When I first became acquainted with Francisco Garcia, he suggested that I play a certain visual novel/boys’ love dating simulator known as DRAMAtical Murder. At the time, I was more preoccupied with pestering Francisco for advice on how to set up a good team to fight the final boss in Persona 3 Portable, so I put his recommendation on the backburner. Now, after nearly two years and a rather tedious period of downloading and extracting various files to get the game to run, I can finally talk about this game in detail.
DRAMAtical Murder was developed and published in 2012 by Nitro+Chiral, the boy’s love- branch of visual novel production company Nitroplus. Nitro+Chiral was also responsible for such games as Togainu no Chi and Lamento -BEYOND THE VOID-. DRAMAtical Murder proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, re:connect, that follows up the individual character routes, anime and manga adaptations, and will get a future PS Vita port that removes the game’s sexual content.
The island of Midorijima was taken over by the sizable Toue Corporation, who split the island between their party resort known as Platinum Jail and the Old Residential District, where the residents of the island were forced to relocate. The Old Residential District is now full of various gangs participating in turf wars and young adults playing the virtual reality street game “Rhyme”.
23-year-old Aoba Seragaki manages to maintain a rather average life in the Old Residential District amid all the potential chaos. When not working at his job at Junk Shop Eibon selling and delivering wares of various kinds, he spends his time hanging out with the friendlier gangs on the island; helping his grandmother at home; or enjoying the company of his Allmate (his personal computer in the form of a talking black Pomeranian) Ren. However, Aoba isn’t a complete stranger to the oddities occurring in his life: since he was young, Aoba has been able to feel sensations of touch and pain in his hair (leaving him to keep his hair long and uncut); he can use his voice to control others by lowering his voice to a certain tone and he is prone to frequent, painful headaches which require his grandmother’s medicine.
After Toue attacks a gang whom Aoba is friendly with and the company’s plans for possible world domination through mind control are revealed; Aoba realizes he must face the corporation head-on to bring them down for good. He enlists the help of his allies/potential boyfriends who have their own reasons for tackling the Toue Corporation. Aoba’s misfit harem consists of Koujaku, a suave ladies’ man and Aoba’s childhood friend; Noiz, an aloof but talented hacker and information broker; Clear, an eccentric and cheerful individual always clad in a gas mask; and Mink, the gruff but physically strong criminal gang leader.
DMMD is a game full of interesting distinctive characters under a colorful sci-fi-flavored setting following a surprisingly psychological drama-like plot; but ultimately this band of ideas just comes off as messy. It’s as if the writers were trying to create a potato salad with nonstandard ingredients such as fresh fruit or foreign spices; the result is something that is unique but confusing to the taste and a bit hard to swallow. At times, the game’s attempt at combining the initial setting of gang fighting and virtual reality gaming with later focus on themes such as abandonment, existential questioning, and lab experimentation feels just a tad jarring.
This issue is especially apparent in the true ending route, which without mentioning anything too spoilery, focuses on Aoba and Ren’s past and looks at a rather important minor character in depth. Unfortunately, the route vomits the new information in the player’s face at a rather fast pace, which ruins some of the potential emotional impact and makes it difficult for the player to digest everything that occurs. Ultimately, DMMD is heavily plagued with having a ton of fun, unique ideas, but isn’t really sure how or when to execute them properly.
The boy’s love/general romance aspect of DMMD is largely secondary to most of the major plot, and the game generally has enough tact to leave some of the more explicit sexual happenings for appropriate times (i.e., at the end of the character routes when Aoba and his boyfriend are officially dating), though there are still a couple of out of place scenes. Additionally, the general yaoi element of the game can range from eye-roll-inducing (such as the “guys don’t kiss other guys!” dialogue from Aoba after Noiz suddenly kisses him or the “I usually like girls but I’ll make an exception for Aoba” dating justification from Koujaku at the end of his character route) to outright cringe worthy.
Of note is Mink’s character route; I found Mink to have one of the more interesting backstories compared to the other characters in Aoba’s harem, and his general character design (with dreadlocks, a torn military-style coat, and broken prison shackles) he and vibe break a lot of the typical “young, bishounen 20-something-year-old” archetypes seen in many yaoi materials (even in this very game!). Unfortunately, Mink is written in as a rapist and general abuser to Aoba, which makes it difficult to sympathize with him and his tragic past. This rather ham-headed attempt at character writing is frustrating to me, as I enjoy seeing atypical characters in many different genres, and once again, this exemplifies how the game has good ideas with shoddy, messy execution.
Despite my general gripes with DMMD, I will still argue that the game does have its genuinely good aspects. The game’s soundtrack is full of surprisingly catchy and infectious electronic beats composed by Japanese band GOATBED. The soundtrack accentuates the colorful, slightly-campy setting of DMMD, as well the dark, emotional scenes that show up later. In addition, each bad ending has a unique song that plays over the credits, with different singers and lyrics that go as far as suiting the general theme of the character they represent. DMMD’s soundtrack is surprisingly good, with an eye for general detail in an unexpected place.
Pros: Catchy as hell soundtrack, with the bonus of unique themes for every character’s bad ending. In general, the game has interesting characters, colorful settings and artwork, and a surprisingly emotional plot. Koujaku’s badass yet dweeby personality; Mink’s atypical design and interesting backstory; and Clear’s adorable naivety and surprising character depth make them some of the most intriguing characters in the game.
Cons: Doesn’t do a good job of actually executing its ideas, and ends up as a rather messy jumble with wasted potential. Also falls into certain yaoi clichés that are annoying at best and rather gross and cringe-inducing at worst. Aoba is an interesting protagonist who is unfortunately offset by most of the plot events occurring to him rather than him trying to actively sway the story.
DRAMAtical Murder doesn’t have an official English release, but can be played using a fan translation patch. While I was never outright bored or especially disgusted with certain elements of DMMD, it is such an odd game for me to outright recommend, as I had more fun analyzing aspects of the game rather than actually playing it. Still, if the general art and story aspects catch your eye, by all means, give the game a shot.