Despite being a port of a previously released Android/iOS game, The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya is the first otome visual novel release for Nintendo Switch. And, while games in this genre that are developed for mobile tend to be a bit hit and miss, this is a pretty good one all things considered — especially at the budget pricing of £15.99.
The story takes place on the island of Yoshiwara — an isolated community that maintains traditional Japanese values, but also has a very small amount of men in their population. Due to this rarity, men are held in high esteem, and many put in time as courtesans in one of the red light district’s many pleasure houses — whether simply for pleasure, or to allow women to have families. Kikuya is known as the most expensive, where only the highest class of courtesans work.
Selecting your best boy upfront removes much challenge from the experience.
At the beginning of the game you help a courtesan escape the island with his lover, and come into a sum of money in exchange. You end up using it to give Kikuya a shot quite quickly, where the game will straight up ask you which boy you would like to pursue. From there you simply play out their story as a visual novel, making the occasional choice to increase affection. Selecting your best boy upfront removes much challenge from the experience, but that’s not always what you want from otome visual novels anyway.
The higher the affection, the better the end you will get. Each has a happy end, as well a super happy end — and a healthy does of CGs for each route. I didn’t run into any dead ends, but I might just be too good at winning the hearts of handsome young men. But, choosing your character upfront, and having no dead ends, are quite common in the mobile otome scene.
There’s a serious wealth of content in Kikuya.
While you can’t get around the fact there’s a certain cheap feeling to the game (some chunky, confusing, inelegant menus; a lack of voice acting); you also have to acknowledge that there’s also quite a lot to like in The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya. Considering you pick your handsome husbando at the start of the game, there’s quite a lot to choose from, including one character that has a “second season” after you beat them the first time (which makes us wish more of them did).
On top of that, there’s quite a lot of substories and sequel stories (epilogues, basically) for each character. The divergence at the start also means there’s not really any overlap in the main stories of each courtesan. In short (or rather, long), there’s a serious wealth of content in Kikuya.
Considering the story revolves around what is essentially a brothel, the game doesn’t shy away from sex. Though it does so in a way packed with euphemisms. At one point your character’s breasts are referred to as “fruits”. It’s at times on the level of your nan’s collection of romance books. I’ve not played a massive amount of otome (though Hakuoki and Amnesia are my jams), but it was quite refreshing in a way for sex to come up in such a frank way so quickly.
But it’s not all about hot, sexy brothel times. Of course, as an otome game, the stories revolve around romance beyond simply getting down and dirty. You end up pursuing true love with your chosen man, and in doing so tackle some of the issues with the situation they’re in (that is, being a courtesan). It dances with issues of being forced into prostitution, and of freedom — but overall it never gets too heavy with these topics. But, it’s impressive it flirts with them at all.
The artwork is very nice, and it’s a shame that the crisp linework and vibrant designs are at odds with the (already mentioned) clunky and cheap looking UI. Each character has a range of different poses, but they sometimes feel limited for the situations they’re in. There’s a fair few CG event images per character, but there’s not a lot of variation in the sort of things happening in them — and to be honest, given some of the surprisingly steamy text on occasion, the images just aren’t that steamy in comparison.
The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya doesn’t have a lot of competition when it comes to otome games on Switch, but even if it did this would be a solid showing regardless. While the available men don’t break much ground with their character types, the stories on show are somewhat refreshing and enjoyable; the art is pretty great; and there’s a wealth of content at a very reasonable price. It would have been great to see more polish put into the Switch port, but it’s hard to fault it too much otherwise.