Adventure Corner ~ Charade Maniacs
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column we take a look at Idea Factory International’s release of Otomate’s Charade Maniacs on Nintendo Switch.
Idea Factory International has been pushing out a variety of different kinds of otome visual novels. From contemporary romance titles to historical fiction, there are a lot of different types of stories to explore. Its latest release, Charade Maniacs, takes players to a world with two moons, a mysterious lunar base, and television dramas galore. Taking on the role of Hiyori Sena, players are transported to the world of Arcadia with nine male participants and forced to take part in a series of involuntary television dramas, known as “The Other World Stream.” If they perform well, they earn points, and failure to participate forces cast members into a punishment game where they could lose voice function, physical mobility, or even their lives. They also learn that there is a traitor among them who may be forcing the participants to stay in Arcadia.
Charade Maniacs has an interesting premise in that it’s not a conventional death game as seen in popular franchises such as Danganronpa. Players are not looking for a killer, nor are they actively trying to harm one another. Instead, we have a group of characters who, for the most part, actively work together to investigate the world of Arcadia to find a way back home. As each character route is completed, depending on the player’s choices, more information is given about the world of Arcadia and what happened to previous cast members of the Other World Stream.
Unfortunately, Charade Maniacs takes on quantity over quality when it comes to the character routes. With nine character routes to complete, they will vary in quality and worse create some nagging plot holes that remove elements of the game’s overall mystery vibes. Three specific characters have their routes locked and, honestly, they are also the three most obvious characters that potentially could be traitors. Charade Maniacs does not do a good job of building tension as it plays a lot of its cards too early. Once a player has completed even two routes it becomes very clear which characters cannot be trusted, making the rest of the other routes feel pointless outside of the romance.
That is not to say the characters are bad, because that is not actually the case here. Many of the love interests such as Mizuki Iochi, Mamoru Chigasaki, and Mei Dazai, showcase wonderful stories for the player to feel invested in. There are also interesting discussions about family, gender roles, and disability, which are done very well and when those elements are the focus, the game is definitely at its best. Most of the characters have interesting growth arcs and often come across as misunderstood. However, some characters, such as Tomose Banjo and Keito Ebana, truly get the short end of the stick in this game given they are pigeonholed into a specific archetype that makes them particularly difficult to root for. Ryoichi Futami, the “hot daddy” of the bunch has easily the worst story route in the game, as it’s a weird mess of story beats that do not sync up at any point, and the player is left sitting there wondering what the hell they just played. Then there is Takumi Haiji’s route, which is uncomfortable no matter how the game tries to explain the mystery behind him since it doesn’t change the fact that the heroine is smooching an elementary school kid.
Part of the reason the routes vary in quality is due to Hiyori Sena herself. While she is a seventeen-year-old girl trapped with a bunch of cute guys and forced to participate in a bunch of dramas, her agency is all over the place. There are so many moments in this game where she straight-up doesn’t think for herself and will let her love interests dictate how she is supposed to think. Worse is the fact that she will just excuse a lot of bad or questionable behaviour because she is blinded by love and wants to see the best in each member of the male cast. However, this is not the case in every route. There are other times when she is very thoughtful and headstrong and is even willing to make sacrifices for others because she feels it is the right thing to do. Sena’s personality just feels weirdly inconsistent throughout each of the routes, which hinders the overall experience.
In terms of the game’s user interface, it’s clean and easy to navigate with great use of color and a futuristic aesthetic. After completing a route players are given the option to skip previously read — or even all — text, though it’s a shame there’s no option to immediately jump to the next gameplay choice after working through a route. Charade Maniacs also has a very long Common Route with lots of choices to make, so being able to work through it a bit more quickly after completing a character route would have been a nice bonus. The game offers a flow chart, which makes it much easier to see what choices have been previously accessed. Charade Maniacs has a decent localization, and though there are definitely the odd sentence structure issues and typos dotted around, this does not detract from the experience. The game is also fully voiced in Japanese, with some amazing performances from veteran voice actors such as Megami Ogata who plays Mizuki, and Seki Tomokazu who plays Futami. Overall the sound direction is great, and the game’s musical score is a decent mix of pop and ambient tracks, though they don’t necessarily stand out.
I am a sucker for traitor games as a premise. Who doesn’t love a little detective work in solving a mystery? While the game offers nine routes for the player to explore, they vary in quality that ends up leaving Charade Maniacs a mixed experience from start to finish. That is not to say the game isn’t worth playing, but if you are someone who plays otome games for the romance aspect, those elements take more of a backseat to the game’s messy overarching story and it’s quantity over quality approach to storytelling. Charade Maniacs has a lot of promise and interesting ideas but its execution leaves a lot to be desired, and that in itself is unfortunate.
Disclosure: This article is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.