Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when oh when will you come out?
In the evening lit by the dawn,
the crane and the turtle slipped then fell.
Who is that, who’s standing right behind you…?
“Shoot – and your wish will come true. But one of the bullets is real. Pull the trigger if you’re ready to risk your life.”
Deep below Akihabara, a version of Russian roulette called the Kagome Game is being played on New Year’s Eve 2010. Six people take turns shooting a gun called Axanael, which has the ability to grant wishes. However, there is a price for equaling the hopes, and it is paid by one of the players’ lives.
Axanael is Nitro+’s latest work, which also had the Sumaga team working on it. Hearing something like that is enough to send any eager fan into a frenzy (I haven’t played it myself, but the scores speak for themselves), making them frequently check Axanael’s site for details. And that PV was enough to pique my interest – is it any wonder that people were looking forward to it?
The setting is the paradise Akihabara, and the fateful day is New Year’s Eve. It’s a time where the usually busy streets are even more frenzied, with everyone having something to do. A girl group are eager about making their live debut, and being able to perform in front of a large group of people. A shady foreigner is trying to pawn off suspicious looking curry manju on innocent shoppers. Trying to keep the hustle and bustle in check, a scruffy policeman is ever-present when there’s something amiss. Otaku are discussing doujinshi at the big site. It’s a typical everyday scene in a busy town, made even more frantic by the date.
Yet on this night where excitement is sparkling like electricity, there’s something mysterious in the air. An earthquake shakes things up, and beneath the city’s shrine, a barrier is broken. That barrier was securing the mysterious ‘Axanael’, a gun with the very same name engraved on it. Axanael has been stolen, setting the clogs of fate in motion for six characters whose viewpoints we see things through. Those six characters are tied together and take part in the deadly Kagome game, making use of the stolen Axanael. A version of Russian roulette, all the characters must do is shoot – and their deepest wishes, no matter what they may be will come true. The catch is that there’s a 1/6 chance that they’ll die.
Axanael is a vaguely enjoyable, and decidedly entertaining work but nowhere near essential. If you came into this expecting the latest Nitro+ work to be masterful or something that was worth all the wait and F5ing the homepage, then I’m afraid that you were hoping for a bit too much. You will not be relishing in the afterglow of everything being woven together neatly in a satisfying fashion. If you’re anything like me, you’ll even be cursing the entire Kagome game for its deus ex machina like execution. Let’s say that someone dies during the six hours, whether it’s by their own hand or someone else’s. If someone wishes it, they can be brought back in an instant through a flurry of white feathers. Usually when there’s a plot device which can grant wishes, two of the key rules are not being able to bring someone back from the dead, or force someone to love you. Axanael will freely grant either (although the character who wanted to force someone to love them was strongly advised not to go through with it, that they’d get no satisfaction and all that other spiel), already eliminating some of the danger which the nature of the game proposes.
The characters are what drives this, and even then they’re not that remarkable. In a month’s time, I’ll probably forget that Chiaki, Ena, and Fuuri ever existed. But what they are is sufficient enough to awkwardly tug us along through the plot. A bunch of stereotypes you’d find in any other series of a similar nature (the police officer with a secret; the okama TV presenter; the burly blonde foreigner who speaks Japanese in an exaggerated fashion) are very much at home here, but let’s face it. Going by the setting I doubt that you were expecting much else. There are one or two memorable characters, but the rest blend in with all their many other counterparts in manga/eroge/anime/dramas.
I blew hot and cold with Sakura’s character. At times I loved her and couldn’t get enough of her viewpoint, but there were times I wanted to slap her (her heroically wanting to defend Nitori due to the goodwill in her heart would make anyone want to give her their seal of approval, while that moment from Noco’s point of view when she ripped up the doujinshi was just too much). Being a yankee character, she’s in a gang with her pair of comrades (aka, Miso
mr. comedic and Bu mr. relief) and extremely proud of it. Blazing through Akihabara while wearing her jacket, she’s proudly flying her crew’s flag. Although she’s a rash person, at heart very good-natured and will go to great lengths to help people. As she put it herself, ‘it’s all about the heart‘.
Having come to Akihabara for the very first time, she’s extremely naïve about all the fresh sights that she’s seeing, to the degree where she rips up doujin in horror upon seeing the contents and almost gets roped into starring in a cosplay parody AV.
Like everyone else, I thought for sure that Chiaki would be that one girl who’s a bit too easily riled up. When I read that ‘she’ would be a part timer cosplaying, I understandably thought that she’d be working in a cosplay café, perhaps wearing costumes of other Nitro+ characters, scowling at this outfit being too revealing or that outfit being too tacky. I was shocked to learn that she, was actually a he. As were most people, I assume. But we’re in the golden age of traps, so why shouldn’t Nitro+ surf the wave too? On New Year’s Eve, he has been forced to dress up like a girl, with all credit going to his overenthusiastic nurse cosplaying sister, Suzu. Unsurprisingly, that trap aspect is played up. He gets mobbed in an electrical store, and even when a character yells out his secret, the feverish mob care not. In fact, they get even more fired up. He gets tricked into giving his shimapan to a foreigner! His trap name for New Year’s Eve is Aki-chan, used to throw Ena off the scent.
He and Ena have ties, and live close together. Chiaki was a somewhat irritable character, and at the beginning most of his viewpoint entitles him screaming, ‘GAH! YUJIRO!’, ‘GAH! ENA!’, or ‘GAH! ENA’S FATHER!’, before zooming off down the street. He does cop on and become more honest with himself, and even manages to be manly while scoffing down suspicious looking curry manju and wearing a skirt.
Ena was a far more entertaining character than I thought that she would be, along with being a lot more levelheaded. She’s reliable, and thinks things through logically. She gets riled up a bit too easily, but there always must be a character like that. Ena calls her childhood friend Chiaki ‘baka chibi’ when he pushes the wrong buttons. Overall, she’s a normal girl who is pulled into something crazy and otherworldly.
With her father being a scruffy yet very well-respected police officer endlessly rushing around in Akihabara, it’s no surprise that Ena fancies herself as some sort of junior detective. Her catchphrase, ‘これは事件!?’ is even her very own ringtone on her mobile. And you’ll be hearing it plenty more times outside of when she gets a call. She sees cases in every aspect of her life. But, the biggest case she wants to solve is the disappearance of her mother. She inadvertently starts the Kagome game by stealing the fated gun, Axanael.
When first looking at the character designs, Noco was one which instantly appealed to me. Mainly because she looked so different from the other girls in the cast, with her eye patch, dull, dark eyes, and bandages wrapped around her pallid limbs – a wisp of a girl. ‘Ah, a yandere gothic lolita – I think that I just might like her’. And, like her I did. From the very first scene where she appears, we are lead to believe that she’s evidently a very disturbed person. Frightening passers-by, obsessively searching for this Nitori character, and going to stand atop a building, ready to commit suicide all within a few minutes? The poor girl. Then she unleashes a box cutter on Nitori the moment he comes in the door to his own apartment. During this, all I really wanted to do was give the poor girl a hug, and perhaps a warm cup of tea. God knows that she needed it.
She pronounces words in a simplistic fashion, and speaks in a quieter voice than the rest of the cast, almost as if she could fade away at any moment without any desire for anyone to know that she existed. Her voice suited her character, and the mentality she had all too well. Being a very insular person, she only really cares about Nitori – nobody else matters to her. Her change in personality and attitude by the end is a drastic one.
Before looking too deep into Axanael, I was sure that Nitori would be the protagonist, which set me frowning. What, another Nitro+ protagonist who’s a paranoid otaku? Not that I didn’t like Takumi (on the contrary, I found him to be the most interesting character in Chaos;Head), but I was hoping that Nitori wouldn’t merely be an older rehash of him. As with most quick fire naïve first impressions I have of characters, I was proven wrong.
Nitori is the rather grim king of his cluttered land, with Haruhi figures, countless piles of doujin, and bags of rubbish being his subjects. After dropping out of university, he was left without any aims or direction as his parents abandoned him. In fact, the only thing he had the slightest desire to do was to create doujinshi. He became somewhat popular on the internet due to this one particular series called ‘No Control’. Due to having no income, he went ahead with making suspect ways to learn money, and soon found himself caught in a spiral of debt. Feeling caged and unsure about his life, Noco is the only one who stays by his side.
From the character design and look on Fuuri’s face, I had a feeling that I would be staying well away from her (this was before I knew that there were different perspectives, and assumed that Nitori’s was the only viewpoint we got to see things through). I thought that she’d be the token bumbling ‘ara ara~’ character without any sort of care in the world. She’s in a band with Chiaki’s elder sister (Suzu) and Sonico (yes, that Sonico), and enjoys nothing more than performing with them. However, their overly flamboyant producer seems to think that Fuuri is the only one with star potential, and wants her to break ties with the band and focus on her own debut.
She’s a busybody who tearfully frets about other people. However, despite being a cheerful person she has a troubling secret and heartbreaking past.
By reading the synopsis, it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to think that Axanael would be a GRIMDARK game, full of trigger happy teenagers summoning their whatevers amidst a dreary colour palette while the token gothic lolita harps on about the glory of death and the futility of life. Pish posh. Its nature is mostly comedic, with it being full of shiny and colourful people parading around doing equally shiny and colourful things while there’s a darker undertone with the Kagome game, death hanging in the air, and characters like Nitori and Noco (even their character designs are a contrast to Sakura’s cheery hues). As the game really kicks in, a darker shift is taken where bloods flows, seeping through bandages of the wearer’s own volition. A character goes to visit a relative in hospital only to find out that they’ve already passed on; the smell of incense burning away in the dark hospital room being their only greeting. Serious moments amidst patches of tomfoolery. Of course, any serious moments don’t last for long and we’re back to jokes about underwear stealing foreigners and dropkicks against people who break windows before long.
I was slightly disappointed with the nature of the game. When I heard snatches of ‘Russian roulette’s, and ‘wishes being granted’s, I thought of ambitious power hungry characters stepping over themselves to shakily hold the gun that can completely change their life, with the gun almost slipping through their clammy hands. I envisioned morally questionable characters tricking others into killing themselves while they gleefully skip away with the gun, unseen blood covering their hands. Worlds were changed. Positions of power were toyed with. I expected a concrete number of six people having to use the gun before twelve o’ clock, or else all their manipulation and hard work would be all too easily undone. I didn’t even think of characters flippantly wanting to bring someone who they don’t even know back to life, just so the person they care about won’t flip out over seeing a dead body. Oh, Nitro+. So much potential, gone.
With it being wacky, there are plenty of random ‘twists’ which will leave you bewildered. They’re the kind which will make you think either ‘this is- just, wow” with a goofy smile on your face, or make you sigh in annoyance hoping for things to return to normal. It’s all in good fun regardless, and is entertaining. Or at least it’s supposed to be. Even with the supernatural aspect there with the presence of Axanael itself, our suspension of disbelief is still taken for a ride once the night nears its end. With this game having a lot of characters introduced in such a short time bumping into, getting to know, and teaming up with each other, you have a lot of ‘this person, you know them?!’s going on.
Since Axanael is so anime-like in execution (the plot mostly relies on conversations the characters share and spoken inner monologues to get things shaking instead of lengthly descriptive paragraphs, for example), the plot keeps on moving. Being set in Akihabara, there is always something happening. Whether it’s an earthquake, an immigrant trying to pawn off curry powder and an ‘iPed’ in the same sentence, a giant Tanuki attacking the town, a superhero coming to the aid of his leading lady, God enjoying ice cream for the first time, or a pair of people being honest with their feelings towards each other, it makes for a mostly entertainingish read.
The constantly shifting viewpoints enables you to see events from the character’s eyes you’re reading from, which can be a plus or major minus depending on if you dislike the character or not. Often you’ll have to deal with getting to a climactic scene in your favourite character’s scenario only to have to read through an hour of dull events with a character you don’t particularly care for. It’s all worth it in the end, as after you get your first ending you can access the viewpoints of some of the more amusing side-characters, like Yujiro. Those slow points can be a real killer, though. I got to a point where I was only interested in Nitori and Noco’s developments, and inwardly tutted when I was forced to read a viewpoint like Fuuri’s in order to advance. Favouritism is a killer.
At the beginning of the game, you get to choose a main character out of our six heroes/heroines. Having assumed that there’d be routes where you find out more as you go along, I went with the logical choice of Sakura being my character, as she appeared to be the main heroine (going from the box art, the opening, and the promoting), and was the first character in the row. I don’t think that anything major happens if you choose another main character, excepting accessing their prologue (you can only view a character’s prologue if they’re your main character), and having their symbol changed (as you can see in the screenshots I took, Sakura’s mark is the tiger crest that’s on her jacket). If anything, you get to look up at a symbol that represents your favourite out of the six every once in a while.
During my second play through, I realized that Nitro+ employed a clever tactic when it came to first playing the game. Similar to the unpredictability of the Kagome game, the ending you get on your first play through is entirely random. There are absolutely no choices, and all you seemingly have to do is choose whose part of the scenario you’re going to read next. There are ten endings in all (with one true end), so you’ve a 1/10 chance on getting a certain ending your first time around. Hell, you even have that slim chance of getting the true end first off. After your first play through, you can take Axanael itself for another spin, choosing whether to ‘shoot’ or ‘not shoot’ at certain points.
Although you can’t simply save in Axanael, there is an autosave function, enabling you to quickly exit as soon as you grow weary of the shenanigans. But, not before a quick scene which involves an amusing sub character at the same time as where you left the game. There’s an in-game clock which keeps ticking away as you’re going through the story. Beginning at six pm on New Year’s Eve, and ends at a bit past twelve. The game goes through those fateful six hours in our six characters’ lives, although flashbacks are shown (like, how the characters came to Akihabara, or how they got into the situations they’re in). It’s a game of average length, but you’d want to get a few more endings after your first one (if you’re still interested, that is) to see how some things tie up, or what would happen if character X didn’t shoot at that time. Personally not caring much for the game, I gave it four endings before packing it in completely.
The opening ‘キンカクジ’ is incredibly catchy, and has probably been one of my favourite eroge openings this year – both the song, and the matching visuals. After seeing the OP several times on youtube before I even began downloading the thing, I got pretty excited seeing it in its native 1024×576 resolution, after the first hour in the VN’s time line was up. The opening has a few spoilers, but when watching don’t really catch on to the significance of what’s shown until you’ve actually seen the scenes in the game yourself. And then it’s a case of, ‘ahhh, now I know what this is’. Despite later coming to the conclusion that Axanael itself was nothing more than a Sonico vehicle to introduce her two shiny and new band-mates, you wouldn’t think it at first given the band’s songs are that shit.
The beginning of ‘メイスイリ’ sounds bizarrely alike to the scene where Durarara’s Shizuo was first introduced, making me make silly comparisons straight off the bat. bgm10 was a lighthearted affair which played during moments where friendships were forged, and smiles were shared. The appropriately named ‘カゴメウタ’ was the mysteriously eerie ‘Kagome Kagome’ song we heard when the site’s development wasn’t completely finished. There are several variations of it too, including the vocal only/instrumental only versions, and a grim sounding piano rendition. To go with Nitori’s weary, world on his shoulders personality, his theme ‘モウダメポ’ was as equally depressing. Character bias aside, Noco’s theme ‘ウラミマス‘ is easily one of the stand out tracks on the soundtrack.
The size of the CG file alone is a staggering 1.56 GBs, not counting in the additional CGex and CG2 files. And boy, does that show. It’s evident that Nitro+ were trying to create a visual novel which is essentially as close to an anime as they possibly could. Despite having no blinking or mouths being moved, there are a variety of graphical effects. From Sakura’s dynamic rides on her motorcycle, to Ena’s “これは事件!?” moments, one can tell that great care has been put into this to make it nothing but incredibly enjoyable from the visual side of things. It certainly seems that the creators had a lot of fun with it.
I should mention that if you’ve a problem with not being able to see any text at all outside of the backlog (it happens to the best of us!
and is something that I had to annoyingly deal with for an hour of in-game time across all perspectives), then you’ve to install the sazanami mincho font. People apparently had the same problem with Sumaga, once upon a time. So installing that should do the trick.
If you have watched the Durarara anime or read the light novels, you will get the same feeling here, whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely up to you. Unlike Durarara’s anime which reached its high point around the middle, I kept waiting for Axanael to achieve that same quality, but it never quite hit it. It steadily plods along on a shaky line between ‘meh’, and ‘this is good… I think?’, being mostly unremarkable outside of a few instances.
Axanael is not a terrible VN, but it’s not a brilliant one either. Perhaps I’m not letting my disappointment on what it could have been show properly here, but I feel misled.
Personal enjoyment: 2.5/5
Overall score: 65%
Release Date: December 17th, 2010
Genre: comedy, supernatural, thriller
Links: official – VNDB – blog
Recommended if fond of; those kind of series which feature a wide assorted range of characters doing different things at the same thing; absolute wackiness; series set in busy cities