Monday, December 11, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 7: "Hidden Route"

This is the final entry in my Collar x Malice VN Talk series. You can find my other entries for the five main routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog or the RPG/VN Talk tab above, once I have a chance to update it.

Note: This route spoils everything in case you got here without checking out the rest of the game. I was debating whether or not to write an entry for it, but I realized over the course of playing Yanagi's route that I would spend way too much time unpacking this guy's story on a blog post that was supposed to be dedicated to a romantic lead, so I decided it was best to split them in two. And at least as far as the PSN trophies are concerned, this is a legit route, granting its own trophy and an in-game CG with Hoshino and her new partner.

So… Due to how this route is accessed (through Yanagi's playthrough) I'm not going to spend much time talking about it from the perspective of playing through the game so much discussing Yuzuru Saeki and how the game uses him.

Saeki first shows up in the prologue as Hoshino's police academy buddy. He's friendly, he has her back, and whenever she's down he's one of the first to cheer her up. And the relationship is totally platonic. Yanagi thinks it might not be, but Saeki never hits on her and I really like the heterosexual buddy vibe.

I suspect most players will like pre-reveal Saeki. I know when I first was going through the game I was disappointed he wasn't a romance option because he was just so fun to be around (even as I was applauding the game for having a just-friends relationship).

Of course, as anyone who's gone through Yanagi's route knows, Saeki is secretly Zero, the person who put the poison collar on around Hoshino's neck, and also the head of the Adonis organization.

From a meta perspective some players figured out his identity due to being the only non-romanceable male around Hoshino's age who appears on all routes (and if you're good at visual cues, the visible part of Zero's face under his hood is identical to Saeki's). Most notably, observant players will notice that the only route where Adonis falls apart due to lack of leadership is on Enomoto's route, where Saeki is shot and unconscious in the hospital. Within the context of the main story itself though, there are a few clues as to Zero's civilian identity, and I think most players will eventually figure it out by the time they're asked to do so on Yanagi's route.

Saeki is a different kind of villain than I expected. Adonis is laying down terrorist attacks to revolutionize Japan and is completely ruthless in doing so. So when it becomes obvious that Saeki is Zero, it's interesting how little his personality changes between being Hoshino's academy buddy and the leader of a terrorist organization.

A lot of Saeki's words about why he became a cop and how he wants to protect people are actually values he upholds even as Zero. As we know, all of Adonis's X-Day crimes are revenge killings on behalf of people who didn't get justice due to a failure in the system. Saeki is looking to create a world where those who don't have power are able to feel safe (though as pointed out by Okazaki on his route, when taken to extremes there won't be anybody left in such as world, because people are always hurting each other, even if unintentionally).

Saeki's route itself is kind of random. It happens in the later part of Yanagi's route when Hoshino takes it upon herself to confront him about his true identity, but it's not clear why it plays out so differently depending on whether or not she shoots him, so it feels more like a bonus.

What his ending does is make his reasoning a bit more sympathetic. Saeki is not entirely wrong, though he's going about his solution in an extreme manner, and there's an element of tragedy as Hoshino takes his hand to join him while surrounded by the bodies of her friends. While she now understands his point of view, she also realizes that once their work is done she will have to kill him as the root of all the sorrow he's caused, and Saeki wants that.

As I'd mentioned on Yanagi's route, it's odd how the strongest relationship in the room during the showdown at the church is between Hoshino and Saeki rather than Hoshino and Yanagi. Saeki's fate is the one that determines how Hoshino feels about herself.

If she disables him without killing, there isn't much thrill in the arrest. The game handles Saeki in an unconventional manner for bringing down the boss of a terrorist organization. Rather than being upset or vengeful, Saeki is honestly perplexed why she wouldn't kill him. After all, he's going get the death penalty anyway. Instead he looks sad and filled with regret that he could not convince her to follow in his path.

We learn that Saeki wishes to create a world where anyone can achieve justice for themselves, no matter how powerless they feel. He sees himself as a champion of the weak, the underprivileged, those who the police and the law are either unable or unwilling to help. Hoshino is actually pretty close to him in some ways, in that she wants the best for everyone and is willing to hear out any complaint, no matter how minor, in the hopes that a solution can be found.

Because they both want to save the same people, Saeki hoped that she would be convinced help him rid the world of malice, which he views as the root cause of the world's sorrow. And a part of that, involves killing the malice so it cannot spread. Saeki, being a bringer of malice himself in order to create his malice-free world, needs to be judged according his own philosophy, and that is why he wants Hoshino. His hope is for her see his point of view, kill him, and then carry on his work.

It was a satisfying enough ending. I ended up enjoying the reveal of Saeki as Zero and he's an interesting villain because he never loses sight of the fact his ultimate goal is to help people, especially victims. Life isn't fair, and he's trying to balance the scales for those too weak to manage on their own.

Viewing the Criminal chapter after beating the game can be painful depending on personal experiences. It expands the backstory behind Saeki and each of the executors so we see more of what made them the people they became and Zero brings up good points. What allows one person to place a value on another's pain?

Zero found people at the end of their emotional rope and told them that their pain was real and that they could do something about it. They were wanted, and they could make a better world for others like them.

Barring Rei Mikuni, all the executors were ordinary people, and Zero intended it to be that way. He wanted a world where ordinary people would feel comfortable administering justice themselves instead of relying on weak laws and a corrupt police force.

What makes Saeki a more interesting villain is that he's not above his own ideals. Even when he begins sacrificing executors so that Hoshino will discover the truth, Saeki is doing so under the belief that he should be judged as well, because the world he wants has no place for a person like him.

The Collar x Malice Unlimited fan disc has been announced in Japan as of this writing. I don't know if it'll make it over stateside, but ends on a tease with someone taking the hand of another who is wearing a black glove, which is part of Saeki's appearance as Zero. It's very likely that the fan disc will include a longer Saeki route of some kind.

I would rather his route have been included to begin with, as Otomate has certainly included villain routes in the base game before, and six routes isn't that unusual, but the game already has a redeemed villain in Shiraishi, and I think it would ruin Saeki's character for him to give up on being Zero, so I'm not sure what angle the story would take. Saeki's cause is a sympathetic one, even if his methods are extreme, so I suppose the fan disc could blow that out and have Hoshino join him as an equal rather than a victim.

Monday, December 4, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 6: Aiji Yanagi

Whoops! Missed posting last week. Conventions will do that to. Today I'm going to cover my next installment my Collar x Malice VN Talk series. You can find my VN Talks for the other four routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog.

Aiji Yanagi's route took a while for me to get into, because it wasn't the warm fuzzies I was originally expecting when I started the game, nor did it ever get as dark as the preview visuals that came with his route unlock, which happens after the player finishes their fourth route. Given that preview and the blood soaking the screen I was totally wondering what kind of violent past Yanagi was hiding!

As with Code: Realize's Lupin, Yanagi's route is pretty much the canon route as everything is revealed here. Everyone has something to do, and their personal stories are more or less addressed so life can go on.

Yanagi's route is also the longest. He has two extra chapters, one that takes place before the prologue, showing how he assembled his X-Day investigation team, and one additional chapter in the main story. The reason for this, is that Yanagi's storyline manages to touch on nearly all the X-Day Incidents while also giving adequate time to the romance between him and Hoshino, the truth behind X-Day, and Hoshino's relationship to Zero.

That's a lot of ground to cover, but the extra chapter gives it the room that I think Shiraishi's lacked, and it's good thing because Yanagi's romance takes a while to warm up. It's not without reason, because Yanagi and Hoshino have a shared history she blocked out due to trauma, but it didn't feel like it had the emotional payoff it should have.

When Hoshino was nine she was kidnapped and badly beaten by her kidnapper. She was rescued by a black monster covered in blood that bludgeoned a screaming man until the screaming stopped. Unsurprisingly, she locked that memory away as she grew up. This memory doesn't come up in the other routes, though in the common prologue she does realize there's something familiar with Yanagi and he comments on not wanting something to happen like the last time.

It turns out that then teenage Yanagi had tried rescuing her, failed initially, resulting in his own beating and capture, and then broke free. Afraid for his life and that of the kid next to him, Yanagi took a metal pipe and beat the kidnapper into a coma from which he never woke. He then freed Hoshino, who was scared and recoiled away from him, much to his dismay. No charges were pressed against Yanagi since the assault was ruled self-defense, but he continued to feel guilty about it as he got older.

From his route we learn that Yanagi is actually not close to anyone, and he doesn't like to be. Even though he is kind and friendly, and honestly wants to help as many people as he can, he also wants to keep any relationship professional, which is the obstacle in getting any romance to happen. He also struggles with the magnitude of what he believes in, because after nearly killing the kidnapper, he found out that he doesn't want to kill in any situation at all, which is what caused him to eventually leave the police force.

Adonis is aware of this struggle and how Yanagi's act of violence against the kidnapper places him in the same circumstance as an executor, but they also notice how he is held back by his sense of morality. I get the feeling that Adonis didn't really research him well, because Yanagi's fear of killing someone is so strong that he nearly botches a rescue attempt out of fear of misusing his gun.

That's not really something I expected to be dealing with on his route, especially since he openly carries his sidearm and until that point, seems comfortable with it. He's not like Sasazuka who refuses to carry and dislikes the fact that anyone could. In fact, one of the things I was most hoping for on his route was some dynamic team-ups with him and Hoshino kicking ass together.

It does happen once, but not at the climax, and Yanagi needs to be reassured before he'll go for it. Failure leads to a bad ending.

Since Yanagi is initially distant and reluctant to get close, the game contrives situations to throw him and Hoshino together, whether it's over her brother, helping a lost child, or just investigating the numerous December X-Day Incidents together. Because most of the executors are swapping crimes with each other, this means that his route also delves into many of the cases, at least on a superficial level, so the story can tie everything together. I am also amused by the fact that the Uno siblings are the only executors not dealt with on his route, which contributes to their status as the odd ducks who did a crime that doesn't fit the MO.

All this takes time. Yanagi doesn't fully open up to her until the second to last chapter, and even then, he needs a little help from Hoshino's coworkers. They take her out drinking and find out about her non-existent Christmas plans, but that she likes someone, so they convince her to give Yanagi a call asking him to show up at the bar.

It's funny and awkward, especially since they know who Yanagi is, having dealt with him before while he was still on the police force. And when they leave, Hoshino finally has the chance to confess her feelings to him, which is nice because rather than having her waffle over "What are these feelings I'm having?" like she does on some of the other routes, she comes out and says she loves him first.

As far as the main story goes, Hoshino eventually figures out that Zero is her coworker, Yuzuru Saeki. Given the criteria that Zero would have to fit in order to have accomplished Hoshino's kidnapping, he's the only possible culprit. He knows when she leaves work, he knows her as a person, and he works for the police.

I was a bit disappointed that Saeki wasn't able to play off Yanagi more. The two of them actually don't have much of a face-off, since Saeki's interest is almost entirely on Hoshino. While that's not bad, because she is the protagonist, there's nothing about Yanagi's storyline that really make clear that he had to be the canon route. He just happens to be, because he's the team leader and the poster boy of the game.

The thing is, his mysterious backstory was kind of cool, but dealt with in the first half, and he's not really tempted by Adonis. It's not like Sasazuka's route where you get the feeling he honestly could turn. I'm not sure why Saeki chose his group to be the one to rescue Hoshino unless it was specifically because he wanted to take advantage of Shiraishi's presence to monitor her.

Yanagi's route is still good as a story, and the plot revelations about Adonis and Zero live up to expectation. We have the guys running into Adonis headquarters like big damn heroes and Shiraishi comes clean to help everyone. I just wanted something that made Yanagi a little more critical to the plot of his own route, especially since once the romance does come out, he's terribly sweet and he's the only love interest to propose to Hoshino at the end of his story.

When we get to the finale in the church where everything started, Hoshino and Yanagi meet Saeki there and Yanagi mostly ends up being a dude in distress with Saeki shooting him in order to provoke Hoshino. The strongest relationship in the room at that moment is not Hoshino and Yanagi, but Hoshino and Saeki. She's concerned about her boyfriend, yes, but the relationship that matters, the one that's going to change the outcome of their confrontation, is the one she has with Saeki, and it's actually pretty strong.

In fact, if the player fails at shooting to disable Saeki, she accidentally ends up killing him and the weight of having done so is bad enough that she leaves Yanagi forever. Though Hoshino can't have a romantic relationship with Saeki, he is damn important to her, and the player will know this because Saeki has constantly been showing up throughout the game as a friend in her ordinary work life.

Yanagi's route does have the best ending though, because as the canon route we get to see everyone, and I mean everyone other than the Adonis members, show up at Yanagi's agency for a final hurrah. The get-together allows Collar x Malice to show off the best of its romantic comedy bits, and the ensuing fistfight with Enomoto, the invitation from Yanagi for Hoshino to stay the night, are a pleasant way to end the story.

Unfortunately, I do want to bring up that Yanagi's route suffers from the most text errors in the game. Normally I wouldn't call something like this out, but Collar x Malice is a detective game as much as an otome so inaccurate information is a headache.

This wouldn't be a problem if it was just typos or the occasional missing connector word, but at various points the text has switched around the months of two of the incidents, mentioned the wrong month entirely, scrambled the dialogue breaks so that Hoshino name appears on the bottom of the dialogue box and her actual dialogue appeared in the character name box on the next screen, and the worst one made one of the player choices nonsensical when it was the correct choice.

Just before the climax when Hoshino is drawing conclusions about Saeki's motivations and his current location, she has two options for the reason he collared her. One is because they were friends (which was my original choice) and the other is "He wanted to kill me."

Saeki does kill her through the collar in a couple endings, but that's not why he collared her. While I don't have access to the original Japanese, it's clear from the rest of the game that his goal is to have her kill him. She can't fulfill his plan for her if she's dead. Unfortunately it means that anyone who is not using a guide will probably get this choice wrong on their first playthrough because a translator mixed up who needs to kill who.

Now, there's going to be just one more post in this series. And that's because there's a lot more that I want to unpack about Saeki, who has his own route, of sorts.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Loscon 44 Schedule

I will be at Loscon again this weekend, and I'll be on a number of panels. If you happen to be at the convention, feel free to say "Hi!" I'll be there all three days, though I'm only on panels for two of them.

And an early Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US!

Panel Schedule

Science Fiction Slash Blank
25 Nov 2017, Saturday 10:00 - 11:15

Writers and Illustrators of the Future
25 Nov 2017, Saturday 16:00 - 17:15

Going From Fan To Pro
26 Nov 2017, Sunday 11:30 - 12:45

Writing & Intuition: What Happens Next?
26 Nov 2017, Sunday 14:30 - 15:45

Monday, November 13, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 5: Kageyuki Shiraishi

Hey, after a couple weeks away from it, I'm coming back to my discussions on various routes of Collar x Malice for the PS Vita. You can find my VN Talks for the other routes using the Collar x Malice label on my blog. So far I've covered all the default love interests available; Okazaki, Sasazuka, and Enomoto.

Shiraishi unlocks after completing the game at least once. Because that likely meant his route delves deeper into Adonis, and because Shiraishi didn't really appeal to me, I decided to place him second to last for my playthroughs. Though his route can be played any time after Okazaki, Sasazuka, or Enomoto, it is really best played after Okazaki and a lesser degree Sasazuka's. Part of this is because they both bring up the possibility of a mole in the police, but also Okazaki's route covers a lot of the setup that makes Shiraishi's plan later in the route understandable. Otherwise the player just gets the cliff notes version.

Though Shiraishi can be a jerk like Sasazuka, Sasazuka usually has a layer of consideration beneath his prickliness and because of his direct personality, he doesn't hide much. With Shiraishi, it's not that he's rude so much as he likes to play head games. And his persona likely works in his favor since we find out during his route that he's actually an agent of Adonis.

Outwardly he views the X-Day events and Hoshino's collaring as curiosities that pique his interest, and he's the sort of person where if he's not interested, then he doesn't help. He is also the only member of Yanagi's team who is still working for the police force, and he serves as a leak for them, funneling information that Sasazuka can't easily get by hacking their systems. I figured his route would be entertaining, just not my cup of tea, but it really turned out to be something of a mixed bag.

There are multiple reasons I had a problem with this one, and though they tie into each other, I'll break them into two chunks; the September/October X-Day Incident plot and the Adonis/romance plot.

The two X-Day Incidents are handled weirdly, which is unfortunate since I was really looking forward to solving them. The September X-Day event involved a murder disguised as a suicide, and at the start of the game it was the only one with a confessed murderer. He had the Adonis coin and that was good enough for the police who closed the case. Then in October, an X-Day event was announced, and the following day the September suspect killed himself. No other bodies were found and any leads to catching Adonis died with him.

What really happened in these clearly paired events?

Shiraishi's storyline is essentially trying to juggle too many things, and as a result, the plot involving the executors is not handled well and even contradicts the methodology behind the other murders. And the fact the October murder happened, but no body was found, seems to run contrary to Adonis's needs. The whole point of the X-Day Incidents is to draw attention to the injustice in society and the law's inability to help people. If a death happens and nobody knows, then how does it further Adonis's agenda?

Even if the Uno siblings needed to have the murder happen in that abandoned apartment to satisfy their vengeance, Adonis the organization should have dropped some hints to the police about where to look afterwards to ensure the message got across. The October death was hardly the only one to happen in a secluded location.

The teenage siblings Shion and Suzume Uno are jointly the third and fourth executors whose vengeance was satisfied in September and October, and though they have a compelling and sympathetic story, the game doesn't handle them well. For instance, Hoshino just randomly bumps into them a couple times before they're suspects (clearly so they don't come out of nowhere), and then when it's time to bring them in, Shiraishi just casually drops a "Oh hey, and you've met them already," which shortcuts any detective work. It's by far the clumsiest way the game has introduced any of the executors.

Aside from that, though all three starter routes bring up the substitution murders, September and October are not substitutions and there's no explanation why. Shion and Suzume committed the October murder themselves, which breaks with the Adonis MO, and though they had a patsy for the September one (who was also a target of their vengeance), he wasn't a part of Adonis himself. This would be fine if there was an explanation, direct or implied, for why Adonis allowed the deviation in MO, but there isn't one. According to police analysis, the patsy really did kill and set up the fake suicide for September, so the twins didn't even directly handle the person most responsible for their mother's death.

Capping it off, the Uno siblings lose their memory shortly after arrest, and while this is expected given what happens on other routes (except for Ogata, who was arrested on purpose), it feels like an unsatisfying end to their story, especially since it happens right after they discover their surrogate mother figure loves them enough to be their mother in everything but name.

Then there's Shiraishi's connection with Adonis. Unlike the other love interests who deal with their pasts as part of the story, Shiraishi's past is also his present, which makes for some bifurcated storytelling. He has to deal with his past, which is flat out bonkers compared to anyone else since he's been brainwashed since childhood to serve Adonis, and he has to deal with a present day agenda, which is operating apart from his X-Day investigation. While they are ultimately related, it divides up the player's attention because we don't know how everything comes together.

Also, annoyingly, Shiraishi is the worst spy ever because Hoshino suspects him right off the bat before his route even starts. He runs with it until Yanagi tells him to knock it off, but since he actually is and Hoshino keyed in on that right away, it makes it rather stupid that nobody else thought about it. (I mean, Yanagi could be blind out of friendship, but Sasazuka didn't think anything?)

And if having an alternate agenda wasn't enough, Shiraishi is also a difficult person to get to know. While his grating personality is likely intentional, because it allows him to be eccentric without scrutiny, it doesn't do the player any favors. Hoshino spends a lot of time trying to get him to behave like a normal human being, which doesn't always work, like when he leaves her an expensive box of chocolates without the sincerity that comes with a real apology.

So while we're investigating the September/October events, we're repeatedly spliced in scenes with Shiraishi checking in with an unknown speaker (whose identity you can figure out if you've played Okazaki's route) and getting scenes from Shiraishi's point of view to reassure us that yes, he's feeling conflicted about his alternate agenda and yes, in his own way he is trying to be nice to Hoshino.

Because if we didn't have those, we wouldn't know what exactly is exactly is going on with him. His personality is intended to change as the situation calls for it, and the player knows from his phone conversations that his orders are intentionally to get close to Hoshino so she falls in love with him. (Thankfully it's made clear these orders only come down when they decide to work together, which is why he's not horning in on the romance in other routes.)

The problem is that Hoshino is entirely in the dark about this. While all the routes use secondary POVs besides Hoshino, Shiraishi's route is particularly egregious about it, and makes it clear that Hoshino has no idea what she's getting into. It's annoying watching her waltz around blindly about getting through to the real Shiraishi when it's a calculated part of his job to get close to her.

Even though it does end up being a case of falling in love with the mark, it takes so long for that to come out that it feels more like relief than payoff when it does. While it can be fantastic for the audience to know something protagonist does not in order to ratchet up the tension, it doesn't feel like Hoshino is in actual danger until the end, because all of Shiraishi's inner conflict is kept away from her until the climax of the story.

I felt there was so much time spent trying to figure out how to work with Shiraishi and hinting at his alternate agenda that the Uno siblings' story came together too late (hence the shortcuts to tracking them down), and even after it was resolved, the main story didn't feel like it was going anywhere.

Even Hoshino eventually gets ticked off about his waffling and she has way more patience than I do.

On the bright side though, because Shiraishi is so infuriating, Hoshino is unusually direct when interacting with him. There's no sweet hoping the guy notices something. She expects Shiraishi to be oblivious to social cues, and she does not expect him to change for her, so she's very blunt when she asks for things. If she doesn't tell him, he won't know, and it's a realistic touch to a relationship.

I was deep into Chapter 5 (Chapter 6 is the last on all routes but Yanagi's) and I still didn't know his alternate agenda. Barely any lip service was paid to the fact that his whole route started because Hoshino was concerned about a mole in the police. Even after I finished his route, I wasn't 100% sure it was him since he doesn't own up to that specifically. (Sasazuka suspects the mole is on the investigation team in his route, and Shiraishi is not part of that group.)

We do eventually see what his agenda was though, both from his own perspective and the plan that Zero, the leader of Adonis, laid out for him. It clumsily dovetails into why she was collared in the first place, though we don't really understand at this point since the full details don't come out until Yanagi's route.

My feelings about the ending are mixed as well. On the other hand, I think he has one of the best tragic endings (each love interest has one). It's incredibly messed up with a broken Hoshino joining Adonis and getting to keep a mute and even more messed up Shiraishi has her boy toy while Adonis takes over the world. (If you're going to go that dark, might as well go all the way?)

But his legit "good" ending still fires off all kinds of creepy vibes. Basically, regardless of whether Hoshino successfully shoots Zero in the final trigger mode in the game, she gets stabbed by the poison needle in her collar. The difference is that if she makes the shot, she kills Zero and Shiraishi is able find the antidote before she dies.

However, she's completely paralyzed and has amnesia when she wakes up in the underground room where Shiraishi is keeping her because he can't bear to take her to a proper doctor (though he gets an underground one for her). If denying her proper medical after a life and death incident is not enough, he then lies about who he is when she wakes up (he says he's her doctor) and keeps her underground for an entire year while she recovers!

I was horrified.

Unsurprisingly, her memory doesn't come back since she never gets any stimulus with which to remember things. Topping all this off, is that after the year is over and she's able to walk, Shiraishi takes her to the detective agency to hand her over to Yanagi and company, which means that everybody else was totally okay with this! Even her younger brother!

Who the hell says it's okay to keep their friend or loved one in an underground room for a year with no visitors or any proper medical care other than the lovestruck dude looking after her? Even if they forgave Shiraishi for being part of Adonis, I imagine they would have wanted to see her! But, then it wouldn't have been "romantic" with Shiraishi giving her a surprise and fulfilling his promise to spend Christmas with her and everyone else (since she got injected on Christmas Eve). And then he gets ready to turn himself into the police, because he's still got to own up to his crimes.

I guess this passes as romantic for some people, but for me, this ending was one final bump on an already bumpy ride. Fortunately, Yanagi's route was a good pick-up-me after this, and he's next.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Killing It Softly 2 Anthology

Digital Fiction Online has released the second in their horror anthology series Killing It Softly 2, and I'm in it! You can pick it up on Amazon and it's ridiculously big, with over 30 short stories.

And I'm sharing a ToC with Elaine Cunningham. Oh my! I read so much of her D&D stuff back in high school and she was one of the authors who regularly would hang out on the Wizards of the Coast forums where other aspiring fantasy writers were talking about submissions.

Killing It Softly 2 has a reprint of my story "Unfilial Child." If you'd like some dark urban fantasy set in LA's Chinatown, you may want to give it a look!

Monday, October 30, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017

November sure sneaks up fast! I'm taking a break from the Collar x Malice breakdown to say that I'll be doing National Novel Writing Month as usual. I'll be writing somewhere in the ballpark between 50-60k in November.

As I've developed as a writer I find I just work better when I do as much of the first draft as possible in a single streak. Taking breaks is bad, because then I forget things. (Honestly, I tend to forget things anyway in the middle of a draft, but it's worse when the draft is stretched out over several months.)

This strategy might not work for everyone, but it does for me, especially if I come prepared with an outline, which I have. I'm expecting this will be my best first draft in a while, thanks to my prep work.

Like writing, outlining is a skill and I think it's the most comfortable outline I've made yet. This helps me churn out words without having to think as much about where the story is going. I'll adjust if needed, but the idea is that most of the story is laid out already so I can focus on the writing itself rather than where the story needs to go next.

I'm also a short chapter person, so I find that by writing at my usual NaNoWriMo pace I end up writing a chapter a day, which works out, because I always have my ending point to shoot for and I know where I need to be by the end of the day.

Monday, October 23, 2017

VN Talk: Collar x Malice - Part 4: Mineo Enomoto

It looks like the treat I'd hoped to share last week isn't ready yet, so we'll continue on with the Collar x Malice discussion with Enomoto's storyline.

Enomoto is sandwiched in the middle of my playthrough of all routes much like Impey was in Code:Realize because I figured he would be the guy I was least interested in. He must be playing towards a particular type because both he and Impey are the impulsive guys with long red hair who manage to be the most dim-witted members of their teams and the butt of jokes. Enomoto is not constantly hitting on Hoshino, but he definitely shares Impey's status as the character least likely to be taken seriously and the most concerned about coming off as manly.

However he has a genuinely good storyline and I had fun with it. His burgeoning relationship with Hoshino is entertaining, particularly when it becomes apparent that she likes him and he's too flustered to conclude why she's really interested in him. Like Sasazuka's route, there are a lot of laughs when the story is taking a break from the drama, though it's usually from Enomoto being comically serious in everything he does.

As his character type suggests, he's very keen on coming off as an experienced man, when in fact he has no relationship experience to speak of and doesn't necessarily know what he's doing. But because his heart's in the right place it's easy to forgive a lot of his romantic misunderstandings.

He's also the one love interest where the player has a couple different opportunities to decide how to tease him. One of them is particularly hilarious since they're not dating yet and he's finally decided to accept her as his investigation partner because of everything she's done for him. He makes a big deal about declaring his appreciation for her and sticking his hand out. The player can ask him to do it again, but with more effect, which he does by getting down on one knee and shouting out his wish for her to be his partner. Since this is in public, all the bystanders overhear and assume that he's making a declaration of love.

If this sort of thing is appealing, it's indicative of what Enomoto's romance is like. Lots of errors in judgment, but always with the best of intentions and usually to put a smile on the player's face. I found I liked him much better than I thought I would and the reason Enomoto works well even though I hated the Impey romance is because he doesn't push the macho button to the point where he forces a perfectly competent protagonist to sit in the back so he can defend her. When he and Hoshino are confronted with a dangerous target holding her brother hostage, they're both a critical part of the plan. He trusts her marksmanship and loves her for being the kind of cop she is.

As with the others, Enomoto's route also delves into two of the previous X-Day Incidents, and more than the others, he's got a personal stake in them because his mentor was one of the police officers kidnapped in the April incident and then murdered as part of the May incident.

The joint April/May incidents are different from the other X-Day events. Aside from being the first ones, no one was actually killed in the April event, and then when the kidnapped officers were killed in May, only one body was found. There's no proof the other three are actually dead, and the X-Day countdown number was painted using the blood of only one person; Enomoto's mentor, Yuuta Fujii.

Furthermore, we know that the X-Day events are typically substitution murders, where one person is avenged by an unrelated party, but the manner of Fujii's death, where he was clearly tormented before being killed, makes it look like the murderer had a particular reason to hate him.

There's a lot of cool stuff to learn here from an investigative standpoint, and Enomoto's final face-off is against Tomoki Ogata, who is probably the most interesting Adonis member I've met so far. Though he also appears in Okazaki's route, and his presence there is critical to figuring out the existence of the substitution murders, we don't get his backstory except in Enomoto's.

Adonis picks up people who have a reason to feel let down or abandoned by the law; the woman whose stalker is not arrested, the victim of online bullying, etc. In Ogata's case, he was wrongfully arrested while trying to save another person's life, and though the charges were eventually dropped, by then his life and reputation had been ruined. His family has left him and he can no longer keep a steady job because his past arrest keeps following him around.

Though he clearly has an axe to grind, like most Adonis pawns, Ogata is also a person with a strong sense of justice, which makes his actions more interesting to watch, especially when his own values begin to conflict with that of Adonis. This also makes him a good foil for Enomoto, whose sense of justice was damaged by the discovery that his mentor had faked evidence in order to arrest Ogata.

I'm actually a little disappointed that Ogata seems to have been just a pawn rather than a ranking member in Adonis since I'd like to see him again on another route and his manipulation of the media was a very savvy thing to do! When he was going on talk shows, using his false arrests (the real first one and the faked second one) to try to win people over to Adonis I honestly expected him to turn out like Sanjou in Okazaki's route, but he actually loses contact with Adonis entirely and for some reason they don't wipe his memory.

How Adonis is handled in Enomoto's route is actually the weakest of the bunch. Though we get some creepy vibes and see how Adonis contacts their executors, after they wipe Hana's memory, we don't hear anything from Adonis anymore. The police suspect that Adonis is falling apart as it nears its X-Day deadline and there is confusion within the ranks. That's why the X-Day events in December are so much sloppier than the ones in the past, but we know from other routes that part of the reason for the sloppiness is that Adonis wants the X-Day cases to be solved and they are intentionally sacrificing pawns, so this explanation can't be taken at face value.

The fact that Adonis calls off X-Day in the epilogue just makes the whole thing disappointing, like the organization never had teeth to begin with. There's not even a raid of any kind before Adonis just disappears. (There's a reason for this, and particularly astute players might figure it out based on circumstantial evidence, but it's not revealed in full until Yanagi's route.)

It's also unclear why Adonis might have wanted Enomoto. The opening suggests that Yanagi's team and Hoshino might come over to their side once uncovering the truth behind X-Day. Not only do we not learn the truth behind X-Day on Enomoto's route, but Adonis never attempts to speak with him either (even before the going silent part). Once we know Enomoto's backstory it also becomes improbable that Adonis would have ever tried recruiting him. His hang-up is that his mentor turned out to be guilty of forging evidence for a false arrest, which caused Adonis to kill him. Though he's upset that his mentor was not the person he thought he was, Enomoto still remembers the kind of person he thought him to be and wants to bring down Adonis to avenge him. That's not great recruit material.

That said, Enomoto's route is also nicely balanced, with all the team members participating fairly equally in the story. Mostly this is because Enomoto is a hothead and lacks the technical expertise of Sasazuka and Shiraishi. Perhaps because Enomoto is actually a decent person, this is the one route where Yanagi doesn't express concern over who Hoshino is working with. Oddly enough, Sasazuka rejoins the police force on Enomoto's route as well, though in exchange for far less than in his own. (It's implied that ten donuts and helping save lives is enough.) I realize that was likely done for reasons of expediency, but I would've liked a little more of a fight from him, especially since his rejoining in Yanagi's route implies that he similarly made a lot of demands.

I also got a new appreciation for Okazaki on Enomoto's route. While Okazaki's weird demeanor has always been apparent, he's used for excellent comic effect, interrupting awkward moment after awkward moment with just the right timing to make it even more awkward.

On Sasazuka's route he asks Hoshino if she's ever hated someone enough to want to kill them. She's not sure that's possible, but the player can get the answer in Enomoto's. If the player fails to shoot Hana while she's holding Kazuki hostage, the rescue fails and Kazuki dies. That's enough to push Hoshino into unloading bullets into Hana until she's dead for a bad ending.

If you know anything about guns you might be amused to know that Enomoto is also the only love interest who poses "gangsta" style with his gun, which is a good way to hurt yourself and/or make your gun jam. This was probably an artistic decision, but it's also Enomoto, so the fact he would conceivably shoot stupid just to look better is something I'd buy into.

Also as a funny side note, all the routes have some kind of moment where Hoshino's brother discovers her "boyfriend" (since this always happens before they're dating). Enomoto is the only one that Kazuki gets along fabulously with. Kazuki actually smiles because he's having such a good time talking with him.

Enomoto's romance is easily the most light-hearted of the bunch, even when it comes down to what should be a nail-biting finale. The confrontation is good because of how well Ogata is handled as a villain and how the player is allowed to know his sense of justice, but when Enomoto gets involved in the arrest the ending gets a little more physical than intended.

No one gets hurt, though Enomoto has a terrible way of wording things that makes is seem like maybe there's another shoe ready to drop (there isn't), and thus life goes on, Enomoto-style.