For certain reasons, I finally played my copy of Collar x Malice. This will be a non-spoiler review, and the only graphics I’ll show are the title screens, random screenshots of the interface, and two non-spoiler CGs.
If it isn’t obvious enough from the promotional art, our heroine, Hoshino Ichika is a policewoman who is in the lower ranks. X-Day countdown has taken Japan by storm since the April of that year, as a crime takes places every month in Shinjuku with a terrorist organisation, Adonis, claiming responsibility for them through a video released every month as well. Adonis announces a ‘countdown’ every month, and that when 1 January of next year arrives, is when X day will take place. While the incidents seem unrelated, there is always a unique Adonis coin and a countdown number found at the crime site. The police are having a difficult time tracking the culprit(s) down, since all the most likely suspects have perfect alibis. Even those few which are considered as case closed, are not entirely convincing. Due to the incidents, Shinjuku has been cornered off from the rest of Japan, so that no one can leave or enter. One particular incident also triggered the execution of the removal of a gun law, allowing all the Shinjuku residents (except minors) to carry a gun with a unique identification code.
Ichika is working in a department which was specially set-up because of X-Day, and she usually spends her days taking phone calls from residents calling in, easing their worries and suspicions (and complaints). She is directly dragged into the heart of X-Day, when a collar is forced on her and a note left by Adonis indicates that she is the starting X-Day countdown incident for December. While she was drugged by a slow-working poison, Yanagi Aiji (CV: Morita Masakazu) and the rest of his members of the detective agency come to her rescue. An altered voice, presumably to be Adonis’ leader, transmitted from her collar also wishes for them to cooperate with Ichika, in order to arrive at the truth of X-Day. However, they have to keep it a secret from the police. The voice says that it will be constantly watching her movements, and believes that Ichika can ‘understand’ Adonis, implying that she could potentially become one of them.
Besides Aiji, Sasazuka Takeru (CV: Namikawa Daisuke) and Enomoto Mineo (CV: Saitou Souma) are all former policemen, who left the police force to pursue the case themselves. The only exception is Shiraishi Kageyuki (CV: Kimura Ryouhei), who is still working in the police and his specialty is profiling. Curiously, Adonis doesn’t bother that he is in the loop. The last major character is Okazaki Kei (CV: Kaji Yuuki), who is a SP, and usually protects major figures. For some reason, he is assigned to watch over the detective agency members.
Mineo, Takeru and Kageyuki and all each chasing after specific X-day cases. So if Ichika chooses to cooperate with any of them, you will get to learn the truth about those cases too. If she chooses to go after a certain case alone, somehow you will end up in Kei’s route. Take note that Kageyuki’s route can only be played from the second playthrough onwards. Aiji is chasing after X-day countdown as a whole, so you have to finish all the other four routes before his route is unlocked. I was recommended to play in the order of: Mineo, Takeru, Kei, Kageyuki, Aiji. I think it’s a good order if you want to slowly get closer to the truth about Adonis. Once you finish all the routes, a ‘Criminal’ prologue will unlock, which reveals the POV of Adonis.
I felt that this was a pretty good game from Otomate. Honestly, what satisfies me the most is a good story, and Collar x Malice is certainly story-driven. Romance does take a backseat here, but I feel that Otomate still did a good job. There isn’t really a route where I felt that – suddenly they are in love. There is decent development and like many of my other favourite otome games, you can see how Ichika influences and changes each guy. That is definitely my favourite point about Ichika. I did like Ichika a lot, aside from finding her a bit naive at the start of Kei’s route, and a bit ignorant about a certain issue in Takeru’s route. Aside from that, she knew that she had to take the initiative, considering her position. I also found it refreshing because finally, another heroine in the workplace and not in school!! Please, give me more decent otome games with working heroines in their 20s and with basic social knowledge.
I enjoyed all the five routes. I am probably one of the few who liked Kei’s character the most, followed by Kageyuki. As for the couple, I liked Ichika with Kageyuki and Aiji best. But as mentioned, I enjoyed all the routes and there is hardly any overlap since you find out the truth about different cases, and each characters’ pasts and agendas. As for Aiji, you can say that you find out the truth about the origins of Adonis. The side-characters were well-developed enough, considering how many of them there are and how complex this story can be. There were also humourous and sad moments, to give some ups and downs during your playthrough. I can safely say that Collar x Malice entertained me throughout the whole time.
I do not have high expectations of Otomate to discuss about themes. But the game does discuss about “justice” and the different types of justice certain characters hold. They don’t paint Adonis as 100% evil or the police as 100% good, especially after you find out about the truth. Even within the two factions, there were differences in their interpretations of justice. So that was an interesting read for me.
I have little complaints with regards to the art, music, system and bonuses. (Like I said, a good story is the most important to me, followed by the characters and interaction.) The gameplay is a mix of choices, exploring the crime scene, travelling to different police departments, and shooting. The choices include solving the case as well as increasing the trust parameters of the guy, followed by love parameters. The OP and ED are not my cup of tea, but I guess it suits the game atmosphere. As for the CV, to be honest I took some time to get used to Mineo and Takeru. But eventually I did, and I loved it when our characters were voicing painful lines heheh.
If you want the platinum trophy, you will have to aim for every end (including bad ends). That is why I referred to a walkthrough. However, be warned that you will be spoiled about the true identity of Adonis’ leader, if the walkthrough lists the name of every EDs and/or trophies. So my advice is to…well, only look at the next choice in the walkthrough while you play – don’t browse through the full thing in advance.
All in all, I find Collar x Malice to be one of Otomate’s better games. After having played the game, I can finally understand why it is so well-received. If I wanted to nit-pick at it, I probably could. For example, I’d wish for certain areas to be further expanded upon. And since each character has their own agenda, by right they should always be on the move even if you were not playing their focal route. So I felt that this consistency issue was not as well-executed as say, Taisho Mebiusline. But as I said, this is me going into the nitty-gritty details. Overall it is actually rather solid (meaning there isn’t an obvious loophole) and I grew to like the characters. If you love the mystery theme, you will probably enjoy this more too! I hope that this convinces people to pick up this title, be it in Japanese or the upcoming English localisation.