Collar x Malice
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Visual novel
Release Date: 07/28/2017
Aksys has brought over a bevy of otome games in the past few years. They include the PSP, 3DS, and PS3 version of Hakuoki, Sweet Fuse, Code:Realize, and Norn9. Just this year, they’ve released Period Cube and will be releasing Bad Apple Wars in October. For 2018 they’ve announced 7’scarlet and the Psychedelica games, as well as the Code:Realize fandisk (along with the PS4 port of the original game and fandisk). Their most recent otome game release, Collar x Malice, intrigued me with its combination of murder mysteries, gorgeous art, and a police officer for a protagonist. I tend to eat up anything with mysteries and pretty boys, so this seemed like a winning combination.
Collar x Malice takes place in the city of Shinjuku, whose citizens have been living in fear thanks to a series of murders (known as the X-Day Incidents) carried out by the organization Adonis, who claims everything they do is for the sake of justice and resurrecting Japan. Due to the proliferation of these crimes, the ban on weapons has been lifted and every citizen armed with a gun for self-defense. You play as police officer Hoshino (first name can be changed, but the default is Ichika) who has a poisoned collar placed on her by a mysterious assailant. The voice behind the collar identifies her as a potential Adonis sympathizer and tasks her with discovering the truth behind the X-Day Incidents. However, the collar transmits everything back to the collar’s creator and can be triggered remotely (and she is warned not to let the police find out about it), so she needs to tread carefully. She’s rescued by a group of (mostly) former cops who are investigating the X-Day Incidents.
The game is plot heavy like Code: Realize and Hakuoki, though it does have its fair share of romance that picks up steam faster than in than the latter. Like Code: Realize there’s one route that’s locked until you complete the other ones (Yanagi). In addition, there’s also one that requires you to finish the game once before you can start it (Shiraishi). A major overarching theme throughout the game is the concept of justice and what that means to different people and different circumstances. Each route focuses on different cases. The culprits are given believable motives and enough development to make them seem human. They serve as good foils for the love interest you’re pursuing, which in turn provides character development for that guy. That being said, while the reveal of the mastermind was a bit of a gut punch (I had my suspicions but was in denial right up to the reveal), his motives and ultimate goals could’ve been defined better. The culprits and their motivations provide a solid setup for the mastermind’s goals through the underlying common thread they all shared, but said setup could’ve been capitalized on a bit better. Still, I really enjoyed the journey wanted to keep playing so that I could get closer to finding out the mystery behind the mastermind and Adonis. The game also succeeded in establishing an antagonist with a morally grey purpose where even if you don’t agree with their methods you can see some merit in their viewpoints.
While the translation reads fine and characters have distinct voices, I did notice a number of typographical errors. There were typos (e.g. “You’re are quite interesting”, “grabbing a bit to eat”) and repeated words in sentences continuing tot he next line (e.g. “After taking your words words to heart”). There was one in particular that makes things a bit confusing in context: “Well as a fellow I was just curious” (in this context Ichika, who’s clearly not a guy, is speaking and cop/officer should go between “fellow” and “I”). There was also more than one sentence ending with “.)” (with no opening parenthesis at the beginning of the sentence) and instances like “Did that turn out okay:?”, though these occurred less frequently. There were also misattribution errors – for example, the text saying “Shiraishi’s partner” when Shiraishi is the one talking and the voiceover clearly says “Enomoto” in that line. Sometimes lines said by Hoshino (and not voiced) were attributed to another character, or lines said by another character (and voiced by that character) attributed to Hoshino. I also spotted a couple of instances of this. At times there was a change from a dialogue box to a narration box (and vice versa) mid-line, which was jarring. I know some typos can get by when editing something with a ton of text, but the misattribution errors were the most confusing (I was able to sort them out by looking at context, but I still had to do a double take).
The art in this game was done by the same artist who did Amnesia: Memories (Hamamura Mai). The color palette is more subdued here than it was in Amnesia: Memories, but it suits the darker tone of the plot well. It was a joy to gaze at the character art throughout my playthroughs, and I always looked forwards to the CGs. When changing to another character’s perspective, there’s a transition screen that show a character (or just the setting depending on the character) then transition right to a scene with them, which was a nice extra touch. The soundtrack was fitting for the situations they played in, though no one track stood out as something I’d listen to outside of the game. In that sense, they served their purpose well as background music.
As you might expect, Collar x Malice is primarily a straight visual novel with relationship parameters, first a trust meter, then an affection meter after trust is maxed. There’s also inspection sections where you click on different parts of a scene to gather clues. It was a fitting addition, especially given you’re playing as a cop inspecting crimes, though a little more could’ve been done with it (like perhaps at some points gather clues and confront someone with them? Or maybe be able to inspect them and put them together). At certain points in the game, there are shooting sections where you have to press a button when a circle enters the crosshairs. This caught me off guard when I encountered them for the first time because I thought it was a cutscene rather than me needing to push anything (fortunately it was during a training session). This was another neat feature that added tension to the scenes they appeared in.
After completing a route you can start at any chapter and set trust (in earlier chapters) or affection (in later chapters) levels at high or low, which is rather helpful for unlocking every ending. Even after all the routes in the main game is complete, there’s more content unlocked. Each love interest gets a short story, little scenes where you go through a day with them, and extra voice clips. There’s another prologue chapter that sheds a bit more light on the culprits and their motivations. If you’re looking to get the platinum trophy for this game, know that there’s a trophy for viewing every single bad ending. There’s no in-game list of endings, so unlocking them as you play through each route is probably the best way to make sure you see them all. This guide is a good one, though don’t look at Yanagi’s guide before you’re on his route because one of the choices is a spoiler (also be careful with trophy lists for this game because they also contain spoilers). I’m very glad that this game received a localization, and I really enjoyed my time with it.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Collar x Malice does a good job of blending a murder mystery thriller with romancing pretty boys. The overall visual presentation is a treat for the eyes and makes the experience feel that much more polished. The only tarnishes are some typographical and misattribution errors, which don’t affect the readability of the text but are still noticeable. The interactive sections are neat and fitting additions, but a little more could’ve been done with them. There’s a lot of content to go through, and each route is pretty meaty (especially the final one), so you’ll get a good bang for your buck. I’d heartily recommend it if you’re a fan of murder mysteries, wooing pretty boys, or both.