Too Long; Won’t Read
Collar x Malice is one of the more original Otome games I’ve played, featuring a more realistically paced story and interesting, mold-breaking characters. The artwork is incredibly high quality, the soundtrack is fittingly woven into each scene, and the voice acting is absolutely superb. As far as Otome games go – and perhaps even as far as Visual Novels go in general – Collar x Malice holds it own somewhere around the top.
Aksys Games plans to release the English version of this game this summer, on the 28th of July. If you’re looking for a Visual Novel/Otome game to pick up, there isn’t any reason not to give this one a shot – but to learn more about its story, characters, and quirks, please read on!
Note: This entire review is written to be as spoiler-free as possible.
Collar x Malice isn’t your typical Otome game – it sets itself up in a more realistic universe with a decidedly darker twist than you might be accustomed to. You play Hoshino Ichika, a young policewoman who, through a series of events, is caught up in a terrorist plot against the district of Shinjuku. In order to save herself and her city, she teams up with a group of roguish officers to solve the mysteries of “X-Day”.
As Ichika, you commit yourself to investigating the latest string of incidents, following clues, capturing suspects, and even the occasional shootout that may or may not end well. The focus of your investigations change depending on the Route you are playing, and despite the fact that this is an Otome game, much of its focus is on crimesolving and critical thinking. You will definitely feel like you’re taking part in a huge investigation, every clue opening up new mysteries and posing new questions.
Still, through the midst of it all, you will slowly grow closer to your companions, learning about their pasts and their hopes for the future, their motivations and concerns. What I particularly liked about this Otome was how realistically paced the romance was – at no point did I feel like the pairs were “rushed” into a relationship. They were always built up bit by bit, and never did you forget that you were in the midst of a huge terrorist plot that might very well cost you your life.
Each character was interesting in their own way, and every route was completely different from the routes that came before, so at no point does it feel like you’re playing the same game over and over again. Additionally, new information is revealed in every route, so the game progresses smoothly regardless of your romantic partner.
All in all, I felt like both the plot and the romance were handled well. The characters felt mature and realistic, and their relationships developed gradually and dynamically based on what was going on around them. Even in their sweeter, happier moments, there was always a sense of gloom that hung over each scene – none of them ever forget that if they fail in their mission, it would likely lead to countless deaths. This was extremely refreshing when compared to so many other Otome games, when the main plot is thrown into the backseat in favor of rushed romance and unrealistic reactions.
Ichika is a young policewoman, and that’s clear in all her interactions. She’s relatively new to the force, and thus often defers to her superiors, but she has good judgment, a strong sense of justice, and an optimistic, hard-working personality. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t voice-acted, but all of her lines had so much emotion and personality in them that I found it to be less of an issue than I was expecting. Ichika isn’t a dead-fish character who says and does nothing, to be pushed around by the male leads and forcably inserted into the plot. She feels like a real person, with her own problems and goals, and I found her to be genuinely likeable.
Out of all of the characters in the game, I felt like Mineo fit most readily into a stereotype. With his red head of hair and stylish eyepatch, it was immediately obvious that he was meant to be the “comedic relief” of the group. He’s rash, loud, and generally looked down upon by the rest of the members. Despite this, there was a surprising amount of depth to his backstory, and though his archetype felt downright cliche at times, his route still managed to be bittersweet and generally enjoyable.
Takeru’s route surprised me quite a lot. I came into it expecting one thing, and came out of it with something completely different. Takeru feels like he should be a stereotype, but he is constantly breaking out of the mold set up for him, making it difficult to really predict who he is and what will happen throughout his route. The romance in this route felt truly organic, and was perhaps one of the best in the entire game. Takeru is a super-intelligent, arrogant, and pushy man who specializes in cybercrime investigation, but he reveals a much more vulnerable side as the story progresses.
Kei is a bit of an oddity. His route was enjoyable, but he was somewhat difficult to place at times. Out of all of the males, he seemed to trust the main character the least, and he also seemed the least affiliated with the rest of the group. I felt fairly neutral about him by the time that I finished his route, but I think that’s mostly just a matter of personal preference. He tends to act a bit air-headed, with a “my pace” personality, but there’s definitely something darker and far more serious lurking under his smiling mask.
Once you’ve finished the first three routes, you start in on the real meat of the main plot. Kageyuki was extremely interesting and generally bittersweet to play, and this is the point that you start grasping more of the mystery behind X-Day. Shizuru himself was deeply layered, and the romance that developed here was complex and, at times, quite twisted. I felt that his route was probably the saddest of them all when you include all of the bad endings, and I had a lot of sympathy for him despite his admittedly twisted personality.
The “main man” of the game. It is in his route that you will truly uncover the final mysteries of the terrorist group that hangs over the plot. I won’t spoil anything here, but his route had the most general plot revelations, and was thus the most exciting of the bunch. He is the leader of the investigation, and has a calm, rational manner about him that the others seem to respect.
There are a lot of choices to be made in Collar x Malice – and you have to be paying close attention to the story (or using a guide) to make the right ones. Despite this, even the bad endings are most definitely worth playing – there were no “gag” endings in this game, so every ending has something interesting to express that adds to the overall sense of danger. Your character can, and will, die if you don’t make the correct choices and act quickly.
In general, the systems were set up in typical fashion for an Otomate game, and are quick to grasp and easy to make use of. As a Visual Novel, there isn’t altogether too much to get the hang of, though there is a kind of shooting “mini-game” that you will occasionally be required to use. Also, after completing a route, there are a number of extras that are unlocked that you can view from the main menu.
Collar x Malice might not be the best Otome game out there (depending on your taste), but it can certainly be ranked high on the list. The storyline and characters are all quite interesting, the artwork is extremely detailed, the voice-acting is brilliantly done, and the music generally fits with the mood of each scene. Generally speaking, it is both well-made and entertaining, and what more could you possibly ask for?
You can get Collar x Malice in English this summer, releasing with both digital and physical editions by Aksys Games.
If you do pick it up – and you should – I recommend that you play in the following order:
Mineo -> Takeru -> Kei -> Kageyuki -> Aiji