In most otome games, we’re in situations where the lead wouldn’t mind being in a relationship and things might develop naturally. Idea Factory International’s played around with titles in which that isn’t exactly the case and the bachelors might not be “perfect.” (Cupid Parasite is a good example.) Variable Barricade is another Switch otome game with that sort of set up, but this time it manages to pair a confident, outspoken heroine, imperfect love interests with some interesting backstories, and an attempt to be a bit more interactive rather well.
Hibari Tojo is an heiress. She’s intelligent and logical, but also might be a bit curt around people and unwilling to let them in. Her grandfather decided that it’s time for her to find a fiance, and he’s picked out four men for her to perhaps eventually marry. Except… each one has a fatal flaw. For example, one is a “walking debt generator” and another attempted to commit marriage fraud. (Also, her grandpa completely aware of their shortcomings.) So she’s now living with all of them and her butler. She’s adamantly decided she wants nothing to do with them or her grandfather’s scheme.
However, as you can probably guess, things aren’t exactly as they seem. Because while yes, the idea of someone trying to start arranging a marriage for their 17-year-old granddaughter is a bit odd, there’s more to it. Especially since, while Hibari is absolutely great and a fun heroine to watch, she has a fatal flaw of her own. Which makes for some delightful platonic and romantic interactions with Ichiya, Nayuta, Shion, and Taiga. It also means the conversations between the bachelors are also pretty great. (Especially since the RABI hidden camera segments allow for more of these.) For example, early on there’s a point when the guys are throwing a barbecue to get to know Hibari. Every element of it is a comedy of errors. From the initial one-on-one conversations between Hibari and the bachelors to seeing what happens when all four attempt to pull things off. It’s silly fun.
This is helped by an entertaining script. It’s handled very well. The dialogue is great. Getting to see characters interact with Hibari and each other is just delightful. Certain folks are more entertaining and endearing than others, though. I found I had the best times when Ichiya, Nayuta, and Taiga were somehow involved in current events. I did notice a few small issues. However, those could be stylistic choices. (For example, Shion says “fun” with three Ns, but he was taunting Taiga at the time and it could have been intentional to reflect that.)
Variable Barricade is also one of those Idea Factory Otomate otome games in which the company attempts to add some interactive element so you aren’t just reading text. (Think about Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani’s “fights.”) The gimmick here is a board upon which you can see possible scenes. The idea is you see how to unlock the ones you want to experience. It means at a glance, you can see where CGs are and get an idea of possible events. There’s also a general idea of how things connect. You get the common board, as well as ones for different bachelors. It organizes information fairly well. I thought of it more like a flow chart to constant check in with things.
Variable Barricade also tracks affection and your path in one of the most entertaining manners. The choices you make when on a specific character’s board could fall into the reason or romance categories. Rather than affection meters, you essentially see equipment. Picking romance responses levels up the love interest’s weapon for breaking down Hibari’s barricade. Going with reason makes her walls stronger, so his attempts to get closer fail. While the general responses to situations leading up to that change conversations, the major encounter when that “battle” takes place can more drastically change the response and tone.
Also, I was a huge fan of pretty much every ending I saw in Variable Barricade. There’s one route I’m not a fan of, which in turn changed how I felt about a member of the cast. But this is a rare Switch otome game in which I felt like every ending you earned could feel pretty satisfying. It’s a pleasant surprise!
Which is a good way to think of Variable Barricade in general. The whole game is a pleasant surprise. Given the premise, I wasn’t sure if I’d take to it. I mean, a grandfather deciding his high school-aged granddaughter is ready to be engaged and sending her to live with four suitors he selected? It gave me pause. But I really loved how things turned out. Hibari is a fantastic heroine, the bachelors are often a lot of fun, and its great pacing means Variable Barricade is a great way to spend some evenings.
Variable Barricade will come to the Nintendo Switch on February 24, 2022.