Review: Yumina the Ethereal

It was in early 2012 that visual novel publisher JAST USA brought Aselia the Eternal to gamers. The strategy role-playing game looked a bit dated but still held up. With dozens of hours of gameplay, many may not have even minded that this was the “all ages” release of the title. Now, in 2013, JAST have just brought the next game in the series to Western gamers. Yumina the Ethereal is another game developed by Xuse and is likely to appeal to Aselia fans. Of course, gamers new to Yumina can enjoy it too!

Yumina the Ethereal begins with quite the unusual story. A teenage student by the name of Midorishita Yumina has just failed yet another class. Because of her multitude of poor grades, she is told she will have to take that year over again. In such a prestigious school this is quite the nightmare! As she desperately tries to find anyway to avoid this punishment, Yumina runs across a mysterious girl named Kirara. According to her, Yumina can change the school rules if she can manage to become student council president. Of course, the plan is too appealing to resist, and Yumina agrees.

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With that basic setup the player is now aware that Yumina is devoted, but not particularly good with typical schoolwork. As other characters are introduced we begin to see the story deepen, but it starts off as incredibly silly. This is definitely a visual novel, which means that you are going to be dealing with a lot of conversation and story bits. The vast majority of the game is comprised of reading. All characters (minus protagonist Ayumu) are fully voiced in Japanese. You can set the game on auto or instead click to see each new bit of dialogue.

Unlike most visual novels though, this game actually has a serious amount of more “standard” gameplay as well. This is the biggest reason why people who aren’t necessarily visual novel fans might want to give it a look. First and foremost, there are SRPG-like battles to take part in! They’re even meshed with the storyline so that each fight is basically a (more exciting) visualization of debates between school government candidates.

Debate fights come regularly, although the player can choose to skip them. You probably want to engage in as many as possible though to level up enough for boss encounters. Initially, the mode is incredibly confusing and this may turn some away. The screen is absolutely filled with skills, stats, and effects and it’s hard to know what to do next. Unfortunately the in-game tutorial is not nearly good enough. Playing through a handful of matches should get players acclimated well enough, but that requires your own persistence!

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When you’ve got this mode down it becomes fairly easy to dominate opponents. Only once you have grabbed some new abilities does the gameplay take on a new, more strategic edge. There are a great deal of choices to make as any of your four party members can lead attacks, and even have special skills that only work when they are in control. There are ways to buff your characters, lessen the power of others, and of course use items. Basically, there is a very full strategy-based mode within Yumina the Ethereal.

Strangely, this is not the only RPG mode in the game. There is another, unlocked a few hours later, which introduces a host of its own concepts. Thankfully, it is nowhere as confounding as the first one. In this second mode, players walk through a dungeon from a first person viewpoint, attacking monsters, finding treasure, and descending to more floors. Dungeon fights play out like the debate ones, but offer less XP. Why even visit a dungeon then? The point is to visit them in order to gain money and special items by completing quests.

So, while dungeons aren’t the best place to grind they do happen to be great for players hoping to buy special items. It doesn’t seem like the best idea to have created two fighting areas for separate purposes though. The dungeons look tremendously ugly and feel very separate from the rest of the game. It also seems that gold and quests could have easily been attached to regular debate-based gameplay instead. By having multiple sections like this it complicates already complex systems.

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Even with this complaint the game remains incredibly solid. That’s thanks to the fact that the story is entertaining as well as enthralling. It might be primarily a comedy but players are likely to get quite invested in each of the characters. Of course, one change between the publishing of this and the last Xuse title is that it’s now a complete package – including the original adult content. This will likely bother some players and make them think twice about playing. Thankfully, you can usually always opt against sexual encounters. In this way, players have the power to tailor the experience how they see fit.

These segments are overall a very small part of the game as primarily it is focused on the exciting narrative of Yumina and company. If there’s any complaint to be lobbed at the story it’s simply that the title is quite slow to start up. There are anywhere from 6 to 10 hours before players can even engage in their first battle! Once you get into the story though it becomes a very worthwhile time investment. Just be prepared with Yumina the Ethereal as it easily takes over 40 hours to complete. Players who read slowly should expect and even longer time commitment.

If you’re intrigued, just be aware that even with the RPG-styled fights you’re still in for a definite visual novel experience. That means characters are presented as (mostly) static images against flat backdrops. There are a great deal of special art scenes to see as well, but they are spread pretty thin between the dozens of hours of static character portraits. Thankfully, art in the game is very nice and each character has an attractive anime design. As part of the humor, battle sequences do change characters into cute, chibi versions and those are just adorable.

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Closing Comments:

Gamers who do not fear the trappings of a visual novel will likely be drawn to Yumina the Ethereal. Players who enjoy SRPGs would also probably enjoy the copious amounts of strategizing involved. And since adult content is primarily optional, it’s likely the only reason someone would retreat from Yumina is simply the massive length of the journey. As there’s a demo available, any player can check and see if they like what the title offers. At the end of the day, Yumina the Ethereal manages to be a visual novel that can appeal to more than its fandom, and that is an impressive feat in and of itself.

Platform: PC