Ikémen Sengoku | Game Review

Game name:
Ikémen Sengoku: Romances Across Time
イケメン戦国・時をかける恋
Producer: CYBIRD / Ikémen Series
Platform: Mobile
Available to download: here!
Age Rating: 17+ (Google Play) / 12+ (Apple Store)

With full marks across the board, I’d recommend Ikémen Sengoku to any otome game fan. It’s a true all-rounder with great character design and top-tier storytelling. Being a free mobile game, it’s also accessible to players without other platforms, as well as those who are interested in testing out the genre without investing up front. If you only have limited time, it’s easy to dip in each day for the 5 free chapter tickets and join in events if and when you can. In short, Ikémen Sengoku has something for everyone, and with the recent release of Act 2, there’s going to be much, much more where that came from.

Ratings

Notable features
Top-tier localization and writing, great character design, comedy gold, free-to-play

Could be improved
Occasional typos

“In a world where it takes one man to conquer a nation, do you have what it takes to conquer his heart?”

– Official Ikémen Sengoku Website

Premise: A modern-day girl is about to start her dream job as a fashion designer when she accidentally travels back in time, 500 years into the past. She lands in the Sengoku period of Japan (Sengoku meaning ‘country in civil war’), just in time to prevent the death of the (in)famous warlord, Oda Nobunaga.

History has been rewritten and now you’re stranded in a foreign era, unsure of when or how you might be able to return home. To make matters worse, Oda Nobunaga has decided you’re his ‘lucky charm’ and therefore belong to him, whether you like it or not. On the other hand, this does mean you get to live in a castle with plenty of food and other supplies while you work out how you’re going to cope in a time where war and death are everyday occurrences.

As you adapt to your new life as a Sengoku princess, you find that the warlords who initially seemed intimidating, cold-hearted, and impossible to understand, are in fact just as human as you, with hopes and dreams and complicated pasts. Will you achieve your goal of surviving until you can return to the modern era? Or will your desire to go home become muddied as you grow closer to these enigmatic, charismatic Ikémen?

Story

Story structure: Ikémen Sengoku has a short prologue before branching into different routes for each love interest, which you choose from the ‘character selection’ screen. The prologue allows for a brief introduction to each character, while establishing the premise and foundations for the common plot. This concept of ‘MC accidentally travelled back in time and wants to go home’ is present in every route and usually there is an element of culture shock as she experiences the horrors of war for the first time.

However, one of the things I love about this game is that MC’s personality changes depending on the route you choose, allowing the writers to be creative with their approach to recurring themes. In some routes, MC quickly decides she doesn’t want to return to her time, but in others she is still undecided to the last moment. Likewise, in some routes MC is open-minded and tries to understand how these warlords can talk so casually about battle and death, but in others she has trouble seeing things from their perspective, even chastising them or rejecting their values.

“How would you like to rule the world at my side?”

– Oda Nobunaga (Ikémen Sengoku)

Despite having certain common themes across each route, the fact that MC takes a different approach allows for a unique experience in each playthrough. Furthermore, the other elements of the plot are also different each time, including how the battles and wars resolve (or don’t), and the conflict between other characters in the game. Each route follows a completely different story with a completely different outcome, with just enough in common to feel cohesive as one game.

Each character also has two available endings – Romantic and Dramatic. Some routes have also been updated with a third ending, the Eternal Ending, which is only available to play once you have completed the other endings for that character. With the release of the Eternal Ending, the main route is also updated with additional voiced lines and new art (or CGs) to collect.

Act 2 has also just been added to the game, which features new characters and a sequel route for Oda Nobunaga that continues on from his Eternal Ending. With constant updates and new content releases, it doesn’t matter how many times you play the game, the Ikémen Sengoku experience continues to be fresh and exciting.

Another aspect of Ikémen Sengoku’s storytelling that I love is the comedy. Localization of Japanese and other foreign games can be difficult, as humour isn’t typically received in the same way across linguistic and cultural borders. If a story is purely translated without adjusting for the new audience, a lot of the nuance (especially with jokes) is lost in the translation process. One thing that Ikémen Sengoku (and other games by CYBIRD) does really well, is account for a western audience and their sense of humour.

The banter between characters is witty and entertaining and MC is often pretty funny herself. The best example of this, however, is the character Sarutobi Sasuke, the physicist ninja. His jokes rely on reference humour, which wouldn’t have the same impact if the game wasn’t so well-localized. He makes references to Monty Python, Doctor Who, and many other familiar titles from pop culture that were, presumably, included to appeal to the English-speaking audience. Had his route been translated word-for-word, it would not have been so entertaining.

“No need to worry. We can enjoy our lives here together.”

– Sarutobi Sasuke (Ikémen Sengoku)

Chapter tickets: Each chapter is divided into 10 parts. Players receive 5 free chapter tickets a day, which means you can read half a chapter (5 of the 10 parts) each day for free. A route has 10 chapters in the main route before branching to the endings, which have a further 3 chapters and an epilogue. This means that if you play with the free tickets you receive each day, it will take around 26 days to complete a route.

Act 2, however, follows a slightly different structure. It has its own prologue and several new main routes will be released for the new characters, along with sequels for all of the main routes that were released in Act 1. These sequels will have 6 chapters before branching to 3 different endings; Blissful, Passionate, and Tragic. The Tragic Ending will only contain 1 chapter, but the Blissful and Passionate Endings will contain 2 chapters and an epilogue. Assuming you use the 5 free chapter tickets a day, this means the Tragic version of the route will take 14 days to complete, and the Blissful or Passionate options will take 16 days to finish.

Characters

Overall, I love the aesthetic of Ikémen Sengoku. The characters are all distinct at first glance and their appearances hint at the type of personality you can expect from them. Akechi Mitsuhide, the scheming trickster, has ‘Kitsune’ eyes, and Uesugi Kenshin’s heterochromia suggests he may have some yandere tendencies. They also each have a particular colour palette that becomes a part of their theme, which you will then see during their birthday events and across their different outfits.

Personality-wise, the cast of Ikémen Sengoku offers a variety of characters that both honour and subvert familiar archetypes. Each love interest in this game has a unique personality that incorporates aspects of common tropes while pushing them to new heights with added layers of nuance and, of course, lots of ‘gap moe’ to make the characters even more appealing. No matter your type, whether it’s sweet and wholesome or emotionally disturbed, there’s bound to be someone that interests you in Ikémen Sengoku.

Team Azuchi

Oda Nobunaga is Ikémen Sengoku’s poster boy and one of the original three routes available when the game first launched. While he’s a charismatic leader and keen strategist, he’s also ruthless and domineering, referring to MC as one of his belongings (his ‘Lucky Charm’). However, as you come to learn more about this era of war, you also learn more about this seemingly cold-hearted warlord and the passion that drives him to create a better future for Japan.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi is Nobunaga’s right-hand man and everyone’s favourite big-brother/mum-friend. He’s initially suspicious of MC, but once he realises she’s not a spy threatening his beloved lord, he takes her under his wing as his ‘cute little sister’. Hideyoshi is kind, caring, and doting, which has earned him the attention of all the single women of Azuchi, but if he really is the ideal boyfriend, why do the women who adore him keep him at such a distance?

Akechi Mitsuhide is well-known for being untrustworthy, yet he seems to delight in these unsavoury rumours. He’s mysterious, mischievous, and an insufferable tease. In his route, MC finds herself under his tutelage as he insists on teaching her the skills necessary for survival in a war-torn land. As she spends more time with this tricky kitsune, she catches glimpses of the true Akechi Mitsuhide that he usually keeps hidden deep beneath his many layers of masks, suspicion, and subterfuge.

“Don’t lie. I know you like it when I tease you.”

– Akechi Mitsuhide (Ikémen Sengoku)

Date Masamune quite literally sweeps MC off her feet in the prologue and continues in exactly the same fashion throughout his route. Adventurous and spontaneous, there’s never a dull moment with the ‘One-eyed Dragon’ (yes, he has an eyepatch and yes, it makes everything he says and does much cooler). While other warlords may have a complicated relationship with battle, death, and killing, Masamune seems to revel in it. Even his colleagues think he’s dangerous, but will you take shelter from the storm? Or will you find yourself swept up in hurricane Masamune and his wild charms?

Tokugawa Ieyasu is a grumpy boy who insists on keeping his distance, no matter how much MC tries to get to know him. In his route, Ieyasu is tasked with keeping an eye on MC to prevent her from trying to run away (again), but he seems utterly displeased with these orders. MC refuses to let this get her down and only grows more determined to get to know him. As she persistently pursues this prickly samurai, she sees an ambitious, determined, and kind man beneath his contrary and abrasive exterior.

Ishida Mitsunari is an angel in human form. He’s Hideyoshi’s vassal and widely considered to be a brilliant strategist. A bit of an airhead, he relies on his friends to make sure he remembers to eat when he’s absorbed in his work, and he seems completely oblivious to his inability to pour a cup of tea without making a mess. When the chaos and brutality of war gets too much for MC, she can rely on Mitsunari to provide comfort and a kind smile when she needs it most.

Team Kasugayama & Kennyo

Takeda Shingen is a flirt. If you like cheesy pick up lines and cute nicknames like ‘Princess’, ‘Angel’, and ‘Goddess’, then Shingen is the guy for you! However, there’s more to Takeda Shingen than compliments and flattery. He has an expansive network of spies and informants and he’s well-versed in subterfuge. He sees love as the same as war – both are won with information. But, once you see through his games, you’ll find a serious and determined warlord with a simple, sincere wish.

Uesugi Kenshin was Takeda Shingen’s greatest rival… and now he’s his greatest ally. Brought back from the brink of death by his loyal ninja, Sarutobi Sasuke, Kenshin is more bloodthirsty than ever. His intense hunger for battle has earned him the nickname ‘God of War’, and he’s notoriously disdainful of women, but perhaps there is something beautiful lying deep beneath his icy, hostile demeanour.

“I was born to die fighting. I don’t have time for women.”

– Uesugi Kenshin (Ikémen Sengoku)

Sanada Yukimura is Takeda Shingen’s loyal vassal and Sarutobi Sasuke’s best bud. He has a more youthful aura than his more mature ‘Oji-san’ lord, who often acts like Yukimura’s older brother, but his passion and determination makes Sanada Yukimura a force to be reckoned with. Although, he does seem to have trouble expressing his feelings, especially towards women, which leads to some adorable tsundere moments and a lot of reluctant blushing.

Sarutobi Sasuke is your buddy from the future who always seems to pop through your ceiling panel just when you need him. Sasuke is both an astrophysicist and a ninja with a seemingly endless supply of wit. He’s reliable, sincere, and his extensive knowledge of the Sengoku period helps you through all sorts of predicaments.

Kennyo is a mysterious character that usually appears as an antagonist in other routes. He’s a former monk with a deep-seated grudge against Nobunaga, who’s seemingly abandoned his spiritual path in favour of seeking revenge against the ‘Devil King’. He swears he’ll let nothing get between him and his vengeance, but MC catches glimpses of a kind, pure-hearted man that suggests maybe he’s not beyond hope after all.

Act 2 Kouhais

Act 2 introduces sequels for the main routes released in Act 1, but there are several new characters whose main routes will also be released in Act 2.

Mori Ranmaru is Nobunaga’s loyal page. He’s cute and charming, making him a well-known and beloved figure in Azuchi. He seems utterly devoted to his lord, but you sense there maybe something he’s hiding – something dark and disturbing hidden beneath his cheery, bubbly persona.

Mouri Motonari is the Sengoku wild card. Yet another man back from the dead, Motonari seems hell-bent on wreaking havoc. He says he wants to cause chaos simply for the sake of it, but perhaps there’s a deeper reason behind his seemingly reckless behaviour.

Imagawa Yoshimoto was almost entirely defeated by Nobunaga early in his campaign to unify Japan. Aloof, graceful, and fascinated by all things beautiful, Yoshimoto has unsurprisingly attracted a large number of admirers. The remnants of the Imagawa clan look to him to lead them back to their former glory, but Yoshimoto himself seems entirely uninterested in the ugliness of war.

“There’s no rice? Then let us eat cake.”

– Imagawa Yoshimoto (Ikémen Sengoku)

Kicho has a strange obsession with Nobunaga, despite allying with his enemies. In Kicho’s Act 2 introduction, MC overhears him talking about mobile phones, indicating he has some sort of connection with the modern era. What is his relationship with Oda Nobunaga and the future? And why does he seem so intent on continuing the Sengoku era when so many others are fighting for peace?

Naoe Kanetsugu is Uesugi Kenshin’s ‘perfect’ right-hand man. He’s intelligent, eloquent, and stoic… but, unfortunately, this has absolutely gone to his head. While Kanetsugu can be rude and condescending, he also seems to be kind in his own, unique way, leading MC to believe there may be a softer side to this curious warlord.

Maeda Keiji is eccentric, lively, and vivacious. He’s known around town for being an oddball, but his passion is contagious, making him a difficult person to dislike. Keiji initially comes across as energetic, friendly, and a lot of fun, but once you see the man behind the mask, you’ll find a much darker side to this otherwise bright and cheerful samurai.

Gameplay

Most of the gameplay in Ikémen Sengoku follows the typical visual novel style: read the chapters by clicking the screen and occasionally choose dialogue options that affect the outcome of the story. However, there are other features that provide extra layers of gameplay…

Love challenges: At certain points in the story, Ikémen Sengoku will prompt you to complete a ‘Love Challenge’. There are two types of challenges; one that requires a minimum ‘Grace’ score, which you can acquire by completing ‘Princess Lessons’, and one that requires you to choose a piece of attire for your in-game avatar. Princess Lessons are incredibly easy; they only require you to press a few buttons and use up your ‘stamina’, and then you receive ‘Grace’ points as a reward.

Attire-based challenges provide two options: ‘Normal’, which can be purchased with gold (a.k.a in-game currency earned from completing Princess Lessons); or ‘Premium’, which can be purchased with coins, an in-game currency bought with real money. Premium attire is more expensive, but the following bonus story (no chapter tickets needed) is typically longer and more romantic. Plus, it gets saved to your collection, meaning you can re-read it at any time.

Events: Ikémen Sengoku has frequent, limited-time events that provide unique stories and collectibles. Story events don’t typically impact the plot of the main routes and are usually themed in some way. These are great for trying out characters before you commit to their route, although they can contain mild spoilers if they’re set after that character’s route ending. They’re also great for providing lots of bonus time with your favourite warlords in all sorts of strange, romantic, and dramatic situations.

In collection events, you earn points from completing Princess Lessons and reading the main story, which you then use to unlock exclusive rewards, including bonus stories, avatar attire, and other collectibles.

Gacha: Each route has its own gacha sheets that you can play to unlock avatar decorations and bonus stories from the love interest’s perspective. You can also earn gold by selling duplicate pieces, which you can then use to purchase attire for the main route Attire Challenges. There are also occasional limited gacha events that provide exclusive attire and other bonuses.

Avatar: Your avatar increases your ‘Beauty’ score, which you use to win in the Princess Lessons. Your ‘Beauty’ is based on the total score of the items in your closet, so you don’t need to equip them to gain the points. There is also a castle decoration feature, which is similar to your avatar in that you collect decorations and display them here, and this also contributes to your ‘Beauty’ score.

UI: The UI for Ikémen Sengoku has an older-style otome mobile game feel, with lots of buttons and colours and pop ups. It’s a bit cluttered and can be difficult to get used to, but I do like that you can choose an image for your home page in the ‘His Room’ feature (accessed via the main menu). You can also unlock exclusive themes for ‘His Room’ during events.

Final Thoughts

Ikémen Sengoku is definitely my favourite mobile otome game, if not my favourite otome game of all time. There’s many reasons for it taking the top spot, and the game’s continuing popularity in the otome community shows I’m not alone in rating it highly. It’s international fame seems to be largely due to the localization team doing such an amazing job in making this game appealing to foreign audiences.

Furthermore, the stories don’t actually sound like translations. There’s no wonky wording or cultural references that only make sense if you have a base knowledge of the original language. Each route reads as though it was originally written in English, which suggests the writers were given enough wiggle room to make it sound like a well-written English story, rather than just trying to produce literal translations that may lose some of the original intent or nuance. The fact that the plot (and MC) changes so much from route to route means players get a unique experience in each playthrough. And, with so many characters and endings to choose from, this provides a practically endless supply of content.

In regards to the characters, I particularly love how distinct each of the love interests are from each other. All our favourite otome game tropes and archetypes are present in some form in Ikémen Sengoku, but for each familiar aspect, there’s an added layer of nuance or complexity that elevates the characters to a new level, so that even love interests you don’t particularly connect with are still memorable and enjoyable. I’ve played through most of the available characters at this point, yet I still find each new route I play to be entertaining and surprising in some way.

On the other hand, I know some otome game players find the forced pacing of the story-ticket system to be frustrating. Unfortunately, 5 tickets a day doesn’t provide a lot of content, especially if you’re used to buying full games up front, which is more common on other platforms, like the PS Vita, Nintendo Switch, or PC. However, for those of us with a tight budget, being able to experience the game for free and only pay for extras when we can is a blessing. Plus, there’s always the bonus events to keep you busy when you’re out of chapter tickets. There are many advantages to having this game on a mobile platform, and with the constant release of new content and frequent updates, I’d say the money they receive from the pay-to-play otome fans is being well-spent.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re interested in trying out Ikémen Sengoku for yourself, you can get more information and download the game here.

Game Info

Game name:
Ikémen Sengoku: Romances Across Time
イケメン戦国・時をかける恋
Producer: CYBIRD / Ikémen Series
Platform: Mobile
Available to download: here!
Age Rating: 17+ (Google Play) / 12+ (Apple Store)

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