A terrorist group named Adonis commits a string of monthly atrocities labeled the “X-Day Incidents” throughout Shinjuku. The theme of each incident is passing justice on the corrupt, and each serve as a countdown to the mysterious X-Day. As a way to combat the rising uncomfort in the citizens following the resulting quarantine, the government decrees that everyone over the age of 20 must be issued a gun. With the incidents and this drastic change in Japanese society, crime has begun to grow rampant. Ichika Hoshino, a police officer in the Special Regions Crime Prevention Office, is kidnapped during a patrol and forced into a poisonous collar. Adonis has forced her into this deadly test, and only allowed a group of freelance detectives to help her. Ichika must work with them to uncover the truth and remove the collar before time runs out. This is the grim world Collar X Malice sets up for players, but does it manage to offer them a truly fresh take on the otome genre?
After presenting players with this premise, you are introduced rather quickly to romanceable leads. Each of the five leads have a route, and they all focus on different X-Day cases so they each feel distinct. There are three unlocked from the start, and once these are cleared the other two are unlocked. The initial three routes are of: Kei Okazaki, an odd police officer observing the Detective Agency, Mineo Enomoto, the brash and honest comic relief, and Takeru Sasazuka, a blunt young man trying who specializes in computers. The two unlockable leads are Kageyuki Shiraishi, the mysterious director of the Field Ops department, and Yanagi Aiji, the calm leader of the group and the “main” lead. The initial three routes will scratch the surface of the grand mystery, and the remaining two provide the answers. However, the initial routes provide plenty of closure and still feel complete. Some routes are obviously better than others, but all together the mystery and plot forms an intense tale from start to finish. It’s quite rare for games in this genre to provide such an enthralling and engaging story, but Collar X Malice does this without any aspect of the genre feeling tacked on. The romances in each route feel genuine because the characters and setting feel realistic, and serve as the cherry on top of a delicious crime drama cake.
Even from a gameplay perspective, Collar X Malice has little touches that managed to impress me. While the game is still a visual novel at it’s core, the developers use the premise to go above and beyond what is expected from an Otome game. Your decisions will still effect the story and your relationship with the characters, but occasional investigation scenes and quick time shooting events keep players from being bored.
I felt the additional gameplay segments could’ve been slightly more fleshed out, but at the same time they were well implemented. These are great at breaking up any possible monotony, which already is rarely an issue thanks to the interesting and likeable main cast. Players can also pull up the Materials menu at any moment to look over the known facts on X-Day, making it easy to keep up the mystery. Point of view will also change occasionally, allowing the writers to never make the plot constantly revolve around Ichika. She was another pleasant surprise, and manages to avoid being one of many boring main characters that plague the genre. Her background, flaws, experiences, relationships, and goals make her a wonderful main character.
From the screenshots shown, it’s obvious that the art design is something truly special. The characters are beautifully drawn regardless if the character is a main or side character. CGs, portraits, and backgrounds are varied and very detailed. Even the menus, transitions, and text boxes carry correctly convey the games dark, winter themed, and stylish tone. I have my nitpicks, but nothing that is so egregious that it bothered me too much. Characters not having mouth animations was disappointing, but thankfully every important character has a color coded text box. I also wish Ishika was voiced, as it conflicts with her not being a self insert main character. Norn9, another Otome game published by Aksys, had three main characters and all of them were voiced, so I wish the developers didn’t keep this staple of the genre. All of these were minor gripes, and never ruined immersion too much thanks to the a great soundtrack and voice acting. There is Japanese voice acting only, and all of it is well acted and emotional. The music is fitting for any investigative, light-hearted, quizzical, or dark scenes and I never heard any bad tracks.
Collar X Malice sits up there with the fantastic few Otome games released in the west. Despite some of the flaws, this is easily the most approachable Otome game I’ve ever played. The dark crime drama mixes surprisingly well with the romantic elements, and is paced well enough to keep players engaged. It’s a well written visual novel that is just as good for those who don’t care for Otome games, and that’s incredibly rare for this sub-genre. Otome games either have a good story or great romanceable leads, but Collar X Malice goes for both and nails it.
- Collar X Malice is better than Period: Cube, but not as good as- Actually? This is my favorite translated Otome game.
- If you get addicted to this game, give Code: Realize a try!
- A better name for this game would be: Crime X Husbands: With 90% more Crime~!
- Buy/Wait/Avoid: As the best Otome you can get, this is a must buy!
- Sasazuka is my husband.