Black Wolves Saga ~
Humanity will never be able to get along with us wolves.
There’s no hope that this saga will change.
So, don’t come near me. Can’t you just… die?
A fatal disease is running rampant in the country of Weblin, along with villages and its inhabitants being burned to the ground. As villagers live in fear, a tyrannical pair does little to ease their worries, controlling this conflicted country with an iron paw through intimidation and violence.
Kept away from all of that is Fiona, a fair girl who’s been kept in a tower for her entire life. The day she turns sixteen is a significant one, as it’ll be the day she’ll be released and allowed to explore the world beyond it, much to the unease of her family. As they sit down for a celebratory meal, one of the country’s rulers comes to forcibly take Fiona away to the palace. There’s little her family can do to stop this, as Fiona is about to be exposed to atrocities and feelings she could never have imagined getting dragged into the scandals effecting Weblin.
Here I am, slipping back down the otoge slope even though previous endeavors have left me crashing right at the bottom with an equally sore one. Where does this leave me now? Well, I do try not to rule a title aimed at any specific audience or gender out, in order to get a wider taste of what’s out there. Otherwise I’m sure I’d miss something worth all that clicking about. After all, how many times have you come across someone who adamantly refuses to watch anything ‘old’ made before 2000? Or fully believes that anything over a certain amount of episodes has to be rubbish? What about someone who has completely ruled out certain demographics and genres? The list (unfortunately) goes on, but I’ve seen those kinds of posts. More often than I’d like to. Try to imagine all the people who’ll never get to watch Rose of Versailles, for example, based on such reasons. That it’s a shoujo, that it’s over 20+ episodes or that it was made in the ’70s. By limiting yourself, there’s always the chance, no matter how slight, that you could miss something great.
Rejet are still a relatively new otoge company, but they’ve already made quite the name for themselves. They’re the company on every player’s lips these days, but whether theirs are trembling from alarm or excitement is another issue altogether. Rejet have become known for producing darker titles, compared to what’s on the otoge market these days. Twisted characters with sordid pasts are a hallmark of theirs, casually trash talking the player through sneers and chuckles (Yumemirusekai’s Ilinox and Kisscoma’s Suri actually have a podcast up where they have a really informative conversation involving this emerging trend, so check it out if you can!).
Black Wolves Saga ~ Bloody Nightmare (BWS) was released by them and Otomate early last year. Being honest, I wasn’t that pushed on it after a quick look. Something about something or other, and the majority of the cast had animal ears? No thank you! However, as the year progressed I kept hearing more about it. More good things, actually. Hardly any bad, if anything. That it could hold itself up very well, and had a bit of bite to it. After reading a bit more about it, properly, I became interested. Instead of wishy-washy romance with a cringe-inducing self-insert as a faceless heroine, it had more of an emphasis on the plot. A conflicted world with delicate political matters at hand. With that in mind, I prepared myself for another slip down the otoge slope.
On the evening where everything kicks off, our heroine Fiona is about to turn sixteen, playing with her dear friends Pearl and Richie without a care in the world. As I mentioned, her turning sixteen is significant, for it’s the age where she’ll finally be let out of her tower. Although Fiona understands that there are people who deeply care for her and worry for her wellbeing, she can’t help but long to see what lies beyond her window. I jumped the gun and thought Fiona would be a blank slate, especially on hearing that she knew hardly anything about the outside world. I’m glad to see I was proven entirely wrong! She has balls, for the kind of person she is. You’d expect her to meekly go along with everyone’s whims but no, she can be brave when it comes down to it. She’ll brazenly tell Wolves who are on the verge of ripping into her that she wants to talk. And she won’t use deceptive words in order to get them to trust her, either. Fiona is a character who speaks from the heart… For better or worse.
Nesso is Fiona’s half brother, although his affections for her are anything but familial. He dearly treasures her, calling her his princess. It’s a fitting sort of title, given that he’s a member of the royal nights serving the Cats. Even so, he dislikes them due to various reasons, one being how intolerant they are. Mejojo having his eye on Fiona surely doesn’t help that either. He’s aware that he should swear loyalty completely to them though, being their knight and all. Then there’s the delicate issue of old family ties. It’s not uncommon for those of the nobility to marry each other, and when Nesso and Fiona were younger they made a vow to marry each other. Later on in life he hasn’t forgotten about that. Not for one moment. His very reason for being a knight is to protect his beloved, after all. His love is intense, and one which he doesn’t even try to hide, not even to his father and partner.
Zara Skeens rounds out the group of those who Fiona is initially close with, being both her childhood friend and her butler. He’ll follow her quite literally anywhere, even if there’s a possibility of danger. So as a butler, he’s up there with the best of them. He can seem kind of uptight, but that sort of rigidness is welcomed when it comes to keeping your cool, which is something Zara always manages to capably do. He’s a clever fellow, well versed in pharmaceuticals. He’s the last of his kind, being a war orphan. So it’s only natural he sees both Fiona and Nesso as family. Out of the cast, next to Fiona he’d be the most well adjusted and normal character, considering.
The next set of characters is the Cats, who are arguably the most interesting characters in BWS.
As the older of the twins, Mejojo is next in line to the throne after his father. While he initially appears to be the more composed and calm of the twins, the one easily more fit for ruling, he has a surprisingly short temper where he’s prone to violent fits which verge on hysterical. In some ways he’s even worse than his brother. As one of the head honchos in the BWS universe and a member of the Cats, it’s not really surprising that he holds utter contempt towards the Wolves, to a violent and sinister degree. He doesn’t treat humans that much better either. But even so, he has an obsession with Fiona for certain reasons, and in the early stages of the game is able to manipulate information and his position in order to finally bring her to him. He’s a clever guy, Mejojo. Upon his ascension to the throne he offers up a prayer to his father, honouring him a bit reminiscent of an early scene in Hamlet with the character, Claudius.
Then we have the younger of the twins, Auger. Far more unstable than Mejojo could ever be, he’s the only member in BWS who I can say is entirely unpredictable and who’d be a true sociopath. He’s quick to jump to violence, sadistic to the core, and purely has his own interests at heart. It’s unsurprising that he’s the character most people who’ve read BWS have a problem with. He’s the kind of guy who wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone on hearing a throwaway comment, the sort of a cat that’ll play with its prey before killing it. If someone is being brutally tortured (to the point of death) he’ll whip out his violin and play a schizophrenic sort of tune, as if he’s having the time of his life at some grand party. His loathing for any race outside of the Cats is just as bad as Mejojo’s, often calling people by their race instead of their name. Humans, rabbits, rats… None go unscathed. His relationship with Mejojo is fairly twisted, and more complex than you’d think. While he serves him wholeheartedly, he’ll incoherently gush about how wonderful he is to the point where Mejojo finds his devotion disgusting.
At the complete opposite spectrum of the Cats lies the humble gardener Julian. He seemingly possesses none of the tyranny flowing through Mejojo and Auger, and will treat others like they should be treated – as people, not because of their species. He lovingly tends to the garden where Fiona is sent to, and is like her in many ways. They’ve lead similar sort of lives, each being cut off from the outside world only interacting with a handful of people on a day-to-day basis. He’s a kind, somewhat meek fellow, but a terrible persecution complex lies underneath that. He’s constantly talking himself down, thinking others are better people, more worthy than him.
Finally, we have the Wolves.
Serving as the leader of the Wolves is Arles, an honourable, gentlemanly figure. He has a lot of respect and bloody
(not sorry) well deserves it, being one with the rest of the Wolves, having crafted a comfortable familial environment in the midst of all this oppression where they’re encouraged to call each other brother. Very much the opposite to Mejojo, then. But like him, he also has grudges which go way back.
Rath is the main hero, kind of a stoic fellow, clumsy with his words at times. Very unwilling, almost passive compare to Arles at least, who appears more vengeful and violent. He can’t stand humans, and can’t bring himself to trust any of them. But considering the circumstances which he’s lived through up until now, one can’t really blame him. For an entire decade, he’s lived life on the edge, constantly running about and being pursued for something that’s not even his fault. Having to see his comrades die over and over, never having enough food to eat. Out of all the endings presented, Rath’s had the most melancholic tone to it, sort of unfair in the sense that it makes you want to read the sequel to see more.
Guillan is the youngest wolf we meet, as well as the most unhinged. Whereas Arles and Rath are somehow reserved, Guillan will go all out, thoroughly enjoying bringing down a village and seeing humans squirm beneath him. This feral treatment even extends to Rath, who’s supposed to be his brother. He talks big and sort of obnoxiously, but he can be really childish, in an almost endearing way. Sort of pure hearted, especially when we get to the Wolves’ side. There he even provides some of the comic relief scenes. Something we definitely wouldn’t have expected from him going by scenes like in the above CG.
BWS contains a rich history, pulling one in from the get go. We’re told what happens early on in true ye olde storybook fashion, with a mournful Rath narrating. A plague began to spread which had serious effects for anyone who happened to contract it, ultimately causing them to become insane. A rumour swiftly caught on in the country that the plague’s origin came from the Wolves, and before long it becomes known as Mad Wolves’ Disease. In order to ease the fear of the people, a new directive was issued… It was a directive that allowed the hunting of wolves, with the plague’s elimination in mind. It was for the good of the country, and all that. People bonding together, united in hatred. This is where things started to go a bit pear shaped. Several species had lived in the country for hundreds of years, and have maintained relatively cordial relationships. Due to a fleeting rumour, all that work quickly crumbled. Before long, other species like the humans and Rabbits got dragged into what should have been primarily between the Wolves and Cats. As BWS opens, this is where things stand. The Wolves seen as some filthy race, with the Cats having built up an absolute monarchy and the other races caught in between. With such a difficult history, even the reader has doubts if things will work out.
Although they’ve risen to the throne and essentially control Weblin with an oppressive
cattitude, with the Cats it’s not just a case of us vs. them. We find out there were sub-races of Cats, white and red. The family Mejojo and Auger are from are the white race, who had no qualms about purging the reds in order to gain control, an event which has gone down in history as the greatest slaughter of the royal family. Cats go Wolf hunting, with glee. As despicable an act as it is, it’s something which is encouraged due to the spread of the disease. But the Cats don’t even show remorse towards humans – living or dead. One incident involves them flippantly saying heartless things like “they’re already lumps of meat”, and “this was a village” just after a massacre takes place, showing even more enthusiasm at the possibility of the thrill of a hunt afterwards. Those are the kind of people ruling over Weblin.
It’s welcoming that someone like Fiona who has had her eyes shielded from the world is such a contrast to them, and never once does she resort to their dirty, despicable tactics. Upon seeing countless bodies spread before her, isn’t it natural for her to cower, to not understand what’s going on? Even when she averts her eyes the twins rather cruelly chide her for it, reveling in her confusion and sorrow. You have to feel sorry for the girl.
But don’t get me wrong here. What the Cats are doing is beyond shameful, and disgusting. But the Wolves aren’t perfect either. BWS opens with a heavy atmosphere, with Rath and Arles speaking about how much they hate humans. A sea of carnage unfurls, with the Wolves attacking an entirely blameless human village. They never stood a chance, and the reader is bewildered wondering why they’d even do such a thing, not knowing a thing save for them being different species. The wolves continue tearing into the humans, laughing as gleefully as the Cats while Wolf hunting as they get their fill of the ‘meat’. It’s entirely non-sensible, the pillaging. Both races are equally abhorrent in what they do – no one, is really right in this sense. One aspect of BWS that I like is that it will continually have the reader wondering who is really right, when all is said and done. Who deserves to be forgiven or excused, if anyone.
It’s a tough world, no matter what creature you are. Humans are the connection between the Cats and Wolves, willing to blindly go along and listen to and blame whichever side, quickly spreading rumours. They’re scared. Wolves are ravaging villages left, right, and center – theirs could be next. The Cats could issue some insane directive. Anything could happen, so they live their lives in confusion. A scapegoat is needed, and a lone girl living in a tower without ever leaving serves as the ideal one. Another damaging rumour arises, accusing Fiona of being a witch, and the one who’s been destroying villages. Crazy, right? Not for those scared humans, who need something to direct their fears at. Even if most of them know perfectly well Fiona isn’t a witch, they need something. Resorting to silly stories about sacrifices being made for her to attain eternal life will do. The humans are more than willing to turn Fiona into a scapegoat if it means they’ll have someone to direct their hatred at, even with most of them being aware there’s no way she could really be a witch.
Just like an innocent species gets the blame shifted onto them, so does Fiona. I’m not sure how many of you reading are familiar with the fantasy band Sound Horizon, but her situation is reminiscent of what happens to one such character in their seventh studio album, Marchen. Early into it, a take on Hansel and Gretal is performed, with two of the primary characters lamenting at the end of it how people must see every elderly woman who lives on her own in the forest as a witch. There’s nothing Fiona can do, even with people trying to clear her name. Even with being shielded from the harshness of the BWS world, she still manages to get pulled in.
Even the tyrannical Mejojo and Auger, who everyone walks on eggshells around don’t go through life without any trouble. Their lives within the palace have moulded and shaped them to be the people they are, driving them to insanity. Poisoned rapiers during fencing, shunning, assassination attempts, and psyche scarring deaths close to their heart are just some of the things which have completely warped them. At the end of the day, they can only rely on each other. Literally, no one else. And even then, it’s questionable if they can truly even understand each other.
I was genuinely surprised to hear Kaji Yuki (Guilty Crown’s Shoeeee, Shin Sekai Yori’s Satoru) voice Rath. The familiarity upon first hearing him was puzzling. Whereas I was able to pin characters such as Mejojo and Zara straight away, Rath’s took a little more time. Really, it wasn’t even until I sat through the opening properly and saw who was singing it that the penny dropped. A lot of people may give the guy shit for being typecast as the wimpy, generally sort of annoying guy, but his voice isn’t one I usually mind. I still think his best role to date was Oscar, in the disastrously patchy 2011 Lupin series Mine Fujiko. While I’m usually a big fan of Akira Ishida (Evangelion’s Kaworu, Starry Sky’s Kotarou), I think his role as Zara might have been one of his worst to date. But in fairness, I don’t think it was entirely his fault. Zara is a rather reserved character and he didn’t really allow much room to maneuverer. For the kind of guy Zara is, Ishida did a decent enough job.
Whereas I usually love Mejojo’s seiyuu, I don’t feel like Sakurai Takahiro (Wand of Fortune’s Julius, Code Geass’ Suzaku) was putting 100% into his more frantic moments. He didn’t sound as unhinged as he could have, but I suppose there’s something a touch more genuine about that. While the voice acting in general was above standard, my favourite had to have been Hosoya Yoshimasa, (Brothers Conflict’s Yusuke, Katanagatari’s Shichika), who played Julian. He had an incredible range, able to pull of I think four different sounding voices with conviction. I was surprised. I’ve seen series with him before, but I don’t believe I ever really took notice of his voice. I certainly have now, though!
The ending ‘testament’ was completely unmemorable. A Japanese version of the song plays for every ending save for the Wolves which is replaced by an English version, with the lyrics actually making sense! I played through every single ending but if I had to remember even its tune or a line, I couldn’t. ‘Dear Despair’ more than makes up for it, though. The soundtrack is great too, all violins and twinkly European fairytale instruments.
This is probably the one category of BWS I’m still divided on. While the art looks vaguely appealing at first (save for the somewhat flat faces which I cannot get over) with the textures and gradients, you quickly notice the flaws. There are some CGs where a character is expressing shock, and they can look a bit static; a parody of emotion. In such instances it just about ruins any sort of impact the scene could have otherwise have. Have they seen a character die before their eyes or are they really looking at a pen they’ve just dropped? A spot of rain, perhaps? It’s hard to tell. Kuroyuki is able to pin insane faces down perfectly though, more specifically Mejojo and Auger’s who had some of the most amusing and chilling facial expressions in the entire game. Shadows are also an issue, them being mostly lacking. Even when they are present, they seem to be oddly placed, not really where a shadow ought to be. They’re minor issues which I hope the artist will improve on in time. Limbs are a bit noodle-like, but I suppose it comes with the territory. What can you do, eh?
There were some snazzy graphical effects which really managed to add to the whole experience, such as lights flickering on dungeon walls, and twinkling stars. They’re little things, but they do help. Lips move, and eyes blink. And for that added moe~ effect, ears will randomly twitch, like when a character is feeling particularly shy or excited.
The system comes with all the usual things you’d expect, like a music and CG menu (as well as a ‘grooming’ feature – nearly all of the primary cast has ears and a tail, so would you expect anything less?). A dictionary is also included where you can check for world specific terms at any time through the ‘words’ option, which can be useful.
Since there are three clear different groups of characters, I thought I’d go with the ones closest to Fiona before delving into the real meat of the story with the Cats and Wolves. Oh boy, do I regret that. It’s not like their routes were overly dull or anything, but compared to the wild ride that was Mejojo and Auger’s they seriously fell down, in terms of content and writing. For the best possible BWS experience, I recommend that it be played in the order of Cats -> Nesso/Zara -> Wolves -> true route. After the common route things escalate rather quickly, until it gets to a clear point where the routes properly diverge and you get a choice to send Fiona off with the Cats, Wolves, or the other guys. Nesso and Zara’s routes were lacking, to say the least. Their individual routes afterwards only lasted about half an hour each, and definitely could have done with some work. Since Zara is one of the last members of his race, more could have been worked with that. More on Nesso being a knight, for example. Like I said, I didn’t really find them dull but it’s obvious the routes are irrelevant when it comes to the greater scheme of things.
BWS is long, but not as long as you’d think. The common route is probably the best part overall, and it’s fairly lengthy. I thought the individual routes would be just as long. I was wrong, unfortunately. But it’s not all bad. In December, a different look at the BWS story entitled Last Hope was released on the PSP. In it, there’s a greater emphasis on the characters, less on struggles to the throne and whatnot. It also features three new routes in the form of Nesso’s partner, Pearl, and Richie.
Now this is what I wanted to see from an otoge! A more recent title Rejet put out, DIABOLIK LOVERS, was also favourably received. I can only hope they continue to craft similarly enthralling titles, going from strength to strength. Dull moments in this were few and far between, keeping me fascinated almost all of the way through. The characters (the Cats, specifically) were the driving force here, surprisingly well developed. It was welcoming for both them and the setting to be treated equally – it never felt like one was suffering due to a larger focus on the other. Up until this point I’d only encountered characters in otoge you’d lazily describe with one word, easily assigning an archetype to. Personally, I’m a big fan of antiheroes but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there who initially couldn’t stand Mejojo and Auger, reluctantly finding themselves liking them even a little bit or having sympathy for them.
Even with liking BWS, I can’t say that I’m a fully fledged otoge fan just yet. But at very least I know I probably won’t crash and burn at the bottom next time.
Personal Enjoyment: 4/5
“Oh? You don’t want to look? This is the outside world that you so wished to see.”