fluffy feels coming from seeing their relationship awkwardly blossom from friends into lovers. It’s a very endearing experience, helped along by how adorable the two are both together and separately.

The next route should be Noiz, who is often the fan favourite love interest — and for good reason. He has an interesting condition of being unable to feel pain (yes, this is taken full advantage of in a rather gruesome bad ending), and is the tsundere of the cast — an immediate plus for many.

Noiz’s intricate and attractive design is a key part of his appeal. While he initially comes across as rude and volatile, this masks his shy and insecure disposition. The hidden insecurities of each love interest are a massive draw to playing DRAMAtical Murder as a whole, as their individual development in their respective routes is well-paced, entertaining and engaging.

While his backstory is not as poignant as Clear’s, the surprisingly emotional depth to his character is still evident. As a person who sees every action as a give or take — or as payment and repayment — his relationship with Aoba is an endearing journey for the pair as they learn what it means to improve themselves, and to be deserving of each other as partners.

DRAMAtical Murder

It’s unfortunate I can’t say the same for one of my favourite kind of characters: the older love interest. While DRAMAtical Murder’s resident mature guy Mink has just as much of an emotional backstory, his actions will have players rolling their eyes in anguish and disgust. For a title with a lot of serious and concerning material throughout, including violence, gore and coercion, the worst can be seen in Mink’s route alone — if we choose to ignore the true route’s bad ending.

DRAMAtical Murder’s central theme of sense of self is challenged in Mink’s route; Mink finds his value in demeaning and belittling Aoba so much as to destroy his will. It is in juxtaposition to Aoba and Noiz’s relationship, in which despite violence being a prolific aspect throughout, Noiz betters himself to love and be himself without it, while Aoba and Mink succumb to this false notion of love, destroying their true selves in the process.

Mink’s character and route does show the contradiction of human nature however, as his way of showing affection is extremely hard to grasp. One moment he’s being caring; the next he’s verbally and physically assaulting Aoba. It’s truly a whiplash of an experience. Arguably it somehow makes him the most complex and human of the lot as Mink is a walking contradiction, but it’s in our nature to be so, right?

But this leads me to the most poignant and philosophical route of them all with best boy, Clear. It’s his time to shine!

Clear’s silly and comical introduction is in juxtaposition to his real self he ends up becoming through his relationship with Aoba. His initially carefree and positive disposition hides his tendency to worry about the small things and trivial matters.

He is undoubtedly the most appealing and sympathetic character of the title, but I’m afraid you should be leaving him as the last route before the true route in order to avoid early spoilers.

His route is most definitely the most poignant, thought-provoking and emotional, however, with plenty of questions being posed: why are we alive and why do we continue to live? For what purpose? What does it mean to be human? What makes us individual and distinctive?

There’s even more juxtaposition by this point between DRAMAtical Murder’s love interests, as Clear, although not human, wants to feel connected to others, but feels invalid and fears losing those close to him again. In comparison, Noiz can only feel through violence and hurting others — but also craves interaction.

DRAMAtical Murder

The final route encompasses the overall message of the title with self acceptance – a bit too literally, I might add. While a bizarre conclusion, it’s quintessentially Nitroplus, and I like to draw parallels to the final revelation of sweet pool as both consider the two sides of a person — our instinctive, primal side against our morally good side — and find the happy medium between the two.

The final route does a brilliant job in answering questions left in the previous route and effectively wraps up the story. It even hints to the unusual title choice of the visual novel. Why DRAMAtical murder? Mind control to completely delete someone’s identity and free will sounds like dramatically murdering a person, at least to a certain someone.

Conclusion

What it comes down to is that DRAMAtical Murder is an important title to many of us. It is one of the earliest visual novels I personally experienced, and this will likely be the case for many others reading. To see it finally releasing on Steam feels like a long time coming — and who knows if its sequel may be up next for localisation if we see a good enough response for this first game. We will be hoping so!

A trial spanning the game’s common route is playable as a demo on the Steam store right now. Just don’t play the full title if you’ve got company around you. Those VA’s get loud and spicy – but we’re not complaining.

Lilia Hellal
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