When it comes to otome/joseimuke games, there’s a particular formula composed by the industry topliner such as Idea Factory’s Otomate and Broccoli. But it seems that such a romantic formula doesn’t really apply to Square Enix’s latest adventure game Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions, which is apparently the company’s first try in the Joseimuke market.
While otome games feature a variety of fictional story elements, Square Enix saw something new: What if we used the periodic table, y’know, the thing you probably learned in Chemistry, and used it to base some of the fictional elements of a visual novel? I must say, I was excited by the prospect, and grabbed the Nintendo Switch version, alongside its DLC.
▍Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions – 20 Minutes of Gameplay
▍ The World Ends In 50 Days…
In Elements with Emotions, we begin the story as an amnesiac protagonist who wakes up on an unknown shore in Japan. However, it takes no time before you are attacked by the Dead Matter, which are mysterious monsters that seek to erode the entire world. Fortunately, you are saved by Yasutaka Eito and Saku Minamoto, two warriors who wield the power of the chemical elements.
All of a sudden, however, you manage to awaken an ability inside of them, which allows them to instantly vanquish the threat that was plaguing the shore. The only hint as to how you could’ve done such a thing is of a vial that displays a number inside. They take you to the Yuiwa Kingdom Headquarters, where Kurogane Jin, the Shikekan of Iron, agrees to help you regain your memories, but on the condition that you help them fend off the Dark Matter with this mysterious ability, you’re capable of.
▍Active Time Battle Adds up the Fun
What I found that sets Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions apart from your more traditional visual novels is that alongside the parts you read, you also have a battle system. In this, you’ll fight against the Dark Matters. The battle system uses a very familiar-feeling Active Time Battle (ATB) system, where the Shikenkan will automatically attack once the bar is full. As they attack, they’ll accumulate atom charges.
And here’s where the real chemistry battle happens. On the bottom of the screen, you’ll see several element combinations, which are based on the real chemical formulas of real life, such as H2O for water, and even organic compounds such as acetyl. Once you’ve accumulated the right combination of atoms, you’ll have to select a skill with the D-Pad on your controller (in TV mode) and issue a command, which will be executed regardless of the status of the ATB gauge.
And then, at the top, we have the Shikikan Gauge. As your Shikekan attack, it will fill up. And if they take damage, it will also reduce. Once it reaches the maximum, you will be able to unleash an ultimate attack to bring down the enemy. This makes Elements with Emotions feel a lot more interactive than your traditional visual novel; one with various simulation elements to make it extra fun.
▍Not an Otome Game, Obviously
As mentioned, Elements with Emotions is a rather different visual novel that targets female audiences. This also means that you can’t pursue the romance between the protagonist and the handsome boys. In fact, the protagonist doesn’t even have an implied gender, and inputting the default name doesn’t change how the Shikekan refers to you.
For the most part, you’re only there as a third wheel most of the time, as screen time focuses more heavily on the bond between the boys, rather than their bond with you. This also means that romance does take a bit of a backseat, but I didn’t find that to be that big of an issue, though it is a shame that the protagonist is handled this way.
The controls on the visual novel part can feel a bit clunky, but that may be because I’m too used to the shortcuts you’d see on titles from other developers such as Idea Factory. In Handheld Mode, you can’t even tap to advance dialogue or interact with the game, which is strange, given that this game is available on mobile devices. You also don’t have access to a shortcut menu, leaving a good chunk of the Nintendo Switch’s buttons unused. I also felt that some of the visual novel parts could’ve used some more voice acting considering that it could largely help with the immersion.
▍ Training Your Shikekan to Battle
At the beginning of each week, after the tutorial, you’ll be able to pick which Shikekan you wish to train for the upcoming combat. If you do not own the DLC, then your options are limited to the five initial elements. You can select up to five elements at one time, and their chemical formulas will have three elements assigned to them with blue, red, and green colors. Pressing X will tell you what the current week’s enemy is weak or strong against, so you can strategize which ones you’ll choose.
Afterward, you’ll have a set of deadlines to increase two stats: Tactical Proficiency and Bonding Percentage. Both of these stats will need to be at a certain number or you’ll fail the combat, which will result in a Game Over. Thankfully, I didn’t find it hard, because with just a bit of strategy, it’s totally possible to get to the recommended status, and even surpass them.
At the end of every day, you’ll obtain a report on how much you’ve increased each status, and this is where the game will give you a hidden objective, such as “before the time limit hits X days, increase the Bonding Percentage of Hydrogen and Carbon to Y%”, for example. Unfortunately, these have a time limit, and even in a single run, it’s just impossible to clear all of these hidden objectives, unless you go out of your way to research a guide that has the ultimate time planning
▍ Japanese Difficulty in Understanding Ketsugou Danshi
It will be a very long while until we can probably see Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions in English, unfortunately, as Square Enix has made no mention of localization, as of the time of writing. But the question is: Is it a hard game to grasp? Well, here’s what I thought.
Perhaps the complicated part is that this game relies on a lot of scientific terms. Specifically, from Chemistry, such as the name of mixtures. In addition, it sometimes makes use of some made-up words to complement its story, and while it does have a nifty Dictionary that you can use to consult things. All characters also have their dialogue spaced out, and the text isn’t wordy, it’s overall easy to grasp the context.
▍ Is the Ketsugou Danshi DLC Worth the Purchase?
For this review, I’ve opted to purchase the All-in-One edition, which includes the base game, plus all of the DLC for a total of JPY$9,900. There are five characters in the base game: Saku Minamoto (Hydrogen), Eito Yasukata (Oxygen), Nanase Rika (Carbon), Shiki Uroku (Berillium), and Nanase Tosho (Nitrogen). The rest of the characters are all DLC, and you can either buy them individually or, in my case, get them all together in one big package.
The DLC characters allow you to boost the number of combinations, and will also give you more stories to enjoy. So, if you wanted to add a lot more hours to the game, I would definitely recommend picking out the DLC. And of course, you don’t need to get them all, as it’s possible to just get your favorite DLC characters. The game is cleverly crafted in a way that you can still enjoy the main story from beginning to end, even without certain characters.
▍Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions Gets Some Interesting Gimmick
Elements with Emotions is overall a very fun visual novel with loads of replay value. Because of how many combinations are possible, you can spend hours and hours just refining your strategies, and getting to know more about the characters and how they bond together, rather than laser-focusing on a singular male character and having them pay attention to you only.
Perhaps the only thing that I wish the Nintendo Switch version had is a better control system, and that the story handled the protagonist a bit better. Other than that though, this is a really cool visual novel that I would seriously recommend, because it breaks the usual visual novel mold, and with each gameplay, I just want to know more and more about the Shikekan and their bonds!
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Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions Review – Build Chemistry Between the Boys
Ketsugou Danshi: Elements with Emotions is a fascinating title that breaks the usual visual novel mold with Square Enix's familar ATB system and bonding mechanic that unfortunately involves no romance.
Operating System: Switch, iOS, Android
Application Category: Game