In 2020, Aksys Games announced three new otome game localizations for 2021 and of the three titles, rom-com, Variable Barricade is the game the otome community has most been looking forward to playing. Unfortunately while the other 2020 announcements made their debut last year, VariBari‘s localization was pushed back to to this year. Well it’s 2022 and while the game doesn’t come out until February 24th, thanks to the folks at Aksys Games, I’ve had the chance to play the game early and lets just say I have some thoughts!
I’m still playing the game (I’ve completed the common route and I’m partway through my first route), so there won’t be any spoilers (yay!). These are just my first impressions of the game before I get in too deep~
- Genre: Comedy | Romance
- Rating: ESRB T
- Developer & Publisher: Otomate & Aksys Games
- Where to Get the Game: Aksys Games | Amazon | Nintendo eShop
A member of a prestigious family and heir to a fortune, Hibari learns that her eccentric grandfather is determined to find her a husband. He arranges to house her in a luxurious villa along with four handsome, hand-picked bachelors and her private butler. As her suitors try to win her hand by any means necessary, Hibari endures endless everyday trials and temptations.
Has her grandpa chosen poorly, or could there be more to these fellows than first meets the eye?
Through all of this, Hibari has two important goals: frighten off each of these marriage candidates, and absolutely refuse to fall in love.
Rich high school girl, Hibari Tojo has no interest in love, so her grandfather arranges for her to live with a group of hot bachelors and her hot butler (who she should totally just date already). All of the guys have a “flaw” ranging from marriage fraud to being a walking debt generator and it was around this point that I started wondering if this was another season of Liar Uncover the Truth—because tell me this isn’t the same premise.
Characters of Variable Barricade
Hibari Tojo (VA. Saki Fujita) – Hibari is too young to be this jaded about love…the girl is 17 and already has the disposition of someone’s middle aged aunt. Unfortunately (for her), she’s an otome heroine who has no interest in love or romance, so of course she finds herself playing house with a bunch of hotties. This prickly princess is a force to be reckoned with; rational, level headed and blunt, Hibari is not above putting folks in their place. Tsundere princess, through and through.
I really like Hibari, she’s naïve, but that’s mostly due to her age and sheltered upbringing, it’s most noticeable when she’s dealing with the LIs, since they’re “more experienced” than she is in the ways of the world. She tends to have her guard up a lot, so the guys have to work extra hard to get close to her but as they spend more time together, she does mellow out a bit.
The Love Interests
In Variable Barricade there are four suitors pursuing Hibari (Ichiya, Taiga, Shion, and Nayuta), each of whom were handpicked by her grandfather. Each guy has a “flaw” that you’d think would keep them from marrying into a rich family, but other than that they seem like average dudes, grandpa Tojo snatched up off the street.
There are four routes, one for each of the LIs, and a true ending—none of which are locked, so if you wanted to, you could technically play through the the True end first. There isn’t a strict play order so you can tackle the routes in any order you want; though I did see that playing Ichiya’s route before the True end makes for a better overall experience. For my playthrough I’m going with Nayuta ➤ Taiga ➤ Shion ➤ Ichiya ➤ True End
Ichiya Mitsumori (VA. Kousuke Toriumi) – I spent half of the time rolling my eyes at his flowery declarations of love and the other half of the time wanting to shake him for being so damn oblivious! A self proclaimed hopeless romantic, Ichiya likes to lay on the charm a bit too thick. He cooks, he cleans, he’s affectionate and quick with the praise—Ichiya is seemingly the perfect boyfriend, there’s just the little issue of the “attempted” marriage fraud. Also, my dude is 26 and Hibari is 17, that’s a crazy age gap you got there…
Taiga Isurugi (VA. Nobuhiko Okamoto) – So, is he supposed to be the “bad boy” of the group? Piercings, IDGAF attitude, loud fashion choices—yeah, I think Taiga is the “delinquent”. So, someone tell me why he seems to be the guy I vibe with the most?! He’s the only dude who genuinely could care less whether Hibari picks him or not, it’s definitely a front, but it’s honestly refreshing (I hope he stays that way). Taiga comes off a bit crass, but my dude is one of the few guys with a firm grip on reality and I love that he seems to be the voice of reason among the LIs. He’s also surprisingly thoughtful and considerate of others. Right now he is my fave!
Shion Mayuzumi (VA. Kenji Nojima) – Professional sugar baby. That’s the impression. This man thinks simply basking in his presence is “the greatest, most enviable benefit” to a union with him and it was at this moment that I bumped him to the very bottom of my character ranking. While my opinion of him is pretty low, I will admit that he seems to be the most pragmatic of the LIs. He’s surprisingly pretty astute and while he’s lazy AF he seems to be pretty self aware. While he seems like he has his stuff together, Shion is actually terrified of animals, especially cats…and the game takes full advantage of it. Also what is it with half French LIs all being blonde? Can I get an “foreign” LI with dark hair? Please?!
Nayuta Yagami (VA. Hiro Shimono) – So, Nayuta is a Simp™ who dreams of having
mommy Hibari step on him and “scold him lots”. He’s cute, easily flustered, and absolutely devoted to whatever poor soul is unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of his affections. Honestly, he’s more like a cute puppy that kinda follows you around, rather than a legitimate love interest. Maybe, he should call up Lynette from Cupid Parasite, get a few dates under his belt and come back when he’s had a bit more experience—I’m also getting Gill Lovecraft flashbacks. And if you’re into pet play, Nayuta is your man.
Gameplay and Features
Super cute mini-game & fun board game mechanic
Love em or hate em, most otome games nowadays have a flow chart. But, where in most games the flow chart is a merely a way to track your progress in the game, Variable Barricade actually builds them into the gameplay in a pretty fun way. The flow chart is modeled after a gameboard called Barricade Boards that divvy up routes into levels—there is a board for the Common Route and Individual Barricade Boards for the LIs—by reading through events you progress through the board and complete the story.
Each board clear culminates in a cute RPG styled mini game called, Barricade Battles. The choices you make correlate to either Romance or Reason: romance choices raise affection with the LIs and gives the LI a weapons upgrade for the mini game, while reason choices upgrade Hibari’s barricades, making it harder for the LI to break down her “emotional” walls and get closer to her. It’s a really cool idea and fun way to integrate the flowchart into the actual gameplay and the mini game is super cute—the little chibis are adorable, and the attack sound effects, it’s just a perfect parody of RPG battle mechanics.
Keep tabs on the LIs with WHIS and RABI
Variable Barricade has a fun phone app feature called, WHIS (it’s pretty much LINE). Characters from the game will occasionally send you text messages that you can respond to, though your responses don’t effect the story. It’s a fun feature, but seeing as it doesn’t really matter how you respond to texts it’s just kind of there to give you a little something extra to do between story events.
There’s a second extra called RABI, it’s this cute rabbit robot that Hibari gets that doubles as a recording device. It’ll wander around the house recording the various goings on in the house while Hibari is away. You can watch the scenes in between main story events and if you want, you can place RABI is specific rooms to unlock additional scenes. Some of the RABI videos (scenes) have CGs, so be sure to check them out to unlock all the CGs.
First Impressions of Variable Barricade
Fun (flawed) characters you want to root for!
So, I’ll be honest, the LIs had to grow on me, I just wasn’t feeling all the love interests all that much when I started the game—everything out of Ichiya’s mouth had me rolling my eyes, Shion is a bit too high maintenance for my tastes, Nayuta is more of a pet than a lover, and yes, even my beloved Taiga had me wanting to strangle him for all his snide remarks. And while Hibari is an amazing heroine, she can be a bit much at times. There’s more to everyone than meets the eye and while the common route just barely scratches the surface of who these characters are, but, it does a really good job of fleshing out and juggling all the different personalities for all the characters.
My favorite moments where the day to day moments between the characters, the chemistry between the LIs is especially great, they feel more like a group of bros, than suitors competing for Hibari’s affections. They get along really well—they play video games together, joke around, hang out together, and are surprisingly supportive of one another. You could factor Hibari out of the game and turn this into a BL and I’d definitely play play the hell outta that game.
So, can I date the butler?! What about the best friend?
Otome games are notorious for giving us side characters we can’t date, but Variable Barricade takes it to a whole different level with Hibari’s butler Kasuga. HE IS GORGEOUS and it’s criminal he’s not a love interest (there’s a true end, so here’s hoping its for him). Kasuga is the closest person to Hibari and one of the few people she genuinely trusts and the whole time I’ve been playing all I can think is, Who cares about the suitors? Why the hell can’t I date this one?! Snarky, caring, smart, good looking…He’s my otome ideal! 😭
Kasuga aside, Variable Barricade has a lot of great side characters, Hibari’s otaku bestie, Tsumugi is an instant fave! She’s smart, supportive and she looks really good in gothic lolita fashion! Tsumugi is the otaku best friend we all want and I’ll be honest, I lowkey wouldn’t mind an AU where she and Hibari run off and elope…
So, about that age gap
So, yeah… there is a bit of an age gap between Hibari and the love interests; she’s a 17 year old high school student and the suitors are in their 20’s, with Ichiya being the oldest at 26. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me a bit, because a group of grown men trying to marry a teenager does make me feel a bit icky, I don’t care how “mature” the teen acts. So, that was something I had to kind of get over, though I am happy to say that the game does address the age difference between Hibari and the LIs and for the most part the LIs keep their hands to themselves. Rather than jumping straight into the “romance” the common route does take its time building up a more platonic relationship between Hibari and the suitors—they feel more like acquaintances or cousins than actual lovers. So, when the romance does eventually start to blossom in the individual routes, it’ll feel more natural and not so, um, weird.
The Verdict: So, is Variable Barricade worth playing?
Yeah, so far so good! All around, Variable Barricade is a fun, lighthearted comedy in the vein of Cupid Parasite—a dynamic cast of quirky characters plus a pretty out there situation makes for a pretty hilarious experience. I was really looking forward to this release and I’m glad it delivered! The localization so far is fun to read and much more relaxed than the usual Aksys Games translation, even slipping in a stuff like Taiga calling Hibari “babe” and references to IRL stuff.
The comedy is good, and there are a couple of running gags, like Nayuta’s masochistic kink and Ichiya’s overly sappy flirting, which sometimes can be a bit much. But, I did laugh a lot while playing and it did make for a fun read. Hibari is also prone to having a wild imagination, some of the scenarios she comes up with are so ridiculous, it’s laughable. This is definitely a game you don’t take too seriously all the time, and that’s okay, I like a game that knows when to laugh at itself.
Thank you to Aksys Games for providing a copy of Variable Barricade for this review.