Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review

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Release Date: 2016
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft & NIS America
Platforms Available: Steam, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4 (Japanese & English)
Game Link: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – PS Vita [Physical]
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – PS4 [Physical]
Official Site: Danganronpa US

I am a huge fan of the Danganronpa series and it’s my all-time favourite game alongside Persona 5. The immense enjoyment I had playing through this series and the emotional attachment I developed for the characters as well as the game universe is second to none. This title to me, no matter how potentially terrible the future sequels may be—Danganronpa will always hold a special place in my heart.

To no surprise, I was anticipating the third release of the trilogy for the entire year. The graphics, new character cast and overall improvements looked amazing in the teasers. I was extremely excited to see what new instalments they would have and what direction they would take with a new storyline. It’s predecessor Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was released in 2013, which makes DR: V3 a product of four years worth of development.

Prior to playing DR: V3, I had read and heard many mixed opinions about the overall game. Needless to say, after finishing the title myself I can definitely see where a lot of both the praise and criticisms are coming from. I received a review copy for the PS4 Version of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, so thank you so much to NIS America for giving me the opportunity to review one of my all time favourite game series!

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-
Welcome to a new world of Danganronpa, and prepare yourself for the biggest, most exhilarating episode yet. Set in a “psycho-cool” environment, a new cast of 16 characters find themselves kidnapped and imprisoned in a school. Inside, some will kill, some will die, and some will be punished. Reimagine what you thought high-stakes, fast-paced investigation was as you investigate twisted murder cases and condemn your new friends to death.

Key Features: A New Danganronpa Begins – Forget what you thought you knew about Danganronpa and join a completely new cast of Ultimates for a brand-new beginning.

Murder Mysteries – In a world where everyone is trying to survive, nobody’s motivations are quite what they seem. Use your skills to solve each new murder or meet a gruesome end.

Lie, Panic, Debate! – The world is shaped by our perception of it. Fast-paced trial scenes will require lies, quick wits, and logic to guide your classmates to the right conclusions.

New Mini Games – Between the madness of murdered peers and deadly trials, enjoy an abundance of brand-new mini games! (Official Website)

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony returns with a prison school setting akin to Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. I was surprised they decided to reuse a previous universe, rather than something new and completely different. However, the school setting in DR: V3 was a notable upgrade from the original. The maps are significantly larger, more interactive and include rooms that have been modified to fully accomodate each ‘Ultimate Talent’.

Naturally, this brings forth brand new tools and methods for conducting unexpected murders far more elaborate than the original game. Like the Danganronpa we know and love, DR: V3 begins with an interesting premise and fantastic class trials that immediately reel you into the game universe. You quickly become acquainted and very emotionally attached to the characters, only to feel immense despair upon discovering the victim and culprit throughout every investigation.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Danganronpa setting, then the game is quite formulaic in its approach. It is similar to the series Ace Attorney, and the characters are usually thrust in a life or death situation—cornered into committing acts of murder, and gambling with their lives for the sake of the hidden mastermind’s amusement. As the protagonist, you manoeuvre around maps to investigate and find the clues necessary to discovering the truth. There are specific rules in place that ensures some semblance of justice and that there is no possible ‘cheating’ within the game.

During the trials, you present the evidence from your investigation, engage in debates with your classmates, listen to alibis and recounts, and look for the contradictions and evidence within their arguments. It is from this that you’re able to weasel out the murderer, or even their potential accomplices!

As you continue to uncover the clues, the number of people you once called friends begin to dwindle—falling victim to the twisted nature of the game and suffering the consequences of pursuing the truth. As despair continues to spread amongst the remaining group, you begin to question the morality of your actions and your once infallible sense of justice.

Were you in fact, misguided and blinded by your own ambitions? Were your choices up until the very end, truly ‘just’? Will hope finally lose the battle to despair?

One of the main reasons behind Danganronpa’s success is that the storyline touches upon significant existentialist concepts that lead you to question your own sense of humanity and moral compass. It’s thought-provoking, meaningful and leaves a profound impression long after playing the game.

In comparison to the predecessors, Trial 1-3 was some of the best overall out of the three games in the trilogy. Unfortunately, the momentum wasn’t quite followed in Trial 4-6. It felt like in comparison to the first 3, Trial 4-6 had significantly less areas and clues to explore as they were limited to a small location. This made the mystery quite obvious and easy to solve, which was rather disappointing considering Danganronpa is known for it’s crazy twists and interesting settings for murder.

DR:V3 was also notably much more formulaic compared to the predecessors, and the upcoming murders were very obvious. Five sets of free time always led to a guaranteed murder relating to the newly unlocked ultimate labs. Although I didn’t really mind the clear-cut pacing, it definitely took away a lot of the surprise factor of the game.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

THE ENDING

Normally, I never ever discuss the ending of a Visual Novel in detail simply because I try to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible. However, in DR:V3 I feel it’s far too important to overlook considering how critical the endings are to the overall storyline in a mystery detective game. This is the source of the mixed reception in regards to DR: V3, and people essentially either absolutely love it or hate it—there is no in between.

Despite how dissatisfying I personally found the ending, I wouldn’t say it entirely ruined my enjoyment of the game like how other players felt. Honestly, I do understand the direction and concept behind it. It’s meant to be a ‘huge twist’ that no one expects, a complete destruction of the fourth wall, and a direct calling out of the audience. In essence, we ourselves are the greatest enemy and why the killing game continues: we find enjoyment in watching young children brutally murder one another for the sake of our own amusement.

It’s meant to evoke the ‘ultimate despair’ within the players, and considering the reactions that people have had to it—I can’t say that the writers didn’t succeed in doing this.

In saying that, I felt that the main reason behind the mixed reception wasn’t because the concept behind the twist was poor. But rather, the execution fell short of its potential. If you have watched the TV Series Black Mirror, the ending is very similar to the episode twist of White Bear.

However, due to the weak execution leading up to the twist and lack of foreshadowing—it instead felt like a very cheap ending that was the equivalent of ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’. It felt rushed, like the writers ran out of ideas on how to tie up the legacy of the franchise and was unable to create a twist that topped the predecessors.

The twist didn’t leave me thinking ‘Wow, what an shocking turn of events! I’m amazed by the amount of forethought that went into this’, but rather ‘I can’t believe that they would just end it like that?’

Because of the nature of the ending, it felt like they completely backtracked with all the development and story momentum up until that point. It was rendered obsolete in mere moments, and you’re left reeling in order to digest it all because it’s just so absurd and unbelievable. There was no evidence throughout the game that it was all essentially fiction, or any sense of foreshadowing.

This is why the reveal for the twist was so weak. There was no lightbulb moment where all the pieces fell together in your head, but only confusion as it simply didn’t add up. It was like the story was aiming in one direction with the reveal of the mastermind, and then the purpose of the killing game was something totally different.

As a result, DR: V3 isn’t meant to be taken as a ‘sequel’ of sorts as the name suggests but rather a standalone title or an alternative reality. I suppose we will never know how it all ties up, until the release of the fourth game (if there is one, that is).

! END SPOILERS !

Although the ending definitely soured my impression of the game overall, it still didn’t take away my enjoyment leading up to the ending. DR: V3 is significantly longer in terms of playtime, compared to the predecessors in the trilogy. Completing the main storyline (without the additional content) takes around 40-50 hrs, whereas the previous games were around 20-30hrs in playtime.

Character Development ★★★

DR: V3 had a great cast of characters and I loved all of them so much more than I initially expected. There’s great diversity and they’re all so whacky, interesting, fun and bizarre—the epitome of Danganronpa. Individually design-wise and in terms of personality, they were great and one of my favourite casts overall outside of the original.

What the game really lacked in comparison to the predecessors were the solid bonds and relationships between the characters that both DR: 1&2 had. In DR: V3 they were divided in terms of trust and suspected one another for majority of the game, in comparison to DR:1 (who were unified due to Makoto and Kyoko). Their motives and drives to kill were also nowhere near as convincing nor as heartfelt as the ones in DR: 2. It was one of the main reasons as to why the last few trials in DR: V3 fell flat, as the stronger the desire to kill for a motive—the more complex the murders turned out to be, to avoid being revealed as the blackened (culprit).

The last few trials also occurred due to sudden advancements in the plot and were poorly put together as a result. It didn’t give much time and forethought to the planning of an elaborate murder. This definitely weakened the strength of the characters, and left a less than memorable impression of their impact on the storyline.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

I’ll be briefly touching on the characters I felt were notable faces of DR: V3, or had a profound impact on the storyline.

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Kaede Akamatsu: The ‘protagonist’ of the game and the de facto leader of the group compelling them to fight against despair. I personally really liked the change from the typical male protagonist from the predecessors to a female in DR: V3 when it was announced. Unfortunately, if you have played the game you will know that her role in the storyline is very short-lived and the writers pulled the classic ‘bait-and-switch’ when it came to her importance in the first trial.

People have mixed feelings on the development of the first trial and the ‘twist’ that completely changes how you play the rest of the game, both literally and figuratively. I personally quite enjoyed it despite the initial shock, because it was interesting and something different that we have yet to see from the series. However, there was still some disappointment as after the first trial the game essentially regresses back into textbook Danganronpa.

I felt her character could have definitely had a lot more potential to be delved upon. But, due to how little screen time she had from the beginning you’re unable to truly develop any attachment to her as a protagonist. From what we did see, the only aspect differing her from the previous protagonists was her gender. She was essentially in essence, a female mix of Makoto/Hajime.

I suppose what I really wanted to see from DR: V3 was for them to branch out from the static protagonist personality that has been ongoing throughout the series. Something different and unique that we have yet to see and would offer more than just the classic ‘good guy’ hero who attempts to unify the group through trust and friendship.

Shuichi Saihara: The ‘secondary protagonist’ of the game and the ‘Ultimate Detective’. I was surprised they reused his talent rather than bringing something new to the table, as it was more or less ‘redundant’ in its usefulness within the class trials. This is because he eventually transitions to the main protagonist after a certain point in the game.

I actually quite liked his character in comparison to the previous male protagonists, as I felt he wasn’t so reliant on the other characters when it came to sleuthing (which made sense, as he is the ‘Ultimate Detective’ after all). He was a lot more logical and mellowed out—not quite as naive and dependent as Makoto, and more level-headed and critical in comparison to Hajime.

Although I did enjoy his character and contribution to the storyline overall, I wouldn’t say it was anything to write home about either. He still more or less fits the static ‘mould’ of a protagonist that has been prevalent throughout the Danganronpa series which the writers love so much. His voice actor (Hayashibara Megumi) did a great job at emulating his character, and I really enjoyed her voice acting throughout the entire game.

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Kokichi Ouma: Now this was a character that really made DR: V3 for me, and he is up there in terms of all time favourite Danganronpa characters (almost on par with Nagito from DR: 2). He is just so fascinating as a character, and he is someone you absolutely want to hate yet love at the same time because of what he brings to the storyline and game. You never know what he is thinking or what he is truly scheming behind that adorable shady grin.

I felt he really emulated what Danganronpa is about—how absurd, whacky and fun it can be but with that extra dimension that leaves you wanting to know the truth behind his actions. He is essentially one of the main reasons as to why the trials remained refresh and interesting, due to his many moments of insight and his derailing of clues for his own amusement.

What mainly disappointed me was that his trial was not truly befitting of his character, nor his level of intelligence and forethought. Due to the nature of how the storyline unfolds, he is forced to create a poorly planned murder on the fly that left behind so many glaring clues. I was on the edge of my seat prior to this, in anticipation of his involvement in the later trials. Instead, I was disappointed when it finally happened because they truly did not give his character the justice it deserved.

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Maki Harukawa: Out of all the female secondary protagonists, I felt Maki was definitely the weakest of the three Danganronpa games. Outside of the initial mystery of her actual talent, she really faded into obscurity after it was uncovered. Her impact on the overall storyline and her relationships to the other characters were poorly developed, due to how much of the plot she spent in isolation and avoiding the group.

She had such an interesting angle for the writers to take after the reveal of her talent, yet it was never fully fleshed out or further developed. I also felt her romance with Kaito was somewhat forced on, in order for their friendship as a trio to have more credibility. For someone who had so much screen time and ‘importance’ to the storyline, Maki had very little contribution to the class trials and for me personally—didn’t add much to the game overall.

Design ★★★★★

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I personally really liked the character designs and improved graphics in DR: V3. The entire cast had great poses and expressions for their sprite transitions. Aside from a few, I could correctly guess what their ultimate ‘talent’ was based on the motifs and finer details of their costumes/outfits.

The backgrounds, maps, floors and rooms were significantly cleaner and much more detailed in comparison to the predecessors. It felt less comic-like and two-dimensional, without retracting from the signature art style of the Danganronpa series.

Overall, purely from a design perspective there is very little I can fault the DR: V3 on. It’s a huge step up for the series graphics-wise, and it was a joy to play on the big screen.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

The music and voice acting was another highlight in DR: V3. All the voice actors emulated their characters perfectly and really brought their whacky and fun personalities to life. It incorporated a lot of revamped soundtracks from the previous games to suit the themes of DR: V3. It definitely brought back a wave of nostalgia, as it has been quite some time since I have played DR 1&2.

Out of all the tracks, ‘Scrum Debate’ was by far the best I’ve heard from the entire franchise. It was just so well synced with the gameplay mechanics and built that sense of urgency and momentum within the class trial. It really cemented itself as the ‘turning point’ of the trial where both split factions of the group would come to a united consensus.

However, it was also disappointing that it was the only track that truly stood out to me. Whilst the tracks in DR: V3 were good, they weren’t something that I considered to be a major improvement or upgrade over the previous OSTs. I felt the tracks were quite similar in terms of composition and musical style, and wanted more tracks to the same quality of ‘Scrum Debate’.

System ★★★★

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Similar to all the previous games in the Danganronpa series, there were no major changes to the system UI. This comes as no surprise, as the gameplay is still the same formulaic Danganronpa we know and love. However, there were some new additions to the trial mini-games that I will comment on.

As I already mentioned earlier, ‘Scrum Debate’ was by far the best new feature in DR:V3 both musically and gameplay-wise. The synchronisation from the music with the layout of the mini-game was solid, as it provided a clear summary of all the arguments/refutations up until that point of the trial. If there was any flaw I could comment on, it would be that I wished it was longer in length as every segment always felt so short in comparison to the other mini-games.

Crazy Taxi replaced Logic Dive from DR: 2 to DR: V3. I didn’t enjoy Crazy Taxi very much, as it was significantly less challenging in terms of gameplay and took up way too much time for a mini-game—especially in the later trials. It was monotonous, repetitive and didn’t feel very fun to play or smooth to navigate. For the most part the questions and answers were quite simple to answer, which only extended the tedious gameplay every trial.

A new addition I enjoyed was the Danganronpa version of Lumines. However, I initially did not realise that I only needed to uncover the necessary clue and select it to clear the stage. I spent forever attempting to perfectly clear the map, and failing over and over. I wish the instructions/tutorial could have explained with better clarity.

Mass Panic Debate didn’t really add much extra dynamic to the gameplay, despite how it was advertised. However, I did like that the purpose of the new feature was to act as a more realistic representation of an actual debate. People do tend to talk over one another within the heat of the moment, and it is up to you to decipher the truth from everyone’s opinions.

In the predecessors, I wasn’t a very big fan of the extra ‘fan service daily life content’ that unlocked upon the completion of the main storyline. However with the new ‘Love Suite’ and improved mini-games to acquire Mono Coins, I was surprisingly quite hooked this time round. The ‘Love Suite’ feature is comedy gold, and it’s definitely worth the playtime to unlock.

Essentially when you grind enough coins, you can purchase a ‘key’ that allows you to have a romantic ‘dream/encounter’ with a random character in a love hotel setting. Of course, there’s plenty of embarrassment, hilarity, romantic innuendos, as well as getting to know each of the characters on a much more personal level.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, is DR: V3 a good game that I would recommend? Yes, absolutely. But does it live up to the hype and match up to the predecessors in the series? No, I do not think so. It left much to be desired in terms of both storyline and character progression, in comparison to the first two Danganronpa games. It really lacked the same charm, engaging twists, and plot development. To me, it left nowhere near as memorable of an impression as the previous titles. I was left wanting so much more from the series, and without that deep sense of satisfaction from a conclusive ending.

In every other technical aspect, then it was a definitive improvement in terms of gameplay, character designs, graphics, music etc. However, I felt this was more so it being a product of its time rather than an actual step forward for the franchise (DR: 1/2 was released in Japan in 2010/2012 respectively—this makes DR: V3 a game 4 years in development).

DR: V3 is best viewed as a standalone title within the Danganronpa series, rather than a direct sequel or continuation of the first two games. If you’re a fan of Danganronpa, Ace Attorney or mystery detective games—DR: V3 is still a game that I believe people would enjoy. In essence, it still emulates all the iconic Danganronpa tropes that is prevalent within the series. But, it was just not as well executed or written as the predecessors.

Despite my issues with the game, I still enjoyed it as a whole and really got my playtime’s worth out of it. Although a lot of players have expressed qualms with the significantly higher price point of the game ($60 USD versus $20 USD for DR: 1/2), it almost doubles the playtime of the predecessors.

I believe the game length of DR: 1&2 were 20-30 hrs play time, whereas DR: V3 is minimum 40-50 hrs. There is also a notable increase in production value, as I noted in terms of graphics and gameplay.

Translation-wise, then I would say it is similar to the predecessors. The English translation would not hinder your enjoyment or understanding of the gameplay whatsoever. There are some grammatical/typo errors I noticed throughout that could be corrected with better quality checking and proofreading. Although I’m not too fond of some of the ‘Americanised’ translations such as the incorporation of memes that were at times, completely off from the original meaning.

But, I understand that this is an english ‘localisation’ and not a ‘translation’ so some aspects will be changed in order to better suit the target audience. What I had an issue with was at times, the translations really altered the intent of the character’s words which in turn alters your perception on their character. Two examples I can think of are many scenes with Kokichi, and Gonta’s character as a whole is very different from how the writers portrayed him to be.

This is an important aspect to note upon, as I felt the translation quality for the Danganronpa series can very much be improved on.

Overall, I still enjoyed the game regardless of it’s major flaws as there were also many aspects such as the gameplay and graphics that were notably improved on. It still incorporates the classic Danganronpa tropes that are so iconic from the series, which longtime fans will still definitely appreciate.

If you haven’t tried out this series yet and you’re a fan of mystery detective games, then I highly recommend it. DR: 1 has my favourite storyline, whereas DR: 2 definitely had the best trials and twists as a whole. My next review before the end of May will be Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly!

Overall Rating: 4/5


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Do you enjoy reading the content of my website? Would you like to help support me in keeping the website up and running, as well as being able to devote more time to reviews and walkthroughs?

Please consider supporting my work on Patreon, as every little bit helps me out so much every month with website hosting costs. I am forever grateful to all my readers and supporters!


Written By Cherry

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NEWS: Support Visual Novel Reviews on Patreon

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PATREON : https://www.patreon.com/visualnovelreviews

If you have been following my website for a while, then you will have noticed that I often add new additions, upgrades, and aesthetic improvements over time. For example: my biggest change was when I did a complete website overhaul and the server was down for the entire day.

This was due to more funding from my own pocket in order to access more tools to improve the site and increased server capacity for my website to stay up and running. If you regularly visit my website, you will also notice that I did add a patreon section to my side panel a while back—however, I have never formally announced it until today.

The reason is because I personally had reservations about starting one, and I didn’t want people to feel obligated to donate to the website. However, after much deliberation I finally decided to officially make a post about it and why I have decided to use patreon.

WHO AM I?

Hello, I’m Cherry and I’m the writer behind the website Visual Novel Reviews. I initially began this website out of passion to write down my thoughts, opinions, rants or raves on the Visual Novels that I played. I thought it would be a great way to interact with, inform and expand the Visual Novel/Otome Game community. I never would have expected that in less than a year, my website would have grown so much and developed such an amazing following from it.

I cannot thank you enough for the support and it’s the wonderful feedback that I read from my readers that inspires me to keep writing. I read every single comment, and they never fail to make me smile or make my day. It makes me feel like all my hard work is recognised, and I’ve had amazing opportunities to work with companies such as Aksys Games, Idea Factory International, MangaGamer and NISA America with reviewing their new game releases. These companies continually localise games that I have been a fan of since the very beginnings of my endeavors into the genre of Visual Novels.

WHY DO I NEED YOUR HELP?

Unfortunately as much as I would like to devote more time to writing, it really isn’t feasible with the amount of funding and schedule that I currently have. I am currently a fourth-year university student, aspiring to be a clinical psychologist specialising in child psychology. As my masters program has a high GPA requisite and my course is very demanding; I spend four days a week at university and the bulk of my time at home is spent studying. Whatever time I have left over, I am working at university as a tutor.

Currently how I fund my website is through advertisements on my side panels and affiliate links, however this pays for only 30% of my monthly website cost. The other 70% is completely out of my own pocket to keep the website up and running, and to purchase games to review.

WHAT KIND OF WORK DO I DO?

Despite how it looks, behind the scenes a review takes me hours to write. I only want to post quality content for my readers, and I continue to work on them until it is to a standard that I believe people will enjoy reading. My average review count is 5000-8000 words, although some of my reviews such as ‘Black Wolves Saga: Bloody Nightmare‘ totaled 13000 words.

As you can imagine, this takes me anywhere between 10-20hrs to write. This does not include the time spent afterwards proofreading, formatting and editing. My website itself I have spent well over 30 hours coding and learning how to design and format. Prior to this, I had absolutely no idea how to use CSS or HTML.

WHAT IS MY GOAL WITH PATREON?

I am currently making no profit whatsoever from my website, despite the time, effort, money and work that I place into it. The hours I spend on it does not translate into profit, and as a result it will only be a hobby at best in my current predicament. It is something I am personally funding out of genuine enjoyment as part of the Visual Novel & Otome community. My aim with Patreon is not to make it a full-time job, but to be able to self-fund the website without having to constantly dig into my own expenses every month.

In the worst case scenario (which I would want to avoid) is for the website to shut down, if in the situation that I am unable to personally fund the website anymore.

Every single bit helps, and I am forever thankful to each and everyone of you that continue to support me and help me in continuing to do what I love. 

If you have read up until this point, thank you so much for taking the time to read it until the end! I want to stress that there is no obligation whatsoever to donate, and just your understanding as to why I have decided to open up a patreon is more than enough for me.

Your continual support in visiting my website, reading my content, and expressing how much you enjoy my work in the comment section always inspires me to keep going with the website. Just things like sharing my patreon/website on social media or turning off ad-block when browsing the website helps immensely as well. You can do this via entering visualnovelreviews.com → clicking ad block → select ‘don’t run on this page’ and ‘don’t run on pages on this site’.

And finally, thank you so much to Milkteababy for being my first patron!

EDIT: Over 50% of my monthly website hosting cost has been reached! Every dollar would help so much in order for me to self-sustain the website and keep it up and running!

EDIT 2: 90% of my monthly website hosting cost has been reached! Thank you so much for the support, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as passionate about writing if it wasn’t for all my readers!

EDIT 3: 100% of my monthly website hosting cost has been reached! I cannot believe I was able to finally achieve this goal, and it makes me so immensely happy as it helps me out so much every month. It means ‘visualnovelreviews.com‘ is here to stay for good.

I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon, as writing is something I truly enjoy and has always been a passionate hobby of mine. Especially with the feedback/comments I receive on social media and the website itself. I would feel like I’m letting you guys down, when so many people look forward to reviews/updates on the website.

I wouldn’t be here without you, my readers. I cannot thank you enough for supporting me. I do have other stretch goals implemented, and ANY contribution thereafter (whether big or small!) will assist me in improving the website as a whole. Even something like $1 from many people makes a huge difference. For the stretch goals, it will enable me to: produce more regular content, try out more games, potentially have future giveaways, QOL/technical/design improvements to the website etc.

Love Always,
Cherry

NEWS: MangaGamer White Day Sale

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MangaGamer recently announced some decent otome games that are on an amazing sale for the next five days. If you haven’t played these two titles yet, then I do recommend checking them out whilst they’re at a discounted price. Hopefully with more successful sales, it will encourage them to pick up an even greater number of otome titles in the future!

OZMAFIA!!!


DIGITAL EDITION (45% OFF)http://bit.ly/ozmafiadigital
LIMITED EDITION (25% OFF)http://bit.ly/ozmafiaphysical

Although I have yet to review this game (which I will get around to writing eventually), I did play it when it first got localized in english years ago. To this day, I believe it hasn’t aged poorly at all and still remains a solid contender against the newer otome localizations in recent years. The artwork, backgrounds, music, voice acting and character designs are absolutely gorgeous and you’ll be hard pressed to find many other english otome titles that mirrors OZMAFIA!!! in all these departments.

Unfortunately, the storyline, writing and character development definitely were not the strong points of this Visual Novel. However, regardless of the obvious flaws and weaknesses of the game—I still really enjoyed playing OZMAFIA!!! overall. Whilst I was very critical of the overarching storyline and the pacing/events of some routes, the beautiful artwork, music and characters were enough to win me over. If you’re a fan of fantasy and the Wizard of Oz setting, then you’ll absolutely love this title.

FASHIONING LITTLE MISS LONESOME


DIGITAL EDITION (20% OFF): http://bit.ly/flmldigital
PHYSICAL EDITION (PRE-ORDER)http://bit.ly/flmlphysical

If you would like to read my in-depth review on Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome, then you can read it here. As a warning, then this game does have two versions: all-ages and an R-18+ version.

This title is by no means one with an immersive storyline, complex characters or a universe/setting that you would become totally invested in. It’s a light-hearted, fun school-life comedy that is hilarious and absolutely ridiculous in almost every aspect imaginable. It’s meant to be the kind of otome game that you mindlessly read after a long day, something that doesn’t require a lot of time to play but is very enjoyable nonetheless.

I really enjoyed this game because I appreciated the satirical humor and it received a very good english localisation that really appeals to a western audience. It’s one of the very few otome games aimed at a adults, and I do recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something more mature and less vanilla than the current english otome titles on the market.

However, if you’re sensitive to body image jokes and borderline fat-shaming towards women—then this may not be the type of game for you. Although at its core, Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is not meant to be taken seriously at all; I can definitely understand how uncomfortable it can make some people feel.

So long as you’re able to separate the distinction between a game setting not being a direct reflection of reality, then Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is another fun pick up to try if you haven’t played it already!

Bad Apple Wars Review

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Release Date: 2015
Publisher: Idea Factory & Aksys Games
Platforms Available: PS Vita (Japanese & English)
Game Link: Bad Apple Wars – PS Vita [Physical]
Bad Apple Wars – PS Vita [Limited Edition]
Official Site: Aksys Games

It has been quite some time since my last review, and if you would like an overall update on what I have been up to and my summary of the best and worst of 2017—you can read my post here which covers everything.

Bad Apple Wars is the final otome localisation from Aksys Games for 2017, as the fan disc Code: Realize ~Future Blessings~ was pushed back to a tentative March 30th 2018 release. Their other announced titles such as Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ (Review) and Collar x Malice (Review) were released earlier in the year.

Although I did enjoy the game overall, I had some major issues with the overarching storyline and character development within Bad Apple Wars.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

After a sudden car accident on her first day of school, the protagonist finds herself in the afterlife, standing before a strange school for lost souls. It is said that here, at NEVAEH Academy, any student who behaves and follows the rules will be able to graduate and start their life anew. After a man wearing a rabbit head informs her of her untimely demise, the confounded protagonist attends the school’s opening ceremony.

And then, suddenly—a loud blast tears through the auditorium. At that moment, a war breaks out between the Bad Apples, a group of delinquent students opposing the academy, and the Prefects, sworn enforcers of the school rules.

In the midst of the chaos, the protagonist comes across a red-haired young man. Without a shred of hesitation in his voice, he reaches his hand out and asks her: “Do you want to live?” (Official Website)

If you’re familiar with the anime ‘Angel Beats’, then Bad Apple Wars is essentially the more light hearted and happier version of the original concept. NEVAEH Academy is akin to purgatory, a world that is neither heaven, hell or earth—where souls filled with regret from their past lives reside. They are unable to move onto the afterlife due to their past burdens and the students are given two options: relinquish their pain, identity and memories in order to be reincarnated or face their regrets and have another chance to atone for their past mistakes.

However, the path to receiving another chance at life is a difficult one. It is filled with almost impossible challenges that no one at the academy has been able to overcome. Limitations are set in place to deter those daring enough to try, and the longer they stay within the world—they slowly begin to lose touch between their past and current realities. Will the heroine choose to be a good apple in order to graduate and start life anew, or be a bad apple and fight in a seemingly hopeless cause to defy the hands of fate? 

The premise of the storyline is very interesting and immediately draws the reader into the bizarre universe. However, it falls terribly short of its potential and leaves so much more to be desired by the end of it all. It is a tragic romance at its core, and stirs your heartstrings upon the reveal of the bachelor’s pain, suffering and burdens prior to dying. But, there is the saying that too much of a good thing can eventually become a bad thing.

It felt like after a certain point in the storyline, the writers were pouring as many ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘tragic’ plot devices as possible for the sole purpose of inflicting despair within the readers. It overshadowed a lot of the more comedic and lighthearted moments throughout the storyline, and became noticeably stale by around the third playthrough.

This is due to the lengthy common route of the game that universally incorporates the same key events regardless of whether you choose to side with the ‘good apples’ or ‘bad apples’. It became very repetitive over several playthroughs, and the original emotional impact and shock factor fizzled away into essentially nothing. For such a short game, you would think that the common route wouldn’t take up so much of the playtime considering it is the same events over and over.

And yet, in my first playthrough the common route took 3-4 hrs (Ch 1-5) and the actual bachelor route (Ch6-9) took 1hr. Needless to say, this was one of the main contributions that led to the lacklustre plot and poor character/romance development. Although some events and dialogue did differ over each route, they didn’t contribute or reveal anything new or critical to the overarching storyline.

It was essentially a cycle of the same discovered information, and for such a complex setting like Bad Apple Wars—3 to 4 hrs is nowhere near the length of time needed to fully explain and flesh out the universe. As a result, it suffered from countless plot holes and confounding character timelines due to the writers introducing unnecessary gimmicks to the storyline that was never further delved upon. The relationships and developments between the characters felt so rushed, as the bulk of the writing was devoted solely to the common route.

There is no proper ‘true ending’ that sheds some light on the true nature of NEVEAH Academy, despite White Mask and Alma being the main bachelors of both the Good/Bad Apples respectively. Whilst their routes were an improvement over some of the others, it still left so many open-ended questions and much to be desired in terms of romance with the heroine. For example: what exactly were the teacher’s roles at the academy? Who are they? How did the age timeline work? Is it a continuous cycle of life, death and reincarnation?

The total playtime for the entire game is around 20-25hrs, which is appalling considering I felt it needed at least 30-40hrs to satisfactorily fill in all the missing pieces within the routes. I wouldn’t have minded the lengthy common route if it at least differed between the good/bad apples, as the heroine Rinka plays a different role in both sides of the story.

However, she ends up being near useless as a prefect and still befriends the bad apples regardless of her position. This renders the early decision almost obsolete as the common route eventually leads into the same chain of events.

Despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed the storyline of Bad Apple Wars even with the glaringly obvious plot holes. It still had some good moments throughout the game that were tragically moving and carried a powerful moral message that left quite the memorable impression. It touches on the concepts of what it means to live, the fragility of human life, the thin line between hope and despair, to never lose sight of what’s important and the all-too consuming regret upon realising these things a little too late.

Character Development ★★

As I mentioned earlier, just the sole fact that every character route only had 1hr worth of playtime should already be ringing alarm bells. Needless to say, all the romances were poorly developed and I could not understand as to what made them fall in love or how they even developed such a connection with Rinka (Protagonist) by the end of their storylines. Rinka herself, is a major problem I had with the game which I will elaborate further on below.

It was just too little writing and time to fully flesh out their emotions to truly be realistic and believable. The short game length wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the writing and pacing itself was done well. However, the writing for the routes were noticeably inconsistent in terms of quality and there were significant disparities between them. To my knowledge, this is due to the game encompassing 5-7 different writers.

I recommend two different route orders, depending on what you personally feel is best suited to you. For a more connected game experience, start off with the bad apples: Higa → Shikishima → Alma→ Satoru → White Mask. To have a better understanding of both sides of the storyline, then I recommend: Satoru → Higa → Shikishima → Alma → White Mask.

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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RINKA: Normally for most game protagonists no matter how bland their personality is, they will still have noticeably distinct traits that many of the characters comment on as their key strengths. For example: the most common ones are kindness, persistency, gentleness or a caring and cheerful nature. For the heroine of Bad Apple Wars, even after clearing the entire game I found myself unable to describe her personality as a character at all.

Rinka is meant to be a ‘self-insert’ for the reader, and I usually have no issues with self-insertions for the protagonist. There is no one-dimension in how a story should be told, and some protagonist personality types work better for specific settings than others. However, my criticism of Rinka isn’t the fact that she is a ‘self-insert’ heroine but rather it was poorly executed throughout the whole game.

She constantly laments throughout the storyline of how ’empty’ and ‘hollow’ she is as a person, without a single desire, goal or aspiration for herself. Her past life had been monotonous and lacklustre in every aspect, and she had passed on without ever finding anything she held dear.

My main qualm with Rinka is how often the ’empty’ monologue occurred throughout the game, because being ’empty’ is not a description of a person or a personality trait at all. It made her un-relatable as a protagonist because it is impossible for a person to be completely empty. It’s ironic because she is meant to be a self-insert for the reader, and it’s so difficult to empathise or play as someone who has no dimensions as a character.

Rinka becomes so resigned to her situation with an ‘oh-woe-is-me’ attitude no matter which route you’re on. It’s only after she falls in love with the respective bachelor, that she finally finds something precious to her that she wishes to protect and worth living for. It felt like as a character, she was completely dependent on the bachelor and without anything redeeming of her own to contribute to the storyline.

She’s essentially a plot device, used only to further fuel the own bachelor’s development and route. By the end of the game, I honestly didn’t view her to be much of a protagonist at all; considering she develops minimally as a character and has no story or redeeming qualities of her own without the bachelor in the picture.

Considering majority of the characters all had some regret or reason from their past that renders them unable to move on, it made no sense for Rinka to have little to no backstory whatsoever of her own. It further cast a negative light on how even the secondary characters were more interesting to learn about than the protagonist herself.

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HIGA: Although initially quite gruff, rude and blunt towards Rinka—beneath Higa’s rough exterior is a kinder and softer side to him. He deeply respects Alma and views him as a brother figure due to the longstanding nature of their relationship, his abilities as a leader and as a remnant of his past regrets in his previous life.

Out of all the bachelors, he is the most supportive and encouraging towards Rinka in her transition to NEVEAH Academy. It was quite noticeable how much Rinka had opened up and come out of her shell over the span of their blossoming friendship. On the other hand, I felt the romance was rather poorly developed and lacking in terms of believable intimacy.

Their relationship dynamic was more akin to an older brother-younger sister, due to Higa’s inherently protective nature. When his route began to show more promise of development between the two, he abruptly passes on and leaves their relationship completely open ended and without true closure. It was just so sudden and without any proper build up of momentum that I was just left thinking ‘there is no way that is how it all ends?’

Due to their different timelines, their current relationship in NEVEAH Academy has no continuation as they both reincarnate again as different people. The ending just felt so tacked on and written solely for the sake of them somehow ending up together in a specific scenario. Because of how disjointed the writing and events of Higa’s route were, it really took away from his strengths as a character and was definitely my least favourite storyline.

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SHIKISHIMA: A mysterious, wandering artist who belongs to neither faction—Shikishima has been at NEVEAH Academy the longest out of all the bachelors, and from the oldest era of time. He immediately piques the player’s interest due to his whimsical yet relaxed approach to the events of the storyline. In comparison to the other bachelors who are filled with determination to escape from their fate; Shikishima is the complete opposite. He is almost completely void of emotions and seemingly content with remaining at the Academy forever.

Throughout his time there, he has seen many graduate and lose their sense of self. He believes that nothing good would be waiting for him, even if he returned to his previous life. As we soon learn, he has a traumatic and lonesome past which he chooses not to remember. In fact, he desires more than anyone to find his own sense of purpose.

Out of all the bachelors, Shikishima is the most complex and multi-faceted to learn about over the course of the storyline due to how reclusive and withdrawn he is as a character. He is a lost, lonesome soul where even until the end of his life—he found no one who truly understood him.

His route had so much more potential and aspects to be delved upon, but was unfortunately let down by the glaring loop holes within the overarching plot itself. Shikishima’s story suffered from the same core issues as Higa’s route. Due to the conflicting timelines, the writers created a contrived scenario written solely for the sake of Rinka and Shikishima ending up together in one form or another.

However, it’s worsened by the fact that Rinka retains her memories at NEVEAH Academy and promptly associates her feelings for the late Shikishima with his current reincarnation. It casts a negative light on their relationship in the present and Shikishima’s ending overall, as his reincarnation notices that Rinka’s feelings for him are not truly sincere.

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ALMA: A natural born leader, he is vigilant and the most determined to escape from the confines of NEVEAH Academy. Alma is the glue that keeps the group together and unified in their plans, and wholeheartedly has everyone’s trust and confidence in his abilities to succeed. He is stoic and difficult for Rinka initially to befriend, due to his secretive nature and being a character of very few words.

Compared to the previous two routes, Alma’s relationship with Rinka is perceptively much more of a romantic nature due to the increased amount of alone time they have together. As his route is one of the ‘canon’ storylines of the game (representing the bad apple faction), it is much better fleshed out in terms of both plot and character development.

However, it reuses the none too original angsty trope of a ‘deceased lover’ as his past and the reason that drives him to return to his previous life. Although it was executed decently in comparison to Higa and Shikishima’s routes, if you’re not a fan of this plot device then you probably wouldn’t enjoy Alma’s storyline as much. There is no unique twist or new additions to the typical stereotype, and it follows the common sequence of events to a T.

The reason as to why the dead girlfriend storyline isn’t as popular is because it always calls to question the sincerity of the bachelor’s feelings. Is he using her as a replacement or as an outlet for his past lover? Is his initial attraction and desire to befriend her merely because of their similarities? Considering how little there is to like about Rinka, this aspect was only more pronounced in Alma’s route.

Despite it being one of the canon routes of the game, the route’s main weakness was how little it contributed to the overarching storyline. It essentially didn’t reveal any new information that wasn’t already known in the previous bad apple routes, and had none of the aspects that I normally would expect.

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SATORU: An obsessive student fixated with studying, examinations and achieving the best grades—Satoru is the only bachelor who is a newcomer to the academy within the same timeline as the protagonist. Rinka initially finds him difficult to deal with, as he has absolutely zero interests outside of studying. He holds onto his books and notes like a lifeline and completely disregards anything that would not assist him with examinations.

His storyline pacing is initially quite slow in comparison to the others, as many of Rinka’s attempts to socialise with him are completely rebuked and ignored. He also prefers isolation in comparison to the other bachelors and does not choose a faction to side with. Many players had very divided views on Satoru’s route and either absolutely loved it or absolutely hated it, and I can definitely see why.

In one aspect, once Satoru eventually opens up to Rinka—their interactions are honestly so adorable and of a very fluffy nature. As a couple, they have some of the best moments together in the game that really showcases how much they have both developed as characters and in terms of their romantic feelings for one another. As he belongs to neither factions, some of the events that occur are unique to him and different from the canon storylines of the game.

I felt out of all the routes, his good and bad endings were definitely much better written in terms of logical flow, emotional impact and avoided the major timeline discrepancies. However, at the same time the first half of his storyline can ruin his character for a lot of players. It is very slow paced, and a repetition of the same events over and over—Rinka approaches Satoru, he rebukes her, his only form of dialogue involves studying and he constantly becomes emotional the moment his book is taken away from him.

There’s very little substance to his character outside of that, and his tantrums become old and stale real quick. As a result, Rinka’s relationship to him is more akin to an older sister with her younger brother for the bulk of his route. It is this initial tone to their relationship that makes it difficult for some to perceive their relationship as truly of a ‘romantic’ nature. If you’re a fan of quiet and shyer guys who very gradually come out of their shell, then you would enjoy Satoru’s route much more than someone who prefers a more confident character who is self-assured and assertive.

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WHITE MASK: The enigmatic member of the disciplinary committee, he appears in all the routes as the main enemy of the bad apples. He is extremely serious and committed to his duties, as he truly believes it is his purpose to maintain order and that the correct method for people to graduate is to become a good apple. As a result, he detests the bad apples for their constant refusals to cooperate and does not hesitate to enact punishment on them for their deeds.

His actions inflict self-doubt within Rinka, as she finds herself unable to fully understand his methods and becomes disillusioned as a disciplinary committee member. However, due to the amount of time they spend together she finds herself becoming increasingly curious as to why he is so devoted to his cause, his true identity and what has twisted him beyond recognition.

As the unofficial true ‘route’ to the game, I was extremely excited to play his storyline as out of all the characters he was the most interesting by far and I honestly thought his route would answer all the underlying questions of Bad Apple Wars. To my disappointment, all the questions and plot holes were left completely open ended and the events of his route only served to fuel my confusion with the game universe.

As the true ending, it was lacking in so many critical aspects such as plot coherency and writing flow. It fell very short of its potential to even marginally redeem the writing and overarching storyline of Bad Apple Wars. However, as a standalone route in terms of romance and character development—the chemistry and interactions between White Mask and Rinka were a major improvement from all the other bachelors.

The romance was better paced and palpable between the two during the critical moments within the game. It is more clear why he falls in love with Rinka in comparison to the other bachelors, as she is persistent in her efforts to get to know him and the reasons as to why he has forgotten the past that has shaped his current identity. White Mask’s emotional burdens are much more traumatic in comparison to the other routes, and it is Rinka that encourages him to hope again and face the demons of his past.

Although I was by no means impressed with White Mask’s route due to how much more I expected from it, it was still my personal favourite from the game in comparison to the other storylines.

Design ★★★★

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The artwork in Bad Apple Wars definitely isn’t for everyone and it’s quite eye-catching at first glance. I personally really liked it despite the anatomical inconsistencies at times, since it suited the quirky and ‘distorted’ world of NEVAEH Academy. The artwork is bold, unique and with an inherently signature style that is both memorable and striking. I enjoyed all of the character designs, especially White Mask’s. There’s a lot of religious themes and motifs throughout the game regarding heaven and the after life within the artwork, which added a nice touch of atmosphere to the ominous universe.

I also liked how the protagonist had two different looks depending on which side she chose to be with. I was definitely more of a fan of the ‘good apple’ outfit and hairstyle. My only criticisms design-wise was the background artwork for Bad Apple Wars. They all felt very bland, two-dimensional and quite standard for the average high school setting. For an ‘undead school’ it was a little disappointing how ordinary it was, and it wasn’t as whacky and bizarre in comparison to the teacher designs.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

I loved the soundtrack in Bad Apple Wars, and it was without a doubt the highlight of the game. It suited the theme and tones of the game perfectly, and you can definitely tell that the composers were greatly influenced by both the Danganronpa and Persona series. It was just so refreshing to listen to, and with an assortment of very different and unique tracks. I particularly enjoyed Sanzu’s song/the Ending track, as it was just so powerful and well used during a pivotal scene from the game. It set the mood perfectly, and reflected the inevitable foreshadowing and emotional turmoil of the characters.

Like most other Idea Factory titles, Bad Apple Wars encompassed a prolific voice acting line up. Whilst all of the voice actors emulated their characters well, I didn’t feel like there were any standout performances in this title in particular. All the characters had similar voices in the sense that they were all quite soft and in the same tone range. Due to these character type limitations, I felt it wasn’t a true representation of the voice actor’s talents in comparison to their more notable roles.

  • Alma | VA: Sakurai Takahiro | 櫻井 孝宏
    Danganronpa series as Kuwata Leon, Black wolves Saga series as Mejojo von Garibaldi, Grisaia series as Kazama Yuuji, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Astrum, Naruto Shipuuden as Sasori, Final Fantasy series as Cloud Strife, Anohana as Atsumu Matsuyuki, and Psycho-pass as Shogo Makushima.
  • Higa | VA: Suwabe Jun’ichi | 諏訪部 順一
    Fate/Stay Night as Archer, YURII!!! On Ice as Victor, Black Butler as Undertaker and Code:Realize series as Abraham Van Helsing
  • Satoru | VA: Hanae Natsuki | 花江 夏樹
    Taisho x Alice series as Ookami, Collar x Malice as Sera Akito, Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ as Libera, Your Lie in April as Kosei Arima, Tokyo Ghoul series as Ken Kaneki, and Aldnoah Zero as Inaho Kaizuka
  • Shikishima | VA: Ishida Akira | 石田 彰
    Naruto series as Gaara, Danganronpa series as Byakuya Togami, Amnesia series as Kent, Ayakashi Gohan as Kimura Asagi and  Black Wolves Saga series as Zara Skeens

System ★★★★

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Bad Apple Wars has quite the interesting system interface for an Otome Visual Novel. Rather than implementing systematic decision options at varying points in the game, as you advance in each route and become closer to the bachelor—it unlocks a touch interface after the still-CG flashes several times. You must then ‘touch’ the bachelor on different parts of his body to continue with the storyline.

At a critical point in the route when you’re finally able to understand the bachelor’s true self; you literally see him stripped bare and you are able to truly ‘connect’ with him via touching the correct areas. If you touch the wrong areas, lightning appears on the screen and it will lead to the bad ending. The nudity in this aspect is negligible and completely blurred out for the most part, although I do understand it can make some players uncomfortable.

I personally quite enjoyed the simple but effective system, as it essentially enables you to play the game without a walkthrough. The game is designed so that you cannot fail or miss any checkpoints, except for the ending route branches into the good and bad end respectively. It is also quite a symbolic representation of the character’s progression and relationship with the bachelor.

My main complaint about the system is that during the ‘critical moments’ the dialogue is not translated due to the original port not including coded text boxes within the scenes. Although this is not an issue if you understand Japanese, it definitely took away a lot of the emotional impact within the meaningful moment. This is quite disappointing, considering it’s such crucial turning point within the plot. I felt Aksys definitely should have at least provided text-based translations that players could read on the website to supplement the scenes.

Other than that, then I did enjoy the other features of the system such as the basic animations, transitions and map movement. This was colour-coordinated to each respective bachelor’s theme, which made it extremely easy without trial and error to find where each person was located. At first glance, the choice of text font is a little difficult to read but your eyes do quickly adjust over time. Overall, it wasn’t too big of an issue and wouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the game.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, despite its inherent flaws—Bad Apple Wars isn’t a bad game. But is it a title that I would recommend to everyone? Probably not. After playing through the entire game myself, I can definitely see why it generated such mixed and divided reception amongst players. Whilst it did encompass some good moments throughout the storyline, an interesting line up of bachelors and fun side characters—the major flaws prevalent within the plot, poor character development and romance really hindered the potential of the game.

As I touched upon earlier, the glaring plot holes, open-ended questions and lack of explanations regarding the NEAVEH universe was far too great to overlook. The common route was quite lengthy and repetitive, which led to too little time and resources devoted to fully fleshing out the characters and their relationships to one another. Considering it is such a short game overall (20-25hrs total), it didn’t make much sense for the common route to take up majority of the playtime.

However, if you enjoy bittersweet, angsty and tragic romances you’ll probably still enjoy the game like I did. Despite my criticisms, I still had fun with the game and completed it fairly quickly. I do recommend picking it up on sale, if you’re a fan of the genre and artwork. The music and artwork within Bad Apple Wars were definitely the highlights of the game, and somewhat compensated for the faults in the writing and character development.

At full price considering the amount and quality of playtime you’re receiving, there are definitely better otome titles on PSN to choose from such as Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (Review) and Collar x Malice (Review).

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Written By Cherry

Summary of 2017 & 1 Year Website Anniversary

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I know that I am very late to the party, but I hope that everyone has had a great start to 2018 so far and a wonderful New Year! I have been on hiatus the past few months due to final examinations at university and spending time with family and friends over the holiday break. I needed a rest from all the stress, late nights and constant pouring over a textbook. It was nice to finally have some time to myself, and before I knew it — university has nearly started up again for the new semester!

One of my resolutions for the new year was to become more active at university, as I’m only there for a very small fraction of my life. I have never been one to truly step out of my comfort zone, as I am quite a shy and introverted person especially when it comes to trying out new things and meeting new people. However, it has turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding experience.

Becoming a mentor at university, joining new committees/societies and making new friends has been immensely satisfying as I personally never imagined putting myself out there before. If you have ever been in the same position as I am or felt the same way, I definitely encourage you to take that step forward and try something new. You will never know how much you may have missed out on, or all the great friendships and people you may have never met!

Life update aside, despite all my new extracurricular activities alongside my studies this year — I do not intend to stop blogging or writing reviews. I have had many lovely messages wondering where I have been or whether or not I have abandoned my website. Whilst unfortunately I may not be posting as regularly as I did in 2017, writing is something I enjoy with a passion and genuinely love spending my free time doing.

I will still be reviewing and playing the major game releases this year, however I may not be able to play as many smaller or indie titles compared to 2017. Without further ado, here are the significant milestones that my website has been able to accomplish in the past year that I am extremely happy with!

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General

  • My website anniversary was on January 17th, 2017 and when I started blogging I honestly didn’t think many would be interested in reading or hearing about my thoughts on games at all. It was a fun hobby at best, as I had never created my own website before and was a complete coding novice.
  • It took hours and hours for me to start up the website initially, even though I was using a default template that WordPress offered for all it’s users. If you’re an old subscriber/reader, you’ve probably forgotten as to how my website originally looked at the beginning!
  • Fast-forward six months later, I was able to proficiently code more advanced features for my website, adjust formatting/layouts in a fraction of the time it took me initially and complete redesign my template into the site you see today.
  • Considering when I started blogging I had never once understood or even looked at a line of code before, I am very happy with my progress and what I have learnt in the past year. Google was essentially my best friend!
  • I remember when I first started writing, I would be so excited if I received even one new visitor on my page! I used to only receive 1-10 visitors a day and in a whole month only accumulated 100 views! It was only by the third month that this turned into several hundred views, and in the fourth month into several thousand views.
  • Lesson learnt here is: don’t be discouraged if you’re a fellow blogger, and keep writing! It takes time, effort and a lot of patience — if you genuinely believe your content is good, others will soon discover it and recognise your hard work.

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  • In the first four months, I was so immensely happy with the milestone of over 20000+ views and 6000+ unique viewers. Now after one year, I have well over 200000+ views, 74000+ unique viewers and 1000+ subscribers. Never could I have imagined such growth in a short span of time and I am truly humbled by how many people view my website and read my work on the daily. I read and reply to pretty much all my comments, as they always make my day (if I miss out on yours, it’s usually because I haven’t checked in a while or I accidentally skipped over it!)

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Content

  • Despite my inactivity towards the latter half of the year, I managed to publish 53 posts in 2017! That averages out to more or less a consistent post every week.
  • I reviewed 13 unique visual novels in total. This genuinely surprised me, as I had played more games than I initially thought over the course of the year. This averages out to about one visual novel per month.
  • I published 5 unique walkthroughs. This comes as no surprise as I usually publish walkthroughs if no one has posted any yet. When I am late to playing a game and there are already existing walkthroughs, I choose not to publish my own.
  • My total word count for 2017 was 95 899 words and an average of 1809 words per post. My reviews tend to be quite lengthy as I always have plenty of thoughts on the overall game, so this comes as no surprise. My general average word count per review is usually between 5000-8000 words!

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  • What review first propelled my website’s publicity?
    Surprisingly enough, it was my ‘Amnesia: Memories Review‘. I remember waking up and having my jaw drop because of the flood of notifications and views that I was receiving. The Idea Factory twitter account had retweeted my review, and I remember just completely fangirling over it because I never thought any company would ever read my writing or notice my website. It gave my website a lot of traction and publicity, and it was only up from there.

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Best of 2017

  • Most Popular Reviews?
    My top five most viewed reviews are: 1. Nightshade, 2. Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~, 3. The Charming Empire, 4. Irresistible Mistakes, and 5. Black Wolves Saga  — Bloody Nightmare — .
  • Why is Nightshade by far my most popular review?
    Initially I could never have imagined the amount of popularity and publicity my review/walkthroughs of this game would bring about, and for a while I was somewhat stumped as to why this was my standout post of 2017.

    I guess it came down to a multitude of reasons such as: 1. I posted my review much sooner than others, as I was not as busy during its release and was able to binge play the game, 2. It is definitely one of the top contenders in best/most popular english otome releases for 2017, 3. The game left a profound impression on me afterwards, and I suppose these strong emotions and thoughts were conveyed in my review.

  • Favourite review or post to write?
    My favourite post that I wrote in 2017 was ‘The Differences between the Original Hakuoki Series and Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds‘. I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both Idea Factory and the community on it, and I personally enjoyed writing the piece very much.

    My initial aim behind it was to be informative for new and returning players to the franchise/series, if I were to put myself in the position of someone who was on the fence about the game.

    Since then, it has been consistently reblogged, linked and referred to in so many Hakuoki-related posts as a useful guide to the different games in the series. It makes me very happy to see that people found it to be both informative, helpful and spoiler-free!

  • Favourite game(s) of 2017?
    My favourite otome games of 2017 were definitely Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — and Collar x Malice (PS Vita). As you can see by the trend, I do love darker themed games with immersive storylines and complex characters. I am a sucker for angst and mystery, and it will always be my bias that I can never get enough of.

    In terms of overall game, then my two choices are Persona 5 and The Last of Us. I was a huge fan of Persona 4: Golden, so Persona 5 was essentially everything I wanted and more. If you’re a fan of anime, RPGs, immersive storyline and lengthy gameplay — I cannot recommend it enough. Although late to the bandwagon and hype, The Last of Us definitely lives up to all the critical acclaim it has received and was a roller coaster of emotions from beginning to end.

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Worst of 2017

  • Least favourite review or post to write?
    Due to the length of my reviews, I do have a tendency to experience writer’s block and feel lacking in inspiration every now and then. To my own surprise, it’s not the terrible games that I have trouble writing my thoughts on. In fact, the more strongly I feel about something whether both negative or positive — the words just flow with ease and the reviews seamlessly write themselves. It’s the ‘in-between/mediocre’ games where I find myself struggling the most, as they’re not good… but they’re not bad either. Striking a balance between the two I find is the most difficult aspect of writing reviews in the past year.

    The review I’m awarding this title to is ‘Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds‘ | PS Vita & Limited Edition (NA/EU). I’m sure you’ll be surprised by this, as if you have read my review you’ll know that I definitely enjoyed it and view it to be superior to the predecessors. However, in terms of writing my review and thoughts — this one was an absolute pain as there were simply so many characters to write about. In comparison to the average 5-6 bachelors, this title encompassed 12. Yes, 12.

    It was definitely a struggle to condense my review in terms of detail without losing touch with my usual writing style, and I felt so uninspired every time I sat down to write it due to the sheer daunting amount of how much I had left to cover.The game itself took me much longer than usual to complete due to how lengthy and repetitive it was, and the review took even longer to write. I believe it took me around a month to clock, in comparison to the standard 1-2 weeks for majority of Visual Novels.

  • Least favourite game(s) of 2017?
    My least favourite otome games of 2017 were definitely Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ (PS Vita) and Norn9 ~ Norn + Nonette~ (PS Vita). Despite my favourable score of Period: Cube in my review, this was mainly due to the impressive budget, music, graphics, voice acting and system of the game. In other aspects such as the character development and storyline, it fell extremely flat of its potential.

    I just had so many criticisms and issues with the game which I went into detail with in my review, and it ended up being a title that I didn’t truly enjoy. It definitely became a drag after several routes, and I did mainly complete it for the sake of giving a ‘wholesome review’ after seeing everything it had to offer.

    That being said, it’s not entirely all bad (such as the factors I mentioned above) so it could still be very enjoyable and your cup of tea if it’s your type of game.

    Although Norn9 is my second choice, I do admit it is a slightly unfair mention as I have only played the prologue of the game. However, it was the only title this year that didn’t immediately reel me in and left me with little to no interest to continue playing.

    The premise is quite confusing and weak in terms of impact, and the writing seems to be quite scattered and all over the place. That being said, I do intend to finish the game and write a review eventually so it may potentially change my initial thoughts on it. However, I am skeptical based on what I have seen so far and the feedback I have read.

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Collaborations

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Support

  • Without each and everyone of you, my website wouldn’t be what it is today. Thank you so much for the support, I appreciate every view and comment from all my readers!
  • Special thank you to Melli and Laura who helped donate to the website upkeep this year, I truly appreciate your kindness and every little bit helps!
  • I started up a patreon and ko-fi link to assist with the website server costs. These are purely optional and I would never want anyone to feel obligated to donate. However, it would greatly assist me in my review writing and enable me to produce more content every month with your support.
  • You can also directly donate to me via paypal.
  • If you’re unable to donate, just turning off ad-block when browsing my website helps me out so much. I receive a very small amount from wordpress every time someone views an ad on my website, and all of this goes back into the monthly website server costs. The ads are not intrusive or pop-ups, and they appear at the bottom of my blog posts or on the side banners.
  • Special shout out to Ame who has posted the most comments on my website.
  • Special thank you to Hayurika who always mentions my reviews/posts in her monthly updates and on twitter. Hayurika is also a fellow visual novel/otome/game blogger that I read regularly, and you can check out her website here.
  • If you would like to support/follow me on other social media, I do have a facebook page, twitter and tumblr. I always post updates and news on upcoming reviews and games!

That wraps it up for my 2017 summary, and here is to hoping that 2018 will be an even better year than the last!

Love Always,
Cherry 

Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18] Review

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Release Date: 2016
Publisher: MangaGamer & Kalmia8
Platforms Available: Windows (Japanese & English) & Steam (English)
Game Link: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18][Digital Copy]
Official Site: MangaGamer

This was a very exciting localisation from MangaGamer as R18+ otome games rarely ever see any traction for english releases. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head that are available in english, outside of Les Fleursword. However, the translation quality for this was terrible so I do not recommend trying it out.

Despite a lot of the controversies surrounding body image and the male treatment of the MC in this game, I still really enjoyed playing it. I’ll elaborate more on why I feel this way in the ‘storyline’ section of my review. I received a review copy from MangaGamer to try out and write my thoughts on the game.

For the title image I used for this review I wasn’t able to find any pictures that didn’t have tags such as ‘announcement/release date/demo’ plastered all over it. So after some photoshopping, I managed to recreate the above image that is similar to what is seen on the official website. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, and that is why there’s a small watermark on the image.

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

Ema Tachibana is a tall, gloomy and unsociable girl with a bad case of resting bitch-face. With all that working against her, she’s never really had any friends. At school, everyone’s too scared to approach her.

But Ema herself is quite content with that state of affairs. In fact, she was all set to spend the rest of her time until graduation invisible as ever…

That is, until two men turned her life upside down!

“It’s you… I’ve finally found you! You are, without a doubt, MY MUSE!”

Miki Hiraizumi—recently returned to Japan from abroad, he’s loved making clothes ever since he was a little kid. He has a strong desire to help make charming, unusual women shine. (He’s also a bit of a masochist.)

“Listen up, twerp! You’re no good the way you are now. But even you have some potential to shine… I’ll just have to polish you up!”

And Saito Shinjou—he frequently finds himself bored because things have always come easy to him. He aspires to accomplish something so big, it’ll change the world. (He’s also a bit of a sadist.)

These two ambitious and attractive fellows decide to give Ema Tachibana a makeover!

But Ema has other ideas.

“Yeah, well… Who asked you?!” (Offical Website Summary)

To summarise Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome in a few words: it is whacky, ridiculous, extremely exaggerated, and downright hilarious. It’s a romantic school life comedy with a very light-hearted storyline that explores the transformation of a regular high school girl. As a protagonist, she is down-to-earth, blunt, straightforward and quite relatable in several aspects to a lot of people. For example: her love of food, sleeping and her struggles with socialising with her classmates.

It is upon meeting the two male bachelors that her life is essentially turned upside down and changed forever. Now this is where there has been a lot of mixed reception and controversy amongst players, in regards to their treatment of the protagonist in transforming her into a model.

This game has the running theme of very exaggerated gags, notable satire, and it’s almost a parody in itself. There are many moments throughout Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome where the characters break the fourth wall or poke fun at stereotypical otome game tropes.

As a result, the characters use very extreme methods in essentially forcing the heroine to obey to their whims and model for Miki’s clothes. Black humour is prevalent throughout the game where they constantly body shame the heroine, insult and belittle her, and threaten and make fun of her. For some people, the message it sends to young and impressionable girls and the sense of humour trespasses the boundaries of acceptability.

If you’re not a fan of this type of humour, then I don’t recommend playing the game as it can become very uncomfortable for you. However, for me personally I was still able to enjoy the game because I can see the direction the writers decided to take with it. Because of how ridiculous and whacky everything is, it’s very easy to distinguish that at the end of the day — Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is a game, rather than a direct reflection of real life.

It’s definitely not something to be taken seriously or literally, and if you have a dark sense of humour; this game is comedy gold. I honestly cracked up too many times to count at the character’s crazy antics throughout the game, because of how bizarre and unexpected all the events were. The game has 10 + gag endings for a reason, and it was actually really enjoyable reading all of them. Normally I find ending collection a very tedious aspect in Visual Novels, but this was not the case for this game.

I really must praise the translations for Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome, as the game would have nowhere near been as hilarious without it. It is very good in terms of phrasing and adhering the jokes to a western audience, and a lot of it actually sounded better in english than the original language. It is obvious a lot of effort and work has been put into the translations, which really made the game so much more enjoyable to play.

That being said, I also had a lot of criticisms for the overall storyline of the game. If you’re comparing this to other otome games as a whole, then the plot was very lacklustre. There’s nothing particularly unique that makes it stand out from other school life romantic comedies. The storyline is simple, straightforward and without any twists or unexpected developments.

The game is relatively short, and would take an average of 10-15hrs to fully clear the game. As a result, the character routes didn’t feel properly fleshed out and ended rather abruptly. Although the epilogues definitely helped to conclude and tie up the loose ends of the story, I still felt quite dissatisfied as the romance between the characters were undeniably rushed.

If you’re expecting an immersive or detailed storyline with heavy plot, then Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome is not the game for you. It’s meant to be one of those titles that you mindlessly read when you don’t have a lot of time to play or want something fun and lively that requires little to no emotional investment.

The comedy and translations were the main factors that really carried the game, and I personally really enjoyed it despite its notable flaws and shortcomings. This is also considered a ‘low-budget’ title from Kalmia8, and it explains why there were so many clear shortcuts taken in the production of the game.

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

Overall, I really enjoyed the character’s relationship dynamic as a trio; probably more so than the seperate romantic pairings themselves. They have such interesting and very extreme personalities that creates both hilarious conflict and whacky scenarios throughout the story. I felt that the bachelors could be played in any order, and it’s up to your own discretion who you would like to complete first. I have a completed walkthrough of the game here.

I felt Miki’s route was a lot more romantic and fluffy whereas Saito’s route was more developed in terms of Ema’s character and feelings. Although both are meant to represent ‘masochists’ and ‘sadists’ respectively, I felt neither were very extreme in those departments at all. The H-Scenes are very tame and typical of an R-18 game, so if you’re concerned as a first-time player encroaching upon the genre; I feel it won’t really dissuade your enjoyment of the game overall.

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EMA TACHIBANA: As a heroine, Ema is quite likeable and relatable as your average high school girl suffering from standard teenage angst. She is snarky, sarcastic and straight-forward, and she is refreshingly different from the usual otome game heroines you normally see. Although it is arguable as to how much she develops over the course of the storyline due to the length and events of the game, I still felt that she did notably progress as a character.

In comparison to the beginning of the story where she had no motivations for herself or any semblance of friendship with others; through the influence of the two male bachelors, she finally is able to break out of her shell. She is able to experience so many new things, discover different sides of herself that she never once thought possible and forge everlasting friendships.

Considering she initially believed that she would quietly finish high school and forever live a meaningless existence without others; this is quite a drastic change of character and evidence of her ‘successful’ makeover.

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SAITO SHINJOU: Saito plays the role of a ‘sadistic tyrant’ whom Ema desperately tries to escape from initially. He is bossy, blunt, rude and stops at nothing when he has his eyes set on achieving a goal. Saito is the main driving force behind successfully recruiting Ema into their plans for stardom as Team-X. Despite his callous and cruel demeanour, it is shown that he cares deeply for both Miki and Ema. He places all his efforts and funding from his part-time job into their group production, out of genuine belief for their talents.

Although I know Saito’s character has received very mixed reception, I found that in terms of relationship and character dynamic; he suited Ema much more than Miki. Ema’s feelings for Saito are very apparent in his route, and she spends a notable portion of the storyline deciphering exactly what these newfound emotions for him mean. She becomes conflicted by the dilemma of winning Saito’s affections, and experiences all the ups and downs of experiencing her first love.

Saito on the other hand, I felt he really understood Ema’s character from all the time that he had spent on ‘reproducing’ her. Although he uses very questionable methods at times in order for her to obey his whims, if it wasn’t for his forcefulness Ema would have never agreed to their plans to begin with. Saito really pushes her to better herself, motivates her to reach her potential and is surprisingly considerate in his own way.

For example: the butler cafe chapter was comedy gold, and really helped to build Ema’s confidence and character. If it wasn’t for Saito, I genuinely feel that Ema would have never have developed so much as a protagonist. She transformed from a girl without any motivation or ambition, to someone who would chase after what she wants and embrace the spotlight.

What really detracted from Saito’s route was that until the very end, their relationship was never truly made ‘official’ and left completely open-ended. It was really disappointing, considering how forward Ema had become in their relationship with her own feelings. Saito never once tells her he loves her, and it raises questions on how genuine his emotions for Ema really are. It just felt really lack-lustre in the romance department, and even their first time together was very disjointed and abrupt.

I remember reading the events leading up to the scene, and thinking ‘there’s no way it happens just like that, right?’ And then it unfolded exactly how I dreaded it to. Not only that, but despite their feelings being made clear to one another; Saito renders the meaningful connection they had obsolete by pretending nothing ever happened between them. Although Saito was the better fit for Ema in terms of personality, there were many notable issues in the pacing of his route and the development of their relationship.

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MIKI HIRAIZUMI: Miki plays the role of a ‘masochistic diva’ who is overjoyed upon finding Ema, as she is the long-desired muse that he has sought after for his fashion designs. He is a rather quirky and emotional character, and creates daring fashion statements that takes Japan by storm. To Ema’s dismay initially, his strange behaviour and mannerisms is due to his childhood upbringing in America.

Miki is extremely passionate about his designs, and reveres Ema as an untouchable goddess for most of the story. He believes that his desires would ruin their fixed relationship as creator and muse, and render him unable to continue pursuing his dreams. As a result, he plays second fiddle to Saito and holds back his feelings for most of the story.

With Miki, I felt he made up for a lot of the issues I had with Saito’s route in terms of romance. He is very pure and straight-forward in expressing his feelings for Ema, and how much she means to him. Their love felt a lot more mutual overall and his route had a much more wholesome and satisfying conclusion.

However, their relationship lacked a lot of chemistry as I felt Saito’s personality better suited Ema’s passivity. He also played a much larger role in her successful transformation, which is an aspect that I felt Miki would have been unable to do alone.

Ema never saw Miki in a romantic light until he essentially forces himself on her, and it felt like she just ‘went with the flow of things’ rather than genuinely liking Miki himself. It doesn’t exactly help that you can branch onto Miki’s route from one decision point, despite choosing all of Saito’s options either. It just seemed very one-sided on Ema’s end, even though she does eventually return Miki’s feelings.

It never fully delves into what she loves about Miki, and Ema doesn’t disagree with becoming his girlfriend solely due to them sleeping together. Despite never showing prior interest or feelings for him, she rapidly ‘falls in love’ with Miki after the event and wants to become a model for the sake of his dreams. It was such a sudden change of persona and as a result, Ema’s feelings just weren’t as believable as what Miki felt for her.

Design ★★★

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The design and artwork in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was decent for an R18 Otome Game. The colours are very bright, lively and fun and the characters/CGs had crisp line work. I enjoyed a lot of the very exaggerated character expressions, as they’re obviously more overemphasised for the comedic effect. However, I did notice a general discrepancy between the quality of Saito’s art versus Miki’s.

In general, I felt the artist did significantly better with Miki’s CGs and facial expressions. For Saito, I immediately noticed many of his features were disproportionate to the rest of his body/face. In some of his CGs, he looked noticeably different from the art quality seen in his character sprite. Although I became accustomed to the differences over the course of the game, it is still an obvious discrepancy that was difficult to overlook initially.

Another aspect I found odd was that for some of the kissing scenes, the CG did not shift from the still image and the character’s lips would be on the other’s nose. It definitely distracted from the intimacy of the moment, as it looked out of place and was noticeable in several instances throughout the game.

If you’re playing the R18 version, then the H-Scenes overall were decently drawn. One of the major problems with R18 games are the body proportions as well as the unrealistic positioning of the characters. Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome didn’t really suffer too much from either of these problems, which was nice to see. However, the H-CGs weren’t anything outstanding or amazing and they were the typical scenes I expected to see in an R18 game.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

One of the aspects that immediately stood out to me from Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was the catchy and hilarious opening theme. It really captures the humorous and quirky tones of the game, and piques your interest from first glance. Unfortunately, as FLML is a low-budget title from Kalmia8; this really showed in terms of the music and track selections.

There were only a handful of BGMs that became noticeably repetitive over the course of the game. I felt that they didn’t contribute much to help set the tone or the themes of the game, and were akin to BGMs that only existed to fill the silence. The looping of a few tracks were quite prevalent, although it wasn’t so jarring as to distract from the game itself.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the voice acting in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome. The voice actors played the role of their ‘S’ and ‘M’ characters perfectly, and did a great job in capturing the hilarity and ridiculousness of the game. The heroine’s VA really encapsulated the extent of her character’s social awkwardness, which created a great dynamic with the two male leads.

Although a lot of players weren’t fond of her garbled ‘GAAAAAH’ and piercing screams, I personally found it amusing and it suited the hilarious moments in the game. There were also many comments in other reviews expressing their dislike of her voice and reactions during the H-Scenes. Unfortunately, this is an example of the cultural divide between east and west in the portrayals of women. If you’ve played other R18+ Eroge before, then this is definitely the norm that is prevalent in majority of the titles.

  • Saito Shinjou | VA: Yotsuya Cider | 四ツ谷 サイダー |
    Brothers Conflict as Asahina Masaomi, OZMAFIA!! as Kyrie, and Ayakashi Gohan as Serigano Manatsu.
  • Miki Hiraizumi | VA: Kuroi Isamu | 黒井 勇 |
    Ken ga Kimi as Tsuzumi Hougen and Sidekicks! as Shishiba.

System ★★★

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The system in Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome was quite bubbly and cute in terms of design. I definitely recognised the ‘fashion’, ‘makeover’ and ‘transformation’ motifs throughout the theme with the checker patterns. It’s very crisp, easy to navigate and use; however it is quite minimalistic and bare-bones in terms of extra unlock-able content. Although the user interface had a nice design and theme, it isn’t one of those systems that left a particularly lasting impression in comparison to other Visual Novels that I have seen.

It incorporates all the basic functions such as save, load, CG Gallery, and Ending List, etc. I particularly liked how the game auto saves for you after every option, which prevents issues such as forgetting to save, or the game accidentally crashing. The voice collection was a nice bonus, as it enabled you to save certain voice snippets that you enjoyed without having to replay the scene itself. It also has the coveted ‘skip to next decision’ function that helped a lot with obtaining all twenty endings of the game.

One disappointing aspect was that the game on release still had many notable bugs that were prevalent in both the steam and MangaGamer version. Many users experienced glitches that prevented them from unlocking the ‘threesome’ route, and as a result of multiple other glitches were unable to fully clear the game. Such noticeable errors should not be in a final release copy, but I was impressed with how MangaGamer handled it.

They were very quick in resolving the issues and pushing out patches to both platforms. This only affected those who purchased the game within the first week or so, and these glitches will not affect any new players to Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, despite some mixed reception around ‘body shaming/body image issues’ and the treatment of the MC; I still really enjoyed Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome. Unfortunately if these are issues that you feel very strongly about, then I do not recommend playing the game as it is a prevalent theme throughout FLML.

As FLML is a budget title, it’s not one of those games that you pick up expecting an elaborate storyline or an extensive amount of playtime. It’s a title you pick up if you’re looking for something fun and easy to read that doesn’t require a huge investment of time to play.

Although the dark humour, satire and gags isn’t for everyone; I personally found it hilarious and thoroughly enjoyed unlocking all the endings in the game. In terms of storyline, Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome isn’t anything particularly noteworthy and it doesn’t deviate from your classic high school romantic comedy tropes. However, it is a clear-cut example of how important translation quality is to a game, as the comedy would not have been so well expressed without it.

It made a significant difference to my overall enjoyment of the game, and the perception of the characters. It’s fairly tame in terms of R18 content, and it’s one of the few english localised titles that is pretty safe to start off with for first-time players encroaching the genre.

I would love to see more R18 otome localisations from MangaGamer, and hopefully with the positive reception of FLML it would encourage more releases in the future. The title I would love to see the most is ‘Yoshiwara Higanbana‘ by Maria Crown. The language in this is very difficult for beginners, and unfortunately not many are able to enjoy or play it. The storyline is amazing and it’s one of the few mature otome games of actual substance that does not solely revolve around the sexual content.

Thank you again to MangaGamer for the collaboration, and the games that I intend to review next are Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and Bad Apple Wars!

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

 

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—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 empathises with, can she truly believe that their revenge is 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 the penalty 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 the 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 a 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 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 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 untapped 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 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 felt far too convenient and unrealistic, and clearly was all for the sake of having a forced ‘happy ending’.

Overall, there was just too little information and writing in developing Shiraishi’s character, as well as fully exploring his past and 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

Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome Walkthrough

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Official Website: MangaGamer
GAME LINK: Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18][Digital Copy]
If you would like to read a full review of the game, you can read it here.

* Remember to save often, and where I have indicated! Following this walkthrough will lead to 100% Completion. If you’re stuck, feel free to ask questions! *

Saito Shinjou

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  • [SAVE 1] I’m so sleepy…
  • Just push him away
  • Two can play at that game!
  • Stop thinking about it and go back to sleep
  • Run
  • [SAVE 2] Maybe just for a bit
  • RUN
  • Continue to hold back
  • [SAVE 3] If you pass the test, I’ll wear your clothes
  • [SAVE 4] I think the filming location is the problem
  • [SAVE 5] Ask Miki-san anyway
  • [SAVE 6] Call and yell at them
  • [SAVE 7] I’ll leave it to you, Saito-san…
  • [SAVE 8] Anything, you say?
  • [SAVE 9] Take Saito-san’s side
    ⇒ ED17 ‘Walking With Saito’ (Good Ending)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 2 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 1 ‘The Big Debut’ (Get CG)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 2 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 2 ‘Unfashioning Little Mr. Sadist’
    (Get CG)

Miki Hiraizumi

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  • I’m so sleepy…
  • Stop thinking of him as human
  • Suit yourself, asshat!
  • Get up anyway
  • Fight
  • Maybe just for a bit
  • Stepping on him FEELS SO GOOD!
  • If you pass the test, I’ll wear your clothes
  • I think the clothes could be better
  • Call and yell at them
  • [SAVE 12] Miki-san, make me a normie!
  • The date scenes?
  • Take Miki-san’s side
    ⇒ ED15 ‘Scandalous Muse’ (Good Ending)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 1 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 1 ‘The Pouting Prince’ (Get CG)
    ⇒ Scene Replay Page 1 ⇒ Unlocks After Story 2 ‘Crouching Moron Hidden Genius’
    (Get CG)

Ending List

  • [LOAD SAVE 1] Ugh. Nope. I’m going back to sleep.
    ⇒ ED01 ‘That’s What I Get For Going Back To Bed’
  • [LOAD SAVE 2] The answer is still no
    ⇒ ED02 ‘Joining The Empire’
  • [LOAD SAVE 3] If you pass the test, I’ll do any one thing you ask
    ⇒ ED03 ‘And So Miki’s Summer School Continues’
  • [LOAD SAVE 4] I don’t think it’s either
    ⇒ ED04 ‘Where I Belong’
  • [LOAD SAVE 4] I think the clothes could be better
    • Run
      ⇒ ED05 ‘Alone Again’
  • [LOAD SAVE 5] Nah, raw’s fine
    ⇒ ED06 ‘DO NOT DO THIS IN REAL LIFE!’
  • [LOAD SAVE 6] Eat my feelings
    ⇒ ED07 ‘Not So-Little-Miss Lonesome’
  • [LOAD SAVE 7] Will you be my servants?
    ⇒ ED08 ‘Everyone Has Their Limits’
  • [LOAD SAVE 8] Meh, who needs men?
    ⇒ ED10 ‘Height-Defying Popularity’
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Take Miki-san’s side
    ⇒ ED12 ‘Invest Wisely’ (Advice from Kalmia8)
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Give a vague answer to avoid conflict
    ⇒ ED13 ‘I’m a Celebrity’
  • [LOAD SAVE 7] Miki-san, make me a normie!
    • [SAVE 10] Forget it, let’s just make our own!
      ⇒ ED09 ‘0/10 Do Not Recommend’
  • [LOAD SAVE 10] The date scenes?
    • [SAVE 11] Take Miki-san’s side
      ⇒ ED14 ‘(Ab)Normal Lovers’ (Miki Normal Ending)
  • [LOAD SAVE 11] Take Saito-san’s side
    ⇒ ED11 ‘She’s Right Behind You’
  • [LOAD SAVE 12] I’ll leave it to you, Saito-san…
    • Anything, you say?
    • Take Saito-san’s side
      ⇒ ED16 ‘Please Keep Saito In Your Prayers’ (Saito Normal Ending)
  • [LOAD SAVE 9] Option unlocks after completing both Saito and Miki’s Good Ending
    • Think it over carefully
  • [SAVE 13] Do I really even ‘like’ them?
    ⇒ ED20 ‘Fantasy Bromance’
  • [LOAD SAVE 13] I should organize my thoughts
    • [SAVE 14] No chance in hell
      ⇒ ED19 ‘Team X’ (Get CG)
  • [LOAD SAVE 14] Maybe it’s… actually good…?
    • [SAVE 15] Ask Miki
      ⇒ ED18 ‘I Will Never Go Back’ (‘Miki! I Choose You’ CG)
  • [LOAD SAVE 15] Ask Saito
    ⇒ ED18 ‘I Will Never Go Back’ (‘Saito! I Choose You’ CG)
    ⇒ Obtain 100% Completion CG

Differences between the Original Hakuoki series and Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds

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When they initially announced a Hakuoki remake of the original series, the first questions that came to my mind were: what exactly were the differences going to be between the two? Does the advertised ‘new and improved content’ hold true to the actual gameplay? Is it worth spending essentially double the price, for only Chapter 1-5 of the original game? How enjoyable are the new characters and routes in terms of quality and writing, in comparison to the original cast?

Personally, I was on the fence prior to playing the game myself. I have played the original Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossoms on PSP and Stories of the Shinsengumi on PS3 several times over. As such, I am very familiar with the series and even I was skeptical on exactly how much ‘new content’ there would be in the remake.

Hopefully this post is useful for those like me who have previously owned Hakuoki, or new players that are not keen on spending money for only ‘Part 1’ of a game. If you’d like to read an in-depth review on the game itself rather than only the differences with the original game, you can read my ‘Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds [Limited Edition]’ Review.

1. NEW CHARACTERS

Aside from the original Hakuoki cast, there are an additional three new characters: Iba Hachiro, Sakamoto Ryouma and Souma Kazue.

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Iba is your kind-hearted, honest, trustworthy and noble childhood friend who has loved you since you were children. He holds his past memories with you in high regard, and everything he has striven for in life has been for your sake. He is currently stationed in Kyoto, due to his promotion as a vassal to the Shogun.

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Sakamoto is flirtatious, charismatic and a man who believes that life is meant to be used for greater ambitions and for the good of the country. A quaint and peaceful life ignorant of the workings of the world has never been the one for him. He is something akin to a traveler, and sides with the domain that proves most profitable for his plans. Because of this, he creates many enemies due to his lack of loyalty to a single side.

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Lastly, Souma is a new recruit to the Shinsengumi and is a bright-eyed and hardworking page for Kondou. He abandoned his noble upbringing to pursue the Shinsengumi, as he believes they are the true embodiment of what it means to be a Samurai. You are assigned as his mentor due to your experience as Hijikata’s page, and you take him beneath your tutelage to learn the workings of the Shinsengumi. As a result, you naturally find yourself spending majority of your time with him.

I fairly enjoyed playing the new character routes, as it was refreshing to see something new from the Hakuoki series that had not been included before. However in saying that, I did not like them anywhere as much as the original cast. Although I am slightly biased due to prior attachment with the original characters, the new trio were just not as memorable or well-written in terms of storyline.

As the new characters are not directly apart of the Shinsengumi, their routes felt very lack-lustre in terms of emotional impact and did not leave lasting impressions. The amount of screen-time they received was also much less (other than Souma) as the heroine did not see them on a daily basis within the compound. Whilst the routes were enjoyable and had good aspects here and there, they didn’t have a profound contribution to the overarching storyline.

I would have still enjoyed Hakuoki just as much with or without their inclusion. If I had the choice between playing three new character routes OR having more content with the original cast; it’s essentially a no-brainer.

2. NEW ROUTES

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The side Shinsengumi characters from the original game now have their own routes. They are: Nagakura Shinpachi, Sanan Keisuke and Yamazaki Susumu. As I mentioned in my review, despite them now  being romance-able characters; their routes left much to be desired in both execution and length. It didn’t feel like they transitioned from being side characters and were integrated into the main cast at all.

Majority of the moments with the characters are already present in the main storyline, so there’s very little ‘new content’ with them when playing through their seperate routes. The moments between them and Chizuru are brief, short and although very adorable; they cannot compare to the amount of screen time that the main cast of Shinsengumi characters are given.

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Shinpachi’s route is very platonic, and there’s very little romantic interactions between the two throughout the story. Sanan’s route was by far the weakest out of all the characters, as his personality essentially remains the same as the main storyline. Even if you become ‘closer’ to him, he does not stray from his ambitions and urgency for Chizuru to become a blood sacrifice for the sake of the Furies/his research. It felt like all the time spent with him, and his fleeting moments of kindness were a false facade. In the end, he still completely disregards Chizuru’s feelings on the matter.

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I really enjoyed Yamazaki’s route out of the trio, and his interactions with Chizuru were just so heart-warming. The pacing and noticeable growth of their friendship transitioning into love was just really well done. Unfortunately, his story falls short of its greater potential due to how little writing is dedicated to fully developing the route. There is just such a noticeable discrepancy between the original character cast and the new additional character routes. It’s really disappointing to see how they undeniably have the shorter end of the stick on almost all aspects of the storyline.

3. KAZAMA HAS A LONGER ROUTE

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Considering Kazama is one of my favourite characters from the original game, this was honestly the aspect that interested me the most about the remake. His route can barely be classified as one in the original Hakuoki, so I was genuinely curious as to how much ‘longer’ his story would be and the amount of writing that would be dedicated to it. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with his route in the remake.

It had so much more content than what I was initially expecting, as well as CGs. Rather than the fleeting enigma he is in the original game, there’s so many more opportunities for interaction between him and Chizuru. You definitely get to see more glimpses of his true character in the remake, and have a better understanding of his personality. I also liked how in the remake it touched more so upon Chizuru’s demon heritage; as that was something sorely lacking in the original Hakuoki in all the routes.

As a result, his relationship and feelings for Chizuru is much more palpable and she isn’t quite so dismissive of his haughty demeanour as the original game. With the additional content, his route length almost rivals one of the bachelors from the main cast.

4. SIGNIFICANTLY MORE ART

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On top of having CGs to accomodate all the new characters and routes, they have incorporated many CGs seen from Zuisouroku as well as new never-before seen artwork for the original cast. The sheer amount of CGs you can unlock in total is definitely one of the highlights of the game, as there is just so much content to get through. The art is really lovely, and overall an improved version from the original game. The amount of new artwork alone is more than enough reason to play Kyoto Winds over the predecessor titles.

5. MORE WRITING AND CONTENT

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Although a lot of the new content are re-used scenes from Zuisouroku, there are also plenty of moments exclusive to the Hakuoki remake. Rather than having them as a standalone segment, the scenes are now integrated into the main storyline for greater cohesion and better character development. One of the major complaints about Hakuoki has always been the severe lack of romance with the bachelors prior to the branch into their character routes. With the new scenes, it helped balance the heavy content from the storyline to the light-hearted and fluffy romance with the characters.

The writing overall has improved a lot from the original, and there’s just so much more description invested into painting the storyline. There is significantly more writing dedicated to Chizuru’s thoughts and feelings throughout the game, which created a stronger attachment to her as a protagonist. Part one alone took me 25-30hrs to play, in comparison to the original completed game which took me 40hrs to finish all the routes. With Part two, the remake has around 15-20hrs more playtime.

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The downside of having such a long game is that by the fifth or sixth play through, it does get extremely tedious. You’re essentially reading over the same events of the common route 11 times over, if you intend to clear all the content and characters. Personally, I struggled with completing the game and it took me a month to get the Platinum trophy.

However, despite how repetitive the game became; it is worth the price in terms of the amount of playtime/replayability you’re receiving. Although it is only the first half of the storyline, 25-30hrs is the average playtime you normally see in most full length Visual Novels.

6. NEW OST

Majority of the original soundtrack has been replaced by all new songs, with some exceptions on the main themes of the original game. I felt the old soundtrack was a lot more mellow and suited the darker tones of the game. The new soundtrack is much more lively and light-hearted; incorporating new dynamic battle music that definitely increases the intensity of the fights throughout the game.

I have heard mixed feelings on the old versus new OST, and I think it’s essentially just a matter of preference. With the new tone of writing and special effects (which I talk more about in the next section), I personally think the new soundtrack suits the remake much more than the predecessor. However, in terms of emotional moments then the old OST was more befitting in complementing the scenes.

7. CHARACTER ANIMATIONS AND SPECIAL EFFECTS

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Although the character animations such as blinking eyes, mouth/hair movement and breathing were included in the PS3 version; it was nowhere near as smooth or as refined as Kyoto Winds. It definitely made the game much more interactive and enjoyable to play, with the new and improved artwork. One aspect I noticed instantly were the new special effects used throughout the remake. Effects such as blood splattering on the screen, the sword slicing animations, story transitions and camera panning during the battle scenes really improved the overall feel of the game.

I really liked how the sprites now properly overlay and overlap over one another during the battle scenes, as it added that touch of ‘realism’ to it. They also included effects such as floating cherry blossom petals between the chapters, and falling snow.

8. ALL NEW SYSTEM AND UI 

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Lastly, the system was a very noteworthy aspect that was significantly improved in the remake. It felt very smooth to navigate, and incorporated a lovely theme design. The text box dialogue was much clearer and easier to read in comparison to the original Hakuoki, and just the overall look was a great improvement to its predecessor. Despite how different the UI seems to appear, it doesn’t incorporate anything new that was not already in the previous games of the series. The encyclopaedia, romance levels, and ‘love increase’ indicators are prevalent in all the Hakuoki titles.

However, the new redesign definitely helped to improve the overall game itself and felt like a more refined version of the previous system UI.

[DEMO] Phantom Ban Detective Agency Review

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PROJECT: Kickstarter Page
DEMO LINK: Download here

The game developers @ObentoMori reached out to me on twitter a while back to check out their upcoming Visual Novel. After skimming over their kick starter campaign, it quickly piqued my interest as I am an absolute sucker for detective/mystery Visual Novels. Although the campaign has already been successfully funded, you can still continue to donate via paypal to help support the team. You can do so from the above link, as well as view more information about the project/game itself.

The demo is fairly short (10-20minutes long) and this will mostly be my first impressions on the game and what I would like to see in the finished version!

Storyline

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– The Story-
In Phantom Ban Detective Agency you play as Riley Weir, a high school student at North Milton High. Alongside fellow student Dameon Hunt, self proclaimed “Phantom expunger extraordinaire,” she finds herself wrapped up in strange occurrences caused by mysterious beings called “Phantoms.” Together they join forces to solve the strange phenomena caused by the Phantoms and restore peace and order to North Milton.
(Kick Starter Page)

The premise is quite interesting, with the concept of ESPers and ‘Phantoms’ that creates mysterious phenomena for the protagonist to solve. It has a lot of potential in the development of the storyline, as there is just so many possibilities for the writers to work with. I’m excited to see how the mystery will pan out in the completed game. As it is a demo, I’m hoping that in the full game the introduction will be a lot more fleshed out and not so rushed like it’s current state.

You’re immediately thrust into the universe of the game, with little to no prior build up. You are barely able to acquaint yourself with the character cast before the first phantom case already appears. Whilst it was a good showcase of the surprisingly good graphics and effects of the game, it was not so good of an impression on the storyline.

You are also then given a list of suspects, in which you have only met one out of all the potential culprits. In a mystery detective Visual Novel, it is extremely important to introduce the whole cast of characters and to acquaint the players with the potential suspects beforehand. It creates good tension, forges a more memorable connection to the characters, keeps the audience questioning on who is the most suspicious and we’re constantly on a look out for potential ‘clues’ when interacting with them.

It only makes the betrayal all the more impactful later when the player finally realises who was behind the crime. This is a very crucial element of detective/mystery Visual Novels that I definitely hope to see in the final game.

Character Development

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Although you’re only introduced to four characters so far in the demo, I quite enjoy their personalities from what I’ve seen so far. Riley seems to be quite a snarky, confident and strong-minded heroine which is what I definitely like to see in a female detective protagonist. Dameon (Riley’s ‘Detective Partner’) is great, and I love the interesting and fun dynamic between the two. Dameon is flamboyant and overly confident in his skills as a ‘Phantom expunger extraordinaire’, which clearly unnerves Riley.

Already from first impressions the two cannot stand one another and it will be interesting to see how they slowly become closer over the course of the story. As you can potentially romance the characters, I’d like to see the entire dateable cast and how this will affect the story endings. How would love affect the solving of a case, if the culprit/target is who Riley has feelings for? What personalities/tropes will these other characters fulfil?

Design

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This was actually the aspect I was most impressed with the game. I really like the art style for the character sprites, I think it’s just so lively, fun and quirky. It really suits the theme of the game. I especially enjoyed Dameon’s choice of expressions, which I think were a very nice touch to his character. Some of the sprite poses could be cleaned up as they were slightly disproportionate in a few, which I’m sure will be refined for the final release.

The background art is especially gorgeous, and I was very surprised with the quality of it. The commissioned artist (Xand) did such an amazing job with it, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the art for the other locations in the game.

Music and Voice Acting

I quite liked the opening trailer for the game, as it had the notable ‘detective/mystery’ vibe going on that definitely caught my eye. In terms of the music for the demo thus far, then the tracks were decent. They suited the ‘mystery’ theme and scenes of the game, but I wouldn’t say that there were any that stood out so far. The looping at the end of the tracks were very noticeable, and should definitely be adjusted for the final version.

In terms of voice acting, then I am unsure if the completed game will be voiced.

System

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The system is fairly simple in design, and everything is very straight forward. It is clear cut, easy to read and navigate. If anything, I definitely would’ve liked to see a more detective-orientated user interface (UI). There are just so many ways to improve the system, in order to immerse the player into the role of a detective.

I’m very curious as to how many mechanics the game will include as part of the mystery/detective theme of the game. For example: a notepad/record of clues accumulated so far? Hint system? How do you ‘clear’ a case? Do you have to select and put forward the correct evidence, in order to out the suspect? How will you go about doing this? How many maps will there be? To what extent are these maps/rooms ‘interactive’?  Will items in the room be selectable?

As there is a foreseeable plan of 4-5 cases to clock the game, I’d definitely like to see increasing difficulty as the player advances through the storyline. Usually in most mystery games, with each subsequent case they tend to introduce new ‘mechanics’ that are applicable to the next stage. This keeps the gameplay refreshing and retains player interest. I look forward to seeing how the creators decide to approach arguably the most important aspect in a detective/mystery Visual Novel!

Conclusion

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From what I have seen so far, I actually quite liked Phantom Ban Detective Agency. It has a lot of potential to be a solid game, and I’m fairly impressed with what I’ve seen so far for an indie visual novel team. The storyline is interesting, and I enjoy the ‘phantom’ concept. The writing could be improved for the final version with some proof reading, as the sentence structure had some overly-long phrases and grammatical errors in the demo.

The characters, artwork and backgrounds are great and I’m looking forward to seeing the case-solving mechanics of the game. I think for an updated demo the best place to end the game would be after the first case. This would properly showcase the game’s main storyline, pique player interest and demonstrate the mystery-solving elements and mechanics. To me personally, the system UI and how interactive a game is in how you’re able to solve the case is the most important aspect of a detective/mystery visual novel.

I was impressed with the game animations so far such as the map transitions, phantom movement and just the small effects such as water droplets that really add to the overall feel of the visual novel. The music is decent, with some slight tweaking in terms of smoother track looping. I’ll be following the progress on this game, in anticipation for it’s expected 2018 release. I definitely recommend checking it out and giving the demo a go, as well as  supporting the creators via the kickstarter paypal link if you enjoyed it so far!