This is a spoiler-free review. Kikokugai – The Cyber Slayer is a visual novel developed by Nitro+, telling a tale of revenge and featuring plenty of action, swords, cyborgs, and kung fu. Published in 2002 and developed on a shoestring of a budget, Kikokugai still remains a title worth visiting.
First, it might be worth mentioning that this isn’t the kind of visual novel with cute girls doing cute things. If that is what you’re looking for, you can turn away now as Kikokugai won’t be the visual novel for you. The game’s atmosphere is unrelentingly dark and the setting itself is poisoned and bleak; the backdrop in which Kong Taoluo, an assassin for a Chinese crime syndicate, throws away what little humanity he has in order to get revenge on the former associates that gang raped and murdered his sister. However, he soon quickly discovers she suffered a fate worse than death – her soul was split into pieces and inserted into 5 sex robots called gynoids. With a sliver of hope, Taoluo sets out on a bloody rampage to exact vengence and to recover each piece of his sister’s soul in order to reunite them into a single gynoid. Basically, you’ll find no please notice me senpai’s here.
The story itself is a lean one, devoid of any fat or fluff and easily read in a single evening. Just like Saya no Uta, another work by the game’s author Gen Urobuchi, Kikokugai is a title that is gripping in spite of its length and one that will remain with you days after the credits roll. It has a small cast of characters, who while obviously are a bit underdeveloped due to the title’s short length, are contemptible enough that the core revenge story still manages to provide the reader with a sense of vicarious satisfaction. This is crucial for this kind of story, and Kikokugai gets this right with a well-rounded showing of despicable characters. The protagonist isn’t far from one himself, but he does get the benefit of doing what he does out of devotion and madness. As far as revenge stories go, Kikokugai is one of nuance and layers. Beyond being a story of revenge though, it is also a story about the human soul. What is it? Can we measure it? Do we actually know those we hold dear? With the gnarled hope of bringing his lost sister back from the dead, the protagonist has to confront these questions with no actual chance of knowing their answer. These themes, mixed with Kikokugai’s interesting setting and exciting action, lead it away from standard revenge fare and make it a more thoughtful experience. The atmosphere is a defining feature of Kikokugai. You never really feel at ease for the protagonist and are never confident in his goal. Shanghai is described as a city of demons and we arguably are never even introduced to a single, redeemable character that inhabits it. Even the sky itself is a source of conflict, spewing out poisoned rain back down onto the people who polluted it. These, among other aspects of the story, give Kikokugai a persistent sense of impending tragedy that make it a memorable read. The action scenes of Kikokugai are an area in which the visual novel truly shines. Unlike Hanachirasu (another Nitro+ revenge title), the action is a lot tighter and more to the point. It’s clear, well written, and combined with the numerous CGs, easy to visualize and understand. It also has everything you might want from a story of kung fu masters – school rivalries, proclamations of the true kung fu, and showdowns in the rain. It has the kinds of things you might expect from a cyberpunk story too – hacking, cyborgs, human brains inside quad-pedal tanks… to be honest, I’m finding it difficult to think of another VN whose action had as much raw appeal as this one. Each and every scene has a unique dynamic that ends up keeping the fights interesting and exciting, with never a dull moment to be had.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Kikokugai is a kinetic novel. There are no choices during the course of the narrative. It is a straightforward story from beginning to end, which works well given the game’s limited scope and small cast of characters. Additionally, the few h-scenes scattered across the visual novel actually aid in characterization and helps establish the sick, depraved tone of the novel. Sound is the area in which you might find Kikokugai lacking. The original 18+ version, which is the one the fan translation uses, doesn’t have any voice acting. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it is a detracting feature. If you feel like waiting, it is possible that JAST USA may eventually release the voiced version some time before the heat death of the universe. Maybe. Making up for a lack of voice acting however is solid sound and music direction that suits the game’s story very well. The accompanying tracks during the fight scenes are very distinctive, and leave an impression that fits both the setting and action. Even the music during the more calm moments of the story has an oppressive, foreboding feel to them that is just perfect for the game’s overall atmosphere. While the sound production may be the least attractive feature of the visual novel, it still works favorably in Kikokugai’s presentation. The art in Cyber Slayer, despite its age, looks good. For its length, there is a surprising number of CGs, none of which are superfluous. Each CG works well in capturing the scene they’re in, and as mentioned before, strongly help in conveying the action of the game. Even the 3D CGs of the cityscape, though a bit incongruent with the rest of the game, are detailed enough that they don’t end up detracting from the overall experience.
Overall, Kikokugai – The Cyber Slayer is a lean, provocative story that has an ample share of exciting moments. It is a twisted tale, with a foreboding sense of desperation that carries the visual novel all the way to a reeling conclusion. The atmosphere is unrelenting and tense, making for a short, yet memorable ride. The prose itself wavers from being a bit stiff to being quite colorful, but it is still a great read. Combined with a respectable soundtrack and an abundance of well-utilized art assets, Kikokugai is a great way to kill an evening.