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Review: Collar X Malice (PS Vita)By Gabriel PVJ Jones At 08.08.2017 22:51

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In the midst of all of this insanity is Ichika Hoshino, a rookie police officer. While investigating a disturbance at a local park, she's captured by members of Adonis. A short time later, Ichika recovers, only to find that they've placed a collar around her neck. This exquisite accessory hides a deadly secret. If the young cop attempts to remove it, or fails to follow her captor's instructions, poison will be injected into her bloodstream. Though the threat of death hangs over her head like bangs, her sense of justice can't be deterred. By cooperating with five mysterious detectives, Ichika will restore peace to the troubled ward.

With a plot like this, it's hard to believe that Collar X Malice is an otome visual novel. Perhaps that's what makes the sub-genre so appealing. These games are marketed with young women in mind, but their action-packed storylines can appeal to any gender and orientation. It also helps that with Otomate at the helm, viewers are guaranteed a high level of polish. Everything from the visuals to the user interface tends to be on point. With this game, the developer has really outdone themselves and delivered their finest work yet.

When it comes to presentation, Otomate makes it look easy. The superb art direction is matched by stunningly-drawn characters. The use of colour makes every scene a delight to the eyes. Also, kudos to the artists for designing clothing that is stylish and functional. It's a minor point, certainly, but the reasonable outfits help to make everyone more relatable. Some games go overboard, leaving the viewer wondering how anyone can even walk. The striking visuals are backed by a very impressive soundtrack. There aren't that many songs, but they never get tiring.

As always, the user interface is simple to grasp and offers plenty of customization. A simple flick of the analogue stick allows players to view previous scenes. Important evidence and other materials can be accessed via the status menu. Since a large portion of this game involves police protocol, a handy glossary keeps track of any unfamiliar terms. While these resources aren't required in order to achieve a satisfactory conclusion, they help to keep the viewer involved. There's also a chapter select menu, which makes finding optional routes and endings more convenient.

The otherwise flawless presentation is marred by a bevy of translation errors. While they never get to the point where it makes the story hard to follow, they're still perplexing. At one point, the wrong person is referred to in a conversation. Other times, a sentence will be missing a word or two. Tenses are occasionally mixed up, as well. Single lines also have a habit of spanning over multiple text boxes. It looks a little strange, but doesn't affect the experience too much. Altogether, these issues are regrettable, but they don't detract from the game all that much.

Depending on decisions made in the first chapter, Ichika's fate becomes intrinsically linked with one of the five men who just recently entered her life. In other words, the story will go in one of five directions. Every choice that she makes thereafter will determine if she saves Shinjuku, finds the love of her life, or meets a miserable end. It's a standard formula, but it works well enough. In any case, the storyline is phenomenal. A riveting crime drama with a romantic sub-plot is no easy task, but Otomate pulls it off in stunning fashion. Every scene works thanks to strong writing, compelling twists, and great voice acting.

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Really, it can't be said enough. The characters are what make Collar X Malice truly remarkable. Ichika Hoshino is everything one could ever want in a protagonist. She's strong, capable, intelligent, and will face any danger head on. At the same time, she has faults and recognizes them as such. She considers her words and actions thoughtfully. Occasionally, they're not always right, but she always works to better herself. It's also great that she handles her desperate situation in a convincing fashion. Thanks to the collar, her life constantly hangs in the balance. Furthermore, terrorists are practically monitoring her every move. Even in this unimaginable scenario, she shows courage, but doesn't try to do everything on her own. Sometimesā€¦ it helps to have somebody to turn to.

The five potential love interests are more than just exceptionally well-drawn. These guys have their own distinct personalities and interests. With his eyepatch and flamboyant attitude, one can never be sure whether Mineo Enomoto is a detective or a kabuki actor. The way to Takeru Sasazuka's heart starts with donuts, provided anyone is willing to put up with his abrasive attitude long enough. Aiji Yanagi is strong and resourceful, but there's an air of vulnerability surrounding him. Kageyuki Shiraishi treats everything (and everyone) like a game, so it'll take some patience to find his charming attributes. Finally, there's Kei Okazaki. He's a bit strange, but aren't we all?

The reason why these men are so interesting is due to their depth. Their most attractive qualities are hidden beneath the surface. It takes time, and a lot of trust, in order to discover what they're really all about. Anyone expecting the "I love you" switch to flip on after a couple of hours will be sorely disappointed. The circumstances aren't natural, but the bonds that eventually materialize are. Both characters start to realize that the feelings they have for each other are about the only thing that make sense in this mad world. Every romantic moment feels genuine.

It's also important to have an excellent supporting cast. Ichika's relationships with fellow officers such as Yuzuru Saeki and Kotoho Sakuragawa help develop her agency. They joke around with each other, share thoughts, and their unique point-of-views help further the storyline. Numerous other characters, friendly or otherwise, bring a lot of life into each scene. A healthy balance is struck between everyone. Depending on the route, Ichika will be spending a significant amount of time with one man, but it never becomes overbearing or obnoxious. She still hangs out with her friends, works at the police station, and interacts with other people. The same can be said about the potential love interests. There's a real sense of camaraderie among everyone.

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Final Score
Without a doubt, [i]Collar X Malice[/i] is a required pick-up for fans of the genre. It features a thrilling storyline and some of the best characterization seen in an otome visual novel. Exploring every route will take dozens of hours, yet the viewer will never lose interest. Even the most mundane scenes are buoyed by the awesomeness of Ichika Hoshino and the rest of the cast. Also, it goes without saying, but the game is drop-dead gorgeous. Obviously, a game shouldn't be recommended on that quality alone, but the icing on the cake is quite nice.

9

/10

User Comments
#1 Adam Riley (News Editor) - on 08.08.2017 at 23:29

Have you played the Steins games, Gabriel? When I get chance, I'm playing through Steins Gate bit by bit and thoroughly enjoying it. Playing on PC has slowed me down too much, though - wish I'd had it on handheld.

#2 Azuardo - on 08.08.2017 at 23:39

I thought of Steins whilst reading this too Smilie And I agree handheld was the way to go with those two.

This might be one for me to pick up in the long run.

#3 Gabriel PVJ Jones - on 08.08.2017 at 23:55

I think I picked up Steins Gate during one of the recent PSN sales.
Looking forward to making time for it.


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