Enjoyable characters, engrossing lore, and a bit of bloodshed are all part of one of the best visual novels released in 2020. Now, if only Fruitbat Factory can release Jiangshi x Daoshi‘s splendid soundtrack separately.
Developer: Dendo Denkido
Publisher: Fruitbat Factory
Release date: November 20th, 2020
Availability: First two episodes are free, Lady Hexers is available for $9.99 via Steam
If you equate visual novels with longwinded, sluggish experiences, Jiangshi x Daoshi is poised to challenge that stance. Originally released stateside last July, the first two episodes of Dendo Denkido’s novel arrived free of charge. But unlike the middling quality of many complimentary novels, Jiangshi x Daoshi introductory installments demonstrated a liveliness that’s unusual for the medium.
Sure, the plotline wasn’t revolutionary, but it was pulpy fun. Blending visceral, shōnen-style action with screwball humor, Jiangshi x Daoshi centers around a few fascinating elements of Chinese folklore. Jiangshi refers to ‘hopping’ vampires. With outstretched arms like a zombie, they kill living creatures to absorb their qi, or life force.
A Solid Set-up…
Meanwhile, Daoshi refers to those who often retreat in the mountains to study the kind of wisdom that most of society would scoff at. From being able to pass through solid objects, a godlike command of weaponry, or immortality, these kinds of capabilities make for masterful storytelling.
Pleasingly, Jiangshi x Daoshi avoids the kind of stuffy seriousness that constrains many efforts. The novel’s introduction depicts ex-assassin Luan being attacked by a mysterious creature. Aid arrives in the form of 500 year-old daoshi Ling Ling. Much like classic wuxia film, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Ling Ling’s sword spins through the air with lethality, cleaving anything in its path.
…with a Delightful Cast
But it’s back at Luan’s residence that Jiangshi x Daoshi reveals its playful side. Humor is often rooted in the fish out of water situation, with Ling Ling scared by televised images of monsters. After living in the mountains for centuries, many of contemporary civilization’s inventions are wonderous and frightening. But occasionally, Jiangshi x Daoshi rests for introspection. In this case, television is compared to Taoist principle. Dendo Denkido doesn’t constantly inject perceptions like these, but their inclusion adds to the novel’s delight.
There’s plenty of playful bits, such an early scene where Ling Ling is able to pass through a solid wall but arrives on the order side with her clothing. Unfortunately, publisher Fruitbat Factory wasn’t able to get Jiangshi x Daoshi on Steam without a few edits. But they did the responsible thing and offer a free patch (which can be found here). While the plotline can be enjoyed without the restorative fix, purists will want to enjoy the novel in its original form, especially since Steam’s rejection seems narrow-minded.
Following “Boy Meets Girl” and “The Fable of the Fake Elixir of Life”, Jiangshi x Daoshi third episode is titled, “Lady Hexers”. After an accidental encounter with idol Taomi Nyanyan, both Luan and Ling Ling are thrust into a succession of escalating encounters against rival assassins, yokai, and other adversaries. Roughly the same length as the two preceding episodes, Lady Hexers’ success is built upon the rapport of the two leads. While it does end on a cliffhanger, the approach can be forgiven with a duo as charming as the Luan and Ling Ling. Although development for the trio of episodes reportedly took eight years, hopefully, we’ll see additional ones.
Undoubtedly, Jiangshi x Daoshi lengthy development period is tied to the amount of work that goes into each episode. In execution, the novel feels like watching an anime, with effects like picture-in-picture portraits, a wealth of character animations, and sequences that can feel like full-motion video. It all comes at a rapid rate, too. Almost every piece of dialog is punctuated by some kind of screen-filling graphic, from sword slashed to close-ups of blood splattered characters.
Pleasingly, it’s all voiced too. Every line of dialog is performed by actors that help bring the comedy and combat to life. When it comes to music, Jiangshi x Daoshi is no slouch either. From a catchy opening song reminiscent of SEKAI NO OWARI’s “One More Night” to striking background tracks that draw on an array of genres, this is one amazing soundtrack. Too bad it’s not available on Steam as a separate purchase. Localization was one of the final works from Conjueror; it documents a translating talent who we lost far too soon. If there’s a fault to be found with Jiangshi x Daoshi it’s in the interface, which doesn’t have a backlog and lacks the ability to save at any time.
Elevated by an unbelievably fluid and delightfully frantic visual style, Jiangshi x Daoshi nearly looks like an anime at times. Pleasingly, the plot also evokes common themes in animation, with an eccentric relationship and plenty of fascinating folklore. Given the novel’s pricing structure, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give Jiangshi x Daoshi a try.
Jiangshi x Daoshi – Episode III: Lady Hexers was played
on PC with review code provided by the publisher.