If Eiyuu Senki is the last new release PlayStation 3 game that I play, then the console will have gone out on a high. Looking at the release schedule going forward for the console, it's very limited indeed, so I do suspect that this will be the last exclusive to the platform that you'll see me rave about. So kick back and enjoy the rave, because I dearly love this little game.
Related reading: An interview with the team at Fruitbat Factory about localising Eiyuu Senki.
Eiyuu Senki has a fascinating backstory. It was, originally, an adult game. By that I mean it had an awful lot of sex going on. But backing that was a narrative and gameplay that proved popular and of a high enough standard that the developer decided to take the game "legitimate," and bring it to the PlayStation console, which obviously required a great deal of editing, as Sony does not allow adult games on its platform. The result is the game that I have been playing here, as localised by the talented small team at Fruitbat Factory. Sans the adult content, Eiyuu Senki is a fanservice-heavy visual novel, mixed with some interesting world conquest strategy and tactics RPG elements. It's a big game in terms of raw content, a surprisingly deep game, and it's hugely entertaining stuff.
The (male) protagonist (who you get to name) finds himself whisked from the real world to a fantasy universe where various great historical figures from throughout history have come together to battle it out for world conquest. More than that, though, each of these heroes is now a beautiful woman. And our male protagonist gets to be in the middle of them all. Yes, it's a harem fantasy, re-interpreting historical figures as wide as Billy the Kid, to King Arthur and Marco Polo, as the lovely ladies surrounding our lucky man. Each of the redesigned characters are only very, very loosely based on their namesakes (very loosely), but there's a vague sense of the personality of each that comes through. Marco Polo has a fascination with the Mongols. Nobunaga Oda is an angry young lady.
And so our male at the centre of the narrative sets out to conquer this world of history-but-not-historical-heroes. Before he can do that, though, his first task is to unify Japan, by teaming up with the ancient princess Himiko to take on Oda and win her over to his side. In conquering Japan, we learn that with each new city our hero and his battle maidens capture, his own forces grow, as the previous defenders of the city join his cause. Then he succeeds in unifying Japan, and the game starts in full, setting you with the task of conquering the entire world.
As this is a visual novel, the introductary session will last you a solid few hours in itself, and this is the weakest part of the game, as you're limited in the number of places you can visit and characters you can deal with. After adding Oda to your harem, however, the game starts to greatly open up, giving you plenty of control over which cities you target for conquest, and the order in which you go about it. Your cities will also be subjected to attacks from all angles, while you'll also need to concentrate on capturing new cities, and juggling resources that go from plentiful to minimal. We're not talking about strategic depth of a scale of Nobunaga's Ambition or similar, but there's enough management and strategic planning there to keep the little grey cells in the brain ticking over.
Each "turn" in the game is split into a handful of phases, where you can assign characters to missions. Each character has a couple of different statistics, representing their strengths and weaknesses (diplomacy, might, etc), and each mission has requirements that you need to meet (total diplomacy, total might etc), in order to complete the mission. Any leftover heroes at the end of those two phases can be called upon to defend cities when the enemy attacks, and while the enemy AI isn't spectacular, they offer enough of a threat to your growing empire that you need to pay careful attention to both attack and defence, and you'll need to carefully manage the troop strengths of all your heroes (by spending gold to recruit or replace soldiers lost in combat).
When combat is joined, you can assign a number of your characters to a small grid, and then they take turns duking it out with the enemy side. Some characters have special abilities that use up magic points, and specific ranges with which they can attack, so there's some light resource and positional strategy involved in these battles, though for the most part, having superior health ("troops", which can be purchased before battle), will be enough for a victory.
So within this context the game otherwise plays itself out as visual novels do. You'll be doing a lot of reading, and it's a slow grind, thanks to the heavy visual novel elements. While the strategy and combat sequences are really addictive stuff, the actual visual novel part was a more love-and-hate affair for me. As with most harem narratives, individual characters don't have much personality beyond existing simply to surround the lead dude with women. They're all seeing affection in one way or another from our dashing hero, and so each of them, in her own way (which doesn't extend far past "being cute," "being tough," "being sexy" and so on) spends most of her moments in the narrative spotlight either needing the help of the hero, or expressing her gratitude for him. Thought the localisation work by Fruitbat Factory is great, the actual quality of the text is also quite limited. You know how everyone jokes about the "plot" of porn films? Well, remember that this was a pornographic game originally, and you'll see where I'm going here. Eiyuu Senki, to put it lightly, is not nuanced and meaningful, like some of the recent Otome games that I've played have been.
Oddly though, over the long term, the exceeding high quality art and simplistic narrative starts to generate its own kind of popcorn silliness-style charm. Your empire grows, and the gorgeous map of earth starts to fill in with your flag colours. You see foreign lands to both the east and west, with exotic names like "Timbuktu" calling for you to press on. With each new city, you're adding to your harem, which, as uncomfortably as that will sit for some people, certainly helps provide a drive to press onwards.
And it really is a gorgeous game. You'd expect the characters to be a good looking bunch given Eiyuu Senki's heritage, but it will exceed expectations. Though their personalities are a little thin, the actual character design helps to build them out so they're distinct from one another, and as a result you will develop favourites. There's not enough differences between them in terms of their utility in battle, but to me that's something of a boon, as it meant that I was able to stick to using my favourite characters for the most part, and could ignore the characters I was less interested in.
Related reading: Tears to Tiara 2 was another game that followed a similar development arc, from adult game to PlayStation release. Matt's review here.
With Eiyuu Senki, you're looking at a lot of content. The main campaign lasts for dozens of hours, and there's plenty of replay value, in order to bond with different characters. As you'd expect from a harem game, there is a relationship system in place, which doesn't rely on a whole lot more than simply selecting the right "missions" to have you develop a relationship with a character. While these relationships don't have the complexity of something like Persona 4, they do nevertheless press you into spending more time with individual characters, and though the payoff for fully developing a relationship with a character isn't the same as in the... original release of the game... it's another example of goals within the overall goal of conquering the world that makes Eiyuu Senki's feedback loop less lengthy than you might initially expect from a visual novel.
Eiyuu Senki is, of course, a very niche game, but it's a worthy one. Like Tears to Tiara 2 before it, it translates from adult entertainment into a "legitimate" game very well, on the strength of its strategy gameplay, and while you're not getting Shakespeare from the narrative, as long as you're able to enjoy these kinds of anime tropes, you're going to have a really good time with this one.
- Matt S.
Do you still regularly play your PlayStation 3?— Digitally Downloaded (@DigitallyDownld) November 6, 2015