Nippon Ichi Software has a knack for creating unique, addictive, and colourful games, hidden gems that will easily take over your gaming schedule once you discover them. I’ve recently been playing Poison Control, the latest game from the creative minds who brought us Penny-Punching Princess and The Princess Guide, a game that is easy to get into and hard to put down. Although trophies can’t be synced just yet, I’ve completed the game and obtained the platinum, I literally didn’t stop playing the game until the final trophy unlocked – despite encountering a visual restriction bug (which I’ll talk about later).
Nippon Ichi Software needs no introduction, although you’ll probably know them as NIS or NIS America. For me, they are by far one of the most unique and creative developers in Japan, with every game they create being very different from the last. They are also a publisher for games from many different developers both in Asia and here in the West, having brought us classics such as Danganronpa V3, Disaster Report 4, Trails of Cold Steel 3 and 4, The Lost Child, and the very addictive (although never patched to fix the broken trophy) Tokyo Tattoo Girls on the PlayStation Vita.
So, after around 15 hours of gameplay (in order to grab the platinum), what were my final impressions? Was it a game I had fun playing? Was it a grind to obtain the final trophies? And just what is the visual bug which can easily be replicated that hasn’t yet been fixed? Let’s find out…
Poison Control begins like many other Japanese adventure games, you awaken in a strange purple world with no recollection of who or where you are. However, the welcome party is there to introduce you to this unusual place, a demonic creature who promptly jumps on you and devours your flesh and blood – nobody has taught these demons about social distancing and respecting personal space! Shortly after the fleshy feast, the demon transforms into a big-breasted (obviously) young girl, the human-like manifestation of her former self.
After a rather humorous introduction between the well-endowed female and the skeletal remains of the protagonist, you’re informed that she has literally taken over your body to free her from remaining as a wandering toxic creature, known as a Klesha. You pick your name, gender, and voice, then find yourself thrown into your first Poison Mine. These hell-like dungeons are formed from the desires and delusions of (female) humans, whether alive or dead, creating their own ‘Belles Hells’.
The young girl advises that you’re now both ‘soul mates’ as she jumps back inside of your hollow remains, returning the flesh to your body so you can move once more – whilst she becomes what can only be described as a ‘mini-her’. You must now patrol these Belles Hells and purify the hearts of the fallen and deluded, in order to obtain a pass into Heaven and open a way back to the mortal realm. Your adventure involves the use of both your reconstructed body and the vampiric Poisonette, alternating between the two in order to spill the blood of the demonic creatures (and clean up afterwards).
Poison Control is an unusual game. There’s a map, a shop, upgrades, an interesting story, and 27 dungeons and events to play through. Each of the events is proceeded by a radio message that alerts you of who has created that particular hell as two bumbling presenters talks back and forth with one another – they reminded me of the TV presenters in Zanki Zero at times. You’ll also meet up with a fellow rival who is also trying to gain entry to Heaven, working towards obtaining all five golden tickets for themselves (that’s your goal, obtain five golden tickets and open the gate so you can once again become human).
The dungeons are rather simplistic floating worlds, almost like what we see in Tokyo Xanadu eX+ or Akiba’s Beat when you travel through the portals. Each one is populated by various creatures and lots of poison for you to mop up. Each hell has set objectives as you run through them, some will require you to take down a certain number of enemies, or specific types of creatures, and some of them ask you to clean up a certain percentage of poison off the floor. You’ll often find yourself trapped within a small segment of the dungeon by magical blockades until you complete these goals.
You’ll find coins as you work your way through the dungeon, coins that can be used to upgrade your weaponry and passive abilities whilst you’re in the overworld map screen. Each dungeon also has three golden chests hidden either on an alternative pathway or under some toxic waste you need to clean up. I collected all but two of these in my first playthrough of the game, having to only go back and grab the ones I missed post-completion.
On a side note, all of the dungeons are timed – something I’m not usually very fond of, as it makes me feel rushed – but in Poison Control the timers are very generous, so you never feel pressured or as if you don’t have enough time.
As the resurrected human, you have a gun built into your arm, like Mega-Man, which you can use to blast the creatures and crates you bump into. Your first gun is fueled by poison but you’ll eventually unlock others that use consumables that are much stronger yet require you to find ammo to use. You attack as you would in games like Ultra Despair Girls – Poison Control‘s gameplay actually felt a lot like that game – aim and shoot with L2 and R2, lock on with Square, and switch between up to four variations from a long list that you unlock as you progress.
Holding down L1 allows Poisonette to leave your body, causing you to fall into a heap of bones, and run around the arena freely. She can’t attack but she can run over the toxic poison which is on the ground. She can only survive out of your body for a short time (which increases as you level up), so once you’ve purified as much as you can, release L1 and you’ll return to being a ‘human’ once more. Anything she ran over will vanish, as she’s cleaned it up, and it’ll be used to reload your weapon quicker and restore some of your HP.
If any enemies are stood on the toxic waste that she purifies, they get injured and/or stunned as they fall on their backsides, allowing the human-you to take advantage and shoot them whilst they’re down. You need to get used to alternating between the two protagonists if you wish to succeed, leading the enemies away from the main protagonist whilst you’re highlighting poison, then blasting them with your arm cannon to put them out of their misery from a distance.
As mentioned above, there are a number of unlocks you’ll gain throughout the game from chests and beating bosses. You unlock Toxicants, Deliriants, Antidotes, and Catalysts. Toxicants are your poison-fueled weapons that have various attacks such as bombs, machine guns and standard cannons. The Deliriant weapons are more powerful but run off limited consumables. Antidotes affect your stats, such as increasing your resistance to the poison as a human or increasing your speed by reducing your defence. Catalysts simply increase things like health, the amount of money you find, or your attack power.
Also, you have five character stats, Synergy, Empathy, Insight, Toxicity, and Trust. As these stats increase, you’ll gain new passive abilities and boosts such as increased speed, healing more as you purge the poison, and overall resistance to the toxic waste. But, how do they increase? Simple, you have conversations with Poisonette after certain key moments, with each answer you give offering a slight boost in a particular stat. The game, thankfully, indicates what stat your answer will improve before you pick it, so you can plan what you wish to increase, but I replayed a lot of levels just to pick the other options as well, to see what she said.
Just so you’re aware, replaying a mission and answering the same Heart-to-Heart WON’T give you an increase in multiple stats in your first playthrough. But, once you’ve beaten the end boss, you can return to the levels and that’s when you can boost all the other stats in order to obtain one of the last trophies you’ll need.
I love Japanese games, the developers are crazy and often don’t care about the ‘PC’ restrictions which often affects the narrative in Western games. Poison Control has a few ‘questionable’ Belles Hells for you to purify. One such dungeon revolves around a porno magazine being shared around a school, having you remove the toxic waste on the floor to uncover lewd images which were appearing within its pages. I fondly recall Poisonette remarking how sticky and crusty the book was when we finally got our hands on it!
There’s talk of underage relationships, rape, harassment, and suicide. Not everything is as it seems, as you’ll find out, but I did find it quite surprising that some of the things within the game were allowed considering everyone seems to think Sony censors talk of stuff like this from any game trying to get published.
There’s even a dungeon dedicated to the inner desires of a Prinny fan! Although, in this world, he’s known as Pynrin. This dungeon was the best, with giant Prinny statues all over the place and enemies wearing hats in the design of him. Honestly, this is the kind of thing that I would have expected to be DLC, rather than part of the main story. Dood!
I really enjoyed the story, which is basically a combination of the hells, your journey to obtain all five tickets, and a few other narratives that appear later on – one including a cannibal… The game also has two endings which are based on a decision you make at the very end – one route leads to another dungeon and a second ending, and the other leads to the ‘real’ ending. If you complete the game and pick one pathway, simply replay the final boss and pick the other – no need to replay the entire game to see the other route.
Was it fun?
Yes, if you like games that are simple and a little repetitive. Each of the dungeons, despite some looking different, plays out the same way. You get an intro, you run around either killing everything or cleaning up (or both), then either find the item you’re looking for to purify their heart or kill a stronger enemy then claim the item. There are 26 of these (27 if you include the bonus chapter), so it will begin to feel a bit samey and monotonous after a while if you’re playing in a long gaming session. But, if you split it up into short bursts, maybe doing one of the five areas at a time, then it’ll keep it fresh.
The narrative held it together for me, it was funny, silly, and I loved Poisonette. Also, the progression was paced really well, I’m on level 94 as I write this review, with the trophies only going up to level 50 – I continued to level up regularly and at a decent speed post-game and whilst I was still enjoying the story, upgrading all of my weapons and passive abilities to help me out against the bosses. This was useful as I did struggle with the final boss at first, but after a few tweaks to my loadout, it was no issue.
I’m looking forward to the future of Poison Control, the map screen takes you straight to the PSN store if you push ‘Options’ on the controller, so they clearly have some DLC planned. I’m hoping it’s new worlds and battles, with trophies, and not just costumes and weapons. Although, I imagine it probably will be just costumes.
The visual bug (v1.0)
This has been reported to NIS America, but there’s been no confirmation on if it’s being fixed yet, and there’s no update as of today (the day before release).
Despite the game looking like a PlayStation Vita game (I’m sorry, it really does), the draw distance is okay on the PS4 (I played on the PS5). You can see the enemies far back, see their health, and any projectiles they throw at you. However, as I was almost at the end of the game, something strange happened. The draw distance dropped to about six feet in front of the protagonist, meaning enemies only appeared on the screen when you were practically on top of them, allowing them to attack you without you seeing anything. This issue was on every level, even ones I’d beaten previously (which were originally okay).
I restarted my PS5 – same issue. I deleted the game and re-downloaded it, loaded up my save and… it was back to normal. Great, I carried on playing, going back to collect the golden chests which I missed – the issue started again, limiting my viewing distance dramatically.
After testing, it turns out the culprit is mission 20. If you complete mission 20, the draw distance gets gimped. The only way to resolve it is to literally delete the game and re-download it. Then, every level will work fine, including mission 20, but upon completing it again, the issue will resurface. So, if it’s not been fixed and it happens to you, delete the game and re-download, then avoid mission 20. It’s a very strange bug but hopefully the developers can fix it.
Also, once this issue kicks in, the area boss (which is the same to unlock each area, but with an added body) begin to float in the air and become free from their base. It’s more annoying than an issue as I had one which wouldn’t die!. I had to quit and try the battle again as it was just floating around and not getting injured by my bullets.
Other than the above issue, were there other issues with Poison Control on the PS5? Nope, it ran great and I had no crashes or obvious slowdown. I don’t know the resolution and framerate, but it ran smooth and looked nice and sharp. However, as you can see from the images, and my comment above, the game does look and feel like a PS Vita game. This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s very colourful and reminds me of other Vita ports/cross-platform games such as Tokyo Xanadu eX+, Ultra Despair Girls, and the Cold Steel series. But, it does seem like the Switch may have been the main development console here, with the PS4 port coming afterwards.
However, despite the simple nature of the game, it didn’t run particularly well on my PS4 Pro! Because of the issue above, with the draw distance, I decided to play the game on my PS4 Pro and see if the issue occurred there. In doing so, I found the game to run with a stutter or at least an obvious jerk to it. It’s still playable, but after coming from the PS5, it just didn’t feel as smooth – which was a surprise. Also, the loading times on the PS4 Pro were at least twice as long as they were on my PS5. My Pro had it installed to the internal stock HDD and my PS5 uses an 8TB WD ext HDD.
The music is one of the highlights, I love the compositions and wish it was easy to pick up the soundtrack. You get the soundtrack in the physical Limited Edition HERE. I also really enjoyed the drawn visuals within the story segments, they were all really cute and made the story more enjoyable.
In terms of the trophies – you’ll obtain them all naturally aside from maybe maxing out your stats via the Heart-to-Heart sessions and unlocking all the various weapons. But, as long as you open every chest you see, you shouldn’t have too many issues with these.
Poison Control is a very addictive third-person shooter which combines quirky Japanese humour with engaging gameplay. Although a lot of the Belles Hells you’ll venture through are very similar, making use of both the ‘human’ and Poisonette allows the gameplay to remain fresh and varied as you complete the set objectives, find the golden chests, and obtain your five golden tickets. The game is best played on the PlayStation 5, with only a single issue post-launch (which has a work-around), yet it does look and feel like it originated as a Switch or Vita title. Regardless, once you start playing Poison Control, on any platform, you’ll quickly become addicted and find it hard to put down until you’ve cleansed everyone’s hearts!
- - Very colourful with great music and fun characters
- - You have to use both protagonists to both kill enemies and clean up the Belles Hells
- - Always progressing with regular level increases, unlocked weapons, and bought upgrades
- - Easy to just pick up and play, whether for long sessions or small bursts
- - The story is funny and silly, with a few dark and questionable subjects thrown in
- - The game does look and feel like it was designed for something like the Vita and/or Switch due to the simplistic nature
- - There's a bug which I've described in the review, but this should get fixed
- - It can get a little repetitive due to each stage being essentially the same in terms of the mechanics
- - I wish there was more variety with the enemies and bosses