Collar x Malice is an excellent game that plays with your feelings by having handsome, tortured men open up and call you ‘partner’ amidst a dramatic and intriguing story that will keep you hooked and theorising until the end.
Shinjuku is in turmoil. The terrorist organisation, Adonis, is attempting the bring about the ‘rebirth’ of Japan through a string of crimes where those they deem sinners are punished with death. Police officer Ichika Hoshino finds herself even deeper into the alarming series of events when a collar is placed around her neck through which she is monitored by Adonis and can be poisoned at any moment. Now, she must work alongside a group of troubled (yet cute) investigators to save not only herself, but Japan as a whole.
As you might gather from the plot outline, romance isn’t really at the forefront of Collar x Malice. Though the romance does add an extra layer of sweetness to the drama and action of the plot, your focus here is uncovering who’s behind Adonis and stopping them wiping out a load of people when X-Day rolls around at the end of the month and they pass judgement.
Even before you get into its compelling story, however, one of the stand-out things about Collar x Malice from the offset is how truly stunning the art is. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, and there’s no shortage of gorgeous CGs, giving its particularly emotional scenes all the more impact. There’s even an extra CG for each love interest when you complete their gallery – a nice reward for getting through all those bad ends!
There’s a distinct softness to Hanamura Mai’s artwork which contrasts wonderfully with the game’s dark themes and often rough-around-the-edges characters. Visually a joy in every way, Collar x Malice is always looking its best.
“One of the stand-out things about Collar x Malice from the offset is how truly stunning the art is.”
Collar x Malice has a wonderful cast of characters, and is probably the first time I’ve looked at a line up of the romantic options and not known who I wanted to pursue first straight away. Even getting to know them didn’t make the decision any easier! Everyone is well-rounded, with their own motivations, and the secondary characters are likeable and memorable too.
It’s not just the love interests that captured me either – Hoshino is a notably excellent heroine who’s not afraid to speak her mind and is definitely not just a damsel in distress, despite the unfortunate and dangerous situation she soon finds herself in. If it wasn’t for Hoshino’s strong personality, the dynamics between her and her fellow investigators wouldn’t be nearly as interesting and investing as they are. She really is worthy of standing next to any of them as a partner, and will be a welcome protagonist for anyone who’s a little fatigued with more passive otome game heroines. It’s only a shame she isn’t voiced!
“Hoshino is a notably excellent heroine who’s not afraid to speak her mind.”
In addition to following Hoshino in first-person narration, there are lots of scenes where the point of view swaps, giving interesting glimpses into the minds of other characters. These insights provided by the monologues of your love interests offer a nice change of pace and compliment Hoshino’s own narration in building their relationship. There are even some mysterious scenes from the point of view of Adonis executors too, which really get you thinking.
There are 3 character routes to choose from at the beginning, and 2 more to be unlocked. The last of these is a final ‘true route’ which only opens up when all the others are done and lets you see everything you’ve learned from them fall into place for the grand conclusion. The game splits into separate routes very early on, with each one focusing on a particular X-Day incident, so there’s a huge amount of variation in content between them and you don’t find yourself retreading the same ground all the time. It’s really fun to investigate the separate incidents and tie in what you know across routes!
Collar x Malice has lots of choices, and many dead ends to keep you guessing, as well as the occasional shooting mini-game and crime scene investigation where you look for clues. It’s definitely not a game you can just breeze your way through without a hitch, but the bad ends and dead ends are very interesting in their own right, so that’s not a problem! On top of a standard fare glossary, you have a ‘Materials’ section which will let you look back over what you’ve learned about the cases throughout the game. This can be very useful for when your current love interest decides to interrogate you about a case, especially seeing as you’ll have to fill a Trust metre with your chosen guy before you can even begin the Affection metre!
In addition to the main plot, there are also ‘Situations’ and ‘Side-Stories’ which give you a little extra time with each character after their storyline. It’s nice to have a post-game date scene and cute exchanges with your boyfriend of choice. It’s very exciting that a fandisc has been announced too! I welcome more time with these wonderful characters.
“Collar x Malice has earned a spot as one of my favourite visual novels.”
Everything I hoped for and more, not only has it quickly taken its place as one of my favourite games released this year, but Collar x Malice has earned a spot as one of my favourite visual novels overall. It’s something very special, and it’s going to be one tough act to follow.
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