Milly Schaefer September 13, 2007
One of the very few otome games (female-targeted romance games) available in English, Hirameki International’s Yo-Jin-Bo (The Bodyguards) is a fun way to kill a few hours. The selection of guys and the art could be better, but its great sense of humor makes this game a good introduction to the world of visual novels. (Long, picture heavy entry ahead!)
First, let me provide some background as to what kind of game Yo-Jin-Bo is (and isn’t) for the uninitiated: it’s an interactive visual novel, meaning it’s fairly text heavy, but generally shows the characters on screen when they speak — all the characters except the protagonist, Sayori, are voiced — and includes over 100 CG stills. Yo-Jin-Bo is technically an adventure game rather than a dating sim, but all of the 12 or so possible endings involve Sayori falling in love, and what ending you get is guided by the choices you make. Yo-Jin-Bo is not an eroge; it has no sex scenes, though there is some implied nudity (don’t you love hot springs?). With that said, let’s get on with things!
The story is simple: You are an average high school girl named Sayori who discovers a magical pendant and gets sucked back in time, into the body of a clan princess (Hatsuhime) who’s about to be assassinated. You must escape death — and find love — with the help of six bodyguards.
Just in case the above sounds too girly, this game involves not only romance, but people getting chopped up as well. Assassins show up to kill Hatsuhime at every turn, so naturally there’s going to be a bit of bloodshed going on. In fact, if you complete all the character paths, you will get to see one of the antagonists die six different ways, while another of the antagonists simply gets his arm cut off six times. Fun, huh?
Yo-Jin-Bo is the first visual novel I’ve ever played, and as I said above, I think it’s a good one to start with. The plot’s not terribly original (okay, it’s been done a million times before), but the writing is fantastic. Yo-Jin-Bo doesn’t take itself seriously for the most part and uses plenty of references to modern culture (otaku and otherwise — and I did mention this is set in the feudal era, right?) for great comedic effect.
Great writing wouldn’t be much without great voice acting, now would it? Fortunately, Yo-Jin-Bo’s got that down too. Perusing the cast list, I certainly found some recognizable names, including Hiroki Takahashi (Eiji in Prince of Tennis), Masakazu Morita (Ichigo in Bleach – a rather different role from this one), and Hideo Ishikawa (Ukitake in Bleach, Itachi in Naruto) as the three title characters, Jin, Yo and Bo (their names being a play on “yojinbo,” which means “bodyguard”). Whether or not you’ve heard of them, of course, they do an admirable job of infusing life into the characters (not to mention the jokes!).
And truly, in a game like this, the characters are the most important. On the art side of things, unfortunately the six boys that “you can get at the end” are not all as attractive as they could be, and sometimes even the better character designs look off-balance in the CGs. Still, the art generally does well, and a few of the CGs are quite beautiful. The characterization is somewhat better; the issues that plague each of the boys are fairly stock situations (one feels responsible for a family member’s death, another can’t escape memories of his rough childhood, etc.), but their personalities are well-defined and likable for the most part. This is good since the character paths have a high degree of overlap, meaning you’ll be spending half your time with all the bodyguards rather than just the one you’re aiming for. (Fortunately, the game does have a fast-forward feature so you don’t have to watch the same scenes over and over when playing the different character scenarios.)
Let’s have a rundown, shall we? Bishi ratings are out of five ^_~
The first of the six (and the one who I would probably consider the default love interest) is Jinnosuke, nicknamed “Jin,” an earnest but hot-headed samurai who’s very awkward around women. He also has a fantastic sense of humor, making some of the best jokes in the game, and in my opinion, has the sweetest ending. Bishi factor: 4 fangirl squees
Moving right along we have Tainojo, nicknamed “Bo,” the “frouffy ice queen” (as Mon-Mon so hilariously describes him). Bo acts the part of the chivalrous knight, complete with a cape and a pretty face for good measure. I found his backstory a little bit shallow and his ending bland, but the fact that he’s obsessed with the paranormal (including things which have yet to be discussed in his time) never fails to crack me up. Bishi factor: 3 fangirl squees
The final member of the main trio is Yozaburo, nicknamed “Yo,” who brings on the shouta factor (okay, he’s probably 16 or 17, so that’s hardly shouta). Yo’s generally the most lighthearted of the bunch, but he can get deathly serious when necessary. Personally, I found him to be the most human character, which placed him as my favorite. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a great character design, a very talented seiyuu, and some of the cutest kiss scenes in the game. … Oh, yeah, and he calls you “onee-chan.” Bishi factor: 5 fangirl squees
Muneshige, on the other hand, is my least favorite. He has been Hatsuhime’s faithful vassal and protector since she was a child, and because of this he has forsaken all others. Sounds like a good starting point, but in the end what you get is a boring, unattractive guy in his thirties who cracks bad jokes. (He doesn’t look too shabby with his hair down, though.) Bishi factor: 1 fangirl squee
Mon-Mon provides the obviously necessary role of the perverted monk. (Please don’t take me seriously.) Anyway, Mon-Mon is the burly guy with a heart of squish, and his lecherous ways lead the other characters to joke that he’s not “one of the characters you can get at the end.” Though I didn’t personally find him attractive, he’s a great character nonetheless. Bishi factor: 2 fangirl squees
Finally we have Ittosai, the “glasses-wearing sociopath” (again, Mon-Mon’s description). Ittosai is the ruthless mercenary whose life work and joy is killing, which naturally makes him sexy (don’t ask me how this works …). He also brings on the cheese factor, which honestly makes his route all the more fun to play (I … couldn’t stop laughing during his ending). Besides, what girl can resist a guy who tells her, “If you talk to me again, I’ll kill you”? Bishi factor: 5 fangirl squees
As an additional incentive for completing all the game’s endings (one happy, one sad for each character) and thus earning all the CGs (which can be viewed from the menu screen once you’ve gotten them in game), there’s a bonus ending where all six boys show up in modern Japan and start a host club. It’s a fairly short sequence, but cute nonetheless, and hey, you might as well get your money’s worth by playing through all the scenarios.
Part fun and part fluff, Yo-Jin-Bo, though certainly not flawless, provides hours of entertainment and laughter, and as such is a great entry in the tiny market of English language otome games. Here’s hoping more like it get translated in the future.
A/N: All screenshots capped and cropped by Milly Schaefer. Though you’re not likely to find Yo-Jin-Bo in a brick and mortar store, it can be purchased fairly cheaply on rightstuf.com (look for it in the weekly specials!), and it’s compatible with both PC and Mac computers.
Category: Video Games
Senna is a college student majoring in English and minoring in Japanese. Her favorite anime and manga include Escaflowne, Please Save My Earth, Scrapped Princess, Nana, and Boogiepop Phantom.