When is a murder mystery game not a murder mystery game? When it’s a combination murder mystery/shoot ’em up! Just as the “Yurukill” in the title Yurukill: The Calumniation Games is a portmanteau of the Japanese “Yurusu” (to pardon or forgive) and the English “Kill,” the game itself is a combo of two seemingly incompatible genres. It is a puzzle-solving adventure and a flashy scrolling shooter. The result works far better than one might think at first.
Yurukill kicks things off in an unknown prison. The first character and protagonist, Sengoku Shunju, is a mass murderer. Convicted of bombing an apartment building and killing 21 people, he’s been removed from his cell and carted off to “Yurukill Land,” a freakish amusement park. There, he and five other “Prisoners,” all convicted of various crimes but continuing to proclaim their innocence, must survive the “Yurukill Games.” The games are a series of challenges posed by Binko, Yurukill‘s eccentric, fox mask-wearing game show host. But there’s more. Each Prisoner is paired up with an “Executioner,” an individual with some connection to the Prisoner’s crime. In Sengoku’s case, his Executioner is Rina Azami, the only survivor of the bombing Sengoku allegedly committed.
Each pair’s goal in Yurukill‘s death game is set early on. Win, and Prisoners will go free with enough evidence to clear their names. Executioners will have their wish granted, which could mean, for example, exacting revenge on the Prisoner. It’s a wild setup that’s perfectly set to accommodate roller-coaster plot twists, and developer Izanagi Games made sure the game’s aesthetic reflects that unhinged energy.
Yurukill‘s visuals are top-notch, even among other famous adventure and visual novel-type games. The character designs come from Another manga artist Hiro Kiyohara and are beautifully rendered, if a bit static. When speaking, the character cutouts are surrounded by a lit border that animates and changes to accentuate the character’s mood and lines. The borders even allow character-specific styling, such as the red Torii gates that surround Binko whenever she’s on screen. It’s a great touch that accentuates Yurukill’s lavish sensibility, making it a joy to look at.
Yurukill is also a joy to hear, thanks to excellent voice work by its cast. The game features well-known actors like Saori Hayami, Ayane Sakura, Takuya Eguchi, and Tomozaku Sugita. Yu Kobayashi in the role of Binko is particularly entertaining, thanks to Kobayashi’s ability to instantly switch from “femme fatale” to “far off the deep end”.
The performances are supported by the writing. Based on a story by Kakegurui creator Homura Kawamoto and Build Divide creator Hikaru Muno, Yurukill: The Calumniation Games leans hard into the excess and over-the-top energy of the game’s amusement park setting. The dozen or so hours it takes to clear the game pass quickly, as the chapters are efficiently constructed and help lay out the stakes without much fuss or fumble. The story loses some steam in the latter half, though. Some cases rely on leaps of reasoning that are frankly untenable to anyone that’s not actively a cartoon character. Though vibes are generally more important than airtight logic in games like this, a few of the reaches really stretch credibility.
You play each pairing in turn, as they brave one of Yurukill Land’s bespoke attractions. Each attraction is a multi-stage, escape room-style puzzle area, filled with dialog sequences, clues, and some puzzle-solving. The puzzles range from basic arithmetic and pattern recognition challenges to simplistic, hidden-object pixel hunts. The latter puzzles are where Yurukill‘s interface seems a bit inadequate, as you’re made to maneuver a slow cursor around the screen to interact with hotspots. It feels like a UI better suited to touch screens or mouse-driven play rather than gamepads.
Then again, you might want a gamepad for the other half of Yurukill‘s gameplay. As mentioned, it’s also a shoot-em-up, with the shooting portions of the game developed by G.Rev, a veteran shmup-maker with credits on series like Darius, Ikaruga, and Senko no Ronde. Following each adventure portion, Prisoners and Executioners alike are tossed into a virtual reality arcade to do battle in the Executioner’s mind palace.
Prisoners need to fly their Yurukill Fighters through the Executioner’s mental defenses, making their case by shooting clues and navigating to different clues discovered in the adventure sequences. It works surprisingly well, because the shooting is genuinely fun and the character interactions continue during these portions. Each playable character also has a unique gimmick for their ship, such as extra guns that shoot sideways or orbiting laser drones. Though the gameplay can’t really be said to be fully integrated with the narrative, it’s not so distracting that it takes away rom the storytelling. Indeed, it can be a fun change of pace, cleansing the palate before the next round of insane plot twists. And when the story’s over, players who liked the shooting can go back and play in Score Attack mode, choosing any playable character for any stage (they’re locked in during the main story).
I’m not sure whether to think of Yurukill as a decent shmup with a good adventure game attached, or a good adventure game with a decent shmup minigame inserted into it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, as the two disparate flavors taste great together all the same.
Yurukill: The Calumniation Games releases for PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch on July 5, 2022 in North America and on July 8, 2022 for Europe and on PC.