Collar X Malice Switch Review – The Boys Are Back in Town

    Title: Collar X Malice
    Developer: Idea Factory
    Release Date: June 18, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Aksys Games
    Genre: Otome

My journey down the Otome tunnel seems to be never-ending. The use of thrilling plot points and dramatic character arcs have my full attention, but then there’s also that added layer of charming anime boys. Now, Aksys is continuing to bring their Otome library to Switch with the release of Collar X Malice, and thankfully, this detective mystery holds up.

A criminal organization known as Adonis has been performing horrific murders in what they call an effort to bring justice to a tainted Japan. These murders, referred to as “X-day incidents,” appear to act as a countdown timer to “X-Day,” a day that will lead to the “rebirth of Japan.”

Panicked government officials worked out that the organization appeared to be based in Shinjuku, so they closed off the whole area with everyone inside. Then, they decided to give the citizens inside a traceable handgun so the locked-in populace would feel safe. Still, they’re locked in with a terrorist group. Real smart, huh?

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Our protagonist, Ichika Hoshino, is a fledgling police officer who works in the area and just arrived home after a late shift. However, she is abducted and collared by the mysterious X-day organizers. Strangely, they are willing to let her go, calling her a “sympathizer” and saying they would prefer to watch her actions in the coming days.

To make things more complicated, if she goes to the police, her collar will kill her. Luckily for Ichika, she managed to be located by a ragtag group who seem to have it out for Adonis but aren’t affiliated with the cops. As the story unfolds, she figures out more about why she was targetted as well as this new group of boys.

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Collar X Malice is an Otome that puts a strong focus on its presentation, which you’ll be able to witness from the moment you boot up the title. The opening has an absolutely stellar visual style that also appears in the many CG illustrations, character portraits, and backgrounds. The art is phenomenal.

Furthermore, this title drips with style seen it its unique text boxes that have a sweet overlay when Ichika uses her phone. Not to mention the cut-ins and menus look great as well. Still, the options menu is rather generic, which resembles other Otamate games.

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Speaking of menus, there are “dictionary” and “materials” options. Where the dictionary is just your host of tips, and the materials option is about the specific resources and pieces of plot-relevant info you’ll find along the way.

The final fancy thing is the status menu, which shows off your current route and affection meter. Why is this here in the first place I hear you ask? Yes, it is strange because usually, these games have a long-running common route that branches off at maybe the 75% mark. However, Collar X Malice is not one of these games.

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The route split to Collar X Malice occurs merely an hour in, based upon your choices to a few questions you get asked by the boys and then, lo and behold the split has already occurred. Later decisions are much more straightforward, though, with many of them branching into immediate bad ends.

I didn’t think I would really gel with the leads to start, but they’re all handled exceptionally well, and it drew me right into wanting to know more about their mysterious backstories. Regardless, Kei is the best boy. Each route is approximately six hours long, but they’re each distinct, making for a fun, varied, and intriguing story each time.

The pacing of these tales is pretty great, and it’s backed by a soundtrack that has some fantastic atmospheric songs. Seriously, it has some tracks that sound like they were out of Zero Escape or right out of a high mystery thriller. The title also has other ways of hooking you in with extra interactable features, such as a building map which a slight amount of destination choice. Also, crime scene examination allows you to select funky background objects for extra clues to help in your investigations and quick-time events, just to make those dramatic shoot outs just that more impactful.

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Collar X Malice has a sizable cast, which is surprising for this style of game, and it certainly helps with the mystery of character allegiances. I also need to stress again, just how clean everyone looks, because many games have outstanding art, but only for a few characters outside of the romantic leads.

Collar X Malice has well over 15 other cast members with their own portraits and poses outside the main five leads, and the quality doesn’t start to sink in the slightest. The title does an excellent job of fleshing just so many characters out. I’m craving a fan disc so I can play with them more.

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Collar X Malice is an absolutely fantastic visual novel. It has a strong narrative and a compelling cast of characters to work within its intriguing mystery. The title uses a whole bag of interactive tricks to pull you into its uncertain world, and it works wonders, with the masterful visual style being the icing on the cake. Now I’m all caught up in anticipation for Collar X Malice Unlimited coming later this year.

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

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter