You know, before I started writing for Popzara I probably wouldn’t have ever played a visual novel. The entire idea of games that don’t have much in the way of gameplay wasn’t especially appealing to me. I can’t say that my view on that point has changed much – “art games” like Dear Esther and Empathy: Path of Whispers still typically fail to impress – but there’s certainly been some VNs that have gotten my attention and kept me playing. Other times I just have to admit that I’m not the intended audience for every game that’s ever made.
Case in point: otome games like Collar X Malice, which are typically made for women and which I end up playing every so often on account of supporting the poor, terminally ill PS Vita. “Not for me” doesn’t mean a game isn’t worth a look, of course, which is definitely the case here.
After X-Day, the beginning of a series of terrorist attacks, kidnappings and murders committed by a mysterious group known as Adonis, the Japanese government takes extreme measures. The Shinjuku ward is quarantined from the rest of Japan and, in an unprecedented move, the citizens there are all outfitted with firearms for self-defense. The police remain in the form of the SRCPO, a department specifically developed to investigate the X-Day attacks.
Ichika Hoshino, a member of the SRCPO, is drawn into the center of the chaos when she’s kidnapped during a patrol and outfitted with a locked collar. The collar contains surveillance gear so Ichika’s captors can keep an eye on her whereabouts and what she’s getting up to, as well as a lethal poison that could be administered at any time. She’s told simply that she’s to display her sense of justice for her captors and that telling the police about the collar will lead to her death. Working with both the police and a group of detectives, Ichika needs to find out what happened, who did this to her, and maybe even how to get that thing off before it’s too late. The tension added to the plot by the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heroine’s head means I found this to be a little more gripping than most visual novels, which was a nice touch.
There’s not a lot to say about the what you do in this one; what you see is largely what you get. It’s a visual novel with the odd point-and-click scene here and there; the latter is intended more to break up the reading a little rather than provide any sort of gameplay-based challenge, so you can expect a fairly standard VN experience. This is a traditional VN rather than a kinetic novel, so you’ve got choices to make, paths to follow (based on which character you’d like Ichika to end up with, naturally; expect lots of detailed art of characters gazing into each others’ eyes and so on) and plenty of deaths to die; that collar, as it turns out, is no joke, and if Ichika doesn’t take her captors seriously she’ll find that out in short order. Outside of the various plot paths you’ve got an art viewer, a very detailed glossary and a few other extras to take a look at as well, so Collar X Malice ends up feeling like the premium visual novel it’s being sold as.
The concept is interesting, the art and aesthetic presentation have had plenty of love put in and the writing is fairly well done, but this is an otome game through and through and, as mentioned, I’m not really the intended audience. Otome fans who are, however, will probably get the most out of Collar X Malice, especially if they can get behind the police and mystery themes. As with any visual novel, it’s not for everyone, but if you think this is going to be your kind of game then it probably will be.