Boku no Hitori Sensou, a 2015 eroge from Akabei Soft2, was the long-awaited return of Looseboy, writer of such hit eroge as Sharin no Kuni, G-Senjou no Maou, and A Profile (the last one perhaps not really a hit but certainly a beloved eroge of mine). It marked his first eroge scenario since G-Senjou in 2008.
I started playing Boku no Hitori Sensou shortly after it was released, almost a year ago, but quickly lost time to play it, played it in brief spots here and there, and then didn’t touch it for about 6 months before recently finishing it. This is to say, this review may be sparser than usual and my failing memory may have impacted my valuation of the game.
The main story of Bokusen, though it takes its time getting there, is that the protagonist becomes forcibly involved in a game of sorts, called the Kai, where he must summon his friends to fight enemies he cannot see. Although the Kai is more of a ritual or ceremony, it closely mirrors the types of online computer games the protagonist loves to play. There is a reasonable explanation for this, which somewhat justifies the nerd-pandering. However, overall the set-up involving the Kai is never totally convincing or compelling, which is a problem when it’s so central to the plot.
The protagonist goes through a series of Kai battles, and this is the general way Bokusen’s plot progresses. Looseboy is not known for writing action scenes and the battles show this isn’t his strong suit. The detailed descriptions of the fights are, frankly, boring. Not a good thing for action scenes to be. However, the broader progression of the individual battles is more interesting: each battle has at least one unique element to it and these elements always make things entertaining. The problem is that there’s usually too much description of the minutiae you have to wade through to get to the point where the battle takes an interesting turn. Additionally, the plot involving the Kai is mostly this series of battles, with mysteries about its nature, and even its rules, resolving slowly in ultimately dissatisfying ways.
Another reason why the whole idea of the Kai is unconvincing is how unnaturally hooked into the drama of the game it is. Although most people think of Looseboy as a twist master, eroge’s M. Night Shyamalan, I think of him, and like him, primarily as a dramatist. I think of his drama as a kind of cathartic human drama—with even a subtle moral component—and this is also the general flavor of Bokusen’s drama. Family drama is another trademark present here. The Kai, its mechanisms and its effects, serve as an overt, and indeed ham-handed, metaphor for the protagonist’s relationships with his friends and others. In fact, later in the game the characters even directly discuss this metaphor, which makes it even worse.
The drama is primarily about the protagonist and his relationships, but, with this relationship as a jumping-off point, each of the main characters receives a brief chapter in the story that tackles their own dramas. In traditional Looseboy style each chapter involves an overcoming and an eventual catharsis. However, these catharses are generally fairly weak. The character dramas are not bad, and in fact are preferable to the Kai aspect of the story, but this type of cathartic drama relies on a powerful climax, and the climaxes here are not impactful enough to really do their job as a dramatic and emotional moneyshot. But to its credit the drama in this story has several nice, moving moments. Each character’s story has value. And near the end of the story Looseboy does deliver some interesting and unique ideas about relationships, which helps to elevate the drama above simply run of the mill eroge drama.
Although I said I don’t read Looseboy for twists, this is still his claim to eroge fame, and not entirely inaccurately so. Bokusen does have its share of twists. In my opinion the only major twist is an early bait-and-switch that is entirely inconsequential to the actual story and seems pretty clearly added simply to have a big twist. Later twists are of the smaller variety, mostly, with some larger ones that don’t have much of an impact. As I often find to be the case, the smaller twists are usually the more interesting and surprising. Surprisingly for an alleged twist master there is a lot of wasted twist potential in Bokusen: there are plot elements that could’ve easily been used for major twists but were not, or the twists that are there are often poorly executed in such a way that reduces the impact.
Lastly, yet another main focus of the plot, in addition to the action, drama, and twists, is romance. There is only one heroine, Rumi, and her relationship with the protagonist is about as big of a part of the plot as the Kai itself (as mentioned before the two are interconnected, albeit clumsily). This relationship is not without its cute moments, but it is too saccharine and easy. There isn’t any winning over of the heroine, as it happened before the game’s beginning, and the threats to their relationship aren’t convincing, especially the ones arising from the unconvincing Kai situation. This all around ease prevents the relationship and the romance from feeling very deep or fulfilling. It feels very much in the vein of the moe ichaicha that has replaced actual romance in most contemporary eroge, if not quite as shallow.
Yet another characteristic of Looseboy’s writing is his eccentric characters. As with his twists and drama, this element is present in Bokusen in a watered down form. The characters have slight eccentricities but there are only one or two truly odd characters. Correspondingly, their interactions are not as humorous as in other games from the writer, yet there is something altogether pleasant about their conversations. They feel natural and flow smoothly. It really feels like listening to a group of friends talk and it can be fun to read even without making you laugh.
One cool aspect of the characterization in this game is that people act differently when they are summoned during the Kai. They present with a subconscious or hidden side of themselves. This not only helps to flesh out characters that would otherwise feel somewhat stereotypical or shallow, it’s also just really entertaining to see these alternate sides, the gap with their “normal” selves, and how they interact with the protagonist, who remains himself during the battles. The characters during the Kai are also usually more eccentric and interesting, and simply put: cool.
I’ll talk specifically about Rumi, the game’s sole heroine, for a bit. She’s a likable character: timid and reserved but with a strong core, cute mannerisms, devoted to the protagonist, physically attractive. Does this sound familiar? Maybe because it’s every ideal trait in an eroge heroine. She’s also a great cook. Similar to how the romance is too easy, Rumi is too perfect. This is not a big enough problem to make her a bad character, but it does prevent her from being a driving force in the appeal of Bokusen, though she is clearly meant to be one. It also means she doesn’t really develop during the course of the story, unlike pretty much every character. Character growth is another strength of the (rest of the) cast including, especially, the protagonist.
The soundtrack is well produced. The samples and sound quality are first class for eroge, and most themes receive several variations, totaling an extensive soundtrack for a middle-price game. However this can’t help the fact that most of the songs are boring. One exception is the main theme and its variations, which is good enough that even with multiple versions playing often throughout the game, in varied contexts, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Another set of exceptions are the battle songs, which don’t play very often, and only actually kick in when the battle starts to get interesting. I believe these tracks generally only play once or twice, which is a waste since they’re among the few good songs in the soundtrack.
The OP is pretty good and fits the game stylistically quite well. The insert song is boring, which gives you a sense of how boring the overall soundtrack is: even the insert song is boring. The ED is just as boring but this is more typical of EDs. They don’t need to have the emotional impact that insert songs are supposed to have and only really exist for.
The art style is slightly interesting for an eroge. The art is Akabeisoft’s longtime artist—and artist of previous Looseboy games—Alpha and her(?) style is apparent, if improved from years prior. Yet there are still some awkward or amateur moments, which if anything are endearing in how they remind one of the poorer art in those older games one enjoyed. In other words it’s nostalgic. The interesting part is the atypical coloring though I’m still conflicted about whether I like it or not. Lastly, as is usual for games from this duo, the composition of CGs is generally great in a way that contributes to dramatic or twisty moments.
The ero is your basic story-eroge fare. Overly descriptive yet not in a particularly arousing way. Too mechanical to be erotic. Bokusen feels like it has a lot of ero scenes but the five it has are probably not above average, it just feels that way because they are all for the same girl. The one positive thing I can say about the ero scenes is that the art is very nice; some of the best looking CGs are ero CGs. However there are still some wonky moments in some of these CGs.
Pros: Enjoyable characters with fun and natural interactions; some nice dramatic moments; every battle has entertaining moments
Cons: Premise remains unconvincing; drama is generally underwhelming; romance isn’t deep enough to justify the time spent on it; twists are unimpressive
For Looseboy’s comeback Boku no Hitori Sensou has all of his trademarks: a novel premise, twists, cathartic human drama, eccentric characters. The problem is all of these elements are watered down and inferior compared to his better games. So by no means is Bokusen a bad eroge, it is simply disappointing; it’s an exercise in missed potential. I feel this is one of those reviews where I make a game sound much worse than I actually think it is but that tends to happen when my expectations are betrayed. And yet, I feel hesitation in actively recommending it to anyone. Why recommend what is essentially an inferior imitation?