Fifteen years after the Heiji Rebellion, the Heike clan has reached the height of its power, while the Genji clan remains devastated by defeat. Hidden deep within the mountains of Kurama lives Shanao, the youngest surviving male heir to the Genji name. However, Shanao harbors a deep secret known by very few.
The youngest heir to the Genji name is no man.
Torn between her duty to live up to the Genji family name and her desire to live a peaceful life, Shanao sets off in hopes to take down the Heike stronghold and finally bring peace in the country. Her adventure leads her to find new cherished relationships, as well as something deeper than the feud between the rivaling clans.
Route Love Interests
Shanao will encounter 5 potential routes through her quest to live up to the Genji name. What fate does each one hold for her?
Genji Clan – yoritomo
Genji Clan – Benkei
Genji Clan – SHUNGEN
HEIKE Clan – TOMOMORI
HEIKE Clan – NORITSUNE
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Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is the first of three otome releases from Aksys Games as part of their summer mystery bundle. From first impressions, I didn’t know much about the game prior to playing. The only aspects that caught my eye was the appealing artwork, a voiced heroine and that it involved a shooter mini-game.
In comparison to their previously heavily marketed titles, I feel Psychedelica has quietly slipped under the radar and not many other websites/reviewers have spoken much about this game. To my surprise, I was very impressed by the immersive storyline, captivating characters and the Psychedelica universe. It’s definitely a rare hidden gem amongst the English otome localisations of 2018, and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.
Thank you to Aksys Games for collaborating with me on this review and providing a review copy of the game.
* Please do not remove the watermark from the above image or use without credit, as the cover was manually edited myself using redrawn title text to overlay over the original Japanese artwork *
-The Story- The story begins with a young woman waking up within the confines of an unknown, mysterious mansion with no recollection of how she got there. Adding to her confusion, she can no longer remember her name or past. However, before she could come to grips with her predicament she is suddenly attacked by a grotesque monster and is forced to run for her life.
The protagonist eventually comes into contact with others who also have no recollections of their pasts or how they ended up at the mansion. With only the enigmatic command “Complete the Kaleidoscope” to guide their way, the group sets off to hunt down the mysterious black butterflies that envelop the monsters of the mansion and recover their lost memories. (Official Website)
Initially, Psychedelica can be quite the daunting game to fully understand and appreciate in the early stages of the storyline. You’re thrust into a bizarre world encroached in darkness, where danger lurks around every corner and any misstep could lead to your untimely demise. To make matters worse, you possess no memories of your former identity and are forced to blindly trust and cooperate with complete strangers.
Quite figuratively and literally, you’re left fumbling around in the dark grasping for the memories of your past and uncovering the secret of the mansion in order to return to the real world. The storyline takes on a non-linear approach, and you slowly come to piece together the fragments of Benyuri’s (Protagonist) memories as you progress through the game.
A lot of players have criticised the ‘flowchart’ format of Psychedelica, as it detracts from the main overarching storyline. I personally didn’t mind it, as I could see the direction and purpose behind the format. It reinforces the mystery aspect of the game, as you’re forced to piece together the fragments of her memories in a non-linear order.
The connections from the puzzle pieces slowly tie in with the main storyline arc, creating a unique and multi-faceted story-telling experience. For the most part, the memories are quite light-hearted to juxtapose with the dark themes of the Psychedelica universe. I thought it created a nice balance between the two and really strengthened your attachment as a reader to the characters upon returning back to the main storyline.
After playing through the game, I can really see why the main storyline is titled ‘the best ending’. The romance and otome aspect in Psychedelica takes a complete backseat to the main storyline, and is completely overshadowed—but surprisingly, not in a bad way. If you enjoy a Visual Novel that emphasises on romance, then Psychedelica may not be the game for you.
The main storyline is very well written in its execution, and was a rollercoaster of emotions from beginning to end. It really hit home with its message, as well as seamlessly incorporating the fantasy elements of the game with the storyline.
If you’re a fan of mystery and angst, then you’ll definitely enjoy Psychedelica. To me, Psychedelica was everything that I had wanted Bad Apple Wars to be and more. Due to the fragmented game layout, it really leaves the reader wanting more as the mystery continues to thicken the further you progress in the game.
The pacing, revelation of the plot, suspense and twists were all just so well written. Although Psychedelica isn’t without it’s plot holes, I was still very satisfied with how everything was answered and tied together by the completion of the game. The game is quite short in length, and the character routes are significantly shorter than the main storyline arc itself.
Depending on your read speed, it would take on average 15-20hours to fully complete the game.
Character Development ★★★★
If it wasn’t for the great cast of characters in Psychedelica, the storyline would have been nowhere near as impactful. I loved how raw and real their emotions were written to be, as well as their interwoven backstories that led them to Psychedelica. You could really relate to every character’s pain and suffering, and I liked how every character dealt with loss and grief so differently.
It served as a direct reflection of the varying dimensions of the human psyche, and how people cope and handle hardships in different ways in real life. My only qualms with the game would be that some of the character routes were laughably short. Some were only two or three chapters long, which leaves little to no time dedicated to fleshing out their story further. The chapters essentially incorporated a few extra short fluffy moments, before it was the end of their route.
Fortunately, your attachments to the characters and their development is mainly explored in the main storyline rather than their own seperate routes. As a result, the lack of romance did not really impact my overall enjoyment of the game.
The game has a fairly static route order, and it’s quite difficult to stray from it as certain content/endings only unlock upon the completion of a previous bachelor. I highly recommend the following route order: Kagiha → Yamato → Monshiro → Karasuba → Hikage.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!
BENIYURI: Although Beniyuri is by any means an outstanding heroine that falls outside of the standard otome trope, I still enjoyed playing as her throughout the game. Having a voiced protagonist really improved the overall game experience, and I’m not sure why this isn’t a common aspect yet in Visual Novels.
Although initially reckless and unable to defend herself in Psychedelica, Beniyuri tries her best to harness the power of her imagination to tackle the monsters alongside everyone else. With her own strength, she develops as a character over the progression of the story and slowly learns to face the darkness and grief hidden in her own memories. I could also understand as to why all the bachelors had feelings for Beniyuri, due to how much she had shaped and impacted their lives in the real world.
I liked how Beniyuri’s ways of coping with grief and overcoming her survivor’s guilt differed from route to route, depending on the bachelor. It exhibited the varying dimensions of grief, and how there were both positive and negative outcomes depending on how you approached it. Hearing her voice, pains and anguish throughout the game definitely helped to develop a stronger connection to her as a protagonist and a sense of empathy for what she has suffered and endured.
KAGIHA: Kagiha is Beniyuri’s first love, and the older brother figure of the group. He has always been the voice of reason, the most mature and someone whom they could all depend on. Everything Kagiha has done, has always been for Beniyuri’s sake first and foremost. He is willing to turn a blind eye to all acts of sin, so long as he can uphold his promise to her and his desire to be with her forever.
Kagiha really got the short end of the stick in almost all departments, especially in his character route. Initially, I was quite surprised when his route ended because it all happened so quickly, and I thought to myself ‘No way that’s it, right?’ To my dismay, that really was it.
Out of the entire character cast, he was the only one unable to truly have a happy ending with the heroine because he no longer had a place with her in the real world. Although I was initially disappointed by how abruptly his story ended, after thinking it over I really enjoyed the direction the writers decided to take with it. It explores the notion of sacrifice, and the extreme lengths that one goes through when suffering from grief.
Kagiha represents the denial stage of grieving, and how he was willing to sacrifice absolutely anything—even the remaining shreds of his humanity, for a fleeting chance of being with the heroine. He comes to resent the monster that he has become, because despite knowing the futility and immorality behind his actions—he cannot accept his own death. Although his ending initially confused me, I really liked how dark, tragic and realistic it was.
Rather than the cliche ‘reincarnation’ route where she is able to be with him as a different person in the real world, she chooses to stay with him in Psychedelica. Beniyuri chooses to sacrifice moving forward with her own life, and to remain in blissful denial of the truth. It is the only way that allows them to be together as their current selves and with the memories that they held dear. The ending is tragically moving in its own right as their love for another is built on the notion of sacrifice, and it is the closest they will ever be to attaining happiness as a couple.
As saddening as it is, it was befitting that Kagiha passed on in the best ending as it symbolised that the characters were finally able to move forward with their lives and come to terms with their past. In the alternative ending where his death had not occurred and they all happily lived together, it left nowhere near the same impact as the best ending. His story and character route were very tragic due to the inevitability of it all, but it was necessary due to the overarching themes of Psychedelica.
YAMATO: Headstrong, easily irritable and somewhat of a lone wolf—Yamato has the most difficulty initially coming to accept the group and the world of Psychedelica. He and Karasuba are constantly at one another’s throats, but it is clear to everyone that they’re closer than they appear. Beniyuri soon discovers that beneath his rough exterior, he is a very kind and sensitive individual that best understands the grief that haunts her.
It makes the most sense as to why Yamato is the first to fall to despair, and slowly transforms into the monsters that prowl the halls of Psychedelica. Out of all the characters, he is the most overcome by guilt and despair as he faces it each and everyday in the real world. He regularly visits his brother Kazuya at the hospital, and laments how his actions directly caused the loss of his two dearest friends.
It is also why he is the most desperate to escape Psychedelica, after recovering fragments of his memories. I felt his character shone the most in the ‘real world’ route, as he is much more mellowed out and less aggressive in comparison to his Psychedelica counterpart. You truly get to know the real Yamato, and the reasons for his actions and behaviour up until that point in the storyline.
Beniyuri develops a strong connection to him, as she realises how they have both been battling the same demons of the past ever since that fateful day. It is through supporting each other that they are finally able to take a step forward with their lives, and time finally starts moving again. His bad ending is quite tragic, as in this route they both inevitably succumb to the weight of their grief and instead choose to relinquish their burdens and start all over again.
His route represents the all-too consuming nature of grief and guilt, and how it can completely dictate your life if left unaddressed.
MONSHIRO: Beniyuri’s mysterious saviour who rescues her and Hikage upon awakening in Psychedelica. Not much is known about him initially, until his appearance in the second half of the storyline. The group is extremely wary of his presence, due to his allusive and strange nature. He is also remarkably powerful and adept at hunting the monsters, an indicator of his experience and how long he has resided in the realm of Psychedelica.
I absolutely adored his character, as it was just so endearing how much he clung to Beniyuri. It was understandable as to why, because of his immense loneliness from years of residing in darkness and without any human interaction. I view his story to be one of the canon routes of the game, alongside the best ending and Hikage’s route due to the nature and length of it.
I really enjoyed the twist and revelation of his real identity, as the build up and suspense for it was well written. I was very surprised and I didn’t expect it at all, yet at the same time it also made perfect sense. His feelings for Beniyuri are intensely passionate, and it’s believable because she was essentially his lifeline and reason for living in Psychedelica.
Without her, he would have long lost his sanity or fallen to the depths of despair. I also felt that as a heroine, Beniyuri was at her best rendition in Monshiro’s route. She shows conviction and true strength in entering the abyss alone, despite the almost certainty of being unable to return. It is from her feelings for Monshiro and desire to meet him halfway after waiting for so long alone, that allows her to finally believe in herself and comes to terms with the past.
She is able to pave a new path forward with her life, and this is what enables her to escape Psychedelica alongside Monshiro. Although I did like the lead up to his good ending, I felt that the conclusion itself was far too convenient. Through means unknown, Yamato and Karasubaa are able to return safely from Psychedelica and everyone lives happily ever after.
It left too many open-ended questions and weakened the impact of the best ending, as it is not the only route where everyone was able to return. His bad ending on the other hand, really suited the themes of his route and was definitely a tear-jerker.
KARASUBA: Flirtatious, outgoing and always teasing Beniyuri—Karasuba lightens up the atmosphere of the group through his antics with Yamato. However, despite his seemingly easy-going nature; there is clearly more to him than meets the eye. There are instances where his personality takes on a cold edge that Beniyuri has never seen before, and there is a hint of biting malice in his words. This only further serves to fuel her curiosity to learn the truth behind the real Karasuba.
Despite his strong front and constant denials, Karasuba is suffering just as much as every character in Psychedelica. Out of resentment for his past self and to become stronger, he chooses to overcome his grief by working to better himself as a person in the real world. Despite attaining popularity, charisma and becoming an outspoken individual—Karasuba is unable to be truly happy with the changes.
To him, when it mattered most—he was a weak bystander who was paralysed by fear and unable to help his dearest friends. His changes could not erase the memories of the past, despite how much he tried to look towards the future. Upon meeting Beniyuri once more, he becomes frustrated by her behaviour as she is cemented in the past.
She refuses to look at him as the person he is now, despite how much he has changed. His bad ending although disturbing, was quite an interesting take on the storyline. In a sense, Karasuba is able to do what he was unable to as a child—which is to protect her from all the hurt and suffering she has endured. They both choose to forget everything, and spend the rest of their idyllic days in Psychedelica.
Anyone who has suffered grief will have thought at least once, ‘if only I could forget the memories, as it would erase the pain I’m currently feeling’. Karasuba’s route explores the notion that even if one were to forget, would it truly lead to real happiness? Experiencing and enduring grief is apart of what it means to live, and shapes who you are as a person.
I enjoyed his good ending, as it is from his influence that Beniyuri is able to see the error of her ways. She realises how much she has missed by remaining stuck within the past, that she could not even see the person her dearest friend had become—even though he had been standing right before her eyes the entire time. Karasuba inspires her to catch up to him, to better herself as a person and to adopt the same outlook of looking towards the future.
His route overall was my least favourite due to how inconsistent his personality was, and the weak chemistry he had with Beniyuri. Despite the reasons used to justify for his actions as well as the nature of his past, it did little to redeem his character in my eyes.
HIKAGE: Hikage is reliable, strong, trust-worthy and the natural-born leader of the group. He keeps everyone grounded and together, despite the initial tension amongst everyone after arriving in Psychedelica. However, Hikage is not the person he appears to be. He harbours the dark secret surrounding the mansion, and is the true ending of he game that reveals the answers to all the remaining mysteries of Psychedelica.
I didn’t expect the twist to Hikage’s character at all, and I really enjoyed the extra dimension it brought to storyline of Psychedelica. It was interesting to finally solve the final puzzle, that delved into the reasons as to why Hikage became so twisted as a character and his reasons for relentlessly pursuing the completion of the kaleidoscope. I enjoyed Beniyuri’s interactions with Usagi in the earlier half of the route, as the light-hearted tone balanced with the later angst of his story.
His route isn’t as romantic as the others, as it has a greater focus on explaining the plot and fleshing out Hikage’s character. Even until the very end, it is never truly confirmed what he felt for Beniyuri. Although there were some plot holes regarding the universe of Psychedelica, for the most part I was quite satisfied with how the plot unfolded as well as the explanations.
It tied in with the other routes well, and the plot holes weren’t anything detrimental that affected my enjoyment of the overall story. Normally I’m not a fan of the ‘reincarnation’ trope, but it was quite befitting in the case of Hikage’s ending. It was the only possible method for him to attain happiness alongside Usagi, and both had already passed on a long time ago.
By coming to accept his past and letting go of his long-harboured hatred and regrets, his soul is purified and he is finally able to move onto the afterlife. It is from this, that he and Usagi are able to reincarnate in the real world and experience the childhood they never had. I liked how despite meeting one another again in passing within the real world, there weren’t any direct romantic implications for Beniyuri and Hikage.
Psychedelica at its core isn’t a tragic romance, but a story about overcoming grief and moving towards the future. Everything Hikage has done has always been for the sake of his beloved sister, so it was befitting that his happy ending would be him reuniting with his sister rather than Beniyuri.
The artwork in Psychedelica is gorgeous, and definitely one of the highlights of the game. The art style really complemented the ethereal and fantasy-like nature of the universe, as well as the character designs. I liked the attentiveness to detail in the CGS depicting the monsters, and the backgrounds were beautifully drawn. A few of them definitely looked like a scene that could have come out of a painting.
Out of all the characters, I definitely liked Monshiro’s outfit best. It was very mysterious, yet it also captured the innocence of his character perfectly with the cute ears on his cape and the way the ribbon weaved through his clothes. My only criticism would be that there were definitely some discrepancies between some of the CGs and the character sprites.
I noticed in particular that the artist at times, doesn’t quite get the anatomy of the side profiles of faces or the correct body/face proportions. I felt this was more prominent in Karasuba’s CGs, in comparison to the other characters. The inconsistencies were quite noticeable in many of the CGs and it is something for the artist to definitely improve on for their future works.
Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★
The music and voice acting were arguably the best aspects about Psychedelica. The soundtrack is beautiful, especially the piano instrumentals for the more emotional moments throughout the storyline. It set the mood of the scenes so well, and the voice acting is just as good. As I mentioned earlier, I really liked the fact that Beniyuri was voiced as it really strengthened your attachment to her as a character.
It was easier to relate to her pain and anguish that were conveyed through her voice,. It also made her seem less two-dimensional, as she was a more active participant in the storyline. I really would like to see this feature being more commonly implemented in future Visual Novels, as it just adds so much more to the game overall.
There is very little to criticise about the music and voice acting in Psychedelica, and I really was not disappointed at all throughout the entire game. It complemented the stellar writing and world-building of Psychedelica perfectly.
BENIYURI | VA: Nakahara Mai | 中原 麻衣 Midori Days as Midori Kasugano, Strawberry Panic! as Nagisa Aoi, Clannad series as Nagisa Furukawa, Kamichama Karin as Karin Hanazono, and Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-Kun as Yu Kashima
KAGIHA | VA: Toriumi Kosuke | 鳥海 浩輔
Naruto series as Inuzuka Kiba, Hakuoki series as Saito Hajime, Nightshade as Chojiro Momochi and Danganronpa series as Kiyotaka Ishimaru
YAMATO | VA: Hosoya Yoshimasa | 細谷 佳正 Black Wolves Saga series as Julian, Kenka Banchou Otome as Kira Rintarou, and Danganronpa series as Kazuichi Soda
MONSHIRO | VA: Matsuoka Yoshitsugu |松岡 禎丞 RE: Birthday Song series as Ame, Taisho x Alice series as Alice, Sword Art Online series as Kirito, and No Game No Life as Sora
KARASUBA | VA: Kakihara Tetsuya |柿原 徹也 Amnesia series as Shin, Code: Realize series as Viktor Frankenstein, and The Charming Empire as Toki Tanba
Contrary to popular opinion, I quite enjoyed the system in Psychedelica and could understand the direction behind it. It reinforces the mystery behind the universe and the fragmented nature of Beniyuri’s memories, as you’re forced to learn them piece by piece in a non-linear order. Although it does force the player to deviate from the storyline at certain points throughout the game, it created a nice balance between the light-hearted moments and angsty plot content.
When you do return back to the main storyline, your attachments to the characters are strengthened as you slowly learn more and more of their different backstories. If anything, then I did wish they could have improved the order in which the episodes unlocked as some of them did not align with the main storyline at times.
There also wasn’t enough clarity in the gameplay that for some of the bachelors, you HAD to read all their character short stories prior to their route. If you didn’t, then the correct decision at their character branch would not appear in their route. You would then have no idea how to progress with the game, and become completely stuck as a result.
The mini-game was quite simple, but it again suffered from lack of clarity with the instructions. I only realised by my second or third playthrough that you could drag through the touch screen to select multiple butterflies, rather than individually clicking them on the screen. After that, it became incredibly easy to achieve an S Ranking in every mini-game segment.
On a positive note, the mini-game is very easy to play and even a complete rookie would be able to achieve an S with some practice. The point requirements to unlock the short stories are not very high either, so you’re not required to grind points very much at all. I played the mini-game whenever it appeared in the main storyline, and ended up with an excess of points by the end of the game.
In terms of graphics interface and UI, then I really liked the design for Psychedelica. It suited the themes and motifs of the game perfectly, and was very aesthetically pleasing to look at and easy to navigate. I also liked the butterfly motifs and visual animations that were prevalent throughout the game, as it definitely added to the atmosphere.
In conclusion, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a hidden gem amongst the English otome releases for 2018 and I’m really surprised it isn’t talked about more. It is well-written and refreshingly different from the games that I have played so far. Although it is initially difficult to become immersed in the storyline and universe, I highly recommend finishing the game at least once. The first playthrough in my opinion, is the most enjoyable and there’s a reason why it’s titled ‘the best ending’.
It just perfectly captures the themes and questions that Psychedelica attempts to explore and answer. I was very impressed with the world-building, character development, captivating plot and beautiful music and voice acting. The twist definitely caught me off guard, and I quite enjoyed the mystery elements of the game. If you’re looking for a standard otome that focuses more on romance, then this may not be the game for you.
In my opinion, then there is still a lot of romance throughout the story—but it pales in comparison to the actual plot itself and the character’s struggles to overcome their grief and the burdens of their past. At its core, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly is a tragically moving tale that explores the themes of friendship, revenge, the fragility of life, inevitability of death and the impact of grief on the human psyche.
I highly recommend Psychedelica if you love a good mystery/fantasy story with plenty of twists and character angst to keep you on the edge of your seat. My next review will be on ‘7’sCarlet‘ which will most likely be posted in the following week or the beginning of June!
Overall Rating: 4/5
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It has been quite some time since my last review! 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.
Although I did enjoy the game overall, I had some major issues with the overarching storyline and character development within Bad Apple Wars.
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 with their past and current self. 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, as the original emotional impact and shock factor fizzled away into essentially nothing by the end of the game. For such a short title, 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. This was 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 were 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 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!
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 issue 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 considers 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. 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 rendered 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 her lack of personality, as even the secondary characters were more interesting to learn about than the protagonist herself.
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 manefestation 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 ending up together. 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.
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.
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. He wholeheartedly has everyone’s trust and confidence in his abilities to succeed. Initially, Alma is stoic and difficult for Rinka to befriend due to his secretive nature.
Compared to the previous two routes, Alma’s relationship with Rinka is noticeably more romantic 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 it is the reason that drives him to return to his previous life. Although it was executed better 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 are no unique twist or new additions to the typical plot device, 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 prominent 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 from one of the main bachelors.
SATORU: An obsessed student fixated with studying, examinations and achieving the best grades—Satoru is the only bachelor who is a newcomer to the academy that is from the same timeline as the protagonist. Initially, Rinka 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 his 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—people either absolutely loved it or absolutely hated it, and I can definitely see why.
Once Satoru eventually opens up to Rinka, their interactions are honestly so adorable and very fluffy in 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 the progression of their romantic feelings for one another. As he belongs to neither faction, some of the events that occur are unique to him and different from the canon storylines of the game.
I felt that out of all the routes, his good and bad endings were definitely much better written in terms of logical flow and emotional impact. It also 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 essentially 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.
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’ of the game, I was extremely excited to play his storyline. 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 further 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 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.
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. Due to the character type limitations, all the characters had similar voices that were quite soft and in the same vocal range. Because of this, 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 Narutoseries as Gaara, Danganronpa series as Byakuya Togami, Amnesia series as Kent, Ayakashi Gohan as Kimura Asagi and Black Wolves Saga series as Zara Skeens
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 where 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 that 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 in the scenes. Although this is not an issue if you understand Japanese, it definitely took away a lot of the emotional impact in 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.
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.
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. I was also very interested in Collar x Malice because 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 (Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review), so I was very excited to see how an otome game would incorporate the themes into the storyline. When I heard Collar x Malicewas 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.
“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 may deter a lot of players initially. 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 may not be 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 or wrong answer. 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 the news in the media and felt completely shocked at how little the criminal pays for their crimes, despite the victim shouldering 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 was 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.
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 in regards to 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.
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.
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.
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 lotof promotional art of them together, as Kei is meant to play the foil to Aiji as his polar opposite in terms of both personality and ideals. Very little is known about him prior to his story and I was interested to see how significant his route would be to the overarching plot.
In comparison to the others, he is the only character not apart of the detective agency and is actively working in the police force. Because of this, the angle of his storyline would naturally be very different from the others. Nothing would have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that was Okazaki Kei’s route.
I felt all sorts of emotions whilst playing his story such as happiness, warmth, a lot of frustration, constant laughter and sadness. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so emotionally invested in a route. He is undoubtedly one of my favourite characters and routes in the game.
I felt his past wasn’t so extreme as to warrant a drastic reaction such as his tragic life wish. However, what I really liked in his route was how Ichika handled it. I was really impressed by her character in this story, because the writers finally addressed her shortcomings that were lacking in the previous two routes. She approaches everything with conviction, is strong-willed, decisive and straight forward in what she wants.
It was essentially everything that I had wanted to see from her as an MC. Whilst Kei is extremely stubborn by nature, it does not deter Ichika whatsoever. She stands up to him, isn’t afraid to mince words and doesn’t hesitate to set him straight when he is acting out of line. When push comes to shove, she does not back down to any challenges and is unwavering in her beliefs of what is right and wrong.
It was also nice to see how she approached the X-Day case on her own in this route, without the help of the bachelors at the agency. When she is paired up with the other detectives, Ichika noticeably loses a lot of confidence due to the experience gap and becomes much more reliant on them to solve the cases.
Admittedly, playing through majority of Kei’s route is extremely frustrating due to how oblivious and selfish he is towards Ichika’s feelings and those around him. However, I also felt it was worthwhile build up for even greater character development later on in the story. It made the ending and confession of their feelings towards one another just so much more satisfying to read.
I actually laughed out loud when Ichika did exactly what I wanted her to do, which was quite literally slap some sense into Kei’s warped thinking process. It was refreshing to see how assertive she was in their relationship, and how much she fought to change Kei’s mindset. Even though it took quite some time before they were finally able to come to an understanding of one another’s feelings and desires, it was realistic.
It takes a lot to change someone’s view on life, and Ichika liberated Kei from the meaningless existence he had led the past few years and breathed a sense of 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 once 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.
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.
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 romanceable 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.
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
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.
In conclusion, Collar x Malice is a great title that I really enjoyed playing. It is definitely one of the better english 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 highlights 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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