Shuffle! Review

Shuffle! Featured

Shuffle! Boxart

Developer: Navel
Publisher: MangaGamer
Platform: PC – MangaGamer*

Rin is just your average high school student. He’s no sport star nor is he a straight A student. Despite having nothing special to his name, he finds his world shaken up as two new transfer students appear in his class. According to them, they both met Rin as children and fell in love with him. This love has remained strong all those years so they finally decided to seek him out. Oh, and by the way, they just so happen to be daughters of the Gods of Heaven and Hell.

Shuffle! Screenshot 1

In many ways, Shuffle! sounds like the perfect example of what people think visual novels or dating sims are. If you’re not sure what visual novels actually are, then let’s go over that first. The easiest description is to classify them as something like digital Choose Your Own Adventure books. Players read and watch stories unfold in visual novels and sometimes they can interact by selecting options. Many times these options lead to different endings. Many, but not all, visual novels also feature romantic entanglements. Shuffle! is most certainly a romance-focused game.

So, Rin has himself quite the predicament. With the Godly fathers of two women breathing down his neck, the poor guy is pressured to choose either Lisianthus or Nerine. Both of these characters exist beyond their attraction to Rin, but the game does focus on that part of their personalities over much else initially. Worries that they would never develop some actual characterization disperse once players enter either path. At that point, we finally begin to learn more about them and see everything isn’t as romantically picturesque as the game initially paints its story.

Of course, following long-established harem anime tropes, these two classic romances aren’t all that Shuffle! showcases. Nope – there are many other girls who fancy the guy. First there is Kaede, Rin’s longtime friend. The two have lived together ever since both their parents died in an accident but Rin has never felt anything special for her. Players are presented the possibility of finally reciprocating Kaede’s love, and that turns out as the most notable storyline of them all. You might think you know how everything will play out, but she proves herself a complex, intriguing character. That’s not to say the other characters don’t have their own unique backstories but I preferred Kaede’s more realistic one. Apparently many players did, as a continuation of Kaede’s path is found in the sequel Really? Really!

Shuffle! Screenshot 2

Beyond the aforementioned ladies, there are two more paths open to players. These seemed a bit odder, as one character doesn’t really assert herself as a romantic contender. The other character was very surprising to me and more than a bit iffy. As such, I have yet to go down that path and may never complete Shuffle! because of it. It’s fair to say that simply playing the game puts one in a morally ambiguous area since all characters depicted are high school students. Of course, all players will be able to make their own judgment calls one way or the other.

As with most games, there are no options to completely skip over sexual sequences. This is the one point at which Rin’s apparent legendary niceness was appreciated. Never does he become like other eroge protagonists who dominate their partners without any consideration as to their physical or emotional state. Not to say that he’s perfect in this regard, but he’s regularly depicted asking what is okay to do or not do. Most players likely won’t care about this but I found it a positive over some other visual novels.

One area that this visual novel excels at are the visuals. They aren’t animated or anything fancy but each character has a very bright, sharp design. The art is definitely of higher quality than some other games out there and CG scenes are also executed with skill. My only grievance with character design is that of the males. For whatever reason, they looked creepy rather than handsome when showing off their sometimes nipple-free bodies. Maybe it’s just me.

Shuffle! Screenshot 3

Long before getting deeply invested in visual novels, I recall Shuffle! being put on a pedestal as a tremendously good game. It’s semi-recent English language release cemented these comments even further. It does definitely provide a simple romantic entanglement that plays out in a variety of interesting ways. Still, it doesn’t seem to live up to whatever grand expectations I had for it.  The game provides straight male gamers with an amazing dosage of wish-fulfillment, and that’s cool, but it would have been awesome to see even more development of the story. Seeking out each character fills in the plot little by little, but there’s not too much at stake in the end.

If you’re looking for a romantic comedy in visual novel form then Shuffle! fills that need neatly. With everyone vying for Rin’s affections, it leads to a great deal of awkward situations and adventures. The God/Devil angle adds a dash of strangeness to the affairs as well. Just know in advance that what you see is basically what you get with this game. In the end, Shuffle! is a simple tale about teenagers discovering the joys and pitfalls of love.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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