I have said on more than one occasion that I’m not really much of a yuri fan, and yet Aikasa Collective, still saw fit to send me a review copy of their debut visual novel—and I’m glad they did! Mizuchi 白蛇心傳 is an emotionally compelling story loosely based on the Chinese folk tale, Legend of the White Snake. Unlike most games that seem to rush towards their romantic resolution, Mizuchi takes its time building up the relationships between its female leads, and it is this slow burn approach that I find most appealing, as it allows for more natural story.
But, what is perhaps most intriguing about this game is how it weaves together the stories of three very different women while also delivering a rather thoughtful criticism of restrictive social norms of the time. I’m not going to lie, Mizuchi is a dense story that doesn’t lend itself to quick playthroughs… this is a game that is meant to be savored.
Linh is one of five daughters of a peasant family living in a traditionalist village. Life is hard for Linh and her family, but she gets by stealing food. Her luck seems to take turn for the better when her childhood friend Anh returns home from military service and asks for her hand in marriage. Linh’s family is thrilled with the upcoming nuptials, but Linh isn’t so sure she wants to go through with the marriage, unfortunately for a woman of her standing she doesn’t really have much say in the matter.
But fate has other plans—through circumstances beyond her control Linh is accused of a crime she didn’t commit and sentence to be judged by the local snake god. She is thrown in a snake pit just outside of the village to await her fate, just when she thinks all hope is lost a white snake appears and offers to save her from certain death. The snake reveals that she is actually a shapeshifter named Ai and whisks Linh away to her home deep in the mountains. Not long after a kind but strange wandering monk, named Jinhai arrives and promises to free Linh and return her home. Now Linh must decide if she would like to stay with the beautiful snake goddess, Ai or escape to parts unknown with Jinhai.
I’m going to be honest, this game really wasn’t for me—it took me ages to get through the game partly because I’m not a fan of yuri games and partly because the pacing is super slow. Don’t get me wrong, the pacing allows for players to really get to know the characters and immerse themselves in the world—but GOD HELP ME if the game gave me one more detailed mushroom breakdown I swear I was gonna cry! There were times when this game felt more like a cooking VN than a fantasy romance (but real talk, all of the food looked really good). So much of the runtime is spent detailing food prep and mealtimes and while there are some great conversations that happen around this, the story seems to come to a screeching halt every time the main characters get ready to eat. It isn’t until the last quarter of the game that anything really happens, so if you’re expecting something with a bit more “action-heavy” this game isn’t for you.
Objectively speaking Mizuchi is a beautifully written character driven story that celebrates the everyday moments that make up the lives of it’s female leads. Mizuchi is as much Ai and Jinhai’s story as it is Linh’s and I like that the writers go to great pains to give players an intimate look at each characters’ lives—from their pasts to their current motivations, and even some insight into their futures. It’s rare to find a game that takes the time to fully flesh out all of it’s characters and not just the protagonist, which in turn makes for a much more enriching experience since the player is genuinely invested in how the events of the story affect not just Linh, but also Ai and Jinhai as well.
Of course, it is through Linh that we experience the events of the game, so our view of the world is fairly narrow early on—Linh’s very traditional upbringing often making her uneasy around the by comparison much more radical ideologies of her much more worldly companions. Ai, having lived for centuries has had the opportunity to observe human behaviors over a long period of time and as such has a much more objective (and often jaded) view of humanity as a whole often challenging social norms—which puts her at odds with Linh’s more conservative views. On the other hand, Jinhai is much more accepting of other people’s differences and unlike Ai, doesn’t push Linh to change her way of thinking, rather she encourages Linh to choose what she wants out of life.
I really enjoyed seeing Linh come into her own through her interactions with both Jinhai and Ai. Regardless of which woman you pursue romantically, Linh forms a deep bond with both of her companions and some of the best endings for me were the ones when all three women choose to stay together as a family. But, this is a romance game and while I wasn’t too invested in the romance, I will admit that it was handled really well in the story. The writers take the time to fully flesh out the bond between Linh, Ai, and Jinhai first so when folks start catching feelings it feels like a natural next step in their relationship (rather than a means to an end). Though I will admit that Jinhai felt more like an elevated extra rather than a legitimate love interest, since her role in the story mainly revolved around her history with Ai. There were more than a few times when I felt that Jinhai and Ai had much more chemistry than Jinhai and Linh and I would have loved to have seen that play out more in the main story.
There are some spicy moments later on in the game, but for the most part they’re kept relatively PG (PG-13 for Ai’s routes), so nothing that would be too sexual for the kiddos. Though given the hypersexualization of same sex relationships, I like this more toned down approach—Linh does get intimate with both Ai and Jinhai, but never in a way that feels forced or contrived.
While Mizuchi has a much more slice-of-life feel to it, there are quite a few fantastical elements to the story—the bulk of which revolve around Ai. The story never quite says what she is we do see her phase between several different forms one of which is inspired by the naga. With each form she takes on new abilities, the most prominent of which is the ability to bestow immortality to others by taking their blood. The story does most of the supernatural aspects of the story, by revealing more about Ai and her powers as the story progresses. However, the story waits until the last though they fully come into play until the very end of the story to really go all out with fantasy.
Even the setting of the game is largely shrouded in mystery, borrowing elements from several Asian cultures—Linh is heavily implied to be of Vietnamese descent, while Ai is implied to have originated from Japan, and Jinhai mentions that she is proficient in Kung-Fu. It’s not often that you see a game with so many cultural influences and while each one is distinct within the story, it doesn’t feel out of place to have them so neatly intertwined. It’s a fascinating approach and I’d love to see more games create stories around underrepresented cultures.
All in all, while Mizuchi isn’t my favorite game, I will readily admit that it is one of the best indie games to come out in 2020. The story really tugs at the heartstrings and the characters are the driving force of the game’s narrative. While this is technically a “romance” game, that isn’t where its focus lies, rather it takes its time carefully developing the bond between its three female leads. Mizuchi is a beautiful story that is more about the journey than the destination, there aren’t any flashy gimmicks or trope heavy characters—just good old fashioned storytelling and that more than anything is reason enough to give this game a try.
Thank you to Aikasa Collective for providing me with a review copy of the game!
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