Room 801: No, Thank You! (Demo)

BL is not a genre restricted to manga and anime. Today, in Room 801, it's something of a first; this time, we're looking at a game. Well, a demo of a game. It’s something of a first for Dutch publisher MangaGamer too; up until now, they’ve largely been a producer of eroge gamers, and thus, their visual novel No Thank You! marks their first foray into BL.

Before we go any further, two points. One, this game IS an 18+ -whilst the demo contains only one scene that’s particularly NSFW per route as an added extra,  it’s still NSFW. Two, this is a demo, and thus a product that’s still in development. Still, what I’ve seen is promising.

This is a very pretty game to look at for starters, both in terms of the character models, and backgrounds; everyone looks unique, and even minor characters are given care and attention in their designs. In terms of the animation of each character, there’s a decent amount of movement, both facially and bodily, more so than your typical visual novel, and precious little (at least in this demo) of the still frames typical of Nitro+Chiral properties. Most impressively, the colouration of each character changes slightly from location to location; it’s a nice little touch, which adds to the game’s attention to detail. One minor issues raised itself during three playthroughs of the demo; the character models, in changing poses, occasionally have an afterimage of the previous pose, particularly with the hands and arms. In general though, it’s a very pretty game, and even the static frames are a cut above the typical fare. The music equally fits the game well, with jazz music largely in the bar, and a nice rock-y opening. Nothing suggesting racing out and buy the soundtrack CD, but it’s easy on the ear, and the plot-relevant piano is very well played. The voice work is equally good, with  Ono Daisuke apparently voicing protagonist Haru (under one of his many pseudonyms), but Ono or not, the voice work is solid, everyone fits their character well, and the translation is pretty accurate.

The characters' personalities and appearances are suitably well executed. There’s less of the generic assorted bishie brigade, and more a rounded group of characters, from the icy pianist Ryu, to the man who our protagonist rescues, who’s on the older side, to the easily flustered Hiroyuki (often misnamed Hiroshi), to silent and stoic chef Maki. Whilst this demo doesn’t explore their routes much, their individual small scene after the demo's only choice menu does shed some light upon their individual characters. Hiroyuki is easily flustered and rather sweet, Ryu hints of defrosting ice prince, Maki...doesn't talk much, and the bar owner's amusingly rich. What’s also nice is that we’re given a real choice, not only of personality, but of body types, something that BL games usually avoid. Admittedly, this can be seen as a double-edged sword; if you’re not the type who even likes thinking about age gaps, or more muscular guys in your BL, you’re not going to like this. That, or you’ll want to stick to romancing resident bishounen Rei and Hiroyuki. In my opinion, however, I think a mixture of characters, builds, ages and backgrounds, makes No Thank You more realistic.

Plot-convenient amnesia! We meet again! In the shape of our protagonist, (who names himself Haru, mostly because he can't remember his real name.). After rescuing the owner of a bar from being run over, Haru loses his memory in the accident. After a colourful, and extremely well animated title sequence, the bar owner, taking pity on his rescuer, not only employs our protagonist in his bar, but also finds him a flat to live in. The demo prooper begins with our protagonist heading to the bar, and is introduced to the rest of the cast, and their quirks, as well as explaining his amnesia. One of my biggest issues (and I have very few issues with this game), is the characterization of Haru. At times, he seems oddly flippant, notably referring to his co-workers by wrong names, their notable personality traits, giving himself silly names, and yet, at other times, he’s capable of being serious. Whether this is due to the amnesia (and the convenient lack of information about our protagonist), or is his personality in general isn’t established. I didn’t find Haru annoying, merely a little wearing at times.

Otherwise, he’s a decent protagonist-playful when he needs to be, serious when he needs to be (the chibified groping scene and the neatening of his hair are probably the best examples of this in the demo. Most intriguingly, where other BL games may patter around the potential homo/bisexuality of their protagonists for most of their product, only taking a dive into this towards the end of the game, No, Thank You! politely shrugs, has Haru describing three of his four co-workers (including a man who’s at least twenty years his senior) as cute, before groping a colleague, whilst still professing a like for women. Whilst N,TY! never actually states that Haru’s bisexual, the subtext is there.

The game quickly introduces the other characters/love interests, before kicking up a notch, and introducing slimeball journalist Tatsuya Tojo, his shady dealings with the boss of the bar, and the possibility of a concerted effort to attack bar staff. One scuffle with hired goons, during which the bar’s owner (Inui) kicks seven kinds of ass, it’s revealed the bar’s staff also moonlight (well, since the bar is open during the night…daylight) as aides to Inui’s detective agency. Cue de-tensing ass grope, which, seriously, has to be seen to be believed, and the beginning of one of four routes, picked by whoever is your chosen gropee. A little of their respective routes follows, before we're rewarded (if you choose to see it that way) with an amusingly NSFW bonus scene for each character. All I will say regarding these scenes is that...MangaGamer, with this smut, you are spoiling us.

So is this game more "No , Thank You!", or "More, Thank You!" Definitely the latter. It’s often a little difficult to judge a product that’s at least a couple of dozen hours from a demo that's mostly introduction and a mere two hour long, but, this game has me wanting to play the full game already. Everything is well animated, the story is well written and voiced, our characters, despite their different backgrounds and personalities, are a believable bunch to be working together. Even the mix of types of character is refreshing; sure, there’s your typical bishounen, but if you’re more after the mature type, this game has you covered. It's a little outside the norm, but still should interest most BL fans.

Does "No Thank You" have its flaws?  Without a doubt. Up until Tatsuya rocks up, and the game gets really exciting, it's slow moving, and occasionally a little dull.Scene-setting, and character development at the beginning of the game are important, but that’s pretty much ALL we get in this demo. Two and a bit hours of “Average first shift of a Japanese bar staff member" is only somewhat interesting, and No Thank You does well to keep us entertained, but it occasionally stumbles, or slows a little. My biggest issue, to be honest, aside from Haru’s personality, and the occasional ghosting of limbs, is the slightly confused pre-credits scene with Haru. Whilst it’s a nice touch that we don’t actually see our protagonist till the OP of the game, it’s also a tiny bit clumsy in execution, mostly in the writing.

However, if these flaws are the only ones in a 20+ hour game, then this is going to be an interesting game, one that moves outside the typical perimeters of the genre, dares to try something different, both with its protagonist and its love interests, is damned nice to look at, and one that’s definitely worth buying.


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