7’sCarlet Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2016
PUBLISHER: Idea Factory & Aksys Games
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: PS Vita (Japanese & English)
GAME LINK: 7’sCarlet – PS Vita [PHYSICAL]
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Aksys Games

7’sCarlet is the second of three otome releases from Aksys Games as part of their summer mystery bundle. I have already reviewed the first of the three, ‘Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly‘ which I really enjoyed playing. It left quite the memorable impression on me and left me feeling excited for the following releases to come. To me, Psychedelica is a hidden gem amongst the English otome releases for 2018 and it really isn’t talked about enough.

7’sCarlet is quite similar in the sense that they’re both mystery/fantasy Visual Novels with overlapping themes such as the value of a human life, overcoming the past, and living without regrets. However, the universe is distinctly different and 7’sCarlet takes on a refreshingly unique approach to exploring these concepts.

Despite how similar the two titles may seem at first glance, they are two completely different games with dissimilar storylines and twists. If you think you have seen it all already in Psychedelica, then think again when it comes to 7’sCarlet. I was definitely surprised by some of the events that occurred and the secrets behind the heroine’s past within the town of Okunezato (based on real-world Karuizawa).

I definitely recommend 7’sCarlet if Psychedelica’s universe and storyline was not quite your cup of tea. It’s not as dark or tragic, and the modern-day setting as well as the standard otome gameplay may be more appealing to the average player. At the same time, it still incorporates a solid mystery, interesting characters and a captivating storyline.

Thank you to Aksys Games for collaborating with me on this review and providing a review copy of the game.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-
At the beginning of her school’s summer break, Ichiko Hanamaki, was invited by her classmate and childhood friend, Hino Kagutsuchi, to go to Okunezato, the place her brother was last seen alive. Hino came across a website called “Okunezato Supernatural Club,” a site dedicated to the mysterious events that have taken place within the town. Seeing it, Hino was adamant that Ichiko take advantage of the group attached to the site by attending their meet up in the town and maybe discover clues that will lead to the reason behind her brother’s disappearance.

The members of the Okunezato Supernatural Club have gathered at Fuurinkan Hotel, joined by the staff and long-term guests of the hotel: the chef, Isora Amari, the cat-obsessed fanboy, Toa Kushinada, the medical student, Sosuke Tatehira, and the surly owner of the hotel, Yuzuki Murakumo. Eventually the rest of the hotel staff and guests become involved in the emerging mysteries that arise following the club’s arrival into town.

As the entire crew settles in, the town begins to show its more sinister hidden face in the persistent whispers of the “Legend of the Revenants.” Combined with rumors of sacred grounds, flowers that only bloom within town, and the mystery surrounding her brother’s disappearance, the culmination of a seeming lifetime of events draws ever closer, though with a surprising twist—. (Official Website)

7’sCarlet is akin to a modern-day ghost story set in a quiet and mysterious town that harbours a dark and horrifying secret. Despite the seemingly harmonious and peaceful exterior, the town’s people are extremely wary and unwilling to talk to outsiders. People often disappear without a trace, and a string of unprecedented murders occur over the duration of the heroine’s stay in Okunezato.

Ichiko (Protagonist) soon discovers that even the police have no real authority or power, and can offer no answers regarding her brother’s disappearance. The allusive Murakumo Family have complete control over the town and for reasons unknown—are concealing the truth behind the increasing body count. The police are merely pawns enacting out their will and it’s a race against time to uncover the serial murderer before the death of the next victim. 

Despite the dangers of remaining in the town, Ichiko is unwilling to leave when there are still so many unanswered questions and potential leads on her brother’s disappearance. Just who is the culprit? What is their objective? What is the town’s dark secret that the Murakumo Family are so desperate to hide? Will Ichiko ever uncover the truth? Or will she become the next victim?

I really enjoyed the overarching plot and twists in 7’sCarlet, as it encompasses all the classic elements of a good murder mystery. Although the standalone routes weren’t by any means remarkable, they were great at building suspense and a sense of urgency to figure out the pieces of the puzzle in order to solve the mystery. The universe of 7’sCarlet grows increasingly more complex and interesting the further you delve into the storyline. This demonstrates solid world-building and good storyline pacing by the writers.

I really liked the balance between the darker themes of the storyline and the light-hearted romance in 7’sCarlet. The characters have great chemistry together as a group, and there’s plenty of hilarious and day-to-day events that the player can appreciate and enjoy over the course of the game. Unlike a lot of other psychological murder mysteries, 7’sCarlet isn’t a constant cycle of tragedy, angst and horror.

Because it strikes such a great balance between the two, it keeps the player both engaged in the universe and storyline. It also helps develop a strong attachment to the characters themselves, as they all play a vital role in the unravelling of the mystery.

Unfortunately, the story-telling in 7’sCarlet does have its inherent flaws and was unable to maintain the momentum from start to finish. Despite the great summer mystery atmosphere and suspense, it lacked subtlety in the writing overall. Key revelations such as the identity of the killer and their motives were quite poor. A critical aspect of a good psychological mystery is a multi-faceted ‘villain’, where the nature of their objectives fall into the shades of grey.

It draws forth questions of morality within the audience and creates a more dynamic story-telling experience. However, when their motive is essentially purely for the sake of committing evil and indulging in sin—it is difficult to relate to them at all, and their character as a whole becomes two-dimensional and lacklustre. It was also relatively easy to guess their identity after only one route, through using a logical process of elimination and from how suspicious they were in comparison to every other character.

Despite the entire game building up towards the final route of the story, it was poorly executed. It was a essentially a summary of convenient resolutions to the remaining questions and plot holes of 7’sCarlet, given all at once to the audience in a huge wall of text. The writing felt so disjointed and seperate to the rest of the game, due to how the writers decided to approach it. It was disappointing as the crux of the mystery did not match up to the momentum that was set throughout the game.

7’sCarlet is short-medium in length and would take around 15-20 hours to complete depending on your read speed. This is because it includes linear storytelling and majority of the characters share the same common route.

Character Development ★★★

Unfortunately, the character development does take a backseat to the overarching mystery in 7’sCarlet. Although there’s plenty of cute and romantic moments throughout the game, the characters and routes themselves were quite unmemorable. All of the character’s feelings towards Ichiko were due to their ‘coincidental’ past histories with one another. Their emotions and attachment towards her felt more like a projection of past feelings, rather than for the person she is in the present.

As a result, the relationships for the most part were two-dimensional and lacked substance due to the minimal development between the characters. The game is quite structured due to the nature of how the mystery unravels, so it’s very difficult to deviate from the set order as they only unlock after completing specific requirements. My recommended route order is: Hino → Isora → Toa → Sosuke → Yuzuki → True Ending → ???

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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HINO KAGUTSUCHI: Ichiko’s beloved childhood friend whom she has spent her entire life with. All of her past memories involve Hino, as Ichiko believes that they have ‘coincidentally’ attended the same elementary/secondary school and college together. Hino is the one to suggest visiting Okunezato to attend the Supernatural Club Meeting, in order to find traces of her brother’s whereabouts. Hino is the most aware of how much Ichiko’s brother meant to her and truly puts her best interests first throughout the game.

Normally I’m not a fan of the childhood friend trope because of how over-saturated it is in otome games, but it was surprisingly one of my favourites in 7’sCarlet. Out of all the bachelors, Hino had the best chemistry with Ichiko due to how long they have known each another and from the past memories that they have shared together. The storyline and character development flowed the most seamlessly in Hino’s route and it was quite natural how their relationship with one another unfolded.

Despite how little it revealed for the overarching mystery, the ending was satisfying as Ichiko was still able to find peace and closure about her brother. She was able to finally look forward to the future and move on—bringing her soul-searching to an end. If it wasn’t for Hino, none of the events in the story would have even been possible.

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ISORA AMARI: The friendly and talented head-chef at the Fuurinkan Hotel, who has a flirtatious streak. Due to his approachable and charismatic demeanour, the townspeople are much more reciprocal to his questions regarding human disappearances. He is very forward in his affections towards Ichiko and she finds herself wanting to trust him. However, suspicion is soon cast on his character over the course of the storyline. Is his kind demeanour just a facade? Is there more to him than meets the eye? What is the nature of his past that drew him into a reclusive town like Okunezato?

I personally liked Isora’s character much more in the other storylines, rather than in his own route. His personality was far too inconsistent in how it would switch between hot and cold at a moment’s notice. It really made it difficult to believe his feelings for Ichiko were genuine, despite their past with one another. His actions towards her were completely fuelled by unexpected selfishness and paranoia that made little rational sense.

Although his intentions and course of action was ultimately for her own safety, the very least he could have done was to inform Ichiko of his plans rather than leaving her completely in the dark. It was ironic how he unfairly implored Ichiko to blindly trust him, when he was the most suspicious character up until that point in the storyline and only cast further doubt upon himself. It felt like the writers wanted to purposefully amp up the mystery and tension in the storyline, at the cost of Isora’s own character development.

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TOA KUSHINADA: A quiet, elusive and mysterious character who is much more than what he initially appears to be. Toa is a kind-hearted, soft, and gentle individual with subtle charms that are only effective in attracting cats at the beginning of the story. In comparison to the other bachelor routes, Toa’s story embodies the supernatural elements of 7’sCarlet with an unexpected and compelling twist.

Although Toa isn’t normally the character trope that stands out in otome games, his personality and endearing mannerisms really grew on me over the course of the storyline. He is a genuine and wholesome individual who deeply cares for the heroine, as her actions in the past have shaped and inspired him to become the person he is today. His storyline becomes quite deep and meaningful the more the heroine uncovers about him and his true self.

His route is quite slow initially due to his shyness and wariness of the heroine, so it can take a while to become immersed in his storyline and warm up to his character.  However, Toa’s route stands out from the others as it essentially incorporates all the best aspects of 7’sCarlet: an interesting mystery, heartwarming romantic moments between the couple as their feelings developed, and a dramatic psychological twist that really plays on the reader’s emotions.

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SOSUKE TATEHIRA: A distant and aloof medical student who appears to be investigating Okunezato for his own personal agenda. With an unknown motive and questionable origins, Sosuke’s role within the murder mystery is quickly cast under scrutiny and suspicion. His blunt, logical and calculative methods of deduction, as well as his thorough knowledge of the human body would in no doubt make him a skilled killer.

The romance and relationship pacing with Ichiko in Sousuke’s route is one of the best in 7’sCarlet. It developed quite naturally as Sosuke’s cold exterior noticeably thaws over the course of the route as his feelings develop for Ichiko. They had some very adorable moments as a couple that really showed the level of comfort and ease they felt with one another. I felt the writers focused more on developing the romance in Sosuke’s route, as he had a weaker connection to the heroine in the past in comparison to the other bachelors.

For Sosuke, the feelings weren’t there to begin with and had to be built from scratch. His storyline on the other hand, felt more like a lead up to the conclusion of the overarching plot rather than holding its own as a memorable standalone route. Although it answered a lot of the remaining questions of the mystery, it still withheld the final critical pieces of the puzzle. As a result, it felt lacklustre and was more so an extension of Yuzuki’s route because of how much overlap there was between the characters.

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YUZUKI MURAKUMO: The surly owner of the Fuurinkan Hotel who is never seen without a frown marring his expression. Despite the business profiting from the unusual amount of guests staying over the summer, Yuzuki is oddly displeased with the current lodgings at his hotel establishment. Yuzuki is the only heir to the mysterious and all-powerful Murakumo family who have presided over Okunezato with indisputable influence generation after generation. Even the police themselves are powerless to the Murakumo’s reign and have deeply rooted ties to the family itself.

Yuzuki is the last bachelor route to unlock as due to his birthright as the Murakumo heir—he holds all the answers that Ichiko seeks about the mysteries hidden within Okunezato and her past. As a result, it is the most ‘complete’ route as all the pieces of the puzzle are finally put together and the remaining questions are answered.

What stood out to me about Yuzuki’s route was the sense of agency Ichiko finally had to take the driver’s seat in finding out the truth about herself, her missing brother and the mysteries of the town. Yuzuki’s efforts do nothing to hinder her determination and resolve, and she is able to stand up for herself and what she believes is right. Ichiko is able to match Yuzuki’s pace and refuses to be left in the dark—forcing him to accept that she has a right to know the truth, and earning his respect.

At the same time, she doesn’t lose sight of her true self throughout the story. It is Ichiko’s gentle personality that eventually softens Yuzuki’s tough exterior and enables him to finally open up to her about himself. In the other routes, I felt Ichiko played the damsel in distress who was consistently helpless to the events of the story and had little to no character development from start to finish.

Ichiko finally redeemed herself in Yuzuki’s route, but it was disappointing to see the emergence of a silver lining to her personality only at the very conclusion of 7’sCarlet.

Design ★★★★

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The artwork in 7’sCarlet is absolutely gorgeous and without a doubt one of the highlights of the game. For me, it was the backgrounds that really stood out to me. There is just so much detail and variation for the different locations around Okunezato, which were pivotal to setting the scene for the overarching mystery. It really does create the ominous atmosphere of a small desolate ghost town through the pictured landscapes, artistic approach and colouring.

Kurahana Chinatsu’s signature drawing style is bold and eye-catching, and she definitely does not disappoint in 7’sCarlet. I did like all of the character’s designs, especially Ichiko as she definitely projects an eerie and mysterious vibe with her distinct eyes. Her line work, body poses and character proportions are very crisp and there’s very little to fault about it.

Many players have commented that they did not agree with the choice of colouring for the characters, as it did not suit the themes of the game. For me personally, then I did not mind the artistic differences. However, I would agree that they should’ve kept the artwork consistent between the characters and backgrounds as due to the artistic differences—it limited the variation in CGs.

To conceal how different the background art was to the colouring of the sprites, all the CGs for the most part were relatively close-up or half-shots of the characters. The backgrounds in the CGs were kept as simple or blurred out as possible, in comparison to the amount of detail shown in the regular art. This was quite disappointing, as it definitely hindered how much more variation there could have been in the artwork throughout the game.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

The music and voice acting is another stand out aspect to 7’sCarlet and a clear exhibition of the game’s budget. The openings and endings of 7’sCarlet especially were very good, and the soundtrack really helped in solidifying the mysterious atmosphere of Okunezato. 7’sCarlet also had a prolific voice acting line up that breathed personality into the character cast and their story routes.

The voice acting within the romantic moments between the characters were done well, and I could definitely hear the palpable emotion in their lines that made the scenes much more convincing than they otherwise would have been. All the side characters were also voiced, which helped to develop a closer attachment to the people within the town and provide a clearer depiction of their personalities.

  • AMARI ISORA | VA: Kakihara Tetsuya |柿原 徹也
    Psychedelica series as Karasuba, Amnesia series as Shin, Code: Realize series as Viktor Frankenstein, and The Charming Empire as Toki Tanba
  • KUSHINADA TOA | VA: Morikubo Shoutarou |森久保 祥太郎
    Hakuoki series as Okita Souji, Code: Realize series as Impey Barbicane, Persona series as Hanamura Yosuke, and Naruto series as Shikamaru Nara
  • MURAKUMO YUZUKI | VA: Miki Shin’ichirou |三木 眞一郎
    Hakuoki series as Hijikata Toshizo, Black Wolves Saga series as Nesso Galland, Pokemon series as James, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood as Roy Mustang
  • KUKURI YASUHISA | VA: Kishio Daisuke | 岸尾 だいすけ
    Vampire Knight series as Kaname Kuran, Hunter x Hunter as Hanzo, and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony as Kokichi Ouma

System ★★★★

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The system in 7’sCarlet is very standard of a common Visual Novel and simple to navigate. It incorporates all the basic functions such as save/load files, skip, gallery, settings, etc. I liked the scenario selection aspect of the game as it functioned both for replayability convenience and for progression of the mystery as you advanced through the game.

Each time you begin a new route, the prologue cinematic would add new continuations from where you last left off. These continuations slowly revealed more and more of the overarching mystery, which was great for setting the atmosphere of the game. It also left you wanting to know more, and to continue reading the story to find out the truth. I really liked the use of cinematics in 7’sCarlet as it definitely added an extra dimension to the gameplay and storyline.

I personally also liked the ‘tips’ feature of the game, as they were surprisingly quite lengthy to read and added great humour to the game. However, due to the length I would have preferred the important story tips to be incorporated into the storyline itself. It would have added a lot more fluidity and cohesiveness to the writing, rather than reading such important details to the plot as a random side-note.

Overall, it is one of the aspects that definitely could have improved the writing in 7’sCarlet, as it would have further developed the world-building of the game universe and characters.

Conclusion

In conclusion, 7’sCarlet does incorporate a solid mystery, interesting characters and a captivating storyline. It is not as dark, tragic or as angsty as the Psychedelica series that was localised as part of Aksys Game’s summer mystery bundle. It is more appealing to the general otome community as there is a greater focus on the romance between the characters and a friendlier interface for new players introduced to the visual novel genre.

7’sCarlet had a great concept with the budget and tools to make it an amazing visual novel, with its stunning visuals, graphics, voice acting and soundtrack. However, it fell short in its execution from reaching the potential of what could have been a stellar mystery. The development of the characters really took a backseat to the overarching storyline, and more romantic moments were incorporated into the writing to compensate.

It relied too heavily on feelings for the protagonist in the past, rather than developing the foundations of their relationship in the present. Despite the great summer mystery atmosphere and suspense, it lacked subtlety in the writing overall and was unable to maintain the momentum from start to finish. The conclusion was especially disappointing as well as their failure to create an interesting and multi-faceted villain.

In spite of these flaws, I still enjoyed playing the game as it was an enjoyable light read with endearing characters and solid assets in the artwork, soundtrack, and voice acting. If you’re looking for a more meaningful and thought provoking mystery, I definitely recommend the Psychedelica series over 7’sCarlet.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5


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Written By Cherry

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