Aksys Games continues their assault on the otome genre in the west with their newest visual novel, Collar X Malice. In these types of visual novels it’s crucial to not only have a great cast of characters, but to also keep the reader interested in the direction of the story. Thankfully, Collar X Malice has both and after many disturbing deaths and bad decisions, it’s also possible to find true love.
Collar X Malice is set in Japan’s Shinjuku Ward, as the region begins to experience some terrible acts from a group of terrorists who call themselves Adonis and have dubbed a specific day known as X-Day to be where most of their destruction and chaos will take place. The day isn’t known, but every month a person is murdered and left with a coin that has a roman numeral on it, evidently counting down to the frightening day.
In order to try and stop the day from coming, the police force has placed the region under quarantine. Coincidentally, the government also has plans of their own as they issued firearms to all the citizens living in the area in order to protect themselves against the hidden group of terrorist. Surprising to no one, the citizens aren’t too happy with this; each bullet has an ID so there aren’t many cases of citizens shooting each other, but that doesn’t stop them from causing trouble.
This is where we meet Ichika Hoshino, a relatively new officer to the police force, but an honest cop. Sadly, she finds herself kidnapped, drugged, and forced to wear a collar which can inject poison in her at any given time — a lot to take in, right?
I really enjoyed Hoshino’s character as she is constantly assessing the situation, but is still a little too gullible when a person of authority requests something of her. Much of the trouble she finds herself in has to with her eagerness to do what’s right and be truthful, which is hard on her when she finds out that if she tells the police about the collar she will die.
Hoshino is not alone in this story and we get introduced to the game’s handsome male characters rather early. Supposedly, Hoshino is the key to figuring out X-Day and is forced to play along with Adonis’s game, who has also brought in a group of ex-police officers. These detectives have left the force on their own will and are constantly investigating the murder scenes to find any clues to the truth.
I wouldn’t want to spoil anything about these characters for the purpose that some readers would like to meet them on their own. However, they satisfy all types of personalities that a person might be interested in getting to know. It’s strange bringing this up after acknowledging the game’s rather dark premise, but at it’s core, Collar X Malice is an otome game.
Throughout the story, players will be able to build their relationship with each of the available male characters. However, the leader of the detective agency, Aiji Yanagi, is the obvious choice from the start for me as he is the most emotionally balanced of the group.
Being that otome titles are meant for female players, I was still able to enjoy the interactions with the cast of characters and playing as a rather interesting and attractive female lead might have had something to do with it. The game handles these interactions well, with many scenes of tense emotional drama and also some rather scary moments of interactions with some of the characters.
In Collar X Malice you will die — a lot. There are many bad endings in this game with not so many good ones. Throughout the game you have to make choices and these choices could be the death of you, so it’s good to put in some thought about what you are going to say. It’s also good to remember things that happened in past scenes, such as, if Adonis says they will kill you if you tell a police offer, then they mean it.
The illustrations in Collar X Malice are gorgeous, each character has a certain glow about them that most likely adds to their appeal. However, the game can get dark rather quickly and show some pretty mature scenes of violence, which isn’t a bad thing at all, if anything it adds variety.
A downside that happened quite often throughout the story were scenes that posed a question, but didn’t prompt the player to answer. Instead the story takes the player where they want them to go.
An example of this would be a scene in the detective agency when Hoshino is asked to allow the hacker of the group, Takeru Sasazuka, a chance to study her collar, even though Adonis said that if they tamper with the device she will die. Instead of prompting the player with a choice of consent for this, she just allows him to check it out. I feel that there were a few of these missed opportunists for branches in the story, which could end up having a negative effect on the immersion of the story.
In the end, Collar X Malice is a great visual novel that happens to also be an otome. The story is dark, stressful, and creates an atmosphere that forces the player to want to continue. True, there are many wrong paths, but once you see the end in sight you will understand what makes this game so good. I enjoyed my time with Collar X Malice and I’m eager to experience the remaining routes and endings that I missed, which could easily take 40 hours of accumulative playtime.