Title: Yurukill: The Calumniation Games
Developer: Izanagi Games
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up, Mystery Adventure
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games stood out during its initial announcement by boasting an unexpected fusion of genres; shmup, and mystery adventure. This bizarre fusion provided a unique appeal that encouraged me to try it out, and, well, it certainly stands out, for better or worse. Alas, while Yurukill contains an intriguing premise, its gameplay components fail to adequately provide a genuinely enjoyable experience, resulting in a somewhat awkward and haphazard package.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games has players follow protagonist Sengoku Shunju, a convicted arsonist who has been claimed to have killed 21 people. In actuality, he’s innocent and has unfortunately been serving ample time without any viable way of challenging the ruling he’s been victimized by. However, the seemingly eternal status-quo of his life is altered by the arrival of Binko, an eccentric masked individual who is part of an organization taking several prisoners to Yurukill Land.
Essentially, several prisoners were chosen by Binko’s mysterious organization to participate in a game for a chance to be cleared of all their criminal charges. However, alongside the prisoners are executioners, respective partners who have the opportunity to get a wish of theirs granted by cooperating with their prisoners to the end, assuming they win. Further, the executioners are seemingly not in any life-threatening danger as opposed to the prisoners. As their name implies, they have the ability to end the lives of their partner(s), resulting in an evident division of strength. Still, despite the clear imbalance, every team’s dynamic is notably unique and not merely a blatant showcase of possessing power over life.
The activities each team has to participate in comprise pseudo-escape room puzzles that, to be honest, rarely feel like puzzles. Each instance is quite hand-holdy, and there is a hint system in place without any consequence, to the extent that characters will tell players precisely what they must do to progress. These design decisions, especially the latter, demonstrate a lack of confidence in these puzzles, even if that is not the intent. Moreover, aside from legitimately inventive concepts, the puzzles are usually not challenging or thought-provoking, making me question their implementation when another central gameplay mechanic is present, the shoot-’em-up segments.
During crucial story portions, the aforementioned genre shift occurs, and it plays about the way one expects. A ship is controllable with various special techniques to tip the tides in one’s favor. Foes are properly telegraphed, and even if one isn’t skilled in the genre, they’ll likely get by with a bit of practice. The difficulty can also be changed to tailor to more experienced or shoot-’em-up players, so progression here is never a concern, and it’s approached more smoothly than in the escape rooms. I found these sequences entertaining, if even a tad too brief, likely due to having to balance the incorporation of multiple genres somewhat.
A significant additional element during these parts of the game is brief minigames that are highly comparable to those in the Class Trials found in the Danganronpa series or some of the later Ace Attorney entries. Simply put, they are glorified multiple-choice questions with multi-layered aesthetics to amp up the drama and atmosphere. They also serve as checkpoints to see if players have been following along with the characters and narrative, with specific questions pertaining to the primary conflict at hand. I found these parts of the experience moderately delightful since they did a fantastic job depicting the difference in perspectives between the prisoners and executioners, even if it felt too overt at points.
There were moments, especially during the escape room sections, where some of the dialogue seemed unnaturally forced to give players plot and cast details for future decisions. This is ultimately a minor point since these occurrences didn’t severely impede my experience, but those more bothered by the missing natural cohesion might find these instances more difficult to ignore. Thankfully, the general team dynamics and interactions are infused with genuine personalities that serve to carry the experience. Considering the narrative, several characters are rather unlikeable from the outset, though their motivations tend to justify their previous actions, at least to varying extents.
It’s difficult to go at length about the story and characterization due to the nature of the game and having to avoid spoilers. Still, the visual novel portions solely consisting of dialogue are undoubtedly where this title shines its brightest. The voice work is also stellar, coupled with a great soundtrack, especially prominent during the shoot-’em-up segments. One last point worth bringing attention to is that performance suddenly chugged during a couple of scenes, which is worrisome due to my time with this title being with its PlayStation 5 version. This only occurred around twice near the start and end of the game, but they stood out to me because of how drastic they were.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is a fascinating aberration of the typical mystery adventure that tries to stand out from the crowd with a genre clash that isn’t as well implemented as it could be. The questionable puzzles and escape room integration have legitimately exciting concepts hindered by a collective lack of focus or intricacy.
Further, the shoot-’em-up incorporation doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it otherwise could be due to its notable brevity standing out compared to the rest of the experience. Nevertheless, there is a compelling narrative here with a diverse, captivating cast, making me wish this stuck to one genre instead of trying an oddly paced mishmash. Regardless, I still recommend checking this game out if its premise alone interests you, as it could be a potential diamond in the rough for those yearning to embrace it.
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