After a lengthy period of waiting, Date-A-Live: Rio Reincarnation has arrived in the west. It’s out now for Playstation 4 and PC – we tested the console version of the game.
Over the years, I’ve played the occasional visual novel and enjoyed more than a handful of them. Steins;gate and the Danganronpa games come to mind, as does the more recent Death Mark. I wouldn’t call myself a visual novel fan because of that, but I’ve certainly grown to appreciate them over the past five years. As a result, I also learned about titles and franchises that were critically acclaimed, but never made it to the west – Date-A-Live being a prime example of that.
Luckily, that wait is now over, and Date-A-Live: Rio Reincarnation doesn’t just bring one game with it – it’s a compilation of the first three games in the series (a fourth one will release in Japan in the next year) and thus doesn’t just provide great value for money but also a great moment to get started. Rio Reincarnation itself is the third in the series, so it’s great to be able to start from the beginning rather than jump in having missed a wealth of content.
Having said that, the inclusion of Rinne Utopia (part 1) and Arusu Install (part 2) still doesn’t mean you have the full picture. The Date-A-Live series started out with non-videogame content, and not everything in the novels made it into the game(s). As a stopgap solution, Rinne Utopia starts off with a summary of events leading up to the plot of the game, but you’ll probably find the transition easier if you’re familiar with the Date-A-Live world outside of the games. There are bundled audio CDs with side stories and art books available, but it still helps if you’re already invested in the series.
If you’re not – no problem, the central plot in the three games on offer isn’t hard to follow. You’re a male character and basically the one guy that all the girls want to be with. The catch? These girls are actually spirits who resemble humans and can wreck the earth if they want to – and they might want to if you’re not making them as happy as they want to be. The romantic undertone was something I never enjoyed in the various otome games I played, but it’s presented in Date-A-Live with enough of a satirical/comedic undertone to make sure it’s not overwhelming. Sure, there are plenty of awkward moments and even the occasional sex reference, but it’s not “like that” – the more subtle art style helps in this regard. That’s still relative though – if you have an aversion to any kind of sexualized anime-style visuals then this isn’t for you.
The Date-A-Live trilogy in this release is consistently well-written, which is important because there is a very little here in terms of interactivity. You can sort of choose your own path in between character interactions on a map, but there’s nothing like Danganronpa here. What you do get this way is a nice visualization of the story branches, encouraging you to replay the game again when you’re done.
That will likely be a while though – the Date-A-Live: Rio Reincarnation compilation is SO full of content (all three visual novels are quite long) that even just thinking about a second playthrough feels daunting. I was eager to continue with Arusu Install after Rinne Utopia and to start up Rio Reincarnation after that though, which must be a sign that IFI has another winner on their hands. The experience wasn’t memorable as some of the other visual novels I’ve played, but it’s the best one so far with a romantic undertone.