UGHGHG why has this been so hard to write. Anyway.
If you’re looking for an urban fantasy VN about blood-sucking creatures, mystic eyes of X perception, repressed memories, inappropriately-timed sexual innuendos and weird incest implications (plus, as a free bonus, pedophilia implications!), just go play Tsukihime. If you’ve played Tsukihime and loved Ciel so much you want a palette-swapped version of her in a knockoff story that also incorporates elements of Higurashi, you’ll probably get some mild enjoyment out of Aoi Shiro.
“Mild enjoyment” describes my experience with Aoi Shiro. I finished the whole thing and was interested enough in it, but it wasn’t really great and I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone. It was pretty heavily flawed, mostly beset by a bizarre route-railroading system as well as some obnoxious anime stock characters and serious, serious pacing issues. Mother of God the pacing issues.
I thought the long digressions into food preparation in Fate had prepared me for any food porn. I was wrong.The basic plot of this game is that a women’s high school kendo team heads to the seashore for a summer training camp. They stay at a temple, where they hear whisperings of a mysterious ritual and island that is forbidden and oni etc etc. Of course, all of the legends are true and it’s up to the team captain and protagonist, Syouko, to save the day.
Syouko herself was likable, but bland. I think the game wanted a strong silent type, but they just ended up writing a character without much personality. And part of the problem with writing that type of character is that when the protagonist doesn’t react to any of the events, nothing that happens has any real sense of urgency. Syouko takes everything in stride, which is a nice personality trait, but it annihilates the atmosphere of the story. She never worries about anything and she’s never phased by anything, so why should I get excited?
The secondary characters ranged from forgettable to obnoxious, and some of them… I’m not even sure why they were there. What was the purpose of Hime, from a plot perspective? Of Momoko? They could easily have been written out, and if the writers felt they needed characters to flesh out the “kendo team” part of the cast, they could at least have involved them in the story. I found Migiwa to be haughty and unlikable. I did like Kohaku a lot, and also Kaya, but their routes are locked so deep in the game that getting to them was annoying.
Then there was the pacing of this game, which was absolutely abysmal. I would honestly go as far as to say the majority of the game was just the team preparing meals and eating, and these long, long, long scenes were in common on each route. The game often went into long digressions about the etymology of character’s names and nicknames, as if to make a point about how clever it was. And speaking of routes! The game presents itself as a typical choose-your-own-adventure VN, but the truth is that you have to do the routes in a certain order, which means the choices have to be made a certain way to progress the game at all. Buuuut the game doesn’t tell you that, it just randomly dead-ends you without explanation if you try to pursue the ‘wrong’ character. This is phenomenally annoying. If you want me to play the game in a certain way, don’t give me the facade of choice in some bizarre attempt to… what? I don’t even know what the purpose was. Admit the game needs to be played a certain way and structure it accordingly.
The story was, as I said above, not particularly original or inspired. A small island community has a suspect ancient ritual that may or may not actually be supernatural. A Mysterious Girl washes up on the shore. Demons and spirits. Mystic eyes. The most interesting part of it was Kohaku, but I was irritated to find there was a lot of questions about her that never really got answered. Why does she call Ba Rouryu her foster father? How did they meet? The scenes from her past were disjointed and hard to follow. The Blue Castle of the title is never explained — what’s beyond the gate? Why does the gate exist there, and how did it get there? We never find out.
Then there’s the romance side of the game.
There’s some really, really weird implications here, first of all. The game intermittently and with no explanation uses blood-sucking as a literal energy transfer and metaphor for physical intimacy, which okay, pretty old concept even if it’s not elaborated on. But then after building it up as a sexual thing, Syouko goes on to have blood-sucking scenes with the older cousin she calls Nee-san and a child. It’s weird. Really weird, especially in Nami’s case since she’s mute and extra childlike on top of being physically a child. I’m not sure what the game was going for here, in either case, outside of possibly just not realizing its own implications.
Meanwhile, despite billing itself as a yuri game, there’s precious little yuri here, and what there is was odd and disjointed. Beside the bloodsucking, there’s this bizarre scene where Syouko helps Yasumi stretch for practice, but the whole thing is written as a sex scene, complete with moaning… as well as Yasumi shouting and pain and asking Syouko to stop, and Skyouko ignoring her. So on top of being a g-rated sex scene, it also has these weird rape implications. And it goes on way, way too long. Like waaaay too long. The only scene that actually felt like yuri to me was where Migiwa kisses Syouko in the temple, and it’s a quick peck — the scene was admittedly very cute and I liked it, but that alone doesn’t really strike me as enough for the game to bill itself first and foremost as yuri. I think anyone going to it for an exploration of relationships between women will be mightily disappointed.
There also some weirdly male-gazey aspects in the game that makes me wonder who the intended audience was, since yuri is generally targeted toward women. I am, perhaps obviously, not a lesbian, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve played a lot of romance games of all stripes aimed at women and lot aimed at men, and some things about this set off “aimed at men” bells for me. The non-con stretching scene was one of them. In particular, the whole thing with the bikini was really uncomfortable. The game relishing in Syouko’s humiliation and physical insecurity as something titillating is the kind of thing you see pretty much exclusively in media for men, since, I think, pretty much any woman would empathize with that feeling of insecurity instead of being turned on by it. Then there’s how gratuitous and unnecessary the whole thing was, a beach scene in a story about sacrifice and murder that smashed the fourth wall and was clearly there for the sake of the audience. There was very little focus on romance in this story and lot on female sexualization, which is the inverse of how yuri for women usually is. Whether this was some weird internalized misogyny by the author, the game existing on the fringe of the genre, or just coincidental I don’t know, but the game consistently came across as not interested so much in the relationships between Syouko and Yasumi/Migiwa/Kohaku as it was making sure the audience got the chance to see the ~sexy lesbians~. Which is gross.
Overall, I’m not really sure what story this game wanted to tell. It doesn’t commit to any aspect — not the romance, not the supernatural, not even the protagonist’s personal development. It was the kind of game that Happens, and then it’s over, and you move on. I think it’s blandness is one of the reasons this post was so tough to write. If you’re bored, like VNs, and want the most mild yuri humanly possible, this may amuse you for a couple of days. Otherwise, you’re not missing anything by passing it up.