Sony's latest handheld has a vast library of visual novels yet few contain stories gripping enough to make them hard to put down. Collar X Malice combines otome elements and suspense in an immersive way so let me tell you all about it.
A young police officer is patrolling the streets of Shinjuku when she is attacked and later awakes in an abandoned church by a group of unknown men. These men have received a secret message from a stranger telling them where they can find someone in need of their help. Soon after awaking, it becomes evident that the protagonist isn't safe yet. Her attacker has locked a collar to her neck with a dose of lethal poison contained inside that can be activated remotely. A microphone is also built in, allowing the assailant to listen in to conversations between the victim and her rescuers.
This event isn't anything unique given the recent turmoil in Shinjuku. A terrorist group calling themselves Adonis have been scaring citizens with unspeakable acts over the last year, referred to as X-Day incidents. Every time they complete a heinous deed, they leave a rare coin as their calling card and a larger marker somewhere on the crime scene showing roman numerals counting down from nine. It started with four police officers being strapped to chairs and murdered then moved on to an explosion that killed an entire middle school class, the murder of a male stalker, the serial murder of online gamers, suspicious suicides, and fatal traffic accidents. The countdown is supposedly leading to something called X-Day when a catastrophic event is expected to happen.
Although the protagonist of Collar X Malice isn't directly involved with any of the events, the terrorist organization chose her as someone of interest and she takes the opportunity to bring down the extremists with the group who saved her. That is, if she can trust those that want to help and if they can trust that her apparent connection with the terrorist group does not make her a sympathizer.
Warning: save often... but not too often!
You can save your progress in Collar X Malice at any time but be careful to only do so when you're safe. Simply put, it's possible to save after making a decision that will soon lead to a game over, forcing you to start the entire game over again if you make this mistake. The best advice I can give is to save before you make any decisions.
Collar X Malice's gameplay is minimal and the same can be said for many visual novels. It mostly consists of choices in conversations and performing actions. Depending on what you choose, you will go down a route that is tied to a specific character. You start out with the characters in the group who saved you and unlock more later. Your goal while investigating the X-Day events is to raise your trust level with each character as you go down their routes and make your way to one of the endings which depends on how high your trust is by the end of the story. You can then choose another character route to go down for the next playthrough and so on. Other elements of gameplay include moving around the police precinct (although your options will be locked down most of the time), occasionally looking at items in a room, and perusing your inventory. I also got to fire a gun once which was pretty cool.
The cast of characters is quite diverse and entertaining to watch (that is, if you can get past their awkwardness around women). Other than the odd element of gameplay, expect lots of reading and be prepared to sit back and enjoy Collar X Malice's engrossing story.