Anime Review Visual Novel

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani – Review | A Kiss Under the Fujizakura Tree

Developed by Otomate, Idea Factory, Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is a fantasy otome visual novel that brings players into a world packed with Japanese mythology and folklore, supernatural encounters, and love. Originally released in May 2020 in Japan, this Nintendo Switch title has subsequently been localized into English and published by Aksys Games in December 2021. 


Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani has an ESRB rating of Teen, with content descriptors of use of alcohol, language, suggestive themes, and fantasy violence. Additional content warnings include mentions and/or depictions of: blood, death, grief, hostage situations, illicit trades, kidnapping, massacre, murder attempts, slander, suicide, and sharp weapons. Visual-wise, there are some screen shake, blur, and white flash effects used.

Sakuratani, the Ayakashi’s World

The story follows Akitsu Shino (name changeable), a young woman in her early 20s who was interviewing for a government job one day. Due to her ability to see spirits and other supernatural beings, Shino was scouted during her interview to join the Special Agency, Occult Bureau, Division Six. Simply known as the Sixth (Dairoku), the division is part of the top-secret government agency that is in charge of Sakuratani, a place in a different dimension from the real world where non-humans and supernatural beings — collectively referred to as the ayakashi — reside. Interested to know more about this world beyond her own, Shino accepted the offer to join the Sixth as an Ayakashimori, or a guardian of the ayakashi.

Numerous supernatural beings from Japanese folklore and myths make an appearance in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani. While the focus on the ayakashi forms one of the strengths of the story’s world-building, it is also easily one of the writing’s biggest weaknesses. From the way its narrative is written, the visual novel is, quite clearly, intended for players who are already familiar with the various Japanese folklore and myths. Multiple ayakashi are mentioned by common nouns only, especially if they are minor characters, and often have no accompanying descriptions or illustrations to show who they are. Hence, although there are plenty of references to the ayakashi, a bulk of them would not make meaningful sense to players who are not already familiar with Japanese folklore and myths. This is a major pity since the game could have been a gateway for players to learn more about the Japanese mythological beings ranging from the kitsuneoni, and tengu to the oborogurumazashiki-warashi, and tsukumogami.

For the record, Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani has a Dictionary that is accessible from the pause menu. Unfortunately, the Dictionary offers very limited help because it is created under the same assumption that players are already familiar with the different ayakashi out there. Basically, the Dictionary contains entries for terms that are either highly specific to the fiction’s lore, or likely less well-known among the intended audience. Even some of the entries have circular explanations that assume the player already knows all the unexplained Japanese terms used in a given definition. It is one of the least useful dictionaries I have come across in a game; players are better off turning to an online search engine to look up unfamiliar mythology-related words.

Sakuratani, where the past and present intersect

The story of Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani takes place almost entirely in Sakuratani, a fictional place with some millennium-long history. Except Nakakuni, the administrative area that houses the Sixth’s modern-day offices and dorm, there are three main sectors in Sakuratani. Amatsuna, where the tengu live has sports architecture from the Heian period. Makatsuhi, home to the oni, has castles from the Azuchi-Momoyama period and izakaya (Japanese pubs) of the Edo period. Last but not least, the kitsune’s sector, Kikutsune, is filled with infrastructure such as gas lamps from the Meiji period. Depictions of each sector are typically shown through the background art and infrequently via written descriptions. Even though the narrative hardly goes into each sector’s history, the coordination of modern and traditional Japanese designs used in various locations is still a delight to see.

In fact, the mix of modern and traditional elements is a theme observed throughout this visual novel, from its user interface (UI) design to the music. Starting from the Title Screen, there is a pair of shoji doors that will slide open to reveal the main menu on top of a random scenic spot in Sakuratani. Audio cues accompanying the selection of menu options are taiko drum sounds which, to my amusement, blend in well with the background music (BGM). The 20 BGM tracks may not be particularly gripping compositions, but the harmonious fusion of modern Western and traditional Japanese musical instruments and styles in almost every track is certainly pleasant to hear.

As much as Sakuratani is a beautiful world steeped in Japanese culture and history, the writing of Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani nearly put me to sleep the first time it tries to bring me through the setting. This is because information dumping is prevalent from the start. Within a short span, the story introduces what the Sixth is, who the Ayakashimori are, Sakuratani’s various sectors and notable locations, the ayakashi populating each sector, and 17 important characters including each sector’s Shire or the representative who manages the ayakashi within their sector. On top of all this information that is reasonably expected from any fiction with its own unique world, the writing also contains plenty of new terms that, as previously mentioned, are either unexplained or poorly elaborated in both the story and the in-game Dictionary. As a result, the whole introduction to Sakuratani was rough and filled me with more confusion and headache than anticipation. The narrative only picked up for me once its focus shifted from the technical stuff to the individual characters towards the middle of chapter one.

An Ayakashimori’s slice-of-life story

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is split into the Prologue, a Common Route, and six routes consisting of five character romance routes and one Finale Route. In the Common Route, the Map of Sakuratani is used at various points for players to select a slice-of-life scene they wish to view. The slice-of-life scene is either a short scenario with the selected love interest or a simple mini-game where the protagonist will apprehend an unruly ayakashi with her restraining spell. There are clear icons and labels used on the Map to indicate which scene occurs where and involves who. An icon with the love interest’s chibi headshot means the scene is for that particular love interest, whereas icons without a headshot are for the apprehension mini-game.

Apart from the introductory scenes found on the very first Map, all slice-of-life scenes in later Maps involving a love interest have a choice menu that would help raise affection points for that love interest. Also from the second Map screen onward, players may select only one slice-of-life scene to view. Due to how the scenes are split and the scenes’ eventual involvement in deciding which ending the player gets, it would be best to stick to a single love interest’s scenes throughout the Common Route when aiming for that love interest’s route. By doing so, the love interest’s route would flow most coherently. Getting any additional scenes and the Romance End would also become effortless.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Map

Every character route has three possible endings, namely the Romance End (good), Broken/Lost Love End (bad), and Friendship End (neutral). The ending obtained is determined mostly by the accumulated affection points, though the Broken Love End for several routes can be obtained only by missing out on any three Map scenes with the love interest during the Common Route. For most character routes, each of the three endings gives slightly different insights about the love interest, which in turn provides a more comprehensive depiction of the love interest. Neither the Broken Love End nor Friendship End is necessary to get the Romance End, but completing all endings is a requirement for unlocking an extra Scenario Completion CG under the CG Gallery.

On top of choosing the correct dialogue options at specific points, players have to ensure Shino’s Skill Level is at four or above in order for the Finale Route in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani to unlock. The protagonist’s Skill Level, which is recorded on the Status screen along with the love interests’ affection points, can be increased by clearing the apprehension mini-games that show up on the Map. Sad to say, the mini-game is something I would not play more than twice in a row if it had been entirely optional. The gameplay is casual enough: the player simply presses the controller buttons or taps the circles on the screen according to a given randomized sequence. To obtain the highest “Superb” grade, all five button/screen taps made must be mistake-free and completed within the first 20 seconds once the mini-game starts. The cut-off time for the next best “Excellent” grade is at 40 seconds from the start. Furthermore, it is not possible to run into a game over. But there is also no option to skip the mini-game, so players must complete the mini-game to progress forward. What made the mini-game feel like a drag to play are the slow, unskippable, and uninteresting animations at the beginning and end of it. Furthermore, the ayakashi to be apprehended is always shown as the same nondescript mist that just bobs about harmlessly, hardly making me want to restrain it.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Minigame

Note that the Finale Route can be unlocked during the first playthrough, and all six routes have storylines independent of one another. It is therefore technically possible to play the routes in any order. Semi’s route contains the most plot-relevant information though, so if one intends to save the Finale Route for the last, it would then be logical to save Semi’s route for the second last. Nevertheless, judging by how the routes are written, it seems one of the possible play orders is Shiratsuki, then Akuroou, Shu, Hira, Semi, and finally the Finale.

Semi Tokitsugu the Squad Leader

Tokitsugu (voiced by Toyonaga Toshiyuki), or more often referred to by his surname Semi, is the leader of the Ayakashimori squad that Shino is assigned to. Unlike the protagonist who is a serious hard worker, Tokitsugu appears to be fairly laid-back. And much to Shino’s exasperation, he loves to tease his squad members like how a senior would tease their juniors in school. Despite his habitual teasing that has caused Shino to keep her guard up around him lest she becomes the brunt of his jokes, Tokitsugu is a caring squad leader who looks after everyone’s well-being.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Semi

I find Tokitsugu to be an interesting character, specifically during the Common Route where his mischievous behavior shines through the most. There is a lively dynamic between Tokitsugu and his squad members, and his interactions with the protagonist are fun to watch as Shino often has witty retorts to his playful remarks. His voice artist also managed the best sarcastic laugh I have ever heard. Not to mention, it is kind of amusing, albeit a little awkward, to see Shino sometimes describing Tokitsugu’s eyes since his character sprite’s eyes are closed by default — almost as if Tokitsugu is pulling a prank on the player!

Despite having an interesting personality, Tokitsugu has the most boring route in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani. A big chunk of his route is so plot-focused, there is disproportionately little attention given to the pair’s relationship development. To make matters worse, the plot in Tokitsugu’s route felt unexciting with the rather flat storytelling that fumbled in building much significant tension. By the time I was on the third (out of five) chapter of the route, I was bored to tears and couldn’t care less about the conflict in the story and its resolution. What’s more, there is only one choice menu present, causing the route to feel even more mentally stifling to play through. At least the Romance End is decently sweet, thankfully.

Akuroou the Oni

With a fiery gaze and deadpan look, Akuroou (voiced by Suzuki Tatsuhisa) is an intimidating-looking but gentlemanly oni. In name, he is the trustworthy assistant to the Shire of Makatsuhi. In reality, he is more of a babysitter watching over the Shire and his two troublemaking companions, and disciplining them whenever necessary.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Akuurou

Akuroou is someone who is very courteous and kind, making it easy for me to warm up to him. He is always considerate of Shino, and their little interactions during the Common Route left me with tingling, fluffy feels. His route has similarly lovely vibes and it is a joy to watch Akuroou and Shino getting closer over the course of events.

This route may not have the most happening storyline but the writing manages to pull on my curiosity enough to make me stay attentive to the unfolding events. It also helps that the Makatsuhi folks are an entertaining bunch. The Shire and the two troublemakers in particular brought much comic relief, keeping me hooked on the story. I find Akuroou’s Broken Love End to be beautifully somber as well. Nonetheless, there is a small event in the route that feels like it was deliberately shoved in and not a natural flowing part of the story, which broke my immersion for a bit.

Shiratsuki the Kitsune

Proudly proclaiming himself as the best nine-tailed fox in existence, Shiratsuki (voiced by Sakurai Takahiro), nicknamed Shiro, is the Shire of Kikutsune. Like the other kitsune, Shiratsuki is energetic and bubbly, though he speaks like an old man and tends to be deep in thought at times. He also likes to write calligraphy using his tail as a brush, a habit that always upsets his loyal assistant to no end.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Shiratsuki

Because Shiratsuki falls under the outgoing extroverted type, he did not immediately appeal to me in spite of his adorable appearance. Moreover, in the beginning, he seems to be constantly judging Shino based on her words and actions, so I grew somewhat suspicious of him. By the end of the Common Route, however, I was won over by his earnest attitude. Notably, his final Map scene in the Common Route made me see the Shire of Kikutsune in a new light.

I personally found Shiratsuki’s route to be more emotionally charged than the rest. I was feeling angry watching the events unfold as the conflict in the story brewed, and I mean it in a good way; the story managed to spark an emotion in me. Shiratsuki’s Broken Love End also carries a sense of regret and wistfulness that is more pronounced than the other love interests’ Broken Love End. And his Romance End is definitely one of the happiest in the whole game.

Hira the Tengu

Named after the Hira Mountains, Hira (voiced by Kobayashi Yūsuke) is a tengu who looks perpetually listless and cannot be bothered to do his duties as the Shire of Amatsuna. He finds meeting and talking with the others, especially the Ayakashimori such as Shino herself, a bothersome and draining chore. His assistant calls him a hikikomori or recluse and struggles to get him to step out of the house or do anything outside of his comfort zone. Indeed, one may remark that Hira is as immovable as the mountain itself.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Hira

The portrayal of Hira’s character in the Common Route is entertaining, to say the least. The way Hira is always sleeping on the ground and showing a lazy attitude reminds me of a cat. And due to how clearly nonchalant Hira’s initial behavior is, it becomes easy to catch on to the changes in his attitude that occur primarily during his route. His gallant entry at one particular moment even knocked my socks off. It was like watching a cat morphing into a… bigger cat, yes.

Hira’s route has quite an exciting storyline and poses one of the more thought-provoking challenges for Shino, that is, learning to shake her human biases away and see things from the ayakashi’s point of view. Overall, there is nice character growth observed for both Hira and Shino. The protagonist’s resolve in the route is astonishing to see, and so is the strong bond forged between the two that made even the Broken Love End feel less sad and more hopeful.

Shu the Snake Ayakashi

Shu (voiced by Ōsaka Ryōta) is a snake ayakashi who claims to be the Shire of Mitsuchi, a hidden fourth sector in Sakuratani. Unlike his good-natured assistant, Shu is normally uncooperative and sometimes hostile when it comes to dealing with the Ayakashimori. Even so, this tsundere with a boyish appearance is not at all coldhearted and would render assistance to anybody in need, even if that individual is an Ayakashimori.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Shu

Tsundere characters are not my type, and while there are a few who have successfully melted my heart with their endearing personalities before, Shu is unfortunately not one of them. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the usual back-and-forths one would expect between the protagonist and a tsundere love interest. It is cute when Shu’s cheeks flush red too.

Compared to the other character routes, Shu’s route has the most intricate plot with slightly more layers to it. It is also the only route where both the Shire and their assistant have a natural and active participation in the story rather than one of them being sidelined and reduced to a mere decoration or worse, an obviously contrived plot device. The interactions between Shu and his assistant, particularly those happening in the protagonist’s absence, greatly help reveal the different sides of Shu that players would otherwise not know of. The route discloses much detail about Shu’s assistant too, which helps me have a clearer picture of who the assistant is as an individual instead of only knowing him superficially as “Shu’s assistant”. When it comes to the endings, the Romance End has a positive conclusion as expected, but the Broken Love End is surprisingly heartbreaking. Still, I find the conflict in the story was resolved a little too conveniently. As a result, the resolution faltered for me when the buildup before then was genuinely nice and intense.

Finale Route

The Finale Route is largely satisfactory. It ties up the major loose ends left in the Common Route and has a relatively touching storyline that ends on a fulfilling note. However, perhaps because the Finale Route was structured to be a stand-alone route, it does nothing about the minor loose ends present in the five character routes. Nonetheless, I was hoping the Finale Route would utilize all the 18 important characters to their fullest, and further expand on the relationships between different characters that have been difficult to show during the love interest-specific routes. Alas, my expectations proved to be a tad high. I was also disappointed by two very special character sprites’ utterly brief appearances. All in all, the Finale Route is a decent closure to Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani, but by no means a grand one.

Akitsu Shino the Newbie

One of the newest recruits of the Sixth, Shino (not voiced) is hardworking and humble. She acknowledges there is much for her to learn as a junior Ayakashimori and strives to do her best. A responsible squad member who takes pride in her job, Shino gets along well with practically everyone. Her exchanges with her squad leader Tokitsugu are the most curious, and her strong desire to protect the ayakashi moves my heart.

In all character routes, Shino is given some form of challenge that she would eventually learn a lesson or two from. Having faith and trust in her allies for help is a running theme which has highlighted the protagonist’s tendency to be overly self-dependent. Through the different routes, she also learned to look beyond an ayakashi’s appearance, stop assuming that she could use her human sensibilities to guess how an ayakashi thinks or feels, and see the ayakashi as equals. But her character growth is still comparatively subtler than her relationship development with her respective love interests. On the whole, Shino is a more or less entertaining protagonist with several qualities that make her generally likable.

Writing: World, Characters, and Events

I really like the world in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani. Besides having architecture from distinct periods, every sector in Sakuratani has other unique characteristics as well. Makatsuhi is loud and bustling with activities, Kikutsune is trendy and a great shopping place, and Amatsuna is serene and feels sacred. The ayakashi population is easily distinguishable from one another too; Makatsuhi folks are fascinated by the latest human technology and games, Kikutsune residents enjoy dressing up in fashionable clothes, and those in Amatsuna (minus their Shire) like to make themselves useful.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - Routes

Despite having a fascinating world with intriguing characters, the writing regrettably did not make good use of its cast. Side characters, in particular, are constantly treated as disposable characters. It is incredibly upsetting to see Hira’s and Shiratsuki’s assistants being relegated to the role of a passive spectator in the respective character routes. And the Shire of Makatsuhi may have a more active role in Akuroou’s route but his involvements tend to feel programmed.

Another thing about the writing that feels similarly programmed is the flow of the story events. While the events in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani are not exactly predictable, their flow sometimes feels forced. As I read through certain parts for the first time, I could vaguely identify the planned sections that a single scene had methodologically divided itself into.

Forced flow of events aside, I find it a wasted opportunity that the character routes have not referenced the slice-of-life Map scenes more. The Map scenes have some of the most interesting events that could have made great conversation topics or flashbacks later in the story.

Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani - CG

Art: Character Sprites and CGs

In general, the art in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is pleasing to the eyes. The anime-style character sprites are not animated, but they have plenty of poses and facial expressions that the game has made thorough and apt use of throughout. As for the CGs, there is wonderful use of perspective, camera angle, and composition to convey the CG’s subject focus, action, and emotion across.

Minor faults of two kinds can be noticed with some of the character sprites, however. The first kind is minor imperfections in the art itself, and can be observed with a side character whose front-facing sprite has a visibly sketchier line art around her chest area. The second kind is programming bugs, which I have encountered with Shu’s and Tokitsugu’s character sprites. In both instances, the character sprite remained when they should have been cleared off the screen according to the narrative. The bug in Tokitsugu’s case is slightly more serious as his sprite persists over several subsequent scenes and only disappears when another variant of the character sprite takes its place.

UI: Features and Functions

The UI has a simple and clean look, and features options and extra menus that are regularly found in Otomate titles. Players may change the opacity of the text box, adjust the volume for each character’s voice, view unlocked CGs, or listen to the BGM under the Gallery.

Under Completion Check, players may check their current percentage completion for each route, chapter by chapter and ending by ending. Other than providing an immense sense of achievement by stamping every 100% segment with a cool “Completed” digital ink stamp, this extra menu is of little practical use. This is especially so when the game already has a Flowchart that not only lays out the route structure and allows loading from any selected scene, but also uses colors to indicate which scene or chapter is fully completed and which ones are not yet.

What’s really useful in Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is the set of shortcut keys, a combination of the ZL button with another button, which I relied on a lot. These shortcut keys cannot be remapped but they definitely saved me much trouble from having to go through the pause menu to open the same few sub-menus. They are as handy as the “Skip past previously read text” function.

Not all features and functions are brilliant, though. For instance, the Backlog that does not show lines from monologic scenes. Another example is the Dictionary system. In addition to the Dictionary not being as helpful as it should be, its entire system is not very user-friendly. First, when new terms from the Dictionary show up in the story text for the first time, they are given a purple font color, but players cannot tap on the word or press a specific button to be instantly shown the Dictionary entry for it. Second, the Dictionary menu does not have visual indicators to highlight which alphabetical sections have newly acquired but unread entries, so players have to scroll through the sections to find them. Third, a few words are entered as different but equivalent terms in the Dictionary, making the search for those entries more confusing and complicated than necessary. I remember trying to search under section “S” for shinsatsu when it is actually listed under “N–O” as ofuda.

Something else that is kind of broken is the Auto Mode. By design, because of the additional Audio Sync option, Auto Mode ignores the voice clips. So, with Audio Sync set to “Off”, Auto Mode at the two highest speeds will not wait for the voice clips to finish playing before moving to the next line. Naturally, this is not ideal. One may try the third-fastest speed where the voice clips will play fully, but the automatic advancement to the next line is quite slow, taking anywhere from 5 to 16 seconds (with instantaneous Message Speed) depending on the length of the sentence.

One may also keep the Audio Sync on and tweak the Message Speed to make Auto Mode work for them at the fastest speed. A word of caution: Audio Sync, which is set to “On” by default, is an inferior setting than the good old Message Speed. To be fair, Audio Sync likely works seamlessly in the Japanese version. After all, it would be easier to sync the Japanese text’s text speed to the Japanese voice clips for the content in the voice clip is identical to what is written in the text. When used in the English version, instead of some elegant text animation, we get slowly appearing opening words punctuated with an unceremonious dump of the remaining sentence. In short, the visual effect is ugly with the English text.

Translation Quality

Aksys Games’ translation of Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is all right. Minor typos, such as misspellings and wrong words, can be spotted throughout. Some sentences are awkwardly written too, especially in Shu’s route. Most of the time, these issues do not alter the intended meaning of the sentences, in the sense that one could reasonably infer what the sentence is trying to say despite any typos and weird phrasing.

While there are no untranslated lines in the main text itself, there are some under the Backlog for the Finale Route. The name labels designed for the text boxes are not that great for English names, and one minor character’s lengthy name ends up getting cut off the screen. Still, these are rather small issues that did not significantly hamper my experience with the game.

What did spoil my enjoyment of Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani to some extent are two particular localization decisions made. The first is editing Shiratsuki’s Common Route CG, where he displays one of his calligraphy works, to show English words on the vertical calligraphy paper. Since the story text itself explains what the words on the paper read, it becomes excessive to edit the original CG in a way that stripped it of its Japanese aesthetics — the hallmark of this game. There is effort in choosing a font to match the handwritten aspect visually and breaking up the words so the whole phrase can be read in a top-to-bottom manner, but the edited CG does not feel equivalent to the original as the brushstrokes, which illustrate how each part of a logographic character is written, are lost. I am bothered by the full-stop added at the end too since it is unusual for people to put a full stop to a single idiom written calligraphically.

The second thing that irked me is the poor handling of a particularly significant scene in one of the character routes. Towards the end, the love interest begins to call Shino by her given name, signifying the change in their relationship from acquaintances to, in this case, lovers. And the story states that Shino expresses joy at this change. Unfortunately, this sentimental moment is butchered because in that route, Shino’s given name is already used as the substitute for what I surmise is a polite “you” before that important scene occurred. Therefore, based solely on the English text, the love interest changing his way of addressing the protagonist from “Shino” to (surprise!) “Shino” at that moment is at best comical, and at worst nonsensical.

That said, I deeply appreciate the extra work done for the Private Files. If not for the added translation texts for the love interests’ voice clips, this extra menu brimming with interesting tidbits about each character would not have made sense to me.


Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani is mainly bogged down by average writing that did not do enough justice to the enchanting world of Sakuratani and its cast of charming characters. Aksys Games’ translation quality is a mixed bag as well. Despite that, my 45 to 50 hours spent with this otome visual novel has been mostly enjoyable. If you fancy some supernatural romance with the ayakashi, entertaining stories rich in Japanese mythology, and pleasant culturally hybrid music to pass your time with, then you may like what Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani has to offer.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch

If you would like to see more Otome Visual Novels, you may be interested in our review of Cupid ParasiteOr how about checking out some of the top visual novels on our Top Visual Novels of 2021 list.

Many thanks go to Aksys Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

If you’d like to see more articles from us, please remember to follow us on Twitter🐦 and consider turning notifications on. Or type in your E-mail address and click the button for free email updates. You can also come chat with us on Discord.

Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage

Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!