Collar x Malice Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2016
PUBLISHER: Idea Factory & Aksys Games
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: PS Vita (Japanese & English)
GAME LINK: Collar x Malice – PS Vita [Physical]
Collar x Malice – PS Vita [Digital Code]

Collar x Malice is the otome game localisation that I have been anticipating for the entire year. I initially heard about the game from the great reviews it received from the Japanese release, and I was very interested in Collar x Malice as it had beautiful artwork by Hanamura Mai (same artist for the Amnesia series). Not only that, but it is a mystery/detective Visual Novel which is the genre that I adore the most.

I am a huge fan of the Danganronpa series, so I was very excited to see how an otome game would incorporate the themes into the storyline. So when I heard it was one of the selected four otome titles that Aksys Games decided to pick up for localisation, I was nothing less than stoked. This is a review written in collaboration with Aksys Games, as I did receive a review copy of Collar x Malice to play and write about my thoughts on it. Needless to say, it is definitely worth the hype and I recommend it to all otome fans.

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

“Who put this collar on me?”

The protagonist is a policewoman who works in Shinjuku, which had become a dangerous city after a series of brutal incidents popularly referred to as the “X-Day Incident”.

She had been busy working in her assigned area everyday in order to keep it safe. But one night, an unknown assailant attacked her and placed a collar built in with poison around her neck.

Amidst the chaos and right before the protagonist’s eyes were men with suspicious backgrounds. They’re all part of an organisation composed of former police officers and have taken it upon themselves to investigate the brutal cases.

Without knowing whether she should trust these men or not, she suddenly became the person who held the key to this massive case.

In order to remove the collar that places her at the edge of death and to liberate Shinjuku from the malice that binds it, she cooperates; beginning to investigate the incidents with the men.

Who holds her life in their hands?
Will Shinjuku ever return to its former glory?
(Summary from VNDB

Collar x Malice has a very interesting premise that immediately captures your interest at first glance. All the routes act as important puzzle pieces for the overarching storyline, and reveals the piece by piece information needed to solve X-Day as a whole. As such, to fully enjoy the game you are required to play it in its entirety rather than only a few standalone routes. It is quite different from the traditional otome game, and although it does incorporate a lot of notable otome elements; it has a significantly heavier focus on the storyline.

The romance really takes a backseat in Collar x Malice, and it has a lengthy common route that is prevalent in all the routes. It’s a necessity as you’re introduced to the X-Day case assigned to each character, and you have to familiarise yourself with the nuances and clues pertaining to that specific investigation. As a result, it’s especially difficult initially to become immersed in the storyline and game universe because of how slow the pacing is at the beginning.

There’s a lot of information to digest and the X-Day Investigation is quite confusing to follow on your first play through. It becomes progressively easier and more interesting the further you delve into the game, as the pieces begin to fit together in solving the mystery. However, if you’re not a fan of heavy storyline content and writing then Collar x Malice probably isn’t the game for you.

In my opinion, then I thought it was a great pick up from Aksys Games as it’s something very different, unique and enjoyable to a wider audience. It delves into complex moral issues such as police corruption, the blurred lines between good and evil, and what one deems as ‘true justice’.

It poses difficult questions on the moral compass of humanity, and how sometimes there is no truly right answer or ‘the right thing to do’. When faced with the burdens of so many victims whom the protagonist achingly emphasises with, can she truly view their revenge as unjust? Her world is completely turned upside down as she comes to struggle with her own sense of justice, in a high stakes game where her own days are numbered with the X-Day countdown.

How often have we read news in the media and felt completely shocked at how little the criminal pays for their crimes, whilst the victim must shoulder it for the rest of their lives? And when these criminals are rightfully punished, the person responsible for it is praised for their heroic deeds; even if it is for the sake of ‘revenge’. If so, then can it truly be labelled as ‘morally wrong’?

If this victim was someone whom you loved and cherished, would you be able to sit by idly whilst their killer roamed a free man? Or would you too, become disillusioned by the justice system? These existentialist concepts really hit close to home and reflect current societal issues. It’s what makes the storyline and premise of Collar x Malice so compelling, and it’s very well thought out.

Another aspect I really liked was how the relationships between the characters were conveyed, as well as how pivotal friendship and family ties were in times of crisis. It was nice to see how they weaved in everyday life moments, to balance out with the investigation in order for you to truly appreciate them. Without it, the heroine would not have had such strong convictions for justice. It is her desire to protect those she holds dear even at the cost of her own life, that continues to push her forward to uncovering the truth behind X-Day.

I particularly liked her unexpected friendships with Mukai and Sakuragawa within the Police Force. I always enjoy Visual Novels where you can interact and form relationships with characters outside the main cast. You just become so much more immersed in the universe, and feel a much deeper connection to the characters.

My only criticisms for the storyline would be as I mentioned earlier, the pacing is very slow in all the routes at the beginning and difficult for most players to become fully immersed into plot. The storyline is very fragmented due to the nature of the X-Day cases, and confusing to understand initially until you play more than one route.

Although the character personalities themselves were very enjoyable to read, the routes were notably inconsistent in terms of level of quality. The game length is on the lengthier side, and encompasses 30+ endings. It would take on average 40-50 hrs worth of game time to fully clear the game.

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

For the route order in Collar x Malice, I highly recommend playing them in the following sequence: Mineo → Takeru → Kei → Kageyuki → Aiji. They are each assigned to a particular X-Day case, and the storyline flows best if you solve them in chronological order.

Mineo is first as he is in charge of April/May, and Shiraishi is fourth with the case in August/September. Aiji naturally must be played last as he only unlocks upon the completion of the four other routes, and he is working to solve X-Day as a whole. Shiraishi can be accessed from the second play through onwards, but I do not recommend it as his route has a lot of spoilers on the overarching storyline.

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HOSHINO ICHIKA: Although I have read very mixed reviews on Ichika as a character, I personally really enjoyed seeing her growth over the course of the storyline. She is a rookie cop with unwavering views of justice, and determined to free Shinjuku from the malice that binds it in all the routes. Unremarkable in the police force outside of her skills in marksmanship, it does little to deter her from putting her best efforts into the investigation in order to protect what she holds dear.

Up until the story is set into motion, Ichika is essentially a regular girl living a normal life. Yet suddenly, she is thrust into a life or death situation where she is forced to obey the whims of an unknown assailant. She has no choice but to entrust her livelihood to a group of strangers, all with questionable backgrounds in regards to the law and unable to speak to anyone about her predicament.

Any regular person would have instantly collapsed from the insurmountable pressure, and become paralysed by the fear of death. Ichika on the other hand, rather than being concerned for her own wellbeing; continues to place the needs of others before her own. It only fuels her desire to work harder than ever before, and that to me is a strong show of character.

That being said, Ichika is by no means a perfect protagonist. She is extremely naive at the beginning of the routes, and views the world in shades of black and white. As she delves deeper into the X-Day cases and learns the dark secrets of Shinjuku, her once unshakeable beliefs on the meaning of true justice are put to the test. She is horrified by the prospect that after the suffering she has seen and endured; she can undeniably empathise with Adonis’ ideals.

It is from her experiences over the course of the storyline that she is able to come to terms with their goals. However, rather than accepting their vision for the world at face value; she forms her own resolute sense of justice. It is Ichika’s flaws and weaknesses that enable her to develop as a character throughout the game. Even though her sense of empathy and kindness towards potential criminals is criticised by the other characters, it does not deter Ichika from doing what she believes is right.

It is this aspect that the others lack, which enables Ichika to ultimately solve the cases. Although her personality is inconsistent in some of the routes, I felt that was more so in response to the bachelor’s own character. Naturally whomever Ichika is closest to in each route will have a profound influence on her own personality, and character development.

Another facet I enjoyed about Ichika was the emphasis on the importance of family, and how it is addressed and resolved in all the routes in different ways. It serves as one of the major personal conflicts in the game, that serves as a pivotal point of development which Ichika must overcome. When forced to choose between what one holds dear, and one’s line of duty; would she be able to make such a decision? Would she abandon her own beliefs?

Or would she succumb to being a victim, and come to fully understand the pain and suffering of those who had been forsaken by the justice system? A system that was built to protect the innocent? I felt how Ichika chose to balance both aspects without giving up the other was addressed really well.

One thing I found odd about Ichika that the writers decided to incorporate was her complete lack of knowledge with modern technology. I felt it was a rather unnecessary and negative attribute to have. You would expect in this time era and with her field of occupation, she would at least have basic understanding of mobile games, and video calling.

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ENOMOTO MINEO: Mineo is cheerful, comical, kind-hearted and considered the bane of Takeru’s existence. He is often used as the butt of his jokes, and as an errand boy to both Aiji and Takeru. Despite his seemingly lack of resourcefulness to the Agency in solving the X-Day cases, he was previously assigned to Field Operations in Shinjuku before his retirement. This is considered quite the feat due to his young age, and he is a far better detective than his actions would lead on.

Mineo was the character I was the least interested in, and his story contains the least amount of information on the X-Day cases as a whole. His route doesn’t contribute much to the overarching storyline, and it is the most stale out of all the characters. The pacing of his story is very slow for the majority of the route, and it takes a long time for Mineo to finally come to terms with his past and begin the investigation.

Ichika’s role in the storyline really takes a backseat to Mineo’s own personal conflict on the constitution of true justice. As a result, I felt Ichika didn’t really develop as much as a character. Her main role was supporting Mineo and enabling him to finally trust in another person again. What I liked about his route was that Mineo undoubtedly played a direct role in mending the rift between Kazuki and Ichika, due to his X-Day case involving Isshiki.

The interactions between Mineo and Ichika are much more light-hearted, and she is less reserved around him initially due to their similarity in age. They are very alike in personality in the sense that they’re tenacious, resolute in their beliefs and compensate for their weaknesses through sheer will and determination.

Ichika projects this onto Mineo, and takes the lead in stride. It is this that allows her to break down Mineo’s barriers and eventually become accepted as his partner. I still really enjoyed Mineo’s story and character, despite him being the least appealing out of the bachelor cast.

Although his route is much weaker in terms of storyline, there are still plenty of heartwarming moments between the two. Due to how shy, innocent and withdrawn Mineo becomes around women, it makes for some very adorable fluff and hilarious antics in his attempts to conceal his embarrassment.

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SASAZUKA TAKERU: Takeru is the extreme tsundere of the group, and strongly dislikes expressing his true feelings. He conceals his affection beneath a myriad of insults and teasing, but despite his prickly nature; he has a huge soft spot for donuts and sweets. Due to his childhood upbringing in America, he is not fond of Japanese flavoured food like Matcha and refuses to communicate with people whom he considers below his intellectual standards.

As a result, he shares a hilarious relationship with Mineo; who he clearly cares for and resents at the same time. In spite of his youthful appearance, he is considered a hacking genius and one of the most talented members that Cyber Division has ever recruited.

Although I know Takeru is one of the fan favourites from the game, his character didn’t actually appeal to me as much as the others. I felt his relationship with Ichika was very disjointed from start to finish, because of how tsundere Takeru was. The dynamic would constantly switch from hot to cold, and then suddenly back to hot with a randomly thrown in ‘sweet moment’ between the two.

It was almost unfair that Takeru had so many adorable moments with Ichika, as well as some of the best CGs in the game. I felt they only incorporated so many to compensate for his clear lack of chemistry with Ichika. Every time Takeru would seemingly improve, he would immediately regress in his treatment of Ichika and his feelings towards her. Despite his condescending attitude and haughty demeanour, his level of maturity at times was second to only Mineo’s.

Ichika herself, was also by far the weakest in terms of personality and character development in Takeru’s story in comparison to all the other routes. She is very reserved, shy, withdrawn and easily embarrassed in this route. Ichika really lacked that same fire, tenacity and conviction that she demonstrated in the others to solve the cases.

Ichika contributed very little to the investigation itself, and although she does do some sleuthing in order to pass Takeru’s ‘tests’ so to speak; it’s uncovering information that the group have already figured out themselves. The whole case is essentially solved by Takeru himself, and Ichika is just there running errands or providing ‘moral support’ in the background.

Every time she attempts to assist him, he immediately shuts her down saying that ‘he just needs her to be there for him’ and she puts in very little effort in dissuading his requests. Whilst I still really enjoyed his route with all the fan service and lovely artwork, it wasn’t very good in terms of both character and relationship development.

In comparison to Mineo’s route, it was much better in terms of moving forward with the storyline. But, it left much to be desired from both Takeru and Ichika’s development as characters. I felt Takeru stayed more or less the same from the beginning of his route, and only becomes slightly softer in his approach towards Ichika.

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OKAZAKI KEI: A SP officer assigned to monitoring Yanagi’s detective agency, Kei is a whimsical character who fleetingly appears throughout all the routes. In stark contrast to the nature of his position in the police force, Kei is an air-head, persistent, extremely oblivious to the emotions of others, kind, gentle and treated as a complete nuisance by the agency.

He has interesting quirks such as entering buildings from story high windows, enjoys questionably flavoured snacks, and often falls asleep in dark alleyways. Despite his seemingly aloof and relaxed nature, he is exceptionally sharp and extremely dedicated to his orders as expected of a SP Officer.

I was very excited to play Kei’s route, as he was the character I was most interested in at first glance alongside Aiji. Collar x Malice has a lot of promotional art of them together, as Kei is meant to play the foil to Aiji as his polar opposite in terms of both personality and ideals. Very little is known about him prior to his story and I was interested to see how significant his route would be to the overarching plot.

In comparison to the others, he is the only character not apart of the detective agency and is actively working in the police force. Because of this, the angle of his storyline would naturally be very different from the others. Nothing would have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that was Okazaki Kei’s route.

I felt all sorts of emotions whilst playing his story such as happiness, warmth, a lot of frustration, constant laughter and sadness. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so emotionally invested in a route. He is undoubtedly one of my favourite characters and routes in the game.

I felt his past wasn’t so extreme as to warrant a drastic reaction such as his tragic life wish. However, what I really liked in his route was how Ichika handled it. I was really impressed by her character in this story, because the writers finally addressed her shortcomings that were lacking in the previous two routes. She approaches everything with conviction, is strong-willed, decisive and straight forward in what she wants.

It was essentially everything that I had wanted to see from her as an MC. Whilst Kei is extremely stubborn by nature, it does not deter Ichika whatsoever. She stands up to him, isn’t afraid to mince words and doesn’t hesitate to set him straight when he is acting out of line. When push comes to shove, she does not back down to any challenges and is unwavering in her beliefs of what is right and wrong.

It was also nice to see how she approached the X-Day case on her own in this route, without the help of the bachelors at the agency. When she is paired up with the other detectives, Ichika noticeably loses a lot of confidence due to the experience gap and becomes much more reliant on them to solve the cases.

Admittedly, playing through majority of Kei’s route is extremely frustrating due to how oblivious and selfish he is towards Ichika’s feelings and those around him. However, I also felt it was worthwhile build up for even greater character development later on in the story. It made the ending and confession of their feelings towards one another just so much more satisfying to read.

I actually laughed out loud when Ichika did exactly what I wanted her to do, which was quite literally slap some sense into Kei’s warped thinking process. It was refreshing to see how assertive she was in their relationship, and how much she fought to change Kei’s mindset. Even though it took quite some time before they were finally able to come to an understanding of one another’s feelings and desires, it was realistic.

It takes a lot to change someone’s view on life, and Ichika liberated Kei from the meaningless existence he had led the past few years and breathed purpose into him. It’s why he becomes so attached to her, as she gives him a new reason for living; to continue creating new and happy memories, and experiencing so many emotions that he would have never imagined possible.

I just loved their interactions with one another throughout the entire route and it was just the little things that endeared Kei to me like his text messages, the constant worrying and the small gestures that showed how much he truly cared.

Once they finally established what they both wanted and how they felt for one another, their moments together were just so much sweeter and satisfying to read. It felt like all the trials and efforts Ichika had gone through finally reached him. His bad ending is by far the best in the game, and just so utterly despair inducing.

Yūki Kaji did an amazing job as Kei’s voice throughout the route and just perfectly emulated all aspects of his character. The amount of expression and emotion he showed in Kei’s bad ending truly etched into your mind the sheer despair and anguish of the moment. His good ending is also one of my favourites, with Ichika whispering her words of love to him as the sun was rising.

It was just such a great scene, that really showed how much they loved one another. The passion and feelings they had for one another in this route was so palpable, and you could see how quintessential they were to one another’s reason for living.

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SHIRAISHI KAGEYUKI: Shiraishi is the Director of the Forensics Department, and an exceptionally skilled profiler. It is because of his undeniable ability and talents that everyone in the force begrudgingly respects him, despite his notorious reputation for being very strange and difficult to work with. He is cold and distant to others to the point of not remembering any names he deems ‘unimportant’, and habitually adorns cat accessories to work.

Due to his years and experience, he has solved countless cases through his extremely accurate profiling and is able to often read people at a glance. He quickly becomes very interested in the heroine, due to his inability to understand the connection between the collar, her pure and innocent personality and her role in X-Day.

I actually had a lot of problems with his route, and it was one of those stories where you’re left wanting so much more. I was really disappointed because of how much wasted potential and angles they had in executing his storyline, and it was all left open-ended even at the conclusion of his route.

As a character, Shiraishi was great. There’s a lot of excitement and curiosity leading into his story, because of how mysterious his personality is. It heavily implies from all the other routes that he clearly has a hidden agenda of some kind. I honestly didn’t expect to like his character as much as I did, due to how abrasive he is at the beginning. He is just so sweet, adorable and innocent in the way that he genuinely doesn’t understand Ichika.

With his ever-growing intrigue, you can just see the amount of effort he goes through in order to win her affections and decipher what makes her happy. For example: when he spends forever lamenting on what gift she would like and finally decides on animal crackers, or when he attempts to cook for her even though he has no idea how. Even his fascination with cats was endearing, because you could see how he related to them.

Their simple dates of just enjoying one another’s company and chasing cats was just so heartwarming. It was the little things that eventually led to them falling in love. It was also great to see Ichika’s friendships with Mukai and Sakuragawa blossom in this route, through their mutual feelings on the Shiraishi Bashing Coalition (at least initially). There were just so many hilarious moments between the trio and you could see how much they genuinely cared for Ichika.

His route pacing and story development on the other hand? Very disappointing. It was really inconsistent how his personality would constantly switch back and forth between opening up to Ichika, before coldly pushing her away again. It just wasn’t properly explained as to why he was acting that way at all. It served as one of the major ‘conflicts’ in his route between the two, and yet it was resolved all too easily considering how long it lasted for. 

Another problem I had with his route was how little the game writers dedicated to fully fleshing out his past. Every bachelor in Collar x Malice had a segment or chapter devoted to recounting their past, what led them to where they are now, their objectives, goals, feelings and the truth about themselves. This was barely addressed in Shiraishi’s route, and you only receive bits and pieces of it here and there from the dialogue of other characters or from short flashbacks.

Although you can more or less make out what happened from these fragmented glimpses of his past, it just didn’t leave a lasting impact. Shiraishi as a character, never properly explained in his own words how he became this way or expressed his feelings on the suffering that he endured. As a result, it’s difficult to fully empathise with his character or develop a strong emotional connection to the pain he experienced.

You would think that for a character with a past that was so integral to forming their current self, the writers would have devoted a lot more effort and resources into it. No one had a past as dark nor as emotional as Shiraishi, and it was the key to truly understanding him. I remember reading up until the very end of his story, holding onto the slim hope that they would address it at some point but it was all for naught.

I also had very mixed feelings on the ending of his route. It left so much more to be desired and the whole situation itself was rather strange. It honestly felt more like a bad ending than a good ending and raised a lot of questions. Why did she have to be confined for so long, and left alone with Shiraishi? How did everyone just naturally accept this as the most reasonable course of action, considering the amount of crimes he has committed?

Normally for amnesiac patients you would assume that interacting with the environment and people they’re familiar with would be more helpful in regaining their memory, rather than being cooped up in an unfamiliar place for so long. Then suddenly, she just magically remembers everything out of nowhere again for the final scene? It was just far too convenient and unrealistic, all for the sake of having a forced ‘happy ending’.

Overall, there was just too little information and writing in developing Shiraishi’s character and fully exploring his past as well as the extent of his trauma. It was really disappointing, since I felt it didn’t give true justice to how lovable and endearing his character really is.

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YANAGI AIJI: Aiji is considered the ‘mother hen’ of the group, and the reason as to why all the characters agreed to joining the Detective Agency. A former highly-ranked detective from Investigations Sector 1, he left to pursue the X-Day cases on his own due to investigation limitations within the Police Force.

Aiji is a natural leader, level-headed, thoughtful, reliable and often the voice of reason that breaks up the conflict between the characters in all the routes. He is deeply respected by the others and assists Ichika with many of her problems and personal conflicts throughout the storyline.

Aiji is similar to to Lupin from Code: Realize, and as such he suffers from the same flaws as him. Because they’re both the ‘poster boy’ of their respective games, they’re also the canon route and bachelor that the heroine is truly meant to be with. It’s emphasised in all the routes at least once that Aiji is the best person and safest choice to be Ichika’s partner for the X-Day cases.

He even suggests in many of the routes for you to assist him on his investigation, if it doesn’t work out with the other characters. In contrast to Lupin however, he lacked a lot of chemistry with Ichika due to how much more plot was invested into his route. This made sense as Collar x Malice as a title focuses significantly more on storyline and the romance is a secondary factor.

However, it’s even more lacklustre in his route because rather than only focusing on one case, you’re solving all of them and putting it together to solve X-Day as a whole. It’s the reason as to why his route has seven chapters, in comparison to the standard six. Aiji’s route chapters are much longer in order to explain everything regarding the mystery and overarching storyline. Because of this, the romance starts a lot later in his route in comparison to the others and the first few chapters are purely investigation and main storyline content.

Whilst I did really enjoy reading the unveiling of the plot and the overall storyline became much more interesting; Aiji’s route as a romance-able character definitely suffered as a result.

To make matters worse, Aiji spends the early bulk of his route avoiding and distancing himself from Ichika due to his reservations on their past history with one another and their age difference. I wasn’t really shocked at the revelation of their past, and I honestly thought it was something much darker and unsettling that had unhinged Aiji. I thought he held a much deeper and more significant connection to Ichika, and I was a little underwhelmed by it.

Because of how the beginning of his route was written, I felt the romance didn’t flow as seamlessly as it did in comparison to the other characters. For the most part, it was more like an older brother-younger sibling type of relationship and the overall tone was very platonic. Aiji’s character in itself is almost too perfect to a fault. He is kind, caring, patient, mature, a skilled detective, adept at understanding others, a great listener, supportive and a master of the domestic arts — there’s essentially nothing he can’t do.

However, because there’s nothing to dislike about him; there’s also nothing that stands out about him either. As an audience, you’re meant to like him the most because he is the most ‘ideal’ in terms of character and his route is the most wholesome in terms of storyline. It is the only one that solves X-Day and he is truly able to save Shinjuku alongside Ichika. As such, he has a natural edge over all the other bachelors because of the amount of time invested into his storyline, and he plays such an integral role in all the routes.

That being said, I still really enjoyed his route and he is one of my favourites from the game in terms of overall plot and relationship dynamic with Ichika later on in the story. However, as a standalone character he is just so much less interesting than the rest of the cast.

Naturally as the poster boy of the game, he did have some of the best CGs with the heroine and some very sweet moments in the end. After he’s finally able to overcome his fears and boundaries he placed on their relationship, he is surprisingly very passionate and affectionate.

Design ★★★★★

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I quite liked the drawing style for Collar x Malice, as it really suited the tone and themes of the game. Hanamura Mai is the same artist for the Amnesia series, although the artistic style is notably different between the two games. The game incorporated a lot of CGs for every character, and for the most part they were illustrated beautifully. However, I did notice some inconsistencies here and there in particular CGs in comparison to the character sprites, especially in terms of their facial expressions.

There was also a trend of overdrawn hands, where it did seem disproportionate to the rest of their body. Ichika’s hair in some images looked gorgeous, whereas in others her iconic mullet looked awkwardly cut in comparison to the rest of her hair. Fortunately, the flaws are minor and it didn’t retract from the enjoyment of the game itself. I particularly liked the realistic tone of the backgrounds, as they’re clearly meant to be akin to the real world Shinjuku within Japan. If you have visited Shinjuku before, you can instantly see the likeness to many iconic places.

Another notable aspect that was the highlight of the game design was the number of character sprites depicted. It’s rare to see a title have that many sprite illustrations for even the side characters as well as CGs, and it really helped in fleshing out the game universe. You just become so much more invested in the overall picture of the storyline, and attached to the characters themselves. This is central to the story writing, as without images of the characters they become a lot less relatable as ‘victims’ and difficult to empathise with in the overarching plot.

Other than that, the artwork was very crisp and showed up vividly on the PSVita screen. It is without a doubt one of the selling points of the game, and Hanamura Mai’s artwork progressively improves with every new release.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

I really enjoyed the soundtrack in Collar x Malice, and it reminded me a lot of Amnesia. This should come as no surprise as they’re both by the same composer, Manyo. Manyo is one of my all-time favourite Visual Novel composers, and has also composed the tracks for other titles such as the RE:Birthday Song series and the Kara no Shoujo series.

The tracks suited the theme of the game quite well, with a variety of songs that ranged from suspenseful, ominous, emotional, and mysterious for the detective/investigation scenes. I also enjoyed the instrumental pieces used for the heartwarming moments in Collar x Malice. Normally I’m not a fan of Visual Kei, but the tracks by Plastic Tree for the opening and ending really grew on me throughout the game.

That being said, I really liked the opening video for Collar x Malice. I loved all the transitions, themes and motifs. The song suited it perfectly, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while that just really grabs the audience’s attention and interest.

Although I really liked the soundtrack, and it was an overall solid arrangement; there really weren’t any tracks that particularly stood out to me or were notably outstanding. They were standard songs that I expected out of a detective game, and it lacked that little bit extra that would have turned it from a great to amazing soundtrack.

In terms of voice acting, then Collar x Malice incorporated a famous and prolific line up for both the main and side characters. They all emulated the character personalities perfectly, and it definitely enhanced the game experience by a significant margin. In particular, I really enjoyed Yūki Kaji’s performance as Okazaki Kei. I wasn’t surprised by this at all, as he is one of my favourite voice actors that has appeared in a lot of very popular animes and Visual Novels.

He really was able to capture Kei’s oblivious nature, his mischievous innocence, anguish and full spectrum of emotions. His voice is just so soft, lovely yet expressive; it really was a joy to listen to and he truly brought Kei’s character to life. It left a strong impression on me throughout the game, and it really endeared Kei to me by the end of his route.

  • Okazaki Kei | VA: Yūki Kaji | 梶 裕貴 |
    Black Wolves Saga series as Rath Vogart, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Kanato, Code: Realize series as Finis, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds as Souma Kazue, Norn 9 series as Yuiga Kakeru, Accel World as Haruyuki Arita, Attack on Titan as Eren Yeager, Final Fantasy series as Hope and Ao Haru Ride as Kou Mabuchi
  • Yanagi Aiji | VA: Morita Masakazu |森田 成一 |
    Yo-Jin-Bo The Bodyguards as Shiranui Yozaburou, Bleach as Ichigo Kurosaki, Rewrite as Kotaro Tennoji and Final Fantasy series as Tidus
  • Mikuni Rei | VA: Toriumi Kousuke | 鳥海 浩輔|
    Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Poyo-poyo/Shiki Hanamiya, Danganronpa series as Ishimaru Kiyotaka, Diabolik Lovers series as Sakamaki Shuu, Nightshade as Momochi Choujirou, Naruto series as Inuzuka Kiba and Hakuoki series as Saito Hajime
  • Sanjou Keisuke | VA: Maeno Tomoaki | 前野 智昭 |
    Code: Realize series as Arséne Lupin, Taisho x Alice series as Akazukin, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Radius and Kenka Banchou Otome as Onaigashima Houou
  • Sera Akito | VA: Hanae Natsuki | 花江 夏樹 |
    Taisho x Alice series as Ookami, Your Lie in April as Kosei Arima, Tokyo Ghoul series as Ken Kaneki, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Libera and Aldnoah Zero as Inaho Kaizuka

System ★★★★

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The system in Collar x Malice had an amazing design and layout. I really loved all the themes and motifs that were prevalent throughout the UI, and it really helped set the mood for the game. It incorporated all the basic Visual Novel features such as save, load, CG Gallery, scene replay, skip etc. For a game of this length and having over 30+ endings, they really should have had a ‘skip to next decision’ option. This would have definitely made the game a lot less time consuming to fully clear, and nowhere near as difficult.

As it is a newer Visual Novel, I was surprised that they decided not to incorporate any sprite animations. Whilst I still enjoyed Collar x Malice without it, I generally do prefer games to include them as it just helps set the overall feel of the game.

The game had very smooth transitions for chapter/character introduction animations, sprite overlays, special effects and scene changes. Kei’s epic stand off scene is one that comes to mind, and I liked how the character portraits appeared in the corners when they were speaking. Aspects such as the map movement, dictionary, materials menu and trigger mode all helped build upon the ‘detective/mystery’ genre of the game.

Although trigger mode was very simple in terms of game mechanics, it definitely helped build a sense of urgency and excitement for the climax scenes of the routes. It also logically followed the flow of the storyline, as missing the shot would lead to consequences and a bad ending.

A feature I wished they had improved upon or added more of was definitely the ‘investigation scenes’. In each route, you would only be able to investigate maps once or twice at most and the navigation for it was extremely simple. Essentially, you had to click on everything once or twice to clear the stage. Although I understand Collar x Malice is a Visual Novel first and foremost, it definitely felt a little lacklustre as the investigation itself is the most important aspect of a detective/mystery game.

Although you could collect evidence throughout the game that would then appear in your materials list, it didn’t really serve much of a purpose. It would have been nice if they included a trial or confrontation of sorts where you needed to refer to the evidence you collected, in order to prove that the suspect is guilty.

On a positive note, I really liked the text messaging aspect of the game as well as how is ties into decision points. It just felt very interactive with the characters, and had some pretty comical moments throughout the routes. The affection increase indicators also helped a lot in terms of replayability and uncovering all the endings due to the amount of decision points.

There is also a lot of fan service/extra content that becomes accessible upon the completion of the game routes. It was nice to have some more light-hearted moments with the characters, although I wish they incorporated the bonus CG into the short stories themselves.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, Collar x Malice is a great title that I really enjoyed playing. It is definitely one of the better english localisation releases of 2017, and I do recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. It is all-around solid, and there weren’t any notable aspects of criticisms that really detracted from the feel of the game. The storyline, characters and artwork were the highlight of Collar x Malice and a title that is enjoyable for a wider audience.

Although the storyline can be tedious and slow initially to get into and understand, you learn to appreciate the important moral concepts and questions that Collar x Malice attempts to highlight and address. However, if you’re not a fan of darker stories and a heavier focus on the plot; then Collar x Malice probably isn’t the game for you. The romance is a secondary aspect to the gameplay, and solving the mystery comes first and foremost.

Unfortunately, the translation quality this time around wasn’t the best from Aksys Games and was filled with notable errors throughout the game such as typos or spelling mistakes. There were also a lot of issues with grammatical phrasings of certain sentences, and all these errors were correctable with more thorough proofreading.

However, it is not consistent throughout the game overall and still enjoyable to play and read. It will not diminish your understanding of the storyline, or what the characters were trying to convey. It is definitely an aspect that should be notably improved for future english localisations, as players do care when seeing this many errors in a final release copy.

On a positive note, it’s rare for me to like all the characters in a game and I felt the cast of Collar x Malice were very interesting in different aspects. It created a great dynamic as a group, as well as a web of relationships with the side characters in the game. You grow to love all the characters, even the ones outside the main cast and that is a show of good writing.

As the game is lacking in the romance department, I would really love to see the fan disc localised in future. Idea Factory & Otomate have already announced that the fan disc is set to be released in Japan during 2018 under the title ‘Collar x Malice —Unlimited—‘. By continuing to show your support by purchasing the games, it increases the likelihood of the fan disc and future otome titles being released in english.

Thank you to Aksys Games for the review copy, and I look forward to playing their next otome game localisation Bad Apple Wars which is set to be released on October 13th, 2017!

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Written By Cherry

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3 thoughts on “Collar x Malice Review

  1. Fantastic review! I have to agree with you on most of these, most notably with Takeru. I like him as a character, but not as romantic material for Ichika. It was so unbalanced and he was extremely cold to her, even after their feelings were known. I just….I can’t see them working together. Ever. Still, he’s a fantastic character. Despite how little Shiraishi’s route gave in terms of his past, I adored him. Kei would be my second favorite. I think my penchant for DESPAIR and long-haired bishounen had a role in determining my favorite tbh.

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