The much-awaited official English version of DRAMAtical Murder has been released by JAST USA almost a month ago. Curious of what the new translation will bring to the game -which I played, like many, back in 2013 with the fan-translation-, I got myself a copy and went back in the shoes of BL game community’s most famous, blue-haired protagonist.
DRAMAtical Murder is the story of Aoba Seragaki, a man who grew up in the fictional island of Midorijima where people used to live in harmony with nature until the Toue corporation bought off most of the territory to build a gigantic amusement resort only accessible to the wealthy. The Old District, the one place that resists Toue’s influence is now rife with police corruption and gang wars, and the virtual battle game Rhyme is taking its foot amongst the youth with some becoming addicted. Aoba wants none of that and just wishes for a simple life until strange events and even stranger people gather around him. Aoba then has no choice but to fight for those he holds dear while keeping the sanity of his chosen partner and his own in check.
A 23 years old man who lived all his life in Midorijima.
Aoba was raised by his grandmother into a caring and compassionate individual, which will prove to be both his strength and his downfall in the many conflicts he gets dragged in.
Aoba’s closest companion. Ren is an old allmate model with a calm and mature demeanor that assists Aoba and looks out for his physical and mental health.
Inside the virtual battlefield of Rhyme, Ren takes on a human form and fights for Aoba.
Aoba’s childhood friend and best bro, Koujaku is a hairdresser who leads a small Rib gang called Beni-Shigure.
His friendly attitude and womanizing tendencies hide some deep wounds and heavy secrets he would rather keep hidden from those he loves.
A standoffish young man with a bratty attitude who meets Aoba by forcing him into a Rhyme fight.
Noiz is part of the Rhyme team Ruff Rabbits and uses his hacking skills to gather and sell information.
His trust issues are a source of conflict with Aoba.
A no-bullshit man with an imposing presence who leads an Rib team of ex-convicts called Scratch.
Minks sees Aoba and his own self as a means to an end to take down Toue, which he harbors a deep grudge against. As a result, his relationship with Aoba is quite complicated.
Clear is a strange individual who literally crashes into Aoba’s life, calls him “master” and claims to have heard his voice from miles away.
His strange and cheerful antics provide comic relief whenever he is around but make to mistake: he’s stronger than he looks and his route is funny until it’s not.
Aoba’s grandmother who pretty much raised him instead of his parents. She’s a tough woman who used to be a neuroscientist for Toue’s company.
Even when she’s not here, she’s a strong presence in Aoba’s life and provides him medication for his headaches.
Another close friend of Aoba’s, Mizuki is the proud leader of Dry Juice, the largest Ribster gang in Midorijima which he sees as his own family.
He hates Rhyme as its growing popularity is detrimental to Rib. Despite being asked multiple times, Aoba always refused to join Dry Juice.
Virus and Trip
A duo of carefree yakuza men who have known Aoba for a long time and call themselves his “fans” for some reason.
They have contact with the police and manifest themselves in the strangest times. Despite their look, their will vehemently deny being twins.
The Big Bad, the man who own the gigantic amusement facility called Platinum Jail, which overtakes most of the Midorijima island.
Toue sees life as a game that he is currently winning and he would like to see how far he can go before fate stops him.
Designed for immersion
Playing DMMd, you would be forgiven if you had the feeling you weren’t playing a visual novel but good old J-RPG. This is by design: special effects, use of 3D for décor, video overlays for some animated sequences and and other technical prowesses are part of Nitroplus’ trademark. These effects hold up well in 2021 and remain unmatched in the BL category.
For example, there are parts where you’ll hear a vibration that slowly gets louder. This isn’t just for atmosphere. Since DMMd is a first-person game, we wanted you to feel what Aoba is feeling, the growing terror of having something inside your head.Liner Notes of Akkyun, staging director of DMMd, translated by JAST USA
This, I guess, makes DMMd a good starter visual novel for people who are new to the genre and won’t feel too lost at the lack of choice or whatever people consider “not a video game”. Overall, playing DMMd feels good.
While playing it again after several years, I often found myself wondering “would I be able to reproduce that in the Ren’py engine?” the answer was often “yes, but it will be a slow, stuttering mess”. Better luck with Unity or Unreal engine, for C++ and C# (used if I recall correctly for the in-house Nitro engine) languages are faster than Python. With that said, if you are a game developer yourself, don’t feel too bad: at the time of DMMd’s release, Nitro+ already had 10 years of experience and dozens of games under its belt, as well as a large team of professionals, art assistants and an art director. You just can’t compare yourself to them.
Cyberpunk with (lots of) feelings
DRAMAtical Murder doesn’t brag about its cyberpunk-ness. Actually, I think the term was only brought up recently by its English publisher JAST Blue, possibly to hop on on the controversies brought up by the release of Cyberpunk 2077 and how this game doesn’t live up to its own name.
And yet in DMMd, cyberpunk is everywhere. It’s in the lovingly detailed backgrounds of the Old District, ravaged by a megacorporation but populated with all kinds of people who look out for each other and just want to live their life, in sharp contrast with the cold, sterile luxury of Platinum Jail that’s filled with rich people who believes themselves to be the “chosen ones”. It’s in the troubled and painful past of its cast, filled with betrayal, abandonment, scientific malpractices and loss of loved ones, who need to learn or relearn the concept of being loved and finding that life may be worth living. It’s in Aoba’s indignation when he sees Toue on a TV spreading kind words of compassion with a benevolent smile while he and his company perform literal crimes against humanity. It’s also in the robots, virtual fights and fancy technology, but those are just fluff.
You get the idea: behind its crisp and colorful visual with catchy electronic music that inspired many memes, DRAMAtical Murder is a story about how love, self-acceptance and ultimately accepting and making peace with your past is stronger than any obstacle that comes your way. A good example of this is how in each route, Aoba must come in terms with how his power, associated with destruction, can be used to “destroy” the chains the bind his love interest to his past and traumas so he can move on and complete his quest.
Sticking to the formula
DMMd’s story structure doesn’t change much, if at all throughout its 5 routes. The “common route”, which goes from the beginning of the game to right before Aoba sets route to Platinum Jail, roughly takes half of your average playthrough(~5h?), while the love interest’s route takes the other half or a bit less. By the time you get midway through your second game, which is likely to be Noiz’s route if you go by the recommended playing order, you have most of the story patterns figured out and know the next part will play out.
The story bends itself backward and goes through a lot of convenient shortcuts so that all the routes get an equivalent script length, character development, sex/romantic scenes and ending, with some minor irregularities. The game takes special care in not mentioning love interests outside of their own route except the last one, as if their intervention would disrupt the balance and cause a major game crash. Aoba’s actions influence his love interest for the most part, while the overarching plot resolves itself with a Deus Ex Machina –an outside force neither he nor the player has any control of. The only route lacking such feature is Mink’s, which is also the longest and the least romance-focused.
With that said, the story that IS there remains solid on the most part and you’re kept on your toes throughout each route, with each character coming with his own secrets, emotional baggage and set of challenges for Aoba. When put side by side, they give you a better look at the universe Aoba lives in and the various ways the Toue corporation tries to screw everyone over. And so, you are never stuck with a sense of repetitiveness for too long.
The best boy
This time the best boy award goes to Clear! While all of Aoba’s potential suitors have interesting story arcs as well as their emotional or cute moments, Clear’s route provides a wide range of emotions. There is not much I can say without going into spoiler territory, but simply put, he starts out as comic relief and his silliness gives you a few good chuckles until about halfway through his storyline, then proceeds to punch you repeatedly in the guts in the second half until you end his route as crying mess.
A special mention goes to his Bad End, which is my favourite Bad End in any game ever in how deliciously twisted it is. Its accompanying song “Immer Sie”, sure by Ito Kanako is particularly memorable and playlist-worthy.
The DRAMAtical Murder anime doesn’t come close to the quality of the game, but one good thing it brought us is Clear’s Jellyfish song, which I took some time to find so it doesn’t spoil his face. You’re welcome.
On DRAMAtical Murder’s Localization
The JAST localization brought some new features that weren’t present in the fan translation and old game build:
- subtitles for dialogues occurring outside the textbox
- the old version ran on 1280 x 720 px. You can now pick several options up to 1920 x 1080 px.
- the sex scenes are uncensored with what I assume were Honyarara’s illustrations before mosaics were applied, so the dicks actually look like dicks
- translated Liner Notes from the N+C staff that provide impressions and inside stories regarding the game’s creation and marketing
- the presence of italics in the text to emphasize certain words, which was impossible to do in the old version.
- in the fan-translation, Aoba’s experience with men was ambiguous, this is now clarified in the JAST version
I picked up quite a few typos while playing. Didn’t count but it must be around 20 of them. JAST announced that they will be fixed in an update.
My memories of the old unofficial translation that came out in 2013 are blurry, but one thing I’m sure of is that barring ellipses every single line has been translated differently in the JAST version. “Westernized” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the difference, but it’s not too far from the truth: there is more swearing, Aoba and Koujaku are now bros, his workplace Heibon is now Hum-Drum Junk, Clear uses “Aoba” instead of “Aoba-san” and at some point Ren makes a pun, but beyond that, the new translation puts a great emphasis on Aoba’s perceptiveness and ability to understand the actions and fears of those around him. This is apparent in every route, but especially Mink’s where you simply cannot enjoy his storyline without understanding what’s going on and his motivations behind his actions.
Long Story Short
Prose: 9/10 (-1 for the typos)
Immer Sie-on: 12/10
Overall rating: 9/10
DRAMAtical Murder’s plot runs so all its character arcs can soar, consistently, across the board. Its adherence to a formula is what DMMd down a few places in my list of favourite games behind Togainu no Chi and Hashihime of the Old Book Town.
Yet DRAMAtical Murder remains one of my best BL game experiences and even if you already played the game before, I warmly suggest you give its shiny new localization a chance, for JAST’s translation which was done with tender, loving care by a team of people who are passionate about BL games, flows better and makes DRAMAtical Murder’s world shine all the brighter.