Visual Novels are my guilty pleasure. When I can’t be bothered to read a book and I can’t think of what game I want to play, I put on a Visual Novel; two birds, one stone! I’ve covered a number of them so far, with more to come, but today I’m taking a look at PQube’s first game which they’ve developed as well as published, Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa. Operating as a mystery and puzzle VN, rather than an Otome-style game, it’s always refreshing to interact with a story which isn’t solely about hooking up with one of the other characters (not that I have anything against that).
There were a few teething problems upon launch, which are all now resolved, which is why my review is a week after the launch. So, with the platinum trophy proudly sat upon my PSN Profile, let’s talk about Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa…
Kotodama is the story of a young protagonist (girl or boy, your choice) who has made a pact with a demonic fox-like creature; as you do. This bond allows our humble protagonist to see the truth behind other peoples lies via the means of their rather lewd imagination! You’re a new student at Fujisawa Academy, an institution which holds many secrets – seven of which are the main focus of this adventure. It’s only your first day yet you’re dragged around by the energetic Nanami Kagura, a proud member of the Academy’s Occult Club. As such, you’re instantly roped into helping them debunk and work out the mysteries behind these unusual events.
Each chapter covers a new mystery for you to debunk or resolve via the means of your Kotodama (which I’ll come to next) and investigative skills. As you work towards three possible endings and the truth behind the strange occurrences within the Academy, you need to be careful with what you say, and who you say things too, as not everyone is as they seem and seemingly innocent events may be much more sinister. Can you make it through the week alive, or will fate intervene and prematurely end your semester…
Gameplay – Visual Novel
The core gameplay within Kotodama is clearly the Visual Novel aspect. Every piece of text is fully voiced, albeit in Japanese, and each character has their own personality which you’ll quickly get to experience shortly after they have introduced themselves. You’ll move from scene to scene as you choose which room or area you wish to move to, automatically interacting with people within the vicinity or listening in to their conversations for clues and insight. It plays a lot as you’d expect from a pure VN point-of-view; pick a location, talk to people, make a few choices, then return to the ‘map’ screen.
As I just touched on, there are choices for you to make within Kotodama, choices that alter the story moving forward. Initially, all choices are coloured Black, meaning you have no idea what impact they will have upon the future of the timeline, yet if you’ve gone back and replayed the same section, the words will now appear in either Grey, Blue or Red. I don’t want to give away too much, as part of the fun with a VN is working out what the game wants us to find out, but the colour of the words indicate which direction the narrative will go.
Unlike other VNs though, there’s no chapter select, no flow chart and no option to go backwards – as we’ve seen in games like Our World is Ended, Song of Memories and 428: Shibuya Scramble respectively. Instead, once you reach certain ‘bad endings’ within Kotodama, you’re sent back to the beginning of the game and have to play through the entire experience once again. This isn’t as bad as it sounds though as you now have prior knowledge of events (in-game) so new choices become available so you can manipulate the outcome and change the future… hopefully.
Gameplay – Kotodama
Kotodama isn’t only the name of the game, it’s also the name of the ‘puzzle’ mechanic within the VN. It’s essentially a ‘Match-three’ puzzle in the vein of games such as Candy Crush and Bejewelled. However, the unique twist that Kotodama provides is that you don’t swap two adjacent tiles, as you do in similar games. Instead, you select a tile and it gets removed and slotted into the top of the column, like Connect Four. The other mechanics still stay the same though, you have to match up three or more of the same colour as you aim to create chain combos.
Then we get to the lewd side of the game… Strip Match-three! The Kotodama events are essentially the process of your character diving into the minds of the other characters and forcing them to tell the truth. As such, whilst you play the game the characters are stood to the side of the puzzle. Every time you get a match, the character gives off a rather erotic scream as their ‘happiness’ meter begins to fill. Get this meter to a certain level and watch as the classmate’s clothes begin to rip off. You can strip them right down to their frilly underwear (each has four variants of underwear to unlock) but the final blow leaves them naked, albeit implied as you only see the characters face and not the body during this erotic moment.
Just like any good Match-three game, you also have ‘power-ups’ which are just as crazy as the whole stripping process above! Upon clearing a few matches, you’re granted a number of ‘points’. These can be used to try your luck at ‘pleasuring’ your victim with a balloon (?), feather, poking them, or an ice cube. Each comes with a successful percentage which, if you’re lucky, will pleasure the person and grant you a number of additional turns to play the mini-game. That’s right, you only have a set amount of moves before you run out and lose the game – so offering the victims a bit of pleasure on the side becomes a requirement later on in the game.
Hidden pathways + the road to platinum
Kotodama has a lot of content for you to uncover and observe in order to claim the elusive platinum trophy. The majority of the game can be played through and seen within a few runs, clocking in at around 15 hours or so, but if you’re going for the platinum without any kind of guide, expect to spend almost double that time as you experiment. Aside from the tips (snippets of information about the characters and events), the things that will take you the longest to find are the secret words/phrases.
Each chapter has a collection of words/phrases for you to find, often requiring you to go back and progress through each pathway via the choices you make. Most of these are basically clues and hints towards the chapter’s conclusion, but one of the words is a secret word you gain from the individual you’ve had to perform Kotodama on. This secret word adds a new rainbow tile to the mini-game for that character, offering a massive influx of happiness should you battle them again – thus making multiple playthroughs much easier. Also, all the words/phrases are colour coordinated, collecting all of them levels up each of the coloured tiles in Kotodama mode, once again making multiple runs much easier.
Another cool aspect, which I didn’t realise was a requirement at first, is Quacker (the game’s version of Twitter). The students use it to chat about various things going on within the Academy, offering hints and tips on what to do next. The interesting thing about this is that certain events only happen once you’ve read certain posts upon the Social Media, thus creating a more interesting, if slightly confusing, storyline. I’ve seen Social Media used within games before, it’s not a new thing, but having it specially lock out certain events unless you’ve read it was quite an innovative and unique experience.
What do you get for all your hard work in unlocking the platinum? Well, you’ll now have access to all the CGs, a list of all the in-game music tracks to listen to, and literally, every single line the characters provided, which you can playback at your leisure. The only issue, they are listed as ‘BGM’ and ‘Event’, with a number at the end – so good luck finding a specific line, should you want to listen to one!
A Rogue-like Visual Novel?
I’ve been referring to Kotodama, with my friends, as the worlds first Rogue-like Visual Novel. My main advice, which I’m throwing out there now, is to save as much as you can – there are tonnes of manual save slots and even a quick save option. If you enter a Kotodama puzzle and you lose, you’re kicked back to the title screen and the only way to continue is with a save file – this is something I wasn’t expecting as I thought we’d have a ‘continue’ option or an autosave, but nope. It’s all up to you to keep your game saved!
Also, picking the wrong option at times will result in you going back to the beginning of the game – again, this is down to you and understanding what options go where, but it reminds me of Rogue-like games where you play, die, then learn from your mistakes as you play it again. As of today, this whole process won’t be that much of an issue as you can easily quick save then load if it all goes tits-up. However, pre-launch the quicksave was a bit temperamental and I had a few occasions where the save would corrupt and I’d lost hours of story. However, this has all been resolved now, so don’t worry about using the mechanic.
I think the one thing I found the most annoying was my own inability to complete the game without a push from PQube themselves. I’d tried for many hours to achieve the True Ending, but I just couldn’t get there – I would constantly fall at the last hurdle and end up the same way, returning to chapter one. That was until I was advised I’d missed a specific keyword in the first chapter – then I was able to proceed without any issues. Personally, I like the whole concept and the way the progression and branching pathways work, I just found it a little confusing as there was no indication I’d done everything I needed to do, up until that point.
Visually, Kotodama looks like your average Visual Novel. I don’t mean that in a bad way though – the characters are 2D sprites with various different facial expressions and body poses to suit the situation, and the backdrops all look great as they become slightly blurred to emphasise the characters. The various CGs you can unlock all look great, especially the six bonus ones, and the underwear is well detailed. The female teacher looked a little strange, wearing a baggy top over her massive boobs yet it’s stuffed down her cleavage to create an unnatural emphasis on her mountains – but everyone else looked great.
What I would have liked would have been an option to play the game with the girls in their underwear throughout the main story. Now, before you start branding me things, you ‘unlock’ underwear throughout the game, allowing you to play the Kotodama puzzle via the main menu in order to try and win to see their various undergarments. However, it would have been fun if ‘unlocking’ them meant we could see them strolling around the Academy having forgotten to put on their clothes today. Just a thought…
Soundwise, there’s not much to say. As with most Visual Novels, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, as it’s verbally all in Japanese, but the emotion and acting sounded spot on to how I imagine the characters would react in certain situations. Music wise, whereas the soundtrack is good and fits the situations perfectly (I especially like the puzzle music), it seemed a bit too generic and like I’ve heard it before. However, the two main tracks, KOTODAMA – Solved not Mystery and Nannimo Naiyo ~ Nothing Special, are really good!
My main complaint about the sound though has to be its levels. Out of the box, the music overshadows the voice acting in pretty much every scene. I had to turn the vocals right up and put the music below 50% so that I could hear the speech properly. This isn’t a big issue, as you can adjust it yourself, but worth pointing out.
Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa was both a fun and intriguing Visual Novel which had me hooked right until the end. The spin on the ‘Match-three’ formula worked really well and delivered an ‘interesting’ method of breaking down the characters lies and unveiling the truth hidden underneath (as well as their naked bodies). The way the game links the various mysterious events together was really well done, prompting you to relive the same week in order to use your prior knowledge to progress in a different direction. How to unlock the True Ending was a little confusing, but with a little nudge, I was able to achieve it with no issues.
For PQube’s first co-developed game, Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa was a pleasure to play through and experience from beginning to end. It may not have the depth and length of other Visual Novels, from companies who have been making them for years, but it’s a great start. Once Nagami has you in her grasp, you won’t put the game down until you’ve helped her solve everything!
Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa£19.99
- - Interesting story with a few WTF moments
- - Cool mechanic which sends you back to the first chapter
- - Great voice acting
- - The unique take on 'Match-three' to create an almost 'Strip Match-Three' was very intriguing and original
- - The integration of Quacker (Twitter) with the story, to enable certain events, was well done
- - The Rogue-like aspect of obtaining a bad end or losing the puzzle game threw me off with no warning
- - Not very clear how to achieve the Good and True endings upon first glance
- - The ending wasn't as good as the build up to it
- - The sound, by default, makes the music overshadow the vocals (I advise you to adjust accordingly to hear the vocals more clearly)