Tsuyokiss

vndberogamescapeOP

Intro:

Tsuyokiss is a 2005 romantic comedy eroge from Candy Soft. It is written by Takahiro, the scenario writer well known for the Majikoi series, and a bit less well known for They Are My Noble Masters and the Nee, Chanto Shiyouyo series. Tsuyokiss itself is up there with Majikoi in terms of eroge fame.

Story: 8/10

The premise of Tsuyokiss is about as standard of a school life eroge as you’ll find. Tsushima Leo and his group of friends attend a school that isn’t quite standard, as it stresses martial prowess and a type of honor in short supply in the modern era. There are several stock school life eroge plot developments: Leo and his friends find themselves drawn into becoming members of the student council, he has a long lost (female) cousin move in with him while his parents are gone overseas, there is a school athletic festival, etc. I think there might have been some sort of bet/competition between Leo and his male friends about getting girlfriends before summer break, but I’m not sure if that actually happened or not and the game must not have been sure either since it never comes up again. The one twist on or gimmick to the formula is that all the heroines are “strong,” hence the name of the game.

The cliché premise points of Tsuyokiss provide just enough justification that the actual focus of the common route—the daily interactions of the characters—doesn’t feel completely aimless and pointless. The character interactions are the single best thing about Tsuyokiss, but surprisingly it’s actually nice that they aren’t simply random scenes sliced from the characters’ lives without context, that the entertaining conversation you’re reading is occurring because the student council is trying to plan the athletic festival, even if you don’t care at all about the student council or the athletic festival. The plot events of the game are like the glass you drink a whisky from: you don’t care about it and hardly notice it but it sure helps to have something to hold the contents together. And fortunately, like the whisky glass, what amounts to plot in Tsuyokiss’s common route is thin and doesn’t block view of the insides that actually count.

Like I said, the character interactions are the highlight of Tsukyokiss and are pretty much what make the game. Oddly, despite this clearly being a comedy game, the game isn’t really that funny. The humor is more the type that will have you smiling constantly and chuckling often, but laughing out loud is pretty infrequent. Mostly the conversations between the characters are better described as fun than funny. It feels strange to read scenes that consist of characters talking and bantering and find it incredibly entertaining but not incredibly hilarious, but that’s the strange dynamic of Tsuyokiss, at least for me. I was initially disappointed that the game was failing to make me laugh often enough but once I started relaxing my expectations for overt comedy I found myself glued to the game solely out of enjoyment of watching the characters interact and riff off of events of the story and each other.

The strength of the dialogue and character interactions continues throughout the game, though it is understandably more of a focus in the common route. Once you get into the character routes Tsuyokiss has a clear emphasis on romance and the fun dialogue becomes more peripheral. The romance is overall straightforward but good, satisfying romance. One of the best things about the romance is that because each heroine has a unique personality and relationship with Leo each route develops in distinct and interesting ways. I found myself looking forward to future routes just to see what the romance with that heroine would be like (this is how romance should be in eroge, but sadly isn’t often enough.) Each route also has its drama, of course, and like the romance it’s straightforward but usually serviceable. A couple routes have some slightly irritating dramatic developments, but by the end of the routes it was difficult to have hard feelings about these events.

Earlier I mentioned the gimmick of the heroines all being strong females. Calling this a gimmick is a disservice and I do so mainly out of my lack of a better word. Conceit might be a better one. One word I wouldn’t use, however, is theme. The idea of strong girls is not quite a theme, though it approaches one especially in how the strength of the heroines influences Leo to reevaluate his own apathetic spinelessness. While this is a recurring topic throughout the game and consistently in every route, it lacks enough development that I felt it was under-explored, even if this is just a school life rom-com. It certainly was a missed opportunity. Sadly in the case where this “strong heroine inspiring Leo to be stronger” dynamic is the most thoroughly explored (in Otome’s route) it also becomes the least nuanced: Otome is literally physically strong, a samurai-girl who trains Leo in the martial arts. Were this training present more consistently yet subtly throughout Tsuyokiss it would have made for a nice thematic base.

Characters: 9/10

As you can probably tell from the preceding section (or the 9 right above this), the characters in Tsuyokiss are fantastic. To start with the heroines (because this is eroge), they’re some of the most memorable in the industry. While they generally fall within certain archetypes, they all have enough specific and consistent traits to make them unique, and they are lovable and executed in a way that elevates them from the pretenders. They are all, as mentioned, “strong” girls, but fortunately there is only one “samurai girl” type heroine, and even she is rendered in a way that makes a pretty good case for this character type as both adorable and admirable. The rest are all strong in very different ways, usually more in terms of strong-willed or strong personalities of many varieties, which contributes to the dialogue being endlessly entertaining and each route being satisfying to read through. I think it really says something for the strength (pun not intended) and depth of the heroines that they are both consistent but unpredictable: their actions and reactions are sometimes surprising but always make complete sense after a moment’s reflection on their character.

The protagonist, Leo, fits within his own archetype: an average high school student who is spineless except for when it really counts. Who is perverted but not too perverted. Who is kind but not a moralist, and will break school rules and almost fail classes. Who is on friendly terms with all of his classmates but isn’t “popular.” Etc., etc. I hate to admit it, but this protagonist type is effective, because most readers are going to be able to relate enough of their own high school selves (or who they now think they were in high school) to Leo. And like all the characters in this game, he is well-written so that even if he doesn’t add much to the game, and is easily outshined by the heroines, he doesn’t detract from it either. As mentioned before, his character growth is almost a theme in the game and almost one of the game’s selling points.

In addition to the heroines and protagonist, Tsuyokiss makes great use of side characters. Two, Leo’s friends, are too prominent to be considered side characters. One, Subaru, is a generally good guy and great friend, who just barely escapes being too perfect; he’s not terribly interesting but he largely helps develop the cozy “group of friends” atmosphere. The other, Fukahire, is genuinely detestable and a source of many of the games funniest moments; it’s nice to see a departure from “lovable” perverted friends. The other side characters don’t receive much attention, but when they do it’s amazing how much Takahiro is able to flesh them out and capitalize on them in the short time he expends on them. There are the not-quite-a-couple-but-really-should-be students from the next class over, the teacher’s cockatiel (not a parrot; voiced by Norio Wakamoto), the school’s eccentric and chivalric headmaster (voiced by Norio Wakamoto), a few amusing classmates, etc. There are even a couple sprite-less characters that only get a few lines yet manage to use them to enrich the game. I think it’s safe to say that characters are Takahiro’s greatest strength.

Sound: 8/10

The game’s soundtrack is one of the most generic sets of 2000’s eroge BGM. Very few tracks are any good at all. The couple that are are the more emotional tracks and they usually feel too emotional for the scenes in which they play, since this isn’t a very emotional game. Remarkably, the songs don’t grow too old, probably because they were so stereotypical they never felt “new,” and if anything they might grow slightly more tolerable by the end due to Stockholm Syndrome.

The OP is a slightly-rock, slightly-ska J-pop number with Kotoko on vocals. It’s quite bad with little to say about it other than the characteristic (not in any good way) intro electric guitar line that will become the bane of your existence, as it also plays at the start menu every damn time you launch the game. The anime Lovely Complex did a J-pop ska OP much better by more fully embracing the ska gimmick and actually having a decent melody. Tsuyokiss’s ED is a more standard Kotoko affair and is much better for it. It’s good in a standard way.

While the music in Tsuyokiss is mediocre at best across the board, the voice acting is fantastic across the board. There are quite a few big-name eroge seiyuu including Aoyama Yukari, Hokuto Minami, Maki Izumi, and the aforementioned Norio Wakamoto in two roles. In fact, many of the voice actors pull double duty and return great performances regardless. I definitely believe the writing is the biggest part of what makes the characters and dialogue in this game so great, and in turn makes this game great, but the voice work more than does its job in breathing additional life into these aspects of the game.

Art: 8/10

The art in Tsuyokiss is one of those vexing mixtures of good and bad. A lot of the art, especially in the sprites, is of high quality with noticeable attention to fine details and textures. Then you get to some of the CGs and the anatomy becomes a painful mess. Then you see some of the swimsuit and underwear sprites and notice the anatomy there, while not as bad, is uncomfortably stiff with awkwardly narrow waists and awkwardly broad shoulders, and the girls start to look ugly. Never let your eroge girls look ugly, never.

Ero: 8/10

This game may just have the best ero in a non-nukige eroge that I’ve seen. Takahiro’s games prior to Tsuyokiss are classified as nukige (at least on erogamescape) and it shows, he does have a better sense for how to write things erotically than most scenario-game writers. The descriptions don’t read like the birth-deformed child of an instruction manual and a bodice-ripping romance novel, for one. They’re brief and hot and organic (note: organic is not at all a sexy word.) Plus the situations touch on some acts you’ll rarely see in story games, like anal sex, and the writer usually finds something to make them interesting. Interesting sex is good sex. And here’s kinda a shock: the heroines very much act like themselves during the sex scenes (that is, how you could imagine they would actually act during sex, which is of course different from how they normally act.) This in itself elevates the ero scenes well above many others in the industry and, when coupled with the strength of the personalities of the heroines, makes for a really arousing experience. People play eroge to see the female characters have sex, not to see cardboard cut-outs of the female characters have sex. All in all the sex is a lot of good fun and gets really hot at times. It’s good in a way that you won’t find in any scenario-game or nukige, that I’ve encountered.

Overall: 84/100

Pros: Fantastic cast of characters with entertaining interactions; best ero in a non-nukige; great voice acting; solid romance routes

Cons: Unenjoyable music; noticeable art issues; comes up short thematically.

Tsuyokiss is exactly what a character-based game (“charage”) should be. Its characters truly shine in their strong (intended, this time) personalities and their interactions with one another, so that just reading their conversations about trivial matters becomes a treat. Of course, more often charage just means the writer didn’t want to come up with an interesting plot so they resorted to writing endless bland dialogue between cutesy characters. Tsuyokiss’s heroines are cute but are a lot more than that, so much more that I didn’t even mention their cuteness even though they’re very cute. If you play one character-game make it this one, and if you regularly play charage but haven’t played Tsuyokiss, play it and have every other pale pretender ruined for you. Tsuyokiss is so good it almost makes me want to play Majikoi, despite previous deterrents like length, popularity, and “samurai girls” being one of the most boring concepts to me.

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