Blerdy Tribe, the much anticipated crime noir otome game, BUSTAFELLOWS is here and it is one of the best otome games of 2021! Yes, I am saying that before the Aksys releases later on this year, but BUSTAFELLOWS is the otome game I have been waiting for—developed by Japanese publisher, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting eXtend Inc.(the folks behind Side Kicks!) and localized by PQube, BUSTAFELLOWS is an addictive crime drama that mixes together mystery, intrigue, and steamy romance with not one, but five dangerous men. Dive into the seedy city streets of New Sieg as Teuta, a rookie reporter as she crosses paths with Limbo and his associates, the Fixers a group of not so squeaky clean men who work outside of the law to exact their own sense of justice.
The publisher asked that we not share any story points after chapter one, so this will be a largely spoiler free review—everything I mention is revealed in the Chapter 1—besides, why deny you the chance to uncover the mystery for yourself?!
Arrive in New Sieg, a beautiful fictional town. Step into the shoes of Teuta – a strong, smart and gifted journalist, in this romantic adventure set in America. After witnessing the murder of crooked lawyer, Limbo, Teuta is destined to save him. With the ability to leap into the past for a very brief moment and take on the body of another – you must find clues, search for data, and help those around you. Thus, our journey begins. Travel to the past to warn Limbo of his fate and figure out how to save him!
There are no locked routes in BUSTAFELLOWS, instead you can pretty much romance whoever you want from the start (I know, complete freedom)! There is a recommended play order of Limbo –> Shu –> Helvetica –> Mozu –> Scarecrow –> True Endings. If you play that way you get a nice progression towards a overarching mystery storyline that the game is building up to, however, I started off with Sacrecrow’s route and worked my way backwards without much issue. The first four chapters are more or less episodic, loosely connected storylines and it’s your choices that determine which romance path you end up on in the end. BUSTAFELLOWS makes it very easy to know which path you’re headed towards and even gives you hints:
*Bios used from official English BUSTAFELLOWS site*
A 27 year-old Lawyer, Limbo is known for bringing justice to even the toughest criminals in the courtroom. Although named the crooked lawyer, he is extremely skilled, and is popular in the city and seen as a hero of the people. He plays by his own rules, serving justice to those who need tamed. Born into an extremely wealthy family, Limbo is kind at heart.
Limbo is like a legal eagle Robin Hood, he’s passionate about social issues around the city and he uses his power and influence to help those less fortunate than him. He has his own sense of justice that is often at odds with the powers that be, kind of like a white knight… He’s really personable and seems to kind of breeze through problems. He’s lived a pretty comfortable life, so he exudes confidence in everything that he does (even when he has no clue what he’s doing). I will admit that Limbo is probably a good starting point for the game, his route is the most straightforward and balanced (read: low on the angst and trauma). It definitely eases you into some of the corruption going on in and around the city without completely ripping your heart to shreds in the process.
His relationship with Teuta is cute, he’s sexy and he knows it, but unlike some other people *cough* Helvetica *cough* Limbo isn’t too overbearing—in fact I kinda felt like he was more of a big bro to Teuta early on in the route. He’s good-natured and upbeat and just super charismatic, it’s hard not to like him… so the romance feels more like a friendship that gradually develops into something more, which is fitting because the best relationships are grounded in friendship.
CV. Hosoya Yoshimasa
At 28 years old, Shu is a heavy smoker who makes a living as a bounty killer by eliminating other hitmen. He is a top-class martial artist and specialized in long-range sniping. The best sniper in town, he has no other goals in life apart from executing those on the list left behind by his foster parents and mentor.
Shu is a chain smoking hitman’s hitman and the only bona fide crook on the team, sure he only kills “bad” guys, but a life is still a life. He’s lost people in the past, so he knows how painful it is to lose someone close to him. His motto is “Never leave a chance for revenge” and I love that his route literally deals with his past coming back to haunt him. Shu has had a single goal in life and that is to complete the mission left by his mentor, aside from that he has no real plans for the future, because he kind of figures he’ll die in the line of duty. You’d think he’d have a more genki, YOLO kind of approach to life, but Shu is very thoughtful and reserved.
Shu kind of reminds me of a cat, kind of prickly when you shower them with affection, but when you leave them to their own devices they’ll just kind of slink on over for a cuddle when you least expect it. Shu comes off as this gruff lone ranger, but at the end of the day he really just wants to live a normal life with people he cares about. In that thread, his relationship with Teuta was probably my favorite (after Scarecrow). Teuta is his exact opposite and I get the sense that he is attracted to her because she’s so far removed from everything he’s known. She’s not someone heavily embroiled in the criminal underworld, she’s just a normal girl and her worldview is much more optimistic than his is. Their relationship is like two puzzle pieces fitting together, they both make up for traits the other lacks in.
CV. Yoshino Hiroyuki
A 26 years-old plastic surgeon; Helvetica is popular in New Sieg. He appreciates the beauty in things and constantly rates passer-by women based on their looks. Highly confident in his skills, he believes that people can be reborn by changing their natural features.
I am a self-proclaimed lover of megane, and it pains me to say this, but I don’t love Helvetica. I like that BUSTAFELLOWS subverts the cool and aloof megane trope, by giving us Helvetica, a flirty confident tease who appreciates the finer things in life… but heaven help me if I didn’t want to punch him in the face every time he opened his mouth… He rates women for fun and on his very first encounter with Teuta he rates her a 63 out 100, which is apparently high for him, since he rarely rates women higher than 60… the f*ck?! When he isn’t doing that, Helvetica is literally one bad touch away from a sexual harassment lawsuit (and considering Limbo is his friend… ) It’s supposed to be cute I guess, a strong alpha male who knows what he wants and goes for it, but it just came off as creepy.
Helvetica’s route was very heavy and like all of the LIs in BUSTAFELLOWS he has quite a few skeletons in his closet. His conflict was definitely one of the darker storylines in the game, it is especially angst filled and while I am glad that for once therapy in an otome game is addressed, I will admit that I would have liked to see his trauma fleshed out a bit more. This is one of the routes that was hurt by the two chapter individual path length. The relationship between Teuta and Helvetica was a bit of a miss for me. Because he constantly flirts with her it’s hard to tell if his feelings for her are genuine, which is my main frustration with flirty types. I kinda liked him more as a side character in the other routes than as an actual love interest. Helvetica has more issues to deal with than romance…
CV. Fukuyama Jun
At only 25 years old, Mozu is the chief of the autopsy department and works with the police force. Often misunderstood as apathetic and indifferent towards others, his way of thinking is usually from a medical point of view, which sometimes creates unexpectedly fun situations. Mozu talks to corpses and it is rumored that he dissects animals as a hobby. He likes riding bicycles.
Mozu is probably the most unapproachable love interest, he’s not the most talkative and when he does it’s a lot of medical mumbo jumbo that completely goes over everyone’s head. Like, rather than calling someone beautiful or cute he’ll describe their bone structure or some aspect of their anatomy and not gonna lie this was the source of a lot of the humor in his route. His blunt and scientific approach to seemingly normal everyday situations leads to a lot of misunderstandings, but there is something oddly endearing about how he is just so unapologetically Mozu.
Mozu is on his own wavelength most of the time and he tends to take things at his own pace, which isn’t always in line with what everyone else is doing. Once you get to know him better you see that he’s surprisingly pretty sensitive to other people and their feelings. When he is confused by something he asks for clarification and yeah, his overly stiff way of talking can be off putting to some, but he always goes out of his way to make sure other people understand him and that he understands them too. Mozu isn’t very forthcoming with his feelings so the romance in his route is a lot more subtle, which makes those rare moments of affection that much more meaningful. His route does have one of the heavier storylines and I will fully cop to crying a little.
CV. Shirai Yuusuke
A 22 years-old cyber-geek and computer hacker famous on the internet for hacking, money laundering and stealing. Thanks to his abilities and connections, he is a self-proclaimed underground boss.
Scarecrow is more or less the brains of the Fixers, he takes care of all of their recon and intelligence gathering with the help of his Anima computer system. Whether it’s tapping into security cams or cracking a complicated password, this guy has them covered. He’s not above putting on airs, even calling himself the boss of the underworld, despite being the least street smart of the crew.
I will admit that Scarecrow wasn’t even on my radar, but somehow he managed to be my favorite LI. I stumbled into his route first and it was like immediate chemistry. This is a guy that you could really be friends with and I love that shows in the way he and Teuta interact. All the other guys are kind of the unattainable fantasy (good looking, great careers, the whole nine), but then there’s Scarecrow, this awkward hikkimori hacker—blushing every five minutes, sputtering over his words, the literal butt of every joke…the other Fixers tease the heck out of him to the point that he has a “respect jar” (yes, he makes them pay a fine for badmouthing him and y’all that jar is overflowing). But, that was all I needed to fall head over heels in love. Scarecrow is really a sweetheart and his relationship with Teuta has all the trappings of a sugary sweet first love romance—loads of blushing and awkward moments, and struggling to define their feelings… lots of cute fluff! Which is great because his route definitely had one of the heavier storylines.
CV. Kondou Yui
A 21-year-old freelance journalist working in New Sieg. As a child, she witnessed the murder of her brother, so decided to take up a life of journalism to maintain order and justice. She has a mysterious ability that allows her to leap in the past for a very short period into the bodies of others, using it to help those around her. She is a bright and cheerful woman with a positive personality. Although she is a reporter, she is not skilled at taking pictures.
So we have a magical otome heroine! Yay! But rather than having a poisonous touch or being catnip for murder zombies, Teuta’s abilities are something right out of the comic books—she has the ability to go back in time, by sending her consciousness into the body of someone else. Sometimes her time traveling goes well and other times not so much and I like that there are very real consequences for Teuta using her abilities, so it doesn’t get used as a Band-Aid for all of the conflicts in her life.
Personality wise, Teuta ranks pretty high on my list of otome heroines—she teases the LIs (especially Scarecrow), she goes out for drinks with her friends, and even has a career as a freelance journalist. She doesn’t take things lying down and I like that she’s the kind of woman who knows how to have fun and joke around. She easily fits right in with the Fixers and I LOVE that jumps right into their banter without any awkwardness, it really feels like she’s always been a member of the group.
She’s not perfect and I like that Teuta embraces her flaws and quirks, like she can’t cook and there is a hilarious scene later on in the game when she makes food for one of the LIs and let’s just say its an interesting culinary experience. She may not be the most street smart, but she does try to understand other people and meet them halfway—like in Mozu’s route she takes things at his pace and even if she doesn’t always understand him, she doesn’t stop her from trying.
Occasionally there are timed choices that force you to make split second decisions, it adds a sense of tension and urgency to the story, since your choices have an effect not just on Teuta, but those around her as well. With the ticking stopwatch counting down the seconds, there is a push to just pick anything so long as you beat out the clock, but, occasionally it’s best to just sit and let the timer run out. I know I tend to agonize over my choices in otome games, parsing out the ramifications of whether my choice will net me the desired ending, but BUSTAFELLOWS takes away that safety net, forcing you to use your critical thinking skills within a 30 second time limit and that lends itself well to the more action heavy story.
There are also collectible “Memorabilia” which are like pins you can earn by performing certain actions in the game. More times than not these serve as hints for diverging story paths and variations and it’s fun to play around with the choices in the game to unlock new ones. There’s also an “Archive” feature where you can refer back to key terms, locations, and character profiles from the main game. You’re not going to get any hints or clues here, but it is nice to be able to go back and refresh your memory on stuff that you may have forgotten about early on in the story. If you’re planning on going through multiple playthroughs, the built in skip feature leaves much to be desired, but there is a helpful Jump/Skip button that skips through all the text straight to the choices (very much like the Nitro Skip in the Nitro+Chiral games) and it was a godsend!
The UI interface is modeled after the in-game AI system, Anima, and I think it adds a sleek look to the game, almost like you’re an investigator shifting through a digital record of the events of the story. I said this earlier, but visually this game is gorgeous, the character designs are modern and based in realism—though there is a female side character that does have a more out there fashion sense. Also, I really enjoyed the animated sprites (eyes blinking and mouth movements) as it really makes the characters feel more alive!
Unlike most otome games that are set in or around Japan, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in America in the fictionalized city of New Sieg. It is very clearly a gritty urban city modeled after New York—from Central Core, the city’s Time Square equivalent, with it’s ever evolving rotation of brightly lit billboards and signs to the sweeping shots of skyscrapers and cityscapes and there is even a Coney Island-esque amusement park, Sunny Island. But, what really set BUSTAFELLOWS apart is that most of the main backgrounds are animated! Many of the wide shots of the city show traffic bustling along in the distance, a train making its way along the elevated tracks, smoke rising from buildings, and lights from apartment buildings that turn on and off to match the time of day. As someone who grew up in New York, seeing all the small details, like the bodegas and graffiti covered brick walls made me a little nostalgic.
Though, this is a Japanese game, I was a bit worried about how the American setting and characters would be depicted in the story—we’ve all seen the less than flattering portrayals of Americans in anime. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a more or less pretty great representation, though if I have to nitpick about anything, I would have liked to have seen more Black and brown characters. There’s like one side character who appears to be Samoan/Polynesian, while the rest are very heavily coded European, which is a shame since New York, which the setting is based on is a very multicultural city. Of course, this is me expecting to see diversity in a Japanese otome game, but I think eXtend could have really elevated this story by adding in a bit of color to the cast.
This is PQube’s first otome release, so I know there are going to be a lot of folks looking very closely at the translation and localization. Overall the translation is pretty good, there were some minor grammatical errors and typos, but nothing to bad.
Most of the mistakes I saw were switching of words—ie. “Without any where to leave, it’ll be…”, with leave being used in place of live. I also noticed that a couple of times words like “is” and “the” would be left out in a few sentences. Later on in the game, there were some instances of the text running off the screen, and when you check the text history the same issue is there too, which is extremely frustrating since there isn’t a way to read the cutoff text.
There were some voiced lines that were not translated with text, usually at the start of a new scene, but with what little Japanese I still remember, most of that dialogue is negligible at best—the tail end of a phone call or the characters placing their orders at the local club. This is a carryover from the original Japanese release and are there more to set the mood between scene transitions. However, if you check the text backlog there is a translation of what was said. While it would have been nice to have the text on screen, I kinda like the choice and it’s definitely nothing compared to the non-translated skin-ship scenes in Bad Apple Wars.
When I played Root Film there were some interesting localization choices like calling one of the side characters a “showa-era boomer”, but, in BUSTAFELLOWS I didn’t see anything that stood out. The localization was fun and not too stiff, modern without being too overly meme heavy.
BUSTAFELLOWS feels more like an anime or crime drama. Each episode starts with an intro depicting a shot of New Sieg, while a character (usually Limbo) gives a short quote that has something to do with the events of that chapter—it has the same vibe as the show Criminal Minds—followed by a opening theme-esque title scene. There’s even a teaser preview at the end of each chapter with voice overs and scenes from the upcoming episodes like you’d see in an anime series. It’s cool, kind of like you’re watching a crime drama and not just playing a game and I think that goes a long way towards making you feel like you’re immersed in this world.
This game is rated M for Mature, and I agree with that rating 100%. Some of the routes deal with some very heavy topics, Mozu and Scarecrow’s routes in particular hit pretty hard. BUSTAFELLOWS is a “crime noir” things are bound to get a bit dicey, especially when murder and crime are just around every corner. But, even during its darkest moments the game still manages to balance things out with a bit of fun lighthearted moments. We see the characters during their down time, having fun, joking with one another, and even hanging out with side characters—like Carmen the well endowed club owner or Teuta’s childhood friends, Luka and Adam. A lot of time with otome games the focus is on the heroine and her reverse harem of hotties to the point that everything outside of that just kind of falls to the wayside, but it’s nice to see that that isn’t the case here. It also works to the game’s benefit giving a lot of weight and depth to the world and the characters—they have lives outside of their relationships with one another and it’s okay to show that. You get a great sense of who these characters are early on, so when you dive into the individual routes its more about fleshing out their motivations and personalities through more intimate, nuanced interactions.
I know you all want to know about the romance… I’ll get to that later, but the chemistry between the LIs is really what worked for me. All of the guys come from different backgrounds and walks of life—Limbo is a wealth crooked lawyer, Shu is a chain smoking bounty hunter, and Scarecrow is a shut-in hacker—but, whether they’re hanging out at their favorite club after a mission or lounging around their “base” you really get the sense that the Fixers are all just really good friends who happen to occasionally work together to solve crimes. They bicker and tease each other like siblings (Scarecrow even has a respect jar to keep the guys from teasing him… spoiler alert, it doesn’t work) and sometimes they get on each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day you know the guys wouldn’t hesitate to lend a hand if one of the others was in trouble.
With Piofiore Fated Memories, a lot of the appeal was being able to romance literal bad guys, and at first it seems like that is the angle BUSTAFELLOWS is going with too, but while the Fixers are all technically “dangerous” men, I kind of see them as more Robin Hood vigilante types—okay, Shu is legit a bounty hunter who kills folks for a living, but when he isn’t doing that he’s a pretty chill dude. The romance kind of takes a backseat to the action and I know some folks won’t jive with that as much, but I tend to like a bit more action with my otome games. But, the romance we do get is pretty satisfying, it’s more mature, focusing on establishing a bond between Teuta and the guys in the first four or so chapters before everyone starts catching feelings as progress into the individual character paths.
Without going into spoiler territory, despite the more episodic feel of the first half of the game there is an underlying mystery that ties together all of the events of the story. In the other routes, you get the sense that there are much larger machinations at work in New Sieg and you get to see that all play out in the True Ending. All the little hints and clues finally come to a head in a big way at the end, but in order to get there you have to clear all the romance routes first. Is it worth the build up? Yes! Absolutely, Yes! But, I will admit there are some loose ends that aren’t given a satisfying conclusion at the end, which I suspect has something to do with the announcement of BUSTAFELLOWS 2.
I love this game, it literally had everything I wanted in an otome game and then some, it has the mystery and intrigue that I crave with the heart pounding romance I expect from my otome. BUSTAFELLOWS is a wild ride from start to finish! Each chapter focuses on a different “case” or problem, Teuta and the Fixers have to tackle—sometimes with the help of Teuta’s time traveling abilities.
As a whole, I really liked the pacing of the story (even though I played out of “the recommended” order), but I want to STRESS, this game is rated Mature for a reason, some of the storylines go to some pretty dark places so make sure you read the warnings. If you can stomach some of the heavier topics, there were a ton of great extra scenarios and features to warrant the 50 hours it took me to clear through everything. Immersion is the goal with BUSTAFELLOWS, and there are a lot of fun additions that help players feel more engaged in the story. If you are a fan of immersive stories, fun memorable characters, and a healthy dose of mystery, definitely throw your money at BUSTAFELLOWS!
Thank you to PQube for providing a copy of BUSTAFELLOWS for this review.