Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei | Common Route | First Impressions
I couldn’t wait to finish the game before raving about it, so here are my enthusiastic first impressions of ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’, including: all the reasons why I love it; a few areas for improvement; a quick ‘n’ dirty guide to the basic controls and gameplay mechanics; and some need-to-know deets about the love interests and major side characters…
☆ Game Name: Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei
☆ Developer: Otomate, Idea Factory, Red Entertainment
☆ Publisher: Idea Factory International
☆ Platform: Nintendo Switch
☆ Age Rating: Teen (ESRB)
☆ More information: here!
Disclaimer: Thank you Idea Factory International for providing us with a copy of ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’ for review!
“Fifteen years after the Heiji Rebellion, the Heike clan has reached the height of its power, while the Genji clan remains devastated by defeat.
Hidden deep within the mountains of Kurama lives Shanao, the youngest surviving male heir to the Genji name.
However, Shanao harbors a deep secret known to very few…
The youngest heir to the Genji name is no man.”– Birushana (Official Website)
I absolutely love historical fantasy otome games, so I knew I’d be in for a treat with ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’. From the soundtrack, to the sound effects, to the character designs and thematic UI, Birushana immediately pulls you in to a dramatic, action-packed world of politics, warfare, and the timeless samurai-drama conflict of choosing between your duty to your clan and your personal desires.
There’s a brief prologue before the opening cinematic starts, all of which builds an initial air of excitement as you begin your journey as the badass warrior heroine, Shanao. Birushana’s protagonist is one of the things I love most about the game so far thanks to her no-nonsense attitude and widely renowned skills as a swordsman. While I have a soft spot for the classic self-insert otome MC, I’ve been enjoying the variety of more defined heroines lately.
Another thing that Birushana does well is its action scenes. It can be difficult to make battles dynamic and engaging in a visual novel format, as they don’t typically feature the same levels of animation we might expect to see in fighting games or movies, for example. Despite this, Birushana manages to pull off tense, high-energy action scenes through the use of completely standard VN features – most notably, the character sprites.
Each character has a wide range of sprite variations, including several different fighting stances and positions. This means that, when the characters fight in the story, their sprites can change and move across the screen in smooth, carefully-timed animations that add to the overall excitement of the scene.
I thought it was clever to have enough sprites for each character that they can parry, dodge, and attack each other, with their weapons actually connecting, rather than just making them vibrate a little or dart to the side, which would leave the player to fill in the gaps with their imagination.
At the time of writing this review, I’ve completed the common route (or ‘Shared Route’) and just started Noritsune Taira’s character route. I do intend to play the rest and post a full review at a later date, but I figured I’d at least share what information I already have, in case any of you are trying to decide whether or not to buy it.
And on that note, I can already confirm that that Birushana will absolutely hook you in from the start. In fact, I was so engrossed in the game that I didn’t even realise I was already on a character route until it started to get a little flirty for a common route interaction, and I decided to check my progress.
In short, if you’re looking for something action-packed and beautifully dramatic with an exciting soundtrack and A++ cast of voice actors, then ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’ may just be the game for you…
I’ll comment more on the cast in their respective character route reviews at a later date, but for now, here’s some initial impressions based on the common route…
Main Character (MC)
☆ Name: Shanao / Yoshitsune Minamoto (Can change the ‘Yoshitsune’ part)
☆ Pronouns: She/Her
☆ Voice Actor: N/A – Not voiced
In regards to the heroine’s name and its origins, she’s actually based on an historical warlord of the same name. ‘Minamoto no Yoshitsune’ essentially means, ‘Yoshitsune of the Minamoto clan’, and since clan names and affiliations are pretty integral to the story, the player is unable to change the ‘Minamoto’ part of the protagonist’s name.
‘Shanao’ is the name she’s referred to during the prologue, since she’s yet to undergo her coming-of-age ceremony (known as ‘genpuku’), and part of this ceremony involves choosing a new name for yourself. In the heroine’s case, her post-genpuku name is ‘Minamoto no Yoshitsune’, or ‘Yoshitsune Minamoto’ in the localized version. ‘Shanao’ is therefore her childhood name, and she’s less likely to be called this after her genpuku, although some people who were close to her as a child may still use it as a sign of affection.
Since Birushana’s MC is a fairly well developed character in her own right, rather than a self-insert blank slate, it doesn’t bother me so much that her name is mostly set in stone. You can still change the ‘Yoshitsune’ part of her name, but if you choose to go with the default, the other characters will say her name in their voiced lines.
I ended up changing ‘Yoshitsune’ to ‘Oona’ out of customary habit, since I typically play self-insert games and it just felt weird to not change the name, but I do think this is one of those cases where leaving the protagonist’s name as-is works well for the story. Not only because she’s a defined character, but also because it’s a fairly distinct setting and her name adds to the immersion. (I’m not gonna lie, it’ll feel weird to see the name ‘Oona’ in an historical Japanese context…).
In terms of personality, Shanao is everything I love in a protagonist. She’s brave, kind, and can rely upon her own strengths and skills to deal with whatever life throws at her. That’s not to say she can solo any problem, but she’s definitely not a damsel in distress, and the other characters respect her skills and hard work. I get the feeling she’ll be an interesting heroine to play, and I’m looking forward to learning more about her as I continue the game.
The first love interest you meet in the common route is Shungen (VA: Soma Saito), your devoted childhood friend and son of your father’s loyal subordinate. I wasn’t expecting to like his character as much as I do now, but his earnest nature and dedication to Shanao (plus his cute nickname for her!) endeared him to me over the course of the common route.
You also come into direct contact with Noritsune Taira (VA: Kengo Kawanishi) – the hot-headed upstart of the Heike clan who has an unrequited rivalry with Shanao – and Benkei Musashibo (VA: Yuuichirou Umehara), the “terrifying giant” who is rumoured to be stalking Kyoto at night, stealing the swords of Heike samurai and challenging them to duels.
Shanao also sort-of meets Tomomori Taira (VA: Jun Fukuyama), who is Noritsune’s cousin and clearly a schemer. He’s elegant and mysterious, and no one seems to know exactly what he’s thinking. Most of the scenes he appeared in happened outside of Shanao’s POV, but I’m already head over heels for this tricky manipulator. He’s the silver-haired, silver-tongued kitsune type voiced by Jun Fukuyama and a powerful figure of the antagonist clan… basically, my exact type!
Last but not least, we have Yoritomo Minamoto (VA: Makoto Furukawa, a.k.a. my absolute fave voice actor!!) who, as you may have noticed, shares the same family name as the heroine. He’s Shanao’s older brother and currently living in exile, so aside from a few mentions in conversation, he hasn’t yet appeared in my current playthrough. He definitely gives off true route/final route vibes, but I’ve seen some guides recommending to play his route second-last, so I’ll see how my impression of his character changes throughout the rest of the game.
All in all, there’s a decent variety of love interests and all of them seem to have their own secrets, priorities, and agendas. I’m intrigued by all of them, but I’m especially excited to see where this rivalry with Noritsune goes, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Shanao’s mysterious older brother, Yoritomo.
Some side characters have their own stories (called ‘If’ endings) that unlock after finishing a love interest’s route. From what I’ve read about them, these aren’t romance routes in the traditional sense, but they’re still entertaining and explore more of the cast and story.
The characters with ‘If’ endings are: Shigehira Taira (VA: Ryota Osaka); Tsugunobu Sato (VA: Takashi Kondo); Tadanobu Sato (VA: Katsuyuki Konishi); and Takatsuna Sasaki (VA: Amatsuki).
The common route did a fantastic job of setting the stage for a whole lot of drama without too much exposition. There was plenty of action, even this early in the story, and I’m dying to know more about Shanao, the conflict between the Genji and the Heike, and pretty much all the characters introduced thus far.
The common route is pretty short compared to other otome games I’ve played (looking at you, Cupid Parasite!), so it’ll be quick and easy to re-play for alternative character routes. Otome Kitten estimated around 4-5 hours to clear one route to completion in her review, so that should give you an idea of the playtime you can expect as you work through the game.
Common Route Playtime: Estimated 1-2 hours of playtime, depending on how fast you read and how many “wrong turns” you take along the way.
Based on my own experience, I can confirm that there’s at least one bad ending in the common route, so I highly recommend saving frequently in case you need to go back and make different choices. I was determined to play through my first route without any walkthroughs (and with ‘Love Catch’ turned off), so it’s my own fault I ended up at a bad end on my first try…
Still, it’s fun to experiment with different choices, and I still haven’t used a walkthrough yet. I just went back to my last save file and chose differently, which was enough to put me on Noritsune’s route instead, so there’s no need to stress too much about each decision. You can always try again and since the common route is so short, it’s especially easy to try all the different choices in this part of the story.
One thing of note is that there aren’t any gameplay mechanics in ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’, despite the many, many swordfights that happen throughout the game. I was a little disappointed by this, although I will admit I was impressed by the dynamic animation of the character sprites. Since there are so many otome games these days that incorporate further layers of gameplay than the standard visual novel, I would have expected a big-budget game like Birushana to do the same.
It feels fairly intuitive to add some fighting mechanics, especially considering the samurai themes and frequent battles, but perhaps the developers decided they didn’t want to depart from the traditional VN format and instead opted to focus solely on the story with no complex mechanics. In that regard, I do think they did a fantastic job of making these scenes exciting, even with little player input.
Furthermore, if you’re an otome fan who prefers something simple without any distracting or complicated gameplay mechanics, then I’m sure this choice of gameplay style will come as a relief. I still think it would have been fun to feel more involved with the fights, but I do admit that I still enjoyed these battle scenes regardless and not everyone will have the same preferences as me.
To help you pursue the character you’re interested in, you can use the ‘Love Catch’ feature to see how your choices affect your relationships with the cast. This is ‘on’ by default, but you can switch it ‘off’ in the settings (I did this for my first blind playthrough so it wouldn’t influence my decisions).
You can also check your relationship compatibility with the love interests via the ‘Information’ screen. This is also where you can check your MC’s stats (Strength, Knowledge, and Kindness). Your stats and relationship scores will both impact the story, so it’s important to pay attention to them!
Birushana is set in an historical period, so you may see some terms you’re unfamiliar with. If a word is highlighted in red, it means you can check its definition in the game’s ‘Dictionary’. You can quickly access the relevant definition by pressing the ‘down arrow’ when the word appears, or check it later via the menu.
So far, I’ve found the dictionary useful for unfamiliar words and for keeping track of names of important characters. However, some dictionary entries don’t work so well after localization, such as the word ‘She’ being highlighted in the English text, which leads to a dictionary entry for ‘Gobodo’.
This is helpful for learning Japanese, as the word ‘Gobodo’ was used in the Japanese script and is a fairly uncommon word, but since ‘Gobodo’ isn’t used in the English version, it feels odd to highlight ‘She’ instead, since ‘She’ is a very common pronoun that doesn’t warrant a dictionary entry.
It would have made more sense to remove that dictionary entry all together, or find an old-fashioned way of respectfully referring to an older woman in English and defining that instead, but I appreciate that there are restrictions on localization teams and this was almost certainly the most time and budget-friendly option.
Once you have reached your first ending, you’ll likely want to go back and play again for a different outcome. The easiest way to keep track of your playthroughs and endings is via the ‘Flowchart’. You can also use the flowchart to see where your story branched, making it easier to go back to key moments in the plot and make different choices.
That being said, after I got my first common route bad ending, I found it easier to just reload my last save and make a different choice there. This was enough to avert the bad ending and reach Noritsune’s route instead, and I’d recommend this method if you’re like me and save frequently.
However, once you’re further into the game and have a lot of save files, it will likely be simpler to navigate the flowchart instead. I did find it a bit overwhelming at this point in the game, since it was so large and sprawling that I couldn’t view much of it in one go. Furthermore, the chapters don’t have names, only numbers, so it’s not very intuitive to use and figure out which part of the story relates to each chapter number.
Still, it doesn’t take long to wrap your head around the controls, and the menu is easily accessible at all times in case you need a refresher. There’s also a page for the controls, and you can re-configure these to suit your preferences, as well.
Birushana doesn’t necessarily break the mould with its gameplay mechanics, but it does contain all the visual novel staples and utilises them effectively. It’s a solid example of the medium, and clearly knows how to make the most of its strengths, as well as combat some of its weaknesses.
So far, my favourite parts of Birushana have been the variety of character sprites and dynamic movement on screen during fight scenes; the characterisation of the protagonist, Shanao; the overall aesthetic and historical atmosphere; and the classic samurai-drama story devices.
I’d say the only thing I’m not so enamoured by is the clunky dictionary (and some other minor localization issues). I haven’t found anything egregious, but there are some lines with awkward wording and other instances of poor attention to detail with the translation. On the whole, however, the text makes sense and the story is exciting, so these criticisms definitely aren’t enough to be a deal-breaker.
In summary, my first impression of ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’ is simply: so far, so good! As I mentioned before, I was so engrossed in the game that I didn’t realise I’d already started Noritsune’s route until a scene with him got a bit blushy-blushy and I thought it was a little too flirty for a common route interaction.
It took a lot of willpower to pull myself away long enough to write this first impressions review, and I can’t wait to dive back in and continue my playthrough! At this rate, you can expect to see a character review for Noritsune coming to Sweet & Spicy reviews pretty soon, so keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks!
You’ll like ‘Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei’ if you like: Historical fantasy otome games; stories set in the Heian-period of Japanese history (or the ‘Joan’ period according to the in-game dictionary); samurai love interests and all the drama that comes with war and honour; dynamic, action-packed visual novels with some juicy political intrigue; and proactive protagonists who know how to save themselves.
☆ Game Name: Birushana: Rising Flower of Genpei
☆ Developer: Otomate, Red Entertainment
☆ Publisher: Idea Factory International
☆ Platform: Nintendo Switch
☆ Age Rating: Teen (ESRB)
☆ More information: here!
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