Charade Maniacs Review – Big Brother is Watching

    Title: Charade Maniacs
    Developer: Idea Factory
    Release Date: June 27, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Idea Factory International
    Genre: Otome, Adventure

Idea Factory International has been dipping into the otome pool recently, which you’d expect considering how many titles their parent company releases within the genre. The team is now bringing Charade Maniacs West, which blends futuristic themes and all the best boys you can imagine. However, with a cast this large, consistency across each route is crucial. So let’s set foot into the future to answer if any of these people trust each other enough to fall in love, even with a traitor among them.

In Charade Maniacs, the year is 2148. Everyone in this future has what are known as Bangles, which are capable of having, quite literally, the world’s information at your fingertips using a simple device that is the size of a wristwatch. Our protagonist is Hiyori Sena, a naïve high schooler that recently lost her pet, a robot-type dog called a Palt, to old age. Due to it being a slightly older model, it is impossible to repair, and she cries alongside her family.

She then wonders if there was ever one way for him to come back, which is when she remembers rumors about a mysterious live stream going around, called the Other World Stream. Supposedly, whoever appears on it is granted any wish they desire, but the exact details of how one would participate are mostly shrouded in more questions than answers.

Charade Maniacs screenshot. Welcome to the other world, Arcadia!

As she heads home from school with her childhood friend Tomose Banjo, she ends up blacking out. Shortly after she wakes up, she suddenly gets greeted by a mysterious masked man, who calls himself the “Director” and claims that she is now in the world of Arcadia, a true utopia where any desire can be granted…by acting in a series of dramas in the, you guessed it, the Other World Stream.

If you act out the dramas well, you will be rewarded points, which you can then use to ask for anything you desire and even return back to the real world. If you violate the stream rules, however, you’ll be punished for your actions with a punishment game. On top of that, among the ten members of the staff, there exists a traitor, who’s known as the Producer. It is possible to accuse someone of being the traitor, but in the Director’s own words, you can only do so once, and if you’re wrong, all of the cast members will be erased from existence.

charade maniacs screenshot switch 1 review

The premise of the story captivated me at first because I enjoy otome games that take place in the far future, but it pains me to say that, unfortunately, the pacing is rather uneven at times. Certain events felt largely disconnected from each other, and in most of the routes, right when it feels you’re getting to the good part, the writers just decided to end it there and just didn’t want to flesh out the characters any further than the bare minimum.

In addition, three of the love interests are initially locked, but the only modicum of a hint I could find was through the flowchart, which is shoved away in a menu option. And even then, it just says, “Clear conditions for this branch.” I spent several minutes to try and figure out what those conditions were, and eventually, I gave up and went with a different route.

charade maniacs screenshot 2 review

And speaking of the love interests, in Charade Maniacs, we have a grand total of nine love interests. This isn’t new because games like Norn9: Var Commons and Paradigm Paradox also had more options than usual, but having that many character makes the issue of giving them all enough depth rear its ugly head. And it’s clear that, while Norn9: Var Commons managed to offset that by having three protagonists branching into three routes each, thus making the splits much clearer, this time, you have just one. And this is even noticeable with the way that Hiyori acts – sometimes I can’t tell if she’s supposed to be just utterly naïve or just obsessed.

One of the saving graces of Charade Maniacs is that the CGs and art style by Teita are really well done, even if some of them look suspiciously zoomed-in, almost as if they wanted to show more. Furthermore, the soundtrack and its sound effects are some of its stronger points. Even the chapter transitions are one of my favorite sound effects. Still, you can sort of notice that some elements were basically upscaled from the Vita, so you get some minor artifacts and some overall blurriness in the backgrounds, especially when they zoom in on them.

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Out of all the nine love interests, my favorites were Takumi Haiji and Mei Dazai. I won’t get into details because both of them are locked routes, and there’s a good reason why, but even explaining would make me step into heavy spoiler territory. Actually, looking back on it, pretty much every single love interest that’s locked has a slightly better-written route than most of the initial cast, and that’s saying something. That being said, they’re not perfect either, and the final ending of Charade Maniacs is a mess, to put it bluntly, rushing things out almost as if the writers were desperate to resolve the plot holes that they themselves have created.

The first of the routes that felt incomplete for me was Mizuki Iochi, the one member of the cast whose gender was unknown. I had so many high expectations from it, given the mysterious air that they had, and well, having a character with an unknown gender had lots of potential, but the ending felt extremely rushed. The same happened with Ryoichi Futami, a 23-year-old man who attends art school, and Tomose Banjo, the protagonist’s childhood friend. Ryoichi’s route ended so abruptly that it literally made me stare at my Switch and go, “Wait, that’s it?” while Banjo…his character just utterly annoys me to no end. It’s obvious that he’s madly in love with the protagonist, but good grief, give her some personal space, would you?

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A common issue is that because the love interest chapters are so short, you start to feel there was insufficient time for some love between the protagonist and the characters to properly develop, which means that most of their declarations end up feeling rather hollow than genuine. Any route that attempts to perform a slow-burn type of romance will find itself incomplete even after a while. Also, remember the “traitor” among them? Yeah, that element is brought up tons of times, but the writing also introduces way too many plot points that never end up getting fully resolved.

The perfunctory plot in Charade Maniacs certainly doesn’t do the translation any favors, either. Besides some typos and issues, the text formatting is quite awkward. Some of the dialogue just went out of bounds, and some line breaks are completely off, with some of it even feeling like the translator that handled that line forgot to finish it or something. I’m also going to give a B- for the font choice here. It’s not bad per se, but it’s so thin, and the spacing between characters being so small can make it somewhat hard to read, especially on certain parts of the UI.

charade maniacs screenshot 5 review

Charade Maniacs has so much potential, but the cast becomes bloated, and the conclusion comes way too early without any level of fanfare to cap off the routes. The narrative ends up tripping over itself as it tries to balance all the relationships, causing Sena to be more of an everchanging object for plot progression instead of her own character. The translation also comes across as questionable due to the inconsistencies within the cast. Sadly, the few memorable routes aren’t strong enough to carry enough the flimsy plot.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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