No, Thank You!!! Review

Title: No, Thank You!!!
Release date: 2013-06-28
English release date: 2015-02-27
Developer: Parade
English publisher: MangaGamer

Today truly yours will go totally gay for your reading (dis)pleasure, as this is a review of my first yaoi visual novel "No, Thank You!!!". Now, isn't that an awesome title for a Boys Love game - it just begs for someone to use lame jokes, like "No, thank you, we don't want gay sex". But is the game deserving of lame jokes, or is it an actual quality title? Read on and find out.

"No, Thank You!!!" (I'll shorten the title to NTY from now on) is a rare yaoi visual novel, specifically marketed to the male audience, instead of the usual demographic, namely 'those darn fujoshis'. It was also advertised mostly as a cheery romcom slice-of-life, which couldn't be further from the truth. I picked the VN specifically because I heard that it has a strong mystery aspect to the story, which piqued my curiosity, hence I got over my hesitance regarding the gay sexual content, which is not usually my forte and delved deep into the territory of Boys Love.
Haru is really not discriminating based on sex.
The very first thing I worried about after picking NTY was the quality of the translation. Even nowadays some of MangaGamer's releases can be hits and misses in that regard. The good news is that the translation seems perfectly fine and I was mildly impressed how well the text flows and how few typos there were in, an admittedly, pretty lengthy game. Bad news: I felt the novel was a tad over-localized. Not only are all the character names in a western order, but the wast majority of Japanese honorifics have been removed and replaced with western versions, like 'sir' or 'Mr'. Now, I not only approve but also encourage the removal of honorifics in non-Japanese game settings, but NTY is a game set in Japan with Japanese characters. It is even unintentionally funny, when you consider that the translator left some rare honorifics, like a yakuza-specific 'Aniki' in.

However, the removal of honorifics wasn't even the main thing about the localization that pissed me off, at least for a while... and it happened at the very beginning. Imagine comfortably sitting in an armchair, the game has just been launched and the protagonist starts narrating how hot it is outside and that the temperature must reach 90... Wait, what?! Let's rewind that. Now, the number of countries that use the Fahrenheit scale can be counted on one hand, and Japan is not one of them. Trust me, if it were 90 in Japan, your body liquids would basically be boiling out through your ears. That's what I call over-localization, and I almost expected to see all prices in dollars, like in the early JAST published games. Luckily that doesn't happen, though all height/distance measurements are in feet/miles. And now for a WTF moment: At one time a character says "Thank you" in English, but the text translates it as... gracias! Whoever thought it's a bright idea, be it a translator or an editor, should be spanked by a big burly man with lots of hair on his chest and boobs bigger than Dwayne Johnson. :-)
Those man-boobs are bursting out of the T-shirt.
Anyway, the protagonist of NTY is a young guy of about 20 years old. One day he was going out for a stroll, when he witnessed an out of control car bearing onto a burly middle-aged man. He saves the man by pushing him out of the way, but gets hit himself and loses consciousness. Upon waking up, the protagonist realizes he has no memories, thus the man he saved, Inui Kouichi, gives him a place to stay and sets him up to work in a bar he owns, named 'sótano'. If, just like me, you have no idea what sótano means, it's apparently a Spanish word for 'basement', which makes sense, as it's situated in a basement of a multi-story building, which is owned by Kouichi in its entirety. The protagonist is also given a name Haru by his co-workers at the bar.

You can be forgiven to think that the game will revolve around Haru working in a bar and trying to woo one of his male colleagues, but that is not what happens. Actually, there is very little of the bartending happening in the story, due to the fact Kouichi has yet another and less publicized occupation - he is also a private detective. The detective work makes up the majority of the plot of NTY, with Haru eagerly trying to help his rescuee in that endeavour. Initially, the game brings us up to the pace with a case not connected to the overall plot, wherein we have to solve the case of a woman being stalked by an obsessive fan. This intro gives Haru a chance to work with a partner, establishes their future interactions (one assumes you will try to complete that guy's route and get his endings) and shows how Kouichi's detective agency usually does business. All the subsequent cases eventually tie up into an overarching grand plot and involve sex, drugs and yakuza, among other things. There is no rock'n'roll, but two out of three ain't so bad.
Attention, hitting on yakuza can be hazardous to your health.
As we spend the vast majority of the game viewing the world through Haru's eyes, we should acquaint ourselves with our hero. Let me tell you, that view is not a pretty one. Haru is an airheaded cloudcuckoolander idiot, who goes off on rambling tangents and calls every other character in a game by the monikers of his own invention. It seems we were supposed to treat him like a lovable idiot, but 'lovable' he is not. Haru's mannerisms are annoying and his jokes are cringeworthy. Just imagine that upon meeting his colleague for the first time, he sniffs his shoes and proclaims that he should remember not to do that. Ladies and gentlemen, joke of the century! Haru's favourite relaxation activity is the sexual harassment of his co-workers and the epitome of his character building is bringing a bona fide biological weapon (i.e. a sick cat) into an establishment that serves food for the customers...

Moreover, any good manners Haru might have in his day to day life fly out the window the moment he wants to have sex. Because, I tell you, Haru knows no meaning of word "no", which is highly ironic considering the game's title. Haru's interactions with his prospective boyfriends is very rapey, and the initial sex scenes are, without exception, dubcon at best and outright rape at worst. If that is not your cup of tea, you might look for a different BL game. Maybe "Naked Butlers" would do? Oh, wait...
New ISIS terror weapon. It's super effective.
And you know what is the worst thing about our dear Haru? We never get to listen to his inner thoughts! We play Haru from a first person perspective, meaning, in any other visual novel we would be subjected to the protagonist's inner musings and monologues. Protagonists (even the commonly used 'blank slates') are usually very reflective of their actions and the actions of others, but that never happens to Haru. He might describe the weather or how someone looks, but he never ever narrates what he thinks about various actions or other characters. That's just bizarre! It's like Haru is an emotionless robot and all his 'personality' comes from his outright portrayed idiocy.

Okay, okay! Before someone murders me in my sleep, I have to clarify that there is a Reason (with a capital 'R') why Haru is not so keen to let us glimpse into his inner world. Haru has some skeletons in his closet and they start coming out into the daylight as NTY progresses, and once you clear the game at least once, additional scenes with Haru's thoughts are unlocked. Sadly, those scenes aren't that helpful in fleshing our protagonist out as a person. Seems that NTY thinks that the proper characterizations comes from actions rather than thoughts, which is a Michael Bay approach to the problem. But I suppose, when all you have is a hammer...
There is something wrong with your client, Mr. Detective.
Let's stop talking about Haru for a minute, or I'll spend the whole review just writing down why I disliked him as my playable character, and focus on plot. Specifically, let's dissect which genre of fiction "No, Thank You!!!" actually belongs to. First of all, let me tell you a huge thing that will blow your minds - NTY is not a romance VN. I know, right... With a probable exception of Akiyama Hiroyuki, Haru doesn't make any deep emotional bond with any of the other three "romanceable" dudes. They become basically fuck buddies, who maybe feel some fondness for each other at the peak of their relationship, though even that is uncertain, especially in Ryu's case. Haru basically pesters the guys into sex until they give in just to shut him the fuck up, which surprisingly works really well plot-wise. With such unnecessary pesky things like romance out of the way, NTY can give its all to being a mystery game it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, it kinda fails at that.
I'm sure this choice is very important and will determine the ending you'll get...
I felt constantly reminded of another game released by MangaGamer, while playing "No, Thank You!!!", and that would be "Guilty _The Sin_". That game suffered from a bipolar disorder, like it didn't know which genre it wants to belong to. It was advertised as a mystery horror game, but was in fact a slice-of-life moege, and a pretty bland one at that. NTY doesn't exactly fall into the same pitfall, as even at its calmest it cannot be called a slice-of-life game, but its mystery aspect is poorly realized. I would liken NTY to a jellyfish that just floats on shallow waters, without choosing which direction it should go to. Every single case Kouichi's detective agency deals with has a lot of potential to be written in a very engaging manner, and admittedly some of the routes deal with the ensuing issues in a better way than others, but ultimately all of those cases are shuffled to the side in favour of dealing with the central mystery - "what is Haru?".

It's a shame that I was less interested in Haru and wanted to know more about the regular cases the detective agency was working on. I wanted to know more about Igarashi and his parents, about Yamato and Tatsuya and especially about Kijima, Shindo and "Sophia". However, all of those plots served only as a backdrop to propel Haru's story, rather than being proper stories of their own. Hence the game became less of a mystery and more of a personal biopic. I suppose it's purely intentional, as the main theme of the game, as much as I could divine one, is making peace with various aspects of yourself. Through Akiyama Hiroyuki Haru experiences a carefree life of his airheaded self, through Maki he confronts his real self, through Ryu he witnesses the bonds that tie family siblings and through Kouichi he let's himself submerge in a son-father dynamic. Of course, all those experiences are fleeting like the summer and end once Haru leaves sótano, but they still etch something important into his psyche.
Careful, Haru, you'll ruin Hiroshi's underwear.
Anyways, I think it's time to finally air the laundry of individual routes and see how they compare. The first guy whose affection I tried to win was Akiyama Hiroyuki, a 22 years old bartender in sótano, thus making him about the same age as Haru. He is still a virgin and reacts strongly to Haru's teasing. Additionally, he claims to not be interested in men, but I think he protests too much, especially considering the shirt he is frequently shown wearing. Hiroyuki's (or Hiroshi's, as Haru calls him) route is the most romantic, and the only one where the L word is uttered, but it's also the weakest out of all. Plot-wise it basically skips all the plot relevant cases in favour of more Hiroshi time.

It's perfectly illustrated, when during Hiroshi's route Kouichi is kidnapped, but a day later he's back with no mention at all how he escaped his kidnappers or what went down. Any interesting and meaningful plot events are removed to pave way for our lord and saviour Hiroyuki. Truth be told, a major plot point is solved in a different way here than in any other route. Due to Hiroshi's hang-ups about his parentage and child-parent bond, he returns a child to his abusive mother, because orphanages are so much worse (sarcasm). Reality ensues. I made a terrible mistake to play Hiroyuki's route first and I was bored to tears, however the subsequent route more than made up for it.
You made Ryu wet, Haru.
Kurosawa Ryu is a cold and aloof pianist and bartender at sótano, who initially treats Haru like dirt. Now, you expect me to say that he eventually warms up to our protagonist. Baaaka! Ryu remains just as aloof to Haru during the whole route and only agrees to sex due to reasons his own, but they eventually bond due to the influence of an abused girl Yufumi. Ryu not only has a strong affection to children, but he also exhibits a strong sense of right and wrong, that is lacking in other persons. This strong point of his character leads Ryu to take on the cases, which would remain unfinished if not for his intervention. Eventually, this leads to some of the best parts within the NTY storytelling with Yufumi and Igarashi cases expanded and brought to satisfying conclusion for the first and only time. Both of these cases become fridge horror in every other character path.

Ryu himself is peeled like an onion and shows hidden depths, unseen at just a cursory glance. The reason for his cold attitude and his actions during the game are explained and his relationship with Haru becomes a point of both heartwarming and introspection in NTY. Ryu's route is everything that Akiyama's route isn't, and if you are gonna play just one path in this visual novel, it should be this one. After Akiyama's path, my opinion of the game was pretty low, but it jumped considerably after reading Ryu's story.
Mysterious tattoos.
Maki is a mysterious chef at the bar and a de facto boss of Haru. He is a large man of few words, who doesn't seem to be fazed by anything. In the event you choose him as your partner in tailing a certain stalker, he will arrive at the rendezvous point in a casual punk outfit with large sunglasses decorating his face. Inconspicuous he is not... I was mostly ambivalent about this route, as it was better at telling the story than Hiroyuki's path, but never reached the depths of Ryu's path. However, I appreciated the parallels that can be drawn between Haru and Maki and how they are basically the same inside, which means that Haru can understand Maki probably better than any other member of sótano. I did like the conclusion to this route, but it was nothing compared to...

... Inui Kouichi. He is the man Haru saved from a car accident, an owner of a bar and a detective agency. A middle aged widower, it's clear he misses his wife and sometimes spends his nights drinking to oblivion. Haru decides to take him under his wing (no, there is no mixup) and bring him out of his rut with sex and good awful humour. Kouichi's and Haru's relationship ignites in the former a remembrance of lost familial ties and a yearning for a happy ending. There is an additional mystery introduced in this route, which has a very satisfying finale and brings a certain closure to the characters. Overall I really liked Kouichi's route, but I would suggest to only play it the last, because the route reveals all it has the best after going through it the second time, after completely unlocking all the hidden scenes. That brings this route to my second favourite in the game.
No sharp objects near my junk, please.
There is a large cast of side characters and all of them play a big role in the game, but none of the male characters are particularly deep and are pretty one-dimensional, and the portrayal of females is abysmal. All of the women are either shallow and kind, shallow and raging bitches, or simply children. It was a disappointing aspect of the game, which tries to be something more than a cliche-filled generic game.

"No, Thank You!!!" is a textbook example of a multi-route mystery. Like I previously mentioned, finishing just one route unlocks additional Haru's scenes and additional scenes from the perspective of the character, whose route you've just completed, which requires replaying the said route. Finishing all four routes unlocks even more secret scenes from Haru's perspective, which requires, you guessed it, to replay all the routes and endings yet again. And in order to get a 100% completion and get the "Congratulations!" message you have to read every single word in this VN. God praise the skip button. I found the game to be pretty lengthy and managed to totally clear it in about 27 hours. Note, that at least the physical edition of the game has a bug, where the percentage counter gets stuck on 99% and never shifts to 100 even after getting the "Congratulations!" message. I have no idea if the said bug has been fixed in the DL edition.
A kitsune mask really suits Haru.
There are two different methods of interaction within the game. First one is your usual choices, which are very basic and let you get on your desired route with no frustrations. And then there is a "No, Thank You" button, which shapes how the route progresses. It is solely used to get various endings and it is actually usually quite clear what consequences pressing or not pressing the button will have. It's not only a pretty innovative interaction system, but it is practically frustration-free, as I easily completed the game without a use of a walkthrough.

"No, Thank You!!!" boasts the astonishing number of 3000+ CGs, which is an astronomical number, but do not fret, an AI hasn't taken over a BL production market. Simply put, that number includes variations, and a single CG can have up to a 100 different variations during a single sex scene. That is still a mind boggling number, and creates a very dynamic feel to the game, even without any animations. The art is just lovely to look at and really makes the characters come to life. Majority of those CGs are obviously H-CGs, and while I'm not really aroused by gay sex, I still can appreciate a technically good looking scene with interesting content.
Sex at work, what could go wrong.
Despite the rapey undertones, most of the sex in the game is pretty basic, when it comes between two gay (or rather bisexual) men. That is to say, all of the main characters proclaim to be straight, before being seduced, tricked or forced into a gay encounter by a cheerfully bisexual Haru. The scenes consist of your everyday blowjobs, anal sex and anilingus, with nothing too particularly kinky or fetishistic, though for a plot heavy game, NTY has a lot of sex scenes with more than 10 H-scenes per route. There are a few particularly interesting scenes, like medical play in Ryu's route or Kouichi's meeting with a razor blade. Not to mention that one scene, where Haru started narrating the events, as if they were happening in a cheep romance novel. Moreover, I have to give a nod to the writing in the sex scenes, which is surprisingly much better than usually seen in straight sex scenes in various H-games. It actually makes the scenes an enjoyable read and not just a chore.

It's also interesting to note that there is an equal mix of bishounen and bara characters among our possible beaus. It's usually rare for a JP visual novel to mix bara body type with any other in one game. And not only that, but Haru, who looks like a pretty boy, is a dominant partner (I believe the Japanese name is 'seme') in every relationship. It's quite hilarious to see a big muscular hairy man being whipped into shape by a guy half his size and age. Additionally, the players of discerning palate can even select how hairy their beau of choice is. No, I'm not kidding, there is an honest to Hephaestus 'body hairiness' option within the game settings... Though I probably should not be surprised; 'Parade' is a sister company to 'Clock Up' and the latter is known for very extensive game settings.

A testament to NTY's large budget is a full voice acting. There is a large cast of characters, including the side characters and those who make only a brief appearance, but every single one of them is fully voiced, and the voice actors do a marvelous job. Haru's seiyuu deserves and especially high praise, as I'm used to the fact that many VAs, who voice a male protagonist tend to suck hard. And Haru does do that in his sex scenes, but his VN does manage to bring him to life and make him believable, even if I would have preferred a different attitude from this character.
Finishing the game unlocks comments from various staff members.
And now the final warning. The players of "No, Thank You!!!" can experience a serious mood whiplash during the last act of the visual novel. The game, which up until that moment was a pretty cheerful affair, takes a serious turn to the dark side, as if the current game writers invited Urobutcher as a guest into their midst. To be completely truthful, NTY is an utsuge with really dark endings. There are actually no good endings in the game - at best they are bittersweet, at worst they are nightmare fuel, and even the best outcomes provide a nice heap of material for fridge horror. Have fun, kids!

To sum up, NTY is not really a bad game. It has a lot of things going for it. It had an obviously large budget, graphically it's impressive, has a great voice acting, and once you really complete the game, the supreme plot unravels before your eyes in all it's beauty. Alas, taken separately, every plot point seems weak, the protagonist is really annoying, some of the character routes are shallow and boring, and the need to replay even the routes you have already finished in order to fully appreciate the story, hurts the game more than it helps. Ultimately, I did end up enjoying many aspects of the novel, but I also found myself frustrated during large portions of it and in the end I cannot rate it any higher than I did.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Official English site (demo is available)
Buy the digital English version at MangaGamer
Buy the physical limited edition at MangaGamer, Rightstuf, J-list.
"No, Thank You!!!" walkthrough

Final Verdict: 61%


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