Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome [R18] Review

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

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

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

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

Storyline ★★★

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-The Story-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Ema has other ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★

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

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

System ★★★

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 3/5

Written By Cherry

 

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Collar x Malice Review

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

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

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

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

“Who put this collar on me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design ★★★★★

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

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

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

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

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

System ★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Written By Cherry

Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — Review

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RELEASE DATE: 2011
PUBLISHER: Rejet & Idea Factory & Otomate
PLATFORMS AVAILABLE: Windows (English Fan Translation) & PSVita (Japanese)

I originally played Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — in japanese a few years ago, and decided to play it again with the recently released english patch on VNR. If you would like to play the game with the english translation, then you must own a copy of the game (via purchasing it) and you can download the set up instructions for the english translation here. Major props to the people who released the 100% translation, because translating visual novels are tough. Especially the ones with historical jargon/lingo that even the japanese dictionaries sometimes don’t have definitions for.

What drew me in was the beautiful art and promising storyline, as well as the title’s popularity in Japan. I had read plenty of reviews that praised the immersive plot, captivating character cast and dark themes. As a warning if you’re planning to play this game, it does incorporate very dark themes, mature content and violence. Although it’s not sexually explicit (no NSFW images), it does have vague sexual descriptions in some of the routes and depicts blood and torture. If you’re not a fan of these aspects, then I don’t recommend playing the game.

Although I was initially very apprehensive of the pure insanity from the characters in the game, I actually ended up enjoying Black Wolves Saga very much. I would love to see a localisation of Black Wolves Saga — Weiβ und Schwarz — which was recently released in 2017 in Japan. It is the PSVita port that includes both Bloody Nightmare and Last Hope in one package. Last Hope is the more light-hearted version of Bloody Nightmare, and focuses more on the wolves rather than the cat’s side of the story.

Storyline ★★★★

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-The Story-

The protagonist, Fiona lived in a secluded tower due to her fragile health. There is turmoil in the country and a severe disease outbreak known as Zodiva or “Mad Wolf Disease”. Mejojo was interested in Fiona due to her upbringing and wanted to take her as his bride, but Fiona’s father refused. There are now rumours in town saying Fiona is a witch- Mejojo and Auger uses this to their advantage and arrest her, so that they can “observe” her while she lives in the castle. Eventually, Fiona’s half-brother (Nesso) and butler (Zara) rescue her and they escape together.

The emphasis of the story is on a dark/historical/political fantasy where humans, wolves, cats and other animals are being ruled by two very crafty feline tyrants. Due to various oppressions the cat twins faced in their childhood including assassination attempts, they learned how to survive and gain power- but they were also driven towards insanity. There is nothing they won’t do to get what they want.

(Excerpt from VNDB)

To sum up Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — in a single sentence: every character is to some extent absolutely insane and it’s a modernised visual novel version of the book ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell. Majority of people will have heard of this novel, since it is a recommended study text in early high school. If you’re familiar with the novel, it actually gives you a better understanding of BWS and a more insightful analysis into the complexity of the overarching story line.

The plot focuses on the long-term political struggle within the country of Weblin, and the darkness that stains its history. Once upon a time, the country had been been ruled peacefully by the co-existence of both cats and wolves at the top of the hierarchy. However, one day the to-be-crowned prince cat is stabbed by a wolf; thus throwing the political balance into chaos. The wolf is labelled a traitor and banished from the land; leading to the cat’s supreme reign. Zodiva (Mad Wolf Disease) soon inflicts its plague upon the country, resulting in countless deaths of its people.

The wolves are blamed as the carriers and procreators of the disease, and the King implements a rule supporting ‘Wolf Hunting’. This leads to the complete eradication of the wolves to near extinction, and they’re forced into hiding for their own safety. Years into the future, the disease is still at large without a cure and people live in constant fear and hatred for the wolves.

Our protagonist Fiona is the equivalent of a modern Rapunzel due to her birth status as a Lobeira. It is an uncommon condition, and only once in a blue moon would a human be born as one. Lobeira tend to die young due to their weak physical condition and are very susceptible to illness. Even minor symptoms such as a common cold can mean death for a Lobeira.

Fiona has been locked within the secluded tower all her life, in order to prevent her from contracting illness. It is due to this upbringing that she has lived until the age of sixteen. Fiona has been spoilt and waited upon ever since she was born by her loving half-brother Nesso, doting father, servant Zara and her two dogs: Pearl and Ritchie. Fiona longs for the beauty of the world beyond her prison, and has no concept of reality outside of what she has been told or read about in books.

Mejojo and Auger (main focus of the game) are the two white cat princes that regularly visit Fiona, seeking her hand in marriage. They are met with constant rejection, due to her family’s concern that her life cannot be sustained outside of the tower. The cats are frustrated by this recurring answer, and concoct a devious plan. They begin to spread rumours that a witch residing in the tower is responsible for spreading Zodiva and commanding the wolves. The townspeople stricken by fear and distrust through years of brainwashing by the cats, leap at the first opportunity for blame.

Fiona is branded a criminal, and taken hostage in the Royal Castle to the despair of her family. In order to prove her innocence and appease the town’s people; it is decided by King Garibaldi VI (Mejojo and Auger’s father) that she must remain at the castle for the time being. If the disease remains without her interference, then she will be free to return home. He assures that her stay will be comfortable, as she is the daughter of his beloved friend and ally.

Fiona is deeply troubled by the circumstances, as it was not how she imagined her first experience of the outside world to be. Little does she know, she’ll soon wish that she had never left the comforts of her tower and seen the cruelty that reality has to offer.

I absolutely loved the depiction of the political struggle in the game. Every character just had so many layers and dimension to their story and personality. They all contributed significantly in creating a diverse and complex plot. It’s a tale where there really is no black or white; it’s all just shades of grey. It’s up to you as a reader to decipher the truth from the lies, and which faction you’ll eventually side with. No faction in this game is truly justifiable in their actions, and every single character has some extent of darkness to them; some significantly more than others.

There’s the cat’s story, the wolves’ story, the human’s story, the truth, the lies, and finally the truth you decide is the right path to take. I really liked how interwoven the plot was, where every character played such a crucial role in influencing the other’s past one way or another. Not only that, but this past is then a direct reflection of how the characters currently are in the present.

Everything just links to one another and the puzzle pieces of the storyline fit together perfectly. I don’t think any summary could ever do this storyline justice, and it’s just one of those games where you have to play it for yourself in order to truly appreciate the beauty of it.

As a reader, I found myself so conflicted because once you find out the truth; your mind simply is unable to comprehend the distinction between good and evil anymore. It is this multi-faceted nature of the plot that makes it so well written. Everyone has justifiable reasons for committing the sins and actions that they’ve done, and when you put yourself in their shoes the only question that comes to mind is: wouldn’t I have done the same?

Although the game is bloody, violent and incorporates very dark themes; I liked that it was actually realistic. This is what happened during the era of political and power struggles for the throne. If you’re not strong enough to stand up to it; then you’re not fit for the crown and will inevitably be eliminated by your competitors.

However, there were still some faults about the game that I felt could definitely be improved on. Even though it was nice having eight bachelors to choose from and each having their own story, it caused strains in fitting every character equally into the allocated time frame of the visual novel.

With the more characters you incorporate into a game, it’s to be expected that some stories will be much weaker than others. In Bloody Nightmare, it essentially focuses everything on the cat’s side of the story. Despite the wolves’ playing such an integral role in the plot, I felt their routes were extremely lacking and left much to be desired.

I suppose it’s because they decided to leave most of their content to be explored in Black Wolves Saga: — Last Hope — as that covers the wolves’ side of the story. Even if that was the case, I was still shocked when their stories just ended so abruptly with little to no development at all. Even if the bulk of the story is in the alternative game, I still expected at least some satisfaction with their endings. Instead, I was just left with the feeling of ‘wait…. that was it? It actually ended then and there?’

Because of the linear storytelling, the game has one main route that is reflected in all the stories. Your choices with the factions and raising the character’s affection changes small events here and there, which eventually culminates to the different endings of the story. The game seems deceptively content-heavy at first, until you realise from the second playthrough onwards that you’re actually sitting there skipping through the main route majority of the time. It felt as though I was spending more time skipping than actually playing the game.

The story really only differentiates near the ending branch, where you finally decide on your chosen faction. Until then, the story is more or less exactly the same due to the linear format. The first playthrough takes around 10-15hrs to complete, and finishing all the other endings would total to about 20-30hrs of game time.

Character Development ★★★★

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION! 

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Normally characters like Fiona would definitely irritate me, with her complete powerlessness and tendency to cry at every single scenario. In Fiona’s situation however, it was understandable and essentially she’s just as much of a victim as anyone else; if not more so. Her life is a series of extremely unfortunate events: her birth as a lobeira, her mother’s death as a result, and simply because of her similarity to another woman — she becomes the poor target of Mejojo.

Fiona’s circumstances only gives her the option to depend on someone else in order to survive. It’s not like she wished to be born different than everyone else, and it becomes a source of self-loathing and extreme lack of self-efficacy for Fiona.

Even though Fiona makes some incredibly stupid decisions throughout the game, as a reader you can’t help but understand her logical reasoning. It’s because she’s been so sheltered and never exposed to any semblance of evil; her perception on reality is completely untarnished and pure.

She genuinely believes in the goodness of others, and the potential for change. What she doesn’t realise though is normally this could be the case but the people she’s dealing with are too far gone to the point of utter insanity. Their darkness isn’t something that can be mended or healed; it’s something that has defined their entire lives.

Without it, they would no longer have any meaning or purpose. It’s the cruel realism that permeates the theme of the game; people don’t just magically change over time, no matter how hard you try or wish for it. She gets reduced to a mere lifeless doll; the unwilling reciprocal of Mejojo and Auger’s twisted desires. She is objectified, and broken in every sense of the word.

However, I felt the traumatic experiences were in the end necessary to developing Fiona’s character. If she had never faced reality, she would have never have had the courage or maturity to make her own decisions on what path she should take and distinguish between right and wrong. In spite of the suffering she endured, it is from these horrific experiences that she is able to display true strength.

She still has the capacity to believe in justice and righteousness; and fight for peace for a country that condemned her existence as a witch. It is this goodness that at least serves as some light at the end of the tunnel in the good endings of the routes. Fiona is essentially the foil of BWS; there has to be some balance between good and evil, or the story would just be an endless cycle of bloodshed without any chances of stopping. It’s saddening due to the nature of the story that all of Fiona’s endings are bittersweet; there is no such thing as ‘true happiness’ or ‘happily ever after’ in Black Wolves Saga.

Normally I would not have split the character reviews from the main game review, but in BWS the character routes were simply too extensive and each with significant contributions to the storyline. Rather than including a massive wall of text in the main post or cutting down the content and losing important aspects of the overarching storyline; I decided to simply break it down into separate sections. You can click on the separate links below to read my review on each character and their development.

The reviews are best read sequentially in the following order, and it is also my recommend play order for the game.

Design ★★★★★

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Although the game’s art, colouring and design did put me off initially, it really does grow on you overtime. It’s gorgeous in its own unique way, and really stands out in comparison to other games. The illustration really suits the ‘fantasy’ aspect of the game, and it’s one that is memorable and easily recognisable the moment you see it. Especially for the CGs depicting bloodshed and torture, it effectively makes the image significantly more eerie and darker in tone. The artist perfectly captures the evident insanity in the character’s expressions, which really enhances the atmosphere of the game.

I was surprised by the sheer amount of CGs the game incorporated, as it does accommodate for all 8 bachelors along with many ‘general route’ images. I do love all the character designs, and I really have no qualms about the art in the game.

Kuroyuki is also the artist for the upcoming Idea Factory localisation releasing this April 28th, Period x Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~. I cover the game in my post for the most anticipated english Visual Novel releases for 2017.

Music and Voice Acting ★★★★★

To me, this was honestly without a doubt the highlight of the game. It has one of the best and one of my favourite openings of any otome game. The animations and transitions are just so clean and smooth; not to mention it’s actually sung by one of the characters of the game, Rath Vogart (VA: Kaji Yuki | 梶 裕貴). The background music suited the theme of the game, however I wouldn’t say there were any outstanding tracks that stood out to me. Auger casually whipping out his violin solos, in order to provide ‘befitting entertainment’ for certain moments in the story was quite a nice touch to his character.

The voice acting line up in Black Wolves Saga was just all-around phenomenal. Although it does have a lot of evil laughter, battle cries, and screams of despair that you will be sick of hearing by the end of the game; it just showcases the talents and prowess of the voice actors.

They perfectly emulate their personalities and capture the sheer insanity and angst of all the characters as well their despair, pain, anxiety and fears. It just enriches the atmosphere and tone of the game, and captivates your immediate interest. To no surprise, Black Wolves Saga incorporates a voice acting line up of exceptionally famous and veteran seiyuus.

  • Mejojo Von Garibaldi | VA: Sakurai Takahiro |櫻井 孝宏|
    Sasori in Naruto Shippuuden, Atsumu Matsuyuki in Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Shogo Makushima in Psycho-Pass, Leon Kuwata from Danganronpa series, Yuji Kazami from The Fruit of Grisaia series and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy series.
  • Auger Von Garibaldi | VA: Yoshino Hiroyuki |吉野 裕行|
    Heisuke Todo from Hakuoki series)
  • Julian | VA: Hosoya Yoshimasa | 細谷 佳正 |
    Kazuichi Soda from Danganronpa series, The Avatar & Male Morgan from Fire Emblem: Awakening
  • Arles V. Felnoir | VA: Morikawa Toshiyuki | 森川 智之 |
    Kyosuke Munakata in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy, Minato Namikaze in Naruto Shippuuden and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy series and Kingdom Hearts II. 
  • Rath Vogart | VA: Kaji Yuki | 梶 裕貴 |
    Haruyuki Arita in Accel World, Kanato Sakamaki from Diabolik Lovers series, Speed-o’-Sound Sonic in One Punch Man, Phoenix Wright in Ace Attorney (anime)Hope Estheim in Final Fantasy series, Takumi from Fire Emblem series and Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan.
  • Guillan Guinor | VA: Taniyama Kisho | 谷山 紀章 |
    Ikki from Amnesia series
  • Nesso Galland | VA: Miki Shin’ichiro | 三木 眞一郎 |
    James from Pokemon series, Roy Mustang from Full Metal Alchemist series, and Hijikata Toshizo from Hakuoki series.
  • Zara Skeens | VA: Ishida Akira | 石田 彰 |
    Gaara from Naruto series, Kent from Amnesia series, and Byakuya Togami from Danganronpa series

I was genuinely shocked when researching the voice acting cast line up, because literally every character seiyuu was extremely prominent and famous. It then made perfect sense as to why the voice acting was so phenomenal from every character, despite incorporating 8 different bachelors to choose from. This is one of the most stacked line ups of talent I’ve seen from any otome or visual novel.

System ★★★★

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The system and UI in Black Wolves Saga was pretty decent, and incorporated a lot of extra cute bonus options with the bachelors. The design suited the theme of the game, including all the basic options such as save slots, CG gallery, and scene recollection. I do wish they organised the scene recollection better however, as I never ended up using it.

Due to the sheer amount of scenes the game possesses, the pages amassed to something like 100-200+ pages. As a result, no one would be bothered to even use the function, as it simply takes far too long in getting to the scene you wish to replay. You had to individually select through the pages one by one, which just goes to show very little foresight by the creators.

Icons appear on the screen when you make a critical choice, and the image differs depending on which faction you choose. It was quite a nice feature, as it helped you know if you were on the right track or not in the outcome of the story. In the game, you needed to balance both faction choices and affection with your chosen character, which they provided love point gauges for. The encyclopaedia was especially useful, as the game does incorporate a lot of its own unique history and terms; which is all explained in detail here.

My favourite and fan-service aspect they added was the ‘grooming’ option. As the characters are mainly animals, it was a cute feature to have. You use your mouse to interact with different parts of the bachelor’s bodies (yes, including down there) and raising their affection if you touch the places they like. There is also a decrease in affection in places that they dislike. It’s coupled with adorable dialogue such as ‘touch me more, it feels really good!’ or ‘where do you think you’re touching?!’

The extra lines in the volumes weren’t anything too interesting, and I wasn’t sure what it’s purpose was other than to fill up space in the bonus options.

Conclusion

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Black Wolves Saga is a fantastic game, and I personally highly recommend it if you’re not adverse to mature/dark themes, blood shed and torture. It incorporates an amazing linear storyline, complex and captivating characters, beautiful art, solid music and a very stacked line up of voice actors. It delves upon issues such as the evil and corruption prevalent within political struggles, and a universe painted in the shades of grey. It invokes questions on the boundaries of morality, the distinction between good and evil, and how every choice you make has dire consequences.

Although Fiona makes decisions for the sake of peace and the good of others; she is constantly faced with the brunt of reality that sometimes people cannot change; no matter how much you wish for it. It is not the world she had imagined it to be, and is forced against her own will to mature in order to survive. There is no truly good person in the game, and yet you can still empathise with their reasoning and justification even after seeing their innate darkness. This is what makes multi-faceted and memorable characters, and is a testament to how good the writing of the story is.

However, the game is not without it’s faults. Due to the nature of the themes within the game, it is difficult at times to read the suffering that the heroine endures time and time again. As such, it may not appeal to a broad and general audience. Although it incorporates 8 different bachelor stories to choose from, as I expected the author definitely had issues condensing so many routes into the allocated time frame of the visual novel. It focuses mainly on the cat’s side of the story, and in comparison the other character routes seem poorly developed, lacked proper substance and had dissatisfying endings.

As such, it compels the reader to also pick up Black Wolves Saga: — Last Hope — as that covers the wolves’ side of the story. I personally believe that Black Wolves Saga — Weiβ und Schwarz — should be localised, as it was a recent platform release on the PSVita in 2017. Rather than the original separated PSP version, it incorporates both games in one pack; allowing you to enjoy the game in its entirety and increased resolution of the PSVita. If there’s enough fan interest in the series, I can foresee it being localised due to its immense popularity thus far.

From the localisation polls in the past couple of years, Black Wolves Saga has continually placed near the top of the list. As such, I do believe it has a good chance of an eventual english release so long as fans remain interested in playing the game. Black Wolves Saga — Bloody Nightmare — is refreshing, different and definitely one of my all time favourite otome games.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Written By Cherry