Bustafellows admittedly caught me off guard. As a western Otome fan, my passion for this sub-genre has waned in recent years. Creativity has been on shorter supply and localization efforts continue to leave a lot to be desired. The last one I remember loving was Collar X Malice, and that was a few years ago and had its own issues with stilted dialogue. When PQube announced they were dipping their toes into the Otome market, however, my ears perked up. I had never heard of Bustafellows, but they have a rather good track record with solid localization work. These kinds of games desperately needed a breath of fresh air into them, but when I booted the game up I didn’t expect how much it would accomplish that outside of a buffed script.
The game has a setting that’s rather novel for a visual novel: America. The protagonist is Teuta, a young journalist whose passion for getting scoops accidentally gets her dragged into the criminal underworld. Specifically, the moral greyness of five (hot) vigilantes who use their skill sets to go after criminals that the law is unable to reach by legitimate means. She’s recruited into their organization, bringing her own special ability to time travel to the table.
The developer behind Bustafellows, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Extend Inc., has taken steps to keep spoilers down to an absolute minimum. I’ll be following their wishes and not mention anything after the first chapter, but like with many of my visual novel reviews, I’ll be avoiding talking about the story outside of what I think about it.
In terms of how you interact with the game itself, it falls in line with most Otome games. What makes this rise above the competition are the details. Animated backgrounds, stellar UI design, an overwhelming amount of gorgeously drawn CGs, high-quality FMVs, and one of the most entertaining visual novel scripts I’ve read in a while. The overall production quality is surprisingly high, and this is noticeable from start to finish. The developer even went out of its way to get big named voice actors, and all of them do a great job. Little expense was spared, and it’s refreshing to play an Otome game that has a budget and knows how to use it.
The structure of the game is also standard, but I appreciate how the common route is shorter than many others I’ve played in these games. Your dialogue options will decide which route you get into, but for the first few chapters, you’re set to have a similar experience. I tend to struggle to get through common routes of this game, but the way Bustafellows frames it kept me interested. Each chapter follows a separate, but loosely connected, series of mysteries and crimes the gang needs to solve in flashy ways. After this, you will get into the romantic side routes for each guy, and after all those are cleared you can make your way to the true ending.
If you’ve played an Otome game you know how it goes. There are some of the guys you’ll gravitate towards, some you’ll be neutral on, and some you just can’t stand. I can’t speak for everyone, and I certainly had my favorites (Shu is the best), but I found that the entire cast worked for me. There weren’t any real weak links, and I think this is because how well it establishes them as a group. The dynamic between all the guys and Teuta is wonderful, easily the best I’ve seen from this sub-genre.
By the end of the common route, I was happy that this game went against tradition (which typically involves the cast sectioning off into smaller groups as the stories go on) with focusing on the found family-like structure of the guys. They all have something to contribute to each mission, and all rely on each other during their downtime. Even outside of the main guys, there’s a really strong side cast that shows up frequently and fleshes out the world a lot.
Because the gameplay is naturally simplistic, most of my issues with it will boil down to nitpicks. Thankfully I don’t have a lot. It’s a pretty tight experience, with my only real annoyance being the skip speed being slower than most games. For the most part, I think the game does well where it needs to, mixing things up where it can with player involvement. The dialogue choices feel like they have weight to them, with very few ones at branching points feeling off.
The writing balances comedy and drama from start to finish greatly. None of this would have hit with the stilted prose that’s to be expected from these games, and thankfully PQube knocked this out of the park. The dialogue reads wonderfully, and I felt myself grinning at the script so frequently. It’s clear that the original writers understood comedic timing, and the localization team knew how to bring that to life in English. There are some liberties taken that even I could notice that might bother people, but nothing really egregious.
The biggest problem with it isn’t really a fault with the localization itself, and likely a programming oversight. As a stylistic choice, many scenes will begin with audio lines playing in the background. These aren’t presented in the main text box, but for the originally intended audience (which is ironic because the setting and conflict are very American) this is fine because they can understand the Japanese dialogue. For English speakers who don’t understand Japanese, this means that it seems dialogue could often be untranslated. The thing that might not be initially obvious, but all of this is actually translated in the Log. I imagine it’s rather hard to add in text boxes that weren’t there, so I’m glad this dialogue exists at all, but it was a bit annoying to have to stop the momentum and go back a few lines to see what I missed.
With these games, I tend to be willing to gloss over a lot of story issues since I know that at the end of the day the focus is on the character interactions. I was honestly impressed with how heavy the subject matter tends to get, and how it does so rather respectfully. This goes into the guys’ routes as well, and their relation to the themes overarching stories made for wonderful drama. It has quite a lot to say about the criminal justice system, and does so at such a great pace that it never feels like it’s stumbling over its words.
I don’t think Bustafellows is perfect, but it nails most of what it aims for. The story is engaging, but the character drama and hilarious dialogue are what sell the experience. The production value makes it a visual treat, and it was so nice to play an Otome that never dropped my attention. Previously I’d considered Collar X Malice to be the best introductory Otome, but that’s now been dethroned. I still like that game, but this was such a wonderful experience. Apparently a “Second Season” is in the works that claims to be more than the traditional Otome fandisk. I honestly can’t wait, I hope for both a localization of that game after it comes out and more Otome games from PQube.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by PQube