Variable Barricade


Review by · March 10, 2022

You don’t need the protagonist of a game to be exactly like you to relate to them and their plights, but it certainly never hurts. And hoo boy, Variable Barricade wastes no time in calling me out: the protagonist—default name Hibari—is highly anxious, stressed, awkward around men, and has what seems like an incurable case of Resting Bitch Face. Unfortunately, we start to deviate in the areas of finance—she’s super rich—and living circumstances—she’s living with four handsome men who are attempting to court her. But that’s where Variable Barricade swoops in to let me (and you, too; I know I’m not the only one exhibiting one or all of the abovementioned symptoms) live vicariously through her in this outrageous otome romp with enough laughs to lighten up even the most hardened of hearts.

You’d think the rich girl’s suitors would be closer to her in status, but they’re actually poured straight from a box of “Oops! All Layabouts!” cereal. The love interests include Ichiya, a wannabe Casanova with a record of attempted marriage fraud; Taiga, a mischievous world traveler with a gambling addiction; Nayuta, a young man with a heart of gold and a bottomless pit of debt; and Shion, who’s highly perceptive but refuses to do even basic tasks and instead jumps from one sugar daddy to the next. This ragtag cast lays the foundations for one of the most hilarious sets of storylines in an otome game. Each scene makes full use of Variable Barricade’s pristine presentation to elicit enough laughs, gasps, and screeches to make you grateful your husbands are confined to the second dimension and can’t express concern over your reactions.

Sillier scenes, like a housewarming party nearly turning into a housefire, feature highly detailed chibi CGs to drive home the whacky feel. More standout scenes, like a daring rescue or a date at the arcade, have their own traditional CGs. From sweet to spicy, these CGs are a real treat that add to the sometimes serious, often outlandish grin-inducing scenarios Variable Barricade has to offer.

The visuals remain top-notch even during scenes without CGs. Spot blacks on color illustrations have always been near and dear to me, and they’re especially striking on Variable Barricade’s sleek character designs with crisp, high-contrast colors. Numerous outfits per character and a wide array of expressions further let the characters pop—and it’s not just the suitors! All named characters have their own portraits! Owners of even the most active imaginations would have groaned if made to think up designs for important secondary characters when there are gorgeous visuals right in front of them, but Variable Barricade doesn’t let them down.

Variable Barricade chibi CG screenshot of Ichiya, the Protagonist, and Shion sitting on a couch while Ichiya tosses a mug away.
This is suspiciously similar to what I say when trying to vehemently deny my caffeine addiction.

The visuals are accompanied by phenomenal voice acting. This is an area where otome games usually excel, but just like the game’s overall silliness, Variable Barricade cranks the voicework up to 11. While the story runs the gamut of emotions, so, too, do the characters’ voices. Nayuta’s wails and shouts, Taiga’s boisterous laughs and quiet musings, Shion’s gentle cooing and firm advice, and Ichiya’s cheesy pick-up lines and impassioned declarations are all delivered with such jaw-dropping fidelity that yours runs the risk of becoming unhinged.

The music to go along with it all also sets the mood in ways both standard and sidesplittingly subversive. When “BREAKTHROUGH,” a track perfect for a serious heist scene, starts playing over the protagonist anxiously making her way to have a simple conversation with someone, it’s hard not to crack up. The opening theme, “Sixteen,” is a Certified Bop, yes, but it also has a few instrumental versions to contribute cohesion amidst the vast musical ranges, including a low-tempo “-46 Version-” for intimate moments and an upbeat “-26 Version-” perfect for fun-on-the-town scenes. Variable Barricade only has 29 tracks total, but they’re jazzy, snazzy, and varied enough to match—or make—the scenes, whether they’re hilarious or subdued.

Variable Barricade screenshot of Tsumugi speaking to the protagonist in the school cafeteria.
Finally, this is all I’ve ever wanted! Well, this and for every day to be Sushi Wednesday.

All this is backed up by the most crucial part of Variable Barricade: its writing. Not only does the setup result in hilarious hijinks, but it’s the premier venue for genuinely engaging romantic subplots. Each suitor has their own connection to the protagonist that stems into individual routes full of twists and turns, and the budding romances are approached with just the right mix of tenderness and lightheartedness that can melt even the iciest of hearts. The protagonist joins the love interests with strengths that assist each other in overcoming their weaknesses. For instance, her dedication to her future can help ground the drifting Taiga, while his worldliness can help her escape from her highly confined personal bubble. The result is a cast of characters who feel fully realized and likable across all routes.

Learning the truths behind each love interest only makes them even more endearing in other routes, where they continue to interact with each other no matter what direction the storyline goes in. Seeing Ichiya’s supportiveness of his fellow suitors feels especially bittersweet after a run-through of his personal route, and other characters’ actions start to take on new meanings when viewed knowing the context of their route. Variable Barricade also features a heaping helping of chapters through the love interests’ perspectives, which are another fantastic way to catch glimpses of the unfolding story while also not losing sight of the game’s good humor. Seeing the love interests open up to each other and exhibit how they’re growing—while also including gentle reminders of their funnier “shortcomings”—is a great workout routine for your face muscles as they move from surprised gasps to quick laughs and back as the story crescendos and culminates, from its start to all its endings.

Variable Barricade screenshot of a CG illustration featuring Taiga and the protagonist at an arcade.
Get yourself a man who supports your otome gaming habits.

As easy as it is to allocate your love among different otome games, it can oftentimes feel satisfying just to get all the good endings, the “true” ending if there is one, and maybe one or two bad ends. Variable Barricade, though, managed to so thoroughly win me over that I really, truly wanted to unlock every CG and ending. Like other otome games, Variable Barricade offers helpful options to skip scenes you’ve already read; the chapters are presented on what is essentially a game board, and most chapters can be skipped entirely once you’ve read through them at least once.

Yes, this makes replaying routes to get all the endings a simple affair, but what if you’re like me—I mean Shion, too lazy to even start up a new file? Prepare to let out a sigh of relief: you’ll learn some Critical Information along the way to the true ending and can make use of the mysterious “Full Open” menu option, which unlocks all Gallery goodies. This menu includes all the CGs and Endings that you can peruse at your leisure without having to go through the routes again. Admittedly, I don’t recommend accessing Full Open at all until after completing the true ending; it will tell you what Critical Information you’re looking for, which in and of itself may constitute as a spoiler to some players. But once you’ve gotten the true ending? Go ahead, treat yourself.

You can count on Variable Barricade to treat you to highly enjoyable love interests that are surprising in the best ways, and span some fun and whacky romance tropes. You can trust it to provide an incredibly well-rounded cast of both love interests and secondary characters, in addition to a protagonist with her own capacity for engaging character growth. And you can be confident that it will have you grinning from ear to ear from start to finish. With Variable Barricade, I’ve found not only the cure for my own Resting Bitch Face syndrome, but a genuinely loveable title that’s permanently wormed its way into my heart. Yes, it’s a heart that’s been running on otome games for quite some time by now, but Variable Barricade stands out in all the right ways with its mix of uproarious humor and heartfelt romance. No matter what mood you enter in, you’ll leave and think back on Variable Barricade with a smile.


Sweet and serious story, funny and charming cast, stylish presentation.


Some line breaks escape into the next text box, the suitors are not real.

Bottom Line

Through its hilarity and romance, you can absolutely trust Variable Barricade to bring a smile to your face.

Overall Score 94
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Niki Fakhoori

Niki Fakhoori

Video games have been an important element of my life since early childhood, and RPGs are the games that gave me the opportunity to branch out of my “gaming comfort zone” when I was a wee lass. I’ve always spent a good deal of my time writing and seeking value in the most unsuspecting places, and as such I’ve come to love writing about games, why they work, how they can improve, and how they affect those who play them.