Since Nightshade offers visual love clues and an affection gauge, I had no problems landing on my routes of choice and snatching the best ending right away. Since all routes are available from the get-go, I could indulge in playing them in the order I wanted. I saved the best for last, as usual in such cases; and so, dear fellow gamers, here’s my very own route report for your enjoyment.
Chojiro: My my, what a hardcore opener that route was. All your friends die a painful and cruel death, you’re played like a puppet by your own scumbag of a father, and you have to deal with the guilt of lusting for your first cousin. Is that the writers’ not-so-subtle way of saying that incest is bad? Anyway, both Enju and Chojiro have to overcome a ton of mental and practical hurdles to get together; and blimey, I cannot help but think that they completely deserve romantic happiness after that.
Chojiro is the resident ice queen, and you know I usually don’t fancy that trope (cue Dante, Van Helsing, Yanagi and Shidou) ; but this time around, I really enjoyed it. I’d wager it’s because you can see the heart beat under the ice in Chojiro’s case, which makes you anticipate the moment said ice will break. It does break allright, in a sober (ice cannot transmute into fire, after all) yet sweet and fulfilling way. Thank you, writers, for reconciling me with the ice queen trope — if only for a single game.
Hanzo: Nighshade’s take on that most famous shinobi reminded me nicely of my lovely man Kaze in FE Fates; needless to say, that made me very partial towards Hanzo. His route didn’t disappoint me: the way he both protects and lifts Enju up is the stuff wholesome relationships are made off, and Enju herself brings him some much-needed peace of mind by helping him come to terms with his torturous past.
Hanzo being the sombre, hardly expressive type, his route could easily have been brooding and boring. But the writers, them geniuses, managed to avert that obvious trap by sneaking in cute little digressions about Hanzo’s smile and hairstyle, as well as a nicely steamy yet not overdone Huddling for Warmth sequence. Those moments remind us that Hanzo is human first and foremost, before Hanzo himself remembers it and chooses Enju over his shinobi duties at the end of the route.
Goemon: With his strategically revealing clothing, his sultry smile, his bedroom eyes and his libertine label, Goemon is totally the game’s sexy b*tch. He’s really a libertine in name only, as he only has eyes for Enju from the moment she enters her field of view; but let’s face it, his slutty persona is quite masterfully handled. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also pretty hunky as far as otome beaus go; not only does that hunkiness really show in CGs, but there’s also a steamy narrative thread that involves Enju drooling over his large hands.
On top of being lascivious, Goemon is playful, cheerful and a sheer optimist; factor in the happy ending that sees all of Enju’s friends make it alive, and you get the most light-hearted route of the whole game. Still, Goemon’s route boasts more than enough suspense and tension to keep one on their toes. I’m obviously referring to the whole ‘He betrayed me, he betrayed me not’ arc, in which Goemon regains the lead of the Fuuma clan. As it happens quite late in the story, one cannot help but pray Goemon still has Enju’s back, and that the whole thing is but an elaborate setup whose purpose will be revealed soon. That’s a pretty basic narrative trick, but it works beautifully nonetheless; and boy, was I relieved when Goemon finally put Enju’s mental agony — and mine — to rest.
Kuroyuki: My meagre Japanese knowledge tells me that ‘Kuroyuki’ can be translated as ‘black snow’. If that’s the meaning the writers went for, then it’s true genius; because Kuroyuki is indeed a pure boy who’s been stained beyond repair by his gruesome upbringing. Man, that route hit me hard. Granted, I fully expected Kuroyuki’s chirpy personality to be but a mere mask; but I really couldn’t have guessed how much despair and pain were hidden underneath. The description of Kuroyuki’s ordeal was chilling, and my soul wept for the poor boy.
I have to commend the writers (again) for creating an obsession-themed route that doesn’t feature a complete psychopath. Sure, Kuroyuki is no angel; but his ruthless killings are justified by both his shinobi work and his twisted training. He also ditches his manipulative ways as soon as he realises that he doesn’t need them to gain Enju’s affections, and it’s pretty clear that said ways were only a mean to an end and not a core part of his personality. (And heck, can you really blame a shinobi for being manipulative?)
Kuroyuki is the resident childhood friend, and he’s probably the best one I’ve ever seen in an otome. You can feel the bond between him and Enju; I swear, the description of their childhood antics reminded me of my own childhood antics with my cousins. There’s a sweet, endearing, childish complicity between them, and it’s unique to their relationship. Not only that, but their lifelong bond actually serves the story instead of being a mere fan-servicey trope: it makes perfect sense that Kuroyuki should remember Enju and only her, because they’re the exact same age and have basically never known life without each other. Gee, the intensity!
Gekkamaru: Kuroyuki was intense enough already; but oh my, does his aniki Gekkamaru top him off. Look, I’ll bare my heart here: I kinda fell in love with Gekkamaru myself, and his route can now claim the honour of being my favourite otome route ever.
Gekkamaru’s route has everything: the mutual devotion, the tenderness, the lust, the gallantry, the suspense, the thrill and most importantly, the pure, unadulterated love. Heck, we’re even treated to a poignant ‘Ai shiteru’ from the boy! And jeez, that Moon and Sky quote was stupidly intense — I swear, it made me blush a little. The plot twist was stellar, and the way Gekkamaru overcame the two spells battling for the control of his mind through his deep, genuine, homegrown love for Enju made me all mushy inside.
But the jewel in the crown of that route is the physical chemistry between Enju and Gekkamaru, which roars to life as soon as they hug each other for the first time ever. That very sequence is already ardent enough as such, with all those mentions of melting into each other and becoming one — heck, you can really feel the chemistry taking over here. But the fact that the two are reeling with the desire to do it again as soon as it’s over really did me in, as I’m a massive sucker for all things Repressed Lust and Can’t Keep my Hands to Myself in fiction. Gekkamaru’s and Enju’s interactions are deeply erotic, yet also wholesome as heck; and their intense, fulfilling love is most definitely the stuff canon routes should be made off.
Long story short: I loved every single route in Nightshade, so much so that I actually went for a second helping and replayed them all. The fact that all routes share the same core structure and tell similar events didn’t bother me in the slightest, because I loved that whole Battle Royale affair the game had going. Not only that, but having a similar story for all routes neatly emphasizes the differences between the beaus and Enju’s relationships with them. That game is a pure, dazzling gem to my eyes; I wouldn’t take anything out of it, and the only thing I’d add to make it more impossibly perfect would be a love story between Ennosuke and Kyara. I shipped these two hard, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Anyway, my work here is done; I’ll see you soon with fresh run reports, dear fellow gamers. In the meantime, keep playing and take care!