Shuffle! is a visual novel released by Navel. It’s a rather typical example of any visual novel with branching scenarios and multiple endings. It is an adult game, due to a couple sexual scenes. however, there was a clean version released that would be fine for younger audiences.
Shuffle! is the first of the series. There is also Tick! Tack!, Really? Really!, and Love Rainbow.
An extended special version of shuffle called Essence + was also made, and there is a supposed spin-off game called Shuffle! House.
So anyways, not being able to write a very interesting or informative plot description, I will leave it to wikipedia this time.
Plot: The story takes place in a fictional universe where humans live in harmony with gods, resembling humans with slightly pointed ears, and devils, who have more prominently pointed ears. Despite their respective positive and negative connotations, both races are equally kind and good-natured. Ten years prior to the story, the gateway between the worlds of the gods and devils were opened, and since then, people from all races have been immigrating between the worlds. The characters attend the multi-racial high school, National Verbena Academy in Kōyō-chō .
Shuffle! contains a leitmotif of allusions to flowers. All of the characters’ names are references to flowers in some way, mostly genera of flowering plants. Additionally, in Japan, every day has a special flower associated with it, which in turn are associated with certain characteristics. This is called hanakotoba, or “language of flowers”. All of the characters’ birthdays and personalities correspond with the flowers of their respective days. For example, the high school that the series takes place in, National Verbena Academy, refers to the genus Verbena, which has connotations of cooperation.
As I am not smart enough to catch all that subtle meaning and symbolism (did anyone here actually know about that connection between the days and flowers?) I shamelessly copied that from wikipedia.
So, now the original bit, where I talk about the game and how good it was. Well, to put it simply, it was quite good. Navel seemed to really take the time to develop the characters, and to make them feel somewhat real. It is a fantasy plot, so there is the gap between fantasy and reality. But on the whole, the realistic parts of the game, not just the characters feels, well, real. The story does the rather typical thing where one guy has to choose between several women, and it is really overused at times. But, the characters and their interactions feel realistic, as if they were real people, and real events. I guess I’m saying is the feel of the game is somewhat possible, like something like this and people like these could exist, and situations like what happens could actually happen.
Being a game, it does take a long time, much longer than the equivalent book or anime. The benefit of the game is that you can save at the initial choice and work through each ending, or just the ending for your favorite character (if you already know who that is.) And the thing is, I wouldn’t have Shuffle any other way. Even some of the not quite so favorable characters (I have my opinion, and it is only opinion, on which characters I prefer) have interesting stories, should you play them out. And it’s the choice that makes Shuffle! work best as a game. There was an anime, it’s on netflix, and I did watch it. It really starts to give away what character it chose to use several episodes before the end, so you could really see how it was going to end.
Well, in the game, you can also see how it will end (or with whom) as at the end of a day, it shows what character the main character is currently in love with.
Well, lets talk about the characters, as I haven’t really mentioned them. Or even better, I’ll discuss the choose-able characters and discuss what I thought of them.
Kaede: A nice girl who takes care of the protagonist as self-inflicted punishment for previous actions done to him. However, only the flashbacks show that, and for your interactions in the current setting, she is simply a nice girl. Not only that, but a nice girl without a box cutter.
Nerine: The daughter of the king of the Devils, she seeks to marry the protagonist due to some past interaction that it takes him a while to remember. She has strong magic abilities, and blows stuff up at one point earlier on in the game. She gets a little depressed at one point, and has a deal with the main character about finding her before a certain time. No spoilers beyond that, as that is part of her path.
Sia: Daughter of the king of the Gods. Boastful to an extent, and really optimistic. Not very magically skilled, but she makes up for it by beating people with chairs and tables. And she apparently has a split personality due to…something…
Asa: A tomboyish girl, who hints at times that she may be falling in love with the protagonist. She does enjoy teasing him, and seems to have a friendly relationship with the protagonist.
Primula: The lolicon niche character. I don’t think I need to say more.
Shuffle! doesn’t really expand as much on the characters that can be chosen, being a multiple ending game. However, certain sequals are apparently single path, and serve to really give us the full view of what the character is like.
Really?Really! apparently brings Kaede truly to life, while Tick! Tack! does so for nerine. Sia is getting her own game called Princess! Princess! in 2011 according to Navel. Love Rainbow serves to expand on the characters of Kaede, Primula, and Sia, while introducing a new character. All but the new character stories are an after to Shuffle!, while the new character takes place instead of the events of the original Shuffle!
In the end, Navel did a really good job on the story, especially compared to the quality of most VNs. They did a good job on some of the characters, to the point you will occasionally feel sad, or happy, or sympathetic. I personally think Shuffle! is one of the better VNs that are out there, and I would hold it up as an example of how to make a good VN. I would also suggest it to people who might want to try a VN, but haven’t played one before. However, the time commitment to a game instead of a manga or anime may be putting off, but it is actually worth it. It is easy to get into the story, and unless you ended up not liking it, it is/will be time well spent, unless you have something important to do.
Score: I’m going with a 5 stars out of 5. I will explain a bit below.
Pros: Just the blend of all the elements make it really good, and worth playing. Maybe each element (characters, plot) isn’t the best on its own, but Navel did a great job of mixing them together in a way that really improved them. Finally, one of the best things is that that none of the shortcomings really truly distract from the enjoyment of the story.
Cons: It is a game, and works much slower than reading. Honestly, the text goes quite slowly, but clicking moves you forward. I’m not sure if it is even really possible to get a bad end-and the risk of failure is what motivates people to try hard. there isn’t much incentive to really try hard and figure out what is the best action when failure seems to be non existent.