Collar X Malice Review

By Shawn Collier on February 14, 2018

The otome genre has had a small but determined and recently growing following in the west, which had led to a number of titles being released over the past few years. One developer most well known for these kinds of games is Idea Factory, and western publisher Aksys Games had partnered with them to bring one of their latest releases, Collar X Malice, to western fans. So how is this entry in the genre, you may ask?

One thing that is the most striking about this otome title among all others in the genre is the premise of its narrative. The backstory is that following an incident where a terrorist organization called Adonis carried out a number of killings in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward — involving the broadcasted murders of police officers — Japan quarantined the ward, removed the country’s infamous anti-gun law and gave all of its citizens a firearm. The problem lies in the fact that the police still are unaware of the motives, identities nor locations of the members of Adonis, which causes the general populace to question if the police are doing everything in their power to catch them. Adding to this, Adonis’s killings each have an association to a number, counting down an event known only by the term “X-Day”.

You play as a female police officer who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is thus captured by Adonis and outfitted with a collar containing poison. She ends up being saved by — as one would expect from an otome game — five males with varying personalities and looks who are looking into Adonis. The interesting catch is that Adonis is aware of what the “player” sees as there is a microphone inside the collar, and thus if they reveal the wrong information to the wrong person, they’ll be executed via the poison in the collar on the spot. If you’ve played some of the previous otome games Aksys has localized, such as Code: Realize, you’ll find similarities here as there’s a hint of “what’s actually going on” until near the end when everything starts falling into place — but in the case of Collar X Malice, the investigational aspect due to the occupations of the characters brings some more weight to things.

The art design in Collar X Malice is downright exceptional, with Idea Factory giving even minor characters their own portraits. While the major romantic moments in this game are still images — per usual for the otome genre — the level of detail hits a very high bar.

As far as the narrative quality goes, it’s mixed depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. It’s great to see an otome game where the female lead can hold and stand her own, such as calling out a man in a scene where he’s being sexist. Yes, there is some of the typical fantasy “men do the exciting stuff” tropes at play you see in otome games, but overall it plays a much better balance than most others you’ll find on the market. The characters also aren’t the stereotypical one-sided tropes some games resort to, being rewardingly deep once you assign yourself to each male suitor’s individual arc.

The thing that sullies this to a minor degree is that Aksys’s localization feels like it could have used another pass of polishing. Some lines are way too formal (the infamous “It can’t be helped” line made famous by Persona 5 rears its head once again) or feel out-of-character where they almost seem picked from pop culture more than anything else. As this is a visual novel, these textual distractions may be enough of a dissonance for some players.

Final Thoughts

Considering the “darker” nature of Collar X Malice, I was unsure what direction the game was going to take from the outset. While the localization feels a bit rushed, the original game’s production values and the overall narrative more than make up for it if you can overlook that minor issue and are wanting a different take on the otome genre.

Collar X Malice was reviewed using a Vita Digital Copy provided by Idea Factory. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Art design is exceptional.
Characters have multiple layers to their personalities.
Great to have a female lead who can hold her own and stand up for herself in an otome game.
Localization feels like it could have used another round of polish.
While great for otome fans, if you wanted something more than a visual novel you'll be out-of-luck.
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