DRAMAtical Murder may very well be the most well-known BL (boys’ love) game in Japan – it’s even inspired an anime adaptation and stage play! The third game from developer Nitro+CHiRAL, DRAMAtical Murder was originally released in 2012 and received a fan disc as well as a PS Vita port that removed the graphic 18+ content. Now, the game is finally available to purchase in English thanks to JAST BLUE as part of their ongoing endeavor to localize Nitro+CHiRAL’s complete game catalog.
Since I’d never played the Japanese release beyond the first few hours of the PS Vita version, I couldn’t wait to see if DRAMAtical Murder lived up to all of the praise!
DRAMAtical Murder is an 18+ BL visual novel that features a candy-colored cyberpunk world and a swoon-worthy cast of male characters, complete with often adorable AI companions called AllMates. The main character, the blue-haired Aoba, works at a junk shop while navigating life on an island where he lives segregated from a section called Platinum Jail, a resort where the rich and elite enjoy never-ending fun. Between the virtual reality game Rhyme and the physical combat-focused gang wars Ribstiez, not to mention the yakuza and police, Aoba has his hands pretty full. As you play through the game’s five main routes, you’ll learn more about Aoba and his past, the various characters who enter his life, and the sinister corporation at the center of it all.
So far, JAST BLUE has released two other games by Nitro+CHiRAL, sweet pool and Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~. The order of release initially raised some questions due to the overwhelming popularity of DRAMAtical Murder among English-speaking fans. After having played both sweet pool and Togainu no Chi, though, I can definitely see why it could be difficult to follow up a release of DRAMAtical Murder with the other two (it should be noted that DRAMAtical Murder came out after the other two in Japan).
As it stands, my Nitro+CHiRAL background meant that as I was playing through DRAMAtical Murder, bopping along to the amazing soundtrack, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. You can check out my sweet pool and Togainu no Chi reviews for a better idea of each game, but to put it succinctly: both games are extremely dark and twisted and offer very little respite from those themes. By comparison, the plot and characters of DRAMAtical Murder are a walk in the park. For the most part, the other shoe never really drops aside from the bad endings and Mink’s route, but then the darker aspects of these feel almost out of place compared with the rest of the game.
If you’re going into the game with no experience with Nitro+CHiRAL’s previous titles, be warned that it’s not solely a syrupy sweet experience the screenshots may imply. I recommend viewing the mature content description on the Steam page before taking the plunge. However, I actually found myself surprised by the lack of shocking content compared with Nitro+CHiRAL’s other games. As I mentioned, if you follow a guide and skip the bad endings, you’ll avoid a lot of the more disturbing content (aside from Mink’s route). I can’t comment on the all-ages Steam version since I played the full 18+ version for this review, but the all-ages version is also an option if you’d prefer not to see the 18+ content but still want the story.
In terms of DRAMAtical Murder‘s story and characters, I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, but never found myself falling completely in love with any one element or person. The story has notes that remind me of Togainu no Chi, particularly the aspects of evil corporations/scientists experimenting on people and an impressive amount of worldbuilding, but DRAMAtical Murder does a much better job at creating an interesting world without spending forever explaining everything to the player. Instead of feeling burnt out on jargon and convoluted plotlines (though there is certainly some of that), I left the game wanting to know more about the world and its inhabitants.
The characters often make or break a visual novel, and I had my own personal favorites in DRAMAtical Murder. As I’ve alluded to already, Mink’s character and route was a particularly rough one, both due to themes of sexual abuse and the problematic way indigenous culture is used handled visually and narratively. Funnily enough, his route felt like the most Nitro+CHiRAL of them all… But on the flip side, there is one awesome female character – Aoba’s grandmother, Tae. It was always a joy when she came on screen, and I’m always happy to see more varied portrayals of women in BL media. Aside from Tae, the characters I enjoyed the most were Koujaku, Clear, and Noiz. Each of their routes fleshed out the characters nicely and developed the story in interesting directions, though all abruptly end after a certain event. This left the most important questions to be answered in a somewhat hastily fashion at the end of the secret final route.
For this reason, it’s absolutely necessary to play through all of the routes (though you can skip the bad ends if you’d rather not play them). As I do for most of my visual novel reviews, I used a guide and followed the recommended play order. I honestly have no idea how anyone would get the final route otherwise!
Overall, I have a lot of positive things to say about DRAMAtical Murder. While it may not have been memorable from a shock factor (that award goes to sweet pool for me), the music and overall aesthetic were top-notch, and many of the routes were very enjoyable. JAST BLUE did an amazing job on the localization, as well, making the game a breeze to read through with witty text and no clunky grammar to be found. For all of these reasons, DRAMAtical Murder is an easy recommendation for BL fans, and I hope we’ll be seeing the fan disc, Re:connect, in English sometime in the future!