02nd Jun 2020 | 601 views
Game: Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa.
Developer: Art Co. Ltd.
Genre: Visual Novel
Visual Novels are one of the most particular genres in the whole industry. Their concept is very straight forward, a heavily story-focused title displayed mostly in written format combined with images, with certain degrees of interactivity woven in. There is a lot of discussion whether they even are videogames, as the small amount of interactivity in comparison to other forms of the media make them look more like those “choose your own adventures” books of old. And while the market for such titles has been small (especially considering how big gaming has become since consoles, PCs and other platforms became commonplace) there are many examples of successful visual novels getting the public’s interest, such as the Ace Attorney series (2001), Danganronpa (2010) or Higurashi: When They Cry (2002). Still, while all of this successes are a big step forward for the genre, and they are considerably cheaper to develop nowadays, for the most part it’s still a rather small genre with a reduced userbase, which can really make smaller projects struggle.
So when I saw in the Nintendo eShop that Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa was at a whopping 95% off, I couldn’t help but take the bait. I’ve played some of the PQube’s VNs on the Switch before, and in general they are solid enough, so I was curious about the slashed price. Plus, those kinds of discounts are rare in the extreme, even during big sales periods, so it’d be a waste to let it pass. Or at least that’s what I thought at first…
Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa is a visual novel/puzzle game developed by Art Co. Ltd. and published by PQube in 2019 for the Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PC. The game centers around the new student enrolling into Fujisawa Academy in the middle of the semester. In there, he will meet some of the students and will join the “Occult Research Club”, its purpose being investigating the mysteries around the academy, hence the name of the game. Along the way, you discover certain dark subjects the institution has been hidden, as well as the secrets of some of the characters.
Before I start into the review, a warning. I’m going to spoil pretty much the whole game, because most of my criticisms wouldn’t make sense without the appropriate context given, so I feel it’s fair to include this information. And also because there is not that much to spoil there, but more on that later. This is going to narrate my experience with the game, so beware spoilers.
As any visual novel, this game lives and dies by its story. And the story of Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa is a complete mess from the very beginning. Right of the bat, you are introduced to the typical self-insert character, an individual with practically no characteristics or features of its own. The fact that the main character of the game is such a tabula rassa is a strike against this game, though to be fair, many other titles can work well with this kind of blank protagonists. They are supposed to be a way for the player to roleplay as someone else, interacting with interesting side characters and having a varied array of dialogue options to deal with them. In here, however, the blank character has nothing to work with, and there are instances where the game actively works against the MC’s own development. The main example of this is the fact that, well, the MC has made a deal with a devil.
Yeah, they just blurt out this fact at the beginning of the game. At first I was quite confused, considering the game literally presents the demon character as “long story short, I signed a contract with a demon”. You’d think something this important should be developed and built up more, not just thrown in as a side note. And the setting barely has any fantastic or mystical elements to begin with, only at the very end do we get a continuation of the magical worldbuilding. Most of the game is your average high school shennannigans, and there was absolutely no need to include any magical element. The demon, a blue chibi fox that is trying too hard to look like a mascot character, and its main point in the game is to repeat exposition we already know and to make comments to everything it sees. This character is not only annoying, but it is completely superfluous, instead of letting the MC actually think about the events unfolding around him, the demon just keeps commenting on stuff, robbing the MC of any possible thought of his own, making the blank character problem way worse. It gets worse when you realize the demon gave the MC a magical power to make people tell the truth by playing a game of Bejeweled.
And that’s the other half of the game, the puzzle element. And it is quite an underwhelming example of a puzzle game. Anyone that has played any Bejeweled clone can understand the concept: You have a square board with multiple rows on it. You click the spheres to move them one by one to the top of the screen, and you have to create rows of three spheres of the same colour, either vertically or horizontally. Once the rows are created they disappeared, and the spheres on top of it take their place. This can be used to create multiple combos that will give you extra points. There are a couple of items that give you the chance to score extra points, but overall they don’t really appear that much, and considering you need to make a combo big enough to get them in the first place they are quite hard to reliably obtain. Also, you can use special points to try and get extra turns, at the cost of risking certain penalties. There is also a normal and a hard difficulty, but the system is so simple it doesn’t matter. However, here lies the other part of the puzzle. You see, when you get points from completing rows, they are not there to reach a high enough score to beat the level, oh no. They are there to… well... undress the character whose mind you’re opening. Really. And it’s done in a way that’s both tasteless and lazy. The character will lose a piece of clothing each time you fill one of the point gauge, which will culminate in the character in question reacting “quite enthusiastically” once all four are filled up. And that’s it. While playing this game, I was expecting more of this kind of content, since erotic VNs are not rare nowadays. However, Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa decides that this will be the single use of t&a in the entire game. Hell, the characters don’t even realize this is happening at all. According to the demon, this is all happening in the MC’s imagination (one trait that they gave to the MC and it’s that he’s horny. Classy). This is the equivalent of those mind bullet minigames that titles like Danganronpa use to make their titles more dynamic and interactive, but here, they are just an excuse to show anime bodies. I mean, at least in games like HuniePop the fanservice was the whole point of the game, and was developed enough to justify its presence. This is just… there. Why bother? Considering this is the singular use of fanservice in the whole game, plus the puzzle game being disappointingly easy and shallow, I do believe this was added just as bait to put on the back of the box, or as screenshots in whatever store page this was sold in.
But continuing on with the story, you play the first five chapters of the game, solving the generic and at the same time quite dissonant self-contained plots thrown at you, while trying to build some sort of deeper plot in the background. The storytelling of this game is hectic and at points disconcerting. At one point you’re investigating a mystery involving a white wolf, only to realize the animals around the school are being attacked and beaten up by the students, only for the story to just handwave this by concluding this was bad and moving on. Another episode has the characters investigate a secret library that grants the students elite status, only to reveal the backstory of a suicide at the end of it. The concept of tone-deaf is one wildly applicable here. But anyway, once you reach chapter 5, a small revelation gives you a glimpse of what a character is like. The MC’s main friend, Kagura, seemingly smiling in private about the suicide, pointing that she knows more than she seems. While you can see the result of this plot point from a mile away, I was actually hopeful they were going to do something interesting with it, because it couldn’t be just that obvious that she was responsible for the suicide girl’s death. And roll end credits.
Wait what? The story isn’t over! Did I do anything wrong? The story has so little in terms of character choices that I was shocked to think I might have failed and gotten the wrong ending. However, a side character (who turns out to be another demon, by the way) breaks the fourth wall and sends you back in time to the beginning of the game. At this point my interest went up again. Finally, they are doing something interesting with the game! This became even better when in chapter 2 Kagura just kills you for “knowing too much”, which introduces you to the concept of danger: maybe if you take a wrong choice, you will be killed and sent back again and again. Herein lies the concept of the time loop. You’ll be thrown again and again to the beginning of the game, each time you play you discover something new that may make the bland story from the first run more and more interesting. A sound proposition, right? Well, no. While this idea is the most original plot point of this game, it ended up becoming the single most infuriating element in the game. First, the story barely changes or adds anything of substance. You’d expect the game to be much more in depth about the workings of the conspiracy around the academy, and with each playthrough you get more and more interesting information, but chapters 1 to 5 are pretty much the same. Only 6 and 7 are completely new and out of all of them, only 7 has any real relevance to the main mystery plot. This makes the replay of the game pointless, especially since the character options are very limited (insultingly limited, you could argue), even if they add a couple more options. Second, the game doesn’t really tell you when you’ve made a bad decision. And if you take a wrong option at any point in the story, forget about reaching the end, that alone the true ending. A couple are marked by color (red are good and blue are bad) but for the most part you’re going in blind, unable to see where you’ve made a mistake. Did I choose the correct dialogue option? Did I go to the places in the correct order? Did I trigger the correct event? You just won’t know it, as a result, you’ll go through the loop over and over again. The game wants you to reach the end in three loops. I reached eight and still couldn’t find the ending. So I gave up and went to the internet for answers, and I found a walkthrough that pointed step by step how to reach the ending. And it is infuriating how little difference there was between my playthroughs and the guide’s. None of the big, important choices were different, it was the seemingly unimportant ones that caused the failure. I also have to point out that apparently there was a glitch going around that made many playthroughs loop over and over again, even if they got everything right. The problem was seemingly patched already, but this is quite unfortunate that there was a glitch like this at all, since the loop is the main mechanic of the game. I can’t but imagine the frustration that many players must have felt trying to just get to the end, not really knowing they couldn’t. At the very least the game gives you more power to end the puzzle game quicker and quicker, so you don’t get stuck in those sections, so that’s something, I guess…
So anyway, we reach the ending. Spoilers, the academy has been used by a pharmaceutical company to test new, body enhancing drugs, which also causes them severe behavioral problems. And it turns out that the seemingly nice teacher had been the researcher of the drug all along. So the gang goes to confront her to see why she’s doing this. Then she gets angry and takes all of the drugs.
And then she turns into an angel. What.
So apparently the drugs are possessed by demons? This is the first time you see any kind of magical element since the presentation of the time loop (all while the regular theme plays in this "climactic" event).You beat her and she turns normal again (no one questions or reacts to the angel thing despite the fact you are the only one aware that there are supernatural elements around, they should all be in fucking shock, but whatever), and then she confesses of her crimes. And then the big bomb is revealed. Turns out she wasn’t the one who caused the suicide, it was Kagura!
Really? I would have never guessed it! It’s not like she acts suspicious every time the dead girl is mentioned. And the reason she did it? She was jealous. That’s it. This whole game has been building up to this resolution, and it’s the most unimpressive, underwhelming reveal you could have done. And then the character that was causing the time loop reveals himself to be the one behind it all, all done with the goal to find an evil person to make a contract with, that being Kagura. She takes his hand, and a lot of possibilities open up. Why does the demon want her? What is he going to use her for? Why did the demon need to cause all of this ruckus to find her? What are Kagura’s thoughts about this? What are the rest of the gang’s thoughts about this? Does the farmaceutical know they were dealing with demons? What is going to happen to the school now that this whole operation has been discovered? Are the students who took the drug possessed by demons? Are they going to be ok? What is going to happen to the teacher that transformed into an angel right in front of her students? Will she try to atone for her sins?
None of this questions are answered, as we get the actual final credits and the game ends for real. We get a couple of postgame conversations with the rest of the game, but that’s it. No one remembers that Kagura or the demon existed, so they don’t question anything.
It’s been a while since I got this kind of ending. It’s not even an ending, even a lazy ending would’ve resolved the story, even if it was half-assed. The game just stops. After all of the looping and the rewinding to see what I got wrong, the game ends up on a cliffhanger it never even bothers to look like it wants to solve. This is one of the biggest shrug endings I’ve seen period, they didn’t even care.
So the puzzle is shallow and below average, and the story is short and repetitive with a terrible non-ending. What else is there?
The art is very animesque, but it’s clear that it is budget art. The characters’ designs are generic, and their motions are limited to the mouth and the shine in their eyes, and the CGs are baffling lazy. There are ten CGs for the story, six of which are about Kagura and two of them are almost identical to other art. There’s also six extra CGs, one showing the suicide girl in a bikini. Classy. The music is utterly forgettable, I can’t recall a single tune.
What else is there? The game is empty, it’s devoid of anything meaningful. The characters are weak, the MC is non-existant, the puzzle game is shallow, uninteresting and with pointless fanservice, the art is mediocre, the story is boring, too long and too short at once, and its non-ending lets you wondering why did you even bother. Even for less than an euro, this is not worth it. To be fair, I’m more dumfounded than angry right now, mostly because I still can’t believe someone decided to publish this.