I’m sorry guys, I know a lot of you LOVE this game. Full disclosure, I’ve only played one route so maybe I’ll end up loving this game as well, but so far, I just can’t get into it and there are a few glaring issues.
Let me first say that I like otome. I like them quite a bit. And at least once a year I take some time off work and just plunge into an otome full-time. So it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Collar x Malice is one of the highest-rated Otome on the VNDB (Visual Novel Database) and I have heard a lot of good things about it from my fellow bloggers so I was really looking forward to it. Maybe my expectations were a bit too high.
I got Collar x Malice for the Switch, not sure if it’s available on other platforms, and I played it both on my big TV and on the switch itself before bed. I gave it a fair shot and I will do at least another route, but so far, frankly, I’m disappointed.
Let’s start with the technical aspects. The game looks good, at least as far as character designs go. The art style for the characters is quite pretty which is very important in an otome. The backgrounds on the other hand were pretty dull and looked a bit cheap, on top of being very repetitive. Repetitive backgrounds are quite common in otome but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
The mechanics are the very basic dialogue options you will see in every Otome/Visual Novel out there. The only thing that was different was a single instance where you had to hit a button at a precise moment (a bit like a rhythm game) in order to shoot a gun. In the route I played it happened only once and was more annoying than anything else as I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to time it to. After too many tries, now I know!
Otherwise, though, it’s just dialogue options, often only two and these are surprisingly rare. Of course your “rewards” are unlocking pretty CGs of your favourite guy!
You do get trust and affection “up” moments from “correct” dialogue choices sometimes but you will never get any indication of “incorrect choices” and this can be quite frustrating.
Let me give you an example. I stumbled onto a path with the Tsundere character Sasazuka. Almost all his dialogue with the main character (us) consists of him calling her (us) useless or an idiot. More commonly a useless idiot. As such, it’s quite difficult to gauge if you actually picked the wrong option or if this is just his normal dialogue for most of the route.
Early on, you have to work with him, and he asks what special skill you could have to help. I should say here that you are a cop. The options are that you are good with a gun or you are a good cook. In the previous chapter, there’s this whole sequence of you going to practice shooting at the shooting range followed up by a long conversation about using weapons to protect something instead of using them to get something and the whole morality of firearms. There’s a theme. Cooking however is never mentioned.
If you pick the “I’m a good shot” option, Sasazuka actually looks startled for a second. It’s quite satisfying. Then goes on to talk about the difference between being good at the shooting range and when it comes time to actually shoot someone.
If you pick the cooking option he tells you to leave if you’re not going to be serious so then you mention you’re also good with a gun and the same dialogue picks up.
As a long-time VN player, I immediately classified this as a “non-choice”. An option is put in for the illusion of choice but that has no actual impact on the story. And I picked shooting because only an idiot would talk about their cooking skills as a reason to let them help out in a murder investigation. Neither choice boosts nor harms your relationship.
I think 3 or 4 chapters later, I got stuck in an unavoidable bad end. No matter how many choices I went back, I couldn’t get out of it. I had to restart from the beginning only to get the same result. Finally, I looked it up and it turns out that cooking vs shooting choice was actually what locks you into that bad end regardless of anything you do after or before.
Granted the character hates guns because he has some childhood drama associated with them but you do not know that at the time the question is asked and it’s only hinted at before the bad end. You actually find out about it later on, towards the end of the route. So I felt as if I had no way of knowing this unless I looked it up on the net. Now that is very easy to do. However, in these types of Visual Novels, choosing the dialogue option is the entire gameplay. If you look up what to choose, there is no gameplay left. It’s just a not-so-great romance novel.
It is possible that something got lost in translation and the original Japanese game gives you better clue that just didn’t make it to the English version that I was playing. It’s also possible that I simply missed something. But like I said, I have played a lot of these games and I found this particularly frustrating. You have no indication where you’ve screwed up and even skipping through preread dialogue, having to replay several chapters each time is just not that fun. What’s more, the only time cooking comes up again later in the game, it’s the wrong choice.
As for the story, like I said I got on Sasazuka’s route without really trying. I liked his character design but I generally dislike Tsunderes. And he’s pretty bad. There’s an actual bit of physical assault early on that made me think he might just straight up be the bad guy. But no. I guess it’s supposed to be normal? The man is rude and unpleasant to the point of negating the plus of that character design and the only reason I found it bearable is because Hoshino, the main character, really is a completely useless idiot. I can’t get that mad at him for continuously saying so when I was doing the same.
This said I had no personal interest in Sasazuka as a character and no vested interest in Hoshino (the main character). So as far as this particular route went, it was a complete bust for me. I was supremely bored during the romance sections and was basically just waiting for it to finish.
However, there is also an investigation to keep you busy. Kind of. At the very basic level, I actually liked the premise. A cruel terrorist organization is committing a series of horrible crimes and the police (of which we are a part) are racing to stop them. A few of the incidents were even quite intriguing in isolation. The problem is that all the details they pour on are complete nonsense and destroy any suspension of disbelief you might have managed to work up, but aren’t quite silly enough to be fun.
Also, in the route I played, you don’t really get to investigate anything. There are no puzzles to solve, no little details that will help you later. You’re just kind of pandering to the dude and that’s it. Oh, and you really have to have no backbone. This particular guy likes his ladies submissive and vapid. And if he doesn’t like you, the game kills you so…
This particular aspect may be different in other routes mind you.
At the end of the day, Collar x Malice isn’t necessarily a bad otome. I’m assuming the other routes are more entertaining. But it is very run of the mill. Both the technical side and the writing are fairly basic. In my opinion. And I just didn’t get the hype.
It is possible that the next route I pick will be absolutely great and I will suddenly love this game. But Sasazuka was a complete disappointment and right now, I’m really not sure it was worth the hefty price tag.