This is now the THIRD Yuzusoft game released on Steam, following the success of Sabbat of the Witch and Senren＊Banka. As for whether or not it lives up to the quality of those two… well that’s debatable.
I’m gonna start with the visuals this time. Yuzusoft has never been a disappointment there and Riddle Joker is no exception. Great character designs, nicely done CGs, high-res assets across the board – it’s some of the best we get in the medium. It’s an incredibly animated experience too, with constant posture and facial expression changes, even multiple times during the same line. It makes the characters feel more “alive” in a way, not just some static sprites there to spew dialogue.
Then there’s the UI, which is also some top-tier work. In fact, it might be the best I’ve seen in any visual novel period. Chapter and music displays, character portraits that update alongside their actual model, hover features on certain UI buttons, and even the ability to outright customize which buttons appear both on the text window and a completely separate touch UI that can also be repositioned freely. The technology is here, Yuzusoft once again shows that visual novels can actually have some decent UI design.
Really, the only complaint I have in the visual department is that the backgrounds took a bit of a dip compared to their last work – Senren＊Banka. The backgrounds still have the detail but feel less varied here and more generic overall. Not a major issue, but one that became more apparent as I played.
A bigger complaint I have is with the music, which in no way compares to the quality we had in Senren＊Banka. Whereas in that game, the music had a distinct theme to it and matched the setting, the music in Riddle Joker is just kinda flat, with no real standout tracks and a lack of “soul” in a way. You could take the same music and slap it on any other high school romcom VN and it would pass – it’s just that generic. I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as Sabbat of the Witch, but it’s not good, especially when some of the tracks could pass as elevator music.
So with that out of the way, let’s get into the story, as that’s what really matters here. As a whole, I would say it’s decent, with some really good aspects and some not-so-good aspects. The common route, for example, is some great stuff and I pretty much have no complaints there. The story takes the tried-and-true high school romcom setting and adds not one, but two layers onto it. The first being that there exist individuals with supernatural powers called astrals and the second being that the main character belongs to a secret government organization that uses these powers to fight crime and increase public acceptance of astrals.
The common route throws you right into this and wastes no time setting up all the characters, the main plot, and the setting. It’s not slow-paced by any means and this even extends into the character routes -a drastic shift compared to the overall slow-pacing of Senren＊Banka. Of course, this is in large part due to the secret agent aspect of the story, which brings along with it some action scenes, some mystery, and other plot elements that make the story more than just your everyday slice of life. I mean, that’s still the main genre here, but it’s nice to have it mixed up a bit.
The character routes are where the quality can dip a bit. There’s one really good route, a couple decent routes, and two garbage routes – a little bit of everything here. The “really good” one is Ayase’s and I would say it’s the main route as it’s both the longest and most story-focused of the bunch. It expertly blends the secret agent fantasy stuff with slice of life, not leaning on either too heavily and delivering a more well-rounded experience. There’s a bit of mystery to it, some proper character development, a nice sense of pacing, and actual romantic progression outside of “how quickly can we get to the H-scenes.”
In fact, that’s the largest reason why some of the other routes don’t work quite as well: they’re too focused on gunning towards the 18+ stuff without having any sort of buildup. I mean, some of them go from relationship to H-scene in just 2 days – like, I’m not playing the Sims am I?
One route even lays the foundation for the H-scenes before the two characters even get into a relationship. A “catch the molester on a train” arc is introduced and includes a scene where the protagonist must “get into the mindset of the perpetrator” and practice on the heroine in order to know how to spot the criminal. Like, I see they’re trying to work the secret agent stuff into the route in order to keep it in-line with the rest of the story, but it’s obvious what the real intention is and it makes the progression come off as forced and even outright cheap.
This is a problem with other Yuzusoft games, but this specific example is pretty low, even for them. And I’m not even against H-scenes, maybe I’ve just played so many VNs at this point that it’s easy to tell when writers are doing this – it just really brings down some of the character routes. Fortunately, in Riddle Joker’s case, it’s not all the routes that do this, so the writing isn’t completely out the window.
And for those that want to know my tier list: Ayase > Hazuki > Mayu > Chisaki > Nanami. Ayase was easily my favorite character and also had the best writing of the bunch, whereas the further you go down the list, the more the problems become apparent. The bottom two are just straight garbage and it was honestly a struggle to get through them. Fortunately, there is a flowchart feature, so it’s easy to get on the route you want as you can hop around to the different choices and test outcomes without needing a walkthrough. A very nice addition for those that want to play just the good routes.
Now, I feel like I should discuss the main character, as I have a bit of a split opinion on him. On one hand, I really liked how proactive he was. If there was a problem, he was already solving it. He’s not like the usual self-insert MC we get with these types of stories, he is actively out there pushing his values and getting stuff done, which is definitely refreshing for this kind of story.
On the other hand though, this creates a problem where he often acts on his emotions and makes stupid decisions. This isn’t a problem in itself, but given that he is supposed to be an agent in this top secret government organization, it does kinda break the immersion a bit. In almost every route, he makes some incredibly stupid decision that puts not only his life at risk, but those around him and the entire organization as well. What’s worse is that because his dad is the head of this organization, he is always forgiven and it’s like nothing happened. I won’t deny, it did get a bit annoying and made the “secret agent” part of the story a bit hard to believe.
And before I close out this review, I gotta give a mention to the settings. Just as with the visuals and UI, the settings menu once again shows that Yuzusoft knows what they’re doing. It’s got all the usual settings like text speed and whatnot, but a ton of extras on top of that, including customizable mouse gestures, panic button settings, fully rebindable controls, simultaneous language support, and even an aspect ratio toggle. The game also has controller support, which is an incredibly rare, but welcome addition as someone that regularly swaps to and from controller and keyboard. It’s like Yuzusoft is one of the only studios that recognizes that we’re not in 2005 anymore, they’re constantly setting the bar for what we should expect from a modern visual novel – at least, technically.
Riddle Joker may have its issues, but it’s still a decent effort from Yuzusoft, being mostly carried by a solid common route and a couple good character routes too. On the technical front, it’s one of the best VNs on the market, with top-tier settings and UI design to go along with its visuals – even if the music cannot match. However, the writing is still a bit shaky, even outright bad in a couple of the routes, carrying over some of the same problems that Senren＊Banka had.
In fact, on that topic, I would say it’s not quite as good as Sabbat of the Witch, but about on par with Senren＊Banka in terms of overall quality. It’s worth a look if you’re a Yuzusoft fan or if you’re just generally into these more moe-type visual novels. Hopefully we can see more from the studio make its way to Steam in the future – I’m personally looking forward to Dracu-Riot!.
Quote: Riddle Joker may have its issues, but it’s still a decent effort from Yuzusoft, being mostly carried by a solid common route, a couple good character routes, and some top-tier production values.
You can buy Riddle Joker on Steam here. It is also available on Denpasoft, Jast, and MangaGamer with a free 18+ patch available for those that have the Steam version.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.