Jiangshi x Daoshi begins with a man named Luan under attack by a vicious youkai. Just as he is about to die, however, he is saved by someone who appears to be a young girl—but is actually a powerful dao priest and swordswoman named Ling Ling. Ling Ling has descended from her mountain for the first time in centuries, and she makes Luan her disciple while adjusting to the modern world.
This visual novel is told in an episodic format, and currently three episodes are available. Episode I – Boy Meets Girl is a fairly short introduction to the story as Luan and Ling Ling get to know each other, and culminates in Luan’s transformation into a jiangshi, or reanimated corpse, after a run-in with the assassins he once worked for. Episode II – The Fable of the Fake Elixir of Life picks up from there as the two characters, now a capable team, investigate the source of a dangerous elixir that makes the drinker immortal at a terrible price. Finally, Episode III – Lady Hexers resumes the overarching plot introduced in the second episode in a much longer story filled with new enemies and growing danger.
Through it all, Jiangshi x Daoshi is presented in a surprisingly dynamic way for a visual novel. Dialogue and narration is always written in NVL format, but the rest of the story is portrayed in a variety of ways. Character portraits might be cut in for a key conversation, while other scenes will show sprites facing off against each other, and still others will feature animated sections and many different CGs. On top of that, it often makes use of unusual backgrounds, including concept art, chibi images with commentary on the story, or just amusing lines to add to add more humor to the scene.
With all of that said, you might think it’s a comedy. However, while it has plenty of lighthearted moments, it’s also a dark story filled with bloody battles and gruesome descriptions. Between Luan’s past as an assassin and the twisted enemies he and Ling Ling find themselves up against, it can get pretty dark. The story deals with numerous pieces of folklore beyond just youkai, with a built-in glossary after Episode I that lets you read definitions by hovering the mouse over certain pieces of text, and the story is pretty interesting despite it not being heavily plot-focused.
I say that because Jiangshi x Daoshi seems to revel in its battles more than anything else. High-stakes, fast-paced combat between powerful foes is when its dynamic presentation shines the most. The quirky sense of humor that never quite goes away even when the story is at its darkest serves to heighten these moments and make the whole experience feel even crazier. That even applies to the soundtrack, as it features many songs that feel like they should be out of place in a visual novel like this, but somehow they work. This is the sort of story where an assassin slaughtering enemies while “La Bamba” plays in the background somehow feels appropriate.
There are a couple of frustrating oddities in the visual novel’s setup, however. First, you can’t manually save. Each episode is further divided into books and chapters, and it auto-saves at the start of each chapter. Since the chapters are pretty short, that’s not too bad, but a manual save feature would have been appreciated. Second, there seems to be no way to access the options menu from within the game, only from the title screen. Both of these are minor frustrations, but they’re decisions that left me scratching my head.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my time with Jiangshi x Daoshi, although it only took a few hours to complete all three episodes. The battles are exciting and intense, I really like the characters and their interactions, and there is a good dose of comedy (and plenty of references) scattered throughout. Since the story isn’t completed in Episode III, we should get a fourth episode eventually, so here’s hoping it keeps up the wacky blend of darkness and humor established here.