The dictionary defines “calumniation” as “making false and defamatory statements about.” The first time I heard that word was when I first heard of the game Yurukill: The Calumniation Games. For some extra word-nerd fun, yuru comes from the Japanese word “許す” (yurusu) which translates to “to pardon.” Following it is the word “kill”. So, one can surmise that the game has to do with one person pardoning or killing someone that’s making false statements. Basically, that’s the premise for the game. The interesting thing is how multiple genres show this premise. Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is one of the most surprising sleeper hits of the year.
Sengoku Shunju is a convicted murderer sentenced to 999 years behind bars. Only a fraction of the way through his sentence, he finds himself waking up on a giant ship. Along with five other prisoners, he’s taken to Yurukill Land: a twisted amusement park where prisoners are paired with executioners. And, just like the other prisoners, Sengoku claims to be innocent. Guided by the bizarre and brazen Binko, each team needs to work together to get to the bottom of each prisoner’s case. The prize for coming out on top is too good to pass up. The executioner will get any wish granted, and the prisoner’s record will be cleared allowing them to walk away. However, if at anytime the executioner feels like their paired prisoner is being dishonest, then the executioner can simply press a button to end the prisoner’s life. The odds aren’t looking good for Sengoku, but he’s determined to prove his innocence.
The story is one of Yurukill’s best features. The setting and premise are unique. The new discoveries made along the way regarding each character’s misfortune add to the intrigue behind Yurukill Land. Each prisoner’s plight feels real, and the burden of the executioner having to act as the judge and jury adds a capricious dynamic for each team. Sengoku is the main character, but everyone at the amusement park gets a solid amount of screentime. They come together to make a solid cast of characters that you’ll hate one second and like the next. Binko, the mascot of the game, is especially entertaining.
Yurukill tells much of its tale in a manner tantamount to a visual novel. You’ll read plenty of text, making selections when prompted, and inching the story forward. The VN aspect of the game is 100% linear; the choices you make have no impact on the story. They just add some extra flavor. The trials awaiting Sengoku and the other prisoners are done in escape rooms. You’ll have to solve puzzles, uncover key items or pieces of evidence, and make your way through each room. During these moments, the executioner might initiate Maji-Kill. As the prisoner, you’ll be put on the spot and must quickly and accurately answer questions thrown at you by the executioner. You’ll have to restart if you answer any of the questions wrong. That never happened during my time with the game. Either I guessed everything right, or Maji-Kill was added for extra flavor. Regardless, it’s a fun pitstop to the puzzle solving since the actual puzzles themselves are very simple. There’s even a generous number of hints for those that don’t have brains wired for puzzles.
After escaping the rooms, the next part of the trial begins. This is called Yurukill Judgment. You take control of the prisoner and enter Brain Reality: a virtual reality simulator where your brain is connected to the executioner’s. The goal is to blast through the executioner’s biases. For these parts, you get to play a shmup. Not just any shmup, either. The Yurukill Judgment sections are full on, OHKO, all screen blasting, bullet-hell, projectiles flying EVERYWHERE shoot ‘em ups. And they’re a blast thanks to multiple difficulty options. I’m terrible at shmups, but I looked forward to these sections in Yurukill. Yurukill Judgment consists of three stages. A boss awaits at the end of each stage, which also consists of multiple levels. Halfway through a boss battle, the prisoner will have to answer additional questions correctly to remove the executioner’s Prejudice Synapse. Answering incorrectly will result in a lost life. Bosses also have Brain Barriers and Mind Walls that need to be destroyed before you can damage their health meter. Before delivering the final shots during the final phase, the prisoner will navigate a Mind Maze. The Mind Maze wraps up everything learned from the entire chapter/case. Successfully completing the Mind Maze and the boss’ final phase ends the chapter. The game eases you into all the twists and terms. Once the boss is destroyed, you’ll get a score, and the chapter will end. The way game combined the elements of a visual novel and mystery with a shoot ‘em up is commendable. At a glance, it would appear contrived but getting through the first chapter shows that everything comes together organically.
Yurukill looks and sounds lovely. The character art is polished and varied, the environments are unique and have their own theme, and the shooter moments are as colorful as one would expect. The boss designs are especially impressive. The music is another highlight. Every song just feels right whether you’re solving a puzzle or dodging enemy fire. Yuko Komiyama did a fantastic job in setting the mood. The entire game is fully voiced in Japanese. Major props need to go to Binko’s voice actress; the way she’s able to change tones and inflections within seconds is pretty damn impressive.
Honestly, my biggest gripe with Yurukill is the length. Nine times out of ten, I’m glad when a game ends. In Yurukill’s case, it feels like there could have been more narrative, more exposition, more character development, and more shoot ‘em up stages. Since there’s only one ending, there’s no reason to replay the story. However, finishing the game unlocks all the shoot ‘em stages which can be played back to back. Each prisoner/pilot has unique spacecrafts. This gives extra replay ability as you aim for a high score. Yurukill: The Calumniation Games was a very pleasant surprise. If you were to tell me that a game combined the suspense of a mystery with the button mashing of a shmup, and combined them well, then I wouldn’t believe it. But, Yurukill delivered on nearly every fronts. I recommend it to just about everyone.
Overall, 8/10: Bin-bin! Yurukill: The Calumniation Games shows a lot of potential and promise for future visual novels and mysteries.