We’re back at it again with Niche Gamer’s obligatory visual novel review. This time we’re taking a look at BUSTAFELLOWS, a “noir” story that follows the young woman Teuta (a default name, you can name her anything you want), who gets involved with a cadre of men who refer to themselves as “Fixers”.
By Fixers, they mean men who impose their own justice and morals on society and use their talents to bring a comeuppance to those who deserve it. Not content to be overshadowed by the men, Teuta has a supernatural power which allows her to go back in time by possessing other people in the past.
With this meeting of ambition and power, will Teuta manage to find a place in this group? Or maybe she’ll even find love.
Developer: NIPPON CULTURAL BROADCASTING EXTEND INC.
Publisher: PQube Limited
Platforms: Windows PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Price: $39.99 USD
I want to open with something first, especially if you’ve come here from Google wondering how you’re supposed to save or do anything. Most of the controls for the game on PC exist above your arrow keys. That’s right, Insert, Home, Pg Up, Delete, End, and Pg Down. That’s where you’ll find the save menu, the button to skip dialogue, and more.
Normal play is more straightforward with clicking to progress scenes and Escape to hide the UI to look at those sweet CGs. But I lost my first half hour of progress in this game because I didn’t realize how to save. So be forewarned.
Controls aside, there’s no issue once you actually know how to access the menu. Visual Novels are largely carried by their aesthetics instead of mechanics anyways; which is what we will mostly be focusing on. BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in a modern noir version of New York City called New Sieg.
Teuta is a young journalist who finds herself ingratiated with the aforementioned Fixers. As an otome game, each of the Fixers are a potential romantic partner for the player.
What grabs the readers attention is the high stakes intrigue of the Fixers’ work. In the very first chapter, Teuta helps Limbo fake his death, and steal money from a wealthy bank executive with ties to the mob. BUSTAFELLOWS keeps this level of excitement the whole game, so players won’t be wanting for action.
First there’s Limbo, the Crooked Lawyer. Limbo is a major celebrity in New Sieg and is famous for rarely losing a case and getting anyone off the hook no matter how obviously guilty they are. This doesn’t mean he has no morals but as he famously repeats to Teuta and his other friends “I decide what’s right and wrong”.
Limbo fills the immature savant archetype of male partner in otome games. He’s slick, charming, and emotional. He’s the constant source of jokes and drama among the Fixers. He leads the excitement of the fixers, constantly getting the group into (and sometimes out of) trouble.
Next is Shu, the Vigilante Hitman. Shu is a bounty hunter and hitman, who mostly makes ends meet collecting debts on behalf of clients. Despite his lack of consideration, he’s not a bad person overall but he doesn’t show it.
Shu fills the mature tsundere (a character who acts mean to show affection for our non-weebs in the audience) archetype and his bad boy act might be what some players go for.
He is easily the coldest of the love interests, even moreso than Mozu. He makes a poor first impression by blowing smoke in Teuta’s face.
Conversely Helvetica, “the Specialist at Changing His Appearance,” is charming and charismatic in a snake-like way. He’s a plastic surgeon and never stops flirting with any woman if he can get away with it.
Helvetica fills the objectifying charmer archetype, and despite his demeaning comments players are meant to find him endearing in a dominant sort of way.
He is constantly judgmental, but manages to pass it off as passion. However that doesn’t change the fact that he’s constantly rating women on a scale of 1 to 100.
Next is Mozu the Autopsy Specialist. The youngest ever chief of the New Sieg Police’s Autopsy Department, Mozu is frequently absorbed in his work and has poor social skills due to being surrounded by corpses.
Mozu fills the archetype of the doll-like love interest. His appeal lies in being seemingly emotionless and awkward so players feel compelled to break him out of his shell.
He doesn’t have much going for him, but being an enigma is his entire schtick. It’s up to the player to figure out what makes him the way he is.
Lastly is Scarecrow the Self-Proclaimed Underworld Boss. Scarecrow is the glue that holds the Fixers together and coordinates their operations from his mansion with his techno-wizardry.
Surprisingly Scarecrow fills a role as an everyman among the love interests. He’s affable, awkward in a relatable way, and frequently puts his foot in his mouth. He sharply contrasts with the suaveness of the other love interests.
He’s easily the most approachable, despite his desperate act of ostentation. When he’s away from his console, it’s easy to forget he’s possibly the smartest of the Fixers.
Teuta becomes a part of this exclusive group after saving Limbo from death with her power. But with no way to honestly prove it, the group remains skeptical. She possesses some knowledge from her time traveling that -somewhat- proves it. But unfortunately that information also makes her appear more like an infiltrator hired by one of the many individuals who would want the Fixers dealt with.
Thus, Teuta is “encouraged” (more like forced) to live at the Fixer’s mansion now that she knows their secret dealings. However this is a small issue, as Teuta has become enamored with the group and their enforcement of their own justice and wants to use her powers to help people.
Her power plays a vital role in the first part of the story, but it’s really the only thing making her a valuable member of the Fixers. This sort of trope is common in Otome games, an average girl with an exceptional attribute allows players to self-insert more readily by empathizing with the heroines more mundane aspects.
The characters are colorful and unique with artwork done by Sumeragi Kohaku. The artist’s distinct style gives each characters (especially the heroine) a more saturated tone to their skin which gives a feeling of warmth. It’s a gratifying trait for an emotional game like an otome VN.
The backgrounds are done in a style that clearly resembles New York City, and the presence of American-like flags in many places makes the inspiration more obvious. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t a real place, if only to maintain suspension of disbelief.
New Sieg is some strange mishmash of Japanese, American, and Russian influences. So it will take some getting used to seeing a Japanese ikemen act like a New Yorker.
The movies are great, but with one flaw. The animations are blurry and grainy and I can’t tell if it’s an intentional effect for the noir aesthetic of the game, or if it’s actually poor quality.
Another problem with the animated portions is the lack of subtitles. The “camera” will zoom in on a bar that the characters are at and play dialogue as they have a conversation. But there’s no subtitles for any dialogue that takes place without the UI, meaning you have to delve into the backlog after the fact, if you realize it’s there. The quality of the translation also seems fine.
The voice work is passable, but that’s all that there really is to say about it. There’s no huge names among the main cast, and the most famous past work I could find was Mozu’s VA Fukuyama Jun being Joker’s voice in Persona 5.
The game does have some “gameplay” in the conventional sense. Choices matter, so of course there’s a story to explore, and choices to make. But also there’s more traditional detective work; and sometimes you’ll be pressured to remember details explained earlier in the story. This at least shakes things up enough to keep players on their toes.
Ultimately BUSTAFELLOWS could be the breakout hit of the otome genre, a genre woefully underserved in the west. With its appealing character design and flashy noir setting, it’s an easy to digest pretense for otherwise timid readers.
In BUSTAFELLOWS, players will look forward to a fun adventure and fun romances for women or for anyone who indulges in the simple pleasure of pretending to be a cute girl in video games.
BUSTAFELLOWS was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by PQube. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.