Most people in the West probably first heard of Date A Live back when the anime premiered in 2013 but this highly popular light novel series actually began two years prior to that in 2011. Despite its popularity the light novel material never has been released in the West although all three seasons of the anime have now been licensed and released over the last few years. Now though fans of this franchise have their first opportunity to access some supplemental material featuring their favorite cast of characters as not one, but three visual novels for the franchise have been released in English thanks to Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation being released by Idea Factory International.
Mysterious phenomenon eventually dubbed “Space quakes” once devastated various parts of the world and caused the deaths of millions of people. Over the years these incidents continued to occur on a smaller scale though the world has adapted with shelters and warning systems that can detect a potential space quake. Only when Shido Itsuka ends up venturing out to find his sister during one of these events does he learn the truth behind these events. They are caused by mysterious girls called “Spirits” appearing in the world. Possessing incredible powers that can devastate the land, Shido learns that he possesses the ability to seal the Spirits’ powers by kissing them when they happen to like him enough. As such his series of dates with the Spirits, starting with a girl named Tohka, begin with the help of the Ratatoskr organization led by his younger sister Kotori to save the world and the girls from being targeted by outside forces.
Now it is worth noting that if you’ve already seen the anime, this is all very familiar to you and Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation mostly expects that to be the case. Even here I would highly recommend that potential players at least watch the initial season of the anime before trying to dive into the game as not only will this fill in additional details that only are given a simple explanation but also help build up your attachment to these characters since they are often the best part of the series. It is possible to simply go into this game with no prior knowledge but be prepared for only brief explanations of most prior events.
Before we go further though, it is worth noting that this game is actually three visual novels in one with players having the option of playing Date A Live: Rinne Utopia, Date A Live: Arusu Install, and Rio Reincarnation itself. All three of these games are meant to be played in a certain order, though that order doesn’t quite follow the way they are listed on the menu so players should be wary of that. If you do wish to jump straight into Rio Reincarnation there is an option to watch a synopsis that explains the various events that started the series as well as what happened in the previous two games.
Since all three of these games feature separate storylines that take place over the course of many hours, we won’t go too in-depth with them here as to avoid spoiling events. Rinne Utopia is the first game in the series and features the addition of Rinne, a girl that suddenly appears as Shido’s best friend since childhood. It doesn’t take long before this odd event begins to shift reality and challenge Shido and the rest of the Spirits. It is worth noting that Rinne Utopia is slotted in-between the events of the first season of the anime and the second. This means that many Spirits will not be in the game instead players will find Tohka, Yoshino, Kurumi, Kotori, the human Origami, and the new Rinne as the primary cast here.
Arusu Install marks the second game players should play to keep the game’s story paced properly. This visual novel follows the events that see Shido entering a virtual world where he meets a mysterious AI named Aritsu as well as her twin only to have Shido and the rest of the cast end up becoming stuck within the game until they show the AI the real meaning of love. This entry takes place after the second anime season allowing the addition of the Yamai twins and Miku to the core cast and despite being a bit more off the wall, this entry happens to be perhaps one of the most entertaining of the three games. As for the third game, it is worth noting that even Rio Reincarnation doesn’t approach the third season of the anime so players should be prepared to not see certain other characters appear here.
Perhaps the biggest praise that one can give Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation is that all three of the visual novels found in this release feel right at home in the larger narrative of the core series. Not only do they manage to feel like they could easily slot themselves in as side-stories between the anime seasons but they replicate the characters and the feel of the source material perfectly. This means that fans of the series will have no problem finding themselves right at home in these visual novels and seeing their favorite characters in at least two, mostly three, new stories. It also helps that considering these are visual novels, players will have numerous endings that they can choose to aim for as they make their way through the game. Various decisions made on who to spend your time with when given free time outside of the core plot and what dialogue options picked when available will push players towards certain endings for each character making the replay value for these novels incredibly high and the option to skip previously read text does speed things up a bit for those who want to see everything available.
For the most part players won’t find too much gameplay variation between the three visual novels found in Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation as they all basically play the same way. Players will spend the majority of their time reading through the story segments and then, when given free time, making decisions on who to visit and spend time with. These free time events make up the real variation in the game as players are given a certain amount of time in each segment. This time can be spent talking to a couple of side-characters that don’t affect your available time and then the actual plot characters that are the Spirits, Origami, and other plot relevant members of the cast.
Being familiar with the series is another boon here as fans of the series will immediately be able to tell who is a side-character while newer fans may end up choosing too quickly and missing out on a bit of extra dialogue. Thankfully each visual novel has their own set of saves as well as quick saves so players can create multiple files to avoid potentially making a wrong decision. As mentioned before, player choice will play a role in directing them towards a number of different endings so be prepared for quite a bit of extra reading and replaying to see everything these novels have to offer.
It is interesting to note that Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation also offers a little extra bonus in the form of a digital art book for all three visual novels as well as drama CDs for each one as well. Unfortunately it appears that the drama CDs were not subtitled so unless you understand Japanese, these are mostly a way to hear your favorite characters talk through some additional events in the background. It is also worth noting that, considering this game offers three visual novels, players should be ready to spend their time reading for hours on end. Thankfully the localization is mostly without issue outside of a few small spelling and grammar errors here and there.
Visuals & Audio
Considering the amount of time players will spend looking at the various character portraits in Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation it is a great thing that they are both animated and presented in great detail here. Every character, including most side characters, will have a portrait that will animate and move slightly while speaking and there are numerous CGs for each of the three visual novels found in this release with each one offering a great amount of detail and solid level of fanservice, though it is worth noting that this PlayStation 4 version is slightly altered in a few places with a few of the aforementioned artbook pages also removed entirely.
As for the audio, players will be pleased to hear that all of the original voice actresses and actors from the Japanese anime have returned to reprise their roles here. In fact, every bit of spoken dialogue is voiced which is quite a lot considering the numerous routes in each visual novel though oddly enough the only character that isn’t voiced most of the time is Shido as he is instead kept silent outside of some introduction segments. Whether this was to help keep players feeling like they were playing the game rather than controlling Shido or something else, it feels like a bit of an odd choice.
After waiting for so many years, few could have expected that the Date A Live visual novels would make their way to the West but now with Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation offering three releases in one, fans can rejoice as their localization is handled splendidly here. Sure the fact that all three play in a similar manner can be a bit of a let down and every so often there will be some lengthy story focused segments that don’t require player input but this does little to hurt the fact that those who enjoy this franchise will find plenty to love in this release as they sink countless hours reading through each story and trying to obtain the best ending for each of their favorite characters.