Weblin is a kingdom inhabited by both humans and demi-humans, creatures who have the power to shift between both human and animal forms. For many years, humans, cats, and wolves shared political power, but one day the wolves revolted, plunging the country into chaos. At around the same time, a terrible plague called zodiba began to spread and the wolves were suspected to be the cause. This led to King Garibaldi calling for the extermination of all wolves... Our story begins 10 years later with Fiona, the only daughter of the Earl Galland. Because of her weak immune system and fragility due to a congenital disease, she has spent most of her sheltered life basically locked away in a tower. What will happen to her when she is accused of being a witch and is forcibly taken from the only home she has ever known...?
Black Wolves Saga -Bloody Nightmare-
ブラック ウルヴス サーガ -Bloody Nightmare- (website)
Age Rating: CERO C / 15+
Date of Release: April 26, 2012
Voice Cast: Sakurai Takahiro, Yoshino Hiroyuki, Morikawa Toshiyuki, Kaji Yuuki, Taniyama Kishou, Hosoya Yoshimasa, Miki Shinichirou, Ishida Akira
Bloody Nightmare is a companion game to Last Hope, which recently came out for PSP. It's often advertised as the darker game and certainly it's more bleak and violent than many other otome games, but there's so much more to it than that. I was originally drawn to the game because of its dark gothic aesthetic, but soon found that the game's best point is actually how it's a surprisingly well-written political drama. In fact, romance in the game is often shunted aside in favor of exploring the complex relationships between the different characters and groups in the game. Despite the cats being the focus of Bloody Nightmare for most of the game, you never really feel as if they are the heroes. In fact, both the cats and the wolves occupy a sort of moral gray area that makes it difficult to completely sympathize with either group. It's this moral ambiguity each character has that makes BWS so unique.
Story & writing
It's difficult to sum up the storyline of BWS and I actually struggled a bit with the plot summary at the top of this post because there's just so much going on. If you reduce the story to the present timeline with Fiona as the central character, you lose all the complicated past relationships that led to the current situation. It's important to note that understanding the past is very important in this game. You really can't understand the present situations without it. All of the characters, including our heroine, were shaped by their (often traumatic) pasts, for better or for worse. The game does a pretty good job exploring that for the most part, though obviously this game focuses on the Garibaldi twins, Mejojo and Auger.
BWS actually changes points of view a few times throughout the story. You start with Rath in the forest, but then later you get to see a few scenes from Auger's point of view before the story really gets to Fiona. All this widens your perspective on what's going on in the story and makes it harder to really favor one faction over the other.
This story deals with some heavy themes that you don't often see in otoge. There are physical and mental torture scenes, discussion of suicide, character death, disease, and then even the "happy endings" aren't what you would usually expect from an otome game. The characters are all flawed and so there are no happily ever afters that will magically solve things for all of them. There are many plot twists that you will not expect and just when you start to think to yourself, "Surely the writers won't go there..." they don't just cross the line, they let Auger throw a party a mile past it. People who love intense storylines will love BWS for this. People who prefer happier tales and sweeter romances probably won't enjoy it so much.
Unfortunately, though BWS takes many risks with its story and a lot of them pay off, there are a few shortcomings in this area. There is a particular point in the story where a very important decision is basically made for you in a rather unrealistic way. This was not handled well and made a lot of the later plots a bit difficult to swallow when they were the result of something you did not agree with or want to happen.
Also, because of the large cast, not all the characters were fleshed out as well as the twins were. It's understandable that the wolves were not elaborated on as much since this was the cats' game and the wolves get their shot later in Last Hope. However, the family routes felt rather tacked on because their plots weren't integrated with the main story and conflict much at all. I found Nesso and Zara's routes incredibly boring because of this; they didn't add much to the story or to my understanding of the game's world. Apparently, this was something many other people agreed with, as Rejet seems to have addressed it in Last Hope. The family routes were reportedly improved upon there, but of course, that is neither here nor there.
The game's writing is mostly very good. It is occasionally poetic and is, on the whole, very dark and descriptive, as you would expect from this genre. It does, however, tend to get a little info-dumpish. I can't even count how many times the game explained certain concepts over and over, making subsequent playthroughs of the game very long even when skipping. Luckily, the game does have a jump feature that makes it a bit easier to skip through scenes, but the jump feature also jumps over things you have yet to read or see, so be careful with that when playing.
The cast of BWS runs the gamut of psychologically disturbed and morally conflicted, yet all of them have their charms. You will likely fall deeply in love with at least one character and absolutely hate another. As to which characters you will love to hate and hate to love... There actually isn't much consensus on favorite characters in this series--no universal favorite like there so often is in other otoge. That polarized response just goes to show how diverse the cast is. I will try to briefly describe each obtainable character in the context of Bloody Nightmare.
Mejojo is very much the star of the show in Bloody Nightmare and most of the story's events involve him in some way. The crown prince of Weblin, he is next in line to become king. More importantly, he has been interested in marrying Fiona for years. He is none too happy with her father's constant refusal on the basis of Fiona's weak constitution.
Fiona comments many times on how beautiful and perfectly princely Mejojo is and certainly that is true. However, like many other princes, Mejojo is also rather self-important and single-minded. Having made it his goal to obtain Fiona, he will stop at nothing to see that through. Mejojo has a perhaps surprisingly immature side and a very large inferiority complex that drives his actions and ambitions. His obsession with Fiona is probably second to none.
Auger is Mejojo's younger twin brother. He has absolutely no desire to rule and thus spends all of his time supporting his beloved older brother and carrying out Mejojo's wishes—no matter how morally reprehensible they might be. Unlike Mejojo, Auger cares little for Fiona, often wondering aloud why someone as great as his brother would care for such an unattractive whelp.
Even Fiona is well aware of Auger's lack of sincerity. Unlike his serious older brother, Auger is flippant, generally careless, and hedonistic. He is happy to leave the country and other boring matters to his brother while he gallivants around. Do not be fooled by his merry exterior, however. Auger has a very sharp mind and is, perhaps, even more of a force to be reckoned with than Mejojo.
Arles V. Felnoir (CV: Morikawa Toshiyuki)
Once an honored and beloved royal knight of Weblin and trusted even by King Garibaldi himself, Arles reportedly later led a revolt against the monarchy 10 years before the story's beginning and was thus driven out along with the other wolves. Arles is now the king of the wolves and the leader of the wolf resistance. He is consumed by his desire for revenge against the Garibaldis and justice for his people.
Arles is as serious as he is vicious, stopping at nothing to fulfill his goals. He crosses paths with Fiona later in the story, but she is awed by his beauty and mysteriousness from the moment they first meet despite the circumstances. There is a gentle sadness that tinges Arles' entire being and makes one wonder whether he's really the monster others make him out to be.
Rath is often considered to be the canon love interest of Black Wolves Saga, as he and Fiona have more in common with each other and thus seem to have more of a connection. Not much is known about Rath except that he is apparently Arles' younger brother.
Quiet and reserved, Rath is the seeming opposite of his charismatic older brother. Many times, we see Rath struggle with his inner turmoil. Though he wishes to help his brother and to do right by the dwindling wolf population, some of the things he's asked to do conflict with his sense of right and wrong. Having lived much of his life surrounded by bloodshed and conflict, Rath is unsure of what he wants to do—he only knows what he must do. No matter his reservations, it's at least clear that he hates the Garibaldis just as much as his comrades do.
Guillan is one of the two Bloody Nightmare-only characters, meaning that he appears in Last Hope, but is not an obtainable love interest there. He is Arles' second-in-command, often doing the dirty work that Rath has too much guilt and honor to go through with. Little is known about his past or if he has surviving family, but Guillan is very devoted to both Arles and the wolves. Guillan hates the Garibaldis and loves killing; luckily (or not), the two things often go hand in hand.
Despite his bloodthirsty exterior, Guillan is actually rather child-like. His self-important behavior belies an insecure desire to be useful to and appreciated by Arles. Guillan loves being praised and he demands respect and affection, but is hilariously unsure of what to do with it once he receives any.
Julian is a gardener who eventually becomes Fiona's caretaker and friend when she starts to live in the castle early in the story. Like Guillan, Julian is a Bloody Nightmare exclusive. Despite being a cat and living in the castle, his route is tied more to the family routes for a time.
In sharp contrast to the twins, Julian is quiet and kind. He cares very much for Fiona's well-being and the two often have tea together and enjoy polite conversation as they muse over their current circumstances. There is a sort of mysterious darkness to Julian, however, and it's apparent that there is more to him than meets the eye.
Nesso is Fiona's older half-brother, born of the Earl's first late wife. He is a royal knight of Weblin, largely considered to be the strongest of them all. He is also the captain of the Gefreiter, an elite band of soldiers that include his best friend Elza. Because of this, Nesso is often away on missions and can't spend as much time with his beloved younger sister as much as he would like.
Nesso is extremely protective of his younger sister and does not even try to hide the fact that he loves her and would personally like to marry her, something which apparently isn't taboo in the world of BWS. He is strongly in favor of keeping Fiona in the tower both for her own protection and to keep her from Mejojo, but Nesso soon learns how impossible a task that is.
Zara is a war orphan whom the Earl took in many years ago. He is, to put it simply, Fiona's caretaker while she lives in the tower. He takes care of her basic needs and is always there with her, as Nesso and the Earl have other things to attend to a lot of the time. Being a rabbit, Zara has a natural talent for medicines and herbology, so it's also thanks to him that Fiona has survived for as long as she has. Though he is technically a servant, Fiona has known him for so long that they're more like childhood friends.
As you would expect from a caretaker, Zara is rather fussy and matronly, though there is kindness underneath. He is fairly strict and occasionally sarcastic with her, but it's obvious that Zara cares a great deal for Fiona.
BWS has most of the features you would expect of an otome game, as well as some Rejet staples. The first of these Rejet staples is the in-game dictionary, pictured above. (this system also appears in Tokyo Yamanote Boys) This is a rather detailed dictionary—almost an encyclopedia, really—that contains vocabulary words unique to the game as well as some more difficult kanji. Words encountered for the first time appear in red and a definition pops up when the word is clicked.
BWS also has CG clicks. When a CG pops up in the game, you get the ability to click on various parts of the image to hear little extra voice clips. These aren't as fanservicey as the ones in Tokyo Yamanote Boys, but they are still fun and quite illuminating at times, as well, providing another layer of detail to some scenes.
Another Rejet staple is the Memory section, which contains every single scene in the game. Each scene is labeled and has a little description in case you can't tell what the scene is just by looking at its title. This is great if you want to see a particular scene without having to skip through the whole game to find it, especially since the scenes are in chronological order for the most part. The only flaw of this system is that there are so many scenes in this long game (around 200) that scrolling through all the pages can be pretty tedious. I do wish Rejet had included some sort of page number or page jump system instead of just using the back and next buttons.
A feature fairly unique to BWS is the Grooming system. Upon finishing a character's route, you get the ability to "groom" them in this sort of mini-game. What this amounts to is clicking the characters on different parts of their body to make that little heart meter go up or down. When it goes all the way up or all the way down, there is a little bit of dialogue and a special expression. The guys also say different things depending on where and when you click them. It's a nice bit of fanservice to make up for how dark and depressing most of the actual game is.
A final unique feature of the game is the Extra Voice section. Each character has three volumes of clips. The first volume contains the character stating things such as their name, height, and other personal details. Volume 2 has ending-related clips plus a special clip for after you've seen all of that character's endings. Volume three is more fanservice, with three "animal sound" clips (for example, the cats say some sentences while throwing in "nya") and two "sweet" phrases/passages. While the last volume is just a bit of fun, the first two volumes often reveal some secrets about the character or show more of what they're really like, so they're a treasure trove of characterization for those who like that sort of thing.
In general, as you've seen in the caps I've presented, the game has a very beautiful visual style. The art looks painted because of the textures and there's no doubt that the game is visually appealing. There are a few problems with anatomy that you see rather often in otome games. The characters are all unnaturally lanky and long-limbed, for example. There are also some times where the art isn't very consistent. A few characters look very different depending on which sprite pose you're looking at or which CG you're looking at. Zara, for example, fluctuates between looking his age and looking about 14 years old. There's also a little quirk where the characters will be posing like they're swinging a sword or another weapon, but their sprite isn't actually holding anything. You have to laugh a few times when Nesso appears like that. (they fixed it in Last Hope, it seems) The art is still gorgeous despite these minor flaws, however. There were many points where I had to stop and stare at the beautifully rendered backgrounds, too. The nice little touches such as sprite animations and rain also add a little extra pizzazz to the game.
The UI is very pretty, as well. It's designed to be functional, but is also nicely dark and gothic to match the game's themes and tone. Things are labeled well, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding the right buttons to click.
The audio is where the game really shines. BWS boasts an all-star voice cast and they're all at their best for this game. The cats, in particular, have a very wide range of emotion that they display throughout the story and the seiyuu all portray this realistically. Yoshino Hiroyuki is particularly good in his role as Auger, especially striking since he doesn't play this sort of character often. Hosoya is also amazing as Julian—certain scenes with him will give you the chills, seriously. The rest of the cast is very good, but these two particularly stood out to me.
The soundtrack is beautiful, as well—so much so that Rejet released not one but three music CDs for BWS. I, of course, bought all three and often listen to the soundtrack when I feel like being inspired or transported to a fantasy world. The music is atmospheric and pretty, but isn't too intrusive. The game has the odd feature where the music is automatically softened whenever a character is talking. I understand that this is to make it easier to hear the voice acting, but considering that players can set their own desired volumes for sound effects, music, and voice acting, this seemed largely unnecessary to me and was a bit jarring in some places.
The sound effects didn't really stand out to me. There weren't very many of them in the first place—just the usual things like clashing swords and whooshing sounds. The ones that were in the game were a bit on the cheesy side and it's pretty obvious they were using stock sounds rather than things recorded specifically for this game. Still, the sfx served its purpose, so I suppose that's all you can really ask for.7.5Ultimately, I give this game a 7.5/10. This may come as a surprise to those who see me constantly talk about this game, but ultimately I feel that there are some issues the game has that make it hard for me to give it a higher score. I didn't particularly enjoy Arles' or Rath's routes because they were so stunted. While I can see why they did this—to give Last Hope more content—it made it hard to really relate to them in this game. I've also already mentioned my issues with the family routes. All this means that I only actually enjoyed about half of the game's routes. The other things such as art and music factor in and that's why everything averages to about 75%.
I highly recommend this game to those who like darker stories or who enjoy their otoge more for the story and character development than for the romance. BWS is closer to Game of Thrones than an otome game, really. You shouldn't go into BWS expecting a beautiful fairy tale, but if you want to be intellectually challenged a bit and immersed in a beautifully haunting fantasy world, this is definitely the game for you.