Tengoku Struggle Strayside – Review

Tengoku will be localised 2024!

Setting

You are Rin the adopted daughter of the king of hell Enma and as a handful of prisoners suddenly escaped you have to capture them with the help of four trusted sinners, all with their own burden to carry. For this purpose you need to live with them together on earth to find out what the escaped prisoners are plotting and how to bring them back to hell.

If that wasn’t difficult enough, it turns out as soon as the sinners are out of enma’s reach, they defy Rin, as they all hate women for their deceptiveness and weakness. Same as Rin, who hates men as in hell she only got to know the lowest of scumbacks and is one of the rare cases, who forgot about her past life once she died and came to hell. So now a man hater lives together with four men, who are women haters and they somehow have to work together to capture the prisoners and return to hell. But to effectively work together you have to trust each other and even find out which regrets and attachments still bind them to earth.

Characters

You first have to play Kiku, Yona and Sharaku, to unlock Jack and finally Goemon

Sharaku

I started with Sharaku

The frivolous flirt, who was in hell for his affairs and killing.

And he really is an unprecedented flirt, who always is ironic and has a cleaning fetish. 

Accordingly his route starts off pretty wild and he continues to be pushy and flirty and quite outspoken. But acting gentle towards others, Rin cannot help but wonder, how these hands could kill. These two really struggle to get closer, as both seem to have severe trust issues, they then decide to tackle together, as Sharaku desperately needs to become stronger in order to fight one of the prisoners.

Though I usually like flirts, I have a problem with push overs, when they are as outspoken as Sharaku, which kind of sucks the romance out of a situation putting everything into words. But that at the same time means you can clearly witness how they get closer as they articulate it clearly. I also think Sharaku had one of the most tragic background stories and in his route they really fight together, which was nice to see.

His voice actor Ishikawa Kaito石川 界人, who also voiced Dante in Piofiore or Lucien in Even if Tempest, did a great job voicing this character a very playful and funny way.

Kiku

Kikunosuke is the youngest of the sinners and was in hell for stealing. He loves gaming arcades and eats a lot as he can also take the form of a wolf.

As he finds out that his little sister is part of the escaped prisoners, he cannot believe it. Ayami used to be such a sweet child, why did she even fall into hell and even support the escaped prisoner’s scheme?

As Kiku is the youngest and thus a bit childish in behaviour and voice, voiced by the same voice actor as Yves in Shuuen no Virche, or Shungen in Birushana Saitou Souma斉藤 壮馬 I wasn’t super excited for his route. But as expected his ability to change into wolf form gave his route a unique and even surprising twist. And similar to Tokisada in Olympia Soirée he looks cute, but still has his manly sides when it comes to the romantic scenes.For me his route featured the most interesting side characters with an interesting development, andaccompanied by Kiku’s cuteness, I enjoyed the route more than expected. 

Yona

As soon as I saw him in the promotional material I was excited for Yona. He comes off as the most aggressive and hateful man, who easily gets into fights and thus als was in hell for killing people. But you quickly realise how easily he gets flustered when treated nicely and what a cute tsundere he is, calling the heroine baka, whenever he’s overwhelmed by his own emotions.

His route was one of the most emotional routes for me. He has such a tough shell, but his heart is so soft that he can even cry over a samurai movie. Yona is such a lovely guy, strong and soft at the same time, with a warm heart and touching back story. I felt that their love progressed the most naturally and their romance scenes also were one of the steamiest I’ve ever seen. Though this is probably because I liked Yona the most and thus his romantic scenes had the biggest impact on me. Without a doubt he earns my most sexy award.

Also his voice actor Suzuki Ryouta鈴木崚汰 shows such a wide range of emotions and tones, I would gladly see him in more roles. He can sound angry, sweet, childish, earnest or cry so your heart will break.

Jack

After those three you have to play Jack

The mysterious singer and broadcaster who has fans all over Japan, but he himself doesn’t have a girlfriend as he’s afraid of not being able to die together – or that’s at least what he says on one of the shows supporting the escaped prisoners. So you could technically say they are the enemies to lovers trope, as he’s working for the prisoners and Rin needs to use him in order to obtain information about them.

That leads to their relationship starting out as a lie, which I don’t really appreciate as it’s hard for me to tell, which signs of affection are genuine and which are not. This is also the reason why their love progressed very slowly.  That’s why I think the best part of Jack’s route is not him, but the funny banters he has with the others and how he becomes part of this weird group of sinners. So I would say his route was the most amusing, yet slow sometimes and party carried by his gorgeous voice actor Furukawa Makoto古川 慎, who also voiced allan in Cupid Parasie Crius in Even if Tempest, Yoritomo in Birushana and Kazuma in Lover Pretend.

Goemon

Lastly Goemon is unlocked, who from the very beginning of the game, in the first seconds, is obviously presented as the true route for obvious reasons. And this reason makes his route feel immensely sad. They have a very tragic backstory that becomes even more tragic the more you progress in his route and is almost unbearably cruel in the final showdown.

And that though Goemon would earn all the happiness in the world as he is from the beginning the only one who doesn’t bully her, and tries to mediate between the MC and the other women haters. 

So his route is about revealing Rin’s past as well as the motives of the escaped prisoners and main culprit. 

As a true route his route indeed felt a bit more plot heavy, but most of the information was scattered throughout the route or revealed in the final showdown, which really challenged my sanity. Here the game shows its true colours and is gonna bend your mind and heart with all the revelations.

Which was kind of a shame regarding Goemon was that in the common route and even in some character routes it was almost rubbed in your face that he’s the true route and you’d better be together with him. Though it was satisfying to finally romance him at last, his route felt so bitter-sweet due to all what he’s suffered through and their tragic past. I cried so hard, my eyes hurt and I felt down for the rest of the evening. And now just hearing his voice Yashiro Taku八代 拓 who also voices Adoplhe in Shuuen no Virche, makes me teary eyed as he’s such a gentle character and definitely deserves better. I like tragedy, but that was almost too tragic. Their true route was so tragic that I almost preferred their bed ending.

Because the bad endings are nothing really to be afraid of if you don’t like to play bad endings. I would even say they are rather alternative than really bad endings. They’re not as messed up as the ones in OS or Nil Ado even.

Tone

The tone is really difficult to describe.

The game starts off light-hearted and slice of life-ey, having to live together with these sinners, who hate you in the beginning and by the end of the common route are too tsundere to say they took a liking to you. There are many scenes which will make you laugh out loud, be it the banters of the cast or the quirky side characters.   

But until everyone becomes almost like a little family with their little quirks but caring about each other, you will have to withstand some bullying and really harsh words.

On the other hand the character routes are mainly about solving each LI’s trauma, which obviously screams tragedy. And with each vastly different character route you play the secrets get darker, until you reach the utmost tragedy in Goemon’s route. Though the game is not graphically explicit for the most parts, what is described or mentioned can be awful. So it’s definitely nothing for the faint heart.

I think this is one of the few games though which succeeded in combining humour with tragedy without that either of these felt out of place. After a tragic scene about the LI’s trauma you could have a cute banter about Yona forgetting to wear a shirt in the living room again, for example, or what they want for breakfast. But somehow the game manages to transition between these scenes seamlessly. 

It also manages to explain a lot of the mythological background so much that your trusted cat Tama even feels the need to break the fourth wall to explain the world building to you. 

That means there is a lot of world building in the long common route.

The common route took me as long as each character route with about 8-9 hours, but never did any of the routes feel long. You need the common route for the whole set up of the story, which really is immensely interesting- though I don’t want to go into too much detail, and to introduce the side characters at least shortly, as there are a lot of them, each with their own history and it was a pleasure to get to know them more deeply in some character routes. And I’m sure every single side character will have a group of fans wishing for a route for them –  I’m team Enma.

While I thought Olympia Soirée had some pacing issues here and there, it didn’t feel like that with Tengoku struggle. There wasn’t a single boring scene or scene without consequences for the course of the story and character development. Either plot happened or romantic development closely followed by plot progression again.  

So there is of course the overarching plot about the escaped prisoners, the game is probably more character driven, having to deepen the bonds with the LIs by solving their trauma so they are able to take on one of the prisoners each.

That means that their love development is the centre of attention as it also serves the purpose of progressing the plot. So first the romance, then the plot.

And for almost all routes I would say the love development felt well paced, relatable and genuine. As their task is to get closer and get to know each other, it’s easy to understand why they fall in love. The heroine though inexperienced and a former man hater, also plays a huge role in this development as she’s relatively pro active, strong and – thirsty, very thirsty

She often has thoughts like wanting to hug the LI or not averting her eyes from his beautiful face and thinking about his touch. This way you can easily relate to her falling in love. 

And similar to both Nil Admirari no Tenbin and Olympia Soirèe the love scenes are many and they are steamy, very steamy. Be it kissing sounds from the VAs or descriptions of where their hands are wandering. If you are a fan of steamy otome games, you won’t be disappointed. 

Though the game has a great mixture of sweet and steamy scenes, not favouring one over the other, so when the steamy scenes come you feel like you have a well established relationship with them and are ready for the next step. That said, in two routes some of these scenes felt a bit rushed and didn’t really flow with the story, in my opinion. But in the other three routes the steam was a nice addition to a well written and emotional love story.

Art

Satoi’s art is unarguably one of the most beautiful. Especially the sprites are not from this world, how neat and detailed and stunning they are. The CGs draw you in, are in important moments, in interesting perspectives and are varied and dynamic. The only thing I missed, was considering we have one CG like this,

I would have liked to get more of thiiis also in romantic scenes. Why give us thiiis if we cannot see it in action – am I really saying that? They mostly stick to clothes in the romantic scenes which is kind of a bummer? Really? And in general I think the romantic scenes can look a bit static and not as hot as what is described is happening. Like in some kiss scenes their lips don’t even meet or even when a tongue is involved you don’t see one. Ok I’ll see me off to horny jail.

Kidding, in proud of my hornyness, like we all are who are interested in this game!!

The only aspect I’d criticise is the music. I know it’s a modern setting, but nevertheless I would have wished for an orchestrated soundtrack. But it mostly sticks to technical and rocky music, which is fitting in general, but not my personal taste. I missed some more tragic and impactful tunes so sadly I can’t really praise the music this time.

Learn Japanese

I can’t really recommend learning Japanese with this game, I think it is on an advanced level and uses a lot of unusual kanji and uncommon words. I really struggled quite a bit and would only recommend it to advanced learners or if you’re willing to look up a lot and still not understand everything – like me.

Verdict

Being by the same team as Nil Admirari no Tenbin and Olympia Soirée, expectations were high for Tengoku Struggle. But I think they met or even surpassed these expectations by combining the best of the last two games.

You have the heavy mythological influence, even more than in Olympia Soirée I’d say, so much you will have to use the in-game dictionary a lot or even take the time to look up all the mythological references yourself, as most of them do exist outside the game as well.

And you also have the variety of side characters, similar to Nil Admirari no Tenbin, who all have their own goals and hidden motives, you get to know in the course of the character routes until you can make sense of the whole network of side characters in the last roue, which will leave you speechless.

And of course you have the extremely well paced and relatable love development, which is accompanied by extremely steamy scenes and scenes which will make you scream or your heart skip a beat.

And lastly you have various moral topics woven into the story, what is right or wrong, what does it mean to live a human life? Can and should you judge a character by their deeds? Is there good and evil? This game might have you reflect on your own life, reconsidering what is right and wrong. Quite similar to Nil Admirari no Tenbin in this regard, which you should definitely play if you like Tengoku Struggle.

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