Collar X Malice
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 25/06/2020
A Code was provided for review purposes
A Visual Novel By Any Other Name
I have played and reviewed a couple of visual novel games now, and I was then and still am entirely undecided on what I think of them. Then I saw Collar X Malice on the review list.
Was I ready for another visual novel? I didn’t know, but I’d played a few hectic games, and the idea of something chilled out certainly appealed to me. Plus, I love reading and story-driven games, and what could be more story-driven than a game that is essentially a novel.
So, I ventured into this title, recently launched on the switch after a run on other systems earlier in its life. I did not know anything about the game going into it, but what did I make of my time in the world of Adonis? Was it a real page-turner of a game, or was it one of those stories that weren’t ever as strong as its blurb?
Spot on Visuals and Audio Work
I loved the art style of Collar X Malice. I am going to say now I am not overly knowledgeable of manga or anime styles and have problems offended people with this statement. But there was something about it that just appealed to me—the character design and the over the top quirky nature of so many of them. I was particularly drawn to the characters of Mineo Enomoto and Kageyuki Shiraishi.
Without wanting to cause any offence, they both had that over the top weirdness that fits a Japanese game. It had that cute, oddly feminine charm that works for the way their characters were presented. Visually the game was stunning, and there were some fantastic scenes, mostly involving Enomoto and Hoshino (your character). I laughed, and gasped and at a few moments, cringed.
From an audio perspective, as often seems to be the case with these games, was a little hit and miss. There was a nice jaunty soundtrack and the vocal work, while all in Japanese sound good. I am not fluent in the language but can recognize a few words. The characters were all unique, and their characters’ individuality was well defined in the text. These differences also came through in the vocal work, even if it was mostly (99%) indistinguishable to me.
Minimal Gameplay or Interaction
It’s hard to say much about the gameplay in titles like this. Why? Because technically, you’re not playing a game. Do you remember those interactive novels from when you were a kid? You know the ones. If you shoot this villain, turn to page 54. If you decide to play it safe, turn to page 46. I can’t comment on the number of times I read through Bionic Commando when I was a kid. Anyway, I digress.
This game is predominantly reading. If that wasn’t already evident, it deserves to be stressed again. These sorts of games are not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If you don’t like reading. Yeah, then Collar X Malice is not the game for you.
Without giving anything away, the story is a little weird. Not with regards the occurrences but rather the way it is told. Romance swiftly becomes the core focus and is where all (the majority) of decisions are based. Yet the backing is domestic terrorism in Japan and the threat of anarchy being unleashed on the population.
Pacing Problems Make for a Rocky Start
I was not too fond of the pacing of the game, especially at the start. It seemed to be almost stuck in a loop of nearly identical text and location background. I won’t lie. It wasn’t exciting, and I shut it down more than a few times. Had it not been for the review, I would not have started it up again. However, I am glad I did, because I was pulled into the story, and become heavily invested in the character arc I chose. You play as the female lead and, let’s say there are four male investigators. You must select one ‘arc’ to follow. This leads itself to multiple playthroughs. Also, each arc contains numerous endings.
I was glad I chose the character I did. Mineo Enomoto was by far the most interesting, and by the end, I was fully invested in the story, both his arc and the romance. I will admit, I yelled when I got to the final scene and … well, I won’t spoil it for you. Just be careful what decisions you make.
Speaking of decisions. The level of interaction in the game disappointed me. Yes, these games are reading heavy; however, I can’t help thinking the game was far too passive. Including a couple more instances of interaction or decision making would have made the game that much more engaging.
Expand Your In-Game Vocabulary
Give the text-driven nature of the game there is not much in the way of collectables. That said, you do build up a glossary as you play the game. I guess this could count as a collection. You don’t have a choice, as the words come up in conversations, the system automatically adds them to your dictionary. However, it still counts in my book. Also, for the linguistically-inclined, you can trawl through the glossary and refamiliarize yourself with the terms.
As someone who is a fan of words, both reading and writing them, this idea of building up a glossary appeals to me, but it remains a very static event and ultimately has no impact on the gameplay or the underlying story.
Multiple Storylines and Endings Make for Repeat Playthroughs
Visual novel games are renowned for their branching pathways and are designed to be replayed. Boasting over thirty different endings and four distinct story arcs, Collar X Malice is certainly a game that demands to be played over and over. Personally, I have no plans to venture back into the game right away. I will look at some point because the ending I received enraged haunts me. I became heavily invested in my chosen story arc and yelled with disappointment at the conclusion. It just won’t be right away.
A Good Game Despite Its Problems
My time with Collar X Malice is very much a tale of growth. I struggled when first playing the game. A story should grab you immediately, but that was not the case here. For the first hour or so, I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to play it. I am glad that I persevered, however. The story improves, and once you understood the characters and their motivations, immersion and investment in their progression, soon consumes you. It has its faults. I’m not talking grammar or spelling, because I can have no real complaints there, but I mean on a broader spectrum.
It was too slow to get going, and far too repetitive certainly at the start; however, once the story starts to broaden, it does get interesting.
I found the game far too passive for my liking. I understand and appreciate the visual novel style games, but this one seemed exceptionally light on the decision making and moments of genuine interaction. This remained a disappointment and something I just can’t overlook.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can get your copy of Collar X Malice from the Nintendo eShop today.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.