Black Closet

I’ve tried visual novels before. Needless to say I’m not a big fan of them. I do dig how they sometimes incorporate substantial game mechanics, as in Long Live the Queen, but they mainly seem like a poor man’s adventure game to me, especially since almost all of them are about developing a romantic relationship. This one intrigued me because it has a detective game element build around the visual novel and as far as I know detective games are rather rare.

The premise is that you are the newly appointed student council president at an all-girls boarding school. The other council members are effectively your minions who you assign to deal with the numerous problems that crop up. Examples include catching truant students, ensuring that important school events take place without a hitch, and investigating whether or not a group of students are cheating at exams. Your followers have four stats: Social, Intimidation, Observation and Stealth, which determine how good they are at different tasks. You can question students, search their rooms, stalk their movements or even detain them for further interrogation. Being overly aggressive upsets the students which causes council karma to drop. On the other hand, failing to solve cases in time might cause them to blow up in public, hurting the school’s reputation.

Naturally there’s a larger plot involving conspiracies and secrets apart from the quotidian problems but I don’t find that to be terribly compelling. One of the council members is a traitor who always sabotages your efforts and you have to identify which one that is. You also have visual novel scenes, usually on the weekends. These do affect the game as they determine the loyalties of the girls but I’m annoyed that the main point is to discover the backstory of one particular girl and develop your relationship with her in more depth, as in other visual novels. I don’t think this part is well-written at all and wish it didn’t exist but you’ll just have to deal with it.

As I’ve said, there aren’t many detective games out there, which makes this novel and rather fun. There aren’t that many unique scenarios so you get a lot of repeats but you need to be careful as the truths behind similar scenarios can be very different. In many case, there is simply no scandal and pursuing the matter doggedly merely harms your karma and wastes your resources. Each council member can only perform one action per day and taking an action causes them stress. You can get items out of the supply closet to boost your stats temporarily but this is another action. Solving cases also awards you points that you can spend on improving the girls’ stats, much like an RPG. I like how there are multiple ways to solve many of the cases, catching the ringleader who is selling exam cheat sheets for example is better than identifying the cheaters, and you are rewarded accordingly.

There’s some replayability in this as well due to the ability of set up custom games with randomized minions after you’ve completed the game once. I do get that you’re supposed to replay mainly to explore the different path for each girl but I’m not interested in that aspect at all. I wouldn’t mind the individual cases be tied together as part of a larger plot provided they were better written. In many ways, this game reminds me of Academagia. I like the writing and larger plots of that game more but I prefer the game mechanics of this one. It’s a rather more substantial game with solid mechanics than I’d expected. Recommended if you can ignore the visual novel component.

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