Sometimes it feels like games are competing to be as dark and anguished as possible in an attempt to wring a strong emotional response from us. I like getting pulled into a story, but it can be tiring.
Several of these dark otome titles came out recently – Reine des Fleurs, Yoshiwara Higanbana, even Code:Realize and Norn9 are on the more serious side of the genre. So I’ve been using Yunohana Spring as a pick-me-up between playing these games, and it works really well.
The heroine, Yunoha, is the daughter of an ‘okami’ (a female manager of a hot springs inn) of the Fukujuro inn in Kanazawa, a small city on the western coast of Japan known for its historical Edo atmosphere. But she always dreamt of being a fashion designer, so against her mother’s wishes (I guess her dad’s dead?), she ran away to Tokyo three years ago after graduating high school, went to design school and hasn’t been in contact since.
As the story begins, Yunoha gets an urgent phone call from her childhood friend Kintarou (Kin-chan) (CV: KENN), saying that her mom has collapsed and she needs to return as soon as possible.
When she gets back home, Kin-chan says her mom is recovering somewhere (for some reason Yunoha can’t see her), so she needs to take over as the okami for three months until her mom is at full health. Yunoha reluctantly agrees, and meets the other current staff members – besides Chiyo, the head maid, and Haru-chan, the head chef, both of whom she remembers, there’s also a maid, Nanao, who’s around Yunoha’s age, Kouta, the apprentice chef (CV: Ishida Akira), and Nao (CV: Sugiyama Noriaki), a former guest whose credit card got rejected when he was checking out, so he’s staying around to work off his charge. Also, once you start, this guy named Izumi (CV: Kimura Ryouhei) from the rival hot springs inn starts popping up every couple days trying to flirt and get some attention. There’s also another route, but I think he only shows up if you don’t have high enough affection with any of the other guys to start their route, so I haven’t seen him yet.
Yunoha starts out reluctantly but starts to enjoy serving guests more and more, and the common route has several miniplots around helping guests with their problems. Fukujuro isn’t that busy, so there’s a lot of time to focus on each guest. In each situation, you, as Yunoha, have to make a decision which determines if your ‘okami’ level goes up or down.
As per usual in otome games, there are also several decision points where you pick what to do or who to depend on, and after a few chapters, you split off into a character route. After the split, the character route is not that long, and once you’ve played through once, you can choose where to start again, so you can easily start at the end of the common route and play through in a couple hours (or less maybe).
None of the routes are too angsty, and problems are resolved quickly. The aesthetic tone is very pleasant, the patterns and backgrounds have a traditional Japanese feel, and even the colour palette is soothing. There are also chapter intra-scenes with ‘previews’ of the next chapter, where different characters narrate completely wrong ideas of what will happen next (e.g. when Kouta does it, he makes up a story about opening up a zoo).
The game is definitely shorter than average, but long intros and plots which go around in circles to extend the running time annoy me a lot, so I don’t mind this too much. I’d like some more time with the characters, and even though there’s an extra short story for each character after you finish, the volume isn’t really enough to make me recommend this at full price. However, if you could get it on sale (or if you’re willing to overpay a bit for a cute otome game like me), I think it’s a nice change from all the gloomy titles around – if for nothing else, as a palate cleanser between games.