Nightshade is an otome that has found a place for itself over the last few years. Following a 2016 PlayStation Vita debut in Japan, the visual novel appeared on the PC worldwide in 2017. Now, a Nintendo Switch version with all of the extras, additional scenarios, and an improved font is available worldwide. It is a game that has plenty of opportunities to find an audience, which is great because there is a reason why this otome is solid. It is the strength of the characters. Nightshade is a game where each member of the cast has this depth and determination that makes every route feel worth pursuing.
The most obvious example is Gekkamaru. The heroine’s father, who is head of the Koga ninja clan, adopted him and his brother. He grew up as the heroine’s bodyguard. While he comes across as overprotective and lovesick, we also see frequent examples of how competent he is as a ninja. He is able to trail her subtly. He has no trouble tackling attackers. When it comes to the investigation, we hear and see he is a help. Then, in the later half of the story, we see how Gekkamaru works to aid her even when he is not her love interest. Should someone pursue his route, they would better understand his motivations and see even greater examples of his strength of character and willingness to make sacrifices to benefit someone important to him.
Hanzo is another exceptional example. From the moment we meet him, the game makes sure we understand how extraordinary he is. He is in the service of Ieyasu Tokugawa, and our first meeting with him shows him acting as an unseen bodyguard. When he talks to the heroine, he is an authority who may seem strict, but is genuinely concerned with helping her also improve her shinobi skills. When the latter half of the game kicks in, we see him repeatedly face other ninjas and watch how he is compared to other warriors. He is someone who is always at his best and is willing to help others reach their potential too.
Even the people you can’t romance have their moments in Nightshade. Ennosuke is a good example. He is one of the heroine’s childhood friends and another ninja-in-training under Chojiro who joins the group on the mission to investigate the thief Goemon Ishikawa. He is a supportive figure throughout the adventure, aiding his allies whenever necessary. I especially liked his role at some points in the latter half of the game. Even though it puts himself in danger, he aids his friends by providing information. He puts his own safety at risk for the sake of people like the heroine and Gekkamaru.
The most striking character in Nightshade is Enju, the player’s avatar. While we do make her most important decisions for her, in every route she proves herself. This is one of the rare otome games where the heroine isn’t some shrinking violet with a malleable personality. Every path has her trying to prove herself as a shinobi and show that she is more than some symbol of unity and "princess" for the Koga ninja clan and remaining Iga ninjas. We watch her extending herself on missions, have the option to have her behave in a way that fits with her training as a warrior, and grow as a person. This is especially true in the later chapters of each individual story, where her training is put to the test. In the Hanzo route, we see her taking time to train even in dangerous situations. When it comes to Gekkamaru, we see her pretending to be something she is not because it is better for him. At the same time, Nightshade keeps her realistic, as it shows the weight stepping into a role as a ninja and facing opponents to the death has on her.
The people in Nightshade tend to be rather well realized. They have depth to them, with characterizations that may touch on ideas like "devoted bodyguard" or "this guy is crazy," but then builds on it by showing how strong and human they can be. The heroine, love interests, and NPCs are warriors with morals, respect for the people around them, and dedication to their jobs. It makes the story more enjoyable and believable as a result.
Nightshade is available on the Nintendo Switch and PC worldwide. It is also available on the PlayStation Vita in Japan.