Title: Variable Barricade
Release Date: February 24, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Otome, Adventure
The PlayStation Vita was renowned as the visual novel machine, from many titles never coming outside Japan due to how poorly it sold. But Aksys Games has yanked out yet another game previously confined to Japan, and that is the otome rom-com, Variable Barricade. And, oh boy, T-minus 10 minutes in, I already need a handkerchief to wipe off all the tears from my laughter. Great. This is bound to be a fun game.
Variable Barricade starts you off by introducing you to Hibari Tojo, the sole heir to the Tojo family, one of the most influential groups in Japan. However, she is pretty reserved, refusing to interact with anyone but her butler and two of her close friends.
Then, out of nowhere, as she’s about to begin her school semester, four guys suddenly propose to her! Flustered, she, of course, ignores them, only to find out that this is all a stunt so that she can get married. That being said, however…those men are personally hand-picked suitors by her grandfather, and she must choose one of them or face dire consequences.
As it just so happens, every single one of the love interests that her grandfather picked has some significant issue in one way or another. And while I’d hate to bring up comparisons, this is sort of the same vibe as to how Cupid Parasite’s love interests were all unable to marry.
Still, you start to honestly wonder if any of them have common sense this time. Instead, you got a “walking debt generator,” a man that was accused of marriage fraud, a French guy who doesn’t even know the ABCs of common sense, and finally, a gambling-addicted punk. Gosh, what a selection. But as you play through the game, you’ll slowly but surely start to understand what the heck is up with them.
You’ll immediately notice one of the design choices is that the protagonist is fully voiced! This is such a rare sight and perhaps one of the traits that immediately enhanced my immersion. While this does make the perspective change a bit, I wasn’t bothered in the slightest, as I was glad to watch Hibari vocalize her emotion throughout the story. Of course, these sorts of feelings can only go so far across only via text, and I’ve always wanted to see the protagonists in visual novels talk, for once, which makes this a very high positive point.
Now let’s move on to the “flowchart.” That is in quotes because this isn’t just your traditional, linear flowchart you’re probably used to seeing in lots of visual novel games. Instead, you’ll advance nodes in something the game calls the Barricade Board, which presents itself as a board game, with event nodes that unlock as you go through it. So, for example, at the end of every route, a “Barricade Battle” will trigger, which will be a strong nail on which ending you’ll end up with. This somewhat unconventional approach can be, admittedly, hard to follow at first, but I quickly understood it, and it was smooth sailing from there.
Another interesting mechanic is Full Open. This is an option you can select from the main menu, but you must answer a question that involves a colossal spoiler you can only encounter if you’ve played the game before. This will unlock EVERYTHING and is directed towards players who just want to skip straight to their desired endings without playing through the routes.
I find it really smart to block it with a spoiler wall to ensure that no one can just easily do this. Yes, I know Google exists, but I can think of a good number of people who would rather find the answer themselves. After all, it is redundant if you just want to unlock it without experiencing it.
Let’s talk about the UI for a second. Nothing genuinely stood out to me, but one element that I assume was added for the Western release bothered me. Every time you open a menu, a message box appears, subtitling what the love interest says as you browse the menus.
This wouldn’t be a problem per se, but the box is so big and blocky it gets in the way of essential UI elements, such as when trying to save or browse the board. Oh, but the font does get a pass from Mr. Font Geek here (Yes, that’s what most people call me). In addition, the fact that it’s condensed allows for greater flexibility in how much text is displayed, which is a win in my book.
Variable Barricade was a great experience that subverted my expectations multiple times. From its unique flowchart system to the constant comedy punchlines, I could not stop playing. The interactions across every route kept me playing for hours. I said this once, and I’ll say it again: An otome game truly gets my high praise if it manages to make me lose track of time and keep going nonstop until I feel fatigued. And, Variable Barricade managed to check all of those boxes. So, if you’re looking to wind down with a comedic romance, look no further.
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